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).

reading running culture

Nothing is real unless I’ve read a book about it. So when I woke up in early January of 2014 and had this random thought that I wanted to run a 5K, I still didn’t really want to run it until I read a book about how to run. There are many ways to learn, from kinesthetic to aural and on and on, but with many things, I can’t really comprehend their relationship to my own life or my self unless I read it.

So I did one audiobook and one print book (plus an issue of Runner’s World), and then I talked to two of the fitness teachers at the school I worked at for advice. THEN I cross trained and only actually trained like three times, and then I ran (with a little walking) the 5K. Aside from trying to catch the train a few times, I didn’t run again until a Precision Running class at Equinox more than a year later. And I only went to that once until I ended up moving back to Arizona, where there is no Equinox because we don’t get fancy stuff until they’re not trendy anymore.

I don’t like running. I find it boring, even though I’ve tried it inside and outside, even though I’ve done it with television, with a podcast, with music, and with nothing extraneous at all. I don’t like it.

After I did the 5K and the Precision Running class, I still didn’t run. Then I started working at LA Fitness and made two cycling instructor friends who convinced me to do a 10K obstacle course in October, which was a week away when they told me about it, and very expensive, so as soon as I signed up, I had to be committed. I thought I would be terrible, but it turns out that when you do cycling five times a week, you are actually somewhat prepared to do other cardiovascular activity without totally falling apart. Especially when a) every time it gets boring, you get to climb a thing or splash in a thing or throw a thing, and I like that type of stuff; and b) you’re running on dirt and sand in the desert instead of concrete or something horrible for your knees. It was a blast.

Then I stopped running again. But I have enough friends who run that I really wanted to break through and figure out why any of them liked it, so I kept considering taking it up. Runner’s high is a compelling idea, because as much as cycling (especially in Tucson because of weather) is a similarly intense, in-group subculture that makes you very fit, I never hear anyone talk about it in that sense. Running is free, apparently good for you, and can be done everywhere, so I think it’s a good skill to have in your back pocket. I slowly began to read more about running, as I am wont to do, and eventually found a copy of Women’s Running at the used bookstore and bought it.

That’s what did it for me. I really liked that it was a glossy, mainstream-looking magazine dedicated exclusively to women (really just cis women, and I will have another Saturday essay on the positive and negative aspects of women-only spaces that don’t acknowledge gender as a spectrum, so bear with me now. I’m a cis lady and I feel really safe in spaces that are dedicated to nurturing ME, but I know there is a host of problems with that). I found a discount code and immediately subscribed, and now I own three entire issues of it.

Behold 3 covers of the magazine

Behold

It’s not like there’s anything new to pointing out that mainstream women’s magazines really only put one type of woman in the cover, so this has really stood out to me. That image on the back right is of a girl who is Latina. On the left is the first one I received in the mail, and it’s a black woman who, upon closer inspection, is a co-star of Sleepy Hollow, a sci-fi show with two black women on it, which is its own amazing. And front and center is the latest issue, which has a fat girl on it.

I tweeted about this right away because I was so excited. It is really amazing. But looking at it more closely, it is important to note that it’s semi-progressive while still adhering to some cultural standards we have for bodies and people who are not white and slim. Left cover? Black. No mention of how she’s famous until you read the feature inside. Slim and wearing a crop top.

The fat cover? Clearly larger than most cover models, but also far from really fat, and she’s white. Because you can only be one marginalized thing according to culture, not two. Just as we erase queer people of color from discussions of gay rights or non-Latinx people from discussions of immigration or or or, these covers still only take down one stereotype at a time. And the fat cover, it’s important to notice, shouts that it’s aware that it’s a Fat Person Cover by putting in large words the fact that there is a feature article on body positivity and acceptance.

I am all for body positivity and acceptance, or else I wouldn’t be a (not fat, and I don’t want to appropriate, only be an ally, as well as unpack my own non-mainstream-society-conforming body parts) co-founder of a blog about size acceptance. But making it the reason for the cover model they chose is still situating it firmly in mainstream values and keeping it from being just another cover, in the same way that discussions of diversity still reinforce whiteness, heteronormativity, etc by avoiding discussions of privilege or use of the words “equity” and “justice.”

But still. Are these major milestones to celebrate? Fuck yeah. This magazine is what has made me go running for my own personal enjoyment twice in the last month and what has made the 30-minute treadmill portion of Orange Theory no thang. Do I like that a magazine like this is for everyone but also for me, rather than the majority of articles in, say, Runner’s World, which are for “people” and maybe for women? Again, fuck yeah.

So if you want to take up running or already do run but want a magazine, and you identify as a lady, this one should really be your choice.