“Show off your fit and fabulous body in your best black, white or pink swimsuit,” instructs the invitation to Flirty Girl Fitness’ “Black, White, and Pink Affair,” a flirtini-soaked first-year participant in the 10th Annual Chicago Scene Boat Party. My best and only swimsuit being a navy one-piece, I toss on a black sundress—by Flirty Girl standards, I might as well be wearing a burqa—and head for the Anita Dee II dock at Navy Pier, where we’ll depart to “party with friends and strangers” (in my case, mostly strangers) on board the hundreds of boats gathered in The Play Pen, just off Chicago Avenue Beach.
It’s just before noon, and overcast—not an auspicious start to what event sponsor Chicago-Scene.com boasts is “consistently voted the wettest and wildest event of the summer.” With Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” blaring in the background, I’m handed a pink feather boa, christened flirtilicious and granted entrance to three decks of open-bar-enhanced fun. The dance floor is vacant; the bar is packed. Proving that parties—even parties with $75 entrance fees ($60 for Flirty Girl members)—don’t change all that much after middle school, people cling to the groups they came with. Girls cluster with girls, while packs of guys rove through the crowd with armfuls of drinks they seem to be distributing mainly to each other.
“It definitely seems like a bit of a sausage fest. It makes me not want to take my shirt off,” says Kate, 30, a gym member who’s just finished her master’s in counseling. “It looks like ‘Jersey Shore’.” She’s here with her friend Mrugesh, an aspiring comedian who’s gamely clad in a fuchsia polo and white shorts. Surveying the crowd—“a lot of underboob,” he observes—Mrugesh declares this not his usual scene. “It doesn’t seem like people would have conversations about something,” he says. Still, both he and Kate are in high spirits. “I make barely any money, but I wanted to be on a boat!” she laughs, echoing the seafaring enthusiasm of a stocky guy who identifies himself as “Dr. B.” (“He’s actually a neurosurgeon,” his friends explain. “We’re not even lying.”)
For his part, Mrugesh tells me, “my main objective is just to mingle.” I get to watch him in action moments later as he affably chats up a trio of twenty-something ladies. It seems, though, that he and Vanessa, an underwriter in town from New Jersey, have incompatible objectives. “I just want to enjoy my Saturday,” she tells him before excusing herself.
Founded by sisters Kerry and Krista Knee, Flirty Girl Fitness advertises itself less as a gym than as “a high-end social club for women,” as much about camaraderie and mutual support as about exercise. With its all-pink décor, manicure station and Girl Powered lap-dance classes, it’s easy to dismiss Flirty Girl’s sisterhood rhetoric as a Friedanian nightmare. The members, however, are enthusiastic—and persuasive.
Julie, a forty-something Flirty Girl who’s here celebrating her one-year anniversary with the place—she’s lost 30 pounds, she tells me—says that before Flirty Girl, she’d never “ever ever ever ever ever ever” set foot in a gym. Initially won over by the in-house cocktail bar, she now works out about four times a week, taking classes like “Hottie Body Boxing,” “Hardcore Hip Hop,” “Sexy Stretch” and “Flirty Yogalates”—“Everything but pole dancing.” “It’s the gym for the party girl or the inner party girl,” she says, warning that despite the trappings, Flirty Girl offers some serious workouts. “I took her post-baby class,” Julie whispers, pointing to a bikinied instructor holding court in sky-high stilettos, “and I couldn’t walk for a week.”
Everybody’s been telling me about how accepting, supportive and body-positive Flirty Girl is, citing the gym as a source of both social and professional support, but it’s belly-dance instructor Billie who points out what’s perhaps most striking about the dynamic in evidence. “This is the most integrated party I’ve seen in Chicago,” she observes, and say what you will about the third-wave ethos of Flirty Girl, Billie’s got a point: not only are there black, white and pink-clad bodies of all different races in attendance—more than half of the party-goers are non-Caucasian, she estimates—there’s no high-school cafeteria-style racial divide. People are actually, like, interacting with each other.
According to Billie, it’s the quality of the average member that allows this rare mingling—these women, she says, are “too smart, too educated, too beautiful” to settle for anything—or anyone—less. Do you see what I’m saying, she asks, pulling another Flirty Girl into our circle. Jocelyn, 53, (Billie: “Did you hear that? 53!”) is decked out in midriff-bearing hot-pink spandex, and it’s true: she looks great. “Life is short!” Jocelyn cries, sounding like something between a motivational speaker and a fortune cookie, “have a ball!” “If you never stop taking care of yourself, your self will take care of you!” she muses before dancing back into the crowd.
Enthusiasm and alcohol are a powerful combination, and by the halfway mark, the initial awkwardness has abated considerably. The neurosurgeon has attached himself to the hips of a particularly flirty girl who’s recently shed her fetish-style “sailor” costume to reveal a black bikini top and shorts. Despite her earlier trepidations, Kate, too, is now down to a bikini top and has hit the dance floor. “As long as everyone’s having a good time,” a promoter named Bobby philosophizes, “it’s a good time.” It’s hard to argue with that. (Rachel Sugar)