I punch like a woman! (Guest post)

I’ve always been a very physical person. Ever since I was a little girl, around 4 or 5 years old actually, I’ve always been fascinated by martial arts. I remember watching action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude van Damme. I would spend countless hours with my brother trying to replicate the moves we saw on television. At one point I actually wanted to physically be like Jean Claude van Damme. Five years later I was still committed to martial arts that I even drank raw eggs because I believed that would help me build muscles. Needless to say this phase completely ruined my relationship with raw eggs.

Although I had been involved in various sports throughout, I discovered that I was mostly drawn to American football. I pursued some employment as a referee for Intramural Flag Football at Western University. During my tenure, I refereed women’s teams, co-ed teams and men’s teams. As I was refereeing, I realized something fairly quickly. Whenever I made any calls that teams wanted to contest, they would usually send the men over. Being barely 5’4” tall, these men would usually tower over me. In fact sometimes they would try to intimidate me by:

  • entering my personal space
  • being sure to stand very tall and push their chests out and
  • use loud voices to try and prove their point.

While doing all of this they would question whether or not I even knew the rules being a female referee. I soon realized that these guys did not respect me as a referee because they assumed I did not know the rules nor did I follow what they considered a stereotypical “man’s sport”. Well, pish posh to that! I knew American football enough to know the NFL and CFL rules and also the rules for the intramural leagues. Even with this, I constantly had to prove myself at almost every game. Yet when my male counterparts refereed the games, there was rarely as much talk-back as when I did.

The attitudes that these men on the intramural teams displayed are not at all foreign. Often from a young age females are socialized to be feminine and to avoid physical sports or any physicality really. Females are socialized to be gentle. Luckily for me, I never ascribed to that sensibility. I always believed that I could do “anything a guy can do”. Does a guy want to spike the volleyball hard at me? Fine, give it your best shot! I will receive that spike and I might just spike hard right back at you. I have carried this attitude with me for every sport that I have pursued.

Fast forward a couple of decades and some later, here I was again rekindling my love for martial arts. Yet somehow when I entered a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym here in London almost 2 years ago, I completely lost my confidence. My friend invited me to join him at the MMA gym where he worked out. I remember the first day: I walked into the gym with my friend and immediately noticed two things:

  1. the girls were all together in one section of the mat and
  2. the guys were spread out all around the gym.

I thought, ok, maybe these girls are a bit shy and would rather socialize together. As time went on and I became more comfortable in the space, my coach would actively segregate the girls from the guys. Girls were encouraged to do Zumba as a warm up, while the guys had some skipping, push-ups, squats and crunches to do. When getting us ready for sparring, he would say, “fighters get ready, and girls you can partner up and roll on the mats”. For those not in the know, rolling refers to free practice of Jiu Jitsu moves on the mat. Listening to Coach constantly separate the girls from the guys drove me insane! A few months later, I finally could not stand it anymore. I approached Coach and explained to him that I would prefer we were all referred to as fighters in the space and that no separation be made. I told him that when I signed up there I came to train, not to dance. I asked that he treat me much like the other “fighters” and push me as much as he pushed the others. If I could no longer handle the training, then I would let him know.

It amazes me just how certain spaces, particularly any exercise spaces that involve weights, physical strength and/or aggression. It shouldn’t, especially considering how children are sometimes socialized, but it still does. Girls and women, are often not considered strong enough to compete. Yet when women do excel at these physical sports, they are considered too aggressive. It seems there is no happy medium; either the women cannot not do it, or they do it to an extreme. Sometimes these women are seen as being butch, or being close to what a man is supposed to look and act like. For example, any time I would prepare to get in the cage and spar with the guys, I would be told I “punch like a guy”, and that they should be careful. Instead of always comparing women and men, it would be wonderful for women to also be recognized for our strengths. So NO, I do NOT “punch like a guy”. I punch like a woman…a strong woman!

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Beckxsm is an MMA enthusiast. You can find her watching UFC fights, Invicta fights and some kickboxing on the weekends. On good days, she heads to the gym because she loves the feeling of a solid workout. When she is not doing that, she is either thinking about how to make the world a more positive place. When she is not off in her head somewhere, she likes to compose music, play guitar and sing.

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #14

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here.

Usually the posts are about body image. Why? Because those are the posts that usually have bare body bits in the image attached to them.

Tattoos have a long and culturally significant history—being used as a sign of initiation, association, clan, tribe, ownership, or sexual and personal liberty.

In Victorian times, upper class women had their bodies tattooed as a symbol of their independence. In her book Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoos, Margot Mifflin believes this was a “feminist gesture” with these women “taking control of their bodies when they had little power elsewhere.” Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie had a serpent tattoo around her wrist as a symbol of her feisty independence. However, not all Victorian women who sported tattoos did so willingly. Mifflin reports how some poor women were forcibly tattooed and exhibited in freak shows and carnivals.

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  • The Pollee Urinal by UiWE: Because Girls Sometimes Need to Pee in Public Too!
    If you’re a girl who has envied how easy it is for guys to pee in public, Copenhagen-based UiWE’s Pollee urinal might be just what you’ve been looking for. The company has developed three very cool prototypes of ladies-only urinals that – unlike the more individualistic P-tree urinals recently profiled for men – present girls with a more communal and sanitary public peeing option. Of course, some ladies are more shy than others, so UiWE tested out three different versions with varying levels of privacy at the rocking Roskilde festival in Denmark earlier this month.
  • 2014’s Worst Moments in Plus Size Fashion and Size Acceptance — Because We Didn’t Get it All Right
    When it comes to 2014, this probably won’t go down as the year we got it completely right when it comes to size-acceptance and plus-size fashion. Even though we made some pretty exciting progress in the conversations around body image and had quite a few wins in the plus-size fashion world, there were definitely some missteps and cringe-worthy moments. From independent and infuriating social media trolls to giant business corporations to fashion magazines, there were plenty of frustrating and annoying moments that remind us why we even need a size-acceptance movement in the first place.
  • CURVES’ By Victoria Janashvili Is An Art Photography Book That Will Celebrate All Women’s Bodies

    Photographer Victoria Janashvili has set out to celebrate women’s bodies — especially bodies that are sizes society doesn’t consider conventionally beautiful.

    A new photography project, CURVES, will feature stunning fine art images of so-called “plus size” models like Denise Bidot and Marina Bulatkina. The book will be released in 2015, provided the project meets Janashvili’s fundraising goal.

Let’s Be Realistic! It’s Okay to Scale Back

70percentOver the last week or two, I didn’t get in all of my workouts. I skipped a couple of swim sessions. I missed a bike class. I didn’t attend all of my run clinics.  I did virtually no weight training.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. I moved.  So in the run up to moving day, I spent many days packing. And in the days following the move, I’ve been many more days unpacking and trying to figure out where to put things in my new, smaller space.

The decision to move from a house to a condo is part of a larger plan that my partner, Renald, and I have to simplify our lives.  We feel positive about the change. But it’s also brought with it some emotions.

After I packed up the last box of stuff (oh, there was stuff!) from my cozy home office at the house, complete with a gas fireplace and lots of windows that looked out onto our treed lane way, I sat on the floor and wept.

When I went downstairs to make myself a cup of tea, I stood in the kitchen that I had played a major part in designing over a decade ago, insisting on an island large enough to accommodate any dinner guest who said, “what can I do to help?”  Again, while the kettle was boiling, I sobbed. I will miss that place.

Downsizing can come in all forms. What Renald and I are doing is a rather big picture shift for us. We are going from living in a house and having tenants in other units to living in a condo on the 23rd floor with a tiny storage locker in place of the boundless storage we had in the basement, two garages, and a shed. It’s putting us in touch with how much useless stuff we have, a good deal of which is now in the hands of others.

The impact the move has had on my workout schedule forced a different kind of paring down for a couple of weeks.  It’s not realistic, at least for me, to balance work, a major move, a full workout schedule, and — lest we not forget what is just around the corner — holiday prep and think that it’s all going to get done perfectly.

I want to be kind to myself.

This week I’m experimenting with getting in the full slate of swim-bike-run workouts. That’s two swims, three bike sessions on the trainer, and three runs. But what that has meant, and that I need to be realistic about going into 2015, is that it probably means I can’t do three weight training sessions a week. I could squeeze them in, but then I get no recovery time. That strikes me as inviting in injuries and the exhaustion of over-training.

Sam has blogged about the impact that life events can have on your plans.  Sometimes we have to make tough choices in order to free ourselves for other things.

A lot of us face this over the holidays. I have seen so many bedraggled, frantic looking people rushing from here to there over the past month. And I haven’t even stepped foot in the mall yet! People are making quick appearances at parties so they could make it to the next event.  Sometimes, friends I’ve talked to about fitting in all the holiday commitments are close to tears with fatigue.

I felt heartened by a recent article Sam passed my way, “Why giving just 70% can be better for your life.” 

I’m a big advocate of doing less, and not just when life happens. See my post “On Doing Less.” Life is always happening.  No, we’re not always moving and it’s not always the holidays and a family member isn’t always sick. But in a typical week or month there is an early morning meeting that disrupts the finely tuned schedule or a vacation or a wedding or a car accident or a crisis at work. We face deadlines — taxes, Christmas, work assignments. Or we just feel tired and need to take it easy.

So the idea that doing 70% might be better works for me. Author Adriana Barton writes about the 70% rule:

The idea, promoted by fitness and work-life-balance gurus, is to stop “giving it your all” in every area of life and see what it feels like to devote 70-per-cent effort in most areas, most of the time. And since the pressure to be all things to all people is linked to anxiety, sleep disorders, irritability and other forms of psychological distress, a 70-per-cent approach could be a strong defence against these all-too-common health concerns (when there isn’t an underlying mental illness).

The 70-per-cent rule, based on a somewhat arbitrary ratio, is not the same as the Pareto principle, well known in business circles, which dictates that 80 per cent of the outcomes come from 20 per cent of the inputs. It’s better aligned with the principle espoused by fitness gurus who know their clients are more likely to stick with a goal, and less likely to get injured, if they give up the idea of pushing themselves to give maximum effort all the time. With the 70-per-cent rule, the focus is not on maximizing returns but on achieving reasonable goals, with well-being top of mind.

As you can see, one of the main motivations for the 70% rule is that it is achievable.  I have seen myself and others set themselves up for failure by basing their goals around unrealistic expectations.  Just the other day I counseled one of my students to stop treating every waking hour as if it was a time that she could be working. That is a soul-destroying approach to work that often brings out the defiant procrastinator in us.

It leaves us feeling like failures, stressed out all the time, and generally unhappy.  According to the article:

Constantly pushing ourselves to go the extra mile can have a negative impact on all areas of life, said Scott Schieman, a University of Toronto professor who researches the interface between work, stress and health. People who never take the time to recharge tend to feel overwhelmed and inadequate both at work and at home, he said. Stress may cause us to disengage from the people we love, and “you need those quality relationships to offset the demands and pressures of everyday life,” he pointed out.

This idea works for me. I like to think about the areas where “good enough” will do.  I find that approach promotes consistency and allows me to enjoy what I’m doing (even Christmas shopping, even unpacking, even writing a book review that is — wait for it — over a year late).  This “good enough” mantra can reduce stress:

As daily demands send more of us to the brink, the concept of living “smarter, not harder” is dovetailing with the mindfulness movement and a new proliferation of life-balance books, such as Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, due for release in January. Common themes include scheduling mini-breaks, defining the limits of a project at the outset, being clear about what you won’t take on and identifying areas where a B-plus effort is adequate, saving energy for projects that demand an A-plus.

Even before I read this article, I didn’t feel bad during that hectic week when, for both of my early morning swims, I shut the alarm off and went back to sleep.  Not one blink of guilt.  And when I backed out of a bike class the day after the move, I rather wondered why I hadn’t made that decision the week before (remember: let’s be realistic!) instead of waiting to see how things were going just 24 hours after the movers left and I was still surrounded by towers of boxes.

I’m giving myself a break on the holiday expectations too. The tree is up, but only because I love it and I find it gives me joy. But nothing else is on deck yet. I’m venturing into the mall today, but I noticed with relief that my wonderful nephews all included “money” on their Christmas lists. So if it comes to that, money they will get.

Keeping things simple and manageable will continue to be my mantra for 2015. I feel much better about life when I play the long game — consistent effort, not trying to do the impossible.

Not everyone agrees with this approach. When I was searching for a good image for this post, I came across several versions of “Be Realistic. Demand the Impossible” and “Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.”  I’m not sure I believe that realism leads to mediocrity. I’ve achieved far more since I started taking small, consistent steps and adopting a forgiving attitude towards missteps than I ever did when I drove myself into the ground as a younger woman.

To read the rest of the article about giving your 70%, go here. Doing less and lowering your expectations may seem counterproductive, but in fact, it’s not. It’s good for your health.

 

 

 

 

Feeling Fifty? What does that mean exactly?

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With my 50th birthday behind me, I’m getting asked a lot how it feels. What is it like on this side of 50?

On the one hand, I have lots in common with teen me. I feel childlike in a bunch of ways.

On the other hand, I’m not shocked or surprised that I’m now 50.

I think having children around helps. Children are little mortality markers. When they’re growing up so fast it’s easy to see the years ticking by. It’s also nice for me because I’ve got my parents next door and I can see my place in the generations. Right now, I’m 50, my mother is 72, and my oldest child is 22.

Oddly it helps too that I’ve always liked older people. Even in my teens and early twenties I preferred the company of much older people. They seemed more interesting, more confident and self assured, less self obsessed. I hope I have some of those qualities too.

Despite that, my comfort with being 50 and my like of older people, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet to call myself “old.” And “middle aged” sounds yucky too even though I’m clearly there.

Do we need new language around aging? Or should we just reclaim the terms we’ve got, make them our own? I enjoyed reading Mary Beard on reclaiming the label “old.”

Mary Beard calls for a grey revolution: ‘Let’s reclaim the word old’

“Professor Mary Beard wants to reclaim the word “old” in the same way as “black” and “queer” were turned into positive words.Speaking at Cheltenham Literary Festival, the classicist said reaching old age should be a source of pride and suggested Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple could be a role model. The 59-year-old also said attempt to pay someone a compliment by saying they did not look their age was “one of the weirdest bits of double-think in our culture”. “I’m really trying to do that to reclaim the word old. I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we’ve had over the years, such as ‘black’ or ‘queer,’” she said, according to The Daily Telegraph.“I’m rather keen for a campaign to do that for old, instead of ‘old’ instantly connoting the hunched old lady and gentleman on the road sign, or the picture that you get on the adverts you get for senior railcards.“I hope by the time I die, old will be something that makes people fill with pride.”

 

Old is beautiful, and often wise – Mary Beard is right to reclaim the word, Michele Hanson writes, “It’s so deeply ingrained. I’ve been banging on about the wonders of being old for about 20 years now, and it hasn’t made a smidgin of difference. Back then, people would say “You don’t look 52!” On and on it went, and now it’s “You don’t look 72”, but it’s a backhanded compliment. As Beard says, what’s wrong with looking 72? Why not just say “You look fabulous today,” and then shut up? You young pillock. I blame our culture. Elsewhere, wrinkles would be rightly seen as a sign of wisdom and experience. Here they mean dreary, unattractive and an increasingly ghastly burden, who’s going to require your time or money or both to look after, as he/she turns inexorably into a dribbling, toothless, demented nothing-person.”

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Eat! Don’t Eat! Holiday Magazine Mixed Messages

xmas-dessertFor over a month now Canadian magazines like Canadian Living and Chatelaine, similar to Women’s Day in the US, have featured holiday recipes–from baking to appetizers to Christmas dinner and Boxing Day brunch (that’s the day after Christmas, for those who live south of the Canada-US border)–these recipes don’t skimp on sugar, fat, chocolate.  See Chatelaine’s “Nine candy recipes to sweeten up the holidays” and Canadian Living’s Seven easy and impressive trifle recipes.”

And then there are the magazines, sometimes the very same magazines, that tell us how to navigate the holiday parties and buffet tables, the lunches and the dinners and the cocktail hours and the potlucks, the special treats left out at the office, free for all takers.

These articles prime us to deal with the excessive amounts of food available through the holidays. And they’re usually put in terms of survival, like “Survive the Holidays without Gaining Weight” and, on the Chatelaine website, “The Twelve Days of Fitness.

“The Twelve Days of Fitness” is a program designed to help us “beat the bulge” through the holidays:

Get ready to beat the holiday bulge! Together with celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza, we’ve designed a 12-day pre-holiday workout challenge to get you through the indulgent festive season and kick-start your fitness routine for the New Year. With Ramona’s 3-2-1 Method, you’ll get a full-body workout that combines three minutes of cardio, six minutes of circuit exercises and a one minute core exercise — for a total of just 10 minutes a day. Plus, every day Ramona will share a fitness or nutrition tip in an exclusive video (the same tips she gives to her star clients Jessica Alba, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway and Scarlett Johansson). Get ready to follow along with our handy workout chart, below, and feel your best for the holidays.

Anyway, I don’t know about you, but to me these mixed messages — about indulgence on the one hand and keeping things in check on the other hand — are just annoying.

First of all, the whole idea of decadence and indulgence is irritating. As I’ve said before in my post on “Why Food Is Beyond Good and Evil,” if we don’t demonize certain foods they’re not as attractive.  But these foods are always set up as temptations that must be resisted.

I’m a big fan of intuitive eating, which encourages people to be mindful and pay attention to their hunger when eating. I find that if I am able to pay attention, I can pretty much eat what I want at holiday parties. The only thing I need to be aware of is the quantity.

For me, one of the worst feelings I can have is the feeling of having eaten too much. I’m not talking about the regret of it all. No, I mean literally the physical feeling of having put more food into my tummy than it can comfortably accommodate.

The idea that you can counterbalance day after day of mindless eating beyond comfort by doing a few workouts is also misleading. It just doesn’t work that way.  You can work out all you like, but eating more than feels comfortable is still bound to cause…well…discomfort.

My own approach to holiday eating is still a bit haphazard. As I said before, if I pay attention, then I can eat what I like and stop when I’ve had enough.  If I don’t pay attention, that’s less likely to happen.  I’m probably going to switch to auto-pilot and go beyond my comfort zone.

But I certainly don’t approach particular foods with the “I shouldn’t” attitude. And I like to think of the holidays as another one of those occasions, like vacations or illness or travel or being too busy at work, that can throw me off of my routine.

Rather than clinging to a workout schedule in order to “undo” what I did at a party or a dinner the day before, I like to stick as closely to my regular schedule of swimming, biking, and running as possible because it grounds me and makes me feel good. Sometimes, it’s the only part of my routine that I can keep in place.

The more grounded I feel, the more likely I am to take care of myself at all of the different events.  Stopping eating before I need to undo my belt is one way of taking care of myself.

But back to the mixed messages we see in the media at this time of year.  I think it’s worse for women. “Eat!” and  “Don’t Eat!” are just another version of the double bind that feminists have called our attention to for decades.

No different from “be sexy but not too sexy” and “be assertive but not aggressive” and “be career-oriented but not at the expense of your children,” the magazines encourage us to cook elaborate, high calorie foods, mostly for other people. We are either not to eat them, or, if we do, we are supposed to “reverse the damage” through exercise.

I understand that all of the festivities can be stressful and that tables full of food can overwhelm people. Of course, there’s a very good chance that mindfulness will elude us at times. But it’s a much more self-nuturing to approach the season with confidence that we can look after ourselves and slow down enough to make conscious choices about how best to do that.

Instead of getting caught up in the whole “eat” and “don’t eat” narratives, why not try instead just to “pay attention”?

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