Saturday, July 28, 2007

From feminism to...stroller aerobics?

At a popular local park this morning, Michael and I saw the most astonishing thing we've ever seen on one of our walks: stroller aerobics.

Michael noticed it first, when we were a little ways away. "Look at that," he said. "Push ups."

Sure enough, there were a bunch of brightly-dressed people in the grass up ahead of us, doing push-ups.

As we got closer, they stood up, and each woman walked to a stroller. One woman was directing the group, sounding more like a drill sergeant than an aerobics teacher. As we watched in shock, they each pushed their strollers a few steps; and then, while holding on with one hand, each woman turned sideways, stood with their legs spread and their knees bent, stuck their butts out, and made some jerky, bouncy movements as they shuffled forward.

"It's the [Name] Park baby moms," Michael said.

"What is this, the 1950s?" I responded.

After a few feet they walked facing forward for a short while, and then turned and did the same thing on the other side.

We reached the cluster of park benches where we normally take a break, and continued watching the women as our dogs rested. After doing their Sir Mix-A-Lot shuffles on the other side, they stopped and parked the strollers. A grade-school-age child counted out ten push-ups.

"It's like something you film and post on YouTube," Michael said, sounding slightly shocked.

To put this into context, I guess I should mention that this is park is located in a rather yuppy, urban neighborhood. These are the types of women who, before they got pregnant, were probably seen jogging in designer exercise clothing or sipping lattes on a coffee break while wearing an Armani suit.

When we got home, I Googled "stroller aerobics." And what do you know, this is actually a big deal! Unbelievable. One site I clicked onto talked about how difficult the extra weight is to lose post-pregnancy, yadda yadda.

The extreme focus on image just blows me away. First off, these women were NOT overweight, not even close. And don't tell me it's because of the stroller aerobics, because I have never seen a more useless collection of "exercises" in my life. I mean, seriously, what exactly is sticking your butt out and shuffling along sideways going to do for your figure? Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned jogging, swimming, or cycling? (All of which are popular in this area, I might add.)

Second, the fact that they are holding these sessions at the park -- and that all of the women were dressed in stylish aerobics clothing -- tells me something. They are not doing it for their health. It's all about status and appearance, which I find mildly disgusting but also a little confusing. I'm not sure what exactly their intended message is to the others in the park -- is it, "I'm a mom, I'm rich, and I look good in a leotard"?

Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy eating healthy and dressing attractively as much as the next person, but this seems rather obsessive and superficial to me. It's amazing how we have backslid, going from discussing a woman's right to earn equal wages to exercising (no pun intended) her right to wear spandex.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog for your strong opinions and straightforward writing style. But the tone of this post puzzles me. What did these women do to be the target of your cynicism?

Instead of "good, old-fashioned jogging, swimming or cycling," (which, although they're arguably more effective exercises, also tend to be more solitary), these women elected to come together in a public park and exercise with other moms and their babies (I'm assuming the strollers were occupied). Seems reasonable to me. Perhaps they just wanted to be outside rather than cooped up in a gym, and they weren't intending to send any kind of "message" at all.

The "Sir Mix-A-Lot shuffles" may have looked ridiculous to you, but perhaps they were just a cool-down between the pushups (which can be pretty tough). And exercises that might seem easy and "useless" to you might be pretty difficult for women who have recently given birth.

So the women didn't look as though they needed the exercise because they weren't overweight? But thinness isn't necessarily a good indicator of physical fitness. And they were dressed in stylish exercise clothing? Perhaps they were just trying to motivate themselves -- why assume that because they weren't sporting old T-shirts, they must be exercising for "status and appearance" and not for their health? In any case, by judging them according to what they're wearing, aren't you being just as superficial and image-obsessed as you're accusing them of being?

Without knowing any of these women or their stories, you've stereotyped them as rich yuppies with nothing better to do than show off. I think that's rather harsh. I'd also submit to you that perhaps viewing a stroller aerobics class as a symbol of post-feminist backsliding is rather overheated, and your "disgust" and cynicism is a bit misplaced.

Katharine Swan said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoy my blog and appreciate my opinions.

I appreciate your input, but I still maintain that this "stroller aerobics" looked pretty silly and useless. Ten cheater push-ups are not what I'd call tough. These women were also not ones who had just given birth -- as I already mentioned, they were pretty slim.

Perhaps what I said about the people in this particular neighborhood is stereotyping, but perhaps it's not. I don't think you can really accuse me of that without knowing the neighborhood and the people in it.

And finally, I really don't think it's wrong to say that this is a sign of post-feminism backsliding. It's not much different than women getting together to play bridge in the 1950s.

Put it this way -- how many men do you think join aerobics classes to stay in shape? And before you say, "Women are just more social," stop and think REALLY HARD about why your knee-jerk reaction is to say that.

Anonymous said...

Your point seems to be: Here's a bunch of svelte women who are doing a bunch of (in your opinion) wimpy-looking exercises in a public place. Therefore, they must all be superficial, image-obsessed, rich yuppies who just want to show off. All I'm saying is that you may be judging them rather harshly.

And I'm confused by the "women getting together to play bridge in the 1950s" analogy -- what does that have to do with feminism (or backsliding from feminism)? Couldn't the act of getting together with other women -- to play bridge, to exercise, whatever -- be viewed as a celebration of feminism? And are you certain that the stroller aerobics participants are living the lives of 1950s housewives? Perhaps they're professional women, just like you.

You ask how many men join aerobics classes to stay in shape -- not many, certainly -- and I absolutely agree with the implication that women are more image-obsessed and judged on the basis of appearance much more often than men. But it's ironic how often it's other women that are doing the judging!

Katharine Swan said...

Anonymous, I respect your right to your opinion, which is why I've published both of your comments here, even though we don't agree.

However, I do ask that you consider the fact that I am quite familiar with the neighborhood in question. Unless you live here and know which neighborhood I am talking about, I don't really think that you have the basis to assume that I am stereotyping these women, rather than operating off of what I know about the neighborhood from having lived in the area for the past 21 years.

My post was primarily meant to describe what I found to be very silly, and to express some of my frustrations with our society. I respect your opinion and your right to disagree, and perhaps we should leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

You’re right. This will be my last comment (and I do respect the fact that you’ve been publishing them!)

I’ve seen you tackle many important issues on this blog – low writer’s wages, animal abuse, even this horrible presidential administration’s deceitful, lying ways – and you’ve done it bravely and cogently. Getting into a lather about stroller aerobics just seemed silly and sort of beneath you. That’s why I wrote.

Incidentally, apart from our disagreement about the social implications of exercising mommies, we’re actually a lot alike – I, too, am a freelance writer, newly married, an animal lover, and I've even stayed up all night reading Jodi Picoult novels. I do enjoy your blog and wish you the best of luck in your career!

Katharine Swan said...

I do agree with you that stroller aerobics is not as, er, pertinent as many of my other diatribes. It was simply on my mind when I sat down at my computer. Perhaps if I hadn't have been able to post right away, I would have forgotten about it, and it never would have made it onto my blog.

You obviously have read quite a bit of my blog, which I appreciate. It is encouraging to know when my opinions are appreciated, just as it is healthy to be checked when they aren't. I hope I will hear from you again! :o)


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