Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


Here we are again, mes enfants. How are you all? The year is now upon us, but much of it is still unknown; seize each day as it appears, and shape it according to your desires. We do not simply wait for happiness to alight upon our windowsill, but sculpt it ourselves, for ourselves, with tender ministrations.

March is such a lovely time of year. The embers of summer are cooling to autumn, and all the brightest sunlit pursuits give way to subtler pleasures. Bright light, too often, can dazzle us, and heat melt away our senses like wax – but in autumn, we see new shades of colour emerge, and more delicate sensations. This is a time to examine who we are and what we believe, with cool clarity and a fresh perspective. It is a time of change and development, both of which we should embrace with enthusiasm.

(Forgive me; autumn brings out a certain poetic mood, which I hope you’ll indulge.)

Not all developments are so welcome, of course. Last week I was forced to endure a private dinner party at Madonna’s apartment in Manhattan: eight courses of macrobiotic non-cuisine, served in hollowed-out papayas engraved with the likenesses of her own children. I’m not sure what theme she was going for, but if it was ‘her own madness’, it was well communicated. I did, at the very least, get to spend some time with Elton (when he wasn’t setting fire to her wardrobe), so the evening wasn’t a total loss.

Still, there’s nothing better to cleanse the palate than a juicy problem to solve. What would you ask of me this month, my darlings?


Dear Penny,

I’ve been finding it really hard to get in shape lately – everyone says summer is the time to do it, but between my research project and taking care of two kids, I’m just so exhausted all the time that it’s hard to find the energy! I’m not really a gym person either, and the weather’s been so hot recently that sweating outside feels awful.

Do you have any tips on how to stay in shape as a postgraduate student?


Feeling Frumpy


Dear FF,

First, it’s important to establish what you mean by ‘in shape’. Which shape, specifically, are you hoping to assume? If it’s something octagonal (which is very in right now) or even something non-Euclidean, I would heartily suggest a trip to La Forme, my favourite health spa and laboratory in Bruges. There, they’ll massage your genetic sequence into any configuration you like, darling – and they know just how much pressure to apply, if you know what I mean.

If you’d simply like to trim and tighten, however, and boost your energy levels, there are certainly plenty of tips I can offer for the stress-wealthy and time-poor. Exercise doesn’t need to be its own block in your schedule, intruding on other commitments; it can be a simple thread of wellness, woven through the rest of your daily activities and enhancing them in delicious ways.

While sitting at your desk, for example, observe your legs. What are they doing, while your upper body is engaged? If they’re just planted on the floor, that’s wasted kinetic potential! Let’s get them moving: replace your chair with a small exercise bike or treadmill (you may have to elevate your desk slightly to accommodate this) and make absent, repetitive movement a full-body activity.

Once you’re feeling comfortable, you can increase the difficulty for greater gains. At home, for instance, I sit on a horse (or occasionally a unicycle) while working; the constant effort to steady the beast with one’s thighs will tighten the hips and core, and it’s tremendous fun. Three of my bestsellers were written on horseback, and two on mule. (Sitting side saddle will also target the obliques!)

Speaking of comfort, I would also advise an adjustment to the temperature of your workspace. Make it colder. A body in hypothermia burns additional fat to raise its internal temperature and avoid organ death – like a furnace stoking itself. Shivering is marvellous exercise, and you can multitask it with anything! If you don’t have an air conditioner or refrigeration unit up to the task, just situate some ice cubes or cold packs about yourself; target the torso, top of the head and soles of the feet for best results.

And if you have children as you say, they can work for you while studying, rather than against you. When they need something, and run into the room and start tugging insistently on your leg, tug in the opposite direction. Time your tugs to match theirs, faster as they become impatient. Feel the resistance along the back of your calf. In this way, a working mother with two children, tugging at opposing legs at regular intervals throughout the day, will eventually have the muscular stamina of an Olympic hurdler.

Children have something so precious to offer us: their physical mass. So use it, darling.

And finally, when you do take a 15-minute break, it’s important to spend it on activities that allow both physical exertion and emotional release. A brisk 15-minute walk may be popular, but burns only 35 calories (and relies on fair weather, as you say). 15 minutes of hysterical crying, by contrast, will burn 55.5 calories, and can be enormously cathartic – but the very best way to spend the time, scientifically, is in vigorous masturbation, which will burn no less than 70 calories and flood your body with endorphins to relieve pain and elevate mood.

Yes, yes, yes! I cannot overstate the importance of ménage a moi, of finger painting, of dialling the rotary phone, of womansplaining yourself. The Catholics called it ‘self-pollution’ (in their ever-misguided way), but it is self-love, self-care… and, done frequently enough, self-enhancement. Enjoy your body, darling, and slim and tone it at the same time.



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