Thanks Kimberly V!
I think it is safe to say that most women, regardless of background, have at some point come across those ads commanding us to do something about our bodies.
It used to start in March or April, with the terror inducing demand we get started on making our body bikini-ready for summer. Then weddings got in on the trend, and as part of the ceremony planning, nutrition and body-shaping sessions were booked along with the photographer and the caterer.
Winter vacations were not to be left behind, so then the ads started clamouring for us to become beach ready or cruise ready in January. But perhaps what really took the dessert plate was the ad I saw a couple of years ago that said it was time to get Christmas-dress ready … in September.
Today it seems the demand to alter, shape, change, tweak our physical selves is year round, and there is always some part of our bodies that needs adjustment: chest, arms, legs, waist, butt. The list is endless.
One of the ways we are supposed to make our bodies fit the image of the desirable female is through exercise. I should note fitness isn’t necessarily part of the foundation for this effort, but it is the basis of much of the marketing behind the countless programs on offer.
I will wholeheartedly admit that one of the reasons I did not announce my fitness strategy was because I wanted to stave off the questions and comments about weight. I’ve always been a bigger girl/woman and while there were many times in my life when weight loss was a huge focus for me, once I hit 40, I realized I wanted to get off that train once and for all.
It was my work with a non-profit network focused on promoting positive body image that started me reading about the principles behind the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach. It led to a significant change in my thinking about how we define health and how we use fitness as the prop (or stick) to achieve health.
When I first met with my trainer, he asked me what my goals were for starting training. It was a useful question. The fact was I didn’t care about body shaping/toning and I wasn’t worried about “bulking up” as a result of any effort in the gym with weights. Since weight loss was not a goal, what was left for a woman who wanted to be fit and not hurt herself in the process?
As a communications professional, I look to quantifiable results for my work. I establish measureable objectives and then evaluate the success of my program. The key measureable results offered to women who embark on a fitness journey are pounds and inches lost. The goal there is to be skinny, thin, svelte etc – that is smaller than when you start.
When I applied my communications planning approach to my fitness work, I realized my goal was to live well and as healthily as possible. That meant I wanted to be able to move without assistance (now and in the future), to live free from injury, and to make activity a regular and enjoyable part of my life.
It wasn’t easy though shaking off some of the attitudes about what makes for an appropriate shape for women. Working with a trainer who focused on form and correct execution led to my looking at outcomes differently and finding the new measures that would help assess my progress in the gym.
Today, one of things I most appreciate about working towards achieving my goal to live well and be healthy is the fact that you are always working towards fitness. Fitness is not a six-week effort to achieve a better fit for your dress or swimsuit. It’s not a destination where you say “here I am, I am fit” simply because you can wear a bikini or a body-hugging sleeveless dress. Fitness is a process, and a way of life.
But if you want to be swimsuit ready, here’s a hint: put the swimsuit on. Now you are ready.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s, NL.
As readers of the blog know, I’m no fan of Lululemon. I’ve never had to actually boycott the store though since I don’t think they make anything (other than yoga mats and hair clips) that would fit size 14 me.
See Just walk slowly away from that rack of $100 yoga pants and On going commando and athletic clothing. Caitlin at Fit and Feminist has stuff to say too: WAS JOHN GALT A YOGI? OR WHY I WILL DEFINITELY NEVER BUY LULULEMON’S CLOTHING NOW. See also Are your favorite yoga pants evil?
But now they’ve gone and made some lovely looking cycling clothes which I might buy and wear since they’re lovely looking except they come only in men’s sizes and fit only men. See Bicycling Magazine’s review, Lululemon Introduces a Cycling Kit for Men.
It’s no secret that the core customers for yoga/casual apparel giant Lululemon are women. Even within cycling, the company’s most recent association was as title sponsor of a top women’s pro cycling team.
So it’s a little surprising that the first cycling-specific clothing the company is releasing isn’t for women. Instead, Lululemon’s new Sea to Sky collection is for guys and, according to the company’s PR agency, there are no immediate plans to produce a women’s version.
Which is too bad, because it’s a stylish kit that we think many of our female co-workers, friends, and family might like.
There are a lot of motivational Facebook groups out there relevant to my fitness interests but the one I’m enjoying the most at the moment is the group for Athena triathletes and duathletes.
Athena group: This group is for triathletes who compete as or empathize with those who race multisport in the Athena class (165+ pounds). Note: You will not get kicked out of the group if you no longer qualify under the USAT rule for the Athena class and go below 165 pounds.
It’s a totally wonderful group. As a plus sized endurance athlete, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one out there given the prevalent imagery of swimmers, runners, and cyclists.
It’s not a weight loss free group, unlike other Facebook groups of which I’m a member. But neither is it focused on food and size. Some people are happy competing at the weight they’re at , others have lost weight and still others want to keep losing. But weight loss isn’t the point. Triathlon, and duathlon, are the point. This group has interested even me in swimming.
I’ve expresssed my doubts about the Athena category before. See here.
The Athena/Clydesdale categories are an attempt to equalize competition in non-elite running and multisport events between big and small people. For men, Clydesdale is anyone over 200 lbs and for women the minimum weight for an Athena division runner is either 140 lbs or 150 lbs. But there are at least two problems with the Athena category. First, you have to select to run in it. And almost no women do.
Hint: It’s a great way to get medals. I’ve “won” the Athena division twice in duathlon events by being the only woman in the class.
I’m not sure if that’s because most women object to the weigh-in (a routine part of lots of sports, all of them with weight categories) but I didn’t actually have to weigh in since I’m clearly over that weight limit, or because they don’t want to be identified as part of the heavier group.
Second, as I looked around it seemed to me that most of the women competing were over that weight. Is it just wrong as a category? Am I wrong to think that 200 lbs seems okay for men but 140/150 seems small for women? As I mentioned with my bodpod results, my lean mass is 122 lbs so assuming I can retain that, I’ll always be an Athena class runner/multisport athlete.
I guess the Athena cut off is different in different places? The group’s description suggests 165 which is more reasonable than our local 150 lbs. And it would be different in places where the fields of competitors are more populated. Locally it seems to me to fail to address the worry it sets out to address.
So while I have doubts about Athena as a racing category I have zero doubts about how supportive this group is.
Recently a group member posted about having to do a 2.5 hour workout on her bike trainer and not feeling inspired. The group came through with the impressive set of images and slogans below. I think it’s okay to share them as there’s no personal content and they’re a lot of fun.
Although as usual when it comes to motivational sayings and images, your mileage may vary. See the following posts on fitness motivation:
Here’s my favourite though I was too late to share it with the group:
Back to the group: It’s great seeing all these Athena sized triathletes completing all the distances. The images make my Facebook a happy and inspirational place.
I’ve been struck by the difference between these pictures and the pictures in triathlon advertising. And then I read this article by Tom Demerly which is right on the same point. It’s All About That Bass: How The Triathlon Industry Gets It Wrong.
Who does triathlons in the United States today? What does the “average” triathlete look like?
Industry dogma suggests all triathletes are high wage earners between 30 and 45 who aspire to race Ironman (or already have). They own a $10K bike, race wheels and a power meter. Their household income is above $120K and they have a graduate level degree. They are the marketer’s dream come true: Young, affluent, fit and shopping.
There are two problems with that “demographic”: it’s outdated and likely wrong. Why?
(Stuff about income assumptions and how they’re false too not included. If you are interested go read the article.)
Americans have also changed physically. We’re heavier- all of us. The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona.
As a result of this economic and health demographic shift triathlon has filled from the bottom. The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.
This is good news for the triathlon industry if they become more pragmatic about who is really doing triathlons. History suggests the triathlon industry isn’t very realistic about its own consumership. It continues to (try to) market to the svelte, Kona demographic in print and internet media- even though the inspirational stories that bring people into the sport are usually the saga of the everyman participant who had to overcome to participate, and doesn’t really compete.
This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between Participation and Competition is what continues to hold the triathlon industry back. It is also why retailers have a hard time earning consistent profits from a market they are increasingly out of touch with.
There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes. In fact, the same rebellion that has happened in women’s apparel marketing with consumers raging against brands like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch is ready to happen in triathlon. The middle 90% wants triathlon to “get real” about who is actually participating, and they don’t care about who’s racing in Kona.
A friend and bioethicist and fellow academic blogger recently wrote the following letter to Goodlife Fitness: Goodlife’s straight members only competition – Open Letter to its CEO.
My partner and I have been members of your gym chain for many years. We happen to be gay. Your competition misleads members into thinking that Jamaica is a tourist destination like any other, sun, beach and a good time. Nothing good be further from the truth.
Jamaica is a militantly homophobic society, religious fundamentalists have written anti-gay provision into the country’s constitution. Here is a helpful link to a 2014 report by the respected human rights organisation Human Rights Watch on anti-gay violence in Jamaica.
My husband and I would be up ‘eligible’ for an up-to ten year jail term should we choose to engage in sexual intercourse during a vacation we might win if we took part in your competition.
Local civil rights groups lament, ‘serious human rights abuses, including assault with deadly weapons, of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of gay and lesbian patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons.’
Given the current attention to laws permitting the active discriminations against gay customers in Indiana, I cannot help but wonder what drove your company to offer a competition that would subject your gay and lesbian members to serious risk of bodily harm, not to say long jail terms, should they win your competition and decide to actually go to Jamaica.
I am writing to you today to ask that you cancel the ongoing competition and replace the ‘Jamaica’ labelled posters with posters that offer a vacation price, but a vacation of the winner’s choosing. Otherwise, you really are telling your gay and lesbian members that our well-being and safety is of no concern to you, and that the current competition celebrating the chain’s 36th anniversary is really addressed to the club’s straight members only.
Goodlife forwarded the concerns to Tourism Jamaica who wrote back as follows ( bolded the bit that might be of concern to GLBT travelers):
Jamaica welcomes visitors from all over the world and from all segments of society equally with the warmth and courtesy they expect and deserve. We recognize that there are diverse communities and cultures interested in Jamaica as a travel destination, and we embrace that diversity with respect. In Jamaica, we are committed to the safety of all travelers. We respect the right of all visitors to Jamaica to express their own beliefs and to satisfy their own vacation experiences while staying with us.We respect the choices of adults and responsible adult activities. In keeping with travel to any destination in the world, we encourage visitors to respect Jamaican laws and community standards, and to take reasonable measures to enhance their travel experience. Please know that we welcome everyone with open arms and look forward to sharing the beauty that is Jamaica with them.
Luckily Goodlife also allowed that Udo and his partner could substitute another trip if they chose. ” Should you win this trip, we would be happy to award you with a trip of equal value to another destination.”
He’s satisfied with that reply but wonders whether they ought also to warn gays and lesbians who might win this competition *not* to go to Jamaica due to the risk to their well-being, as well as legislation criminalizing the sexual conduct of gay men.
What do you think?
Tammy Wynette had it right: Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Especially when it comes to domestic labor. Tons has been written about how women, after coming home from paid work outside the home, commence “the second shift” in which they cook, clean, do childcare, and manage household needs. And despite the fact that the women’s movement is easily more than 40 years old, this situation is still pervasive. In the New Republic, Jessica Grose tells her own rather typical story:
“When it comes to housecleaning, my basically modern, egalitarian marriage starts looking more like the backdrop to an Updike short story. My husband and I both work. We split midnight baby feedings. My husband would tell you that he does his fair share of the housework, but if pressed, he will admit that he’s never cleaned the bathroom, that I do the dishes nine times out of ten, and that he barely knows how the washer and dryer work in the apartment we’ve lived in for over eight months. Sure, he changes the light bulbs and assembles the Ikea furniture, but he’s never scrubbed a toilet in the six years we’ve lived together.”
This story illustrates how gendered domestic labor often is. The above-mentioned husband assembles Ikea furniture, which is a one-off enterprise. But doing dishes and laundry, both ongoing enterprises, fall to his wife. And the data show that this is a common phenomenon:
Fathers do slightly more lawn care than moms—11 percent of working dads are out mowing the lawn on an average day compared to 6.4 percent of working moms. So that means dads are out clipping the hedges on sunny Saturdays, while moms are the ones doing the drudgery of vacuuming day in and day out. And this isn’t solely an American phenomenon. Even in the famously gender-neutral Sweden, women do 45 minutes more housework a day than their male partners.
So what’s a pressed-for-time 21st century woman to do if she wants to:
Well, I can’t speak for all of 1–6 but there are some ingenious websites out there dedicated to helping women combine house cleaning and exercise. One of them urges women to “turn spring cleaning into spring training”, and offers 7 ways to “put the lean in clean”. Among the techniques promoted are:
Another site combines weight-loss and house cleaning advice:
Forget the gym! If women are really spending almost 2½ hours cleaning and tidying up every day, there’s plenty of opportunity to get a sufficient workout without even leaving home!
Housework is a great way to burn calories. But as is the case with any workout, the more effort you put in, the greater the benefit. In particular, polishing, dusting, mopping and sweeping are great for keeping arms shapely. Bending and stretching, for example, when you make the bed, wash windows or do the laundry are good for toning thighs and improving flexibility. And constantly running up and down the stairs as you tidy is a good aerobic workout.
It’s obvious that these websites are trading on gender and class stereotypes in domestic labor as well as pushing a weight-loss-is-always-good-always-necessary message that we all know is wrong-headed, bad for our health, and bad for our self-esteem. Not to mention ridiculously time-consuming, taking time away from pursuing real projects and goals for ourselves. So, launching into a long criticism of them would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
But, I’d like to suggest that there’s a more subtle form of this cleaning-as-women’s-primary-activity at work in hipper and more modern women’s media. Apartment therapy, a home decorating/improvement/DIY website, features the January Cure, a month of cleaning, organizing and home improvement tasks. They are motivational and upbeat:
Do you want 2015 to be your best year yet? We believe that when your home is under control, fresh, clean and organized, good things happen throughout your life. If you are ready to get your place back in shape, the very best way is one manageable step at a time, during our once-a-year-only January Cure. By the end of the month, you’ll be sitting pretty in a clean, fresh, organized home. We can do this – together!
Every few days they publish another home-organization task. One of them—a better kitchen by Sunday evening—involves this as a weekend project:
This is really impressive, but just reading this list makes me want to retire to the couch for the day.
All of the mainstream women’s magazines (like Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple) emphasize the importance of very detailed attention to every part of one’s house. Maybe I’ve arranged my furniture incorrectly. Or perhaps I need to build my own laundry hamper, which is supposed to make laundry so much easier (hmmmm…)
Now, of course it’s nice to have a lovely clean house, complete with sparkling fridge, uncluttered cabinets, and maybe even a groovy new wire laundry hamper on wheels. But it’s worth noting that women are the ones targeted for these sorts of tasks. And what’s worse, we are at risk of reducing or eliminating physical activity from our daily routines because of the pressures to be responsible for creating an ideal domestic environment.
One recent study, analyzing factors influencing amount of regular exercise in middle-aged women, cited “disruptions in daily structure, competing demands, and self-sacrifice” as barriers to regular exercise. Two factors that were NOT listed as barriers were lack of time and menopausal symptoms. This is good news; despite changes in our bodies and time-crunched lives, women still want to exercise to feel good and be active with others. But we still have to deal with competing demands and self-sacrifice, and these pressures arrive at our doorstep in many forms.
So I say: step away from the vacuum cleaner, march past the cluttered desk, and avert your eyes while passing the laundry room—at least for long enough to get out there for a walk, run, swim, ride, yoga class, unicycle lesson, game of catch with your dog. The mess will keep until you get back home.
Jim Langley writes,
“They cost next to nothing. They’re easily found. They’re not held in high esteem by other two-wheel junkies. Yet, to this collector, they’re among the most interesting of bicycle artifacts. What attracts me to early (from the 1880s to the 1940s) print bicycle advertising is the way the artists and copywriters romanticized bicycling. It was a tall order, especially after 1890, when cycling boomed big time. According to G. Donald Adams’ Collecting and Restoring Antique Bicycles, between the years of 1890 to 1918 there were 2,100 brands of bicycles sold in America alone.”
I’m struck by how happy everyone looks and how romantic cycling seems. And all the women. Wow.
You can see more here.
News feminist philosophers can use
Trying to ace sober living
(aka learning how not to be an asshole)
The blog of author Jenny Trout/Abigail Barnette. They're the same person.
…finding my healthy and smiling the whole way!
Because pedagogy is a public practice.
Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health