clothing · fitness · gear · tbt

The Sports Bra Dilemma #tbt

Five years ago, I wrote this post about sports bras and how active women struggle to find the right one for them. At the time, lots of people shared their stories of “success” on the sports bra front. I figure it’s time for an update, since maybe there is some new product out there. I also just realized that I haven’t replaced mine in FIVE YEARS, so it’s not just the post that needs updating. It’s also my sports bra collection (still Under Armor and Champion). Read on, and please let us know what your best gear in the sports bra department is!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

underarmor Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack…

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body image · clothing · femalestrength · fitness

Making peace with our changing bodies

“When you get thin again, can I have your bigger clothes?”

Someone at a party asked one of my friends that last week.  If I squint really hard and ignore toxic body shaming culture, I might be able to imagine that this person thought she was giving my friend a compliment.  “That’s a great outfit!  You’re such a fit person you’ll lose that baby weight just like that!  You’re so pretty in that — I wish I looked like you!”  I guess?

My friend is a fitness instructor, a former body builder, and someone who has fought disordered eating, body shaming and body obsession for a long time.  Her mission is to support women to love their bodies for what they can do, whatever shape or ability that is, to help them build emotional and physical strength.  She’s absolutely beautiful, luminous and kind, inside and out.

She had a baby six weeks ago.  She worked out throughout her pregnancy in a careful way, had a healthy birth and gorgeous wee baby, and has worked hard to love and be at peace with her larger body.  She went to that party feeling like she looked great.

And this one comment completely knocked the breath out of her, shredded the colourful, silken threads of self love she’d spun, painstakingly, one at a time.

***

HM The Queen Attends Trooping The ColourBody shaming and body policing are so much a part of our culture that a lot of the time, we don’t even notice them, unless they are shockingly overt — like this gym in Connecticut that sent out an email telling its customers to grab their excess flesh and imagine what that would look like in summer photos — “god forbid, a side pic sitting down!” — or the dank pockets of the celebrity internet that define women only through their bodies and competition.  I won’t link to these places, but one of this week’s headlines speaks for them all:  With the spotlight strong, can Duchess Meghan outdo Kate Middleton’s success in restoring her pre-baby body?

Most of these moments are so woven into our day to day lives that they’re noteworthy only when they hit us right in the most tender parts of our souls.  But whether or not we notice them, they twist how we experience ourselves.  And even when we have huge feminist reflexivity about this, we still get entangled.

***

Over the past few months, I’ve been committing some of those body shaming microaggressions on myself.  I’m 54.  I’m not quite menopausal, but Things are Definitely Changing in my body.  I’m fit and active — I’ve worked out 148 times so far this year, and am well on my way to hitting 300 or more again for the year.  I’m loving feminist crossfit, and training on a sweet new bike for this trip I’m doing with Susan, Sam, Sarah and others in Newfoundland in two weeks. 

But I’ve also gained weight this year.  Even though several people have commented on how “buff” I look from the crossfit, have said I look fit — even hot — all I see is a heavier, thicker middle.  My clothes don’t fit — not my favourite jeans, or a lot of my work clothes.  I’ve become that middle aged woman wearing crossfit shoes, leggings, a flowy top and an Interesting Scarf to everything.  It’s disheartening to have to shove piece after piece of clothing back into the closet.  And I’ve taken to making comments about myself that chastise myself for the weight gain.  Out loud.  To others.  You know the ones.

I know in my head that I’m fit and strong.  I have a lot of joy from moving my body.  I know that some of my weight gain is muscle, and some of it is being 54 and endlessly menstruating.  Because I’m still having mostly regular periods at this advanced age, I seem to be always experiencing the PMS-y hormones that make me bloated.  I also have some gut issues that contribute to bloatiness.  (And god knows, I probably sleep with the light on).

And at the same time, I’m in the “menopausal transition,” which includes, as this study puts it, “unfavorable alterations in body composition, which abruptly worsen at the onset of the menopausal transition and then abate in postmenopause.”  Those “unfavorable alterations” are basically an increase in fat mass in the average woman that doubles every year for the key time of menopause (about three years), and a loss of lean mass.

Our bodies change when we’re 12 or so, and it’s unnerving then. Pregnancy is a hormonal carnival.  A few people’s bodies seem to experience birth and breastfeeding without any noticeable lingering effect, but most are changed in some way forever.  The waxing and waning of hormones affects our mental health, our energy, our appetites, our sleep, our metabolism, our immune systems.   Peri-menopause is another unpredictable extravaganza, and then there is all of the older life stuff.  There is no “set point.”  It’s dynamic, always.

That is life, and this is what my body is at this stage of my life.  Just like my post-partum friend’s body is what it is.  There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.

The force of all of this shows up in so many ways. My friend said this morning “I don’t mind my bigger body but I hate that none of my clothes look good, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes right now.”

Not fitting into my clothes is a big trigger for me, too.  After she said that, I had a warrior moment.  (Well, a warrior moment with a credit card.  I’m privileged in that I can afford this, right now).  I  went on a mission to my favourite store that features affordable Canadian designers.  I decided I was going to leave with a wardrobe of work and dressy casual clothes that made me feel good in my body, felt good on my body, inspired me.  I realized I hadn’t actually bought new warm weather work clothes in about three years, always waiting for that moment when my other clothes would fit me again.

I bought five dresses, two pairs of leggings and two tops.  They fit me well.  They flare and cling in the right places.  I feel strong and pretty in them.  I feel grown up, not middle aged.  (This is Emmylou, checking them out).

IMG_8469.jpeg

They’re a departure from what I’ve been wearing.  And trying them on, having a good shopping experience, finding things that work for my body as it is — I tilted back up into liking myself again.

I think I’ll go get an ice cream cone.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto. She blogs here two or three times a month.

clothing · fashion · gear · Guest Post

Attention Barbell Apparel: I am your target market

I lift weights. I am cis-female. I buy jeans.

When I go to the mall to buy jeans, I can literally try on every style in Macy’s or Nordstroms and walk away without a single pair that fits me well. I have a narrower-than-average waist (28-29 inches) and wider-than-average thighs (each about 24 inches around). So, I often have to choose between fitting my legs into pants and then having enormous gapping at the waist, or squeezing my legs in tight enough that I’m at risk of losing circulation when I sit down so that it fits around my middle.

Needless to say, I was THRILLED therefore to discover Barbell Apparel, who markets their jeans to lifters–with sizing not just for the waist measurement but with a THIGH measurement too! I enthusiastically became their customer and signed up for their email list to keep up on marketing. These pants are not cheap, and I knew I’d want to restock when they were on sale.

And for the last 2 years, EVERY email I’ve gotten from them since, minus perhaps one at Christmas, has been targeted exclusively to men and their men’s line.

Some weeks ago, I sent them feedback–are they aware that they only market their men’s line? It might be good to have two types of emails–one targeted to the folks buying women’s clothes and one for those buying men’s. Alternately, maybe include images from both lines in each email? It would help me feel valued and part of the club! After all, women lifters already are a minority within a minority (I’ve written about my own experiences with this previously). Any company that helps me feel like I’m in the club will win my appreciation and loyalty!

The response I got back suggested they didn’t get it. “We are excited to announce we will be adding to our women’s line very soon!” Ok, but do you hear me saying that you are excluding me by marketing only the men’s products?

It is frustrating. And I now feel more ambivalent about their products. I love the idea of celebrating my proportions–my big, strong thighs are NOT typically treated as admirable, but here is a clothing line with proud tank tops declaring “Thunder Thighs!” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they show that pride in their marketing materials, too.

What say you? Do you feel included and celebrated by the manufacturers of products you are loyal to? What types of inclusivity do you value in advertising?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

accessibility · clothing · fashion · fitness

Online shopping, sizes, and winter. Brrrr! Grrrr!

I’m getting angry about shopping this spring.

And I realize that I’m privileged in terms of my size, my job, and my income.

First, there was my need for a warmer coat for walking to work and walking Cheddar the dog in this winter than never ended. It needs to be above the knee and past the butt. I don’t want black. I have major ethical qualms about Canada Goose brand clothing. Prefer plant sourced down. Oh, needs a good hood and non strangling cuffs. Also, I’m frugal about clothing and I’ve never paid more than $300 for a coat. I also try to be an ethical consumer when it comes to clothes. I’m unsure if I have an ethical commitment to buy from companies that carry the full range of sizes. Those are the challenges.

Then I found one online, size XL, made of milkweed “down.” You can browse the milkweed collection here. Pretty, pricey, ethical. Fine. Two out of three aren’t bad. I ordered.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff, Unsplash. Image description: Milkweed. Black and white close up photo.

It arrived. The XL fit Sarah who is normally a medium and I couldn’t even get my arms in it. Fit tip: Articulated sleeves equals skinny arms. No more bicep curls. Ugh. Part of it was just mislabeling. That was an XL in no one’s books. But the arms were extra bad and I think represented the challenges faced by women who strength train (and who build muscle) when it comes to clothing. See here.

So no more online ordering of coats! I returned it. That part was easy. And now I’m so sick of winter I can’t even stand to try on cold weather coats. See you here next year but in the meantime recommendations welcome.

Second, there’s my ongoing leggings challenge which I’ve written about lots. See my love of leggings post here. But since I need them all of the time for the knee brace I also need different varieties of leggings. I’ve got gym leggings covered and casual weekend leggings under control. But sometimes I need leggings with dressy outfits. If I didn’t need the knee brace then tall boots might be the answer. But a) knee brace and b) cyclist’s calves. I want high waisted size 14. Black. Full length. (The 7/8 ones are in this year and I keep shuddering watching university students with bare ankles and Canada Goose coats. I want to yell in my loudest mom voice, “Put some socks on.” But I don’t.)

Lots of friends recommend Lululemon. I’ve resisted in the past but if they work and last, I’ll pay the big bucks for leggings. So online I go. The ones everyone seems to love–hi Anne!–are “align.” And I know I’m lucky that I’m a size 14 not a size 16 or higher which doesn’t exist in the world of Lululemon.

But it doesn’t matter if I’m a 14 because they don’t have them. It’s a large company. This is one of their most popular items. You’d think they’d keep a size 14 in black in stock. But no.

Argh.

Spring had better come soon. I’m done.

clothing · fitness · inclusiveness

Inclusive sport and the sport hijab

Last week in the midst of jet lag and a bad cold acquired on my way home from India, I experienced appropriate outrage and disappointment when I read the story about the French sport store Decathlon bowing to political pressure on the issue of the sport hijab.

From the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/26/decathlon-drops-french-sports-hijab-after-politicians-threaten-boycott?CMP=fb_gu&fbclid=IwAR34WIGQMMpytGCY3AWLNhOzKP7SrOgj8Gn4pWsPlqtBFGAvDrpYVs922f0 Image description: a woman smiling, wearing a sport hijab, and a white and a black sport hijab pictured but not worn.

Much like the banning of the beach burka (see my post about that here), this move smacks of islamophobia and racism. The highest court in France ruled the burkini ban to be out of order on the grounds that such bans violate fundamental liberties. See our post about that here.

Yes, there is the human rights issue. But there is also the issue of inclusive sport. The manner in which clothing discourages or prevents women from participating in fitness activities and sport operates on a continuum. Sometimes it’s for religious reasons, such as the head covering. Other times it’s for reasons of modesty, or even body shame. A great deal of our sport apparel is clingy and requires body confidence.

Making more sport apparel that affords opportunities for participation in sport for more people is a good thing. The argument that the hijab is necessarily an oppressive religious requirement is old news, based on Western intolerance and even ignorance. Many a Muslim feminist wears a hijab and manages to exude fierce strength. The creation of a head covering that is lightweight enough to be comfortable for running is a positive step for inclusive sport. That a sport store, which one would expect to be proactive in making sport accessible to more people, would cave to the will of xenophobic politicians is sad indeed.

When I was in India I attended a conference on Feminist and Gender Studies in a Global Perspective. I presented a paper entitled, “Can You See Her Now: Photography and Empowerment.” The central argument in the paper, inspired in large part by the inclusive fitness theme that permeates this blog, is that photography can play a positive role in challenging stereotypes, changing expectations, and empowering women. It can do so not just by representing diverse women in empowering ways, but also by putting cameras in the hands of women, including women who occupy marginalized social locations. For example, the organization, Lensational, provides camera equipment and training to women and girls in marginalized communities in the global south. The aim is to allow them “to share their unheard stories, gain confidence, and develop a base of strength.”

Another organization, The Sisters Project, created by Alia Youssef, “combats negative stereotypes of Muslim women by showcasing the diverse stories of inspirational women across Canada, while also creating a space of inclusion and belonging for all self-identifying Muslim women to embrace and celebrate their unique identities.”

Image description: woman playing beach volleyball in uniform that includes a hijab, long sleeves, and leggings, in an action shot down on her right knee and about to hit a volleyball. http://muslimnews.co.uk/news-tag/beach-volleyball/

Muslim women engaging in activities like running and beach volleyball, riding motorbikes, doing all manner of things that the stereotype of the “veiled woman” doesn’t include, helps to change the expectations of what they are all about. The promotion of unique identities allows these women to be individuals, too.

It’s sad that rather than allowing difference in sport, some people would deny women opportunities to participate based on religious objections.

Along with the burkini and the beach volleyball uniform, the sport hijab strikes me as a win for inclusive sport. For that reason, it should be available, not contested and banned. As the highest court in France said of the burkini bans, making an issue of this is tantamount to violating Muslim women’s fundamental freedoms.

What do you think of the sport hijab and other sport wear that departs from the usual uniforms for women in sport?

clothing · gear · running

I Bought Running Gear First After A Year of No Shopping

In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry for the whole year (I wrote about it here: Making Room In My Mind: A Year of No Shopping). Throughout the year people kept asking, “But what about sports clothes? What about running shoes!?” 

My answer was that I would make an exception, if I had to. After all, running shoes are a matter of physical health. I wasn’t going to risk an injury running in worn out shoes. As for sports clothes, well, it’s amazing how long one can keep on going in tights so stretched out the crotch is bagging down around mid-thigh. Never mind desiccated running bras that make a snap-crackle-pop sound when you put them on, because the elastic has stiffened. 

January came. At first, I still couldn’t bring myself to replace items that had clearly expired. I’d grown too used to not shopping. Plus, I was worried that once I opened the door to let shopping back in, I’d slide right down the slippery slope with wild abandon and self-justificatory rationalizations.  I worried that “I want” would quickly become “I need”.

So, I waited. Then one chilly day I just couldn’t take the aggravation of running in droopy drawers. My only pair of extra-cold weather tights had already been darned multiple times and sagged like elephant skin. I got home and threw them out. The dam burst. I started throwing out all my defunct or beyond-grungy sports clothes—2 pairs of running shoes, 5 pairs of socks, a couple of bras, 3 pairs of running tights, a pair of yoga pants and 2 long sleeve base layers. 

I cornered myself with my purge, because now I really did need some new gear. So, I went shopping. What an adrenalin rush! Replacement running shoes, 2 new pairs of running tights in different weather weights, 3 pairs of socks and one long sleeve base layer in my favourite minty green. 

New blue running shoes, green and grey socks (with silver in them, apparently!) and a mint green base layer

If the shopping was a thrill, running in my new gear was even better! The ecstasy of brand spanking tights that hug the legs. The cozy comfort of fresh socks. The boing-boing spring of new shoes. Pleasures I had forgotten. 

I just spent two chilly, grey weeks in Champaign-Urbana, IL. But I didn’t care that the weather was discouraging for a run. I was so happy in my new duds that I looked forward to getting out in the icy, slushy, wet. Running is one of the important ways I tune in to myself and the world. Breaking my shopping fast with a stock up on running necessities was right for me. Fresh gear. Renewed attitude.  

Did my new running swag push me off the top of the slippery shopping slope? No. So far my no-slide crampons are holding. I haven’t gone crazy with all sorts of other clothing purchases. The joy of the new running clothes is more than satisfying for now. 

What’s your latest sports clothing pleasure?

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

Again?! Women at Rowan University are Serena’d

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

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

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

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

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

Do you workout in sports bra only?