Photo: Molly Matalone
in Tik Tok videos She promoted LeavesAnd A Step-by-Step Guide to Weightlifting for Beginners Fitness writer Casey Johnston shows how she used to pick up a 40-pound box of cat litter and carry it to her apartment. In this “before” scene, you go through a series of painfully familiar twists, lunging, shoving, and finally pushing the box through the wheelbarrow door, butt in the air. The “after” video is approximately 2 seconds long; Johnston simply reaches down, picks up the box, and carries it inside.
The passage is simple yet sums up what makes Johnston an effective teacher, a teacher who has convinced her readers that gaining weight, not slimming down, is a good fitness goal: her willingness to display her flaws to get her message across, her commitment to the daily benefits of lifting, and her body, as you would expect from the author of the eponymous advice column ask a sully woman, commendable swallow.
Since 2016, when she started writing the column, Johnston has been amassing an army of (presumably somewhat enthusiastic) followers. Readers migrated with her from Herbin magazine to Self magazine, then to Vice, then to Johnston’s independent newsletter, She is a beast. Navigating the world of journalism wasn’t always easy for Johnston, as you might guess from the course of her four-home column in six years. In an earlier media era, an audio guru with a well-known following might have spent 20 years writing for the same magazine; Johnston had to be a nomad, then a businessman. In the process, she’s become a self-publishing success story: her newsletter has 21,000 subscribers, and Leaves It sold 11,000 copies at US$20 a pop.
Nobody Johnston spoke to at traditional publishing thought the book would sell. Agents and editors can’t get around how the material is presented. Johnston asked, “Have you thought about building an app?” “I was like, Oh my God.“
what makes Leaves Differing from other books of this type, besides Johnston’s charming voice and ballet expertise, is the way she breaks down movements as clearly as possible. “I’ve read textbooks explaining how to lift weights, and it just melts in the brain,” she says. So in her book, there is no exercise physiology, no anatomical charts. Instead, there are straightforward descriptions of how to safely move weights from one gravity-fed barbell to another, as well as links to YouTube videos of her doing the moves.
January has been particularly baffling for those of us who live in bodies and consume culture. The infection spreads as we flip between newscasts and podcasts (A toast to the HolocaustAnd maintenance phase) that reminds readers of the diet industry’s insidiousness, then returns to social media dominated by “before-and-after” weight-loss photos and “New Year’s, New You” campaigns. Even the most enlightened among us couldn’t help but notice Celebrities are currently the thinnest, lower the rise of their jeans; When we notice this, it affects us. I asked a trainer at my gym if she’d seen a shift in the way her clients talk about their goals, and she told me that while they once wanted a big ass, they’re back to using euphemisms for Thin like toned And leaning against.
“Doctors say, ‘Just exercise.’ And people on Reddit say, ‘Eat less,'” Johnston says. “And if it were that simple, we’d all do it.” She’s only too happy to talk me through the mess, though she warns me that she exhausted.She and her boyfriend celebrated their recent move to Los Angeles by getting a new puppy who still hasn’t slept through the night.She hasn’t been to the gym much lately, but as her readers might expect, she’s totally fine with that.The importance of rest, and doing With as few actors as possible, is a leitmotif of her work.
It wasn’t always the case for Johnston. She starved once and excessive heart herself to the point that her feet and hands were always cold. The Eureka moment, and many of its readers, hinge on A.J Draw four avocados. The pit represents muscle, and the green flesh represents fat. When you restrict calories to lose weight, both the cavity and the meat get smaller. When you gain weight again – inevitably – the pit keeps getting smaller, a process that repeats each time you put yourself through this cycle. Lifting weights makes the hole bigger. The bigger hole, not the less green stuff, should be the goal of the drill, but we’ve been writhing at it for years.
Johnston, who started lifting weights in 2014, is an ideal guide for beginners to strength training because she vividly remembers what it was like to feel like oneself. “Eating like a big, beautiful horse,” as one should do to build muscle, didn’t come easily to her. “I was afraid of gaining weight in order to get stronger,” she says. She admits that one of the reasons she started lifting was because it looked as good as a crane she found on Reddit: “I was like, Oh, her body traditionally looks hotter than it ever did. And she does this by working way less than I am and eating way more than I am. That was compelling.” It’s refreshing to hear someone admit that their fitness goal was, at least at one point, profound.
It is very unusual to read anything by an intelligent writer who is certainly not neurotic. In part, she attributes her radiant mind to weightlifting—you’d be amazed. This practice taught Johnston that consistent effort, not peak effort, is how change happens. As in so much of her work, you don’t need to be interested in weightlifting to appreciate the insight.
Many of Johnston’s successes began as failures. About a year before Deputy was laid off, she approached newsletter platform Substack about a publishing deal. “I’ve never heard an offer lower than this,” she says. “It was like, ‘We’ll pay you $75,000 for a year on a contract basis. That year, you’ll get 15 percent of your subscription revenue, and we’ll keep 85 percent. But they stipulated that you write at least twice a week, which was a deal breaker for me.” (A spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on numbers but added, “We’d love to have you on Substack again someday.”)
It turns out that there was a lot of not doing. Instead it works She is a beast on the Ghost newsletter platform, where you “easily” earn enough income to pursue the project full time. She points out that although there are larger newsletters out there, their readership is loyal. “Not to cast shade on my group, but a lot of the newsletters are just marketing. They engage in really pushy tactics to get people to sign up.” Then their open rates are low. “My engagement rate for paid subscribers”—who pay either $100 or $250 a year—”is 90 percent over the past 30 days. For free subscribers, it’s 80 percent. I’d rather have that than have a big list.”
A collection of articles touching on newsletter topics recently sold to Simon & Schuster imprint One Signal in an “important deal”. (Like all readers Publishers Lunch You know, Importance runs companies from $250,000 to $499,000). Johnston hopes book readers will return to it whenever they need a reminder that tough is better than thin. “When I think of media that I really like, I think of Nancy Meyers movies. And that’s my vision of this book, that it’s going to continue that way.”