The People of Walmart

I’m not going to link to the site here, but I’m sure most of you are familiar with the meme The People Of Walmart. Basically, strangers take pictures of other strangers that they find, for some reason, odd or hilarious or whatever… and they post them online and make fun of them. TPOW is hardly the only such site that does this… there are many out there that do it. It happens on reddit, it happens in forums all over the net.

At first glance, it’s pretty easy (in most cases) to tilt your head and go WTF? to some of these pics. Like the infamous one of the woman wearing her nightgown, fur coat and vacuuming her front yard. It’s easy to judge that pic and go… well clearly she’s high. And maybe she was high.

Or maybe she’s mentally ill. Or maybe she has Alzheimer’s. We don’t know because we don’t her. We have no idea what led to her being outside, on what looks like a rainy day, wearing that fur coat and nightgown and vacuuming her yard (or trying to). But whatever the story is, it’s hers.

My grandfather has dementia. We don’t know what the cause of it is, but he often forgets to shave and his hair will be a mess. He used to be the sort of man who never, ever went outside unkempt. He was very neat and put great care into his appearance, at least outside of the house.

When my grandmother needed emergency surgery in November, and the doctors really didn’t know if she’d survive, he had to rush with my mom to the hospital. All he kept saying, while they were waiting in the family room for news, was that he hadn’t shaved. This upset him so much that when she wanted to say goodbye a few weeks down the road, he didn’t want to go because he hadn’t shaved. My mother, as gently as she could, told him it was going to be his last chance to see his wife.

So he went out, unkempt, disheveled…

A friend of mine went to the Walmart pharmacy late at night because her 2 month old had a fever. She was wearing pajamas, flip flops and realized after the fact that her top was inside out (and had spit up on it). Her hair hadn’t been washed in two days because, as a new mom, she just hadn’t gotten the chance to wash it. She told me later she worried about someone taking pics of her while she was in Walmart, since her pajamas were hot pink and had animal print. And it was December in New Jersey and rather cold for flip flops.

As a fat person in a digital age that so greatly enjoys mocking people for no reason other than they’re out in public and dare to look somehow different than other people think they should, I never shop without fear of winding up on some fat shaming site. It’s always in the back of my head. It doesn’t stop me from living my life, but the fact that I have to think about it at all is pretty fucked up, really.

I’m fortunate to live in a place where the majority of people aren’t assholes. No, really… I regularly have teenage boys hold the door for me. That doesn’t happen where I come from, not unless said teenage boy thinks the woman he’s holding the door open for is hot, anyway. And maybe not even then. But certainly no one ever held the door open for me where I grew up on the east coast.

But then hell, I saw a little old woman with a walker struggle to get into a bank in Manhattan that didn’t have automatic doors for 5 fucking minutes. I was prepared to help, but stuck on the other side of the street. People went into the bank, came out of the bank. No one helped her. It broke my heart. When I went and helped her, the look of gratitude in her eyes was just… overwhelming. It literally made me tear up because I could not imagine how anyone could be so oblivious, self-absorbed or cruel as to let this poor woman struggle that way.

So certainly, it wasn’t limited to fat people… which is the point. People here are, in general, just much kinder and nicer than the people where I used to live. So given that, I worry a LITTLE less. But I still worry.

I’ve had strangers (again, back east) come up to me in a store, look at me and give me their diet business cards. This is when I was dieting, btw, and nothing in my cart was even remotely “questionable.” I was once walking home from the deli, where I’d gone to get my husband and myself some ice cream on a hot summer day, after he’d had a rough day at work. The bag I was carrying was a brown paper bag… some asshole stopped at the red light where I was crossing shouted out, “hey fatty… what’s in the bag? Ice cream?”

Yes, because being fat means you can’t have ice cream. Or it means ice cream is all you eat. I’m never sure which one, tbh. But at the time, that comment destroyed me inside. It made me feel so much guilt and shame that I didn’t even eat the ice cream, despite the fact that, again I was dieting and had worked the ice cream into my daily diet allowance.

I was eating a fat free frozen fudge bar before class started on a warm May Saturday, when a classmate I barely knew came over and asked “should you be eating that?” I looked at her and said, “well since it’s 2 Points and I’m on Weight Watchers, yes, I should.” But I wish I’d said, “how the fuck is it any of your business what I’m eating?” Because that’s EXACTLY the sort of reply that question deserved. And today, after years of eating disorder therapy and time to learn to accept myself, that’s more or less the response I’d give. But I only was able to start this therapy after leaving the toxic fat bashing environment I grew up in and moved to Colorado, which ironically despite being repeatedly reported to have the lowest obesity rates also happens to be far more fat friendly. I’m sure people think things, but I’ve only once in almost 10 years of living here had anyone say something, and it was the second week after we moved here. And, not that it excuses it, because it doesn’t, the person in question thought I was out of earshot when he made the snarky comment. It was at the Wendy’s drive through, and the kid who took our payment said, “that dude’s wife was BIG.” But it was after we’d driven up… he just happened to have said it before the other kid had closed the window. Or I’d never have known.

This sort of shit was bad enough when it was limited to what happens in a store with one person coming up to you or shouting shit from a car at you or making the odd rude comment to you at a restaurant or anywhere else. But now? Now we’ve moved into an entire other realm, one where strangers can take your photos while you’re eating, and you never know it. And then they post said photos and judge you for daring to eat while fat. Sometimes the person in the question probably doesn’t even meet the BMI chart standard for “overweight (not that that’s anything other than money-making BS anyway),” but the photographer thinks she does…

Or the person is wearing a tank top in public, and she’s fat so of course she shouldn’t be daring to show her arms. Or he has chocolate in his cart, and he’s fat, so he deserves it, right? Uhm, no. Actually, he doesn’t.

You might think, “oh, this is ridiculous, she’s being dramatic or overly sensitive.” And perhaps I am, to some degree. My rant about this is inspired by two friends that I know love me and wouldn’t want to hurt me sharing pics from The People Of Walmart. But my grandmother just died, I’m in a fibro flare from hell, and every time I see pics like these I imagine how easily it could happen to me… because I’m both fat and disabled, but my disability is one that is an invisible illness. It’s fibromyalgia, and I have a handicapped placard so I can park closer to stores, and in doing so save myself some spoons. I won’t even use a scooter… because I know people will make snap judgments (another thing that does happen to thin people or young people) about why I’m in a scooter. That and, well… I’m kind of afraid I’d drive one into the display at the end of the aisle. But my husband (who is also fat) has multiple sclerosis and he’s had to use one before, too. Once when I was in Walmart, there was a young kid in a scooter… a teenage boy. With his mother and sisters. He was checking out at the aisle behind ours. My husband had his cane. The – also young – cashier we had went on a loud rant about how much it annoys him to see people using scooters who don’t need them. Well, guess what? When we got out to the parking lot that kid was handed his crutches by his mother to get from the scooter to the passenger door, and she then took the scooter back. So this doesn’t happen just to fat people, but having a fat body in a fat phobic, fat hating society certainly puts an extra target on your back to be the butt of someone’s joke.

When it comes to the internet, I think because they’re strangers in a picture we’re seeing it’s so easy to become desensitized to the fact that The People of Walmart are, in fact, PEOPLE. Real people. People who have jobs, feelings, families, children… etc, etc. People for whom your two minute laugh have to live, in some cases, a lifetime of ridicule and shame over something that you really, when it comes right down to it, don’t know anything about.

The man whose ass crack is out of his pants… maybe he’s undergoing chemo and has lost weight. The woman who has on jeans that are too tight (in your opinion). Maybe she’s gained weight and can’t afford to buy new clothes. The woman in the crazy platform shoes who gets a comment about being a stripper running errands might be a single mom who really IS a stripper, and that’s how she supports her kids. Or maybe she’s just a stripper because she wants to be. And guess what? She fucking allowed to be a stripper, and she’s allowed to wear those shoes to Walmart or anywhere else she wants.

Our bodies don’t belong to strangers in stores or online. They belong to us. We get to do with them whatever makes us happy, whether that means dyeing your hair fuchsia, shaving it all off, having 22 tattoos or 32 piercings. Or just something as simple as wearing shorts  This is true whether we’re a random unknown person or even a celebrity, although at least celebrities go into it knowing the cost. It is still fucked up, but it’s an unfortunate part of the job, and in many cases the publicity turns into profit, even if it’s unfair or undesired. For us just doing our regular grocery shopping, there’s no “perk”to being photographed by a stranger and turned into a joke.

This world we live in where it’s become not only okay, but often encouraged, to take photos of strangers for the sole purpose of mockery is shit. I think that any one of us could, for any number of reasons we can’t necessarily conceive of, wind up on one of these sites. Whether it’s because we’re shopping in our pajamas because we’re sick and don’t give a fuck and just wanna get what we need and get out, or because we want chocolate and don’t buy into the BS that a fat person isn’t allowed to eat chocolate, or we have crazy colored hair that someone thinks is “weird” or we have a lot of piercings or we have a tattoo that someone thinks is dumb or we’re mentally ill and have no idea where we are, let alone what we’re wearing… it could happen to any one of us.

You could very easily someday be the person being laughed at. So next time you mock someone try – just try – to put yourself in said person’s shoes. Because while some people manage to take their unintended internet fame (though these cases usually involve people who put themselves or a family member online in the first place, like David After Dentist or Charlie Bit Me) and turn it into something positive, others contemplate suicide or experience serious mental health struggles.

~JK

 

 

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

Body acceptance is about every body

Though there are some people who might like to deny it, most of us realize that in a world convinced being thin means being healthy and attractive, being fat is rather difficult. There are absolutely advantages – societal and political – to being thin. Just look at how Chris Christie, the governor of NJ, has been treated by the media because he’s fat. We also know that doctors will make rash judgments about patients’ health based on their weight. That, in fact, happened to Chris Christie with a physician he’d never even met. Medical students have been shown to hold unconscious biases against fat patients. There is a lot of hype about the “costs” of being fat on society, but what is too frequently considered is that a. stress is known to cause all sorts of medical conditions, including death, and b. medical care for overweight and obese patients is often substandard because of biases. And these biases work in reverse, too. Patients of fat doctors often hold the same sort of biases thin doctors have about fat patients. The reality is, being fat can cost you job opportunities, make your health insurance go up if your employer decides you’re non-cooperative with their “healthy workplace” programs, and may even compromise the quality of your mental health care! All this, solely based on HOW YOU LOOK. All this without any knowledge of your lifestyle, your overall health or you as a person.

This is not okay. This is not right. It reminds me of how, as a child, when we drove through minority neighborhoods my grandmother was always saying “hurry, lock the doors,” or “roll up the windows.”

Judging a person based on being fat is bigotry, pure and simple… and it’s dangerous. I almost died when an ER doctor decided my back pain wasn’t caused by the gallstones he KNEW I had, but rather by my weight. The next gallstone got stuck in my bile duct, and I wound up with pancreatitis. I was jaundiced. The whites of my eyes were bright yellow. I was too sick to give a rat’s ass if I died. When I was 15, I spent 7 weeks as an inpatient in an eating disorder clinic. I got out, and resumed therapy with the social worker I’d long despised. On my very first visit after being released, she said to me, and I quote, “so… when will we see some of the weight drop off you?” I was horribly humiliated and deeply and profoundly upset. Susan had always acted like she didn’t like me. I saw her with various family members I’d lived with over the course of several years, and no matter what the situation was – even when my father was debating putting me in foster care so his wife would stay – she never was on my side. It was always my fault. Now, in retrospect, I understand it better. She was a fat hater. I also really don’t think she liked kids much, but that’s another story. Once, in NYC, when I had strep throat I went to the doctor. I had to listen to a 10 minute spiel about how I should have weight loss surgery… from a doctor who had a referral business card handy. Can you say “referral fees?” I asked him how my strep throat was weight related and he shut up.

These are not things that happen to thin people. I was, for a few short years, thin. I can tell you right now that I never once knew I was thin. I thought and felt fat the entire time. Feeling fat and being fat are very, very different things.

There’s a Kacey Musgraves song called Follow Your Arrow. The following is part of the first verse of the song.

If you can’t lose the weight
Then you’re just fat
But if you lose too much
Then you’re on crack
You’re damned if you do
And you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do
Whatever you want

This song immediately resonated with me. It’s incredibly true that, no matter what we do, there will people who have something nasty, spiteful and childish to say about it. Let’s think about celebrities for a minute. When they are fat, there’s lots of body shaming, unflattering, unedited pics taken of them. When they are thin, especially if they get what is deemed to be “too thin,” it’s all about… does she have a drug problem? Is it an eating disorder? Celebrities are, in my opinion, a bad overall example because they are prone to put their bodies through a lot. Whether it’s intentional weight gain (or loss) for movie roles, or substance abuse, or just what must be incredible stress living such high profile lifestyles, they hardly compare to us “normal” people. However, since we’re a world obsessed with celebs, they are frequently written about in print and online, and it’s easy to see the double standard. One minute so-and-so looks great because she “lost the baby weight” or “slimmed down” or “got toned.” The next minute the very same so-and-so is in the news and it’s “oh, is that a baby bump or is she gaining weight?” Even actresses who come out against body shaming and say they are happy with their curves often wind up back pedaling from that stance, and lose weight and it becomes a story of “I decided I needed to get healthy.” Which is 100% fine, if it’s true. People have the right to get healthy, not get healthy, try to lose weight or gain it… it’s a personal choice. But the key words are “personal” and “choice,” and when it seems as if everyone is in your business and putting pressure on you to do something, it no longer feels personal or like you have much choice.

I know a lot of people who are naturally thin. I went to high school with a girl who had hyperthyroidism. Ali was very, very thin. It wasn’t possible for her to gain weight. She tried. She didn’t hate her body, but she hated the medical condition. She was constantly freezing and constantly starving. She’d eat thousands and thousands of calories a day. She also had an incredibly unbalanced, and bragged about how being able to eat anything was the only “perk” of her condition. She ate a ton of fast food and junk food, and rarely ate actual, balanced meals. Her medical condition meant she was going to be very thin no matter what or how she ate. She’d tell us how her butt would hurt because it had no padding, and she laughed about it, but she also meant it. Overall, she was really comfortable in her own skin and people being mean didn’t bother her. She’d just shrug it off. Then a rumor was started that she was a heroin addict. Her mother (like mine) was a junkie, so this was a very, very painful subject area for her. It was also around the time the “heroin chic” look was taking off on runways, which didn’t help. This behavior is every bit as bad as fat shaming. It’s stereotyping someone’s body – and the person’s health and lifestyle choices – based solely on how they look. Discrimination is discrimination, and it comes in more flavors than Baskin’ Robbin’s ice cream.

Still, I don’t pretend I know what it’s like to have someone go, “oh, you really need to eat more.” Trust me, that’s never happened to me. I suspect that the reverse is true, however, and that most thin people haven’t had total strangers come up to them and say, “should you really be eating that?” If a thin person eats a brownie and drinks a Diet Coke, they are judged to be making balanced, healthy choices… it’s “eating sweets in moderation.” If a fat person does this, people laugh and go, “yeah, that’s how to lose weight,” never considering that maybe the person just prefers the taste of diet soda. Or that the person is on some type of diet plan and would rather use their calories on a brownie than a can of regular soda. Or that the person could give two shits about losing weight, and *gasp* that that’s allowed. There are absolutely differences between how a thin person is treated versus how a fat person is treated.

That being said, neither busybody is right. Going up to someone you don’t know and giving them unsolicited nutrition advice is absolutely and completely inappropriate. Who are you to judge what someone else should be eating? Who are you to decide what my body needs right now, or ever? I think I’m the best judge of what my body needs, and even if I am not, it’s still not up to you to police my food choices. That goes for the person who tells the thin person to eat more, too. A thin person gets to make his or her own choices, just as us fat people do. Would you like it if someone went up to you and said “hey, should you be doing X?” Probably not in most situations, and almost certainly not when it comes to food choices. So STFU. Mind your own business. Decide what’s right for your body, and let thin and fat people decide what is right for their bodies, too. I used to be guilty of this type of thinking (I never, ever said it to anyone, but I thought it), and I suspect that came from my time spent in the eating disorder hospital. I think that gave me the inaccurate notion that most people who are very thin, especially women, were suffering from an eating disorder. What I failed to realize, though, was that even if the person did have an eating disorder, it wasn’t my place to judge. I should’ve know better, having lived with one myself… and now I do. But the truth is, I suspect the real cause for judgment came from a place of jealousy.

I had a lot of friends in high school who believed they were fat. There were several who were all in the 5’4″ – 5’6″ height range and who weighed between 130 – 150 pounds. Not one of them was actually fat, even using the idiotic BMI charts, but at 5’7″ and 300 pounds, I sure was. I had to listen to these girls talk about how fat they were all the time. It made me really insecure at the time, but in retrospect, it just makes me sad. Unfortunately, I also listened to them bash people – including so-called friends of theirs – who were much smaller. There were girls we knew who were all over 5’1″ and 100 pounds (or less). Most of those girls were just naturally petite. Only one had an eating disorder (that we knew of), but even with her they’d make jokes. They were being “mean girls,” but it was born out of envy and petty jealousy. All of us knew they’d willingly give up teeth to be thin like the girls they made fun of, and the sad reality is, they mocked them because of that jealousy. I seriously doubt that anyone thin who makes fun of a fat person is secretly thinking, “damn, what I’d give to have her fat rolls.” I didn’t join the thin bashing, but I am ashamed of the teenage girl I was for not trying to stop it, either.

Being fat is a painful reality, especially in a world so damn convinced that people can change anything if only they try hard enough. Whether fat people are judged by naturally thin people who are utterly clueless as to how our lives play out, or whether we’re judged by former fat people who’ve lost weight (and maintained it long term), it sucks. I don’t care if you did something. It doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, automatically can. I wrote a novel. I don’t presume “anyone can” just because I did. I don’t think Michael Phelps would tell someone “if you just try hard enough, you can win all the medals like I did.” We’re all unique individuals, and our physiologies are as unique as our personalities. Don’t presume that someone can do something simply because you did, or because you’ve read articles or saw a news report that makes you think they can. Trust me… most fat people I know wouldn’t chose to live with such extreme persecution. Most fat people I know tried like hell, often for years, to not be fat. Many of them are still trying. I chose to stop because it was an unhealthy way for me to live. Just as it is their choice to continue trying to lose weight, it’s my choice to decide to focus instead on making changes that I can sustain. I have no business judging someone for wanting to lose weight, and that person has no business judging me for choosing to stop pursuing weight loss. You know what will make you happy, just as I know what makes me happy. But we’re judgmental by nature. It happens, and we all slip into the patterns. I’d argue that being able to accurately judge, both situations and people, is an important evolutionary tool. It’s what we do with that judgment that matters. Do you let it color your behavior? Or do you tell yourself you’re being unfair, that you don’t know the person’s backstory, or that no matter what you might THINK, it a. doesn’t mean it’s true, b. doesn’t mean it’s your business and c. sure as fuck doesn’t mean you need to say something nasty, snarky or even something you might think is well-meaning if it’s unsolicited advice.

This is true when you see a person you deem to be too fat, and it’s just as true when you see one you deem to be too thin.

My high school friend with the hyperthyroidism is an excellent example of how rushing to conclusions based on a person’s appearance is unfair and not going to give you accurate information. Ali tried everything to gain weight because she was actually so thin she was physically uncomfortable. Despite having fairly good self-esteem, and despite being a really, genuinely happy person, her thinness caused her problems she would’ve preferred to avoid, and not just the nasty comments from other people, but actual physical problems. The hyperthyroidism she lived with made her life very difficult.

I actually have the exact opposite problem of Ali. I have Hashimoto’s Disease, which is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism. Just as her condition made it impossible for her to gain weight due to a hyper-fast metabolism, mine makes my metabolism sluggish. I also have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is another endocrine disorder that affects metabolism, among other things, and it was when the PCOS symptoms first started when I was going through puberty that I first began to experience rapid weight gain. I didn’t lose weight when I was 25, doing all the “right things” and healthy other than having these conditions. It’s even harder now that I can’t exercise properly due to the  fibromyalgia that went undiagnosed for so many years. It’s easy to sit back and judge someone when you know nothing about the person. People said Ali had an eating disorder, or was a junkie. People say I’m just lazy or making excuses or not trying hard enough. In either of our situations, it’s flat out wrong to express judgments. You don’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s body, and you never can.

I write primarily about fat acceptance because there has been a “war” declared on people who look like me. There are no “wars” on thin people… but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still discrimination, and it doesn’t make hating thin people or judging them or presuming anyone thin will hate you because you’re not okay. We shouldn’t presume health by looking at a person, whether that’s good health or bad health. Your health is your business and no one else’s, unless you choose to invite someone into your life and choices. I also don’t write a lot about thin shaming because it’s not something I’ve ever experienced firsthand. Ironically, even when my BMI said I was underweight, I was told I was fat because I was so much taller and heavier than my classmates, and I still carried weight in my belly. So, I can’t relate to it, and I try to steer clear of things I can’t speak about on a personal level. But it’s something that comes up a lot, and it’s something I’ve been guilty of, at the very least, not trying to stop in the past (and I’ve had plenty of unspoken skinny-shaming thoughts, too).

Body acceptance is about accepting every body… not just thin ones and not just fat ones.  We only get one body in our lifetimes, and life is far too short to spend so much time hating it.  It’s about loving the body you have right now, today. It’s about not judging someone for how fat or how thin or even how “hot” you think they are. It’s about universal acceptance. Stop making judgments, and honestly I even mean judgments you think are positive. I try not to look at any pictures and think “oh, what a great body she has” now. It’s not easy, since, as I mentioned, we’re so conditioned to think this way, but it’s worth doing because you know what? Every body is great. Even my completely fucked up broken one. It’s MY body and I love it. I’m not asking you to love it. I’m simply asking for the same courtesy and respect (I hope) you’d want given to your body.

~JK

Stop Weighting…

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. I’ve wanted to write it for a few weeks. Ironically, it hasn’t been written because I’ve been feeling too damn awful to focus on much of anything lately.

When I was 15, I had this idea about my 10 year high school reunion. Mind you, I was a freshman in high school at the time. I was going to be skinny. I was going to dye my hair blonde and let it grow really long. I was going to look so not like my 15 year-old self that people went “who is that!?!” I was going to enjoy the hell out of watching them all have their jaws drop.

Once I was thin, I’d find true love. I’d get married, have a couple of babies (without gaining any weight, of course). I’d be a famous Broadway actress. When I watch Glee, I can so relate to Rachel because that was my dream. Living in NYC, going to a performing arts college, and working towards getting on Broadway. Of course, I had to be thin, first.

“Once I lose the weight, I’ll do…” was my mantra. I spent so much time fantasizing about losing weight. I tried all the diets, though at 15, I was in the throes of my eating disorder. In fact, I’d spend over seven weeks hospitalized for it that year. The therapy at the eating disorder hospital was helpful, but only to a point… partly because I spent so much time envying the anorexic girls. Yep. You heard right… the most deadly mental illness to have, and I envied them. It’s funny in a very sad way, actually. Everyone looked at my weight and acted like, at 15, I was a ticking time bomb. But I know at least two of the girls I was in that hospital with died before they were 40, and it wasn’t because they were overweight. It was the anoerxia’s toll on their hearts. But I digress. Unfortunately, there were really no other girls like me in that program. Even the girls who were bulimic to start, and maybe 20 – 30 pounds “overweight (as defined by BMI charts, not me)” to start had tilted towards the “too thin to be healthy” side of things. The entire time I was there, there were two older women who battled bulimia and were what would be deemed “overweight,” but not one person was even close to my size. It made all my self-conscious issues a lot worse. There was also a heavy emphasis on me losing weight. My one friend, who was anorexic and at 5’6″ weighed 86 pounds, joked with me. We wished we could swap bodies for a while. I gained weight just looking at it, and she could lose weight easily. If only we could swap…

Fast forward a decade. I had found my true love, and GASP… I didn’t have to get skinny to do it. I wasn’t a Broadway actress, but I was living in NYC, on the Upper East Side, nonetheless. I was going to school, had chosen a major I loved. Life was good. We went to museums, we’d walk around the city. We did street fairs in the summer, and spent a long weekend in the Adirondacks each fall. We had a great dog, a beautiful apartment. Hell, we had a doorman. I grew up in poverty, the child of an addict… my life had changed so much, and it was so sweet and good. Except… I was still fat. And I was still trying desperately not to be fat. I tried all the trendy diets, and always wound up going back to Weight Watchers. I’d lose 25 pounds, and then it was like I hit a brick wall. I spent so much time thinking about what I didn’t have (a thin, socially acceptable body) I didn’t ever completely appreciate all that I did have.

At 26, I joined a gym. It took an enormous amount of guts for me to join a gym in my neighborhood where a size 8 was “fat.” But I did it. I went 3 – 4 times a week on average. Some weeks I went even more. It felt good. I didn’t know it yet, but I already had fibromyalgia. The symptoms were mild, and the main issue at that time was sleep disturbances. I associated it with the thyroid condition I discovered I had that year (and that, my friends, is why my weight loss journeys were so fraught). I followed WW’s plan. In the beginning, the gym was an awesome thing for me. I’d end it with a small drink from Jamba Juice… it was a ritual I enjoyed, even though it was hard. I couldn’t do anything but some weight training and the treadmill because everything else caused me pain. Which, of course, I blamed on being too fat. Turns out, that was the fibro. At any rate, the exercise boosted my mood, and in the first few weeks I loved it. Then I stopped losing weight. Again. The weighers and leaders at the WW meetings clearly didn’t believe me. I was cheating somehow, or not really working out. I tried all the “tricks.” I ate my extra workout earned Points. I didn’t eat them. I tried the Wendie Plan, where you eat under your Points some days and over on others (still balancing out to the actual total number for those days). I did everything right. Why wasn’t I losing weight? Didn’t my body know I had things to do??? Things I couldn’t do until I was thin???

I began to hate the gym. Oh, I still went. But instead of it being fun, instead of feeling exhilarated after the exercise, it became one more way I was a failure. Clearly, I wasn’t doing it “right.” I didn’t give up, though. I just hated every single minute of it. Even my post-workout Jamba Juice lost its sweetness. I became obsessive about the gym, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t losing weight. Yet again, I barely managed to hit 25 pounds lost (I remember this so well because the 25 pound mark earns a special “award” at WW). Then I hit the wall. I’d gain weight doing “everything right.” Or I just wouldn’t lose. It would go on for a few weeks, and then my resolve would crack and I’d wind up bingeing. Ironically, I often lost a tiny bit of weight the weeks I binged. But I hated myself. I felt weak, and like a failure. I remembered my 15 year-old self when I was in the hospital envying the “willpower” of my anorexic friends (that “willpower,” btw, was a topic the bulimic girls and I used to discuss frequently). I felt like I just lacked willpower. The WW weighers and leaders must be right. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Meanwhile, I kept putting off things I wanted to do because they’d be easier, or because I wouldn’t look stupid (aka fat) doing them once I lost weight. After about 6 or 7 months of regular gym visits, I hurt my knee. I blamed it, of course, on my weight. So did my doctor, who, by NYC standards was fairly fat friendly (and that’s why I saw her). The physical therapist, however, who was not American (and I suspect therefore less predisposed to the “it’s your fat” argument), told me the problem was that the muscle in my thigh was so tight, it actually pulled the knee cap, causing an injury. I didn’t know it yet, and wouldn’t for five more years, but I’d just had my first fibromyalgia related injury. To this day, there are times when my thigh muscles (particularly the left one) get so tight they pull the knee cap. This meant no more gym. I could only do the treadmill, and suddenly that was taken away from me, too.

Fast forward another decade. I’m now 37. I dieted repeatedly until 2007, when, after having moved away from NYC (and away from so much fat hating), something in me finally “broke,” and I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent 18 months working with an eating disorder therapist on Intuitive Eating. It made so much sense. I stopped getting weighed. My weight stabilized. I didn’t really lose much weight, but I stopped the endless cycle of “lose 25, gain 35.” I felt so much better emotionally. I discovered I hated half the foods I binged on. I also hated half the foods I’d forced myself to eat when on Weight Watchers.

I stopped waiting to do things, but… unfortunately, I stopped waiting too late. The fibromyalgia had taken a strong hold on my body, and so many of the dreams I had were crushed. Not by being too fat, but by being too sick. When we first moved to Colorado, I had a dream of climbing a 14er (that’s a mountain over 14,000 feet). It turns out my body doesn’t do well over an elevation of 11k, so that dream would likely never have been realized anyway (and elevation sickness is irrelevant of physical fitness, for those uninitiated with life at high elevations). But I had the dream, and I tried to “train” for it, and realized… it would be too damn painful. I couldn’t do it. It’s not a matter of “suck it up.” It would mean risking injuries.

Today I am in the worst shape of my life. It has little to do with being fat, and much to do with being sick. It is endlessly frustrating to want to do things, to try to do things and to have it hurt so much I shake, and wind up near (or actually in) tears. I think back to the 26 year-old me… to the 15 year-old me… and I want to shake myself. I want to scream…

STOP WEIGHTING.

My body was strong. It did amazing things, and I beat it up over the ONE thing it didn’t want to do… lose weight. I wasted years of health on a fantasy of being thin.

So here is my message to all of you. Regardless of whether or not you still want to actively pursue weight loss, something that is a very personal choice, STOP WAITING TO LIVE. If you have a dream, go for it. Start trying today. You might lose the weight and find you can’t do it for some other reason. You might not lose the weight, and miss your chances… like me. I could’ve done so many things I was waiting to do, and now I’ll never get to do them because of the fibromyalgia. Even if I were to somehow magically lose weight today, my pain is not related to my weight. It wouldn’t make much, if any, difference.

I lost my chance. Don’t make my mistake. Stop weighting. Stop thinking of the things your body can’t do, or the things you think it shouldn’t do (like wearing a bathing suit). Go out there and celebrate all the things your body CAN do!

There are other dreams I have now, ones unrelated to my weight. I just hope the fibromyalgia will let me realize those dreams. I won’t stop fighting, though. I know all too well what happens when you don’t fight to make a dream reality. So, I keep trying. Whether or not I ever get there is irrelevant, really. At least I’ve stopped waiting to try. Finally.

~Jessica

Why I may cancel my graze box subscription

Updated to include the reply from graze

Subscription boxes have been a popular trend for a while now. There are a ton of beauty ones, among other types. When I had the opportunity to try graze boxes, though, I was really excited. For one thing, the snacks looked very unique. Here’s an example of a recent box I received. The food is fresh, and the flavors are good. I haven’t liked every snack, but many of them are really tasty. Plus, you can customize your preferences even before you get your first box, which is awesome. It’s also only $5 per box, and while it’s a little pricey for the size of the snack, I live in a rural area and getting a lot of the items in these boxes would be expensive, or even impossible. Additionally, you can get a box once a month, every week or every other week, and this flexibility appealed to me. Right now I’ve been doing every other week. Getting a graze subscription currently requires an invite code from another subscriber. Each new subscriber gets one invite, and occasionally they give you a way to earn an additional invite. This makes finding a graze invite challenging, and of course, the exclusivity has increased the appeal for many.

Every graze box includes a napkin, four individually packaged snacks and a booklet. The booklets have been fairly silly overall, but they are cute. However, this was part of my most recent booklet and it deeply troubled me (click the image to see it larger).

Graze

I was so frustrated and annoyed by this that I decided to write the people at graze an email. Here is what that email said.

I wanted to bring to your attention something that has me very troubled, and even has me considering canceling my subscription. I have battled an eating disorder most of my life. It’s taken me years to see food as something fun, enjoyable and that will fuel my body.

I subscribed to graze as a way to get some unique, fun snacks. I love getting packages, and it gives me something to look forward to, in addition to being a neat way to try new foods.

However, the attached file, from my latest graze box really troubled me. It took me years to not see foods as “good” vs. “bad.” I eat what I like. If I choose to eat a healthier snack, it’s because it’s what I want. But I refuse to be made to feel as though I’m being “bad” if I choose to eat a candy bar or chips.

Calling graze snacks “heroic” is a bit of a stretch at any rate, but to classify an entire range of snack foods as “villainous” is ridiculous and upsetting. I can guarantee you that this comparison is a trigger for thousands upon thousands of people like me, who have worked hard to battle eating disorders. Worse, it feeds the idea of “bad” foods for those who don’t yet realize that they are battling an eating disorder.

Obviously, as a company you’re entitled to market your graze boxes however you see fit. Graze is hardly the first company to attempt to alleviate our “guilt” about eating, and it won’t be the last. But it would be nice if you could consider that how you word things really can have a very negative impact on the people who pay for your product.

I’ll be basing my decision to cancel on the response to this email. There are so many people like me, and many of them may not be in as strong of a place as I am in terms of how influenced by this “villainous” vs. “heroic” campaign they are. Please consider focusing on the actual health benefits of your snacks, as opposed to marketing gimmicks that feed into unhealthy emotional judgments about food.

Sincerely,
Jessica

We’ll see what their response is, but I may very well be canceling the subscription after this. I refuse to participate in a campaign of food bashing, and by paying graze for my boxes, I feel like that’s what I’d be doing. Considering how elusive invitations are to join graze, and how many people would probably pay me for one, it saddens me to cancel but I am not going to be made to feel like I’m committing a crime if I choose to eat chips. And I’m sure as hell not going to PAY a company that vilifies food. I’ve learned to avoid things marketed this way in stores, as they are big time triggers for me. I’ll be sure to post a follow up, assuming they ever reply to my email.

*Update*

I got a quick response, so I’ll give them credit for being prompt. That said, I’m underwhelmed by the substance of the reply.

Dear Jessica,

Thanks so much for sending us your sincere thoughts, and for sharing with us your story of how you’ve worked incredibly hard to overcome an eating disorder.

We’re really sorry that our Super Swaps nutrition booklet wasn’t positive or helpful towards your graze experience. It’s really good to hear that you actually enjoyed your graze snacks so far and that it has provided some fun and excitement, but we can understand how the slogan might have some uncomfortable connotations. I can assure you that we do not intend to label any of our foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but that we just try to separate ourselves from other snack foods you can find in stores which are higher in calories, fat, or sugar. We completely agree that there are no good or bad foods and that it’s important to keep an open mind about what the different dietary needs of our grazers are.

For many of our grazers, our snacks are a lot healthier than the ones you’d find in the supermarket. We always have our grazers in mind when creating new snacks, and do seek out suppliers who aim for the highest quality nibbles.

Graze is all about healthy eating, so you can see that we were simply trying to break down any barriers some folks might have about including smaller portions of some foods traditionally seen as ‘bad,’ such as chocolate, in a healthy diet. For us, it’s all about variety and balance, with the odd treat thrown in once in a while. For some of our grazers, they want to be reminded that they’re making some smart ‘swaps’ as it reinforces the idea that they’re treating their bodies and minds well. We do go into the health benefits of our snacks here but we also like to have some fun with our snacks, which is why we include booklets like the Super Swaps one.

Once again we’re really sorry and hope that grazing can continue to still be a fun and positive experience for you. I’ve made sure to share your feedback with our marketing team to see how we can improve our messages.
Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

All the best,

(name removed by me)

I kind of feel as though this reply says, “we know some of our members see these foods as being ‘bad’ choices, and we’re reinforcing that belief for them!'” Which is my entire point… there are people who DO see food as “bad” vs. “good.” and I am just not a fan of that mentality. I think it’s incredibly unhealthy. You can choose to focus on healthier foods, but once you begin to add emotional judgments to food, it gets complicated, and it can fuel disordered eating behaviors that no one should have to face. I’m feeling as though this reply is a mixed message, at best. I’m likely to cancel my subscription. For now, I’ve pushed back my next shipment to July and have changed to once a month, instead of every two weeks. This gives me time to consider whether or not graze is a company I want to continue to support.

~JK