Category Archives: Pictures

Thing-a-day 19: “What’s my problem?”

I’ve been collecting little bits and pieces I’ve written over and over again as people have asked me questions about food and exercise. One frustration I have with the fitness industry is that its sales focus tends to reduce solutions to THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK and other foolish formulas, single sizes that fit pretty much none, and that’s just when they’re not frankly bunk. What interests me more is teaching a person how to find the path that will work for them. Have a question? Ask me! I don’t expect to make any money from this, so I can just talk about it here on my blog, and see where it goes. Feel free to comment here or Twitter @caitlinburke.

There are lots of ways to gain and lose weight, but a single dominant feeling about all of them: that ultimately individuals just can’t control it for long.

It’s not true, of course – lots of people successfully adjust their weight and maintain it at a level they like, and there’s lots of interest in what makes them different. It probably boils down to the brain, and more specifically to beliefs, like “I believe I can accomplish this and stick with it” combined with “I know what I need to do to make it work.”

It can be hard to believe we can accomplish something even if we know what to do. Part of that comes from the wide variety of ways there are to get things done, so general principles often don’t help. Nobody seriously tells people how to make cookies by saying “Mix sugar, butter, and flour, and bake – easy,” but they don’t hesitate to say, “Eat less and move more – easy!” I believe both those things, but I’ve made a LOT of different kinds of cookies over the years, and I’ve also experimented a lot with food and exercise. And you can, too.

What does it mean to eat less?

Eating less means fewer calories in, overall. Thanks, Captain Obvious! We want to come up with something we can do – happily, every day, so we’ll have to come up with some specifics … that we can live with.

Eating is sometimes compared to fueling a car, but it’s more like budgeting. To support yourself, you need to match your means and your spending, and most of us have a basic complement of things we need to spend money on routinely – rent, food, keeping the lights on. Let’s assume we have a decent income, enough for bills + a little extra. Subtract what we absolutely have to pay out, and we are left with some money we can spend on fun stuff if we want.

Your daily intake is a budget that has to have basic components in it so your body doesn’t fall apart — so you have a place to live and can keep the lights on. Those components are a mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, plus micronutrients like vitamins (and, of course, water). Most people can meet those basic requirements in fewer calories than they need to keep their weight the same – eating mindfully still lets you have some fun. Where most people have trouble is in the quantities and the proportions, both figuring out what they should be and knowing when – and how – to say “when.”

What does it mean to move more?

This is both the easy part and the hard part: “move more” means almost anything. It’s walking to and from a bus stop instead of driving door to door – or at least parking at the far end of the lot. It’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s getting up from your desk once an hour to take a walk around the office, or doing a bit of calisthenics when your brush your teeth. The hardest part about this is narrowing down what will work best for you. The good news is you don’t have to have a perfect plan from the get-go, and you don’t have to stick to the plan perfectly even after you have it.

There’s a single dominant feeling out there about exercise, too – that it’s a punishment or, if not actively painful, a distasteful medicine. No wonder people are so sedentary! Your body actually likes moving around, and regular activity has good effects on almost every health and well-being measure you can look at. Most people adapt quickly to exercise if they are consistent and a little bit organized about their approach – there is certainly no one way to make progress, and if you’re just starting out, it’s even easier to get going in the right direction. There’s a million ways to get your heart rate up and get your muscles working, so you can find a few that you enjoy.

What Do I Want to Accomplish?

Occasionally I do something unusual, like an Olympic-distance triathlon just because I have the the day off, or 46,000 meters on the rowing machine because it’s my 46th birthday. And people say “How do you do that? I wish I could do that.” Maybe, but probably not – there’s no particularly great reason to do stuff like that. I think the best way I can help other people is with my complete understanding that you almost certainly don’t want to do things the way I do them. At least not in a direct step-wise fashion. But I know how I came to understand what works for me, and I want to help others start that process, too.

Here are some questions I like to help with:

  • “How do I know what I should be eating?”
  • “Is [some particular food] harmful?”
  • “I have to eat less! How?”
  • “I have to exercise more! How!”
  • “I though this [diet|exercise] would solve my problem, but I hate it. Now what?”
  • “What does that knob on the side of the Concept2 rowing machine do?”

I’ll visit and explore those questions during the rest of the month (and, I hope, keep going).

Thing-a-day 18: Beginning of the End

So sighs a friend of mine upon discovering this page from LIFE Magazine in 1938:

It was quoted extensively in an “on this date” piece in the Lock Haven (Penn.) Express, in 1967:

1-Piece Swim Suit Hit Shore 30 Years Ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Amid dire predictions of moral perdition, the topless bathing suit bit American beaches just thirty years ago this month. The furor was not to be believed. The city fathers of Atlantic City, N.J., home of the Miss America contest, said they would never tolerate such an obscenity on their strands. Across the country there were outraged howls. Bare bosoms? Belly buttons? And worse, Hairy bosoms and stomachs? Because the guardians of public morals were talking about men swimming in just trunks.

Until 1937, the men of America had been swimming in one- piece or two-piece knit bathing suits with more material above the belt than below. Most of the trunk parts had skirts over them, moreover. Like the topless fad for females, the mens’ craze originated on the French Riviera, spread to California and then insinuated its way to the East Coast. Life Magazine commented then that “in the more inhibited East a male costume consisting solely of trunks was, until just recently, cause for arrest on almost all public beaches and raised eyebrows on many a private one.” It wasn’t until the next year that Long Island’s Long Beach allowed men to air their chests and Atlantic City held off until the outbreak of World War

Bathing suit manufacturers complained that there was little chance for originality in design — just plain black knit trunks with a white canvas belt. The next year in its July 18, 1938, issue Life showed pictures with such captions as “trunks do little for faulty posture,” “hairy chests are becoming public,” “trunks should be privately fixed,” and “trunks should be worn high.” Atlantic City, and other hoi* outs, have long since lost their battle: The bathing suit manufacturers have discovered Heeding Madras, boxing trunks, Bermuda shorts, cabana suits and a great many other changes on the black knit trunks they thought were the limit. Will the topless fad for women spread as fast and the objections sound as silly so soon?

Yeah, so, that’s kind of a no on that last thing, although that fad remains popular in Europe and on private beaches of the West Coast — the same places this fad began!

Thing-a-day 17: Sportsball

I guess that’s a basketball.

I am impressed by the athleticism of these women, and I assume they must be dancers of some kind, who would be accustomed to some pretty fancy footwork in heels. I couldn’t find source information about this photo, and if you have some, I’d love to know more about it.

Women in the 1930s did wear different shoes for that game (and probably headgear, if any), when they meant business, though.

From the collection at Pics of Then, an individual’s collection of old photos.


Thing-a-day 15: Pin-ups

In an online community I’m part of, there has been a slight trend of men posting pictures in stereotypically “feminine” selfie poses. The examples I’ve seen recall the “male super heroes posed like female super heroes” images that have become popular recently. I don’t love this imagery. It can be done with good production values, as in this Ducati shoot (interestingly, the various men wear – with differing degrees of success – the same pair of shoes in all 13 shots):

It can also be done very deliberately and with apparently good intentions, as in this project by photographer Rion Sabean, called “Men-Ups”:

From Men-Ups!

But does anyone believe this kind of project makes progress “reversing the stereotypes created by society, begging the questions; why is it sexual for a female to pose one way, and not sexual for a male?” Worse, does anyone truly not already know “Why is it considered more comical or unsettling for males to act the more socially defined feminine?” (Quotes from Sabean’s project statement.)

The reason these are treated as “comical” or “unsettling” instead of hostile or contemptuous is that the makers tell us they are completely in on it from the beginning – they aren’t just telling one of their classmates on the schoolyard that he “throws like a girl!” and then sneering at him for it. The photos still show parodies of feminine poses, and derive their “comical” or “unsettling” power from the ridiculousness of seeing men in them, especially when they appear to be in drag. They invite us to make fun of femininity but don’t sincerely ask us to question the validity of feminine prescriptions when the object is female. When women are in those poses, it is just as ridiculous, but does anyone come away thinking that? I mean, anyone who didn’t arrive already thinking that?

I can’t help feeling like we’re going about this the wrong way with these “mash-up” photos. If our desire is to question the prescriptions, why not simply do that — step up and produce images that set aside the window-dressing of those stereotyped images and take aim squarely at their goal: typically showing women as sexy and sexually available (vs typically showing men as subjects, actors, takers of control — and of course of women).

For example, take this sexy librarian:

From Men of the Stacks, a calendar featuring male librarians.

The power of the Men of the Stacks calendar lies in the simple fact that while the images have sexual appeal, they are not parodies of feminine styling or poses, nor are they especially stereotypically masculine, for that matter (yet without the smooth, “small” styling that makes even bearded men look slight and child-like in the Men-Ups!, adding another, troubling dimension to their ambivalence). Zack, above, features in the sexiest photo, the most overtly sexual, and it’s just plain gorgeous. It helps that he has a fairly pretty face, but his body is thoroughly masculine, and his pose, while not the typical stilted, symmetrical stance that men often adopt in candid photos, isn’t the demeaning, “presenting” angle that invites the viewer to laugh at Manigale and Men-Ups!

In discussions about this subject within fandom, I see women make comments praising what I’ve described as parody treatments as “cathartic,” welcome after “dealing with this shit” — referring to the way female characters are often treated, particularly in “fan service” (using deliberately sexual objectification to titillate [male] fans). I understand, and I find these images interesting and link-worthy myself, but women also participate directly in perpetuating the stereotypes that support sexist, prescriptive representation. How could we not, raised as we are in a society in which it is utterly endemic and often provides the shape of what constitutes “attractive” to the people among whom we seek our romantic partners? I completely understand the “turnabout is fair play” desire here, and I hope it is but one small step in a larger journey for women of meaningfully rejecting the prescriptions for feminine posing.

We may have a lot of ideas about “what [straight] boys like,” and boys may say a lot of things, but at the end of the day, a lot of boys mainly just like girls. We have power to create opportunities for ourselves — with our phones and social media accounts — to shift the representation of women, while staying in touch with what makes us feel attractive. I would love to see a different mix of poses diffuse out among the countless self-portraits that flood the social networks. Not women posing in stereotypically masculine ways (although that has cathartic value as well), but women posing more naturally, more simply, less apologetically, less tentatively. Women just dropping the “wide-eyed, slack-jawed” softcore porn faces that decades of unironic pin-ups have left us with, and looking like they are at home as the subjects of their photos, instead of a little baffled by the props that surround them.

Thing-a-day 12: Bench Progress

Posting to my blog every day for the month of February is only one commitment I made this month. The other is do a cycle of 5/3/1, a weightlifting program developed by Jim Wendler. There are several programming volumes for 5/3/1, which you can have calculated for you at a wonderful site called Strength Standards, whose front page asks you a few questions and predicts your 1-rep-max weights for the 4 major barbell lifts: bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press.

I’m doing the lightest volume of 5/3/1 – just 6 sets of each of the main lifts, each on separate days. I enjoy strength training, and I’d like to have a total of over 500 lb (that’s the total of your max in bench press, deadlift, and squat). I’m close, at around 450, but I’m in no hurry. I am more of an endurance athlete by inclination, and hitting each major lift once a week is plenty for me. I am finishing Week 2 of this 5/3/1 cycle, and it suits my goals perfectly right now.

I took this photo in the Arboretum in Seattle in 2008.

Right after I graduated from college, I started going to a gym, looking to gain weight, and when the trainer asked me my blue-sky goal – something I’d always imagined but never thought I’d be able to do – I said “I want to bench press my weight.” We got me there – on a technicality. I benched my starting weight once, for 1 rep. (The real success was that I’d gained almost 20 healthy pounds.) Then I gave up the bench press.

Over 20 years later, I’ve taken it up again. There are other lifts that interest me more, and for more than 6 months, I just didn’t bother with it at all, because I could do other lifts at home but didn’t have a bench. But I got a new rack and bench last fall, and I’ve been pretty consistently benching once a week.

The 5/3/1 programming is based on percentages of your theoretical maxes, and it’s been telling me my bench is higher than my last test (in October, at 102.5 lb). So tonight I tested it again. And I benched 110. So close to that 120! But my strength is much less brittle now, and I know I’m going to blow right past it this time.

Thing-a-day 11: Medieval E-cards


Valentine’s day is this week, and while sites like someecards have the cynical market locked up, you might be looking for something a little sweeter to share this year. How about this image?

13. (ff. 21v-22r): Calendar pages for April; a full-page miniature (f. 21v) of a man and a woman courting, standing next to a fountain in an aristocratic garden, with, in the border below, men playing a game with a bat and ball….

From Add MS 24098.

Well, OK, that’s not the most romantic way to put it, but the point is: it’s a couple courting. More in their “Love” section.

Thing-a-day 9: Protection

The Art of Manliness really likes pictures of sailors with women for some reason. Or maybe it’s just that they like black and white pictures from the 1950s and before, and the best ones have sailors in them. They just seem like such fun. Even if they have an iron grip on your elbow.

I’m sympathetic — I like them, too. I never had any particular thing for sailors in the way some women do, but I grew up in Puget Sound, where there are (or at least were) lots of Navy bases, and sailors were both common and highly visible. And the late teens and early 20s are the time that people decide whether that life is for them. Sailors, a little more than the other services, seem both present and absent; any branch can have long deployments, but sailors may spend half or more of their careers “at sea” — now there’s a freighted phrase, or at least an assignment that offers no family housing options. There is also an odd tension in the sight of a Navy enlisted uniform, at once clearly that of an adult and yet also historically a choice for clothing children.

1881 portrait by Benedetti & Boccalini, London.
Queen Victoria helped create a fashion for this style of dress for children by dressing her sons in clothing modeled after Navy enlistees, partly for family reasons but also to create a class-crossing sense of esprit de corps with the nation while celebrating the greatest navy of the era.

I suppose one can’t help but recall the classic joke:

“When I grow up I want to be a sailor!”
“Sorry, dear, you can’t do both.”

Of course our men — and women — in uniform are not children (even though they might enlist as teens), and they do difficult jobs that many (most?) people are unsuited to do. We dress our children in such ways not because sailors are children (although they may remain in close touch with their childlike enthusiasms — a good quality), but because we have aspirations for our children, for them to grow up to be able to do difficult, honorable things, to emerge from under our protection to take on responsibility for others.

Thing-a-day 6: MEGA MUSCLE GIRL

… will save you. With her muscles.

I was 23 years old before I had this feeling. I was a strong cyclist, an intrepid hiker, a (very) occasional runner, but when I moved out of my parents’ house, I remember having a genuine fear that if a bookcase fell on me, I wouldn’t be able to get out from under it. Not necessarily a particularly big one, or anything, just some flatpack from the local Scandi-design-type place.

After I finished college, I joined a gym, got introduced to the rowing machine, and, when the trainer asked me what I’d really like to be able to do, said, “bench press my weight.” I was about 120 lb at the time, and I can tell you right now, it was all legs. They had a light bar – only 20 lb – and I struggled with it. Still, slowly but surely over the months, I could bench more, and it was CRAZY how great it felt.

One of the many things I love about this little girl is that she’s not wasting her time with the classic bench bro clichés. She doesn’t care about “beach muscles,” and she’s certainly not fretting about bikini season. Girlfriend is already cleaning bars from the ground and getting ready to punch the sky. That’s my wish for every girl — and woman: see something that needs to be lifted overhead, even if it’s just her roller bag in the steerage section of a jumbo jet, and be able to say, “Yeah, I can do that.”

Thing-a-day 4: Feeling Secure

On Facebook yesterday, I saw a thread about some new drama or another in the lifting community, and someone commented, “you’d think it was all teenage girls, there is so much drama.” It probably should be more teenage girls, for what it’s worth – girls should be supported to get stronger earlier in their lives – but it also encompasses a profoundly drama-free element, popularly embodied in an article by Henry Rollins that appeared in Details magazine in 1993.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds. —From Iron, by Henry Rollins

You can quarter-rep 200 lb and lie – to yourself and others – about your relationship with the iron, but 200 lb is still 200 lb. Your buddies probably know you’re bragging about something you never did, anyway, because if you ever lift anything around other people, ever, it can be very clear what you can and can’t do.

Friends don’t let friends skip leg day. —Photo: Greg Segal/TIME

But there’s a few of those in every crowd. What’s more interesting to me is the range among lifters. As with many groups, the lowest common denominator is very low, with some particularly ugly results in a demographic that is so obsessed with testosterone. There’s also something about being undeniably strong in the most literal sense that releases the soul from its anxiety about appearance, or even urges it to adopt tie-dye socks and novelty singlets.

This guy.

There is a pure delight in lifting well, in marshaling your form so that the weight cannot help but follow the path you set for it, and in progressing to heavier weights. It is one of the simplest repayments of attention, diligence, and consistency, delightfully measurable and demonstrable to others. And it gives rise to a prominent culture of enthusiasm for the success of others as well as for oneself. The drama in the Facebook thread was all about some commercial concern among people who engage in formal competitions, but in the typical weight room, it’s mostly people showing up to get better, who are eager to share their enthusiasm with anyone else who wants to get better, too.

Update: Can’t stop dreaming of that singlet? You can buy one, along with other eye-popping designs.