body image · fitness

Scaling down– and out!

I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with my scale since time immemorial.  I have feared it, distrusted it, felt subservient to it, and even occasionally thanked it. Overall, I have been in a lopsided power relationship with scales my whole life.

I loathe getting on the scales at medical visits.  The medical assistants at my current primary care provider’s practice don’t insist or argue with me about getting weighed, but they do sometimes ask.  It’s not their fault– it’s just a standard thing that lots of medical offices do.  When I talk with them about it, they’re all understanding and low-key.  But it still leaves me feeling weird and bad, like I have revealed some quirk that they are accommodating.  I do recognize that for some sorts of visits and health needs, weighing gives them important information (e.g. for a pre-op visit before surgery).  So I submit to it, trying to distract myself from the shame I feel at the numbers displayed.  Yes, I’ve tried not looking.  It doesn’t help.

I’ve always thought that having a scale around my house was not a terrible thing; weighing myself occasionally would allow me to note changes in weight (especially in response to various eating changes I might embark on– not diets exactly, but playing around with some shifts).  But I still found that more often than not, seeing those numbers made me angry, upset, ashamed, and demoralized.

I thought I found a potential solution last year:  I bought a scale with no numbers anywhere, that WILL NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES tell me how much I weigh.  I blogged about my new Shapa scale here.  Here’s what I said about it:

You bring your phone (with app installed) with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.

The color is supposed to tell you if your weight is within one standard deviation of what it has been, or if you’re up from that, or down from that.

Well, the first time it registered me as up in weight, with a different color and the message “try a little harder”, I felt crushed.  Soon after I stopped using the Shapa scale.  But it was still around my house, and I felt bad about not being strong enough (whatever that means) to keep using it.

Last week I finally packed up the Shapa scale and put it away.  I didn’t know when I might use it again, but I knew I wasn’t up for dealing with it.

This week, however, I decided that it’s time to get rid of scales, at least in my house.  I don’t need one to track my size and weight– I’m completely aware of which clothes fit and how they fit (or don’t).  I’m also very aware these days of how my body feels– in what ways I feel strong or creaky, or flexible, or tired, or achy or jittery.  Do I need more than that?  I don’t think so.

This is part of a developing plan of mine to attend to the body shame I have felt my whole life.  More on this anon.  This is the year where I really devote time and energy to bundling up those negative feelings I’ve been toting around and throwing them in the dumpster!  That’s the image I really like.

Yes, I know it doesn’t really work that way.  But I’m grooving and humming on the image.  I love throwing things out– it feels powerful, definitive, and liberating.

An eminently appropriate first step in this process is to throw out the scale.  (actually, it was expensive, so I may try to sell it.  but still.)

What is your relationship with scales?  Has it changed over time?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fat · food

Weight Watchers is going after children and Sam thinks that’s extra awful

As you may know, if you’re a blog regular, I hate Weight Watchers.

They’re now marketing to children, offering free classes with parent’s permission. See here.

Rebecca Scritchfield writes,

“Weight Watchers this week announced its plans to offer free six-week memberships to kids as young as 13, beginning this summer. The company’s move is part of a bigger plan to grow revenue and a loyal customer base for life. (Start ’em young, right?) As a health professional and mother, I am appalled. With celebrity names such as Oprah Winfrey, who is on the board of directors, and DJ Khaled, the latest spokesperson for Weight Watchers, the company is on track to exert powerful influence on people far and wide. Kids will undoubtedly pay a heavy price for this “free” membership, in the form of body shame. It will not only affect those who participate, but also every other teen who is exposed to the message that some bodies are “problems,” and if you’re at a higher weight, your body needs to be fixed. Thus, kids of all sizes will have something to fear.”

There are many problems with this plan but even if you just care about weight, it’s a disaster.

Study after study shows that early dieting is a huge predictor of weight gain.

The reasons aren’t clear. See Why does dieting predict weight gain in adolescents? Findings from project EAT-II: a 5-year longitudinal study.

I’m one of those kids who joined Weight Watchers and attended with my parents’ permission. I’m not sure if and how that contributed to future weight gain but I do know that I wasn’t really that chubby when I started.

I also know it made me think of myself as someone whose weight, whose body, was a problem to be solved. Best tackle it while you’re young, people would say.

It did start the habit of dieting that persisted through my teens and twenties.

What do you think of Weight Watchers, diets, and weekly weigh ins for children?

Bowls of fruit
Three bowls of breakfast berries, photo by Unsplash
accessibility · athletes · body image · bras · clothing · Sat with Nat

The Proliferation of (Some) Plus Sizes

I’m seriously stoked that it is easier and easier to find clothes that fit, especially workout gear.

One clothing retailer, Reitmans Canada, I’ve frequented for having Plus Petit now simply carries all clothes up to size 20. Now that is not going to cover all the sizes people wear. I’m fortunate I hover in the 18-20 range for North American sizing.

So now I can walk in and look at a whole store of clothes instead of one, picked over rack.

I’ve been able to find great workout leggings on sale for under $20 CDN.

A photo of a person from the waist down wearing Lycra leggings with a purple pattern on black fabric

I’ve also noticed my favourite thrift stores are now carrying more plus size clothes, especially pants.

I needed to upgrade my wardrobe and found several pairs of dress pants that fit. Partly this is due to some stretch being in all dress pants these days.

The biggest surprise was when my sister gifted me pajama pants for Christmas that were sized XL. I was very nervous trying them on as I usually need a XXL or bigger.

Turns out the pants were sized generously and did relax & have lots of stretch. They have crabs on them and read “Crabby in the morning”.

Natalie stands on one leg with the other foot drawn up to pelvis level with a silly look on her face

I’ve no doubt this change in availability of sizes up to size 20 is due to the agitation of activists and women insisting on more clothes being offered in more sizes.

That being said there are very few places I can find that offer sizes beyond 20. Let’s keep insisting and agitating until with have greater proliferation of more plus sizes.

body image · link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #90

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

Sex-Positivity Means Unlearning Shame

Much of my sex education came from social myths. It seemed widely understood that for people assigned male at birth, pursuing sex was totally normal and natural, but for people assigned female at birth (AFAB), it was devious and shameful. Adolescent me looked on in horror as the girls who wore low-cut shirts or miniskirts were admonished for having no self-respect, and the ones who made out in the back rows of movie theatres were villainized and shamed for being “sluts.  l I learned, through years of observing the social stigma attached to sexual girls, that sex was something to do quietly and privately — that if I was going to do it, no one should know.

For years, I believed that something was wrong with me for being curious about sex for pleasure and for fantasizing about being intimate with another body like mine. I saw sex as something strange and dangerous, not just for the physical risks it posed to the body, but for how quickly it could lower one’s social worth. So I suppressed my sexual desires. I learned to be ashamed of them.

The Rise Of ‘Sex Menus’: Cataloguing Your Kinks

It was my very wise friend Toni who introduced me to the sex menu. She created hers to avoid the tricky, mood-killer conversation about what she didn’t enjoy in bed. The menu, she reasoned, could be a way of sidestepping the underwhelming sex we too-often have to endure with new partners.

Her menu is broken down into three categories: “Things I Love”, “Things I Don’t” and “Things I’m Curious About”. There’s stars next to the things that make her orgasm, and she also has a little introduction characterising her general sexual outlook, because, well, she’s just that much of a badass. As a lover of both thoroughly well organised Google Docs and doing freaky sex things, I decided to write my own.

It’s a simple idea, but the sex menu is pretty revolutionary. When was the last time you did a thorough inventory of all your kinks and desires, all really focused on the kind of sex you’d like to be having? We routinely evaluate our feelings and goals relating to say, work or physical fitness, but rarely afford the same level of analysis to our sex lives. Writing a sex menu gives your desires the headspace they deserve, and puts the emphasis firmly on what actually works for you.

The Sex Educator Teaching BDSM to People With Disabilities

It’s impossible to miss Robin Wilson-Beattie when she walks into a room. With chin-length purple hair, perfectly drawn red lips, and cat-eye glasses, she looks like she walked off the pages of a punk rock Sears catalog from 1960. Then there’s her walker, which is covered in flower stickers.

Wilson-Beattie is a disability and sexual health educator spreading the message that people with disabilities want to have sex—and that they’re into the same things as anyone else, from missionary to full-on BDSM.

“People just assume that people with disabilities aren’t interested in having sex,” Wilson-Beattie told Broadly. “I don’t understand that thinking at all. It’s part of human instinct. Having a disability doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat. Or you don’t breathe. Or you don’t want to sleep.”

Why This Mom Won’t Teach Her Daughter to Dress Modestly

Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber have six daughters, ranging in age from 5 to 18, and a baby on the way in the fall. With all that experience, they’ve learned a few things about parenting, which they share on their family blog and Facebook page, Beyond Moi.

Among lighter parenting fare, the Martin-Webers frequently discuss topics such as sex positivity, body autonomy and consent, and the toxicity of gender roles for boys and girls. All these play into their recent Facebook post on why they don’t enforce a modest standard of dress for their six daughters.

“We were asked yesterday and have been asked before what are our standards of modesty in how our children dress and how do we enforce that,” Jessica began the post, which included a photo of herself and two of her daughters in summer clothing.

“Here’s the short version: we don’t teach or enforce any standards of modest dress for our children,” she wrote.

accessibility · body image · fitness

On Being Naked In Public, #FridayThoughts #FeministFitness

This is a post about changing rooms. We’ve had occasion to reflect on them before here at FFI (for example, here and here), and I’d like to add my voice, and my questions, to the mix.

There’s a lot to say, in this moment of cracking and (I hope) crumbling gender binaries, about how we adapt our body images, and our images of others’ bodies, to a changing sex/gender paradigm. Getting comfortable with ourselves in our totally imperfect and non-binary bodies is only part of the challenge ahead; the other part is getting comfortable with the many different kinds of bodies around us, bodies whose hard-won privileges cannot any longer be denied.

A few weeks ago I found myself in Cate’s flat, asking her about gender-neutral change room etiquette. My question was prompted by my recent experiences in the changing rooms of the swimming pools I frequent.

My amazing new home town of Hamilton, Ontario has been renovating its swimming and recreation centres, and as part of that work has been installing gender-neutral change rooms. I do not identify as fluid, but I do identify as an LGBTQ ally, so I cheer this decision; I want to use the change rooms in order to show my support for their construction, and in order to show my support for non-binary folks using the space. Thus, when I went to a new pool in the suburb of Ancaster in early November, I bounced right on in through the middle door, without a second thought.

It was only when I was getting out of the pool and ready to shower that I started thinking twice about some of the complexities of getting naked, showering, and then re-dressing in this mixed space.

 

Two images of gender-neutral toilet and change spaces. The image on the left shows three brown doors with blue signs, one for “men”, one for “women”, and one in the middle showing figures of a man and a woman side by side. The image on the right (from the YMCA in Calgary, Alberta) shows the entrance to a clean-lined, white and blue locker space, with white figures and writing on a brown wall. The figures are of a woman, a man, and a wheelchair user, and the writing says “Universal Locker Room”. 

Now, let me be clear. I am very comfortable being naked in women’s change rooms, and I’m very comfortable with the idea of other women, including trans women, being naked around me. I’m also fine with men (and trans-men) being naked around me in settings where it is clear that we are in a non-sexual space and that the protocol is one of mutual respect along those lines (see below for more of what I mean here).

But as I was preparing to shower (and I LOVE my post-swim shower, in the warm water, joyfully naked after having pulled my tight swimsuit off) I realized that, maybe, not everyone in the gender-neutral change room in Ancaster would feel the same way as I do about public nudity. What if there was a man in the room who was comfortable with non-binary identifications but not comfortable with my nudity as a woman in a mixed space? What if there were parents with pubescent children of mixed ages who saw this space as also for them, but were similarly not comfortable? This is, after all, North America we’re talking about, and Ancaster ain’t exactly The Castro.

I posed the question to Cate: is it cool to get naked in a gender-neutral change room? Her response was measured but confident: anyone in that space is either fluid or an ally, and therefore should be comfortable with mixed bodies. Plus, it’s a change room: change rooms by definition are places you are allowed to be naked in public.

Are they, though?

It turns out this changing-room-nudity thing is a pretty culturally-determined truth. Cate and I feel a certain way, as do a host of my friends and colleagues, but we’re a particular demographic (fit academic feminists, for the most part, and many of us are white). Others clearly do not feel as we do. A town in the province of Quebec recently banned nudity in change rooms of all kinds in its public recreation centres; this is QUEBEC, people, aka the France of North America. And I’d be lying if I said I was usually joined in the women’s change room of various pools and fitness centres in my unabashed nudity; normally it’s all swimsuits, towels covering breasts, furtive scurrying, and ducking into changing cubicles.

Plus, I do get looks – sometimes.

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Are locker rooms safe spaces to be naked in public? The image shows a woman, with long hair in a pony tail, dressed in a pink striped sports top and loose black running shorts, hiding in part behind a locker door.

I don’t mean to belittle the activity of covering up – not at all. As a woman who grew up with horrifically bad body-image problems, I understand very well why hiding and scurrying and ducking happens.

But what if we thought of changing rooms as places where we can be, kindly and respectfully, and above all safely, exposed to a variety of uncovered bodies of different sizes, shapes, genders, and racial backgrounds – helping to make that bodily difference normative, and even comfortable?

This might (might…) be one hope behind the increase in gender-neutral change spaces more broadly. In pools around London, UK, where I also spend a lot of time swimming, I’ve noticed this trend taking shape. Twice this year I’ve been at facilities (run by Better, a not-for-profit organization) where large communal change spaces have been installed post-renovation (one of these, I’ll note, is in the Olympic swimming centre that became a public facility after the 2012 games). The demographic in both of the spaces I’ve swum (the other is in Chelsea, the posh West London community) has been very mixed; as these are effectively public recreation centres (as opposed to private clubs), visitors run the gamut of colours and languages, as well as ages and social classes.

These gender-neutral spaces are fairly big, to accommodate all users, but they are not really all that spacious; this is because they are populated largely by banks of lockers and changing stalls, lined up in neat rows. The idea is that you choose a locker near a free stall, and shut yourself in to get into and out of your swimming costume. There are also shower/change cubicles, so you are able to shower fully, removing your suit, and then change before opening the door to the world. Implicitly, I take from the presence of these larger cubicles, you’re not meant to get naked in the open shower area. Certainly, I’ve noticed no nudity whatsoever in these mixed spaces on the many occasions I’ve now visited them.

I get what these kinds of “gender-neutral” spaces are about, I think: saving space overall, breaking down gender division (an identified social goal in the UK right now), and sharing space more equitably between men’s and women’s zones are all worthy goals. Yet I cannot help but notice, in each of these “neutral” spaces, the lack of true neutrality. Because these spaces continue to encourage the hiding of our sexed and gendered flesh in the change cubicles, they do not invite us to break down the hierarchies of shaming and valorization that attend to, for example, fit vs unfit bodies, white bodies vs black or brown bodies, and men’s bodies vs women’s bodies.

Nothing about our bodies or their place in our world is shifted by this kind of flesh-policing “neutrality”; really, we’re just being herded into a more efficient, multi-use spatial system.

Would I prefer the female/male/neutral triad of choices now available to me in Hamilton to the enforced neutrality in all-comers gender-neutral spaces? Yes indeed, if only because the choice, in the first case, is provocative: it requires me to do some thinking about where I want to locate my body, and why.

(It’s also essential, I think, for those transitioning to feel safe in a changing space. One that is clearly marked as non-binary, alongside other, more “traditional” gendered space options, is by definition such a space. Click here, for example, for an article on the logic behind UC Berkeley’s decision to build a non-binary change room in its campus gym.)

Being herded into a large mixed change space, with its pressure to get dressed and undressed privately, does little except make me both physically and intellectually uncomfortable. I’d argue that it diminishes thoughtfulness around what “neutrality” really means, suppresses rather than invites important questions about gender.

It leads directly to the twin expectations that a) we all must share public space equally (a seemingly good thing), but that b) we also all must necessarily occupy that public space individually, keeping our bodies (and the shame they still too often carry) to ourselves (in no way a good thing).

This strikes me as separate-but-equal logic, which I cannot get behind.

I’d like your thoughts on this, very much; I’m still mulling and stewing. But before I close, I want to present a third example.

In early December I gave a workshop in the German lakeside town of Konstanz, on the Swiss border. Konstanz has a gorgeous local thermal spa facility, which includes a large and extremely well designed and maintained sauna section. (Entry to the thermal baths and outdoor pools alone is, like the Olympic swimming centre in London, less than $10 – this is a public facility. To use the sauna [also publicly maintained] costs a fair bit more, though substantially less than comparable but much less nice places in Canada, such as Toronto’s Body Blitz chain. To say the Konstanz spa-sauna is good value for money is an absolute understatement.)

On my last day in the town, my colleague Julia and I spent the morning at the sauna, moving between steam room, plunge pool, saunas of three temperatures, and a wonderful “calm room” for relaxing with a view of the Alps in the distance.

Sanarium_People_lang

An image of the 60-degree-heat sauna at Konstanz’s thermal spa facility; the picture is of a dark brown room with rectangular windows opening onto greenery, and the room is populated with curling light wood benches stacked in a rake for sauna users. The people in the space are covered in towels; in reality, these folks would be sitting on their towels naked, not wearing them. The spa’s website includes no nudity, although nudity is normative at the spa.

Julia advised me ahead of time that I needed no swim suit in the sauna area of the spa; it is considered inappropriate and unhygienic to wear one. Everyone changes into a robe or towel in the communal change room, then attends each of the saunas and plunge pools nude. This is traditional, and ingrained in German culture; the space of the spa is one where all bodies are welcome, and where nobody is to be leered at or commented upon inappropriately.

Of course this is not body nirvana: as Julia remarked, culture in this part of Germany is very homogenous, and all the bodies I saw were white and appeared to be non-trans (though I was not, in keeping with protocol, looking closely). How I’d feel as the lone person of colour, or lone non-binary body, in this space is a matter for another post entirely (or for a comment – if you have had such an experience, please let me know!).

What I can say, though, is that as a middle-aged woman with residual body image issues, I’ve never felt quite so at ease with my own body as I did in the sauna space. Young and old, male and female, fat and thin and in between; all seemed at ease in their bodies and fully accepting of the bodies around them. I found the resulting sense of ease permeated the space, generating a calming and welcoming affect that made the experience truly satisfying for me.

I found myself wishing we could infuse both Hamilton’s new gender-neutral change rooms, and the mixed/neutral change rooms of my London pools, with some of this embodied ease.

I’ll do my part, by continuing to use the new change rooms back home, and by being as naked as ever in them. I’ll welcome other naked bodies in turn, either with quick eye contact and a smile, or by not remarking on anything unusual – whatever works in the moment.

How about you? What’s your experience of gender-neutral changing spaces? If you’ve been at a public spa where nudity is common or expected, what was your embodied experience like?

body image · link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #89

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

Stunning portrait disrupts our ideas

Maggie West is tired of seeing women forced into sainthood.

Her new project, an art installation called “98,” removes the concepts of sainthood and purity from femininity and lets feminine sexuality shine on its own. The installation was inspired by stained glass artwork, and was funded by the Amber Rose Foundation and the upmarket sex toy company Lelo.

Body positivity with added glitter!

A group of women are covering themselves in glitter and posing naked for an Instagram project which aims to show “real people with real bodies” and encourage body positivity

The artifice in taking natural photos

Anny Lutwak began taking photographs when she was a 13-year-old living in Manhattan, experimenting with her first rolls of color film. Now a sophomore at Bard College, the artist is using photography to explore female sexuality and the ever-complicated issues of how it can be expressed, and also muffled. Her new series, “Female Trouble,” looks at the physical struggles that women face and the way that gendered issues such as domestic violence, sexual oppression, and body image can be covered up, aestheticized, and trivialized. Lutwak paints a black eye on one subject, and adorns a penis with sparkles on another. Some of her images show the gory and graphic realities of abuse, while in others, the effects are much less discernible. Here, the artist discusses the ways that the female experience is portrayed visually, and how women are regaining control over their own photographic representation.

Taking over Victoria’s Secret

Brooklyn-based model Tabria Majors has fighting words for Victoria’s Secret, but all she really needed was three Instagram photos to prove her point. In order to draw attention to the rigid beauty standards demonstrated by the company’s ad campaigns, she posed in a few of her favourite pieces of the season and looked absolutely bomb. If this doesn’t prove that curvy women can sell just as many undies as the size-2 ‘angels’ VS seems intent on exclusively using, we don’t know what will (skinny girls, we love you too; we just think there needs to be more diversity going on).

aging · body image · fitness · Martha's Musings · meditation · swimming

Getting our fit on at all ages

Readers may remember I got back in the pool in late August. I’ve really been enjoying it. After three months, I’ve gotten to know the regulars and it’s been very interesting to see the range of ages and abilities.

There’s me of course, doggedly putting in my laps of the breast stroke and frog kick. I’m more about the meditative aspect of swimming than the speed but since my trainer and physiotherapist have seen the difference swimming makes to my mobility, I’ll keep on keeping on.

I haven’t seen the group since September but it is possible they are going at a different time. The group consisted of four or five women who hung out in the deep end chatting and doing their exercises. It got crowded from time to time but it was good to see friends work out together.

There are a couple of other women I see from times to time. One does laps like me; we nod politely as we pass. She likes to keep her head in the water whereas I don’t. I don’t see well without my glasses and filling my ears with water when I go under doesn’t help.

The other woman is probably 20 years older than I am and she is totally focused on her routine. Each day, she gathers her gear and arranges it at one end of the pool. She works through a series of strokes as she does her laps, some with her swimming tools and some without. She can go quite quickly and as I go through my laps, I sometimes think about how I can add speed to my swim.

But it doesn’t really matter how fast I go, or how slow, as the leisure/lane swim can accommodate my skill level just as it accommodated those of the other swimmers.

During the week, it’s adults in the pool in the early morning but on the weekend, there’s lots of small children, some taking lessons and some just getting comfortable in the water with their parents. I like the fact the kids will see all kinds of shapes, sizes, skills, and ages in the pool, especially women.

I’ve been thinking about taking lessons to vary my strokes so I can work different muscles and different parts of my body. For now though, it’s enough to show up. It is getting colder in the mornings and it’s not the brightest at 7 am but still we show up. We nod and smile; sometimes we chat idly about the weather. Almost always, we say “see you next time.” And we will, because we have found a place where we can get our fit on, without any judgement. If you want to just do it, our pool is the place to make that happen.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant who uses swimming to bring calm and powerlifting to build strength.