Looking back: Why we need to love who we were

In starting teachers college, I’ve done some looking back on my social media and internet presence to make sure that my digital self is not doing anything that a teacher ought not to do. I’m kind of the one who’s always arguing for safety first and going home from parties early, so there wasn’t too much fear that I’d find anything I need to hide.

In the process, I started to come across photos of myself over the years. One of the things I noticed was the way I would look at some pictures and want to judge my body in them. When I started to think about it, I tried to be compassionate. That girl—whether she was big or small, smiling or pretending to smile—is part of who I am today. It is hard when I look back to not be a little upset with myself—How could I starve myself? And how could I binge and purge? And what would my life be like if I hadn’t spent so long hating and abusing my body? What would I be doing? How would my body be now? The questions could go on for days.

But I know that there’s power in acceptance. I know that I cannot go back and change things. And I also know that just as I encourage my personal training clients not to look at their “before” photos and beat themselves up or feel bad about them, the person we were years ago, 6 months ago, or at the start of our journeys is the person who made us into who we are today.

remember where you come from

Anyone who has gone through a recovery process or who has undergone some kind of transformation (from an eating disorder, around their weight, through an addiction) should give some credit to who they were in the throes of their issues. It was that person who found the strength, the motivation, and the means to start the process of becoming who we are now and who we will be in the future.

suffering start

Looking back and feeling ashamed is a disservice to who you are now. We have to be okay with where we’ve been, and I argue that we have to be proud of who we were then just as much as we ought to be proud of where we are now—on whatever journey we might be on.

love yourself as if

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A Pinterest-perfect body: thinking twice about “trouble spots”

My increasing tendency to spend my downtime on pinterest has led me to notice a lot of pins, especially as I look at fitness-related motivation, dedicated towards certain body parts and how to make them look a certain way. Like the magazine headlines that say “A Perkier Butt in 7 Minutes a Day,” I don’t think the routines will do the trick. But even worse, I have noticed the way in which bodies are literally turned into objects—butts, arms, shoulders, abs—to go along with these routines.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.42.38 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.42.46 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.42.52 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.42.58 PM

We talk about the objectification of women’s bodies, and this is an example, I’d say. We’re taking this part of a woman’s body and we’re focusing on it, removing it from context and personality. We’re also contributing to something that we take for granted sometimes—this idea that we can pick and choose how we want our body to look in sections and then achieve it through our own hard work.

When I work with personal training clients, I sometimes get the questions about “what am I working now?” and I sometimes have a sense of if the person is concerned with “toning” or afraid of “bulking up” or asking because they want to know about the functionality of what we’re doing. I really try to answer questions about how to tone a certain body part gently and not hold people at fault if they want to have tank top arms. But I hope that people know that just because things like Pinterest make it easier than ever to take for granted that every part of your body can be molded and shaped until you have the most ideal of all the ideal bodies doesn’t mean that it’s realistic or even possible.

When you think about the insane notion that you should perfect every part of your body to match the idea in your head or in the media that you see of what is defined as perfect for each region as insane, you might feel a range of things. Maybe you’re defeated—what’s the point, then? I’d argue there’s lots of points: aesthetics in general, the health benefits of working out, the functional benefits of moving your body, the sense of accomplishment and self esteem you can get from participating in physical activity, to name a few. Or maybe it feels like a relief—the pressure is off and you can be a little more appreciative of the awesome body you’ve got. Those “trouble spots” you were so concerned about before won’t hold you back if you let yourself let go of the perfectionism around our bodies that’s easy to buy into.

I hope that this post leaves you thinking, and I of course hope that you are a little gentler on yourself. Lots of people have one body part that they just can’t seem to “fix.” Our body parts are not mistakes, and this idea that if we try harder or find the perfect routine just sustains our insecurities—and keeps the people who benefit from them in power. Let’s learn to love our bodies as a whole, appreciating all of the parts. My friends over at Fit is a Feminist Issue shared this photo on their facebook page (which is always filled with interesting things to check out, I might add), and I think it is a perfect way to leave you thinking:

worth loving

Does this resonate with you at all?
Do you focus on specific body flaws? 

Try to look on the bright side–friends, pinterest, and being hurt

One of the things I love about fitness is that it brings us together with people we might not have otherwise met. Last year at CrossFit, I met my friend Katie, who has been through many miles and Clif bars with me since. Even though we met at the gym, we realized that we are both the kind of person who wants to run to and from the CrossFit workout and who thinks the seat of a bicycle is a fine spot to spend a Saturday. Katie is always giving me someone to chase and her first Ironman this year kept me believing in my first half Ironman–and her advice got me through a lot of the things I am not sure I would have thought of along the way!

Now, a little cranky with my slow comeback from my back injury last month (I dropped a barbell on my back–the side, down low–which has affected my leg if I try to run, then my back when I did a little too much yoga, maybe, and now is giving me pins and needles at school when I sit for long stretches, and is generally keeping me from being as active as I normally am), Katie has proven to have a little life coach in her too. I didn’t ask her if I could share the text she sent me last night to cheer me up, but she is generally one of the most encouraging folks I know, so the world needs this and I’m sure she’ll understand:

“I think your injury might be getting you down. So I decided to make you a list of benefits of being injured. I’m sure you’ll consider yourself lucky after reading it.:

1) A perfect manicure lasting two weeks!
2) Hair that looks great 2 and maybe even 3 days after a wash
3) Callus free hands (see above perfect manicure)
4) Less time spent doing laundry!!
5) A chance to wear your ‘real clothes’ not just your latest lulu’s.
6) Less time showering and training = more time to spend with people you love!

And the best part of all…building up the desire and drive to train your way through the winter into next season!”

It was too good not to share, and it definitely got me out of my little pity party. Of course I still want to be training, but I remember again that the reason I train is not because my worth depends on it–but because it makes me feel good! Right now, it doesn’t. So it’s time to rest. It’s simple, even if it’s not easy.

Beyond Katie’s sweet text message, I also have been turning to pinterest during my breaks that might otherwise have been filled with workouts. Here are some of the fruits of my labour, specific to injuries and staying positive. I’ll leave out the ones of chocolately peanut buttery goodies or outfits that also seem to lure me in!

gym cute injury

truth lion injury

bulldog adorable

setback

positive pants

I will never be happy for an injury, but at least I can take Katie’s advice and try to find my positive pants every day! Yay for the interwebs, but more importantly, yay for friends.

What helps you get through injuries?
How do you stay positive when you’re feeling down about something?

Body image: Normal is overrated, but what’s the alternative?

Working as a personal trainer, being a girl, reading books about body image–all of these things remind me that women hate their bodies. We try to fix them with diets and exercise programs. We tell ourselves that this is the last one–we’ll be so dedicated. Then we tell ourselves that we didn’t fail, the diet failed. We go in these circles. We deprive and we binge. We let our body image consume us. It’s normal.

But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Is the answer giving up dieting? Is society going to change the emphasis on our appearance any time soon? What’s the solution? These are the questions that keep me up at night, or entertained when I should be studying.

Another big one is this: is it just up to women to change the way we think? To be honest, I see this as a form of blaming women. It’s not because of us and only us that we think and act the way we do. Before you start thinking that I’m evading responsibility, think about the messages we get about our bodies, and increasingly about our body image. They’re designed to make us feel like we’re not good enough. Is your body less than perfect? Well that’s your fault, and all you need to do is to work on it. But wait, our bodies aren’t supposed to be perfect! So you better work on the notion you have in your brain that they could be because that’s wrong and it’s also your fault. There’s a slim chance of us winning when the messages we get about our bodies and about our body image contradict each other—and put all of the onus on us as women to figure it out—and to look good, and be happy while we do it.

Having a body sucks, it seems. But it doesn’t have to—and I don’t think it should. We are not stuck with a bunch of flawed elements that encompass our physical selves—we have these vessels to let us live our lives. Taking care of our health does NOT have to be about perfecting our bodies, but can be about helping us live more full lives. Deciding to treat them with respect does not have to be about beating up the part of us that has gotten sucked into body hate, but can be about realizing that at the end of the day, our own opinion of ourselves is the one that matters—and that how we look is just a little part of who we are. What do you want to do with your life? I won’t beat you up if you answer me, “get six pack abs,” but I will encourage you to think about what there is in this world besides your own body. What do you want to see? Who do you want to be? What kinds of memories do you want to make? These are the questions that spark conversations a little more vulnerable than discussing the macros you’re eating this month or the food you’re cutting out on your latest detox, so yeah, they feel “weird.” But weird can be good, especially when normal—diet talk, bonding over hating our bodies, coming together through starving and shaming ourselves—is so messed up.

I would challenge you to go through a day without talking about weight, or diet, or transforming your body. See if you find yourself struggling with things to talk about. Start a conversation with someone about the weather, or where they went on their last vacation, or what they like to do on Sunday afternoons. Read a book that has nothing to do with health but is purely for your own enjoyment. Your life’s work does not have to be your body. I sometimes feel like we live in a world that thinks that if we do everything perfectly, our bodies will never fail us. That’s just not true, as comforting as the thought that we can save ourselves might be. Yes, we ought to take care of ourselves, but we will run out of time here sooner or later. I plan on doing my best to take good care of myself, but I’ve also tried to draw a line between obsession and dedication, or perhaps more accurately between trying to preserve myself and living.

for blog

Do you worry about your body?
Do you about worrying about your body?
Any ideas?

 

Turning to Dr. Google: On sane self-diagnosis

I have a (kind of bad) habit of self-diagnosing on google. Lately, my searches have included things related to my back injury (from dropping a barbell on it in August), to the (likely associated) IT band pain I’ve been having when I try to run, to exercise-induced asthma and bronchitis, to obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s something in me that wants to find an answer.

doctor google

I can remember vividly the kind of comfort I felt when I came across websites about the Female Athlete Triad. According to good old Wikipedia, this is “a syndrome in which eating disorders (or low energy availability), amenhorrhoea/oligomenorrhoa, and decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis and osteopenia) are present. …[T]his condition is seen in females participating in sports that emphasize leanness or low body weight.” At the time, I was not having a period, I was pretty light, and I had received DEXA results that said my bones were not where they should be for a girl my age. I fit the bill—and I was so glad to have something outside of me.

It’s not my fault.

That’s the thought that I had.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort from knowing that it’s not your fault, but with things like my eating disorder–where it remains tough to know what was biology and what was going on with my own choices—I think it’s worth noting that not being at fault and not being able to help it are very different.

With this week’s searches, I think I was looking for relief. From the guilt of worrying that I’m being a pansy with my leg pain, or that I’m too anxious—from things that I bring onto myself. I want it to be outside of me, even though at the end of the day, the problem doesn’t go away with the addition of a label. When I realized I had that Female Athlete Triad, it wasn’t like there was a pill to make it disappear. In the end, the shifts happened when I tackled what I could with the support of others. It required taking responsibility, which can be hard when we’re convinced that we aren’t at fault.

That self-diagnosis represents a relief.

It’s not our fault.

We have a condition, outside of us.

Does this mean that the responsibility is removed?

 

So, if I have a certain condition, I try to think, What caused it in the first place? What can I do to fix it? With the triad example, it was my eating disorder. And with my eating disorder, there were a lot of factors—many of which were up to me to choose differently around. Later, I turned to “adrenal fatigue” to make myself feel better for running myself into the ground. Solution? Take the stress off of my body, little by little–whether the condition existed or not. Basically: Slow. Down. Via different choices.

Knowing this, I still get sucked into the interwebs when I’m not feeling great about something going on with my body. I hope that if you’re a googler like me, you can notice what you’re after when you start turning to Dr. Google to make you feel better. My leg hurts when I run—knowing the name given to the pain I’m experiencing is less important than taking a break and coming back to it with a game plan to run pain free. I’m noticing some weird coping tendencies and some extra anxiety—whether or not this is clinical matters a whole lot less than dealing with what’s driving me to them. Etc. etc. etc.

All of this being said, I don’t want to discount the way that knowing that we aren’t entirely at fault when it comes to our health is not a bad thing. Back to that eating disorder—knowing that I had power but was not to blame was what let me take charge and decide to recover—and kept me going when the going got tough. I say we use our labels to make informed choices, not to let us off the hook or as some strange form of comfort that stops us from taking the best care of ourselves.

ek care

Do you self-diagnose on google?
Do you feel better knowing that you “have” something?

Forced to pause: What I’ve been doing with myself–and my body

Since my race in July, I’ve been pretty quiet about what I’ve been up to. That’s largely because it hasn’t been much. Sad face.

About a month ago, I was going through a regular ol’ weightlifting workout at the gym. I was on my own and I’d just finished training some clients and having woken up early, I was feeling pretty tired but nothing too out of the ordinary for a morning training session. I did a couple of snatches after a normal warm up and I ended up dropping the bar behind me and not bailing quick enough. So, the bar landed on my lower back (off to the side) and since then, I’ve been dealing with it.

The first two weeks were tough and even though I tried, my body yelled at me to back off. Lifting weights was definitely out of the question, but I thought yoga might be alright. Turns out, nope. After a while, I started to go to yoga and take it at an easy pace. I tried some runs and realized they were out. I went to the pool and avoided looking at the clock in favour of appreciating that I could move.

Like I said, it’s been about a month. I went on my first bike ride last week, and it nearly killed me. I took a few more days off. I started to do some light weights, avoiding things that hurt me. I tried biking again—success. My runs have created some kind of hamstring, or maybe IT band pain that is all new for me. Ohhhhh, left side of my body, how you test me!

I’ve been impressed with my ability not to freak out over this. I had the week leading up to my thesis defence without the normal outlet/distraction of working out to keep me from freaking out, and I think I was more prepared for it. And as I’ve come back to my activities, I’ve realized which ones make me feel good. I missed riding bikes with friends. I think I needed a break after my half ironman in July, and I didn’t take it – I went right back into it and raced (not so hotly) at Bluewater two weeks later. Maybe some higher power dropped this barbell on my back like he was trying to hit “pause” for me—the button just needed a pretty hefty push, apparently!

slow down

For now, I’m focusing on being grateful when I feel good and being patient when I don’t. I know in the past, I was compulsive about exercise and would have lost my marbles—for the first two weeks, I did less moving than I had in a normal week during training for my half, and I had to work as a personal trainer and watch my clients all killin’ it on a daily basis!

Now I’m feeling a little lost. I had plans to run a big trail run in mid-October, but running hurts the most right now. I thought about training for my Olympic Weightlifting debut, but I’m obviously a little discouraged there. I think for the first time, I’m going to give myself a break from trying to peak for anything in particular. Sure I have goals—10 chin-ups, anyone? (I’m at six)—and some events that I would like to do—bike rides in the fall are my favourite—but it might be nice to just “work out” for a little in the meantime instead of always feeling like I should be training my face off. I’ve written before about how exercise should improve the quality of our lives and how health ought to be a platform for us to live our best lives from, not the sole focus of our lives—and remembering that has gotten me through all of this! I am however glad to be able to bike myself to school, which started today (yahoo!).

biking to school

I write this because it’s part of a long journey from not being able to take a rest day on vacation without losing my mind or bingeing to realizing that I can rest—and should rest! I’ve seen that my appetite matches my activity level, that I don’t immediately get out of shape or look like a different person if I take some time off, and that I can release stress in other ways. I’ve had some time to think about what I want to do with myself and my body and to start considering what will make me feel like I’ve spent my time, energy, and money on the best options. I have realized how lucky I am to still be able to do things and that this too shall pass (as always). It could have been so much worse. I am not fragile, and I will come back stronger. I’m looking forward to my next comeback, whatever it’s back to…

setback

Have you had an injury that took you out of commission for a little?
Did you learn anything from being injured?
What are you focusing on this fall?
What do you like to do besides train?

Health as an enigma: why I think we all need to define what “health” is really about

My sister recently bought a house in Windsor, which is just far enough away by car to require a podcast en route. Last time I drove down, I listened to one from “Office Hours” (a favourite of my nerdy side!) where they interviewed Ellen Berrey about her book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice. I am not particularly well-versed in this area, but she did speak the language of sociology and as she talked about the way that the word “diversity is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored,” I couldn’t help but think of my own work and the way that the concept of health has come to be taken for granted as universally worth pursuing, without critically considering even the definition of it. Her discussion about the way that the idealization of diversity can actually obscure real inequalities again got me thinking about the way that we idealize health—and particularly the appearance of it. Very rarely do we sit down and define what “healthy” really means to us.

healthy

I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I’ve met who will do extreme things in the name of health—cutting out all carbs, going on extreme diets, running themselves ragged, spending tons of money to lose weight, etc. I see it all the time in my personal life but also as a personal trainer and a professional in the world of health and fitness. Unfortunately, I often see this turn into a slippery slope. My own experience with taking the pursuit of thinness in the name of health too far and straying into disordered eating territory is just one example of the way that trying to be “healthy” can actually compromise that which we’re after in the first place.

Why is this important? In a world where we see all kinds of images offered up as “healthy” (search that hashtag on instagram, for starters), it is more important than ever to be careful not to unquestioningly assume that “health” is defined in a way that fits with us or that serves us. When I was underweight, the natural association between losing weight and getting healthy proved false—just one example of how “health” is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Consider this: with “health” held as an unquestionably worthy pursuit, the association between a thinner body and a healthier body can drive people to do things that are perhaps unhealthy (going on starvation diets, taking diet pills, etc. come to mind), albeit in the name of health. In my humble opinion, I say we get honest about it: it’s not about your health if it’s driving you insane mentally or compromising your quality of life in the process. If we talk about it as being about our health, we’re contributing to that “enigma.”

You eat whole foods and you have a happy relationship with your body, you move it in ways that feel good, but if you don’t look like the images of health offered up in the media, are you actually unhealthy? If you’re, dare I say it, “overweight” by some chart’s standards, are you shit out of luck when it comes to embodying a healthy subjectivity? I don’t think so, but I do think we need to talk about this stuff more (hence this blog). When the images we see of health are all of a narrow range of body types, and when the fitness models on the cover of fitness magazines engage in arguably unhealthy pursuits (cutting out water for photo shoots, engaging in restrictive dieting, etc.), then it’s easy to get confused—so take it easy on yourself. I don’t see the magazines and marketing gurus out there likely opening up the images of fit bodies to encompass all of those that really can be considered fit any time soon, but I do see blogs, social media, etc. as avenues for us to start to open up the definition of “health” to be more realistic and more based on what’s right for each and every one of us. I did just that on this blog not too long ago, and I have been doing my best to come back to that when I get down on myself or my body.

Cheers to blogging!

Do you consider yourself “healthy”?
Have you ever taken the time to define what “healthy” means to you?
What are the parameters you set for yourself when it comes to being “healthy”?

Bulky but Still Beautiful: Representations of Healthy Femininity in the CrossFit Narrative

The end of summer has come, and the quiet blog is testament to how much of a whirlwind it’s been. Between my half Ironman debut, defending my thesis, and starting a new gig at Hybrid Fitness Centre, I’ve had a pretty amazing summer, I’d say. I’ll leave the part about how I dropped a barbell on myself (a wakeup call, perhaps?) out of it and just say that while I’m sad to see summer come to what feels like a quick close, I’m excited for what fall has in store: teacher’s college, working at the gym, and gearing up for some updates to my services–coaching stuff–that I’m anxious to share with you all soon!

But in the meantime, I’m going to share my thesis. The link is live, and so far I’ve had 52 downloads according to the email that came my way earlier this week! I’d like to see the fruits of my labour over two years of my life read by a few more sets of eyes, so if you’re interested in sociology, health, the body, body image, CrossFit, femininity, etc. then do me a favour and take a looksie–it’s available through Western for download.

Here’s my abstract to whet your appetite:

“Positioned in the area of feminist cultural studies, this thesis examines representations of femininity, fitness, and health in four key publications related to the fitness programs offered by the CrossFit™ Corporation. A critical discourse-analytical methodology is used to deconstruct notions of fit femininity in the CrossFit narrative. I argue that themes on femininity reflect contemporary healthist ideologies that promote concerns for health as an individual, moral responsibility, and normalize entrenched notions of the female body as a project to be managed. Drawing on the language of feminine empowerment, the CrossFit narrative constructs the ideal female body as one with increased muscularity and functional abilities, while also offering up a singular feminine ideal that reproduces ideological views sustaining unequal gender relations. An overarching dominant theme of the CrossFit narrative stipulating a need for constant improvement, anchors a discursive effect promoting continual consumption and self-monitoring of, and for, health.

Keywords: CrossFit, Gender, Femininity, Critical Discourse Analysis, Consumerism, Healthism”

…enjoy! I’d love to hear some of your feedback in the comments. I may be done this Masters, but I hope that this is just starting the discussion.

some sort of idea

Do you have any thoughts on CrossFit media?
Have you ever done a CDA? 
Have you written a thesis?