The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

We had one main project for the holiday weekend, but we were able to wrap it up so quickly yesterday that I’ve had some extra-luxurious reading time on my Saturday and Sunday. Which means that after a long dry spell, I’ve finished yet another book—this one, the latest choice from my fat activist/HAES/body love reading list.

Sonya Renee Taylor and her radical self-love/liberationist platform, The Body is Not an Apology, has been on my radar for some years now. I think it was my friend Alice who first brought Sonya into my awareness. Even if I’m misremembering this detail, I am going to stand by this poetic retelling for the rest of my days. There is something so just and sacred and fitting in a poet of Alice’s caliber bringing me to learn about a poet of Sonya’s caliber.

So as soon as Sonya’s book was released last year, I bought myself a copy. And then I let it sit on my bookshelves with all the other body love/goddess power books I’ve been ignoring in my quest to be super smart and fulfill all these reading challenges.

My decision to abandon reading challenge perfection in 2019 to make more room for actively self-nurturing titles put Sonya’s book back on the priority list, and then a guest teacher call with Sonya as part of the Mastery curriculum put this at the very top of that list.

Continue reading “The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor”

Why I Hate Weight Watchers

Over the past couple months, I’ve been in the interesting position of being faced with the news that a couple different friends are embarking on paths in pursuit of intentional weight loss. One joined Weight Watchers and one had bariatric surgery.
These different news flashes presented me with a momentary conundrum: considering everything I have read and learned in the last decade about how intentional weight loss doesn’t work, and my own desire to be a size acceptance advocate*, what, I asked myself, should I say in response to these friends making choices I didn’t especially agree with?

Cruise Control

So one of the things that cruises are notorious for —

Wait, did I ever mention that The Trip was a cruise? I can’t recall and I’m too damn lazy to go look it up. In case this is new news, and just to get this down on the record: The Trip was a cruise.

Display on the first cruise day, in the Windjammer (the buffet restaurant)So anyhow, one of the things that cruises are notorious for is the quantity and quality of the food you’re served. Actually, I’m not enough of a hard-cross cruise traveler to know whether all cruises are known for having good food, or if it’s more like the same rep an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet has: food that’s notable  more for the available amount than for the flavor profile. (Even if most cruise ships have food that’s more adequate than exceptional, the ship we were on is on this list of the “best cruise ships for foodies,” so trust me when I say that not only was there tons of food available, it was tasty, tasty stuff.)

Now, there’s a whole lot of rhetoric out there about how it’s inevitable to gain weight on a cruise, with various fat-panic/fat-shaming suggestions on how to approach that “problem.” For example:

  1. controlling your on-ship behavior to minimize weight gain
  2. doing a little prophylactic weight loss ahead of time to build your “buffer zone”
  3. going on x, y, or z post-vacation diet plan
  4. deliberately infecting yourself with a parasite or the norovirus in order to stay skinny

(Okay, maybe I made that last one up. And, for once, no, I won’t be providing links to sources. I don’t feel like actively participating in Diest Culture, and you can find this kind of shit so easily with the simplest of google searches.)

It was an interesting comparison across the years, thinking back to the first-ever cruise Mr. Mezzo and I took back in 2007, right when I was at the verge of learning about fat acceptance and adopting that perspective for myself and my worldview. That first cruise also had lots of good food. I indulged, and I know I gained weight — though at this distance, I can’t recall what the number was. And I felt so ashamed for all of it. For my lack of dietary discipline, for my laziness in not becoming a cruise-ship gym-rat, and then for my inability to diet and lose the weight after I got back on land.

martinisThis time around, I decided adamantly against imbibing a guilt-and-shame chaser with any of the meals, martinis, or desserts I had while vacationing. I have no idea if my food was any less rich or sugar-laden this time around as in ’07. (I’d guess not much appreciable difference, then and now.) But I do know I’m feeling lots better than I did 7 years ago — if for no other reason than the fact that I’m not mired deep in a self-shaming and self-punishment cycle. ‘Cos honestly, when I let those voices loose in my head, it’s never to my benefit. Spiritually, emotionally, or physically.

Having said that, I am feeling a bit logy after-the-fact. I’m guessing, based on my HCG experience from the spring, that I’m mostly feeling the after-effects of the dramatic uptick in added sugar during those two weeks (read: desserts, martinis and Belgian chocolate). And I’m kind of fascinated by the way, as far as I can tell, that my spring detox journey helped me more attuned to my body so I could notice this change, but my history of fat acceptance work and my ongoing growth around overall self-acceptance has in a place where I’m not upset or blaming myself about it.

belgian-chocolateInstead, I’m just quietly moving back to some of the cooking routines and rituals I used during the spring, adopting something that’s closer to “clean eating” than I was doing recently. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not on some extreme ascetic kick. Beyond my own natural sense of fullness, I am setting zero limits on the quantity of food I’m eating.  I’m even having a little taste of “added sugar” each night after dinner (I say again: Belgian chocolate. You don’t think we were coming home without a small stash of that to enjoy, did you?)

I’m just trying to listen to my body. And if my body is craving greens and chicken rather than my cruise staples of pasta and red meat, I’ma good with that.

Plus a little of that Belgian chocolate. Yummy and absolutely guilt-free.

———-

Image credits:

Fruit buffet: http://forsythfamily.com/caribbeancruise.htm

Martinis: http://zynkah.hubpages.com/hub/10-Best-Flavored-Martini-Recipies

Chocolate: http://www.moonlight-mile.com/belgian-chocolate/

 

 

 

 

Crowning Glory

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

~~ Henry IV, Part II, 3.1

I was on the search for something quick and whimsical today, and I think I may have found it:

Australian retailer BlackMilk just launched its Princess & Villains collection inspired by the ladies of Disney. To be clear, this is a line for adults. As in, adult humans are encouraged to wear this clothing on their bodies. (h/t Jezebel)

I’m pretty much in agreement with Jezebel’s Kara Brown about the ugly/tacky quotient on these. Seriously. This is a line of clothing I am not particularly upset doesn’t run into plus sizes. (I know: from a general fat activism perspective, it’s troubling when any high fashion line perpetuates thin-ness as the only body type worth draping in fashionable clothing. But speaking only for my own personal taste in clothing? I’m not real upset to have this particular line barred from me on account of the sizing and sourcing choices.)

But if nothing else, it’s a good excuse for a bit of a link-fest. (That turned into something more substantive than I originally expected. I quite literally cannot stop myself from pontificating, sometimes…)

———-

First off, some things I learned existed while Googling for this post: Disney wedding dresses. And haute couture adaptations of Disney Princess gowns. (Who knew?)

And then there’s this gallery on DeviantArt that presents Disney Princesses/Heroines garbed in “their” Princes’ outfits. True confession: There’s a number of these folks I don’t recognize at all. I used to keep up with Disney releases, but clearly I stopped doing so longer ago than I thought I had…

Anyhow. This Princess-to-Prince gallery I remember seeing back when it went viral last fall, but this one, which presents more historically accurate gowns for the characters, was new to me today.

———-

Princess-Culture-590x442“Princess Culture” is a bit of a tricky, problematic thing.

In one corner of the debate are those who point to its influence as another source for the misogynist miasma that helps reinforce the ways girls/women should be primarily focused on their attractiveness and marriageability. For example, Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella At My Daughter:

It’s part of this culture that encourages girls to define themselves through beauty and play-sexiness—and eventually, real sexiness—and I don’t think that’s the yardstick we want our daughters measuring themselves by.

Experts say femininity, identity and sexuality have become a performance for girls. Girls perform sexual confidence but they don’t connect it to erotic desire. It’s not about their own desire, their own self-determination.

As a parent, I didn’t realize how much of my job was going to be protecting my kid’s childhood from being a marketer’s land grab—companies telling her who she should be.

See also: Merida’s attempted Princess makeover.

Disney’s redesign of the character tamed her unruly hair, expanded her breasts, shrank her waist, enlarged her eyes, plastered on makeup, pulled her (now-glittering) dress off her shoulders, and morphed her defiant posture into a come-hither pose. The bow-wielding Merida of Brave — a character who explicitly fought against the princess world her mother tried to push her into in the film — was becoming what she hated, and inadvertently revealing the enormously problematic nature of Disney’s Princess line.

And yet, there are also those who see Disney Princesses in a different light. Possibly as a mild expression of societal — I would say “patriarchal” — values already embedded in the culture. Values more strongly caused and propagated by other sources:

It’s true that princess culture is complicit in keeping in place many of the troubling stressors women and girls suffer. But when you talk to me about impossible beauty standards and eating disorders, I’d point to Photoshop and the “obesity epidemic” before I’d point to stylized animation. When you talk to me about early sexualization of children, consider the retailers selling padded inch-thick push-up bras in the kid’s department before looking at Disney’s chaste kisses between adults. (Unless you think a kid shouldn’t see their parents kissing, in which case… I don’t think we’ll ever be on the same page.)

These are problems, sure, but they’re not problems Disney created, and Disney isn’t the primary villain here. At least not while my seven-year-old is walking by billboards for Victoria’s Secret the size of a school bus.

And then there’s even a more pointed critique of those wishing to critique Princess Culture:

Some say “Princess Culture” promotes materialism, patriarchy, and a sadistic need for long, shiny hair. Many moms worry a Snow White doll will turn their pre-K Amazons into simpering ninnies more concerned with looks than grades and goals. But they’re wrong—and I speak from personal experience. The truth is, Princess Culture helped me become more confident, more adventurous, and more okay with being different. It also helped me understand and embrace the concept of feminism at a very early age. Seriously. (Elle.)

I have enough passing nostalgia for my years loving Disney animation that I can definitely feel the pull to defend what may have been treasured bits of childhood. Still, I’m more on the side of those who remain troubled by Princess Culture. To quote Orenstein’s book (as excerpted here at NPR):

It is tempting, as a parent, to give the new pink-and-pretty a pass. There is already so much to be vigilant about, and the limits of our tolerance, along with our energy, slip a little with each child we have. So if a spa birthday party would make your six-year-old happy (and get her to leave you alone), really, what is the big deal? After all, girls will be girls, right? I agree, they will — and that is exactly why we need to pay more, rather than less, attention to what is happening in their world. According to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture’s emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior. In one study of eighth-grade girls, for instance, self-objectification — judging your body by how you think it looks to others — accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another linked the focus on appearance among girls that age to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. Even brief exposure to the typical, idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls’ opinion of themselves, both physically and academically. Nor, as they get older, does the new sexiness lead to greater sexual entitlement. According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College who studies teenage girls’ desire, “They respond to questions about how their bodies feel — questions about sexuality or arousal — by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.”

As such, I’m very glad to see signs of the Princess Counter-Culture. Like Orenstein’s media and activity suggestions for interested parents — including a Hiyao Miyazaki shout-out!! Or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor giving career advice on Sesame Street:

Or Goldieblox:

And yet. True confession #2: I have these on my desk at work:

pop-vinyl-queens

Plus a Cruella de Ville stapler.

cruella-stapler

So I’m as complicit in this commercialized mess as anyone….

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Image credits:

Replace the princesshttp://saraelyafi.com/2013/05/14/it-is-time-to-replace-the-princess-with-the-woman

Pop! Vinyl: http://www.toywiz.com/mini2packmalqueen.html?gclid=CjwKEAjwjN2eBRDbyPWl0JLY5lYSJACPo0Ui-tViTSQrsDJ_yiUBBT-KxYkbnS8F4leDh8iEbSD3eRoC8yXw_wcB

Cruella: http://whirlyjoy.com/2012/12/11/why-my-mascot-is-cruella-de-vil/

A Distorted Shadow of the Truth

I’m very healthy, except for my weight.

It all started because of the interactive at the science museum. It was in an exhibit promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity, and it used proportioned weights to help indicate what sorts and durations of physical exertion would be enough to “burn off” particular food choices. You know, a reproduction of the old fiction about calories in/calories out.

And I tried to keep quiet — I really did. I was with someone I didn’t know all that well, and, for better or for worse, I’m a wimpy enough “activist” that there are lots of times when I choose not to say the many many feminist or fat acceptance-y things that cross my mind in any given moment.

But I just couldn’t stop myself. Because to have that kind of destructive fiction presented as if it were Truth in a goddamn science museum was just beyond the beyond as far as what I could take.

———-

In some of my earlier FA/HAES rants, I’ve talked about the ways that dietary and exercise choices can make a positive impact on your health. (Am rushed now, so will provide citations at appropriate places throughout this post in an update sometime this weekend.) I’m not foolish enough to say that it works for everyone all the time (see the bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers I put down below the dividing line), but I know from my HCG journey that changing my dietary habits has positively impacted my own health. And my individual experience has been corroborated by some of the studies I linked in those earlier rants.

However. The calories in/calories out bullshit and the cultural weight obsession are just so damn destructive. Because they keep people’s focus on the wrong damn thing!

heart-grapes-healthLet’s say you want to improve your health so you decide to shake up your diet and activity routine in whatever way works for you. Eat more fruits and veggies. Eliminate/lessen added sugars. Train for a marathon. Start biking for some of your errand-running. Here’s the not-often-enough-acknowledged truth of one’s genetic set point: those lifestyle changes could be having all kinds of positive impact on your health without making much (if any) alteration in the number on the scale. So, because of all the false conflation between weight and health, because of all the ways we’ve been lied to about how certain calorie/food/exercise equations are unshakeable, it is entirely possible that someone who’s making great and positive changes in their health will instead feel like an absolute and utter failure because the number on the scale isn’t moving.

And so they might give up, or turn towards drastic weight loss methods that are undeniably detrimental to one’s health. And that’s just heartbreaking to me.

I’m very healthy, except for my weight,” she said to me.

Then I’d say you’re healthy. End of sentence,” I replied.

———-

Here’s the small bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers.

  1. No one owes the world to have “health” as their top priority, or anywhere in the top 10 list.
  2. People who have chosen to prioritize health (to whatever degree) can set their own definitions for what’s healthy “enough” — whether that’s five servings of produce per day, or five servings of produce per month.
  3. Diet and exercise choices often make a positive impact on health, but there are lots of factors outside our control, so don’t you dare getting all snooty and superior about anyone who faces health challenges you have been spared.

———-

Another catch up post for Writing 101, done in place of Day 20. (Day 20 is supposed to be a long post — which for me is rather a scary prospect — and so the “due date” is Monday.) Any how, here’s the Day 12 prompt:

Today, write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. For a twist, include foreshadowing.

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Image credit: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7272/6-simple-things-you-can-do-in-2013-to-optimize-your-health.html

Tempted by Convention

Mr. Mezzo and I spent the weekend up at the lake house with my Mom. One of the benefits of moving to Boston was the fact that we can have more regular weekend access to the place, so the promising weather forecast made it seem like a great time for the first visit of the season. Besides, what with yesterday being the fifth anniversary of my father’s way-sudden passing, it just felt best for Mom to have company rather than to be left alone with possibly-gloomy thoughts.

feelings-pieNot that we talked about any of that. Not the anniversary, not about my motivations for coming up this weekend, not about what she might be feeling/remembering, not about my own feelings and memories. None of that was discussed.

Though truth be told, I didn’t expect anything different on that score. There’s a reason for all those cliches about emotionally reticent, laconic New Englanders. And the superficiality of conversation among families in the corporate/country club set.

But I did tell Mr. Mezzo, as we were breezing through the Hampton Tolls Friday night, that I was wondering whether Mom would say anything about my weight loss. After all, if my body looks different enough for hairdressers and co-workers to notice, one would think that the change would be obvious enough for one’s own flesh and blood to be aware.

Mr. Mezzo predicted that she wouldn’t say anything. At least, he figured she wasn’t going to bring up the topic independently. As he explained it to me when I asked, he thought she might say something if the subject came up organically, but he knew he wasn’t gonna bring it up, and he knew for damn sure I wasn’t gonna bring it up. So, he concluded, silence was likely to rule.

I wasn’t so sure. Yes, she’s been nice and polite about not nagging me for becoming fat, but it felt like there might be a chance of her going to the super-enthusiastic place about how much better I look now, how great it is that I’ve finally gotten thinner — the kind of compliments I wrote about previously, and the kind which would inspire an internal wry smile and a silent monologue about “Oh, so there’s the judgement about my body type she’s been polite enough to keep hidden all this time.”

So I just wasn’t sure whether or not the topic would come up, and then I wasn’t entirely sure how explicitly I was going to talk about my detox journey if the topic arose. (Somehow, I don’t imagine my mother being all that open to the subject. I rather imagine her being in the whole narrow-minded Industrial Age “quackwatch” kind of place.)

But when all was said and done, I needn’t have wasted any time wondering or rehearsing what I might say. Because Mr. Mezzo’s prognostication won out and the topic of my body shrinkage remained as subterranean as any consideration of my father’s passing.

I am mostly deeply relieved at that turn of events.

But I am aware of a small part in me that is disappointed.

I get it. I know I still carry a small kernel of my younger self with me, that little girl who naturally wishes for her parents to show their affection and approval.* And even if there’s lots of reasons that I find compliments about weight loss to be deeply problematic, I know my mom’s not even remotely aware of FA/HAES, and she’s really not likely to be agreeing with that perspective. So, that part of me which yearns for acknowledgement would kinda sorta be okay with taking in a problematic compliment, because sometimes that feels better than no compliment at all.

[SIDEBAR] There’s also a whole other angle in contemplating how deep the cultural programming around body size goes. Kate Harding once wrote about the “cognitive dissonance” phase of the fat acceptance journey, “thinking it made perfect sense that the OBESITY CRISIS hype was way overblown, and even if it weren’t, dieting doesn’t work anyway — but still wanting to lose weight.” And Cat observes that for a fat person to want to lose weight “is the sane choice when you live in a world that finds you disgusting.” So, I also wonder if there’s a piece of me that would kinda sorta be okay with weight loss compliments on account of the residual weight of all that cultural baggage. [/SIDEBAR]

So whichever way you slice it, there’s lots of feels, some of it self-contradictory. ‘Twas ever thus.

* I’m guessing I’m not the only one, but I’m not going to assume I know about anyone’s soul but my own.

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Image credit: http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/MjAxMy1jYzgzZjk3NDA2YWRiODA1.png

Baby Jiu Jitsu

A Dance of Appreciation and Avoidance

Baby Jiu JitsuOne of my other weekend activities was to get a somewhat-overdue haircut (and a color touch-up, though that was more on-time).

I had a haircut scheduled two weeks ago, but my hairdresser got sick, and I just decided to grit my teeth and wait till the Saturday coloring appointment I already had on the books.

The upshot of all this scheduling information is that my last haircut prior to this one was the weekend before I flew down to begin the HCG protocol. So, my hairdresser hadn’t seen me since this whole journey began. And I guess I look different enough now for it to be noticeable.

“You look great! Have you lost weight?”

Welcome to the compliment minefield.

———-

[HAES/FA Basics Break]

Just for clarity, let’s recap some of the reasons why this particular “compliment” is deeply problematic and not very complimentary.

As a start, here’s Regan Chastain at Dances with Fat:

People who undertake weight loss attempts are often encouraged to motivate themselves by hating their current bodies.  When they are successful at short term weight loss, they are encouraged to look back at their “old body” with shame, scorn, and hatred.  And that’s a big problem.

Not just because at some point the person will probably start to think “if everyone is talking about how great I look now, how did they think I looked before?” but also because the vast majority of people gain back their weight in two to five years.  Then they are living in a body that they taught themselves to hate and be ashamed of, remembering all of those compliments. Yikes.

Tracy I at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty unpacks some of the deeper implications of this compliment, and its collusion within a structure of the Foucauldian panopticon:*

It reinforces the idea that it’s okay to let people know that we are monitoring and judging their bodies. One thing that shocked my friend in the story I opened with was that she really didn’t even know the person who commented on her weight.  And yet the person felt completely entitled to say something. What kind of a twisted world do we live in where the state of our bodies is fair game for comments from whoever feels like making them?

Finally, here’s a meditation from Michelle Parrinello-Cason at Balancing Jane on the question of what exactly we’re praising when we compliment weight loss.

What if I say “Have you lost weight? You’re looking great!” to someone who has been starving himself for weeks. Now I’ve reinforced that behavior.

What if I tell someone she looks great when she’s actually suffering weight loss as a side effect from a deadly disease (as happened to this woman’s friend who was suffering from Lupus).

We don’t know what we’re praising if we’re only praising a result. If our goal is to encourage people to take care of themselves and to be healthy, then shouldn’t we make sure that we’re actually encouraging people to, you know, take care of themselves and be healthy?

If someone gets up an hour early and went for a run, we should praise that. That’s hard work.

If someone cooked healthy meals all week long for themselves and their family, we should praise that. That’s hard work. [. . .]

If we rethink the way that we give praise, we can begin to restructure our norms. If we praise hard work instead of outcomes and acknowledge beauty wherever we see it and the people who are doing that hard work don’t get any thinner, we’re still reinforcing positive, healthy changes. Isn’t that what we really want to value as a culture?

[/Break]

———-

For all that I agree with these multiple analyses about the problems behind my hairdresser’s statement, I also agree with Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness about the root cause of these “compliments”:

I think people are, in some ways, nearly literally blinded by weight loss culture. So when they read something or someone as beautiful they make an automatic connection between beauty and weight loss. I really don’t blame people for that. I think that most of us who have woken up from weight loss culture have been truly hurt by it (or have great empathy for someone close to us who has been hurt by it), so people who haven’t had that experience often just see our current weight loss culture as normal.

So the question becomes, what do you do in the moment? Depending on the context and your relationship to that person, you can handle the compliment of “You look great. Did you lose weight?” in many ways.

Among the options Poretsky lists are saying a simple thanks, setting a boundary against public discussion of your weight, or using humor to redirect the conversation. In the moment on Saturday morning, I didn’t select any of those precise options, though I feel as if I kind of rolled them all together, a bit.

I thanked her and said I’d been doing this detox diet for a number of weeks, limiting my food to lean proteins and fresh produce. I was sure some weight loss had occurred as a side effect of the detoxing, but that’s not my focus.

“Do you have an ultimate weight loss goal?”**

“Nope,” I repeated, “that’s not my focus.

And that’s where we left the topic. Me wanting to acknowledge and appreciate her desire to say something nice and kind, while also jiu-jitsuing my way out of the specific value proposition (thin=beautiful=virtuous; fat=ugly=lazy cow) she was unconsciously peddling.

* I stumbled across this blog tonight looking for good links to use here and I am already head over heels in love with Tracy’s intelligence and insights.

** You see, this bit shows as much as anything how deeply unconscious and blinded we are by the weight loss culture. When an otherwise lovely young woman hears a statement about how weight loss isn’t my focus and then without blinking an eye disregards that assertion to ask me my weight loss goal, there’s nothing else to call that but a symptom of cultural insanity.

———-

Image credit: http://www.groundnevermisses.com/2012/02/striking-grappling-traditional-mma.html