Note: This post discusses weight gain and loss, body image, and other diet/fitness related issues so if you’re someone who is negatively affected by reading this type of content just look at the photos or skip altogether.
I woke up on January first to a tremendous feeling of relief. I realize that the year changing over to 2021 isn’t going to immediately solve our problems (as is evidenced by the fact that it’s only been a few weeks and we’ve already had a group of domestic terrorists try to overturn our legitimate election, literally threatening democracy in the process) but there truly is something refreshing about entering a new year. I know a lot of people think New Years and New Years resolutions are bullshit, but if you ask me, you kinda just gotta take motivation from wherever you can find it. And for me being able to see 2020 in the rear view mirror was a welcome change, regardless of whatever lies ahead.
In addition to the isolation, fear, and anxiety surrounding Coronavirus, 2020 brought with it a ton of personal setbacks, a tremendous amount of financial insecurity, really disappointing career fails, relationship ups and downs, and some scary health realities to my family. I haven’t chatted about any of these things publicly because most of them aren’t really my stories to tell, but layered on top of all the fun stuff (buying a house, TV show airing) was a LOT of sadness and emotional sludge. 2020 was truly the year where every time I thought the bottom had fallen out, the bottom fell out of the bottom, and so on. I know I’m not special in this, and I know a lot of you probably felt the same and were dealing with a lot on top of the stresses of Covid.
I didn’t really realize how off I’d been in 2020 until it was over. Instead, I just kind of trudged along thinking I wasn’t depressed. But sometimes it’s easier to see something for what it is when you’re looking at it with the benefit of hindsight. When I woke up on January first I could see 2020 literally on my body, on my face, the physical manifestation of the weight of 2020 had manifested itself on my physicality.
I gained about thirty pounds in 2020 going from probably my fittest year ever (2019) to literally the least healthy year of my adult life. The first time I went on an official diet I was twelve (though I’d actually toyed around with dieting since age ten). Despite the fact that I appear “straight bodied” (meaning I am usually not discriminated against for my size and I can buy clothing in sizes that fit without too much trouble), I am not a naturally thin person. The way I’ve maintained my body in adulthood is a combination of a highly monitored diet and hours and hours of daily exercise, which has come to act as an antidepressant for me and helped me maintain mental clarity. As someone who struggled with eating disorders and body issues in my teens and early twenties, working out became a healthier way for me to approach fitness in a healthy way.
But for some reason I could not get into any kind of workout routine in 2020, despite all the money and mental energy I threw at it. First, I tried working out in my West Hollywood apartment. It felt claustrophobic and I was always worried I was disturbing my downstairs neighbors. Then my gym opened back up, briefly, and I worked out there for a bit until it shut back down for obvious reasons. Then, I bought a ton of free weights off a friend and attempted to workout with my neighbors in our backyard. For some reason they thrived working out in that space. But I couldn’t get into it. Something I realized about myself last year: I’m pretty sensitive to my surroundings, so working out outside where my hands and feet were getting dirty from working out on a driveway didn’t work for me. Turns out I’m kind of a princess about gyms. So as the year went on, my workouts became less and less frequent, less effective, and I slowly fell further into a physical depression. Being physically depressed is weird, because your brain is like I’M FINE but your body is depressed. That’s basically how I felt all year long.
Briefly, when I looked in the mirror on January first, I was overcome with shame. How had I let myself slip like this? Why did I drown my loneliness, boredom, and anxiety in lethargy, wine, and bad eating habits? But that only lasted for a minute. Because I started thinking about what the extra flesh on my body represented. And that immediately changed my perspective. Those extra pounds represented me doing the right thing to keep other people safe. They represented me staying inside. They represented me NOT going on vacations, not getting on airplanes, NOT socializing irresponsibly. They represented days, months, almost a whole year of isolating myself in order to not contribute to a community spread that could harm somebody else. Those of us who took quarantine seriously were bound to manifest the weight of it somehow. And for me, it manifested as actual weight. As worry lines on my face. And I refuse to feel shame for those things. I refuse to feel badly about doing the right thing for other people, despite the toll it took on me physically.
I refuse to feel shame about my weight gain for another reason: feeling good about yourself is the best thing you can do for people around you. Expressing love for your body (at any size) gives other people permission to love theirs. Self-esteem is oddly not just about you. It’s about feeling good about yourself to liberate others around you to do the same. And with that in mind, I want to make sure I express that I love the extra fat on my body right now. I think it looks good. But I don’t love the way I feel, the physical depression that’s still there, the grogginess, which is why the gym was the first project I decided to tackle at Londo Lodge. For me, its was imperative that I get my health back on track so I could start to feel well again.
So, here’s what I did…
What I learned last year was that there was no way I was going to workout A) If the space wasn’t appealing, B) If I didn’t have the equipment I needed and C) If there wasn’t a “hook.” My previous gym in LA was a fun place to people watch where I’d see celebrities and run into friends. It was kind of a scene but I liked that it felt exciting there, that there were cute guys to scope out, and that it felt kind of social. But obviously there was no way to recreate that type of hot spot in the middle of the woods so I had to think of another thing to reel myself in.
This is going to sound fully insane, but that hook was The Today Show. For me, The Today Show has always been kind of a guilty pleasure that I only watch when I’m in a hotel on vacation or out of town for work. I’ve long held a secret obsession with it that I don’t fully understand. It might be the weird dissonance between the cheery hosts (cheery despite waking up at 2 AM to shoot) and the actual news presented. It’s also fascinating because it usually reflects what mainstream, middle America is thinking even though it’s filmed in New York, likely the least middle American place in America. I’ve never truly understood my attraction to The Today Show, but I find it wonderfully watchable and for some reason it feels like a treat, as if watching it was somehow something “bad” I shouldn’t be doing on a daily basis (that might have to do with the time it’s on, hours I “should” be working). Anyway, with The Today Show, I found my hook, something to put on to entertain me and keep me company in my home gym since there tragically were not going to be any hot guys to look at.
The television was definitely one of the bigger splurges in the room. In order to watch The Today Show in all its glory, I installed a 65″ Samsung Frame TV (Hashtag I PAID FOR THIS and, girl, it was not cheap). I’ve been eyeing this TV for years and have wanted one since they came out. And while the functionality is a little annoying (it’s slightly difficult to integrate it with an Apple TV because it’s already a smart TV that wants to operate independently) the design is beautiful and perfect. I don’t understand why more TV manufacturers aren’t offering pretty TVs like this. While I am firmly against a TV above a fireplace, if you MUST do that I’d say this would be a good investment. One thing that annoyed me a little is that while it’s sold as a designer TV, the base model has a black frame (which honestly looks like any other TV’s frame) and if you want any other color you have to buy an additional frame for $200 (I went with the beige color to go with the light, bright colors in the room). People are buying this TV because it looks like artwork, so in my opinion you should be able to just order the frame color you want instead of having to pay an extra few hundred dollars on top of the already expensive price of the TV. Having the TV in the room is a game changer though, and definitely keeps me entertained and makes me feel less lonely while working out.
I chose the smallest of the four bedrooms in my house because it was the brightest (and also so the larger rooms could be used to host guests). This side of the house gets a lot of sunlight so I knew I would gravitate toward spending time in there. In designing the gym, I was literally doing everything I could to coax myself to go in there. And I realize how ridiculous all of this is, I am literally a single man living in a 3000+ square foot house alone (with the most beautiful dog on earth) and I know that being able to choose which empty ass guest bedroom to put my gym in is the epitome of privilege. But, I had the opportunity and I was in not-so-great health so why not?
After I’d figured out what my hook was going to be, I started thinking about what kind of space would draw me in, what kind of space would make me excited to workout. One thing that turns me off from most gyms is that they can feel cold and intimidating. They are the kind of spaces where if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can feel a bit out of your depth. This may be some sort of relic of high school gym class, where people like me (read: not athletic or coordinated) felt too weak and like they didn’t belong. So I wanted to kind of embrace that by going in a totally feminine, totally gay direction with the color palette. And yes I realize there’s probably something problematic about saying pink is “feminine” and “gay” but, let’s be honest, historically that’s how the color has been seen.
I had so much fun using hand-painted wall shapes on an episode of Build Me Up (which, coincidentally, you can now watch using the new Discovery+ App!) that I wanted to incorporate some shape to the walls using paint. Pink and beige is one of my favorite color combinations so I knew I wanted to mix the pretty warm pink I chose (“Orange Flower” from True Value). To create the curved wall shapes, I made a compass using a nail, some string, and a pencil to trace out the semi-circles before hand painting the edges. The rest of the wall shapes were simply taped off with blue tape. I used a tiny detail brush to fix any errors I made along the way.
While it was important to me to make the gym fully functional (I spent a ton of money on the weights, the rack, and the other fancy equipment) it was also important that it feel homey and eclectic in there. Most of the art and accessories are things I had lying around (I’m trying to spend as little on these makeovers as possible and the equipment alone cost thousands). But I did buy a few new things including the world’s tiniest wood lamp and some beautiful vases designed by Justina Blakeney. I chose items that felt playful and cheery so that the room would feel unpretentious and inviting, kind of like all of the items in the room were cheering me on as I worked out. When you’re trying to get back into shape, you need all the encouragement you can get (even if it comes from beautiful vases with faces painted on them).
I have to admit, these vases sent me into a bit of a spiral. I loved them upon first sight and debated if I should buy one or if they needed to be a pair. I ended up buying the pair because I liked seeing them together (they double as bookends but also can be used simply as vases). Unfortunately, one of the vases broke in the mail (the redheaded one). So the only one I had (for a while while I waited for the replacement redhead to show up) was the brown-skinned, black haired one. And it caused me to question whether it was appropriate for me, a white presenting person, to display an ornament depicting a Black woman in my house. The reason I was troubled by it is that there’s a long history of white people displaying tokenized (and often racist) images and objects in their homes. And obviously there’s something really problematic about that. I’m talking about everything from British Imperialism – going into Africa, stealing artifacts and displaying them in their home as “exotic” treasures – to more recent examples like Grace Coddington’s Mammy Jars.
Justina Blakeney is a friend of mine and I want to make clear that her beautiful vase bookends are in no way similar to the mammy jars or stolen relics (she’s biracial, Black and Jewish, proud of her identity and makes it a part of her work). But what I found potentially problematic was someone like me putting that vase on display with no context. I felt like it could be construed as tokenizing or exoticizing to have an object in my home that depicted a clearly Black face. And then I realized that I must have subconsciously processed every object that has a face on it (I love things with faces on them and have a lot) as having a white face. I myself make a lot of drawings and artwork with human figures on them and their features are too simplified to represent any sort of ethnic identity. But I guess I’d always sort of subconsciously thought of them as white (a perspective I’m questioning now) because I had no issue putting them all over my house.
Anyway, I’m clearly overthinking this but it brought some stuff up for me that I found interesting. Mainly: how and when is it appropriate for white people to display images and objects depicting Black people in their houses? The bad example I’m thinking of is a skeezy white male record executive with a highly sexualized image of a naked Grace Jones on his wall. Like how would that make a Black woman entering the space feel? And now that I have this vase I’m kinda feeling like it’s fucked up I don’t have more non-white faces around my house (full disclosure: my father’s lineage is Mexican so I grew up thinking of myself as “mixed” though I realize I present fully white). But then would it start to be weird if I had too many? Like getting back to the tokenizing thing? I’m actually curious what people think about this. Obviously I want to know what Black women think of this but I’m curious what white people think too, like do you feel weird displaying images and objects depicting Black people in your house and is there something inherently wrong about that? Or is it conscientious to think about how it might come across to display decorative objects depicting Blackness?
And finally, I want to reiterate that I think these vases are beautiful and I love them and I am in a huge fan of Justina Blakeney’s work and have been for years (in addition to designing beautiful objects she makes paintings, drawings, and has multiple collections of homewares and furnishings, all of them brilliant). The replacement for the broken vase came really quickly (they have amazing customer service) and for me having them together seemed to be a celebration of diversity and intersectional feminism that didn’t feel problematic for me to display in my house. But it definitely opened a door for me to think about my own subconscious biases, what was appropriate for me to have in my house, and made me question the lack of diversity in the imagery and objects around my house.
Seems like a lot of paragraphs to commit to talking about a vase, but I think the stuff you put in your house has a lot of meaning and anytime it can spark an important conversation, it should.
Now that that’s out of the way, back to design…
One of my favorite hacks from this project was the dowel hooks I made to store all the pull down equipment that goes with the pull-down cables I hung from the ceiling (these are used for fun chest and shoulder exercises). This dowel storage system is super easy to create: I chopped a 1.25″ thick dowel down using a chop saw, sanded the edges, and then used double-ended screws and anchors to attach them to the wall. I then used mug hooks to hang the different attachments to the dowels so they’d all hang in a neat and orderly way. Removing the rug also made a huge difference in making the space feel like a “real gym,” and helping protect my joints from too much impact during workouts. The foam floor tiles were relatively easy to install. I just cut them to size using a blade and used carpet tape to get them to stick to the sub-floor. I kinda love the way the sub-floors looked raw but they also looked like they’d love to give me splinters if I was doing jumping jacks or sit ups.
One of the most important elements of the gym are the multiple giant mirrors I installed on every wall. These are important not only because they bounce light around and make the space feel bigger, but also because they’re essential to make sure I can monitor my form on various exercises. I’ve used this Ikea mirror a million times, had it in multiple apartments, and I still think it’s the biggest bang for you buck you can get. Mirrors can get SO expensive and this simple one is $129. I used four in this space. Oddly, it was out of stock LITERALLY EVERYWHERE while I was installing my gym so I ended up driving all the way to the Ikea in San Diego to get it. Which was pretty nuts but not quite as nuts as it sounds (I happened to be in Palm Springs so it was only a two hour drive). I also like this mirror because it’s pretty easy to install onto the wall. I just used screws and anchors to hang mine.
Basically every room in this house had a hideous light fixture in it, so I went with the most minimal, simple fixture I could find (also the cheapest, this one was less than $30 from Amazon). I installed the light fixture myself and, quite honestly, I’m still waiting for it to explode and start the entire house on fire (I think I did it right?). I knew I wanted to use a wire orb I’d made as a prop for my book in the corner so the ceiling fixture needed to be a flush mount (usually doing more than one hanging pendant in a small space means they should match).
One of the best things about this first round of easy/fast makeovers at Londo Lodge has been that they are giving me a chance to experiment with things I might not otherwise take a chance on. I’ve been finding myself completing spaces and then realizing when I’m done that I’d kind of just done it instinctually without really putting on paper what I planned on doing or putting a ton of time into mapping things out. As a designer, this is really liberating because so much of typical design involves presenting ideas of what you plan to do. Here, I get to just play around and do whatever I want. And because it’s not permanent I can make some choices that might freak me out otherwise (I don’t know that I’d paint crazy ass shapes in pink all over the wall in my forever gym).
The great thing about this gym is that it’s working. I’ve been enjoying using it and all the tricks I played on myself (creating a hook, making it bright and gay, etc) are actually working. I definitely feel like I turned a corner and am digging out of the physical depression of last year. I’m sure there will be ups and downs with it, as there always is with trying to get back into physical and mental health, but I’m happy I’ve created the best space possible for me to do so.
I think we’ll all be dealing with the emotional ramifications of last year for a while now. It seems like we’re still months out from a time where we’ll all be vaccinated and where we’ll be able to see our families, hang out freely with our friends, travel, etc. But it’s truly a miracle that we even have a vaccine to look forward to at this point. Can you imagine going into this year without that little glimmer of hope to push us forward?
Now is the most important time in many of our lives to invest in taking care of ourselves, of our minds and bodies. So while part of me felt like investing so much time and money into creating a gym space in my house was frivolous, another part of me knew that the rest of the puzzle pieces of my life wouldn’t come together until I’d figured out how to get back to mental and physical health. I definitely don’t think this is something everyone needs to do. Some people do much better working out outdoors, hiking, or getting on a stationary bike in the corner of their bedroom. But I think starting from the point of “what is my psychology and what is going to get me to actually spend time moving my body?” can help open a door for making sure you’re setting yourself up for better workouts and thus a better mental state.