I was already bored to tears with all the phrasing around burning fat/calories, trimming inches, and sculpting parts of our bodies. That stuff is so common that aside from the occasional eyeroll, I usually just skim over it when I see/hear it. I hate it but…meh.
However, as I have been seeking out more challenging videos lately I have been, to use the local vernacular, absolutely drove by the vocab that is supposed to motivate me.
I don’t want to ‘crush’ anything. Nor am I interested in a video that has the word ‘attack’ in the title. I don’t want to ‘destroy’ my abs or my glutes or my biceps. I don’t want to leave any of my muscles ‘screaming.’*
And despite being a martial artist who loves to practice punching and kicking, it bugs me that a lot of videos that incorporate those movements are called ‘body combat.’**
When I read titles with those words in them or when I hear the instructor use them during a workout, I don’t feel charged up and motivated, I feel tired.
And, shockingly, that is NOT what I am looking for when I’m exercising.
I want to be encouraged to work hard. I want to be told that I can do it. I want to be guided to forge ahead, to persist. I don’t want to feel like my exercise is supposed to be painful or punishing.
I thought we had left the whole ‘No Pain, No Gain’ thing behind but all of this language of destruction makes me feel like that attitude has snuck back into the party wearing different clothes and is waiting to see if we catch on.
And, as Tracy noted when I mentioned my irritation with these words, it’s frustrating and sad that we are all assumed to be in battle with our bodies all the time.
I am not fighting against my body in the quest to increase my fitness level.
My body and brain are working TOGETHER to move toward increased mobility and strength and a feeling of wellbeing. Any video titles or peppy encouragements that invite me to pit my brain against my body end up sapping my energy and leaving me feeling defeated.
I know that, culturally, many people’s bodies are seen as problematic and unruly – always being relentlessly human instead of a perfectly managed creation. This vocabulary thing ties into that, of course – an unruly body must be managed and defeated so it will look and behave in acceptable ways.
And I also know that the phrasing I am describing will seem like no big deal to some. In fact, I’m sure lots of people would tell me to just ignore it’ but I can’t do that.
I’m a writer and storyteller and I spend a long time making sure that the words I choose serve the purpose I want them to serves.
Words matter. Words have power. Words carry messages above and beyond their direct meaning.
And these destruction-themed words can drag all kinds of social expectations into my exercise time. My workouts are hard enough without also lifting cultural baggage at the same time.
How do you feel about these words? Do you find them motivating? Frustrating? Or do you not even notice them?
*If those words help you to power up, please feel free to completely ignore this post. I’m talking about my feelings and frustrations. not laying down a law about what can and cannot be said in a workout.
**The combat part I totally get but calling it body combat really makes it sound like you are fighting your own body. Ick.
In this interview (part 1 of 2), Michael Collins compares bodybuilding competitions to Kiwanis music festivals, and describes his desire to be the “Julia Child of weightlifting.” Find Michael on Twitter: https://twitter.com/erlking.
How did you get into bodybuilding and gym culture?
I formerly worked in the academic field, but I left because of a combination of burnout, poor career prospects, and a feeling that my passions had shifted. I have always had a passion for bodybuilding and muscular physiques, which I felt I had to hide when I was in academia. I actually felt more shame and anxiety about being into muscles in the university setting than I felt about being gay!
I’m 38, and I only became serious about bodybuilding when I was 31. Today I am a personal trainer and bodybuilding coach, but in terms of my own physique I am an amateur / passionate bodybuilding hobbyist. Like most sports, professional success requires a blend of genetic predisposition and starting young; what slim hopes I might have had of becoming a pro, or even a prominent amateur competitor, would have required me to start a dozen years sooner than I did. However, there are many reasons why someone would pursue bodybuilding beyond professional success!
Is bodybuilding culture welcoming of gay folks like yourself?
Unfortunately, professional bodybuilding can still be a homophobic space, but at the amateur level this has never been an issue for me, and in fact I’m a member of a large, robust, and mutually supportive community of gay and queer amateur bodybuilders. I definitely feel more comfortable being myself where I am right now than I did previously.
Can you explain what training and being a trainer in a gym is like?
I consider bodybuilding competitions to be an artistic practice and a form of body modification, less a professional sport and more like the Kiwanus Music Festivals I would compete in as a youth. You labour in solitude for months to produce an aesthetic object that exists in time, then you produce that aesthetic object for a panel of judges alongside peers who have done the same, and then you are ranked according to a fairly strict and narrow sense of what determines worth in this specific arena. I think bodybuilders have more in common with concert pianists than they do with football players.
Before the pandemic, I wanted to be the Julia Child of lifting weights, helping people who are anxious about it and ignorant of it because of that anxiety, showing them this is their space too, and they have a right to learn how their body works and how to make it stronger.
I trained in-person, mostly people I would call “beginners.” In the gym I taught basic fundamentals like how to deadlift and squat properly, how to make it so your back hurts less and you don’t get winded going up three flights of stairs, and so on. I had prediabetic clients who used weight training as a way of managing that condition.
How did your training practice change once the pandemic took hold?
Gyms in Toronto were closed for almost nine months straight. It’s important to tutor beginners in basic physical movements to avoid injury, so it was difficult to train my clients virtually. Also, beginners don’t have access to their own power rack, olympic barbells, and collection of plates!
So, during the pandemic, I shifted more to coaching people who are already well-versed in lifting and who want to further a physical transformation, often who want to compete as amateur bodybuilders (something I’m thankful I got to do myself for the first time in 2019). I shifted to work that can be done virtually, like programming people’s workout plans, diet plans, etc.
What is the best part of your craft?
Some of my clients tell me they have had very troubled or even hateful relationships with their bodies. I find it very fulfilling when someone has discovered the pleasure of how strong their body actually can be, of how good it can feel to regularly test your limits and feel them gradually expand. It’s lovely to help someone transform in a way they long desired but felt was impossible. The sense of pride and pleasure that can awaken is very rewarding to see.
What advice do you have for folks who want to get more involved with bodybuilding and gym culture?
Find your people. They’re unlikely to be the influencers on Instagram who dominate the field (although I know of a few who really warm my heart with good, well-considered, intelligent feminist or generally progressive insights). Instead, find people who are working for a similar goal and who have similar values as you. People who are on a similar path, but who may be a step or two ahead. They’ll be a great resource for learning (and there’s so much to learn if you’re new) and for mutual support. For me, Twitter has been good for this.
Also, think about what kind of gym that’s available to you and what kind of community there is. The communities in smaller, independent gyms are normally male-dominated, but they are often supportive and focused on teaching, learning, and mutual support. And, if you have the money and you know someone who is a good fit for you, hiring a knowledgeable trainer is my best advice.
Additional video interview
Hear personal trainer Michael Collins describe more about his journey to bodybuilding, his vision of the inclusiveness of gym culture, and how gym communities are shifting to support all types of bodybuilding enthusiasts.
Almost 8 years ago to the day I wrote on the blog about journalistic practice of not sharing the weights of women in competitive sports.
Then and now I can see both sides of the issues, but I hate the differential treatment.
I wrote, “Women, more than men, are more likely to feel themselves to be defined by their weight. Very few women are able to view that number on the scale neutrally. And athletes too suffer from eating disorders, sometimes sacrificing performance for a smaller number on the scale. So the effects of reporting women’s weights are different than that of sharing men’s. Since the information about Olympic athletes is there and people want to know, I can see why journalists share it. I’m torn. I don’t like the differential treatment. I want to live in a world where weight is just one fact among many about a person, athlete or not.”
Here Cindy Hirschfeld isn’t talking about weight but about discussions of the type, size, and shape of the athletes’ bodies. She begins by noting how much sports reporting has improved, focusing mostly now on athletic achievement not appearance.
But sometimes a reference to body type hits a nerve, as was the case in a recent New York Timesarticle about Jessie Diggins’s bronze medal in the women’s individual sprint on Feb. 8. “In a sport that has so many women with massive shoulders and thighs, Diggins looks like a sprite in her racing suit, and it’s not clear exactly where she gets her power. But the power is there, as she flies up hills, and comes off climactic turns with a burst. On the downhills, she tucks low and cuts through the air,” wrote longtime sports journalist Matthew Futterman.
At least some members of the U.S. women’s squad didn’t appreciate the description and neither did head coach Matt Whitcomb. “It’s surprising to see something like that in 2022 come out in the Times,” he said when asked about it. “Because it’s a sensitive issue. And, you know, you think about where we were 20 years ago, something like that wouldn’t have even registered on anyone’s radar. And we all learn on a different day or a different year what’s acceptable—it’s an ongoing moving target. And so I’m sensitive to the people that are caught off guard, but it’s great that [Futterman] is being called out on it.”
The issue has added significance, perhaps, given Diggins’s struggle with an eating disorder in the past that she’s openly shared. It was a topic of discussion among female journalists in the Mixed Zone at the women’s 10km classic yesterday, Feb. 10, and a male colleague from FasterSkier initiated asking the U.S. athletes about it as they passed through to chat with us.
What do you think? Should we be neutral about numbers on the scale and the size and shape of athletes’ bodies, one thing upon many to comment on? Should we treat women athletes differently given the concern about eating disorders among women athletes? Or should we not look at bodies or least not talk about them? Isn’t that extra hard when it comes to people whose bodies can do such amazing thngs?
What do you think?Share your thoughts in the comments.
“Some podcasts only talk the talk, but in today’s episode David and Ellie walk the walk (or talk the walk?) by diving into the philosophy of walking. Walking is a complex sociocultural practice that raises fascinating questions about history, power, and freedom. Why did our ancestors transition from walking on all fours to walking on two legs, and how did this shape our evolution as a species? Why have so many philosophers throughout history (from Aristotle to Rousseau) insisted on incorporating walks into their daily routines? And how do systems of oppression—such as classism, racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism—mold our experience of walking, determining where and even how we can walk?”
“After analyzing government services through a process known as “gender-balanced budgeting,” many Swedish cities, including Stockholm, prioritize snow clearance very differently. They now clear walkways and bike paths first, especially those near bus stops and primary schools. Next, they clear local roads, and then, finally, highways.”
Who’s that Bond villain stroking a cat and yelling at beloved public figures? It’s Karl Lagerfeld! This week, Mike and Aubrey go in on fashion’s favorite turbo troll and his fancy, joyless diet. This episode serves four.”
“New Year’s resolutions. We’ve all had one at some point, and we’ve all probably given up on at least one, if not more. In fact, the next couple weeks are the time when most people will give up on their resolutions, from being nicer to their mom to going to the gym. If your resolution is to get along better with your mother, maybe you should try to stick that one out. But if your resolution has anything to do with weight loss or dieting, it’s actually OK to let it go. You should base your New Year’s resolutions — or any self-improvement goal, really — on health and fitness rather than dieting or losing weight. “
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.