body image · covid19 · femalestrength · gender policing · normative bodies · self care

Own this moment for yourself

It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.

I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.

I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.

I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.

UGH.

Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.

I retreated inside, into my head.

Freddie, my road bike, with grey frame, orange bar tape, and orange accents, in happier times (last summer in Wales). Luckily, the cracked carbon fork was replaced under warranty!

Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.

I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.

This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.

How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.

Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.

 

I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.

We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.

My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.

Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).

Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.

Betty White, laughing, rocks her ‘do. It looks great ON HER.

For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.

Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?

Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.


Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.

It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.

I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.

So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.

I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.

I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.

But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.

I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!

Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.

body image · covid19 · diets · fat · normative bodies · weight loss · weight stigma

The “covid 19” isn’t funny, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic

I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.

That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.

Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.

If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).

This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.

That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.

We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?

I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.

Image description: Pie chart of “Things I’ve Learned i the last few weeks,” with the 3/4 of the chart taken up with “I fucking love touching my face.”
Image description: White mug with black printing on it in bold, made to look like a broken mirror, and says “I don’t like this episode of Black Mirror.”
aging · beauty · fitness · normative bodies · objectification · racism · sex · stereotypes

Women’s bodies and football and racism and being a babe at 50

I know you might have been watching the game. But me, the only bit I’ve watched was the amazing halftime show put on by J. Lo and and Shakira. Did you see it? So good. They performed a medley of their music along with some amazing choreography and wore gorgeous costumes. It was fun and beautiful and I loved it.

But no sooner had I enjoyed it than the commentary began. Do you know that J. Lo and Shakira are 50 and 43, respectively? There was a lot of commenting about that. There was also a lot of commenting about their “sinful” costumes. And should they really be wearing so little clothing? (Sometimes said, sometimes implied, “at their age.”) Isn’t this just the objectification of women’s bodies?

A friend said on Facebook, earlier in the day, about football, that it was a good principle in general to “let people enjoy things.” I think the same thing is true about the halftime entertainment.

There was an awful lot of critical commentary. So many words about women’s bodies. A conservative Christian mother of three took to Twitter to liken the halftime show to pornography and Twitter responded about as expected.

To give you a flavour of the anti-halftime show Christian comments, here’s Rev. Franklin Graham, “I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated tonight in the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show — with millions of children watching. This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it.”

USA Today weighed in, Empowering, not objectifying. Amen. Thank you USA Today. Argument: They’re adult women and this is about choice.

This blog’s frequent guest Sarah Skwire had the best response. I laughed during a university meeting reading it.

Sarah wrote. “I gather some women had bodies on television last night. This, of course, never happened when I was a child. Certainly not during prime time, when we watched clean and healthy shows like Wonder Woman, Buck Rodgers, Logan’s Run, Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Love Boat which never sexualized women’s bodies, or made scanty outfits a central point of their plots, or exposed young children to sexual situations..

When I was a child, women in entertainment all dressed like Edith Bunker.”

Why so much policing of women’s bodies? Did it make a difference do you think the women’s bodies in question weren’t white? Did it seem especially sinful/sexy and in need of control because they were brown women dancing? Was race a factor?

Read Dear White People: The Super Bowl Halftime Show Wasn’t Too Sexy, You’re Just Racist if you want to hear the arguments.

On Facebook Kristin Wolf had this to say:

“White people:
I see your posts about how their bodies and their dancing made you uncomfortable.

Did you notice the Latinx kids in cages singing BORN IN THE USA and LETS GET LOUD surrounded by an illumined Venus symbol? Did you notice the foot work? Did you notice the rope Shakira tied around her body while belly dancing? Can you think more deeply about what that image meant? Did you notice bilingual songs and two of the hottest Raggaeton artists as guests? Did you notice the 🇵🇷? Did you notice that sex work is legitimate work and the pole wasn’t about you?

Y’all save your righteous anger for the weirdest stuff. I wish y’all were as uncomfortable about kids in cages as you are about brown bodies.

STOP POLICING BROWN BODIES.”

So there’s sex and there’s race, but there’s also an age angle. So much talk of their age. Did you know J.Lo is 50? Did you know Shakira is 43?

The New York Times had this to say: “Well, on Sunday Ms. Lopez showed the world what 50 looks like — at least her version of it.” Read The Power of 50.

But that prompted a lot more spilt ink about being 50 and looking like J. Lo.

From the New Yorker article THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW, AND THE AGELESS COMFORTS OF J. LO : “Magazines and Web sites regularly publish articles that promise to reveal the secrets to Lopez’s continued youthfulness (how does she look so good at fifty?), and her ability to maintain a firm-skinned foxiness is a key part of our fascination with her. (I can’t purport to guess how she does this, though I would imagine that a punishing exercise regimen and diet, and access to top dermatologists and perhaps plastic surgeons, form at least part of the answer.) But Lopez’s still-point-of-the-turning-world quality goes beyond her physical appearance. There is something reassuringly unchanging about her presence, too. “

A friend lamented that J. Lo’s existence, looking that amazing, puts pressure on the rest of us 50 somethings to look like that too. It’s not realistic, said the friend, to expect the rest of us who aren’t J. Lo to chase that standard.

That’s the worry, right. If she can do it, why can’t I? It didn’t help that a personal trainer chimed in and commented on my friend’s status said yes, we could all do that if we wanted to. It wouldn’t even take much time or money. He said we just needed dedication, commitment, a gym membership, and an hour a day. I remain skeptical about the hour a day part. I’m also skeptical that any amount of exercise would do it.

We’ve worried about this before here on the blog. A a few years ago Tracy asked Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?

By the way, she’s still at it now at 65. See Christie Brinkley, 65, lights up Instagram with holiday swimsuit photoshoot.

Tracy asked then, “Is there not an age where we can stop thinking about whether men think we look hot in a bikini? It may be that the Christie Brinkley photo shoot, rather than addressing ageism, just raises the bar for older women (like: why don’t you look like Christie Brinkley in a bikini?).”

Do you you find J. Lo’s looks at 50 inspiring or worrying? If the former, you’ll want to watch the video below.

Here’s J. Lo’s workout routine to get in shape for the show in case you want to start training.

men · normative bodies

Men, body image, and shame

Over time, here on the blog, there are things that become, for each of us, our topics. I’m our go-to person for writing about men and body image. I’m not sure why. It might be that I am the parent of two 20-something men and I watched how these issues affected them growing up. Certainly it’s true that I didn’t get the egalitarian world I wanted, one in which women got the body comfort traditionally available to men. Instead, men got normative thinness and body shaming. They even got Spanx. Ugh.

Exhibit A: They’re even body shaming Jason Momoa. I love this response.

Exhibit B:

People are telling men what to wear now too, shorts over leggings for example.  It’s like the push to have women wear skirts over leggings for fear of revealing butts and camel toe except this time it’s shorts not skirts and the pressure to cover up is on men not women.

Writes Bret Williams who makes the case for men wearing leggings alone, sans shorts: “I’m not advocating for everyone to totally ditch shorts for good if they don’t feel so inclined (not all women love the tight all over look, either). I’m just saying that the stigma that surrounds a leggings-only outfit for men should be lifted. That dismissive attitude does exist. Go to any gym or athletic event and you’ll find tons of guys rocking compression leggings as a base layer, but most (if not all) of them will also be sporting a loose pair of shorts on top. That doesn’t always make sense for performance— you’ll get the same compression benefits and comfort whether you layer it up or not.”

It turns out that men who just wear compression shorts or tights, without baggy shorts over top, often go for a strategically placed towel instead. Here’s the Rock defending his well-placed towel. Short version: He says he sweats a lot. Others aren’t convinced about that account.

Jezebel asks, Why Are Men at the Gym Wearing Dick Towels? 

The answer is compression tights and modesty.

From Jezebel. “Men’s compression tights have recently been called the “must-have” piece of clothing that, according to Esquirewill make every workout better.” The benefits reportedly include increased blood flow and reduced muscle fatigue. (A recent study cast doubt on that latter claim.) The Rock himself has launched multiple pairs of branded Under Armour tights that promise an “ultra-tight, second-skin fit.” But it seems “second-skin” fit feels like “first skin,” judging by the Reddit threads debating whether it’s acceptable for men to wear compression tights without taking secondary measures to cover up their “junk.” Quora threads inquire, “Are running tights for men immodest?” and “Is it ok for men to wear leggings in public?” Most commenters recommend embracing the tights-only look, wearing shorts over them, or using compression shorts underneath.”

I don’t care if men want to wear shorts or strategically placed towels. It’s the cover up your messy body parts body shaming that gets me for people of all genders. I especially hate the version of this shaming that says it’s okay to wear revealing things if you have a perfect body but imperfect bodies should be hidden

 

accessibility · body image · disability · normative bodies · SamanthaWalsh · standing · wheelchairs

Samantha stands and has complicated feelings about it (Guest post)

By Samantha Walsh

On the weekend I went to @abilities_expo for work. It’s a trade show of disability related services and products. A company called wheelchair88 was showing a standing wheelchair. It was a manual wheelchair you could lock then move the wheelchair into a standing position. You can’t move once you are standing.

Thoughts on standing straight from someone who has never stood straight…

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more beautiful if I was standing. I know I was older than 20, but younger than 25.

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more powerful if I could meet someone’s eye. It was older than 25, but younger than 33.

I know as a child if asked to draw a picture of myself, I would draw a standing person. I did this till I was 6 or 7. After that I often drew people using wheelchairs, but would still draw myself standing.

I know by grade 4 I started drawing pictures of me using a wheelchair, because I started playing wheelchair basketball and often drew about that for school.

When I was young I had lots of surgery and different interventions so I could stand and walk. It’s interesting that the mark of success for doctors and therapists was always that I could hobble or shuffle. Standing would be an all encompassing lactic acid filled experience.

I am often surprised it is still the gold standard. Facebook and YouTube videos depicting folks with disabilities who vowed to walk to get diplomas; walk down isles; stand for first dances. I have adult friends whose parents refused them wheelchairs. In turn they have internalized that standing, walking, shuffling is best.

A wheelchair to me offers liberty and a stable fast painless way to move. Even with all this I was seduced by the opportunity to stand straight. I picked an outfit I was curious about seeing standing. I compelled a coworker to take pictures.

Standing felt unnatural. My head was too high. My legs don’t go straight the brace had to force them. My spine curves from sitting so it hurt. To me the social significance of standing comes from a culture that privileges a specific kind of body. I feel grateful I no longer understand my own posture as inferior.

Today was interesting…

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.