Fit Is a Feminist Issue picks up on a conversation we Sam & Tracy have been having for over two decades about feminism & fitness. As professional philosophers, it’s second nature for us to ask questions: what does it mean to be fit? What are appropriate measures for the goal? From a feminist perspective, in what way(s) does women’s quest for fitness & health contribute to empowerment &..
I have been thinking a lot about my contributions to this blog over the years. Sometimes I make a point of spelling out why a topic or post is feminist but often I leave it unsaid, my assumption is that readers who follow or find this blog are already interested or knowledgeable about feminism and can make their own inferences. That could be a mistake so I wanted to put it out there why I often just write about my fitness journey and how that can be feminist.
Who does my fitness serve?
Reflecting back on posts often merely writing about fitness and finding joy in it is radically different than many media messages we receive.
I get worried that sexism’s under a lot of fitness writing that tells women to work out to be fit for others or to look a certain way. I understand fitness as feminist when it’s offered and engaged with for our own purposes. To feel strong, to care for ourselves and to enjoy what our bodies can do.
Where is the money?
A lot of times fitness writing is either to propose a problem a product can solve or sell an aesthetic that is only achievable through buying services or products. Yes. I am a wee bit of a pinko commie so I find fitness writing that is truly to give me information rather than sell me a product more likely to be feminist.
What is the goal or outcome?
When I do my best feminist fitness writing the desired goal or outcome is doing the activity for its own sake and the immediate rewards of feeling better in the moment and doing activities with friends.
Who looks “fit”?
Many of my posts, and other contributors, question common ideas of what “fit” bodies look like. We are often sent ideas and images that a certain body build or proportion are the only “fit” bodies and that all other bodies must be patrolled.
As a fat woman simply sharing my work outs help debunk myths around fatness, laziness and health.
Careful, you might become a radical too!
I joke all the time that I’m a “bad influence” on new friends as I sell feminist approaches to fitness and gleefully wear Lycra in public. (GASP, Does she know at her age/weight/whatever she shouldn’t be wearing that!)
It turns out though that confronting the realities of sexism in our society can be gut wrenchingly terrible. The good news is by raising awareness of the impacts of sexism we can debunk myths, support each other and be fit enough to rip the patriarchy apart one action or blog post at a time.
I finally finished my Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies. Wahoooooooooo!
It’s the end of a twenty-seven year post-secondary journey that started in 1992.
I’ve been thinking how over that time I discovered feminism while being in the military. By looking at exercise as a not only a way to do my job or change how I look but rather as a source of joy and feeling good in my body.
By reframing activity as something I do for myself that supports my wellbeing I have been able to stay active in a lot of activities.
This separation of fitness from my appearance and my work has helped me be confident in trying new things and persevering.
It’s not easy to navigate aging, work, stress, sexism, capitalism, parenting, caregiving and some sense of mental health in our information culture. I think a feminist analysis of my fitness has helped me connect with other women in a meaningful way. We share our stories, the triumphs and the challenges. We support each other and question those who would try to tell us we are too old/fat/etc to wear Lycra, ride bikes, practice yoga…
Has looking at your own activities with a feminist lens changed anything for you?
I’m laying face down on my mat in Sleeping Pigeon with tears streaming down my face. I’ve been there for 3 minutes or so as the tendons unfurl in the heated yoga studio and I cry.
I’ve learned I carry tension about work in my neck and shoulders but worries and stress about my family are in my hips. I joke sometimes that my family is literally the pain in my ass.
I’m in a yin yoga class thanks to my friend & neighbour Kim. We visit on the walk to and from class. The Sunday afternoon routine has become our touch point and my moment to reflect on my wellbeing.
The slow pace of the 90 minute class promotes patience and acceptance. Pigeon is a challenge for my round body, it takes a couple minutes to find the right configuration of meaty thigh, Buddha belly and boobs and then the real work starts.
At first I feel a burning in my hip, a band of lava wraps around my socket then radiates out over my whole body. It’s very uncomfortable but rarely drifts into pain.
My mind wanders as the hip fibers unfurl and I come back, breathing, and watching my body react to the pose. The burning passes, like so many annoyances in my life, and the pleasant settling against the mat begins.
I start to get bored, more waves of heat and pressure move around my hips, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. Each release triggers thoughts and feelings about how I’m challenged in my roles as parent and partner. It has been a very rough go and each band of fibers releasing brings those tensions top of mind.
The tears well up as I imagine enduring through these tough times. Resilience hardens to resolve. Not the flippant, tied to a time of year resolution, but the grim determination of leaning in to my problems.
The time comes to leave the posture and I hesitate. Here, on the mat, in this vulnerability, no one is asking more, there are no other needs to fill, just me, my body, and my heartache.
I’m that fat middle aged woman who cries in Sleeping Pigeon now and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.
My partner recently went on a Vipasana meditation retreat and has shared many great tips on living in the moment and not avoiding the negative sensations in my body. I’m someone who has a complicated relationship with my physicality and my mental health. I often work out to care for both.
My feminism has grown to be a place where I honour my body and don’t worry about my appearance. I work out in resistance to a world that tells me women my age should be invisible, wear loose clothes and not bother anyone.
In a small way, splayed out on a floor, in Lycra, taking up public space and crying are about being visible and existing for my own sake. I like to think other women are encouraged by my messy self and do things that work for them too.
My fitness activities aren’t a punishment or about achieving a specific appearance, they are for me and my well being alone.
I hope you are discovering and doing those activities that meet your needs this year too.
As 2018 comes to an end, I want to share with you reflections on some of our favorite blog posts from this year. If you have a favorite, and if you have a topic that you’d like us to write about, please let us know.
Looking back at my own blog posts, I noticed some trends. First, I’ve explored new options for activity, namely compression socks (which for me are here to stay), and interesting swimwear with more coverage, both for sun protection and because I like that. Second, yoga has played a bigger and much more important role in my life this year. It has helped me stay connected to physical activity and my body no matter what– when I had pneumonia, when I had a sprained ankle and then the DVT, I always had yoga. It’s also connected me to other places– I tried out yin yoga in Arizona, and yinki in San Diego.
My fellow bloggers have written so much about so many important issues, it’s hard to pick. Here are a few examples of blog posts I love.
Sam’s posts are about anything and everything in the world of fitness, and I always look forward to learning about something new, silly, cool, worrying, or important. Some of my favorites, though, are about her own processes of dealing with fitness in her own life. I love her post about dealing with exercise while in a new and big job as Dean— seeing how she schedules in workouts has helped me with my own plans. Sam is also frank about what’s happening in her fitness life, which includes injuries, mourning the loss of running, and optimism around new ones (snipe racing, anyone?).
Tracy also writes about lots of topics, taking on bogus nutrition claims (yes, you can be vegan and an athlete– duh…), reporting on her running races and training, and also blogging about body positivity. I loved her boudoir photo shoot post; it helped me recognize the ways I can be more expansive and accepting in my views about beauty, age, and self. Also, Tracy is a strong advocate for the start-small view of habit shifts. We often (especially now, in the heat of resolution fervor) want to throw ourselves into a whole new regimen. But such drastic shifts tend to burn out quickly. Starting small is more sustainable and provides a base for building to bigger goals.
I could go on all day, but I do have PT and then an outdoor walk scheduled. So let me just note some other blog posts I really loved:
So, dear readers, what are your favorites– favorite topics, favorite posts, etc.? Also, what would you like to read about in 2019? What’s on your minds as we cross into the new year? Let us know–we’d like to hear from you.
“New Year” on a chalkboard, surrounded by boughs. Photo by Annie Pratt on Unsplash.
Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists. Very small wrists.
So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.
Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.
One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.
I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.
Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).
So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.
If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?
This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.
What room is there, in such a world, for me to worry about exercising? Instead of spending my free time in the pool or out running, shouldn’t I be more of a political activist? Or at least, like Natalie, combine the two? Yes, we need self care in these rough times, and exercise definitely helps me disconnect and recharge. It gives me the strength to deal, including with the political situation. But how much of it is really necessary? I swim two nights a week and try to go bouldering and running at least once. That’s quite a lot of my spare time that I could theoretically expend on more “worthwhile” things. Joining, and being active in, a political party. Joining the local LGBTQ+ community. Going to protests… you name it.
Is getting out there to run ever a political act? Picture of a woman in running gear on a park path, green grass in the fore- and background (Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash).
I also try to tell myself that I actually do things in other parts of my life. I work for an organisation promoting scientific endeavour and international exchange, two things that are important right now. I volunteer for United World Colleges, an educational organisation that runs schools around the world to promote international understanding. I vote. But I often feel like that’s not enough, and I should be doing more. Yet doing more of one thing (activism), for me, would have to mean doing less of another (sports) – less of a thing that I enjoy immensely, that keeps me strong mentally and physically, and during which I do some of my best thinking about politics and feminism, if I do say so myself (especially while running).
This isn’t going to be a very conclusive, satisfying post, I’m afraid, because I haven’t reached any conclusion at all. So I wanted to put that question out to you, dear community: do you struggle with this dilemma? Have you resolved it? How?
Mic on a floor stand in front of soft focus room full of people
I’m giving a talk in Nashville this weekend at HT Live! The topic is identity alignment and authenticity, so that has been much on my mind these last days. I wrote about it here. A topic like authenticity forces the speaker to confront her own inconsistencies (okay, even hypocrisies). As the talk gets closer, I think, “I’m a fraud.” I think, “I’m no expert.” My confidence starts to tank.
This is the moment when I remind myself of the manner in which men claim expertise in so many domains without a second thought. I recall interviewing Jane Blalock for my book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. She’s a former golf pro who, among other things, offers golf clinics for women. She told me how women come to her to brush up on their golf game, because they are worried about a business-networking event. Only to discover, the men are not nearly as good golfers as they claim to be.
Lack of confidence plagues women from puberty. How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence, in a recent issue of The Atlantic, covers a range of studies that expose the inflection point, somewhere between 12 and 14-years old, when girls’ sense of self worth plummets. Interestingly, one of the things girls say is this, “I feel that if I acted like my true self that no one would like me.”
Girls think that if they are authentic, then no one will like them. No wonder I’m having confidence issues around this speaking topic! It’s a double whammy. Because, as The Atlantic points out, once girls’ confidence gets killed off, it often never rebounds back to the same level as boys’ and men’s. I remember my father once saying to me that he didn’t understand why I wasn’t more confident. He told me that his memories of me as a child were of a happy, outgoing, even brash little girl. He was right. And he had missed the moment that went south.
Lest I get the idea that at least things have gotten better for girls than in my day, there’s social media to thwart progress. As the article points out: There’s no distance anymore—only constant, instant, and public condemnation or praise.
What to do? I go to my Tuesday morning aerial Pilates class and I don’t give up on the push-ups-in-plank series as I usually do. I go for a run Thursday morning and push a little harder than usual. I literally recoup my confidence through the strength of my own body. I run into my mojo. As if it’s somewhere out there, ahead of me and I just need to catch up to my own confidence, my own better self.
The Atlantic article says this: Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience.
I never played competitive team sports and I came late to competing in running races and triathlons and cross-country ski marathons and such. But even my belated participation has been a boon in my life.
I know. Sports aren’t enough. And sometimes our sports aren’t available, because we’re injured. I’ve been there, many times! But when we have sports in our toolbox of confidence-builders, what a loyal friend. Getting red in the face resets my perspective. Sweat exhales bad energy. And those endorphins are an excellent, non-prescription, chemical pick-me-up.
Do I feel 100% go-get-em about my talk now? Not quite. But I’m focusing on the final preparation now, instead of my right to be at the front of the room. I belong there.
Uh oh, I’m backsliding. Even writing those last couple of sentences and stating my self-worth feels nerve wracking.
Neon sign with red lettering: I AM BOLD
Do you have these crises of confidence? How do we pitch in to make things better for girls?
Image description: Colourful drawing of five women in silhouette, suggestive of diverse ethnicities/races.
We here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue like to talk about our “big tent feminism” and how we try to make space for everyone. That’s a lofty goal, I know. One of my favourite questions in feminism is “is an inclusive feminism possible?” I use it as a thematic frame for most of my teaching in feminist philosophy and women’s studies, as a way of pushing people in my classes to think about inclusivity and intersectionality not just as theoretical ideas, but in their actual material practices.
It’s hard. We struggle. People get defensive. There are misunderstandings. Hurt feelings. Anger. Difficult conversations. People are called on their privilege and need to look at that. People are afraid to speak for fear of offending, excluding, saying the wrong thing on a multitude of other levels, sounding closed when in fact they are open, hurting others’ feelings, having people be upset with them. Sometimes we find ourselves at an impasse. We have to agree to disagree or be stuck. This is all in the context of feminism, where the majority of students are already there with respect to the broad strokes of it.
And though I do my best to manage the discussion, to push it forward or in a different direction if any of the above takes place, I can’t promise a totally “safe space” where no one will ever feel shitty, be offended, say the wrong thing.
Because guess what? Feminists disagree amongst themselves sometimes.
Oh, you might say, feminist disagreement isn’t necessarily “unsafe.” Well, that would be right. It isn’t necessarily unsafe. But as Cate said a couple of days ago and as Sam experienced this week, offense can turn to anger and vitriol pretty quickly. And when it does, it’s hard to know who will be in the line of fire. Or, if you feel some responsibility for the space, what to do about it. And sometimes our own content can be the instigator. We post a lot, there are many of us, we don’t spend a ton of time on each post — many risk factors at play.
We often go to what seems like the commonsense solution when things get ugly: tell people to engage respectfully with each other, not to be mean about it, etc. But guess what? That seemingly sensible suggestion is mega-triggering for some. One woman’s “be nice” is another woman’s “tone policing.” There is no feminist on this planet who hasn’t been told at some time or another that her anger is misplaced, that she should “be nice,” that she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It is a dismissive tactic used to undermine legitimate social justice complaints.
If a safe space is a place where you’re insulated from all possible hurtful, harmful, or offensive comments, then even on a feminist page we can’t promise that. It’s not so much the misogynists who take us down — we can deal with them by deleting and blocking. But it’s much harder to take that same approach to other feminists. I mean, we’re all on common ground when it comes to feeling sick to our stomachs about what Christine Blasey Ford is about to endure today, right?
I very much like Cate’s questions that press us to think about what we are making:
In our facebook interactions what are we making? Community? Uncrossable boundaries? Winners and losers? Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?
Obviously we don’t want to be making something shitty where people feel awful. I felt awful the other day and engaged in a way that was unhelpful, more emotionally charged than I’d have preferred it to be, and ultimately left me feeling emotionally drained and hungover. That was no one’s fault but my own, because I was angry and defensive and instead of going off and breathing for a bit, I shot back comments seeking to be understood.
The irony of acting exactly like the way I perceived the people who were pissing me off to be acting was not lost on me in the least. That I wanted them to feel compassion for Samantha when I was exhibiting none for them indicates the type of logical block that takes hold. I could feel it happening while not being able to stop. There is a certain adrenaline that gets pumping in these things. Tempers rise. Everything escalates. It’s hard to think clearly. These are times when (for me anyway) silence is a better option.
And when that’s happening, the thing we least want to hear is “whatever whatever but do you mind being nicer?” As one of the angry people said (I’m paraphrasing), “how about trying to understand why we’re angry?” By then lines had been drawn in the sand (this is how it happens) and there was not going to be a lot of understanding.
I get it. Even as I argued and swore (yes, I swore at a reader in the comments on our Facebook page) I could see that this wasn’t a productive way to engage. That people were getting more angry. More hurt. More frustrated. We reached the impasse. More frustrating still because it is among feminists.
Feminist solidarity all the time would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? That kind of sisterhood where we all get one other. But it isn’t like that all the time. The history of feminism, the non-intersectional feminism of privileged, nondisabled white women, claimed to be that — to apply universally to the experience of women. And then feminists of color said, “hang on, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And disabled feminists said, “wait a minute, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And feminists who lived in poverty said, “you’re not speaking to my experience.” And feminists who didn’t live in “The West” said, “the material realities of our lives aren’t represented by your feminism.”
The women in positions of privilege wanted a big tent, and they said it was open so anyone could wander in. But the tent didn’t feel so inclusive to the women who struggled in ways that the big tent kind of neutralized and didn’t seem to make space for. And so the space didn’t feel safe because they had things to say that couldn’t be said without making the more privileged women feel defensive or attacked or just not quite as comfortable in the tent as they wanted to be and aspired to be.
The road to an inclusive feminism that accurately represents differences among women instead of assuming a homogeneous sameness has been long and winding and difficult, sometimes even divisive, hurtful, harmful, and dangerous to women. No one is trying to make it this way. We aren’t dealing with malicious motives. But invisible privilege — the privilege of asking others to be nice perhaps — yields a type of denial. It’s not intentional, but it makes uptake of different experiences more difficult.
Does this mean that I don’t believe in our “big tent”? Not at all. I believe in it very much. But I am also aware that as big as the tent may be from my/our perspective, it doesn’t feel totally open to everyone all the time. And yes, I would like all the people who enter — whether through the blog or the Facebook page or the Twitter discussion — to be kind and respectful to each other. Why? Because truly, we are all feminists even if all feminists don’t have exactly the same set of beliefs. But we can’t promise harmonious non-hurtful interactions all the time.
I can say that I myself will attempt to do better. And I know that as a collective we do actually grow through these stormy times. We’re not perfect (yet!). There is always going to be room to improve, to modify our practices, to do things differently. It never feels good to be attacked, so we can hope that over time, we build up enough good faith that when we misstep and someone wants to let us know, they’ll be kind and not mean about it. But upon reflection, I do think that sometimes even that might be too much to ask.
When people get angry (including when I get angry), that vitriol usually lands on someone. And ouch. No one likes to be on the receiving end of fury. Sometimes it’s directed at one of the blog authors. Other times it’s a member of our community who has ventured to post a comment. But that we can post things that anger and upset people, and that people’s anger can land on us and others are both reasons for saying that as much as we would love to keep it all nice and kind and civil and harmonious, we can’t promise to do that.
I didn’t watch the US Open women’s finals match. Maybe you didn’t either. But we have all been witnesses to the explosions, accusations, blaming, denials, excuses and dismissals of charges that Serena Williams was unfairly and too severely penalized for her behavior during her match with Naomi Osaka. Osaka won the match, 6-2, 6-4. If you want to read more about the details, that will be easy– you can’t be on the internet without tripping over at least five articles about the match and the reactions to the match.
Full disclosure: We here at Fit is a Feminist Issue loooove Serena Williams. Why? She’s strong and graceful, arguably the best tennis player in history, and one of the best athletes in living memory. We are in awe of her abilities and accomplishments.
We also love her because she is a woman who not only endures but in fact flourishes, despite constant attacks on her person. By ‘person’, I mean her actual body. Some men in charge of tennis in France criticized Serena’s catsuit, claiming that it failed to respect “the game and place”.
I have to show that fabulous catsuit to you, just in case you didn’t see it. Or even if you did. It is functional as well as fab– it has compression fabric to help prevent blood clots, for which Serena has a susceptibility.
Serena Williams in a black compression catsuit, about to hit a tennis ball, on the clay courts of the French Open.
Serena’s body has been analyzed, objectified, criticized and condescended to for years. In a New York Times article from 2015, tennis coaches and top female players spoke about how they were glad that Serena was accepting of her body type. Yeah, well, this body type had won Wimbledon 6 times. I blogged about it.
This time Serena is being policed for arguing with an umpire and reacting strongly (breaking a racket and calling the umpire a thief for penalizing her one game for a previous code violation). And things have gotten ugly. I mean really ugly. Australian cartoonist Mark Knight’s racist depiction of Serena brings to mind early 20th century distorted images of African Americans. Here’s the link if by some chance you haven’t seen it. It’s horrifying and racist and misogynist.
In addition to the racialized misogyny that Serena lives through, there are other aspects of racism that this match highlights. I cannot speak to them here, but I point you to this article from the Washington post about rules, policing, black people, and Serena. In short, it says this:
Serena broke some rules.
Lots of tennis players break rules.
How and when and how much of a penalty is meted out is a matter of discretion for authorities.
An authority gave out a very harsh set of penalties based on his discretionary choice to Serena, a black woman.
Authorities commonly give out very harsh penalties (including death by shooting) based on their discretionary choices to black people.
The article ends this way:
Rather than fool ourselves about the universality of rules, we should question the vast and often unchallenged use of discretion in both sports and criminal justice.
Thinking about the ways our bodies and our behaviors get policed is necessary for finding ways to change the rules and change the unjust ways power and discretion are meted out.