activism

The Myth of the “Perfect Recovery”

Want to know a secret?

I run a recovery blog. I bring conversations about sexism and gender equity to places they aren’t wanted, from my fiction writing workshops (“Are you really sure ‘attractive’ is the only adjective you need?”) to the movie theater (“Seriously, why is Kiera Knightley’s role always to stand around in a corset and look confused?”). The constant fat-shaming in Game of Thrones is about to give me a tiny heart attack.

Basically, what I’m driving at is that body positivity isn’t a throwaway for me. It’s a big deal.

And this evening, I’m sitting on my couch, looking at the wall of my apartment and wondering Why the hell can’t I just lose XXX pounds? I’d be happy then. And tonight isn’t the only night recently this has happened.

Some days I’m desperate to change my body. My wonderful, badass body. The one I put through so much in college when recovery was a project for after finals, or after I passed physics, or after I got just thismuch skinnier. The body that got me through a half marathon in September, and a full marathon of all four seasons of Blackadder two weeks ago.

That body. Sometimes I still hate that body.

Part of me thinks this makes me a fraud. A failure. The voice in the back of my mind, the one that sounds eerily like Lord Tywin Lannister (in the film version of my life, my eating disorder will be played by Charles Dance), that voice always has something to say.

Aren’t you the one supporting others?

Aren’t you supposed to know better?

Fraud.

Stop pretending you know what you’re talking about.

If you read that to yourself in Charles Dance’s voice and aren’t at least a bit intimidated, you’re braver than I am.

Am I allowed to call myself within spitting distance of recovered and still occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t go on a three-day cleanse to make my old pants fit like new pants?

Of course. Of course. It’s okay.

The whole point of body positivity is taking outside standards about how you should present yourself for a nice long walk off a short pier. That includes any bullshit notions of perfectionism or infallibility. That means being okay with yourself, just as you are, right this minute. Triggers and doubts and days almost-seriously-considering diets and emotional experiences with your jeans and all.

Recovery and life after would fail any “walk this straight line” DUI test. It’s a nonlinear cycle that doubles back on yourself when you least expect it. There’s no such thing as a “perfect recovery,” and mine is no exception. Progress isn’t when bad days stop happening  — as far as I’m concerned, they might not ever stop completely. But when the good days start outweighing the bad, and when life begins to revolve around something other than what / when / how to eat …

That’s still something to celebrate.

But coming to terms with a perfectly imperfect body-positive life — without the guilt of “failure” — is easier said than done. Here are three things I’m trying to make it through the rough patches, and back into the light.

1. Check Out Those Dark Shadowy Places

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(You knew this was coming. If a day ever comes for an obvious opportunity to quote The Lion King and I don’t take it, send help. I’ve probably fallen and I can’t get up.)

There are certain situations I know will still spark my inner negative monologue. Pants shopping, for instance. Or eating a meal at a different time than usual. Although I know, logically, that there’s nothing at all wrong with eating a bigger lunch one day, that doesn’t always make the residual discomfort go away. But leaning on logic gives a reliable handhold to turn back to.

Figuring out the root cause of an ED-related reaction — and eight times out of ten, that cause has nothing to do with food — is a crucial step for regaining a sense of understanding and power.

There’s a world of difference between “I hate my body because it’s ugly / gross / terrible” and “I’m feeling uncomfortable about how I look because the people in the cubicle next to me are talking about their 30-day cleanse / I have a big presentation tomorrow I’m nervous about / final exams are coming up and I don’t feel adequate / I didn’t sleep enough last night.” One places the blame on your body; the other shifts focus back to where it belongs. One feels dispiriting and impossible; the other makes sense. And recovery is making sense out of the chaos, and putting anxiety and discomfort in their place.

That place, by the way, is way the hell off on the sidelines.

So get up there on Pride Rock the next time the voices start. Everything the light touches is your recovery journey. Once you figure out what’s really going on in those dark shadowy places, it might not be as overwhelming and confusing as it seemed.

2. Catastrophize for a Reason

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Fat is not a feeling” as a rallying cry before. And while it can be tough to take that statement at face value when you’re absolutely sure you’re feeling fat right then and there, grammatically it’s just fact. “Fat” is a noun, describing the necessary collection of cells and tissue that protect our organs and let our bodies move through the world.

Would you argue that on a bad day you feel “muscle” or “cartilage”? Because that’s what I’m hearing when you say you feel fat.

But “fat” is also an adjective describing a certain body type. The fat acceptance movement is rightfully returning this word to its original meaning, removing the moral and value judgments society put on it and calling it for what it is. For the record, even though fat is a body type, that still doesn’t make it a viable feeling. You can’t feel “blonde” or “high cheekbones” emotionally. That’s not how emotions work.

I keep this as a kind of mantra for when weight panic sets in. It cuts the anxiety out of ruminating on weight, little by little, step by step.

I feel fat I’m so fat I’m gaining so much weight I’m so fat —

Okay. So. Maybe. What’s the worst that could happen if I was fat?

Am I going to hate or love my job any more? Are my friends going to care about me any less, and will I care about them differently? Is the sunrise on my commute down 55 going to look any less beautiful? Are nachos going to be any less delicious? Is the sexism on Netflix’s Marco Polo going to make me want to punch a hole through my wall any less?

Nope. Literally the only thing that changes is that I would be fat.

Any other negative consequences that might arise are a direct result of society’s fatphobic underpinnings, which my panic about weight gain is (albeit unwillingly and painfully) perpetuating.

Will this knock off the thoughts once and for all? Almost certainly not. But it helps stop you in your tracks for at least a moment to see the larger picture.

And the big picture is almost never as scary as the close-up, particularly when the close-up is that distorted.

3. Lower Your Expectations

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Ah, Amy Poehler. Speaking the truth my soul needs.

I’m not saying “don’t expect recovery.” I’m not saying “don’t expect you’ll ever feel completely happy and in control of your life ever again.” Of course I’m not saying that. I believe it’s possible. I’ve seen people do it. It’s what’s keeping me going. Recovery is possible, and we can do it.

But no one expects you to have it all together all at once. And telling yourself any differently reveals a whole different problem that has nothing at all to do with your weight.

If you haven’t read this article by the amazing s.e. smith about impostor syndrome yet, go read it. It’s cool. I’ll wait.

For the click-averse, impostor syndrome is the feeling that, despite all evidence to the contrary, you are inherently less-than. You’re not living up to others’ expectations of you. You don’t deserve to be where you are. You aren’t qualified. You’re just faking it, and everyone around you already knows it. Even when you know, objectively. 0% of this is true, that doesn’t help.

This summed up so much about my life, both personally and professionally, when I read it that I needed to take a step back and reframe. No one expects me to have it all together. No one is scandalized and horrified when I make a mistake at work, or when I have a lousy body image day and call my support system to vent and yell a little. No one, that is, but me. I’m holding myself to standards that I’d never impose on anyone else.

It’s not fair. It’s doing me way more harm than good. And it’s not easy to stop.

But I’m working on it. I’m cutting myself some slack. Lowering my expectations, so to speak. I’m trying not to feel totally deflated when something goes badly, because things go badly for everyone all the time, every day. Even the most active body image activists need support, help, self-care, and a little slack now and then.

That Amy. So wise. One more piece of wisdom for the road:

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And so we keep on. I’ll keep trying. And on the bad days, I’ll take a shower at a weird time, curl up in bed with a book, and wake up in the morning to try again.

And again.

And again.

Until, maybe next week, maybe in fifteen years, one day I wake up and never need to think about trying again.

But today is not that day.

Today, I’ll keep working.

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#StopTheBeautyMadness – A Body Positive Interview

imagesHey folks,

So I’ve been talking about it quite a bit lately, but I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m one of the FrontLine Voices of the Stop The Beauty Madness campaign, an online activism movement dedicated to dismantling the destructive beauty ideals that surround us each and every day. And as the words “FrontLine Voices” imply, I’ve lent the voice to their audio series. This fantastic series features body image activists, bloggers, writers, slam poets, and generally a pretty awesome constellation of folks.

Don’t believe me? Check out the lineup and judge for yourself.

The audio series went live last week, so if you’re so inclined – and you should be! – you can subscribe to the whole thing just by providing a name and email address to the Stop The Beauty Madness website. 30-minute interviews with folks working to end body negativity and oppression in our world, delivered straight to your inbox. What’s not to love?

If you’re looking for a taste, you’re in luck. My interview with Robin Rice went live on Sunday, and I’ve linked the audio file right here in this lovely post. The transcript can be found embedded right below, for those looking for it. Be gentle – it’s my first time being interviewed for a podcast!

https://soundcloud.com/stopthebeautymadness/394allison-epstein-stop-the-beauty-madness/s-vuD2Y

(Also, forgive any errors in the transcript. I’m as accurate as I can be while also drinking coffee at the same time.)


Stop The Beauty Madness and Take Back Ourselves

Image courtesy of Stop The Beauty Madness

Image courtesy of Stop The Beauty Madness

Think back to the last time you consumed some kind of media. Any kind, really: from binge-watching back episodes of Game of Thrones (cough cough this isn’t what I did today), flipping through the latest issue of Vogue, or shelling out the seven-to-fifteen dollars now somehow needed to get a seat at the movie theater. Chances are, in some form or another, beauty was front and center stage. But what do I mean when I say “beauty?”

That would be a good question. It should be a good question. But you already know the answer. Beauty has collapsed from a potentially infinite number of dimensions to just the one we all know. The one that dominates red carpets and awards shows, runways and magazines, reality shows but rarely, if ever, reality.  Why is beauty something that can only be expressed in the typical Hollywood fashion? Why must beauty be visual at all? Why is beauty dependent on physical appearance and sexual attraction?

You want to know a little secret? I do not get up in the morning with the express purpose of making myself sexually palatable to the proverbial stranger. This is not my goal in life. I’m never going to be blonde. I’m never going to be tall. My body does not look like a willowy, gazelle-like supermodel, and based on my lived experience it’s not going to do that. My legs don’t do “gazelle.” And why is this a problem?

Beauty does not have to be in the (socially constructed) eye of the beholder. It can be in the eye of the possessor. And more importantly, it doesn’t have to be the body of the possessor. Beauty can be in anything and everything. Why limit ourselves to a tiny subset of one tiny facet of what beauty can mean?

Why, when we say “beauty,” can’t we mean the sound of a friend’s voice that we haven’t heard for months? Why can’t we mean the rhythm and power of this poem by TS Eliot*? Why can’t we mean the gloriously dulcet, smoky tones of this man’s voice? Why can’t we mean a girl working a fulfilling job she loves, or a man holding his child in his arms? Why have we let beauty slip away from us? And will you join me in stopping the beauty madness?

Today (Monday, July 7) marks the launch of Stop The Beauty Madness, an online activism campaign and conversation jumpstarter around body image, sizeism, race, gender, sexuality, eating disorders, age, representation, and so much more. It aims to change the discourse around beauty, body, value, and self-worth, to help us understand that we are capable of being so much more than square pegs against social beauty standards’ tiny round holes. It features a set of advertising-style images to spark conversation, a blog by the wonderful activists (and founders!) Robin Rice and Lisa Meade, and a 10-week audio series featuring a spectacular panel of Featured Voices. Which I’m not just saying because I’m a part of it. Sonya Renee Taylor, Melissa A. Fabello, Kate Fridkis, Denise Jolly… Dudes. This lineup is sparkling with the diamonds of awesomeness.  I feel like the kid that always got picked last for kickball suddenly being drafted to the Los Angeles Dodgers. How’d this happen?

Want to find out more? Want to help shape this conversation, listen to more than two months’ worth of podcast recordings of the best and brightest in the body positive community? Just like clicking on links? Check it out. StopTheBeautyMadness.com. You won’t be sorry.

*Yes, this is a quietly insidious way of my trying to make sure everyone gets more TS Eliot in their lives. Don’t judge. The man is my spirit animal.

Join Us on Monday for #AdiosED!

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February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month! If you’re looking for a way to celebrate your recovery journey or that of a loved one, if you need support and inspiration during your process and are on the lookout for resources,  if you want to educate yourself on what eating disorders really mean in our society and in our lives, or if you just want to spend some time on Twitter with me and my colleagues, have I got an event for you.

This Monday, February 24th, Adios Barbie and the National Eating Disorders Association will be hosting our second annual #AdiosED Twitter party, from 8-9pm EST. We will be using the hashtag #AdiosED to organize our conversations around eating disorder recovery, support, and education. Are you doing anything Monday night? Cancel it – this will be an amazing conversation!

Our theme for #AdiosED 2014 is mythbusting, particularly in terms of diverse communities. When eating disorders are represented in the media (and I’m not talking about “does she or doesn’t she need rehab” tabloids, which is a topic for another day), they are primarily represented as a rich, upper-middle-to-upper-class, cis-gendered, late-teens white female problem. Now, if the number of hyphens and commas I needed to use to make that sweeping generalization is any indication, this cross-section of the population clearly does not represent the reality of those who suffer from eating disorders. Possibly you’ve seen the hashtag #eatingdisordersareforwhitewomen, which evolved out of this post on Black Girl Dangerous about the whitewashing and limited representation of eating disorders. If not, check it out.

Clearly, this representation problem needs to end. Eating disorders are shrouded in enough myth and misunderstandings to lose yourself in. They’re lifestyle choices. They’re extreme diets. They’re not real mental illnesses. They’re something you want to have, because then you could finally lose weight. Nobody but celebrities and spoiled rich girls get eating disorders. None of this is true. And the more accurate information we can get out there, the better.

And that’s where #AdiosED comes in. Our discussion will be moderated by our five amazing panelists:

Other eating disorder specialists and activists will be in attendance to help answer your questions and shatter destructive eating disorder myths once and for all.

So what do you say? Will you join us Monday night at 8pm EST and help us say Adios to EDs? I’ll be there – will you?

For more information and to RSVP, visit our Facebook event here. You can also read a more in-depth version of our panelists’ biographies here, and view the transcript of last year’s #AdiosED event here.1002646_620178184697787_646126749_n

Looking for a Body-Positive Internship?

Hello, my dear and lovely readers!

If you’ve been with me for some time, and/or you read the one-paragraph bio that I knocked out under the “About” tab, you know that I blog in a few other places than here. In fact, I work as the associate editor for the amazing body-positive website Adios Barbie, which has been providing body-positive resources for bodies at a variety of intersections of identity, and questioning the status quo about our bodies, since 1998. They’re amazing. (We’re amazing?) If you haven’t checked us out and you’re still in the mood for some positivity, discussion, and awareness – of course you are! – make sure you check us out there.

But you don’t need to stop after you’ve looked! Adios Barbie is currently accepting internship applications!

Yep, get excited! You could get involved in a well-established, well-respected, and pretty freaking awesome body-positive community right now, just by sending in your application. Adios Barbie is where I got my start blogging and dealing with these issues, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. So you should all totally get on that.

Plus, it’s a virtual position, meaning that you can join our team from the comfort of your living room! I go to work in my pajamas – what’s not to love?

Interested? For more details, keep reading…

Six-Month Internship with Adios Barbie
Positions Available: 4

Adios, Barbie: The One Stop Body Image Shop for identity issues including size, race, media, and more!
Since the dawn of the world wide web (or at least since 1998), AdiosBarbie.com has been the only site whose mission is to broaden the concept of body image to include people of all races, ages, cultures, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, and sizes.

Adios Barbie seeks diversity- not only in content, but also in our team. Thus, we want folks of all backgrounds and experiences to apply. We believe feminism is for everyone and urge folks who take a stand for or are feminists of color to apply as well.

This groundbreaking movement is seeking enthusiastic, change-minded people to join in the body-positive revolution. Four six-month internships are currently available with the possibility of advancement to a permanent role with the team at their completion.

We are looking for interns in three different fields: Writing/Publishing, PR/Social Media, and Advertising/Marketing. Please see below for the duties and responsibilities required of each position.

Want to intern with Adios Barbie but feel that you have a different skill set? Send us a pitch! Let us know how you can help, and we’ll consider your idea!

Internship Descriptions

Writing and Publishing

*Note – Two positions available

  • Research and develop content
  • Obtain web content in various forms (print, podcast, videos, etc.) for sharing and publication
  • Write one original piece (journalistic article, commentary, media analysis, etc.) per month
  • Have interest and experience in the field of their internship.

Public Relations and Social Media

*Note – One position available

  • Increase the visibility and impact of the organization
  • Maintain and develop media lists, press releases, and basic PR functions
  • Promote Adios Barbie using social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr
  • Communicate and interact with the public via social media
  • Familiarity with WordPress, basic html, and google analytics a plus

Advertising and Marketing

*Note – One position available

  • Assist in fundraising
  • Perform administrative and editing tasks for Adios Barbie
  • Create and promote Kickstarters or other fundraising campaigns
  • Help to create advertising strategies – both to bring advertisers to the site and to spread the word about Adios Barbie
  • Familiarity with Photoshop and design a plus

Ideal Candidate Charactaristics

We are actively seeking candidates who are:

  • Sensitive and compassionate with a working knowledge of the following issues and how they intersect: media literacy, race, gender, age, identity, size, ability, and body image
  • Driven by a strong work ethic and the ability to take initiative needing limited supervision
  • Team players who are open to collaboration

Notes

The internships are virtual positions; thus, applicants must have reliable high-speed internet connections and be skilled and responsible regarding electronic communication. Since the positions are remote, anyone anywhere in the world can apply.

Adios Barbie is run entirely by volunteers. As such, these internships are unpaid.

The time required is negotiable. However, interns should expect to devote an average of ten hours per week to their projects.

How to Apply

Applicants must submit:

  • A resume
  • A letter of interest, including how both you and the organization can benefit from this collaboration
  • A writing sample of 300-800 words on a topic relevant to the work of Adios Barbie

Applicants are encouraged (but in no way required) to submit:

  • Examples of previous related work
  • Links to blogs or other portfolios
  • Letters of recommendation
  • List of relevant coursework

Please indicate in the subject line which position you are applying for.

Interviews will be held via Skype.

Deadline for applications:
Monday, February 17th, 2014

Send applications and questions to:
Pia Guerrero, Founder/Editor
info@adiosbarbie.com

 

via Internship.

If you’re interested but the timeline poses a problem, contact us at info@adiosbarbie.com and let us know, and we can talk about your schedule.

Can’t wait to read your applications!

Five Ways To Talk To People Against Body Acceptance Without Making Enemies

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Hey, all! After a fantastic trip to Northern Ireland, I’m back in my home base, catching up on sleep and wondering why driving on the right side of the road has suddenly become so difficult. On the plus side, this means that I’ll be able to get back into my more typical schedule of posting. Exciting times!

Today’s topic is a little more abstract and general than usual, but I still think it’s really important to think about.

How do you respond to people who disagree with you about body positivity?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to repeat the same three or four arguments in favor of self-love and health at every size. Even in the past two weeks, I need more than the fingers on both hands. While body positivity is a very personal journey, many people have a hard time understanding what it’s all about, or why it’s really not any of their business how I feel about my body.

I sometimes have a difficult time not flying off the handle when confronted by people who are completely against all the principles of positive body image that I work for. I find myself tempted to build a soapbox out of whatever materials I happen to have at hand, climb up on it, and wave my hands around while shouting for about a quarter of an hour. But this won’t accomplish anything.

And that’s why I’m compiling this list: Five Ways To Talk To People Against Body Acceptance Without Making Enemies. It’s not the catchiest name you’ve ever read, but it’s still a useful list to have on hand when someone confronts you about your beliefs. Because if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably only a matter of time.

1. Keep It Civil

This is one of the most important elements, and the one that’s the hardest to stick to. When someone is telling you that fat people are the reason they pay more taxes and so should pay higher health care costs, or that eating disorders are first-world problems for spoiled rich kids, it’s tough not to get angry. But no one’s mind has ever been changed by an exchange like this:

Person A: “Oh my God, how can you believe something like that? You’re so stupid!”

Person B: “You’re right! I am stupid! How did I never notice that before? Thanks for pointing it out!”

Often, the only reason someone is so vehemently against you is that society pushes the opposite message of the body-positive community. It’s not fair to target others because they haven’t been exposed to the viewpoints that we’re dealing with.

If they’re willing to listen to you and hear your reasoning behind your beliefs, that’s great. But think about it this way: you have someone in front of you that can potentially be persuaded to change their perception of the body-positive community and respect people of any size, shape, color, or what have you. Don’t throw that opportunity away by going off on a rant.

2. Ask Questions

A recent conversation I had with a total stranger (that’s what happens when you put me on an eight-hour flight, I get into discussions about body positivity with my seatmate) evolved into the motivating factor for compiling this list. He shared his distaste for dating women he deemed “overweight,” because living a healthy lifestyle was important to him, and he was worried that dating a heavier woman would compromise his goals.

There were plenty of things I wanted to tell the man in 26F, not least of all that weight and health are not the same thing, or that what a woman does with her body does not need to impact what he does with his. But lecturing him would get me nowhere, and would make me look like a jerk.

“I mean, can you really tell what kind of lifestyle habits I have by what I look like?” I asked him. “Can you tell I’m not a chain smoker and an alcoholic?”

I’m neither, by the way, but by looking at my weight alone, it’s tough to tell.

The best part of questions is that they force the audience to think for themselves without making them feel attacked. It’s the same as the old “I-feel” statements: you’re allowed to express how you feel without ganging up on your conversation partner. Which I’m sure they appreciate.

3. Have Facts And Resources Ready

Too many arguments get derailed because they descend into finger-pointing and name-calling. Calling each other rude names isn’t going to convince anyone that body positivity is a good thing for society.

But you know what might? Facts.

Too often, the “War On Obesity” or the Sedentary Age of America gets blown up into emotional appeals and exaggerations. When obesity has become not only a disease but an epidemic, it’s tough to get people to take a step back and think critically about what they’ve been told.

If you have facts and scientific studies that show that BMI is not a reliable indicator of health, or that fad diets are more harmful than helpful, or that being severely underweight can be more damaging to your health than being overweight, this hard data will go ten times as far as your simply repeating, “you’re wrong.”

Debate Team 101: it’s easier to be persuasive with facts rather than opinions.

4. Meet People Where They Are

This tactic appears all over the consciousness-raising sphere, from educating people about sexism, racism, homophobia, or what have you. If you’re talking to someone who’s never considered the idea that fat discrimination or society’s pressures on our bodies and our health habits are serious problems, leaping into a discussion of complicated particulars on the subject is not going to be helpful.

Everyone has been exposed to some kind of body pressure, whether or not they think they have. Been teased for being the scrawny kid who got picked last for dodgeball? Anxious because you’re shorter than your girlfriend? Feeling uncomfortable because your significant other expects you to look like either David Beckham or Kate Moss? You’ve experienced body pressure. How did it make you feel? Trust me, you’re not the only one who feels that way.

5. Know When To Walk Away

It would be great to think that with enough reasonable conversation and awareness about the serious problems around body image, social pressures, and body type discrimination, we could change everybody’s mind in the whole world.

It would also be great to have a pony and a billion dollars.

There are some people who disagree with you simply to get a rise out of you. Sometimes it’s patronizing, sometimes it’s rude, sometimes there’s a “it’s for your own good!” note to it.

Either way, know that there are some battles you’re not going to win.

This is a big issue, and it will take more than one conversation to change everybody else’s mind. There’s no call to expose yourself to verbal abuse when it’s clear you’re making no progress.

That’s what the “block” function on blogs is for.

And that’s what legs are for: to walk away.

What do you think? Are there any other suggestions you’d give to people trying to explain their body-positive position to others? Anything I’ve suggested that you don’t think will work? Let me know!