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Feeling the Burn: How I Dealt with Mean Girls in Spin Class


Big Adjustments

When my husband, Scott, and I traded the city for the suburbs, I knew there would be a lot to adjust to — malls, lawn mowers, and gas pumps, to name a few. I had forgotten how to drive and how to operate a thermostat, and I ended up learning the hard way not to greet the gardener with an air kiss on the cheek. To cope with these daily oops moments and squeeze in some sanity while picking out wallpaper, I made it my mission to find a gym with a good Spinning class. Getting my favorite endorphin fix, I decided, would help me feel centered — if for only an hour a day.

My first class at the local studio was familiar enough, with its killer sprints and thigh-frying climbs, but the other riders were a different story. In a room of about 20 women, most of whom were regulars, I immediately recognized the queen bee of the bunch, a pretty blonde who yelled "Yeah, baby! Yeah, baby!" as she humped the air during standing climbs. This ringleader talked at, rather than to, five similarly Lululemon-clad thirtysomethings, who all saved seats for one another and traded party invitations loudly.

These high school antics played out so consistently over the following weeks that I even watched Queen Bee take a wallflower under her wing, Clueless-style. Halloween, though, was the worst. The clique wore matching outfits — tutus, kneesocks and shirts that read "MO" — that nobody understood but them. The older, less popular women in the class looked so crestfallen that they weren't in on the joke, but like all good wannabes, they still offered to take their pictures. Me, I just watched from the back row.

After class I would rush home to laugh with Scott about these latest high jinks. But after a few months, I began to wonder why I was always on the outside looking in. It was absurd to crave their acceptance, but as an outgoing adult who had been mildly popular as a teen, I was a little insulted that these women didn't think I was good enough to talk to or ask out for coffee after class. It didn't surprise me that I had never met like-minded friends at potluck dinners or those lame jewelry trunk shows — today's suburban equivalent of Tupperware parties. But I had always been in my element in Spinning class. If I didn't belong here, would I feel at home anywhere in this town? More than anything, I resented the energy I wasted analyzing the bad vibes while in class, when I should have been blissing out.

So I let myself regress. I inched my seat closer to the front row where the mean girls sat, hoping proximity would help me fit in, and I occasionally echoed their sarcastic gripes when the room was too hot or onlookers too nosy. Even so, I remained invisible. Finally I called my mom, a high school teacher and an avid spinner.

"I don't need to be their best friend," I explained, "but I want to feel like less of a loser around them. Mooooom, tell me what to do."

"Get new clothes," was her seasoned advice. Cue the shopping montage.

I bought an expensive workout outfit and bright pink Nikes, which I wore to the next class. But as luck would have it, our instructor waltzed in wearing the same damn shoes, and Queen Bee noticed right away. She looked at the instructor's feet, then at me. Feet, me, feet, me.

Class started, and a funny thing happened on the way to my target heart rate. I didn't wonder if I should return my sneakers or make a "Who wore it better?" joke. Instead I took back my workout. I'd had enough of these women — and the poseur I'd become. I closed my eyes, cranked up the resistance and pedaled harder than I had in months. It felt good to focus only on challenging my body for once. When I left, I knew I wouldn't go back.

That night I googled gyms in nearby towns and found a great Spinning class just 15 minutes away. I've become friendly with some of my new classmates, and with some of them I haven't, but everyone is polite and mature. We come, we cycle, we sweat — and none of us has once done this in a tutu. In retrospect, I'm surprised I got sucked into the mean girls' spell for so long, especially after 15 years of living in a city where a shrugging indifference is what earns you street cred.

Occasionally I'll run into someone from my old class at the gas station or the grocery store, and we'll each manage a quick smile. But not Queen Bee. I was browsing in a consignment shop recently with my good friend Margaux, who had just moved to the area, when we walked past Queen Bee and a sidekick of hers. They went quiet, and then Queen Bee erupted in deliberate laughter, catching Margaux by surprise. "Did that woman just cackle at us?" she asked. "Probably," I said, and sighed. "Hey, have you joined a gym yet?"

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2012.