curling · family · interview · kids and exercise · team sports

Curling Together: Interview with Dale Curtis and Joanne Tarvit

Joanne Tarvit has grown up curling competitively, just like Dale Curtis, her mother. This interview shares what it’s like for them to curl together as a family, what curling teaches kids, and how women can thrive in curling at any stage of life. The full recorded interview is below the edited transcript.

Would you describe how long you’ve curled and your greatest curling accomplishment? 
Joanne and Dale. Used with permission.

Dale Curtis: I’m not sure I want to say! It’s probably been 55 years. I think I only missed one season when I was living down in the United States. My greatest accomplishment in curling would be when I went to senior women’s nationals in Ottawa as skip. 

Joanne Tarvit: I’ve been curling for 28 years. Mom had me on the ice when I was about 5 and I don’t think I’ve missed a season. My greatest accomplishment in my curling career would be winning back-to-back silver medals at the Canadian National Championship with a group of girls from Brock. They’re a great team.

How long have you curled together, and when did you start?

Joanne: This is our fourth season playing together weekly at the St Thomas Curling Club, but we’ve been playing bonspiels together for 20 years.

Dale: I introduced Jo to curling when she was 3 or 4 years of age. My brother David, her uncle, was Icemaker at two different clubs in Brampton and we lived close together. The ice was installed in September or early October, and I would often help because it can be a 24-hour job. Jo would come with me. David would actually sit her on the rocks and push so she could ride them down the ice! 

Then we got Jo on the ice at 5, and I was an instructor in the Little Rocks program. The rocks the children use are about half the size and weight of the regular rocks that adults throw. It was a bit later, when she was skipping a team of kids at 9 or 10, and was handling the pressure of it all, that I thought, oh she can really do this!

Joanne: At our home curling club in Brampton, it was my mom, uncle, and grandparents as well! I felt a lot of pride knowing that my family was curling there and now, it was my turn. So I absolutely loved it as a kid. I was so lucky that mom was willing to come out, not just for those two hours on a Sunday afternoon for the Little Rocks but really anytime. I would want to go throw and she’d be like, yep let’s go and practice. I had a parent who not only loved the game but was really good at the instruction side of it as well when I was young. 

As I got more into the competitive side of the game, around 12 and 13, I started to feel a little more pressure, but only because our whole family has many provincial championship banners hanging out at the club. It was a constant reminder. At one point in our life we had three generations, all playing on the same team in a bonspiel, so those are some really special memories for us.

What does curling teach kids like Joanne who play at a young age? 

Dale: A curling team is only four players, so the team dynamics are much different than hockey teams or basketball teams. Curling teaches kids about their responsibility to the team, to the importance of committing for the season. 

The game itself is played over at least two hours, so patience is involved, too. When the game is not going your way, you have to learn to control yourself emotionally, to set little goals for yourself. Emotional control is so important because the game is not over until it’s over. Kids have to learn that their body language on the ice affects their teammates. It teaches young people about sportsmanship. So I think curling really does teach a lot of life skill lessons for young people.

Joanne: I will add there is kind of a leadership element to it as well, one that doesn’t necessarily have to come solely from the skill position, like a captain. Every player in curling has a unique role, so they need to be able to bring positivity to their position. Curling has really helped me in many aspects in life, knowing that I can bring something positive to a team or group of friends, or just collaborate well with whoever I work with.

Is it challenging for kids to acquire those self-regulation and interpersonal skills in curling? 

Dale: Yes, and you see it in the youngsters when they’re first starting out. We have a lot of broom banging when kids don’t make their shots or the game isn’t going their way. I think that’s why Jo likes the sweeping aspect to the game rather skip because sweeping offers an emotional release.

Joanne: Absolutely I was a broom slammer. I’ve slowly moved away from it, but every now and then I’ll still let one slip. So self awareness and being able to use strategies to work through that frustration, because you still got another rock to throw or you’ve got six other rocks that you have to have to play. You have to learn to be able to forget quickly. Curling has been the catalyst that has helped me learn that whenever I am stressed or any kind of anxiety comes up, my best release is any kind of physical activity. 

Now that you are both adults, what is it like curling on the same team? 

Joanne: We have been able to play together since I was 10. And now into my 30s being able to do that still and at a fairly good level has been a ton of fun. We could be continuing to do this for the next 20 years if mom wants to. It’s creating memories. We talk about bonspiels and events all the time around the dinner table. I think one thing we do have to be careful is that not everyone in the family curls so not that our dinners shouldn’t be solely about curling, but it does tend to happen.

One thing that’s unique about playing together is that we’ve watched each other play, well, for my entire life, at least, and so we know what it looks like when each other has a really good throw. We are able to provide that deep level of feedback. 

Dale: For me, there’s not too many people that I would even ask about how I’m throwing. Jo’s coaching and training has given her as much of a critical eye as I have, I would say. So I trust the feedback I’m getting from her, probably more than anybody else in the club.

When I’m skipping and Jo’s throwing I trying to give her feedback as to what I’m seeing. I can be far more direct with Jo, and possibly not always as positive, in part because most other people are not curling at the same level that Jo is. So I think, maybe that comes with the territory—the higher elite curlers want more direct feedback.

Joanne: Once in awhile it’d be nice to know that I’m doing something right, mom! [laughs]

But, yeah, every game we play is an opportunity to practice and to learn. Mom has a very important competition coming up, so I have been trying to use these games to remind her of habits for keeping sharp. It’s a long season, and you can get what we call “lazy on technique.” So, I help to support her competitive game when we play.

Are there advantages or disadvantages playing together as mother and daughter?

Joanne: Like any kind of teammate, any relationship dynamic, you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have your bad days. There’s the odd day that we’re really not on the same page, and there’s frustration there. But I think, because we’re family, it rolls off the shoulder, so we’re like, “All right well, love ya.”

Having played with mom and watching her, I know her body language and style of strategy. When it comes to calling shots not a whole lot has to be said at times. But I’m also really comfortable at letting her know when I don’t think that’s the call here, and we should go with something else.

Dale: We know each other so well that I think that, at times, our emotions aren’t as much in check with each other as they would be with another teammate. We can be more raw with each other. If I’m in a bad mood, Joanne’s going to know about it, whereas if it was another teammate they may not know that I was in a bad mood as much.

Why is curling a good sport for fitness and health? 

Dale: Curling is a wonderful sport to get involved in from a social aspect and from a fitness aspect. It is something you can do at any time during your life that you know we can adapt body types, to the skill at any at any age.

Joanne: Yes, the incredible thing about it is that you can start when you’re five or you can start when you’re 60. It’s a welcoming sport—there’s a spot for everybody in curling. And it’s more of a workout than most people think actually! I know when I come up from sweeping I’m usually huffing and puffing and working to get my heart rate back down.

The amount of empowerment that really comes with playing as a female I think is a ton of fun, because we can play the game right alongside the men, right alongside anybody. It really doesn’t really make a difference who you are in this sport. Everyone can play.

How important are role models for women who curl? 

Joanne: Growing up as a young female we always were able to watch the Scotties, which is the national curling event. It always had air time and it was on every single year, and I think that’s unique when it comes to women in sport. For young girls who are playing hockey, I feel like the only time they get to see their idols play is every four years of the Olympics. So I felt very fortunate that I got to watch my idols every year compete at the Scotties and they’ve just constantly been adding women’s events to slams. Today, it seems like once a month you’re watching women on TV play. Other women play on TV, so I had something to watch and strive for.

Dale: I sort of went through the same thing when I was growing up. My mother ran the junior program at our club. I played with my mother in a regular league at the club for many, many years, and we did bonspiels together. It’s part of our family tradition that we’ve grown up with, and I’ve learned that nothing has to stop curling! I remember when my brother and I would miss our family Christmas dinners because we’d be playing or training and it was never really questioned. We were supported.

No matter what your life situation is, you should still be able to play. I curled when I was pregnant. As long as you’re healthy, you can just modify your delivery a bit so there’s no issue. I mean your body balance is actually lower as you go through your pregnancy, so it makes it quite easy really as long as you’re healthy and can keep your leg strength up. It’s great!

Joanne: Yeah I blame mum for my cold hands and feet, nowadays, because she played so long into her pregnancy with me that I was so close to the ice all the time!

What’s one piece of advice you have for each other about curling? 
Elan, Joanne, and Dale

Dale: I just hope that if Jo wants to continue her competitive path that she’s able to find a team that can showcase her talent, whether she makes it to the Scotties or whatever. I hope she continues to love the game and pursue what she loves. Whether it takes her to a high competitive area, or to continue doing club curling, she should do what she is passionate about.

Joanne: For mom’s upcoming competition, I’d say just soak up the experience! I know how competitive my mom is because I get it from her. So I say enjoy it and not worry too much about the wins and losses. They’re going to come either way because it’s sport and it happens. You’re playing on a world stage, so make memories and enjoy every single moment of fun.

Oh, and have a good sharp release every time.

See the full video recording of our interview [32:50].

cycling · menstruation

Of Period Puns and Bicycling Groups (Guest Post)

My husband and youngest son have been bicycling together for awhile now, long distances and fast, with other groups and just with each other. If you’ve been following my posts here at FIAFI, you know I sometimes cycle as well, recreational-only and mostly with Son 2 though sometimes en famille with friends. Well, this past Monday night, I took a non-family bike ride. Honestly, my first in… probably decades. I’ve met some of my husband’s cycling friends, which includes a lot of great women, and they and my husband have been talking up a regular St. Louis bike ride for women and nonbinary folks called… wait for it… The Monthly Cycle.

The first Monday of every month, The Monthly Cycle meets outside a gelateria on South Grand in St. Louis. Bert and Son 2 dropped me off around 6:30 and then carried on to their own bikes event nearby (a fast hard ride of folks who take it seriously). Women of all shapes and sizes trickled in, forming a magnificent clot on the sidewalk until the ride began at 7 pm. The total eventual headcount according to one of the organizers? 53. Several of them, some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, helped me get properly kitted out with a forward beam-light and some medical tape to help fasten my helmet, which had an unfortunate buckle failure. A few were in costume for the October Halloween theme–rides are not usually themed–and ready to make 3 stops for ghost stories at allegedly haunted venues. Unaccustomed to city riding on trafficked streets, and new to riding in large groups, I took no pictures while moving. Thanks to the ghost story stops, though, I was able to snap a few shots that reflect what went on.

Not depicted but awesome:

  • the cyclists with wifi enabled speakers blasting out playlists with varying tastes; one person had a playlist of Halloween-themed music from both radio and musicals including Monster Mash and Thriller and songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, while another was playing Rihana and Brittney Spears and Spanish-language tunes
  • occasional warbling singing-along to the tunes, while riding; hilarious when going over bumpy roads
  • the kids and families and other friendly residents hanging out on their porches in the dark who gave friendly shouts and waved at us as we passed through neighborhoods inhabited by a wide range of people (this ride made no attempt to stick to the middle class white notion of “safe neighborhoods” that so dominates cycling culture in many places)
  • the guy who, as we passed through a commercial district, stepped out onto the street to give every passing cyclist a high 5
  • the many folks who asked “what is this? it looks awesome!”–men but also women in cars and walking and riding their own bikes who we passed along the way–to hear a friendly shout of “It’s the monthly cycle! Women and nonbinary only!” with an added shout of “look us up!” for the folks who were presenting as women or nonbinary
  • the riders who held the intersections as we came through to prevent cars from riding into us as much as possible, and the uncountable “thank you”s that riders shouted to drivers who waited, whether patiently or impatiently, for the whole crew to pass
  • riders shouting “hole!” as they passed a big one in the road to alert those behind them, “car up!” if a car was coming toward the group to encourage everyone to get into just one lane, “car back” if a car was behind the group, and calling out turns or “slowing” so that folks in the back knew what was happening
  • the shared drinks and snacks at the Tower Pub where the ride typically winds up

All told, it was a little under 10 miles, total, with some hills. Enough to work a little but totally doable by someone who doesn’t bike much. It started around 7pm and I was all done and heading home a little after 10, needing only to bike a few blocks down the street from the Tower Pub to the place my husband and Son 2 had ended up for the ritual post-ride drinks and snacks at their own habitual endspot.

I am planning on hitting the Monthly Cycle up at the beginning of November with at least one friend who saw my social media post about it and was instantly all-in. I don’t know if I will stick with it through winter, given the cost of winter gear and the hazards of riding slippery roads. But the ride itself was a delight from start to finish and the folks could not have been more welcoming.

Is there a Monthly Cycle or something similar near you? A no-men cycling event or other sports community? One that isn’t anti-men, but is about a space for the kinds of relations that people who aren’t men can have with each other when men aren’t part of the group and are, at most, passed by just for a little while? What do you think the value of such groups is?

Weekends with Womack

Moving through shock, outrage, and sadness

Sometimes terrible things happen, and we have no idea how to comprehend them, much less respond to them, much much less combat them.

Something terrible happened in Paris Friday night—as of this blog writing, at least 125 (reports vary right now) people were killed in armed attacks while at a concert, a sports stadium, a restaurant and other popular spots in the city. The story is still unfolding, and will likely take some time to become clear.

I don’t know what to say here on this blog about the awful massacre. I don’t know what to say here on this blog about the violent world we live in. One thing I do know—when terrible things happen, it’s good to keep movement an important part of our lives. It helps center and calm us, and it is often done in the company of friends or family.

So let’s do some movement today.

To keep us company, here are some pictures of some female athletes, engrossed in the joy and concentration of sports or activity.

Alize Cornet

Alize’ Cornet—professional tennis player, beat Serena Williams 3 times in 2014, including at Wimbledon.


Iranian soccer player (not identified), found on the Muslim women in sports Facebook page.

Marcia Ella-Duncan, member of Yuin Nation of New South WalesMarcia Ella-Duncan, championship netballer and member of Yuin nation in New South Wales, Australia.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.14.33 PMMarjorie Turner-Bailey, Canadian track and field champion and Olympian in the 1976 games.

take aimYoung girl at a French camp, learning archery.

I’ll stop here, and will be back next week.

athletes · fitness · Guest Post

Roller Derby Reaching New Heights (Guest Post)

The Toronto roller derby league, photo by “Neil Gunner” (

Every year the best roller derby teams in the world come together in one spot to contend for the Hydra, the championship trophy of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). I spent all of last weekend with other roller derby fans crammed into Milwaukee’s U.S. Cellular Arena watching the elite teams of the sport raise the game to a whole new level while competing for this coveted trophy. Sitting in the audience looking around at the thousands of others who’d made the trek from around the world to be there, I was amazed to see how far the sport has grown in such a short period of time. From the cameras and media lining trackside and catching all the action live to the elite-level athletes playing the game at an unimaginable level on the track in front of me, the sport is reaching new heights.

Because of its inclusiveness and grassroots, the sport of roller derby is by far the fastest growing sport for women in the world. Toronto Roller Derby is the third oldest league in Canada. At present there are an estimated 200 Canadian leagues and about 50 in Ontario alone. Just ten years ago, the game existed only in the United States but is now played in nearly 30 countries.

This 2013 season was the year that Toronto Roller Derby made a huge splash in the international roller derby community. Our all-star team, CN Power, had high hopes to earn a spot in the Divisional II WFTDA tournament. WFTDA is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, our non-profit international governing body.

Not only did Toronto’s all stars exceed their goals by winning a few key late-season games to place 39th, they qualified for Division I playoffs! They flew out to Salem Oregon to play Sacramento, Boston, Atlanta, and Melbourne. They were international sweethearts and put Toronto on the derby map for all to see. While we didn’t qualify for the championship tournament in Milwaukee, this success and exposure has created a lot of opportunity and momentum for Toronto Roller Derby.

This year’s WFTDA Championships in Milwaukee were the biggest yet. Here is a preview of the tournament and its teams written by Canadian Roller Derby Sports Writer, The Derby Nerd. I’ve been to every WFTDA Championship since 2010 in Chicago. Denver hosted 2011 and Atlanta hosted 2012. In each of these three previous Championships, there was a similar theme: one or two teams displayed a huge disparity in elite derby skill. This year, things changed. We saw the top five bring their top skill level and exceed all expectations, closing the disparity and demonstrating that the world is catching up to the top teams. The final, between New York City’s Gotham Girls and Austin’s Texacutioners, was one of the greatest games ever played. Here is the Derby Nerd’s recap on how it all went down.

I have been reflecting on how far we’ve come, as a league, as a province, as a country, and as a women’s sport. It is a privilege to be involved in the development of a sport in its infancy: both on and off the track. As all leagues follow a DIY model, the skaters you see on the track are the same ones who are the Executive, ticket sellers, promoters, training, bout setup, and BoD members of the league. We do it all!

I’m taking all this inspiration I’ve gained from the 2013 WFTDA Champs and bottling it to sip it slowly in preparation for next season. Our travel team tryouts have set our CN Power (A team) and Bay Street Bruisers (B team) rosters and our league draft is this weekend where our four home teams top up to 20 skaters and train hard for our January 2014 season start. If you’ve never been, I encourage you to throw away all preconceptions from the roller derby of the 60s and 70s and even the roller derby of several years ago and find your local league (you definitely have one and you may not have even known!).

This sport is evolving fast. Starting as a fun, cheeky, feminist-focused revival in the early 2000s, the game has reached a whole new level. Skaters have become elite athletes. Leagues have multiple levels of play that encourage competitiveness while still remaining inclusive for skaters of all skill levels and backgrounds. You are going to want to see Toronto Roller Derby in its 2014 season. Get tickets here and watch for our schedule here! Season passes make great holiday gifts!

Photo credit: Dan Lim (

Bio: Jan Dawson has been skating with Toronto Roller Derby since 2008. She skates for the Death Track Dolls, one of four Toronto home teams and was formerly Co-Captain and one of the creators of Toronto’s B Travel Team, the Bay Street Bruisers. Alongside various other leadership roles in the league, Dawson is Past-VP of Toronto Roller Derby, serving three seasons in total.

aging · athletes · cycling · fat · fitness

Facing Fears of the Group Ride—One Cyclist’s Saga (Guest post)

Last weekend I went on my first long group bike ride in more than a year.  This is odd because I’m an avid cyclist, in a Boston cycling club (Northeast Bike Club), have raced on road, cyclocross and mountain bikes, own very many bikes (the exact number is available on a need-to-know basis), and am pathologically sociable (in a good way).   So why haven’t I been riding with groups?  Here’s why:

  • Insecurity about decreased FITness
  • Consciousness of increased FATness
  • Accumulation of years, recently passing FIFTY
  • Leading to one big pileup of FEAR

Fear sucks.  Fear sucks the joy out of activity.  Fear sucks away our energy.  Fear causes us to question ourselves.  Fear keeps us from doing what we want, what we can, and what we ought to do.  Fear kept me from group riding in the past year.  What was I afraid of?

1) I’m too slow to ride with other people

Cyclists think they are too slow in the same way that academics think that their articles/books/dissertations are crap.  Everyone thinks it, but it’s not based in reality.  Of course, maybe that paper really does need a major revision, and maybe you haven’t been riding much or you’re recovering from an injury or a period of overwork or a family crisis.  That’s not the point.  The point is this:  even though it’s painful to hand over that draft to someone for comments, it is one of the best ways to improve it.  Riding with others does reveal your strengths and weaknesses, but it is a great way to get feedback, support, fun, and a workout. Fear of being too slow is not a reason not to ride with others, it is a reason TO ride with others.

2) I simply won’t be able to do it

In this frame of mind, I think to myself… What?  I’ll be stuck crying on the side of the road? I’ll spontaneously combust? (insert your favorite irrational worry here.)  The activity at hand (50-mile road ride, 3–4 hour mountain bike ride, day-long tourist vacation bike jaunt) can seem too big or too hard to manage.  Again, academics often have this problem at the start of a project.  Keeping the focus narrow, breaking things down into manageable chunks, thinking about pedaling to the signpost at the crest of the hill in front of you— these are ways to stay in the moment.  And in the moment, nothing much is happening other than turning those cranks, which is sometimes heavenly, sometimes hard, and sometimes ho-hum (like life).

3) What will happen if everyone is way faster than me?

This is easy—one of two things will happen:  1) people will slow down to accommodate the slowest rider.  Agreeing to a “no-drop” ride or regrouping at the top of hills is common in social and even training rides.  2) I might get dropped.  This is only really bad if I don’t know how to get back home.  GPS or an old-fashioned cue sheet can solve this problem.  And yes, it feels embarrassing, but happens to everyone.  It can even be a badge of honor (of sorts).

With these fears in mind but also with steely resolve (sort of), I drove out to western Massachusetts with my boyfriend Dan (also a cyclist), to meet bike racer friends Rachel and Ethan for two days of country-road, sometimes-hilly cycling.  We rode 50 miles the first day and 27 miles the second day.  It was fun, hard, sweaty, exhilarating, familiar, and intensely satisfying.  Here is what happened when I faced my fears.

1) In fact I was not too slow to ride with others.  True, I was the slowest rider of the group, but it was not a race—it was fun rides with friends.  I did experience frustration going up a few hard hills, but also the thrill of screaming downhill past my friends (yay gravity!).

2) The 50-mile ride was hard at times—although we didn’t take the hilliest route, there were some climbs.  One unfortunate climb was up a super-steep road that we had to do from a dead stop.  I ended up having to get off the bike and walk because I ran out of steam.  I had company on the walk up—a swarm of mosquitoes, happy that I was going slow, joined me along the way.  This was not a fun moment, but it passed.

About eight miles from the end of the first ride, I asked if we could stop for some iced tea; I was tired and wanted a little break before the last leg.  Guess what happened?  We stopped!  And it was the best iced tea ever—a mix of Earl Grey and black currant teas with an infusion of strawberries and blueberries.  Refreshed, the last miles were not bad at all.

The second day was harder because I was a bit tired from the previous day’s ride, and fear number two was looming large.  But I realized that I can ride when tired.  I’m strong, I love this sport, I enjoy being out with friends, and more fresh iced tea is never too far away (in this case, at a nice café in Easthampton, MA).

3) Everyone on that ride was faster than I am.  Sometimes I was last in line, sometimes we all rode together, and sometimes we split into two groups and the faster group waited for the slower one.  No biggie.

So how do I feel now?  Excited, still nervous about group rides, but filled with plans for more of them.  Last Tuesday I went on my bike club’s weekly Women’s Ride.  I was a ride leader for one of the beginner groups (12—15mph average for a 20-mile ride).  It was great to be back in a group of women in motion and feel that sense of belonging, of athletic identity.  I feel more like a cyclist than I have in a year.

Hmmm– maybe I should buy another bike…

Catherine Womack is a professor of philosophy at Bridgewater State University, south of Boston.  She works on issues at the intersection of ethics and epistemology, focusing on public health, food, choice, and public policy.  She has many bikes and loves to ride them.  She also plays squash when she can get a court and a partner.

cycling · fashion · sex

Bike seats, speed, and sexual depravity

I’m a philosopher, a feminist, and a cyclist. And I’m fascinated by the history of women’s cycling and its connection to the early feminist movement.

One of the most striking things in the history of women’s cycling is the terror of female masturbation associated with the shape and position of the bicycle seat. It’s worse than the dreaded bicycle face and worse than the fear that bicycling would make women prone to infidelity and prostitution.

Here’s a passage from  Women on Wheels: The Bicycle and the Women’s Movement of the 1890s  that presents the general problem quite clearly.

“That bike riding might be sexually stimulating for women was also a real concern to many in the 1890s. It was thought that straddling a saddle combined with the motion required to propel a bicycle would lead to arousal. So-called “hygienic” saddles began to appear, saddles with little or no padding where a woman’s genitalia would ordinarily make contact with the seat. High stems and upright handlebars, as opposed to the more aggressively positioned “drop” handlebars, also were thought to reduce the risk of female sexual stimulation by reducing the angle at which a woman would be forced to ride.”

In “Reframing the Bicycle: Advertising-Supported Magazines and Scorching Women” Ellen Gruber Garvey (American Quarterly) writes that both advocates and critics of women’s cycling used medical arguments related to women’s sexuality and reproduction. Anti-bicyclists claimed that riding would ruin women’s sexual health by promoting masturbation while pro-bicyclers asserted that bicycling would strengthen women’s bodies and make them more fit for motherhood.

Heaven forbid that we argue for cycling on the grounds that women enjoy it. Isn’t it enough that bike riding makes women happy, and provides a way for us to get around?

Garvey is struck, like me, with the amount of ink that was spilt on this particular problem and the amount of detail regarding masturbation and evidence of masturbation that the doctors describe.

In an outpouring of numerous articles in medical journals, physicians went into extensive and virtually prurient detail about ways the bicycle saddle might produce sexual stimulation: The saddle can be tilted in every bicycle as desired…. In this way a girl… could, by carrying the front peak or pommel high, or by relaxing the stretched leather in order to let it form a deep, hammock-like concavity which would fit itself snugly over the entire vulva and reach up in front, bring about constant friction over the clitoris and labia. This pressure would be much increased by stooping forward, and the warmth generated from vigorous exercise might further increase the feeling. This physician reported the case of an “overwrought, emaciated girl of fifteen whose saddle was arranged so that the front pommel rode upward at an angle of about 35 degrees, who stooped forward noticeably in riding, and whose actions … strongly suggested … the indulgence of masturbation.”23 Although the patient is evidently worn to a frazzle by her fevered indulgence, the imagery of this physician’s first passage seems to reflect concern that female masturbation is a kind of indolence or relinquishment of vigilance: the leather is “relaxed”; the vulva rests in that signal article of Victorian leisure furniture, a hammock.

It’s not just the seat itself that’s at issue. Doctors were also obsessively concerned with rider position. The same position that with men was associated with going fast and racing, was seen with women as an obvious aid to masturbation. Men who like going fast ride stooped over to dodge the wind but when women adopt the same position, doctors assumed it was a means of getting more pressure on the clitoris from the bike seat.

Writes Garvey:

The tell-tale riding stoop of the second passage, however, raises a different issue: the “scorching” position-that is, the bent-over- the-handlebars posture adopted by speeders. In male riders, it might be criticized or mocked. But for women, fast riding was condemned; deviations from upright decorousness and graceful riding are more serious, and bicycle-riding posture could be a significant measure of propriety and sexual innocence. Another physician complained that “except when one rides slowly and erect” the “whole body’s weight … rests on the anterior half of the saddle.” Here, not only the saddle and its adjustment but also speed is at fault, and the punishment for stepping out of line is pain and pathology: The moment speed is desired the body is bent forward in a characteristic curve and the body’s weight is transmitted to the narrow anterior half of the saddle, with all the weight pressing on the perineal region…. If a saddle is properly adjusted for slow riding and in an unusual effort at speed or hill climbing, the body is thrown forward, causing the clothing to press against the clitoris, thereby eliciting and arousing feelings hitherto unknown and unrealized by the young maiden and painful and debilitating “granular erosion” or “polypoid growth” will result…..Similarly, medical books had warned for years that the signs that girls “are addicted to such a vice . . . [are] only too plain to the physician” and that the “habit” of masturbation left “its mark upon the face so that those who are wise may know what the girl is doing.”

So we can see two problems here with bike seats, the first is their shape and position, but the other concerns the posture of the rider. Sitting upright makes women go more slowly and is apparently less likely to provoke sexual excitement.

Did anyone consider that the flushed face and the obvious excitement of sitting in an aerodynamic racing position came from the thrill of speed? Probably not.

One of the things I’m interested in seeing is whether the attitudes to women on bikes in the 1800s have entirely gone away.  What I argue, in the course of a longer paper on the subject, is that they haven’t. In fact, I think some of the same attitudes pose an obstacle to getting more women on bikes now.

But surely the fear of bike orgasms has gone way? Right?

Sort of. I’d say it’s still a topic that gets more interest going than seems merited by the phenomena. Every few years a version of the “Women have orgasms while exercising” story goes around. Here’s this year’s version from Live Science: No Sex Required: Women Have Orgasms at the Gym,

“Of the women who had orgasms during exercise, about 45 percent said their first experience was linked to abdominal exercises; 19 percent linked to biking/spinning; 9.3 percent linked to climbing poles or ropes; 7 percent reported a connection with weight lifting; 7 percent running;  the rest of the experiences included various exercises, such as yoga, swimming, elliptical machines, aerobics and others. Exercise-induced sexual pleasure was linked with more types of exercises than the orgasm phenomenon.”

The triple threat of sexual pleasure, women, and bike seats is still a source of humour among cyclists. I was once on a ride where we encountered a section of what locals call ‘corduroy road,’ kind of halfway paved so still bumpy. It wasn’t quite cobblestones or dirt and it was easily doable on our skinny tired road bikes. It was a time when you noticed a difference between aluminum and carbon frames (aluminum vibrates more). After we got to the end of that section of road, one of the men at the front yelled back, “Do you girls want to ride over that section of road again?” Nervous laughter ensued.

The issue of contact with bike seats hasn’t gone away altogether either. Contrary to what most people think the best seat for fast riding is not a big wide, comfy sofa of a thing. Instead it’s a narrow, racing-style seat, see Live Strong on choosing a bike seat. Ideally for comfort you want as little contact between your body’s soft parts and the seat of a bicycle.

The cut away styles of the 1800s are making a bit of a resurgence, and comfort, not fear of orgasm is behind their sales. But sometimes I look at the cut out seats and think back to the 1890s and wonder if the doctors of the day would have smiled approvingly.

diets · eating

Intermittent fasting and why it might not work as well for women

You’d have to be living under a rock not have noticed the latest diet trend, intermittent fasting.

It’s gone from making the rounds in the Paleo community (see Intermittent Fasting And The Paleo Diet) to mainstream with the 5-2 diet. See British 5:2 diet craze heads to the US. See also When you eat key to intermittent fasting (CBC).

The basic idea of the 5-2 version is that you “fast” for two days and then eat whatever you want for the remaining five. It’s not strictly speaking an actual fast because you do eat about 500 calories on the “fast” days.

There are many versions of intermittent fasting (or IF as many fans call it) from some that sound just like skipping breakfast, to others that have a more complicated structure throughout the week, to some that are geared to a very specific purpose such as avoiding jet lag.

The evolutionary basis of this approach to eating seems obvious. Humans have evolved to do well in feast and famine conditions. The problem with the contemporary North American diet is that it’s all feast, all the time. Many cultures around the world practice fasting and seem to suffer no ill effects from periods of fasting, followed by periods of feasting.

It’s striking how much IF deviates from the regular feeding, three meals + two snacks, of most other nutritional plans for athletes, including fitness competitors and body builders. On those plans you eat regular small meals, not going more than three hours without food.

But arguably the fasting habit isn’t for athletes. As you might imagine there’s been controversy over this. For the argument against IF for athletes, see here. The argument against relies on the large amount of data we have on the performance of Muslim athletes during Ramadan. Short version: athletic performance suffers. Also athletes need fuel to train. See that argument against here.

And of course, some athletes and coaches think it’s terrific, if done right, read more here if you’re interested.

Regardless most advocates and fans of intermittent fasting don’t have athletes in mind. The 5-2 diet is described as being perfect for the average person, no big changes in what you eat required, except of course on the two fasting days.

Is this just the latest fad diet? You should read what Tracy thinks about fad diets and the meaning of success here.  Does it work? Again, as Tracy says that depends on what you mean by work. She’d likely tell you to try intuitive eating instead. Intermittent fasting is kind of the opposite of intuitive eating. Rather than noticing and hunger and eating when you’re hungry, on a fasting diet you follow the clock, not your stomach. You learn to notice hunger and then ignore it.

There are lots of versions of IF out there.  Anthony Mychall does the Warrior Diet–one meal a day. He writes about it in this blog post, How to Start Intermittent Fasting and Kick Hunger Aside. How to cope with hunger? “The best way to forget about hunger is to literally put yourself in a position to forget about hunger. Keep active during your fasting window and put yourself in a situation where you can’t eat. Hell, sleep in if you have to.”

What about more extreme versions? In Inhuman Experiment: An experimenter in search of prolonged youth we read about another IF propocol. This one requires 24 hours of fasting as it’s based on alternate day feeding, called ADF, of course. See the blog post, Intermittent Fasting: Understanding the Hunger Cycle for more about hunger: “The feelings of hunger during intermittent (24 hour) fasting vary with time. The one thing to keep in mind is that, in my experience, the most difficult part is near the 20th hour into the fast. That’s when the hunger is replaced by a general lack of energy and focus. This feeling will, however, pass in an hour or so, after which fasting becomes much easier again.”

I’ve often thought of intermittent fasting as one tool in the careful eater’s bag of tricks. I do a version of IF I suppose (though I’ve never called it that) when I decide to not eat after dinner, thus lengthening the period in the day when I go without food. I do this on days when I’m not working out in the evening. I go to bed a little bit hungry but since I always wake up hungry no matter what there doesn’t seem to be any other change in my desire for food.

A few years ago on the advice of a personal trainer I experimented with morning workouts on an empty stomach but that was a bit of a disaster. See comments above on waking up hungry! Halfway through my morning run I was prepared to go knock on doors in search of breakfast.

I’ve had more some success with eating lots less when I travel. It’s a good time to experiment since the food options are crappy and expensive. I haven’t tried IF as a way of combating jet lag though I might the next time I head to England or British Columbia.

On jet lag and fasting. read more here:

But one thing seems clear about these various eating schemes, your mileage may vary: what works for some doesn’t work for others. If regular  intermittent fasting is successful for you, great, but there are concerns it doesn’t work as well for everyone and very specific concerns that it doesn’t work as a nutritional strategy for women.

I read Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature and was shocked that for all I’d heard IF touted as good for people, most of the research supporting IF had been done on men. Surprise, surprise. For the effects of fasting specifically on women you need to read about studies with rats and mice, and the news isn’t good. Women, it seems (well at least female rats and mice) don’t get the same benefits from fasting and they suffer some additional ill effects.

Yet, I’ve had intermittent fasting recommended to me by several young men, heavily involved in fitness and nutrition.  In light of these experiences, I was thrilled to read a terrific rant (she gives the best rant) by Krista Scott Dixon, at Stumptuous.

In “The First Rule of Fast Club” she  rants about and aims fury and righteous rage in the direction of lots of things including the following: why intermittent fasting may not be the cure all for women’s weight woes, why in general what works for young men won’t work for women, and why women shouldn’t listen to young, thin, male personal trainers.

“The first rule of fast club is: Don’t talk about fast club.

The second rule of fast club is that skinny guys no longer get to tell me what to do. (Although I love you guys. You look so cute with your pants falling down!)

I come not to bury young male ectomorphs, but to praise them. In fact, I married one. They are a fascinating species. I have observed my own specimen for years, like Jane Goodall amongst the chimps.

Here are some interesting facts about these wonderful creatures.

1. Many of them can live on fumes. Craving neither food nor drink, these hominid hummingbirds apparently draw nourishment from the air. They sup on dew and dine on dust.

2. When they are stressed out, they don’t eat. Actually, when they aren’t starving, they don’t eat. Which is to say, most of the time. Can you believe not eating when you’re stressed? I know! Ha ha! Crazy! I keep trying to explain to my specimen that giving a loaf of bread a butter enema then dipping the whole thing in chocolate and rubbing it all over your esophagus will always make you feel better. Thus far I have failed to convince him.

3. When they do eat, it doesn’t seem to matter. Have you seen the food these guys can put down? It’s like they encode for some MAKE_ABS1 gene. In their bodies, somehow cookies turn into tummy bumps.

4. To lose weight, they do crazy shit like give up drinking so much beer. I hear women from all over the globe gnashing their teeth at their partners’ superhuman abilities to get riptshizzled with no effort. I’ve been busting my ass and I lost 1 lb in a month! That jerk’s doing my nutrition plan along with me and he’s lost 40 lb in the same time, just by eating one less strand of spaghetti a day! I hate him!

I hear ya. My home dinner table conversation sometimes goes like this.

Me: Ugh, I feel the estrogen demons again. I feel like an inflated wet sponge. The only thing that fits me is the Snuggie my grandma gave me last Christmas.

Him: I don’t feel so good myself. I had a whiff of anxiety today and dropped 5 lbs. Then my shirt tore itself on my abs.


There there ladies. Cry it out.

And here is point #5, which may be the most obvious:

5. They are not us.”

Go read the whole thing here.

Here’s a very useful resource if you’re thinking about giving intermittent fasting a try: Precision Nutrition, Experiments in Intermittent Fasting.

Have you tried Intermittent Fasting? What do you think? How did it make you feel?

weight loss

Oh no, skinny face!

Because of my size, I have to lose a lot of weight before I get compliments on my changing shape.

The complications that follow from dealing with the well meaning noters of weight loss is a whole other post. Needless to say it’s overwhelming, dispiriting, and a big mess. More about this later.

But inevitably, without fail, the first thing people do notice is wrinkles. They don’t say that. No one ever says, “Wow you look wrinkly.” (Okay, teenagers might.)

Friends say, “You look tired.”

“Have you been working out too much?”

“Getting enough sleep?”

But I know that what they are noticing (since I notice them too) are new lines on my face.

It fascinates me that people don’t associate this change with weight loss. Since all weight loss is positive, on mainstream accounts of beauty, any bad effects must be due to something else, like sudden onset aging or lack of sleep.

When I lose weight I lose first and fastest from my face and then my waist.

And a sad fact about my age: it’s either thin body or smooth skin. Take your pick. You can’t have both.

My mother and I share this, plump faces and smooth skin.

So many people compliment me on looking young, but they don’t even consider that it’s a side effect of being overweight.

Writing about fasting, Krista Scott Dixon sounds like she actually likes her skinny face but she’s younger than me, fewer wrinkles.

“I loved the way my face looked as my bodyfat dwindled. Leonine, I said to myself, looking at my chiseled jaw. Androfemme. I enjoyed the feel of both of these words in my mouth. My father had other words for it. You look like you just got out of a prison camp, he said. (Actually he said Auschwitz. But he has a flair for inappropriate hyperbole. Please excuse him. As you can see, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Love you dad!)

Your face! So skinny! said the coffee shop barista. (Yes, the barista.) Drink more milk.

You have your thin wrinkles, said my quasi-Aspie friend with no internal editor. You know, the wrinkles you get when you’re too thin. Right there, around your mouth.”

It sounds like the dreaded skinny face only happens to Krista when she’s at her very leanest.  The sad part for me is that it happens first. Luckily I can live with the wrinkles if I get to go up hills faster and keep my hips, knees, and ankles happy for another thirty years or more. That’s the reason why I’d like to be leaner even though it’s clear to me that being fat and fit are perfectly consistent.

I’m typically not bothered much by traditional standards of beauty and whether or not I match them. Life’s too short. We all die in the end. The people who care about mainstream beauty don’t much interest me much anyway so why should I be concerned with what they think?

“We all die in the end anyway” might strike you as a gloomy thing to think or say. But really once you adjust to that big piece of bad news everything is small potatoes. It’s quite liberating. The joys of philosophy.

But as you might imagine there’s lots of angsty ink spilled in women’s magazines about this conundrum. Here’s a snippet:

There’s an old saying that, as you get older, you need to choose between your face and your rear end. In other words, if you’re skinny you’ll look good from behind, but your face will suffer.

Depressing as it may seem, there is some truth to the saying. A couple of studies have found that women with a low body mass index (BMI) have increased skin aging — including one study of identical twins. When the twins were under age 40, the heavier twin looked older. But after age 40, it was the thinner twin who looked older

Do skinny women just look older, or do they actually have more wrinkles? Actually, both are true. “In general what happens is, as your BMI goes lower you lose some volume of soft tissue, particularly over the age of 40,” explains Robert Weiss, MD, Dermatologist at the Maryland Laser Skin and Vein Institute, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, and Fellow with the American Academy of Dermatology. “When you lose that volume of soft tissue, the wrinkles do either become deeper or more noticeable.”

from Do skinny people get more wrinkles? on Discovery Fit & Health.

body image · diets · gender policing · health · weight loss

Three Amazing Rants about Food, Nutrition, and Weight Loss

Must be something in the air…

  • Krista Scott Dixon at Stumptuous in Rant 66 December 2012: The First Rule of Fast Club rants about and aims fury and righteous rage in the direction of lots of things including the following: why intermittent fasting may not be the cure all for women’s weight woes, why in general what works for young men won’t work for women, and why women shouldn’t listen to young, thin, male personal trainers.

Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice are basing that advice — in part — on their own bodily experience. Which won’t match yours. (See above.)

Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice have not seen a sufficiently diverse client base. Hey, that’s what happens when you’re young. It’s not bad. It’s just the math of reality. In a few decades, then they’ll be Dave Draper and have some awesome yarns to spin. And then maybe I’ll take their advice.

Food Villain Mythology is usually supported by a handful of (cherry picked) scientific studies and an elaborate and sophisticated web of logical fallacy. The resultant construct usually holds that the Food Villain in question is the root cause of either modern society’s obesity and diabetes epidemic, or the root cause of an individual’s obesity and illness. There is usually some kernel of truth in the claim. Take wheat for instance: it is true that wheat can be problematic for some individuals who have an allergy or intolerance, and for anyone who consumes it in excess or to the exclusion of other foods that would provide a more well rounded nutritional foundation. There are other issues with wheat too, involving its cultivation, processing, ubiquitousness and nutrient profile. But Food Villain Mythology has taken those issues and created what amounts to mass hysteria in some circles, with an entire mythology centering on wheat’s Magical Ability to single-handedly drive obesity and disease. Scary stuff.

Points, at first, were a fun game to follow, and they did make me more aware of the amount of vegetables and healthy foods I was consuming. Just like in my middle-school WW years, I carefully controlled my caloric intake, I joined Jazzercise (which, to this day, I love — fit is it!), and I ate Weight Watchers-sanctioned aspartame gummies (1 point, entire package, ingredients unpronounceable) nearly constantly. Fuck an apple, those fools were two points, and points were valuable, like precious gold. Or something even better because you can’t eat gold.

I’m working on my own Weight Watchers rant and will post it here in the near future. Til then, enjoy these.

body image · fitness · weight loss

Why I left Goodlife Fitness some years ago

The recent post on Five Things Every Gym Should be Doing reminded of me of why I abandoned the last traditional fitness centre of which I was a member. I blogged about it then, in 2006. I decided to re-post it here, since the reasons still largely apply:

Goodbye Goodlife

This week I said goodbye to my health club membership. In part, it’s for the usual reason. I am not there enough to justify the cost. I have a Y membership and like lifting weights at the Y better–more free weights and less attitude.  I also prefer my cardio outdoors–biking, cross country skiing, running along the river. And I’ve fallen in love with the Velodrome and track biking. Pure speed and pleasure. Yum.

But I did love the Bodyflow classes at Goodlife–nice mix of tai chai, yoga, and pilates. Fast paced for attention deficit disorder exercisers  like me. If I could have tele-transported into the classes, avoiding the ads and the locker room, I’d have done it. But I really couldn’t take  the emphasis on weight loss and physical beauty, where that means skinny and 20. It wasn’t even presented as one of the many goals one might have.

I’m okay with some people wanting to lose weight and that being their reason for going to the gym. It’s one goal among many: get faster, lift your kids without pain, staying flexible and keeping your balance in your 80s…. But the quest for the perfect body and weight loss was the only thing promoted in the women’s change room.

I love the Y locker room for its range of body shapes and sizes, tattoos and wrinkles, all ages, physical and mental abilities. In Goodlife the mostly pretty, mostly 20-35 year old, women hid behind towels. Too modest for me. I made a point of stripping naked there, walking across the room, and talking to friends naked, any excuse to change the norm.

Anyway, I complained about the weight loss posters. Emailed head office. No reply. Talked lots to my friends and to the instructors and got sympathy but no progress.

A staff member at work tried their weight loss program which consisted of a 1400 calorie a day starvation diet. She was told she’d be too weak some days to do much exercise.

Final straw? A spin class instructor-skinny minnie–talking to a class about how fat she was and how many calories we’d burn in an hour. Did I care? No. I was there as a cyclist to maintain speed, fitness over the winter. She was the thinnest person there! Did she think the women in that class would find that motivational?

ARGH. I quit. Having discovered what I love about being fit and about exercise–speed,the outdoors, being strong, going fast and hard for as long as I can–I thought I could reenter a traditional gym and keep my healthy body image intact. I was wrong.

Bye bye Goodlife.