athletes · cycling

Riding this summer? Beware of bicycle face!

I’ve written recently about the worries about women’s moral virtue associated with the backlash against early feminism and women on bikes in the late 1800s. (See Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s.)

However, I also find the medical condemnations of women’s cycling fascinating for what they tell us about what people thought (and maybe still think?) about women’s athletic capabilities and potential.

Many physicians held that women’s bodies simply weren’t suited to cycling. They thought that the bicycle was a sure path to sexual depravity (given the motion of the bike and the proximity of the seat to women’s genitals) and infertility (given the shaking the womb obviously endures while riding a bike). Also, our weaker natures made us prone to exhaustion.

Reading their medical reports on the dangers of cycling–one can’t really call it ‘research,’ more a mix of armchair meanderings and anecdotes–you get a clear picture of what doctors of the day believed to be true of women’s bodies.

In “The hidden dangers of cycling” by A. Shadwell, M.D published in 1897, in the journal National Review, the author advises women against “attempting a novel and peculiar experiment with their precious persons.” That “novel and peculiar experiment” would be riding bikes. He writes that the risks to women’s health include internal inflammation, exhaustion, bicycle face, appendicitis, dysentery, nervous attacks

I love this description of why biking tempts women to self-injury.

“A vice—from another point of view a virtue—peculiar to the bicycle, that I do not remember having seen noticed, is that the ease and rapidity of the locomotion tempt to over-long rides by bringing some desirable objective within apparent reach. Going to nowhere and back is dull, going to somewhere (only a few miles farther) is attractive; and thus many are lured to attempt a task beyond their physical powers.”

I love the temptation to go just a few kilometers farther and often suffer from exhaustion myself after!

Back to the list of physical ailments associated with cycling. I’ll be writing another blog post about sexual depravity and bicycle seats, but what interests me today because it’s unexpected and unfamiliar are the worries about ‘bicycle face.’

See the list of don’ts for women riders circa 1895: Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”

Bicycle face was an actual medical ailment of the day. In the 1890s  “bicycle face” was one of the “allegedly possible ailments” of riding a bike.  Anti-bicyclists of the time claimed it was “the product of excessive worry over maintaining balance while riding.” And of course, given our wobbliness and worry prone natures, women were especially likely to suffer from bicycle face.

For more on bicycle face, see The Science of Fear,

When I first heard of bicycle face, I instantly thought of the look fierce concentration and effort that’s associated with bicycle racing.  Here’s the most famous race face, Jan Ullrich.  Below Jan is my race face! But I was sad to find out that bicycle face is something else altogether.

bikefacejan bikefaceme

cycling · racing · running

Is this a rave or a race? Intriguing fitness trends

rave2 There are fitness trends that make it close to London, Ontario. Muddy adventure races, for example, and zombie runs. This summer I’m doing the Warrior Dash and I have plans in the future for the Tough Mudder. But other trends require an urban environment and ethos.

A friend posted to Facebook the other day about a race that sounded much more like a rave to me. Loud music, flashing lights, and clothes that light up in the dark. That’s about the exact opposite of my running preference. I like trails in the quiet woods, or green exercise as they say.

Here’s one, though it’s not the one my friend was doing:  Run the Rave: Glow War and Dance Party

GLOW WAR // ​DANCE PARTY: ​Run The Rave has teamed up with Grammy Nominated recording artist Ryan Farish to perform an epic fitness event What is a Glow War? Run The Rave breaks apart the standard of running for miles by yourself to be a part of an event. We make teams out of thousands of participants and behold, the Glow War is born!

I guess as a non drinker I can see the appeal. It’s like a night club without alcohol and with running instead of dancing. I used to assume that most heavy exercisers were also light drinkers but I now know the correlation runs the other way.
While I don’t feel I’m missing out by not being able to run rave races in London, Ontario, I was curious about SoulCycle, since spinning is almost always an indoor activity anyway.  On the atmosphere of SoulCycle classes read Riding High in Vanity Fair.

SoulCycle rooms are hot and sweaty. The music is deafening, and it’s almost pitch-black. Spinning may sound easy—it’s only riding a bike, after all—but you rarely get to sit in the seat, or “saddle,” as they call it; your body hovers over the bike like a jockey on a horse. After 45 minutes of this, things start to get weird. It’s like a Native American sweat lodge: everyone is in a stunned, near-hallucinatory state, and suddenly Griffith’s banter sounds utterly profound. “Be the same person on the outside as on the inside—those two people should match!” she says. “Work through the stuff in your own life. Let someone else’s behavior be someone else’s behavior—don’t let it affect you. Go!”

And for a convert’s account, you should read A SoulCycle Fanatic’s Q&A with Master Instructor Stacey Griffith also in Vanity Fair.

On fitness activities as dates, see the New York Times column Urban Athlete which talks a bit about SoulCycle, here.

My own night club like exercise experience was in Toronto, at a trendy fitness club filed with very fit, beautiful people. There were very nice spin bikes, good lighting and two people leading the class, one focused on calling out the workout, and a Dee Jay with actual turntables, mixing the music. Fun. I could see the appeal.

The juice bar looked busy after and I could see if I were a lot younger and even remotely interested in the straight bar scene, that it might be a fun alternative.

How about you? Have you taken part in a rave race? How about SoulCycle? Did you like it?


addiction · body image · diets · eating · overeating

Moderation Won’t Work If You’re Addicted, but Are You Sure You’re Addicted?

sharma-obesity-chocolateWhenever I talk about moderation in eating, I always hear from people who have at least some foods that they do not believe they can moderate. These foods are usually things like potato chips and cheesies, cake and cookies, nuts and pretzels, chocolate and ice cream.  To a lesser degree, some avoid things like pizza and french fries for similar reasons. They can’t eat just a little bit.

My initial reaction to this claim of the inability to moderate is skepticism.  The intuitive eating approach that I’ve been following lately, and that has miraculously freed me from all rules about food and from overeating pretty much anything, works on the premise that when we release ourselves from the idea of forbidden foods and eat what we want, when we are hungry, in a mindful fashion until we are satisfied (not stuffed, satisfied), we will achieve a peaceful relationship with food.

“Peaceful” may seem an odd way of describing it, but if food has been the enemy for many years, as it has for many chronic dieters, then making peace with it is a huge achievement.  The intuitive eating approach does not require that we cut out any particular foods altogether.

And it pretty much promises that if followed in a committed manner, with a firm resolve never to diet again and to stop monitoring your weight with regular weigh-ins, even the most obsessive, chronic dieter, even those with severe eating disorders (whether they be at the starvation end or the overeating end of the disordered eating spectrum), will learn to eat what they want, when they want, in moderate amounts.

This has been my experience. But it doesn’t happen overnight. When the rules are first lifted, of course we feel giddy with the new permissiveness.  At that stage, it’s easy and fairly common to eat what we want when we want, but in amounts that exceed satiety. That is not what intuitive eating is all about.  The mindful eating part of the equation, which is also something Sam is practicing with her precision approach, is as important as lifting our judgments about good foods and bad foods.

So my first response is always to encourage people who are ready to do something radical and different in their relationship with food to think of it as a process. I urge people to believe that if they have patience and follow the guidelines, the foods that they thought might forever trigger them into binging have a good chance of losing their power.

But this outcome may not be possible for everyone with respect to every kind of food.  Why? Because it may be that in some small number of cases people actually have an addictive relationship with some foods.

I’m no stranger to the ways of addiction. It’s a serious thing that can take people down hard.  It wrecks lives, makes people miserable, and has a huge impact on those who suffer from it and on almost everyone in their lives.

In my experience, the minimum requirement for overcoming an addiction is total abstinence. So I am quite willing to believe that for some people, if they are completely out of control around certain foods, then moderation is not going to work.

The other thing I know about addiction is that it is not only about the thing to which a person is addicted.  Reaching outside of ourselves (for food or drugs or alcohol or more more of whatever it is) to change the way we feel, i.e. to feel better, even if only temporarily, is an ineffective coping strategy.  When we abstain from the so-called problem substance or behavior, we have not necessarily developed better coping skills or dealt with the core issues that lead us to seek solace in e.g. a bag of potato chips in the first place.

Abstinence is a means of beginning to address addiction, but it will not give anyone a full recovery from it.

Since I am not one to throw around the idea that someone may be addicted lightly, I want to suggest that the majority of us who appear to have certain “problem” foods in our lives might find surprising results if we took a risk and truly allowed ourselves to incorporate these things into our lives.

I’m not suggesting that you incorporate foods that you don’t even like, of course. I’m talking about foods that we wish we could eat but avoid because we can’t control ourselves when we are around them.

I have felt that way around all sorts of foods and no longer have that experience. This change tells me that thankfully I was not addicted. I was just caught in a cycle of diet and deprivation followed by rebellious eating.

BUT, if you are a person who simply cannot deal moderately with a food and need to abstain completely, then you might have an addiction. Cutting out the problem substance (be it crack or potato chips) only addresses the symptom. Addiction is much more all-encompassing than just being unable to stop using something or eating something or drinking alcohol.

If someone’s reason for being unable to stop eating peanuts is that they are addicted, then abstaining from peanuts might stop them from overeating peanuts, but it will not address the deeper issues that lead them to an addictive relationship with certain foods.

I know of one organizaton, Overeater’s Anonymous, that is dedicated to helping those with food addictions in the same way that Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics deal with their alcoholism. It’s a drastic measure that from what I’ve heard includes a very restricted food plan (I don’t have first hand experience with OA, so that might not be the case).  Before taking it, I would explore less drastic measures, such as the intuitive eating approach or any approach that does not involve severe food restrictions and that encourages mindful eating.

I acknowledge that I am something of an evangelist, singing the praises of the intuitive eating approach to all who will listen. That is only because I have experienced an amazing, almost unbelievable shift in my relationship with food, weight and body image since embracing this approach on January 1, 2013.

I am relieved that my “food issues” were not about addiction, and that something as reasonable as the intuitive eating approach could have such a transformative impact on my life.

cycling · gender policing

Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s


I’ve been working on a project on women and cycling, which begins by looking at the role the bicycle played in early feminism. One of the things I’m interested in seeing is whether the attitudes to women on bikes in the 1800s have entirely gone away.  What I argue, in the course of a longer paper on the subject, is that they haven’t. In fact, I think some of the same attitudes pose an obstacle to getting more women on bikes now.

(If you want a terrific book on the history of women, feminism, and bikes suitable for children you need to get National Geographic‘s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). It’s reviewed here with some great photos and an interview with the author. There’s lots to like about it but one of the striking features is the inclusion of images of African American women on bikes. In historical pictures from that era, both of the bicycles and of feminism, African Americans are often missing.)

I hope to keep blogging here about women on cycling, following on from my recent post about worries I have about attempts to get women on bikes,  cupcake rides and heels on wheels.

Yesterday I also posted on our Facebook page about British cycling launches plan to get one million women on bikes and some of the worries people have raised about the flavour of those attempts. See British cycling: women get a push.  It seems to me it might be useful to distinguish between two different, though connected goals: getting more women on bikes (including commuting, casual riding) and getting more women into the sport of cycling.

But let’s leave today and return to the heyday of the bicycle and the early feminist movement.

Most people writing about this era, when bicycles ruled the road,  quote Susan B. Anthony:  “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Sounds harmless enough.

Who on earth could oppose “free, untrammeled womanhood”? Why was there such vehement opposition to women riding bikes?

Not as many people quote Sarah Bernhardt: “The bicycle is on the way to transforming our way of life more deeply than you might think. All these young women and girls who are devouring space are refusing domestic family life.”

Aha! This gives us a better sense of the roots of the anti-women-on-bikes backlash. Bikes posed a threat to women staying at home. With bicycles to ride, women had choices.

Women’s cycling was an activity opposed on many grounds. I’ll be writing another post on the medical issues that were thought to be connected to women riding bikes. (Short story: think sexual depravity, exhaustion, and infertility.) But along with doctors, clergy were another group that often spoke out, in print and in sermons, against women riding bikes.

Cycling was obviously unladylike (just look at the bloomers!) and there are many published speeches by clergy against the spectacle posed by women on bikes. Other clergy worried that access to transportation would make it easier for women to give into our baser natures and undertake morally loathsome activities, including prostitution and infidelity. I just love the idea that the only impediment to women’s wild sexual misbehavior is the lack of reliable independent transport.

Here is a great quote from that era, raising the specter that cycling corrupts women’s innocence.

“Cycling tends to destroy the sweet simplicity of her girlish nature; besides how dreadful it would be if, by some accident, she were to fall into the arms of a strange man” (cited in Hargreaves, 1993) Thanks Mark Falcous for pointing this one out to me.

I can’t imagine falling off my bike into someone’s arms (that would take rather a lot of coordination) but I do take the point about freedom. Here in our house, I always feel much more free from the demands of family members when I’m on my bike. “Oh, no I can’t pick you up from school. I’m on my bike. Sorry!” And there isn’t the same rush to get home so that others can use the car. Indeed, in warmer months motorized vehicles stand abandoned on our driveway as both drivers in our house pedal away on bikes. To me, the bike does feel a lot more liberating!

My favourite clergy quote admits that cycling isn’t always a bad thing: “The mere act of riding a bicycle is not in itself sinful and if it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable.” (1885)

Indeed, some churches recognized that attendance might be in danger given that Sunday bike rides now gave both men and women a choice of something to do Sunday mornings besides sit in church. So those churches started installing bike racks and suggesting that families ride to church, thus combining the best of both worlds. Maybe churches worried about dwindling congregations, especially in the summer, ought to think about the outdoor physical activity + church combo.

It’s starting to get warm out there and I’m very keen to get back on my bike. Hope to see you out there, you untrammeled spirits you!



The Awful Effects of Velocipeding from Harm! A Vagrant

A List of Don’ts for Women on Bicycles Circa 1895

Watch:, Women’s Liberation and the Bicycle

SPIN: A Theatrical Song Cycle
Starring The Bicycle as Muse, Musical Instrument, and Agent of Social Change by Evalyn Parry


diets · eating · overeating · weight loss

Why Food Is Beyond “Good” and “Evil”

Orange-JuiceRecently, in response to a comment I made about the calories in fruit juice, a friend said to me that fruit juice is “evil.” I am a philosopher who does a lot of ethics. So “evil” means something quite severe to me. Hitler and Pol Pot were evil.  Fruit juice, not so much.

I checked back with my friend. No, he didn’t mean it was literally evil. Just that it’s as bad as a can of Coke.  Still pretty bad, if not downright evil. It’s a “sometimes” food, not an everyday food. Other anti-juice people jumped in to clarify further. Juice is really, really bad FOR you. Harley Pasternak demonized it the other day in his talk too.  He said that a cup and half of OJ has 240 calories. That’s not quite right, since a cup has 112 calories.

But I don’t want to quibble about orange juice in particular. It’s this whole notion of good foods and bad foods that really gets under my skin. Very few foods, eaten in moderate quantities, are actually bad for you. I ate a big and delicious piece of vegan chocolate cake yesterday.  I don’t believe it was in the least bad for me. Why? Because I don’t eat cake every day. I eat it about once or twice a month.

I can’t trace the quote exactly, but a long time ago I read a great response by George Cohon of McDonald’s, to the claim that McDonald’s food was “bad for you.” He said something like that McDonald’s never said you should eat its food three meals a day, seven days a week.  I hesitate to agree with him (because McDonald’s is problematic in other ways, in my view), but I agree. McDonald’s and orange juice, chocolate cake and potato chips…all of these can be part of a healthy diet without doing damage to the person who ingests them.

Moralizing food by calling some of it “bad” and some of it “good” gives the false impression that foods in themselves have moral qualities. It isn’t a huge jump, and people make this jump all the time, to the claim that people who eat “good” foods in the “right” amounts are virtuous and people who do not are bad.

We frequently think of chocolate cake as “sinfully delicious” and “decadent.”  I’ve spoken to many a dieter who said, not that they had a good week, but that they were “good” that week.  If they wandered off the plan by eating something they weren’t supposed to, they were “bad” that week.  Some foods are considered “guilty pleasures.”

One of my favorite parts of both the  intuitive eating approach and the the demand feeding approach to food is that they both tell us to “legalize” all foods.  Carrot sticks are as legal as carrot cake, neither better nor worse than the other. I can already hear the rumblings in the comments.  “But carrot sticks are better for you than carrot cake!”  I can even hear those who would jump in against carrot sticks because they have a higher sugar content than celery sticks.

The whole thing brings me back to the idea of moderation, which Sam wrote about in such a lovely way recently.  We can live life by strict rules and have all sorts of forbidden foods on a black list if we like.  But forbidden foods are, for many of us, more attractive for being forbidden.

I know that when I finally truly legalized all foods, french fries, which I’d considered my favorite food for all of my life, suddenly lost their appeal. They’re okay, and I do enjoy them from time to time. But are they my favorite foods? No. If I had a choice of giving up fries for the rest of my life or giving up mangoes for the rest of my life, I’d give up the fries. And not because they’re “bad” or even “bad for me,” but because I simply love a good fresh mango.

The food police are those people who like to jump in and tell you about the evil foods that are bad for you and that you should avoid. I’m not interested in what they have to say.  I am extremely well informed about nutrition and used to be able to rhyme off all sorts of fun facts about countless foods. I wrote them down every day and kept meticulous count. I avoided fruit juice and all caloric drinks so as not to waste the stingily parceled out grams of this or that.  Like so many people, I felt so incredibly virtuous when I stuck with it, often for months and even years at a time.

I convinced myself, as I have heard so many others do, that I just loved this way of eating. It was so great! And I was so good! Meanwhile, I felt deprived, especially around celebrations and special occasions, which are enhanced by taking a meal together.  I had my false sense of virtue, but it wasn’t much fun.

I have also witnessed the effect of “virtuous” eating on others who were not so virtuous but who thought they should be. People would apologize for themselves for eating. “I shouldn’t be having this, but…”  That is always a preamble to the next day’s self-flagellation, “I was so bad at my daughter’s wedding yesterday.”   Or this one, “I’ll just take a sliver.”  When I was a young adult, my mother and I polished off close to whole banana loaf over the course of an evening by taking little slivers.  Even today I look back and think I should have just cut off a good sized slice, slathered it with butter, sat down with it, and enjoyed it. Instead, I sneaked into the kitchen a few times and shaved off inadequate pieces that left me wanting more.

When we moralize foods into good, bad, evil even, we deny ourselves permission and set ourselves up not just as failures, but as moral failures.

If the foods that made people feel so bad weren’t forbidden or “sinful” in the first place, they’d be less attractive and people would be less likely to eat more of them than is comfortable.

Are there any foods that, for health reasons, we simply should not eat EVER, that even in tiny amounts are “evil”? For some people, there are “trigger” foods that they simply cannot moderate.  I will have more to say about that in another post. And of course, some people are allergic to things that will kill them if they eat them. And as a vegan I am keenly aware of social, moral and political reasons for avoiding certain foods.

But those foods aside, I’m not sure if there are any foods that should never, ever, under any circumstances, be eaten because of our health. And if there are, fruit juice is not among them.

Some other posts about food, diets, and moderation:

Three Amazing Rants about Food, Nutrition, and Weight Loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue

Raspberry Ketone, Pure Green Coffee Extract, Garcinia Cambogia, and the Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority

Why Sports Nutrition Counseling Is Not for Me

Moderation versus All or Nothing

[photo credit: Good-Wallpapers]

athletes · body image · cycling · fashion

On going commando and athletic clothing

I’m in the middle of writing a longer post on tensions between the standards of ladylike behavior, on the one hand,  and the values of athletic performance, on the other. One of the issues I’m thinking about in that context concerns athletic clothing. I’m interested in the extent to which athletic clothing gets us out of our comfort zone. I think there’s tension between the norms of athletic performance attire and the ways in which we’ve been socialized as girls and women to think about clothing and self-presentation.

And obviously this matters to women. A lot. See my post No way am I wearing that! Body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women’s sports.

The number that got me was this one: “67% of women say they wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.”

But the exact issue that came across my screen today was the issue of underwear and athletic clothing and I thought I should discuss it now while it’s timely.

The first story I read was this: Why Are Women Wearing Thongs to Exercise?

Amanda Marcotte discusses the recent Lululemon see through yoga pants scandal and quotes a number of women saying the real issue is people seeing thong lines through the yoga pants. It’s a funny post and she offers a radical suggestion.

“Here’s an idea for women who really are this worried about having visible panty lines under your yoga pants: Don’t wear underwear. It’s not like flies or ants are going to get in there if you don’t seal it off tightly. If your concern is maintaining maximum sexiness at all times, never fear. My careful perusal of photography provided for straight male audiences suggests that while men do indeed find the thong sexy, they have an even stronger preference for women who are wearing no underwear at all. If you choose to share your preferences with the world at large through the the yoga pants equivalent of vanishing ink, well, that’s not up to the rest of us to judge. “

Now, I thought that was a practical suggestion and not particularly radical. But you get a sense of how controversial a recommendation it is when you read the next post by one my fave local bloggers, 3 zigs and a dog.

One of the Zigs reports being shocked that 2/3 of the women in a Women’s Running magazine survey reported wearing running tights and shorts without underwear. In the post aptly called Commando, Zig writes:

“WHAAAAAT? Two thirds of you people are commando?  TWO THIRDS??? Are you crazy? You are tempting wardrobe malfunction fate!”

For her the real issue is ripped shorts and I don’t think thongs would help much in that regard.

The whole thing is a bit on a non-issue for me. I’m a cyclist and while LiveStrong puts their post on the topic in the form of a question– Do You Wear Underwear Under Cycling Shorts? –there is only one right answer and it’s “no.”

Cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear. That’s what the chamois is for. Putting fabric between you and the chamois sort of defeats the purpose.

From Hot Sweaty Mamas. That’s right, you don’t wear panties under your bike shorts! “No panties under the bike shorts. That’s right, bike shorts are designed with a built-in chamois and are meant to be worn sans undies. Might sound crazy at first, but the last thing any woman needs is extra fabric bunching and burrowing in an already sensitive area. If you’re worried about feeling a little tender “down there,” look for shorts with extra padding and an anti-bacterial chamois. You’ll pay a little more for the bells and whistles, but odds are you’ll notice the difference.”

I’ve had the worse case scenario happen, the very thing that terrified the Zig. I ripped a pair of bike shorts while halfway through a 90 km ride. What did I do? I wrapped a spare bike jersey around my waist and had my partner draft behind me. Not the end of the world though I missed being able to draft behind him.

In other sports that I do, I’d say the running survey is about right. My guess, though I don’t take surveys, is that more than half of the women I run, row, bike etc with don’t wear underwear underneath tights and fitted shorts.
Here’s two considerations in favour of the commando option:

1. Performance sports clothing is made of fancy high tech quick drying sweat wicking fabric. It’s kind of miraculous stuff. It’s not easy to find underwear made of same and it kind of spoils the effect if you have sweat soggy underwear under high performance wicking fabric.

2. It’s not like you don’t immediately wash sweaty exercise attire. So who cares if you don’t wear underwear under it?

Up to the individual entirely of course. Except in the case of bike shorts. There there’s a right answer.

What do you think? Since this is a discussion about the clash between traditional feminine gender roles and performance athletic clothing, let’s leave it to the women reading the blog.

athletes · body image · fashion · gender policing

Crotch shots, upskirts, sports reporting, and the objectification of female athletes’ bodies

A front page figure skating picture in the Globe and Mail recently caused a stir. You can read about it here and here and here.

Here’s a brief run-down of the events: The front page of The Globe and Mail last Monday  featured 17-year-old figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond of Marystown, Nfld. Osmond came in eighth place overall at the World Figure Skating Championship here in London, Ontario over the weekend. Some critical comments on Twitter about the selection of the photo were followed by a response from Globe public editor Sylvia Stead: “Photo on #globeandmail front today is not acceptable in my view & readers. More later.” Eventually the story died down after Osmond herself tweeted that she liked the photo and a few of us were left wondering what the fuss was about. See the “not acceptable” photo for yourself at the bottom of this post.

Personally, I don’t mind the picture. I guess I wouldn’t have included it below if I did. And I think it’s odd that the Globe was so quick to apologize and so adamant in its apology. Kaetlyn is smiling, happy, excelling at something she loves. It doesn’t seem to me there is anything particularly scandalous about it. No one actually says what’s supposed to be wrong with the picture but I gather the complaint is that it’s a ‘crotch shot.’  In this case though the view is one you’d have if you were watching her compete.  I think that’s different from the ‘odd angle’ crotch shots of women athletes that are so common and so awful.

Another sport that’s known for scandal around the way it’s photographed is, of course, beach volleyball. See What if every sport was photographed like beach volleyball? and read Jezebel on the leering Olympics sports reporters. No one denies that athletes have striking bodies but it’s the emphasis on body parts rather than athletics that makes feminist blood boil when it comes to reporting on women’s sports. Why can’t we care about what those bodies do, rather than on what they look like? (See our past post Athletic versus Aesthetic Values in the Pursuit of Fitness  for some discussion of this distinction.) Now beach volleyball is controversial not just for the photos but also for the uniforms female beach volleyball players are required to wear and there’s some argument that in that case, that’s where the battle should begin.

Crotch shots seem worse yet when they are photos taken at peculiar angles with the resulting image, captured for all eternity, being nothing like one would have seen watching the sport in question. Something that flashes by quickly is frozen in time, blown up, and displayed in a manner to which the photo’s subject would not have consented. The issue of crotch shots of female athletes is addressed by feminist philosopher Carolyn McLeod in her paper “Mere and Partial Means: The Full Range of the Objectification of Women” published in the  Canadian Journal of Philosophy (Volume 32, Issue Supplement, 2002, Feminist Moral Philosophy) McLeod’s philosophical aim is to defend the idea that there can be degrees of objectification and that lots of the objectification of women in contemporary Western society that contributes to oppression is “partial objectification.”

In the course of her argument for the degreed nature of objectification (about which I think McLeod is importantly correct) McLeod tells a story about her experience as an athlete and the subject of a crotch shot photo, as an example of partial objectification:

“When I was a teenager, I was in a  tennis tournament in a small town where the McLeods of my family first  settled in Ontario. I was in the finals of “ladies singles.” The next day, a picture of me appeared in the sports section of the local newspaper. I  was lunging for a ball, and like a good “lady” of tennis, I was wearing  a little skirt. Clearly the photographer had taken the shot while lying on  his back, for the most prominent feature of it was my crotch. (It became  known in town as “the crotch shot.”) My Aunt Fern fumed (my mother laughed), and Fern almost boiled over when she found out that some  men at a nearby hydro plant (what we call “Hydro”) put the picture on the wall in the men’s change rooms. The whole thing was discomforting  for me, especially becoming a target for the sexist jokes and fantasies  of men at Hydro. (I’d worked at Hydro, so I knew about the jokes.) Never before had I imagined myself so thoroughly as something that could just get men off. I was angry with the photographer, although I later found out that it was a photographer’s trick to point a camera  upward if you want only one figure in a shot and no background objects to distract attention from it. It is possible that the photographer did not intend to produce a crotch shot. “

Crotch shots in the context of sports reporting seem to me to be on a continuum with the loathsome phenonama of “upskirting.” If sports photos are often partial objectification, then upskirt photos are the full blown thing. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the “upskirt.”

Upskirt refers to the practice of making unauthorized photographs under a female’s skirt, capturing an image of her crotch area and underwear. The term “upskirt” can also refer to a video, illustration or photograph which incorporates the upskirt image. The term is also sometimes used to refer generically to any voyeur photography – i.e. catching an image of somebody unaware in a private moment. The practice is regarded as a form of sexual fetishism or voyeurism and is similar in nature to downblouse. The ethical and legal issue relating to upskirt and downblouse photography is one of a reasonable expectation of privacy, even in a public place. The victims of the practice are almost exclusively females, including teenage girls. Women feel harassed or humiliated when they realise that they have been a victim of the practice. This is especially the case when such images have already been disseminated on the Internet and they are identifiable.”

Let me end with some advice: If you should search either “upskirt” or “crotch shots of female athletes” be prepared for an avalanche of tumblrs. Sigh.

globe and mail skating front


Ain’t no mountain high enough: Philosophy and climbing


The year my department was hiring in philosophy of science, and I chaired the search committee, I learned a lot about contemporary trends and hot topics in philosophy of science but I also learned lots about climbing. I learned about bouldering and free climbing and ice climbing and sport climbing and indoor climbing. (For a quick taxonomy of the distinctions between different kinds of climbing, see here and here.) I also confirmed something I knew already as a cyclist, it’s pretty flat here in Ontario. No mountains to be found. Our local, artificial ski hill is dubbed the Boler Bump. It’s where we take our children to learn to ski and learn to mountain bike.

As academics reading this know, the last stage of hiring is the campus visit and the candidate spends a lot of time with department members at meals, visiting the city, and inevitably talking about his or her interests outside of work.

Of the three short listed candidates two were serious climbers. Enough philosophers of science are serious climbers that I don’t think there’s any confidentiality issues here. By the end of the search I found myself noticing forearms and thinking about mountains differently.

Climbing has always fascinated me. I like the outdoors, rugged landscapes appeal, and the technical challenges speak to me. But heights aren’t my thing, falling is even less my thing, and my lower body weight to upper body strength ratio isn’t where it would need to be to be a strong climber.

But I can certainly see the appeal–problem solving, physicality, and the beautiful landscape all speak to me. One philosopher of science puts the attraction this way: “I think some forms of climbing are like vertical dance combined with chess. Other forms pit you against the weather and the mountain in some kind of harrowing but lovely struggle.”

He’s not alone. A Google search for philosophy of science and climbing turns up dozens of web pages of academic philosophers whose passion outside of work is climbing. I’ve started to wonder about academics and our preferred sports and whether our preferences reveal anything about our disciplinary orientations. I mused about road cycling and analytic philosophy here.

Whether my suspicion is right, it sure seems there are lots of philosophy of science-climbers.

A list of Bas van Fraassen’s favourite climbs, and pictures, is here.

Bill Ramsey is a very well known and respected climber but he’s also a philosopher and you can read an interview with him here. He puts the connection between climbing and philosophy this way:

When I’m working on a philosophy paper, the process is very similar to working on a hard climb. I tinker with different parts of the problem, trying to see what works, figuring it out in stages, eventually trying to piece it all together. I find it very rewarding in both worlds. It is not surprising that so many climbers are mathematicians, physicists, engineers — analytically-minded people who really enjoy problem-solving. I like to say that a lot of climbers are nerdy intellectuals trapped in an athlete’s body.

He’s also written a piece on the ethics of climbing called Making the Grade. It’s excerpted here. He’s a bit of a legend, I gather, and is still setting records past the age of 50. You can watch him in action too. See Video: 51-year-old Bill Ramsey redpoints 5.14b .

I’m not the first person to have wondered about the connection between climbing and philosophy.

Here’s another blog post on the topic, Climbing and Philosophy

And of course there’s a Wiley-Blackwell Philosophy for Everyone book on the subject, Climbing: Because it’s There .


fitness · health · motivation

Back at it after almost a month away: Rebuilding after illness

When I started the “fittest by fifty” project I didn’t count on a very nasty virus knocking me out of commission for nearly a month in year 1. I did some work related traveling to New Orleans for the Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association meeting and then to Tucson, Arizona for a workshop at the Freedom Center at the University of Arizona. Terrific, productive trips but by the time I got off the plane to come home from trip two, I knew I was sick. Sore throat, etc but worst of all was a wracking cough that kept me up most nights.

Several visits to urgent care and my family doctor were the big highlights and outings in the weeks that followed. Otherwise my exercise was limited to interval bouts of coughing and shuffling between bed and the sofa. Ugh. I was so coughing so hard I began to understand how pneumonia might kill older people.

The good news is that I’m on the road to recovery. I’m feeling better, coughing less, and I’m starting to get bored about the house. Phew.

My recovery involved first working at my laptop in our comfy chair, then sitting at my desk, and now I’m back at my standing desk.

Now my task is getting fit again and recovering what I lost due to illness. Good thing I like a challenge!

What do I say to myself to get back at it after a good chunk of time curled up on the sofa?

Here’s a few things:

First, I’m glad it’s winter. I remind myself of my outdoor exercising friends who pretty much give up moving in the dead of Canadian winter. I won’t be alone coming back after time spent in a slump.

Second, I remember the advice I give inactive beginners. Start where you are and go from there. There is no need to work out alone until I’m fit enough to rejoin my communities of very fit people. And I remind myself of the things I learn while working out with others.

Third, I check my ego at the door of the gym, beside the rowing machine, at the edge of the mat at the dojo. I’m not where I was a month ago and that’s okay. Acceptance makes a difference.

Fourth, I remind myself that it’s fun. I’ve missed my physical activities. I’ve missed my fitness friends. And I’m really happy to be well enough to be back at it. Happiness outweighs the nervousness.

Fifth, while I’ve been sick I’ve focused a lot on nutrition. When you don’t feel like eating every calories has to count. That’s been a productive and useful focus. My goal is to be a better intuitive eater, as Tracy recommends, and trust my instincts more but while sick I haven’t been eating intuitively. My inclinations while sick are for tea, toast, and orange juice and not much else. So it’s been work to keep eating protein and veggies.

This week I went back to Aikido, today soccer, next week CrossFit, rowing, riding, running, and swimming.

And yes, I’ll take it easy. I won’t be working out twice a day for a little while at least. I will make sure that I get enough sleep. And I will be taking rest days.

Wish me luck.

How do you handle coming back to exercise after illness?

Here’s some helpful advice here.

How to manage the return to training after illness

Getting back to the gym after being sick

cycling · fashion

Do Cupcake Rides and Heels on Wheels help or hurt the cause of women’s cycling?

Let me begin by saying that I like riding with other women. Though most of the time I ride with men or in mixed groups, some of my best riding experiences ever have been women only. I rode with the Valkyrie Vikings in Canberra, Australia and with the Women on Wheels in Dunedin, New Zealand and I’ve taken part in lots of women only cycling events such the Tour de Femme, women’s crit racing with the Vikings, and women’s track riding and racing in New Zealand. I wish we had enough women riding and racing to do that here!

Here’s the Valkyrie Vikings + a couple of coaches and spouses:


And here’s the Women on Wheels:


But these days I find myself feeling a little bit queasy about the flavour of some of the women only social rides that are making the cycling press: Heels on Wheels? Cupcake Rides? Really?

You can read here about Toronto’s Cupcake Rides. Also Momentum Mag just did a piece on Women Only Rides including the Heels on Wheels rides.

Obviously there’s a huge difference between women only racing groups and women only rides designed to get women out who’ve never ridden a bike in traffic before. And people start in different places and I’m okay with that. Like Tracy’s ambivalent feelings about pink though, I’m uneasy associating women only with gooey sweet cupcakes on the one hand and high heels, on the other. Seems we’re either  sweet and adorable or adult and sexy. How about just out for a ride? Couldn’t we have women’s coffee rides?

Partly, I worry about the women left behind who aren’t about cupcakes and heels. But also I worry about associating women on bikes with femininity. Some of the time, can’t femininity be optional? (I know I worry about this a lot. See past posts Play hard, look cute!, Running skirts and sexism, and Padded sports bras and nipple phobia.)

I like the idea of getting people to ride in their regular clothes. Though I don’t own a suitable bike or wardrobe, I love the idea of Tweed Rides. “Tweed Ride Toronto is a group bicycle ride through downtown Toronto, in which the cyclists are encouraged to dress in classic tweed or any smart looking outfit. Any effort made to recreate the spirit of a bygone era is also appreciated. Any and all bicycles are acceptable.” Read more about Toronto Tweed rides here.

So it’s not the style of bikes and clothing that gets me, nor is it the women only aspect. (I like the women only bike mechanics classes such as that offered by the Toronto co-op Wenches with Wrenches.) I see value in both these things. But what bugs me is the association of women with a particular feminine aesthetic.

I am passionate about getting more women on bikes.  It matters because it’s good for women and because it’s good for urban cycling generally. In 2009 Linda Baker wrote a great piece for Scientific American called “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want.

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

In the U.S., men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1. This ratio stands in marked contrast to cycling in European countries, where urban biking is a way of life and draws about as many women as men—sometimes more. In the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, 55 percent of all riders are women. In Germany 12 percent of all trips are on bikes, 49 percent of which are made by women.

More recently the book City Cycling  (MIT Press 2012) edited by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler  talks about the role women play in urban cycling and commuting.

One chapter, “Women and Cycling” is co-authored by three women professors of urban planning, health and environmental science who find the percentage of women cyclists in a locale to be a bellwether of biking safety and convenience. Women, the co-authors say, are an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities. In cities and countries where a high percentage of bike trips are by women, rates of cycling are high, and cycling conditions are safe, convenient and comfortable. Where relatively few women cycle, rates of cycling are low and cycling conditions are unsafe, inconvenient, uncomfortable and sometimes impossible.

It’s clear we need to do something to close the gender gap in cycling.

From The U.S. Gender Gap in Bicycle Traffic: “Most estimates suggest that men are about three times as likely as women to be biking in the U.S. ….This is significant, because men don’t bike more than women everywhere in the world.  But they do in the United States.  In some European countries (like Germany, the Netherlands, and Demark), biking is undertaken much more evenly between men and women.  The U.S. Department of Transportation found that only about 24% of biking trips were made by women in 2009.  So, not only are more men biking, but they biking—on average—more often than the women who bike too. ”

I don’t have Canadian statistics at hand but it seems to me this is another area where we are closer to our American cousins than were are to Germany and Denmark.

So if Cupcake Rides and Heels on Wheels rides work, more power to them, I guess. I’ll swallow my queasiness and rejoice at the sight of more women on bikes. I’ll be the woman not in heels, not eating cupcakes, heading out on my bike for coffee…I’d love for you to join me.

*The featured image at the top of the post is from the New York Times and accompanies their review of “Heels on Wheels: A Lady’s Guide to Owning and Riding a Bike.” By Katie Dailey. 96 pp. Hardie Grant. $14.95. The review is well worth reading. Here’s an excerpt: “Ms. Dailey identifies four chief types of “ladies burning rubber out there”: the Fashion Victim, whose outfits harmonize with her trendy neo-vintage wheels (like Agyness Deyn, Ellen Page and their emulators); the Speed Demon with extraterrestrial helmet and sleek, Matrixy gear (like Gwyneth Paltrow); the Earth Mother, who careers toward farmers’ markets with her baby bobbing precariously in the front basket; and the Retro Rider in Steampunk get-up, whose vehicle “weighs more than a cement-mixer.””

I’m a speed demon, I gather.