onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “body image disorders”

I don’t want to feel broken even after the broken part got fixed

I have been struggling with how I feel about a recent(ish) weight again. I feel like this happens once a year or so, in the past 4 years. I gain weight. For no discernible reason. I do not change the way I eat, at least not it in any major way. I just gain weight. Eventually I lose it. (At least that has been the case so far.) And then I gain it back months later. And then lose it again. Back and forth, over and over.

When my gram was sick in the hospital before she died, I lost a lot of weight in a few months. I definitely was not trying. I just dropped weight. I got down to about 131-133 pounds. That’s skinny for me. I was still pretty curvy, but definitely skinny. And from about April of 2010 to about August of 2012 I stayed basically the same weight. I stayed skinny regardless of what I ate. I ate a lot of bacon. I ate a lot of fried foods. I had to add a second piece of fruit to my day to keep from losing even more weight. And I just stayed skinny. 
But ever since I quit smoking, my weight has fluctuated wildly. A huge gain in the months following the weight loss. 3 years of maintaining that higher weight. Then I lost it in just a couple of months. Never all the way back down to my skinniest, but back into my size 6 jeans. Then a gain and a loss and a gain and a loss. Again and again.
A friend who has thyroid problems recommended I get mine checked. It’s not a terrible idea. But living on the road makes it a bit of a pain. Though we have great insurance and I could find a doctor anywhere. 
But the problem is also that I don’t like doctors. Having grown up fat, I don’t trust them to listen to me, to respect me, to look at me with anything except what seems to be a disdain for my lack of willpower. I was told for a long time that everything that was wrong with me was that I was fat. And that I could do something about it if I would only pull myself up by my bootstraps, or whatever. 
It’s hard for me to take doctors seriously when they all had opinions about me, but none of them could actually help. They sent me to nutritionists who told me to eat in moderation. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stick to a diet. They were frustrated and angry with me. For not being good enough. It’s hard for me not to feel like they were the ones who weren’t good enough. That they were the ones who failed me. That they shamed me for my disease, when they didn’t actually understand the disease. And kept forcing on me a “cure” that wasn’t.
But that’s unfair. Kind of, anyway. Because I don’t know if I would have been able to give up sugar if that had been the recommended treatment. I don’t know if 12 or 16 or 23-year-old Kate would have been available for that. Thank God 28-year-old Kate was. That took care of the eating. And most of the weight.
I don’t want to worry about my weight. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to care about it. I don’t want to be ruled by how much gravity is exerted on my body. I want to take care of it to the best of my ability, and just have that be enough. I want to nourish it and hydrate it and move it with love.
I probably should find out if my thyroid is not working properly. I should probably brave the doctor and find out if there is something wrong with my hormones, something that could be corrected. For that love of my body. Not to squish it into a socially acceptable size and shape. 
But that said, even if I do get my thyroid checked and it turns out that I am not running at 100%, I don’t want to care about my size. I don’t want to judge myself for the size of my butt or my belly or my thighs. I don’t want to feel like I am sick or broken because I am not skinny anymore. Especially when the thing that was most sick and broken about myself, my eating, my addiction to sugar and carbohydrates , is taken care of, with commitment and honor and love, 3 times a day. No matter what.
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I got the I-just-moved-to-a-new-town-(again)-and-I’m-not-sure-if-I’m-gonna-like-it-here bluuuues!

I have had a difficult week. My husband and I have moved into our new place. Getting adjusted to a new town is difficult. This is a small town. It’s no Corpus Christi, TX. It’s no suburb of Nashville. And we have begun our new job. It is not going particularly well right now and that is stressful. I have not done my workout at all this week. For the past month I have been gaining weight with no change in my eating or exercise habits (until this week). I am frustrated and annoyed and kind of unhappy.

I have to remember that I often miss my workouts when I first get to a new place. It’s hard to get accustomed to a new home. To know where I can run. To know what time is best for me to do it. To get a new routine and to get my workout firmly set up in that routine. I think it happened when we moved to Tennessee. I know it did when we moved to Corpus Christi. But I need to figure that out this week. My workout is a priority. Not because of my weight, even though I am gaining. And not even for my health. But for my mobility and my mindset. I feel better about myself and my life when I work out. I feel better about my body, whatever its size and shape, when working out is a priority built into my day.

And I have to remember that this new job is going to be just fine. That the beginning is always bumpy. I am already doing a good job, because I am good at my job. It’s just a lot of things are not panning out. And there’s nothing to do about that except take accurate stock, and solve those problems. Solving problems is a thing I am good at. But I am vain. And proud. I would like to make it look easy. And right now I am not making it look easy. I am making it look like it takes work. Because it is taking a lot of work.

I am also afraid I am not going to like it here. I was afraid of that in Corpus Christi too. I remember crying in my new tiny kitchen when we got there. I was afraid of that in Tennessee too. Especially when I got into my first car accident when I had been there for 3 days. I cried there as well. But when a woman at the grocery store last Saturday asked me where my favorite place my husband and I had lived was, I told her it was Corpus Christi. So obviously I’m no Oracle.

And as for the weight gain, which I am taking in stride, I have to remember that I am stressed out. And that since I have had my eating under control, stress has always been a factor in my weight. I eat the way I eat, within my boundaries. And weigh what I weigh. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

When my dad’s mom was in the hospital before she died, I lost weight like crazy. Was the skinniest I had ever been. Eating the same as before, and more because my weight was dropping so fast. When I quit smoking, I gained all of it back and then some. Even though my food quantities were cut drastically to stop the weight gain. After the smoking cessation weight gain, I decided that I was not going to try to wrangle my body into some size or shape by eating or not eating things that may or may not affect my weight. But I still don’t like it. I used to weigh 300 lbs. That will give a person some serious issues that will never quite go away. And a sudden weight gain is never any fun. And does crazy things to my head.

But I will tell you this. Two weeks ago, I made all of the lunches I needed for two weeks. Packed them and froze them. Stuck them in a cooler when I drove for 8 hours and put them right back in the freezer. And I did not have to worry about cooking all week. I didn’t have to take hours out of my busy schedule. I did not have to eat mediocre fare to get me through. I had what I needed to make a rough transition that much more bearable.

And my food is what it has always been. Delicious. And within the same boundaries that it has been for over 13 years. The lady at the grocery store yesterday said sort of shocked, “You sure have a lot of vegetables!” And I thought, yep. That’s what is saving my life. And that is another thing that helps me emotionally deal with weight gain. That my food is nourishing. So I don’t have to worry about what I ate or didn’t eat. I know what to eat. And I get to love every guilt-free bite.

Belly rolls are not the real problem

I was getting dressed the other day, and I looked down and I did not like what I saw. Belly rolls.  It made me a little sad. Mostly what made me sad was how little I liked my body in that moment.

I follow all sorts of people on Instagram and Twitter. Skinny people, fit people, fat people. I like seeing all kinds of bodies on social media. 
My point is that I am not even remotely as judgmental about other people’s bodies as I am about my own. I like seeing all shapes and sizes. I think they are beautiful. I like diversity. But I am not nearly so generous with myself. And I want to change that.
I am very happy with the ways I care for my body. And I am very happy with the way I feel in my body. I love the things that I can do. I love the ways that I can move. 
Hating how my body looks is a very old feeling. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hate it. If not right there on the surface, then buried very deep down. 
I come from a family of women who hated their bodies. Women who fought their bodies. They fought food. Fought size and shape. Fought dresses and pants. Fought age and time.
I think most women are taught to hate their bodies. Even women who naturally (or with a lot of effort) are successful in meeting societal criteria for feminine beauty, they have to worry about keeping it.
I have managed to gently and lovingly transform my body from painful and unhealthy to vibrant and well. And still, I have this deep-down disappointment in a vessel that has been ridiculously adaptable, capable, and generous with me, even after years of abuse and neglect. Over something as natural as belly rolls when I am sitting down.
I don’t want to hate my belly rolls. I don’t want to feel like I need surgery to “fix” myself. Mostly because I’m cheap and I can think of a million things I would rather spend my money on. But also because there is no guarantee that something like that would even help. You would think that losing well over 100 lbs would stop me hating my body. But it didn’t. Why would cutting it up and sucking it out do any more. 
My problem is inside me. My problem is not belly rolls. It’s not size or shape. My problem is the world told me I was only as worthy as my outer beauty, beauty as the world defined it, and I believed that. And internalized it. And said it over and over until it was indistinguishable from what I thought. 
I want to think other things. I want to know that my body is exactly right exactly as it is. I want to take care of it. Not so it can become beautiful, but because it already is. I want to honor it because it deserves to be honored. I want to reward my body for what it is, not punish it for what it is not.

I need to worry about the kitchen scale, not the bathroom scale

In the past 12 1/2 years, since I gave up sugar, my weight has fluctuated many times. Sometimes by a lot. When my beloved grandmother was dying, I lost 20 lbs, eating exactly the same as I had been. When I quit smoking I gained 30, eating significantly less than I had been at my thinnest. When I was eating sugar and carbs, I was morbidly obese. But since I have given them up, I have been in regular sizes, but not one regular size. 

I have gained weight again recently. And I have not changed my eating or my exercise regime in any way. For you regular readers I will also add that I have not had soy nuts in months now. I am still in my size 8 pants, but now, just barely. And it’s difficult and uncomfortable. Physically and emotionally.
You would think that a woman who weighed 300 lbs and wore a size 28, would not fret over potentially having to buy a pair of size 10 pants. But you would be wrong. I still have all sorts of fears about my weight. And all sorts of body image disorders. I have a pretty serious case of dysmorphophobia. If I look at my thighs and butt and belly in the mirror lately, I see a hugely fat woman. My eyes are broken. And while my body image problem is often dormant, when I gain weight of any kind, even small amounts, it can flare up pretty seriously.
I do not look at women around me who are a size 10 and see fat women. But when it comes to myself, I am pretty sick in the head.
But there is ultimately only one thing to do about it for myself. And that is keep my food boundaries. Keep doing what I am doing. Don’t let body struggles interfere with my food issues. They are related. But they are by no means the same. And “going on a diet” isn’t going to help me. It never did before. It would be ridiculous to think that it would now.
The truth is, I could eat lighter if I wanted to. But that is another experience of mine. Since giving up sugar and carbohydrates, eating all salads and lean proteins doesn’t necessarily facilitate weight loss. And I have to love my food. I must. It’s why I can do it for over a dozen years. Because I am not on a diet. And I never have been.
At this point, the second best thing I can do for myself, after keeping my strict boundaries around my eating, is not worry about my weight. If I eventually need to buy a new pair of pants, so be it. If I naturally lose the weight I gained, which has happened to me in the past, well that’s great too.
I am here to take care of my food problem. My morbid obesity used to be a manifestation of that problem. Now, my dismorphophobia is a holdover from that time. But my weight is not a problem. At least not anywhere but my own head. And as long as I continue to consistently and unfailingly use my kitchen scale, I don’t need to worry about the bathroom scale.

Broken eyes and second breakfasts

My eyes are broken when it comes to size. When it comes to food portion size and my own body size. I am bad at those.

I think that there is an expectation, by others, and occasionally even myself, that over time certain aspects of my thinking will normalize. That somehow I will know what a portion looks like. Or that somehow I will see my body clearly.

After over 12 and a half years, that is still not the case for me. Even right now, when my body dysmorphia isn’t looming large, I am subject to my own broken eyes.

I gained weight a couple of months ago. It hasn’t come off, even though I stopped eating soy nuts (the weight gain offender, in this case) and I have come to terms with the fact that it may not. At least not on my schedule. My weight fluctuates. Or stays stubbornly static. I had to make friends with that.

Also, it occurs like more than it is. My weight does change from time to time. But I am particularly sensitive to it. So a little gain will feel like a huge one. My jeans got a little tighter a couple of months ago with the soy nuts. But in my head, I got “huge.” The same jeans still fit, just differently. But I sometimes wonder if anyone notices, and thinks bad things about me, if people at work can see the difference. (Spoiler alert: nobody at works cares enough about me to notice if I have gained or lost weight, except my husband, who actively avoids thinking about my weight, because “nothing good can come of that.” – His words. Compulsive eating ladies, this is the kind of man you want to marry.)

And then this week I bought some new workout clothes on the internet. Based on the size chart, I was supposed to buy a medium. But I thought for sure I would need a large. This is ridiculous when I think about it rationally. A medium was for size 8/10, and I am an 8. I could still go up a size and need a medium. It was still so hard to buy a medium.

When they came, they were hard to get on, and for a moment I thought, “damn it! I knew I needed a large.” And I almost didn’t even bother to try to get them on. But I did, and they actually fit perfectly. I just forgot how hard it is to struggle into new workout clothes. (My old ones were pretty stretched out, because I’m cheap, and I have only had 3 sets of clothes for over 2 years, but I work out 5 days a week. So my old ones have been worn and washed twice a week for years. Hence the need to buy new ones.)

As for food size, I control my portions with a scale. Some people seem to think this is extreme. It may be. But I have an extreme problem. I don’t know when I’m full. I don’t know what enough means.

This morning, I ate some bacon, sausage, and egg, plus whole milk in my coffee, and a quarter of a ginormous honeydew, and I will tell you, I could have eaten a whole other one. I mean a second complete breakfast. Seriously. Please know, sometimes I fantasize about it. Because I love to eat. I love food. It’s why I control my portions. Because how does a girl who would happily eat like a hobbit, know what enough is? The answer is, she doesn’t.

I am glad to be aware of the fact that my eyes are broken, and to have measures in place to make that irrelevant. I weigh my food to know exactly what I should eat. And as long as I control my portions, and keep boundaries around my eating, I don’t need to know what my body looks like. As long as I stay rational and look at the size chart when I buy clothes off the internet, I should be OK. Also, there is always sucking it up, and paying for return shipping. (I better keep an eye on the size chart, because let’s face it , once it’s here, it’s probably not getting sent back.)

And the Kate award for Kate awesomeness goes to…Kate (Who could have seen that coming?)

When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.

I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.

This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.

This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.

But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.

Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.

I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)

When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.

Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.

Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.

Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.

I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.

The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.

I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.

And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.

I adjust for conflation

I was talking with a group of friends the other day about International Women’s Day, and someone mentioned movements like “fat is beautiful,” and “fat as a feminist issue.”

The truth is that I do think that fat is a feminist issue. I do think that being fat and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive. And at the same time, I absolutely hated being fat, and I never want to go back.

I think that part of the problem with these ideas is that we conflate them. Let me break it down for you. There is a difference between what you, as an individual with a body, want to believe about and do with your body, and what our society and culture tell you about what you *should* believe about and do with your body.

I have had to deal with this for myself. I had to do some serious and painful soul searching. Because I really hated being fat. I was miserable and I felt ashamed. I hated my body. I hated the way that I looked, and the way that I felt. I hated that I could not stop eating. I hated how hard it was to live in that body.

But separately, I also hated the way I was treated by others. I hated that people were given the “right” by our culture, to openly comment about my body. After all, this body is me and I am this body. Whatever its size and shape. If you shame my body, you shame me. If you disrespect my body, you disrespect me.

I have come to really understand, only after years of being in a comfortable body, a body that I am comfortable in, that just because I was unhappy with myself didn’t give anyone else the right to judge me. It was not ok that I was shamed and abused. It was not ok that I was humiliated by others. That I hated myself did not give friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers a pass for being jerks.

My food problem is a sickness. It is not cured by “pushing away from the table,” or “just not eating so much,” or “having willpower,” or “having some self-respect.” I don’t now, and never did, earn my place in the world by being beautiful, thin, accommodating, and feminine. I have always had a place in the world. I was born into it, by virtue of having a body.

And I will say that I consider myself to be incredibly beautiful (and my husband would add humble.) And I love it. And I don’t apologize for loving it. But it doesn’t define me. And I don’t owe it to others. Not to men on the street, not to my parents, not to friends, not to bosses. Not to my husband, either. I do not owe any particular body to anyone but myself.

So in honor of International Women’s Day, let me recommend to you that you love your body exactly as it is right now in this very moment. Remember that it *is* your place in the world. And if, like I once was, you are unhappy with the body you are in, love it anyway. I believe that it is only by loving ourselves first that we can make lasting change. If we are waiting to be “perfect” before we love ourselves, we will be waiting a very long time.

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.

 

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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