Open Letter To The Stylist Who Told My Client To Stop Lifting Because She Is Getting Bulky

Dear Stylist,

You and I have a friend in common. I’ll call her Bella.

Like she is with you, Bella is both my dear friend and my client. I help her with her health and fitness. You help her with her hair and clothing.

Bella and I have been working together for nearly 4 years. During that time I have seen her make tremendous progress in her physicality and her mindset. When we first started working together she struggled with regular bouts of severe pain, the remnants of old injuries and traumas. Bella and I have worked together with dedication and through many setbacks to strengthen her musculoskeletal system and balance her nervous system. I have spoken with her about the biopsychosocial model of pain and the ways in which stress, negative self-talk and poor nutrition affect her pain levels. She has taken it all to heart and made sincere efforts on several fronts toward greater wellness.

And she is succeeding! Over the past two years in particular she has spent far fewer days flattened by pain. I know this because it is my job as her coach to keep track of whether my programming is effective or not. Bella can now deadlift and squat like a champ, pushes hard during her workouts without having to stop due to pain, makes healthier food choices and talks way less shit about her own body in general. These are huge strides.

But…

But, but, but…

Yesterday Bella told me that you, Dear Stylist, told her that she needs to stop lifting weights because she is getting “beefy” or “bulky” or…I can’t remember what inane word you used, but I know it was not kind. You were mean-spirited and shallow and short-sighted and selfish when you told our mutual friend that you are “having trouble fitting her into clothes” because her back is getting broader.

Need I remind you that our friend has used strength training as a tool to get herself out of PHYSICAL PAIN?! Those big, broad back muscles that you disdain are her Latissimi Dorsi and they are big part of the reason Bella does not hurt as much as she used to. Not to mention the fact that those muscles are sexy as hell. Slip Bella into a backless dress and see how many heads she turns!

When I try a movement with a client and it doesn’t work for her ~ maybe it causes pain or is uncoordinated and inefficient ~ it is my job to choose a new exercise that suits her. It’s the exercise that is wrong for her body, not her body that is wrong for the exercise.

The same holds true for your work. It is not the woman’s job to shape her body to fit a dress. It is your job to find a dress that makes her look and feel beautiful.

Besides, anybody who knows anything about fashion knows that ready-to-wear clothing doesn’t fit anybody perfectly. Tim Gunn speaks about this often, and I was 17 years old when I learned this priceless lesson from Vogue magazine: Having your clothes altered to fit you correctly is one of the secrets to looking like a million bucks. Yep that’s right, even Vogue 20 years ago was acknowledging that every woman’s body is uniquely shaped.

If a meathead gymrat like me knows this fashion secret, I am certain that a sophisticated stylist like you knows it too.

I could tell that your comment hurt Bella. I could see her doubting her hard work, wondering if her body is in fact unattractive, undesirable. I wonder how your comments might negatively impact her eating habits and her self-talk. I wonder if she is fact considering giving up strength training.

It will be a shame if she does stop lifting and opts instead for an exercise modality that makes her body smaller in the places that you want her body to be smaller such as lots of cardio or barre classes or hot yoga or whatever silly craze is currently being marketed to women with the help of internalized misogyny and the myth that a woman’s worth is based solely on how dainty, quiet and small she can be.

If Bella were to stop lifting, she would lose both muscle and bone. This is a serious issue, especially for women as we can easily lose 1 - 2 % of our bone mineral density as we age. In the 5 to 10 years after menopause, we can lose as much as 4% of our bone mineral density. This is the path to osteoporosis.

I know it can be hard for a woman obsessed with preserving the superficial and fleeting beauty of youth to imagine a vibrant, sexy and fulfilling life after menopause, but for women who keep their bodies strong, their minds engaged, their spirits curious and their hearts open, life only deepens and expands with age. As we age, the quality of our lives is directly related to the robusticity of our tissues ~ strong muscles and bones mean more activity and less reliance on others for the daily tasks of life.

And I’ll tell you this for certain: There is nothing sexy about falling and breaking your hip, even if you do it while fitting perfectly into a ready-to-wear size 2.

I could go on, write at length about the how strength training improves mental health, cognitive function, sex drive and sleep, regulates insulin, growth hormone and cortisol, keeps your metabolism stoked and so much more.

Instead I’ll finish with a reminder that is so obvious I feel trite writing it: Being a woman in this time and place, in this world that overlooks us, sees us as second-rate, as property, as aesthetic fluff, is really REALLY hard. Women need to be a source of comfort and strength to one another. We need to reflect and remind each other of our innate value, not cut each other down.

I’m implore you, Dear Stylist, please stop with the shallow, stop with the hurtful, stop trying to make women smaller.

And women everywhere, can we please once and for all stop listening to and stop retelling these demeaning narratives? Can we please stop obsessing about body size and instead focus on building authentic, meaningful, loving lives Can we please get onto the work of living that actually matters?

As always,

Yours in bulkiness,

Amanda


The Answer Is: Dance!

Writer's block? Dance. Bright idea? Dance. Bored? Dance. Anxious? Dance. Mad at your boo? Dance. Desire your boo? Dance. Feeling concerned for the future of humanity? Dance. Feeling hopeful for the horizon? Dance. Standing under an eclipse? Dance. Watching the news? Dance. Waiting for the bus? Dance. Waiting for payday? Dance. Riding on a star? Dance. Crumbling down? Dance. Dance dance dance dance dance.

Reflections On Movement As Self-Care

It's much simpler than you think.

The only rule: Don't stop.

In other words: Keep moving.

Not in a frantic or obsessive or punishing way.

Move steadily. Move with patience and presence. Soft persistence.

Be at once invigorated and relaxed.

The golden ticket: Find the place where effort and ease meet. Live there often.

Play your edges from time to time, but mostly hold the center, find moderation. Learn to be comfortable in moderation. This is an act of rebellion in a culture addicted to extremes and novelties.

You must move every day. You must move a lot. You must make every shape you can make. How many shapes can you make today? How many times can you make all those shapes today?

Because bad ideas come from those who sit still, who stare at screens all day.

Affirm your life through movement. Refresh your brain. See things new. Breathe deeply. Move!

Do some squats. Do some push ups. Learn to climb a tree. Move to music. Take a long walk.

But don’t run a marathon.

Unless running a marathon is the deepest longing in your heart. In that case, do it.

But don't do it because you think you have to in order to prove yourself or in order to make yourself worthy or because you believe that this thing ~ this marathon or whatever it is ~ is the thing you must to to be healthy and vital.

There are so many ways to care for your body with movement, but the essential rule is that you must like what you are doing. If it does not bring you joy: Stop. Find another way.

Do the unglamourous thing. The thing that will not be hailed or recognized. Trade ambition for attention. How does light move, air taste, your sweet one’s smile start? Indulge in the places where meaning is made.

Because you know how your body feels when you tell a lie: Not right.

It’s May, sweet friends. Don’t forget you are alive.


Punk Rock Walking: A Manifesto

1) Do you feel the rumbling? The upswell, the surge inside? The itching, the ache, the sense that there is more to existence than this robotic buzz hypnotizing, these screens confining busy worker bees on behalf of polite society, capitalism, consumption. These walls! This structure! Do you feel the infinite scream in your throat? The riot in your gut? Do you see the stagnation, the slow death to cells and souls? You do see! You know, even if you try to ignore it. DO NOT! Do not surrender. Do not be numb. Be fierce in your willingness to acknowledge what is true: Life demands you to move. Do not die in your cage. The door is open. Get out!

2) Those are not your toes. Bent and misshapen, bubbling corns and bunions. This is not your fate, your destiny, god’s will. Your toes can move, should move! Spread and lift. Curl! Wiggle one at time. Kiss the earth toe by toe. Kiss your lips toe by toe. Use your hands as the messenger. Massage and stretch. Lightly tickle. Liberate your feet. Let them out!

3) Here’s the crux, the essential thing to know: Do not be ashamed of your gnarly toes, your buckling ankles, your dropped arches. Your feet were bound as a baby. You had no choice: Wear these shoes. Now: Go to school. Now: Sit at a desk. Have to pee? Raise your hand. Ask permission. Can you hold it until the end of the lecture? You can’t, but you are afraid to step out of line so you nod and sit quietly, but hear nothing. You feel only the burn in your bladder. You see only the lazy red line counting seconds on the clock. Slower. Each. Beat. Your feet are shaped by your society. Your feet, your mind, your heart, your body. Your health and your sickness, your aches and your injuries all created by your culture, our culture. It is not your fault. You were born innocent to a group agreement that we all ignore our bodily impulses in favor of an arbitrary order of collective silence. It is not your fault. But now: It is your responsibility. You are an adult. You must sharpen your mind, think deeper, see better with age. Do not let your feet look like that anymore. Learn what toes are capable of achieving, find out how strong feet are shaped.

4) Buy only shoes that you love. Ones that feel good and allow your toes room to move. Shoes from Italy or Oregon. The most well made you can afford. Why do we still believe that items should be cheap? We know the cost of “cheap” things ~ the cost to our environment, to our fellow humans working in factories, to our own souls when we pretend we don’t know these things ~ is actually incalculable. Belongings should be expensive and beautiful and should last a long time. People should earn a living wage for creating the costumes with which we adorn ourselves. Earth should not be abused so we can get dressed in the morning. Our closets should be small and uncrowded. Buy good shoes. Wear them enthusiastically. Polish them once a week. Have their soles repaired when they need it. Know your cobbler by name. Bring him flowers on his birthday.

5) Walk everywhere always as much as you can. Pick up litter along the way. Drop your envelopes in the mailbox. Notice your neighborhood. Where are you needed? Can you be of service? Carry groceries on your back and in your arms. Stop for coffee along the way. Know your barista by name. Bring her flowers on her birthday.

6) Your body was born millions of years ago in an environment full of smells and sights, sensationally rich. In those days, you shivered in the wind and warmed your skin in the sun. Your feet felt earth. You saw birds in faraway trees. You were alert, aware, able to respond to every unexpected physical challenge. You could run and climb and reach and squat and throw and rip and pull and drag and carry. Can you make your walks this vivid? How many different surfaces can you walk on? Balance on? How many leaps can you take? How many strange looks can you get from people passing you by?

7) You don’t have to wear sweatpants when you walk. You can dress beautifully when you walk. Aesthetics mean something. Not superficial, fashionista, mainstream “beauty” standard type of aesthetics, but the type of aesthetics that show consideration, care, delight for the experience of being embodied. Look for beautiful buildings when you walk, ones that please your eye, surprise you, call you inside. How do they make you feel? Now look at the sterile, unimaginative buildings, the thoughtless boxes that were erected in service of the developer’s bank account, not in service of the community that must pass by and enter them. Do these make you feel dead a little? Don’t die inside! Be the beautiful building, you.

8) Climb everything. Fences and walls. But if it’s a tree, be reverent. Ask, “May I climb you?” Wait for permission. Then move gently. Hug limbs and trunk. Say thank you.

9) If we put the care of our bodies first, we would experience a revolution. Care is not a weight-loss obsession or the latest fitness craze or winning at athletic competition or performing extreme feats of physical exertion. Care is awe and wonder at the divine collection of stardust cells and water and wind that make up your mysterious existence as flesh and bone and blood. Human. If we put the care of our human bodies first, we would know that what we need is not stand up treadmill desks, but fresh air, clean water, real food, movement all day, community, ceremony, connection, and meaning.

10) Revolution needs two things. It needs bold visionaries who see the insanity and exclaim without apology, “No more!” And it needs small, seemingly insignificant changes made daily, step by step, quietly by all those who also see the insanity, who see the potential of our humanity, who believe it can be better. Walk.


Will You Join Me For A Power Promenade?

On I daily basis I watch, teach, assess and motivate people to move. A big part of this job involves problem solving. I have to figure out what might be preventing a client from accessing full hip extension, or help a client with a broken foot find ways to move that support the healing process, or overcome psychological resistance that some exhibit when being asked to move beyond their comfort zones, or be able to teach complex movements to a group of people all with different body types and learning styles.

I enjoy this part of my job, even when it is difficult and I seem to be hitting only dead ends. On some level I think even enjoy my job the most when it is difficult and I seem to be only hitting dead ends. This is where my growth comes.

One of my favorite problems to solve is the one of helping people ~ my clients and those of you reading this blog ~ is the problem of time and motivation. How can we make movement a seamless part of our busy daily lives? How can people who feel put off and alienated by the fitness industry find joy and delight in {and thereby all the health benefits that come along with} moving their bodies?

This video is one of one small attempt and helping solve this very problem. I hope you enjoy it.


Reasons To Be Fit #1

You can observe,

strategize,

step up,

reach,

bend back,

contemplate,

pause,

unravel,

pull,

push,

jump, lift,

and straddle,

land,

prepare,

and hang

the strand of handmade hearts,

sewn together

~ one by one ~

{by a beautiful friend}

with a bell at the bottom.

You can descend,

and ring the bell to call in sleep.

When you are fit, you can dream magic.


A Wish For Jillian Michaels

For the most part, I am a positive person. I like to like: people, activities, ideas, art, food, just things in general. For me this isn't difficult. I am not critical or skeptical or judgmental by nature.

This is the reason why I picked the latest copy of Shape magazine when I saw Jillian Michaels on the cover. Despite disdaining women's fitness magazines, despite having experienced a palpable feeling of nausea seeing Ms. Michaels work with clients during both of the two occasions I watched The Biggest Loser, I wanted to give them both a second (or third in the case of Michaels and three-millionth in the case of Shape) chance to redeem themselves. I wanted to like them both.

Particularly Jillian Michaels. She is, after all, one of America's most visible personal trainers. My clients know about her and it is her working style that comes to mind for many when they envision the relationship between a personal trainer and a client. I want to look at Ms. Michaels as a role model. I want to believe she offers a positive and helpful perspective on what it means to be a strong, healthy woman.

The results of my read?

I was disappointed.

There were several things about the interview in the May 2011 issue of Shape that made me want to scream, but I will spare you a lengthy rant and write only about the thing that troubled me the most.

This quote from Jillian Michaels:

"There's this one dimple on the back of my butt that's like a cavern. I swear to you it's just un-friggin'-believable! No matter how thin I get, I still have cellulite. I've tried every cream. I've ironed my ass at the plastic surgeon's office with a laser -- nothing worked. I've finally reached a point where I accept my flaw, but that doesn't mean I feel good about it."

First: I'm certain there's no cavern on the back of Jillian Michael's leg. A handful of small dimples? Perhaps. Cavern? No.

Second: Seriously? This is what she chooses to use her fame to discuss? Is she really, truly this self-absorbed, this shallow? Not once did she mention the importance of strength training for maintaining a healthy body composition or for preventing diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Not once did she mention the benefits of cardiovascular exercise including (but certainly not limited to) preventing heart disease, managing high blood pressure, reducing stress, boosting sex drive, helping insomnia, improving mood and self-esteem and enhancing cognitive processes and creativity. Not once did Ms. Michaels mention anything that could positively influence the people whose lives she is supposedly trying to help with her work. Instead she chose to discuss the "cavern" on the back of her leg. It is this sort of language, this sort of hateful self-scrutiny that fuels eating disorder epidemics and affirms the unhealthy standards against which women's bodies are judged.

I, too, have cellulite. A fair amount of it. I also have little red spider veins on my legs. And roundness to my belly. And breasts that fall toward my armpits when I lie on my back. I exercise regularly and I eat healthily, but still I have these things.

Does it bother me?

Let me answer this way: If Barbara Eden herself appeared from a golden bottle and offered me 100 wishes, eliminating my cellulite and spider veins, flattening my belly and plumping my breasts would not be among my wishes. What if she offered me 100,000 wishes? Nope. 100,000,000? Again, no.

What would I wish for?

For starters, I'd wish for an end to hundreds of thousands of rapes of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'd wish for humane conditions for factory workers in China. I'd wish for an end to the sex slave trade. I'd wish that every living creature on the planet had access to clean drinking water. I'd wish that children in poor neighborhoods of this country were given the same education and opportunities as children in wealthy neighborhoods. I'd wish that humans would stop hurting our planet and our fellow animals with our greedy overconsumption. I'd wish for racism, sexism, agism, homophobia, hatred and ignorance of every sort to vanish entirely, forever.

What does this have to do with exercise, you ask? It doesn't have much to do with exercise itself, but it does have everything to do with our mindsets about exercise. When we focus our precious mental energy toward what is superficial and insignificant ~ for even one moment ~ we condone all that is shallow and trivial. We waste. We miss our opportunity to imprint the world around us in a meaningful and important way.

I believe in my work as fitness professional. I believe in the power of exercise, but not because it helps us fit our bodies perfectly into skinny jeans. Rather, I believe in the power of exercise because it liberates us to become the healthiest and strongest human beings we are capable of becoming so that we can get on with doing the important work, the meaningful work of which we are capable.

Today I wish that the next time Jillian Michaels gets interviewed she says, "Yes I am a strong and healthy woman, and yes I have cellulite, and no I don't give a friggin' damn about it because strong, healthy, real women often have cellulite. Now can we have an intelligent conversation about something that really, truly matters?"

And for you I wish that the next time the evil critic in your mind starts harping on your body's "imperfections," you are able to take a deep breath and, with an exhale, expel the negativity. I wish that you always remember all the good your body does for you, how your eyes see and your legs walk and your fingers touch and your heart beats.

I wish for us all joyful, healthy bodies.

Love your body, lovies.


Descartes Had It Wrong

Cogito ergo sum.

Je pense donc je suis.

I think therefore I am?

Not so, old man!

Not so!

We are not thoughts only. We are creatures of the body, of the breath, of the absolute inexplicable.

Envision the climber atop a ridge. It is not thinking that makes him most alive. Oh no! For him it is mountain air, it is muscles pulsing from work, it is the view down and out and up forever, it is the sense of personal smallness amongst such extraordinary big, it is unspeakable awe where the only thought might be this: Wow.

Picture the yogi, her limbs looped, her breath smooth, inhale and out. In this moment it is not individual thought ~ but lack of it ~ that gives her proof of life.

And imagine you and a lover in a night together. It is not thinking together that enlivens every cell. It is the skin to skin, the tender heartbeat beat beat, the union total.

It is the physical.

The backpacking traveler eating foreign food, the diver slicing water, the trapeze artist arching in air, the barefoot beachcomber basking in sun, the dervish whirling...

Just think of me when I am dancing. It is the body of my partner and the body of me. There are tumbling notes of music, there are shapes of trunks and limbs, but there is no sense in it. There is movement only and I assure you that when I am dancing ~ without thought ~ I very much am.

I am.

And you are too.