eating disorders · Guest Post · weight lifting

The Meditation of Weightlifting (Guest Post)

This is me at the Minnesota Open.  I am doing a clean and jerk.  

To talk about all the beneficial and amazing things weightlifting has given to me, it is necessary to talk about the not so great things that brought me there.  A bit of a perfect storm in my late 20s landed me in the dark and very scary depths of an eating disorder.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it.  I was very lucky to find and be admitted to a new intensive out-patient program in my area.  I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder.  Unofficially I was diagnosed with exercise anorexia and orthorexia, which are not diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM); therefore they are not “official” diagnoses. 

The behaviors I experienced (and sometimes still do) as part of disordered included assigning judgement to food, difficulties with body image, eating large amounts of food, exercising as a form of punishment, eliminating entire food groups, obsession with “good foods”, and a fear of not having food available.  This last one is fairly unique and part of the perfect storm I previously referenced.  I experienced extreme food insecurity for quite a few years, which can later lead to disordered eating. 

As I was working my way towards recovery I spent a lot of time in group and individual therapy.  There were certain patterns etched into my brain that needed to be broken.  On some days it was an all-out internal war, trying to create new healthier thoughts and behaviors.  Even now, in my late 40s, I still struggle and have little relapses that need to be righted.  I can recognize them more quickly and my tool box is much larger and much more easily accessed. 

Part of changing behaviors meant changing my relationship with food.  Nothing is off limits.  No food is a “bad” food and no food is a “good” food.  Food is fuel.  Food is fun.  Food is social.  I am a person who really likes food.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  For years I felt guilt about enjoying and eating food.  On the same note, exercise is not punishment.  It is not something I have to do because I ate food.  I don’t earn food by exercising.  I don’t do exercise activities I personally dislike. 

For years, therapists suggested yoga as a way for me to increase mindfulness.  I did yoga for years.  Guess what.  I don’t like yoga!  I finally figured that out and I don’t do it.  I do enjoy lots of sports.  I’ve been a runner, a cross-country skier, a martial artist, a swimmer, a biker…  The list could go on.  Recently I’ve found my sporting true love.  I am in love with Olympic weight lifting.  It is a release mentally and physically.  For me, it is meditative.  When I am lifting weights I rarely think of anything else.  I love to focus on all the nuances of the lift and the tiny adjustments I need to make in order to complete the best lift possible.  When the movement clicks, it is like magic.  The endorphins flow and I feel amazing.

There is a saying in lifting, “If the weight doesn’t scare you, it isn’t heavy enough.”  Honestly, the weight I am focusing on these days is how much weight is on the bar, not the weight on the scale.  I’ve learned to fuel my body so that I feel good.  This means having enough energy throughout the day and making sure I have good sources of fuel to keep me feeling healthy.  I know what works for me.  It may not work for others. 

In addition to finding weight lifting meditative and empowering I’ve also discovered a phenomenal group of supportive, body positive people.  When competing in Olympic Weightlifting one must wear a spandex weight lifting singlet, much like the ones wrestlers wear to compete.  I remember my first meet.  I had the singlet and it was under a lot of clothes.  I did my warmup.  I was standing in the line-up area feeling very anxious about getting down to the singlet.  All around me people of all sizes were shedding warm-up clothing and getting down to the business of singlet wearing.  I took a deep breath and off the clothes went.  Guess what?  No one said a word or raised an eyebrow.  As a matter of fact, after lifting I got nothing but a round of congratulations on my lifts.  As I have continued lifting I’ve meet men and women of all sizes who are nothing but supportive, uplifting and kind. 

I’ve used to be a person who literally hid at home eating food and didn’t go outside to exercise due to shame.  Now I go to the gym 5 days a week, but without feeling obligation or like it is punishment.  I go for the pure joy of it.  I’ve found my fitness love and I’ve found my fitness home.  Thanks to an amazing group of supportive athletes, a phenomenal coach (who took the time to learn about eating disorders) and gym mates I am free to be myself and be my best.   

Amy Lesher is a small business owner. She has owned a developmental/behavioral pediatric clinic for 10 years. When she is not running a business she spends her time lifting weights and attending CrossFit classes. She competes in Olympic weightlifting and holds the Minnesota state record for the Olympic lifting total in her division.

weight lifting · Guest Post

Doin’ My Part to Keep the Gym a Safe Space for Men (Guest Post)

I strength train in a small community center gym. It is filled with the full range of humanity who live in my diverse community. When I started working out there four or five years ago, as far as I could tell I was the only woman who regularly lifted weights. Only in the last year or so have I begun to see a shift where there are other women who lift, at least a little bit, with some regularity. Nevertheless, it is still very much a man’s domain. And perhaps because weightlifting is so deeply connected in our psyches with manliness, machoness, and physical dominance, I find that I encounter a larger-than-usual population of the toxically masculine. From aging athletes who feel that it is their rightful territory, to arrogant and ignorant newbies puffing up to attempt to appear competent, I must interact with men who at best don’t seem to recognize that I may belong there, too, and at worst, those who seem to resent my presence.

I have no idea what this woman is doing (pilates?), but it’s the only photo I could find of a woman working out NOT in only a sports bra and short shorts.  🙂

I am not proud to acknowledge it, but I have adjusted to this reality in dozens of subtle ways that allow the status quo to remain in place. The gym at my rec center remains a man’s space. All of these adjustments are done to keep the men there at ease and to avoid conflict. I would like to think that I’m just being considerate, but I am beginning to wonder if it’s really about not entirely feeling like I belong–that I’m still imposing on a space that isn’t equally mine.

Here’s a sampling of what I do:

–I work hard to be efficient with whatever equipment I’m using. Old-school gym culture suggests that folks can “cut in” and share equipment, but this is not something I see at my gym. Instead, folks stay where they are until all their sets are done and then the next person takes over. If I’m doing several long sets, I am always aware of who is around me who might be waiting for whatever I’m using. I feel self-conscious and uncomfortable if I can tell that they’re waiting for me, although I do not usually see the same consideration in reverse.

–I make it very clear which equipment I’m using. I put my workout log onto the bench before I get up to get a drink of water from the fountain. Or, sometimes when it’s really busy, I don’t get up at all. This avoids the awkward “I’m still using that” conversation. I’ve had men start to roll away a bench I had put a barbell or dumbbells next to as I was setting up a lift, and I had to ask them to please leave it there. Two-thirds of the guys just don’t seem to have processed that I was using it. Perhaps the other third of the time, they shoot me a look that suggests their needs are greater than mine.

A guy staring at his phone, leaning on a bar and bench

–When I’m doing lifts like rows in which my decolletage might show, I do them towards the wall. For that matter, any exercise that might seem “risqué” is done with as little audience as possible. I’ve caught the eyes of men who were noticing me, and it can become uncomfortable quickly. For about a year, there was a guy who I found myself making sure always left before I did, so there wasn’t any chance that he’d follow me out. He stared at me with unabashed focus every time we were both in the gym. It scared me, and I never confronted him about it.

–I wear earbuds to listen to music and to signal I don’t want to have a conversation. On a related note, I don’t make eye contact except to check on if someone is done with a piece of equipment. I rarely smile, so I won’t be misunderstood to be flirting, and I avoid looking too stern (RBF), so I don’t look too mean. I aim to be neutral.

–I wear a t-shirt or loose tank top over my sports bra all year long, even when it’s blazing hot and the AC goes out at the community center. I wear no-show panties to avoid any pantyline and high-rise leggings that keep my backside covered. I don’t want my appearance to be misconstrued as attention-seeking. The handful of times I’ve felt it necessary to inform someone that I was married, the responses I got back were less-than-respectful. As a result of these, I have also started wearing a silicone “wedding” ring when I lift.

–I avoid correcting or giving feedback to someone, even if their gym faux-pas are problematic for me. If they are sitting for half an hour on a bench I need, I don’t ask them how long they’ll be. If they’re staring at their phone next to where I need to go, I wait patiently for them to move along. If they walk between me and the mirror, I keep my annoyance to myself, even if I need to spot my form on that lift.

Despite these considerations, I have had equipment picked up and walked away without being asked if I was using it. I am yelled at about once a year. Last year, a guy started screaming at me for “wasting time” while I was resting between sets. Only last month, another guy started yelling at me (“Don’t YOU tell me what to do!”), aggressively leaning in, when I asked him if he could “please walk around” so I could do an overhead press without him directly in front of me. I’ve had benches taken over while I was standing next to them. Backhanded compliments like “I know it seems weird to be asking you, but could you show me that lift,” are common. I act flattered instead of wondering aloud why they shouldn’t ask me.

I am ok with the idea that the way I lift weights it outside of normative femininity. However, I question the “rules” I have set out for myself to share space at the gym. I’m conflicted about it–I genuinely don’t want to be in conflict with guys while I’m there; however, there’s been frequent enough issues that my rules have been adapted in response to them. Many of those conflicts were due to the man in question seemingly having his own sets of rules that aren’t based on any mutual community mindset but rather things that work best for himself as an individual. His individual needs take precedence over mine. And how do I speak up for myself, when the act of saying anything at all is often met with aggression, intimidation, and posturing? Or on the flip side of things, when they are attempting to be accommodating, they are actually condescending and belittling–how do I say, thank you but no, I don’t need you to rack my weights for me or carry that dumbbell back? I can lift it myself, and that’s the whole point of being there.

And so I’m stuck. Do I go about standing up for myself and my needs and thereby continue to have conflicts, or do I adjust my behaviors to reduce conflict so I can have as pleasant a session as possible, but perpetuate and enable a gym culture that is not accommodating to women?

Someone in pink wrist wraps, shoes and socks moving a collar for a bar with weight plates on it.

What say you? Do you stand up for your needs and risk conflict and confrontation? Are you open to feedback at the gym or does it feel like an imposition while you’re “in the zone?”

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.
Fear · femalestrength · gender policing · Guest Post · weight lifting

Watch your step (Guest post)

John getting a piggyback from Vicky

You know how (if you’ve ever worked retail) there’s a clichéd ha-ha customer joke for when something scans and isn’t in the system? “Oh there’s no price on it? It must be free!” From the customer’s angle, it’s mildly funny because they use it once every couple of months. Clerks in stores hear it multiple times an hour sometimes. (It’s not so funny after the first 383 times.)

There is a conversationally-equivalent bad joke for male partners of strong women.

I cannot tell you how many times a man (it is always a man, never a woman) has broached a conversation with, “So you’re a powerlifter?” with a look from John me, followed by “You can lift HOW much? Wow. That is something…,” with a tone that sounds like a mixture of admiration and awe. 

At this point it goes one of three ways. Either things segue to the details of lifting, we shuffle on to another topic, or……

…they turn to my husband and say, “You must have to watch your step at home.” or “Wow, I’d be careful if I were you.”

There’s always a moment of silence in which you can hear both of us frantically hunting for something pithy to say in response. Often these conversations come up at professional gatherings and what we WANT to say isn’t polite or appropriate.

It’s insult masquerading as compliment to subtly prevent rejoinder, a backhanded slap across both of our faces but done politely enough that a “fuck off” cannot be handed in return. 

It’s also just not funny. 

The initial praise of a woman for an ability for which she has worked hard is the veneer, but underneath it’s actually an inelegant way of saying, “Dude, your wife is stronger than you, which I believe means that you are relatively weak of body and spirit, also I am intimidated as hell both that she probably can pick me up and throw me (side note: buddy, I’m thinking about doing just that)  AND I do not understand the strength of character that you must have to NOT be intimidated by this so I will pretend that you are both weak and hen-pecked because I feel more manly that way. Also, lady, you are too strong for a woman and the way in which that is determined is my comfort level, so there’s clearly something wrong with *you*.

Vicky picking up a deadlift at the 2018 World Championships

Firstly, yes, I am pretty fucking strong. That does not require that I be compared to anyone, male or female. It’s a simple fact. The almost-daily battle of Vicky vs The Weights currently sits at 1045 to 184 in my favour (most days I don’t get my ass handed to me, but they occasionally happen), based on training days over the last six years. The fact that I can lift more than John or any man is irrelevant to both of us. I never set out to be stronger than him and my strength doesn’t have anything to do with his self-esteem. Each of our respective skills and hobbies is not something that pits us one against the other, it’s an attribute or asset that we bring to our team. Also I have worked harder for this than most people know or could understand. I will never apologize for it or downplay it. I am well past the point in life of dumbing myself down for social acceptability.

I am and have always been a strong and intelligent woman. There are a lot of us around and I count myself incredibly fortunate to have become a part of the community of powerful women locally, nationally and world-wide. When you become strong, you tend to congregate with folks who are equally strong because they understand both who you are and what it takes to get there and they support that. I am not a gentle personality and I don’t want to be. My grade three report card says, “displays leadership qualities” on it and god bless you Miss Roche for writing it that way because most of the time people called smart and decisive girls “bossy”, “pushy”, or “know-it-alls”. Men (and women) are sometimes intimidated by me.

Most of the women I coach have similar personalities, strength of character, and intelligence. 

None of us apologizes for it anymore. 

We just throw another plate on the bar and lift that shit, with the knowledge that someone else’s weakness of character is not our problem.

We are under no obligation to be less physically powerful, less intelligent, less forthright, or less confident than any man. And we are not responsible for someone else’s self esteem.

Further to this, men are under no obligation to spend their free time lifting. There is no law that obliges my husband to enjoy strength sports (thank heavens – one lifter in the house is hard enough during comp season and expensive enough to feed!).

We are allowed to make different choices based on preference and talent regardless of sex or gender. John enjoys bushcraft, hiking, triathlon, trail and ultramarathon running, and kayaking. He is able to tackle tremendous distances which are impressive as hell. He is also my best friend, someone I love for exactly who he is and whom I respect immensely.

So does John have to “be careful at home”? No. Because he is my equal in worth and value and he knows and is confident in this. And I am his.

Vicky Taylor-Hood is a powerlifter, lifting and fitness coach, mother, wife, dog-wrangler, kayaker, hiker, and likes to pick things up just to see if she can.

Guest Post

Falling ain’t that bad (Guest post)

Since my first blog contribution to FIFI in September, I realised that many of the experiences I was considering writing about were based around new experiences. From trying “spike ball” the first time, to wiping out at surfing (that one never made it on here), to my frustrations with winter running (that’s more a venty-blog – ironically, my winter running has never been better), all these activities arose because they seemed to rattle me because they were so new.

Don’t get me wrong – I know there is nothing wrong with trying new things. In fact, I’ve had a ton of fun with all these new adventures! I recently went skiing for the first time, which has long been on my list of things I, and I am obsessed. Yes, I’m already looking out for those outdoor gear discounts so I can buy some swanky ski pants.

I seek out trying new things because I recognise the importance of continually put myself out there and being exposed. I feel a heightened sense of vulnerability when learning new activities. It’s not like I am overly bad at any of them, but trying something new, particularly physical, can be daunting. I find that’s why a lot of people don’t do much, or end up with a long list of things that I just-can’t-wait-to-do that seems to never go anywhere.

So, in the hopes that somebody out there reading this is scared to try something new, I hope that some unsolicited advice from a regular trier-of-new-things might positively trigger something in you:

  1. Everybody falls.

This one is my favourite. When we hit the slopes at the small hills just outside of Toronto, I was hoping I’d get off the bunny slopes. After learning to pizza and french fry, we went across the tracks and asked if we could upgrade to the ski-lift runs. The instructor we asked was shocked, “We don’t usually get that request over here,” he told us. We upgraded. We ski-lifted.

Once we got to the top of the ski lift, we see the small pile of fallen skiers and snowboarders and the realisations start setting in. I hop of the ski lift and catch the small hill down from the lift on both skis and my bum, because I guess I didn’t want to stand up! We laugh off our unceremonious exit, get situated, and prepare ourselves for the first hill. What we didn’t realise until later is that the ski lift we went up connected to about 5 or 6 different runs. We thought we only had the option of going down this one run – which ended up being a moderately difficult run. I was scared but we tried it anyway. I ended up stuck after my second fall unable to pop my ski back in. My friend had to sidestep back up the hill to where I was waiting and help me get the ski back on!

Naturally, my friend realized how frustrated I was and asked if I wanted to take a break. But I said no, and hopped right back in line. The second time off the ski lift was much better, and it dumped us off at a sign that let us know that we don’t have to go down the same run every time. We breathed a sigh of relief. We ended up going down the friendly (green) line, a trail to an easier downhill terrain, twice and had a lot of fun.

2. Take it in stride

After those slightly successful friendly runs, it was easy to see that nearly everyone was on their bum – and struggling to get back up since snowboards and skis are very awkward.

Skiing is one of those sports that can show anyone on any given day the reality of failure. No one is safe, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying! I like to think of my life in relation to metaphors of successes and falls, since that’s where I embody failure the most. When surfing back in September, I wiped out hard to the point where I curled up into a ball to wait until the wave past. With a dose of salt water up my nose I sprung out of the water and onto my board to beat the next wave. But that wipe out still rattled me.

For some reason, thinking of failures as falls is a bit more managing to me. Because, that’s really all it is. I fell off my surfboard, I fell while skiing, I fell off my training regimen. It doesn’t mean we are banned from trying again. I think the best way to do it is to look around you, take it in stride, and realise that we are all falling together.

3. Do it again!

One of the last things I’d like to mention is that it’s important to find little successes. It can be hard to find success when we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others’ success stories. For me, getting out onto the slopes for the first time is a huge success! Wanting to go back is yet another success! The more you go out and try something the more times you’ll realise that success doesn’t have to be spectacular like breaking a brick. It can be simply trying once more to break the brick. You go, Audrey!

If trying new things scares you, make sure you do things that are familiar and comfortable as well. Familiarity is useful for your body to relax and to continue moving while not in a state of tension or high adrenaline. This also helps your body to think that the new activities are part of your routine. If trying one new activity a month is your thing – then you will start to look forward to those falls!

Image description: Head shot of Cami, a young white woman with glasses and long brown hair, smiling, trees in the background.

Cami is a PhD candidate at Western University studying the ethics of women’s sports science. Her studies stem from her past as a professional volleyball player and personal trainer. Now she prefers to climb rocks, tend her vegetable garden, camp, hike, surf and play in the water.

fitness · Guest Post · martial arts · training

The Importance of Trying and Failing (Guest Post)

Last week, I broke a brick with a palm strike.

But more importantly, before I did that, I also failed to break a brick with a palm strike.

Let’s back up a little. I teach taekwondo at a martial arts studio that just celebrated its third anniversary (yay us!) As part of our celebrations, some of the students and instructors did a small demo including forms and board/brick breaking. This wasn’t my first time putting my hand through cement for fun and training. So I stopped in to my neighbourhood Home Depot to pick up a small stack of paving stones for us to smash, much to the consternation of a few employees and customers who saw me wandering around the store with a stack of bricks under my arm instead of in a cart.

four rectangular bricks in the trunk of a car
I made it back to the car all by myself with them though!

Our demo was great, for the most part. We had a bit of trouble setting up our brick breaks in a spot where we had a good surface and people could see us. I don’t think I was entirely focused, and even though I’m pretty strong, I can’t get away with relying just on muscle and body weight to make it through. So even though I hit the brick good and hard on my first attempt, it wasn’t quite right, and it didn’t budge. (Much to the concern of some of our poor audience members, mostly our students and their parents.)

Deep breath.

Second try, all good. No damage to the wrist or hand, just a bruise.

At the risk of trying to justify things after the fact, I’m glad I had the chance to let my kids see me fail before I succeeded. I find a lot of them are still learning what is to be rewarded and what is to be valued, and I like teaching them that effort and perseverance are to be valued, not only success. And also that you can be good at a task and still sometimes fail to perform it successfully.

(This, incidentally, is part of why, during my day job as a philosophy teacher, I’m perfectly happy to say “I don’t know” to student questions when appropriate. If they think they have to know everything to be a professor, they’ll probably never see themselves as capable of it.)

But maybe failure is a feminist issue. There are some interesting gendered questions here, after all, with letting my students see me fail. The (much larger) man who was also part of the brick breaking demo broke his on the first try. I suppose I could worry that I’m just confirming stereotypes about women being weaker, but I don’t think we have to see it like that at all. I think it’s inevitable that we all fail, and one of the privileges of being a man in sports is that you’ll have lots of readily available male role models with a wide variety of trajectories of success and failure. But the girls (and non-girls) I teach know I’m successful at taekwondo. I have a 4th dan black belt, and teach them how to kick several days a week. So why shouldn’t they see that even their teachers will sometimes have to display the very perseverance that we demand of them?

Guest Post

My Cat is Fat. So What?! (Guest Post)

Opie “helping” me cook

So some research came out years back that identified that larger-bodied people tend to have larger-bodied pets, too. This study has been often quoted as strong evidence that having more body fat is primarily environmental, as of course, our pets are not genetically related to us.

Ok, sure. My cat is not technically my child, and many people love their pets like their children, including loving them with food. And we are the providers for our pets, putting much of the responsibility upon us for what and how much of it that they eat.

Opie at his most abundant (playing with his favorite toy).

On the other hand, as with humans, pets are shaped by formative experiences, and these are not entirely in our control. If a kitten is denied plentiful food, it is likely to have a larger, more insatiable appetite. If a puppy’s mother was underfed, the puppy is born into a state of scarcity, and this can be seen as food anxiety even when it’s a full grown dog.

I bring this up, in part, to explain why I have a cat that has weighed as much as 22 pounds. Opie is a big boy with a hanging belly and deep-seeded belief that he is starving. I am not in the habit of feeding him human food. I also do not regularly give him cat treats, not even the kinds that supposedly brush his teeth or provide hairball relief or sundry other feline nutraceuticals. So how do I make sense of his obesity?

When I adopted Opie, he was already an adult. I’m not sure of his exact age, but I’d guess he was about two years old. He weighed 15 pounds, which was a little chunky, but mostly made him feel like a cuddly kitty. I wasn’t worried about it, and I giggled at the instructions from the Humane Society suggesting that I put him on a restricted calorie diet, since he was already “overweight.”

And thus began years of fat-shaming for Opie, and thereby for me, by veterinarians “only concerned about his health.” You see, I think this is the downside of the previously-discussed research. It placed the notion firmly in the public’s mind that fat pets equals flawed owners. (This is the first law of fat bias: fat equals flawed.) While I have been close to “normal” weight for most of the time I’ve owned Opie, I’m not a small person, and I could feel the implied judgement as I was asked what I feed him, how much do I feed him, and how often do I play with him so he gets some exercise? And all these questions place the responsibility firmly on me.

And what do I feed him? He gets carefully measured and portioned servings of kibble. It comes from an automated pet feeding machine, because otherwise he begs for food at three in the morning. Food for the other cats is locked away behind feeders with chip-readers, so only those cats can eat from them. If I left the food out, Opie would eat it all immediately. Apparently, Opie does not live with the reassurance that if he leaves it for later, it will be there.

I also give him one sixth of a can of canned cat food in the evening. He ends up eating about half that much again, because he wolfs down his own portion and then bullies my other cats to leave before they’ve finished their own. Sometimes, I put them in separate rooms, in which case Opie runs around frantically, searching for the extra food he knows is there somewhere.

So, Opie eats too much, but it isn’t because I’m soft-hearted, or simply repeating the same “gluttonous” patterns that I have in my own life. He’s desperately certain that he is hungry. All. The. Time. And while I agree that having a 22 pound cat isn’t good for him, I’m not willing to restrict him to the point of such anxiety that he’s endlessly panicked and “explaining” to me how hungry he is. It is ok with me if he stays a little chunky, if that means he’s mostly content. Slow reductions over the years means he’s dropped down to about 17 pounds. He begs for canned food in the evenings, and it’s annoying, but otherwise, he mostly acts like a happy kitty.

So, he’s a work in progress. And I wish the veterinarians could see it that way, too. But I think they’re too blinded by their own fat biases. This is how I imagine their thinking: right now, Opie is fat. Fat is bad. I am a bad cat owner because I’ve let him be fat.

Which reminds me of another study that came out not so long ago in which something like 30% of new PE teachers said that the worst thing that could happen to a kid is that they be fat. The worst thing. And there was another study that said that a lot of former fat people agreed with that sentiment—most of them said that they would rather lose a limb than go back to being fat. It is no wonder that folks are deeply concerned that I’m letting my cat be so fat, when fatness is so deeply undesirable.

But it does surprise me that fat bias extends to my cat in this manner. After all, he’s just a cat. He doesn’t know he’s fat. He’s not aware if he’s being treated differently because of his size. He doesn’t have to go through the shame of bathing suit shopping or being repeatedly rejected on an online dating site.

Which really puts a hole in the argument that people with fat bias are just concerned about “educating” fat people, that it is a measure of their concern that gives them permission to shame, judge and ridicule. I know Opie would be healthier if he were smaller, but he does not. My cat is actually, genuinely, ignorant and will remain so. Because Opie doesn’t care that he is fat, and it doesn’t phase him. He has no ability to perceive cause and effect. And in the short term, there are very few meaningful consequences to him being fat. He’s still young enough to get around fairly easily. He likes lazing about and watching the world go by. As long as his needs are being met, it truly does not impact his life. And I do not value personifying his needs in the form of overly-restrictive dietary control.

All this energy towards reduction in cat fatness seems deeply out of proportion to the severity of the problem. In my experience, if I avoid feeding a pet human food and other treats, most of them will regulate their appetites acceptably. Occasionally, I encounter an animal who doesn’t seem able to do this. Usually, after a little time in food abundance, s/he finds a contented level of consumption, and they slow down. Maybe they’re fatter than “ideal,” but they don’t endlessly pack on the pounds. Opie is my first pet who hasn’t done this, and I feel completely ok with the solutions and balance we found to help him manage. Will it shorten his life if I don’t get him to be svelte? Maybe. But it isn’t worth it to me to worry about it. I want him to be a happy kitty. If I manage to help reduce his size to something considered more medically appropriate, great, but if not, he’s got a good life in the meantime. I’m not going to let fat bias define how I care for him, or define what kind of pet owner I am. He and I are good just the way we are.

Opie and his little brother, Diego, snuggling.

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

Guest Post

Fit for School (Guest Post)

by Christine Dirks

There are so few times when an ad in a newspaper jumps out as if it was there for you and you alone. That’s how it was when I opened The Globe and Mail one spring afternoon in 1974 and saw an ad by the University of Toronto. It said if you had not completed high school you could, for $75, take a pre-university course. If you attained a mark of 75 percent or more the university would admit you as a full-time student. It was an offer I couldn’t resist. 

I’d quit high school in 1970. I’d failed grade 12 and went back to give it another try but gave up and quit. I moved to Toronto and found work. There were always jobs then. If you wanted to work you had a job. I was a candy girl at the Uptown Theatre, chambermaid at the Hyatt Regency, fact checker for credit applications at Eaton’s Queen Street store, mail sorter, postal carrier and canvas designer for a needlepoint shop. I sold jeans, cut Christmas trees, found and sold vintage clothing and accessories, did phone sales for The Globe and Mail, was a hostess at the Royal Ontario Museum for an exhibit on the Archaeological Finds of the People’s Republic of China and worked at a drop in centre for what were then called skid row men. But it wasn’t enough. I was tired of being a high school drop-out. I wanted to succeed.

So I applied to the university, took a course in Literature, did well and was accepted as a full-time student. There was little money so I rarely took the streetcar. It was no hardship. I liked being active and would make a game of walking as fast as I could to beat the streetcar on College Street as it headed west toward the university. After the class I’d walk home thinking about the books we were reading and the discussions.

And I had my bike, a gift from a friend. It was an old standard with a scratched frame, cracked leather seat, rims painted pink, foot rests made from blocks of wood, a carrier and an old bell on the handlebar. I loved that bike. It felt like an extension of me. There were lots of bikes on campus but none, I thought, as neat as mine. I’d ride as fast as I could hoping for green lights. Sometimes I’d go for a long ride and when I did I’d have that light, giddy feeling I had when tearing about on my bike as a kid. Pushing myself physically was a good fit with pushing myself at school. The two seemed in balance, each drawing on energy and each giving energy. 

All that was a long time ago. Yet I feel I could reach out and touch those times. Were I to have a bike now I have no doubt that riding that bike would tap other memories, of other people, of other places – memories that are there drifting ready to be called on.  

Toronto street car from
Toronto streetcar from 1974. Image from Toronto Nostalgia

Christine Dirks is a writer and editor in London ON.  Early in her career she worked in the Toronto book publishing industry where she specialized in international marketing. Later she wrote two weekly columns and features for The London Free Press. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Canadian House & Home, Canadian Gardening, Azure and other publications. Christine currently provides research, writing and editing services for individuals and organizations.