So you want to start a blog? Tracy’s tips

A couple of years ago I was interviewed at work for a short series on creative writing and blogging. I went for the taping and then promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I stumbled upon my interviews on YouTube. Two of them were about blogging.

Since they seem to have disappeared into the ether with very few views (38 and 17), I thought I would post them here. In fact, there are some useful tips (if I do say so myself).

I firmly believe that blogging is an excellent way for writers to promote their own platform and generate a community around their passions. Sam and I had no idea when we started Fit Is a Feminist Issue how it would unfold. But we went with it and today we have built up a community around the blog that makes us proud.

If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog of your own, I hope you find these tips and suggestions helpful.

Here’s Part One of my comments on blogging:

And here’s Part two of my comments on blogging:

Is *anything* having to do with the SI swimsuit issue a “breath of fresh air”?

Last week we talked about the way the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue included 63 year old Christie Brinkley. See “Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?”. That one generated a lot of intense feelings on both sides. But by far the most frequent response was a lament that the swimsuit issue is still a thing. One of the more striking comments, I thought, was a reader who said that “When I saw this on TV, I couldn’t help but to think that a 63-year-old mother ought to have weightier values to pass on to her daughters than posing in bikinis for a famous magazine.”

This sums it up for me too. Aren’t there other values we want to be passing on to the next generation? Well, the swimsuit issue has been back in the news in recent days on two fronts.

First, take “Hunter McGrady is a breath of fresh air in the in SI’s Swimsuit Edition.”

This color image shows swimsuit model Hunter McGrady, a white

Image dscription: This color image shows swimsuit model Hunter McGrady, a white “plus-sized” woman with long blond, wet hair, lying on her side on a white sandy beach, propped up on her right arm with her left arm in front for further support. She wears a colorful one-piece swimsuit that is painted onto her body, showing ample breasts, curvy hips, and glistening skin. the words “Sports Illustrated” appear in the lower right corner of the image. Photo Credit: Josephine Clough, Sports Illustrated

What’s the story here? Hunter McGrady is a gorgeous woman with curves. Her photo shoot for the issue has her posing on a beach in a body paint swimsuit. Yes, she looks stunning and sexy and comfortable in her skin. And yes she defies most of our expectations about who “deserves” (I use this word cautiously) to be featured in this edition of the magazine.

Like Brinkley who wanted to send a message to older women everywhere, McGrady has a larger public service in mind. She says: “My main goal is to get across to women that you are able to love your body at any size and that you’re sexy and beautiful at any size. Beauty is not a size and I’m really happy that the industry is accepting body diversity.”

Next is Serena Williams. She is by all accounts one of the most formidable female athletes of our time and the top tennis player of all-time (maybe Roger Federer is close).

In this colour picture tennis star Serene Wiliams, a black woman with long dark hair, poses on a beach in a one piece ocean blue swimsuit. She is standing with her head thrown back, muscular arms up over her chest, back slightly arched. There is white sand, calm surf, turquoise water, and blue sky with a few white clouds on this sunny day. Some greenery in the distance. The words

Image description: In this colour picture tennis star Serene Wiliams, a black woman with long dark hair, poses on a beach in a one piece ocean blue swimsuit. She is standing with her head thrown back, muscular arms up over her chest, back slightly arched. There is white sand, calm surf, turquoise water, and blue sky with a few white clouds on this sunny day. Some greenery in the distance. The words “Sports Illustrated” appear in the lower right corner of the image.

So while it’s heartening to read “Holy Moly, Serena Williams Is a Goddess in Sports Illustrated” in the sense that she defies type with her  athletic body and dark skin, I can’t say I was thrilled to see her reduced to a sex object.

On Facebook, my first reaction to the McGrady news was this:

I’m also torn about this. Similar to including Christie Brinkley at 63 (which we blogged about last week…/because-if-christie…/) it’s tough to think of it anything having to do with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition as a huge win for women. It’s so very heteronormative and objectifying. Yes, the depictions are beautiful, but in an extremely “male gaze-y” sort of way. It’s great to see diversity because it makes it clear that (perhaps) there are a range of sexy body types that straight men (mostly) will “accept.” But we are more than that. Having said that, I love the body paint and I love that she feels good in her body, and it’s okay to feel and be sexy. Hence: torn.

Others jumped in with similar comments. For example (quoting from our Facebook page comments):

“Wouldn’t it be nice to be valued for more than what we look like on the cover of a magazine that is known to objectify women? Is it great she’s outside of the acceptable size for this magazine? Sure, but the intent is still the same.”

“One can celebrate their body and not be reduced to an object.”

“Yes we can, but these photos are clearly meant to be sexual.”

“Equal opportunity objectification.”

“she’s gorgeous.”

As you can see, there is a range of opinion here. But the idea of “equal opportunity objectification” rings loudly to me.

Let’s be clear about one thing: there is nothing wrong with being sexy or sexual. It’s neither demeaning nor wrong. But the one-dimensional representation of amazing women for men’s visual pleasure seems awfully outdated to me, even if it’s in some sense heartening that a wider range of body types are “making the cut.”

Any feminist will tell you that hetero-normative femininity has been and continues to be used as a tool of oppression. The other day I talked about “letting yourself be” instead of “letting yourself go,” because the narrative of letting ourselves go implicitly suggests that we are only socially acceptable if we fit into the narrow mold that is expected of us. Some may choose not to conform, but others may not have a body type that can get there (if the expectation is slender, white, young, lean, etc.). That’s why diversity can seem like a good thing, even in the swimsuit issue.

But the larger question of “why in the heck is the swimsuit issue still a thing at all?” wants an answer too. And that answer is kind of depressing. There is nothing sporty about the swimsuit issue. There is no covert, progressive agenda. It’s still the same as it always was, designed to appeal to straight male sexual desire, presenting the women as sexual objects for men’s consumption.

I don’t want to sound grumpy about something that does have its positive side of promoting body positivity and sex positivity. But when I think of “sex positive,” I guess I think of something more progressive that involves bashing stereotypes more than galvanizing their social power.

What’s your reaction to these new efforts to make the swimsuit edition more inclusive?

It’s not “letting yourself go,” it’s “letting yourself be”

This colour photo depicts close up a bold dark pink cactus flower against a bright blue sky. The single flower has pointed pink petals surrounding a yellow, pink, and white interior, and green leaves, with red flecks. The green leaves of other trees are visible in the background.

[Image description: This colour photo depicts close up a bold dark pink cactus flower against a bright blue sky. The single flower has pointed pink petals surrounding a yellow, pink, and white interior, and green leaves, with red flecks. The green leaves of other trees are visible in the background.

Yesterday I read “In Defense of Letting Yourself Go,” in the Huffington Post. Author Dayna Evans reminds us (without endorsing this line of thinking) that:

When a woman concedes to letting herself go, she rings the death knell of her valued contributions to society. Letting yourself go by putting on weight, not wearing makeup, eating buttered Pop Tarts, deciding to wear clothes that are fit for comfort instead of style, is the equivalent of saying the morally accepted standards of beauty and presentability do not apply to you. And this is unacceptable.

Last week when I wrote about Christie Brinkley appearing, at age 63, in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated (I remain surprised that it’s still a thing!), I said something along the lines of “isn’t there an age where we can just stop worrying about whether we fit the normative ideals of feminine beauty that we’ve had imposed on us for all of our lives?”

I can relate to Dayna Evans’ statement that “Being a woman is a little like putting on a pair of tight shoes at birth and then not taking them off until you die.” So the desire to do what is interpreted as “letting yourself go” is as understandable as wanting to kick off those shoes. She associates the permission to let yourself go with giving yourself the permission to age.

Granted, since youth is a huge part of the oppressive feminine aesthetic, older women have an inescapable strike against them already. The beauty industry preys on our fear of aging — of “letting ourselves go” — by offering an overwhelming array of products meant to stave off aging.

But allowing ourselves to age is not “letting ourselves go.” And at any age, allowing ourselves to give up those figurative high heels for more comfortable shoes is not “letting ourselves go.” Why don’t we think instead of honoring ourselves enough to let us be who we are without having to stuff ourselves into an ill-fitting, uncomfortable mold.

I know it’s optimistic to think that we can just overthrow the pressures of normative femininity overnight. But if we each take little stands against it, defying the narrow range of “acceptable” in order to change it, we can make some progress towards broadening those ideals so that I wider range of “looks” that encompass diversity — of age, race, body size and type, hair colour and style, fashion, etc. — are considered acceptable.

I totally agree with Dayna Evans when she says:

Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of concerning ourselves every morning with the most flattering shirt to wear or putting aside extra cash to dye our hair, if we wore the shirt we wanted to and the one that felt good? And we put that extra cash toward a bowl of chili on a cold winter evening? And when we wanted to “be cozy,” we just were cozy. Or we didn’t put Spanx on under our bridesmaid dresses because the shape of our bodies is just that: the shape of our bodies. Why shouldn’t we?

What I disagree with is that we should think of that as “letting ourselves go.” I get that she’s embracing this and that in so doing, she’s performing an act of defiance. But giving in to dominant characterizations of this type of defiance as “letting ourselves go” doesn’t take it far enough. Let’s challenge the status quo and the narrative surrounding it by letting ourselves be.

Are there any areas of your life where you’ve made a conscious decision to let yourself be? We would love to hear from you about it!

Why I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon (guest post)

by Alison Conway


Image description: this color photo shows Alison Conway, a tall blond woman dressed in running tights and long sleeves with neon pink shoes and race bib number 3519, coming through the finishing arch (a red inflated archway that says “Running Room” and “Start/Finish” at the end of the Sarnia Half Marathon. She is flanked by two other runners, also in black tights and long sleeves. On the pavement in front of them is painted the blue and white symbol for wheelchair accessible parking. It’s a grey cloudy day and people look cold.

I took up running after a hiatus of almost thirty years when I turned 50 in 2015. In my early twenties I suffered bad knees and the physio who treated them directed me to the pool. Three decades later I thought I’d try a 5 km running clinic and see how the knees held up. Two years later, I’m logging and loving the miles.

Since Nov. 8th, running has taken on a different significance. Now I start my runs full of rage and despair over what’s happening in America, full of fear that the same will happen here if either Kevin O’Leary or Kellie Leitch (two of the top three Conservative Party leadership contenders, according to the National Post 2/3/17) gains ascendency in Canadian politics. Guilt plagues me. I am running when I should be volunteering or protesting. I spend money on race registrations that would be better spent on larger monthly contributions to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Clearly I have been living with my head in the sand since I didn’t see Trump coming. Now I must atone.

But self-laceration is too easy and familiar. I couId spend the next four years in my head, spinning. Instead, I must sit down and make some hard choices. And one of my choices is to set a limit to how much time I spend running. I’ve been encouraged by friends to take on a marathon. I admire those in my running group who have overcome serious obstacles in their lives to achieve this goal, as well as those who use marathons to raise money for charity. I admire our coach, who is an advocate for at-risk youth and mental health services. But at this moment, whatever benefits I could list under “self care” when thinking about a marathon take a back seat to those I list under “other care.”

The challenge we face now is that each day asks us to make decisions about how much news we will consume, what contribution we will make, what action we will take. The marathon we are all running is the one that involves making these choices deliberately and mindfully, day in, day out, week in, week out, for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, panicked, frozen. We all have to pace ourselves.  It seems like a good time to ask hard questions of “self care,” to see how far it extends itself to helping those more at risk than ourselves.

We can be more deliberate about yoking our fitness goals to our political commitments.  I volunteer for Start2Finish, a reading and running group for at-risk children, and I practice the power pose with little girls every week. “Sweat is great!” is a common refrain; “Just keep running!” is another.  There are other programs aimed directly at fostering confidence in girls through running and we can all help to nurture young women by giving them our full attention as volunteers.

In our exercise communities, we can find ways to build relationships and trust with those who do not belong to our particular constituency—in my case, academia—in the hopes of enabling dialogue when so much divisiveness characterizes public speech. I talk too much, but lately I’ve been trying to listen better, to choose my words more carefully when I respond to ideas I consider ill-informed. I am finding out about the community work others are involved in, their sense of local politics and what’s at stake in mapping the future of the city we live in.  Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned to city hall, to become an engaged citizen rather than a passive observer. The old chestnut, “Act local, think global,” has taken on new, concrete significance since I decided to focus my attention on doing the next right thing.

What I can’t do is try to run away from the whole sorry mess we’re in, or turn my back on those who need my help and support right now. We need to run toward resistance, not away from it.  Maybe one day, for me, resistance will involve training for a marathon. But right now I have more urgent tasks requiring my attention.

Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University.  Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.

Undiagnosed eating disorders: another danger of our false assumptions about fit, fat, and food


Image description: This is a color photo of a round white dinner plate with one green pea in the very centre of it. There is a silver fork to the left of the plate and a silver knife to the right. The background is plain off-white.

If you’re like most people, when you think of eating disorders images of extremely thin, maybe even skeletal, young (and probably white) women come to mind. Recently there’s been more attention paid to other demographics that might not be as easy to spot. We’ve talked about eating disorders among older women and men.

But there is another group among whom eating disorders go unnoticed: people who are viewed as overweight or fat. This oversight is not only a result of our default mental images connected with eating disorders. More pernicious than that, it stems from our cultural preoccupation with thinness and the idea that it’s normal — even recommended — for “fat” people to be dieting.

According to Alexis Conason’s article, “The Hidden Faces of Eating Disorders: Why People at Higher Weights Go Undiagnosed,”

A recent study (Lipson & Sonneville, 2017) examined 9713 students from 12 different colleges and found that body weight was the most consistent predictor of eating disorder symptoms. Students with a BMI in the “overweight” or “obese” range were at the highest risk and students with a BMI in the “underweight” range were surprisingly at the lowest risk. A history of elevated body weight is common in patients seeking eating disorder treatment. A 2015 study by Lebow et al. examined patients seeking treatment for restrictive eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, and found that over 36 percent of patients had a history of BMI above the 85th percentile. And disturbingly, symptoms in these patients are often not diagnosed until later and more severe stages of the illness. A 2013 article by Sim et al. that I wrote about in an earlier post found that eating disorder symptoms in adolescents with a weight history in the “overweight” or “obese” range not only were under-diagnosed, but symptoms were actually encouraged by medical professionals who congratulated these patients for losing weight.

Even medical professionals don’t think of overweight people who are severely restricting their food intake as having an eating disorder. We are so culturally obsessed with the idea of thinness as a body ideal that food restriction and extreme dieting are considered praiseworthy, enviable skills to be mastered. People are not recognized to be in peril unless they are dangerously thin.

When people are rewarded and admired for not eating, particularly when they’re viewed as “needing to lose a few,” no one (themselves included) will think they’re suffering from an eating disorder. I was diagnosed with anorexia by two different professionals when I was a graduate student and I didn’t believe them because I didn’t think I was thin enough to “qualify.” If someone doesn’t recognize themselves as fitting the mold, then it’s difficult for them to take in messages about dangers and prevention.

Eating disorder prevention and intervention efforts are often targeted at people in the “underweight” range while people categorized as “overweight” or “obese” are targeted for weight loss interventions. Fat people are told to diet, even though dieting is one of the strongest predictors for both development of eating disorders and weight gain. Isn’t it time we stopped prescribing behaviors to people at higher weights that are diagnosed as eating disorder symptoms in people at lower weights? Food restriction, purging food (either through laxative use, self-induced vomiting, or exercising to compensate for calories consumed), viewing foods as “good” or “bad,” and defining our self-worth based on the numbers on the scale are unhealthy at any weight. We need to recognize these symptoms as what they are—signs of an eating disorder—even when the person who is engaging in them lives in a fat body.

So if you didn’t think there were enough ways in which our assumptions about food and fat and fitness can be harmful to people who are perceived to be carrying extra pounds, here’s another to add to the list. Fat-shaming and the idea that fat people are supposed to be doing things to lose eight, and that dieting is one of those things, is a harmful camouflage that allows disordered eating to go undetected.

Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?

Photo description: This coloured photo depicts supermodel Christie Brinkley, age 63, blond and smiling, on a beach in a red bikini, with her right arm above her head holding a tree limb and her right leg bent at the knee. Turquoise water is in the background. It says Sports Illustrated. Photo credit: Emmanuel Hauguel, Sports Illustrated.

Photo description: This coloured photo depicts supermodel Christie Brinkley, age 63, blond and smiling, on a beach in a red bikini, with her right arm above her head holding a tree limb and her right leg bent at the knee. Turquoise water is in the background. It says Sports Illustrated. Photo credit: Emmanuel Hauguel, Sports Illustrated.

Here’s a stunner: “Supermodel Christie Brinkley has appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue with her daughters.” It’s a stunner because she’s 63. Apparently, Brinkley, who is a swimsuit issue veteran (appearing on the cover for three years in a row: 1979, 1980, 1981), thought her swimsuit days were over when she turned 30.

But to do it with her daughters was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up, so she thought, “One last go!” It’s reported that she did the shoot to make a statement about ageism.

She said, “Women feel very limited by their numbers. On a personal level, I thought, if I can pull this off, I think it will help redefine those numbers and remove some of the fear of ageing.”

Now I get it. There are all sorts of prohibitions about what women are  not supposed to wear after they reach “a certain age.” Brinkley is right that we live in an ageist society. She’s right that when men pick up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (which I am quite frankly surprised is still a thing, but not completely shocked–it just fell off my radar because of all the other stuff out there these days) they expect to see young lithe women in bikinis (not 63 year old lithe women in bikinis).

But somehow having a former supermodel “pull off” a red bikini just may not achieve all that much. I mean, we can all marvel at how awesome she looks “at her age” or even “for her age.” Because there’s no denying it. But what does that do for the average non-former supermodel 63 year old in terms of encouraging them to don a red bikini?

I’m going to say: not much. There is something disingenuous about holding up as role models extraordinary people whose accomplishments (or in this case genetics, social privilege, and lifestyle opportunities) put them in a different category altogether.

I get that even supermodels have insecurities about their bodies. They’ve been scrutinized all their lives and for most their identity must be tied up in their looks. Aging must be a tricky deal for them. But 63 year-old Christie Brinkley in a swimsuit, while admirable, isn’t inspiring because what she represents relative to most other 63 year-old women is as unattainable as what the 20-something Christie Brinkley represented to other 20-something women back in the day.

More than that even, is there not an age where we can stop thinking about whether men think we look hot in a bikini? It may be that the Christie Brinkley photo shoot, rather than addressing ageism, just raises the bar for older women (like: why don’t you look like Christie Brinkley in a bikini?).

What do you think? Is Christie Brinkley in the swimsuit issue at age 63 making a valuable comment on ageism? Is this sort of representation doing older women a disservice by continuing to hold them to standard whereby they must still be objects of male desire?


Eating Disorders and Food & Weight Preoccupation: How aware are you?


This colour photo depicts three drawings of butterflies in purple, red, and yellow squares, with the labels ‘acceptance,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘awareness.’ It is from the poster for NEDIC’s May 11-12 conference in Toronto.

We’re a bit late off the mark, but today is the last day the National Eating Disorder Information Centre’s (NEDIC) Eating Disorder Awareness Week. According to NEDIC’s website, the purpose of the week is:

…to continue our efforts to debunk the stigma surrounding eating disorders by spreading the message that eating disorders are not a choice.

They have a broader focus than just eating disorders, however. They  go on to say:

We know that through open, supportive dialogue, we can help break the shame, stigma and silence that affect nearly a million Canadians living with a diagnosed eating disorder – and the millions of others struggling with food and weight preoccupation. Our message can bring important information about these illnesses to people across the country and spread hope to those affected.

What sticks out for me here is “the millions of others struggling with food and weight preoccupation.” I myself have made it through a diagnosed eating disorder (decades ago) and then spent many more year struggling with food and weight preoccupation. Both are devastating ways to live.

There is definitely unwarranted stigma associated with eating disorders. But the received view (not the only view) is that they are deadly illnesses.

Food and weight preoccupation, however, are normalized conditions in our food-phobic and fat-phobic world. The other day, Sam sent me a link to an article, “5 weeks to your best body ever: what to eat.” It offered a 1350 calorie, “easy to follow” diet. Sam commented to me that she was shocked that people are still advocating low calorie diets.

My response to her was that to many people, a 1350 calorie a day diet will seem generous. 1200 calories a day (or less) is still imprinted in the minds of many a chronic dieter. Now I don’t have that in writing anywhere. It’s a number that comes from the memory traces that linger in my mind from years of chronic dieting (often taking in 500-700 calories per day), preoccupation with food (because you’d be preoccupied too if you were starving yourself), and weight (because that’s the whole point: to see the number on the scale go down daily).

Regardless of whether it’s 1350, 1200, or even 1500: to eat like that for five whole weeks is to embark on an extremely low calorie diet that will engender a sense of deprivation, food preoccupation, and may well result in temporary or permanent metabolic damage. Rapid weight loss at the beginning is likely to peter out before the end of the five weeks. And the resumption of regular eating will result in regained weight.

That is how this type of diet goes. And yet it’s not just normalized, but as I said to Sam, my guess is that lots of people wouldn’t even consider 1350 to be particularly low calorie. And considering the range for an average sized reasonably active woman is more like 2000-2200 calories, it’s not enough.

And that’s why we need to be more aware of eating disorders and their more normalized cousin, chronic dieting/food and weight preoccupation.

If you are in the fields of education, health care, or fitness, are an individual with an eating disorder or food/weight preoccupation or a friend or relative of someone suffering, a student, or member of the general public with an interest NEDIC is organizing a conference in May devoted to these issues. The event is May 11-12, 2017 in Toronto. You can find out more information about it here on the conference website.

My closing question: if you have in your head the concept of what constitutes a “low calorie diet,” how many calories would that be? Are you aware at some level that engaging in that type of food restriction is unhealthy and not likely to lead to long term weight loss anyway?