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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
Jean-Luc PIcard, upon reading the TLC story, had no words.
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:
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.
I agree. What would you want to see in a Fit is a Feminist Issue reality show? Or podcast? Just curious…
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.
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 Tablestill 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.
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.)
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.
Sam and I are kind of stoked these days because of all the book excitement over Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey , published by Greystone Books. Everyday, wherever I go, people are congratulating me (friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers). No doubt Sam is having the same experience. It makes me smile.
We are thrilled to see the exposure the book is giving to our message of inclusive fitness, and have had more outlets than usual to promote what we believe in. From radio (the CBC National syndicate last week) to national newspapers (The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star last week).
In the next few days, we have three big moments:
Friday, April 27: An appearance on the Global Television Morning Show at 9:20 a.m. We are excited and nervous at the same time, since we are driving into Toronto for FOUR minutes on television. Last week when we did the radio interviews, each of us doing seven or eight in a three hour period, the interviews were 5-7 minutes and seemed to fly by. It’s a bit daunting to have just four minutes between the two of us (also, we have no idea what the questions are, and it’s live television).
Saturday, April 28: London, Ontario Book Launch Party, 2-3 p.m. at the Landon Library in London’s Old South neighborhood of Wortley Village. This promises to be a big friends and family event where we get to celebrate with our local circles. For this one, we’re going to talk about how the book came to be and each read a little from it. Then we’ll have a Q&A followed by a book sale, handled by our local independent Oxford Book Shop, and anyone who wishes can get us to sign their book with our illegible handwriting. Plus: vegan cupcakes from BoomBox Bakery.
Thursday, May 3: Guelph, Ontario Book Launch Party, 7-9 p.m. at the Bookshelf Bookstore in Guelph. Sam just moved there to take up her big new job, and we wanted to give her a chance to celebrate the book with her new local community. We’ll have a similar talk — about the book and its message — read a few pages, answer a few questions, sell and sign and have refreshments.
We’ve got other things — magazine articles, podcast interviews, book excerpts, more radio spots. We’re excited, so please forgive us for basking in our moment for the next little while. We will be posting regular updates of book-related news and events. And before you know it, the moment will pass and it’ll be business as usual, with a few more fit feminists out there than there used to be.
We do have a request, and that is, if you read the book we would love to start seeing your reviews on Amazon and on Goodreads.
The book’s premise is that a component of fitness could be the ability to handle harsh environments.
It’s been a long time since I did my survival courses in the military but the lessons I learned were very helpful. Take my winter survival course, I learned that when you live 24/7 outside with the right gear and skills your body will adapt to daytime high of -40C. A few days into the 1 week course I shed my heavy mitts, balaclava and parka and walked about in my sweater and snow pants. My body adapted and could provide the extra BTUs to keep me warm.
The thing is, that adaptation is temporary. One night in a heated room and I was back to bundling up. The long term impact for me was understanding what I needed to be safe in that weather. I learned that while I would be cold at first I could survive and adapt to the environment. I learned that lined winter tents are fantastic but also that a thick bed or fir boughs with a tarp as a lean-to and a small fire can keep you going a long time.
There are lots of reasons to get used to being outdoors for extended periods of time and working through difficult situations. Along with the skills comes, well, a mental toughness that prevents me from giving up in bad times. Will I cry when tired, frustrated or in pain? Oh heck ya, almost always.
Do I think people should take ice baths? Uh, no. Definitely learn about boating safety if you are in the water, what to do if you fall through the ice if you skate or cross ice in winter.
Learning what to do in emergencies is helpful, you learn how to overcome the first impulses to panic by self soothing as well as the techniques to ensure the best outcome.
I’m skeptical of the claims that we all need to swim in icy water. Those conditions are dangerous and I’m not persuaded that the benefits outweigh the risks.
However, if you want to build skills and confidence definitely learn survival or emergency response skills. First Aid and CPR are a great way to start building up skills.
I hope you have awesome adventures and not have any emergencies.
I don’t love Walmart. I don’t love Cosmo Magazine. I really don’t love what Walmart has done with Cosmo Magazine in 5000 locations in the good ole’ USA. Sam brought this article to our attention on our contributor discussion page and said, “Blog fodder. Do feminists agree with conservatives on this one?” I swear sometimes she says stuff just to get me riled up enough to write a blog. . .oh. . .wait.
So in a nutshell, Cosmo will not be available at the checkout where all the precious minds of little girls might get polluted with its sordid sexual content. Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Formerly known as Morality in the Media) claimed it as a victory of her organization’s own making, referencing #metoo as the inspiration for this action. Walmart made a vague statement about it being a “business decision” in which it “consulted” with unnamed entities. Cosmo isn’t being banned. It’s just being moved.
Honestly, do I care? I hate Cosmo. I mostly hate it because it over promises on the sex tips. Here’s an example, “7 Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm“. It says these tips will “guarantee to help you orgasm”. But you know what? That’s bullshit. I’ve tried every one of them. I want my guarantee! They get me every time and dash my hopes. But you know what else is in there? This gem about the fight to include women’s choice into Obamacare. There’s also this one about my current favourite teen that isn’t related to me, Emma Gonzales, and the photoshopped picture of her ripping up the bill of rights.
When Sam asked if feminists agreed with conservatives, I will confess to having a trauma trigger. It all goes back to a time in 1990. I was a young impressionable law student and I read Catharine MacKinnon. For those who are too young to remember, these were troubled times in the feminist movement (I mean, when aren’t there troubled times). There was a general agreement that pornography, as conceptualized by the patriarchy, was not great for women. It was not about our pleasure, it was not about our agency, it was not about our actual bodies. It was about our function and that function was to arouse and get off men. That’s objectifying. That’s an impoverished view of women and women’s sexuality. But in the hopes of doing something about it, feminists teamed up with the “moral majority” of conservative evangelical politics. They argued for an end to the scourge using legal tools and in the process, did a terrible disservice to a lot of women, including me. In this discourse, sexuality became even more of a source of shame and, as happens, marginalized sexuality took the brunt of it. Somehow the mainstream porn industry continued to thrive while it was harder for alternate voices to get in there and change any of these narratives. Things didn’t get better for women as a result of this unholy alliance because it got hijacked by the more powerful partner in the endeavour. (This is an admittedly uncomplicated summary).
Meanwhile I wasted 10 years of my life not doing fun sexy things that I wanted to do because I thought it would make me a bad feminist. Did those well meaning white lady anti-porn feminists mean for any of this to happen? Of course not. But you can be sure that the folks like Ms. Hawkins would be pretty pleased that I stayed away from all that perverted hanky panky I was trying not to think about.
So, back to beleaguered Cosmo. I wish it was not such a trashy mag. I wish it portrayed more real bodies. I wish the sex advice was better. But other than that, it’s not the worst. They have stopped putting diet advice on the cover. There is a lot in the magazine that speaks to women’s agency. That it reports on celebrity gossip is not a thing that should banish it to the back shelves. I’m curious if that trashiest of trash piles the National Enquirer can still be found eye level with the kidletts? Likely. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.
A brief perusal of the website of the NCOSE indicates that its main focus is on enforcing and strengthening obscenity law, educating young people about the dangers of overconsumption of porn, prohibiting the exchange of sex for money and somehow “stopping the demand for purchased sex”, I guess through the punishment of being caught (?). While their goals are around the protection of women and vulnerable young people, their tools involve repressing the material, not educating or empowering the victims in the ways I think are helpful. Their aims are also decidedly not sex or sex work positive. I guess that’s where we differ, me and Ms. Hawkins. Cosmo is imperfect, but it is somewhat educational. It reflects reality. NCOSE targeted Cosmo because it is a somewhat sex positive liberal trash mag. I will take that over a sex negative conservative mouth piece of a shameful president any day of the week.
Like seemingly everyone else, I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend, and I’ve got to say, it is one of my new problematic faves. For a couple of reasons that it’s problematic, see here and here and here. For a couple of reasons that it’s my fave, see here and here and, most importantly:
There are plenty of discussions to be had about this movie, ranging from the sharply critical to the “OH MY GOD THE AMAZONS THO.”
This post will be closer to the latter.
For the uninitiated, the Amazons are a group of women warriors. They are the inhabitants of Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira, a hidden island where no men live (and is thus a queer culture). The first twenty-ish minutes of Wonder Woman are set in Themyscira, but I could have watched an entire movie set there. The society is peaceful and just. The scenery is beautiful and a complete departure from the gritty, bad-Instagram-filter bleakness we have come to expect from the DC cinematic universe. And we get to watch the Amazons fight a lot. The Amazons place a high value on training for combat; they are fierce and intense and their training is rigourous. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite intimidated by the sight of a band of Amazons riding toward me at full speed. They are hardcore.
It is unusual and inspiring to see so many strong women depicted side by side in mainstream cinema. Muscular women are often characterized as being overly masculine and unattractive. Though it should be pointed out that most of the Amazons in the film are relatively slender, and it would have been cool to have more diverse body types portrayed, it’s nevertheless refreshing that their strength is glorified, not mocked. The performers are also genuinely strong; many of the Amazons were portrayed by professional athletes, making the group “look like the female version of 300.”
The Amazons (and indeed, the whole movie) made me go back to the gym. Obviously, I’m not a professional athlete. It often feels like an overstatement to call myself an athlete at all. I don’t really follow any fitness regimen to speak of, I tend to have more of a boom-and-bust cycle than anything regular, and I bounce from running to swimming to weightlifting to cycling to yoga and back again with no real structure or plan. This doesn’t really bother me—I just do what I like doing—and when I get bored, move on. Sometimes, I will get inspired to try something new or return to an old favourite (usually swimming, which is my one true love, but often weightlifting/strength training as well).
This time, what inspired me was the Amazons. I couldn’t believe how badly I wanted to hit the gym after seeing the film, and how truly excited I was to work out. I wanted to lift everything: myself, weights, tires. Heck, I would have lifted other people if they’d let me. Let me tell you, during this workout, I Wonder Woman’d HARD, including doubling my personal best for holding plank. (Yes, I’m bragging, and yes, I’m still sore.) Fitspiration, or “fitspo,” isn’t always a good thing, but in this case, Wonder Woman was the inspiration I needed. I wasn’t working out because I thought I deserved punishment, and I wasn’t working out because I wanted to look like an Amazon (although that would be cool). I was doing it because, even though I know the Amazons are fictional, I wanted to be one.
Now, if only I could figure out how to get to Themyscira…
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?)
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 isnotwork, 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.
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.