Tag Archives: Shame

Body Shaming At Any Size

Hey there.

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and even longer since I’ve ranted.

This video has been circulating around the internet lately, and I was incredibly proud and in awe of this brave woman. She is an example of strength and dignity that we all can learn from.

Body shaming is disgusting, and one of the worst forms of bullying out there. Everyone has been a victim of it, I’m sure. Whether it’s for your shape, size, hair, skin, race, whatever, it exists.

I have been the victim of body shaming on more than one occasion. Even when I weighed less than I do now, I had people in my life who would consistently put me down for being “fat”.  Who would point out my every flaw, or just give me “tips” to disguise the parts of my body that were socially unacceptable. It hurts, especially when it comes from those who are closest to you.

There’s one other type of body shaming that I’ve been a victim of that nobody talks about, or maybe it’s just that nobody cares.

Have you ever called anyone a skinny bitch? (I have.)

Skinny girls are torn apart all the time. It seems everyone thinks that because skinny=socially acceptable, “thin-bashing” is okay. Skinny people have it all, right?

Let’s play a brain game. Imagine you overhear the following:

Oh my god, how much weight have you gained? You look disgusting. Seriously. You need to stop eating. I mean it. You look like you’re all steriod-puffy from cancer treatment. Look in the mirror! Can’t you see that you look like one of those obese people you see on the news?

Horrifying, yes? Now imagine this:

Oh my god, how much weight have you lost? You look disgusting. Seriously. Just eat a fucking sandwich. I mean it. You look like a cancer patient after a million rounds of chemo. Look in the mirror! Can’t you see you look like a holocaust survivor?

I’ve heard all of these things from people trying to be “helpful”. I’ve heard it from friends, acquaintances, teachers, strangers . . . nobody seems to think twice when it comes to being underweight as opposed to overweight.

Yes, I was suffering from an eating disorder at the time. But people don’t realize that obesity can be just as much a symptom of an eating disorder as emaciation.  Why is one acceptable to comment on, but not the other?

Remember:

The girl who can eat anything and never gain a pound might be throwing up everything she eats.

The girl with the hot body who seems so disciplined going to the gym might just feel like a hamster trapped on a wheel. She can’t step off the treadmill to save her life.

The emaciated girl who is obviously anorexic may be fighting for her life, and doesn’t need you to remind her of how bad she looks.

I was out to dinner with a friend earlier this year. She was working so hard to fight anorexia on her own, and was out for maybe her 2nd meal in public at a restaurant. She had ordered her meal, and on her way back from the bathroom, some drunken jerk yelled, “Go back to the concentration camp!” This absolutely destroyed her, and she could only pick at the meal she had so bravely ordered.

You never know when an ill-timed, even well-intentioned comment can throw a complete wrench in someone’s day. Please just think before you speak. And to the asshole guy from the video who is worrying about the example she is setting for children, just remember that your children are watching you more carefully than they are anyone on tv. Would you really rather raise your children to be assholes than overweight? As far as I can see, the assholes are much more dangerous to society.

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What The Girl At The Health Food Store REALLY Thinks About You

Strange title, I know. And no, it’s not a song title . . . that I know of . . . but I have many musical friends and I’m sure one of them could come up with something. (Musical Friends: if you come up with something good, I’ll TOTALLY post it)

Elephant Journal Logo via google

Anyhow. Some weeks ago, I was reading a post on elephantjournal.com entitled What Your Yoga Teacher REALLY Thinks About You. Naturally, coming from the hyper-critical world of dance, and being the cynical, judgement-paranoid girl that I am, I expected it to be a “Stop fixing your hair in downward dog/Make sure you have bathed in the last 3 days before coming to class/please make sure your yoga pants aren’t threadbare – I don’t want to see your hot pink thong” kind of thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The author, Kristin Althea, is all about the love. She thinks the sweat, and the shirt riding up, and the falling out of poses, and the being human is beautiful. Well, knock me down with a feather. And for some reason, this skeptic-of-the-year believes her.

It made me think, too, about places besides yoga class when I worry about judgement. In the eating disorder world, judgement is a pathological fear. The grocery store clerk, at one time, could have reduced me to tears if she had so much as commented on anything I bought. (ie Wow! You buy a lot of cucumbers!) I remember, when I first started eating again, that being sent to the health food store was the most traumatic of all. These weren’t just people bearing witness to the food I purchased, but people who knew something about food, who likely ate healthily themselves, and had the ultimate authority to judge my groceries.

Now, I’m that person at the cash register of the health food store, pointing you in the direction of chia seeds, teaching you how to cook quinoa, and asking that often shame-inducing question, “Are these the organic cranberries, or regular?” From this position of power, I thought I’d write my own:

 What The Girl At The Health Food Store REALLY Thinks About You

As a shopper, I’m always convinced that cashiers are taking note of everything in my cart. I will often make excuses or jokes about things I’m uncomfortable about buying, or things I buy with great regularity. But here’s the shocker: I don’t have a clue what was in the cart of the person I rang through 5 seconds ago, let alone last time you came in. I worked for 9 hours today, and I can’t tell you more than one item that anyone bought today.

There are some exceptions to this checkout amnesia. There is “Hummus Lady”, with whom I have bonded over our mutual love of Sunflower Kitchen hummus, and the fact that she buys two tubs every time she comes in (sometimes more than once a week). She made jokes about it, at first, saying “You must think I’m absolutely insane, buying this much hummus.” I hadn’t noticed until then. Now it’s a running joke. There’s a little 2-yr-old boy who I absolutely love, and I know he’ll always buy his favorite cereal that he calls “Papa’s Cherrios” and, if it’s a Friday, “Choco Milk”. I know what foods some of my regulars buy, but it’s objective knowledge. No judgement involved.

  • When I ask you “organic, or non?” I’m not judging your response: I just need to know which code to ring in. Organic is expensive. I, of anyone, understand if you choose the cheaper route. I’m just happy you’re choosing to spend the money you have at our small, independent health food store, rather than at one of the “big name” stores. My bosses are some of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met, and I’d rather your money go to raising their families, than to furnishing the 2nd home of the “big name” store CEO.
  • If you have 2 bags of chips, I’m not thinking “Wow, what a glutton.” I’m thinking, “Ok, remember to take the promotional discount off of the second bag . . . oh hey, I didn’t know we got a new flavor . . . how can I bag their groceries without crushing these?” I swear. I’m too busy doing my job to think any less of you. Besides, I’m all about balance. Have the courage to eat your chips without shame.
  • If I ask you a question about why you are choosing an item, or what recipe you’re using it in, I’m not testing you: I don’t know enough about it and I really want to learn. Thanks for teaching me.
  • Unlike Kristin, I don’t think you all are beautiful. My job title makes me little more than pond scum to many people, despite the fact that I have spent more years in college than just about anyone who isn’t a doctor or lawyer. You treat me like shit, I’m not going to think that you’re beautiful. But, I have many customers of every age, shape, race, religion, and sexual orientation who I think are incredibly beautiful human beings. These people make the percentage of assholes I deal with bearable. I have customers who will introduce me as their friend, ones who I will talk with (on a slow day) for more than an hour, ones who I hug, ones who I share private jokes with, ones who I cry with over their illnesses and losses. There are people who will come by to share their cooking that they made specially for me to try (this is a challenge, but as long as it’s vegetarian, I will always at least try it). These are the things that make people beautiful to me. Not what they look like, nor what they have in their cart.

So next time you walk into a health food store, hold your head high. You’re doing something brave, and you have every right to be there. The store’s employees aren’t judging you (well, they might be judging your snarky attitude, but if you don’t have one of those, you’re good to go). Besides, chances are the girl ringing up your goji berries and coconut ice cream is working there to develop a better relationship with the food she fears so much, and is too busy worrying about what she’s going to eat for snack that day to scrutinize your cart.

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Filed under Blatherings, Fighting Fear, History Lessons

An Eating Disordered Paradox

When you say or do something that hurts me, it doesn’t change how I feel about you, it changes how I feel about me.

A sample conversation that may or may not occur between my head and my head on any given day:

Hmmm. That upset me.

Why the fuck are you upset? That shouldn’t hurt you.

You’re right . . . but I’m still upset.

Well, you deserve to be upset. People hurt you because you deserve to be hurt. You’re an asshole for even remotely putting the blame on the other person.

I need feedback, people. Is this an “everybody” thing? An “eating disordered” thing? Or is this just a “me” thing? Also, am I using “paradox” correctly? I feel like I am, but suddenly I have doubts . . .

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Shameless

Today is another anniversary.

One year ago today, I stepped off the bike.

That may not sound like a big deal, but it was. Up until June 5th, 2011, I was absolutely chained to my exercise bike. I had to burn off every calorie I ate before I ate it, then keep going into the night until I hit a predetermined, ever-increasing number of calories burned, or passed out. Some days, even if I’d hit the requisite number of calories, I’d have to keep going, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning. That was my whole day.

One day, when I was touring with my last show, we had a drive from Toronto to Ottawa, with a stop to do a show in between. I left my house at 9 am, and we didn’t get into our hotel until 11 that night. For the last hour of the drive, I’m pretty sure I didn’t shut up: “Do you think the hotel gym will still be open? Sometimes they close at 11 . . . Can we call to find out? Do you think they’ll have a staircase I can run up and down if it’s closed? Maybe I can just run back and forth in the hallway if I’m quiet . . . ” I was beyond caring if I sounded crazy. I NEEDED to make up for the day in the car. (The gym was 24 hours. I didn’t see much of the city that trip, but I could draw you a very detailed picture of that hotel gym.)

WGT would regularly challenge me to just step off the bike x number of minutes before my predetermined calorie burn. She was met every time with a flat out “NO”. I wasn’t budging on that one. I couldn’t imagine it. How could I?

Finally, one Friday night, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. The bike was driving me crazy. The only way I could NOT get on the bike was to sleep the whole day and not have to eat anything. The next day, I would just keep myself asleep. Every time I woke up, I’d take more medication and go back to sleep. Finally it stopped working, and I had to get up. I had to get on the bike. I was never going to be able to stop.

The morning of the 5th, I read my meditation of the day. My friend Dawn had recommended the book The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie about a month before, and a lot of the passages really resonated with me. June 5th’s was titled, “Combating Shame.”

Watch out for shame.

Many systems and people reek of shame. They are controlled by shame and may want us to play their game with them. They may be hoping to hook us and control us through shame.

We don’t have to fall into their shame. Instead, we’ll take the good feelings – self-acceptance, love, and nurturing.

Compulsive behaviors, sexually addictive behaviors, over-eating, chemical abuse, and addictive gambling are shame-based behaviors. If we participate in them, we will feel ashamed. It’s inevitable. We need to watch out for addictive and other compulsive behaviors because those will immerse us in shame.

Our past, and the brainwashing we may have had that imposed “original shame” upon us, may try to put shame on us. This can happen when we’re all alone, walking through the grocery store or just quietly going about living our life. Don’t think . . . Don’t feel . . . Don’t grow or change . . . Don’t be alive . . . Don’t live life . . . Be ashamed!

Be done with shame. Attack shame. Go to war with it. Learn to recognize it and avoid it like the plague.

I knew by that point that my eating disorder wasn’t about the weight, really, but couldn’t figure out what else was keeping me chained to my behaviors. This put a name to it: shame. Being so ashamed of everything about myself meant that I couldn’t stop exercising. Exercising was something I should be doing. That’s what the media tells us. I was so ashamed of the thought of anyone finding out that I wasn’t exercising anymore, I couldn’t stop it. I was ashamed, too, that I couldn’t stop it.

People kept asking me what I was afraid would happen if I stopped exercising, if I started eating, if I started gaining weight. I couldn’t figure it out. It’s because I wasn’t afraid, per se, I was ashamed. Shame is what dictated that my food be chopped in a certain order. I wasn’t afraid of a mis-chopped apple, but I was ashamed that I hadn’t chopped it correctly. It’s what dictated that nobody see me without my make-up and hair done. Not afraid, just ashamed.

Shame was something I could fight. I may still be ashamed a lot of the time, but it’s easier to live with than a nameless fear.

It’s been a year. I never got back on the bike. In fact, I sold it over Christmas. Yes, I still exercise. Yes, sometimes it’s more than I’m “supposed to”. But now it’s at a healthy weight, and without being chained to it. Yes, I’m still ashamed, but I’m choosing to live with the shame rather than kill myself trying to erase it. I’m told there are other ways to get through it. I’ll let you know if I find them.

 


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Filed under Fighting Fear, History Lessons, Inspiration

When ‘Support’ Goes Awry

Supporting those with eating disorders is a complicated thing, and a subject I’ve touched upon from time to time here. I felt like it deserved another post, however, after reading an article sent to me by a friend (I’d call her by name, but I’m not sure which one she’d want me to go with, so I’ll just call her “J”)

*WARNING: THE ARTICLE CONTAINS A LOT OF TRIGGERING INFORMATION, SO READ WITH CAUTION*

 I’ll summarize as best I can here.

As long as the internet has existed, there have been people using it for, well, less than healthy pursuits (get your mind out of the gutter, but yes, that too). In the world of eating disorders, for more than a decade now, there have been online communities known as “pro-ana” (pro anorexic) or what they’re now calling “Thinspo” or “Thinspiration” blogs. Thinspiration consists of photos (often heavily photoshopped) of severely underweight women (often models) that serve as “goals” for young women who want to lose weight. (There is also fitspo and reverse thinspo)  The blogs also offer tips on burning calories, fighting hunger, and hiding your illness from those around you. One girl cites avoiding an eating disorder as her reason for participating in this culture:

“I mean, they help you a lot. Even though it’s not good for society and other people, it can help you lose weight so fast that you won’t have time to get an eating disorder… And I’m not afraid. I’m ready to risk for perfection.”

I’m not going to lie. There have been times when I have sought out these sites (very infrequently, but even one look is too much, in my humble opinion) for tips and tricks. While I used them as a sort of “weight-loss Wikipedia”, many girls (and boys) create communities around their illnesses, offering encouragement and support to each other to keep losing weight. As with eating disorders, however, I believe the real inspiration behind these sites has nothing to do with weight loss.

Often, eating disorders stem from a deep feeling of shame. There are many different causes for that shame to exist, but it seems to be a recurring theme. That shame keeps you locked in a very isolated place. Everything you think and feel becomes a deep, dark secret that you can’t share with anyone. People think you’re choosing to act the way you are because you let them think that you are. If it’s a choice, then you’re not a victim.

For me, the first time I stepped into an eating disorder support group, I was shocked to hear people say publicly the things I thought were so bad and wrong and shameful, the things that made me feel like a freak. The feeling of “not alone” was one of the best feelings I’d felt in a long time. I think that’s how the thinspo blogs thrive. People who feel so alone find other people who think like them. Seeing pictures of people who are “the goal” – thin and happy – gives people a sense of control, and a feeling that what they’re doing can’t be all that bad. One of the hardest things for me in recovery wasn’t necessarily the loss of being thin, but the loss of the dream of what thinness would mean for me.

But it is bad. It’s really bad. I’ve seen it kill more than once. And it never stops breaking my heart to see people I love inch closer and closer to death. These people aren’t supporting each other to thinness, they’re supporting each other to death.

Alcoholics can find multiple meetings a day, if they need them. The same doesn’t seem to work for eating disorders. If the groups are free, they’re limited. Here you’re allowed two a week. There are more paid groups cropping up, but those who have lost everything rarely have the money to afford them. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe the Thinspo girls are onto something . . . maybe we need more pro-recovery online.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite new quotes that puts shame into perspective for me. I hope it’s INspirational for you, too. Yes, it’s from Harry Potter. Shut up. I’m not ashamed.

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