Skinny Women in Big Black Cars

by Mary Waite Garvey '93

I don’t know what I see in the mirror anymore. It seems most of my life has been spent evaluating my reflection, picking apart imperfections (real and imagined), working to streamline my hips while boosting my bust line. The theme of my fat obsession (butt versus flabby arms, etc.) changes from year to year, and I’m okay with that—it’s who I am. I do think, however, as I’ve gotten older, had two children and better things to do with my time than worry about my thighs, that I tend to view my neurosis more with humor than desperation, which brings me to this… For those living on the Westside of Los Angeles, body image is a never-ending topic. While visiting the Pacific Palisades farmers’ market, friends from NYC commented that there’s money to be had in a screenplay titled,”Skinny Women in Big Black Cars.”The Palisades population makes one question the recent reports of an obesity epidemic in America. Old, young, moms, grandmas, singles—it is a sea of skinny women in big black cars. I’m not quite sure what they’re buying at the farmers’ market since the Zone delivers these days, but I do know that this crowd is obsessively firm and fit.

In search of my own leaner (not necessarily meaner) body machine, each Tuesday and Thursday I head off to the gym for a standing appointment with a trainer,”Chad,” joining the rest of the Westside mommy crowd who are huffing and puffing.We’re like lemmings: less dedication to health, more to fitting in with the pack. In Santa Monica, there are two huge flights of stairs people gleefully trot up and down in search of the ultimate workout. I spotted a woman coming up the stairs who looked to be in her late sixties carrying rocks, big rocks, in each hand. When a mother in my child’s playgroup asks,”So what are you doing?” we all know she means Pilates, weights, running, or some other exercise du jour and not,”Hey what’s up?” Pre-baby body recovery is second only to school choice (and I don’t mean vouchers) as a hot topic. It’s a quirky lifestyle, but then it is the land of fruits and nuts.

Many of you may read this and comment on the seemingly vapid nature of this life, and it may reinforce the images you have of Los Angeles.You may ask,”Why aren’t these women out feeding the homeless or curing cancer with their free time rather than cavorting with the ‘Chads’ of the world?”Well, most of the skinny women in big black cars are.They’re doctors, lawyers, community volunteers, teachers, and full-time mothers trying to keep their children and homes together. But something in this funky West L.A. culture places physique above all. You’re not who you are, but what you look like, and so, by maintaining a superior physical image, you can exert personal and professional success. Of course, this is not universally true, but for a large chunk of the population it is a subconscious reality.

That’s why when I look in the mirror I’m not sure what I see—which for me, is a good thing. I’m no longer haunted by the imaginary blobo of my teens and 20s, but rather I see the bearer of two beautiful boys, the partner of a man who loves me truly and passionately, and a figure of physical fitness. But, sometimes I do still wonder about my “cankles” and whether I should trade up to a bigger, blacker car.