body talk

Embarrassingly late to the blog tour here (my b), but I want to tell you about a book that is really meaningful to me. I was excited no matter what, because its editor is Kelly Jensen, whose previous two anthologies were fantastic [disclosure that I contributed to the second one, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy]. But given the topic of this new one, it’s also super relevant to my blog and my interests, so if you’re a subscriber onhere, I assume it’s super relevant to your interests, too.

Click image for Amazon, click here to buy on Bookshop

Body Talk collects the words of 37 contributors talking about anatomy, both literally and more figuratively. They cover everything: body hair, periods, clothes, hormones, gender presentation, perceptions of fatness, obesity, curves… There are also some FAQs, and the whole thing is beautiful designed and with two colors throughout.

I think what I like about this book best is that it’s about radical body understanding more than body positivity. Body positivity is cool as fuck and something we should all aim for sometimes, but it’s not exactly attainable, and if you sit in that place all the time, it can be toxic. Body knowledge, body questioning, body acceptance? A bit more in the realm of possibility. To be honest, I kind of hate my body right now–hate what it looks like, hate how little it can do as it continues to need coddling–six months post-car accident, no less–hate that after so much work to control and understand it, I feel lost inside it now. I’ve been working my way through Body Talk slowly, because it’s emotionally exhausting to have it affect me and to try to take on some of the feelings of the contributors, but it’s absolutely a journey worth taking on.

breath like water

Okay so. I did not sports as a child. I was (still am, maybe?) afraid of every kind of ball, not coordinated, super awkward, not good at following rules as far as outs and penalties and fouls, and just in general was Not About Them. My mother was not about to have a sedentary child, no matter how much I loved to read and no matter how talented I was at piano, so I was required to do ballet folklórico all school year and swim team in the summers. I think I’m actually a very good swimmer in the technical sense, but in the practical sense I had an undiagnosed (misdiagnosed as asthma) breathing condition, so I was not fast, and as we grew up together, a lot of the kids on the team got mean and I got bullied, so hooray! I quit when I was 16.

But I do really, really love swimming.

I accidentally fell into being a children’s swim instructor, even. I hate what it does to my hair and my skin, and I hate having to take my contacts out, but when I force myself in the water, I am actually really, really happy. Actually, that’s sort of what my YA WIP is about, but that’s neither here nor there.

So when I saw Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab pop up on my Netgalley–a brown girl! Swimming!–I was intrigued. To be honest, it’s only recently that I started finding something to enjoy and respect about romance as a genre anyway, and it’s really not my taste in YA literature for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, but the description was still enough for me to give it a try:

Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her Olympic dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews.

As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost–and the beauty–of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

Anna Jarzab, Breath Like Water

Susannah is an elite swimmer poised for college athletics, the Olympics, or both. I have never been an elite anything, and I can’t say I can identify with what her training experience is, but what I can identify with is having your body betray you when you think it should be doing what it could always do, and with not being able to fully comprehend how and why it’s not the same as other people’s. I can also identify with having cruel male teachers and supportive female ones. One of the major threads in this book has to do with her two coaches–first, the one who has been her coach all along but is now losing interest in her as she fails to live up to his standards and has the audacity to have non-swimming interests like friendship and romance, and second, the new assistant coach Beth, who sees something in Susannah that Susannah isn’t quite ready to recognize until she realizes that Beth’s methods are making her a better swimmer and healthier person. I don’t think enough YA focuses on teens’ relationships with adults (especially non-predatory sexual ones and non-parental ones), which seems weird if the point is Teenagers, but adults are a major part of teens’ lives, and I really like how Jarzab explores both positive and negative relationships with adults and their consequences in Susannah’s life, also both positive and negative.

One thing I’ve found as an adult is that, to my surprise, I can value sports and physical activity even when having no interest in participating in them. It’s fun to make fun of sportsball and talk about how Superb Owls are better than the Super Bowl, but it’s also unfair, because we all have the right to like whatever we like, and especially right now when everything in the world is terrible, we shouldn’t begrudge anyone a pastime unless its Naziism or Confederate Pride. This is a chicken-and-egg situation wherein I don’t know if I found fitness because I was finally able to recognize that it goes beyond team sports and competition or if I realized that and then went out and found a gym, but either way, it turns out that I can enjoy watching the Olympics and the World Cup and wearing my Arizona gear during March Madness, and I am allowed to not actually care about the overall standings of different teams and to check out when a game is not actively happening. All at the same time! In learning to love the forms of fitness that have changed my life and my body, I’ve also learned that I can respect other people’s love of sports because it appeals to parts of their brains and bodies. Doing Pilates makes me hyper-aware of every part of my body and has made me realize that athletes must feel similarly when it comes to elite training in their particular sport.

Jarzab does a great job describing swim practices and training and the excruciating pain Susannah experiences during an injury; you can feel it and find joy in the discipline of it all. (Honestly, it makes me a little embarrassed of the quality of my two sports novels, but they’re already published and unchangeable, so whatever.) I’m not really a woo person or Aerobics Barbie kind of cheery, #goodvibesonly fitness person; I am someone who likes fitness in the ways that athletes like Susannah like their sport. Serious work is something I find joy in. I don’t really like fun. Ask anyone who’s known me since high school; they will confirm that. “Fun” in the conventional sense is not something I enjoy.

So anyway, that’s what appeals to me in Breath Like Water. It’s not serious in a drudgery sort of way, but it’s serious in the sense that it’s a disciplined text about a disciplined person, and the wins and losses, in and out of the pool, are earned and feel real. Susannah and Harry’s relationship is believable, and as a girl who never had a date to prom or a boyfriend to walk to her to biology class and is obviously still bitter about it, I appreciate that it doesn’t feel like a romance that’s too easy. Escapism’s not really my jam, which is why I don’t like many YA romances. This one’s not that.

Breath Like Water released yesterday from HarperCollins, and I appreciate the review copy they sent me! Check your library or yoink it from Amazon | my store on bookshop, the place for indie bookstores

links worth reading

Egyptian squash players are among the best in the world, and privileged families have long pushed their children to take up sports, but the new focus on fitness is drawing in people from all classes, with substantial numbers of women, too, and is more about exercise for exercise than about games or competition.

I’m not sure that I totally understand the connection between the revolution beyond wanting to shake things up, but still, this is neat.

They do have a point, however, if they are only exposed to people who attend those types of classes in which the instructor doesn’t adhere to scientifically proven cycling training principles. In other words, the trendy fads that lift weights and dance and flop around on the bikes. Ultimately, this style of cycling class is not doing what they purport, and may be a waste of time. Yet, everyone knows how popular they are and crowds around the world are clamoring to get in, and facilities are insisting their instructors teach this way.

Pretty sure that’s Tracy Anderson they’re talking about, who is like the Jill Stein of exercise (i.e. don’t believe science is real even though their professions should indicate otherwise). I am of two minds here – SoulCycle-style cycling is what got me into fitness, both for the fun and the fact that it got me up to a basic cardiovascular health that allowed me to try other sorts of fitness. The fact that you’re doing so many different things means you stay engaged without noticing that you’re tired. I got a bit smaller doing it and then I totally plateaued as they say, but so long as it’s not your only workout and you don’t do certain moves, like four corners, I see no problem in getting your heart rate up now and again if it’s what motivates you to do any movement whatsoever. But yeah, it’s not exactly going to change your body or make it stronger per se. You gotta do other stuff, too.

But within 20 minutes after arriving, I found I couldn’t quite relax. It wasn’t the music or the mats, sweaty as they were from the session before. It finally dawned on me: There wasn’t a single other non-white person in the room. I felt conspicuous, even exposed.

I feel this so hard. Feeling alone is why I wanted to start this blog, in the hopes of connecting with other women of color and intersectional feminists in the fitness world, though that hasn’t really happened (partly because I’ve been shit at updating as grad school and work take over my life). It still makes me uncomfortable, though I’ve noticed that living in Tucson again means a lot more diversity in the gym, at both the front and the back of the room, than it did when I lived in the whiteness of the Bay Area (which is funny, since it has a gigantic population of people from the Asian diaspora, and yet I didn’t see many of them teaching).

Fatphobia is violence. Fat folks, but specifically fat women and femmes (those who do not identify with femininity in their gender expansiveness and are policed for it), are shamed, assaulted, preyed upon, spied on, sexually exploited, interrogated and denied humanity in structural and interpersonal ways. The ways in which strangers and those close to us — often folks who are thin and have acceptable body types — shame us includes taking pictures/videos of us without consent to ridicule and mock our bodies.

I am not fat, and I don’t wish to co-opt any of the statements in this article as my experience. But I am, as of a couple years ago, a huge proponent of the fat acceptance movement (thanks, very patient friends and also scientific research proving that fat outside doesn’t actually prove unhealthy insides), and I agree with what is said in this article full-stop. I am also an LA Fitness group ex instructor, and while I am frustrated to no end with their persistent refusal to enter the 21st century, I know firsthand that they take chances on beginners and do not use the outside of a person to determine whether they are a capable teacher or strong athlete. I am certain that my outsides are what didn’t get me jobs at fancier gyms, even though it turns out I am a pretty badass teacher. I am also proud to know that I am employed by a gym who saw this for what it was – a crime – and reported the bitch to the police for sexual assault (because it’s pornography without consent).

sorta review: companies that truly get inclusivity and diversity

I am known, at least in the books/publishing world that I peripherally live and work in, to be the girl who gives no cookies to people just for saying they give a shit. I particularly mean shits about diversity and equity. Lots of people like to say they care, and then they still do stereotypes. Or they say they care, and they beat you over the head with how much they care by constantly calling out what a good job they’re doing or telling you how they’re doing a “body acceptance” issue of a magazine before going right back to the status quo, or a “black girl magic” book and 100 white girl books right alongside it. You get the idea.

There are, however, some brands out there that seem to just have a natural inclination to be representative and equitable in their work. And they are the ones I try to give my money to. They are women’s magazines whose pages are full of photos of all sizes and colors and sexes of woman. They are clothing companies that fit people with shapes that don’t generally grace runways.

You know you’re a brown person in America when you’re so used to being erased from the media and materials you consume that seeing someone who resembles you or whose story speaks to you is jarring. It’s downright unnatural. Even though I, like anyone else, should be entitled to some representation in the things I buy.

Sigh.

Anyway, if you are also a member of one or a number of marginalized groups, and/or if you just think it’s important to support businesses and publications that care about those people, here are some things I recommend.

Dear Kates

Dear Kates
These are not cheap. But they shouldn’t be. They’re period (or incontinence, or post-partum) undies. They’re also useful for working out when you’re doing really heavy work for a long time and don’t want to offend others if you start to smell. They’re also cute and quite comfy. I love mine. They were worth every penny, and they show no sign of breaking down after numerous washings. AND not only does this company make a wide range of sizes, but they often use real women as models. That’s because women come in all sizes. It’s also because they pick really cool ladies who are engineers and CEOs and stuff, and they tell you a bit about their stories. AND they name the undies after cool ladies – like, for example, the Ada is named after Ada Byron Lovelace, WHO INVENTED COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. Betcha didn’t know that, because patriarchy.

Anyway, I love Dear Kates so much that I ordered cards to be a brand rep, and that means I can give you a discount. They didn’t pay me to write this, but I love them. So if you’re going to go over there and order, use the code XOHannahGomez to get 15% off whatever you buy.

Pole Fitness

Pole dancing

Yes, really. I bought a Groupon to my local pole fitness place, and I bet you have one in your area. I was really afraid because I’m not graceful at all and have no idea how to be sexy or work my angles or anything. I would be TERRIBLE at America’s Next Top Model. Awful. I might be a beast on a fake bicycle, but I lack a lot of physical awareness, tbh.

But I will try literally any type of fitness once, especially if there’s a deal on it. So I went, and I still have five classes to go on my pass, and even though I’ve obviously not been going consistently, I think it’s great. One of the teachers is one of the tiniest people I’ve ever seen. Another was a beast at the pole and also fat. Another was of average height but looked like she didn’t have any fat on her, but somehow also didn’t look like a body builder. Anybody was welcome. The class was full of all types of people, and we were all wearing booty shorts and tight shirts or sports bra. Because who cares. We were all there to feel strong. And I did. Slash I felt weak. You might think you’re strong because you lift weights, but try lifting your entire body off the floor by your arms–held at a weird angle. Try it.

Honestly it was one of the best experiences I’ve had simply because it was so nonchalant and welcoming. I’d compare it to gymnastics or acro yoga if you’re trying to gauge muscle use or calorie burn. Also, I hate dancing, and there was no dancing involved. It was simply a foundations class where you learn moves and learn how to hold yourself up on a pole and hang off of it in various ways. Coordination and strength first, sexiness second. Or, for me, probably never. You should try yours. I have a feeling my experience is actually the standard at such places.

InStyle

Yes, it’s just a fashion magazine. But also it is unique. It’s intelligent like Vogue, but it’s a lot more attainable and affordable inside. I like that it really does teach me style, whereas a lot of other glossies are just about trends and Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar are for incredibly wealthy white women who probably do not have jobs.

InStyle is also great because whenever it’s doing pictures of celebrities or makeup advice or whatever, they have women of all colors. Just because there are celebrities of all colors and because an eyeshadow that looks good on Iman will not necessarily look good on….I dunno. Someone pale that I don’t pay attention to, because her makeup will not look good on me.

They could improve a bit more on size acceptance, because they still call out whenever they’re doing larger sized fashion, but I will still take that in the meantime, because at least they’re doing it. Small steps.

Women’s Running


I’ve told you about this magazine before and why I love it. So get thee to Amazon or their website and order.

Girls of color. Big girls and small. Transwomen. Olympians. Regular people. Affordable items inside. Very little about weight loss and a lot about mental and physical strength and self-satisfaction. What’s not to like?

june’s links worth reading

Physicians should avoid attribution bias, or blaming a health condition on a patient’s weight because it is low-hanging fruit. Patients across the weight continuum develop a variety of diseases. Obesity does not make patients immune to conditions smaller patients develop and vice versa, and this fallacy can be fatal to patients. Weight-based stigma shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of doctors giving care and patients seeking it.

I have a lot of terrible things to say about how doctors “treat” patients and how many terrible experiences I’ve had with them (I go to nurse practitioners whenever possible, and I will evangelize forever and suggest you go to them too), but at least this is not something I’ve experienced. Doctors need to stop this shit.

It saddens me that my gorgeous friends wish my body upon themselves and that they’ve been so conditioned to think of themselves as not good enough unless they’re an unattainable weight.

I have an idea. Let’s stop using the phrase “thinspo” at all, but also listen to this girl and think about how troubling it is to say that bodies suffering through illness are something to aspire to.

I do love lifting. I love it with a strength and dedication I didn’t know I was capable of. I love how much of what I learn in training is applicable to real life. The only deadlift advice I can ever remember is “it is always hard.”

Alyssa and I became friends on Twitter, and while we have many feminist and activist interests in common, I think it was when I posted that I wanted friends on MyFitnessPal that we really started interacting regularly. Her entries inspire me every day, because I feel I still have a long way to go to be a really fit person, but I can identify a lot with her sentiments here and can see how maybe in the future I will feel them even more strongly.

Why is “summer” the goal, a reason to get fit? Is there some magical countdown to Memorial Day, where I’m shamed into wearing a sweatsuit on the beach unless my arms are perfectly sculpted and my thighs no longer lovingly rub together?

I’m nowhere near perfect at this, but I try in every class not to use shaming, problematic language like this, and then I hope to transfer it to my self-shaming.