Fear · feminism · meditation

Mina’s Still Streaking—300 Days of Meditation and Counting …

After a meditation workshop on December 2 last year, I set an intention to meditate for ten days straight. Ten became thirty became 150, which brings me to 300. Every day since 100 has been my longest meditation streak ever. I’ve described it before as the wild ride on which nothing much happens. That’s still true.

Orange-yellow flower streaked with bands of light.
photo by Moritz Schumacher on Unsplash

Have I made progress? Am I cured? 

Progress from where to where? Cured of what? If the answers are supposed to be: Progress from too much stress, anxiety and disappointment-in-self to divine understanding and unassailable self-worth, not to mention cured of all doubt; nope. 

But (!), I’m not stopping. Because despite the fact that the heavens have not opened and granted me a supernova of universal insight and salvation, I feel moments of profound peace, joy, love, connection, daring, courage, vulnerability, gratitude and strength, which I can only credit to my commitment to the cushion. I feel both as if my nerves are rawer, my emotions closer to the surface, and that I am less subject to the vagaries of those nerves and emotions. I can notice, even accept, without allowing them to dictate the terms of my day. Not every day. But a lot more days than before. 

That’s the biggest noticing of these last 300 days. And since meditation is about nothing more than noticing (the practice is the outcome), here are some noticings that have cropped up since last I wrote about my practice:    

  • When I meditate right before a workout, I give more to the effort. But, when my run (or other activity) is first thing in the morning, slotting something in before first thing robs me of sleep. Both sleep and being active improve my mood and energy throughout the day. If I’m not training for something in particular, I will generally choose the benefits of sleep over the benefits of the meditation enhanced workout. Weighing the benefits of sleep vs. workout effort is part of my ongoing dance with balance.
  • Music is another of my dances with balance. I like meditation music, especially The Bahktas, who create electronic remixes of Sanskrit texts. Some days, the music makes the meditation seem too easy. Other days, the music agitates me and I resist the meditation. Then again, the same can be true with a meditation in silence. Depends on the day. The experiment is the result.
  • As some of you know, I also experiment with meditations on fear. Turns out that once you open the conversation with fear, fear keeps the conversation going. Even when I’m not specifically meditating on fear, she always has a lot to say. A few recent examples include:
    • My upper arms are too old and baggy (despite my strength) to wear sleeveless tops anymore. Plus, this might be the last summer I’ll wear shorts. 
    • My needs take up too much space and are unreasonable. Plus, I am indulgent with my needs. 
    • My anxiety is a weakness. And then, the act of judging my anxiety is a failure of personal mastery. (Wow. I can’t win coming or going.)
  • Here’s another confounding logic loop: Overly positive meditations have the opposite effect. Here’s an experience I had recently. I chose a new meditation on opening up space in our minds. Within the first minutes of the 10-minute meditation, the guide asked me to imagine I was floating in space. Then she immediately told me that I had left all my preoccupations behind. I was now happy, according to the guide. The thing is—I had most certainly not left all my preoccupations behind. My mind was awash with thoughts vying for my attention. I was trying to let the thoughts pass through and away, like clouds; they were not. Also, I wasn’t instantly happier than before I sat down on my cushion to meditate. In fact, I felt frustrated, because I had not achieved what the overly optimistic meditation guide told me I should have. Sigh. 

Meditation gets super tricky around this idea of optimism. Our task is to truly sit without judgment or expectation. To be curious for its own sake; not in pursuit of some optimistic result, such as perfect inner peace and bliss. Sooner or later, curiosity yields insight. Maybe not the insight we want or expect. If we allow it to work on us, meditation delivers what we need. As I write that, I wonder if I am blinded by my faith in meditation; if the effects I observe are caused by the observation; if curiosity is its own reward; if patience and practice create their own self-nourishing cycle. And, if so, are these cyclical effects the whole point or distracting churn? My head starts to spin. I think about Tara Brach’s RAIN—recognize, allow, investigate, nurture. The next day I sit back down on the cushion and let it rain. 

p.s. Since this is a feminist blog, you may be wondering, “what does meditation have to do with feminism?” The answer is—the act of women taking time for ourselves is feminist. The act of pausing to gather together the threads of our strength is feminist. The desire to live fully, to unbind ourselves from societal pressures and simultaneously nurture our individuality and our connection to community is feminist. Taking time to meditate is saying, “I am worth this period of self-reflection.” 

I am worth … what could be more feminist?

feminism · fitness · strength training · weight lifting

Is Grunting While I Lift Contributing to Patriarchy?

Over the last couple months, I have returned to the gym after nearly 2 months away. I have been healing from a hysterectomy, and it is time to get back into my pre-surgical routines. In addition to being “newly back,” I am also trying out a new gym. I had problems with the culture of my last gym, and we moved a couple weeks prior to my hysterectomy, so I had an easy excuse to break things off and try some place new.

The new gym is mostly unmonitored, so the ownership uses a board to communicate policies, recent equipment repairs and such. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, the members seem to feel free to add their own two cents.

The board recently stated the reminder from the male gym owner, “Fellow Men, Please be aware of the energetic physical space we take up. For example, grunts are for homes, not gyms.”

What followed were comments from the community, including, “PATRIARCHY = men get to take up more space than other genders. . . stop ignoring power dynamics,” alongside requests that someone stop erasing the word “men” and changing it to “human,” and a note from the gym owner that “if you dislike the word ‘man’ you are likely the reason it was written in the first place.”

Image description: A portion of the whiteboard at my gym. It reads “Fellow men: please be aware of the energetic physical space we take up. For example, grunts are for homes, not gyms. Wear shoes at all times. Yes, please. Please leave laptop on Pandora only,” and more.

And all this back and forth leaves me wondering, IS grunting contributing to the patriarchy?

There are definitely guys who take up more “energetic physical space” than I would like them to do. These men grunt, growl or yelp with every repetition, from the first set to the last. Often, they are also whipping from one exercise to the next in a manner that feels frenetic to me. My totally judgmental opinion of these guys is that they are deeply insecure, and they are making up for their lack of confidence as a lifter by supplementing their strength with vocalizations and momentum (swinging a dumbbell up rather than doing a strict lift, for example).

On the other hand, I, too, sometimes grunt during a difficult session! Especially now, as I’m taking extra care to ensure that I’m not holding my breath while I’m lifting (and thus increasing the internal downward pressure in my abdomen and pelvic floor), I intentionally expel air during the toughest part of the movement. Sometimes, that just means I make a “puf” sound. But sometimes it’s more!

When I’m lifting heavily, there can be something wonderful and freeing about pushing out a breath during a hard lift. Think about the incredible, strong and powerful movements of Bruce Lee and all his accompanying vocalizations! The man’s movements were a work of art, and he used his breathing to help power them. Now, I’m no Bruce Lee, but I feel like I tap into something powerful nonetheless when I let out an involuntary “whoff” as I stand strong in a lift. It makes the lift less arduous. I feel stronger and more capable. I feel more prepared to do it again for another rep.

Am I buying into patriarchy by making these noises? Am I somehow collaborating or contributing to the oppression of others by “conforming” to men’s norms in this way? No, I don’t think so.

Grunting and other vocalizations while lifting is, technically, something I can control, but only as much as we can control how we sneeze. Yes, I can hold in my breath, cover my nose, and try to make a “cute” sneeze that seems more feminine. Or, I can relax, exhale, and let it out loud and proud. Either way, I’m going to sneeze. Likewise, to some extent, grunting is unavoidable. I have some control over the volume and nature of it, but sometimes, as I’m straining all the way up, tension riding up into my neck and shoulders, I’m releasing air through tightened vocal cords to fuel that final contraction, and “UGHHH.” The noise is part of the effort.

The possibly insecure men whose noises annoy me are grunting because they are often lifting too much for them to control properly. They can control their vocalizations most readily by being realistic about their current fitness level and starting with more appropriate weights for their present strength. I don’t think they’re being patriarchal, they’re just being human. My advice to them isn’t “never grunt at the gym,” it’s to be mindful of how your lifting impacts others (and maybe get a trainer to help you set realistic goals).

I don’t deny that there is more pressure for women to be quiet, out of the way, and more conscientious of how their behaviors may impact others. I feel that pressure, too, as I set up my lifts off to one side, out of the line of sight of folks who might need the mirror, the dumbbell rack or some mat space. And as such, men likely give less thought to how their noises may make some people uncomfortable, or may intrude upon their gym experiences. I have no problem with reminding people to be thoughtful of others’ needs and to remember that those needs are diverse and varied. But I can’t help but wonder, if there were more women who lifted, would there be more understanding of the occasional need to grunt?

Feel free to leave me a comment below and let me know what YOU think!

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

blog · blogging · feminism · fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 4: This time she really means it

Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short wavy salt and pepper hair, silver earrings, smiling, abstract painting in background.

I come from a family of long good-byes. We’re a family who walks you to the car. We say good-bye with hugs and kisses before you get in the car (very occasionally weeping but only if we know it will be a really long time before we see one another and mostly only when someone is leaving the country). To the very end, we play a game called “last look” and “last touch” where we drag it out even more, the winner being the person who gets in the last look or the last quick touch before snatching their hand away through the car window so no one else can touch. We’re laughing the whole while. And then, as you pull away, despite the “last look,” we stand in the driveway and wave. We watch you drive down the street pretty much until we can’t see the car anymore. Then we go in and have a cup of tea or something.

That helps to explain why this is taking me so long (my two week good-bye). I’ve learned to savour last moments. They can be so sweet. Like, this series has breathed some life into my blogging again, renewing my enthusiasm. But that’s not to say I’m staying on. It’s not that I think it’s too late to backtrack and change my mind (I once called off a wedding six weeks before). It’s more that I need to trust my gut on this decision, and it’s telling me to make space for new projects, some as-yet undetermined possibilities, and more generally just to have some breathing room. New space doesn’t need to be a vacuum that sucks something else into it right away.

This blog has given me a lot over the years. Sam and I have often talked about how we stumbled into it without thinking it would go anywhere — it was a temporary project to document our Fittest by Fifty Challenge, and it was meant to end five years ago when we each turned 50. Her energy and efforts have always kept it going. By comparison to Sam’s hard work on the coordinating and organizing and motivating fronts, I have really been little more than co-founder and regular contributor. So I see it as one of those things in life where what I’ve received is so much more than what I’ve given, and I’m grateful beyond what I can express in words. Here are a few of the things the blog gave me (not necessarily in order of importance):

A regular writing practice

I have blogged at least twice a week for seven years. I never did master the art of the short, quick post. As a writer, having a regular writing commitment twice a week (well, maybe once, since #tbt became a regular thing for me in recent years) with an audience to answer to has kept the ink flowing. There has been no time for writer’s block or perfectionism. Almost all of my posts are still in the “first draft” stage, where the content is mostly there but the writing itself needs more metaphor, more precision, more concrete details–the sorts of things that make it more interesting for a reader. I can live with that. I am infinitely more relaxed about my writing since starting the blog. Sharing “good enough” writing with people is no longer a worry. Actually, it’s been fun developing a more casual writing style. Even if it’s not my “best” writing, it’s my most enjoyable. And people read it!

Communities

This idea of community keeps coming back to me. The blog itself drew in a community of like-minded folks who wanted to participate in conversations about fitness from a more inclusive feminist perspective. When Sam and I started to realize people actually read and commented and engaged in discussion about our content, we were well and truly chuffed. Going into it we genuinely thought only friends and family would read the blog.

In addition to the large community of readers and commenters and followers of our Facebook page and Twitter account and Instagram that has energized us and encouraged us, I’ve also gained a closer community in the regular contributors. Last Thursday I reflected on some of the wonderful posts that the other regulars have written. The other blog regulars are a supportive, helpful, motivating group of incredible women I’m fortunate to know.

The blog has also given me a fitness community. As noted the other day, where I used to train alone, I now love to train in groups. Not only, but for sure regularly. My Sunday long runs, which I’ve been missing because of my Achilles issues, are among the highlights of my weekend because I love getting together with my peeps (Anita and Julie) and I feel something is missing from my life when I can’t or when sustained periods of time go by when our schedules don’t collide.

I don’t know about you, but a sense of belonging matters a lot to me. And as a philosopher who works on collective responsibility and collective agency, I’m aware of the possibilities offered when we do things together that we can’t do alone. Communities have great power. Becoming a part of these inspiring communities has been an amazing gift.

A regular and consistent fitness practice

If you want to kickstart your fitness routines, blog about them regularly and let that accountability to an audience start to motivate you. If we hadn’t blogged about our fitness challenge, I don’t know that we would have finished it (maybe I should speak only for myself here — I doubt I would have had the focus to keep at it for two years). But the blog gave me a place and a reason to develop a consistent fitness practice, a reason to try new things (like triathlon), and a place to reflect explicitly about what was working for me (like running, which surprised me because at the beginning I didn’t even like it).

It also let me reflect on and write about what wasn’t working for me. It was through blogging openly about my discomfort with cycling that I finally came to see that it wasn’t worth it to me anymore because of my intense road phobia. See the culmination of my many painful ruminations and doubts about cycling: “When the rubber meets the road (or not): Tracy finally quits the bike and triathlon.” And then there was the 100-day step challenge, which I did twice despite not liking it the first time. I got to document the waning of my initial enthusiasm.

Blogging here helped me think ahead about strategies for working out while traveling, and made me feel more accountable to implement those strategies. As Sam likes to say about all sorts of things: “blog about it!” I honestly would never have even tried triathlon, let alone fallen in (temporary) love with it and made it the focus on my Fittest by 50 Challenge, unless Sam had said: “Hey let’s sign up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. It’ll give us something to blog about.” It sure did. And it galvanized my training goals for the next two years.

Blogging has helped me get back on track when I’ve fallen out of routine. It has become clear to me that it’s as important to share openly and honestly about setbacks as about successes. I had setbacks shortly into the blog and I have had setbacks more recently. And many along the way. Everyone has both–that’s the way life is. We are not robots. It’s been motivating to me to take that seriously and to use the blog as a way of thinking through how to get back on track and then writing about my progress. I’ve gained advice from others by asking for help here. That’s how I ended up trying an osteopath.

Fitness activities are positive and self-nurturing part of my life, whether my routine is in an ebb or a flow. That’s from blogging. Putting it all in print has let me see that there is a constant flow of change: I hit my stride for awhile and glide along seemingly without effort, then a shift happens and it’s a bit harder (or even sometimes impossible), then I regroup and scale down to get back on track, and soon I’m skipping along again to my latest favourite playlist. That is my larger rhythm and it repeats. And repeats. And repeats.

A voice

Not to say I came to the blog without a voice. But the casual nature of blog posts let me develop my own conversational style and a way of expressing myself that feels true and honest. I used to think that my “voice” (such as it is) was kind of boring. And maybe to some it is. That’s fine. But that’s me — lowkey, to the point, a comfortable (for me) balance between self-disclosure and reserve, the occasional unleashing of anger about the world, a mild sense of humour, and feminist.

Regular blogging about fitness from a feminist perspective has done more to cement my own sense of what it means for me to be a feminist than anything else. My years of teaching feminist philosophy and women’s studies; a stint as chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research; writing academic papers about feminism; taking part in countless Take back the Night events…none of that has shaped my feminist voice or allowed me to express it and more importantly develop it as much as blogging at Fit Is a Feminist Issue.

Confidence

Back when I was an undergrad and I worked a summer job at Doubleday Publishing in Toronto, they had weekly sales for staff where books that had been returned were spread out on a table in the warehouse and we could buy them for super cheap. That’s where I picked up my copy of Hard Bodies by Gladys Portugues, my first foray into the world of women’s weight training. In it, she told a story of a woman at her gym who started a consistent routine of weight training and stuck with it. Over the course of that first year, the woman, once shy and reserved and even a bit fragile seeming, developed more and more confidence and strength. As it turned out, she had been going through a divorce throughout that time and the workouts transformed her from a broken woman trying to put her life back together into a confident role model for newer members. Or something like that.

Of all the information I read in that book, about split routines and super sets and how to do pec flies and squats and calf raises (all brand new to me at the time), the story of the woman who survived her divorce by going to the gym had the biggest impact. It suggested that developing physical strength, a comfort with my body, and a routine that made space for that could spill confidence into the rest of my life. And it could get me through the hard bits. And it has.

But blogging consistently about my fitness life and about feminist issues in fitness and sport has itself increased my confidence. I’m no authority on anything about fitness. But like millions of other women who have ventured into gyms, onto soccer fields, into swimming pools and yoga studios, who have climbed walls and boulders, ridden their bikes, run trails or sidewalks or tracks or multi-use pathways beside the river, pounded out timed sets at CrossFit, boxed and wrestled and done aerial silk routines, power walked or leisure walked, worked out with resistance bands or done body weight training in their hotel rooms, thrown axes, cross country skied, snowshoed, ice skated, snowboarded or skied downhill through moguls, roller skated, roller derbied, perfected parkour or played women’s rugby, learned karate, aikido, judo, tai chi, mixed martial arts….I have my experience. And it has built character. And this blog kept me getting back to it not to compete with others or boast about my achievements, but because it made me feel good and there was nothing at stake beyond doing something for me.

As I said in a post (I don’t know which post–it was awhile back), if I never lifted another weight or ran another kilometre or did another warrior pose, no one would care. But I would. And like that woman who hit the gym full force during her divorce, that sort of commitment to myself has built the sort of confidence that comes through tapping into an internal sense of self-worth. It’s interesting to me, if no one else, that it came to me so late in life. We were already 48, Sam and I, when we started this blog. I had a career and my health and good friends and family already. But I (again like so many others, even accomplished others) also had all sorts of insecurities — some of which I worked out through activities like running, triathlon, yoga, and weight training and then blogging about them. It was always a huge confidence boost, for example, when I was able to report progress — my speed workouts actually made me faster! I went from needing to use the gravitron machine for pull-ups to being able to do three sets of 13 without the machine or even elastic bands to take some of the weight. All. By. Myself! I got faster in the pool. Woo hoo!

The blog gave me confidence in fitness, in my feminism, and in life.

A Chronicle of Events

I don’t mean just my fitness event history, but there is that: I can look back and see my fitness history over the past seven years, from my very first 5K and my very first triathlon, through to my Olympic distance triathlons, my weight training successes, my first and subsequent half marathons, my one and only full marathon, Around the Bay 30K x2, various traveling adventures and how I stayed active along the way, bouts of injury and illness, the communities I became a part of, friendships developed. The blog really has offered something of a “web-log” for the past seven years.

But we have also been able to put a time stamp on certain moments, like #me-too and various iterations of the Summer and Winter Olympics, the evolution of Barbie (even if you might wonder, as I did here, whether she can actually be redeemed), the coming and going of various diets (Keto wasn’t even a thing when we started blogging), the repetitive annual cycle of media about “making it” through the holidays and then about new year’s diets and fitness regimes. The excitement about “power posing” and then the subsequent discrediting of the findings. The sway of public opinion about fruit (evil! good!). Daylight savings time, “beach body” season, gearing up for winter training. Even the moments when new team members came aboard, as the blog’s roster of regulars grew and grew. So much captured over these years.

A commitment and routine

My scheduled posting time has been Tuesday and Thursday, 6 a.m., for years. Every Monday and every Wednesday before bed I make sure I have something lined up to post automatically at 6 a.m. the next morning. It has felt good to have this commitment and routine, like a touchstone in my week, every week. Some weeks it’s harder than others to find the time, to find the material, to find the energy and inspiration (I don’t wait for inspiration!). But it’s a commitment, so mostly, except for a few occasions when I had to call in the team for help, I’ve been able to keep the commitment. It, and the workouts I stuck with to have something to say (or, when not posting about my own workouts, the credibility to say whatever I was saying about working and training), kept me going through some tough times.

This past year has been full of tumult and personal upheaval of the hardest kind. It’s quite easily been the most difficult year of my life. I hope I’m on the other side of the worst of it. Having the blog as part of my weekly rhythm, month in and month out, kept me grounded in something positive and affirming while not being at the same time overwhelming (like my job — it’s positive and affirming but also sometimes leaves me feeling drained and overextended). Despite that, the time feels right to step back. I’m sure I’ll visit from time to time, but I declined Sam’s offer for a regular once a month spot because I feel incapable of making any sort of commitment to anything right now.

Extra big shout-out and enormous (though inadequate) thanks to Sam.

[insert weeping here]

Last look! Last touch!

[standing in the driveway waving]

Now — a cup of tea and some T-time (my step-daughter, Ashley calls me “T,” so in my world “me-time” is “T-time”).

With love and gratitude,

Tracy

Image description: A fond blog memory. Samantha and Tracy on stage at the book launch in Guelph, book in the middle on a podium, front cover–FIT AT MID-LIFE A feminist fitness journey, facing the audience. Sam to the left of the podium, Tracy to the right, each at a mic on a stand, Sam standing arms akimbo and smiling, Tracy speaking, hands raised in a shrugging gesture, the back of two audience members’ heads in the foreground. Curtain and window to outside in the background.
feminism · fitness · Guest Post · research · walking

Are women, people of color, and kids more likely to get bumped when walking on the street? (Guest post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany

Introduction:

Women often complain about how they have to move out of the way for people walking on the street. Beth Breslaw did an experiment showing that this is exactly the case. She walked down the street while consciously not moving out of the way for people. People started slamming into her, specifically men. She began to call this ‘man-slamming’. I wanted to find out if this was true for kids, and women of color – members of other underrepresented groups – but I wanted things to be less confrontational. So, I decided to do my own experiment.

Method:

I gathered a group of four people: one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid (which happened to be me). We all took turns walking down one street, and counted how many times we each had to move out of the way of other people. We did our experiment two times.

Hypothesis:

The white man would have to move out of the way the least. The white woman next, and then the kid. The woman of color would have to move out of the way the most.

Materials:

A busy street and people willing to participate in your test (one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid. You could always add more.)

Participants:

Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left  "P.M. (white male)"; top right "M.F. (white female)"; bottom left "S.K.M. (child / white passing)"; bottom right "M.K. (brown female)
Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left “P.M. (white male)”; top right “M.F. (white female)”; bottom left “S.K.M. (child / white passing)”; bottom right “M.K. (brown female)
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 1.
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 2.

As the graphs show, PM has to move out of the way less than MF. MF has to move out of the way less than MK. MF and MK have to move out of the way less than SKM. PM has to move out of the way less than MF, MK, and SKM. This disproves my hypothesis that women of color had to move out of the way more than kids.

Discussion/Conclusion:

My experiment shows that women, no matter their age or race, have to move out of the way much more than men. But when you add race to gender, it turns out women of color have to move out of the way more than white women. If you add age, white (passing) kids that are girls have to move out of the way more than white women and women of color. Extra labor is placed on the shoulders of women, kids, and people of color.

Why would extra labour be placed on these individuals and especially on kids? They are the most underrepresented and their social status is the least. This is why they carry the biggest burden.

Although I have drawn a few conclusions on race and gender through my experiment, I still have many unanswered questions. What would my results be if I were a boy? What if I were less polite and didn’t care if I bumped into someone? What if a black man or a black woman participated in my experiment? What if a senior citizen did? 

I wanted to learn about the unobvious inequalities. This is my first step of what I hope will be many.

Sage McEneany is in grade six. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels. She intends to publish her own book when she is older, and to continue to work on the issues of race and other inequalities. She likes to play soccer and would like to do track this year.

beauty · femalestrength · feminism · soccer · stereotypes

Sweat First, Glow Later

I was talking to a woman the other day about that wonderful feeling of working up a good sweat on a run, when she interrupted me to say, “You mean glow, not sweat.” Aack. I remember the expression from growing up. Horses sweat.Men perspire. But women merely glow. And no, I absolutely did not mean glow when I said sweat. I didn’t even mean perspire. 

Woman’s face illuminated in glowing sparkles.
H Heyerlein on Unsplash

In fact, I really, really meant sweat. The idea that women should only glow obstructs our progress, keeps us docile, fragile and dependent, and interferes with our strength. Can you tell I hate that expression? Even if it’s used as a euphemism, I don’t like what it implies. 

Back in the days when I practiced law, I would often go to the gym at lunch (in the same building as my office, because they liked to keep us close). I didn’t have a lot of time, so I’d make the most of the Stairmaster (my fave workout then) and arrive back at the office still red in the face. My office mate was perplexed. Why did I want to get so overheated? Answer—I loved the feeling. Secondary answer—I was working in a shark tank and needed an outlet for the pressure. Fast forward more than twenty-five years, I still love to sweat, even though I’ve bailed out of the shark tank. I love giving everything I’ve got, leaving it all on the road. To reach for an ambitious goal, to try as hard as we can, to go for it; that kind of effort requires sweat, metaphorical for sure and very possibly actual salty drops on our skin. The notion that women should only glow (which we know was meant not just actually, but also metaphorically) is offensive. The fact that science says women sweat less than men is a biological fact, not a matter of Victorian etiquette.

What happens if we try so hard that we break a sweat? What are the purveyors of that expression scared of? Our potential? Our strength? That expression (I will not repeat it) contains an implicit criticism of female effort as unladylike (you can imagine how much I love that word, too). The expression says to women, “You should not have ambition, or if you do, you must go about achieving your dream in a seemingly effortless fashion.” Ambition is not effortless. Why would we even want it to be? Then we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of achievement; the desire to spread our arms in a glorious moment of woohoo. 

Megan Rapinoe with arms outspread in the World Cup stadium

Speaking of which, I’ve noticed multiple pictures of US soccer star Megan Rapinoewith arms outspread in a defiantly powerful pose. I realized that I was judging her as a little arrogant with that pose and even though you didn’t know that until I told you just now, I’m going to take back that thought. Women don’t get as physically expressive about their personal victories as their male counterparts. Look at how Brandi Chastain was pilloried in 1999 for taking her shirt off in a moment of exultation when she scored the penalty kick to win the World Cup. She’s framed that sports bra and hung it on her wall. As I write this, the US team has won their semi-final game and is slated to play in the final the day after this piece publishes. Rapinoe didn’t play the game, because of a hamstring injury. I hope she plays on Sunday and that she has cause to spread her arms wide with triumph.

Let’s all spread our arms just a little more often, even and especially if we’re wearing a sweaty sports bra. Chances are we will be glowing for the rest of the day!

feminism · Sat with Nat

Nat ponders why personal stories are “feminist”

I have been thinking a lot about my contributions to this blog over the years. Sometimes I make a point of spelling out why a topic or post is feminist but often I leave it unsaid, my assumption is that readers who follow or find this blog are already interested or knowledgeable about feminism and can make their own inferences. That could be a mistake so I wanted to put it out there why I often just write about my fitness journey and how that can be feminist.

Who does my fitness serve?

Reflecting back on posts often merely writing about fitness and finding joy in it is radically different than many media messages we receive.

I get worried that sexism’s under a lot of fitness writing that tells women to work out to be fit for others or to look a certain way. I understand fitness as feminist when it’s offered and engaged with for our own purposes. To feel strong, to care for ourselves and to enjoy what our bodies can do.

Where is the money?

A lot of times fitness writing is either to propose a problem a product can solve or sell an aesthetic that is only achievable through buying services or products. Yes. I am a wee bit of a pinko commie so I find fitness writing that is truly to give me information rather than sell me a product more likely to be feminist.

What is the goal or outcome?

When I do my best feminist fitness writing the desired goal or outcome is doing the activity for its own sake and the immediate rewards of feeling better in the moment and doing activities with friends.

Who looks “fit”?

Many of my posts, and other contributors, question common ideas of what “fit” bodies look like. We are often sent ideas and images that a certain body build or proportion are the only “fit” bodies and that all other bodies must be patrolled.

As a fat woman simply sharing my work outs help debunk myths around fatness, laziness and health.

Careful, you might become a radical too!

I joke all the time that I’m a “bad influence” on new friends as I sell feminist approaches to fitness and gleefully wear Lycra in public. (GASP, Does she know at her age/weight/whatever she shouldn’t be wearing that!)

It turns out though that confronting the realities of sexism in our society can be gut wrenchingly terrible. The good news is by raising awareness of the impacts of sexism we can debunk myths, support each other and be fit enough to rip the patriarchy apart one action or blog post at a time.

body image · feminism · Sat with Nat

Nat reflects on how feminism has supported her fitness

I finally finished my Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies. Wahoooooooooo!

Photo of Natalie’s BA certificate with Distinction

It’s the end of a twenty-seven year post-secondary journey that started in 1992.

I’ve been thinking how over that time I discovered feminism while being in the military. By looking at exercise as a not only a way to do my job or change how I look but rather as a source of joy and feeling good in my body.

By reframing activity as something I do for myself that supports my wellbeing I have been able to stay active in a lot of activities.

This separation of fitness from my appearance and my work has helped me be confident in trying new things and persevering.

It’s not easy to navigate aging, work, stress, sexism, capitalism, parenting, caregiving and some sense of mental health in our information culture. I think a feminist analysis of my fitness has helped me connect with other women in a meaningful way. We share our stories, the triumphs and the challenges. We support each other and question those who would try to tell us we are too old/fat/etc to wear Lycra, ride bikes, practice yoga…

Has looking at your own activities with a feminist lens changed anything for you?