Saturday, May 16, 2015

On diets and health food and feminism and power

This sticker is on the scale in the nurse's office at work,
where I weight in weekly for a weight loss challenge.
 It's coming up on one year since I publicly declared my mission to get healthier, and I wanted to check in and talk about all the icky sticky things: weight loss, dieting, donuts, and the way it all links in with being a feminist and keeping my own sense of worth.  Some of you are already squirming in your seats, and I'm with you.  This is not a simple intersection of ideas.

As a human in a human body, I struggle a lot with weight.  I know that it is harder for my body to lose weight than other humans.  Partially because of my genes, partially because I've literally spent my entire life gaining and losing weight, and as a result, have a really weird relationship with food and exercise. It is straightforward for me to tell people that I love them or complete a degree program or make time for things that are important to me.  It is not straightforward for me to lose weight, no matter how simple the formula.

I've overloaded my brain with information.  I've done Weight Watchers, I've counted calories (my entire adult life, starting around age 15), I've tried high protein and low carb.  I've done the 21-day-fix, made shakes, skipped meals. I've taken kickboxing, tried running, joined Curves, gone to classes, lifted weights.  I've tried to eat no sugar, I've tried to eat no meat. I've had SO MANY fresh starts that I even laugh at myself now when I say "starting on Monday!"  I've joined endless weight loss challenges.  I've made promises to myself. I've lost 20-30 pounds at a time.  I've gained it all back.  I know some of you are shaking your heads. I'm typing out the story of half the population.

So it was a huge relief when I really started identifying myself as a feminist, reading empowering manifestos about defining your own self worth and breaking free from the restraints of a corrupt society.  It's obvious to me that girls and women are judged too heavily (and more than their male counterparts) on their physical appearance.  Watch Kristen Schaal discuss the "dadbods" celebration in this perfect Daily Show piece.  Further evidence?  I was recently in a room of mostly women at a breakfast meeting.  A visiting male commented on our lovely spread of bagels and fruit and followed it up with "You'll have a beautiful weekend to go work off all these calories!"  I was instantly annoyed.  Would he have said that to a room of mostly men?  I highly doubt it.

For awhile, I was getting a kick out of it.  Hollywood starlets saying "eat the damn cupcake!" and we all applaud, and I want to applaud that sentiment!  It sounds good, feels good, tastes good!  I am able to dress my overweight body in adorable clothes, put on red lipstick and feel pretty no matter my size.  I have had people hit on me at every weight (and I've run the gambit in my adult life). I've had days where I felt powerful & lovely and days where I've felt gross & icky regardless of the number on the scale.  I'm past being completely ruled by I weigh.


I sometimes get winded walking up the stairs.  My blood sugar is MUCH better than it was at this time last year, but it is not completely stable.  When I let healthy habits slip (particularly moving my body and chugging water), I feel like Monster Ashlie and get extremely grumpy/mildly depressed. I have weight loss goals and I really want to reach them and sometimes that makes me feel like I'm living a double life.  Female-solidarity-down-with-diets-don't-let-the-magazine-tell-you-you're-not-beautiful Ashlie who will NOT eat a carrot when what she really wants is a piece of cake, and Jesus-you're-so-close-to-that-first-milestone-so-put-down-the-chips Ashlie, who breaks foods into "good" and "bad" categories as a knee jerk reaction.  Pass the carrots.

This piece about a dieting feminist really resonated with me.  I loved the honesty about how weight loss was about both health and appearance. I thought it was funny that it was peppered with ads for articles about the workout plans of swimsuit models (Thanks  At the end, when the feminist was proud of her weight loss, albeit secretly, I was happy for her.  It made me think a lot.  

I've decided it comes down to choice and language.  If I'm trying to lose weight because I want to be healthy and strong and what I consider to be my best self, I think that still falls into the "girl power" camp I want to be in.  I can honestly say that being on course to lose weight is something that makes me feel good, and when I use the "damn the man, your beauty standards can't keep me from ordering a third double-mocha syrup drink!" excuse, it's usually to justify a decision that I honestly don't think is best for me.*  For the record, I never feel guilty when going out to the dairy bar for ice cream, and I think it's because  it's a conscious choice, because I realize that I will never be on a eating plan that doesn't make room for that.  The knowledge keeps me from overeating ice cream.  Because I'm comfortable that it will always be there.

Language is also HUGE. When I say I'm going to the gym or going for a run and Milo asks why, I tell him it's because I want to be stronger.  I never speak disparagingly about myself in front of my children, students, or friends.  Not to my husband.  Rarely even to myself.  I have trained myself away from being the butt of my own jokes, and I have cut completely mean comments about my looks.  This doesn't mean I pretend I'm not overweight or I ignore the size of my clothes.  I can comfortably admit that I'm planning a tattoo that is large because my upper arm is large and I want to the proportions to be appropriate so it looks right. It should be okay to say "I'm big" the same way I would say "I'm short."  

That's where I am these days.  Trying to love myself at every size, make choices that are thoughtful and goal-oriented, and use loving, supportive language about...everything.  No good foods, no bad foods, no "I'm not allowed to" at lunch time.  I recently went back and reread this love letter I wrote to my body after having Elliott.  Our bodies are RIDICULOUS, doing miracles like creating children and running marathons and holding hands and kissing- WHO INVENTED KISSING- and being the vehicle for these big, beautiful brains that are making up songs and jokes and lullabies and grocery lists and telling little ears where babies come from.  Our bodies.  They come from these awesome bodies.

If you take anything away from this, just be reminded that you do have a choice, and you reflect it in your language.  Doing what's best isn't always fun, but try to find something that clicks for you- a recipe, an activity, a solid comeback for any body-negative comments you might be exposed to- and hang on to it.  And tell me what you think: can diets be empowering? Do you have an awesome comeback for crappy negative comments? Where do you fall in the tricky place of balancing body love and body management?

Please just love yourself.

*These are the choices that are best for me, made after talking to doctors and evaluating what feels good on MY body and for in MY life.  This is not a license to fat shame, to use health as a reason to judge others.  There are healthy people of every size.  Unless you're a doctor, you're not a doctor, so you don't get to tell other people how to eat/dress/exercise/ live.  Ever.

Further reading:
Jes from The Militant Baker is a body advocate and her blog is empowering.
Victoria from The Disaster Poodle wrote about diet culture- on point.
Mara Glatzel wrote about holding the framework and self care as self love.

Image credits: tape sticker by ModernGirlBlitz, Weigh Beauty, Wonder Woman

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Coffee and Blogs No. 18

I have writer's block, and it's bugging me.  I am about two chapters away from the end of my novel.  I have been happily putting most of my time to this project since November of last year.  The whole thing needs to be rewritten (maybe just heavily edited), and I really really REALLY want to print it out on paper and start making notes and get ready to polish this baby up.  But two chapters away from the end, I have this writer's block that is punishing. So let's distract ourselves!

I've been hoarding links for you lovelies, and I made a commitment to add at least one lovely article for every downer topic I bring up.  Balancing social justice awareness with cute gifs, you know?  So get cozy.  

Geekrotica is a thing, and you're welcome. The Lumberfox is written by one of the young adult authors I've been following on Twitter (Delilah S Dawson).  I haven't read this yet because I think I may need some alone time, but it's short and well-reviewed. It's about a bearded beer-brewer with tattoos and flannel shirts who takes in a stranded motorist during a terrible snow storm.  There are Star Wars jokes.  AGAIN, you're welcome.   

This post from Kate Baer includes the titles of all the essays we need in our 30s.  It was inspired by this similar post from Avidly. You should read them both.  My favorites include "Separately Scrolling Through iPhones with Your Partner on the Couch as Erotic Practice" and "My Instagram Feed Looks Like a White Supremacist's Tea Party" (And Other Millennial Problems)

I love Glennon Melton.  Sometimes I have to stop reading her blog for awhile because she makes me feel all the feelings and I creepily try to feel as little as possible.  Glennon makes that hard.  This is a beautiful article where she reconciles her strong Christianty and her strong support of marriage rights for gay people.  Reconciles is really the wrong word because she eloquently explains how confused she is when people use religion as a framework to remove rights from any group.  

My wonderful friend Emily (seriously, get a friend like Emily.  Cheerleader, Earth-lover, sweet spirit) sent me these literary tattoos.  I want Matilda on my bod.  Seriously.

Cheryl Strayed is someone I need to read more of.  The Art of Motherfuckitude: Cheryl Strayed's Advice to An Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility is perfect.  The essay is lovely, but even if you read it for the direct quotes (set as images throughout), you will be a winner.  I cannot pick one favorite, so here are two:

"I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had."

"Writing is hard for every last one of us — straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig."

Lately, I've been struggling with my feelings about J K Rowling.  I haven't been that into any of the follow up pieces she wrote to the series, she remarked that she doesn't think Ron and Hermione should have ended up together, and she "doesn't read chick lit, fantasy, or sci-fi."  Uh, you don't? Okay, crazy.  So I'm tentative on these 28 things that happen after the series ended, all revealed by Rowling in interviews over the past 8 or so years.  To this day I think After the End, a huge fanfiction piece from Sugarquill,net, is the best post-Hogwarts tale for me.

Chuck Wendig reminds us to NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.  And if you run a blog or site, to squelch the nasty shit right off the bat.  So often I really relate to an article, and the comments section will end up driving icky straight into my bone marrow until I can barely bear to look at myself in the mirror, let alone appreciate the article.  The sounds dramatic but it's eerily true.

Apparently this week was Children's Book Week, which was appropriate, because my students did a lot of work with picture books and Milo and Elliott were really into bedtime stories every night.  I'm reading my first graphic novel right now (Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson) so this list of books that graphic novelists found inspiring is perfect.  What book has stuck with you since childhood?

Don't forget to love on your Mamas this weekend, and all the other ladies who may have mothered you right.  Any of these gifts I posted last year are still WAY appropriate for any damn day of the week.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Be Your Own Book Club: March (&April) 2015 // Never Let Me Go

So the entire month of April went by and I never reviewed our March Be Your Own Book Club pick, Never Let Me Go.  This is not just because I wasn't a huge fan of the book (my writing priorities were elsewhere) but I definitely didn't have a fire under me to share my thoughts.  Let's discuss.

Basic Plot Overview: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are all students at a boarding school in England.  The first half of the book explores their relationships as adolescents and then teenagers, and the second half goes into the pain and uncertainty of their adult lives.  All three children are clones who are being raised as organ donors, and before they reach their 30s, they will all die from complications of their donations.

I really liked the beginning of this book.  Throughout the description of the school days, told from the point of view of Kathy, there is a lot of exploration of the weird psychology of friendships, the mob mentality of groups of friends, and the unspoken rules of who's "in" and who's "out."  I found this sobering but important, as it isn't really something I've seen overtly discussed in this style before.  Kathy and Ruth have this strange back and forth where they are constantly trying to catch each other messing up and expose each other, but then either feel terribly guilty or try and comfort their friend as soon as they succeed in making them feel crappy.  I've seen this happen, and in some twisted relationships, it doesn't disappear with adulthood.  

"Now I saw how upset Ruth was; how for once she was at a complete loss for words, and had turned away on the verge of tears. And suddenly my behavior to me seemed completely baffling.  All this effort, all this planning, just to upset my dearest friend...Now I felt awful, and I was confused." -Kathy

This pattern of getting one over on Ruth, then feeling awful about it, is repeated for the majority of the book.  Ruth gives as well as she gets, and they take turns either sleeping with or completely humiliating Tommy the whole time, as well

"Do you think she would have talked to us that way if she'd known what we really were?  What do you think she'd have said if we'd asked her? 'Excuse me, but do you think your friend was ever a clone model?' She'd have thrown us out. We know it, so we might as well just say it. If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter." -Ruth

Above is probably the most impassioned line of the entire book.  I imagine that every other line of dialogue is kind of quietly sighed.

The subplot (it felt like a subplot) of the whole you're-only-alive-cause-we-need-your-kidneys thing was subtle and strange.  At no point is this revelation made with any kind of fanfare; soon the characters are just talking openly about it and then you realize that you always kind of knew that's what was going to happen.  It's pretty clever, actually, because that's the exact mental journey that the characters take themselves.  They're told about the "donations" and how eventually they'll "complete" from the time they're born.  It's just that they don't realize the actual gravity of their situation until they're in it. 

I expected more of a gasping revelation, but it was never that way in this book.  I think it's because they whole thing is told from Kathy's memory, and she's very quiet and tired and accepting that this is her life.  She wonders if maybe it's possible to change it, but doesn't push all too hard at the edges.  Never Let Me Go is not about anyone challenging the system.  
How did you guys feel?  It's nothing I would particularly recommend or read again, but I'm glad I checked it out, and I enjoyed the description of boarding school life.  It reminded me a bit of A Secret History by Donna Tart.  Who was your favorite character?  At what point did you realize these kids were organ donors? Have you ever had a Ruth in your life?  

To save time and keep momentum, I'm going to announce our May selection right here, right now: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This is an adult fiction, post-apocalyptic novel with lots of flashbacks to Before and Hollywood theme.  I would be so happy if you read along with us!

Thanks for being a book club with me.  Remember: read it or don't, drop out when you need to, and express any damn opinion you have.  Zero commitment, zero pressure.  BE YOUR OWN BOOK CLUB!

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