I’ve Been Stuck

So I’ve been stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it a depressive episode, call it what you want. I can’t describe how I feel more accurately than the word “stuck.”

But what I’ve realized is that feeling stuck, or like you’ve reached a plateau, doesn’t mean that you aren’t still making progress. I think that these days, with the presence of social media, there exists this pressure to always be doing something. You have to have something “interesting” to add to your Instagram story – and binge watching bad superhero shows on Netflix in your underwear doesn’t always cut it. The things that you do just to get by each day doesn’t cut it.

But isn’t that sort of messed up? Everyday of our lives should cut it. The nitty, the gritty, the seemingly boring and uneventful.

On a Personal note

I’ve been on this road of self-improvement and self-care for a little over a year-and-a-half now. There have been marked ups and downs. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the times of neutrality. The times where there’s nothing remarkably good happening and nothing disappointingly bad. Everything seems to have gone into slow motion. And that’s felt frustrating. Frustrating because I can’t identify the progress that I am making as easily as I would like to.

I’ve never felt like this in my life. And it sounds crazy to say — but I feel stable. Sure, there are days or spans of days where I can sink into a dark, depressive hole… But more often than not, I’ve just been floating in calm waters.

But what is important that I’ve realized is that that progress has not stopped. I’m just in a period where the changes are more incremental. And maybe that means I need to put in more work — but it could also mean that I need to be truly present in the person I am at this moment.

Socially Prescribed perfectionism

A study by a writer and activist from Inc. found that 67% of millennials feel extreme pressure to succeed, compared to 40% of GenXers and 23% of Baby Boomers. Millennials have this profound feeling that they “haven’t done enough yet,” and that time is running out.

I can definitely relate to that. With social media, you see so many more examples of young people accomplishing amazing things as artists, entrepreneurs, and even CEOs. Meanwhile, I struggle to pay my bills every month and make just enough to stay afloat.

A recent American Psychological Association (APA) study found that in comparison to prior generations, millennials are harder on themselves, and report higher levels of social pressure to be perfect. This has reached the point where the desire for perfection has become unhealthy. I often feel like I’m stuck in some sort of rat race. I couldn’t put it better than a writer from The Cut:

“And yet there is obvious risk to feeling trapped in an endless cycle of unreachable expectations and overly critical self-evaluation. Tying one’s sense of self-worth to achievement can make a person unable to hold on to the sense of satisfaction that comes with success, and has been associated with clinical depression, anorexia, and early death.”

don’t get distracted

Sorry – don’t mean to scare anyone with the “early death” part — but we all need to take a collective deep breath. And also we need to pause to recognize that we’ve already done some pretty great things in our life — even if there isn’t a trending BuzzFeed article out there about us.

That same APA study showed that this pressure can be even more damaging when we feel like that pressure to be perfect is coming from others. We’ve all become the victims of self-comparison. We live in a meritocracy that places huge importance on self-success – and then we’ve gone and made matters worse by comparing where we are in life to the highlight reels that everyone else is sharing to their social media. And heaven-forbid we have a day that isn’t worthy of sharing to our feeds. Because to us that means we haven’t accomplished anything that day.

So remember this. Progress is slow and life moves fast. Don’t waste the days you have worrying about if you’ve done enough, if you’ve accomplished enough, if you’ve made enough money, or lost enough weight. Be here now, even if that feels uncomfortable. Take that weight off your shoulders, and have a goddamn drink or a piece of chocolate. True progress is made through experience and interaction, and I think you’re doing pretty fucking great already.

My Body isn’t Your News Story

I have a simple request. Can we please stop using women’s bodies as topics of news? My body isn’t your news story.

This past week, I had been traveling in Dubai for work. When I travel, in the mornings while I get ready I like to watch the news. Usually CNN or BBC. To my dismay, those channels were not available. The only channels available in English were National Geographic, Discovery, and E! Network.

As I prepared to hit the pool one early morning, and pulled on my one-piece I suddenly tuned into my chosen background chatter. The subject: Beyoncé’s post-baby diet. When I looked up to the visual, it was an extremely grainy, zoomed in paparazzi shot of Bey’s half-eaten apple. I’m guessing Golden Delicious. 

Yes. What you just heard is correct. A zoomed in shot of the apple carcass left over from the Queen B’s afternoon snack. The anchors proclaimed that Bey had revealed the secret to her weight-loss. Zero carbs, zero sugar, zero red meat, zero, zero, zero. 

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

I shook my head and proceeded to order waffles to my room. But then I heard one of the hosts question if it was, “too much too fast?” Now, I missed exactly what it was referencing, but whatever it was… it shouldn’t have been something that the public needs to weigh in on. Were they saying she had she returned to work too fast after having her baby? In that case, we should not be promoting mommy guilt, or judging mothers for their choice to or to not go back to work.

If they were talking about her weight-loss… again, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. Nor are these hosts certified medical professionals who get to have an opinion. 

Using Women’s Bodies as News Subjects

This is definitely not the first instance of women’s bodies or appearance being the subject of media coverage and attention. Half of most awards shows are just about how “well-dressed,” actors are, and if they have “pulled off” their look. And let’s not even begin to talk about how female politicians and nobility have their outfits discussed instead of their accolades. Then there’s the history of makeover and weight loss shows that “right wrongs,” or “unhealthy behavior.” And I’ll give a final shout out to shows like America’s Next Top Model. 

Then there’s the countless editorial content in magazines and online news media about the weight-loss or gain of celebrities, the diets that they’ve used, or spreads that pit women against each other to see who “wore it best.” 

I often wonder how those in the media can talk about women’s bodies so much, when I can guess that most would not want to undergo the same scrutiny. Yet, this practice seems to be tireless.  To be perfectly honest, though I don’t often watch E! Network, I had hoped that this is something that they had grown past. E! News, I challenge you to find other things to talk about besides women’s bodies. 

Affects of Observing Anti-Fat Behavior

Recently, a group of psychologists at McGill University found that celebrity fat shaming is associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes. UK Magazine, Stylist, says the following, “Implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, instinctive reactions as to whether something – such as fatness or weight gain – is inherently good or bad. Explicit attitudes, in contrast, are those beliefs that people consciously and openly endorse. In other words, we might never say out loud that we think bigger bodies are bad. But thanks in part to celebrity fat-shaming in the media, we may also find it hard to internally shake off negative ideas about weight gain.”

Specifically, researchers found that after witnessing a celebrity fat shaming, women experience a dramatic increase in anti-fat attitudes. Further, the more notorious or critical the fat shaming, the higher the increase. 

I’m going to take you back to some research that I’ve discussed before in my blog. The Girls’ Index, a report from Columbus non-profit Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), found that by ninth grade the percentage of young girls who wish to change their appearance dramatically increases. Simultaneously, the percentage of girls who say they are confident declines sharply. 

Today, women’s bodies are not only criticized and made the topic of conversation by Magazines and TV hosts, but by everyday people through social media. The same anti-fat attitudes are translated through social media as they are through TV and print. ROX found that the more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likelyto want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

I ask again, why is this still happening today. A common practice in the 40s to the early 60s was listing a women’s weight and physical characteristics in newspapers. This was done even when the information was totally irrelevant to the story. History professor Michelle Moravec says, “The practice of including women’s weight — or any other physical observations — in the news has been a way, consciously or not, of “putting women into their proper place,” by giving more value to their appearances. For men, on the other hand, with the exception of athletes, characteristics like weight or attractiveness weren’t important, “Nobody’s describing like, ‘The male candidate in the gray suit got up to deliver a powerful speech,’” she adds. “That’s how you know it’s a gender dynamic: It sounds absurd when you apply it to men.”

Hell, we learned Condoleezza Rice wore a dress size between a 6 and an 8 before we could actually get into the article that talked about her security expertise in a 2000s New York Times article. What does this teach women about their worth? Why aren’t we applauding Beyoncé for her athletic prowess and commitment to her artistry? Would you want your dress size to be the headline of a story about you and your life’s work? 

I sure don’t, but to get it out of the way. I’m between a size 10 and 12, and if that changes how you feel about anything I just said, thank you for your time but kindly leave my page. 

Body Positive Movement

The body positive movement is starting to catch steam in the retail industry. This week I got really excited, and a tad emotional when the retail company I work for released their new arrivals online. There were two new “plus sized” models. And by “plus sized” I mean around size 8 / 10. Which, yes I’m going to out myself, is my size at the moment.

It was a bit comical to suddenly become aware of the fact that I was smiling from ear to ear at my computer screen in our work café. I definitely got a couple looks like “why is this girl so happy to be working right now?” But that’s the reality. I haven’t seen many girls that look like me at most of the brands that I like to shop.

I do think that it’s a bit crazy to be regarded as “plus size” – as of June 2018, 68% of American women wear a size 14 or above. At a size 8, or a size ten after I’ve ate too many tacos, I think to myself, “I’m still am a medium goddamnit.”  

I’ve heard both sides of the sentiment surrounding the body positive campaigns out there. For one, there is the perspective that they celebrate people who are unhealthy and encourage those individuals to maintain their current lifestyle. And in contrast, the view that retail companies are becoming more inclusive of the diversity of body types that really exist in the world. That just because you are a higher number in sizing doesn’t mean that you’re unhealthy.

Positive or Negative?

Someone close to me who has struggled with an eating disorder for a large part of their life recently asked my opinion on body positivity. She wondered why it was okay for bigger women to be body positive, but not girls who are extremely thin.

In my perspective, we live in a double bind. You can’t be “too small,” or “too big.” There is one body type that has prevailed as being “beautiful,” and therefore that body type is featured in marketing, popular media, and film. And that body type “sells.” People buy products and services that are advertised with women who fit the beauty ideal.

The problem that I see deals with visibility. Disproportionately, we are making bigger women invisible. We don’t celebrate their body type, and we don’t tell their stories. We are making 68% of our American population invisible. Hence my excitement of finally seeing myself reflected in the plus sized model at a brand that I work for, and like to shop.

I had never felt like I have the right to label myself as beautiful. And I often find myself feeling that I am invisible because of my size. Invisible to potential male suitors and therefore impossible to love. It was hard not to think that my size contributed to a partner cheating on me in the past once I knew who they had been with.

I placed my worth on my size, because that is what I have been taught to do. Girls my size play the “fat friend,” or the “fat girl” that gets ridiculed, laughed at, and left out in movies. I still struggle with this. It often feels like if you aren’t in the stereotypical version of being, “in shape,” then you can’t be successful in your life. Feeling invisible, I start to impose that on myself. I don’t order the dessert that I want, because I feel like I can’t be seen eating it.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter… oh my!

This is further emphasized in social media. Women report that social media, followed by TV and movies are the most impactful factors in how they view their bodies. And we can’t forget that this is starting at a very young age. The more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likely to want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

Similarly, new research this past year revealed that 88% of women report comparing their bodies to images in the media, and 51% of those individuals think that they compare unfavorably. At this doesn’t just affect women. Sixty-five percent of males report the same behavior. And in general, overtime both men and women become less confident about their bodies.

Being Body Positive

Back to those who believe that the body positive movement is contradicting. Yes – obesity is the leading risk factor for disease and death in the U.S. But the body positive movement is not about “denying science.” We’ve been trained to think of “fat,” as “bad.” And we often either pity those of a larger size, or think of them as “lazy.” We think that they could, “try a little harder,” even while we may simultaneously applaud their confidence.

What the body positive movement is about is loving the body that you have, and treating it with love and respect. Outside of that, it isn’t preaching that weight loss is the answer to someone’s presumed unhappiness. People can be overweight and healthy. People can be overweight and happy. And people can be body positive and want to lose weight. None of these things are mutually exclusive.

But if we continue to make this group of individuals invisible, and “bad,” their self-worth will dwindle. And with it their motivation – their motivation to treat their bodies with respect and love.