28 Nov

Yes Means Yes: Why Affirmative Consent Matters

Here’s a little story to help people who have trouble understanding the importance of affirmative consent and why “No Means No” is not always enough.

Yes Means Yes

You’re in your front yard, doing some yard work (planting bulbs or trimming bushes or whatever it is you do) and your neighbour passes by on his way to the mailbox. You say hello.

Your neighbour takes your greeting as an invitation to stick around and chat, which is okay. He is a nice enough guy and you two have a cordial relationship.

After chatting about the weather and that local sports team, you get into some personal topics like what your relationship with your parents is like, the things on your bucket list, and your aspirations for your career.

You’re enjoying yourself and getting along well.

During a lull in your long and pleasant conversation, your neighbour takes advantage of friendliness, and says “It’s okay if I just pop into your house right?” as he opens your front door and lets himself into your home, leaving you standing on your front lawn with dirt under your fingernails and a look of confusion.

You don’t want him in there. Sure he was really nice to you, but you didn’t feel comfortable inviting him in. And, yeah, he asked if it was okay before he entered, but everything happened so fast that you barely had time to process it, let alone respond. He seems like a good guy, so he probably doesn’t have bad intentions but all the same you have a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Then, before you know it, your neighbour comes out your front door after rifling through your things and upsetting the balance of your home in a way that makes you feel uneasy.

“I really didn’t want you to go into my house. You shouldn’t have done that,” you finally find the nerve to say.

“Well, you didn’t say no,” he responds. He continues on his walk to the mailbox as if the whole situation were without consequence and leaves you to put back together the mess he just made inside your personal space.

This is why affirmative consent matters.
Yes Means Yes.

Consent is Sexy

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).

15 Oct

The Perfect Waist to Hip Ratio

I’m reading this really fascinating book right now called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain which explains, in simple English, all the things we know and don’t know about how the brain functions. It particularly focuses on how the brain works without our even being aware of it, and the importance of subconscious and instinctual functions to our existence as humans.

I’m only about 1/4 of the way through it but it is quite an interesting read.

One thing that jumped out at me was a chapter about beauty and how we are subconsciously attracted to people who display signs of sexual interest (ex. dilated pupils) or signs of fertility that are brought on by hormone changes (ex. full buttocks in women and broad shoulders in men).

Then there was this paragraph:

Our programs our so ingrained that there is little variation across the population. Researchers (as well as purveyors of pornography) have been able to discern a surprisingly narrow range for the female proportions that males find most attractive: the perfect ratios between the waist and hips usually resides between 0.67 and 0.8. The waist-to-hip ratios of Playboy centrefolds has remained at about 0.7 over time, even as their average weight has decreased. Women with a ratio in this range are not only judged by males to be more attractive, but are also presumed to be more healthy, humorous, and intelligent.

After reading this I promptly calculated my waist to hip ratio. And after calculating it I wondered why I bothered. On the surface I know that the number is irrelevant to my self worth and yet somewhere deeper down (perhaps in my subconscious) I was curious.

These photos were taken around this time last year. My measurements are nearly identical.

First, I felt relieved that my ratio was somewhere in the magic range and then immediately disappointed in myself for that relief. Because what if it were, like, 0.82? I probably would have been bummed out that my waist to hip ratio wasn’t statistically ideal. I probably would have frantically calculated it again just to be sure that, yes, in fact I was less attractive, healthy, humorous, and intelligent than a 0.7.

On the one hand, it’s sad that I still have these lingering feelings of tying my self-worth to physical appearance. But on the other hand, I probably would have stopped my train of thought right there. I probably would not have researched diets or workouts to get a bigger butt or smaller waist or whatever I needed for the ideal ratio. I probably would have told myself  that in the grand scheme of things, this is meaningless. I probably would have reminded myself of all my great traits both physical and not.  And I probably would not have let it get the best of me which I’d have done in the past.

I’ve come far in being comfortable with my body, but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me.

12 Sep

Getting Caught Up in the Visuals

Every Body is a Yoga BodyImage Source: Etsy – When Guinea Pigs Fly

Through countless images primarily depicting yoga as lithe white women in impossible contortions has come the prevailing idea that you need to have a certain body shape, skin colour, gender, or BMI to practice yoga. This idea needs push back.

Yoga is diverse enough to be accessible to every body, but we’re driving people away from continuing to practice or from even attempting it by making them feel unable to fit in in a yoga class and giving them the impression that they don’t belong here because they don’t look like a Yoga Journal cover model.

I’ve had so much positive feedback and commentary on my recent interview with Yoga Journal regarding yoga and body image because this is what people want to hear. They want to know that it’s okay for them to try yoga even if they can’t touch their toes. They want to know that they won’t feel like the odd one out if they have to modify a pose. They want to know that they won’t be judged for their body and its limitations. In other words, they want to feel safe.

In response to the interview, a reader sent me an e-mail saying
I am always amazed at how society gets caught up in the visuals in life and forgets to look at the whole picture”
100% true. We suffering to make ourselves look perfect even when ‘perfect’ feels pretty terrible. We are more afraid of appearing flawed than of losing out on some really great experiences that don’t uphold appearances. It’s shit, really.
And it’s something that even I struggle with. In fact, I think it is because I myself struggle with getting caught up in the visuals that I can understand why other people do too. In a yoga practice, I can motivate them to listen to their body and forget about aesthetics.
I’ll look at pictures or see yogis doing crazy poses and think ‘That looks so cool. I wish I could do that!’. I try it and fail, or I find it doesn’t feel quite as awesome as it looks. Then I struggle to let go of my ego and modify poses in a way that may not me the most attractive, that may not win me any praise, but in a way that feels pretty damn good.
From my failures and ‘imperfect’ poses I end up learning about the subtle idiosyncrasies of my body. It gives me this real connection as if my mind and body are in on a little secret that no one else will ever be able to experience. And that kind of intimacy feels better than anything else.
Cobbler
18 Jul

Overheard at the Gym

Overheard at the Gym

Transcription of a conversation that actually happened this week between an unrelated man and a woman weightlifting at the gym:

While doing incline bench press. . .

Dude: “How many sets do you have left?”

Chick: “2.”

Dude: “Mind if I work in with you? I’ll just warm up once you finish this set.”

Chick: “Sure.”

Dude: “I’ve seen you lifting some heavy weight before. Is this all you can do?” (referring to the 45lb bar)

Chick: Nervous laughter. “Yeah, that’s it.”

Dude: “You want to get the bar a little closer to your chin. It will give you more power.”

Chick: “Uh. . . okay. Thanks.” (editor’s note: her face did not say ‘thanks’)

Dude: “Did you tell me before that you were married?”

Chick: “Uhhh no? No. Not even close.”

Dude: “Oh, I thought that was you.”

. . .

While doing dumbbell bench press. . .

Dude: Goes over to Chick on the bench. “You want your elbows out a little more so they’re in line with your shoulders.” Touches her elbows to adjust them.

Chick: “Okay. Thanks.” (editor’s note: her face said ‘don’t fucking touch me’)

Dude: “I mean, you can do it with your elbows in a little. This is how I do it, with my elbows out.” Demonstrates what he’s talking about. “See. Like that.”

Meanwhile, I try to make eye contact with Dude so I can give him a look that says “Stop doing that. Really. Just stop.”

When Dude walks away to socialize with other gym rats . . .

I glance over and offer a look of “What the fuck?” to Chick and her face mirrors my own.

Chick: “Oh my god, he touched me!”

Me: Walk over to Chick so our conversation is not overheard. “What the hell was that about?”

Chick: “I don’t know, but he touched me.”

Me: “And ‘Is that all you can do?’ Is he for real?? That’s not cool. I hope he doesn’t come back.”

Chick: “I know. Thanks.”

Me and Chick proceed to bond over the struggle to build strength and how neither of us is athletic or can catch a ball if our life depended on it.

Here’s what’s wrong with this whole situation:

1) Unsolicited advice is never welcome at the gym. Don’t fix someone else’s form because if people wanted help they would hire a personal trainer. In this case, Chick’s form wasn’t even bad it was just different from Dude’s. But even if you see someone with absolutely atrocious form who you’re afraid is going to seriously injure themselves then just tell a personal trainer and they can choose whether or not to talk to that person.

2) If you can’t keep your mouth shut at least keep your advice hands-off. If someone wants a hands-on spotter, they will ask.

3) Never say “Is that all you can do?”. Ever. Especially to a woman who may feel self-conscious in the weight room and be struggling to feel comfortable there among heavy lifting men. And especially to a woman doing chest exercises which, in my own experience, is one of the hardest areas for women to build strength.

It’s moments like this that make me understand why the gym has women’s only rooms. And I now understand that he weights are lighter in these rooms because “that’s all we can do.”

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?

08 Jan

12 Months of 2012 – pt. 1

Yes, I’m still recapping my 2012.

It was a good year in that it wasn’t a bad year and sometimes that’s the best we can hope for, right?

You can read Part 2, July through December here.

January

I start 2012 off with a bang in January by accomplishing my biggest goal for the year: a marathon. I never thought that running a marathon would be so much fun, but Disney knows how to plan an epic event, that’s for sure.

In spite of having a terrible bout of runner’s trots (naturally) and stopping at every mile for photo ops with Disney characters, I managed to finish in 5:15. Not too shabby!

You can read all about it here.

Of course the marathon also meant travel to Orlando where my friend Tina and I hit up Magic Kingdom, and both Universal Studios parks. I finally got to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it was Seuss Landing that really captured my heart.

Butterbeer

The Lorax

Later in the month Matt and I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for his birthday and the Icewine Festival.

Busy month!

February

In February I started learning to play the guitar somewhat spontaneously after years and years of wanting to do it. The hobby stuck with me and I pick up my guitar to practice nearly every day.

Guitar

I also went to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago while on a trip to visit my sister Vicki.

Jellies

March

I went bowling with Matt and saw a private screening of The Hunger Games premiere.

I also wrote a post about a poll indicating that Black Women are Heavier and Happier with their Bodies than White Women which got a lot of attention.

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

April

I celebrated Easter with my favourite Lebanese foods.

I made my own Homemade Fig Newtons. . . multiple times. And ate them all.

Homemade Fig Newtons

And I wrote about how “Athletic” is a stupid way to describe female body types; my favourite body image post this year.

May

I started more seriously swapping out my steady state, moderate intensity cardio exercise for more Interval Based Conditioning exercises like Terrible Twenties and Gut Busters and Sled Push Substitutes. Later I also started doing more tabata sprints as well.

Matt and I went on a date to Colasanti’s a greenhouse/petting zoo/amusement park/banquet facility hybrid. (I know, the concept really doesn’t make much sense unless you’re from Essex County).

Me and a Goat

And I made Homemade Clotted Cream for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which I thought was a disaster but it actually tasted really good. I consulted Joe Pastry who called it a success, so I stopped worrying about it and enjoyed my tasty butterfat.

Of course I had to make cream scones to go with it.

June

I went to the Freedom Fest – one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world – which is right on the Detroit River.

DSCF9678

And I actually didn’t fuck up a batch of granola for once! I baked this dangerously good granola and didn’t even burn it.

Best Ever Granola


Read Part 2, July through December here

06 Jan

Top 10 Posts from 2012

My 2012 posts with the most pageviews were really versatile and included everything from body image to recipes to travel to weightlifting. I’m a veritable Martha Stewart.

Turns out that in 2012 people really liked when I wrote about naked women and baking soda. . . but not necessarily together.


10. Women and Nudity and the Awkwardness of it All

The post where I talk about naked women and how I appreciate the changing room’s token nude.

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.

9. Best Homemade Soft Pretzels

Pretzels (4)

The post where I declare Alton Brown’s soft pretzel recipe the best ever and talk a little about baking soda chemistry.

The key to making soft pretzels with a chewy interior and a crispy, deep brown crust is an alkaline bath.

8. Top 5 Things To Do in Chania, Crete

Chania Crete (25)

I juuuuust realized now that I blogged about my entire trip to Greece this summer except Athens! Woops. Loutro was my favourite stop in Crete, but Chania was also very charming.

Chania is a beautiful city. It’s old town area has really quaint winding alleys that are great for tourists to explore.

7. Grenadian Oil Down

Grenadian Oil Down

The post with a recipe for a delicious coconut curry with vegetables and dumplings. I’ve made this recipe several times and it is really good! I’m glad it made the top 10.

Oil Down is the national dish of Grenada and is usually made at a big party on the beach, or so I’ve read. I made this in my kitchen, so it’s not quite as fun, but it still tastes awesome.

6. 6 Day Full Body Lift and Circuit Routine

The post where I offer up a workout plan with 3 strength exercises followed by a circuit of 3 exercises. This wasn’t my favourite routine from 2012, (this Olympic Routine was) but it was pretty popular with readers

With a circuit workout I think I need to change it up more often to keep myself motivated and excited.

5. Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread (2)

The post where I bake Irish Soda Bread. Again I find myself talking about the chemistry of baking soda. Apparently alkalis are popular with the readers.

Matt said that this was the best soda bread he’s had, even though he didn’t like it. And didn’t want to eat it. Not exactly a raving review, but I’ll take it I suppose.

4. DIY Marathon Medal Frame

DSCF8908

The post where I make a framed collage of my marathon medal, bib, and pictures.

So after a very minimal time commitment and minimal cost I ended up with a sweet homemade collection of my marathon memories. Fun times.

3. Garbage Can Pizza Oven

Garbage Can Pizza Oven

The post where I eat pizza out of the garbage build a wood fired oven in my backyard out of garbage can and a pile of dirt. True story.

Matt called me at the office, to ask me a very important question after spending much of the morning with Zack digging up our crab grass infested lawn:

“Umm… I got a whole bunch of dirt here, you want to make a garbage can pizza oven?”

DO I EVER!

2. Girls and Lena Dunham’s Body

The post where I talk about nudity—again—and how much I like seeing Lena Dunham naked. Although I think most people came to this post looking for Lena Dunham porn.

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.

1. Fitspo is Not Inspirational

The post where I talk about how ‘inspiring’ images of fit women can be damaging to our body positivity.

Fitspo images aren’t any better for our self esteem than glossy magazine images of dangerously thin models. They’re photoshopped. They’re not attainable. And, quite frankly, they’re not all that healthy either.


13 Dec

Regroup, Refocus, Reflect

Get Your Workout On – from Etsy

I’ve been feeling a bit bloated lately in a way that always makes me totally uncomfortable with how I look and how I feel.

It makes me start to second guess myself and all my healthy living progress and think things like

I’ve probably been eating too many cookies

I must be slacking in my workouts

I shouldn’t have cleared my plate at that restaurant

So before I start on a downward spiral toward fat talk and bad self-esteem I need to regroup, refocus, and reflect on all my healthy lifestyle habits as a reminder that, hey, I’m doing ok!

I eat breakfast every day.

I load my cart with vegetables at the grocery store.

I cook dinners from scratch at least 4 days per week and I eat leftovers for lunch every day.

I eat out once and maybe twice per week.

I prioritize exercise and do it regularly and consistently.

I keep variety in my workouts with heavy weightlifting, interval training, yoga, and steady state cardio.

I life-hacked a standing workstation at my office to reduce my sedentary time.

Given all that, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, no one is perfect and some bad habits have been starting to creep up that might need to be nipped in the bud:

I have been drinking a lot more caloric beverages lately– lattes, sweetened coffee, hot chocolate, or beer (umm… ’tis the season?)

I haven’t been taking the dog for as many long walks.

My fat consumption lately has been more bad fats (mmm. . . butter) than good ones (still mmm, but not quite so much. . . avocado)

Slowly I’ve been incorporating more processed grains into my diet whereas I was trying to focus on solely unrefined ones.

It makes me feel better to pause and say, this is what you’re doing right and this is what you’re doing wrong, rather than just flying off the handle and telling myself I’m a failure at being healthy just because I feel a little bloated. I’m not a failure. I’m doing a lot of the right things.

03 Dec

Changing Body Size Preferences

There was a psychology study done recently in England to learn more about people’s preferences for certain body types.

At the beginning of the study, all participants preferred images of ‘thin’ bodies. Then in the experiment, participants were shown series of images of women’s bodies in plain grey leotards. Researchers determined that participants preferred ‘thin’ or ‘large’ bodies when shown a series of images of thinner or larger bodies respectively. This preference shift toward the body type being shown occurred even if the images were extremely thin or extremely fat.

Basically, we like what we see.

So these images of thin women that are dominating every visual media form from advertising to Hollywood are just making us all like thin bodies even more.

Especially since those media images are of women who are made up to look their best. . .

Next participants were shown pictures of glammed up women. They always preferred these well-dressed bodies, fat or thin, regardless of the perception change that had already been determined by the series of grey-leotard bodies.

Our attraction to thinness has been learned: being constantly fed images of a single body type in the media is narrowing our preference to that body type. And it’s making all the rest of us feel undesirable and inadequate.

This study is not such a stretch. Body image advocates have been encouraging more variety of body types in the media for years in order to increase tolerance for bodies that are outside of the dominant ‘thin ideal’. Now there’s research to back us up.

Can you imagine if the fashion and entertainment industries embraced fuller figures? If we saw beautiful plus-sized models share the runway with their thin counterparts or if we saw glamourous but soft-around-the-edges actresses playing leading ladies with a thin supporting cast?

We just might appreciate the beauty of all different body shapes a little more. And we just might have girls grow up without hating their bodies.