Book Reviews · fitness · trackers

Trackers, Vox, and chilling feminist fiction

If you’ve got a thing about tracking devices (hi Tracy!) there’s a feminist distopian novel you might want to read. Or listen to. I went for the audio book. Since reading it I’ve been unable to look at the slim attractive devices on friends’ wrists quite the same way.

I picked it up afer reading this artice in the New York Times, How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety.

From the article, “In Christina Dalcher’s recent debut novel, “Vox,” an ultraconservative political party gains control of Congress and the White House, and enacts policies that force women to become submissive homemakers. Girls are no longer taught how to read or write; women are forbidden to work or hold political office, or even express themselves: They are forced into near silence after the government requires all women to wear bracelets that deliver a shock if they exceed an allotted daily word count.”

Instead of steps the tracker counts words. 100 a day are permitted. It’s chilling.

Is it a good book? It’s a good audio book. I’m never sure how well that translates that plain words. But you might feel a bit differently snapping a tracker on your wrist after reading it.

Have you read it? What do you think?

Vox
Cover of VOX, a novel, by Christina Dalcher
fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the October Version (with usual CW for very brief discussion of diet and weight loss)

What’s up?

Google Fit upped my targets! It was 60 active minutes a day and now it’s 85. I’m making it most days between biking, swimming, and walking between meetings and walking the dog.

Swimming lessons were fun. I wish there were a larger group I could join for beginners who want to start lane swimming. I like it but I’m not good on my own.

And I’m still riding to work.

I’m tracking food and being purposeful about food choices, aiming to lose weight and minimize knee pain. I am seeing the doctor who is helping me this afternoon in fact.

What’s down?

Well, it’s November very soon. Brrrr. Also, dark. And I need a plan for that month. Something ambitious and fun that makes November feel less bleak. Suggestions welcome!

I don’t know if it’s up or down, but I’m still considering surgical options for my knee. Now it’s partial knee replacement that’s on the table.

I’m reading, “Return to sports and recreational activity after unicompartmental knee arthroplasty.” Naal FD, Fischer M, Preuss A, Goldhahn J, von Knoch F, Preiss S, et al. Am J Sports Med, 2007 Oct;35(10):1688-95.

Photos below are from The Art of the Bicycle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. October also included a visit to Jeff’s boat in Chicago and Sarah and Jeff I visited the museum. You can read Jeff’s blog post too about our little river loop trip.

fitness

Alkaline water: a trendy and pointless fad not worth following

image description: close up of drinking glass with water being poured into it, almost full, with bubbles from the pressure of the pour, against a blurred green background.
image description: close up of drinking glass with water being poured into it, almost full, with bubbles from the pressure of the pour, against a blurred green background.

When Sam tagged me on an article about alkaline water, “Is alkaline water a miracle or BS? The science is in” I replied, “I haven’t read the article yet but I call BS.”

About 18 months ago I posted “Alkaline water is a thing (but is it a thing we should care about?)”. I’d just learned about it and had an initial skeptical gut response. Kind of like clean eating and the whole “detoxing” idea, I’m not keen on fads that purport miracle cures, especially if not strongly supported by facts. And the facts never support a miracle cure, by the way.

The new article in question casts further doubt on the claims of alkaline water. First, what is the idea behind it. According to Dr. Tanis Fenton, from the University of Calgary and an evidence analysts for Dieticians of Canada:

the marketing claims behind alkaline water are based on an old idea called the acid-ash hypothesis. This posits that eating certain food like meat, dairy and eggs results in something called acid ash in your body, which increases your acid levels and causes adverse health effects including osteoporosis.

Trouble is, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that raising the body’s alkaline level has any health benefits at all. According to Dr. Fenton:

you simply can’t change the pH of your body by drinking alkaline water. “Your body regulates its [blood] pH in a very narrow range because all our enzymes are designed to work at pH 7.4. If our pH varied too much we wouldn’t survive.”

While you can’t change the pH of your blood, your diet does affect the pH of your urine. “Most people’s urine is about 6, which is acidic,” she explains. However, “that’s no problem, that shows our kidneys is working.” So while it’s possible drinking alkaline water may make your urine less acidic, that doesn’t really make a difference; you’re literally just flushing money down the drain.

Bottom line: we don’t need to drink alkaline water because there is no problem for alkaline water to solve.

So yeah, even after reading the article (maybe even more intensely so, in fact), I still call bullshit on alkaline water.

What’s your take on fancy water (alkaline or other)?

fitness

Active wear skirts for his glory? Ew?

I recently posted about school uniforms and the issue of making girls wear skirts (but then they might be less active because their movements are restricted) or making girls wear shorts or pants so they can play more freely (but then still telling girls what to wear.)

Notably North American readers of our Facebook page were upset with the idea of telling girls what to wear no matter whether it was skirts or pants.

We’ve written lots on the blog about running skirts and cycling in dresses, about pants as a liberatory clothing choice and as a thing to be avoided like the plague.

 

 

It’s messy and it’s complicated. Femininity can feel fun, say in the way that make up can feel like artsy self-expression. Or it can feel coercive, say when you wear foundation (which never feels fun or artsy) because people tell you that you look tired and at your age you really need to wear foundation in the winter. That’s not so fun.

It can feel fun when we choose feminine clothes. Not so fun, when you feel that you have no choice.

In the end, we’re all about you do you. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hard stuff to think through.

But I’ve got to say I still find religious feminine modesty an odd concept. Wear skirts and dresses because femininity. Religion likes gender roles, I guess. Exercise for reasons of health. That’s cool with me. But then wear shorts underneath because modesty. The combo of modesty plus femininity plus athleticism is an odd thing. 

Why odd? Well, if it’s applied only to women, it’s as if men’s bodies don’t need covering up, as if straight/bi women don’t find men attractive, as if we don’t have sexual agency and desires. 

This came home to me when browsing about school uniforms and modesty. I came across this site, Dressing for His Glory, which sells modest athletic skirts. There’s no companion site for modestly dressed sporting men.

I found that once I shook off my reaction to the idea of dressing modestly for God’s glory though, I was just happy to see that athletic values were being accommodated.  After all, I’m happy to see Muslim women playing beach volleyball in their full coverage uniforms. 

Here on the blog we’ve written positive things about burquinis too. 

I think in the end, it’s not dressing a certain way for religious reasons that bothers me. After all, I love these vintage photos of nuns on the beach

I think it’s just the personal language–“for his glory”–that gets me. Put that aside and I’m happy to have women of all religions outdoors, exercising, having fun.

Image description: A foggy road, ground level shot of the center line. Trees on either side bu no leaves. Just yellow grass and branches are left.
From Unsplash, 
unsplash.com/yamnez 
clothing · fitness

Parkas, parkas, everywhere, and not a one to fit

November is coming, and the weather in the northeast part of the US is getting seasonally fall-like.  I love pulling out my winter clothes: jackets and coats and sweaters and wool socks and skirts, as well as cold-weather cycling and ski gear. It’s like getting a new-to-me clothing windfall.  However, for the past two years I’ve had a problem: my outdoorsy athletic gear jackets haven’t really fit me.

I’ve gained weight in my upper body, which is not where I used to gain weight when I was younger. My breasts are larger, my back is broader, and my belly is also rounder. Hello menopause!

The obvious thing to do here is to buy a new outdoorsy jacket, winter jersey or two in a larger size. This is the golden age of Internet shopping with free shipping, right?  What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s what could go wrong: I was a size XL in jackets and coats and some shirts and sweaters (it varies, of course).  I needed a larger size, but in most cases THEY DON’T MAKE THEM. That is, there’s no XXL in lots of outerwear.

As all of you know (as you have shopped in the world), size categories (S, M, L, XL, 1X–4X, etc.) mean very different things to different clothing makers. I’ve never even bothered to try on the largest item of Castelli women’s cycling clothing made, as they don’t see women who look like me as being part of the cycling world (can you tell I’m irritated by this?) Luckily, other manufacturers do make cycling clothing for people my size. But it’s catch-as-catch-can. You can’t reliably predict what styles will fit when you’re pushing the top of the sizing categories.

I am lucky that I have the privilege of being a fat person who can wear lots of outdoorsy clothing that major manufacturers sell.  I’m a size 16–18 these days, which means I have much more access to more styles that work for my athletic activities.

Turns out, unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in my consternation about this problem. On a recent Twitter thread, In Nicoled Blood posted that “outerwear sizing is bananas… it’s reverse vanity sizing”. By this she means that a L might fit someone who normally wears a size S. Her post unleashed a torrent of sympathetic complaining from men and women who are noting that outdoor clothing manufacturers don’t seem aware of people’s:

  • broad shoulders from swimming or whatever;
  • mighty calves from weight training or whatever;
  • large breasts from just shut up and make the jackets big enough already;
  • hips that require jackets that will zip around them;
  • needs for sizing that allows layering under outerwear, as this is a thing not just for tiny people.

A blogger for Outside magazine wrote a largely sympathetic article (also found in the twitter thread)  in response to a question about how to find athletic wear for fatter people. However, it took an odd turn when I read this advice:

Since you mention clothes as a specific problem, let’s get you a hiking outfit that makes you feel good. Most outdoor brands have a long way to go when it comes to making plus-size clothing and gear (you hear that, manufacturers?), but your local outdoor store will usually have at least one or two options. You can also choose high-quality material and bring it to your tailor for custom-made clothing. It might feel decadent, but it probably won’t be much more expensive than buying directly from a company—and you’ll end up with clothes that fit your proportions and are designed exactly how you want them.

Yes, it’s true that outdoor stores carry larger sizes, but they are mainly for larger sized men; many women will find them not well-fitting.

Then there’s the tailoring suggestion.  Really? I’m supposed to buy some Gore-tex or Polartec material and get a tailor to make me a ski jacket?  Who does that? I googled “bespoke down jacket” and got some schmancy website, but there was not even a whiff of pricing information anywhere.  You know what that means:

If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.
If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.

 

It’s true that more clothing makers are offering more sizes, including more plus-sized clothing.  But the variety and availability just plummet once the size is above L.  This just won’t do.  People of all sizes need clothing to explore all aspects of the great outdoors (and indoors too).  And everyone is able to do so.  Here’s a graph that even proves it (from that Outside magazine blog):

Funny but true graph listing appropriate outdoor activities for people, based on weight.  Basically all of them are good for all weights.  Yeah!
Funny but true graph listing appropriate outdoor activities for people, based on weight. Basically all of them are good for all weights. Yeah!

A good way to deal with the “I haven’t got a thing to wear for winter parasailing” problem is to share information.  I found a North Face jacket in XXL that fits me well enough (big in shoulders and long in arms, but otherwise does the job).

Hey readers– where have you run into problems with outerwear sizing, and what solutions have you found?  We’d be grateful for any tips you have.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fall · Seasonal sadness · winter

November is Sam’s toughest fitness month: Here’s why, what’s yours?

View from inside a rainy window. Photo from Unsplash.

“The noons are more laconic and the sundowns sterner. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” Emily Dickinson

Christine’s post this morning reminded me that I need a plan for November. November looms.

Regular readers of the blog know how much I hate late fall. I won’t even link to all my dark and fall hating posts. There’s too many. But here’s one that rolls them all together.

In 2016 here’s how I described November, “November kind of just pounced on me, tackled me to the ground, and pinned me before I even had a chance to tap the mat.” Each year, I struggle with November. In 2014, I set specific November goals. In 2016, I gave in and set my sights on December.

What’s wrong with November exactly?

Brief recap: It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s wet. And there’s no snow yet to play in.

That’s my annual seasonally affected whine. It’s saved by Christmas (bright lights) and then by the new year (increasing light, bigger plans and ambitions) but November often feels to me like one long, slow, dark miserable month.

It’s best when I ride anyway and get tough but I don’t always have the stamina for that.

It’s also, just in terms of training, a weird time. Back before the fittest by fifty challenge with Tracy, I just tended to go into the fall as long as I could and then give up completely until after the new year. November was my annual fitness dark valley.

During the challenge I moved my serious bike training indoors come end of October and stuck with a plan.

Now I’m not quite sure where I am here in 2018. My evenings are often busy with work commitments so I can’t sign up for regular indoor bike training. Training on my bike at home on the trainer happens later, when I’m keen, but I’m not there yet.

This year I made a plan for the early fall and pledged to tell new stories. I took swimming lessons and that helped. But they’ve ended. It’s darker and colder and my resolve is wearing thin.

So I need a plan for November and biking. Might be indoor spin classes at lunch a couple of times a week. Might be adding a 10-20 km loop to my morning commute or riding at lunch hour. Might be doing more consistent lower body strength training that’s not just rehab of my miserable left knee.

I don’t know yet what my plan will be. There’s a few days left in October yet. But I know I need a plan. And I’m working on it.

Is there a month you hate the most from a fitness point of view? What’s the challenge? How do you cope?

fitness

Yoga. Practice.

I’m challenging myself to do yoga* every day in November.

Many of the writers here at Fit is a Feminist Issue are already very fit and have a consistent fitness routine but I’m not quite there yet.

I am moderately fit and I can keep up at Taekwondo but my commitment to consistent, regular movement varies. I am still working toward the point where daily exercise is an automatic part of my day.  

I may not be consistent (yet) but I am PERsistent and that brings us to today’s post.

As much as I had hoped to be very fitness-focused these past two months, I have ended up doing bits and pieces of exercise all over the place. A few pushups here, a walk there, some yoga one morning, my Taekwondo patterns another. I’ve attended TKD classes but I have had to miss a few.

I’m okay with all of that , I have been juggling a lot of things and had a lot of pop-up tasks and it won’t help things if I start being mean to myself about not managing to get more exercise in.

I don’t enjoy this haphazard approach though.

It’s ‘good enough’ but it doesn’t increase my feeling of well-being very much.

I end up feeling kind of scattered. Not a feeling I enjoy.

I want some consistency. I want more physical ease. I want more fun.

And THAT brings me to daily yoga.

Just me and my mat, at home, every day.

A rectangular, light brown cork yoga block sits atop a green yoga mat that is decorated with lighter green flowers. Dark brown floorboards are in the background.
My yoga mat and my cork block await me.

I want to do other movement, too, of course, but yoga is the right answer for right now.  

a) I like short term project commitments (a month of something feels do-able for me).

b) I find it easier to do something every day than every once in a while.

c) I don’t need to be wearing something specific to do yoga.

d) I can do yoga first thing in the morning without waking anyone else up.

e) I can do it right before bed without waking myself up.

f) And, most importantly, it doesn’t just feel do-able or manageable, it feels necessary. I WANT to do yoga daily.

Of course, going from no specific practice to a daily practice will be challenging, I know that.

That’s why I’m keeping my expectations low.

7 minutes** or 7 poses. Every day.

Care to join me?

*I’d like to acknowledge here that my measurement of whether or not I have ‘done’ yoga for the day will be if I have done asanas, the physical aspect of a yoga practice. I am working to develop my practice in all 8 limbs of yoga but that does not lend itself to measurement or to public discussion. I just want to be clear that I understand that yoga is more than stretching on a mat.

**My choice of 7 minutes comes from two things. 1) I like the number 7 and 2) Kara Leah Grant’s book Forty Days of Yoga. https://theyogalunchbox.co.nz/forty-days-of-yoga-breaking-down-the-barriers-to-a-home-yoga-practice/