I’m a member of a Facebook group for cyclists over 50. There’s a great group ethos of supporting one another however far and fast we’re riding. We even seem to have, knock on wood, laid the e-bike controversy to rest. It’s also the most geographically and racially diverse cycling group I’ve ever been a member of. 10/10 if you’re a cyclist over 50, who uses Facebook, recommend.
One of the common things that members post are photos of birthday rides. I love them. But what I don’t love are all the people who seem very insecure about what counts. Like, someone says “I’m 68 and I want to do a birthday ride. Is it okay if I do in kilometers or does it have to be in miles?”
Just today someone asked if it still counted if they did their birthday ride on a trainer because it’s cold and snowy in their part of the world on their birthday.
Can we scream together?
In response someone recently posted this lovely list of ‘birthday bike ride rules.’
Rules for birthday ride
You must do your age or not.
You must do it on your birthday or not.
You must do it in one continuous ride or not.
You can’t substitute kilometers for miles or not.
These rules must be strictly adhered to or not.
Next month I’m turning 57 and likely I’ll gather up a group of friends and ride 57 km but I also hope that if I make it to 80 while still riding bikes I won’t feel pressured to ride 80 km. Any distance, at any age, is a celebration of life and movement.
CW: Quotes and discussion of fat-phobic comments and advice on women’s faces, bodies, and hairstyles.
The internet is a twisty-turnyroad, with surprises around every blind corner. A friend’s mom was looking at Pinterest for crafting ideas, and what did she run into? A world of websites, all dedicated to hairstyle advice for women who are a) fat; b) over 50; or c) both.
Honestly, this is no surprise. Policing women’s bodies and appearance is a pastime that’s never gotten old. For those of us who are fat, the messaging takes on an increased urgency. Heaven forbid that we rock an outfit that’s form-fitting or sexy or athletic or avant-garde or cute. What would happen?
Ditto for older women. We must be advised on the manifold restrictions governing age-appropriate clothing (say such sites). Really, the effort and bandwidth devoted just to marketing specialized bathing suits for women over 50 is considerable. Sam blogged about one such scheme here.
But it’s not enough for the fat-phobic marketing monolith to invade our FB feeds, selling caftans, swimsuit skirts and capes, and long-sleeved tunics in muted colors. Oh, no. We can cover up to their satisfaction, but that still leaves our necks and faces on display. What to do?
Follow the advice of the hairstyle police! Here’s their general warning:
… there are some things you must consider when choosing a hairstyle if you are an overweight woman. The first thing is your facial features. You must consider your eyes, cheekbones, and shape of your face. Secondly, check on your neck... The last thing is your body size. If you are a little chubby, you must get something different from a woman with curves.
Note the urgency here– the word “must” appears three times. And, we are instructed in no uncertain terms to check on our necks. Okay, here goes:
I went ahead and checked my body size off-camera. Yep, I’ve got a body, and it has size; it takes up space and has mass. Physics experiment done! Now what?
Time to talk hairstyles for the fat and over-50. The following is super-helpful:
Since you most likely have a wide body, it’s best to choose extreme hair lengths. For example, if you want it short, make it shorter than the normal shoulder length. If you want it long, go for lengths that reach the mid-section or a few inches higher.
Hmmm. Sounds like my options for hair looks are twofold: Rapunzel or Pixie. They don’t provide any super-long-hair options, so we’re on our own there. Here’s what the fat-hairstyle police had to say about Pixie cuts:
When having a round face or some extra pounds, the goal is to create an illusion. Side-swept bangs will help you shape your face, and a pixie cut can be the best haircut for fat older women.
In a bold variation on the pixie, the fat-hair police suggest pink waves for folks with fat faces.
Updos, it seems, are an option for the fatter woman with hair. What a relief! Here’s the fat hair experts’ take on the beehive:
A beehive lookalike bun placed in the head’s midsection will make your face look slimmer and elongated. It will reveal your face and show that you still have sass even as a plus size girl.
Clearly, these people have no idea what they’re talking about. But fear not, FIFI readers– we are here to fill gaps where we find them. So, here are some hairstyle suggestions from me, a woman who is a) fat; b) over 50, and c) gray/silver-haired.
Suppose you want to wear your hair up? We got your options right here.
Finally, you may want to show off that luxurious hair in a more mysterious way.
Dear readers, how do you choose your hairstyles and colors? Do you think Rapunzel is a good hair role model in this day and age? Have you ever had a pixie? Is it your go-to look? And what about those pigtails? I’d love to hear from you.
The AARP got in touch with us recently with an awesome video of Quill Kukla talking about the way powerlifting and boxing, both of which they took up in their mid-forties, transformed them. I had the pleasure of connecting with Quill recently to talk about the short video, called “Tiny Teacher Transforms into Badass Boxer.” Before I get to our chat, here’s the video:
Don’t you absolutely love it? Quill has blogged for us before about their boxing career, about discovering that they excel at powerlifting, and also their running. Over the years, their posts reveal a common theme of being amazed at what their body can do and of doing activities that they feel good about. And that’s just the sort of message about movement that we promote, endorse, and celebrate here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue.
Here’s the interview, more or less verbatim with streamlining (but no misrepresenting!):
TI: I know you had some reservations about watching the video. How did you feel when you watched the video and saw yourself doing these amazing things?
Quill: It’s complicated because the pandemic has been a really rough time. I’ve continued training in both boxing and lifting throughout the pandemic. But it’s not the same kind of training that I was able to do or the same level of intensity that I was able to do before the pandemic. And because my background life has become so much more sedentary, even aside from my training I feel as if I’m not in the same fighting shape or competitive shape as I was a year and a half ago, and it’s daunting to think about getting that back, so it’s a little bit bittersweet to see myself at my peak. But at the same time, they did a fantastic job editing it. So I really do look awesome!
TI: You said when you first went to the gym you were “undermotivated.” Why did you feel undermotivated?
Quill: I think there are really two separate reasons. One is that very early in my life I was a serious ballet dancer. That was central to my identity. And when I quit dancing I really just quit the life of the body cold turkey. My way of separating myself from the dancing was just to say “okay, I’m not a person who does physical activity anymore.” I was never in bad shape. I always walked a lot and biked and walked my dog, so I had background fitness, but I wasn’t somebody who had structured exercise as part of my life. So it felt like a part of my identity that I had cut off from myself and put into my past.
But the more interesting reason is that when I first went to the gym I went because I felt like I had a responsibility to “get fit.” Fitness was just the goal. I wasn’t trying to learn any particular skill or get better at any particular activity or take anything as an artistic practice or techné. I was just trying to increase my fitness. And for me that’s a very boring goal. It was an amorphous goal that I resented and it didn’t have any shape for me. And so when I started lifting and boxing and not “trying to get fit” but trying to get good at lifting and good at boxing, then that was my motivation because I loved those activities and the fitness came along for free. Fitness in and of itself is not a good motivator for me. In fact I kind of find it depressing. When you find something that you inherently love. If you happen also to get fit, then fantastic. But you’re doing it because you love that thing.
Ti: You talk about the “empowering thrill” of boxing. Can you say a bit more about that?
Quill: Part of that is literally chemical or hormonal. There’s a jolt of hormones that goes through your body as you punch something full speed [here Quill punched their left fist into their right palm to demonstrate] or as you lift something really heavy and make that max effort. It’s invigorating and good for your brain to feel those hormones coursing through. But also, it does feel empowering. I don’t think of boxing as self-defence at all. If I ever ran into someone in a dark ally who wanted to hurt me and I were to say “okay, punch me between here and here” [gestures to forehead and torso] boxing is not a useful skill in that circumstance. Being able to run away is a much better skill than being able to box.
So it’s not empowering in the sense that I’m going to use it for self-defence. However, it is very empowering to know that my body can take a hit and be fine, and that my body can deliver force if necessary. There is something thrilling in that feeling that my body has force behind it; it is active, not passive. It can impact the world. And moreover, the world can impact me and I’ll be fine. Someone can hit me and I’ll be fine. My body is not fragile.
Plus it’s just really fun punching things [smiles, then laughs, and then tells me they’ll show me how to punch some day].
TI: In the video you express the intention of continuing with powerlifting and boxing for many years to come. How has the pandemic changed affected your training? How (if at all) has it affected how you think about yourself as a powerlifter and boxer?
Quill: At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were in lockdown I couldn’t lift at all for months when gyms were closed. Even at the worst of the pandemic, except for a couple of weeks I have continued my boxing training, meeting people outside. I am back to both now. But taking months off of my lifting at my age was a huge hit to my ability. I lost a lot and even though I have been back lifting for months I’m still not lifting as much as I was before the pandemic. And so part of me wonders if the pandemic just did me in in terms of competition. But I’ll still keep lifting because I like having a strong body.
With respect to boxing, I’m not in the same fighting shape as I was before the pandemic, even though I’ve been training. But that I feel I can get back more easily because I’ve kept my skills up. I do intend to go back to competing in boxing as soon as possible. But my plan is to have a fight in six months or so and to keep going for as long as I can. I’ve watched people fight in their eighties. In fact, I watched a fight between an 88 year-old man and a 91 year-old man — an actual sanctioned amateur fight — and they went through to the end and they were really doing it. And so I have no intention of stopping at any point really [laughs again].
TI: Both powerlifting and boxing are really intimidating prospects for lots of people. What advice would you give to someone who wants to give it a try later in life?
Quill: For lifting–the great thing is the frustrating thing: when you start doing it you make gains unbelievably fast. Your numbers will shoot up really fast in terms of how much you can lift and your body will change almost immediately. There’s almost nothing else you can do where you’ll see such quick changes. The sad part is that that plateaus out fairly quickly. When you start you think “wow I’m lifting 20 more pounds each time I go to the gym! In no time I’ll be lifting thousands of pounds!” Everybody has that feeling. If you can even go once or twice or three times that will be enough that you will see enormous gains. All the intimidation will be gone. So my advice for lifting is “just start.” And it’s one of the absolute best sports for older people to do. There’s nothing blocking older people from excelling at it and it’s also incredibly good for your joints and your bone density. It’s a gift to yourself to do it. Do it a few times and you’ll be amazed at how fast you start getting strong.
Boxing is not like that at all. When you start boxing you’re terrible and it takes a very long time to be anything other than terrible. But people are intimidated by it because their vision of boxing is being in the ring fighting. But there are so many stages between doing nothing and actually fighting. And you can get off and stop at any stage you want.
There’s going to the gym and learning how to punch properly, and punching the bags, working on the bags to get a good workout. Some people just do that forever and that’s what boxing is for them. Past that, you can start doing partner work and partner drills, where you’re not actually fighting with anybody but you’re working with a partner and trading punches. That’s a little more intense than working on the bags, but only one step. So you can do that and stop there. Then some people go from there to sparring, and that’s where you’re actually in real time trying to land punches on a person and avoid getting punched. That’s a whole other level of intense than partner drills, but most of the people who spar never actually fight. And then there’s fighting. So you don’t have to have a vision of yourself as on a trajectory from nothing to fighting. At each stage you can decide if it’s enough for you. That makes it feel less intimidating.
TI: What about just the idea of going into a boxing gym as, in my case, a 56 year-old woman?
Quill: You do have to find the right gym. There are a lot of inclusive wonderful gyms. There are also a lot of toxic crappy gyms. Trial and error could be traumatic, but using word of mouth to find out which gyms are supportive and inclusive is important. But you’d be surprised at how many boxing gyms really are super inclusive and supportive environments.
Boxing tends to be a very intellectual sport that requires a lot of critical thinking, so people who are boxers tend to be very thoughtful. They sort of have to be. Compared to a lot of other sports I find that boxing gyms tend to be very thoughtful spaces. In 2021 most of them have had to think at some point about what it means to welcome older people into the gym, to welcome queer people into the gym, to welcome non-binary people into the gym.
We all learned about boxing gym culture from watching Rocky but the reality of boxing gym culture tends to be pretty different from that. Again, it varies. There are certainly gyms that are nothing but young, toxicly masculine men, but there is a lot of variety, including a lot that have a minority of men as members. It’s a popular sport among women, so most gyms have a lot of women.
Just in the years that I’ve been doing it it’s gone from a male-dominated sport to a not-at-all male-dominated sport. I’ve been boxing with eight women and five men, and I think that’s typical for boxing gyms.
TI: That’s encouraging!Anything else you’d like to add?
Quill: I’m a high-energy, high-emotion, high-intensity person and the difference that boxing made for me in terms of my ability to productively channel and regulate all of that energy and those emotions was absolutely transformative. I’m a calmer person. A lot of people might not realize the mental health benefits as well as the physical health benefits that you can get from doing a sport like this. That might not be true for everyone, but I think it’s not just me.
TI: That’s so great. Thank you!
I’m sure we will hear from Quill again, especially when they get back into the ring. Meanwhile, thanks, Quill! Congratulations on an amazing video. You absolutely do look awesome and fierce. Thanks for the chat and best wishes getting back into fighting form!
May has been my month of aspirational outdoor exercise. I joined the university’s outdoor exercise challenge and got to work. Luckily that coincided with nice weather here in Ontario and my son’s purchase of some backyard exercise equipment including a frame for his heavy punching bag and a collapsible rowing machine suitable for outdoor storage. Between that stuff, a yoga mat, a kettlebell, and a medicine ball we’re good to go for 3 minutes off, one minute rests rounds of all the things times 10.
I’m also dog walking and bike riding outside too. Currently I’m 11th in the #GryphFitness challenge. Go Team Middle Aged Dean!
The outdoor exercise kick is also accompanied by a snack size exercise kick. I’m not sure what it is but my ability to focus is somewhat challenged right now. I have the attention span of a gerbil. I’m still working lots of movement into my day but it’s a lot of mini bursts of different things. A ten minute stretching video here, some rowing and lifting there, throw in some kettlebell swings and some TRX moves…
My bike rides are still long and focused but nothing else is really. There have been 20 minute yoga videos I’ve found it too hard to finish at one go!
Not much knee news. I started these monthly check-ins to mark the countdown to my knee replacement surgery. And at the end of May this was in my Facebook memories,
May 29, 2020:
“I keep waiting for the letter telling me that my knee replacement surgery is delayed. On the bright side, it’s not any worse and I’m still walking Cheddar. On the downside when all the travel restrictions are lifted I want to go hiking in England and New Zealand again.
And yes, actual physical letters. Hospitals are one of the few sources of snail mail that’s serious.”
Still waiting. Sigh. And now it’s both knees. But I’m also still walking and things aren’t worse. Hanging in there.
Nine years ago, on May 23, 2012, Facebook memories tells me, I posted the following note:
“As I approach the two year countdown to 50 (I turn 48 at the end of this summer) I’d like to set an ambitious fitness goal. Roughly, I’d like to be the most fit I’ve ever been at 50. Fifty seems like a good time to peak and it’s doable given that I’m an adult onset athlete (no childhood sports trophies collecting dust in the cabinets for me!) There is a bit of a challenge given that I had a similar goal at 40 and I was 10 years younger then. But then I was starting from close to zero and my goal was to get in shape. Now I’ve got a pretty good basis on which to build. The big problem is how to measure. Not weight. That’s silly. I was my thinnest when I smoked and drank a lot of coffee and didn’t eat much actual food. Looked great but was winded walking up stairs. Those days are gone. I’m strong, fit, robust, resilient but ‘thin’ I’ll never be.
Body composition? Not weight but per cent body fat….maybe. Hard to care about that though and not focus on numbers on a scale, even if they are different numbers.
Running? Maybe. I know my PBs for 5 and 10 km. But I’m also anxious not to invoke another stress fracture. Certainly more than 10km just isn’t doable.
Strength? I do know what I’ve been lifting through the years so maybe. Might work. I’m loving the intensity of crossfit and they are good at measuring progress….
Cycling? Hmmm. Flying laps or centuries? Time trial times are a pretty good measure of fitness.
Aikido: I could aim for a brown belt by 50 but that might be too ambitious.
Yoga: No goals there. I just like to melt and stretch in the heat.
Soccer: My only goal is to have fun….
Suggestions, fitness friends?”
After that little Facebook note, Tracy expressed her desire to join the challenge, and at her prompting we started this blog. Here’s my first post in August 2012.
Things have changed around here since then. We’ve grown into a community of bloggers, a team of more than a dozen regular contributors and more than a hundred guests. There’s a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and we’re on Instagram too. The focus on ‘fittest by fifty’ is long over and while we’re still fitness-focused, we’re now taking part in a much broader conversation about movement, aging, feminism, justice, and the good life.
We’ve also been at it for awhile. I’ve published more than 2200 blog posts, either ones I’ve written or ones I’ve posted for guests. The blog as a whole has published 4800 posts. Maybe we need a 5000th post celebration? Definitely we’re going to have a big bang up blog party for our 10th year in August 2023.
And now Tracy and I have been wondering, what next? Not for the blog. That’s a group conversation and we’re starting that next month. I’m wondering about our next writing project. I called the note I shared to Facebook, “Fifty is for Fitness.” An earlier blog of mine–lost forever when Friendster went away–talked about “forties being for fun.” But 60? What about 60?
At the end of this summer I’m turning 57. Tracy and I have talked about another book, marking the next big decade in our lives. But we haven’t landed on what that book will be about. We’re still very much at the conversation stage. We’ve got 60 in our sights and we’re wondering. Fitness and aging themed maybe, with a broader definition of fitness?
What do you think the start of the sixties should be about? What themes resonate for you?
Fitness is freedom. I wonder how many of us have ever considered this sage bit of philosophizing. I hadn’t. As I whizzed down an aisle in our local supermarket a week or so ago, following the COVID arrows in the right direction in order to get to my intended target of the far end of […]
There’s a very moving ad making the rounds about a grandfather strength training for Christmas so that he can lift his granddaughter up to put a star on top of the tree. I got teary watching it and likely you will too. You’ve been warned.
I love his grit and determination. I also love his smiles.
It’s called Take Care of Yourself and it’s the Doc Morris Christmas Advert for 2020.
I also love its message of functional fitness and strength training as we age for all sorts of very practical reasons.
I share a lot of ‘keep strength training as you age’ motivational material on the blog’s Twitter and Facebook page.
“A small 2013 study of people between the ages of 88 and 96 years old found that those who performed strength-training exercises for two days a week over a 12-week period showed improvements in balance and a lower incidence of falls when compared to those who didn’t exercise. “It’s safe and important for older people to include strength training,” Jackson says. “Even simple bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and dips can help with strength and muscle building.”
Answer, “As people age, they often focus on cardio. They shouldn’t forget strength training.”
I’m not here to criticize the beautiful and moving strength training grandad commercial. Don’t worry. But I do worry that the focus on strength training for independent living buys into the message that physical dependence is a necessarily a bad thing. I hope to put off the time when I need assistance with everyday household tasks and personal care as long as possible. But I also hope when I need help that I and others can accept it without thinking I ought to have done more kettlebell swings or that it was a moral failing of mine to not care enough about my own health and strength.
I worry that our affection for the weightlifting grandfather is connected to a kind of ableism that celebrates movement and blames those who move less, even when we have no choice. In my own case I’ve talked about that in the context of becoming a non-runner and slower walker.
Regular long time readers will know that it’s hard to hold these two thoughts in balance. You’ll know that it’s something I struggle with.
Thought 1 is that older people are encouraged to slow down. It used to be that when people retired we bought them reclining chairs and told them to ‘relax.’ After all, they’d worked hard their whole lives. Not so much now as times are changing but it’s still true that gyms and fitness culture generally are geared towards young, fit, able bodied people. Older women worry they’ll look foolish exercising. If all of our fitness culture is geared towards aesthetics and maintaining beautiful youthful bodies, no wonder older people feel like they don’t belong.
We see this in the ad above when his neighbour looks to be judgemental of his fitness efforts. She seems puzzled about what he’s doing and why.
And yet, there is a huge cost in losing muscle, losing mobility, and increasing our risk of falling if we don’t continue to exercise–including weight training–as we age.
Older people have far more at stake than the young. The young can get away with a lot. They recover quickly if they are injured. And they bounce back from time off fitness efforts pretty speedily too. All of this gets more difficult as we get older. Indeed, if gyms should be there for anyone, it’s for the elderly.
Thought 2 worries that some of our dislike of old age is a tangled mess of ageism and ableism.
The thought here is that we engage in blame about the failure to age successfully when lots of people encounter the kinds of illness and injury in old age that can’t be overcome with kettlebells and powerwalking. In my post about what 74 looks like I talked about my very fit and physically active mother-in-law who used a wheelchair for mobility in the time after her diagnosis with ALS.
See Valuing Old Age Without Leveraging Ableism by Clara W. Berridge and Marty Martinson. They argue that our medical model of “successful aging” without disability sets up the majority of the population, especially women, for failure. Berridge and Martinson write, “Phrases such as “70 is the new 50” reflect a “positive aging” discourse, which suggests that the preferred way of being old is to not be old at all, but rather to maintain some image of middle-age functionality and appearance.”
We want to encourage ourselves to keep moving and to stay strong. At the same time we need respect and compassion for those who can’t move and lift in the same way. It’s a battle I feel personally as I struggle to accept my physical limits without self-blame and still push myself in those areas of physical fitness where I can push. Wish me luck!
I’d appreciate your thoughts about keeping these two thoughts in balance, the push to stay fit and strong and mobile, on the one hand, and the understanding and acceptance when it’s not.
One thing I would say, going back to the video that began this post, is that I wish he wasn’t lifting alone. I wanted a community centre for him to go too. I wanted peers for him to lift with and walk with and drink tea after. We need to do better as fitness communities making inclusive spaces for those who are aging, those who move in different ways, and those for whom both these things are true.
“So give me your poor, your tired, your weak of spine and crumbling of bone. Give me your mushy of muscle and burbly of digestion and bored of treadmill-hamstering.
Give me your old and young and everything between early bipedalism and death. And while you’re at it give me your non-bipedal: your limps and gimps and wimps and wheeled and caned and casted and bandaged. Untangle your sweaty hospital sheets and IV tubes and tentacles of fear and shame and move whatever isn’t strapped down. A finger, a leg, an eyelid. Whatever you can move, keep moving it. Next week, add some weight to that.
Give me your saggy, your baggy, your faggy, your haggy. Give me your freaks and geeks; steers and queers; sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, preppies, jocks, stoners, poindexters, punkers, rockers, hicks, drama dorks, superstars, homebodies, farmers, New Wavers and socs.
Give me your bodies wracked with life’s whims; your hormonally challenged; your rattling bottles of pills like morbid maracas; your diseases of disuse. Your old knee injury from when you tried drunken trampolining.
Give me your your shit-talkers and funk-walkers; the voices in your head who sing the Rocky training montage; your sniveling inner toddler who stamps and says “No!”. Leave your inner critic at the door, or do five pushups every time you speak to yourself seriously in her voice.
Give me your clueless big-eyed newbies and grizzled gray-prickly veterans. Give me your squashy and scrawny. Give me your chickenshits; you people hunting for your fighting spirit and tending the tiny flame of Yes we can inside your ribcage.
It doesn’t matter who kicked the sand in your face. Spit it out and let’s get to work.”
There’s more…go read it. And I love how it ends, “Wherever you are in your journey of strength, you are welcome here. This place is for you.”
Today, I hit 2 years straight in my daily meditation streak. When I started, I set myself the goal of 30 days. As time passed, I kept moving the goalposts. I feel good about my accomplishment (and I’ve written elsewhere about what I’ve learned). And yet, as soon as I sense those first inklings of pride, I hear the voice: “Well, you don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to meditate every day.” That’s the collective voice of women I’ve known, friends even. It’s also the voice of our society, which has insinuated itself into my psyche, passing itself off as my own judgments of myself. Every accomplishment I might celebrate is diminished by this subtext, “You don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to …” Write a book. Run an ultra-marathon. Start a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and one-on-one facilitations.
Not only do I not have children, I am one of the extreme few women who are childfree by choice. 6-10% by some estimates, but that number sounds high to me; especially given that the total percent of women without children is 15.4%, which includes women who tried without medical success or would have had children, if partnered. In other words, I neither tried, nor was I circumscribed by circumstance. Oh, and my decision is irreversible at this biological point in my life. That’s right, I’m also over fifty. What a disgrace! I’ve allowed myself to age and I did not contribute to society’s diktat of the highest and best use of my female body—having children. Not that our overburdened, beleaguered planet is in need of more carbon footprints. But it turns out that I’m the carbon footprint the world can do without. I am surplus. Not even worthy of pity, because I chose my condition.
How many times have I heard variations on the phrase, “you can do that because you don’t have children”? How many times have I watched a mother’s face cloud over when she asked me if I had children and I answered? How many times have I been told that children keep you young? How many times have I endured pronouncements and opinions prefaced with “as a mother”? How many times have I been told that one has to be unselfish to have children? How many times have I heard that a woman can only truly know love once she has children? How many times have I heard during COVID that it’s the grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren who are suffering most?
The subtexts of each of these statements are demeaning and hurtful.
How about this? –A friend once said that I could (and should) make the effort to buy a fuel-efficient car, but that she could not, because she had children. Not only is it my responsibility to pay school taxes (which I absolutely 100% want to do!), but apparently it would also be helpful if I reduced my consumption, to allow for more by people with children.
This is the moment when I make the disclaimer: No, I don’t hate children. In fact, there are children I love a whole lot. Same as most people, regardless of their procreative status. More, I enjoy cooking for people and engaging in other standard nurturing activities. And, it distresses me to have to have to clarify these points; in case people think I’m the Wicked Witch for not having children.
This is a caveat to my disclaimer: Children’s parents can be self-important and insensitive.
I was moved to write this after reading this interview with Jody Day, psychotherapist, author and founder of Gateway Women—I’m losing my shame. Day talks about the pernicious pronatalism of our society, which tells a woman without children, “You’ve failed, you’ve got nothing to offer, you don’t fit in.” This message crashes up against what Day points out is our all too “human desire to be generative.” After all, aren’t children the ultimate generativity? Of course, that standard only applies to women.
I have been struggling lately with feeling generative. Because Day is right. I want to contribute to our society. I want to have a positive impact during my time here on earth. My last book came out in July 2019. I don’t have another one underway … yet. Early this year I founded a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and individual facilitations. We launched right as COVID hit, so we’ve been pushing uphill against all those obstacles. I don’t have a regular pay cheque, so I suffer the psychic degradations of an uncertain income. On occasion, in desperate fallow-feeling moments, like now, I think, “If I’d had children, this would be okay; because I could point to them as my raison d’être.” My children would be my accomplishment, my meaning. Instead, I have to stand in my own shoes. Live my own purpose. Find my own meaning. Offer my own grace.
To do so, I need to overcome the explicit and implicit negative messaging that assaults me from all sides. Women should not be shamed or feel shame for choosing not to have children. One last quote from Day’s interview: “… [J]ust being a childless woman living shamelessly as you age is already radical enough.” Radical? I feel more generative already. I embrace that label. I don the cloak of radicality with insouciant pleasure. I slip it on over the cloak of invisibility assigned to me by society when I reached a certain age without children. My shoulders could feel crushed beneath the weight of the double cloaks. Instead, they feel lighter, looser and easier. The lens through which I’m looking at my life shifts. Free of society’s shoulds and musts, I feel the vitality of energies that want to flow. I remember that I made a conscious choice to be who I am. That choice was a generative act. A decision to share my energies beyond the borders of home and family.
Women without children are abundant; a radiant, radical power source. Let’s plug into our own energy shamelessly, so we can fulfill our highest and best purpose.
But I’ve been wanting to write about exercise and people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. I was reminded of it again when this passed through my newsfeed: Exercise After Covid-19? Take It Slow.
Jordan D. Metzl writes, “For the past 20 years, when patients asked me about exercising while recovering from a viral illness like the flu, I gave them the same advice: Listen to your body. If exercise usually makes you feel better, go for it.
Covid-19 has changed my advice.
Early in the pandemic, as the initial wave of patients with Covid-19 began to recover and clinically improve, my colleagues and I noticed that some of our patients were struggling to return to their previous activity levels. Some cited extreme fatigue and breathing difficulties, while others felt as if they just couldn’t get back to their normal fitness output. We also began to hear of a higher than normal incidence of cardiac arrhythmias from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and, in rare cases, cause sudden cardiac arrest. Other complications like blood clots were also cropping up.
What was most surprising is that we saw these problems in previously healthy and fit patients who had experienced only mild illness and never required hospitalization for Covid-19.
In my sports medicine practice, a cyclist in her 40s with recent Covid-19 symptoms had leg pain that was abnormal enough to warrant an ultrasound, which showed near complete cessation of blood flow because of arterial and venous blood clots in both legs. Thankfully, our team caught these early enough that they didn’t spread to her lungs, which ultimately could have killed her. Recently, a college student in Indiana with Covid-19 died from a blood clot that traveled to her lungs. As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve learned of a much higher risk of blood clots from people who contract the virus.”
That’s just an except. It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.
What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends in their 40s-60s. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.
At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.
I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.
Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19
Here’s the first two:
Patricia is 62, lives in London, Ontario and she rows, skis, golfs, plays tennis, trail runs and cycles. We know each other through masters rowing.
“I was surprised that I got it. I took all precautions. I had a mild case according to the Health Unit. I thought my allergies were playing up. My eyes were sensitive to light and I had a tightening in my chest. I had night sweats (I thought menopause was rearing its ugly head yet again). Apparently I had a low grade fever. I developed a cough that lasted about a month and lost my sense of taste and smell. I found I was winded easily and that lasted for months. My sense of taste and smell have never fully come back yet. I was in direct contact with an individual who had Covid on March 18th. My cousin passed away from it at the end of March.”
Heather lives in Kansas City, USA and she’s a 46 year old Triathlete/Road Runner/Mountain Climber/Zwift Racer/Cyclist. She’s on Sarah’s Zwift bike team.
“My health story really began when I was a young woman (22). I was taking birth control pills and ended up throwing a blood clot to my brain, it was misdiagnosed as a migraine and ended up hemorrhaging causing a major stroke. Being at risk for blood clots is something that is always in the back of my head… too much weight -can cause blood clots. Smoking – can cause blood clots, drinking too much – can cause blood clots. Having babies, having too low a heart rate, being too inactive… pretty much all can lead to blood clots. So when COVID-19 came out to show that every autopsy of those who died with the disease had blood clots throughout their system, I felt I could really not do well if I get it.
In May (3 months into the pandemic) I decided that sitting on the couch and stress eating my way through the lock downs was not going to set me up for successfully fighting COVID. I started really focusing on dropping the extra 20lbs I had acquired and strengthen my body to give it a fighting chance. I used My Fitness Pal to track my calories and used the input vs output method of dieting. I started signing up for challenges that pushed me – 30 day cycling challenge to complete 500 miles. Climb Mt. Everest Challenge to climb/run/hike or bike 29,029 ft. In 50 days… These challenges along with the calorie watching allowed me to take off the 20lbs and get strong. My doctor put me on a prophylactic low dose blood thinner in anticipation of getting COVID and I just continued to be as healthy, fit and strong as I could be.
I ended up contracting COVID 19 in the first week of October. Coming in, my fitness level was strong. My doctor advised that I not push my heart rate past zone 2 for the 10 day isolation period. That was a long and hard 10 days of being sedentary. I rode one Zwift race and I kept my heart rate down under zone 2 and it took me twice as long to finish as the rest of my team (but I got them a point!).
My case was a mild case. I had a total of 3 hours of low grade fever, nasal congestion and the typical loss of taste and smell. After 10 days I felt like I was good to go. My doctor gave me the green light to get my heart rate up again and when I did I found the result was as if I didn’t have any fitness built up. My max heart rate was nearly 20 points higher than it had been 2 weeks prior. I struggled holding speed and stamina and began to think maybe COVID did affect me.
It has been 5 weeks since I was released to work my body as hard as I want and it has been a slow come back. I race twice a week and ride two more times a week. I walk and run hills and with every effort I am watching what my heart is doing. It is slowly coming down and I am able to hang on longer, recover by dropping the heart rate faster and push the way I want to push.
I consider myself lucky to have had a good outcome having had COVID and would caution any athlete to not fight through this one by pushing your body.”
This afternoon Michelle Goodfellow shares her story about testing positive for COVID-19.
There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.
The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.
Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).
Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”
Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.
The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”
A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.
Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.