Q: You have a great body.
A: Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! No! No!
A: No. I'm serious. It's how you feel inside.
Q: Your body is terrific. Doesn't she have a great body?
MALE VOICE:Pardon me?
Q: Doesn't she have a great body?
A: That line's good.
Q: That's our waiter, Modesto. Are you obsessed about your body?
A: Not as much as I used to be. I used to be real neurotic. I don't sit and look at it and worry that it's fat. But there's certain things I just don't eat. They were cut out of my diet a long time ago. I'm rigid about it. I don't eat sugar, cookies, fats, butter. I know what it will do to me. When I danced, I was really neurotic. Awful, just awful. Phobias. You think about how your body looks all the time. Not how it looks to men, but how it looks.
Q: Not sexually?
A: No. I mean, you think about that, too. But when you're rehearsing, when you're taking class, it's how you look in regards to the other dancers. You're constantly thinking about it and it makes you more neurotic and you end up having a harder time dealing with dieting. I hated that part of dancing, I hated it. Being in fitness is fun compared to that.
Q: How did you get into fitness?
A: I was an IBM brat. When I was little we moved around. There weren't that many kids around, so I started entertaining myself when I'd get home from school. I taught myself gymnastics.
Q: You went from gymnastics to dance?
A: Yeah. In gymnastics, you had to be real dedicated. You had to be a jock. And the dancing, God, I loved that, right from when I started. I went to school in California -- Mills College. One of the few places you could get a good degree in dance, anatomy, kinesiology.
A: The study of movement.
Q: How do you spell that?
A: Stephanie, I can't spell. I took kinesiology, not spelling. Kinesiology. The study of moving parts, levers. I had a real good anatomy teacher who I hated. You know, the good ones you hate.
Q: So you got this place on Massachusetts Avenue?
A: Yes, it was a huge pit. It was awful. The last time it was rented was 1972 or something.
Q: How much did you spend renovating?
A: Oh, about $7,000 or $8,000. I was a nervous wreck. I'd never dealt with a contractor, people screwing up the plumbing --
Q: Did your family help at all?
A: Well, see, my dad and I -- see, it's weird. He never had a son. He was real hard on me when I was a kid to be ambitious. I started planning this. I went and found out what it would take to incorporate -- the D.C. government, licenses. I didn't want to talk to my father until I had everything. I was scared to death because I really do need his approval. I'd never say that to him, but way deep down inside I wanted to be real smart.
So we planned it and I got a real good bottle of chardonnay and I went over to my parents. It was a Sunday. I had a briefcase full of papers, every single thing. I told them what I was doing. His face dropped. I was a wreck. After about five to 10 minutes, he grilled me. Then he said, "Can I invest?" I was shocked.
Q: Does he see another Jane Fonda here?
A: How dare you say that name.
Q: Why are you so down on Jane Fonda?
A: Oh, because she's already been a success. No. I think it's good. I'm thinking I can get up there, too. She just doesn't have a background in it. But she had a gimmick. She has a wonderful body, a wonderful face.
Q: She has a thick neck.
A: I like her voice. It's very sexy. It's wonderful. It made me angry that she just jumped in all of a sudden. She could be anything. She could go and be a lawyer or something if she wanted. It just --
Q: Do you think she has helped the business of women's fitness?
A: Yeah, I do.
Q: You talk during the exercises. You correct people. You yell. Which is a criticism by people -- that you're too hard on them. To take Betsy Brown is a real statement that you're willing to work out.
A: Exactly. One woman who's in another class -- when she knew I was going to be teaching my other teacher's class for two weeks, she left. She came back the day that the teacher came back.
Q: You don't have any gimmicks?
A: Maybe I could make up some type of gimmick. Leather boots. Whips.
Q: Do you lose weight from exercise?
A: If you're burning calories.
Q: I haven't lost any weight from taking your class. I eat more to keep up. Twinkies and a bag of Oreos.
A: No Twinkies, Stephanie, please.
Q: Oreos? No milkshakes? I thought I could lose weight and still eat the same by doing exercise. Are Washington women more obsessed with their bodies than other cities?
A: Compared to San Francisco, night and day. In San Francisco, there aren't as many workaholics. People here are so into this rigid schedule. It's amazing. Work is people's lives. A lot of people think when they exercise that it's work, that it's discipline.
Q: What body parts are women most concerned about?
A: Thighs. And then abdomen. First, thunder thighs.
Q: How do you get big boobs?
A: Have a baby and then nurse.
Q: You either have them or you don't?
A: You can strengthen them by using your pectoral muscles.
Q: Women are not the only ones who are obsessed with their work. You teach men.
A: We're slowly building our clientele of men.
Q: You have your gays. Are homosexual men as obsessed about their bodies as women?
A: They're obsessed with each other's.
Q: What do you think of when you exercise?
A: Making sure everybody stays up.
Q: Everybody stays breathing?
A: I don't want to lose anyone in the first half. Second half --
Q: Then they fall like flies.
A: I always check each face.
Q: Whether they're red?
A: No, no. I look at that later. But to see what kind of mood they're in.
Q: I can tell when you've had a good day or a bad day. When you've had a bad day, the exercise goes on longer than usual. You know what I think about when I'm exercising?
Q: That Bob Fosse is going to walk in the door and discover us. That we're going to be in a chorus line. I think that someday it's like a '40s musical with Ginger Rogers. She's trying out and she's doing the tap dance and all of a sudden, you know, Ziegfield comes in and says "YOU! You're the one. I want you."
A: Stephanie, I think we're going to need to have a different storefront for that, a good storefront with glass.
Q: You have women that are very heavy, and you have women that are anorexic.
A: I don't have any anorexic people.
Q: But very thin.
A: Most of those people who are thin now have really worked on it. I think a lot of it has to do with what I was talking about -- being neurotic. If you count calories all the time and weigh yourself every day, it becomes such a literal thing. It's following you all the time. You can't enjoy something and get away from it. The people I know that are just too careful about it -- it starts to rule their lives. I think they can go off the deep end. When I worked at the Y, it was funny. You know how people sign up for college? It became like that. People started fighting. People got rude if they couldn't get into this noon class. I had two women come into my office one day. One of them said, "I have to be in your class. I have to."
"Well, it's filled."
"I have to get in. My name is so-and-so and I'm a friend of so-and-so's."
Finally, I said, "All right. Don't tell them outside. We'll sneak you in." So the women standing there next to her said, "I need to get in, too." I said, "I just can't do it." She started screaming. The two women started fighting. I mean, you can hear it out in the offices. I couldn't believe it. I stood there and I said, "You guys are women in your 30s and you're fighting over an exercise class!" I felt like a drug dealer. I'd get things in my answering machine. "Betsy, where are you? I need you. I need it."
Q: Exercise has become big business in this Women spend enormous amounts of money on leotards, exercise, Jane Fonda records. Are you making any money?
A: I haven't broken even yet. I just started four months ago.
Q: How many students do you have now?
A: I've got maybe 75 or 80. But I've got an extension at Synfuel.
Q: What's that?
A: Synthetic Fuel Corporation. It's a government corporation. American Chemical Society is starting in May.
Q: You're going to go teach exercise to these business people?
A: I'm having American Chemical come down to me, but I'm going to have a teacher go to Synfuel. American Chemical, the company doesn't pay for it. In most situations they won't. They used to. Like IBM will help subsidize.
Q: Should businesses subsidize it?
A: I think it would be nice for them to pay part of it. I think if they pay all of it, people wouldn't come. If people put out themselves, then they come.
Q: If The Washington Post were paying for me to go exercise I wouldn't go as often?
A: I don't think you would. You haven't invested yourself. It's like Mom and Dad paying for something for you.
Q: How has starting your own business affected your private life?
A: When I was thinking about opening up, one person had a feeling that I was good. He has his own business. He sat down across from me, talked business. Finances for the first year and all that stuff. He sat down and just shot out all the stuff to me one night, and I was almost crying.
Q: This is your ex-boyfriend, the dermatologist?
A: He was very supportive. Really listened while I was going through all the annoying bull - - - - before I started. He realized he wanted a woman that was her own person, ambitious, their own business.
But when you really come down to it, it means somebody who is going to be obsessed with their business. It's going to take all your time. If I want to get together with somebody, I don't get out of there before 8:30 or 9, and then I don't even have everything done.
Q: So this man was threatened by it?
A: In a way I think. I wasn't as flexible. He had been a doctor. He'd just take a half day Friday or whatever. He'd say, "Just think, you can just leave on Friday. We can go away for the weekend." And I'd go, "But it's going to be different. I'm going to want to be there." He said, "Oh, no, you're going to have somebody take over the classes." Unh-unh- unh.
Here he was, he'd been in his business for years. I was at the beginning. The ceiling might start falling down.
Q: So what happened to this guy?
A: We stopped seeing each other.
Q: Because you opened your own business?
A: I think that was partially it.
Q: Why are you so driven?
A: Because I have to do something that takes everything. I had to have my own business. I planned it, and then I got scared. But I never thought about not doing it once I was set on it. 'Cause I wouldn't be able to forgive myself. I had to go for it.
Q: Why are we so obsessed?
A: It was real weird. When I was in 11th grade, I got one of those little awards. They give you awards for being popular --
Q: You had best body?
A: Yes. Can you imagine? Of all the things in the world. I had to walk up and get this thing. It was hideous.
Q: You're kidding.
A: Can anyone feel so stupid standing up? You want to take the chair with you when you go up to get it.
Q: So that's what you were known for? Do you ever resent that you weren't given an award for having a great mind?
A: Yeah, that was part of the reason I wanted to have my own business. You have to be smart. You have to learn.
Q: Would you have preferred to have an award for a great mind versus a great body? I mean, having a great body sort of denotes a Marilyn Monroe sex symbol type thing -- dumb, dizzy, daffy.
A: In 11th grade, it's fine. When you get older, that's when I wanted the great mind. Really. I went through a whole studious, studious, stage to counteract it. Isn't that hysterical? I hadn't thought of that in so long until you just started talking about it.
Q: All the women in the locker room say, "Gee, I wish I had Betsy's body." Do you ever want someone to say, "Gee, I wish I had Betsy's mind?"
A: Oh, yeah. The people I really like are the ones who came and said, "God, I think it's terrific that you did this. I love women who start their own businesses."
Q: You're not just another great body?
A: I'm the Inc. part of Great Bodies. It's fun counting money.
Q: You'd rather count money than calories.