the body and getting a hand

It’s been a while since I’ve done a life update, so I think I’ll give it a go.

Right now I’ve just started with a new counselor who specializes in body issues and also knows a lot about gender. I think I really need it because my body image is so much in flux and I just can’t put my finger on what I need to do next.

I am often extremely upset about my weight and feel stuck in a holding pattern, wanting to lose weight but also knowing diets don’t work, wanting to treat my body with respect but paralyzed by an inability to know what that means.

Why is thinking about my body so emotional? How can this have such a huge hold on my life? I feel so sad to think of all the time I spend being jerked around by my brain while my body suffers mostly silently. It’s the perfect time for a counselor because I know that I simply cannot answer these questions myself. I have tried many, many times and never progressed. It’s a frustrating cycle that I just can’t maintain.

I’m tired of feeling held back by my beliefs about my body. I miss doing things I like because I’m afraid to find out I’m not as good at them as I once was. These body image issues are sucking the joy out of my life.

So this is where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll keep blogging through this journey and have some success in accepting myself.

the body and one important question

I’ve been exploring my eating habits a lot on this blog lately. I’ve been really trying to get to the root of my struggles and try to help myself understand where to go. In my life, I’ve turned to so many experts and counselors, so many guides and books, so many plans and prescriptions that I really think it’s time for something different. As much as I want to seek guidance and validation from an outside source, I don’t think this is the type of thing that I want to do that with.

Right now I think I’m at a point where I understand the basics of ditching diet culture. I’m past the tutorials on why dieting is pointless and how a history of deprivation can lead to binge eating and feeling out of control with food. I’m past the initial discovery phase. This information has definitely changed my outlook on myself and is helpful to know, but it’s not helping me get where I want to be.

I want to stop separating how I think and feel about food from everything else. I’m tired of it being this looming category in my life. I have my pros and cons list, I’m working on creating better ways to manage stress, and I’m helping myself avoid urges by putting myself in places I that promote positive behavior.

The other thing I’m working on now is getting more in tune with my body. To do that, I’m asking myself one simple question: What do I want to eat?

This may seem overly simplistic, but really that’s where I need to work. Asking myself this is helpful because often I eat without paying attention and just eat for any number of thoughtless reasons. So every time I think about eating, I ask myself “What do I want?”. The answer can be anything. It can be a big ice cream sundae or an apple slice. Whatever it is, I can have it. But I have to really, fully want it.

This is helpful because the simple question helps me dig deeper into my urge to eat. I ask myself what, knowing that whatever the answer is I can have it. That then instantly leads me to why I want it. I could want to eat for any number of reasons. Some common possibilities include:

  1. I’m hungry;
  2. The food sounds appealing;
  3. I’m stressed and need to zone out;
  4. I’m bored;
  5. I feel obligated because… it’s time to eat / people expect me to eat / I’ve been offered something and it would be rude to refuse / I don’t want to be perceived as restricting / etc.);
  6. I want to reward myself.

When I get to the answer here, I can better evaluate if I really want the food I’m craving or if there is something that might be a better fit for the answer to why. This strategy has worked pretty well for me so far. It’s given me some useful information. I’ve thought about creating a simple document to record this, but I’m not sure I want to get that much into tracking. I’ll think about it a bit more.

For now, I really am using this system to learn about myself and my urges without judgment. Nothing is the wrong answer, I’m just here to learn.

 

the body and growing confidence

I’m really excited about a development I want to share here. I’m feeling something growing in me that has been hard to find before. It’s the feeling of self-confidence.

As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been thinking about things that make me unhappy or are taking up mental space or are complicating my life unnecessarily. Each time I write them out I feel the pressure of them lift a little, and I see a little bit more of my unburdened self.

I’ve spent so much time trying to do the right thing, to make my body the right shape, to participate in activities that validate my existence, that I forgot that I am a human who deserves to be treated with respect regardless of my health status.

That is the most freeing concept and I finally believe it. The first time I heard it, I thought it made sense, but I couldn’t internalize it. “That’s okay for people who’ve really struggled or are disabled,” I said to myself, “but I need to get my act together.” I kept encountering this idea, because I’ve been working on surrounding myself with positive voices that affirm my existence, even if I don’t quite believe the positive messages they share. Over and over again, I heard people I really respect saying “You are worthy no matter what. You are.” And slowly I started to say it to myself. “Maybe I am worthy. Maybe I am.” It was a fragile thought at first, my self-esteem ready to be toppled by the slightest off day, the casual sideways glance interpreted as judgment, the latest look at my clothing size.

Now, though, I’ve really been able to believe this thought. I tell myself “No matter what I do today, I am still a worthy human being. I don’t have to feel shame for just existing. I am fine the way I am.”  This is a revolutionary thought, especially as I am coming out of a depressive episode.

The best thing about thinking this way? It’s motivating me to make healthier choices in a positive way. When I respect myself, I want to treat myself well. I care about taking care of myself when I accept myself. I’m motivated to work hard at PT, to focus on my healing, to shower and brush my teeth (depression is real, people), to go outside, to do my pushups, to jog a bit, to think about the food I want and need with minimal judgment (still work to do here).

This is a place I never imagined I’d be. I’ve heard countless people say that this exact thing has happened to them–they started to hear these messages and after a while, they believed them. I still struggle with the believing I’m okay the way I am sometimes, but it’s nothing like the constant shame and self-loathing I battered myself with in the past.

I’m not saying this idea will work for everyone. There are millions of online authors, thousands of people in my community, heck, even a bunch of people in my family, who say that self-acceptance at my size is self-deception. But I’d tell them that if they’d lived these two distinct experiences, they would understand that there is a clear choice of what is better for me. I’m better believing I am worthy, no question.

the body and the 10 percent

Today I’m going to write about a topic in diet culture that plagues me. It’s the concept that if you “just” lose 5-10% of your body weight, you will suddenly be SO MUCH HEALTHIER!

Everyone says it. The CDC says it. A bunch of sources link to this study about it.

But there are major problems with this. First of all, that study notes that people have gained back half of the weight they lost within two years, and then don’t check back in with those people again. They then go on to say the benefits of the initial weight loss remain, despite the fact that nearly every person in the study is highly likely to have regained all of the weight they lost within 4-5 years. Will the benefits continue then? If so, how? Clearly, this makes no sense.

So many studies of weight loss conveniently stop before the weight gain portion of dieting comes back into play. Not everyone gains back weight after they lose it, but almost everyone does. Even if there are benefits to losing weight, which is a disputable claim to begin with, since often weight loss takes credit for other health improvements, this is just not a viable solution for health.

Look, I am highly aware that my view on this is not part of popular culture. I know that many people will deride this point of view and perhaps think that I am making excuses for my or others’ lack of self-control. But the thing is, the 10% has never worked for me. I’m almost 30. If it hasn’t worked yet, over the countless times I have tried it, why on earth would I keep trying it?

Health is not a requirement, but I will say that even though I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, I’m also just as healthy as I’ve always been. I don’t have more ailments than I’ve ever had despite my weight gain. My metabolism is perfect, my cholesterol levels are stellar, my blood pressure is right on. I’m active, I work on my mental health, I’m recovering from an injury that literally anyone–fat, thin, or in between–could get. So tell me how I’m unhealthy for being fat?

If you want a more comprehensive and well-researched examination of this idea and fat bias in the medical field in general, I highly recommend this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat.

the body and the shopping trip

Recently my wife and I went on a shopping trip to get clothes. We went to the mall (cue ominous music and thunder). I have very low tolerance for shopping for anything, and shopping for clothes is has an especially unique way of getting under my skin.

I know I may not have the average desires when it comes to style, but I know for a fact that I am not the only AFAB fat person who wants to present as masc to androgynous and doesn’t have the time nor sewing skills to tailor every article of clothing I own. This trip was especially difficult because I was shopping for spring clothing. Wearing layers often helps create more of the illusion I’m looking for in terms of making my hips and bust less prominent. When it gets hot, layers aren’t really practical and I often end up settling for extremely casual pieces (aka men’s t-shirts) or slightly more masculine-cut women’s clothes (aka cotton button-ups).

I did a lot of mental preparing for this trip, telling myself that I would find some pieces that were okay and that would be fine. That’s essentially what happened. I’m not thrilled with what I got, but it’s close enough for what I can afford right now. One day, I hope I’ll be able to add tailoring to my budget and feel more comfortable in my clothes.

I did also order a bunch of “husky” sized boys clothes from Old Navy online. As I’ve mentioned before, if I could dress like a 10-year-old boy always, I’d be very happy. I got size Husky 18 (XXL). Boys clothes often fit me quite well in terms of length because I’m super short (5’2″), but I run into the usual problem you’d expect from clothes made for male shapes–no room for hips or bust. My arms are also big, so fit around the arms and shoulders can really make or break an article of clothing for me.

Fortunately, the Old Navy boys section did me well. I got a few shirts that fit really nicely, that are on the casual side but OK if I layer them up with a vest or cardigan for work. I also got one really cute button up that does work with my body. Another of the button ups I tried fit pretty well but didn’t sit right once it got to my hips, so that’s one for the return pile. Still four out of five is a pretty good sign and now I have some staples to tide me over for the summer.

 

 

the body and the selfie series: casual friday

I promised you all I would start posting selfies on here showing me in clothes other than my workout clothes. In the future, I’ll probably just post pictures without much text, but first I want to talk about selfies in general. I know that selfie culture is much-debated, with many taking the stance that it is vain and pointless. Usually those people berate women taking pictures of themselves with the dreaded “duck-face” and that we’d be better off without these vapid ditzy girls. To me the arguments against selfies often border on the misogynistic and usually miss the point. So much of the anger toward selfies is about young women controlling when and how they show themselves to the world. And self-determination of your body and its image are things that I am 100% for.

You don’t have to agree with me, but seeing selfies of a wide variety of people has truly helped me accept myself and appreciate the beautiful diversity of humanity.

So, I’m going to try to be brave and post pictures of myself. I’m no fashionista, but I am currently working on how to present myself authentically within in the confines of acceptability. I know it makes me so happy to see other fat GNC AFAB people, even if just in a few snapshots online. I’m going to try to do my part, while also hopefully building my confidence and learning about how I want to present myself.

Here’s me:

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I call this look “Very casual Friday.” I love this shirt. Be soft, Stay sharp.

the body and the wedding

Right now, I’m planning a wedding, and it’s super exciting but also rife with weird moments. Like, did you know it’s basically impossible to get a tailored, masculine-looking suit as a fat woman? Did you know that essentially every wedding planning site and book suggests a weight loss or training plan, especially for the bride? Did you know that traditions are so full of heteronormativity and fatphobia that it’s impossible to avoid, even when you think you’ve found someone understanding? I didn’t know before, but now I sure do.

I’m so excited to have a wedding with my wife. Yes, we are already married. When the US election went the way it did last year, we immediately decided to just go ahead and get legally married. We’d been engaged for 8 months by then anyway, so it wasn’t a sudden thing. Still, the election, plus me really needing better health insurance thanks to my injury, plus us really needing legal rights to each other for family reasons were factors in making us just go for the courthouse wedding. And it was lovely. My parents were there and my brother Skyped in. We wore matching bright orange converse and, as true lesbians, our dog was part of the ceremony. Here we are exchanging rings:

laura puts wedding ring on ilana while casey watches

So cute, so in love!

Still we really wanted to have a bigger wedding. Having friends and family affirm our marriage is really important to me because we need and want the support of our community as we grow our relationship. So we’re planning a wedding for next year.

Now, I love planning events. It such a satisfying thing to me to coordinate a bunch of things and have them all come together. But I’ve never planned anything as elaborate, as steeped in expectation, and as high-pressure as a wedding. This is the ultimate challenge.

Having a queer wedding is freeing in many ways because there’s not a lot of a tradition to uphold. Still, it’s frustrating when doing research to only see straight, white (mostly thin) couples in the stock photos. Queer websites often cater to gay men or femme lesbians who they assume are taking on the traditional role of planning a wedding. In our case, we’re both pretty androgynous to masc, and neither of us is interested in a fancy, large wedding. We just want people there to lend their support and love to what we think is a beautiful and lasting companionship.

We’re making it work in our own way, putting our priorities ahead of others’ expectations, and knowing at the end of the day what matters is our love.

 

the body and its fuel

I haven’t written much about food on this blog yet, and I don’t intend to write about it too much. Still, it’s on my mind. A lot. I know I’m not alone with this, because every person I know mentions how they should “eat better” or have “been bad” every once in a while. Thinking about food and how it affects our health is a huge part of our culture.

I’ve talked about before how my past with food has been checkered to the say the least. These days I’m trying to turn a new page and treat my body and my urges to eat with more respect. Still, I find it incredibly difficult. I feel so out of tune with what my body wants and I often end up eating way too much out of fear of restricting or of being perceived as restricting. I feel a bit lost about all of it.

I often make food-related goals like “eat more vegetables,” “eat fruit with breakfast,” “eat less salt,” “eat more whole grains,” etc. In the end, I always end up failing to meet those goals. Honestly, I have no idea how long it has been since I haven’t had a food-related goal. I’m pretty happy with the way I eat most of the time. But the other times, I feel like I’m betraying my body. This is because I still struggle with binge eating. I use eating tons of food as a way to relieve stress or distract myself from negative emotions.

I’m trying to think of ways to disrupt this behavior. It’s not like I haven’t tried to stop one million times before. I’m hoping the fact that I’m having more and more compassion for my body and what it wants to eat will help me interrupt myself when I feel the urge to binge. I mostly would like to find new ways to manage the stress of intense emotions so that I don’t have to use food to calm them. I’m just not sure what good substitute is.

However, I have overcome incredibly difficult to break habits before, so I know it is possible to change behavior that seems like the only possible coping mechanism. It’s hard time to change, but if I can I think it will help me so much.

Another thing I need to let go of is the thought that somehow if I eat “healthier” I will lose weight. One, that’s called a diet, which I do not want to do–I quit that, I’m done. Two, I want to make choices that are healthy for my body and my mind regardless of what happens to my weight. Three, I will probably not lose weight and I will definitely never be skinny even if I literally starve myself because my body is well-adapted to hold on to its reserves. So what’s the point? I need to let go of the desire to use health as a secret synonym for weight loss. No matter what diet culture says, healthy behaviors and weight are not connected. I deserve to treat my body with love and respect regardless of my weight and regardless of my health.

the body and recovery in physical therapy

A huge part of what prompted me to start writing here is an injury. And part of injury is recovery. I’m working through my physical (and mental, but that’s a different post) recovery diligently, and I’ve been working at it for more than six months.

At this point I’ve been in physical therapy for four months. For the injury I had, that’s really not too long. It could be up to a year of PT before everything is back on track, and it’s likely that my knee will never be the same again. Still, I’m lucky that I’m able to heal and that I have a strong support system that is really helping me get through this.

I especially really appreciate my physical therapist. He takes what I have to say very seriously, and I have never once felt like he judged me for my weight. When I told him the types and level of activity I was doing before the accident he didn’t blink an eye and confidently told me that we would work to get back to that. He’s helped me go from being able to only bend my knee 87 degrees with a ton of pain to having it bend a totally normal 135 degrees without any. My normal range of motion is a little more than that, so we’re still working on range of motion, but it’s so much more functional, it’s hard to believe.

So much of the physical recovery process is mental. There was a while where I really didn’t believe that my knee was going to get better. I thought I’d never be able to straighten it again. I thought I’d never be able to bend it without pain. I thought I’d never be able to jump again. All of these things have happened. There are still a lot of normal things I can’t do without pain: cross my legs, go down stairs, do squats or lunges, do a quad stretch, kneel. Lots of normal things. But thankfully my experience with physical therapy this far has taught me that the things that seem impossible and like they will never happen, can happen. It just takes a lot of time and hard work.

Speaking of hard work, now that I’m getting stronger and able to move more, my PT sessions are more intense. They’re much more like workouts, and I definitely break a sweat and get out of breath. At first, this really made me embarrassed. I kept thinking “Ugh, I am so out of shape and fat and everyone is judging me.”

One day, though, something awesome happened. I was warming up on the elliptical and I noticed that they had a framed jersey from our local roller derby team. It’s pretty common for this office to have framed jerseys and other sports paraphernalia on the walls because they are a sports medicine clinic and they like to show off all the teams they help treat. I am a huge fan of roller derby, in part because it showcases badass people of all body shapes being super fit and strong. Seeing the jersey on the wall inspired me to put on my “derby face” and work as hard as I could that day. It worked so well. Every day I go in now, I warm up on the elliptical that faces that jersey and get into derby mode.

Here’s my post-PT self, making a derpy face:

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I promise soon I’ll post some non-workout clothes, non-bathroom mirror selfies, but for now that’s what I’ve got. Let me work my way up.

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.