fitness · mindfulness · new year's resolutions

Kim and Mina’s year of living… poetry

Ah, the “new year”. Time to brow-beat yourself into saying you will do a bunch of things that do not really appeal but that you have a vague sense are “good for you”, insofar as the media has said so. Count down the days until the “new routine” begins to fall apart because… well, because it’s not what you really want or need at this moment, right?

Moira Rose says: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Resolutions, “new you”s, all that stuff: it’s absolute BS, friends. It’s clickbait; it’s a way to sell you stuff. (Under capitalist patriarchy, it’s almost ALWAYS about selling stuff, esp to women and others taught repeatedly from birth that they are not sufficient in themselves. RESIST THIS. It’s also good for the planet to resist.)

If you want to make a change for you, AMAZING. If you think things are actually moving along about as well as they can possibly move, for now – stay in motion, friends. Stay in motion.

But, if you’ve got a bit of an itch: why not try something completely different, just because, well, it can be a lot of fun to shake things up and see what shakes down as a result?

This was our accidental decision, way back in January 2021. Mina is a big fan of the Word of the Year (#WotY); Kim is a fan of taking down the Christmas tree on 1 January, vacuuming, and then pretending like nothing ever happened. But last January, we got to talking about ways to mark the passing of the seasons, of time, and about how to stimulate ourselves in ways we knew we wanted to be stimulated.

We’re both writers, but both of us do lots of other stuff besides, stuff which often gets in the way of pen-to-paper. So we decided we’d send each other poems – every two weeks, on a Sunday, for the whole year. The poems could be long or short, they could be planned and fussed over or banged out on deadline because OOPS-nearly-forgot. The only thing they needed to be was our own, a snapshot of a moment, maybe, or the capture of a memory. Anything we wanted to express, anything we wanted to share, on that particular Sunday.

To mark the end of our year of writing poems to one another, we’ve decided to share our favourites – one of our own, and one of the other’s – plus a few thoughts on what the challenge meant for each of us.

KIM

My overarching memory of this challenge will be of haikus. I love the form (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables – that’s it); I admire its capacity to capture one image, one tiny slice of the lives we’re living, arrested in stillness like a photograph. The haiku is also a handy container to have on hand for all those Sundays that get away from you, when it’s getting late and you realize that there’s a message from Mina in your inbox but you’ve forgotten to write your poem AGAIN.

This nifty orange haiku reads “Haikus are easy. / But sometimes they don’t make sense. / Refrigerator.” Kim did not write this orange haiku; she only WISHES she had written this orange haiku.

At the same time, though, the gift of this poetry exchange is contained, for me, in the promise of the haiku: to stop (even if only briefly), just breathe, then look at the world for a minute, maybe smile at what you see. To look, twice: to see a thing more deeply than a passing glance can offer. Most of my own haikus were composed in my head on my bicycle; as I was swooping through curves or punching a climb, I’d note and observe and begin to put smells, sounds, and passing glances together. It made the rush or the climb or the slog or whatever so very much, briefly, richer.

Many of Mina’s poems share a similar love of the earth and its blessings, alongside fear for its imminent destruction. Writing from the position of ultra-runner, mountain biker, and committed meditator she’d often reflect on the gatherings of a day outdoors. Sometimes, though, she’d ground herself in the lesson of the haiku: simply stop, stand still, look around, and take careful note – as in this, my favourite of her non-haiku pieces:

The reckonings through observance that Mina and I both practiced in our poetry also allowed me to reflect a good deal on my own strength this year, something that’s increasingly precious to me as I move through some major life changes. This year I realized I am in perimenopause: all the signs are turning up, not least of which are body composition changes that I struggle, at times, to accept. I’m getting older, even though the woman in the mirror is still a girl to me.

This year was also a tough one for my relationship, and not long ago, despite our love for one another, my partner and I decided to part. This was doubly painful for me because I’m a 47-year-old heterosexual woman living in a patriarchy. I ask myself, at my lowest: how many more chances might I have?

It can be very hard simultaneously to feel one’s strength and to hold on to one’s vulnerability – but being both strong and vulnerable is what it means to be human, to accept our responsibilities and our limits, too. This poem of mine, also from March, reminds me of this important paradox.

One of Kim’s poems, also from March 2021.

MINA

I want to write ditto. Everything that Kim said. And … I was soliciting ideas for my annual challenge last January, when I realized that so many of my challenges were about self-denial and discipline (don’t shop from Amazon, don’t buy any clothes, don’t drink diet coke etc…). I wanted a challenge to flourish for 2021. There was already enough pandemic deprivation going around. We came up with this poetry challenge. I had no inkling of how attached I’d become to the practice. Even when I forgot and dashed something off in 10 minutes, I was filled with pleasure. There was no grade, just the act of sharing and reminding each other of our creative impulse. Lovely.

Kim mentioned that she wrote a lot of her poems on the bike. I wrote many of mine in the liminal space between sleep and waking, also on runs and a few times during meditations. The haiku form was particularly beguiling. I offer one of mine here from 14 November 2021, that feels particularly aligned with our mission at this blog:

a surge of vitality/a race toward grace/how much longer will I be?

I hate having to choose favourites of anything, so the idea of one definitive, throw-down, hands down poem of Kim’s that I loved from our year was impossible. And easy. Because there were many. So, I chose one of hers that speaks to our mission here, too and takes a different form:

Kim’s fridge magnet poem from 6 February 2021

We’re still writing poems to each other, it turns out! We both so miss the challenge that sometimes, in the darkness of early 2022, we shoot poetry texts at one another across the expanse between us (aka, most of New York State and part of Lake Ontario). Here’s a final haiku from us, a summing up of our year in moments, snaps, and syllables:

The gift of poem/graceful challenge to create/2021

How about you, readers? What mindfulness or beauty-based hopes, dreams, or challenges are you cooking up for this coming year? Let us know!

covid19 · fitness · traveling

Traveling while COVID: tips from the FIFI team

My post last Thursday was all about traveling properly for the first time since the pandemic began, and figuring out how to move with joy and purpose, and not get too caught up in the anxiety. I asked my fellow FIFI pals for their thoughts on the topic, and today we’ve got some reflections and tips from Cate, Elan, Sam, and Mina.

MINA

I just traveled to Montreal last week! And I enjoyed my first run up Mont Royal, which grounds me here. Before I left jillions of hour early to get to the airport, because of how travel is in The Time of Covid, I was extra vigilant about getting in a good (aka fierce) pre-departure workout. I knew I’d spend hours breathing hot masked air, thus feeling even more trapped than usual in an airport and airplane. And I’ll sacrifice all variety in my wardrobe to bring my running kit, so I can get outside at my destination.

A wide-angle shot of downtown Montreal (busy with buildings) under a blue, clouded sky, the greenery of Mount Royal in the foreground. Seen from the top of Mount Royal; photo by Matthias Mullie on Unsplash.

The travel I’ve done during the pandemic has been about moving outside: hiking in Iceland and Italy; doing things where there are no crowds once I’m out of the airport. Travel has become a bigger commitment, given the regulations, so I notice my partner and I are going back to places we’ve been, instead of taking the chance on new destinations. Too much other uncertainty to want to gamble on a half-good outdoor experience.

ELAN

I’m travelling over holidays to a condo in Mexico – not a resort for fear of too many folks in a concentrated place. I’m looking forward to swimming in the ocean after 2 years of shut down gyms and beaches. But, I am also wrestling with the urge to be outside and move around with others, with the dilemma of having my partner forced to be around others by proxy because I will then be around him when I get back.

CATE

I’ve traveled more than most people during the time of COVID, mostly within Canada. Since the onset of the pandemic my workout routine hasn’t been much different than it was before, and when I am traveling my goal is always just to move at least once a day, with no expectations about weights or formal movement. My primary activity when I’m traveling, if I’m not on a bike trip, is just moving outside, walking or running, even when I’m not running much at home. When space is tight, I always pack my favourite trail running shoes, which are both excellent light hikers and decent runners for shorter distances.

In strange cities, I find myself doing different walk/run workouts than I would at home, maybe with a few fence-assisted pushups, an occasional stair or hill repeat, etc, thrown in. (In Vancouver recently, I did the 12 km Stanley Park seawall traverse a few times, twice with a 5k run embedded in the middle.) When I can, like Sam, I bring my folding bike, or take advantage of city-bike type rentals. I have also invested in a super-light yoga mat (too thin to use on concrete but fine on a hotel rug), which I wrap a stretchy band around, and throw in a few YWAs (Yogas with Adrienne) or my own little mobility routine.

A close-up of concrete steps, with a pair of legs in orange and grey Nike runners climbing. Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash.

I’ve been grateful recently that hotels I’ve been to have opened up gyms with a sign up sheet, capacity limits, and vax requirements. I enjoyed the crap out of hurling around a medicine ball in a hotel gym in Ottawa recently, for the first time in a couple of years. I’m heading to Uganda for three weeks in a couple of weeks, and I’ll bring the yoga mat and the trail runners, and just make sure I keep my body moving a bit. It’s not about Being an Athlete for me, it’s about tending to my body and keeping it flexible and limber during the stress of travel on top of the Stress of These Times.

SAM

COVID travel: I haven’t done it. But if I were travelling, a challenge for me these days, is that I can’t walk very much. I look in awe now at my huge step count days in Europe pre-COVID. So getting enough movement in when traveling is a challenge. I used to always do in-hotel room exercise routines, yoga, etc. And I love hotel gyms, and I love it when I can I fly with my Brompton and bike around a new city.

But all that feels like a blurry, distant memory. I both really miss travel, and yet I’m not sure we should be flying around the world given the worsening climate disaster.

Check in with me in a few years!

A pink Brompton, not unlike Sam’s beloved folding bike, rests against a stone wall. Somebody is bound to come along and hop on any minute now!

Readers, how is the return to travel sitting with you? Are you flying about again, and if so how’s it going? Are your climate concerns affecting your travel choices? What about lingering COVID concerns? Share thoughts, tips, and movement tricks with us in the comments.

covid19 · fitness · traveling

Traveling While COVID, or, same body, new movement reality

Last month, I got on an airplane. For the first time since December 2019.

For me, this is a big deal: usually, in The Before Times, I’d travel (for work and for me) several times a year, doing at least two round trip long haul journeys (family overseas; work all over the place). Since COVID, like so many of us, I’ve grown home-bound and weary, and wary of being adjacent to humans I don’t know. But we cannot live inside the pandemic’s trauma-inducing reality forever. And I had a voucher for British Airways to use before March 2022.

So I got on a plane one cool October evening, and flew overnight from Toronto to London.

A seductively blurry shot of a rank of British Airways tail fins at Heathrow terminal 5, taken from the inside of an airplane cabin through the little porthole window. It feels very 1969 to me, even though my plane was a 787 Dreamliner.

Normally (aka “Before Times” normally), going to London for me is going to my second home. I bring my bike; London and southeastern England is where I fell in love with road cycling, so I do lots of rides. I keep a swimsuit, cap and goggles in my travel bag, and I like to hit at least a couple of my favourite London-area pools with UK swim friends (London Fields Lido!!!). I walk a fair bit too, because London is a fabulous walking city, and sometimes I head to the Surrey Hills for organized hikes with family or other pals.

This time around, I knew this movement landscape would be radically curtailed. Though it’s still riding weather in the UK right now, bringing the bike, on top of all the other COVID-related travel admin and anxiety, was just too much to think about. Swimming is still by-booking-only at many pools, so I had to think well ahead about when I’d swim and how I’d get to where I was going. Those pools that accepted walk-ins made me nervous (no UK vaccine mandates in place at pools or gyms), so I knew I wouldn’t want to do that. Hiking would have been grand, of course, but everyone is 120% busier with getting back to life now that COVID is “over” but not, well, over – and many folks are still reticent about getting involved in day-long excursions with people outside their households.

What did I do instead? How did I navigate the moving-while-traveling-under-COVID reality? How did I cope with residual COVID anxiety?

A shot of half my face and neck, wearing sunglasses and a smile, standing in front of a bright blue sky and roiling sea. In the background you can see Brighton pier. I’d been for a sunshine walk on the sand while waiting for my friend and colleague Ben.

First, I doubled down on walking. I did an average of 5-8km a day, some days much more, some days less. I brought my comfortable, light-as-air walking shoes (I like Solomon Speedcross, though your mileage may vary!), and I made sure my orthotics were always in. Instead of taking the tube (more below!!) I strutted across Mayfair into the West End and across to the South Bank; on other days, after journeys to the south coast for work, I strutted along the beach in Brighton.

My foot injury still flared up, though, so I tried as much as possible to stretch; I bought an inexpensive yoga mat and blocks to keep at home with my UK family, and I also tuned into my regular Iyengar class on Zoom. I had a plan, as well, to keep up with Alex Class as much as possible, but the time zone difference got in the way more than I would have liked. I had my bands with me, though no weights, so when I did tune in for Alex I managed a light, largely body-weight, workout. That was, as it turns out, perfect given the accelerated walking regimen.

So much, so self-propelled movement; in (public) transit things were harder for me. In the UK, there are no mask or vaccine mandates in place, and cases are still pretty high. I experienced culture shock over my first couple of days – Canadians, as Cate reminded me, are perhaps among the most COVID-compliant people on earth, and pretty anxious about it! – but I found I adjusted surprisingly quickly. To keep myself safe, I wore N95 masks whenever I was in close proximity to more than a couple of dozen people (on the subway; at the theatre), and if I woke up with a sniffle or scratchy throat I took a rapid test. (In the UK these are free and widely accessible, which is brilliant, though I would have preferred a mask mandate much more.)

My big take-away for moving safely and happily while in COVID transit? Trust your body, and know that whatever movement you manage is good movement. Trust your (high quality) mask, and if you are vaccinated know you are very safe. This is not forever; you’ll get back to running/riding/swimming hard, lifting heavy, standing on your forearms while traveling soon enough. You’ll also get back to a feeling of relative safety in transit soon enough! Movement during travel is about keeping joints limber, moving with joy, keeping things loose and free, and combining movement with pleasure as much as possible. It keeps our brain cells healthy and our cortisol levels under control, too.

We know this is American thanksgiving, and lots of folks are traveling at the minute. So, tune in over the weekend for more ideas and thoughts from some of our regular Fit Feminist travellers. We hope we can offer a few options to help make the most of moving your body and staying safe and well while also moving about this holiday season.

And if you are celebrating this weekend – enjoy!

A peacock struts the grass at Holland Park, west London, where I walked a couple of times with my friend Erin. Please do not cook this bird at home this weekend!

Readers, what are you doing to stay safe and move well in transit? Let us know!

femalestrength · fitness · sexism · tennis

Naomi Osaka vs The Patriarchy (OR: That time a talented female athlete asked reporters to shut up and it didn’t go her way. Quel Surprise.)

So, Naomi Osaka. World #2, unbelievable tennis player, YOUNG PERSON (she’s 23 years old). She heads to the French Open, aka “Roland Garros” (we’re posh, peeps – we call the thing by the name bestowed upon the hallowed grounds, and there are tiny sandwiches somewhere, and patisserie, and LOTS OF BOOZE). She says: you know what? I would rather not do the press conferences this time, thanks. I am a tennis player at the elite level and barely an adult and my clay court game is a tricky work in progress. I need to focus, and also cope with all the feelings while focusing, which means I really don’t need to have to field a bunch of questions about my sexuality, or the depth of my human flaws, or other outright irrelevant crap after every match, thanks. For my mental health, you know, I just would rather not. It’s about the game, right?

Friends, she broke the internet. Of course she did.

Osaka in a blue-green Nike tank and black boxers, at rest, holding a tennis ball and smiling. THIS WOMAN KICKS TENNIS ASS. (This image is from her Wikipedia page, where you can also learn her native name in Japanese script.)

WTF cares if tennis stars do the damn press circuit at the Grand Slam tournaments? Their sponsors, sure. (Although the sponsors make their money back hand over fist regardless, and I’d bet my new racket that Osaka’s sponsors are finding this massive controversy, splashed all over the place online, is breaking their way.) The Grand Slam organizers too, yes: they have a vested interest in stuff always going to the plan they have so carefully wrought. So the money folks, they really care.

Beyond the economics, there are, from my perspective, two main reasons the world seems in a huge way to care about Osaka’s decision to refuse to do press at the FO. There’s the fairly basic answer, and then there’s the answer behind that answer – the nuances.

The first part – the basics – smarter people than me have already weighed in on. Writing in the Guardian sports blog, Jonathan Liew has pointed out that when stars like Osaka say ‘no thanks’ to the press, it’s another reminder – a billboard-sized, viral Twitter-shaped reminder – that the mostly-white-often-older dudes who still rule the sports pages in many conventional media outlets matter less and less and less. If Naomi has something she needs to tell me, she’s gonna tell me directly, on social. And that scares the bejeezus out of those dudes.

Here’s a screen grab of Naomi’s twitter. Go follow her. (Notice that she has 1M followers and is following 18 people. THAT IS BADASS.)

Meanwhile, also in the Guardian (NB: wholly subscriber-funded, not owned by billionaires! As a researcher it’s the paper I trust most in the world), Marina Hyde points out that Osaka’s “mistake” was to experience her mental health and address its needs while still actively competing and winning Slams – as opposed to, you know, burying that shit, blowing up in a spectacular and headline-inducing way, crawling off for a while, then coming back with a memoire. The media (hi Rupert Murdoch! Thanks for setting such an incredibly ethical example!) LOVE a case of celebrity mental breakdown and a subsection of this media will defend to their graves their exclusive right to report on these breakdowns in the most shaming and salacious ways, damn the consequences. (I urge you to read the whole Hyde piece; Marina is a comic genius and as far as I am concerned she is the reincarnation of Jonathan Swift.)

OK, now for the nuance-y bit. I’m a beginner tennis player and I only half-glance at the Grand Slams over my partner’s shoulder most of the time, but the Osaka story caught my eye because I’ve just finished going through the proofs of a new book chapter I’ve written about girlhood, gender identity, and sport. Its focus is the amazing 2016 play The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, which follows a team of high school-aged soccer players, all young women, as they navigate a season. They are alone on stage until the very end of the play. Their pitch is their space to own and control and be messy and flawed and incredible and talented and mean little shits because they are TEENAGE GIRLS. They use that space to actualize who they are, to be better selves every practice, to dream up and then enact, in their shared embodiment, who they want to become. There are no media folks (nor anybody else) present.

A group of 9 young women in red soccer jerseys and black shorts mug for the camera on an artificial grass pitch against a black background: they are fake-posing sexy-model style with orange slices in their mouths. This is the cast of The Wolves from the 2018 Toronto production.

This is revolutionary. Why? Because, as my chapter argues, the history of women in competitive sport is a history of the male gaze freaking out like crazy. Add in girls doing their own thing, for their own benefit, and things get really sweaty in a hurry.

(I want to be clear here that “the male gaze” is a patriarchal construct, not a feature of biology attached only to actual men: it refers to how all of us humans who live under patriarchy – a social structure in which men are valued, culturally, above others – learn to look at bodies, including our own. Think about it: when you look in the mirror, as a strong and fit woman, what do you see? I see my perimenopausal hips and thighs and think, rats. What did I eat yesterday? BAM! That’s me looking through my female eyes with a male gaze.)

A graphic shows Christina Hendricks all in red, dressed as from Mad Men, with Don Draper-era guys in suits and hats looking at her. Arrows help us understand the trajectory of their collective gaze, in case we need help parsing the symbolism. THAT THING.

Sporty women are a huge problem for the male gaze. Why? They are STRONG. They are bulky – muscle-toned. They are working their bodies for a purpose other than attracting male attention – this is weird and taboo to patriarchy. (Check out stuff we’ve written here and elsewhere on the blog about Serena Williams, and also Sam’s great posts about women on bikes, to learn more.) Sporty women are also, of course, incredibly beautiful, graceful, powerful – damn fun to watch. So the upshot is: we want to watch them, with our patriarchally-trained gazes, but in the process we (even sometimes feminist humans like me!) experience serious cognitive dissonance. How can they be so incredible to watch while not conforming to patriarchal expectations about what incredible-to-watch women are supposed to look like? Are you even allowed out in public with thighs that strong?

From here – DIRECTLY – comes the now-infamous corollary dispensed by La Mostly Male Presse (again, see Serena, women on bikes, Megan Rapinhoe, you name the bad-ass girl athlete): if you’re going to compete at this high level, laydeez, we are going to reserve the right to judge you constantly, shame you continuously, and call all of your tactical choices into question. Otherwise, you make us look a bit too hard at the structures of our social systems and our heads start to hurt and we have to consider perhaps, um, making some serious structural changes. So we’re going to push you back down, down, down. Don’t be so uppity, miss tennis star. Who exactly do you think you are?

And here – HERE – is where the rubber hits the clay, so to speak, for Naomi Osaka.

Osaka at the French open in 2016, in a multi-coloured tank and black leggings, preparing to serve. She looks exhausted because she is playing intense tennis, people. Remember: this woman hits balls. Hard.

She’s young, and like all young people thrust into the limelight, she’s having to figure out some basic ontology (aka, who am I? What will I become?) while also competing at the most elite level, in the public eye. She is vulnerable and fragile like all young women who grew up under patriarchy, but to the Nth degree because tennis star (AND woman of colour, hello structural racism!!).

Add to that Roland Garros, which is a clay court surface and thus clashes with some of the strongest aspects of Osaka’s game, and both Naomi and La Presse know what’s most likely to come of any tete-a-tete post-game. Who the hell wouldn’t blame her for saying, you know, I think I’d rather play tennis than live out my existential fears on camera, so that maybe I can improve my clay court game. Ok with you?

Was her “hard no” to all press a bit OTT, maybe even a bit childish? Dunno – depends on your lived experience. When I was 23 I was only just recently not a child, so maybe a bit? #mostlynormal

Is Osaka a flawed human who let some probably nice people down in the process of making this call (for ex: occasional amazing female sports journalists who might have asked awesome questions)? Sure. She’s flawed as hell – have you seen her clay court game? Again, really not the point though, unless you feel safe tossing those stones.

What Osaka is asking, really asking, is that we hear her when she says: I’m supposed to play top-game tennis here and also face the press, all while keeping my shit together, and this combination of things is not, for me, actually possible. It’s not possible for some of my peers, too, and I wonder if perhaps we could take a look at the system and shift things so that maybe one day it could be possible, things could be kinder, and more fair for us all?

Funny how, when we ask questions just like that, the press corps and the Slam chiefs find it really, really hard to offer a good answer.

advice · covid19 · dogs · online exercise

Lessons from the Pandemic: a farewell post

As Sam mentioned a few days ago, we’re rejigging the schedule here at FIFI, and as part of that rejig I’ve decided to step away for a bit. It’s been a long few months and I’ve struggled like others; I’ve been cushioned from health and financial blows, thanks to the grace of good government and the privilege of a secure job, but emotionally this has been a roller coaster. I need some time to take stock, and I don’t do that well online.

As I was walking with my dog this afternoon, gorgeous fall colours glowing in the sunshine, the wind whipping past us with just a hint of Old Man Winter to it, I started to think about what joy simple, solitary walks give me, and how I’ll look forward to them as we all lock down, to different degrees, in the months ahead. No matter what happens I know I will still be able to leave my house with my dog three times a day, even if I must do so completely isolated from others. (And obviously: not if I’m ill myself, which I pray will not happen.)

The pandemic is no blessing, but it has had some real teachable moments for me. These crept up on me over the summer and are more and more tangible as everything churns up again now. I’m glad to have these moments with me, as reminders of the good inside the terrible, for the winter ahead, and I thought as a farewell-for-now post I’d share them with you.

Chewy the dog chilling with his toys on the sofa; now THAT is what staying in looks like. Image from Unsplash.
  1. The internet has a lot of great gyms in it. This is the most pleasant discovery COVID has brought me. I can work out multiple times a week for a very affordable rate in my very own kitchen, and I can reap the benefits of amazing feminist energy over Zoom, even if the connection is sometimes unstable. The strength I glean, both physical and emotional, from the wonderful people I’ve linked up with on the fitness web goes some way to making up for the connections I’ve lost or had to pause IRL.
  2. If your home is a safe place, it’s quite wonderful to have permission not to leave it. I always thought I was a full-on extrovert, but no; COVID has helped me realize how much I like not having to leave my house very much, or go very far. I felt a strong pressure to be social in the before times, but honestly social environments are stressors for me. I get performance anxiety. And I’m a hyper-vigilant anxiety sufferer, so the more people in a place and the more formal the event the harder it is for me to keep my eye on everything and make sure everything and everyone are doing ok. Not having to go out and perform Public Kim so often is a huge relief.
  3. If stuff goes wrong so what? It’s a pandemic. I find I learn this lesson best from my students. We’ve had to adjust to A LOT over the last couple of months and they are having to adjust to 5x as much of it as any one of their instructors. When stuff goes wrong in my wacky hybrid/Zoom classroom, I remind us all that it’s going to be fine if we just roll with it. I show them compassion and they show me some too; when the tech dies or the breakout rooms get messed up or, you know, name a thing, we try to laugh about it. Learning to laugh and then carry on imperfectly when things go wrong is also a good thing to take from university.
  4. Incidental movement matters. Boy does it ever! My first day back in my campus office and a real-life classroom last month reminded me what walking around a four-story building all day does for your step count. Finding ways to incidentally move at home is harder, but still totally doable (see dog walking above). I think I might download a step counter app because data helps in a situation like this. And the more I move, the better I feel about everything.
  5. Bodies change, sometimes because the world has changed, and that’s just fine. I’ve put on weight these last few months, though it’s not all COVID-related. Mostly I think it’s aging, the slowing metabolism that brings, and the decision I seem to have made to say to heck with the notion that certain foods are contraband, or only permitted after a killer workout. I love food and my partner cooks beautifully; I enjoy eating and also, um, it’s a pandemic. My body is changing because it is aging, because the routine ways we are usually permitted to move in the world are currently under duress, and because the stress of the situation is something else. I’m working hard on looking in the mirror and reminding myself that I am here, I am loved, and I am proud of my delightfully imperfect body. It is hard work – after a lifetime of terrible body and self-image issues, it can’t not be – but I’m really trying.
Me (in a purple fall jacket) and Emma the Dog (a Black and Tan shepherd-crossed-with-something) during a fabulous autumn walk last year. We are on a park bench (me sitting, Emma standing, ears in curious mode, mouth open in anticipation) and the ground is a blanket of orange maple leaves. I seem to be saying something like “Emma! Look at the camera!” because Emma is NOT looking at the camera. She is looking at HORSES.

So that’s me for now, then; thanks for all the reading, friends. I will be guesting in this space again sometime soonish, I wager, but until then I wish you all a very safe autumn and the very very best to those of you heading to the polls. Thank you for keeping moving.

Kim

fitness · holidays · rest

Labour Day: Celebrating What We Gain From Working Together and Prioritizing Rest

Happy Labour Day! If you’re reading this morning from Canada or the US, you know exactly what today marks: the unofficial end of summer and the start of the “new” year (for all students, parents, teachers, and anyone like me who worships autumn).

You might not know, though, that Labour Day has been an official holiday since 1892 in the US, and 1894 in Canada, and that it traces its roots to 1872 Toronto, where a mass printer’s strike achieved legal protections for unions and marked a huge step toward entrenching labour rights for working class citizens.

(This image shows a brown forearm and fist clutching a brown wrench; the text reads Happy Labour Day 2020. “Labour Day” is 1 May; it’s also 7 September. Huh!)

Labour Day, in other words, is a day of rest that celebrates the recognition that rest is essential for the human body – so that it can be more productive, so that it can be healthier, so that it can be happier, and also so that the humans connected to it can be healthy and happy too.

Lines of music showing the note and rest notations for whole, half, and quarter notes. Musicians know exactly what rest looks like!!

I was thinking about all of this yesterday, when I decided to pass up the chance to go on a solo bike ride under near-perfect weather conditions in order to play tennis with my partner D instead. He adores tennis (and is really good at it – I am not) but doesn’t yet do long-distance cycling, so a solo ride would have taken me away from him for a good three hours on a rare Sunday together. Moreover, D doesn’t get a lot of chances to play tennis with a partner (however unskilled). I knew it meant a lot to him to play on this glorious day, and I wanted to share that with him. I also wondered if perhaps NOT riding would do my body some good; a change, when it comes to fitness, can be as good as a rest, after all, since different muscles get stretched and worked and your body and brain can enjoy learning something new.

Tennis is the kind of sport that, however intensely competitive players may be, really requires working together. If you offer up a bad serve, the rally won’t ever get going; if you don’t think about landing the ball somewhere that your partner can play it, ditto. For me, right now as I learn, a lot of tennis is about just figuring out how to return the ball, period; that means that D also has to be supportive and kind in his returns, hitting me balls I can play rather than the fast, hard balls he would send the way of a more skilled and agile player.

Serena Williams, in black, in full flight. The media loves to give Serena grief about not being a “team player”, but that’s mostly racist, misogynist BS. To be a competitive athlete at the highest levels means working with your partner even while you play hard against them.

Here, too, my tennis adventure connects with a core principle we celebrate on Labour Day: the power of collective action. Anyone who plays team sports knows how essential it is to play with and for one’s mates, as opposed to for one’s own gain; the latter might win some games but it will never win the long haul. In any sport that includes others, however – racket sports; group cycling; canoe adventuring; even marathons or triathlons – it’s equally important to be aware of and attentive to the needs of those around us, because our achievements are measured in the small ways we help each other to excel, to be our best selves on the court or on the road or in the pool.

Taking care of one another’s needs, knowing that we might need the same courtesy at any moment, is fundamental to the ethos of all sport, and this ethos is one of the reasons sport is such an immense character-building opportunity for people young and old.

The same is true of life out in the regular world, though. Working together, for one another, knowing that we all benefit that way, makes all our lives better. Together we have the power to stand up to injustice, to stand up for fairness, and to raise our voices together in order to ask for the concessions we need in order to live our best lives. This is why socialized medical care is a massive success around the world, and why nations like New Zealand, with a strong commitment to equity and fairness, have weathered the pandemic incredibly well. It is also one of the reasons that protest movements – like the kind we have seen these past few months in support of Black Lives Matter, in the wake of the deaths of ordinary human beings like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – quickly gather speed and catch our attention. Humans thrive by working together for common causes, and despite our differences. Differences are as natural as shared human need; we benefit from recognizing the former even as we join forces to meet the latter, every single time.

White and black and brown hands, seen from above, joined together in a circle. Working together means recognizing and acknowledging the importance of differences even while we share common goals.

We talk a lot on the blog about the importance of resting our bodies to build and consolidate strength; we also talk a lot (and feel strongly!) about what it means to be in this together, a team working toward our feminist fitness goals, even when those goals are individual ones. Resting, and celebrating our community, is a big part of our blog ethos; it’s also a Labour Day ethos.

This autumn marks a choice point for the nation that brought us Labour Day under President Grover Cleveland in 1892. It’s worth reflecting on this Labour Day 2020 about what it will take in the years ahead to return America to a place where shared human needs are addressed by shared (not divisive) social vision, where rest is valued by and for all – not just for the richest and most powerful among us.

Readers, how are you spending your Labour Day? Let us know.

fitness · swimming

Pandemic swimming: more fun than the regular kind! (Say what?)

Like others on the blog, I enjoy a nice splash in the pool. And like others on the blog, early in the pandemic my regular swims were probably the thing I missed most (after hugs). Here in Ontario we’ve been able to get back in the pool for over a month now, but that doesn’t mean things on the swim front have been back to normal, exactly.

To my great surprise, I’m totally ok with this.

(Two photos of Thames Park Pool in London, Ontario. One shows kids splashing under a waterfall in the kids area; the other shows the detail of a 50m lane, with a kids’ wading entrance and waterslide in the background.)

I am a hyper-competitive human; I really like going fast and beating others when I’m pedalling or swimming or even yoga-ing. (NB: I realize this is Not At All The Right Attitude in yoga; I’m working on it, I swear.)

I am also, however, not a gifted swimmer. I like swimming, and I can do almost every stroke (butterfly eludes me, alas). But I’m also bottom-heavy, and I struggle not to drag my lower body through the water on an angle. I’ve never trained as a swimmer, so my stroke ain’t anywhere near perfect. For the last few years, I’ve been swimming twice a week with more gifted swimmers than me, and that’s helped a lot. But I’m not exactly going to be Michael Phelps-ing my way up the lanes anytime soon. Or ever.

So swimming, in the before times when lots of people could share a lane and swim together and overtake each other (or creep up behind one another and tap the slowpoke’s toe, what I like to call The Bop of Doom), was a mixed bag for me. Splashing in water = YAY! Swimming with fast people while Type A = performance anxiety and stress! Fretting about why my split time is slower than last week FFS = more anxiety and more stress, plus a soupçon of disappointment in self.

And swimming in the after times? Well I’ll tell ya.

I’m incredibly out of practice on the stroke front, and sore from head-standing with the amazing Alex and bouncing around the countryside on my road bike, and yet – IT IS SO MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE FUN.

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A young girl in a purple stripy swimsuit blasts into a swimming pool. Her eyes are closed, she’s blowing bubbles out of her mouth, and her arms are splayed. SHE IS HAVING AN AMAZING TIME IN WATER!

When the world crashed to a halt for me on 12 March, the day after my last shared lane swim, I had no idea it would be until mid-July when I’d get to freestyle up the lane and breast back again. But that’s how it rolled out.

My home city decided to open a limited number of pools this summer, after we entered Stage 2.5, and to make all swims “open”; that is, great fun for kids, but no real lanes to speak of (unless it’s a rainy day or you catch the pool at exactly the right time, and the one sort-of lane is mostly empty of frolickers).

Meanwhile, my work city crafted a booking system that lets registered users book themselves into both lane swims and open swims exactly one week in advance; this means swimmers are guaranteed their preferred time slot, but you have to be really quick about it – lane swims in the two large pools book out within a minute or two of registration opening. Given that I travel to my work city irregularly right now, that’s meant I’ve only had one opportunity to book into my beloved former neighbourhood pool, Thames Park.

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A white male swimmer breaststrokes up a 50m lane at Thames Park pool while a lifeguard watches. I was so excited to go for a swim I forgot to take any pictures of ME!

It was a warm early morning in late July when I rolled out of bed and threw the dog in the car to make the 1.5 hour journey up the highway; my swim was booked for 9am, and I had work meetings and a haircut following. I dropped the dog with my folks, aka her besties, and drove to the pool. Thankfully, we were permitted to use the toilets in the change room, where I pulled off my dress to reveal my swimsuit underneath. We were also permitted to bring our own gear with us, so out onto the deck I marched with my pull buoy, my kick board, my goggles and my training fins.

Once on the deck, I found I was nervous but everyone else was chill; I sensed a lot of “regulars”. When the announcement came that it was 9am we chose lanes and jumped in; there were exactly enough spots available for two people to share a 50-m lane. This was a huge treat; morning swims at this gorgeous pool are super busy under normal conditions, and I usually end up swimming there alongside the Phelps-types. Cue stress response.

But today? Under sunny blue skies I took off up the lane; much too fast to start, I realized when I got to the other end and was winded. I breasted back, enjoying the feeling of stretching my sore, sore quads and hamstrings, and then tried to moderate my thrill on the way back up, preserving air for the return trip.

In the before times I’m hard on myself in the pool; even though swimming is cross-training for me, I like to push to ensure I’m getting good cardio along with a range of movements. On this sunny morning, though, I gave myself a “first swim in four months” pandemic pass and let myself do all my favourites: lots of kicking, goggles on my forehead while I took in the happy sights of my fellow swimmers and the guards, the children’s play area and mini-waterfalls all around; lots of pull to practice my stroke gently and give my shoulders some love. I breasted more than usual – I love breast stroke! – and decided not to care that I wasn’t pushing myself to improve! improve! improve! my rusty freestyle crawl.

I mean, who cares? It’s a pandemic! Nobody in this lane to compete with. And see above re not exactly Michael Phelps anyway. Why not just enjoy this amazing, sunny, body-hugging time in the cool splashy water? Especially after the spring and summer we’ve had.

Back at home, I’ve been practicing a similar attitude in one of my local outdoor pools. The sweet little 25-yard job in my neighbourhood park isn’t open for the summer, but the slightly bigger, newly renovated number over the highway bridge is, and after long rides on my bike I drive over, queue up for a few minutes, and then jump in the water just to stretch myself out. I love doing figure-four stretches at the deep end ladders, or star-floating on my back and grabbing my ankles to do a water-supported bridge. I swoop and dive, stand in the shallow end to stretch my quads, and take in the sight of happy kids developing and nurturing the deep love of water that I cherish, too.

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A stripy beach ball floating on sun-dappled water. BLISS!

Isn’t it weird that it took a global pandemic for me to remember that swimming is about joy? How about you, friends? Have these strange times helped you reconnect with movement that you’d forgotten brings you joy, too?

 

fitness · online exercise · strength training

And then, just like that, I did a handstand!

Tuesday mornings are becoming my favourite. I’m not a morning person AT ALL, but my strength class begins at 7:30, so no choice. I get up around 7am to fling the dog around the block; if I don’t she is a right pest all through the class.

Tuesdays are “skill work”, which is Alex-speak for circus tricks. I am not a flying trapeze kinda gal, but I have to say, moderate tricksterness is delightful to try on for size. I’ve learned the key to crow pose (and also fallen on my head, largely because of the sweatiness of the matter), mastered the wall walk, and that means the big fish left to me is… HANDSTAND.

woman-doing-cartwheel-type-5_1f938-1f3fe-200d-2640-fe0f
Woman doing cartwheel emoji: she has medium-brown skin and is wearing a green and pink bodysuit against a blue background. I LOVE this emoji. I think of it as “delighted handstand joy!!!” emoji. I use it for almost all happy things when I’m texting with my partner.

Today in Alex class (if you’re not already familiar with our blog crush on Alex the trainer, go here) skill work practice involved kicking up; half the team on the call were handstand experts, and the rest (including me) had never got up into handstand before (or tried).*

[OK, well, not quite: I have done two handstands before: one with the support of two fellow yogis in an Iyengar class about a year ago, and the other with the support of my teacher in another Iyengar class, using block props against a wall to achieve the correct low back and rib posture for the pose. In neither case would I really call this “a handstand” insofar as I had a lot of help. But it’s true that both helped me envision the experience and record it in my body, which made a difference to my confidence.]

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A split-screen image of a thin white woman in handstand. On the left, the correct posture; on the right, less good posture. The tl:dr is, engage your core and firm your shoulders; push into the floor and relax your head. Be sure to firm your legs and squeeze your glutes a bit too.

As usual, Alex demo’d all the moves before we got going. She made the “kick up practice” moves look so manageable that my fear began to dissipate almost immediately. After our “practice round” I realized I was feeling mobile in my hips and getting some decent air in my kicked-up leg. And I won’t lie: when Alex shouted at me through the screen, “KIM YOU ARE THERE!!!” it really helped.

It was half way into our first proper round when I did it: I touched the wall with my elevated foot. (This was another Alex tip: don’t stress about getting up! Just try to touch the wall with your free foot. You’ll be totally safe and see what you’re capable of! #besteveradvice.)

Then, just like that, BAM: I was in a handstand.

To my surprise, it did NOT feel that hard to hold. Alex began cueing me, to turn me from woman on right (above) into woman on left; this will be a work in progress. But the reality is, Cate and Alex and everyone else was right: I absolutely have the upper body strength to hold myself in a handstand. I do pull-ups and push-ups and all kinds of things. I can row a boat (strongly enough to pull it off course – not very well, in other words, but pretty powerfully). OF COURSE I CAN STAND ON MY HANDS.

Why did I think I couldn’t? Being upside down has always been a source of fear for me; it may be for you too. Slowly, I developed a sense of my own strength, and that happened primarily right-side-up. With good teaching and coaching, in both yoga and personal training, I began to nudge the edges of the possible. Working with people I trust to protect me and – crucially – to help me focus on good form, I got further and further into “hey! this is possible I think!!” territory.

And then one day, alone in my kitchen, with the dog on the rug and Alex on Zoom, I pushed through that barrier into a whole new fitness place.

I’m not here to tell you to try a handstand right now; if it’s not your thing or in your wish-box, do not worry – you do you! But I am here to say that the barrier you perceive is not impermeable; if you want to knock it down, you got this.

  1. Step one: identify it, and the fear you feel around it.
  2. Step two: find some supportive, skilled humans to help.
  3. Step three: give it some time. I promise it is possible!

[Insert future photo of me in handstand. I tried to take a few, but the one that actually included my head also saw me totally falling out of the pose. Which is a great lesson, too: I fell out of handstand, and survived!]

What about you, friends? Have you made any surprise fitness breakthroughs lately? What fears did you have to push through to get there?

 

 

covid19 · cycling · fitness

Ride like you belong to a community – really belong

It’s week BLECH!!!!! of quarantine/lockdown/the thing we are experiencing together, but there’s movement afoot. In different spaces around Canada life is returning to something approximating some kind of “normal”: from my perch on the western end of the Greater Toronto Area I can now purchase a donut I did NOT pre-order, walk my dog in the conservation areas near me, and go to the escarpment stairs for exercise. At that last one, I tell you, I am truly overjoyed.

K-Stairs-Bottom
Image of steel stairs (descending) flanked by high summery greenery, sunshine in the distance. My beloved escarpment stairs are back in business!

I know I should be feeling happy/good/relieved/something positive about all of this, but I’m not. I’m actually strangely anxious. And I don’t think it’s anxiety about catching The Big C-19; I think it’s anxiety about… trying to go home again.

If these last few months have revealed anything, it’s that what we were doing before was not actually working for most of us. It ABSOLUTELY was not working for racialized people, people living and/or working in poverty, and people who otherwise found themselves on the margins of our perennially harried, 24/7 world. Many of those people are suffering very badly right now – but something has shifted. That’s our shared awareness of this suffering, along with a growing recognition that it constitutes a grievous, violent unfairness that we must do something, collectively, about, and soon.

I’ve been thinking recently about what happens when “the normal” returns, if it returns. What lessons will I take with me from this strange, scary, valuable time into the future? Well there are plenty, to be sure, but since this is a blog about fitness, let me speculate here about something I hope I can do (better) in our as-yet unknown future, as an amateur athlete.

I’m one of the cyclists on the blog who has been riding, outside, the whole time. I carry spares with me and I know how to fix a tire; I have a phone, and I have a mask, and I’m not squeamish about getting into a cab if absolutely desperate. I figured, It Will Be Fine. And besides: I need riding.

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Sam recently posted this gif of Miss Piggy and Kermie riding their bikes along a park path. I’m re-using it because the Muppets RULE, and also because Kermit’s delight is my delight. My bike lets me feel joy when nothing else can.

It’s one of my few happy places. It was something keeping me grounded, keeping me okay, in those early days when nothing looked familiar. When I was terrified for my elderly parents. When my partner had no idea how long he’d be stuck abroad, where he was when things shut down. When my work changed gears completely, and Zoom ate my brain.

Not riding was not an option. My mental health is fragile at the best of times; now is not the best of times.

Then a thing happened that pulled me up short. Early in April, near to dusk, I was descending a familiar slope about 7km from my house. At the bottom there was a crash: four cyclists were out together and two collided on the descent. One broke his back. There were two ambulances on the scene, and one of the paramedics was directing traffic around the crash site. I was actually embarrassed to make eye contact with him; I suddenly felt seen and judged for my choice to ride, exposed in what suddenly seemed terribly reckless to me. (The import of his glance may well have all been in my head, but I think it’s telling either way.)

The next day I dropped my bike for a routine tune-up and my mechanic discovered there was a crack in my carbon fork. He was blunt: this needed replacing. It was lucky I hadn’t already crashed, and crashed badly.

The rider with the broken back could have been me.

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Freddie, my beloved road bike, in the Yorkshire Dales, 2017. That was at least one carbon fork ago.

Now, I know that anytime I ride I take a risk.

Road cycling is a risky activity and I do all I can to minimize my own risk because I’m a sensible person. (I get regular tune-ups for exactly the reason above; I don’t ever hammer descents because I’ve crashed in the mountains before and do not ever want to experience that again; I avoid main roads or take the lane if I need to use one briefly so I can be super visible.)

But right now? Health care workers are under strain, and those in hospital with COVID-19 are people among us who are especially vulnerable, including people of colour and elderly people.

Those resources? They aren’t for me.

So if I break my back in The Regular Times, it sucks for me but I made a measured choice. The health care workers attending to me are geared up for accidents, as much as usual; there are beds available and they have proper PPE and are experiencing normal (for them) levels of stress.

If I break my back right now? I’m potentially draining resources that are needed by people less privileged than me. I’m potentially exposing a whole bunch of people to a virus that may affect them badly. Which means I’m not thinking about my whole community when I make my cycling choices.

This doesn’t mean I’m not riding. I am still riding (see above re mental health). But now, I’m doing my best to ride with careful consideration. I ask myself:

Where am I going? Do I know this route, the road conditions, the tricky spots? Can I avoid those? I draw and redraw the map.

Where along this route could I safely seek assistance if needed? I make mental notes.

What can I do to minimize my chances of an accident, either on my own or with a car? Yes, but what ELSE can I do to ensure I’m riding as safely as possible?

Do I have enough food with me? Enough water? For the WHOLE ride?

Is my phone fully charged? Are charge-draining apps turned off?

Do I have enough gear with me to fix chain or tube problems, multiple times if needed?

If I need to call for help, who will I call, and how will I protect them while they are assisting me?

So I make a plan, a much, much more intricate one than “normal”. That plan tries to factor in the whole community of people I might brush up against on my ride. I recognize that at the end of the day I’m responsible for but also to my seemingly simple choice to ride my bike a significant distance – because that choice is actually me exercising my privilege as a white, able-bodied person with a road bike.

Yes, the current situation is weird and unusual. But my responsibility, my accountability, and my privilege as a community member will not change when COVID goes away. Arguably, I should always be planning my bicycle rides with this level of care.

I hope (and plan) to hold myself accountable, now but also in the future.

Cyclist readers, I’d love to hear from you. Are you riding, and if so how are you planning? What if anything is out of bounds for you right now, and why? Are you comfortable on your bike right now or not? If not, could you share some reasons why? 

 

body image · covid19 · femalestrength · gender policing · normative bodies · self care

Own this moment for yourself

It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.

I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.

I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.

I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.

UGH.

Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.

I retreated inside, into my head.

Freddie, my road bike, with grey frame, orange bar tape, and orange accents, in happier times (last summer in Wales). Luckily, the cracked carbon fork was replaced under warranty!

Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.

I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.

This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.

How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.

Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.

 

I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.

We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.

My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.

Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).

Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.

Betty White, laughing, rocks her ‘do. It looks great ON HER.

For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.

Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?

Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.


Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.

It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.

I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.

So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.

I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.

I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.

But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.

I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!

Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.