Imagine if size really didn’t matter. Can you? #tbt

Today I’m doing a “Throwback Thursday” post where I invite you, once again, to imagine how different life would be if we actually lived in a world where size doesn’t matter. Happy Thursday!

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

tape-measureOne of the most intriguing news items this week reported on a six-year study that measured what happened to the contestants who lost dramatic amounts of weight in Season 8 of the reality TV show we here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue love to hate: The Biggest Loser.

For those of us who have gained and lost, lost and gained, and lost and gained again, the most obvious result wasn’t a shocker. The contestants are heavier than they were when the show ended.  The season’s winner, Danny Cahill, went from 430 pounds to 191 pounds over the seven month period of the weight loss competition.

And he’s gained 100 of it back. According to The New York Times article “After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight,” the regain is despite his best efforts. “In fact,” the article goes on to say, “most of that season’s…

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My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

A bathroom scale that says "you are not a number"

I really hate scales.  I think I’m not alone here.  There are loads of comic strips with scale jokes, but I will spare you because they all seem to presuppose that the scale is an authoritative judge and we are the irrational defendants whose weight is a crime.

And with respect to this scale hatred narrative, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  If you weigh yourself, then you’re generally appalled or ashamed or enraged or depressed.  If you don’t weigh yourself, then you’re avoiding your responsibility, which is to confront the reality which is the numerical judgment of your total worth.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but this is the story that whispers in our ears from time to time.

I went to a conference in the Netherlands in June, and the keynote speaker was a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely.  He works on lots of ways to better understand why we behave in various ways, and to figure out some ways to help us achieve some of our goals that we have trouble with (e.g. saving money, losing weight, etc.) .

In this talk, Ariely mentioned a study his group did in which they tested out a hypothesis:  that weighing yourself every day helps you focus on health goals, and may help with weight loss.  This is something lots of medical experts also believe, but it hasn’t been tested.  The problem is:  people hate weighing themselves.  Why?  Well, if you weigh yourself, says Ariely, one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ve gained weight, in which case you’re depressed.
  2. You’re the same, in which case you’re not happy (because you haven’t lost weight).
  3. You’ve lost weight, in which case you become anxious about the next time you have to weigh yourself, worrying that you might regain some of what you lost.

When you put it that way, it sounds unpleasant all around.

Part of the problem with scales is that they register changes all the time because our bodies are changing in weight all the time.    Body weight has very high variance– we can fluctuate up or down 2kg or more in any given day, and it doesn’t mean anything.  There are scales on the market now that register one-tenth of a pound change.  This is really irritating to me, as there’s nothing good about this information– it’s just part of the noise of the variance, but it has the power to make me feel really bad.

Of course there’s a really simple solution to this problem:  don’t weigh yourself.  That’s a perfectly fine option.  Lots of folks who write for this blog and who read this blog do (or rather, don’t do) exactly that.  I say huzzah to that.

But for me, I can’t seem to leave this scale thing alone.  This is because I do want to track my weight changes over time and because I do have health goals that involve weight loss if possible (yeah, these things are complicated; you all know this as well as I do).

Enter the scale that doesn’t tell me what I weigh.  Here it is:

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

Ariely and his team had an idea:  we don’t really need to know how much we weigh.  What we need to know over time is whether our weight is the same, up a little, down a little, up a little more, or down a little more.  So they developed this scale, called Shapa, that does just that.  It comes bluetooth enabled, with an app on your phone.  Part of the screen looks like this:

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

You bring your phone with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.  Mine today looked like this:

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I'm blue, which means "good", which means my weight is the same.

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I’m blue, which means “good”, which means my weight is the same.

The scale keeps the weight variance to itself, and just tells you whether you’re the same, up (one or two standard deviations from the mean) or down (one or two standard deviations from the mean).  Though it says this in a more encouraging and colorful way.

I love this.  What I want to know is how my weight is responding to any changes in my activity or eating, and this scale tells me that without the burden of all those fluctuations which just vex me.  Of course, our clothes and mirrors and partners and selves and other cues can tell us about our bodies.  But I really do like this.  I like the daily attention to myself, and it’s offering me an occasion to think more about what sorts of changes I can or want to make to see if I can effect weight change over time.  And it is also telling me that weight isn’t the only thing that matters.  My weight has stayed the same over the past 6 weeks since I got the Shapa scale, but I feel like my clothes are a little looser.  This is probably because I’m in better physical shape (thank you Bike Rally for motivating me!).

That’s interesting information for me, too– that I can feel better, do more of what I ask of my body, and feel better in my clothes in the face of silence on the part of my scale.  Maybe I like that best of all.

What about y’all, dear readers?  Do you have a relationship with scales?  What is it?  What do you think about this crazy idea of a scale that refuses to tell you what you weigh?  I’d love to hear from you.

My highest weight and feeling great?

That’s not how the whole body image & heart health narrative is supposed to go. I know. I’m supposed to struggle with my weight and health. Then, because I’ve sublimated my base urges and really learned to love myself, I miraculously transform into a thinner, better me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this great blog post by Heather Plett.

I just love it and she captured so much of what I have encountered. People LOVE imposing a triumphant narrative on my fitness. 
I’m not at war with my body. My body is not a thing to be dominated or warred against.

I am trying to figure out how to be healthy and joyful. I think I’m hovering or orbiting around that, I’m in the neighbourhood at least.

In July this Facebook memory came up:

I’ve tried a lot of things since 2014 and some of it worked for me, other stuff, not so much. I’ve tried mindfulness and abstaining from alcohol. I’ve tried losing weight. (Spoiler, I didn’t keep it off!)

https://fitisafeministissue.com/2015/02/20/40-years-40-lbs-guest-post/

I’ve though a lot about my cardiovascular health!

https://fitisafeministissue.com/2016/04/09/facebook-memories-and-blood-pressure-stories/

I’m back to the weight I was 3 years ago when my high blood pressure diagnosis (and offer of gastric bypass surgery by my doctor) happened. The thing is, I feel great!

I’m gardening, cycling a bit, playing soccer and occasionally working out. My blood pressure is right where it needs to be.

I do know if I put all my time and energy into tracking food and using all my self discipline for staying away from sweets and alcohol I do lose weight for a while. The things needed to do that make me super anxious and sad. I only think about food. It’s kind of awful.

Thing is, I use a lot of self-discipline to parent, take my university courses, be a grown up at work…lots of things. And here’s the deal, like many of my emotional and cognitive resources, I’ve only got so much to go around.

I love making delicious and nutritious food. I love craft beers. I’ve decided that until my blood pressure numbers change for the worse I’m good the way I am.

So I think the question is more of an exclamation. My highest weight and feeling GREAT!

Kim’s Tour de Yorkshire*

*… in which Kim is bested by some outrageous hills, but not broken in spirit.

 

(A mosaic of images from West Yorkshire: Kim’s bike, saddle first, with the moors in the distance; a road sign that says “that was so Hebden Bridge”; Kim and her bike in front of a stone wall that says “lane end”.)

Remember how I always go on about hills? How I like them and am good at them?

Into each one’s life…

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(A road sign that says “Cragg Vale: longest continuous gradient in England. Rises 970 feet (295m) over five and a half miles (9km)”)

I spent the first 10 days of July in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, famously home of the Bronte sisters, and the 2015 Tour de France Grand Depart, depending on your fetish. (Mine involves both – swoon.) There is tonnes to do in the pretty market town of Hebden Bridge, but my bike was with me so my first priority was the riding.

Here’s the thing about Yorkshire, though: it is a cycling Mecca (for mountain as much as for road riders) because the fine folk who built the lanes don’t believe in switchbacks.

If you’re going to do a road ride in the Calder, you need to be prepared to climb. Doesn’t matter what you do: there is ascent to be faced. I wanted, in particular, to partake of the fine views over the moors that make this part of the British Isles justly famous; that meant I really needed to be ready to get up off the saddle, early and often.

No problem! I thought. After all, I might not be a tiny cycling whippet, but I’m really good at that shit.

On my first day out, I chose a route (from the several on offer at the excellent Calder Valley Cycling website) that included a long, snaking climb with most gradients in the 5-10% range. That’s my preferred kind of climbing: you can sit and grind, and if, like me, your strengths lie with endurance sports, you’ll not max out and will really enjoy the challenge and the views. Although I won’t lie, I was nervous to start, I felt great throughout that climb as the sun broke through the clouds, and I was rewarded with some sloping descents and then a short punch up into the farm lanes above Sowerby and Mytholmroyd.

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(Kim, in white cap and green helmet, smiles into the camera with green, sloping farmland in the background.)

As soon as I hit the lanes, though, I got my first taste of what was to come the rest of the week: narrow roads that don’t look like much to start, but wow, do they pack a punch, and sometimes when you least expect it.

Still, with the gorgeous views all around me and the happy feelings from the winding climb still in my arms and legs, I shoved my worry to the back of my brain. I took the set route’s lovely descent through Cragg Vale, the longest continuous climb in England, down toward Hebden, and then thought to myself: it’s cheating to go down but not up. So I turned around and did the climb (another happy, winding, mid-grade number), just to know that I could.

All in all, then, day one was terrific. But I knew it wouldn’t last.

My second ride out proved my rude awakening, though in a way I found really instructive: I learned a lot about myself as a cyclist that day.

I left in the early afternoon, and chose a short route with a big challenge: Cross Stone Road leaving Todmorden for more gorgeous views over the moors. The information online said the climb included a short punch of less than 1km followed by a longer, flat stretch, and then a steep but shortish kick up to the top. I reasoned that the word “short”, repeated a couple of times, meant I’d be fine.

Yup. Nope.

After missing my turn on the way into Todmorden and having to backtrack, I found myself on a steep but manageable residential road. I made the mistake of standing and pushing hard at this point, taking the “short” thing literally. Mistake number one! I found soon the road was not levelling, and I had to sit and push hard, breathing at my threshold, for a good 500m before the flat began. I heaved through the growing heat (Yorkshire is not hot, but sun plus no wind plus exertion is what it is), and prayed the second bit would hurt less.

Then the second bit heaved into view.

To say I was slow would be an understatement. The walker I clocked about 200m ahead of me as I began the punch ultimately beat me up the hill – though in my defence I had to stop twice: once to negotiate the single lane with a grocery van, and once just because I needed to cry a bit and ask god to save me. (I also needed to catch my breath: you can’t ride at VO2 max for as long as I was taking to get to the top, and not risk puking, which I did not want to do in full view of the confused sheep around me.) But I made it on two wheels: crying and praying or none, I refuse to walk any hill I’ve started on the bike.

I’m vain like that.

The rest of the ride was hard: I was spent from the climb. I got back to Todmorden, snapped some photos of the start of the climb to remind myself of the pain I’d endured, and home I went to eat.

OriginalPhoto-520961962.374086

(Kim’s grey and orange bike against a stone wall, with a prominent white road sign that says “cross stone road”.)

The rest of my Calder rides varied between these two poles: long, picturesque climbs I’d ride again and again, and short, painful bursts of 18-22% gradients that I was convinced I had to do in order to prove I could, but that made me hate myself, my bike, and the world for the 5-10 minutes required to finish them.

Over the week, I began to think I had hold of the wrong end of the saddle, so to speak.

My first clue came from Strava. I’m a Strava junkie, and I uploaded my rides immediately upon each return. The long climbs were full of riders, many of them pro or semi pro. (My proudest moment: learning I was 32 on the leader board for the climb up to Oxenhope, with the British cycling star Emma Pooley at number 6. Squee!)

But hardly anyone did the crazy steep climbs: I’d be among 300-400 riders on the winds, but maybe one of 20 on the punches. I scored 8th overall on the climb where I stopped twice, for heaven’s sake! I think there were 11 or 12 of us in all.

Then there was the part where I felt joyous and free on the winding climbs, but sick and demoralised on the punches. Where I wanted to climb more on the winds, but I wanted to stop, cry, and turn around on the punches.

I wouldn’t let myself stop, though, because I thought stopping meant failing. It hadn’t occurred to me that, since punching is not my strong suit, maybe I shouldn’t have attempted those routes. Maybe they were not fun – not even a fun challenge, just a terrible, unhappy slog.

I’m a big proponent of challenging myself in sport, but the challenge needs to be both challenging and, ultimately, rewarding. I did not feel rewarded on any of those little punches; I was just grumpy and out of breath. What good is that?

On the train back to London I thought about this. Why did I really want to conquer the brutal little hills, when I train best, get stronger faster, and feel more satisfied on longer climbs? Why did I care about 500m at 20%, when as a cyclist I’m best suited to 5km at 5-7%?

Sure, you could say all climbing is learning, and all learning good training.

Except: the more I pondered it, the more I realised it actually, for me, had to do with body image.

I am not small: I am 174cm tall and I weigh 77kg. It doesn’t matter much that my fat to muscle ratio is such that I’m technically athletic; that’s still a huge amount of weight to haul up the side of a cliff, on the vertical.

My strength profile means I can kill a shallow climb, but my body weight puts me at a significant disadvantage the steeper you get. And that’s fine: there are climbers and sprinters and all-rounders in the world of cycling as a norm.

But for a girl alive and well under patriarchy, being too heavy to climb a steep hill easily has other reverberations; it smacks of the whole body-mass-index culture that tells us to be teeny, already, or hate ourselves forever.

And readers of this blog all know where that kind of thinking leads.

(My body mass index makes me technically overweight, just as my muscle ratio makes me technically athletic. Thanks, stupid and ineffective measures!)

Through one lens, you could say I learned in Yorkshire that I’m too heavy to punch, and should admit defeat and move on.

Through another, you could say I learned that I’m fit and strong enough to rate in the top 10% or better on iconic climbs that the pros even find challenging.

That punching is not what I’m good at, and so I need not worry about punching just for the heck of it when I could be winding up a mountainside, happily, instead.

And that, hey: if the walker beats you to the top, maybe you should just walk, already, and save the bike for another stretch of road.

 

Sam and Tracy on FemRadio

 

Tracy and I had a really nice chat the other week with Emily of FemRadio at Ryerson University.

“This week on FemRadio, Emily chats with Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs — two feminist philosophers and fitness fanatics who co-founded the blog “Fitness is a Feminist Issue.”  We discuss the meaning of body positivity, fitness myths that need to end, and the complexities of pursuing fitness as a feminist.”

You can listen here. Enjoy!

Matilda The Hun, Mountain Fiji, and how the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling showed me how big, bold and badass I could be.

There’s a Netflix series called “GLOW” inspired by the 1980s pro wrestling series of the same name. 

When I was a kid in rural New Brunswick watching pro-wrestling was HUGE. It was such a big part of my exposure to professional sport that the very first time Sam asked me to write for this blog I wanted to write about it. But this is a feminist blog and pro/wrestling then and now is full to the brim with racism and sexism. I was embarrassed by how something I loved so much now seemed crude, crass, and low class. 

Pro-wrestling is nothing like Olympic style wrestling. It is all swagger and showmanship. It is character and plot arcs with a dash of athleticism. 

My absolute favourite characters from G.L.O.W. were Matilda the Hun and Mountain Fiji. They were large and in charge. They were villains and gave absolutely no fucks. None. They whipped the crowd into a fury then pummeled their opponents. 

I watched this clip, cringing at the terrible sexism and bad acting of the skits between the wrestling bits, but LOOK AT THESE WOMEN!

First Encounter: Matilda the Hun vs. Mountain Fiji
I look at that match and I’m so conflicted. Knowing what I know now about race, class, gender and sexism there are so many problems. From the male gaze to how women were cast based on racial stereotypes to reinforcing that feminity was desirable there is so much yuck.

But to 1980s me all I saw were badass women doing whatever they wanted. In the meantime I was in middle school gym class where girls were learning gymnastics and boys were learning Olympic style wrestling. 

I’m not sure which of us came up with the idea but my BFF Shelly and I convinced our gym teacher that we should be given a chance to wrestle each other. We wanted to be up on stage with the boys and I was really failing at uneven parallel bars. 

A 17 year old girl with short hair leans over a girl with 80s mall hair. They are laughing.

Me on the left, Shelly on the right. We loved being tough! This is 1992


Our teacher and classmates were completely unprepared for what happened next. Shelly and I broke out our best Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling moves: close lining, yelling, half-Nelsoning for nearly 20 minutes. We revelled in our redneck, working class awesomeness as the middle class kids looked disgusted. The other working class kids were cheering us on, calling out moves. It was so much fun. 

The next week I was back on the parallel bars trying to make my short, thick body do things lighter people did. It sucked. The girls who had taken gymnastics outside of school whirled around me. 

It turned out all that wrestling came in handy during recruit term at Royal Military College. Mattress jousting to entertain the senior students often devolved into grappling. 

Two youth in white t-shirts and grey shorts grapple on a blue striped mattress in a linoleum hall

I think I’m the one on top?


Matilda the Hun and Mountain Fiji were characters who didn’t worry about being attractive to men. They revelled in being villains. They weren’t scared of the crowd’s jeers, it powered them up. Most importantly for me, for a period of about 10 years of my life they were the only women in sport I could relate to, that felt real. 

I’m hopeful this new series will also be a chance to talk about the original G.L.O.W. stars and what they are doing now. 

Is there a sport or athlete that you identified with in your youth? Does it hold up to your scrutiny now? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #88

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

What the female gaze looks like?

When I walked into the gallery, I immediately came upon a life-size papier-mâché sculpture of a woman playing with her pubic hair. She was gazing into the middle-distance (or, were she real, at an iPad showing erotic GIF art), her belly rolling together under her “I ♥ NY” T-shirt. All around her were photographs, illustrations, and films dedicated to deciphering the female gaze, the topic of the new exhibit at the Museum of Sex.

anny lutwak explores the artifice in taking ‘natural’ photos of young women

Anny Lutwak began taking photographs when she was a 13-year-old living in Manhattan, experimenting with her first rolls of color film. Now a sophomore at Bard College, the artist is using photography to explore female sexuality and the ever-complicated issues of how it can be expressed, and also muffled. Her new series, “Female Trouble,” looks at the physical struggles that women face and the way that gendered issues such as domestic violence, sexual oppression, and body image can be covered up, aestheticized, and trivialized. Lutwak paints a black eye on one subject, and adorns a penis with sparkles on another. Some of her images show the gory and graphic realities of abuse, while in others, the effects are much less discernible. Here, the artist discusses the ways that the female experience is portrayed visually, and how women are regaining control over their own photographic representation.

Curvy Women Take Over Social Media For Body Positive Movement

Right around this time of year, you start hearing a lot about bikini bodies. You know what we mean. “Thinking about eating that? Think about how it’ll look on the beach.”

Or some such crap.

But in direct contrast, women in the U.K. (and around the world) have taken to social media with the hashtag #MyBodyMyBFF, showing off exactly what they want to show at the beach or the pool this year, reports the Daily Mail.

Nearly 1 in 4 female millennials no longer shave their armpit hair
Female armpit hair is back — and it might be here to stay. According to recent figures from research group Mintel, the percentage of women aged 16 to 24 who shaved their armpit hair has declined from 95 percent in 2013 to just 77 percent in 2016. Leg shaving is on the decline as well — 92 percent of women shaved their legs in 2013, but by 2016 those numbers had decreased to 85 percent. The Mintel figures are supported by numbers from the shaving and hair removal industry, which saw sales drop by five percent between 2015 and 2016.

The body positive way women are responding to fat shamers

On Monday, Twitter user @ElliottEdie35 took to his keyboard to share his musings on the size of women’s bodies. “Girls over 110 should never post pics in a bikini just sayin,” he tweeted to his 557 followers. The backlash was swift and strong — and women of all sizes began posting bikini pictures .