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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Instead of watching the US Presidential debate last night, I watched a terrific documentary about cargo bikes, motherhood, and feminism. I recommend it!
Here’s the trailer:
I confess I’ve always wanted a cargo bike for groceries and carrying stuff about town. When my kids were little they rode in the back behind me in a trailer, but whenever I travelled to places with cargo bikes I looked on in wonderment. That’s the way to do it!
In my dream commune/co-op we’d share a cargo bike for running errands. I don’t have enough need for one here in Guelph. And I don’t have little people in my life these days.
But still, they make me smile.
Have you ever ridden a cargo bike? Wanted one? Bought one? Tell us your stories in the comments below.
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.
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.
Many of us here at Fit is a Feminist Issue have long appreciated Kathleen Wynne — the Ontario premier who soundly lost the election on Thursday — as an example of mid-life female strength of all kinds, including her identity as a runner. My friend Joanna wrote a powerful open letter to Kathleen about her impact as a role model, and I wanted to share it with the FiFI community, even though it’s technically not about fitness. It’s very much about female strength ;-).
You won’t remember me, but we met a few times when you visited Overland Learning Centre. I’m writing to thank you for your service.
Watching you, I had the chance to see true leadership in action. I learned so much from observing you collaborate and problem solve and sow the seeds of political engagement in the new generation. This has made me bolder and clearer in my own goals, and it’s inspired so many other women as well.
These past few weeks have been the bravest I’ve ever seen you. It must have been unbelievably difficult, but what you did was so valuable to the rest of us. It’s really important to show other women how to be strong in the face of defeat. Of course it’s vital that women attain success in fields previously reserved for men – we were over the moon when you became premier – but women also have to learn how not to crumble when they start to slip off that pedestal. As Michelle Obama put it, “I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do, and be okay, because let me tell you, watching men fail up—it is frustrating.”
Over the past few months, you have shown us how to fail badly and be okay. By “be okay,” I mean retain your composure, reaffirm your principles, and always sound like the smartest, most logical person in the room. By meeting failure head-on with unflinching honesty and even some humour, you demystified it, giving us all a little more courage. When we fear failure less, we will be more daring, and glass ceilings everywhere will start to crack.
I wish I weren’t thanking you for this. I wish I were writing to congratulate you on some new triumph, but each story has its own hero. Thank you for being that person.
Joanna Warden is a Toronto language teacher who is reclaiming her inner Social Justice Warrior. She is currently working for the ifp program at the University of Toronto, Overland Learning Centre at TDSB and English Central ESL Resources. She is also the writer of the blog Teacherpants and grandmother to the adorable Ethan.
As a woman who is new to the competitive cycling scene, I want to share a glimpse of my journey into this sport. I’ve had some incredible experiences in the cycling community and I love it more than any other hobby I’ve picked up over my lifetime. For me, there is something truly empowering (yet terrifying!) about racing bicycles at 23mph around street corners in a field of 20+ women, all while trusting and admiring each and every one of them. A year later, there is no better feeling than reflecting back on my journey and calling many of those women my new teammates and friends.
Despite how much I love racing bikes, I have experienced a number of day-to-day remarks, actions, and behaviors that reveal underlying biases and assumptions about men being the default and women being placed on the back burner in cycling. Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these experiences reflect subtle inequities, stereotypical remarks, or forms of harassment related to one or more cultural identities–including but not limited to gender. I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here and in a previous post because I want to continue the conversation that other cyclists have started for us, and I want continued progress on this important issue.
Before sharing, I want to recognize that many (but not all) of the actions I describe were likely unintentional. My goal is not to point fingers. Instead, I want to reflect on the broader culture and context. When these experiences happen time and time again by different people, I can’t help but recognize that the common denominator is the fact that I’m a woman on a bike trying to participate in a sport dominated by white cisgender men. Even if done unintentionally, such actions and subtle snubs provide preferential treatment toward men, exclude those of us who are not men, and/or focus on our physical attributes rather than our strengths as athletes. Here is some of what I’ve experienced:
During my second ride with a new group of men, I got a flat and fell off the back. One guy stayed back while I changed my flat, joking that he waited for me because he wanted my number. The others in the group went on without me.
During a cold February ride, I was in a pace line with several men working into a gnarly headwind. One of the guys shouted “Keep up the good work, fellas!” to boost morale.
Last fall, an acquaintance joked that I shouldn’t race in the Athena* category because no one wants to be “King of the fatties.”
In a recent fat bike race, two men passed me on the single track stating, “thanks, man” and “thanks, sir.”
At my first cyclocross race, I showed up early to get a feel for the race scene and watch the race before mine. The announcer did not announce the first place woman at the finish line, yet provided commentary on all podium spots for the men’s race occurring at the same time.
When commuting into work one morning for my new job, a security guard approached me to introduce himself. He proceeded to comment on my physical attractiveness.
During the cyclocross season, the women’s 4/5 field raced at the same time as the juniors. When course features were too challenging for 8 yr olds, the features were removed for their race. This meant that we often raced on the modified course with the juniors, rather than the course raced by all other adults.
After stopping at an intersection on my way home from a training ride, a car with three men pulled up alongside me. One of them stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Hey you wanna suck my dick?!”. They drove off with a car full of laughter. My morale, performance, and sense of safety immediately plummeted. I spent the rest of the ride feeling completely violated, tense, and worried they’d come back.
*Note: Athena is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs. Clydesdale is a category for men over 200 lbs.
Although the clear harassment is far and few between, and most of these acts are completely unintentional, they add up. I carry them with me on a daily basis and to each race. I use them to fuel my desire to dig deeper, to try harder, and to show women and gender diverse cyclists we belong. If we want to decrease gender gaps in this sport, we need more conversations about how to do better, as well as more feminists advocating for gender equity. Just in the past year, I have taken risks in a new community by speaking up about what I’ve seen and how I’ve felt. I will speak more about the progress in the next post, but I have only great things to say about the cycling federation, racing directors, and officials–particularly how open and receptive they’ve been. We’re seeing some really exciting changes. I think many people understand that it’s time for a culture shift, in which all cyclists are clearly valued and welcome. That being said, I can only speak to my own experience. I want to hear more voices and shine a light on the experiences of others so that we can make this conversation continue in and outside of the cycling world.
This month, I launched an international research project for women (cis and trans) and gender diverse cyclists (including but not limited to non-binary, gender queer, & two spirit folks) who have raced over the past 5 years. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued and included in their respective communities. After recruiting 250 participants, I’ll donate $500 to a non-profit organization (Cycles for Change) that works toward gender equity and accessibility in cycling. Findings will be presented in the community and submitted as empirical journal articles. Ultimately, my goal is to better understand the gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.
If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7
Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.
I have been in several conversations about the nature of self-defense training in the past few months and as a result I have been puzzling about how to address women’s real needs when it comes to self-defense.
(Please note: I have not included any self-defense photos in this post so I could avoid potential triggers for people. There is a video from 1933 posted at the end but the still image is staged so it seems unlikely to be a trigger. Proceed with caution.)
With my second degree black belt in Taekwondo I feel pretty confident about my ability to defend myself in a fight. I have a fair amount of self-defense training and I’m a pretty skilled kicker and puncher. If someone outright attacked me, I could likely deal with it.
The problem is, of course, that for most women, the ‘stranger in a dark alley’ is the dangerous scenario they are least likely to encounter. We’re much more likely to have to deal with someone we know or sort-of-know in a situation that goes from normal to needing-a-defense-strategy all of a sudden.
If my life was in actual danger, I know I could act. If the situation was unclear? I’m not sure that my instincts would be sharp enough. I fear that my social conditioning to ‘be nice’ would override my instincts, especially if it was someone I know. And I would be reluctant to cause them any real harm until I was sure they meant to hurt me, and then it might be too late to use what I know.
I know that the big picture solution involves the social change all of us fit feminists are working toward but what’s the solution for while that change is in development?
How do we help women deal with the people who take advantage of the fact that we are trained to be ‘nice’ and agreeable? How do we get them past the fear of hurting someone they know but who is willing to hurt them?
It’s a huge issue, I realize that. In thinking about it, though, I have been tying together bits and pieces of my experiences and conversations with experts so I can start working on at least a piece of the problem.
A few years before I started Taekwondo my friends and I took this one time only self-defense class offered by a local martial arts school (not my current one). I learned lots of great moves and I enjoyed practicing them on people in full body armor. I felt like something was missing though.
The instructors gave us good skills but there was little or no mention of when and how to tap into our instincts. And the instructor did not seem to understand that as women in their thirties and forties we couldn’t necessarily follow the same rules for walking down the street safely as as he could as an advanced black belt male in his 50s. Basically, the class was great but limited. The instructor was missing the cultural and social context of when and how most women would need to use these skills.
One of my TKD instructors is working on this issue already. She has lots of great self defense skills to teach but it is really hard to teach women to defend themselves in the sort of situation they’re most likely to encounter. It gets into that grey area where you need to teach skills beyond the physical.
After all, how do you learn to defend yourself against someone whose nose you don’t want to break or against someone that you’re going to see again (and probably not in a court of law)?
Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who teaches women’s self-defense and again she was concerned with that same gap. Her practice is able to address it a little more directly but since every student has individual things to overcome, it’s tricky to address in a wholesale way.
This is one of those situations where physical fitness and training will help. After all, both of those things bring confidence and give you physical leverage. However, the problem is broader than being confident and physically capable.
How do we teach women to further develop their instincts, to trust them and to act on them?
How do we find ways for women to defend themselves when causing physical harm will have additional social repercussions? (I know that defending yourself should be your first priority and the repercussions should be your last concern but that social conditioning to be a ‘good girl’ will get in the way.)
How do we help other women (and ourselves) to recognize that a threat is a threat, no matter who it comes from? That the harm that comes from someone we know is as bad as harm from a stranger? To recognize that we should be allowed to protect ourselves, no matter who is hurting us?
It’s hard enough to learn that it is okay to say no. And to understand, on a fundamental level, that we have the right not to be harmed in anyway. How do we help women to reinforce that no without creating further danger for them?
How do we address the fundamental changes in thinking (and in social indoctrination) that all of this requires?
I know that the answer lies in the social change we talked about. I know that it is really men that need the lesson about doing no harm and taking responsibility for their actions. And there are tons of changes above needed above and beyond that.
But those are long-term changes and waiting for things to get better is not a viable option.
I want women to be equipped to deal with the things they have to face now. I want them to have the skills they need and the confidence to use them. I know a lot of people are working on it, I just want to be part of that working group, too.
The embedded video below shows a Women’s Self-Defence Tutorial from 1933. It is in black and white and features May Whitley demonstrating jiu-jitsu.
I started swimming because I wanted to do something different that would complement my current fitness routine (weight training twice a week and trail walking once a week) along with walking and stairclimbing through the day.
I quickly found swimming served as a form of meditation. I like doing laps even though I am not an especially fast or strong swimmer. Since August, I have been going at least twice a week, and sometimes I have managed even three or four times.
In many respects, swimming is my reset button.
The last swim of 2017 was interesting. The pool’s fast lane had been taken over by a swim team, leaving the triathalon trainees no choice but to take over the leisure swim area. We all (athletes and leisure swimmers alike) ended up staggering our departures from the shallow end, although it quickly became apparent why I am a leisure swimmer and not a tri candidate.
My first clue came from the waves generated by so many swimmers in one place. I haven’t seen waves like that since the last time I went pond swimming close to 30 years ago. My second clue was realizing they were lapping me easily. They were like Energizer bunnies, one after the other after the other, cleaving the pool with their arms and legs pumping rapidly like pistons.
By the time I started my third lap, I was feeling more frazzled instead of my usually relaxed state. In fact, I rather felt like a cat whose owner was rubbing its fur the wrong way.
As I made my way through the waves, I thought about leaving the leisure side and going to the therapy pool. I was feeling overwhelmed by the volume and the quality of swimmers, and more than a little uncomfortable, but I stayed and completed my usual set of laps. It wasn’t my best time and I was not in my usual state of zen post swim, but I did it.
I stayed because I knew I had the same right to access as anyone else. I might have been the slowest person in the pool, and I definitely had the weakest form, but I had made a promise to myself to go swimming and I wanted to keep it. So I made space for myself, and like the wonderful Dory from Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming.
I didn’t always think this way. I was one of those people who would join a gym in January and slink away in February or March. As I mix up right and left on a regular basis, aerobics classes (later replaced by zumba) were usually mortifying experiences requiring multiple apologies to participants for bumping into them. As a result, I was pretty self conscious about anything I did in a gym where there were other people.
After four years of weight training, I have not only built muscles, I have also increased my confidence. Weight training is all about competing with yourself as opposed to others. It’s also about recognizing everyone has a place in the gym and you learn to accomodate and respect where people are.
While I may be slow in the pool, just as I am on the running trail, it is good to remember I am always steady and persistent. Rather than get stressed out by what others are doing, or trying to guess what they are thinking about me in that shared space, I know that what really matters is setting and meeting my own pace every time I hit the gym or the pool. It didn’t feel like it initially, but on reflection, it was a good way to kick off the new year.
— Martha is looking forward to 2018 and making good on her big goals.