Professors redefining fitness, feminism and 50

It’s not just the numbers – that number on the scale, number of calories you eat or the size of your jeans. It can’t be your shape, your image or even a label you ascribe to your body – or any body, for that matter.

So, then, what is fitness? What does it mean to be ‘fit’?

Questions like these are fueling the musings of Western Philosophy professors Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, who, by way of a new blog, Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty, are grappling with not only the idea of fitness, but its relation to gender and age as well.

For the two feminist philosophers, fitness is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.

“I think fitness often has negative connotations and does women a disservice, the negative connotation being that fitness is all about being thin and beautiful,” Brennan said.

“Women aren’t really encouraged to be actually physically fit. We’re encouraged to look a certain way, but not necessarily to be strong and powerful and fast. That’s a disservice in our lives. (Fitness) is an important part of our well-being, one we miss out on from the time that we’re girls,” she continued.

What’s more, inherent expectations of women to look a certain way or to participate in select sports, don’t improve with age.

“The idea of (fitness) just gets exacerbated when you’re older because older people also aren’t thought of as the ‘fit crowd.’ If you look at the media surrounding fitness, it’s always about young people. It’s always youthful bodies. There’s also a kind of ageism in the whole fitness industry,” Isaacs added.

The blog came out of a goal Isaacs shared with Brennan – to be the fittest they’ve ever been by the time they are 50.

“We’ve been having an ongoing dialogue about this for as long as we’ve known each other – about body image, fitness, weight loss, weight-lifting, feminism. And our birthdays are very close, so we decided we would start around Samantha’s birthday and finish the blog on my birthday, in 2014, with a really big party,” she laughed.

Take a moment to peruse the blog, and you’ll find interesting and insightful discussions, among them how tracking calories is, for women, a self-imposed discipline over the body or how assigning labels such as ‘fat’ or ‘big’ to women’s bodies isn’t the same as ascribing them to men’s bodies.

Going back to that question of defining fitness, Brennan and Isaacs would be quick to note that they’re not aiming for a specific number on a scale or a particular pant size. For the most part, their goals involve taking on new sports and improving their efforts and results in a variety of physical activities.

“We both have some things we’ve done before, and some things we haven’t. So things, we want to do again and do better,” said Brennan, who wants to beat her previous beginner distance triathlon time.

“We both have a sense of ongoing goals that we’re meeting and revising,” Isaacs added.

While Brennan is primarily a cyclist, she also practices aikido, trains in crossfit and weights, runs, enjoys yoga, swims and cross-country skis. And Isaacs has an equally impressive fitness schedule, consisting of running, biking, yoga, weight-training, tai chi, swimming and kayaking.

“The big/fat/fit discussion, I think it’s a stumbling block for most people. A lot of people start out exercising and then don’t lose weight and then quit. And I think that’s so awful,” Brennan said.

“That shouldn’t be your goal. We set (weight loss) as a goal and then think if we haven’t met it, we’re failing. But all of the health benefits aren’t weight related.”

Brennan and Isaacs add these discussions surrounding fitness, gender and age, won’t end with a blog post.

“For both of us, we’re thinking about it more philosophically and how it will affect our work. We’re planning a panel proposal for a conference on some of these issues,” Brennan said.