Susan Powter is my virtual mentor. (She doesn’t know it, but that doesn’t matter.)
#60M2IM Day 5/100
I have a confession to make.
In the 1990s, when my life was falling apart and I was still close enough to my athletic past to feel it being smothered in the weight I was gaining after back-to-back pregnancies and a swiftly-tilting marriage that was on the verge of implosion, I was obsessed with Susan Powter.
I read her books. I bought her little kit with the stretchy exercise band and the fat calipers. I learned how to do the fat calculation.
I put a little piece of tape over that little square hole on old VCR tapes so that I could record her infomercial over a thrift-store copy of a collection of Popeye cartoons.
I watched it over and over. It was like having a really cool aunt who’d already gone through the whole babies-too-young/imploding-marriage thing, and who used to be fat, but wasn’t anymore, tell me what I needed to do.
Eat. Move. Breathe.
I got fat anyway. Or fatter. Even a 1990s guru wasn’t enough to bust through the food coma that was my survival mechanism during my 20s. But it was good advice then and, frankly, it’s still good advice. So good that I find myself thinking about it now, a few decades later.
I still love Susan Powter in that weird way that you can love someone who doesn’t know you exist. Here’s why:
She told women it was okay to eat.
Susan Powter made her name by telling women they could eat a small order of french fries or a dozen potatoes (or something along those lines.) She insisted, loudly, that food wasn’t the enemy.
Because I’ve lost a lot of weight, I find myself sometimes on the receiving end of tales of sorrow. Every now and then, someone will tell me that they can’t lose any weight at all unless they cut back to some ridiculously low number of calories. 1200. 800. Even 500.
Thanks to Susan Powter, I never believed that I needed to cut calories that low. But I would have sworn that I was gaining weight on 1800 calories.
Then I went months eating 1200 calories. I lost 120 pounds in six months and my hair fell out. I promise you that a 600 calorie deficit did not do that.
Calories are necessary to life. And good hair.
She made it okay to be the crazy lady in the back of the class.
In Stop the Insanity, Susan Powter tells a story about joining a gym and being the fat woman in the back of the class doing one quarter of the repetitions her aerobics instructor (this was the 90s, after all) called out.
One left lift for every four. One arm press for every four.
And she just marched in place when the grapevines started.
Her buzz word was modification, and it remains brilliant. Do what you can, do it with good form, and keep improving.
She reminded me to breathe.
I can’t even tell you how badly I just needed to breathe in the mid-1990s.
I married my high school sweetheart. I loved him. He saved me, just like Jack saved Rose, in every way a person can be saved. Only, instead of drowning in the freezing cold ocean, he left me for some skinny little slut.
I swear I’m not bitter. I got the best end of that deal all the way around. So, I’m not bitter. Now. But, oh man, I was then. I was so hurt that literally everything hurt, all of the time.
Susan Powter believed, I’m sure she still believes, that oxygen is an elixir. She had a whole cellular theory that made sense to me in the moment when I needed it.
She embraced that 1990s power feminism.
She just did.
Bald. Crazy nails. L.A. Law blouses. Katharine Hepburn-like accent.
She embodied girl power in a time when I felt very little of it in my personal life.
Her Twitter feed is so weird.
Twitter, obvs, wasn’t a thing in her heyday. Can you imagine if it was?
Susan lives in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is my home town.
I’d love to hang out with her next time I go home.
Hit me up, Susan!
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and is the original Ninja Writer.