After yesterday’s post about why focusing on ‘results’ and looking fit isn’t the best motivation for working out, Nicole and I got chatting about why this hits some people harder than others. I shared this older post about the advantages of never really being inside the beauty ideal. Here it is as our Throwback Thursday post….
“I have a fairly robust self image despite being significantly overweight. How did I come by this? It’s puzzled me a bit so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.
It’s not that I think my body is perfect, far from it. I see the flaws: footballer knees, a soft lower belly from pregnancy, wide calves, short legs/long torso… What I mean is that when I look in the mirror, I usually smile. I see my stretch marks even (hard to be pregnant three times without getting some) with affection.
I used to think that body acceptance would be easier if you were closer to society’s ideals for women. Now I see that isn’t so. Doing the Lean Eating program I got to know some very small women with some serious body image issues. I found some of the self-loathing pretty difficult to be around and in the end I chose a smaller subset of that community as allies and friends….”
CW: Quotes and discussion of fat-phobic comments and advice on women’s faces, bodies, and hairstyles.
The internet is a twisty-turnyroad, with surprises around every blind corner. A friend’s mom was looking at Pinterest for crafting ideas, and what did she run into? A world of websites, all dedicated to hairstyle advice for women who are a) fat; b) over 50; or c) both.
Honestly, this is no surprise. Policing women’s bodies and appearance is a pastime that’s never gotten old. For those of us who are fat, the messaging takes on an increased urgency. Heaven forbid that we rock an outfit that’s form-fitting or sexy or athletic or avant-garde or cute. What would happen?
Ditto for older women. We must be advised on the manifold restrictions governing age-appropriate clothing (say such sites). Really, the effort and bandwidth devoted just to marketing specialized bathing suits for women over 50 is considerable. Sam blogged about one such scheme here.
But it’s not enough for the fat-phobic marketing monolith to invade our FB feeds, selling caftans, swimsuit skirts and capes, and long-sleeved tunics in muted colors. Oh, no. We can cover up to their satisfaction, but that still leaves our necks and faces on display. What to do?
Follow the advice of the hairstyle police! Here’s their general warning:
… there are some things you must consider when choosing a hairstyle if you are an overweight woman. The first thing is your facial features. You must consider your eyes, cheekbones, and shape of your face. Secondly, check on your neck... The last thing is your body size. If you are a little chubby, you must get something different from a woman with curves.
Note the urgency here– the word “must” appears three times. And, we are instructed in no uncertain terms to check on our necks. Okay, here goes:
I went ahead and checked my body size off-camera. Yep, I’ve got a body, and it has size; it takes up space and has mass. Physics experiment done! Now what?
Time to talk hairstyles for the fat and over-50. The following is super-helpful:
Since you most likely have a wide body, it’s best to choose extreme hair lengths. For example, if you want it short, make it shorter than the normal shoulder length. If you want it long, go for lengths that reach the mid-section or a few inches higher.
Hmmm. Sounds like my options for hair looks are twofold: Rapunzel or Pixie. They don’t provide any super-long-hair options, so we’re on our own there. Here’s what the fat-hairstyle police had to say about Pixie cuts:
When having a round face or some extra pounds, the goal is to create an illusion. Side-swept bangs will help you shape your face, and a pixie cut can be the best haircut for fat older women.
In a bold variation on the pixie, the fat-hair police suggest pink waves for folks with fat faces.
Updos, it seems, are an option for the fatter woman with hair. What a relief! Here’s the fat hair experts’ take on the beehive:
A beehive lookalike bun placed in the head’s midsection will make your face look slimmer and elongated. It will reveal your face and show that you still have sass even as a plus size girl.
Clearly, these people have no idea what they’re talking about. But fear not, FIFI readers– we are here to fill gaps where we find them. So, here are some hairstyle suggestions from me, a woman who is a) fat; b) over 50, and c) gray/silver-haired.
Suppose you want to wear your hair up? We got your options right here.
Finally, you may want to show off that luxurious hair in a more mysterious way.
Dear readers, how do you choose your hairstyles and colors? Do you think Rapunzel is a good hair role model in this day and age? Have you ever had a pixie? Is it your go-to look? And what about those pigtails? I’d love to hear from you.
CW: discussion of the ideas that friends’ body weights are an influence on a person and that having friends with higher body weights is less desirable (as mentioned by the NY Times), alongside criticism of those ideas.
The New York Times saw fit to print an article this week on using this phase of the pandemic to “rearrange your ‘friendscape'”, which in essence means a combo of culling, currying favor with, and ruthlessly categorizing your friends into the foreground, middle ground, and background of your life.
The idea of pandemic housecleaning isn’t new. I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten rid of unwanted books, DVDs, CDs, and ancient clothing over the past 14 months. I’ve even moved furniture around, reshuffled the art on my walls, and have freshened up with a few new purchases.
It never occurred to me to toss out, recycle to send to Goodwill any of my friends.
Of course not! Who would think this was a good idea? Well, a bunch of social scientists that the NY Times talked to did. Here are some of their thoughts:
Psychologists, sociologists and evolutionary anthropologists say it behooves us to take a more curatorial approach when it comes to our friends because who you hang out with determines who you are.
Hmmm. Who you are? You mean, I am destined to become exactly like my friends, including taking on their traits? This article seems to say yes:
Indeed, depressed friends make it more likely you’ll be depressed, obese friends make it more likely you’ll become obese, and friends who smoke or drink a lot make it more likely you’ll do the same. The reverse is also true: You will be more studious, kind and enterprising if you consort with studious, kind and enterprising people. That is not to say that you should abandon friends when they are having a hard time. But it’s a good idea to be mindful of who you are spending the majority of your time with — whether on- or off-line — because your friends’ prevailing moods, values and behaviors are likely to become your own.
Yes, I know. It sounds mean and absurd. Which I think it is. So does Roxane Gay, writer and columnist for the self-same newspaper. Here’s how she summed up the article:
What’s really going on here? For more than a decade, there have been studies looking at social networks and how to identify patterns in common among social groups. Nicholas Christakis and lots of others, through this social network analysis, argue that some traits like body weight, psychological states, and some eating and drinking habits are “socially contagious”, which means they spread through social connections. I wrote about this a decade ago with my friend Norah. Our views have shifted since then, I might add. The details are complicated and not obvious or always intuitive. For instance, same-sex mutual friend groups are more mutually influential than domestic partner or married partner groups.
How these traits spread is outside the purview of social network analysis. Other social scientists have posited views about localized behavioral norms (like eating, drinking and drug use practices), but these views are speculative, not predictive or diagnostic or useful for dispensing friendship triage advice.
In sum, though:
It’s not true that my being fat “helps make you fat” if we are mutual friends.
Being fat is a thing that some people are and some people aren’t. Talking about fatness as social contagion worry for people who are looking to assess their friendships is ill-considered and mean-spirited and not supported by evidence.
It’s also fat-phobic in the extreme, which makes it double-mean-spirited.
Ditto for depression. The last thing someone with depression needs is her friends avoiding or dumping her out of fear that they will catch it. That is wrong on all the levels. Like, even this level of wrong:
There’s more blah-blah about friendships in the article, but nothing that is a) worth mentioning; or b) offsets the horribleness of the above-mentioned messages.
So, what am I doing about my friendships as we emerge, many of us vaccinated?
I’m expressing my love and gratitude to those with whom I shared a supportive/supported network;
I’m reconnecting with those I lost touch with, or who lost touch with me, for reasons of PANDEMIC, y’all!
I’m enjoying some new connections made over the past year courtesy of zoom and social media;
I’m trying to pace myself in those activities of reconnection, and be understanding of those who are in a different stage of connection or reconnection or disconnection.
Life is hard, y’all. Life has been extra hard. Geez Louise– how about let’s just be friends with our friends as best we can? That’s what I have to say to the New York Times.
Readers, did you see this article? Where are you with respect to connecting and reconnecting with friends these days? I’d love to hear from you.
There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.
The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.
Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).
Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”
Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.
The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”
A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.
Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.
CW: This piece reflects upon my personal experiences with food and food choices, with discussion of body size, diet culture, and challenges with body image. My goals may not be your goals. It is not intended as advice.
I had a moment of personal revelation this summer. I noticed something important about my self-talk. I wonder, can you pick it out?
When I went for a run and it wasn’t feeling good, I told myself, “It’s ok. I can do a walk-jog today. In fact, maybe I need to adjust my plans so that my Saturday run is always a walk-jog. I’m often just not feeling it on Saturday mornings.”
Sometimes, when I was lifting weights, I wasn’t having fun. I was tired and wanted to do something else. So I told myself, “Do these two exercises, give them all you’ve got, and then go ahead and move on with your day. At least you did something.”
I noticed that oftentimes I would get a little shaky in the morning between breakfast and lunch. It felt like low blood sugar, like I’d run out of steam and my body wasn’t managing it well. Each time it happened, I told myself, “It’s only been 90 minutes since breakfast. There’s no way I’m hungry already! Just ignore it. I will have lunch in a few hours.”
Did you notice it?
When I was struggling with my running or lifting, I accommodated my changing needs. Taking care of my fitness continued, but it was modified to help me manage stress, fatigue, and other limitations of the moment.
But when it came to my meals, I wasn’t being as flexible. I didn’t believe that my plan wasn’t right for the moment. I tried to force my habitual meals to be alright instead of trusting my experiences and the data my body was giving me that it wasn’t meeting my needs anymore. This was clearly diet culture seeping into my thoughts, motivating me to limit my food instead of trusting the signals my body gave.
And maybe it’s not a big surprise that I found some increased diet mindset creeping in these days. My body has been slowly getting larger over the last few years. Nothing dramatic, but at several life changes in the last handful of years (marriage, hysterectomy, worldwide pandemic), I’ve gotten just a little bit bigger. I’m now a full clothing size larger than I was before my wedding. And while intellectually I fully recognize that it “shouldn’t” matter, there are moments when this unintentional, slow increase in size bugs me.
My quality of life is not at all hampered by my increased size. It doesn’t impact me day to day in the slightest. I can still run, my joints don’t ache any more than they did a size smaller, and it may even help me with my lifting to be a bit bigger. However, I wonder if I’ve unconsciously “tightened up” my eating in response to increasing numbers? Have I stopped trusting in my hunger signals due to my discomfort over slowly getting larger?
So, I’ve made a new commitment to myself this last month to nutritional self-care. I have been running experiments to find out what balance of foods to eat that help me to feel really good, even when it means eating more than I’ve previously been accustomed to eating. I’ve noticed when I’m hungry and trusted that it meant I needed to eat more. I’ve checked in with myself at the end of meals to make sure I’ve genuinely eaten enough and to stop when I’m satisfied. I’ve been more flexible with my meal timing, eating more frequently some days when it seems like I needed it, instead of forcing myself to wait until the next designated eating time. And I’ve been making sure to eat dessert when I decide I want it instead of first trying to deny my appetite.
So far, these experiments have succeeded in making food and hunger less of a stressor in my life. I’m realizing that it had become a low-level, persistent focus, and now I’m thinking about food far less often. That shaky feeling between meals is gone. I’m also finding that I’m more at peace with my reflection when I feel better taken care of in general. My size very likely may continue to change. I’m still working on being neutral about that. But in these extraordinary times, I welcome any moment of peace I can find. Honoring my hunger, feeling really satisfied with my meals and between them, sounds like a wonderful kind of peace to give myself.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating salted caramel chocolate cake, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
CW: discussion of body shapes and body weight, primarily with respect to a recent study assessing those variations in relationship to mortality risk. Lots of critique, too– you can count on that.
I have wide hips, large thighs and a large butt. Always have, always will. Regardless of my age, height, weight, fitness, that’s what my physical outline has looked like. My sister has always had slimmer thighs and butt, carrying more weight in her midsection. We are both in our 50s now, heavier and both carrying more weight in our midsections. We’re both doing what we do, happy to hang out when one of us can travel to the other.
All this is to say: we have the bodies we have, in the shapes they are. And even though the internet will offer you plenty of opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash on pills, supplements, gadgets and programs to try to change your body shape, I recommend saving it. It’s a waste of money.
So why do people worry about their body shapes and want to change them? In addition to all the messaging we get about what the “perfect” body shape is, medical science warns us of the dangers supposedly hidden in those shapes.
A new study came out in the past 10 days, looking at associations between body shape and mortality risk. Naturally, the press was on the scene, ready to inform us in the most provocative ways they could think of. Here’s a sample of the (inaccurate) headlines:
What’s inaccurate about them? It’s not the case that having (or working to acquire) thick or chunky or wide hips and thighs will itself cause increased longevity; of course we know that. What these news outlets are saying is that people who carry their weight more centrally are at higher mortality risk than those who carry their weight less centrally. But is this true? Let’s see what the article is saying.
In a recent meta-analysis (study of a lot of studies) a team of Iranian and Canadian researchers set out to identify and quantify mortality risk factors specifically related to body dimensions and ratios Waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio are commonly studied measures for this type of research. In addition, this group studied thigh circumference, hip circumference, something called “body adiposity index” (roughly, a function of the ration of hip circumference to height) and another fancy biometric called “A body shape index”.
In case you’re still reading (one can hope), here’s what the researchers concluded:
Indices of central fatness … were positively and significantly associated with a higher all cause mortality risk.
Larger hip circumference and thigh circumference were associated with a lower risk.
The results suggest that measures of central adiposity could be used with body mass index as a supplementary approach to determine the risk of premature death.
What do I make of this? Well, glad you asked. Here are a few takeaways:
One thing: They definitely found lower mortality risk associated with larger hip circumference. But there’s more– look at this pair of graphs:
What’s interesting to me here is that the top graph, which controls for BMI and waist circumference, shows the risk dropping well below 1 (which is set as the standard, so less than 1 is better). But in addition, the bottom graph, which doesn’t control for BMI/waist circumference, still shows a dip in the mortality risk below 1 up to about 112 cm, and a very small increased risk up to 120 cm.
Why is this interesting? Because the second graph shows that people with larger hips have a lower relative mortality risk, even apart from body weight.
Another thing: Here’s another set of interesting-to-me graphs:
What we see here that caught my eye was how the waist-to-height ratio increase is fairly straightforwardly associated with increased mortality risk for men, but for women this is not so. As waist-to-height ratio increases, there is a dip in mortality risk for women before increased starting at around .52.
Which leads me to yet-another-thing: the researchers mention (which other researchers know but sadly, not reporters) that many of these associations disappear with age. That is, for people older than 60, these body dimension metrics and ratios don’t tell us much of anything about mortality risk.
Last thing: all through the text of this article, the authors either cite other studies or give results which suggest that body weight itself is not positively associated with increased mortality risk. They point out the need for studying different populations, including those who are healthy (vs. those with underlying medical conditions), smokers, ex-smokers, and never-smokers, and subcategories of those with men vs. women. What does this tell us?
Science is complicated.
So, does my life depend on my body shape? No.We have the shapes we do. Hundreds of features of both our bodies and the world our bodies inhabit influence how we live and how long that will be.
But I still kind of want this T shirt:
Readers: does this sort of body-shape research bother you? Do you ignore it? I’m curious about how these murky medical messages translate in the public. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.
CW: discussion of body size and body parts of women, in service of arguing against thin-ideal stereotypes in swimwear.
If you’re a woman over 50 years old, some swimsuit marketers have lots of worries about what you wear on the beach or at the pool. Their worries often center on body parts, like upper arms and abdomen– what if they are larger or looser or exposed? What will happen? They don’t know, but they really want to avoid that possibility. So they do two things:
they put together marketing campaigns aimed at reassuring you (and the general public) that they are on the scene, ready to perform miracles of engineering to keep you pulled up, sucked in, and in all ways suit-able for being seen.
They design swimwear that either holds body parts rigidly in place through space-age elastic technology, or devotes yards and yards of bleach-resistant fabric for covering you up, like a dining-room table with a bunch of scratches and blemishes.
Here’s what I mean:
A few things to note (which applies to many brands)
It is called the Miracle Suit, performing the miracle of smooshing women’s body parts inside a swimsuit;
It says you’ll look 10 lbs/5 kilos lighter in 10 seconds, like this is something we all want (and need?);
It uses the term “figure flattering”, supporting the view that bodies that don’t conform to thin-ideal or fitspo standards need to be covered or neutralized through copious amounts of Spandex;
It reassures you that, regardless of your size or flaws (of which the former may also count as the latter), they’ve got you covered– maybe with billowing tunics…
In this article for the website sixtyandme, the writer tackles the problem (?!) of what to wear on the beach or at the pool when you’re over 60. The author says both that body sensitivity is “in our own heads” (which it may be, but is also out in the world), and that there is still “a practical problem as well – finding flattering bathing suits for older women is much harder than it should be”. What do I think about this?
Okay, enough ranting. What to say about this?
Everyone deserves to enjoy the beach, the lake, the pool, the water. Because of body shaming and thin ideals and fitspo ideals, etc. some of us sometimes feel ashamed to show our bodies in public and want more covering for swimming or walking around. Given this reality, it seems like having a market to offer higher-covering swim and beach wear isn’t a bad thing.
But it comes at a price, namely with the messaging that older women’s bodies are inherently flawed or not suitable for public viewing. How about this: we just STOP marketing higher-covering swimwear by leveraging body-shaming tropes and jokes? Thanks.
As a fat 58-year-old woman, what I want is swimwear that’s styled like thinner and younger women’s bathing suits, just in my size. I don’t want muumuus and blousy tunic-like coverup swim and active wear. This is because I like to swim, and all that fabric is going to interfere with the swimming. I want body hugging wear with the right fit to cover breasts and butt.
Other women may want different things— more fabric, tunics, etc. That’s great. You do you, and let the variety of options go forth and multiply.
But, I worry that many of us have been both shamed and niche marketed into a narrow range of swimsuit styles resembling either straight jackets or draperies. Just thinking out loud here. I’d welcome your thoughts, as always.
A friend recently posted the following on Facebook, “pro tip- when you shit talk your body, you are shit talking everyone’s bodies. lay off that shit homies, it gives me the sad/mad/bads.”
The basic idea is that body love requires self acceptance. It’s not enough to love the bodies of others. It’s not enough to embrace diversity where others are concerned. Loving all the bodies includes your own body. Because even if you are just holding yourself up to some higher standard than you hold other people, you’re still holding that standard.
I had a friend once detail the exact way her abs needed to look for her to feel comfortable wearing a two piece bathing suit. I felt the need to tell her that I wore a two piece bathing suit. She said, “Oh that’s fine. I don’t care how other people look. This is just about me.” But that didn’t make me feel any better. I looked awful, no doubt, by her standards, she just didn’t care.
I have some thoughts about this:
Surely, one might say, it’s okay to set high standards for oneself? To ask more of oneself. But no actually. Note the language. Listen to what you’re saying. By using the word “higher” it’s clear that you’ve still got a metric, and probably, honestly you’re still applying it to others too.
Suppose you’re not though. Suppose you really do think that a diversity of body shapes and sizes are fine for other people but for you there’s just one way it’s okay to be and unless you’re there, things are awful.
It’s possible to hold both of those ideas. But probably you still ought to be quiet about how you feel about your own body, knowing it will make others feel bad. Need to talk about your body shame and self-hatred? Check in with friends to make sure it’s okay. But it’s probably best to find a trained listening and helping professional.
“Of course, the most important thing to know about Brokinis is that they’re all about fun and not taking yourself too seriously. In fact, they’re a response to bold new trends in men’s fashion. We wanted to come up with a bathing suit that’s fun for goofing around on the beach, cottage weekends, bachelor parties and festivals.”
Why I am blogging about men’s bathing suits on a feminist fitness blog?
It’s complicated, but my feminism includes breaking down normative gender for men too. Partly I suppose it’s because I have sons. Partly it’s because of views about body image and gender equality. I wanted for women the body comfort and athleticism that is so easily given to men. Yet, we’re in a world where equality has meant increasing pressure on men to conform to a very narrow body type. It’s all lean muscles and visible abs for both men and women. People of all genders experience pressure to diet and to exercise for the purpose of aesthetic goals.
Also, I guess, insofar as we gravitate towards topics I’m the go-to blogger for posts about men’s bodies and men’s bathing suits. LOL.
So why I am pro-brokini? It’s fun. They make me smile. Men should have the option of being playful too. It’s not all hard muscles and a visible inguinal crease. There are lots of frivolous fashion trends for women, most recently, the nap dress, why not for men too? And to be clear, I’m not just pro-outrageous men’s bathing suits when it comes to young, fit men. I’m a big fan of elderly, larger, furry men in speedos at the beach. Why? It makes room for me in my bikini too. I don’t want to be driven to swimming dresses which are fine if they’re your thing but they’re the sort of thing that for me, once I start wearing them, I have a hard time going back. My feminism includes the sock, the speedo, and now the brokini. Bring it on. Have fun.