14 Nov

Nudity at a Japanese Onsen

An onsen is a hot spring that is used for communal bathing in Japan. Sometimes the water is pumped indoors at an inn, sometimes they’re natural outdoor springs, but regardless they are very popular among the Japanese. The Japanese love their onsen.

I discovered that, as with all things in Japan, there is a strict set of rules to follow for communal bathing in Japan that is nearly ritualistic to keep the bathing experience pure. The bath is for soaking, not for cleaning and thus. . .

-You must wash your body and your hair before entering the onsen and rinse thoroughly.
-You must not bring a wash cloth into the onsen.
-You must not use soap in the onsen.
-No splashing please!
-Bathing in any sort of swimsuit or clothing is frowned upon. Yes, that means naked.

Paul Cezanne - Large Bathers

I was cautious not to knowingly defy any rules while vacationing in Japan, because I respect their culture of obedience and conformity for the greater good.

But I badly needed to clean off the sweat and dirt from walking in the scorching temperatures all day, and communal bathing was the only option. . .

. . .thus, off went my clothes.

I’d love to say something romantic like “as I let my yukata fall to my feet to expose my body, I was immediately liberated” but, let’s be honest, I was way out of my comfort zone.

I started out by quickly showering myself next to a foreign girl wearing a bikini that made her look out of place. Then I joined the group of women in the bath, all of us nude.

I was more self conscious about etiquette than about my body with a million questions running through my head:

Am I doing this right? Should I tie my hair back? Can I make wrapping my arms around my chest to cover my boobs look natural? If I just stare down at the water does it look like I’m staring at the other women’s ladyparts?

But the women were very pleasant and welcoming and deeply engaged in a natural conversation. No one appeared to be uncomfortable so I tried my best to let my apprehension wash away with the water.

There is a saying in Japan, hadaka no tsukiai, which means ‘naked friendship’ that refers to both the literal nakedness as well as philosophically stripping away of formalities which provides an openness that allows people to get to know each other a little deeper.

That’s not the type of thing that exists here in the West. Here, physical nakedness tends to make us feel exposed in a way that makes us want to stay anonymous, hide our personality, and keep to ourselves. As I mentioned in my last post about spa nudity, the veil of anonymity is powerful. Nudity doesn’t bring us together, it drives us apart. It comes with shame and discomfort and even embarrassment.

It all makes me question, once again, how it has come to be this way?

Are we afraid that our bodies aren’t quite right because they don’t look like the images of bodies that we see in print and on screen? Are we afraid of being judged for our appearance? Are we ashamed?

When we feel that we need to cover up the implication is to immediately associate nudity with shame. The implication is to make us uncomfortable being naked, even among those of us that are normally confident with our bodies.

I’d love it if we could all take a page from the Japanese’s book and be open to the concept that communal bathing can strengthen our sense of sorority with other women, be one more place where we can socialize and get to know each other, and make us feel more comfortable in our bodies (not less).

14 Nov

You Look Like You’ve Lost Weight!

you've lost weight

This week at the gym I was a bit startled when someone stopped me on my way to the water fountain for this conversation:

Guy: You look like you’ve lost weight!

Me: Uh..what?

Guy: You lost weight, haven’t you?

Okay, Sam, what do you say to this guy? You’ve lost weight since when exactly? I mean, yeah, you lost some weight from Yoga Teacher Training that you haven’t exactly gained back but that was a while ago. You actually look kind of bloated today; you’ve looked slimmer before today. Maybe it’s just this tight tank top you’re wearing?
. . . Just think of something. Say words, any words. . .
But you’re not even
trying to lose weight. You don’t want him to think that every girl who works out is trying to be a size 0, do you?
. . .Shit, just say something. . .

Me: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really weigh myself.

You liar.

Guy: Well, I’ve seen you working out pretty hard the last few years and you look like you’ve lost some weight. You look great! Keep it up!

Few years?! You’ve definitely put on nearly 20lbs in the last few years (Remember the 147lb bikini me? Now you’re closer to 170lb). But your clothes fit just as well so maybe a lot of that mass was muscle. Maybe you do look like you’ve lost weight.

…but wait a minute! You looked pretty great a few years ago too. Or so you thought. So, what’s this guy saying? You looked like shit all the while?

Couldn’t he have just said “You’re working out hard! Keep it up!” instead?

Me: Thanks! Have a great workout!!

I really do feel confused about the whole experience. I know the guy was trying to pay me a compliment and I love that he acknowledged my tough workouts (because, I tell you what, they are damn tough) however, I think it’s generally NOT a good idea to bring up someone’s weight loss at all, unless they mention it first.

A comparison between my body, past and present, can be a bit hard to take. I quite liked my body ‘then’ even if it (unbeknownst to me until Guy pointed it out) didn’t look as good as it does now. It feels offensive, as if I’m somehow better now than I was in a chubbier body.

And of course, if I happen to regain my fat and look the way I did a few year ago. . . then what? Am I going to go into a downward emotional spiral, thinking badly about my body because it doesn’t look as good as it once did, according to some random Guy’s opinion?

In the end I know Guy had the best of intentions and I’m going to walk away feeling positive about the experience.

That said, I would like to get the message out that there are other ways to pay someone a compliment than to focus on their size. Body size varies a lot through someone’s life and when you put value on a certain appearance, then the inevitable fluctuations in weight can be much harder, emotionally, for that person to bear.

01 Aug

Stop telling your daughter she’s fat

This is my plea to all mothers (and fathers too, but usually it’s the mothers): please stop telling your daughter she needs to lose weight.

Fat & Sassy

(source: PonyBoy Press Etsy Shop)

Your daughter is fat. This is a fact. Maybe she’s always been this way or maybe not. Regardless, your daughter knows she is fat. She can look down and see her own body. She can feel her softness, her fleshiness. She can see herself in the mirror. The fact that she is fat is not lost on her and she doesn’t need you to remind her.

Your daughter lives in the same fatphobic, war-on-obesity, body shaming, fatty bullying Western world that you do. She reads the same magazines, sees the same advertisements, and converses with the same type of people that you do. So, no, she’s not oblivious to the fact that our culture stigmatizes fat bodies. Your daughter is fully aware that her body shape condemns her to being ‘undesirable’, ‘lazy’, ‘unhealthy’, and all those other negative stereotypes that come with being a fat chick. The last place that she needs to hear this message is at home.

So please moms, stop putting so much emphasis on your daughter’s size, something that is meaningless when it comes to living a meaningful life.

Please don’t veil your concern for her aesthetics as a concern for her health. Deep down, you know that her size is irrelevant and that she can be healthy in a body that is big or small. (Just look at all the different body shapes of Olympic athletes!) Encouraging her to lose weight (rather than, say, implement  healthy lifestyle behaviours) is about aesthetics not health and it just reinforces the bogus idea that fat=unfit.

And please, don’t root your own self-worth in the appearance of your daughter. The fact that she is fat doesn’t reflect poorly on you or make you a failure as a parent. Chances are you raised a good person who will find success and happiness in her life and make you proud as a result. Does it really matter what size her jeans are as she does it?

Every single day your daughter feels all kinds of pressures to lose weight and be thin. As a woman you know just how hard it can be to cope with fat shaming messages that you’re not good enough because you aren’t thin & fit and that your fat body is somehow wrong. It’s very, very damaging.

You have the chance to be your daughter’s biggest advocate here. You have the opportunity to cultivate an environment that doesn’t disparage her for being fat but encourages her to derive meaning from her capabilities (and to take pride in them!) regardless of what her body shape happens to be at the moment. But first you have to end the discussion about losing weight.

 


I wrote this because I’ve started to notice a number of women my age mention, sometimes blatantly and sometimes subtly, that their moms are giving them a hard time about their weight. This makes me sad because if your mom isn’t on your side, then who is?

22 Jun

Girls and Lena Dunham’s Body

I really like the show Girls on HBO. Does anyone watch it? It started out hilarious and slowly got less and less funny throughout the season. I find most of the characters annoying and frustrating. I was hoping for something like Sex and the City, but it’s nothing like that at all.

And yet I keep watching it.

One reason: seeing Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) naked or half naked. A lot.

That’s probably really weird to say. But seriously.

Lena Dunham isn’t terribly fat. Her body is imperfect, so basically she looks completely normal, like most of the women I know, and not at all like the stereotypical ‘perfect’ Hollywood body that we’re exposed to.

So, yay! We’re making progress here. It’s a chance for the people to see a naked woman who doesn’t fit the media standard of bodily perfection, isn’t photoshopped or airbrushed, and who looks completely natural.We hardly see women naked any more in general and now someone who doens’t fit the hits our small screen. That’s impressive.

But the best thing is that the show isn’t about her body. The plot line doesn’t revolve around her appearance or size as some sort of obstacle she has to overcome in finding love, finding a career, or having a social life (she has plenty of other problems that interfere with those life goals). Her appearance is also not a novelty either. She’s not playing the typical ‘token fat girl’ binge eating her self image sorrows, or the ugly duckling who was never actually ugly to begin with but just needed a new outfit to snag the hottest guy in school. The show is a normal girl with normal girl problems.

I think it’s pretty refreshing to be able to see on television not just a show starring a woman with a body that’s outside the Hollywood ideal (we’ve seen that with Mike & Molly), but also not revolving the whole story around her appearance.

So even though I don’t always love the storyline, and I think the main characters make terrible life decisions, and the male lead character (Adam) drives me bananas, I still watch the show because I think it is doing great things for women’s body image.

The point being: your life doesn’t have to revolve around your flaws.

12 Jun

Women and Nudity and the Awkwardness of it All

When I was thinking up some things to do for my get together with girlfriends in Toronto two weekends ago I immediately thought: spa.

Last summer I went on vacation to Tobermory and Collingwood. My sister, friend, and I decided to go to Le Scandinave one afternoon. I had read about it and heard good things and even though sitting around and doing nothing all afternoon is the bane of my existence (I always want to be doing something) I was willing to try it out.

The premise is 15 minutes in a heat source (steam room, dry sauna, or jacuzzi) followed by a plunge into a 60*F cold pool, followed by 15 minutes of lounging in a hammock or muskoka chair by a crackling fire. Then repeat as many times as desired.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this water treatment was responsible for making me feel the best I have ever felt in my life. Honestly, I still dream about it sometimes and I always crave going back and feeling that good again.

Of course when I googled “water spa Toronto” and came up with Body Blitz Spa I was more than excited to offer the idea to my girlfriends, so I e-mailed them my suggestion.

Are you fucking crazy? I’m not going to no naked spa! (or something to that effect) was the response from one of my friends.

I didn’t even notice that the spa is “bathing suit optional”, but I hardly cared since it’s a women’s only facility. People walk around the change room at the gym naked all the time, it’s not really a big deal. And besides, it’s not as if the place is “nudity required”.

Today I read an editorial in the Globe and Mail about this very spa, and more specifically about the nudity (or lack thereof). The writer and the naked spa-goers that she interviewed labelled the swimsuit clad twenty-somethings who frequent the place as prudes whose self-esteem is too vulnerable to allow their imperfect bodies to be seen by others.

“For their mothers, nude bathing was empowering; for them, it’s objectifying.”

Is it true? Are we really prudes?

I’ll admit that had I gone with my friends to Body Blitz I would not have bathed naked. Maybe because I know they wouldn’t done it have either, but mostly because I think it would be awkward to be naked around people I know and try to ignore the obvious. “Hello! Here are all those parts of me you’ve never seen before.”

Had I gone to the spa alone, it would have been a different story. I like to get the full experience of anything that I try. And plus I get undressed in the gym changing room all the time in front of women I don’t know, and I don’t think twice about it. The veil of anonymity is a powerful tool.

This whole thing got me thinking about females and nudity, in spas, in change rooms, and in locker room showers. The more effort we put into covering up our imperfections by hiding our bodies from other women then the less real, unaltered images of female bodies we are exposed to. Where else can we see real boobs and thighs and bellies on women who don’t pose for magazines or red carpet photo-ops? Do we even know what real women look like anymore?

If we were a bit more open to the idea of nudity then maybe it would be better for all of our self confidence, and our comfort with our bodies.

16 Mar

Black Women are Heavier and Happier

(source)
“F.A.T. means fabulous and thick, full and tasty, fluffy and tender.” – Mo’nique

There was an article last month from the Washington Post which amazed me. In it the writer discusses a poll that indicated black women are heavier and happier with their bodies than white women.

First, I should mention that I was a bit deterred by the inevitable attention drawn to the fear that these happy black women are “on the slippery slope toward higher rates of obesity”. This point, in a way, equates having a negative body image with having a healthy BMI– as if hating your body fat will somehow make you healthier; if this were true I would have been the fittest teenage girl in my high school.

Another contention with the article was the Washington-area personal trainer quoted as saying “Every white woman who wants to work out and train wants to be petite, petite, no curves, no hips, no butt, nothing, just toned.” Dude, please make less broad-sweeping statements.

Last time I checked, I was a white woman. And last time I checked my 42″ derrière in the mirror (which was exactly 15 minutes ago, btw) I thought it was awesome and I may or may not have nodded in approval. And I can’t be the only one, right?

*crickets*

Moving on.

I did however think the main message of the article was powerful.

“[Black women] report having appreciably higher levels of self-esteem. Although 41 percent of average-sized or thin white women report having high self-esteem, that figure was 66 percent among black women considered by government standards to be overweight or obese.”

I’ll pause while you read that again.

So while normal-sized white chicks are flipping through fashion mags while hating themselves for not being quite thin enough, their full-figured black counterparts are loving life and their bodies.

The article is a clear example of how beauty standards are defined by culture.

Since the portrayal of black women in the mainstream media has historically been suppressed, they don’t have a media image with which to identify in the way that white women do. Their definition of beauty has been established in their own communities instead and they clearly have been better off for it. Their definition of beauty isn’t based on the number of the scale, but on things like style, carriage, and confidence.

In reading through the quotes from the women interviewed I was impressed by their clear sense of self. Their beauty wasn’t defined by some standard image but instead by their adherence to the identity they carved for themselves. This is something I aspire to.

In the white world, this it’s virtually revolutionary. Think about it: A plus-sized black woman who defines herself as beautiful is just that, a beautiful women, while in white culture she would be a woman taking a stand.

I’ll leave you with this quote from plus-sized personal trainer Michelle Gibson: “I can never be mad at this thin person. I say, ‘You’re sexy, you’ve got it going on. But don’t think for one minute that I don’t feel the same about myself.’ ”

I’d like to take a page from her book.

26 Jan

2012 Weight Goals

I haven’t been weighing myself much lately. I checked my weight and measurements (waist and hip) before I started marathon training in September and sporadically throughout my training to make sure that I wasn’t over or under eating for the amount of exercise I was getting. I wanted my weight to stay consistent and it did. I hovered around 165lbs, give or take 2 pounds, for the entire 4 months (yes, I do know how much more 165lb is than 147lb)

I have been paying close attention to how my pants fit and while marathon training I found that they were feeling pretty damn tight around the waist (the first place on my body where weight starts to creep on). Since my weight was consistent I wasn’t too concerned though I was, quite frankly, uncomfortable. And I felt a bit schlumpy (<– not a real word, but you catch my drift).

I went straight back to weightlifting after the marathon with this workout and have been at it for almost 3 weeks now. Nothing makes me feel better than pushing some weight around (except maybe kicking teenage boys in the balls, but that’s another story) so I was happy to turn my focus to that instead of running.

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling awesome again. Last week I noticed that felt lighter and tighter and generally mahvelous.

My tight pants were fitting better which made my 8-hours-sitting-on-your-ass job more comfy. I checked my measurements right away because I like the validation:

Waist size – down a 2 centimeters (I knew it!)
Hip size – stayed the same (perfect! I like big butts and I cannot lie)
Weight – up 3 pounds (yes! . . .wait, I mean no! what? up 3lbs?!?
say wha??)

I freaked out for about a second and a half, asking the scale if he was fucking kidding me. Didn’t he see my measurements!? Didn’t he know that I wasn’t stuffed like a sausage in my pants today?!

Then I told him to go to hell once again, because he lies and can’t be trusted.

I felt good and I looked good and that was good enough for me.

I’m really coming around and starting to realize that my weight has little to do with how I feel about myself and my body confidence.

So I’m going to focus on more important weight goals this year ie. how much weight I can push around.


2012 Beast Mode Goals

To be completed at some point by the end of the year

Back Squats: 225lb (as deep as I can go with my tight shins)

Bench Press: my body weight

Pull Ups: 5 unassisted

Push-Ups: 100 consecutive

Right now I’m adding a lot more push-ups into my training plan to complete the push-up goal, and generally trying to build back any of the strength I lost during marathon training.

16 Jan

Ditching Dieting

“The diet industry is the most successful failed business in the world”

According to The Guardian the British parliament hosted a discussion centred around the causes of body image anxiety that pervades the UK right now.

A group that campaigns against body anxiety known as Endangered Bodies took to parliament to demonstrate the negative impact that dieting and the dieting industry has on the mental health and physical health of Britons, particularly women.

And it’s true. Living a healthy lifestyle is important, but it has to be through achievable means and established within realistic limitations. The diet industry goes beyond that however and has us restricting ourselves with unsustainable diets to meet body image ideals that are entirely unrealistic. It’s damaging to our mental health and can even be traumatic.

Think about it.

You see the promotions for this new diet that promises to make you lose that unwanted belly fat in just a few weeks.
And suddenly you realize that compared to that perfectly toned woman in the ad you have the stomach of Santa Claus.
You probably need to lose belly fat too. No, no, you definitely need to lose it.
Before you know it you’ve swapped your your husband’s famous buttermilk pancakes for egg white and steamed broccoli
and you’re cancelling dinners with friends because there’s nothing at the restaurant for you to eat.
And you still don’t look like the woman in the ad.
Now you feel like a complete failure. Why can’t you do it? Why can’t you just be strong and follow a diet and have a model’s body? What’s wrong with you?
Now you’re upset with yourself and you give up and start eating even more unhealthy than you did before you started this stupid diet. Why not? You’re doomed to be fat and ugly anyway, right?
. . . then you see promotions for a new fangled diet . . .

and so it goes.

Diets screw with our brains and our bodies. Whereas once we used to be able to eat intuitively when we were hungry or craving something, now we have to refrain from giving into these cues otherwise we become failures. It stresses us out and makes us lose confidence in ourselves when none of it, none of it, is our fault. In the end it leads to a cycle of dieting and gaining weight that is unhealthy to our bodies, causes traumatic body image anxiety, and makes us miserable.

Even though I can run a marathon and a 24 minute 5K and I can squat more than a lot of guys at the gym and I can climb mountains, I still feel like the unhealthiest of sloths if I give into my food cravings. I still struggle with my body confidence almost daily. My body image is much better than it used to be, but I’m still working on it.

Awareness is the first and most important step in generating momentum for a movement to alter ideals ingrained in society like body image anxiety. I applaud the British parliament to opening the doors for discussion on this important topic and Endangered Bodies for building awareness of the harms of the diet industry.

It’s time to stop the dieting.

08 Dec

H&M Takes Photoshop to the Extreme

I hardly read women’s magazines anymore. I don’t like looking at their images of women. No matter how fully I comprehend that the women in the pictures are photoshopped (sometimes horrifically) to ensure that they have no pores, no bellies, no wrinkles, and no cellulite—to ensure they are flawless—seeing them always makes me conscious of my own large pores and of my pudgy middle. Of all of my flaws, really. Flaws that I might not have otherwise considered to be imperfections had the ad not pointed out to me.

Curiously, after reading magazines I end up wanting to go out and buy some magical pore reducing serum.

I don’t like looking at these types of ads because they work. They’re made to make me feel insecure about myself just to sell me a product to correct some flaw that they invented. I usually don’t end up buying the products, but I do buy into the idea that my appearance is somehow not good enough.

But I don’t even know what to make of this news that H&M is using completely computer generated images of women’s bodies as its lingerie “models”.

They’re not real women. And I don’t mean that in the “Real Women Have Curves” sort of way. No. These bodies are literally not real. They’re generated by a computer to be the ideal figure of a woman and then the head’s of real gorgeous women are pasted on top.

h&m
(source)

This is happening, folks.

I’d like to say that knowing this would make it easier to push our self-consciousness aside when looking at advertisements of women, but as with photoshopped images, I believe that we’ll still be looking at these computer-generated women and saying “I wish I looked like that.”

Has it gotten so bad that advertisers can’t even find models with both the looks and the body to hock their wares? This does not bode well for the female psyche when even models, who are understood to have some of the most desirable figures in our culture, aren’t good enough.

I won’t buy lingerie from H&M and not just because I find it hard to find anything I like in that store, or because the company has succumbed to the lowest of the low in the world of women’s body image, but primarily because knowing that their lingerie only fits a computer-generated body I can’t image that it is tailored well enough to fit a real woman’s body, like my own.

19 Jul

Why hating your body is futile

woman in mirror

I’d venture to say that most of us overweight women are not happy with our bodies. Images of glamorous women praised for their ability to hide behind a matchstick are unavoidable. As are the advertisements for weight loss regimes and rapid weight loss schemes. I’m not thin enough! I get it. Enough already.

We’re suffering from some serious anxiety issues. No wonder we’re all on prozac or self-medicating with pints of Haagen Dazs and retracting to unhealthy lifestyles. We’ll never be good enough anyway.

But what if you learn to accept who you are and what you’re capable of? What if you learned what triggers your eating and how to deal with it? What if you started to believe that you were beautiful? Would it help you become a healthier person?

Researchers at the Technical University of Lisbon say yes.

So there’s this study that they did says that hating your body is futile.

Well, okay, so it doesn’t say that exactly but that’s what it implies. If you’re a large and in charge woman you’d best be putting down them diet books and swapping ‘em for some body love mantras because that’ll get you to shed more pounds.

Overweight women were enrolled in a weight loss program for a year.The control group was given “general health information about good nutrition, stress management, and the importance of looking after yourself,” while the treatment group attended “30 weekly group sessions where issues such as exercise, emotional eating, improving body image and the recognition of, and how to overcome, personal barriers to weight loss and lapses from the diet were discussed.”

The study found the women on the body love plan lost more weight over the year than the control group– 7% compared to 2% of their start weight.

woman in the mirror(source: etsy)

The results aren’t that surprising though.

I mean, we’re overweight women, we’re not ignorami. We don’t sit down to a meal of potato chips, deep fried chicken, and a pint of ice cream and think we’re eating healthy. We don’t binge in the middle of the night when there’s no one around because we think it’ll help us shed a few pounds.

It takes a lot more work to recognize why I want to eat yet another cookie than it does to list off nutritional information about why it’s bad for me. Maybe I want the cookie because I’m bored, or maybe because my body is craving sugar, or maybe it’s because I think I look like shit anyway, so I might as well indulge in something that will make me happy.

I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I know when my behaviours and eating habits aren’t healthy but I often don’t really understand why I am doing them.

So maybe we should shelve our diet books for good and start learning more about ourselves than what’s on our plate. …maybe we’ll end up looking better in the end anyway.