onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “impossible beauty standards”

My heart, not my ass

I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.

When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.

Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.

When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.

We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.

But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)

Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.

When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.

I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.

 

 

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Now that I know what is possible, I am doing my best to forget it

Something came to my attention this week. Something that has absolutely nothing to do with me. But it affected me. So I am writing about it today.

A woman named Caroline Berg Eriksen, who is a famous fitness blogger (and the wife of a famous athlete) in Norway, posted an underwear-clad selfie 4 days after giving birth. She looked totally physically fit.

This made some people very angry and frustrated. Some (only some) of those people were downright mean, calling Eriksen names.

The angry people made other people angry. These other people defended Eriksen.

If you want to go look at her picture you can, obviously. But I am certainly not going to link to it myself. And if you have body image disorders, like I do, I do not recommend it.

I do not like this world we live in now. Where unless we choose to actively avoid it, we are inundated with images and stories of the daily lives of people who fit a narrow standard of beauty. And sometimes we see these images and stories in spite of our active avoidance.

I do not go out and seek pictures of other women to be told that they are beautiful. To be told what beauty is. I am an active avoider.

And I do not like this world where we as a whole global society selectively share with one another glimpses of our wins, our joys, and our successes. While hiding or glossing over our less shining moments. Asking the rest of the world to compare their whole lives to our manicured and polished outsides. Our facades. Our half-truths.

I do not like this world where we are so afraid of being inadequate that we feel the need to express ourselves to the ENTIRE WORLD, but only the parts of us that we think are adequate.

I certainly did not go looking for this story. It is exactly the kind of thing I avoid. It came to me.

Do I think the women who disparaged Caroline Berg Eriksen are right? No. But do I think Caroline Berg Eriksen has done women in general a disservice? I do.

First, people have said that this is her job. She’s a fitness blogger. She has to look good. I do understand that. So on that note, can we stop pretending she’s not selling something? That she’s “just really proud of herself.” I’m sure she worked very hard. But I’m also sure that she won the genetic lottery in regards to the modern standard of beauty. And that she is making a lot of money from that. So you’ll excuse me for not pitying her.

I think that we already put too much emphasis on women’s looks, and bodies. Their size and shape. And this is coming from a woman who lost 150 lbs. And is happy about it. You will not hear me defending my “right” to be fat. But does it really need to be put out into the world that it is “possible” to be “hot” 4 days after giving birth?

I think that men will be judging the women in their lives differently “now that they know what is possible.”

And I think that young girls will be thinking differently about who they should be in the world, and what they should expect from themselves “now that they know what is possible.”

And I think that women who are having and soon to be having babies will judge themselves much more harshly “now that they know what is possible.”

I think that all women will be judging themselves more harshly “now that they know what is possible.”

I have heard it asked why women have to be so mean to other women. There is, to me, an unspoken, underlying context in this question. They are asking why the “jealous” women are writing nasty things about the “hot” woman. Why can’t they just be nice?!

But to some of us, maybe the less cultivated souls, the less enlightened, the less peaceful, Caroline Berg Eriksen has put a limit on our options. We can either hate her, or hate ourselves. If these are my only options, I will hate her in a heartbeat.

That is not where I stand today. And that is not who I want to be. I don’t want to be a person who hates. Anyone. I definitely strive to cultivate my soul. To be peaceful. But I think self-preservation, no matter how clumsy and inelegant, is always preferable to self-hatred.

No, I don’t hate her. I can see that she has to live in the same society that I do. She just lives in it in a different way. But that picture did make me feel inadequate. And it made me sad. It made me cry for myself.

And no I don’t hate myself. But I have years of actively learning to love myself. And of not seeking out pictures of “what is possible” so I can compare myself. I have years of practice knowing I am beautiful just the way I am. And I mean practice. It takes practice.

And I still forget sometimes.

Do I think she shouldn’t have posted that picture? Who am I to say? I don’t know. Isn’t life too complicated to answer that question?

I can say that her picture hurt me. And shamed me. And that the outcry that came from so-called jealous women all over the world shows me that it hurt and shamed them too.

I am grateful that when I remember it, there is relief in knowing that the possibility of perfection is off the table. There is freedom in the acceptance of being flawed. But sometimes, like when somebody posts a picture of themselves being seemingly impossibly flawless, it’s hard to remember.

No. I don’t hate Caroline Berg Eriksen. I don’t wish her ill. But I don’t like her, either. I won’t defend her. I don’t praise her. I don’t honor her. I do not thank her for showing me “what is possible.” It wasn’t a gift to me.

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