onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “identity”

You are what you eat. Or are you what’s eating you?

I have been thinking about self-identification. What makes up our identities. How we choose to see ourselves, and how it feeds our choices and behaviors.

I think there must be something in the air. Friends of mine have been mentioning to me their own struggles and triumphs with identity. And over the past two weeks, I have been confronted by some decisions I made about myself that I would like to reconsider. And I have been working to get them disentangled from my identity.

I have a lot of experience with this.

Being fat was a major part of my identity when I was growing up. It was given to me by my family long before I was aware of it. It was given to me so young, that by the time I came to the age where I could make decisions about who I wanted to be, “fat” was not an “option,” it was an “incontrovertible truth.”

This idea of not only me being fat, but of fat being me, led to a lot of the lifestyle choices I made. Not just around food. But also around grooming and clothing and general self-care.

I didn’t care/I was above being a slave to fashion. That was the stance I took on my appearance. At least that was the image I wished to project. I wore all of my clothes too big. I often dressed like a boy. I wore pants all the time. If I did wear a dress, I wore jeans under it. I grew my hair out and never got it cut. I stayed indoors as much as possible and hated the sun. (I know! I hated the sun?!?! What was up with that?)

But I did care. I wore big clothes to hide my body. I wore heavy makeup because I was afraid I was ugly. Not getting my hair cut became part of my non-conformist identity. And I avoided at all costs any scenario where shorts or bathing suits were involved. It was not the sun I hated, but the idea of showing my flesh.

I had this idea that I could never be anything but fat. So even the handful of times I lost some weight, I didn’t have any confidence in keeping it off. That would be the opposite of who I was. Having “fat” as an identity also led me to make all sorts of excuses about why I couldn’t do what needed to be done to lose weight. It’s genetic. I’m just a person who was born not liking vegetables. Diets don’t work for me. I’m not the kind of person who does things like count calories. I can’t eat rabbit food. I’m just hungry all the time.

When I got my eating under control, I was so focused on the very clear and specific boundaries I set around my eating, that I didn’t have to confront these garrisoned identity outposts until they had been substantially weakened. All I had to do was eat my three meals a day within my set of clearly defined rules.

That has become my new identity. Eating three meals a day within my boundaries. Being a woman who has her eating disorders under control. It is an identity that I am proud to have. It works for me.

There is another result of this way of life, and that is the ability to recognize and let go of identities that don’t work for me anymore. In other words, part of this identity, is to be less caught up in my identities. For example: being a smoker, being a morning-to-night coffee drinker, being a girl who wears makeup, being too cold/protected to fall in love. All of these were major parts of my identity that I was willing to give up because they didn’t work anymore.

There are two identities that I find myself shifting lately.

The first is about being sexy. Or more specifically, what kind of sexy I am.

I’m a sexy woman. I know that. (Even 30 lbs heavier than I prefer.) And I like having “sexy” as part of my identity. But recently I have been thinking about what kind of sexy woman I am. And if I’d like to be a different kind of sexy.

Lately, I have been finding myself drawn to more classic styles. Fitted cuts and cleaner lines. A linen dress. A crisp white button down. A pencil skirt. A fit and flare. A boyfriend cardigan. These are things I shied away from in the past. Somehow, I decided that they didn’t fit some decision I made about myself. Now I think that idea is outdated. For me. And I want to give it up.

I’m not saying I will be giving up my strapless mini-dresses this summer. Or My leggings and knee-high boots this fall. But my heels are already getting shorter and I am interested in making room for something new. In my identity and my closet.

And the other thing that I am making room for is writing as my calling and career. And this one goes a little deeper. It took some action and some healing to be able to change this self-imposed identity.

In the early 2000s, I was a writer. The funny thing is that I didn’t know it. I not only wrote two versions of a play that went to the stage in New York and San Diego, but I was writing freelance for an online newsletter, and doing side writing jobs for a handful of individuals. But I did not think of myself as a writer.

There was something I had as part of my identity. It was something like “unworthy.” Or “unreliable.” Or some other version of “not good enough.” I had this idea about myself from the beginning (possibly, the beginning of time). Couple that with being in the throes of my food addiction, and that was exactly how I behaved: unworthy, unreliable and not good enough. I proved myself to be what I had always feared I was, and took that on as a personal truth. I spent the next ten plus years with the identity that I did not have what it takes to make it as a writer.

This past few weeks I have been applying for writing jobs. I was communicating with a potential employer, and in an email, I mentioned that I used to write freelance health articles. But I realized that wasn’t on my resume. And when I asked myself why, it was because I ended that job like a jerk. I was given a writing assignment much like a slew of previous assignments. I was supposed to set up an interview with an expert on some health and wellness subject, and then write an article. I don’t remember who the expert was, or the topic I was supposed to write about. Either way, I never did it. And I was so deep in my food addiction, and its accompanying shame, fear and paralysis, that I never contacted the editor, never apologized, never made it right. I just disappeared, and let my freelance writing job go with it. And in doing that, I made a decision about my identity that I didn’t even recognize until today. I am not dedicated or reliable enough to be a writer. I can’t be counted on to follow through as a writer.

Even though that was who I was in 2003, that is not who I am today. After over nine years of food sobriety, I am most certainly reliable, worthy, and good enough. I can absolutely be counted on. I have made my integrity a priority in my life.

This afternoon I searched on Facebook and I found the woman who had been my editor. I sent her a private message asking for her forgiveness, and what, if anything, I can do to make right what I did in disappearing on her. I certainly hope that she gets back to me. But no matter what, in pinpointing the decision I had made about my identity, and the behavior that created it, and in offering an amends for my wrongdoing, I was able to shake something loose and get myself a little more free.

I believe that amends are the kind of thing that can shift your whole life. This one, whether or not it is accepted, has already let me get complete with myself, and remove an identity that has been holding me back for over a decade.

How is an iPhone like a vegetable?

My boyfriend often teases me that he could write my blog for me. He said “This one is going to be all about how you got a new phone and you don’t like change, right?” And while he’s certainly right that I don’t like change, and this is going to be about getting a new phone, that’s not quite the gist of this post.

What this post is really going to be about is identity and how I manage to cope with change. Perhaps not in the most graceful way. But for all of his teasing, not so badly either.

When I was growing up fat, there were things that I took on as part of my identity. And whether they were good or bad, I became attached to them. I had this concept about the way things should be. In retrospect, I can see that it was a warped sense of integrity.

Some of them were positive things I identified with myself. Like being smart. Or being a singer. Or being kind. These were things that I and others associated with me.

But on the other end, if there was something about me that met with any kind of resistance, I would cling to that too. I would declare that I loved it. Or that it was “my thing.” I would start to see it as a part of myself. And I would find it incredibly difficult to let go of when it no longer served me.

I have a couple of examples of that when it comes to compulsive eating. Growing up, since I was fat and unhealthy and I knew it, I stopped even trying to eat properly. I did not eat vegetables. I called salad “rabbit food” and mocked people who ate it. I swore that I would never eat fresh food in moderation.

And I wore baggy, and usually frumpy clothes. I had declared that nice, or fashionable clothes were for stupid girls. I had decided that not caring about how you looked was ultimately cool. (Though I still wore a full face of makeup…)

Of course, I mocked people who ate healthy because I could not stop eating. And specifically I could not stop eating sugar and flour and junk in general. Because I was addicted to those things. And of course, I hated people who dressed in nice fashionable clothes because I did not fit into those kinds of clothes. Because I could not wear them. And it felt better to believe that these things were my own choice, rather than believe that I had no choice.

And both of these things were a problem when it came to getting my food under control. Before I stopped eating sugar, but after I decided that I wanted to get control of my weight, I maintained this attitude about vegetables. I hated them. I did not want to eat them. They were a punishment. They were diet food. And I was just eating them to be a good girl on my diet. Every bite was suffering. Because to enjoy healthy food would go against that declaration I had made so many years ago. It would mean denying a major part of this identity that I had created, and then convinced myself was real. Who was I going to be if I started eating proper food? What would people think of me? They would think that I was a hypocrite, that’s what!

So what does this have to do with this past week? I am a late adapter. I am a person who does not like technology. Until I am sort of forced into it. I don’t love toys and gadgets and what not. (Yes, I know that that could also simply be some made up concept of myself. But for the moment, it still rings true…)

Well, for many years, the phone I had was a Blackberry. I got my first Blackberry before the iPhone even came out. I didn’t want it at first, but a friend gave me a used one after his upgrade, and told me to try it. And I loved it. No seriously. Madly in love. I could write like a demon on my “crackberry” (as I called it). In fact, 90% of my blogs were written on it. With 2 thumbs. So when people gave me a hard time about it, especially after the iPhone came out, I got very defensive. And also, if I may, a lot of Apple customers are arrogant, pretentious jerk-wads. (It’s sort of like Christianity for me. It’s not so bad in itself, but the followers I could do without) And I was never, ever, EVER going to get an iPhone.

Can you guess where this is going? Exactly.

So I stopped getting service here in Small Town USA, and it made sense to switch to my boyfriend’s carrier and get on his plan. And Blackberry has basically folded as a company, so it didn’t make sense to get another one of those. And it turns out there are limited phones that have keyboards anymore. And none of them are quality phones. So I sucked it up and got an iPhone. The newest model. Lah dee dah!

It took me a long time of having my food under control to stop attaching to things like they are part of my unalterable identity. Many years of food boundaries had to come first. And maybe what really happened is that having my food under control allowed the major aspect of my identity be that I want to be able to accept life as it comes, without fighting, and struggling and bitching. To accept life on life’s terms. Because those are the only terms there are.

I do still miss my keyboard. I typed this particular blog post out on a computer. Which was not my favorite. But things change. Whether we like it or not. And I could resist it every step of the way, like I did with vegetables, or I could go with the flow. And being able to flow is a gift of having boundaries around my eating. Plus, I understand that as things change, we change. And as that happens, being true to yourself doesn’t mean being true to who you were 25 years ago, or 2 years ago, or yesterday. It means being true to yourself right now in this very moment.

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