I don’t have any fitness goals for 2017 (Guest post)

Other than to listen. And to understand.

We are at war with so many things. And our voices are hoarse from yelling about things that we can’t believe we still need to yell about. And yet we are still at war with our bodies.

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I am becoming acutely aware of where I sit in this space. My race, the gender I identify with, the way my body is put together puts me in a particular position. I acknowledge my journey the past year and a half has been one of more fun movement, less punishment, loving food and full-belly breaths (no sucking in!) – but I also recognize how lucky I am that my journey looked that way, that I was able to explore those avenues.

But now it’s time to listen. I can’t tell you to celebrate your body (as much as I want to because you’re awesome). As a beautiful friend of mine said, it’d be like me saying you don’t need face creams when I’ve never had a zit (as an example – I’ve had plenty of zits in my day). I do hope that while we are looking at this world around us that seems like it’s growing increasingly unfamiliar, we also take time to examine where our goals around our bodies are coming from (there are correlations between a lot right now).

Many of us are stuck in this endless loop of self-improvement and striving, without knowing the roots of where that striving might actually be coming from (race, privilege, patriarchy, colonialism, etc.). And what I have taken away from it right now is that I need to be, open, on my own path and there for others.

So I will listen. And be there. And I hope you will be too. Because while we share many similarities as humans, our differences are still making a big difference in the way we are each able to experience life and our bodies.

 

JESSICA IRELAND-4 - Copy.jpg Jessica Ireland thanks all of her friends who increase her awareness on her privilege and how she can help others, while still validating and giving space for her own life experiences. She chooses to be kind to her body by being fortunate enough to move it often (often there is smiling involved), not eating animals, getting rest and choosing not to qualify food. She hopes others find ways to be kind to themselves and others that work for them. We may have a long road ahead of us – please listen and take care of each other 🙂 

Another win for inclusive fitness: Outdoor fitness parks for adults

senior-playground-ukThis morning I heard a man from Cobourg, Ontario on the radio talking about an initiative to bring an adult fitness park into that community. Since we are big here on the topic of inclusive fitness, the interview really stood out for me. I’ve also been talking to my class this week about the way “old age” is pathologized and medicalized (that’s been interesting, too), about ageism, and about the oppressive social structures that prize and normalize youth and the capacities we associate with it (being in “our prime”).  And my own parents, spry and active still, are very close to 80. They are remarkable role models for how I wish to age — I mean, they’re about to go to South Africa for four months and have planned a two-week tour of Namibia in February. Still and all, they have a realistic sense of their changing abilities and I am certain they would take advantage of a park such as this if one sprung up in their local community of Haliburton, Ontario.

The idea of initiatives that embrace evolving notions of fitness and create accessible environments for people entering later life stages appeals to me.  The Cobourg group trying to garner support for this idea made a presentation to the town’s council the other night, making the case that the town’s Recreation Strategy and Implementation Plan should include an Outdoor Adult Fitness Park. You can read the report here.

As part of their presentation, they said:

Providing free access to fitness equipment in public areas would be a logical addition to Cobourg’s already gorgeous beachfront, and would not only benefit the town’s citizen’s by improving the health of our community, but could also help with tourism and attracting retirees to our community.

Providing such fitness installations in Cobourg would also be a signal to this community (that) seniors matter and are an important part of the fabric of our town.

I love their reasoning: accessibility, maximizing the use of beautiful spaces in inclusive ways, promoting health and tourism, and sending a signal that Cobourg values seniors and considers them “an important part of the fabric of our town.”

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These kinds of fitness parks are not entirely new. The idea caught on in the 2000s and you can find them in China, England, Finland, Japan, and Spain, even in Whitby and in Oshawa, both just down the road from Cobourg. They’re an enormous hit in Barcelona, where there are 300 of them.

The Cobourg group has a Facebook page to try to drum up support for their project: https://www.facebook.com/cobourgfitnesspark/?fref=ts They’re inviting people to “like” their page to show support.

I would like to see more of these types of facilities installed in cities and towns across Canada. And as we promote them, it would be great to think of where they go — not just into affluent communities, but into diverse communities. They look like fun and they cater to a segment of the population whose needs are too frequently not considered a high priority unless medicalized. Making exercise fun and accessible is an important social goal that can improve quality of life in a more inclusive way.

 

Vacuuming as exercise, and other myths about women’s mobility

For some time now women have been told that housework chores can count as exercise, but for reasons unknown I’ve only just cottoned on to this self-help trend. Vacuuming, gardening, washing the floor, hauling the laundry up and down stairs… is it exercise? Some say yes (click here for a representative, if slightly condescending, example); some say no (this example comes from Women’s Health, and is actually even more condescending than the Weight Watchers example.)

I have two replies to the question, personally.

Is housework exercise? HELL YA. Have you ever hauled three loads of laundry up the stairs in between pulling out dead perennials and cleaning up after the dog? It’s a lot of fecking hard work, and I sweat through it weekly.

Is housework exercise? HELL NO. Because it’s WORK, people! It’s unpaid labour for many women, and poorly paid labour for many others. Don’t condescend to us by equating it with self-care. That way madness lies – and nothing but patriarchal double standards.

 

So what to do with this information then? How to learn from the “housework as exercise” trend, and the arguments underpinning it?

In my job as a humanities scholar, I spend a lot of time with students parsing popular culture and the discourses that drive it. This isn’t just something we do to pass the time in class and prepare for essays that will eventually go in the bin, forgotten; parsing public language is an essential life skill, a citizenship skill. It teaches us to be skeptical of the messages we get everyday from the world around us.

(Think about it: if everyone had some basic message-parsing skills, would Donald Trump be the Republican candidate for president? Or would we be witnessing a proper, grown-up campaign for the most important political office in the world?)

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Is the campaign trail exercise, Hilary? Um, DUH. It’s also HARD WORK.

In the two short articles I link to above, my trained parsing brain reads the following embedded assumptions:

  • women should always be focused on weight loss; this is typically dressed up as “exercise” in the press to make it more modern and palatable;
  • “exercise” is something women need to make time for; if they don’t have time because of housework chores, they shouldn’t worry about it, but rather repurpose their housework as “exercise”, or even as “me time” (doing squats while waiting for the microwave! As if!);
  • housework is not work, because it’s “exercise” (aka “me time”);
  • women snack too much when they work hard! Stop snacking, ladies! Next time you grocery shop – because of course YOU grocery shop for your family, right? – be sure not to buy so many salty, fatty snacks that you enjoy!
  • women have no impulse control (see directly above), and therefore need to be reminded both to exercise and not to snack;
  • housework is a fact of life. Get over it, ladies.

What’s common among all these assumptions? Basic gender divisions: it’s not men doing the housework in the images in these articles; it’s fit, able-bodied, white, pretty ladies. There’s no notion here that you might, um, ask your partner to help with chores, or simply let the dirt accumulate a bit so you can do something else you enjoy, move your body in some other way. Instead, there’s a blanket assumption that you have to do the chores (it’s natural! It’s the way life is for us gals!), and you obviously have to exercise (keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved!), so what else to do? (Just don’t eat any crisps while you’re at it, because then you’ll get fat and your husband won’t want you anymore…)

What’s the alternative to this coercive set of barely-spoken assumptions? I want to propose a totally different way of talking about the issue of how housework impacts women’s lives, and what that has to do not with exercise, but with mobility.

I’d like to suggest instead that, as women, whether single or partnered, disabled or non-disabled, in traditional relationships or in non-traditional ones, we all spend some time this week not squatting in front of the microwave, but rather thinking critically about how we move each day, how and why our movements are circumscribed, and how we might find ways – with the help of partners, family, friends, employers, or others – of becoming more mobile, on our own terms.

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Here, I want to stress that it is not our job alone to become more mobile, or to overcome socially-driven mobility constraints; we live in a world in which institutional constraints actively work to limit women’s mobility, especially non-white, disabled women’s mobility; those institutions must change in order for mobility to become more broadly equitable for everyone. Mobility is a societal responsibility, not an individual one.

But part of that work needs to be activist on our part, needs to be about us making noise; it needs to start with all of us recognising and deconstructing where and how we are, and are not, freely mobile, and to complain, loudly, when our mobility is unfairly limited – whether because of wheelchair access barriers, or because of media messages that tell us to keep doing that laundry, it’s good for us!

I challenged myself to keep tabs, for a week, on my own daily mobility, to see where I’m free to move in ways that I wish, and where I’m not so free. Here are my findings from last week, generalised a bit to a normal term-time week:

  • I usually wake up between 8am and 9am; I’m lucky to have a job that works with my circadian rhythms, so I recognise here I’m very privileged to get up without an alarm clock at least 4 times per week. That means I’m better rested and more energised.
  • next, I walk the dog; she insists, but it’s not like she’s the boss. I could say no! But I enjoy my three walks a day with her, again because I’m privileged to have a flexible schedule.
  • on teaching days I cycle to my campus office around 11am; I live in a walkable, ridable city (more privilege). I teach between two and four hours a day twice a week; I’m on my feet for half of these, sitting down for the other half. No choice there. Often I’ll wear high heels for teaching, though this is largely my choice; nevertheless, I feel compelled to present as broadly feminine in the public sphere, so it’s not all my choice. The heels can produce standing discomfort and occasional hip pain.
  • a good portion of the rest of my weekly labour (teaching prep; administration; research – profs work a lot, and teaching is just part of it…) is at a computer, sitting; I’m lucky to have good chairs and the freedom to get up and move around a lot during this work (see dog walking, above).
  • late afternoons / evenings I usually cycle or row for up to two hours at a time. This represents remarkable freedom of movement, as I have no partner or children demanding access to my time or body at home.
  • evenings I often work at my computer at home, catching up on things dropped in the day. I can stand up and move around during this work but often I don’t. Because I have no partner or children pressing on my time or mobility, I often forget to get up and stretch. This is a mixed blessing.
  • weekends include housework, cleaning, gardening, marketing. These are my choice, but I feel social pressure to keep a neat house and garden, so they are not all my choice. Even more because I have no nuclear family (IE: I’m not “heteronormative” in my living conditions), I want to appear “normal” to my neighbours, and so maintain the outward appearance of a middle-class professional woman in all of my “front stage areas” (this term comes from the ethnographer Erving Goffman).
  • on Sundays I often see my parents, who are elderly, and support my mom, who is in a wheelchair. Because her mobility is so limited I become a surrogate body for her while I’m helping out. This is the closest I come in my daily life to understanding what so many women who are caregivers for children, parents, or partners go through all the time. Taking orders from mom, and moving her around the world using my body, are a lot of work; I compromise my control over my own mobility in order to give her a bit more freedom. I am so lucky to be fit and strong, because the physical demands on me in this labour are tremendous.

It’s obvious from the above that I’m very, very lucky with my mobility in general: it is largely my own to determine. Kids don’t demand I be here or there at this or that time, or that I give over my bodily movement to their needs; ditto with a partner. I have a flexible job and can do what I want when. But socially, I’m still constrained as a middle-aged woman who lives under the glare of heteronormativity. Weekend chores mean less time overall for relaxing – which impacts my health a bit. And, as a result of not having a partner (partly due to the fact, I’m afraid, that I’m in my 40s and have an advanced degree and a professional, intellectual job… intimidating for a lot of guys), I also don’t get regular sex; that’s a key way in which I do not move that I wish I could move more often.

How about you? In what ways is your mobility constrained, and in what ways are you free to chart your daily and weekly course? Try the tracking exercise and share your findings; I’m keen to hear about others’ experiences.

Finally, let me stress once more: this is not about changing ourselves; it’s about charting how institutional and other pressures in our lives keep us from moving freely – and how that impacts, among other things, our ability to exercise and to rest our bodies how we want, when we want.

Kim

Liberation, two nipples at a time (Guest post)

When all the fashion magazines featured women with hands (their own or others’) covering their breasts, a thought flickered that hands are much more comfortable than the average bra. Hiding women’s breasts, one way or the other, is standard media fare, and of course in some places women aren’t allowed to go topless in public, a clear gender disparity.

Fashion in the last few decades has even come to erase to nipple that might protrude from a shirt — again only for women like Serena Williams, not for men like Andy Murray.

It’s become really hard to find a non-padded bra, even for sports. Yet it’s seriously unpleasant to exercise with sweaty padding. Does anyone really believe in “breathable padding”? Sorry Victoria’s Secret, but my skepticism was well placed.

However, in recent years fashion has shown glimpses of the saucy braless 70s, including the bralette and bandeaus, all pleasant options for small-breasted women. The news even declares that bralessness is in fashion.

Many of us may sneer “how nice for you!” Bralessness and even lightweight bra alternatives are not realistic choices. Many heavy breasted women are simply not comfortable and even experience back pain without support from a bra. Sizes small, medium, and large rarely do the work we need them to do either. Sports bras tend to be sized that way and create a special kind of hell. We end up pinched and unsupported on top of being sweaty.

So I suggest the new move away from bras and padded bras may be good for all women. It marks a greater diversity in the types of breast support and sports tops available for women. The less women are expected to hide our breasts the easier it will be for us to demand comfortable functional support.

Who are you calling superhuman?

Feminist friends, hello! This is my first regular post for the blog, although I’ve been guesting for Sam and Tracy for a while now. I’m honoured to have been asked to join the community, and will be contributing on the last Friday of every month.

(I also write weekly at The Activist Classroom, my own teaching blog. If you are a teacher, if you’re a performer, or if you’re just interested in issues in higher education, please check it out!)

For today’s inaugural post I’ve been inspired by the debate ongoing on the blog this week about disabled and non-disabled experiences in relation to fitness and wellness. Tracy shared some thoughts on this on Tuesday, and invited responses to the question of whether or not this blog, fitness-forward, is inherently biased toward non-disabled bodies. A range of compelling commentary has emerged.

I am a non-disabled amateur athlete (cycling and rowing) and professional theatre scholar at Western University; for me, the overlap between work and sport happens when I think critically and politically about how bodies perform, are received, and are expected to behave in social space. (Sport is, after all, a form of spectacle, a kind of performance!) So when performance work related to sport crosses my desktop or TV screen, I get especially excited, and I want to share my thoughts about it.

This week, serendipitously, exactly such a performance appeared in my Facebook feed: it’s Channel 4’s trailer for Team GB (Great Britain) ahead of the Rio Paralympics, titled “We’re The Superhumans.” Here it is:

 

I was living in London during the 2012 Olympics when the first “Superhumans” campaign emerged; for that year’s Paralympics, the slogan was “Meet the Superhumans”. (Channel 4 was the official broadcaster of the 2012 games and the agency 4creative was the marketing brain behind the campaign.) This earlier campaign was designed to address, head on, the ablest stereotype that disabled bodies are “freaks of nature”; here is a description of the project’s ethic, which comes from a case study of the campaign prepared by the advertising association D&AD (the campaign won an award from D&AD):

In August 2010, two years before London 2012, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called ‘Inside Incredible Athletes’ – its first Paralympic-themed programming. This was supported by a marketing campaigned called ‘Freaks of Nature’ designed to challenge perceptions of disability in sport and encourage viewers to question their own prejudices.

“The intention was to change people’s attitudes and to do that we needed to take them on a journey,” Walker says. “‘Freaks of Nature’ was intended to challenge by turning the meaning of the phrase on its head. The idea was that if great athletes are considered exceptional and different, why not apply the same standard to Paralympians?”

The concept and the attitude it encapsulated provided an important part of the foundation for the campaign that would become ‘Meet the Superhumans.’

I remember feeling incredibly ambivalent about “Meet the Superhumans”, billboards for which were plastered all over London during the summer of 2012. (Although, notably, they didn’t start appearing in full force until the “main” Olympics had closed.) On the one hand: what a great idea, to reclaim the idea of the “freak” and rebrand it with the kinds of superlatives we reserve for only the most powerful among us. On the other: to call someone “superhuman” is necessarily to imply that, on some level, they are not entirely human. It’s a double-edged sword – especially for those who have historically battled the gross prejudice that they are indeed not quite human.

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A still from the original “Meet the Superhumans” campaign, 2012.

Obviously, the first campaign had its heart in the right place, and I salute it for that reason. But I am also glad Channel 4 didn’t stand still when it returned to the “superhuman” handle for 2016, and instead chose to rethink some of the first campaign’s assumptions.

What do I like about the new campaign? A couple of things.

First, I love that it’s jazzy, warm, enormously fun. (Damn, it makes me want to dance!) Singer Tony Dee belts out the Sammy Davis Jr. song “Yes I Can” with tongue in cheek and twinkle in eye as 140 disabled people, athletes and not, pass across the screen, dancing their way through life, sport, art, and more. In case you thought you might want to pity these folks, well, don’t. Don’t gasp in awe, either! They know that’s your impulse, and they have no time for it. They are too busy swinging and grooving – and getting on with doing stuff.

Second, I appreciate that the emphasis in the new trailer is not only on exceptional sports figures, but on humans of all kinds doing ordinary human things, from brushing teeth to flying a plane to bouncing a baby. The affection the camera produces for these quotidian acts isn’t sentimental, either: the pace and the cheek (lots of winking!) of the music balances a certain amount of awe with plenty of “whatever”. (As a non-disabled person, I’m astonished to see a disabled person fly a plane – just because I never have before. Now I know!) In fact, the music yanks us quickly from “awe” to “whatever” and back again deliberately, as it punctuates the shifts with pauses and percussion, drawing attention to them. That call-and-response style has the effect of reminding us to stop being so awed already, and instead to regard all the stuff we see in the trailer as, well… pretty normal for the people on the screen â€“ who are all pretty rocking human, after all.

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Tony Dee grooves it out. Channel 4 spotted him on Youtube!

What doesn’t work so well for me? I would really like to see a couple of vignettes in the trailer that include both disabled and non-disabled bodies working together. The trailer rightly makes disabled bodies its focus, but it doesn’t take the opportunity to show collaboration across bodily difference, which is a shame. (The only non-disabled body in the piece, as far as I can see, is the cranky headmaster who tells the young wheelchair athlete he “can’t” – only to be proven definitively wrong, of course.) If we are to think more globally about access to and opportunities in social space for all human bodies in the future, representing cross-ability collaboration is essential. It gives the firm impression that all human bodies count equally, and helps to demonstrate that equal access doesn’t mean “the same thing for all of us”, but rather “different stuff according to our needs that lets us all do the same things to the best of our abilities”.

There’s a “fait accompli” feel to the trailer that is, of course, part of its jazzy, groovy feel, but that also covers up access issues in troubling ways. It’s reasonable to argue that it’s not Channel 4’s job to show us the complexity of ability politics in a trailer that is designed to get a predominantly non-disabled population to regard bodies with other abilities more positively and fairly; one thing at a time. But it’s also reasonable to argue that it *is* their responsibility not to make disabled lives seem somehow “naturally” easy in a world biased toward non-disabled subjects and their bodily experiences. Because that just ain’t true.

So that’s my verdict on “We’re the Superhumans”: better than last time, inspiring and loads of fun, but not perfect – and more work remains to be done. (Luckily, the 2020 Paralympics are just around the corner!)

I offer this reading in full awareness that, as a non-disabled woman, I’m part of the demographic Channel 4 is targeting and trying to warm-and-fuzzy, and that my embodiment makes my position as a reader partial and imperfect in any case. Which is, of course, why I’d love to hear YOUR take on the trailer, too. Please share in the comments below!

Kim

A morning with Mara Yamauchi – Part Two – Ways to engage more women in sport (Guest post)

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I recently attended a Project 500 Networking Day for female sports coaches called: Women in Sport – The next steps.

(Project 500 is an initiative to address the imbalance of female to male coaches in England – you can read more below, or on their website).

A major highlight of the event was the opportunity to hear a presentation by guest speaker Mara Yamauchi about her experiences as a female athlete, and her more recent move into coaching – you can read about it here.

For the second half of her presentation, Mara answered questions, and facilitated a discussion on issues relating to local women’s participation in sport – and “what works” to minimise any such barriers and increase engagement.

Just for clarity, these were personal views and experiences shared by the attendees (all local female sports coaches and volunteers) and do not represent in any way the views of Project 500; or Coaching Hampshire and Active Surrey who organised the event.

Competition and self-esteem

One issue that came up was that of women marathon runners not having other women to train with, and becoming demoralised if they trained with men and couldn’t keep up. A potential solution to this is to use a “garland” running course, so that mixed ability runners can complete the number of loops they wish to in their own time, while still training alongside others for companionship.

We also talked about how some (although by no means all) women dislike competition, and can benefit more from process goals, as opposed to outcome goals. These might include consistency of training, posture, recovery periods and so on.

Technology – help or hindrance?

We also talked about technology, as a mixed blessing. Mara expressed concerns that she sees a lot of runners get over-fixated on their GPS watches and other devices, and believe that they are the key to better performance. Whereas in fact, in Mara’s view, nothing beats good old-fashioned hard training 🙂

Mara also made the point that monitoring your speed and distance are not the be-all and end-all in training. In fact, things like using different terrains, and a mix of speed and recovery can be very effective training methods.

Another crucial skill is learning to be aware of and judge your own effort, and know how it feels to be at different intensities. As one participant explained it, At 50% you can still get your words out. At 90% you can’t!

For all these reasons, Mara sometimes just advises her athletes to leave their watches and other gadgets at home. We agreed that it was ironic that running is such a simple sport in itself – but people have become so very hung-up on their kit and technology these days.

Technology and gender . . . ?

Technology looks set to increase in importance. It’s very visible in the new UK Government’s Sports Strategy: Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, as an area to take forward:

Wearable technology which encourages people to be more physically active through quantifying their activity or competition and websites that enable simpler access to facilities have already transformed how people engage in sport and physical activity.

The increasing use of technology is one of the strongest examples of how meeting the needs and the demands of consumers can drive up levels of activity. Apps like MapMyRun and Strava and wearable technology like Fitbit and Jawbone have made participants in sport far more aware of what activity they have done, and introduced competition with both other people and themselves, for those that derive motivation that way. The ability of these apps and devices to capture data and encourage increased levels of activity will define the world of sport and physical activity in the coming decade (page 25)

But quite a few of us challenged this unquestioning championing of technology, as we believe it doesn’t necessarily appeal to all women. One woman said that she knew a coach who taught by Skype – and was finding it to be very popular with men, but had no female take-up at all.

Although we acknowledged the definite benefits of technology – for example allowing you to avoid a flooded road and find another path, there was also some discussion about how men seem to enjoy using technology in sport more, whereas for the women we coach (and ourselves too) the social side seems to be more important.

Obviously it’s undesirable to generalise too much. Plenty of women enjoy fitness technology – see for example Sarah Millin’s recent post on the excitement of upgrading to the Microsoft Band. But the general experience and view of all the coaches present seemed to be that women tend to be less keen on using sports technology.

We also discussed the pressures that technology can place on women and girls to feel that they need to look good while training or competing, especially since nowadays with social media use, photos of anyone and everyone appear on social media. When in fact, your appearance is probably the last thing you want to be worrying about during sporting activity.

We agreed that as noted above, technology is a mixed blessing, and has definitely done a lot of good to engage people who wouldn’t otherwise train. We need to try hard to get the most out of it, and do our best to stop it impacting negatively on our athletes.

Women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds

Several of the coaches present spoke about the ways they supported local women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate in sport. Obviously coming from an ethnic minority is not a barrier in itself; and many women from these groups engage easily in sport. The focus of our discussion was on supporting women from specific local communities within our area, where barriers to participation in sports do appear to exist for some women.

One prominent issue was women fearing to be seen out and about engaging in sport, either by other members of their community, or just in general. For some women, engaging in sport in public would be seen as shameful. One (cycling) coach said that she overcomes this by taking students out in large groups, and separating men and women into two groups, especially in the first instance while participants get used to doing sport.

Another issue that several coaches often came across was women wearing unsuitable clothing for sport, including “floaty” national dress and flip-flops. There was agreement that this needed to be gently challenged for safety reasons. If the women could not wear other clothes, there were various safety options available such as removing long, flowing scarves, and tying dresses. Some women were uncomfortable removing their scarves to wear a helmet, and leaving it on could create risks, if not done safely.

One coach added that she felt it important to dress in a relatively modest way herself, so as not to make the women from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds feel uncomfortable.

Some of the coaches also said that women from these groups sometimes started out quite overweight, and with low levels of fitness, due to their lack of previous exercise.

As a general point (going beyond ethnicity or culture), it was agreed to be important not to take on too many adult beginners at once, and to ensure that there were enough experienced participants to support them.

The support of men

It was agreed that when women came from cultures which discouraged them from participating in sports clubs, the support and influence of men could be enormous (either positively or negatively).

We then moved on to talking about women’s participation in general, and the number of women who can appear to be fearful and unconfident in a sports setting. One participant queried as to whether some of the Project 500 marketing should in fact be aimed at men, to enlist their support for the programme goals.

All in all, it was a great experience to meet with local female sports leaders and discuss these issues as a like-minded group . . .

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About Project 500: Project 500 started life in 2013 as an exciting initiative in the South East of England, to help address the imbalance of female to male coaches by recruiting, developing, deploying and retaining 500 female coaches.

Research from sports coach UK shows that just 30% of sports coaches are female and of newly qualified coaches each year, only 17% are women.

The initial two-year pilot was really successful, and recruited and retained over 530 female coaches across a variety of sports.

In celebration of this – and with an eye to the future – Coaching Hampshire and Active Surrey held a women-only networking day on 13 March 2016, which I attended on behalf of my dojo. This discussion was part of the day’ programme.

_____________________

Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger. You can read more of her stories and articles at www.budo-inochi.com, or follow her Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/kaimorg

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Athena, motivation, and getting real about who competes in triathlon

There are a lot of motivational Facebook groups out there relevant to my fitness interests but the one I’m enjoying the most at the moment is the group for Athena triathletes and duathletes.

Athena group: This group is for triathletes who compete as or empathize with those who race multisport in the Athena class (165+ pounds). Note: You will not get kicked out of the group if you no longer qualify under the USAT rule for the Athena class and go below 165 pounds.

It’s a totally wonderful group. As a plus sized endurance athlete, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one out there given the prevalent imagery of swimmers, runners, and cyclists.

It’s not a weight loss free group, unlike other Facebook groups of which I’m a member. But neither is it focused on food and size. Some people are happy competing at the weight they’re at , others have lost weight and still others want to keep losing. But weight loss isn’t the point. Triathlon, and duathlon, are the point. This group has interested even me in swimming.

I’ve expresssed my doubts about the Athena category before. See here.

The Athena/Clydesdale categories are an attempt to equalize competition in non-elite running and multisport events between big and small people. For men, Clydesdale is anyone over 200 lbs and for women the minimum weight for an Athena division runner is either 140 lbs or 150 lbs. But there are at least two problems with the Athena category. First, you have to select to run in it. And almost no women do.

Hint: It’s a great way to get medals. I’ve “won” the Athena division twice in duathlon events by being the only woman in the class.

I’m not sure if that’s because most women object to the weigh-in (a routine part of lots of sports, all of them with weight categories) but I didn’t actually have to weigh in since I’m clearly over that weight limit, or because they don’t want to be identified as part of the heavier group.

Second, as I looked around it seemed to me that most of the women competing were over that weight. Is it just wrong as a category? Am I wrong to think that 200 lbs seems okay for men but 140/150 seems small for women? As I mentioned with my bodpod results, my lean mass is 122 lbs so assuming I can retain that, I’ll always be an Athena class runner/multisport athlete.

I guess the Athena cut off is different in different places? The group’s description suggests 165 which is more reasonable than our local 150 lbs.  And it would be different in places where the fields of competitors are more populated. Locally it seems to me to fail to address the worry it sets out to address.

So while I have doubts about Athena as a racing category I have zero doubts about how supportive this group is.

Recently a group member posted about having to do a 2.5 hour workout on her bike trainer and not feeling inspired. The group came through with the impressive set of images and slogans below. I think it’s okay to share them as there’s no personal content and they’re a lot of fun.

Although as usual when it comes to motivational sayings and images, your mileage may vary. See the following posts  on fitness motivation:

Here’s my favourite though I was too late to share it with the group:

hedgehog

Back to the group: It’s great seeing all these Athena sized triathletes completing all the distances. The images make my Facebook a happy and inspirational place.

I’ve been struck by the difference between these pictures and the pictures in triathlon advertising. And then I read this article by Tom Demerly which is right on the same point. It’s All About That Bass: How The Triathlon Industry Gets It Wrong.

Who does triathlons in the United States today? What does the “average” triathlete look like?

Industry dogma suggests all triathletes are high wage earners between 30 and 45 who aspire to race Ironman (or already have). They own a $10K bike, race wheels and a power meter. Their household income is above $120K and they have a graduate level degree. They are the marketer’s dream come true: Young, affluent, fit and shopping.

There are two problems with that “demographic”: it’s outdated and likely wrong. Why?

(Stuff about income assumptions and how they’re false too not included. If you are interested go read the article.)

Americans have also changed physically. We’re heavier- all of us. The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona.

As a result of this economic and health demographic shift triathlon has filled from the bottom. The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.

This is good news for the triathlon industry if they become more pragmatic about who is really doing triathlons. History suggests the triathlon industry isn’t very realistic about its own consumership. It continues to (try to) market to the svelte, Kona demographic in print and internet media- even though the inspirational stories that bring people into the sport are usually the saga of the everyman participant who had to overcome to participate, and doesn’t really compete.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between Participation and Competition is what continues to hold the triathlon industry back. It is also why retailers have a hard time earning consistent profits from a market they are increasingly out of touch with.

There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes. In fact, the same rebellion that has happened in women’s apparel marketing with consumers raging against brands like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch is ready to happen in triathlon. The middle 90% wants triathlon to “get real” about who is actually participating, and they don’t care about who’s racing in Kona.