hot bod

Do I Want to Work Out or Do I Just Want a Toy?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

I’ve been misusing the word ‘fun’ a lot. Driving around a neighborhood of gabled mansions: fun. Seeing horses: fun. Coaxing a water mark out of a hall table: fun. Let’s not unpack all the desperation in this, but instead focus on the declarative desire. I’m looking for fun — wherever I can get it.

Of the categories that describe my abandoned shopping carts across the internet (semi-obscure spices; pricy tie-dye loungewear), the most fraught collection is “fun” fitness equipment. These items could be described as adult-size children’s toys: mini fitness trampolines, roller skates, stretchy bands, perfect push-up handles, sleek jump ropes. Ever the planner, I’m already thinking about snowshoes for the winter. I don’t even know how they work. If I had regular access to a body of water, you better believe there would be paddle boards languishing in three different carts across sporting-goods stores.

My various carts reveal a childlike neediness for entertainment, a stodgy adult temperament about planning, and a generally human hopefulness that some small thing might change everything. Especially in a sedentary moment, a toy seems like it could give a structure to something that’s floating out of reach. Movement is abstract and a toy is something you can hold onto.

There’s a stabilization factor to acquiring an object, even when the object is literally about destabilizing. The toy I want the very most, but will never get (or will I?) are Kangaboots, footwear that answers the question: What would happen if a moon boot ate a Bowflex? In February of this year, I went to a Kangaboot class and made two vows: I would get my partner to come with me to the next class with me and I would not buy myself a pair of these boots. This second vow haunts me. With no more classes available, do the rules still apply? At this point, $200 might be worth the cost of the brain space these toys occupy. And if I ordered the boots, I’d get to wait for them. It’s two for the price of one: anticipation and also boots.

Over Zoom earlier this week, while waiting for her new bike speaker to arrive, writer Roxanne Fequiere put it very efficiently: “Mail is my only thrill these days.” Mail is like a visitor; and mail has possibility. If it carries the right thing, mail can deliver you somewhere better. And Roxanne is waiting for the perfect toy — it will transform a bike into a plaything, into a bike that sings!

But when I look at a balance board in my cart, I think: What’s actually going to happen here? Am I buying a new pressure release? Or am I buying something that will become a sculpture about failed plans?

A fitness acquisition is like getting a poker chip. It carries some potential, and a good deal of magical thinking, and a rich history of dashed hopes and human failures. The abandoned Nordic Skis in friends’ parents’ basements were monuments to the ambitions upon which that generation floundered.

Maybe discarded garage stairmasters warned us to hesitate before we invited new contraptions into our lives. Emailing me from their respective makeshift office in the attic, my partner sent me a link to an indoor bike contraption they’re eyeing already, for when the weather turns. It has a mechanism that jabs up and down like a mechanical bull. Oooooo, my giddy kid brain thought, can a person just buy a mechanical bull? Not really — they seem to require a custom order and fall in the $20,000 range. I still felt rudely misdirected by an advertisement on the mechanical bull website: “70 percent off bounce houses.” Something to think about.

I avoided decision paralysis about buying a new toy by finding a toy. Clattering behind my bed frame in my parents’ house was my old Hula-Hoop, which has blue stripes and makes an annoying whoosh sound every time it goes around. Whoosh, whoosh. I kept it on for almost an hour, regressing each second, too fixated and greedy to even share it with a visiting friend for very long.

A couple weeks beforehand, I’d read Sasheer Zamata on buying a Hula-Hoop from Hula-maestro Marawa the Amazing. “I took it to the park the other day, and it was so fun and people were staring,” she said. “I’m really trying to find things that make me happy right now because there are so many hours in a day and it’s fun to fill them with exciting new things.” This is the question: What will we fill our confusing days with? Something exciting, we hope!

A Hula-Hoop basically makes standing exciting. I can still carefully walk up and down the stairs while Hula-Hooping and believe that I asked for an audience to witness. Twitching my torso around, I realized that I didn’t really want to cajole myself into a new exercise regime, I just wanted to hang out with a toy. I was fully distracted and showing off and waiting for the delirium to pass and physically telegraphing: Look what I can do! Watch, watch, watch! Whoosh, whoosh. The fixation did pass, but for two and a half days after, my paltry ab muscles were screaming.

Do I Want to Work Out or Do I Just Want a Toy?