Categories
body liberation Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor

The Power of Radical Self-Love

I read this book for a different book club than White Fragility, but by coincidence of timing I read them back-to-back, which made for a fascinating juxtaposition. Both books share a core of radical anti-racism, and really anti-ism in general. Both books talk a good bit about the importance of confronting your own internal biases, the bullshit culture we live in that is constantly reinforcing them, and about being open to criticism and change.

But while White Fragility is the no-nonsense tough older sister who calls you out on your crap and doesn’t let you weasel your way out of the hard conversations, The Body is not an Apology is the sweet younger sister encouraging you to do your best and letting you know that you are always great to her. Taylor digs deep into the idea of radical self-love. Not just self-confidence, self-respect, or self-acceptance, but full out self-love.

Much of what Taylor discusses–both the cultural history and sociological studies she runs through at the beginning and the practical tips and techniques later on–were already familiar to me from my prior readings on body liberation. However, Taylor has a wonderful voice and her writing is dense and punchy, her advice clear and sensible. The book is not long (116pp. in the trade paperback), which makes it a quick read. Ideal for foisting upon your confused friends and relatives who don’t understand why you are suddenly not participating in their self-critical social chatter.

The best thing about the book is its persistent grounding in what Taylor calls “Unapologetic Inquiries” and “Radical Reflections,” which ask the reader, every page or two, to delve into their own experiences and thoughts. This makes the book almost interactive in nature. In fact, I believe there will be a companion workbook published in early ’21. The reflective nature of the book makes it particularly useful for someone, like me, who is currently working through self-image issues and digging into their past, their preconceptions, and their goals through therapy.

Categories
body liberation Depression Living While Fat My Story

Self-Image

When you close your eyes, how do you see yourself? Like most properly acculturated fat people, for my entire life, when I have closed my eyes and visualized myself, I have seen a “normal girl,”* maybe a little curvy but basically thin and fit and pretty. I feel that I am a pretty typical fat person in having always thought I was “a thin person trapped in a fat body.” But you know what? I’m not. I’m fat. Fat is me. I’ve been fat my whole life–the first time I was openly called fat by others was in kindergarten–and my fatness is intimately tied up with my self identity, my life experience, and really everything about me. Isn’t it high time that my self-image matches reality?

Well, apparently, at long last and without fanfare, it does. Just about a week ago, for the first time, I happened to be thinking of myself with my eyes closed and I noticed that saw myself as I actually am. It was a surprisingly weird experience. I was confused. Who was this woman in my head? Turns out she was me. And she didn’t bother me. She didn’t offend me or gross me out or make me feel ashamed. She was just me how I was.

A couple of days later I had another related experience. I was lounging in bed in my sleep shirt and I happened to catch sight of myself in my tall mirror. And my first, instant thought before my frontal lobe kicked in was “I look cute!” I had a positive reaction to my belly!

I give credit to the fact that I have been regularly taking pictures of myself and posting them. Not only am I getting very used to looking at the shape of my body, but I am luckily getting used to positive feedback and positive, if sketchy, attention from men online. It’s actually very rare for me to get any negative responses. I realize that if I stay online long enough and get enough Instagram followers, trolling is inevitable, but in the meanwhile I have discovered that there is an entire community of fat-loving men out there and it is like a soothing bath on my skin to be admired.

I do realize that I need to be careful about such things–and to be clear, I am happily married and not looking for anything or anyone else–but the reality is that after 43 years of being embarrassed of my body and assuming no one would ever want me, this is huge. And yes I do also realize that I have been happily married for over 20 years to a man who manifestly does want me, but I always assumed that was just a fluke, that he loved me in spite of my body not because, and that he might veer off at any moment.

This business of knowing and accepting my body as me, and even enjoying how it looks and feels, and knowing and accepting my body as desirable, well, it’s a lot, in a good way. I don’t know how things will proceed from here, but it sure will be fun to find out.

*Notice the use of “girl” here, which is another whole story by itself; a story about sexism and our culture, lack of respect for myself as an adult, etc etc etc.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Body Image, Gender, and Sexuality

I’m learning to accept my body as it is. It’s not always easy–it comes and goes–because I am very, very fat. Somewhere on the edge between superfat and infinifat, depending who you ask. Some days I am completely at home in here, and other days I feel like a caricature of a human being.

The thing is, I have been married a very long time (20+ years) and before that I never had any serious sexual or romantic relationships. I would have told you back then that I was entirely unattractive and no one would ever want me. For the first three or five years of my relationship with my now husband, I held my breath–not knowing if he was with me in spite of me being fat, and would one day “wake up” to my hideousness and move on. Eventually it became clear that he truly loved me, but even now I don’t know whether his appreciation of my body falls into the category of a fetish.

Now that I am learning to normalize the diversity of shape in the human body, I have certainly accepted that many different body types can be attractive. I spend time on Instagram admiring selfies of all sorts of people. But am I attractive? If I were to put myself out there, would men be interested in me? If they were, would it be “real” or would it be a fetish? What does that even mean? Is it possible for a person as far out from the norm as I am to just be attractive, or must there always be a frisson of the weird and taboo about me?

A related question is that of gender identity. I am a cis woman, and always have been, but I won’t say I’ve never had trans thoughts. Being a woman in a man’s world (and my work world is even more of a man’s world than 2019 America is in general) is not easy. I am a strong, assertive, impulsive, conflict-accepting personality. Combine all that with my body image issues and consistent self-desexualization, and you have a recipe for a person who wishes they were a man. I have done so for many years. I like to lip sync to the radio, to songs with male vocalists. Sometimes, just at the peak of the song, just for a moment, I can believe his voice comes from my throat and I am truly a man. And then the image snaps and I am back to confusion.

I would have guessed that if I ever became free of my mental issues, I would become more, not less, trans. Trans is something our culture frowns on, so wouldn’t I be more willing to be openly trans if I were free?

Apparently not. The further I go in this body liberation dive, the less trans I am. I guess it’s not really odd. I’ve never been so at home in my own body. In all its plush, padded, feminine soft glory. I’ve started wearing makeup, jewelry, skirts and dresses. Even perfume sometimes. I primp before going out. I love being a girl, and I identify with women. I crave friendship with women. I read feminist writing and watch feminist works. Maleness has become so foreign to me that the idea of wanting to be a man is pretty much horrifying.

I no longer fantasize about being a man but instead think about smashing the patriarchy so that no one ever has to wish they were a man for purely political/social reasons ever again. So that true gender identity and expression, as well as sexual identity and expression, can win free and be based on what’s inside, not on the outside. And so that all bodies, no matter how far from the “normal” look, are free to be fully themselves, fully sexual, fully loved.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Weight Stigma Awareness Week

It is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association. My recent experiences have made me particularly sensitive right now to issues of weight stigma. Normally, I think weight stigma is such a constant hum in my life that it often settles to the level of background noise.

  • Weight stigma is never being able to sit comfortably in your boss’s office because she doesn’t have any armless chairs. (And no, I’ve never had the guts to tell her even though I know she’d be chagrined and fix it immediately.)
  • Weight stigma is being afraid to order dessert at restaurants for fear of getting judgy looks or comments.
  • Weight stigma is having to allow extra time to get to meetings because the elevators are much further than the stairs. And, even more, weight stigma is never taking the stairs because no one likes the sight of a fat person sweaty and out-of-breath at a meeting.
  • Weight stigma is never, ever getting to try clothes on in stores because there are no brick-and-mortar stores which sell clothes in your size.

The constant burden of having to be aware that you are “too” big and that things you sit on might break, that people you talk to are probably already judging you before you open your mouth, that you are assumed to be lazy and not care about your health–it’s a lot.

I’ve been learning lately to advocate for myself and to handle situations that make me anxious or upset with directness–with forthright statements of what I need to be safe, mentally and physically. I’m proud of myself for that. I’m trying to also become more alert to issues others might have that limit them in other ways–so that I don’t become the person imposing stigma on someone else.

Too, I think weight stigma can be more subtle than people on Instagram say. It is actually more expensive to produce larger or sturdier items like chairs, clothes, and airplane seats. It can put a strain on a business to meet those needs consistently. I dislike that my clothes often cost more than those of a thin person, but I actually need significantly more fabric to cover my ass, and fabric costs time and resources to fabricate. So I don’t judge a company if they charge more for larger sizes.

I do judge large corporations and public venues if they don’t provide any options for fat people. I’m an outlier on the fatness scale. Most people can fit in normal chairs. But if you are going to build a 300 seat auditorium, why not make 5 of those chairs extra wide? Not only does that not cost very much extra or significantly reduce capacity, but it shows an awareness and sensitivity that has value to everyone. (And if you are sensitive enough to build your auditorium that way, why not go the extra step and put up a sign asking thin people to sit elsewhere?)

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where, even when being big created some inevitable frustrations due to actual physical difference, we could work together to find comfortable compromises for everyone?

NEDA has a lot of relevant resources and discussions on their site: nationaleatingdisorders.org.

Categories
Depression My Story

Setback

Last week was awful. And strange. I came home Sunday evening from the event I posted about here. I was extremely tired, but I slept a lot and got up and went to work on Monday. It was a normal, if sleepy, day.

Shutdown

Tuesday morning I woke up and my brain said “No.” I cancelled my early morning appointment and went back to bed.

An hour later, I dragged myself out of bed, did my morning routine, and drove to work. I parked my car. I didn’t get out. I thought about the day I had ahead at work and I just couldn’t do it. It was like there was a wall between myself and the world, and I could not get through. So I called my office and let them know I wasn’t coming and arranged for people to cover my few un-cancellable obligations that day.

I went back to bed. I had three naps and five large meals that day. I was exhausted and starving from the weekend. At first I thought I was having a binge eating relapse, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t actually eating much past satiety and that my hunger was genuine. So I kept eating. I’m proud of myself about that because the temptation to limit myself based on perceived “portion size”s or ideal meal frequencies was hard to resist.

Wednesday I woke up and I felt a little better so I did my morning routine and drove to work. I parked my car. I didn’t get out. I called my husband to ask what to do, and he convinced me to go in to work.

As soon as I got there I knew that it had been a mistake, but once I was in I couldn’t leave immediately. I spent about four hours there catching up on exigent work and making a plan to clear my desk for Thursday. By the time I got home I had a pounding headache and felt like death. I went to bed. I only had time for two naps that day but they were really good.

Thursday I woke up. More of the same. This time I did not even try to go to work. I spent the morning puttering around and answering emails in my pajamas.

I had, in my panic, made an extra appointment with my therapist in the afternoon. When the time came to get dressed and go I almost could not make myself do it. I knew she would help, but I get agoraphobic when I am depressed and getting dressed and going out was almost too much. But I went. We talked for the regulation 50 minutes. She said a lot of helpful stuff.

I left feeling superficially much the same as I had since Tuesday. I decided to get a late lunch on the way home because I was very tired of house food by then. I ate lunch. It was a normal lunch. As far as I know it contained no special psychoactive chemicals.

When I finished the lunch I felt absolutely fine. Completely normal, happy, restored energy level, the same me that had been walking the earth the week before. Depression gone. No trace.

Went to work somewhat hesitantly on Friday, worried that work would be a trigger, but there was no problem. Worked a full day and even went out with friends afterwards.

Depression

I have been struggling with depression for decades. I explicitly remember being suicidal in middle school but I can’t say for sure that it didn’t start before then. So at least 30 years. High school, college, grad school, my first five or six years of grown-up-ness. All misery. I cut myself; I fantasized about killing myself; I lay in bed in a semi-catatonic state. I hated myself and wanted to die.

For the past 8 or 9 years I have been working my ass off to beat it. It was a slow crawl at first, because it’s hard to find the right providers and the right meds. There were setbacks, bad weeks, months, and years. Depression was my constant friend, my familiar companion, my home place.

Gradually, that began to change. Zoloft works. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works. I stabilized. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t a danger to myself and I could do my job and live my life.

Then I found my current therapist, and we have actually been working through things for four or five years at a deeper level. I found out that people like me, and that I am naturally sociable and outgoing. I found hobbies. I got promoted at work and developed more confidence in that sphere. I found out that I didn’t actually give a shit about people who thought I wasn’t that good at some parts of my job. I found out that I could be myself and do what I wanted to do. I found out that I am a good person who is doing her best in the world, and I found out that that actually is enough.

I got better. Most of the changes were under the surface. There were still bad patches, but they were more like days or weeks instead of months or years. Energy was up. Resilience was up. I actually worked through some of my issues with my family.

The final ingredient was my introduction to body liberation and radical self love earlier this year. One day, after seeing my new nutritionist for a month or two, talking with her over those ideas but maintaining reserve and skepticism, something snapped inside. It was like “Fuck you, I’m awesome and I’m not afraid to feel it and say it.” Since then, things have been dancing. Lots of changes, above and below the surface. Lots of happiness and lots of love. My therapist actually said my depression was asymptomatic at this point and my psychiatrist reduced my meds. Victory.

Relapse

What happened on Tuesday felt like I had woken up in a horrible flashback nightmare. I was 28 again and couldn’t deal; a wall had come up between myself and all my work and all of my recovery. In every detail it was a perfect mirror of the old me. The near catatonia and inability to talk or communicate. The light sensitivity. The desire to cut myself (although I successfully resisted). The extreme pleasure I used to take from sleeping, especially naps. The excessive REM sleep. Even the starting hints of some suicidal ideation.

I was shocked. I felt confused and helpless. And terror, because I didn’t know if it was back for good. Intellectually, I knew that somewhere inside I had a whole bunch of tools that would eventually lead me back to myself. But every time I tried to pull a thread in the knot, it would snap or lead nowhere. I didn’t know what to do.

Recovery

I still don’t know what I did. All of sudden I was just fine again. It was like a broken bone that had been set, or a train being set back on the rails. It didn’t feel gradual and organic, like my work at recovery had paid off. It was just…fixed…gone…better.

Not that I’m not grateful. I’m incredibly grateful. I thought I was going to have to take a leave of absence from my job and start again at the beginning of the recovery. But I’m still terrified because if it happened once it can happen again. I suppose that’s why you can never not have chronic depression once you have had it–you just go into remission.

I wish I knew what precautions to take, what tools to prepare. My husband says I must have been a boy scout in a former life because I always over-prepare. And I want to over-prepare for the next relapse. But I don’t know how. I think I understand the weird combination of triggers that set me off this time, but I can’t guarantee that they, or others, will never catch me again. And I don’t know how to be ready if they do.

Categories
My Story Uncategorized

Sandwiches

I’m going to try to write everyday–it’s good for me to be consistent and I have a lot I want to talk about, but we’ll see. Sometimes I get exhausted or too busy or just too deflated to talk about something significant.

There’s two ways I know how to eat. 1) All the things. The “worst” possible things I can find, in huge quantities. Drive thrus, delivery, convenience stores. 2) None of the things. Salad, with a protein on top if I’m feeling brave. A boiled egg. A low carb protein bar. A 100 calorie pack of god knows what. Popcorn.

Nowadays, I’m working hard to learn how to nourish my body. I’m “allowed” (by me, because listen y’all, I’m only listening to me from here on out) to eat anything I damn well please, and I do. I still go to drive thrus and convenience stores, and get way more delivery and takeout than I can actually afford. I never eat fucking diet food anymore, unless I actually want it, like I sometimes still want popcorn or a hard-boiled egg.

But more and more, when I discover that I am hungry–and that’s hard enough to do without waiting so long that I’m panicking–that’s not what I want. I want something that is going to make me feel good and be satisfying. Funny, that I should want those things. 😜

Small problem. I have no idea how to feed myself that way. Forty-fucking-two years old, and No. Fucking. Clue. I’m not kidding. I feel like it sounds dumb; everyone around me seems to pack delicious, reasonable, nourishing lunches like noodles, or chunky soup, or cool bento boxes full of little fun things like hummus. People seem to go home and eat dinners that they cook or prepare or whatever, at tables with other people and silverware and such. Not weird rabbit diet food, but not giant piles of delivery chinese either.

All I can handle so far are sandwiches. With my nutritionist’s help, I’ve managed a few pb&js and one or two turkey sandwiches. Turns out, there is bread out there that is actually yummy, and mayo doesn’t have to be measured out by the teaspoon. Also turns out that pb&j is delicious if you don’t use fucking powdered peanut butter and low-sugar jelly. Turns out those things are allowed. Turns out, if I eat those things, I don’t need deep fried cookie dough in the mid-afternoon. Turns out, pb&j is not the devil.

What will turn out next?

Categories
My Story

The Scale

I weigh a lot. A lot of a lot. I know this for sure, because I weigh myself nearly every day. This is a holdover habit from one of the last diets I truly threw myself into. My scale is in my entrance hall. Seriously, you come in, welcome to my home, there are the main stairs, the doors to the two front rooms, a table with a bunch of minor clutter like mail and keys, a bench for putting on shoes, and the world’s most heavy duty scale.

I own this scale because my mother bought it for me. I already owned two scales before that, but I had exceeded their weight limits and was no longer weighing myself. Nevertheless one of those scales was (and still is) in my master bath and one was (and still is) in my family room where I go to relax and unwind. Nice quiet reminders that I am so goddamned fat that even scales don’t fit me.

Me not weighing myself freaked my mother out so much that she spent about $100 to send me an unsolicited scale in the mail. This pissed me off. Who the fuck was she to be telling me I needed to weigh myself? (And expecting to hear about the results, with decimals.) This was when I was still deeply enmeshed in diet culture and self-hatred, not to mention poor family dynamics (obviously), so it took a lot to break through my shell and cause me to get pissed off in self-defense.

Nowadays if someone did something so absurd at me, I would return the thing for an amazon gift card and use it to buy fucking awesome fat clothes or astronaut ice cream.

Back then I just left it in its box for a year. One day the diet wave rolled around again, the need to know the fucking decimals became overpowering, and boom, the scale was out of the box, the weight was recorded, and my entrance hall was slightly redecorated.

I’m a journaller and I record a lot of daily data about things like food, activity, what I do with my time, whether I took my meds, whether I had sex, etc. So you can imagine that as soon as I started weighing again, I had to write those weights down. In red ink, at the top of each journal page. Then the pages without them were naked, so all the pages needed weights, and the need to weigh every day was firmly established.

And so it goes. Now I’ve declared my supposed freedom from diet culture, am working on intuitive eating, self-liberation, and all, but I still weigh almost every goddamned day.

My nutritionist has suggested I run the scale(s) over with my car and make some sort of art from the pieces.

I’m not there yet. Maybe someday.

Categories
My Story

Love and Marriage

I met my husband when I was in college. At first, I was honestly just glad that anyone was interested in me and I wasn’t necessarily going to die alone. I am painfully aware from the experiences of others in my close family that this method of choosing men is fraught with peril. But I struck gold.

In the beginning, I encouraged the relationship more than I really wanted to out of fear and self-loathing. Both of us have suffered from chronic depression for as long as we have known each other, and our relationship hasn’t always gone smoothly. Due to school and job stuff, we spent several years apart, and those years were rough, as were the years afterwards when we were learning to be together again. He was good to me from the beginning, but these and other events were rough patches nonetheless, and I stuck them out, at least at first, mostly out of the same self-hatred.

Over time, though, the strangest thing happened. I fell truly, deeply, madly in love with the man. Recently we celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve spent well over half my life with him. It is not hard for me to believe that I will do the same for the rest of it.

When I was a kid I sort of had this idea that the way love went was that you fell in love, had a few wonderful years, got married, got bored, and just kind of drifted after that. That has not been my experience at all. Each passing year is better than the year before. As I’ve grown up, grown into myself, grown into more and more self-acceptance and confidence, our relationship has only gotten better.

As we have known each other more, our conversations have become complex, subtle, and wide-ranging. I don’t know what it means to “run out of things to talk about.” Our many shared experiences and past conversations have only led to a joint language and perspective. We have arguments about Soviet space missions, the proper usage of common household items, and what our 14-year-old dog’s name actually is. (And no, she isn’t recently adopted.)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with body liberation? This: In the six months or so since I woke up to the crappiness of diet culture and decided to actually care for my body, our relationship has bloomed. Apparently, it is actually true that if you love yourself, it is easier to be loved by others.

It turns out that my husband has been holding back in his appreciation of me, body and soul, for years–because I was so negative and dismissive.

Why was I dismissive? Somehow I imagined that if I didn’t draw his attention to my hugeness, he might not notice it as much. Somehow I imagined that he had been with me for 23 years in spite of my body, not because of, or at least in happiness with it. Somehow I imagined that if I let my only intimate partner actually interact openly with me about my body, that would make things worse.

Now that I wear clothes with pleasure and gladly show them off, enjoy his touch fully without demure, and let him say what he will without rejection, everything has changed. We are basking in the glow of love like newlyweds. People tell us we’re adorable on the street. We are both noticeably happier in all we do. It’s disgusting. It’s wonderful.

Also, the sex is stunning and about triple in frequency. So, yeah, there’s that.