fitness · hiking · injury

Regaining confidence after an injury: one climber’s story (Guest post)

I’ve had some degree of pain almost every day for the past 9 months.

For the first few weeks after I injured my back, I could barely stand, sit or walk. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t take care of anything at home.

Before this, I had only experienced minor athletic injuries. A sore knee from hiking too far. An aching finger tendon from pulling too hard on small climbing holds. These all resolved quickly with a little rest.

This time was different. I was warming up doing an unweighted squat in the gym. Then out of nowhere, I felt the spasms of pain shoot through my back. This exercise was usually easy for me. I had learned how to do it safely with a trainer.

I used to hesitate to tell people how my back injury happened. I was embarrassed that I did this to myself in a part of the gym where I often felt like I didn’t belong. I had worked so hard to convince myself that I could take up space among the muscular men, bench pressing and deadlifting what seemed like so much more weight than me.

And it made no sense how such an easy movement could have caused so much destruction.

I now know that I was overtraining. That one squat probably wasn’t to blame. I was exercising too hard, too often and my body had broken down.

My goal had been to get stronger to keep up with others on climbing and mountaineering trips.

Me climbing in the North Cascades before my injury. Photo: Tony Lu

My favourite sports involve carrying a lot of stuff uphill for long distances. This poses some unique challenges for petite people, such as myself.

All the gear all adds up quickly: a warm sleeping bag, a down jacket and rain coat, food, water, climbing harness, crampons, ice axe.

On one long trip, my backpack weighed just over 40 pounds. At 35% of my body weight, I was carrying what many consider the upper limit for a well-conditioned hiker. This meant I relied on other people to carry all the gear shared by our group, like a tent and climbing rope.

Distributing gear proportionally according to a person’s size is fair and a widely accepted practice.

However, it always bothered me to be the smallest person who carried the least. I also often worried that I’d be the slowest person who held everyone back. Being one of the only women on some trips meant I felt even more sensitive to any physical differences.

After several months of treatment and physical therapy, my back pain began to decrease.

I slowly began to take up the things I loved again in new and different ways.

Instead of an all-day hike, I went on a short walk to the beach with a friend. Instead of trying to climb the hardest routes, I meandered up some of the easiest walls I could find.

Returning to the backcountry was harder.

Despite training and testing my limits close to home,  I was still so afraid of re-injuring myself in the middle of nowhere.

My first trip into the wilderness was on a multi-day canoe trip with my sister. An hour into paddling, I broke down into tears. I was so afraid. We stopped and set up camp at the first spot we found. We carried on that way all week: paddling short distances with long rests. It was not the trip we had planned, but I was grateful just to be out there and for my sister’s patience.

A canoe on a calm river surrounded by trees.
My view from our canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota.

The following month, I spent time in the wilderness again on a week-long trip in the mountains. While my friends hiked and climbed, I earned the nickname “Base Camp Babe.” I spent a lot of time reading books, swimming, napping and enjoying the beautiful alpine views. As the week went on, I ventured out on increasingly more adventerous hikes and climbs too.

One hour of scrambling equals one hour of resting. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

This injury has forced me to deal with my fear of being the slowest and smallest person in the group.

This year, I’ve had to turn around before reaching the summit far more times than I’ve made it to any desired destination. My friends carry even more of the gear than before. I often have had to lay down for long rests in inconvenient (but beautiful) spaces.

The view from a rest spot on one of the many mountains I did not get to the top of this year. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

What’s surprised me the most is that despite being up front about my limitations, people still want to climb and hike with me. People whose company I enjoy and judgement I trust. My climbing network has continued to expand and become more diverse, especially in terms of gender and age.

While I am never going to carry a 70-pound pack up a mountain, I have other things going for me. Things like an eagerness to explore new areas, technical climbing skills and knowledge of local areas. I need to work on my limitations while focusing on my strengths.

For the most part, we are roughly stuck with the bodies we are born with. I’ve learned that trying to overcome my fears and challenges by trying to change my body is not going to work.

 Jes loves rock climbing, hiking and outdoor photography. Ten years ago, she moved from a big east coast city to Vancouver Island, Canada. She writes about her outdoor adventures at



Ask me a question! (Sam’s been having fun talking to journalists)

Black question marks on a whiteboardI’ve been talking lots to journalists lately for some reason. Not sure if it’s the blog or if I’m coming to be known as someone who answers the phone and talks to reporters, but I’ve been in the news a few times recently.

First, there was the campus gym dress code story. See here. I also blogged about it, Sam changes her mind about gyms and dress codes.

And then a sports reporter for the New York Times called and asked me about Chris Bosh. See Chris Bosh’s Desire to Play Leaves Heat at an Ethical Crossroads.

So far so good. But I got stumped when a journalist working on a piece on New Year’s resolutions asked me for unorthodox advise I’d give to people just starting out.

Here’s the question: Please share three, perhaps-surprising/unorthodox things would you recommend women do to kick-start their fitness journey.

I did one does in these situations. I texted for outside help.

Image result for lifeline game show

Here’s what Sarah had to say:

1. Use your imagination to seek fun. Think and research beyond the usual treadmill, aerobics, and yoga until you find a sport or activity that when you picture yourself doing it, you’re having a blast.

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of convenience. The effort you put into getting to a thing, whether it’s driving across town or choosing an outfit you’re willing to be seen in, is part of that activity. Choosing things that are easy to access for you will improve your chances of sticking with them long-term.

3. Community is important. Whether you find a place that has it, or build your own by working out with friends, doing things with people is way more fun!

What’s your answer? What unorthodox advice would you give to someone just starting out?


Wow, not even chubby babies get heads these days!

We’ve written before on the blog lamenting the lack of heads on fat people photos. See Why the “headless fatty” photo has got to go (and other headless images, too) and No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people complete with heads instead?

Now Queer Femme Mamma brings headless babies to our attention in her post about lunchbox politics  which is mostly about lunch policing and the fat shaming of kids, with a healthy side dish of class analysis. (Love the point about juice boxes. They’re cheap. They last. You can store them and use them for a long time.)

She writes, “This shit has got to stop. If schools want to encourage healthy eating, they can start a breakfast program or offer baskets of fruit and vegetables for kids who need them (our school does this). Encouraging physical activity and teaching about nutrition can be done without shaming parents and kids. So much of this is pure classicism.”

But back to the headless fat baby.

Here they are!


Here’s the link to the article on childhood obesity in Canada.  It talks about obese three and month olds.

My only experience here is as a parent and I was told not to worry about the weight of my babies–at that age they were just getting breast milk–and if anything, I was nervous about them gaining enough weight. Largely though it felt out of my control. Of the three kids they were very different sizes and weights at 3 months with nothing different on the menu.

Lots of friends chimed in and said the headless baby looked their now average sized kids as infants. I was kind of reassured by the chubbier of my kids. I felt like I didn’t have to worry if they were sick for a few weeks.

Anyway, as noted this is way outside my area of academic expertise. For a discussion of healthy baby weights, go read all the books. But, I do think it wouldn’t hurt to give the kid a head. I doubt babies in diapers are embarrassed by their size quite yet. Give them a few years. Sigh.



On Excuses #tbt

Here’s a Throwback Thursday about excuses. I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who have had that “hoping for rain” thing going on so they could skip a run or other outdoor activity. If I’m hoping for rain (as I was last night), then maybe I need to take a break (as I did last night even though it didn’t in fact rain in time). How about you? Do you feel like you “need an excuse” or do you give yourself permission to take a break when you need it?


Is Coke part of the balanced life? 

This image came through my news feed from various sources, all praising it for the message of moderation. Coke isn’t evil, after all. The good life can include Coke.

Thinking of Sarah here, a big fan of the drive thru large Coke with extra ice.

Me, I wasn’t so quick to praise the labeling here. And it’s not because I think that Coke has no place in our lives. It’s a small place to be sure when it comes to my life. Last year, I was riding my bike at training camp in South Carolina. Day 1 nearly killed me. I was slower than everyone else and it seemed like I might not even make it back to camp. Chris pulled me aside and made me ride over to a gas station where he handed me a bottle of coke. Drink this!

I did and the sugar/caffeine combo so beloved of bike racers everywhere helped. I made it back to camp. I wasn’t even last on all the hills.

No, my worry is more about labeling food in terms of exercise. I’m not sure it helps. I’m not sure it’s right. And I’m not sure it’s always healthy to think of food in terms of how much exercise it will take to burn it off.


Here’s the “honest version” of the Coke anti-obesity ad.

But as hard hitting as it is, the ad quotes the American Heart Association’s recommendation that people drink no more than 450 calories a week from sugar sweetened beverages. That’s about 3 cans of Coke. So that’s not no soda or no pop.

What do you think? Helpful or not helpful? 

Also, is there room for Coke in the good life? Why/ why not? Discuss among yourselves. (It’s the start of the university year. I’m big on discussing among yourselves.)


charity · clothing · competition · fitness · Guest Post · health · stereotypes

Party Run: 2016 Mudmoiselle London (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

(Shown above: Team “Slick Chicks” post-race)

This is a follow up to my previous blog post on party runs, which I published in anticipation of the 2016 Mudmoiselle London fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. In my previous post I had signaled some concerns about party runs, highlighting examples of runs that are currently available in North America. So, here’s me reporting back on where the Mudmoiselle stands in relation to these concerning issues.

The corporate issue: The event was well-organized and fully stocked with smiling volunteers; cheerful music; and a series of tends for registration, bag check, and changing. The Mudmoiselle “template,” with standardized pink/yellow/teal colours, was used for signs and medals. Registered participants received modest draw string swag bags with a shirt, trial-sized protein bars, and assorted gift certificates. About the only noticeable corporate branding was a guy at the photography booth dressed up like a Best Buy ticket.

What I think I liked most about the run was the camaraderie it inspired. There were some cooperative obstacles, but it was the occasion itself that brought out our team’s support for each other. That’s something no amount of sponsorship could buy, and perhaps it was in part because there was little corporate presence that we could focus on motivating and having fun with each other.

The “dress up” issue: Our team chose “business slick” attire: white men’s dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, and lipstick. Our costume was determined less by gender norms and more by what was comfortable but also ironic for a mud run. At our after-run lunch back at the captain’s house, our team was already talking about next year’s costume. Most seemed to like the idea of formal gowns.

The health issue: The course was not competitive, or even timed. An announcer warmed up teams at the start line. The obstacles were challenging, but not insurmountable. And some were quite amusing. Our team particularly liked the diagonal pole we had to slide down (with the aid of applied lubricant) to avoid falling into a mud pit. We encountered encouraging signs (“It’s just a hill; get over it”), water stations, and cheers from by volunteers and medical staff. So, it was a healthy activity, but afterwards we chose to have pizza and beer.

The environment: On this well-marked course we ran up and down a local ski hill on a beautiful, sunny day. We pulled jeeps in neutral, flipped large tires, and navigated through strings pulled taut across woody bike paths. Other than the water and soap to make a “slip ‘n slide” down a larger part of a hill, most obstacles seemed to use existing spaces well, and did not seem environmentally damaging.

The fundraising issue: The London Mudmoiselle met its fundraising goal—nearly $80,000—and our team met its own goal as well. I took my fundraising seriously, and through asking friends and family for donations raised almost $900. While I may have ran the Mudmoiselle run, it’s those who donated to the charity who are the real champions of the day. So, I’m listing below those who donated for me to acknowledge their generosity.

I had only one family member refuse to donate to the CCS because he thinks they aren’t transparent about how they manage their funds compared to other charities. And while the day served the purpose of fundraising, at the starting line there was no explicit mention by run organizers of the charity or its efforts (at least none that I had heard).

Overall: As an event that emphasized fun, friends, and health, but without over-the-top competitiveness or a barrage of corporate gimmicks that undermined the run’s social purpose or personal benefits, Mudmoiselle’s pros and cons netted out pretty evenly for me. It was a party run, but it was fun and it promoted an inclusive type of “partying” that many would find to be a welcome alternative to a traditional booze bender on a Saturday (complete with ties around our heads).

Continue reading “Party Run: 2016 Mudmoiselle London (Guest Post)”


Look Who’s 52! Planning for another year on this planet

At the end of my birthday run on Saturday, September 24, 2016. Happy 52nd birthday to me.

Saturday I turned 52. I’ve been working without a day off since the day after Labor Day, and Saturday was no exception. I was at the Ontario Universities Fair in Toronto, a “trade-show” style event where over one hundred thousand people — high school students and their parents — come through the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to find out about Ontario universities.

So I woke up in Toronto on Saturday ready to work my second day of the fair and went for an early morning run so I could start the day off well. And not just the day, the upcoming year.

When Sam and I started this blog back in 2012, we had just embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge. Through that challenge, in the lead up to our 50th birthdays, running became an important part of my life. So it made sense to me that even though I would be on my feet for about 8 hours a day, three days in a row, a great way to clear my head and start my birthday shift would be with a run through downtown Toronto. And I’m glad I did.

I’ve not had a lot of time to take stock, which is something I like to do when birthdays roll around because it gives me a sense of what’s changed and what’s ahead. But here are my plans for the upcoming year.

  • I’m trying to make some decisions about my future on the bike. You may not know this if you’re not a regular reader, but I’ve got a bit of a phobia about training on the road. So that’s held me back for the past couple of seasons of triathlon. In 2015, I cancelled two Olympic distance events. This past summer I didn’t even bother to sign up. I sold my road bike to Sarah. But I still have my TT bike. In the short term, my winter bike goal is to do two spin classes a week at the Y.
  • I’ve signed up for the Key West Half Marathon on January 15, 2017, along with Rebecca and Anita.  I’m considering a training clinic, either for a half marathon or for the Around the Bay clinic (not sure if I wish to do the 30K on March 26, 2017). We’ll see.
  • I got one of the precious spots in Gabbi’s triathlon swim training group at the Y on Tuesday and Friday mornings. That starts up on October 4th and I’m totally committed to making it out for that on a regular basis because there are 30 people on the waiting list and I would hate to sit on a space that I’m not using.
  • Clearly I’m swim-bike-run training if I stick with all of these plans, and that would set me up well for a triathlon season next summer. I’ll very likely to Kincardine again and need to think about what else.
  • Another thing on my agenda this year is gaining more self-compassion. To that end, I’ve started reading The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher K. Germer. At different times in my life I’ve had a regular meditation practice. But that’s fallen to the side lately and I want to get it back. And I also want to loosen up my schedule so that I’m not dashing from one thing to another all day long, every day. Being kinder to myself is going to be a major part of my upcoming year.
  • Finally, Sam and I have our Fit Is a Feminist Issue book coming out in the Fall of 2017. It’s a long time from now but we would (of course) love for the book to be a success. So doing what I can to get the book into the hands of as many readers as possible is another thing on my to-do list for the next year.

What do you think about when your birthdays come around? What are your plans for the year to come?


Scorn and Fetishization of Food: Gender Norms, Bacon (mmm… bacon), and Pumpkin Spice Lattes (like, yum!)

AUTHOR’s NOTE: This blog entry includes image captions that are rich image descriptions to convey the most relevant content to readers who don’t perceive the same content in the images as does the author, for whatever reason. As they do contain content, I recommend reading them where you might otherwise skip captions.

Feminist philosopher Sandra Bartky has written that femininity is a disciplinary regime that not only subjects women to the judgment of the male gaze but also, in a modernization of patriarchal power, causes them to internalize those judgments and recast them on both other women and upon themselves whenever they turn their mind’s eye upon their own bodies and behaviors.  Masculinity also functions in this way, preventing men from being their full selves and penalizing them for deviating from gender norms. However, as Marilyn Frye has observed, men who restrict themselves in order to conform to gender norms gain social power (taking up more space, dominating discussions, exerting power, etc.) by doing so while women lose social power (becoming smaller, giving way in discourse, attaching themselves to those in power, etc.). In this blog entry, I am going to take these ideas about the power of gender norms, which includes food behaviors, and apply them to a bit of internet culture that has come across my radar recently in the form of a meme.


CAPTION: The image shows a screenshot of a discussion forum in which a user says “the social acceptability of bacon culture vs. the hatred of pumpkin spice culture” and “this is an example of misogyny. because male interests are always cool and female interests are always shameful.”

Now, it is certainly possible that the simple fact that many women like bacon and many men like pumpkin spice is a counterexample for this argument. However, almost none of the images and text I have found in internet culture associate bacon with femininity and pumpkin spice lattes with masculinity, while many do the reverse.  I believe there is something to this claim however simple it’s presentation here.  It is not simply who has the interests. Rather, it is that the interests pertain to food. And food is highly gendered. Indeed, the positive valence of bacon in internet culture, combined with the negative valence of pumpkin spice in internet culture, indicates that something else is likely at work.

Consider the following series of images which illustrate these valences and some of their content.


CAPTION: There are 4 memes in a 2×2 grid.  One shows actor and action movie star Liam Neeson looking very serious with the text “If you try to pass off turkey bacon as real bacon one more time I WILL FIND YOU AND KILL YOU.”  A second shows celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey yelling at an Asian woman in the kitchen and saying “This bacon is so undercooked it’s trying to pull me over for speeding.” A third shows a picture of rapper Xzibit smiling and laughing with the text “You dawg I heard you like bacon. So I put bacon on your bacon so you can eat bacon with your bacon.”  The fourth and final image shows the Dos Equis beer brand’s spokesman (The Most Interesting Man In The World) with the text “I don’t always eat bacon. But when I do, I put extra bacon on my bacon.”

Note how the visual and textual content is masculine: not only are men overwhelmingly pictured, but many are aggressive, as in the Liam Neeson image in which he delivers a bacon-related threat while maintaining a stoic face, and the image of a celebrity chef yelling at kitchen staff for improperly preparing bacon. Note also that the Neeson meme specifically not only lauds bacon from pigs, but demeans the lower salt, lower fat bacon made from turkeys. I doubt it is a coincidence that lower salt and lower fat turkey bacon has a connotation of being better for dieting, and dieting in turn has a feminine connotation. Consider the experiments conducted by Luke Zhu and his colleagues on priming—how culture imprints concepts in our minds—and food.  Zhu’s team asked 93 adults to consider the following foods and say whether they were masculine or feminine: baked chicken vs. fried chicken, baked potatoes vs. French fries, light potato chips versus regular potato chips, and baked fish versus fried fish.  People tended to see healthier options as feminine and unhealthier ones as masculine.

The images above also involve excessive consumption, itself a kind of unhealthy risk-taking: would you like bacon on your bacon? Xzibit is ready to offer you some and the Most Interesting Man In The World always has extra!  Compare this with the classic image of women eating small salads alone with apparently great joy.


CAPTION: This image, a screen shot of Google search results for the term “women eating salad”, shows many women eating small bowls of salad smiling and laughing, alone, while they move food towards their mouths, but never actually chewing. Most appear to be white, though there is one who may be racialized as Asian. None would be deemed black, and few could be racialized latina on appearance alone.

Both aggression and excessive consumption are traits associated with what RW Connell calls hegemonic masculinity. This form of masculinity is the one that is dominant in a given culture, and generally promotes the dominant social position of men while subordinating the social position of even gender-conforming women and of other people with subordinate or non-conforming gender identities. In US culture, it tends to be characterized by violence/aggression, emotional restraint except with respect to anger displays, dominance displays, risk-taking, and competitiveness.  All of this helps to make sense of why eating fatty, salty meat in large quantities lines up with hegemonic masculinity quite so well.  As writer Juliana Roth has said,

Embedded into our very cultural fabric is a connection between meat and the stereotypical masculine realms of American life: sports, weight lifting, bar culture, cars, running a family. Imagine the Super Bowl without buffalo wings, or watching March Madness over salads instead of burgers and beer.

Now consider the scrutiny that women fall under when they eat in public, where women’s eating is too often seen as shameful.  Indeed, the constant notion that one’s behavior, like one’s body, is subject to the gaze of others—and the internalization of this gaze—is classic Bartky-style disciplinary regime. Such regimes are meant to control, not to benefit the one who is disciplined.

As I have written elsewhere: “There is some pretty good evidence that dieting and food surveillance do indeed result in disordered eating and in unhealthful weight-control behaviors.  Emphasis on food control and shaming as a means of meeting social expectations has serious pitfalls…”  With this in mind, let us return to the subject of the original comment that sparked this reflection, and consider how pumpkin spice latte consumption is often—not always, but illuminatingly frequently—framed.  Consider the following illustrative memes, how they interpolate the consumer of pumpkin spice latte as female, and what attitudes or behaviors or dress or other characteristics are associated with that consumer.


CAPTION: These four images are common internet memes about pumpkin spice latte consumption. The first image shows Ryan Gosling, whose “hey, girl…” has amusingly been adopted for feminist Ryan Gosling memes. This, however, is not perhaps so feminist. Over Ryan Gosling’s image, stoic-faced in a plain white t-shirt with his arm muscles showing, are the words “Hey girl, I got you a pumpkin spice latte, let’s stay home and talk about our favorite parts of fall.”  In the second image, a background of an autumn tree has upon it the words “If you look in the mirror and say ‘pumpkin spice latte’ three times, a white suburban girl in yoga pants will appear and tell you everything she loves about fall.”  In the third image, there is only an orange background and the words “I spilled my Pumpkin Spice Latte, and now a bunch of ants are making brunch plans and doing yoga.”  In the fourth image, we have a version of the “first world problems” meme type which always uses the same image of a white woman crying; the overlying text says “I want a pumpkin spice latte. But Starbucks doesn’t sell them until September.”  In the final image, a Tampax box is pictured with an orange stripe across it, orange wrappers seen through the transparent portion of the box, and the words “pumpkin spice” across the orange stripe.

As we can see, all four of these portrayals of pumpkin spice are heavily gendered—is there anything more gendered than feminine hygiene products? They also tend to conceive of the pumpkin spice latte not just as female, but as a “girl” rather than a woman, thus implying immaturity.

However, the above images are also raced and classed: “white suburban girl” in “yoga pants”, and the implicit “first world problems” nature of the fact that these beverages cannot be consumed at Starbucks until September.  This complicates matters somewhat. I would be interested to hear the reader’s thoughts on the role of race and class, as well as gender, in social judgments on food.  I am sure we can think of types of food or ways of consuming food that are raced, classed, and gendered.  One of the most distressing stereotypes of black southern folks is the “fried chicken and watermelon” allusion, which is also associated with inarticulate, lazy, easily frightened, useless buffoons. This racialized food imagery has been used in the media by some people to re-center President Obama’s and Michelle Obama’s blackness (search “Obama” in the previous link) and was used by a private girls’ school in Northern California to incorporate Black History Month into lunch time with a lunch of these items and cornbread.

But for the moment, let’s leave what I believe to be the clear fact that pumpkin spice latte is a food that is raced, gendered, and classed.  Let’s look at some of the demeaning responses to pumpkin spice latte consumption.


CAPTION: There are four images. The first image is a modified cell from a Batman and Robin comic book. It shows a costumed Batman slapping Robin across the face as though to snap him out of some delusional state. Robin is saying “Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Spice Cookies, Pumpkin Spice…” and Batman, while hitting him, is saying “PUMPKINS ARE FOR CARVING!” in much bigger text as though yelling. In the second image, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is seen leaning forward, bent at the waist, face fully forward, yelling “PUMPKING SPICE?!? The only ‘flavor’ I want in my coffee is whisky!”  In the third image, a deliberately stereotypically dorky looking man is smiling and laughing in self-mockery.  The words overlayed on the image say “I like pumpkin spice. F*ck me, right?” In the final image, we see a light-skinned woman with long dark hair, smiling with her chin resting on her hand. The superimposed words say “If liking pumpkin spice lattes & wearing uggs makes me a basic white girl, than [sic] please, just call me Becky.” This latter is a reference to a line from a Beyonce song in which the narrator tells her lover that if he is going to treat her badly he can just call “Becky with the good hair,” whereas Urban Dictionary defines a “basic girl” as “your run of the mill white girl that has no identity of her own… like a cracker-jack house in a middle class neighborhood.”

Like the bacon responses to turkey bacon, these demeaning responses to consumption of pumpkin spice latte are masculinized, aggressive and sometimes even violent, in one case valuing alcohol consumption over flavoring in a clear kind of risk-taking, and even in one case self-directed (for failing to meet masculinity norms). Note the reoccurrence of a certain celebrity chef who seems to crop up in masculine food memes. Disliking pumpkin spice latte is strongly associated with masculine ways of expressing dislike, as in these popular memes. And like the images of pumpkin spice latte consumption more generally, they are not only gendered but also classed (Uggs) and raced (“basic white girl”; “call me Becky”).

I’ve tried to show how gender, class, and race are working in reinforcing ways to frame our thinking about pumpkin spice latte consumption, but I think that bacon is framed almost exclusively in terms of gender.  Agree or disagree with respect to my claims about these particular foods, it is clear that there is some loaded rhetoric here, carrying a heavy cargo of gendered fetishization and scorn. And even when bacon and pumpkin spice lattes are long gone, some foods will continue to carry such cargo.

Now, I am off to eat bacon with my hands and drink me a pumpkin spice latte while wearing trousers and a good bra.

body image · fitness

Why the “headless fatty” photo has got to go (and other headless images, too)

Sometimes headless images are powerful.  It’s September 25, about 5 weeks before Halloween.  I remember reading and hearing “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”as a child, and being about as scared as Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster who encountered the Headless Horseman.  That image is a sure sign of fall and foreboding.


Headless horseman of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow


But other headless images are scary in a different way.

Samantha wrote about the “headless fatty” several years ago on this blog.  Several of the bloggers have commented in posts about this phenomenon.  Here’s some of what Sam said:

I hate it when I try to share stories about obesity on social media, the image that almost inevitably appears is one of a headless fat torso. It’s as if there were no fat people, just fat torsos. Or as if no fat person would be willing to have their face associated with their body next to an article about fatness. But that’s just not true.

That was 4 years ago.  However, like the headless horseman, the “headless fatty” just won’t go away.  Last week, Huffington Post Australia ran a story called “Tackling Obesity Takes a Conversation with Yourself”.  It’s another one of those stories combining dire warnings about the effects of obesity and type 2 diabetes (which are two very different things) and encouraging people to exercise more (arguably  a good thing for people of all weights).  Okay, I’ve read worse stories.  But their featured headline image was this one:


Fat woman holding soccer ball; image is headless

Really?  In a story on the need to have a conversation with ourselves, one would think that having one’s head was a requirement.

I was alerted to this story by Aussie friends, and one of them– Christopher Mayes– along with his colleague Jenny Kaldor, wrote a great response piece for Huff Post Australia called “‘Headless Fatty’ Pics Don’t Protect People, They Dehumanise Them”.  Check it out.

So what’s bad about “headless fatty” images?  They are stigmatizing and dehumanizing.  Here’s what Mayes and Kaldor say about it:

The use of “headless fatty” imagery has been criticised by activists and public health researchers for almost a decade now. Such images contribute to the stigmatisation of fat people, in a way that would be completely unacceptable in other public health contexts. Consider whether equivalent pictures would be used with an HIV/AIDS story today.

Sociologist Erving Goffman describes stigmatisation as the process through which we come to “believe the person with a stigma is not quite human”. Images, words, and beliefs contribute to processes that transform a behaviour or characteristic into a stigma, that in turn disqualifies and discredits the bearer from full participation in the community.

“Headless fatty” images are commonly defended for respecting the person’s identity — the idea being “what face would want to be identified as belonging to that body?” Another kinder, though still misguided, defence is that they are “protecting” the person, in the same way that we might obscure a child’s face in a newspaper story — the implication being that the fat body is childlike, not fully competent.

But removing a person’s head reduces their humanity and their citizenship. It makes them a mere body-object that can be discussed in the abstract, ridiculed or openly abused.

Mayes and Kaldor  say that headless images would not be acceptable in any other health context.  Yes, they are certainly right about that.  Unfortunately, there are other contexts in which headless images get used to stigmatize persons.  Economist Emily Oster wrote a book called “Expecting Better” in which she argues that a lot of the medical guidelines for activities during pregnancy aren’t based on strong evidence.  In particular, she argues that advising pregnant women not to drink any alcohol is not based on evidence.  There was a huge outcry over this (small) section of her book, and Oster writes in Slate about it here.

But of course the head-line image was, once again, headless.


headless pregnant woman pouring a glass of red wine

One of our guest bloggers, Rebecca, has written a lot about this phenomenon and I have her to thank for reminding me about the headless pregnant woman images and how they are used to stigmatize and dehumanize women.

There are lots of options for depicting people of all shapes and sizes and stages of life doing all sorts of activities.  The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has an image gallery (last updated 6 YEARS AGO– this is not a new thing) of fat people shopping, running, talking to other people, working, eating, etc.– all with heads completely intact.

The need to feature, isolate and depict fat people doing some activity is another issue for another day, but for now, my message to the media world is clear:  leave the heads on, folks!


cycling · family · fitness

Mother Daughter Biking Once More 

grey rental bikes leaning against rock wall

Sam and her daughter Mallory, selfie, big smiles, wearing matching red rental helmets

Mallory stopped on her bike, looking back, curved bike path, cliffs on one side, rocks on the other View of Vancouver harbour with ships

My daughter Mallory and I bike together a lot. We’ve done some Quebec trail trails twice. We’ve ridden the Central Otago Rail Trail on the South island of New Zealand. We’ve biked to the Pinery Provincial Park and to United Church family camp many times.

So no surprise when I visited her in her new city of Vancouver this past weekend that we went out and rented bikes together. A large frame for her and a small frame for me. We had a fun ride around Stanley Park. We had to watch out for people who had rented bikes but who clearly hadn’t ridden since they were kids. We had fun watching all the shipping traffic and the rowing shells and recreational sailboats and ferries negotiating the shared space in the harbour.

I miss her while she’s living in another city but it was fun to reconnect on bikes!