08 October 2016

Fitting Man--And Woman--To The Machine

Note:  This post contains a frank discussion of a female-specific cycling issue.

Perhaps I am the last person in the world who should criticize anybody for having a surgery.

Still, I couldn't help but to cringe when I heard about women who had their toes shortened to better fit into sky-high stiletto heels.  To me, it sounded like a version of foot-binding that has the imprimatur of the medical establishment.

I mean, it's one thing to go under the knife, or to be bound and stitched to look the way one wants to look.  Countless people, including many transgender women I know, have had surgeries to lift cheekbones or chins, raise eyebrows or lower hairlines, or to change the shape of their noses or ears.  Still others have had their breasts augmented and buttocks lifted and firmed or had that most common procedure of all:  liposuction.

It's sad when people are cut, broken, bound and stitched to fit some Barbie-like "ideal" that no real woman meets.  Most such people look perfectly good the way they are; the others are simply unique.  But I won't knock anyone who has surgeries or other procedures if it makes them happier and better able to function in the way they wish.  After all, some people would say--wrongly, I aver--that my gender reassignment surgery fits into that category.  Certainly, I could have lived without it:  after all, I did, for decades before I had it.  I just don't know how much longer I could have lived, at least as I was.

What disturbs me, though, about toe-shortening is that it's done in order to fit a device, i.e., high-heeled shoes.  (A device for what?  I'll let you answer that!) How many of us would have our hands surgically altered to better fit our keyboards or our bodies reshaped to the contours of a chair?

Now, you are probably asking what this has to do with cycling.  Well, I'll tell you:  There are women who are having parts of their inner labias removed because they rubbed against their saddles.  This sometimes causes chafing, bleeding and even infections, as it did for me when I first started cycling after my surgery. 

Sometimes I still feel pain, as many other women do.  But it has been less frequent for me, as I have found saddle positions that work for me, most of the time, on each of my bicycles. And I have been experimenting with ways I dress when I ride, especially when I wear skirts.

But I am not about to undergo what some are calling "saddle surgery".  For one thing, my labia was constructed by a surgeon.  She did a great job (and it cost me a bit of coin), so I don't want to undo it.  Also, I simply can't see myself altering my body again to fit a machine, even if it is a bicycle.  If anything, it should be the other way around:  the machine should fit the human.

And my identity--the reason I had the surgery--is not a machine.  

Also, the pain I experience these days is really not any worse than the pain and numbness I sometimes experienced after long rides before my surgery.  Besides the equipment I have now is a lot less noticeable under form-fitting shorts than my old equipment was!


  1. Thank tpu for this list. I have a certain sympathy for women who decide they will do *anything* to relieve labial pain but you make very good points about it beung a matter ofperspective.

    1. Sorry about the typos - remind me to never post a comment from a phone! :p

    2. Rebecca--If you knew how many times I found typos in my posts weeks,even months after I posted them....

      Thank you for the compliment. I hope I didn't seem as if I'm being dismissive of other women who experience labial pain or worse.

  2. Speaking of making the bike fit the person, it has always puzzled me why designers don"t make better use of the 26 inch wheel size for frames under 52 cm. The wheels would be much more in proportion. Weird geometry and toe overlap could be avoided. Natsuko Hirose is a contributor on Jan Heines'blog. She rides a custom Hirose built around 26 inch wheels (coincidentally she's not related to the builder). It'worth doing a search on his site to see various pictures of this bike. It's so perfectly proportioned that it's not readily apparent that it's not a 700C bike. Only when it's pictured beside another bike do you notice.

  3. Phillip--Great point about sizing. Maybe the 26 inch size or the 650 wheels used on some tri bikes would make sense. Also, 650 B on touring- or rando- bikes would be good for smaller frames.

    Some of the early Terry bikes had smaller front wheels. That, to my eye, exaggerated the proportions of the bikes.

  4. High-heeled shoes? A device for what?

    They serve as a device to aid the mating and courting behavior in many human societies. They increase height, thus making a woman look relatively slimmer than she normally is. The lithe, slim figure has been an ideal in the west at least since Botticelli's "Birth of Venus". It signifies youth and fertility. And they send another signal. The woman announces that she is hobbled, cannot run, except like a pigeon, and can therefore not outrun her "suitor". They say, in short, "I am sexy, fertile and available". I am sure there are other ways to send these signals, if that's what one wants, but without destroying feet and backs.


  5. Leo--I'm starting to think you are me, in another life! The way you interpreted high-heeled shoes as "devices" is exactly the way I was thinking of them. And, as we all know, devices can destroy as well as they can create!

    Now, as for what they signal: There aren't many ways I can convey being fertile, because I'm not. Sexy? Well, that's definitely a matter of interpretation, in the eyes of the beholder or whatever cliche you like. Available? As you say, there are all sorts of other ways I can signal that--if it's what I want to signal!