Forging on the feminist fitness journey

Special to Western NewsTracy Isaacs, Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Philosophy professor at Western, and Brennan, a former Philosophy professor at Western (now the Dean of Arts at the University of Guelph) have released a new book, Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey.

Nearly six years ago, it started as a personal blog on which philosophers Tracy Isaacs and Samantha Brennan would share their fitness journeys, publicly tackling a challenge to be in the best shape of their lives by the age of 50.

Readership grew quickly, and the blog, Fit is a Feminist Issue, soon became an online community, with more than 200 individual contributors sharing their personal challenges, experiences and feminist views of fitness.

This month, Isaacs, Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Philosophy professor at Western, and Brennan, a former Philosophy professor at Western (now the Dean of Arts at the University of Guelph) released a new book, Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey.

“A book wasn’t always a goal. Even the blog lasting for five years wasn’t a goal,” Isaacs laughed.

“When we first started, we thought the blog was just going to be personal, what we were up to. Then we realized we had a lot more to say, and a lot more than you could say in a blog post. We continued these conversations after the posts, themes started to arise, and then we had these areas of things that were connected. And then we started thinking, maybe a book,” Brennan added.

The pair knew they wanted to partner in writing a book that was accessible to the blog’s readership, so an academic text was out of the question. Once the publishing and editing ducks were in a row, the writing process didn’t take very long, Isaacs noted. There were 9 to 10 revisions – but all of it was enjoyable.

“It didn’t feel like work. Sometimes I look at the book and wonder, when did we get together to write? We got together to write for two hours in the afternoon in the faculty lounge in Stevenson-Lawson (Hall) with our laptops and we would write Google documents together,” she said.

“We would read bits to each other and laugh. We did a lot of editing of one another’s work; there are lots of parts where we don’t remember who wrote what.”

At the core of the book are the same issues, discussions and challenges Isaacs and Brennan tackled on their blog. As the blog and its community grew, ideas for the book developed. The pair likewise found they enjoyed engaging others in conversations surrounding women in fitness, and a book just naturally flowed from that.

“Conversations we would have (while exercising, or with blog contributors) helped. Now, I want to reach other people. We tend to evangelize a bit to those who have some of what we think of as mistaken ideas about fitness and eating and I now have ways of venturing into that conversation and have confidence in doing that,” Brennan noted.

Describing the book as “a uniquely feminist approach to how women can break free from what society thinks and get active in their forties, fifties, and beyond,” Isaacs hopes readers will encounter ways to engage in fitness that are “kinder, more self-nurturing and enjoyable and effective.”

“We think of all of the things that keep women from this really valuable part of their lives and it’s a really sad story. Women who work out in sheds. Women who won’t exercise in public because they don’t like the way they look in fitness clothing. Women who think they need to lose weight first, then buy fitness clothing to be seen in public. It’s about breaking down those barriers and allowing women to have fitness as part of our lives,” Brennan added.

“I hope this book is freedom for some people, that it frees them from a mindset that has been like a prison. Our fitness message is feminist, yes, but more so, it’s inclusive. It’s something that’s available to everybody as part of life,” Isaacs said.

You don’t have to be an athlete to partake in fitness, the pair stressed. You don’t have to be a personal trainer or have a particular type of body or athletic skillset. Exercise isn’t punishment for your body; it isn’t about controlling an unwieldy body. Activity, in whatever form, is meant for everybody and every body.

“We’re just ordinary people. I remember all the fitness books I used to read. The first book that got me into weight training was Gladys Portugues’ Hard Bodies. She’s gorgeous and has this gorgeous body with all this muscle. But she’s a professional body builder. I’m not going to look like that. You can look at us and see normal looking women with ordinary stories. With lives and careers and kids. Obviously, this is possible to do,” Isaacs said.

A book launch for Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey will be held at the Landon branch of the London Public Library, April 28 at 2 p.m. All are welcome.