Following my first post, I’m excited to return on a monthly regular schedule! Sam asked me to make this post an introductory one, so here goes.
My name is Bettina, I’m 33 and from Germany. I live in Heidelberg, a university town south of Frankfurt, with my scientist husband, who is originally from the Basque Country. I always joke that we’re here because of him, not because of me, and it’s true – I would’ve happily stayed abroad after finishing university. As it turned out, I ended up earning my PhD in Political Science back in Germany, having spent the last two years of high school and most of my undergraduate years in the UK, plus a year in Spain.
While working towards my PhD, I realised I didn’t want to pursue a traditional academic career. Slowly but surely, I moved into research management. Three jobs later, I am Senior Project Coordinator at a European research funding and enabling organization in a field that has nothing to do with my own – the life sciences – and loving it.
Fitness has always been a part of my life, but not to the degree it is now. When I was in primary school, my mother got worried about my bad posture and put me in the local swimming club. With short interruptions, I’ve been swimming regularly ever since. It’s my meditation, my favourite way of clearing my head after a long day. I love doing laps in the pool. Lots of people find it boring, I find my zen in the back-and-forth.
I’ve tried lots of other sports, many of them water-related. I love surfing and kayaking, but since there are no large enough bodies of water close to home, these are currently not often on the sports menu (sigh). Being outside is always good, so hiking is another favourite. I’ve done lots of yoga, which nowadays happens mostly at home, right after getting up in the morning, with Youtube tutorials.
Fitness has taken on another dimension for me over the past year though: a year ago to the day, I was diagnosed with Auto-Immune Haemolytic Anemia (AIHA), a condition where your immune system breaks down your red blood cells. Many things can trigger AIHA; in my case it was probably the flu. It’s pretty serious but treatable, and I’m in remission now.
But while I was in treatment, exercise became a way of feeling like I had some control over what was happening to me, full of all sorts of medicine and shocked as I was by this experience that was entirely outside both my control and my comfort zone. Incidentally, exercise is also a pretty good barometer for a relapse, which can happen at any time (or not – there’s a large suspense factor with this condition): one of the first things to go is your stamina, which was also how I started noticing I was sick in the first place when I could no longer keep up with my swim mates.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve started running much more regularly in addition to swimming twice a week if I can. Having been a rather reluctant and irregular runner before, I’ve done a 10k and an 8k since last September. I’ve also taken up a new sport, bouldering, which is different from anything I’d ever done, and which I love for its community spirit (Lynette recently wrote about it here and here). And it’s so empowering when you’ve figured out a tough route!
Empowerment is also where fitness and feminism intersect for me. Both are, in a way, about feeling strong and being entitled to that, no matter who you are or what gender you identify as.
There’s still a lot to fight for in terms of feminist fitness. Athletes who are not straight males continue to be on the receiving end of everything ranging from condescending advice to discrimination and hatred. We’re overlooked, spoken over, not taken seriously, judged for our looks rather than our athletic achievements, objectified, and ridiculed.
Feminism in fitness, to me, is about considering how a feminist lens can change our thinking about fitness and what a “fit woman” looks like. It’s about what the needs of women practicing sports are and how they’re different from those of male athletes. It’s about what we can do to make women of all ages, shapes, and abilities feel welcome in the world of sports and encourage them to discover it.