fuck this. see my body. deal with it.

Friday I went to hot yoga.

I bought a Groupon awhile ago for ten classes ($35!) and went to one class. I didn’t particularly like the teacher and also I don’t particularly like hot yoga, or even yoga that much. This is a thing I forget regularly and buy groupons for and then remember that I don’t love it, and even though I don’t hate it, it’s hard to plan on doing it because so much depends on the state of hydration, vertigo and IBS my body happens to be in, whereas other types of exercise have a bit more leeway where that comes in. Gross. Anyway. You see what I mean. Hot yoga takes very particular planning, and a lot of things they say about it is kind of bullshit tbh. High heartrate doesn’t necessarily mean more calorie burn, and calorie burning is really not what fitness is all about.* Anyway. Hot yoga is not a blast, but I also enjoy the last fifteen minutes or so, when I feel really bendy and like I can accomplish any of the moves.

The only reason I went is because my groupon is about to expire, and when classes are regularly $16, you have to go to at least three to make the groupon an actual deal. I think I’ve told you this before, but there is no better motivator to work out than having money on the line.**

So. Rewind a bit more. Earlier in the day, I was teaching my usual Friday morning aqua fit class. I teach from the deck, in clothing. I really think that in the grand scheme of attractive women, I’m a bit above average but far from a hottie. Lots of t&a if you’re into that, but really I’m not that special. I do, however, dress pretty well, at least in the sense that I’ve learned from trial and many, many errors what looks good on my body and what doesn’t. (Thanks, Clinton Kelly! See my humblebrag below.).

What I’m saying is that while I don’t think I look all that great naked, and I certainly don’t try to spend long amounts of time with people when I’m unclothed and lights are on, but I work somewhat hard to make my body look decent, and I also wear things that mask or accentuate things, rather than exaggerate them.

So I was doing one of my ridiculous jumpy-aroundy things (you try demonstrating water activities on land and see how graceful you look) and two women*** were talking to each other and said, “No jell-o there!” and pointed to me. The pool is indoors and it’s impossible to hear anything, so I asked them what they said because I thought maybe they had a question. They repeated themselves and told me I was “solid” because apparently I have no jiggle to my thighs.

  1. This is an outright lie.
  2. This is supposed to be a compliment even though “solid” is an iffy word.

I told them to hush, that I look good in clothes and there’s a reason I don’t wear my swimsuit to class**** and also a good half of my measurable difference in thigh appearance over the past year is magical body cream, not the workouts I do.

These are true things, but they’re also things I’ve been trained to say because women are trained to deflect compliments. When is the last time you received a compliment and immediately follow it with a qualifier or a modifier or a negative thing to balance the compliment with? If you identify as a woman, I’m going to go with never, and I dare you to tell me different.*****

I don’t want to be flippant about body dysmorphic disorder, because that is a real thing in the DSM and I really hate when people use true disorders and diseases as if they’re silly (“omg, I’m, like, so bipolar today!” NOPE).  But I think those of us who live in western, body-obsessed developed nations are all trained to have a touch of body dysmorphia because we’re constantly barraged with messages telling us our bodies don’t look right. And if you don’t look right ever, but you’re only ever seeing “right” bodies in front of you, but if you’re also educated enough to know that those “right” bodies aren’t even “real” because of Photoshop, how do you even have the mental capacity to consider what your real, physical body actually looks like? I don’t. And I don’t want to. I don’t really want to look at my body unless I’m looking at a cute outfit I have on. I have been so confused by messages my whole life that I also cannot competently buy foundation or concealer because magazines have confused me about what color my skin is. That’s a story for another day, though.

So. I told them to shush and went on with class. Then I went to hot yoga.

Hot yoga is terrible; did I mention that?

There is nothing you can wear that is not uncomfortable – and while I haven’t tried it, I’m going to posit that not even nudity is comfortable in hot yoga because hello, dangling parts and boob sweat. So I wore Spandex bike shorts, which I have been wearing for pole fitness recently****** and a cotton t-shirt that I wear when I want to look not totally shlumpy but not waste a real outfit. Cotton is terrible for sweating, and it’s especially terrible when you keep bending over and are being told to breathe and the shirt is covering your face.

I was so fed up that I just tore the shirt off. So then I was in bike shorts, which, like Spanx, only stay down on your thighs if you don’t have any thigh fat to worry about anyway, which were constantly riding up, and a sports bra. Thank goodness it was this really adorable Panache one, because other sports bras I own look like granny bras.

So there I was, with my cellulite-y thighs, uneven shorts, cute bra where my nipples were showing through even though it was ONE MILLION DEGREES IN THERE, and with all my belly rolls for people to see.

pexels-photo

Yoga is supposed to be meditational, about pushing thoughts aside and just focusing on your practice, but how can it be when there is a person with cellulite in the room with you? And with rolls all over her torso? People who have muffin tops are not entitled to wear skimpy outfits, even when it is, again, ONE MILLION DEGREES in the room and there is so much sweat dripping into your eyes you think your contact lenses will fall out.

I kept staring into the mirror, being kind of disgusted with myself, trying to figure out where in the world people were getting this idea that I was ripped or something. And also I was trying to make my body do the things that the instructor was telling us to do, and it’s easier to do that when you have visual feedback.  I couldn’t see it.

But at the same time, I could. Because if I were truly so disgusted with myself, I would never have taken my shirt off. I never would have worn those shorts. A year or two ago, I would have worn a parka into that room and stayed the whole class, even if I fainted, rather than admit defeat or show people my body. Today I said, “fuck it. My body is doing this thing and I’m going to make it as bearable as possible, and that means only wearing this small amount of clothing.”

Do I have any idea what people were thinking? I kept telling myself I did, but no, I didn’t really. Probably no one cared. Probably because I was managing to keep up with the class, the guy next to me that I could have sworn was judging my fat rolls was probably thinking, “damn, she can balance on her leg for longer than I can.” Or maybe he was thinking about his own leg. Or his cat. Or what he was going to eat for dinner. I don’t care. So why would I think he cared so much about me to do anywhere near the level of analysis I was already throwing at myself?

I got through the class. It was actually the best hot yoga class I’ve ever been to, I think. And I will never not wear that type of outfit again. Fuck shirts. This is my body and this is what’s comfortable and also now I’ll have less laundry to do.

It’s been amazing to become a fitness instructor and realize that people respond to a lot more things than just appearance. Confidence is one. I’m not a particularly confident person in this sense, but I do put on a pretty good sense of authority and “I’ve got this”ness. Qualifications are another. I have five fitness certifications. How many do you have, random person taking my class? Being in the front of the room and knowing that people know that you’re getting paid to be there is another.

We respond to social cues. I thought every fitness teacher I ever had for years had the perfect, most unattainable body and spent a lot of time thinking about how there was no point in trying to be fit when I was never going to look like that. I’m thankful I made it over that bridge, and now sometimes I wonder (in the most complimentary, you-inspired-me kind of way) whether my instructors really had these Barbie doll bodies or if I was just seeing that because I was supposed to see someone powerful leading the class.******* And now that I’m the one at the front of the class, are people projecting onto me?

I know I am a different size and shape now than I was a year ago, though by no numbers or photos would you see any sort of Biggest Loser transformation on me. The pounds are the same. The clothes fit a little bit differently. Mainly it’s just that I feel fucking powerful and I don’t get tired doing activities that used to instantly exhaust me. So I wonder if that’s what people are seeing, not the “solid” thighs – which bounce. I promise. I punch them regularly and they jiggle. I haven’t had a thigh gap since I started college, and that was just one really awesome week.

tl;dr: enviable bodies are in the eye of the beholder, blah blah blah. If you are the type of person who tries to hide their body in baggy pants and old cotton things that don’t let you breathe when you exercise, I implore you to purchase clothes that fit properly and are designed for exercise. When I started wearing legging-type garments, which I now do almost exclusively, my posture changed. I felt better. I worked harder. And I started seeing my body for the powerful thing it is, not the sack I had let myself believe it was because I didn’t fit some bullshit societal mold.

I realize it’s incredibly unfair to write about my breakthrough without posting a selfie, but I’m not good at selfies and also I’m wearing a really unattractive (sartorially speaking) sleep bra as I write this, so some other time, promise.

*it’s partly what it’s about, but it’s really not that simple
**Unless you are really wealthy, I guess? But those of us who don’t have lots of money think about it a lot, or at least I do. I cannot really afford all the different groupons and deals I’ve been purchasing to try different fitness studios, but I keep doing them.
***I think the youngest person who takes my class is 50, and that’s why it’s my favorite class to teach – they’re all awesome and they think I’m adorable and silly and probably hopeless but in a sweet, harmless way
****the number 1 reason being my boss told me not to wear a suit and not to go in the water, but I’m not sad about that all the time
*****and then teach me your ways, o wise one
******and that class takes place in a pretty dark room with women of wildly varying body types and that’s why I feel safe there
*******You should be well aware that I am all aboard the Health At Every Size train, but this essay is about western beauty and body standards and how internalized they are, you feel me?

may’s links worth reading

Happy last day of the month! Here is some stuff I read this month that I think you should read, too.

It’s the vague talk of toxins that reminds doctors of leeches.

“Juicing” is basically bullshit, but if you like juice, that’s still great for your health, says NYT.

Despite spending billions of dollars on weight-loss drugs and dieting programs, even the most motivated are working against their own biology.

Coming to understand that my body has a weight it likes, and that it’s better to judge your health and fitness by any of about a million other markers rather than weight, has changed my life. If you’re not converted yet, maybe this article will help.

In its early days, Runner’s World wasn’t in the weight-loss game—perhaps because runners in the 1960s were mostly wispy men with little to gain from losing. But over time, slimming down became a big theme in our pages.

Runners’ World congratulates itself on how awesome they are at being positive at weight loss or something, and the weird prose makes me uncomfortable, but just looking at the pictures is an interesting basis for a sociological analysis you can do in your head.

Those who endorsed more of those false beliefs showed more bias and were less accurate in their treatment recommendations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain and race and gender lately ever since I finally got a diagnosis for my generalized crappiness disorder (aka fibromyalgia), and this article is really telling.

When doctors actually asked women if they wanted to have these fake periods, many said they didn’t.

This. I don’t have endometriosis, or at least I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I have had unwieldy, incredibly long lasting and incredibly heavy periods since whatever point of puberty where you start to have regular ones, so a year after you start or something? Whatever. Point is, as the really good comments section illustrates (I really want you to read it even more than the article), women’s experiences matter, and also, evolution designed us to have babies roughly every year from age 12 to 52, thus NOT MENSTRUATING, so the idea of having a billion periods just because you cannot or choose not to have children is absurd.

fitness for bibliophiles: the henry and clare

“I won’t ever leave you,” she says. “Even though you’re always leaving me.”
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The driving tension of The Time Traveler’s Wife is the alternating POV chapters – which don’t just alternate POV but also times. Henry and Clare, destined to be soulmates, are always meeting when she’s too young, then Henry is disappearing whenever they’re trying to work on their marriage, and then the babies Clare is pregnant with time travel out of her body and she miscarries, and now I’m just making you sad, but you see my point? They’re always in each other’s lives, but they’re never in the right place at the right time.

So. Let’s say you are the type of person who needs accountability and companionship to commit to going to the gym. Or, alternatively, you have already committed but you also happen to like having a gym buddy. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to get ideas for workouts, so here is how you’re going to get your fitness on, Henry and Clare-style.

Scope out the floor of your gym and identify some machines or free items that you want, like kettlebells or various weight machines, as well as a little bit of space for body weight exercises. Discuss ahead of time what specific activities you’re going to do, and pick at least four (so, for example, bicep-curl-to-press with dumbbells, the adductor/abductor machines, wall sit, kettlebell deadlift – and we’re going to call them “stations”). Have your eye on the clock or get a watch or use your fancy pocket telephone computer, whatever. Just be able to regularly see 60 seconds passing.

Now (you already warmed up in this scenario). One of you starts at a station, and the other stays near enough that you can converse and encourage each other. At the start of the minute, one of you does the station, the other does a cardio interval. If it’s convenient to you, you might try hopping on an elliptical or treadmill, but otherwise you can run in place or do jumping jacks. Grab a jumprope, maybe. Just get your heart rate up.

At the end of the minute, switch places. No break.

Then you switch again, but on station 2. One minute, one minute. Move on, no break.

Lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve gotten through each of your stations (that is, each person has done each station and each corresponding cardio interval). With four stations, that’s eight minutes. After you’ve finished, get a sip of water, towel off, and then do it again. Another sip of water, wipe the sweat off your brow, and then do it one more time. That will take you to around 30 minutes, including your warmup and cooldown/stretches, obviously more if you’ve worked in more stations. Even if you only do it twice, it’s high intensity interval training, which means you’re working hard, improving your cardiovascular function, and getting stronger. Congratulations: you win! Henry and Clare did not, but that’s their problem, not yours.

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i mudded! again!

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.19.22 PMTwo Saturdays ago, April 30, I did a 10K mud run – for the second time.

I never could have anticipated I’d become any sort of fitness person. I hated physical activity as a kid unless it was riding my bicycle*, I couldn’t breathe**, and I was afraid of the ball in all sports that required them. But I guess I have always enjoyed climbing on things, because learning to rappel off a mountain in eighth grade was pretty great, and high ropes course was infinitely superior to low ropes course, because it was all me and all climby fun stuff, none of that bullshit team building crap. So when I first heard about the Tough Mudder, I secretly thought it sounded cool, even though I outwardly  scorned it for being ridiculous.

It is ridiculous. Mud runs are ridiculous. And I would never do one. Certainly never a Tough Mudder.

I have a penchant for signing up for things I have explicitly and recently stated I have no interest in. So last October, mainly because I wanted to make new friends, I did a 10K Terrain Race at Old Tucson Studios. I did make new friends (two cycling teachers from the gym where I work), and I had a great time. One of the girls I ran with, who is also a PE teacher, told me that even though I didn’t run at all, all the cycling I did would actually make me a more competent (in terms of endurance, not actual form) runner than I’d thought, and she was right.

So I figured sure, why not do the run again.

It was way, way harder this time. I forgot until moving back to Tucson that I have the worst allergies in the world, since in Boston and the Bay Area I did not. I cannot breathe in the spring out here. I had to stop for walking breaks so many times, which was a bummer because I have gone practice running like four times since the last time I did the 10K, and whenever it’s a real race I need a walking break, but when it’s just running to run, I don’t. I thought I had broken down that wall, but clearly there’s something to competition (and, probably, pacing myself) that I have not cracked yet.

That said, though, I got through it. And it’s partly because of a thing I’ve done as long as I can remember but only recently learned the name for – defensive pessimism. It’s what happens when you, like me, tell yourself the plane is going to crash when you’re going through takeoff. Or when you determine that if you don’t finish a thing, you’re going to quit (I’ve done that with my novel, and I’ve yet to finish it but also yet to quit altogether). Where I learned it was an anecdote about one of those people who tried to swim the Arctic because apparently an Ironman or something is for losers. He was feeling like he had nothing left to give and told himself over and over just how many miles down he would sink, just how cold he would be as he died, and said that to himself over and over again as he….finished the swim. So I spent the race telling myself I could just quit at the 5K split and call it a day. And then my friend and I got there (I’m 100% sure that this race, which had numerous logistical failures this time around, actually had it split into about 7K and 10K, but that’s another story) and she asked if I wanted to do that because she could see I was struggling, and I said no. And I did lots more walking breaks and forewent more obstacles than I’d planned to, but I finished it.

I finished. I did not check my time and I’m sure it was a shameful one, but I don’t care. It wasn’t a race for me. It was just a thing I did, and I finished, and defensive pessimism got me through it. The end.

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*not all that surprising that indoor cycling was my first certification and my favorite class most of the time

**nope, not asthma. Vocal cord dysfunction!

review: the first 20 minutes

Okay, I get it. You are maybe not a weirdo like me and thus do not want to read stuff that is super heavy on the exercise science. BUT you are also a person who respects the scientific process. Awesome! The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer is a book you’ll want to pick up. Here’s why:

First, take a look at the author’s qualifications. Gretchen Reynolds is a long-time columnist for The New York Times, arguably the most respected newspaper in the country. Reporters, as you might know, are trained (at least we hope) in doing their homework, fact checking (or, at least, sending someone else to fact check), and coming at things from multiple perspectives. People who take time on things are usually more convincing people than those who do not. Good author? Check. Extra points because she’s chatty and super engaging and occasionally funny.

The book is organized as a glorified FAQ to exercise, basically. That makes it incredibly readable, even if you, unlike me, do not like reading science books cover to cover. You can skip around to chapters that interest you and learn, in very easy prose, summaries on the latest studies in exercise science so that you know that HIIT is actually worthwhile and produces results, that running actually does NOT ruin your knees, and that regular engagement in fitness will indeed keep you from aging before your time.

If this book has a flaw, it’s that Reynolds does have the underlying assumption that the only reason anyone cares about fitness is because they care about weight loss. She often ends sections with a bit of self-deprecating snark, which I can absolutely appreciate, but that snark holds some derision about fat people and fatness. She doesn’t really get down to a lot of the whole “skinny fat” or HAES movement.

But if you have questions about random fitness things and don’t want to have to flip through every back issue of SELF to see if they were answered? This book. This book. Good stuff. Definitely pick up the paperback for keeps and make notes in it.

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