Loving your body is one of those things you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cherish it. You are supposed to appreciate it. You are supposed to enjoy looking at it in the mirror. We are all supposed to do these things. Hell, I’ve written a whole book on them.
Right? I’ve worked on body love so much I even know how to help you do it.
From all of that experience, I know that there are good ways to do it, and there are bad.
I (obviously!) do it all the good ways. I love my body because of what it does, and because of gratitude for what it provides to me — like the abilities to breathe, and to laugh, and to be happy. I love my body because it is my home. I love my body because it does its best to make me healthy. I love my body because the number of things it does right far outweigh the number of things it does wrong. I do not love my body based on shallow, transient characteristics like the circumference of my abdomen or the semi-linearity of my almost-white teeth. (I do, admittedly, really enjoy having orange hair.)
I love my body in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.
(there’s got to be a “yet,” right?)
Sometimes I do not love my body.
Sometimes, in fact, I hate it.
Sometimes I fear it.
Sometimes I resent its limitations so fiercely I dig my nails into my mattress and sob until I run out of breath.
Here is why:
My body works, but not the way it is supposed to.
My body sleeps, but never for more than four hours at a time and sometimes not at all.
My kidneys process potassium, but at a much lower rate than other peoples’ do.
My heart beats, but faster and harder than a healthy heart beats.
My skin protects me from the outer world. It looks pretty good these days. But one sweaty workout, one bite of vegetables fried in butter, one handful of nuts, one small period of fasting, one ten-minute exposure to UV rays, and I will most certainly have acne the following morning.
My eyes work, but are photophobic, which means that I get migraines from any lights brighter than a desk lamp. I always wear sunglasses outside, and sometimes I even have to wear them inside. This is not a whole lot of fun in ballet class.
My metabolism burns, but slowly. Just one “off” day and my pants are noticeably tighter. If not careful, I’ll put on five pounds in a week.
My ovaries now work better, thanks to serious efforts and healing on my part, but I also experience weight gain and quite depressing PMS like clockwork every 27 days.
My muscles contract, but those in my back more than other people’s, which means I get headaches if I have poor posture or sit down for too long.
My eardrums are great at detecting quiet sounds. Their sensitivity can be helpful. It can also be opporessive, since loud sounds and pressure from the wind give me headaches. I always have a pair of ear plugs on me in case I need them.
My body works, but is limiting.
My body works, but I cannot necessarily fix it.
My body, in fact, often stops me from being able to visit friends and relatives. It prevents me from enjoying meals that my friends make. It forces me to leave all rooms with fluorescent lights. It doesn’t let me sleep. It makes my heart beat too fast. It gives me anxiety. It makes me chronically exhausted. It erodes my faith in my ability to ever be able to have a stable health and happiness.
In these moments, do I love my body?
Well, deep down, yes. I know that it is my only home. It is my shelter, and my partner. It does many good things. I do know this.
But sometimes its just f*cking impossible to feel it.
It is my firm and loving opinion that it is unrealistic to demand of ourselves that we always feel positively about our bodies. My solution is to stop doing that.
I don’t put any pressure on. I do my best. Life is hard. Health is hard. I no longer need to be perfect, in this as much as in other things. I simply cannot do it. As much as I do genuinely love and appreciate my body, I am a human being who struggles. I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I am so unhappy with my body it physically aches.
And to be honest, since I have accepted the pain and frustrations and patience required for living in my body…
it has all gotten easier. Permitting my negativite feelings space has allowed me to heal. I’ve got at least three degrees of acceptance here working in my favor. I enjoy thinking of myself as intelligent, so let’s call it Meta-Acceptance. It’s 1) okay that my body is so delicate, 2) also okay that I don’t like that my body is so delicate, amd 3) also also okay that I don’t like that I don’t like that my body is so delicate.
These days when I’m scared or pissed off about my body, I let myself be angry. My mom will call me and I’ll say – hang on, I’ve got a big cry to let out, I’ll call you right back. And I do it, and I’m unhappy, but I’m fine, it’s actually all fine. I go back to the tasks and rhythm of my Monday. The more I have accepted these moments and feelings, the easier they flow through me and out of my life.
It’s kind of nice.
…Even though (!) the point of this post has NOT been to teach you a lesson on how to heal.
Sure – yes – acceptance has been powerful. Woooo. Go acceptance!
What I really want to do here more than anything is to “come out” – so to speak. It is to be a blogger who cares about body love, who has literally written the book (one of them) on it – and to still be someone who isn’t always overbrimming with joy and love.
More and more acceptance all the time, sure. Stuff is what it is, and that’s that. But life as a human animal is hard and imperfect, and here I am saying, do your best to be loyal to and embrace your body, but – well. Whatever. If you don’t always feel it, more power to you. You need more than just the easy stuff to make life worth living anyway.
It’s all okay. Good day, bad day, how much you are capable of accepting limitations. Whatever.
Sometimes I don’t feel love for my body.
No big deal.
Mannequins do not menstruate, and this is not just because they are made out of plastic.
Here are some images of mannequins in clothes and fully nude. I think this difference is important to pay attention to because seeing mannequins in clothes the majority of the time impairs our ability to process just how specifically manufactured they are to drape clothing just so and to go beyond all reasonable body size aspirations. We don’t regularly see what’s underneath. But what’s underneath is nothing but angles and Barbies.
Note, for example, how hip bones often jut out, which is a way to cause skirts and pants to taper and hang low and stereotypically sexy. Note also how waists are tiny. Note also how legs are longer than the list of activity on my credit card accounts. Which is to say - Long. Disproportionately so.
To which I can only say, holy crap thigh gap.
Mannequins are problematic for a lot of reasons. One of the worst is that this is a subconscious problem. We are well aware of the damage magazines and celebrities and runways and the like do to our self-love, but how often do we consciously acknowledge the power mannequins have over us?
Not very often.
Which is unfortunate – because it has been at least somewhat scientifically proven that mannequins do not have a high enough body fat percentage in order to menstruate.
Two Finnish researchers, Minna Rintala and Pertti Mustajoki, tested standard accepted body fat percentages for women against measurements they made on mannequins (of arm, thigh, waist, and hip circumference are all standard means by which to measure body fat percentage) they found in Finnish museums that were from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, and 90s.
Women need, on average, at least 17% body fat to begin menstruating. The researchers also use the data point of 22 % body fat for regular cycles – though I would argue that this is a statistic biased from the sample being drawn from the super industrialized nations of Western Europe and the United States. For the purposes of our investigation, however, their standards hold since we are largely of industrialized nations such as the US. Our mannequins, we should also note, are typically about 5’10 — the same size as the “fit” models on runways.
In this study, the pre-WWII mannequins had levels of body fat that were consistent with those seen in a healthy, young female of reproductive age population: up to 23 percent, at least. All the way up to 23 percent! That feels incredible – though it makes me sad to write that sentence. Women are known to be quite healthy up to and around 30 percent.
Starting in the 1950s, the estimated body fat on the mannequins decreased significantly. By the 1990s, a significant number of mannequins would not have sufficient body fat to menstruate if they were, you know, actual people. Check out the graph below. The bars detail body fat percentages for hypothetical women of “healthy” body mass indexes of 20-25. In the early decades the mannequin measurements come close, but in later decades fall far below a healthy BMI (note also that the WHO standard for “healthy” BMI goes down to 18.6..though this is contested, as in all things).
Apparently I am sexier than Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Lauren Conrad, and Scarlett Johansson
Today Paleo for Women brings you the five most infuriating statements to come out of Hollywood females this week, ranked from the”oh, that’s unfortunate” fifth place of Scarlett Johansson to Lauren Conrad’s “ohmigod-that-crazy-said-whaaa?” gold medal. They come from an article in the Huffington Post titled ”8 Sexy Celebrities Who Don’t Feel Sexy.”
The two runners up are Scarlett Johansson and Kim Kardashian.
Scarlett Johansson, first up, says “I don’t feel sexy, not right now.” Ok. Maybe she feels sexier after she’s showered or gone to the gym. I’ll give Johansson the benefit of the doubt. She comes in fifth place.
Kim Kardashian, the other runner up, says “I don’t find myself as sexy as everyone thinks.” Kardashian gets off the hook largely due to the ambiguity inherent to her statement. It remains plausible that she still thinks of herself as sexy. Not “as sexy as everyone thinks.” Fair. She could still consider herself a sex bomb. She passes under the fiery-depths-of-hell threshold and does not, like the forthcoming women, make me want to light my hair on fire in protest.
The medalists do, however, send me reaching for the matchbook. They have no excuses. Check it out. I might cry.
Third place is a tie. First up is Nicole Scherzinger. She says: “I don’t really see myself as sexy; I’m the biggest nerd I know.” To which I can only say: “please close your mouth, Nicole Scherzinger.” She does a major disservice to herself first and foremost. She speaks as though she cannot be sexy as herself. She cannot be sexy because of what she loves and enjoys, and she cannot be sexy because she doesn’t conform to some ridiculous standard of plastic, objectified womanhood. Please.
Maybe worse, though I am not positive, is that she speaks as though nerd and sex appeal are exclusive. To which I can only say “false!.” I myself am an excellent example of just how wrong she is. Her statement reveals that she thinks – or at least lets popular culture think she thinks, that being smart is a bad thing. As though all smart women cannot be sexy. As though all women being themselves in their own skin and enjoying their own hobbies is antagonistic to sex appeal. As though liking Game of Thrones automatically disqualifies any woman from the sexy category. Boooo hiss. Please don’t make it any harder for the rest of us to live out our own empowered sex appeal. Don’t let culture make you think sexy is a thin woman in a red dress and heels. Sexy is just as easily – if not more so – a woman in sweats and a Gryffindor scarf.
Tying Nicole for third place is Carrie Underwood, who says ”I don’t consider myself sexy. I am kind of a nervous person in general.” She gets the same critique, though with a bit less fire. I understand that she is nervous and self-conscious, and that is perfectly okay. Nonetheless – just because she is (and we are all) vulnerable to pressure to perform and to be confident and to obtain love, and because she feels uneasy – does not mean she cannot still love herself. Nerves are okay, if sad. Letting those nerves get in the way of your own empowerment, however — letting them prevent you from your self-loving goals – not okay. I hope all of us learn to embrace and to love ourselves and to live through our nervousness.
Jennifer Lawrence is the recipient of the silver ribbon — an infinitesimally close miss of taking home the gold. She says first “I don’t think of myself as sexy.” Okay, fair. Lots of women don’t, and all of these celebrities are guilty of that. She goes on, however, to say: “And, obviously it’s not true.”
To which I can only say, “we are not in seventh grade anymore.”
The reason this statement infuriates me with the fiery passion of a thousand suns is that Lawrence makes the categorical statement every single woman in the history of the world makes: “Obviously it isn’t true.”
No! Fuck you! How many times have you said this yourself? How many times have I? It took me years and years and years of effort to overcome this problem. It’s the world’s easiest cop-out and a frightfully obvious cry for someone, anyone, please, will you?, tell me I am wrong.
This is something I learned to do when I was in seventh grade. Probably sooner.
We as woman are told time and time again that our sex appeal is out of our own hands. We need validation from the outside. We need men to tell us we are sexy. We need other women to bow to us in sexy deference. And then – worst of all – is that it is never an internal feeling. It is only a descriptor other people can give to us. We make statements like the one Lawrence did because we have sacrificed our confidence and our sex appeal for the sake of false humility and this horrible culture that beats into us from birth that we are small and should always think of ourselves as small.
True humility is honesty, not deprecation. True humility is receptivity to correction, not rejection of inherent worth.
Finally, I do not know who Lauren Conrad is, but apparent she is famous. She wins. It’s not her fault. Same as the rest of these women. It’s not their fault. But her statement indicates something horribly insidious that lies at the heart of femininity in America today, and I’ll be damned if I don’t shout its rebuttal from my rooftop (or blog) every day for the rest of my life. She says: “I’m not a sexy person. I’m okay with it. I’ve never been the sexy girl.”
A) “I’m not a sexy person. I’m okay with it.” In this, Lauren commits the same sin as Lawrence. She goes even farther, in fact. “I’m okay with it.” Yeah, I get that. I’ve said it a thousand times myself. I even kinda like it. It’s acceptance. It’s having worth beyond sex appeal. But is it really? Is that really what she’s saying here, however? I’m not sure — I highly doubt it. Most women who say things like “I’m okay with not being sexy” are really saying “Please tell me I’m sexy. I’ve gotten really good at being self-deprecating, but that just gives all the more reason for you to tell me I am sexy.”
B) “I’ve never been the sexy girl.” This one takes the cake and is the one that has set my poor hair to frizzy ashes. The sexy girl. As if there can only be one. If that’s true, I’ll eat my own arm.
Conrad could not be more wrong about what it means to be sexy. Every woman (and man) is sexy. Every woman has sexiness inside of her, much as she and all these celebrities might deny it.
More importantly, however, is the fact that just because one person is sexy does not mean another person’s sex appeal is less. Sexiness is not relative. Sexiness is absolute. Sexiness is a fucking right, for god’s sake. Everyone’s got it if they will only see it. We should be able, as women, to delight in each other’s beauty rather than fear or hate or estrange ourselves from it. God damn. I want every single one of you – every single woman in the PfW community and beyond – to be extraordinarily sexy. And to be extraordinarily beautiful. It’s not going to make me afraid. It’s not going to make me jealous, or hate you, or resent you.
If you own your extraordinary beauty and hope that I do the same, then you will join me and every other woman in a community of mutual love and support. We will delight in each other’s womanhood. We will be strong, self-loving, and femininity-loving together. We will boost each other up rather than tear each other down. We will be a community of empowered, self-loving, self-determining woman, throwing off the heavy hand of American Sexism and doing things our own damn way. We are what we please, and it’s about damn time we stop pretending anyone else has any say over who we are or how we feel.
There are a couple of brief notes I should make before moving on for the sake of fairness. First, I want to commend these women, and to obviously give them as much love and support as possible. I have been flippant about their statements, and have even called them “sins” – though obviously what I have shared about each of them is a quote out of context from a very real and very difficult life in the limelight.
Second, what these women might actually be after is a move away from defining themselves by sex appeal. “I’m not sexy and I’m okay with that” might be their way to empower women in terms of other qualities. It’s not important to be sexy, in all honesty. Much as I’ve been ranting about it – hell, I called sexiness a “right” – there are still about eight million things it is more important to be than sexy. “Nice” is one. “Smart,” another. Now – I consider both of those things qualities that enrich a woman’s sexiness, but I appreciate the sentiment and want us to love ourselves first and foremost for who we are, and only secondarily to give that the mantle of sex appeal.
My definition of sexy is extraordinarily inclusive. I consider sexy to be a feeling. I think sexy is “excitement to be in the skin you’re in.” I think of sexy as ownership of our own selves, and of recognition of inherent worthiness of sexuality.
For that reason, we are all worthy of sexuality. We are all beautiful, natural, imperfect, alive human beings. We are all worthy of love, worthy of being loved, and worthy of loving ourselves. We are worthy of confidence. We are worthy of comfort in our own skin. We are worthy of life and dancing and strutting on the way to work, and of wearing make up if we want to or not if we don’t. We are worthy of our wardrobes and of flattering clothing, and of looking in the mirror and saying either “hell yes” or “it’ll do.” We are worthy of having acne or being overweight and still being hot, of being in pain or sick and still being sexual; we are worthy of sexuality because we are women and we are ourselves and we are alive, god. damnit.
To that end, I would like to posit an alternative to the statements above, in the form of an assertion of my own sexuality. I invite the rest of you to do the same in the comments. This is a community of love and support, so please feel happily free and affirmed. You will be affirmed by me and this kickass community no matter what, this I promise you.
My name is Stefani Ruper. I am a super young almost-25-year-old. I am inexperienced in life, but I try very hard to be good. I try to be kind. I try to be smart. I try to live a life of integrity and awareness. For these reasons more than almost anything else, I think that I am sexy.
I have PCOS. I have a sex drive maybe 8 percent of the days I am alive. I have acne scars all over my chin. I have comedones on the side of my face. I have always hated my thighs, and I spent my entire adolescence wishing for a thigh gap. My breasts are small and boring and I have one nipple pierced, not like it matters, except that it means to me every lesson of love and life I learned while living on the tiny island nation of Taiwan. For these reasons I am sexy.
By some miracle of my upbringing and location, I was a girl of rabid curiosity and anti-authoritarianism, which means that it wasn’t long before I took a long, hard look at the sexism in our society and said “fuck that, I would like to feel differently than just plain bad all of the time.” For that reason, I am sexy.
I love frosted flakes. One of my greatest feats is that I have watched all seven seasons of the West Wing in the span of four weeks. I have read several million words of slash Harry Potter fanfiction over the course of my life. I have a purple sex toy named Maurice. I almost never do laundry and I wear the same socks several weeks in a row. I prefer to work than to spend time recreating. Sometimes I spend all day in the library and don’t speak to another soul until 10pm. Usually I like it this way. I am anti-social on most days. On other days I am super social. When I day dream, it is always about dancing. For these reasons, I am sexy.
I am also a natural woman. I do my best to be in harmony with my body. I feed my body what I think it needs. I eat every single time I am hungry. I lay on my roof like a lethargic, passed-out lizard every sunday afternoon, and there I delight in the simplicity of my existence and the sizzling warmth of the sun on my skin. I have learned through years of trials that American society put me at war with my body but the best place to be is on her side, in her skin, working with her to do what needs to get done. I accept my illnesses. I accept my limitations. I accept my psychological scars. I work hard to overcome them. I don’t give up. I don’t let rejection worm its way under my skin. I get hurt and I hurt myself most of all, and some times I have done it real bad, but I have never given up. For that reason, more than anything else, I am sexy.
My name is Stefani Ruper. I am not afraid of who I am. I am nothing more, and I am nothing less. I think I am sexy. And I think you are, too. Thank you for bringing so much beauty into my life, even if you have never known it or thought of it that way.
Thank you.Read More
My body is designed to be little. My hips are narrow. My knees knock together. My breasts are tiny. At 5’2, 98 percent of American adults have to look down to speak to me. Littleness has been unfortunate in many regards (having to stand on a bench to kiss people, for example), but it has also been a great delight. I can completely stretch out on a sofa. My clothing fits easily into small suitcases. And I can curl up in a seat on an airplane and fall asleep on myself without having to come in contact with people on either side. Littleness genuinely kicks ass.
On the other hand, over the course of the last several years I have had to seriously take myself to task for all of the other reasons I enjoyed being little. It was never just about the sofa or the suitcase or the airplane. It was also because I fit into the sexist feminine ideal.
Being little means that I am smaller than just about every man. I was once told in a bar that I am “5 foot fuck-all.” Crude, but accurate. Men are completely free to be romantically or sexually interested in a woman if she is smaller than he. It’s more of a gamble for the woman if she is larger: all of my taller or better built friends are far better women than I, but they get fewer hits on their OK Cupid profiles. With a diminuitive frame, I have the potential to be universally desirable as a romantic or sex object. Hooray.
Worse than that, it’s the same thing in the opposite direction. We women will usually only date or be interested in men if they are larger than we are. With obvious exceptions, humans all over the place are on the same page: men should be big, and women should be small.
This applies to skeletal frame as well as to total volume, height as well as pant size.
Now, of course: males are bigger and women are smaller. That’s how sexual dimorphism goes: its a fact of the species. But to be better because you fit into a culturally-conditioned sexist ideal that conforms to those standards? Gross.
As an example of how much the Western world desires physically smaller women, just for kicks and because my brain is overloaded on hermeneutic phenomenology this week, I’d like to point to World of Warcraft. It’s a fun and unique example, and a powerful one because it is about deliberate construction.
In one of the original versions of the game, called ‘Alpha,’ female and male characters were the same size. Players complained that the female characters were big and ugly, however, so game designers made some hotter and smaller ladies. To be honest, I am surprised at how large the females are. My experience and exposure to these kinds of games tells me that the female characters are horribly sexualized (see the last image), and also I know that they are smaller.
On the other hand, the WoW community is a bit more counter-culture and a bit less mainstream than, say, Cosmo or Shape magazine, so I am aware that the WoW picture is fairly complex and might even be laudably “progressive.” Look to the left and the right for the differences in image 1 and 2, and then to image 3 for the smallness and lack of musculature of female characters in general.
(images from the link above, a great site, btw)
Is it just me, or is there a trade-off between absolute height and musculature here?
These are just female characters, notice the lack of musculature:
However, it is quite cool how terribly bad ass each of these characters is, and I have a feeling they do more to empower than a lot of other images women might associate themselves with in our society.
Ok, that’s enough for my nerd. Moving on to the important part.
This whole idea applies to more than image, however. It applies to voices, to personalities, to muscles… to salaries… it’s all a part of the same paradigm, though here it manifests itself in our very physicality. Men are supposed to be big. Dominanting. Protective. Strong. Enfolding. The caretaker. Women are supposed to be little. Protected. Held. Dependent. The taken-care-of.
I crave these things, personally. And strongly. I was a princess for Halloween ages 4 through 9, with the exception of one year as a caterpillar.
I want my men to be large. More importantly, however, I want them to be capable of holding my space, to take care of me, to be strong, and to enfold and embrace me — physically and otherwise. I want them to be big not just in physical space but in personal space. The physical is important because it symbolizes and embodies the rest of it. With my desire for big, hulking men (women is a different story, and I imagine this is because I am okay with women being the small feminine ideal) comes a desire for big, hulking protectors. I want to be overwhelmed by the bigness of men around me and to be small in comparison.
I cannot figure out how much of that is the simple, universal human desire for love and protection in me, and how much of that is a sexist norm implanted deep in my brain. We all want to be protected, right? Is my desire healthy or normal? Or is it a sexist smallness that wants me to disappear into the dreams and power of a sex bigger than I?
This phenomenon is just as harmful for men as it is for women. Just as we are forced to be little, needy, taken-care-of, and the like (though of course we may resist and challenge the paradigm, as so many of the women in this community relentlessly do!), men are forced to be strong, to support, and to be fearless providers. The subjugation on one end and the pressure on the other are both enormous. What about as women our abilities and rights to be strong providers and take care of romantic partners? What about as men their desires and rights to be to be held and be taken care of by romantic partners? These roles are actively discouraged by gender norms in general.
As a species, females are smaller than males. This is a fact. That’s fine! Sexual dimorphism exists across the animal kingdom. But our abhorrence of female fat, female muscles, and any part of larger female stature is not a genetic requirement.
We know that it is less socially acceptable for women to be overweight than for men. That is in large part because we are still sex objects whose worth is somewhat predicated on the way that we look. I believe another part of that is that women are not supposed to take up any more physical space than they absolutely have to.
We as women can be physically small without fetishizing it; we can be smaller than men without having to be smaller than men; we can have smaller frames without being small beings. We can still be large or thick beings, can still walk with chins high up in the air, and perhaps most importantly we can still present large auras and big personalities and strong, vibrant bodies and souls.
Don’t let lightness norms fuck with your femininity. Being small and light and waify is not more feminine. Being healthy and fit? Sure. But little? No! Get out, I won’t have any of it.
To that end, I hope that all of us own the sizes of our natural frames and bodies, and own the sizes of our souls.
Let each of these be as they are naturally, and stand up defiantly against all that oppressive sexist crap that tries to make you small.
I know we cannot change the culture at large. But we can in our own lives at least stop trying to fit into it in order to fit in. The good girls and boys out there will never resent us making that choice. They will, instead, be happy, and hopefully be liberated in turn.
I believe in my big, radiant, strong light of a soul that refuses to be caged, and I believe in yours, too.Read More
With this post, I have zero intention to make light of poly cystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, adenomyosis, pituitary failure, hypothalamic amenorrhea, PMS, PMDD, acne, or any other of the myriad of health issues that can befall women. They are not funny. They are not good. They are not easy to handle, not in any sense of the word.
On the other hand, I cannot help my natural born instinct to analyze the Big Picture, and to think about what the glass looks like when it’s half empty.
A lot of health advocates say — and I agree — that most people don’t eat a good diet or try to be healthy simply because they have not been sick enough yet. Unfortunate as this fact may be, we are creatures of complacency and habit. If something is tolerable, we tolerate it. Only when it becomes intolerable do we often do something about it, which is why so many of the paleo dieters out there come from histories of obesity, diabetes, and the like. With rock bottom (though obviously not exclusively) comes great change, of that there can be little doubt.
For this first, simple reason, any health problem can turn out to be a good thing. It can bring you greater wellness in the long run. Awesome.
Yet all health problems demand more than simple hacks when you encounter them in real life. They require listening and troubleshooting and patience and often identity re-formulation. This is made all the more extreme in the case of female health problems such as PCOS, HA, cysts, and the like.
Working with hormones is hard. It’s complex. It’s tricky. It takes a long time. Moreover, hormones play directly into how we feel, who we are, and our fertility and femininity. To that end, suffering through hormone disruption awakens us to the power of these systems. It screams out loud and demands our attention. It makes our bodies so powerful that we cannot ignore them, so important that we must take the time to listen.
I have worked with or shared my PCOS book with thousands of women by this point in my career. Perhaps the hardest, but most beautiful and important, lesson I have learned is that while life has given each of us lemons in this respect, we inevitably always turn physical unrest into margaritas.
When we have problems such as PCOS and HA, the only way through them (naturally, at least) is to listen to our bodies. It is to respect them, to come to understand their complex power and beauty, and to provide them with the nourishment they require. It is to love them, to develop intimacy with them, and to work with them rather than against them. It is to learn what different signals mean, to react to them appropriately, and to constantly be on the alert for new needs, new desires, and new improvements. It is to do our absolute best to heal our bodies in partnership, and to come to greater health, relationality, self-love, and empowered womanhood.
Dealing with the instability of such a complex health issue is not a picnic. I have written extensively on the broken trust and frustration that almost inevitably accompany chronic health problems. But that doesn’t matter. Most of life isn’t a picnic. None of it is about how easy it is. Nothing worthwhile is free. We have to dig our heels in and push most of the time, and even harder for the things that count the most.
“Life is a journey,” they say, and much as I wish this were bullshit, it’s not. PCOS, HA, endometriosis, PMS, PMDD, acne, infertility, miscarriages… these are steps along your journey to greater health, vibrancy, and intimacy with your body. They teach us how to have patience, teach us how to heal, and teach us how to grow. They teach us how to be strong, how to persevere, how to trust our bodies even while our trust has been challenged, and teach us how to love and accept and forgive ourselves above all other things.
I hate my crappy ovaries, but I love them, too, so much. They have taught me how to forgive my body. They have taught me to have sympathy for and forgive my body. They have taught me how to be patient with myself, how to walk gently with my body and with my femininity, and how to accept the things I cannot change. More than anything, too, they have given me the strength and the pride and the allegiance I need to stand up to contemporary body image norms. They have given me a powerful and defiant relationship with my body, and they have put me firmly on the side of love, rather than that of objectification and war.
Sometimes I hate my broken ovaries, but I am so grateful for them, too.Read More
I had a conversation in early May of this year that sticks with me. I think of it often, like it’s stuck to the insides of my skull and I could not scrape it off even if I wanted to.
A friend of mine and I sat on a hill of grass overlooking Boston as the sun set. I wondered aloud to him — “You know that feeling of bliss, of being so in love with the world, and so passionately delighted to be alive?”
“Yeah,” he responded, a bit of wist in his voice.
“Didn’t you used to feel that way all of the time? I used to feel that way all of the time. It was my default. Now — I’m lucky if I can muster that feeling up for a few brief moments every month. What happened?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
Then, at the same time, we both said, “It’s because we’re adults.”
The difference between childhood and adulthood is mostly responsibility, in my opinion. It’s about having to take care of things. It’s about having things be at stake in your decision making. And it’s not not just anything at stake in your decision making, but important things. Your health, the health of your significant other, parents, and children, your career, and your ability to keep putting food on the table are just a few examples. Your ability to pay for insurance and to have a roof over your head. Looked at from this angle, being an adult is about bearing stress. It’s about juggling all of these things and taking care of so many people. Stress is worry — it takes your brain’s resources and directs them towards managing your responsibilities.
The thing is, however — that this worry is the precise thing that separates us from the youthful joy of being alive.
So it’s not the responsibility that robs us of freedom and joy per se. But it’s the mental energy that comes along with it.
Think about the times in which you happily engage others, really enjoy yourself, and spread love. Think about the times in which it is easy to be open, to be loving, and to be joyful. Are they not the times in which you are the most unburdened and free? In which you are unafraid, and do not bear the weight of fear and stress?
Alternatively, think about times of your life in which you have had many things to worry about. Do you not feel curled into your own self? Do you not feel as though it is more difficult to positively engage the people around you? Ever have an impending deadline and snarl at every person who approaches your workstation? God forbid they disrupt your ability to get the damn thing done on time.
To be honest, all of this is okay, I think. It makes perfect sense. I see it as a matter of energy. Each of us only has a given amount of energy. This energy can be directed anywhere — toward sadness, anger, play, delight, or diligent work. But it cannot go everywhere. And it is limited. And your biological priority is taking care of yourself and your responsibilities first and foremost (or your offspring and family, but that’s just as draining.)
So when you are worried, anxious, stressed, or have any kind of mentally-demanding challenge floating arond in your brain, you direct your energy inward. You do everything you can with all of the resources at your disposal to manage your responsibility. You might overshoot and give it more energy than it needs, but you are still doing your best and you need to be understood and forgiven for that. On the flipside, when you are not anxious, stressed, or have inner-problems toward which you need to direct energy, then you are liberated to give your energy to other things. To happy things. To external things. You are free to play, free to laugh, and free to love.
The reason I bring this all up is because I think it is one of the most important factors for overall wellness.
We talk about stress a lot in the health world. But what do we mean by this, and what is its real effect? What are the different kinds of stress? How should we handle it?
Understanding stress in this way helps me navigate it better and reduce it. I know that my body directs all of its energy toward my responsibilities because it is doing its best to keep me alive. But does it have to? Can I not allocate time for certain worries, and firmly tell my brain to cool it at other times, and let the gratitude and joy of liberated living flow into that vacuated space?
Understanding stress in this way makes me forgive myself for being stressed in the first place, too. It’s okay — I understand now that my body and my brain are doing their best to help me. I understand that they demand my energy because they think they need it in order for me to be safe. Sometimes I don’t need them to do this, and I can tell them to relax and take a break for a while. On the other hand, sometimes I really do need to give 100 percent of my energy to the problem I am dealing with. When this is the case, I let myself do it.
I understand that I actually need to devote all of my energy to stressful events sometimes. This is important. In some sense, it’s an acceptance of my basic humanity and fragility where I let my need to take care of things override my desire to feel or ability to act outside of this stressful zone. I let my stress run its course through me without resistance. I give myself to the demands my situation has put upon me, and I let my brain do the mental work it wants to do. When I can accept and live through times of crisis in this way, then even the fact that my brain has demanded 100 percent of my mental energy does not make me feel as wretched at it normally does, because I know that this is the best and most efficient way to weather the storm. My stress and I in this case work together rather than against each other.
This works for me in a million different realms, particularly when it is a professional or social situation that demands thought and care. This is especially important for me as someone who’s job it is, literally, to think. Though it works in myriads of other ways, too, particularly in how I relate to myself and manage my relationship with myself.
Many of us worry about our health. Or we worry about how loved we are. Or how beautiful we are. Or something. But how much energy do we need to give that? What does your brain need in order to efficiently achieve a level of safety and love? Do you let your stress have the time that it needs? Do you let yourself think and research health issues the appropriate amount of time? You can do it too much, and you can do it too little. What is right for you? What is the best way to work with your stress and the mental energy it is demanding, rather than against it?
All decent food for thought, in my opinion. What do you think? Do you experience a limited amount of energy that can either go inward or outward? What helps you feel positive and share your positivity rather than being curled inside of yourself?
What helps you feel the grand joy and excitement of being alive?
What are your strategies for keeping stress from getting in the way?
The Art of Non-Attached Pleasure: How Letting Go is the (or One) Key to Peaceful Progress and Maintenance
The last post I published here was about my recent test results. Everything out there is better than it was before, huzzah! My male sex hormones are down, and my female sex hormones are up. My fasting insulin is improving, and my thyroid levels are inching normal, too. Perhaps best of all, however, is that I have a libido again. I have consistently clear skin for the first time in three years. I have a curvy but fit body that maintains its weight naturally. I don’t have to monitor calories. Things aren’t perfect — but they are leaps and bounds on the rise.
What has facilitated this recovery and rise?
Part of it has been diet, absolutely. The specific troubleshooting I did within the paleo template was also crucial. A big part of my problem was fiber (more on which in future posts). The amount of fiber I ate contributed to inflammation, which piggy-backed onto hormone flucutations and gave me cysts on a regular basis. I also added magnesium back into my life, which has been a godsend if there’s ever been one.
Another part of it has been stress reduction in my life as a whole. My living environment used to be stressful. My academic life carried a high amount of worry and stress. My life as a health advocate had its own troubles. Having a project such as The Book hanging over my head didn’t help, either. Working on all of those things has done enormous things for my wellness.
But I have come to believe that the most important part of my healing has been healing my relationship to healing. Let me explain.
As I moved forward with my acne, my hormone problems, and my concerns about my body in general, I was attached to what I achieved. I focused on the results. I wanted clear skin. I wanted libido. I wanted menstrual cycles. Every time I tried a new tact and didn’t achieve what I was looking for, however, I became more frustrated. I got more afraid, more angry, and more disheartened. “It’s been years, mom!” I have whined several hundred if not thousands of times in the last stretch of my life.
Then, whenever things started to improve, I got even more anxious because I didn’t want them to go away. If I managed to have clear skin for a week, I’d have an unhealthy amount of hope about it sticking. I’d be a freak about it. I’d do my best to stay away from mirrors and such, but I couldn’t help but always be on the lookout for more acne, safeguarding myself against that demon that had haunted me for so long.
And I was stressed about it, and it hurt the quality of my life, and also my physical body, I am sure. I didn’t want to stress about it, but I know it sat in the corners of my brain, haunting me silently.
I wanted to heal, and I wanted proof of healing. Now.
Today, I have “healed.” I have hacked the things that needed hacking in my body and in my life. I have seen a lot of improvement. It’s tempting to become attached to my clear skin. It’s tempting to get invested in my slim body. A part of me feels a strong pull to put all of my happiness and confidence into those things, and to fall back on my own model of feeling sexy, healthy, and happy because I was meeting some standard of health and appearance. Who doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see a stereotypically hot woman staring back at her?
The thing is, however, is that I have realized as I have healed that the most important thing for my wellness right now is not being attached to those things at all. The acne will not be perfect. I will probably always get some breakouts. I might even fall back into serious skin issues. More important still are the truly inevitable things. My body is aging every day. I will not always been the young little thing flying around the dance floor. Some day I will lose everything my physical body has to offer. We all will.
Most of you know I am a student of philosophy of religion in my “real life.” Most of the world’s religious traditions speak to what I have been wrestling with on some level, and one of my favorite strands of thought on it goes something like this:
We are here to delight in the good things we have, but we must be able to let go of them. Just as the leaves fall every autumn, so nothing good or bad lasts forever. This is an inevitable fact of being alive.
With health, relationships, statuses, jobs, and just about anything else in our lives, we are always in relationship. In these relationships, we have the choice to stitch our skins to the good stuff and bleed when inevitably torn apart, or we can hug and kiss and nuzzle them with loose, loving, and forgiving arms.
The more I learned to accept that the good, fun things like six pack abs and good health I get to delight in will not last forever, the more peace I developed in my healing and my maintenance of good health. I can do my best, but I cannot maniacally monitor, shape, and control everything that happens to me around the clock. More importantly, I cannot base my happiness on my clear skin. If I did, then I would be hurt by the stress of maintaining it and by the stress of (maybe) losing it.
Instead, if I base my happiness say on my gratitude for the good health I get to have now, and on my relationships, and on my purpose and on all of the beaty and love in the world, then I can delight in the good stuff without anxiety and be happy. Otherwise I’d just walk around worrying all of the time. Someday it might all fall to pieces, and I have got to be okay with that happening.
I remember after paleo fx this year I wrestledsignificantly with the question of what we were all doing there. Why bother troubleshooting health so vociferously? Why keep looking for perfection in a body? Why keep optimizing? I think this sits at the heart of that trouble I had. Physical health is so important, but it has got to be folded into healthy minds and healthy hearts, at peace with existing no matter what instability and tremors live within them.
At least for me. I love your thoughts, as always.