Bikini Season, Body Shaming, and Other Stupidities

Bikini season is coming!

We know what that means… Lots of bikini/ fitness/ diet Pinterest boards leaving people feeling horrible about themselves. Article titles like, “How to get ‘bikini ready”. Or, articles about kale smoothies and how good they taste and while you’re at it,you should exercise like 18,000 calories a day. Pictures of “best/ worst” celeb bikini bodies. It’s already begun with “shocking” pictures of Tara Reid in a bikini and talk show hosts telling Kelly Clarkson she “could stay off the deep dish pizza” after she… gained weight (WHAT!!!!) after having a baby (um, you’re supposed to lose that weight in 2 weeks, maybe less, everyone knows that *heavy sarcasm*).

I don’t know what is more sad: 1) That a bunch of tabloid dipshits judge and mock people’s bodies, how much they eat, and their weight struggles/ triumphs/ how they’re “letting themselves go,” or 2) That somehow these magazines are selling! People are reading articles by said dipshits.

I just have to ask: What is this world?

What kind of weird society do we live in that deems terms like “fat,” “dessert,” “seconds,” and “full” shameful? What is so disgusting about women’s bodies? Side note: my focus for this post will be about body shaming women because I am one and have more to say on the topic, but men are also victims of body shaming.

All of the mean twitter posts… the cyber bullying… the incessant fat shaming… WHY? The stigmatizing body shaming comments casually zinged about, they hurt. We may not acknowledge that body shaming comments hurt inside, but they do.

Body shaming hurts.

There is endless interpersonal and internalized shame about what we look like– that number on the scale what we eat what we don’t.

Culture tells us appearance defines our worth.

People are ashamed of their own bodies, and then collectively, we shame the body of others. With all this body shaming going around, it is no wonder that the diet industry is so prominent. And here’s where things get more disturbing. In 2014, the U.S. diet industry raked in $60.5 billion. More disturbing yet: that astronomical number is a DECLINE from the year before.

This video is a good visual of how much $1 billion really is. So take that video’s visual and try to wrap your mind around $60.5 billion. This is, by any standard, a lot of money. How many social ills that much money could solve in the world? Water sanitation, poverty, racial, sexual, policy to promote gender equality, and so much more! Maybe we could even put a dent in the United States’ massive debt.

Let’s just sit here for a moment and realize how fucked up this all us.

People are spending more money than the GDP of many countries on diets that become popular and unpopular as fast as hashtags or the latest in social media… Atkins is old school (the N’Sync of diets), but kale is in (the Taylor Swift of food). People are going Paleo, organic, and gluten free. Egg white omelettes are the new black. Diet pills remain comparable to the quirky and questionable relative at many family gatherings. Constantly changing options for people who are essentially wasting their money considering that DIETS DON’T WORK!!

Body insecurity is a given in today’s culture. Between 40 and 60% of young girls ages 6-12 are already expressing concern about their weight or are worried about being fat. The body-shame cycle starts so young. The same girls memorizing Let It Go and wearing Elsa costumes around the house might be considering going on their first diet. Maybe they already have.

In our culture, we are not at peace with our bodies, and how can we be with all this propaganda and equating body size and looks to worthiness? We think, maybe that next fad diet will make us enough. Maybe, then, we can feel okay and good about ourselves. Maybe, then, we’ll be worthy.

I follow an Instagram page called “Bye Felipe” which was created to call “out dudes who turn hostile when rejected or ignored.” The site usually focuses on people who are interacting on dating web sites. You can see for yourself the number of fat-shaming comments doled out to girls on this page. It is horrifying to open up my Instagram and seeing how guys degrade women by playing on body insecurities and playing the “fat” card.

These comments hurt, and they are dangerous.

So here is my message, and I wish I could put this in size 200 font:

LET’S PUT DOWN THE SWORDS.

Let’s stop shaming ourselves and others about the way they look.

Let’s treat our bodies with acceptance and compassion.

Let’s humanize each other’s bodies. Let’s humanize our own bodies.

Do we have body flaws and faults? Do some people need to gain or lose weight? A resounding yes. But can that be okay? Are we still worthy? An equal and resounding yes. It is possible to take care of our body struggles with a posture of love and self-care.

When people talk about how so-and-so is too thin/ skinny/ fat; what’s with her butt/ boobs/ nose/ ears/ mouth/ teeth/ hair, they don’t know who they’re affecting. Little girls (AND little boys) see the disgusting way people are body-shamed, and we’re breeding new generations of body-shamers.

An app exists in which you can “fit the fat girl crown”, and there was an app (thankfully it was TAKEN DOWN) that was designed to “rescue the anorexic girl.” All this when some reports suggest that incidences of eating disorders may be on the rise.

Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting.

You don’t know what the person across the street or next to you or in the cubicle over from you is dealing with, body-wise or life-wise. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Often you know nothing about it, and it is better to be KIND and COMPASSIONATE, rather than shaming and potentially triggering. This spring marks the 14th year of my eating disorder, and frankly, I think people have to mind their own fucking business. I realize this does not sound kind, but one negative comment can set off a slip or relapse or a passive-aggressive text to my therapist about how much I hate her guts. NO ONE wants to hear a passive aggressive, “Do you really need that slice of cake?”, or, “Wow you look huge in that picture!” And especially not someone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

PUT DOWN THE SWORD.

So in conjunction with this blog post’s title, I’m going to tell you a secret about bikini season. Here is how to have a bikini body:

People are at war with their own bodies and the bodies of others. It is a war that no one will win, but there will be many casualties.

So, in sum: be kind, compassionate, and please:

Goodbye Ed: Why I Don’t Call My Eating Disorder “Ed” (Anymore)

In 2006, I entered treatment for the first time. I also read Jenni Schaefer’s book Life Without Ed. She externalizes and personifies her eating disorder as, “Ed,” on par to an abusive husband who she has since divorced.

At the time, externalizing my eating disorder was helpful because up until that point, I was convinced that my eating disorder was, actually, me. When I read it, Life Without Ed changed the way I understood my eating disorder. I learned that I could survive the loss of my eating disorder. That was a profound realization for me. When losing my eating disorder felt like part of me had died, and I didn’t know if I could pick up the pieces again, I had this: “Life without Ed is waiting for you/ Be strong keep the faith and you’ll see it coming true/… You can believe in life without Ed.”

I am not the only one who found comfort in Life Without Ed. During both of my stints in residential treatment, conversations were peppered with “Ed” lingo.

“Ed was really chatty today.”

“Ed was driving me crazy. I told him to go home.”

People in treatment would applaud and mmhmmmm. Head shake. Yeah Ed that jackass. He’s the worst. 

I used that language too. I found this from one of my 2010 journal entries: “Ed has been my horrible husband for the last few years, and when I feel so bitter and angry, I come running back to him, abusive as he is, because he’s familiar and comfortable.”

Phrases like, “It’s not you I’m mad at, it’s Ed,” or, “Tell Ed to shut up,” were comforting to me at the time. Besides, to be honest, if you don’t drink the “Ed” Kool Aid, residential treatment can be a menacing nightmare. It is a pseudo-expectation that if you are in treatment, you will call your eating disorder “Ed” at some point. Ed is common treatment vernacular, the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Since I left treatment for the last time, the seasons have come and gone and the roller coast of life has continued. As I morphed and grew, I said goodbye to Ed, but in a different way. I have stopped calling my eating disorder “Ed,” or by any other name, for that matter.

That has been my own personal choice, and I don’t have anything against people calling their eating disorder by a name. Similar to this eloquent blogger, I am just trying to open the conversation up.

I don’t think that “Ed”ing your way through recovery is the only way. 

There are some great reasons to externalize the eating disorder (ED) voice. But I am just going to say it: it is possible to go Ed-less. In this post, I am going to delineate some of the reasons that I have chosen life without the term Ed:

1. Because reducing my eating disorder to something outside of me does not take into effect that eating disorders are complicated diseases. What most worries me about the term “Ed” is that it has the potential for simplicity and reductionism. The whole of something cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts. An eating disorder is more than what the ED voice says. If it was only about telling Ed to shut the hell up, you might think that recovery would be easier. I recently donated my blood to support genetic eating disorder research. Why? Because, research wise, we know relatively little about eating disorders. Externalizing an ED may be helpful to sufferers but it is a shortcut, a heuristic. It may help someone for a period of time, and if it does, great, but “Ed” is a tool, not a solution. Pat answers to complex questions can be harmful if taken at face-value.

2. Because my eating disorder is a part of me. One of my favorite recovery books is Gaining by Aimee Liu (read it, seriously). In it, she interviews people who recovered from eating disorders decades ago, but she notices in them (and in herself) personality characteristics and other similarities to the ED that linger. I may not hear eating disorder thoughts for the rest of my life, nor will I give in to urges, but I believe that my eating disorder will always be a part of me in some capacity. In recovery, I have had to discover the scared, fearful voice inside and honor that voice. If my eating disorder thoughts are loud, I have to ask: Why? What is going on right now? Instead of screaming “ED I’M DIVORCING YOU” at the time of my lungs when an ED thought hits, I am now more likely to listen to what my internal voice is telling me and ask what I’m feeling and why.

3. Because the concept is a little strange. I get why people do it. Like I said, I myself called my eating disorder “Ed” for a while. But… can we for 2 seconds think that there might be down sides to using “Ed”? I mean, to state the obvious, my ED voice is not a person. It’s not like I’m living with this asshole named Ed against whom I can file a restraining order, you know? For me, the idea of an abusive guy (or girl, whatever) in my head is not appealing at this point in my life. I’ve dated enough asshole guys, so why would I make up a nonexistent one and be in a pretend bad relationship with him? I am doing fine on my own, thanks. Also, could the term be demeaning to people who have undergone abuse or domestic violence? Could it be re-traumatizing even?

4. Because, quite frankly, calling my eating disorder “Ed” can be a cop out. “Ed was talking so loud” is a common sentiment you hear in treatment. Or even, “Ed was getting really worked up when you said x yesterday.” Is saying something like that helpful? What about, “I was feeling really anxious today because I was thinking of x and did y, and I’m having issues coping with my anxiety. My feelings are overwhelming.” Okay then! Now we have something to work with. That is taking the issue to its source. Blaming, sometimes scapegoating, Ed is not helping people to recovery. Eating disorder thoughts don’t come out of a vacuum. I have to place them in their proper context and take responsibility for them.

5. Because, after a while, eating disorder recovery has less and less to do with the behaviors. At the end of the day, the reason I have stopped calling my eating disorder Ed is because the term is no longer relevant for me. I don’t have regular urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. I am not over my eating disorder completely just yet, but my recovery process has shifted. My therapist specializes in eating disorders. But do you know what we do NOT talk about 95% of the time in therapy? My eating disorder behaviors! Or my eating disorder at all. These topics are not agenda items. In fact, if my therapist made me set up a chair and do an “Ed’s voice- my voice” role play, I’d stare at her and then probably get pissed. Those things might have worked for me at one time, but they no longer do.

 

I met Jenni Schaefer at an event earlier this year. She signed a bumper sticker for me that is pink and has a line through the word Ed. I have placed it on a binder for my school papers. I don’t hate Life Without Ed. I don’t read it anymore, but I don’t hate it. If it works for you, fabulous, keep using the term.

What I get concerned about is the fact that there is an expectation, or to get punny, an EDspectation, that if you have an eating disorder, his name must be Ed. Ed is preferable, Ana or Mia are secondarily accepted.

Externalizing is not the only way of recovering from an eating disorder.  Or, “Ed” may work for you for a reason of your life, and then it may become irrelevant. The “Ed” label no longer fits in my personal recovery journey. And that’s okay.

Like this blog post says, some people may find the term belittling. Some may feel invalidated by it. Some may find it simplistic. Others may find it to be a brilliant way of breaking from of an eating disorder’s tight grip. Great. But let’s at least talk about it.

Foregoing the term “Ed” does not constitute recovery heresy.

Just saying.

If A Tree Falls

The last few days I have been thinking about this philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I first saw the short film, “Likeness,” directed by Rodrigo Prieto, a month ago, which is about a girl (Elle Fanning) with bulimia. **NOTE: If you’re thinking of watching it, and I will link to it here, I am telling/ warning you: it has disturbing images and shows purging. SO, be cautious before seeing it. If you’re worried about whether or not to watch it, maybe err on the side of not. That is my warning.**

Despite the disturbing content (I turned the volume down/ skipped through a few scenarios), this film spoke to something deep inside of me. Elle Fanning is at a party in the bathroom putting on mascara when all of a sudden her skin morphs into a peeling mask, and crying, she tries to rip off her own skin. It is haunting and raw, but it resonates.

It made me think of the tree falling question.

Does someone’s pain matter if nobody knows it is happening?

So often, with eating disorders, and mental health issues in general, the pain inside is not outwardly visible. I know the experience of walking around in a trance, knowing that people have no idea about what I’m going through. I can engage in normal activities and act like a regular human being, and yet, there is so much more inside.

Maybe one reason I relate to Elle Fanning’s character in “Likeness” so much is because the director externalized her self-loathing, dysmorphic inner state onto the outer, her skin. If I’m being honest, the outward is more tangible and seems more real to me.

The outward is also more comfortable for our culture. This series of images came out on imgur entitled, “If physical diseases were treated like mental illness.” My favorite image is a picture of a person who has blood spewing from his stomach, and someone is saying, “It’s like you’re not even trying.” Of course, no one would ever say that to someone who is internally bleeding, and yet, as the images suggest, isn’t that exactly how people with mental illness are often treated? Neurotransmitters are over/ under firing, and the brain is malfunctioning, and yet people are blamed for their issues because they can’t be seen. People receive rhetoric like, “You’re so frustrating. You’re not even trying. Just get out of bed. Eat dinner. It’s not a big deal.”

Stigma toward mental illness is so prevalent. It hinders a healthy person’s willingness to be empathetic towards those with mental health issues, and then sufferers can internalize self-stigma, or stigmatize themselves.

The tendency to hide is evident for Elle Fanning’s character in “Likeness,” who is in serious emotional discomfort  and then proceeds to go back into the party and tell others she is fine. My professional/ recovery instinct is to tell her: Everything is not fine. You can confide in someone. You don’t have to go through this alone. … and yet, haven’t I historically reacted how this character does? It is so easy to hide if you can.

In a recent anorexia memoir I read, I saw the author’s tendency to invalidate her own experience of an eating disorder. Her book is peppered with times that she is screaming, Was this thing that I went through real? Can you see it? Does it count? Is it good enough? Am I good enough?

My own eating disorder has seemed similarly elusive. Some of my past relapses have been in response to the thought, “I want to see if I still can do it” (hindsight: not a fruitful thought). I can’t say, “I broke my bone on this date, and I got a cast, and I was in physical therapy until this month.” My healing has been in a jovial conversation, a good cry, the taste of quality food, and increasing amounts of life. Part of me longs for the certainty and tangibility that I don’t have.

Now back to the philosophical tree question… Okay, I took a (required) philosophy class in college. One. So I know pretty much nothing about philosophical dilemmas. And right now I’m more talking about people than trees, obviously. But, shouldn’t a tree that falls matter? Maybe no one can hear or see it right away, but doesn’t it ultimately impact the rest of the forest? And if nothing else, I would think that it would be known by and matter to God.

Just because the tears may be deep inside, don’t they still count as tears? If someone is imploding and no one recognizes it, isn’t that still imploding? Just because everything seems okay, and others recognize it as such, maybe everything is not okay. Shouldn’t that be okay? Suffering is hard to measure, but it still matters. It means something, even if it is silent. My therapist has tried to tell me this 800 times, calmly, and the last 100 times more forcefully. I believe her every time. The hard part is putting it into practice in my own life. It is so hard to validate something no one can see, even when I know it is real. Elle Fanning and I cannot be the only ones in life who have had the impulse to hide emotional pain.

I see how stigma about mental illness has affected individuals and our culture, so one of my professional goals is to fight this stigma that inhibits people from acknowledging their own struggles and friends and family from recognizing and responding to another’s pain. It is unacceptable that so many people have to suffer alone without an advocate.

What would a world look like where people are free to be open about the pain they face inside, where the lack of judgment and safety are normative responses? I believe that through education and outreach, more and more people will be able to come out of the closet and verbalize their own struggles, or they can support others.

Many times, when you are falling or hurting internally, you can’t just get yourself out of it, just like this poor little tree below can’t re-plant himself if no one heeds his cry. People need support and love during hard times. They need it from others, and they need it from themselves.

7 Ways to Improve Your Life

Did I get your attention?

To be transparent with you, this post is not going to outline 7 ways by which you can improve your life. However, it will be related to the sentiment behind the idea, specifically the prevalence of keys/ steps in the world of self-help.

All of my life, I have wanted to find simple solutions to complex problems in my life. I was that teenager who read “7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens” in her spare time. I have gravitated toward things like cognitive-behavioral therapy because CBT is neat, clean, and organized. I want to believe that if I make this chart or do this exercise or read this book, I will feel better. That if I follow all of the steps, I will be fixed. Yet, I found myself doing all of these things and still having this angst inside of me, this abyss so deep that the pain has seemed to penetrate every part of me. Formulas couldn’t explain that.

While self-help books, simple steps, and formulated approaches to wellness help a lot of people, and they have helped me to an extent, in the end, I have found them simplistic. They do not tell the full story. My life has not gone A + B + C. It has been like an avalanche, with zombies and monsters and surprises, and “how-to’s” or “steps” do not do it justice. Moreover, when I would read these books or would practice DBT skills on Saturdays, I would feel a sense of frustration and hopelessness. If these empirically supported, or award-winning, strategies don’t provide lasting change in my life, is there something wrong with me? Is there any hope for me in life? (Caveat: I think that steps, keys, CBT, DBT, etc. have their place, and if that works for someone, great. I don’t mean to knock these approaches to wellness. They can help reduce distress when people are hurting. That is great. What I want to suggest is that these approaches they are not in-and-of themselves sufficient for complete healing, at least they haven’t been for me).

I have been reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection (a fabulous book, if I may give a shameless plug), and I was struck by this passage (context: she is talking about our culture): “We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want a quick and dirty ‘how-to’ list for happiness. I don’t fit that bill. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work. We don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without the work” (p. 35).

In my life, I have found her words to be true. I haven’t wanted to be uncomfortable in my path to healing. In fact, I have taken extreme measures to ensure temporary comfort, and most of them– okay, pretty much all of them– okay, all of them– have gone up in flames. However, I have found that discomfort, albeit painful, is necessary, for change.

Simple answers assume that with education, with this chart, with this book, with a tap of our red slippers, we can bypass the work, and who wouldn’t want that? Brene Brown continues that we face such struggles in our culture, and yet, we are so “educated.” We live in a word of Google, twitter, CNN breaking news, and Wikipedia. For any given problem, there is probably an app for that. I know that my caffeine intake is probably unhealthy, and I could read all the articles in the world on how and why to change my caffeine consumption, but I don’t. For the most part, people know what is healthy and advantageous, and yet they don’t do it. Why?

Perhaps because life, growth, change, and self-improvement cannot be boiled down to a simple blueprint. There is a lifetime of letting in, letting go, feeling, and doing. Once I think I have figured something out in my life, a new variable enters the mix. It is complicated and messy, so messy. Being vulnerable with others is messy.

At seminary, I learned to “live with the tension,” in the discrepancy between the present reality and the shalom of God. It is hard to sit with that, to live in the questions, not to offer pat solutions, but to be present in the messiness. I believe that there is hope, and there is healing, but I also don’t think it can be reduced in a formulaic fashion.

As Marya Hornbacher wrote in the book, Wasted:

“There is never a sudden revelation, a complete and tidy explanation for why it happened, or why it ends, or why or who you are. You want one and I want one, but there isn’t one. It comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect… There is no other way.”

Much of my life I feel like I’m wading through a mud pit to find this elusive sense of wholeness. That is the reality. Therapists have often told me, “Sit with your feelings.” I hate sitting with my damn feelings. I have spent most of my life trying to avoid doing just that. Sometimes recovery feels like I am on a roller coaster, dropping, dropping, and I can barely catch my breath. I hate it. Although I hate it, I am still doing the work.

There is no game plan that tells me how my life, and recovery, should go, nor do I want one. I don’t want a cheerleader or a fortune teller. What I need are grace and love. I want people to be there with me, who sit with me, who hold my hand, as I trek through the mud. I won’t promise that doing the work won’t be messy, but I think– I hope– it will be worth it.