equality · femalestrength · fitness · Martha's Musings · martial arts

The only way to keep going is to keep getting back up

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Image shows two Lego minifigures, with Wonder Woman in her red and blue one piece swimsuit on the left and Wildstyle in her purple and black flight suit on the right. Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

By MarthaFitat55

I went to see Captain Marvel on the weekend with my family. I enjoyed it very much. The characters were nicely developed; the story line was engaging; the writing was clever. The hero was not hyper-sexualized and there was no love story. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I was more than ready for an action movie featuring a woman in a central role that did not require a skimpy outfit.

Captain Marvel is a woman who thinks for herself and seeks solutions. When she ends up stranded on earth, she figures out how she is going to communicate with her team. She’s not afraid of hard work nor is she afraid of training hard. Her fitness and strength are tools she uses to defeat her opponents while outsmarting them.

Like many noble warrior heroes, Marvel is challenged to find her true self. Her memory has been fragmented, but over time, the bits she has retrieved form a story. There are three pivotal moments for me in the film and they all come pretty closely together in the final quarter of the film.

The first is when Vers remembers her real name, the second when she comes into her full powers, and the third when Carol quashes her former mentor’s ego. These three moments have a lot to offer women in pursuit of fitness, strength and power in the gym.

When Vers remembers who she is, she rejects the name she was given and asserts her real name. “My name is Carol,” and she pushes back with all her strength. Women are often told they shouldn’t lift weights; that working with the bar will change their essential nature, that they will change shape and not in a good way. I’ve learned that when I walk into the gym and assume my role as power-lifter, that when I accept I am there to lift all the heavy things, then the dynamic between the bar and me is quite different.

When Carol thinks and reflects on what she is hearing, she is able to reframe what she knows. She’s been convinced for too long that she has no power except for what her oppressors have allowed her to express. She remembers all the times she fell down, the times she was taunted and told she could not do what she planned, the times she was scolded for having dreams that were too big for “normal.” Most importantly, Carol remembers all the times she got back up.

When I am at the gym, I remember all the times I got back up even though I didn’t want to. My trainer even has “Always stand up” taped to the squat cage. This winter has been hard with extra cold weather and a cranky hip. It’s surprising what strength you can find when you say those three little words.

Finally, Carol takes joy in her strength and power. She revels in what she can do — defeat bad guys, look after the good guys, and organize a plan to make change happen for the people she helps. When the bad guy tries to take credit for her skill and power, Carol tells him she has nothing to prove to him.

Indeed, if there is one thing you take away from this post (and the movie), is that the only person to whom you must be accountable is yourself. You show up, do the work, and get on with the job at hand.

How about you? Do you find inspiration from action movies?

— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s.

cycling · equality · femalestrength · stereotypes

On being underestimated

Many of you will have heard about this already:

A female cyclist (Nicole Hanselmann) is forced to stop after nearly catching the men’s pro race that had begun 10 minutes ahead of her women’s race. Hanselmann wears black and light blue-striped kit and rides a white road bike with blue bar tape; also in the photo we see part of the peloton’s motorcycle convoy, which has stopped Hanselmann and is speaking to her on the pavement. She looks annoyed. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Swiss cyclist Nicole Hanselmann was competing for her Bigla Pro team at a race in Belgium; the men’s race had a 10-minute start, and Hanselmann made that up pretty quickly after grabbing an early lead. Her race was stopped so the men could get ahead again; she was given a head start once the women’s race resumed, but the wind had left her sails by then. (UM: DUH.) She finished 74th. Later she instagrammed the incident: “awkward” was her photo caption.

A female cyclist (Hanselmann), wearing her black and light blue-striped Bigla kit and helmet, leans on her right gloved hand while smiling into the camera through her cycling glasses. You can see this image on her instagram feed here.

Why did this happen? I’ve been looking around for an explanation for the last day or so and have no clear one to offer you. It sounds like the officials made a wrong call on the race gap: 10 minutes was not long enough. (Is this a standard gap for this type of race? I can’t tell – I haven’t been able to find this information out. If you know, please say in the comments!) It also sounds like Hanselmann had GREAT legs going into the race, and really took advantage. (There are structural reasons why this might be the case; women’s race lengths are often not long enough to capitalize on women’s peak fitness, which means early attacks happen. Go here for more.)

But “why” on this day, in this place, is not really the point; there are a lot of culturally-embedded, fairly obvious reasons why this incident is newsworthy. And if you’re a strong female cyclist, you already know the why.

We get underestimated. This is true of pretty much ALL female athletes, but it’s definitely the case for female athletes in male-dominant sports. Snoop around on our blog for lots of qualitative evidence, most recently this fantastic guest post from just a few days ago, about trying to lift around men at the gym.

I’ve been riding road bikes since 2012; I learned early (from a hugely inspiring female coach) that I was strong and suited to the sport. I drop a lot of guys. I’m faster than a lot of guys. And I love riding with folks who are faster than me, because they make me get faster.

But fast guys also tend to misunderstand what it means to have women on their ride.

(And here, let me specify: I’m talking largely about CLUB rides. When I go on organized rides with guys I know and trust and train with, we are all good and the adventure is ace. #notallmaleriders, of course. But still plenty.)

How this misunderstanding? Step one: mansplaining.

If I’m on a high-end bike that fits my body, the bike is kitted out with all the gear, and I demonstrate clear road- and club-riding skills, chances are I do not need you to tell me basic things about the sport, my bike, or anything else to do with what we are doing at the minute. Keep it to yourself, unless you see me in obvious need of assistance. And if that happens, maybe ask first if I need any.

Step two: aggressive off-showing. Yes, I’m on your ride because I’m fast enough for the posted ride pace. This should not be an invitation to you to attempt to ride significantly faster than the posted ride pace, just because you can. Or maybe you’re trying hard to show off to the other dudes on the ride? (I see this A LOT. God, it must be exhausting to be a male club rider.) At any rate, 38kph on a posted 32-34kph ride is too fast for me. You are going to drop me. And quite possibly you’ll drop the other, less fast, guys on the ride too. Is that really what you want? (And if so, ask yourself: WHY DO YOU WANT THIS?)

Step three: excessive complimenting. I pulled that pace line for two minutes and it was a strong, effective pull? We held a good pace? Yup, that’s what happens when you pull, after resting inside the pace line for a bit. I pulled the peloton with another woman at the front, and it was a strong, effective pull? Whadaya know. We have #madbikeskillz. GET OVER IT.

If you’re not going to say “hey! Great pull! Way to go!” to the guys on the ride, when you say it to me the message is clear. You didn’t think I could do it. You underestimated me. Thanks for sharing.

It’s not just guys who underestimate women riders, though. Many women I know have no idea how strong they are. Many of the women in my club think they are too slow for the two faster groups the club runs; even the amazing mountain biker I train with in winter (like, PODIUM MB-er, peeps) isn’t sure she can hold the faster lines. (Spoiler alert: she really can.)

I know these women are stronger than they let themselves think. They don’t believe it, and that’s because they have been taught, over years of aggressive gendered socialization, that women aren’t fast or good enough when it comes to sports like cycling. There’s tonnes of external reinforcement of this idea, too: just ask Hanselmann. All around us the messages normalize the notion that women can’t do it, not really, no matter what Nike says as it tries to sell us things.

I know this post sounds cranky, but I’m fed up. Being underestimated is exhausting; it makes it hard to want to go on the rides, to try to get faster, to deal with all the noise while ALSO trying to ride the ride. Cycling is hard enough work; I don’t need to be doing extra emotional labour on the damn bike, too.

A delighted woman, circa 1950s, in white shirt-sleeves and a skirt on an upright bike, huge smile plastered on her face. The caption reads, “He said a woman’s place is in the kitchen. So I dropped him.”

What’s your experience on the bike? Do you have supportive ride-mates, or do you experience unnecessary gender blow-back on your usual club dates? Do you have race experiences you’d like to share?

#deanslife · accessibility · equality · fitness · injury · racing

Stairs are not Sam’s friends

Image description:
The Girona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, is a Roman Catholic church located in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Girona.
Also, it has lots and lots of steps leading up to it!

Oh, old European cities. I love you. But I hate your stairs. SO MANY STAIRS.

Why do I hate stairs? They hurt my knees. It’s seriously painful even on days when I’m walking pain free. Down is way worse than up. Handrails help. I’m now a person who notices when they’re there and when they’re at the right height. I also sometimes worry that the stairs are making my knees worse.

So I turned to the Internet with my question. Dr. Google, do stairs simply hurt my arthritic knees or do they make things worse? Here’s a good a survey of the relevant literature.

“Stair climbing increases loads on the knee joints. And if we take into consideration the mechanical factor for appearing and progression of degenerative joint disease, it is clear that damage to joint cartilage increases with stair climbing. So reduced loads are beneficial for knee arthrosis.”

“Combination of stairs and weight or better loading and repetition of it is discussed as having some effect of knee joint degeneration. It is calculated that when someone is walking on plain ground he puts about 5 times the body weight or load in every step into the joint. When stairs are used or walking up or down hill the person is loading the knee up to 7 or 10 times the body weight or load according to the speed used. So repetition (circle of loading) – weight (and load) – and inclination of the ground has possibly effect of degenerative knee disease”

“The reasons why patients are advised to avoid them when OA shows up is that stairs are stress raisers, especially descending them. The point is that OA knees regardless the severity,  are often unstable and in these conditions stairs may  induce shear stresses on the cartilage and speed up the degenerative process. “

So I guess I should try to avoid them. I raised the issue at the knee surgery clinic on Monday when I was there for my regular appointment. Their message was clear. “You need to modify your activity. Avoid stairs when you can.”

See you on the escalator/in the elevator!

Though in these old cities there isn’t much choice.

Image description: Yellow brick buildings flanking a narrow walkway of stairs, in the old city of Girona.
cycling · equality · gender policing

Heavy weight racing and gender


This bike jersey keeps popping up in my social media newsfeeds. I don’t mind the “heavy weight” label. It’s me. But it’s striking that the jersey only comes in men’s sizes.

There’s this phenomena I’ve noticed about gender and size and athleticism. I know men don’t always have it easy when it comes to size and body image. I’ve blogged lots about that. See here and here.

But sometimes big men get to own their size in a way that big women just don’t.

See Fat Lass at the Front? for one company’s efforts to extend that way of thinking to women cyclists.

athletes · equality

Swoon!


Look, just look at Krysten Sinema getting sworn in. I’ve got some aesthetic opinions. I love her hair, that top, those glasses. But I’m not writing here just to swoon. It’s Sinmena’s athletic background that intrigues and fascinates me. She’s not just a very successful politician. She’s also a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer and an Ironman triathlete.

In our book , Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey, Tracy and I talk about all of the things one gets out of being active above the pleasure of the experience itself. Women who are athletes have more self-confidence and more resilience and that has all sorts of beneficial side effects. Athletes are over represented in leadership roles in many areas of life. So when women are denied access to the goods of physical activity, or are discouraged from taking part in sports, the costs aren’t just about health and fitness.

I was thrilled to see Krysten Sinema sworn into the US Senate. In addition to being an Ironman triathlete–have I mentioned that already?–she’s also the first openly bisexual member of the US Senate. And she has plans to continue training through her new role with a goal of qualifying for Boston this year. Clearly, there’s no slowing her down.

Image result for kyrsten sinema bike

Back to my shallow aesthetic swooning. Just look at her pink coat!

I was also happy to read that Sinema shares our concern about the gender gap in sports participation. Here she is in a recent interview talking about how to get more women involved in triathlon. She’s got some good suggestions here.

“The first thing we did as an advisory board was a survey where we asked women who were athletic, but not necessarily triathletes, a series of questions. Do they want to tri? What are the barriers to tri? What is stopping them from tri’ing? And what things would they find most helpful? We did a recent survey, and we found the same things that we found then.

There are issues around work/life/family balance, and then there’s the water—but that’s not gender-specific; most of us are afraid of the water. Another issue that is more related to women is wanting to feel confident and have a sense of community when engaging in a new endeavor. The recipe for success is not rocket science.

What are the things that you do to overcome those barriers? You have swim clinics in a pool and then in the open water. You do tire-changing clinics. You have childcare when you are doing a seminar at night to talk about triathlon and nutrition. It’s not hard, but what is hard is changing mindsets and changing the culture. What I’m really excited about is the Women For Tri project has been so successful that we are now fielding requests from races around the world that want to partner with us because they want to increase women’s participation in triathlon. One of the new things we’re going to do is work on partnering with races that are not part of the brands that we were formed by. We were born in Ironman, and partnered with Life Time, so that’s where our early connections have been, but we’re going to expand.

body image · clothing · equality · femalestrength · gender policing

Is tennis trying to win a chauvinism/misogyny award?

 

First, the French Open decides one of Serena’s outfits back in June is cause to tighten up their dress code rules. I wrote about that only a few days ago in Let Women Wear What They Want. Yesterday, the U.S. Open penalized Alize Cornet for oh-so-briefly taking off her shirt during a match.

alize cornet shirt
Alize Cornet, French tennis player, taking off her shirt at the U.S. Open with her back turned, wearing a sturdy black sports bra

Have women’s bodies become so hyper-sexualized that we (okay, really men) can’t even see a woman’s sports bra without coming apart at the seams? Watch the video. Alize’s shirt is off for less than thirty seconds. On a break, she had changed out of a sweat-soaked dress. She accidentally put her fresh shirt on backwards. I’m in New York City. I can attest to just how blistering the heat is. Riding at 6 a.m. with a friend this morning, we felt like we needed amphibious bikes to wade through the stifling humidity. I start sweating just looking out my window at the sunshine.

We are super-saturated by media images of women in their scanties. Are you as tired of Victoria’s Secret billboard cleavages as I am? The more we sexualize women in the media, the less room there is for women to be comfortable in their bodies and in their strength.

Meanwhile, no surprise, the male tennis players are sitting around without their shirts on whenever they feel like it.

The powers-that-be blather on about respecting the sport as an excuse to sanction women. The women ARE respecting the sport. Now let’s give the women the respect they deserve!

body image · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · stereotypes · training · weight stigma

Weight bias and obesity interventions: no easy answers

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A person wearing a black swim dress and pink flip flops gets ready to swim.

By MarthaFitat55

A while ago I had reason to consult with an anaesthetist. We went through the risk assessment and had a chat. The clinic nurse had told me the team might have some questions because of my weight.

Fair enough. I could hardly fault them given what’s involved in going under, so to speak. But I was cautious because context is so often missing when numbers are thrown around, especially numbers relating to the Body Mass Index (BMI).

According to that scale, one originally developed by insurance companies, I am obese. Anaesthetists aren’t fond of having to deal with obese people. So we had a chat and it was actually quite good.

Here’s the thing: I eat reasonably well, with almost all the required fruits and veggies, high fibre foods, lower fat choices, more fish and legumes, and less red meat and alcohol, our health system deems the better diet to follow.

I’m also pretty active. At the time of the chat, I was weight training twice a week, swimming two to three times a week, taking a trail walk lasting more than an hour weekly, and looking to get my steps in on a daily basis.

The doctor asked me about the weight training, and I ran through the numbers: bench was around 48kg, deadlift was around 105kg, and squat was 97.5 kg. So those numbers tipped the deal. If I could do all that, then I wouldn’t have any trouble, they concluded.

It made me think though. For the past ten years, I have acted on the guideline about eating less junk and focusing more on whole foods while being more more mindful about how active I am.

Truth is, I’m not prepared to starve nor am I prepared to add any more hours of activity (in fact I am at or past the threshold for the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week already).

At the back of my mind, I always believe I should be able to do more, and yet I can’t. It bugs me when I hear facile comments repeated in every weight loss inspiration story shared by the media. We all make choices, but some times even the good choices don’t make that much difference.

When SamB shared an article about how such tag lines like “Eat less, move more” contribute to weight bias, I was intrigued.

And I felt vindicated. Despite all my efforts in the gym, in the kitchen and yes, in my own mind, when I ran up against health professionals, who looked at numbers like BMI as reliable indicators of health, I felt my work was not enough, nor good enough, to make the difference society expected in my body shape.

Nor am I the only one. Canadian Obesity Network researcher Ximena Ramos Salas looked at obesity prevention policies and messages. She tested the messages with people living with obesity and what she heard was illuminating.

The short form is those messages don’t work. They are neither helpful nor accurate.

“Saying obesity is simply an issue of diet and exercise trivializes the disease. It makes those living with obesity feel like it is a lifestyle or behavioural choice, and therefore their fault. This causes them to feel judged and shamed, and to internalize the stigma of weight bias.”

Ramos Salas also reported “People told me that the public health messages were not relevant to their experiences. They didn’t relate to the messaging, they felt it didn’t consider other factors that contribute to their obesity that are unique to them, like genetics, mental health, medications and so on. It did not reflect the challenges that they faced while trying to manage their weight on a daily basis.”

I think these are two useful insights that should get more attention. But the best message arising from the research Ramos Salas is engaged in is this: “Not everyone who is big has obesity. People come in different shapes and sizes, so the idea that we categorize people based on their size as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is not accurate.”

I was fortunate I met with a health professional who was open to hearing about my numbers intead of relying on a flawed indicator to make a decision about my health status. Too many people though do not and some actually close that door themselves because they are not confident they will get the care they need.

For me, my conversation with the anaesthetist helped validate my choices about the fitness path I am on even though assumptions about weight and health by others may have forced the issue. I may never meet the biased image for health and fitness such weight stigma imposes, but I know I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. To suggest otherwise is limiting and dismissive.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.