The Peloton craze is over, writer Maya Kosoff said for Bustle last week. Used bikes are flooding Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, and in September the fitness company, whose market capitalization peaked at around $50 billion in January 2021, reported a Quarterly loss of $1.2 billion. For me, the bikes have become reminders of pandemic-era isolation and the loneliness it has spawned. Many people have joined Peloton for its virtual cheer squad, a community replacement when in-person gatherings were literally banned in some places. But now people can understand that “happiness hormone” boost IRL again and return to in-person fitness classes. Ditch the bike, right?
Sheila Yasmin Marikar is a fitness class evangelist. When she moved to Los Angeles in 2015, she signed up for a three-month unlimited special at Body by Simone. “Whenever I’m in a new city, the first thing I understand is, ‘Where’s my grocery store and where do I work out?'” says the writer, whose debut novel, The Goddess Effectcame out earlier this month.
Her book uses the wellness industry as a landscape on which to point issues of belonging and community, and what we will overlook when we desperately need it. Anita, the 30-something protagonist, moves to Los Angeles to live in a communal living space for aspiring entrepreneurs. She soon joins a fitness studio called Goddess Effect, run by the enigmatic instructor Venus von Turnen in order to build structure and community into her new life.
Anita could use some validation on her move across the country, and her ambient insecurities make her susceptible to sectarian behavior. Before long, she’s making decisions based on “What would Venus do?”
“These classes function as a way to build community, whether sectarian or not, [like] men playing golf and all that ‘country club stuff’,” says Yasmin Marikar, who has written about urban municipalities, luxury fitness retreatsand toxic workplaces for outlets such as the New York Times, Bloomberg business week, and Bustle. “But I made friends and relationships through some of these classes.” The novel is not a direct critique of the wellness industry, in that it constructs a story within that framework, more Nine perfect strangers that Who is wellness for?
Yasmin Marikar is currently working on her second novel, which is set in the wine country of Northern California. Below, she talks about adventures, bizarre workouts, and her favorite women.
“I’m usually not interested in a show or book or movie if the characters are all paragons in society.”
How was this book born?
The idea came in 2014. I had written a history of today’s towns for the New York Times Style section. These were in San Francisco and the Bay Area. I visited many of these towns and got to know the people who live there. The story stuck in my mind, this idea of people from different backgrounds who might not otherwise meet, which could make for a compelling fictional story. Several months later, in 2015, I was on a train from LA to San Diego and wrote 1,000 words. [about a] house called the Gig.
Has the Los Angeles fitness scene always been history?
The Goddess Effect came across as something Anita got lost in. I’ve been obsessed with boutique fitness for over 10 years. The way Anita clings to The Goddess Effect is the way I clung to Body by Simone when I moved to Los Angeles.
I’ve never been involved with a boutique fitness band like this, so this presented another immersive experience for me as a reader, besides the Gig.
Absolutely. And it wasn’t just Body by Simone. I’ve taken so many classes over the years, [like] Class by Taryn Toomey, which when people talk about cult workouts, that’s exactly how the class is described. They have rituals where you stomp your feet up and down and shout if the instructor tells you to.
How much did you recover, compared to actual training class experiences?
I was creating new pieces because I was afraid of making a thinly veiled fictional version of something that already exists. A teacher like Venus is not someone I have ever met. She is very restrained, which [is a trait] my friend Amanda Montell wrote in the book Worship.
You are very aware of the fitness landscape in Los Angeles. What was your research process like, in addition to having taken different courses?
Much of the research has come from my own adventure reporting. The idea of a training retreat first occurred to me when I attended a training retreat outside of Austin, Texas for a business week story about how women who are at a certain stage in their career, who can afford to spend $4,000 for a weekend of work and stay at a luxury resort, [did so as] a new way to network.
In terms of Anita, is she the reflection of a person, or more of a composite character?
Anita is a brash, more reckless version of me. A lot of her feelings are things I’ve felt at different times, and sometimes when she acts out it’s something I wish I had the courage to do in [a particular] moment. If I was a cartoon and wasn’t afraid of the consequences, maybe I’d be Anita.
Now that’s funny; I don’t always find her likeable.
Yeah, and it’s kind of by design. I wanted to have an unfriendly narrator. And because you see it from her perspective, you get the stories she tells herself to justify what she does. And being in anyone’s head is probably not a place you want to be.
So many of the characters around her are also a bit scared of them.
Absolutely. I’m usually not interested in a show, book, or movie if the characters are all role models in society. I mean, I like Succession, Industry. I just started Vanessa Bayer’s new Showtime show, I like it for you, which does a pretty good job of creating unlovable female characters. Your first impulse might be to hate them, but as the season progresses you see why they act that way.
For Anita, how did you determine which parts of her internal monologue to include, especially with regards to social media?
There were a lot more internal monologues to begin with, more hemming on social media posts, what to text someone, how to properly write an email. Near the end, when Anita is in a Goddess Effect class, she’s in a figure-four stretch, sort of lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. She knows something is wrong with this company. But instead of focusing on that, she thought, “I could do an article on that ceiling. I totally engage with Instagram [that way,] where it’s like, “I don’t want to think about this other thing. So let me just scroll.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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