Shit You Don’t Want to Hear

Will it be boring shit or annoying shit? Perhaps a little of both. Let’s start with the mundane and then move into a blunt discussion of the latest fitness and diet research. Right this minute I am comfortably seated on the Red Arrow—Albertans know that I am referring to a ‘luxury’ bus that runs between Edmonton and Calgary, offering free wifi and coffee—heading home filled with joy, ideas, and a new list of graphic novels, films, and TV shows to consume. Instead of going to the gym on Friday morning, I had travelled to the Calgary opera house to see Moby Dick, starring Ben Heppner, Colin Ainsworth (sigh), and Brett Polegato (triple sigh). Have I previously mentioned my opera ardour? Opera is among the greatest spectacles on earth, providing breath taking moments of wonder and despair, rather than boringly coherent stories with psychologically developed characters. In my opinion, opera is wrestling for snobs. Like the WWF, opera often features stout men who dress in colourful costumes and express emotions with an intense physicality; they are insecure, possessive of women, and prone to murderous rage. And that, my friends, is more than worth the price of admission. You can imagine, then, just how much I was looking forward to meeting up in Calgary with my longstanding Opera Date [OD], a 63-year-old foxy and internationally renowned academic lady. I am proud to report that we have been together for four seasons. We really bonded a few years ago while watching the Pearl Fishers, gasping as the scantily clad Zurga and Nadir crooned their haunting duet. Any man who can both sing and look hot in a loin cloth is more than good enough for a straight girl like me. OD couldn’t agree more. Rather different from the nineteenth-century Les pêcheurs de perles, the modern Moby Dick complemented technically difficult vocals with stunning visual effects. I relished seeing scurvy-mad sailors hoist ropes, climb scaffolds, and theatrically slide down curved walls to their watery graves, all the while singing sweetly. And toplessly. 

What ten-folded my happiness, however, was my lunch the following day—ie today—with Number 1 Fan [N1F] and his most alluring partner, Doctor Vajayjay [DrV], who live in Calgary. I will explain her name later, but must immediately relay that N1F was literally the first person to praise my blog, encouraging me to redesign the FFG Web site, and launch it more seriously two weeks before my figure competition in June 2011. He even called me on the phone to suggest tips for blog promotion. Although I wrote down his advice and have tried to follow it meticulously, I feel that I have failed to live up to N1F’s high standards, as I make no money whatsoever from the FFG  venture; nor do I yet have the ‘1,000 true fans’ that he said would ensure blogging success. Today N1F described himself as ‘a spiritually defeated middle aged man’ in that self-deprecating tone that both DrV and I admire. In reality, he is an incredibly smart—and obviously discerning—digital master who knows an impressive amount about internet dynamics, the blogosphere, and popular culture in general. Truly flattered by his support, it played a crucial role in the early development of FFG, when I had assumed that only my sister was reading the blog. Shout out to her! Now for DrV: N1F’s partner is an ass kicking feminist academic—am I inadvertently revealing their true identity?—who somehow remains on top of both the latest scholarship and the most innovative fashion trends. We typically discuss political and historical matters while I rummage through my overstuffed purse, searching for scratch paper, and she looks stunning in hip designer dresses and boots. Respect. Her nickname came about in relation to a comment made by her tech-nerd-in-a-good-way man while considering FFG merch possibilities. ‘I would buy a t-shirt with Lianne’s v-print on it,’ he declared. DrV paused before admitting that she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Her name is really an inside joke because both she and I do not ‘get’ the Vagina Monologues. Talking about vaginas is no big deal; in fact, it is a ho hum daily event for pro-sex feminists like ourselves. DrV absolutely hates the term Vajayjay. ‘Oh just say vagina,’ she fumes, blaming Oprah for this cutesy word. I blame Oprah for quite a few things myself.      

Here is what DrV had for lunch.

This soft shell crab sandwich dares you to enjoy eating a dead creature that used to walk around without a care in the world.

Now for more serious matters, namely the shit that you really don’t want to hear, as revealed in a recent book by law professor Timothy Caulfield, The Cure for Everything! Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness (Viking, 2012). It was a pleasure to read this book during my rare hours of sitting still on the bus. Basically, Caulfied gives his readers a shot of tough love with regards to exercise and nutrition, arguing that:

-the most important and effective form of exercise is resistance training with heavy weights. [my response: told you so bitches!] 

-aerobic training is nevertheless still important but is best done in increasingly intense intervals, with plenty of variety. Right now you are not working as hard as you think you are, or as hard as you should. [mr: so get your fat asses off those fucking recumbent bikes].

-exercise does not contribute greatly to weight loss. Eating smaller portions of high quality food leads to fat loss. In the end, the human body needs remarkably few calories to sustain a reasonable body weight. [mr: damn I guess we all have to learn this the hard way, myself included. I gain fat by eating extra oatmeal and strawberries before my daily two-hour training session]. Wait, I need to quote Caulfield on this point (p. 46): ‘The food industry, especially companies selling products that are calorically and nutritionally problematic, has a strong interest in portraying physical inactivity as the primary cause of obesity. The erroneous belief that we can eat and drink what we want as long as we are active is a win-win for high-calorie food purveyors.’ In other words, you cannot consume what Caulfield calls ‘poison’ foods, even in small amounts,  just because you work out. If you do so, you will get fat, unless you are some kind of genetic freak.

-yoga is not an effective form of exercise, though it is indeed relaxing. [mr: ah this is music to my ears].

-not every event is a ‘special occasion’ that requires overindulging in food and drink. [mr: point well taken].

-(p.66) ‘The sad truth is that, if you are a man, you are likely shorter, fatter, and, I suspect, balder than you think you are.’ [mr: I too am shorter and fatter than I think I am, though not yet balding].

Overall, I recommend this book if you need a swift kick in your behind. After reading it this weekend, I begged ‘Mother can I have another?’ It really made me think about the criticism received by physical culture competitors. That fabulous figure girl I like to call Fitbabe, for instance, is continually reprimanded for being ‘too rigid’ and ‘uptight’ about her food intake. According to Caulfield’s research, however, it is necessary to control and measure food carefully, eating something like 2,000 calories a day, to maintain a healthy level of body fat. So Fitbabe’s regime is actually both reasonable and necessary, albeit unappealing to your average person. 

Timothy Caulfield is one of my colleagues at the University of Alberta and we have discussed our respective projects, noting where they overlap and part ways. Both of us performed participant observation and research: he closely followed nutritional advice, partook of homeopathic remedies, and worked out with Jennifer Aniston’s personal trainer, to determine what health-seeking methods actually work and which ones are hogwash. At the same time, he consulted with various experts and collected the latest scholarship, conducting a content analysis of it. I also participated in new practices while preparing to compete in a figure competition in order to learn in a hands on way, while reading the vast literature that interprets bodybuilding, female embodiment, and the politics of physical culture. Unlike him, however, I am not interested in discovering which scientific facts are ‘twisted’—his favourite word—to suit an over-indulgent populace and profit-seeking food industry. This is not a condemnation of his worthy pursuit; it is just where we differ. My interests are more cultural. Right now, I am writing a chapter on the phenomenology of muscle failure, arguing that it is an event capable of foregrounding the limitations of the material body and shifting attention to physical sensations that are rewarding, even as they are not linked to weight loss or other aesthetic goals. Caulfied erroneously dismisses so-called postmodern thought (I am uncertain what he means by this sweeping term) for insisting that ‘all beliefs are relative.’ No theorist worth his or her salt has ever argued such a thing, not Foucault, not Derrida, not Lacan, not Kristeva etc. In fact, I have never read anyone make such a claim; perhaps Caulfied is referring to some half-baked hack writer who has never taken the time—and by that I mean the years—to read and engage with post-structuralist literature. Like Caulfield, I do think that concrete facts exist, but discovering what they are is simply not enough for me; nor can it reveal much about the human condition and its future. I want to know how people understand and experience their bodies, intervening at that level. I want to interpret historically and analyze carefully the process of becoming a body, as well as the multiple representations of bodies. I also want to grunt loudly while lifting heavy weights and then gorge on 300 grams of Greek yogurt mixed with granola and honey, without ever gaining weight. Sigh. As usual, we can’t always get what we want.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Shit You Don’t Want to Hear

  1. Your blog is my favorite part of Monday. I’m one of your 1,000 fans. I hate the Opera. However, your comparison of it to WWF makes me *almost* want to give it another try. But no thank you!

    Don’t we hate this news? ” The human body needs remarkably few calories to sustain a reasonable body weight.” Dang it. Tis true…

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your writing.

  2. I loved this blog. I just want to confirm one can go out to Edmonton’s Finest restaurant (the HARDWARE GRILL) and still eat a Fitbabe approved meal…I was spoiled with Ahi Tuna…baked chicken breast, no skin, no oils, Steamed green veggies, beats, feild greens with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side…as well as 2 glasses of Chianti which I dial into my macronutrients as “Dessert”….I was buzzed, full, happy…AND I woke up the next morning to find my abs popping out more than usual!! GO figure…lol…you can have the good life if you LOVE good whole food…fresh veggies, little sodium, low carbs and good fats!! I am eager to read this book…sounds like a good one! Also, I would love to attend my first Opera with you and your lovely friend…kind of curious now!!! Keep up the amazing writing FFG! You are DA BOMB!

  3. Really, the only thing I didn’t want to hear was the word “vajayjay”.

    I’m curious to know what Prof. Caulfield means by “yoga is not an effective exercise”. (I would guess that its effectiveness would depend on the style of yoga and what the practitioner was trying to accomplish.) The book is on my wish list, and I’ll have to read it when it’s released in the U.S. this spring.

  4. Very interesting, quick, video by TEDxManhattan 2011 Fellow Stefani Bardin showing what happens in our bodies when we eat highly processed food and homemade food from normal ingredients. I am off to buy Timothy’s book and I don’t expect I will love all he has to say but it is hard to hear the truth at times.

    Love your blog and count me in as one of the 1000s.

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