blog · blogging · feminism · fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 4: This time she really means it

Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short wavy salt and pepper hair, silver earrings, smiling, abstract painting in background.

I come from a family of long good-byes. We’re a family who walks you to the car. We say good-bye with hugs and kisses before you get in the car (very occasionally weeping but only if we know it will be a really long time before we see one another and mostly only when someone is leaving the country). To the very end, we play a game called “last look” and “last touch” where we drag it out even more, the winner being the person who gets in the last look or the last quick touch before snatching their hand away through the car window so no one else can touch. We’re laughing the whole while. And then, as you pull away, despite the “last look,” we stand in the driveway and wave. We watch you drive down the street pretty much until we can’t see the car anymore. Then we go in and have a cup of tea or something.

That helps to explain why this is taking me so long (my two week good-bye). I’ve learned to savour last moments. They can be so sweet. Like, this series has breathed some life into my blogging again, renewing my enthusiasm. But that’s not to say I’m staying on. It’s not that I think it’s too late to backtrack and change my mind (I once called off a wedding six weeks before). It’s more that I need to trust my gut on this decision, and it’s telling me to make space for new projects, some as-yet undetermined possibilities, and more generally just to have some breathing room. New space doesn’t need to be a vacuum that sucks something else into it right away.

This blog has given me a lot over the years. Sam and I have often talked about how we stumbled into it without thinking it would go anywhere — it was a temporary project to document our Fittest by Fifty Challenge, and it was meant to end five years ago when we each turned 50. Her energy and efforts have always kept it going. By comparison to Sam’s hard work on the coordinating and organizing and motivating fronts, I have really been little more than co-founder and regular contributor. So I see it as one of those things in life where what I’ve received is so much more than what I’ve given, and I’m grateful beyond what I can express in words. Here are a few of the things the blog gave me (not necessarily in order of importance):

A regular writing practice

I have blogged at least twice a week for seven years. I never did master the art of the short, quick post. As a writer, having a regular writing commitment twice a week (well, maybe once, since #tbt became a regular thing for me in recent years) with an audience to answer to has kept the ink flowing. There has been no time for writer’s block or perfectionism. Almost all of my posts are still in the “first draft” stage, where the content is mostly there but the writing itself needs more metaphor, more precision, more concrete details–the sorts of things that make it more interesting for a reader. I can live with that. I am infinitely more relaxed about my writing since starting the blog. Sharing “good enough” writing with people is no longer a worry. Actually, it’s been fun developing a more casual writing style. Even if it’s not my “best” writing, it’s my most enjoyable. And people read it!

Communities

This idea of community keeps coming back to me. The blog itself drew in a community of like-minded folks who wanted to participate in conversations about fitness from a more inclusive feminist perspective. When Sam and I started to realize people actually read and commented and engaged in discussion about our content, we were well and truly chuffed. Going into it we genuinely thought only friends and family would read the blog.

In addition to the large community of readers and commenters and followers of our Facebook page and Twitter account and Instagram that has energized us and encouraged us, I’ve also gained a closer community in the regular contributors. Last Thursday I reflected on some of the wonderful posts that the other regulars have written. The other blog regulars are a supportive, helpful, motivating group of incredible women I’m fortunate to know.

The blog has also given me a fitness community. As noted the other day, where I used to train alone, I now love to train in groups. Not only, but for sure regularly. My Sunday long runs, which I’ve been missing because of my Achilles issues, are among the highlights of my weekend because I love getting together with my peeps (Anita and Julie) and I feel something is missing from my life when I can’t or when sustained periods of time go by when our schedules don’t collide.

I don’t know about you, but a sense of belonging matters a lot to me. And as a philosopher who works on collective responsibility and collective agency, I’m aware of the possibilities offered when we do things together that we can’t do alone. Communities have great power. Becoming a part of these inspiring communities has been an amazing gift.

A regular and consistent fitness practice

If you want to kickstart your fitness routines, blog about them regularly and let that accountability to an audience start to motivate you. If we hadn’t blogged about our fitness challenge, I don’t know that we would have finished it (maybe I should speak only for myself here — I doubt I would have had the focus to keep at it for two years). But the blog gave me a place and a reason to develop a consistent fitness practice, a reason to try new things (like triathlon), and a place to reflect explicitly about what was working for me (like running, which surprised me because at the beginning I didn’t even like it).

It also let me reflect on and write about what wasn’t working for me. It was through blogging openly about my discomfort with cycling that I finally came to see that it wasn’t worth it to me anymore because of my intense road phobia. See the culmination of my many painful ruminations and doubts about cycling: “When the rubber meets the road (or not): Tracy finally quits the bike and triathlon.” And then there was the 100-day step challenge, which I did twice despite not liking it the first time. I got to document the waning of my initial enthusiasm.

Blogging here helped me think ahead about strategies for working out while traveling, and made me feel more accountable to implement those strategies. As Sam likes to say about all sorts of things: “blog about it!” I honestly would never have even tried triathlon, let alone fallen in (temporary) love with it and made it the focus on my Fittest by 50 Challenge, unless Sam had said: “Hey let’s sign up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. It’ll give us something to blog about.” It sure did. And it galvanized my training goals for the next two years.

Blogging has helped me get back on track when I’ve fallen out of routine. It has become clear to me that it’s as important to share openly and honestly about setbacks as about successes. I had setbacks shortly into the blog and I have had setbacks more recently. And many along the way. Everyone has both–that’s the way life is. We are not robots. It’s been motivating to me to take that seriously and to use the blog as a way of thinking through how to get back on track and then writing about my progress. I’ve gained advice from others by asking for help here. That’s how I ended up trying an osteopath.

Fitness activities are positive and self-nurturing part of my life, whether my routine is in an ebb or a flow. That’s from blogging. Putting it all in print has let me see that there is a constant flow of change: I hit my stride for awhile and glide along seemingly without effort, then a shift happens and it’s a bit harder (or even sometimes impossible), then I regroup and scale down to get back on track, and soon I’m skipping along again to my latest favourite playlist. That is my larger rhythm and it repeats. And repeats. And repeats.

A voice

Not to say I came to the blog without a voice. But the casual nature of blog posts let me develop my own conversational style and a way of expressing myself that feels true and honest. I used to think that my “voice” (such as it is) was kind of boring. And maybe to some it is. That’s fine. But that’s me — lowkey, to the point, a comfortable (for me) balance between self-disclosure and reserve, the occasional unleashing of anger about the world, a mild sense of humour, and feminist.

Regular blogging about fitness from a feminist perspective has done more to cement my own sense of what it means for me to be a feminist than anything else. My years of teaching feminist philosophy and women’s studies; a stint as chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research; writing academic papers about feminism; taking part in countless Take back the Night events…none of that has shaped my feminist voice or allowed me to express it and more importantly develop it as much as blogging at Fit Is a Feminist Issue.

Confidence

Back when I was an undergrad and I worked a summer job at Doubleday Publishing in Toronto, they had weekly sales for staff where books that had been returned were spread out on a table in the warehouse and we could buy them for super cheap. That’s where I picked up my copy of Hard Bodies by Gladys Portugues, my first foray into the world of women’s weight training. In it, she told a story of a woman at her gym who started a consistent routine of weight training and stuck with it. Over the course of that first year, the woman, once shy and reserved and even a bit fragile seeming, developed more and more confidence and strength. As it turned out, she had been going through a divorce throughout that time and the workouts transformed her from a broken woman trying to put her life back together into a confident role model for newer members. Or something like that.

Of all the information I read in that book, about split routines and super sets and how to do pec flies and squats and calf raises (all brand new to me at the time), the story of the woman who survived her divorce by going to the gym had the biggest impact. It suggested that developing physical strength, a comfort with my body, and a routine that made space for that could spill confidence into the rest of my life. And it could get me through the hard bits. And it has.

But blogging consistently about my fitness life and about feminist issues in fitness and sport has itself increased my confidence. I’m no authority on anything about fitness. But like millions of other women who have ventured into gyms, onto soccer fields, into swimming pools and yoga studios, who have climbed walls and boulders, ridden their bikes, run trails or sidewalks or tracks or multi-use pathways beside the river, pounded out timed sets at CrossFit, boxed and wrestled and done aerial silk routines, power walked or leisure walked, worked out with resistance bands or done body weight training in their hotel rooms, thrown axes, cross country skied, snowshoed, ice skated, snowboarded or skied downhill through moguls, roller skated, roller derbied, perfected parkour or played women’s rugby, learned karate, aikido, judo, tai chi, mixed martial arts….I have my experience. And it has built character. And this blog kept me getting back to it not to compete with others or boast about my achievements, but because it made me feel good and there was nothing at stake beyond doing something for me.

As I said in a post (I don’t know which post–it was awhile back), if I never lifted another weight or ran another kilometre or did another warrior pose, no one would care. But I would. And like that woman who hit the gym full force during her divorce, that sort of commitment to myself has built the sort of confidence that comes through tapping into an internal sense of self-worth. It’s interesting to me, if no one else, that it came to me so late in life. We were already 48, Sam and I, when we started this blog. I had a career and my health and good friends and family already. But I (again like so many others, even accomplished others) also had all sorts of insecurities — some of which I worked out through activities like running, triathlon, yoga, and weight training and then blogging about them. It was always a huge confidence boost, for example, when I was able to report progress — my speed workouts actually made me faster! I went from needing to use the gravitron machine for pull-ups to being able to do three sets of 13 without the machine or even elastic bands to take some of the weight. All. By. Myself! I got faster in the pool. Woo hoo!

The blog gave me confidence in fitness, in my feminism, and in life.

A Chronicle of Events

I don’t mean just my fitness event history, but there is that: I can look back and see my fitness history over the past seven years, from my very first 5K and my very first triathlon, through to my Olympic distance triathlons, my weight training successes, my first and subsequent half marathons, my one and only full marathon, Around the Bay 30K x2, various traveling adventures and how I stayed active along the way, bouts of injury and illness, the communities I became a part of, friendships developed. The blog really has offered something of a “web-log” for the past seven years.

But we have also been able to put a time stamp on certain moments, like #me-too and various iterations of the Summer and Winter Olympics, the evolution of Barbie (even if you might wonder, as I did here, whether she can actually be redeemed), the coming and going of various diets (Keto wasn’t even a thing when we started blogging), the repetitive annual cycle of media about “making it” through the holidays and then about new year’s diets and fitness regimes. The excitement about “power posing” and then the subsequent discrediting of the findings. The sway of public opinion about fruit (evil! good!). Daylight savings time, “beach body” season, gearing up for winter training. Even the moments when new team members came aboard, as the blog’s roster of regulars grew and grew. So much captured over these years.

A commitment and routine

My scheduled posting time has been Tuesday and Thursday, 6 a.m., for years. Every Monday and every Wednesday before bed I make sure I have something lined up to post automatically at 6 a.m. the next morning. It has felt good to have this commitment and routine, like a touchstone in my week, every week. Some weeks it’s harder than others to find the time, to find the material, to find the energy and inspiration (I don’t wait for inspiration!). But it’s a commitment, so mostly, except for a few occasions when I had to call in the team for help, I’ve been able to keep the commitment. It, and the workouts I stuck with to have something to say (or, when not posting about my own workouts, the credibility to say whatever I was saying about working and training), kept me going through some tough times.

This past year has been full of tumult and personal upheaval of the hardest kind. It’s quite easily been the most difficult year of my life. I hope I’m on the other side of the worst of it. Having the blog as part of my weekly rhythm, month in and month out, kept me grounded in something positive and affirming while not being at the same time overwhelming (like my job — it’s positive and affirming but also sometimes leaves me feeling drained and overextended). Despite that, the time feels right to step back. I’m sure I’ll visit from time to time, but I declined Sam’s offer for a regular once a month spot because I feel incapable of making any sort of commitment to anything right now.

Extra big shout-out and enormous (though inadequate) thanks to Sam.

[insert weeping here]

Last look! Last touch!

[standing in the driveway waving]

Now — a cup of tea and some T-time (my step-daughter, Ashley calls me “T,” so in my world “me-time” is “T-time”).

With love and gratitude,

Tracy

Image description: A fond blog memory. Samantha and Tracy on stage at the book launch in Guelph, book in the middle on a podium, front cover–FIT AT MID-LIFE A feminist fitness journey, facing the audience. Sam to the left of the podium, Tracy to the right, each at a mic on a stand, Sam standing arms akimbo and smiling, Tracy speaking, hands raised in a shrugging gesture, the back of two audience members’ heads in the foreground. Curtain and window to outside in the background.
feminism · fitness · Guest Post · research · walking

Are women, people of color, and kids more likely to get bumped when walking on the street? (Guest post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany

Introduction:

Women often complain about how they have to move out of the way for people walking on the street. Beth Breslaw did an experiment showing that this is exactly the case. She walked down the street while consciously not moving out of the way for people. People started slamming into her, specifically men. She began to call this ‘man-slamming’. I wanted to find out if this was true for kids, and women of color – members of other underrepresented groups – but I wanted things to be less confrontational. So, I decided to do my own experiment.

Method:

I gathered a group of four people: one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid (which happened to be me). We all took turns walking down one street, and counted how many times we each had to move out of the way of other people. We did our experiment two times.

Hypothesis:

The white man would have to move out of the way the least. The white woman next, and then the kid. The woman of color would have to move out of the way the most.

Materials:

A busy street and people willing to participate in your test (one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid. You could always add more.)

Participants:

Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left  "P.M. (white male)"; top right "M.F. (white female)"; bottom left "S.K.M. (child / white passing)"; bottom right "M.K. (brown female)
Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left “P.M. (white male)”; top right “M.F. (white female)”; bottom left “S.K.M. (child / white passing)”; bottom right “M.K. (brown female)
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 1.
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 2.

As the graphs show, PM has to move out of the way less than MF. MF has to move out of the way less than MK. MF and MK have to move out of the way less than SKM. PM has to move out of the way less than MF, MK, and SKM. This disproves my hypothesis that women of color had to move out of the way more than kids.

Discussion/Conclusion:

My experiment shows that women, no matter their age or race, have to move out of the way much more than men. But when you add race to gender, it turns out women of color have to move out of the way more than white women. If you add age, white (passing) kids that are girls have to move out of the way more than white women and women of color. Extra labor is placed on the shoulders of women, kids, and people of color.

Why would extra labour be placed on these individuals and especially on kids? They are the most underrepresented and their social status is the least. This is why they carry the biggest burden.

Although I have drawn a few conclusions on race and gender through my experiment, I still have many unanswered questions. What would my results be if I were a boy? What if I were less polite and didn’t care if I bumped into someone? What if a black man or a black woman participated in my experiment? What if a senior citizen did? 

I wanted to learn about the unobvious inequalities. This is my first step of what I hope will be many.

Sage McEneany is in grade six. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels. She intends to publish her own book when she is older, and to continue to work on the issues of race and other inequalities. She likes to play soccer and would like to do track this year.

fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 3: reflections on posts Tracy is happy she wrote

Image description: upper body shot of Tracy, smiling, short salt and pepper hair with a little curl, dark eyes, smiling, wearing circle earrings and a t-shirt that says “EMPOWERED” and, under that “261” (Kathleen Switzer’s race # when she was the first woman in the Boston Marathon), abstract painting in the background.

Last week I reflected on some of the posts the other blog authors have written that had a lasting impact on me. Today, because I’ve written a lot here over the past seven years and I feel good about at least some of it, I’m going to talk about some of my own posts. I hope this doesn’t come off as overly self-indulgent but over these years some themes have emerged in my posts and a look back has helped me get perspective on what matters to me.

Anti-diet then, anti-diet now. When we first started blogging, I was really clear that I wanted to present an anti-diet message. To me, the most basic feature of a feminist approach is that we encourage body positivity and discourage punishing diet regimes, the sole purpose of which is to lose weight. One reason for that is that I myself had a history of chronic dieting and it usually resulted in misery, food obsession, body hatred, and all manner of bad feelings about myself. Within the first week of the blog, I wrote a post called “Tracking and the Panopticon,” in which I expressed my dislike of tracking because it feels like a tool of internalized oppression (to me)–where we self-regulate and monitor ourselves in order to keep ourselves under control. I still feel that way, though not quite as strongly as I did then. I can see how, if used for information, it can be a good way to collect data. But it does strike me as a type of food policing, where we appoint ourselves as our own police. I’ve also articulated why I never talk about weight or food choices (mine or others) and why “you’ve lost weight, you look great!” isn’t a compliment.

Food police have got to go. I have kept up that anti-dieting and anti-food policing theme throughout the years. I’ve talked more than once about why food is beyond good and evil. And about how to avoid another new year’s diet (with suggestions for alternatives to save ourselves grief). I had a good rant when someone issued a headline reporting that a study had said eating fried potatoes would shorten your life. I wrote about why every day is “eat what you want day” because, though it took me 27 years, I am fully committed to intuitive eating. That’s where you eat what you want, when you want, in the quantities you want. No, it’s not for everyone. But it works for me. And when I say “works,” I mean it makes me feel relaxed about food, in tune with my body, and good about myself.

Do less and start small. Another favourite theme of mine that emerged early on was the theme of doing less. My first post about that, “On doing less,” explained how in my fitness activities and in my life more generally, I can get overwhelmed with big goals. But then I can make them manageable and I can motivate myself to get into a rhythm of consistent effort if I scale back. Instead of an hour of yoga a day, how about 20 minutes (or, as Christine is doing, seven minutes)? Just something to say I showed up and did it, whatever it may be. Doing a little bit consistently is better than establishing overly ambitious goals and then abandoning them altogether.

Not too long ago I picked up that theme again in “Tracy’s winning formula: consistency and forgiveness.” I feel as if seven years of blogging about fitness and mining my life and the media for material has demonstrated to me that it’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes I’m really on task, training for a goal, hitting the workouts regularly. And other times I’m injured, or ill, or travelling, or busy, and I fall out of routine and need to forgive myself and then start again. I firmly believe that the best advice anyone can give anyone about fitness: start small. You cannot go wrong (I need to re-read that one because my Achilles injury has taken me out and I need to do something more than yoga or I will lose my cardio fitness even more than I did when I blogged about my lost cardio fitness a little while ago). My do less, start small approach also goes a long way to explaining “why I don’t resolve” on January 1st.

Sleep and rest. This is a thing I’ve come to value over the years. I have never been very good at permission to get the rest I need. I adore sleep and naps, but I don’t always get them. I’m a big fan of The Nap Ministry, promoting naps as political — a form of resistance (against capitalism, racism, “the grind”). I wrote about the Nap Ministry more than once this year, sending myself if no one else a clear message that burnout was on the horizon.

Community. Seven years ago when we were just starting out, I didn’t do fitness activities with people. I mean, I went to yoga classes and felt a sense of community around the studio, but I ran alone, more or less weight trained alone or with my partner, and swam alone if at all. Part of that was because I didn’t think I was athlete enough to be a part of any fitness community. I worried that I was the slowest runner in the world and I would never find my people. Well, that turned out to be false! Over the past seven years, I’ve ridden bikes with people (I hated that lol, but I liked the social parts), trained in the pool with a group (loved it), and discovered that there are others — wonderful wonderful others — who run at my pace. I talk about that shift from solo traveler to lover of community in “In praise of community.” Others can be great company and also motivating points of accountability. I loved it when the media people last year talked about the “pact” Sam and I made to be our fittest at 50. I had never thought of it as a pact, but that is exactly what it was. I blogged about that in “the power of the pact.”

The book. Last year in the spring and summer Sam and I were basking in the warm feelings of the book. It felt so good to see the book that we’d worked on together in actual print, getting attention from real people, and media not just in Canada but also in the US, the UK, and Australia. At the beginning of what would be an exciting time of interviews and podcasts and book launches and readings, I wrote about “Soaking up our 15 minutes.

Doing things I never thought I’d do. From completing not one but two Olympic distance triathlons (Bracebridge and Lakeside) to running a marathon (a whole one!), I have done things over the last seven years that I never imagined when Sam and I began our fitness challenge in 2012. Shortly after my 50th birthday, I wrote a post entitled, “I did it! Reflections on achieving what once seemed impossible”. I like reading this post again because it gets me back in touch with that feeling of amazing myself. It’s the sort of thing you want everyone to feel. I amazed myself again, last fall, when I hit my 10K personal best (see “have you amazed yourself lately? Tracy consistent effort and see where it takes you (aka Tracy’s epic 10K)“). I also amazed myself with my boudoir photo shoot late last year. It was fun and I liked the results. I don’t think that is something I’d have felt comfortable doing back in 2012 when we started the blog.

A time to rant. I’m not a big ranter, but I can rant when the time is right. Over the course of seven years, I’ve had some occasion to unleash some ranty opinions on this blog. Like, “Do you have to be active to wear active wear?” (do not get me started on the clothing police). And I’ve ranted (but in a low key and possibly even a bit constructive way) about vegan protein sources at restaurants (it’s getting better). And of course, there are a few rants about diets, such as “Newsflash (not): most meal replacement shakes aren’t meal replacements.” Sometimes it’s more fun to rant together, like last month when Cate and I went on about harmful messaging.

Blogging about the blog. We try to keep it open and welcoming here, but things aren’t always happy. We blog about difficult issues and on occasion we say things that hit the wrong note with some people. We aim to be inclusive, but not everyone always feels included. There have been times that I or others wrote posts that made readers angry. One such time was when I proposed that I might dump sugar. Oh wow. That didn’t go over well at all. But the response caused me to reflect and back track. And as I re-read my “dumping the sugar dump: critical follow-up” post, I could see that (1) I was still stinging, but also that (2) I was doing my very best to work through and take seriously why it was probably not a good idea for me to voice that thought on this blog.

It’s funny (not really funny, but odd) how much it hurts when we get attacked by our readers. It happened again a few months ago on the FB page (this time Sam was under fire, on the receiving end of vitriol) and when we tried to intervene to bring it back to a civil discussion, we were then accused of “tone policing.” In the end, it prompted me (and Cate in her beautiful post, “What are we making together?”) to reflect once again on the blog and the community around it and what we can and cannot promise. In the end, I realized that we cannot promise a safe space, and I reflected on why that is the case in “Why we can’t promise a feminist space will be a safe space.” It might be one of my favourite posts of my own because it is a layered reflection on feminism as I see it playing out in my life, on the blog, in the world.

This reflection on my own posts is kind of random and on a different day might be different. I haven’t mentioned the one that’s gotten the most hits of all, “She may look healthy but…why fitness models aren’t models of health.” That and “The Shape of an Athlete” are two of my posts from the early days that challenge our assumptions of what it means to “look fit.” That has been a major theme on the blog since the very beginning, not developed just in my posts but in the posts of the others as well. Posts on bodies and body image are consistently the most read content on the blog, and gave us early evidence that this blog contributed a welcome perspective on fitness.

I’m adding “being a part of this incredible blog” to my list of things I never could have imagined doing in my life.

fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 2: reflections on great posts from the team

Image description: close up shot of a sunflower bud not yet bloomed, taken by Tracy in a sunflower field near London, Ontario.
Image description: close up shot of a sunflower bud not yet bloomed, taken by Tracy in a sunflower field near London, Ontario.

As I said on Tuesday, I’m taking a step back from the blog. I am saying “good-bye for now” but in all honesty, the chances of me coming back to regular blogging here are minimal. As noted on Tuesday, I’m out of ideas on blog-appropriate topics. Not that I have no thoughts on these things, but I have grown weary of writing about them myself. And we now have a team of amazing authors with all kinds of energy for blogging well into the future. So I have no worries at all about the blog’s ability to thrive without my unenthusiastic participation.

This is not at all to say I don’t love and adore the blog, the community that has grown around it, the team of authors who have become friends (many of whom I can turn to when I need comfort, support, a listening ear, the right question to help me work through a thing…). I have deep gratitude and respect for what goes on here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue. Sometimes I can hardly believe I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of it.

For today’s post, I’d originally considered doing a top ten. But my goodness, after seven years of blogging, daily for the majority of those years, it’s just about impossible to nail it down to ten posts that have had staying power with me. I could more easily list ten for each year. But that would be excessive. So instead, I’m just going to talk about an indeterminate number of posts that got my attention, and why.

I have to start with Sam. When we started this blog together, we had been talking about feminist fitness for years and years already. We had a solid foundation of shared ideas that made the blog possible. And we both wanted to add the “aging” angle, as we were approaching our 50th birthdays. In fact, the original title of the blog was “Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty.” I don’t even remember how we came up with that title. But two identical perspectives would have resulted in a big yawn. Bonus points: Sam and I had enough different experiences, interests, and perspectives on some issues to make it interesting. For examples: she LOVES tracking and data, I find tracking oppressive. In 2012, she was into CrossFit and rowing and cycling (of course!) and Aikido. I was into yoga, walking, running, and weight training. I have learned a lot from Sam’s blog posts.

Probably my two favourites of hers from the early days are “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI?” where she interrrogates the way BMI is used as an individual measure of health and fitness, and “Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice?” where she considers whether we slow down because we age or we age because we slow down. I liked the BMI post because, just two weeks into the blog’s existence, it helped to shape the tone and content of what we evolved into. That post sent the message that we were not just going to co-sign the “received view” about things. Nope. If you want that, then check out the rest of the internet! The aging post was a reflection on Gretchen Reynolds’ book, The First Twenty Minutes, in particular the chapter on aging. This was the very first time I ever considered that we might have a hand in the way we age.

Sam has faced setbacks of late that have driven home the point that aging is not simply a lifestyle choice. And even during our challenge she had some personal tragedies and losses of family members that made it clear that we are not fully in control of every aspect of health and aging. But the idea that at least some people might make choices that either speed up or slow down the march of time is, as Sam said at the time, certainly intriguing. And it has stuck with me and in many ways has been a positive factor in some of the things I managed to do during and since the challenge (like triathlon!).

I also love Sam’s post on ladylike values and sport performance values. Her question: do they clash? She considers some examples, like blowing your nose on the bike or having to act in ways that command attention (like kiaing in Aikido — that’s where they yell). Her conclusion: “I think we women athletes may need to say goodbye to our inner ‘ladies’ and channel our inner “bad girls.” This makes me smile still: yes, we are a feminist fitness blog. Look out.

There are any number of other posts from Sam that have stayed on my radar: “Remembering Marion, my favourite fit feminist ninety something friend,” where she reminisces about an amazing woman and friend whom she’d recently lost. We should all be so lucky to be even a little bit like Marion when we’re in our nineties (or eighties, or seventies or…!); “Loving the body you’ve got: Love a better motivator than hate,” which, for obvious reasons, sends an important message right from the title, and then backs it up with research findings. And then there was “The dad bod? Fine. But what about the mom bod,” where in her body positive way Sam applauds the relaxed standards around men’s bodies and then laments that we don’t have similar relaxed standards for women’s bodies. Of course, later, she would notice an alarming trend, suggesting things are going in the wrong direction: “Men, meet normative thinness.”

I’m mostly drawn these days to posts that dig deep, depict challenges overcome or challenges that defeat us and how we handled that, or question dominant narratives. Humour also works for me. We can strike a heavy tone sometimes, and since we don’t actually coordinate posts, sometimes (like when Trump got elected or when a harsh winter seemed to drag on too long) that tone can hang in the air without abating.

I adore the way Cate reflects in her posts. She chews things over and divulges her deepest feelings about them and usually comes to some sort of resolution, all in a way that resonates strongly with lots of people (me included). Her posts “What does it mean to look my age?” and “Making peace with our changing bodies” both do this brilliantly and reassuringly. And of course, her travel posts! They’ve taken me places I’ve never been. There are many, but “Why I run when I travel” really opened things up for me and made me consider that some of the places where I choose not to run might be places I actually could run if I took an attitude more like Cate’s. She’s the most adventurous person I know. Her birthday word cloud shows I’m not the only one who thinks that. And my all-time favourite Cate post: “What are we making together?” This post touched me deeply. In it, she laments the reality of feminists unleasing their fury on other feminists, and proposes a new idea: dialogic communication (i.e. “This means communication based in inquiry, and the assumption that the other person has a valid reason for their point of view.”)

And then she went on to say what it means for our Facebook page (where we had been experiencing some UN-dialogic communication), which everyone visiting knows to be a feminist context to begin with. She said, if you’re on our page “and you think “this doesn’t feel feminist to me,” why not get curious instead of police-y?  Think maybe, huh, I wonder why Sam thought this was a fit on this page?  how does her version of feminist differ from mine?  ASK her — This triggers something for me, why did you think this had a feminist lens?  Ask yourself — how can someone I otherwise agree with have this perspective?  What am I missing about why they might have posted this?  And even if you do understand and disagree, think about what this says about the wonders of multiplicity and how two people can differ and still respect each other and have more in common than they don’t.” Go, Cate!

Catherine, another resident cyclist and our “weekends with Womack” blogger, came on board as a regular quite soon into the blog, way before the end of our challenge. Besides being funny and smart at the same time, Catherine is super talented at dissecting the latest scientific research and research headlines to give important perspective that is not readily available elsewhere. She did this in” Cleaning is not the new cardio” and also, more recently, in “Can leaving the light or TV on at night make you gain weight? Shining a light on the subject.” She’s also really good at ranting: “What’s so great about more?” And at being funny and fun more generally: “A tale of two bodies, or how (clothing) fit is a feminist issue.” Catherine also blogs honestly about her own struggles and is reasonable in a way that resonates with me. I really identified with her recent post “What’s so great about more? Less is just fine as it is.” It picks up on one of my favourite themes: doing less and scaling back. It is always comforting to find kindred spirits on this front. #weekendswithwomack for the win!

Nat, also an early-in-blog regular, writes easily and honestly about hard health things. Blood pressure, sleep apnea, plantar fasciitis, bad doctor experiences. She also writes about her fitness pursuits, which haven’t always been easy — like when she learned to ride with clipless pedals and didn’t die and when she was the crying woman in a yoga class. We both had concerns about being bad feminists and since I think Nat is an awesome feminist, I cheered a big cheer for all of us when she said: “no one gets to call me a ‘bad feminist’ but myself.” Yeah! And another of Nat’s post that left a great impression on me and, re-reading it makes me want to make my own “stop doing” list: “My 2017 Stop Doing List.” We all need a stop doing list. If you haven’t yet figured it out, I’m a fan of #satwithnat.

So about those deep topics that resonate with me at a level that goes way beyond feminist fitness, right to the gut. Susan has a fantastic and gut-wrenching post that she wrote in the days following the inauguration of the new US president in 2017. Yeah, that president. The post was entitled, “Running from my despair,” and she warns us at the outset, “Okay I’m not messing around here, this is not going to be a fun post.” She talks poignantly about fear, despair, the “struggle to feel meaningful,” about privilege, and about how running helps (sort of). And Kim’s post about “girlfriend therapy” and “finding the time and the space to make new female friends in middle age.” She talked about that in the context of one new friendship: with Susan (yes, our Susan of the “Running from despair” post). That one warmed my heart because seeing the blog at work, bringing women together in friendship and support, is a beautiful thing. And I like them both. And girlfriend therapy plays a huge role in my life.

Speaking of making new friends…I had a really great experience last year getting to know Cate and Christine when the three of us facilitated our only fitness challenge group to date. The three of us didn’t know one another all that well when we started. We live in different cities and we hadn’t spent a lot of time together. But by the time the group wound down, we had developed an intimate three-way friendship that included almost nightly chats about everything under the sun. I totally fell in love with them both. Christine is a champion of timed challenges of all kinds — writing challenges, drawing challenges, and yes, fitness challenges. She’s got the best smirk EVER. And she blogs beautifully and humanely about her fitness pursuits. Her “Getting pushy with push-ups” starts with a bold statement of a desire that many of us share: “I want to be able to do push-ups easily.” Her cousin, Ken (a chiropractor), set up a 3x a week “phase one” plan for her to help her get closer to that goal.

During our challenge group, Christine set out to do yoga every day for 30 days. She invited us to join her. I tried, because her post about it — “Yoga. Practice.” was so inviting. As was the idea that 7 minutes a day is all we were aiming at. Christine’s post gave all sorts of good reasons why that commitment was do-able. It all seemed so alluring, the way she put it in her post. I didn’t quite make it. But it gave me another reason to check in every night with Cate and Christine.

A few other posts that I want to mention before I end this overly long reminiscence:

  • Martha’s smart analysis of the Caster Semenya decision that said she would need to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels if she wanted to compete in women’s competitions. “Women, sport, and sex tests” tackles an important issue in women’s sport and draws out the wider implications of the decision.
  • Bettina’s posts about bouldering always grab my attention because it’s completely new to me. In bouldering, as in most things sporty, men like to explain things (unsolicited) to competent women. Bettina recounts an outrageous experience of that in “Men explain things to me: the bouldering edition.
  • Along the same lines, Marjorie gives a great list of criteria it would be great for such men to reflect upon before they offer their advice to perfectly competent women who didn’t ask for it. I wish we could post this — “‘Just trying to be helpful?’ How to know if it’s okay to offer me advice at the gym” — one in gyms everywhere.
  • Mina’s reflections on grit in “Is Grit Good or Bad?” is another one of those posts that helps us to reflect on our own fitness practice. At least, that’s the impact it had on me. We hear a lot about the virtues of sticking things out. But we hear a lot less about how to make decisions about when to let a thing go. She offers a list of questions we can ask ourselves, the last of which is “where would I rather spend my grit?” I love this. Why? Because it suggests that, realistically, we need to make choices. We can stick some things out. But over time we accumulate more commitments (in all areas of life) than we have space for. This is where I find myself these days — with a few more commitments than I can handle, and a time when I am engaged in the life-equivalent of licking my wounds and regrouping.
  • Two women who have a spot in my heart and who blog here occasionally, not regularly (though we would love it if they did!) are Audrey and Rebecca. They had a great ranty interaction about the Lingerie Fighting League (subtitled: “because we don’t sexualize women fighters enough already”) a few years ago.
  • Finally, I love the post where we got to celebrate our 20,000 wordpress followers. There had been a time, in around 2015 or so, when we were picking up 1000 new wordpress followers a month. But then it tapered off and we were waiting. And waiting. And waiting to hit 20,000. That finally happened. And it felt great. Sam blogged about it in “Celebrating Feminist Fitness with our 20,000 WordPress Followers.” Why do I love that post? Because we are not alone. And when we started our fittest by 50 challenge back in 2012, it was just the two of us and we had no idea where it would take us. We were going to stop blogging when we turned 50 because the challenge would then be over. And here we are, both about to turn 55 and the blog thriving as a community we could not have even imagined.

The length of this post proves to me just how much appreciation I have for all of the other bloggers at Fit Is a Feminist Issue. Together, as a team, we really have built something special, with plenty of diverse content that speaks to a much wider palette of issues than how to be a fit feminist. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it.

Next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll post my 3rd and 4th installments of my two-week good-bye. Until then…do you have any favourite posts you’d like to mention?

blogging · fitness · training

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 1: Why Tracy is stepping away from the blog

Image description: head shot of Tracy, smiling, in running tank, ear buds, sunglasses, and a blue ballcap that says “Around the Bay 125th anniversary” with a painted landscape mural in the background.

In August 2012, both 48 years old, Sam and I decided to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we hit 50. That gave us two years to make and execute a plan. We decided to blog about our fittest by 50 challenge and also about feminist issues in fitness–stuff that bothered us, made us feel strong. Along the way we brought some more bloggers on board. First as occasional guests. Then as regular contributors. Our fiftieth birthdays came and went. We hit our goals. We wrote a book about it.

And we kept blogging. And blogging. And blogging.

And after seven years and hundreds of thousands of words of training updates, race reports, posts about doing less, posts about intuitive eating, rants about this and that outrageous sexist sport incident thing, post after post about what’s wrong with dieting, missives about putting away the scale, more race reports, more posts about getting back on track after falling out of routine, travel fitness logs, justifications and defences of rest, telling everyone why hormone replacement therapy was a life saver for me, … I’ve run out of steam for these topics and issues.

The clarity that it is time to step away hit me when I was away on my ten-day meditation course a few weeks ago. It’s not as if I’d even been toying with stepping away. But I have been feeling uninspired (and therefore, uninspiring) lately. Since Around the Bay I’ve had no end of setbacks. Though I felt strong the first day back, I soon had debilitating back pain that kept me almost immobile for weeks.

Since then, I’ve traveled enough to interrupt my training schedule. Then, as I’ve tried to ease back into running, my Achilles has been acting up. My physiotherapist has told me not to run. That makes the window of opportunity to train for the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon on October 20 ever-shrinking. I should not have signed up for it before seeing my physiotherapist. The clock is ticking and I don’t know how I can go from zero to 21K — and without injury — by race day. I don’t really feel like blogging about that.

The clarity came so strongly during my meditation course –it was like a full-body knowing set in and said: it’s time to take a step back and make space for others on the blog and for other things in my life. I think feminist commentary on fitness still matters. And hearing personal stories of triumph and struggle and getting on task and falling away and getting motivated again still matters. But I don’t feel I’ve got anything much left to say.

Not only that, we have built a diverse and energetic team of amazing regulars over the years, along with a huge group of guests. So I can easily leave without so much as a missed beat on the blog. Though Sam and I co-founded it and it grew up around our own challenge, the shape of the blog has changed over these past seven years and it really is a team effort now. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who contributes to the blog’s success by creating smart and relevant content on regular basis.

I’ll be writing a short series over the next couple of weeks as my way of saying “good-bye for now.” In part 2, on Thursday, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite posts by the other authors. In part 3, next Tuesday (August 27th), I’m going to reflect on the posts of my own that I like the best. And finally, in part 4 (August 29th), I’ll reflect a bit on how the blog has shaped, influenced, and forever altered the way I engage with fitness pursuits in my own life. It has meant a lot to me, not just as a way of motivating me to stay on task and try new things, but also by creating a sense of community and camaraderie that I had not anticipated.

On the 29th, it’ll be almost exactly seven years to the day since my very first post. That seems like a fitting date on which to call it a day.

fitness

Why the Way News Media Covers Women in Sport Matters #tbt

I wrote this #tbt post during the 2016 Olympics, when sexist media coverage was happening almost every day. I was reminded of it last night when I was at an amazing documentary that tells the incredible story of Tracy Edwards and her all-woman crew on the sailing vessel Maiden, the first all-woman crew in the Whitbread Around the World sailing race (in 1989-90 — it takes nine months). One of the ongoing themes in that film is the sexist media coverage (endlessly so) and how demoralizing it was for these women, who were engaged in a difficult and dangerous undertaking that took skill and courage. They were expected to fail. And when they actually turned out to be competitive, they were “sailing like men.” Read on about why sexist sports coverage matters.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

2016 Rio Olympics - Artistic Gymnastics - Women's Team Victory Ceremony USA women’s gymnastics team in Rio, with their team gold medals. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX

We’ve all heard it before: more money and attention go to men’s sport because men’s sports are more popular. For women who are athletes, it’s a constant battle to be taken seriously for their accomplishments. On one front, the women need to work hard to keep the focus on their athletic achievement (as opposed to their looks, who they want to date, or what they post on social media). On another front, they struggle to get their share of media coverage.

Just ask Canadian tennis player, Eugenie Bouchard, who was once famously asked “to twirl” in an on-court interview and also, on a different occasion, asked who her ideal date would be. More recently, CBC sportscaster, Adam Kreek, blamed her Olympics singles loss on what she does on social media. He said:

“she’s…

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athletes · fitness

OMG did you see Simone Biles’ latest?

Is there not just something incredible about watching elite women athletes blow everyone’s mind with their incredible athleticism? In case you missed it, the latest almost unbelievable achievement in sport goes to US gymnast Simone Biles, who completed (though not to her own satisfaction) a move that is reported to have revolutionized gymnastics. The move is called “the triple double: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips.”

According to Slate, it is “the single most spectacular skill that any female gymnast has ever attempted, on any apparatus, in the history of the sport. It’s got an “astronomical difficulty rating” and looks almost impossible (but for the fact that she is doing it!):

From the same competition, the US Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Biles completed a stunning and unprecedented dismount after a gripping routine on the balance beam. According to the article in Slate, Biles “destroyed a new balance beam dismount, the most difficult and daring in the history of the sport: a double-double, or a double somersault with a full twist in each flip. This is a skill that is usually reserved for the floor exercise—an apparatus that is 40 feet wide and outfitted with 11 centimeters of springs. Biles did it off the end of a lightly padded plank 4 inches wide and 4 feet off the ground, and she made it look easy.” And landed it perfectly:

This is really just an “in case you missed it post.” Simone Biles is not to be missed. Keep in mind too that she purportedly had an off-weekend, by her own lights it was not her best. She expressed disappointment over her floor routine because she didn’t complete the triple double to her own high standards. And it was all still enough to secure her first place.

Amazing.

She’s making me fall in love with gymnastics all over again. I really don’t even have a question to end on today, other than the rhetorical: “doesn’t watching Simone Biles do gymnastics make you want to watch more of Simone Biles doing gymnastics?”