fitness

Why I’m Trying to Break Free of the Uniformity of Activewear

Nike Uniformity
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.

Nike Hijab
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?

fitness

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!

 

fitness

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

 

fitness

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
fitness

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?

fitness

Lifting in Everyday Life: Self-Image and My Weird Love of Physical Labour

There’s something about physical labour that is very satisfying in a way that’s different from working out.

One of my favourite essays is “Eating Dirt” by Charlotte Gill. It’s about her summers as a tree planter in BC. In it, Gill captures the full-bodied exhaustion and mysterious bliss of physical labour as she recounts 12-14 hour days of hiking and planting trees.

Tree Planters
Image Description: Three tree-planters have large canvas sacs around their waists with hiking packs on their backs. They hike along a hill in the forrest overlooking hills with trees.

Over the last five years, I’ve been involved with seven moves, some of which were my own. There’s a joke in the Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where one character says that she’s started a new workout routine where she moves furniture around, “My trainer is this Israeli guy with a big truck and…” (just then she figures out that her new form of exercise is just helping people move).

Perhaps one of the things I find satisfying about physical labour is the tangible sense of accomplishment. This isn’t to say that working out doesn’t also give me a sense of accomplishment; it’s just different. Knowing that I can move all the contents of my apartment into a truck, and out of a truck into a new home is pretty cool.

I don’t always feel as tough and strong from lifting pieces of metal up and down at the gym. (Again, sometimes yes. But it’s different to know you can lift big heavy objects…or is this just me?)

Or maybe my appreciation of physical labour has something to do with the fact that my main work is sitting at a computer for large chunks of the day, either reading or writing. I’ll admit that my enjoyment of physical labour is probably because I get to choose when I engage with it and I don’t necessarily have to do it every day.

One of my part-time gigs is working in the taproom of a local craft brewery in Toronto. When I’m not pouring beer, this involves a lot of heavy lifting, loading and unloading things, moving kegs and other heavy things. There’s something very practical about it all: Move object from point A to point B because you have to or because you need that keg over there. And by the end of the day, the feeling of “Wow! I did that!”

One of my friends joked this spring that by the end of the summer I’d be “ripped” from working at the brewery. She wasn’t wrong. I have noticed muscle growth in my biceps and shoulders that makes me feel big and strong. Maybe what I like is knowing that I don’t have to ask someone bigger than me (i.e., a man) to help me complete physical tasks that need to get done.

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Image Description: A drawing from a textbook that features a leotard-clad man lifting a heavy barrel or keg over his head. (Sadly, could not find drawings of women lifting kegs.)

In my last post, I wrote about buying a new bike, and elsewhere I’ve written about my intense fear of urban cycling. In the last month, I’ve used my bike exclusively to get around, using transit maybe once in over a month. Doing so has completely changed my perspective of what I’m capable of. It’s freeing, really. Knowing that I can take myself places under my own physical power is exciting and awesome.

I suppose part of my newfound love of physical labour is about seeing myself in a new light. When I first started writing for this blog maybe ten months ago, I used to see myself as someone who wasn’t very physically capable or active. I saw myself as physically awkward, not very strong, not capable of performing certain physical tasks. But physical labour proves these self-doubts wrong in a very tangible and visible way.

I can no longer delude myself into thinking I am not physically capable or active if I can bike 30km’s in a day, or lift fifty pound kegs from point A to B, or move an apartment’s worth of stuff.

Slowly my self-image has started to change. And perhaps another ten months from now I’ll be accomplishing things I wouldn’t think possible now.

fitness

Getting Back on the Bike

When I was learning to drive, my instructor would always say, “Set yourself up for success.”

By this she meant, don’t make driving harder on yourself than it has to be. Especially as a new driver. Park in places that are easy for you to pull out of (i.e., forwards instead of backwards), drive routes you’re comfortable with, drive at times you’re comfortable with, have things in your car that allow you to enjoy your time driving (e.g., music you like or picked out yourself, etc.). I started driving young—you sort of had to where I grew up. And eventually I became someone who not only loves to drive, but who is also pretty good at it (if I do say so myself!).

I’ve been thinking about this advice now that I live in Toronto and no longer drive—or rather, refuse to drive in a city of this size and level of congestion. For so many reasons, I know that biking is the smart thing to do. And yet I have my serious hang-ups and anxieties around it. (Read here for more.) The gist of it is, urban biking scares me. I’m intimidated as a cyclist (by cars, streetcars, buses and other more experienced cyclists) and I probably just haven’t gotten enough hours in for it to feel very natural to me. More than that, having to take up urban cycling in Toronto of all places can make one feel as if they’ve been thrown in the deep end.

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Image Description: A view from Toronto’s Rail Path on the West End, near the Junction. The photo features a bright blue sky with abundant clouds, some development and small businesses. In the bottom right corner, two cyclists bike side-by-side. One of the highlights of urban biking is views like these.

Sure, I know how to bike. And heck, I’ve even biked around Toronto as a commuter a good handful of times. But now that summer is in swing, I find myself timid to get back on the bike…but at the same time, the last place I want to be is on a crowded subway car when I could be outside, and above ground.

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Image Description: A view of the Don Valley Parkway from the subway. One side of the highway is full of cars while the other side is empty. This photo was taken during rush hour and everyone is driving to get out of downtown. Commuting in a big city can be really exhausting and it doesn’t help when you’re stuck in traffic.

And then I remembered my driving instructor’s advice: Set yourself up for success.

What would this look like with regards to cycling?

First of all, my bike was a couple years shy of being an antique. Someone had given it to me when I had no bike, and I happily accepted. It was better than no bike!

But it had its share of issues. It was rickety and rusty, and while it was pretty cute, it was never fun for me to ride. It was uncomfortable. The seat was hard and even with a cushy soft cover, it still hurt one’s sensitive areas. Any time I’d ride over the slightest bump, everything would rattle (much like my first car, actually. An ’83 Ford Mustang that ran on about 3 and a half cylinders). Beyond riding, it was difficult to adjust anything on my bike—gears, the height of the seat or handlebars. (The bolts and screws were rusty and nearly stripped—probably as old as the bike itself.)

I don’t know why I didn’t realize sooner how little I enjoyed interacting with this bike. Maybe it’s the kind of thing when you decide to get rid of something, its flaws become glaringly obvious to you.

However, even with all these issues as I saw them, it was still a decent and functional bike. I listed it online and a handful of people were eager to take it off my hands. It was a great fixer-upper, or even decent enough to commute for someone who wasn’t too fussy. On Monday, I sold it to someone who was more than happy to buy it. (One person’s trash is another person’s treasure has never been truer!)

And by Tuesday, I’d tracked down a shiny new (not-rickety) bike at the Bikes on Wheels in Kensington Market. It jumped out at me as soon as I got there: a beautiful bright yellow bike with my name on it.

By Wednesday it was mine to ride home.

And WHAT A DIFFERENCE! A smooth ride, gears that shifted easily, a low bar (which makes it easy for someone short like me to hop on and off), lightweight (easy to pick up), and easy to adjust.

From the first test ride around Kensington Market I could tell that my reservations about biking weren’t all about Toronto traffic. A large part of my resistance was around having a bike that was difficult to deal with. It was like I didn’t even know that biking could be enjoyable.

Getting more comfortable on the road will come over time. That I’m sure of. I know that I’m still “too slow” as I often get passed by other cyclists. I’m cautious, but I’m lacking in a bit of confidence and certainty. But that’s what I was like as a new driver too. And over time, I became better, more confident, and developed a sort of sixth sense about driving.

I’ve made the first moves in setting myself up for success as a city cyclist and it’s opened up the city for me in a new way! I don’t feel beholden to transit, I can get places more efficiently than walking, and I’m excited to develop as an urban cyclist.

I’d love to hear your tips and stories about urban cycling. What do you do to set yourself up for success? What struggles have you overcome? Or what do you love most about it??

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Image Description: My new bike, a yellow “Linus” bike with brown leather seat and handles.