feminism · Sat with Nat

Nat ponders why personal stories are “feminist”

I have been thinking a lot about my contributions to this blog over the years. Sometimes I make a point of spelling out why a topic or post is feminist but often I leave it unsaid, my assumption is that readers who follow or find this blog are already interested or knowledgeable about feminism and can make their own inferences. That could be a mistake so I wanted to put it out there why I often just write about my fitness journey and how that can be feminist.

Who does my fitness serve?

Reflecting back on posts often merely writing about fitness and finding joy in it is radically different than many media messages we receive.

I get worried that sexism’s under a lot of fitness writing that tells women to work out to be fit for others or to look a certain way. I understand fitness as feminist when it’s offered and engaged with for our own purposes. To feel strong, to care for ourselves and to enjoy what our bodies can do.

Where is the money?

A lot of times fitness writing is either to propose a problem a product can solve or sell an aesthetic that is only achievable through buying services or products. Yes. I am a wee bit of a pinko commie so I find fitness writing that is truly to give me information rather than sell me a product more likely to be feminist.

What is the goal or outcome?

When I do my best feminist fitness writing the desired goal or outcome is doing the activity for its own sake and the immediate rewards of feeling better in the moment and doing activities with friends.

Who looks “fit”?

Many of my posts, and other contributors, question common ideas of what “fit” bodies look like. We are often sent ideas and images that a certain body build or proportion are the only “fit” bodies and that all other bodies must be patrolled.

As a fat woman simply sharing my work outs help debunk myths around fatness, laziness and health.

Careful, you might become a radical too!

I joke all the time that I’m a “bad influence” on new friends as I sell feminist approaches to fitness and gleefully wear Lycra in public. (GASP, Does she know at her age/weight/whatever she shouldn’t be wearing that!)

It turns out though that confronting the realities of sexism in our society can be gut wrenchingly terrible. The good news is by raising awareness of the impacts of sexism we can debunk myths, support each other and be fit enough to rip the patriarchy apart one action or blog post at a time.

Sat with Nat · weight lifting

The humbling moment when you go back to lifting weights

I used to love lifting free weights in college and over the many years since dabbled from time to time with various strength training regimes.

The past two weeks my colleague Michelle and I have been warming up with cardio then doing a circuit of the weight machines at our workplace gym.

It’s humbling to not recognize the exercise the machine is intended to be used for and Michelle has been graciously guiding me through the equipment.

We laugh and fastidiously clean each bench before moving on. I remember using most of the stack of weights many years ago so sliding the pin into that second plate feels, well, humbling. I know I need to get used to aligning my body for each set, that I need to find the seat height and configurations that get the most out of each set.

I’m a plodding person who moves slowly and under control as I try to maximize the range of motion for each move. It’s not interesting or cinematic.

Michelle and I chat briefly between sets without wasting time.

It’s nice to connect outside of our work and support our wellbeing.

My upper body has been giving me grief now that I’m treating my sleep apnea. My chiropractor wisely noted I’m likely not moving as much in my sleep.

My lower body gets lots of exercise with my walking commute, the upcoming soccer season and riding my bike. Yoga has been great for stretching and keeping me flexible but I’ve realized I need some engagement of my upper body to feel well.

So here is to humble beginnings and not letting my ego get in the way of a good workout.

Selfie of Nat smiling at the camera wearing a purple shirt with white stripes

Sat with Nat · sleep

Nat gets cozy with her new CPAP

Fitness friends I do love talking about health, wellness and fitness as they intersect in my life.

Last fall I had gone to my family doctor about my snoring. I was referred to a sleep clinic. Both at no cost to me as I am a resident in Ontario, Canada. Go public health care!

I didn’t have a great time at the sleep clinic. The setting, the wires digging into my scalp and the pressure of the sensors on my throat triggered a series of panic attacks and migraines. Ya. It sucked.

Natalie lies in bed with over 12 wires and sensors attached to her face, scalp and neck. There are two sensors up her nose. Her head is on a pillow and we can see the trail of wires going out of shot.

The downside of public health care is it took 4 months to get my results. Despite only sleeping for just over 2 hours there was enough data to diagnose me with sleep apnea.

I had hoped it would be more of a manage my allergies type of solution to help reduce swelling in my airway.

The doctor recommended Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). I had a vague sense of what the machines were and was not prepared to take that on.

I asked about options. There’s a dental appliance that is more expensive and less effective. Surgery works in some cases 50% of the time. After a quick look at my nose and throat the specialist didn’t recommend surgery. Apparently the floppy throat bits they usually remove aren’t the ones causing my type of snoring. DAMNIT

The doctor outlined the dangers of sleep apnea both to help me understand why some intervention was required and to motivate me not to wait.

Friends, I have pretty serious sleep apnea, the kind that causes heart attacks in your fifties, and I was super upset. I was supposed to go into work after my appointment but ended up taking the day off and getting my CPAP.

The adjustment phase has been challenging. I’ve experienced every possible side effect from sinus infections, rashes on my face, condensation in the tube, swollen face, actually getting significantly less sleep. GAH!

Plus, the mask, is, well….not an invitation for spontaneous intimacy.

Natalie tried to smile with a five point harness that is holding a nose covering mask and a tube coming out of the middle.

I’m motivated to getting used to this therapy for my health. My partner is committed to learning more and helping me advocate for my health. He got me a Red Velvet Cake in celebration of taking a positive step for my health. Through the awesomeness of social media I have tapped into a deep well of peer support of friends who I never knew used CPAP.

I’m thinking back to how much mornings have truly sucked over the past decade and kicking myself for not seeking help sooner.

The sleep clinic doctor mentioned that the degree of sleep apnea I have is highly correlated to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. He explained that oxygen deprivation suppresses metabolic rates as well as reducing the energy you have to do the activities you love.

Headshot of Natalie looking very tired.
I get to be more tired before I get to feel rested.

So I’m committed to my health and I’m very fortunate that 75% of the cost of my machine is covered by my public health care. The remainder will be covered by my private insurance.

I had a twinge of ableist reaction to learning that sleep apnea is clustered under disability funding. I don’t feel disabled by my sleep apnea. I’m annoyed. I’m tired. I’m fortunate my daily activities weren’t drastically impacted.

The CPAP machine is a necessary assistive device in my life, like my night guard, my reading glasses, insoles and my blood pressure medication.

I’m hopeful that once I adjust to this change I’ll feel more rested and able to do more of the things I enjoy in life.

Currently I’m saving up to buy a portable power source so I can continue to enjoy off grid camping in the near future.

Tell me about your own CPAP adventures!

Book Reviews

Nat reviews Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories

This awesome collection of 11 short stories answers the question that has always bothered me in science fiction “Why aren’t there any bicycles?”

This is the 5th book in the series published by Microcosm Publishing edited by Elly Blue.

When the opportunity came up to review this book for our blog Sam knew I was the feminist sci-fi reading and writing cyclist who is always on the lookout for a great read.

In the introduction Elly Blue outlines why when we build worlds and tell tales that we must actively engage in intersectionality. If we don’t think about all the axis of identity and oppression then we risk perpetuating the “isms” of the world we live in into our imagined worlds.

I have had the opportunity to go to WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, the past two years.

WisCon and Functional Fitness

WisCon41 all the feels about disability

It was a wonderful experience but I also learned how some of my favourite genre stories are filled with unexamined ableism, sexism and racism. If we can build any world we want when writing why not create ones that challenge these inequalities?

As a fledgling writer I’ve set aside my apocalypse novel after realizing it was a story about privileged white people patting themselves on the back for figuring out how to live in the apocalypse the way many people around the world live today. Ya. That was an icky realization. I can do better. We can do better!

Elly Blue clearly knows how to get there and has sought out writers who are witty, funny and craft tender, engaging stories with characters I can relate to who take up the challenges in their lives while riding bicycles.

Novel cover art depicting a woman riding a bicycle through space. She wears a helmet and her pants are tucked into her socks. With toe clips, saddle bags and an oner the handlebar bag she clearly has spent many parsecs in the saddle.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book?

Like or comment before my Saturday post goes up at 6am EST and I’ll put your name into the draw.

The book was funded on kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ellyblue/bikes-not-rockets-feminist-bicycle-science-fiction

And if you are looking for more great stories the buck the norms in engaging ways check out the full catalogue at microcosmpublishing.com

body image · feminism · Sat with Nat

Nat reflects on how feminism has supported her fitness

I finally finished my Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies. Wahoooooooooo!

Photo of Natalie’s BA certificate with Distinction

It’s the end of a twenty-seven year post-secondary journey that started in 1992.

I’ve been thinking how over that time I discovered feminism while being in the military. By looking at exercise as a not only a way to do my job or change how I look but rather as a source of joy and feeling good in my body.

By reframing activity as something I do for myself that supports my wellbeing I have been able to stay active in a lot of activities.

This separation of fitness from my appearance and my work has helped me be confident in trying new things and persevering.

It’s not easy to navigate aging, work, stress, sexism, capitalism, parenting, caregiving and some sense of mental health in our information culture. I think a feminist analysis of my fitness has helped me connect with other women in a meaningful way. We share our stories, the triumphs and the challenges. We support each other and question those who would try to tell us we are too old/fat/etc to wear Lycra, ride bikes, practice yoga…

Has looking at your own activities with a feminist lens changed anything for you?

Sat with Nat · walking

Nat navigates walking to work in a Polar Vortex

It’s been a week of proper cold winter weather in London, Ontario. I live on the little southern bit of Canada wedged between the Great Lakes. It rarely drops below-20C here but when it does it tends to be because the Arctic airmass slips south into the jet stream and it stays that way for a week or two.

Some Canadians lean into the weather quipping “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just not dressing for the weather,” That supposes everyone has both the means to acquire the right clothing & equipment as well as the knowledge to know what to buy, how to wear it and when to stay indoors.

My partner and I are fairly committed to walking to work as part of our fitness and reducing our carbon footprint. I’m also terribly cheap and hate paying $8-12 a day to park my clunker.

Some days we just bundled up with hats, mitts, good boots and faces covered.

A close up of Nat’s face framed by a fake fur hood. You can just make out her eyes between her grey toque and bright orange face cover

My hood is always up when it’s -24C plus wind chill.

We did walk 2/5 days this week but we also chose to drive when the “feels like” temperature hit -39C. It was a week of driving in a cold car, working in a cold office and wearing layers of clothes in the house & in bed.

Brrrrrr

This type of cold weather wrecks havoc on batteries so for folks using electric mobility devices like scooters it was a week of being home. Waiting for buses became so hazardous school transportation was cancelled Thursday.

I think one way we can debunk toxic masculinity is calling out ideas of being able to “tough out” the weather. Sure, there are times to dig deep into your resolve to overcome obstacles. And yes, making our lives consciously more physically challenging can be a way to enhance our fitness. But those ideas must also be balanced against safety and wellbeing.

So I’m ok getting the lift offered by a friend on a snowy afternoon as I walk home. I’m ok driving when I might otherwise risk frostbite. I have been looking for rain pants and insulated snow pants that fit for about 5 years to no avail.

I would like some though so if you know where a woman can find women’s size 20 or XXXL I’d love to hear about it!

family · fat · feminism · Sat with Nat · yoga

Nat ponders being the crying woman in pigeon pose

I’m laying face down on my mat in Sleeping Pigeon with tears streaming down my face. I’ve been there for 3 minutes or so as the tendons unfurl in the heated yoga studio and I cry.

I’ve learned I carry tension about work in my neck and shoulders but worries and stress about my family are in my hips. I joke sometimes that my family is literally the pain in my ass.

I’m in a yin yoga class thanks to my friend & neighbour Kim. We visit on the walk to and from class. The Sunday afternoon routine has become our touch point and my moment to reflect on my wellbeing.

The slow pace of the 90 minute class promotes patience and acceptance. Pigeon is a challenge for my round body, it takes a couple minutes to find the right configuration of meaty thigh, Buddha belly and boobs and then the real work starts.

At first I feel a burning in my hip, a band of lava wraps around my socket then radiates out over my whole body. It’s very uncomfortable but rarely drifts into pain.

I breathe.

My mind wanders as the hip fibers unfurl and I come back, breathing, and watching my body react to the pose. The burning passes, like so many annoyances in my life, and the pleasant settling against the mat begins.

I breathe.

I start to get bored, more waves of heat and pressure move around my hips, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. Each release triggers thoughts and feelings about how I’m challenged in my roles as parent and partner. It has been a very rough go and each band of fibers releasing brings those tensions top of mind.

I breathe.

The tears well up as I imagine enduring through these tough times. Resilience hardens to resolve. Not the flippant, tied to a time of year resolution, but the grim determination of leaning in to my problems.

I breathe.

The time comes to leave the posture and I hesitate. Here, on the mat, in this vulnerability, no one is asking more, there are no other needs to fill, just me, my body, and my heartache.

I’m that fat middle aged woman who cries in Sleeping Pigeon now and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

My partner recently went on a Vipasana meditation retreat and has shared many great tips on living in the moment and not avoiding the negative sensations in my body. I’m someone who has a complicated relationship with my physicality and my mental health. I often work out to care for both.

My feminism has grown to be a place where I honour my body and don’t worry about my appearance. I work out in resistance to a world that tells me women my age should be invisible, wear loose clothes and not bother anyone.

In a small way, splayed out on a floor, in Lycra, taking up public space and crying are about being visible and existing for my own sake. I like to think other women are encouraged by my messy self and do things that work for them too.

My fitness activities aren’t a punishment or about achieving a specific appearance, they are for me and my well being alone.

I hope you are discovering and doing those activities that meet your needs this year too. It’s a selfie of Nat’s face with a wry smile and slightly messy, short brown hair. She happens to be at her desk at work and trying not to let that bum her out too much.

Sure, we can do this!