fitness

Adventures in Knee Rehab and Farewell

Hello Fit Feminist community!

I’ve so enjoyed my monthly posts here, but I wanted to let you know this will be my last regular post for a while. It feels like a good time for me to turn my focus to other things that have been asking for my attention. I hope to do an occasional guest post and will, of course, continue to read! Thank you so much for having me as a regular contributor, for reading my reflections, and for your thoughtful and supportive comments.

Let’s get to it!

Last year I wrote about my knee injury and the moderate toll it took on my mental state. In passing I’ve heard that knees strongly correspond to our feelings of control and stability, and that knee injury sufferers often feel a loss of control. At the same time, I’m grateful I’m not alone. Sam’s written here about her knee injury, and in the comments on my last knee post, there were so many readers who discussed their own knee woes.

Since my injury, I’ve also noticed increased pain and tension in my hips and glutes, which requires regular attention. Apparently, this is one of the most common side-effects from knee-injury-sufferers. Hips work harder to compensate for injured knees. (Have any other knee injury sufferers noticed this??) It’s sort of cool to think that my body has my back in this way. But at the same time, the regular hip and butt pain isn’t so cool.

In one of the comments on my previous post, a reader wrote about a friend who also suffered a knee injury. This friend spent so much time and effort rehabilitating their knee that it became stronger than the uninjured knee! This comment inspired me.

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A comment from a reader on my post about knee injury.

I’ll admit to being a little loosey-goosey with my own knee exercises now that my knee is mostly better. Of course, I’ve continued physio therapy and will do quad and knee exercises—but not with the kind of commitment that it would take to make my injured knee super strong.

I’ve been wanting to return to activities I used to love, like dance and martial arts. Additionally, my partner and I started working out together at a new gym near our house and it’s made me want to take up other activities together—for instance, I’d love to play squash together someday.

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I’d also love to return to horseback riding but this can be a very knee-intensive activity.

But then I remember my knee, and the fear of re-injury literally stops me from wanting to try anything challenging. I know that higher impact activities will demand a certain level of knee strength and stability. And there’s also a level of spontaneity involved in these activities one can’t always control. (There’s that fear of control loss again!)

At the same time, I was letting that fear stop me. And I wasn’t taking back my control of the situation and being proactive. I was also letting other people’s knee advice influence me. People who have suffered similar knee issues have told me things about never fully recovering, of never being able to do certain activities again, etc. And I suppose on some level I took their word for it. “Why work on something if I’m only going to fail?” Was my subconscious thought. “Other people seem to know better.

More broadly, this is something I find myself constantly having to push back against (both in the fitness world and world at large): knowing when to listen to other people and when not to. Especially in terms of women’s fitness, there is such a high level of B.S. out there. But I have been inspired by the defiant spirit of the Fit is a Feminist Issue community. From the comment about knee strengthening to Tracy I.’s post about doing chin-ups.

The idea of being able to get an injured knee to be stronger than an uninjured one was such a simple thought that opened my eyes to many other things. Maybe I’ll achieve that, or maybe I’ll get close. But I can’t keep merely hoping it’ll be okay. Either way, it’s certainly better to try than to deprive myself of the activities I crave.

Thanks, Fit Feminists!

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I will prevail! (Being silly at the beach, 2014.)
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Getting Naked with Toronto’s NOW Magazine

In November, I wrote about the possibility of participating in NOW magazine’s annual Love Your Body issue. Each year in January, the Toronto weekly magazine features ten Torontonians who speak on body positivity, and discuss their body’s stories.

Well, if you picked up last week’s copy, you’d see that I was selected to participate! And frankly, I debated sharing this here at all. But the experience was important, I think.

In the piece itself, I speak on my mixed-race heritage, and the ways in which I have seen my Chinese descent make itself known through my body, especially as I age.

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A quote from my interview with NOW.

When it came up in conversation, I would get two reactions: first, people would congratulate me. Then, they’d tell me how they could never do it. NEVER!

Nudity wasn’t something that was considered scandalous in my childhood home. I grew up in a small house with one full bathroom. Often, someone would be in the shower while someone would be on the toilet and someone else would be using the mirror. Tight quarters and modesty don’t really go together.

Maybe I’m a different breed. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I’ve wanted to volunteer to model for a life drawing class for ages. I’ve thought seriously about burlesque performance (which I still won’t rule out). It’s not that I’m an exhibitionist, per se. But I think I have a beautiful and unique body. Not one that I’m happy with all the time, but one that I love deeply. And that part of me is excited to volunteer for public nudity in certain contexts.

The photoshoot itself was a good experience. In attendance, there was the make-up artist, photographer, art director, and the organizer I’d been corresponding with. Everyone was kind and easygoing. (They too admitted that they couldn’t imagine being on my side of the camera, which I thought was kind of funny.)

It was surprising how normal the whole thing felt. I undressed to my bra and underwear, had my hair and make-up touched up and was moisturized from head-to-toe. We did a couple photos to test the lighting, and I was asked to remove bra and underwear when I was ready. To be honest, after an hour of poses and shooting, it was actually pretty boring. Just posing this way and that, tilting my chin up or down, turning my head an inch this way or that. My mind was on the new sandwich place I was going to with my partner after the shoot.

However, seeing the issue for the first time, debating whether to post about it, and reading (some of the not-so-nice) letters to the editor in the following week’s issue is a different story.

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The cover of NOW’s Love Your Body issue featuring one of the ten participants for the piece. Absolutely stunning!

The magazine came out last Thursday, and the Wednesday night before, my partner and I went on a long walk where I aired my many anxieties. The biggest one was: What will people say? And this was a crushing realization, because one of the things I very much aim to work on personally is to not let the (real or imagined) criticisms of others affect how I live my life. The fact that this photo of me was out there, all over the city (AND ON THE INTERNET) suddenly became real. I had a very real moment of WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?! I felt so incredibly vulnerable. Raw. Like a scab that had just been picked. I was embarrassed and afraid. And at the same time, I think these feelings were completely okay to have, they made perfect sense. Who wouldn’t feel vulnerable in that position?

But by Friday, I felt different. I felt quietly proud and bold and strong. Nervous, yes. But excited. And after a few more days, I felt powerful and sexy and badass.

I can’t say that I did very much to experience this rapid change in feelings, other than I let them happen. I didn’t suppress the ones that felt bad, or my fears, but just let them be heard. (After all, I was naked in a very public setting. They had a point.) The entire experience has been a huge opportunity, not only to participate in something meaningful, but to confront my own deeply held fears.

The experience is still in the back of my mind, and as time passes, it will be something I care about less and less. Currently my thoughts are at: “Well, I don’t have anything that people haven’t seen before.” And I realize too it’s a privilege that this is the case for me. Others featured in this issue—such as a woman who was born without arms, a transman, and a young woman who had breast cancer, have bodies that are far less often seen by a broader public. Truly, I am honoured to be alongside them.

What about you? Would you do it? Which of your body’s stories would you want to tell?

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My photo from the NOW Love Your Body issue. (The PG version.) I was pleased with the shot they chose. I love my expression in the photo and I feel like this pose really suits me. I love that I am standing tall and strong and not folding my body to be small, to take up less space, or to be hidden. As one of my very good friends put it: “You’re not posing nude to be all covered up!”
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Why I’m Trying to Break Free of the Uniformity of Activewear

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Women’s activewear, while meant to be functional, often tends to all look the same. 

I decided last month to get back to the gym. It had been a while since I’d regularly attended, despite being in a good groove last winter. Going to the gym was about my alone time, my unwinding time. I’d put on a podcast and rather than rush to get there by taking my bike or transit, I’d walk the 30 minutes from my place to the YMCA on College street.

But, I always find getting back into gymming after time away to be challenging. And then there’s the gear. I’ve got to pack a bag complete with gym shoes, gym socks, sports bra, tights and gym shirt, Bluetooth headphones, a snack, protein shake, ball cap, iPhone, and a lock. It really becomes a whole “thing” to go to the gym.

So last month I decided to do something differently—what if I just didn’t make it a thing? What if I just worked out in whatever comfy home clothes I wore that day? What if I stopped by the Y as one of my various errands I had to do in the area? What if it wasn’t about getting a “good workout”, but just about going and doing the exercises I’ve been craving?

I was excited about this new mindset, but when I arrived in my baggy sweatpants and loose Homer Simpson t-shirt, I definitely noticed that I stood out from the other women there. Most women my age wear the same gym uniform: black or patterned tights and a snug sweat-wicking tank top. In fact, that’s what I normally wear too. But something felt different this time going dressed as “myself.”

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My Homer-Simpson-as-the-Godfather t-shirt. One of my favourite workout t-shirts, (or hanging around the house t-shirts, or going grocery shopping t-shirts, or writing my dissertation t-shirts…). 

I think that, on some level, when I was dressed in the usual workout uniform, it was very easy for me to look to other women and their bodies and compare myself. After all, when we’re all wearing the same thing, it becomes pretty easy to notice the differences. Shes thinner. Shes more muscular. Shes got bigger x, or she’s smaller y. I know I’m not supposed to do this sort of thing. It’s bad for self-esteem, self-image, and generally doesn’t help with my own fitness goals or accomplishments. But it happens. Even when I don’t intend it to. Actually, especially, when I don’t intend it to.

Outside of the gym, I’m the kind of person who places a lot of my self-expression in my sense of style. Having fun with fashion is a big part of who I am. But donning the gym uniform felt to me as if I was stripping away a part of myself when I’d go workout. And while the clothes are also about function, I’ve just never been the sort of person who enjoys skin-tight clothes in any context. (So why did I think I’d enjoy it at the gym??)

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Diane Keaton, one of my style icons! I wonder what she wears to the gym? (Probably just regular gym clothes…)

Unfortunately, the activewear industry is for the most part fairly uniform these days, apart from some advances in certain areas (as with the launch of the Nike Pro Hijab). I was hard-pressed to think of other types of self-expression or diversity in activewear. Even a quick Google search of “diverse activewear” pretty much shows the same sorts of things: bright and tight.

Ah well, for now I’ll stick to my oversized Homer Simpson t-shirt.

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Earlier this year, Nike announced upcoming release of it’s Nike Pro Hijab, a sweat-wicking, breathable Hijab for female Muslim athletes. 

What about you? Do you care about what you work out in? Is it about comfort physically or psychologically? Does it feel like “You” or an extension of You? Or do you feel self-conscious?

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Fit is a Feminist Issue has a brand new look!

Hello Fit Feminist readers and contributors!

We here at Fit is a Feminist Issue talked about updating the look of the blog. Several attempts later, voila! What do you think? Did you notice? Have a look around! Feel free to leave a comment!

Same great content, brand new look!

 

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What if I Want to Celebrate My Grossness? A Reflection on Internet BoPo Culture

Toronto’s free paper, NOW Weekly, releases a “Love Your Body” issue every January to promote body positivity, pushing back against the prevalent weight loss goals that tend to flood the mainstream in the new year.

They recently put out a call for participants for their 2018 issue, in which individuals participate in a photoshoot and share their stories about their bodies and thoughts on body positivity more generally. On Wednesday I put in an application.

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From a past year’s NOW Love Your Body Issue, which features various individuals posing nude. Each issue shows both men and women with different body types, different body sizes, individuals of different physical abilities, tattoos, no tattoos, and even women who have had mastectomy’s.

“Body Positivity” can sound like very a broad category. Much of what I see online (especially through body positive Instagram accounts such as @bodyposipanda, @bodypositiveunicorn, and @bodypositivememes) is a kind of fiercely positive attitude about one’s body no matter what that body might look like.

This reframing about diverse bodies is nice to see. It can also act as a salve for all the uniform bodies we tend to see in other media outlets.

But for me personally, at least sometimes, I find Internet Body Positive Culture a little alienating.

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I would consider myself body positive, and was raised in a very female-friendly (all-ladies) household with a supportive, creative and free-spirited mother. My sister and I were strongly encouraged to be ourselves and to seek ourselves, whatever that might look like.

Sometimes I wonder if the current stream of body positivity almost pushes back too much, so as to go against any questioning or frustration one might have with one’s body over the course of a life. Isn’t it okay to admit that sometimes my body frustrates me? Or grosses me out? As if I must ALWAYS feel intensely positive about my body, and if I don’t, I have somehow fallen victim to body shame?

My sister, a feminist visual artist, has always been a big fan of the body’s “grossness.” This is the focus of much of her work: using blood, hair and teeth in her artwork. Instead of following the language of body positivity, she chooses instead to celebrate the body’s gross aspects, like the various liquids and pusses and goops that might come from the body.

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Some might argue that this is body positive art. But I’m not so sure. Much of the Internet Body Positive stuff I see is about proclaiming that everything about bodies is beautiful. And honestly, I feel like it can get a little tiresome. What if not everything about the body is beautiful? AND that’s okay? What if there are lots of gross things about the body—AND that’s okay too?

Is it more important to say that everything is beautiful, or that it’s okay when things aren’t?

In a recent post by Instagram Body Positive activist, @mandas_muffintop, she writes, “You can love yourself and change yourself at the same time. . So many people have it engrained in their mind that to be a part of the body positivity community, especially here on IG, they aren’t allowed to change. Some BoPo community members shame those of us who decided to change our bodies for our health, or to just be more comfortable in our own skin. I’m here to tell you that you are allowed to do WHATEVER you want with your body, and still love it. It’s YOUR body, YOUR life- not anyone else’s. So don’t let anyone shame you. Don’t let anyone shame you into changing if you don’t want to. Don’t let anyone shame you into staying the same if you want to change. SHAME IS NOT OKAY ON EITHER SIDE OF THE SPECTRUM.”

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In my application to participate in the 2018 NOW Love Your Body Issue, I wrote:

“Like many women, my body fluctuates in both pounds and clothing sizes, and this is something that is a point of continual frustration for me. (I often feel like it has a mind of its own.) Yet even though my body frustrates me, sometimes even disgusts me, I love it. I love it very much, in fact. I suppose throughout this, I have been learning that self-love/body-love is something that evolves and moves and changes—it is not static. Much like how our bodies are not static entities, but are incredibly dynamic.”

I believe there is room for questioning, frustration, and even disgust with our bodies WITHIN Body Positivity. Some might disagree with me. What I feel with the current culture of Internet Body Positive is a pushback against traditional standards of beauty—and I think that does need to happen…and I look forward to a celebration of grossness soon.

I think I am beautiful. But I also think sometimes I am gross. And that that’s okay too.

POSITIVE-PANTS

 

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Finding Quiet

This month, I don’t feel like I have anything especially reflective or clever to say about fitness stuff.

I just got back from a period in Banff, where I attended a workshop and enjoyed my time isolated in the Rocky Mountains.

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Image Description: Sunset over the Rocky Mountains. Hard not to feel both in awe and at peace with views like these. 

While I was there, I fully allowed myself to exist in “The Bubble.” No news. Limited communication with the outside world. Limited mindless Internet browsing. And less coffee. (Gasp!)

I have to say, it was transformative.

It’s amazing what a little peace and quiet will do for your mental state.

Lately, I have felt the painful hum of current events more and more acutely. I have become more anxious about the state of the world, and those who seem to run it. Naturally, I’ve always been a very optimistic person and in the past, the gloom of current events tended not to bring me down as much as they have more recently. It’s as if the world’s worries feel more palpable to me.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older? Or maybe it’s because things are getting worse? Who knows.

In any case, allowing myself to experience what was in front of me was just the thing I needed. I felt my spirits lift, my anxieties decrease, and my overall mental and emotional states improve. I felt a clearer sense of myself, what I value, and how I want to be in the world.

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Image Description: Overlooking Bow Falls in Banff National Park. Though it isn’t a steep waterfall, the force (and noise) were incredible. That sound of water rushing over rocks is one of my favourite sounds of all time. Like Mother Nature’s own white noise machine.

In coming back home, I want to find a way to maintain that peaceful state of mind—and I feel myself already worrying that it won’t last long.

Before I left, I was often pulled between several tasks at once, or just felt a general sense of NOISE in the back of my mind. I felt this intense need to hurry up, to keep the pace. I would lose entire weeks without realizing what even happened or what I’d done. Indeed, I have started incorporating a broader practice of mindfulness and meditation into my daily life. But there was something about feeling physically sheltered by mountains from the chaos of the world. It was just so quiet.

As I said, I don’t have anything particularly witty to share today. Only the hope that you too find time for peace, for quiet, and for yourself in this increasingly noisy world.

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Image Description: The misty Rockies in view past the Banff Centre. 
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Image Description: Walking through the woods alone. 
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Image Description: This deer grazed at my window every day! Usually around the same times, too. It felt miraculous to look out my window to see a deer (or a few deer) casually snacking
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The (Mental) Tolls of Physical Injury

I rang in 2017 with a bad knee sprain.

 

I had no idea how long this would take to heal, not to mention the complications of re-injuring my knee twice since the initial sprain in the winter.

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Image Description: A Snowy street on St. Clair in Toronto. Walking around in deep snow and slippery streets proved very difficult with an injured knee–every step felt a little dangerous.

The initial injury happened in a way that was totally preventable, and I felt a lot of anger about the way it happened. I was on an airplane, flying back to Toronto from Calgary. I was in the window seat, and there was another passenger in the aisle seat. At one point during the 4-hour journey, I had to go to the washroom, and asked her if I could get by. She tucked her knees in so I could get past her (which was very awkward). On my way back to my seat, she had her phone plugged into one of the seats in front of her and I again, had to climb over her awkwardly and maneuver over her phone cord. In trying to twist back into my seat, I felt my left knee pop, buckle and then flush with excruciating pain. It hurt so badly, I thought I had broken it somehow.

 

WHY didn’t I politely ask her to get up so that I wouldn’t have to awkwardly climb over her?? Well, I’ve learned my lesson about maneuvering into tight spaces and speaking up.

 

Since the winter, I enlisted the help of osteopaths, physiotherapists, massage therapists and got advice from a personal trainer. It’s been nine months now, and my left knee is still in the healing process. From what I’ve learned, knees (and joints in general) can take a very long time to heal.

 

Certainly, a physical injury can take an toll. You have to pay attention to it, nurture it, strengthen it, and hope that it continues to get better. In part, increased biking has helped me to strengthen my quads (as advised by the healthcare professionals I’d spoken to). But it is still occasionally tender and I still worry about reinjuring it yet again, now that it’s been compromised.

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Image Description: A snowy walk with a friend and her dog. First long walk/hike post-injury but before any re-injury. Walking/hiking was a safe way to begin restrengthening my knee and kept me active without too much fear of straining.

The first osteopath I saw mentioned to me that a knee injury (well, any injury) takes not only a physical toll, but a mental one too. It can make you feel unstable, shaken, and a little insecure. Certainly, I have found this to be the case for me. I’m much more cautious about how I move around. I feel concerned about re-injury, or what this will mean for the future. I wanted to take a tap dance class this fall, but with my knee still not feeling up to the task, I had to postpone.

I find myself worrying and wondering if it will ever heal completely—or at least to a place I feel good about. And more than that, I’ve had to deal with anger at myself for even “letting” the injury happen the way it did in the first place.

 

Then, there are the moments of self-comparison. I look to other people who have sustained far more serious injuries than myself and think, “They’ve got it way worse. What do I have to complain about?”

 

Beyond day-to-day concerns, I have found that my enthusiasm for exercise has waned slightly. I have fears about damaging my knee further (even with a lot of the helpful advice and information I’ve received about strengthening it). Putting these restraints on myself make me wonder if I have started to “coddle” my knee too much out of fear of further injuring it.

 

Of course, this fear isn’t necessarily productive when it comes to recovery or healing. But, I suppose it is one part of the process.

 

Thinking about the mental tolls of physical injury have reminded me how interconnected our bodies and minds are.

 

Moving forward, I’ve realized it’s important for me to address and acknowledge these mental tolls as things that need healing just as much as the physical healing my knee requires.

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Image Description: A post-workout selfie. My t-shirt, appropriately reads, “Battle your FEARS.”

What about you?

 

What experiences have you had with injury and healing? Do you find physical injuries take a mental toll? How do you address physical injuries and what ways do you go about healing them?