Yesterday I needed to starting working on a BIG PROJECT–my thesis project for grad school, in which I am attempting to relate body politics to architecture and eventually create a design. It’s quite overwhelming, because I’m linking things that haven’t been linked before, and finding words for big ideas and their links is not my strong point. Anyway, I planned to start working after my shower, but immediately after my shower I spontaneously decided I wanted to do some restorative yoga (I have a “Yoga for stress relief” dvd, where you can kind of mix-and-match different smaller segments), and I ended up doing yoga for 1 1/2 hours. This is of-note because I don’t think I’ve ever spontaneously decided to to yoga or any other “exercise” before-. When it wasn’t linked to weight loss attempts, it was “you should do it, you’ll feel good afterwards”. I do enjoy yoga, and I do almost always feel great after it, but I guess I’m just not a person who really feels like they NEED to move around that much to be happy with their day. So I was pleased yesterday because it felt like I was starting to disentangle exercise, weight loss, health and cultural imperatives. I was aware of what my body wanted in that moment in order to prepare to work on something so important and anxiety-inducing. When I used to go to yoga twice a week (a few years ago), I wanted it to be intense. But I realized yesterday that right now I want yoga to be soothing and relaxing. I have so much stress and competition in my life right now that I don’t want yoga to be another thing like that. I feel like this is a realization that will help get me back into yoga–not yoga for the sake of doing exercise or accomplishing complicated poses, which could be something I will pursue again at another time–but yoga for what I need it to be right now. Which is what it’s supposed to be about anyway.
Wow, it’s been almost 2 months since my last post! I wouldn’t have thought summer could possibly be busier than the rest of the year, but it turns out that it is. Anyway, I’ve been mulling over some conflicting thoughts about bathing suits all summer, and I thought I’d take a moment to write them out.
Basically, I’ve been facing a one-piece vs. two-piece head battle. Here’s how the sides stack up:
One-pieces: At this point in my life and in my fat acceptance, I feel quite comfortable in my particular one-piece suit in most swimming situations I can imagine myself in. The suit is an expensive one that I bought a few years ago and that sits beautifully on my body, and although I’ve gained weight since I bought it, this magical suit still fits me quite well. The only nagging thought when I wear a one-piece is that people are thinking I must be ashamed of my body and that that’s why I’m “covering it up”. And I don’t want to be thought of as someone ashamed of my body, because I am not! And I want to be an example of a confident fat person. Because vocalizing my opinions regarding fat acceptance are difficult for me, living as a confident fat person IS something I can do.
Two-pieces: A few years ago I also bought a beautiful and expensive bikini. At the time, it fit nicely, but it does not anymore, and I have donated it away. I have tried to find a replacement bikini, but this has proved to be difficult and impractical (and thus far not successful). Physical stores are out, because even if they have bikini tops that can physically fit my breasts (not a common occuence), these tops are just not designed to support them. And as for online stores–I haven’t had much luck there either because of the limited selection of plus-size bikinis in general. I’ve started to think that maybe I would just be more comfortable sticking to one-pieces, but I can’t tell if that’s because I haven’t found a good bikini that fits me properly, if it’s just that I don’t like feeling like I’m in my underwear in front of everyone, or if it’s because it would make me uncomfortable to know that other people were uncomfortable being with my fat in a much more obvious way. Or it might be a combination of these issues. I know that even a few years ago when I was in the “normal” weight range, I felt uncomfortable being in a bikini around my family. This is probably both because I’m not the kind of person who walks around in my underwear with my family, but also because of my issues with weight and food that relate to my family. Anyway, at the time, I decided I just wouldn’t wear a bikini in front of my family again, and I still think I want to stick with that, but as for wearing a bikini in other circumstances…I feel mixed. I just wish I could more easily find a bikini that fit me so that I could make a decision about bikinis knowing that I’ve felt as comfortable wearing one as I possibly could.
The following is a draft of a theoretical “coming out as fat” letter I might send to people who know me.
“Hi Family and Friends!
I’m fat! In case you haven’t seen me in a while and are still picturing me in a thinner state of being, here’s a recent photo of me: [insert current photo of me laughing happily] . Why am I telling and showing you this? A few reasons:
1. Sometimes people say negative things about fat or fat people, and sometimes these things are said near me or directly to me as if I will agree and as if I were not fat. I am not interested in censoring your speech, but I would like you to be aware that I am fat, and that saying these things affects me negatively, even if that wasn’t your intention. Likewise, when I don’t nod my head in agreement, I would like you to know that it is because I do not agree. I do not think negative things about “fat” and “fat people”. I also don’t think positive things about “thinness”. I feel mostly neutral about someone’s body size, but probably more sympathetic towards fatter people.
2. I am not dieting, will not ever be dieting, and am completely uninterested in hearing about anyone else’s efforts to lose weight (this includes any talk of the amount of calories anything has). More than uninterested, I actually feel really uncomfortable when thinner people than me (as they often are) discuss their efforts to reduce the size of their bodies. The implication is that bodies their size and larger are unacceptable, and while I know the majority of them would say “it’s not about anyone else’s body”, it cannot be denied that the message is there. I am not less than anyone else because of the size of my body, and I despise being placed against my will on a spectrum of acceptability by multiple small comments that add up to a culture of hierarchy and negativity. I don’t expect that other people will give up dieting (although that would be nice, and if you’re interested, please feel free to ask me for more information) or talking about dieting, but I would like you to know that it makes me uncomfortable. Please don’t assume that I will be receptive to weight-loss talk (I won’t be).
3. Exercise has a life outside of weight-loss. So if I’m exercising, don’t assume that it is because I want to lose weight (it isn’t). Related to diet-talk, I am not interested in hearing about any way in which exercise may or may not be related to losing weight.
I understand that a lot of the things that make me feel uncomfortable and isolated are things that most people don’t even think twice about–they are things that are part of our everyday culture. But this is why I am writing to you all. I would like to be able to participate in daily life without feeling like the people around me are contributing to the general negativity I receive for being fat. I just thought it might be worth mentioning to those of you who know me, so that you at least have the knowledge. You can do what you like with it. Feel free to ask me questions if you’d like to know more. : )”
What do you think? Have any of you done similar things? Have you confronted the people around you with your fat acceptance? Have you tried to define boundaries or at least desired boundaries?
**Trigger Warning for discussion of weight losses and gains and bmi, binge eating disorder, and gynecological examinations**
I went to the gynecologist today for the first time in two years (I’d been busy and just kind of lost track of the time), and I was nervous about it from a weight-perspective. So nervous, in fact, that I had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night and didn’t actually fall asleep until after 4am. I’m going to go into my recent history with doctors before returning to today’s visit…
The last time I had been to any doctors was last summer when I booked an appointment thinking I had binge eating disorder (I had lost about 40 lbs before entering grad school the year before, and had gained it all back in one year). I met with a general physician and then saw a therapist and a nutritionist for a while after that. I found the nutritionist worse than useless–not because she wasn’t a good nutritionist (she may have been, and she was perfectly nice), but because I would tell her about my eating habits and she would say “that sounds great, maybe drink a little more water”. Basically, she was saying that according to my eating habits, there was no explanation for why I was binge eating. I actually found meeting with her and having to report on my eating habits stressful and triggering (and obviously not helpful), so after only three meetings, I stopped booking appointments. The therapist was a little more helpful, because she got me thinking about my life and talking about things that I’d never talked about. I think I have trouble accessing my feelings when I don’t put them into words, and that’s actually part of why I think this blog has been really good for me. I can figure out what’s bothering me (or making me happy), and then I can let it sit in its place here and move on. But when I talked with my therapist about what I was going to “do” about my binges, I got stressed out.
I think the ONLY thing that directly helped me basically stop having binge eating disorder was finding the fat acceptance community. I found a link into some part of the fatosphere from an eating disorders website, and then lurked around. Shapely Prose and The Fat Nutritionist (see sidebar for links) were both key sites that helped change my attitude about food, health, and my body. Once I stopped viewing my body (and myself) as dangerous and shameful, my binges petered out. Today, my eating feels much more “normal”, at least in that I don’t feel like I’m eating even when I don’t want to eat anymore, and in that I don’t generally feel sick after eating. I also now have a neutral attitude about what I’m eating and how much I’m eating. I still think I eat quite a lot, but who can really know, and I don’t have a problem with it–maybe “a lot” is the right amount for me, or maybe other people are eating too little. Anyway, since last summer, I’ve gained about 25 lbs–after not weighing myself in a long time, I weighed myself a few days ago in anticipation of being weighed at the doctor’s appointment, just to take a little of the unknown out of the experience. It’d be nice if my weight were to level off, but I’m not sure if I’m going to gain more weight before that happens or not, or even if it will happen for me, although unlike when I started this blog, I have more confidence now that it will likely level off. Anyway, I’m writing about this just to say that my current weight gives me a bmi of 34 (213 lbs at 5′-6″), well into the “obesity” range. Before going to the doctors last year specifically for binge eating disorder, my highest weight had only ever been at the top end of the “overweight” category. As an adult, I don’t remember ever having a doctor discuss my weight with me, and going to the doctor for routine check-ups never made me nervous. Back to today…
I just wasn’t sure if my weight would be mentioned at all, or how it would go today. Overall, I’m pleased with how I acted, and I liked the doctor (she was a new-to-me gyno). It wasn’t perfect, though, and my weight did get mentioned. The doctor could see in my records that I’d been seeing a doctor, nutritionist and therapist for binge eating disorder, so she asked me how it was going. I said something along the lines that I was comfortable with my eating habits. My blood pressure was high, as it was a year ago when I saw my general physician, and the gyno recommended that I check back in with the regular physician to see if it’s something we should do something about. She did say “if you lost weight, it would come down”, but I immediately said that I would not be losing weight intentionally, and then she said something like “that’s fine, we’ll work with you in whatever way we need to”. I was a little ruffled that she would suggest weight loss to someone with an eating disorder in their history, but it was not done in a particularly offensive way, and she seemed perfectly happy to change direction when I made it clear that intentional weight-loss was off the table. The thing about this high blood pressure issue is that I’m really under-convinced that it is a permanent state for me. Last year when I was tested I was about to discuss an eating disorder I’d never discussed before, so I was extremely nervous, and as I said at the top of the post, I was really nervous about the doctor’s visit today, so these might be nervousness-related high readings. They also might not be, because I do have a family history of high blood pressure, but I also have a family history of false-highs; my grandmother always tests high in a doctor’s office, so my grandparents actually bought a blood-pressure cuff so that they could test her blood pressure at home, and it’s always been normal. I’d never had high blood pressure until last year, even though my weight had been that high before. It’s possible the high blood pressure is linked to my current high weight, but I’m not sure. I certainly wouldn’t want to “do” anything about it until I was convinced that it was an on-going thing.
The doctor also asked about sleep and exercise, and I didn’t have particularly “good” things to report on either of those issues, and honestly, I’m just not sure that those are appropriate questions at a general check-up where I haven’t brought up any specific complaints. I’m not there because I want her to tell me what she thinks I should do–I’m just there to check to see if I have any problems. I understand that prevention is a concern, but it’s not like I don’t know about the benefits of sleep and exercise. I’ve written a few times on this blog about how I’m trying to disentangle exercise from dieting, so it’s just not something I want to be pressured about, however slightly. The doctor really didn’t push it, but she did end the appointment by talking about how she likes to advocate “one small change”, whether it be taking calcium supplements or attending yoga once a month (which…I don’t think the way I described my exercise habits excluded the possibility that I already do yoga at least once a month; that is actually probably close to what I do, but whatever, I may have down-played my exercise). She also mentioned the “take the stairs instead of the elevator” gem of advice (earlier, while the speculum was inside of me, so I really didn’t feel like having a conversation about it at that point). The appointment just left me feeling…not that great, I don’t know… I guess I’m just saying that in this past year my mental health has been my primary focus, and I don’t really want a doctor to tell me that I should be trying to change anything about my lifestyle unless it relates specifically to a medical condition they have confirmed that I have. I don’t want them assuming anything about my goals or trying to tell me what my goals should be. In conclusion, I liked this doctor, but the appointment justified my being nervous, and in the future I think I should make it clear that I only want to talk about specific medical conditions. The doctor said she’s good about email, and because she seemed willing to work with whatever my standards were, perhaps I should send an email before the next visit. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, because if I weren’t at such a pro-active and skeptical point in my life I might just let these things bother me without doing anything, and obviously they still bother me even if I am going to do something about them. I just wish going to the doctor was the non-issue that it used to be for me, but unfortunately these uncomfortable situations seem to come with the territory of fat acceptance.
“The feeding relationship is characteristic of the overall parent-child relationship. Distortions that show up in feeding are likely to appear in other aspects of the interactions.” (Ellyn Satter, “The Feeding Relationship”)
Today it occurred to me that I might understand more about my relationship to food and my relationship with my parents if I read Ellyn Satter’s work more in-depth. I had previously only read the little I could find that she’s written about eating and adults, but I realized that it could be helpful to read her stuff on children to see if it explains how I acted as a child and why I am how I am today. And thus far, I’ve found it gratifying (strange word choice, I know, but it’s how I feel). Just to summarize my childhood eating experiences: My parents (and extended family on my mother’s side) were extremely controlling and I was aware that everything that went into my mouth was under surveillance and judgement. I remember my grandmother saying to me once “that’s a lot of butter” when I was buttering (or rather, margarine-ing my toast). That’s just one example of many that I can specifically recall. So, Ellyn Satter’s writing is perfect for explaining what was happening in this situation. The quotation at the beginning of this post really helps explain to me why my relationship with my family over food isn’t JUST an issue of food. The way my family treated my eating was the way they treated a lot of aspects of me: something “not quite right” that needed perfecting or something I couldn’t be trusted to do on my own. And the way I reacted makes sense: sneaking food, random bursts of anger, shutting my parents out of my inner life, insecurity, inability to let people get close to me, etc. I could go on, but this post isn’t about complaining–it’s about gaining insight. Knowing that my experience was part of a predictable pattern alleviates its weight on my shoulders and justifies my reactions, while somehow not increasing my anger towards my family. I mean, I’m still angry, but this knowledge makes me feel better about myself and less guilty for not being a “good adult daughter”. It’s kind of like I’m at peace with the situation, just as long as family participation is an aspect of my life that is respected as a choice I make at my own discretion.
An honest talk about my (not so positive) Mother’s Day reflections:
I’m not a mom and I don’t live near my family, so I didn’t spend Mother’s Day with them or anyone else. I did call my mother, who turned out to be spending time at my uncle’s house with his family and with my grandparents. She seemed caught off guard when I called, possibly because I hadn’t called or answered the phone in months. We have emailed back and forth during this time, but I think she feels personally insulted, probably because our relationship is rocky (or barely existent) anyway. I don’t think she understands that I am just not a phone person with anyone. I have that kind of personality, for better or worse, that means I don’t like small talk when I’m trying to get something done (definitely inherited from my Dad, so unfortunately my Mom has a lot of it to deal with), and at other times the stress of a phone call that doesn’t serve a tangible purpose is immense. Sometimes I will put up with it, but it frequently leaves me feeling more uncomfortable afterward than happy that I spoke to the person. Most of my friends, once I don’t live in the same place as them anymore, eventually learn that I’m not a catch-up-via-phone person, and while maybe we’d stay closer if I was one, I appreciate that we can jump back into things when I see them, or that we can have pressure-free catch ups with email (I’m also not a facebook person nor an online chatting person).
Back to Mother’s Day. I spoke with my grandmother as well, since she was with my mom, and she kept saying “We haven’t seen you in such a long time!” and “We keep asking Mom if she’s heard from you”, which are things she and my grandfather (before he got Alzheimer’s and stopped being able to talk coherently) have been saying to me every time I’ve seen them for the past few years. And that might be true now, because (1) I’m busier in grad school than I’ve ever been before in my life, (2) I live farther away from them now, and (3) I’ve felt more comfortable as I’ve gotten older making the decision to avoid family situations that I don’t think will be good for me. However, when they first started saying these things, it certainly wasn’t true. I was attending most family functions that everyone else in the family was attending, and probably more than one of my brothers was attending–why did I get singled out as the one to accuse of not spending enough time with the family? I don’t know if they mean it as an expression of love or an accusation (or both), but it really doesn’t make me want to oblige. To me, if feels like it doesn’t matter to them that I decided to show up for this one event (because usually they say this to me in person), because if I’m not willing to be there often enough, it’s no good. Which is essentially what they’ve always said to me, about everything–that nothing but perfection is good enough. Their comments seem like a small thing, but there’s so much more behind why they bug me. My mother’s family (the family who lives closest to me and who I saw most often growing up) is a financially successful family, with my grandfather rising up from a poor family to owning his own construction company. Growing up I was so impressed by this and their success that I idealized the family, and internalized any criticism of me as justified. There was one memorable incident in high school when my best friend and I were staying with my grandparents for a weekend, and my grandparents criticized us for not making our beds (they just said it to me individually, and not to both of us, which left me with the task of telling my best friend that we had to make our beds). I had stayed at my grandparents house many times, and I can’t think of a time when I’d made my bed, so I could tell that they just didn’t particularly like something in the way my friend behaved, and they wanted to criticize something (part of this is my interpretation now…at the time, I don’t think I could verbalize why they were acting the way they were acting). It may seem trivial, but it was a very memorable moment, because it brought to light why I always felt tense when friends and family combined. Judgment was always just beneath the surface, and the only crimes my friends committed were acting differently from my family. I had “good” friends growing up–their personalities and social traditions just varied a little from my family’s. In my family, sending a thankyou note late was a huge offense. I realize that the things I’m describing are not child abuse, but that’s just what’s so frustrating for me–I always had feelings of tension and shame, but nothing specific to point to as a cause. I’m not wishing I had been abused, I’m just saying that I was a child in an ambiguous situation, even from the outside. I had several friends express discomfort with my family, so I knew I wasn’t crazy, but even today I have a hard time understanding why I am so angry at and emotionally removed from my family.
As an adult, there are some members of my mother’s family who I enjoy spending time with, and others who–while I hope that they will have happy lives–I wouldn’t mind if I never saw them again. They’re not terrible people, but they’re not people I would be friends with if we met randomly and weren’t related. I feel guilty rejecting them, because I understand how it must look from their perspectives, but I know it is healthier for me to be distant.
I have explained my feelings to my mother, but she negated them by saying that she didn’t view my childhood in that way. I fully believe that she was accurately reporting her own perspective, but just because mine is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong, and it doesn’t mean that she should expect me to put it all aside for the sake of the family. I appreciate her need to be close to her family and to bond over commonly held beliefs and traditions, but I can’t get past the tension it causes in me. I feel bad for her sake that we can’t have a good relationship, but for mine I am quite happy being distant. I know that sounds weird, but I don’t think the dynamic could be altered. I would like to have a mother I could be close to (I think of my favorite aunt on my dad’s side when I say this), but it just wouldn’t happen with the personalities that my mother and I have, let alone the circumstances.
I’ve written about this in several other posts, but it just keeps happening! Someone says something negative about fat, and I just mentally freeze and don’t know what to say! And if I do say something, it’s not the right thing. Yesterday, a friend walked by with four cookies and showed me them and said some excited words about them that I could tell were meant to entice me into eating one. I had been feeling a little weird stomach-wise, so I wasn’t sure I wanted one, but I inspected them anyway, and once I realized that they were not actually a kind of cookie that I particularly like, I decided I definitely didn’t want one. My friend also offered a cookie to another girl nearby, but she declined since she was at that moment eating a cupcake. Upon learning that no one wanted one of his four cookies, my friend said “Now I look like a giant fatty!” (he is, in fact, a skinny guy). I looked at him with a face that I hope looked confused or mad but it’s hard to tell (this is my frozen moment), and then I said “Oh, eat your cookies!” (this is my moment of knowing I needed to say something, but not knowing what that thing should be). I wish I’d said “there’s nothing wrong with being fat, and eating four cookies is not a behavior typical only of fat people” or maybe “in studies, fat people on average don’t eat any more than thin people” or maybe “please don’t insult me by talking about fatness in a negative way”. I know these things are always easier to think of after the fact, but I just wish that once I’ve thought of them after the fact I’d be able to put them to use the next time something happens, and thus far I haven’t been able to! Maybe next time.