An Active Virgin, on a Quest for the Body Beautiful


I dream, at some point, when the grays in the hair appear in greater abandon and the flabby bits around the middle turn more audacious, I would write something in the style of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. But since Monday this week, having been reminded by my friend who’s something of a seer and healer, that we’ve got only 97 days left to the year, I figured I better be Nora Ephron today, rather than years hence. Going for Mini Nora with a mini reflection is nobler than hanging out till the full-fledged Nora comes to fruition—that grand collection of wise essays.

Besides, the flabby bits have already come anyway. I’m not particularly bothered by the waisted jiggles, still bashful in their youthfulness and hence quite endearing. What bugs me, though, with a growing, nagging self-consciousness, is that chunk of flesh just behind the armpits in the upper reaches of the latissimus dorsi. I first discovered it two to three weeks ago in the fitting room of my favorite Lululemon boutique at Ngee Ann City when I slipped into a Size 4 top. Just a tad too tight, it seemed to tease the loose, limp bit of flesh up and over the the seams around the arm hole.

Up and Over! No, this wasn’t the name of some uplifting song, alas!

I’m always up for going up and over life’s yucky, thorny obstacles in almost everything I do, but when it comes to my lats, no thank you! I sought advice the moment I stepped out of the fitting room. The girl helping me with the check-out wasn’t so sure what would give a nice zap and zing to those wingèd muscles fanning out from the shoulder blades, so she turned to her colleague up on a ladder, a nubile, tight-in-the-flesh chick busy chalking some design on the upper reaches of a pillar by the store-front.

Pull-ups, she suggested, looking down at me, as I gazed up at a sportive figure in a tank top and running shorts, arms and legs showing off the fine glow of exercise and diligent diet, plus a nice tan. Oh, there’s another, she continued, some plank-like maneuver—here, she stepped off the ladder to demonstrate, hands pressed against the check-out counter with her torso leaning in, her legs ramrod straight, and her elbows hugging in tightly. And don’t forget the rowing machine, she said with a reassuring smile.

So, yes, I’ve been at it, a measly three times at the gym’s sleek, sexy rowing machine since my sad “up and over” discovery. But I’m hard on myself. I’ve actually accomplished sips of other things: three reformer sessions, a couple of aerial, fly-in-the-air yoga classes, and I’ve also reunited with the girlie step machine and the burly treadmill after a hiatus of close to a decade—all this in just over a month since I joined Sir Richard Branson’s cool, kickass, gorgeous gym, Virgin Active, at Holland Village. 

Spurred by his mantra to “Screw it, let’s do it” emblazoned in the workout studio called High Energy, those calorie counts aren’t Greek anymore. I’m getting them all back again—the amount of work I need to put in to hit certain magic milestones: the 200-calorie burn, 300, 400, just like watching the stock indices, which is something I should tiptoe into again after much denial and procrastination, the same two evils that have plagued my exercise regime, punished now by my limp lats. 

All is good again in the world after eight rotten months of patchy exercise, plenty of sedentary days, and a brief fling with a 10-class membership at a neighborhood yoga studio, whose classes were good enough to bore me to the point I had to flog and force myself to finish the 10 classes plus a complimentary one in three months.

The sore bum, prouder and tighter than it was a month ago, give a nice thwack today, when you slap it. Vanity is what all girls, most at least, are after, but I fear for my health, having had one, two health scares in my lifetime—one that has seen four cycles of the proud, strutting rooster.

Like my rooster zodiac, I, too, am strutting about these days, proud of that ache and burn in the buns, happy that my sleep has been deep and delicious, and the digestive organs performing with greater vigor. If there’s something pleasant to add to a dinner conversation with the family, where I’m normally quiet, offering only the most perfunctory of contributions, this would be the piece of bright news—akin to telling the world I’ve fallen in love or I just got married by accident.

“I’ve just joined Virgin,” I squeaked at the last slurp of soup from my bowl, while everyone else was eyeing the platter of bananas that Kaka Wanee had brought to the table. My parents were silent—I wasn’t sure if they knew what I was talking about—but my sister-in-law’s eyes lit up, so did my nephew’s.

“Oh, Gugu’s a virgin!” he blurted out, pretending he recognized the word as some victorious Goddess.

How could anyone’s heart not grow soft at such a nonsense proclamation from a soon-to-be ten-year-old—endearing not so much for its silly semantic trip-up, but its sincere intention to give me a high-five, a warm rah-rah for a fine, newfound accomplishment. 

“Sweetheart, you heard me wrong,” I corrected him, smiling and stroking his arm. “I didn’t say ‘I am a virgin,’ I said, ‘I’ve just joined Virgin.’ Virgin Active, to be exact.”

“Oh, Gugu’s an active virgin!” he corrected himself, to which everyone at the table shook their heads in amusement, warmed by that precocious air of know-it-all that didn’t quite hit the mark, but bulls-eyed on all the funny, goofy tickle spots.

When indeed he later confessed that the word “virgin” was something “disgusting,” something he was only pretending to know, like the million other things he assigns a pretend wisdom to, I just couldn’t help giving him a squeeze, thinking: “Well, he isn’t all that wrong. These days, I have indeed been an active virgin.”

It’s a nice double entendre, perhaps triple.


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