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Body Positivity and Exercise

Hello! So I joined the gym, for real (I had a 7 day pass bundle last month, which I wrote about here). Those first few visits felt like baby steps back into living in the land of gym culture while trying to maintain a body positive/non weight loss driven mind set.

Now that I am going to be seeing the weight loss package posters and other potentially triggering stuff on a regular basis, I do think it’s important to exercise fairly vigilant self-care about keeping my mind free of diet culture and outside pressures to "fix" my imperfectly perfect body ;-).

Much of the body positive attitude to fitness is “do what you love/what gives you joy” type thinking when it comes to movement. Which in a perfect world, yes, I would just dance my little heart out all the time. But I have dodgy knees that need a more pragmatic attitude to rebuild them, so I can hopefully dance more in the future (mostly in the privacy of my living room, but still! ;-)).

I do feel like there is a common misconception that people who are body positive don’t work out. I know when I did a Twitter search looking for articles/resources, 99.9% of the results of the word “body positive” combined with “exercise” were derogatory and rude tweets. People are just so dang ignorant and cruel sometimes.

I know that I can exercise several times a week and feel stronger and better for it, but unless I have a weight loss or results type “after” photo to show off as “proof of fitness", not many people will cheer me on. At least not with the same unbridled support they direct at people on extreme diets who are dropping pounds and fat shaming their before pictures.  

And it’s not that I’m looking for anyone’s approval, truly, but it does sting a bit sometimes to know that this way of life is not one that has a built in support system of understanding, not in the way that the weight loss and diet industry have conditioned us to blindly worship reducing our size. It means that we have to seek support from other places, if we need it.

So far I am getting a lot of help and feeling a sense of community from Body Image coach Summer Innanen and her Facebook group, Break the Rules: Body Positive and Anti Diet Community (it is a closed group but anyone is welcome to join who is on the body positive/neutral/intuitive eating track, there are many people at different stages of it participating).

What I appreciate most about the intuitive eating/body positive attitude to exercise is that it is completely kindness/self care driven.

So many people begin fitness routines and get sucked into feeling guilty for not exercising hard enough or often enough or having enough to show for their efforts. Which for me personally, now sounds crazy demotivating. How does beating yourself up/only rewarding yourself for losing weight or inches ever end in anything but eventual frustration and disappointment?

But who can blame us, it's all we know/are taught. Most “fitspo” revolves around NOT respecting or listening to your body in most cases, i.e. “Exercise even if you feel like sh*t, you will feel so much better about yourself after you work out”/no pain no gain nonsense.

I’m not disputing that sometimes you can feel better after exercise, of course you can, but listening to our bodies seems to be something we are encouraged to forget about.

Most everything to do with mainstream fitness motivation is geared at the outside. The “looking good will make us feel good” type fitspo I find particularly sneaky, because what, we cannot feel good about ourselves unless we fit a certain societally prescribed weight limit or size?!

I have mentioned Body Positive Memes before, but truly check out this Instagram and Facebook page by Michelle Elman if you find traditional fitspo frustrating or demotivating. She is great at turning it on its head with humour, showing how insidiously harmful to our self-worth so much of it can be.

I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or also laziness(!), but for whatever reason I went through a phase of not wanting to exercise much over the past few months, despite having a relatively fun run with exercise last year with my Monday Motivation series.

I think, looking back on it, maybe I was letting go of residual feelings of disappointment that exercise and vague calorie counting didn’t magic away the pounds. If I’m being 100% honest with myself some part of me did still hope to lose weight "accidentally". But at the same time I luckily discovered body positivity when I was beginning to feel a bit negative about my "failure" to lose weight once more (thanks universe!), not to get all hippy dippy on you!

It can be very hard to not treat exercise as a weapon or punishment for food consumed. Even now, for me it is hard not to compile the calories burned at the gym with the calories I might be consuming in my brain, because they are on the displays of most machines. 

It’s why they don’t actively encourage women who are recently coming out of eating disorders to pursue exercise when they are first committing to body positivity and/or intuitive eating/health at any size (so many descriptors, I know!). 

Last week I accidentally started rowing on a machine setting that didn’t display the calories, and it truly felt like a relief (now I just have to figure out how to find that setting on purpose!).

I also felt a bit weird when a young woman weighed herself in the locker room and the machine was saying “This is your fat percentage” – it didn’t say it out loud but you know, just being aware there was a machine that did that did make me remember how crappy everyone felt in high school when the gym teacher would publicly pinch our fat to get our BMI, which is widely dismissed by many nutritionists now anyway!

I thought about how at most times in my life I would have had an urge to get on the scale myself and see what it had to say about my weight and fat percentage, and how much that no doubt would have depressed me and ruined my post workout mood. And I felt genuinely no urge to do that to myself, which was pretty cool and liberating.

So yeah, that’s about it, I guess I just wanted to say that you can TOTALLY be body positive/anti-diet and still exercise if you feel like it, maybe most people know that but I admit when I first got into body positivity it was something I wasn’t sure about myself.

I do think it is important to approach this from a place of feeling relatively secure in your own skin if possible, which I know, can be daunting, much of what we read and hear from body positivity is about the awesome, feel good "after" stage of self acceptance. We are all still going to have bad days, we all have to start somewhere.

For me personally, having plenty of body positive and intuitive eating reading material and other (mainly online) support is essential to maintaining my feelings of self acceptance. I have cleared my social media of most everything that does not help me - apologies clean eaters and dieters, but I have to protect my own mental health above all else with this thing.

I would love to hear if you have had any experience of exercising without dieting, if you are interested in it yourself here are a few links that I found super helpful! :-)

-Christy Harrison: Food Psych podcast #82:  Intuitive Exercise & Overcoming Deprivation
(ok I admit I haven't listened to this one yet, but every Christy Harrison podcast I have listened to has been amazing, this one is next on my list!).

-Malinda Diel (txshortcake): There are lots of awesome plus sized yogis to choose from on Instagram - but I'll be honest, just as with thin yogis, I find a lot of their feeds daunting/impossible seeming. Diel describes herself as a beginner yogi but she has lots of daily, accessible seeming postures. I find her pictures inspiring and (in theory!) achievable.

-Michelle Elman: How to Get Started in the Gym: Body Positive Exercise: 10 minute video from the always cheerful and sassy Michelle (of aforementioned Body Positive Memes) - I really like what she says about "exercise until you get bored" - because I have naturally been doing this lately, before I even watched this, so I guess I am on the right track!

Thanks for reading!


40 Plus Fashion: Biker Jacket Edition

Hi! So lately I am bound and determined to buy a cute jacket that will look relatively smart/hip for the occasional night out, something that will look equally good with a dress or jeans.

I have so far avoided the now ubiquitous bomber jackets, sensing anything that gathers at my tummy is probably not the one! (to be fair I think they look great on other women my size or bigger, but if there is one area my body positive mindest still needs work on, it's the tummy!).

So really, that leaves me with a blazer/short coat OR the midlife woman's enemy or bff, depending...the biker jacket. So here's the thing. I am not a black biker jacket girl, I just know I am not going to be able to kid myself I can pull off that rock chick look.

Which isn't to say that other women my age don't, they totally rock it, but I just don't see myself as a black biker jacket person. I think it's the curly hair...we just don't ever look tough enough for certain styles!

The next natural step from here seemed to be neutral and or pastel biker jackets...which, just no, not for me, either, sorry. Pastels wash me out and neutral minky toned jackets scream "Ladies who lunch" to me. I don't think biker jackets should be quite so....polite. I really thought I was done with the whole concept of biker jackets ever being in my wardrobe. And then this lady appeared in my life/on my telly:

(this was the only gif I could find of Ellen Barkin as Smurf, it is pretty funny/accurate to her character though!)

Ellen Barkin, as Smurf in Animal Kingdom, is a biker jacket QUEEN. She seriously wears a different one each episode, and she is 50 (or 60? Who knows, she is ageless!) plus and looks fierce in every single one.

My favourite so far from this past season is hands down the metallic red leather one she wore. So I guess I've figured out my biker jacket tribe is glam rock/ 70s rock chick (mmkay!).

My other favourite Smurf jacket was this gold one. I guess my inner magpie can't help but love the shiny shiny, but I think what I love about Smurf's style is that it is so unapologetic/not giving a frack about age.

She also wears animal print with ABANDON, which I love, because it's sort of a middle aged cliche thing so I interpret it as her character reclaiming it because guess what, animal print looks awesome on everyone (if you're into it....which I am ;-)).

Unfortunately for me, metallic leather jackets do not come cheap, and the pleather ones sadly do look very cheap and seem to mostly come in Tin Man silver. Le big sad sigh.

Undeterred, I set my sights on the next least boring biker jacket for my magpie eye: the embroidered jacket (:-0)! Luckily, we do have some pretty decent choices with these in the more my budget range, like this Simply Be number...my only hesitation, again, is that they are black. I just...I don't know (it feels too young says my inner judgy teenager!). I do think they are super cute, I actually really like the white/cream ones but they are rare/expensive/I am not the only one who wants to look like a Rhinestone cowgirl!

I guess as with previous travails in coat shopping, I view the jacket as something that needs to absolutely be "me", especially as I do think they are quite a bold statement still despite their now commonality. I guess because I am old enough to remember when only legitimately rebellious types wore them? 

At any rate. I'm simultaneously less afraid and more excited by them now. So hopefully I can eventually find one in my budget, I doubt I will rock it like Ms. Barkin but hey, at least I have a new mid life fashion goal!

How about you, do you own one (or several?!) biker jackets? Why do you like them? I feel like I've resisted them for a good decade, and resistance may finally prove to be futile!