Humbled and a Little Overwhelmed

I absolutely could not have anticipated the response to my second article published on XOJane. In a few days the article has received over 600 shares and over 100 comments. I’ve had to stop reading the comments because it’s too much for me. Not because people have been saying mean things, though some have. For the most part the comments have been incredibly supportive and positive. I just can’t keep up with the amount.

The biggest surprise has been the direct responses I have gotten from people. Friends sent me screenshots of the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends told me that friends of theirs who had never met me or even been to Vermont were seeing the article on their Yahoo homepages. Friends and family shared the article on Facebook. Friends and family commented on the article. Even more shocking were the people that started to reach out to me via Facebook Messenger. People I hadn’t spoken to since high school reached out to congratulate me and share their experiences. Then people I had never met started reaching out to me and telling me their stories. They poured out their hearts, sharing in intimate detail their struggles with food and exercise. They thanked me for sharing my experience and told me how much it helped.

I never thought anything like this would happen. I didn’t expect one article would touch so many people. I never imagined that people would track me down and trust me with their stories and their secrets. I am honored to be so trusted. I am humbled that my words touched so many people. I’m a little overwhelmed by the entire experience. I didn’t think that putting my work out there would create such a responsibility to the readers. I guess I couldn’t have known that without having an article really out there. I’m not so overwhelmed that I want it to stop. I am happy to have a voice.

 

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People on the Internet Are Calling Me Fat and it’s Not That Big A Deal

When I first started thinking about getting an article about my eating disorder recovery published on a major blog, I was terrified at the idea of posting pictures with the article because my biggest fear was that someone would call me fat and ugly in the comments. I was terrified of the trolls. I know that when women talk about feminism online they get awfully abused. I know that when women with larger bodies express that they are comfortable with their bodies they get abused. So I had a strong feeling that if my writing were to be published on a larger scale, I’d be dealing with my fair share of trolls. I’d have to suck it up and deal.

When XOJane published my first article last week I seemed to have lucked out with the trolls. The majority of the comments that I say were positive and the ones that weren’t were criticizing me   for trivializing eating disorders. That hurt, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy and with those I love working through feelings that my eating disorder wasn’t real or wasn’t “bad enough”. I was prepared for those comments because I know my eating disorder is legitimate and not a trivial matter. I take it very seriously.

Yesterday, my second article went live on XOJane. This one is about being overweight in recovery, a topic that is not very widely discussed. This article blew up much faster than my first. Within 24 hours it was over 500 shares and 125 comments. I promised myself I wouldn’t get too invested in the comments this time. It wasn’t worth it. But I made the mistake of “just browsing” and there they were: comments about me being fat. One person asked if recovery were really worth it if I was going to be that fat. Couldn’t I just try to diet smarter? Another person called me morbidly obese and insisted I had just swapped one eating disorder for another and now had binge eating disorder. She went back to the old standby: that I was promoting unhealthy lifestyles by being fat. There are probably more comments like this now. My sister just informed me that people have chosen to duke it out in the comments on my article. I’ve stopped reading.

I want to be clear though: I haven’t stopped reading because I can’t take the abuse. I’ve just stopped reading because I don’t care to keep up with the madness. Did it hurt to be called fat by total strangers? Of course it did. But right after I processed the hurt I laughed, and then I was sad.

I laughed because it was so absurd that people were having such a strong, negative reaction to an article about my own experience. I also laughed because I knew what they were saying wasn’t true. I had to pause and think about that for a while. These people were calling me fat and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe I was fat and ugly. Major progress.

Then I was sad because I started thinking about the people who were saying such mean things. They must be in a lot of pain about their bodies to lash out so harshly at me. Their perceptions of what women should look like and be must be very warped if they see my body as morbidly obese and unhealthy. They must be very sad people. I’m the praying type, so I’m praying for them, hoping they can find what they need for their lives. Not out of pity, out of love, because I know what it’s like to be in that much pain.

I also feel like I’ve gone through some sort of body positivity blogger rite of passage. Every body positive role model I have talks about being called fat on the Internet. It happens to all of us. Now I just kind of feel part of the crew. It’s really indicative of the sad state of our society that women are harshly abused for even trying to love themselves and for speaking out. No matter how much it hurts to be harassed online, I refuse to let it take away my voice.

Why You Should Get a Tattoo On the Part of Your Body You Like the Least

I have a fair amount of tattoos. I’m not covered, but I have them scattered all over my body. My tattoos tell the story of who I was when I got them. There’s the crucified snake on my shoulder memorializing my insane freshman year at college when I was a drunk religious studies major. There’s the Chinese symbol for love on my ribs I got the day after my first wedding. My ex husband still has the matching tattoo on his neck. There’s the robin on my ankle that I got when I turned 18, and the rose I added to that tattoo so my sister and I could have matching tattoos representing our names: Robin and Rosie. And so many more. Each represents an important vignette in the story of my life.

I always wanted a half sleeve. Even before I knew what I’d put there I always knew I wanted one. For years I put off getting a tattoo on my upper arm because I hated my upper arms. Today I can say hated because I don’t hate them anymore, but I will be honest that my upper arms are still one of my least liked body parts. I always said I’d get the half sleeve when I “got more toned” when I “lost X amount of pounds” when “my arms look a little better” and for years I just denied myself because I couldn’t accept my arms.

Earlier this year I finally decided to get a tattoo on my upper arm. For some reason I felt compelled to do it; like it would be a huge step in my recovery. So I started thinking about ideas. I couldn’t come up with a picture, but I came up with a story that I wanted the tattoo to represent.  I imagined a little girl in the woods who feels like she’s being followed by a monster. The monster shows itself and she’s afraid that the monster will consume her, but in the end, the monster turns out to be her friend and they walk away together. For me, it was a metaphor for all my fears. I worry that my fear will consume me, but when my fear is exposed it’s actually the information I need to get past that fear. When I see fear for what it really is, it transforms in to a friend that will guide me to the light.

I told this story to my tattoo artist and expected kind of a blank stare and the question “how do I turn that in to a picture?” Instead his face lit up and he told me he’d email me a sketch. When he did I was amazed at what he’d come up with. His sketch captured my story perfectly. The featured image is the tattoo right after it was finished. It’s my favorite to date because it means so much to me. The tattoo tells the story of my battle with fear and it represents my willingness to not let negative body image rule my life.

The other day I went to this super indie cafe to write. I was wearing a tank top, which I am always hesitant to do because of the amount of arm exposure. The super hipster chick making my iced latte suddenly exclaimed “Oh my god I love your tattoo. Can I look closer?” I nodded and she leaned over the counter to closely examine my arm. It was then that I realized she literally didn’t see the size of my arms. She didn’t think they were fat as I have on so many occasions. She didn’t see anything but an amazing piece of artwork. This incident helped me realize that people probably aren’t moving through this world analyzing perceived flaws on others’ bodies. People just see people, and when people are covered in amazing artwork they see artwork.

So, if tattoos are your thing then I say go ahead and get that tattoo in that place you never thought you could! It may help you come to terms with the parts you don’t like very much. It’s hard to hate something covered in beautiful art.

Health at Every Size For Real

I’ve read a lot about the Health at Every Size movement. Basically, they promote the idea that body size has very little to do with actual health and that it is possible to be healthy at every size. They encourage women of all sizes to have a healthy relationship to food and exercise and encourage the belief that you don’t have to exercise, eat, or look a certain way to be truly healthy. I really admire the movement. I really believe in their mission and their message. Except, of course, when it comes to myself. I am more than willing to believe that other women of any size can be truly healthy, but my brain tells me that it’s impossible for my body to be healthy at its current size. I’ve gained a substantial amount of weight so how could I possibly be healthy? Other women’s bodies may be healthy at this size, but I’m sure mine isn’t. 

At the (strong) encouragement of my therapist I decided to test the theory that my body couldn’t be healthy at this size. Of course, the point of the experiment was to prove that I am healthy at this size and confront my own weight biases, but I didn’t see it going that way. The first step was doing something I’d been terrified to do for years: get a physical. I’m going to be honest and admit that unless I was very ill or had a broken body part I had not been to a doctor in years. Going in to the appointment I was terrified that I would be told I was, in fact, unhealthy and that I would need to lose weight in order to be healthy. Even before the appointment I knew that this fear was irrational, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be something wrong with a body this size. 

Despite my terror, I showed up for the blood tests earlier this week and my appointment today. The verdict? My blood pressure is normal, my thyroid is functioning normally (which has not always been the case), my organ function is fine for all my major organs, and my cholesterol is only high because my “good cholesterol” is outrageously high; my bad cholesterol is markedly low. To summarize:  I am absolutely healthy. The doctor literally uttered the words “not a single thing to complain about.” This would be a positive result regardless of my previous medical history, but it’s even more remarkable because I have suffered from chronic illness in the past. Not only is this body, exactly the way it is, not sick, it is perfectly healthy. 

The results of my experiment on health and body size left me overjoyed and confused. I was so relieved to hear that I am, perhaps, the healthiest I have ever been. I was also completely confused as to how this was possible. Everything I had ever been told about my body indicated that I should be healthier when I’m smaller, not bigger. My entire paradigm for assessing my health relied on my body being smaller. All of my assumptions about my own health were based around being a certain size. Today, I was confronted with the facts, in black and white, that proved all my assumptions wrong. I am being forced to confront the fact that I am healthy at this size. 

I haven’t had enough time to process this yet, but I do know that it is the beginning of a monumental shift in how I view my body and my health. I haven’t had enough time to shift my perspective, but I can feel the shift coming. I was once told that in order to fully recover I would have to throw out all my old ideas about myself and the world. At the time that seemed impossible, but now I feel like I see the beginning of the path. It’s a super long path. It’s going to take me a long time to walk it. But you never reach the summit if you never start hiking. Time to walk in to the woods.