Bodily Stasis

It is 2 am as I sit on my balance ball and listen to Rammstein (really DYT?), finally finding time to blog. Not that I was working. I spent much of the day preparing Somalian food for my dinner guests. Italy’s colonization of the horn of Africa from about 1880 to 1941, where it controlled both ports and sheep meat, produced a fascinating hybrid palate melding African and Mediterranean flavours–tomato, nutmeg, basil, cardamom, jalapeno peppers, bananas. My culinary successes included the battered red snapper and spicy-date-tamarind chutney. I will admit to one failure: that crazy pink ghee and cornstarch peanut candy that I just threw in the trash because it never hardened. 

Since I am confessing my failures, I should mention an incident that occurred during my obligatory visit to Weight Watchers this morning. As a gold star and epaulette Life Time Member, I must weigh in at least one meeting every month, no excuses. I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed, but as I was running late–my work colleagues know that I am tardy for all meetings, playing the role of an absentminded professor too busy for the ‘dare to delegate’ committee–the events had already started. A group of about 30 women and 3 men was discussing the theme of the day: how to manage Hallowe’en treat temptations. The solution? Step away from the plastic jack-o’-lantern filled with tiny 3 Muskateers bars (which you don’t even like anyway), and indulge in 2 tablespoons of chocolate sauce for TWO POINTS (insert trademark symbol here) drizzled over ONE POINT of fresh fruit. ‘You will find this snack surprisingly satisfying,’ affirmed the meeting leader, a 50-something lady with short carefully styled hair, dressed in a fitted jacket and matching skirt, complete with stockings, heels, and pearls. I will call her Constance, in the spirit of her real old-fashioned name, and in deference to way in which she stands solidly upright, rooted to the earth with both feet together. Please don’t think that I am poking fun at Constance, for I adore her. I have even met her secretly for coffee, throwing caution to the wind and breaking with Weight Watchers official policies.

I don’t know why I bothered stripping down to my sexy tank top and removing my boots before stepping onto the electronic scale. I would certainly not be within the mandatory two pounds of my goal weight, even after raising it from 125 to 130. In fact I registered a strapping 141.2 pounds, up 3.2 from last month. But how can that be? After eating ten tons of Cajun food in Louisiana and a daily box of Madjoul dates, a mere 3.2 pound increase filled me with a certain amount of joy. I looked at the weigh-in technician, glowered ‘I bodybuild,’ and then duly paid my fine of $16.20. Instead of heading straight to the gym, however, I decided to join the session, in the hope of interacting with my beloved Constance. She acknowledged me right away, nodding as she completed the final ten minutes of the meeting by asking for celebratory testimonials. ‘Does anyone need a 10-pound sticker? How about a 5-pound? Does anyone want to share a story about a success they had this week?’ A young slightly plump woman put up her hand, telling the group that she was through with negative self-talk and would now take control of her eating. Everyone clapped. I then raised my hand, recounting my BMI water torture test (though in one sentence instead of a few paragraphs), and reporting my percentage of body fat. ‘I am trying to get bigger, not smaller,’ I shouted like some kind of revolutionary, while shamelessly striking a front double bicep pose. No one applauded. Then Constance smiled and reached for her prize packet, awarding me with a sticky orange pumpkin to paste in my fine-laden membership book. She then explained to the group that I had reached and surpassed my goal weight, pursuing muscle development in a way that had been an inspiration to her. 

According to my Feminist Figure Girl journal, on 7 May 2010 Constance had sent me an apologetic e-mail, noting that she was violating the Weight Watchers privacy policy by contacting me directly, outside of a meeting. ‘You have clearly gone beyond the Weight Watchers program,’ she wrote, ‘and I would like hear about what you are doing.’ Instead of trying to remember this encounter, I will simply paste in the account that I wrote on 8 May, right after we had had our secret rendez-vous:          

She had seen me weigh in over 125 today (I was 134) and have to pay the fine. She felt it was wrong that as I got stronger and built muscle I was nevertheless punished for failing. She too wanted to gain muscle and asked me for advice. I met her and liked her a lot. I found our exchange fascinating because I am in effect defying the WW ideology and am causing some problems for one of its leaders. I recommended that she eat more protein, find a good trainer, and lift really heavy weights, with fewer reps like I do. She said that as she gets older—she is now 52—counting points alone is not working. Even as she eats fewer points she gains weight. When [Constance] recorded my weight this morning, she did not calculate the number of pounds that I had increased, which is the standard procedure. I view this as a form of resistance on her part.       

Constance does not bull shit. She immediately hired a trainer–a former figure competitor–and started working out hard, daring to gain weight. When I saw her today, she had broader shoulders and looked great. I did not ask her how much she weighed, for that number is irrelevant and has little to do with actual fitness.

That is the problem with Weight Watchers. The program is obsessed with measurements, more specifically with seeing numbers decrease. It promotes a skinny-fat body, which is not healthy, especially not for women as they get older. The ‘goal’ is to achieve bodily stasis, to reach a certain number and then stay there forever, for a ‘lifetime.’ That is not possible for any body, and certainly not for the female body as it grows older. Constance is a case in point. Bodies are never static; they change according to varying levels of stress, mobility, metabolism, so of course eating and activity regimes have to change too. As Cressida Heyes wrote in her article on Weight Watchers, this program sets women up to fail, perhaps as a deliberate corporate strategy. Even though I have seen significant muscle gain in the last four months, DYT has recently altered my work out program. I am now training in a tabata style: 20 seconds of intense activity like pushups or jumping lunges, followed by a mere 10 seconds of rest. So it’s 20 on, 10 off, 20 on, 10 off for each of the six or so activities. We started a few days ago and I thought I was going to die. I was shaking, sweating, and my throat started to close, though that was likely caused by my seasonal allergies. I am still quite sore today, thank god. No, thank DYT.

And speaking of change, my former trainer, the magnificent G-Smash, has jokingly requested a new nickname, asking ‘am I not delightful too?’ Yes she is pretty fucking delightful, but I do not yet know what to call her. Perhaps you can offer suggestions? Your comments are always welcome…

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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