body image · fitness

5 small steps for me, 5 big steps toward body/self acceptance

The following is true: I struggle with accepting my body as a good body– one that functions well, seems appealing to me and can be owned proudly by me. I have fought with and disapproved of my body and body image for as long as I can remember. But I am really sick and tired of feeling this way. It’s exhausting and no fun at all. Know what I mean? I’m sure you do.

I'm 50% sick and 50% tired.
I’m 50% sick and 50% tired.

Writing for and reading this blog, however, has introduced a new notion to me: maybe I don’t have to fight with and disapprove of my body in such a systematic and comprehensive way. There are options here, one of which is to be nicer to my body, to cultivate acceptance and care of myself so I feel better about the way I look and feel to the world and myself.

Hey, it's something to think about.
Hey, it’s something to think about.

Oh– please don’t worry that I’m on the verge of telling y’all about some new diet or other cockamamie plan to try to make myself look different. Yeah, that’s not happening.

No diets. No gadgets. No funny food. No supplements. No surgeries.
No diets. No gadgets. No funny food. No supplements. No surgeries.

Instead, I’m doing or have done these things.

  • I’m cleaning out my closet to put away (either out of my house or in a bin in the basement) clothing that doesn’t currently fit me.

I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve never really truly done this before. And in fact, there are still some residual too-small clothing items hanging around, but I’m working on it. I have to say, it feels kind of good to survey my closet and drawers and not have to sift through several sizes and eras of clothing, deluged with memories and regrets, just to get myself dressed in the morning. Sheesh.

  • I’ve resumed wearing blue jeans, which has become possible because I’ve bought jeans that fit me right now (as opposed to some hypothetical time in future when my body is some smaller size).

Again, duh. But it has been difficult to bring myself to live in the present moment, at my present size. However, three things have made this easier: 1) relative ease of online ordering; 2) the abundance of clothing lines that now offer larger sizes in jeans; 3) stretchy fabrics! So I now have two cute pairs of jeans that actually fit me. Woo hoo!

  • Last summer, inspired by friends (including some of the bloggers), I’ve stopped coloring my hair, and letting the gray underneath grow out.

It’s now been 6 months, and I love the silver gray around my forehead, at my temples, and the gray that’s inching its way down. It’s going to take at least another year, but I’ve got time. Lots of people think it looks cool (which is always nice to hear). Mainly though, *I* love it. I didn’t think I would, but I do. Gray/silver hair suits me, and also opens up new color possibilities for clothing. Fun!

  • I’m taking baby steps toward regular strength training, which is something that makes me feel powerful and in touch with and grateful to my body when I do it.

I bought an online strength training program, which I started, but it’s taking a while to get going consistently. Still, it’s here, I’m here, and everything counts. I may join my local YMCA to take classes or do some personal training– we shall see what the next steps are. But I’m on a path to something, and it makes me appreciate my physical self whenever I take a step. Breathe…

  • Last and definitely not least: I’m being more open about how hard I find body self-acceptance, and I’m inviting support and partners and fellow-travelers to join in conversations with me.

What sorts of activities or relationships or other things help you with body acceptance? What are you looking for to help you with your own position or process? I’d love to hear from you.

baby steps.

advertising · body image · charity · fitness · kids and exercise · Martha's Musings · trackers

Kids and fitness trackers: the holiday edition (not)

 

TW: weightloss mentioned; negative self talk examples included.

By MarthaFitat55

Almost two years ago this March coming, I wrote about targetting kids for weight loss campaigns and fitness trackers. The nutshell: not a great idea because kids are vulnerable.

I was reminded of that piece when this article came across my feed describing how UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund has developed a tracker that allows kids to feed other children when they reach certain step goals.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

North American kids — largely affluent, well fed, and probably mostly white — are being told use this tracker and you will feed the poor somewhere else.

You can’t escape the irony here; the colonialist, patriarchally coated irony of having privileged kids walking their walk to good works.

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Images shows young white female-presenting child looking at a quarter cupcake on a plate.  Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Article author Angela Lashbrooks says this about the idea: A punitive or even rewards-based system to encourage young people to move more won’t be effective in the mid or long term, and could cause or worsen obsessive thoughts and behaviors in some kids.

That’s because there isn’t a lot of good evidence showing trackers work with kids and teens:

One 2019 study found that teenage subjects actually became less likely to engage in moderate or vigorous physical activity after five weeks of wearing a Fitbit. It suggested that the tracker appeared to weaken the inherent motivation and self-determination needed to compel kids to be active. Another study, from 2017, saw similar results: After an initial surge in interest in exercise spanning a few weeks, the kids mostly stopped engaging with the trackers and actively resisted them, claiming that they were inaccurate and therefore not trustworthy.

While our kids on this continent are mostly sedentary and we should be concerned with the amount of screen time they engage in, getting kids to wear trackers and get their fitness on by appealing to an altruistic goal is problematic.

Kids follow what they see. Kids also know when they are being gamed. I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning and discover a tracker under the tree. Given all the negative messages we send out about size and what fitness looks like, I can see the thought processes now:

Parental units gave me a tracker! Trackers are used by people who want to lose weight. Parents must think I need to lose weight. Parents must think I am fat. Fat people are ugly. Parents must think I am ugly. Parents won’t love me if I’m fat. Parents won’t love me anymore if I don’t lose weight. …

Unless a tracker is something the child has spontaneously on their own expressed an interest in, there are better ways to get your kid engaged in fitness than planting this kind of non-gift under the tree.

If you want to focus on a healthier, more active lifestyle, buy swim passes for everyone. Or sign them up for that bike repair workshop so they can fix their bikes on their own. Or plot walking routes in your community and track the steps as a world wide adventure.

If social action is on your list of things, then talk as a family about supporting community agencies who help vulnerable kids and families throughout the year and not just in holiday season. This article offers some great insights into why giving should be a daily thing and not a holiday one-off.

Gifts that focus on self-improvement aren’t really gifts in my opinion. They are projections of your own desires. How about you? What do you think would be more appropriate for gift giving?

MarthaFitat55 is not a fan of self-improvement gifts for any occasion. She gets her fit on through walking, swimming, yoga and powerlifting. But not all at once.

body image · Book Reviews · fitness

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 1, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Sam:

I really like Nia Shanks. When this blog’s Christine mentioned that she’d bought her new book, my eyes and ears perked up. I often need a fitness challenge over the holidays. I’m scrambling to complete 300 workouts in 2019. Maybe this would help. We both said we’d write about it.

Here’s my thoughts on Day 1.

Day 1’s message is about changing your focus from looks to performance, from weight lost to weight lifted. Got it. Already with you on that. It’s been years since I’ve worked out with aesthetic goals in mind. I agree with Nia Shanks that for most of us, this is an important shift in thinking.

But but but… there’s also a line in her Day 1 setup that I hate. Shanks writes, “And guess what? It’s very possible the results you’ve desired all along will come as a side effect….”

Aha! Indirect strategies, get the thing you want by not aiming for it. We all know how this works. Get happiness not by looking for happiness but rather by finding some activity in which to immerse yourself. Then you’ll find happiness. Don’t look for love. Instead, find activities you enjoy for their own sake and maybe while there you’ll also find true love. I tell my students never to aim to get high grades. Instead, fall in love with philosophy, with hard problems, with the work, and then high grades might follow.

Some people offer this up with non-diet food strategies too. Don’t restrict calories. Instead, learn to eat intuitively and then you will find peace with food and possibly also lose weight. It’s the add-on bonus, benefit. Tracy has written before about un-diets that are really diets in disguise.

Except, you might also not lose weight by working out for the “right” reasons. You might work out really hard, get very strong, and still not have the body you were hoping for. In fact, I think that’s the more likely result. My worry about hoping that you’ll try for strength and get the body you always wanted as a side effect is that it still misleads people about the possibility of dramatic changes in the way we look. When we don’t get them we give up and lose out on all the health benefits of training for strength and endurance.

I’m hoping things get better in the days ahead! I’m sure it will.

Christine:

Sam and I are at different points when it comes to fitness. Her routines are solid and fitness is part of her daily reality. 

I’m still working on those things. Aside from my taekwondo classes, I struggle to make exercise a part of my week – let alone my days. I’m hoping the routine of reading and reflecting on this book will help make that more straightforward.

Given that we’re reading the same book, it’s no surprise that Sam and I ended up on the same page – literally and metaphorically. I’m also frustrated by the inclusion of the notion that looking better/losing weight may not be the goal but that it is a likely side benefit. However, given that Shanks is trying to convert her audience from one mindset to another, perhaps this is a stepping stone. 

I’m choosing to focus on this quote instead “Why then should you work out? To get stronger. To discover what your body is capable of doing.”

That’s a project I can get behind.

I’m interested in adding strength, power, and endurance. And I like exercising- once I get started. My obstacles are scheduling and logistics, and I’m hoping that working my way through the 100 Day Reset helps me overcome those.

Catherine:

Full disclosure: I just ordered the book yesterday, so haven’t read the first bit yet. But, I’ve read her stuff and also the intro parts from her site. And the message is clear: focus on strength and incremental goals (pay no attention to the person behind the curtain, just keep moving, nothing to see here) and: presto, change-o, your body will be changed in ways that you want (because you have been conditioned to want a certain sized and shaped body).

I’m genuinely torn between two interpretations of this: 1) Nia Shanks believes this, which would be disappointing, but understandable, as it’s an almost-irresistible message; 2) Nia Shanks doesn’t believe this, but she’s using the idea to get the book marketed and sold, and stealthily believes that once people focus on strength and agility and grace and physical accomplishment, they’ll see that the bodies they have are pretty darn awesome, and they’ll stop worrying about not having some other type body.

I’m going to proceed with interpretation 2). Despite that fact that I’m a feminist athlete and philosopher who writes and teaches about body-neutral fitness, I still suffer from the desire to have a different body from the one I currently reside in (no matter what state/shape/weight it’s in). There it is. But, those worries and yearnings disappear (really– as in “poof! gone!”) when I’m moving, lifting working my body.

So I’m in, Nia. Let’s do it.


body image

Life size Sam is just fine, it turns out

I showed up for work last week and was told that they were ready to take my photo if I still had time. Sure, I guess. What for? For your cardboard model. My what?

Here it is. A life size cardboard replica of me. Full size. She looks taller but that’s because she’s on a stand. Oddly, I wasn’t troubled at all by my size. What’s she for, you ask. Well, advertising and promoting the College. But also just for fun. I love that some of our students and my kids started talking about making seasonal paper cut-out clothes for me, like a Santa hat.

It’s an interesting exercise in seeing yourself as others see you. It’s okay. I thought I’d hate it and be really uncomfortable but it’s just fine.

Also I’m wearing pants! Weird but true. I’m immortalized in clothes I rarely wear.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling
Sam taking a mirror selfie that captures both her and her cardboard likeness.

body image · charity · men

Would a mom bod + rescue dogs calendar sell? Why not?

Image credits: Lucky Bulldogs Rescue

Dad bods and rescue dogs! I love this calendar so much. You can read more about it here. You can order your calendar here. I’m tempted.

But still I wonder, why not a mom bod calendar? (I’ve wondered about this before. See The dad bod? Fine. But what about the mom bod? )

The calendar was shot by the shelter’s volunteer and board member, Lyndsey Wright. And she’s commented on the ‘mom bod question.’

Here’s a quote from the interview in Bored Panda.

Says Wright: “Some have made comments about why we don’t include “Mom Bods,” but that answer is pretty simple in my opinion… This calendar is about the dogs; the Dad Bods are just included to make it comical and unique. I can’t imagine a Mom Bods & Rescue Dogs calendar would be very well received by the public. This was just a bunch of regular guys who are friends or clients of mine who were up for poking a little fun at themselves and helping me out for a good cause. It wasn’t meant to be a body positivity thing, it was meant to be a dog thing with a funny twist,” the photographer explains.

So her answer is that it wouldn’t be seen as gentle or funny. Instead, it would be seen as political, as a body positivity thing. I’m not so sure. And why would a body positivity/mom bod calendar be a bad thing? I’m still mulling.

What do you think?

It’s like I love this ad for Southern Comfort but when I wrote about it here I wondered if we could even imagine a version with an older woman with a non-normative body.

body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

kao-man-gai
A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

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Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

1969-12-31+07.00.00+78+(1).jpg
OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!

body image · competition · fitness · Guest Post · health · injury · race report · racing · running

Couch to 21.1 km (Guest post)

by Jennifer Burns

Content warning: Body image 

Last Sunday, I ran my first race. I’ve been running for eleven years (and are my legs ever tired!) but I’ve never run any kind of a race before. Mainly because I’ve just never been much of a one for races. I even dropped out of the rat race a few years ago, because – as a funnier and wiser woman than I once pointed out –  even when you win, you’re still a rat. 

So naturally, for my very first race ever, I chose to run a half-marathon. Because why not? 

Actually, it was Andra’s idea. Andra is my physiotherapist, and a former competitive swimmer and volleyball player. She takes no shit from anybody, least of all me. 

I’ve been working with Andra for over three years now. For two of those years, I wasn’t running at all. She helped reconfigure my body after my last pregnancy downloaded and installed some updates that I don’t ever remember clicking “OK” on. 

The thing is that, apparently, for most of my adult life, I’ve been walking around with an undiagnosed case of scoliosis: a bent spine. Mine curves from side to side, creating a posture somewhat reminiscent of one of Tom Thomson’s windblown jack pines. I always knew I was a bit off-kilter, but I never knew until three years ago that I had A Condition. 

Apparently (don’t quote me on this) if you have scoliosis, one pregnancy is OK, but subsequent pregnancies can worsen the spinal curvature. Much hilarity ensues. Like, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the Grand Canyon between your rectus abdominis muscles, scoliosis plus pregnancy can totally help you with that. 

Now, I did not want the Grand Canyon, but it ended up being part of the whole post-partum package-tour I embarked on back in 2016 (you really gotta read the fine print on these things). In addition to scheduled stops at Sleepless Gulch and Hormone Crash Hill, there was also plenty of commentary from the locals: “Already pregnant again!?” “Is this one of those weird twin pregnancies where they’re born weeks apart?” “Wow, I forgot how long it takes to look normal after giving birth!” etc etc. 

Worst trip ever. But at least, after the magical “six weeks pp” were up, I’d be “allowed” to run again. Right? Right?!

[Ron Howard’s voice: “She was wrong.”]

In September 2016, I found out that not only did I have scoliosis, but it had also probably worsened during the pregnancy, turning the area under my ribs into a veritable pressure-cooker and creating a gaping 12cm/6-finger separation between my abs. This separation, together with the scoliosis, was setting me up for even worse alignment problems that could result in spinal deformities, disc herniation, urinary incontinence and – everybody’s favourite – pelvic organ prolapse. 

And so, given this, I should give up running, forever, and take up race-walking. (If my life were an episode of Friends, this would be the one where Chandler Byng quips, “Because race-walking is such a ordinary, everyday activity that doesn’t make you look ridiculous or stand out AT ALL.”). 

Oh, and also? My abdomen would never be flat again without at least ten-thousand dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, followed by a two-month recovery and almost inevitable chronic and incurable pain from nerve damage. Pretty much the best thing I could do, in this strange, new, disloyal, and no longer conventionally-attractive body, was “be grateful” I was a “mama”, and “embrace” my “journey”, along with my “battle scars” and my “tiger stripes”. 

I am still mildy amazed that I didn’t “drop-kick” the “physiotherapist” right there and then, but forgive me, my reflexes were pretty shot from lack of sleep. 

That was Physio No. 1. Physio No. 2 was Andra. Who, in her no-nonsense, does-not-suffer-fools-gladly, clipped Romanian way agreed with Physio No. 1 that my situation was “not good” (“It feels like gummy bears in here, it feels like a trampoline” she said, prodding my abdomen). 

Then she uttered life-changing words: “We will fix this.”

If I’d known, sitting in a tiny office up the street from the Reference Library on a dreary winter afternoon, that the path to “fixing this” was going to involve a two-year slog through electro-accupuncture, progressive core-activation exercises, swimming endless laps, tedious floor work, before finally graduating to modified workouts with a trainer at the gym – I’d have crumpled to the floor. This piece, written then, knowing that, would have been entitled By the Toronto Reference Library I Sat Down And Wept, and I probably wouldn’t be running today. Actually, I’m not sure – I’m a stubborn old cuss when you get right down to it. But knowing that entire years lay between me and me getting back to my preferred – at the time, my only – sport, would have been devastating. Andra was smart. She didn’t say anything about how long it could take. She just said we would fix it, and I believed that we could so I was ready to show up and do the fricken work. 

And if you’d told me that in less than three years, I’d run a half-marathon – me, who had never run any race, ever, who had run a continuous 20K exactly one time, in three hours, four years ago – me, always picked last on teams in gym class – me, lugging this living cautionary-tale of a postpartum body around, a “Here Be Dragons” warning made flesh – me? Run in a marathon? I would have laughed so hard I’d probably have busted a gut. (Except it was already busted, so no worries there). 

But. Reader, I marathoned. OK, I half-marathoned. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half on October 20, 2019. My goal was modest: sub 2:30. I crossed the finish line at 2:27. 

A year ago, almost exactly, I was running one minute and walking five. I was glad to be running again, even if only for a minute at a time, but I was finding it really, really hard. I had so little endurance, despite all the work I’d put in over the past two years. And when winter came, I quickly got bored of running on the indoor track at the gym. So I took up skating instead, because if you can’t beat Winter, you may as well throw your arms wholeheartedly around it while also leaping around frozen surfaces on sharp blades.

When the ice melted, I moved the skating indoors, but I also went back to running. With Andra’s endorsement, I registered to run the STWM half. I didn’t commit to seriously training for it until June, which is when I made the total rookie mistake of upping my daily mileage by 6K in one day and made the fascia around my right hip “angry”, in Andra’s words. My hip’s temper tantrum set me back weeks.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Andra’s advice plus a tennis ball and a foam roller got me back on track. By September, I was running 10K easily.  Then 12, then 14, then 16, and finally my last three long runs before the race were just over 18K.  

Seasoned runners joke that running a marathon is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So too was my recovery. Except, I stopped looking up while I was doing it, because every time I looked up, I scanned for a horizon I couldn’t even see, much less imagine, and this made me angry and scared and sad. So, I just kept my eyes on my feet and kept moving them forward. One foot, then the other. Physio, swimming. The gym, my bike. The stairs in High Park, and then the hiking trails. Run one, walk five. Skate a bit, run a bit more. One foot, then the other. I just kept showing up. I went to the gym and to the rink and to physiotherapy (thank you childcare, part-time job, supportive partner, and generous spousal health insurance coverage!) and somehow, somehow along the way on this metaphorical “journey” (*makes flourishing air quotes with hands*) I upgraded from the all-inclusive Occasional Runner package, to some kind of Choose Your Own Jock Adventure deal. And that’s an upgrade I’m more than OK with. 

Jennifer is a writer, mother, wife, runner, cyclist, skater (ice and inline), and non-profit administrator. She lives in Toronto.