fitness

Thigh gaps and Sam’s other hats

When I am not writing and editing blog posts, posting things to our Facebook page, riding bikes or doing physio, or tackling my new big job, I’m sometimes working on one of my favourite things, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly.

What’s FPQ? It’s an online, open access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to promoting feminist philosophical scholarship. Our goal is to be a platform for philosophical research that engages the problems of our time in the broader world.  FPQ is published quarterly with financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The others editors and co-founders are Carla Fehr, University of Waterloo,  Alice MacLachlan, York University, and Kathryn Norlock, Trent University. Not surprisingly, they’ve all guest blogged here! See here, here, and here

We were all excited to be publishing a paper on something we’ve tackled on the blog, namely thigh gaps

And one of the joys of open access publishing is that I can share that with you here. You don’t need access to a university library. You can just follow this link and read the paper if you like. 

Anatomy of the Thigh Gap

Abstract: This article explores the ongoing obsession with the thigh gap ideal in certain pockets of Western societies. A thigh gap is the space some women have between their inner thighs when they stand with their feet together. The thigh gap ideal is flaunted on “thinspo” websites, which compile diet and exercise tips and display pictures of fashion models and “real women” in their efforts to inspire women to become thinner. I aim to identify what is wrong with the thigh gap obsession and to suggest a way to overcome it. I begin by describing the genesis of the obsession. I then argue that the relation women in the grip of this preoccupation have to their bodies is an instance of what I call bodily alienation. Next, I consider responses to the thigh gap phenomenon. I claim that a viable response, besides broadening standards of beauty, lies in pursuing bodily activities for their own sake. I call the view I articulate “sensualism.” I conclude by discussing the merits of an individual response of the type I advocate, in light of the structural character of women’s oppression through standards of beauty.

Céline Leboeuf, Florida International University

 

CÉLINE LEBOEUF is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida International University. Her current research lies at the intersection of continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, and the critical philosophy of race. Her forthcoming papers include: “ ‘What Are You?’: Addressing Racial Ambiguity” (in Critical Philosophy of Race), “The Embodied Biased Mind” for An Introduction to Implicit Bias: Knowledge, Justice, and the Social Mind, and “The Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir” for the Oxford Handbook of Feminist Philosophy.

 

 

Image description: A large gap between two rocks. There’s water between. A young white woman with blonde hair is laying down on one side, arms spread. She’s wearing a grey hoodie and jeans and sneakers. She looks thoughtful.
Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash
fitness · martial arts

March ends with more new things: Catherine discovers Qigong

March is almost gone, but to fill the March sadness void (and also exercise ennui for me), I’m trying yet another new thing. Sam wrote about how the Fit Feminist Team is trying new things, Not to be competitive, but I seem to be in the lead here, with parkour class, aerial silks yoga, and now a 2-hour Qigong workshop I went to on Saturday.

Why am I doing this? Really, the answer is that I am looking for different sorts of movement in my life these days. I have been feeling the need for more strength and agility and flow. Also I want to feel solid and stable– I want to feel my feet under me, my legs solid, my back strong, and my core engaged. This way I can use my upper body to lift and grab onto things, swing me or hold me in place, help me balance, and other things. Like leaping, for instance:

I happened upon the Qigong workshop, through Artemis, my local studio. Jules, one of my favorite instructors, was teaching it. I knew basically nothing about it. So here’s an intro blurb in case you’re in the same boat:

Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. There are likely thousands of qigong styles, schools, traditions, forms, and lineages, each with practical applications and different theories about Qi (“subtle breath” or “vital energy”) and Gong (“skill cultivated through steady practice”)

Qigong is credited with all sorts of beneficial and even therapeutic powers. Here’s what one website has to say about it:

Physically, slow gentle qigong movements warm tendons, ligaments, and muscles; tonify vital organs and connective tissue; and promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph). Thousands of studies have shown qigong effective in helping to heal life challenges ranging from high blood pressure and chronic illness to emotional frustration, mental stress, and spiritual crisis.

Hmmm… Thousands of studies? I took a look at the PubMed database and found loads of studies, including this one, suggesting benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi for some of the following:

bone density, cardiopulmonary effects, physical function, falls and related risk factors, quality of life, self-efficacy, patient-reported outcomes, psychological symptoms, and immune function.

Okay, so there’s evidence that Qigong is good for what ails ya. That’s nice. But what is it like? I found it to be different from yoga in that we were mainly standing in place, doing body and arm movements, syncing with the breath. They were done slowly and repeatedly. Even though the movements were (mostly) slow ones, we did generate some heat. You can definitely work up a sweat doing Qigong. But it’s also meditative, focusing on the breath and body movements. The names of the movements are poetic and descriptive. We did movements called:

  • King draws his sword
  • Cat gazes at the moon
  • Gather the sun and press the earth
  • Double hands hold up the heavens
  • several others

Some of the things I liked about these movement patterns were the ways they used my whole body. For some of them I was raising up, lifting my heels, arms in the air, balancing and holding myself up. We did lots of arm movements, which were slow, but involved control, focus, and attention to detail (some of the movements required thought). They also provided opportunities for grace. I loved one movement where we crossed our wrists in front of our navels, began a sequence, and then replaced the wrists to their original position, fluidly and elegantly.

Elegance– that’s really what I took away from Qigong. It’s meditative, it’s physical, and it’s elegant in its simplicity and efficiency of movement.

It also seems to make people happy. Here are some people doing qigong:

There are Qigong classes at yoga studios near me. I will be checking them out. Will this new form of movement become a regular part of my rotation? It’s too soon to say. But I’m intrigued on multiple fronts.

Have you or do you do Qigong (or Tai Chi)? What do you think? What does it do for you, and for your other forms of physical activity? I’d love to hear from you, dear readers.

fitness

Getting Pushy with Some Push-Ups

I want to be able to do push-ups easily.

This isn’t the first time I have expressed this wish and it’s not the first time I have tried to work on them.

I have made all kinds of attempts to improve my push-ups through weekly challenges, monthly challenges, and modifications but they have never stuck.  

At some point in each attempt I have either ended up with a pain in my upper back and given up or I reached the end of the challenge and been stronger but not really any better at the exercise itself.


The author, wearing sunglasses, a green bandanna, a black shirt, and grey and black leggings, does a push-up on the grass in a field on a sunny day.
Here I am practicing some push-ups in 2016. Yes, I can see the wonky things I am doing here – that’s kind of my point.

I can struggle through them now. My form isn’t great and I do wonky things with my arms/shoulders and, generally, I end up with a pain behind my right shoulder blade after I have done a few.

But what I *want* to be able to do is to drop to the floor and be able to do 25 push-ups with beautiful form and that kind of mechanical grace that people with that specific kind of strength have.

You know the kind I mean? It looks like they are right in the challenge zone for their fitness – as in ‘this is hard but within reach.’

My problem with push-ups is partly strength-related, partly psychological and partly mechanical.

The first part, the strength, will come with practice but for the psychological and mechanical parts, I have brought in my secret weapon…my cousin, Ken, the chiropractor.

(We’ve come a long since back in the day when I used to babysit him.)

Now, Ken not only fixes my various aches and pains but he also gives me great biomechanical advice.  And since he pays attention when I am talking about my issues surrounding a given exercise, I am happy to actually listen his advice.

And (this is huge) I don’t even mind doing the exercise badly in front of him so he can see where the problem lies (I usually freeze when asked to do an exercise related thing that I don’t quite ‘get’ yet.)

So, Ken has a program set out for me – 3 times a week with various exercises and specific formulations of push-ups. The exercises make sense and they feel progressive.*

I was supposed to really get into a couple of weeks ago but March was such a challenging month for me that I didn’t commit myself fully.

That’s where April comes in.

I’ve made myself a fun little chart and I am going to do Ken’s push-up routine at least 12 times this month.


A rectangular white card covered in gold dots sits on a wooden surface. The card features a grid with 12 blocks, each block contains a date  written in green. The word April is at the top and the words Push-Ups Phase 1 are at the bottom.
Making a fun chart increases my chances of actually doing the thing I set out to do. Clearly specific time in my schedule helps too, 😉

Anyone want to join me with a push-up routine of their own? Or will you just be cheering me on?

I’ll check in mid-month to let you know how I’m doing.

*My ADHD really argues with me about doing individual things that don’t seem related to the project as a whole. It does not trust that we are not just wasting time.

clothing · fashion · gear · Guest Post

Attention Barbell Apparel: I am your target market

I lift weights. I am cis-female. I buy jeans.

When I go to the mall to buy jeans, I can literally try on every style in Macy’s or Nordstroms and walk away without a single pair that fits me well. I have a narrower-than-average waist (28-29 inches) and wider-than-average thighs (each about 24 inches around). So, I often have to choose between fitting my legs into pants and then having enormous gapping at the waist, or squeezing my legs in tight enough that I’m at risk of losing circulation when I sit down so that it fits around my middle.

Needless to say, I was THRILLED therefore to discover Barbell Apparel, who markets their jeans to lifters–with sizing not just for the waist measurement but with a THIGH measurement too! I enthusiastically became their customer and signed up for their email list to keep up on marketing. These pants are not cheap, and I knew I’d want to restock when they were on sale.

And for the last 2 years, EVERY email I’ve gotten from them since, minus perhaps one at Christmas, has been targeted exclusively to men and their men’s line.

Some weeks ago, I sent them feedback–are they aware that they only market their men’s line? It might be good to have two types of emails–one targeted to the folks buying women’s clothes and one for those buying men’s. Alternately, maybe include images from both lines in each email? It would help me feel valued and part of the club! After all, women lifters already are a minority within a minority (I’ve written about my own experiences with this previously). Any company that helps me feel like I’m in the club will win my appreciation and loyalty!

The response I got back suggested they didn’t get it. “We are excited to announce we will be adding to our women’s line very soon!” Ok, but do you hear me saying that you are excluding me by marketing only the men’s products?

It is frustrating. And I now feel more ambivalent about their products. I love the idea of celebrating my proportions–my big, strong thighs are NOT typically treated as admirable, but here is a clothing line with proud tank tops declaring “Thunder Thighs!” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they show that pride in their marketing materials, too.

What say you? Do you feel included and celebrated by the manufacturers of products you are loyal to? What types of inclusivity do you value in advertising?

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.

meditation · self care

Have you unplugged lately? Tracy’s at-home silent retreat

The last time we polled readers about what kind of content we could do more (or less) of, someone requested more on things like meditation and rest. We have posted a few things about meditation (there is this and this and this and this) and more than one of us has found it to be beneficial. I have had meditation as a part of my life since graduate school, when I bought myself a copy of a book called The Joy within in the hopes of finding some peace. It helped, even though it was really hard at that time even to sit quietly, in silence for five minutes.

And that was before the internet. Before cell phones. Before streaming. Before “devices.” So few people had email back then that it was exciting to get a message (can you even remember those days?).

This past weekend I decided that I needed some silence. I usually enjoy silent retreats with a focus on meditation, but I won’t be able to do anything remotely like that any time soon. So when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that this past Friday night and Saturday were clear in my calendar, I blocked them off for a silent home retreat: 24 hours.

The first challenge was to keep them clear. How easy it is to allow things to seep into that open space in a schedule? It’s like a vacuum that wants to suck commitments into its void. But I did it.

The second challenge was to define my boundaries. I often listen to music at home. But if I was going for silence, then there could be none of that. Ultimately I made a list of what I could and could not do.

Permitted: meditation, cooking, reading (but not for work-only books related to meditation and spiritual practice), adult colouring (I have an adult colouring book I love), knitting (never got around to it), journalling, walking or running outside (alone, no music), naps, baths, photography (but no editing)

Not permitted: devices, communication, work.

I came home from my workout on Friday after picking up a new artwork, a lovely painting called “One Can Always Tango” by my talented friend Kim Kaitell. The firs thing I did was hang that painting with some music playing in the background because it wasn’t quite 7 yet and I wanted to be able to admire it on my retreat.

Image description: A textured canvas painting, dark in the lower half and light in the upper half, with three large red circles (grapefruit moons) and the silhouette of three birds, two standing in front of two of the moons and one off to the left side. Title: One Can Always Tango by Kim Kaitell.

I finished that (which promised to be a bit more work than I’d planned because I put a hanging wire on the painting and needed plugs in the wall, so it required the drill and all manner of measurements and so forth…but by 6:58 the painting was up, the music was off, and the phone was in my bedroom night table drawer on airplane mode without wifi).

If you have a busy life with lots of activity in it, it’s tough just to stop–or at least that is my experience. So I started cooking. Chopping veggies is kind of meditative for me, so I grabbed a rutabaga and a squash, neither an easy subject to tackle on a cutting board, and my favourite heavy knife, and spent the first 30 minutes of my silent retreat prepping them to roast in the oven. I had some lentils and rice simmering on the stove at the same time. And when I opened the veggie drawer in my fridge, I found some portobello mushrooms that needed attention and got it in the form of sauteed portobellos with a soy-maple glaze. Okay, so dinner was on its way. While I waited for everything to cook, I snapped a few pictures of fresh flowers, one of my favourite photo subjects.

Next up: mindful eating.

By the time I finished dinner, it was already almost 9. Still not ready to sit quietly in meditation, I took out my adult colouring book. I’m not artistic but I absolutely adore colour. I started a page that said: “Today is going to be awesome” with full confidence that it contained an accurate prediction about tomorrow.

Image description: Coloured-in page from an adult colouring book. In the middle it says in handwritten block letters “TODAY IS GOING TO BE AWESOME” and that is framed by a swirling abstract floral pattern.

Without belabouring every moment, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve done for myself this month. By the end of the first evening, my mind had quieted. It felt good to go to bed (after a leisurely soak in the tub) without having to set an alarm. I almost always have a Saturday morning yoga commitment and Sunday run, so there is rarely a day when I don’t need to get up for something. I lay in bed that Saturday and just luxuriated for a little longer than normal.

Then I got up and sat in meditation for 30 minutes and followed that with some candid and much-needed journalling. I didn’t do a whole lot of anything that day — a bit more colouring, a bit more photography, some reading, several timed meditation sessions, a 30-minute run. I’d wanted a nap but I think by the afternoon my mind felt so quiet and I was at peace and feeling rested, so I didn’t feel the need. And that was after less than 24 hours.

Image description: Two orange flowers in the foreground and one blurred in the background, against a further blurry (bokeh) light background.

By the time the clock was approaching 7 p.m. (and I did have a 7 p.m. commitment), I was so into my retreat that I didn’t want it to end. But I did one more meditation, a bit of journalling on my experience, silently expressed gratitude for the opportunity, and left the house to celebrate an occasion with friends.

If you think you’d like to try this, just google “planning a home silent retreat” or something like that and a few articles will come up. I used “How to Create An Amazing Silent Retreat at Home” as my rough guide. The whole thing felt like a loving thing to do for myself and I will be doing it again.

Have you ever retreated silently at home?

Guest Post

Navigating fitness in a body that doesn’t fit expectations (Guest post)

By Andrea Zanin

CN for size, body image and fitness stuff (but this is not about me trying to lose weight, in case that makes a difference to you).

Tried out a pilates class tonight at a new gym. I ended up on a mat at the very front of the class in front of the mirror (I’m usually a “back corner” kind of class participant). It was… weird. I don’t know if it was the angles, or the light, or actual reality, but from where I stood I was able to notice a few things.

One, I was bigger than pretty much everyone else in the class. I’m not huge – but I sure felt like it in that context, especially being positioned very much in the spotlight. It was uncomfortable not because I didn’t like my appearance, but because I’m hyper-aware (as someone who used to work in the fitness industry in a past life) of how desperately important Being Skinny is to many gym-going women. So seeing my curvy ass up ahead was likely serving as a “before” picture for them. It reminded me of why I dislike gym culture even as I love working out, and of how gendered certain types of exercise are even when they’re really good for all sorts of people.

Two, I was stronger than most people in the class. The moves felt nearly effortless, so much so that I at times wondered if I was doing them wrong. As I looked around at a room full of skinny women in skinny designer workout clothes (I was in a HotDocs t-shirt!) sweating and straining and shaking, I remembered how prioritizing being skinny means you try not to build muscle, you maybe don’t eat enough to nourish muscle development, you maybe don’t have the blood sugar to stay firm and grounded when you’re making efforts you’re not used to, especially with peripheral muscles. My years in the weight room, on the climbing wall, in the yoga studio, plus my everyday cycling, means my body feels like a thick old tree trunk at this point – deeply rooted, strong as fuck, well nourished, balanced even in my weather-beaten imbalance.

Three, separately from the mirror situation, I also noticed how certain moves *were* actually super challenging for me – not from lack of strength, but from impinged mobility. The ones that involved lots of articulated spine movement showed me how my strong muscles also hold a great deal of stiffness, despite megadosing on magnesium and stretching lots. Like, when doing ab crunches with a hard foam roller under my middle back, the sit-up part was easy, but draping my back over the roller for the “resting” part was a painstaking, scary operation. This is exacerbated by the range of motion I can’t reach in my lower back because it triggers nerve pain, what with the remaining lump of cancer on my spinal cord plus scar tissue and missing spinal bones. This is probably a permanent limitation, so I’ll need to figure out how to work around it if I want to ramp up my overall fitness level. I love being a tree trunk – it’s certainly better than the block of concrete I used to be – but I need to become a bit more like a reed. More flexible, more functional, less rigid.

I feel ready to take my fitness up a notch. I want better circulation, stronger cardiovascular capacity, and greater flexibility, and to drain out leftover feelings of fragility and fear after my long period of disability. But I’m not sure I want to invest my time and effort in a setting where I feel like my body is going to be everyone else’s bad example – and this isn’t even because anyone *said* anything. Imagine if they did. I’m picturing myself turning from a serene old oak into the Whomping Willow…

So, not sure what comes next. More yoga (where there is more body diversity). More cycling as the weather warms – I’ve done 60 short rides so far this year (!), which is great, but I think it’s time for longer ones, and daily, or close to it. Maybe some personal training or physio for advice on the mobility stuff. And maybe a gym membership, though first I’ll have to decide whether not fitting in is a sufficient deterrent.

I would love to hear about others’ experiences of navigating fitness if you don’t fit into straight society’s expectations of what your body should be like, what your goals should be, and how you measure success.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at http://sexgeek.wordpress.com and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

accessibility · fitness · traveling · walking

Sam’s very sad thing

I’m in New York as I start this blog post. I love this city. I even almost lived here and I often wonder what that life would have been like.

How did I almost live here? I had an on campus interview at Barnard College in 1993. That was actually my first visit to New York though the geography was super familiar to me from from television and movies. So “almost” is a bit of a stretch but it’s always felt like it might have been my home. In my “inner life” it’s been an alternate home. Montreal too, but that’s another story.

Over the years I’ve visited often, running in Central Park when I was a runner, but mostly lots and lots of walking. One of the things I love about the city is walking. It’s a walking person’s city. And I’ve often thought that when visiting I don’t need to make a special effort to get exercise because I love being outside and I love walking. That’s one of the ways I’ve identified with New York.

This visit was different. I arrived here this time with sore knees–plural! both of them! And it could tell it was going to be a tough time. Even with my knee brace on I was struggling. I was so slow and this isn’t a good place for slow walkers. Sarah carried bags lots of the time which also hurt my self image because I think of myself as the strong person who lifts and carries things for others. But not while walking. Not this trip. Thanks Sarah!

We defaulted to the subway for quite a bit of our about town travel but unlike Barcelona there weren’t always escalators and elevators available and often they were out of service. Here is my Highline selfie. It was tough going up and even tougher going down as the elevator was broken, awaiting repair.

Image description: Sam’s Highline selfie. Sam is a white woman in her fifties with wild blonde, brown, and silver hair. She’s wearing a black linen jacket and large black glasses.

You get the idea. Painful knees and I city I love to walk around. No amount of ibuprofen helped and I kept coming close to tears. It made me remember the knee surgeon’s advice when I mentioned loving walking. He said something about loving it in smaller doses and finding other things to enjoy. When it come to steps, for me, more isn’t always better.  When I see friends post about walking a zillion steps, I confess I’m jealous and that’s not an emotion I like in myself.

Next time I’m either renting a city bike or bringing my own Brompton. Well, in fact next time I’m here it’ll be for the 5 boro bike tour and I’ll definitely be riding, not walking.

I’m also feeling better about knee surgery! So there’s that.

I still had a great visit and this trip reminded that I don’t just love New York because of walking. While here we saw a great play, Hurricane Diane , reviewed here. We went to the opera! Tosca! And I stopped by the SVA Flatiron Gallery.

Here’s to a well-rounded life with lots of opera, and theatre, and art, and books.  And great food. And a little less walking. While that’s sad, it’s not sad overall. Really it’s hard to complain about a life that contains weekend visits to New York for fun and beautiful music.

Image result for met opera house