We are in the middle of a deep freeze here and I’m drawn to this past post to totally take my mind off of it. Here, I considered the case of competitive eating and whether it’s something we should be impressed with.
I confess that I love the idea that this 120 pound woman can scarf down a 72 ounce steak and all the accompaniments in record-breaking time because it challenges stereotypes. It’s also fascinating (that’s the best word i can come up with) to watch her in action.
But my thoughts about competitive eating haven’t really changed. Of the various things we can aim to be good at, shoving down as much food as we can in as little time as possible doesn’t seem like the most worthy of pursuits. And could even be dangerous and is almost certainly bad for one’s health. Nevertheless, here you are. Draw your own conclusion. And Go, Molly!
Last week I saw a report of a competitive “achievement,” in which a small woman did what no one expected her to do. Now, I’m usually pleased by this sort of thing. I like it when women, large or small, do things that defy “type.”
January is a long month. Long, and this year, especially cold and icy. Brrrr.
I’ve had three different things going on bike wise: winter riding (see here and here), trying Zwift, and riding bikes in Florida with Sarah and Jeff. (I’ll blog about that later when I’m back. Here now basking in +12. Not warm by Florida standards but warm enough to ride a bike.)
There’s also the new year enthusiasm of the 219 workouts in 2019 group. This year there’s even two versions, the old standby that’s been going for years that Cate and I have been part of and the feminist version started by women from the Tracy/Cate/Christine fit feminist challenge group.
My knee trundles along with some aches and pains but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was a year ago. I’m still getting synvisc shots under my knee cap. I’m still trying to lose weight. I’m still considering my options in the surgery department. The unstable knee has made walking on the ice an extra big challenge. Mostly I try to avoid it. Sorry Cheddar!
Hey, I have two! (I’m not providing links but you can find the black one by searching for “Sugoi black mini skirt.” My other one is grey, not pictured, and made of smart wool.)
And just the other day a friend posted that she had seen ads for them in her newsfeed and thought “what the hell even is this?” If you’re cold, she wrote, why a mini-skirt? Winter mini-skirts? What’s with that? Friends chimed in, some equally puzzled, others admitting that they owned one and liked them.
I’ve written about them before in a post about my mixed feelings about sports dresses. ” Like these skirts, which I also like and even tried on several times over the winter, I can’t decide if they are about warmth and function or butt modesty. And if the former, I’m all in, and if the latter, I’m a bit uncomfortable. “
But thing is, who knows what your motive is?
I wear them over leggings. And yes they keep your butt warm.
But they also side with the “leggings aren’t pants” crew.
Once you make a move into a certain kind of modest dressing, it’s hard to go back. I decided against a swim dress for that reason. Getting comfortable wearing a bikini was a hard won body positive victory. I worry about going back.
Back to the mini-skirts–one in grey wool and one in black, like above–life is short. They’re cute. They expand the range of places and times I can wear leggings. There’s clothes I wear to the gym that I wouldn’t wear in other environments. Throw on the skirt and I’m good to go. Ditto over cycling tights.
Given that I bought them in winter, to wear in winter, I’m sticking with my butt warmth story. And they’re cute.
I woke up Sunday morning and looked out the window to see fresh snow a few centimetres deep. Damn! Anita and I agreed we would do 18K with the Running Room Around the Bay training group. So I got myself out of bed and took my time putting on the gear I’d laid out the night before, prepped for a chilly morning with a cold wind.
That meant: my thickest running tights, a t-shirt, a thicker long sleeved running top, my windproof jacket, a double layer of socks (since for me it’s the feet that get the coldest), insulated gloves, a buff, a thin hat (my head heats up if I’ve got too thick a hat on but I had a fleece balaclava style thing as back-up, and my running belt with insulated water bottles so my water wouldn’t freeze. I tossed in a few dates rolled in coconut, anticipating that I’d be out there for at least 2:20.
We set out shortly after 8:30, heading a little bit south and then west. The sidewalks went from difficult to completely unnavigable by the time we got to Riverside. As a result, we ended up running in the bike lane. There were eight or so of us, so it’s not as if we were invisible to drivers. Nevertheless, having had a terrible car accident on Riverside nine years ago (with a lingering neck injury that never healed), I was in a panic as we ran, knowing that a car skidding on winter roads will easily barrel into a group of people whether the driver sees them or not. Even as a driver, I do not take Riverside in the winter because I relive that accident each time I do.
I felt terribly unsafe and was vocally opposed to our route. One reason I felt that way is that London, Ontario has a great system of pathways and typically the path through Springbank Park is cleared of snow (especially on weekends when there is a lot of pedestrian and running traffic). I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why we were taking a route that required us to slog through uncleared sidewalks or risk ourselves on roads when we could be doing the majority of our distance on a safe pathway.
Anyway, let’s just say I complained and then went quiet. Anita ran up ahead and I didn’t really connect with her again until we got back to the Running Room almost two hours later. About an hour into it, we ducked into a subdivision. The snow wasn’t cleared but there had been enough traffic that it was at least packed down. I wouldn’t call the conditions easy though. By then, the wind was whipping into our faces and we were running through a blizzard. Grumble grumble — I checked my Garmin and we were not even half way yet.
I did manage to turn my attitude around despite the blizzard. We weren’t any longer on Riverside, so I wasn’t reliving the trauma of my car accident anymore. I also became conscious of how every spot on my clothing choices had been. I felt just right — not at all hot, and yet also not cold. Yes, sometimes I needed to pull my Buff up around my face a little more, but everything from my core to my hands to my head felt just fine. My toes got a bit cold, as they do, and I couldn’t really feel my butt. But in the body temperature department I had no complaints.
And then my left knee started to speak to me. It said, “ouch.” Every time I put my foot down in the thick snow, I could feel a twinge on the outside of my knee. And then my left hip flexor or was it my IT band — I don’t know — joined in the chorus. I checked my Garmin and estimated (because by then a subset of us had slightly changed our route) another 7 or 8K to go. We were still trudging our way through the subdivision. All the houses and side streets looked the same. But ultimately we made it out of there and onto one of the main-ish roads, hoping for it to be clear.
We pushed on though, because really, unless someone called a cab we kind of had to. By this time we had been out there for almost two hours. Anita went the long way, so she was nowhere in sight. I’d totally gotten used to running through the deep snow on the sidewalk by then. My left side pains tried screaming at me but I mostly just ignored them in that way I taught myself to do the last time I was training for Around the Bay 30K in 2014, which is the last time I felt these same pains (so I know they’ll go away).
Then something magical happened — we crossed over an intersection and the sidewalk clearing machine had actually cleared the sidewalks! For the next 2-3K, we skipped along as if it were summer time. I imagined it would be that way all the back to downtown (it was not), and for those few kilometres, with the right gear and clear sidewalks, and by then the sun had come out, I completely forgot about my knee and my IT band.
We endured a couple more tough bits, especially crossing over a greasy bridge where each step we backslid, but soon the home stretch came into view. The Running Room was just about half a kilometre away when we made our turn onto Richmond Street. I ran-walked it and even ran past to tack on an extra little bit to get an even 17K (1K short of the planned distance, but under the conditions I didn’t mind one bit).
I went into the RR and stretched out my aching limbs at the back of the store where people had congregated. Anita wasn’t back yet but I expected her soon. As my group debriefed (i.e. shared our war stories of the run we had just finished), Anita showed up. She had the most serious war story of all — a mega bruise from a fall she had taken after we parted ways. “I bruise easily,” she said, claiming it wasn’t serious.
I read this article, Make Up is the New Work Out Gear, with a sad feeling. Really? Really? Can’t there be some places (like the gym) where we are free from beauty’s demands and normative femininity?
I knew it was on the horizon thanks to the Clinique counter. I was there recently because of my own vexed relationship with make up. I’m all in favour of the fun stuff (pink lips and sparkly eyes!) but I’m not such a big fan of foundation and cover up and blending (whatever that means). I like my artifice to look like artifice. I like my hair best when it’s bright blonde or pastel pink. I never colour my undercut so you can always see the grey and silver. So it’s not about looking like I’m young, or in the case of make up, tanned and well-rested. But I just don’t want people asking me every winter if I’m sick. “No, I’m just pale. This is what white women without make up look like in January!” That’s what I want to scream.
Back to the Clinique counter where they were outfitting with me foundation and blush etc which, when I remember, I sometimes wear to work, grudgingly. They’re also selling “CliniqueFit”–a line of make up just for working out with the slogan “Life is a marathon. Look good running it.” As usual, there’s a lot of it. There’s pre-workout this, post-workout that, not to mention the stuff you wear while actually working out. And it’s sold as an essential, not an optional thing, “essentials for your highly active life.”
And, of course, I also think, hey, you do you. I’ll be over here in my ratty workout t-shirt, unbrushed hair, and gym relegated leggings wearing definitely zero make-up. You can wear your pricey matching Lululemon workout outfits with your bared midriff and your smokey eyes. It’s a big tent. Let many flowers bloom.
Yet, it’s also not simply a matter of personal choice. Feminists know this. We don’t choose alone. We choose in a context. That doesn’t make the bottom line any different. I’m still a strong supporter of not judging others and of individual women picking their own way through this minefield. My sense, as I watch young women get ready to work out in the university change room, is that in these days of Instagram and fitness influencers, it’s getting harder to make the choice to not care.
Ironically, she says, the beauty demands are greatest in cultures where freedom is highly valued. Thus she provides today’s idea: “As beauty norms get harder to attain, we all have less choice rather than more choice.”
So I am trying very hard here not to be a grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ feminist. But I worry we’re all upping the ante and making it harder and harder to not look in the mirror and judge everything we do by appearance. I know for me too once I start doing a thing, it can be hard to stop. I laughed at Mina’s naked yoga toes story but it also rang true. I had my first ever pedicure in 2017 as a treat before the bike rally. I liked my pink toes. But when it came off, I wanted more. Now in the fall when I stop wearing toe nail polish my toenails look all worn and mangy to me. When a thing stops feeling optional, it starts feeling more like a duty and less like fun to me.
So what makes the ‘wearing make up to work out’ choice complicated isn’t just its effect on other women. That’s the issue of collectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for other women to opt out. But it’s also the effect on our own individual, future choices. Think carefully before you allow beauty into a realm where it wasn’t before. If you’re like me you’ll have a hard time in the future chasing it back out.
How about you? Do you wear making up while working out? Do you wear special make up for that purpose? How do you feel about your choice? (Let’s stay away from the choices that others make.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I love that Patricia Horn, age 76, starting lifting on the advice of her physiotherapist to strengthen her legs and help with knee pain. I love that she lifts with a group of women who call themselves The Golden Girls.
She also looks super happy in the photos of her with weights. Go Patricia!
But the no excuses talk? I hate it.
Cheryl hates it too. She blogged about giving up “no excuse” talk and personal training from the point of view of body positivity. I think I’ve blogged about the “no excuses” fit mom thing before but now I can’t find it. But hey, here’s a new, really good piece on misogyny and the “fit mom” trend.From the article: “The presumption of the “No excuses” trope is that mothers are leaning on motherhood to indulge their natural tendency to be lazy and gluttonous. This idea is misogynistic.”
I especially hate older people or disabled people being held up as super-heroes. The “they can do it, what’s your excuse?” trope is insulting to disabled/older people and insulting to those of us with our own struggles. I have to say, for me at least, it’s not particularly motivational.
So some research came out years back that identified that larger-bodied people tend to have larger-bodied pets, too. This study has been often quoted as strong evidence that having more body fat is primarily environmental, as of course, our pets are not genetically related to us.
Ok, sure. My cat is not technically my child, and many people love their pets like their children, including loving them with food. And we are the providers for our pets, putting much of the responsibility upon us for what and how much of it that they eat.
On the other hand, as with humans, pets are shaped by formative experiences, and these are not entirely in our control. If a kitten is denied plentiful food, it is likely to have a larger, more insatiable appetite. If a puppy’s mother was underfed, the puppy is born into a state of scarcity, and this can be seen as food anxiety even when it’s a full grown dog.
I bring this up, in part, to explain why I have a cat that has weighed as much as 22 pounds. Opie is a big boy with a hanging belly and deep-seeded belief that he is starving. I am not in the habit of feeding him human food. I also do not regularly give him cat treats, not even the kinds that supposedly brush his teeth or provide hairball relief or sundry other feline nutraceuticals. So how do I make sense of his obesity?
When I adopted Opie, he was already an adult. I’m not sure of his exact age, but I’d guess he was about two years old. He weighed 15 pounds, which was a little chunky, but mostly made him feel like a cuddly kitty. I wasn’t worried about it, and I giggled at the instructions from the Humane Society suggesting that I put him on a restricted calorie diet, since he was already “overweight.”
And thus began years of fat-shaming for Opie, and thereby for me, by veterinarians “only concerned about his health.” You see, I think this is the downside of the previously-discussed research. It placed the notion firmly in the public’s mind that fat pets equals flawed owners. (This is the first law of fat bias: fat equals flawed.) While I have been close to “normal” weight for most of the time I’ve owned Opie, I’m not a small person, and I could feel the implied judgement as I was asked what I feed him, how much do I feed him, and how often do I play with him so he gets some exercise? And all these questions place the responsibility firmly on me.
And what do I feed him? He gets carefully measured and portioned servings of kibble. It comes from an automated pet feeding machine, because otherwise he begs for food at three in the morning. Food for the other cats is locked away behind feeders with chip-readers, so only those cats can eat from them. If I left the food out, Opie would eat it all immediately. Apparently, Opie does not live with the reassurance that if he leaves it for later, it will be there.
I also give him one sixth of a can of canned cat food in the evening. He ends up eating about half that much again, because he wolfs down his own portion and then bullies my other cats to leave before they’ve finished their own. Sometimes, I put them in separate rooms, in which case Opie runs around frantically, searching for the extra food he knows is there somewhere.
So, Opie eats too much, but it isn’t because I’m soft-hearted, or simply repeating the same “gluttonous” patterns that I have in my own life. He’s desperately certain that he is hungry. All. The. Time. And while I agree that having a 22 pound cat isn’t good for him, I’m not willing to restrict him to the point of such anxiety that he’s endlessly panicked and “explaining” to me how hungry he is. It is ok with me if he stays a little chunky, if that means he’s mostly content. Slow reductions over the years means he’s dropped down to about 17 pounds. He begs for canned food in the evenings, and it’s annoying, but otherwise, he mostly acts like a happy kitty.
So, he’s a work in progress. And I wish the veterinarians could see it that way, too. But I think they’re too blinded by their own fat biases. This is how I imagine their thinking: right now, Opie is fat. Fat is bad. I am a bad cat owner because I’ve let him be fat.
Which reminds me of another study that came out not so long ago in which something like 30% of new PE teachers said that the worst thing that could happen to a kid is that they be fat. The worst thing. And there was another study that said that a lot of former fat people agreed with that sentiment—most of them said that they would rather lose a limb than go back to being fat. It is no wonder that folks are deeply concerned that I’m letting my cat be so fat, when fatness is so deeply undesirable.
But it does surprise me that fat bias extends to my cat in this manner. After all, he’s just a cat. He doesn’t know he’s fat. He’s not aware if he’s being treated differently because of his size. He doesn’t have to go through the shame of bathing suit shopping or being repeatedly rejected on an online dating site.
Which really puts a hole in the argument that people with fat bias are just concerned about “educating” fat people, that it is a measure of their concern that gives them permission to shame, judge and ridicule. I know Opie would be healthier if he were smaller, but he does not. My cat is actually, genuinely, ignorant and will remain so. Because Opie doesn’t care that he is fat, and it doesn’t phase him. He has no ability to perceive cause and effect. And in the short term, there are very few meaningful consequences to him being fat. He’s still young enough to get around fairly easily. He likes lazing about and watching the world go by. As long as his needs are being met, it truly does not impact his life. And I do not value personifying his needs in the form of overly-restrictive dietary control.
All this energy towards reduction in cat fatness seems deeply out of proportion to the severity of the problem. In my experience, if I avoid feeding a pet human food and other treats, most of them will regulate their appetites acceptably. Occasionally, I encounter an animal who doesn’t seem able to do this. Usually, after a little time in food abundance, s/he finds a contented level of consumption, and they slow down. Maybe they’re fatter than “ideal,” but they don’t endlessly pack on the pounds. Opie is my first pet who hasn’t done this, and I feel completely ok with the solutions and balance we found to help him manage. Will it shorten his life if I don’t get him to be svelte? Maybe. But it isn’t worth it to me to worry about it. I want him to be a happy kitty. If I manage to help reduce his size to something considered more medically appropriate, great, but if not, he’s got a good life in the meantime. I’m not going to let fat bias define how I care for him, or define what kind of pet owner I am. He and I are good just the way we are.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
For a nice longer article on one person’s experience with trying a DNA kit for exercise and diet advice, check it out here. Spoiler: the advice the person received from the DNA kit more or less amounted to “eat less, move more”.
I’ve got even better and shorter advice in lieu of buying this kit or even reading that article:
There are so few times when an ad in a newspaper jumps out as if it was there for you and you alone. That’s how it was when I opened The Globe and Mail one spring afternoon in 1974 and saw an ad by the University of Toronto. It said if you had not completed high school you could, for $75, take a pre-university course. If you attained a mark of 75 percent or more the university would admit you as a full-time student. It was an offer I couldn’t resist.
I’d quit high school in 1970. I’d failed grade 12 and went back to give it another try but gave up and quit. I moved to Toronto and found work. There were always jobs then. If you wanted to work you had a job. I was a candy girl at the Uptown Theatre, chambermaid at the Hyatt Regency, fact checker for credit applications at Eaton’s Queen Street store, mail sorter, postal carrier and canvas designer for a needlepoint shop. I sold jeans, cut Christmas trees, found and sold vintage clothing and accessories, did phone sales for The Globe and Mail, was a hostess at the Royal Ontario Museum for an exhibit on the Archaeological Finds of the People’s Republic of China and worked at a drop in centre for what were then called skid row men. But it wasn’t enough. I was tired of being a high school drop-out. I wanted to succeed.
So I applied to the university, took a course in Literature, did well and was accepted as a full-time student. There was little money so I rarely took the streetcar. It was no hardship. I liked being active and would make a game of walking as fast as I could to beat the streetcar on College Street as it headed west toward the university. After the class I’d walk home thinking about the books we were reading and the discussions.
And I had my bike, a gift from a friend. It was an old standard with a scratched frame, cracked leather seat, rims painted pink, foot rests made from blocks of wood, a carrier and an old bell on the handlebar. I loved that bike. It felt like an extension of me. There were lots of bikes on campus but none, I thought, as neat as mine. I’d ride as fast as I could hoping for green lights. Sometimes I’d go for a long ride and when I did I’d have that light, giddy feeling I had when tearing about on my bike as a kid. Pushing myself physically was a good fit with pushing myself at school. The two seemed in balance, each drawing on energy and each giving energy.
All that was a long time ago. Yet I feel I could reach out and touch those times. Were I to have a bike now I have no doubt that riding that bike would tap other memories, of other people, of other places – memories that are there drifting ready to be called on.
Christine Dirks is a writer and editor in London ON. Early in her career she worked in the Toronto book publishing industry where she specialized in international marketing. Later she wrote two weekly columns and features for The London Free Press. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Canadian House & Home, Canadian Gardening, Azure and other publications. Christine currently provides research, writing and editing services for individuals and organizations.
At the time, I wasn’t sure when I would get to test – it’s not just a matter of me being ready or not, there are a lot of factors to juggle – and it seemed like it was a long time away.
It’s not a long time anymore.
If all goes well, and pending my instructors’ final approval, I will be doing my 3rd degree black belt test on Sunday, February 10th.*
I have to perform 15 patterns (including a demonstration pattern – one step at a time, explaining the purpose and method of each step), do drills, step-sparring, ring sparring, and break some boards.
I’ve been practicing all of those things, especially my patterns, for weeks now. Well, I practice regularly anyway but I have been practicing INTENSELY for weeks and my brain is full of bits and pieces of patterns, remembering the little quirks and memory tricks I have for each one.
Even though I’m doing a lot to prepare, this is still going to be hard.
Luckily, I am testing with 4 other people and they are all much better than I am so I am constantly challenged to improve. I’m not putting myself down – they are testing for 4th, 5th, and 6th degree belts and they have a lot of experience that I don’t have…yet.
It’s been great to train with them because they can help me bridge the gap between where I am and where I want to be and, to a person, they do that with kindness and encouragement. Thanks Heather, Cathy, Joanne, and Barry, I am so grateful for your help!
And while I’m thanking people, I’m going to give a shoutout to Kevin, my dear friend and mentor, who has helped me iron out all kinds of tricky bits of my patterns.
I could use this post to illustrate all the things that I’m struggling with (because I am VERY aware of every area where I am not quite getting it yet) but I don’t think that’s a good approach. I’m at the point where I need to just keep forging ahead, making changes here and there, not aiming to be perfect but aiming for that magic level of practice where I’ll feel confident and capable. That is totally within reach.
This afternoon will find me at the back of the room during other people’s classes, doing my patterns over and over again while I work out the glitches. Then I’ll put that practice to the test by working with Master D for a while, she knows exactly where my hands and feet should be at every point in the pattern and how fast they should get there.
I am VERY grateful for Master D’s time and expertise and working with her will make my patterns much, much better but I’ll be nervous the whole time. Understandably, standing alone in front of an expert**, trying to execute a series of moves with skill and precision, is a little intimidating. In fact, there is nothing more likely to make me forget what I am supposed to do next.
It’s funny how I can stand up and tell a story or perform a monologue with no preparation, or even make one up on the spot, and it doesn’t faze me in the least but asking myself to do something physical – even patterns I have practiced hundreds of times – makes my mind go blank.
Blank mind or not, my Saturday practice with Master D is an important part of my preparation for the big event on February 10.
Usually, on the morning of my belt tests, I post on Facebook that I don’t need luck (because, after all, chance favours the prepared) but I do need focus and calm so I will accept any offers of those two qualities. So, I am going to ask you for the same.
Please send along any focus and calm you have to spare, today, next week, on February 10.
I promise to put it to good use for my practice and for my test.
*And that’s just the physical part, I actually do my written theory test on Tuesday, January 29. I’m generally pretty good at written (or verbal) tests but I find it tricky to translate my physical knowledge into words, so we’ll see how that goes!
**I know that as soon as she reads this, Master D will prep a comment to say that she’s not an expert and that she is still learning. And, of course she is, that’s the nature of a martial art, but she is a MASTER and that’s close enough to an expert in my books. *Christine bows respectfully to her instructor*