Monday, June 28, 2010

Did Cinderella ever have to get foot surgery from wearing glass slippers?

Recently I underwent foot surgery, and am now fully recovered, and ready to unpack my experience with a feminist lense. But first, a serious question:

Did Cinderella ever have to get foot surgery from wearing glass slippers?

While a silly revelation, it's a serious one at that. Women are four times as likely to have foot problems in their life, why? Why is it that every time I visited my podiatrist's office (a total of 4 times) the room was full of female patients, and not a single male.

High heels started making fashion statements with royalty in France, and ever since the relationship between high heels, feminity, and formal wear has been unwavering. Little girls start playing dress-up in their parents heels and grow up to watch Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City use her rent money to purchase expensive heels.

A normalized part of someone's clothing should not be painful or deform one's body. Prolonged useage of high heels can injure back, knees, and feet. Is this socialized practice worth the pain? Recently, I have been paying much more attention to the shoes I see on women's feet while taking the metro to work everyday. The pattern I see involves women wearing their running shoes to work, changing into high heels at work, and then changing back into their running shoes to go home. Why do women do this to themselves? This ritual must get exhausting…

Now I only exchange dirty looks with my high heels in my closet, and continue to look for shoes that make my feet happy. Be sure to check back soon for more blogs, because I'm fully healed and ready to be active again!

Until then, check out this Time Magazine article for further reading about women and shoes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What a feeling: Go Scuba!

After telling my arduous experiences getting PADI open water certified, I felt obligated to offer tips and insight to any women who are looking to try scuba diving. Scuba diving is NOT just for certain body types. If you're in shape and love the water, try scuba diving. A PADI open-water certification is life long and does not need to be renewed. Once you have it, you have it!

Be sure to openly-communicate your concerns with your instructor ahead of time. I never point blank asked the instructor how my weight would affect my scuba diving. Get a feel for what your provider's attitude is concerning your weight. If they make you feel uncomfortable about it, then leave! Do not let the worries you have about scuba and your body image issues get tangled. When I look back now, I realize I should have been asking about the availability of wet suits from day one, and not let my experience be ruled by lack of planning on their part. There are SO many places to get scuba certified, why waste your time going to one that makes you feel uncomfortable?

I learned that hard way that sometimes being outgoing doesn't mean you have to be alone in your travels. In a sport where learning in pairs is enforced, bring a friend with you! My experience would have been much more fun if I had someone I enjoyed being with.

With that said, I REALLY wish I had found this Big Adventures Website sooner! They provide scuba trips for just women of all sizes to be adventurous and take on new challenges and become PADI open water certified. Go to a tropical location, meet other women who are as outgoing as you, and learn in a supporting non-judgmental environment. Having a female trainer who respects your desire to be active and scuba dive sounds amazing. One day I hope I get to go on one of these trips!

Check out the PADI website for information on location and costs, the website even allows you to take some of the course online!

While my scuba experience was challenging, it didn't break me. I want to continue my education and take the digital underwater photographer class and become a coral reef conservation diver. YAY for being certified!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Scuba Cont'd: Gumption, Do you have it?

Having survived all of my scuba training, I still had to complete 2 open-water dives to get certified. On a Saturday I got up at 6am and drove to the scuba shed where we were supposed to be provided with wetsuits because we were diving in the cold waters of the St. Lawrence River. I was biting-nail nervous about the written test, the dive itself, and even more petrified of putting on a wet suit.

The course provided us with wetsuits, while all of the rest of the class was ready to leave; I continued to be given wetsuits to try on. After what seemed like forever one of them, combined with another somehow fit, but was very large in a lot of places. That day we had one main male trainer and 2 who were there to observe and help out. When we finally got all of our equipment unloaded and prepped I noticed my weight belt barely fit over the baggy wetsuit and that the scuba vest itself once again would not clasp over my chest. Thinking things would be fine; I got over to the edge of the ice-cold river and began to ease my way into the water. I adjusted, got in, but was soon severely struggling. With all the extra weight of the wetsuit, I needed more weight added to my vest to equalize me. While the rest of the class patiently waited, two helpers screamed back and forth about how they needed to add more and more weight to me. As they tried to shove weights into my scuba vest, my weight belt fell off. For 20 minutes, even taking off my diving gloves allowing the negative degree water to enter my wetsuit, I did everything I could to get it back on, only to realize it was just going to fall off again.

The main instructor was waiting with all the students and I screamed over to him that I was going to give up and that the class should just go underwater and do the test. He kept asking me why. I was mortified, my hands were frozen, and I was black and blue all over from being banged up from hitting all the rocks. He screamed out if I was just scared, and I just said yes. He told one of the instructors to stay with me. While I stayed composed, I had never been so mortified. The young instructor was around my age, and as I pulled off all of the heavy equipment, he kept asking me questions about why I wanted to scuba and if anyone in my family was into scuba and questioned why I even did it in the first place. He came off condescending and rude. I told him to have the instructor call me when he was done for the day. I was proud that I was able to reach my car before I started bawling.

When the instructor called me back later that day he told me he knew it was scary and that my equipment was not fitting well and that I could just get certified somewhere else when I went on vacation.

My Response: "Your equipment did not fit me and I did not feel safe. When I signed up for the course, I was guaranteed to leave with the certification. If you can't provide me the appropriate safe equipment, then you can give me my money back. I'm not going on vacation anytime soon, and that would cost additional money. I can do all the skills and I didn’t do anything wrong."

It was NOT safe to scuba with equipment that could suddenly fall off. People DIE scuba diving from not having appropriate gear. Not having a properly fitted wetsuit is a serious issue when diving in negative degree water. The trainer understood, and he personally took me out in the rainy cold day in late October one-on-one to get my dives over with. I was given a wetsuit that ACTUALLY fit and given a different scuba weight belt and vest. When I was finally able to scuba dive in the St. Lawrence I thought it was amazing! Out of all the classes I took at in college, I will probably remember that dive for the rest of my life.

I am officially a certified open water scuba diver!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Worst-Case-Scenario: My Scuba Experience Woes

Email: Get PADI Open Open Water Scuba Certified Today!

That's where it all began, with that email. I purchased the required gear: all-pink fins, snorkel, and mask. Still a senior in college, I was excited to try something new and meet new people.

During the first scuba class, after the video and quiz, a scuba student is required to swim 200 yards and tread water. Yes, I was the only female in the gender-mixed college-aged class that was bigger then a size 8. A certified lifeguard and a Red Cross Water Safety instructor for 6 years, I had long ago come to terms with being in public in a bathing suit. In preparation for the class, I had been working out on a regular basis everyday, and I was in shape. I easily kept up with everyone during the preliminary tests. Nonetheless I was still very aware that I was different.

Once it came to actually scuba diving, the class was supposed to pair up. With an uneven number of students, I was unfortunately paired with the main male instructor. I got help from the instructor putting my vest on, as all the other pairs were doing. The vest fit fine, however the strap that would normally tie across a person's chest did not close over my breasts. My 65 year old male instructor with a big beer belly said, "Ha ha ha Yeah don't worry about closing the top part! It definitely won't fit over those! Ha ha ha"

I got quiet. I didn't say anything.

I struggled a lot that first class, having to even resurface once. I was unable to reach equal buoyancy because they put too much weight inside of my vest, so instead of helping equalize my weight, it completely impaired me. I didn't know why I was stuck to the bottom of the pool and couldn't float like everyone else. The session ended and I was told it was because they had put too much extra weight in my vest. If they realized I was struggling, and could easily fix it, then why wouldn't they take out the extra weight so I could scuba with everyone else?

Defeated, I was traumatized that I had just spent a total of $500 on something that I HATED. Trying to unpack my experience, I called my friend. After telling her what happened and how uncomfortable the instructor made me feel, she was very supportive, however one thing she said really bothered me. In response to the inappropriate comment the instructor made about my breasts my friend said, "You know you have breasts, what's the big deal?" Another male friend even said, "What's the big deal? Maybe he liked you?"

You know what the big deal was? I was expecting the instructor to be, you-know, a professional. I wanted to be taken seriously, not have some old guy leering and making cracks about my breasts. I am mad at myself now for allowing a new thing to intimidate me to the point that I was to vulnerable to stand up for myself. I wish I could have said, "Wow, and I thought I was being trained by a professional." I also wish I had taken the time to ask the instructors why they did not try to fix my buoyancy problem, an hour and a half is a long time to leave someone struggling.

After a good cry and some motivation from house-mates, I decided to (gasp) continue my training.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My weight lifting conundrum: Lucille Ball meets SNL

With having large breasts, consistently on a regular basis I have severely painful muscle knots in my shoulder blades. While in college I was able to pro-actively counteract this pain with swimming laps 4 to 6 times a week in the school pool. A fish out of water, my pain has become increasingly intolerable, which has led me to lifting in order to strengthen my back and work the muscle knots. So after I run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, I usually spend some time lifting weights.

You know the little instructional animations attached to lifting machines? Well I tend to resemble the little stick figure with and x drawn through it representing the incorrect way to use the machine. Half the time I look like an SNL skit. Which leads me to my most perplexing question, why have I never been exposed to the correct lifting techniques? Out of all my years being a dedicated athlete, from soccer to volleyball, no coach or trainer from club teams to high school teams has ever incorporated lifting weights into practice. (and It wasn't for lack of resources!)

Out of all the times I have gone to the gym in my apartment building to workout, I have not seen any other women on any of the lifting machines, only men. I always see women on the elliptical machine, on the treadmill, and the step machines. Already aware I look like I Love Lucy in the weight room, this gendered equation makes me feel even more insecure and on edge. Why does the weight room have a virtual 'no girls allowed' sign posted on its walls? Is it because like me, these women were never taught how to use the machines and the men were on sports teams that taught them the basics early on. (The boys soccer team and football team lifted) I suspect it all stems from the media's portrayals of the ideal body.

Female celebrities are not celebrated for 'having muscle'. Skinny and slender is preferred to muscular. Women are supposed to be in shape and toned, but not appearing to have power and visual muscle. Having definition in arms and legs is not 'sexy'. Female athletes' bodies are contradictory and condemned, as if having muscle equates to masculinity. Take for example, Katie Hnida, the first female football player to score in a NCAA Division I FBS football game. Katie (toned, in shape, healthy) was recruited by modeling agencies, and after one meeting with a representative, she was told that she needed to lose weight to be a model. Katie walked away knowing that was bullshit.

Learning how all the machines work has been an intimidating process, but I'm slowly becoming more educated. The BEST websites I found from doing some research about weight lifting and feminism is From the proper way to do squats to no-bullshit-confrontation of what makes a woman feminine, check it out!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Come One, Come All to see the Fattest Woman of All: Donna Simpson

Just like prostitutes and strippers, Donna Simpson is using her body to make money, what's the big deal? If you log onto her website you can pay to watch her eat and wash her body. The catch: Donna is the biggest woman (520lbs) to ever give birth. Wearing a size 7X dress she is married with a daughter. She recently announced her goal of becoming 1,000 lbs.

My thoughts: Donna was probably a large girl, and a large teenager, and then became a large woman. Tired of being an outsider, she decided to say 'fuck you' to societal standards and make money off of being a spectacle. She found someone she loves, found a way to profit off of her vices, and therefore doesn't have to change.

Her husband is announced as a 'chubby chaser' as if he needs an 'out' or excuse to be in love with her. If a man marries someone thin he isn't proclaimed a 'Bone-chaser'. I would compare her husband to the ringleader of the circus announcing the headliner of the 'fattest woman in the world'.

Since the start of the creation of this blog I was introduced to the concept of 'fat-feminism'. I'm slowly learning more about it, and while I support the core of the movement, to oppose all forms of fat-discrimination. I hesitate to say I am a 'fat-feminist' because I believe overweight people should seek to be healthy according to doctor's standards, yet I also believe NO ONE should ever be discriminated against based on their weight. (Sorry for the wiki-link, but it describes Fat-Feminism the best:

Donna Simpson stated that she was comfortable with dying if it meant reaching her ideal 1,000lb weight. I want to say I respect Donna's desire to do whatever she wants with her own life, it’s her prerogative, however my concern lies with how her choices affect her daughter's quality of life.

One of my parents had a gastric bypass, so as someone who has had experiences with having an obese parent, I argue her daughters life is severely impacted by her mother's wishes to live a larger sedentary lifestyle. While I was encouraged to be active and eat healthy, will Donna's child receive the same upbringing? Children learn the world through the actions of their parents. What will Donna's daughter have to say to her in 10, 15, 20 years about her own relationship to food? Will Donna even be around to hear it?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Panic at the Scale

According to The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University less than half of physicians actually address a patient’s weight problem. I have never once been talked to by any of my physicians about being overweight. Not once has a doctor suggested a nutritionist or quizzed me on my diet. Why is that? Is it my sole responsibility to ask for help with weight loss? Is it an uncomfortable subject for my physicians too? Up until now I have been so self conscious and ashamed of my weight that I would never be able to even broach the topic with a doctor- because then my obesity and the risk of disease would be real. No one wants a magnifying glass held up to their flaws, including me.

In elementary school I remember feeling anxious in the pit of my stomach when I was weighed during routine exams. Surrounded by all the other kids I was scared that the nurse would announce my weight and embarrass me. Fact: All throughout elementary school I was ‘healthy’ according to BMI. Yet somehow the healthy ten year old version of myself already learned to hate her body, how sad is that?

When I go to the doctor now as an adult, I still get anxious knowing I have to be weighed. I even ask the nurse to NOT tell me my weight out loud as I turn my head to the side so I don’t have to see the numbers. As if those numbers would somehow tell me something I didn't already know. This deeply rooted insecurity, avoidance, and secrecy surrounding my body is not positive.

Is scale anxiety something other people deal with on such a severe level? Is there really a way to get over it? Ideally health care practitioners would ask patients if they wanted to be weighed. To love my body don’t I have to accept it in every form, including numerical?