Happy May! It feels like this year has been forever already with all the staying at home we have been doing. But every so often, the rhythm of a new week or a new month, reminds me that time is not going any faster or slower. Time has not changed. I have changed though.
This period has been had for me because of anxiety. I am never quite sure what kind of day I am going to have. It all depends on if I have had enough sleep the night before. As I struggle with feeling have no control over my day, I am practicing grace with myself. I’m acknowledging to myself that life is unexpected and unprecedented. It is okay to feel both overwhelmed and understimulated at the same time. This is the moment we live in.
Even as I have given up the illusion of control, I am encouraging myself to build good habits during this time. For the first time in my life, I am paying attention to making my bed in the morning. I am finding joy in having a skincare routine. These habits allow me to feel like I am being productive in little ways. The goal of my habit building is not perfection. The goal is to stay in motion. To keep moving forward so that I don’t feel stuck as time goes by. I have to say it is helping so far.
What have you been doing to make this time go faster?
Just as I am getting into the groove of summer, I am reminded by all the paperwork I have to sign that the fall semester is around the corner. It is my first clinical semester. Everything I have heard tells me that this one of the hardest semesters in nursing school. I have been told that the difficulty comes from having to adapt to a new learning style. I won’t lie and told you I haven’t had my moment of anxiety. I have had plenty of anxiety. Beyond the moments when I question my ability to survive the first semester, I am preparing myself for what is coming. (read more)
The first time I had a negative thought about my body was around the age of 10. By the time I was thirteen, I was already skipping meals to be skinny. By the time I was fifteen, I took pride in not eating for days. At 31, I find myself still battling my body image. I have spent two decades of my life battling my body. I am always too fat.
Finally, I have reached a point where I realize that the problem is not my body. The problem is the way I have been socialized to look at my body. It has been ingrained in me for so long that in order to be beautiful, I had to skinny. Not just any kind of skinny though. I had to be the kind of skinny that was still voluptuous. You know the kind of women’s body I am talking about. The big boobs, big ass, small waist, flat tummy and just the right amount of neck skinny. Oh! I almost forgot to add that you must also have that space between your thighs. Thinking about it know, I feel like the ideal woman’s body is like the specs for a car or a machine. It is not human. It is not real.
After another attempt at dieting to shrink my body and the inevitable mental health deterioration that accompanied it, I am putting in my resignation letter. I am not interested in dieting anymore. I am not interested in restriction anymore. For those who feel the need to talk to me about health, please don’t.
I have found that the conversation about health is often a euphemistic discussion on shame. How can a woman who does not have the criteria listed in the ideal female body specs not have shame? I have to admit that this shame is not reserved for the fat. In many ways, it extends to skinny women as well. How many times have we publicly discussed a woman’s body because she looks like she doesn’t eat.
We have begun to talk about shame much in the same way we talk about sex. We don’t talk directly about it but we do talk about it in other ways. Just like we judge women for the number of men they have sex with, we judge women for the amount of food they are eating. And the problem is that we never allow women to be right. Whoa! You have only dated one guy. A woman should never have sex with more guys than she can count on one finger. Just like a woman should never eat more than salad on a date. A woman must never talk about having a libido just like a woman must never talk about her love of food.
Of course, there are exception to every rule. In the health world, a woman can talk about her love of food as long as she meets the specs. A woman like Giada De Laurentis or Nigella Lawson can talk about food because they meet the specs. Every other woman must respect her “health” and avoid food like the plague.
Clean eating has become akin to pursuing new virginity. Sugar is universally reviled. Fat is still the demon. Unless you are on the ketogenic diet, in which case you worship at the altar of fat. The point is that diets have become a way of capitalizing on our shame. Just follow these few rules, and you will feel superior to all others. If you fall off the wagon, shame on you. You just need to try harder. Just think of how much better you would feel at 110 pounds in that bikini. Nobody ever says anything about how sad it feels not to be able to eat full-fat ice-cream.
Please, give me a moment here while I talk about how much I hate diet foods. I particularly detest the new generation of diet food like 50 calories a pint ice-cream that taste absolutely nothing like ice cream. Between diet books, diet foods, cult workout plans, the waist trainers and the detox teas, our culture of shame has spurned a whole industry that churns out millionaires by burning through our wallets.
After thinking critically about it, I have decided that I no longer want to be part of this cult. I have no more money to give to anything new diet ideas. There is no more time to contemplate if I should try the Whole 30 or keto my life. I am in transition out of this cycle of shame, disappointment, and self-destruction.
Don’t get me wrong; I still have lots of shame that I have to work through. The big difference between me of today and me of yesterday is that I recognize that I have let food become a way of continually shaming myself. I acknowledge that I have become a hateful critic of my own body. If I am sincere, sometimes I project my own shame to other people.
The work that lies ahead for me is to learn to silence the shame. I have started doing for myself in small ways. I am eating the foods that I find interesting instead focusing on restriction as the path the health. Part of recognizing the shameful way I have been relating with food is being able to call out myself when I am using food as a mechanism to get out of boredom or soothe anxiety. This work is tasking. However, I accept the tasking nature because it is never going to be easy to dismantle decades worth of shame and process.
As I get through my transition though, I don’t know what the other side of the shame-filled diet culture looks like or feels. I know that there has to be a better way than loathing my own body.
I am a big proponent of self-care. For me,self-care is an affirmation that my needs are valid. However, self-care is now big business in the consumerist culture that as American as apple pie. The big business of self-care is one that I find both intriguing and appalling. The problem with self-care business is that everyone is not allowed to care for themselves.
This whole thought about self-care as a business came about because the New York Times Magazine published a profile called ” The Big Business of Being Gwyneth Paltrow.” As the title implies, the article explores the ascendant of Ms. Paltrow as a purveyor of self-care via her Goop brand. Reading this article made me think about my college days when she first started pushing her newsletter out to the masses. There is a recipe I got from her that is still one of my favorite recipes. It is a plain apple and broccoli soup that is finished with lots of lemon juice. It is very similar to this recipe I found on the Goop blog for broccoli and arugula soup.
Anyway, let get back to the point of I was trying to make. Following the writer’s story about the trajectory of Ms. Paltrow’s brand as well as the rise of the self-care industry was interesting to me. One of the things that I love about the growth of self-care as an acceptable form of self-love is that it has empowered women to demand time for themselves. Time to read. Time to sleep. Time to do yoga. However, the rise of self-care as an industry as also meant that many underprivileged people are left feeling like they are failing at life.
One of the things that Ms. Paltrow talks about in the profile is how crucial it is for her to create an aspirational brand. A brand that is based on utilizing her privileged access to wealth that allows her to be able to create the kind of self-care she wants. While I do not begrudge her her privilege, I find it a bit naive not to have a conversation about how many women are not allowed to care for themselves properly. Forget about money because money is a huge barrier that I can’t possibly talk about all the ways it harms the underprivileged. Even when we do have the funds to create opportunities for ourselves, many women, especially black women are not allowed to care for themselves.
As a black plus size woman, one of my problems with self-care is the feeling of being unheard and unwelcome when I want to care for myself. One of the radical acts of self-care that I have done in the past few months is seeking help with my body. I went to the doctor, and I felt unheard and misunderstood. It was like everything I said boiled down to one thing; weight loss. I feel tired begat a lose the weight response. I am gaining weight at an unprecedented rate begat a eat less comment. Knowing I have a past eating disorder begat a sign up for weight loss clinic from my doctor. Through all of the emotional trauma of feeling as if my doctor intentionally did not want to acknowledge my mental health as a legitimate part of my well-being, I kept caring for myself by demanding a proper diagnosis and appropriate help.
Then I sign up for the gym, and I feel like my plus size body is being judged. One of the most uncomfortable parts of going to the gym for is the judgment. I can’t complain about the quality of service. Since I am fat, I can’t possibly understand how gyms work. I remember one time I went to use a treadmill at the gym and realized that the speed off. I couldn’t complain because it would have turned into “you are out of shape” instead of looking at the machine. This was despite the fact that, at that point, I had consistently been running for years so I knew what my body could or could not do. So fatphobia is another way that I am being denied full access to self-care.
As a black woman, I am treated with suspicion when I go into self-care service providers like nail salon. One manicurist refused to paint my nails until I had paid her. No one else had to pre-pay before getting nail color applied. One of my favorite things to do is to grocery shop. I love looking at new foods on the shelves and thinking about ways to use them. Even that has gotten ruined because I noticed that I was being followed at grocery stores. Apparently, I am not the right demographics for this particular store chain. Interestingly, I walk into stores, and I am not acknowledged because again not the right demographic. So even when I choose to self-care, the trauma that is inflicted on me in the process compounds the burden I am trying to offload.
I have tried to negate some of the problems with self-care. I now choose to self-care in ways that are centered around my safe space. I still like to explore new foods by reading food blogs and shopping online. My choice to learn how to sew and make my clothes has turned making into a form of meditation for me. I have also started exploring ways that I can bring yoga into my house. I am a big fan of Yoga With Adriene. This means I am constantly looking for ways to create a yoga space in my apartment for private practice.
While I sometimes wish that I could go into cool spaces and be at ease enough to enjoy the experience, I can’t take chances. Instead of giving up on caring for myself, I am centering my self-care practice in my safe space. I am also excited that more women of colors and plus-size women are creating experiences for my demographic because of the trauma that comes from the general population.
This weekend was amazing. Last week was a rough week for me. Between so many microaggressions and getting stuck in traffic on Friday, I was ready for the week to be over. Then Saturday happened, and I felt slightly better about the whole week.
A few years ago, when I first moved to Boston, I remember telling someone that I wanted to get to a point where I could have friends over for a meal. I had never had that before. I am sure when I was thinking about this five years ago I meant having my apartment and all.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t live in an apartment by myself. I share an apartment with five other girls. Luckily, our apartment is on two floors with many rooms, so it does not even feel like there are that many people living here on most days. I also appreciate being able to have conversations with people when I am home.
This weekend, I finally got to invite a friend over for lunch/dinner. I cooked a rather simple meal (simple for me), and we parked ourselves on the balcony for a long conversation. Molly is a friend that I used to work with, and it is always good to catch up. Later after she left, I realized that the lunch with her in my apartment was a dream come true moment for me.
Many times I get so caught up in my “failures.” Recently, it has been about not setting my financial life up correctly, not having a career, feeling as if I am getting left behind by others my age. I feel like I am not where I should be at this stage in life. My mother likes to remind me that I am accomplished in my own right. Even when I fail to see that, I remember the words of my parents telling me how proud they are of me and my successes in life.
Being able to see this small win this week is big for me. It has allowed me to refocus my energy from a place of disappointment to a place of gratitude. This shift is special because there so many small things happening at the moment that have the potential to change my big picture. It is only when I take a step back and take them in that I can see the progress I am making in life.
Life is never really about just making it one day. No matter how talented one is, any form of success is usually a culmination of small moments. Hosting a friend for lunch this week was my small moment of success. I am grateful for it. I am glad that I am present enough to see it.