A friend recently posted the following on Facebook, “pro tip- when you shit talk your body, you are shit talking everyone’s bodies. lay off that shit homies, it gives me the sad/mad/bads.”
The basic idea is that body love requires self acceptance. It’s not enough to love the bodies of others. It’s not enough to embrace diversity where others are concerned. Loving all the bodies includes your own body. Because even if you are just holding yourself up to some higher standard than you hold other people, you’re still holding that standard.
I had a friend once detail the exact way her abs needed to look for her to feel comfortable wearing a two piece bathing suit. I felt the need to tell her that I wore a two piece bathing suit. She said, “Oh that’s fine. I don’t care how other people look. This is just about me.” But that didn’t make me feel any better. I looked awful, no doubt, by her standards, she just didn’t care.
I have some thoughts about this:
Surely, one might say, it’s okay to set high standards for oneself? To ask more of oneself. But no actually. Note the language. Listen to what you’re saying. By using the word “higher” it’s clear that you’ve still got a metric, and probably, honestly you’re still applying it to others too.
Suppose you’re not though. Suppose you really do think that a diversity of body shapes and sizes are fine for other people but for you there’s just one way it’s okay to be and unless you’re there, things are awful.
It’s possible to hold both of those ideas. But probably you still ought to be quiet about how you feel about your own body, knowing it will make others feel bad. Need to talk about your body shame and self-hatred? Check in with friends to make sure it’s okay. But it’s probably best to find a trained listening and helping professional.
“Of course, the most important thing to know about Brokinis is that they’re all about fun and not taking yourself too seriously. In fact, they’re a response to bold new trends in men’s fashion. We wanted to come up with a bathing suit that’s fun for goofing around on the beach, cottage weekends, bachelor parties and festivals.”
Why I am blogging about men’s bathing suits on a feminist fitness blog?
It’s complicated, but my feminism includes breaking down normative gender for men too. Partly I suppose it’s because I have sons. Partly it’s because of views about body image and gender equality. I wanted for women the body comfort and athleticism that is so easily given to men. Yet, we’re in a world where equality has meant increasing pressure on men to conform to a very narrow body type. It’s all lean muscles and visible abs for both men and women. People of all genders experience pressure to diet and to exercise for the purpose of aesthetic goals.
Also, I guess, insofar as we gravitate towards topics I’m the go-to blogger for posts about men’s bodies and men’s bathing suits. LOL.
So why I am pro-brokini? It’s fun. They make me smile. Men should have the option of being playful too. It’s not all hard muscles and a visible inguinal crease. There are lots of frivolous fashion trends for women, most recently, the nap dress, why not for men too? And to be clear, I’m not just pro-outrageous men’s bathing suits when it comes to young, fit men. I’m a big fan of elderly, larger, furry men in speedos at the beach. Why? It makes room for me in my bikini too. I don’t want to be driven to swimming dresses which are fine if they’re your thing but they’re the sort of thing that for me, once I start wearing them, I have a hard time going back. My feminism includes the sock, the speedo, and now the brokini. Bring it on. Have fun.
There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.
First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.
Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.
Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.
Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.
I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”
So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.
Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.
Just once more with feeling, WHAT ABOUT THE MOM BODS?
There’s lots of love for Efron all over the internet with a special emphasis on his love of carbs! Again, that’s great. He does look pretty good. But can you imagine a woman celebrity being praised in these terms? I think we should start a #mombod trend for all the muscular not chiseled hot women out there.
CW: talk about body sizes and descriptions and feelings about them.
This weekend, I came across a FB post from a triathlete who posted a picture of herself, asking the group how they would describe her body type. The company that sponsors her team had asked her (with good intentions, she said), as a way to get her input. She describes herself as a person who’s struggled with weight and is a back of the pack rider for her team.
Among the 110+ (and counting) comments she got were:
Strong (hands-down winner among commenters)
Healthy and active
Athena (triathlete category, minimum weight requirement of 165 lbs/75kg)
Adult woman size
Fit and Fabulous
Bad Ass Lady
There were also some suggestions that felt size-conscious or even a bit size-embarrassed (my term); feel free to scroll past these if you like:
Hourglass figure with extra hours
Athletic fit plus (but clarified to be plus healthy, real, etc.)
What do I mean by size-embarrassed? When I hear words like “curvy” and “voluptuous” and “Rubenesque” (outside of 17th-century art history), I always feel like the message is something like “this woman’s body is outside the ideal or norm for the context, and I’m trying to defer to that norm but also say something positive while at the same time acknowledging the tension with a joke”.
All of the commenters were trying to support the original poster and were very attentive to being body-positive and admiring of the poster’s athletic achievements, which are considerable. And yet.
Their respectful discussion reminded me of how hard it can be to talk descriptively about bodies. It also made me think about when and why we feel we need to talk descriptively about bodies. Yes, when we shop for clothing, there are some styles that favor different dimensions and ratios of hips and thighs and waists and breasts and legs, etc. And when we do physical activity, it’s important to note and attend to the variations among bodies that dictate modifications in training, gear, apparel, etc. And finally, at more intensely competitive levels of some activities and sports, detailed facts about the athletes’ bodies become more salient to performance.
Reading Sam’s posts, I’m feeling a little better about the fact that, 3 years after her most recent post, I don’t have a clear position about how to talk about bodies, bigger bodies, my body, your body. I know I don’t like the notion of body types, but am not sure what to do when I feel the need to describe myself or someone else. As Sam said, “it’s complicated”.
To be continued. but for now: do you use body-type language? When do you use it? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear from you.
I pretty much need maternity fitness gear now. Some of my workout clothes only just fit me still – below I am in a cycling top and shorts (I folded the top of the shorts down to make room) a good week ago. I highly doubt folding the shorts down would work even now, just 10 days later. I can still wear one pair of my old leggings. But that’s it, everything else will not come over my belly or be very uncomfortable.
Finding nice capri yoga pants was easy. They are the comfiest things ever and everyone should wear them always, pregnant or not. The way they give way at the top is divine. Great for breathing room! For tops, I just bought a couple of long, flowy running tops that will cover my bump (you can see a picture of me wearing one in this post), and finding actual maternity options seems to be easy enough as well.
But I’ve been trying to find maternity fitness shorts and been straight out of luck. It’s mid-May now and summer collections are everywhere (not to mention it’s very warm here already!), but maternity fitness shorts are yet to appear. I’ve found exactly two models but they were sold out in my size. Searching online, I’ve found some (limited) options across the pond in the US and am envious. But not in Europe. Capris and leggings, no issue, but what is a pregnant person who wants to work out in real summer weather to do? I don’t understand. Are we just supposed to stop being active? There is a non-zero chance I actually won’t feel like exercising once it gets really hot, but at least I’d like the option, please.
I also don’t understand why. At first I thought it was because of body image issues. I read so many stories from pregnant people who feel unattractive in pregnancy because of the changes their bodies go through. But there are plenty of other maternity shorts, some of which are short-short, so that can’t really be it? Unless it can, because people aren’t comfortable working out with their changed bodies? I’m worried that that’s what it is after all. Any other ideas? Bonus points for anyone with tips for where to buy maternity workout shorts in Europe – I would be forever grateful!
It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.
I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.
I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.
I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.
Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.
I retreated inside, into my head.
Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.
I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.
This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.
How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.
Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.
I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.
We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.
My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.
Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).
Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.
For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.
Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?
Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.
Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.
It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.
I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.
So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.
I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.
I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.
But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.
I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!
Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.
As blog readers all know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Zwift lately riding and racing my bike. It’s spring, yes, and normally I’d be riding outside now but it’s also a global pandemic.
Different cyclists make different decisions but I’ve decided to follow the recommendation of Cycling Canada and keep my training indoors. I’ll write more later about racing on Zwift which is turning out to be an awful lot of fun.
But as I’ve been spending more time riding with cyclists from all over the world, I’ve come to identify more with my Zwift avatar.
What do I mean by that? Well, I can spot myself in the peleton of bikes.
My avatar has grey blonde hair that’s about the length of my actual hair. She’s got an athletic build, solid, and I like that.
Here “I” am at the front of the pack. I zoomed to get front just to get a photo. I’m wearing a pink Swarm jersey because I was riding with the Swarm.
Normally I’ve been wearing the Team kit for TFC racing, the cycling club I’ve been racing with. It’s very yellow. Here I am wearing it while warming up for last night’s race.
This is the first time I think I’ve created an avatar who sort of looks like me. I had a Skyrim avatar some years ago but I was more playful and adventurous in creating her.
I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes.
So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.
Now I like my Zwift hair and my Zwift gender presentation but when a friend and I did a Swarm ride the other day, it turns out that a lot of the long haired women didn’t like the choices available for hair length. Basically all the long hair is in ponytails and the women wanted longer ponies than Zwift had on offer. There was some suggestion that Zwift needs more women in their development teams.
Here’s a screen capture of my avatar and some possible hair style choices
I like it that there are more choices than just long or short hair. But in the Swarm group we heard from a lot of long hair identified women who wanted more substantial hair.
Have you had an avatar that you identified with? Did it get everything right that you really cared about?Tell me about your avatar experiences.
I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.
That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.
Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.
If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).
This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.
That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.
We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?
I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.
I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.
I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?
“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.
What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.
You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th.” But you don’t have to watch the show.
We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.