This Book Is the “Devil Wears Prada” of the Wellness World

Photo: Shane LaVancher

Fitness Junkie Novel
Photo: Penguin Random House

Fashion has The Devil Wears Prada; Wall Street has Bonfire of the Vanities. It’s about time the New York City fitness scene—booming in 2017 like never before—got its roman à clef. Fitness Junkie, out this week, might just be it.

The 300-page novel follows the journey of fashion world-turned-wellness voyeur Janey Sweet (who would probably roll her eyes at the use of the word "journey" to describe her story). Whether sweating her way through the ultra-buzzy workout of the moment, experiencing a shamanic ritual in a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone, or making fun of a broth-centric cafe targeting bros, the book is an incisive look at the healthy zeitgeist.

I spoke with co-author Lucy Sykes—a fashion-world vet with stints at Marie Claire, Town & Country, and Ralph Lauren under her belt, as well as her own children's clothing line (Lucy Sykes New York)—to talk about how the Manhattan boutique fitness scene feels like “outer space” to her British friends, which boutique classes have transformed her into a fitness junkie herself, and why she’s grateful to be told she has love handles.

Keep reading to get the inside scoop on the inspirations behind Lucy Sykes' Fitness Junkie.

Photo: Instagram/@lucysykesrellie

Why is the wellness scene so ripe for this treatment?

The idea really came [from] New York City. Everywhere I went—especially where I live in West Village—everyone was wearing athleisure. Some of the moms at drop-off looked like J.Lo in their athleisure! It was like a smack in the face—this fitness thing is now massive. When my organic dinner began to cost more than what I was wearing, that was another dinger. As a fashion person, I'll see a trend and see it as the next big thing. I called my agent and said, “Fitness!”

I was hesitant when I cracked Fitness Junkie because I feared it might be just another mockery of the habits of wealthy women à la Real Housewives. While there's plenty of delicious humor, it strikes me as something more than just a snarky, fun read. Is it?

Honestly, no. But what I think most writers and storytellers are doing is saying what we're feeling and have experienced. When I worked on magazines, if you were “fashion-fat,” you were in the back row [at Fashion Week]. I know certain male fashion designers only go up to a size 6—that’s a big thing in the book. How does it feel to be told you’re not the right fit? What are you going to do? The reason I started working out was to get thin. All these other things have happened—mood, strength, blah blah. But I started to get thin. Our lead character, Janey, takes all these classes to lose weight, but they’re really just a distraction...they help her figure out who she wants to be. 

The most important thing is that we're talking about these things. All the classes, the spirituality…it’s hysterical and some of it is real, and some is fake. People are always going to be seeking something even though it’s all about what’s inside you. But this is the trend now—it’s huge and massive and not going away.

Photo: Instagram/@lucysykesrellie

You're British. Is the Fitness Junkie scene a NYC thing? An American thing?

Totally American. Take Richard Simmons: He never could have been alive in England because he is so over-the-top and cries all the time. In England, people laugh when I say I want to do a class. They are like, "What? Get on a bike and ride to the village if you want to exercise." In London, if you go to a barre class, it's carpeted and the music is so low. Saying that, I think the tipping point is coming there, in part because of the interest I see in the book. They can’t believe it—what I’m describing is like outer space. They think it's so odd and bizarre and American and crazy. They might do a bit of yoga, stroll down the street, but it’s always raining. The Brits, sadly, do not yet qualify as fitness junkies.

There's a great scene in which a woman wears a gold "Feminist" pendant while avidly Facetuning away her flab on Instagram without seeing the apparent contradiction. What's going on there?

That really happened to me! It happened in Antigua. I was with a healthy girl who was lovely and fit, and in a perfect bikini. She wanted to Facetune either her kids or her tummy rolls—and mine. I didn’t need to be told by a girl wearing “girl power” garb that I had extra weight in my swimsuit on the beach. Instead of being negative about them, I just think, That's going to be the most amazing story. Thank you for telling me I have love handles. Thank you.

I also loved when one character reflects that a fitness addiction born of fat-shaming by her male boss leads her to spend more time with female friends than ever before.

This is another massive trend I'm thinking about for book number three: the third place. The gym is potentially the new church, religion, Starbucks. This is the other reason that fitness and classes, and having a goddess or a guru, have taken off: We're in a weird moment in which who knows what will happen, and having that community makes you happier. The friends you have IRL compared to social media…there really is no comparison. It’s fascinating and going to be a massive thing—community through classes. Like, some go to an [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting, now others go to a barre class, or a Taryn Toomey class. Howard Schultz did it with Starbucks, which no longer has that magic, but he found that third place at the time. It really goes beyond the class itself; it’s what’s started in these classes. Notice that no one brings in an iPhone—there's a real physical, mental connection happening. 

Photo: Instagram/@lucysykesrellie

Is the fitness scene just a vehicle for making women more obsessed with weight loss? Or do you see it having a transformative effect?

For me, it is empowering. I think that it wasn’t that many years ago when a woman wasn’t supposed to be sweaty or strong. Now to be those things is to be inspiring and empowering as a woman. For me, personally, I only see very, very positive things about the fitness scene, really nothing negative. I do think the pricing issue is interesting. It is very expensive, but they're making a whole new industry and creating jobs. If very rich women can pay and want to, why not? This is paying other people and making a lot of incredible opportunity for out-of-work dancers, for example.

To anyone who's close to the fitness scene, there are some pretty clear allusions to familiar brands and figures, yet not by name. Others, like Fabletics, you do mention. How did you make these decisions?

We didn’t actually think about it. I mentioned Fabletics because I love Kate Hudson and I thought she was a great mass-market person that everyone would get. We keep being asked who is who, but I would be sued if I said anything! No one is anyone specific. There are so many wonderful wellness professionals and enthusiasts out there. A lot of them happen to be blond and skinny. We are inspired by all of them…it’s around you, and it’s everywhere.

Which classes are you a junkie for?

I'm obsessed with FlyBarre with Kara Liotta. Her abs and core lesson makes you want to die. It is the hardest thing in the world! I also love Bari, and the owner, Alexandra Bonetti. She's amazing. And in the Hamptons, I take Todd Mendiola at Flywheel in East Hampton. I also walk everywhere.

And there are more beach reads to stuff in your stylish tote this summer: These 10 books are life-changing, according to healthy insiders, and these are the buzziest wellness books of the year (so far). 

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