body image · eating · fitness · food · tbt

Moderation Won’t Work If You’re Addicted, but Are You Sure You’re Addicted? #tbt

A #tbt from five years ago, where I explored food addiction and intuitive eating.


sharma-obesity-chocolateWhenever I talk about moderation in eating, I always hear from people who have at least some foods that they do not believe they can moderate. These foods are usually things like potato chips and cheesies, cake and cookies, nuts and pretzels, chocolate and ice cream.  To a lesser degree, some avoid things like pizza and french fries for similar reasons. They can’t eat just a little bit.

My initial reaction to this claim of the inability to moderate is skepticism.  The intuitive eating approach that I’ve been following lately, and that has miraculously freed me from all rules about food and from overeating pretty much anything, works on the premise that when we release ourselves from the idea of forbidden foods and eat what we want, when we are hungry, in a mindful fashion until we are satisfied (not stuffed, satisfied), we will achieve a peaceful relationship with food.

View original post 916 more words


Selfies and self-portraits as empowering self-representation

Despite that I like having my picture taken, I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with selfies. Even back in 2015 when Sam posted “Sam embraces her title as the selfie queen #feministselfie” I remember my skepticism. I still had that voice in my head that told me it’s just narcissistic, and I have always worried about my own narcissistic streak.

Some have gone further, as Erin Gloria Ryan did, claiming that far from being empowering, selfies are a cry for help. She says the women who take selfies and post them on social media are still seeking validation outside of themselves, and for their looks alone.

But Sam, and the thousands of others who have embraced the #feministselfie hashtag, beg to differ. Sam quotes our friend and colleague Alison Rheiheld, who says, ““When a beauty norm is tinged with ageism and promotes making oneself appear young, posting a picture of oneself as unabashedly oneself, comfortable at one’s own actual age and in one’s own actual experienced body, is a bold and subjectifying act of self-representation.”

Sam and Alison both think that selfies are especially important for women in mid-life because in presenting ourselves “as we really are” we bash ageist stereotypes. Sam ends her post with a series of sport selfies of herself, defying ageist stereotypes of inactive older women. She looks happy, healthy, and active in all of her shots.

So, remember this is about me (narcissistic moi!) and my discomfort with selfies. I always feel a bit embarrassed if I take one by myself. I’m much happier taking group selfies with friends, mostly to mark occasions (they don’t have to be big occasions — just “that we got together” occasions are worth depicting). Like here I am with Sam, when I took her to dinner just before she moved away from London to take her big new job:

Image Description: Tracy (left) and Sam (right) heads together, smiling, window with "Plant Matter Kitchen" in reverse in the background.
Image Description: Tracy (left) and Sam (right) heads together, smiling, window with “Plant Matter Kitchen” in reverse in the background.

I love sport selfies and especially the ones when I’ve done sports with others. Like here I am with Anita after a half marathon training run last spring:

Image description: Tracy (left) with short hair and in sunglasses, ballcap, and tank top, and Anita (right) with short hair and a red t-shirt, both smiling, green grass and asphalt in the background. Shot taken from above.
Image description: Tracy (left) with short hair and in sunglasses, ballcap, and tank top, and Anita (right) with short hair and a red t-shirt, both smiling, green grass and asphalt in the background. Shot taken from above.

And yes, I do take sport selfies of myself too, especially but not only when traveling:

Okay, so we have that out of the way. I push through my discomfort and take sport selfies. And they do have that effect of offering an empowering self-representation. when I was 48 I couldn’t run around the block. Today, at 53, I have many kilometres under my feet, including a marathon, several half marathons, 10Ks, triathlons up to Olympic distance, and for the most part regular training. I love that about myself and I am even a little taken aback, still today, whenever I see these sporty pictures of myself.

And I’m okay with, even enjoy, selfies with others. It’s fun. Life should be fun. Getting together with friends is not just a blast but also, especially my women friends, fills me with a satisfying sense of connection and belonging. I like depicting that. It makes me feel strong and supported when I look at those memories.

But lately, I’ve ventured into what feels like slightly different territory. That’s the area of what I’ve been calling “self-portraits.” Now, Sam asked me “what’s the difference between a selfie and a self-portrait?” Well, that’s a good question. My self-portrait phase started when I got my camera. At first I took no pictures of myself with it because, unlike my smart phone, the camera doesn’t have that reverse feature that makes it easy to do. But one day when I took it to my personal training studio, that changed because the studio was full of mirrors. I blogged about personal training and my camera obsession.

When my camera got into the game, I spent more time thinking about the shots. Here’s an early mirror shot from the training studio:

Image description: head shot of tracy, short blond hair, looking through the viewfinder of a Canon EOS 80D, words reversed because of the mirror image, finger on the shutter release.
Image description: head shot of tracy, short blond hair, looking through the viewfinder of a Canon EOS 80D, words reversed because of the mirror image, finger on the shutter release.

In this article on the difference between selfies and self-portraits, Dunja Djujic consults the dictionary first:

A self-portrait is “a portrait that an artist produces of themselves.” On the other hand, a selfie is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”

She explores the difference on several levels, especially the idea of the artist. While I wouldn’t go so far as to consider myself an artist, I do think of my photography as a creative outlet. Those selfies, posted above, aren’t really studies in creativity. I’ve been taking an online photo course through Great Courses, and the instructor, National Geographic photography Joel Sartore, says there are three things to consider when taking a photograph: composition, light, and “is it interesting?” When I take selfies, I don’t think much about any of those. They’re snapshots of life. Empowering in their way.

But I do put thought into my self portraits. The mirror in the training studio was a start. When a friend and I did an assignment together over the holidays that involved self-portraits and reflections that looked like candids, that meant I had to consider even more carefully as I was considering my shots. I’ve continued to be attracted to mirrors in a variety of ways. But I also get a kick out of representing self-portraits through shots of only part of me, or of my shadow, and sometimes even with friends in the frame as well.

What I find exciting and satisfying about this form of self-representation is that I can capture so much more than a moment, and at least sometimes, I can create something interesting that goes beyond “a picture of Tracy.” Anyway, for now, I’m living with an intuitive distinction between “selfies” and “self-portraits.” And I like them both, even if I am at the moment finding self-portraits to be more satisfying and empowering as a creative outlet.

Here are some of what I’ve done recently. Sometimes, I don’t feel it necessary to include much of me.  A foot can sometimes be enough and it lets me capture more of the scene, less of myself. A shadow is also fun to play with, particularly when it’s crisp.

Here are a few more from my trip to India:

Image description: Smart phone shot in Nalli's sari shop in Chennai, India. Tracy in a long skirt and check top taking a phone pic in the mirror with Nandi on the right (in the mirror) looking at a sari, the mirror frame visible.
Image description: Smart phone shot in Nalli’s sari shop in Chennai, India. Tracy in a long skirt and check top taking a phone pic in the mirror with Nandi on the right (in the mirror) looking at a sari, the mirror frame visible.
Image description: Patterned silk scarf in foreground on left and slightly out of focus tattooed forearm wearing a watch on right.
Image description: Patterned silk scarf in foreground on left and slightly out of focus tattooed forearm wearing a watch on right.
Image description: Mirror shot of Tracy from the thighs up, looking through camera viewfinder, wearing a flowing patterned silk scarf, and a sleeveless blouse, a watch on tattooed left arm and silver bracelet on right arm. Plain background.
Image description: Mirror shot of Tracy from the thighs up, looking through camera viewfinder, wearing a flowing patterned silk scarf, and a sleeveless blouse, a watch on tattooed left arm and silver bracelet on right arm. Plain background.
Image description: Tracy, short blond hair, head turned to the side and looking down, arm slung across body to hold up a colourful pashmina, against the background of a colourful framed painting.
Image description: Tracy, short blond hair, head turned to the side and looking down, arm slung across body to hold up a colourful pashmina, against the background of a colourful framed painting.

And finally, no longer in India, this is me at the end of my work day last week on my self-declared “casual Friday”:

Image description: close shot of Tracy from mid-neck down to upper chest, wearing an open casual jacket with one button, a silver chain, and a ribbon once around her neck then tied and hanging.
Image description: close shot of Tracy from mid-neck down to upper chest, wearing an open casual jacket with one button, a silver chain, and a ribbon once around her neck then tied and hanging.

All of these pictures make me feel good. Not just because I like the way I look in them, but because at least for me they’re a nice combination of light, composition, and interest. Maybe they’re just selfies on steroids, but whatever they are, they’re giving me pleasure and enabling me to engage in a creative form of empowering self-representation.

[I also want to sneak in one more thing today: March 20, 2009 is my “clean date,” which means I have been fully abstinent from any mood-altering substances (i.e. alcohol and drugs) for nine years, one day at a time. For that, and for the help I’ve received from others to make it this far, I am truly grateful.]

Do you think there is a difference between selfies and self-portraits? Does it matter?


Are elaborate skincare regimens feminist?

I spend a lot of time reading feminist websites and listening to podcasts, especially the ones made by women and trans* people in their 20s.  It’s one of the ways I stave off curmudgeon territory (and why I found myself using the word “woke” non-ironically a couple of weeks ago).  In the past few months, I keep tripping over huge discussions about women — especially millennial women — and the growing trend for elaborate, expensive skincare routines.  What is happening with this?

Last week, there was a piece on slate debating the merits of using intricate spreadsheets or apps to track your inventory of skincare products and the impact of different routines. There was a recent piece on The Cut about why “everyone is obsessed with skincare“.  The New Yorker, Jezebel, the Guardian, the NY Times and others have all written about millennials and skincare, and skin care as “a religious routine.”  The 12 step “asian” routine — especially Korean (K-beauty) — is seen as the grail.  (Even the sitcom Kim’s Convenience had a recent storyline about capitalizing on smuggled Korean beauty products).

Skincare is no longer a private routine, but very public.  There are multiple online forums where people talk about products and routines (reddit is the hugest), and much of it is swirled up with selfie culture — a quick instagram search for #facemask turned up more than 1.5 million hits.

What the heck is this all about?  Is skincare a “coping mechanism,” as the New Yorker described it?  Two of my favourite feminist podcasts — Stuff Mom Never Told You (SMNTY) and Slate’s DoubleX Gabfest — recently had focused episodes on whether this obsession with skincare was a feminist act of self-care.

The argument seems to go like this:  a complex skincare routine is a kind of self-help, something women can can do to soothe themselves in a chaotic world.  (One of the most common hashtags accompanying #skincare is #selfcare). In the world of Trump, women feel like things are out of their control, and expensive, complicated regimens — and tracking them in apps or spreadsheets — give the illusion of control. (One of the young women on SMNTY joked that when she was unemployed, skincare was her “full time job).

Where skincare used to be an attempt to stave off aging, in this uncertain world, a young woman using retin-A is an affirmative act that she will outlive this time in history, that there is a promising future — a “basic dream in which the future exists.” There is much made of the fact that the aspirational goal of all of this skincare is to be “glowy” — i.e, natural and healthy, enhanced by organic and natural ingredients, not botox or surgery or makeup.  Some argue that millennials are being “smart” by preventing age damage rather than trying to repair it after it happens.

There is an accompanying feminist critique embedded in this narrative, of course, questioning whether conditioning about anxiety about the undesirability of wrinkles is taking hold for 27 year olds, and underlining that, as always, industry is capitalizing and cashing in on women’s desire for self-care.  And the most important question, of course, is whether caring for one’s own skin in expensive, time-consuming, self-centred ways and public ways (“hashtag it up,” as one woman put it), is a distraction and a diversion from mobilizing for true change.  As one blogger put it:  When the world is chaos, it makes sense for society to take an introspective turn. But the skincare craze isn’t introspective per se: it’s looking into yourself but stopping at the literal outermost layer.

For me, the thought of a 12 step skincare routine is exhausting. I already don’t do the bedtime routines I feel like I should do, including meditating and turning off the screens early enough.  I enjoyed having a soothing facial as one of my treatments on my recent holiday where a massage or suchlike every day was included in the package — but I balked at the $180 price tag on the emollient they tried to sell me at the end.

I have a sort of skincare plan:  I spend maybe $250 dollars a year on moisturizer, toner and cleanser, all one brand, which I’ve been using for years, from the Bay — the brand that gives you cute little bags of free stuff when you go in on the right day.  My routine barely deserves the name:  I wash my face with the cleanser in the shower in the morning, then slather a moisturizer with SPF on my super dry skin before I start my day.  I add drugstore sunscreen in the summer.  Sometimes, if I’ve had makeup on or been really sweaty, I remember to wash my face and MAYBE use toner and moisturizer before bed.  That’s it.

I’m not going to judge where anyone else spends their time or money.  This seems to be one of those prime areas for “you do you.”  If rubbing nice smelling stuff into your skin gives you pleasure and calms you down so you sleep better, go for it.  But I will admit that the notion of this much money, energy and time going into something so oriented toward what feels like yet another unrealistic beauty ideal — and where there is no evidence that any of this stuff makes any real difference — makes me uneasy.  What about you?

IMG_2978Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a 53 year old with wrinkles, dry skin, a history of minor skin cancer and an aversion to routine. 

fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

Weight watchers is not kid stuff; what about other programs?

Since Weight Watches announced its program targeting teenagers, there’s been a flurry of posts here, chock-full of information and perspective.

One of Sam’s recent posts has (among other things) pointed to research on fat shaming. There are severely harmful physical and psychological effects of identifying children as fat (calling them fat or overweight, treating them as fat, subjecting them to dieting, etc.)   Enrolling a child in Weight Watchers is a guaranteed way to label them as fat.

While we’re talking about studies, the data on the long-term effectiveness of Weight Watchers (or any commercial diet program) is not promising.  A 2015 systematic review  of commercial diet programs suggests that, in the very short term (3-12 months, mostly 3—6 months), Weight Watchers might produce a slightly higher incidence of >5% body weight loss in some populations (all adult) than self-directed dieting, but in the longer term (>12 months), we either have no data, or the data show weight regains (and then some).

Tracy’s post on dieting and magical thinking really gets at the psychological pitfalls of yearning for some way to transform our and our children’s bodies into shapes and sizes that conform to medical guidelines and BMI charts.  It’s an illusion, one that does us and our children much harm.

So, taking Sam’s challenge to heart—if not weight watchers for children, then what?—I decided to look around town to see what programs were on offer.

As some of you know, I live in Boston, which is a very good place to be sick; we have highly-rated hospitals to treat whatever ails you.  I found out from my friend Janet, who’s a health care provider, about the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital.  It’s associated with (and I assume partly funded by) New Balance  (the athletic shoe manufacturer), which has a named Obesity Prevention Center and also sponsors the OWL program at Boston area community health centers.

The OWL program is for families who are worried about their children’s weight and risks for type 2 diabetes, or who have children with type 2 diabetes.  After doing a bunch of medical tests, the treatment services focus on nutritional counseling and individual behavior modification.  Some group therapy is offered, and follow up is required for at least 6 months.  They tend to favor a low-glycemic index diet (one of their directors is David Ludwig, who leads research investigating and has written popular books promoting low-glycemic index diets; look here  for research and here for popular books).

I have to say, I really like the approach they use in the OWL programs at community health centers.  Here’s what they do:

10-week comprehensive program that introduces families to healthful eating and supports them in making changes to benefit their entire family.  The program offers group and individual counseling and is led by a dietitian and psychologist from the OWL clinic.  Group discussions and interactive activities allow for peer support, skill building and knowledge sharing. 

The first six weeks are spent in a group format.  For the groups, parents and youth are separated and both groups discuss the same educational topic.  Following the educational intervention, the groups unite for a healthy meal and a question and answer session.  Each class concludes with a hands-on activity to reinforce the main messages.  Upon completion of the groups participants attend 2-4 weeks of individual counseling with the dietitian and psychologist to develop behavior change strategies to support individual goals. 

Through the program, patients learn:

  • How to shop for and prepare balanced meals and snacks
  • How sleep and screen time impact health
  • How small changes can be implemented to benefit the entire family
  • How to address body image and bullying

All of this sounds reasonable, comprehensive and evidence-based.  By the way, what’s good for the goslings is also good for those of us on the spectrum from geese to ganders—that is, adults can also use support around shopping, screens, sleep, small changes, body images and fat shaming/bullying/harassment.

But I don’t like the name of the program—Optimal Weight for Life.  Yeah, it’s cool to have OWL as your acronym.  You could give away T-shirts with owls on them, or maybe even have an owl-petting room at the hospital.  It’s already been done in Japan at this café, and I hear it’s popular.

Here are my three problems with the name OWL– Optimal Weight for Life:

1.Optimal.  Why do we have to be optimal? That’s a pretty high bar to set.  There are lots of reasons and causes for a child to be of non-optimal weight.  Maybe it’s not an optimal time in a kid’s development to be optimal.  I’m not a parent, but I have observed my niece’s and nephews’ growth patterns over time, and their sizes and shapes and heights don’t increase in perfect synchrony. It’s just not the way human growth works (as Sam pointed out about her own kids). Sometimes they are shorter and wider, and sometimes longer and narrower, and this varies over time and across people.

Also, who says that optimality should be the goal?  We know from epidemiological studies (and by looking around in the world) that there’s a range of body weights, shapes, sizes, influenced by a host of factors, many of which we have no control over.  What makes “optimal” optimal is presumably association of a class of body weights with lowered risk factors for disease; otherwise, this is just a matter of aesthetics/conventions, right?  When we dive deep into that data vortex, I argue that, given both the intractability of long-term weight loss and the small or nonexistent shifts in relative risk profiles that come with some weight changes, setting “optimal” weight as a general patient goal is both unrealistic and unnecessary.

2. Weight. Why do we have to focus on weight? Why not health? There are lots of metrics that track health quite well, and weight is arguably not one of them. Yes, this is a contested position, but it’s held by lots of medical and public health experts.  Physical activity happens to be one of those metrics.  See here for results of a very large European study showing strong association between even small increases in physical activity and lowered all-cause mortality risk.

3. For Life. That sounds scary to me. Why?  Because it seems controlling, demanding, and not understanding about the ups and downs of our experiences through the life trajectory.  There are going to be times in every child’s life when their physical state will be non-optimal.  This is not a cause for panic, and it may not even indicate that anything is wrong. So, setting people up with this humongous and unrealistic (yes, I said that before—it’s still true) goal is not very nice and not, uh, well, realistic.

We’ve got a lot to learn about how to help people identify, move toward and find some stability around health-according-to-them.  Owls are a great symbol, but how about we go with more variation, in keeping with our own glorious variation?  I have something like this in mind, but need help with names/acronyms.  Any thoughts?

Animated brightly colored animals of all types, shapes and sizes.


fit at mid-life · fitness · giveaway

Fit at Mid-Life Book give-away! Three ways to win

Image description:

Hi everyone. We’re having a contest! Want to win a copy of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey by Sam and Tracy? It’s officially coming out with Greystone Books on April 14 (Canada) and April 17 (US) and we want to give three of our followers a chance to win an early “sneak peek” copy.

There are three ways to enter.

Facebook: Comment on this post on our Facebook page (Fit Is a Feminist Issue) by telling us your favourite fitness /pursuit activity (one word answers are just fine).

Twitter: Retweet our tweet about this contest post (@FitFeminists).

Instagram: Show us some Instagram love by liking the contest post on Instagram.  [we had a photo issue so we posted a second time on Instagram, which is where this link goes. If you liked the first post, don’t worry, it’s still up and we will consider you eligible.]

We’ll randomly select three winners, one from the Facebook comments and one from our Twitter retweets and one from the Instagram likes.

The contest closes at 11:59 Eastern Time on March 31st and is open to North American residents only. We will get in touch with the winners for North American mailing address and our publisher will send them each a book.

If you aren’t one of the lucky three, the books are already showing up on the shelves in bookstores and are available on-line from our publisher Greystone Books. Or you can pre-order them from Amazon, official release April 14 (Canada), 17 (US) and 19 (UK).

Good luck!

Additional Rules:

One entry per account on each platform.

Maximum of one prize per individual.

Prizes will only be shipped to addresses within North America, which in this case refers to the continental US and Canada.

For the Facebook contest, only original comments will be considered entries (feel free to comment on another’s comment but it won’t count as an entry unless it’s a stand-alone comment).

For Twitter, only retweets of the original post will considered entries.


“You are soft on your feet”

Two weeks ago, I sweated and panted my way through the last hundred metres of climbing up Gros Piton in St. Lucia.  It’s a strenuous, steep hike, about 2000 ft of swift ascent. It was hot and the sun was out, but the trail was broken, slippery rock, and I scrambled far more than I walked.  I finally broke through from the rainforest to the summit, and the island and the sea sprang forth in front of me.


There was a young male/female couple and their guide at the top, and my local guide Quentin and I offered to take their photo.  We faffed about a bit, then I sat down to eat my cheese and cucumber sandwich, eyeing the darkening clouds.

A few minutes later, my resort guide, Marlon, came bursting up the trail, sweating and out of breath.  “I could not catch you!” he laughed.

IMG_3440Marlon had driven me from the hotel, and connected me with the Piton park guide who was required for the hike.  I was supposed to hike with them both, but Marlon took longer doing the paperwork at the trailhead, and said he’d catch up.  He never did.

They’d told me to expect the climb to be about three hours, and we’d done it in an hour and twenty.  I wasn’t racing — I was just focused.  While walking, Quentin (who was from the small community at the base of the mountain, and was about 18), said “you are fit, and you are not worried.”  He kept telling me we were making great time, but I was just … going.

Later, Marlon told me repeatedly that he hadn’t climbed that quickly with any guest in a while, not since he had the trail-running guest who was trying to race it.  Even when I stumbled a few times going down, he said “you are soft on your feet — most people would fall like that.”

Here’s the thing:  they had no reason to flatter me.  I’d started out the morning quite cranky, as I wrote about last week, because the hotel had mis-booked my trek with Marlon, and I wasn’t about to get up at 6 am twice in a row on my holiday.  (Much like the time the hospital never notified me of a change in date for my colonoscopy and I insisted I have it that day because I wasn’t going to do the awful prep twice).  The drive from the hotel was more than an hour, and Marlon and I had had a good chat, and I knew that he fancied himself as a would-be endurance athlete, and had participated in an 88 mile walk around the island last year.  (He made it something like 40, which was amazing with these hills).

I was preening inwardly in a weird way at the matter of fact way they acknowledged my fitness.  When I reflected on that preening, I found some unexamined baggage about measuring up.

Flashback:  hiking around a national park on the Bruce Peninsula in my 20s with a guided group and my then-partner, when I struggled to get up a particularly large boulder.  (I’m very short and I was heavier than I am now).  A snotty comment from another hiker, calculated so I’d hear the scorn:  “they really should make sure people who do these hikes are capable.”

Flashback:  climbing in the hills of Skye with a different partner in my early 40s.  Those mountains were a lure from the first moments of our connection, when he said “come stand with me on the mountains that scare me.”  We approached the dangerous, hard to find summit on Sgurr nan Gillian, one of the hardest peaks in the Cuillin, and he freaked out suddenly.  “We have to go back! We have to go back!”  Later, he sat across from me at dinner, thin-lipped, refusing to talk about it, his vulnerability our failure.  A year later, he remembered that trip as his having summited hills that I had hung back on, despite a photo on his desk of us both on a peak.

Flashback: riding for a week in Vietnam, alone with a young male guide, who continually told me stories of the exalted fitness of other people (older men, mostly) he’d guided, while continually refusing to let me ride up the passes I wanted to ride because he didn’t want to ride them.  When we finally rode the long hard Spring Pass, he left me behind to manage a dropped chain on my own.  (He was a shitty guide).  A year later, riding in Laos, having to get off my bike and order my guide to stop shadowing me 10 metres behind in the van because he didn’t want me to ride in the fog.

On top of Gros Piton, I still felt that 25 year old sting of the fellow hiker who dismissed me as a chunky irrelevance.  I felt the bruising of those holidays in the hills of Skye, where my then-partner’s self-image continually erased my accomplishments.  The frustration of cycling guides who see my age and bodyshape, not my capability, strength and desire to push myself.

IMG_3446Quentin and Marlon have no idea what they did, just matter of factly accepting my fitness.  No false praise, just factual enjoyment.  On the way back, we talked about Black Panther and the history or St Lucia, and Marlon laughed about how I beat him, said he had to train harder.  He then asked if I wanted to go for coffee at a local place.  “I don’t always offer this,” he said, “but I think you’ll like it.”

I did.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, as well as other times when the mood strikes.  She lives and works in Toronto, where she works in the space of creating socially accountable strategic change in healthcare and education.


Gender Diversity in Cycling: Time For A Shift? (Guest Post)

I transitioned from triathlon to cycling about 18 months ago. I made the switch after completing an Ironman, wanting a change, and enjoying my time in the saddle more than the time spent running or swimming. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the field of triathlon working to recruit and retain more women in the sport (as evidenced by the hugely popular Facebook group, Women for Tri). I hoped for a similar dynamic with cycling, but had just moved across the country for a new job and was not sure where to find a community of rad cyclists. I started by searching for groups online, found one with similar speed and distance to fit my training, and was launched into what became a new norm for my next year: being one of the only women on a group ride surrounded by several men. I’ve generally been treated really well and I can’t thank many of them enough for making me who I am today. I’m a much stronger cyclist thanks to their challenging group rides and much of their ongoing support. But we’ve got work to do.

Reflecting back on my transition to cycling, I think I expected to find similar dynamics to triathlon—plenty of women at races, large Facebook groups for women to share advice and experiences, and plenty of group rides and teams to train with or race for without the fear of getting dropped. Unfortunately, I think I was naive and mistaken in a few ways. Field sizes for women in many of the events I’ve done are only about 15%—especially gravel, cyclocross, and fat biking. Women and gender diverse athletes are sorely underrepresented in this sport. I’ve scoured the literature to identify potential reasons for the gap. Some say it’s a lack of confidence or skill with mechanical abilities. Others say lack of time to train due to childcare and domestic responsibilities. Some note a lack of navigation skills needed for gravel or discomfort being in the middle of nowhere. Others reflect on a lack of safety, whether due to car traffic, crashing, or sexual harassment.

Many of those factors, however, are specific to one discipline or one community, have small sample sizes, are published by men, and/or completely exclude cyclists who do not identify as cisgender men or women. And while I appreciate the important work on these issues, I think the gender gaps go a lot deeper than what the literature has said thus far. I believe we need a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women and gender diverse cyclists in order to decrease disparities in the field. I believe it’s time to share our stories.

My experiences as a white cisgender woman in cycling over the past year have been exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, and empowering. They have also been colored by microaggressions, sexist comments, harassment, and exclusion. I love this sport and so many aspects of this community. I want to stay engaged. But I also know we can do better by stepping up our game and working hard to understand the experiences of that 15%. After identifying what has helped and hurt us over the years, we can work to shift our culture to one with more diversity and representation.

Aside from my identity as a cyclist, I am a feminist, a sport psychologist, a professor, and a researcher. As a feminist, it’s important for me to 1) own my biases that stem from my own experiences; and 2) recognize that the personal is political. I’m doing this project because of my own experiences and because I want our community to do better. The disheartening moments I’ve had over the past year have lit a fire inside of me and have motivated me to take on a piece of this puzzle.

This past week, I launched an international research project for women, trans*, femme, non-binary, genderqueer, and two spirit cyclists 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.

As an incentive, I’ve secured money to donate $2/person to charity for the first 250 participants. (It’s not much, but it’s something.) I’ll present the findings in my community, at conferences, and to anyone who wants to listen. I’ll also write up the findings for publication to help us shed some light on 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 in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story.  What has pushed you away?  What helps you to keep going strong?  I’ll share mine in a post to come.

Link to survey is as follows:

 Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon
Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she spends her time training for new cycling adventures, eating, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.