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?

family · fat · feminism · Sat with Nat · yoga

Nat ponders being the crying woman in pigeon pose

I’m laying face down on my mat in Sleeping Pigeon with tears streaming down my face. I’ve been there for 3 minutes or so as the tendons unfurl in the heated yoga studio and I cry.

I’ve learned I carry tension about work in my neck and shoulders but worries and stress about my family are in my hips. I joke sometimes that my family is literally the pain in my ass.

I’m in a yin yoga class thanks to my friend & neighbour Kim. We visit on the walk to and from class. The Sunday afternoon routine has become our touch point and my moment to reflect on my wellbeing.

The slow pace of the 90 minute class promotes patience and acceptance. Pigeon is a challenge for my round body, it takes a couple minutes to find the right configuration of meaty thigh, Buddha belly and boobs and then the real work starts.

At first I feel a burning in my hip, a band of lava wraps around my socket then radiates out over my whole body. It’s very uncomfortable but rarely drifts into pain.

I breathe.

My mind wanders as the hip fibers unfurl and I come back, breathing, and watching my body react to the pose. The burning passes, like so many annoyances in my life, and the pleasant settling against the mat begins.

I breathe.

I start to get bored, more waves of heat and pressure move around my hips, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. Each release triggers thoughts and feelings about how I’m challenged in my roles as parent and partner. It has been a very rough go and each band of fibers releasing brings those tensions top of mind.

I breathe.

The tears well up as I imagine enduring through these tough times. Resilience hardens to resolve. Not the flippant, tied to a time of year resolution, but the grim determination of leaning in to my problems.

I breathe.

The time comes to leave the posture and I hesitate. Here, on the mat, in this vulnerability, no one is asking more, there are no other needs to fill, just me, my body, and my heartache.

I’m that fat middle aged woman who cries in Sleeping Pigeon now and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

My partner recently went on a Vipasana meditation retreat and has shared many great tips on living in the moment and not avoiding the negative sensations in my body. I’m someone who has a complicated relationship with my physicality and my mental health. I often work out to care for both.

My feminism has grown to be a place where I honour my body and don’t worry about my appearance. I work out in resistance to a world that tells me women my age should be invisible, wear loose clothes and not bother anyone.

In a small way, splayed out on a floor, in Lycra, taking up public space and crying are about being visible and existing for my own sake. I like to think other women are encouraged by my messy self and do things that work for them too.

My fitness activities aren’t a punishment or about achieving a specific appearance, they are for me and my well being alone.

I hope you are discovering and doing those activities that meet your needs this year too. It’s a selfie of Nat’s face with a wry smile and slightly messy, short brown hair. She happens to be at her desk at work and trying not to let that bum her out too much.

Sure, we can do this!
blog · feminism · fitness · Happy New Year!

2018 in review: blog favorites

As 2018 comes to an end, I want to share with you reflections on some of our favorite blog posts from this year. If you have a favorite, and if you have a topic that you’d like us to write about, please let us know.

Looking back at my own blog posts, I noticed some trends. First, I’ve explored new options for activity, namely compression socks (which for me are here to stay), and interesting swimwear with more coverage, both for sun protection and because I like that. Second, yoga has played a bigger and much more important role in my life this year. It has helped me stay connected to physical activity and my body no matter what– when I had pneumonia, when I had a sprained ankle and then the DVT, I always had yoga. It’s also connected me to other places– I tried out yin yoga in Arizona, and yinki in San Diego.

My fellow bloggers have written so much about so many important issues, it’s hard to pick. Here are a few examples of blog posts I love.

Hands down, my favorite posts to read are Cate’s (fieldpoppy) posts about her active travel all over creation. She’s hiked and climbed in St Lucia, danced with locals at the Nomad games in Kygyzstan, and most recently ridden, pushed and pulled her fully loaded rental bike (complete with yoga mat) in Victoria, Australia. Her reports are honest (sometimes travel is tiring and sucky, with bad food and busy roads) but also motivating me to follow where my own wanderlust leads.

Sam’s posts are about anything and everything in the world of fitness, and I always look forward to learning about something new, silly, cool, worrying, or important. Some of my favorites, though, are about her own processes of dealing with fitness in her own life. I love her post about dealing with exercise while in a new and big job as Dean— seeing how she schedules in workouts has helped me with my own plans. Sam is also frank about what’s happening in her fitness life, which includes injuries, mourning the loss of running, and optimism around new ones (snipe racing, anyone?).

Tracy also writes about lots of topics, taking on bogus nutrition claims (yes, you can be vegan and an athlete– duh…), reporting on her running races and training, and also blogging about body positivity. I loved her boudoir photo shoot post; it helped me recognize the ways I can be more expansive and accepting in my views about beauty, age, and self. Also, Tracy is a strong advocate for the start-small view of habit shifts. We often (especially now, in the heat of resolution fervor) want to throw ourselves into a whole new regimen. But such drastic shifts tend to burn out quickly. Starting small is more sustainable and provides a base for building to bigger goals.

I could go on all day, but I do have PT and then an outdoor walk scheduled. So let me just note some other blog posts I really loved:

We’ve had lots of wonderful guest posts this year. A few you might want to re-check out are:

So, dear readers, what are your favorites– favorite topics, favorite posts, etc.? Also, what would you like to read about in 2019? What’s on your minds as we cross into the new year? Let us know–we’d like to hear from you.

“New Year” on a chalkboard, surrounded by boughs. Photo by Annie Pratt on Unsplash.

fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

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?

feminism · fitness

Fitness and Activism in this Political Climate

The other day I woke up late (it was a bank holiday) and idly scrolled through the news while still in bed.  The first three news items I happened upon were the following: Donald Trump had mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. The US was going to start to denying visa to the same-sex partners of UN diplomats unless they were married (but some can’t get married and would face prosecution in their home countries if they did). And the Nobel prize winner in Physics, Donna Strickland, first woman to win it in 55 years, had been denied a Wikipedia entry last May because she hadn’t been considered famous enough. I just wanted to roll over and stay in bed all day. And the bad news just keep coming, from all parts of the world. We live in darkening times.

What room is there, in such a world, for me to worry about exercising? Instead of spending my free time in the pool or out running, shouldn’t I be more of a political activist? Or at least, like Natalie, combine the two? Yes, we need self care in these rough times, and exercise definitely helps me disconnect and recharge. It gives me the strength to deal, including with the political situation. But how much of it is really necessary? I swim two nights a week and try to go bouldering and running at least once. That’s quite a lot of my spare time that I could theoretically expend on more “worthwhile” things. Joining, and being active in, a political party. Joining the local LGBTQ+ community. Going to protests… you name it.

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Is getting out there to run ever a political act? Picture of a woman in running gear on a park path, green grass in the fore- and background (Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash).

I try to tell myself that in itself, practising sports as a woman (and thinking and writing about it here) is at least somewhat political, as long as women are harassed, followed, and killed while running, a strong reaction from a female tennis player to an umpire’s decisions causes an international outcry (shortly after her choice of clothing on the court was the subject of international discussion too), and so on. But I’m not going to lie, it feels much less valid than the options outlined above. Also because, even as a woman practising sports, as a cis-gendered, White woman from a developed country, who has the resources and the time to do all that exercise, I’m aware that I hold a massive amount of privilege, and doing these things is just not a huge deal.

I also try to tell myself that I actually do things in other parts of my life. I work for an organisation promoting scientific endeavour and international exchange, two things that are important right now. I volunteer for United World Colleges, an educational organisation that runs schools around the world to promote international understanding. I vote. But I often feel like that’s not enough, and I should be doing more. Yet doing more of one thing (activism), for me, would have to mean doing less of another (sports) – less of a thing that I enjoy immensely, that keeps me strong mentally and physically, and during which I do some of my best thinking about politics and feminism, if I do say so myself (especially while running).

This isn’t going to be a very conclusive, satisfying post, I’m afraid, because I haven’t reached any conclusion at all. So I wanted to put that question out to you, dear community: do you struggle with this dilemma? Have you resolved it? How?

 

competition · Fear · feminism

Running into my mojo

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Mic on a floor stand in front of soft focus room full of people

I’m giving a talk in Nashville this weekend at HT Live! The topic is identity alignment and authenticity, so that has been much on my mind these last days. I wrote about it here. A topic like authenticity forces the speaker to confront her own inconsistencies (okay, even hypocrisies). As the talk gets closer, I think, “I’m a fraud.” I think, “I’m no expert.” My confidence starts to tank.

 

This is the moment when I remind myself of the manner in which men claim expertise in so many domains without a second thought. I recall interviewing Jane Blalock for my book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. She’s a former golf pro who, among other things, offers golf clinics for women. She told me how women come to her to brush up on their golf game, because they are worried about a business-networking event. Only to discover, the men are not nearly as good golfers as they claim to be.

Lack of confidence plagues women from puberty. How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence, in a recent issue of The Atlantic, covers a range of studies that expose the inflection point, somewhere between 12 and 14-years old, when girls’ sense of self worth plummets. Interestingly, one of the things girls say is this, “I feel that if I acted like my true self that no one would like me.” 

Girls think that if they are authentic, then no one will like them. No wonder I’m having confidence issues around this speaking topic! It’s a double whammy. Because, as The Atlantic points out, once girls’ confidence gets killed off, it often never rebounds back to the same level as boys’ and men’s. I remember my father once saying to me that he didn’t understand why I wasn’t more confident. He told me that his memories of me as a child were of a happy, outgoing, even brash little girl. He was right. And he had missed the moment that went south.

Lest I get the idea that at least things have gotten better for girls than in my day, there’s social media to thwart progress. As the article points out: There’s no distance anymore—only constant, instant, and public condemnation or praise.

What to do? I go to my Tuesday morning aerial Pilates class and I don’t give up on the push-ups-in-plank series as I usually do. I go for a run Thursday morning and push a little harder than usual. I literally recoup my confidence through the strength of my own body. I run into my mojo. As if it’s somewhere out there, ahead of me and I just need to catch up to my own confidence, my own better self.

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Lioness head

The Atlantic article says this: Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience.

I never played competitive team sports and I came late to competing in running races and triathlons and cross-country ski marathons and such. But even my belated participation has been a boon in my life.

I know. Sports aren’t enough. And sometimes our sports aren’t available, because we’re injured. I’ve been there, many times! But when we have sports in our toolbox of confidence-builders, what a loyal friend. Getting red in the face resets my perspective. Sweat exhales bad energy. And those endorphins are an excellent, non-prescription, chemical pick-me-up.

Do I feel 100% go-get-em about my talk now? Not quite. But I’m focusing on the final preparation now, instead of my right to be at the front of the room. I belong there.

Uh oh, I’m backsliding. Even writing those last couple of sentences and stating my self-worth feels nerve wracking.

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Neon sign with red lettering: I AM BOLD

 

Do you have these crises of confidence? How do we pitch in to make things better for girls?