I have fallen behind on my PfW blogging! There are so many things I have lined up for this week and next, but for some reason or another they continually keep falling off of my plate. I am en route to home in Detroit, Michigan to visit my family. Things keep coming up that trap me in Boston. And to-do’s, as I said, keep disappearing off of my to-do list. Maddening, that is.
Fortunately great things have happened in the meantime. Least of which being that I have made progress on The Book (!) to a significant degree, and I could not be more relieved to continually lighten that burden. Plus it’s turning into a lovely and exciting thing, and I cannot wait to share more details with you.
Unfortunately, I have let something as powerful as the most recent podcast I recorded go unshared, a fact that breaks my heart. This was my favorite podcast I have ever been on, possibly because I am an ego-maniac and it’s all about my soul, but also because I’m a few other things other than an ego-maniac and I think sharing these things is a powerful way to foster empowerment and love and a sense of fellowship in questing in our world.
Anyway. When I searched the podcast to put it up today, I found it and also the kindest thing anyone has ever said about me. Go here to read it (I am an ego-maniac, but not enough of one to post praise for me on my own blog, at least today), and also to download or stream the podcast. You can also get it on iTunes.
I met Kaila at Paleo fx, and we had that instant sort of resonance that told me I had found a hell of a gem, and in a woman I could relate to, too. It’s been an enormous honor to learn from her and to share this discussion with her, and I cannot wait until her work starts helping even more women and men than it is right now.
In this podcast, we discuss
-My struggles with lonesomeness and anxiety over the last several years
-What has helped me find peace with food
-How easy it is to use science to make us of fearful of any food
-Isolation in the modern world’s ideas of adulthood
-The panic attacks I started having about dying when I was four years old and how they’re related to my career as a philosopher, my sense of purpose, and my desperate compulsion to live as fully as possible
-How I wrestle with basing my sense of self worth on achievement
-Why I think “perfectionism” is the wrong word and “neuroticism” might be better
-Why writing this blog is so bad for me and I’m going to be done with it some day
“Don’t think about what the world needs. Think about what makes you come alive, and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
When I first started writing this blog, I did so because I perceived a dearth in both the medical and the popular literature on women’s health, particularly with respect to evolutionary perspectives. We might talk all day along about insulin and obesity and heart disease. But what about ovaries? 50 percent of the population has them. Or what about depression, anxiety, acne, and gut dysbiosis, all conditions that affect women at much higher rates than men? What about the enormous burden and joy and giving birth? 3 million 999 thousand women in the United States do so every year. That’s 12,000 every day. We needed to talk about women, and we needed to do so fast.
compared to women above the age of 45, reproductive women are virtually living in the limelight.
Much as I’ll malign contemporary health dialogues for neglecting the needs of reproductive women, post-reproductive women receive even less attention. But dealing with menopause — that’s even nastier for many women than dealing with PMS. Why do we give attention to one, but not to the other?
The answer is simple: women might be a pain in the ass, but at least the young ones are sexy. That’s what society would have us believe, anyway. Far more than we would like or that we would ever admit to, we reserve an enormous amount of a woman’s value based on her sex appeal. Squirm your own way out of it however you want. But it’s there, deep in your brain, I’d be willing to bet. We can’t help it — this is the product of hundreds of years of conditioning and billions of dollars in advertising every year. The value of a woman is skewed largely by her physicality (helllooo President Obama). It is skewed largely, then, by her youth. Largely by her reproductive fitness. Largely by her virginity, her potential, her sexual wiles.
This is evidenced most obviously by the film industry. From the Huffington Post:
A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 33 percent of actors are female and 67 are male.
This means there are twice as many men in movies as women.
Only 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.
Adding fuel to the fire, women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing than men (25.8 percent to 4.7 percent – five times as much) and four times more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).
And then the proof, lying naking in the pudding: Teen girls feature in movies the most of all age groups. Women ages 21-39 are to be shown as sexy, or partially naked. Older women, aged 40-64, are a) less likely to be shown as attractive (3.8 percent) and b) less likely to be shown at all. Only 24 percent of all characters over the age of 40 are female.
All of which is to say: I don’t have an easy answer.
How do we give older women the respect and love and attention they deserve? How do we convince the rest of society to do the same?
De-objectifying women is the most important thing we can do in this case. It will be the biggest help, if the most entrenched battle. The more valuable women are for skills and personality, the less we will rank women based on physical appearance and sex appeal. The more these non-physical values are emphasized, the more and more older women will find definition, liberation, and empowerment in all of the non-physical valuable traits they contribute to the world. Right? This is how it is supposed to work for all of us, in any case.
Someday we’ll get there. We’re getting there.
I think film is a wonderful way to help us think about this issue and to identify the problems in our own brains. Why are there virtually no films about or featuring older women? Why are there films about older men? How might we be able to combine and blur those lines? If older roles are usually reserved for executives, mob bosses, and the like — well, women can do that every bit as well as men, can they not?
Another aspect of it is the expansion of sex appeal. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want any woman to be an object. In fact, I don’t want any people to be objects. Period. Ever. Obviously. But I also want all people to be embodied and empowered in their own sex appeal. Just because a woman has wrinkles does not mean she is not sexy, people! What the hell! Certainly, she may be out of fantasy range for most young adult males and females. But that does not mean that she is a desexualized, de-feminized being.
Get the hell out of here. The idea is unreal. But we do it, don’t we? We see and enable men living into sexual roles well into older age — we do it all of the time. I’d leap into bed with George Clooney at the drop of a hat — who wouldn’t? But what of Meryl Streep? Helen Mirren? The idea is less automatically appealing. The sexuality of older women is egregiously overlooked and discouraged. I shall not stand for it!
Huzzah! This is a part of the revolution we can do ourselves. As a community of women of all ages, we can reinvigorate our own sexuality however we see fit. We can live into it. We can be natural women — not sexy because we have botox and the ridiculous like — but sexy because we are precisely our menopausal age and yes I have hot flashes sometimes and no my vagina does not unleash a daily cascade of lubrication, but I have been a woman for a damn long time and I know exactly how to own my natral body and to live in it and to love it and to use it for physical pleasure.*
And we can be more than sexual beings at all times of our lives! We always have value — enormous value. We are smart and productive and empathetic and talented and all of that other fancy crap.
Rawr, ladies. Rawr!
*At least I imagine these are ideas that helpful to think, 40 years down the road. Please share your thoughts and tell me what feels good for you. I’m rather guessing, here, and acknowledge that openly. The whole point being — let us not forget the embodied, sexual power nor the inherent asexual dignity of women at all ages.
Finally — seize your sexuality with me! Join our community in saying yes to sexuality and yes to our positive relationships to our bodies. Sign up for the series of free natural sexual health videos here.Read More
The following post was written in a time of great distress for me. In particular, I wrote it before I figured out I was suffering from a severe magnesium deficiency, which caused anxiety, heart palpitations, chest pain, insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, and exhaustion. While the despairing parts of this post have not followed me into my mental health and more stable life, I think this remains a powerful post that speaks about important issues of healing and wellness. Perhaps most importantly of all, I get positive and inspirational and kick-ass-y again at the end. Huzzah!
See here for my post on magnesium and a bit on my own experience. I’ll write more about that in a bit.
When I was 21 years old, my body betrayed me for the first time. It seemed like no big deal back then. Can’t have babies? Low hormone levels? No problem. At least I can focus properly on taking my finals.
In retrospect, this has been one of the most disrupting psychological changes that has ever happened to me.
As small as my own health issues are, I don’t trust my body anymore. Is it still “broken’? Yes. My acne comes back in pernicious waves. My menstrual cycle winks in and out of existence. I never sleep a full eight hours, waking in the middle of the night needing to eat and meditate. My heart races with even the smallest decisions because my adrenal glands pump out adrenaline like its their job.
Is it ‘better’? Yes. But I do trust it?
No. Not by a long shot. Along with the knowledge of what happened to and is happening in my body, I also now firmly believe that the way we treat our bodies is supremely important. This makes the betrayal sting all the more. As I move forward with my healing, doing what I’m “supposed to do” rarely makes a difference in the way that I’d like it to. ”I’m doing my best, god damnit, what does this thing want from me?” Much as I write on this blog about positivity and patience and progress and loving change over time and all that crap, on very many days I walk around with a frusrated desperation that compels me to kick things more than hug them.
My body broke, and partly because I killed her. Sure, she had her own issues, her own genetic programming. But I ate the wrong things, I exercised the wrong ways, I starved myself. I was trying to do the right thing, and I failed. I can’t trust myself, I can’t trust my body to save me from myself, and now that I am healing, I struggle every single day to find trust in both of us. We broke. We fixed ourselves a bit. But we are nowhere close to “done.” And even if we ever get there, I don’t know how long it’ll take to trust us again.
The dominant theme of 2012 and 2013 for me has been loss of innocence. While I ‘broke’ my body in 2009, I ‘broke’ my brain in 2012. That’s a story for another time, and I’ll share it with you if it’s ever relevant, but take my word for it for now, that that has been every bit as if not more disillusioning than breaking my body. No longer do I believe life is easy. No longer is everything under my control. No longer do I trust my body, and no longer do I trust my brain. People tell me the trust comes inching back over time. It might not ever be perfect, but it does come back, they say. I don’t know. That seems a long way off.
As a part of my work as a philosopher, last week I was reading about people’s existential wrestling with suffering, and I came across this sentence by ethnographer Arthur Kleinman:
A closely related feeling is grief and wretchedness over loss of health, a mourning for the bodily foundation of daily behavior and self confidence. The fidelity of our bodies is so basic that we never think of it–it is the certain ground of our daily experience. Chronic illness is a betrayal of that fundamental trust. We feel under siege: untrusting, resentful of uncertainy, lost. Life becomes a working out of sentiments that follow closely from this corporeal betrayal: confusion, shock, anger, jealousy, despair.
To which I could only say: Amen, Dr. Kleinman.
Much of my struggle in 2012 and 2013 has been dealing with anxiety, and I think a big part of that anxiety comes from this loss of trust. I question everything I do, everything I eat. How might that food affect me? Should I really have had that glass of wine? What if mustard gives me acne? Is eating fruit going to kill me the way everyone in the paleosphere says it is? I don’t wake up in the morning and presume that everything is going to be all right the way that I used to. This is what Dr. Kleinman is talking about. People walk around with the basic assumption that their bodies are just going to keep on working normally. Now that I have broken my body and my brain and watched them do things that hurt me so badly and made me so unhappy at times, and now that I have undertaken healing that has evolved over the course of several years — I wake up and go to sleep every day in a state of nasty, unceasing, disillusioning, heart-breaking distrust.
People ask me a lot about how I do it, how I did it. “Overcome PCOS.” ”Overcome body image issues.” ”Overcome perfectionism.” I don’t know. Time? Hard work? Iron-clad will? A lot of it has been amazing, empowering, enlightening, beautiful. But this trust issue… every day is a struggle. Things get better, but do I trust they’ll stay that way? No. I do keep at it. I have no choice — I’m not going to let any of this defeat me. This is my life, damn you, damn God, damn it all the hell, I’ll be damned if I ever stop living as fiercely and defiantly as I am humanly capable.
I write this confession not as a ploy or a bid for sympathy. My problems are far less entrenched, far less terrifying, and far less desperate than so many millions of people in America and around the world. I am in fact quite happy and well-adjusted, and I have made significant progress in many spheres of my health. I write it instead to share with you this fact of distrust and the role it can play in our lives. To share with you my own humanity. To tell you that while I do believe in positivity and patience and healing and taking control of our own health, I understand what an enormous struggle it can be from a variety of angles. This is for anyone with any kind of body or brain betrayal…depression, anxiety, overweight, acne, diabetes, serious life-threatening illnesses, chronic pain… I am writing to elevate, pay homage to, and hug your psychological struggle. Perhaps most importantly, I write to share with you the basic fact that while lacking trust is so heartbreaking, we have to leap into it anyway. We have no choice.
So how do I do it? If I in fact “do” it at all?
Perseverence and patience are the names of the game. And maybe even faith. Faith comes into play because we have to believe that what everyone says is true. We have to believe healing is possible. Hell, it’s already happening, we’re already doing it. We just have to believe in it. We have no other option so far as I can tell. If I don’t believe it’s going to get better, I may as well pack my bags, say farewell to my dreams, and shrivel up in a corner of my mother’s sofa. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. I fantasize about it almost every day.
We also need patience. Nothing worth having was ever achieved in an instant. We need patience for ourselves, for our bodies, and for our aching, tired brains. We need patience for all the pain in our lives and in the lives around us. Patience for grace and for forgiveness and for healing. Patience for love. Patience for learning. We need time to let our bodies relax, and we need time for our psychological selves to relax, too. So many of the relationships within our own beings have become tattered, and each of them takes its own time in healing. Let them. The less we interfere in the healing process with worry and anxiety and fear and suspicion, the faster the recovery in fact goes. And the more we forgive ourselves and let the healing move through us, the more efficacious it is. We have to get out of its way, trust that it is happening, and give it the patient space it needs in order to do so. Forgive ourselves. Embrace. Hold. Rest. Accept. Cherish. Love.
Perhaps, however, we need perseverence most of all. We need to be able to put our heads down, and we need to be able to push when the going gets rough. I’ve learned recently that life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s tough as nails. Sometimes it kicks us harder than we think it’s possible to recover from. But we dust ourselves off. We keep going. Why? Because we must. Because we want to be alive. Because joy is real, because trust is real, because love is real. There’s no throwing in the towel. This is the one chance you’ve got. You’ve got one body, and you’ve got one brain, and you’ve got one heart. No one’s going to care about them the way you do. Give them your all. Let the tears roll. Let the swear pour down your face. Let the screaming fits rip through you. Then push through them because you love being alive. Hell, even if you don’t, trust that someday again you will. This is what living is for. This is your chance. You’re allowed to fuck up. What you’re not allowed to do is quit. Don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.
These are the principles by which I undertake my healing. It’s about healing my ovaries, definitely. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about healing my brain, and it’s about healing my relationships, and it’s about stepping defiantly into the future even when it’s frankly terrifying. I have no idea what life entails for me tomorrow or the next day or ten years from now. I struggle with trusting my ability to handle it every single day. This means that I am often tired. Very tired. And tired of being tired. So tired that some days all I want to do is weep.
I don’t believe that life is easy. I don’t believe that trust is easy, or that healing is easy. What I do believe, however, is that I am equal to the task. We are equal to the task.
New roundtable podcast on disordered eating is up! George Bryant, Stacy Toth, Sarah the Paleo Mom, Tara of Primal Girl, and more.
I recently had the enormous delight and honor to hang out and chat with George, Stacy, Sarah, and Tara about our personal experiences and opinions on body image – on The Paleo View for the third time in four months. Awesome! The podcast has now been posted, and there are also extensive show notes at the link if you don’t have the time to listen and just want to get the gist of it. These are really powerful people with big time ideas, and I love them all so much, they’re such wonderful friends and real people who are inspiring for both of those facts in equal measure.
George and Stacy on bulimia, me on perfectionism, how people treat you differently when you change your appearance — literally – do you become more visible? an object? – what happens when your fourth grade teacher tells you you’re fat, and how the shape of your self love changes as your weight loss / health efforts move forward.
Grab the podcast here or on the image below!
Hey ladies. It’s been a while. Let’s do this.
I want to convince you that you are beautiful.
Hell, there’s not a thing in the world more obvious to me. You are a human being — a composition of more than a trillion cells working together in intricate concert — which makes you a manifestation of the stunning and powerful life force that has run throughout the course of the universe’s history. You may not be a supernova on the scale of galaxies and solar systems, but you are a supernova in your own right, a tiny biological corner of the world. You are a manifestation of the universe, a creature of unimaginable complexity, consciousness, strength, love, and life.
You are a woman. You were born of your parents and raised in whatever lovely or heartbreaking environment that happened to be. Things happened to you as you grew older. You stopped being just a collection of cells and you became a human being. You collected triumphs and struggles and scars that now color your past. They have made you. For better or for worse, you are exactly who you are today. You have landed here after years of evolution, years of a real story, years of so much complexity and life and beauty it hurts me just to think about it.
You are a creature, worthy of life and love and beauty. You may stumble and you may be sad and you may not believe in yourself at all. But that is only a matter of your own mind, your own troubles. It doesn’t change the fact that you have an inherent radiance, a beauty, a power. You may deliberately manifest it or you may not. But it is there. It lives and breathes inside of you, it thrums in your veins. You think you’re not beautiful? Check again. There is so much to you, so much inside of you, so much in the fabric of your cells and the arches of your mind. Still think you’re not beautiful? Fine. Give it time. But start paying attention. It’s there, woman. You’ve just got to let it’s voice be heard. You’ve got to let the music of your vibrance find it’s key.
So who are you to be beautiful?
Here’s a better question: Who are you not to be?
This is not just your right. It is not just your nature. It is your responsibility.
We live in a world that is constantly telling us we are not good enough. Sometimes this is completely unintentional. Sometimes it is deliberately intentional. Clothing lines, fashion, beauty supplies… they all need us to feel less so that we will consume more. Even goods that may seem completely innocent at first — like coffee pots, China, furniture — they are a part of a consumer culture. Consumer culture revolves around us being told we need that one thing in order to be happy. Our culture, if it can make us feel like we are less, then it can make us turn to it and buy things and become addicted to things for a feeling of more.
This culture kills women. Literally, it kills us. Thousands of women die of starvation every year, completely of their own volition, yoked to the obsession with thinness, being attractive, and submitting themselves to contemporary ideas of beauty.
And it tears at the heartstrings of so many more. So many young girls who question their bodies. So many women who pinch their hips in the mirror every night and fall asleep fantasizing about slicing them off their bodies. That girl on the subway who looks away when you meet her eyes, afraid of being rejected, afraid of who she is, of what it means to be a woman who might be lovely, who might deserve to be lovely.
So this is what I say to you: it is not just for your sake that you are beautiful, but for the sake of every woman and man struggling to find peace in this world.
The more you can step up and stop being afraid of what’s going on around you, and the more and more you can own and love your own unique manifestation of beauty, the more others are liberated to do the same. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s not a matter of looks. It is a matter of inherent worth, of human loveliness, of appreciation for the delicate essence of each person within their own story lines. You are a creature inherently worthy. If you start owning that fact, you are advancing the grand scale liberation of humanity world wide. I am not joking. This is something human kind needs, and desperately.
We need to stop being so afraid of each other. What’s so terrifying about your appearance? What’s so terrifying about confidence? What’s so terrifying about meeting a stranger’s eyes, and maintaining eye contact? The reason so many of us cannot own our own beauty is because we are so afraid of being rejected. We swim in fear. It surrounds us. It governs our very lives. We are self-conscious. We hope other people will like us. We enter rooms and we are desperately afraid that someone might see our acne or notice that we’ve gained a few pounds. We want to be loved, and we want it so, very badly.
But needing love, and wanting affirmation… those things are not all that scary. People are willing to give it to us if we only give them a chance. If we spend so much time denying our beauty, then we don’t hear the voices telling us it’s okay. If we spend so much time worrying about how we look, we forget that owning our own beauty is an important part of that process. If we keep drowning ourselves in the pain and history of our own minds, we actively prevent ourselves from being able to break the surface of those waters. We need to be okay in order for people to feel okay with us. We need to step up and say YES to our beauty in order for others to stop being afraid, too.
The less afraid you are, the less afraid everyone around you will be in turn. For this reason, it is your responsibility to be beautiful. It’s for you, but don’t you want to rise up with everyone around you in your life, and stop apologizing for who you all are? What a beautiful, exultant world it would be, if we would all stop fearing and judging and hating and questioning each other, and instead rose together in triumphant revolution of personal stories, personal worth, personal dignity, and personal radiance? Of the community together, as one, all loving and affirming and saying YES to human possibility. Fuck beauty norms! Throw your judgments out the window. Who are they helping? No one! We have to stop saying no to brilliance.
We don’t have time for no.
We don’t have time for hate and ugliness. Life is the blink of a cosmic eye, and nothing more. Don’t waste it saying no to yourself and to your loved ones. Screw it! Don’t waste this enormous, complex, living, breathing, dancing, singing, crying, flying, laughing, delightful gift of a body and an experience. Say yes to yourself. Own who you are, and step into these beautiful, radiant, exultant shoes of yours. Do it one step at a time. Give yourself grace. Permit yourself the space to feel however you need to. Work slowly through your issues of fear and hesitance. Give your soul a hug. But challenge it. Push it forwards. No one ever said life was easy. I certainly didn’t say it. But I did say: try, damn you. Try, try, try. Get hurt by life? Get up again and step forward. Raise your chin. Look up. Do it in light. Do it in love. Do it for yourself, and for everyone else, too.
I wrote at the very beginning of this article that I wanted to convince you that you are beautiful.
First, obviously I cannot do that. I can give you a push. I can shout at you. I can conjole you. But that is in your hands, and rightfully so. You are worthy of it. You only have to remove your blinders to your own light.
And secondly, who cares about beauty, anyway?
Now wait a minute. I’ve been harping on the inherent beauty of you and everyone in your life for more than a thousand words now. What gives?
The thing is, yes, you are so beautiful. You are so beautiful I’m typing this article at 5am in my kitchen and all I can do is cry soft and happy tears of joy and pride. But this beauty is about so much more than apperance, so much more than your weight, your skin, your hair, your eyes, your fashion sense. This beauty is about who you are, about the fabric of your soul, about the vibrancy that beats in every little thump of your tiny little heart.
We live in a visual world that tells us looks are the end, the ultimate, the most important thing. This is part of why our culture is just so nasty and just so bad for us. It’s not just that it makes us feel bad about our looks, but that it makes us focus so hard on them at all. Our stories are about so much more than that. We are all in our own lives, and all in our own contexts, and isn’t it that powerful and quirky brain of yours that makes you sexy, that calls all the shots, that makes you who you are? Isn’t it that soft, radiating, kind, and strong soul of yours that gives you true power, that makes you a human being capable of loving and embracing and healing the world around you? Isn’t it the purpose and story of your life that sets you on a path of harmony with the universe, that makes your very being a crucial part of the fabric of our world?
You are beautiful because you are you. You are your skin, you are your cells, you are your brain and your soul and your life and everything that has ever happened to you, too. You are a fire-breathing manifestation of the universe, a tiny corner of it made physical and made alive. You are freaking stardust — literally, stardust — gone through billions of years of evolution here on earth, having been parts of uncountable animals and organisms and rocks and rivers and processes. And now you are a human being. And who the hell is any one of us to not live the most warm, the most loving, the most fearless and open and radiant and powerful life that we can? Who are we not to have purpose, not to be true to ourselves, not to live in harmony with the rest of this glorious world? Who are we not to love, not to liberate, not to breathe and to relax and to laugh and to dance? To fly and to sing? To give ourselves to ourselves, to love the fabric of our own selves much as we do the rest of the world?
Who are we to deny life?
It’s a party.
I hope you’ve got your dancing shoes.
FRIENDS. I have a feeling walking away from the superbowl that a lot of people – a lot of cool people – were most blown away not by the football but by the half-time show. Lots of my friends and family talked about Beyonce and what a good performance she put on. I’d like to leap into the fray briefly here — much as I have always cringed away from any sort of fandom — and use Beyonce and her performance last night to rhapsodize on the type of beauty I advocate on this website. Because womanhood is awesome, and Beyonce appears to be kind of sort of totally awesome at it.
All of which isn’t even to mention her dignity and feminism in the rest of her life outside of the superbowl, goodness.
1) Beyonce is fit, strong, and not a rail.
This is something everyone notices, and quite often, and that’s awesome. Beyonce is no stick, not by any means, and in that way she (unfortunately) stands apart from many of her peers and predecessors. However: she still has an “ideal” body. It’s still one of those bodies that we fantasize about having and lament that we just weren’t born with that hourglass shape. I get it. We shouldn’t ever idolize bodies, and I am in no way encouraging us to do so. Butas something towards which we orient ourselves, I could not think of anything more healthful or radiant than thick thighs, muscled arms, and unapologetic curves.
2) Beyonce is a hell of a dancer.
We have talked before over and over again about the physical power of our bodies, and I would like to drive this point home today. Our bodies are not just for their body fat percentage, but they are for providing the energetic and lively basis of our entire lives. Do we walk, bike, swim, dance, breathe, sing, move, at all? Do we feel good when we move? Do we enjoy the things that come from movement in our lives? Having the power to move is the power to be human, the power to be a woman in an inordinately complex, thrumming, vibrant machine.
When we can see past our image and our relationships with food, and let go of our rabid control, and rather just dance or move in some energized, harmonizing way, we become at one with our bodies. We get to delight in the transformative and happy power our bodies can give us, and we get to really thrum in the unity and freedom of our existence. Our bodies are delightful venues for movement and pleasure. With these experiences constantly in our lives, we automatically become confident, become more trusting of our bodies, and become happier, higher, stronger. It is not about our waist measurements: it’s about our ownership of our embodied and natural womanhood.
3) Beyonce is a master of determination.
When my mother commented on the half time show to me, the first thing she said was: “Wow, she worked hard.” She was right. It’s obvious from the elaborate staging, complex dance numbers, high energy of the show, percision, choreography, and so much more that Beyonce poured her heart and soul into the development of that performance. That’s what made it kick so much ass. She gave it – and her whole life – Herculean amounts of determination and strength.
Moving forward in our lives, whether we are trying to achieve peace with ourselves or to champion atheletic competitions or succeed in our professional lives, we need determination. Having an indominable will makes us unstoppable. And this whole notion is rooted in belief in ourselves: when we believe in our selves and in our mission–and when we have passion for our souls and for our goals–we move towards them with brilliant determination and faith.
Sometimes life is so difficult we want to walk away from it. Gods, do I ever understand that. It’s hard and painful and really, really sucks sometimes. But with determination — with an iron hard will to not give up on ourselves or our goals — with belief that we really can achieve whatever it is we have our minds on — then we are emboldened to really get it done.
It’s hard. It’s so hard. But determination pays off big in the end. Believe in yourself; believe in your mission; you’ll get there. I believe in me, and I believe in you. You’ll get there.
Don’t let the world get you down. Nothing worth having was ever easy, anyway. Accept that some undertakings are going to require a lot of your will, a lot of your life, a lot of your soul. But they can be so, gloriously worth it in the end.
4) Beyonce is fierce.
It’s possible that I wrote this whole article to get to this last point. Beyonce is confident and sexy — obviously — but far more importantly, in my opinion, Beyonce demonstrated unapologetic ownership of her body and herself last night, unapologetic (and still dignified!) sexuality, and unapologetic ferocity.
I really do think that these are the ideals that make up the most beautiful aspects of womanhood. Certainly not everyone has to agree. It would be a boring planet if they did. But when we do not apologize for who we are, when we accept everything about ourselves, including our “flaws” and our bodies, when we believe in the beauty and power of our own sexuality and self-love, then we can present empowered faces to the world.
Being fierce is sexy precisely because it demonstrates these things. It says:
“I know who I am, and I know all my virtues and vices. I own them. I am them. I am a woman in a natural body, and I have natural urges and emotions, and it’s all a part of this great, complex package of life and struggle and love and strife. I have a lot of love, and I have a lot of life in me. I have a lot of complexity to my body and my history. But it’s all good in my book. It’s all me, all a part of who I am. And I love and own and am unapologetically at peace with every bit of it. Check it out, I have nothing to be afraid of. There’s no reason for you to reject me, but if you do, that’s okay. I don’t fear you. I accept and believe in myself, and I delight in my physical body. I love my sexuality. I love my body. Check it out, I have nothing to be afraid of. You’d be lucky to have me. Come on, experience this radiance. Delight in it with me. I dare you.”
Pride, ferocity, joy, confidence, radiance — the ability to laugh and to sing and to wink and to play — these are the things that come from strength and love.
They are some of the most glorious delights of empowered womanhood, and they are virtues worth striving for.
I believe in almost nothing more than cultivating these attitudes in my life and in the lives of people around me. Why be afraid to live? Why be afraid to be open? Why be afraid to show who we are? We don’t have anything to fear in other people but rejection — but it’s almost certain that it’s not their business or interest to reject us anyway. They’re too busy worrying about their own rejection and pain.
Open yourself up to your true nature and the nature of people around you. Become comfortable in it. Accept where you have come from, and where you are, and get excited about where you are going. It’s hard to believe in and to love yourself — believe me, I know it — but the fruits of this adventure are so, so, deliciously and exaltingly sweet. It starts in accepting where you are, and in building a life that feels right and purposeful for you.
Natural womanhood is about owning who we are. It’s about life, and it’s about love. It’s about our natural bodies, and it’s about their ability to move, and to dance, and to give us energy. It’s about nourishing ourselves and loving yourselves, and taking care of these most precious bodies and these most precious brains we have the amazing gift of inhabiting for the next several decades.
Sometimes we let ourselves grow dim because we are afraid. But we do not have to be. We can be bright, and we can be brilliant, and in doing so, we can invite and empower others to be the same.
This is evolutionary womanhood.
As I feel myself rounding some important bases in defining who I am — especially as the calendar turns from 2012 into a bold, new year — I am thinking that maybe it’s a good time to share with you my personal story of my relationship with food and my body. This is especially the case because 2012 was the most pivotal year for the “healing” of my relationship with food, and it may have some decent insights in it.
I don’t know what purpose this endeavor might serve this community or any of you, but I hope very much that it delivers feelings of hope, reason to believe in yourself, and camaraderie as you move forward in your own journey, wherever you may be.
I do my best skim lightly through my earlier years, and then get more serious about key turning points in my recent life. I err on the side of detail rather than brevity, but I figure it better to be inclusive and truly “tell all” than skip a piece that might be helpful to someone. I break it apart roughly by year if you’d like to scroll to the more relevant bits.
My personal story with food starts before I can ever really remember. It is rooted in the core of my personality, as well as in my psychological needs. I have been an obsessive over-thinker and over-categorizer my entire life, largely because I perceived a need to control as much of existence as possible. This manifested in things such as hyper-ambition and an addiction to achievement as well as to more mundane minutiae such as counting ceiling tiles, knowing all of the facts about history and geography I could get my hands on, and most importantly with keeping religious track of time. The more I knew about the world, the better mastery I had over it. My last boyfriend’s living room had 167 ceiling tiles on it. Kathmandu is the capitol of Nepal. Macomb mall is 2.4 miles from my house by way of Masonic boulevard but 2.7 by way of 14 mile road. That would take me one hour and seven minutes by my leisurely pace in my regular boots with a backpack or fifty eight minutes if unburdened or walking with my friend Liz whose mile pace is approximately 4 minutes faster than mine.
This hyper-vigilance I believe is rooted in my earliest problems and some events that may be rightfully called early-childhood trauma. I was terrified of dying and a complete nihilist who had panic attacks about non-being by age five. (A Sartre-ian by first grade… thank you post-modernism.) I filled this gap with ambition and achievement, and also with that profound sense of knowledge about the world I just mentioned. This meant that I have always been a bit of a perfectionist. I have a feeling this is a story at least a bit familiar to many of you.
This isn’t to say that I’ve been necessarily compulsive or freakish, though I’d happily adopt and in fact often use such pejoratives. Instead, I think, however, we are all just human and we all cope with existential anxiety in one way or another. We are all normal-ish, and my methods of coping with existence have served me well for most of my life.
I also grew up a bit of a professional dancer, and later a participant in the competititve dance circuit. I was always just a bit bigger and a bit less pretty than the other dancers. This is just true, and it’s fine. At the time, however, it meant that I missed out on some of the good stuff like scholarships, pageants, and competition invites, and also that I wished very much that I could be as hot as the other dancers.
But whatever– all teenagers want to be more attractive. I was one of them.
It also doesn’t help growing up in a home of constant dieters. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Juicing. Many of us can relate to that. If you grow up in an environment in which food intake is regulated by something other than natural hunger drives– by anything other than natural hunger drives– I think we are predisposed to become out of tune with our bodies and their needs. Being very driven, at this age I started working out twice each day–biking a total of at least 20 miles and lifting weights– and eating a specific diet. And then I’d go horrifyingly off the rails, because who the hell wouldn’t on a diet based on Special K and lettuce?
Then came college, in which I continued to struggle. Many women do. The majority of emails I receive are from women who develop self-conscious behaviors while in college. It just so happened that I went to a school in a sea of sexy valedictorians. I was a perfectionist among perfectionists, and we lived as ambitiously as we did wildly.
Anyway. The efforts I had made throughout high school and college were unsuccessful, and I felt so alien in and hated my body. Within a few years I finally hacked calorie restriction, however. On about 1000 calories a day with significant cardio exercise I lost 30 pounds in 3 months. Talk about hunger. It was at this point in my life that I discovered food porn. I looked at pictures of food and read food blogs religiously, maybe for an hour or more a day. A few years after this period in my life I read studies about severely calorie restricted men who did the same thing. They also hoarded food (check) became defensive and possessive about food (check) and drew pictures of food, made souvenirs, collected nuts to look at, etc. People are who are starving obsess. And rightfully so.
This was also the time in which I stopped menstruating.
A little bit later I was introduced to the paleo diet. While I resisted heavily the idea of eating meat for environmental and animal rights-based reasons, I capitulated. I began listening to podcasts, reading all of the books and blogs… the same sort of radical conversion story a lot of you are familiar with. When you discover the paleo diet, it just sort of makes sense in that basic way, and you leap head first into an orgy of statistics and science and success stories. But for me–as probably for a fair portion of paleo dieters–my excitement was mostly at the promise of being effortlessly thin. With the paleo diet, I wouldn’t have to feel so restricted. The “satiation power” of fat and protein would make the burden of my weight maitenance efforts slide off of my shoulders. I’d eat sardines. I wouldn’t feel hungry. I’d be skinny. Life would be perfect. Hooray!
Needless to say that wasn’t quite how the story went down at all. As a matter of fact, it was at this point in my life, for the first time ever, that episodes of overeating became real food binges, in which I might eat half of a pumpkin cheesecake after a whole Thanksgiving dinner, a whole serving tray of gourmet desserts on my birthday, or a few loaves of dessert bread at Christmas parties. The fact that I had forbidden carbohydrates of nearly all forms from my diet meant that I needed them all the more strongly. This phenomenon is one of the great monsters I try to tackle with this blog: macronutrient restriction. If your diet is actively restricting you and making you feel deprived, chances are quite good that food intake, choices, and willpower will all domino behind that.
This also meant that eating a “paleo diet” didn’t heal me at all. It made my struggle all the more difficult, and precisely because the diet was supposed to work but didn’t, I felt even more like I was doing something wrong. This was frustrating and discouraging on several levels. What was wrong with me that it wasn’t work? What did I need to do? Did I need to do the diet even more “perfectly”? I tried. I think a lot of us know what that’s like.
This was all also on the heels of several decades of struggle to be thin, topped off with the achievement of that weight. As Stacy of Paleo Parents talked about at length on our podcast, sometimes maitenance really is more difficult than active progress. This is probably rooted in the fact that human beings can often approach an upgrade such as an additional twenty bucks (or five pounds weight loss) with a fair bit of relative indifference, but become horribly neurotic and possessive of those benefits once they are already ours. We hate losing what we have far more than failing to obtain those things in the first place.
A bit later I started the Paleo Pepper blog, and at that site I had originally intended to just write about the paleo diet. That very quickly morphed into a disordered-eating centric blog, however. Turns out we all write about what we know and what we care about, and this happened to be something I knew quite intimately.
That blog ended up being… I think an exploration of how to cope with disordered eating, and how to keep ourselves from overeating. It was in no way a blog aimed at restriction or at negative behaviors, but I didn’t quite get it yet, either. I was trying to stop overeating without considering the radical psychological shifts that needed to happen. For this reason, I am ambivalent about the blog. It has helped and it continues to help a lot of women, but I don’t endorse approaching any of the content there without knowing that at that time I was an author who hadn’t quite “made it” to that point.
Wow, this has become quite the story.
Because we haven’t even gotten to some of the most important part yet.
Coupled with my history with disordered eating was a growing concern over my acne and my PCOS. Food had to be related, but I just couldn’t figure out how. The information on the internet is — holy hell – as confusing as Beijing public transit, and nothing I ever tried to hack my acne worked. For several years I fought that monster, with virtually no relief. What the hell was going on?
Coming into 2012, I decided to try drugs. It seemed like the last solution left, though in reality the true final solution was one that was too hard to accept, more on which in a minute.
I got on metformin first, which caused anxiety attacks and even worse acne than I had had before, and then I tried spironolactone and T3, for my acne and hypothyroid together. Spiro is well known to cause an initial outbreak, though a few cases never get past it. I didn’t. The Spiro gave me the worst cystic acne I had had in years, and on top of that it caused in me profound dehydration, insomnia, and anxiety. The thing about anxiety is that it begets anxiety. Pharmacological reasons for anxiety add to and sort of cause to fester already present anxieties– bringing to the surface anything that had ever worried me in the past two decades. I won’t tell you about that specifically, but I will tell you that this anxiety capitulated the most terrifying and difficult twelve months of my entire life.
I was also completely thrown by my inability to overcome acne and PCOS with the powers of my brain (remember the 5 year old categorizer). In January of 2012, right after I started taking the drugs, I realized that I was addicted to perfection, and that that was the root of most of my problems. I realized the depth to which I had been married to my problem solving abilities. I was dependent upon my apparent life-long ability to make everything as excellent as I wanted it to be. Perfectionism might not be the right word. But a constantly improving excellence in many aspects of life with ceaseless fervor and a refusal to give up… that is perhaps the best way to couch my own personal brand of perfectoinism.
So in one swift and terrifying week, I let go of it all.
I embraced weight gain, I told my life-long academic dreams to go fuck themselves (oops), and I endeavored to be nothing more than nothing, a lovely, floating being at peace with existence and seemlessly living in life and in love. It didn’t work, obviously– far too much of my personality was shaped by my earlier life to be completely overthrown. And while I loved my body radically, I still wanted it to be a certain way; I still desperately feared fat. I lived in a state of constant body awareness feeling totally trapped. I needed to gain weight possibly in order to be healthy and to save me from acne, but if I gained weight I’d be fat. In one direction I had acne and was ugly, in the other I had fat and was ugly. I couldn’t win– I just couldn’t win, and that fact tortured me. This meant that I continued to meticulously monitor what I was eating, and even while including carbohydrates in my diet, was fairly scared about what they might do to me.
I got off of the drugs and that helped a fair bit. But the anxiety returned. This was still in part a physiological issue, but much of the psychological pieces that had come to a head with these issues refused to be put away.
I moved forward with tackling anxiety first and foremost on my to-do list. Acne no longer seemed like the enormous monster it had been before. It was still a big issue, but what’s one zit compared to existential peace? And weight status… whatever! What’s my body weight compared to my will to live? Not a whole lot. So even while I was meticulous about eating cleanly to mitigate the remnants of my acne, and even while I still participated in “disordered” behaviors such as emotionally relying on food, fearing fat, and purging with exercise, over the summer, in my attempts to hack my anxiety, I ran up against the limits of my brain and my body. I needed to accept them, and to relinquish my hold on perfectionism. I discovered trust, and I discovered radical love.
What I realized is that my existence doesn’t have to be terrifying. For me, my journey with food sits inside of my journey with perfectionism, which sits inside my journey with anxiety, which in turn sits in my journey with metaphysics and with the Universe. My whole life, I needed to be the best because that was the only thing I could think of that would make my life meaningful, worth-living, and somehow, in the tiniest way, immortal.
Perfection–or excellence–would save me from existential despair. It used to, in any case. But in 2012, in the last twelve months, I realized how so, very empty that endeavor is. This is, perhaps, another familiar story to you.
I had thought that I needed to be so extraordinarily excellent because that would make me worthy of love, and love is the only thing other than my fervent pursuit of academic achievement that might fill that existential hole sitting deep in my soul. Improvement, optimality, perfection, achievement, validation… these were the things on which I predicated the iota of meaning I could salvage from my nihilism.
In 2012, I finally made peace with my existence. Even while I’ve typed far more than I intended here, I’m still leaving out whole pieces of my career, my studies in metaphysics and theology, and dissertations worth (literally– I’m working on them) on atheism and theism and what it means to be a human being in the cosmos as we understand them today. All of which is to say that I found my way to be at peace with the Big Questions, and that has been a big, big piece of this all.
This piece enabled me to unearth a serenity in myself I had never known, and to scratch an itch that so desperately needed to be scratched since that poor, afraid, and isolated five year old girl first got scared of dying. I still want to be attractive. I still want to achieve things. Big time. I remain eternally devoted to improving my life and my works and the lives of others as I move forward. But I am no longer being chased by a rabid pack of dogs. I refuse to be.
I float in serenity; I float in lightness and freedom; I stand firm (for now) on a foundation of assurance: everything is okay. Everything has always been okay. Everything will be okay.
Things perturb my serenity all the time still. I am human. This happens. And I am healing from a fair bit of trauma. We all are– we are all always being hurt, and we are all always healing. The world doesn’t stop and wait for us to catch up– it spins and spins and spins. We have the option of trying to master that spin, and to stay a precisely balanced top throughout our lives, but we also have the option of letting go of our grip. What if we let go, and let the winds carry us, and live our lives suspended in the atmosphere, in a spirited dance with kites and clouds?
It’s a lovely idea, in any case.
And, moreover, it’s entirely tied to my relationship with food.
This is about body acceptance, yes. That part is self-explanatory. But it is also about mystery, and it is about trust. I have, over the last few months, come to terms with the mystery of the universe.
All of the answers to the Big Questions are ultimately unknownable to us. The trick is to understand that the answers to small questions are always mysteries, too. We have science, and it’s a decent description of what’s going on in reality, but we are rather kidding ourselves if we think that we ever really know anything for certain. Scientific theories evolve, point blank. And so much data out there is unknown, the very fabric of our beings being completely mysterious to us. Who am I to say whether or not our actual thoughts live in our cells and affect our physiological health? They very well might, and a fair bit of evidence seems to point towards the fact that they do. But we cannot know. And much as I know that soy and dairy cause my acne, I’m not 100 percent sure why. Maybe 98 percent, but not 100. And other hormone flucutations occur all the time that I just cannot ever know the truth of.
Things happen, and it’s important to think about and to troubleshoot why. But perhaps the most important skill in life that I have unearthed so far is learning to discern the line between what we can know and control and what we cannot.
Let go of what you cannot, and be free.
“It’s all the marvelous play of God,” says Lao-Tzu. ”Wake up, you are already free!”
I like that very much.
It also has to do with trust. Much as we have to acknowledge our inability to control everything, we also have to trust things outside of our mental selves. This has been the most recent portion of my journey with food. As I have begun to comes to terms with the ultimate mystery of the universe and of my body, so have I come to trust my natural hunger drives.
I ignore a lot of what I can find and read on the internet. I don’t want to hear about what macronutrient ratios are best for mental health or weight loss or anything like that. I eat when my body says eat, and if I do not restrict myself or worry about what I am eating, then I am completely and easily capable of stopping when my body starts to be sated. Then I eat again, and guitlessly, when it wants to eat again. Without restriction, without perfection, without fear, and with love, and acceptance, and trust, I eat well. Sure, I still keep distant track. Sure, I still am thin. Hell yes I get tripped up from time to time. But decreasingly so as I move forward, and as always, I bear in mind my years-long saying to my audience and clients: “Progress is made in baby steps, not in leaps. We can never ask for a cure, but for love, and for progress, even if we step back from time to time.”
When I turned toward trust and away from fear, I was able to let go of my heavy reliance on vegetables as a source of grazing, overeating, and calories. This heavily reduced my fiber intake, as well as my intake of goitrogens. I began eating truly as much and of whatever I needed at the time. I did not write off any paleo foods, I did not restrict, I did not confine myself arbitarily based on perfection. This lead to a somewhat natural falling out to three to four meals per day of equal macronutrient intake, but that came after a long road of peacefully accepting and eating high fat, high carbohydrate, almost exclusively fruit, and some totally oddball diets–whichever ones my body and soul were needing–for quite some time.
The coupled effects of these physical changes as well as my mental changes led to natural ovulation for the first time in three years.
And thus I sit today.
Which brings to me a final point, and one that was raised in the comments. Patti commented on self-esteem, and how important certain works have been for her in coming to realize her own worth. This is, gratefully, a piece of the typical disordered eating puzzle with which I have not had to wrestle too desperately. This was enabled by the fact that I had predicated my worth on my holistic person and pursuit of excellence. I had never actually sold my soul into my battles with acne or with my body, so I remained firm in my love of myself and my lack of apology for who and what I am. I believe that we are beautiful for so, so very many reasons. And I do believe that we are always worthy. I struggle with food as I have restricted and medicated in the past, but that relationship is just one aspect of who I am. It’s something that I’ve worked on, and, hell. I have always been as proud of that as I am of everything else that sits in my soul. I do not see any reason not to be. I am a woman, doing what I can, and I’ll be damned if I am ever going to relinquish my worth or my sex appeal or my ability to be loved based on a particular struggle of mine. They do influence it, but that is an important distinction. For this reason, I believe very strongly that we need to contextualize our relationships with food, and even while we are honoring them, as I am here, to constantly be aware of how little they define who we actually are.
I share this abridged but enormous story with you without any trepidation. I remain, as always, shameless. Yet more importantly, vulnerability and openness I believe are some of the most important virtues around, and I want us to be united in our journeys rather than divided. I am hoping that what I have shared, as with what all of my podcast guests and brave community members have shared, resonates with you in a way that is helpful. That is all.
I believe in life, and I believe in love, and I believe in myself, and I believe in you. The world is a terrifying place, but capable of holding us if we let it.
Spin blissfully on in the laughter of the winds, and leap, and laugh. Dance on the edge of life. It’s a journey, my friends, and we are doing it.