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!

beauty · Book Reviews · fashion

Beauty, barbells, and blush for the gym: Sam has some complicated thoughts

I read this article, Make Up is the New Work Out Gear, with a sad feeling. Really? Really? Can’t there be some places (like the gym) where we are free from beauty’s demands and normative femininity?

I knew it was on the horizon thanks to the Clinique counter. I was there recently because of my own vexed relationship with make up. I’m all in favour of the fun stuff  (pink lips and sparkly eyes!) but I’m not such a big fan of foundation and cover up and blending (whatever that means).  I like my artifice to look like artifice. I like my hair best when it’s bright blonde or pastel pink. I never colour my undercut so you can always see the grey and silver. So it’s not about looking like I’m young, or in the case of make up, tanned and well-rested. But I just don’t want people asking me every winter if I’m sick. “No, I’m just pale. This is what white women without make up look like in January!” That’s what I want to scream.

Back to the Clinique counter where they were outfitting with me foundation and blush etc which, when I remember, I sometimes wear to work, grudgingly. They’re also selling “CliniqueFit”–a line of make up just for working out with the slogan “Life is a marathon. Look good running it.”  As usual, there’s a lot of it. There’s pre-workout this, post-workout that, not to mention the stuff you wear while actually working out. And it’s sold as an essential, not an optional thing, “essentials for your highly active life.” 

I get it. Who doesn’t want to look good?

See  our fellow former fitness blogger Caitlin. She writes Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too! 

And my musings on looking good while working out, 

And, of course, I also think, hey, you do you. I’ll be over here in my ratty workout t-shirt, unbrushed hair, and gym relegated leggings wearing definitely zero make-up. You can wear your pricey matching Lululemon workout outfits with your bared midriff and your smokey eyes. It’s a big tent. Let many  flowers bloom.

Yet, it’s also not simply a matter of personal choice. Feminists know this. We don’t choose alone. We choose in a context. That doesn’t make the bottom line any different. I’m still a strong supporter of not judging others and of individual women picking their own way through this minefield. My sense, as I watch young women get ready to work out in the university change room, is that in these days of Instagram and fitness influencers, it’s getting harder to make the choice to not care.

I’m writing this blog post on holidays in Florida, where I am I here to ride my bike. But since there are only so many hours a day you can ride, I’ve brought some fun work along. I’m reviewing the book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal by philosopher Heather Widdows. The Irish Times ran an article about her work:  Why are beauty standards becoming more onerous.

Ironically, she says, the beauty demands are greatest in cultures where freedom is highly valued. Thus she provides today’s idea: “As beauty norms get harder to attain, we all have less choice rather than more choice.”

So I am trying very hard here not to be a grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ feminist. But I worry we’re all upping the ante and making it harder and harder to not look in the mirror and judge everything we do by appearance. I know for me too once I start doing a thing, it can be hard to stop. I laughed at Mina’s naked yoga toes story but it also rang true. I had my first ever pedicure in 2017 as a treat before the bike rally. I liked my pink toes. But when it came off, I wanted more. Now in the fall when I stop wearing toe nail polish my toenails look all worn and mangy to me. When a thing stops feeling optional, it starts feeling more like a duty and less like fun to me.

So what makes the ‘wearing make up to work out’ choice complicated isn’t just its effect on other women. That’s the issue of collectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for other women to opt out. But it’s also the effect on our own individual, future choices. Think carefully before you allow beauty into a realm where it wasn’t before. If you’re like me you’ll have a hard time in the future chasing it back out.

How about you? Do you wear making up while working out? Do you wear special make up for that purpose? How do you feel about your choice? (Let’s stay away from the choices that others make.)

aging · beauty · fitness

Women over 50 don’t find Yann Moix extraordinary, either…

Hi FIFI readers– in case you missed it: the latest episode of “international douchebags in the news” features childish and churlish French writer Yann Moix, who was interviewed by the French magazine Marie Claire and shared his dating preferences with us. No, I won’t make you wait– here it is (from a New York Times Op-Ed):

…he isn’t attracted to 50-year-old women…. he prefers to sleep with Asian women in their 20s. “The body of a 25-year old woman is extraordinary,” he explained. “The body of a 50-year-old woman isn’t extraordinary at all.” Falling in love with a 50-year-old would be out of the question: For him, women that age are “invisible.”

Well, the French and American fashion media just can’t let this jerk throw down such a misogynist gauntlet and not pick it up. So what do they do? They fight back by finding 50-year-old movie stars and celebrities to prove this bozo wrong. And who do they enlist but Julia Roberts, who happens to be 51. Here she is:

Actor Julia Roberts on the cover of French magazine Gala, with headline reading "Julia Roberts is 50 years old. So!" At least I think it says that. I took French in college, which was a long time ago.
Actor Julia Roberts on the cover of French magazine Gala, with headline reading “Julia Roberts is 50 years old. So!” At least I think it says that. I took French in college, which was a long time ago.

Yeah! Take that, you bumptious troll. Julia is showing us that women over 50 *are* extraordinary, because she is. I mean, look at her on the November 2018 cover of Harper’s Bazaar– she’s rock climbing, and in a humongous pink tulle cotton-candy confection of a dress. If that’s not extraordinary, I don’t know what is.

The cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine, with Julia Roberts clinging to a rock outcropping in a very big, very pink tulle dress.
The cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, with Julia Roberts clinging to a rock outcropping in a very big, very pink tulle dress. While smiling.

Okay, I’ll be serious now. While it is true that Julia Roberts seems pretty awesome and fun and dreamy-looking on these magazine covers, even she can’t overcome such contemptuous views about women (all of them– it’s not like the 20-somethings are thinking, “Whew! We’re really glad we’re still considered attractive by this vainglorious piss-ant.”).

No, she needs reinforcements. And they are on the case, most notably in the form of French women, who submitted evidence of the extraordinariness of women over 50.

They… submitted evidence to rebut Mr. Moix’s view of older women, including photos of gorgeous middle-aged actresses like Halle Berry. In case a former Bond girl didn’t redeem the whole age class, ordinary women offered themselves up for inspection. One 52-year-old French writer posted a photograph of her admirably toned derrière, and other 50-plus women followed suit — hundreds, according to Mr. Moix. (“I would like 50-year-old women to stop sending me photos of their bottoms and breasts,” he pleaded.)

New York Times

Thanks (or rather, merci beaucoup) to all those French women, who delivered up themselves in their own 50-something glory to show him who’s fabulous.

But I don’t think we’re done yet with Monsieur Meh here. He needs a more substantive response to his “women over 50 aren’t extraordinary” claim. Here are some of my thoughts.

Why do we have to have extraordinary bodies to be worth something? Ordinary bodies are lovely, practical, functional, sustainable, and probably also more economical than extraordinary ones (I can’t even guess how much that huge pink dress costs, not to mention the pain of cosmetic surgery, diets, etc. that some extraordinary-looking people go through).

I think all bodies are extraordinary. And all women’s bodies in particular– we do extraordinary things with them. And they differ gloriously– like wildflowers in a meadow– in various shapes and colors.

You, Yann “messed up” Moix, don’t get a picture of my stupendous ass. No no no– you gotta earn the right to a viewing. And you’re missing out, loser.

Youth is sparkling and chaotic and confusing and uncertain. Life over 50 (speaking for me) has more clarity, sweetness, complexity and community. I don’t look the same. I don’t feel the same. That’s life. One of my aspirations as an over-50 woman is not to be oppressed or made low by attractiveness standards that overlook or ignore me.

Readers, what do you make of this “women over 50 aren’t extraordinary” business? Should we just sail on past it? Take a stand and fight back? Continue spamming this dork with butt shots aplenty? I’d love to hear what you think.