- Kim tells the tale of Naomi Osaka vs The Patriarchy
- Cate at 53 1/2 was still menstruating
- Why is it so hard to find athletic suits for larger swimmers? asks Diane.
- Catherine asks What’s wrong with “Rearranging your Post-Pandemic ‘Friendscape’
- What Fresh Hell is This, a book review by Alexis Shotwell (guest)
- Christine interviews her fitness icon
- Catherine also hopes that The Biggest Loser won’t be renewed for another season.
- Ten Percent Happier app is free for many types of frontline workers, thanks Catherine.
- Catherine writes about scuba diving while fat.
- Nicole reflects on sneezing while middle aged.
Month: June 2021
A Day to Listen
I’ve written a post that will be published on Thursday about what Canada Day means to me in the context of our reckoning with centuries of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples. A big part of my own evolution of understanding of my role and identity as a White settler is listening to Indigenous voices, experiencing Indigenous art.
On June 30 (today!), the Downie Wenjack foundation is sponsoring “A Day to Listen,” in partnership with radio stations across Canada. This is an important opportunity to immerse ourselves in the truth and listening part of reconciliation.
Look for more information here: https://downiewenjack.ca/a-day-to-listen/
And while you’re at it, here is a great book to understand more about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canadians: Indigenous Writes, by Chelsea Vowel.
What are you doing for reflection and listening on the eve of Canada Day?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is directly descended from the first French settlers in Ontario. She lives in the part of Toronto that is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. It’s the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Swimming as a Transgressive Activity
Last week’s post on the lack of athletic swimsuit options for larger swimmers prompted one friend to comment “I always feel like the message is, you shouldn’t exist .” Yes I should! And I am not alone in pushing back against those who think otherwise.
In an article on how burqini bans prevent Muslim women from enjoying the health benefits of swimming, I found this: “A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive. Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.” – Victoria Jackson, sports historian and clinical assistant lecturer of history at Arizona State University.
In Hydromania, an essay by Robin Jarvis, we have “In the eighteenth century, cold water bathing, largely for medicinal purposes, became increasingly popular, and this trend was accelerated and transformed by the Romantic cult of wild nature. Swimming was now deemed productive of a range of bodily, mental, and spiritual pleasures; at the same time, it was a source of anxiety on multiple grounds and held a transgressive potential.” I’m guessing the transgressions related to the activities reported in Victorian-era Ramsgate, a seaside resort in England, where, according to a local journalist quoted in The New Yorker, “the men gambol about in a complete state of nature, and the ladies frolic in very questionable bathing garments within a few yards of them.”
Who could resist mentioning the Subversive Sirens, a diverse group of synchronized swimmers with their aim of promoting body positivity? (https://www.twincities.com/2019/08/31/threesixty-journalism-swimming-is-just-the-beginning-for-subversive-sirens/). They won gold at the Gay Games in 2018.
Roger Deakin, and his book Waterlog, are widely credited with the current upsurge in open water swimming, which is transgressive in that many open water swimmers push back against privatization of waterways and water access, environmental degradation, and government overreach in regulating swimming activities.
I see this in my local swimming environment, where an association of swimmers has been formed to negotiate access to a popular lake; open-water swimming has been a popular activity in that government-owned park for decades, but some of the cottage owners are pushing to remove their rights. So far, we have managed to secure swimming “lanes” marked by buoys in two areas, with anyone swimming outside those lanes required to stay within 30 metres of the shore. All must wear a swim float and bright cap. The last two are not bad things, but weren’t really necessary until one cottager decided to bring in a speedboat and use it recklessly.
I have chosen to stay away from that lake for now, because the reduced hours combined with more limited swimming areas make it a less viable option to get in longer swims on a schedule that works for me. Instead, I swim in the river, where there are three marinas and several spots for seadoo launches. Last year, that river spot was mostly for me and a few friends. This year, there are many more individuals, plus swim club training groups and even a water polo team. As I do my laps from the beach to the nearest marina to a channel marker and back, I wonder what the sailboat owners think about all those swimmers taking up what was formerly their exclusive space.
Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.
Christine Interviews Her Personal Fitness Icon: Her Cousin Kathy Noseworthy
Maybe *your* mental image of an athlete is someone famous but *my* mental image of an athlete is my cousin, Kathy Noseworthy.
She has always been the fittest person that I know and most of my memories of her involve her being in motion.
I can remember being around 3 or so and she would come to dinner at our family’s apartment before going to practice on the field behind our house. I remember being impressed by all the sports awards she won (I still am!) And I have a clear image of me and my Mom looking after one of Kathy’s baby daughters so she could go out for a run. It was the first time I realized that having a baby didn’t mean that everything in your life had to be all about the baby (an important lesson for a young teenager.)
Kathy turned sixty last year and her Facebook posts are as action-oriented as ever. Her activities have changed but the way that fitness shapes her life has not. (And she’s every bit as inspiring to me now as she has been all along.)
Kathy is a retired Physical Education teacher who teaches yoga at Modo Yoga St. John’s and I was delighted when she agreed to chat with me about fitness, exercise, and the changes she has made so her body keeps feeling good about her activities.
My questions/comments are in bold.
Tell me a bit about yoga – your teaching and your personal practice.
Right now I’m just teaching yoga virtually, and I’m about to take July and August off. I’m going into my sixth year teaching yoga so this is a much needed break.
I’ll do my own practice. I’ll usually do yin, that’s what my body needs mostly. Because I get the yang part of my fitness in my other activities. I need to do yin yoga to keep up my flexibility, my agility, and you know, all of that stuff. And yin does that for me at this stage in my life. That feels the best in my body.
I love that as a measure, what feels best.
To me, that’s the piece that people miss, no matter what they’re doing. They’re so goal-oriented or just like, “I’m just going to do it, it doesn’t feel good but I’ve just got to do it. I know I got to do it.” And I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to keep doing it.”
So aside from yoga, what are your other activities?
Well, I do a fair bit of biking. I run but not as much as I used to, because that no longer feels good in my body. So, on a good week, if I run three times when that would be it. But I’d say, on average, maybe twice a week. The distance would depend on how I’m feeling, I never have a set distance in mind.
I generally don’t go less than five but I rarely go more than eight anymore. That’s where I am with that and that feels ok.
The thing I am probably most adamant about these days are weights because of my age (60 and I don’t want to lose my muscle mass. Even though that’s kind of inevitable but not if you want to work hard enough at it. I just lift weights to retain what I have, I’m not really that interested in becoming super strong, I just want to be functionally strong.
So, I lift weights and again, my goal is three times a week.
I walk, I do a lot of walking.
The new thing I’m doing now is pickleball. That’s a cross between badminton and tennis, I guess. It’s a great sport, a paddle sport that you play with a wiffleball. I’ve been playing since last fall and I love it.
Oh, and paddleboard. For me, that’s just a leisurely activity out on the water. It’s so nice, so relaxing.
So, how have your activities changed over time? You don’t play frisbee any more, right?
No, not anymore.
Now, I’m more concerned with maintaining a healthy body. Because I don’t think I would be a very nice person if I ended up getting injured and couldn’t do the things I want to do.
I’m very particular. I gauge the activity in terms of whether it’s going to be worth it to me, and what’s the cost if I get injured?
So, I stay away from things that I can’t control. Team sports, I don’t play team sports anymore because you don’t have control over everybody on the field so I tend to stay away from that.
I’ve definitely shifted from team sports, which is, a total shift because that’s all I ever did. The traditional sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, even frisbee. I used to really enjoy it but now I’m just a bit more of a loner in terms of what I do.
That’s how I’ve shifted and that’s more toward protecting my body. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sports, it’s just about what makes sense at this point in my life.
What about what about non physical benefits from your exercise? How do you think it helps your mental health, for example?
Oh, that’s so huge. I rarely take a day off but when I do try to take a day off, by mid-afternoon, I need to do something. It’s a mental thing.
That just might be a walk. I don’t consider that something that I couldn’t do on a day off.
I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have activity as my outlet.
I almost don’t know how to answer this question because I have never not exercised. It’s almost like something that just happens to me naturally. It’s not something I have to force or motivate myself.
I mean, sometimes I have to motivate myself to go to the gym or go for a run. But, generally speaking, if I’m feeling like I don’t want to do anything, that’s when I need to do something because once I move, that inspires me to move more.
But if I sit on my butt all day and do nothing, it just doesn’t put me in a good place.
Once I start moving, I’m like, “Ok!” And I want to move more.
How do you feel about the idea of fitness as a feminist issue, as part of women feeling empowered?
It’s funny that you asked that because I was saying to my friend last week, just as it pertains to lifting weights, when you feel strong physically, you feel strong mentally. I think the benefits there, I wish more women could take that on more.
I think some women are like “I don’t want to have muscles, I don’t want to get big.” but they don’t understand how hard you would have to work to get big. But knowing that when you touch your arm, you feel the muscle, you feel strong, that translates to you mentally. It’s hard not to feel empowered when you have that strength.
Lifting weights empowers women.
I didn’t always feel that way, I didn’t even think about it, really.
But now, I see women at the gym, lifting weights, and they are just so confident, the way they carry themselves, they just like how they are.
Thanks for the great chat, Kathy!
When bias guides research
Content warning: discussion of weight loss, weight loss methods
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand announced on June 28 they had developed a new world first: a magnetic lock that effectively wires a jaw shut leaving users to rely on a liquid diet so they can kickstart weightloss.
You can read all about it here on this Twitter thread, the university’s website, and the journal which published their results. The researchers say their goal to provide a tool to address the global obesity epidemic.
Rapid weight loss causes physical harm. There’s a reason wiring jaws shut fell out of practice, the outcomes weren’t great, and included long term dental and mental health issues. While there has also been an uptick in surgical interventions (gastric bands, sleeves etc), there have also been post operative issues to manage as well.
The Twitterati have been vocal, with multiple comparisons to chastity belts, racks, and other medieval implements of torture. Others have highlighted the ethical, social and medical issues such research seems to have overlooked.
The researchers recruited seven healthy (oh the irony) obese females. Six completed the study (one left for reasons unrelated to the study). All of the participants regained some weight (about .73 kg average) in the first two weeks after the device was removed. Information about their weight status six months or a year after the study was completed was not included in the journal article.
The study met the university’s requirements for ethics approval. Despite the limited number of participants and the short time frame of the study (two weeks), the researchers felt comfortable enough with the results to propose expanding their research to include a gender balance. As well, they proceeded to modify their device (make it smaller, less obvious etc) to improve acceptability and tolerance.
The study raises significant red flags. Other studies with low numbers of research subjects (can I remind you of the infamous Lancet study on vaccines and autism?) have contributed to significant negative impacts on public health. The study does not disclose any conflicts of interest, but we do not learn who owns the patent on the device or how much they plan to sell it for.
The supports provided the six participants are also not usually those provided routinely to other obese individuals who are told to lose weight. The authors said participants had access to a dietitian, were supplied with liquid meal replacements, and had access to dental care and medical supervision. Obese individuals often have to pay for similar services/options.
I suppose I should be cheered by the fact that so many people have come out against this news. However, the fact that someone thought this was a good idea in the first place and it received ethical approval is quite disturbing. The authors recommend repeated cycles to aid momentum. I think this suggests a devolution into disordered eating with frequent gain/loss cycles.
I sincerely hope this device is investigated not as a welcome medical intervention but as a dangerous tool. There has been ample work looking at the roots of obesity and the kinds of supports needed to support individuals in nourishing their bodies appropriately, beginning with the social determinants of health. There is nothing new or innovative about this technique as it is merely a less permanent form of jaw wiring. It is, however, an excellent way to promote weight stigma, eating disorders and increased physical, mental and oral health issues in otherwise healthy people.
Sam is checking in for June: Bike rides, friends, ice cream, joy…
June was a busy month, full of active weekends, some holidays, bike rides, and ice cream.
The province of Ontario is starting to re-open and we’re ready to roll. Bring on outdoor summer activities! After a long winter and serious pandemic restrictions and stay at home orders, it feels really good to be moving about in the world.
We kicked off the month on the first weekend in June with the 160 km Simcoe Loop Trail. You can read about it here. The short version is that the trails are lovely, the countryside is beautiful, and we 10/10 recommend getting out and about in your bike in this part of Ontario.
Next up, on Saturday, June 12th, it was the Tour de Guelph, more bike rides, and backyard meals with friends. We rode with our friend Ellen and it felt like it was a whole new thing riding bikes with people we didn’t live with.
After that there was another weekend in Prince Edward County and a Big Island bike ride with Kim and Dhurin. More riding bikes with friends! I feel a whole new appreciation for this activity which I’d come to take for granted. It was D’s first time riding in a group and we had fun coaching him about drafting, hand signals, and all that.
Finally, we took some days off work and went camping at the Pinery–home of more bike rides, camp fires, outdoor visits with friends and family, and time on the beautiful beach.
Tracy, Rob, David, and Mallory all visited with us.
Here’s some photos of our time at the Pinery. Car camping isn’t our usual speed but it was a good way to visit with people outside.
I love the Lake Huron beaches. It was stormy our first day there which meant for dramatic waves and interesting skies.
And yes, my knees still hurt. I’m in pain while walking but I do it anyway. I’ve been good about knee physio. It’s boring and sometimes also painful and I do it anyway. I’ve got a schedule for ibuprofen and for the joint freezing topical gel. Somehow though with all this biking and times with friends, the knee bad news matters less and less.
On Being Ground to a Halt (Guest Post)
By Alison Conway
In this month’s lead up to the Olympic Games, various American track athletes have been posting about the injuries that prevented them appearing at the trials (June 18-27) where they might have qualified for a spot on the US Team. The heartbreak is palpable: “I live in an optimistic world,” writes Emily Lipari, “but I have truly struggled to find the good that comes from this one.” Keira D’Amato observes the fickle nature of her ill-timed injury: “The fall of 2020, I was able to push [my] limits and accomplish some incredible personal feats. Unfortunately, this spring season was on the other side of that equation.” These women, and many others, are watching their long-dreamed of chance at Olympic competition recede over the horizon.
“We have tried everything,” Lipari remarks of her knee injury, and I can relate. Last March, I was ready to run the Boston marathon, with 10 km and half-marathon PBs freshly minted in January and February races. We all know what came next. I slogged out a quiet summer of running and looked ahead, along with the rest of the planet, to 2021. But a niggling knee pain in October developed into a full-blown injury by December, and suddenly I was no longer running, at all. I did my rehab exercises and resigned myself to a couple of months off. An MRI showed a complex meniscus tear, probably the work of many years, aggravated by who knows what on a long run. I got on a bike and I jumped in the pool and I waited for recovery to arrive with the spring cherry blossoms.
I have been here before. After several years of running in my teens and early twenties, I developed knee trouble and my physiotherapist suggested that, since I liked swimming well enough, I should just stick to the pool. I don’t remember this moment very clearly, so I couldn’t have minded giving up my runs. Thirty years later, I mind very much. When I started running again at fifty, I thought, “We’ll see.” As the years passed and the knees showed up, week after week, my fears of injury subsided. “Besides,” I thought, “the science is better now. My physio will fix me if I break.” But my physio has tried his very best, and I’m still broken. A few short runs in April resulted in another flare up and pain all over the place. The specialist has advised me that I should start planning an “alternative activity” future—my knees are telling me it’s time to quit, he says.
The fact that my heart, as well as my knee, is broken this time round tells me that running has been doing some heavy lifting for me over the past few years. It found me a new community after a midlife move across the country; it helped me recover from the loss of a parent and a family home; it gave me goals to reach for, a way of moving through my fifties with confidence and strength. Now, I walk the dogs. I swim my laps. I pedal miles along a country road. Sometimes dark clouds block the sun.
It is a small loss in a year of catastrophic losses, but it is a loss just the same. No one likes to see me sad and friends have weighed in with advice and opinions. Everyone, it seems, has a meniscus surgery success story to share. It’s time for a second opinion, they say. Hyaluronic acid, plasma injections! The options seem endless, until they aren’t.
Covid has taught us all that we don’t know a lot of things. Like many others, I struggle with uncertainty and would rather find a story to tell, one that puts me back in charge. Blaming myself for the injury is one way to know something. Tracking down a specialist who will give me the right referral or a different diagnosis is another. For now, though, I’m swimming into an uncertain future, about which, today, I know nothing. And I’m thinking about all the runners who have gone before me and wondering how they felt when they put their trainers away for the last time.
Alison Conway lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples.
To wear or not to wear lycra: it’s up to you
Not all cyclists wear lycra. How do I know this? The New York Times said so this week. In a lovely article, the reporter promoted cycling for people who may be new to it, coming back to it, or have felt uncomfortable about it because of issues ranging from road safety to fitness to being racially targeted or excluded in a sport that’s largely white and middle class.
If you haven’t read Samantha’s interview with Monica Garrison, the founder of Black Girls Do Bike, you can find it here.
In Boston (my town), Vivian Ortiz, a member of Black Girls Do Bike and Boston’s bike mayor, shows us that cycling-specific clothing is not at all needed for fun on a bike. Here she is, leading a group of kids and grownups in Lawrence, MA, at the Cyclovia event.
Does your town have a bike mayor? If you’re not sure, you can look at Pattie Baker’s blog, Traveling at the speed of bike, which has loads of stories about riding bikes around and through our towns in sustainable and safe and low-speed ways.
Here’s a question: why aren’t these folks wearing lycra cycling clothing? I mean, cycling-specific clothing is designed to suit on-bike needs, like having zippers for ventilation, close-fitting shorts and tops that won’t catch on anything and won’t flap around (which, trust me, gets annoying really fast), and deep jersey pockets for carrying all sorts of things.
On the downside, lycra clothing:
- is super-form-fitting, which isn’t everyone’s thing;
- can be expensive;
- doesn’t translate gracefully from on-bike to off-bike situations.
Riding to and from work or school, lots of people prefer regular street clothing. I don’t happen to be among them. Why not? One word: sweat. I start sweating as soon as I throw a leg over my top tube, and wearing, say, jeans and a sweater to ride (even to do errands) would be incredibly uncomfortable for me. Lycra dries quickly, and I don’t look or feel so disheveled walking into a store in cycling kit. I’ve gotten used to the form-fitting profile, and where I live there are lots of lycra-clad people on and off bikes.
But who says you have to be all one way or the other? Mixing and matching is a time-honored tradition, so we can feel free to be a creative as we like for cycling wear. For me, I have a few pairs of around-town cycling shorts that impersonate regular shorts. On top, I wear something that wicks away sweat (or tries to), and bring a change of shirt if say, I’m going to a restaurant (we can do that now (or soon)! Yay!) or meet-up with friends.
Unless it’s Halloween, in which case I’m wearing a banana suit. As one does.
Hey readers, what are you wearing on bikes these days? Have you made any changes lately? I’d love to hear from you.
Celebrating the Awesomeness that is Black Girls Do Bike
The cyclists on the blog have long been fans of Black Girls Do Bike. Founded in 2013, with more than 100 chapters across the US, BGDB has been “growing and supporting a community of women/girls of color who share a passion for cycling” and “proving that black girls bike for fun, function, fitness & freedom.” I reached out to the founder of Black Girls Do Bike Monica Garrison, pictured below, and was thrilled when she agreed to a blog interview.
Our bloggers are in awe of the work you’ve done with Black Girls Do Bike. Great numbers, great advocacy and joy! Also cool kit. What’s been the key, do you think to your success?
Well, thank you very much! It has been a tireless and rewarding adventure. I think the secret sauce has been consistently providing inspiration with the perfect combination joyful imagery and compelling storytelling. In addition, I feel that there was a void in the cycling community that we’ve filled. Our leaders have a self-sacrificing spirit and our rides are welcoming to all, but especially, inexperienced riders.
We were curious if the mission has evolved or grown since you started?
At the core, our mission and methods have remained the same. We want to grow and support a community of women of color who share a passion for cycling by creating safe spaces where ladies can ride together, skill share, and fellowship. As we have established ourself and gained strategic partners what has grown is our ambition to effect change. We’ve recently transitioned to a fiscally sponsored non-profit, as this will open funding doors that were previously closed to us. We now have more than 180 ladies around the world in our leadership ranks. Our network is far reaching and our leaders have seats at many decision making tables.
What’s the single best event you’ve held?
Our first national meetup in Atlanta 2016 holds a special place in my heart. I stepped out of my comfort zone to plan an event in a city some 700 miles away from me. I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually make the trip and show up. Our local chapter stepped up to lend support and lead a ride for attendees. We received overwhelming support from a number of vendors which allowed us to giveaway some amazing prizes. We raised thousands of dollars for a great cause. We all managed to survive the Atlanta heat and create some great memories.
Cycling can be a pretty divided sport with lots of different kinds of communities—roadies, commuters, mtb enthusiasts, gravel riders. How do you bridge that?
We realize that we cannot be all things to all people. It’s true, our audience skews toward road and trail cycling which is a great place to start. We realize, though, we cannot be all things to all people. Our intention is to be an entry point into the larger cycling community. We are giving women skills that can translate into any type of cycling they chose to pursue. When ladies get going with us they often figure out what type of cycling they enjoy and go from there. They can also meet other women who have similar cycling aspirations. We have cyclists within our membership that cover just about all niches. For instance, about a year ago, our Denver Colorado Chapter was invited to attend a Mountain Bike 101 clinic. Our ladies took on the challenge and really enjoyed it. We also partnered recently with LittleBellas.com a mentoring mountain bike camp for young girls to help expand the vision of what women and girls on bikes look like.
Have you encountered any resistance?
Not as much as you’d think. I mean we still get the occasional internet troll who comments one one of our uplifting posts spouting nonsense and calling us segregationists. And I get reports from your Sheroes (that’s what we call our lady leaders) that at some events they’ve dealt with some micro-aggressions from other cyclists. What I’ve found is that you either get it or you don’t. Objections usually come from people who don’t take the time to learn what it is we are all about or who are generally uncomfortable around topics of race. We’re not in the business of changing minds. I you think the cycling world thrives when it is more diverse, then we are here to be a part of that vision.
What’s a big long term dream/goal/stretch ambition? What next? Any talk of a Canadian chapter?
And our next goal is to create a non-traditional BGDB team of athletes around the country who we can help move through the ranks of competitive cycling. We also certainly want to continue to expand our reach. Our first international chapter was established in London in 2020 during the pandemic and we hope to add many more. We’ve had inquiries over the years to start Canadian chapters but none have materialized. That would be amazing!
What should the world know that the world seems to overlook about Black women and bikes?
Know that there are thousands of women of color riding bikes. There are some challenges, however, that are unique to women of color who want to incorporate cycling into their lives. Most of us did not have an example of a female cyclist in our lives to model cycling. We sometimes struggle with caring for our natural hair in it’s many sizes and shapes while trying to fit a helmet correctly for safety. Some scenarios that would be intimidating for a women can become even more intimidating when you enter them as a women of color. For instance, the first time you enter a male dominated bike shop, showing up solo for a new group ride, or even riding on the road as a person of color can unnerving.
I confess I love your t-shirts that say “I ride bikes. You ride bikes. We should hang out!” but I wasn’t sure, as a white woman cyclist, if I should buy one! Would that be supportive or appropriating?
That would be a a totally appropriate way to show your support. That shirt is an example of something we designed to be welcoming and with universal appeal in mind. It’s just a cool bike t-shirt for bike people that happens to be made by blackgirlsdobike.org. Honestly, though, women and men of all races wear our gear. It’s a great way to show your support.
I’ve done some research on early feminism and cycling and the stories of Black women on bikes are hard to find but they are there. Do you have a favourite?
My favorite would have to be the story of the five women who biked from NYC to DC in 1928. In the context of the times, I just can’t even imagine the bravery it must have taken to set out on such a long journey full of unknown dangers. And considering the bike tech of the times, those miles had to be hard off their bodies, but they did it anyway and most certainly had many stories to tell from their journey. They also took the train back to NYC after completing the ride. I am a big fan of bike travel by train so I thought that was pretty cool. https://myrootsmyblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/05/five-black-women-cycle-250-miles-in-1928/
Also, what’s your favourite place and route to ride? Do you have a dream ride in your sights?
Close to home my favorite place to ride is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It’s a beautiful quiet trail that shows off Pittsburgh’s riverfront and has access to business districts and some local attractions. Beyond that, I’ve got a dream to one day ride from Miami to the southernmost point of Key West by bike. I think that would be a breezy ride with spectacular views and a big payoff the end.
Book Review: What Fresh Hell Is This
by Alexis Shotwell
Why yes, since you wonder, I am writing this short review at 4:13 in the morning because of perimenopause. Maybe you’re reading it in the middle of the night for the same reason! If so, I am here to tell you that the Heather Corinna’s new book What Fresh Hell is This? will make you feel better than you do right now, and you should get your (perhaps sweaty, cranky, bewildered) hands on a copy asap.
Written by a nonbinary, rad, smart, funny, sex-educator, this really is a game-changer in a field of books that try to be helpful and relevant but end up just recapitulating tired gender-binary, straight, fat-hating, ableist sexism. In place of so much that makes us sad, What Fresh Hell is This? offers practical, supportive, buffet-style advice for meeting perimenopause and menopause with kindness, feminism, and science.
The book starts with a great, short history of how messed up and sexist treatment of perimenopause and menopause have been in western medicine (easily skippable, as Corinna notes, if you just want to not think about annoying things). Then it gives a clear run-down on hormones, why they are complicated, and why their changing affects us so much. (I had no idea that there are four kinds of estrogen that bodies produce? One of which is only produced if you’re pregnant, and it is made by the fetus’s liver? How wild.) But in this part, Corinna begins their reframing of the assumed subject of perimenopause with an ease that feels casual and comfortable as you read it, although it is clearly a political decision enacted with rigor.
The “proper subject” of menopause is often implicitly imagined as a straight nondisabled white cis woman who has had kids and worries about getting fat, wrinkly, nonreproductive, and moody. Corinna writes for that woman, for sure, but she is not the central subject from which the rest of us deviate. So all throughout this book there are regular people who have had or do have uteruses and ovaries, and who enter menopause suddenly because of chemo or oophorectomy or hysterectomy, or using T, or other things.
There’s an excellent supplemental section at the end about how trans women and people with testicular systems experience menopause. Being disabled, queer, and nonbinary is not exceptionalised, and Corinna marks how racialization and poverty shape the conditions of life through which we enter menopause.
I just can’t express how relaxing it is to be able to read a book about perimenopause and not constantly brace for or read around heterosexuality, fat-shaming, and ableism, a book that acknowledges racism as a structuring condition of our lives.
But then mostly the book is just helpful about perimenopause. Corinna explains the whys and hows of various things that can happen: Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats), mood shifts and mental health upheavals, cognitive affects, chronic pain flares, and changes to digestion, skin, bleeding (of course), and sexuality.
The bulk of the book, which goes through various kinds of experiences people have with perimenopause is grounded, thoroughly researched, and measured. I learned a lot, including about things that I thought I had settled views upon, like about whether hormone therapies are good or bad. On that front, I didn’t know that the studies that convinced me that menopausal hormone therapy was harmful and bad didn’t actually focus on the people who might benefit most from short-term combined hormone therapy – they were done on people who were postmenopausal, on average 63 years old, and with an aim of preventing long-term health problems. And I didn’t know that testosterone can be used as part of a menopausal hormonal treatment plan.
Part of what’s so great about WFHIT? is the steadiness with which it explains that the transition to not bleeding will be personal and specific, but that we can still know things about it. And it has really good suggestions in a frame Corinna calls “Ya Basics” for thinking about managing stress, sleeping, moving our bodies, finding social support, and quitting smoking. They offer sometimes irritatingly helpful advice while acknowledging that it’s sometimes irritating to be offered helpful advice. But they’re still offering it and honestly they’re probably right.
Readers of this blog are probably like me, people who think about a lot of things and who feel like we know some stuff. It is so strange and nourishing to read a book that shows how much more stuff there is to know about something that anyone who has or has had a uterus and ovaries will go through. I feel almost embarrassed at how relieved and affirmed I feel, having read this book, and I recommend it to you. And I hope you get some non-sweaty sleep.
Bio: Teacher, writer, SF nerd, functional potter, queer, currently obsessed with doing handstands in middle age. Author of Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times and working on a book called Collecting Our People, about getting together to solve big problems in which we are complicit.