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My Life at the Gym

Feminist Perspectives on Community through the Body

Jo Malin

Publication Year: 2010

A wide range of personal accounts celebrate the place of exercise in women's lives--and as the site of women's community. “Very often, my workouts are the best part of my day,” notes feminist writer Jo Malin. My Life at the Gym celebrates women’s experiences of exercise and the found spaces for this activity as places of community with other women. Neither elite athletes nor dancers, the contributors to this volume are well aware of the negative cultural messages about women’s bodies that may influence body work. Yet, like many women, they have found comfortable and healthful spaces that allow them to enjoy exercise and take care of the physical needs of their bodies. Through diverse essays, personal accounts, and poems, contributors portray everyday lives in which meaning comes from movement and from the companions they move with in a variety of activities from running, walking, swimming, and skiing to boxing, Morris dancing, and yoga, among others. A unique, positive, and largely unremarked view of exercise and its place in women’s lives, this book will resonate with and inspire many readers.

Published by: State University of New York Press

My Life at the Gym

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I want first to thank all of my family members and friends who continue to believe in me as a writer and scholar. In particular Victoria Boynton is an invaluable personal and professional friend who keeps me on the writing path. I am indebted to the faculty and staff, especially Interim Dean Susan Strehle, of the School of Education of the State...

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pp. 1-15

As I was completing my work on the Encyclopedia of Women’s Autobiography with my co-editor and dear friend Victoria Boynton, I began thinking about this collection of women’s life narratives that would describe and reveal the writers’ participation in feminist-influenced communities that are grounded in bodywork and quietly...

Part 1.The Dance

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pp. 17

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1. An Elegy for Dancing

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pp. 19-30

Is it possible to write an elegy in prose? What about an allegorical elegy—an elegy for an aspect of the self that has been lost, or that remains in regression or remission? This essay—this attempt, to paraphrase the French verb essayer—will try to do both of those things: to enact a prose elegy for a dancing self, replete with some small measure...

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2. Kaleidoscope Dances

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pp. 31-42

Morris dancing, its origins unknown, an organic shoot in rural England, nearly plucked out in the industrial revolution, in modernity’s move to the city, to the machine-life of production, of the planet. Morris dancing red hot in my aching knees, in the arm movements beginning in the very middle of our bellies, in muscles hard as ropes. Only...

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3. From Ballet to Boxing: The Evolution of a Female Athlete

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pp. 43-59

It’s late July 1979. The rehearsal studio in downtown Toronto is bright and airy, ringed with well-worn gold wood barres and huge windows that look out onto a lush green park. Sunlight spills onto the worn wooden floor where I lie flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling and trying hard to catch my breath. My hair is drenched, and...

4. The Women’s Dance

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pp. 61-62

Part 2. The Gym, Weight Room,Studio, and Pool

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pp. 63

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5. You Spin Me Right Round, Baby: Resistance, Potential, and Feminist Pedagogy in Indoor Cycling

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pp. 65-77

I could say I go to the gym to keep fit, reduce stress, become stronger, and stay flexible and agile—and I would not be lying. But these reasons constitute only part of my motivation; it is only part of what gets me out of bed before 6 a.m. to lift weights or steers the car toward the gym after a long day. Because like the majority of other women...

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6. Beyond the Lone Images of the Superhuman Strongwoman and Well-Built Bombshell toward a New Communal Vision of Muscular Women

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pp. 79-90

As we generally know them, muscular women are doubly mediated. They are first self-mediated—or “self-made”—through weight training plus dieting, tanning, shaving, accessorizing, and, in more extreme cases, plastic surgery. They are then mediated again by the visual technologies of photography, television, and film. Through...

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7. Enduring Images

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pp. 91-93

The woman on the elliptical machine has purple hands. Jamella comes to the gym every morning to try to get her joints moving, to try to stay a step ahead of her rheumatoid arthritis. She never complains about it, rarely ever talks about it. When I ask how she’s managing now that they’ve taken her arthritis drug off the market...

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8. The Gymnastics Group

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pp. 95-100

I squatted and faced my classmates, my gym suit unaltered, and positioned myself for a series of backward somersaults. Momentum building: I rocked on the balls of my feet, pushed my fingertips into the mat, took deep preparatory breaths. The last thing I saw before letting go were the girls’ watching faces. My left arm crumpled at the...

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9. Gym Interrupted

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pp. 101-109

As a veteran of hundreds of workout classes, I have acquired a strange assortment of remnant clothing that lurks in the dark recesses of my closet: tiny shorts, striped tights, vicelike bra tops, and even leg warmers, all of which adorned my body at some time during the last twenty-five years. With such gym experience, you might expect...

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10. Naked Truth

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pp. 111-116

Bounding into the Mansfield Community Center on a bright sunny Saturday, my loaded gym bag banging into my leg, I ran into David, a physics professor, retired for a decade. He seems softer, more subdued in recent weeks, since Carolanne, his wife, died of cancer at age fifty-nine in mid-July. We exchanged the usual “Hello.” “Nice...

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11. Women’s Yoga: A Multigenre Meditation on Language and the Body

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pp. 117-122

On a good day, the yoga studio is a thoughtless place, a space where thought falls away, leaving a mindless body—a relief, a surprise, a miracle, really. Yoga practitioners cultivate this miraculous mindlessness in the bubble of the yoga studio—a space that acts as a container in which to experience this mindless body. Ordinarily, as busy...

Part 3. On the Road, the Slopes, and the Lake

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pp. 123

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12. “Messing about in Boats: ”Rowing as l’Écriture Féminine

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pp. 125-133

In Kenneth Grahame’s Edwardian children’s novel The Wind in the Willows (1933 [1908]), the self-assured character Rat sings the praises of sculling to his riverbank friend Mole: “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” (8, emphasis...

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13. Women Who Ski With Dogs

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pp. 135-143

It’s 2 a.m. on a Friday morning in February and so cold that as my car creeps down the driveway, the tires are loud on the packed snow, and the sound reminds me of Velcro being slowly torn apart. This is the end of a ten-hour drive, and the hum of the highway is still in my ears, groundspeed vibrations resonating in my back and...

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14. If These Roads Could Talk: Life as a Woman on the Run

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pp. 145-149

I have been an athlete my entire life, aka a jock. Of course people love to call girls who are in sports “tomboys” or “female athletes,” thus negating females the right to own their own fit body. Therefore, I think of myself as someone who loves to be physically active and stay fit: I am a runner. I must also confess that I love to eat, therefore I must...

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15. Walking Is an Exercise in Friendship

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pp. 151-154

The group’s founder and historian is Diane MacLean, a former math teacher. She has been walking for more than twenty years, most of them with Poeny Liem, who lives a few houses away. The third member of the original trio is Melanie Sienkiewicz, who joined Diane and Poeny after she saw them walking on her street on the next hill...

16. Marathon

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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-159


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pp. 161-164

E-ISBN-13: 9781438429458
E-ISBN-10: 1438429452
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438429434
Print-ISBN-10: 1438429436

Page Count: 174
Illustrations: 6 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1