onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Life is experiences, and some of them are crappy.

This week I got, not one, but two (two!!!) cold sores. I think that if, by chance, there is an afterlife, and if, by chance, I end up in hell, my punishment must be eternal cold sores. I cannot think of another thing that torments me as much or makes me act as crazy. (Except perhaps my body dysmorphia…) From the compulsive hand washing, to my fear of going out in the sun and heat in case that exacerbates it, to my total lack of desire to eat my delicious food because my face and mouth hurt, to the general obsessive focusing on it, I really feel like I am going a little insane.

I bring this up for two reasons. 1) Because it is all I have been able to think about this week. They have totally hijacked my brain. And 2) because I think it’s important to talk about the bad stuff when there’s bad stuff. I know I have mentioned it before, but there is something particularly troubling for me about the way we portray ourselves on the internet, especially in regards to social media.

Most of us want to appear to have it all together, whether or not we’re floundering. Social media is a great way to “show” that, because we are in control of the information that gets out. And we’ve become masters of “framing.” I don’t have to talk about my cold sores. But if I did, how I tell you could make all the difference in how you see me. If I whine about them, I look like I don’t have my shit together. But instead, I could say that I have two cold sores and am keeping out of the sun, but I am grateful for the extra time I have gotten to spend writing.

But that’s a lie. I won’t say that I am sorry to have spent extra time writing every day, but I am still miserable. I miss the sun. I miss kissing my husband. I miss not thinking constantly about if my hand has been anywhere near my mouth and what I need to disinfect.

The truth is that I live a very happy life. I am generally peaceful, content, joyful, grateful, and gratified. Giving up sugar and learning how to make and keep commitments to myself has given me the kind of satisfying existence that I did not think was possible 12 years ago. And I like writing this blog in a way that expresses my joy and gratitude. I want to show my positive attitude. Because I usually have a positive attitude. I want to inspire positivity in those who are struggling. I want the person who is still suffering from food addiction to know that there is hope.

But it would be misleading to make it seem like my good attitude is infinite and unending. It’s not. And right now I am kind of miserable. And a little cranky. And feeling sorry for myself.

Being miserable is not the end of the world. This too shall pass, like everything else, good and bad. But having my food under control does not save me from all pain, or from the parts of life that just plain suck. And what’s more, these cold sores are a circumstance, not even a personal failure or a mistake. Having my eating under control doesn’t save me from those either.

If there is a bright side to this whiny post, it’s that getting my eating under control taught me not to take my life so seriously, not to take my pain so personally, or my joy and success either. Perhaps my favorite teaching about how to deal with life is this: It’s all just experiences.

The bare minimum, but like you mean it…

I was talking to some people the other day about making changes. I am talking about the kind of changes that alter the course of your life. In my experience, there is a human tendency to get inspired, and decide to jump head first into change. And then, when change gets difficult, which it inevitably does, to give up.

Sometimes, when I am helping someone give up sugar and put boundaries around their food, they will tell me that they have a laundry list of things they want to quit. They want to quit sugar, and smoking, and caffeine, and chewing gum, and diet soda, and artificial sweetener, and watching more than an hour of TV, and playing video games, and Facebook, and…

I always tell these people that they can do that if they really want to, but that I don’t recommend it. I think you should take on one thing. Especially if it’s one thing that takes a lot of time and energy, like quitting sugar. I believe that first you take care of the thing that is killing you quickest.

As an illustration, I was a smoker for over six years after I quit sugar. I am going to be blunt. It helped. I needed it. I could even say it saved me. Coffee and cigarettes were like a kind of religion for me at that time. Of course, I was already a smoker and coffee drinker. I didn’t start smoking to stop eating, though I went from a cup or two of coffee a day to drinking it from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, often drinking 15 cups a day. But again, I needed it. Coffee wasn’t going to kill me before the food was. Cigarettes weren’t going to kill me before the food was either. I am suggesting that “killing you quickest” doesn’t necessarily have to mean physically. Smoking may be more likely to kill you younger statistically, but not being able to stop eating was killing me physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. It was killing my self-love, my self-respect, and my feelings of self-worth. Eating was more than just slow-motion suicide. It was fuel for the fire of my self-loathing.

I am glad I didn’t try give up coffee and cigarettes at the same time that I put boundaries around my eating. It would only have been in the name of chasing after perfection. And I can tell you pretty assuredly, that I wouldn’t have succeeded. And then where would I be? Still eating, still smoking, and felling like a failure, who was cursed to be fat and food obsessed forever.

The excitement of change doesn’t last long. Ask any gym patron who goes year-round. On January 15th, everyone is at the gym, excited to make a change. On February 15th, they are excited that Valentine’s Day chocolate is half off.

Perfection, or at least the quest for it, has always been my enemy. I never pull it off, and whatever I do achieve is not good enough, because the goal was perfection. But when I do one thing, and I do it with purpose, commitment, integrity, and love, even when it’s hard, even when it sucks, even when I don’t want to, I see results. I make a change that sticks. And once I have made that change, and it has stuck, it is no longer the thing that is killing me quickest. Now there is something else to deal with, slowly, honestly, purposefully.

For me, that is how things get done. And this is from a low-functioning addict, someone who didn’t get a lot done for most of her life. So screw perfection. I recommend the bare minimum, but every day, like you mean it.

More reasons to kiss the cook

My husband told me in no uncertain terms this week that he wants his props. And, in truth, he deserves them.

The most important thing in my life is keeping my food boundaries. This might sound strange, I know. The idea that my food boundaries would be more important than the people I love or my life’s ambitions sounds rather pathetic from the outside. I am aware. But let me offer a translation. The most important thing in my life is taking care of myself in a loving and responsible manner so that I can be present and available for my relationships and life goals. There’s that age-old idea that you cannot really love someone else until you love yourself. That, exactly, is why I keep my eating boundaries as my first priority.

When my husband and I first started dating, he wanted to cook for me. But all of the things that he was good at making were based on carbohydrates: homemade sauce for pasta or lasagna, rice-stuffed peppers, tacos. And to make it extra especially difficult, about 7 years ago, years before we were together, I realized that high-alkali foods, like tomatoes and peppers, were the reason for my cystic acne. So, I gave them up. I had basically eliminated any option for him to cook for me.

For a couple of years now, I have been fooling around with the idea of introducing a little bit of tomato product back into my diet, just for a change of pace. It seems that people who have a reaction to high-alkali foods mostly have a problem with raw foods, rather than cooked. And a friend of ours recently recommended a recipe for barbecue ribs that included a dry rub, steaming them in the oven over a pan of root beer, and then slathering them with barbecue sauce.

I figured it would be worth a shot, because that sounded freaking amazing! If I broke out, I would know that I really can’t have any tomatoes or peppers, and just wouldn’t eat them anymore.

Now, even if I wanted to try adding a little tomato-something to my usual fare, I still have to have one that fits my sugar requirements. Same for any seasoning. So instead of searching and searching for a ready-made dry rub and bottled barbecue sauce that met my needs, he made them himself. Not only that, but he let me look through the ingredients and make sure they, were acceptable, and substituted things that were not. For example, we steamed the ribs over diet root beer, replaced the Worcestershire sauce with my soy sauce alternative, and used artificial sweetener instead of brown sugar.

And Oh. My. God! They were so good! And, even better, they were so good and I didn’t break out!

The thing about keeping my boundaries is that, when I take it seriously, and when I am responsible for keeping them on the highest level, my husband takes it seriously too. He honors it, because I honor it. I lead the way, and he follows. But he could only follow because I lead the way. What he did for me was an act of love. And because it was especially for me, it made me feel particularly loved.

When I gave up sugar, one of the things I had to do was get over the fact that some people whom I loved and who loved me, were used to showing me love through foods I didn’t eat anymore, and now they couldn’t. And I had to learn how to show love to those people, and to show them that I got their love, without eating those things. I had to be grateful, without harming myself to show it. So there is something particularly heart-warming for me about my husband going out of his way to make me food I can eat on my own terms. So I am grateful. And excited! And positively quivering in anticipation of the possibility of pulled pork! Woot!

It could be worse. I could *look* 40.

This coming Tuesday will be my 40th birthday. And I am pretty excited about it, quite frankly.

I am not afraid of aging. I have written about this before, I know. I think that part of the reason I am not afraid of aging is that with my food under control, I am aging particularly well. I may be in the best shape of my life right now. And I don’t show a lot of the visible signs of getting older, though I do have a lot of gray hair. No seriously, a lot for 40. But it’s more white and silver than gray gray, so even that isn’t too bad.

And I don’t want to imply that I’m not experiencing the normal wear and tear that a 40-year-old experiences. My knees crack, and sometimes one or the other of my ankles is sore or wobbly for the first few minutes of my morning jog, and that’s with knee and ankle braces. And when I sit up after doing my crunches, I can hear and feel my back crack.

But at 16 I was morbidly obese. I had difficulty walking, let alone running. I was easily exhausted. I feared stairs the way people fear public speaking, though I had to face stairs daily, while, unless it’s your job, most people don’t have to speak in front of crowds very often.

But it’s not all about being thin either. It’s not just physical ease vs. discomfort. I look great, I feel great, I am generally happy, and content, and I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t poison myself with sugar.

The average American eats about 94 grams, or 350 calories, of added sugar in a day. That’s over 75 pounds of sugar in a year. And that is the average, not the extreme. For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about 25 grams a day for an average adult. So average Americans are eating almost four times the recommended amount of sugar. Every single day.

Now, I am not the food police. I don’t care if you choose to eat sugar. But as time goes by, science and medicine show more and more evidence that sugar is a drug, and that it affects us, not just physically (as in our weight), but also hormonally, and neurologically. I know it’s poison to me because I am addicted to it. But even if you are not addicted to sugar, it is becoming clear that it is still dangerous. And like all drugs, it has side effects.

I think a lot of my general beauty and good health has to do with the fact that I am not putting that particular poison into my body. The result is that I have glowing skin, bright eyes, healthy hair, and a strong body. I also exercise, am well rested, and I drink lots of water every day, and that’s all possible for me because I don’t eat sugar, grains, or starches.

I don’t use sugar as fuel. I don’t crash mid-morning because my breakfast was carbs with a side of sugar, so I need another fix. I sleep 8 hours a night because I am not hopped up on sugar late into the evening. I am hydrated because I don’t need to drink sugar to get me through the day, one little fix at a time, and instead I can manage get my water in. (Don’t get me wrong, I still drink coffee and zero calorie diet drinks. I just drink my water too.) I am not anxious, irritable, or moody because I need a hit.

Yes, not being high on sugar helps me make better choices when it comes to taking care of myself. It always made me lethargic and lazy. It made me comfortable enough in the moment to not think far enough ahead to take care of my health and my life.

But seriously, I strongly believe that look as good as I do (and seriously, I look pretty damn good), not just because I exercise and drink water, but because I am not constantly pumping poison into my body. In general, drugs age a person. You can find a million before and after shots on the internet showing their effects. If you hear the word junkie, there is an image that pops into your mind, and it’s probably not one of shiny hair and a big smile with a full mouth of teeth.

So I am grateful to feel so beautiful on the eve of a big birthday. And I believe that, more than any other reason, I owe that feeling to keeping sugar out of my body.

Catwalk vs Boardwalk, or how I don’t think twice about wearing my bikini in public

I have been thinking about body image and body image issues a lot lately. Partly because I live in a beach town now, and, to my own surprise, I am really comfortable here. I have never lived in a beach town before. Of course, both Chicago and New York have beaches. But neither of them have a strong beach culture. It’s not why people go there.

One thing I have noticed about Corpus Christi is that the people here don’t occur to me as particularly body conscious. I mentioned last week that I started wearing shorts here for the first time in about 30 years. Partly because I saw that people wear shorts, all shapes and sizes and ages of people. Not because their legs are shapely and their thighs are skinny. Just because it’s hot.

I think it’s interesting to note that when I started wearing my bikini in public 5 years ago, I was also in Texas, though in a different town. And here I see all sorts of bathing suits at the beach, again on all shapes, sizes and ages. Bikinis are not exclusively worn by young, skinny girls. And I don’t just mean because I am there. When I walk on the beach, I don’t feel embarrassed, or self-conscious. I don’t feel like people are even looking at me.

Now, one of the things I love about New York City is that it is a non-stop fashion show that everyone is putting on for everyone else on a daily basis, not just during fashion week. But because of that, there is a lot of judgment. Of course, to a certain extent, that’s the point there. I went out looking to be judged, and hoping to be found flawless, or at least fabulous. But sometimes that judgment could trickle down past the clothes and right to the body the clothes were on. And even if it didn’t, the line between fashion and physique always felt a little blurry, which made for a lot of insecurity when I wasn’t looking to be judged, like when I was feeling fat, or when I didn’t have it in me to “do it up.”

In some ways, I find that my fashion sense gets a little lost here in Texas. Clothes or looks that used to get me at least a double take, and sometimes praise from a stranger in the city now go basically unnoticed. And that’s a little sad for me. I love clothes, and style. I love the fashion show.

But the up side is that there is a lot of freedom from my body image disorders. And that leaves a lot of room for me to be myself, try new looks, and generally relax about my body. And as a former fat girl with eating and body image disorders, that is a welcome surprise.

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.

If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.

Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.

My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.

Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.

And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.

I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.

On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.

 

There’s no cutesy “Oh, I’ll just have a salad” to my salads…

Now that we have been in Texas for over a week, I have been getting used to the changes. Of course, a lot of the changes have to do with food. One of the biggest changes is that I have been eating big salads. And really enjoying them.

I will tell you that while I always eat a lot of vegetables every day, and have for years, I don’t always eat a lot of salads. But there are three things that have come together that have made salads an exciting prospect, rather than a “healthy choice” I make reluctantly. The first two are hot weather and great produce.

It’s one thing to eat a bag of lettuce and call it a salad. That’s not for me. I don’t like lettuce, and I never have. Perhaps it is because in my head it is “diet food” from a time when I was fat and I was supposed to eat lettuce to not be fat anymore. But it is something entirely different to take arugula, radishes, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, and maybe a little steamed broccoli or green beans, chop them up and toss them together with some olive oil and vinegar for a cool, refreshing meal on a hot day. I love the way the different flavors come together, the tang of the onions and radishes with the umami of the mushrooms and the tartness of the vinegar.

The third thing is that my new apartment is small, doesn’t have windows or screen doors, and quite frankly, smells when I cook pungent vegetables, which is pretty much any vegetables. The deal is that this alone would not have stopped me from cooking vegetables. That’s what candles and air fresheners are for, after all. But having great produce and wanting something lighter in the heat made it easy to put aside my favorite go-to veggie choices for something different.

When I left New York to be with my husband, the first place I lived with him was also Texas, though a different town. And then I ate a lot of salads too. And I probably would have continued except that the next few places we lived fell short in the fresh veg department. And I also happen to be a person of habit. If I am eating a lot of, say, riced cauliflower cooked in sesame oil with scallions, garlic and ginger, then I am probably going to make it again and again. I know that many people get bored with eating the same things, but I love it. I like predictability. I can sometimes eat the same things for months or even years. But when the time comes to eat something new, for whatever reason, I generally enjoy that too. Or at least, if I don’t, then I won’t make that mistake again.

For me, knowing that I am only going to eat three meals a day means I am careful to have them all be delicious, because I love eating, and more than that, I am still not, and never expect to be, neutral around food. I might even still be obsessed, except it does not haunt me, or make me hate myself. When I was eating compulsively, I was obsessed but miserable. And I would eat anything. (Well, anything except a vegetable.) It mattered less that it tasted good, and more that I could shove it into my face and it would get me high. I lived as if I might never eat again. But since I put boundaries around my eating, I have come to a point where I know I will eat again. In fact, my next meal will be lunch, in about an hour.

I like that I want salads. They are making me feel good, and it has occurred to me that I may lose a little weight. But they may not affect my weight, and that is not why I am eating them anyway. And I don’t want to make them about my body. I want to enjoy them because they are delicious. And if I stop finding them delicious, I want to be able to go right back to eating riced cauliflower in sesame oil and not think twice about my body.

First I get my seagulls in a row…

Since my last post, I have been getting acquainted with Corpus Christi, Texas. Quite frankly, I’m sold. It’s a windy day, and it’s not quite hot yet, but it will be, and I can’t wait! I decided to spend my day at the beach. I have hours and hours to be here if I wish. I probably do wish. If I change my mind, I can go whenever I want. I came alone. I came to be alone and write. 

It took something to get here, though. Especially since my husband was called out of town for work for a couple of days just after we arrived and I have been here alone. It’s not that the beach is a hard place to get to; it’s not. But unfamiliar things make me uncomfortable.
My husband and I were going to go to the beach together. That was going to make it more comfortable for me. If something unexpected or unpleasant happened, we would deal with it together. Not that I was expecting anything like that, but I am essentially always anticipating it.
It’s not that I am not capable. It’s that I get anxious. In fact, my husband has been asking me for the past few days why I have yet to get to the beach. The answer is that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do something I have never done in a new city and make it work with all of the things I have committed to do in a day. And those things are besides three meals within my eating boundaries. I need to go for a jog, drink my water, do my writing, and meditate. I certainly wanted to go to the beach, but not at the expense of things that make my life work. I have the life I have because of these things, not in spite of them. 
For the most part, my first week here has been about getting those exact things back in order in a new place. There is always a period of adjustment. Where and when are the best time to do things? Where should I run? What time of day? What’s traffic like and when does it start? What’s the best time to go to the grocery store? There is also trying to figure out what the grocery store has and does not have. There is a level of excitement to this too, though. Every place I have lived so far has lacked certain particular food treasures of the others, but has also had its own. There is always something exciting about that. Sometimes there is also the horror of realizing something I used to use daily is not an option anymore. Hopefully it’s on Amazon, but I gotta tell you, it’s not always. That’s hard. There is always a little mourning (sometimes a lot of mourning) when I lose a beloved food option. 
I decided that today was the day I would try the beach because I didn’t have to jog this morning. That made me feel like I had enough time to make and pack my lunch, check out the directions to the beach, plus the rules (I am a rule-follower after all), and still be able to do the important things. I went to the grocery store and picked up some water and a beach parking permit, and then I plugged the beach into my GPS and came out for an adventure.
I have already learned a few important lessons. Writing on a laptop while sitting in a beach chair is not the best option. Sand blows everywhere. But with my handy-dandy parking permit, I can park right on the beach, so I can roll down my windows and write while I sit in my passenger seat listening to the waves. I am doing that right now. It’s pretty sweet.
I will probably do this a lot in the future. But I am not sorry I took my time to do it comfortably. (Well, as comfortably as a girl like me can make any new experience.) The sun feels good, but knowing I am taking care of myself feels better. And the sun and the sea while I am taking care of myself and keeping my commitments…well that might be the best of all.

A short post about planning ahead and letting go

Today’s post is going to be short and bare bones. In fact, I totally forgot about this blog until I got out of the shower and a weekly alarm was going off on my phone asking “Did you post a blog yet?” Crap!

On Monday afternoon, my husband told me we were moving to Corpus Christi, Texas. The rest of the day, I made apartment arrangements and started preparing meals for the next several days. A breakfast, lunch, and dinner each for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Tuesday we packed up from morning until evening with breaks to FedEx our deposit for the apartment, email various paperwork, and return our DVR and modem to the cable company. On Wednesday, we spent the morning completing our packing and cleaning, and got on the road a little after 10 in the morning. My husband in the moving truck, towing his car behind him. Me following behind in my own car. We drove until evening through a dust storm, the makings of a tornado, and then a heavily raining thunderstorm.

On Thursday, we got an early start and drove all day. We attempted to stop at about 5 so I could attend a weekly video conference meeting with some fellows who keep boundaries around their food, but that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. We were in the middle of nowhere Texas and the motel we stopped at didn’t have fast enough WiFi for a video conference, and I didn’t have good enough service to turn my phone into a hotspot. Alas. So we just kept driving straight on through to Corpus Christi.

Here’s the deal. I never once worried about food. I had my meals prepared and in a cooler. When it was time to eat, we stopped off at a rest area and I filled up my tank and my car’s. Every evening, I put my future meals in the hotel fridge and refroze my ice packs. My days were jam-packed, and sometimes stressful, but my food was taken care of. I made a plan, prepared, and took care of my food ahead of time. And that meant that everything else was just life. A dust storm in Arkansas was life. Traffic in Houston was life. The nasty lady at the front desk of the crappy Texas motel was life. I was able to play it as it lays (laid?) because I had my food taken care of. There was no need to worry.

We pulled into our new apartment complex at 9 AM on Friday, signed the lease, and had the truck unpacked by 1. Now we have been spending our time getting used to our new surroundings, finding the grocery stores, slowly unpacking our boxes, and getting used to driving here.

All in all, the whole thing went smoothly. But it turns out I still had to write a blog. So here it is. If you want to keep your commitments, plan ahead, prepare ahead, and then just let life be life. It’s going to be life anyway.

Let’s make normal the new normal

Let’s talk about “normalization.” It’s a buzzword right now, of course. And I understand why. For the past fifteen to twenty years, until quite recently, certain ideas about racial, religious, and gender superiority have been taboo. They were only ever uttered aloud by your crazy uncle, while drunk, at Thanksgiving, and nobody thought much about it except to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and (hopefully) send him home in a cab.

The reality of life is that people who fall on the fringes of society usually don’t feel safe, and because of that, they hide. At different periods in history it’s different groups hiding. For a long time in the United States, it was members of the LGBT community. Until about a year ago, it was the men’s rights movement, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

I am not a fan of the movement to “stop the normalization” of hate and hate speech. I like my white supremacists to feel safe enough to show their true colors. I like my hate where I can see it. And I have a lot of room for free speech. I am not saying I will like you. I am not saying I will respect you. And if I am in a position to withhold my money from you, I will certainly not put it in your pocket. But I am saying that I believe in your right to be a repulsive, bigoted, disgusting excuse for a human being, as long as you do not harm, or infringe upon the rights of those you encounter in your travels.

But this is not a blog about politics, and this is not a political post in my eating disorder blog. I want to talk about using normalization in our own lives for our own benefit. I want to talk about the upside of normalization.

According to the article on Wikipedia entitled Normalization (sociology), Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal‘ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life.”

Every day, most of us see images that promote unattainable beauty goals. We are inundated with pictures of women and girls who are already thin, sometimes unhealthily so, and those images are altered to make these women look even thinner, not to mention that they are made to appear that their skin never puckers under straps, they have no hair except for their eyebrows, and a silky mane on the top of their heads, and that hair is thick, shiny, and can seemingly defy gravity. We, as a culture, have “normalized” women (and men) who do not even exist, while vilifying ourselves for being unable to meet these literally impossible standards.

The reality is, the more we see something, the more comfortable we are with it. That’s one beautiful, fascinating function of the human brain. The more ads we see of Photoshopped supermodels, the more that occurs to us as normal. But while that can be frustrating and sickening, I would like to say that we have the power to do something about it for ourselves in our daily lives. We can take control of our own ideas of normal. But we have to actually do something if we want to “do something about it.”

In October of 2010, I stopped wearing makeup. I have maybe worn it 3 times in the past 6 ½ years. Before that time, I would not, and in my own mind could not, go through my day without makeup. I had a million excuses. I had acne, or acne scars. I had dark circles. I was single and I needed to look my best in case the man of my dreams showed up next to me on the subway.

And the first few days were hard. I was particularly self-conscious. And I felt that I must certainly be missing the love of my life. How would my beauty captivate him if I was all cystic acne and eye bags?!?! The reality, however, was that I got hit on more than ever. And after that initial period of OH GOD! WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?, I got used to my own face. And I started to recognize that there was nothing wrong with it exactly as it was. I understood that it didn’t need enhancement, and that the people telling me it did were the people who wanted to sell me concealer.

Now, I actively spend time normalizing myself to myself. For all of my eating and body image disorders, I recognize that I am way more well-adjusted than the average American woman, because I embrace myself, and look at my self in my natural state all the time. I don’t necessarily mean naked, though that too, because my body is just a body, like everybody else’s. I mean I still don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shapewear. I don’t wear padded bras. I wear a bikini in public even though I have stretchmarks. I wear strapless and sleeveless tops even though I could probably glide a good distance if the hanging skin under my arms caught the wind just right. I don’t take pictures of myself, and then filter and adjust them until I look like a generic, washed-out, homogenized version of “woman.” I look at myself in natural states regularly and without judgment, and I look totally normal to me. Also, I avoid beauty and fitness industry ads with Photoshopped models as much as possible. (It’s hard. That sh*t is pervasive.)

So I recommend that we all start normalizing ourselves to ourselves. Let’s stop collectively averting our eyes from our bellies. Let’s stop putting on makeup to workout or walk the dog at 5 in the morning. Let’s stop untagging ourselves from every picture on social media that shows us with a double chin or a zit. Let’s start making normal, the new normal.

 

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