My problem with body positivity

Strictly speaking I have two problems with body positivity. One is definitely my problem. I think the other is a problem with the movement.

Let’s talk about my problem first. I’d rather own my problems before I go pointing out other people’s. My problem is that I find that I cannot love my body. At best we exist in a state of détente but most of the time we are at war. I hate how it looks. I hate that it’s never comfortable and that I am never comfortable in it. I hate the constant negotiations to get it to do anything. Most of all I hate how limited that anything is.

I want to be strong. I want to exercise. I want to go for long walks. But I can’t lift weights today because I put my compression tights on and apparently that’s me done for the day. As I write this my hands are still shaking just from the effort of getting dressed. How dare they.

And this, of course, creates a secondary problem. Because people keep telling me that I should love my body and I just can’t I feel like I’m letting the side down. Not only am I failing in my patriarchal duty to be decorative I’m failing in my feminist duty to love myself. I’ve failed to be thin and now I’m doing fat wrong.

Now let’s talk about my problem with the body positivity movement, and specifically the ‘healthy at any size’ part of the movement.

Because some of us are not healthy. Some of us are fat because we’re sick. Some of us are fat and sick with no causal link. And then there are people like me. People with lipoedema and similar disorders. People with dysfunctional fat cells that we can’t get rid of. We’re not sick because we’re fat, it’s the fat that’s sick.

I’ve written before about lipoedema. It affects up to 11% of women and post pubescent girls. It’s triggered by hormonal changes. It’s progressive. In many cases, and I am one of them, it is painful and debilitating. Our bodies lay down dysfunctional fat cells that don’t work as an energy store. These cells hang around in the wrong places, trapping fluid, putting pressure on our joints, and causing pain.

Before anyone slides into my comments to tell me that I just need to eat less and move around more my anorexic thirteen-year-old self would like to have a word with you. And she’s carrying a cricket bat. I’d run if I were you. No, faster than that. She’s spent the last 4 years running from people throwing rocks at her head so she’s a lot faster than me. No don’t stop for a rest she’s got plenty of stamina. Try to find some flowers. If she gets a lungful of pollen she might have to stop for an asthma attack.

But back to body positivity and my problem with it. I feel stuck. The lipoedema support groups are full of internalized fatphobia and people whining about how they should be immune from societal fatphobia without ever questioning that it should exist. The body positivity groups erase my experience of being disabled and fat. The insistence that fat women are hot just reinforces the patriarchal assumption that whatever else a woman is she must also be decorative. What if I don’t want to be decorative? What if I want to be a dapper androgynous badass?

Can’t I want to get rid of my dysfunctional fat while at the same time supporting your right to look however you want to look? Can’t we all agree that how people feel about how a person looks has nothing to do with their value as a human being? I just want to be in the world without the feeling that either I have to cut parts of myself off or excavate a me-shaped hole in order to fit in.

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Missing the sweet spot

They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.

Which might explain why I am not a successful artist.  I keep missing that sweet spot.  I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world.  I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.

This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness.  It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me.  Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking.  It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.

When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself.  Is this hard wired?  Is it a feature of my personality?  Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?

I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time.  I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I knew that I was sad far more than I should be.  I hated my body.  I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.

I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed.  I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.

I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing.  I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked.  I realised that I would never be good enough.

I had been dieting.  Well I thought it was a diet at the time.  I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit.  I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes.  I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt.  I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair.  I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.

At the time I thought that it was  sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there.  I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back.  I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.

I thought about it for a long time.  I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being.  They way people treated me made me miserable.  But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects.  I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment.  I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated.  If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.

I tried to lower my expectations.  I don’t recommend it as a tactic.  Life seems to take it as a challenge.  No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.

I tried to believe that the names they called me were true.  I tried not to care when people hit me.  I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter.   I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished.  I tried to keep my head down.  I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me.  I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me.  I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.

It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses.  I think.  But what do I know?  I’m an idiot.  Maybe it did help.  After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated.  Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.

The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything.  From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.

And now I must stop because I am boring myself.  If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross.  I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining.  Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.

Second Eating Disorder Post

People have been asking when I was going to write more about Eating Disorders.  Which kind of surprised me.  I didn’t expect it to be a popular subject. I’m afraid this is going to be quite a short post. I’m a bit drained from a combination of Real Life drama and working all week on a piece of flash fiction.

Which, frankly, is ridiculous. Two thousand words of fiction shouldn’t take a week or be so tiring.  I’m working towards being a proper full time writer but I just don’t have the spoons for it (check out spoon theory for an explanation).

It’s important when talking about Eating Disorders to define terms. Most of the time when I talk about Anorexia I’m actually talking about Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia just means “not eating” and it’s a symptom rather than a disorder. I know someone experiencing anorexia caused by an as yet undiagnosed digestive disorder. She’s not eating because eating causes her pain. Her digestive disorder is being investigated but first the doctors had to be sure that she wasn’t choosing not to eat.

Of course choosing is probably the wrong word. Anorexia Nervosa is more than just deciding not to eat because you want to be thinner. It’s not even choosing not to eat because you’d rather be dead than fat. Anorexia Nervosa, like the other eating disorders, is a compulsion. It might start out as a diet but it doesn’t stay a diet for very long.

When I talk about Bulimia I mean Bulimia Nervosa. If you’re not used to talking about Eating Disorders you might associate Bulimia only with vomiting but the word Bulimia comes from a Greek root meaning “ravenous hunger”. Bulimia Nervosa is all about binging and then trying to undo the “damage” caused by the binge. Some Bulimics purge by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics.  Some try to burn off the calories through compulsive exercise or stimulants. Both kinds may be fasting when not binging and every Bulimic I’ve ever met seemed to really want to be Anorexic.

Compulsive Eating Disorder, Compulsive Overeating Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder are often used interchangeably. Personally I think it’s a bit of an oversimplification. Compulsive Eating Disorder is so general that you could apply it to any Eating Disorder. Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating are not the same thing. Not everyone who overeats compulsively does so by binging. Some Overeaters eat “normally” most of the time but regularly binge. Some Overeaters graze. They don’t eat much at a sitting but they are constantly nibbling at something and get panicky when they feel there’s not enough food in the cupboard. Both kinds of Overeaters may hoard food and then not eat it because simply having it in the house makes them feel more secure.

One thing that all these kinds of Eating Disorders have in common is that they make the people suffering from them miserable. They ruin lives. They shorten life-spans. They damage families.

I think that’s enough for now.  I’m not sure what my posting schedule is going to be for next week.  If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments.