Hips of Steel

How kids too cool for exercise keep the winter pounds off

Historically speaking, we eat more food during the wintertime, go outside less often, and some of us even wear those jackets that look like sleeping bags. "It's not a fashion show out there," my mom yells at my tube-topping sister, even though technically speaking it is a fashion show out there (my sister's a famous model). As for myself, I've just lived with the fact that from December through April, I'm going to be hilariously obese.

Until now. Recently, I and millions of gaunt, too cool, for-lack-of-better-word hipsters (thesaurus.com suggests "New Age travelers") have taken to arguably the least cool, least New Age pastime of them all: exercise.

illustration by Jillian Tamaki

Dolphin Fitness, East 4th Street, 11:27 a.m.

Every day at 11:30, when the city's at work and all the old people in rent-controlled apartments are busy not dying, it starts—something starts.

Through the gym doors walks a tall bony-looking, tight-panted dude with glasses and tattoos of snakes on his face. All the treadmills are open, including the top-notch ones with DVD players. But he walks by them, scoffs, and makes his way to the most vintage machine he can find. In the corner a girl stands posed on the self-powered ellipticals, her spandex pants fitting like Skidz. Because there is no On switch, she can't find the On switch. Flustered, she lights a cigarette—the smell of sweat is getting to her. A young man approaches a Dolphin employee to ask if there are any exercise bikes that go faster. " You make it go faster," she explains. Another girl climbs onto the StairMaster, all business, ready to sweat. She turns the machine on, turns around, and rides the stairs back down to floor level like an escalator.

I think there's an aesthetic at work here.

"There's an aesthetic at work here," StairMaster yells over to me. By now the gym has filled up with young twentysomethings I wouldn't expect to see here, all exercising for no apparent reason other than the appearance of never exercising. This is the apex of feeble chic. StairMaster continues yelling: "They don't call us ripsters for nothing."

The first ripster

The history of the ripster is as follows. In 1999 three Kenyon juniors hit the local Blockbuster for campy VHS. The ringleader, Roger Rossier, also had a LiveJournal: March 15, 1999: "Picked up a few dollar flicks from the Block today, Wide World of Sports 1988, Camp Candy (director's cut), but best is this Buns & Abs of Steel 9—Post-Pregnancy Workout. This is sort of a big deal, as I've been looking for the post-preg Steels for a while now. Obviously we'll never watch these films, and no movement of monumental proportions will be born from today's purchases, but still. Finally, I ate mushrooms five times today."

May 19, 1999: "Today Jordan raised the point, after watching Buns a few times in a row this morning like we always do, that maybe Greg Smithey isn't so much a gym instructor leading an exercise, but he's an actor playing a gym instructor, and the film itself is the exercise. Either way, Jordan also said something about me 'looking trimmer.' WTF?! (i.e., 'What the fuck?!' I just made that up.)"

July 5, 1999: "Somebody took my Abs tape. Some motherfucker stole my Abs."

July 6, 1999: "That's it, I can't take it. I'm joining a gym and I'm going to make poor use of the equipment."

Modern-day ripsters

After catching on rather quickly at other liberal-arts colleges, ripsterism went dormant in the early naughts when post-graduates realized they could subsist on art-gallery cheese and still remain feeble chic. But when news spread that the double shot of eating Gouda and smoking cloves would accelerate heart failure, ex-ripsters switched back to veggies and bread—and weight gain. Which brings us to now, winter 2006—the season of the ripster.

How do you know if a ripster's a ripster? Admittedly things are tricky, since the degree to which a ripster's a ripster is the degree to which his ripsterdom remains elusive (i.e., ripped). Not to get all Jeff Foxworthy here, but you know you've spotted a ripster when the guy next to you at the gym is wearing a pair of expensive running shoes with the air cushions popped so they look worn in and a tank top that says something like "I lost my sleeves in Iraq." You know you've spotted a ripster if the girl on the bike is dressed exactly like Richard Simmons, but could also fit inside Richard Simmons. Famous ripsters include the boy who played on the girls' team in the movie Ladybugs, the 40-year-old virgin from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the entire defensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles. "But that kid from Ladybugs committed suicide!" you protest. But ripsters know he didn't kill himself—he just ripped it a little too hard.

Still, the most obvious ripsterism is the workout beverage: a can of Sparks. The half energy, half alcohol drink has turned from cheap nightlife thrill to essential thirst quencher. "The way I see it," says one ripster, "I get my heart rate up because of the taurine. That means I don't have to work the machine as hard—so I'm saving energy. But then I get the alcohol—that way I'm drunk."

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