Fitspo and Healthy Living Memes: A problem of appropriation, decontextualization, & depoliticization

Anyone who scrolls through social media fora has surely stumbled across memes of hard-bodied women encouraging onlookers to “do it for the thigh gap you always wanted,” “keep calm and go to the gym,” and of course that “nothing tastes as good as being fit feels.” There have been a bevy of critiques of these “fitspo” memes, most among them rightfully pointing out that these pervasive images perpetuate body dysmorphia, fat-phobia, ableism, and are just generally not great for women’s (and yes, it’s usually women) self-esteem.

Fitspo began as an ostensibly positive rebuttal to “thinspo” (short for “thinspiration”),  the name for the disturbing internet culture that promotes anorexia and bulimia through pictures of thin women and intentionally-triggering quotes. In theory, fitspo challenges these troubling trends by promoting working out and eating (as long as it’s “clean,” and not too much) rather than starving. Because being “fit” is problematically equated with “health,” it would seem that this trend is somehow more morally sound than it’s thinspo counterpart. But, as blogger Nattily writes, “It’s the same damn thing.” Why these memes are bad for women and bad for feminism is pretty clear.

But these memes are more than just anti-feminist–they are also disturbing mediums for circulating an appropriated, depoliticized, and decontextualized version of history. These memes often take words spoken by radical (and bad-ass) political figures and turn them into words about the gym or advancing in yoga postures. For example, take this quote by Frederick Douglass, one of the most important figures in the US abolitionist movement:

adf24bf1ea48a394e2b14c18e5a2eea9

Here, Douglass is referring to the importance of struggling for justice, and “progress” refers to taking power away from the “haves” and claiming it for the masses of “have-nots.” The first line of this quote, in particular, is used by activists and organizers who, to this day, are fighting for racial and economic justice.

Now look what fitspo does with this powerful quote:

60b15b39c4a826dc0d6546af72476170

progress towards crunches in the wild!

And this:

progress towards juice feast-worthy skin! and poop, probably.

progress towards juice feast-worthy skin! and poop, probably.

And this:

c93646cdea4d1cd50c29d541ebb15472

progress towards tight booty and back muscles. natch’.

I was equally dismayed to discover a Nelson Mandela quote being used for reasons that were not related to, oh, you know, apartheid. Mandela famously said–during his battle against racial segregation in South Africa–that, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Here’s how fitspo decided to apply that:

fancy backbends/apartheid. same difference.

fancy backbends/apartheid. same difference.

 

And this:

37bfeafe7ee1622594bb647ea7f4ed75

splits on the roof feels equally if not more impossible than battling racial segregation, no?

Oh, and clearly growing this dude’s beard was probably an impossibility Mandela could not have imagined:

smdh.

smdh.

It’s not just “fitspo” that practices this re-writing of history. “Healthy living” memes are culprit to the same tendency. Here is a quote by Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian, civil rights activist, and womanist who said the following words because of her position in the world as a  Black lesbian.

f5beb62784b7f5cd3cf1b94200134a5a

Lorde suggested that self-care is political warfare because a hetero-patriarchal white supremacist nation tries to destroy anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender, male. Although I recognize that because these memes are largely female-based, that there might be some legitimate overlap here, I find it troubling that the last part of the quote has been erased, and that Lorde rarely gets credit.

For example:

no attribution to Lorde. self-care becomes equal to a white lady going to the gym.

no attribution to Lorde. self-care becomes equal to a white lady going to the gym.

Or if she is given credit, it’s juxtaposed to….self-care through fancy lattes?

#stuffwhitepeoplelike?

#stuffwhitepeoplelike

Or they’ll just do a little tweaking and give credit to someone else entirely:

5b211c4627cdc0ecbf6b35ab278a37dc

Not surprisingly, “political warfare” didn’t quite match the tone of these neoliberal versions of health and self-care.

Certainly this trend appears innocuous enough. What could be so bad about encouraging exercise, or determination, or leisure through pretty pictures and words that sound nice?…What could be so bad is that this is a classic example of appropriation–the act of taking something that doesn’t belong to you and using it for purposes counter to it’s original intent. In some instances that process can be used for liberatory ends–(and in those cases it’s not appropriation as much as it is reclaiming or repurposing)–but in this instance, it’s not liberatory. At best, it’s bad history; at worst, it’s further fodder that works to depoliticize an entire generation of people.

I feel lucky that a combination of my education (undoubtedly an experience of privilege) and my involvement in activism (which is rooted in my lack of class privilege and wanting to fix conditions for other working class people like my mom) taught me these quotes in their appropriate forms. And I realize that it’s not particularly progressive to judge a phenomenon that may be caused by internet users’ general lack of access to this type of historical education (be it formal or informal).

But my critique is not about those individuals who are generating the content. Like most bad things in the world, individual intent is not really the issue. This is about the systemic erasure of politics and movements. It’s about the ways in which our society teaches women to spend more time educating themselves about how to get six-pack abs than educating themselves about Black lesbian womanists, (for example). It’s not that these memes detach us from politics, it’s that these memes reveal that so many have never been attached in the first place.

Friday Five!

Hello and happy Friday! Friends, summer is a tough time for me. I have come to realize that when the weather gets warm I fall victim to a bit of reverse-Seasonal Affective Disorder. Summer for academics means less structure and less time with humans. Even though the work load is sometimes just as heavy, the fact that I don’t have to be anywhere or with anyone is very challenging for someone who is slightly more “E” than “I.” Anyway, I say all that because these Friday Fives are really rad for me because they hold me accountable to keeping track of interesting things and happy things. So, thanks for giving me an excuse to snap out of the summertime sadness!

Hope you enjoy!

***

The State of the American Dog

Turns out Esquire magazine has some really good writers, and this article is evidence of that. Tom Junod explains a few really important things: many dogs in America have some pit bull in them, even if they don’t appear to be pit bulls; people Otherize pit bulls in extremely troubling ways; and this astute proclamation: “Their detractors say they are more likely to kill; their advocates say the only thing they are more likely to do is die. We make a habit of asking dogs about their own goodness without expecting or getting an answer. But go to an animal shelter and before they are euthanized, ask the dogs you see there—the pit bulls you see there—about our goodness. You will get all the answer you need.” The whole article is thought-provoking and also moving. As a dog-lover and friend of several pit bull owners, I highly recommend this illuminating piece.

Learning to Grieve

As I’ve alluded to on the blog, the past 12 months have been ones full of major loss. I’ve experiences loss due to death, to breakups, and to moves across the country. This piece by Ram Das encourages us to “counteract our natural tendency to turn away from pain, we open to it as fully as possible and allow our hearts to break.” He suggests that embracing the pain of loss will help us be more present in what comes after–including more waves of intense grief for the thing we thought we were “over.” I feel this so.much. right now. Very grateful the universe popped this into my view this week.

Mung Bean Sprouts, Seared Carrots, Kale Salad with Chile Lime Sesame Dressing

I am admittedly lazy when it comes to sprouting things, but I love when I do, and this recipe is totally going to make me do it again ASAP. Vegan Richa is always full of amazingness, and this recipe combines so many of my favorite things. This is high on my list of meals to make, for sure.

gobi wrap- mung bean salad 098

Do Something About Gaza 

I can’t not say something about the brutality occurring in Palestine right now. This post from Life As It Happens provides a lovely commemoration to Gaza through a reflection of cooking Gaza-inspired food, and also provides a list of things we can all do to support the Palestinian people who are in the midst of so much death and destruction.

Stuff from the Week That Made Me Happy

Lunch with Angela (my first IRL blogger meet up!)

Good workdays

Bike rides and long walks

Delicious home cooked meals

CSA veggies

These pics of animals and their parent/s

Phone calls with friends

***

What things made you happy this week? 

Have a great weekend! xoxo

The China Study All-Star Collection Cookbook Review + Zucchini & Summer Squash Muffins

I am delighted to be bringing you a review of The China Study All-Star Collection Cookbook: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes From Your Favorite Vegan Chefs by LeAnne Campbell. I was asked to review a copy of the book and also was offered the chance to make and share the recipe for these incredible Zucchini & Summer Squash Muffins. I’ll get to the recipe soon, but first, some more about the book.

TheChinaStudyAll-StarCollection_FrontCover

The ethos behind this cookbook is right up my alley, and is just as the title suggests: whole food, plant-based, and follows right in line with the scientific studies revealed in The China Study. (TLDR; Plant-based diets are excellent for your health!). The book features a stellar line-up of contributors, including big names in vegan cooking and blogging, like: Lindsay S. Nixon, Dreena Burton, Heather Crosby, Ani Phyo, and Christy Morgan. All of the recipes are vegan, free from refined-sugars, and nearly all of them are gluten-free.

The book is neatly organized in eight sections: Breads & Muffins; Breakfast Dishes; Appetizers & Salads; Soups & Chilis; Burgers, Sandwiches, & Tacos; Entrees; Side Dishes; and Desserts. I made sure to make at least one thing from each section, and I was never disappointed with my results.

For breakfast one day, I made Chef AJ’s Overnight Muesli. I love overnight oats, and the apple-centric spin on this was delicious.

For dinner one night, we made Laura Theodore’s Twice-Baked Potatoes. These were a delicious treat. I haven’t had a twice-baked potato since I was a kid, and finding a recipe that used entirely whole food healthy ingredients to recreate that childhood staple was awesome.

I was having a major cookie craving one night (file under: completely unsurprising), so I made a batch of the Coconut Pillows. They were sweet and nutty. A slight crisp on the outside and perfectly fluffy on the inside.

And then there were the muffins….

20140705-212445-77085949.jpg

ZUCCHINI & SUMMER SQUASH MUFFINS’

Recipe from The China Study All-Star Collection.

MAKES 1 DOZEN MUFFINS

RECIPE BY HEATHER CROSBY

“A gluten-free, nondairy twist on zucchini muffins that will have everyone asking for seconds.”

FOR THE DRY INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup almond flour

1 cup sweet sorghum flour

1/2 cup Sucanat

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground sea salt

FOR THE WET INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 cup warm water

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE FOLD-INS

3/4 cup shredded zucchini

3/4 cup shredded summer squash

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Using a grater or food processor, shred zucchini and summer squash. Place onto a clean cloth towel and sprinkle veggies with a teeny pinch of salt. After 2 minutes, cover, roll up, and press to remove excess water from veggies. Set aside.
  3. Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
  4. Place wet ingredients into the blender but let them set for 5 minutes so chia can plump. After 5 minutes, blend until smooth.
  5. Place liners into cupcake tins.
  6. Mix together wet and dry ingredients. Fold in zucchini, squash, and nuts.
  7. Quickly spoon batter into liners until they are full and place in oven.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow muffins to cool in the tin.

TIPS (from the author)

If you can’t find unbleached parchment liners, simply cut twelve 4 × 4 squares of unbleached parchment paper. Press into muffin compartment to create homemade tulip liners—filling them with batter will help them stay in place.

With gluten-free, nondairy baking, it’s very important to keep the wet and dry ingredients separate until you are ready to bake. Once mixed, a chemical reaction begins between leavening ingredients and acids to “fluff” the batter. When your muffin tins are lined, the oven is preheated, and you have a spoon ready and a silicone spatula on-hand for folding, then you are ready to mix up wet and dry ingredients. Once muffins are in the oven, do not open the oven door until the timer goes off. This kind of baking is sensitive and it’s important to keep the temperature consistent.

Try baking muffins in mini muffin tins for bite-size goodies. Just adjust the baking time to 15 minutes. For extra flavor, toast pecans and walnuts for 5–7 minutes in an oven heated to 350°F before folding into batter.

20140705-212444-77084113.jpg

 

20140705-212442-77082511.jpg

If I could put summer and comfort and into a muffin, they would taste like this. These muffins were vegan and gluten-free, used only Sucanat as a sweetener, and were completely oil-free.  What was particularly incredible about them, though, was how moist they turned out! So often healthy baked goods (especially ones that are both vegan and gluten-free, and definitely ones that are oil-free) have a tendency to be so dry. Not these muffins. Thanks to the moisture in the summer squash and zucchini, they practically melt in your mouth.

I thought I did an okay job with the pics of my batch, but check out the beautiful photo from the book! (The whole book is full of these beauties. Super colorful pictures that pop!)

Zucchini & Summer Squash Muffins photo

The foreword in the book is written by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and it provides an excellent introduction to how these kinds of recipes “demonstrate the ease and pleasure of using a plant-based diet,” and how they can inspire society to “embrace this proven approach to optimal health” (p. 10).

I highly recommend this book for newbie vegans and old-hands alike. The recipes are fresh and delicious, the pictures are gorgeous, and everything I ate left me feeling energized and healthful.

If you don’t get yourself a copy, I hope that you’ll at least enjoy this muffin recipe! (What a great excuse to get to your farmer’s market this weekend, right? Get those summer squash!).

 

I received a complimentary copy of the cookbook from the publishers, but all opinions are my own and I was not further compensated. 

Friday Five!

Happy Friday! I’m spending today doing a bunch of prep for my uncle’s 60th birthday party, so I get to be in the kitchen making vegan food that will convince a party full of non-vegans that vegan food is excellent. :)

b0789667f99bcc5cd63b6751400bc47b

Enjoy the Friday Five and have a great weekend!

***

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Cilantro Vinaigrette

Yum! This roasted cauliflower dish from Blissful Basil sounds so delicious. I love tahini and I love cilantro, so I’m definitely going to make this!

15-DSC_4338

Free Lunches in Public Schools

Boston and Chicago have joined the list of cities that are taking part in a federal initiative to serve free lunches in all public schools. No paperwork, no “proving” you are “poor enough,” just free lunches for all. That is my kind of program. Read about Chicago here and Boston here.

Raw Zucchini Noodles with Lemony Avocado Pesto

I haven’t used my zucchini spiralizer in far too long and this recipe from The Spicy RD seems like just the thing to make to bring it back. What a delightful summer dish!

Raw-Zuccnini-Noodles-w-Lemony-Avocado-Pesto-2

Prince Fielder ESPN Body Issue Cover

There is a lot of interesting stuff happening on this year’s cover of the ESPN Body Issue. Prince Fielder, a 275-pound Black male baseball player, poses nude on this year’s issue, demonstrating, what this article suggests, that, “[a]thletes’ bodies, just like those of us mere mortals, come in all shapes and sizes, and they can all be magnificent in their own ways.” So much to say about gender, race, and body image. I’d love to hear thoughts on this cover in the comments!

princefielderbodyissue

Stuff From the Week That Made Me Happy

Family time

Finally seeing “Obvious Child” (so good!)

Curing a summer cold in two days flat with awesome natural remedies

Bike rides and walks

Sunshine

A delicious vegan burrito

Finding a perfect pair of heels at 50% off

Self-care (in the form of a mother/daughter mani-pedi)

 

What made you happy this week? What do you think about the ESPN cover? What’s your favorite thing to make for a party attended by mostly non-vegans? 

xo

Apple Ginger Lime & Pineapple Green Juice

20140707-123110-45070233.jpg

 

I juiced up this beauty this week and I had to share it. The result is a tangy, sweet, and spicy treat for your tastebuds and your health!

Apple, Ginger, Lime, & Pineapple Green Juice

1 green apple

1-2 in. piece of ginger

3-4 kale stalks

1/4 cup pineapple, chopped

1/2 lemon

1 lime

Put all ingredients in a juicer.

Sip and enjoy. <3

Hope you’re having a great day! 

On Nostalgia and Contentment

Two summers ago I spent eight weeks in yoga teacher training and sat in daily reflection with Patanjali’s eight-fold path. Patanjali is know for being the father of yoga philosophy, and his writings are used like a Bible in the yoga community. That summer I felt like everyday was an opportunity to practice living more fully into the niyamas (things to do) and working on ridding myself of habits that were reflective of the yamas (things not to do).

Not surprisingly, once yoga teacher training ended, it became harder to live quite so mindfully. I tried to keep up good study habits: reading yoga books and journaling before bed, setting Patanjali-influenced intentions in yoga class, and being generally attentive to my actions in terms of how they do or do not reflect general yogic energy. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose sight of all of that amidst the small and large sorrows of living.

529a732b197674df5f592d1dc0a7e5c5

When I was in Minneapolis last week, I was punched hard in the gut with the trappings of a nostalgic heart. I had been somewhat prepared for this since the same thing happened to me when I first started visiting Chicago after I moved away. Revisitng a place that was once home unleashes ghosts. They are the worst kind of specters because they force you to come to terms with the fact that you maybe never fully processed the end of whatever you lost (the place, the person, the thing). This was definitely the case for me. I was surrounded with dear friends, but all I could think about was memories of what I no longer had (and how I would have to leave these moments and eventually return to Boston, a place that still doesn’t feel like home). I had so few moments of being fully present.

Missing the past (and lamenting that the future will never be the past), is a sure sign of failing at Patanjali’s santosha. Santosha is the sanskrit word for “contentment.” It has also been described as a  “peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires.” For someone who is taken out of time and space with a smell, or a song, or a food, (or a million other things), it’s hard to feel totally a-okay in the present. There is always something or someone to miss from the past. There is always something to worry about for the future.

I’ve been back from Minneapolis for about a week now, and still haven’t gotten out of the funk it put me in. So, last night, I decided to start back at some of those habits I set that summer two years ago. First step was opening up my bedside book, Meditations from the Mat. The page I opened up to? An entry about santosha.

Thanks, universe. I get the hint.

It’s not an easy niyama. Being content with what you have and where you’re at, regardless of circumstance, is tough stuff. It’s about breaking the mentality of, “I’ll be happy when ______ happens,” and instead saying, “I can choose to be happy now, even without ____.”

Even though, more recently, my struggle with this has manifest in the form of personal relationships and connections to my sense of “home,” I know that this completely applies to how many of us approach body image and weight loss. I have absolutely had the thought, “I will be happy if I can lose ten pounds, then I won’t have anything to worry about.” Of course, we all know that this is a completely messed up thought. Anyone who has lost or gained weight surely knows that happiness is not a given in either scenario.

I’m often reminded of this when I look through old photo albums (and as an aforementioned nostalgic person, this happens kind of frequently). There’s this particular photo of me from about six years ago where I look legitimately skinny. I have never used that word to describe myself before. I’ve looked thinner or fuller, but given my not-going-anywhere hips, thighs, and bootie, “skinny” is not something I ever identified with. But in this picture, my arms look like pencils and my stomach curves in.

The picture was taken during one of the lowest periods of my life. I was getting out of what felt like an extremely toxic and unhealthy relationship and was completely miserable. I had a faint smile on my face in the picture, but I remember vividly talking the whole night about how I was still so depressed about the situation with my ex.

In this example, my “skinny” body was indeed directly correlated to happiness–the lack of it. I was too depressed to take care of myself properly. I may have been thin, but I was sick all the time and was convinced I would never feel joy again. When I look at that picture, just as quickly as the thought, “I wish my body looked like it did then,” creeps into my brain, I shoo it away with a reminder that I would never want to be back in that part of my past, even if it did mean having that body. (And I’m at a place now where I prefer my muscle arms to pencil arms, anyway…)

Whether it’s relationships, homesickness, job stuff, or body stuff, we are not served by dwelling on the past or longing for something different in the future. This is a deeply challenging truth to accept, but it is one that I know can ease so much of the sadness we carry with us. And sadness is a heavy thing to hold. When we carry past and future-oriented sadness, it becomes even harder, because we have so little control over what has past and what might happen tomorrow. All we can control is how we approach this moment. Now.

a moment this past weekend when i was definitely fully present. <3

a moment this past weekend when i was definitely fully present. <3

  Do you struggle with feeling content in the present? Do you have any nostalgic tendencies? How do you cope?