If you are a woman of a certain age and of particular (white) socialization, you likely learned at some point, as I did, that the best way to stay thin (aka be considered attractive) was by drinking massive amounts of water. At least eight glasses a day, but maybe like a gallon if you possibly can.
At the swanky clothing store where I worked in 1990, my co-workers and I would try to polish off two or three liter bottles of Poland Springs during a five-hour shift, and then take turns holding down the floor every 30 minutes so one of us could pee. It was a little obsessive, and not in a cute way. Going for drinks after work meant letting a chilled glass of Chardonnay get warm, while trying to discreetly swig the last half of the third liter of Polands that day. Being thin was more appealing than getting tipsy.
I don’t know if it was the water or the fact that we weren’t really eating anything otherwise, but whatever, it kept us in sample sizes as we hawked $400 Anna Sui dresses in order to meet our commission goals. And I looked amazing in skin-tight velvet leggings.
It turns out, non-swanky retail jobs are less conducive to nonstop pee breaks. After I graduated and started waitressing, it was just not feasible to be constantly drinking water. But also, and perhaps more importantly, I started to see and embrace different kinds of body types as beautiful beyond the standard of white beauty.
I’m not arguing the health benefits of water. Obviously, human beings need to stay hydrated. Still, in the years after college and well into my adult years, when reusable water bottles became trendy, I managed to survive without carrying a Nalgene around with me everywhere I went. When I was pregnant with my son, though, my doctor got me back on the water brigade — I will tell you, having to pee every 30 minutes when you’ve got an entire human being growing inside your body hits differently than when you’re trying to be a waif for vanity’s sake. Because when you’re pregnant, the sweet relief of peeing is like no other, as opposed to the rose-tinted delusion that you are ultimately cleansing away toxins and other things that will make you gain weight. Today, my husband, a lifelong athlete, is an absolute hydration loyalist. Both he and my 16-year-old son, himself a burgeoning athlete, fill and refill their water bottles several times throughout the day, while I sip at my pint-size handcrafted water glass from the set that came from our wedding registry 17 years ago.
My take is not popular, clearly, as evidenced from the new gallon-size water bottles that are all the rage. They even have motivational phrases at every mark to get you through, which, I mean. No? The forced cheerfulness feels especially dismal against the backdrop of the pandemic — ostensibly the best time in the world to sit around and drink water and pee all day. But for me, it’s mostly just a reminder of the way our worlds have shrunk, and how we’ve been reduced to our most primitive functions. (Although I bet we would’ve fallen for these things back in my retail days. “REMEMBER YOUR GOAL — to be and stay skinny! Hurrah!”)
I still drink what is probably considered a lot of water (I am a runner, and I’m not trying to die out in these Brooklyn heat wave streets), but I don’t force myself to drink more than it feels like my body needs. And this, actually, is most doctors’ recommendation when it comes to water: Drink when you’re thirsty. There is actually no science behind the necessity of drinking eight glasses of water a day — let alone a gallon — and I don’t know about you, but I have been riding very hard for science lately.