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Picture a room full of attractive women in a circle, holding hands and performing semi-grueling exercises while their male leader yells commands and snaps photos. Participants pair up and go head-to-head for select moves, sometimes giggling and other times looking embarrassed, all the while eagerly waiting direction from their commander-in-chief.
Yikes. But also, maybe it's cool that they're all in this together?
I'm still undecided about the London-born, invite-only, model-clad fitness phenomenon known as The Skinny Bitch Collective. The resemblance to Fifty Shades of Grey's sadistic, dominant master and his female submissive(s) is uncanny — you would have to be high on kombucha not to see it. But here, there is no Grey area. The SBC is black or white: you will either love it or you will hate it.
SBC was created by Russell Bateman, a tall, handsome Brit with 13 years of experience as a trainer and strength coach to athletes and a "mixed bag of people," as he called them. "Everything happened organically," Bateman said about the birth of SBC. "I didn't have a plan. I just trusted my intuition to let it evolve into what it is now — mysterious, hyped, and in demand."
Hyped, indeed. So much so that the only image in my head as I hustled to the SBC pop-up class at Bandier's Studio B over the weekend was an army of Kendall Jenner lookalikes sweating it out until they hit the floor in agony. (SBC isn't offered in NYC on a regular basis just yet, but that may change in the near future: Bateman says that it "will be back pretty soon if the right project comes up.")
My class consisted of about 40 women, most under the age of 30, in a dimly lit room. The music? EDM meets lounge beats. There were probably only a few true models in this group, but everyone was definitely in both decent shape and trendy gear — but in New York, this is nothing new. The premise of the class seems to be uniting a group, literally facing one another most of the time and counting down out loud while planking, squatting, bridging, burpee-ing, and so forth. This seems to force participants to keep going, to push themselves in order to not only be a part of this female camaraderie, but also to not be the failure among peers.
It's this contradiction that keeps me on the fence about SBC. I'm highly competitive and believe that elements like this can help to achieve successful workouts, and I'm also into women supporting one another in any environment. But I'm not yet convinced that this class accomplishes either goal. Let's not forget the dynamic of a male instructor who never performs or even demonstrates a movement during the entire class, preferring to bark commands to his students — it's motivating, exhilarating, and sexist all at the same time.
You can expect — and will feel pressured — to move non-stop the entire class, resulting in a great cardio-based workout with some bodyweight strength training peppered in. Workout elements are similar to those found in everything from barre to boot camp, with some stemming from Bateman's imagination. "My classes are full of movements you might never have tried before," he explains. "Variety is the spice of life and boredom is the enemy. You might crawl, go upside down, close your eyes, hold hands..." Some exercises will be fun, and others...not so much. (Piggy-backing your partner? You decide.)
But back to the name: "First and foremost is worrying about those that get it, not those that don't," says Bateman. "It's a tongue-in-cheek name that I thought of because the bulk of my client base were lean models." Part of me fears that using the word "skinny" sets women back 15 years in eating disorder damage. It's also grossly outdated in our current "strong and curvy is sexy" fitness landscape. And using the word "bitch" will always offend and alienate many.
"It's intense, unpredictable, and plays with emotions — mental and physical prowess, too," he adds to sum up the workout. That could also be a description of a New Yorker's daily life.
The scenester in me is ready to try anything that's trendy and promises results — models and (water) bottles, baby — but I'm not sure I'm sold on The Skinny Bitch Collective just yet. Someone fetch me my good ol' boxing gloves and yoga mat.