She was the first woman and the first American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, which she did in 1999. She was also the first woman and first American to ski to the South Pole and the first woman to climb the Lewis Nunatak in the Antarctic. (See Wikipedia for more.)
McClure is a university president (Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky) and the author of A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.
I first ‘met’ Ann Douglas around 20 years ago when my information-seeking pregnant self picked up her Mother of all Pregnancy Books at Chapters. I loved her writing – she wasn’t the expert talking down to the novice, she was the experienced friend giving you some perspective on whatever you were dealing with right now.
We started chatting back and forth on blogs back in the day and I volunteered to be interviewed for some of her other parenting books, and, in the process, we’ve become good friends. I’ve only seen Ann once in person but we have stayed in touch with phone calls, Zoom chats, and email.
A few years ago, Ann took up the habit of long daily walks and it has been life-changing for her so I thought that Fit as a Feminist Issue readers might enjoy hearing about her routine and about her other projects and interests.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling parenting books and she is currently writing a book for and about women at midlife. She lives on a lake in a rural area outside of Bancroft, Ontario.
What are some of your current projects (fitness-related or otherwise)?
I’m hard at work on a book for and about women at midlife, I’m doing a lot of volunteer work related to electoral reform, and I’m taking full advantage of the precious and time-limited gift that is a Canadian summer. For me, that means going for twice-daily walks on a rural road and paddling in my kayak a couple of times each week.
I know that walks are an important part of your daily life. Can you tell me when that started, some details about your routine, and what benefits you have found from incorporating walking into your routine? Does it help your peace of mind? Your feeling of well-being? Your writing?
Walking is a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy, healthy me. I started walking back in 2013, after being completely sedentary for most of my life. And when I say “sedentary,” I mean sedentary. Even a 15-minute walk around the block triggered debilitating foot pain. (I was morbidly obese at the time and my feet were having difficulty dealing with the additional weight I was carrying.) The clock was ticking (I was about to turn 50) and I knew that I needed to find a way to be physically active on a regular basis if I wanted to reduce my risk of developing some of the serious health problems that tend to run in my family, including heart disease and diabetes.
When I started walking, I had physical health goals in mind. What I hadn’t counted on was the impact that regular physical activity would have on my mental health. My twice-daily walks not only help to put the brakes on my anxiety: they also help me to sleep better at night which, in turn, helps to control my anxiety and boost my mood. This has proven to be a complete gamechanger for me, in terms of my mood and my overall quality of life. (I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 years ago.) Getting enough sleep and physical activity are the glue that holds everything together.
Walking has also helped me to manage another major health challenge. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease: a balance and dizziness disorder that, in my case, is characterized by really acute attacks of vertigo (the kind where you end up throwing up for a couple of hours straight). I quickly figured out that walking as soon as possible after a vertigo attack helps to reset my vestibular system; and that walking regularly helps to maintain the health of my vestibular system. Walking is a key strategy for minimizing the impact of my Meniere’s disease (along with getting enough sleep; minimizing my intake of salt and caffeine; and avoiding alcohol). I also try to minimize stress, but that can be a little hit and miss.
However, the walking helps with that, so even if I’m more stressed than I’d like to be, at least I have a strategy for dialing back the level of stress.
I’m really lucky that I live in a naturally spectacular part of Ontario, so walking automatically means spending time in nature, because I’m surrounded by nature the moment I step outside my front door. That’s a huge benefit: being able to nurture my life-long love affair with nature while I’m nurturing my body at the same time.
You were asking about the impact of walking on my writing. I deliberately take the first of my twice-daily walks at lunchtime, midway through my working day. It’s a way to recharge my mental batteries, just as they’re starting to lose their charge. And often when I’m out for my walk, a solution to a writing-related problem will pop into my head. (“Wait a minute: Chapter 4 should actually be Chapter 1!”) It’s pretty magical, how that works.
How do you feel about fitness as a key element in self-care?
It’s a huge deal for me. My younger self would be amazed to know that I grew up to be an adult who is an active living evangelist. I hated gym class when I was a kid. Like really hated it….
Being physically active on a regular basis has also given me some newfound body confidence. I’m willing to try new things that I simply wouldn’t have been willing to try before I became physically active. Two years ago, I bought myself a kayak and now I love kayaking. Younger me would have been convinced I wasn’t athletic or coordinated enough to go kayaking. Midlife me knows better!
You are writing a book about women at mid-life and the founders of this blog, Sam & Tracy, have written a book called ‘Fit at Mid-Life.’ I’m interested to know if fitness came up in your research as an important element for women at mid-life. If so, could you tell me a bit about that?
It definitely came up a lot—and a lot of these conversations were about guilt: the guilt women felt for not being able to be as physically active as they wanted to be. Midlife is crunch time for a lot of women—a time of life when they’re asked to juggle an impossible number of responsibilities and to live up to sky-high expectations of what it means to be living well at midlife. Sometimes important things fall off their to do lists, simply because there isn’t enough of them to go around. That isn’t something that they should be feeling guilty about. It’s something our culture should be feeling guilty about—for asking so much of women that they don’t always have the capacity to take good care of themselves.
As a parenting author, did you find that fitness was a concern for the parents you interviewed or who sought your advice? If so, could you share a bit about that, too?
This definitely came up in the research for my most recent parenting book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. Once again, there was a lot of guilt as well as frustration with the very real barriers that can prevent parents from exercising as often as they’d like, and for some parents more than others. For example, if you don’t live in a safe and walkable neighbourhood, being active can be a huge challenge. Ditto if you’re a single parent who doesn’t have anyone else available to give you a break so that you can go for a walk by yourself. (Sure, you can walk with a child, but research shows that exercising with kids doesn’t necessarily reap the same fitness benefits as exercising on your own, as anyone who has ever tried to go for a walk with a toddler can attest. You’ll get to see a lot of dandelions, but you might not get a very robust workout.)
But back to the guilt—both guilt for not being able to take time for yourself so you can exercise and guilt for actually taking that time.
I think the best way to deal with that guilt is to simply ask yourself, “What’s reasonable and sustainable for me right now?” and to look for a way to start with something. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment. It doesn’t have to happen every day. And maybe you can mentally frame it a way that actually feels good: as a nice thing you’re doing for yourself as opposed to yet another obligation to add to an already too long to do list. (“I get to go for a 10-minute walk around the block” as opposed to “I have to….”)
The name of this blog is Fit is a Feminist Issue. Does the connection between feminism and fitness resonate with you? If so, how?
Yes, and on so many levels! First of all, in terms of body love and self-acceptance. Being physically active on a regular basis has allowed me to feel good about my body in ways that I didn’t even think were possible, given the toxic cultural messages women are given about their bodies. A lot of the women I’ve interviewed for my book have been quite explicit about the need to break up with the patriarchy—how that is a path to liberation for them, both personally and politically—and I couldn’t agree more. Gender roles as prescribed by our patriarchal culture make it more challenging for women to find the time or to have the other resources necessary to take good care of themselves. And, of course, those challenges are intersectional, with some women being impacted so much more than others. My rage about these issues intensifies as I grow older. I just want things to be better, and not just for women like me (a cis, heterosexual, white middle class woman). I want things to be better for all women. Because we deserve nothing less.
Is there anything you would like to talk about that arose from other questions but that I didn’t directly ask about?
I guess I’d just add a quick note about self-compassion. There’s a lot of research to show that women who treat themselves with self-compassion are more likely to recover from an exercise setback (for example, an injury, a family emergency, or something else that disrupts their plans to be physically active). Instead of beating themselves up for having to put their workouts on hold, they simply treat themselves with the same kindness as they would show to a friend who was facing a similar challenge. Instead of feeling like giving up, they feel like they can re-engage with their exercise goal. Learning about self-compassion was life-changing for me, which is why I’m always talking about it.
Maybe *your* mental image of an athlete is someone famous but *my* mental image of an athlete is my cousin, Kathy Noseworthy.
She has always been the fittest person that I know and most of my memories of her involve her being in motion.
I can remember being around 3 or so and she would come to dinner at our family’s apartment before going to practice on the field behind our house. I remember being impressed by all the sports awards she won (I still am!) And I have a clear image of me and my Mom looking after one of Kathy’s baby daughters so she could go out for a run. It was the first time I realized that having a baby didn’t mean that everything in your life had to be all about the baby (an important lesson for a young teenager.)
Kathy turned sixty last year and her Facebook posts are as action-oriented as ever. Her activities have changed but the way that fitness shapes her life has not. (And she’s every bit as inspiring to me now as she has been all along.)
Kathy is a retired Physical Education teacher who teaches yoga at Modo Yoga St. John’s and I was delighted when she agreed to chat with me about fitness, exercise, and the changes she has made so her body keeps feeling good about her activities.
My questions/comments are in bold.
Tell me a bit about yoga – your teaching and your personal practice.
Right now I’m just teaching yoga virtually, and I’m about to take July and August off. I’m going into my sixth year teaching yoga so this is a much needed break.
I’ll do my own practice. I’ll usually do yin, that’s what my body needs mostly. Because I get the yang part of my fitness in my other activities. I need to do yin yoga to keep up my flexibility, my agility, and you know, all of that stuff. And yin does that for me at this stage in my life. That feels the best in my body.
I love that as a measure, what feels best.
To me, that’s the piece that people miss, no matter what they’re doing. They’re so goal-oriented or just like, “I’m just going to do it, it doesn’t feel good but I’ve just got to do it. I know I got to do it.” And I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to keep doing it.”
So aside from yoga, what are your other activities?
Well, I do a fair bit of biking. I run but not as much as I used to, because that no longer feels good in my body. So, on a good week, if I run three times when that would be it. But I’d say, on average, maybe twice a week. The distance would depend on how I’m feeling, I never have a set distance in mind.
I generally don’t go less than five but I rarely go more than eight anymore. That’s where I am with that and that feels ok.
The thing I am probably most adamant about these days are weights because of my age (60 and I don’t want to lose my muscle mass. Even though that’s kind of inevitable but not if you want to work hard enough at it. I just lift weights to retain what I have, I’m not really that interested in becoming super strong, I just want to be functionally strong.
So, I lift weights and again, my goal is three times a week.
I walk, I do a lot of walking.
The new thing I’m doing now is pickleball. That’s a cross between badminton and tennis, I guess. It’s a great sport, a paddle sport that you play with a wiffleball. I’ve been playing since last fall and I love it.
Oh, and paddleboard. For me, that’s just a leisurely activity out on the water. It’s so nice, so relaxing.
So, how have your activities changed over time? You don’t play frisbee any more, right?
No, not anymore.
Now, I’m more concerned with maintaining a healthy body. Because I don’t think I would be a very nice person if I ended up getting injured and couldn’t do the things I want to do.
I’m very particular. I gauge the activity in terms of whether it’s going to be worth it to me, and what’s the cost if I get injured?
So, I stay away from things that I can’t control. Team sports, I don’t play team sports anymore because you don’t have control over everybody on the field so I tend to stay away from that.
I’ve definitely shifted from team sports, which is, a total shift because that’s all I ever did. The traditional sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, even frisbee. I used to really enjoy it but now I’m just a bit more of a loner in terms of what I do.
That’s how I’ve shifted and that’s more toward protecting my body. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sports, it’s just about what makes sense at this point in my life.
What about what about non physical benefits from your exercise? How do you think it helps your mental health, for example?
Oh, that’s so huge. I rarely take a day off but when I do try to take a day off, by mid-afternoon, I need to do something. It’s a mental thing.
That just might be a walk. I don’t consider that something that I couldn’t do on a day off.
I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have activity as my outlet.
I almost don’t know how to answer this question because I have never not exercised. It’s almost like something that just happens to me naturally. It’s not something I have to force or motivate myself.
I mean, sometimes I have to motivate myself to go to the gym or go for a run. But, generally speaking, if I’m feeling like I don’t want to do anything, that’s when I need to do something because once I move, that inspires me to move more.
But if I sit on my butt all day and do nothing, it just doesn’t put me in a good place.
Once I start moving, I’m like, “Ok!” And I want to move more.
How do you feel about the idea of fitness as a feminist issue, as part of women feeling empowered?
It’s funny that you asked that because I was saying to my friend last week, just as it pertains to lifting weights, when you feel strong physically, you feel strong mentally. I think the benefits there, I wish more women could take that on more.
I think some women are like “I don’t want to have muscles, I don’t want to get big.” but they don’t understand how hard you would have to work to get big. But knowing that when you touch your arm, you feel the muscle, you feel strong, that translates to you mentally. It’s hard not to feel empowered when you have that strength.
Lifting weights empowers women.
I didn’t always feel that way, I didn’t even think about it, really.
But now, I see women at the gym, lifting weights, and they are just so confident, the way they carry themselves, they just like how they are.
Tracy and I had a really nice chat the other week with Emily of FemRadio at Ryerson University.
“This week on FemRadio, Emily chats with Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs — two feminist philosophers and fitness fanatics who co-founded the blog “Fitness is a Feminist Issue.” We discuss the meaning of body positivity, fitness myths that need to end, and the complexities of pursuing fitness as a feminist.”
Last week I got unexpectedly hit with the flu. (Come to think of it, is it ever really expected?) Anyway, it knocked me out hard and I was upset by the rough start to my 2017. (Needless to say I haven’t worked out but proudly made it to a Yin yoga class which my post-flu body could barely handle.)
While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do appreciate a New Year’s reflection on my overall life trajectory. What have I accomplished? What haven’t I? Where would I like to see things going over the next year?
In the fall, I was excited to recommit to my health and fitness. I’ve written here about how I am learning to see myself as an active person who is takes her wellbeing seriously. One of the people who inspired me to make the change in my own life also recommitted to her health and wellbeing exactly one year before I did (she in November 2015, and I in November 2016).
I thought that I would speak more formally with her about her experience, as there are things I recognize as similar about both of our stories: we both started out as relatively active children and young women but became discouraged and anxious about fitness as we got older. We both had multiple false starts over the years, and we both decided to integrate fitness and wellness in our lives around the same time.
Tracy:What does being “fit” mean to you?
Jaclyn: Being fit means loving, embracing and accepting my body for all the amazing things that I can do. This is not to say that now I love my body because it is leaner and has more muscle mass, and that I could not love my body before because I had a much higher body fat percentage. Getting stronger, lifting heavier, and getting my cardio up to a level I didn’t know was possible has led to an appreciation for myself and my body that I never had when I spent most of my days drinking, partying, and subsequently binge eating my hangover away the next day.
Tracy: Since you mention it, regarding your drinking/partying in the past, do you feel like you simply “replaced” those old habits with new ones or is it more complex? (Do you feel like a different person now than you were back then?)
Jaclyn: I think it’s more complex than that. I’m the same person, yet a different person. I think a part of the drinking was me trying to cover over parts of me that I didn’t like (or that I thought I needed to change to be liked). When I began my fitness journey, my new habits (nutrition, fitness, sleep, water intake, etc.) replaced old habits (binge drinking, binge eating, partying). As my new habits began to slowly weed out and replace my old ones, there was a moment that I realized I was truly and genuinely happy. In that moment, I realized that this new lifestyle fuels me and allows me to be my most authentic and genuine self.
Tracy:That’s so wonderful and it’s been amazing to see your progress. What was your previous experience with fitness? Were you an active child?
Jaclyn: I grew up an active kid; I was on the swim and synchronized swimming teams, played soccer, and did ballet. My family loves to camp, so I’d frequently go canoeing, hiking, swimming and kayaking with them. But gym class was a nightmare for me. As a shy and introverted child, cliques in gym classes (which often involved choosing partners and teams) intimidated me. My intuition was to skip the classes to avoid this.
In undergrad, I joined a couple gyms but never stuck with them because I had no knowledge about what I should be doing, how to use the machines and free weights, or how to bring variety into my workouts and how to eat in accordance with my goals.
I would never even dream of asking someone to show me how to do something, and I was too afraid of being judged using free weighs since I had never used them before. So, I would go over to the one machine I knew – the treadmill – walk for 40 minutes and leave as quickly as I could. After a couple weeks, I would get bored of the same old routine and frustrated by the lack of any tangible kind of progress, I would quit the gym. Looking back, my social anxiety, shyness and introversion were the biggest obstacles for getting into fitness.
Tracy: I think that can be quite common—sometimes people see “gym culture” as macho or unfriendly, especially for someone who is new to working out or not that knowledgeable when it comes to fitness. How did you find this and what strategies did you find helpful in overcoming that?
Jaclyn: As someone with little knowledge about fitness and exercise, and as an introvert with social anxiety, breaking into the gym and developing a consistent routine was a huge obstacle. This time, however, I didn’t want to run; I wanted to face this challenge and move myself into a space where I could walk into a gym and do my routine comfortably.
As I’ve grown with my anxiety, I have learned things that I can do to help reduce attacks. For example, in a conference setting, the more research I have done on my topic, the more comfortable I felt. So, this was my first strategy in wanting to become more comfortable at the gym, to gain knowledge.
I’m fortunate that I could afford a starter package with a personal trainer. My thought process was that if I was willing to spend the money I previously did on booze, then I could certainly take that money and invest in myself and buy some training sessions. I thought that if I had an expert take me through the gym, show me how to use the machines and show me some free weight exercises, I would feel more confident walking in and doing it on my own.
Further, I thought that if I could learn the basics of form, that when I went on my own I would be less likely to injure myself. Another alternative to training packages is to take full advantage of the growing fitness industry via social media platforms (such as YouTube). I used this to watch how certain exercises are done, would mimic the motions in the privacy of my own house, and then try them at the gym. Utilizing the knowledge from the training sessions and from my research online helped me feel more confident in the gym.
Tracy: You’ve mentioned your social anxieties, which I think are common for many people, especially when it comes to trying new things. How has fitness allowed you to grow in this area, and allowed you to become less fearful of being judged, etc.?
Jaclyn: In addition to gaining the knowledge necessary to make me more comfortable at the gym, I made sure to go during quieter periods (i.e., not during peak times), especially at the beginning. I would also wear a baseball hat, which almost acted like blinders—it helped me feel more “in the zone” and focus more on myself and less on others around me.
Over time, I became more and more confident in myself and in my place at the gym. The better I became at lifting, the less I worried about being judged. Moreover, the more I fell in love with lifting, the less I cared about being judged; in fact, I don’t worry at all about this because I know that weight lifting involves stalling on reps, or failing a certain move. I know saw failure as opportunity to grow and learn – understood that this was part and parcel of the process itself – and so I no longer feared being judged. This process of working on my anxieties in the gym was by no means a speedy one, but I can now happily say that about one year later, I do not need to wear a hat, and I can walk into any gym, at any time, and get to the grind with no fear and no anxieties.
I found that this newfound confidence in the gym spilled into other aspects of my life. Looking back at where I started and where I am now made me realize how strong and resilient I am. It helped me realize what I want out of life, and what I wasn’t willing to compromise.
Tracy: What surprised you most about the new lifestyle that you wouldn’t have expected?
Jaclyn: I never expected to fall in love with fitness and weightlifting like I did, but perhaps more surprising was the humbling self-love and acceptance that arose naturally out of the process. I have cellulite and big thighs, but this no longer bothers me like it used to. Instead, I am amazed by how strong and resilient I have become since I started. I have become humbled by fitness and developed a love for myself that was absent from the larger part of my life.
Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Speaking with Jaclyn over the last few months have helped to keep me both motivated and patient with myself. It’s especially helpful when I have my own hang-ups or things that slow me down—like the flu, or like fainting (which I wrote about in last month’s post). I’m grateful to have her as a friend and role model and thank her for letting me write about this so openly in this month’s post!
One of our bloggers has recently opened an online store offering Affirmational Art on cute things. The offerings are a little different than what you may have seen before so Sam thought it would be cool to highlight the site on the blog. Here is my interview with Jenn Seeley.
So Jenn, this is quite the store you’ve put together. It’s filled with familiar objects that have slightly unusual messaging. What was the need you saw for these kinds of objects and art?
I guess some might consider it unusual – radical even – to want to be bothered with speaking positively to and of yourself. It’s a tricky area for many people. For starters, speaking and believing affirmations require a person to know what to say, know what they want to say, and believe they have the right to say it. That’s the kicker. The believing it part. I guess that’s where I saw the need. People give so much of themselves, pouring out all that they have, that it’s easy to forget to fuel up and remind ourselves of truths that get us through. Affirmations are simply a way to assert the right to make bold declarations of anything from intentions and desires to important reminders of our own worth and value. With so much direct messaging and marketing trying to tell us who to be, and define for us how to measure our worth, we have quite the battle to win in staking our claim over own own attitudes towards ourselves. Oh, and the funny objects? It’s just nice to have something to look at that’s not the stereotypical motivational misty forest and mirror top lake. I just chose things that I liked, and went with what felt ‘right’ for lack of a better description. Don’t worry though, I really like trees. I’ll probably have to include them somewhere just because.
Do you see yourself as filling this need or trying to create a desire to display these kinds of messages?
Do a Google image search for affirmations, or for a particular mantra you like to live by, and several people may have put those same words on images of some sort. I don’t expect my art to be everyone’s first choice or for everyone to get what I do and why, but in my own circle of super cool people, many of my friends and framily (that’s not a typo) share these declarations by way of Facebook posts of cute images with words, or via text messages as reminders in solidarity to friends dealing with something hard. I have to imagine that in the privacy of their own space and solitude, they also sometimes pull from memory the words that help ground them and hold them steady in tricky times. I know I do that, so surely others do too. What I’m doing with Sunny Braveheart isn’t unique entirely, but it is my heart and I hope that it is ultimately my heart that’s heard.
This is original art done by you, correct? What inspired these pieces?
Yeah. They’re my original images. And it’s still pretty mind-blowing for me to say that out loud, but I’m doing it! I can’t really put a finger on the actual inspiration for the current collection overall. There’s kind of a mix of a few things going on. By far my favourites are the uniquely shaped people. I like their general look and feel simply for the quiet calm they represent. At least, that’s how I see them and hope they are seen as calm for others, too. My intention was to create these ‘people’ in ways that they feel oddly familiar despite being unlike anything I’ve seen or drawn before. I paired quiet images with strong statements. It’s not always necessary to shout and punch to feel the feels!
Ultimately, I felt an urge to create and I wanted to create things that reminded me of things that I know are true for me. Things I try already to live and breathe, and things I love to see and hear shared.
Do you have a favourite?
You mean they’re not all my favourite? Ok. So if I have to pick just one? I have big feelings. That’s my cat Percy and the truest statement I can make about myself. I feel BIG when I feel and stopped apologizing for that a long time ago. I say this out loud a lot. That was a big hurdle jumped. If I was allowed to pick more than one, I would say that I Will Be Gentle With Myself and Sometimes Bravery Means Trying Again Tomorrow would tie for second!
These images are either body or emotion positive. Can you elaborate on the importance of emphasizing those two things in your affirmations?
Oh, this was and is super important. Thank you for noticing! There are all kinds of affirmations out there that speak to success – like careers & finances – and that isn’t the intention of Sunny Braveheart. Too often, (because: patriarchy) having emotions and feelings is considered weak and undesirable. Talking about feelings is hard! Especially if you fear ridicule or being misunderstood. And where to start on body positivity? Thanks to so many crummy social constructs that attempt to dictate what a ‘good body’ is and so few people (mainly women) who can’t begin to live up to standards that shouldn’t exist in the first place, people’s self-image and ideals take a brutal hit.
Think about this: so far, forever, we have been told all kinds of gross things about how our bodies must look. We have been told many conflicting messages about how to parent and how not to parent. We read thousands of words in fear every night on multiple web pages just trying to determine if we’re a good partner to our lovers. We are called weak for crying. We are put into boxes and labeled based on the colour of our skin and our spiritual practices. We are told from within the communities we belong to that even on the inside there are people who do-the-things-that-we-do better/faster/stronger/longer/smarter than we do.
Whether directly or indirectly, we get these messages at an alarming rate. Every. Single. Day.
What if instead of that I told you: You are enough. You are exactly enough. Your body is good. You are strong. Bravery doesn’t look the same for you and that’s okay – you’re still brave. Your feelings are valid, important, beautiful, and real. YOU are valid, important, beautiful, and real. Your body can tell you things that the internet can’t, so go ahead and listen to it. Give yourself permission to filter out the ideals of the world, and join a collective that wishes to change the narrative.
If I could flip the bird to patriarchy and the very oppressive standards that were created to keep me wanting to jump through hoops in order to be something that I’m not, I would. But I’m not alone in that desire, am I?
Do you hope to add art to the selection? How often? What themes or images might we look forward to?
Expect to see more ‘people’ and more animals for sure. And I’m working on a few ‘active’ themed images. But I’m going to be very clear about what those images will represent. You will still expect body positive and emotions/feeling positive words to accompany anything that appears athletic by design. Simply put: There will never be an ‘affirmation’ found at Sunny Braveheart that shames you, guilts you, pushes you to perform in ways that cross your boundaries, or anything at all similar to what’s her face – the woman whose name I won’t mention who wants to know what your excuse is while posing with her family. Nope. There will be no shame.
Why Sunny Braveheart? Where’d the name come from?
I guess the sunny part is harder to answer. Maybe because I get read as having a ‘sunny disposition’ all too often – especially among people who don’t know me well. My closest circle has the blessing of seeing my raw self – melt downs and all! Despite the range of feelings, I do see the sunny side of life when I can, all while giving myself permission to experience and navigate the less sunny moments. That’s important, too! I want all of the feelings with no apologies.
Braveheart comes from my personal journey involving lions, but you can read that here. Further to the brave bit, it was actually a really scary thing to just allow myself to create emotion driven art versus strive to be perfect. Yeah, I’ll say it. My art isn’t perfect. It’s art. And as much as it’s also scary to say this out loud? I’m the artist. It’s mine. So yeah. Bravery is a theme to my project because I know that, as a person who struggled her whole life to see herself as good enough in many areas, I’m displaying a giant piece of me and can definitely expect to be critiqued and/or mocked and/or ridiculed. Fun!
Bravery is also in the name for you. It’s a brave step forward to allow yourself permission to change the way you speak to yourself.
You can see for yourself what Jenn is up to at Sunny Braveheart.
What kind of Big Feelings might you have? Let us know.
This article quotes Catherine Weingarten, the author of the petition, as saying:
When Facebook users set their status to “feeling fat,” they are making fun of people who consider themselves to be overweight, which can include many people with eating disorders. That is not ok. Join me in asking Facebook to remove the “fat” emoji from their status options.
And when it decided to do the right thing, Facebook said:
“We’ve heard from our community that listing ‘feeling fat’ as an option for status updates could reinforce negative body image, particularly for people struggling with eating disorders,” Facebook (FB, Tech30) said in a statement.
But media is just about sound bytes (as I myself discovered in a TV interview that I’ll post below), and neither of these get to the full picture.
First of all, it’s not just about people with eating disorders and it’s not just about making fun of people. No doubt, Catherine Weingarten said a lot more than that. I’m almost certain of that because the Endangered Bodies offers a more nuanced set of reasons for what the problem is. The petition talks about fat-shaming, body hatred, and Facebook’s influence and reach as a significant social media platform:
Fat is a substance that every body has and needs. Fat is also an adjective – a descriptive word about a physical attribute. Just like tall, short, black or white, it should not be misused to shame oneself or others. However, the fashion, beauty and diet industries have an interest in making us feel insecure about our own bodies and over time “fat” has become a negative word, not a simple statement of size. There is nothing neutral about it. The stigma and criticism of fat and the elevation of thin make them stand-ins for other kinds of words, feelings and moods.
Endangered Bodies sees this fear of fat and idealisation of thinness throughout society as a form of weight stigma, which can have a serious impact on the millions of people dealing with negative body image. Body-shaming and weight stigma are associated with lower self-esteem and disordered eating, an issue that Facebook – being a social platform – needs to take seriously.
I myself blogged about “feeling fat” a long time ago, when the blog was just a month old. There, I talked about the difference between feeling fit and feeling fat. Most especially, we need to be aware that feeling fat has nothing to do with body weight. It has to do with the assumption that fat is bad. When we feel bad about ourselves, that self-loathing can express itself in feeling fat:
It’s a strange and complicated thing, feeling fat is. It can settle in overnight, or even through the course of a day. Clothes that fit just fine when I put them on in the morning might by lunch time start to feel like they’re pinching and snug, especially if I had a bad morning. Even the red silk scarf, not a body-hugging item, might not look right when just yesterday it accessorized perfectly. And a general feeling of unworthiness accompanies feeling fat. It’s astonishing and sad that internalized cultural stigma against weight and body type can feed so powerfully into these negative attitudes about oneself.
Remember, feeling fat is amazingly unconnected to actual body size and even percentage of fat. But it is also, for many women I know, the “go-to” feeling when they are unhappy with themselves about something…about anything. This says a lot about the hold that our culture’s attitudes about weight and body size has on us. Even those of us who are explicitly and consciously attentive to the irrational and unfair social stigma, even working to challenge it, latch onto fatness (real or imagined) as a personal deficiency. It then spirals into an energy-sucking, self-defeating stick that might make a person feel motivated to get active (but for all the wrong reasons) or thoroughly hopeless about exercise because it doesn’t “work” (as if its only purpose is to lose or control one’s weight).
When we can use feeling fat to articulate low self-esteem, as a stick to beat ourselves with, then it’s not funny. It’s sad. One thing I believe is that when we feel fat it’s a good sign that something else is going on with us. And that’s probably not the time to invoke a glib emoticon that announces to the world: “I hate myself right now.”
The social meaning of feeling fat ensures that it’s not simply self-abusive. Not at all. A purely individualistic explanation of why it’s harmful to include it among “impatient, amused, better, discouraged” doesn’t capture the social harm. It’s fat-phobic and fat-shaming. Even if lots of the people who feel fat don’t appear to others to be fat, they’ve internalized the message that fat is loathsome to such a degree that it’s what they latch onto when they want to express how much they despise themselves in that moment (because, and this is one thing it has in common with actual feelings, it can pass as quickly as it set in). That’s a pretty awful thing for people who others actually do think of as fat.
We live in a fat-phobic, fat-shaming world. In providing that emoticon, Facebook is perpetuating an oppressive social attitude. The local news came to see me about this today. I said a lot of stuff that was more interesting than what they chose, but if you’re interested, here’s a link to the clip. They will make you watch an ad first and for that I apologize.
And from the Endangered Bodies’ Fat Is Not a Feeling campaign:
With social influence, power, and reach comes social responsibility. It’s good to see that Facebook can respond appropriately at least some of the time even if they don’t have a very nuanced public presentation of their reasons.
It’s not, as the other person interviewed in my clip said, that they can’t afford not to be “politically correct.” Why do people always talk about “political correctness” as if there is something wrong with simply choosing a socially responsible course of action? That charge that mega-corporations are always having to bow to political correctness is a simplistic and dismissive response to genuine concern about real social harms.
And to those who think that in removing this choice FB has somehow done us a disservice, it’s not some God-given right that everything we experience needs to be expressible in a canned status with a matching emoticon. I’m glad they took it down and I will be happier still when we stop using “feeling fat” as a form of self-abuse and a socially acceptable way of body-shaming in a fat-phobic culture.
Most of us who read this blog are used to moving around in male-dense environments. We know that just being a female in motion on land, sea or air often attracts attention, some of it unwelcome and discouraging.
For this post, I interviewed Karen, a 30-year-old black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
BJJ is a grappling sport, like wrestling. It involves a lot of close physical contact, mostly on the ground. I mean a LOT—I don’t know of other sports in which two people are in such close and prolonged contact, body parts all in a tangle.
Karen trains and works at Clockwork BJJ in New York City, and she runs a regular women’s open mat there (their facebook page is here). I wanted to know what her experience was like: training in the high-intensity, often high-testosterone combat sport of BJJ, and also achieving a black belt in the sport. Here’s her perspective as a high-level sports practitioner.
How did you find your way to BJJ?
I grew up swimming—competitively from age 9. I played high school softball, too. Swimming is a team sport, but you swim by yourself; BJJ is like that, too. I started BJJ at age 20—it was something different for exercise, and I like the fighting and self defense.
I saw the movie Kill Bill and loved the female character—she’s sensitive but brutal, too. She does kung fu, and I wanted to do something like that. There was a good BJJ school in Atlanta where I lived, and it looked hard and challenging. I like that. I started competing 7 years ago. You get 6 months of progress in one day of competing—you learn a lot!
What are workouts like at your gym?
I get there early to stretch and warm up. There’s a women’s locker room here, which is unusual. Usually women’s locker rooms are a closet. When I started 10 years ago I had to change in a unisex bathroom.
When I take a class, we learn two techniques. We spend 30 minutes learning and drilling, and then 45—60 minutes sparring with partners. We do 6—7 minutes of sparring, then switch. We do this 4—8 times with a few minutes between bouts. In the learning part, the teacher spends 15 minutes to show the technique, then you get 15 minutes with a partner and do it back and forth. We might do an escape and then an attack. You stay with one partner the whole time during the drill. You tend to stick with the same people. As a woman you find the handful of guys you feel most comfortable with. I’ll spar with any new or experienced woman, and I train with the same 5—10 guys.
What’s it like sparring with men vs. sparring with women?
Some men want to kill you when they spar—they don’t want to get beat by a woman—or they treat you like the most delicate thing they’ve ever encountered. I’ve found guys who were in the middle. For the first few years, I was defending myself all the time. As I got better and stronger, it leveled the playing field. They couldn’t go delicate. And I could go rough, and they couldn’t kill me because of my skills. As a black belt, there is nobody you can’t handle. It’s rewarding to have worked hard. And when you can go for the attack, it’s a good turning point.
Rolling with women is different— because we are such a minority, and are defending all the time, we get technical skills. It’s a different side of BJJ—less use of strength, more balance of strength and technique. This is less so for men.
Low-level men go crazy, trying to win, and they don’t have to defend themselves as much because the strength disparities aren’t so big [between them and their sparring partners].
Rolling with male black belts is awesome and fun! They see you as equal, and they go as hard as you go, back and forth. Men tell me they don’t go easier on me. I don’t care—I do what I want to do.
Women aren’t as strong, but technique comes in; there are positions using my legs that I’m better at. In BJJ, being in your guard on your back is an offensive position. By the time you’re a purple belt, the fact that women are more technical comes out; you get good at a guard, or a position for attacking them.
Have you experienced sexist treatment in BJJ?
At my old gym, I was sparring with a kid. I put him in a triangle and he tapped out [conceding defeat]. [In this position] his face is in your crotch.
From across the gym another guy laughed out loud and said to everyone that this was the best moment of the kid’s life, so he would never want to tap out. I went over to him and said, “don’t ever say anything like that again.” He got defensive, like I was overreacting. His response was we don’t need to talk to each other ever again.
That night my instructor called and asked what happened. I told him. He said that was gross, and you don’t have to talk to him. But, he never said anything to the class or to the guy. Things like that happened on a regular basis. I was always on my own.
At my current gym, [Sensei] Josh has created an atmosphere where that doesn’t happen. People like that don’t last here. I get lots of support. Some 17-year-old kid was disrespectful to me once while rolling and I corrected him; I said, “don’t be that guy.” He later apologized. It was a cool moment.
At my old gym, when I was sparring with one guy, I could feel him looking me in the eye. It’s not typical to make eye contact. He said, “you’re getting angry at me, aren’t you?” I said no. He said, “no, you’re very frustrated.” I told him, “don’t talk while sparring.” It felt disingenuous; he was maybe getting something else out of it.
Like it was foreplay?
Yes. But that doesn’t happen here [at Clockwork BJJ]. When I started publicizing the women-only open mat on Facebook, I got guys saying oh, that sounds fun—can I come? But other guys would post, saying that was gross. It was cool.
Does being a black belt affect how you feel as a woman out there in the world? Has your sense of self-confidence changed?
It makes me feel more in control of my experience walking down the street. I don’t feel intimidated by anyone I see. That’s maybe a bit naive but …
Have you ever had to fight anyone?
I was in a situation at a party; two girls picked a fight with me and I kicked their asses. They were the aggressors but I didn’t want to hurt them. But I had to—I broke someone’s nose. At one point, I mounted one of them, took a breath, and thought what should I do? The fight was interesting— because I had experience with people being so close to me in BJJ competitions, I could see what she was doing. I was not going wild but in fact was fighting. Having the experience of someone in my personal space so much—with the adrenaline, fear, discomfort—I can feel sure of myself walking down the street.
How do you think we can make BJJ more open to women?
I want to open my own gym in the next year or so. I can create an environment where misogyny isn’t tolerated. Being a woman draws more women, and makes them more comfortable. There are two women-run gyms in California. They’ve been doing BJJ a long time and won lots of championships. One is women-only, and the other is coed. I think BJJ is headed that way, but because so few women are high enough [in the sport], it is only happening now.