body image · fitness · gear

Maternity fitness gear – where are the shorts?

I’ve had a good gear rant before (fitness watches for small wrists, cycling gear for women that’s not pink), but alas, it’s time for another one.

I pretty much need maternity fitness gear now. Some of my workout clothes only just fit me still – below I am in a cycling top and shorts (I folded the top of the shorts down to make room) a good week ago. I highly doubt folding the shorts down would work even now, just 10 days later. I can still wear one pair of my old leggings. But that’s it, everything else will not come over my belly or be very uncomfortable.

Pregnant Bettina in a blue cycling top and black cycling shorts, holding her bike.

Finding nice capri yoga pants was easy. They are the comfiest things ever and everyone should wear them always, pregnant or not. The way they give way at the top is divine. Great for breathing room! For tops, I just bought a couple of long, flowy running tops that will cover my bump (you can see a picture of me wearing one in this post), and finding actual maternity options seems to be easy enough as well.

But I’ve been trying to find maternity fitness shorts and been straight out of luck. It’s mid-May now and summer collections are everywhere (not to mention it’s very warm here already!), but maternity fitness shorts are yet to appear. I’ve found exactly two models but they were sold out in my size. Searching online, I’ve found some (limited) options across the pond in the US and am envious. But not in Europe. Capris and leggings, no issue, but what is a pregnant person who wants to work out in real summer weather to do? I don’t understand. Are we just supposed to stop being active? There is a non-zero chance I actually won’t feel like exercising once it gets really hot, but at least I’d like the option, please.

I also don’t understand why. At first I thought it was because of body image issues. I read so many stories from pregnant people who feel unattractive in pregnancy because of the changes their bodies go through. But there are plenty of other maternity shorts, some of which are short-short, so that can’t really be it? Unless it can, because people aren’t comfortable working out with their changed bodies? I’m worried that that’s what it is after all. Any other ideas? Bonus points for anyone with tips for where to buy maternity workout shorts in Europe – I would be forever grateful!

body image · covid19 · femalestrength · gender policing · normative bodies · self care

Own this moment for yourself

It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.

I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.

I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.

I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.

UGH.

Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.

I retreated inside, into my head.

Freddie, my road bike, with grey frame, orange bar tape, and orange accents, in happier times (last summer in Wales). Luckily, the cracked carbon fork was replaced under warranty!

Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.

I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.

This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.

How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.

Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.

 

I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.

We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.

My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.

Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).

Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.

Betty White, laughing, rocks her ‘do. It looks great ON HER.

For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.

Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?

Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.


Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.

It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.

I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.

So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.

I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.

I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.

But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.

I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!

Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.

body image · cycling · fitness

Meet virtual Sam: Avatars, gender, and identity

As blog readers all know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Zwift lately riding and racing my bike. It’s spring, yes, and normally I’d be riding outside now but it’s also a global pandemic.

Different cyclists make different decisions but I’ve decided to follow the recommendation of Cycling Canada and keep my training indoors. I’ll write more later about racing on Zwift which is turning out to be an awful lot of fun.

But as I’ve been spending more time riding with cyclists from all over the world, I’ve come to identify more with my Zwift avatar.

What do I mean by that? Well, I can spot myself in the peleton of bikes.

My avatar has grey blonde hair that’s about the length of my actual hair. She’s got an athletic build, solid, and I like that.

Here “I” am at the front of the pack. I zoomed to get front just to get a photo. I’m wearing a pink Swarm jersey because I was riding with the Swarm.

Sam riding with the Swarm

Normally I’ve been wearing the Team kit for TFC racing, the cycling club I’ve been racing with. It’s very yellow. Here I am wearing it while warming up for last night’s race.

Zwift Sam warming up for a race

This is the first time I think I’ve created an avatar who sort of looks like me. I had a Skyrim avatar some years ago but I was more playful and adventurous in creating her.

I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes.

So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.

Now I like my Zwift hair and my Zwift gender presentation but when a friend and I did a Swarm ride the other day, it turns out that a lot of the long haired women didn’t like the choices available for hair length. Basically all the long hair is in ponytails and the women wanted longer ponies than Zwift had on offer. There was some suggestion that Zwift needs more women in their development teams.

Here’s a screen capture of my avatar and some possible hair style choices

Zwift Sam considering possible hair styles

I like it that there are more choices than just long or short hair. But in the Swarm group we heard from a lot of long hair identified women who wanted more substantial hair.

Have you had an avatar that you identified with? Did it get everything right that you really cared about? Tell me about your avatar experiences.

body image · covid19 · diets · fat · normative bodies · weight loss · weight stigma

The “covid 19” isn’t funny, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic

I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.

That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.

Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.

If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).

This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.

That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.

We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?

I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.

Image description: Pie chart of “Things I’ve Learned i the last few weeks,” with the 3/4 of the chart taken up with “I fucking love touching my face.”
Image description: White mug with black printing on it in bold, made to look like a broken mirror, and says “I don’t like this episode of Black Mirror.”
body image · competition · diets · fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

Can you watch the Biggest Loser ironically?

No. That’s my answer anyway.

I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.

I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?

“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.

What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.

You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th‎.” But you don’t have to watch the show.

We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.

From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holly

TV shows, fitness, and weight loss: Love and hate

I know the mistake they made: The biggest losers just stopped exercising

More on the mistakes the biggest losers make: But what about muscle?

The biggest losers just did it the wrong way! They lost the weight too quickly!

Extreme Dieting and Metabolic Adaptation: The “Biggest Loser” Dataset (Guest Post)

Imagine if size didn’t matter. Can you?

So has Caitlin at Fit and Feminist:

THE ‘SHOCKING’ OUTCOME OF THE BIGGEST LOSER IS NOT ALL THAT SHOCKING

Don’t watch the Biggest Loser. Watch this great ad instead!

accessibility · body image · cycling · fat · fitness

Fat cyclists in the news

I loved seeing this in my newsfeed: They call themselves ‘fat cyclists’ — and they want to get more people, of all sizes, on bikes. It’s a lovely story of two women, Kailey Kornhauser and Marley Blonsky who connected on Instagram and who now pursue bike adventures and cycling advocacy together. They both wear size 2X and they’re not riding to lose weight.

Kailey says, “I was always trying to change the fact that I was a fat cyclist into being just a ‘regular’ cyclist,” the 27-year-old says on a recent afternoon. “Now, I spend my time loving myself and moving my body because I enjoy moving my body and not as a punishment to my body.”

They’re not alone, of course. See Big women on bikes here on this blog. Also, Fat lass at the front.

One of my fave fat cyclist images. From the Stocky Bodies project.
alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

body image · diets · eating · feminism · fitness · yoga

Tracy objects to “yoga for holiday baking”

It’s that time of year where unsuspecting yogis or gym goers can be subjected to diet culture (not quite as bad as what’s to come in January, but still a risk) in class. It just slides into the running commentary that instructors need to maintain to keep the class moving along.

Image description: Christmas cookies (various kinds): gingerbread people, stars, stockings, trees, Santas, snow people, candy canes, snowflakes. Photo: https://www.959theriver.com/holiday-baking-yay-or-nay/

This happened to me the other day in yoga. I’ve been unable to run for a couple of months, so I’ve been going to hot yoga every day instead. It’s been a nice change (though I’m dying to get back to running). I’ve been a member at the same studio for at least a decade and I honestly have never experienced the normalization of diet culture there. But that commendable streak came to an end the other day when, in order to motivate a longer hold of a strenuous pose, the instructor said, “work off all that holiday baking!”

“Say what?” She lost me right then and there. I went back and forth in my head about whether I was overreacting. Despite that I don’t blog regularly here anymore, seven years as a feminist fitness blogger has given me a certain perspective and a keen awareness of nonsense that sucks the joy out of our workouts and replaces it with the suggestion that we need to whip our overindulgent selves into shape. I object!

I spent the rest of the class asking myself “do I say something or let it go?” On the side of letting it go: I know she meant it as a light-hearted comment. On the side of saying something: that’s how diet culture gets perpetuated; the yoga studio is the last place I expect to hear it; I’m probably not the only one who felt uncomfortable with the comment.

After my shower I approached the instructor. I had already decided to be nice about it. I love the studio and as I said it’s not a place I normally experience body shaming or anything other than body positivity. Definitely the comment was the exception not the rule.

Me: It was a good class but I have some feedback.

Instructor: Yes.

Me: I didn’t appreciate the comment about the holiday baking. I don’t come here to hear that sort of thing.

Instructor: I know! I’m sorry. The minute it came out of my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said it. But I didn’t know how to take it back.

Me: That’s reassuring. Thanks for telling me that.

Instructor: Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you felt able to express it.

I consider that a good news story. Instead of stewing in my juices, I opened up a dialogue. That yielded a shared understanding and also a willingness on the instructor’s part to do better in the future.

Using workouts to “deal with” holiday baking is a pretty normal message that is firmly entrenched in normalized diet culture. For most people it is just the way it is. But that’s not what we promote here. And it’s not what anyone who cares about body positivity and more self-nurturing motivations for our fitness pursuits should be promoting either.

I’m glad I said something. And I’m really relieved the instructor “got it” before I even opened my mouth.

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.

danielle-macinnes-d9IFdsA1HIA-unsplash
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.