Category Archives: Feminism

You asked for – feminism! A post about sports and trans* athletes

I’m not going to lie, I was really surprised to get so many replies to the poll in my last post – 43 so far! Honestly, I thought there were maybe 3 of you out there. So that was a nice boost. I won’t lie that I felt a bit drained after pouring intimate stuff into my post on mental health so it’s good to know that some people are reading my posts!

The two highest scorers on my poll were posts about my training program, and posts about feminism. I want to tackle the latter, really, as I’d have to figure out the training program thing (maybe I could ask my coach to guest post, as he’s the one who writes them!) It was a bit foolish of me to put that option in the poll, as I never read about training programs or have any opinion about which ones are better than others. I’m far too passive (lazy) & I enjoy having things worked out for me.

So I’m going to tackle the requests for more posts about feminism. I was going to write a general post about how, yes, I’m a feminist (I hope that was always obvious!) and my feminist beliefs, but that seems a bit dry. One important aspect of my feminism is that it will be intersectional or it will be bullshit (to slightly misquote quote Flavia Dzodan), and that means I am trans-inclusive (and sex-worker inclusive, for that matter).

To bring this post more in line with the (intended!) theme of this blog, I have been thinking about sports and trans*people. I think it’s been a lot on my mind recently because of two things – Janae Marie Kroc coming out as genderfluid, and Ronda Rousey’s comments about Fallon Fox (and other things).

To preface this blog: I am keenly aware that I’m writing on a sensitive subject, and therefore I’ve tried to be as correct with my language as possible. However if I’ve got anything wrong or used any terms incorrectly, I’d appreciate & welcome corrections!

I do believe that transwomen are women (and that transmen are men; although it is usually transwomen who are the more talked about). The idea that gender is solely about what is, or isn’t, in your underpants is an outdated view shared by misogynists and second-wave radical feminists alike. But what about transwomen & transmen in sports? I’m not a member of a sports authority, or a scientist, and I agree that this is a difficult issue. There have already been very highly-publicised cases of women who display “male characteristics” causing controvery in sports (I’m thinking of Caster Semenya and the horrible time she had “proving” she is a woman). There are also cases of openly trans people competing in some sports – think Fallon Fox in UFC.

There are arguments that having male characteristics (bone structure, muscle mass etc) is an authomatic advantage in sports like UFC (and powerlifting). It’s well known that men are, on average, stronger than women. The on average caveat is important, though, as pound-for-pound, one of the strongest bench pressers in the world (IPF) is Jennifer Thompson with 140.5kg at 61.4kg bodyweight. Still, a male body is an advantage. That said, there is scientific evidence that post-hormone therapy, trans women lose muscle mass and bone density, and it’s not uncommon for them to have less testosterone than cis women after two years of estrogen therapy. The IOC agrees with this, for both FTM and MTF athletes.

At the risk of being a bit rude to Fallon Fox – if she had a natural advantage over cis woman fighters, she would beat them more often ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The IOC requires trans athletes to have undergone gender reassignment surgery and had at least two years of hormone therapy before they can compete in their chosen gender. Of course, not all trans* people choose to have gender reassignment and/or hormone therapy, so what then?

As I said before, I’m not a sports authority or a scientist, so I can only state my opinion. I’m also never going to be a placing athlete or a record holder, so my views are tempered by that. But I believe that if I’m going to be true to my feminist beliefs, then of course I would be fine with competing against a trans* athlete at any stage in their transition. There seems to be this right-wing idea that men everywhere will be putting on dresses, “pretending” to be men if this was allowed, but that’s ridiculous (as ridiculous as the right-wing idea that if we let trans* children use their gender-appropriate bathrooms, those bathrooms will be filled with “men in dresses” claiming to be women – that just does not happen).

To bring this post back to the people mentioned above: for those that don’t know Janae Marie Kroc, she is (or was) a very well-known powerlifter and bodybuilder (Kroc Rows were her invention). Last year she came out and prefers the female pronoun, but doesn’t identify as trans and isn’t undergoing any sort of gender reassignment therapy or surgery. I think she is really inspiring – there’s no denying that coming out as anything oher than a red-blooded heterosexual male when you’re a bodybuilding & powerlifting idol must be HARD. Would I compete against Kroc? Well, not in any real-world scenario (because she’s a former world champ and not even in the same weight class as me!) but in a theoretical world, yes. At the moment the IPF doesn’t allow transgender athletes, but if powerlifting gains IOC recognition (as I believe it is trying to do) then it would have to adhere to the IOC’s rules, and Kroc would have to undergo reassignment if she wanted to compete officially. But “off the federation”, I think it would be an honour to just train with her, let alone compete. That said, she does ID as genderfluid, not female, so whether or not she would want to compete in a women’s class isn’t clear.

(I did want to address genderless, non-binary and genderfluid people in this post, but I will save it for another time).

As for Rousey; I know she’s not a powerlifter, but I think she has a lot of fans among people I know. I really wanted to get behind her as a feminist role model, but her transphobic comments about Fallon Fox have really put me off. Plus, I know trash talking your opponents is part of the whole UFC/MMA spectacle, but threatening to beat up Kim Kardashian and denigrating “do nothing bitches”? Not feminist. I know your faves will always be problematic, but it’s OK to let go of a fave if they prove just that bit too problematic; and Rousey is too much for me. Your mileage may vary, of course.

As a postscript to this, I read an interresting article from the Orlando Sentinel today, about the case of a body found 27 years ago which was initially assumed to be a woman who had given birth to “several” children. The article is here but it’s paywalled, so the pertinent bits of text can be read on this Tweet (hat tip to Zoe for pointing the info out). If the body of a trans woman can be mistaken for that of a cis woman who has given birth several times, does that not indicate that hormone therapy does indeed affect bone structure and muscle mass? It makes you think.

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Alas my poor neglected blog! Ironically I’ve just joined Instagram too, which will no doubt get ignored in time too.

I think that since I stopped reading so many lifting blogs/sites etc, I’ve had fewer bullshit-induced fits of rage so I just don’t feel like I have anything to say here. Especially now I consciously avoid food stuff (*cough* paleo sugarfree clean *cough*)

My training is going decidedly blah. I’m not really sure now if I should compete on the 25th July. I don’t NEED to. Then again I will feel I’m letting the gym down if I don’t (which is bollocks – I won’t be letting anyone down).

Still, on Tuesday I did 5 sets of 3 paused squats at 80kg, followed by six single 100kg deadlifts that felt pretty easy, so I’m still “on it” (as the young people say). My bench is a bit pants though – 2 sets of 3 @ 47.5kg yesterday felt like LEAD so I don’t know what’s going on there.

Actually I do have one small thing to rant about. We watched the IPF World Classic ladies 84kg and 84kg+ sessions in the gym last week, which was awesome, not just because one of our lifters was competing. My god there are some seriously strong ladies out there! But you know what was depressing? Some of the comments in the “chat” box under the video on Goodlift’s site and (I’m sad to say) some of the comments by a couple of guys at the gym.

You know the sort of thing: comments about the lifters’ “true” gender, comments about the lifters’ attractiveness, “She looks like a man hur hur hur” etc. So fucking original. So fucking BORING.

Guess what, men? Powerlifting is not a beauty contest for you lot, and it’s NOT FOR WOMEN EITHER. And questioning a competitor’s gender because she’s strong, or has slim hips, or (heaven forfend) short hair? For pity’s sake.

I read a good article on The Pool recently about women’s football, and it resonated with me regarding powerlifting: Women good at sport? They must be men.

The most recent example was South Korea’s Park Eun-seon who had six rival teams in the South Korean league accuse her of being a man… on account of her solid performance and short hair. Eventually, after a sustained period of media humiliation for Eun-seon, Seoul City Sports Council announced that as she had been tested for the previous world cup, they could confirm she was a woman.

I mean, jesus christ. This poor woman has to go through the horror of having her gender questioned publicly, then be tested, because she’s good at something that’s the preserve of men?

Sorry men, but your masculinity is as fragile as fuck if you need women to prove they’re not men when they’re better than you at something.

And yes, both this and the comments about the attractiveness of powerlifters is all about the policing of women’s bodies. Our bodies must be scrutinised and tested and compared, according to arbitrary standards of attractiveness and achievement. Ugh. Give it a rest. Let women lift, or play football, or whatever without thinking of your sexual attraction to them for a change. No-one cares about your boner.

I might have mentioned here a few times how I try to avoid reading fitness blogs etc as I find they put me in a bad headspace. I’ve gradually pared back my exposure to them to the extent that I don’t even read the Powerlifting Women group I’m in on Facebook any more (although I’m still a member – I’ve removed it from my newsfeed). I still read the GBPF Facebook group, but mostly because I run my club’s website & need to share info to the GBPF from there.

But because I’m Facebook friends with a lot of powerlifters (mostly ladies I’ve met though the British championships) I still see articles about “female fat loss”, diet, this-food-is-bad etc put into my timeline. I don’t want to unfollow all the women I’ve met as they’re all awesome, but it does make me feel like I’m a lone anomaly in powerlifting terms, that I don’t want to lose loads of body fat and I don’t want to read what (noted misogynist) Jim Wendler has to say today etc etc.

I’m sure in powerlifting terms this makes me some kind of “pussy” (sigh) but fuck it.

My Twitter timeline is more tightly curated than my Facebook, but even then I have days when I read stuff on there that gives me pause. I like to think that my Tweets (and this blog!) make it pretty clear where I stand on the political/social spectrum, but maybe they don’t? Maybe this is one of those things you have to spell out.

This week what’s been bothering me is people I usually admire espousing anti-feminist sentiment, and a nutritionist whose work I thought I liked (rare!) attacking Dr Linda Bacon & HAES. I guess my Twitter timeline needs even more of a trim.

I’m especially disappointed when people who friended me are anti-feminist. I’ve always tried to make it clear that I’m the angry, intersectional type of feminist; I work in STEM and while I’ve not experienced harassment recently, women’s issues in STEM are very important to me (hence I got pretty cross at the Rosetta shirt debacle and people dismissing it as “not important” or “pathetic”). I’m also (did you guess?) very into the work of body acceptance activists like Ragen Chastain and Hanne Blank.

All of these combine to make existing in the world of powerlifting… awkward. Obviously there’s not a lot of love for body acceptance in powerlifting (especially for women, hence the plethora of “female fat loss” advice); there’s a lot of misogyny too (not just from the men!). I find it hard to be truly myself when I’m in lifting circles. I guess I could keep my head down and not engage with the community, but that would be hard now that I’m a referee and because I do a lot of social media stuff for my gym.

On a positive note, the only fitness group I’m active in now is the Fit Fatties Forum, which is much more kind of place because it’s accepting of not only all body types but all sports. I really really hate the positioning of barbell sports as “superior” to other sports; it’s ridiculous and exclusionary.

I guess you could say I’m an intersectional sportist as well as intersectional feminist 🙂

Saturday

  • Glute & ham raises to warm up
  • Deadlifts: worked up to 2 x 2 @ 100kg, then 2 singles @ 105kg
  • Bench press: 3 x 3 @ 40kg
  • Yates row: 40kg x 7; 35kg, 2 sets of 7 (40kg was too much!)
  • Barbell shrugs: 50kg, 3 sets of 7
  • More glute & ham raises

Those deadlifts felt so heavy…. I think me & morning training just don’t get on.

Only one more session now until the competition!

Radical fatty resources

A few days ago I replied to a Facebook post asking how plus-sized bloggers get their confidence, suggesting some resources to read. That gave me an idea to write a blog post about some of my favourite fatshion bloggers and radical fatty writers. Then, today there’s a lot of stuff in the news about obesity, how the UK now has the fattest/unhealthiest/obese-est (all used interchangeably, sigh) people in Europe etc etc, so writing that blog post definitely seems apt. Not least because I keep meaning to get back to writing about fat acceptance more on here!

I started reading about fat acceptance back in 2008 or so, before I started lifting (I was exercising a bit towards the end of that year) and I’m happy & proud to have stuck with fat/size acceptance & body positivity stuff despite being barraged on all sides by the usual fitspo nonsense.

My FA journey came in two stages: initially I got into fatshion blogs & normalised the idea in my head that larger women can and do look awesome in directional, fashionable clothes. The second stage was more radical – reading feminist writing on fat acceptance, acknowledging that appreciating your body for what it is, and loving it as opposed to punishing it, is a radical act.

These are a selection of links that I’ve read/treasured/appreciated over the years, it’s by no means exhaustive – if you have some favourite links, please share them below!

Fa(t)shion blogs

Fatshionista on LiveJournal

The original site I started with. I don’t read it much any more, but if you’re an LJ regular it’s worth checking out.

Gabi Fresh

The. Best. Seriously. I love Gabi so much – she’s responsible for me wearing miniskirts for the first time at 32 and feeling AWESOME in them.

Curvy Girl Chic

Alison Teng’s blog, and she is flawless.

Arched Eyebrow & Pocket Rocket Fashion

Two London girls I love and who come to my gym!!! *dies*

The Curves Have It, Fuller Figure Fuller Bust & Curvy Wordy

Three awesome lingerie (and clothes) bloggers who have given me serious bra envy (and resulted in my owning far more Curvy Kate bras than are strictly necessary!)

The Wardrobe Challenge

If I’ve just spent a fortune at ASOS, Hanna is usually responsible.

Radical fatty resources

Shapely Prose

Now archived, but IMHO the seminal resource for fat/size acceptance.

Dances With Fat

Ragen Chastain is a dancer & choreographer, who completed a marathon & got a whole heap of shit for it. Check out her hate mail if you want to see what trolls think of fat people exercising.

Golda Poretsky

Holistic health practitioner & body love coach, Golda also gets a whole heap of hate for helping people love themselves. Her TED talks are worth watching.

Fierce, Freethinking Fatties

FFF is a collaborative blog that I don’t always 100% agree with, but is always thought-provoking & well-written.

Fat Body Politics

Quite a new one for me, but excellent reading so far.

Fat Nutritionist

Michelle is fat, and a nutritionist. I know, right?! The two are not mutually exclusive, who knew?

Health At Every Size Blog

The original resource for HAES info, originated by Linda Bacon.

Obesity Timebomb

Definitely the most radical on the list, Dr Cooper’s writings are pretty provocative and controversial. Which is why you should read her.

So, your turn – what are your favourite fa(t)shion, FA, HAES & related resources? Any vital ones I’ve missed out?

52 Weeks to Your Best Body Ever, by Hanne Blank

I haven’t talked enough on here recently about fat acceptance/size acceptance/body positivity, and I feel I should remedy that a bit, especially given I’ve decided not to make weight for my next competition & instead just compete at whatever weight I happen to be on the day. This most likely means I’ll end up in the 84kg class.

The way the GBPF works, if you put down a weight class on your entry form but turn up on the day as underweight, you aren’t allowed to move down a class. So if I put down 84kg on my entry form & turn up 72.0kg on the day, I’ll have to lift in the class above, IYSWIM. Given my natural, not-trying-to-make-weight weight is anywhere between 72-74kg, this might happen. I’m not doing a bulk or anything like that, I’m just not going to make weight (that extra weight I carry isn’t bulk, it’s chub 🙂 )

I won’t deny I’ve gone backwards & forwards about doing this. For starters, if I squat 97.5kg+ at my next competition, then I won’t be able to set the Greater London divisional 72kg record, which is an arse. But I’m trying to weigh up if I want a divisional record or a 100kg squat more. Second, I don’t half feel out of condition at the moment. Not specifically because of the extra weight, but because I’ve not been going to conditioning recently (because of holidays/conferences) and I can only go to yoga once every two weeks now (because of the meeting schedule at my new job). Part of me wants to say “Just go back to eating no bread/no dairy again! Lose that gross belly!!!” But I don’t want to do that – I want to get back to how I felt before I saw the nutritionist & before I injured my back – 74.5kg, feeling strong as hell, and drinking half a litre of milk every day.

Then the other day I saw that Hanne Blank is doing a “52 Weeks to Your Best Body Ever”. Hanne Blank, if you don’t know her already, is a brilliant writer & speaker on body positivity. Her book The Unapologetic Fat Girls’ Guide to Exercise (and other Incendiary Acts) is fantastic. Last year I did her 100 Days of Body Practice in which I walked to & from the station every day, and found it very positive (I now walk to the station all the time; although I’ve moved house and my then-7-minute walk to the station is now a 20-minute, 1-mile walk!)

So when I saw Hanne advertising her “52 Weeks to Your Best Body Ever” program on Twitter I jumped at the chance to sign up. I like think I’m already pretty savvy, body-positivity wise, but one can always learn more and by supporting Hanne I hope she can spread the size-positive gospel further & wider. Every little bit of positive reinforcement helps!

I’m so excited to start on this, and I wish Hanne every luck in the world. Please go check out her fundraiser, and her books; and I’ll report back here about how I get on!

Competition prep: week 5, day 2; bad news and sh*tty happenings

My back tells me that squatting 85kg for doubles on Monday was a bad idea. I’ve been sore all week, not just DOMS-sore but a definite deeper injured-type soreness. I went for more physio yesterday – including my first foray into acupuncture! – and he suggested it might be best if I don’t compete on the 26th. I am inclined to agree, although it breaks my heart. I had really hoped to lift at the Farm Open & make an attempt at that magic 100kg squat to celebrate my 5-year anniversary of lifting, but that’s not going to happen now. At least, if I rest & heal properly, I will have a shot at it in July at the Greater London club championships.

I went to BGWLC last night, and my coach has said “wait & see”. I might feel better in 3 weeks, but then even if I lift, I’m going to be lifting untrained (except for my bench, which is going pretty well) so I’m not sure there’s any point.

When I was walking to the physio yesterday, a man walking past decided I was looking at him, and looking at him in an unappealing way, so thought it appropriate to tell me to “fuck off you cunt” and spit in my direction. I have been feeling a bit fragile recently, with my back problems & some work stress, so I wound up bursting into tears (once the man was well out of sight!) and having to pretend to the physio that I had hayfever.

There’s this belief around that once you’re over a certain age, men no longer notice you & make comments about you on the street (and a very fucked-up opinion among some that younger women should feel appreciative of sexual comments, because they won’t get them when they’re older). I’ve managed to go without getting harassed on the street for a few years, but in the last 7 days it’s happened to me twice. A week ago I was walking home, and 3 kids in a BMW pulled up besides me on my own street and made some really crude remarks. Then yesterday, I get aggression from a man for daring to have my eyes stray over him (I assume he was looking at me to see me looking at him, but I guess that doesn’t count?)

I normally think of myself as a pretty moderate feminist, but honestly, shit like this makes me want to go full misandry, full #killallmen. People shouldn’t feel like they have to keep their faces neutral & their eyes on the floor when they’re walking down the street. I should be able to walk home without small children in their daddy’s BMW propositioning me. I’m so angry that yesterday’s incident has made me wonder if I should walk to the physio via a different route next week – but I shouldn’t have to, you know?

I’ve taken today off work as I just couldn’t face going in today. The combination of work stress + worry about my back + idiot street harassers means I need a day of self-care. Self-care is important.

Last night’s workout:

  • Bench: worked up to 3 doubles @ 47.5kg (95%)
  • Machine rows: 5 sets of 5 @ 20kg (each hand)
  • Front raise: 3 sets of 8 with a 10kg plate
  • Dumbbell shrugs: 5 with 20kg; 2 sets of 5 with 25kg
  • Tricep pushdowns: 3 sets of 10 @ 15kg

And on a final, ironic note: remember all that worry I had about making weight? Well, I’ve managed to get down to 72.8kg (800g over). Which is great, but a bit futile now. Dammit.

How & why I started powerlifting

Disclaimer 1: this ended up being a little jumbled, as I can’t get my thoughts 100% clear on it. Please feel free to ask me to clarify anything in comments!

Jennifer from Wine to Weightlifting requested a post from me about how I got into powerlifting. I can go one better and write about the hows and some of the whys!

It’s coming up for five years since I started at BGWLC, so things are a tad hazy now. However, I was regularly documenting everything in my LiveJournal back then, and looking back I can see I did my first session on April 22nd 2009, where I did 20kg box squats, 20kg bench & 40kg deadlift. But how did I get there?

At that point I had been seeing a personal trainer at my work gym for a couple of months. I was 32 and started seeing her because I was feeling very unfit, I’d never exercised before, didn’t know how to exercise and (dare I say it) I thought I was fat. I initially told her I wanted to lose 2 stone (28lbs).

I started doing pretty regular training stuff with the PT – jogging (outside & on the treadmill), weights machines, other cardio bits & bobs etc. It was OK. I signed up for a 5k, all the usual beginner cliches. But I didn’t really love it – especially not jogging (I was never able to “run” – my fastest-ever 5k time was 41 minutes, and that was me moving as fast as I possibly could without dying).

I did a little bit of free-weight work but not much, as we were limited by the equipment in my work gym. I decided, somehow, that I really fancied learning how to lift weights properly. I don’t recall where this idea really came from, but it had been there for a while. And I wanted to be taught, formally – not to just sign up at a better-equipped gym & try to figure it out myself. So I had a bit of a Google and came up with Tower Hamlets Adult Education’s Weight & Power Lifting classes.

And now for an interjection. I did NOT want to start weightlifting because of all those “get sexy, lean and strong” images out there. In fact, I didn’t even know that rhetoric & those images existed when I started lifting – and if I did know, I don’t think I would have started lifting. Honestly.

Let me back up a bit. I have always been a bit…weird regarding gender. Sure, I’m a woman & all that, but in my 20s I went through a period of really really hating being a woman and would have given anything to be something else. I think if I had been exposed to Twitter, easily-consumed feminism and the fact that gender essentialism is bullshit in my 20s, I would have been a much happier person. But I wasn’t, and as a result I loathed anything “stereotypically female” for a long time.

So when I decided I wanted to lift weights, I wanted to lift weights because I wanted to be more like men. I wanted to lift weights to be more aggressive, more intimidating, bigger, scarier. If I had seen articles about how weightlifting can make women more sexy, attractive to men, whatever, I would have rejected it off the bat. I didn’t want to be more like a woman – being a woman was, for me, less than desirable. My inspiration was people like the WSM competitors – big, strong, and yes – pretty scary-seeming; not the lean, sexy, passive, submissively-posed lady fitspo image that’s so prevalent now. My idols have pretty much always been male.

So when I see people saying they don’t want to lift because they’re scared of being “manly”, it doesn’t resonate with me. I started lifting because I wanted to move away from being perceived as feminine. I already worked in all-male environments, so this was just another step in that direction, right? I wanted strength, I wanted bulk, I wanted to be intimidating – all traits that my mind associated with being manly.

Luckily, it’s a few years later and I’ve wised up to the fact that being a woman doesn’t mean you have to be feminine (stereotypically or otherwise), passive, sexy, attractive, etc etc. I can be bulky, aggressive, intimidating, whatever, and it doesn’t stop me being a woman (in my eyes anyhow). Down with stereotypical gender bullshit! Thank god for Twitter & feminism 🙂

So back to April 2009. While I started working out with my PT with the goal of losing 2 stone, that fell by the wayside pretty quickly. I think I realised after a few months of working my ass off with the PT that losing weight wasn’t going to happen – and maybe I didn’t want it to anyway. I signed up to BGWLC thinking I was signing up for (what I later learned was) Olympic weightlifting, but turned out both Giles (the WL coach) and Martin (the PL coach) were there on the day I signed up. Martin took one look at me – short, round – and decided I should try powerlifting, which I’d never heard of. The rest,as they say, is history!

So if you ever wonder why I’m uninterested in talking about lifting weights making you leaner/sexier; why I don’t chime in with saying “lifting won’t make you bulky/manly!” etc, maybe this helps explain why. Powerlifting has not only made me stronger & more confident, but it’s also made me more comfortable in my skin because it has not made me sexier/leaner/more attractive, and that doesn’t matter! I embrace the bulk, and big muscles aren’t necessarily “manly” (but what’s wrong with being manly anyhow?). For me, powerlifting has brought fitness without the aesthetic obligation.

Disclaimer 2: If people want to use lifting to make themselves more attractive, that’s cool – there are zillions of articles telling you how lifting can do that! Just not here 😉