Last weekend, I finished my longest run to date: North America’s oldest road race, Around the Bay, in Hamilton, Ontario. At 30 km (18.6 miles) it is not a marathon, but it has its own torments—winds off Lake Ontario and rolling hills on the back 10 km. “Rolling” makes the hills sound picturesque, but they gutted me. To add insult to injury, the race includes a monster incline that awaits runners around kilometer 26. It is, as they say, a challenging course.
I approached the race with a mixture of dread and excitement. Many times I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer is simple. Running has changed my life profoundly since I took it up again after decades away. It seems like a miracle to be able to claim the streets at middle age; as the miles add up, my confidence and joy grow. The running community provides support with its bottomless enthusiasm and acts of generosity and kindness. And, as it turns out, I love to race. So there I was, on those rolling hills, duking it out with my doubts and aching legs, feeling grateful.
The transformations running has made possible in my own life have led me to consider how it might transform the lives of others. I’ve been volunteering for Start2Finish, a reading and running club that works with at-risk children in elementary schools around Canada. The children with whom I feel most connected are the girls approaching puberty. Puberty looks to me a little like middle age: changes in the body that can’t be controlled, self-consciousness, fears of failing, negative self-chat. For this particular group of young women, add the challenges that attend the socioeconomic realities of their community. These girls are brave when they face down Race Day.
The Centre helps women lacing up their running shoes, metaphorically speaking. To step out the door into a new life requires a trust in the larger community and a belief that a better future is possible. Please join me in helping women gain the strength they need to go the distance. If you’d like to support the cause with a donation, you can do that here.
How about you? Do you feel more motivated when you’re running for a cause? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University. Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.
Today I went running at noon. This is not a thing I usually do. But when I heard it would be sunny and about 12 degrees C, it was hard not to seize the moment. You see, we endure a lot of unfavorable running conditions here in Southwestern Ontario.
In the winter, it’s often cold. Not necessarily too cold. I mean, we’re tough Canadians and we have the clothing for it. But it’s still chilly. And you have to dress for it. And some days when you add the wind and the icy surfaces and the snow and the dark (dark in the morning, dark in the evening), it’s tough to feel motivated.
In the summer, much to the surprise of those who haven’t been anywhere in Canada in the summer, it can be hot and humid. Not exactly ideal for running, especially at noon. I pretty much do not run at noon in the summer. I run first thing in the morning after the ashphalt has cooled off overnight and the sun hasn’t yet heated it back up again.
To run at noon is a treat that will be short-lived. I ran in capris and a short sleeved t-shirt today. That’s amazing considering that just three days ago I wore long tights, long sleeves, and a jacket for Around the Bay.
I often joke about how fleeting “capri” season is. It’s like you put the long tights away, pull out the capris for a couple of weeks, then BOOM. Time for shorts. But nothing says perfect running weather quite like capris. Cool enough that you want a bit of coverage on your legs. Warm enough that you don’t need it all the way to your feet. T-shirts are similar. I run with layers and long sleeves in the winter; tank style tops in the summer. There is just a brief window for t-shirts with sleeves, and that window is happening now.
Right before my noon run, as I was all suited up in my capris and short sleeved t-shirt, ready to go, I realized I forgot my little hip thing that I used to hold my phone. That meant no music (or awkwardly running with my iphone in my hand, which is not a good option). Instead of seeing that as a negative today, I used it to my advantage — to take in my surroundings along the river through Gibbons Park, focus on my breathing rhythm, be present instead of distracted by music, stick with this week’s training plan from Linda in a purposeful way.
When I got back from my run, I posted to social media: “If you’re a runner and you’re in London Ontario today, go running. It is an utterly perfect day to get out there.” It’s not the sort of thing you want anyone to miss out on because it doesn’t last around here. I for one plan to savour this time, between now and late May.
And I’m really glad I grabbed it today because there is now a “special weather statement” for tomorrow: freezing rain and colder. Oh joy.
What’s your favourite running weather? Is there a time of year that you consider perfect? Tell us about it in the comments.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere it’s a great way to jump start the cycling season. I know we have mixed feelings about challenges here on the blog. Me, I like them when they work and I don’t feel guilty when they don’t. So if this one appeals to you, get on your bike and ride!
Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K road race in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race that prides itself on being the oldest road race in North America, older even than Boston. In 2015 I did the 30K. You can read about that challenge of mind and body here. At the time, it was the furthest I’d ever run. And though the Grim Reaper didn’t take me down, I didn’t have an easy time of it.
Flash forward to this year. With a full marathon and several half marathons behind me, I felt ready to do Around the Bay again, but the “lite” version. Namely, the two-person relay. I talked Julie into it one after back in November and before she could bail I signed us up an collected her registration fee. We chose our team name: Steady She Goes. And we had the whole winter to train (oh joy! winter training).
15K seems eminently reasonable. Before long, we’d recruited some company — Anita and Violetta formed their own team, Hippy Chicks. You can also do a three-person relay for ATB. My running coach, Linda, signed on for that.
Each relay is limited to just 250 teams. And that’s why you have to make an early commitment. The real buzz around the race is of course the 30K. There are literally thousands of people running the 30K, as opposed to just 500 runners doing 15K each on two-person teams, and 750 runners doing 10K each on the three-person teams.
As we like to do on the blog when we’ve pulled a group together to do an event, we’re going to give you a little taste of what each of us experienced that day. Anita and I ran the first 15K for our respective teams, meeting Julie and Violetta at the 15K mark to change timing chips so they could carry on for the rest of the race. So we’ll each tell you how it was for us, and Linda will give us her thoughts on her 10K as the first runner of her relay team.
Tracy (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #1)
I felt relieved, so very relieved, that I wasn’t doing the 30K. Despite that, by the night before the race I’d already thought I might like to do the 30K next year. I don’t know how these things happen to me, but I get caught up and next thing you know…
It was a cold, windy, grey morning on Sunday. Thankfully, the rain that had been forecast earlier in the week didn’t materialize or else it would’ve been totally miserable. Julie, Anita, and I left our Air BnB a little late to find decent parking. But as we approached downtown we got jazzed up listening to Kelis sing “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” I don’t know what it means, but it got us into a good mood. We drove around to several lots until we finally arrived at one where we felt scammed, but less than we’d have felt at the first lot we tried.
After some phoning and texting, we hooked up with Violetta just inside the First Ontario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum). The finish line is inside the arena, the start on the road outside the arena. The whole place was teeming with people. Thousands. We paused for our mandatory photos. I almost lost Anita on our last bathroom break before the race start. I’m so glad I found her in our plan B meet-up spot because we helped each other stay on task through the race.
The first 15K of Around the Bay helps to drive home the point that Hamilton is, indeed, a steel town. It takes you through industrial areas and on the highway, with its overpasses and ramps. There’s nothing picturesque about it. Windy and dreary with lots of ups and downs.
Anita and I had the goal of doing it in — wait for it — 1:45. Okay, I know that doesn’t make us speedsters. But it seemed reasonable to expect that we could maintain a 35 minute 5K pace for 3x5K in a row.
And we did. In fact, we did even better at 1:43. Not only that, I felt amazing the whole time. Linda sent some excellent advice about how to strategize the different segments of the race — when to go easy, when to pay attention, when to pick up the pace, and when to really pick up the pace.
Instead of our usual 10-1 intervals, we went to 10 minutes running and 30 seconds walking. But we skipped quite a few of the walk breaks because we had a good rhythm going and didn’t see the point of interrupting it. All that paid off. And for the last 3K we didn’t stop at all. We pushed the pace for the last 1K, reminding ourselves that we had no need to leave anything in the tank for later. I felt really pumped knowing we were coming in under our goal time. Next thing we knew, we caught site of Julie and Violetta at the side of the road. We ran over the timing mat and met them on the other side.
They were freezing from waiting. Julie could hardly feel her hands so I swapped out the chip, fixing it to her shoe. I gave her a big hug and sent her on her way for the last 15K. Much prettier, but also a constant stream of rolling hills. I’ll let her tell you about that.
All in all I felt good about our time. But being the first of a relay team isn’t all its cracked up to be. There is no mechanism for meeting your team mate at the finish line. They get both medals and just hand you yours when you manage to meet up in the stands after. And there’s a lot of waiting around. Kind of anti-climactic if you ask me. So that might be enough to spur me on for the 30K next year, even though 15K is a great distance. On the upside, I have a year to prep!
Anita (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #1)
I was pumped to do the first half of the 30km relay this year. Previously I did the second half, and it nearly killed me, but I’d heard that the first half was easier. And 15Km! we do that all the time!
My biggest worry was the halfway mark where I had to give the timing chip to my partner, Violetta (and Tracy had to do the same with Julie). First there was the actual getting the chip off my shoe and attaching it, flat, to Violetta’s shoe. Fortunately last time I learned a neat trick: use safety pins to secure the chip rather than trying to tie it to your laces (too much time!). (It was still a bit difficult on account of my fatigue and her frozen fingers). Then I had to pack a bag of stuff that Violetta could give to me as I finished my part of the relay. It was a bit stressful anticipating everything I might need at that moment (sweatshirt, food, jacket, phone, money, health card…).
But the most stressful part was that I knew, from past experience, that actually finding your partner as you come running towards the hordes of relay partners could be problematic. I raised this issue…but no one was taking me seriously. I suggested that Violetta hold a balloon so I could spot her quickly. My kids suggested painting our faces to see each other in the crowd. Another suggestion was wearing a distinctive hat, but unfortunately we really couldn’t anticipate the weather. In the end, we relied on Violetta’s bright pink jacket, and Julie’s quick thinking as she waved a pink blanked up and down with full force as we came down the road. And with that, we did our quick exchange of tags and bags, and away they went.
All in all it was a great race for Tracy and I in that we beat our anticipated time by 2 minutes (yeah!) and for the first time we felt in control of our pace throughout the whole race. In fact, we were all awesome – Team Steady as She Goes and Team Hippy Chicks rocked it!
Violetta (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #2)
I’ve always said that a 15k race would be the perfect distance, of course, that was when running a half marathon and so needing to run 6 more kilometres after getting more or less comfortably to the 15k mark. So when I heard that about the Around the Bay relay, I couldn’t say “no”. When I told some friends who had done the ATB before, they immediately asked if I was doing the second half. I didn’t know it but the second half is all hills, mainly rolling hills but one ridiculous monster hill. But that isn’t the only thing that made this run tough. The weather was incredibly cold—this didn’t register so much if you checked the temperature (which was 2 Celcius) and not even if you noticed that there was a windchill factor (-4 Celcius). What would actually be beautiful scenery on a warm day, running along Eastport drive with the bay on one side and Lake Ontario on the other was the most challenging bit of the whole run. The winds were blowing and the waves were crashing and I literally covered my face to make it through. Maybe I’m a suck but that was probably the least pleasant 10 minutes of running I’ve ever done. Psychologically, I’m thinking maybe it was helpful because after that, even Heartbreak Hill was easy (ok, maybe not easy, but certainly doable).
Outside the weather, there were two other things that made this run challenging. The first was my too-laid-back training regime. In contrast to how seriously I took my half marathon prep, I just figured I’d be able to get away with much less for a 15k. I think I was ultimately right about that but I wasn’t as confident going in. The other challenge was that I was going to run this race alone for the most part. In the past, I’ve always run with my friend Diana and we’ve talked and encouraged each other throughout. This time, I started the run with Julie but we parted ways after a few kilometres because she does the run/walk whereas I run continuously. Thank goodness she was there at the beginning for the hard part! While I still prefer to run with a partner, I did prove to myself that I could do it on my own.
It was a little surreal crossing the finish line which is inside Copps Coliseum full of supporters cheering. I was happy to meet up with Tracy and Anita and compare stories. But the cherry on top was being surprised by my husband and daughters who were actually there! It was one of those moments where I felt proud of myself and content with my life—and that is worth more than the medal I got.
Julie (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #2) (written by Tracy)
Julie didn’t get her report in, so I’ll summarize her experience. After waiting Violetta at the 15K mark for me and Anita to arrive, Julie was freezing. She had a fleecy pink blanket, but that wasn’t enough to keep her warm for almost two hours.
Also: Julie hates running alone. And her two main training partners, me and Anita, were running the first half. And Violetta doesn’t do 10-1s, which is the mainstay of Julie’s approach. She lives for the 1 minute intervals. She did find a woman who she was pretty evenly paced with, but instead of running together, the two of them kept apace without making an explicit commitment to stick it out together. I got the impression at lunch that if she had to do it over, Julie might have reached out more directly to that woman.
And then there were the rolling hills. The second half of ATB is all rolling hills. Until the final hill, which is deceptive and brutal, Deceptive in that it looks as if it’s about to be over and the you round the bend and boom, more hill. Brutal in that it just goes on and on and on.
Between the hills and running alone, Julie found it hard to stay motivated to keep running. She admitted at lunch that she took more walk breaks than she probably needed, just because there was no one to keep her going, to pace her, to encourage her to stay with a plan. You see, Julie doesn’t care that much about time even though, really, she’s inherently faster than either Anita or me.
Maybe her desire to run alongside someone will be enough for me to convince Julie to do the 30K with me next year when Anita is in the UK.
Linda (Team Awesome, Three-Person Relay, Runner #1)
Training for a race is easy compared to that tricky decision: What to wear on race day? I dislike feeling cold and yet I perform best when I can dissipate the body heat created when racing. ‘Linda’s Race Dress Rules’ to the rescue:
Sunday I headed outside early for an easy ‘wake up the body’ jog. My tunes woke up the brain. Overnight ‘race elves’ had erected white metal barriers, orange pylons, and portapotties, transforming the city streets into a race course. Things looked good; things felt good. Liked that a lot.
As first runner on the team, I lined up in the Start corrals downtown. Loud cheering arose as we passed a gigantic Canadian Flag overhead. Start! About 2.5K I tried to toss my arm warmers to the sidelines. Instead the wind took charge and flew them to parts unknown. The long-sleeve tee and vest got unzipped. Yeah, right choice in clothes.
My goal for Sunday was to run a 10K tempo with a controlled pace. My focus on rhythmic breathing, quick turnover, and relaxed body put me in the zone, the process. ‘Landing lightly, Osprey fly, Fast feet, Fast feet, Through the sky’. Didn’t’ matter to me that the only birds I could see were the seagulls zipping by in the NE 33K wind. Lucky seagulls—they had the wind at their backs. I didn’t. Nevertheless there was an exhilarating freshness to the strong spring gusts.
Before I knew it I was approaching the finish. That’s when I misjudged the exchange location and started my 800m sprint too soon. Holding my pace while climbing the long overpass gave me an opportunity to see what I could do. Did it. Waved my partner goodbye. Smiled knowing I had run well and had made an excellent contribution to the team–Team Awesome! Yes we were.
If you want to enjoy the energy of the Around the Bay road race but feel that 30K is too daunting, consider trying one of the relays. And if you do, it might tempt you to try the 30 next time (as it has tempted me for 2018…). 🙂
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, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?
The body positive social media star shared side-by-side photos of herself in the same lingerie set, but in one photo she has professional posing, makeup and lighting, and the other shows her in a more natural pose without her makeup and hair done.
“The photo on the left is staged as hell,” Crabbe wrote on Instagram. “I was told where to put my legs, how to angle my arm, which way to tilt my hips and even how to hold my fingers. My eyes were watering from the false lashes and my hair will probably never look like that again.”
The idea of a “bikini body” is a grand metaphor for a body worthy of being seen. Slenderella International, a short-lived chain of weight loss salons, popularized the phrase in 1961. The company ran a series of ads in major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Summer’s wonderful fun is for those who look young,” they claimed. “High firm bust — hand span waist — trim, firm hips — slender graceful legs — a Bikini body!”
Hand. Span. Waist.
You might be rolling your eyes and feeling a little nauseous at that line, but I bet you also believe in the bikini body.
I know you do. Just a little bit. A hand span’s worth.
Earlier this week, This Is Us star Chrissy Metz jumped into the spotlight because of a series of pin up style photos published in Harper’s Bazaar.
She looks happy and confident. Perhaps because she is. You know, successful TV show, critical acclaim, those sorts of things.
She told the magazine:
When I first heard Harper’s Bazaar wanted me to be sexy, I was like, ‘Who, me?’ I knew y’all were edgy but this is incredible — it’s validation. I can get into this now because I finally have the confidence.
For the next few months, we’ll be featuring a series of personal essays from contributing writers. Each person will share a true story about dating — from texting to sex to breakups. Kicking off this theme is Ashley Ford, whose feelings about her body changed when she started dating a guy 20 pounds lighter than she was…
(This post has a soundtrack. Click here or go to mixcloud.com and search George Chaker. Click any of the spinning mixes and play it while you read).
Spinning that feels like a dance party. That’s George, at Torq ride. I’ve been spinning, off and on, for about 18 years, and I recently discovered George. He’s a DJ and a fitness guy and probably my favourite spinning instructor I’ve ever had. He has just the right blend of presence, push and trust in the class. George starts out moving fast and it just gets faster. No pauses, very little recovery of any kind. But I do it and leave the class feeling incredible. Here’s what happens in my head when I’m in one of George’s classes:
I like the dark… that music is fantastic … RPMs not at 85, go harder, find the beat of the music, push harder, those watts are climbing…135… 149… 187… 201… reach harder… 210 … 201… 202… this is crazy but my body is keeping up… are my knees okay? The guy next to me is keeping time by beating his hand on his handlebars… he’s so into it… up out of the saddle — form… 3 position, core, form… music …pedal harder… 35 km/hr… 241 watts… 30 second push… 335 watts… tension off, keep pedalling, stay at 85…That guy next to me is moaning… how is it george pushes us like this. … this was a terrible class to forget to grab a towel — my hands are slipping off the bars… use your shirt… everything is slidey… everything feels strong and breathless.. 5 more minutes… one more push… 334… oof… that guy is moaning again…push push push omg that felt so good
50 minutes pass and I’m working in the hardest zone possible for the whole time. I hop off the bike, stretch, dripping sweat. I wash my hands, leave the studio and check my phone, clicking my email to get my performance numbers.
That’s a good spinning class, 50 minutes that feel like a dance party, where you actually sing out loud with the ironic dance mix of You are my Sunshine at the end of the class.
I had a class this week that was the opposite. I won’t name the teacher, but the music was mediocre and played too loudly, and she kept shouting instructions over the music that I could never actually make out. Here’s what I was thinking in her class:
I hate it when the teacher frames the class as “you’re going to hate me” — I want to be on a team with the teacher, not set up to hate my own sense of movement. Why is she pressuring us to hit these watts right out of the gate — this is actually hurting my knees. She’s a much bigger person than I am — does she think someone my size can actually do that? That music is so loud it hurts my ears. What the hell is she shouting now? How long is this push supposed to be? Or is this a sprint? Where is the torq stick supposed to be? How much longer in this stupid class? Shit we’re only 15% done. I’ll just click the stage button so I can’t actually see how much time has elapsed… that music is so loud it’s actually damaging my hearing… fuck, what would happen if I just stopped right now… how much longer… can I still count this as a workout if I stop after 30 minutes… were we supposed to end that segment with the end of that song? She’s not really keeping track. Oof my knees hurt, why is my foot all twitchy? Fuck 5 more minutes, I can hang on.
Here’s the thing: on the numbers, I actually hit similar levels in her class as George’s. But the experience of being in George’s class leaves me euphoric, completely present to the ecstasy of driving music and moving my body in unison with 25 other sweating, pushing people in the dark. We’re together, and strong. I believe I can do anything and I push for it. It doesn’t feel like an “exercise class” — it feels like deeply grappling with my strength and a deep pleasure and what’s possible.
And so, I go back. And I get stronger.
Spinning doesn’t need to be a spiritual experience. I have some deep skepticism about things like Soul Cycle, which claims to “change lives,” not just bodies. Torq is inspiration-lite, the sandwich board outside the only real “messaging.”
But every instructor has a philosophy that seeps through. The ones that don’t work for me? Now you can go to brunch and have a mimosa with a clear conscience… This will make up for going out for St. Patrick’s day… You’re going to hate me…
The ones that work? Like George, they’re about strength and being in your body. Use this class to get out the stuff that’s bugging you. Find your own road and dig just a little deeper. We’re all doing this together — you can push each other just a little harder.
Some instructors let you dig deeper than others. And in a week where I’m in my head way too much, where I am in charge of too many things, putting myself on a bike and letting George create the soundscape and rhythm for my life for an hour takes me somewhere important.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to the blog. (Look for her the second Friday of every month). She lives in Toronto, where she is a strategic change consultant and educator working mostly in healthcare spaces. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.
Hanging out in downward facing dog or wide legged forward bend, I feel strong, stretched out, grounded, engaged with my muscles. In shavasana (corpse pose for resting on the mat at the end of class) I connect with the floor, feeling my limbs and back and head and belly all sink into relaxation and stillness. And when I get up to leave I feel grateful for the body I have. Here’s one of my posts on trying ropes yoga. Kim wrote about yoga here. And of course, Tracy reconnected with yoga on the beach here.
And then there’s the post about doing 366 days of yoga in a row.
2) Reading Natalie’s posts
Oh the body positive posts from Natalie always always make me smile and then shake my head slightly and say to myself “maybe I can be like this sometime”. It’s impossible to pick a favorite (there are so many!), but here are a few to revisit:
There’s nothing like ordering up an orgasm when you’re feeling off kilter (or not). The fact that my body does this super nice thing for me also makes me smile. And it clears the cobwebs and is relaxing. I wrote more about it here.
4) Engaging in some manner of primping or poufing or attention to some part of me that I want to prettify
For me it’s my hair: I get color, highlights, keratin, cuts, blow dry and flat iron from time to time, and I feel (and I might add look) marvelous. Some people attend to nails, or body ink, or piercings, or shoes (love the witchy Fluevogs, Sam!). Or something else. These are nice ways to feel pretty or boss or bad ass or however you want.
Here’s where you can get a look at one of the pairs of Sam’s fabulous Fluevog pointy-toed dancing shoes and her festive sparkly outfit.
On the beach, in the woods, around my neighborhood, on the university campus where I work, downtown in the city. I feel purposeful, in control of speed and effort, entertained by whatever’s happening around me, and aware of what’s doing well and not so well for me at that moment. Walking gives me time to check in with my self, and it always always works.
6) cycling on my own or with friends on a mellow ride
Cycling is my primary exercise love, and it soothes me and challenges me and revives me and exhausts me. That is, cycling is life to me. These days I’ve felt more challenged by it because of lower fitness and accompanying fears. But I got a new bike– see my post here.
And I’m also making plans for riding—alone, and with others. I’m seriously thinking about doing the one-day PWA ride with Sam and crew. See more info here. All in all, the year is shaping up nicely for upcoming riding.
What makes you feel good about your body? We’d really like to know.
Image description: This is a black and white photo of a woman in a bikini. It’s a rear view shot and she’s standing at the edge of the beach. Licensed under creative commons. Bikini Beach Days by micadew.
Philosopher Sherri Irvin has recently proposed a sophisticated articulation of this view (in a yet-to-be-published paper). Irvin proposes an original model of aesthetic practice that she calls aesthetic exploration. In short, aesthetic exploration involves a tendency to approach an object carefully seeking it out its aesthetic affordances with the specific intent of finding pleasure in them, and a tendency to do so with a sense of curiosity and adventure. Every body is beautiful because all human bodies are replete of features such as colors, textures, forms, possibilities of movement, and so forth. If one can’t see that, if one sees a human body as ugly, that means that one has not properly and carefully cultivated the right attitude.
Irvin’s view is very appealing, and it encourages us to engage in an enriching activity. But can it function as the feminist ideal of bodily beauty that we are looking for? I worry that the very strength of this view, its inclusivity, is also its major weakness: according to this view, nobody can fail short of the ideal, provided they are gazed at in the appropriate way. But I worry that this view isn’t as aspirational and empowering as the ideal we are looking for.
When everybody meets the standard of beauty, there is no need to appeal to it, because it does no work of weeding the non-beautiful from the beautiful. It is a psychological fact of human nature that we care about being beautiful because it sets us apart from others. If everybody were all equally beautiful, we would come to care a lot less about beauty.
So maybe when we say that every body is beautiful, we don’t mean it literally. What we mean is that there are many ways of being beautiful, many more than conventional standards of beauty allow for: fat women, muscly women, androgynous women, and so forth—all these women can be beautiful.
But once we start looking for more inclusive standards, another worry arises: where do we draw the line between the beautiful and the non-beautiful? Let me quickly consider two plausible candidates.
First, someone might argue that, while fat women are beautiful, very obese ones are not. But we have evidence showing that obese people are greatly harmed by conventional ideals of beauty that deem them as ‘disgusting’, and they are discriminated against in many other settings. Therefore, we have ethical reasons to resist the suggestion that obese people are ugly just in virtue of their obesity.
Another possibility would be “health”: healthy women are beautiful. This suggestion is, however problematic, according to a disability-positive perspective. Within this framework we find the idea that disabled, thus conventionally “unhealthy” and “dysfunctional” bodies, can be, and in fact have been throughout the history of art, sources of beauty, as illustrated in the work of Tobin Siebers, a recently-deceased disability studies scholar. The disability aesthetics perspective makes it impossible to draw a line by using any traditional standard of bodily beauty, such as proportionality of limbs, symmetry and so forth.
Interpreting the idea that “everybody is beautiful” in this way, then, fails at being sufficiently inclusive, and thus falls short on its ethical motivations. In order to find a satisfying ideal of bodily beauty, we have to look outside of the purely aesthetic domain.
We often talk of internal beauty, of being beautiful on the inside. This notion of beauty is metaphorical, but there is a non-metaphorical way in which what is “inside” a person—her spiritual, moral, and intellectual qualities—affect her “outside”: it affects the way people perceive her.
This is especially evident in loving relationships. Imagine someone slowly reciprocating the love of a person previously assessed as unsightly, won over by that person’s internal beauty. Moved by her attraction, she will discover valuable aesthetic features of the beloved, and at some point she will look at her or him, and see beauty. Her perceptions have changed, and, even if and when she falls out of love, she will never look at that person as she used to look at them before loving them. Or think about how we see our children, siblings, parents: our affection makes us go beyond their aging, their physical flaws, their imperfections. Every loving parent sees their infant as the most perfect creature on earth, even when bystanders (secretly) beg to differ.
So when we say that everybody is beautiful, I think that we mean that any body can be an appropriate object of a loving gaze. According to this view, the most beautiful individuals are the most lovable ones, independently of what they look like from the outside. Some not-so-lovable individuals will retain some degree of beauty, because they are still appropriate object of love from the perspective of some people (for instance, their mothers) but will not be very beautiful, even if they look good from the perspective of conventional standards. Finally, others may be so underserving of love that those who can look inside them will see them as utterly ugly, like Patrick Bateman.
This view of bodily beauty is inspirational, empowering and inclusive.
Of course, personal preferences may still be at play, as they are in our loving relationships. That everybody is beautiful does not mean that every particular individual will actually see everybody else as beautiful. This is a view about who can be objectively assessed as beautiful. And the answer is: (almost) anyone
I’m an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Puget Sound. My current research focuses on emotions, in particular love and envy. You can find more professional information here: http://saraprotasi.weebly.com/I trained semi-professionally as a ballet dancer, and consider myself a dancer as much as a philosopher. I’m also a mother of daughters, and I hope they both grow up to kick ass and be compassionate human beings. My partner is a feminist and teaches philosophy as well.
Sam gave it away on Facebook this week: today’s post is about my time at bike camp in Table Rock State Park, South Carolina. We got back a week ago today, and man, do I ever wish I was still there.
The riding was really hard and really fun, and as I predicted in my post last month, I was ready and managed some (for me) good finishes. I’ve got goals for next year, and absolutely, I’m already planning to head back (maybe even in the fall, by myself… stay tuned).
Susan reminded us recently, though, that the bunch of us who contribute regularly in this space have a tendency to toot the old horn. Not that this is a problem – women, own your awesomeness, PLEASE! – but it is sometimes, I suspect, a bit much. Maybe a little bit smug. Because fitness and athletics is all about failure, as well as success. You can’t have one without the other.
I didn’t have any epic fails at camp, but I did have a few moments when I got hit, hard, with the reminder that being on my bike is not about anything more than being on my bike. That’s enough. And women, is it ever glorious and powerful! Just to be able to do this wonderful thing called riding my bike when I want to.
I wanted to share three of these small, but precious, moments with you.
On our first day, my group (“B”) rode up Paris mountain, near Traveller’s Rest (a groovy suburb of Greenville. GOOD COFFEE!). It was my first mountain ride in a while – even though by mountain standards Paris is a bit small (20 minutes to the top, give or take). But on this day, the snow had fallen early in the morning, and it was still clinging to the branches at the upper elevations as I rode into the clouds. Blossoms and snow… it reminded me of time I spent in Japan, and felt quiet and magical as I moved through it. I stopped breathing heavily; I slowed my pace a bit so my heart rate could catch up with the scenery. I wished I could stop to take a photo but was pretty sure that would mean I couldn’t start up again… so I just drank it in. That was, I think, the right call – even though we didn’t get the chance for snaps at the top because The Law was chasing us down… apparently, at the summit, we were trespassing on state property!
On day three, we all did the Caesar’s Head climb. Caesar’s is the big challenge in the area, and I was geared up for it. My time was 48:02 according to Strava – maybe a little slower than I’d dreamed, but better than I’d hoped. We stopped for photos at the top this time (state park! Public access!), and enjoyed the accomplishment and the view.
That evening, I got a text from my ex husband and still very close friend, J. His step-mom had died while we were climbing. We were prepared for this, but the timing was a painful gift. As I was celebrating my strength – my love of my bike, and all the things I can do with my powerfully-aging, middle-aged body – she was slipping away.
I knew then that I needed to enjoy every minute on my bike from now on, and love it more than ever.
On our last day we climbed to the eastern continental divide, before getting packed up and heading home. I was, I confess, anxious to get on the road; we had 12+ hours of driving ahead of us and I really, really wanted to get back for Saturday, to clean the house, shop for groceries… Until I started climbing and swooping past the small communities on our way.
This was another magical climb: through clusters of trailers, shacks, and other makeshift spaces built into the mountains and valleys, every inch cozy homes. I slowed to enjoy them. I sped up to catch the others in my group. Then I slowed again, just taking the stillness, the loveliness, all in. Eventually Amy, one of my occasional riding friends from LonON, caught up to me; she’s a stellar athlete and climber. We chatted; I then pulled ahead to catch another rider, Derek, who was driving home with me. When we reached the divide, I was sure I’d posted a solid time.
I was wrong. My continental divide climb was objectively terrible; I was near the bottom, on Strava, on all the segments. UGH!
But subjectively – for me – it was glorious. Some of it hurt, but mostly it was magical (like Paris), a ride through a dream of quiet, utterly spellbinding landscapes. So I’ve decided not to care at all that Strava tells me I did shit on this particular ride. Because what I felt on this ride Strava cannot capture. And because what I did on this ride was not for Strava, anyway.
It was for Norma, god bless her, and her loving family.
It was for Ruby, my beloved bike and constant companion.
Earlier this week I attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. I saw eight different films and the one that blew me away the most was called Young Guns. The film, by Reel Rock Films, introduces the future of climbing. From the production company’s website:
Meet the new faces of climbing: 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner are the leaders of the next generation, already taking the sport to the next level. A trip to Norway puts their skills to the test, and Ashima attempts to make history on a V15 boulder in Japan.
Both Ashima and Kai are impressive, but I was absolutely riveted by Ashima’s story. She’s unbelievably amazing to watch as she does apparently impossible things. At age 15 she is one of the most impressive and accomplished climbers in the world. Her father is a retired dancer. Perhaps it’s in the genes because Ashima applies the grace of a dancer to her astonishing climbing style. I know nothing about climbing but there’s no denying that she’s outstanding.
I recommend Young Guns. If you ever get a chance to see Ashima Shiraishi do anything, take it.