Please do not feed the diet monster

It’s only been two years since I started trying to break out of the whole mainstream fatphobic diet mentality thing, and I already have far, far more good days than bad. I learned to love my body and my self no matter what size or shape, I can recognise damaging talk when I hear it, I will never go on another diet as long as I live.

But earlier this week I made a mistake. I had a meeting after work, and traffic was bad so I only had a few minutes at home to change out of my work clothes. I threw on some jeans and a hoodie and ran out the door.

Fifteen minutes later, when I knew I would make the meeting on time and had calmed down enough to notice, I realised that my jeans didn’t fit. At all. What should have been boot cut was now super skinny, I couldn’t bend my knees fully, and even when I was standing the waistband dug into my stomach.

I was stuck in those jeans for 5 hours. Aside from the physical discomfort, I noticed some thoughts sneaking in as the night went on. Thoughts like

This is just because of the injury. Once I start exercising again I’ll get smaller.

If I use my kettlebells, that’ll have an effect faster.

These used to fit me, how did I let myself get so much bigger?

And hundreds of variations on that theme.

I had forgotten how ingrained fatphobia was. Here I was thinking I had beaten it, but less than an hour in some tight trousers was enough to push me a huge step backwards and get me planning and plotting to make myself smaller.

What’s even worse is that the effect didn’t go away when I took the jeans off. It’s days later now and I’ve got my first salsa class since before my injury; I know I’m bigger than last time most of the salsa scene saw me, and I’m afraid of what they will think of me. There’s a small part of me that is actually seriously considering not going.

All this because of ONE PAIR OF FREAKING JEANS!

Of course I’m going to salsa. That nasty voice in my head is still trying to stop me, but I’ve had two years practice at throwing my shoulders back, lifting my chin and doing it anyway. And then the second I have enough free time, I’m going through every item of clothing I own and getting rid of anything and everything that doesn’t fit me. If I then need to go and buy bigger clothes, so be it. Clothing sizes are just numbers and not one of them is better than another.

My body is perfectly fine exactly as it is. My body (and my mind) deserves clothes that fit well and that make me feel fabulous, not like a sausage about to burst its skin.

How to love your body when it’s broken

At the beginning of September I sprained my knee (did you know knees could be sprained? I didn’t. It was very educational). The nurse told me it would take at least 6 weeks to heal, which turned out to be seriously optimistic;  12 weeks later and I’m now counting the days since it last hurt, although not quite daring to call it healed.

strapped-up-knee
At least the KT tape was pretty.

 

Because I’ve been out of action for 3 months, my fitness level has pretty much reset to zero. Absolute zero. I can’t describe the feeling of looking at all my running medals while I gasp for breath after climbing one flight of stairs, but trust me when I say it’s not a good one.

I suspect my knee is only better now because I was forced to rest completely last week by the worst case of tonsillitis I’ve ever had. Swallowing hurt so much I couldn’t even take water, and solid food was so out of the question I was actually glad my appetite had vanished. The antibiotics are finished, but my throat is still sore and my glands are still swollen.

Then I woke up at 3am on Monday with a cracking headache, and ran to the bathroom to be sick. I’ve caught a bug that’s making the rounds at work.

And of course my knackered kidneys meant I couldn’t take ibuprofen for my knee, had to lower the dose of antibiotics for my tonsils, and tried to get rid of my headache by drinking a lot of water and leaving the lights off when I was at home. Is it bad that I sometimes daydream of taking nurofen?

It can be difficult to love your body when it feels like it’s broken.

I confess over the last few months I’ve cursed my body several times, for taking so long, for letting me down, for turning against me. As though ‘me’ and ‘my body’ are separate entities that can be at war. As though either one would be anything without the other.

That’s how I’m working at still loving my body, even though I’m so, so tired of being ill. I remind myself that it’s as much a part of me as the voice that moans about it. That it isn’t some malevolent thing that wants to be ill; my tonsils didn’t get infected just to annoy me, my stomach didn’t decide to make me sick just to see how I would react, and I’m positive my kidneys would really rather be whole.

Rather than being against me, it is me. And one thing I’m getting better at is looking after myself. So I’m taking my sore throat to the doctor again, even though I don’t like going. I’m resisting the urge to jump back into running and salsa and ceroc and pole, even though my knee feels fine, because I know I need time to get well again. I’m even taking naps if I need them, much to the horror of my must-always-be-doing-something-useful brain.

Of course I’m more than just my body, but it is a part of me, and I’m working on giving it the love and care that every bit of me deserves.

An exercise in saying the wrong thing

I know the man responsible will probably never see this, but I need to write it out anyway for my own processing.

For context: A few weeks ago, someone I hadn’t spoken with for over a year got in touch, and we started chatting. The usual rubbish, how are you, how’s work, what have you been up to (how I detest small talk).  Then, in response to him asking if I need to workout considering all the dancing I do, I said I probably don’t need to, but I love having muscles.

And then he sent this:

Muscle shaming

Translated for the sake of clarity, “not too big muscles, I hope; A pretty woman with a toned body is sexy. A pretty woman with big muscles is not.”

First and foremost, this is creepy. as. hell.  He hopes. He hopes, about my body. He wants my body to remain sexy at all time for his benefit. Scuze me while I try to stop my skin crawling right off me.

But it’s also infuriating, I read it and I was instantly shaking with anger. The suggestion that only ‘pretty’ women can be sexy. Because of course there’s only one definition of pretty and/or sexy.

The suggestion that well-muscled women are not sexy in any way, to anyone.

But most of all, the assumption that any of that would be a motivating factor for me. As if I would immediately sell off all my kettlebells and weights because heaven forbid I not be considered sexy. As if the entire point and purpose of my life is to be attractive.

 

So I called him out. Something along the lines of “nuts to sexy. I love my big muscles and that’s the only opinion in the world that counts”. (Actual quote lost when I deleted everything, just barely resisting the urge to set the phone on fire.)

And he sent me this:

“I wasn’t talking about you, I like the way you look. I meant like this. This isn’t sexy body-builder

Face, meet palm.

Of course he wasn’t talking about me, what with me not being a woman and all.

Of course the fact he wasn’t talking about me makes it perfectly fine for him to say that this woman is womaning wrong because she doesn’t turn him on. Dear lord, I can’t believe I just had to type that sentence.

 

By that point I was rage-shaking so badly I could barely type, and dithering between trying to get him to understand and just blocking him. In my hopeless optimism I went with giving him a chance to stop digging, with roughly the following points:

  1. Comparing me to another woman is not a compliment. Ever.
  2. ‘You meet my definition of the correct way to be a woman’ is not a compliment, or an okay thing to say in general because…
  3. If there were a correct way for me to be a woman, it would be defined by me, always me, and only me. But…
  4. There is no ‘correct’, nor indeed ‘incorrect’, way to be a woman.
  5. I’m not here for your sex drive. Ew.

 

He said I was being over-sensitive.

Then I blocked him.

 

A few people have said he had a point – they don’t find super-muscly women attractive either. But that was not what he said.

“I don’t find muscly women attractive” is a point. One I really couldn’t care any less about when it comes to other people’s thoughts on my body, but a point nonetheless.

“Muscly women are not sexy”  is not a point, it’s a sweeping generalisation that says his worldview is the only true worldview and there is no possible dimension in which anyone could find muscly women attractive.

And “you shouldn’t get too muscly because I don’t find that sexy” is so far from a valid point, that I can’t quite believe I had to type that sentence either.

I’m not angry that he doesn’t think muscles are sexy. Everyone has opinions and they’re entitled to them.  I’m angry that he tried to impose his opinion on me and assumed I seriously care whether he finds me sexy, and then dismissed me as over-sensitive for being creeped out and offended by that assumption.

I wish I had blocked him sooner and saved myself the adrenaline stress.

 

A microscopic part of me is hoping he will have thought about my points and realised his mistake. But the realist in me knows fullwell he probably rolled his eyes, muttered something about my time of the month, and carried on his creepy way.

 

In case anyone is wondering, the right response sounds a bit like this:

“I’m sorry I offended you. Thank you for taking the time to point it out and explain it to me, which you are absolutely not required to do. I’m taking your points on board and I’ll try to do better next time.”

But to be honest just “I’m sorry” would have done, rather than doubling down and mansplaining his sexism to me.

How not to be a feminist (apparently)

Limit #19 feminists shouldn’t pole dance

I was a bit afraid of pole dancing. Afraid that I would be completely useless at it, that it would be too difficult and I would tell myself I hated it so I didn’t have to admit how gutted I was that I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I would be the only fat person in the room, and the most unfit, undignified, un-everything else I could possibly think of.

Except un-feminist. Because, aside from actively adding to the oppression of women and minorities, I don’t believe that’s a Thing.

So I threw myself into it. Literally, for some moves. And it really shouldn’t surprise me by now that trying something scary ended up with me loving it.

Somehow pole class has the same effect as Thai boxing does; it makes me feel dangerous. In a world where I’m 3 to 4 times more likely  to be a victim of some form of assault, there’s a potency to feeling dangerous.  I wear it like armour.

That starts with the bruises.

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They call them pole kisses, but this is not how I kiss.  These are battle scars and medals of honour in one. I fought gravity and friction and the doubting voices in my head, and I won. These stripes were earned.

When I get a move right I am pure muscle. I am light and stardust. I hold galaxies in my skin.

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I collect skills like a trainer hunting pokemon; I love the new and unusual ones, but any and all are welcome.

I can write, I can bake, I can crochet, sing, salsa, play flute, run, calculate the volume of a cylinder, swing kettlebells, paint faces, sew, give a massage, doodle, audit a personnel file, belly dance, set up a pivot table in Excel, and on and on. And now I can move my body on a pole, in ways I never believed I was capable of.

We all know how gaining a new skill feels. It feels like this:

sit hand off
My first hand-off pole sit

It feels like joy and power and victory and strength in every way it’s possible to be strong.

I’m used to fitness skills that grow like plants; you can never see the change happening, but after a while you find you have a fully grown flower. But pole is like watching a time-lapse video. Three weeks ago I completely failed to do one pole deadlift, and this week I did five each side as a warm up.

I expected to walk, and found that I could fly. Give me a month and I still couldn’t explain how powerful and empowering that is.

Every class pushes my belief of what I can do.  I watch the demonstration of a move and silently scoff at the idea that my body could do such a thing, then I get on the pole and nine times out of ten I do the move. Maybe not well or as gracefully as I’d like, but I do it. If it doesn’t work the first time, I manage on my second try, or my third, or even my twentieth. I know I can keep trying.

I can’t wait for the day when I see a move and think “I can do that. Let me at it.”

So yes, I am a feminist and I will continue to learn how to pole dance.

My feminism allows and encourages anything and everything that adds to the freedom and empowerment of women. We’re free to wear make up or not, to be ‘girly’ or not, to wear heels or not, to deadlift our own body weight or not.

My feminism knows that I don’t exist in a vacuum, and everything I do is an action or reaction to the socialising I’ve received since the day I was born. I can see why some people would think feminists shouldn’t pole dance, I can see how it would be problematic. But after centuries of patriarchy and oppression and conditioning there’s really very little, if anything, that isn’t problematic.

So I choose to do it anyway. I didn’t reject society telling me what a woman should and should not do, just to let feminism tell me what a feminist should and should not do.

In doing so I’m proving that I am mighty; not to any man, or even to any woman except myself.

Just like running 10km, just like snatching 20kg kettlebells, just like studying STEM when I’ve only ever known arts, every time I go to pole class I prove to myself that I can do and be anything if I’m willing to put the work in. I’m not held back by my gender, or my size, or my introversion, or anything else that people might try to limit me with.

And that fits my feminism just fine.

Sweaty pole grin
My I-just-nailed-a-new-move face

One

It’s kind of hard to believe a whole year has passed since I started this blog. So much has changed since then, most noticeably my self-confidence:

I’ve gone from being afraid of crop tops, to wearing them as just another part of my wardrobe.

I’m on the list of life models for a regular life drawing event.

I have far more good body days than bad, and have developed tactics to deal with the bad ones.

I’ve cut from my life any people who (deliberately or not) push the wrong buttons, and I’ve made my introvert time non-negotiable.

I’ve learned to answer back and argue my point instead of being a good, quiet little lady and letting people walk all over me.

And so much more.

Honestly, I kind of expected all that to happen. Maybe not quite so well or so quickly, but I was ready for ‘fake it til you make it’ to work out as it has in the past.

I was not expecting my eyes and ideology to be thrown wide open.

This blog started off for me. I was going to do things I was afraid of so I could change. But over the last year I’ve realised that there’s a good deal more in the world needs changing, and if I can help, in even the tiniest way, I just have to.

My first year has been a learning year. My next year will be one of action. Watch this space.

Stand up speak up fight back

 

Seeing red

Limit #18 fat women shouldn’t wear red lipstick.

Because, despite our size, we’re supposed to make ourselves as invisible as possible. Wear black, be quiet, don’t take up space, don’t draw attention; nobody wants to see that.

Well… tough chocolate.

SAM_3680
See this.

I wear red lipstick because it makes me feel fabulous.

Because it’s one of the quickest and easiest entries on my bad body day rescue list.

SAM_3669.JPG
Things what make me feel better

Because I deserve to put beautiful things on my beautiful face.

Because I’m not allowed to wear an actual mask to work, but red lipstick sometimes works as a substitute.

Black mask

Because I refuse to make myself less for people too small to handle me.

Because I can. Because it’s my body and I’ll paint it whatever colour I damn well please.

SAM_3377
See?

If anyone doesn’t want to see that, there are always three other cardinal directions in which to point their eyes. They can choose one. And then go take a running jump.

This isn’t for them anyway; it’s entirely for me.

Pouty face red lips
And also to make Mum tut at me.

Hair, hair everywhere.

Limit #17: Women shouldn’t have body hair

Oh man, have I got this one covered. Or rather this one has got me covered.

You know that trick in high school when someone said, “the first sign of insanity is hairy palms,” and then laughed at you for checking, because it’s insane to think there would be hair on your palms?

Of course I checked. I still sometimes check. My body excels at producing hair and I would not be the slightest bit surprised to find it on my palms. Which used to be yet another reason I believed I ‘failed’ at being a woman. Because everyone knows the perfect woman is bald below the eyebrows.

Embarrassing secret of the day: I used to shave my arms. Not just armpits; my whole arms. I bought into that idea entirely.

But then I got into this whole body pos/feminism/fat acceptance world, and read a whole lot of articles like this one. The main part that stood out to me:

Patriarchy and capitalism worked (and continue to work) together in order to foster insecurities in women and thus encourage them to buy more products. And because the idealised image of a hairless woman is impossible to maintain, women are encouraged not only to perpetually spend money on depilatory practices but also to participate in a never-ending, time-consuming cycle of hair removal.

So we should all kick the patriarchy where it hurts and just let out hair grow wild and free! We could even dye it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m just that good). ‘But Hannah, I prefer non-hairy legs. They just look better!’. Or whichever body part you’re particularly narky about keeping hair-free.

To which I shall answer; I know.

I absolutely expect people to take me just as I am if they want to stay in my life. I am a feminist. I do know that the whole hairless thing is yet another form of oppression, and I probably only think hairless is better because ‘everyone knows’ it is. But yes, I do shave my legs. Even in the depths of winter when nobody is going to see them. And on some particularly bad body days I even cover up my hairy arms.

Turns out I’m only human, and a work-in-progress too. I stopped shaving my arms years ago, when I realised that if someone is going to stop associating with me because I have hair on my arms, like pretty much every human being EVER, then they are not worth one second of my time. But I’m just not there yet with my legs.

Which is pretty darn weird considering that at least 10 people see my arms every day but I can’t remember the last time someone saw my legs. But that’s a different matter.

So, I think you’ll find I can have body hair. Check out these arms.

SAM_3603

But sometimes I still wish I didn’t.

Once you pop, you just can’t stop.

There once was a woman who lived in a bubble.

The bubble had always been there, from the moment she was born, and everyone around her had one too.

It filtered everything she saw, and made the world look just fine, but it also made the woman feel bad. Her reflection through the bubble was distorted, so all the things she didn’t like about herself looked much bigger than they were, and she could hardly see any good parts.

One day she saw some people who looked strange, although she couldn’t work out why. They were loud and confident, and moved through the world with power, leaving it changed behind them.  She tiptoed closer to them and realised why they looked so different; they had no bubble!

She ran away as fast as she could, afraid of these strange people who were not living the way they were supposed to.

But she couldn’t forget about them, and eventually she started to wonder what it was like to live without a bubble. The thought terrified her, and yet the non-bubbles had seemed so… alive.

She searched for them and found them again. For a while she only watched them, learning how they moved and talked to and about each other. Sometimes they waved at her and she waved back, but didn’t dare get any closer.

Then she overheard one of the non-bubbles explaining that she had been born with a bubble as well, but she had burst it herself. Set herself free.

The woman decided to try it. She stood in front of her mirror and pushed at the bubble, but it was so thick and strong that she could only open a tiny hole in it. She pressed her eye to the hole and looked in the mirror. She couldn’t believe how different she looked! It was too strange so she looked away, but she left the tiny hole there.

She tried looking through it every day, and every day it grew a little wider, until one day with a pop her bubble disappeared completely.

She spent a long time looking at herself. Without the bubble blocking her view she saw there were so many wonderful parts of herself she had never been able to see before.

Then finally she looked around at the world, and realised that the bubble had been distorting things there as well. Everywhere she looked were things the bubble had been hiding from her.

 

Why did that advert for washing powder only contain women’s voices?

Why did that poster have only white people on it?

How could people say that trans women aren’t real women because they can’t have children? If she needed a hysterectomy, would she no longer be a real woman? So… did that guy actually believe he was complimenting her by saying she ‘looks fertile’?

Why did this clothes shop only stock 3 different sizes? All of which are well below the national average?

Did that song always have such rapey lyrics?

 

The people still in their bubbles couldn’t see the problems. Some of the non-bubbles tried to explain, and a few people burst out to join them, but most of them just got angry. They liked their bubble and the way it made the world look.

The bubble-free world was sometimes hard and frightening and painfully unfair, but the woman loved the feeling of being free to see it and try to change it.

She realised she could never force people to leave their bubbles. She wasn’t even very good at persuading them to try, but she decided to do her best anyway. Even if her trying only yielded the smallest results, it would be worth it.

It was the only bubble-free way to live, and she vowed never to let her vision be bubble-clouded again.

 

Iron smile

#‎BodyLoveChallenge2016‬ ‪#‎SmileChallenge

You get an actual smile photo today! Exciting times. Although it’s more of a happily gasping for breath photo, really.

SAM_3181

I’m smiling because I was feeling kinda sad, but decided to get my kettlebells out anyway. Now I feel like a hot, sweaty, iron-wielding goddess.

Smile February

#‎BodyLoveChallenge2016‬ ‪#‎SmileChallenge

It’s time for a new Body Love Challenge, but this month I’m tinkering with the rules a little. Because nobody needs 29 photos of me smiling. Nobody.

Every day of February I will find something to be grateful for and to smile about, and yous will all just have to trust me when I say I’m smiling. This is my blog; I wouldn’t lie to you!

I’m a day late so let’s start with a twofer.

Yesterday I was smiling because I love my choir (even when it’s hard work!), and they look after me when I’m not feeling great. Allofthehugs just when I need them.

Today I’m smiling because something I thought I had lost came back to me, and I really can’t live without it.