Letter to My Body, Part 2.

Dear Body,

Hi. I know we don’t really talk much (unless I’m cursing your very existence). It’s even rarer that I stop to listen to what you have to say to me.  I want you to know that’s all going to change. I’m ready to talk now. I’m willing to listen. There’s really no reason why you should believe me, considering the years of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse I’ve heaped upon you, but I promise…I am changing. I just hope it’s not too late.

There are many people I’ve hurt in my lifetime. Every vicious word I’ve ever spoke, every selfish deed I’ve ever acted- they stick in my brain the way Duncan’s murder re-plays in Lady Macbeth’s. I shudder to think of the people out there who believe I have an ugly spirit- especially the ones with good reason.  Through following 12-step programs and reading countless other self-help books that encourage the same thing, I’ve written dozens of sincere apology letters to those people over the years. Some, I’ve sent off (to various degrees of response). Others sit at the bottom of the dusty bins in my closet…both written and kept more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.

But in all those periods of reflection, I never once thought to ask forgiveness of you. You, who have definitely got the worst of my abuse and are still hanging around. You, who have remained remarkably strong and healthy, in spite of the long lapses of exercise and unending cycles of binging, purging, starving and other bad eating habits I’ve inflicted. You, who have managed to earn compliments from people even in the same breath of receiving a heap of insults from me. You, who have been attractive enough over the years to have countless men and women willing to explore your most intimate caverns. You, who wear your history on your sleeve- literally; from the crepe iron burns on your forearms, to the scars on your breast from the reduction that took so long to become a reality. From the stretch marks across your hips (due to years of losing and gaining and losing and gaining), to all the other scrapes and bruises that recount a life well-lived. You, who wear my tattoos like daily love letters to my sister, my father, and my favorite writer. Do you know my latest one is a reminder for me to be kind to you from here on out? My left forearm now reads “thinking makes it so”. It is taken from a quote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Now, I can look down when I am going through the hassle of dressing myself in the morning and remember: I can choose to think my arms fat, disgusting, and too unacceptable to be shown in public. Or, I can be full of gratitude I have two arms to write this letter, hug my friends and family, and dress me in the first place.

I’m now exercising on a regular basis. I’m mindfully planning most of my meals. If I can’t bear to wear something that shows my arms or back for a full day, I commit myself to just sporting that outfit for a trip to the store or the bank. I go out and see a play, even when every cell in my brain is telling me I should not go out in public. I know this process may seem slow to you, but please be patient. The steps I’ve taken in recent months may seem inconsequential, but I weigh them in leaps and bounds.

I vow to you that one day I will be able to love and appreciate you wholly, just as you deserve. Step by step, one day at a time, I am getting there. And the thing is, you don’t have to change at all. You can stay exactly as you are and I will do the changing for us both.

Thank you for everything you have done for/given me over the years. I am very lucky to have you. I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to realize it.

Love,

Haley (the conqueror)

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Here are some more body letters from other people.

Are you ready to write your own?

A Letter to My Body, Part 1.

I have to share this post from positive body image blog, http://www.alreadypretty.com. I pretty much could have written the exact letter, verbatim, but I’m going to take a stab at writing my own.

Who wants to join me?

Feel free to share in the comment section of this post, or wait until I post my letter in Part 2. As always, you are more than welcome to email me privately. And there is, of course, always the option of writing it solely for your own benefit.

Sally McGraw (a woman I don’t even know) wrote a letter that brought tears to my eyes. I imagine that writing one for myself might be pretty cathartic. I bet it would be for you, too. (Yes, you!)

And while we’re at it…

Ashley Judd, 2004 March for Women’s Lives

Here is an open letter written by Ashley Judd (and originally published in The Daily Beast) in response to reporters who judged her for having a “puffy” face. As always, the response to her response has been mixed. It’s brilliant, in my opinion. What do you think?

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The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.

However, the recent speculation and accusations in March feel different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.), tabloid press, and social media:

One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.

Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!) 

Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene inMissing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f–k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)

News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time-honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited content.

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.

-Ashley Judd. April 9, 2012

How third grade made me a vegetarian.

Once upon a time, there was a 3rd grader named Haley. She was an enthusiastic student and a bit of an over-achiever. She was also beginning to showcase signs of the woman she would one day grow up to become. There was one occasion, for instance, where she gathered several of her friends together to perform a choreographed dance to Paul Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”. Haley insisted her teacher take ten minutes out of their afternoon lesson to allow her classmates to see this once-in-a-lifetime production. Even in elementary school, Haley was a self-motivated performer and a bossy, pestering producer.

Haley was also developing her trademark sensitive spirit. Third grade was the year, after all, she chopped off her long hair for the first time and had a boy tell her the new cut made her look like the Incredible Hulk. Haley can pinpoint this as the first looks-based insult she ever received. Other ones that stick in her brain are mostly from high school, and include creative gems such as  “the St. Bernard” and “rhombus-head”.

Third grade was also when Haley missed half the school year, due to an unfortunate rash that would repeatedly break out over her entire body. After a month or two of restricting Haley’s favorite school meal (peanut butter and honey sandwiches), an intelligent school nurse, or parent, or grandparent, or something rather, discovered Haley’s outbreaks were actually caused by her fear of the classroom Teacher’s Aide. You see, the TA was the first person in Haley’s educational experience to not fawn over her zeal in the classroom. The TA gave Haley “satisfactory” marks in handwriting, when she was used to “excellent” marks in everything else. Haley did not know how to accept this rejection, so her fragile little ego developed hives as a defense mechanism.

Third grade was the year- as we’ve learned from earlier posts- that Haley discovered she was a good 10-20 pounds heavier than most of her other female classmates. This was also around the time Haley started paying attention to her mother’s morning dressing ritual; it is the same one that Haley now uses herself as an adult: 1) try on everything in the closet, 2) verbally scorn the reflection in the mirror over and over again, 3) settle on the outfit that is the ‘lesser evil’ and 4) leave for the day, agitated and upset.

Yes, third grade was the most transformative year in the young Haley’s early life. It was also when she found out her stomach was just as sensitive as her emotions:

Haley’s classroom was going to visit a local dairy for a field trip. Part of this trip involved milking a cow. The only thing Haley knew about cows until this point was that her grandma Ollie was forced to milk them as a child. Every day grandma Ollie would go out to the cow pen with a milk bucket in her hand, and every day grandma Ollie would faint before   being able to complete the task.

This is not the sort of family folklore that makes a grandchild eager to try things for herself.

But, because Haley’s  ‘classroom participation’ grade depended on it, she put her little hand to a giant cow’s swollen udder and tugged until a creamy strain of milk squirted out. The kids behind her in line laughed as Haley tried to control the gagging sensation rising up in her throat. Haley was certain; this dairy business was not her cup of tea.

The forced cow milking and the tour of the small crates where baby calfs were kept (before their eventual veal-producing slaughter) were off-putting for the young Haley, to put it mildly.  However, these events were nothing compared to the grand finale of that day’s field trip. A mamma cow was about to give birth to a baby cow. In this sort of situation, most of the adults on the dairy would have had the foresight to remove all the third grade children from eye-witnessing such an affair. However, this particular day, the mamma cow chose to give birth to a TWO-HEADED calf. The grown-ups on the dairy were as frozen in shock as the children. Everyone watched the miracle/horror (depending on who you ask) with wide-eyes and agape mouths.

Q: How do you possibly top giving your students the experience of seeing a cow give birth to a two-headed calf?
A: You make that calf your classroom’s pet. That way, at the young ages of eight and nine, your students can learn about the circle of life- the gruesome, bloody process of birth and the unforgiving reality of death- within a month.

An educational field trip, indeed.

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My family was never an animal family. My mom didn’t really care for pets and my father had residue from the traumatization of losing his beloved dog in an accident when he was a boy. Despite this, my sister somehow wound up with a rescue dog in junior high. The poor thing ultimately ended up being largely ignored by the lot of us. To this day, my dad says “If I’m going to hell when I die, it will be for the way I treated that dog.”

So, I never really had any close contact with animals- and the occasional run-in with them at a friend or cousin’s house usually left me frightened or unimpressed. Until my experience with Curti Dairy on the outskirts of Waukena, I never had any reason to consider how the meat on my plate got there. But from that point on, I could not help but consider it.

Vegetarianism wasn’t something that occurred to me as an option when I was that young, but I did become very fussy with meat. It needed to be well done, off the bone, preferably battered or fried or in some shape that rendered it unrecognizable as a once-living being, or I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat it.

Then I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in one of my early years of high school. The assignment happened to land on the same week as an investigative 20/20 special on how grocery chain’s were saving money by mixing expired, rotten meat into new packages.

That was it.

I became a vegetarian. I stayed one until I was 22, a year out of college. I was having health problems and a doctor convinced me it was because of the lack of protein in my diet, so I decided to go back on the (kill) wagon.

I continued eating meat again from then until I was 29- though I returned to my former habits of needing my meat to be as unmeatllike as possible. There were many, many occasions where I would order something as simple as a ham sandwich, take a bite, and need to throw the thing away. I have an especially fond memory of a dinner where my friend Sean (who was raised vegetarian, but now occasionally eats meat as an adult) and I tried to make turkey tacos. We were really excited at the grocery store, but once the two of us smelled the meat cooking, neither of us could go through with our dinner plans. An entire package of ground turkey meat was tossed in the garbage. It felt nice to be with someone who was as conflicted about ingesting animal products as I was.

Right around the time I went sober, I decided to go back to being a vegetarian. I had already cut out red meat by this point; it seemed like a logical path for me. This time, I am putting more emphasis on getting protein in alternate forms and I would not be surprised if this go of it ends up being a life-long commitment for me. There are many reasons why I foresee this:

-I have become more connected to the animal world and am at a point in my life where I cannot separate the fact that eating meat requires eating animals. I should mention, I still don’t have any pets of my own, but that’s no longer out of disinterest. I simply do not have the amount of money, time, and stability I would find acceptable to be the primary care giver to another living being.

– I don’t really enjoy the taste of meat, nor do I particularly crave it or miss it. Ten times out of ten, if you put a steak in front of me or a loaf of bread, I’m going to dive for the bread.

-I have read one too many books about the factory farming industry, and I am all too aware that the meat we get as Americans a) is pumped full of a lot more than just ‘meat’ and b) comes at the expense of the animals, the environment and even us humans. This is Old Macdonald’s farm no longer.  Animals in factory farms are often artificially created, over-crowded, tortured in life and brutalized in their journey to death.The most powerful and cohesive book I ever read on the subject is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is probably one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read about anything, ever.

“Isn’t it strange how upset people get about a few dozen baseball players taking growth hormones, when we’re doing what were doing to our food animals and feeding them to our children?” 

“Of course, consumers might notice that their chickens don’t taste quite right — how good could a drug-stuffed, disease-ridden, shit-contaminated animal possibly taste? — but the birds will be injected (or otherwise pumped up) with “broths” and salty solutions to give them what we have come to think of as the chicken look, smell, and taste.” 

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

-Lastly (and what I’ve only really admitted to a few people outside of my therapist), is limiting myself to a vegetarian diet restricts me from a lot of potentially “bad” food. It is a way for me to exercise some control over a part of my life that I admittedly have very little control over. Knowing that there are really no meals available for me at McDonald’s or Burger King or Panda Express (and so on and so forth) keeps me somewhat accountable. It forces me to take a second and think about where or what I might eat, because vegetarian meals are (let’s face it) not as easily accessible in our country. This is, of course, not as noble a reason as “I’m doing it for the animals!” or “I’m doing it for the environment!”, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that it is a very big part of what makes vegetarianism appealing to me.

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I’ve already talked much longer than I planned to, but last time I asked people to write in if there were any fools related books that they wanted to recommend to people. Here are some new ones:

The Body Ecology Diet: which uses probiotic nutrition as a way to get your body healthy and rebuild your immune system.

The Truth About Beauty by Kat James: a book that gives tips on how to transform your body and looks “from the inside out”.

The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron: The author of “The Artist’s Way” fame teaches you how to undergo a physical transformation simply by uncovering their creative selves.

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Anyone want to suggest great reads about factory farming, going vegetarian, or even the case in FAVOR of eating meat? I’ll share them next time.

Periods, Books, and Photoshop

Nothing can put a wrench in a healthy eating strategy like that time-of-the-month.

I recently stopped taking Topimax as a preventative medicine for my migraines. For the pills to work, I was up to needing three a day. I started noticing it was making me lose my train of thought mid-sentence way too often.  So, I stopped taking them. My gynecologist suggested that another possible solution would be backing up my birth control pills every month (i.e., not having a period at all). Since my doctors believe that my headaches are somehow related to my cycle (my neurologist actually calls them ‘menstrual migraines’), the idea is that if I don’t have a drop in my hormones right before I’m supposed to have a period, I won’t get the headaches. I tried this for the past couple of months, but all that happened was it made me feel like I was PMSing for five weeks straight. And I still had migraines. So I put the kibosh on that, too. If I have to choose between occasional headaches and feeling constantly bloated, you bet my priorities-twisted ass will just deal with the violent, head-splitting pain in order to drop a few pounds.

My first cycle back, though, has included chocolate cravings that can only be characterized as ‘obnoxious’ and way-worse-than-usual cramping (it feels like there are three little elves inside me, using my uterus as a punching bag. Why are there three elves, exactly? I don’t know. Ask them. Maybe they’re in training for something).

The good thing about my current state of attempting mindfulness, is that I am being (for once in my life) pretty forgiving to myself for the current 72-hours (as of yet) worth of slip ups. “Oh, you want to eat two nutella crepes for breakfast today instead of perhaps enjoying some of the bountiful amount of fresh fruit you have on the other side of your kitchen? Alright, Haley. But only because your hoo-ha hurts so badly.”

I fully intended to post something tonight about how I need to get more stringent with my 30-day plan, but the truth of the matter is I think I am doing alright. Actually, with the exception of the whole ‘being-a-woman’ thing, I am doing quite well. I have noticed there is a marked difference in how mindful I am depending on whether I am eating alone or in front of other people. I think most of that is just the issue of being distracted. I was planning on saying I need to restrict myself to just eating at home, alone, for the next 30 days in order to explore this more, but now that I’m here (writing this), I’m wondering if maybe I should really work from the get-go on being more conscious of my eating habits when I am out at restaurants and eating in front of company, too. I mean, it is all part of the same disease, right? I guess I don’t need to decide right now anyways. The next time an invitation comes up, I will consider what type of mood I’m in and I will take it on a case-by-case basis. Less Nazi-like self-inflicted restrictions, more love. That’s what I need for the time being.

Part of me being comfortable saying this, without needing some great Plan, is this blog. I know I am ready this time. I know I can screw up one meal and be eager to be back on track for the very next. Another part of it is finally understanding how much support I have out there. I’ve truly been overwhelmed by the people who have been reaching out to me to share their stories and send their well wishes. I think I already mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating.

Some of my friends have suggested further reading that I want to, in turn, share with all of you. I have not read these yet myself, but they are all on my short list. Most (but not all) of these books fall into the category of ‘spiritual’ guidance, which is right up my alley. I fully acknowledge that might not be what all of you are looking for, so if some of you have other suggestions- send them my way and I’ll pass those on, too. But for my like-minded friends, if you want to check these out just click on the link to learn more:

A Course in Weight Loss, by Marianne Williamson  It’s less important how quickly you lose weight, and more important how holistically you lose weight; you want your mind, your emotions, and your body to all ‘lose weight.’ Weight that disappears from your body but not from your soul is simply recycling outward for a while but is almost certain to return.

The Joy Diet, by Martha Beck A menu of ten behaviors you can add to your way of living and thinking to enhance every day’s journey through the unpredictable terrain of your existence. You can add these behaviors gradually and watch your life become steadily more vivid and satisfying. Or you can go on a “crash Joy Diet” to help you navigate life’s emergencies.

Do I look fat in this?, by Rhonda Britten  With Rhonda’s encouragement and advice, people can find the courage and inspiration they need to move from disliking their bodies to celebrating them, from seeing them as objects of shame to considering them their own best friends.

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And as for some of my own favorite reads dealing with eating disorders and body image issues (these are all Haley-tested and approved):

Women, Food and God, by Geneen Roth From the book: “The writer Natalie Goldberg says that we are always practicing something and most of us are practicing suffering. WHy not practice ending your suffering instead of perpetuating it? Since you are eating anyway, moving around in your body anyway, being aware of something anyway, why not spend that time waking yourself up instead of deadening yourself? Is there anything better to do with a life?”

Unbearable Lightness, Portia De Rossi If one of the most beautiful women in the world can have body image issues, it makes me feel a little less alone in my battle. De Rossi tells a charming story about how her and Ellen met- it’s a nice reminder about how our own body image might not always amount to what everyone else’s is. 

Pocket Peace by Allan Lokos This book isn’t about food issues, per se, but it is chalk full of good advice on how to live a more mindful existence. The subtitle is “Effective Practices for Englightened Living”

Hunger Speaks, Carolyn Jennings This is a book of poems my friend Deb passed on to me. I fully intend on paying the book forward at some point (with Deb’s permission), after I fully absorb everything I need from it. If you are interested in using poetry as a healing tool, let me know and I may pass it on to you! Here is one of my favorites from the collection:

Breaking Trail

It begins with a nibble to the ears
of the chocolate bunny, harmless
little midday pleasure
or reward or break or
private celebration or some small something.

It ends with nothing
but a fistful of pastel foil.

And no one quite there
to taste
the ripped-off chunks in between.

But someone left here
with a queasy mind
and stomach; watching
what I can’t explain:

this girl
who needs more,
this girl, quiet as a viper and as
quick, this girl who prickles just under my
skin, the girl, hollow

who knows only two things:
comfort and then
the need

for more:
next, next, later, when? what? where? how soon?

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Julia Bluhm, taking matters into her own hands.

I’d like to close my post today by talking about my new personal hero, Julia Bluhm. She is a 14-year-old 8th grader  who, with the help of some friends, has led a petition against Seventeen magazine and their use of photoshop and airbrushing teen models. It currently has collected over 84,000 signatures. Seventeen’s editor included a “Body Peace Treaty” in their most recent issue, where they vow to never photoshop a model’s body or face (they claim they never have).

Here is where you can find the original petition Bluhm posted on change.org.

She’s already on her next assignment; getting Teen Vogue to stop using digitally doctored images as well.

At some point I will write a more in-depth post about this specific issue. After all, like no other time in history, I think our culture is specifically responsible for making women feel uncomfortable and undesirable in their own skin. But for now, let’s just let it be known that I am in full support and total admiration of this brave little mini-conquerer.

Bluhm is front and center.

The Plan

Due to state-wide budget cuts in Education, I was laid-off at the end of June.  I’m having mixed feelings about the whole thing. There is a small part of me that is upset, as the job itself seemed tailor-made to my strengths and talents. Another piece of me is anxious and nervous about what lies ahead. But mostly, I am trying to see it as a blessing. I am one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason. And in this case, I think it was time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. That job (and living in Visalia) was good for me when I needed to get back on my feet and learn how to take care of myself. Now, I’m ready to do something exciting. Ready to branch out of my comfort zone a little more.

One thing that is beneficial about my unemployment is the timing. Right when I decide to take matters of my health and body image into my own hands, I suddenly have the time available to devote myself to that goal. Now that I’m not working, I have no excuse not to exercise every day. I also can be more mindful about what I put in my body because I am not really ever rushing to get anywhere.

The plan for this month doesn’t really involve anything major, but I am hoping the results will be significant.

For the next 30 days, I will try to make most (if not all) of my meals at home. I will be mindful of what ingredients I use, mindful of how I eat my meals (chewing slowly, finishing when I’m full, etc) and I will exercise at least once a day. I also plan on writing everything down, just because the few times I did Weight Watchers, that always seemed to help.

And that’s it.

My therapist and I have talked about how my obsessive tendencies lead me to not be a good candidate for handling dieting well. She has suggested that if I ever truly want to kick my bad habits, I need to simply teach myself how to use food as nourishment only. Any and all food; not just whatever is deemed the healthy diet of the moment. They say doing something for 30 days can form a habit. So, for the next month, I will focus on eating mindfully at each meal and see what results that yields. And if that  doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.

I should mention here that this is the last post I will advertise on Facebook (unless I write something absolutely brilliant that everyone needs to see). If you want to keep up with my journey, either join my followers by clicking the button at the bottom of the page, or just check back every few days.

Many of you have been sending me private notes of encouragement. Some of you have even shared your own food/body related issues with me. Please…keep sharing! It gives me the courage to continue telling my story, and it really helps to know I’m not the only one out there.

Step One.

Step one: admitting you are powerless, and that your life has become unmanageable.

So, what exactly is this thing I refer to as ‘my eating disorder’? Below are some examples. None of these issues are every day things. Sometimes I can maintain a perfectly healthy body image and diet for weeks at a time, until something traumatic or upsetting (or even exciting) causes me to “go off the deep end’, so to speak. This list outlines things when they’re at their worst. They’re pretty embarrassing when compiled together, but I’m banking on there being a few of you out there who can relate to at least some stuff.

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-When feeling restless, depressed or angry (or any host of other emotions), I’ve been known to go through a drive-through and order a super-sized number something rather. I will then drive to a gas station and stop in for a king-sized candy bar (usually a Snickers), a bag of chips (usually Cheetos), a pastry of some sort (usually Snowballs) and if I’m feeling particularly gross, another non-chocolate snack such as Twizzlers. I will then drive around and eat everything in my car (as quickly as possible) and find a trash can to toss all the trash/evidence in,  so that when I get home, my roommates will not know I have eaten anything at all. The decision on whether or not to throw it all up when I get home depends on a) how bad or uncomfortable I feel, b) what’s for dinner at the house and c) who else is around.  (This is something I don’t do so often anymore-especially since living alone and going back to my vegetarianism- but it was a classic move back in my twenties when I felt like I never had any time to be alone with my thoughts.)

-I still purge when I’ve eaten so much food that I feel uncomfortable. Other times I might force myself to keep it down. On those occasions, the voice in my head usually goes something like,  “Haley, you don’t deserve to purge. You are a fat, disgusting binger so you let that food sit in your stomach and go straight to your thighs and arms.”  Then there are the occasions (and this is totally disgusting), I might ingest something like an entire large pizza by taking bites, chewing it up, and then spitting the chewed bites into a plastic bag or garbage can. The irony is, as gross as this is, it’s probably my inner voice trying to do its version of ‘what’s the healthiest way to get through a binge session’.

-I will sometimes throw up my food even if I didn’t binge. (Keep in mind I don’t purge at every meal- I have way too much guilt and disgust over it). I have been in situations at work or social gatherings where I have anxiety, and excusing myself to go throw-up just helps me feel better for some reason. When the signs of vomiting my food are obvious (I sometimes get broken blood vessels all across my face…which usually happens when I eat without chewing enough, which unfortunately happens a lot when I’ve been eating anxiously), I will lie to everyone and say I had an allergic reaction to something in the food. I did this at work about a month ago with a quesadilla from Baja Fresh. How I got everyone to believe I had an allergic reaction to a tortilla and melted cheese, I’ll never know.

-I may try on every outfit in my closet before determining I am not fit to be seen in public that particular day/night. I will cancel on friends by claiming to be sick, or perhaps leave an event early. I do it when I’m alone, too. This evening I was planning on a solo outing to the movies. When I got there, the parking lot was crowded and I decided too many people were inside for me to have the guts to go in. (I had already determined on the car ride over that my knee-length shorts showed too much of my cellulite-covered legs and that my t-shirt was too tight). I circled the parking lot and even found a place to park as I debated this with myself, but I ultimately I ended up turning around and driving home. What’s worse are the times when I call in sick to work because of it. What’s even worse is when I call in sick to work because I do not want the children I interact with to see me.

– I will sometimes put off going to the doctor because I know the nurses will probably make me get on the scale. Sometimes I will even cancel pre-scheduled appointments for this reason.

-I have stopped going to OA meetings, AA meetings, Eating Disorder clinic meetings, etc…because I feel like everyone there doesn’t think my problems are valid compared to theirs, or that they think I’m too disgusting to help. Basically, at the OA meetings, I felt too skinny and at the Eating Disorder Clinic, I felt too fat. At the AA meetings, I felt like I wasn’t struggling with my sobriety enough to be taken seriously.

-I have weird food restrictions, and they can change at the drop of a hat. I always need to throw away refrigerated food way prior to the actual expiration date. I only like fruit up until it’s just ripened. Same with vegetables. Meat disgusts me…except the few times a year where I crave fish or shrimp.  Some days I can do dairy, other days I cannot. Eggs I can generally handle as long I don’t have to cook them myself or didn’t just read a book about them. Some months I won’t eat anything with artificial ingredients, but I will binge on whole foods. Obsessions come and go- I’ll be vegan for a few months, then gluten-free, then sugar-free, then something else, it’s always changing.

-I have trouble making decisions with food, or sticking to ones I’ve already made. There is a cupcake shop across the street from my house. I will go in to buy one cupcake, and come out with four. I will then promptly eat one cupcake, and then leave the box sitting on my counter for approximately five minutes. Then I will need to have a taste of one of the other cupcakes and it’s frosting. Then I will leave it alone for five minutes. Then I will need to have a taste of one of the other cupcakes and it’s frosting. Then I will leave it alone. Then I will need to have a taste of the last cupcake and it’s frosting. Then I will leave it alone for five minutes. Then I will come back and eat the rest of the second cupcake…and so on and so forth until all the little cupcakes are massacred. It’s a disturbing sight to see. Along the same lines, I have near panic attacks making decisions on what to eat in places like food courts (especially when I was a kid) and I always end up buying more than I need at the grocery store.

– I have been known to eat things off the top of the trash, a la’ George Castanza. (Generally because I threw it away hoping that would give me the strength to avoid eating  it.)

-Clothing rules I have set for myself either now or in the past have included the following: no shorts, no skirts above knee-length unless you’re wearing tights underneath, no skirts that hit you exactly at mid-calf because it makes your ankles look bigger, no sleeveless shirts, no capsleeve shirts, no backless anything, no horizontal stripes, nothing in the color white, orange or yellow, nothing with a collar, no khaki or light colors on the bottom half of my body, no light-colored shoes (because it makes my size 10 feet look bigger), etc.

-If I go out in public and I’m actually feeling good about myself, but then catch a glance of myself in a mirror and the reflection doesn’t hold up to how I saw myself earlier, my mood can shift on a dime. From happy and care-free to moody, depressed, snarky and generally no fun to be around…in an instant. Or, like I mentioned before, I will find a way to leave.

– I’ve thought I’ve lost job interviews or made bad first impressions strictly because of my body or clothing. “I would have nailed that interview if I had covered up my arms”. “That person thought I was annoying because they saw my belly roll through this shirt.” Along the same lines, anytime someone isn’t sexually attracted or interested in getting to know my better,  my first reaction is generally that it’s because I have the world’s most awkward body and unfortunate face.

– I talk down to myself on an almost daily basis. I’ve referred to myself as everything from a drag queen (when I’m dressed up) to a homeless dog (when I’m in workout gear). I am probably worse to myself than any nemesis would ever be. My sister often says “I’d hate to live inside your head, Haley.”

– I don’t like working out in gyms because I worry that people are using me as the gauge for who they don’t want to look like. I fear women are looking at me and saying “I need to keep working out so I don’t get big like THAT chick.” I only join gyms that have a private women’s area, because men looking at me is somehow worse. I will not sign up for personal trainers because I can’t handle anyone talking about my body, even health professionals. I once told off a personal trainer who tried to sell me while I was working out. I also never went back to that gym after that incident, even though I kept paying for membership for another several months. I don’t like working out outdoors either, because I assume people driving past in cars might be saying things. People could be looking from the window of their houses thinking, “Look at that gross woman huffing and puffing as she runs by our house.”  (I do realize on a logical level that it is much more likely that no one is doing this, but these are the thoughts that go through my head when I’m trying to convince myself otherwise.)

-Don’t get me started on going to the beach or pool. That issue probably deserves its own post.

– My issues with my vagina and the area surrounding my vagina probably deserve its own post as well. My vagina is a foreign object as far as I’m concerned. I feel like we know each other because we have a lot of mutual acquaintances, but she’s not someone I know personally. Or necessarily trust, either.

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And you just can’t get much more personal that, can you? I think that’s a pretty good summary of things. So yeah. Step One…checkity check check, done.

Anyone else out there want to share? Remember you can always email me privately at haleytheconquerer@gmail.comif you don’t feel like posting in the comment section for everyone to see.  I promise, I’m not one to judge- and I’m just as invested in helping others overcome their issues as I am in tackling my own.

Long story short.

I recently celebrated my two-year sobriety anniversary. I’m one of those rare cases who had already substantially reduced my partying ways long before finally opting to give up everything cold turkey on June 6, 2010. My drug use was down to very occasional, and by that point I could have probably passed for a responsible drinker in most social situations. But, I was still drinking every day. Sometimes at home. Often alone. So, although I had a handle on the downward spiral that had been the prior decade of my life, I wasn’t exactly what one might call healthy. I also had a tremendous amount of guilt and shame tied up with all the bad decisions I had been making (or many times NOT making, as I unfortunately spent a lot of my twenties blacked-out). Long story short: I was not proud of who I was. Something needed to change.

After I got a hold on my sobriety, I realized my former method of “dating” could no longer work, either. The problem was, I didn’t date. A few bad relationships in a row, coupled with a devastating break-up in my early twenties (and some other unrelated stuff we probably won’t get into until much later), left me with the desire to avoid any legitimate potential for true heartbreak. I was also definetly of the mindset that “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club who would have me,” and as a result, filled my evenings with one night stands, fuck buddies or people I knew deep down would leave me way before things ever got too serious.  As hollow and empty as these sort of  ‘relationships’ prove to be when you are using or intoxicated, you better believe they’re even worse when you’re sober and vulnerable. Therefore, with the exception of a few very awkward and uncomfortable casual-sex attempts after my sobriety date, I’ve also been deliberately celibate for the past two years. Yep. A deliberate celibate….we do exist. (Although I fully admit, I only intend this as a temporary solution!)

Why am I telling you such intimate details of my personal life? I think it’s important to understand everything I’ve already given up, every step I’ve already taken towards trying to heal and love myself, to recognize how troubling my relationship with food and the mirror truly is. I’ve conquered drugs, drinking, cigarettes, and promiscuity, but this is entirely different. Cutting something out of your life completely isn’t really a viable option when you have no choice but to face it an average of three times a day for the rest of your life. Of course, my eating disorder is even a precursor to all my other addictions. The first time I distinctly remember negative feelings related to my body image was in third grade. After a health test, some of the girls in my class where sharing their weight scores with each other.  This was totally innocent in its nature, but I remember it being the first time I realized there was a marked difference between myself and my friends. They were mostly in the 60-70 pounds range. I myself was 80-something-rather. There was actually one other girl who weighed as much as I did; later in high school, rumors were abundant that she was anorexic. I sometimes wonder if she remembers that day in the cafeteria as vividly as I do.

I guess this would be a good time to mention that I am painfully aware that all my dilemmas are very ‘First world” sort of problems. I should take solace in this, and sometimes I do, but mostly my awareness makes me feel even more guilty and annoyed that I’ve wasted so much of my short life being preoccupied with such silliness. But regardless of what I know on a logical level, it doesn’t change the fact that these problems are a very real and a very prominent part of my existence.

I had lunch with a close friend today. She called me and told me to be ready and meet her some place like, “right now!” When I got there, she said “You seem upset. Is everything okay?” I played it off like it was just anxiety over my recent lay-off. How do you tell someone that you are simply frazzled because you had to consciously force yourself to leave the house wearing the quickest thing you could throw on when the reflection in the mirror was telling you that you didn’t DESERVE to go out in public today since you recently gained five pounds? These are the sort of things the voices in my head tell me on a regular basis, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them continue for the rest of my life. Hopefully this blog will help me quiet them. At this point, I’ve got nothing to lose.

If you’re interested in following my journey, or you have some of your own memories to share, please stay tuned.

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