So I started therapy

“And your anxiety does all that to you?”

“I, well, yeah. I guess.”

“What a bitch!”

So I recently started therapy again. The first time it was because I very much would like to not ever have a panic attack again if-it’s-not-to-much-trouble-thank-you-very-much. This time I’d like to not let my thesis anxiety get in the way of actually completing my master thesis. You know, if it’s not too much of an inconvenience. Because it’s supposed to be done in December. NO PRESSURE.

And sometimes she calls my anxiety a bitch, which makes me laugh and feel liberated because if my anxiety is just a big damn bully? I can deal with that. But she also has The Most Empathic Listening Face Of All Faces that it actually makes me a bit nervous. And I don’t begrudge anyone their professional face or anything. But it weirds me out a little. And I guess I’m posting this because all the stories I’ve heard about therapists are like “My therapist was awesome! He had a goatee and liked dinosaurs and ALSO SAVED MY LIFE” or they’re like “My therapist is a terrible person and they think I should just boot-strap more or something.”

There must be so many therapists that aren’t amazing or terrible but just doesn’t quite click for you, right? Even if it’s for the weirdest reasons, like Maybe You Are Too Good At Listening Could You Stir Your Tea Or Something You’re Making Me Nervous.

Diety recovery: Shit I used to do that I thought was healthy

– I boiled eggs and brought them in my bag to dinners with family so I would have a “healthy” source of protein with my dinner. Then I would eat those in secret in the bathroom.

– I avoided sun-dried tomatoes because they’re dried fruit and dried fruit is bad for you.

– If I ever did eat sun-dried tomatoes I would rinse them off. Because sunflower oil is full of calories and will also kill you because vegetable oil is the devil.

– I stopped eating bread.

– I thought trying to find a way to be both primal and vegetarian was a great idea.

– I celebrated my capacity for gradually increasing my restriction of food as “mindful eating”

– I stopped drinking beer because of the calories and the carbs

– I refused to eat starchy carbs unless they fit into my PWO window

Diety recovery: Convenience is verboten

I consider myself to be on the road of diet recovery. I am spending a lot of time and energy examining and disregarding various moral “truths” about diet and looks.

Today I’m thinking about convenience and food. I was taught that I could allow myself treats – but I should treat myself right and only go for the best treats. Be picky! Why would you go for that store-bought brownie when you could have a delicious, home-made double chocolate brownie?

It sounds so good on the surface, right? A home-made, freshly baked brownie does usually taste better than a store-bought variety. Or if you can get one from a really good bakery.

It makes me sad though because it’s the part of the diet mindset that denies you of convenience. Because convenience makes you weak and human and you are not allowed to be weak and human in diet land. You are not allowed to commune through food in diet land. You are not allowed connection through food in diet land. You are not allowed comfort in food in diet land.

I was taught that if you ate emotionally you were weak. I don’t think that your only means of dealing with emotions should be through food but to deny that we as humans need soothing and comfort is to deny what makes us human.

Sometimes when I’ve had a rough week it doesn’t matter that I exercised properly, communicated my feels and needs in words, set appropriate boundaries and worked my ass off to get things working. Sometimes I am tired and worn-out and what I need more than a healthy home-cooked meal or a home-baked brownie is a respite. Because baking and cooking takes time and energy. Sometimes I need convenience more than I need artisanal fucking bread. Sometimes I order take-out pizza. Sometimes I get a brownie at the store. Because it’s easy and comforting and exactly what I needed.

That is part of being human, and that’s okay.

Dear Americans: Please stop calling my accent sexy

We’re playing cards and I’m new to the group, I only know the hosts. Old friends of mine I almost never see on account of the absurd distances between us. I’m so incredibly thrilled to see them again and get to know them in their own space. The party is a huge success and despite the fact that we’re about 15 too many for this kind of game everyone is having a great time, laughing uproariously. My somewhat caustic sense of humour gels well with this group as it tends to with people who don’t gel perfectly with the word normal, however you want to define that. I’m making successful inroads and pulling down some laughs. I’m having a great time.

“Sorry I’ve just gotta say,” she interrupts with a big cheeky grin on her face. She’s British by birth, though she grew up here, I learned later in the evening. But right now she’s as American as they get. Outspoken, confident. A bit brash; like polished copper. “But you’ve got a really fuckin’ sexy accent.”

“Yep.” The chorus of nods and agreements around me are too manifold for me to see exactly who chimes in and how many. But a lot of them. I smile, I think I said thank you. The night went on. Later I asked her why Americans seemed so fascinated by foreign accents and she protests that she is British. Perhaps it’s an English thing. I haven’t met very many foreigners besides Americans.

She’s not the worst by far and I really liked her, and all of the people I met at that party. But she is not the first and will not probably be the last who comments on my accent and I will never feel comfortable with it, in all probability.

I can’t hear my own accent and there isn’t much left of it. I speak and write English fluently, though my learning is a hopeless hodgepodge of American and British English. I spell like a Brit, but my vocabulary and pronunciation is American.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that most of the time these comments are made in a positive light (except for you, man-in-the-cell-phone-booth when I was a college transfer student. You were a fucking creep). And I often struggle to explain why, so this is my attempt.

It’s not a compliment for me

Where I live the cultural norm is that the less of an accent you manifest in your English the better. This is because people covet being able to pass for American or some part of the British isles. I’m not gonna go into the specifics of how that’s weird or fucked up (it is) but that is how it is and that is a feeling I have internalized, too. So when you compliment my accent you are – by my cultural standards – insulting my English-speaking capabilities.

It’s sexual in nature

It is made clear in one way or another that it’s about the attractiveness of my accent. Not my mastery of the language, my singing ability or anything else that is reasonably of my own doing. It focuses on my voice as something ornamental and make the words I speak with it secondary in importance.

It centres on my otherness

My accent is perceived as something different. Something unusual and exotic. Once people learn where it is from more specifically it will also often be associated to old and rather tired stereotypes of the supposed promiscuity of women from my country of origin. It’s attractive because of it’s novelty, it’s weirdness, for all the ideas that can be projected on it. Like people are attracted to large rare animals on the savannah. It’s got nothing to do with me as a person, only how I contrast to their idea of a more boring normal.

It’s not something I control

I cannot dress up or down my accent. I can’t choose to flaunt or hide it. It’s just there. When I am angry my accent becomes more pronounced. Having people comment on it makes me feel out of control and makes me very aware of the fact that people can choose to perceive me in any way they want to, regardless of how I feel about it. It highlights other people’s capability to objectify me.

It’s a theft of my autonomy

I am a feminist. I value my autonomy and my independence deeply. I speak up for myself. I argue, I discuss politics. I do this with my voice. My voice is my tool against sexism, patriarchy, against objectification. Having my voice treated like an object of sexual gratification undermines me and my capability to be heard and have my words heard.

So, dear Americans, please. Just fucking stop calling my accent sexy.

Super models and customer service pretty much the same thing

A while ago I got into an argument on facebook (yes, a very productive use of my time). Someone posted a link to a blog post of theirs for feedback (and very likely to extend their readership) in a fitness-related group I’m in, which is fine. The blog post in question though featured a picture of a model with a bull’s eye over her face and pitted conventional models vs. women who lift weights.

Given the feminist nature of this group this did not go over as well as the author had hoped and plenty of reasons were given on why pitting women against each other and putting bull’s eyes on people’s faces is a bad idea, I won’t go over it all over again.

The person who wrote that blog post claimed that she just wanted to show her new-found love for strength training and her frustration with the conventional way of doing things. That’s perfectly understandable. However, super models aren’t what’s wrong with the world, or the fashion industry. The fashion industry is the problem with the fashion industry. Models are just the outward faces.

I worked part-time several years at customer service while I was an undergraduate. While most people who called in were decent people there were inevitable the bad apples, and if something unforeseen happened that affected a majority of our clients more and more people take out their frustration on us, the customer service reps. Not because we had the power to change anything, but because we were the outer face of the company and the only people they could actually reach.

Models are in the same way the outer, public faces of the fashion industry but they don’t call the shots any more than I did in customer service. They’re better paid for sure, but they don’t make the rules, they don’t decide what’s hot, how fashion should look, the trial dress sizes etc. But they’re there, and they are public.

It is very easy to smear models for how the fashion industry looks. It’s easy to yell at customer service when your phone bill is messed up and I see a lot of people where I live who are dissatisfied with aspects of how government is run that blame various agencies for the policies they did not write but have to implement.

I’m continually surprised by this, though perhaps I shouldn’t be. But the thing is that if we want to change something we have to focus on the root of the problem. If we want to change the ideals of the fashion industry we need to pressure the makers of fashion, not the wearers, to change. If we are dissatisfied with government services we need to pressure the policy-makers (that is, our elected officials) rather than those tasked with carrying out that policy.

The people in charge will want to have barriers between themselves and their voter or customer. It’s an easy and convenient way to distance yourself from the consequences of their actions and maintain the status quo. But those are the people we have to get to if we want genuine change of any kind.

 

An act of courage

I stand in front of the power cage, meeting my own gaze in the mirror. My heartbeat is slightly elevated and there are streaks of chalk on my shirt and on my pants. I resist the urge to scratch my nose as I grab the bar carefully, experimentally in a thumbless grip. One big breath, and another, and then I step under the bar. I position it carefully across my traps. Exhale, inhale. Every part of my body tenses and braces. I lift the bar out of the rack. One tiny step backwards and then I squat. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 reps. The cage rattles and clanks loudly as I bring it first against the uprights and then lower it back into the rack. First set out of three. The first is always the worst – and the best.

Each week I come into the gym and I squat a little heavier. At first it was easy but now every rep under the bar is an act of courage and I feel keenly how every small wobble, every minor mistake in form makes me teether dangerously close to failure.

I think about things I’ve read about lifting that come close to an almost religious zeal. Respect the iron. Lifting is an act of courage. I’m on the starting strength program. Besides lifting I’ve begun eating more. “If you’re not gaining mass you’re not doing the program”. I’ve no idea if I’m gaining, I stopped weighing myself for the first time in almost two years. Can’t handle both staying dedicated to my lifting and the pressure to conform to feminie beauty standards. I notice that I’m happier this way. What I eat, what I drink, my sleep, everything is increasingly being taken into consideration as I chase another pound on the bar. Struggling to meet it and match it pound for pound with undiluted courage.

 

 

Seek and you shall find

I started this blog in a bout of frustration over the shallowness of fitness culture. The focus on getting thin and the reluctance to speak about the culture of fitness in and of itself. I wanted to start collecting things and places where this is actually discussed in one form or another.

The number one “guru” on getting rid of gurus and fad diets is of course, Go Kaleo. If you’re looking for a place where you’re encouraged to eat enough food to support your activity, feel good about yourself, listening to your body and letting go of fear of macronutrients (whether they be carbs, fat or even just pure sugar) this is the place. She’s also on facebook, and has started a facebook group called Eating The Food for those who are taking their first trembling steps out of diet-land.

Not updated often but always awesome, Radical Hateloss.

It needed a title, and I knew that “radical” had to be part of it, since what I was doing felt so different. The changes in me had started to cause weight loss, but that wasn’t what the journey was about anymore. This time it was about learning to accept and love myself. So the term Radical Hateloss was born.

Batty, a friend of like mind has an awesome blog where she talks about this stuff as well. I can’t say enough awesome things about her. She is awesomely awesome.

Of course, if you really want to get into a conversation about body image, culture and oppression you have to leave the fitosphere behind and start looking into other areas where this is brought up as a matter of course. (I sense a Venn Diagram coming up). Everyone ought to read the feminist blog Shakesville, but particularly everything in the tag Today in FA. Why? Because if we want to talk about fitness and health in a way that is about how you feel and not how well you measure up to some arbitrary look we have to start deconstructing and be critical of our hate of fat and of fat people.

On a related note, A Black Girl’s Guide to Fat Loss. I can’t remember why I stopped reading her blog (I think it got cut when I couldn’t keep up with my RSS feed any longer), but I do remember reading a lot of interesting posts relating specifically to culture, poverty and education which hinders people (and specifically in North America, African Americans) from gaining access to healthy food, safe spaces and education on living a healthy lifestyle. I’m throwing it out there.

Shamefully, I haven’t read much about HAES – Health At Every Size, but I’m confident that this is the direction the conversation has to go in.

There are a number of very real direct “costs” to individuals, communities, and societies resulting from the current “war on obesity.” The direct consequences of this “war” include disordered eating practices, weight cycling, body dissatisfaction, bullying, weight stigma, bariatric surgery, insurance exclusions, and a general reinforcement of fat-phobic, weight-centric health ideas that don’t really serve to improve anyone’s health or wellbeing, regardless of their weight or size. These consequences are costly indeed in both economic and human terms, and collectively have a profound impact on health.

And that’s it, so far. This is less a link spam and more the start of collecting bits and pieces of a conversation I want to be part of and that I’m sure is happening out there.

Rest

Very strange week behind me.

I thought I was well after my bout of sickness over the last weekened, I guess not? I’ve been cold all the time. My body’s felt tired and exhausted. My head’s been tired and exhausted. My appetite has been completely out of whack. I didn’t eat anything all of Monday (and I’m not the kind of person who lose my appetite, it was WEIRD) and then I struggled with that the whole week, though I feel better and back to normal now. I’ve had a lot of anxiety that I’ve been unable to connect to anything.

I went to the gym Monday and Tuesday but then I gave myself the rest of the week off to focus on getting more sleep. It feels like I made the right decision. I never checked my temperature so I don’t know if I had a fever or not.
The weirdest thing though? When I summarize my week like this and look at it I go OH MY GOD WOMAN WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST STAY HOME AND RECOVER. Why didn’t I? Because in the moment, from hour to hour I felt fine enough. Because I had a bunch of things that needed to get done. Because I didn’t think my anxiety would be improved by going home. Lots of stuff that all felt reasonable. Maybe it was reasonable in a way, but it goes to show that getting adequate rest and recovery, taking a break when you need it, is just as hard as getting to the gym when you need to and putting in the hard work.

I often joke about my stellar Lutheran work ethic when I feel guilty for taking time off, my impression is that I’m not alone in this, whether we believe in a higher power or not we’re all affected by cultures that stem from a religious world-view, culture and history. I feel a post about The Lutheran Work Ethic coming on. Max Weber you better watch out.

Let’s talk about culture

So I took a break from the gym today. I usually work out in the morning but couldn’t due to work commitments and you know what? In the afternoon I was tired and didn’t feel like it so I went home. I’m sure that there are people who would want to butt in with concerns to the “motivational poster” above and say either that either I should’ve gone or that I’m misinterpreting it and it doesn’t really say what it says, that I’m being too literal-minded etc. But I don’t like posters like this. I think they discourage us from listening to our bodies and our minds.
Not wanting to go to the gym is valuable input from YOU. Maybe you need a break. Maybe you’re worn down. Maybe your routine is fucking boring. Maybe you’re sick. I read Jen Comas Keck blog series about her battle with Metabolic Damage a short while ago. And when I read it I kept thinking about how so many things were spoken about that she had to do to repair her body. Like eat breakfast. Take rest days. Eat carbs. I read a lot of fitness related media, mostly blogs, and I’m picky about what I read. I like Jen’s blog. But here’s the thing that I feel is missing in the fitness world: Discussion about culture.

Jen mentions in part 3 that she felt embarrassed to reveal these issues, even though she knew logically that they were nothing to be embarrassed about. Why? That’s our culture at work folks.

I started this blog on a whim, out of annoyance, because someone said “if you want that content, write it!”. So I’ve been thinking since then about what I actually do want to write about. The fitness and health world/industry/culture is extremely individualistic. Everything is framed in terms of the choices you make. You are responsible. Only you can make the change. Change YOUR life. Fucking bootstrap already. Even huge systemic issues like irresponsible use of antibiotics in raising meat, factory farming, toxins in food, hair and skin products gets treated like an individual’s problem to solve. Or like it’s a matter of consumer’s choice. “Vote with your dollars!” You know what? Fuck that. Vote with your fucking VOTE. Be political. SEE the connection between your health, your choices, your community and the culture we live in. RECOGNIZE and see the cultural patterns and the systems at work that shape your life. Maybe everyone can get healthy if they really want to, but not everyone has to do the same amount of juggling, fiddling, jury-rigging and compromising with other things to get there.

I want to talk about that. AND lifting really heavy stuff.

No bullshit. Just lifting.

Okay, so this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while that bugs me.

No matter what kind of fitness article I read directed at women, regardless if it’s the laughable “never-lift-more-than-3-lbs” kind or the sort that sings the gospel of barbells, kettlebells and heavy sets there’s a recurring way of speaking to and about the female reader. Why are we constantly addressed as “ladies”? And what is up with the constant reassurance that we “won’t get big” just because we lift heavy? (For some of us, that’s more than a little discouraging).

And finally, the endless, ceaseless, never-ending focus on beauty. And I don’t really care if it comes in the version of “follow this stupid-ass diet plan and you’ll be sexy/pretty/beautiful” or the more empowering sort of “you’ll get strong AND sexy”, “strong is beautiful”, “you’re a beautiful goddess.” sort of language. I get tired on this focus on appearances. I get tired of the beauty standard. And I don’t think the articles directed at men in general spend so much time reassuring them that they are handsome boys inside-and-out and that their strength makes them shine with wonderful confidence etc.

Why is is so important to reassure women that they’re beautiful? I get that it’s about trying to counter a culture where women are constantly told their looks aren’t enough but I’m feeling more and more that trying to reassure us that we’re already beautiful is the wrong way to go. Because the truth of the matter is something else entirely: It doesn’t fucking matter.

It doesn’t matter what you look like. It matters what you do and how you feel. Let’s talk about that instead.

So I posted this on facebook group I belong to in a fit of frustration that there is not a god damn place on the internet where I can find content that includes the words women+lifting but NOT sexy, beautiful, pretty etc. Well, I was told if I wanted that content I’d better start writing it. So here we are. No bullshit, just lifting shit.