Step 3: Bodies as Instruments, Not As Objects

Today's post is about Step 3 of my series on how to bounce back from negative body triggers: thinking about your body as an instrument, not as an object.

Beauty Refined points out:

When women learn to value their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like, they improve their body image and gain a more powerful sense of control. Ideas of “feminist embodiment” that have been pinpointed in research include using our bodies to dance, play, move, and be outside the confines of being looked at. As early as grade school, research shows that girls’ activities and thoughts are more frequently disrupted than boys, and those interruptions are often related to weight and appearance. Experts suggest we can resist self-objectification by participating in non-aesthetically-focused sports (like competitive team sports) and other kinds of physical activity. Finally, STEP AWAY FROM THE MIRRORS while exercising. Research shows people who work out in front of mirrors can’t perform as well because they are consciously and subconsciously wrapped up in how they look instead of what they can do.

There's always been an element of look-ism in female sports.  When I played varsity tennis, I was often pretty concerned about looking cute in the outfit, at least until the first serve.  Nowadays, I don't think about it as much - well, until I go to do a handstand and have to remember to tuck my shirt in, lest anyone see my ghost-pale stomach, but even so, I don't spend much time looking in the mirror at the gym, because that's not what I'm there to do.  I'm there to get a good workout, sweat, get red in the face, and get strong.

Love me some kettlebells!

Love me some kettlebells!

It is so, so important to find exercise you like.  Hear me babes, it is VITAL.  Exercise should not be punishment.  You don't have to do it to earn anything.  You don't have to do it "or else".  You don't have to follow anyone else's rules.  Move your body because it delights you to do so.  That is the only way to make it sustainable.  The only way.

Pick something you love.  For me, that was roller derby, then CrossFit, and yoga.  I delight in all of those things.  I want to make out with rollerskating, I get a thrill at learning my body's capabilities at the box, and I love the presence and bodily awareness yoga brings.

I used to do shit I hated.  I do not like long-distance running.  Look at me, up above.  I have the body of a sprinter.  I am not cut out for marathons.  Long-distance running is not for me.  I hate long runs with ever fiber of my being and I want to punch the ground I have to cover in the face.  And yet for years I ran because I felt like I "had" to.  Bullshit.  I'm a grown-ass lady.  I do what I want.

Like hanging:

Like a damn monkey. 

Like a damn monkey. 

If I look happy here, it's because I am.  I finished the WOD, perfected my power snatch, and had a generally bang-up time!  Now, it's not always like that -- some WODs (Workout of the Day) are an effing SLOG, and I fight for every rep.  But you gotta love the general trend of what you do.  It has to be workable.  You have to look forward to it sometimes.  Even in my darkest, most drama-ridden moments of derby, the moments by myself spinning around the track felt like home.

And plus, when you are busy doing something you truly love, you don't give two shits about how you look doing it.  You are in the zone, in flow, and I strongly believe that everyone in that space is totally, undeniably gorgeous.  True love is absolutely beautiful, and contagious.  Watching someone do what they love makes you fall in love with them a little too, otherwise, how do we explain celebrity crushes?

So find that thing you love.  Find something you're good at.  Praise your bod for all the rad things it can DO.  Focus on that, not what it looks like, at least for awhile.  When you feel down about your body, remind yourself of how it supports you, carries you, lifts stuff for you.  Look at your latest personal record, or even praise yourself for getting up and doing the daily grind for one more day.  Because that's a day you didn't let those stupid negative unproductive jerkface internal voices get you down.  That's a day you said, "No thanks, I'm too busy rockin' it over here to care one fig about what you say, jerks.  Now STFU, while I kill this workout."


Treatment Plan for Negative Body Triggers
Step 1: Compassion
Step 2: Feminist Beliefs

Step 2: Feminist Beliefs

I feel like given yesterday's Confession, it's even more important that I finish my series on how to bounce back from negative body triggers

Step 2 of Beauty Redefined's plan is Feminist Beliefs.  Now, I know not all my readers are feminists, or even ladies, but here's why this is applicable to everyone: because Feminism at its core believes that all people are equal, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or anything else.  We are all equally worthy - fat or thin, muscled or not.

Further, feminism gives us some valuable tools:

Women who had feminist beliefs experienced less shame and body dissatisfaction than women who didn’t subscribe to feminism.

Feminism provides women with an alternative way to interpret objectification, and offers specific strategies to resist these ideologies on a personal and societal level.

One of the most important feminist strategies is maintaining a critical awareness using media literacy to resist cultural messages about women’s bodies.

Women need coping strategies as a buffer against self-objectification, such as decreasing self-evaluative statements (“I look fat today”), substituting self-affirming statements (“I am capable of much more than looking hot”), and cognitive reframing of objectification (“that company wants me to feel bad so I’ll buy their product!”).
Beauty Redefined

So with all this in mind, let me give you some rad Feminist blogs that I heart mucho.

Ladies I don't know personally, but follow religiously:

Fit & Feminist - Cannon.  "Because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy."
Favorite Article: My Husband is More to Me Than a Living Jar Opener

The Militant Baker - "What everyone is thinking but no one will say."
Favorite Article: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls... So I Will

Bitch Media - I mean, you all know about this one right?  Also cannon.  So important.
Favorite Article: Ms. Opinionated: I'm So Lonely! And My Family is so Critical!

Ladies I know personally, and love tremendously:

Super Strength Health - the blog of my bestie, Lacy Davis, a rad vegan health coach
Favorite Article: How to calm the voices that tell you your body isn’t good enough

The Span of My Hips - Josey, who is mad smart, writes about body love, mental health and critical theory
Favorite Article: Why Capitalism Relies on You Feeling Shitty About Your Body (brainy, and good)

Whole Body Health - Julie is strong, compassionate, and awesome, and studying to be an R.D.
Favorite Article: Why Do We Keep Going On Diets If Diets Always Fail Us?

Rebel Grrrl Living - Raechel is a professor, vegan, and awesome lady.
Favorite Article: Fitspo and Healthy Living Memes: A problem of appropriation, decontextualization, & depoliticization (more food for your brain)


Add to your RSS feeds!  And refer back whenever you're having a bad body day.  You'll feel pretty badass in no time. <3

More in this series:
Treatment Plan for Negative Body Triggers
Step 1: Compassion

Step 1: Compassion

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about negative body image triggers.  Now I'd like to talk about how to deal with them.  No one wants to be stuck in the negative feeling shame spiral for long.  It feels terrible - like running in place while having a seizure and hot flashes at the same time.  I hate that business.

In the awesome Beauty Redefined article I posted before, they say that the first step is compassion.

Self-compassion is all about acknowledging that suffering, failure, and inadequacies are part of the human condition, and that all people—yourself included—are worthy of compassion (Neff, 2003). There are three basic components of this strategy that have GOT to be cultivated in the midst of our objectifying culture and self-objectifying tendencies: 1. Self-Kindness: Extending kindness and understanding to oneself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism; 2. Common Humanity: Seeing one’s experiences as part of the larger female experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; and 3. Mindfulness: Holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than letting them define or overwhelm you.

Yesterday, I had another body image trigger: my engagement ring wouldn't fit.  There are a number of reasons why this could be - weight gain, hormone fluctuation, the fact that it's a lot more humid than usual, water retention, the fact that I am mostly doing pull-up practice these days, so my fingers might be swollen, etc.

The point is: it doesn't matter, my ring doesn't fit.  My brain immediately flew into the "if I hadn't gained all that weight this year, they would still fit!  I've undone all that good work!  I'm a failure, and fat, and ugly, and this is ALL MY FAULT."

Immediately, I reached out for help, both to a Facebook group about ED recovery that I belong to, and to my two best healthy body image friends, Lacy and Julie.  Everyone said the same thing - that who I was a year ago was actually worse than who I am now.  As denoted here, last year I may have been thinner, but this year I am stronger.  And per my new credo, I want to be BETTER, not smaller

But even knowing all that, I have to overcome YEARS of negative body conditioning.  As much as I may know all this stuff, I have yet to really internalize it, because I've been groomed to believe that thinner is always better.  If I don't have the constant struggle to be thin, who am I?

It occurs to me now, that as part of self kindness, the first step of compassion, that I need to accept where I am Right Now.  It isn't self-loving to believe that there's something wrong with me.  I really need to excise the belief that in order to be acceptable, I need to be thin.  It's not true, not helpful, and it causes a lot of hurtful behavior. 

I'm also not alone in this struggle.  Belonging to that Facebook group and connecting with a lot of you here shows me that.  This struggle is a part of our shared common humanity, and no one is exempt.  We are all struggling. 

One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Dary, wrote a post about accepting the continuum of growth:

Big and small. Mature and immature. Rookie and pro. Stumble and sprint. These are not starting and end points; these are two points on continuums that we bounce along our whole lives. We grow for 18 years and then we're designated adults, but this means almost nothing.
The point, it seems to me, is to get better at forgiving yourself for sliding back and forth. No one has it nailed. We're all growing. Every single day, every single year, every single chapter in our memoirs reduces the growth but it's there behind everything.
So keep moving.

We're all on one big continuum.  Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes we master it, sometimes we don't.  The point is to be aware of it, to do your best, and to let the rest go.  And most of all: to be kind to yourself about being a gorgeous, strong, creative, and perfect-on-your-own-terms human being. 

Lastly, Josey asked me yesterday to try to be mindful of all of these feelings without ascribing a narrative to them, to feel them without trying to figure them out or put a story to them, to let them wash over me and let them go.  I may just give that a try in my daily meditation practice.  Watching those feelings in awareness gives me a little separation from them, allows them some space.  Then I don't get as stuck, and I don't have to believe bad stuff about myself.  I'm going to give that a try.

And in the meantime, I've started wearing my engagement ring around my neck with a necklace from our wedding.  There might be a time where it fits around my finger again, or not, but I'm wearing it, and that's what counts.


Treatment Plan for Negative Body Image Triggers

Hoo!  That was a long-ass title, wasn't it?  I was thinking about this topic today because I accidentally stepped on the scale this morning.  I'm not in the habit of weighing myself, but my scale actually came out of hiding behind the trashcan in the bathroom this morning as I was shuffling some things around, and I decide to hop on for the hell of it.

It goes without saying that this was a bad idea.

The number was at a place I find a little shocking.  I'd expected it to be high, after my week in South Carolina, but I was still a little taken aback.  And even though I consider weight an abstract concept, and that numbers mean very little, it still was kind of a gut punch.

A few weeks ago, the amazing Josey linked to this fantastic article from Beauty Redefined: Not Picture Perfect? Bounce Back from a Body Image Blow.  It's worth reading the whole thing, but if you don't want to do that, no worries - I'm going to break it down for you in a series I'm starting today.

The article deals with body shame resulting from seeing unflattering photos, the same kind of shame I experienced today when looking at the scale.  With pictures, it's even worse because, thanks to social media, everyone can see them.

In a world where girls learn from childhood to monitor their appearance at all times, and where public identities are carefully crafted online at every waking moment, a picture speaks more words than ever.
— Beauty Redefined

I've experienced this shame many times finding unflattering pictures of me that have been tagged on Facebook.  It happened a lot when I played roller derby, because sport photos capture a lot of candid moments  -  I was too busy playing the game to pose.  The most recent example, however, happened when photos of our CrossFit Prom were posted online.

I'd bought this faux satin dress at Community Thrift for like 8 bucks, and I was stoked to wear it.  I'd neglected to realize that shiny fabric looks voluminous under a flash, and that an empire waist can make you look 4 months pregnant without trying too hard.  And when the photos were posted, I was pretty disappointed. 

Here's one of me with my bestie Lacy from Super Strength Health:



When I saw this, I was immediately thrown down the rabbit hole of chagrin and embarrassment.  How could I have worn that?  Didn't I know ho that made me look?  The dress looks mad bunchy in the back and is kind of wrinkly and ill-fitting. And I look so short and squat.  Ew.

I felt similarly when I got on the scale this morning.  How could I have let it get this bad?

In both cases, I knew better than to get stuck in the shame spiral for long.  I know that my worth as a person and my attractiveness isn't defined by one badly-lit picture.  But how to get out of this horrible head space?

Beauty Redefined thinks that resilience may be the answer:

Resilience theory describes opportunities to call upon resilient traits as “disruptions,” which are experiences that shake us out of our comfort zones and allow us to change in positive or negative ways. Disruptions are occurrences that cause us to feel self-doubt, hurt, fear, or loss. They can be anything from unkind words from a stranger, to a pregnancy, an invitation to go swimming, weight loss/gain, or even the super lame inconvenience of being tagged in a photo you can’t stand. Disruptions are big and small and different for everyone, but the emotions you feel from them lead to opportunities to begin the process of changing.

The trick is to make sure that these changes are positive, and to make sure we utilize resilience to get over these disruptions.

Stay tuned for more on how to do that from my perspective.  There are a lot of tools and tricks we can use to feel better when we have a disruption.

And in the meantime?  This is a shot from the CrossFit Prom that I feel no shame about.



Step 1: Compassion