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what fit looks like: part two

what fit looks like
Last week I wrote about Lorna Jane and how, in my opinion, they reinforce the notion of a woman’s looks being her number one priority, despite being a fitness-based organisation. I had some great, balanced responses, and some people asked me why I had chosen to put the spotlight on Lorna Jane. So I decided to explore my own motives and try and determine why Lorna Jane gives me the shits so much.

People argued that the Lorna Jane message was overwhelmingly positive and in support of a healthy lifestyle, encouraging women to be active and ‘nourish’ their bodies. Some wondered why I picked on Lorna Jane when, for the most part, modern advertising uses much of the same tactics. And then some kind souls posted me videos of more or less the same women – as if showing them in action made them more “real”. But I’m not convinced. It seems Lorna Jane’s biggest fans have well and truly drunk the Kool-aid. It was convenient that a perfect example of the negative connotations that Lorna Jane brings to the concept of the fit woman occurred in my own life just last week.

I went to a doctor’s appointment for a general check up. My blood pressure was perfect, and my doctor seemed impressed when I told her the progress I had made in my running in the past 12 months. Then she asked me to weigh myself, which I had no problem doing – I wasn’t worried or concerned because I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been before. So I had to admit I was a little disconcerted when my doctor announced my weight placed me just outside the “healthy” BMI range, and that I should consider trying to get back inside that range. I contended that I’d been doing a lot of weight training and had probably developed some lean muscle in the past few months. She wasn’t interested, suggesting that despite the fact I had no issues with exercising, I might need to work on my diet. And then as I was about to leave, told me I should try and drop four kilograms before I’m back again.

In the time it took me to get back to my car, a whole slew of emotions ran through my head. First I was confused, then I was furious and then, not knowing what else to do, I called my Mum and burst into tears. You should know, I wasn’t crying because my doctor suggested I lose weight – well, I was, but thankfully I’ve finally made peace with my body in that respect. After many years, I now know my worth is not intrinsically tied to a number on a scale. For me, my weight is arbitrary – sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, for lots of different reasons that are not worth worrying about. I was crying out of shock. Shock and disbelief that after a conversation in which we discussed my general good health and fitness, my doctor felt compelled to advise weight loss based on an out of date medical determinant of health, and what I can only assume was a judgment on how I looked.

The BMI (Body Mass Index), which is probably familiar to most of you, was developed in the 1800s as a means to determine a person’s body fat percentage based on their height and weight. Although it is still widely used today, it has long been criticised for having major shortcomings, and was only ever supposed to be used in population studies, not for individual diagnoses. The primary limitations of the BMI are that it has no way of distinguishing between fat and lean muscle mass, it cannot reflect fat distribution and it cannot determine body fat levels in people of different proportions.

I knew most of this. So my shock and disbelief stems from not being able to conceive how a medical professional ignored these flaws and gave me a “health” recommendation based on a whole lot of fuck all. I see this as highly problematic due to the fact that while I have struggled with my body image and accepting my shape and size, I have never gone through an eating disorder, or experienced anything similar. I am lucky. My conversation with my doctor was upsetting and disappointing, but ultimately I will move past it. On the other hand, for someone who could be recovering from an ED, the conversation could have been incredibly triggering.

In a nutshell, this encapsulates why I rail on Lorna Jane and their narrow, damaging idea of what we, as women, should look like. This is why I will not give money to an organisation that is in an influential position and reaches millions of young women daily, but does not see fit to let them know that their worth (or level of fitness) is not defined by how good you look in a crop top. Because according to my doctor, I need to lose weight, despite the fact that I run over 20km a week and am at the gym Monday to Friday; this based on nothing more than an archaic medical measurement and aesthetic expectations of what fit women should look like.

We live in a culture that feels it has the right to comment on women’s bodies with no regard for that woman as a person whose value is not determined by her size or weight. This is a culture that called a four-time Olympic champion ‘fat’ while she was in the midst of competing at the Olympics! It is a culture that excludes and ostracises women who do not meet beauty parameters. So no, I will not be buying any Lorna Jane products anytime soon, because I cannot support anything that cultivates the same kind of pain and suffering in young women that I myself experienced.

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16 thoughts on “what fit looks like: part two

  1. This is a great article, but it sheds no light on the question you raised early in the piece; “Some wondered why I picked on Lorna Jane when, for the most part, modern advertising uses much of the same tactics”.
    Will you refuse to buy products from any company that uses narrowly defined beauty stereotypes to sell their products, or just Lorna Jane?

    • Oh man, my editor will be reading this going, ‘I told you so!’ – she sent this back to me to be fixed up because she thought I didn’t make enough of a connection. I edited it but maybe it’s still not clear enough.

      I won’t buy Lorna Jane for most of the reasons I’ve outlined in the two articles; I feel like what they represent undermines what I, and any woman who works fucking hard to be fit and strong, achieve. They’re entire ethos is supposedly around nourishing your body, which may be the case, but their slogans and imagery says the opposite. It’s the gym bunny version of ‘thinspiration’.

      Will I boycott all companies using these marketing tools? Probably not imminently, though I have gradually culled a lot of those things from my life, such as traditional women’s magazines and superfluous beauty products. Lorna Jane is my target (and to be fair they cop it because they’re the dominant market force) because of how entwine fitness and beauty.

      This is one of my absolute favourite blogs and she just did a post on this general idea, without naming names like I have chosen to – it’s my dream to one day be as articulate as her!

      http://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/what-happens-when-the-pursuits-of-skinny-and-strong-collide/

  2. I really enjoyed this article and your previous one! It speaks so much to what I see consuming women on a daily basis. I find it so frustrating that I know people who are are fitter and healthier than I will ever be but they are still so unhappy with their bodies because they aren’t rake thin! It is such an unachievable notion that is placed upon women who work out and I didn’t even realise it existed until I joined a gym last year! I ended up leaving because, although I am not ‘fat’, I felt like I was because I was the only girl there who was trying to battle Zumba with a size E bust (even the best sports bras can’t minimise the discomfort of a lot of that jumping and bouncing)! I felt that because of my body shape I would never look like the skinny girls on the posters plastered all over the walls of my gym so why bother? It killed my confidence and only now am I feeling the courage again to get back out there and try and find a more suitable place to work out!

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry your experience at the gym was so sub-par (and I know exactly what you mean re: boob issues). I would definitely encourage you to give it another go! I use a 24 hour gym which doesn’t have any classes, and it was intimidating at first, when you’re still learning how to use the machines and the different exercises! But totally worth it, I promise you. It can be hard to push those images out of our heads, because they’re literally everywhere, but I swear to you, once you do, it feels so empowering and bad ass to know you’re doing this great thing for your self. Your body might change, and it might not, but it won’t define you :) let me know how you go!

  3. Hi Ruth,

    Thanks for writing these pieces. My GP friend and I were discussing this only a few weeks ago and she was very open about how little the medical profession knows about weight gain/loss and health, which is concerning considering our blind faith in their doctrine.

    MW Glad I caught part two so I could catch up. As a former LJ employee just reading this made me shake with fury remembering my time there. Your points about the messages and advertising are spot on. But I can tell you first hand that it’s not just the advertising that is problematic. For a company that sells itself on being pro women working there was the most frustrating, demeaning and disillusioning time of my 10 years in retail. If you feel like doing a part three I’d be happy to have a chat.

    Keep up the great work!

    X

    • Hey El, thanks for this comment. I hadn’t thought much about a Part 3 but I am certainly open to it! Would LOVE to hear about your experiences, I think it would give me arguments some credibility (a lot of people questioned whether I’d bothered to look into Lorna Jane’s ethos in any real depth).

      Can I e-mail you on the address you put in with your comment? x

  4. Ruth, I think a lot of your ideas about Lorna Jane are spot on! And I respect your decision to not buy any of their products – it’s easy to have an opinion, but to back that up with your consumer habits shows integrity :)

    And Chris, regarding your question: ‘Will you refuse to buy products from any company that uses narrowly defined beauty stereotypes to sell their products, or just Lorna Jane?’ I gotta tell ya, most activists are hypocrites. While we decide not to buy from a corporation for a particular reason, it’s enormously difficult to cut off contact with all similar companies. For example, there’s a good chance Ruth wears makeup – it can be super tough to find a mascara brand that doesn’t use a thin, white woman with big eyes and an open mouth to advertise their product. So you’ve got to pick your battles.

    I believe that small efforts such as Ruth’s decision can have an impact, and as we grow and learn and more options become open to us, we can slowly cut out buying things from companies that don’t correspond with our values.

    • Cheers, Lou! (I totally wear mascara)

      You’re right – I mean, sometimes you can be critical of something without completely disengaging yourself from it, I think. And, it’s nice to give people some food for thought, even if it doesn’t completely change their opinion.

  5. My sister in law (a Dietician or food doctor as her kids name her!) told me years ago to ignore the BMI and similar measurements (100cm waists and diabetes?)
    For the reasons you mentioned and also because they are based on the mythical ‘average’ sized person.
    Ours is a large family of large people and none of them would ever be qualify as average sized.

  6. I understand your points your making, although did have to read the comments to clarify. I have to ask however, what brand doesn’t do this? And what other brand solely focuses on women like LJ? Because it seems to me, in the fitness world, every message from every corner is telling us be thin, doesn’t matter how far you can run or how many gold medals you’ve won, if you aren’t thin, you aren’t fit! So I 100% agree with you on that point. I just find it sad though, that out of all the fitness brands, you have chosen to attack the one that tries empower women, even if you don’t see it. I like the styles they have, the bright colours, the inspirations tops etc that encourages me to live a healthy lifestyle and be confident in who I am. Because I personally don’t take the message that they are just telling me to be thin, so maybe it isn’t a universal idea as you seem to think. I just think its sad to taint the one mainstream brand that isn’t controlled by men or mainly for men, and to focus on the negative they are doing, rather than the positive.

    And also, before you simply put it down to me getting pulled in ‘hook, line and sinker’ through their marketing like you applied to me last article, or I’m drinking the Kool Aid, I simply have a personal, different view of yours, and am capable of independent views of my own and would like that respected rather than being told I simply fell for marketing campaign.

    • Hey Amy, thanks for coming back again. Sorry about casting aspersions about your opinion, of course you’re entitled to like Lorna Jane, and be inspired by her brand, clothes and ethos. The world would be exceedingly dull if we were all into the same things etc etc

      HOWEVER, my point is that even though Lorna Jane motivates, inspires and encourages you, it also makes a lot of women feel like shit, because of a lot of the points I addressed. They find them intimidating, unhelpful and counter-productive (this refers to much of their ‘fitspiration’ material).

      As I said in the first piece, Lorna Jane has an enormous fan base and is obviously making a lot of people very happy. So I’m just trying to be a voice for those who take issue with LJ, whatever that issue may be – I’m not saying that it’s necessarily ‘universal’.

  7. Very interesting article. Proved the point that women, regardless of weight / size can be fit. This is important. I’m sure there are many slim women, me included, are no where near as fit as women who are of a larger size or different body type. Like you mentioned, the medical,community should take this into account.

    • Hey Alisa (nice to see you here and over at UQWC!)

      That’s really the point I wanted to make. Fit women can be slim and of course, they can’t be excluded from this discussion. But women of all sizes, whether that be overly slim or heavy, or whatever, deserve representation. I’m actually going back to see that doctor today to get a referral and I plan to tell her why I won’t actually be losing the weight (deliberately, that is).

      • Thanks Ruth. I thought it was cool to see you writing for Lip Mag as well. Awesome! Good to hear you are going to voice this to your doctor. I think it is a general misconception / peddled opinion that to be fit and healthy you HAVE to be slim. I think it is great that you are making this point and it encourages other women (and men too) to stand up and say ‘I might not be slim, but I work out / compete / am healthy .’ I totally understand what you are typifying to say in both these articles.

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