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Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

I’ve finally become familiar with the terms thinspo and fitspo.

Short for thinspiration and fitspiration, both describe inspirational images of — let’s face it — women who are skinnier than most of us. Thinspo images are sometimes associated with eating disorders (you inspire yourself to get thin by looking at them and feeling ashamed of your own body). Fitspo is supposedly thinspo’s safer, healthier cousin; these women aren’t bone-thin, after all, they’re muscular and fit. I mean, come on. They’re wearing GYM CLOTHES.

Thanks to Pinterest, thinspo and fitspo images have flooded the Internet over the past few months.

Haven’t seen any? I don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ll wait here while you check out thinspo and fitspo on Pinterest.

Many of the women in these photographs present us with new variety of unobtainable physical ideals; they’re underwear models topped with a thin veneer of musculature, with nary a hint of cellulite. Sometimes they simply appear to be skinny ladies standing around in their underwear, without even a pretense of any association with fitness.

One pin features a topless woman, photographed from the back, lounging on a bed with her jeans halfway down her backside. Exercise is, apparently, exhausting.

I’m torn. I like images of strong women because I WANT women to be strong. But I also fear that these images may trigger shame and self-hatred in women who don’t live up to these physical ideals (in other words, most of us).

Several bloggers, including Helena Handbasket (whose post alerted me to this controversy) and Virginia Sole-Smith have expressed similar reservations about fitspo. On The Great Exercise Experiment, Charlotte Hilton Andersen says fitspo may simply be “thinspo in a sports bra.

To obtain the musculature of many of the women in these photographs, you’d have to follow a very strict diet and work out A LOT. I don’t mean five times a week instead of four, I mean every day, possibly for several hours. (I used to know a woman who looked like a fitness model, and she exercised three hours a day and would never go out for dinner or drinks because she didn’t dare deviate from her special diet. BO-RING.)

Admission time: Fitspo images make me feel bad about my abs — I wish that they were rock-hard and better defined. My abs are NOT a trouble spot for me, so you can just imagine what such imagery makes me think about my thighs, which feature — gasp — cellulite. Cellulite that didn’t even go away when I went through a dangerously skinny post-tonsillectomy phase in college. (I got down to a size 4, which today would probably be a size 0. You can, indeed, be too thin. Maybe not too rich, though.)

That said, my legs are AWESOME. Running combined with a healthy regime of squats and other muscle work has left them strong and capable. They’ve just got a little bit of padding up top.

This is the kind of attitude that I worry slips away when we see fitspo images. We can’t be content with “look at the awesome things my body can do” when the mantra “it’s not good enough if I don’t look like that” is running through our heads.

In the introduction to Eating Our Hearts Out, a collection of women’s personal accounts of their relationship to food, Lesléa Newman writes, “Our culture makes it nearly impossible for us as women to have a healthy, easy relationship with food. On one hand, we are supposed to be the nurturers of the world, perfecting recipes to delight our families, and, on the other hand, we are supposed to deprive ourselves of these delicious meals in order to look the way our society deems it best for us to look, which can be summed up in one four-letter word: thin.”

I argue that we also have an uneasy relationship with fitness. For many, the simple act of challenging the body is not enough; exercise without dramatic transformation toward perfection — thinness — is simply pointless. This all-or-nothing attitude has to be the root cause of the many January fitness programs that are abandoned by March.

It’s exhausting, really, this constant obsession with food and calories and carbs and measurements and weight. Honestly, what more could women accomplish if we weren’t so completely preoccupied with the scale and the tape measure?

If fitspo inspires you, pin away. Just make sure it’s inspiring you to make yourself stronger and healthier, and not prompting feelings of self-loathing.

In “A Weight that Women Carry,” an essay in Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Sallie Tisdale writes, “In trying always to lose weight, we’ve lost hope of simply being seen for ourselves.”

Similarly, in mirroring ourselves against the perfection found in fitspo images, we risk being unable to simply love ourselves and acknowledge the positive things about our wonderfully imperfect bodies.

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I always thought I hated running, for one good reason (although maybe it counts as two): boobs.

I was on the girl’s basketball team in seventh grade, which also happened to be the year that my breasts started sprouting in earnest. Sports bras weren’t a thing yet in the ’80s … boobs bouncing down the court were just part of the scenery of practices and games (the Lady Hawks included eighth- and ninth-graders in all stages of development). I wasn’t comfortable with the bouncing itself or spectators watching the bouncing, however.

And the utter stupidity of being called the Lady Hawks: DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED.

When sports bras began to become more popular in the ’90s, they still weren’t worth much for ladies with anything bigger than B cups. (And don’t think I’m bragging until YOU try to fit them into an Ann Taylor blouse that isn’t so big the shoulder seams are drooping toward your elbows or so tight that the top button is threatening to put someone’s eye out.)

I tried the double-down trick for aerobics classes (SHUT UP) in college, but wearing two sports bras at once pretty much doubles the amount of boob sweat you produce in half the time.

I made peace with the non-bouncy elliptical machine for a few years, then discovered weight training, which I simply LOVED. My body responded quickly, toning here, putting on a little bit of muscle there. Best of all, I didn’t feel skinny or fat, just STRONG.

Even the most effective fitness programs become ruts after a while, however. Bored with weights and walking and the occasional foray into the neighborhood gym (and vividly aware that my cardio stamina was rapidly diminishing), I signed up for Madison Adventure Boot Camp in November.

Finally, I had a reason (and marching orders from Joe Martin, boot camp owner and official trainer of the Rocket City Bloggers) to buy one of those pricey new and improved sports bras that I had read so much about the past few years — a Moving Comfort model from Fleet Feet, which carries a huge variety of bras in a tiny display area and will let you try them ALL on if you need to.

We ran in boot camp, and ran some more. I almost hurt myself — luckily, my shin splints turned out to be less splinty than some — but I discovered that, with the bouncing problem solved, running not only wouldn’t kill me, it could actually be fun.

I’m not the best runner in the world, mind you. I stop to pet dogs. I slow down so I don’t scare ducks. Sometimes I slow to a stroll, convinced that I’m going to die on the street of a heart explosion like a 1985 cocaine addict with really bad judgement.

But then I start running again. One more sidewalk segment. Then another. To the end of that row of hedges. No, wait. THAT row of hedges. I shave two minutes off my route and think, next week, another two minutes is coming off.

Running makes me feel like I can do anything, as long as I can find the right bra and stop to pet dogs. ANYTHING. And that feeling is worth a LOT of $50 sports bras.

 

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How weird to be in the middle of a food trend and not realize it.

I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of processed food in my family’s diet for the past few years. I was unemployed for a few months when we first moved to Huntsville, so I started cooking a lot to try to save money and fill time. And not Hamburger Helper-type cooking, either. I’m talking from-scratch cooking, as in grate your own cheese (melts so much better than pre-shredded) and making your own meatloaf spice mixture (because have you READ the ingredients on those little flavoring packets?). The salad spinner became a permanent resident in the fridge, always filled with fresh (and local, when available) greens.

We didn’t give up EVERY processed food, mind you. There may or may not be a multipack of frozen pizzas from Costco in my freezer right now. The peanut butter that the husband eats every day is incredibly hydrogenated (I’d go bankrupt trying to feed him the real stuff). I don’t make my own mayonnaise, although I should make my own salad dressing.

So I’m not claiming that we’re dietary saints. But we’ve both maintained our weight for the past five years despite some substantial lapses in workouts, and we’ve put a significant dent in the number of colds and other odd viruses that haunt so many households. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

We find ourselves in the middle of the Real Food Movement. Come on in. It’s delicious.

I rescued a copy of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite from my mom’s Goodwill box a few months ago and just got around to reading it. Author David A. Kessler explores, among other things, how utterly processed the average American diet is. The food industry exists to sell us cheaply manufactured goods that make us want to eat more, no matter how much sugar, fat and salt it takes to get us hooked.

I spotted a title at Barnes & Noble this weekend that actually distracted me from the Harry Potter table: Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food: Kick Your Fake Food Habit, Kickstart Your Weight Loss. Author Christine Avanti explores factory food addiction and how her move to fresh, real foods helped her lose weight and, more importantly, maintain her weight. I didn’t pick up the book because, I told myself, I’m not trying to lose weight OR fill up my bookshelves right now, but I’m very curious to read Avanti’s findings.

The thing about (who knew?) being part of the Real Food Movement for the past couple of years? I can now often taste the difference between processed foods and real foods. For example, I can taste the excessive sugar in jars of spaghetti sauce — there’s only one variety I can really stand to eat now, and the husband’s not fond of it. The flavor of salt in canned soup is getting overwhelming — heck, I can taste salt in one variety of CHEESE now, prompting me to replace it with another.

So, as anticlimactic as it may be, my New Year’s Resolution is to keep following the Real Food path. I’ll also be changing up my exercise routine (more on that later), but mostly I’ll continue figuring out how to feed the husband and myself quality, delicious foods and get further away from the “better living through chemistry” theme that has overtaken our food industry for the past few decades.

To that end, I’m afraid the pantry is about to lose two longstanding residents. You’ve been handy, jarred spaghetti sauce and canned soup, but I can taste your additives, and I can make you better without them.

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Ah, there it is. The first pound gained from boot camp.

That’s right. I have gained weight because of an exercise program.

Muscle is more dense than fat, and I’ve definitely muscled up a little. I can see it and feel it here and there.

This pound is not a bad thing.

I admit to a lifelong obsession with waifishness, however. Wouldn’t it be nice, I’ve always thought, to be one of those girls who looks effortlessly twiggy in a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, or one of those women whose tiny shoulders and small chest just look absolutely dainty in her sparkly LBD?

But this sort of thinking quickly veers into the you-can-never-be-too-skinny realm. And you can TOTALLY be too skinny.

And those waifs looking so graceful in their yoga pants? A lot of them want to be skinnier too.

Which brings me to my point: That number you see on the scale? No matter how bulky or skinny it makes you feel, that’s someone else’s goal weight. You may very well be someone else’s waif.

Me? I’ve done approximately 100 push-ups this week along with untold numbers of squats, jumping jacks, curls and ab exercises. I wore my heaviest boots to the doctor’s office this morning and didn’t blink when the nurse kept nudging the indicator over.

I feel awesome. Maybe I’ll gain another pound next week.

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Asking me to name my favorite ANYTHING is a lesson in frustration.

Favorite color? Dark green. Or maybe light orange. Light green. Maybe the orange on my edition of The Chicago Manual of Style? Possibly peach.

Favorite song? Whatever I just listened to without skipping.

Favorite movie? Whatever I just watched without mockery.

Favorite TV show? Sons of Anarchy. Or Breaking Bad. Possibly Buffy the Vampire Slayer if we’re talking all-time favorites.

It depends.

Favorite part of Huntsville? Please. It SO depends.

But the Rocket City Bloggers want to know for their latest Blog Carnival, so here goes:

  • I love the fact that so many people in Huntsville get outside and exercise. Seriously, I moved up here one January when the temps were hovering in the upper teens, yet when I looked out my kitchen window every morning I saw JOGGERS. At 7 a.m. With DOGS.
  • SO many people are serious about food discussions here. I can chat about quinoa, cupcakes and pit barbecue without skipping a beat. People love to talk about what they’re cooking and what they’re planning to cook after that — it’s like Louisiana without Tabasco sauce. Except sometimes there IS Tabasco sauce. And restaurant rumors abound.
  • Ditto for cocktails. You folks know your brews and your liquors.
  • Huntsville’s nerdery knows no bounds. It’s not enough that the space program originated here. No. The first party the husband and I attended featured a Rubik’s Cube-solving contest. I can walk into any room and discuss the intricacies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or Jaws. Several people in any setting will understand one of these utterances: “10 points for Gryffindor” or “Roll for damage.”
  • There’s so much green space up here. And mountains. (Smallish mountains, but still.) And caves.

Now, I have some cooking to plan and a cocktail to make before I discuss my horrible movie-nerd crush on Duncan Jones. Who wants in on that?

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