accessibility · clothing · fashion

Leggings are for life, says Sam (#leggingscanbepants, #leggingsforlife, #feministfashion)

Image result for leggings pants fighting humour

Readers know that I’m not a big fan of pants.

My main complaint is sizing. If they fit my thighs and calves, they’re enormous at the waist. See Finding clothes to fit athletic women’s bodies.

But also if I gain or lose even as little as 5 lbs, they don’t fit. So I end up with a range of sizes to cover a very small range of difference in weight.

And don’t get me going on the leg length thing. I usually have to hem pants which adds $10 or so to their price. Men’s pants seem to come in a variety of lengths but women, I guess, are all the same height.

Also don’t get my going on jeans, especially skinny jeans, which they all are on me. Aside from my yoga jeans, I might be done with jeans.

Last year I went on a leggings binge, trying lots of different kinds to find the perfect pair of plain black leggings for everyday use. I tried the full gamut from Lululemon (on sale!) to Hue to Joe Fresh. The price range was $90 (Lululemon, on sale) to $20 (Joe Fresh). The Lululemon are fine for yoga but too athletic for everyday. I’m not a big fan, especially given the price. The Joe Fresh were fine for PJs and hanging about the house but not really for work.

In the middle were the Hue leggings which I had great hopes for since I like their tights. But it wasn’t to be. They share the pants problem. The large isn’t stretchy enough for my legs. The XL falls down pretty much right away.

When friends who play roller derby recommended a Canadian brand I was intrigued. They’re also middle of the road price wise. And made in Canada.

ZENITH Leggings

Nice. I’m trying not buy stuff made in countries with sketchy labour laws. See this post for my call for ethical fashion. I struggle with sports clothes in particular.

Even without the “made in Canada” bonus point, they were my favourite. I’m setting out now to order more. They are high waisted, they stay up, and they work for either the gym or the office.

(For working out in my favorite leggings are by SuperfitHero, available in a very wide range of sizes.)

Why I am blogging about leggings now? My knee brace, above. That’s my snazzy custom fit, zero pain knee brace. But it’s causing a bit of a fashion crisis. It needs to be tight against my legs. I can either wear skirts and tights or leggings. No pants. Well, I could wear really wide leg pants and wear it under I guess. That’s what men do. But that’s not my thing.

Dresses and skirts need to fall either above the brace (very short) or below (very long). With short skirts I’m happiest in leggings so that’s what I am doing these days

So now I’m one of those people wearing leggings for all of the things.

Until summer (if it ever comes) and then I’m back to bike shorts under skirts.

body image · equality · fashion · Uncategorized

The Tata Top, Normalized Bodies, and Feminism

Sam wrote about “Nipple Phobia and Padded Sports Bras” way back in the early days of the blog. There she lamented the ubiquity of the padded sports bra (indeed, the padded bra more generally). Where we used to be able to find lots of unpadded bras and sports bras, nowadays it’s a real search.

Part of the reason for this, hypothesized Sam, is that we are caught in the grips of nipple phobia. We don’t want to see them or show them.  As Sam said, they’ve become what the visible panty-line used to be — an unsightly reminder of the natural bodies that actually live under our clothing.

Enter the Tata top.  This bikini top got a lot of press last week on-line.  From a distance, if you’re a white woman with an average sized chest wearing the light-tone Tata, it looks from afar as if you’re going topless.

Tata bikini top for light skin and pink nipples.
Tata bikini top for light skin and pink nipples.

I say if you’re a white woman because the medium tone and dark tone Tatas are not yet available. They are expected to ship in mid-August.  I say if you’re “average sized” because at present the tops are only available in small (A-B) and medium sizes (B-C). Anything larger than a C-cup is also on backorder, with this apology to larger women from the creators: “LARGE CHESTED LADIES…WE UNDERESTIMATED YOU BUT IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!

The Tata top is supposed to help fight breast stigma, topless inequality, and nipple phobia.  According to this Daily Beast article, it’s meant to help fight gender inequality. That makes it sound like a feminist statement if there ever was one.  The article continues:

The underlying goal of the bikini, however, is meant to desexualize the idea of female nipples and eliminate gendered double standards. Why should it be laughable, or even uncomfortable, for a woman to bare her breasts in public?

“By censoring an image of a woman’s chest and not a man’s it doesn’t end with removing that image from your platform,” Graves and Lytle conclude. “Whether you like it or not you are confirming that YES, a woman’s nipples are indecent and are something that need to be kept covered. You are endorsing that train of thought. You take yourself out of the business of providing a forum for free thinking and place yourself in the position of deciding what is immoral and what isn’t.”

So why, then, is there such an outcry among some feminists about this top?  Well, there are a number of reasons. The most common is that the first iteration — marketed to and for women with bodies that are white and slight — sends an unmistakable message about normative bodies.

The Jezebel article ends with this remark: “Like many aspects of modern-day feminism, right now, this one’s only available to women with light skin and disposable income. But the inventors of the Ta Ta Top promise that more colors are coming soon.”

The medium tone Tata top, available in mid-August.
The medium tone Tata top, available in mid-August.

The various attempts on the website to apologize, first to the “large-chested ladies” whom they “underestimated,” and then to women with “medium” or “dark” skintones don’t really succeed in overcoming the oversight. To the women with different skintones, they offered not so much an apology as a promise that the medium and dark tops will arrive and an excuse as to why they aren’t yet available:

Will you have other skin tones?

Absolutely but first we need to prove a market! Investing money and ending up with one TaTa Top is funny. Investing money in three tones and ending up with 2,000 TaTa’s is slightly less so. The more we sell the more tones and more styles we will able to offer. Take our TaTa Top poll to help us decide which direction to take next.

The dark-toned Tata, available in mid-August.
The dark-toned Tata, available in mid-August.

This is not a new issue by any means.  The “What’s Your Nude?” campaign raised awareness about how difficult it is to find “nude” bras in brown skin tones. See “Not MY Nude: Why I Started the Brown Bra Scavenger Hunt.

The “What’s Next?” poll on the Tata website focuses on extra small and extra large sizing and the turns to fashion, with four different piercing choices.

I also heard some people raising the usual questions about initiatives that raise their profile by aligning themselves with charities to support the already over-supported cause of breast cancer research. It might sound callous to roll one’s eyes whenever yet another thing promotes itself by raising money for breast cancer research, but the pink ribbon thing has many detractors, who complain about “pinkwashing”:

The term “pinkwashing” was coined by Breast Cancer Action in reference to companies that either promote breast cancer awareness without donating at all, are deceptive or not transparent about where any funds raised go, or put a pink ribbon on a product with known or suspected links to cancer.

For the ins and outs of the debate, see this Forbes article on “The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability.

By far the most interesting comment came to my from fellow feminist philosopher Kristin Rodier, who took issue with the claim that linked body exposure to freedom, and who very quickly asked about the range of sizes available. In order to further elaborate the point about exposure as freedom, she sent me Kelly Oliver’s paper, “Sexual Freedom as Global Freedom.”

The paper focuses on the Western “rhetoric of liberating ‘women of cover.”  Oliver argues that we in the west have reduced women’s freedom “to freedom to to dress (especially in revealing clothes for the eyes of others), governed by market forces of fashion and consumerism.”  She further claims that “this view of women’s freedom is used to justify military action elsewhere, and to reassure Western women of their own freedom at home. The rhetoric of liberating women elsewhere conceals women’s oppression here at home while at the same time reassuring us that we are liberated.”

How does the Tata top fit into this picture?  By purporting to address the issue of women’s oppression through a top that mimics maximum exposure of women’s upper bodies.  We may not (yet) have a achieved full gender equality because men can go topless while (for the most part) women cannot, but the Tata top is here to save the day.

As reported on “Ladies, now you can free your nipples without going topless.”  This focus on freedom belies a very Westernized perspective that, indeed, doesn’t even apply to all Western women.

I think the original limited offerings of this item only to light skinned women with pink nipples and A-C sized breasts demonstrates well whose nipple freedom “we” as a society will tolerate. Not everyone’s exposed skin is equally welcome, and when non-normative bodies are exposed, there is a different social meaning, a different kind of statement being made. It’s not just “fun.”

I get the impression from the website and different articles I’ve read that the company is not quite sure how to market the top.  The equality card is one angle. But they also claim to be wanting to normalize the breast and nipple so that they’re de-sexualized. Somewhere on the site it talks about normalizing the sight of women breast-feeding in public, which certainly is a worthwhile cause.

But the website isn’t wholly on board with the desexualization of the breast, and in fact when I first went to the website last week it included a “warning” that said: ““Disclaimer: Wearers are cautioned to be prepared for the onslaught of pick up lines it is sure to elicit.” That message, which seems to celebrate the top as an expression of sexuality, has since been removed (or at least I couldn’t find it when I went back).

I also think that the top is likely to have more applications as a novelty item than as an item that plays a huge role in achieving gender equality.  I think the size and skintone gaffes, as well as the more pointed perspective expressed in Oliver’s paper about how Westernized this idea of freedom through revealing clothing, raise serious questions about the top’s capacity to promote an inclusive feminist agenda.







aging · body image · fashion

On not growing old gracefully


“Aging also helps us grow into ourselves. We start to know what we like and don’t like. We stop giving a fuck what other people think of us.

Imagine, younguns, a world where you just don’t give a shit about looking stupid or what your friends think or falling down in public or impressing the Joneses or having to go along with the crowd to do things you hate. Imagine how awesome that would be. The liberation. The joyous freedom. The glorious sense of possibility. Well, if you’re lucky, that’s what getting older is.” Krista Scott Dixon, In Praise of Older Women

For what it’s worth I don’t plan to age gracefully. Depending on how well you know me this may not be a surprise.

Here I am approaching my life’s halfway mark. Halfway? How could that be?

I’m 48 and 96 might strike you as a tad ambitious.

Let me explain the math. Given family history, if I make it through my forties, 90 isn’t unreasonable. One can hope.The first ten years of life don’t count as years of my life really. That wasn’t me in the sense philosophers most care about. You can read more about the problem of personal identity here.

So, dying at, or around, 90 gives me 80 or so years past the age of ten. Counting after the age of 10 then, it’s 38 done, 42 to go. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Etc.

I’m also at the halfway mark in my career. I began as an assistant professor at 28 and ending at 68 sounds good. And here I am at 48.

And, here’s the best bit, lots of the hard work is done. I’m a full professor. (Professors move from the rank of assistant, associate, to full.) Kids are successful and happy, in their teen years and beyond. So the stressful, hard working of getting tenure and coping with toddlers is behind me.

So I’m going to have fun. I love my job, love teaching and love research and writing. Great friends. Great family. And as you know from reading this blog, lots of enjoyable and rewarding physical activities. Fun times and adventures ahead.

And unlike young me, I no longer fret over being taken seriously in the profession and in life.

Young me wasn’t ever that concerned about what people thought about how I looked, I explained why in a blog post on body positivity and the queer community. But older me could care even less.

As I get older, I’m happier there are fewer rules but the judging of women’s bodies, clothing, and choices doesn’t go away. Feminists should see a connection between the patrolling of young women’s clothes–think of slut shaming–and the policing of older women’s choices.

There are rules, I’m finding out, about what older women shouldn’t wear: no sleeveless shirts, short shorts, mini skirts, bikinis, and more. Mutton dressed up as lamb, blah, blah, blah.

There are ways we shouldn’t do our hair: not long, no pig tails, no bangs, no wild colours.

A friend recently decreed that she was now too old to paint patterns on her nails. Patterned nails, not my thing at any age, turn out to be for the young.

Who knew? It’s a minefield of inappropriateness.

I’m not going to tread carefully.

I’m the sort of person who sees a rule and then wants to break it. Think wild flowers and clotheslines and fat cats in neighborhoods which prescribe standards about such things.

For years I wanted a tattoo but then wondered if I’d regret it as I aged. I’m older now and I have three tattoos and I don’t worry about that particular regret.But I am annoyed by people who think that my new ink, fresh plumage (thanks Ivan for that expression) are inappropriate for someone my age.

My mother recently dyed a section of her striking white hair purple and she was surprised that her new steak of colour met with disapproval from some of her acquaintances.

Another friend had a fun and incongruous, harmless, but out of character relationship. It appalled her kids. They said she ought to act her age.

I think this is all rubbish and we should recognize it as such.

We should say goodbye to the idea of growing old gracefully. Women’s bodies and behaviors don’t need to be graceful. We can be as wild and unruly as we choose.

What does this mean for fitness? I’m not going to worry about which physical activities are dignified or age appropriate.

I saw a great post on Facebook the other day about a woman who took up mountain biking for the first time in her mid seventies. I love some of the older women doing Crossfit. I hope to be running obstacle course adventure races, trying out surfing, maybe some climbing in the years ahead. Perhaps fencing. But never bingo.


athletes · body image · fashion

Play hard, look cute!

That was the actual piece of advertising copy on a sports bra I almost tried on. Hot pink and very pretty. I wasn’t put off by the slogan, the hot pink,  or by the pretty. I passed on it because it was padded and I’m no fan of padded sports bras. But I am curious about the role looking good while working out plays in the lives of girls and women.

Think about my yoga pants post. A number of people responded to my criticisms of Lululemon’s 100 dollar yoga pants by noting how good they looked wearing them and how looking good inspired them to work harder. To be fair, they also noted that they were extremely durable and worked well.  As if “they make your ass look great!” is a knock down argument. (Okay, maybe it is.)

Or have a boo at this article on Huffington Post, Cute Workout Clothes Are The Key To Getting You Off The Couch And To The Gym, which is basically just a before and after slide show of gym-goers and other exercisers with new and improved workout attire. “Ditch that ratty tshirt and run in this instead!” You get the idea.

“Exercise can be a chore. Like laundry, it’s another thing on the to-do list that we’d rather not do, but we kinda have to. In an effort to make working out a little less painful (on the eyes, at least), we searched for the cutest workout clothes out there.”

So looking good clearly matters to all sorts of different people, with different definitions of good.

I’m not immune to this. I have hot  pink running shoes, and I could have bought black. I smile when I put the pink shoes on and I actually like the way I look in work out gear, especially my cycling clothes. I have a serious soft spot for fun cycling clothes. I don’t own the bike jerseys pictured here but I’ve admired them from afar. It’s easy for me to workout without make up since that’s my usual state of affairs, except for lipstick which comes with me everywhere, even on very long bike rides.

In the comments on an earlier post, a reader asked why can’t girls and women have fun with our femininity?

And I agree. Playing with gender can be a lot of fun. Playing with one’s appearance can be a lot of fun. But for it to be fun, for me, it has to be optional.

Have fun with your appearance, sure. But it’s a bit of a double edged sword because looking good while working out raises the bar. Maybe this time it’s for fun but next time you’ll think you can’t go to the gym if your favourite outfit is in the wash or if you’re having a bad hair day.

What’s fun today too quickly becomes tomorrow’s necessary condition. If it’s obligatory, in my books, it’s rarely fun.

I started colouring my hair in the 80s, the era of cotton candy punk. I had pink, blue, purple streaks in my bleached blonde hair. And it was a blast. Until it became a chore and then I stopped.

I’d also like some spaces, some times and places, in my life, where I don’t have to worry about what I look like. A mirror free zone. Camping has long been that for me in an extended way but I like little mini-bursts of that throughout my week. And physical activity has been one of those places of refuge.

I just worry there is so much pressure on women to look good at all times that it quickly moves from fun to obligation.  A quick google search turns up, Look Hot While Working Out! (cosmo girl), The Secrets to Looking This Good While Working Out Cosmopolitan, NY Mag’s Stylish Gym Clothes to Get You Racing to Workout, a wikihow called How to Be Sexy While Playing Sports and even WebMD isn’t immune with Look Good While You Get Fit.

So if it’s fun and motivational, great. But if turns into one more place where you feel there’s a bar you need to meet before getting out the door is acceptable, then maybe it’s time to pay attention to athletic values rather than aesthetic ones.

So dress cute if that’s your thing. Me, I’m doing my bit to keep the bar low. I’ll be be bringing standards down in my grey tank and whatever capris or shorts were on the top of the clean pile. I don’t wear make up or jewelry to the gym.You can thank me later!

It’s a big tent and there’s room for all of us.

And hey, here’s Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Doesn’t look like she’s wearing make up or stylish athletic fashion either!

athletes · body image · cycling · fashion · triathalon

No way am I wearing that! Body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women’s sports

A tri suit–good for swimming, biking, and running

There are quite a few advantages to having grown up with a body outside the norm and to having lots of comfort with the size and shape one is.

One of the times it really hits me is when considering some sporting activity that requires tight fitting, shape revealing clothing.

“But it makes me look so fat,” shrieks the thin to normal size woman on seeing herself in a fitted bike jersey and cycling shorts. (Don’t get me started on the reaction of said person to a skinsuit worn in time trials in both road and track cycling.)

“I’m not wearing a unisuit until I absolutely have to,” said one of the women I do Masters’ indoor rowing with. No one looks good in those things, she went on to explain. Another rower, former university athlete, said the unisuits explained the lack of sexual tension/romantic attraction between rowers. I laughed.

When I joined a Masters’ swim team and went to order a team swimming suit for racing, the coach automatically ordered a size down. It’s your race suit, she said. They’re supposed to be very tight. You don’t want any excess fabric. It will slow you down.

The worst of all might be the bikini tri suit, a two piece affair you’re supposed to swim, bike, and run in. I’ve never worn one of those but not for modesty or body shame, more worries about thigh rubbing and discomfort. Okay, and the belly jiggling while running might be distracting! 🙂

But I don’t really worry about being seen as fat in sports specific clothing because lots of people think I’m fat no matter what I wear. If you’ve been seen as fat in regular clothing, sports clothing is less worrisome, more life as usual.

I wasn’t aware of what a barrier fear of ridicule and feeling fat is to women’s participation in sports and outdoor activities until I read the results of a study on the reasons why women choose not to exercise. The whole story is quoted below but here’s the one number that got me and that counts against both cycling and rowing: “67% of women say they wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.”

If that’s right then unisuits and cycling shorts (tight fitted, worn alone, no underwear underneath them) might rule out rowing and cycling.

Mountain bike shorts and baggy bike jerseys have their place, I think, and that place is a nice stretch of single track, when riding a mountain bike.

On a road bike it’s much more aerodynamic not having excess fabric flapping in the breeze.

I guess there are two very different responses one could have to this clash between women’s body self consciousness and sporting attire.

One is to encourage women to adopt athletic as opposed to aesthetic values. (See my earlier post on the difference between athletic and aesthetic values.) This is a case where having athletic values makes a huge difference.

But the other response, and I admit I’m not that comfortable with it is to see what we might do to make performance oriented athletic clothing more attractive on a wider range of women’s bodies.

Looking good isn’t the prime purpose of sports performance wear and that is likely much more of an issue for women than for men. I think gender and the need to look good while working out is a topic for a later post. Happily, for me I actually like the way I look in cycling clothes. I feel most like me and that makes me smile.

Of course, if you do suffer from extreme body anxiety or you are modest for religious and/or cultural reasons, let me recommend Aikido! We wear very baggy white pajamas that cover skin from ankle to wrist and reveal next to no details of our shape.

Nine in ten women over 30 scared to take part in outdoor exercise, says mental health charity Mind

Low self-esteem among barriers to getting active as charity highlights benefits of walking, cycling and other pursuits

The charity Mind says that lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem causes nine in ten women aged over 30 to avoid taking part in outdoor physical exercise such as cycling, and has launched a campaign to encourage females to overcome barriers that are potentially harmful to both their spiritual and mental wellbeing.The study, based on a survey of 1,450 women, was carried out as part of the ‘Feel better outside, feel better inside’ campaign from the £7.5 million Ecomind initiative, run by the mental health charity on behalf of the Big Lottery Fund.

While initiatives such as the Cycletta series of sportives, endorsed by Victoria Pendleton, and British Cycling’s £1 million National Women’s Cycling Network, launched last year, both aim to get more females on two wheels, the findings of Mind’s research suggest that for the vast majority of women there are huge barriers to doing any kind of outdoor physical activity, let alone cycling.

According to the survey, nearly all respondents – 98 per cent – were aware of messages telling them that getting involved in exercise would help their mental and physical health, however Mind said that low confidence in their bodies, low self-esteem and other barriers to exercise prevented many from getting active.

Its research found that eating comfort food or finding a way to be alone, both at 71 per cent, going to bed, at 66 per cent, or spending time social networking with a response level of 57 per cent, all ranked higher than taking part in physical exercise.

The charity highlighted some of the specific barriers that prevented women from taking part in exercise:

  • 2 out of 3 feel conscious about their body shape when they exercise in public
  • Many doubt their own ability compared to others; 65% think it’s unlikely they’ll be able to keep up in an exercise group and almost a half feel they will look silly in front of others as a result of being uncoordinated
  • 60% are nervous about how their body reacts to exercise – their wobbly bits, sweating, passing wind or going red
  • 2/3 feel that if they joined an exercise group, other women would be unwelcoming and cliquey, with only 6% feeling they would be very likely to make new friends.

It also highlighted some of the ways in which women who did participate in exercise sought to overcome what it described as “the risk of embarrassment”:

  • Over 50% said they exercised very early in the morning or late at night solely to avoid being seen by others
  • Almost 2/3 of women choose to exercise in a location where they’re unlikely to bump into anyone they know
  • Over 50% don’t leave the home when exercising, so as not to be seen in public – even though exercising outside is more effective for lifting mood then inside
  • 67% wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.

Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, commented: “We all know that walking, cycling, even gardening are good for our mental health, however for many of us exercising in the great outdoors can be incredibly daunting, especially if already feeling low and self-confidence is at rock bottom.

“At these times you can feel like the only person in the world experiencing this, but Mind’s research highlights that far from being alone, 90% of women are in exactly the same boat,” she continued.

“It’s time we start talking about how exercise makes us feel. We urge women to take the first step, invite a friend on a nature date and begin to support each other in taking care of our mental wellbeing.”

Mind cited the positive impact that taking up outdoor exercise had brought to the life of one 37-year-old woman, who said: “I have been taking anti-depressants since last February, but honestly feel that exercise has a more noticeable effect than the drugs.

“I can’t believe I am saying this, but discovering outdoor exercise changed everything. I was petrified, I knew I would sweat, go red, have trouble keeping up and that everyone else in the group would be super fit. I was so incredibly scared and thought I’d be humiliated.

“However – the other people in the group were all normal – all different shapes and sizes – and no one cared what you looked like or did.

It was the most liberating experience ever. My initial reason for exercising was to lose some weight, but from that first session I realised just how good it could be for my state of mind. From there my confidence grew,” she concluded.

The Ecominds section of the Mind website contains a variety of hints, tips and online tools aimed at encouraging women to become active by helping the overcome some of the issues discouraging them from taking part in outdoor exercise.