fitness · kids and exercise

Twist surprise endings? For movies– fine; for exercise studies, not so fine

I’m not a horror fan at all.  The blood and gore just gross me out, even if they’re comically unrealistic. But the worst part for me (which I know is the best part for others) is the surprise twists, especially at the end.  I get confused, distracted, scared if it’s scary, and really grossed out to the point of nightmares sometimes. And this includes experiences even after the age of 10. So I don’t watch them.

We know to steel ourselves for surprise twists at the end of movies.  But who prepares themself for an out-of-the-blue and contrary-to-the-plot twist in an article on  the connections between physical activity and health in kids? Not me, and probably not you.


Square computer-generated sad person, with "This person is not available" message.
Square computer-generated sad person, with “This person is not available” message.


So imagine my surprise when, while reading an article reporting results of a study finding a correlation between more time spent being physically active and better metabolic health among adolescents, it switches gears completely at the end, saying this:

Professor Bell explains: “This suggests that it’s never too late to benefit from physical activity, but also that we need to remove barriers that make activity hard to maintain. Keeping it up is key. This includes making weight loss via diet a priority, since higher weight is itself a barrier to moving.”


Say what?!
Say what?!
balloon with typographical marks indicating "What?!"
balloon with typographical marks indicating “What?!”

Here is what the study itself said:

A group about 1800 girls and boys born around 1991-92 were studied on three different occasions from 2003 to 2008.  The researchers were looking for connections between levels of physical activity and biological markers of their overall metabolic health (e.g. cholesterol types, triglycerides, etc.– 230 in total).  What they found was this:

  • Better metabolic health was associated with recent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, regardless of previous activity patterns (this is a bit more complex, but basically correct).
  • Worse metabolic health was associated with more sedentary activity patterns.
  • The correlation between moderate-to-vigorous activity and metabolic health wasn’t weaker for subgroups with higher body fat (which could mean those who have a history of less physical activity, or also those with higher BMI).

They conclude here:

Our results support associations of physical activity with metabolic traits that are small in magnitude and more robust for higher MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] than lower sedentary time. Activity fluctuates over time, but associations of current activity with most metabolic traits do not differ by previous activity. This suggests that the metabolic effects of physical activity, if causal, depend on most recent engagement.

There’s nothing here about losing weight as a causal factor or salient feature in their analysis.  So why did the main author say that in the article? I decided to dig a little deeper, which means going to the original full article.  I’m doing it, so you don’t have to– it’s part of the service we provide at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

 Person in tuxedo, holding a tray with message "full service".
Person in tuxedo, holding a tray with message “full service”.


Here’s what’s going on: in their discussion of where their study fits in the literature on metabolic health, physical activity, body weight, and risks for e.g. type 2 diabetes in youth, they say this:

much of the association of higher activity with lower subsequent adiposity is driven by reverse causation in this data… [there appears to be] a lowering effect of total activity on fat mass and blood pressure… The standardised effect size was 6 times larger in the reverse direction, however—from fat mass to inactivity—suggesting that adiposity affects activity levels more than activity levels affect adiposity.

Effect sizes matter a great deal for public health messaging since the existence of an association, or indeed a causal effect, does not alone describe its importance. Future work should compare magnitudes of effect size between common risk factors as the rate of discovery and the need to prioritise limited public health resources both increase.

The researchers say their results (and literature) support the idea that (in adolescents), body weight affects physical activity levels up to 6 times as much as activity level affects body weight.  This part is no surprise, as loads of studies support the view that exercise doesn’t result in much of any weight loss.

Here’s a surprise, though (and this one isn’t scary, so it’s okay to keep reading): saying that body weight influences physical activity (that is, kids with higher body weights tend to be less active) means to the researchers that we need to work on our public health messaging, as this is very important.

YES!  Of course we need to work on this. Movement at every size and shape and ability (and age, too, of course) helps us in just about every way.

But then (now the scary part is coming, be warned), the main researcher, Joshua Bell (not the violinist, I assume) has to go and say that, because higher weights are a barrier to increased physical activity, that kids should “make weight loss via diet a priority.”

A big NO.
A big NO.


Why no? Because 1) no one knows how to bring about and maintain weight loss via diet in kids (or anyone else); 2) we do know how to remove barriers to increased physical activity for kids with higher body weights. How do we do this?

  • attack fat shaming and weight stigmatization of kids everywhere we find it;
  • create opportunities for fun, non-competitive, easy-to-do movement for kids, done at their own pace and for reasonable time lengths, with no measuring, and lots of assistance and support;
  • work on ways to incorporate those conditions for movement into the everyday lives of kids and the people around them;
  • never use the word diet again around them (or anyone, for that matter).

This kind of public health messaging and programming is something we can all agree to.  And that’s no surprise.

The End, with scary shadowy castle in background.
The End, with scary shadowy castle in background.






fitness · running

On Not Qualifying for Boston, After All

By Alison Conway

Image description: two silver metal engraved charms, top one says "Boston Qualifier" and bottom one says "BQ" (available from:
Image description: two silver metal engraved charms, top one says “Boston Qualifier” and bottom one says “BQ” (available from:

The imposter syndrome many women suffer pops up in the news occasionally, when a successful CEO describes her fears of being exposed as a fraud, ill-qualified for her job and not good enough to stay at the board room table. It’s a sad story, since the women who seem to suffer most seem the least likely to qualify as real frauds, with stellar records of achievement to back up their stories. They are not products of spin, but victims of a culture that tells them, over and over again, that they’re not good enough. And they suffer, I’m guessing, sleepless nights and acute bouts of anxiety.

I should know, since my own needle is stuck permanently in the red zone on the fraud metre. Occasionally I forget to look at it, but whenever I check, there’s the needle–in the red. It doesn’t come back down to yellow for a while. It’s always red, all the time, and neither the metre nor the needle pays any mind to promotions, raises, or what have you. I try to ignore both, but that needle is always poking me in the side, reminding me that the next publication needs to go to press, the next class syllabus must be better than the last. I find praise embarrassing.

Which is why taking up running was such a good idea, three years ago. Because running you can’t fake. There’s a clock that times each race and that time is real. Or is it?  It was a strange experience, this spring, to run my first marathon and finish with a Boston qualifying time. Exhilarating, of course! But also unnerving. Because it turns out a Boston qualifying time is not a Boston qualifying time. So many people want to run Boston that you must run faster than the qualifying time. In my case, I had a buffer of over four minutes. Surely that had to be enough?

But it wasn’t. This year, the actual qualifying time for all age groups was 4 minutes and 56 seconds faster than the posted BQ times. So I’m not going to run Boston next April. Boston is sorry. It has changed its 2020 qualifying times to reflect the new realities of runners and their speed.

Image description: Alison (short blond hair, sunglasses) at the finish line of the Toledo Marathon, foil blanket over shoulders, medal around neck, sunglasses, smiling. People and finishing arch in background. Partly cloudy skies.
Image description: Alison (short blond hair, sunglasses) at the finish line of the Toledo Marathon, foil blanket over shoulders, medal around neck, sunglasses, smiling. People and finishing arch in background. Partly cloudy skies.

Enter the imposter syndrome. I ran my first marathon on a perfect day and on a perfect course. The temperature was lovely, the course was flat but not too flat, and I came to the race well-trained and with no nagging injuries. So, of course, I ran the race I should have run. It was no great victory, just a solid run with every advantage on my side.

Not getting into Boston means I now must prove that I am a real runner. That is, put myself through another grueling winter of training, run another race in conditions that may not so ideal, face down the challenge of running a faster time at an older age. A real runner, I’ve decided, is one who mentally can face what each race presents to her: the threat of failure.

What keeps me from quitting is the faith that my running friends keep for me, even when I can’t keep it for myself. They will be there for whatever transpires next spring, when I make a second attempt to run a BQ. They know that racing is not about faking it but about showing up, whether the time you post places you among the top-ranked runners in your age group, or not.

This is why taking up running has proven the best decision I could have made, at 50: because runners support each other, through thick and thin. They pull the needle out of the fraud meter and look at the road under their feet, instead. They recognize a solid effort when they see one, and they acknowledge it with their words of encouragement and their commitment to showing up for the next effort. And the next.

Alison Conway runs and works in Kelowna, BC.


Sleeping Goofy

A few months ago, I lost the knack for sleeping.

It wasn’t that I *couldn’t* fall asleep, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t sleeping for long enough,  the problem was that the quality of my sleep was poor.

I thought I had tried everything  – I went to bed earlier, I stayed in bed later. I stopped taking my ADD meds for while in case they were the problem.

Nothing worked.

I was doing basically okay but my energy was low and I felt out of sorts. Exercising felt like a HUGE effort.

I thought I should try to change my sleep environment – perhaps I was too warm, too cold, or the room was too light.

Then I remembered how, a few years ago, I had to ditch my light-based alarm clock because as soon as it brightened at all, I immediately woke up fully. There was no gentle awakening, I was asleep and then AWAKE and still tired.

And I thought about how, even though I went to bed fairly early, half the household was going to sleep after I did so there were lights going on and off in the hall as they got ready for bed. And then I considered that, when the sun rose, an unavoidable sliver of light leaked around my curtain and woke me up.

I thought about trying to get them to change which lights they turn on, and maybe buying a darker curtain for my room. That seemed complex and possibly expensive.

That’s when I hit on the solution….a sleep mask!

I even had one already – it came with a pair of pajamas my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I was going to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all sleepy glamour and tassled earplugs. (I can’t actually imagine wearing earplugs to sleep but to each their own)

Actress Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. She is a slender, brown-haired woman and she looking out around her apartment door. Only her head and one shoulder can be seen, she is wearing a light blue sleep mask pushed up on her forehead and there is a tassel visible, dangling from her right ear.
Audrey and I have very little in common, apparently. 😉

In reality, of course, I look ridiculous.  

More sleeping goofy than sleeping beauty.

The author, a white woman in her 40s with chin-length brown hair, is wearing pink and white pyjamas and  a white sleep mask that has black stars on it. She is smirking. The background of the photo is green.
See what I mean? Totally foolish. PS – My pajamas read ‘waking up is hard to do’ – ha!

Luckily I don’t have to watch myself sleep* – I can just enjoy the process.

And I REALLY enjoy waking up feeling refreshed.

It’s not just that the mask helps me regulate the light level in the room, it has also become a signal that it’s time to sleep. It’s almost like a focusing tool for resting. (I even use when I am taking nap)

Even though it feels faintly ridiculous, this small change has made a HUGE difference in my life.

Totally worth feeling like sleeping goofy.

Have you ever tried a sleep mask? Could you sleep while wearing earplugs? Do you have any other tricks for making your environment more amenable to a good night’s sleep?

PS – Yes, I have also tried melatonin, on the advice of my doctor, and it’s great. That was after the mask solved the problem, though.  The melatonin just makes things a bit better again.

PPS – Also, I have been able to start taking my ADD meds again which makes life a lot easier.

*I’d end up awake all night laughing at myself. Even that photo is cracking me up. All glam, all the time, that’s me!

competition · Fear · feminism

Running into my mojo

Mic on a floor stand in front of soft focus room full of people

I’m giving a talk in Nashville this weekend at HT Live! The topic is identity alignment and authenticity, so that has been much on my mind these last days. I wrote about it here. A topic like authenticity forces the speaker to confront her own inconsistencies (okay, even hypocrisies). As the talk gets closer, I think, “I’m a fraud.” I think, “I’m no expert.” My confidence starts to tank.


This is the moment when I remind myself of the manner in which men claim expertise in so many domains without a second thought. I recall interviewing Jane Blalock for my book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. She’s a former golf pro who, among other things, offers golf clinics for women. She told me how women come to her to brush up on their golf game, because they are worried about a business-networking event. Only to discover, the men are not nearly as good golfers as they claim to be.

Lack of confidence plagues women from puberty. How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence, in a recent issue of The Atlantic, covers a range of studies that expose the inflection point, somewhere between 12 and 14-years old, when girls’ sense of self worth plummets. Interestingly, one of the things girls say is this, “I feel that if I acted like my true self that no one would like me.” 

Girls think that if they are authentic, then no one will like them. No wonder I’m having confidence issues around this speaking topic! It’s a double whammy. Because, as The Atlantic points out, once girls’ confidence gets killed off, it often never rebounds back to the same level as boys’ and men’s. I remember my father once saying to me that he didn’t understand why I wasn’t more confident. He told me that his memories of me as a child were of a happy, outgoing, even brash little girl. He was right. And he had missed the moment that went south.

Lest I get the idea that at least things have gotten better for girls than in my day, there’s social media to thwart progress. As the article points out: There’s no distance anymore—only constant, instant, and public condemnation or praise.

What to do? I go to my Tuesday morning aerial Pilates class and I don’t give up on the push-ups-in-plank series as I usually do. I go for a run Thursday morning and push a little harder than usual. I literally recoup my confidence through the strength of my own body. I run into my mojo. As if it’s somewhere out there, ahead of me and I just need to catch up to my own confidence, my own better self.

Lioness head

The Atlantic article says this: Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience.

I never played competitive team sports and I came late to competing in running races and triathlons and cross-country ski marathons and such. But even my belated participation has been a boon in my life.

I know. Sports aren’t enough. And sometimes our sports aren’t available, because we’re injured. I’ve been there, many times! But when we have sports in our toolbox of confidence-builders, what a loyal friend. Getting red in the face resets my perspective. Sweat exhales bad energy. And those endorphins are an excellent, non-prescription, chemical pick-me-up.

Do I feel 100% go-get-em about my talk now? Not quite. But I’m focusing on the final preparation now, instead of my right to be at the front of the room. I belong there.

Uh oh, I’m backsliding. Even writing those last couple of sentences and stating my self-worth feels nerve wracking.

Neon sign with red lettering: I AM BOLD


Do you have these crises of confidence? How do we pitch in to make things better for girls?


It’s been a day. . .

It’s been a heck of a day blog community. Not at all in a good way. Most of us over here on the contributor side have been glued to screens either watching or reading about the hearings in Washington.

Last week, I read an article in the Washington Post about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that moved me to tears. The thing that is so wrenching about her story is how ordinary it is. You know what I mean. A thing happens at a party or on a date and we don’t know really what meaning to make of it, so we push it aside and try to move on then, eventually, it catches up. Perhaps not so dramatically as her story with not so much riding on it, but it catches up one way or another. In any scenario, public or private, we suffer.

This story moved me to the point that I wrote an email to one of the journalists in the by-line, Jessica Contrera. I hoped that it might get through to Christine if the journalist was the gatekeeper. Today, on this day of days, she wrote me back. It was a simple thank you. I like to hope that she showed it to Christine.

Why am I putting this up here? Well, we bloggers are interested in how fitness enriches our lives in feminist context. We are interested in strength and resilience. We address pain too, injury, trauma and ways we might adapt. It’s notable, perhaps, that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford ran to the edge of her country and immersed herself in surfing. I bet she could write a mean piece for us on surfing and resilience. I hope she does some day. What I’m saying is I feel very much that she is one of us and she is bleeding in public today because she felt she had no other moral choice. I wonder if I knew the guy who date raped me when I was 21 was up for some prominent position that could decide on bodily rights of women, would I be as brave as her? Not sure.

So, here is my email to her. It’s a frustrated wrenching rant of an email and I present it open letter style because what the hell else is there to do on a day like today, where you watch what we watched and hear what we heard and despair that it will make one whit of difference because we may just not matter enough.

Hi Jessica,

I’m just some random Canadian with a WoPo subscription. I’m also a psychotherapist, for what that’s worth. I’m writing to you (after reading an article of yours and a few others) in the hopes you will forward this message to Christine Blasey.

Just tell her I care and I get it and I believe her. I can understand why she needed to blow up her life to tell her story. I understand why she couldn’t live in a country with him on the supreme court. I understand why she probably will have to move, why he will get confirmed anyway, why it still matters that she said something.

It’s so devastating and the world is a cruel place. Especially America is a cruel place. Tell her I don’t know her but I’m holding love in my heart for her. Tell her to come to Canada. Tell her to write a book. Tell her to get off twitter and stay away from email. Tell her to do the work she loves and love the people she loves and that there will be places and hearts in history that know. Tell her I’m sorry for the world.

Just tell her something.


Susan Tarshis, M.Ed., RP

Registered Psychotherapist


ford surfing copy
Here is Dr. Ford looking happy and strong on her board. This is who I think about when I think of her. This is the image that I hope she thinks about too.

blogging · feminism · fitness

Why we can’t promise a feminist space will be a safe space

Image description: Colourful drawing of five women in silhouette, suggestive of diverse ethnicities/races.
Image description: Colourful drawing of five women in silhouette, suggestive of diverse ethnicities/races.

We here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue like to talk about our “big tent feminism” and how we try to make space for everyone. That’s a lofty goal, I know. One of my favourite questions in feminism is “is an inclusive feminism possible?” I use it as a thematic frame for most of my teaching in feminist philosophy and women’s studies, as a way of pushing people in my classes to think about inclusivity and intersectionality not just as theoretical ideas, but in their actual material practices.

It’s hard. We struggle. People get defensive. There are misunderstandings. Hurt feelings. Anger. Difficult conversations. People are called on their privilege and need to look at that. People are afraid to speak for fear of offending, excluding, saying the wrong thing on a multitude of other levels, sounding closed when in fact they are open, hurting others’ feelings, having people be upset with them. Sometimes we find ourselves at an impasse. We have to agree to disagree or be stuck.  This is all in the context of feminism, where the majority of students are already there with respect to the broad strokes of it.

And though I do my best to manage the discussion, to push it forward or in a different direction if any of the above takes place, I can’t promise a totally “safe space” where no one will ever feel shitty, be offended, say the wrong thing.

Because guess what? Feminists disagree amongst themselves sometimes.

Oh, you might say, feminist disagreement isn’t necessarily “unsafe.” Well, that would be right. It isn’t necessarily unsafe. But as Cate said a couple of days ago and as Sam experienced this week, offense can turn to anger and vitriol pretty quickly. And when it does, it’s hard to know who will be in the line of fire. Or, if you feel some responsibility for the space, what to do about it. And sometimes our own content can be the instigator. We post a lot, there are many of us, we don’t spend a ton of time on each post — many risk factors at play.

We often go to what seems like the commonsense solution when things get ugly: tell people to engage respectfully with each other, not to be mean about it, etc. But guess what? That seemingly sensible suggestion is mega-triggering for some. One woman’s “be nice” is another woman’s “tone policing.” There is no feminist on this planet who hasn’t been told at some time or another that her anger is misplaced, that she should “be nice,” that she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It is a dismissive tactic used to undermine legitimate social justice complaints.

If a safe space is a place where you’re insulated from all possible hurtful, harmful, or offensive comments, then even on a feminist page we can’t promise that. It’s not so much the misogynists who take us down — we can deal with them by deleting and blocking. But it’s much harder to take that same approach to other feminists. I mean, we’re all on common ground when it comes to feeling sick to our stomachs about what Christine Blasey Ford is about to endure today, right?

I very much like Cate’s questions that press us to think about what we are making:

In our facebook interactions what are we making? Community? Uncrossable boundaries? Winners and losers? Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?

Obviously we don’t want to  be making something shitty where people feel awful. I felt awful the other day and engaged in a way that was unhelpful, more emotionally charged than I’d have preferred it to be, and ultimately left me feeling emotionally drained and hungover. That was no one’s fault but my own, because I was angry and defensive and instead of going off and breathing for a bit, I shot back comments seeking to be understood.

The irony of acting exactly like the way I perceived the people who were pissing me off to be acting was not lost on me in the least. That I wanted them to feel compassion for Samantha when I was exhibiting none for them indicates the type of logical block that takes hold. I could feel it happening while not being able to stop. There is a certain adrenaline that gets pumping in these things. Tempers rise. Everything escalates. It’s hard to think clearly. These are times when (for me anyway) silence is a better option.

And when that’s happening, the thing we least want to hear is “whatever whatever but do you mind being nicer?” As one of the angry people said (I’m paraphrasing), “how about trying to understand why we’re angry?” By then lines had been drawn in the sand (this is how it happens) and there was not going to be a lot of understanding.

I get it. Even as I argued and swore (yes, I swore at a reader in the comments on our Facebook page) I could see that this wasn’t a productive way to engage. That people were getting more angry. More hurt. More frustrated. We reached the impasse. More frustrating still because it is among feminists.

Feminist solidarity all the time would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? That kind of sisterhood where we all get one other. But it isn’t like that all the time. The history of feminism, the non-intersectional feminism of privileged, nondisabled white women, claimed to be that — to apply universally to the experience of women. And then feminists of color said, “hang on, your feminism doesn’t include me.”  And disabled feminists said, “wait a minute, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And feminists who lived in poverty said, “you’re not speaking to my experience.” And feminists who didn’t live in “The West” said, “the material realities of our lives aren’t represented by your feminism.”

The women in positions of privilege wanted a big tent, and they said it was open so anyone could wander in. But the tent didn’t feel so inclusive to the women who struggled in ways that the big tent kind of neutralized and didn’t seem to make space for. And so the space didn’t feel safe because they had things to say that couldn’t be said without making the more privileged women feel defensive or attacked or just not quite as comfortable in the tent as they wanted to be and aspired to be.

The road to an inclusive feminism that accurately represents differences among women instead of assuming a homogeneous sameness has been long and winding and difficult, sometimes even divisive, hurtful, harmful, and dangerous to women. No one is trying to make it this way. We aren’t dealing with malicious motives. But invisible privilege — the privilege of asking others to be nice perhaps — yields a type of denial. It’s not intentional, but it makes uptake of different experiences more difficult.

Does this mean that I don’t believe in our “big tent”? Not at all. I believe in it very much. But I am also aware that as big as the tent may be from my/our perspective, it doesn’t feel totally open to everyone all the time. And yes, I would like all the people who enter  — whether through the blog or the Facebook page or the Twitter discussion — to be kind and respectful to each other. Why? Because truly, we are all feminists even if all feminists don’t have exactly the same set of beliefs. But we can’t promise harmonious non-hurtful interactions all the time.

I can say that I myself will attempt to do better. And I know that as a collective we do actually grow through these stormy times.  We’re not perfect (yet!). There is always going to be room to improve, to modify our practices, to do things differently. It never feels good to be attacked, so we can hope that over time, we build up enough good faith that when we misstep and someone wants to let us know, they’ll be kind and not mean about it. But upon reflection, I do think that sometimes even that might be too much to ask.

When people get angry (including when I get angry), that vitriol usually lands on someone. And ouch. No one likes to be on the receiving end of fury. Sometimes it’s directed at one of the blog authors. Other times it’s a member of our community who has ventured to post a comment. But that we can post things that anger and upset people, and that people’s anger can land on us and others are both reasons for saying that as much as we would love to keep it all nice and kind and civil and harmonious, we can’t promise to do that.


Requiring physical activity classes helps sedentary college students be more active but will it ruin their lives?

Lots of us here on the blog have written about mandatory physical education turning us off exercising for a very long time. See here. Also here.

Sally had the strongest language, How Gym Class Ruined My Life. Hence, the title of this post.

We all professed relief when mandatory physical education came to an end.

So I was surprised to see this story make its way across my newsfeed. “When physical activity classes were required, university students not only got more active, their attitude also changed – they were more motivated to stay active in the future.”

When it was required at university students were more motivated. Really. Well, that’s what the study shows.

What do I think about requiring Phys Ed at university?

First, as a university administrator, generally I’m a fan of breadth requirements. Teach the engineers to write and to appreciate art. Make the artists take math. We should all know some economics, some basic science, introductory philosophy, and read really good books. I know there are limits but at the undergrad level I like the idea of well-roundedness. 

Second, I used my own tuition waiver as a graduate student to take PE classes for credit. I’m not sure I would be as comfortable in the weight room as I am now without my B in Fundamentals of Weight Training. I learned to deadlift from the Illinois Drug Free Collegiate Deadlifting champion. I also took Intro to Sailboat Racing to learn to sail small dinghies and use Northwestern’s lasers. Fun times. 

But still, students are adults. Maybe they should get to choose? But if I’m okay making them take a second language why not make them take gym? I guess my paternalism has limits. Its scope is university education, not leading a good life overall. I mean maybe they’d all benefit from a class on relationship skills. That might be true but I don’t think I’d require it, even I ran the zoo (to quote Dr. Seuss). 

What do you think? How would you have felt being forced to take Phys Ed at university/college? 


Image description: Women doing yoga, downward dog with one leg raised high, on hardwood floors, on yoga mats, view partly obscured by green fronds. 
Photo by Rima Kruciene on Unsplash

What are we making together?

One of my roles in this Fit Feminist community is to be the backup, backup administrator for the FIFI facebook page.  That page is mostly Sam, with Tracy as her second — and a few months ago, they added me so someone else could wade in occasionally.

One of the things that shocked me when I started paying more attention to that page is how quickly the comments can escalate from 0 to vitriol in about 5 seconds.  That happened yesterday, and Sam wrote about it here.  (Usually we don’t even notice until someone messages us, sometimes to alert us and sometimes to yell at us for not dropping everything else in our lives and jumping in sooner).

You can tell from Sam’s post that it’s … hurtful and deeply disappointing to have this experience.  Sam posted something she thought was sort of funny, probably without a ton of thought because, you know, she has a GIANT FREAKING JOB, and posts on this blog at least four times a week, and has a large family with diverse needs, and just moved, and is trying to maintain some fitness while tending to a major injury that has been very difficult emotionally.  And she had reasons for thinking what she posted was funny.  And the thing is, anyone who reads this blog — or posts on the FB page — knows this. But the second she (or any of us) posts something that other people get upset about, she ceases to be the Sam who has put so much of her life energy into creating a space for this very important conversation and community, and becomes this faceless object of fury.  When people react to something on this page or the blog, boom, they forget that there are other people behind every act on that page, and they zoom to fury, to name-calling into a faceless, dehumanized void.  I have noticed that people even stop using our names, even when our names are obvious — they talk about “the writer” and “the poster,” not “Sam” or “Tracy” or “Catherine” or “Cate.”  We stop existing as people.

downloadThe point of this isn’t to defend Sam, per se — although I would actually argue that she didn’t make “a mistake” yesterday — she just did a thing that some people disagreed with.  That’s not a mistake, that’s a point in time, a perspective that other people took a different way.  That shouldn’t have degenerated into absolute fury.

No.  The point of this is to argue that when we slide into instant vitriol with people we already believe widely share our worldview — we’re on a feminist fitness facebook page, for crying out loud! — I literally despair of our ability to bridge any of the intractable divides in the world.  How we talk to each other matters, even if it’s just on a silly facebook page.  What we do to each other in conversation has consequences.  It has consequences for how we see ourselves, and how we see each other.

In my little corner of the communication theory world, we recognize that what we say matters, but so does how we say it.  And by that I don’t mean tone and all of that, although that is part of it. What I mean is that we need to look at two big dynamics.  First, how we are positioning ourselves in a conversation?  How are we positioning the other person?  And what is the consequence of that?  And second, what are we making here?

What that means in practice is that when I’m tootling along through life, dum de dum,  reading a facebook page, and I come across something that triggers something for me, I have a lot of choices.  I can pause and decide whether or not to engage — and if I decide to engage, I can decide whether to just immediately whack the person, or I can inquire about what they are saying and look for common ground. If I whack the person, I am positioning them as either Bad, Stupid or both.  Definitely I am positioning them as a person So Different From Me we cannot even SPEAK.  And I’m positioning myself as a Righteous Bully.  (And who do we know in this world right now we think of as a righteous bully?  Is that who we want to emulate?)

The second question to explore is  “what are we making here?” By this I mean, what is the relational consequence of this interaction?  For example — an adult reading a child a bedtime story isn’t delivering information about green eggs and ham, but is making love, connection, comfort.   In our facebook interactions what are we making?  Community?  Uncrossable boundaries?  Winners and losers?  Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?

An excerpt from the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah that exemplifies the dynamic of trying to avoid hurt by shooting first

Why does this matter?  It matters because we are actually engaged in a global pattern right now that cannot end anywhere good.  And what we are doing on our facebook page is exactly the same pattern of interaction we are doing globally.

Bear with me for just one more burst of theory.  There is a dynamic in social psychology of “othering” — meaning that when we talk to and about another group as though they are fundamentally different to us, we position them as “other,” and when we other people, we move through a pattern of seeing them first as inferior (stupid, not worth talking to), then less human (dirty, untrustworthy, criminal), then ultimately, inhuman.  Once we move into the sequence of othering, we latch onto our own same-group identities and can no longer see the other group’s perspective. We stop seeing them as someone we can affiliate with in any way.

We see this dynamic written in giant skywriting letters every single hour of our politics right now.  We can label the divisions we have in the world right now in any number of ways — left/right, liberal/conservative, homogeneity/pluralism, self-interest/communitarianism, protectionist/global, traditionalist/progressive — the labels don’t matter.  But we immediately know which of these we affiliate with.

With this increasingly entrenched affiliation, you cannot have a conversation based on logic or argument.  Both of you have an allegiance to your group that means anything you say is heard only as the “other side,” impenetrable to your perspective.  (And I will fully admit I fight the tendency to “other” the right every minute of every day.  It is HARD).

From the perspective of social psychology, when we hit a place in society where one group says “I won’t bake a cake for your group,” and the other says “your group can’t eat at the same restaurant as mine,” you are in the exact same societal dynamic that leads at the extreme end to genocide.  It is the same pattern.

So what does it have to do with the fights on our facebook page?  Surely that’s just “the way of the internet?”  Aren’t we feminists “the good side” in this global tension we are currently in? Aren’t we just giving each other useful criticism?  I’m clearly ridiculous arguing that there is a link between someone shouting at Sam for posting a meme about cycling that made them angry and genocide, no?

No.  We are perpetuating the same dynamic.  If the only way we can disagree with people with whom we MOSTLY agree is to position them as offensive idiots, we have zero capacity to start a more generative kind of interaction across bigger divides.

This post is starting to become far too long, so I’ll wrap it up.  But I am just going to make a pitch for what is called “dialogic communication.”  This means communication based in inquiry, and the assumption that the other person has a valid reason for their point of view.  (Ironically, after I wrote this post last night, CBC’s The Current had a piece on exactly this thing).   Understanding that the other person is coming from a place that is logical to them might enable us to soften toward them.  And therefore, soften the divide.

What does this look like?  Well, on our page, be aware that you are on a feminist page, but we all know that this not a kind of fundamentalist feminism.  There are many variations that can be held under big tent feminism.  (Don’t even get me STARTED on skincare.  Or sugar).  So if you are in that context, and you think “this doesn’t feel feminist to me,” why not get curious instead of police-y?  Think maybe, huh, I wonder why Sam thought this was a fit on this page?  how does her version of feminist differ from mine?  ASK her — This triggers something for me, why did you think this had a feminist lens?  Ask yourself — how can someone I otherwise agree with have this perspective?  What am I missing about why they might have posted this?  And even if you do understand and disagree, think about what this says about the wonders of multiplicity and how two people can differ and still respect each other and have more in common than they don’t.

(Sidenote:  There’s a group in Boston that had its origins in great work in dialogue communication with two groups on the other side of reproductive rights at the height of clinic bombings, getting the groups together not to agree but to see a bit more about the grey in each other’s perspective — and to see each other as more human.  Go read about them for more on dialogic practices).

The most important thing my beloved mentor Barnett Pearce taught me was the concept that dialogic communication is the ability to live in the tension between holding your ground and being profoundly open to the other.

It is not easy.  I know that.  And yes, I know all of the indignant arguments that boil down to “why should I listen to them, they’re not going to listen to me.” And the fear — the great great fear — that makes us hammer harder at our points because we are so anxious and worried that our voices can be suppressed, or because we cannot stand watching pain and injustice unfold. And yes, women and non gender conforming people are very angry at this point in history, and that is not a bad thing if it makes us disrupt the shitty historical patterns that inexplicably continue into this moment.  But if we turn anger on each other, you can observe right there and then how we stop listening to each other.  And we just slink off into hurt and righteous indignation instead of banding together. That’s not taking us anywhere.

I was thinking about the absurdity of this:  I was trying to moderate an out of control comment section on the facebook page a few months ago — trying to leave some dialogue without deleting the whole incendiary post — and I asked people to just be a little kinder to each other.  Someone called me a fascist.  Because I was asking people to be kind.

That’s just fucked up.  We need to be kinder, and we need to weave together across our grey areas if we are going to counter this very very dangerous othering.  And there’s no better place to do this than on a page about using our strength wisely.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who has a PhD in social construction communications, and has had this pent up post in her for a while.  And she invites people to agree or disagree thoughtfully and kindly.  

eating · fitness

On “Hegans” and “Shegans”–the gendering of a plant-based diet

Yesterday, Sam tagged me on a video that said there’s a new term for “masculine vegans.” The term is  “Hegans.”

According to the video, men want to pursue “a plant-based diet” but they’re waiting for permission because it’s not masculine. Busting that myth, the video shows a bunch of masculine, even “beefy” men, singing the praises of their vegan diet “without losing a sense of masculinity.”

When Sam tagged me she asked if I was a “Shegan.” Ha ha.

The association of meat-eating with masculinity is not a new idea. In 1990, Carol Adams published The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.   In it, she explored the connection between patriarchal values and meat-eating. Nevertheless, it’s been a long time since I considered in any explicit way that in this day and age anyone would think that a vegan diet might be emasculating.

I’m not sure why this surprised me because in fact the most frequent question vegans ever get asked is “what about protein?” And there is still a strong sentiment out there that animal protein is higher quality than plant-based protein. And we all know that in order to build strong muscles, we need to include protein in our diets. And masculine men have strong muscles. Therefore, they need to eat meat. (I’m just saying what the argument is — not saying it’s a good argument). If they don’t eat meat, then they risk their masculinity because they might lose muscle.

But wait! The Hegans show this line of thinking to be false! In fact, according to the video, they have even stronger personalities than meat-eating men because “acting on what you believe in describes true strength.”

I’m all for any promotion of the vegan message and the dispelling of myths, especially those associated with an un-nuanced understanding of what it means to be a man. And I like the revised narrative that the video promotes: “the most manly thing you can do is show compassion to others.”

That said, the whole idea that we need to gender the plant-based diet, by labeling the men who embrace it as “hegans” strikes me as at best unfortunate and at worst inserting gender differences where they aren’t needed and don’t help the cause.


cycling · fitness

Sam makes a mistake but geesh can people show a little patience…

Yesterday on our Facebook page I shared an image with text that on reflection I shouldn’t have. The image was a woman on a bike looking back at her male cycling companion. She was ahead of him on the hill.

(I deleted it after lots of upset comments on the post and now I can’t find it.)

There are so very few images and jokes in cycling that feature women as fast, competent riders that I had to share it.

But not so fast. The text read, “I’m not like the rest of the girls, that’s where you made your first mistake.” It’s a meme of course, though I didn’t know that.

I just liked the idea that a male cyclist had underestimated his female cycling companion. I was reading it in that context. But of course the “not like the other girls” isn’t complimentary to other women. It suggests that not being like other women is a good thing. It holds up the idea that only special women pass men on hills. Really it’s not funny.

Had I thought about that I wouldn’t have shared it. But do you know what? The content on our Facebook page is pretty much generated by one person and that person has a full time job, a family, and some athletic commitments too. Tracy, Cate, Martha, Nat and Catherine step in from time to time but almost all of the posts are mine. I’m also fallible. I make mistakes. I’m sorry.

I was shocked at how angry our readers were. They were so fast to assume bad motives. Just let me know nicely I’ve made a mistake, please. I made a mistake and I’m sorry. It’s that simple really.

Night night!