Here’s something interesting about trauma. It stays deep inside of you, always shaking in its cage. Even if you have worked your ass off in 18 years of therapy, including groups, including every self-help workbook on self esteem and abandonment and fear and anger. Even if you have learned how to parent yourself. Even if you learned your power and almost every minute of every day you are standing in that power. Your trauma is still there.
Shaking. Afraid. Wounded. Waiting to be poked with the next stick.
And there are sticks coming at it all the time but most aren’t long enough anymore. Before the books and the work and the therapy and the empowerment, every stick was long enough. Everything hurt. Everything poked. Everything woke the pain and fear and panic and the trauma filled your whole body and you lived inside of it. There were times you were insufferable then, in all that rage and fear that didn’t know where to go or how to protect itself from most sticks.
Now, you don’t mind being insufferable in your empowerment. It’s better for you here even if some folks would prefer you to be small and shaking inside your trauma all of the time.
But every now and again, the stick is big enough. It gets all the way through. It reaches through you, into the deepest part of yourself, into the cage that tries to contain the trauma, and it pokes. It gets in. The trauma, like any wounded animal, shrinks, lunges, bares its teeth, shows its claws, its fangs. It rears up on its hindquarters and it gets big.
Your trauma gets so big. And it rages. Your trauma WILL have justice.
This isn’t a bad thing. The energy your deepest hurt self can produce is astounding. It will help you work through many sleepless nights. It will keep you going when you thought you’d given all you could give. Looking back, you’ll realize you’ve done that so many times. Held so much space for so much injustice with the help of that animal-pain, that hurt, howling, poked-with-a-stick rage in your heart. And in that place, you did some good. You connected with the animal-pain in others. You might have even healed them a bit. And that’s good.
But it’s a wild thing, that hurting animal inside of you. Your trauma cannot be tamed and while, for some time, it can be directed, eventually it will thrash against your own self and even possibly take control of you. It is so powerful when it has been roused. It doesn’t mind taking over before you can even make sure it knows what it’s doing, what it’s saying. Eventually, your trauma will hurt you... again.
It doesn’t mean to. It’s just so scared. It’s just so enraged. And your trauma has a right to be sad and scared and angry. But you have a right to take care of your trauma too.
You are the only one who can place your hand on its back, whisper careful calm words into the fur of its neck, scratch it behind the ears, and calm it back down. You are the only one it will listen to.
You can get your trauma back in its cage. And instead of letting it be in control, you can be in control. You can honor your trauma, care for your trauma, heal your trauma by giving it a soft, sweet place to rest. You can take the stick out of its side, mend the wound.
Then, holding that stick in your hand, you can march back to the place it came from and in a calm, measured, rational way, break that motherfucker in a million tiny pieces.
And while you are breaking the stick, you can remember you have children to feed and the sun is shining and the dog is all love for you. You can remember you love your lover’s kiss, you love the feel of the flannel sheets on your bed, and the sound of the birds in the early morning. And your trauma can sleep or rest quietly while you do this. And you can keep breaking the stick in between deep breaths. And you can keep going after the place the stick came from in between nights of sleep where you rest on your lover’s chest.
And in this way, you will be able to sustain yourself on the long road ahead. In this way, the place where the stick came from doesn’t steal your life from you. In this way, all the work you’ve done to learn to care for your trauma wasn’t for nothing.
You may be an individual, with personal trauma. You may be a community, with intergenerational trauma. Either way, it works the same.
So for a moment, the stick poked all the way down to the flesh and you let your trauma take over. For a moment, you raged in whatever direction felt like it needed a snarl, an attack, a growl, a set of bared teeth. You forgot you are in control, not your trauma. And then you remembered how much bigger you are than your trauma. You remembered your power.
And NOW, you are REALLY ready to fight.
If dieting for weight loss doesn’t work and restricting calories, or depriving ourselves of entire food groups leads to UNHEALTHY, disordered behavior around food and your body, why are people still selling us these ideas in the form of “wellness programs” and “lifestyle changes.” Why is our sister, cousin, auntie, or friend inviting us to join a multi-level marketing, pyramid scheme to buy protein shakes and bars and fizzy energy packets and talking about a lifestyle “reset” or 30-day cleanse? WHY?
Because we are STILL buying it.
And because it is the only thing we seem to want to continue buying because the promise that every single thing in our lives will suddenly be miraculously better once we’ve “lost the weight” is STILL more enticing to us than getting free from Diet Culture’s external controls over our lives.
I get that. As I’ve said many times before, we have been sold the idea our entire lives that thinness equals health and worth and lovability. We have also been taught the inverse – anything other than thinness equals lack of health, unworthiness, and unlovability. I get that. I have been there.
And when we are still in that place it seems utterly absurd that there is anything remotely wrong with the way we restrict our food intake, the way we take one or two meals a day in liquid form, the way we go to bed hungry and wake up with a stomachache because we are so hungry, the way we shame everyone at the party for eating all of the foods we wish we could eat, the way we secretly binge on our forbidden foods when no one is looking, the way we feel superior to our friends and family members who don’t restrict their food intake the way that we do, the way we just “eat clean” or “follow a nutrition program” or “eat for health.” Of course there is nothing wrong with doing these things when Diet Culture has told us our entire lives that food is evil and should be avoided, that food shouldn’t be pleasurable, and anyone who enjoys food is a gluttonous, unworthy, unlovable slob. In this culture, it is only natural that we would restrict calories and constantly consume ourselves with thoughts of the size of our bodies. That is exactly what our culture has been designed to make us do.
And we’re still buying all of this for one of four reasons that I can currently think of.
First, maybe we have a naturally slim body type but have believed the Diet Culture lie – that is super easy to believe when one has a naturally slim body – that we are superior to others who do not have our body type. Maybe we DO engage in healthy behaviors in our naturally slim body type. We joyfully move our body. We eat intuitively. We don’t engage in restrictive dieting for weight loss (that much). And maybe because we do these things, we have convinced ourselves that we have worked for our slim body and therefore MUST continue to work for that slim body. And because our body is more naturally slim than we realize, it is very easy for us to feel disdain for people whose bodies are naturally larger than us because this is, after all, the exact disdain that Diet Culture has told us to feel.
We don’t SEE Diet Culture. We see “healthy people” which, in our minds, are thin people and we see “unhealthy people” which, in our minds, are non-thin people. When we hear people talking about Body Liberation, we hear fat, lazy, disgusting, overeaters who can’t get out of their own way or just don’t have enough “tools” or “resources” (read: protein shakes, bars and fizzy energy packets) to know how to be healthy. We feel bad for them; those poor, ignorant, unhealthy fat people. We believe if we could just impart our supreme wisdom of how to live a “healthy lifestyle” upon them, they would magically transform into worthy, lovable, healthy thin people. Et Voila, all the world’s ills would be solved.
Now, I’ve never been naturally slim but I have had that exact attitude before when, through my eating disorder, I was posing as a “naturally” slim person. I too believed, once upon a time, that if I just was able to impart my supreme wisdom of how to live a “healthy lifestyle” I could magically transform people. Not only was I wrong when I thought that – like, biologically, clinically, anatomically completely incorrect – I was also self-righteous, ignorant, and arrogant and I didn’t understand the first thing about body diversity or the social injustices of fatphobia.
The second reason I can come up with for why we are still buying Diet Culture is that we are living in a bigger body and we still believe that weight loss is our only road to salvation. We are still hoping for and seeking this salvation at all costs. We still believe that one day we will find the secret to “losing the weight” and we’ll be thin and worthy and lovable and all of our dreams will come true. I’ve been there too.
And we might be right to a degree. Certainly, when we finally figure out a way to trick our bodies into restrictive dieting for weight loss (aka: early stage eating disorder), we might be able to lose a significant amount of weight and doors WILL open that always seemed closed before. People will compliment us who seemed to never even notice us before. Our colleagues will treat us like we are suddenly more competent in our work. Everyone will want to know our secret. Some people might even be jealous of us. There are sexual positions available to us that we never dared try before. There are clothing options available to us that we would never have dreamed of before. And it will be very exciting and we WILL feel our world changing.
And the biggest change will be the obsessive way we think about food. Constantly. And… the way we exercise to punish ourselves for eating too much or exercise in order to deserve food. The biggest change – which will coincide with the dramatic weight loss we experience – will be the fact that we have to become an obsessive fanatic in order to stay there. And, in the meantime, we will become terrified of re-gaining the weight and losing all of the validation that we received from all those people who suddenly behaved as though we were better, we were finally lovable, we were finally worthy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We are not there yet. Right now, in this second possibility for why we are still buying Diet Culture’s bullshit, we are living in a bigger body and we want desperately not to be. And, I don’t blame us. Again, Diet Culture has been telling us our entire lives that we can’t be fat and happy, we can’t be fat and lovable, we can’t be fat and healthy, we can’t be fat and worthy at the same time. So, absolutely, it only makes sense that we’d still be looking for that program, that shake, that 30-day cleanse, that one thing that’s going to turn everything around in the direction of approval and acceptance. Because, everyone wants to be approved of and accepted. And, you’re right – it’s NOT fair that there is only one body type in this world that is allowed that approval and acceptance.
The third reason we might still be buying Diet Culture is that we have an eating disorder. Eating disorders often start with dieting for weight loss. When we are in an eating disorder, Diet Culture seems to be the only thing that makes sense in the world because it validates every disordered thought our ED is feeding us. If you think you have an eating disorder, please seek professional help in the form of a registered Health At Every Size licensed therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If you think you have an eating disorder, you might be at the stage where you are willing to do something about it to save yourself. Eating disorders can be dangerous. Please get help while you still can.
The fourth reason I can think of for why we are still buying Diet Culture’s bullshit is that it’s just easier. It’s just the easiest thing to do. Whether we are fat or thin or somewhere in between, dieting for weight loss is what people (women especially) talk about and DO with their whole lives. Sooner or later, any gathering of women turns into a conversation about what each is doing in order to diet for weight loss. Who is dieting for weight loss successfully and who isn’t is what some women will talk about -- ad nauseam -- to their partners and friends. Women judge and talk about other women’s physical appearance with religious fervor. Diet Culture, for WAY TOO MANY women, is a substitute for a personality and a life – and for many, a career as well.
And Body Liberation is a little bit hard to understand. And Body Liberation requires deep emotional and mental work. Body Liberation requires honesty and courage and a willingness to see beyond the obvious and even rebel against a system that upholds Diet Culture. And, doing this work is fucking scary at times. It also feels super lonely at times. And it is so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so much easier to buy the fucking protein shake, the bar, the fizzy energy packets, the 30-day cleanse and just keep buying.
I don’t blame us. I am not trying to shame us. Diet Culture has had hold of all of us since day one. We are doing what we need to do in order to survive within it. Honestly. This is where we are. And it’s okay. It’s okay to want to be thin, or thinner. It’s okay that right now we are still buying Diet Culture or can’t even understand what the hell Diet Culture even is because it’s just the water we’ve been swimming in our whole lives.
I just wish I could help us understand the underlying assumptions that we are buying into whenever we buy Diet Culture; the fine print that comes at the bottom of all Diet Culture. Every single Diet Culture concept or product or program that you buy into comes with these words printed in bold underneath:
YOU ARE UNACCEPTABLE.
YOUR BODY IS A PROBLEM.
YOU ARE NOT WORTHY THE WAY THAT YOU ARE.
YOU ARE NOT LOVEABLE THE WAY THAT YOU ARE.
IN ORDER TO USE THIS PRODUCT TO ITS FULL POTENTIAL,
YOU WILL HAVE TO HATE YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY.
THERE IS ONLY ONE GOOD, LOVEABLE, WORTHY BODY
TYPE IN THIS WORLD AND IT IS NOT YOURS, AND IT WILL
NEVER BE YOURS, NOT REALLY.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH
WITH THIS PRODUCT, YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH.
In the midst of MY, PERSONAL obsession with thinness, dieting for weight loss, and deep, nearly-religious belief in Diet Culture’s lies, someone turned Diet Culture on its head for me and showed me this fine print. And while I had accepted all of these truths for so long, it was eye-opening to see them written there in black-and-white. And though it was easy FOR ME to believe these things about MYSELF, I couldn’t believe them about my daughters. I couldn’t believe them about my friends, my sisters, my nieces, my mother – all of whom bought the same Diet Culture programs and products to differing levels and in differing ways. None of their bodies are unacceptable. None of their bodies are problems. They are already worthy. They are already loveable. They are already good enough exactly as they are.
It dawned on me suddenly and harshly that in my own buying and selling of Diet Culture I was creating a world in which these women who are dear to me – MY OWN DAUGHTERS, my nieces, my sister, my dear friends – could not see, accept or believe in their own inherent worth. By confusing thinness for “health,” and calling my eating disorder “clean eating;” by making it clear that obsessively chasing thinness was the exact same thing as “living a healthy lifestyle,” I was a clear and influential role model of damaging dysfunction. In short, I was teaching the women I loved to hate themselves.
And then, when I realized THAT… I stopped buying… and selling, Diet Culture.
When I first stopped dieting for weight loss, restricting food intake, and intermittently starving myself, I was terrified of gaining weight.
Okay… I use hyperbole freely so “terrified” is a word I overuse but in THIS case, I am using it intentionally and without exaggeration. I was terrified. Allowing myself – on purpose – to gain weight was probably the scariest thing I had ever done.
I’ve had two children, without pharmaceutical interventions, at home, in doula tubs. I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve travelled on PLENTY of overnight buses, many in foreign countries. I actually, once, travelled on a greyhound bus from New Mexico to Connecticut over 3 days and nights with only $5 in my pocket. I’ve moved my entire life, by myself, cross-country FOUR times (BEFORE CELL PHONES!). I’ve performed memorized spoken word poems in front of large – and small – audiences. I’ve shared intimate, personal details in my poetry at readings and performances from New York City to Napa. I went back to school when I was 40 years old and had the audacity to quit a full-time tenured professorship at the age of 45. And, now I’m starting my own business.
My point is: I have done scary things.
And, without exaggeration, allowing my body to gain weight was THE scariest thing I had ever done. This is the case because of Diet Culture. This is the case because I had been told ALL OF MY LIFE that gaining weight was the WORST thing that any woman could ever do, MAYBE just shy of committing infanticide – MAYBE. Does that notion – that gaining weight is scary, the scariest – seem utterly ridiculous to me NOW? Of course it does! But fear is NOT rational and when I was steeped in Diet Culture, I was not rational.
When I was STEEPED – as so many of us are – in Diet Culture. I believed my weight and the size of my body inversely correlated with my worth and lovability. The thinner I was, the more worthy and loveable I was. The fatter I was, the less worthy and loveable I was. I learned this from my parents then I learned this from Diet Culture who was VERY happy to pick up where they left off.
I believed that gaining weight meant I would lose my husband, I would lose my friends, I would lose my children, and I would lose all of whatever miniscule amount of self-respect I had. Once I began interrogating those beliefs, I realized they didn’t hold water. I hadn’t married a vain asshole, for one. I didn’t hang out with vain assholes, for two. People don’t, as a general rule, have their children taken away from them because they gain some weight, for three. And, I could no longer maintain my self respect and continue to starve myself, restrict food intake, and diet for weight loss – so, I had only my self-respect to gain.
Let me back up and explain to those of you not in the know why it was probable that I was going to gain weight when I stopped dieting for weight loss, restricting food intake, and starving myself. When someone who has been restricting, dieting and starving themselves (even “just” intermittently) for years (in my case, DECADES), there CAN be a long phase of equalizing foods, learning how to feel hunger, normalizing hunger, and honoring hunger which means… for the first time in DECADES, I allowed my body to have the food it needed and wanted when it needed and wanted it. As part of my intuitive eating journey, I had to allow myself to UNAPOLOGETICALLY eat foods I had considered “bad,” “off-limits,” and “triggers” for a very long time. And, for me this phase lasted a good long while. It takes a while (remember, restricting for DECADES over here!) for the body to trust that it can REALLY have the food it needs and wants whenever it needs and wants it. It takes a long time for the body to learn to trust that it is not going to be plummeted back into starvation mode at any moment. It took my body DECADES to learn that famines were apparently quite common, to learn to survive despite these famines, and to learn to eat as much as I could whenever I was allowed to because those moments were rare. So yes, weight gain, in my case – on this journey toward intuitive eating – was fairly inevitable.
Now, I find myself on the opposite end of this Intuitive Eating conundrum. My body trusts that I have access to the food I want and need when I want and need it (which, of course, is a place of privilege but that’s a conversation for a different post). My body trusts that I will allow it to have what it needs and wants when it needs and want it. Also, I am no longer afraid or hateful of the fat on my body or anyone else’s. When my internalized fatphobia rears its dumb head from time to time, I now know how to whack-a-mole that bitch right back into oblivion (with loving kindness, mindfulness, and grace, of course).
The world is a different place for me now than it was when I began my journey toward becoming an intuitive eater. It is a different place for my body than it was when I obsessively dieted for weight loss and punished myself with excessive exercise.
And now, I’m working on some other aspects of MY intuitive eating journey. Now that I know what hunger feels like, can accept it and can honor it – I’m learning how to do the same for fullness. Now that my body trusts that food is near and safe, it’s also learning that it doesn’t need as much as I had originally thought when I first opened these flood gates. Now that I truly no longer feel the need to punish my body for eating or earn my food by exercising excessively, I am moving again simply for the joy the movement itself awards me. I do the things I want when I want. When I don’t want to, I don’t force it. So, movement is always fun, always a pleasure, always a game and a gift rather than a chore or a duty.
And I have felt in the last few weeks and months that these changes – this deeper move into intuitive eating, this engagement in joyful movement, is leading to weight loss. And I have recognized that, once again, I am terrified.
I am terrified of the attention. I am terrified of what people will say when they see me. I am terrified of positive comments (“Oh my god! You look so good! You look so healthy!”). I am terrified of negative comments (“So much for Body Liberation, huh?” “Didn’t like being fat as much as you thought you would, huh?”). As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am terrified for the triggered way I will feel when men look at me “that way.” As a person who has weight-cycled (lost a significant amount of weight then gained it back with interest) three major times in her life, I am terrified of doing it again because, it turns out this is VERY bad for our health and threatens our longevity more than just remaining at our original weight.
But, I reassure myself, THIS time is NOT like those times before. I am literally doing nothing to lose this weight except living the life I want to live. This weight loss is nowhere near extreme. In fact, I can feel it happening SO incredibly slowly that the slowness, in itself, is reassuring (most weight loss that leads to weight cycling or regaining weight takes place quickly). I am not TRYING – in any way – to lose weight. It is happening just as a result of me respecting my, unique body’s desires and needs. There is no part of me that feels restricted, punished, or deprived. That means that my body is very simply returning to its preferred set weight now that it feels its homeostasis is secured.
Also, and probably most importantly, I am not attached to this weight loss. My body – like every body – is constantly changing. Here comes another change. And, as I continue to age, as my daily life continues to be impacted by quarantines and career changes and whatever else comes along , my body will continue to experience more changes. And my personal Body Liberation journey has helped me embrace this fact with self-compassion and love.
Body Diversity, friends, is the fact that every person’s body is different. We were born different. Our bodies will change throughout our lifetimes and continue to be different from other people’s bodies. Some of us are bigger. Some of us are smaller. Some of us are fat. Some of us are thin. Many many many of us are somewhere along that continuum and very in between.
Every person’s journey to and through Body Liberation and Intuitive Eating will be different. Intuitive Eating is NOT a weight loss plan. Neither is Body Liberation. The purpose of Body Liberation and Intuitive Eating are NOT to make any body smaller. The promise of Body Liberation is that you will learn to live by your unique body’s internal signals instead of by the external rules of Diet Culture (or any other abusive system). The promise of Intuitive Eating is that you will heal your relationship with food and the body by listening to your body’s internal signals and allowing the body to come back to homeostasis. When the body comes back to homeostasis and trusts that it will be staying there, it will return to a set-point weight that feels comfortable and is easily maintained. Sometimes that set-point weight is still going to be “too high” according to a mainstream medical doctor, personal trainer or fitness instructor that still swears by a completely outdated and bullshit-to-begin-with BMI chart. I don’t doubt that my body will begin to even out at a “higher-than-acceptable” weight. And I’m GREAT with that. Now.
DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME: I am not telling MY story here so that you can apply it to all fat people or all people living in bigger bodies. I am not admitting to my fear of weight loss so that you can then believe that all fat people and people living in bigger bodies simply have this same fear or if they would just “get-over their fear,” they could “lose the weight.” THAT IS NOT TRUE. Many people are fat because they are fat. There is no pathology there. It is common to be fat and happy; fat and as perfectly, mentally healthy as anyone is. Being “afraid” of weight loss is MY, personal hang-up at THIS stage in my journey and I’m guessing it could be SOME other people’s hang-up as well, which is why I share it here. This is not anyone’s permission slip to go around fat shaming people and telling them to stop being “afraid” to lose weight! So, don’t even let your mind go there, dear reader.
When I was still firmly entrenched in Diet Culture, I used to whole-heartedly agree with that horrible, disordered phrase: “nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” My god! What a fucked-up slogan for anorexia and intentional starvation!
Now, I deeply believe that no promise, or hope, or expectation of thinness is worth my self-respect, dignity or physical and mental health. And that doesn’t roll off the tongue like the slogan above but that’s because it’s not a slogan, it’s a reality. I am so grateful that it is now MY reality. And as I write this, I am realizing, I don’t have to be terrified of losing weight. I have come too far through and into my Body Liberation journey to be in any jeopardy of losing what I have truly gained – my own self-respect, my own dignity, my own sane relationship with food, movement and my body! And, I’m not losing any of that!
I’ve been thinking about this meme. It’s fatphobic, yes. It’s also insensitive to the very real alcoholism that so many people are living with during this time. Ultimately, it’s attempting to make a joke – and I like humor so I can chuckle a little and move on without getting too deep in it. BUT… what this meme points to is that EVERYONE is trying to cope in their own ways.
Humans COPE with stress and emotional difficulty, fear and uncertainty in their own ways according to the way they were raised, the experiences they have had in their lives to date and even according to their own genetic make-up. No one should be shamed for coping. We all have to do it.
If you come out of lockdown, a “chunk” (which is the fatphobic part, just in case you didn’t realize), you tend to cope with food – as MOST humans do since food is a major source of comfort, bringing us back even to the fundamental caretakers of our lives (our parents and family). It is absolutely normal and acceptable and understandable that humans cope with their stress by using food.
If you come out a “drunk,” surprise! You’re doing what our culture has been telling you to do your entire life – coping with alcohol. Use and abuse of alcohol to soothe every possible emotion in our culture is second only to food – and importantly, it’s a very CLOSE second. For people dealing with alcoholism – and other addiction -- this is a very real constant struggle. For those of us who are not “alcoholics” but allow ourselves to imbibe more than we normally would, this is yes, another way of coping with something (like a global pandemic) that is very traumatic.
Much more importantly, I want to talk about the “hunk” and the “monk.” These are also coping mechanisms.
Working out everyday, maybe multiple times each day, is just another way of distracting oneself or numbing oneself to what is happening around them. People who are obsessively exercising right now are NO DIFFERENT from those people who are soothing themselves with food or with alcohol – they are coping. Of course, Diet Culture tells you THIS “choice,” above all the others, is best/ most superior but I promise you it simply is not. It comes with its own dysfunction and its own set of unfavorable consequences.
This is also true for deep spiritual discovery – the “monk.” Meditation is a coping mechanism. I would, personally, argue that meditation is probably the healthiest of ALL of these coping mechanism and YET, it is still a way to deal, a way to cope, a way to retreat from the pain and difficulty of what we are all facing. And, while the person who is meditating may come out of their coping mechanism with less PHYSICAL repercussions and consequences from their coping mechanism than the others, they are still not SUPERIOR to or somehow more enlightened than these other folks. They are coping. They are doing their best. Just like everyone is.
Which brings me to this: this meme is the opposite of the grace, compassion, and acceptance we all need right now. This meme takes this very difficult act of coping, of surviving during this time and boils down human beings into objectified jokes. And, it’s not helping anyone.
Of course, we DO have “choice.” We do not HAVE to be the victim of our life’s circumstances or continue to use coping mechanisms that were developed to deal with trauma or simply handed down to us from our families. But in the midst of this community trauma, this global pandemic, it might be very difficult to recognize our coping mechanisms let alone force ourselves to stop engaging in them. These coping mechanisms are what keep us feeling safe. It’s fair for everyone to want to feel safe right now.
The reality is, most of us are going to be some mashed-up amalgamation of the four “choices” presented in this meme. During this quarantine, most of us are going to occasionally eat comforting foods and maybe too much of them. Most of us are going to occasionally drink a little more wine than we needed to with dinner, or a little too much scotch too early in the day. Most of us are going to occasionally get up and move in huge bursts of energy from time to time. Most of us are going to pray and sometimes we are going to pray long and hard. We are going to do all four of these things because these are human coping mechanisms – and the ones that are most prevalent in our culture. These are human responses to anxiety and stress and trauma.
We must have compassion for and extend grace to humans who are coping the best way they know how. Why? Because we are ALSO those humans. And if we can’t extend grace to others, if we can’t have compassion for others – we can’t do the same for ourselves. And loving, respecting, and taking good care of ourselves isn’t possible when we are beating ourselves up.
What’s behind this silly (and hurtful) joke of a meme is fear. And what’s behind the CHOICE to share a smarmy, snarky meme instead of openly admitting one’s fear is the refusal to be vulnerable to other human beings and to radically accept one’s self; the refusal to vulnerably admit that what is happening is terrifying and strange and no one knows exactly what to do with themselves. But THAT admission is so much more healing and courageous, compassionate and full of grace than simply telling a cruel joke.
Your real choice, at this moment, is whether or not you’re going to have compassion and grace for your fellow humans, and therefore yourself, or not. So, yes, please choose wisely.
NOW is the time to choose Body Liberation Oriented Facilities and Professionals! EVERY. BODY. Studio would be a great place to start!
It is the year 2020 and we are two solid months into a quarantine for a global pandemic. In the last two months, SO MANY weight-neutral, anti-diet fitness practitioners have come online to help EVERY BODY who WANTS to find their own definition of “health” OUTSIDE of Diet Culture, including yours truly.
That means THIS – right now – is your chance to step away from the scale, away from the damaging effects of restrictive dieting for weight loss and away from punishing exercise. If you’d rather not listen to a fitness instructor yell at you about how you “HAVE TO burn off that dessert from last night” or how you’re doing squats to “get rid of the jiggle…” or get a nice [peach emoji] booty; If you’d like to leave size and weight-obsessed fitness instructors behind and enter into the new community of people who move their bodies for mental, emotional and physical health reasons rather than to shrink themselves, THIS is the time to do that.
Body Liberation trainers and fitness instructors are NOT just the new frontier in fitness or the latest fitness fad – they are at the forefront of a complete revolution in the fitness and health industries and are working hard to bring sane and sustainable approaches into an industry riddled with disorder and obsession with thinness.
How do Body Liberation trainers and fitness instructors differ from traditional trainers and fitness instructors? Oh reader, let me count the ways…
1. A traditional trainer or fitness instructor will focus on weight loss and encourage restrictive dieting for weight loss. A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor will help you focus on how your body feels and will not encourage you to restrict for weight loss because they know the facts about how restriction ultimately leads to binging, further weight gain and disordered eating.
2.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor will encourage you to use exercise as punishment or to whip your body into shape. A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor will help you find what feels like joyful movement to your body and encourage you to partake in that joyful movement as often as you like, while emphasizing the fact that your body is not a problem.
3.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor enforces Diet Culture’s thin ideal and assumes everyone just wants to be thin at any cost. A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor embraces Body Diversity, realizes that every single body is meant to be different, and encourages all bodies to seek healthy behaviors, regardless of size.
4.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor may provide you with strict meal plans where certain foods – or even whole food groups – are forbidden and you meticulously count point, calories or macros to make sure you are staying under a given amount (this is also known as restrictive dieting for weight loss). A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor may be equipped to coach you in Intuitive Eating (if they are a certified Intuitive Eating Pro) or they will at least encourage you to learn Intuitive Eating and seek out Intuitive Eating guidance.
5.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor will focus on your external appearance and the effect exercise will have on your external appearance. A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor will focus on your vitality and vibrancy and the effect exercise will have on the way that you feel both physically and mentally.
6.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor is considered to be the expert of your body. A Body Liberation Trainer or fitness instructor believes that you are the expert of your own body.
7.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor will often engage in shame-based expectation setting with shaming and weight-centered “thinspiration.” A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor delivers a compassionate exploration of your unique desires mixed with encouragement that is based on your own unique strengths.
8.A traditional trainer or fitness instructor will focus on self-improvement because they operate from the assumption that there is something “wrong” with you; that self-improvement may lead to self-punishment and self-abandonment (following other people’s rules for your body despite that inner voice that tells you not to). A Body Liberation trainer or fitness instructor encourages you to return to yourself because they operate on the assumption that there is nothing “wrong” with you and that you were BORN inherently worthy of respect, which should lead to an increased sense of self-respect and self-acceptance.
And there are probably many things I could add to this list but you get the picture.
Listen: I have loved fitness for a very very very long time. I love gyms. I love group fitness classes. I love training hard. I love lifting weights and swimming and running and dancing and doing yoga and pilates and barre and kickboxing and ALL of it. I love to move my body.
But, I, for one, found out several years ago that I had had enough with the rampant fatphobia and obsession with thinness that most of my gyms, classes, instructors and trainers operated from. When I first started down this path, I had zero access to Body Liberation oriented trainers or fitness instructors. Everywhere I turned, the only option I had was more and more and more Diet Culture and trainers and fitness instructors who had drunk ALL of the Diet Culture kool-aid with gusto. I would tell myself that I could attend their classes, do their workouts, attend their gyms and just do it for my own reasons; that I could shut out their insanity and know that I workout because I love my body and not because I hate it or because I think there is something inherently wrong with it. BUT… their voices were too loud and Diet Culture was too strong. And eventually, for my own well-being, I had to make the choice to leave them behind.
You, my sweet reader, have more choices today than ever before. Body Liberation oriented professionals are everywhere and ready and willing to serve you! Yes, Body Liberation personal trainers and Body Liberation fitness instructors and Body Liberation yoga instructors BUT ALSO Body Liberation oriented Therapists and Dietitians and yes, even SOME medical doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical-field professionals. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PUT UP WITH DIET CULTURE REARING ITS UGLY, DAMAGING, DISORDERED, HEAD IN YOUR “HEALTH” SPACES ANYMORE. You have the choice to seek Authentic Health by seeking out Body Liberation professionals.
Do I want you to start with Every. Body. Studio and Fitness For Mortals? Of course I do. These are my babies and now that I am ready to share them with the world, I want the world to see how beautiful they are and enjoy them along with me. But, for goodness’ sake, if not Every. Body. Studio and Fitness for Mortals, PLEASE choose SOMEone, ANYone who is working from a Body Liberation perspective to train with and take classes with. Make this one move for yourself, for your body, and for your mental and physical health. It’s time.
And if Every. Body. Studio and/or Fitness For Mortals isn’t doing it for you, use SuperFit Hero’s Body Positive Fitness Finder to find a different Body Liberation oriented certified personal trainer, certified fitness instructor or certified yoga instructor (just for the record, I am all three PLUS a certified intuitive eating professional as well -- just sayin').
Use The HAES Registry (HAES = Health At Every Size) to find Body Liberation oriented health professionals of all kinds.
Use The Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory to find Intuitive Eating Certified Professionals of all kinds.
Use The Body Trust Provider Directory to find a Body Trust Provider certified by Be Nourished, founded by a licensed MSW and Registered Dietician who work and train folks from an anti-diet, weight-neutral, body-liberation perspective.
These are starting places. Body Liberation is a WHOLE journey. That’s why I’ve created Fitness For Mortals Body Liberation Training. Your journey CAN start by making the shift out of gyms and away from trainers and fitness and yoga instructors who are still flying the damaging flag of Diet Culture – and toward Body Liberation trainers and fitness instructors and the facilities they have created just for you, just for THIS purpose.
Hope to see you in the studio (or my inbox) soon!
In case either of these stories didn’t make it to your newsfeed, I’ll recap:
Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old black man, out for a jog around his neighborhood who was killed by two white vigilantes – one a former policeman, the other his son – because they suspected him of being a burglar. To be clear: JUST. BECAUSE. HE. WAS. BLACK. The killing took place in February. The men who killed him have not been brought to justice. The county where they live seems to refuse to bring them to justice. Recently a video was released that shows the whole thing. A 25-year-old black man out for a jog, two white (obviously racist) vigilantes out for blood accosting this man, this man attempting to survive by grappling with the white vigilante who was obviously trying to kill him, then the man running from his attackers attempting to escape and instead collapsing to his death.
What do YOU do with this story if you are a black person living in this country? Or the fact that this story isn't uncommon -- and uncannily resembles SO MANY other stories in both the recent and distant past?
As far as Adele goes: she’s lost a bunch of weight. Like, a BUNCH of weight. And in a very sweet little Instagram post on her personal feed she simply posted a full-body picture of herself saying something like, thank you for the birthday wishes and thanks to all the medical professional heroes out there working so hard to save us from COVID-19. And what she probably didn’t expect was that then the internet blew up with a conversation about her weight. “She looks so great!” say the Diet Culture steeped people who still believe the greatest accomplishment on earth is to be skinny. “She looks so healthy!” say the Health & Wellness (read: Diet Culture) steeped people who still believe that thinness is synonymous with “health.” “She looks like she has an eating disorder!” say the Body Positivity tribe who confuse policing people’s mental health and body size with true liberation from Diet Culture. And folks, these people are currently GOING. AT. IT.
What do YOU do with this story if you are a girl or a woman, a female or femme living in this culture? Or the fact that this kind of conversation takes place around women's bodies-- famous and non-famous alike-- ALL of the time?
Here’s my shorter interpretation of both of these events:
We live in a country where black people who exercise in public can just be murdered. Murdered. With no probable cause or explanation or punishment of the killer. Just murdered.
We also live in a world where women aren’t allowed to possess great talents or be known solely for those talents. Women are judged, ultimately, by their bodies – and their bodies alone.
The first story is undeniably more tragic if tragedy has a hierarchy and I believe, particularly in the case of black bodies in America, it does. It’s a tragedy white people – who live in safe white bodies – do not understand and almost never acknowledge. As a person who gets to live in a safe white body and jog around my neighborhood to my heart’s content, I am acknowledging. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change a damn thing. But I see it. I do. See. It.
The second story is still tragic in that women – no matter what their age or race or talent or celebrity status – have zero chance of being seen as whole human beings. Women are objects. Only. Ever. Objects.
And this is what I see in these two stories, as a Body Liberation Trainer: We are convinced, we are absolutely certain, that other people’s bodies… 1) are our business and 2) exist for our judgement and use.
What do YOU do when you realize you live in a culture or in a country or in a world that believes your body is everyone else’s business and that your body exists for everyone else’s judgement and use?
And this is how we go about our lives, walking down streets, going to work, reading magazines, boarding busses, driving our car…. believing that other people’s bodies are our business and that we have a right to judge and USE them in whatever way we see fit and, simultaneously, not knowing what to do with the feeling that our bodies are not our own.
This is Hyper-capitalism. The body is a machine that can be worked to death.
This is Rape Culture. The body is a container for rage and sexual aggression.
This is Diet Culture. The body is a problem that should always be trying to make itself smaller.
This is White Supremacy. The non-white body is the enemy. The non-white body is not allowed autonomy, safety, or respect.
And these are the cages we are kept in. And these are the things that happen daily, weekly, yearly, constantly to remind us of these cages. Black bodies are murdered for just being. Women’s/ Female/ Femme bodies are judged for whatever shape they make. Bodies are objectified. Bodies are made into objects. Bodies are considered objects for our judgement, for our use, for our pleasure, for our aggression, for our desire to kill.
And what these two stories REALLY have in common is that they piss me off. They piss me off so badly because of the message they send out to the world. Because of the fear they instill in girls and women and people of color (which is to say nothing of the fear instilled in people who are trans or differently abled or otherwise marginalized). Because of the violated feeling that these stories oppress people with that tells them, “your body does not belong to you.” And I just want to say, no.
Whoever YOU are, your body DOES belong to you – and YOU alone!
Whoever YOU are, your body is NOT an object. No matter what they say. No matter what they do.
Whoever YOU are, your body was BORN for autonomy, safety and respect.
Whoever YOU are, you don’t have to do anything to be worthy or lovable or RIGHT in your body.
Anyone who objectifies your body or takes away your autonomy, safety and respect is WRONG, is playing a game of Master and Slave, a game that’s about Power.
People objectify other people’s bodies because it makes them feel powerful.
People who refuse to be objectified – and refuse to objectify others-- take back their power.
Unfortunately, our justice system is set up to objectify black bodies. Unfortunately, our culture is set up to objectify women’s/ female/ femme bodies. Our power is NOT – at this moment – (only) in seeking justice or (only) in refusing to participate in the objectification of bodies. Our power – however meager it may seem – is in getting clear about how we participate in the objectification of bodies, how we allow others to objectify us, and how the objectification of bodies works to oppress people.
Body Liberation is here for this work.
Body Liberation CAN begin with breaking free from Diet Culture on a personal level. But, BODY LIBERATION is not just a personal journey out of the tyranny of your own private body image hell. BODY LIBERATION is about refusing to participate in the objectification of ALL bodies because NO body is actually free as long as ANY body is still in a cage.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.