aging · beauty · body image · fitness · inclusiveness · objectification · stereotypes

Martha Stewart, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model

At 81 years old, billionaire and business mogul Martha Stewart is the oldest swimsuit cover model of Sports Illustrated, overtaking Maye Musk, who was the oldest last year at 74.

What can be thought about this development?

On one hand, we can celebrate new gains for representation and inclusion: Martha Stewart has cut through the spandex ceiling, making it possible for “older women” to be cover photo-worthy by Sports Illustrated (SI), a magazine whose annual swimsuit issue authoritatively confers the status of beautiful to its models. As an octogenarian swimsuit model, Martha Stewart brings diverse body image to popular media (and to the news media that reports on popular media).

As well, this development signals a growing acceptance of older women’s sexuality. Martha Stewart has left the kitchen and entered the swimming pool. According to a CBC analysis article, Martha Stewart said on Today that she increased her exercise regime and cut out carbs (but didn’t starve herself) to show that “You can look great at pretty much any age if you put your mind to it.” If Martha Stewart can put her mind (and enormous wealth) towards looking sexually alluring at 81, isn’t that permission for us all?

On the other hand, scholar (and aspiring clairvoyant?) @tracyisaacs might have foreseen Martha Stewart’s gracing of the cover of SI’s Swimsuit issue when she wrote about what she describes as inclusive objectification here at FIFI and in The Conversation. Tracy acknowledges that commercializing the sexual attractiveness of a wider spectrum of women’s bodies seems, on the surface, to be a good thing (or at least not harmful one). However, mainstream media, embodied by the swimsuit issue (pun intended),

“continues to promote sexual attractiveness as women’s main currency. […] (It’s) it’s not clear how the swimsuit issue, the very essence of which is to represent a particular type of sexualized bodies, could morph into something that celebrates the body in a different way.”

From this perspective, it may be said that Martha Stewart has escaped one form of traditional female currency (homemaker) to another (swimsuit cover model). SI has shown us that Martha Stewart is worthy of sex appeal, but nothing has fundamentally changed the “relentless message about what makes women worthy,” as Tracy notes.

The CBC analysis article quotes Anna Murphy, who finds it refreshing that Martha Stewart refuses to “age out of the public eye.” (This is a return to modeling for Martha Stewart). But the SI issue heavily suggests that, in order to stay in the public eye, Martha Stewart must, in her own words, continue to “aspire to look great.”

Let’s also note that Martha Stewart doesn’t look great on her own. The are four covers of the same magazine issue —featuring Megan Fox, Brooks Nader, and Kim Petras, singer and transgender model (perhaps the most interesting and progressive choice). So conventional sexy and controversial sexy can remain in the public eye together.

Author of the CBC article, Jenna Benchetrit, concludes her analysis with an unanswered question initially asked by Tracy: “It’s breaking barriers, yes. But are these the barriers we want to break?” We at FIFI have many diverse voices, so I speak for myself when I (and maybe some of we) say no. Or at least, certainly not only.

Another Jenna, Jenna Peterson, happens to answer Jenna B’s question in a humorously memed social media post. Jenna P doesn’t want to continue to “aspire to look great” as she ages. Jenna P sees “aging out” of sexy as precisely what she wants to accomplish.

“I hate this whole “women can be sexy at fifty!” narrative. At what age will society stop demanding I try to be hot and just let me turn into an old swamp witch, as nature intended.”

As a cis-woman who is just over half Martha Stewart’s age, I’m inclined to agree with Jenna P. Aside from discourse of what is “natural” for women (for instance, it doesn’t matter much to me whether or not Martha Stewart has had body modifications), women can transgress their worthiness via sexual objectification…by letting themselves just get (and look) old.

Perhaps Sports Illustrated might have photographed an 81 year-old, swim-suited Martha Stewart emerging from a witchy swamp? Well, maybe next year.

Readers, what perspective do you take on this issue?

aging · fitness · strength training

A real life lesson in muscle loss and aging

So normally here on the blog the vibe is all about discovering your own fitness groove. Find something you enjoy and do that, we say, because if fitness finds its way into your life as one more thing you have to do, another tedious, unpleasant, time consuming task, it’s very hard to stick with it.

Add pleasure to your life by finding a form of movement you enjoy.

Along with “start small” it’s probably the most common piece of fitness we give.

Three years ago I remember pushing myself to branch out and give advice to a reader who hated exercise and who just wanted the health benefits. I said they should figure out what is necessary–strength training for bone health, cardio for heart health, something for flexibility and mobility– and then regular, everyday exercise, and make a plan to fit it in.

Now in this case, the reader did ask so we were on solid ground I think offering up our advice.

But there’s another theme lurking just below the surface at the blog. Lately I’ve been wanting to stand up and yell from a soapbox about women and the need for strength training. It might not be the thing that brings you joy but it might be necessary for functional fitness and independent living as you age.

The numbers are striking. Here’s this from a recent New York Times piece,

“Aging causes muscles to lose mass, bone density to thin and joints to stiffen — affecting our balance, coordination and strength. At the same time, hormonal shifts and persistent low-level inflammation can set the stage for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

And the changes start earlier than you might think. Muscles begin to shrink in our 30s and continue their downward spiral in midlife, with up to 25 percent of their peak mass gone by the time we’re 60.

But there’s hope: Exercise can stall muscle loss, cognitive decline and fatigue. “It’s never too late to start exercising, and it’s never too early,” Chhanda Dutta, a gerontologist at the National Institute on Aging, said.”

Women have been sold a bill of goods about fitness. There’s the focus on thinness, on appearance, and the over emphasis on cardio fitness over strength training. These things are also planks in my soapbox.

I was in hospital recently, after my knee replacement surgery, I was struck by how many of my elderly hospital roommates lacked the upper body strength to perform basic functional movements. Yes, they’d just had joint surgery but some of them struggled to be able to move themselves around in bed.

I think I said after the last surgery that using the toilet after knee surgery all of a sudden one legged pistol squats made a lot more sense. After this visit, core and tricep strength seemed pretty essential to a hospital stay where you’ve got some control over how you position yourself in bed. It felt like a lesson about muscle loss, strength training, and aging.

Now it maybe that we are over valuing independence. Maybe we should care less about it. I think this is a genuinely hard question. But to the extent that we do care about it, we should be in the gym lifting weights.

Training for my summer body? Fuck no! I’m training for my old lady body.. Dense bones. String muscles. A healthy heart. Good balance. Functional independence.

Here’s another example of the kind of rants I’m drawn to,

And you don’t necessarily need any fancy equipment.

Woman wearing hijab doing push-ups on wooden bench in park. Photo by  Ola Alghazzouli  on  Scopio
aging · fitness · stereotypes · strength training

This is what 63/74 looks like? Or, celebrating strength and mobility in old age without stigmatizing assistive devices

There’s a meme I hated seven years ago but it keeps popping up, like whack a mole, and so here I am, complaining again about it.

Then the age in question was 74. Now it’s 63.

Here’s a link to the Instagram reel.

This is 63

This reel came up in my social media newsfeed because lots of my friends liked it. And I get why they do. Women don’t have to age in the way that society expects us too.

I personally plan on defying a number of age related, gendered stereotypes in the years ahead.

Why can’t we just celebrate elderly women kicking aside our walkers and doing pull-ups from the ceiling?

The problem is, it’s complicated.

On the one hand, we want to encourage women to take control of our health destinies. We need to fight against the story that says older women are necessarily frail, fragile, and lacking in strength, mobility, and balance. Yes, women can do a lot to retain muscle and bone density with strength training. We can deadlift and do pull-ups at 40, at 50, and for some of us at 70, 80, and beyond.

On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage women to do this by depicting life with a cane or a walker as a lesser life. We have some control over our health but there’s also an awful amount of genetic and other luck involved. Walkers and canes aren’t necessarily bad things.

I’m using crutches right now as I recover from knee surgery

And I’ve been finding that some people are weird about crutches. The crutches enable me to walk further, to walk faster, I’m more stable but lots of people act like it’s the crutches that are holding me back. No, it’s the surgery and injury that are doing that. The crutches are an assistive device. They’re a help.

Photo by
Maksim Chernyshev

I hope both that I recover well and don’t need crutches for very long, and that if I do encounter an injury or a medical condition that has me using crutches, a cane, or a walker in the years ahead that I’ll feel okay about that too.

aging · fitness

Catherine’s size acceptance journey expands to include… fingers

As we age, we notice lots of changes in our bodies. That includes pretty much all parts of our bodies. Yes, I’ve adapted to increased clothing sizes and even shoe size; I’m about 3/4 shoe size larger than I was in college– from US women’s size 8 to almost 9 (depends on shoe brand and type). One thing I forgot about until recently though, was how my fingers have changed over the years.

I used to wear rings in my teens and twenties, but got out of the habit after that. When I tried one on a few months ago, I noticed it was tight-ish. No big deal. However, I faced an actual ring size reality moment when I inherited a ring from my aunt Winifred, who died a few months ago. It is a platinum-set art deco diamond ring that I always admired. I was very touched that she left it to me, and it has great sentimental value as a reminder of her.

I went to a jeweler last week to see about getting the ring resized. When asked what ring size I was, I said, “well, I used to be a six and a half”. “Yeah, weren’t we all”, responded the jeweler. It was time to find out my current ring size, so out came the ring sizer.

Note: at this point in the blog, I wanted to offer some background on both ring sizing and what we know about how ring size increased with age. However, when I googled, this was one of the top sites I found:

How to tell the age of a turtle from wikihow (which seems to involve counting rings and dividing by 2? not sure). Thanks, wikihow, even if that’s not what I was looking for.

Okay, that was a google fail. Trying again, I found a bunch of jewelers’ sites offering bits of information to the effect that yes, ring size can increase with age. Mainly it’s because our knuckles get bigger as we age– all of our joints change in composition, and we can get bone spurs (called osteophytes) in our fingers as well.

Great. All I wanted to do was get my ring resized, and now I’m examining my hands to check for bone spurs. Sigh.

But I digress. The business at hand was to find out my current up-to-the-minute ring size. We needed a ring sizer. There are all kinds of them, ranging from fancy to very DIY.

The jeweler I saw used the key chain of ring sizes, and also we tried some rings from the cases. I am now about a 7 1/2. They will resize my ring and also give it a “little TLC” according to the jeweler, making sure the setting is holding the stones in place. Yay!

Now that I’m noticing my hands in their current state, awaiting my resized lovely ring, I’m thinking they can use a little TLC as well. For me this means massaging with lotion more often, and maybe even getting a hand massage. This site offers instructions on doing a hand massage on yourself, but I may go out in search of a professional one sometime. If I do, I’ll report back. And I’ll show you my aunt’s ring once it’s sized to be just right for me and my hand.

aging · body image · fitness

When magazines tell one story, but advertisers another

CW: Offensive ads

Awhile back Tracy and I were interviewed for a piece to appear in Chatelaine magazine about body positivity and midlife women. The article Where’s The Body Positivity Movement For Midlife Women? by Lisa Mesbur appeared today online. Lisa has lots of great things to say and not just the quotes from Tracy and me. You should definitely go read it!

Sadly though one reader of the blogger wasn’t happy with the ads she got served up along with the article. It’s kind of unbelievable. Now I know the ads are personalized to some extent. I don’t get these ads. My ads clearly don’t know I’m continuing my no shopping commitment. My ads are all Fluevogs!

But blog reader Kimberly got this mess of awful advertising which is about the opposite of midlife body positivity.

Argh! Whether it’s the magazine or the browser that’s serving up the ads, they certainly give you some idea of the challenges to body image in midlife.

UPDATE: My son looked at the article and he got a lot of ads for thyroid, aging, and weight gain!

aging · fitness · health

The Upside of Body Aches

This post shares about general, non-specific body aches. My reflections are based on my personal experience. As everyone has different bodies and experiences, I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments.

lego person in pieces
Image by Jackson Simmer CC-By2 .0

Body aches have become a common fact of my mid-life. My low-level, everyday aches are unique to my body and its history; yet, my friends and I seem to share an increased frequency of body aches as we age.

Body aches are mysterious to me because they can be (to use a word I am making up) contramonious. In other words, opposing causes can result in similar aches. Some examples:

  • I can ache from exercising too intensely or too often, or from not enough or not frequently enough.
  • I ache when am dehydrated, or when I feel I am retaining water.
  • Aches can come from new injuries, but also from old healed injuries.

Aches in the body can also present in contrasting ways:

  • Aches can be dull and generalized, or sharp and localized.
  • Aches can come from one’s body attacking its own healthy cells, as in an autoimmune disorder.
  • Aches can be uncomfortable but indicate nothing serious, or they can be symptoms of a condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Aches can be a mystery when their causes are not clear. My body has been been aching this week, and I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because I sat all week at my desk. Or it’s because I went rollerskating in the mall on the weekend. It could be from recent my flu vaccine, or because I am getting sick and I haven’t hydrated enough. Perhaps there is a specific medical reason, or perhaps I am just tired and burnt out in general.

Body aches are literally a pain, but the small upside of mine is that they are a general warning light for me: inflammation is happening in my body, and things could get worse if I don’t take action. Aches force me stop and self-assess—how severely am I aching, what impact are these aches having on me, and what can I do to alleviate them?

I’m also happy that, though my aches may have many different possible causes, the treatment is fairly simple and standard:

  • Fluids
  • Rest/sleep
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Warm bath (or my heating pad!)
  • Light, safe movement

As I age, my low-level body aches are little mystery novels that remind me to do more simple self-care, no matter “what-dunit.”

What is your experience with everyday, low-level body aches? Is there an upside to your aching?

aging · fitness

Aging, Activity, and Myths

I saw this on Twitter and love the assignment and the results.

Here’s Number 1: Frailty is “Inevitable”

I especially love the tips about avoiding self-identifying as frail.

Follow the full thread for the others myths, such as “older adults are not crucial members of society,” “Older adults should skip exercising to avoid injury,” “All older adults should skip strength-based exercise,” and more.

Nice work Healthy Aging students! I’m busy grading my own students work but these all look like As to me.

Help share if you’re still on Twitter.

ADHD · aging · birthday · fitness · motivation · planning

A low-key start for Christine’s birthday month

This post is a group of loosely connected thoughts in a blogpost-shaped trench coat but let’s just roll with it.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a lawn chair on my front lawn awaiting trick or treaters – Khalee is too much of a chaos agent for me to easily answer the door over and over so I take the treats outside and drink tea while waiting for the kids.

I’m so spooky and mysterious. Also I think my pumpkin lights are shy – none of them would face the camera. Image description: a nighttime selfie of me in front of the tree in my front yard. I’m wearing my jacket and a plaid shirt with a necklace of tiny glowing skulls. My hair is pulled back in a bandana, I have my glasses on, and I’m smirking. There is a string of pumpkin lights behind me, each pumpkin on the string is about the size of a tennis ball.

Tomorrow, or today by the time you read this, is November 1, just a little over a week away from my 50th birthday.

A few months ago, I thought I would have a good fitness routine by now. I thought I had a solid, low key plan. 

Turns out, I was still trying to do too much at once and I have basically been kind of ambling along trying to figure out my how and when, exercising more some times and less other times.

At the beginning of October, I thought I would have a straightforward month with two challenges to work on, but I was plagued with migraines and frustration and never really found my groove.

One tiny part of my brain is telling me ‘You should be more disappointed in yourself, don’t you think?’

But another part is reminding me that the word should is at least 90% evil and that, at almost 50 years old, I don’t have to put up with people being mean to me – especially if that person is me.

So, instead, I’m thinking that I must not have found the easy thing. I must have had too many steps or too many decisions, I must not have smoothed the path, I must not have included enough fun. Oh well! Too late to worry about those past plans now.

I’m not trying to revamp them, though, I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me.

I’m looking forward to my birthday month with the goal(s) of finding more ease, seeking more fun, and looking for ways to move more often on any given day.

There’s no overarching plan, there’s no big idea, there’s just me experimenting with trusting myself in the moment. Let’s just hope my brain will cooperate.

It took me a couple of Halloweens of trying different things before I figured out that I could circumvent the stress of the dog-related chaos by taking the treats out to the kids but I was making little changes in my approach the whole time.

I’m hoping the same is true for this whole figuring-out-routines thing, that I *am* making adjustments and learning as I go, even if it’s hard to see while I’m still in the middle of it.

PS – In case you have a tendency to worry: I am completely ok, by the way. I’m mostly just interested in how and why I feel so at ease with not having done what I had set out to do. And why I don’t feel the need to poke into what went “wrong.” I like the fact that instead of my brain leaning into the meanness, I veered off into the ‘try this’ of taking things moment by moment. I’m observational and reflective, perhaps a little melancholy, but I’m not sad, not upset, and there’s nothing wrong.

aging · beauty · feminism · fitness

“Taking care of ourselves”–taking back this phrase

This ad just came across the FIFI social media outlets (thanks, Nicole, for bringing this to our attention). It shows a bunch of 46-year-old white women in an ad for Geritol. The fact that all of them are the same age is supposed to be shocking to us. What separates them, the ad tells us, is that some of the women “take care of themselves”, while others apparently don’t.

This vintage ad came across the FIFI social media feed (thanks, Nicole for bringing this to our attention)– it’s for Geritol (a vitamin and iron supplement later pulled off the market; more on this below) featuring a bunch of 46-year-old white women. The ad singles some of them out, although it doesn’t say which ones. But it’s got some concerns:

A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic snake oil ad. It's for Geritol, which I talk about in the post.
A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic ad for snake oil.

I don’t know about you, but these women all look around the same age to me. But, the ad implies that some of them clearly look older, and it’s THEIR OWN FAULT. Why? Because they are not “the ones who take care of themselves”.

(Parenthetical comment: props to the woman in the blue jacket for pioneering resting bitch face in a good way. She’s having none of this.)

(One more parenthetical comment: the product in question, Geritol, was marketed as an iron and B-vitamin tonic in the 1950s. It was supposed to relieve tiredness, and was 12% alcohol. It was pulled off the market because of risk of diseases associated with too much iron, and also because Geritol engaged in “conduct amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness”. The FTC ruled them as making false and misleading claims and heavily penalized with fines totaling $812,000 (equivalent to $4.96 million in 2021 dollars). See their Wikipedia page for more details.)

Back to the main rant. According to the fine folks at Geritol, women who “take care of themselves”:

  • Never eat too much or too little;
  • get a good night’s sleep every night;
  • exercise every day;
  • do all the things that women leading busy women’s lives in the mid-20th century have to do, regardless of income;
  • and of course take Geritol every day.

But how, pray, can we tell which women are “taking care of themselves” and which women aren’t? By how they look, of course! Aren’t you silly…

I have to say that just writing about this nonsense is getting me a little worked up.

Image of person fishing on smooth lake, saying you are where you need to be. Just breathe.
Yeah, that’s a little better. I hope it helps you too.

Okay, I’m back. Here, in no particular order, are some problems with a culture in which this ad is just one little horrid illustration:

  • “Looking your age” or “better yet–younger!” is assumed to be a universal imperative for women.
  • The markers for “looking your age” or “better yet– younger!” are based on classist, racist, misogynist and (I might add) boring and bland criteria, which are unattainable by most women (even the ones who made it in into that ad, for goodness’ sake).
  • The notion of “taking care of yourself” (subject to same influences as “looking your age”) censures all women whose busy lives involve burdens of family care, domestic labor, paid work, and endless waking and working hours, with no time for bridge club, facials or golf.
  • Geritol was harmful alcoholic snake oil, marketed by lies, targeting consumers with money but also vulnerabilities.
  • The idea that “taking care of yourself” is, for women: a) a lifelong obligation; b) something whose success can be read off women’s faces and bodies is false and also vicious.

How can we take back the notion of “taking care of ourselves”? I think we’re doing it already– right here on this blog, out in the working and playing and political world, in our homes, and with our friends and families. And what are we doing in this updated version?

We prioritize ourselves as best we can, given our constraints and connections and interests. That means choosing– as we can– the aspects of our lives to focus on. And, in cases where we currently can’t choose (e.g. reproductive health and safety in the US right now), we speak up, fight back, disobey, organize, and act. Oh, and vote, too.

We set boundaries– again, as best we can– so to protect time and resources for activities of our own choosing. Where the boundaries aren’t there, again we work to change them.

We dare to love ourselves as dearest members of our families (sometimes, families of one). We do this all the time– or as much as we can.

But who am I to go on and on about self-care? Let me step aside for someone who said it better.

Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” From A Burst of Light, 1988.

Readers, how do you understand the phrase “taking care of yourselves” these days? What do you do? I’d love to hear from you.

aging · health · injury · menopause

Menopause, depleted estrogen and increased rolling of ankles

By Martha

A few weeks ago, I ran into my house to retrieve a beach rug and I ended up rolling my ankle severely. While it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a visit to urgent care, I wasn’t my swiftest either.

Having dealt with the sprained ankles of others over the years, I knew I had to rest, ice, apply compression and elevate my injured ankle.

I was curious though: over the last few years, I have rolled my ankle just slightly enough to pause but never enough to feel pain.

As someone with ovaries and estrogen, it occurred to me maybe this might be connected to menopause. Our bodies change in response to depleted estrogen (cessation of periods being one symptom and hot flashes being another.

Turns out our ligaments are affected by menopausal hormone changes including increases in swollen tissues in our feet. Good foot care is important at this stage of life as recovery from sports related injuries such as sprains in feet and knees can take time.

I was lucky. I bought new shoes, acquired some fancy compression socks and regularly applied a topical pain reliever. I’m back to walking lengthy distances without post walk aches. However I’ll keep practicing my ankle exercises (flexing, pumping, and writing the alphabet with my toes) while also stretching my upper leg muscles which compensated for my injury.

So if you are a pre, post or experiencing menopause person, maintain your weight bearing exercises for strong bones and remember to pay attention to your ligaments and soft tissues in your feet.

MarthaFitAt55 likes learning new things about how our bodies work.