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.

beauty · clothing · fashion · racism · sexism · stereotypes

Jewelry and Exercise

Do you wear jewelry when you exercise? If do, how much, and why?

This McGill wikipedia entry describes that jewelry has been used for

  • Currency, a display of wealth, and a way to store things,
  • Making clothing functional (such as jeweled clasps, pins, and buckles)
  • Symbolism (to show membership, status, political affiliation, or relationships)
  • Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards), and
  • Artistic display (personal style, fashion, etc.)

I normally wear at least some jewelry for most of these reasons. When I exercise, I wear my fitness tracker ring (to “store” data?) and my wedding ring when I want to reduce the likelihood of being approached (a magical “protection” amulet?).

An anklet while running? Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio Copy

I’ve noticed that my (semi-) regular exercise has had an impact on the jewelry I wear these days: thin, flat, light rings and an equally thin, light, and short necklace that I don’t have to remove. However, I do replace big earrings with small sleeper hoops when I bike or curl or whatever. I don’t normally wear bracelets or anklets, and I have no other piercings (other than a tongue ring, which stays in).

You may have a different approach–you don’t wear jewelry of any kind, or you take take off some or all jewelry then put it back on after exercising. And, of course, it depends on the sport! But there aren’t any sporty people I know who leave on all their regular day-to-day jewelry on while exercising.

I wear some jewelry when I exercise because I like the jewelry I have and I lose what take it off. Also, the jewelry I wear allows me to exercise unimpeded. If I’m honest, I might also keep jewelry because I think it communicates that I am a recreational athlete.

My assumptions about exercise and jewelry

“A quick shot after getting wrapped for the boxing gloves, before the ring comes off and the gloves go on.” Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that exercise and jewelry do not go together, that the more competitive the athlete the less jewelry they wear. Where did this idea come from? Practically speaking, jewelry can hinder performance and even increase injury risk. But I have also assumed that “serious” athletes care more about performance than appearance.

I admit to holding the converse assumption as well: the more jewelry, the more the exerciser cares about appearances. For sale these days is a bevy of “exercise jewelry” that is advertised as waterproof, sweatproof, and non-tarnishing. But do serious exercisers really go for these? The workout jewelry and charms on Etsy are cute but not all practical for the exercise they represent.

While I do not want to police what people wear, my immediate thought about the “strong AND pretty” message of workout jewelry is that it reflects what Andi Zeisler (2016) describes as “marketplace feminism”–reducing social movements and personal empowerment to beauty and fashion items for purchase.

Challenging my assumptions

Then, recently I saw a web news article whose accompanying image made me question these above preconceptions.

I was struck by the size and amount of jewelry worn by track and field athlete Sha’Carri Richardson in recent photos on the Yahoo news site. Richardson is photographed while competing at the 2022 USATF outdoor Championships at Hayward Field wearing multiple hoop earrings, nose rings, a necklace, a bracelet, and a belly piercing with a full chain (not to mention flowing hair, false eyelashes, and long fake nails). She did not qualify at that event, but later at a different international event, wearing similar jewelry she did qualify.

Photos are of Sha’Carri Richardson racing in June 2021 by jenaragon94, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cropped photo of Richardson.

Recently, jewelry wearing, jewelry design, and jewelry store ownership have all gained attention for their historical and cultural meaning and significance for African North Americans. I do not claim to know why Richardson wears what she wears, but I imagine her exercise “look” might go beyond personal beauty and fashion choices to deeper personal and cultural symbolism. A recent article on Serena Williams mentions her wearing Love earrings in her very last tennis match as a tribute to the game, and braids with beads she wore early in her career to honour African cultural traditions.

One of the only fitness activities that stereotypically show athletes with jewelry-like “accessories” in North America: yoga practice. But appropriating prayer beads is for another post. Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

Perhaps Richardson, Williams, and other non-white athletes wear their jewelry styles precisely to challenge dominant white-centric stereotypes of competitive athletes as de-jewelled and unadorned. Their accessories lead me, us to realize there is in fact a whole world full of athletes engaging in various types of sports and exercise while wearing jewelry and other body adornments.

Old habits, but some new thinking

I probably won’t change my own minimal jewelry-wearing habits while I exercise. But, this reflection has given more insight into what drives my current jewelry-wearing choices. Some of it is fashion, but mostly it is simplicity and convenience.

It has also invited me to confront the narrow range of imagery that reinforce what is “normal” for athletes to wear (or not wear) when it comes to jewelry. I’ll think twice about my ideas about the relationship between jewelry and exercise. Some competitive athletes wear jewelry for its social and political meaning, not (or not only) to make a fashion statement.

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 · beach body · beauty · body image · fitness · swimming

Take your batwings and fly far far away

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.

I’m not the only blogger getting such ads in their social media newsfeed. It’s almost as if active women over fifty were their targeted demographic. Catherine blogged in September about women over fifty wearing whatever we want in the water. And just last week Martha blogged about an ad campaign that shows naked bodies of all ages and shapes moving in a variety of ways. She also commented on the bathing suit ads.

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.

See Cankles, more broken body parts you can feel bad about, or please let’s just stop and Bingo wings and dinner plate arms: Let’s put our wit to work elsewhere.

Also Let’s label all the body bits and have fun with it! and Sam rejects your ‘amazing arm shapers!’

I am not going to buy anything that use body shame as a marketing tool.

Unless you meant bathing suits for actual bats.

That I’d like to see.

Bats, sleeping, upside down, as they do. Photo by Rodrigo Curi on Unsplash
aging · beauty

#NoFilter isn’t really a thing: Selfies and self-image

I’m looking at new phones. I’m considering the Galaxy Note 20. And I’m reading reviews on the internet, as one does. I came across this criticism which piqued my interest.

“Sadly, the selfie camera’s penchant for smoothing faces even when I’ve turned off every possible filter is also predictable. I wish Samsung would get on board with Google’s call to eliminate these defaults for good because they’re potentially harmful to people’s self-image.” From the Verge review of the phone which otherwise mostly says nice things except it’s too pricey and you should wait.

I am the Selfie Queen and I don’t mind filters. But I like obvious filters that make it clear you’re using a filter.

Compare these two photos. You can move back and forth between the two photos using the bar in the middle.

No filter on the left, filter on the right but it’s obviously a filer. Also, there are flames!

So my worry, my objection isn’t to filters per se. It’s a worry about filters that are an improved normal, when you can’t tell if a filter is being used at all.

A few us here on the blog have been chatting about filters in Zoom meetings. The other day I was in one and I was pretty sure all the women were using the beauty face/improve my appearance option and all the men were not. We look all blurry and glowing. They look all craggy and serious. Not sure if this is better or worse than the women wearing make up and men not! Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

Here’s how it works:

Touch up my appearance

  1. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile picture then click Settings.
  2. Click the Video tab.
  3. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance.
  4. Use the slider to adjust the effect.

I tend not to use it because my main video-conferencing tool is Teams, which lacks “touch up my appearance.” I tried it on Zoom and then switched to a Teams meeting recently and thought I’d suddenly gotten ill, or old, or tired, or all three. Until I remembered.

All of this got me thinking about filters, what’s real and what’s not.

There’s no neutral of course since all representations involve choices. So the hashtag “nofilter” can never really be true but some filters are worse than others.

See Philosophical Reflections on Phootgraphy in the AGe of Instagram from Daniel Star writing on the blog Asthetics for Birds: “….(M)y point is that camera and smartphone manufacturers must make decisions about how colors and details will be represented: in effect, each manufacturer provides its own filter that affects, for a start, white balance, color saturation and contrast. Manufacturers must make aesthetically relevant decisions with respect to the interpretation of sensor outputs in digital cameras, the film constitution and development process with analog film, and many complex aspects of camera lens design. The color profiles that come with digital cameras and smartphones vary, and they are, to a large extent, the product of conscious, proprietary decisions made by different manufacturers, with viewers and consumers of various kinds in mind.”

So while #nofilter is never really true, I’d like to keep my wrinkles thanks.

I think I like playful, deliberate filters but not beauty “improving” filters that make it harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Silly filters!
beauty

Oh, hockey. Why are you so bad at this?

As someone asked on Twitter, “Is this really the best that you can do to try to make the sport attractive to girls?”

Image description: A young white girl with blonde hair wearing a bright pink hockey jersey is apply pink lip gloss.
Look good. Feel good. Play good.
#GirlsHockey

Some responses:

Others said:

There’s so much to celebrate for girls and women’s hockey. This doesn’t help.

Wowwwwww. How about a pic of her playing hockey? Way to continue to push a stigma around appearances.

Are you suuuuuuure that’s the way you want to grow the game?

What do you think?

aging · beauty · fitness · normative bodies · objectification · racism · sex · stereotypes

Women’s bodies and football and racism and being a babe at 50

I know you might have been watching the game. But me, the only bit I’ve watched was the amazing halftime show put on by J. Lo and and Shakira. Did you see it? So good. They performed a medley of their music along with some amazing choreography and wore gorgeous costumes. It was fun and beautiful and I loved it.

But no sooner had I enjoyed it than the commentary began. Do you know that J. Lo and Shakira are 50 and 43, respectively? There was a lot of commenting about that. There was also a lot of commenting about their “sinful” costumes. And should they really be wearing so little clothing? (Sometimes said, sometimes implied, “at their age.”) Isn’t this just the objectification of women’s bodies?

A friend said on Facebook, earlier in the day, about football, that it was a good principle in general to “let people enjoy things.” I think the same thing is true about the halftime entertainment.

There was an awful lot of critical commentary. So many words about women’s bodies. A conservative Christian mother of three took to Twitter to liken the halftime show to pornography and Twitter responded about as expected.

To give you a flavour of the anti-halftime show Christian comments, here’s Rev. Franklin Graham, “I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated tonight in the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show — with millions of children watching. This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it.”

USA Today weighed in, Empowering, not objectifying. Amen. Thank you USA Today. Argument: They’re adult women and this is about choice.

This blog’s frequent guest Sarah Skwire had the best response. I laughed during a university meeting reading it.

Sarah wrote. “I gather some women had bodies on television last night. This, of course, never happened when I was a child. Certainly not during prime time, when we watched clean and healthy shows like Wonder Woman, Buck Rodgers, Logan’s Run, Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Love Boat which never sexualized women’s bodies, or made scanty outfits a central point of their plots, or exposed young children to sexual situations..

When I was a child, women in entertainment all dressed like Edith Bunker.”

Why so much policing of women’s bodies? Did it make a difference do you think the women’s bodies in question weren’t white? Did it seem especially sinful/sexy and in need of control because they were brown women dancing? Was race a factor?

Read Dear White People: The Super Bowl Halftime Show Wasn’t Too Sexy, You’re Just Racist if you want to hear the arguments.

On Facebook Kristin Wolf had this to say:

“White people:
I see your posts about how their bodies and their dancing made you uncomfortable.

Did you notice the Latinx kids in cages singing BORN IN THE USA and LETS GET LOUD surrounded by an illumined Venus symbol? Did you notice the foot work? Did you notice the rope Shakira tied around her body while belly dancing? Can you think more deeply about what that image meant? Did you notice bilingual songs and two of the hottest Raggaeton artists as guests? Did you notice the 🇵🇷? Did you notice that sex work is legitimate work and the pole wasn’t about you?

Y’all save your righteous anger for the weirdest stuff. I wish y’all were as uncomfortable about kids in cages as you are about brown bodies.

STOP POLICING BROWN BODIES.”

So there’s sex and there’s race, but there’s also an age angle. So much talk of their age. Did you know J.Lo is 50? Did you know Shakira is 43?

The New York Times had this to say: “Well, on Sunday Ms. Lopez showed the world what 50 looks like — at least her version of it.” Read The Power of 50.

But that prompted a lot more spilt ink about being 50 and looking like J. Lo.

From the New Yorker article THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW, AND THE AGELESS COMFORTS OF J. LO : “Magazines and Web sites regularly publish articles that promise to reveal the secrets to Lopez’s continued youthfulness (how does she look so good at fifty?), and her ability to maintain a firm-skinned foxiness is a key part of our fascination with her. (I can’t purport to guess how she does this, though I would imagine that a punishing exercise regimen and diet, and access to top dermatologists and perhaps plastic surgeons, form at least part of the answer.) But Lopez’s still-point-of-the-turning-world quality goes beyond her physical appearance. There is something reassuringly unchanging about her presence, too. “

A friend lamented that J. Lo’s existence, looking that amazing, puts pressure on the rest of us 50 somethings to look like that too. It’s not realistic, said the friend, to expect the rest of us who aren’t J. Lo to chase that standard.

That’s the worry, right. If she can do it, why can’t I? It didn’t help that a personal trainer chimed in and commented on my friend’s status said yes, we could all do that if we wanted to. It wouldn’t even take much time or money. He said we just needed dedication, commitment, a gym membership, and an hour a day. I remain skeptical about the hour a day part. I’m also skeptical that any amount of exercise would do it.

We’ve worried about this before here on the blog. A a few years ago Tracy asked Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?

By the way, she’s still at it now at 65. See Christie Brinkley, 65, lights up Instagram with holiday swimsuit photoshoot.

Tracy asked then, “Is there not an age where we can stop thinking about whether men think we look hot in a bikini? It may be that the Christie Brinkley photo shoot, rather than addressing ageism, just raises the bar for older women (like: why don’t you look like Christie Brinkley in a bikini?).”

Do you you find J. Lo’s looks at 50 inspiring or worrying? If the former, you’ll want to watch the video below.

Here’s J. Lo’s workout routine to get in shape for the show in case you want to start training.

alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

beauty · fitness

Taking back fat phobic images

You know, sometimes you’re in a spot where the only way forward is with the help of a GIF. As a non-early adopter of both texting and GIF-ing (yes, I know it’s annoying, but I can’t/won’t stop), I’m still in the thrall of sending GIFS to, well, everyone. Undoubtedly this phase will pass (and perhaps not soon enough). But, in the meantime, I’m living my best GIF-sending life.

The other day I was texting my friend Pata, who was sad on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. In the course of the back-and-forth, we talking about drowning in emotions vs. swimming through them. I mentioned how it was good we were both lifeguards for each other when the waves got rough (please don’t judge me for being sappy here…)

Then, it occurred to me: time for a lifeguard GIF! And what better one than… wait for it…

BAYWATCH!

Here is the one I sent.

Pamela Anderson (I think), running to save someone on BAYWATCH!
Pamela Anderson (I think), running to save someone on BAYWATCH!

However, looking through the other candidate GIFS my iPhone handily provided, I saw another one I liked much much better. Then I sent it. Here it is:

A large woman NOT from the cast of BAYWATCH, running to the ocean as if to save someone.
A large woman NOT from the cast of BAYWATCH, running to the ocean as if to save someone.

I LOVE THIS. I LOVE HER. I LOVE HER EXPRESSION. I LOVE HER BEACH RUNNING STYLE. I LOVE HER SUIT. I LOVE HER SENSE OF HUMOR. I LOVE HER STRENGTH. I LOVE HER MOXIE.

Maybe/probably/certainly people are using this GIF to express fat phobia. Shame on them. But I bet she made it to express fat power. To personify fat grace. To demonstrate fat strength. I am there and loving it.

I hereby promise you, dear readers, that sometime I will:

  • make some GIFS of ME doing some active things
  • take pleasure and pride and humor in the making of them
  • distribute them copiously (with the forbearance of my friends)
  • take in the FACT (not idea or hope or possibility, but FACT) that I am– if not exactly cool– instead strong and funny and graceful and attractive and eminently watchable.

I didn’t make any GIFs this week, but here is a series of photos of me pretend-dramatically jumping from one rock to another, by my niece Gracie. My nephew Gray is on the left. Definitely gearing up for more projects like this…

Hey readers, how do you feel about pictures or videos or other representations of you doing your active/physical/movey things? What makes you feel good about them? I’d love to hear from you.

beauty · femalestrength · feminism · soccer · stereotypes

Sweat First, Glow Later

I was talking to a woman the other day about that wonderful feeling of working up a good sweat on a run, when she interrupted me to say, “You mean glow, not sweat.” Aack. I remember the expression from growing up. Horses sweat.Men perspire. But women merely glow. And no, I absolutely did not mean glow when I said sweat. I didn’t even mean perspire. 

Woman’s face illuminated in glowing sparkles.
H Heyerlein on Unsplash

In fact, I really, really meant sweat. The idea that women should only glow obstructs our progress, keeps us docile, fragile and dependent, and interferes with our strength. Can you tell I hate that expression? Even if it’s used as a euphemism, I don’t like what it implies. 

Back in the days when I practiced law, I would often go to the gym at lunch (in the same building as my office, because they liked to keep us close). I didn’t have a lot of time, so I’d make the most of the Stairmaster (my fave workout then) and arrive back at the office still red in the face. My office mate was perplexed. Why did I want to get so overheated? Answer—I loved the feeling. Secondary answer—I was working in a shark tank and needed an outlet for the pressure. Fast forward more than twenty-five years, I still love to sweat, even though I’ve bailed out of the shark tank. I love giving everything I’ve got, leaving it all on the road. To reach for an ambitious goal, to try as hard as we can, to go for it; that kind of effort requires sweat, metaphorical for sure and very possibly actual salty drops on our skin. The notion that women should only glow (which we know was meant not just actually, but also metaphorically) is offensive. The fact that science says women sweat less than men is a biological fact, not a matter of Victorian etiquette.

What happens if we try so hard that we break a sweat? What are the purveyors of that expression scared of? Our potential? Our strength? That expression (I will not repeat it) contains an implicit criticism of female effort as unladylike (you can imagine how much I love that word, too). The expression says to women, “You should not have ambition, or if you do, you must go about achieving your dream in a seemingly effortless fashion.” Ambition is not effortless. Why would we even want it to be? Then we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of achievement; the desire to spread our arms in a glorious moment of woohoo. 

Megan Rapinoe with arms outspread in the World Cup stadium

Speaking of which, I’ve noticed multiple pictures of US soccer star Megan Rapinoewith arms outspread in a defiantly powerful pose. I realized that I was judging her as a little arrogant with that pose and even though you didn’t know that until I told you just now, I’m going to take back that thought. Women don’t get as physically expressive about their personal victories as their male counterparts. Look at how Brandi Chastain was pilloried in 1999 for taking her shirt off in a moment of exultation when she scored the penalty kick to win the World Cup. She’s framed that sports bra and hung it on her wall. As I write this, the US team has won their semi-final game and is slated to play in the final the day after this piece publishes. Rapinoe didn’t play the game, because of a hamstring injury. I hope she plays on Sunday and that she has cause to spread her arms wide with triumph.

Let’s all spread our arms just a little more often, even and especially if we’re wearing a sweaty sports bra. Chances are we will be glowing for the rest of the day!