the body and helpful books

I love to read. I mostly read fiction because I love the safe haven it provides away from the world. I can get totally engrossed in a beautiful narrative or an absurd tale.

But there’s another genre that’s my guilty secret: self-help. I’ve read so many self-help books, it’s hard to remember all of them. What I can say for sure is that many of them were not helpful to my-self. In fact, some were downright harmful. I’ve sneakily read many-a-book about how to diet or “eat clean” (one of my least favorite phrases in the world, but that’s another post) or exercise in some “new” way or fast or wish away pain by focusing attention on my body’s size in one way or another. I say I’ve “sneakily” read these, because I have literally hidden the fact that I am reading them from everyone. Deep down I’ve always known they are not healthy for me, but I haven’t been able to step away.

This year, I’m trying to change that behavior. Instead of reading diet self-help books, I’m reading fat acceptance, body positive, and social justice self-help books. So far, it is going great! This post is the beginning of a series of reviews of those books. Let’s dive in!

I just finished reading Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by the amazing Jes Baker (aka The Militant Baker). Let me tell you, the message of this book just knocked my socks off. Jes is real and ready to rumble, and her book made me feel like a badass for just being. It was a huge self-esteem boost.

This book is not for the faint-of-heart. If all caps writing gets to you, brace yourself. Honestly, sometimes I didn’t exactly love the relentlessly italicized, capitalized, and bolded writing, but you cannot deny that Jes has a powerful style. Her message does deserve to be shouted. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I can’t imagine reading this and not feeling empowered and seen.

I also really appreciated that she included guest essays to provide a range of voices. That is some inclusive stuff and I’m here for it. Of course, the guest essay that spoke to me the most was by genderqueer activist and all-around feminist badass Sam Dylan Finch of Let’s Queer Things Up. He writes about being androgynous but being perceived as female because of his body shape. I know I haven’t written about my gender yet, but–spoiler alert–this problem is something that I really relate to. I was so relieved to read about another person working on this problem and being public about it. I think about this feeling all the time–how can I be perceived for who I am and the way I am? I really appreciated this essay being included.

Another feature of this book that made me happy was the fact that it’s full of practical information backed up by science. It’s way easier for me to be persuaded by facts combined with anecdotes, so I loved that. I was so into the section called “100% of Humans Have Brains” talking about mental health. It reminded me to be brave and that my best is always enough.

There’s so much in this book about being a fat person, but it’s really for everyone. Jes is such a motivating force for understanding your self-worth regardless of your body shape, and that is the most important thing.

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the body and its current form

So here’s the thing: I’m fat. Seriously, actually fat. If you look at me, you will see this. If you ask my doctor, she will say my BMI is in the “Obese” category. Before my accident, I was less fat. Now I’m more fat. It’s just a fact about me.

Coming to terms with this simple fact about me is anything but simple though. I have struggled so much as I’ve gained weight over the past six months, watching my arms get bigger, my tummy get rounder, new stretch marks appear on my hips and thighs. I’ve hated scouring my closet for things that might still stretch to fit me, and finally tossed almost all my clothes in a donation pile and then cried because I couldn’t wear them anymore. I’ve broken down in dressing rooms, much to my wife’s distress. I’ve pinched my stomach and felt under my chin, feeling the softness and feeling shame.

But the truth is, these feelings are not new. My weight now is 30 pounds more than it used to be, but my thoughts are the same as they have been my whole life: I need to lose weight, it’s embarrassing to be the size I am, I hate this or that soft part of me. Before my accident and this rather sudden weight gain, I was already planning to lose weight. I was trying to exercise more and telling myself to eat less.

It seems like no matter what, I’ve always been on or thinking about being on some kind of diet.

This is the most important thing I have realized recently. It doesn’t matter what size I am, I have been programmed to want to be less. The world around us tells us (especially women) that we need to control ourselves. That we need to spend time and effort and money on shrinking ourselves. That we need to take up less space. That people are bothered by our too big presence. That there is a right size to be and you must fit into it or be striving to fit into it or you are not worthy of respect. These ideas have been so ingrained in me that from the age of 8 through my current age of 28, I have thought about dieting, exercise and weight as a constant, necessary companion. TWENTY YEARS OF THIS AND I AM MAD AS HELL! There is no point in continuing this cycle of society-approved self-abuse.

Now I’m working to counter these thoughts. I’m working to see my weight as merely a fact about my body, like the fact that I’m short or have blond hair. So here’s the truth: I’m fat. That’s it.

the body and the beginning

Welcome to my first blog entry! I’m not sure exactly how I want to start this, so I’m just going to jump in.

I’m starting this blog because I have a lot of thoughts all pushing around in my head for attention, and I’ve found writing them down has been helpful in the past. I’m starting it because I want to learn about myself and the ways how I think and feel about my body affect my life. I’m starting it because I’m tired of feeling turned around and confused in my own head. I’m starting it because I hope I can build a community that supports me as I explore my experience.

My plan is to have this be a multi-faceted blog. Topics I want to include are:

  • fat acceptance, body positivity, Health At Every Size (HAES), and my body
  • my health, exercise, foods, meds, and my body
  • queerness, gender, my gender expression, and my body
  • photos of me, the way I am, in my body right now
  • anything and everything about what I’m thinking about my body

You can see why I called this blog “The Body.” Recently, I’ve begun to think about my body constantly. In October 2016, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. I got incredibly lucky in that my injuries were limited, mainly to my left knee. It still wasn’t great: I tore my MCL fully, tore my PCL partially, tore my meniscus partially, and had fractures in my fibula and femur. Basically, it was out of commission. I was fortunate enough to be able to avoid surgery, but otherwise I am on the long journey to regaining a fully functioning body part.

Before the accident, I biked to work every day, ran about once a week, and worked out another two or three days. I’ve completed four Tough Mudders, run two 5ks, and lifted weights heavier than my body. But my reality now is much different. Part of what I’m exploring here is how to come to terms with having to redefine the movement that is possible in my life, right now. I’m tired of saying to myself: “When my knee is better, I’ll be able to do that.” What about right now?

Another thing I’m really interested in exploring is how I take care of my body. Since my injury, I haven’t wanted to think about my body, or think about caring for it, or think about the long term. Part of that is movement, another part of that is what I eat and why. Another part is how I care for my mental health. I want to figure out how I can better commit myself to taking care of myself, rather than waiting until “I’m better.” What about right now?

I’m a huge proponent of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), because it literally saved my life. One of the first things you learn in DBT is to reduce your vulnerability to out-of-control emotions by using your “PLEASE skills.” PLEASE stands for

  • treat Physical iLlness
  • balance Eating
  • avoid mood Altering drugs
  • balance Sleep
  • get Exercise

Okay, so it’s a bit of a stretch in terms of an acronym, but you get the point. These are incredibly important for life. I think this is where my main focus should be for now, since I could improve on so many.

Anyway, you see where I’m starting now. From a place of a lot of thoughts but not yet a ton of action. From a place of wanting to think about my body and behaviors in a new way. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.