Sat with Nat

Belly Patrolling

So I’ve touted my comfy no-bra summer styling and up until last week I had not gotten one piece of negative feedback.

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I love this combo, cool in the August heat and delightfully free of the boob jail thing called a bra. So I’m standing at a busy intersection at night wearing something similar to above. It’s after midnight on a Tuesday spent laughing with dear friends at Rock’n’Roll Bingo and a car drives by. A man in his late teens or early twenties yells out “I just LOVE YOUR BELLY!”

The sarcasm was pretty clear. I wasn’t terribly upset but I was perplexed. Why on earth would he feel entitled to comment on my belly?

My partner was quick to pick up the point “Oh women must be, at all times, attractive to all men or suffer the wrath of being patrolled.” Of course! How silly of me to forget sexism.

The idea that I, a women in my 40s, should strive to be attractive to all men, including men my son’s age, is ridiculous.

What bothered me most was that moment when I wondered if there was something wrong with the way I looked. I quickly shook it off, reminding myself that my belly carried two babies and looks, well, matronly. Sure, I can hoist my breasts up and look more traditionally appealing, but why would I? It’s summer, it’s hot and bras are for work or vigorous exercise.

I have a loving partner of 20 years who adores me. I have lots of flirty moments in my life where I feel attractive and get validated that I am my own brand of awesome.

So young fella, as adored as me you may not be when forty you are. Oh and SUCK IT, cause ya, I’m tired of this crap and it can end with you thank you very much!

Weekends with Womack

Bibs vs. bike shorts for women: no contest, the bibs have it

This week I got my newest bibs in the mail and tried them out.

No, I don’t mean these.

bibs-baby

I mean something like these:

bibs-mine

In nature, with a person in them (in this case, me) complete with jersey, helmet and bike, they look like this:

me-in-bibs

Many readers of this blog who are cyclists or triathletes no doubt already own cycling shorts. And if you ride a bike often but haven’t taken the spandex plunge, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Wearing spandex shorts makes cycling so much more comfortable in lots of ways. They provide coverage and a smooth and tight fit without seams, chafing, flapping, etc. And of course the chamois inside provides a bit (but not too much) padding to make extended saddle time comfortable.

Well, if you liked cycling shorts, you’ll love bib shorts. I bought my first pair a couple of years ago and almost never wear my regular cycling shorts anymore.

Why, you might ask?

On principle of not reinventing the wheel here, another cyclist blogger has already made the general case for bib shorts here.  However, my favorite reasons for wearing them are the following:

Advantage 1): They are very well-behaved and stay in place—no tugging, hitching, or pulling needed.

Advantage 2): They help provide full coverage during a ride, even if your jersey rides up or moves around, because they are higher waisted (with no waistband, just continuous fabric through the suspenders).

Advantage 3:) They feel smoother, sleeker (perhaps even a teeny bit faster), because they’re a little tighter and hold you in place. For me, bibs on the bike make me feel like a speedo does in the pool—sleek and smooth, rather than flappy or scrunched or wadded up. The fabric is taut and held in place by the suspenders, and the jersey lies flatter against it.

Advantage 4): Some bibs even come with a little radio pocket. And if you’re not busy using it to for your race radio to get tactical advice from your team manager, you can use it to stow your phone. That’s handy.

In fairness to opponents of bib shorts, though, here are some standard objections to them, along with my replies.

Objection 1): Bibs make bathroom breaks a big pain.

Reply 1): In some ways, yes—you have to take off your jersey (which may not have a full zipper, as most women’s jerseys don’t, for reasons which passeth understanding). But you get used to it, and honestly, the no-waistband feature makes them easier to get smooth when putting yourself back together.

Objection 2): Bib shorts are hotter than regular shorts because of the extra fabric for the suspenders and higher waist.

Reply 2): Honestly, when I’m cycling, I sweat a bunch anyway, so I can’t really tell that bibs are any hotter than shorts. I’ve even mountain biked in the summer in them, when one gets maximally hot, and they seem about the same. Pro cyclists wear them, and even wear an under layer beneath their jerseys, and they don’t seem to mind. So there…

Objection 3): Bibs often cost twice as much as regular cycling shorts.

Reply 3): Yep, that’s a fact. But if you’re into cycling, this shows that you’re already willing to lay down some serious money for a recreational sport. Take heart—at least cycling gear and equipment costs less than polo, Formula one/Grand Prix auto racing, and yachting. That’s something. Besides, they do go on sale—I got a deal on two pairs last week.

Objection 4): So if you like bibs so much, how do you account for all those sex-kitten photos of women wearing them topless?

Reply 4): You know, not everything is my fault. Besides, bibs don’t exploit women; stupid cheesecake photographers and misogynistic marketing people exploit women.

One last bib shorts etiquette note: if you’re likely to be photographed wearing bibs (and about to cross the finish line, triumphant), make sure to zip up your jersey first.  Don’t let this happen to you:

jersey unzipped

So readers:  do you wear bibs?  Do you hate bibs?  Do you wish all your pants had suspenders?  I’d like to know.

Sat with Nat

A bee, some barf and a bicycle flat

A short report on a 60 km ride I did on Sunday May 3.

It was gorgeous in London, Ontario. We struck out at 9 am along the bike paths heading east, the red wing blackbirds were singing. It was warm. By 10 am we were well outside the London city limits and it was getting toasty. So much so I whipped off my shirt and rode  in my bra, shorts and open toe sandals. Oh so sweaty. I had a moment where I thought, “oh no people will see my belly!” but that was quickly forgotten because I felt instantly cooler and more comfortable. A headwind when it’s hot feels refreshing. It’s hard to believe a month ago it was 8C and a headwind was chilling me to the bone.

Everyone was out, cyclists, runners and motorcyclists, all wanting to soak up the sun. We got to Belmont before 11 am and enjoyed lots of yummy food. Back on our bikes and heading towards London I was huffing along trying to catch up to Randonneurs Dave & Michel when I inhaled a bee.

It thwacked the back of my throat and I swallowed reflexively. I tried coughing it back up as I felt a burning and swelling in  my throat (maybe a sting?) then I started uncontrollably vomiting…at speed. Of course it was at speed. So as I’m slowing down, retching, I hit a very small pothole. Then the road seemed very bumpy, no wait, I’m losing control, oh is this a fricking de-railer thing? I wobble to a stop and try to regain some semblance of dignity (ya, no, that car going by totally saw me honk my guts out). I get off my bike, wipe my mouth and see it is only a flat. My spare is riding away from me on Michel’s back (I’ve haven’t gotten an under-seat bag yet for my flat kit). I call out “GUYS! Guys! I ate a bug!” I am six year old me, kind of pouty lipped and sad. I hate vomiting. I hate inhaling bugs. I hate not being 100% independent and needing help. “Guys! Wait up guys!”

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Michel sensed a disturbance in the force and looked back, seeing me walking my bike he wheeled around. We get the tire off the bike and Dave is there offering to teach or do. “Just change it, I will learn by watching this time.” No, I haven’t changed a flat yet, it was my first. Dave walked me through how best to do it. I would have taken everything off the rim but it is way easier just to slide the inner tube out leaving the tire mostly in place.

I grabbed the hand pump only to find the nozzle, which was there a couple weeks ago, missing. Dave had CO2 cartridges, thank goodness we are friends! So the flat fix took about 15 minutes, thank you Dave!

Back in town we stopped for iced tea, I had overheated quite a bit and was starting to have a headache. I eventually remembered to put my shirt back on as a few friends rode by lovingly calling out to me “Hey sexy lady!” Right, I’m standing on a busy rode in naught but a bra and cycling shorts breaking all the fat girl rules.

My bike, Ethel, only has one water bottle clip and I definitely need a second, I refilled my bottle twice and was still a little dehydrated by the end of the ride. Michel had switched to his new fixie, Handsome Bob, and needs water bottle holders too. It’s been quite the experience getting geared up over the past 9 months, it seems we are always finding more things we need, like under seat bags, a multi-tool, a repair kit etc for me. I’ve been sharing with Michel but that moment of seeing all my repair options disappear over a hill was not cool.

So, there was a bee, some barf and a bicycle flat. It’s a funny story and a very memorable ride. I’m thankful I’m not allergic to bees!

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body image · fitness

Treadmills in Sheds? Yes, That’s Happening for Reasons That Aren’t Okay

shed-clipart-shed_tng_standard_feltDid you see the UK Huffington Post article earlier this week that said women are working out in sheds for fear of being judged? Sam and I were working on our book this morning. I’m on the part about the feminization of fitness, which led me to thinking about how form-fitting fitness clothing keep lots of women away from getting active.

Sam has blogged about that before. See her post “No way I’m wearing that: body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women in sport.” The irony is that the more absorbed we get in a sport the less likely we are to be concerned about how we look. I can tell you this: the last thing on my mind during the marathon on Sunday was my appearance (well, okay, I didn’t want to be caught sobbing on camera, but that was all).

We got chatting about that a bit (instead of writing) and then she reminded me about the shed story from the other day:

Women are steering clear of fitness for “fear of being judged”, a new Government report has revealed.

Another heartbreaking reality was that those who do want to keep fit are choosing to exercise in their sheds, hidden away, out of fear of being laughed at.

The report comes after Public Health England revealed that the number of women achieving recommended levels of physical activity was far lower than men – 31% of females engage in sport once a week compared to 40.1% of men.

The report, which has been collated by the Commons’ Health Select Committee, labels “fear of judgement” as a key factor when it comes to why women’s fitness levels are below par.

Kay Thomson from Sport England said: “Three quarters of women want to become more active but something is stopping them – fear of judgement.

“Judgement about appearance when exercising, ability to be active, confidence to turn up to a session, or feeling guilty about going to be physically active or doing something when you should have been spending more time with your family.”

It’s sad and alarming that fear of being judged about their appearance or their level of ability is keeping women from doing something that can, in fact, create confidence and an alternative body-narrative that isn’t so focused on looks.  More than that, getting active is a matter of social equality. If women are so worried that they will be judged harshly that they are either not getting active at all or are putting their treadmills in the shed, that’s a disturbing comment on the way fitness media, fitness culture, and normative expectations of women’s bodies work to exclude, marginalize, and dis-empower women.

The exclusion is well-articulated in the words of this woman who participated in the survey:

She revealed: “When I looked online for information, there was lots about weight loss and running but nothing about running just as an overweight person, the psychological aspects of that and how tough it is when you are constantly shouted at, laughed at and clothes in fitness stores don’t fit you.

“It feels like the whole sport is not geared up for you.”

Fitness activities and physical exercise are not just for people who are already thin, not just for the young, not just for those with athletic builds or natural talent.

We need a more inclusive approach that does not body-shame people and does not perpetuate the idea that only a certain demographic has a right to engage in physical activity. I’ve written before about this idea of inclusive fitness. We are far from that ideal and the UK study presents clear evidence that more needs to be done to deliver a different message:

“I have women who tell me they run on a treadmill in their shed because they just don’t want to be seen in public,” she said. “But that is part of the problem. Because we don’t see many overweight women exercising in public, other women don’t think that exercise is for them.”

“They think it is for all the slim people that they always see out in the parks.”

She added that larger women aren’t able to get hold of sports kits which fit them properly, which presents another barrier: “No woman wants to dress in men’s clothing to go out for a run when there is already the risk of being laughed at.”

In my post on inclusive fitness, I said:

I’m old school about one fairly simple staple in feminist discourse: people begin to believe they can achieve something if they see others like themselves represented doing the thing they want to achieve.

It’s not just in the media that we need wider representation, but also in everyday life. If larger women can’t even find workout gear that fits appropriately, then that sends the further message that such activity is not meant for them.

In the UK, there is a movement afoot to create a more attractive picture of physical activity to a wider group of women:

The Government now hopes to address these barriers and issues by releasing a programme on diet and physical activity which works to examine how women, those with disabilities and overweight people, can be encouraged and supported to be more active.

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign is also helping to get women moving by showing “real women” working out – in a bid to help others summon up the courage to get active.

It’ll be interesting to watch how this all plays out, and whether the campaign will succeed in creating a truly welcoming and positive attitude towards diversity among those engaged in physical activity.

Meanwhile, I think we can all agree that sheds may be great places to store our gear, but no one should feel so judged that they choose the shed as the place to use their gear.

body image · clothing · fashion

Further thoughts on camel toe, Barbie crotch, and the quest for tidy bodies

https://i0.wp.com/www.ebsqart.com/Art/Robbins-Gallery/Mixed-Media-Acrylics-Wood/43283/650/650/Barbie-Doll-Crotch.jpg
Barbie Doll Crotch
– by Robbin-Art
http://www.ebsqart.com/Art-of-the-Day/Doll-Art/39/Barbie-Doll-Crotch/43283/

Just to be clear, I’m not pro-camel toe (whatever that would mean, I’m not quite sure) and I think it’s perfectly consistent to be a feminist and not want to show off the contours of your private parts to the world.

What concerns me about ‘camel toe’ though are three different, but connected, phenomena.

First is the tendency to name unruly body bits such as muffin top, thunder thighs, and camel toe. I’m worried here about body shame and body policing. We give names to these ‘problem areas’ of the female body and then they take on lives of their own. Of course, then others sell us things to solve the problem and the ‘solution’ further advertises the problem and down the spiral goes.

Second is the tendency to hone in on one standard  as to what certain body parts should look like and then everything outside that single norm is wrong and flawed. I mentioned in  my first post on camel toe that it’s the Barbie crotch as ideal that concerns me–smooth, hairless, flat, and plastic.  Few women have a perfectly flat vulva. The size of labia are connected to other ways we vary- age, weight, and then partly normal variation in anatomy. It’s interesting to note that Barbie also a thigh gap.

Third, it’s already the case that the majority of women say they are put off exercising  by the way they look in fitted sports clothing . “67% of women say they wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.” See No way am I wearing that! Body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women’s sports.  Adding camel toe to the list of things we worry about can’t be helping this problem.

I also fear that there might be a connection between the concern over camel toe and unruly, protruding labia and the recent trend to labial cosmetic surgery.

“In 2007 the British Medical Journal reported that labioplasty procedures (the surgical procedure that cuts the labia to reduce its size – um, ouch) in the UK had doubled in a five year period. The study authors made a direct link to the rise in surgery to the rise in the availability of pornographic imagery. They were quoted as saying “Patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora… Some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from advertisements or pornography that may have been digitally altered.””A frank discussion about vaginas

The article goes to express concern that the photos of female genitalia in adult magazines are heavily ‘airbrushed’ to make them even neater and tidier. Again, this language of “neat and tidy.”

You can read more in the Guardian, Labiaplasty surgery increase blamed on pornography: Doctors blame internet porn boom as more women seek ‘designer vaginas’ through genital surgery

Cosmetic surgery clinics says sports and sports clothing play a role in a woman’s decision to seek surgery.

“The number one reason for a labiaplasty is the desire to reduce pain or discomfort experienced while wearing tight clothing (such as jeans or yoga pants) or playing sports (especially bike riding or horseback riding) or engaging in other physical activities.

The second most common reason for labiaplasty is shame or embarrassment about the way their genitals look and the desire to change their appearance. It can make a huge difference in a woman’s life to feel better about the way her body looks.

Other times, women want to increase sexual function– a reduction of the labia or clitoral hood can provide greater exposure of the clitoris, allowing for increased stimulation.

Occasionally, a woman’s labia are damaged during childbirth, and the procedure is restorative.” http://www.beclinic.com/en/labiaplasty

Admittedly cosmetic surgery is costly, the risks are high, and so you might opt instead to control your unruly labia with an anti-camel toe shield.

Here’s Les at xojane writing, You Should Fear The Barbie Crotch

“This anti-camel-toe shield isn’t just good for a laugh. It’s also an illustration of how industry can manufacture and then fulfill a need by making you insecure about your body.

Regretsy turned up this anti-camel-toe product, the Smooth Groove, a sort of vaginal shoehorn that you stick inside your pants to avoid embarrassing ride-up. It’s super-ridiculous and hilarious, especially the ad, which doesn’t use the phrase “the heartbreak of camel toe” but might as well.
“Even the women who hadn’t experienced camel toe themselves… knew of someone who had.” Gosh, could that be because we all have LABIA?

The instant Barbie crotch is a completely absurd product, and I don’t expect it to show up in Walgreen’s any time soon. But it’s not just good for a laugh; it’s also an illustration of how industry can manufacture and then fulfill a need by making you insecure about your body. So many products — wrinkle creams, body shapers, depilatories, hair extensions — are just Barbie crotches in disguise.”

Okay, suppose you decide against surgery and against the shield. You’re going to live with your body as is. Don’t worry you can still have the perfect Barbie crotch in the form of a necklace.

Artist Allie Pohl, has created a jewellery range displaying her views on the female idealised form. Pohl states: ‘I strive to express the absurdities, conflicts and hypocrisies society presents about ‘ideal’ women’ – and indeed she does… in the form of a certain iconic doll’s nether region. See The Ideal Woman and Barbie’s crotch, 

More reading:

  • And finally, if you want to get a sense of the range of normal have a look at the 101 vaginas project. (Contains photos of vaginas, obviously, so follow this link somewhere that’s an okay thing to be looking at.)
  • There’s also a Canadian book Vulva 101 with similar aims and aspirations.
body image · clothing · fashion

The day I discovered the dreaded camel toe

Okay so I live in a bit of a cave. It’s a happy cave filled with friends, family, and other assorted human and non human loved ones who largely share my attitudes to a whole bunch of important stuff. (Except maybe the cat. The cat might be an anti-feminist infiltrator. You can never tell with cats.)

That’s either because we talked one another into these views or they’ve been socialized into them (hi teens!) or they’re part of the price of admission to the cave. But the downside of living in a happy cave is that it can be a bit of an echo chamber with the same shared ideas rattling around.

That’s my long way of explaining how it was I came to know about camel toe so late in the game. And in this case, I’ve got to say I’m not sure either the world or me is any better for the knowledge. It just makes me grumpy.

First, what is it with these turns of phrase to describe women’s ‘flawed’ body bits? Camel toes, back fat, dinner plate arms, muffin tops, ‘turn off the headlights’? What? Just stop it please. Loathe your own body if you want but end it with the labels.

Until a story complaining about Lulelemon’s ‘no more camel toe’ ad crossed my Facebook newsfeed, I had no idea this was an issue. At first I didn’t get the ad since I didn’t see the problem they were talking about as a problem. And the name made no sense to me.

I was forced to Google the phrase. (My advice: don’t. Celebrity camel toe tumblrs? It’s a sad world.)

Wikipedia tells me this: “Camel toe is a slang term that refers to the outline of a human female’s labia majora, as seen through tightly fitting clothes. Due to a combination of anatomical factors and the snugness of the fabric covering it, the crotch andpudendal cleft may take on a resemblance to theforefoot of a camel.”

There you have it.

My question: Why do we care?

It matters to women who lead physically active lives since it’s fitted sports clothing which causes women who care the most grief. I started to wonder if the dreaded camel toe was part of the story about what made running skirts so popular. (Read about running skirts and sexism here.) Bike shorts are safe (phew! ) since the chamois crotch padding covers up that part of women’s bodies.

But why does it matter in the first place? Why is it even an issue?

Here’s some musings:

Partly I think it’s connected to nervousness about weight and disgust about fat. (Chubby there is bad because chubby everywhere is bad, now your labia can be too fat along with everything else.)

Partly it’s about moving to one homogenous body type. Soon we’ll all look like Barbie, with a hairless, featureless, flat public region.

Partly it’s because there should be no reminders that women’s bodies are at all sexual. No visible labia goes along with no visible nipples. (Read about nipple phobia here.)

And of course it’s about selling us things. Create a problem, some new body insecurity and then market a solution.

This makes the most sense to me since I didn’t know what camel toe was until Lululemon came along with the solution. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. Like the visible panty lines of my youth (pre thong, I bought special underwear designed to minimize VPL about which I only became aware after an ad campaign for said underwear mentioned the problem) and visible nipples now (saw special bandaid like stickers in a store just today, to wear on your nipples, under clothing and to avoid visible nipples), it’s one more thing women have to check on the way out the door. Body policing and the internalized panopticon continues.

It’s hard not see it as part of an ever increasing trend of high maintenance self care. Not just shaving, now waxing, labial cosmetic surgery and beauty standards for body bits that in the past we could happily ignore.

I look at photos from my high school days. All tight jeans and camel toes everywhere. Who knew?