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?

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?