body image · fitness

Celebrating me at 56: assessment and challenge

This week I turned 56. It was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had, not just because Facebook showered me with greetings from friends, family, and people I met once on vacation (some of which have become special to me– yes, this is you, Diana!).  Also, not just because friends and colleagues treated me to lunch, dinner, a party, loads of attention, and the chocolate cake to end all chocolate cakes (thank you Steph!).

56 is feeling to me like a time for pause and reflection on what I want for the next phase of my life; however, it’s not a milestone birthday, so there really isn’t any pressure to do or become or start anything in particular, which makes it a perfect time for me.

For some time, I’ve had two strong desires for myself. One is practical/doable: I want to get back into regular cycling, in whatever capacity I can at 56 with this body and body history. I’ve talked about it and moaned and yearned and fussed and avoided it out of fear, but it is what I really want.

So I have a bit of new merch to encourage me in this process. Check out my new buff (under the helmet– thanks, Janet!), and the new super-great Smith sunglasses.

Me in a multi-colored blue buff under my blur helmet, with my new sunglasses (that have mirrored bluish lenses, which you can't see).
Me in a multi-colored blue buff under my blue helmet, with my new sunglasses (that have mirrored bluish lenses, which you can’t see).

The Gore black cycling jacket is also new– I love it.  I went out yesterday for a short chilly ride, which was a bit hard but very satisfying. My friends are all lining up to ride with me when I’m willing and able, which I plan to do often. And I have scheduled some organized rides this summer:

June 10 Bikes not Bombs Charity ride– 30 mile route

July 29 PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally in Toronto– 110K one-day ride

Sept 9 New York City Century ride– 75 mile (which is really 82) ride

I’ll be posting on training, progress, goals met and not met, and what I’m doing about it.

My other deep desire is just now coming into focus as perhaps the most important thing I need and want to do for myself. I want to appreciate and accept and be grateful for and not ashamed of… my body.

I’ve always, as long as I can remember, been embarrassed about my body.  I’ve always felt too big. I’ve felt too big for my friends, too big for cute clothing, too big for kayaks, too big for wetsuits (although honestly probably most people feel that way– have you ever tried wriggling into an already-wet wetsuit?), too big for sex, too big for a partner, too big to be loved.

Too big to be loved. That’s heartbreaking and awful and mean and not true and I don’t need anyone to say or think that about me.  And no one does, except for me sometimes. I’ve struggled with this issue my whole life, and it’s been a primary theme of my long-term therapy. It still is.

So when oh when am I going to let go of this crushing load of negative feelings about myself and my body?

Well, how about now, at age 56? That sounds pretty good to me.

I’m attacking this issue on multiple fronts (pardon the aggressive metaphor, but it makes me feel revved up).  I’m buying clothing that fits now, doing more physical activity (and I don’t mind clingy clothing at all), and doing other self-care activities, which include this workbook:

The Body Image Workbook, by Thomas Cash.
The Body Image Workbook, by Thomas Cash.

My friend Pata and I are going through the exercises in this workbook together. It’s a cognitive-behavioral approach to body image, and so far I like it. What I like the most is the mere fact of having this book makes me focus on my problems and vulnerabilities (with a friend I trust). We are already working on variations on some of the themes. It’s going to take a while: there are eight chapters with a lot of writing, and we are working on this together. But I don’t have to be in a hurry– I’m 56 (as is Pata), and we have time.

I’l be posting on our progress, and welcome input and responses and thoughts and stories from all of you. In the meantime, here’s a start: me from yesterday’s ride, clad in my lycra, new buff and glasses, with a big smile of satisfaction.

This is what 56 looks like on me, and I think it’s just fine.

Me in head to toe lycra, after a fun chilly road ride.
Me in head to toe lycra, after a fun chilly road ride.

 

advertising · body image · eating disorders · fitness · gender policing · media · objectification · sex

Really, Walmart? Really?

I don’t love Walmart. I don’t love Cosmo Magazine. I really don’t love what Walmart has done with Cosmo Magazine in 5000 locations in the good ole’ USA. Sam brought this article to our attention on our contributor discussion page and said, “Blog fodder. Do feminists agree with conservatives on this one?” I swear sometimes she says stuff just to get me riled up enough to write a blog. . .oh. . .wait.

So in a nutshell, Cosmo will not be available at the checkout where all the precious minds of little girls might get polluted with its sordid sexual content. Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Formerly known as Morality in the Media) claimed it as a victory of her organization’s own making, referencing #metoo as the inspiration for this action. Walmart made a vague statement about it being a “business decision” in which it “consulted” with unnamed entities. Cosmo isn’t being banned. It’s just being moved.

Honestly, do I care? I hate Cosmo. I mostly hate it because it over promises on the sex tips. Here’s an example, “7 Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm“. It says these tips will “guarantee to help you orgasm”. But you know what? That’s bullshit. I’ve tried every one of them. I want my guarantee! They get me every time and dash my hopes. But you know what else is in there? This gem about the fight to include women’s choice into Obamacare. There’s also this one about my current favourite teen that isn’t related to me, Emma Gonzales, and the photoshopped picture of her ripping up the bill of rights.

When Sam asked if feminists agreed with conservatives, I will confess to having a trauma trigger. It all goes back to a time in 1990. I was a young impressionable law student and I read Catharine MacKinnon. For those who are too young to remember, these were troubled times in the feminist movement (I mean, when aren’t there troubled times). There was a general agreement that pornography, as conceptualized by the patriarchy, was not great for women. It was not about our pleasure, it was not about our agency, it was not about our actual bodies. It was about our function and that function was to arouse and get off men. That’s objectifying. That’s an impoverished view of women and women’s sexuality. But in the hopes of doing something about it, feminists teamed up with the “moral majority” of conservative evangelical politics. They argued for an end to the scourge using legal tools and in the process, did a terrible disservice to a lot of women, including me. In this discourse, sexuality became even more of a source of shame and, as happens, marginalized sexuality took the brunt of it. Somehow the mainstream porn industry continued to thrive while it was harder for alternate voices to get in there and change any of these narratives. Things didn’t get better for women as a result of this unholy alliance because it got hijacked by the more powerful partner in the endeavour. (This is an admittedly uncomplicated summary).

Meanwhile I wasted 10 years of my life not doing fun sexy things that I wanted to do because I thought it would make me a bad feminist. Did those well meaning white lady anti-porn feminists mean for any of this to happen? Of course not. But you can be sure that the folks like Ms. Hawkins would be pretty pleased that I stayed away from all that perverted hanky panky I was trying not to think about.

So, back to beleaguered Cosmo. I wish it was not such a trashy mag. I wish it portrayed more real bodies. I wish the sex advice was better. But other than that, it’s not the worst. They have stopped putting diet advice on the cover. There is a lot in the magazine that speaks to women’s agency. That it reports on celebrity gossip is not a thing that should banish it to the back shelves. I’m curious if that trashiest of trash piles the National Enquirer can still be found eye level with the kidletts? Likely. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.

A brief perusal of the website of the NCOSE indicates that its main focus is on enforcing and strengthening obscenity law, educating young people about the dangers of overconsumption of porn, prohibiting the exchange of sex for money and somehow “stopping the demand for purchased sex”, I guess through the punishment of being caught (?). While their goals are around the protection of women and vulnerable young people, their tools involve repressing the material, not educating or empowering the victims in the ways I think are helpful. Their aims are also decidedly not sex or sex work positive. I guess that’s where we differ, me and Ms. Hawkins. Cosmo is imperfect, but it is somewhat educational. It reflects reality. NCOSE targeted Cosmo because it is a somewhat sex positive liberal trash mag. I will take that over a sex negative conservative mouth piece of a shameful president any day of the week.

So the answer, Sam, is NO!

nuh-uh-gif-3

nuh-uh-gif-3
A Gif of an older glamorous white woman in big sunglasses and a scarf wagging her finger and shaking her head, “Nuh uh, honey”.
athletes · body image · fitness · stereotypes

Fat Inspiration or Larger Body Representation? What do you think?

This video came across my newsfeed the other day and really caught my attention. Why? I guess I had conflicting reactions.

 

Who is it? Maria Odugba also known as asap.yogi on Instagram. You can also follow her on Facebook here. And her yoga website is here.

I love seeing larger bodies do all this hardcore stuff. That made me smile.
So on the one hand, you go girl. She’s doing amazing athletic things. On the other, so many of the people who commented (I know, I know) had things to say about weight loss.

She’s smashing fitness stereotypes though I do worry sometimes about why larger bodies are supposed to be extra inspirational.

I also don’t like the anger she directs toward herself for missing workouts and getting behind.

Part of me is thrilled to see fitness videos with a better representation of bodies.

Part of me wants to say, of course people with large bodies can do this! So many people commented  “if she can do this, what’s my excuse?” And people talk lots about the obstacles she overcoming. It reminds me of the way in which wheelchair athletes are supposed to be extra-inspirational.

But not everyone shares my worries.

On our Facebook page Jennie had some good rejoinders in favour of the extra-inspirational claim. I asked permission to share them here.

Says Jennie, ” I do think it’s extra inspirational for a few reasons.

1. Representation is crucial, seeing people like her working out inspired me and let me know that fitness is for us bigger ladies too.

2. It is more difficult, if I’m running 5 miles my muscles are having to carry an extra 4/5 stone in weight compared with someone my height with a bmi in the promoted weight range. So when I see someone doing awesome stuff and doing with extra weight I’m impressed and inspired.

3. It is more difficult because she’s had to overcome any number of social/emotional barriers to do what she does. Again that’s more inspirational to me than watching someone who fits the expected profile.

4. In addition, it’s not just carrying the extra weight, when I do yoga or Pilates my tummy and it boobs often get in the way. A lot of these positions and techniques are designed for a different type of body shape.

A bigger person working out has had to overcome extra barriers to fitness hence to me extra inspirational.”

Number 3 rings true to me.

I certainly couldn’t do a lot of this and I think she’s amazing to watch. Go look! You decide and tell us what you think.

 

body image · eating · fitness · food · tbt

Moderation Won’t Work If You’re Addicted, but Are You Sure You’re Addicted? #tbt

A #tbt from five years ago, where I explored food addiction and intuitive eating.
Tracy

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

sharma-obesity-chocolateWhenever I talk about moderation in eating, I always hear from people who have at least some foods that they do not believe they can moderate. These foods are usually things like potato chips and cheesies, cake and cookies, nuts and pretzels, chocolate and ice cream.  To a lesser degree, some avoid things like pizza and french fries for similar reasons. They can’t eat just a little bit.

My initial reaction to this claim of the inability to moderate is skepticism.  The intuitive eating approach that I’ve been following lately, and that has miraculously freed me from all rules about food and from overeating pretty much anything, works on the premise that when we release ourselves from the idea of forbidden foods and eat what we want, when we are hungry, in a mindful fashion until we are satisfied (not stuffed, satisfied), we will achieve a peaceful relationship with food.

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body image · diets · eating · fat · fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

The new health target of the century: kids

The news made the rounds of the health at every size (HAES) contacts I have in my social networks. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Weight Watchers was offering free six-week memberships to 13 year olds, and yet I was.

Shortly after that, I learned the makers of FitBit were launching a fitness tracker for children. According to TechCrunch, the makers of FitBit are targetting the eight- to 13-year-old market because as the Telegraph noted, we need to do something about getting “couch potato kids” off the couch and into the gym.

Because child obesity y’all. (Insert eye roll here.)

I’ll admit I’ve been on diets, and I also have used a FitBit (see this post for how I use mine). I went on my first diet with WW when I was 14 and I needed my mom to sign for me. I can’t say it was a success because despite an endless variety of diet plans, I have continued to be my own fun-sized self and not the one society said I should be.

I stopped dieting when I reached my 40s. I read the literature, I looked at the research, and I considered the methodology of the studies. These days I try to eat most of my fruits and veggies every day, be moderate about my meat consumption, and add more whole grains, beans, pulses, and fish to my plate.

I still eat chocolate, potato chips and ice cream treats on occasion, but I am more mindful about my daily choices. And when I really, really want the chocolate bar, I go for the good stuff and thoroughly enjoy it.

Diets are all about deprivation, regardless of how they are marketed. And they don’t work. The problem with marketing to teens, especially teen girls, is they already have a decade of misdirection on what a female body is supposed to look like behind them. All those messages have been accumulating and Weight Watchers is stepping up to take advantage of the anxiety-fertilized soil to grow their market.

Ultimately, the only thing the plan will do is teach girls deprivation is the norm, their bodies at 13 are unacceptable, and it is on them to change their bodies rather than society change its expectations for the form expected for women.

At first blush, there shouldn’t really be an issue with creating a tool for kids. However, there are many people who see the number of steps reached as tacit permission to indulge. Weight Watchers for awhile had an exercise component that allowed users to collect food points through exercise and then spend them on either more, or fun type foods.

Many of these exercise tools track not only steps or other types of activities but also calories and weight. If you want off the diet train and onto the gym track, it can be very hard to find a gadget or tool that doesn’t link weight and fitness. In fact, it is one of the reasons I and my trainer make a point to track personal records that are strength based instead of scale based.

Whatever your size, age and body type, we are, at least in North America, a more sedentary society. Television, junk foods and in house gaming systems are factors in the higher weights we are seeing. But the problem with marketing fitness gadgets to kids is that after awhile the appeal is going to fade. While gamification of anything works effectively in the short term for setting goals, once kids and youth get where they want to be, there isn’t a point to doing it anymore and it stops being fun.

A co-blogger on this site shared with me some thoughts she and her sister had about the Fitbit and they echo mine: “My experience with fitbits with grown ups is they don’t understand the correlation between steps and food so it almost gives them more ‘permission’ to eat that piece of cake or whatever. I only know two people who use it in the way it was designed (make sure I get in my steps to stay fit) and they are both people who would be fit anyway. For kids, it’s a good awareness raiser and a ‘game’ but if it becomes the gadget it kind of loses its function.”

My co-blogger’s sister also made an important point that links to unpacking, resisting, or creating a new culture around fitness: “Fitness especially in kids comes from values, habits, home discussions, role modelling, fun activities, and doing things that don’t seem like fitness to the kid.”

Doing things that don’t seem like fitness are often more fun when you don’t have the “must” factor. Even I think it is more useful to say to myself: “It’s a gorgeous day out — let’s go for a walk!” instead of “I need to get 2500 more steps in to meet my time for today’s fitness.”

While I think the offer from WW for 13-year-olds is more problematic than FitBit’s plan to extend its market share by focusing on kids, I do believe we need to think carefully about how we look to change the behaviour of children when it comes to eating and moving.

Because in some respects is not how we change the behaviour, but why we feel it is necessary in the first place.

— Martha enjoys getting her fit on with powerlifting, swimming, and trail walking.

body image · disability · fat · fitness · health

Reflections on the exercise pill by a reluctant desk potato (Guest post)

The exercise pill is in the news again. We’ve talked about before (here and here), as has Fit and Feminist (here). The pill made the headlines again this week because of new experimental results that the drug allowed mice to run on a treadmill for 270 minutes before exhaustion set in (compared with 160 minutes for untreated mice).

Here’s a quick explanation of the experimental drug from The Guardian:

Scientists led by Ronald Evans at the Salk Institute in San Diego made the discovery after they set out to explore what endurance meant on the molecular level. “If we really understand the science, can we replace training with a drug?” he said.

They turned to a drug known as GW501516 which had previously been shown to improve stamina and burn fat faster. Through a series of tests with mice on treadmills, Evans found that the drug changed the activity of nearly 1000 genes. Many of the genes that became more active were involved in the breakdown and burning of fat. But other genes were suppressed, including some that convert sugar into energy.

The result is a pill that reproduces some of the effects of endurance training, with some other downstream effects, such as less weight gain and better control of blood sugar levels.

I listened to a discussion of the new results on CBC’s The Current this morning. The conversation inevitably turned to a discussion of who might benefit from the drug – athletes, folks with limited mobility who aren’t able to do endurance exercises, couch potatoes. At that point, the interlocutors chuckled at the notion of someone who could exercise taking a drug instead. LOL. Just imagine being such a couch potato that you would take an exercise pill!

That got me thinking about the ways in which we moralize health and fitness. I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sedentary these days, owing to advancing arthritis, injuries, and an out-of-control work schedule. (Really, I’m more of a desk potato than a couch potato.) And I feel guilty about that, as if it’s some kind of moral failing not to work out.

As I listened to The Current, I found myself both thinking that it would be great if I could take a pill and thereby acquire some of the benefits of endurance training, and feeling guilty for wanting to take a “short cut.” What the heck? Exercising is fun, and can support good health. But surely it’s not a moral duty.

I mean, we’re not opposed to short cuts in other domains: we take them when we’re driving, and we adopt tons of conveniences to make our lives easier (pre-fab food, dishwashers, motorized lawn mowers…). So, it can’t be the very notion of taking a short cut that prompts my feeling of shame when I think about how great an exercise pill would be. If there is a moral tinge to the notion of an exercise pill, that element must come not from the short cut part but from the exercise part.

But what makes exercise a moral obligation? Plausibly, the moral valence that we seem to attach to exercise and fitness is an side-effect of fatphobia. (Sam talks about similar stuff here.) Regular readers of this blog are well aware of the ubiquity of fat-shaming. When folks are pressed on their fat-shaming (and sometimes even when they’re not), they associate being fat with being lazy and therefore not exercising. Of course, no one makes corresponding judgments about skinny people who don’t exercise. They’re not lazy; they’re just lucky. This is pretty similar to the way in which a fat person with a milkshake is mocked (a standard trope on social media, alas) but a skinny person with a milkshake is celebrated for not being obsessed with dieting.

I don’t know if the exercise pill will ever make it to market, whether it will be safe, and whether it will be affordable. But I’m going to declare here and now that if there is ever a legal, safe, affordable exercise pill, I’m not going to let internalized fatphobia and accompanying moral double standards cloud my judgment about whether the pill is right for me. And neither should you.

A light skinned woman wearing glasses. She is standing in front of a window, smiling slightly.

Shannon Dea is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Waterloo. Her research areas include (among other things) the metaphysics of sex and gender, and applied issues related to sex and gender. Before she became a desk potato, she was an avid runner. 

body image · fitness · Guest Post · stereotypes · swimming

Learning to Swim and Loving My Body in the Process (Guest Post)

Although I never learned to swim, my whole life I’ve had dreams in which I can swim and I love those dreams and the feeling they give me. Recently, I met a new friend, about my age, and when she asked me if I wanted to go to the spa, and the whirlpool, and the pool, I found myself saying yes. Because I did want to go. I’d wanted to go for decades and had only ever gone to a spa one other time, just after I turned 50.

There’s something about your 50s – it’s like you start over. You look at all the baggage you’ve been hauling around since your 20s and ask yourself what it’s for. As it turns out, most of it doesn’t even belong to you, and a lot of it is stuff nobody needs.

Among my baggage was the idea that I needed to avoid pools because I have an unruly body that doesn’t look ‘good’ in a bathing suit. I knew this to be true because I’d had constant reminders that my body was somehow inappropriate.

In all fairness, had JLo or the Kardashians been the beauty standard during my teens, I might have received more positive attention for what became, by 13 or so, my big hips and big butt and small waist, but among my age group I was merely an aberration.

I could hear snickers when I got up to write at the blackboard in class. I lived in mortal fear of gym and of any social activities that might involve sports or a pool because I would have to expose my body in shorts or, my greatest horror, in a bathing suit.

Although by my early 20s I’d developed a way of dressing to pretty much camouflage what I suspected was my aberrant body, there’s nowhere to hide anything in a bathing suit. The very thought of wearing one filled me with anxiety and humiliation.

As I got older, I became the classic example of the woman to whom people would ‘you would be beautiful IF ONLY you lost x number of pounds.” The amounts varied, since my weight varied and, of course, ‘thin’ ideals were changeable. Sometimes it was 20, sometimes 40, sometimes 60 pounds.

I hope the world has changed and that young women don’t go through this anymore and Irealize I should have told every single person who felt free to comment to go fly a kite, and sometimes I did. My aunts said it, even my mom said it. There was me, and then there was beautiful/acceptable and, to get there, I would basically have to alter my body type.

As I struggled to articulate all of this to my new spa friend, she said ‘if you want a bikini body then just put your body in a bikini.’ This sounded suspiciously wise to me – I was certain I was missing something. I put on my bathing suit.

I loved the whirlpool. When I balked a bit at the pool and said I couldn’t swim, she just shrugged and said it didn’t matter – I didn’t have to swim to go in the pool. I’d never thought of it that way. I gave myself permission to go in the pool. After all, I was already in bathing suit, and what could be harder than that?

And then she said maybe I should try to float, still hanging onto the side of course. I immediately said I couldn’t float and that I had scientific proof of this from my many failed childhood attempts. In my particular case, I said emphatically, it was impossible. Sometimes we believe things for so long that we don’t realize they’re ridiculous and sometimes the way you can tell is the way your friend looks at you when you say them.

She said that instead of thinking about the water as something threatening, maybe I could think of it as something that was there to support me. The water would help me – the water wanted me to float. I didn’t really have to do anything. That was interesting to me. It would be particularly helpful, she added, if I didn’t think about it too much. That made me laugh since I’d had a psychiatrist in my 20s who spent a lot of time teaching me that thinking is different from feeling.

The sensation I felt, the first time I full-body floated, still holding onto the side of the pool, is still hard to describe. It was very emotional – suddenly, the body that I felt had betrayed me on so many occasions, the body I spent a lot of my life exasperated with and pointedly ignoring, was both weightless and present. I could feel the water surrounding me and holding me up. I became aware of my arms and legs and hips as wonderful, positive things, floating there in the water. Maybe even beautiful. I had the feeling that I had in my dreams. It was not a thinking feeling, but just feeling. So, for the last month or so, I’ve been working in the water to learn to actually swim – I feel I’m almost there but I’m not in any hurry.

The sensations that come with moving my body in the water are new, and exhilarating, and have started to feel natural. I love every minute of finding my balance, letting go of the ledge, working out how to propel myself, bobbing along in my very elementary way, perfectly quiet and peaceful. Well, not perfectly quiet. Sometimes I giggle. Out loud. I move my arms and my legs and the water responds to me. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel my body is perfect.

Sally is an art historian, professor, department chair, Italophile, film buff, heavy metal AND country music enthusiast, and fitness newbie.