body image, fitness, gender

No pain, no gain (part I)

I don’t often (read, ever) blog about body image. I guess there’s something very personal to me about the issue and as a feminist I really struggle to reconcile what I know in theory about the consequences of believing photoshopped images, and how I actually feel when I look in the mirror and swear to myself, not for the first time, that I need to just stop eating altogether because food is evil and being skinny will make me happy.

More often than not, the only time of day when I feel entirely at ease with my body is when im running. The feel of my muscles working and the slight soreness I get from the lactic acid buildup, makes me appreciate my body – my strong legs that let me go up and down hills, my agile feet that allow me to jump over rocks, my dependable heart that keeps my blood pumping even during interval training. At the end of each running session, much like at the conclusion of each yoga practice, I thank my body for letting me do what I love.

And yet, I’ll get home, take my clothes off on the way to the shower and critically examine my belly fat thinking, ugh, no more wheat products, ever!

So when I came across this great article by Kevin Moore on the ‘6 most shockingly irresponsible “fitspiration” photos’, it really hit a nerve. Moore looks at a few Pinterest type images that blend a catchy motivational phrase with a (more or less) artistic photo to create what he calls ‘fitness propaganda’.


Moore really challenges the messages those images send on several levels – is this message smart fitness advice? And what does the image tell the viewer about their own body? In both cases the answer is – look away! You’re about to be fed a load of bollocks that will make you feel bad about yourself and do something irresponsible to fix it. According to Moore “Pushing your body’s limits just because you want bigger biceps is sort of like setting your house on fire because you’re cold.”

And what about this one?


According to Moore:

“Now, ladies, you need to be skinny and ripped. It’s an additional layer of self-loathing  (perfectly suited for hypergymnasiacs), just in case people had started to get desensitized to the omnipresent and psychologically crippling display of corpse-thin women in the media”.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse – the photo feels practically pornographic and suddenly being fit means looking impossibly sexy in a torn t-shirt and thong.


I guess for those who have been paying attention, the transfer of glossy mag beauty standards to the world of fitness and sports has been happening for a while. You will recall that two days before the 2012 London Olympics an Australian newspaper called Leisel Jones, an Olympic triple gold medalist, ‘fat’ and questioned her fitness levels.


The same accusations were leveled at Jessica Ennis, the British Heptathlete champion who said in response: ““Everyone has their hang-ups, but I see my body as a training tool and I feel good about it. I’m comfortable being naked.”

It’s a sad day when an Olympic level athlete has to answer to public comments about their body shape, fully ignoring their world-class sporting achievements. Turns out, being an Olympic level athlete should looks like this:


Wait…what??! I thought being strong was about being strong. Nope. Seems being strong is about prescribing to an unreal hyper sexualized silicone breasted airbrushed image.

Thing is – I could probably starve myself into looking like that. But then I wouldn’t be able to run 10k, or chaturangah, or walk up the stairs without getting tired. So how can I reconcile being fit with being hungry? And if this is what the internet is selling everyone, is there any hope for me?


To be continued…



wikigender forum – girls on the move

there’s a new wikigender debate starting today, the 2nd of September on gender and migration. this is a topic of increasing interest globally, and its also the topic of the recent Population Council report called ‘girls on the move‘ (this is the 6th instalment in the girls count series).  the report looks at the process of migration, what skills girls need before they migrate and what services their require once they arrive at their destination. migration is looked at from a national (rural-urban) perspective which is the most relevant for adolescent girls. the report provides a great overview of the issue, especially around the push and pull factors that cause this migration and why this is an important issue in the 21st century. the 2010 Because I am a Girl Report also provides an overview of this migratory pattern in the context of increased urbanization.

girls on the move

the wikigender debate is looking at this issue more broadly – its about gender not just girls – and it looks at social norms that carry across boarders through migration. the context of social norms comes from the OECD’s fantastic SIGI (social institutions and gender index) which is the first attempt (that i have come across) to look at institutional discrimination (including in formal institutions and legislature and informal institutions like the family) from a statistical standpoint and make the link between entrenched forms of discrimination and the achievement of progress on gender equality at a national scale. these include: Family Code, Physical Integrity, Son Preference, Civil Liberties and Ownership Rights. Each of the SIGI indicators is coded between 0, meaning no or very low inequality, and 1, indicating very high inequality. The index comes out every year with rankings for a large set of developing countries, and is an important resource on gender inequality globally.


I highly recommend following and participating in this debate to anyone interested in the issue! the debate page also has great links to other reports from the IOM that are worth checking out.

here is the link: