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.