advice · Dancing · Fear · fitness · media

Bad Dancing

FIFI bloggers have shared many beautiful and uplifting posts about the aerobic, aesthetic, historical, cultural, and social aspects of their dance and dancing.

But I want to talk about bad dancing. Not defining what is bad dancing (too subjective, or in the case of trained dancing, too specialized). Rather, I want to consider how we respond to the fear of bad dancing in social situations that can creep on the edges of our minds before, during, or after we dance.

Dancing, the media, and us

If you’re of a certain age, a single one word brings to mind the epitome of “bad dancing”: Elaine.

Elaine dancing, from Seinfeld.

If you’re not quite at that age, but close, here’s second word that sums up dancing so bad it’s good: (the) Carlton.

Carlton dancing, from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Both tv sitcom clearly characters find joy and freedom in their dancing. Yet, these scenes also capture some not uncommon worries about dancing: folks laughing behind our backs without our knowledge (like Elaine), or being seen and judged when we dance (though I realize that race, class, and culture ground the joke of Carlton dancing to a Tom Jones song as well).

The media not only reflects but can also amplify our worries. Elaine’s scene reminds us that wedding and parties are places where dancing is a social expectation. We might start to compare our dancing with the many mainstream media celebs and performers who dance with more style and grace (thanks to professional training). Also, there are TikTok dancers around to remind us how much money we are not making from our own dancing.

I bet my non-existent jazz flats that—even those with actual dance training—most folks at some point have wondered whether they were a bad dancer, or if others might have thought so. Just last week, after a fun house dance night with about 12 people I avoided watching the phone videos that were shared around because I didn’t want to watch myself, or see others watching me.

Am I a bad dancer? Part I

How do we respond to fears of being regarded (or regarding ourselves) as a “bad dancer,” or at least not a very good one, when dancing in social settings?

There are lots of ways, most of which fall somewhere between the Elaine (totally surprised/defensive) and Carlton (hyperaware/embarrassed). Read on to see what strategies you have used, and let me know what I have missed.

  • You can seek out ways to reduce your inhibitions to care less about how you (or other) feel about your dancing. “Liquid courage” is a common method. There’s even a study that suggests that if you find the “platform of effective intoxication,” alcohol can actually make you a better dancer.
  • You can choose ironic dancing, an exaggerated form of dancing that is intentionally self-deprecative, as this DJ describes. (Think the Robot, the Sprinkler, or any other passé dance craze). Some may interpret your ironic dancing as making fun of not yourself but them on the dance floor.
  • You can accept that you are not a trained dancer, but dance anyway—just for fun, relaxation, or exercise. Perhaps you are someone with the congenital condition known as beat deafness, in which you cannot distinguish rhythm or move in time to it.
  • You might get constructive and practice dancing, as suggested by the advice in this Steezy blog post: take time watch online dance lessons, practice in front of a mirror or in safe places with friends, and take in-real-life dance classes.
  • You may embrace your dancing as a form of resistance or protest—to white/middle-class/ableist dance norms, the hyper-regulation of bodies, and other forms of systemic injustice. I will never forget for the first time watching Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) in his music video “This is America” (warning: violence)—his dancing had me re-thinking my assumptions about what dancing is, who dancing is for, and why dancing is such an important form of representation and resistance in BIPOC communities. (See this Atlantic article for more.)

Am I a bad dancer? Part II

Upon re-watching Elaine after her let-loose dance scene, I didn’t find myself sharing in her friends and employees’ teasing. Rather, I wished Elaine would have taken her own advice from her wedding toast: “Here’s to those who wish us well. And those who don’t can go to hell.”

In her post Bad Dancers?, dance and fitness instructor Karen Kiefer writes, “A dance floor will always have people with different styles and knowledge levels about dancing: which doesn’t mean they are good or bad dancers, just people enjoying themselves for an evening.”

This is a reminder to you (and me): when you have an Elaine and Carlton-level love of dancing, don’t ask the question—because then the answer doesn’t matter.

media · soccer · team sports

Fitness in Ted Lasso

In Apple TV’s Emmy-winning show, Ted Lasso (TL), the titular character is a goofy, Kansas-born football coach who must adjust to a very different life as head coach of a pro football (North American soccer) team in England.

Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group
Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group

I watched both seasons, then I joined ~22K fans in the Ted Lasso Talk FB group. Some fans of not only the show but also the sport of football discuss with enthusiasm actors like Cristo Fernández (Dani Rojas) who are real life football players, and parallels with real-life players and actual British clubs.

But you don’t need to be a football fan to participate in the lively conversation. TL fans love to ask and answer questions about all aspects of the show (many have watched both seasons multiple times). So I asked folks to share what they’ve noticed so far about any representations of exercise and fitness.

[WARNING: Modest show spoilers]

Exercise Made Fun(ny)

Coaches have to find the right words to inspire their teams during practice. Here are a few of Ted’s choice expressions to get his team in action (crowdsourced enthusiastically by the FB group fans):

  • “Your body is like day-old rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen.”
  • “Touch your toes. Now touch each other’s toes! Your feet fingers!”
  • “Making quicker transitions from offense to defense. Y’all gotta start making your hellos your goodbyes.”
  • “We all know speed is important. But being able to stop and change directions quickly? Well, that’s like Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. It don’t get nearly enough credit.”
  • “We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ ’cause it’s all about controlling possession.”

Ted doesn’t use the traditional language of training and exercise; rather, he makes quirky comparisons and memorable pop culture references to get his team moving.

What Fitness Looks Like

All the players on the fictional AFC Richmond team appear physically fit. In the locker room scenes, outfit changes reveal lean, muscular, ready-to-run bodies. A few times we see players using the treadmill and free weights, but there aren’t a ton of game, practice, or training scenes that highlight the pro players’ peak athleticism.

Instead, as one TL fan noticed, in the S2 finale it is the rival football team that is shown doing physically intense calisthenics (while Nate, recently defected from AFC, looks on). By comparison, Ted has his team on the pitch practicing a choreographed dance routine to N’Sync’s 90s hit song, “Bye Bye Bye.”

Other fitness activities portrayed relate to characters’ hobbies and social lives. The sports psychologist loves cycling. The gruff former star player-turned-coach shares a weekly yoga practice with retired women (then drinks rose wine with them afterwards). Ted is a crackerjack darts player, and he walks to work with his Assistant, Coach Beard. There are some pre- and post- sex scenes. So mostly, it’s regular people fitness.

Nutrition and Food

Representations of food and eating in TL do not follow sports nutrition myths, fads, and stereotypes. The players scarf fast food kabobs, drink beer in the locker room and out at the bar, and share potluck dishes they bring to a holiday meal. There is no excess of supplements, restrictive eating regimes, or protein shakes.

Coach Ted is as sweet as the food he shares and enjoys. He brings club owner Rebecca Welton home-made biscuits (sugar cookies) everyday. On the topic of sugar, Ted says, “I’ve never met someone who doesn’t eat sugar. Only heard about ’em, and they all live in this godless place called Santa Monica.” And on his favourite dessert, he says, “Ice cream’s the best. It’s kinda like seeing Billy Joel live. Never disappoints.”

The Fitness of Teams

In this sports dramedy, characters manage the stress not of the daily grind of elite level fitness training but of various personal issues and relationships. Although they come from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, the team players chat, bicker, and support each other as a team. As one TL Facebook group fan responded, “I love how fitness is not the centre of the story. Football and exercise are their job, but community and relationships are the centre.”

This LA Times article interviewed pro soccer coaches and players who are also TL fans because of the way the show features the interpersonal and psychological aspects of team play. The article quotes one American men’s national team coach who says that the strength of TL is not football itself but rather everything around football: “I don’t watch the show for what I see on the field. That’s not the point […]. But I think, in any sport, a lot of team success is what happens in the locker room. And they get that absolutely right.”

So, with the help of the fan group, I have discerned that TL is not, ultimately, a show about the fitness of professional football. However, there’s much more to say on how TL represents team dynamics, psychological health, and gender in sports. But I’ll have get back to you on those topics—after consulting further with my 22K fan friends.

clothing · cycling · inclusiveness · media

On representation and why diversity matters

So as many of you know, I’ve been riding my bike on the trainer a lot lately.

But all those hours Zwifting have been tough on my cycling clothes. I keep old stuff around and I tend to wear it to death. See here (from 2014) and it’s still true. I wear shorts with thinning lycra under dresses for work bike commutes (back in the pre-pandemic times when I commuted to work) and I wear them at home on the trainer. I have shorts that came with me on my first sabbatical in Australia 13 years ago. I still regularly wear my very first pair of cycling specific socks and they are nearly 20 years old! I keep inspecting them, looking for holes, and wear, but they are doing fine.

Those tenacious socks aside, things are starting to wear out. And the thinning cycling shorts aren’t just not decent, they’re also starting to get uncomfortable. Riding the trainer is harder on clothes I suspect. It’s sweatier and there’s a lot less time out of the saddle, moving around. They make indoor cycling specific clothing now but so far I haven’t been tempted to buy it.

In Zwift’s virtual world my avatar has a lot of cool kit to choose from. You earn kit through riding lots and from doing specific events. I have Pride kit from doing the Pride rides and I have team kit from TFC through riding for TFC.

I’ve been wanting some new bike clothes for my actual, physical, non-virtual, self.

I did a Betty Designs workout the other day and I liked the kit my avatar was wearing. It turns out they sell it for actual people. Of course they do!

Sadly their snazzy Zwift kit was sold out.

betty designs zwift kit
Model wearing Betty Designs Zwift kit

But I browsed the site anyway because why not, I was there. Every single model is wearing size S or XS. They sell larger sizes but there aren’t any models wearing it. Instead it’s screen after screen of super thin models. Mostly the same model actually. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m fine with smaller people and thin models. Some women wear size XS. There are lots of thin cyclists.

Not all cyclists are thin though. Some of us wear sizes L and XL and beyond. See Big Women on Bikes.

Compare Betty Designs to Machines for Freedom. I’ve written about MFF before. See Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me! and Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!.

And look at their models!

Plus Size Cycling Clothing is here!

See Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women for an interview with the people behind Machines for Freedom: “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.”

Between the fact that my Zwift avatar doesn’t look like me size-wise and none of the women on the Betty Designs site are anywhere near my size, you’d almost think that women my size don’t ride bikes. But we do. I do. And I’d like some representation please.

Thanks Machines For Freedom for getting it right. Women my size do ride bikes and need cycling clothes. We also appreciate being represented in your advertising imagery.

Earlier, when I was planning to teach a course on feminism, ethics, and fashion I asked whether we had an obligation to buy from size inclusive brands. At the time some readers had given me flack for liking Oiselle sports bras. The issue is that they only offer sizes up to LARGE and while they fit me, they wouldn’t fit lots of athletic women out there. The issue in today’s post is not exactly the same. Betty Designs sizes do go up to XL and while that’s still limited, the worry I raised here was a different one. Their size range includes M, L, and XL but none of their models are wearing that size. They’re all S and XS.

Having people who look like you doing the sport in question makes a difference. I’ve made the point here in terms of shape/size but Black Girls Do Bike makes the point in terms of racial diversity.

Machines for Freedom are also keen to get more Black, Indigenous and all People of Color riders out there telling their stories about riding bikes. You can offer your support here.

“Black, Indigenous and People of Color have often been left out of conversations about biking. As a film festival with 18 years of experience seeking unique bicycle stories, we have a long history of searching for films by BIPOC filmmakers. We know firsthand how few of these films exist. We’re working to change that! Funding is a major barrier to filmmaking, which is why we’ve created this fund to award generous grants to emerging filmmakers. With your support, we can award grants to more filmmakers and help bring important stories and voices to the screen.”

fitness · media

Thanks BBC: “We’re BBC Sport, not BBC Men’s Sport”

Another quick update from the Land of Twitter.

BBC posts this.

Dude bro comments, “Any chance the Beeb can put out a separate thread solely for the WSL? I have no interest in it and some of the headlines are written as if it’s the men’s game. I appreciate those who follow WSL and intend no slight.”

But I love BBC’s reply.

Thank you BBC. Thank you.

I also love of the other suggestions that follow:

@LewesFCWomen: So please can you remove suffix ‘Women’ from BBC website after all team names in WSL/FA Women’s Championship (or add ‘Men’ to Prem League etc)? Teams themselves don’t add it on eg Lewes, not Lewes Women, Arsenal, not Arsenal Women etc. League name indicates male/female. Ta

0094@0oonthe: Yes but every time you talk about sport; let’s say football; You don’t say men’s football you just say football, then when you talk about women’s football you say women’s football

covid19 · fitness · media

Wrong! Sam says that there aren’t just two types of people in quarantine

I don’t know the source of the above image but lots of friends have been sharing it on social media, some with critical commentary, some not.

I think it gets something very wrong. I suspect that most of us who are part of this blog community are to varying degrees both of these people. Fun comfort food, yay! Also, running streaks, daily yoga, and lots of time on Zwift.

Sometimes when I’m stressed because I’m sharing a small place with three other people all with our own busy work agendas or I’m feeling overwhelmed by the global pandemic more generally, I do Yoga With Adriene or take Cheddar for a long walk.

Sometimes like Cate I find I can’t do yoga. My mind is too busy. Yoga feels so slow and I’m easily distracted. I have even paused Yoga With Adriene to doomscroll. Really. Sometimes I’m stressed but my knee hurts too much to walk Cheddar. Or he’s already been out for three walks! He even hid one day because too many people had been walking him. He’s looking pretty svelte.

Last week I had a busy work afternoon that was super stressful. So much Zoom time. So many hard issues to discuss. I retreated to my bedroom with a bag of peanut butter M & Ms to watch BoJack Horseman, which I know is not an easy show but the thing is when I’m like this sometimes fluffy, easy, light shows aren’t enough to engage me. I’ve always liked BoJack, hard as it is. See BoJack Horseman’s running advice.

I’m not alone, by the way. Quill Kukla, a philosophy professor, boxer, and powerlifter, and sometimes blogger here, even teaches a philosophy course called BoJack Horseman and Philosophy: What do we know? Do we know things? Let’s find out!

My point though, my main point, is that there aren’t obviously two types of people in quarantine. We’re all coping as best we can. Sometimes here that’s meant excessive/competitive baking. Sometimes it’s riding bikes indoors. And sometimes it’s laying in bed with BoJack Horseman and M and Ms.

It’s okay to just get through this.

fitness · media

Just when you thought reality TV couldn’t get any more horrible…

CW: discussion of a proposed reality TV show that focuses on the fatness of women as a problem for their relationships. Followed up by fiery righteous ranting (by me and the rest of the Twitterverse). Oh, and also lots of memes of Jean-Luc Picard. Use discretion.

You may have seen news stories about a TLC proposed reality show called (please forgive me; I just work here) “Hot and Heavy”. The premise is to gawk at couples of straight-sized men and fat women, to better understand how such a relationship can be functional and loving.

Jean-Luc Picard, saying "Oh, come on!"
Jean-Luc Picard, saying “Oh, come on!”

There is so much wrong with this idea– where shall I start? Well, how about letting our Twitter neighbors kick off the outraged totally-justified objection-fest?

Tweets in response to TLC's announcement. They were not amused.
Tweets in response to TLC’s announcement. They were not amused.

TLC refers to the couples as “mixed-weight”. Twitter rightly called them out and named what this term actually means. Herewith a brief but mighty Twitter post:

Shantel tells the truth here: "mixed weight" means fat women and thin men in relationships. What do we call relationships with thin women and fat men? Uh, relationships. Die, term, die!
Shantel tells the truth here: “mixed weight” means fat women and thin men in relationships. What do we call relationships with thin women and fat men? Uh, relationships. Die, term, die!

Jean-Luc PIcard, upon reading the TLC story, had no words.

The famous and moving face-palm of Jean-Luc Picard.
The famous and moving face-palm of Jean-Luc Picard.

Here’s my take on this: any TV show focusing on the larger-than-some-made-up-photoshopped -ideal size of anyone as a challenge or obstacle in the course of their doing anything in their lives is engaging in out-and-out fat shaming. Using the made-up term “mixed-weight couples” is an unsuccessful attempt at disguising the fat-shaming.

It also brings to mind other terms (for instance, “mixed race”) to refer to couples whose relationships that powerful groups have disapproved of, made illegal, and perpetrated violence against. That show is using a term that will remind lots of people about serious injustice against many populations. I’m not qualified to speak for lots of populations. But I’m calling out the show on this.

And one more thing: NO. No more. We’re done with that. The same way we’re done with trying to make this recipe work:

Yes, chicken in a watermelon. Don't try this at home. Or anywhere else.
Yes, chicken in a watermelon. Don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Maybe some day, Fit is a Feminist Issue could be made into its own reality show. And who would be on it? Everyone who wanted to share their stories about fitness-according-to-them, in all its realistic glory. This would include experiences of movement, injury, illness, loss, gratitude, friendship, adventure, fear, napping, training, going solo, venturing with groups, moving while aging, moving while pregnant, not moving when we really wish we could, etc.

I asked Jean-Luc Picard what he thought about this idea.

PIcard saying full of win!
Full of win!

I agree. What would you want to see in a Fit is a Feminist Issue reality show? Or podcast? Just curious…

body image · fitness · inclusiveness · media

Fat babies deserve heads

We’ve written about it before. See Is the end in sight for headless fatty photos?  and No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people and Why the “headless fatty”.

I thoughte  it was getting better! But not for babies, The reporter in this case actually replied citing privacy concerns when it comes to infant images, But I’m pretty sure I’ve seen regular size babies with faces.

Why does it matter? What’s wrong with headless fat imagery? It’s this idea that it’s so shameful to have a body like this that we shouldn’t show their head or face in the media. But fat bodies belong everywhere. In the gym, in the classroom, on the runway, and in a diaper in the media.

body image · eating · fitness · food · inclusiveness · media

Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” redefines cooking shows in the best way

Cooking shows… some are great and some less so, but many of them – at least until recently – have had one thing in common: if they were about high-level cuisine, they were mostly male (and white). If they were about everyday home cooking, they were mostly female (and also white). In the past couple of years or so, this has slowly begun to change. Netflix has been at the forefront of this development with its original productions. Ugly Delicious was still mostly male, but at least less white. Chef’s Table still explores a lot of male, Western white chefs, but also really interesting women and people from countries outside of the traditional Michelin star circuit (Ana Roš from Slovenia, for instance, Musa Dağdeviren from Turkey, or Cristina Martínez, a Mexican chef living in the US undocumented).

But BAM, up shows Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and with her Netflix-produced show of the same name, changes everything we know to be true about cooking shows. Nosrat, an American of Iranian descent, explores these four key elements of great cooking through the lenses of different countries. The Salt episode takes place mostly in Japan. For Fat, she goes to Italy. Acid is set in Mexico, and finally Heat focuses on her own kitchen. She is genuinely curious and appreciative of everything the locals she interviews for her show tell her, and constantly relates it back to her own culinary upbringing, but without overpowering the stories of her interview partners.

Mussakhan.JPG
No direct connection to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this is a meal that’s been a favourite in our household lately: Mussakhan, a Middle Eastern dish that involves chicken marinated with red onions, lemon juice, and sumac. In Samin Nosrat’s words: “It’s so good!”. Make it, you won’t be sorry (recipe here).

She’s unapologetic about her own enjoyment of food. Samin Nosrat’s relationship to eating seems so healthy and natural. It’s so good! she exclaims again and again, and you can’t not start salivating as you watch. I mean, imagine – a whole episode about fat without one single remark along the lines of ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘I shouldn’t really’, ‘just this once’…?! In a cooking show presented by a woman? This is unheard of. She even asks for more. This is how it should be, but too many times sadly it’s not.

In a world where women are constantly shamed for enjoying food, where exercise is frequently framed in terms of dieting and weight loss (women must work out so they can eat), and where talking about food in public is still defined by gender and racial stereotypes, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is huge. It’s refreshing, genuine, and heartwarming. Highly recommended! Also, you can get some of the recipes from the show on its website. A-ma-zing.

(Other people have written much more eloquently than I ever could about the impact of this show, see e.g. here, and here.)

feminism · fit at mid-life · fitness · media

Sam and Tracy on Daily Blast Live! Resonating with journalists everywhere!

Image description: Low angle urban street shot of Tracy, standing in workout clothing, Sam, in workout clothes with a black tank top that says FEMINIST, on her bike, standing with one foot in the pedal. Stop sign and building in background.
Image description: Low angle urban street shot of Tracy, standing in workout clothing, Sam, in workout clothes with a black tank top that says FEMINIST, on her bike, standing with one foot in the pedal. Stop sign and building in background.

Sam and I did another TV thing the other day, and it was great to have an opportunity to visit her in Guelph, where she’s heading into her ninth month of the big new job! We had to be in the same room to Skyped in to do a taped interview for Daily Blast Live! It’s a TV show that is syndicated across over 40 stations in the US and also shows on YouTube and Facebook. We’ve learned a couple of things about TV and interviews in general since the book came out and we’ve done some media. One is that TV interviews are super brief and you have to get to the point really quickly. Here’s our Daily Blast Live segment, which was only a 5 minute interview to begin with and then got edited down to about 2:30.

The other thing we’ve learned is that, especially for the women who interview us, the book really resonates with the interviewers in a personal, non-journalistic way. Even in the parts that they kept, this interviewer was enthusiastically committed to our book and its message. But throughout the five minutes we were chatting with her, she expressed a personal identification with the book and its message several times.

This particular interviewer didn’t turn to a sad personal story. But we have had many an interview where at a certain point the person asking the questions switched from her journalistic role to her own life, her struggles with body image, fitness, dieting, and weight loss. It’s never a happy story. At least so far it never has been.

We don’t feel great about the sad stories, but it’s not as if it’s news to us that many (most?) women have a vexed relationship with their bodies, workouts, and food. So it’s encouraging when our feminist fitness message resonates with anyone, even the journalists who are interviewing us.

Here’s to feminist fitness!