If you want to continue reading, I’m continuing to write over at We Are Becoming. Add yourself to my e-mail list and you can continue receiving updates from me as I write new posts.
If you want to continue reading, I’m continuing to write over at We Are Becoming. Add yourself to my e-mail list and you can continue receiving updates from me as I write new posts.
Like other social justice movements (yes, this is a social justice issue), body positivity is a reaction to a silent cultural norm that nearly everyone participates in. It’s the unspoken, unnamed body negativity.
You are practicing body negativity when you think that your health, your worth as a human, your attractiveness, your ability to do things, your ability to wear things, your ability to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel good about yourself (….etc. etc. etc….) are related to how your body looks.
I’m going to write a random thought here that I had in the car the other day. Maybe you’ve had it too?
I want to be thin.
I have thought it, silently and insidiously, for my whole life. Ever since middle school, my body has not been how I want it. It has been literally 15 years of wanting to be thin. In my core, in my brain, with desperation and a sense of futility, I have wanted to be thin.
Why? Because being thin is a sign of success, attractiveness, sex appeal, acceptance, belonging, victory, confidence, health, and worthiness. I don’t even think I’m wrong right in this moment. I’m totally right. Thinness is associated with these things on a social and cultural level whether it’s right, good, and healthy…or not.
Here’s a radical, countercultural idea: thinness does not represent literally any of these things.
You can be thin and sick. You can be thin and poor. You can be thin and fail. You can be thin and insecure. You can be thin and loathe yourself. You can be thin and completely unsexy. You can also be thin and happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.
You can also be FAT and be happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.
I used the word “fat” there not as a negative judgment (which IS how most people use it), but as a word that describes somebody in a body that’s larger than “thin” – whatever that means.
The comment “you’ve lost a lot of weight” is synonymous with “you look better than you used to!” What if the person lost a lot of weight because they became so desperate to be thin that they stopped eating? Is that happy or healthy? Should that be encouraged? But we are also disgusted when people are too thin.
Maybe the problem isn’t actually the size of someone’s body. Maybe it’s actually that we have arbitrarily equated size with health in a damaging way for anyone who isn’t “just right” – whatever that means. I’m going to write another post on this framework I’ve learned about called Health at Every Size. It’s based on the idea that we have culturally defined “health” wrong.
We have culturally defined one type of body as ideal, as healthy and happy, and another type of body as a thing to worry about and negatively judge. One problem with this: there are not even just two types of bodies. This video, called “Poodle Science” is incredible at showing in a brief and humorous way how this happened. It’s 2 minutes, watch it.
The other problem is that this attitude perpetuates the problem. The real problem. The social justice issue. Which is that:
Weight stigma helps nobody.
When we think that all fat people are unhealthy (or worse, unworthy, ugly, etc. etc. etc.), we are mis-defining what “health” is. Contrary to popular belief, health cannot be measured by a scale, and it can’t be identified by observing someone’s body and making judgments about it.
I wrote a post on some of my personal definitions of health. Everyone should get the right to decide their level of health for themselves. Everyone is worthy of making that decision on their own and doing what it takes to feel healthy for themselves.
Shame and judgment do not help people lose weight, they help drive people to practices that make them sick. Not fat, SICK. A thin person can be sick. So can anyone in a body larger than “thin” – whatever that means.
Anyone can be sick, and anyone can be healthy.
What helps people be healthy is trusting their unconditional worthiness and humanity along with listening to their inner voice. What helps people be healthy is connecting to others and having positive and healthy relationships with people who accept them for who they are, regardless of their body size. There is research to prove that these matter more than weight. There is research to prove that weight stigma does more damage than anything else when it comes to people’s health.
Your body size. My body size. They are not even close to the most interesting thing about us. And yet we spend so much time thinking about them?
Time to stop.
I need to be positive about my body. I need to challenge body negativity. I need to confront comments and beliefs that perpetuate weight stigma in order to keep myself and everyone else healthy.
A healthy person is a happy person. Let’s stop confusing “healthy” with “thin,” and then we can identify for ourselves what our own health and happiness are really all about.
I’ll leave you with a screenshot of this poem, by (I think) Rupi Kaur, with the caveat that it almost always moves me to tears:
This phrase kept running through my head the other day. I have some ambitious goals for myself; what is holding me back from accomplishing them?
Not __________ enough, can’t do it.
The power of this phrase astonished me. The repetition of it affects me physically and emotionally, more than I thought it could. It’s usually not even explicit. It’s a vague and constant feeling that I can’t do what I want to.
I wrote about this in my post on living like there’s not enough, but this is another example of living from an attitude of scarcity. It’s also perfectionism. My dad was just part of a start-up that ended, and part of the reason for its end was that it never really started: it was all ideas and product development, but the CEO didn’t want to release it into the world and see how it fared. It had to be perfect first.
Perfectionism shows up in my life everywhere, and not even just in tasks I need to accomplish. Diet culture is a good example of destructive perfectionism in action: people think they are either “healthy” or “unhealthy,” depending on how closely they follow their current ideal diet.
The truth: Nobody is all or nothing.
We read an article for my psych program on “The Empty Self:” how capitalism has affected the way we fill ourselves up. To paraphrase, the author asserted that we are incessantly fed idealized models of what we should be like, and therefore we are never good enough.
Perfectionism leads to paralysis. Paralysis is the stifling of our inner voice, our creativity, and our particular gifts for the world. If we try to be perfect workers, perfect friends, perfect parents, perfect children, perfect bloggers, perfect vegans…we will “fail” at living up to this ideal. And, worse, we will not be able to actually be ourselves in all of our imperfect glory.
I spend a lot of time looking at Instagram influencers and wishing I were them. I wish I had 12.8K followers on my PET’s Instagram (and hundreds of thousands on my own), I wish I had endorsements from my favorite brands that send me stuff in the mail. I wish I had endless amounts of time and money to develop my website and travel the world.
All of us have those people or things that we want to be or be like, even if they’re more implicit or internalized: a perfect partner or relationship, an amazing house, a magical life, a body that remains exactly at the size we want without changing and never gets sick.
I am trying to find peace in focusing as much as I can on what I have, and who I am. I’ve made a commitment to myself to address that perfectionism when it shows up. I reassure myself that it’s okay to believe that I don’t need to change anything about me. I am doing excellently just the way I am. I have everything I need. I am everything I need.
I will never be perfect at that either, and my perfectionism is so ingrained in me that it will not be dislodged without some intentional work. There is motivation that comes from my vision of who I could be. It gets prohibitive when that image prevents me from putting myself into the world until it’s exactly the right time.
It’s never the exact right time, but I can do it.
I think the world would be a more interesting place if everyone let go of being perfect and just was who they are, in all their imperfection, saying “HERE I AM!”
What holds you back?
Prioritizing myself. This comes first because it is the prerequisite for everything else. It lies in the smallest of concrete decisions I make. Do I take an extra half hour before work to eat a nice breakfast? Do I take a water and pee break in the middle of class? Do I skip a social occasion to get some sleep? Do I skip out on some sleep to feed my friendships? I actually have many more choices than I thought. Behaving like everything is my choice is liberating.
NOT sticking to a routine. I’ve found that my “routine” has to be adaptable. Some days I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel like doing yoga; I feel like journaling. Sometimes I don’t feel like waking up and I stay in bed an extra half hour. Some days I make an on-the-go breakfast and other days I sit down with myself for a while. When I’ve tried to force myself to do the same thing every day, it has started to feel like a chore, enslaving me instead of freeing me to be myself. It’s important to remember that anything you do for your health should ultimately be more reward than punishment. If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t last.
Being prepared. I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have nothing in the fridge for dinner. I make plans, but I make my plans flexible; I’ll shop for a certain set of recipes or ideas but switch them around depending on what I feel like eating on a given day. I pack my lunches as I’m putting away my dinner leftovers. I started craving food every evening during class, so now I make myself a smoothie before I leave the house and sip on it when I feel hungry.
Snacking. I think my natural rhythm is to eat 6 small meals a day. When I eat a normal three-meals-a-day meal, I feel super bloated and uncomfortable. And, no matter how much I eat at breakfast, I am always hungry by 10:30! At first I fought this, now I listen to myself and just pack snacks that I munch on throughout the day.
(Trying to) sleep. I say trying to because I still can’t really figure out how to sleep through the night. I’ve been waking up at 2:30AM consistently, and it’s not super fun. I think the key is to cut caffeine and take all my supplements, but it’s hard to cut caffeine when I’m tired! Regardless, I go to bed around 9/9:30 every night that I can. That has helped immensely.
Mindful technology use. I don’t keep my phone in my bedroom anymore. Every night, I plug it in in the living room around 9 and go to bed. I read or chat with my boyfriend, usually, and then it’s easy to wind down. Similarly, my mornings are my sacred tech-free space. I never usually check my phone until I get to work, and the extra time has become so special that I don’t even want to spend those quiet AM hours checking InstaStories anymore.
Paying attention to my emotional state. Notice, I just pay attention; I don’t try to change my emotional states from negative to positive. I don’t really believe in this. If I try to change how I feel, it’s generally in ways that don’t actually serve me. If I feel what I feel, I’m more likely to be accepting toward myself – no need for modification, just some kind attention to my status. If I’m dwelling or unable to emerge from a negative state, I have an arsenal of things that help me feel better.
Listening to my own voice. Again, this feels vague – it’s not. I concretely try to listen to my own voice. I have the voice in my head that narrates my thoughts and tries to process my days. I have the voice in my journal, who usually starts to sound very wise and grounded if I pay attention to her. I have my blog voice, my voice in class, my teacher voice, my therapist voice, my daughter voice, my sister voice, my friend voice. All of us communicate in such a huge variety of contexts. Becoming familiar with my voice has helped me navigate all of this “health” stuff from a grounded place.
Asking for support. I recently decided not to worry if I need support. My coworkers are kind, my friends are great, my boyfriend is steady and reliable, and my parents are in town. There is a large support network to be leaned on if ever I need it. Knowing that it’s okay to ask for help has actually made me need help less. I am secure in just knowing that it’s there.
Not giving up on myself. I was listening to a podcast this morning (School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, with guest Chen Lizra) and one of my favorite parts was her talking about her perseverance in dealing with her own mental illness. It took her ten years of hard, engaged work, of putting it all together and it all falling apart. It reminded me of my now more than a year of trying to figure out how to feed and love myself, how to heal my physical illness. She said that it’s a tremendously hard thing to keep your vision of how things could be alive in spite of all the evidence trying to break that vision down. It would be easy for me to give up on trying to be healthy because I can’t be perfect, because sometimes things fall apart. It takes a lot of perseverance and it’s hard to get adequate support.
But, not giving up is one of the most important and hardest things I’ve done. I’m living on faith that I won’t have to try so hard one day. Or, even if I do have to try my entire life, feeling my best is worth it.
Oh, and one last thing: TREAT YOSELF! I would not be very happy without the occasional Friday night pizza delivery.
I am busy. I’m working nearly full time, going to school full time, and trying to maintain my relationships, health, and happiness. In the next year, I’ll only be adding to that list: in June I’m getting a puppy, and in September I’m starting not one, but two therapy internships.
In the past few months, my days start at 2 AM, when I wake up and make mental to-do lists until I somehow manage to fall asleep again (sometimes that just doesn’t happen). I’ve been going through the ups and downs of anxiety and stress, and these have made my autoimmune symptoms worse.
It sounds like I’m dying – and really, I’m not. Every day, I’m surprising myself with how well I can function under a lot of responsibility and pressure. However, I live like I’m dying sometimes, too.
More accurately, I live like there is not enough: I run around thinking that there’s not enough time, not enough money, not enough food, not enough ways to distract myself. I literally feel like I’m running as fast as I can, but I’m never quite catching up to where I want to be.
On a walk, I had an epiphany about that: I am living as though I am trapped in an economy of scarcity. When resources are scarce, I cling to the resources that I have for dear life. I ration and deprive myself, and I often make choices that are governed by fear or desperation. I am encouraged by the culture surrounding me: in the USA, we can never have enough stuff, we never have enough time, and we are never doing enough to be truly content with ourselves.
I have decided to stop this. There’s another economy besides the economy of scarcity: the economy of abundance. When things are abundant, I can relish and enjoy them. I can prioritize my tasks and use my time how I want to. I can luxuriate in my freedom to choose what I do and when. I can be grateful that I wake up every day with so many opportunities to interact with people and learn from the world. I don’t need more stuff, and I don’t need more money. In brief, I have everything that I need.
I’ve written about this before. That has been a powerful thought for me since I first realized it. Everything I need is right here with me as I sit in my school’s psychology building, writing a wordpress blog, after taking my few spare minutes to journal, before class.
I can sit here and think about how frustrated I am that there is never enough time and I have not accomplished enough today. Or, I can revel in the fact that almost all of my reading got done. I can love that I went to work today and earned money listening to kids read their funny and creative “modern” versions of famous Greek myths. I can think about the delicious, homemade dinner and smoothie that I packed myself as a between-classes snack. And, I can look forward to going home to my amazing partner to veg out with Dexter before bed.
I found myself doing the former, so I guess I wrote this partly to remind myself to do the latter. Abundance is beautiful, comforting, and inspires me to be the best version of myself that I can be. Scarcity makes me wallow in my imperfections instead of valuing them for making me more human.
How is your life abundant?
One of the ambiguities we face today is a crisis in the definition of health. What is health, anyway?
Many people describe it as the absence of disease. No germs, I’m healthy. Germs, I’m unhealthy. Concern for health is relegated to times of sickness.
Others judge health by looking. If I am overweight, I’m unhealthy. If I’m thin, I’m healthy. If my skin is breaking out: not healthy. Health is relegated to the realm of appearance.
Still others define health by movement. If I have worked out today, I’m healthy. If I haven’t worked out in a while, boo me. I’m unhealthy. Health is determined by how much I’ve exercised.
There are even more ways that we can define health. There are many more factors that indicate health. Here’s what’s revolutionary:
Focusing on any one of these things alone does not truly lead to “health.”
Health is everything. Health is how you look, but health is also how you see yourself. Health is what you eat, but health is also why, how and when you eat. Health is about how much you exercise, but it’s also about why and how you exercise and even whether or not you’re enjoying it.
There are so many articles coming out these days about how we define health. There are articles claiming that certain things are healthy or unhealthy. There is writing in defense of anything we want to defend and writing attacking everything that others are defending, too. It’s nearly impossible to figure out what is “objectively” healthy or not.
Here’s a radical idea:
You already know.
You know what feels healthy in your own life and what doesn’t. By that I mean: you know what brings you joy, what causes you pain, what obscures and distracts from your feelings. You know, somewhere, why you do things and how you could change the way you do them to be “healthier.” What’s hardest is to listen.
Some people, instead of listening, opt for control. They opt for rules that say what’s healthy and what’s not healthy so that they don’t have to think about it. I did this; the Whole30 and other programs like it are one of many ways to do this. It can be a good way to break yourself out of a rut. It is not the only way to live life in the day-to-day.
We are already our own best critics. Most of us have no end to the judgments we can place on ourselves, especially when it comes to our health. We are not, however, our own best friends or listeners.
Maybe health is actually just….
…being friends with yourself.
Assuming our friendships are healthy, those are often the places where we shine in our treatment of others. We are willing to be there, to listen, to pick each other up when we aren’t feeling good. We encourage each other to rest when we’re tired or sick, and to cry and wallow when we break up with someone or suffer a loss.
Wouldn’t we be healthier if we treated ourselves this way, too?
This is a followup to my post on self-love.
How can you be loving to yourself?
My answer is:
Develop your capacity for attention and intention.
In my article on self-love, I talked about the strategy of taking a moment before making a choice to ask do I really want to do this? This does a few different things. Firstly, it makes you feel like you’re making a choice.
It’s easy (and I’ve done it) to say yes to so many things that suddenly you have no time, energy, or other resources to make choices. My schedule has been so full of obligatory commitments that there’s no room to breathe anymore. It’s easy to say that I have to do all of these things that I’ve signed up for. A commitment is a commitment, right?
I realized, in taking many moments of pause, that all the things I “have” to do are actually my choice. I currently have to go to graduate school, because I signed up and paid for it. I have to go to work so that I have money to pay for what I need. I have to eat a certain way if I really want to heal my autoimmune disease. I also, as a human, need to make time for friends, family, exercise, and fun.
In other words, I am “busy.” But, wasn’t that my choice?
I could be a prisoner to all these things, slaving away and blaming them for my lack of energy and time. Or, I could admit to myself that I chose this.
I chose graduate school because I want to learn how to help people as a therapist. I want to keep working because I like my job and I want to be able to live the lifestyle I like living. I want to heal my autoimmune disease, and along the way I want to feel my best and have the most energy possible so I can stay happy and healthy.
In short, instead of paying attention to the bad things, I am paying attention to my why. I am consistently taking moments to appreciate that the choices are made are contributing to the life I want for myself – in the big picture.
Once I realized that everything I’m doing is a choice, it became possible to “choose” intentionally.
All the momentary, attentive choices add up to create the life you’re living.
My emotional-eating binges of the past occurred because I felt something, failed to realize it, and reached for food instead, consuming it mindlessly until some craving was satisfied. That describes most of my life of eating. Only recently have I brought my attention toward myself, to both my feelings and my cravings.
It only consists of gently asking myself, What am I doing right now, and why? And it has gone from the food I eat to what I wear, what I do with my 10-minute breaks, how I plan my days…everything.
Once I realized what I was doing and why, I could start making decisions about whether or not I want to keep doing it.
Before change, we need awareness. Awareness is paying attention, and meaningful change comes from making a decision. Ideally, that decision is aligned with some bigger-picture vision: it’s a positive vision of what you want your life to look like, given that everything is a choice.
A Case Study
I’ve had a suspicion for some time that “sugar is the devil” (my naturopath’s eloquent words), for me in particular. I’ve become increasingly aware of the negative ramifications it has for me, but I had yet to do anything about it. I didn’t really want to do anything about it, because…well…it’s pretty much the most difficult thing to cut out, and also I’m addicted.
So, this New Year, I set an intention: I don’t want to eat sugar for 2 months. I want to see what happens.
I journaled for a while about why I wanted to do this and also what I would need in order to be able to accomplish it. Those needs included: craving-busting foods like coconut cream and other healthy fats, a self-care practice that would ground me when I was feeling emotional, a support system, and a plan & prepared food so I wouldn’t be in a food emergency situation. With all those needs in mind (attention, again), I set out to live two months sugar-free.
And then, I didn’t. 2 weeks into January, I began eating sugar again.
Here’s where attention comes into play again. Without paying attention to my thoughts, it would have been easy to spiral into feelings of failure. I know from past experience: that would have triggered a full-scale rebellion against all my food intentions, just because I failed at one thing.
I surprised myself, though: I didn’t believe I failed. I thought to myself, “okay – I hear you, Anne. Maybe this was too much to undertake right now. Maybe it was harder than you thought. Maybe this isn’t quite what you need.” And I let myself be less strict, keeping in mind my intention of reducing overall inflammation in my body.
I’ve found that I eat considerably less sugar than I used to. I’ve gone from a sweet thing after every meal to a sweet thing maybe once a day. Sugar tastes sweeter, and I’m satisfied by it more quickly. Strict adherence to a deprivation plan did not work. Attention paired with intention did.
I pay attention to how I feel when I eat it. I pay attention to why I am craving it in the first place. I pay attention to my emotional needs, my self-care needs, how my energy is. All of these moments of mindful attention have worked together to help me keep my intention, to reduce inflammation in my body, strong. This stuff is powerful.
Try it! What do you think?