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? 

spinning, weight gain, and health

This post will be the short and sweet and maybe saucy kind that I write in response to something I’ve seen on the interwebs that rubs me the wrong way. Today I was perusing Today Show videos and immediately went to a clip called “Gaining weight? It might be your spin class.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 9.03.11 AM

The (female) hosts chatted about celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson’s assertion that spin classes can make you gain weight, something that’s getting plenty of attention elsewhere (people love spinning almost as much as other people love instilling fear about gaining weight!).

1. ‘I don’t buy that c**p’: SoulCycle instructors slam Tracy Anderson over her claim that ‘spinning bulks thighs and causes weight gain’ on the daily mail
2. Weight loss experts rip Tracy Anderson for saying spinning makes your thighs fat on examiner.com

In the article for Redbook called “Why Spinning Might Not Be Worth it After All,” Anderson talked about how spinning might burn calories but is also a recipe for “bulking” up your thighs and how she’s seen women come to her after spinning for months wondering why they can’t fit into their jeans.

Really?

Before I go any further, let me put this disclaimer out there: I’m a spin instructor, yes. But I’m also a bootcamp instructor, dabble in yoga, an avid CrossFitter, and a bit of a triathlete. I also like rock climbing and hiking. I do not discriminate over what kind of exercise is “best” or what someone else “should” do–I just think people should get moving. My response to this clip has less to do with redeeming spinning and more to do with getting real about what they’re talking about–and it’s not “health.

What put my panties in a twist about the Today Show clip was the assertion that gaining weight was a bad thing, regardless of what kind of weight that is. I agree that spinning can help you gain muscle. Notice that I say “help you to gain muscle” not “doom you to pack on the pounds.” I know from my personal experience as well as my job and my education that gaining weight is not universally bad. Lately, intellectual masturbation grad school readings have taken me into articles on the way obesity is represented. One article I read (Articulating Fatness: Obesity and the Scientific Tautologies of Bodily Accumulation in Neoliberal Times, if you’re nerdy), talked about the “anorexic ideation” that drives us to think thinner and lighter is always better. I don’t blame the reporters on the Today Show for (likely unconsciously) suggesting that weighing more is inherently bad—it’s something most people take as a given. That being said, to liken gaining weight to “getting fat,” given the way that we think of “fat” in our culture is a mistake.

I liked how, in response to one host’s “As you know, muscle weighs more than fat,” (false, for the record) comment, another chimed in about how gaining muscle is a good thing. Unfortunately, she went on to complain about how spinning hurt her butt (her instructor should have told her that a few classes and getting used to the seat would change that).

My take?  This kind of sensationalism in the media’s coverage of weight, often masqueraded as coverage that is important to our health, reaffirms that it’s not really about our health or even our weight—it’s about fitting our bodies into a (gendered) ideal. I can confidently say that if this were targeted at men, the story wouldn’t fly. What guy wouldn’t want to put on muscle? I’m making a big generalization here, but it’s okay and celebrated for men to gain the same muscle that women are cautioned against. If we’re looking out for our health, that doesn’t seem right. Regardless of sex, muscle is health promoting, protecting, and something that we want to build and preserve as we get older. The original article in Redbook does a good job of explaining that muscle is good and encourages variety. It’s all the media that goes along with the darn thing that is misled and misleading.

So, unlike that host who talks about spin classes hurting her bum, I think the only pain in the butt here is the fact that this even made the news. If your goal is to lose weight at all costs, maybe it all means you won’t take up spinning (sad Cheryl). If it’s to improve your body composition, maybe you’ll make the connection that muscle is a good thing and that building muscle will help you towards that end. If you want to improve your health, maybe you’ll cut through all this fluff and realize that if you love spinning and it’s an exercise you’ll actually do, there’s no reason to abandon a form of exercise you actually enjoy.

love spin

Do you like spinning?
How do you choose what kind of exercise routine you do? Health? Aesthetics? A mixture of the two? 

Also: Tracy Anderson is kind of on a roll, in my books. First, with her program for men (“Anderson’s made-for-guys routines look girly—you won’t lift a weight over 10lbs”) and then with her risqué line of gym wear (“as little fabric between the bellybutton and crotch”).