feminism

I Hate My Body (Let’s Not Sugarcoat This)

I want to write this post, but I don’t know how.

I’ve been a bit paralyzed honestly. It’s not writer’s block exactly. Rather it’s that I’ve found myself approaching writing with much more fear than I have ever had before. In spite of how lovely this community has always been to me, I am paralyzed by the fear of being misunderstood and of being judged. While I always strive to be intentional about my words here, I am feeling guarded in a way that I never have before.

I see this blog as a platform for me to practice vulnerability, not for validation and not as some sort of emotional dumping ground, but genuinely in the hope that what I share will bring hope and encouragement or at least a sense of solidarity.

This time, I am afraid. But I think the only way forward is through.

I hate my body.

The feminist in me is cringing. In spite of everything I passionately believe to be true about beauty being expansive and inclusive and about how there is no ideal or perfect body, I wage a silent war with mine every day of my life. And more and more, I have been losing the battle.

I am not the first person to feel this way, and I am certainly not the first person to write about it. I don’t think my experience is unique or that I am equipped to articulate it in a way that no one has before. But I am writing this as a kind of confession. I have reached a point where I can no longer pretend that I live with the sort of self-acceptance I advocate to others. I don’t think my size or shape define my worth as a person. But they greatly affect my happiness and confidence with myself.

The difficult thing is that I am not measuring myself up against an airbrushed movie star or a Victoria’s Secret model. I don’t want to look like women in magazines. Instead, I am measuring myself up against other (better) versions of myself.

For the past 10 years, my weight has fluctuated often, sometimes dramatically. I have lost 20 lbs and then gained 30 in the space of a single year. I have been thin, and I have been overweight ( And I don’t mean 5 vanity pounds, I mean properly overweight).  I have done all of the diets, both the intense ones and the ones that are “not a diet, but a lifestyle” with many periods of “success.” But in the end, I have never found a way to live a “normal” life. There is no stasis for me. I am only ever gaining or losing weight. The sad reality for me is that no matter how many vegetables I eat and no matter how many miles I run, unless I am counting and measuring and restricting, I am gaining weight.

While I think all women struggle with body confidence to some extent, I have felt very alone in this for many years.  My closest friends do not seem to have the same issues managing their weight that I do. They are either naturally thin or are able to eat a normal, moderate diet without experiencing big weight fluctuations. The women in my family are all (either naturally or through admirable discipline) exceptionally fit.

When I think of how much mental and physical energy and anguish I have expended trying to control the size of my body, I am both embarrassed and exhausted.

I would vow to you that the number on the scale or the size on your jeans label mean nothing. And yet, I can tell you that in February of 2011, I weighed 164 pounds, and on the morning of my 28th birthday I weighed 143.5, but almost passed out because I had eaten so little the day before, and the August before that, I weighed 128. Why in the world do I remember this? Imagine all of the worthwhile things I could be using that brain space for instead of these years of meaningless numbers.

And the “healthier” I try to be, the more time and energy I spend trying to figure out what I can and cannot eat, how to prepare it, and how to plan ahead. I don’t know what it would be like to spend just one day where what I will or will not eat does not consume my thoughts. What a trivial and selfish thing to waste so much of my life on.

I want to be free from this.

I want to walk into a room without subconsciously assessing whether or not I am the biggest woman in the room. (That truth both disgusts and embarrasses me).

I am tired of thinking of my body as it is now as somehow temporary. Like I’ve left my body somewhere and this is the one I’ve borrowed until I can get my real one back. I have actually said to myself when clearing out my closet, “When I’m my real size, that skirt looks great on me, so I’ll hang onto it.”

Do you want to shake me yet?  Because I do. Wake up, Woman! It doesn’t get any more “real” than this. This chest rising and falling with my breath. These freakishly small fingers typing these words.

There are words we say in faith because we want them to be true. Because they are things we want to believe and we hope by speaking them they will make their way into our hearts. This year, more than ever, those words are, “I want to be at peace in my body.”

But I do not understand what it would mean to be at peace with my body as it is now, as it will be tomorrow, or as it will be in 5 years without also giving up the drive to maintain a healthy body.*

I don’t have any answers. I don’t expect you to have any answers. This struggle is the one I am most ashamed of and also the one I feel most alone in. I am ashamed because I know the “right” words and the “right” attitude. I know I am supposed to embrace my body and reject society’s narrow construction of beauty and love myself. But can I love myself and still want to lose weight? Can I maintain some sort of equilibrium where I am not always in flux? Can I reach a point where my thoughts are more consumed by what I can give to others than with how I feel about myself?

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*I do know that health and weight do not always correlate – you can be thin and unhealthy or overweight and relatively healthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case for me right now.

 

 

 

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The Hard-Knock Life of a Feminist’s Wife

Today I am linking up with the Faith Feminisms’ week-long sychroblog project.  This piece is very tongue-in-cheek and not nearly as eloquent as many other pieces I’ve read in this series (like this beautiful piece from Karissa Knox Sorrell) but I think it still fits into the conversation. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #faithfeminisms.

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Every night my husband washes the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher, so he does it by hand, standing at the kitchen sink in his undershirt because our un-air-conditioned kitchen is so unbearably hot right now. I watch him as he scrubs the pots and pans, dries each piece and puts it away. And I think, I hate when he does MY job like that. I’m the woman here. Dishes are MY thing.

I’d love to say that the dishes are the only responsibility he rips from my delicate hands, but no, he also has the audacity to sweep the floor. To clean the bathroom. To run to the grocery store. At least he lets me cook dinner. At least I still have that to cling to.

On days when I pay the bills I am overwhelmed with anxiety. How can he trust me with our finances like that? Should I really be this involved in budgeting and bill-paying? Won’t I screw it up? But the insufferable man seems to think I’m just as good with the money as he is.

Sometimes, I wish, just for once, that my husband would be frustrated that our salaries are exactly the same. Shouldn’t it bother him that we do the same job and get paid the exact same amount? After all, he is a man. Doesn’t that make him worth more? Where’s his sense of self-respect?

I really hate the way my husband tells me that I am smart and talented and capable and strong, as well as beautiful. Like I really need to focus on ALL of those things! I mean, isn’t it enough for me to just be pretty and quiet? If he starts thinking I’m smart and creative and make valuable contributions, there’s going to be all this pressure for me to think deeply about things and influence the world around me. I don’t know if I can handle all of that. Doesn’t he know I’m a member of the “weaker sex.” I don’t think I have the constitution for it.

A year and a half ago I came up with this crazy idea – “Hey, honey. Let’s sell everything we own, move across the world and teach English in a foreign country!”  But did he do the sensible thing and smile and pat my head and say, “No, honey. We’re not going to do that”? No! Of all the times I thought I could count on him to lay down the law and make the tough decision, this seemed like an obvious one. But instead he wanted to discuss it. He wanted to listen to my ideas and research it together. He said that if it was important to me, then we should consider it. Do you know how stressful that was for me? Having an equal voice in making that decision? It would have been so easy to just do whatever he felt was right. But he wouldn’t hear of it. He said we were a team. He said we needed to reach a decision together. So I had to research and discuss and decide with him. What a jerk, right?

On the weeks I lead our house church, my husband weighs my thoughts against the Scripture and he considers what I have to say the exact same way he does when he or another man is leading. It’s unnerving, really. I mean, doesn’t he know I am just a woman? Doesn’t he know I can’t be taken seriously? But he seems to think that God speaks to and through women just as much as men. He seems to have gotten it into his head that God could use me too. That he might even learn something from me.

Pity me, women of the world. I’m married to a feminist and it’s ruining my life.

I’d been told that my identity as a woman was dependent on fitting into a certain mold. I’d been told I would always be secondary to my husband, able to influence but never to lead. I’d been told that being paid fairly for my work or being the primary bread-winner would emasculate my husband. I’d been told that my roles in life and in marriage were clearly defined and unmovable. I I’d been told that my gender mattered more than my humanity. I’d been told that my thoughts and words were made less valuable because of the shape of the body they came out of.

And now I’m married to this man who says my identity goes beyond my gender. A man who sees me as being every bit as valuable as he is. A man who is not threatened by my successes – personal, professional, or financial. A man who values my opinions, listens to my advice, and refuses to make a decision without me. A man who sees intelligence, creativity and strength in me and encourages me to cultivate those things. A man who doesn’t believe in dividing our home into “his” and “hers” zones. A strong, responsible, smart, and hard-working man who is isn’t afraid to be tender and loving and kind.

So, yeah, not what I signed up for…

Ryan Gosling

The Flasher or Why I am a Feminist

I was eight years old the day I saw the flasher. I was riding my bike home from a friend’s house around the corner from mine. I was in the height of my American Girl days*, wearing a dress and an apron and lace-up boots, my hair in a thick golden braid that fell all the way down my back and kissed the bike seat, pedaling down the sidewalk on my pink bike with the white tires, pink streamers flying from the handlebars.  I turned the corner onto my street and was surprised to see a man in a tan truck parked on the street in front of my friend Paige’s house. We lived in a quiet neighborhood with lots of kids and no through-traffic. There weren’t many strangers around. I was even more surprised when he got out of his truck and I realized he wasn’t wearing pants or underwear. I thought maybe he was going to pee on the side of the road. (I had a brother, after all. I knew boys did that sort of thing.) I sped up and passed him on my bike. He stared at me as I went past. His eyes were bright blue.

***

I was too young to know about exhibitionists. Of course, I knew that people weren’t supposed to take their clothes off in public, but it never occurred to me that the man was doing it on purpose to show me his penis, much less that this was an actual crime. I can’t imagine how disturbed my mom must have been when I came inside.

Me (more confused than bothered): Mom, I saw something weird on the way home from Emily’s. This man got out of his truck and he wasn’t wearing any pants! I thought maybe he needed to use the bathroom, but he never did.

Mom: What? Where? Did he say anything to you? Did he touch you? What did he look like? Is he still there?

I still didn’t understand what a big deal it was until the policeman showed up. My mom, obviously fearful for me and the neighborhood of kids we lived in, had called the police to report the incident. The policeman asked me to describe the man. “Dirty blond hair, scruffy face, gray t-shirt, no pants. Bright blue eyes,” I recited, heart-pounding because I was talking to a policeman, etching that face into my memory forever.

***

For years after the incident, I had this fantasy of the man with the bright blue eyes outside of my window, trying to peek in so he could see me when I changed my clothes. Taking baths became a sort of torture. In the bathroom was a high transom window far above the bathtub, but in my mind, I saw the man with the gray shirt and the bright blue eyes on a ladder, leaned against the brick outside, peering down at me while I bathed. I perfected the art of the 90-second bath, jumping in and out with barely enough time to get wet.  My mom couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her doll-carrying, dress-up playing, tea-party hosting girly-girl who suddenly never wanted to take a bath. I don’t know why I never told her what I was afraid of, but I was eight and children aren’t logical.

***

I grew up in a very conservative household in a very conservative school and church environment. I developed early, suddenly sprouting breasts while I was still a child. These two facts together meant I was taught from a very early age about modesty. Keeping myself covered so that I didn’t attract attention to my body. My mother dutifully explained the basics of my anatomy, of what was happening to my body and why and the very simplest version of what sex was. (I didn’t believe her for a while. I remember feeling bad that she would tell me such a weird lie because it made me feel gross to think about it.) I continued to take record-breaking showers, convinced that the man with the blue eyes was only more interested now.

It was several more years before I learned the words for what exactly I was afraid of. I knew that I was afraid of men, but I couldn’t name my fears – of sex, of being raped or molested, of lewd remarks, of stares that made me feel dirty. And as I grew, a rising fear that my own body would betray me. I was weighed down with the heaviness of it. Sick with the shame of having breasts.

It wasn’t as though it was all I thought about. I played and read and sang and did my homework. But at night in my bed I would pray, “God, I know I told a lie today, but I’m sorry. Please don’t let me get raped.” It wasn’t exactly that I thought God would punish me for bad behavior by letting me be raped. I just thought maybe if I didn’t behave well enough, I couldn’t guarantee that he would protect me.

***

I lived a relatively privileged life and still, there were years I spent in daily fear that I would be harmed, simply because I was a girl-child. I grew up looking at my body with shame and with fear of what it might possibly attract. And I never understood this as being fundamentally wrong. It was just the way the world was.

I am a feminist because I don’t think little girls and grown women should live in fear of their own bodies, afraid that they might attract violence simply because of their anatomy. I am a feminist because I believe that women should be free from the fear of bodily harm, of discrimination, of social injustice, and of inequality in all of its forms.

But I am also a feminist because I believe men should be free from the stereotype that they are some sort of sexual animals, always poised to attack. Men should be free of having genuine kindness towards women judged as an action with ulterior motive. And men, too, should be free from the fear of any form of bodily harm, discrimination, social injustice, or inequality.

I don’t particularly like the word “feminist” because I think it’s too small of a word. It doesn’t reach far enough. I am a feminist, but not because I only believe in equality for women. Equality cannot be FOR someone at the expense of someone else. I am a feminist because I believe in the right of every human being to have equal access to health care, education, job opportunities, adequate food, clean water, adequate shelter, and freedom from bodily harm. I am a feminist because I believe in fighting for and insisting upon equality for all who are marginalized, be they women, minorities, orphans, the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, or anyone else who is treated as less than a valued human being by society.

I want to delve into all of that. But right now, I want to acknowledge where it started for me. I am a feminist because 8-year-old little girls should be able to take baths without being afraid.

* American Girl is a popular brand of historical books, (highly overpriced) dolls, clothes and accessories wildly popular with the 10 and under crowd when I was in elementary school. In fact, they are still fairly popular. I had Felicity, in case you were wondering.