Breaking the habit

fabulousA mate of mine recently set up and added me to a Facebook group she made, to help keep herself accountable as she embarked on a new journey in her life. Her plan is to break (in her words) her unhealthy eating and drinking habits in 30 days – in front of her family and friends, via the Facebook group.

I sent her a supportive message, and pointed out that I have started, through Health At Every Size, practising healthy habits, which are helping me feel amazing and much better in my body, even though I’m not losing tonnes of weight (well, I don’t know. I don’t own a scale). I said I hoped that her making healthy choices makes her feel awesome, and that she can PM me if she wants to chat. Which I hope was an appropriate response. I also discouraged her from weighing herself. But, that’s up to her.

My friend asked people to post on the the group’s wall if there were any habits they themselves wanted to break within 30 days. Several people posted – saying they wanted to give up smoking, kick their midnight snacking habit, drink less coffee, go to the gym every day etc. And, for solidarity, I added mine – to break my habit of negative self-talk. Negative body talk in particular.

Because? The things I still catch myself saying about my body are far more poisonous than any processed food or refined sugar I’ve ever put inside it.

This post is quite timely, as Ragen Chastain did an awesome blog just the other day about body talk amongst women. The website BlogHer.com did a survey on “fat talk”, which found that almost 75% of the women surveyed (not sure if this is US women, all worldwide…but still). across all age groups, engage in negative body talk with other women. All the usual stuff like, “my butt looks huge in these pants,” and “ugh, my thighs are massive,” and “oh my god, I look about three months pregnant” (yup. I’ve used that one). In even more disturbing news, negative body conversations are starting in girls as young as 11 years old. Which I can believe. BlogHer asked the women who contributed why they engaged in such damaging conversations, and their answers ranged from “We are afraid of sounding like we are bragging about our bodies,”  to “it’s bonding over a common interest” to “it’s the social norm – just part of life.”

Yup, so true. Remember this clip from Mean Girls? Where Rachel McAdams and the other mean girls stand in front of the mirror and verbally bash their bodies (I have man shoulders! My pores are huge! My nail beds suck!), and Lindsay Lohan’s character’s chimes in with “I get really bad breath in the morning”? I laughed – somewhat ruefully. Because that scene could have been lifted straight from my own teenagerhood. And preteens before that. And adulthood after that.

I vividly remember being about 12 or 13 and going to the pool with a couple of girlfriends. We got into our swimsuits, stood in front of the changing room mirror – where we preceded to boldly point out all our flaws and imperfections, just like Rachel McAdams and co. According to us, we were fat, our thighs were massive, our stomachs stuck out too much and our butts were saggy. At the time, it didn’t seem to do us much damage – after a while, we shrugged it off and made a beeline for the water, where we clambered around on those giant inflatable dragon thingies for a couple of hours. But looking back on it, it disturbes the shit out of me – we were so young, so innocent and we already pouring scorn and disdain all over our bodies. We’d only just convinced our parents to let us go to the pool by ourselves for an afternoon, and we were already bonding, already forming this warped camaraderie over what was supposedly so wrong with our young figures. It’s…scary, really.

So, that was where it started. And it continued through my college years. And followed me to University. And stalked me well into my 20s. Time after time, my gal pals and I got together and we put our bodies through the ringer. We did it at sleepovers. We did it on coffee dates, and out for dinner. We did it while out for walks. At girlie movie nights, and while out drinking. Even at the “crafternoons” I organised – when we should have been squealing over our combined yarn stashes and swapping brownie recipes. And we were mean. Meaner than Simon Cowell and Donald Trump and that bitchy “PR maven” on America’s Next Top Model combined. Our boobs were too small, or disproportionately huge (mine). Our butts were flat and mannish. Our thighs were gross and dimply (mine). Our shoulders were too slopey (mine). Our arms were too long. Our feet were ugly (mine). We had back fat (me). We looked pregnant (me). Our skin was blotchy. Our hair was oily (me) and we had gaps in our teeth we could drive a truck through (me). Yup, we were bitches.

These days? Actually, I’ve noticed the bitchy body conversations dwindling a bit between my mates and I. I dunno – could be that we’re getting older. I have some really close girl friends I can talk to if I’m feeling truly shite about my self image, but, with most people, I try not to incite body bashing conversations, especially not in a group situation. However, when it’s just me and my husband, that’s when the slurs start coming thick and fast. “I’m disgusting,” I’ll tell him over breakfast. “Look how massive my stomach’s gotten,” I’ll pipe up, grabbing fistfuls of my midriff so he can’t possibly miss it. “Ugh, I’m a fat pig,” I’ll yelp over dinner, having cleaned my plate, which is a Bad Thing at my size. “Ugh, look at my double chin,” I’ll implore him while we’re having a romantic moment in the bathroom, brushing our teeth.  “I look like shit, eh, babe?” I’ll chirp, over and over again, as I’m about to climb into my bed, in my adorable pyjamas, into his waiting arms.

Yes, I have ruined many a schmoopy and cutesy couple moment with all my  body hating bullshit. He’s my husband – I’m only telling him all this because, in his presence, I feel comfortable enough to divulge how truly filthy I’m feeling at any one moment. But, it’s bad. Cos it hurts him. It breaks his heart to see the woman he adores heap such hatred and vitriol upon herself – and it breaks my heart to see him do the same. He thinks I’m crazy, he thinks I’m cruel, and he wishes I could see what he sees. And in my dark moments, I wish I could too.

So…yeah. While I know I’m getting better in the area of body bashing, there is still room for improvement. So, I decided it would be my 30-day challenge to ditch the shitty self talk. But, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Because…talking smack about oneself is familiar. Its comfortable. It’s something I’ve done since primary school (saying everything from my art projects to my pigtails looked “dumb”), so it sure as shit is easy. It’s weirdly self-preserving as well: in the culture I was raised and schooled in, bragging about one’s achievements and/or appearance was a cardinal sin. Oh sure, you could be proud of the aforementioned achievements and/or appearance, as long as you didn’t shout it from the rooftops. In fact, being self-depreciating and critical was preferable to being immodest and “up yourself”. So, even now, to say that I’m pretty/smart/talented/cute/sexy feels odd and uncomfortable. Down-playing my achievements and being cruel and bullying to myself, however, comes perfectly naturally.

And actually? Like a lot of habit-forming behaviours, body bashing can become oddly addictive. Margaret Cho said it the the best:“It is a good life, if I watch myself. Kind of like when I used to diet, but now instead of limiting calories, I will not allow negative self talk. I cut out insults like I cut out carbs and it is hard as hell because I crave self abuse like hot, fresh sourdough bread, but you know you have to be nice to you if you are going to live together.” Very, very true. And it’s weird, because I crave compliments from others in the same way I crave New York Pizza and Whittakers Peanut Butter Chocolate. Yet, when the compliments do come, I don’t believe them. And so, the cycle begins again.

But, Margaret is absolutely right. You and your bod are pretty much stuck together for life – so you may as well be kind to it. Think about it – would you tell your bestie she’s hideous and repulsive and looks like shit? Hell no. And if you did, you’d tell her you were really fucking sorry, and buy her coffee and a new pair of shoes every day for a month. So…what if we saw our bodies as our best friends? They do some pretty amazing shit for us – they breathe, they blink, they pump blood, they hug, high five, smile, laugh, the works. What if they were our mates, our chums, our soul-mates and allies? Not our adversaries. And…best friends don’t talk shit to each other.

So, this is my challenge. Treating my body as a friend. Not a frenemy. And, basically, as Margaret says, cutting out self-abuse. I am not cutting out hot sour dough bread (or any bread, for that matter), but I want to cut the bullshit. No I-look-like-shits, no I-hate-my-stomachs, no My-thighs-are-huges, no I’m a fat, disgusting pigs, no I’m uglys. None of that. Because it hurts. It hurts me, it hurts my husband, it hurts my mates and I’m sick of hurting. I can’t always muster up nice things to say about myself in the place of all the abuse…but not giving in to body bashing is a good place to begin. If I ain’t got nothing nice to say about me, then I’m saying nothing at all. I’ve been a Mean Girl all my life, but I can stop any time I want. And…I’m stopping now.

More later.

Advertisements

Fativism: You don’t have to be perfect.

AcceptWow, first post! Exciting.

While messing around on Le Facebook the other day (most likely when I should have been working), I discovered an old friend from my Uni days had posted the following quote:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe (tennis legend and activist)

Neat, huh? As a young journalist, whose passion is using her pen (uh, keyboard?) to be a “voice for a voiceless” and stand in the gap for her community, I found that particularly inspiring and awesome. But, as an aspiring Body Activitst, this quote was even more awesome – and very timely.

I’ve wanted to start up my own Fat Acceptance blog since I started reading Ragen Chastain’s brilliant Dances With Fat back in 2011. Especially after seeing this massive difference her work as a Fat Activist has made – not only with her big projects, such as getting the fat-shaming Disney ride Habit Heroes shut down, and standing against those anti-fat billboards in Atlanta, but in the lives of all the women who’d discovered her blog. Women like me, who learnt that they didn’t need to hate themselves and their fat bodies were beautiful as they are. And, I wanted to do the same -especially for New Zealand women.

But, I was scared. I knew I had the heart to be an activist, a revolutionary, a rebel and a flag-bearer for my fellow chubby Kiwis. I knew I had the passion. I knew I had the indignation. I knew I had the words. Problem is, I wasn’t sure if I had the cajones.

I order to be an activist, I knew a thick skin would be required. And not just for dealing with hate mail. Mainly because…well, anti-fat is a tricksy issue, and it’s no different in New Zealand. Obesity “prevention” in this country has been a political football for years, and is constantly bandied about in our media. Politicians, doctors, nutritionists and celebrities have been throwing their hands up in despair for some time. We’ve had Government programmes and “initiatives”. We’ve had the Evil Diet Witch and all her TV programmes; we’ve had Do or Die and Saving Gen Y. We’ve had former League players start up bootcamps for overweight teens, and we’ve had award-winning fashion designers heading campaigns to “fight the fat.”

In the midst of this, neither Size Acceptance nor Health At Every Size has gained much traction here in New Zealand. Well, not that I’ve noticed. At least not to the extent that it has in the US or the UK, or even Australia. I haven’t been able to find any Size Acceptance blogs written by New Zealanders, nor have I seen any fat positive doctors or other health providers stand up against all the ZOMG OBESITY R BAD hysteria. The one time I did see a Fat Activist make a stand in the New Zealand (Cat Pause, a lecturer at Massey University, who organised a Fat Conference last year), it resulted in nothing less than a media shitstorm, with everyone from University professors to our MPs fighting to discredit her. Not to mention (well, at least this has been my experience – particularly in media circles) the fact that while my fellow countrymen seem to be cottoning on that racism is bad, homophobia is bad, misogyny is bad and making fun of special needs kids is REALLY bad, there still seems to be this weird consensus that fat shaming is not a “proper” form of discrimination. Because fat people brought it on themselves, yo.

So, with the LET’S STOP TEH EVOL DEATHFATZ mentality doing the rounds in New Zealand and with very few body activists in our midst, I wasn’t sure how much support I’d get over in my Size Acceptance camp. I wasn’t even sure how my family and friends would react to my blog. I once got into a Facebook screaming match with a friend (also a big woman, and now no longer a friend) on the subject of fat activism, who said that fat people like us will never change the world, because there’s too much evidence stacked against us, so I’d be wasting my time even to even try. Or words to that effect. Shit like that does get under ones skin after a while.

I think, however, my biggest barrier was not other people and their reactions, but myself. Or, more to the point, how I felt about myself. As I said on the About Honeybunny page, I’m not quite *there* when it comes to accepting my own body. For the longest time after discovering Size Acceptance movement, it was very easy to see the beauty in other fat bodies. Other large women were  fierce. Gorgeous, luscious, sensuous, Rubenesque, zaftig and generally lovely. Me? I was just dumpy. Flabby, blubbery, lumpy, porcine, hideous, disgusting. No beauty here. And I was *bitterly* of those bloggers and friends who said they loved their bodies, and felt attractive at their size. Body love had eluded me once more.

Things got better, eventually. But still, I didn’t love my body. Tolerate? Sure. Co-exist with? Totally. Begrudgingly accept, cos I’m stuck with it for life? You betcha. But love? Too strong a word. So, how was I going to encourage people like me to love, even like their bodies when I wasn’t at all enamoured of my own? How was I going to raise an army of liberated, enlightened, kick-ass women of all shapes and sizes, when the chinks in my armour were too deep and too many? How was I going to change the world, when I couldn’t change my head or my heart? So, no. I was a Big, Fat Phoney. I put my blog idea well and truly to bed.

Until one day this year, when I thought, “fuck it”. I had too much to say to keep hiding. Far too much. And then, I discovered the Arthur Ashe quote…and realised with a bump that I Didn’t Have To Be Perfect. And I knew then it was time to start my Size Acceptance blog.

So, here I am. Right now, I’m starting where I am. No, I’m not going to turn around say I love my body. Cos that would be untrue. I am still battling against the shitty body image I’ve had since I was a child. There are days when I feel like I’ve well and truly won the battle, and days when I get gunned down and it takes forever to drag my sorry, bleeding carcass back to camp. There are days when I feel like the sexiest thing since Danerys Targaryen in the bath, other days I feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in drag.

I’m conflicted, see. And when I hit a downward spiral, I go down good and proper. But, I’ve made strides. Big strides. So, if I share those strides on this blog, I can inspire others and help them see there’s life after body hatred. And, if I share my pain and am vulnerable in the moments I struggle, then maybe others will see they’re not alone. So, bear with me. And meet me *where I am.*

For this blog, I am using what I have.  Which is, right now, a writing talent and a teeny tiny corner of the internet. And a Facebook and Twitter for pimping and sharing said corner of the internet. I am not an MP, or a CEO, or a medical expert, or a motivational speaker, or even a professional dancer and athlete like Ragen Chastain. I’m just a small town journalist, with a blog. Hardly the stuff of legends. But, blogs can gather quite a following after a while, or so I’ve noticed. So, I may not be able to change the world, as my ex-friend so helpfully pointed out. But, right now, I’m just going for a few lives. Seeing as my life was changed in a teeny, tiny corner of the internet and all.

And finally, I am doing what I can. Sure, there are those reckon ranting away on a blog does not activism make. Or, at the very least, it’s lazy activism. But what is activism if not speaking out against injustice? If not giving a voice to the voiceless? If not empowering disenfranchised and oppressed groups in our society? And, I hope to do all that in a public forum, through this blog.  Right now, I don’t know if I have the balls to go shutting down Disney rides, or organising Fat Conference or demanding retailers stock more plus size clothes. But, I knew I had to do something, for myself as much as anyone, to speak out against body hatred.  Because, well, in the words of the brilliant Dr Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to happen. It’s not.”

So, here I am. Starting where I am, using what I have, doing what I can. Starting small, and reminding myself that I don’t have to be perfect. And I’ll deal with shutting down Disney rides later on.

Big fat hugs,

Honey Bunny.