On Saturday morning it 9am, I will join many, many others in swimming 1.4 miles from one side of the Provincetown harbor to the other in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS, women’s health and community health on the lower Cape.
I wanted to illustrate what we were talking about here, because the setting is so incredibly important to me. We (my little sister, my team + hundreds of others) will swim from that teensy little tip, across the harbor, and to the shore on the opposite site.
I have done it before.
I am still more than a little terrified.
And yet?It’s important to me, and it feels good to stretch my comfort zone. Last Sunday I wrote about the importance of donating our time, effort, and hard earned cash to great causes that we support. We we support others, we inevitably supporting ourselves – such is the cyclical impact and karma of giving without expectation. It is so important that we find ways to give back to the world around us, using our abilities and our excess to improve the lives of others.
I know that I don’t have to tell you that the amount doesn’t matter. That it is the thought that counts.
This little town is the place I know best in the world. The place that where I grew up, and have returned to every summer of my life. This is the place that has challenged me to become the person that I am, because it wasn’t always easy for me to grow up here.
This is a cause that impacts me directly, as a woman, but also indirectly, as many of my friends and loved ones are living with HIV/AIDS.
This is a community that has lost many friends and loved ones – a fact inescapable to me as I was growing up here in the early nineties.
I am writing to all of you today to ask for your assistance in this heart-felt effort.
Yes, we are raising money, so yes if you were inclined to donate to this cause I would be profoundly grateful. Even $1 counts.
But it is more than that too, I would be grateful if you sent a couple extra bits of love and prayers in our direction, even if you don’t have cash to spare. Sometimes I feel that when I’m nervous about something I wish that I could grab you guys up, and carry you with me in a little invisible pocket, like worry dolls. So that I could be bolstered by all of your love and support when I need to be brave.
Your support could be simply in sharing this page with your loved ones, or telling them of this cause.
Supporting one another need not be hard or weird or slimy. It’s not about stealing someone else’s hard earned dollars. It is not about keeping all of our resources tight to our chest and refusing to share.
It is about the ebb and flow of love and support. Giving and receiving. Promoting without agenda. Sweetly respecting without personal gain.
If you would like to donate via paypal, check, or loving energy transmission – email me here.
P.s. I am also loving myself today by giving myself the permission to be absolutely, 100% dead last out of the hundreds swimming, if necessary. I have my heart set on finishing, but I will not allow myself to be freaked out by the possibility of profound (and freezing cold) slowness.
Recently, I came across a blog post by a personal trainer in which she explored the one of my least favorite terms as applied to women’s bodies – the word “bulky.” Any weight-training woman is familiar with this term, as it is often the first thing other women will say as their reason for refusing to lift weights. The idea is that lifting weights will lead to the development of big muscles, and the development of big muscles means a woman will no longer be beautiful and will instead be manly, unattractive, scary and doomed to a sex-free, love-free life.
The comments on the blog post illustrated this line of thought clearly, as woman after woman expressed dismay that she had taken up heavy lifting and was horrified to see that her body had developed muscles. Some even clearly articulated their belief that in doing so, they had crossed a very bright line in which women were meant to be weaker and protected by the men they loved.
The women had set out in pursuit of the slender, compact body most often displayed by female celebrities, and instead they found themselves becoming muscular. It didn’t matter that they were also stronger and that they were most likely healthier, with tougher bones and a stronger heart. What mattered was that they were bigger.
As I read through those comments, I reflected on a TED talk given by writer Chimamanda Adichie in which she spoke about the “danger of the single story.” She described growing up in Nigeria and yet writing stories in which her blonde-haired, blue-eyed characters ate apples and played in snow. Every book she had read was written by British authors about British life, and as a result she hadn’t realized it was possible to write books about her own life. She thought the only way to be worthy of literature was to be a foreigner.
I thought about her words and I realized that we as a culture had accepted the single story of the “ideal body” so thoroughly that no room remained for alternate definitions of female beauty. Take the comments on the aforementioned blog post. The “ideal female body” – a slim figure with breasts that aren’t too big and thighs that don’t touch and a butt that isn’t too flat and nothing that jiggles too much – is desired with such single-mindedness that the non-cosmetic benefits of weight training are dismissed without a second thought.
I use the example of women and muscles because that is what I, as an athletic woman who lifts weights, am most familiar with. However, the story of the single ideal body manifests itself in breast augmentation and pumping parties, in gimmicky diets and weight-loss gadgets bought on installment plans, in firming creams and treatments meant to zap cellulite into non-existence. Fortunes are spent and made in pursuit of the “ideal body,” and yet the only thing that has happened is that the ideal has become even more unattainable than ever before.
It’s not hard to see how this happened, either. Look at our culture, at the bodies represented on television and in magazines and in movies and in advertising. Just as Adichie only thought she could write stories about white children in snowy climates, we as a culture have trouble envisioning a standard of beauty that is not tall, thin, able-bodied and European. Even when we do embrace someone who does not fit that standard, we tend to be very self-congratulatory about it, thus undoing whatever progress was gained by reducing that person into little more than a symbol of our open-mindedness.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of a world in which the only people who are considered beautiful have a specific body type, a specific kind of hair, a specific tone of skin, a specific shape of face. I find such a world inhumane and cruel, bordering on insane. Plus, as an aesthete who revels in beauty and sensation, I also find it dreadfully boring.
Consider the natural world, with all of its abundance of living things. Think about flowers. In my neighborhood in Florida, I can count the following: birds of paradise, hydrangea, plumeria, magnolia, jacaranda, orchids, Confederate jasmine, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, spider lilies and dozens more whose names I don’t know.
Few of us would look at all of these flowers and say that, for instance, orchids are the only beautiful ones. Sure, we might have a preference, but most of us would not take our preferences to mean that all other flowers are ugly, and that we ought to rip rosebushes and tulip bulbs out of the ground so they can be replaced with even more orchids.
Yet this is what we do with our bodies – we say that all bodies that do not fit that single ideal are ugly, and that all bodies must fit that single ideal to be worthy of respect and care and affection. We say that if you cannot force yourself to fit that ideal, then you must hide yourself behind shapeless clothing and maybe even consider never leaving your house because you are too revolting to be seen.
How is it that we can so easily recognize beauty in all of its millions of manifestations in plants and animals, yet our definitions narrow radically when it comes to human beings? Why do we value diversity in all things but scorn it in ourselves?
It’s clear to me that the expectation that our bodies must be a certain way to be feminine and beautiful is an artificial one, one that is informed almost entirely by the culture in which we are raised. The bad news is that it is a powerful expectation, filled with privileges for those who conform and punishment for those who do not.
The good news is that we can resist it. We can resist by refusing to hate our bodies for the way they look. We can resist by catching ourselves when we think harshly about other people’s appearances. We can resist by refusing to judge other people based on their bodies. We can resist by calling out those who make those kinds of moral judgments about other people. We can resist by refusing to support media outlets who uphold such narrow beauty standards.
We need a radical redefinition of what it means to be beautiful in this society. We need to pry open the definition so it includes all bodies, whether they are tall or short or average or slender or fat or muscular or disabled. Enough with this idea that beauty must somehow be exclusionary, like it is this finite quality that loses its potency as more people gain access to it. Such a view of beauty is blind to the core, irreducible truth about us, which is that our existence is nothing short of a miracle.
We do not blight the world with our cellulite, nor do we somehow diminish it through our sagging flesh. The natural order is not upended by our muscles, nor does the universe gasp in horror when it sees our bellies. We are just as much a part of the brilliant multiplicity of the universe as the flowers and the birds and the stars in the sky. We are beautiful because we exist. We are beautiful because we are.
Caitlin Constantine is a writer, editor, zinester, blogger and athlete based out of Clearwater, Fla. She writes with the goal of pushing back against a culture that defines femininity as weakness and that seeks to deny women their physical power. Her writing has appeared in Bitch and Creative Loafing, and she blogs at fitandfeminist.wordpress.com.
So, I never thought I was into rituals. Probably because I had little to no idea what that meant, but I was pretty sure it had something to do with The Craft. I’m the kind of person who sees a trailer for a scary movie and has nightmares for weeks, so I knew I didn’t want to have anything to do with rituals.
That is, until I learned more about what they actually are and how, lo and behold, I could apply them to my own life.
I suppose that in my own personal dictionary (Words by AnnaTM), ritual means something you do, say, see, etc. in order to prepare for something or mark something important. I’ve heard that football players and other sports folks have rituals before big games. But I’m not too into wearing the same pair of dirty socks every day for a month, so I knew I’d need something else.
For what, you might ask? Well, I love moving my body — dancing to my fav music from the 90s, going for a long walk with my dogs (well, at least the one that is semi-good at walking on her leash), practicing yoga and rocking out the elliptical. But actually getting myself to do any of this?
That’s not so easy. So I figured I’d enlist the help of a ritual.
Whenever I’m in the midst of one of my favorite movement activities, I get lost in the moment. I totally feel like I’m getting in some good me time because I’m doing what I enjoy — not, as I used to, punishing myself for eating this or not eating that. But I still need that little reminder that making the transition from the computer (where it seems I spend much of my time) to the yoga mat is a good one to make. That I’ll actually feel better moving through a few poses than spending another two hours aimlessly clicking back and forth between Facebook and Twitter (not that I do that, of course; it’s just a random example I totally pulled out of the air).
So, here are the four steps I took that you might find useful, too:
1. Figure Out Your Terms: I often find it challenging to enjoy movement because I feel like I don’t have time for it. What I’ve been doing lately, though, is starting each day with a brief map of what I have going on so that I can visually prove to myself that I do have time to get on my yoga mat (or whatever I feel like doing that day). You might not be that uptight; instead, you might like to fit it in whenever the feeling strikes you. Whatever your preference, I find that moving on your own terms contributes greatly to a feeling of joy (which is what we all really want, right?).
2. Set An Intention: I used to think that setting an intention was some kind of new-agey BS that I could never get into. When asked to do so in yoga class, my mind would usually go blank — or I’d get off on some snarky sidetrack about how my intention was to practice yoga; that’s why I was there, after all. But then, one day (probably by mistake, to be honest), I set an intention to find some peace during my practice. And wouldn’t you know? It worked (as much as I hate to admit it). Some days my intentions are to have fun, unwind a tight hip, feel strong or sweat it out. Try making a list of some that sound good to you (because sometimes it’s easier to start with a few ideas, especially when you’re feeling stuck) and then mixing and matching on any given day.
3. Create an Action: Remember that dirty sock ritual I mentioned? Yeah, not cool. But what is cool? Having your own li’l action to transition from whatever you were doing before to your movement time. I have a few that I switch up, depending on what sounds good, where I am and what I’m about to do. For example, regardless of what I’m about to do, I change into some clothes/shoes that I enjoy. While doing yoga in my PJs is fun sometimes, I find that I enjoy my practice more when I throw on a comfy and supportive tank and some yoga pants. I also like to get my music ready — the only real question for me is which 90s playlist to choose for the day. When you’re thinking of your own action, consider what would help you make a clear transition — that’s often the hardest part of getting into your movement activity.
4. Infuse with Spirit: If you, like me, have a somewhat checkered past related to movement (i.e. using it more to knock calories off your daily total than to feel good), then this is key. You can define spirit however you like — enthusiasm, higher purpose, feeling — but what I find most important is bringing a spirit of body lovin’ to whatever I’m doing. I find that when I’m able to begin and end with spirit, not only do I enjoy whatever I’m doing more, but it also brightens the rest of my day.
Have fun with these steps and let me know what works for you. And if you’d like a little help in doing this, join me and Marianne Elliott in our upcoming course, 30 Days of Curvy Yoga. This course is specifically designed for folks of all shapes and sizes to give yoga a try and create your own home yoga practice with an emphasis on kindness and self-care — on your own terms, of course!
Anna Guest-Jelley is the Founder of Curvy Yoga, where she writes and teaches about yoga and embodiment as the foundations of a live well-lived (and body well-loved). She is also the co-teacher of 30 Days of Curvy Yoga, a course on crafting a yoga practice for your unique body and needs.Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Y’all this has been a GOOD month for people who are running on over to me just begging to give you fancy presents. Last week, we hosted a giveaway for Beautiful You’s gorgeous Ebook of affirmations and art, which you should still totally check out even if you missed it.
If you guys have been kicking it around here lately, you know that two weeks ago I ran my first EVER 5K at Fitbloggin’, a feat which filled me with the utmost pride, as it was a goal of mine for approximately fifteen years. Ever since those epically terrible President’s Physical Fitness tests. Lets just say – I was not a fit child, and these tests filled me with anxiety.
Though I did Couch to 5K to train for that race, I often found myself wishing that I could have a coach or buddy or basically anyone who would tell me if form was all right, how I should refuel, and all of those things that runners just seem to know. When I was at fitbloggin, I had the pleasure of meeting Shauna and we chatted a bit about my 5K process, and a process that Julia actually coached her through when she was just beginning running.
Here’s what Shauna, Julia, and others have to say about Up & Running:
Up & Running provide unique online running classes for women. If you’ve always thought running was reserved for sporty types with bouncing ponytails, we’re here to help you discover that running is for everyone. Our 8-week 5K Beginners Course is not the usual boring “walk 2 mins, run 1 minutes” program. We offer expert coaching from renowned coach Julia Jones, unlimited support from our community forums, and a mind and body approach that has been tried and tested with thousands of women around the world. Whether you’ve dabbled in running before or completely new to exercise, we’ll not only help you start running safely, we’ll get your mind in the right place too.
“Up & Running really has been the best thing I have done for myself in years, and not just for the running. My confidence and happiness in my own skin has increased so much and I love what my body can DO, rather than obsessing about what it looks like.” - Philippa, UK, Spring 5K course.
Basically? I am loving running right now – and three months ago I couldn’t run for ONE MINUTE with out stopping. If this is a goal of yours, or just something that you want to check out – I encourage you to take these ladies up on this opportunity. Yes, you do have to pay for it ($79), but I think that I would have really relished some individual attention and group support through the process.
Side note: if you’re cool with the 5K distance but are looking for more of a challenge, sign up for their newsletter to learn about the fall 10K e-course. You could be running alongside yours truly! I’m so excited about it.
The contest is going to be FAST AND FURIOUS as the course starts on Monday, and Shauna wants to make sure you have time to pick up a pair of sneakers. It will end on Wednesday 12 PM EST. This contest is open to readers anywhere in the world.
Please leave a separate comment for each entry. You can enter by:
Leaving a comment, and telling us about an extraordinary obstacle that you’ve overcome, fitness or otherwise.
Good morning y’all! I am busily writing many, many papers, but today we are HONORED to have a guest post about exercise and self-love written by one of my favorite bloggers – Steff of Steff Says fame. xo
In my journey towards loving and accepting my body fully I’ve discovered how essential it is to both celebrate my body’s strengths and respectfully acknowledge its weaknesses. Between the two, the latter is definitely the bigger challenge for me.
It’s so easy to wish to be a superhero – wanting to conquer everything you set out to try with unparalleled success. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – your friend who murdered a marathon with only a couple months of training or the girl with Gumby-like flexibility on the mat beside you in yoga class.
But fitness is not about being like someone else. It’s about becoming a better version of yourself. We are all unique individuals, with idiosyncratic bodies & minds, on our own paths toward living well, and keeping that in mind is an essential part of living a fit and happy life. Our bodies have a lot to tell us about what they desire and how to move them, if we only listen.
Many of us have injuries (both mental and physical) that cause residual pain we live with on a daily basis. Listening to your body means discovering how to be active while honoring your limits and staying in tune with how those limits may gradually change.
Someone with knees too damaged to run can accomplish amazing things in a pool. A person prone to over-exercising may be able to move gently, and safely in a yoga class. Social butterflies can thrive in group fitness classes, thrill seekers can find adventures in rock climbing or aerial yoga, and nature lovers can get out into the sunlight and move their bodies in the great outdoors. I honestly believe that with a little exploration and an open mind any person can find a fitness plan that honors their body, mind and spirit.
There are so many different reasons to get up and move your body – it will make you stronger, healthier, happier, and less stressed. But life is NOT high school gym class. There isn’t some lady with a whistle standing beside you forcing you to run the mile. This is your life. So find something (or things) you love and get out and do it!
Steff is a NYC dwelling, food & fitness loving, clinical psychologist to be, and warrior for self-love. You can keep up to date on her antics via her blog, twitter, and facebook.