Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: catherine w
I'm a feminist public health ethicist (yes, that's a thing). I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, sort-of-off-road, commuter), regular yoga-doer, occasional swimmer and kayaker and leisurely social walker.
Today is National Banana Day. Who knew? Well, Sam did, and duly informed all of us at Fit is a Feminist Issue Central. So, here I am with your first (and perhaps only– we shall see how this one goes) National Banana Day post.
Who here had a bicycle with a banana seat? Anyone? Anyone?
I certainly did. Mine looked something like this (my mom is guarding all my childhood pictures at her house far away, so this is from the internet):
Mine had a white plastic woven basket on the front, also with groovy flowers on it. I don’t think streamers were de rigeur at the time (mine was circa 1969/70), but I wouldn’t have minded either way. Here’s an ad with a lineup of new bikes and a girl dressed in late 60s/early 70s fashion:
I rode my banana seat bike endlessly up and down the driveway, and even sometimes out on the road in our suburban development in Florence, South Carolina. Eventually, I screwed up my courage to ride down the very-steep-to-me hill which was a neighbor’s driveway. It was the most thrilling thing I’d ever done. Riding fast down steep-to-me hills is still the most thrilling thing I ever do. Different bike with helmet, but same feeling– wheeeee!
Bananas are not just a design win. They are also good as food, whether on the bike or off. They fit easily into a jersey pocket and come with their own sanitary carrying case.
But, if you’re feeling pressed for pocket space or worried about bruising, there are options:
Bananas are perennial sources of fun and humor for cyclists. This week during one of the Spring Classics (European road/cobblestone/mud bike races), someone made everyone smile with this tweet:
Finally, bananas can be a bike fashion statement. At least for me and my friends.
In summary, bananas and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or bread and butter. Or Coffee and doughnuts. Or your favorite combo– you choose…
So readers, how are you planning on spending National Banana Day? I have to work (rats!) but will celebrate by making… wait for it… banana nutella muffins! Get the recipe here.
This week, a new study came out, saying that people who were consistently inactive were more at risk for severe COVID effects– hospitalization, intensive care, and death– than people who were more physically active.
As usual, news sources here and here were anxious to promote what they saw as the take-home message: that if we want to avoid hospitalization and death from COVID, we all need to be consistently physically active (150+ minutes/week of moderate-to-vigorous activity).
Also as usual, I read through the study itself in detail, and found a lot of complications in the data and the analysis, which suggest a different take-home message (which I’ll get to shortly).
First though, the researchers and media coverage conveyed one message with one voice, loud and clear: physical activity is a strong modifiable risk factor for severe COVID.
Modifiable? What do they mean? They mean that our levels (and intensities) of physical activity are under our control– we have the option to increase or decrease the amount of time we spend on physical activity, as well as to change how vigorously active we are.
That’s clearly not true. And it’s not true on several fronts.
First of all, the researchers cite data that, on average, Americans have at least 4–6 hours a day of leisure time, which they tend to use on electronic media. That is, we’re sitting and playing with our phones or watching Netflix. The implicit conclusion is that we should instead be lacing up our sneakers and heading out the door instead.
But that’s just not the reality for most people. We know– from studies, from news, from talking with friends and neighbors, and from looking at our own lives– that the idea of work/life balance is a thing of the past. People are working longer hours and for lower wages and fewer or no benefits in the US and elsewhere. There may or may not be 4–6 hours a day in which people aren’t doing their jobs and aren’t sleeping (which is also rampantly in short supply for most). But there are the matters of childcare, eldercare, cooking, shopping for food and necessities, cleaning, paying bills, etc. You all know this.
So, in this sense, it’s not clear to me that people have at their disposal rafts of time for physical activity. And it’s certainly not uniformly distributed throughout the population. For instance, the researchers did NOT use income as a factor in their analysis. If they had, they might have had more interesting and useful results.
Second, let me dip into the data for a moment to show you another problem with this idea that physical activity is an entirely “modifiable behavior”. Take a look below:
What we see here is about 48K participants in total. Those who have been consistently inactive (0–10 mins/week) are 14% of the group. Those who are consistently active (150+ mins/week) are 6% of the group. The rest (80%) report 11–149 mins/week of activity.
The researchers are saying that, seeing that only 6% of the participants report meeting the national physical activity guidelines, that everyone else who isn’t meeting those guidelines must be failing to do so because of factors under their control.
That makes no sense to me– that they or anyone would draw that conclusion. We know that changing health behaviors around eating and activity is hard. We also know that many of these targeted health promotion campaigns tend to have pretty dismal long-term success rates. Why?
Because there are lots of structural features of our lives that make regular physical activity very difficult: time, access to safe spaces, nutrition, sleep, income, family and other obligations, physical and mental health conditions, ability/disability, you name it.
So, is physical activity a modifiable health behavior? Yes, sort of. But it’s much more complicated than the researchers are saying. Their recommendation:
We recommend that public health authorities inform all populations that short of vaccination and following public health safety guidelines such as social distancing and mask use, engaging in regular PA may be the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.
My take on this: you can save your breath. We already know that physical activity is important. We’re not uninformed; we’re simply overburdened. It’s not your fault, researchers, but please stop saying in your conclusions that the public needs to be better informed. The public needs to be better served by government, health care, and places of work. Those are what I would call modifiable factors for quality of life.
This week I turned 59. At another time in history I might find myself fretting over the fact that I’m nearly 60, hitting another decade, feeling the need to reassess or reconfirm my identity as still firmly connected to younger me.
This year, though, at this time in history, my feelings on turning 59 are different. They are gratitude that this body made it through an awful year of loss; hope, now that we have a vaccine (I got a J&J shot Friday!); and love for all the people and places that I’m connected to.
In this blog post from 2019, I wrote about some studies on self-image, bodies, and the experiences of aging. Take a look. I still believe what I wrote then. Two years and one pandemic later, though, I’m rethinking what it means to be seen as I age. I’m now including being seen as both vulnerable and valuable—yeah, I want people to see those things in me, too, as well as my contributions to the world.
I hope you all enjoy taking a moment to think about yourselves, your bodies, and what the past two years has meant for you in terms of what you want for yourselves.
Content warning: This post mentions studies on negative body image, suicidal ideation, self harm, and negative self-esteem.
Now to the post proper:
The Mental Health Foundation Scotland released a report recently about body image, which included a poll about how Scots feel about their bodies. It was covered in the news here.
The poll – which was published as part of a report “Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies” – also found that just over on third of all adults said they have felt anxious because of their body image.
And a quarter adults have felt “disgusted” because of their body image in the last year, while nearly a quarter said they had felt “shame”.
The poll found that body image issues affected women more than men, with 11 per cent saying they have “deliberately hurt themselves” because of their body image, compared to 4…
Last week, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene– an anti-mask, anti-trans, anti-Semitic, pro-conspiracy theory member of the US House of Representatives– posted video of herself on Twitter doing her usual Crossfit workout of lifting weights and doing those odd-looking Crossfitty kipping pullups. I’m not linking to her social media, but in her post she said, “This is my Covid protection. Time to #FireFauci.”
Even (or especially) those who find her politics repellent were nonetheless fascinated by her workout. Why? I can only guess that lots of people find politicians (especially female ones) who are working out to be a novelty.
Well, they’re not. How do I know this? The internet told me. Herewith exhibit A: US Vice President Kamala Harris. She spins, she works out with weights, and she even runs up and down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when they’re handy. You can read more about her workouts here, and watch her in action below.
VP Harris also takes time out from her workouts to pose for selfies with strangers, all the time protecting them by wearing a mask.
By the way, in case you were wondering who the cover photo person is, it’s New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, working out with dumbbells in a gym before COVID. Just FYI.
The US doesn’t have the market cornered on active female politicians who believe in science and public health. Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne , who Cate blogged about here, is an avid runner. She races when she can, and keeps working out when she’s traveling, as we can see here on her twitter feed from a few years ago:
I couldn’t find a photo of her wearing a mask, but she’s very clear and vocal about her support of masks, both at the local and national levels.
What we’re seeing in these three public servants are advocacy for science-informed public health, a commitment to being active for themselves and as role models for others, and sending out positive and accurate messaging about how we can live our best lives. At the moment, that includes wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Oh, and not firing one of the longest-serving government workers with expertise that we all need.
Take that, Congresswoman Greene and see if you can pull that message up.
Sometimes, however, we want to spruce ourselves up or spice things up a bit. We here at Fit is a Feminist Issue love kicking our heels up, and many of us have a variety of shoe styles to aid in that activity.
Also, today is Easter Sunday. For those of you who observe this holiday or grew up participating in some of the traditions of Easter, new shoes are often involved (hats, too, but that’s another post). My favorite fancy shoes from childhood were a pair of lemon-yellow patent leather flats with mother-of-pearl buckles on the toes. Sadly, I cannot find a trace of them anywhere on the internet, nor do I have any pictures of us (the shoes and I) from that period. After some extensive searching, the closest I could come up with was this shoe:
All that searching for my elusive childhood shoe was not for naught. I found all sorts of lovely yellow patent-leather lovelies for you to enjoy this fine morning:
If your taste runs to multiple contrasting colors or textures, try these on for size:
Some of us just aren’t flats people. Maybe we want a loafer, or a shoe with more substantial support. Fear not, folks, I found some styles just for you– in yellow:
There’s one more shoe I have to show you all, which is the one I bought today. It’s called lemon sorbet, but my friends Martin and Andrew think it’s more pistachio. We shall see when they arrive, but either way, I’m delighted.
Yes, we all need and want hiking shoes, running shoes, climbing shoes, lifting shoes, water shoes, wrestling shoes, court shoes, dancing shoes, etc., for all our specialized movement needs. Today, as Easter arrives and spring is either here or on its way, maybe your thoughts will turn to a new or new-to-you pair of pretty colored shoes.
News flash: after being banned for 28 years, Alabama public schools may soon be able to run yoga classes. The state house of representatives passed the bill this year, voting 73-25 in favor. It’s the third year in a row that the bill has been introduced, but the third time was apparently the charm.
Oh wait, I’m not supposed to say “charm” around the Alabama legislators. They seem very skittish about anything that sounds non-material or spiritual. The bill is very specific about limiting yoga practice to physical poses. An Alabama state newspaper described it this way:
“The bill aims to allow yoga without any religious connotations. Students could learn and practice poses, exercises, and stretching techniques. The legislation prohibits “chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, (and) namaste greetings.”
According to the Washingon Post, no other state has such a ban on yoga in schools. Whew.
It’s too bad about the no-mantras and no-mudras requirements (I like them both), but no-frills yoga is better than no-yoga-at-all.
Of course, some yoga instructors and yoga disagree. Religion News reporter Mat McDermott (yes, Mat with one t) writes:
“The benefits for students using the traditional names of asana, in terms of cultural sensitivity and awareness, far outweigh any issues of schools promoting religion… Furthermore… the bill as written erroneously conflates the greeting namaste with a religious chant… “
“Teaching school kids about Hinduism and yoga does not threaten anyone’s faith and may even increase the benefits of yoga by teaching them to appreciate another culture, rather than appropriating it without acknowledgement.”
Below is my previous post about yoga and religious connections (or not). What’s your view these days about yoga and spiritual practice? Are they inseparable to you? Are they two entirely different things? Do you worry about this at all? We’d love to hear from you.
Is yoga a religious practice? A form of exercise? A form of therapy? A tradition that’s been co-opted and distorted beyond all recognition (think chocolate or wine-infused yoga)? An excuse to buy more tie-dye yoga pants (oops, that may be just me…)?
In case you’re curious, I just bought these recently, and they’re cutey-cute.
Do we have to care about the question of what is yoga?
Maybe not, but lots of others are forcing our hand/calling us out/dressing us down for doing yoga. In particular, the pastor of an Assemblies of God megachurch in Missouri warned his congregation that the positions in yoga were “created with demonic intent to open you up to demonic power because Hinduism is demonic.”
Let me be clear. By “demonic”, he did not mean that yoga was demonically difficult, as this pose might mislead him to believe:
These days, news travels fast and turns on a dime. Here’s an important and fast-developing story of discriminatory treatment of women athletes, from yesterday to today:
The NCAA March Madness 2021 college basketball tournament is happening this year, inside bubbles in Indianapolis (for the men) and San Antonio (for the women). They are being housed and fed, and are training in facilities set up for them. The men’s and women’s training facilities are separate. But boy are they not equal. Check out this twitter comparison pic of their weight training facilities:
Some twitter users were skeptical that this was true, while others chalked it up to their beliefs that men’s teams made money, performed better and were more popular, so it didn’t matter that the women had less to work with than most of us have in our homes.
In service of settling any peripheral disputes, here are some stills from the Tiktok video feed of Sedona Prince, Oregon Ducks team member on the scene.
Of course this really made the NCAA’s face red. However, they rallied and offered this explanation:
An NCAA spokesperson told The Washington Post that officials initially thought there was not enough square footage for a weight training facilities at the convention center playing host to the women’s tournament. They later found the space, the spokesperson said.
Yeah, that’s not true. How do I know this? Because of Sedona Prince, who on Friday (the same day this story was reported) posted this picture on TikTok:
So either the NCAA people were lying or they hadn’t bothered to check whether what they were saying was true.
After a large outcry, mainly from women professional and college athletes and coaches, the NCAA apparently found some gym and weights set ups for the women’s teams. Sedona shows it to you live:
Turns out, lack of standard weight training facilities wasn’t the only way the NCAA treated women’s basketball teams less well than the men’s teams.
Geno Auriemma, coach of the Connecticut women’s team, told reporters at a news conference Friday that his team was receiving different daily coronavirus tests than men’s teams. The rapid antigen tests given to women are faster than PCR tests given to men but “have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The NCAA is using a cheaper and less accurate COVID test for the women than it is for the men. Again, the NCAA responded:
In a statement, the NCAA said that its medical advisory group had determined that both tests were “were equally effective models for basketball championships”…
Hmmm. Here’s a question: if they’re equally effective, then why use one test for the men and another for the women? And if it’s an issue of supply, why didn’t you plan for that at the women’s location as well as you did for the men’s location?
Again, please refer to my earlier comment about the NCAA either lying or not caring whether what they say is true.
Other documented differences between how the men’s and women’s teams are treated includes the food served (Sedona documented an especially unfortunately Salisbury Steak event here), and skimpier swag bags for the women. Seriously, NCAA? You’re leaving no stone unturned in your quest to make 100% clear your lack of respect for women’s collegiate sports.
And then there are those who are listening and following the lead of the NCAA, turning its disdain for women’s teams into threats to shut down women’s sports altogether.
This tweet is revealing in that it’s a common and threatening reaction to women’s sports players, coaches and advocates’ calls for more equitable treatment, in accordance with Title IX legal requirements in the US. I’m happy to say that these threats haven’t gone answered.
Dawn Staley, a championship award-winning basketball player and coach, former Olympian and current Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, said this (I’m including the whole statement here):
You can read a Sports Illustrated article about her statements and a letter from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics here and here. They’re not playing about the barriers to playing that women and girl athletes face all day, every day. Hey, NCAA president Mark Emmert– you can throw some jump ropes, treadmills and weight bench sets at the problem, and say things like “we fell short” (ya think?), but you’re not getting out of it that easily.
I’m happy that Sedona Prince, her teammates, and all the women’s NCAA basketball teams now have an actual weight room for training. And yes, it would be nice for them to get buffet meals rather than prepackaged ones (the NCAA says they’re working on it). But it’s clear that the battle for respect and equity in women’s athletics is still in its early stages.
Thank you, Sedona Prince. Thank you, Dawn Staley. Thank you, players and coaches of women’s and girls’ athletics everywhere for standing up and speaking out.
But, wouldn’t it have been nice if men’s basketball coaches, players, team owners, and athletic directors spoke up and spoke loudly in support of women’s athletics now? Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry both posted criticism of the NCAA, and both got the same scornful, dismissive pushback. But there’s strength in numbers.
Hey male players, coaches, trainers, administrators, athletic directors– where are your voices? I can’t hear you…
Readers, if you’ve seen any recent tweets or other social media posts by male sports figures (players, coaches, business, academic, children’s leagues, anything) in support of women’s sports on the occasion of this latest discriminatory debacle, post them in the comments. It’s good to know who’s on the ball and who’s dropped it. Any other thoughts or ideas you want to share? I’m listening.
Babies look happiest to me when they’re moving, particularly in some unusual way. I remember lifting (tossing? throwing?) my niece and nephews in the air when they were tiny, and they just loved it. They loved sensation, and movement, and comfort, and color. So do I, for that matter.
This got me to thinking: as we are all waiting around for mass vaccination to make its way around the globe, we’re all still in need of comfort and diversion and delight. Why not take a page out of the baby leisure time playbook?
For instance, babies know how to get comfy in style:
You know, we can have this, too:
It doesn’t even seem to clash with her decor. Excellent!
This mood pillow (with two modes– happy and mad) would be perfect for department meetings (zoom or live).
Sometimes, though, we (like babies) gotta move. I’ve always thought that the jolly jumper was one of the best inventions ever. You know what I mean: this.
Turns out, they make a version of this for adults now. Yay!
Especially since the pandemic hit, I’ve noticed more play-things for at-home adult movement distraction. Here are a few more:
The levels of fun, functionality and fear-inducement vary quite a bit for these gadgets. I doubt they’re had the rigorous testing that we get with baby-gadgets. I’m sure this thing below hasn’t been adequately examined by some regulatory board, else it wouldn’t be out there in this form:
Nor do I recommend that you plug in this purple envelope with infra-red heat (according to the FAQ), to lie in a pool of sweat for a long time. No self-respecting baby would put up with this for any amount of time.
You may be wondering: what among these items would Catherine try? That’s easy– bungee fitness flying! I don’t think I’ll be setting this up at my house, but some studios offer it, so maybe later this year I can get my jolly jumper on…
Readers– what gadgets have you seen over the past year that remind you of fun kid playsets? Have you tried any of them? I’d love to hear about it. Also, if you’re tried bungee fitness in a studio, that would be fun to hear about, too.
My exercise regimen is pretty low key: walk the dog every day and on nice days ride my bike a bit too. New England winters keep me off my bike for about five months of the year, but it takes some incredibly severe weather to keep me from my daily walks.
These constitutionals on the sidewalks and streets of my neighborhood have been taking their toll on my almost 57-year-old-feet. The soles of my feet, especially the heels, just really hurt – a lot – which in turn occasionally causes pain in my knees and hips.
I determined that I needed some really good shoes, with good support and shock absorbtion – and I wasn’t afraid to pay for them. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have meant that I’ve hardly had to buy anything new for the past year. Neither have I eaten out (or even gotten take-out) more than half a dozen times. I was flush with discretionary spending money.
A FB Messenger exchange with Catherine W. (who I refer to as the “guru of all things athletic for the non-athlete”) convinced me to check out REI for possibilities. She also recommended a couple of specific brands. I went to the REI website, where I was overwhelmed by all the choices. I noticed an option to set up an appointment via Teams with an REI rep who would help me to select some shoes. I filled out the request form and picked a time and date a few days in the future.
At the appointed time I left a Zoom work meeting with some campus muckety-mucks in order to meet the REI rep online in the hopes that I would soon have happy feet. I felt totally justified in leaving the work meeting because
a) the meeting with the REI rep had been scheduled first;
b) the work meeting was scheduled at the last minute and for a time when my workday was normally over; and
c) I simply did not want to be in a meeting with muckety-mucks any longer.
After exchanging the usual pleasantries with the REI rep (Adam) I was given instruction on how to measure my feet using a set up involving a tape measure, masking tape, a big book, and a chair.
I measured both feet standing and sitting, length and width. I also put on my current pair of inferior walking shoes and determined that I could indeed put my index finger into the heel of the shoe when it was on my foot. Once my shoe size was determined Adam asked me some questions about where and how my feet hurt, how much I walked, and if I ever walked on surfaces other than pavement. Once all pertinent questions were asked and answered we started to explore the options online together.
We immediately dismissed the shoes in the “Casual” category. I suggested they would be good if I just needed something to slip on to run outside for an errand, but were clearly not going to be the heavy duty performers that I sought for my daily excursions, so we moved on to the shoes in the “Hiking” category. Adam explained about differences in shoe weight, as well as other features that I should consider for cushioning my feet and providing support.
After looking at three different types of shoes I settled on the Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero Hiking Shoes.
This is so not like me. I really dislike shopping, online or IRL. If I want or need to buy something I generally find something that’s “good enough” at a decent price and am done with it. In this case, though, I realized that “good enough” really meant superb. I’m glad I spent the time and now am as well shod as I’ve ever been.
Readers: have you had recent experiences with online shoe fittings or other fittings? Have you been satisfied? Is it not working? We’d love to hear from you.
Pam’s bio: In addition to being a librarian Pam is a book-loving, dog-walking, Spanish-speaking feminist. She is unapologetic about the fact that she rides her second-hand, three-speed bike only on horizontal surfaces.
CW: discussion of weight, weight gain, and fat shaming
No doubt it has come to your attention that some of your peeps are heavier than they were in March 2020. This likely comes as no surprise to you. We’ve all been barraged with news stories, tweets and memes about pandemic weight gain. Tracy, ever the acute prognosticator, blogged early and accurately about the issue here.
Even when we manage to avoid the mocking-toned, lowest-common-denominator posts, the battery of medical news gets to us. Their brand of fat-shaming and weight-blaming, veiled though it may be in professional concern trolling, targets people by making it the fault and responsibility of individuals to do many things now to reverse this calamitous-to-medicine course of increased poundage acquisition. On this medical site they use the word “YOU” quite clearly (and repeatedly):
YOU are snacking while working;
YOU aren’t moving enough;
YOU are miscalculating calories;
YOU aren’t sleeping enough.
Hey, medical website—few of us are moving enough, most of us have to snack while working (as we work all the time while taking care of family, home, and self), and no one except dieticians in nursing homes successfully calculates calories. As for sleep? Don’t even go there.
After one year of pandemic scrambling, hunkering down, worrying, grieving, working and not sleeping, some of us have gained weight, some have lost weight, and some are about the same weight. That’s life. I happen to be one of those in the gained-weight group. That’s my life right now.
Now, here’s my message: if you’re worried about the weight gain (or loss) of your peeps and are wondering if you should say something, DON’T. JUST DON’T. Really—do not do this.
Why not? To make it brief, here’s a list:
Changes in weight are not new information for anyone who’s experiencing it; we all know our bodies better than anyone else does.
It’s almost certainly going to make us feel bad— pointing out some change in that clearly you think is negative is going to be just that: negative.
It won’t help at all; we won’t a) feel better; or b) be more likely to enact what you think is a positive body change; or c) be more successful in bringing about what you (and some of us, but not others) think is a positive body change just because of something you said.
If you’re concerned about our health (mental, physical, emotional, etc.), that’s really nice. I mean it. You can help by being supportive and caring and involved in ways that promote your relationships and shared goals. Be a good friend. Be a good neighbor. Be a good boss. Be a good sister. None of these roles involve talking about people’s weight or changes thereto.
Friends, we who have gained (or lost) weight during the last year love you. We are in charge of our bodies and the care and maintenance thereof. Not to put too fine a point on it, but:
Feel free to forward this along to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and whoever else you think will benefit…