Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Tracy I
Writer, feminist, vegan, runner, sailor, philosopher, yogi, sometimes knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books)..
I’m bored with my workout routine. It’s not that I don’t like the things I’m doing. I’m getting stronger in personal training. I love yoga and feel as if I don’t do enough of it these days. And I’m itching to get back to running after my back injury took me out of it for more than a month and I’ve only just dipped my toe back into it since then.
But I feel as if a change is in the air. As much as I’m enjoying personal training, there have been quite a few developments in resistance-training these days, with more small gyms popping up offering different kinds of weight training in more of a group-class setting. One example, that I’ve not yet tried but has been recommended to me is Revkor. We have a studio here in London, and the idea of resistance band training intrigues me.
Another option, which I also have never tried, is something along the lines of CrossFit. My friend Tara has been going to a gym downtown where they do that sort of group workout and she is loving it.
I’m kind of old school and worry that if I’m not hitting heavy free weights in a gym setting I won’t actually get stronger. But at the same time, with my 14-month leave coming up, I feel as if I might need some more opportunities to be around people, and that these group workouts at specialty gyms might be just the thing. And though not cheap, they’re cheaper than personal training.
I’m also planning to spend the summer doing 10K training, 3-4 times a week. And I want to up my yoga classes from once a week to 2-3 times a week. At least that’s what I’ve got in mind.
But I’m open to suggestions. Have you tried anything lately that’s different and that you’re so jazzed about that you want to encourage others to give it a go? If so, please tell me about it and why you’re attracted to it.
Yesterday a friend posted about how her kid’s lunch got knocked off the table at school and so she had to get a school lunch. The child is vegan. And because of that the school could come up with nothing but a few lettuce leaves for her to eat. That made me (and a bunch of other people ( both sad and furious at the same time. But it also sort of amazed us (not in a good way). I mean, how is it that people who specialize in food preparation can’t come up with something a little more subtantial that has no animal products in it?
That made me remember one of my favourite blog rants, which was this rant about chefs who can’t figure out a vegan meal with protein. As if a pile of veggies, no matter how wonderfully prepared, stands in as a satisfying meal. That was 2015. Things have actually improved somewhat in 2019, with more vegan restaurants or “plant-based” sections on a menu in omni restaurants. But still!
Last night I went out to one of the best restaurants in London (Ontario). It’s the only place in town that makes it onto lists that get national recognition. Even on a Wednesday night, there was a group at every table in the compact, dimly lit space. My two friends were already sitting at the table in the warm and bustling room when I arrived for our late dinner. The restaurant offers a delicious winter vegetable salad, a heaping portion of beets and carrots, turnips and leeks, peas and even corn, all roasted or grilled, served in a dressing with fines herbes and excellent olive oil.
That was a definite for my starter. But I’d been at a lunch event earlier in the day where the lack of vegan options meant I’d had only a dinner roll and two kinds of salad, and I’d been…
Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey is a year old. Sam and I have both been getting some sweet memories on our timelines lately: memories of the book excitement from last spring. We had all sorts of wonderful happy experiences around the launch and promotion of the book.
In the “hometown” launch in London, Ontario, we got to celebrate with friends and family, and had this great photo op with our mothers (guess who’s whose mother lol):
A few weeks later, because Sam had recently taken up a new position in Guelph, Ontario, we had another book launch there. Here we are at the Guelph book launch talking about how the Fit at Midlife came to be:
We also did a lot of radio and even some TV. Here we are at the little cafe downstairs in the Global TV studio in Toronto just before we went up to the green room (is that what they called it?) where we had our make-up done and waited for them to call us onto the morning show for our interview:
It’s fitting that on the one year anniversary of the book, the audio book just came out. If you’d like to get the audio book or the print book or the kindle version, you can find them all at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca. Or even at a brick and mortar bookstore near you, or your local library.
Meanwhile, we’d like to wish the book a very happy first birthday. We had a ton of fun bringing it into the world!
I just finished grading papers for my class “The Art of the Personal Essay” and I continue to have so much respect for personal writing and the stories it enables people to tell. So it’s got me thinking (again) about personal writing. We do a lot of it here on the blog — the majority of our posts involve personal writing at some level, even if it’s a post focusing on commentary. I thought it might be good to revisit why we do that. So here is a post from a couple of years ago as a #tbt that considers why our blog has so much personal writing on it. Have a good one! T
There is a nap revival going on, and I’m 100% behind it. I blogged about it in recent months. See “Rest Revisited…and I mean naps.” I’m just back from China and my sleep is disrupted, and I’m feeling it acutely. I have always enjoyed afternoon naps. They are a luxurious privilege that not everyone has access to. I associate them with leisure, vacations, and weekends. When I’m at work, there is no nap time.
And not all people have access to leisure, vacations, or even weekends (in the sense of time off). There is definitely a class issue around naps — if you’re working multiple jobs to pay the bills, chances are you don’t have a lot of time for naps even though you might be sorely in need of them. Napping is indeed a social justice issue.
Besides the simple value of sufficient rest, naps have cognitive and health benefits. According to this article, new research shows that “a nap can help with how we process and react to information.” The researchers reported that their study “indicated that sleep was responsible for inducing improvement in tasks that were processed unconsciously.” So there’s that benefit.
I also recently read an article on wired.com about the health impact of consistent sleep deprivation. Apart from making us less cognitively capable than we might otherwise be, sleep deprivation makes us: “more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, [neuroscientist Matthew Walker] said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.” So it’s not good for the health on many levels.
And yet our fast-paced world glorifies over-busy lives and minimal sleep. This is why my most favourite message these days is from The Nap Ministry’s Facebook page. They have a website too. This is not simply a group that promotes naps as good for your physical and mental health. Based in Atlanta and founded by nap bishop Tricia Hersey, they see naps as a form of resistance.
Their mission statement exudes hope for a new way of living, with naps as a form of resistance against sleep deprivation and the glorification of the capitalist consumer machine that chews us up and spits us out. The statement says:
The Nap Ministry is a community organization that examines the liberating power of naps. We use the power of performance art, poetry, installation, public performance interventions and community art making to illuminate the artistic, spiritual and creative power of rest. It reimagines why rest is a form of resistance and shines a light on the issue of sleep deprivation as a justice issue. It is a counter narrative to the belief that we all are not doing enough and should be doing more. We are community centered. We are focused on radical self-care. Naps are a dream space that offers us a place to invent, create and heal. When we don’t nap, we miss out on precious creative time to hope and imagine. Hope is what will sustain us. Sleep will restore us.
Even better (and this makes me wish I lived in Atlanta or at least visited more often), “The Nap Ministry hosts Collective Napping Experiences that allow the community to experience a safe space that has been curated for rest.”
When people tell me they are too busy to rest…when I myself feel too busy to rest…I feel sad. When someone boasts about how little sleep they can function on, I raise a skeptical eyebrow. I mean, I realize that there is a lot in this wonderful world. And I realize that there are only so many hours in a day. But life is not just about consuming experiences and adding them to the collection. I like the idea of carving out time for rest. To be. To restore. To allow creative time. And to find other people who place value on that challenge to the dominant attitude of do-do-do as a marker of what it means to be a contributing citizen.
Do you nap for rest and if you do, does it feel like a guilty pleasure or a birth right?
I’ve been traveling this week in China, thanking my lucky stars that my back has been well enough for me to manage the toilets.
In China, the typical toilet is a squat toilet. Not of course in the western style hotel rooms but certainly in most of the restaurants and in most of the university buildings I’ve had meetings in. In a public toilet with multiple stalls, there may be one stall with a regular toilet. Maybe. Not always. And the rest are squats.
When I faced the same in India recently it was more an “aesthetic” thing. I am accustomed to a regular toilet and squatting just isn’t my thing. I know, I know –apparently in many ways squatting is better for digestion, a more effective position.
But this time I’m aware of just how much physical agility it requires to squat to pee. You need to be able to plant your feet and lower yourself down without losing your balance. Pee. Wipe (assuming there is toilet paper or that you remembered to grab some from the communal dispenser on the wall out by the sinks or that you have your own as I always do). Then stand back up again without assistance and without losing your balance. Two weeks ago I’d have been completely unable.
For me it was temporary. I have no idea what people with knee issues or back issues or in wheel chairs or with other sorts of mobility issues do. Almost all of the squat toilet stalls have at least one step to get up to them (I don’t quite know why this is). None of the many I’ve been in this week has had a hand rail that would be useful for getting back up.
It’s a real issue. And not just aesthetic. And it makes me appreciate that at least for now I can manage because being able to use a toilet when out and about is one of the more important necessities of basic living.
I have not asked around about what people do if they have mobility issues and whether this is considered an equity issue. If it’s not, it should be, even if squatting is a more natural position for this sort of thing. It’s not available to all.
I usually end with a question but I’m not about to interrogate our readers about their squat toilet experiences!
From the Queen Bee herself: “In order for me to meet my goals, I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol – and I’m hungry.”
Of course you’re hungry, honey. That is a lot to say “no” to. A lot. Especially considering the physically demanding nature of the work.
She acknowledges it involved sacrifice. And that’s Beyonce. A woman with a team of people helping her meet her goals. Now, I’ve seen the documentary and yes, she looks amazing. Strong and gorgeous. But bear in mind that it’s one night. It’s her job. She has help. She has a lot going for her genetically and aesthetically speaking to begin with.
The truth of the matter is that a diet involving that much deprivation is simply not sustainable.
We blog a lot about fad diets and diets in general. Most of our messaging is negative because most people do not manage to lose weight and keep it off for any reasonable length of time. It can be done. There are some weight loss unicorns. They mostly have had to make significant permanent changes and commit to a life of intensive activity. Even then, it is no guarantee because metabolic damage is a known side-effect of repeated dieting and the under-eating restrictive diets often prescribe.
Fad diets that take out whole food groups are tempting because yes, of course you’ll likely lose weight if you stop eating most of the things you regularly enjoy. But if it’s not sustainable as a permanent change (and the Beychella diet is not) then the rebound effect of gaining it back is extremely likely.
Instead of another fad diet, consider process changes that get you making healthy activity and food choices (like Sam’s ten fruits and veggies thing). These sorts of tweaks are sustainable and good for you regardless of whether you lose weight or don’t. You won’t be deprived. Instead of punishing yourself or trying to whip yourself into shape, process changes can actually be acts of self love.
This is not to deny the awesomeness of Beyonce or the real sacrifice she had to make to be “show ready.” But like fitness models (see “She May Look Healthy But…Why Fitness Models aren’t Models if Health”), the required prep regime is not a long term solution and isn’t even particularly good for you (or for Beyonce).
If you haven’t seen Homecoming, here’s a link to the trailer and you can catch the film on Netflix: