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”? 

body image · bras · clothing · Fear · femalestrength · feminism · gender policing · men · objectification · running

Again?! Women at Rowan University are Serena’d

This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.

How much longer will we be having these conversations? After the brouhaha this summer over the ridiculous outfit policing by the tennis powers (which we wrote about on this blog), causing grief to Serena Williams (Let Women Wear What They Want and Serena Williams and the multiple ways of policing black women’s bodies) and Alize Cornet (Is Tennis Trying To Win a Chauvinism/Misogyny Award?), how is it possible the university administrators at Rowan forgot? Or did the news never even reach their ears?

Every time this happens, I am grieved by the lack of respect for women and their bodies. Men are responsible for their own lack of decorum and inability to contain their impulses, not us!

A sports bra is not provocative. It is comfortable. It is practical. It makes us feel strong and capable and empowered.

Oh … maybe that is provocative … because it provokes fear?!

Do you workout in sports bra only?

advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.

body image · eating · fitness · food · inclusiveness · media

Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” redefines cooking shows in the best way

Cooking shows… some are great and some less so, but many of them – at least until recently – have had one thing in common: if they were about high-level cuisine, they were mostly male (and white). If they were about everyday home cooking, they were mostly female (and also white). In the past couple of years or so, this has slowly begun to change. Netflix has been at the forefront of this development with its original productions. Ugly Delicious was still mostly male, but at least less white. Chef’s Table still explores a lot of male, Western white chefs, but also really interesting women and people from countries outside of the traditional Michelin star circuit (Ana Roš from Slovenia, for instance, Musa Dağdeviren from Turkey, or Cristina Martínez, a Mexican chef living in the US undocumented).

But BAM, up shows Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and with her Netflix-produced show of the same name, changes everything we know to be true about cooking shows. Nosrat, an American of Iranian descent, explores these four key elements of great cooking through the lenses of different countries. The Salt episode takes place mostly in Japan. For Fat, she goes to Italy. Acid is set in Mexico, and finally Heat focuses on her own kitchen. She is genuinely curious and appreciative of everything the locals she interviews for her show tell her, and constantly relates it back to her own culinary upbringing, but without overpowering the stories of her interview partners.

No direct connection to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this is a meal that’s been a favourite in our household lately: Mussakhan, a Middle Eastern dish that involves chicken marinated with red onions, lemon juice, and sumac. In Samin Nosrat’s words: “It’s so good!”. Make it, you won’t be sorry (recipe here).

She’s unapologetic about her own enjoyment of food. Samin Nosrat’s relationship to eating seems so healthy and natural. It’s so good! she exclaims again and again, and you can’t not start salivating as you watch. I mean, imagine – a whole episode about fat without one single remark along the lines of ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘I shouldn’t really’, ‘just this once’…?! In a cooking show presented by a woman? This is unheard of. She even asks for more. This is how it should be, but too many times sadly it’s not.

In a world where women are constantly shamed for enjoying food, where exercise is frequently framed in terms of dieting and weight loss (women must work out so they can eat), and where talking about food in public is still defined by gender and racial stereotypes, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is huge. It’s refreshing, genuine, and heartwarming. Highly recommended! Also, you can get some of the recipes from the show on its website. A-ma-zing.

(Other people have written much more eloquently than I ever could about the impact of this show, see e.g. here, and here.)

body image · fitness · meditation

A Little Meditation on a Meditation

It’s nearly 10pm on the night before this blog is due. There’s a few reasons I’m “Last Minute Leslie” today but the most significant one to this project is the fact I was spending my afternoon time (normally a blogging opportunity) writing a “Body Awareness Meditation” for my therapist in training community.

It’s part of the routine of our twice yearly weekend intensive retreats to start Saturday and Sunday morning with “Body Awareness”. It’s up to whomever volunteers for this duty to decide how to do that. Sometimes it’s more like yoga. Sometimes it’s more like silly walks and sometimes it’s more like mindfulness  It’s always something about the body.

I had never led this aspect, I’m only in my second year of the teacher role and I sat down to think about what I wish I had known 20 years ago when I was on my first weekend intensive retreat with this same school. I hated the body awareness thing. I’d listen to my instructors who were crunchy granola baby boomer hippies in socks and Birkenstocks with dangly earrings and roll my eyes. All that breathing in and out. All that stretching and clenching and releasing. All that feeling the parts. It was stupid, uncomfortable, uncouth, undignified, weird, creepy. . .I squirmed in my head until it was over and then moved on.

20 years is a nice round number later to reflect on where I was back then and where I have travelled to since. Essentially, back then, I was a head floating on a support mechanism that I was utterly unfamiliar with. It was awkward, rebellious and foreign. It was beautiful but I didn’t know what to do with that, so I mostly hid it and cursed it’s unruly ways. I only saw the flaws in the mirror and I didn’t want to feel them or breathe into them or inhabit them any more than I perceived was necessary.

So Much Has Changed. One of the things that happened that really shifted me is something not everyone experiences or can experience and that’s childbirth. Growing and pushing out some babies had a very intense and unanticipated embodying impact. The most powerful things I took from that experience were a sense of autonomy and control. I know that some people have the exact opposite experience of childbirth and I have compassion for that also. I am so grateful that it introduced me to the inherent power of my body.

I had both my kids while I was in therapy school and it may not have been a co-incidence that also at that time, I was starting to recognize I wanted more out of my physical self-experience in a multitude of realms. My intuition was firing on all cylinders in the parenting department and the therapist department. They were feeding each other and informing each other.

I found Pilates, a thing I was good at. It’s also a thing that promotes micro awareness of all the parts. I was strong, not awkward, I found grace. I started running and eventually biking. All along this path, other things were also changing. I was becoming experienced in my craft, I was less fearful about my physicality. My felt sense of myself became a landscape the same as my thoughts and theories, put to use to help connect with a client, or help me dance, it was all the same.

So now I’m sitting at my table thinking about what to write and say to 35 students to bring them in and invite them to be aware of the awesome resource that is their body. Whether it is well, or unwell, loose or tense, a haven or a hell, it’s theirs and the information it holds, processes and conveys is absolutely essential to what I’m trying to prepare them for. I’m making magic workers for wounded souls and I know they can’t be at their best unless they learn to be with and listen to their own bodies.

I wrote a thing I really like. I don’t know if 20 years ago me would have liked it as much as today me does. It has some explaining, and some breathing and some tensing and relaxing. It has some directing to and directing away. It has some exhortations and some settling in. Mostly, it flows like a story from today me, strong, graceful, embodied and accepting of the Things, to 20 years ago me, who was a head on a complex apparatus she was afraid to inquire about. I’ll report back in the comments on how it goes.

This is a really wild image of the World Tree and it represents both embodiment and aspiration beyond the body to me. It’s exactly the kind of woo woo baloney 20 years ago me would hate and now me is All Over. Find the original here,



body image · fitness

Tracy’s boudoir photo shoot

Sam and I have been super pleased with the professional photos Ruth Kivilahti of Ruthless Images took for our book promotion. We have gotten a ton of mileage out of them and I would recommend Ruth in a heartbeat for anyone in the London area who needs high quality images to help promote a project. Here’s one of our faves:

Image description: Street shot of Tracy (left) and Sam (right) from the waist up. Tracy is in a running tank, leaning on Sam's shoulder with her left elbow; Sam in on her bike, wearing a tank that says FEMINIST. Both are smiling, wearing sunglasses, street and building in background.
Image description: Street shot of Tracy (left) and Sam (right) from the waist up. Tracy is in a running tank, leaning on Sam’s shoulder with her left elbow; Sam in on her bike, wearing a tank that says FEMINIST. Both are smiling, wearing sunglasses, street and building in background.

I loved working with Ruth on this. She has a knack not just for taking fantastic portraits that feel fun and informal, but also for making the entire experience enjoyable. I knew too that both Nat and Sam had had great experiences with Ruth in a boudoir photo shoot a few years ago. You can read Nat’s story here. And Sam’s here.

Boudoir photography is a genre of photography that captures intimate moments–sexy, romantic, private, possibly but not necessarily erotic.

Last week Ruth posted a call for volunteers. She is rebranding and rebooting her boudoir business and wanted some new material for her marketing. I have been interested in doing this for some time but it so far hadn’t happened. So I volunteered. And Ruth said you’re in!

I showed up at a loft space she had rented. Ruth asked me to bring a few outfits that made me feel sexy. Reflecting on what makes you feel sexy, not necessarily what you think someone else might find sexy, is in itself a challenge. To me, that is one of the things that makes boudoir photography intimate from the start — its focus on an internal sense of sexy, where the best of it manages to depict that in the images. I selected a few different “moods” and threw them into a suitcase, along with some accessories, jewelry, shoes, and boots.

The first order of business was make-up. It turns out that in the end, the make-up was the thing that I struggled with the most. Not the revealing outfits or worries about my how my aging body might photograph, but the make-up (I’ll say more on that in a moment).

The loft was a cool two-story space downtown, with lots of exposed brick and spare, simple contemporary furnishings and decor. As I was getting my make-up done (by Amanda, of Beauty Bomb Glam), Ruth was doing a shoot with Angela. I wasn’t exactly nervous but I did start to wonder, as I tend to do, whether this would work “for me.” Ruth showed me some of Angela’s shots and wow, she looked absolutely stunning. I began to doubt whether, no matter how much talent I knew Ruth had, she would be able to take pictures of me that would capture a sense of “sexy” that was true to who I am (the way it appeared she had done in Angela’s pics).

Anyway, nevermind. I set out my various outfits and we decided to start with a classic slip-style sheer nightgown. Ruth got me into all sorts of awkward poses that she assured me would look natural in the photos. Here’s one from that series, which she offered as a “sneak preview” a couple of days after the shoot:

Image description: overhead shot of Tracy, sitting on the floor and leaning back into the corner of a sectional couch, in a sheer slip with lace edging and spaghetti straps, with her head back and tattooed arms on the couch.
Image description: overhead shot of Tracy, sitting on the floor and leaning back into the corner of a sectional couch, in a sheer slip with lace edging and spaghetti straps, with her head back and tattooed arms on the couch.

Of the sneak previews I like this one the best because it seems natural and I actually think I look amazing (Ruth is so good with the camera).

After that, I went to some of the more racy outfits, and we had fun with those too. We went all over the loft, taking shots in window sills, against brick posts, on beds and chairs and couches, against walls. Every so often Ruth showed me what she was shooting, and I have to say, they made me feel good.

Ruth’s concept is that boudoir is for everyone. Not just young, thin, conventionally beautiful women. Up after me, in fact, were a couple of guys who were just so incredibly adorable I almost wanted to stay and watch their shoot.

When she posted the sneak previews of my session on her Facebook page, Ruth mentioned that I was 54 and doing my first boudoir shoot. She said:

At 54 she came in to honour her body, to find empowerment and to experience the power of boudoir… and I am SO incredibly glad she did.

Boudoir isnt just for the 20 or 30 somethings…

Boudoir isnt just for women…

Boudoir isnt for when you reach that goal weight or milestone…


Ask yourself, what are YOU waiting for?

I too am incredibly glad I did it. I honestly felt strong doing the shoot and so far, based on the three pics I’ve seen, I like what Ruth captured.

I concur with ‘what are you waiting for.’ I think this type of photography can go a long way to helping create a sense of sensual energy and even power and agency. As I was doing the shoot, Ruth mentioned a couple of times that the men in my life would enjoy them. But to be quite honest, I wasn’t even thinking of that as I did the shoot.  I really went quite inward, which is an odd thing to say about photography, which obviously captures an outward image. But anything that is going to have resonance has to depict something deeper, and I do feel Ruth succeeded in that.

If I have one reservation, it is that the make-up, while absolutely gorgeous, is not me. I am a real minimalist when it comes to make-up. I get that it makes sense to have a proper make-up job for professional pictures. But I do wish I had asked for a slight tone-down, more reflective of my natural look. I’m just not a glamourous woman in my self-conception, and the make-up is glam all the way. I had to remove it before I left the loft because I honestly couldn’t imagine going out into the world with that amount of make-up on. So while the clothes were mine and felt like me, the make-up not as much (this is not a criticism of Amanda who did my make-up, by the way).

Make-up aside, I get that some people might think that boudoir photography is just for straight women who want to please their man or men. That is the furthest thing from my experience. As I said above, though I was happy to share the pics and get lots of positive feedback from men and women alike, the biggest deal for me was how the session and what I’ve seen so far of the pictures has made me feel. At 54, this helped me to feel like an attractive woman who still has a bit of sexy left in her. Considering my long history of body image issues, which I have slowly but surely resolved through the new level of fitness and athleticism I’m experiencing since Sam and I embarked on our fittest by 50 challenge, I’m happy about anything that makes me feel good in my body. This experience has certainly had that affect.

Here’s one more shot, where you can get a sense of the make-up, which is appropriate for the setting, but is more than I would normally wear in my boudoir! There’s one more that has a great view of my legs (which I didn’t realize had visible muscles til I saw that picture) but it’s a bit too much for the blog (in my view). If you’re curious you can go to Ruth’s Facebook page. You can also scroll down a bit further and see the sweet guys I mentioned.

Image description: Tracy standing, looking downward, one hand brushing against the front of her short hair, with lipstick and eye shadow and really long eyelashes, dangling earrings, a long necklace, and a black long sleeved top with sheer bits and a plunging neckline. Exposed brick background.
Image description: Tracy standing, looking downward, one hand brushing against the front of her short hair, with lipstick and eye shadow and really long eyelashes, dangling earrings, a long necklace, and a black long sleeved top with sheer bits and a plunging neckline. Exposed brick background.