Why I don’t comment on your weight loss posts

I wrote this as a facebook post, but decided to turn it into a blog post because it got very long. It’s been a long time, as I don’t tend to write here until I really have something to say… and tonight, I did.

Two of the hardest things about being in eating disorder recovery (for me) are reading/hearing about dieting and negative body talk. Eating disorder recovery is an ongoing process. I think for many of us who have experienced the hell of an ED, it never completely goes away and often requires, to quote Mad Eye Moody, “constant vigilance.” I know for me this is true.

Now, just to clarify up front, you have every right to do with your body whatever you feel you need to do for it… whether or not that is pursuing intentional weight loss. And while I wish you wouldn’t, because it makes me sad for you (it really makes my heart hurt), you also have the right to talk badly about your bodies. That’s true whether or not you are currently dieting, btw. I don’t think self-hatred is conducive to being healthy. I know from personal experience that it’s not for me.

I don’t tend to comment on weight loss or dieting posts, beyond maybe saying something along the lines of “you’ve always been beautiful.” Because that’s true. Beauty isn’t about a number on a scale or the size of your jeans. It’s about who you are as a person. And I’m really sorry if you felt ugly today, or if you feel it every day… and I understand that struggle and that heartbreak. But you’re not ugly. I’m not friends with ugly people. And I don’t comment because I don’t want your sense self-worth to be tied up in how much you weigh, or how you look. It’s not because I don’t care; quite the contrary, it’s because I do.

However, I recognize that my extreme aversion to seeing you talk about your diet is my problem and not yours. So I stay silent. Your body belongs to you, even if you choose to talk about it publicly, even if you’re sharing intimate details about it. You get to decide what to feed it, how to dress it and how to treat it in general. Just as I do with my own body, even when I share intimate details about it publicly.

My journey from a practically life-long diet to a mindful eating or Intuitive Eating approach is an ongoing one. What I put myself through, what my family members (NOT my mom, FYI) put me through… that is something that I will always struggle with because there are some wounds that cut so deep they never quite heal over all the way. For me, this is one of them. Being in a world with a constant obsession about weight and appearances and dieting does not help with that struggle.

Despite the struggle, I am so much happier now. I’m much more mentally healthy, and I believe 100% that without my mental health I have nothing. My physical health is irrelevant if I am as mentally unwell as I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I know some of you will read this and go “but – but – but… your health,” even if you don’t say it… and please don’t, by the way. If you’re truly interested I can point you in the direction of plenty of research that will explain my position on this, but otherwise I am not looking for a debate on the topic with this post. Believe me when I say that as a fat person living in today’s world, there’s rarely a single day without some OMG BUT YOUR HEALTH message, whether personally aimed at me or just aimed at fat people in general. In fact, I get these messages so often I’m fearful of one of the medications that helps me function daily, because in people with cardiac issues, it can cause problems. But I don’t have cardiac issues. I’ve been checked out. My cholesterol is normal. In fact, my triglycerides were always high (common in women with PCOS) and they normalized when I began IE, and stopped being fearful of the calories in healthy fats. So why am I so scared when I have no known medical reasons to be afraid? Because I cannot tell you how many times in an average month I hear that I (or people who look like I do) am going to “drop dead” at any moment of a heart attack. It’s simply not true, but the message is out there for all of us fatties to absorb. And my anxious brain grabs onto things like this in a way that the brain of a person without an anxiety disorder does not. So believe me when I tell you there is absolutely nothing you can tell me about how my fat will supposedly affect my health that I do not already know, that I have not already heard literally thousands of times in the past 31 years. And I’m 39. So yeah. Since I was a little girl. I know. I’ve researched. I’ve formed my own opinions. But it doesn’t mean I am immune to the constant bombardment of OMG FAT IS DEATH messages, either.

Here’s the bottom line… even IF everything bad we’re sold about being fat were true – and it’s so very much not – I’d honestly rather be mentally healthy than struggle to accomplish something I never did in literally decades of trying. The only thing I got for all my years of effort in dieting was fatter and more unhappy. I was so unhealthy and so unhappy, and life is just too fucking short for that degree of unhappiness. That’s my story and my choice, and that’s my right… just as you have the right to your stories and your choices about your bodies.

So if I don’t comment on your weight loss or your diet posts, it’s not because I don’t care about you. It’s because I know I have nothing to say that you want to hear. It’s because it’s too painful for me, and I need to quietly walk away. It’s because, since I care for you, it makes me very sad when you say negative things about yourself. It’s because it triggers a lot of unhappy memories for me. It’s because even now, despite being so much happier, I struggle myself, and I don’t need to see or hear those messages. It’s because of a lot of reasons, but it’s not because of you, and it’s definitely not because I don’t care or because I think you don’t have the right to make those choices for yourself. In fact, it’s because I think you do have that right that I stay silent, and it’s because I do care that I tell you you’ve always been beautiful.

It’s also very much because of me, of what I need. And all I can do is hope you respect my right to make these choices the way I respect your right to make yours.

~JK

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The one where I try to find a bathing suit

As I work up the courage to wear something vaguely bathing suit like for the first time in oh… over 2 decades, I appreciate this post from the fabulous Ragen Chastain, which she recently reposted via facebook. I’m also grateful for her follow up post, which can be read here.

It’s not easy for me to admit being intimidated by the idea of putting my fat body into a bathing suit of some sort. Body acceptance isn’t, at least for me, something that just magically happens overnight. It’s a process, and I still have issues to work through. Wearing a swimsuit of some kind in public happens to be one of those issues… and that’s something hard to explain, and a lot of the “concern trolls” or outright haters would point to it as proof that I’m not really happy with myself. But the truth is, I’ve always been my own worst hater. The people out there who think they can offend me by calling me ridiculous names like “hamplanet,” or who try to hurt me by claiming my husband must be gay, repulsed by me or otherwise somehow, in their viewpoint, “broken,” to want to be with me, have no idea that I’ve called myself far, far worse things over the years (they also, incidentally, have no idea how laughable it is to me when they try to attack my marriage… because I’ve never been more sure of anything than I am of my husband’s love for me). I’ve spent plenty of time beating myself down; engaging in an endless cycle of emotional (and sometimes physical) violence towards my body. As sure as I was of the love my husband and I shared, it didn’t mean there weren’t times when I wondered why he loved me, especially in the early days. A lot of therapy and hard work helped me get through that, but I still hated my body. Passionately.

And for what? For how it fucking LOOKED. It did all these unbelievable, amazing things for me. I could walk all over Manhattan. I could take care of a classroom with 14 toddlers, a job where you literally were not allowed to sit unless the children also were sitting (and anyone who’s spent time with a toddler knows “sitting” isn’t one of their favorite past times). and win the praise of parents and fellow staff members. I worked with infants, with constant up and down, lifting, diaper changes, etc, etc. I did all of this while “morbidly obese,” and I did it fabulously. My body allowed me to do it… and I was never grateful. I was never appreciative.

In no small part, my road to body acceptance was paved with an eight-years-in-the-making diagnosis of fibromyalgia (and yes, more therapy). In other words, I didn’t really begin to appreciate what my body had done for me until my body could no longer do those things. And at first, like the doctors and plenty of “concerned” friends and family members, I bought into the idea that my illness was just a symptom of my fat. It took eight incredibly frustrating years, a sleep study that proved I wasn’t suffering from sleep apnea (I wish I could’ve wiped the smirk off the face of the ENT back in Manhattan who assured me I did, because fat + snores has to = sleep apnea, despite a deviated septum), but rather a sleep disorder known to plague fibromyalgia patients, along with a lot of various tests (11 vials of blood in one session and an MRI) to finally realize what was actually wrong.

I don’t hate my body now. And I regret all the wasted years when I could’ve been doing more with it, when I was healthy enough to do more, but too fearful or too certain I had to wait until I was X number of pounds thinner before I dared try that particular thing. Now, even if something happened like some fairy godmother waved a wand and made me magically thin, it wouldn’t matter. I still have fibromyalgia. I still live with the fatigue, the brain fog, the constant feeling of battling a low grade flu… and those are the good days. On the bad days? Taking a shower makes me cry. Hating my body for how it looks? Seems pretty stupid to me now, considering what it’s going through every day. Considering the endless battles it faces. Considering I hated it for that one vain reason for so many damn years before I got sick, and what did that all that self hatred ever do for me? I can assure you, not one damn positive thing.

So, yes… I disagree with those who see my reticence to put on a swimsuit in public as “proof” I hate myself. I point to it as proof that I, like millions upon millions of others, have been brainwashed by a $60 billion dollar a year diet industry (not to mention the entertainment industry, the media in general, the beauty industry…etc), into thinking my body type isn’t attractive and, even worse, is downright repulsive. I’ve come a very, very long way in appreciating it as it is, right now, today. I’ve become far more comfortable in my skin than I ever imagined possible while still *gasp* fat. Part of that is because I realized that if I didn’t learn how to love myself right now, I’d always find something to hate. I could be that dream size (whatever it was at the particular period in my life) and find reasons to be unhappy… like so many women do, even women who perfectly fit into the stereotypical beauty paradigm.

I was tired of hating myself, and I don’t now. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to battle all those years of “I’m too fat to wear a bathing suit in public,” either. Beyond that, there’s a certain degree of personal comfort with exposing so much skin… it’s been so long, after all. It makes me feel raw, naked and unbelievably vulnerable.

So why do it? Why even bother, right? For years, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going public in a swimsuit. For years I couldn’t see a reason to endure the emotional angst that I’d heap upon myself, nevermind what others might think. And even when I got to a point where I could fairly honestly say, “fuck what others think, Jessica… this ain’t about their opinions,” I still had my own personal demons to battle. So why now?

Circle back to one evil, vicious word. Fibromyalgia. I have fibromyalgia. I have pain every.single.fucking.day. And anyone who lives with this illness knows damn well that it doesn’t tend to get better. One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to not lose the ability to move entirely… because when you’re left exhausted, shaking and in tears simply from showering, it’s pretty damn hard to even begin to consider anymore advanced exercise. When something as simple as using a treadmill leads to a major injury because your muscles are so tight they pull your knee cap out of place and cause a tear in your meniscus, it’s pretty hard to imagine wasting money on a gym membership, let alone doing something more advanced.

Over and over I’ve been told “water therapy.” I loved swimming as a kid. In fact, I lived in the pool in my grandparents’ yard for about 8 hours of every summer day that wasn’t rainy (and even some that were) when I was growing up. Yet, despite loving the water, I’ve avoided the “water therapy” idea for a few years now, partly because my local pool is known for being kept rather cold and because I have concerns over whether that will make my already tight muscles even tighter… but also, if I’m honest, because that meant putting on a swimsuit in a public place. Worse, the pool is located in the same complex as the local high school. I’d been working towards being a teacher, with the hopes of teaching at said high school. It shouldn’t matter how I look, but it does. I had legit concerns that putting on a swimsuit at that pool would risk my ability to be hired there in the future. Perhaps ironically, my illness progressed to the point where I realized I’m not going to be able to work full-time outside of the house, so that reason was eliminated. Which left me forced to accept my real, biggest fear about the entire thing.

Wearing a bathing suit – of some sort – in public. Not because I give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks. But because I’m still battling my own inner demons. And that realization sucks.

But I’m human. I’m allowed to have these feelings, and these doubts or anxieties. If I choose to not do it, I’m allowed that choice, too. But then I let all those messages about not being worthy of wearing something revealing win. I let the diet industry win. I let the haters win. When it was a matter of swimming for pleasure, well… that was bad enough. But this is different. This is about my health, about my future. This is about wanting to be able to go on trips and walk around without hurting myself from my muscles being so damn tight.

This is about not letting fibromyalgia gain anymore ground.

So, I have to fight my own fears. I have to face them. I have to figure out what I can find to wear to be as comfortable as possible while doing this. I have the support of an amazing husband, who will go with me for moral support, even though he has no desire to swim (he was never a big fan of the water). I have a physical therapist that, despite some… differences of opinion… is willing to go to the public pool with me to show me the exercises I should do. I have a pool that, admittedly might prove to be too cold, but it’s only 30 min away (that’s close in my part of the world), and it’s really inexpensive to go to. I have everything I need, except the swimwear.

I think I finally even have the guts to find that swimwear… and to go, and give it a try. Because while it would suck to lose the $150 bucks or so it will cost me to buy said swimwear if that pool is too cold, what’s at stake here is far greater. What I’m risking losing instead is too big to ignore.

This is about my health, my body and my needs. And if my fat, wet, swimsuit body offends someone? Oh, well. They have the right to avert their eyes. And as for my own personal fears? Well, as Captain Janeway said, “you know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose: to be conquered.”

~JK