fitness · self care

In search of the perfect self-help list

CW: talk about personal fears during the pandemic.

I love those lists of X things to do/buy/eat/read/make/etc. that will completely refashion our lives to make them perfectly balanced and full and grounded and happy. Yes, they’re either obvious or impossible or obviously impossible, but I read them all just the same.

These days I’m feeling extra in need of those to-do lists. I’m very lucky and grateful to still have a job that’s paying me my full salary. And I’m grateful for general health, home stability, community and family.

So what’s there to bellyache about? How about I just make a list:

  • I’m struggling with exercise of any sort after having been so sedentary for months;
  • I’m struggling with severe self-judgment about the above;
  • I’m floundering amidst the lack of external structure that usually helps me regulate my sleep, eating, activity, and social contacts;
  • I’m worrying about the future, both immediate and longer term;
  • I’m afraid of backsliding so far that I can’t catch up to resume a life that resembles what I had before March of this year;
  • insert whatever I can’t bring myself to say or even countenance, but which brushes up against me and causes strife.

Okay, you might be thinking: whoa, that’s pretty heavy (while backing slowly away from this post…)

No idea what this is an image of, but I like the message: that's a big list but anyways best of luck :)
No idea what this is an image of, but I like the message: that’s a big list but anyways best of luck 🙂

Now that I’ve made my list, let’s start with the first item: struggling with exercise. What sorts of lists can I find to help with this?

The Washington post’s list for those struggling to move during the pandemic says this:

  1. be kind to yourself;
  2. set new goals;
  3. stay accountable;
  4. look forward (to how you feel after exercising).

What about all that self-judgment? I’d like to be kinder to myself, but what should I do?

Self magazine has a list of ways to be nicer to ourselves when things are tough– here are a few that I liked:

  1. don’t worry about keeping up with the news;
  2. be nice to yourself if you can’t stop keeping up with the news;
  3. feel free to wear what you want;
  4. be kind to yourself if your place seems messy to you;
  5. be accepting of whatever sleep schedule you have;
  6. give yourself plenty of time and space to do nothing.

I was looking for self-help lists for dealing with fear about the future, and accidentally came across this article, translated from French, in which several experts comment on my worst Armageddon-type coronavirus fears in great detail. Don’t read that article if you want to sleep tonight.

Luckily, I found a nice list from this article in the NY Times about managing pandemic-related anxiety and uncertainty:

  1. know the facts;
  2. put the pandemic into perspective;
  3. identify sources of anxiety;
  4. refrain from shaming and blaming;
  5. don’t be afraid to ask for help;
  6. prepare as best you can for future uncertainty;
  7. connect connect connect;
  8. practice self-care.

There’s certainly a theme to these lists. All of them remind us that we are not alone, that for many of us, movement helps us feel better, and that being stern with ourselves is not a good idea (right now, or maybe ever).

None of these is the perfect list. But I’ve found it! I was inspired by listening to the podcast In the Dark’s series on Coronavirus in the Delta, episode 2– inside Parchman Prison in Mississippi. You can read about it and get the link to listen here.

Here’s the perfect self-help list:

  1. breathe slowly in;
  2. breathe slowly out;
  3. breathe slowly in;
  4. breathe slowly out;
  5. breathe slowly in;
  6. breathe slowly out;
  7. repeat.

I think that’s it for right now. I can do this. You can do this. Let’s keep doing this.

Woman with eyes closed, breathing. By Allie for Unsplash.

What are you doing to deal with what’s causing you struggle these days? I’d love your tips, lists, or any comments you’d like to share.

fitness · self care

Things that make me feel good in my body, pandemic edition

What I like best about Fit is a Feminist Issue is how body-affirming and movement-positive it is. I love reading and writing about new and familiar ways to reward, challenge or nurture myself through taking good care of my body, whatever that means to me, in whatever ways are open to me.

In 2017, I wrote about 6 things that make me feel great about my body. In no particular order, they were:

  1. yoga
  2. reading Natalie’s posts
  3. sex with myself
  4. doing some prettifying activity– for me this meant hair color and treatments
  5. walking
  6. cycling

Come 2019, I reprised my list: Some things that make me feel great about my body (this year). Here’s the upshot:

  1. Yoga was still in, especially yin
  2. hair treatment indulgence was out
  3. comfort and ease in clothing were in
  4. walking was out (sprained ankle and physical therapy)
  5. the gym was in
  6. weight training, too
  7. and of course cycling

Now it’s officially mid-2020 and mid/early-mid/late-early coronavirus pandemic. Staying home starting in mid-March, I slowed down in almost every way: less productive, moving less, sleeping less and less well, feeling less peppy, thinking less clearly.

Now in mid-summer (and what a strange summer it is), my goal is to identify what helps me feel good IN my body. Thoughts ABOUT my body are secondary these days; they will have to wait their turn. Right now, it’s all about getting some physical sensations of pleasure, well-being, security, accomplishment in movement, stillness, nourishment, rest, routine.

So here’s my list of 6 things that make me feel good in my body during this pandemic:

1.Sleep. Hands-down winner. I’ve struggled the past few months with insomnia. I don’t even realize how bad it is until the morning after a night I get 8.5–9 hours of sleep, and I feel like Wonder Woman. Wow. So this is what rested feels like. I want more of this.

2.Yoga. No matter how I feel– tired, agitated, creaky from sitting in too many zoom meetings, or just blah, there’s some yoga for me. Even rolling around on my mat, or swinging my arms from side to side and raising them over my head feels good to me and good for me and good in me. Yay yoga!

3.Nature. There’s a reservoir near my house and a lovely walking route around it, with some woodsy paths, too. It’s great just to see trees, pine straw and low-growing plants. Even people’s yards and gardens cheer and hearten me. And my back porch is on the second floor of the 3-family house I live in, and it feels a bit like a tree house.

4.Walking. After so much inactivity, walking feels like doing something. And wearing a mask makes me more aware of my breathing. All of this puts me in touch with the functioning of my body– it’s doing its thing, in a simple and miraculous feat of engineering. Yeah, walking rocks.

5.Cycling. Yes, I can still do that, too. My legs still know how to turn the cranks, and my hands do the shifting without asking my permission. The instincts are all there, and the scenery–even the most mundane scenery is a treat.

6.Water. This is an aspirational item, as I haven’t been swimming yet this summer. But I’ve got plans for lake swimming this week and some ocean swimming this month and next month. My body in water does miraculous things: it floats. And moves and glides and splashes.

Readers: what is making you feel good in your bodies these days? Have any of those things changed since the pandemic? I’d love to hear from you.

Ocean Water, by Gigi for Unsplash.
Water, by Gigi for Unsplash.

fitness · fun

YouTube passive cross-training exercise videos for you!

Hi readers– sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post, the words just flow effortlessly. Inspiration strikes, and I’m off to the races. The perfect photo or metaphor or theme appears, and voila! Blog mission accomplished.

Sad to say, not today.

Just so you know I have tried, here are some topics I thought about writing on for Sunday, but rejected:

  1. a compendium of bad stock photos depicting women playing sports (yeah, that didn’t go anywhere). I was inspired by the twitter hashtag #badstockphotosofmyjob, which is actually at least 2 years old, but hey, I just made it to the party…

2. A compendium of inspiring stock photos of women playing sports, reminding us 1) there was such a thing as women’s sports that spectators could watch, in person even; and 2) sports playing is something we might consider doing, too, albeit safely. I admit I’m sorely in need of motivation to leave my house more often. Inertia’s a tough one…

3. A review of one of the many feminist/sports/activity/self-care books on or near my bedside table, just waiting to be read and summarized by me, for you.

4. Another installment of “cockamamie and likely non-functional exercise devices sold over the internet.” I never tire of looking at them. My current fave (which I haven’t ordered yet) is shoe covers that fit over sneakers, facilitating dancing either on hard floors or carpet. This model purports to make pivots and turns much smoother. I’m sold.

5. A commentary on this article revealing how T. Rex wasn’t (as conventional paleontology would have it) a fast sprinting lone hunter. No. T. Rex was all about the energy conservation, so ambled along at a more leisurely pace. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for us all. Or not. Which I why I didn’t pursue the topic further.

Instead of any of the above, I’m offering you a chance to do some passive cross training with gymnasts and parkour instructors. I have to say I enjoyed these. They are two YouTube videos in which male athletes in one field try to teach female athletes in another field, and the women kick ass. Then, when the tables are turned, the male athletes don’t do as well. Turns out, in this pair of videos everyone is incredibly talented and also pretty chill and good-natured. Okay, I might as well insert them here.

Women college gymnasts try out parkour and rock.
Male parkour instructors try gymnastics and do okay.

See you all next week, when I expect to be chock-full of inspiration and humor and fluency and sincerity. In writing, as in all things–

Some days you get the bear. Some days, the bear gets you.
Some days you get the bear. Some days, the bear gets you.

Hey readers– are you doing or reading or hearing or eating or seeing anything that’s got you excited or inspired or fired-up or out of the house or off the couch or out of bed before noon? I’d love to hear about it… 🙂

covid19 · fitness · fitness classes · gadgets

To pod or not to pod?

Owners of gyms and yoga studios and general athletic facilities, which have been closed for a few months now, are starting to make plans for how to reopen safely. The biggest problem is how to restrict the transmission of virus droplets that occurs when a lot of people are breathing in the same enclosed space. If you missed our super-popular and informative post about this by engineers Sarah and Cara, you can read it here.

COVID-19 and the gym: building engineers weigh in

The problem of reconfiguring building systems and infrastructure to mitigate virus risk is ongoing, and experts are hard at work formulating plans.

And then some other people came up with this idea:

A person doing yoga (downward facing dog) inside a clear geodesic pod. In a group of others doing same. Outside. In Toronto.
A person doing yoga (downward facing dog) inside a clear geodesic pod. In a group of others doing same in their own pods. Outside. In Toronto.

So many questions come to mind here. The first one for me is “WHERE’S THE DOOR?”

Don’t worry– it’s right here.

Person doing savasana, or corpse pose (or maybe just sunbathing) inside pod, with door open.
Person doing savasana, or corpse pose (or maybe just sunbathing) inside pod, with door open.

They probably left the door open to avoid heat stroke– it’s got to be pretty toasty inside. Yes, there are fans, but I’m guessing they’re not going to help a lot. the instructor apparently gave up on their pod and taught from the open air.

Pod-yoga instructor, teaching podded students after escaping from her pod.
Pod-yoga instructor, teaching podded students after escaping from her pod.

The activity-within-pod idea isn’t actually new. For about 10 years now, novelty marketers have been advertising clear plastic watertight balls for playing on water.

Adults and children flailing about inside clear airtight plastic balls in a pool.
Adults and children flailing about inside clear airtight plastic balls in a pool.

For about the same amount of time, consumer and governmental safety agencies have warned against using these things, as they increase risk of suffocation or drowning. Of course, you could cut your risk of death in half by using it only on land:

A ballerina in a white tutu, posing inside a clear plastic ball. She's got max 30 minutes of air, FYI.
A ballerina in a white tutu, posing inside a clear plastic ball. She’s got 30 minutes of air, max.

I have to say, even if my risks of 1) drowning and 2) suffocating were eliminated, I don’t think I’d enjoy exercising inside a pod. Frankly, I’d feel too much like this:

Praying Mantis practicing rock climbing inside glass dome, looking uncomfortable.
Praying Mantis practicing rock climbing inside glass dome, looking uncomfortable.

It occurs to me that maybe it’s the dome-shape that’s got me bugging. A gym in LA has come up with plastic-sheet cubicles for its early-adopter clients. They can do classes and weight work inside, surrounded by clear plastic.

It’s not clear to me, though, whether the cubicles solve the problems that Sarah and Cara raise about gyms, air circulation and droplet transmission. There’s so much we don’t know. And, we need to get data through testing, which takes time.

For now, I think I’ll keep doing my group physical activity either inside through zoom or outside in small groups at a safe distance. And the only thing I think we should use those clear plastic balls for is making an impression on the runway, as Shangela did on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3.

Shangela stomping the runway inside a clear plastic ball.
Shangela, stomping the runway inside a clear plastic ball.

So, dear readers– would pods of either the domed or cubicle variety get you back to the gym or keen to join group classes? We’d love to hear from you.

family · fitness

In search of at-home watery summer outdoor fun

It is officially summer now. The solstice was yesterday, Saturday June 20. We’re having a hot spell in the Northeast, which means I just installed my bedroom air conditioner unit more than a week ahead of my usual schedule (I always shoot for July 1 for no particular reason).

Today, I was taking a break from an online bioethics conference (which involves sitting at my computer looking at an endless– if very interesting– list of powerpoint presentations with audio). The break was the perfect antidote to sitting: hauling plastic chairs and stools downstairs to the driveway to soap, scrub and hose them off, in preparation for spruce-up spray painting.

As I said, it’s hot hot hot outside. I had a garden hose in my hand, multiple spray settings at the ready. It didn’t take long to put two and two together. Dual results: clean plastic outdoor furniture and a soaking wet, refreshed, happy Catherine.

This reminded me of how much fun I had as a child in my yard with garden hoses, sprinklers, kiddie pools, and a Slip ‘n Slide. I think my original one looked a bit like this:

Vintage Slip 'n Slide box, with  drawings of white kids sliding on a wet piece of plastic on grass.
Vintage Slip ‘n Slide box, with illustrated kids sliding on a wet piece of plastic on grass, and more people waiting for their turn.

Apparently they’re not designed for adults. Bummer. Look here for ominous tales about Slip ‘n’ Slide hazards.

When I got back inside, dried off, changed clothes, and sat down at my computer, I took a minor detour from bioethics talks, and searched for water-delivery-system fun toys or contraptions for local summer fun. It turns out there’s little to nothing for grownups. Here are some of the things I checked out.

Backyard inflatable splash/spray pads:

68"/1.72 meter round inflatable spray pad, with family of four totally photoshopped to make it look like they all fit in it.
68″/1.72 meter round inflatable spray pad, with family of four totally photoshopped in to make it look like they all fit in it, which they don’t.

Novelty backyard sprinklers for kids:

Backyard sprinkler with both 1) kids totally photoshopped into it; and 2) the water spritzing photoshopped, too, as loads of reviewers said it hardly worked at all.
Backyard sprinkler with 1) two kids poorly photoshopped in; 2) fake-looking grass; and 3) water spritzing photoshopped, too, as many reviewers said it hardly worked at all.

Kiddie wading pools, of which there are many variations:

Note: I searched and looked at a lot of pool-related products, and not one of them had pictures with black kids or black families. Not one. Perhaps such photos are out there, but they are not used for advertising any of the hundreds of products I perused.

If you have a bigger space or grander wet and wild ambitions, here’s something for you:

16'x30' (4.8x9.1 meter) inflatable waterslide/pool. Now that's what I'm talking about.
16’x30′ (4.8×9.1 meter) inflatable waterslide/pool. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

This baby weighs 375 lbs (170kg) costs $USD 275/day to rent. It also requires a large area for maximum frolicking fun, either wet or dry.

Sadly, none of these options were what I had in mind. I live in a three-family house that’s been condo-ized, and I’m the second floor owner. We share a backyard, but in reality I never use it. I do use my back porch a lot, but even a small wading pool seems like a very bad idea.

Here’s a promising idea: maybe I could have something like this for refreshing water dunking from time to time.

But what if it’s just me, in need of outside cool-water immersion? Yes, I could hang a solar camp shower bag on my porch and get a cool water shower outside (you can tell I’ve really been avoiding those conference presentations today), but where’s the wild and giddy fun in that? Sigh.

So readers, you heard it here, maybe first: I think there’s a marketing opportunity here: fun water toys for 1) adults; and 2) anyone who lives with minimal outside space, like a porch, deck or balcony. Any thoughts? Product ideas? Recommendations for items I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · sexism

When it’s okay to say “good job” to a woman while she’s in the middle of physical activity

CW: some talk about body weight, fatness and feelings that anti-fat micoaggressions can provoke.

tl:dr version:

NEVER.

N E V E R.

Never. that's all.
Never. that’s all.

Context: many/most/all of us have found ourselves in the gym, on a bike, running, or doing some kind of physical activity (or any activity, for that matter, but I digress), when we get told by some stranger, “great job! You keep it up! You go, girl! You got this!” or some such infuriating fit-splaining-ness.

Really?

As a person who identifies as fat, I have experienced this more than a few times, and also heard and read about it in many social media and other groups. Samantha blogged about hating people cheering her up hills, explaining why.

Now that you’re done reading her post, here are some modified examples commiserating on “good job!” unsolicited comments (I mean, there’s always unsolicited):

I was heading down from a hike and some people were like, oh don’t turn around, you’re almost there. I’m like, wtf, I had already been to the top… and now I’m heading back down.

I have done a lot of run/walking… Sometimes when a run interval is over and I go to a walk people yell “don’t stop keep going”. Like, leave me alone…

I once had a woman stop me to ask me if my heart was okay to run. Sigh…

I used get this hiking… “You’ll make it!” “Keep it up”. I wanted to pick them up and throw them off the mountain. Was hiking summits 3x/week. I take my time because I care less about speed and more about enjoying the hike.

We were walking around a small lake in a park, and a slim woman and her daughter stepped aside to let us pass. She asked if we were ‘walking around the lake’ and we said ‘yes’. She looked us up and down and said- oh, Good For YOU! We kept walking, looked at each other and realized we’d just been – I dunno, fat congratulated on our walk.

Someone told me I was “really good” at yoga. And then added, Especially for someone my size… she could’ve left that part out and also, yoga isn’t a competitive sport so I’m not looking for feedback, thank you very much.

I’ve been told, “Keep coming back!” at the gym. Yeah, I’ve been coming here regularly for years…

It’s hard to know how to respond in such situations.

WHAT AM I SAYING?! Of course it’s not hard to know how to respond. Here are my top 4 suggestions:

  1. *uck you
  2. F*ck you
  3. Fu*k you
  4. Fuc* you

Sorry/not sorry for the potty-mouthed list.

Seriously, it’s hard to know what to do in the moment because 1) you’re actually in the middle of climbing or cycling or paddling or running or lifting something very heavy, and you’re trying to concentrate; 2) these digs just show up out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, so take you by surprise; 3) they can provoke feelings of inadequacy, shame, fury, sadness, loss of energy– all sorts of things can come out.

Ignoring it is one tactic. Coming up with a snappy reply is another, but can be hard to produce in the heat of the moment. There’s my list, but it is rude and could provoke an unsafe reaction in the fit-splainer.

There is this:

Oh sit down. You’re dismissed.

So, readers, what do or would you do in a situation like this? If you feel like telling us about a similar encounter and/or what you did, I’d love to hear about it.

fitness · fun · play

Cretaceous fitness options during COVID-19, courtesy of T. rex

(CW: Very silly and irreverent photos and descriptions and gifs of people in T-rex costumes doing physical activities. I hope this makes people smile a little.)

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re all yearning to get outside and explore nature in all its forms. However, COVID-19 will be with us for a long time to come. Vaccine development is still in early stages, and our knowledge and resources for treatment are limited. So we’re left with what we can do: prevention. To reduce transmission, we’re social distancing. I blogged about sports and risk recently here. That means limiting or avoiding activities with a high risk of transmission, especially avoiding any sports or activities that involve contact with other people.

Not so for T. rex! Other than keeping a eye out for stray comets, Every T. rex is out and about, enjoying themselves. Boating is one of T. rex’s favorite pastimes:

T. rex driving a motorboat on a river. Note: always wear a lifejacket if you’re not naturally buoyant like T. rex.

T. rex likes non-motorized boating as well, and enjoys launching from the dock:

Pro tip: before somersaulting into the boat, make sure to put the oars in first.

Sometimes, though, we just want to hang out by a river and enjoy the quiet pleasure of fishing. T. rex is no different.

Short arms plus big fish spells trouble for T. rex, but they’re not giving up (neither T. rex nor the fish).

Most people are understandably apprehensive about returning to gym workouts. Not T-rex! Their workouts go on as usual.

T. rex doing a parkour workout, always with safety in mind: a human is spotting them.

Sometimes T. rex just needs to create some aerobic heat, and the rowing/erg machine is a classic way to do just that.

Arm length necessitates modification of the form. In the end, though, watts are watts…

Of course, running is a classic outdoor activity, which T-rex enjoys. It even provides a motivator for other runners to up their own performance:

It’s so nice having friends.

On the other hand, many of us are screaming out for novelty these days; what better way to change up your exercise routine than by combining two favorite pastimes in novel ways?

Without a doubt a novel activity, but the chances of this catching on seem slim.

Back to reality: I hope you found some silly respite in these images. For me, a smattering of jokes fits nicely into my schedule of ranting, gnashing of teeth, hiding, crying, donating, letter/email writing, self-reflection and learning.

Finally, the inspiration for the T. rex post is from my favorite T. rex in real life: here’s my friend Steph and me before the Orchard Cross costume race a few years ago. I’m her second banana. Looking forward to costume cross races, picnics, swimming outings with friends’ kids, beach trips on hot holiday weekends, and all the other lovely things we all do together.

So readers, how are you getting out there this summer? Any plans? Any interesting protection ideas? Feel free to share what you’re up to; I’d love to hear from you.

Me (on left) and Steph, before the Orchard Cross costume race, held every Halloween weekend.
Me (on left) and Steph, before the Orchard Cross costume race, held every Halloween weekend.
covid19 · fitness · team sports

Sports and risk during COVID-19

In early/mid March 2020, all sporting events came to a screeching halt. No more college sports, pro sports, annual tournaments or races. No more kids’ sports leagues. No more swimming at the local pool. But sporting fans and participants around the globe will not be denied for long, and they are getting impatient.

Whether or not some reopening process for some particular sport in some location is prudent is hugely important. Lots of sports associations, government agencies and community groups (and sports franchise lobbyists) are working on putting together guidelines for returning to athletic activity. In early May, the Italian government released a 404-page report (in Italian) on “Safely Restarting Sports” (Lo sport riparte in sicurezza). You can find parts of the document here. It’s super-detailed, identifying dozens of features that affect the riskiness of sporting activity. Here are some of them:

  • how many athletes are playing?
  • are the groups consistently playing together or randomly put into groups?
  • Where is the play happening– outside, inside, how big a space inside?
  • What sort of physical contact is necessary, and what sort of contact can be avoided?
  • What sorts of equipment are necessary, and who has how much contact with it?
  • What sort of activity is happening– conditioning, skills lessons, training drills, scrimmage, game?
  • Who else other than the athletes is in potential contact (e.g. coaches, spectators, facility staff, other persons)?

In this document, there’s an analysis of various basketball activities. They are broken down into risk categories (1–8) and then there’s a table showing the activity (e.g. warmup exercises, fundamentals drills, game), its description, its level of risk, and ways to mitigate the risks (generally through sanitation, individual protection, curbing contact, etc.).

So, do we have reliable information about specific sports? Uh, maybe. This news article (the Dubrovnik Times) reported on sports that the report deemed safer:

Reportedly, sports that offer almost no possibility of spreading the infection are sailing, open water swimming, golf and tennis.
As for tennis, it also has rules that recommend that tennis players wear goggles and gloves and that each player has their own balls at the service.

As for collective sports, water polo, which is in category two, has the lowest risk of spreading the virus, with the explanation that water polo is played in chlorinated water, which can disable the virus.

Football is placed in category three, while rugby, basketball, volleyball and handball are in the “most endangered” category four, as are all martial arts.

I’m cycling this summer, and buying a kayak this month so I can get out on the water. I do own a tennis racket, so maybe that will be in my summer plans as well. No yoga studio classes are in the offing any time soon, but zoom yoga has some virtues (among them that all classes take place in my living room).

Readers, what physical activities are you doing or contemplating doing this summer? What are you returning to? What are you substituting for activities you’re not doing? I’d love to hear from you.

p.s. the phrase at the top of the article, “Ognuno protegge tutti” means “each one protects everyone”. I like that.

Black Hustory · Black Present · fitness · hiking · racism · swimming

Exercising while black: a few women’s stories

As a white woman who wants to be a better ally, advocate and collaborator for racial justice, the number once piece of advice I’m hearing is: get yourself educated! Read and learn about the history, politics, economics, etc. of systematic racism. Read about the experiences of people of color as recounted by them. Learning is necessary for white people to acknowledge, be aware of and look for situations where racism harms people of color; these situations are everywhere, and happening all the time. Then, learn how to respond. Learn to be uncomfortable, and accept that others will be made uncomfortable by your responses.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about discrimination against cis and trans women, against older women, fatter women, women with disabilities, and women of color.

Today’s post offers you a few sites and stories of African American women, in motion in a racist world.

I am asking you, dear readers, a favor: if you could add any suggestions in the comments about women of color doing physical activities whose stories we ought to know about, we’ll publish them in a follow-up post. Thanks as always.

First up–Black Girls Trekkin’. this is a group “for women of color who choose to opt outside”. Tiffanie Tharpe, one of the founders, was interviewed in the Guardian about the need for support and safety for women of color in the outdoors:

I feel like it’s important for black girls to hike. When I was young I would have loved to have had someone encouraging me to get outside. To not be afraid. I’ve decided to apply for a master’s degree in parks and recreation management, and a friend and I set up a hiking group for women of color in LA called Black Girls Trekkin’. I want to be a model to other young girls.

Here’s a photo from their Facebook page from one of the events they sponsor:

Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.
Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.

Second: Outdoor Afro. Founded by Ru Mapp, Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization based on Oakland, CA. They have local leaders and sponsor events in 30 states, organizing hikes, kayaking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. In their stories section, you can hear from Taishya Adams about the ways being in the outdoors and organizing and leading outdoor groups has helped her develop skills for community organizing and political action. She says:

As an Outdoor Afro leader in Colorado, I build on their 10-year legacy of reconnecting black people to the outdoors and our role as leaders in it. I believe that human relationships are at the center of our work towards justice, the foundation each of us can build upon.

Taishya Adams, in Colorado.
Taishya Adams, in Colorado.

Third: The Howard University women’s swim team. Howard is the only historically black university in the US that has both men’s and women’s swim teams. The BBC spent time with the Howard women swim team to create a documentary podcast called Black Girls Don’t Swim. The swimmers talk about their early experiences with swimming and the barriers they’ve encountered. One of the obstacles is the harmful effects of chlorinated water on their hair. The team discusses hair care, competing in a white-dominated sport, tips on being a successful student athlete, and how much they love swimming in this video interview, conducting by blackkidsswim.com.

Howard university women's swim team member in the water.
Howard university women’s swim team member in the water.

There’s a long and complex and racist history of the relationships between swimming and black communities all over the world. This article in The Conversation by University of Toronto PhD. student Jacqueline Scott provides a short introduction and starting point for learning about these issues.

Finally (for now), there’s Jacqueline Scott’s excellent blog, Black Outdoors. She writes about all sorts of activities from birding to snowshoeing, has published widely and also been interviewed for her research and her passion for the outdoors. Bonus for Torontonians: Scott also leads 2-hour Black History Walks (currently paused), which you can read more about here.

Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking  about Black History.
Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking about Black History.

So readers, any suggestions for stories and sites to visit to learn more about women of color in motion on land, sea or air? I didn’t cover much here, so I’d welcome input. We’d love to see them, and will put them together for another post. Thanks!

fitness · weight stigma

It’s dessert week in nutrition science!

CW: discussion of research related to body weight, BMI, and weight gain.

While the rest of us have been busy baking bread at home, nutrition researchers have been hard at work keeping dessert science going strong. They’ve been thinking and plotting and measuring and parceling out various amounts of dessert items to various sizes of people, then watching them closely to see what happens.

A group of busy-bee food science professionals released their results this week in an article investigating associations between body weight and milkshake liking. No, that’s not me rephrasing it– it’s the actual title of the article (using the word “ob*sity”, which I strongly dislike for scientific and ethical reasons).

First, they the formed their hypothesis:

Milkshake hypothesis: Make milkshakes, they said. Boys will come to your yard, they said.
Milkshake hypothesis: Make milkshakes, they said. Boys will come to your yard, they said.

(side note: if you’re not familiar with the references in this meme, you’re in for a sweet treat! Start here, then go here. Important: this is not to be confused with the “mikshake duck” meme, which I just learned about one minute ago.)

Back to the meme at hand: that’s not their research question (better to leave it to the “directions for future studies” section). Here’s what they wanted to know:

Prevailing models of obesity posit that hedonic signals override homeostatic mechanisms to promote overeating in today’s food environment.,,Here we define hedonic as orosensory pleasure experienced during eating and set out to test whether there is a relationship between adiposity and the perceived pleasure of a palatable and energy-dense milkshake.

non-science-journal version: they want to know if people’s body weights have an effect on how yummy milkshake consumption seems to them. What they are actually looking for is whether larger people report yummier milkshake drinking experiences (which they think might partly explain their larger sizes). That’s what these scientists are really up to.

What’s next? The researchers set up their test group: 110 people with BMI 19.3–51.2. They asked them to arrive neither hungry nor full, and to have not eaten for at least one hour. The participants came, and waited.

Please note that this study took place before pandemic social distancing protocols were instituted. Otherwise, group size would be strictly limited.

Safety first: milkshakes are allowed to bring at most 9 boys to the yard. A meme with Kelis.
Safety first: milkshakes are allowed to bring at most 9 boys to the yard.

Back to the study: I can’t tell you about the exact methods because even with my awesome library access I can’t get the full article yet. But: the researchers measured hunger before milkshake consumption and also recorded how much the participants said they liked and wanted the milkshake (during consumption).

Finally, we get the results! Here’s what the article says:

We identified a significant association between ratings of hunger and milkshake liking and wanting. By contrast, we found no evidence for a relationship between any measure of adiposity and ratings of milkshake liking, wanting, or intensity.

We conclude that adiposity is not associated with the pleasure experienced during consumption of our energy-dense and palatable milkshakes. Our results provide further evidence against the hypothesis that heightened hedonic signals drive weight gain.

Uh oh! The nutrition scientists got a negative result! They found that body weight had no effect at all on how pleasurable people said their milkshakes were. Keanu pretty much sums it up:

What if the boys were already on their way to the yard, and my milkshake had nothing to do with it-- meme with Keanu.
Keanu reports test’s failure to find association between two variables. It happens.

Yes, the study did find a correlation between hunger levels pre-consumption and reported pleasure during consumption. But no one doubted that. And yes, it’s a good thing when scientists get and publish a report on failure to find correlations.

This study gives us a glimpse of something very interesting and a bit worrisome to me, as a fat woman and a health ethics researcher: medical research spends a lot of time and effort searching for causal factors involved in body weight and weight gain that are located in individual persons’ actions, psychological makeups and personal habits. Are fatter people fatter because of something they are doing or feeling or attracted to?

These scientific questions make me uneasy about what may be underlying speculations (or assumptions) by researchers, clinicians and even the general public about what fatter people are doing differently or feeling and acting differently that accounts for their increased fatness. These views are likely yet another source for deep-seated fat-biased beliefs and weight-stigmatizing judgments.

Should we stop doing this kind of research? Even as a public health ethics professional, this is not in my lane, so I can’t say. I think we should remain careful about uptake and reliance on nutrition research, lest it leave a bad taste in our mouths.