Paleo for Women
Evolutionary Health, Revolutionary WomanhoodNavigation
As of writing this post, there are exactly twenty days left until Sexy by Nature is released! I also got about $2000 worth of books shipped to my house last week – and then took them all back to the post office for delivery to media outlets and bloggers all over...Read More
The modern notion of womanhood, in which women eat little, exercise a lot, have eating disorders and body image issues, and are expected to look like rails, fails women time and time again. The solution to that failure–to all of the pain, to all of the confusion, and...Read More
Our genes are the blueprint with which we were born, generated by millions of years of evolution. In this way, genetics provides the spectrum of health in which we get to live out our lives. Genes provide the text of each of our own Choose Your Own Adventure stories; we, in...Read More
Much like the wider society in which we live, the health world is biased. In the past, this was an overt bias, but today, it’s much more insidious. It’s hidden, and it’s sneaky. But it’s there. Researchers are mostly men. Doctors are mostly...Read More
One thing about being a health blogger that drives me nuts is being asked about supplements. Mostly I don’t like it because I never know what to do or say. According to some studies, certain supplements have certain benefits for certain people, but according to other studies the effects are more ambiguous.
How can I give a blanket recommendation? Even in specific cases I am wary. Some people need heavy doses and others need very little. Julia Ross says sometimes people only need to touch a pill to the tip of their tongues for the right dosage.
Another thing that I don’t like about supplements is the herbal class. Magnesium citrate — okay, yes, I know what that is and it’s specific chemical formula.
But chasteberry? Spearmint? Holy basil?
There are very few rigorous studies done on herbal supplements. This is particularly important for fertility, as just about every herb is recommended for some sort of fertility-related use, but only credible via anecdotal evidence and tradition.
The only thing I can say to people who want to try chasteberry for PCOS is “well, it’s said to have hormone balancing effects.”
Whatever the hell that means.
BUT – okay – we’re getting to the important part of the post now.
There’s one supplement I get asked about a lot, and I am always happy to answer, since its not only been shown to be fairly harmless and symptom-free, it also may in fact improve your health in a fair number of ways. It may:
Improve skin quality
Mitigate PMS symptoms like depression, breast tenderness, cramping, and weight gain
Lessen the severity of periods
Regulate hormone production
Improve insulin sensitivity
And best of all – cool systemic inflammation.
EPO is not a miracle cure — nothing is! — but there’s a lot of cool biochemical theory behind why it has its place in anecdotal cultural lore. Knowing the biochemistry is awesome because it can help you understand the whole omega6/omega3 relationship and why their balance is good for your health.
Here’s the skinny on EPO, and why you might want to experiment with it for your hormonal and inflammatory needs.
What is Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening Primrose Oil is a pressed plant fat – much like canola oil is. It’s composed largely of omega 6 fat. If this fact raises red flags for you – that’s good. Omega 6 fats, by and large, are fats worthy of trepidation. Most of them cause inflammation in the body. But not all.
In order to understand what’s good about EPO fats, we’ve got to take a step back and look at what your body needs in order to be healthy and happy.
Just about every body process is regulated by hormones and prostaglandins
Hormones are molecules that are made in one place of the body and that typically travel through the bloodstream to act on cells in another place. LH, for example, is produced by the pituitary gland. LH then runs south to tell the ovaries what to do.
Prostaglandins have the same bossy behavior as hormones… but they act entirely within the confines of a single cell.
Body functions that require proper prostaglandin regulation include:
-monitoring blood pressure and viscocity
-managing cell growth and division
-promoting a healthy metabolic rate
-supporting the immune system and
-regulating secretion of hormones
Prostaglandins are synthesized out of fatty acids
So we talked a bit about omega 6s before. Omega 6 and 3 are two kinds of essential fatty acids. Your body cannot produce them. You must consume them. These polyunsaturated essential fatty acids are therefore where it all begins.
Afer you consume a fatty acid, your body uses it to make prostaglandins. Prostaglandins each have different effects on the body. Therefore: the different kinds of fatty acids you consume directly impact your health via prostaglandin activity.
Different prostaglandins and their cellular effects
In general, omeag 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids go on to participate in production of either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Omega 6 prostaglandins are usually “series 2 prostaglandins,” which inflame the body hard and fast. This is their job. They help with acute swelling, clotting, and dilation.
In small doses, the series 2 inflammation that comes from consuming omega 6s is a good thing. It helps heal wounds. Most of us do not just consume small doses of AA (the culprit omega 6 fatty acid), however. Estimates of American consumption of fatty acids put omega 6 fatty acid consumption, on average for Americans, between 10 and 30 times the amount it should to be.
It is worth noting at this point that saturated animal fats like eggs, butter, and lard can also contribute to series 2 prostaglandin activity. The majority of paleo leaders, however, consider prostaglandin activity in series 2 from natural animal fats to be a perfectly appropriate part of a healthy diet, and I count myself as one of them.
Omega 3 fats like EPA and DHA cause the production of “series 3″ prostalgandins, which slow down the inflammatory response. Most researchers and authors who write about these things liken series three prostaglandins to the “slow lane” of inflammatory activity. Series 2 are the fast lane; series 3 the slow lane.
Series 3 prostaglandins are synthesized out of EPA, which is the omega 3 oil found in fish. Now you can see why it’s so important to keep omega 6 and 3 fats in proper balance. You need your rate of inflammation to be just right. You need some inflammation, but not too much! So eat fish plentifully for its slow-healing effects.
(Do not, however, consume fish or fish oil to extremes, since it’s ideal to keep total omega 3 and 6 intake reasonably low.)
In addition to these two basic categories of prostaglandins, there is one more type. It’s called “series 1″ by some thinkers. Instead of simply participating in fast or slow inflammatory processes, series 1 prostaglandins actively block the fast inflammatory processes of the omega 6 series 2 prostaglandins.
In sum: how Series 1, 2, and 3 prostaglandins interact
Series 2 prostaglandins inflame the body quickly; Series 3 prostaglandins slow the inflammation process down…
and series 1 prostaglandins put the breaks on series 2.
Series 1 prostaglandins can actively halt the hyper-inflaming, hyper-stimulating activity that comes from series 2.
(Hint: guess which series evening primrose oil supports?)
The relationship between Evening Primrose Oil and Prostaglandins
Evening Primrose Oil is composed of fatty acids.
Now, Evening Primrose Oil is mostly omega 6 fatty acid. BUT, one kind of omega 6 found in EPO is pretty special. It’s called Gamma-Linoleic Acid. Evening Primrose Oil contains more GLA than any known substance. GLA may comprise 75 percent of the fatty acids in EPO (!). Other estimates put GLA in the oil at only around 30 percent, which seems a bit more reasonable. Regarldess of the variance, Evening Primrose Oil is one of the only sources of GLA around.
Other good sources of GLA include blue-green algae, hemp, and black currant oil. I am probably not going to be eating any of these any time soon.
GLA is the fatty acid most supportive of series 1 prostaglandin activity. Remember, this is the stuff that can help put a break on inflammation in the body.
GLA is anti-inflammatory and may promote healthy hormone production
Series 1 prostaglandins help prevent hormones from going into hyper-drive, since they down-regulate the frenetic activity of series 2 prostaglandins. This means that estrogen levels – if estrogen dominant – may be able to come down some, and that insulin and testosterone levels can also be brought back down into check.
Now – this is all based off of biochemical theory. No significant studies have been done regarding the effects of EPO on people’s health. Nonetheless the biochemical theory is fascinating, and it seems to support hundreds if not thousands of years of people using EPO to increase fertility, to increase lubrication in their vaginas, to reduce PMS, to clear their skin, to support uterine health, to reduce headaches and to sooth joint pain.
So therefore Evening Primrose Oil…
-has been recommended by people like Robb Wolf and Liz Wolfe (no relation, by the way, if you never knew that) to sooth acne
-is thought to reduce PMS symptoms and heavy periods
-may help blunt insulin resistance
-can help the body regulate its immune response and sooth gastrointestinal inflammation
-can boost fertility via calming insulin and testosterone production, and keeping estrogen and progeterone in better balance
-may not do anything at all, but who knows?
You can check out some EPO on Amazon @ here. I’m not trying to sell you on the stuff, honest. It doesn’t matter to me. I personally don’t take it. Then again, however, I don’t take any supplements save for the occasional magnesium. It’s only that I’ve been asked about EPO a lot, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it. I am also excited to share the fatty acid information with you, which is helpful for understanding what everybody means when they say “systemic inflammation” and advocating omega 6 and omega 3 balance – bearing in mind that there is of course a lot more to the whole story.
Featured image from wethechange.com.Read More
Last month, I shared with you three podcasts I had kept secret for the last few months.
I’d like to be able to tell you this was because of some grand plan or awesome surprise, but it was really just carelessness and sloth and doing my best (and almost succeeding) to keep up with life.
My apologies, sincerely, to all involved.
Today I bring to you TWO MORE podcasts. These were.. well. epic. And not in that “I’m trying to sell you something that’s actually kind of boring so I’m calling it ‘epic’” kind of way… but actually epic in the epic kind of way.
(Btw – I just wasted ten minutes of my life looking for an “epic” photo to insert here and all I found were “epic boobs” and “epic fails.” Culture ugh.)
See for yourself.
Mind Body Musings
Mind Body Musings is the up and coming podcast of up and coming serious love and health advocate Madelyn Moon. Madelyn used to be a fitness competitor — one of those on a stage and with minimal body fat and stunningly well done photos fitness competitors — but it was killing her.
She was unhappy.
So, she figured out what made her unhappy (hint: it had something to do with the fitness competitions), and she changed it.
Now she records a podcast that focuses on the connection between the body and the mind, and she and I talked all things:
-our own struggles and how hard it is to move away from body image norms
-what’s so punitive and terrible about being a fitness competitor
-how unfulfilling fitness competitions were for Madelyn
-the real kinds of things people are attracted to
AND, one of my favorite ideas ever posed to me on a podcast ever,
-why saying “I am enough” is NOT enough.
(A very smart idea right from the brain of Madelyn Moon.)
So listen in @ here. It’s a wonderful podcast for perspective on taking a self-love journey no matter what stage in it you’re at.
Keep Health Alive
Ok. I don’t want to disparage any of the podcasts from last week, or this week, or any of the podcasts I have ever done (eg, the ever famous one with Liz Wolfe earlier this year), for that matter….
BUT: I am going to go ahead and say that Keep Health Alive was the most enjoyable podcast I have ever recorded.
Justin – the host – is – first of all – a riot.
He’s a day-seizer. A laugher. A go-getter.
We first met (Justin tells this story in great detail in the podcast) at paleo fx. On the very last night of the conference, after several long days of working and networking, I had lasso’d some friends into coming out to salsa dance with me (the only six people from the conference still out partying, I think.) Justin showed up about mid-late evening, so 12:30 ish or so?, coming just because he had been invited… and why not?
Then leapt onto the floor and got down with us with abandon.
For a little bit, anyway.
So one of my favorite introductions, so far as introductions go.
The podcast starts there and moves on. We cover some serious as-yet untrod territory, with topics such as:
-why does Stefani love dancing so much?
-what is the concept of “flow” and how is it one of the keys to being a happy person?
-what is “epistemology”?
… a question to which Stefani responds by giving a quick rundown of the history of Western epistemological thought… I promise it’s not boring, but awesome.
-why I might be moving to Paris
-what my next book is all about
and then some tried and true but awesome favorites, like what it means to be sexy, how to view yourself with a more objective lens, and my favorite tips for overcoming acne.
Check out Justin and me in his top rated “new and noteworthy” podcast @ here.Read More
The following post is by one of my absolute most beloved health professionals in the paleo scene, Summer Innanen. You can read all about Summer in her bio at the end of the post. Suffice it to say for a brief introduction now, however: I loved this list she drew up. It helped me. Forgive her Canadian spelling. She’s smart. Listen.
One of the most important components of cultivating self-love is changing your self-talk. We do this by censoring the negative criticisms that we so often slander ourselves with, both consciously and subconsciously. However, these negative criticisms can manifest in ways that you may not be aware of.
In our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable to defame yourself in front of others. In fact, it seems totally normal to say something like, “I’m so fat”. However, if you say something like, “I look sexy in this swimsuit”, you are considered conceited or a bitch. [Stefani comment: yikes!] It’s no wonder we are so quick to put ourselves down.
The first step to changing your self-talk is by being aware of when you say these things and eliminating negative statements from your internal and external dialogue. Statements such as “I’m so stupid” or “I look so gross in this outfit” are harsh words of self-hate. When you stop saying them, you begin to stop thinking them and can more easily reprogram the feelings about yourself. We have the power to change our beliefs and thoughts, which is a powerful mechanism when it comes to feeling sexy and confident as the woman you are today.
The second part of this equation is to censor negative judgments and criticisms of others. As a culture, we seem to tolerate and even find humor in shaming other women about their appearance, their habits and the way that they do things (ranging from criticizing a woman’s driving to the way she raises her children). The areas that we are quick to criticize and judge others are usually areas where we feel vulnerable ourselves. We use this as a way to make ourselves feel better, however doing so only feeds our insecurities and feelings of unworthiness.
The judgments we make of ourselves and others can manifest in less obvious ways that you may not be aware of. It’s important to recognize the various things we do that feed our insecurities in order to deconstruct our core issues and foster self-love, while promoting a culture that no longer considers it acceptable to put other women down.
Here are 5 less obvious habits that we have, which prevent us from cultivating self-love:
#1 – Deflecting Compliments
How many times have you deflected a compliment from someone? A friend tells you that you are beautiful or talented and you reply by negating it or blowing it off. We do this because we feel that it conflicts with the way we feel about ourselves or that the person didn’t really mean it because you don’t believe it.
Rather than deflecting a compliment, simply say “thank you”. Then use this as an opportunity to reflect on why your initial urge was to react by denying it. As long as you continue to deflect or deny compliments, you will perpetuate negative feelings about yourself.
#2 – Changing Your Actions
We often change our actions in response to our fear of being judged. We order a different item on the menu when we are out on a date. We set up our yoga mat in the back corner so no one can see us. We put on makeup before going grocery shopping because we want to appear more put together. We put three layers of self-defense over our bathing suit so people can’t see our ‘flaws’.
The reality is that you cannot change or control other people’s perceptions. You also don’t need anyone else’s approval or acceptance in order to love yourself or feel worthy. In fact, if you rely on gaining approval to feel worthy, you will never actually love yourself.
It’s important to practice being more real and owning your uncool self. Be willing to fall over in yoga class, eat a burger and fries with your hands on a date (if that’s what you want to eat) or show up with your hair out of place. Make every effort to show up as yourself and never change your actions based on your fear of being judged.
If you feel yourself resisting this task, then ask yourself why. It’s important to use these moments as a cue to dig deep and think about why you feel this way. Also, know that you are not alone and women feel this way all the time!
#3 – Seeking Validation
Many of us are perfectionists who seek out approval and validation from others in order to feel worthy. However, this prevents us from feeling worthy because we cannot control the way other people view us. We need to love ourselves first before we can receive love from others.
Pay attention to whether your words or actions are the result of a need for validation. Do you put yourself down in order to receive compliments? Do you rely on social media ‘likes’ to feel better about yourself? It’s OK to enjoy being validated and receive compliments, however this should not be used as a primary vehicle for self-love.
#4 – Comparing Down
We look for people who we perceive as ‘worse’ than us in order to feel better about ourselves. For example, we feel better at the beach because we are not the ‘fattest’. We feel better at the gym because we didn’t ‘finish last’. We feel like we have more self-control because we didn’t eat dessert. This is ridiculous!
This only feeds a cultural standard where judgments are acceptable and promotes our reliance on what other people may think in order to grow our self-worth. Work towards eliminating your desire to compare down in order to feel better about yourself.
In addition, practice being more vulnerable and willing to be the person who ‘finishes last’. Celebrate your imperfections and own the person that you are today.
#5 – Creating Excuses And Apologizing For Your Actions
How many times have you apologized for something that you actually could not control? Our apologies act as a buffer that prevents us from thinking that the other person may be judging us negatively. We apologize before they can think something negative about us (which they usually never are).
Stop apologizing for things that you could not control. Unless you legitimately did something wrong (like knock over a kid’s juice box), there is no need to apologize.
We also tend to make excuses before we do something to protect us from other people’s judgments. For example, before we are about to do a presentation at work we say, “I haven’t prepared for this at all” or “I didn’t sleep last night, so I’m not sure how well this is going to go”. We set the bar low to protect us from other people’s scrutiny or to seek validation. Both of these things imply that we are not good enough, which fertilizes the negative feelings we have about ourselves.
As you practice self-love in your everyday life, it is imperative that you begin to bring awareness to the various ways that you continue to hold yourself back.
I challenge you to commit to 7 days of censoring these habits. Bring awareness to your negative self-talk (in all of the aforementioned ways that it can manifest) for one week and you will start to realize how much this permeates in your life. From there, you can start to deconstruct the rationale behind your negative self-talk in order to move forward.
Not only do we need to do this for ourselves, but we also need to shift these types of behaviors and conversations amongst our peers. The reality is that we cannot control other people’s actions or perceptions, but we can make every effort to change our culture by leading by example.
Awesome, right? Let Summer know in the comments!
I’m Summer Innanen, Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Body Image Coach, specializing in emotional eating. More importantly, I’m a diet rebel and food lover on a mission to help you feel hot-damn fearless in your body. I roll with straight-talk, tough love and wicked humour to help women all over the world with my one-on-one and group programs. I empower women to ditch their diet demons, rock their bodies, and start caring about things that actually matter (like grabbing your dreams, spoiling yourself silly, and remembering how holy-powerful sex makes you feel). Check out my podcast Fearless Rebelle Radio and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. If you’re ready to break the rules, grab your sledgehammer and get my free guide here.
The featured image is a photo of Summer, thanks to SarahRamsden.com.Read More
I recently became a bit obsessed with gut flora research via a long story:
I began getting migraines again this winter after eating a lower-potassium diet to help with my electrolyte problem. Low potassium is associated with migraines. It didn’t help that I was visiting my father, who likes to cook with MSG. To help with the migraines, I took Aspirin, which is an NSAID. It worked, so I began taking Aspirin for my regular headaches, and that helped, too. However: NSAID’s are notoriously bad for your gut flora. My skin began breaking out a little bit. This could have been caused by anything (I thought: weight loss, fiber in my diet, increased progesterone, poor sleep, dirty towels… skin is complicated!), but I thought “maybe it’s the NSAIDs depleting my gut flora.”
I went to Whole Foods post haste and got kombucha on tap.
(My favorite brand available both in stores and online is THIS one)
I’m drinking a couple of jars a week.
My skin looks great – I’m not sure if its from the kombucha.
Something I did most definitely notice, however, is that my cravings for food, and particularly sweet food, have somewhat dramatically decreased. After just my first few gulps, I felt a difference. These days I walk around during the day, not even thinking about food, and I stop eating meals without needing willpower, and I wonder: is this how ‘normal’ people feel?
So I asked myself if there was a connection. Could my increased freedom from cravings be a result of kombucha’s notorius bifidobacterium?
Turns out, it most certainly can.
How it works: your gut flora
Gut flora–which are the bacteria that live in your gut and that number in the trillions–are responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. They play a role in digestive comfort, in being constipated or having diarrhea, in immune system health, in depression and anxiety, in insulin resistance, in obesity, and in inflammation. Because these critters are so significant for these issues, they are significant for just about every noncommunicable disease you can imagine.
Why are gut bugs so important? Because your gut is the barrier between you and the outside world. Good gut flora help you process nutrients and protect yourself from toxins. When good gut flora populations decrease (as mine may have with my aspirin use), and/or when bad gut flora infiltrate the gut and outnumber the good guys, health problems ensue.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #1
One theory for how gut flora influence your gut – and there seems to be reasonable evidence for this – is that your gut flora condition you to continue to feed their own specific populations. Carrot-loving gut bugs beget carrot-loving gut bugs, for example (if a fair bit oversimplified.)
So gut flora from particular foods may make you continue to crave those particular foods. This is great if you eat a lot of natural, healthy foods. This is less good news if you eat a lot of processed foods. The more processed foods you eat, the more bad bacteria will reproduce. They will hijack your cravings, and you’ll crave even more of the same old bad food.
If you are a processed food / sugar junkie, it may be hard to switch your diet, but being sure to include good, natural, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, animal products and fermented may help you crave those more and more.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #2
The second theory, which is not exclusive but complementary to the first, is that good gut bacteria like bifidobacterium (these are the famous good guys) cause the body to produce satiation hormones.
Glucuagon-like-peptide-1 is one such satiation hormone. It increases in the “colonal mucus” (sexy, right?) of rats fed oligofructose, a laboratory carbohydrate that resembles the carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables. PYY and ghrelin, two other satiation hormones, may also increase in response to oligofructose. Rats that consume oligofructose spontaneously eat less, cease creating fat cells, increase insulin sensitivity, and improved glucose tolerance.
As for humans…we already know that probiotics help with obesity. This happens via biochemical modulation of fat metabolism. Yet it also appears to probably happen via increased satiation and spontaneously reduced food intake.
The more bifidobacteria and other good gut flora you have, the more satiation hormones they will create in response to a meal.
Moral of the story
There are a lot of different physical and psychological components of food cravings.
For one – you need to eat food. I talk way too much to women who want to reduce food cravings but are eating 1200 calories a day. So be sure you eat when you are hungry all of the time, probably at least 1800 calories a day (though this varies widely), before you address any other issues.
Second, emotional issues should be dealt with. Is food your mother? Your addiction? Your stress-relief? Your boredom? Your celebration? Or do you eat because you spend so much willpower trying not to eat that you end up overeating in the end? Psychological issues with food are also supremely important.
Third, you may consider physiological approaches. Sometimes the issue cannot be resolved psychologically because there’s an underlying problem. Amino acid therapy — boosting serotonin and dopamine levels by consuming precursors 5HTP and tyrosine — can help regulate appetite if your serotonin and dopamine levels are low.
Gut bugs can also help, as we’ve seen. (They can also boost your serotonin levels! Two birds with one stone!)
Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, or grass-fed yogurt or kefir. If those are not available to you, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least bifidobacterium, as well as other varieties.
You can also try a probiotic supplement. I prefer whole foods since they provide they provide a high degree of variability of bacterial species. Nonetheless probiotics have been shown to reduce weight loss and support mental health in studies, so if you go this route (like this option or this one) you can also benefit.
You can also support your gut flora population not only by eating the bugs themselves – which is what you do with the fermented foods – but by consuming their preferred foods. Gut flora love to eat fibrous fruits and veggies, particularly those which contain inulin. These are greens, summer squash, onions, garlic, leeks… and jerusalem artichokes are also a particularly good source. This article demonstrates just how effective this strategy is.
Kombucha (linked to my favorite brand on Amazon) is really helping me. I can’t say if it will help you. Really, I cannot. We all have different bodies and we all have our own unique cures. But I love how much more stable my blood sugar feels and my meals are. I no longer feel so much like I must eat a sweet with every meal. I love my gut bugs very, very much. For this reason, as well as for so many others.
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.
Off and on for the last several weeks, I’ve been working on prelimary outlines for my tentative forthcoming book, Love is the New Skinny – which I have been calling a “theory of human beauty.” LITNS has been a whole hell of a lot more challenging than I imagined. I have no idea what I want to say or how I want to say it. I am not sure if I am going to go through with it. I can’t — literally, I cannot — publish this book unless I figure out a good way to say good things.
So. I am at square negative six hundred.
The upside of all of this seemingly pointless toil is that I have discovered a few things about beauty that are at least minimally valuable.
So anyway. I’ve got one of those gems of wisdom for you today.
It goes like this:
It is impossible – literally, i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e – to take in and judge the appearance of a human being without considering her personality.
That’s right. Impossible. Here’s why:
Every single aspect of what you look like is impacted by the story of your life and the choices you make.
Let’s do this via thought experiment.
Say, you see, for example, this photo of me. What do you see?
First, sure, I do see a “little” body. An XS shirt. Size zero pants (when they’re Taiwanese pants, a size zero says something powerfully little). A body of angles and muscles. This body says things. It says “Stefani meets social expectations of slenderness.” It also screams athleticism, litheness, and discipline. Our cultured brains care about body type very much, so these judgments register fast and easy for all of us.
However. It is impossible not to see so much more.
I see a heavy necklace that for this woman in the photo means something deep and important about an old friend, and about which I can infer there is probably a story. I see a lace, translucent shirt — the first of many signals to show how little this woman gives a damn about propriety. I see a collar hanging off of one shoulder – something that signals a loose sense of carelessness and freedom, and maybe even hints at sexual openness.
I see a smile that is simultaneously contemplative, curious, and michevious.
I see a slouch that is graceful and comfortable and confident. Dont’ forget, too, that this is just a picture, and in real life the dimensions of time and space come into play, as well as the rest of your senses.
In real life, you’d see a fair bit of grace and easy, bouncy movement. You’d see erratic hand gestures. You’d see an irritable scowl. You’d hear an odd, Marge Simpson-esque laugh (inherited that one from good old mom). You’d smell something fairly clean but also possibly post-dance and unshowered.
You could apprehend all of these things in an instant, and even while a loud part of your brain would focus on the fact that the body is a particular shape, and the breasts just so, and hips just so, because that’s what society has told you to do, a body without being embodied by something would never be attractive to you. The part of your brain that apprehends personality is strong. It is important. It will never be shut off.
Because you can never confront a human being without it also being a being. Without it having personality. Without it saying something about its inner self. I-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e.
And you can never look at something without understanding in an instant what all of its symbols mean to you.
Small = disciplined. Hunched shoulders = scared. Bright colored clothing = bold. Dark suit = professional. Pink lipstick = playful. Of course none of these “symbols” are hard and fast rules, but the point is that we all have them to varying degrees in our brains, and share them to one degree or another as human beings in a human society. The reason the appearance of things appeal to us is largely that they indicate deeper meaning.
Let’s try something a bit more challenging. Is it actually impossible to avoid deeper meaning when you look at a body?
What about a highly sexualized, objectifying advertisement?
In this advertisement, this woman is literally being turned into an object. Her body is become a beer bottle. If this doesn’t equate women with physicality, I don’t know what does.
If this doesn’t remove a woman’s agency and personhood from the equation, then nothing does. This is about as bad as it gets. And let me be clear about it: objectification is rampant and horrible, and we must put a stop to it.
Nevertheless. When you look at this ad, what else do you see?
You see wildness. Sexual inhibitions. A rough and ready woman.
These are the themes behind the image the advertisers want you to see.
Yet they couldn’t stop you from seeing themes even if they wanted to.
The closest you could come to truly objectifying a woman is to break her up into parts and make those parts a statue Even these statues have character and meaning. What if you saw a statue of a leg? Would it be muscled? Jiggly? Have calluses? Scars? All these aspects of the leg bring character inevitably to mind.
If not in parts — if a whole silhouette — even a woman’s stance says something about who she is.
The way she stands, sits, holds her head, walks. These are the most basic things.
Then your history and your choices come into play. How you dress. The shoes you’re wearing. The way you speak.
All of which is to say…
(right, why am I bothering with saying these perhaps obvious things?)
that what makes a person beautiful, attractive, sexy, whatever-you-want-to-call it, in any singular person’s eyes, will NEVER be (only) the shape of their body.
Body is a part of it. Society has made it so.
But you are ineluctably you.
We might think society has this giant hold on us, making us care first and foremost about a body’s shape.
But the truth of the matter is that body shape is only one small piece of the puzzle. The fact that you cannot absolutely objectify a human being means that it is not just idealistic handwaving all of us bloggers are doing when we tell you that your body shape is secondary to your personality at best. It’s fact.
You might see a size 2 top and size 6 bottom when you look at me. You might see my cup size. You might see how well formed or absent my musculature is. But I am damn certain that far more important for your judgment of me — even if from a great distance, and we never speak — has to do with the other things. The standing. Walking. Moving. Dressing. Expressing.
So what do you see when you look at me?
I think you see a lot of things.
I see a lot of things when I look at you, too.