There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.
The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.
Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).
Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”
Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.
The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”
A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.
Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.
CW: This piece reflects upon my personal experiences with food and food choices, with discussion of body size, diet culture, and challenges with body image. My goals may not be your goals. It is not intended as advice.
I had a moment of personal revelation this summer. I noticed something important about my self-talk. I wonder, can you pick it out?
When I went for a run and it wasn’t feeling good, I told myself, “It’s ok. I can do a walk-jog today. In fact, maybe I need to adjust my plans so that my Saturday run is always a walk-jog. I’m often just not feeling it on Saturday mornings.”
Sometimes, when I was lifting weights, I wasn’t having fun. I was tired and wanted to do something else. So I told myself, “Do these two exercises, give them all you’ve got, and then go ahead and move on with your day. At least you did something.”
I noticed that oftentimes I would get a little shaky in the morning between breakfast and lunch. It felt like low blood sugar, like I’d run out of steam and my body wasn’t managing it well. Each time it happened, I told myself, “It’s only been 90 minutes since breakfast. There’s no way I’m hungry already! Just ignore it. I will have lunch in a few hours.”
Did you notice it?
When I was struggling with my running or lifting, I accommodated my changing needs. Taking care of my fitness continued, but it was modified to help me manage stress, fatigue, and other limitations of the moment.
But when it came to my meals, I wasn’t being as flexible. I didn’t believe that my plan wasn’t right for the moment. I tried to force my habitual meals to be alright instead of trusting my experiences and the data my body was giving me that it wasn’t meeting my needs anymore. This was clearly diet culture seeping into my thoughts, motivating me to limit my food instead of trusting the signals my body gave.
And maybe it’s not a big surprise that I found some increased diet mindset creeping in these days. My body has been slowly getting larger over the last few years. Nothing dramatic, but at several life changes in the last handful of years (marriage, hysterectomy, worldwide pandemic), I’ve gotten just a little bit bigger. I’m now a full clothing size larger than I was before my wedding. And while intellectually I fully recognize that it “shouldn’t” matter, there are moments when this unintentional, slow increase in size bugs me.
My quality of life is not at all hampered by my increased size. It doesn’t impact me day to day in the slightest. I can still run, my joints don’t ache any more than they did a size smaller, and it may even help me with my lifting to be a bit bigger. However, I wonder if I’ve unconsciously “tightened up” my eating in response to increasing numbers? Have I stopped trusting in my hunger signals due to my discomfort over slowly getting larger?
So, I’ve made a new commitment to myself this last month to nutritional self-care. I have been running experiments to find out what balance of foods to eat that help me to feel really good, even when it means eating more than I’ve previously been accustomed to eating. I’ve noticed when I’m hungry and trusted that it meant I needed to eat more. I’ve checked in with myself at the end of meals to make sure I’ve genuinely eaten enough and to stop when I’m satisfied. I’ve been more flexible with my meal timing, eating more frequently some days when it seems like I needed it, instead of forcing myself to wait until the next designated eating time. And I’ve been making sure to eat dessert when I decide I want it instead of first trying to deny my appetite.
So far, these experiments have succeeded in making food and hunger less of a stressor in my life. I’m realizing that it had become a low-level, persistent focus, and now I’m thinking about food far less often. That shaky feeling between meals is gone. I’m also finding that I’m more at peace with my reflection when I feel better taken care of in general. My size very likely may continue to change. I’m still working on being neutral about that. But in these extraordinary times, I welcome any moment of peace I can find. Honoring my hunger, feeling really satisfied with my meals and between them, sounds like a wonderful kind of peace to give myself.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating salted caramel chocolate cake, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
CW: discussion of body shapes and body weight, primarily with respect to a recent study assessing those variations in relationship to mortality risk. Lots of critique, too– you can count on that.
I have wide hips, large thighs and a large butt. Always have, always will. Regardless of my age, height, weight, fitness, that’s what my physical outline has looked like. My sister has always had slimmer thighs and butt, carrying more weight in her midsection. We are both in our 50s now, heavier and both carrying more weight in our midsections. We’re both doing what we do, happy to hang out when one of us can travel to the other.
All this is to say: we have the bodies we have, in the shapes they are. And even though the internet will offer you plenty of opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash on pills, supplements, gadgets and programs to try to change your body shape, I recommend saving it. It’s a waste of money.
So why do people worry about their body shapes and want to change them? In addition to all the messaging we get about what the “perfect” body shape is, medical science warns us of the dangers supposedly hidden in those shapes.
A new study came out in the past 10 days, looking at associations between body shape and mortality risk. Naturally, the press was on the scene, ready to inform us in the most provocative ways they could think of. Here’s a sample of the (inaccurate) headlines:
What’s inaccurate about them? It’s not the case that having (or working to acquire) thick or chunky or wide hips and thighs will itself cause increased longevity; of course we know that. What these news outlets are saying is that people who carry their weight more centrally are at higher mortality risk than those who carry their weight less centrally. But is this true? Let’s see what the article is saying.
In a recent meta-analysis (study of a lot of studies) a team of Iranian and Canadian researchers set out to identify and quantify mortality risk factors specifically related to body dimensions and ratios Waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio are commonly studied measures for this type of research. In addition, this group studied thigh circumference, hip circumference, something called “body adiposity index” (roughly, a function of the ration of hip circumference to height) and another fancy biometric called “A body shape index”.
In case you’re still reading (one can hope), here’s what the researchers concluded:
Indices of central fatness … were positively and significantly associated with a higher all cause mortality risk.
Larger hip circumference and thigh circumference were associated with a lower risk.
The results suggest that measures of central adiposity could be used with body mass index as a supplementary approach to determine the risk of premature death.
What do I make of this? Well, glad you asked. Here are a few takeaways:
One thing: They definitely found lower mortality risk associated with larger hip circumference. But there’s more– look at this pair of graphs:
What’s interesting to me here is that the top graph, which controls for BMI and waist circumference, shows the risk dropping well below 1 (which is set as the standard, so less than 1 is better). But in addition, the bottom graph, which doesn’t control for BMI/waist circumference, still shows a dip in the mortality risk below 1 up to about 112 cm, and a very small increased risk up to 120 cm.
Why is this interesting? Because the second graph shows that people with larger hips have a lower relative mortality risk, even apart from body weight.
Another thing: Here’s another set of interesting-to-me graphs:
What we see here that caught my eye was how the waist-to-height ratio increase is fairly straightforwardly associated with increased mortality risk for men, but for women this is not so. As waist-to-height ratio increases, there is a dip in mortality risk for women before increased starting at around .52.
Which leads me to yet-another-thing: the researchers mention (which other researchers know but sadly, not reporters) that many of these associations disappear with age. That is, for people older than 60, these body dimension metrics and ratios don’t tell us much of anything about mortality risk.
Last thing: all through the text of this article, the authors either cite other studies or give results which suggest that body weight itself is not positively associated with increased mortality risk. They point out the need for studying different populations, including those who are healthy (vs. those with underlying medical conditions), smokers, ex-smokers, and never-smokers, and subcategories of those with men vs. women. What does this tell us?
Science is complicated.
So, does my life depend on my body shape? No.We have the shapes we do. Hundreds of features of both our bodies and the world our bodies inhabit influence how we live and how long that will be.
But I still kind of want this T shirt:
Readers: does this sort of body-shape research bother you? Do you ignore it? I’m curious about how these murky medical messages translate in the public. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.
CW: discussion of body size and body parts of women, in service of arguing against thin-ideal stereotypes in swimwear.
If you’re a woman over 50 years old, some swimsuit marketers have lots of worries about what you wear on the beach or at the pool. Their worries often center on body parts, like upper arms and abdomen– what if they are larger or looser or exposed? What will happen? They don’t know, but they really want to avoid that possibility. So they do two things:
they put together marketing campaigns aimed at reassuring you (and the general public) that they are on the scene, ready to perform miracles of engineering to keep you pulled up, sucked in, and in all ways suit-able for being seen.
They design swimwear that either holds body parts rigidly in place through space-age elastic technology, or devotes yards and yards of bleach-resistant fabric for covering you up, like a dining-room table with a bunch of scratches and blemishes.
Here’s what I mean:
A few things to note (which applies to many brands)
It is called the Miracle Suit, performing the miracle of smooshing women’s body parts inside a swimsuit;
It says you’ll look 10 lbs/5 kilos lighter in 10 seconds, like this is something we all want (and need?);
It uses the term “figure flattering”, supporting the view that bodies that don’t conform to thin-ideal or fitspo standards need to be covered or neutralized through copious amounts of Spandex;
It reassures you that, regardless of your size or flaws (of which the former may also count as the latter), they’ve got you covered– maybe with billowing tunics…
In this article for the website sixtyandme, the writer tackles the problem (?!) of what to wear on the beach or at the pool when you’re over 60. The author says both that body sensitivity is “in our own heads” (which it may be, but is also out in the world), and that there is still “a practical problem as well – finding flattering bathing suits for older women is much harder than it should be”. What do I think about this?
Okay, enough ranting. What to say about this?
Everyone deserves to enjoy the beach, the lake, the pool, the water. Because of body shaming and thin ideals and fitspo ideals, etc. some of us sometimes feel ashamed to show our bodies in public and want more covering for swimming or walking around. Given this reality, it seems like having a market to offer higher-covering swim and beach wear isn’t a bad thing.
But it comes at a price, namely with the messaging that older women’s bodies are inherently flawed or not suitable for public viewing. How about this: we just STOP marketing higher-covering swimwear by leveraging body-shaming tropes and jokes? Thanks.
As a fat 58-year-old woman, what I want is swimwear that’s styled like thinner and younger women’s bathing suits, just in my size. I don’t want muumuus and blousy tunic-like coverup swim and active wear. This is because I like to swim, and all that fabric is going to interfere with the swimming. I want body hugging wear with the right fit to cover breasts and butt.
Other women may want different things— more fabric, tunics, etc. That’s great. You do you, and let the variety of options go forth and multiply.
But, I worry that many of us have been both shamed and niche marketed into a narrow range of swimsuit styles resembling either straight jackets or draperies. Just thinking out loud here. I’d welcome your thoughts, as always.
A friend recently posted the following on Facebook, “pro tip- when you shit talk your body, you are shit talking everyone’s bodies. lay off that shit homies, it gives me the sad/mad/bads.”
The basic idea is that body love requires self acceptance. It’s not enough to love the bodies of others. It’s not enough to embrace diversity where others are concerned. Loving all the bodies includes your own body. Because even if you are just holding yourself up to some higher standard than you hold other people, you’re still holding that standard.
I had a friend once detail the exact way her abs needed to look for her to feel comfortable wearing a two piece bathing suit. I felt the need to tell her that I wore a two piece bathing suit. She said, “Oh that’s fine. I don’t care how other people look. This is just about me.” But that didn’t make me feel any better. I looked awful, no doubt, by her standards, she just didn’t care.
I have some thoughts about this:
Surely, one might say, it’s okay to set high standards for oneself? To ask more of oneself. But no actually. Note the language. Listen to what you’re saying. By using the word “higher” it’s clear that you’ve still got a metric, and probably, honestly you’re still applying it to others too.
Suppose you’re not though. Suppose you really do think that a diversity of body shapes and sizes are fine for other people but for you there’s just one way it’s okay to be and unless you’re there, things are awful.
It’s possible to hold both of those ideas. But probably you still ought to be quiet about how you feel about your own body, knowing it will make others feel bad. Need to talk about your body shame and self-hatred? Check in with friends to make sure it’s okay. But it’s probably best to find a trained listening and helping professional.
“Of course, the most important thing to know about Brokinis is that they’re all about fun and not taking yourself too seriously. In fact, they’re a response to bold new trends in men’s fashion. We wanted to come up with a bathing suit that’s fun for goofing around on the beach, cottage weekends, bachelor parties and festivals.”
Why I am blogging about men’s bathing suits on a feminist fitness blog?
It’s complicated, but my feminism includes breaking down normative gender for men too. Partly I suppose it’s because I have sons. Partly it’s because of views about body image and gender equality. I wanted for women the body comfort and athleticism that is so easily given to men. Yet, we’re in a world where equality has meant increasing pressure on men to conform to a very narrow body type. It’s all lean muscles and visible abs for both men and women. People of all genders experience pressure to diet and to exercise for the purpose of aesthetic goals.
Also, I guess, insofar as we gravitate towards topics I’m the go-to blogger for posts about men’s bodies and men’s bathing suits. LOL.
So why I am pro-brokini? It’s fun. They make me smile. Men should have the option of being playful too. It’s not all hard muscles and a visible inguinal crease. There are lots of frivolous fashion trends for women, most recently, the nap dress, why not for men too? And to be clear, I’m not just pro-outrageous men’s bathing suits when it comes to young, fit men. I’m a big fan of elderly, larger, furry men in speedos at the beach. Why? It makes room for me in my bikini too. I don’t want to be driven to swimming dresses which are fine if they’re your thing but they’re the sort of thing that for me, once I start wearing them, I have a hard time going back. My feminism includes the sock, the speedo, and now the brokini. Bring it on. Have fun.
There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.
First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.
Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.
Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.
Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.
I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”
So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.
Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.
Just once more with feeling, WHAT ABOUT THE MOM BODS?
There’s lots of love for Efron all over the internet with a special emphasis on his love of carbs! Again, that’s great. He does look pretty good. But can you imagine a woman celebrity being praised in these terms? I think we should start a #mombod trend for all the muscular not chiseled hot women out there.
CW: talk about body sizes and descriptions and feelings about them.
This weekend, I came across a FB post from a triathlete who posted a picture of herself, asking the group how they would describe her body type. The company that sponsors her team had asked her (with good intentions, she said), as a way to get her input. She describes herself as a person who’s struggled with weight and is a back of the pack rider for her team.
Among the 110+ (and counting) comments she got were:
Strong (hands-down winner among commenters)
Healthy and active
Athena (triathlete category, minimum weight requirement of 165 lbs/75kg)
Adult woman size
Fit and Fabulous
Bad Ass Lady
There were also some suggestions that felt size-conscious or even a bit size-embarrassed (my term); feel free to scroll past these if you like:
Hourglass figure with extra hours
Athletic fit plus (but clarified to be plus healthy, real, etc.)
What do I mean by size-embarrassed? When I hear words like “curvy” and “voluptuous” and “Rubenesque” (outside of 17th-century art history), I always feel like the message is something like “this woman’s body is outside the ideal or norm for the context, and I’m trying to defer to that norm but also say something positive while at the same time acknowledging the tension with a joke”.
All of the commenters were trying to support the original poster and were very attentive to being body-positive and admiring of the poster’s athletic achievements, which are considerable. And yet.
Their respectful discussion reminded me of how hard it can be to talk descriptively about bodies. It also made me think about when and why we feel we need to talk descriptively about bodies. Yes, when we shop for clothing, there are some styles that favor different dimensions and ratios of hips and thighs and waists and breasts and legs, etc. And when we do physical activity, it’s important to note and attend to the variations among bodies that dictate modifications in training, gear, apparel, etc. And finally, at more intensely competitive levels of some activities and sports, detailed facts about the athletes’ bodies become more salient to performance.
Reading Sam’s posts, I’m feeling a little better about the fact that, 3 years after her most recent post, I don’t have a clear position about how to talk about bodies, bigger bodies, my body, your body. I know I don’t like the notion of body types, but am not sure what to do when I feel the need to describe myself or someone else. As Sam said, “it’s complicated”.
To be continued. but for now: do you use body-type language? When do you use it? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear from you.