So how did I get here? More specifically, how did I start to wonder if I too, am a feminist? Well it was really an odd chain of events, but it all started with two things: a marriage proposal and a fight. Not a fight with the guy who proposed to me, but a literal fight. A Muay Thai match to be specific. Those two events leading to an awakening of feminist values probably doesn’t quite make sense, so let me back up and explain myself.
Just over a year ago my fiance proposed to me. Like a geek. In the gem room at the Museum of Natural History in NYC. I screamed and blubbered and cried a little and said yes. So began my journey in to the horrors of wedding planning and more specifically the horrors of the wedding industry. I’ve been married before. When I was 19 I married my high school sweetheart. I was too young and irresponsible to plan my wedding then, so I really had no concept of what I wanted or what was expected of me. I let others do the footwork and showed up looking beautiful the way youth and innocence can provide.
After my divorce at 23 I swore if I ever got married again I’d hop on a plane to Vegas, get wasted, and let Elvis perform the ceremony. Fast forward four years to my second engagement. I hadn’t had a drink in three and a half years and I was at least marginally more responsible and considerate, so it looked like Vegas nuptials were out of the picture. So I began to envision my perfect wedding. Because that’s what weddings are all about, right? Creating the perfect day, where are the details are immaculate. Thus, I bought in to all the hype of the wedding industry. I never thought I had it in me to be a Bridezilla until I actually started to plan the wedding I really wanted. Out came all the expectations. The perfect venue, the perfect menu, the perfect dress, the perfect me.
Of course, the perfect me included having the perfect body, the one I had always wanted. The perfect me on my wedding day would be thin, with muscular legs, firm arms, and tight abs. I would be so dazzling in my perfect dress that every man at the wedding would want to fuck me and every woman would want to be me. Clearly I had not reached any sort of feminist awakening at this point. I was aiming to be society’s perfect bride with all the wrong motivations.
How was I planning to achieve this ideal body in time for the wedding? Enter the Muay Thai match. I had been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and boxing for about 3 years at that point. Ever since I took my first class it had been a dream of mine to book a real fight. Like in a ring, or a cage, beating the dog shit out of another woman. I assure you there will be plenty of entries about my budding feminism and my choice in extreme sports later, but for now, the focus is the fight. I needed to cut weight for this fight. When I got engaged I was about 150 pounds, a high for me, but not my highest. I was cutting to 127 for the fight. I had done similar cuts for BJJ competitions in the past and I wasn’t too worried. Plus it was a perfect way to achieve “sweating for the wedding” as so many bridal blogs suggested.
So, to train for the fight and conveniently lose weight for my wedding at the same time I started working out 2-3 hours per day 6 or 7 days a week. I’m a nanny, so conveniently I could work out while the baby napped. So nap 1 was yoga, nap 2 was a run on the treadmill. Then after work there was 1-2 hours of fight training. I became an absolute slave to my training schedule. I rarely, if ever, took a day off and when I did I felt like a lazy bum and was convinced that I would lose my fight and look like a whale on my wedding day. You might begin to see where this is headed.
I overtrained myself in to a serious hamstring and back injury that caused sciatica. I was pulled from the Muay Thai match and I suffered the devastation of watching that dream crumble. For a while I rested and rehabbed like I was supposed to. As one does when injured, I began to gain a little weight and then all hell broke loose. I started binge eating, but I couldn’t work out to compensate for the eating, so I started not eating periodically. I went to a nutritionist to get on a meal plan “for the wedding” and became literally obsessed with the meal plan. Every time I didn’t follow the plan I felt like a failure. Every time I ate and couldn’t work out, I felt like a fat slob. I became a slave to food, to calories, to meal plans, to workouts. Eventually I called a friend while curled up on the floor ugly crying and said “I have an eating disorder” and she said “I know.” She gave me the number of the treatment center she’d attended. So 3 months before my wedding I went in to outpatient treatment for an eating disorder.
The truth is, I’d had an eating disorder for ten years. When I was a college freshman my new roommates approached me a few weeks in to the semester because they’d never seen me eat. It was true. My senior year of high school I dropped from 190 pounds to 119 with a combination of calorie restriction and over the counter diet pills. My roommates hadn’t seen me eat because I only ate one smoothie and 10 saltines per day and only when no one else was looking. They suggested I see a counselor and I did. Since I was barely eating, the treatment was simple: eat. So I did. And I convinced everyone, including myself that I was okay. And for years I convinced myself that as long as I was eating I didn’t have an eating disorder.
In the mean time I lost and gained 40 pounds over and over again. I would binge eat and balloon up to 170 and then go on some crazy diet or try some crazy new exercise regimen and get back to 130. I’ve been vegetarian, paleo, low carb, high protein, macro nutrient, gluten free, whole 30, clean. I’ve joined gyms, done Yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, Zumba, and combat sports obsessively. The key here is that I constantly obsessed about my body and my weight. I constantly attacked my body as a problem that needed to be fixed. The whole time I never put together that this obsession to fix my body was just as much of an eating disorder as not eating at all.
Addressing my eating disorder has called in to question all of my deeply held beliefs about myself, my body, other women, their bodies, and the standards society has for women’s bodies. I had to confront the fact that underlying my hatred of my body was a deep seated feeling that I was not good enough, that I wasn’t worthy, and that if I could somehow fix my body I would finally be good enough. As I started to examine the messages I had received throughout my life, I found that these messages are delivered to women in massive amounts by the media. I began to get angry. Then, in treatment one day, a women in my group brought up Susie Orbach’s book “Fat is a Feminist Issue”. At first I thought, “That’s ridiculous. How can the concept of fat be a feminist issue?” But when I dug in to it more, I began to find out that all of my ideas about fat really are feminist issues and I began to ask, “Will being a feminist help me recover from my eating disorder?” I still haven’t figured out the answer to that, but it’s where the journey started.