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body liberation exercise Living While Fat My Story

Yoga and (Dis)Ability

Recently I took up yoga again. I have always enjoyed yoga, when I have been able to find welcoming, supportive contexts in which to practice. I have never gotten a regular practice going because, first, honestly it hasn’t been a major priority and, second, it is hard to find a studio and an instructor that work with all of my limitations.

My beloved nutritionist, to whom I have referred on this blog many times, is also a yoga teacher, trained by Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga Studio. I have been lifting weights very consistently for the past few months and was feeling fit/brave enough to try yoga again, so I signed up for her weekly class. This class is a body liberation, trauma-sensitive yoga class currently taught via Zoom.

It has been an interesting experience. I really can’t do that many poses. My legs aren’t bendy and I have trouble staying on my feet for long, particularly in balance poses. I have to modify just about everything, using straps, blocks, chairs, bolsters, you name it. Last week I had to do several of the hands-and-knee poses upside-down like a capsized turtle. Sometimes I feel like a complete cripple trying it, especially when I end up sitting and looking at the screen for a whole sequence.

The instructor really tries to provide as many modifications as possible and will specifically stop to help me figure out a way to do a similar stretch when I can’t do a pose. She really cares about my experience and no judgment whatsoever comes from either her or my classmates. All the judgment comes from me. After a long, tiring day, flummoxed by a warrior pose, I feel like a gimp. In fact, maybe I am a gimp. I have trouble walking and get out of breath easily. I’m not flexible, can’t put my weight on my knees…

I asked my psychologist about whether I should consider myself handicapped and stop fooling myself. I asked her if I should just start advocating for accommodations and give up pretending. She said I was asking the wrong question. She said I should be asking why it matters to me whether I bear the label “handicapped.” She said I was creating a false dichotomy, that I should advocate for what I need AND keep fighting to be active in my body. She is right of course, but it still hurts.

On a normal day, I live in a comfortable cocoon (especially these days) that is mostly constructed to de-emphasize my limitations and help me function. I even exercise in ways that don’t stress me too much–weightlifting and swimming. Yoga pushes these boundaries. It makes me face the reality of my (dis)abilities.

I suspect this is healthy. In any case, I plan to keep trying. First, I think I can get better. Second, I don’t think I can afford to give up. Even if I continue to steadily lose ground, I’ll lose more if I don’t fight. But third and most important, after most yoga sessions, no matter how awful I feel during the class, I feel better. Yoga stretches me out, calms me, and helps me to reside fully in my body. Some days, that body is not a happy place to be, but it is my home and I owe it the dignity and respect of fully experiencing it.

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
Activity body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Exercise

Is “exercise” a diet culture word? Is it “diet culture” to want to work out to the point of feeling some soreness the next day, to push yourself and want to develop strength and tone? I am not sure. My nutritionist often gives me push back for using words like “workout” and “exercise” and my HAES trainer always seems a bit perturbed if I experience any soreness. But for me, working out is a source of joy. I really enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, of trying things I don’t know if my body can do. Of getting stronger.

The pain that comes from mildly tearing muscles while lifting heavy weights, that sense of not knowing if I can finish a certain set or even rep, the feeling of trying to truly push my strength limits–that works for me. I am very strong. I have always been very strong. I have slow-twitch muscles, so even at my fittest I could never keep up at any kind of aerobic exercise, but when I am working out regularly I can leg press hundreds and hundreds of pounds and do other very heavy weights on weight machines.

How do you separate that from the urge to over-exercise in order to burn calories, lose weight, make certain body parts (like your upper arms or belly) look how they are supposed to look? I genuinely don’t feel like my tendency to do heavy strength training is a diet culture holdover. My tendency to do 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, maybe. The strength training, no.

So what about the terminology? Is it ok to say that I am “exercising,” that I am “working out” my body? My husband often likens me to a prize racehorse, because I am in constant need of care and service. And what does one do with a prize race horse? One trains it. One works it out. One gets it ready to do its very damned best at the physical contest it lives for. Is it so wrong that I want to do the same?

This is a genuine question. I cannot decide if I should be worried about my perspective on this being twisted by diet culture, even though it doesn’t feel twisted in my head. With several professionals giving me pushback on working out and straining muscles and feeling “good pain,” I wonder if I am the one who is confused.

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 Depression Eating Disorders My Story

Long Time No See

It’s been a while…I had a rough fall. In August I cut back on a med–Abilify–which I had been taking for years for my depression. I cut it back because I had been doing so well that I thought I might not need it any more. No such luck. I spent three months dealing with fairly awful withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, insomnia, and renewed depression. During the first of those months I didn’t even realize what was going on, which made it even worse. And then when the withdrawal symptoms finally settled down, I realized I was not in an ok place without the med anyway. So I started it back up and within a week or so I was back to the happy place I had been in over the summer.

Eating disorder-wise, things have also been eventful. The binge eating disorder has become fairly quiescent. I almost never have a true binge these days. But the lowering of that tide has revealed rocky shores–I am not eating properly still and there are many issues now revealed. A tendency to enjoy not eating, and a tendency to avoid certain foods. My nutritionist now believes that my primary diagnosis is actually ARFID (Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). More on that in another post. At the same time, she’s identified anorexic and bulimic tendencies as well as a past history of rumination disorder. So that makes five eating disorders that I either already have or have to watch out for. Yay, I’ve got the whole set!

Now that I am feeling better again, I really want to get back to blogging pretty regularly, so hopefully you’ll see me on here more. I’ve also re-started my insta. And bought a lot of clothes. So keep your eyes open for some fun ootd pics!

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.