Oh wow! The words are flying out from under my fingers faster than I can process them. Which, is kinda like how fast my brain was whirring during my spin class tonight. Honestly endorphins and anxiety can do some kickin’ things in my head!
So, here are 45 thoughts I had in a 45 minute spin class.
Okay play it cool. Just walk in and pick a bike – I got this.
How the heck does this thing work? [tugging, pulling, and pushing buttons and knobs to adjust the bike settings] Everyone is probably looking at me.
Instructor: “Is anyone new?”[timid hand raise] Me: Keep playing it cool. Just nod and say things like awesome and cool.
Instructor: “Be kind to yourself tonight” Me: Right on. Okay. This could be okay. I can handle a bit of self-care.
I love this music. Maybe I’ll add it to my running playlist.
This is gonna be such great cross training!
I definitely don’t belong here. What was I thinking?! I’m a huge impostor.
Am I even doing this right?
I look like a fool.
Why is this bike moving so fast? My legs feel out of control. Oh, my legs feel like Jello. I’m definitely doing this wrong.
[Looks around the room] WOAH all these girls are so skinny.
[Looks in the mirror] I’m probably the fattest girl in this class.
They probably all think I’m too fat to be here.
Everyone in Boston is so FIT. What’s with all these fit people? It must be a city thing.
Hey wait. I run half marathons. I can handle a 45 minute spin class.
This shirt is too big. It puffs in all the wrong places. It makes me look bigger than really I am.
Okay just don’t look in the mirror.
Wow why am I so conceded that I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror?
Why aren’t other people sweating?
[Looks around the room – again] Oh there are people who are struggling WAY more than me.
I got this.
Just keep breathing.
This music is great. Okay, just focus on the music.
Is it weird that I’m singing along to Katy Perry Eye of the Tiger?
Why isn’t there a clock in this room? Where is the clock?!?! How many minutes has it been?
What the heck is a moderate hill anyway? My thighs hurt more or less – that’s my measure of resistance.
I cant believe all these people are so skinny.
I wonder if they think I shouldn’t be here.
I bet you they aren’t thinking about me at all.
Okay just count the beats. Be present.
How many calories am I burning?
Oh, these bikes don’t have any tracking devices! How many miles did I go? How am I supposed to track this in my app later?
Why are my thighs so huge?
I said, I wouldn’t look in the mirror!
Wow only three more songs left. That wasn’t so bad!
I totally got this.
Make this count. I’m skipping my run for this.
How is this song not over yet?
I wonder if Grey’s Anatomy is going to be good.
How did I not realize that whenever I lean forward the instructor can see down my entire shirt?!
At least I’m wearing a matching sports bra.
If I have a snack when I get home will I ruin my workout?
Almost there. Don’t give up. Power through.
Made it. Phew! That wasn’t so bad. I’d do that again!
Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm
I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.
2016 was a remarkable year – literally.
As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?”
Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?
I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.
The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.
In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.
Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.
In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life. When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.
Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.
I once described my feelings about running like this,
“pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination. Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”
I’ve also described running like this,
“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.“
I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]
So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.
I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.
I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.
In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.
I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!
Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex trauma, impostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective.Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.
In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about. These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!
I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!
Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps
I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.
I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!
The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.
I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.
I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.
2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!
During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!
This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.
Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.
And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.
And so, I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.
Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:
Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?
A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this). Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.
Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?
I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.
Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?
This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!
Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]
Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?
Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.
Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.
How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?
I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.
Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?
Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!
What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?
I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”, do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.
When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?
I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.
Those are my answers! What are yours?
גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.
“I used to wear clothes that were too big for me too” – someone said that to me this week! They also said, “Your pants are too big” and “you’re so skinny; are you losing weight?”
My responses: “Okay”, “I know”, “Depends on the day” respectively. I wanted to scream “WHY ARE YOU FIXATING ON MY BODY?!?!”
Writers find their inspiration from anything; it could be a conversation, an observation, a “thing”, a book. You name it! So, I heard those words and instead of calling out their fixation with my body, DAYS later I’m still fixating on them. Since I’ve lost weight, people aren’t as impressed with ME. They’re impressed by my body. They ask me how I did it. They compliment my looks rather than my accomplishments and my incredibly determined, quality-driven work ethic.
Until now, the only time I can remember people commenting on my body was to tell me to I was too big. As a teen, I was a 4’11”, size 16 gymnast. I was also a person living with a chronic physical illness – go figure! So, needless to say, my relationship with body was anything but “typical”. Thanks to BMI, I had doctors telling me, at 16 years old and 182 pounds, that I was morbidly obese. I hated shopping (still do). Buying clothes felt like being pushed on the ground every time I finally stood up – nothing ever fit (still true). I didn’t even want to go to prom because I couldn’t stand the thought of having to find a dress!
My mom thought if I found a dress I felt confident and beautiful in that I’d change my mind (she thought I’d find that same confidence and beauty after my second breast reduction too). She routinely told me, “You’re beautiful no matter what.” Her words, although I knew they were sincere, felt empty. What I recall of those experiences are shopping trips that felt interminable. I tried on dress after dress (or every colorful, lace bra in the “regular” stores I could finally fit into) with increasing disappointment. There were so many tears.
So far, I’ve hated my body at every size – and not just because of my size.
Now, I’m trying to practice body positivity – which is something I support and encourage for everyone. For me, it’s really difficult to embody that line of thinking. I’m working on body neutrality instead which Melissa Fabello describes as “the acceptance of our bodies as-are, for the understanding that we are already enough”. When you call me “skinny” what I’m really hearing you say is “I’m more interested with how you look than who you are” or even “I’m grounding my perceptions of your worth in your looks”. Those comments – what you think are compliments- don’t make me feel any happier or proud of myself than the relentless notions of necessary change I was pressured to pursue as a teen made me feel disappointed or imperfect.I hate when people call me “skinny”!
Regardless of my turbulent relationship with my body, one thing has remained constant: I am an athlete. I started drastically losing weight when I began searching for sanity in exercise. I felt lost. I felt out of control. The adjectives I used to describe myself – evidence of my perceptions of my self-worth – felt so far away. My focus, motivation, support, was gone. Running saved me – it still does- from hitting absolute rock bottom (I’ve been close!). Eliana Osborn shares “[she] felt purposeful and strong… While [she’d] been running, [she’d] been alive. Not [her] best self, but [herself]. Without it, [she] struggled to exist.” I can so relate! When I’m running, I feel unstoppable. I feel invincible.I’m inspired to explore how fierce my body can be. For minutes, moments, the world stops spinning and there’s clarity. I feel so in charge. It’s a feeling I’ve missed. It’s like I’m winning the never ending race to find myself. The faster and harder I push myself, the closer I get to the finish line. I’m picking up clues along the way. I know I’ll get back there soon. And so, I feel like I need to keep up my athleticism – so I can find control. Which means, I may lose more weight.
Being an athlete is my hidden weapon. It’s what I pull out in moments of self-doubt to prove to myself (and others) that I can do it – that I’m good enough! It’s not about being “skinny” or looking “fit”. My body is amazingly resilient and strong. It’s also been fat, skinny, deprived of nutrition, greedy, exhausted, caffeinated, and a whole host of other things.
When you call me “skinny” you’re indelicately weaving together my ideas about my strength and resilience and your pervasive, hierarchical, and restricting beliefs about “what is “normal,” “real,” or “correct.”Please stop!
We’re past “the top 10 foods that are secretly making you fat” and “11 ways to stop overeating after a workout”. We’re past “Superfoods that help you stay super slim”. We’ve FINALLY arrived at “all bodies are beautiful” and we call that the body positive movement. We’re reclaiming words like “fat” and “plus size” as descriptors of people rather than critiques. We’re not really into “no offense but that makes you look big” anymore. We’re definitely over mistaking “thin” for healthy and we’re tired of seeing only slim fitting, toned bodies as ideal bodies or how we should aspire to look if we want to be perceived as healthy. Nearly 50% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 and even with this reality knocking down the fragile notions of the garment and retail industries countless headlines are STILL encouraging us to make more changes, swaps, or restrictions. Change your food, your home, your friends, and your workout. THEN you’ll be better – you’ll be healthy. And yes, some changes sometimes are warranted but, why can’t you tell me I should be happy with who I am or proud of doing enough? Is that too much to ask for? Honestly, we’ve moved beyond the misconceptions about women that fund your initiatives and fuel your subscriptions. Well, we’re trying! You keep shoving it down our throats with promotional orders we didn’t ask for and by flooding the internet with ways I didn’t even know I should be disappointed about my lifestyle and my body.
Here’s an example, last week this article was posted: Here’s How Far You Actually Need to Run to Reap the Health Benefits. As an avid runner I clicked on the link and initially this article met my expectations. Running has a number of associated health benefits which were mentioned in the post. I felt good about my weekly mileage and exercise accomplishments. I thought I was doing enough! What made me cringe, and I’m still thinking about it today, was the end of the article, “But of course, if you’re running to lose weight, the same logic still applies: More steps means more calories burned”. So basically as I’m reading along I’m thinking I’m liking this, I’m liking this and then BAM I’m not liking this anymore. To conflate “here are the health benefits” with “oh yea and you can also lose weight if you do MORE than this” is a BIG problem. Women who read this may start out feeling great about their lifestyle and exercise habits (maybe even encouraged to pursue running) only to feel ultimately defeated to know that if they want to lose weight (which apparently every woman should want to do) then they need to do more.
In the past week alone, the headlines on this site reminded me why we can’t let ourselves be consumed by what mainstream media articulates as the standard for healthy women. It also made me wonder why we think we can “tell” if someone is healthy just by looking at their body and judging their actions. [Side note: BMI is a messed up measure too! – because apparently I’m obese but can run a 10K!?!?] Furthermore, assuming every woman who reads Health Magazine is trying to lose weight is dangerous and insensitive. We’re beyond exclusively equating “health” with weight.
So, based on the unsettling conclusion of the article above, I did some investigating and found more disappointing headlines from that same week! Here are some that are entirely focused on weight loss and food: “12 Foods That Control Your Appetite” and “10 Types of Hunger and How to Control Them”. These articles tell you the “scientifically proven” ways to “reach your weight loss goals” and “say goodbye to unneeded calories”. Why not just put up a sign that says “you only matter if you are thin so you should probably start starving yourself now?” I won’t get into triggers and eating disorders too deeply right now but, for some women, this is where disordered eating habits and body image challenges begin. We’re inundated with new ways to fear food and reasons why we shouldn’t quench our hunger or respond to our body’s natural indication that it needs something – like food! So, we’re being encouraged to listen to our body but, what that really means, what the subtext is saying, is decide if you’re really hungry so you don’t eat for no reason and waste calories. Because calories are evil, food is evil and even your go-to foods should be changed so you can shed more pounds. In fact, we fear “fat” so violently that it’s encroaching on every aspect of our livelihoods.
Here’s another example: “10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat”. Now in your pursuit for “health” you can be averse to your own home too! Probably a deserted island with limited resources is the only safe place. Really, did you know that having stocked cabinets is putting you at risk for being “fat”? This statement is so problematic I don’t even know where to start! Oh also, “family style serving” is another no-no. First and foremost, I just want to scream “check your privilege!” What I’m reading here is a complete inattention to what this article is actually saying which is “your privilege, access, and food security is making you fat” and that’s horrible. Am I supposed to be sorry for your privilege or just ignore it like your editors did when I read this article?
These perspectives, these pseuo-bibles to living “correctly”, are dispelling a version of womanhood that requires us to expect that healthy living can only be achieved if it initially comes from a place of immense, intense dissatisfaction with our bodies and ourselves. These publications encourage constant criticism, crafting a narrative that misconstrues womanhood, and more specifically what/who is a “healthy woman”, to be a compilation of never ending changes and improvements based on overwhelming proportions of articles that tell you how severely you’re doing everything wrong and that you’re doomed to be “fat”. THE HORROR! Kidding. But really, where’s the “you’re doing it right” or “you’ve done enough” article? That’s an article I’d like to read.
Every year around the holidays, the body image/food banter begins. There are the fitness/health magazines that flood you with ways to cut calories before, during, and after the holidays so your family doesn’t “ruin” your diet. There are the online support and communities for individuals who face eating disorders and are challenged in a different way by food each day. And of course, let’s not forget, while many of us are worrying about how many calories we’ll eat and making sure we get in those extra workouts before the holiday to mitigate the damage, there’s the very real fact that food insecurity and poverty is rampant in our world. How ironic (or disappointing, disgusting, humiliating, etc.) is it that while we’re attempting to limit ourselves and we’re faced with the “problem” of overeating on the holidays there are individuals and families who are, rightfully so, more preoccupied with wondering where or if they’ll have a holiday meal at all?
A few months ago I posted a new profile picture (above) on Facebook (nearly days before I deleted my Facebook – still SO happy with that choice!). I posted the photo because I had a great day! The sun was shining, I felt strong, confident, and HAPPY! I was surprised because this photo received nearly the most likes I’ve ever had on a profile picture (second only to my Brown University acceptance post). Not only did it receive so many likes but also there were a lot of comments. Initially the positive vibes felt so good but after a short while I was perplexed. I didn’t post this photo to receive high praises. I definitely didn’t post it for people to comment on my body!
I already wrote about why I quit Facebook but one aspect of this is still on my mind. When we post things, who are we posting them for? Why are we posting them at all? Are we looking for approval? Are we sharing information/resources/insights/thoughts? Are we hoping one specific friend will see it but too nervous to send it directly to them? Regardless of our rationale, does it really matter? Once we put it out there, others decide how it resonates with them and so even if we posted something literally because “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” (shout out to Taylor Swift) that doesn’t really matter.
I said something to my mom about my concern regarding the overwhelming positive attention the photo (ie. my body) was getting. She told me (and her words pierced my mind) “if you gained weight they would still be talking. Just, they’d be saying it behind your back”. Ahhh, my body is for me! I don’t understand how it became anyone else’s prerogative to police of approve of my body. I don’t know why people feel that they have the right to fixate on another person’s body. Why they feel compelled, and they feel good about it too, to tell you how “great” you look! Clearly skinny is beautiful and fat is shameful and shameful things are discussed in private while beautiful things are praised publicly. Why did I have to look “holy skinny” so that others would “like” my photo? GOSH!
At this point, I want to share a resource: How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body. The most poignant thing I’ve read recently about “body positivity” and “self love” came from this article, “How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.” Bottom line, beauty is far more complex than what we see on the surface. In this piece, Sarah Koppelkam gently encourages us to “Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.” In fact, when I read that, I felt like I’d heard something of a similar sentiment before! I was right! One of my favorites, Cristina Yang (shout out to all the Grey’s fans – for more quotes click here!) said, “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant. You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!” YESS YOU GO GIRL! Except one caveat, can’t I have a beautiful brain? Why does our perception of beautiful have to always relate to the outward appearance of our bodies? Why can’t we compliment each other about things that have nothing to do with our bodies? Furthermore, why can’t we separate our self worth (or other people’s perception of our self worth) from the numeric value that appears on the scale or the clothing tag?
Recently I saw this tweet from Realize Your Beauty in response to a twitter chat about maintaining health & happiness over the holidays. The question was: “Why are the holidays sometimes triggering or stressful?” The response: “Seeing family & friends you haven’t seen for long periods of time-Feeling you have to look or ‘be’ a certain way around them. #ProudChat” This really resonated with me. I noticed that I was worried about that too. I just hadn’t been able to articulate it. [side note: I sort of feel like this twitter chat in itself was triggering or stressful – or could have been] Going home means that I will have to endure questions and comments like “you’re really keeping the weight off!” or “how much weight have you lost?”. AND obviously we can’t leave out the drama and hassle of Black Friday shopping. At this point, these are the last things I want to hear or do over the holidays. I want to draw attention AWAY from my body, not toward it. It’s frustrating and it makes me worried to go home. In fact, I didn’t notice the stark difference in my own body until a good friend brought it to my attention. These two photos are pretty telling, to me, but what I don’t feel they indicate is “beauty”. [side note: remember, I’m great at keeping up appearances, so while I may appear happy in these photos the contrast, and the reason I’m sharing these images, is more important than the emotion they seem to portray]
My point here, is simple. No overthinking involved (I wish!). My body is for me. It is not for anyone else to comment on unless I give them explicit permission. My body is not for you to approve of or to disapprove of. Furthermore my body is not for you to speculate about “how I did it” or for you to judge or envy. I am not your success story. I am not your inspiration. [side note: watch this because Blythe Baird says ALL this way better than I could] For just a moment, please consider how telling someone they “look good” or inquiring about their weight loss can be triggering or challenging for them. It’s just uncomfortable. While likely it’s meant to be a kind gesture, a compliment, it can be harmful, embarrassing, or upsetting. Instead, focus on complimenting that person on something that has nothing to do with their body. Perhaps, their mind!
All I ask is that we cultivate the space, time, and the intentional energy to recognize how each personis different and how each person is perplexingly beautiful in their own way this day and every day.