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The Lessons and Wrath of Dani Mathers

17 Jul

Dani Mathers.

Just 24 hours ago, I was blissfully unaware of that name, as I imagine most of us were.  We had never heard of the 29-year old 2015 Playmate of the Year, because unless you’re a 15-year old boy or Hugh Heffner or live in your parents’ wood paneled basement surrounded by role-playing games and your VHS porn collection, why would you?

But yesterday I was slapped in the face with the hot mess that is Dani Mathers when she did one of the most despicable and vicious things I’ve ever heard of:  she took a photo of a naked, elderly woman showering in the locker room of an LA Fitness without that women’s permission; posted it on Snapchat; and captioned it, “if I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”  Mathers is seen with her hand over her mouth, wide-eyed and in faux shock over the horror of the nude and unsuspecting body behind her.

Dani Mathers

I had a whole bevy of immediate reactions to this absolutely horrific situation.  I was shocked at the cruelty that motivated it, heartbroken for the woman whose privacy and dignity was so brutally violated, furious at the hatred women can show toward one another, and hopeful that the immediate backlash would provoke some sort of tangible result.  (As of this writing, Mathers is being publically shamed and has been banned from all LA Fitness locations, and there is a petition encouraging the LAPD to take legal action.)  I’m livid, and I’m writing from a place of anger and humiliation and supreme disgust.  So bear with me.

The thing is, I have spent my adult life working in the defense of women.  I work for  women who are like me (fat, lesbo, former bulimic, cancer survivor, high femme, gym addict, etc), and for women who are nothing like me at all.  I consider myself a feminist before anything else, and I work hard to assume the best about other women, even when their actions are extremely suspect.  So while my immediate, gut instinct was to throat kick Dani Mathers, what I want to be able to do right now is think about how this happened to her, how she went from an ignorant young woman whose #1 goal in life was to spread her legs for Hugh Hefner to a full-on sexual predator, creating victims of other unsuspecting women.

But I can’t.

Look.  In some ways, I realize that Dani Mathers is a victim of a misogynist culture – we all are.  I realize that she didn’t decide to be a Playboy model because she got tons of positive reinforcement about her talent and intellect and potential.  I get it.  She probably turned to taking her clothes off for the same reason so many women do: we can make far more money naked than clothed, provided we fit a terribly uncompromising image of what women are supposed to look like, the very image Mathers herself is acting to reinforce.  “Empowerment” often comes at the expense of actual power, and there’s no better example of that than the sex industry. I get all of that, and so I want to be able to muster up some sympathy for a woman who could be so utterly cruel to another woman, an elder no less, and then laugh about it publicly, assuming she would get some sort of kudos from other people for being “daring” enough to assault a woman in a public locker room.  Something is definitely wrong, that a person like Dani Mathers came to be.


But I really don’t care about Dani Mathers right now.  What I care about is the anonymous woman who was photographed, against her will, without her consent, without agreeing to be a punch line for a young, privileged, white woman whose subsequent “apology” is nothing more a self-serving series of excuses:  she thought she was having a private conversation, not a public one [so she only intended to humiliate this woman in front of her closest friends, not the whole world], she doesn’t really know how to use Snapchat [except she managed to use it perfectly to post both the photo and the apolog], and she really loves women’s bodies [as long, apparently, as they look just exactly like hers].  Yeah, Dani.  We get it.  #sorrynotsorry.

With all due and honest respect to the amazing men out there who actually own their privilege and treat women like fully-realized and fully-capable members of society, this is the type of bullshit I expect from some douche-bag guy performing a fraternity hazing ritual, the same kind of frat that hangs banners reading “No means yes, yes means anal.”  I expect this from one of the dudes in a Hangover movie, or on Howard Stern’s show, or at a Trump rally.  Misogyny is less startling when you’ve been trained to expect it.  But when it comes from another woman, another person who has grown up in a culture that is designed to be demeaning to women, to strip us of all sense of actual personhood, to convince us that our worth is in our T & A, not in our minds and hearts… it’s shattering.  It devastates that part of me that wants to continue to believe in the best of people, that given the opportunity to do what’s right and just, most of us would.

But not Dani Mathers.

What she did to another woman, a woman who entered that gym to be the strongest and healthiest version of herself, is, dare I say it, unforgivable.  And it’s unforgivable because she didn’t just violate that one woman who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.  It’s unforgivable because she violated the trust of every single woman who has ever hesitated to walk in to a gym for fear of being judged.  She validated the fears of capable-but-hesitant women everywhere.  She has told hundreds of millions of women that because they don’t look like Playboy “playmates,” there is yet one more space that is unsafe for them, that prying and judging eyes are never, ever closed.  It’s not enough that LA Fitness has rightfully banned her from their premises.  It’s not enough that she has been suspended (but not fired) from her regular radio job.  She needs to be treated like the criminal she is and arrested for not just violation of privacy, but for sexual assault.  And if I had my way, she would be investigated for a hate crime.

This all hits me so personally not just because I am a woman, not just because I am a woman who will never fit the ideals of conventional beauty, not even just because I’m a personal trainer and therefore spend a lot of time in gyms.  It hits me right in the gut because I have been working my ass off to open a truly safe and body-positive gym, in the hopes of creating the exact space where things like what Mathers did wouldn’t happen.  I have invested all of my savings and thousands of hours trying to brainstorm and plan and prepare a space that would create community between people of all sizes and ages, for sis and trans people, for people of color, for people with abilities all along the spectrum of possibility.  I have worked harder on this project than I have on anything in my life…and now Dani Mathers happens.  And I’m so afraid that people who might have supported this project will turn away in disgust, assuming that gyms cannot, by definition, be safe.

women should empower eachother

But look, no place can ever be fully safe.  But there is still the potential to create a safer space, a place where no one is expected to look like the cover of a magazine, where we don’t have to be alike in order to support one another, and where the kind of malicious treatment of other people modeled so conspicuously by Dani Mathers just doesn’t happen.  I guess what I want to create is a place where people are simply nicer to one another, a bit of a reprieve from the world of spiteful Playboy models and their adoring audiences.  And I refuse to let a misguided, foolish, and mean-spirited woman like Mathers take that from me, or from us.

If you want to support the creation of this truly body-positive gym, to resist the body tyranny displayed by Dani Mathers and so many like her, please contribute here:  And in the meantime, please don’t let this petty little snot tell you that you aren’t beautiful.  Because underneath it all, she’s the ugly one.  #nomorevictims.


Baby, You’re a Star!

7 Feb

I’ll warn you right now: this ain’t your momma’s blog post.

Instead of writing a typical blog post about fitness or wellness or the challenges that get in our way along the road to self-love and awesomeness, I’m writing this time to ask for your assistant and involvement in the biggest project of my career: opening a gym!

Ever since I started my career as a personal trainer, it’s been my goal to open a gym that would create a community space for non-traditional gym-goers of all stripes. Think of a space where rad people are welcome to come to support each other as they work toward healthier lives, regardless of race, gender, size, shape, age, ability, strength, experience, fear, or insecurity. A space where laughter is encouraged. A space with enough equipment to get the job done, but not so much as to overwhelm you. A space that’s as much about building community as it is about individual accomplishments. A space that advocates love and positivity and joy and creates no place at all for negativity or shaming or judgment. A space that is truly body-positive, with no exceptions. A space with a disco ball. A space that currently does not exist in Portland. A space with Prince Hour every night!


While this space is clearly ready in my head and my heart, it’s not quite as ready in my wallet. Those of you who live in Portland know that our dear, treasured city is incredibly expensive these days, and commercial space is even more ridiculous than residential, if you can believe that. So plans are under way to raise enough money to make it happen. I have already secured an $8000 grant (which is SO amazing!), and the next step is to create a crowd funding campaign.

This is where you and your fabulous ideas, spirit, generosity, and face come in! In order to make a really successful campaign, I need a video. And in order to make a video, I need movie stars. And when I say “movie stars,” I’m talking about you, you crazy sexy beast, you!

Wanna be in a video??

I need people to do 1 of 3 different things, or any combination thereof:

  1. Talk directly to the camera (by which I mean, an iPhone in your face), and say a few words about why having a dedicated space for so-called fat or older or sedentary or injured or scared people is important to you. How would you benefit from the space, and how would Portland in general benefit? How does this space fit in to a broader social justice framework? How would it help you get your sweat on, build healthy habits for your life, and create the kind of community we all want and need? Why do you want this gym to exist and to succeed?;
  2. Talk about the same type of stuff, but know that your audio track will be overlaid on top of another visual. In other words, you don’t have to be shown just talking directly in to the lens if you’re a bit camera shy. (Strange that you would be, since you’re such a hottie, but whatever.);
  3. Be shown working out or doing some sort of badass activity (weight lifting, agility work, yoga, bike riding, walking, playing tennis, chasing down bank robbers, etc) but without any verbal input. In other words, when the camera shy hotties from the second option are talking, you would be the visual to accompany them.

This filming could be really informal and quick – it could be as basic and just you and me hanging out for a while, discussing what you might want to say, and then taking 30 seconds to film it. Maybe we do a second take, just to be sure. You could even film something yourself and email it to me, if you’re not in Portland and still want to contribute to creating this bomb-ass one-of-a-kind space. (I would LOVE that, by the way, because it reinforces that this gym is part of a broader movement, one that protects all of us by encouraging self-love and acceptance, which in turns helps us all to love and accept others.) Whatever is best for you, that’s what we’ll do.

Time is of the essence, here, so please let me know ASAP if you would like to be involved. Especially those of you I don’t see regularly in the gym, please know your input and participation is every bit as invaluable and important to me as those of my regular clients. It’s takes a village, y’all.  And I’m hoping this is one of those, “If we build it, they will come” sort of things. Let’s start building!

if you build it

Thank you in advance, with all my gratitude!


Lily-Rygh Glen, Body-Positive Certified Personal Trainer


Good Intentions

2 Mar


They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?  Well wait ‘til you hear this one.

Flexible Fitness, my training business, was started specifically to provide safe and fun fitness instruction to people who tend to be underserved in the broader fitness community.  I work with a lot of women who are menopausal or post-menopausal, overweight, chronically out of shape, unsure of what to do in a gym, or in a life-or-death struggle with their conflicted feelings about their bodies.  Some of my clients have battled or continue to battle eating disorders.  Some of them have been so ashamed of their bodies that they have ignored them to the point that lifting 5lb dumbbells is too taxing.  A couple of them are covered in self-inflicted scars.  One cries when she has to face a mirror. 

And, some of my clients are fiercely tough and deeply badass, the type of women you wouldn’t want to piss off in a dark alley.   One of them is in her mid-50’s, considered overweight by conventional standards, and can leg press 400lbs.  Several of them are involved with the Health at Every Size movement, and come to the gym because they know their overall health will be more determined by their muscle mass than their body weight.  One of them sings while doing burpees.

The point I’m trying to make is that I serve a group of women who have been largely ignored by the fitness industry as a whole, an industry that assumes that fat people only and always work out in order to lose weight – it’s almost like there is no possibility at all that some fat people might genuinely enjoy exercising just as much as some thin people do, that some fat people might be just as happy in their skin as some thin people are, or that many fat people could kick the asses of many thin ones.    I absolutely love what I do, and I feel honored that so many fat women, women who have been routinely ignored, marginalized, and demonized by the majority of the fitness industry, trust me enough to help them achieve their fitness goals.

To that end, I’m constantly trying to come up with new activities that are safe and fun and appropriate for people in large(r) bodies.  I am a huge proponent of fitness walking, water aerobics, and yoga, and I have recently developed a monthly class I am calling Intro to Fat Fitness.  I’ll be teaching it at In Other Words, a feminist non-profit bookstore and community center here in Portland, Oregon.   I’ve worked hard on this class, trying to make it as exciting and light-hearted and productive as possible, and so I’ve been proudly promoting the class.  So far, so good, right?

At least I thought so…until I saw that someone posted these two comments on In Other Words’ Facebook page, regarding my class: 

·         As a feminist group, I would think you’d develop something that embraces all women and all body types;

·         Do you think this ostracizes thin women?

::sighing deeply::

Here’s the deal: there’s this thing called cultural capital, similar and related to a funny little concept known as power differentials.  Groups who have less of it have always found ways to gather and support each other and take care of themselves as individuals and groups.  Always.  This is how resistance happens.  It’s not about specifically shunning the people with the power, but rather empowering people without it.  When black people gathered during the early days of the civil rights movement, were they “ostracizing” white people, or were they trying to figure out how to create a more equitable cultural system?  When gay people started meeting post-Stonewall in order to come up with a way to share in the equal rights afforded to them by the constitution, should they have concerned themselves with “embracing” straight people at the same time?  And when women collaborated to figure out how to get the vote, they weren’t trying to take it away from men!  There were agendas in those gatherings, very thoughtful and rigorous agendas that involved advancing the interests of the specific group targeted.  Plain and simple.

And that’s what Intro to Fat Fitness is trying to do: empower fat people, who have been systematically disempowered by a fitness industry that shames and blames them, often putting their physical (not to mention mental) safety at risk in the process.  It’s not about trashing or ostracizing thin people.  In fact, it’s specifically not about thin people at all – that’s exactly the point.  Most thin people can attend just about any fitness class in the city and feel relatively comfortable and honestly welcomed.  They can also feel pretty assured that the instructors of those classes know how to direct them appropriately and provide for their physical safety.  Most fat people simply cannot say the same thing.  And I refuse to believe that there is something wrong in providing a space for that life-changing work to happen.

It bothers me to know that there are women out there who will take any opportunity to assume the worst about the intentions of other women.  And it seems ironic that my class would be accused of ostracizing thin women, considering that it’s being held at a feminist bookstore, a place that is often accused of ostracizing men in an attempt to provide a safe space for women.  Nevertheless, I will continue to offer this class as long as there are fat people who want to take it.  The struggle for body equality will undoubtedly be a long one, especially since some thin people (and yes, I’m assuming the woman who wrote those comments is thin) will continue to act as though their rights, as a privileged minority, are being somehow threatened by the attempts of fat people to be healthy and strong, and to get that way in an environment that feels safe and unthreatening.  What a load of crap.


Lily-Rygh Glen

Intro to Fat Fitness will be held on the first Tuesday of every month, from 6.00-7.00pm, at In Other Words.  Please contact me for additional information.

The 5 Stages of Hipster-free Health

16 Feb

hipster hatAbout six weeks ago, I woke up from a sound sleep with a stabbing pain in my hip.  It radiated out from a central point and pretty much covered the front of my pelvis.  No matter what I did, the pain didn’t subside.  From that moment on, if I sat too long in the same position, or if I walked down a flight of stairs, or even stood in the wrong way, that pain would smack me up.  In the past 6 months alone, I have strained my left elbow and my right knee, landed wrong jumping off a rock onto my left ankle, and pulled my right lat in the gym.  So I’m pretty familiar with all sorts of muscular pain – this wasn’t it.  I just  didn’t know what to make of it. I remember telling a friend of mine that the only thing that made sense was arthritis, but that couldn’t be it, because you can’t just wake up in the middle of the night suddenly arthritic.

Apparently you can.  It turns out I have advanced degenerative bilateral arthritis.  Advanced.  I’m 42 years old, very active in my body, with no real family history of arthritis…but here I am, looking at the possibility of a hip replacement.  It’s a classic WTF.

In the process of gathering “what the hell do I do now?” information, I went to a previously-scheduled appointment with a brilliant nurse practitioner named Seth Merritt.  Seth’s not a rheumatologist or an orthopaedist – he’s actually one of only a handful of health care providers in Oregon to hold a board-specialty in bariatric treatment and metabolic disorders, the perfect person to help me navigate my Hashimoto’s Disease.  I mentioned the arthritis thing, and he said the one sentence I had been expecting but dreading: “I just don’t see how you avoid going gluten-free.”

(Insert wailing, groaning, and prodigious cursing here.)

Like any recovering bulimic, I abhor across-the-board food restriction.  It freaks me out and sends my mind spinning, and I’ve never been convinced that it could be completely healthy to cut entire food categories from one’s diet.    Furthermore, and equally important, I’m not a Portland Hipster:  I am not a member of the “I bike commute to work every day on my fixie, which makes me a better, inherently cooler person than you are, which is why I ‘accidentally’ leave one pant leg rolled up so you know I bike commute” class; I don’t wear “ironic” trucker hats while possessing no actual understanding of the word “irony”; I don’t love unicorns or PBR or Neutral Milk Hotel; I do not, ever, under any circumstances, wear skinny jeans; and I don’t jump from one “I saw it on Dr. Oz so it must be true” diet plan to the next, be it vegan or paleo or raw…or gluten-free.

But I trust Seth completely – the guy really knows his shit – so I responded in the way I always respond to a crisis: “Is there a book?”

I’m now in the middle of reading Wheat Belly (yes, I know Dr. Oz recommends it…whatever), and I’m telling you, this guy is on to something.  Gluten is, of course, just a huge inflammatory.  And arthritis is all about inflammation.  And Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune disease, which means it, too, is all about inflammation.  So I’m doing it.  I’m going gluten-free.

But let me back up, because it wasn’t quite that straight-forward.  I think I went through speed-laced stages of grieving, trying to reconcile my relationship with gluten in about 48 hours.  It looked something like this:

  1. Denial:  “This isn’t really that big of a deal.   I mean, people have been eating wheat for thousands of years, so how bad can it be?”  (Pretty bad, it turns out, especially considering that what we call “wheat” is nothing like what it was even 60 years ago.)  So I sat down with an enormous plate full of whole wheat pasta and enjoyed every bite.  Of course.    
  2. Anger:  “Well, this is just totally fucked!  I manage to recover from a 25-year eating disorder and a lifetime of being afraid of my body, only to get this crap thrown in my face now that I’m living a healthy life?  WTF?  First Hashimoto’s, then MTHFR, now arthritis?  No way.  No effing way!  This is not fair and I simply refuse!”
  3. Bargaining:  Well, maybe if I don’t eat gluten at home, I could eat it when I go out to dinner?  Maybe I could just reduce the amount of bread I eat?  What if I made sure I always had a big piece of protein with my pasta?  Would that counter the effects?  (Answer: nope.)
  4. Depression:  I can never go out to eat ever again in my entire life, and I’m the only person who could possibly know what this feels like, and so what that I live in Portland, Oregon in 2014, the easiest possible place and time to go gluten-free, because this is still horrible.
  5. Acceptance:  Okay, well, I don’t want to walk with a cane before I’m 45 years old.  So I guess I’m going gluten-free.

At the end of the overwrought day, gluten and I have had a dysfunctional relationship for a long time, a classic unrequited love affair: I loved it, but it just didn’t love me back. Or maybe it loved me, but it wasn’t in love with me.  And that’s why whenever I tried to get close with it, it hurt me.

And here’s the really weird part: I feel great.  Like, actually, really great.  My energy is through the roof, I have only had a few random moments of hip pain in the past three weeks, my mind feels clearer, my depression is under control, and I feel capable of doing whatever it takes to protect my hips and the rest of my body, to stay as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

I’m not saying that a gluten-free diet is for everyone – this is absolutely not me standing on a soapbox.  But it is me saying that it’s so important to listen to our bodies, even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.  And it’s so important to listen to our health care providers (not just TV doctors!), even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.   It’s important to be open to the options that we don’t like, because they just may be the right options for us.

And if anyone can recommend a restaurant in Portland that is both hipster-free and  gluten-free, I’m all ears!


Lily-Rygh Glen

Beware the Meathead!

10 Jan

meathead stash

Oh, I’m just super pissed!

I was at the gym, having just finished training a very hard-working and brave client, and thinking about how lucky I am to be in a position to usher women into healthier habits that could lead to longer and better-lived lives. I was feeling high from watching my client push herself to the limits of her (safe) abilities, seeing the look of utter satisfaction flood her face when she lifted something she was certain was far too heavy for her, and thinking about my place (as a fat and body-positive self-taught 42-year old recovering bulimic) in the fitness industry, an industry with which I am pretty regularly disgusted. I was all aglow with the pleasures of making a living doing something I love so much. It was like a personal trainer’s equivalent of a sexual afterglow.

As I started my own workout, I was thinking about how my personal challenge for that day was to lift the kind of weights that my clients would be proud of, to live up to their expectations of me in the same way they consistently live up to my expectations of them. I was primed and ready to roll. I started grabbing weights to load on to an easy curl bar when this gym meathead I had never seen before interrupted me. He said something vague like, “So, you’re a trainer, huh?” He looked me up and down in that trying-to-be-sly-but-not-at-all-succeeding way that I’ve become fairly used to at this point: it was a clear assessment of my body, and I could see the messaging running through his head. He obviously questioned my authority in the gym and my own ability to maintain a healthy body for myself. After all, I don’t look the part of a trainer: I’m clinically obese, rock a pair of serious sidecars, and lovingly admit that I have so much back that it’s coming up front. So I understood his dubiousness, at the same time I didn’t really feel like entertaining it.

So I answered with something not at all vague but hopefully silencing – “Yep!” – and started to put my headphones on, the international symbol for “I really don’t want to talk with you right now.” As one might expect, Meathead didn’t take the hint. Turns out he wants to become a personal trainer, too, and started picking my brain. He asked lots of questions about my clients, where and how I ”signed” them, how I set their goals, what I do to “make” them lose weight, and what I tell them about nutrition. After a big sigh, I realized I was going to have to entertain Meathead for at least a minute or two.

I explained that I don’t “sign” clients, I work along side them. I also don’t set my clients’ goals, but work with them to determine goals that are appropriate and safe for them to set. I don’t do one damn thing to “make” anybody do anything, let alone lose weight. And since I’m not a nutritional counselor, I talk to my clients about food only when and if they ask me about it – I’m not proactive on that point. He looked dumbfounded about all of this, so I continued on, feeling the whole time like I was talking to a brick wall but still obligated to defend my business philosophy and my clients.

I explained that my clients aren’t really looking for six-pack abs or striated muscles; that’s just not the type of person who seeks out a trainer like me. They aren’t trying to make the weight lifting boards or compete professionally. My clients want to increase their quality of life, and just work from their starting point, whatever that may be. I never impose my own agenda on any of them…because I don’t have an agenda in the first place.

I thought I had been all eloquent in my explanations, and was expecting him to thank me for my time and perspective. But no. Meathead went on to say, “What do you do if they overeat?” I was a bit stunned, and after a moment of silence, I just replied, “Well, since I’m not the food police, and since my clients aren’t required to report their food choices to me, and since I only train adults who are, by virtue of that adulthood, capable of making their own choices, I don’t do anything at all about that.” I went on to explain that while I certainly advocate a healthy diet for all of my clients (and everybody else, for that matter), I also think there’s something to be said for a truly healthy and intuitive relationship with food that allows for occasional unhealthy choices: I want my clients to feel great about eating a piece of birthday cake at a party, or indulging in a decadent meal to celebrate an anniversary, or even just ordering in a pizza once in a while because it just sounds so damn good. His reply was… I can’t even. He said, and I quote:

“If I was a trainer, I would just tell my clients to eat a huge meal, totally pig out, then go home and purge.”



::waiting for the tumbleweed to go rolling past me along the floor::

After picking my jaw up from the floor, I said, quite simply, “I would never, ever suggest that my clients purge. Under any circumstances. EVER.”

He actually asked me why not. So I rounded up all the internal diplomacy I possess and replied, as calmly as possible, “Because I want my clients to develop healthy habits, not dangerous ones. I wouldn’t suggest they purge any more than I would suggest they start smoking. Because I don’t want my clients to die.” I slammed my headphones on my head, grabbed my easy curl bar, and firmly turned my back and walked away.

As I performed my skull crushers, still trying to tap into my clients’ expectations for me, I realized that while my afterglow was clearly destroyed by Meathead over there, he had given me a wonderful gift: a concrete reminder that if the fitness industry is left in the hands of a bunch of body-obsessed, jug-headed, stereotypical and ignorant douchebags like that one, people who are more concerned about what they see in the mirror than what they see in their blood panels, people who will go to ridiculous and potentially deadly lengths to lose that last ounce of unwanted fat, we’re all screwed. If I ever needed the inspiration to double up my efforts to introduce women to kind and appropriate and safe ways to build healthy muscle and develop more loving relationships with their bodies, I certainly got it. Thanks, Meathead!

But God help us all if that douchebag becomes a personal trainer.

Lily-Rygh Glen

meathead archie