Sam and Tracy on FemRadio

 

Tracy and I had a really nice chat the other week with Emily of FemRadio at Ryerson University.

“This week on FemRadio, Emily chats with Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs — two feminist philosophers and fitness fanatics who co-founded the blog “Fitness is a Feminist Issue.”  We discuss the meaning of body positivity, fitness myths that need to end, and the complexities of pursuing fitness as a feminist.”

You can listen here. Enjoy!

Matilda The Hun, Mountain Fiji, and how the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling showed me how big, bold and badass I could be.

There’s a Netflix series called “GLOW” inspired by the 1980s pro wrestling series of the same name. 

When I was a kid in rural New Brunswick watching pro-wrestling was HUGE. It was such a big part of my exposure to professional sport that the very first time Sam asked me to write for this blog I wanted to write about it. But this is a feminist blog and pro/wrestling then and now is full to the brim with racism and sexism. I was embarrassed by how something I loved so much now seemed crude, crass, and low class. 

Pro-wrestling is nothing like Olympic style wrestling. It is all swagger and showmanship. It is character and plot arcs with a dash of athleticism. 

My absolute favourite characters from G.L.O.W. were Matilda the Hun and Mountain Fiji. They were large and in charge. They were villains and gave absolutely no fucks. None. They whipped the crowd into a fury then pummeled their opponents. 

I watched this clip, cringing at the terrible sexism and bad acting of the skits between the wrestling bits, but LOOK AT THESE WOMEN!

First Encounter: Matilda the Hun vs. Mountain Fiji
I look at that match and I’m so conflicted. Knowing what I know now about race, class, gender and sexism there are so many problems. From the male gaze to how women were cast based on racial stereotypes to reinforcing that feminity was desirable there is so much yuck.

But to 1980s me all I saw were badass women doing whatever they wanted. In the meantime I was in middle school gym class where girls were learning gymnastics and boys were learning Olympic style wrestling. 

I’m not sure which of us came up with the idea but my BFF Shelly and I convinced our gym teacher that we should be given a chance to wrestle each other. We wanted to be up on stage with the boys and I was really failing at uneven parallel bars. 

A 17 year old girl with short hair leans over a girl with 80s mall hair. They are laughing.

Me on the left, Shelly on the right. We loved being tough! This is 1992


Our teacher and classmates were completely unprepared for what happened next. Shelly and I broke out our best Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling moves: close lining, yelling, half-Nelsoning for nearly 20 minutes. We revelled in our redneck, working class awesomeness as the middle class kids looked disgusted. The other working class kids were cheering us on, calling out moves. It was so much fun. 

The next week I was back on the parallel bars trying to make my short, thick body do things lighter people did. It sucked. The girls who had taken gymnastics outside of school whirled around me. 

It turned out all that wrestling came in handy during recruit term at Royal Military College. Mattress jousting to entertain the senior students often devolved into grappling. 

Two youth in white t-shirts and grey shorts grapple on a blue striped mattress in a linoleum hall

I think I’m the one on top?


Matilda the Hun and Mountain Fiji were characters who didn’t worry about being attractive to men. They revelled in being villains. They weren’t scared of the crowd’s jeers, it powered them up. Most importantly for me, for a period of about 10 years of my life they were the only women in sport I could relate to, that felt real. 

I’m hopeful this new series will also be a chance to talk about the original G.L.O.W. stars and what they are doing now. 

Is there a sport or athlete that you identified with in your youth? Does it hold up to your scrutiny now? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #88

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?

What the female gaze looks like?

When I walked into the gallery, I immediately came upon a life-size papier-mâché sculpture of a woman playing with her pubic hair. She was gazing into the middle-distance (or, were she real, at an iPad showing erotic GIF art), her belly rolling together under her “I ♥ NY” T-shirt. All around her were photographs, illustrations, and films dedicated to deciphering the female gaze, the topic of the new exhibit at the Museum of Sex.

anny lutwak explores the artifice in taking ‘natural’ photos of young women

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.

Curvy Women Take Over Social Media For Body Positive Movement

Right around this time of year, you start hearing a lot about bikini bodies. You know what we mean. “Thinking about eating that? Think about how it’ll look on the beach.”

Or some such crap.

But in direct contrast, women in the U.K. (and around the world) have taken to social media with the hashtag #MyBodyMyBFF, showing off exactly what they want to show at the beach or the pool this year, reports the Daily Mail.

Nearly 1 in 4 female millennials no longer shave their armpit hair
Female armpit hair is back — and it might be here to stay. According to recent figures from research group Mintel, the percentage of women aged 16 to 24 who shaved their armpit hair has declined from 95 percent in 2013 to just 77 percent in 2016. Leg shaving is on the decline as well — 92 percent of women shaved their legs in 2013, but by 2016 those numbers had decreased to 85 percent. The Mintel figures are supported by numbers from the shaving and hair removal industry, which saw sales drop by five percent between 2015 and 2016.

The body positive way women are responding to fat shamers

On Monday, Twitter user @ElliottEdie35 took to his keyboard to share his musings on the size of women’s bodies. “Girls over 110 should never post pics in a bikini just sayin,” he tweeted to his 557 followers. The backlash was swift and strong — and women of all sizes began posting bikini pictures .

 

 

More progress on the body image front: weight loss is *not* an “upside” of food poisoning

Grey cartoon figure standing and holding stomach in first image, then kneeling in front of the toilet vomiting in the second. Sweat emanates (indicated as blue drops) from brow in both frames.
Grey cartoon figure standing and holding stomach in first image, then kneeling in front of the toilet vomiting in the second. Sweat emanates (indicated as blue drops) from brow in both frames.

Grey cartoon figure standing and holding stomach in first image, then kneeling in front of the toilet vomiting in the second. Sweat emanates (indicated as blue drops) from brow in both frames.

OMG I have been so incredibly ill for the past 36 hours, ever since I ate something that I had qualms about even as I ate it (the body knows these things). I had to leave work early yesterday, and by the evening I was throwing up (I hate throwing up). That continued into the early hours. And oh did I feel sick. Groan out loud sick. It’s food poisoning or the norovirus or some equally brutal thing that has moved into my system to take me down.

Needless to say, not only did I lose my lunch and even the water I’d sipped on, but I truly couldn’t even consider eating anything. When I did start to feel like an attempt at something might be in order around 24 hours after the last meal I’d eaten, I tried a banana, a few dry crackers, and some clear tea.

Back in the day I, or one of the friends whom I complained to about my affliction, would have thought or said something like, “at least you’ll lose some weight.” Now, this is a ridiculous thing to say, I realize. But back then it was assumed that weight loss was an ever present goal in the life of every woman. I’m pleased to report that it didn’t even cross my mind. And that fact makes me very happy because losing weight, even if you do lose weight, is not an “upside” of food poisoning. It has no physical upside. None. It’s a horrible thing that is thoroughly bad in every single way.

The last time I scored a notable body image win that showed a major shift in attitude was a few years ago when I joined my first “learn to run” clinic. They were going around the room asking people why they joined. I said something about wanting to find some people to run with and get some tips about how to run smarter.

What only hit me later was how incredible it was that I didn’t even think of weight loss as a motivator. Back in the day, when I was obsessed with weight loss, I would not embark on any sort of program of activity unless I felt sure it would contribute to weight loss. In fact, as a graduate student almost 30 years ago I literally gave up swimming, an activity I adored and that made me feel amazing, because I read somewhere that it wasn’t an efficient way to lose fat (oh how many layers of unpacking are needed to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with that claim in the first place).

Well I felt the same when I realized I wasn’t seeing anything positive about this bout of food poisoning that had to do with weight loss. Score! So maybe that’s one positive – it has reminded me that I’ve come a long way in how I relate to my body. Maybe even one more – it’s forced me to rest, which is not something I easily do. My tendency is always to take on just a little more than I’ve got the time and energy to do.

So I’ve made progress but I know there are people out there who see weight loss as a silver lining in things like stomach flus and food poisoning. I’m glad I don’t think that way anymore. I would love to want to and to be able to eat more than I ate today. And that’s a good thing that tells me that weight loss is no longer integral to my body image.

Have you ever considered weight loss to be a positive side effect of otherwise negative temporary conditions like food poisoning or stomach bugs?

 

How I Get Out of a Body-Image Funk

Sam and Cate’s recent post about weight gain made me laugh. Thank you to both of you for posting it! I’m always nervous to be outspoken about those sorts of feelings, but seriously—weight change is a reality! And sometimes we don’t care and sometimes we do.

Speaking of weight gain, one of my girlfriends is in her second trimester right now and we’ve had some laughs about her drastic weight gain in a such a short period. But it’s made me wonder: How can I be so encouraging and supportive of her body-self-consciousness but so critical of my own? Can I still be a body-positive feminist even though sometimes I desire to be thinner? Or will my membership card be immediately revoked?

Lately I’ve been struggling with my own body image. Spring often does that to me. It’s when I shed my winter layers and I’m suddenly very aware that I have a body which will soon be less-covered as it gets hotter. It’s also the time of year I tend to become weirdly critical of my own body in various ways.

kitten lion mirror.jpg

A motivational poster of an orange kitten looking in a mirror. The reflection is of a lion. The caption reads, “What matters most is how you see yourself.”

Another reason these feelings started creeping up is that, as summer arrives, I get a chance to see people I haven’t seen in a while (family, friends, etc.). And while it’s great to reconnect, one of my first thoughts is almost always: What if they think I got fat?

Weight changes are generally more obvious when you haven’t seen someone in a while. And my mother—God bless her—never sugar-coats this kind of thing. I can’t stress enough that she never intends it to be critical. She has, on multiple occasions, cited that her comments come from a different cultural understanding as she wasn’t born in North America. For her, commenting on weight is merely descriptive and even sometimes meant as a compliment, (as in, “Wow, you put on weight! You must be eating well!”).

i must be getting fa-bulous

A cartoon of a woman in her underwear holding her belly. The first panel reads, “*sigh* Look at this belly. I must be getting FA-” with the second panel reading, “BULOUS!” The woman, still in her underwear has a feather boa and sunglasses on, strikes a bold pose.

But still. My worries continue to weigh heavy on my mind (did I intend that to be a pun? I don’t know.)

One way I’ve started dealing with these concerns is by shifting my focus to other goals around strength and self-improvement. Yeah, I could set a goal about being thinner. But I find goals like these become frustrating and I even become a little obsessive. I don’t like the way I become with goals like these. Yet, I know that I am a goals-oriented person. I need milestones to work towards.

goals.jpg

A mock-motivational poster that reads, “Goals: You gotta start somewhere.” The photo is of a corgi jumping over a make-shift obstacle made of two pillows holding up a cardboard tube. 

HOWEVER! There are plenty of other types of goals that do work for me. Ones that keep me looking forward instead of in the mirror.

And since we’ve gotten to know each other over the past few months, I’m happy to share some of those here.

  • Gradually increase strength and lifting ability by 50% (e.g., 30lb to 45lb, or 45lb to 67.5lb)
    • I want to be stronger! In addition to writing and completing my PhD, I also work part-time at a brewery here in Toronto. One of the things I often have difficulty with is LIFTING KEGS. I can kind of do it and waddle around with one. But it would be nice if this were less of a struggle. More generally though, there’s something empowering about becoming stronger (and not needing to ask for help all the time–reminds me of this “FlexCam” video) and seeing this sort of progress when working out. Also having a specific and measurable goal helps me instead of simply saying something like, “I want to be stronger.”
  • Substitute biking at least once per transit ride (weekly)
    • I’d love to ride my bike more. I do it a bit, but honestly, Toronto drivers scare me (rightly so…they are awful) and I really don’t want to die like that. I’ve written elsewhere about my feelings on being an urban cyclist but this summer I’d like to push my boundaries on this and become a more confident cyclist and use this as my primary method of transportation eventually.
  • Use up remaining fitness class passes this summer
    • Before I joined the Y, I was using fitness passes for places like The Yoga Sanctuary or Rocket Cycle (a super cool spin studio in my neighbourhood). Then I joined the YMCA and go there for my exercise needs. I’ve still got some outstanding classes on my passes and would love to get my full use out of them over the summer, or even to mix up my routine. This should be easy enough.
  • Get more intentional alone-time (weekly)
    • This isn’t really a fitness goal, but more about personal time or self-care. Recently, I’ve been busy and haven’t consistently spent time alone doing the things that make me feel good (long walks, reading or writing in cafes, making things). It could be that missing out on this contributed to my feeling-crappy as of late.

Ultimately, I know that so much about body image is all about perception. And I know that it’s normal to have ebbs and flows when it comes to body image. But I’ve found that shifting my focus helped me to diminish the funk I was in and kept me looking forward. But I’m curious to know what some of you do to get yourself out of these funks!

mirror bunny

A photo of a bunny looking at herself in the mirror. As if the bunny is giving herself a pep-talk, the caption reads: “u r beautiful and ur gonna do great today.” 

 

On gaining eight pounds and hating it: A rant in two voices

TW: This is a rant in two voices. It began when Cate and I started commiserating at spin class about our unexpected winter weight gain. We don’t do much other than complain. There’s no weight loss tips here. But if complaining about weight gain makes you sad, frustrated, angry, then please look away. We’ll be back to our regular body positive programming when the sun comes out, it stops raining, and we can stop being so grumpy.



Cate and I have lots of things in common. We both have PhDs. We’re both 52 years old. We do things together, like the bike rally, canoe trips, and the Music for Lesbians concert. We have friends in common, some who blog here and others too. We share a fitness activity that’s central to both of our lives, cycling. We both ride with a sense of adventure, though Cate’s more independent and ridden in more countries. I’ve raced and ridden faster I think though I know she’s ridden further. Oh, and on the bike rally we joked about being the “old ladies.’ No parties on our camp site. We were in our tents lights out by 10.

We’re both women menopause seems to have forgotten. But perimenopause, it’s here and making us grumpy.

This year we have one more thing in common. We both gained 8 lbs over the winter doing pretty much the same things we’ve always done. We both hate it. And we both hate that we hate it. We’re grumpy.

That about get it right, Cate?

I’m blaming Trump. You?

************************************

Cate: LOL — I so want to blame Trump. And I did read that that is a thing. Even Barbra Streisand apparently blamed Trump for her weight gain.

And I think there is some truth to the sense that this winter has been kind of bruising and disorienting on a political front — and that does make me curl up on my couch and make my own blizzards with fancy ice cream and girl guide cookies, or invite people over for comfort food.

But I have had a tendency to comfort food for a long time, and I’m not eating that differently than I have been for the last 10 years. And people have been warning me forever — “your metabolism will change when you’re over 50” — and I didn’t want it to be true. And bam, almost overnight, true. I run way more slowly, and the scale has just crept up in sneaky ways to a number that I haven’t seen since before I quit smoking and took up fitness when I was 29. And it makes me feel like my body has betrayed me. And add a dose of the raging PMS I now get and I’m just ANGRY. You got an earful of that when we went spinning together on Tuesday.

************************************

Sam: It’s not just the weight gain though that’s the visible thing you can see. For me it’s also needing more sleep, taking longer to get well after I’ve been sick, heartburn (that’s new and awful), not responding well to stress, and crying. It’s like everything has slowed down and gotten sad. And yes my metabolism is part of that.

Like you I haven’t been eating differently. I’ve been working out. Those things haven’t changed but my bodies response has. It kind of looks at the good food and the workouts and goes “meh.” I’m at a loss for what to change really. In a way, eight pounds, who cares? But a) it’s a trend I’m worried about and b) I’m already over the recommended weight for the race wheels for my bike.

I broke a spoke the other day and the bike mechanic helpfully suggested sturdier, heavier wheels. I didn’t swear in the shop but I did in the car. He’s right of course. I swapped wheels. But I’m not happy about it.

************************************

Cate: It’s all tangled up for me with the invisibility thing we’ve been talking about.  I’m very short; even 5 lbs is a significant difference to me and I have a fear of looking like this high school teacher I had who was quite round and short and tottered around on high heels to try to offset it.  I don’t want to look like Mrs G!  I want to look strong and athletic and *vital*.  And even when I know I can Do Things, it all makes me feel Not Vital.  And that’s what I’m trying to make sense of.

We were talking about how the dominant advice is always “eat less, move more.”  We both move a LOT now, especially for people whose jobs are about conversations and sharing what’s in our heads.  It feels like I have to undertake a massive revolution in how I eat, and I don’t want to be that person — I want to be the person who can eat fries if I feel like it.  I RESENT IT!

What are we going to do?

************************************

Sam: I agree with you. We can’t be people who never eat fries!

But the visibility thing is tough. For both of us, it’s being seen as who we are, athletic women. I had someone offer me their seat on the subway the other day and I thought, “Really! Do I look like I need your seat? I am the oldest person on this train? What?”

I realized he was likely just being polite in a gendered, chivalrous way (I was wearing a skirt) and so I thanked him and took his seat.

And some of the time I’m happy to be the person who blows other peoples’ stereotypes out of the water. I love passing people on my bike. Moving the weight up rather than down on the lat pull down machine at the Y.

But I also want people to see me, to recognize who I am.

I hate it when someone says I should get off the bus a stop early to you know, add more movement to my life. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT MY GARMIN FILES? Oh nevermind.

So what?

***********************************

Cate:  We keep riding.  And maybe think a bit more about the fries?

Sam: And we’re definitely not getting these for our bikes!

Free the bellies! (Guest post)

So I am just back from vacationing in Cuba (I know, there are worst things to do in April). And I did it! I bought 3 bikinis and actually packed them and wore them to the beach. My tankinis tried to come along. They were calling me from the closet where they are stored with an old one piece. They were trying to convince me I was making a mistake. I stood fast and refused to take them. What a great decision! This April I freed my belly!

Last summer Natalie published a really inspiring post on her bikini body. I commented back then that I was going to do the same for my next vacation. I failed at that because I went to Mexico in December and wore my tankinis. I convinced myself that I had lacked time to go bikini shopping. My options are limited to a specialty store because of my size which is not catered by regular stores so it is not like it would have taken me days to visit all the stores and choose from, oh so many options! So even though I told myself a tale of lacking time I really simply chickened out. Why? Body image issues!

The last time I exposed my belly in public was some 25 years ago. I enjoyed my day at the beach wearing my two piece and then pictures came. Those were the days when you actually had to take the roll to the pharmacy for processing and pay .99 cents for an extra set of your 24 pictures. So one week later, when I saw the pictures of myself enjoying myself in the water and with family I was unhappy with how I looked. Why? I did not look like a model wearing a two piece (who does? models do). The comment of my then spouse that maybe I was too old now to wear a bikini sank in and confirmed that as of then I was going to embrace one piece suits (another of many reasons why that person is an “ex” now). From then on I only wore those or sometimes even shorts and a t-shirt, perhaps even a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Never mind that I had had great fun that day wearing my bikini at the beach and that I am smiling and laughing on all pictures (I just looked at them again and I truly look like I was having a lot of fun). But the body issues took over and tainted the memories of that day and the perception of the pictures and the body on display. Reading Natalieh’s post last summer I went back to the pics and thought: heck (actually it was more something like: screw this bullshit!). I chickened out in December and regretted that. So this time, one week before leaving, I went to the store and bought myself what I needed and resisted my inner narrative that my body is not to be exposed.

That first day, I put on my favourite of the 3 to help myself. It also helped that I recently got a great ribcage tattoo that I want the world to see (I had actually shown my belly to many more people since I got it than I did in the last 25 years just to show off the tattoo!). I put on my beach cover up and went to the beach. And then there was that great, frightening but mostly great, moment of taking the cover up off. What I felt? Great! I felt free!

Freeing my belly also felt like freeing my mind. The feeling of wind and water caressing my belly skin was fantastic. I am never going back! Screw the tankinis and my one piece with them. Screw narratives that say bikinis are for the young, thin, and flawless. I am strong and healthy but not thin and flawless and that is perfectly alright! I never felt as sexy as embracing that. Not that that was the goal but rather a surprising outcome, surprising to me anyways.

So please, if you have not done so yet, free your belly! You will feel great in so many ways! And thanks again Natalieh for your great post that triggered this.

This is my fave red number. I am not in it because I suck at selfies and was by myself so no trusted photographer available.

PS: Don’t be surprised if you find me wearing my bikini top with my shorts working in my summer office when we experience Southern Ontario heat this summer. Once you have freed a belly, it remains free!