Because despite the stereotypes, you don’t need to be stick thin to be a cyclist yet it can be challenging finding clothes that fit. I keep saying to people who say they’ll ride bikes (or go hiking and camping) AFTER they’ve lost weight, that there is no need to wait. Do it now! Yet, the message you get shopping for clothes and gear is that as a larger person this activity isn’t for you.
I’ll have more to say about this in the future. It’s a theme of mine! But for now I want to just take a moment and applaud two recent success stories:
“Diverse populations of women are featured on the brand’s Lookbooks and bibs and jerseys come in a variety of sizes to fit a wide-range of body types. Representation and inclusivity matter to Machines for Freedom and it’s abundantly clear that it’s important to the company ethos.
“I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”
Kriske believes that the sport of cycling has much more to offer riders than tech specs and racing. “There is so much joy, adventure, and confidence that comes from adventuring on a bike. When it comes to storytelling, that is our NorthStar and it’s what has been driving us to broaden our community year after year.”
“Over the last few decades, the outdoor gear industry made innovation after innovation in product designs. Jackets are now waterproof yet surprisingly breathable, tents are so impressively lightweight one might mistake the aluminum poles for bird bones. But you still can’t buy a plus-size hiking backpack.
“When I think about it too much, I get really angry about it,” Jenny Bruso, the self-described queer, fat, femme writer and hiker behind the popular Instagram account Unlikely Hikers told Business Insider.
That’s why backpack maker Gregory’s announcement that they’re releasing the industry’s first line of plus-size backpacks in Spring 2021 is such big news. Finally, hikers and travelers will have size-inclusive backpacks that reflect the diversity of their bodies. And Bruso, whose frustrations with the industry is a driving force behind her activism within it, is partnering with Gregory to develop the line. The release will include more than 20 different plus-size packs across the day hiking, multi-day backpacking, hydration and lifestyle categories.”
My York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set is in the house, “The versatility of the York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set works for all your arm and shoulder exercises. The specially-designed threaded collars allow quick and simple changes of weight up to 22.6 kg, so you can squeeze the most reps out of a limited time.”
There are two bars and 8 x 2.5lb., 4 x 5lb. cast iron plates. Lots of flexibility.
I recently decided not to return to my discount gym. It’s reopening but I am not going. They were very understanding about allowing me to pause my memberships. I have warm fuzzy feeling about the nice letter they sent me and I’m definitely going back there when I am ready to go back.
But that’s not what I am here to write about. Decisions about returning to the gym are hard and complicated and the gym plays different roles in our overall mental health. I get that reasonable people will make different decisions. I miss deadlifting!
You know what’s not complicated? Understanding that not only men lift weights!
Here’s the instructions that came with my dumbbell system.
Nevermind the muscle-y stereotypical shirtless guy thing . I would have been okay a muscle-y woman beside him. I wasn’t hoping for body diversity or racial diversity or even gender diversity. Yes, there could have been a person using a wheelchair also lifting but that was too much to hope for.
When Sam and I started the blog back in 2012, we were committed to offering feminist thoughts on fitness and to trying to incorporate our feminism into our fitness lifestyles as we approached our 50th birthdays. Now, as we approach our 56th birthdays in the next couple of months, we continue to reflect on the ways the fitness industry could be friendlier, more inclusive, and more approachable. We are both super pleased that we have managed to carve out and support a community of others who are seeking an alternative to the usual messaging.
I’ve been doing the virtual Superhero workouts with Alex (for more info, check out ABH Movement) a few times a week, and on Friday evening she had a team happy hour on Zoom. She sent around four questions for us to ponder before we met, with the plan to discuss them. We didn’t make it to all of them (because by the time we did a full round where we each talked about when we first started doing fitness classes, happy hour had already spilled into 90 fascinating minutes). But Kim and I thought the final question would make a great group blog post: What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today?
So I did the thing we do: I asked the Superhero team and the blog regulars for their answer to this question. And here’s what people had to say.
Nicole: I would take away the nutrition advice that some gyms provide. I don’t think there is a good way to do it in that environment. Also, it should be illegal for the instructor to say “did you indulge a little last night? Hungover? It’s OK, that’s why you are here!” No, I’m not here for that at all. Ever.
Tracy I (me): If I could wave a magic wand I would banish “weight loss” as a fitness goal from the entire industry. I would replace it with learning to believe in yourself and to love (or at least neutrally accept and value) and trust your body and appreciate it for what it can do, whatever that may be. Also: to encourage other women along the way to do the same. No comparing (I wrote about comparing back in the day)! ❤️
Cate: So many things– I’m 100% with both Tracy and Nicole on this — but I’d add I’d strip out any admonishment or encouragement to focus on anything except form. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing coaches — like Alex — plus yoga teachers and spin instructors who really understand how to support people to work for the next dimension while also emphasizing form, safety, alignment and the specific strength, needs and possibilities of your own body. But occasionally I wander into a class — like at the Y, or with a spin substitute — whose whole coaching is “harder!”. I went to a “boot camp” class at the Y a few years ago where the (20 something) instructor mocked me for doing my lunges slowly and carefully. This is obviously damaging for individual bodies and psyches, but also, I think, one of the biggest things that turns newbies away from fitness.
Sam: Oh there’s so much I would change if I ran the zoo. (Sorry, I can never resist that line from Dr. Suess.) But the most important thing for me would be a much greater emphasis on inclusion and diversity. I want room in my fitness world for people of all races, and genders and ages and physical abilities. Along with inclusion and diversity, I want to end the assumptions about who does what. I want more women in the weight room and more men in the yoga studio.
Coach Alex: As a coach, I desperately want everyone to know that if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t need to do it to “get in shape”. There’s this notion that certain movements/ways of exercising are most effective or necessary for the progress you want to make, and that’s simply untrue.
So many people struggle with developing a consistent and healthy relationship with fitness because it’s either a chore they feel they “have” to do OR they are fearful of starting in the first place (fitness is scary and intimidating). The reality is the fitness industry promotes fad diets, exercise trends, and equipment that ultimately will keep you hopping on and off the bandwagon- but if you find movement you LOVE (whether it’s weightlifting, Zumba, a sport, cycling, etc…) then THAT’S what’s going to keep you coming back. If you do burpees because you think you have to (but you hate them), you’re going to dislike that workout and dread coming back. I wish more people knew that just the act of MOVING is enough to keep you healthy and make fitness gains, and once you find a form of movement that sparks joy for you, that’s where the fun really starts 😜❤️
Chippy (Virtual Superhero teammate): What id like to change is that women are allowed to have muscles and that doesn’t make you unattractive. Those muscles take a tremendous amount of work and are beautiful. Strong is beautiful and there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with that for women 😊
And we’d love to hear from you. If you could change one thing about today’s fitness industry, what would it be?
January: that would be the season of fitness challenges.
Here at FIFI, a good part of last month was spent thinking about them, from Yoga With Adrienne’s 30 days, to Nia Shanks’ 100 days, to the 220 in 2020 groups (check out Cate’s massively inspirational post about its power to redefine what counts as “fitness” here), to what is wrong with office “wellness” competitions (OMG EVERYTHING; click here).
I’ve been an absent voice on all of the above, because I don’t generally enjoy any kind of fitness challenge. This strikes me as very odd, since I’m actually a hugely competitive / super count-y person (aka, like Cate, #completist). I can’t explain it, except to say maybe at some point not too long ago I sort of stopped giving a ….
Flash back to my last post, which was about kinds of wellness planning that Even Slightly Younger Kim would have pooh-poohed. Mental health. Joint health. Less cardio, more mental/joint health. I’m sorry what?
Since the beginning of January, I’ve been to my new therapist every second week, and I’ve also committed to a full session (that’s about 12 weeks) at my Iyengar yoga studio of choice, Yoga Centre London. And I’ve learned two really amazing new things*. (*New to me.)
I’m still doing all my fitness usuals, including time on my bike trainer (I have literally inhaled Call The Midwife, polished off Cheer, and am so excited about the new season of Sex Education [see above meme]), plus swimming and stair climbing, hiking and dog walking. But thanks to the therapy and the yoga, I’ve also realized that some things that seriously do not look like exercise are things I actually need to count as exercise. (Again, shout-out to the 220 in 2020 folks for figuring this out long before I did.)
Two weeks ago Monday I was up at the therapist around mid-day. I was cranky because I’d somehow let her book me into a slot that is usually swim time; I was going to have to sacrifice my swim and slot in something else as a result. I spent a good portion of the morning thinking about what else I could do in its place.
Then the session happened.
I’ve been going regularly to psychotherapy for many years, but this new practice is putting puzzle pieces together in ways I don’t always expect, yet clearly need to see and explore. As a result, I sometimes find myself crying my heart out for the better part of a session; this was one of those sessions.
As I left A’s office, I felt the clear, cold air on my face and realized it would be a perfect day for a ride up to the escarpment lookout that makes me feel most at peace. I made a mental note to pick that over the other options swirling in my brain and drove home.
An apple and a dog walk later, it was clear to me I was not riding anywhere; I was ready to fall asleep on the dog in the foyer while she stood in confusion on the “pause for paws!” towel. I chose to rest instead and reasoned I could fit in a late swim at my regular pool.
Of course, that did not happen.
Instead, I did 30 minutes of simple and relaxing yoga poses in my kitchen while the supper was cooking.
In my cranky head this did not feel like “enough”. But my body knew it was sufficient, because my body had obviously done a huge amount of work in that therapy session, criss-crossing space and time to piece together experiences from my childhood that have shaped the hurt and damaged human I try to ride away from every time I get on my bike. Fitness revelation #1: crying through the feeling is physical as well as emotional labour, and needs to be honoured with rest like any other kind.
Meanwhile, back at supper-time yoga, I was trying to work on my very sporadic home practice, doing the kinds of things I rarely do at home: Warrior 2, Sirsasana (head balance). Less than 15 seconds on my head and it was clear I was in no fit form to be doing that thing; see fitness revelation #1 above.
Again, contrary to my completist tendencies, I gave in easily, knowing it would be unsafe for me to continue pressing when I was not rested or prepared enough to manage safely head-standing. Instead, I began to think about the thing I don’t often think about when I’m doing yoga: the focus on gratitude that shapes the ethos behind the best yogic practices.
Of course everyone wants to be able to do side crow, headstand, handstand, and forearm balances effortlessly; in this way, our collective social attitudes to yoga are hardly different from our attitudes to any other group fitness practice (#competition).
But yoga’s not about that. It’s actually about giving thanks: for our bodies, their changing dimensions, and the labour they do to keep us upright, healthy, strong, and flexible regardless of that process of change. I’m reminded of these things every time we say the Invocation to Patanjali at the start of a class at my Iyengar studio.
Except that I’m also not reminded of those things when we say the invocation, because every time we say the invocation I am LITERALLY OBSESSED with the parts I know and the parts I still don’t know. I sit there, cross-legged on my block, singing out some lines very proudly while waiting anxiously for the lines where I’m more or less humming “um um um thingy thingy thingy” and hoping nobody hears me.
Which means the invocation is the most self-obsessed part of my yoga practice.
I realized this lying on my kitchen floor, my legs up the pantry doors in Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, aka the best yoga pose in the history of the world). I decided then and there to learn the damn invocation already.
That weekend, I downloaded a bunch of YouTube videos of yogis teaching the invocation, and I got into the bath. I sat in the warm, epsom-salty water until I had learned all the bits I had been fudging.
OK, so, again, here’s a thing that most people would definitely not call fitness: sitting in a warm tub memorizing lines. I think that’s technically called homework. But for me, it was so, so releasing. I can now say the invocation easily and instead of fussing and fretting I can think about its purpose, hear the sounds and feel their vibrations. I can move past the embarrassment and performance anxiety and find the stillness in the song. Fitness revelation #2: sitting in a bathtub learning a valuable thing also absolutely counts as exercise, because it is a kindness to our mind-bodies.
I am hopeful that saying the invocation loudly and with depth of feeling will now help me strengthen my headstand, but I’m also super OK if it just makes legs up the wall feel even dandier.
Catherine blogged about her most uncomfortable yoga poses and what she does instead. I’ve also become “that free spirit yoga lady” who just appears to be doing her own thing in yoga class. It’s winter and I’m back at hot yoga in a studio and despite all the talk of ‘only you know your body’ and ‘this is your practice’ I feel some pressure to go along with the sequence of poses.
I thought I’d share my recent yoga frustrations with you. Or when I’m in a mood, let’s just call it “my most hated yoga pose.” It’s Hero or Virasana. Here it’s described as balm for tired legs at the end of a long day but for me it’s just excruciating pain. Also, several physios and a knee surgeon or two have just out and out told me not to do it. So I don’t.
Searching for “hero pose” on Unsplash–a royalty free photo site–the best I got was this image. Not exactly what I had in mind!
Here’s Yoga with Adriene explaining how to set it up:
Knees are precious she tells us. Learn how to set up hero pose mindfully.
But the video also has the following text description:
” Yoga workshop! Learn the foundations of Hero Pose – or Virasana with Yoga With Adriene! Learn this delicate but powerful seated pose with at-home supports. No fancy yoga props needed. Learn to self adjust and use props intuitively and mindfully. Hero is a great stretch for the legs and feet. It can ground and calm the body with regular practice and help with digestion and bloating. Learn to explore a posture in a way that feels good. Avoid this posture if you have injury in the knee or ankle. “
The bold bit is mine.
And that’s the thing. No amount of modification will help. There is no right number of blocks, no proper arrangement of towels that will fix things.
Other poses are challenging–pigeon, child’s pose, bow–but I can find modifications that work. Not in this case and that’s okay. There is no way to make all the yoga poses work for every body despite what some yoga teachers seem to think.
Instead, you can find me off doing my own thing. And I’ll join you again for the next posture.
Is there a yoga pose that your body simply can’t do? No matter how many modifications? Make feel less alone here. Tell me your story. 🙂
As most of you know while this blog is very much a group project, I pretty much run our Facebook page solo. (I do get some help with moderation. Thanks blogging team!) But in general I read things that I think will interest our followers and I throw them on the page pretty quickly. I make mistakes. I learn things from our readers. I apologize.
Why have the page? It’s a great way to reach a broad audience and build community. Posts that aren’t shared there aren’t nearly as well read as posts that are. Also, there are a ton of stories that come across my newsfeed that I don’t necessarily want to write about but that I think will interest our readers and followers.
But of course there’s reason to be wary of “all bodies” language. Our bodies vary a lot in shape and size and ability. One reader commented, helpfully, that we need better language around inclusion. She has ankle injuries and instability and can no longer hike and misses it.
Hey, me too! I can’t walk very far these days without my knee brace and even with the brace hiking on uneven ground is out of the picture. Now I didn’t say “all bodies are hiking bodies” I deliberately said “all bodies are outdoors bodies” because I was thinking of recent attempts here in Ontario to make provincial parks and beaches wheel chair accessible.
But I get the general point. I feel it when people say “it’s never too late.” Yes, as a matter of fact sometimes it is too late. I’ll never run or play soccer again.
So we want to make sure plus sized bodies are included so we say “all bodies” but not all bodies can do all things. What’s your thoughts about better language for inclusion? Do you mind all bodies talk? How about “all bodies are good bodies?”
Many years ago I had the good fortune to work with a board full of fabulous women representing a wide diversity of interests, experiences and backgrounds. One of the women had competed in the Montreal Olympics. She described for us one day what it was like to be subjected to a sex test. Her emotions were palpable, especially the anger.
In fact, we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements. This kind of scrutiny has now been enshrined with this week’s decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in which they ruled against middle distance runner Caster Semenya’s appeal of the IAAF’s move to enforce new regulations regarding athletes differences of sexual development (DDS). In particular, the IAAF says female athletes who have higher than usual levels of testosterone must take drugs to reduce those levels to even the playing field.
Semenya’s career in track has been dogged by constant allegations that her achievements in the sport are unfairly won. Curiously, US swimmer Michael Phelps, whose body produces less lactic acid, is deemed to be exceptionally fortunate to be born with this genetic advantage.
And yet, no one is suggesting Phelps should take drugs to enable his body to produce more lactic acid so his competitors have a more equal opportunity.
We cannot forget that along with the sexism this decision against Semenya perpetuates, it is also supporting a racist assumption on how black bodies perform compared to white ones. Acclaimed tennis champion Serena Williams has been constantly challenged on her accomplishments and her body size, shape and presentation. This CNN article gives a great overview about the biases against Williams, including the assumption that her excellence erases her female identity.
The belief that Williams and Semenya are so good at what they do, they cannot possibly be women is one that has long been used to attack women who excel in sport. But it seems particularly pervasive in its use against black women. Semenya’s body naturally produces more testosterone than is usually found in women. Yet the research is unclear how natural testosterone affects performance compared to artificial hormones used to enhance performance:
“What’s clear is that there is solid evidence that men who take excessive doses of testosterone … do get a competitive advantage clearly in sports related to strength,” said Bradley Anawalt, a hormone specialist and University of Washington Medical Center’s chief of medicine.The problem, said Anawalt, is that attempts to try to quantify that competitive advantage in naturally occurring levels of the hormone are “fraught with difficulty in interpretation.”
The CAS decision was meant to clarify and instead muddied the waters even further. They upheld the IAAF decision but said they should take more time to implement. They agreed with the concept of the rule DDS athletes should reduce their testosterone, but were concerned about the effects on athlete’s bodies. They said it was fine for the IAAF to apply this rule to athletes racing under 1000 metres but athletes running longer distances were fine.
The Semenya case has implications that are far-reaching. We know women have been over-medicated, often to their detriment. We know that chemical castration has been used to manage pedophiles. But Semenya is neither depressed nor a criminal. She is an athlete performing her best with the tools she was born with.
That the IAAF and its head Sebastian Coe have created an environment in which Semenya can be neither her best or herself is untenable. I am glad Canada’s Minister for Sport has called out this decision. We need to have conversations about sexism, racism, and transphobia in sport; more importantly we need action. Follow #HandsOffCaster or #LetHerRun, among others, on Twitter; sign this petition; become informed; and make your views known and heard.
Much like the banning of the beach burka (see my post about that here), this move smacks of islamophobia and racism. The highest court in France ruled the burkini ban to be out of order on the grounds that such bans violate fundamental liberties. See our post about that here.
Yes, there is the human rights issue. But there is also the issue of inclusive sport. The manner in which clothing discourages or prevents women from participating in fitness activities and sport operates on a continuum. Sometimes it’s for religious reasons, such as the head covering. Other times it’s for reasons of modesty, or even body shame. A great deal of our sport apparel is clingy and requires body confidence.
Making more sport apparel that affords opportunities for participation in sport for more people is a good thing. The argument that the hijab is necessarily an oppressive religious requirement is old news, based on Western intolerance and even ignorance. Many a Muslim feminist wears a hijab and manages to exude fierce strength. The creation of a head covering that is lightweight enough to be comfortable for running is a positive step for inclusive sport. That a sport store, which one would expect to be proactive in making sport accessible to more people, would cave to the will of xenophobic politicians is sad indeed.
When I was in India I attended a conference on Feminist and Gender Studies in a Global Perspective. I presented a paper entitled, “Can You See Her Now: Photography and Empowerment.” The central argument in the paper, inspired in large part by the inclusive fitness theme that permeates this blog, is that photography can play a positive role in challenging stereotypes, changing expectations, and empowering women. It can do so not just by representing diverse women in empowering ways, but also by putting cameras in the hands of women, including women who occupy marginalized social locations. For example, the organization, Lensational, provides camera equipment and training to women and girls in marginalized communities in the global south. The aim is to allow them “to share their unheard stories, gain confidence, and develop a base of strength.”
Another organization, The Sisters Project, created by Alia Youssef, “combats negative stereotypes of Muslim women by showcasing the diverse stories of inspirational women across Canada, while also creating a space of inclusion and belonging for all self-identifying Muslim women to embrace and celebrate their unique identities.”
Muslim women engaging in activities like running and beach volleyball, riding motorbikes, doing all manner of things that the stereotype of the “veiled woman” doesn’t include, helps to change the expectations of what they are all about. The promotion of unique identities allows these women to be individuals, too.
It’s sad that rather than allowing difference in sport, some people would deny women opportunities to participate based on religious objections.
Along with the burkini and the beach volleyball uniform, the sport hijab strikes me as a win for inclusive sport. For that reason, it should be available, not contested and banned. As the highest court in France said of the burkini bans, making an issue of this is tantamount to violating Muslim women’s fundamental freedoms.
What do you think of the sport hijab and other sport wear that departs from the usual uniforms for women in sport?
My knee survived a week in Europe with many days of mega steps. I paid a lot of attention to how it felt, wore the knee brace sometimes but not at others, took anti inflammatory medication regularly, and stretched lots. Sarah helped lots too.
Now that I’m back home physiotherapy continues, massage therapy continues, personal training continues, and I’m back to my bike on the trainer, bike commutes, and dog walks. All of that counts, except the massages, on my quest to workout 219 times in 2019.
I’m so happy to see all the hard work paying off.
Next up: NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour in May.
After that, lots and lots of training before our 10 day bike tour of Newfoundland in June.
Weight loss is hard. (We all know this.) You might think that if you had a serious medical reason to lose weight, then you’d do it. But your body doesn’t know your motives. It doesn’t care what your intentions are. It’s super hard.
Health Canada released its long awaited update to its food guide this week and the response has been swift. Overall I quite like it, and I wrote about it here in my bi-weekly column. The old food guide was prescriptive (eat something from these four food groups and here’s how much). The new food guide is much more aspirational and as I wrote, it reflects diversity in food choice and food culture.
I thought I would pull together a bunch of responses to the guide in this post. The Globe and Mail has several pieces I liked, with the first from one from Andre Picard, the Globe’s health reporter, in which he looks at food insecurity and the food guide’s recommendations. Leslie Beck, the Globe’s dietitian commentator, offers up her thanks for Health Canada’s building a guide on science while Ann Hui also of the Globe and Mail, provides a good overview of the key changes here.
Cassandra Lszklarski from the Canadian Press focuses on the guide’s position on alcohol. Health Canada has stepped away from recommending milk as the preferred beverage and tells us to drink more water. At the same time, it is also came out strongly against alcohol consumption (non drinkers shouldn’t start for example). Previous guides highlighted the sugar and calories in alcohol, but this version talks about the links between alcohol and obesity, cancer, and addiction.
Yoni Freedhoff looks at the implications for institutional change. On Weighty Matters, Freedhoff’s blog, he wrote how the new food guide is a radical departure from previous more modest iterations:
“Whether it was consequent to past criticisms, or the insulation of the revision process from the food industry, or a change in leadership, or some combination of those and more factors, the 2019 Food Guide is incredibly different from all of its predecessors. Gone is dairy as its own food group (that doesn’t mean the guide is recommending against dairy consumption), gone is wishy-washy language that excused refined grains, gone are explicit recommendations to consume 2 glasses of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oils daily, gone is overarching fat-phobia, gone is juice being a fruit and vegetable equivalent, gone is the notion that sugar-sweetened milk is a health food, and gone is an antiquated nutrient-focused approach.”
Freedhoff also talks about what to do next, now that the food guide is out without its dependence on food-based marketing recommendations. In this post, he looks at what needs to change for good healthy food policy to happen. Freedhoff describes them as hills but they include removal of fast food from schools, a national school food policy, a ban on food marketing to children, implementation of a soda tax, removal of front of package claims, and an overhaul of supplement regulation.
The food insecurity issue is one that I will be looking at in the future, but in the meantime, I am excited by the new food guide and what it means for reflecting diversity and health on my plate.
What do you think? How important has the food guide been in managing your nutritional needs? What do you like or dislike about Health Canada’s guide?
— Martha Muzychka is a writer living in St. John’s who swims, lifts and walks as much as she can.