body image · fitness

On revisiting the body positive zone (reblog)

This week I went to the American Philosophical Association Eastern meeting in Montreal to give a talk and to see friends and colleagues. Sam and Sarah and I breakfasted and chatted, and I saw and talked with many other friendly feminist philosophers. The Eastern APA meetings are traditionally one of the big conferences in my field, and used to be the site for most of our academic job interviews. So you would see scads of young, anxious besuited graduate students standing around in groups or rushing to the candidates’ area to look in their folders for messages about upcoming interviews. There would also be throngs of tweed-jacketed men of various levels of prestige, all in search of the perfect conversational clutch: a combination of the famous, the fashionable, and the eager hangers-on. At least it seemed that way to me.

But not anymore. Those days are gone.

In addition to being a much smaller conference (thanks, Covid), the Eastern APA is now a scene of mostly casually-dressed people who look relatively happy to be there… Gone are the crowds of anxious job candidates and interviewers; most universities have shifted to Zoom interviews (and then campus visits for finalists). The dress code has relaxed considerably, too. I saw people wearing sensible clothing, interesting clothing, warm clothing (it was Montreal in January, after all). Most of all, I saw my outfit (jeans, shirt, pretty sweater, some jewelry and sensible winter shoes) as all part of the conference clothing mosaic. This is such a good thing.

Then I remembered this post from 2016 about Visiting the Body Positive Zone. I was at a conference of friendly feminist philosophers, and I felt this level of comfort with what I was wearing, how I was presenting that felt different and good. It also felt unusual.

Six years later, I don’t feel so much like I visit body positive zones. Rather, I contribute to body positive atmospheres in the world by bringing my own positive sense of self and get validated and supported by seeing others acting similarly. This isn’t limited to professional conferences. We can and do bring our own little positive zones to the beach, the park, the classroom, the office, you name it.

Take a look at my post from 2016, and see what you think. Has your view of body positive zones shifted in the past six years? Are you still looking for such zones in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

-catherine

aging · body image · fitness

When magazines tell one story, but advertisers another

CW: Offensive ads

Awhile back Tracy and I were interviewed for a piece to appear in Chatelaine magazine about body positivity and midlife women. The article Where’s The Body Positivity Movement For Midlife Women? by Lisa Mesbur appeared today online. Lisa has lots of great things to say and not just the quotes from Tracy and me. You should definitely go read it!

Sadly though one reader of the blogger wasn’t happy with the ads she got served up along with the article. It’s kind of unbelievable. Now I know the ads are personalized to some extent. I don’t get these ads. My ads clearly don’t know I’m continuing my no shopping commitment. My ads are all Fluevogs!

But blog reader Kimberly got this mess of awful advertising which is about the opposite of midlife body positivity.

Argh! Whether it’s the magazine or the browser that’s serving up the ads, they certainly give you some idea of the challenges to body image in midlife.

UPDATE: My son looked at the article and he got a lot of ads for thyroid, aging, and weight gain!

body image · eating · intuitive eating · overeating

At the holiday party food table (why Tracy steers clear of the “I really shouldn’t” trap)

Image description: Christmas tree ornament of a flat ceramic cardinal hanging on a tree, blurred background of coloured Christmas lights, snow falling. (Photo: Tracy Isaacs)

Eight years ago I posted about the mixed messages in magazines and online during the holidays, where we are at once surrounded by incredible recipes for special occasions (see the Canadian Living feature “Holiday Treats Packed with Love”) and by strategic guidelines for navigating the holidays without gaining weight (i.e. “if you’re at a party, position yourself away from the food table” — I said to myself never). My post “Eat! Don’t Eat! Holiday Magazine Mixed Messages” rings true today too, with the more recent twist over this decade of social media as a major source of these conflicting narratives of indulgence and deprivation.

Really what this all means to me is that many people live a tortured, socially and culturally induced relationship with food that makes a direct experience of pleasurable eating some sort of small victory. I don’t even know if it’s possible to make it through an entire evening during the holidays without being exposed to at least one person, if not multitudes, loading up their plate with holiday treats packed with love while saying “I really shouldn’t.”

Do I have a solution for this? Not really. My main strategy is DO NOT ENGAGE. A party is not the time to explain to people that we live in a toxic diet culture that has robbed so many of the simple pleasure of holiday eating. It is, after all, just eating. It does not (as I recently read in Geneen Roth’s wonderful book Women, Food and God) lead to rapture. Neither does eating to the point of the “oh-gollys” (a term coined by a high school friend of mine to describe the feeling of “oh golly, I ate too much.”) No one wants to have that conversation at that moment.

Another reason not to engage is that it is very likely to lead into talk of new year’s resolutions (i.e. “indulge” now and put the deprivation off until later). A food table at a party is not the place to remind people that they will not in fact be a different person on January 1st, and deprivation then will feel just as deprivation-y as it will right now.

The final reason not to engage is that no matter how fortified I feel I am against the onslaught of mixed messages, where what I believe and know to be true hits up against a lifetime of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” I too can slide into second-guessing myself if I’m exposed too long to the dominant narrative. I’ve worked hard to combat it and I don’t want to go there, especially when I’m trying to enjoy myself and a delicious piece of vegan brie with hot red pepper jelly on a slice of olive oil-brushed crostini.

I wish I had more of a “how-to” today, but really all I have to offer is my best wishes for an enjoyable season and however much luck you need to get to the other side, where, thankfully, we will all still be the same people we are today.

body image

Things that make you smile, the body positive, Friday edition

It’s November. That’s my grumpy and sad month. So I am making an effort to note the things that make me smile. Here are some body positive things in the news this week.

Judging by the reaction on our Facebook page, this story made lots of people smile: A pro-fat camp for women? Sign me up. There was a lot of “Count me in!” and “I’m signing up!” and “Loooooove this!”

“Camp Roundup, a summer camp experience for fat women that was conceived of by a pair of friends, Alison Rampa and Erica Chiseck, was held for the first time this year in Newark, Ohio. The duo was inspired to create the camp after listening to an episode of the “Maintenance Phase” podcast that tackled the twisted history of fat camps. In the episode, hosts Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon spoke about how, for decades, fat camps have shamed children for their bodies, resulting in eating disorders and the spread of beliefs that diets are effective and being fat is inherently bad. Though weight loss camps are marketed as solutions to childhood obesity, they actually spread unhealthy calorie restrictions, fad diets and intense workout sessions. As of 2019, roughly two dozen fat camps were still operating across the United States. After learning about the history of these camps, Rampa and Chiseck wondered how different their lives might have been — and how different life might be for their own children one day — if there had been a camp for fat celebration.”

Lizzo dresses up as Miss Piggy!

“Shortly after transforming herself into Marge Simpson for HalloweenLizzo took on another absolute icon for her second costume of the season: the one and only Miss Piggy. The star shared a handful of photos and videos of her tribute to the Muppet queen on Instagram, including a few where she recreated a famous pic of Piggy posing “nude” (can Muppets be nude?) with a snake draped around her body. 

“A tribute to my forever icon, MISS PIGGY. The epitome of grace, style, confidence and a warrior for love. @realmisspiggy i love you,” Lizzo wrote in her caption, though the Piggy herself has yet to respond to the glorious look. In the photo, Lizzo dons a platinum-blonde curled wig just like Miss Piggy’s, plus a pink pig nose and ears. In a video of the costume, Lizzo sets the reveal of her look to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ubiquitous “W.A.P.,” calling the slinky and sexy look a “W.A. Piggy” moment.”

Disney introduces first plus-size heroine in animated short Reflect

“Disney has debuted its first plus-size female protagonist in a short film that is being praised for exploring body positivity and overcoming self-doubt. The animation, Reflect, tells the story of Bianca, a young ballet dancer who “battles her own reflection, overcoming doubt and fear by channelling her inner strength, grace and power”. It forms part of Disney’s Short Circuit series of experimental films, released over the Disney+ streaming service last month. The six-minute feature has been pitched as an uplifting tale of conquering body dysmorphia and self-doubt.”

This list of affirmations in the spirit of body neutrality also made me smile.

Body neutral affirmations

Anything in the world of feminism, fitness, and body positivity that made you smile this week? Share your news in the comments below.

body image · diversity · fitness

Love Your Body

By Martha Muzychka

Bodies



Look at all the lovely bodies. All kinds of shapes and all kinds of sizes!

I saw this display of of pre classic bodies and my heart skipped a beat.

Look how different they all are. Each tells a story.

These days we are so focused on hyper skinny shapes, we forget our round parts, our squishy bits, our mom soft bellies, our strong arms and open hearts that hug and hold and work and soothe and love.

Love yourself today. Celebrate what your body is and what it does.

No one else will do it for you.

aging · body image · fitness · normative bodies

Thoughts about Nicole Kidman and her Biceps

Perfect magazine and Nicole Kidman

See Nicole Kidman Shows Off Her Ripped Guns In High-Fashion Perfect Magazine Photoshoot.

She looks amazing.

But not all feminist commentators had positive things to say.

Fab abs, writes Yvonne Roberts, in the Guardian, but this frantic effort to look half your age is frankly demeaning. Her piece about Nicole Kidman is making the rounds on social media and I’m amazed the range of reactions to the Roberts’ piece and to Kidman’s transformation.

One friend wonders why the focus on age, writing “There is nothing about muscles that indicates trying to look half your age. and there is nothing about hard core fitness that is demeaning to anyone. I feel like this is peak body shaming. remember when strong was the radical feminist move? Remember when it was transversive to lift heavy weights?”

A common theme in the comments was just leave women alone and stop talking about our bodies, “Judging women for how they look is so, so predictable and boring. There are so many ways to be. Leave each other the fuck alone.”

Many people talked about how looking amazing was part of Kidman’s job and no one judges men in the industry for their body building efforts. Seen The Rock lately?

I get all that. I really do. I lift weights and I don’t do it to look younger. I want to be stronger.

But still.

Tracy wrote, “My first reaction is ‘ffs please let me age in peace.’ Is there no age where we can stop chasing the oppressive aesthetic of youthful normative femininity?”

And I get that too.

The issue isn’t Nicole Kidman’s guns or her age really. The issue is about expectations that we all do that, that all women make looking young and buff our goals.

Some friends commented about how much time Kidman spends in the gym and then said maybe they could do that in retirement. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure that’s how I’d choose to spend my retirement time.

What’s attractive about retirement for me is reading more, spending more time with family, travel, but also bike trips and boat trips, long back country canoe trips and yes also, time for the gym.

For me time in the gym isn’t primarily about looks, though of course obvious muscles are a welcome side effect. Really though I go to the gym to support my other activities. I want to keep doing long canoe trips and bike trips. Being strong lets me keep doing the things that I love.

So the issue isn’t really Kidman and her biceps. It’s the norms that weigh down on women’s lives. It’s making Kidman a standard by which we judge all women. Kidman could have her biceps and her gym life. We could celebrate her achievements. The issue for feminists is Kidman as fifty-something role model for the rest of us.

I know we’ve all been thinking this past week about the representations of women in the media in light of Bell Media anchor Lisa LaFlamme’s firing from Bell Media arguably in light of her decision to stop colouring her hair during the pandemic.

[Here is an aside from Tracy, who Sam said could add things as she proofed the post: “Nicole Kidman can do what she likes. What bugs me is 1. That this is news because it makes it seem like a miracle that a 55 year-old woman could look good. 2. That looking good is in itself seen as a newsworthy achievement for older women — that is a good indication of where our value still lies. 3. That the standard is now set by a multimillionaire whose business it is to look good (and according to the normative standards of youthful feminine beauty). I frankly would rather admire Judy Dench and Helen Mirren and Lisa Laflamme who at least don’t mind looking older.” End of Tracy’s aside.]

We need a more diverse range of older women as role models including women with grey hair and without sculpted guns. Then I think we’d all feel better applauding Nicole Kidman for the way she looks and the work it took her to get there. [Tracy: hear hear!]

body image · clothing · cycling · fitness

Sam’s thoughts about shorts

I posted an article recently to our Facebook page about shorts. Called How To Wear Shorts and Love Your Legs, it told the story of a powerlifter who grew up ashamed to wear shorts because of her big legs.

In some ways it’s not a problem I have–though I certainly have big legs too–because cyclists all wear shorts. On the bike, there isn’t really a choice. Yes, there are bike dresses, about which I have complicated thoughts. but they’re not made for long distance riding.

Pretty much cyclists wear form fitting shorts. I was riding with some women recently and we took a timed selfie. The phone sat on the ground in order to get the best view of our legs. That made me laugh because usually the concern is to put the camera up high to avoid double chins.

Here’s the pic:

People at work see me in shorts because I often ride in to work and then change there. If I get carried away answering early morning email, more people than I might like see me in shorts.

But there is one place I often don’t wear shorts and it’s an odd one.

At the gym I tend to wear capris or leggings, not shorts.

I think it’s because I work out at the gym the most in the winter and there’s the leg hair issue! Then I get used to wearing capris or leggings and feel self-conscious in shorts.

It’s so odd how that feeling creeps in and how place specific it can be.

I’m good wearing shorts out and about on the weekend in daytime, but I would never go out in the evening in shorts. The other night I went sailing in bike shorts but then when we opted for dinner out on the way home, I had a last minute moment of panic about what I was wearing.

Good gravy. It was a patio in the summertime. We were eating pizza. It wasn’t exactly a fancy night out. Shorts were clearly not inappropriate, and yet…

I hate those lists of what not to wear after 50. I’m pretty sure bike shorts in public, when not actually on a bike, might be on their list. But I also recognize, as I edge closer to 60, it’s going to take a bit of work not to care.

Here’s Ernie not listening!

Ernie with socks over his ears

How about you? Shorts, yes or no? All places or just some places? Is it about modesty about a judgement about whose legs, which kind of legs, what age of legs, ought to be seen out and about in shorts?

body image · fitness

a poem for us and our bodies

CW: discussion of body image and negative self-image

During last weekend’s yoga retreat, wonderful teacher Jillian Pransky read some words I needed to hear. Words I needed to believe. Words I needed to feel. I’m going to write them twice– once as Jillian read them, and once where they live– in the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed.

and I said to my body. softly. ‘I want to be your friend’. and it took a long breath, and replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’

What a thought: being real friends with my body. It seems an odd thing to consider. But it’s true: my body and I haven’t been on friendly terms for most of my life.

However: last weekend, in a yoga class, hearing those words, I was struck. Is this now a possibility for me? And what would that mean, to be a friend to my body?

What it meant in that moment: to be grateful for the body I have, for what it does, for its strength and resilience and beauty and grace and solidity and persistence.

To pay attention to it: what does my body want to do in this class, and how much, and for how long, and how intensely or gingerly? If I listen, it will tell me. If I go slow, it will speak and not yell.

To respond to it and let it guide me, so it can continue to be there for me when I want to do more later. We are a team, my body and I. We could work together. Like friends. Good friends.

What does it mean going forward– being friends with my body? All relationships require accommodation and compromise, and the good ones promise moments of happiness, joy, hilarity, sadness, frustration, and hopefully contentment. But they all happen one moment at a time. I had this lovely moment of realization and gratitude and curiosity and hopefulness. Let’s see what moments there are ahead.

Here’s the whole poem. It’s called Three. By Nayyirah Waheed.

‘no’

might make them angry

but it will make you free.

If no one has ever told you, your freedom is more important than their anger.

*

and I said to my body. softly. ‘I want to be your friend’. and it took a long breath, and

replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’

*

If

the ocean

can calm itself,

so can you.

We

are both

salt water

mixed with

air.

body image

On photos…

It’s been a week for thinking about photos. Christine kicked it off with her post about seeing her strength and power reflected in recent photos she’d had taken. See Through A Different Lens: Seeing My Power Now. It’s a great post and I love Christine’s expressions in these powerful photos.

And then two things in my newsfeed got me thinking about photos and the images we share of ourselves online.

I liked Bodyposipanda sharing their outtakes. That was the first thing.

And then second, I read feminist philosopher Kate Manne’s essay on being captured by photos and how uncomfortable the whole process makes her feel.

Here’s an excerpt,

“I had imagined myself breezing into the photo shoot (done outside for COVID safety reasons) and saying airily to the photographer, “Just make me look like myself.” In reality, I was shy and sheepish, and inquired as to whether he could photoshop out the chickenpox scar that haunts my left eyebrow.

The photographer himself was professional and courteous and made not one comment on my appearance—a baseline level of decency, to be sure, but one which I was grateful to him for meeting. The college News & Media Relations Manager I work with here was delightful and supportive as per usual.

And yet I was never comfortable. I was never at ease. It took 1.5 hours and afterward, I was exhausted. I came home and had Szechuan food delivered, and eschewed writing for the evening in favor of some good, bad television. It was just like in the old days, when I still lived in the world of Events, not of Zooms, which I unlike many others find much less sapping. Not having to be a body in public has saved me so much time and energy and willpower and has thus given me, ironically, the capacity and critical distance to write about it in a sustained way for the first time in my life. Strangely, it feels good to write about something that feels so terrible.”

All of this made me reflect on my recent photoshoot with a U of G School of Fine and Music alum, Trina Koster. Sarah and I needed new work headshots so we went together and had fun with that.

The top one is the one I’m using now. Bottom left was a warm up photo to get me to relax. And bottom right was a more staged theatrical one we did once we were having fun with the whole thing.

And then a friend on Facebook–thanks Ray!–had more fun with Game of Thrones mood photo, bottom right, by photoshopping a sword for me. Others suggested I also needed a regal white ruffle!

Love the sword!

My advice to women in professional roles where people routinely ask you for photos is to take control of the process. Find a photographer you like and trust. Tracy, Nat, and I all recommend Ruth of Ruthless Images. I had a very good experience with Trina here in Guelph too. Relax and fine someone who’ll make it fun for you.

A friend on Facebook said that he thought his attitude to professional headshot photoshoots is different because of his experience with selfies. In an age where we take our own photos a lot and we’re used to seeing our image online, he said he now finds having his photo taken fun.

How about you? What’s your experience of being photographed?

body image · golf · media · men

Athletes’ Body Talk in the Media Serves No One

On a recent Sunday I was doing two things I rarely do: 1. watching pro golf on TV, and 2. complaining loudly at the TV. Why I was watching golf (the 2022 US Open, final round), I’m not really sure. But I do know why I was complaining.

Image by rawpixel

I was complaining because the broadcasters were making comments about the bodies of the pro golfers as they teed off on the first hole. One player was described repeatedly as “baby-faced,” another was “slender,” and a third was “sturdy.” Maybe it was just a lazy start to the commentary, but with all the history and statistics available to discuss, who is served by this body talk?

Televised commentary on athletes’ bodies is a much more prevalent issue for women, one that creates a double standard to boot. As Kathita Davidson notes, descriptions of male athletes’ bodies often reinforce perceptions of strength, athleticism, and performance. In contrast, the descriptions of women athletes’ bodies are often hetero-sexualized in ways that undermine their athleticism. As well, non-binary gendered and intersex bodies are the almost nearly always the subject of controversy and discrimination.

Body talk happens in the media at all levels of game. In the last year, two commentators were fired for making disparaging comments about high school basketball players’ bodies. At the 2021 Winter Olympics, there was pressure to focus on sports appeal and not sex appeal of the athletes. Not long after, an Olympics figure-skating commentator was fired for a degrading remark about a female Canadian figure skater (though it was about her personality, not her physique).

Focus on the bodies of athletes is not only a frequent issue but a problem, as Christine Yu observes:

Aerobic capacitypowerstrength, muscular endurancebiomechanics, strategy, tenacity, and good genes—none of which are necessarily visible to the human eye—all determine an athlete’s ability. And yet, especially with women athletes, appearance often becomes the sole focus, even when it has nothing to do with performance. This overemphasis on what athletes look like is damaging on both an individual and a cultural level, and it’s time to reconsider how we talk about their bodies.

Christine Yu, 2020, para.6

The emphasis on appearance and physique can be damaging to men and boys as well. The American Addiction Center has an article of men and body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) that highlights bigorexia, combining the Latin -orexia (an appetite for) with obsession over the big-ness of muscles. This disorder causes pain, distress, and sometimes harmful physical and dietary changes, and men are far less likely to ask for help.

The pro golfers weren’t listening to the broadcasters’ body talk as they teed off at the US Open’s, and they might not have cared about what was said.

Still, thousands of aspiring male golfers were watching and listening to the televised patter about bodies that had nothing to do with the game. By drawing attention to who is slender, sturdy, or baby-faced, the broadcasters invited body comparisons and scrutiny—to no meaningful end.

So, ultimately this post is just a reminder to anyone who gets an opportunity to talk about any athletes in front of a microphone: Focus your comments on athletic performance, not on athletic bodies.

Image by @midsizequeens