This isn’t directly pertinent to gender & media, but I have a lot of ideas and no opinions/conclusions so maybe writing will help.

 

The November Project is a fitness initiative that started in Boston and has now spread to cities across the US. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, the “tribe” (which is just whoever wants to attend) meets at different locations around Boston to perform an outdoor workout. It’s completely free and has a CrossFit-like ethic – grit, determination, and bodyweight exercises. I have several friends who do it and the general consensus is that it’s awesome. Personally, I love the idea – free fitness, customizable to your ability level, with random people who become your friends.

This month, the November Project has initiated the #deckaday challenge. You take a pack of randomly shuffled cards and turn them over one by one. Red is pushups and Black is sit-ups. The amount on the card corresponds to the number of reps you do: 2-10, then Jack 11, Queen 12, King 13, and Ace 14. You go through the entire deck as fast as possible. For the #deckaday challenge, you complete this routine every day this month, and try to get your times lower and lower. 

I’ve never actually attended the November Project, but I saw the challenge on Facebook and thought I might give it a try. Now, this is no easy challenge; no “plank a minute a day for a week” here! Going through the entire deck means you do 208 pushups and 208 sit-ups. THAT’S A LOT. Yesterday (Tuesday) was 10/1, the first day of the challenge, and my chest was already quite sore from a Monday dance rehearsal. I decided to switch up the challenge – I substituted squats for pushups. It was definitely hard, but I enjoyed it in a masochistic kind of way and I felt pretty accomplished afterwards. Today I woke up and my abs were sore, my legs were sore, and my chest was still sore from Monday.

…But you’re supposed to do the challenge every day, with no exceptions. What? If my abs are sore, that’s a very clear signal to rest and let the micro-tears in my muscles repair. My idea of rest is not 208 more sit-ups.  Here, then, is where the whole dream starts to break down. It’s not healthy to intensely work specific groups of muscles for 31 consecutive days, and it’s not a constructive way to build fitness. In general, it’s better to fatigue a muscle group, then let it rest for a day or two or three (allowing it to repair and regain strength) before working it again. This staggered training prevents overuse injuries while being consistent enough to build power or bulk or endurance or whatever your specific goal is. When you train every day, you’re not giving your muscles enough time to recover, so they’re constantly fatigued and trying to catch up. The #deckaday challenge magnifies this problem because of its high rep count and focus on speed. 208 pushups is a huge amount no matter what type you’re doing (normal, military, knee, etc.), especially if you’re using proper form. However, the focus on speed is a blatant invitation to sacrifice form; there’s a limit to how fast you can properly do a pushup or a sit-up no matter how strong you are. This is especially true as you reach the bottom of the deck. If you’re shooting for a low time, you’re picking up the pace for the home stretch, but this is also the time that you’re most tired and are most likely to sacrifice form. 

So what did I do today? I did the full deck. I modified it again – sit-ups and high planks – but I still killed my already sore abs. At this point much of my body is sore, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow without feeling unsafe. And should I even continue the challenge? I don’t have a ‘challenge buddy,’ and there’s no social pressure for me to keep going. So why do I have motivation to keep going? I almost feel a sense of obligation, but to whom?

This is where I start to really look at the #deckaday challenge and its broader fitness ethos. CrossFit’s popularity has exploded in the past couple of years, and it’s reaching the point where people are starting to examine and critique it. (Crossfit is a fitness method that’s unrelated to the November Project but the two share some similar values.) I’ve never participated in CrossFit, but I’ve read a fair amount of the criticisms. The first one that comes to mind is Eric Robertson’s fantastic exploration of the dangers of an extreme attitude towards fitness, found at this link. The #deckaday challenge exposes many of these values – faster, more, stronger, better. What it does not recognize is the importance of body awareness and respect, and the flexibility that this requires. This fitness challenge, and almost all others, are so enticing because they’re rigid: do x for y days and you’ll obtain z! These concrete promises are almost irresistible, and exploring why is something I’ll maybe discuss later. In the end, though, #deckaday does not guarantee fitness success and a rockin’ bod and total confidence. It is not a magical solution, and it doesn’t make you a “good” athlete or person. It just makes your muscles really fucking tired.

Despite me recognizing all of this, however, I still really want to complete the challenge. I feel like it will make me better and more accomplished. This disconnect is frustrating to navigate, but it boils down to a simple decision every day. Do I do half a deck some days? If I just stop, am I giving up or am I making a personal statement? Why am I drawn to fitness in challenge form, rather than a more holistic and balance and personal exercise schedule? Why am I making this into a moral issue, when nobody actually cares about how many sit-ups I do in a day? 

 

I feel like this might be a multi-part thing; I’ve laid out the problem here but I haven’t really gone into a deeper analysis. I can definitely bring gender and media into this as well. Stay tuned?

Okayyyy I haven’t even looked at this week’s readings (I will by tomorrow no worries!) but here’s a quick look at branding and its huge influence. Video here. Jimmy Kimmel Live polled people on Obamacare vs. the Affordable Care Act, and the results are fascinating; the moniker “Obamacare” apparently brings up all the stereotypes and misconceptions about Obama and healthcare reform, while “Affordable Care Act” seems to instill pride and support. By the way, they’re both the exact same thing. This is the kind of thing that’s played for laughs, but on a deeper level it’s a bit frightening.

(I know I’ve been posting a lot but there are just so many interesting things to talk about!)

The thing that caught my eye today was the latest Vlogbrothers video, in which John compares Benjamin Franklin and Drake (and their misleading accounts of their success stories). This idea of interdependence and the lie of the American dream is SO IMPORTANT and I hardly ever see it acknowledged. Much more common is the disdain of the nonexistent “welfare queen” or outcries against affirmative action or declarations of a post-feminist world or “I don’t see color/gender/sexuality/age/ability/class, we’re all just PEOPLE!”

Privilege is real and it’s important, and this realization is what drives much of my interest and study in intersectional feminism.

I’m halfway through the readings for this week, but I just finished “Body Image, Mass Media, and Self Concept” and I want to document my thoughts while they’re fresh.

First, the premise of the study is really refreshing. I’ll admit that I haven’t thought about the heteronormativity surrounding body image discussions, but when I think about it I’ve never really seen non-heterosexual women represented in these debates (this often applies to non-white women as well). Despite the strong premise, I’m a little wary of the study’s supposed results. The sample size was very small (<30 women for all groups combined), and throughout the report the three groups were broken up in a way that suggested that each group had a unified front. While body image and sexuality are probably connected, the study drew very harsh boundaries between how the three groups perceived themselves, and to me this was overly simplistic. The authors also edited the conversations and arranged quotes/topics as they saw fit, and this probably resulted in some manipulation (intentional or not) of what the women actually said. These topics are complex and ambiguous, and I’d be shocked if it was as simple as heterosexual women fragmenting themselves and lesbian women visualizing a more unified body. (Again, this goes back to the small sample size.) I also wondered about the racial makeup of the three groups, since only two WoC were quoted and they were both lesbians. I understand that the purpose of the study was to explore body image vs. sexuality, but sexuality does not exist in a vacuum and always interacts with a person’s other identities (class, race, ability, gender, etc.). This was demonstrated in the African-American woman’s frustration with the “collagen lips” trend, as she viewed it as a subtle form of racism and cultural appropriation towards Black women with naturally full lips. If the researchers gathered another group of heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual women, they might discover completely different perceptions across the groups. 

I don’t mean to say that the study was useless or boring, but I’m just taking it with a grain of salt.

(The other readings are great so far too! These topics are a bit difficult for me on a personal level, but I’m learning a lot and am looking forward to this week’s class.) 

This little post is inspired by the amazing blog US History Minus White Guys, a Tumblr devoted to honoring the women and POC often ignored in mainstream history textbooks. Almost all of it is completely new information to me, and it has made me analyze my own US history education and how my learning was shaped by dead white men.

I have always loved American history; until my junior year of high school I actually wanted to major in it. My biggest complaint with my history curriculums was always that they were too focused on war. Yes, war is important, but memorizing specific Civil War battles was exhausting and seemed/seems pretty irrelevant. I was always more invested in domestic and behind-the-scenes history. There was a period where the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were the only ones I read; I wanted to know what it was like to actually live in the past, not just the details of Guadalcanal. While war is important and influential, I don’t think it captures what history is “supposed to be about.” History is, in a very bald sense, studying the past to try to understand our own present and future. Yeah, that applies to armor design, but I’ve always (at least subconsciously) understood that social norms and politics and actual citizens give us much stronger insight into our cultures.

And war is fundamentally a masculine arena – power and honor and violence and strength. That always alienated me. In this war-centric model, the women and children are rape/genocide statistics, or else prizes of victory (in biblical times and now, at least to an extent). I always looked for myself in history, and I only saw that in domestic asides about how pioneer women gathered buffalo chips for a fire or in a figure of a teenage girl’s cross-stitch pattern. That’s why books like Wilder’s and the Dear America series were so important to me – they were entire plots centered around a fully functional girl with a dynamic personality, real problems, and agency within her narrative.

I always worried that I was too interested in the girly side of history, but I totally missed the point! Home life IS the girly side of history, because it’s traditionally the only place where you see anything female! And this leads to my current interests, which center specifically around women and gender and sexuality (and race, class, disability, and all other intersecting, disenfranchised identities). I need to see ME (and I use the first person loosely here) represented in historical contexts, because I know I’m there. I’m there a lot, and I’m continually surprised by how many non-white guys are a part of this country’s history. I wish I had known about them when I was 12.

(I think I’ve done a poor job of articulating my thoughts. It makes sense in my head.)