Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Info All of Us Need!!!

Read this!  Golda Poretsky is an awesome nutritionist and coach teaching people how to love and care for their bodies.  She is fantastic!  If I had this information earlier in my life, it might have saved me from years of shame, disordered eating, weight cycling, dieting, and various other assorted ailments.  Read it, read it, read it!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rock Climbing and the Shame Brain

I have been rock climbing in a very non-committal way for about 2 years.  We started taking my sons first, and it was really boring to sit around waiting for them, so my husband and I decided to climb too.  Actually, it kindof turned into a bit of a date night, because the kids got to climb with their teachers while we climbed on our own.  The kids would check in with us every now and then, but mostly my husband and I got a couple of hours together to do something fun.  I liked this weekly family/date night event, but my husband quickly figured out that rock climbing is a good workout, and started going on his own.  He encouraged me to go on my own, too, but I got scared.  Mostly of the beefy shirtless guys who lurk in what's called the Bouldering Cave.

The Bouldering Cave (capitalized to convey its serious intimidating cave-i-ness) is literally a caved out area where one can, if so inclined, climb alone and without ropes because the routes are low to the ground.  That's good, because I don't want to die for the sake of a workout.  The problem is that the Bouldering routes are also typically really hard, which makes them magnets for intimidating beefy shirtless guys. 

So, for almost 2 whole years, I avoided going to the rock climbing gym on my own because I was scared of the beefy shirtless guys.  The internal monologue went something like this:

"Beefy shirtless guys are going to think I'm a dork for even being at the rock climbing gym, and they're going to be annoyed that I am in the way of their Very Important Bouldering Cave activity.  They are going to notice that I am beefy, and not in the same way that they are beefy.  Not in a good way.  I'm beefy in a bad way.  Beefy shirtless guys don't like me.  I am unworthy of sharing the Bouldering Cave with the almighty beefy shirtless guys."  I get that this is ridiculous, at least intellectually.

But, emotionally, that made total sense to me.  Shame is a familiar not-friend in my brain, and likes to use shame logic to keep me from doing fun stuff.  Shame thinks beefy guys should control my life, since they are obviously better than me.  I think Shame is full of poop, so I decided, finally, to go BY MYSELF to a women's climbing group on Wednesday nights.  It took me a long time to say it, but screw you, Shame Brain.

I would love to report that my heroic courage in entering the Bouldering Cave on my own has made me a fantastic, able, and skilled rock climber.  Unfortunately, I still think most of the routes in the bouldering cave are really hard.  There are days (like today) where I can't get all the way up a single route.  I am learning that I grip too hard, and that I need to relax, and that I need to use my feet, and turn into the wall as I reach up.  I am learning I have to trust my body, and be patient.

Here I am again with the life lessons.  So, I'm not a fantastic rock climber (yet).  So I get frustrated at my amazing lack of skill and/or ability.  I have been promised that those will come with time.  But at least for now, when I enter the Bouldering Cave, I am there, present, so that I can engage with the life lessons. I get to feel the frustration and the slow trickle of progress, one movement at a time.  I  get to experience my unabashed lack of finesse.  I get to feel excited about climbing halfway up a route one of my friends can do one-armed and wearing flip-flops.  And, sometimes I get to hang out with surprisingly friendly and shockingly supportive guys who happen to be both beefy and shirtless.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh, Romeo!

When I was 15, I went to visit my grandparents in Texas.  At the time, I lived in Montreal, a cultural wonderland, by any account.  I had discovered a little Shakespeare troupe that did a free nightly rendition of "Romeo and Juliet" on the mountainside in Mount Royal Park.  Hello, Heaven?  I had found it.  I went every night that it played, sometimes in the rain. I couldn't stop talking about it.  Most people thought I was a little bit crazy, but were supportive and interested.  At the very least, they were appreciative of my enthusiasm.  My first night in Texas, I could hardly wait to tell my grandmother about it.  Romeo was so beautiful, the play was so romantic, and it felt like you were actually in the play!  This play opened up a new world for me, and I was ready to share it with my family.

When I told my grandmother, I did not get the reaction I expected.  She didn't say, "how wonderful," or even, "gosh I always thought Shakespeare was boring."  No, in fact the actual words my grandmother said were, "Well, it doesn't matter how smart you are if you're not pretty."  When I looked at her, mouth hanging open, with nothing to say in return, my grandmother added, "You want to find a husband, don't you?"

I kid you not.

Of course, my grandmother totally missed the point, and she threw a painful and long-lasting punch at my self-esteem in the process.  In retrospect, though, I don't think this comment had much to do with me.  My grandmother had struggled with her weight her entire life.  She was always either on a diet, or lamenting about how "bad" she was, how terrible it was for her to eat, or how she ought to be on a diet.  Her weight fluctuated wildly, although she was thin only for brief moments in her life.  My grandfather promised her a new dresses, diamonds, jewelry, travel, and romance if she would only lose the weight.  Her comment was a reflection of her fear and shame.  Her words dripped with all of the negative messages she had gotten about her body, the restriction and punishment she had put herself through year after year, and her belief in the terrible myth that fat women are unloveable.  Why would anybody want to lose themselves in a silly play when the possibility of never being loved was on the line?  Romeo and Juiliet was a distraction.

My grandmother's pain is particularly poignant to me this week, as I celebrate my 12 year anniversary with my husband.  He has never once bribed me to lose weight, told me I wasn't pretty enough, or even suggested I should "do something about my weight."  Of course, if he did, I never would have married him in the first place.  But maybe that's the point.  Somehow, despite messages I was getting from my grandmother and many, many others, I decided I was deserving of kindness, love, and respect, even though I was not skinny and didn't fit the social mold.

I wish my grandmother could have had one day where she felt as loveable as I do now, just the way she was.  I wonder what life would have been like for her if she hadn't lived under constant scrutiny and judgment around her body and her weight?  I wonder if she might have been able to enjoy time with her family without focusing on food, weight, or surface appearances.  I wonder if she would have been able to appreciate art and youthful love with her granddaughter?  In that moment, she missed an opportunity for real love and connection with me, someone who deeply cared about her and believed she was worthy.

It gives me pause to think about opportunities I must have missed in my life because I was distracted by (or obsessed with) negative body image, food, and weight.  So many women, myself included, wait to enter their lives until they are a prescribed weight, or until they have the "food thing" figured out.  They don't try yoga, or rock climbing, or sky diving.  They don't talk to love interests.  They don't go to parties, or join classes, or otherwise put themselves out there and live.  If I had believed my grandmother, I might never have felt worthy of my husbands' attention, and I might never have let him in.  I might never have been where I am now - riotously happy in my marriage with 2 awesome children and friends who love me. That is unimaginable, and it should be.

I found my Romeo, 12 years ago, despite my grandmother's dire prediction.  So, in honor of my anniversary, and in memory of my grandmother, I am choosing (again and again) to live fully - whatever my size.  I am choosing to fight against the shame and fear handed down through the generations.  I am choosing to be smart and pretty, in my own way, and I am claiming it to be enough.  I am worthy of this, and so are you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Self-Esteem Warrior

I am healthy and I generally take good care of myself.  Of course, I am not perfect, but I don't know anyboy who is.  Being human is like that.  We have to have some tolerance for the imperfections that make us who we are, that challenge us, that deepen us, that teach us.  However, though I appreciate the gifts I have gotten from having lived through my life as a fat woman, sometimes it gets old to be the brunt of negative assumptions, judgments, and and just plain discrimination. It gets old to struggle with my own internalization of those negative beliefs. 

This week I have been struggling with those negative inner (and outer) demons.  I have been thinking about all of the things in my life that I have waited to do until I was skinny, like that was going to be the magical ticket to greatness.  And the annoying part is that this idea (that being thin will magically make us happy and fix our lives) is blaring at us, all of the time. Our culture is infused with negativity about bodies.  So, in order to maintain my core sense that I am fundamentally OK, I have to be a Self-Esteem Warrior.  I have to work with my shame, and use my anger to stand up for myself, and stand up against the tyranny of a fat-phobic culture.

The idea of being a "self-esteem warrior" is examined in an Australian article by Elizabeth Sutherland about the fat acceptance movement, and the damage done by the cultural demonization of and discrimination against fat people.  This article sums it up nicely as follows:
"Much of the hatred directed towards fat people is seen as justified on the grounds that being larger is bad for your health. But this is a very simplistic and almost entirely untrue assumption. The link between weight and health is far more complex than the media would have us believe, and medical studies have never unequivocally proven that being fat is an independent health risk. Even so, in this country headlines about ‘obesity’ and an ‘obesity epidemic’ have increased fifty fold in a decade, and yet our waistlines have barely moved in that time. The Fat Acceptance movement attempts to demonstrate that the moral panic about obesity has more to do with junk science than junk food. What is very clear from the scientific research, however, is that there is no sure-fire way to make a fat person thin. We know that diets don’t work for the vast majority of people – but neither do ‘lifestyle changes’, drugs or even surgery. In fact, weight loss usually isn’t good for your health and could be associated with higher mortality rates – but we don’t read much about that in magazines."

Hallelujia, Sister!  This is the message I think women (and men) need to hear!  We are being given "junk" information, and are being physically, emotionally, and spiritually wounded by the idea that we have to fit a cultural ideal in order to be healthy, to be attractive, to be happy, or to have a life worth living. 

We have to be the change we want to see, right?  So, I have to take up my bow and arrow, and become a Woman Warrior for Self-Esteem.  I can't get sucked back into old patterns of dieting and binging, beating myself up, mistrusting and hating my body, and acting as my own jailer and abuser.  I am not just standing up against my own insecurities - I am standing up for all of us.  We all have a right to claim our bodies, our health, and our and happiness, whatever our size or shape.  We have a right to be free from discrimination, judgment, bullying, and abuse. This is a fight worth fighting.  I am putting on my armor, and going to battle.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Of Leopard Print Bathing Suits

Yesterday I bought the most fantastic bathing suit.  It fits perfectly, and it is smokin' hot, like in a busty, leopard print kind of way.  It makes me want to put on really red lipstick and high heels, and maybe one of those '60s head scarves and big, black-framed, movie star sunglasses. It is that awesome.

Just thinking about bathing suits used to make me want to move to an arctic climate. Part of the problem was finding one I liked, but that was often compounded by the fact the I would be wearing the suit, and therefore, by default, I didn't like any of them. Obviously, the real problem was that I didn't like my body.  How tragic!  But for me, now, the most tragic part of this is that I am not alone in my body-hate experience of bathing suit season!

When I came out of the dressing room today, I told the dumbfounded lady at the counter that I LOVED my bathing suit, and couldn't get over how great it looked.  She said that she has never heard anyone say that after trying on a bathing suit.  Ugh!  When I think of all of the women out there trying on bathing suits, and hating themselves, and telling themselves horrible things while looking in the mirror, it makes me so mad!  We all should be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and see the gorgeous, amazing, powerful things about our bodies, instead of the perceived "flaws."  Because our bodies ARE gorgeous and amazing and powerful!  Think of all of the amazing things your body has done for you - even just today! 

In my experience, if we tell ourselves terrible things, we start to believe them, and then we live our lives as if all of the terrible things we tell ourselves are true.  This is a painful cycle, and a difficult habit to break.  It hurts to believe that our bodies are not good enough, and it hurts to live as if there is something wrong with us, that we are damaged, flawed, or worthless.  And it keeps hurting until we say "enough."  Enough bullshit. Enough torture. Enough negative crap.

And when we take the chance, and stand up four ourselves, we find that, "enough" takes on a new life.  I am enough.  My body is enough.  I am good enough to rock a leopard print bathing suit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fat Girls Can't Do Wheel Pose and Other Soul-Crushing Myths

I did a really beautiful wheel pose today in yoga class.  This is a big deal for me.  Yes, I have done this pose before, but usually I muscle my way into and end up kindof scrunched in the back - not fun.  Anyhow, I learned how to lead with the heart, which essentially takes all the pressure off of your back.  Fabulous!  And, I really did feel my heart open...

At first, I didn't think I was up for it today.  I haven't been to yoga class for a week (which feels like forever), and it was a really sweaty, challenging class with lots of backbends. Let me just state for the record that I usually hate backbends.  They're hard, and I feel unstable, and they tend to hurt my back.  Needless to say,  I was a little bit over it by the time we got to the wheel pose. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the teacher told us that the poses we hate are the ones we need the most. *SIGH*  So, there went my excuses about backbending being unlikeable.  Still, I noticed old thoughts creeping in - the ugly kind of thoughts like "fat girls can't do poses like this," and "I am not good at yoga because I am fat - I should just do the easy bridge pose, and fake my way through it. Nobody expects me to do this, anyway."  I suddenly wanted to hide, which was impossible given that I was at the front of the room.

So, when the teacher came over to me, and essentially told me I had to try it, I told those nasty fat girl myths to take a hike, and led with the heart. And my body followed.  I really have never actually felt good in the wheel pose, but this felt really, really good!  In that moment, I felt my heart open, and not just physically.  I suddenly remembered that I am loved and worthy.  I am deeply connected, deeply present, and deeply alive. 

I didn't need to cave in and hide, I needed to open up from the heart, and breathe. 

I love yoga because it is absolutely true that the lessons I need in my life come through working with the poses.  If I limit myself because I am "too fat," as I have done many times before in my life, where does that leave me?  Caving in and hiding out.  Bowing to the pressure of nasty myths about what I can't do, and who I can't be.  It leaves me broken and half-hearted, and I am a full-hearted kind of girl.  It only makes sense, then, that the practice I need now, in yoga and in life, is the practice of leading with the heart, and opening to possibility. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dreaming a Re-Birth

Last night I had a dream that I had a baby.  This was not just any birth, though.  It was all me - on my own.  At first I didn't understand what was happening.  Finally I realized there was a head coming out, so I squatted down and got to business.  I think there were some people cheering me on, but I caught the baby on my own, and rubbed her back as she took her first breath.  And, boy, She was beautiful.

As many of you know, I am a counselor with a Jungian bent, so I was all about this dream.  Especially given that it occurred right after starting this blog, and publicly claiming my body, and everyone's right to their bodies. 

So, now it is official according to my dreams.  I am reborn in this effort.  I feel new, and wobbly.  I feel the burn of the first few breaths.  I feel vulnerable, but I also feel myself being held.  I feel the energy of new life, and the passion of new ideas.  Since I get to be all the characters in my dream (I love dreamwork!), I am also the mother in this endeavor.  Thank goodness, because I need some of that "mama bear" courage and fire!  The dream tells me that I am can gently and powerfully bring in a new me, and new work in my life. And, it speaks to my newfound sense of autonomy and inner strength. 
I have no idea where this will take me, but I am glad to finally be "out," and sharing my journey. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Coming Out as a Fat Lady

Call it what you will - fat lady, big girl, round, rubenesque, Big Beautiful Woman, the list goes one. I have been called many names in my life - some uttered with kindness, and some with utter cruelty. Well, today I am laying claim to my body, and taking back the names.  I am reveling in my fatness, my rubenesque form, my bigness and my beauty.  Today, I am living fully in my body - exactly as it is - and encouraging everyone else to do so as well! 

This absolutely feels like an "outing" to me. I am saying, in public no less, that I feel good about my body, exactly as it is, even though there is alot of shaming and blaming out there to make me, and many, many other women, feel like our bodies are damaged goods.  I can tell you that it takes alot of courage, which I am also claiming to have in this very public moment, to go against the cultural grain and accept your body!

Let's face it:  "fat" in our culture equals "bad." Except that I am not bad. I am a relatively likable, happy woman with a full life!  I have a devoted husband who loves me and thinks I'm beautiful. I have happy children and fabulous friends. I am typically really healthy, which, by the way, has been very confusing for me. If I eat well and exercise, I'm supposed to be skinny, right? I was promised that healthy=skinny, and skinny=happy.  So what's up with me?

I was skinny once in my life, for about a year. It was the worst year of my life. I got so much positive feedback - how wonderful that I looked so great! My grandmother would have been so proud. I got attention from men. I could wear any kind of clothing I wanted. Doctors were nice to me. But I was totally obsessed with my weight and food.  I lived in fear of being fat again, and lived with a constant, grinding hunger - physical, spiritual, and emotional. My bones felt tired. I ran miles and miles every day, and freaked out if I couldn't get in enough exercise. I was living on sprouted grain bread and carrot sticks. I stopped menstruating. I wouldn't share my grapes with my preschooler because I had measured them, goddamnit, and they were mine! I spanked my older son (which I never do, and absolutely abhor). My friends could hardly stand being with me, and I could hardly stand being with me.  I was a cranky, crazy bitch. Is that supposed to be happy? Is that supposed to be healthy? Give me a break.

So, eventually, when I couldn't keep it together anymore, I entered the labyrinth of recovery. It has been a long road, but here I am, still trekking. Fat, but happy. And healthy. And getting to a place of relatively stable wellness.

At this point, lots of psychotherapy, schooling, and personal work are coming together. Of course, it is a continuing journey, but I am ready to go public with it.

I am a Fat Lady.

There it is - my "outing." I am not a fat girl trying to get thin. I refuse to apologize for being my own version of healthy any longer. I am not going to subject myself to any more torture (even in my own head) in order to fit the cultural ideal of what a beautiful (or even acceptable) woman is. I refuse to harbor shame around my body, and I refuse to have my worth as a person dictated by my size. I am claiming my right to respect, love, and care in my life. Everyone deserves this.

The reality is that one's size has nothing to do with the state of one's healthy. Amazed? Me, too! It is true that we can be Healthy at Every Size. There is a growing community of HAES supporters.  HAES is based on science, not on diet-industry-funded pseudo science. It turns out that I am not actually faulty, damaged, or otherwise junk. What a relief!

So, this blog is about my journey of self-acceptance, at whatever size I naturally am. It is about supporting other women to claim their right to happy, healthy lives, whatever their weight. It is about standing up to hate, in all its forms. It is about healing from shame on a personal and a political level. It is about me, trying to make a bit of a difference in the world.