How to increase your heart rate, courtesy of the patriarchy

I feel like I’ve been living on a Ferris wheel these past few months. One day you are up and celebrating a new step forward to a post pandemic world and the next you are down seething at the ridiculousness of the world.

Image shows a Ferris wheel with multi coloured seats. Photo by Daniel Roe on Unsplash

I wear a fitbit to track my steps, and recently I discovered I can track my heart rate as well. It’s a lovely little bit of data but I am troubled by the fact that my heart rate does jump when I read the news, or to be more precise, news which details once again how the patriarchy manifests itself in discriminatory actions against women.

This summer’s target is women in sport. As we near the Olympics, delayed from last year as a result of the pandemic, but going ahead under significantly different and challenging circumstances this year in Japan, the daily news offers a consistent menu of frustration and anger with a generous side of jackassery.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about structural racism in sport, looking at negative decisions taken against Black women, nursing athletes and individuals the sporting kingmakers deemed not sufficiently female enough. Let’s look at what’s on tap this week — along with garden variety sexism, we have generous servings of ableism:

  1. the Norwegian handball team wants to wear shorts instead of skimpy bikini bottoms, but their governing body says no. When the team goes ahead and wears them, the federation fines them.
  2. a ParaOlympian is told her running briefs are too skimpy and an official tells her she should cover up with shorts. (Maybe this official should have conferred with the handball officials?)
  3. another ParaOlympian is told she cannot take her personal support attendant with her to Tokyo. As she cannot navigate the Olympic Village without assistance, she has decided she cannot go. Others have also made this decision.

It’s enough to make your heart and mind explode.

Image shows a person in the lower right holding a confetti tube from confetti is spraying upwards into the air. Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

The policing of women’s clothing isn’t new. Early in July, we saw swimming officials lose their nut over swimming caps designed to fit the heads of Black women. Once again white norms were expected to prevail because these hats designed to protect Black women’s hair might give them an advantage or something. We have also seen clothing policies that limit what female Muslim athletes can wear. Again nothing new, as France some years ago instituted a modest clothing ban on its beaches, targeting — you guessed it — Muslim women.

It seems especially egregious though that women from across the spectrum are being singled out. Officials in the case of the ParaOlympian are blaming each other when advance planning could have prevented the situation. Contradictory policies abound and no one seems to think it’s odd that one group is told to cover up and the other is told to bare all. I mean look at this picture:

Image shows Norway’s handball teams, the men on the left and the women on the right. The men wear long tanks and loose shorts; the women wear bralettes and bikini bottoms.

Yes, the global pandemic means we have to do some things differently. However, when so-called “objective” rules affect women disproportionately, we have to stop and ask why. When we look at the decisions highlighted in the stories above, we clearly see male power at work. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport says, “The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants.

When I look at the girls and young women around me today, they are doing amazing things. Several of my friends have daughters who played hockey, and four of them took on the goalie role. I can’t think of a single classmate of mine who played hockey at the same age, but I know quite a few who play hockey today.

Earlier this winter, a friend shared a marvelous video of a toddler snowboarding her way through the trees, her dad behind her. The confidence and the sheer joy of making it through the trail are palpable. Everyone should have that joy; everyone should have that recognition; everyone should have that support to do the best they can. Anything less is unacceptable.

–MarthaFitat55 is a writer getting her fit on in all the ways that work for her.


Structural racism in sport: the 2021 edition

There’s a meme going around social media that’s quite telling:

The pattern is quite obvious; these decisions are consistently singling out and penalizing Black women athletes for their excellence. I have written about Caster Semenya’s trials in the last two years. In this post, I noted the decisions against Semenya amount to “a fear of successful women, and the way these sports bodies manage that fear is to other-ise and marginalize those who do not fit an outdated image of women in sport through legal challenges and unfounded medical policies.”

In another post, I wrote, “we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements.”

In the past couple of months, decisions against Black women athletes have ramped up as outlined in the image above. The disqualification of Sha’Carri Richardson for cannabis use astonished followers of the Olympics, given that it has no performance-enhancing attributes at all. We have also seen other decisions, now reversed, prohibiting athletes from bringing their infants to the Games and disqualifying others who had recently given birth.

Female athletes who don’t fit the mold get short shrift, unlike male athletes who get praised for their natural genetic advantages (can I bring up Michael Phelps again?). In figure skating, Tonya Harding was too working class, while Suraya Bonali was too athletic. Go back to the late 80s, and you’ll find Florence Joyner Griffiths, the world’s fastest woman at the ’88 Olympics having her achievements questioned by male athletes including Ben Johnson who was himself disqualified for using banned substances.

Despite the deeply frustrating and outright discriminatory incidents of the last months, I have been uplifted by the growing protests and successful challenges to decisions that discriminate against athletes who identify as female and those who resist being categorized as non-female based on shoddy science. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport came out hard and fast this week:

The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants. Sport is beginning to creak and crack under the weight of the decisions made by sport organizations, and so the decision-makers are reaching a crisis point: do we begin to make different decisions, or do we continue making the same ill-advised and exclusive choices that brought us here, and allow sport to collapse under the weight of them?

The CCES concludes the structural racism and sexism embedded in these recent decisions and applied against Black women athletes needs to end. Not doing so is a choice, and the result is exclusion, a significant lack of visibility, and a dilution of excellence in sport arising from artificial limits.

Morgan Campbell, Senior Contributor with CBC Sports, pointed out the contradiction in the guidelines and how decisions designed to deal with the problem sports bodies have with Caster Semenya end up being applied against individuals who have elevated hormone levels that are still less than the lowest levels found in men :

After several false starts, the testosterone guidelines were codified in 2018. And while World Athletics leadership never specified that the rule targets Semenya, they apply only to the races in which Semenya excels, even though the group’s own research found the strongest correlation between natural testosterone and performance in women’s pole vault and hammer throw. That neither of those two events has a testosterone cap tells you World Athletics rule-makers understand that correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

These days I’m questioning if we should be allowing sports bodies to decide who is female based on a list of permissible ranges of body chemicals. The human body is a marvel of moving parts; as individual humans, we bring different levels of strength, skill, talent, and ability to the playing field. If the Olympics seeks those who are faster, higher, and stronger, then we need to set a new bar for excellence that isn’t based on stereotypes and biases.

MarthaFitat55 lives, works, and sports in St. John’s.

fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

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.


Cake as self care

I can’t help it — everytime I go shopping, I scan the headlines at the magazine stand. How else am I going to keep on top of the juicy celebrity gossip? I kid (no really!). I often miss some of the stuff in small type due to the required distancing, but I had no problems with this headline.

Image shows a magazine in the stand. Chatelaine’s cover features a pretty cake made with strawberries and pink icing. The headline reads: No matter how you slice it, It’s been tough. Eat some cake.

I have seen many people stressing about eating a cupcake at the best of times. It’s refreshing to see an acknowledgment that the past 16 months have been super stressful. Even if cake isn’t your thing, do something nice for yourself. Enjoy that strawberry, sniff that flower, lie in the field and look at the clouds We all deserve pleasure.


Expanding the conversation about menstruation

Last fall quite a number of friends circulated a new advertisement for BodyForm menstrual and intimate care products. It’s a lovely piece of advertising combining music, art, animation, and film describing a variety of experiences with menstruation. Here’s the link in case you haven’t seen it yet:

BodyForm made waves a few years ago when they decided to stop using blue fluid to represent menstrual blood. When you think about it, it is past the time when we have needed to think differently and talk openly about menstruation.

I like the advertisement for its acknowledgement of the myriad experiences of menstruation. It looks frankly at the experiences — the hopes, the fears, the anxieties, and the pain — this aspect of reproductive physiology represents and its physical and emotional effects on people who menstruate.

It packs quite a bit in its three minutes and the company acknowledges the contributions of people who shared their wombstories with the ad’s creators. We see everything from the beginning of menstruation and its ending to assisted reproduction, anxiety over possible conception, and unhappiness over missed conception.

Could this ad do more about changing our beliefs, biases and attitudes towards menstruation and the kinds of people who experience it — the joy, relief, sorrow, anger? Ability, age, binary, non binary, trans? Absolutely. Is it a stepping stone to more interesting conversations about menstruation? Yes indeed.

Periods and fitness have a complicated relationship. When I was growing up you could be excused from gym while menstruating. Being active while menstruating was also seen as risky — the world would fall apart if you leaked because then everyone would know!

You didn’t talk about it but you managed. Back in 1969, a huge uproar erupted when Gordon Sinclair, a retired male journalist asked Olympic swimmer Elaine Tanner how she dealt with periods while training/competing.

We’ve talked about menstruation before here on the blog. Back in 2018 fieldpoppy wrote what is now one of the blog’s most popular and most read posts. We’re seeing more spaces opening to talk about a process that half the population experiences for a good two thirds of their lives. Even the language we use to talk about it — people with uteruses — is changing to recognize the diversity of identities of people who menstruate. With the BodyForm advert, the intimate priduct industry and the marketing agencies behind them are also making sure we see these experiences differently too.

MarthaFist55 is a writer exploring all the ways she can make her body move in this world.


Wordless Wednesday: it’s okay if you gained weight

I’m sure you’ve heard the multiple jokes about the COVID-19 (a play on the phrase Freshman 15 for weight gained in one’s first year away at school). It drives me bananas. Luckily, SamB shared this image and it really resonated. The artist’s other work can be found here:

A black and white image shows two people jumping in the air giving each other high fives. The caption reads “It’s okay to gain weight during a pandemic because it’s okay to gain weight.

Your weight doesn’t not measure your value as a person.


Hello foam roller, my old friend

I saw my massage therapist the other day. I have tightest glutes she’s ever seen and she didn’t mean it in a good way. My Physio isn’t impressed with my back muscles either. Steady work since the new year is grand but it’s been wreaking havoc on my body.

You may have heard the phrase “motion is lotion,” but I’ve now been told “lengthen, then strengthen.”

I have a menu of stretches each targeting a particular muscle group. They aren’t especially arduous but they take effort. This week we’ve re introduced the foam roller. Holy heck — it does a number on the IT band and the quads.

Image shows a orange cat stretching. It doesn’t need a foam roller but I sure do. Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

I’ve been ultra focused on increasing my bone strength, and with the pandemic, I pretty much dropped my nascent yin yoga practice. Add in a sedentary job, and my muscles have become inelastic and resistant.

Although the foam roller will never be my BFF, I can’t deny I feel heaps better after. It’s been a good reminder that while strength and endurance have their place, flexibility matters too.

— MarthaFitAt55 lives and works in St. John’s.