An asana a day: can I make it stay?

I have an approach-avoidance relationship with fitness challenges.  Many of our bloggers have written about, taken on and completed lots of challenges:  steps, running, biking, yoga, etc.  Reading their stories I’m always amazed at their persistence and successes at completing whatever task or goal they set.

You see, I’ve never thought of myself as good at maintaining consistent and long-standing fitness habits.  Sure, I love to cycle, walk, swim, do yoga, ski, play racket sports and paddle, but the only activities I do regularly are cycling and yoga.  And when I get too busy or too tired or otherwise discombobulated, those much-loved activities go by the wayside.  I do resume them, but with a little embarrassment at having dropped the ball (sorry for the wrong sports metaphor here).

Well, it just so happens that about 6 days ago, I noticed that I had done yoga 4 days in a row.  I’d gone to two classes and, apropos of nothing in particular, done yoga at home using yoga DVDs.  Hmmmm, I thought.  Maybe I can keep this up.

So I found an online yoga challenge (among the bazillion ones out there), called the Bad Yogi 30 Day Challenge.  I subscribed, and the links to video yoga workouts started arriving in my inbox.  Great, I thought– I’ll get started.

Well, the Day One Challenge (which was actually day 5 for me) was kind of a bust from the beginning.  It started out seated in what’s called Double Pidgeon pose, which looks like this:

A woman seated on a yoga mat, right leg crossed in front, left leg on top of right leg, left ankle resting on right knee.

A woman seated on a yoga mat, right leg crossed in front, left leg on top of right leg, left ankle resting on right knee.

 

No.  That’s not happening for me.  I can’t come close to that position.  Sigh.  I sat crossed-legged instead, but it set the wrong tone, and I wasn’t feeling uplifted by the end.

I wondered– is this it for my as-yet-undetermined self-imposed yoga challenge?  Turns out, it wasn’t.  I remembered a blog post written by Laura Rainbow Dragon, called 366 Days of Yoga.  In it she talked about deciding to do yoga every day for 30 days:

There were days when I only did restorative poses. There were days when my practice was only 5 minutes long. There were days when I scoured YouTube searching for routines that were light on upper body work, or just made up my own routine of standing poses only. (My shoulders and wrists were so weak, even downward facing dog was hard.) There were days when I didn’t roll out my mat until 2 o’clock in the morning and by that time was so exhausted all I did was meditate in legs up the wall pose. But I did it. Thirty consecutive days of yoga asana practice.

Yes!  That’s what I’m talking about!  No pressure to do anything in particular, just some yoga each day.  I never forgot that bit about how doing legs up the wall counted as yoga.  yes, I can do that.

A woman in purple leggings and a white tank shirt lying on her back, buttocks on a bolster, legs up against a pink painted wall.

A woman in purple leggings and a white tank shirt lying on her back, buttocks on a bolster, legs up against a pink painted wall.

 

So I did.  And I found I wanted to do other poses, too, once I rolled out my mat on my living room or bedroom floor.  And Laura’s post was still in the back of my mind– here’s more of it:

[After 30 days of yoga], my practice still was not easy. My progress was slow. I continued to struggle with both mental and physical yoga demons. And I often despaired that my body was just too old now, too out of shape. I feared I was “over the hill” and would never get back what I had lost. But I kept showing up. I kept rolling out my mat every day, getting on it, and doing the practice.

Today marks 10 days of yoga every day.  Right now, I’m all about rolling out the mat and seeing what I end up doing.  I have DVDs, a bunch of Bad Yogi challenge videos links, and my own sequences learned from having gone to yoga classes now for more than 1.5 years at my local yoga studio.  And of course I can go to classes there, too.

I really Really REALLY want to be able to report back here that I completed 30 straight days of yoga.  It’s not clear why I’ve never allowed myself the pleasure of this kind of completion before.  But now seems like an fine time to do just that.  Wish me luck.

How has it been for you, dear readers, to complete or not to complete a challenge you set for yourself?  We’ve talked about this before (I blogged about it here), but it’s still a confounding topic for me, and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts.

Calling citizen scientists: collaborators wanted

University of New South Waled Dietary Habits study, PhD research, Hania Rahimi; image is a plate of greens with some protein and a glass of juice.

Here’s a true (and under-appreciated) fact: scientific research couldn’t get off the ground without the help of citizen volunteers and collaborators.  Not only do we allow researchers access to our stories, our bodies, our bodily fluids and tissues, our DNA, our family’s DNA, etc., but we provide a built-in context for all that data– we’re embedded in our bodies, communities, families, cultures, religions, nationalities, and diagnoses, presenting nuance and complexity personified.

Why does (and should) science care about this?  Because lab results based on narrow hypotheses don’t give us enough evidence to help us find good solutions to big problems.  They’re just a part of the process.  What works in the lab often doesn’t work in the world, because there’s a host of other influences that contribute to whatever scientists are researching, whether it’s cancers, pollution, fitness, or gun violence.  Science needs us– people busy living their lives.  We are authorities on the details of our habits and practices, and can offer valuable insights to help researchers better understand complexity.

You may be wondering:  why I am going on about this topic?  Yes, it’s legit, but not my usual beat.  Well, the answer is this:  the blog got an email from Hania Rahimi, a PhD candidate researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.  She and her group are doing a study on dietary habits in adults with BMI 25–40.  They’re going to be testing an “online behavioural intervention for improving dietary habits”– this is from the information page, found here.  They’re recruiting folks to participate, and we’re helping out by posting the information.  To see if you’re eligible for the study, you can go to the previous link or also check here for more information.

For what it’s worth, I signed up.  I find being a study participant, especially in research like this (that doesn’t happen to involve blood draws or stool samples), pretty interesting.  My participation helps provide information for their analysis, and the fact that it’s me (rather than someone else) brings *my* perspective into the mix.  As a person who cares about science in general and dietary science in particular, I think this is a good thing.  Plus, we’re helping a graduate student get data for her PhD research.

By the way, my friend Norah and I have written about this issue here. We (along with lots of other people) argue that a primary feminist critique of science is its failure to include the voices and perspectives and embedded knowledge of those who are affected by or experiencing the phenomenon under investigation.  There’s a lot to say here, and a lot’s been said by many of us, including those who write for this blog. The upshot for us, here, now, though, is that science benefits when informed by the rich reports of embedded-in-the-world experiences of the people who have had those experiences.  The information you get is not the same as what you get just by observing, and it’s useful (in fact often crucial) information.

That’s it.  I’ll be back to fitness/weight/sports/random other ruminations next week.

Feminist science posters, with slogans like "this is what feminist science looks like" and "science and feminism: better together"

Feminist science posters, with slogans like “this is what feminist science looks like” and “science and feminism: better together”

Words (not mine) to live by

This week, philosopher Ken Chung died of pancreatic cancer.  He was 39, and a friend and former student of people who read and write for this blog.  I never met him, but I did get a chance to read his blog— some essays and thoughts on life and death and cancer and philosophy.  I read his essay, “Struggle”, here, and found some words of his that really resonate with me–about life, about movement, about self worth, about work, about love– well, they may work for just about anything.  Here they are below:

  • Try to maximize the amount of work that you enjoy doing for its own sake, and minimize the work you do only because of its results.
  • Try to find a way to love the process over the outcome.
  • Try to accept the fact that success depends on factors outside our control, and try to allow only what is within our control — for instance, the efforts we make — to affect our state of mind.
  • Try to see that we’re playing with odds here, and that even though we know that the harder we work, the greater the disappointment, greater too is the likelihood of success.

What about this passage speaks to me?  That life is lived in the moments and weeks and years of untidy process:  of slogging, restarting, retooling, zigging and zagging, plowing through, grumbling, and persevering.

This is exactly how feminism informs fitness for me:  that the process and the experience  of putting out effort is what we spend virtually all of our time with (as opposed to the moment of finishing or accomplishing or abandoning, etc.) .  My approach to fitness is littered with plans and goals and hopes and expectations and fears.  But the process is really what matters–what is it like on my yoga mat, on the saddle of my road bike, in the cockpit of a kayak?  Answer:  sometimes good, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, sometimes sublime. Mostly ordinary.

Tomorrow I’m taking a day for myself to go for a solo ride up on the North Shore of Massachusetts, around Gloucester and Rockport.  The coastline is sublime, and the weather should be fine–a little cool but sunny.  I’ll be thinking of Ken and his wife and his friends and family.  And I’ll be turning the cranks and taking in the scenery, on my way to the next thing around the corner.

Here’s to life.

The author, posing confidently on rocks by the ocean on Massachusetts' north shore, despite the fact that she's wear cycling shoes with metal cleats and standing on a rock.

The author, posing confidently on rocks by the ocean on Massachusetts’ north shore, despite the fact that she’s wear cycling shoes with metal cleats and standing on a rock.

 

 

You can run but you can’t hide: fat phobia in the dictionary

As an academic who works on public health ethics, body weight and image and health behaviors, I spend a lot of time thinking and reading and writing about fatness, fat phobia, body image and discrimination.  But sometimes, a girl’s gotta go teach logic.

I teach introduction to logic and critical thinking at my university, and have been doing so for a long long long long long time.  So, in order to try to keep things fresh and at least moderately interesting, I add new modules to my class.

There I was, working on a new module on types of definitions and terms.  There are a ton of them (if you’re interested, we meet Tues/Thurs at 12:30).  But one important contrast I teach the students is between lexical and persuasive definitions. Here’s an example:

  1. democracy: control of a group or organization by the majority of its members
  2. democracy: government by the weak and less-qualified parts of society

The first is a neutral definition (lexical), which I got from a dictionary.  The second is a persuasive definition, designed to make you disapprove of democracy.  It imparts an emotive message in the purported meaning; it’s designed to distort.

In the course of looking for interesting examples for my logic slides, I came across the term “overweight”.  Great, I thought– I can compare lexical and persuasive definitions!

graphic of the words "But Wait!"

Tried though I might to find a neutral, dictionary-type definition of overweight, I kept coming up short.  Here’s an online dictionary definition:

A shot of google's dictionary definition of "overweight" which says "above a weight considered normal or desirable".

A shot of google’s dictionary definition of “overweight” which says “above a weight considered normal or desirable”.

 

So “overweight” means “a weight that’s so high that it’s not normal, not desirable.”  It’s conveying the message that anyone who is overweight weighs too much to be considered normal, and that such a weight is not one that anyone would/should ever want.  Okay– that was conveyed efficiently.  Check.

Well, maybe google is a little fat phobic; I’ll try Wikipedia.  Here’s what I found:

The Wikipedia page for "overweight". It's chock-full of normative words which I discuss below.

The Wikipedia page for “overweight”. It’s chock-full of normative words which I discuss below.

 

Well, it is more thorough– in its fat-shaming through claims about health and body weight.  If you’re overweight, you’re not optimally healthy (sez Wikipedia).  And the healthy body, if it accumulates too much storage fat, becomes impaired with respect to movement and flexibility.  And– the appearance is altered.

I can see that the writer of this page tried a little harder to be neutral, but they failed.  Being overweight is sub-optimal for health, and impairs movement and flexibility.

Apparently this woman didn’t read the Wikipedia page about impaired flexibility.

Jessamyn Stanley, a large-sized brown-skinned yogi, in a triumphant split on a boardwalk.

Jessamyn Stanley, a large-sized brown-skinned yogi, in a triumphant split on a boardwalk.

 

I can’t keep myself from posting another photo of her.

Jessamyn Stanley in a modified triangle pose (maybe), legs apart and straight, torso bent overleft arm over head on calf, left arm holding other thigh.

Jessamyn Stanley in a modified triangle pose (maybe), legs apart and straight, torso bent overleft arm over head on calf, left arm holding other thigh.

 

Okay, I’m done now with the pictures.  But you can check out more Instagram images of her here.

I looked at a bunch of different dictionaries.  Here’s Merriam Webster– a standard one.

Merriam Webster's definition of "overweight"-- weight over and above what is required or allowed, and excessive or burdensome weight.

Merriam Webster’s definition of “overweight”– weight over and above what is required or allowed, and excessive or burdensome weight.

 

Wow- it just keeps getting worse.  Now I hear that I’m required not to have a weight above some standard, so I’m not even allowed to be overweight.  And furthermore this amount of weight that I have is burdensome.  Good lord.

Is it any wonder that fat phobia is so pervasive?  It’s even in all the dictionaries.

I do have a proposal for dealing with the term “overweight”, and it comes from my intro logic class.  There’s something called a “precising” definition, which is a definition you use when you need a very precise term for some context.  So for instance, to define “adult” for purposes of registering to vote, regions have specific guidelines and requirements for when the person has to be at least 18 years old.  We use precising definitions in law, medicine, and other fields where we need unambiguous terms.

So how about this?  “Overweight” means “has a score of 25 or greater on the BMI scale”.  We still need to futz with this to make it perfectly precise (there are different BMI scales for different demographic groups and age groups, etc.), but this is a neutral way to deal with it.

Please know– I’m not endorsing the BMI scale as meaning anything particular about us, our sizes, our health, our attractiveness or anything.  But it’s a way to bury the term “overweight” in a pile of technical medical terms, where it belongs (if it indeed belongs anywhere).

The cool thing about language is that it turns on a dime.  We can change it by changing our usage.  The dictionaries work for US– they pick up on that usage and change their entries accordingly.

So do you use the term “overweight”?  What does it mean for you?  What descriptive language do you use about bodies?  Or do you not tend to use it at all?  I’m interested in your usage and your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Women and concussions: what do we know? Not nearly enough.

A diffusion tensor image of a female athlete who has suffered a concussion

Today we have a co-authored blog by Catherine W and Julia F-C.  Julia F-C is a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. She has a background in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a passion for feminist theory, sustainability, and plants.

Herewith, our co-authored blog:

Concussions have been in the news lately.  This summer the world of American football was rocked by the release of a study examining 111 brains of deceased NFL (National Football League) players who had conditions including dementia, depression and other behavioral and cognitive disorders.  On autopsy, 110 of the 111 brains were found to have CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

A recent news story highlighted a study from the same research center that has found that early exposure (before age 12) to football increases the risks twofold or more for cognitive, behavior and affective problems later in life.

 “Hitting your head over and over again in youth seems to lead to later-life problems, even if you only played up through high school or college,” [study author Robert Stern] said.

The research found increased risk was not tied to the number of concussions a player suffered. Translation: Head impacts that aren’t concussions still have serious, long-term effects. That reinforces earlier research.

There’s been pushback from a lot of football stakeholders, including NFL management, fans, and President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said that the league was losing television viewers in part because it was too focused on safety, including penalizing players for making hard tackles. “They’re ruining the game,” he said.

His comments came a day after scientists announced that Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who committed suicide in April, had a severe form of the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits.

Virtually all of the research done on concussions has focused on males, including animal studies.  However, that is changing—research is turning to examining female response to brain injury.

“We classically have always known the male response to brain injury,” says Mark Burns, at Georgetown University. But there have been remarkably few studies of females. The bias runs throughout the scientific literature, even in studies of mice.

“Male mice have been used historically in research and not really been compared to female mice,” he says.

So what have we learned from those female mice?  That there’s a substantive difference in male-vs. female brain response to concussions.  In short, female mice brains respond more slowly and less effectively to brain injury, which may contribute to longer and/or less robust recovery (this last bit is my speculation, but makes sense given the evidence).  The study can be found here.

Studies are now examining humans to look for differences among cohorts of male and female athletes.  Here’s one:

The researchers looked at the medical records of 1,203 athletes who played at Columbia University between 2000 and 2014. (Columbia has collected data about concussion on all its athletes since 2000).

Among male athletes, 17 percent (140/822) had experienced at least one concussion during their collegiate career. Among female athletes, the rate was 23 percent (88/381).

Though women experienced a higher rate of concussion, they recovered and returned to play as quickly as the male athletes.

“Why are women more likely to experience concussion? Is it that they’re physiologically experiencing concussion differently? Are they reporting their concussion in a different manner? This study can’t answer these questions, but it unearths the follow-up questions,” Dr. James Noble says.

Yes—those are some interesting questions, eminently worthy of follow up now.  It’s not a surprise to those of us who follow health research, nor to many of you, our blog readers.

We already know that, for example, women are less likely to be referred for heart-disease-related treatments than men because of the misperception that women are “protected” against cardiovascular disease.  The incidence of heart disease among middle-aged women has increased in the past 20 years, while it has decreased for men of the same age.  You can get all the detail you would ever want from this article.

Back to concussions: this news story discusses a Cleveland Clinic ongoing study of boxers and mixed-martial-arts fighters that includes about 700 men and 60 women.  One of them is MMA fighter Gina “Danger” Mazany.  She describes her first fight below:

“She beat the crap out of me,” Mazany says. “Like she didn’t knock me out, she didn’t finish me. But she just knocked me around for three rounds. And I remember, later that night I was very, very nauseous. I was throwing up that night.”  It was her first concussion.

On the day of Mazany’s annual checkup, she is subjected to a battery of tests that assess her balance, reaction time, memory, and thinking.

After about 40 minutes, Mazany meets with Dr. Charles Bernick, the scientist in charge of the fighters study. They move to a quiet room. Bernick scans a chart. It shows Mazany’s test results over the past few years.

“Well you’re pretty stable,” Bernick says. There’s no obvious sign of trouble from her fighting career, at least not yet.

I talked with some friends who are fighters and coaches for fighting sports about concussions.  Karen Miller Peterson, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has competed and taught and coached, and recently opened a school called North South BJJ in Montclair, NJ with her husband Adam, also a BJJ fighter and teacher.  Karen’s experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu suggests that concussions may depend at least in part on style and training:

I think it’s fighting style. Since there’s no striking in jiu jitsu, it just doesn’t happen a lot. Situations it might happen would be in a takedown or throw, which aren’t practiced in academies as much as ground grappling. You can see it happen in competition from time to time. We do sometimes get knocked in the head during training or in a competition, but rarely is it hard enough to cause a concussion. Maybe a broken nose or bruise. It could happen, sure, but because of the style of jiu jitsu it just doesn’t happen like boxing or MMA.

Skill will definitely play into it too. Head injuries in jiu jitsu will happen more often with lower belts/beginners.

I spoke to Cesar Nicolas, a long-time trainer and coach for multiple sports (boxing, BJJ, kids’ soccer, baseball and wrestling) as well as a brown belt fighter and competitor. His primary concern is that sports may inadvertently conceal risks of head injury.  He cites head gear in boxing and MMA– it may seem as if it’s protecting fighters, but it does not actually end up protecting them from significant blows.  As a soccer coach for middle schoolers, Cesar notes that when someone’s head makes contact with a soccer ball, this can cause serious injury.  In one study, researchers found that 1/3 of all concussions among US male high school players and 1/4 of those among female players involved heading the ball.  However, the study did not look at data on younger children.  Cesar’s observations about soccer are in keeping with concerns about football played by younger children.

So how do concussion worries affect what younger women think and do in sports?  For her viewpoint, we turn to my co-blogger, Julia Farach-Colton for some comments.  Here’s Julia…

Being a young woman in a male-dominated sport is always challenging but strangely triumphant. I started Muay Thai (Thai-style kickboxing) when I was about nine years old. As I grew older, I savored the surprised looks I’d get as I sank a hard elbow into a bag that weighed almost three times as much as me but shrank away from curious glances of the men who also practiced in my gym. This is the persistent question of young women in sports, “Are they impressed by my talent or are they impressed by the fact that I’m a girl?”

This brings me to the topic of concussions. One of the main reasons society disregards concussions and injuries among young women is, what I like to call, the “Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice Complex.” Everyone knows the nursery rhyme, comparing what boys and girls are made of. It’s deep-rooted into our culture; little girls are mean verbally and little boys are mean physically. This carries into our view of young women as athletes too: it just isn’t expected that women will play hard enough to get concussions. Think of how long it took for football fans to acknowledge concussions of male athletes!

Although the societal lens doesn’t focus on the safety of young women in sports the correct way, women look out for each other. I can’t count how many times a woman has bailed me out from sparring with a particularly aggressive college dude at Jiu Jitsu. The answer is women supporting women until the rest of the world catches up.

 

It’s not you, it’s me. But what to do about it?

A woman sitting in a yoga pose, with random thoughts going through her head while she's trying to meditate.

This week, in keeping with my new academic year’s resolutions, I headed over to a morning yoga class.  I am not a happy morning mover, but I want to fit in more yoga, which means taking advantage of class times and open spaces in my schedule.

The class was taught by someone who was subbing for one of my favorite yoga teachers.  Again, this was less than perfect for me, but I enjoy taking yoga classes with different people; they challenge me to move and focus in different ways, learning more about my body.

Wow, this class so didn’t work out for me at all!  One of the new-to-me moves (a leg lift from a sitting position, holding my other bent leg close to me) felt really awkward and borderline painful.  I know, if some movement doesn’t feel right in a yoga class, we are all encouraged not to do it, or to ask for help with a modification.  I guess my vanity interfered with my asking for help.  That’s on me.

My attitude, performance and focus all went downhill from there.  Even downward facing dog– one of my favorite poses– felt odd.  The directions I was getting were unfamiliar (this person has an approach which is different from my other teachers).  And I got in my head about it and couldn’t shake it off.

At that point I was sweating and uncomfortable and grumpy, which is not how I like to feel ever, but certainly not in yoga class.  Yoga practice helps me feel great about my body– I get to see the ways it can move and lift and sink and stretch.  It helps me see which parts are more tender or vulnerable or neglected, and shows me how to care for them, too.

But not on this day, in this class.  It felt as if there was this style of yoga that was not for me at all.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

We’ve all had exercise classes or athletic outings that went awry.  I once took a rock climbing class that I had thought was for complete beginners, but man oh man was it NOT for beginners.  I made it through the class intact and have never returned to rock climbing.  When I was eight years old, my mother enrolled me in a beginning ballet class, but at mid-year (which was a mistake).  And– horror of horrors– she bought me black ballet slippers instead of pink ones, so I felt completely out of place.  I did not last very long there, either.  In this yoga class case, the obvious solution is not to take classes with this particular teacher, and I should be all set.

Although… I now think it’s kind of interesting that I had such a strong reaction to this yoga class.  The teacher was not a bad instructor at all, and some of the poses we tried were done in intriguing ways (e.g. tree pose– balancing on one leg–  using a block and the wall instead of on the mat with no support).  Maybe this teacher’s approach is offering me a chance to learn something new about myself, to explore different parts of my body or think about them in novel ways.  It’s a thought.  I may return next week and see how it goes.  Or talk with her about my reaction to the class to ask for her help in navigating the experience.

So readers, what do you think?  What have you done if you had a horrendous activity class experience?  Did you get out of there as fast as possible?  Did you return and still hate it?  Did it transform or inform or reform(ulate) you in any ways?  I’d welcome any comments you have.  And thanks!

Pencil drawings of two yoga poses: cow, and mother f***in' unicorn (a joke).

Sports equipment as anti-fat-shaming devices

A few weeks ago, I went to the optometrist for my biannual eye exam and to get my reading glasses prescription updated.  During the eye exam, the doctor told me that I was suspect for glaucoma– my eye pressure was 17 (normal is 10–22, she said), but I had some evidence of damage to my optic nerve.  She scheduled me to have further testing done, which I did.  I’m extremely happy to report that I don’t have glaucoma.  Yay!  Whew!

However, during my first visit with her, while asking about what one can do for eye care, she said, “well, you should always wear sunglasses.  And watch your diet.  But of course it’s clear that you take care of yourself.”

Hmmmm.  What made it clear that I take care of myself?  I’m fat, cis-female, 55, able-bodied as far as she can tell, and currently not bleeding.  So far so meh.

But:  I rode my bike to the appointment (which, in retrospect was a bad idea; riding a bike home after getting your eyes dilated is not good).  I walked into her office toting one of these:

a white road cycling helmet, with silver accents

a white road cycling helmet, with silver accents

She saw my bike helmet, which, I surmise, must have affected her views about me and my health.

This is not an uncommon experience for me and my cycling friends, including Samantha.  She posted here in June about why she rides or walks to the hospital.  Convenience and refusal to pay exorbitant parking prices is part of the story, but there’s also this:

The thing is when I’m coming to the hospital I’m often seeing health care professionals who don’t know me. They make judgments pretty quickly on the state of your health and well being. Often I think they do that on the basis of weight. And there’s not much I can do about that.

I want people to get things right and to not make silly mistakes. So I try to help. It’s like when I go to new workout or a new gym when traveling and wear my CrossFit hoodie. The fitness instructors worry less about me. (See Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege.)

Riding my bike in, arriving at the appointment in bike shoes, sandals, helmet in hand, sends a signal. I’m signaling that I’m an active person.

Yes– just carrying a bike helmet to a doctor’s office can stave off lots of preconceived (and ill-founded) notions about what people of my size are like.  It’s like a magic anti-fat-shaming shield, sending out signals far and wide that “This person is an athlete!  This person is fit!  This person is not what you think a typical fat person is; this person is ok!”

I have a bunch of mixed reactions to this.

First– excellent!  Let’s just issue bike helmets to all women with BMIs over 30 as the new new healthcare destination accessory.  However, not all helmet designs are likely to be effective, as they must be instantly recognizable.  Not like this helmet design that has yet to catch on:

Two views of an inflatable bike helmet, worn on the left as a scarf/collar, and on the right as an inflated helmet/hood, surrounding the head and neck.

Two views of an inflatable bike helmet, worn on the left as a scarf/collar, and on the right as an inflated helmet/hood, surrounding the head and neck.

But imagine the possibilities:  we just haul these things into the examining room (no need actually to wear them, though), and voila:  no more fat-shaming talk!  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Seriously, though, my other reaction is frustration with healthcare relationships.  I don’t expect my optometrist to know about my life and health goals, but I do want to be able to talk with my primary care doctor/nurse practitioner about them.  This involves talking about my current activities, what I want to do, what I don’t think I can do, etc.  I also don’t want my health concerns brushed aside just because the provider sees a helmet and thinks that I must not be in need of any discussion about my activity levels, mood, nutrition, etc.

Of course, having such conversations with a provider requires something that we don’t have in the American healthcare system:

The word "time" in all caps in red

Signaling does help us make conclusions about other people rapidly.  And it serves a bunch of social purposes.  But in this case, all joking aside, it’s not clear that it is serving either me or my healthcare provider.  But until things change and there’s more time for us to get to know each other better, I’ll keep biking to appointments and bringing in the helmet.  Because it would be way to much trouble to kayak there and bring the boat indoors.

A man in shorts and a yellow coat and a life jacket, holding a yellow inflatable kayak over his head. He's standing in a crowd of commuting walkers downtown in a big city.

A man in shorts and a yellow coat and a life jacket, holding a yellow inflatable kayak over his head. He’s standing in a crowd of commuting walkers downtown in a big city.