fitness

Happy Hump Day

I don’t particularly like that expression – I like to think that Wednesdays are no better or worse than any other day. However, I have decided that this week needs every bit of celebration I can find.

Last week I had bad allergies and spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was COVID. My walking challenge is starting to wear on me. The weather suddenly went from freezing to being hot enough to kill half my poor seedlings when I put them outside to start hardening off. My lanemate and I were both in the world of “I’m too old for this sh*t” after Sunday’s swim practice. We will not even discuss the state of the world, which has me filled with crone rage on many fronts.

So Happy Hump Day: a made-up internet hope that things can only get better.

My allergies are feeling better, so I have more energy. I updated my tetanus booster, donated blood, and will get my second COVID booster on Saturday, so I feel that I am doing all I can to be healthy.

At swim practice, I learned a fun new drill, something that rarely happens after nearly 20 years of swimming with a club. And at Saturday’s practice I got the comment that I have a very respectable butterfly and natural freestyle stroke for long-distance swimming (coach was commenting on technique, as I am not fast). Every little bit of positive reinforcement feels good, even at my age.

The geese along my walk to work are hatching, the trees are coming into leaf, and I may just combine one of my walks this week with a trip to the pond for an early morning or lunchtime swim.

Adult Canada geese swimming with many babies on blue water, a dead branch in the foreground.
The pond, a popular conservation area and swimming spot near my home. Clear water surrounded by trees just staring to turn green and blue sky with whispy clouds above. The trees and sky are reflected in the still water.

I haven’t yet figured out how to channel my crone rage effectively; that is a feminist rather than a fitness issue, but I’ll keep working on it.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness

Lia Thomas and Trans Athletes

Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.

Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …

1650 yard distance
Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765
Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds)
Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith)
Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky)
She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female

500 yard distance
Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72
Lia’s current, 4:34:06
Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06
Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32

200 yard distance
Prior to transition 1:39.31
Male record, 1:29.15
After transition 1:41.93
Female record of 1:39.10

See a pattern here?
Not advantage, consistency

There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.

To put it another way:

And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.

Maybe we should learn a a bit more about what this very private athlete has to say for herself. Her experience is not atypical of the gender testing that has gone on for many decades.

The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.

Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.

Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:

Anyone saying trans girls have an unfair advantage have never seen me perform a sport. Cartoon by Sophie Labelle (https://www.serioustransvibes.com/)

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

body image · feminism · fitness · motivation

Christine won’t be crushing anything today, thankyouverymuch.

The vocabulary of fitness is wearing me out.

I was already bored to tears with all the phrasing around burning fat/calories, trimming inches, and sculpting parts of our bodies. That stuff is so common that aside from the occasional eyeroll, I usually just skim over it when I see/hear it. I hate it but…meh.

However, as I have been seeking out more challenging videos lately I have been, to use the local vernacular, absolutely drove by the vocab that is supposed to motivate me.

I don’t want to ‘crush’ anything. Nor am I interested in a video that has the word ‘attack’ in the title. I don’t want to ‘destroy’ my abs or my glutes or my biceps. I don’t want to leave any of my muscles ‘screaming.’*

a GIF of a curly haired girl crushing a can in her right hand. Text below reads ‘We must crush them!!!!!!’
Sure, this is cute but it doesn’t feel, to me, like a way to encourage your muscles to work with you to get stronger. Image description: a GIF of a curly haired girl crushing a can in her right hand. Text below reads ‘We must crush them!!!!!!’

And despite being a martial artist who loves to practice punching and kicking, it bugs me that a lot of videos that incorporate those movements are called ‘body combat.’**

When I read titles with those words in them or when I hear the instructor use them during a workout, I don’t feel charged up and motivated, I feel tired.

And, shockingly, that is NOT what I am looking for when I’m exercising.

I want to be encouraged to work hard. I want to be told that I can do it. I want to be guided to forge ahead, to persist. I don’t want to feel like my exercise is supposed to be painful or punishing.

I thought we had left the whole ‘No Pain, No Gain’ thing behind but all of this language of destruction makes me feel like that attitude has snuck back into the party wearing different clothes and is waiting to see if we catch on.

And, as Tracy noted when I mentioned my irritation with these words, it’s frustrating and sad that we are all assumed to be in battle with our bodies all the time.

I am not fighting against my body in the quest to increase my fitness level.

My body and brain are working TOGETHER to move toward increased mobility and strength and a feeling of wellbeing. Any video titles or peppy encouragements that invite me to pit my brain against my body end up sapping my energy and leaving me feeling defeated.

a GIF of a kid in a dress ​hanging on to one pole of a small merry-go-round. As the machine turns the kid is being dragged along.
Accurate depiction of my energy levels upon being invited to crush/attack/destroy some part of my body on a workout. Image description: a GIF of a kid in a dress hanging on to one pole of a small merry-go-round. As the machine turns the kid is being dragged along. Text in the upper left reads ‘Status:’

I know that, culturally, many people’s bodies are seen as problematic and unruly – always being relentlessly human instead of a perfectly managed creation. This vocabulary thing ties into that, of course – an unruly body must be managed and defeated so it will look and behave in acceptable ways.

And I also know that the phrasing I am describing will seem like no big deal to some. In fact, I’m sure lots of people would tell me to just ignore it’ but I can’t do that.

I’m a writer and storyteller and I spend a long time making sure that the words I choose serve the purpose I want them to serves.

Words matter. Words have power. Words carry messages above and beyond their direct meaning.

And these destruction-themed words can drag all kinds of social expectations into my exercise time. My workouts are hard enough without also lifting cultural baggage at the same time.

How do you feel about these words? Do you find them motivating? Frustrating? Or do you not even notice them?

*If those words help you to power up, please feel free to completely ignore this post. I’m talking about my feelings and frustrations. not laying down a law about what can and cannot be said in a workout.

**The combat part I totally get but calling it body combat really makes it sound like you are fighting your own body. Ick.

fitness · motivation

Go Team, January 12: Give Yourself the Things You Need

Does your idea of the way you *should* be get in the way of getting the support to deal with things the way they are?

For example: For ages, I thought I *shouldn’t* need to set reminders to exexcise because if I really wanted to exercise, I would find an effortless way to fit it into my day.

That’s nonsense, of course.

I have lots of different priorities on a day to day basis and no matter how important exercise is it can get lost in the juggling of my different priorities.

When I finally gave myself permission to set reminders for everything I needed to be reminded of I had a lot more success and I relaxed about the whole thing.

We all lead complicated lives, and we have a lot of things to fit into every day. If we don’t make things easier for ourselves we will struggle to fit even the most important things into our schedules.

So, please give yourself the things you need in order to be successful.

That might mean you set reminders to exercise. Or even reminders to get ready to exercise.

Perhaps you sleep in your workout clothes so you can be ready to go in the morning.

Maybe you need a pair of kneepads for when you do yoga because it’s too uncomfortable otherwise.

Perhaps you make a list of exercises to do.

Or you buy yourself a set of gold star stickers to stick to the calendar after every exercise session.I

f you want to exercise regularly give yourself the things you need, emotionally, physically, psychologically, logistically, or socially, to give yourself the greatest chance of success.

And try not to think of any ‘shoulds’ connected to it.

If you have a plan in mind and it would be easier if you had certain supports in place, then, by all means, get those supports in place.

Even if those supports seem silly or ridiculous, if you need them, you need them.

Don’t ‘should’ yourself away from anything that will help.

Give yourself the things you need when you need them.

You can do this!

Here’s Your gold star for today’s efforts:

A GIF of a five-pointed gold star with a sparkly white part in the center.
Such a shiny star! A worthy marker in celebration of your efforts so far.
Sat with Nat · walking

Nat’s wrangling working, dog walking and not very many workouts.

Recommended Soundtrack: Handshakes by Metric

I’m in the very privileged position of being able to work from home. I do knowledge work in the financial sector and we were deemed essential during the confinement in response to COVID 19. My beloved is also able to work from home.

Our other family members studied from home in the spring but now have jobs outside the house. But. Like. Folks. 5 people at home working, studying and eating 24/7 has really ramped up the housework.

We’ve felt it in the frequency of dishes needing to be done, bathrooms that need a scrub down (those at work toilet breaks really decrease the usage of the home crapper) and general need to tidy & clean taking more and more time. Plus there’s something about just sitting around that lowers my tolerance for home chaos. So the need for housework to increase is, in part, due to a higher standard and also to everyone being home. It’s exhausting.

As a feminist household we strive for an equal distribution of chores. It falls short a lot with the emerging adults, so my partner and I are really feeling the stress. It’s a very busy time of year for his sales job and my leadership role. There just seems to be no time for much else.

Enter Lucy, our seven month old puppy. She’s a Texas Heeler. For those unfamiliar with this compact, energetic mix she’s a cross between 2 herding dogs: Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog. She’s 100% ball of energy.

Before confinement we had our kids helping a lot with her care but now they are working outside the home and we are home all the dang time.

Lucy wakes up most days at 5:30 am. Regular readers of this blog know I’m not a morning person. Lucy doesn’t seem to care. She gets a 30 minute walk before we sit down to work, a quick coffee break walk around 10 am. A lunchtime 20-30 minute walk. A pre-dinner and post dinner walk. Yup. That’s. Uh. 5. Five dog walks, mostly done with my partner. The kids help with some mornings. We appreciate it but can’t count on it.

All thirty pounds of Lucy posed in her best “we are going walking” face as she sits on the sidewalk.

Between longer working hours, more housework and dog walking there’s not a lot else happening for workouts. Sometimes I get a 20-40 minute yoga routine in. But that’s it.

I’m tired friends so I’ve decided to be gentle with myself. There’s a lot going on so when there are moments that I can get a nap or a visit in with a friend I’m taking it.

Lucy is very good at pacing herself. She rests, plays and stretches all the time. She doesn’t worry about having goals or living up to expectations. She’s enthusiastic about eating and being comfortable.

Lucy lies on her back flirting with a tiny treat before she devours it. Her pink belly with dark freckles is begging to be scratched.

Has your work/life balance shifted recently? How has that impacted your workouts?

Book Reviews

Nat reviews Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories

This awesome collection of 11 short stories answers the question that has always bothered me in science fiction “Why aren’t there any bicycles?”

This is the 5th book in the series published by Microcosm Publishing edited by Elly Blue.

When the opportunity came up to review this book for our blog Sam knew I was the feminist sci-fi reading and writing cyclist who is always on the lookout for a great read.

In the introduction Elly Blue outlines why when we build worlds and tell tales that we must actively engage in intersectionality. If we don’t think about all the axis of identity and oppression then we risk perpetuating the “isms” of the world we live in into our imagined worlds.

I have had the opportunity to go to WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, the past two years.

WisCon and Functional Fitness

WisCon41 all the feels about disability

It was a wonderful experience but I also learned how some of my favourite genre stories are filled with unexamined ableism, sexism and racism. If we can build any world we want when writing why not create ones that challenge these inequalities?

As a fledgling writer I’ve set aside my apocalypse novel after realizing it was a story about privileged white people patting themselves on the back for figuring out how to live in the apocalypse the way many people around the world live today. Ya. That was an icky realization. I can do better. We can do better!

Elly Blue clearly knows how to get there and has sought out writers who are witty, funny and craft tender, engaging stories with characters I can relate to who take up the challenges in their lives while riding bicycles.

Novel cover art depicting a woman riding a bicycle through space. She wears a helmet and her pants are tucked into her socks. With toe clips, saddle bags and an oner the handlebar bag she clearly has spent many parsecs in the saddle.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book?

Like or comment before my Saturday post goes up at 6am EST and I’ll put your name into the draw.

The book was funded on kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ellyblue/bikes-not-rockets-feminist-bicycle-science-fiction

And if you are looking for more great stories the buck the norms in engaging ways check out the full catalogue at microcosmpublishing.com

feminism · fitness · running

Tracy’s Spring 2018 Feminist Running Playlist

Image description: Purple treble clef with a woman symbol fist at the bottom against a light background.
Image description: Purple treble clef with a woman symbol fist at the bottom against a light background.

The other day Sam and I were reflecting on how for some reason our feminism has gone from “rage-y” and ranty to reasonable and moderate. Maybe it’s because we are both university administrators, so we can’t afford to be rage-y and ranty at work (for the most part…), at least not overtly so, if we want to get stuff done. But it’s spilled over into the blog. I can’t remember the last time I unleashed some good old feminist rage about something.

And I’m not about to do it here in this blog post today. But I’m warming myself up to it. This week I put together a new running playlist and I decided to draw the entire thing from Jessica’s feminist playlist, on Spotify as “Handle that Shit (with strength and grace and a well-timed fuck)(explicit).”

Her playlist was a collaborative effort among friends on social media. She put the call out for feminist tunes for cranking and feeling that surge of strength and solidarity. And the suggestions started rolling in, and rolling in, and rolling in. I shared her call on my timeline and again, more ideas. In the end, she put together an amazing and varied 13.5 hour playlist. I highly recommend it.

Not all the tunes are good for running, though many are. I tapped into it when constructing a new playlist for the upcoming season (I say “upcoming” because here it is spring in name only).  As I said the last time I shared a playlist, it’s really idiosyncratic to me. I don’t measure beats per minute. I start off a bit slower and pick up the pace. But I’ve not yet test run it and it’s possible that I will need to double click on my ear bud chord a few times if a tune comes on that is not well-suited to where I’m at in my run. It will take a bit of tweaking for order and adequacy.

Feel free to follow it, suggest additions, or register suggestions and complaints (not promising to honor all of them, since my main goal is to make a playlist that works for me.  I have tried it out at personal training twice this week, and it’s great for that. Paul (my trainer) complained (in jest) that he didn’t feel represented. I take that as a good sign that it’s hitting at least one feminist mark. And when my friend Alison showed up at the tail end of my session, she remarked that the music was fantastic.

Here it is (explicit): “Tracy Running Spring 2018”

  1. “Deeper Well,” Emmylou Harris/Wrecking Ball
  2. “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” Eurythmics/Ultimate Collection
  3. “Smile More,” Deep Vally/Femejism
  4. “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” Joan Jett, The Blackhearts/Up Your Alley
  5. “U + Ur Hand,” Pink/I’m Not Dead
  6. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” Kelly Clarkson/Stronger
  7. “Fuck Love,” Iggy Azalea/The New Classic
  8. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall/Eye to the Telescope
  9. “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” The Ting Tings/We Started Nothing
  10. “Hot Topic,” Le Tigre/Le Tigre
  11. “Hollaback Girl,” Gwen Stefani/Let’s Get It Started
  12. “No Man’s Woman,” Sinead O’Connor/Faith and Courage
  13. “Run the World (Girls),” Beyonce/4
  14. “Fuck You,” Lily Allen/It’s not Me, It’s You
  15. “TiK ToK,” Kesha/Animal
  16. “Bad Girls,” M.I.A./Matangi
  17. “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” Nancy Sinatra/Boots
  18. “Hung Up,” Madonna/Confessions on a Dance Floor
  19. “I Kissed a Girl,” Katy Perry/One of the Boys
  20. “Survivor,” Destiny’s Child/Survivor
  21. “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor Swift/Look What You Made Me Do
  22. “Hit ‘Em up Style (Oops!)” Blu Cantrell/Bittersweet
  23. “4 Minutes,” Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland/Celebration
  24. “Push It,” Salt-N-Pepa/The Best of Salt-N-Pepa
  25. “Woman,” Kesha, The Dap-Kings Horns/Rainbow
  26. “Shout Out to My Ex,” Little Mix/Glory Days (Deluxe)
  27. “Boss Ass Bitch,” Pretty Taking All Fades/Boss Ass Bitch
  28. “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor/New In Town
  29. “Not Fair,” Lily Allen/It’s Not Me, It’s You
  30. “No Scrubs,” TLC/Fanmail
  31. “NO,” Meghan Trainer/NO
  32. “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift/1989 (Deluxe Edition)
  33. “PBNJ,” Patti Cake$/Patti Cake$ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

This post may not be a rage-y feminist rant, but the playlist is warming me up for one! Hope it does the same for you.

eating · feminism · food

Dumping the Sugar Dump: critical follow up

chocolate-cakeIs it disordered eating? Is it unfeminist? Is it rationalization? Does it run contrary to the ideals of the blog? Is it dieting in disguise? Does it demonize sugar? Is it unscientific? Is it pleasure denying? Obsession-promoting? Am I a traitor? Troubled? A hypocrite?

These are all questions raised in the comments on my Tuesday post about “Dumping Sugar: this is not a detox.” First thing to say is that this is one of the reasons I love this blog. Readers don’t hold back. I understand why it generated a strong reaction. As the author of “Why food is beyond good and evil,” a committed anti-dieter, and practising intuitive eater, the idea of ditching sugar for good, as if it were a food group in itself and as if it had no redeeming value every one of these comments makes some sense to me. I’ve considered many similar questions myself right here on this blog. I’m the one who rejects tracking because of the panopticon.

But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was the level of snark and self-righteousness. So okay. I get it. The idea of trying to dump sugar strikes you as ill-advised. That’s fine and to those who expressed concern, thank you. Whatever else, it’s a flash point.

In the past, this sort of response (which at times felt harsh, like an attack, but I can handle that, being over 50 and a feminist this is not new to me–in fact, the last time I took this kind of heat was on this very blog, when my post about why putting “ladies” on the locker room door does a disservice to women fell into the hands of 4chan and some woman-hating subreddits) might make me dig in my heels.

But the sugar thing was meant to be a journey (possibly a short one). And part of the purpose of this week is to reflect on my motives and reasons and whether I even want to do this. And though it hurts when other feminists attack me, even more so when they call my feminism into question, I am positively disposed to taking other feminists seriously. So instead of writing a “back the fuck off, bitches, I’ve had  a rough year, month, week, day…” post (which is what I might have done when younger), I’m trying as hard as I can to keep an open mind. My plan here is to consider each challenge on its own merits, doing my best to set aside the snark and self-righteousness because in the end I don’t think that’s any way to get someone on your side if you have a legitimate point to make. Apologies in advance if some sarcasm and snark of my own seeps in.

Is it disordered eating? This is a tough one. I’m no stranger to disordered eating and I know first hand how it can shrink and ravage lives. Is dumping sugar (or any food) necessarily a sign of disordered eating? Not sure but I can see why it might be a red flag for some since it’s clearly something that lots of people with eating disorders do. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t about to get all fanatical about it. I’ve engaged in disordered eating in the past. But cutting out desserts doesn’t strike me as necessarily disordered. If it involved obsession and hyper-vigilance I’d be worried. But I was not planning to be hyper-vigilant.

Nevertheless, I can see how the idea of restricting a food group (not that sugar is in fact a food group) might trigger those with a history of eating disorders. I can also see how it could have some appeal to those with a history of eating disorders, which is why I needed to take this week of “planning” to try to get clear on my motives, which could easily be out of whack (a point I’m willing to consider and take seriously, though I must admit it’s easier to do that without shaming fingers wagging in my face).

I’ll get to the point about obsession in a minute.

Is it unscientific? Probably. I wasn’t proposing a research paper or study on it. I was engaging in some self-reflection about the role of sugar in my life and whether that itself was unhealthy. But in came the questions about what counts as sugar. Do I only mean refined sugar? What about maple syrup? Don’t we need glucose to get through the day? Don’t I realize that it’s impossible to get rid of sugar because it’s naturally occurring all over the place? All good questions that challenge the very basis of the idea that anyone can actually give up sugar. I find the charge that the a personal narrative post is unscientific to be kind of odd. But hey, if that’s your worry, mea culpa.

Is it pleasure-denying? I said:

There is just no really solid reason why these need to be in my life. If life would be sad without them, then that in itself says something kind of sad about the rest of my life.

This, among other things, offended people because of the implicit suggestion that if enjoying dessert is an important source of pleasure, I must be experiencing deficits in other areas of my life. Instead of seeing it that way, people suggested a different way of looking at it: dessert is an enjoyable thing that no one, especially feminists, should choose to live without. I can see wigging out over that if you’ve fought for the right not to have your food choices policed by friends, families and strangers. I have fought for that right myself, and other than what happened yesterday, have not experienced much policing of my food choices in recent years. And I don’t police the food choices of others despite that I’m an ethical vegan and have all sorts of views about carbon footprints, agribusiness, and unnecessary animal suffering and exploitation.

Is it unfeminist and contrary to the goals of this blog? I’ve blogged before about whether trying to lose weight is an unfeminist goal. I’ve blogged about why I will never, ever talk to anyone about weight loss again. I’ve thought a lot about the way it’s possible for individual women to betray women more generally by their choices. We can do this in all sorts of ways and feminists disagree about where to draw the line.

Some would reject make-up. Others might say we shouldn’t go in for marriage. Some will take issue with choosing to be a stay-at-home mother. Others will deny that sex workers can have any agency at all. Still others will stand on their heads to defend women’s right to choose to be sex workers. I do hope that for anyone who thinks choosing sex work is bad for women, your way of expressing that is not to lash out with verbal attacks on sex workers. Then there are those who will say that any explicit attempt to restrict women’s choices (as perhaps the suggestion that someone might choose not to eat sugar) is anti-feminist because … here I think the argument is complicated and has not been articulated well by any of the commenters on the original post.

I’m going to be charitable and say that these readers have a strong view, as do I, that dieting is part of an oppressive set of social practices that keeps women preoccupied with shallow goals and chasing after normative standards of femininity that ought to be rejected.

They ought to be rejected not only because they are impossible for many to attain (as if, if it were possible, that’s where we should be putting our attention), but also because guess what? There is a huge range of bodies and diversity matters and restricting that range has a negative impact on the value of equality. Compromising equality is definitely not consistent with feminist ideals. Therefore, the thought that anyone should restrict sugar must be contrary to feminism because there is no other reason to do it except dieting.

I’m not sure that’s true. I am not and do not intend to be on a diet any time soon. But I can see how people might link any kind of food restriction to dieting. And what if I were? Does that justify aggressive (yes, I do feel that some of the comments were unduly aggressive) policing of my choices? I’m going to go out on a limb here: no.

It’s even had the negative affect of “confirming” (to some of my friends who are perhaps more quiet, less public and less activist about their feminism) that feminists are scary people poised to lash out. As one friend said, only partially tongue in cheek, “Hugs. Don’t sweat it. Those damn feminists get offended about just about anything.” Great. That’s all we need.

I also don’t feel as if I should need to pull out my feminist resumé to prove myself here, on this blog, the blog that I co-founded, that has provided a feminist space for discussion and disagreement that we hope on our most optimistic days will be kind and constructive, not rife with personal attack.

Don’t even get me started on the stealth judgment contained in “you do you.” Seriously? It’s just passive aggressive bullshit that is code for “you do you, but before you do, let me make it really clear why I hate what you do when you do you. Carry on.” Does “you do you” really make up for the strong staring down of feminist disapproval? For the people who are “disappointed” and “surprised” and see their “red flags waving”? I’m 51 fucking years old. I don’t need anyone’s permission to “do me.” [again, thank you to those who reached out with concern instead, it felt much more helpful and genuine]

[stage direction: regain composure then continue]

Here’s my partial diagnosis of what happened (not complete, because I’m sure it was more complicated than this, but this is a start): After reading and re-reading the comments on the blog and the FB page, the overwhelming feeling I get is that at least some readers feel as if the post (and the project) was a betrayal of sorts (perhaps even evidence of my hypocrisy).

What I have to say about that is…maybe you’re right (though I won’t say I’m a hypocrite, I will say I’m not always perfectly consistent. Crucify me now. Oh, I almost forgot, you already did that on Tuesday.). It’s not at all consistent with my general approach to eating to even consider restricting foods for anything other than ethical reasons (as noted, I’m an ethical vegan). I do not demonize foods, do not believe that some foods are evil, and certainly do not go in for fads.  I spend a lot of time publicly rejecting diets, cleanses, weight loss talk (and programs), and have strongly feminist reasons for doing so. I promote body positivity and an inclusive approach to fitness.

And though some of the comments did sting (like the one that said what a waste of time to be spending energy journalling about sugar. For one thing, I feel that posting those journal entries was kind of exposing even if you think it’s a waste of time, and for another thing, it only took me 20 minutes and, as I said defensively in the comments after the onslaught had been under way for most of the day, I’d already spent several hours before and after writing about climate change and collective responsibility, so I think I’m actually making more valuable contributions in other spheres thank you very much), in the end I take the point while also still feeling fairly confident that food is a feminist issue.

To the person who said to Sam’s post that this whole thing is a “first world problem.” Yes. That’s true. In fact, the whole topic of dieting as a form of oppression is a first world problem. If you think about it in the context of global food systems and issues of real food insecurity, food sovereignty, and food justice, the choice to diet or eat whatever the heck you want, the choice to eat or not eat sugar or anything, oozes privilege. I have a paper on that coming out in the yet to be released Oxford Handbook on Food Ethics. Abstract here. But first world problems are still problems. Just because there may be worse problems in the world doesn’t mean we can’t talk about things that aren’t as horrible.

Before I concede entirely, I do want to address the one point several people made about restriction breeding obsession. I’ve had mixed experiences with this and I’m not the only one. As someone who has completely stopped consuming alcohol, I can attest that when I was moderating alcohol I was obsessed. After I quit, I no longer have to think about it anymore. It doesn’t even enter my mind because it’s basically off the table. I don’t read wine lists with a sense of longing and deprivation, or feel I’m missing out on anything when I toast with club soda instead of champagne. And more importantly for me, I don’t seek comfort in mind-altering substances anymore. Sure, continuing to use them would be exercising a freedom of choice that no one has the right to police, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good life strategy for me.

I have also engaged in seriously disordered and restricted eating in the past, and that did generate food obsession. But it seems to me that it is also possible that removing something completely can get it out of your head altogether (another case in point: I do not think about eating meat or dairy anymore — these are not on the menu for me and I do not obsess about them in their absence). So I guess I thought that perhaps sugar might go that way. The thought that it could go that way is not a totally ridiculous thought.

But I can see how it was a mistake to voice that here. People expect more, or perhaps, expect different, from this blog, from me. Even though sharing my plan and my journal made me vulnerable to criticism (and in other ways, but  it’s a blog and I often make myself vulnerable here), it also opened me up to input (let’s be charitable) from a feminist community that I generally respect and that I realize doesn’t have a whole lot of spaces that welcome their comments as much as we usually do here.

And it made me aware that I can still get caught up in what I call “old ideas” even if I try to dress them up in new ways. Don’t tell me you’ve never grasped after something in the hopes of making you “feel better” and found all sorts of good “reasons” for why doing that might “work.” Again, if you ever have, I hope that those who were concerned you might be making a mistake could find gentler ways of nudging you in a different direction.

When I decided I wanted to stop hearing about people’s weight loss, I said:

So I’m just going to put this out there and be totally frank. I really can’t stand it when people talk about their weight loss. I don’t care what the reasons. I don’t care if you’re trying or not trying. I don’t care if it’s for performance or for looks or just because that’s what friends, family, and strangers like to talk about.

You know, you can dress it up any way you like. But to me it’s such a personal thing that our social world has made into a public thing. And I’m always stumped about what we’re supposed to say. “Good for you!” even when someone is trying just goes against everything that feels right to me. It’s like encouraging something that I see ruin the lives of perfectly excellent people who think that weight loss will afford them something they need in order to feel good about themselves (or better about themselves). I just can’t have the conversation anymore, with anyone.

You know what? This week’s sugar dump response made me realize lots of people feel the same way about food and food restriction. It just reeks of “diet” to them. They just don’t want to hear it. And I agree. From here on out, I don’t either.

How about we eat what we eat and get on with our day? No need to write about it or talk about it or make big pronouncements about it.

Thanks for the feedback. Even though I don’t think it’s simply a choice between patriarchy or cupcakes, I’m dumping the sugar dump.

 

 

fitness

When “pathetic” loses its irony

Awhile back I joined the Facebook group Pathetic Triathletes. It’s a fairly large, closed group. You need to be admitted into it by the admin. But there’s no screening going on, and it’s got over 7000 members.

With a name like “Pathetic Triathletes” you can imagine that the purpose of the group is to give triathletes a place for mutual support, information-sharing, encouragement, and so on, while also keeping it light. The “pathetic” is meant to be ironic and funny. A little bit self-depracating, a little bit of a reminder not to take ourselves so seriously.

People post about their successes. People post about their failures and mishaps. Failures, mishaps, questions that we assume we should already know the answers to but don’t — all of these are followed by the hashtag #pathetic.

So far so good. I myself have been known to take things too seriously. So what harm could it possibly do to be part of a Facebook group that favours the lighter side of triathlon?

Well, this past weekend I got the answer to my question when I waded into reading the comment thread after someone posted a link to Ragen Chastain’s post “When On-Line Trolls Become Real-Life Stalkers.”  As if the title of her post isn’t harrowing enough, the contents is downright frightening. She’s harassed daily by haters on-line in comments on her blog, her Facebook page, on reddit, in fat-hate forums (which, in my naivete, I didn’t even know existed but why should I be surprised).

The on-line stalking moved into real life when she attempted an Ironman 70.3 recently. Here’s some of what happened:

The short story of the IM 70.3 is that I took 2 minutes too long on the swim and got pulled off the course.  After changing out of my wetsuit I got my phone and posted to my FB wall:

IM 70.3 was a Total disaster, way worse than my worst case scenario. 2 minutes over the time in the swim, didn’t even get on the bike. Thanks to everyone for your support. Sucks to have a setback like this, but now I have a year to get ready so I don’t feel like this next year at the full ironman. I’ll post a race report in ironfat.com at some point.

My family and I decided to go grab some lunch and by the time we got to the restaurant my FB page was trollapalooza – party at Reddit’s house and everyone’s invited!  They were also engaging in one of their very favorite pastimes – lying to accuse me of lying.

But the creepier part of it was an athlete sidling up to her before the race to ask if she was bothered by what was said on reddit that morning. They had a brief interaction and she suspected he was a troll because he didn’t agree when she made negative comments about people who spend their time dissing her on reddit. After the race:

After the race I would find out that prior to the race the anti-me website had posted a minute by minute schedule of where I would be, including updating the site about my choice to wear my wetsuit and my 7:45am start time which I had talked about on my blog.

After my race ended, various forums and websites posted pictures and video that were taken of me and my family, some taken by people standing just feet away from me. Many of the pictures were taken after I had gotten out of the water and exited the athlete area, meaning that they couldn’t have been taken by someone competing in the race.  People online bragged about stalking me and my family, saying horrible things about my partner, my mother, and my best friend and his husband.

This may or may not have had anything to do with the guy who chatted with her before the swim. She has a point when she says she:

…tried to calculate the odds that someone who just happened to stumble upon a reddit forums about me ended up standing next to me in a group of 1600 athletes, recognized me in a wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and thought it was appropriate to ask about a forum devoted to hating me, in a way that assumed I both knew about it and checked the forum.

Now, enter the Pathetic Triathletes Facebook group. You’d expect a group that is supposedly supportive of all levels of triathletes from beginners to veterans, and who tries not to take itself too seriously (#pathetic!) to rally round a triathlete, any triathlete, who is brave enough to get out there and attempt at 70.3 distance event.

And some people did. But an alarming number of people jumped in and started saying similar things to the sorts of things she says are said by the haters and trolls on a regular basis.  And the meanness just kept on coming. And coming. And coming.

Where were the admin in all of this? I do not know. I think they eventually took it down. Either that or it fell so far down the page that I couldn’t find it when I went to show it to Sam because I was so astonished.  But not just astonished, also incredibly disturbed.

The vitriol just seemed so out of place for a group that presents itself as a welcoming community with a sense of humor. The fat-hate just kept on coming. And personal attacks on Ragen Chastain, accusing her of lying, of not really having the goals she has or the doing the training she does.  The assumption is that no one her size could possibly be doing what she is doing.  It’s a caricature of all the most entrenched prejudices and misguided assumptions about the relationship between body size, body fat, on the one hand, and health and the capacity to participate in athletic activities, on the other hand.

The comments also have a misogynistic gendered element to them that make them even more difficult to hear. Who but the most entitled and privileged members of our world think they have the right to say shit like that openly and earnestly in a Facebook Group?

I’ve struggled with the irony from the beginning because I guess in some ways I don’t actually think that claiming to be pathetic, even if meant to be ironic, is the best way to bolster confidence and feel good about what you’re doing.

But there was no irony in the hateful comment thread that followed Ragen Chastain’s post about her trolls and stalkers. Pathetic in the truest sense of the world. Like, what’s it to them that this woman wants to do triathlon? Why can’t she just do her thing and be left alone? It’s astonishing that people would have such a violent reaction when her efforts have literally no impact on their lives at all. Like, nothing. It’s sad.

So I left the group. And I have to say that despite the presence of lots of supportive and encouraging members, I cannot in good conscience recommend the group to anyone with an interest in body-positivity and feminism. You may as well go straight to reddit if you want read abusive hate against women who don’t conform to the narrow standards of femininity deemed acceptable by self-appointed gate-keepers.

It’s not that Ragen Chastain can’t stand her own against these types of people. She doesn’t need to be rescued. And thankfully she’s got more supportive fans than vocal trolls and stalkers. But I’m not about to stick around in a group where people feel entitled to talk that kind of fat-hating, misogynistic shit.

And I wish Ragen all the best in her quest to compete in an Ironman next year. You can follow her journey at IronFat.

fitness

Women’s Bodies and Athletic Performace #LikeAGirl! #CSWIP

Sam and I on our morning walk from downtown to the University of Regina for CSWIP.
Sam and I on our morning walk from downtown to the University of Regina for CSWIP. Photo credit: Kate Norlock

One of the best things about being a feminist philosopher in Canada is getting to go to the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference.  We just got back from Regina, where the conference was held this year.  There were lots of great moments, and one of them was the panel Sam organized on women’s bodies and athletic performance.

Four out of four of the speakers have written for the blog: Sam, Audrey, Sylvia, and Moira.  As if that alone wasn’t awesome enough, Kate and Alice were in the room too! And those are just the feminist philosophers who have blogged for us. Besides them, we were surrounded by awesomeness all weekend!

Megan Dean, the PhD student from Georgetown who won the essay prize, presented her winning paper, “Fat Shame Is Not Moral Shame” (and yes, she will be guest blogging for us sometime very soon).

But back to the panel Sam organized. Here’s what they talked about.

Audrey took Iris Marion Young’s feminist analysis of feminine body comportment and “throwing like a girl” into the realm of the relational by extending it to the martial arts. Not all throwing is as individualized as what we think of when we think of what it means to “throw like a girl.” In martial arts training, girls and women often have to overcome a lot of “I cannot” self-talk before they can throw and hit and kick other people, even though throwing and hitting and kicking other people are exactly what they’re there to do.

She made the point that even when we have the skills training so that we can control our own body, that doesn’t always or necessarily translate into being able to act on another’s body.  This led to a fabulous comment from Alice, who said we need to turn our “fleshy embodiment” into “fleshy agential embodiment.”  (yes, we are indeed philosophers!)

Next up was Sylvia on femininity and athleticism. She introduced an interesting scale of sports that are associated with the feminine (like figure skating and synchronized swimming), sports that are kind of (but not really) gender neutral (running and cycling), and sports that are more masculine in their representation (like hockey and basketball). Then she (depressingly) pointed out how difficult it is for women to negotiate the double bind. If they’re participating in so-called feminine sports, then they’re not taken seriously or recognized for their athleticism. If they’re participating in the so-called masculine sports then their femininity is called into question. In neither case is it easy to get taken seriously.

She posed the interesting question of whether sports mirror or magnify what happens in other realms. In my view (mine was the first hand in the air for the Q and A), the whole thing is depressingly true to life. When pressed, Sylvia said that the situation in sports magnifies, not just mirrors, what happens all over the place. And while I agree to some degree, don’t we also think that sport has promising liberatory potential?  Of course it does. So we need to continue to find ways to navigate and challenge the norms of mandatory femininity through participation in sport.

Moira considered the way that a focus on the external goods of sport can be harmful. Instead, she said, we need to focus on internal goods. External goods are things like winning, pleasing others, looking good, earning money, getting prizes. Internal goods are the goods internal to the practice, particular pleasures and skills and meaningful experiences.

She applied her analysis to fitness as preparation for physically transformative life events like reproduction, ageing, disability, and even death and dying. Fitness ideology is usually about avoiding many of these things rather than being better prepared for them.  But the internal goods of sport–endurance, pain tolerance, courage, working through exhaustion–are actually transferable skills that we can bring to bear in these other areas of our lives.  Moira talked about childbirth, but at the break a couple of us talked about how sport has prepped us for menopause!

Finally, Sam presented about the tension between the norms of sport performance and “ladylike” values. She coined a phrase that I’d never heard before and love: “the play gap.” That’s the gap between boys and girls with respect to time devoted to physical activity. It starts young and just gets worse as we grow to adulthood. She reminded us of all the sad facts about women being socialized not to be athletic, to recoil from athletic clothing because of poor body image, to work out in sheds for fear of being seen, to hesitate to spit and shout and do all those things that sporty men do without the least bit of self-consciousness.

She also talked about the blog and I just felt so happy about the blog and the bloggers and the attendance at the talk (because we have not had great luck populating sessions on feminism and fitness, so this was a real turn to the good). It was really a fantastic session!

Here’s to CSWIP and to all the fabulous colleagues we have who are taking these issues seriously!

Moira on the internal goods of sport as preparation for transformative physical life events.
Moira on the internal goods of sport as preparation for transformative physical life events. Photo credit: Kate Norlock

Sylvia talks about femininity and athleticism.
Sylvia talks about femininity and athleticism. Photo credit: Kate Norlock.

Kate, Audrey, and Sam with the big Saskatchewan sky behind them. Photo credit: Tracy I
Kate, Audrey, and Sam with the big Saskatchewan sky behind them. Photo credit: Tracy I