Friday, October 23, 2015

The importance of a female-friendly gym

That awesome moment when you squat 390lbs as a girl, and
everyone is happy and proud instead of feeling threatened or resentful.
(Photo credit: Bobby Menbari of Tabata Times)
I've waxed ecstatic about my gym, Anchored Strength & Conditioning, before, and as you could probably tell from my lifting videos, things are going really well for me on that front. I've found a place where I belong and I've found a sport that I can excel at.

This isn't everyone's story. At least, this is not every woman's story. I've read more than my fair share of comments and blogs from women who get bothered (at best) and harassed (at worst) when they go to the gym. And that sucks, for many reasons. Women are expected to be attractive and sexy, which includes being fit and thin, so that often necessitates going to the gym. And while they're AT the gym, working hard and trying to achieve their goals, they also get treated like objects and eye candy. Or, if they're not considered attractive and sexy, they are objects of ridicule. Or, they're told that they're going to be get "too big" and look "like a man."

Do we not deserve a place to be ourselves, a place where we can shut out other people's opinions of us? A place where we can let OUT all the toxicity we've been taking in, instead of being forced to take in more?

This is why I'm so lucky to have my gym.

Just because a gym lets women through the door, it doesn't necessarily mean it's female-friendly. I mean, let's face it, money is money, right? Of course they're going to let you in. But that doesn't mean that women are always welcomed in the weight room as equal participants.

So what does it mean to be a female-friendly gym? I'll tell you what it looks like to me, based on my experiences at Anchored:

It means that weight loss is a goal only if you want it to be, for your own reasons. (So no one's pushing you to shed pounds in order to get hot.) And that weight loss advice is grounded in common sense and safe activities for your body and fitness level. It means that you receive workout advice based on what you can do, right now, with the body you've got, being celebrated for what you can do, and not derided for what you can't do.

It means that no one, male or female, is warning you against "getting too big" or "manly," and in fact, being told that that's a myth anyway. And it doesn't actually matter how "big" you are - people care more about how you're doing rather than how you look.

Along those same lines, it means seeing a variety of body types, and all those people look content and focused, which tells me that they're all getting equal amounts of attention from coaches and encouragement from everyone. It means that one body type isn't being privileged over another, and that no one is being left behind, no matter their body type or gender or age or whatever.

It means that the men are supportive and encouraging of the women, rather than being resentful, intimidated, condescending, or just plain objectifying. And it means that the women are supportive and encouraging of each other, instead of seeing each other as competition. It means that we can all learn from each other, admire each other, and respect each other.

And again, I'm really lucky that I've found a place like this for myself. This isn't something you can necessarily engineer, especially at a commercial gym (which Anchored is not, and I know that makes a difference). It depends so much on who's in charge, the staff and clients they choose to take on, and the atmosphere they create through their expectations. And you know what? It depends on the example set by the trainers and coaches too. Just like how kids in a classroom are absorbing behavioral cues from their teacher, I think that we as clients are watching our trainers and coaches as well, and the way they behave sets the tone for everything else. So when your coaches are constantly like, "We have such strong girls at this gym!" and "The women are what make this gym!", it means something. When your coaches do not use shame or humiliation as motivation tactics, it means something. When your male coaches are not threatened by strong women, it means something.

Why does it matter? Because it's hard enough to be a fat girl walking into a gym. Actually, it's hard enough being a fat girl, period. Being a lesser-privileged gender and body type (and race, for that matter) means constantly being at the edge of your comfort zone for various intersectional reasons, and existing like that day-to-day is hard enough, period.

And so, in addition, walking into a gym to exercise pushes you even more out of your comfort zone. Because contrary to what the magazines tell you, fitness isn't pretty. The glossy professional photos make people look really awesome, but if you've ever watched someone run, lift, swim, etc. in real life, it's not a "pretty" sight: you're sweaty and red, and maybe your hair's plastered to your forehead, or your face contorts, or you smell bad. Being unpretty (translation: making yourself vulnerable) out in public is a legitimate concern for a lot of people, especially people who are already heavily scrutinized for how they look, so yes, it does take you out of your comfort zone.

Finding a place to work out where you feel comfortable, respected, valued, and even loved? It's priceless.

So here's to all the truly female-friendly gyms, trainers, and coaches out there. Please keep up the awesome work. Please keep treating your women well, in addition to your men, because we all deserve a place to go where we can feel safe and empowered and strong.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The opposite of a bucket list

A quick search on Google tells me that the opposite of a bucket list is a F***-It List, a list of things you have absolutely no desire to do before you die. And while I do have certain things that meet this criteria, I ultimately feel like making a list like that, for me anyway, would come across as more negative than liberating.

Instead, I'm reminded of a blog post I read a while ago (which I can no longer find), where instead of making a list of awesome things she wants to do before she dies, the writer makes a list of awesome things she has already done, that she is proud of and happy about.

I really like this idea. I've been feeling pretty down lately about my knee and about not being able to run. It's easy for me to get stuck in this downward spiral of sadness and despair. And really, I shouldn't because in truth, I'm a really lucky woman. I've had many amazing opportunities in my life, and I've done a lot of cool things.

So this list is not meant to be bragging, humble or otherwise. I didn't make this list to rub anyone's nose in my privilege - rather, it's to remind myself to check mine, and to tell myself that no matter what happens from here on out, I've already led a very full life. (So I should shut the hell up and quit feeling sorry for myself.) I plan to revisit and reread this list anytime I need reminding of that fact.

Awesome Things I've Already Done, No Matter When I End Up Dying (in no particular order):
(There needs to be a better name for this type of list...)
  • I've been platinum blonde. Heck yeah!
  • I've run three full marathons.
  • I lettered in a varsity sport (swimming). In college. After never playing sports ever in high school.
  • I got to yell "GOOD MORNING JOHN, IT'S FRIDAY!" for a Vlogbrothers video. (You can't see me or anything, but I'm definitely in the second crowd with my friend Jeannie.)
  • I've run (or walked) 31 half marathons, thirteen of which were in one calendar year.
  • I was on a Buzzfeed list once. That was pretty cool.
  • I've played roller derby! For an actual league! I even helped my team win a championship trophy one time!
  • I've been to Rollercon, twice! And took classes from my derby hero!
  • I've completed a duathlon and a triathlon.
  • I'm super, super close to hitting 1,000 on my powerlifting total. I'm about to compete in my very first weightlifting competition.
  • I've run a lot of Disney races, including one at Disneyworld and including the Star Wars Rebel Challenge (19.3 in one weekend).
  • I've run a lot of Nike Women's Half Marathons.
  • I've run Bay to Breakers and also a Rock 'n' Roll half marathon.
  • I've also volunteered for a race and cheered others on!
  • I've had posts of mine featured by major beauty bloggers and written book reviews that evoked heartfelt thank you emails from authors, which was also really cool.
  • I've read a lot of books. A LOT OF BOOKS. 
  • I've had a baby, who is growing up to be an amazing person thanks in part to her father, who is also an amazing person, and I love them both so very much.
  • I've earned a Master's Degree.
  • I was awarded the science department medal when I graduated from high school. Even though I didn't end up pursuing science, it's still a major honor to be recognized as superlative among a graduating class full of amazing girls. 
  • I've had a long-ish, rewarding-ish career as a teacher, which has allowed me to reach hundreds of students and hopefully make a difference in at least some of their lives.
  • I've done some awesome Halloween costumes, like making a wig full of Play-doh snakes to be Medusa, or sewing my own 20s-inspired dress for a Gatsby-themed costume, or dressing up in a black and white and red Victorian garb for Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus
  • I can knit, crochet, spin (using a drop spindle), and cross-stitch. I can even sew a little bit. And I'm super handy with my makeup brushes :)
  • I used to sing and play bass guitar in a band. At some point, I've also played piano and regular guitar.
  • I'm about to move to Portland, which is something I've always wanted. 

It's been a good life so far, and it's not over yet. 
Credit: EMM, not Emma

What would you put on your list? I'd love to know! Celebrate yo self!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nostalgia can really trigger FEELS sometimes.

Dear Teenaged Me,

What would you say to me if you could know what our life would be like now?

What if I could show you that things were not going to turn out how you planned?

Would you just shrug and say "Okay"? Or would you be disappointed in me?

What if I told you that you're not going to be a doctor like you've wanted since you were 6? You're not going to do anything even remotely sciencey, and you're definitely going to be doing anything "glamorous." And that even after ten years on the job, you will still have doubts every single day about whether you made the right decision. Every. Single. Day. The extent to which you will experience Imposter Syndrome wrt your job will be staggering.

And also: you had wanted to get married by 25 and to have at least one kid by 30. Well, the kid part happened. And you're not going to get married, but you're still in love with the same shy boy whom you met when you were 15. And that sounds very sweet and all, but things have been about as far from "happily ever after" and "high school sweethearts" as you can imagine.

What if I told you that while he will be your only partner, he won't be your only heartbreak?

And what if I also told you that you're still going to be heavy and thick, even in adulthood? You will not suddenly blossom into a goddess in your 20s and have men fall at your feet like you're some sort of Carrie Bradshaw. In fact, you will go through some dark times wrt your body and your self-esteem, possibly even worse than in high school, because you had always assumed that when you reached adulthood you would've had this crap all figured out, and the fact that you haven't yet will make you feel extra guilty.

And what if I told you that you will still constantly feel awkward, out of place, boring, and generally unworthy? Those feelings will never go away. You will get better at managing them, but deep down inside, you will always wonder if people actually like you or if they're just being nice. Or like, they think they like you, but if they knew just how dull and mundane you feel 90% of the time, maybe they wouldn't think you were so likeable.

What if I told you that you're still in Milpitas after all this time? I think this would piss you off the most. You always wanted to get out of here. You even went to college out of state because you wanted out of Milpitas. But you will end up spending a lengthy chunk of time in this town that you've never really liked.


What if I told you that, you probably already knew that you'd be happier with literature in your life, regardless of career path? After all, you were already in love with Pride and Prejudice and vampire YAF books back then anyway. That part hasn't changed a bit.

What if I told you that your daughter will be one of the coolest people you know, thanks in part to you and to your really cool partner? And that no, things won't be perfect, and sometimes you will want to tear your hair out, but to quote Taylor Swift, you will come crashing down, but you will come back every time?

What if I told you that your best friend in high school is still your best friend now, and you have also added more amazing best friends to your posse, and that you will learn how to be less judgey of people who are different from you?

What if I told you that, as an adult, you will discover a side of you that you had never, ever considered before? You grew up the fat, nerdy kid, and you will still be a fat, nerdy adult, but you will be athletic and strong anyway. What if you could've known back then that there would be roller derby and running and powerlifting in your life, and that your body would be capable and that you would really love being an athlete? And that some of the most amazing people you have ever met will be people you met through "being a jock"? How would you look at yourself then?

What if I told you that, while you will still feel awkward and out of place and all that, that you will at least find many other people who feel the same way, so at least you won't be alone?

And what if I told you that things can still change for you, even now? That life is never set in stone, and that if you still aren't happy with how things are going, that you can still do something about it?

What would you say to me? What would you think of me?