accessibility · body image · disability · normative bodies · SamanthaWalsh · standing · wheelchairs

Samantha stands and has complicated feelings about it (Guest post)

By Samantha Walsh

On the weekend I went to @abilities_expo for work. It’s a trade show of disability related services and products. A company called wheelchair88 was showing a standing wheelchair. It was a manual wheelchair you could lock then move the wheelchair into a standing position. You can’t move once you are standing.

Thoughts on standing straight from someone who has never stood straight…

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more beautiful if I was standing. I know I was older than 20, but younger than 25.

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more powerful if I could meet someone’s eye. It was older than 25, but younger than 33.

I know as a child if asked to draw a picture of myself, I would draw a standing person. I did this till I was 6 or 7. After that I often drew people using wheelchairs, but would still draw myself standing.

I know by grade 4 I started drawing pictures of me using a wheelchair, because I started playing wheelchair basketball and often drew about that for school.

When I was young I had lots of surgery and different interventions so I could stand and walk. It’s interesting that the mark of success for doctors and therapists was always that I could hobble or shuffle. Standing would be an all encompassing lactic acid filled experience.

I am often surprised it is still the gold standard. Facebook and YouTube videos depicting folks with disabilities who vowed to walk to get diplomas; walk down isles; stand for first dances. I have adult friends whose parents refused them wheelchairs. In turn they have internalized that standing, walking, shuffling is best.

A wheelchair to me offers liberty and a stable fast painless way to move. Even with all this I was seduced by the opportunity to stand straight. I picked an outfit I was curious about seeing standing. I compelled a coworker to take pictures.

Standing felt unnatural. My head was too high. My legs don’t go straight the brace had to force them. My spine curves from sitting so it hurt. To me the social significance of standing comes from a culture that privileges a specific kind of body. I feel grateful I no longer understand my own posture as inferior.

Today was interesting…

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.

218 in 2018 · body image · Fear · fitness · Metrics

Changing my mind about metrics: how counting can be cool

Keeping track of number-y things has always been a little scary to me. I have never actually balanced my checkbook. There, I said it. Billable hours accounting? Hah. After all, I’m an academic. I don’t really want to know how many or few hours I work in a day/week/month. Yes, some of you may be thinking, what’s the deal with this?

Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.
Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.

Actually, I don’t think I’m really like the ostrich. I’m more like this:

A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message "duck and cover".
A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message “duck and cover”.

When it comes to physical activity, I’ve resisted metrics with every fiber of my being. And blogged about it here– Cycling (not) by the numbers.

Why? One word:

fear.
fear.

I didn’t want to be exposed and revealed– to myself, to anyone else– to what I was actually doing; how fast/slow I ride, how many minutes I worked out, certainly not how much I weigh.

What was I afraid of? Feeling demeaned by actually knowing how little I could do, how heavy and slow I was, etc., leading me to lose my identity as a cyclist, an athlete, a strong person, a worthy person.

Wow, that’s a lot of burden to place on a) myself; and b) some otherwise-unsuspecting numerical information.

Lately, though, I’ve grown really tired of carrying around those burdens of fear and shame, and doing all that ducking and covering, bobbing and weaving, all in service of– what? Trying not to know how my body is doing?

A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying "well, that's just silly".
A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying “well, that’s just silly”.

I have to agree with the duck here. This past year, I’ve experienced the non-catastrophic effects of keeping track of my activity. Last year I joined the 218 workouts in 2018 Facebook group, and I’m signed up this year for 219 Workouts in 2019. So are Sam, Cate, and a bunch of others. You can read many blog posts about it here. And you can read my post about meeting my 218 goal here.

For the record, so far this year I’m at 30 workouts. What I’m tracking is workout days. If I do a yoga class and take a walk or ride, I count all that as one workout day. This is my choice. It’s what *I* want to track, namely consistency (and gaps) in being active during a given week. Others are tracking individual workouts, and have their own ways of defining what a workout is for them. Their choice.

I love doing this. It is giving me information about how I’m doing, making me curious about what causes workouts to be easier or harder during my week, and helping me rethink my work/play/travel schedule to make more room for physical activity. This process just wouldn’t be possible without the data. So I’m officially embracing it.

I heart data!
I heart data!

Where is this going? Technology shopping, that’s where. I think I may finally, FINALLY buy a Fitbit or some such activity tracking device. I’m definitely putting my cheapo CatEye bike computer back on the bike. Perhaps a Garmin or other schmancy computer is in my near future. But no scales. I don’t need that information. Although if/when I do, I’ll use one at the gym or doctor’s office.

I’ll be posting more about this, asking for your advice on devices and reporting on what I buy and how I like them. For now, I’m curious about what trackers people use and how they like them. What do you recommend as a step counter/activity tracker? Thanks for any advice, and as always, thanks for reading.

Cookie cake saying "you rule", which all of you do.
Cookie cake saying “you rule”, which all of you do.
body image · feminism · Sat with Nat

Nat reflects on how feminism has supported her fitness

I finally finished my Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies. Wahoooooooooo!

Photo of Natalie’s BA certificate with Distinction

It’s the end of a twenty-seven year post-secondary journey that started in 1992.

I’ve been thinking how over that time I discovered feminism while being in the military. By looking at exercise as a not only a way to do my job or change how I look but rather as a source of joy and feeling good in my body.

By reframing activity as something I do for myself that supports my wellbeing I have been able to stay active in a lot of activities.

This separation of fitness from my appearance and my work has helped me be confident in trying new things and persevering.

It’s not easy to navigate aging, work, stress, sexism, capitalism, parenting, caregiving and some sense of mental health in our information culture. I think a feminist analysis of my fitness has helped me connect with other women in a meaningful way. We share our stories, the triumphs and the challenges. We support each other and question those who would try to tell us we are too old/fat/etc to wear Lycra, ride bikes, practice yoga…

Has looking at your own activities with a feminist lens changed anything for you?

body image · fitness

A tale of two bodies, or how (clothing) fit is a feminist issue

Content warning: first two paragraphs talk about weight loss. The rest of this post does not; instead it celebrates different size bodies. Yay!

Last Wednesday I blogged about losing a few pounds due to mild pancreatitis– I was off food for several days, only taking in clear liquids, then graduating to noodle soup and rice with broth. Now I’m feeling much much better, but eating a low-fat diet for a while, as my pancreas “needs to rest” (according to several doctors). Okay. But then my sickness-induced temporary weight loss provoked an instant “yay!” from me, followed by “hmmm, maybe now I’ll actually lose (fill in the blank) much weight.”

NO. This is my continued struggle with body image and self-acceptance talking. I wrote more about it here, and a number of you responded with lovely and supportive comments and similar stories of your own. I thank you all. It is so nice to know and feel that we are all in this together. Becoming aware of the self-defeating nature of such weight-loss-aspirational talk and naming it thusly helps a lot.

But just today, I thought of another way to promote my own body acceptance.

Enter my friend Rachel. She’s a lawyer, bike racer and dear friend of mine. Say hi to Rachel.

Rachel, with newly-highlighted light brown hair, wearing a black shirt with white and yellow stars, a black pleather skirt, black tights and black boots.

It turns out that she and I both own this exact outfit. Here’s me in mine.

Catherine, with dark brown hair, wearing a black shirt with white and yellow stars, a black pleather skirt, black tights and black boots.
Catherine, with dark brown hair, wearing a black shirt with white and yellow stars, a black pleather skirt, black tights and black boots.

The back story of the twin-outfits is that we both went to a clothing party (kind of like tupperware, but with clothing instead), and we ended up buying some of the same items. Our friend Michele has the pleather skirt too, but she was unavailable for the photo shoot.

I decided it might be fun to compare our two bodies in the same outfit, different sizes. I wear a size Extra Large, and Rachel wears a size Medium. Here we are together– don’t we look cute?

I think we look even cuter here, mugging for the camera (thanks Steph for taking these photos!)

Of course we need some cheesecake shots:

Last set of shots: we posed against a wall, affecting some emotion (or trying):

Here’s why I am showing all these pictures: Rachel and I have different bodies, and the same clothing fits us in different ways. I happen to think we both look smashing in our pleather skirts and starry shirts (with obligatory black tights and boots).

Different bodies, different fit, different sizes– both cute and fun and maybe-sexy and happy and comfortable. When I’m feeling bad about my body, maybe I should remember these pictures, and maybe even go to my closet and rock that pleather skirt. Because I do rock it. As does Rachel.

body image · diets · fitness

The power of a pound or two

Content warning: talk about weight loss and body image.

About two weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling so great– less peppy and more draggy walking around and going up the two flights of stairs to my office. By the weekend, I was clammy and nauseated, with abdominal pain on my left side. It didn’t get better, and I found myself reluctantly heading to the hospital emergency department on a Sunday morning.

At the end of five hours there (including lots of testing, waiting around, and generally watching the show which is an ER over the weekend), the doctor wasn’t sure what was wrong, but had a concerned urgency in his tone that I must say I didn’t like. He insisted I go to the GI specialist the next morning.

Long story short, I have a mild-ish case of pancreatitis, with no clear cause. There are some very clear risk factors for it, but I don’t have any of those. I happen to fall into the 20% of cases classified as “misc other.”

Great, I’m officially in the junk drawer of medical causes… Sigh.

It turns out that the main treatment for pancreatitis is not eating food for a while. Three doctors explained the technical details like this: “the pancreas needs to rest”. Well, okay then. Let’s be very quiet. Shhhhh…

I was on a liquid diet for 3 days, transitioning to jello, popsicles, and finally– apple sauce! By day 5, I could have chicken noodle soup. Oh joy! One key feature of this diet is severe restriction of fats. Much fat intake would cause me abdominal pain (I discovered this when I accidentally ate some ramen noodles, which apparently are high in fat. How did I not know this?)

As you can imagine, I soon noticed that I had lost a little weight. I don’t weigh myself, but I could feel the difference in the way my clothes fit.

Despite the medical circumstances and the knowledge that this weight drop is temporary (it’s water weight which will come back when I start eating properly again) I felt a small thrill. Oh boy, weight loss! Oh boy, looser clothing!

I also felt a rush of irrational hope: maybe now, maybe this time I’ll really lose that extra weight I’ve been dragging around. Maybe I can keep this going, and who knows how far I can go?

Yes, it’s understandable that I would have these feelings. I have been unhappy with my body off and on (more on than off) for almost as long as I can remember. This is so sad, and I wish it weren’t true. But it is true.

When I was 13, I had mono. I went from 115 lbs to 105 lbs in a few weeks. Of course this wasn’t good for me. But boy did I feel like I’d gotten this huge gift– a slightly lighter body, which to me looked and felt transformed. Of course it wasn’t transformed– it was undernourished and dehydrated. Over the next month I gained the weight back as I regained my health.

This time I’m paying closer attention, and I’m on to these beliefs– that this sickness-induced weight loss is a sign of what I can/should/will do to change my body weight.

These beliefs are a cheat and a con.

These beliefs are not reflecting anything true about my body. They’re reflecting my continued struggle with body image and self-acceptance.

For the next month or more, I will need to adhere to a low-fat diet. It’s possible that I will experience more weight loss. That’s fine– it won’t harm me to weigh less. What does harm me, though, is the weight I give to these small changes in my body– what meanings they have and what power they wield over my feelings of well being and self image.

These messages I send myself are a cheat and a con. Why? Because I know that my weight goes up and my weight goes down. I am still here and I am still me, in my gloriousness of intelligence, disorganization, enthusiasm, friendliness, beauty, procrastination, athleticism, and vulnerability.

Everything changes. Including weight. I don’t want to be held hostage to fluctuations, regardless of whether they cause panic or glee. So I’m sharing it with you all. Thanks for reading.

body image · fitness · inclusiveness · media

Fat babies deserve heads

We’ve written about it before. See Is the end in sight for headless fatty photos?  and No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people and Why the “headless fatty”.

I thoughte  it was getting better! But not for babies, The reporter in this case actually replied citing privacy concerns when it comes to infant images, But I’m pretty sure I’ve seen regular size babies with faces.

Why does it matter? What’s wrong with headless fat imagery? It’s this idea that it’s so shameful to have a body like this that we shouldn’t show their head or face in the media. But fat bodies belong everywhere. In the gym, in the classroom, on the runway, and in a diaper in the media.

body image · eating · eating disorders · fitness

Corsets to help that eating disorder along…

Look what came through my newsfeed on Black Friday: “It’s not a corset, it’s shapewear! It’s made of the same stuff as gym leggings. Why? Well, it keeps you conscious of everything you’re eating, it holds you in & basically makes you feel amazing. Grab yours now in the “BLACK FRIDAY Meltdown”

MAKES YOU CONSCIOUS OF EVERYTHING YOU’RE EATING? That’s the line that caught my eye. 

I’ve written before about corsets for working out.  Not surprisingly I didn’t have much good to say. I ended by saying that I’m sticking with exercise clothes that don’t pinch at the waist, like my cycling bib shorts. I am a big fan of breathing. 

Corsets pose a difficult issue for feminists. See The Complicated Feminist Ethics Of Corsets And Waist Trainersand Can We Wear the Corset Trend and Still Be Feminists? and Fit to be tied: Is the controversial corset making a comeback?

My feminism and fashion students a few years ago were torn between “you do you”–it’s all about choice–and thinking it might be fun for sexy fetish wear. No one wanted to defend the corset for daily wear, not in front of the class anyway. What are the daily wear arguments? Some people just like the way they look. Others like the posture correcting effects. And finally, others thought they were a good way to control your appetite because there’s no room for food when everything is tucked in tight with a corset.

Now this ISN’T A CORSET (though I’ve got to say it looks like one). Note though the argument in its favour is food related. It makes you conscious of every bite you take.  Presumably the idea is that there’s no mindless munching. But my worry is that you also eat less. Sometimes that might be less than you need. 

What are your thoughts? What do you make of the diet related reasons to wear a “not-quite-corset”?