aging · birthday · blog · fitness

Sam has 60 in her sights!

Hey, Western University (where I taught for 24 years before coming to U of Guelph) just asked me for a legacy gift. They did remember to call me “Professor.” I do feel old though after that email. Legacy, huh?

I’m coming up on my 58th birthday this summer, moving from my mid to late fifties.

I’ll have to be careful I don’t jump the gun too soon. Each year I start thinking about the age I’ll be soon and think about what it will feel like to be that age. The difficulty with thinking yourself at an age before you get there is that sometimes you might get to your birthday and then add a year. Yes, I did that. It took awhile before I did the math and realized I was over counting.

It’s not just reminders like the legacy gift email. I’m also thinking about my age because we’re coming up on the blog’s 10th anniversary this fall. Wow.

Tracy and I started the blog on the countdown to our 50th birthday. Remember our “fittest by fifty” challenge? But since a decade has gone by that means we’ve got 60 in our sights.

People can get weird about 60. I remember visiting a friend of my mother’s who, when the subject of her age came up, said you know the decade you’re in (my fifties) and you know the decade your mother is in (her seventies) I’m in the one in the middle but I never say its name. What’s so bad about the sixties, I wondered. I guess I’m still wondering.

Sixty doesn’t particularly scare me. I think it helps that I have lots of older friends and colleagues in their sixties, leading lives that excite and inspire. I’ve always liked older people.

I’m spending the weekend in Montreal as I’m writing this, here to visit family but also to see Sally Haslanger give a series of lectures

I mention that because Sally is in her sixties making that decade look pretty good. She’s here giving a series of lectures based on her new book about understanding social change in complex systems. I loved the final lecture on hope. I think we’re all needing some hope right about now. There were excellent commentaries too. I was there for the commentaries by Jonathan Ichikawa (University of British Columbia) and Chike Jeffers (Dalhousie University), both excellent.

There are lots of remarkable women in philosophy, far too many to list, many of them over 60.

I’m not planning on retiring for awhile yet although as Dean I’ve been noticing the wide range of ages that people choose to stop work. I’ve just expressed my willingness to stand for a second term as Dean and undergo the review, and potential reappointment, process. After that, whatever the outcome, I’ve got some leave coming to me and then I’ll likely return to teaching for a few years in Philosophy.

I’ve always thought that rather than retire immediately I’d love to swap to half time for a few years first. Teach in the fall term, winter somewhere warm sounds like the dream to me.


Our April 2018 book launch for Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey
Mothers and daughters!
— with Kathleen Brennan and Tracy Isaacs in London, Ontario.

I joke with Tracy that we have excellent role models in aging with our mothers. We look just a little bit like them. See above.

I think the other reason I’m looking forward to my sixties is that I’ll have my knees in working order then. I realized the other day that I’ll soon be eligible to do some retirement age (if not actual retirement) activities with my mother!

I don’t think I’ll get her on a bike but with my knees fixed we could do some walking together.

There are bloggers here who have reached the 60 mark and they’re doing pretty well too. See Catherine‘s blog post about her recent birthday.

So far I’m not feeling the urge to think about 60+ as the last stage of life.

Who does? See Jane F on turning 60, for example. She calls life after 60, her final act.

“When I was about to turn 60, I realized that I was approaching my third act — my final act — and that it wasn’t a dress rehearsal. One of the things that I knew for sure is that I didn’t want to get to the end with a lot of regrets, so how I lived up until the end was what was going to determine whether or not I had regrets. And it also then dawned on me that in order to know where I was supposed to go, I had to know where I’d been,” she said.

I recently wrote a paper on women and aging, “To Grandmother’s House We Go”: On Women, Ethics, and Aging. It’s forthcoming in the Cambridge Handbook on the Ethics of Aging. I was struck by Carolyn Heilbrun’s conceptualization of the years after sixty as the last gift of time. Sixty seems a bit early for last gift talk.

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty

To be clear, it’s not that I don’t take mortality seriously. I’ve taught a course on death. I’ve coedited a textbook on philosophy and death. It’s more that I’ve been thinking about it for years.

Philosophy and Death, edited by Samantha Brennan and Robert Stainton

I think life post retirement will feel more like a final act but I am very much not there yet. I find my work rewarding and exciting and important. It brings me happiness and keeps me engaged.

However, I am thinking about decade ending fitness goals. Fittest by fifty and still moving at sixty? I’m not sure. Will blog more about decade ending fitness goals later, I’m sure.

Are you a blog reader over 60? What’s ahead? What advice do you have to offer? What goals, if any, did you set for 60? (Also if you turned 60 during the pandemic, that’s enough. No goals needed.)

aging · birthday · fashion

Catherine turns 60: what to wear?

This week I turned 60. It’s kind of exciting and also a little daunting. I’m excited at reaching what feels like a milestone. My father died 15 days shy of his 60th birthday, of metastatic lung cancer. My mother is 78 (yes, she had me young) and still chugging along. At 60, it feels like I’ll be joining her, my aunts, and older women friends, being inducted into the membership of… some metaphysical organization of which I currently know not.

So, given that some aspects of my future seem ineffable, I’m pragmatically turning to the mundane: what does turning 60 mean for my wardrobe choices? What do various clothing styles mean for women, 60 and older?

Again, I find myself soaring into abstract territory; perhaps it’s just pre-birthday flutterings. Maybe I should just talk about clothing now. Okay, I’ll do that.

Last week, I posted Style secrets for women over 50: Catherine has thoughts.

Most of what I read online was a miscellany of what NOT to wear, of which I’m choosing to ignore ALL their ill-considered tips. However, I continued searching for articles on style, and style for older women. What are my choices?

There’s always classic and elegant:

They look lovely (the women and their outfits), but this look doesn’t really suit my personality, lifestyle or bank account.

I do love me some color, though, and you see bright-colored costume-y ensembles on some fashionable older women.

These are fabulous, but… not really for me. I like the harem pants and also the flowing green coat, but these are bolder style messages than I think I want to send on a day-to-day basis.

There’s a lot of commentary on what older women wear, and most of it isn’t good. They get lampooned on TV and elsewhere. Who can forgot grandma Yetta from the TV show The Nanny?

By the way, here is what actor Ann Morgan Guilbert, who played Grandma Yetta, looked like in real life:

Actor Ann Morgan Guilbert, looking elegant and stylish as herself.
Actor Ann Morgan Guilbert, looking elegant and stylish as herself.

You may be beginning to get the message that, for older women, style means bold and extreme, maybe bordering on satire. That’s fine if that’s what you want. But I don’t want these to be my only options:

I mean, they’re totally fab. But not to go into my wardrobe rotation.

Don’t despair for me, gentle readers; I did find a fashion exemplar whose style works for me. I present, for your consideration, looks of Queen Latifah:

Queen Latifah’s looks feature comfortable shoes, unfussy components, some tailored style, and above all functionality. These are clothes to live in, not pose in. I admit I might pick some pieces with bolder colors too, but I like the combo of useful and chic. Thanks Queen Latifah!

Now, time to go shopping in my closet and see what combos come out of it. Stay tuned for updates.

Readers, what kind of looks are you sporting these days? Any fashion tips or aspirations you want to share? Let me know.

aging · femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness

Get up! Get on up! Functional fitness to the rescue…

James Brown was a complicated person. But we would all do well to heed his advice here. Before reading the rest of my (tangentially related) blog post, please enjoy his masterpiece below.

While we’re here, let me point out that the unsung hero in this video is the woman dancing on the platform in the back. Could you move that well for that long in those go-go boots? I can say for myself: most definitely not. But I’d love to try…

Alas, heels like those and I don’t work and play well together. I’m just going to say it: I don’t move as well as I used to. For instance, getting up from my yoga mat on the floor has become steadily less graceful for me. I can’t go from hands and knees on the mat to a full upright position without using my hands. Bending over to make my way up, sometimes I feel a little bit like this:

Toddler, in down dog position, but stopped in mid-rise to catch up on reading.
Toddler, in down dog position, stopped in mid-rise to catch up on some reading.

Of course, toddlers are not so fussy about up, down, using hands, feet, whatever it takes to have fun and explore.

Toddler, resplendent in pink snowsuit, in deep squat, perfecting a tiny snowman.

I don’t think I can maintain a squat like that long enough to make a snowman. However, at the moment I’m more concerned about my general functional fitness. Yes, I can carry groceries, go up and down stairs, access things high and low in my house and elsewhere. I do yoga and walk and cycle and swim and sometimes paddle, but not as frequently or vigorously as I did a few years ago. I’m lucky and privileged to have the degree of function and autonomy and support and access to resources that I do. But like lots of people approaching 60 (less than 3 months from now for me!), I worry about this.

Enter functional fitness training. Yes, many of you are doing it right now, but late to the party is still at the party… I really like these sorts of exercises because they are arbitrarily customizable for many different bodies.

Note: to do the following exercises requires types of mobility, balance, etc. that many people don’t have access to, especially given constraints of equipment, space and training. I recognize that my post doesn’t include these members of our community. There are programs and plans that provide opportunities for people with wide ranges of abilities and disabilities to train for functional fitness (as well as engage in all levels of athletic training). I’m not (yet) knowledgeable about these programs, but will do some work so we can blog about this in future.

The NY Times X-minute workouts are designed with functional fitness in mind; over time, they’ve done 9-minute, their Scientific 7-minute and also 6-minute workouts (which actually take longer than that, just FYI), and included a 7-minute workout that you do standing. I wrote in more detail about the 6-minute workout here.

Basically, these workouts all include some of the following:

  • push-up: against the wall, on knees, extended body from mat, etc.
  • plank: against the wall, weight bench or table, on knees, extended body from mat, etc.
  • bird dog: I love this one, which I do in yoga on my hands and knees from the mat; also done against a wall or beside a chair, bench of table.
  • wall sit: done against a wall and modifiable by adjusting depth of sit, time held, possibly adding reps of up and down
  • squats: chair-assisted (chair behind for safety) or not, adjust depth of squat
  • split squats: with one leg behind and one in front, dropping back leg; either chair-assisted for balance or not; can adjust depth of lunge and number of reps
  • bicycle crunches: can do standing (touching one bent elbow to opposite knee), sitting on a stool or chair, or while lying down on mat; can adjust number of reps, whether to incorporate elbows and how close to bring elbow to knee
  • standing lunge: done to the rear, holding a wall or chair for balance, or not; modifiable by number of reps, depth of lunge
  • mountain climbers: can do them standing upright (lifting legs whatever height), against a wall, against a bench of whatever height; adjusting speed

I love it that all of these are modifiable to give me options. I want to say right now that I’m unlikely to be doing these advanced mountain climber moves or burpees (even though they’re modifiable, as you can see in the link, I can’t even countenance them). But hey, YMMV.

I’m revisiting these functional fitness exercises, rotating them into my weekly movement plans. I want to be stronger, with better balance and flexibility. It’ll help me feel better doing activities I love, like cycling, swimming, paddling, yoga, dancing, etc.

More base strength, flexibility and balance will allow me to be more adventurous, too. Will another parkour class be in my future? Martial arts? Surfing? Tennis? Dunno, but I want to be ready for what comes as I slide into my 60s.

Samantha and Tracy started this blog with “Fittest by Fifty” in mind. I want to be

  • Sassy (I can check that one off now)
  • Spirited
  • Strong
  • Spry (well, Spryer/Sprier)
  • Self-confident
  • Splendid

by Sixty. It’s totally doable.

Of course, functional fitness isn’t the only thing that helps us meet our adjective list. But it’s a part of what helps us get around and be fabulous.

Readers, how are you feeling about your functional fitness? Is it in the background for you, or are you paying more specific attention to it? What are you doing? I’d love to hear from you, as always.

aging · fitness · Guest Post

Aging is a Pain: Or is it? (Guest Post)

As I was preparing for the Senior Canadian Curling Championships my recurring knee and shoulder injuries were making it hard for me to curl my best. On the ice, I was in constant pain. I needed to get help and to get help fast. A local physiotherapist was recommended to me, but I was skeptical. I’ve been to a dozen physiotherapists, without much luck. Many have made assumptions about my physical ability and age, which ticked me off. At the same time, I was desperate to relieve the pain. Why? It wasn’t so I could get a better sleep or take less Ibuprofen, it was so that I could curl better — full stop.  That’s what a lifetime of competing, pushing, and playing does. The academic in me is critical of this. The curler in me is not. The aging woman in me … well the jury is still out because, I can’t lie, it’s getting harder.

When you identify as a curler you tend to get curling related presents that I love, like this beautiful, handcrafted ornament from my daughter for Christmas.

I reluctantly made an appointment with my physiotherapist, Nelson, who turned out to be very young and very fit. This could go badly, I thought. As he was collecting information about me, he learned that I was a curler. He very quickly informed me that he is often mistaken for one of Canada’s most famous curlers, Brad Gushue (2022 Canadian Men’s Olympic Skip).

Connection made … check. Rapport built … check.

As Nelson was assessing my injuries, he told me that “the best thing for you to do right now is rest, but I know you are not going to do that so let’s see what we can do”.  I liked this for a couple of reasons. First, there was nothing said about being a woman of a certain age and the importance of scaling back at that age; things that I have heard way too often. Second, he respected that I am an athlete who needs to curl, and to curl well.

Five weeks later and we were off to our competition. I felt a lot better. Not perfect, merely better. But then, what is feeling perfect? For me, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel physical pain. As I’m writing this post, my hamstrings are sore, different bits in my back are stiff, and my shoulders ache. As a society, our tendency is to attribute the pain I feel to the fact that I am a 56-year-old woman. But this kind of attribution is simplistic, essentialist, and quite frankly, ageist.

Ageist assumptions about pain permeate other domains of life too. Several years ago, my colleague, Kim Shuey, and I wrote a  paper on aging and the perception of disability in the workplace. We found that workers who attribute their disability to aging are less likely to ask for workplace accommodations and are less likely to receive them even if they do ask.

Feeling “perfect” for me is living with some degree of pain, regardless of my age. It is difficult for me to know how much of my pain I should blame on aging or the spinal fusion surgery I had when I was 11 years old to improve a major case of scoliosis. My back is fused from top to bottom, and as a result, other body parts get stretched to their limits. I don’t think that I have lived a day since my surgery where I haven’t experienced pain. I’m used to it and I’m telling you this because it shows that we need to interrogate our assumptions about the relationship between aging and pain.

Interrogating, however, does not mean ignoring. Competing, pushing, and playing is getting harder. Particularly over the last 5 years, recovery time is longer, more body parts hurt at once, and injury is more prevalent. All of this makes the motivation to train more challenging; especially with a pandemic making it unclear whether my team will have an opportunity to play. Why continue? Because I love curling, the curling community, the exercise, and competing.

So, what says the aging woman jury? — Rest!

But I think not. I guess my identity as a curler is stronger than my identity as an older woman, at least for today.

Or my favourite toque hand knit by the fabulous Dr. Lauren Briens.
aging · birthday · fitness · fun

Christine and the Birthday Decisions

That kind of makes me sound like I’m starting a band, doesn’t it?

If that was my band name, what would our first album be called?

Ahem.

Back on topic:

Wednesday was my birthday and I had a great day.

A hand holding a sparkler at night.
My friend Elaine brought me sparklers and other treats for my birthday. She knows how to make everything more fun. Image description: Christine’s right hand is holding the handle of a burning sparkler – a piece of metal that has been coated at one end so it gives off a sparkly flame as it burns. It is night time.

Usually, on my birthday, I’m trying to cram in so many fun things that I actually end up amplifying my usual feeling that I *should* be doing something else.

I always have fun but I tend to feel a bit tightly scheduled and a bit frustrated.

This year, I noticed that feeling creeping up the day before my birthday and I made a conscious decision to get over myself and be clear about the facts:

I don’t have to limit my fun to one day a year. *

In fact, I can add more fun to every week.

I can even add a bit more fun to every day.

I can take my birthday attitude into the rest of the year.

In a surprise to no one, making that decision took all of the pressure out of my birthday.

And instead of keeping a tally of accumulated fun, I just did what I felt like doing in any given moment.

And that’s how I found myself dropping everything to take Khalee for a walk while the sun was out (instead of at a more ‘logical’ time.)

And, it’s how I found myself sitting peacefully, all by myself in the 5pm darkness, watching the small fire I had set in our fire pit.

Normally, I would have talked myself out of lighting a fire just for me. It’s a little bit of hassle and I didn’t have a lot of time before supper, but I had that bit of birthday ‘permission’ going for me so I crumpled some paper and got the kindling from the shed and settled in next to the fire.

I felt calm and restful and so very grateful for all of the good things in my life.

I even felt a bit more patient about the challenges I tend to encounter

It was a wonderful way to round out a day of giving in to my whims.

And, my birthday gift to myself is the decision to prioritize things like an early evening fire far more often.

I challenge you to do the same. 💚

A nighttime selfie of a woman with a round face wearing a dark hat and dark clothes, she is lit by firelight.
Enjoying the glow of the fire AND the fun of doing just what I wanted to be doing at that moment. Image description: a selfie in which I am outside at night, lit by firelight. I am wearing a dark hat and a dark coat. Only my face is visible and I am smiling contentedly.

*To be clear, I do take time to relax and do fun things on a regular basis. But, on my birthday, I give myself permission to maximize my fun.

aging · birthday · fitness

The Liberatory Power of Aging (Tracy turns 57)

Image description: Tracy, smiling 57-year old woman with grey hair just shy of shoulder length, dangling earrings, two necklaces, tank-style top, abstract painting in background.

So I turned 57 yesterday, and though I didn’t much feel like celebrating (because it’s hardly any sort of milestone birthday), I did. I took the day off and did only things I enjoy, starting with a 6 am workout with Alex and a hot yoga class a little bit later. I had lunch with a friend at my new favourite lunch spot (The Tea Lounge) and we each bought some of the art that was hanging on the restaurant wall. My parents drove in to spend the weekend with me, which is a celebration in itself that makes up for many missed visits during the pandemic. We went out for dinner to a fancy place (fancy at my mother’s request and it was amazing) and my mother baked two cakes for this afternoon. And we are getting take-out tonight (also at my mother’s request: “why should we cook?” she said. Why should we, indeed?!).

Birthdays always make me take stock, reflecting on what the year has brought, where I am “in life,” what’s working and what might need to change.

What has the year brought? The past year has brought a sense of monotony that I have not known before. At times, during pandemic stay-at-home orders, I felt as if I was living one long day. Yes, it was punctuated by sleep and meals, zoom sessions for this and zoom sessions for that, but oh the sameness of it all. Some days it took real effort, I have to say. Thank heavens for the kittens!

And yet, I developed routines, like regular workouts with Cate’s trainer Alex’s virtual training sessions, running, walks (sometimes with a neighbour in my building) and at-home yoga (mostly with Adriene). Despite the joy of being able to get out again, I am resenting having to revise these routines (so I can get out the door to get to work in the morning now that I’m not longer working at home).

The virtual world also opened up some new rituals with friends and family out of town. Movie night on Friday and Monday night dinner (all on Zoom) with my friend and former grad-school housemate Diane who lives in Iowa. Regular family zooms on Sundays with my brothers and parents, everyone joining from a different part of the province. Daily check-ins with my friend Steph, who lives in London but during lockdown (especially through the winter) we couldn’t see each other in person much. Fairly regular Wednesday evening fireside gatherings with a great group of women (even through last winter). Another Sunday call with my friend Manon who lives in Guelph. And periodic check-ins and occasional visits from a few other reliables, including Sam (but I guess we’ve been doing that since she moved away a few years back) and my step-daughter Ashley who lives in Vancouver.

Looking back then, I would say this year brought: monotony, consistency, and a focus on valued relationships.

Where am I “in life”? I think even writing this post indicates that I am in a sort of existential moment. Maybe that’s another thing the pandemic brought. Let’s just say I’m not where I expected to be as I turned 57. I’m on my own again, for the first time in a couple of decades, and not feeling super-motivated to change that. Though I do sometimes miss having a steady companion, I appreciate my solitude more. I’ve got a few more years of career ahead of me before I retire, and am trying to decide whether to ramp up or start winding down. If ramping up (the likely choice), ramping up in which area? Research and teaching? Administration? Still mulling.

Work is not life, of course, so where am I with other things? I’m reading more. Doing less photography. Doing more yoga, less running. Sleeping more, travelling less. More attention to family and close friends, less spreading myself thin across too many commitments.

A consistent theme for me of late, and I think it has come with age, is that I feel less “beholden” to others. I’m at a place in life where I really do feel tired of being so concerned with what others think of my choices. It’s exhausting to wonder whether I “measure up” to some external standard(s) that I may or may not embrace. I’ve had a lot of time through the pandemic to consider what I value. Experiencing more quietude and solitude has brought me in touch with my inner compass, with less of the magnetic pull of noise and busy-ness and the opinions of others to interfere with where it’s pointing me.

That can make me feel strangely and paradoxically untethered sometimes, but radically free and unburdened at other times. That’s where aging has a certain liberatory power. I have wondered at what age will I stop being so motivated by the prospect of approving others. It may be this age: 57.

What’s working? Hey, you might be saying: isn’t this a fitness blog? Well one thing that is working lately is my approach to fitness. And that’s partly because more and more it is guided by what I feel like doing. I realize that some people will say they can’t do fitness that way because they don’t usually feel like doing anything. In fact, I myself have said in the past (2013) that “intuitive fitness” doesn’t work for me. But I came to change my mind about that (2019).

My word of the year, “mindfulness,” is working. I’ve had a lot of time to pay attention and cultivate awareness in ways that make me feel more and more grounded. If I feel “off,” which has happened a lot during the pandemic, my commitment to mindfulness has helped me uncover what is going on with me rather than distract myself from it. Over time, this has been a great practice that always keeps me hopeful.

Doing less, which has been a theme of mine throughout the life of the blog, is definitely working for me these days in the rest of my life. I am not one of those people who idealize the pandemic for the way it made us all hit “pause,” but I have to concede that I like having more unscheduled time, more quiet evenings at home, and fewer social commitments (despite that it sometimes felt monotonous). I plan not to return to the old, overfull schedule.

What needs to change? I’ve had a lot of change over the past three or so years, and I’ve not quite settled yet. I called this post “the liberatory power of aging” because I really feel free to go in whatever direction I want. I’m less beholden to people, as I noted earlier, but that’s partly because I’m at an age where people aren’t expecting anything much. Rather than lament that, to me it’s a source of freedom. What that means to me is that although there are some things (within my power) I would like to change, like more photography, more writing (both scholarly and creative), more meditation, more knitting, and more consistent running, I’m still uncertain where this “transition” is going to land.

And I’m okay with that, and with this rambling blog post that may not be all that interesting but still felt good to write. Happy birthday to me.

Have you felt freer as you got older?

ADHD · aging · Dancing · fitness

Team Hennebury & the ‘Ageless Grace’ Class

Ages ago, I wrote about how much fun I had being gloriously awful at a Nia dance class with my friend Elaine.

I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.

Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.

image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.
I was so caught up in our class that I forgot to take photos but here’s Elaine leading a different group at an indoor class. image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.

I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.

And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.

And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.

And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.

The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*

All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.

Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)

Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom.)  They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.
Here we are after the class, I really meant to smile but I missed! Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom) on a sunny day. They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.

So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.

And as a bonus, that pretend-taffy exercise loosened up some of the muscles in my upper back that plague me and I’ve been doing it a few times a day ever since.

PS – Just so you know, I have another sister but Angela couldn’t make it to the class!

*In fact, Elaine and I will be experimenting to see if my ADHD brain likes certain exercises more than others. More on that later!

* *Don’t worry, Elaine, I know that the mistakes are the point and that it’s the effort that counts. You know that I’m all about that kind of thing – ⭐️

aging · birthday · cycling · fitness

What are the rules for birthday rides!

A white coaster bike on a street under a sign that reads “Follow that dream”

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

  1. You must do your age or not.
  2. You must do it on your birthday or not.
  3. You must do it in one continuous ride or not.
  4. 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.

Happy Birthday and have a great ride!

Bike with a basket of flowers
aging · beauty · body image · fat · fitness

Need to style your hair while fat? Look no further

CW: Quotes and discussion of fat-phobic comments and advice on women’s faces, bodies, and hairstyles.

The internet is a twisty-turny road, 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:

The author, doing her best to check her neck. It seems roughly functional.
The author, doing her best to check on her neck. It seems roughly functional.

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. 

This woman's pixie is super-cute, and the photo cleverly disguises the fact that she's giving the hairstyle advice people her middle finger.
This woman’s pixie is super-cute, and the editing disguises the fact that she’s giving the hairstyle advice people her middle finger.

In a bold variation on the pixie, the fat-hair police suggest pink waves for folks with fat faces.

This woman's awesomeness is way too vast for this caption. Fat face? Fight me.
Her pink-curled awesomeness is too vast for this caption. Fat face? Fight me.

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.

I hope there’s a weapon concealed in this beehive hairdo for eliminating copywriters like the one who wrote the lines above her lovely picture.

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.

aging · athletes · boxing · fitness · strength training · weight lifting

Want to try powerlifting or boxing? Let Quill inspire you (Interview)

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!