blog · blogging · fitness

Most read posts in October, #ICYMI

  1. Cate is still menstruating and people keep reading about it!
  2. Kim is saying goodbye as a regular blogger. Miss you Kim! Looking forward to reading your guest posts when the mood strikes.
  3. It’s another pandemic shutdown for fitness studios and gyms: Cate asks, how do we help?
  4. Sam wonders why hockey is so bad at gender stereotyping in its efforts to attract girls to the sport.
  5. My metabolic age is WHAT? Nicole’s post on weight and metabolic age, whatever that is supposed to be. It’s all not very clear what it is and why Nicole should care.
  6. Cate wants to know what your pandemic closet looks like. What are you wearing and why?
  7. If you stack a cord of wood do you still need to workout? Mina wonders about that.
  8. Martha is looking ahead to winter and offering some helpful reflections.
  9. Tracy still doesn’t want to be a Precision Nutrition repeat customer. She’s done.
  10. More then 7 years ago (!) Sam blogged about crotch shots, upskirts, sports reporting, and the objectification of female athletes’ bodies.

Ghostly latte art!

fitness · holidays

Happy Halloween!

I like most of the moods of exercise, from the sometimes somewhat serious business of team training and racing to the very silly world of holiday themed workouts.

Here’s two I did this Halloween season:

  1. Zwift Halloween costume rides with pace partners: See photos above. We all gradually acquired costumes as we rode along with the special guest pace partners. It was a nice easy recovery ride with lots of laughs along the way. See HALLOWEEN HIJINKS HAVE BEGUN! UNLOCK COSTUMES WITH NEW PACE PARTNERS: “ZwiftHQ likes to have a little fun on certain holidays – especially Halloween, Christmas, and April Fools’. (With Halloween just around the corner, Zwifters may remember that we earned dino costumes in 2019rode bone bikes and swapped heads in 2018, and looked like witches and monsters in 2017.) Last night some new Pace Partners went live as part of a little Halloween game. Carlin Cosmic, Darwin Dino, Delta Daring have arrived, and they’re handing out Halloween costumes!”

2. I also did Yoga with Adriene’s spooky Yoga for When You Feel Dead Inside which I enjoyed from the moments of silliness at the start to the actual practice itself.

How about you? Are you doing any Halloween themed workouts? Let us know in the comments below.

fitness

Ghosts and Cakes and Weights in the Dining Room

This blog is about cake.

It’s 9:30 pm on the last Thursday of the month, blog time. I settle in for inspiration. In front of me I see a collection of items artfully displayed. . .four circle bands, three kettle bells, two yoga blocks and a pilates ball on a stand. That sounds like a song but it isn’t. It’s my collection of items to enhance my early morning work outs. It’s located in the room where my dining table used to be, maybe will be again some day. But who needs a dining table when it’s just you and a cat and a dog, hiding from the viral hoards? Strung along the curtain rods are a few hundred orange LEDs. There is a festive banner of skulls adorning the lonely buffet cabinet. In the corner is my most excellent Halloween tree, festooned with little crows and a purple sparkly owl. There’s more, but clearly, I love this time of year and decorate like I have a 5 and a 7 year old, about to scramble up from the basement, put on their pj’s and hop into bed. No, those kids don’t live here any more. They are elsewhere, living with peeps of their kind, watching online lectures and getting their flu shots just like I asked. Is this paragraph chaos? Yes, yes it is. I was going to talk about cake.

I’m still walking, me and the doggo. She is aging so fast. She starts out with something that looks like boundless energy, happy to be alive and free in the cool air, but 5k in, she is slower, quieter, sniffier, conserving her energy, just like me. The vibrant colours are slowly cascading down, brief sparks of red and orange on the ground that fade to brown and mud. Nothing lasts forever. Winter is coming.

Two days to the Witches New Year, a time of sleep-like death or death-like sleep, which one is it? I guess it depends on your perspective. Plant the seeds I want to harvest and let them rest for now. I’m spooked though. Spooked through and through. One week until I help lead a weekend intensive for my students. We used to collect amongst the nearly sleeping trees and a river and a labyrinth and the warmth of camp fires. We’d work hard to hone the craft of listening to others and ourselves. We’d teach the magic healing of relationship and drink too much coffee and stay up too late talking about psychic resonance and souls. Now we will sit motionless in front of screens struggling to feel each other walking no more than 5 meters in either direction, to get a glass of water, to pee, to get a snack. Zoom is, after all, a four letter word. Oh, but the cake, I was going to link this to a cake.

5 days until the world changes, for better or for worse. . .or for nothing. When there is a choice to go for another walk or look at FiveThirtyEight.com, I often make the wrong choice. I want to rest. I want to stop. I’ve been reading the news non stop for 4 long years, looking for an end to it. There never is an end. Four years ago was not the beginning. We are locked in a cycle of hurt and relational trauma played out on a societal scale, century after century. My bones feel heavy with the weight of my oppression and my oppressing. Some dark mornings, while trying to get stronger, my body weight alone is enough to undo me. I know there is more in my heart and history to carry than all the kettlebells in my living room or yours. Oh yes, the cake!

I do have a singular joy that I am planning. A simple, sweet joy. When I was a child, my mother also loved Halloween. She was not spiritual about it, I don’t think she knew she could be, but she was joyous. She would decorate with pumpkin men made of orange yarn and a glow in the dark skull on the kitchen table. We would eat spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner and go out trick-or-treating. When we returned we had dessert, yes, even with all that candy, there was a cake. A Ghost Cake. I have made that cake for my own children more than once and this year in all this lonely darkness, I felt I had to make it again. I’m going to mask up and take it to my mom’s house. We are going to eat spaghetti and meat sauce in our winter jackets on other ends of the room with the windows open and then, I’m going to shut the lights and fire up the eyeballs of my beloved ghost cake. We are going to stuff our faces with it and drink caffeinated coffee and generally not give a flying flipper about what that all means for the next day. We are going to sit with the ghosts and consume this corporal representation, hoping to connect closely again some day, hoping to last long enough to remove the screen and distance. I rode my bike for hundreds of kilometres, I ran a half-marathon, I can deadlift and squat and lunge and ride a horse. I can carry a canoe on my head for quite a distance but I can’t kiss my mother on the cheek. No wonder I want cake. A small comfort. A small hope. A small spark. Just a ghost of one.

Here is the recipe: Authentic 1970’s childhood memory

Here is my Tree:

A black sparkly scraggly leafless tree with orange led lights and little crows along the branches
cycling

Sam is not a climber but she’s halfway to Tron

A person new to Zwift posted to the Ladies Only Zwift group on Facebook. She asked what she should do first. I loved the suggestions of the first person who responded. First? Join the Everest Challenge. It’s the biggest challenge on Zwift and it’s got a great reward. Second? Buy a really big fan!

I second both of these tips. I am now in the stage of wanting a remote control fan so I can switch it from low to high while riding. Someone on my bike team has figured out how to get Alexa to do that. But that requires a level of technology in my house that I start to have privacy worries about.

But back to the first tip and the reward. The reward is a Tron bike, those brightly coloured bikes you notice when you first start zwifting. See pics below. They’re not just cool looking, there are many reasons to want one.

To get it you need to sign up for the Everest Challenge and then you need to climb the height of Everest (roughly 8800 metres) and then an extra 42,000. In all, it’s 50,000 metres. You can see my progress above. I’m getting there.

This is notable for me. Hills are so not my friend. I’ve got reasonable long distance power and excellent short distance sprint power but my watts per kilo suffer because, well, kilos. You can see my Zwiftpower profile here. That means that I’m happiest, most in my element, on the flats but I find hills hard. Whenever I complain about my weight it’s in the context of power to weight ratio. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway, from like eight years ago. (Okay, also in the context of knee replacement surgery.)

So part of why I’m awful on hills is size. The other part of the story is that I do what we all do. I train at things I’m already good at and ignore the stuff I’m not so good at. BTW, this is where cycling coaches come in handy. They don’t let you do that.

Here’s where Zwift is helping. I now have an incentive to climb. I love that Zwift’s gamification features real rewards, nor just badges. I also love that you can’t just buy a Tron. The people who have them have all ridden the distance.

Zwift Insider offers some tips to get there quickly: “The Tron bike is the most prized ride in Zwift: it’s fast, eye-catching, and difficult to earn. So of course, you want it in your garage (where it’s called the “Zwift Concept Z1” by the way). But you also want to make obtaining it as painless as possible. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to climb 50,000 meters to earn the Tron bike, unless you’re willing to cheat. But are there ways to do that climbing more efficiently, so your watts result in as much elevation as possible?”

Here are some of their tips.

Note not all of the routes they suggest are available to all riders. Some are only there once you’ve been riding for awhile. Now I’m more than halfway there I might give the dreaded Alpe du Zwift a try.

fitness

My new best friend: in praise of my Bowflex C6 spinning bike

How do you like your new bike?

I love this bike. I love this bike so much I want to take it upstairs and show it a good time.”

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how, on Labour Day, I spontaneously bought myself a spinning bike, suddenly realizing how much I was going to want easy access to hard movement as the days get colder here in Toronto.

I have never been so grateful for a purchase in my life. The first time I started towelling dripping sweat off myself in my own living room, watching it pool on my wooden floor, I realized that the kind of intensity I get from working out hard, inside, on a piece of good equipment, is a unique, important experience in my portfolio of movement.

The bike is a Bowflex C6, which is about the same footprint as a peloton (i.e, unobtrusive), but about half the price (I paid $1399 Canadian, plus tax and a $125 fee + tip for a guy to assemble it for me). The major difference from a peloton is it doesn’t come with any kind of monitor — you connect to an ipad, phone, computer screen or TV with something like appletv. The bluetooth is seamless, and you can connect it to any streaming service that uses bluetooth (or do a virtual class without connecting; there’s plenty of data on the console). And it has an “ERG” mode, which means that with a virtual program like Zwift that enables it, the program will adjust the intensity of the bike automatically.

I love spinning, and I love my local spinning studio. I’ve been very grateful for the outdoor alley spinning Torq has offered through the summer, and I’m glad they’re able to offer a subscription to virtual spinning. I’ll buy the sub and do classes. And — as much as I love Torq — there is something about the relationship I’m carving out between this bike and a self-guided training program in Zwift that is satisfying a deeply personal need to work hard, in my own rhythm, at my own pace, in my own time. It’s something I forgot I needed.

It’s hard to explain why riding a bike inside, alone, in a virtual world, feels so meaningful. Right now, my life is over-scheduled, all mediated through screens and complex needs of a constellation of people. Weeks with literally 17 zoom meetings, several of them 3+ hours, where I’m facilitating all of the groups. It’s draining in a whole new way. And prep and follow up for all of them.

When I’m not in the zoom, you would think I would want to be outside, be with real life (distanced) people. And I do, and I’m walking, running, riding my bike for errands, hoping to spin outside at least one more time before the snow flies. But there is something elemental about working so hard, so focused, so simply, that is giving me access to a deep flow state that I sorely missed in my life. It reminds me of how I used to feel doing long, solo runs during marathon training: wiped out, on the edge, tested in the best ways, restored.

Sam has written a ton about her love for racing and team riding in Zwift. I’m using Zwift too, but every time Sam posts a photo of her workouts, I laugh. She’s embedded in a pack. I’m alone. Just like my favourite way to ride in real life.

One of Sam’s riding shots on the left, one of mine on the right. (Slide the slider to compare).

In fact, I’m so alone in my zwifting that on any ride more than half an hour, I’m often wearing the segment jersey, because I’m the fastest woman on the course. Often I’m the *only* woman on the course. But I’ll take the jersey anyway, because I’m working hard.

Fundamentally, Zwift is a simulation, a game and a social platform. I haven’t fully figured it out yet — it’s a massive, popular app, and there are a lot of gear-heady people, and a lot of teams, and many events. But I did figure out right away that the main way I’m going to use it is on my own. I’m so overscheduled that having one more mental timing in my day, one more planned event, is too many. I can’t add “time trials at 4 pm” to my day without something giving. Sam and Sarah have encouraged me to join some of their team events, and other friends have said “lets ride together!” I love that this is possible — and right now, this meditative time, hopping on the bike when the time presents itself for me, safe from traffic, safe from wind, with no timing, pushing myself to the threshold — doing it on my own is deeply restorative.

When I first signed up for Zwift and was figuring out the bike, I realized I needed some sort of vaguely structured program, but one that was completely flexible to my schedule. I came across an 8 week gran fondo training program, and impulsively signed up. (A gran fondo in real life is an organized “big” bike ride, usually a longish distance, but not a race). Right now, I’m in week three of an eight week gran fondo training program and… it’s intense. It’s three 50 – 60 minute rides per week plus a long ride — 56 km and almost two hours last weekend. With spikes for intense threshold intervals.

This was the output from my ride on Sunday afternoon. The red spike at the end was… a challenge.

One of the slightly weird things about the virtual world of Zwift is that even when you’re riding “alone,” you’re in a world with a bunch of other people, from all over the world. Zwift manages the number of worlds available at any given time to create a sense of community — for the most part, anyone riding at that time is riding in one of three worlds. So I’ll be riding along by myself, and suddenly ride through (or be passed by) a peloton of riders. I like the way the avatars apparate (is that a word?) through and past each other, and I also like the Zwift habit of giving and receiving thumbs ups to fellow riders (called “ride on”). I also rode a guy from… somewhere … part of the way through that ride, and my “drafting” him pushed me above my intended threshold for that segment. (I got a little badge for the drafting, and we all know how much I like little badges).

It seems bonkers to enjoy riding for two hours inside my house through a simulated landscape. (I think I was “in” Innsbruck that day). But there’s something incredibly freeing about working this hard with no other inputs — just my body moving, simple intervals — steady, hard, harder, recovery — the sweat dripping onto the floor, and the playlist my niece made for me called “Feel like you can do anything.” I love spinning classes — but the simplicity of this elemental kind of workout is soothing to my world-jangled self like nothing else.

When I finished, I was spent, in the best possible way. I didn’t have to navigate through traffic, or a flat, or getting my bike home, or juggling equipment. The two hours were really two hours, not half an hour getting ready, half an hour driving to the start, 20 minutes stopped at lights, etc. etc. My feet and body didn’t hurt the way they would if I’d run even half that time. Bananas and walnuts were right within reach. My dinner was ready to go on the stove. And I felt “in” my body in a way I rarely achieve.

So yeah, I like the bike. And I know I’m going to be even more grateful for it as the dark and cold descends.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, zooms and spins in Toronto.

fitness

In Praise of the Community Gym

On Saturday we did EMOMS in the park. That’s “every minute on the minute” in fitness speak. Before, during, and after, alternating side lunges, push ups, pulse squats to burpees, band rows and bicep curls with sprints (pant!) x 4, the 9 of us greeted each other with the familiarity of a close community. Socially distanced, of course.

In March, I wrote about Community and the Gradual Change of Normal. The world has changed in so many ways since March. For example, we are now at a point in the pandemic where seeing people in TV shows and movies who are close together and not wearing masks, seems weird! Social distancing and mask-wearing for every day activities were not part of most of our experiences before March 2020. There’s a joke going around that says “Today marks 5 years we’ve been in 2020.”

Black lettering on a pink background that says “Today marks 5 years we’ve been in 2020.”

The anxiety of living through a pandemic, regardless of one’s personal situation, is heightened for most people. Many people have lost their jobs, couples have split up, people are struggling with their mental health in a myriad of ways. And we are just at the beginning of the long winter ahead in the northern hemisphere. It’s common knowledge that a sense of community is a vital part of maintaining a healthy outlook. I can confidently state that almost 9 months into this pandemic, the community provided through my workouts with MOVEfitness Club, has helped me maintain some semblance of normal. It’s no secret on FIFI that one of the main the reasons I work out regularly and consistently is to regulate my moods. It’s not just important “that” I work out, but also “how” I work out. Having a day or two with my MOVE community is a vital part of my tool chest. Being amongst other people, with a great coach, always makes me work just a little harder. It’s so important to me that I hope I can bundle up and continue the workouts in the park through most of the winter.

There has been much talk about whether boutique gyms should be open or not. Cate wrote about the importance of local small gyms here. Last week, the Ontario government said that dance studios could open in hot spots. It does make me wonder whether the people making these decisions understand how boutique gyms work in comparison to dance studios. They probably look very similar, in that they have less than 10 people in a class at once. They each have their own work station and they don’t share equipment. They also have to pre-register for classes and are screened for Covid before entering the class. I can say from experience, the classes are typically filled with the same cohort of people, class to class.

I am not going to get into whether boutique gyms should be open inside or not. Even us fitness enthusiasts have slightly differing views about how gyms should look during the pandemic. What doesn’t differ is our love for our community gym. While I have stayed outside since the beginning of the pandemic, I recognize the benefits for others and risk analysis they make, when choosing to go inside. And, if nothing else, a clear, consistent, and fact-based message from our government officials and health experts seems a reasonable request.

What does “boutique gym” mean? For some, “boutique” may sound chic and a little extravagant. But there is nothing extravagant about the sense of community that exists at MOVE. When one first enters MOVE, they may notice the fancy weight rig and the Kiehl’s cosmetic products in the washroom. The longer you stick around, you might be struck by the comfort that members have with each other. You may also notice the encouragement when someone does a lift they’ve never done before or hits a PR. Or the supportive small talk between sets. Not to mention the positive words about women’s strength and focusing on encouraging women to make the most of their own strength rather than on society’s definition of a healthy body. “Boutique” in this sense means community to me.

As someone who never felt comfortable in larger gyms, no matter how confident I felt with my workout, I have found my community in these types of gyms for several years. I have been going to MOVE for about 4 years now and I can say that the ties made with people I work out with on a regular basis, in a smaller setting, are important for my overall well being. Some people may get this benefit from other communities, it doesn’t have to be a fitness one, but for many of us the fitness community is crucial.

In the case of MOVE, it happens to be a women-only space. I didn’t purposely seek out a women-only space. But I do feel that I benefit from the comfort and camaraderie that is found amongst women of varying ages, and varying sexual and gender identities. When I did work out in mixed gender gyms, I felt a little uncomfortable if I had to cut in on the weight rig if there were hyper-masculine men working on the rig. Warranted or not, it is how I felt. Also, I do see value in being among other women testing their strength and stamina. I’ve had women I don’t know all that well give me a (consensual) hug if they overheard me mention someone I love was in the hospital, waves on the street and smiling faces in local stores, that I wouldn’t otherwise experience in a busy urban area.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virtual and outdoor park workouts have kept me connected to this community. While I currently have a Bowflex spinning bike on order, which I am confident will help me maintain my cardiovascular health, along with my running practice (currently excited about the Toronto Women’s 416 Run Challenge – thanks for the tip, cousin Nancy!), I know they won’t replace the positive benefits I derive from my workouts with my community at MOVE.

I am not the only one that feels this way. I have asked Kelly, the owner of MOVE, and a few other women to provide a little bit about what MOVE means to them.

Kelly, 45, says “As a woman in fitness, I am beyond grateful for my less than ideal journey to where I am today. My struggles with all of the toxicity in the fitness space have made me relentlessly focused and crystal clear on what type of experience I need to ensure I provide to women, and what I long to be part of. An experience that holds space for women to focus on becoming strong, empowered and recognizing all that their bodies can be capable of and forgetting the pressure that can have us believe our weight determines our worth. Community for me, means being a part of something that lifts your spirits, shifts your focus to a higher purpose and bring a collective of likeminded humans together, that all long to be part of the same movement.”

Laura, 30, says “MOVE workouts have been so important to me throughout the pandemic. Not only has exercise helped me mentally and physically, being able to see so many amazing women on a regular basis (even if it’s on a screen!) has made me feel connected to the community. I have made great friendships through the gym and getting outside with these women has been such a silver lining this year.

Cate (fellow FIFI blogger and who I met at MOVE), 55, says “For me, the small fitness spaces are a critical part of what makes my neighbourhood vibrant and connected. MOVE, Torq and Mend Physio have all supported the fundraising for the project I run in Uganda, underlining that they understand what’s important to us about community wellbeing in general, not just physical fitness. I understand who is in my neighbourhood and what’s important to them when I show up to local yoga spaces, gyms and spin studios. Their owners live in my neighbourhood, care about their members, support independent shops, and are a essential part of what makes it home.

Lesli, 49, says “Much like my own family, my fitness family is where I feel supported, encouraged, uplifted – it’s where I belong. My MOVE family has meant the world to me over the past four years, but especially during this pandemic. I am beyond grateful to this community for their support of both my physical and mental health. Whether we are coming together indoors, outdoors, or virtually; our connection is strong. We will get through this together as a community/family.

Kristy, 42, says “My workout is a time to get away from the stress of my life (this includes the constant barrage of corona news), move my body, be with like minded people and challenge myself to get stronger and be healthier. They give me a sense of purpose, something constructive to work on as the time slowly passes by. Without them my mood is low, I am not with people, my body doesn’t feel as good. I have to work harder to feel accomplished.

Brittany, 29, says “Since COVID began, prioritizing my mental and physical health has been challenging (as I know it has been for many). While MOVE, the women’s gym I once frequented 3+ times a week, had to temporarily close its physical doors, Kelly and team soon began offering live virtual and outdoor classes. Honestly, I credit the classes and community for keeping me sane these last 8 months.

Whether I take a virtual strength-based class at lunch or an evening class in the park to get my sweat on with ladies I love, it’s a chance to connect, boost my mood on days I need it most, stick to a routine and stay active. Bring on the snow suit, I’m ready to break a sweat outdoors all winter long!!!”

While we prepare for the winter ahead, I (Nicole) think it is a good idea to consider what community means to people and if they are not able to participate in their usual community activities, they may be grieving that loss for good reason. It’s another opportunity to be kind and supportive, even if it’s simply a matter of acknowledging their feelings.

Nicole P. is tired, but happy, in this picture, following an early morning park workout with MOVE.
fitness

In Activism, so as in Fitness

As we all look towards next week and what so many of us hope will be the end of an extraordinary chapter in American history, I find myself reflecting upon the last four years and how my life has been shaped in the face of such tumultuous times. I’ve always considered my work as an educator serving disadvantaged communities to be a form of activism and empowerment, but after the election of Trump, I found myself needing to do more. I got involved in my union, started going to rallies and protests far more frequently, wrote more letters, signed more petitions, spoke out more often, and attended conferences to build my skills, network with other activists, and improve my effectiveness. During this time, I also became a better runner and a more consistent, and stronger, lifter. These two parts of my world, my activism and my fitness, reinforce each other, give me strength, and feed my soul in complementary ways. In no particular order, here are some parallel truths I’ve noted between activism, living an active life and the perseverance, tenacity, and ups and downs of doing the work over the long term.

Everything counts. Do something.

Embrace practices that play to your strengths.

Embrace opportunities to bring up your weaknesses.

It’s never too late, and we’re never too old, to get started.

Focus on what can be done, not on what limits us.

There will be “seasons” to our efforts, which is absolutely ok. In fact, it’s necessary to acknowledge so that we have the energy to keep doing the work over the long haul.

Progress is rarely linear.

Having the time is about priorities and setting boundaries.

Most of our efforts would benefit from getting more high quality sleep.

It’s ok, and maybe even advisable, to specialize for a while and develop “your thing.”

Recovery is just as important as pushing hard.

“Balance” looks like different levels of effort and commitment at different points in time.

Don’t rely on motivation, which can be fickle; instead build routines and habits to keep doing the work when passions recede.

Nothing is more inspiring than finally getting started.

Accountability and community in the form of friends with shared values and shared efforts goes a long way.

A certain amount of discomfort is required in order for there to be growth and change.

Consistency trumps perfection.

Remember this work is a privilege.

Celebrate every victory, regardless of how small. (And then go out and do the next thing.)

And finally–avoid confusing the goal for the work. Even if I lift the weight, run the miles, and hold government officials accountable, the work is not over. Next week, whatever happens on Election Day, the work of my activism will continue. The skills I’ve learned in fitness to push through the hard times, to reprioritize my time as my needs change, and to focus on the process over the outcome have served me well as I’ve shifted my energies and gotten more involved in politics and advocacy. I really want to be on the winning team next week. I’m tired of feeling so angry, and hopeless, frustrated, and scared. My life in fitness has shown me that I can weather whatever challenges face me next, but I’m really ready to take a break from what feels like endless new hurdles and celebrate some victories for a little while! Whatever comes, I raise a glass to all of my fellow activists and the efforts you’ve made alongside me these past four years. It is an honor to do this work with you!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found organizing fellow educators, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

aging · beauty

#NoFilter isn’t really a thing: Selfies and self-image

I’m looking at new phones. I’m considering the Galaxy Note 20. And I’m reading reviews on the internet, as one does. I came across this criticism which piqued my interest.

“Sadly, the selfie camera’s penchant for smoothing faces even when I’ve turned off every possible filter is also predictable. I wish Samsung would get on board with Google’s call to eliminate these defaults for good because they’re potentially harmful to people’s self-image.” From the Verge review of the phone which otherwise mostly says nice things except it’s too pricey and you should wait.

I am the Selfie Queen and I don’t mind filters. But I like obvious filters that make it clear you’re using a filter.

Compare these two photos. You can move back and forth between the two photos using the bar in the middle.

No filter on the left, filter on the right but it’s obviously a filer. Also, there are flames!

So my worry, my objection isn’t to filters per se. It’s a worry about filters that are an improved normal, when you can’t tell if a filter is being used at all.

A few us here on the blog have been chatting about filters in Zoom meetings. The other day I was in one and I was pretty sure all the women were using the beauty face/improve my appearance option and all the men were not. We look all blurry and glowing. They look all craggy and serious. Not sure if this is better or worse than the women wearing make up and men not! Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

Here’s how it works:

Touch up my appearance

  1. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile picture then click Settings.
  2. Click the Video tab.
  3. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance.
  4. Use the slider to adjust the effect.

I tend not to use it because my main video-conferencing tool is Teams, which lacks “touch up my appearance.” I tried it on Zoom and then switched to a Teams meeting recently and thought I’d suddenly gotten ill, or old, or tired, or all three. Until I remembered.

All of this got me thinking about filters, what’s real and what’s not.

There’s no neutral of course since all representations involve choices. So the hashtag “nofilter” can never really be true but some filters are worse than others.

See Philosophical Reflections on Phootgraphy in the AGe of Instagram from Daniel Star writing on the blog Asthetics for Birds: “….(M)y point is that camera and smartphone manufacturers must make decisions about how colors and details will be represented: in effect, each manufacturer provides its own filter that affects, for a start, white balance, color saturation and contrast. Manufacturers must make aesthetically relevant decisions with respect to the interpretation of sensor outputs in digital cameras, the film constitution and development process with analog film, and many complex aspects of camera lens design. The color profiles that come with digital cameras and smartphones vary, and they are, to a large extent, the product of conscious, proprietary decisions made by different manufacturers, with viewers and consumers of various kinds in mind.”

So while #nofilter is never really true, I’d like to keep my wrinkles thanks.

I think I like playful, deliberate filters but not beauty “improving” filters that make it harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Silly filters!
clothing · cycling · inclusiveness · media

On representation and why diversity matters

So as many of you know, I’ve been riding my bike on the trainer a lot lately.

But all those hours Zwifting have been tough on my cycling clothes. I keep old stuff around and I tend to wear it to death. See here (from 2014) and it’s still true. I wear shorts with thinning lycra under dresses for work bike commutes (back in the pre-pandemic times when I commuted to work) and I wear them at home on the trainer. I have shorts that came with me on my first sabbatical in Australia 13 years ago. I still regularly wear my very first pair of cycling specific socks and they are nearly 20 years old! I keep inspecting them, looking for holes, and wear, but they are doing fine.

Those tenacious socks aside, things are starting to wear out. And the thinning cycling shorts aren’t just not decent, they’re also starting to get uncomfortable. Riding the trainer is harder on clothes I suspect. It’s sweatier and there’s a lot less time out of the saddle, moving around. They make indoor cycling specific clothing now but so far I haven’t been tempted to buy it.

In Zwift’s virtual world my avatar has a lot of cool kit to choose from. You earn kit through riding lots and from doing specific events. I have Pride kit from doing the Pride rides and I have team kit from TFC through riding for TFC.

I’ve been wanting some new bike clothes for my actual, physical, non-virtual, self.

I did a Betty Designs workout the other day and I liked the kit my avatar was wearing. It turns out they sell it for actual people. Of course they do!

Sadly their snazzy Zwift kit was sold out.

betty designs zwift kit
Model wearing Betty Designs Zwift kit

But I browsed the site anyway because why not, I was there. Every single model is wearing size S or XS. They sell larger sizes but there aren’t any models wearing it. Instead it’s screen after screen of super thin models. Mostly the same model actually. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m fine with smaller people and thin models. Some women wear size XS. There are lots of thin cyclists.

Not all cyclists are thin though. Some of us wear sizes L and XL and beyond. See Big Women on Bikes.

Compare Betty Designs to Machines for Freedom. I’ve written about MFF before. See Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me! and Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!.

And look at their models!

Plus Size Cycling Clothing is here!

See Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women for an interview with the people behind Machines for Freedom: “I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”

Between the fact that my Zwift avatar doesn’t look like me size-wise and none of the women on the Betty Designs site are anywhere near my size, you’d almost think that women my size don’t ride bikes. But we do. I do. And I’d like some representation please.

Thanks Machines For Freedom for getting it right. Women my size do ride bikes and need cycling clothes. We also appreciate being represented in your advertising imagery.

Earlier, when I was planning to teach a course on feminism, ethics, and fashion I asked whether we had an obligation to buy from size inclusive brands. At the time some readers had given me flack for liking Oiselle sports bras. The issue is that they only offer sizes up to LARGE and while they fit me, they wouldn’t fit lots of athletic women out there. The issue in today’s post is not exactly the same. Betty Designs sizes do go up to XL and while that’s still limited, the worry I raised here was a different one. Their size range includes M, L, and XL but none of their models are wearing that size. They’re all S and XS.

Having people who look like you doing the sport in question makes a difference. I’ve made the point here in terms of shape/size but Black Girls Do Bike makes the point in terms of racial diversity.

Machines for Freedom are also keen to get more Black, Indigenous and all People of Color riders out there telling their stories about riding bikes. You can offer your support here.

“Black, Indigenous and People of Color have often been left out of conversations about biking. As a film festival with 18 years of experience seeking unique bicycle stories, we have a long history of searching for films by BIPOC filmmakers. We know firsthand how few of these films exist. We’re working to change that! Funding is a major barrier to filmmaking, which is why we’ve created this fund to award generous grants to emerging filmmakers. With your support, we can award grants to more filmmakers and help bring important stories and voices to the screen.”

cycling · fitness

Just like old times: kids, bikes, and small pleasures

On Saturday I volunteered for the first annual KIT for Kids Bike Day, held in Boston. KIT (Keep it Tight bike club) partnered with Hope International MA to create an event where Boston kids got instruction on basic and important bike skills: starting from and stopping at intersections, riding in a straight line, cornering, balance, and coordination over changing conditions.

At the beginning of the clinic, they were all fitted with new bikes and new helmets. At the end of the clinic, they were told that those bikes were theirs to take home.

That’s right. Hope International raised $7K USD to purchase more than 20 bikes. The kids and parents were thrilled. As were all the volunteers.

All the COVID-19 precautions were in place: there was ample hand sanitizer on a table, lots of extra masks for those who needed them, gloves for all the volunteers, and parents were around to help with activities that involved touching the kids (like adjusting helmets, etc.) Everyone wore a mask. Absolutely everyone. Here are some happy and totally mask-compliant kids, modeling good public health hygiene and massive enthusiasm at the same time:

The fun, the frolicking, and the joy of being around a lot of other people felt so, well, normal. Just saying that word feels like a relief, a respite from all we’ve been going through and are going through still.

Back to the clinic: I was partnered with Doug to teach bike balancing skills. That translated into running slow races. If you’re not familiar with this concept, a slow race involves leaving the start line, and then riding as slowly as possible (without touching a foot down on the ground). You don’t have to ride in a straight line, but running into the other cyclists is a no-no. The last person over the line wins.

This is harder than it sounds. But Doug and I demo’ed it, and had the kids try it a few times. Then we lined them up in groups of four to run heats.

Two of the kids were early strong contenders, and were neck-in-neck for the championship.

We had a winner, but the kids weren’t focused on the competition. They were just happy to ride their bikes around and talk to each other. The atmosphere of fun, of normalcy, enveloped everyone there.

For the kids and parents, taking part in this event meant learning some important bike safety lessons, in addition to the infinite delight which a brand-new bike confers. For me and the other volunteers, we got to play our parts in supporting the activities, but also enjoy the mundane and precious pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of kids, doing what they do on a Saturday morning. Yes there were masks, yes there was social distancing. But there was also that feeling of ordinariness, which has been missing from my life for the past 7 months. I really enjoyed that feeling.

Readers: have you had any experiences of this kind of respite from pandemic consciousness lately? I’d love to hear about them.