I read a Harper’s Bazaar article about spinning and it made me sad

I guess I shouldn’t expect much from an article on spinning that is illustrated with this.

I’ve been spoiled.  I’ve taken advantage of the internet’s ability to cater to any microgenre of information to immerse myself in blogs and online magazines that tend to share my philosophy regarding women and fitness, and I was starting to feel like we were making a substantial incursion against the “skinny at all costs!” mindset that has consistently informed the vast majority of mainstream women’s media for as long as I can remember.

And then yesterday, courtesy of Fit Chick at Bicycling, I was reminded that we still have a ways to go.  Fit Chick singles out a Harper’s Bazaar article from August 2013 entitled Can Spinning Make You Fat?, and after I finished reading it, I basically turned into this guy:

 

(BTW notice that just below the end of this article, Harper’s Bazaar poses the question “Is your cell phone making you fat?”  The article is presumably about the effects of late-night cell phone usage on your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of health issues, but let’s ignore things like cognitive function and heart disease and instead focus on how it might make you zomg fat.)

Here’s a quick list of the things I found most ridiculous about this article:

  • The editorial staff does not know the difference between fat and muscle.
  • The hunger that follows an intense workout is seen as a bad thing.
  • The author interviewed a woman who stopped cycling so she could let her muscles atrophy.
  • Strength training is mentioned solely as something that can boost a woman’s metabolism for days after the workout.

The inanity goes on and on. I felt a bit stupider for having read the article.  Further, it made me grateful that I exist far outside of the supposedly glamorous worlds of media-centric New York and L.A., which seem to be locked in an arms race to determine which city’s cadre of upper-class women can find the most outlandish ways to become as thin as possible without utterly destroying their bodies.

Truthfully I was almost not going to write about this because it feels like, as Fit Chick says, shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, it’s not exactly breaking news that the fashion industry is obsessed to an alarming degree with thinness.  And honestly, having read Harper’s Bazaar, this is about the precise level of thoughtfulness I’d expect from this particular magazine.  I doubt we’d ever read this article in Elle, for instance.

But last night as I was falling asleep, I thought again about the article and I felt very sad.  Here you have a handful of women – because I refuse to assume that a grand total of three women constitutes an actual trend, sorry so-called “trend” journalism –  who love spinning and SoulCycling so much that they do it several times a week, but because it makes their bodies more muscular than is acceptable in their microcosm of society, they are no longer going to do it.

You know what I say?  If you love something, do it.  And if doing that thing changes your body in ways that stray from the beauty standard, then fuck the beauty standard.  There are a lot of ways to be beautiful and fabulous. Being model-thin is just one of those ways. It also happens to be a way that’s pretty difficult for a lot of us to attain. I recognize that’s the point, though. A lot of what is defined by various cultures as “beautiful” is that which is rare and difficult to attain, regardless of what that is.  Just something to keep in mind whenever we talk about this stuff, that the fact that a lot of us can’t attain it is the entire point.

(And of course you don’t have to be beautiful and fabulous.  I always come back to that post that keeps going around even though it was written eight years ago, about how we don’t owe prettiness to anyone: “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” You can choose to pursue these things, of course, and in whatever manner you deem fit, but you are not obligated to do so, no matter how much the world might make you try to feel otherwise.)

Ironically, a couple of days prior to reading this article, I noticed that ultra training – along with riding my tri bike on the indoor trainer and a steady diet of deadlifts and kettlebell swings – had all collaborated to change my lower body.  My thighs are most definitely bigger, and the sliver of thigh gap that had developed during my marathon training is gone once again. My calves have gone well past the “lean, shapely” qualities cited in the article as one of the redeeming qualities of running and now have three – yes, three! – levels of striation.

I get the feeling that I’m supposed to panic about these changes, my bulky calves and my ever-thicker thighs, and maybe I would be worried if I was a publicist in Manhattan who could no longer fit into her Isabel Marant dresses. But that’s not who I am, and thank the multiverse for that. I’m an athlete who loves my body primarily for all of the things it allows me to do.  I am grateful for the fact that I am healthy enough to even do the things I do in the first place. (What a privilege that is! And how often it is taken for granted!)  That I also happen to dig the way my muscles look is just a cool little cherry on top of a whole sundae of awesome.

Whatever interest I ever had in trying to mold my body to look a specific way has faded in recent years. Socially-approved beauty is so illusory and ephemeral that I don’t feel like it’s worthwhile to put so much emphasis on pursuing it, not when my time on earth is limited and there is so much left to be explored and to learn and to do.

I’m not going to deny myself the things I love out of fear that I might not attain whatever it is those women are striving to attain. My life is worth more than that.  So is yours.  So are theirs.

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27 responses to “I read a Harper’s Bazaar article about spinning and it made me sad

  1. Between strong and thin, I’d always rather be strong. What good will “thin” do me when I’m 80 years old and trying to clean house?

  2. And, also, every beauty standard that is predicated on women being small and weak reminds me that patriarchy is terrified of strong women because it only thrives through real or threatened violence against those who step outside of bounds.

  3. Thank you for this article. Everything you said gave me shivers… and I still have shivers, actually…I struggle a lot with accepting my bulk, but I can’t stop loving what it feels like to push myself in the gym. The divide between what I want to do and what I want to look like is closing slowly as I work hard every day to accept how my body expresses strength and fitness.
    “You know what I say? If you love something, do it. And if doing that thing changes your body in ways that stray from the beauty standard, then fuck the beauty standard.”
    Hear, hear. I believe it, I just can’t quite live it yet. But I think I’m getting there. Thanks again.

  4. That picture is THE WORST. (I mean, so is the article, but I got such a visceral reaction from that photo – LOL, LADIES DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO SIT ON A BIKE, AMIRITE DUDES?!?)

  5. How sad that, according to Harper’s Bazaar, it all comes back to how society perceives us instead of how we feel. Bump that! I’m all with doing what I enjoy, what makes me feel good, and what makes me feel strong. If it’s spinning, then it’s spinning. If it’s yoga, then it’s yoga. If it’s belly dancing, then it’s belly dancing.

  6. Hey remember when weights would “only make you bulky” and cardio was the only way to “get skinny”? Lolz.

    I’m also getting sick and tired of articles like this further telling women that they are only to be valued if they continue to become less and take up less space in this world. What’s so wrong with gaining something, whether it be strength or muscle, or confidence or satisfaction? Makes me headdesk to the extreme.

  7. Reading the many conflations of muscle and fat was depressing, but sadly not all that surprising.

    I think you really nail it in your third-to-last paragraph regarding gratitude. It’s ridiculous that there is a group of people (and sadly, somewhat influential people given that they can write for national magazines and the like) who are so invested in promoting one monolithic beauty standard/ideal that they are now making people worry about the type of exercise they are doing. It’s hard enough for people to find a workout routine that they like and that works for them as it is–browbeating someone for embracing a routine because the results do not coincide with the aforementioned ideal is downright evil. Just a few days ago my husband and I were talking about this, and how when it came down to it, we both take moments to think “wait–what if something happened that would not allow me to do this thing that I really enjoy anymore? Wow, that would really suck!” and it’s enough to snap out of any negative thinking, at least for the moment.

  8. I think my first thought on this was to compare it to the pale-skinned Indian (and maybe other cultures, too?) standard of beauty and how it’s intrinsically linked to the class system… the whole “poor people are tan because they have to work in the fields” thing. Is this somewhat of a class thing? I mean, Harper Bazaar has a very specific demographic. Are wealthy people the only ones who can afford to *choose* to have legs that don’t carry them very far? Or arms too weak to open their jars of PB2 powder? I guess there are warped minds at every socioeconomic level, so I don’t want to make blanket statements, but maybe it’s more that certain societies have begun associating skinny/weak with wealthy… and those societies tend to dominate our popular media. As such, we see mimicking of this behavior at all income levels and outside of NYC/LA? Who knows…

    As always, I enjoy your insight and appreciate you sharing this. I’ve taken an extended hiatus from basically any form of exercise, and just yesterday, Chicago’s warm weather had me longing for that marathon training-induced definition in my quads.

  9. Just along the lines of stopping/not doing things because it will make you “too muscular,” this is irritating. I am tired of people ignoring health benefits or even the pure fact that they enjoy doing something just because society’s standards differ.

  10. Anytime I see a woman with thin legs (specifically, thin thighs), I always think to myself “there is no way she can run a marathon with those legs!!” As if that’s a goal every woman should have, LOL.

    Honestly, I love my thighs. I’ve been debating writing a whole blog post about why. I remember I was getting, er, fresh with a gentleman once, and after massaging my muscular thighs in a sensual manner, he said something like “you should definitely keep running.”

    • This is possibly TMI–but I’ve had a similar experience with a gentleman except with my booty and the comment of “Wow you definitely do squats” hahaha

  11. I have often wished that I’d focused more on what my body can DO rather than how it looks in my teen and college years, but I am there now, and I think avoiding “women’s magazines” has played a positive role. Great post.

  12. Can you hear me hollering and high-fiving you from here? That would be in NY, where I live and where thigh gap is the greatest attainment women seem to reach for. Gah. I started noticing that the women here in journalism, our field, who do well — i.e. have and keep power — are thin as shit. REALLY thin. Ropy scrawny arms. My husband always mutters “Get them some pasta!”

    It’s very intimidating because they’re the ones in power and if you, too, want professional, social or economic power (and if not why the hell are you in NY?) and you don’t look just like them….wellllll, good luck with that. I am always trying to lose weight but have always also had big/strong thighs and butt (the ones that took me to saber fencing nationals 4 times and just took me through another jazz dance class this morning.)

    It takes a lot of self-confidence to buck the prevailing body type. Would that I’d been born in the 1890s!

  13. I don’t read popular womens fitness magazines for this very reason! Everything is about how many calories you can burn and how you look in a bikini. And the whole idea that women should avoid getting strong – doing bicep curls with 5 lb dumbbells and spinning on bikes with zero resistance to avoid adding bulk! Ugh! I run and rock climb because they are activities I love. I’d rather feel strong and perform well than wear skinny jeans! Keep rocking your tris and heavy weights! 😉

  14. What was the model covered in, shellac?
    Mama Sled says: “You will not care whether or not I have thin thighs when I am using them to kick your ass around the block.” Sheesh.

  15. *gnashes teeth*
    Most of my exercise is what might be considered ‘feminine’ (dance and pilates), but I still have muscular thighs and glutes that don’t always fit very well into trousers, and I am perfectly happy with that. I need those muscles to be able to do what I do! And I’ve started to do some weight training recently with another dancer (safety in numbers in the male-dominated bit of the gym!), we love the satisfaction of being able to lift heavy stuff and feel badass. I find this obsession with appearance rather than function totally weird, inexplicable and sad. It’s as if in some people’s minds, especially in the magazine/fashion world, women are dolls or ornaments who should never actually *do* anything 😦

  16. I stopped reading those magazines a while ago and since then I’ve been feeling much better 🙂 I love my bicycle, I’m cycling to work nearly every day, it keeps me fit and I love the fact that I don’t need to go to the gym after that 🙂 I’ll keep doing it no matter what.

  17. This is such an insightful post! I love that you acknowledged how unsurprising it is to for fashion magazines to perpetuate beauty standards, because while the rest of society seems to be moving beyond pressuring women to be really thin, the fashion industry just can’t seem to catch up.

  18. I prefer spending my free time reading your blog than those magazines, it costs me nothing and I get loads of great tips on how to be healthy, fit and feel great about my body and much more. Thank you for that!

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