Insta-no

I was scrolling through Instagram this afternoon and Ambertheactivist’s account came up under ‘Explore’, I follow her Creatingconsentculture account and have great respect for the activism she does around sexual assault and rape culture. Amber is a survivour of sexual violence and uses her experience to create important dialogue and support other survivours. All rad things. However, I was upset to see her post on Ambertheactivist featured below:

I was so disappointed to see this kind of image and accompanying caption on an activists account that I have such respect for. Not only is it triggering for survivours of sexual assault, but for those who struggle with eating disorders.

Shaming people for their food choice is fucked up in any situation, but comparing the act of consuming cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, and milk to supporting sexual violence is disgusting, misleading and belittles rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Sexualized violence is a huge problem in our society and in recent years, we have finally begun confronting the effects of rape culture. There are many amazing activists and organizations that work tirelessly to make our culture safer for everyone. However, when activists use something as serious and traumatic as rape to further their cause (veganism), they are not only hurting survivors, but making it harder for those who are working towards ending rape culture to be taken seriously by the boarder population.

I have been a vegetarian for most of my life and have dabbled in veganism, but it was directly related to my ED and much too restrictive for me to be able to in recovery. Not everyone, even those who have/had eating disorders have this experience. I have a few friends who are recovered or in recovery and are vegan. They are healthy and happy, and I’m happy for them. I have other friends who were vegetarian or vegan pre-recovery and now happily eat meat. Both of these things are perfectly fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to push a diet or shame anyone’s food choices. Food and body shaming are still big problems in activist communities – as much as they are in other communities. From shaming folks for not buying local or organic, to mocking the foods of a particular culture, to shaming veganism posts – it’s all fucked up.

I have seen a lot of shame-y vegan posts on Instagram and after a pang of guilt, I usually select “See fewer like this” and move on, but this one got to me. I am angry, really angry at this. I am all for animal welfare and ethical farming. I try to buy free range eggs and if a pal asks for suggestions of local meat, I’ll suggest a butcher who I know treats their animals well. I may not eat meat, but I would much rather support a local farmer who cares for their livestock over a factory farm. However, comparing dairy production to rape is SO WRONG. I wish I could put this more eloquently, but I can’t. Not right now. I am so disappointed to see an advocate of consent, feminism and ending sexualized violence post something so insensitive. Women are often compared to animals – cows, pigs, kittens – various kinds of non-human animals. It’s a way of dehumanizing and delegitimizes women and their experiences. Women/femme folks are disproportionately vicitimized through sexualized violence, so to call dairy production “Rape” is beyond ignorant; it is a deplorable, triggering, and false statement. It is ok to disagree with how dairy is produced, it is ok to choose not to eat it. Support vegan business, cook for your pals, do what makes you happy, but there is never a reason to shame another person for their food choice.

The meme is terrible (it was not made by ambertheactivist, just reposted), but it is the caption that really upset me. Amber writes: “…that delicious vanilla creamer you put in your coffee this morning? A cow was raped for that milk.” My stomach dropped and I felt like I might choke when I read that. I had just finished a coffee after running some errands and enjoying the beautiful day. It took me 3 years to put cream in my coffee and not having a breakdown. I don’t always put in my coffee and I still feel guilty, but a little cream in coffee won’t cause my to cry or engage in behaviours anymore. I have the day off and really enjoyed my coffee, and as soon as I saw that post, guilt crashed down on me. I felt sick thinking of the comparison between dairy and a violent crime. I closed instagram and put my phone down. My mind was racing, but then it hit me: why should I let a stranger who posted this (probably without thinking) to control my choices? Through my involvement in  food activism, feminism and recovery advocacy, I have been slowly learning that my body is my own. It doesn’t belong to any man, to my eating disorder, to shame or guilt. I have been blessed with being able to access treatment a few years ago, to be surrounded by loving, supportive, rad people who validate my experiences, I have the educational background to understand  rape culture, feminist theory, food production and environmental issues. I am incredibly privilege to have the tools and support system that I do, but not everyone does. This post triggered me, but I can blog about it. I can rant to a friend about later if I want. Thousands of people will see that post, they may currently be in a violent situation, be a recent victim/survivour of assault, they could have an eating disorder, or a combination. They may not have the tools to deal with triggering and shaming posts like that. I am writing this less-than-stellar blog post to deal with it, I’ll probably call my Mum later, but it will still affect me. If we want to fully support survivours and anyone who is effected by sexualized violence, we have to be conscious is all of our actions and words. We all fuck up sometimes, and I hope the original poster/creator of that meme, Amber and others who repost, can take a step back and rethink their actions. There are many way to positively support animal welfare that do not capitalize on the trauma of those who have experience rape and sexual assault. I do not think this was the creator of the meme or Amber’s intention. I honestly think they are passionate about animal welfare and it was a terrible choice of words and way of writing. We need to be ok with calling-in our fellow activists. We need to acknowledge our mistakes and realize that we can reinforce aspects of rape culture without even realizing it. I hold great respect for animals and their welfare, but comparing dairy production a violent act that is predominately perpetrated against women is harmful to survivours and to our goal of ending sexualized violence.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year, Same Shame

 

Content Warning: diet-talk, weight-loss, eating disorders

 

The New Year should be a celebration of new beginnings, to remember our accomplishments and to drink enough Champagne so we forget that it is January and absolutely freezing. Unfortunately, there is so much focus on our cultural obsession with perfection that it makes this time of year challenging for many. Each year, the same tired tropes about creating a “New Year, New You!” are recycled through unhealthy diets, shaming tactics and other aspects of diet culture. Diet culture can be seen in shaming of those who are viewed as overweight, encouraging unhealthy weight loss, the 20 billion dollar (USD) weight-loss industry, prioritization of certain body types, and fad diets.

 

Most people who diet regularly (often called yo-yo dieting) will not lose weight, and if they do, they will most likely gain it back. Yo-yo dieting is also extremely dangerous, but is often overlooked. Yo-yo dieters may be suffering from low self esteem, be overwhelmed with cultural messages about dieting or may in fact be suffering from an eating disorder. The majority of those suffering with eating disorders fall under the category of “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” or EDNOS, which can include those who practice yo-yo dieting. Regardless of an official diagnoses, engaging in unhealthy dieting habits (such as pills, over exercising or depravation) is dangerous, both mentally and physically.

 

One of the challenges at this time of year is that if you are dealing with an ED, either in recovery or currently engaging in behaviours, or you are close to someone who has an ED, you will probably be hyper-aware of how triggering this time of year is. However, I find the majority of people are entirely unaware. Our culture is steeped in really fucked up ideas about bodies, health and food, so unhealthy messages about diets and bodies seem normal.

 

I dread conversations, advertisements and media about New Year resolutions. Most resolutions rely on shaming tactics and unrealistic expectations. Four months ago, I was trying to figure out how to deal with this, because each year is different. The messages are basically the same, but of course, we as people change. We might be in a very positive mental space or may be experiencing a relapse. Each year has new challenges and new accomplishments. However, New Year’s resolutions that focus on changing our bodies and engaging in damaging behaviours don’t recognize how unique, fascinating, strong and beautiful each person is. They rely on shame and guilt, not empowerment and self-care.

 

We all know most resolutions fail, yet many people continue to make unsustainable and sometimes dangerous resolutions. Mass media – from advertisements on Instagram, to magazines articles and programming on news media – presents the New Year as a chance to find all your supposed flaws and force yourself to change. Most of the content is aimed at women/femme folks and is based on physical appearance. Each year, media outlets, acquaintances, and family members talk endlessly about how much weight should be lost, how to eat “Healthier” and how to “get fit.” All this makes the week after Christmas and January hell for many people, especially if they struggle with an eating disorder/disordered eating.

 

The semester I returned to university after treatment, I was sitting in a class and a few women were chatting a couple of chairs over from me. I wasn’t really paying attention, but then the conversation turned to how much weight they had apparently gained over Christmas break and how their New Years resolutions were all about weight-loss and diets. I felt trapped. Class was about to start and I didn’t want to miss it. My coping skills were better than they were before treatment, but I was still at the beginning stages and didn’t know how to handle this. Over the last few years, I have found some ways to cope and want to share in hopes that it will make this time of year slightly more bearable.

 

  1. If you use Tumblr, download the Tumblr Saviour extension. You can block triggering words and topics. It’s a lifesaver.
  2. Word Blocker and other similar extensions are available for Chrome (I find the ones I have tried don’t work very well, but it might be worth a try)
  3. Un-follow (even temporarily) certain lifestyle blogs and accounts. Many cooking, vegan and fitness blogs will be overrun with triggering content these days. If you like what they post at other times, you can always re-follow them later.
  4. Be ok with walking away from conversations. If someone begins talking about diets or weight-loss, it is ok to walk away. Self-care is always important, but at this time of year it is imperative to care for your mental well-being and that sometimes means walking away.
  5. If you are comfortable, ask friends and family to avoid diet talk. This can be challenging, especially if they do not know about your ED/disordered eating. You are not obligated to tell anyone who you are not comfortable with, but saying something along the lines of “I’m not comfortable talking about diets, etc. could we change the subject?” Many people who are not personally affected by EDs do not want to talk about diets or weight-loss.
  6. Accept support. If you have a friend who wants to listen to you vent or an option to see a therapist, take it! You may not think you need it, especially if you have been doing well in recovery, but a little support goes a long way. We all need support; it doesn’t make you weak to ask for some extra help.
  7. If you have no one in your immediate circle to confide in, look up support groups in your community and check if your insurance or schools offers support for counseling.
  8. Do something that makes you happy each day. Sometimes we can’t avoid being triggered, and some days are just harder than others. Take a nice bath or create some art. Do something that is positive for you.

 

If you are reading this, and are not personally affected by disordered eating/eating disorder, I hope you will take into consideration how damaging diet talk can be and how important it is to support a culture that accepts all bodies. Shame and guilt have no place in our relationships with food and our bodies. Food does not hold moral value and dieting/not dieting does not make you a better or worse person. Our bodies are magical, resilient and unique. We should celebrate diversity of bodies, “flaws” included. While there is more diversity of bodies seen in media, it is still dreadfully insufficient. Representation in media will not eliminate eating disorders and related issues, but it could help create a more positive, and realistic, culture.

 

I will end this post on a thought that has been crossing my mind lately had a therapist tell me once, “Imagine if losing weight was the only thing you ever accomplished, how would you feel?” At the time, weight loss was the only thing I cared about, but as I went through treatment, and accomplished other things that we not related to my body, I started to come around to the idea that my body is not my only worth. My body is not the sole indicator of who I am as a person. I hope we, as individuals and as a society, can begin to focus more on each others accomplishments and strength, instead focusing on a very specific, and unattainable, image of perfection.

Body betrayal

What do you do when your body betrays you? It happens to all of us at one point. It might be something minor, but embarrassing like tripping in front of a room of people after your leg falls asleep, or it might happen as you grow older, your eyesight worsens or your blood pressure rises. But what do you do when your body betrays you in considerable ways at a young age? I have been trying to figure this out for the past few years, and I’ve found some answers, as imperfect as they are.

I have been experiencing chronic illness/pain for over five years and an eating disorder for about twelve years. I don’t have a clear diagnosis for my chronic pain, but right now I do know that it affects every aspect of my life. I have days where I can’t get out of bed or where I double over in pain, I have days where my body just seems to stop working. I don’t want this post to be me complaining about being chronically ill, but just to set the scene; I will say that my body often does not act in the way I would like it to. I was a pretty healthy kid/young person, besides the occasional cold, I was never sick. Even for the first few years of my ED, physically I was “ok”. Of course, my body (and mind) was being severely damaged; I just didn’t realize it yet. When I first started to experience chronic pain, it was something I could push through, but as the years went on, I had more trouble dealing with it. I am very blessed to have lots of people, professionals and loved ones, to support me. However, most of the time it’s just me dealing with my health problems.

On the bright side, I have found a few things that help: reality shows that are too embarrassing to list but great for distraction, breathing exercises (everyone hates it when professionals suggest this, but they work) and probably the most beneficial, making sure I really embrace every single moment I don’t feel like shit. I try appreciate everything my body can do. I may hate my body 99% of the time, but I am also fascinated by it. A friend of mine recently invited me to yoga, and I’m amazed, that after all the terrible things I have done to myself, and regardless of how much pain I am, my body can do amazing things.

I was a little frustrated leaving yoga class today. I felt ill and off balanced, but with some assistance from the teacher and modifying poses, I completed an hour-long class. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but each day I can get up and go to work, or have a conversation or go for a walk, it’s an accomplishment. Every day will not be a good day, and that is ok.

Another very important lesson I have learned from being ill is that it is ok to have shitty days. Whether it’s a bad day due to a physical or mental illness or you are just feeling “off”, it’s ok to have a rough day. I have learned that sometimes I should not try to push through, I have found that stopping and just sitting with whatever I am feeling can be the best solution. Yes, it is not fun to explain why I can’t do something or have to sit something out, but it helps me survive.

Maybe I will never know what is wrong with me. Maybe I will find some treatment that will help me get rid of the chronic pain. Maybe I will recover or maybe I won’t, but at least I know I can survive a bad day.

Being young and chronically ill has taught me a lot, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I often wonder how different of a person I would be if I didn’t have these illnesses. My GPA would be higher and I probably would have been overseas by this point. I like to think being ill has made me more self-aware, more compassionate and less selfish. I like to think that all of this has a deeper meaning. I know I appreciate my life more, little things bother me less and I am more driven to embrace all the seemingly inconsequential things in life. I don’t claim to have any special understanding, I still get frustrated and sad. I just know that I – my body and mind – can accomplish more than I thought I could, even if it takes me twice as long. The hardest things to learn is there is no time limit on healing or growing. I am still working to accept this, but at least I have time.

You Don’t Look Like A…

“You don’t look like a feminist”

“You don’t look like an activist”

These are phrases I have heard quite often, more so in the last year when I began working more seriously in women’s rights and social justice.

In my first year of university, a few friends and I were sitting in our Meal Hall and chatting about our beliefs relating to religion and Atheism. I mentioned that I believe in a higher power, but don’t consider myself religious (despite attending church at the time). The conversation shifted from philosophy to sciences and back to religion. I made some comment to which a male student at our table responded, “You wouldn’t understand cause you believe in God and are really girly, like you wear a lot of flower patterns.” I don’t remember what I said in response, but it wasn’t much because I was so shocked. What did my personal faith have to do with my ability to understand? Even worse, when did floral clothing become an indicator for lack of intelligence?

Despite my apparent stupidity and love of floral dresses, I continued my education (You can pause reading to congratulate me on my perseverance). Over the next few years, I heard much of the same: I was too pretty to be a feminist, I was too into fashion to care about social justice issues, and I was too girly to be smart.

If you’re still with me and haven’t zoned out due to my gender or reported appearance, please listen to why all of those claims are complete bullshit.

“You’re too pretty to be a feminist.”

 

This statement has absolutely no merit. First of all, there is not required level of unattractiveness to be a feminist. Secondly, the assumption that attractiveness is limited to certain features is archaic and rooted in patriarchal, hetero-normative values – something that feminism aims to deconstruct.

As misogynist/TV personality/all-around asshole Pat Robinson said in 1992,

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Well, Pat, I give you credit for zeroing in on our agenda, but you misspoke on a couple of things: Feminists will only leave their husbands if they are assholes like you. And no one “becomes a lesbian.” Being a lesbian is not like becoming a member of Costco.

I’m sure if pressed Pat, and his modern-day counterparts like Men’s Rights Activist and advocator of all things terrible, Paul Elam and rape advocate and “Pick-up artist” Roosh V, would all tell you how ugly and gross feminist are. It must be very disconcerting when women who are considered conventionally attractive by millions of people, like Beyoncé, Emma Watson, Nikki Minaj and Taylor Swift all call themselves feminist.

You see, dear readers, feminism is not based upon how you look, because it’s a human rights movement, not a fucking modeling agency.

I have been a feminist my whole life. I was raised by a feminist (my mother, who by the way has never tried to kill any children and is not a lesbian or a witch – not that there’s anything wrong with either), and at least by some people, I’m considered attractive. My looks and being a feminist are not related at all. I could not shower for three months or I could spend 2 hours on my hair every morning; I could never wear a bra or spend half my paycheck at Victoria’s Secret, and I would still be a feminist.

One of the many wonderful things about feminism is that you don’t have to look a certain way, hold a certain job, be a particular age or gender or race. Feminism is for everyone.

 

It seems like no matter how a woman dress, she will be criticized. Are you wearing a cute dress? You’re probably a bimbo. Baggy jeans? You’re a slob. Crop top? A slut. All covered up? You’re a prude.

So what do we do when it seems like no matter what we can’t please anyone? Wear whatever the fuck you want. Your clothing choices can express part of who you are, but they don’t accurately reflect beliefs, intelligence, or personality.

At various times in my life, people have not taken my seriously, whether due to my gender or race. This used to upset me a lot when I was younger. I tried to change my dress, the way I spoke and at one point even tried to bleach my skin or wear makeup to appear more “white”. As I got older and became more educated, I realized I would never please everyone and the only person who I have to please is myself. I know that I have worked hard to get where I am, I know I’m intelligent. I know I will always have to work harder than my white, cis-male counterparts, but that’s not going to stop me. If someone thinks I’m stupid because of how I dress or my gender, that’s their problem. I will not change how I look to please someone else, and neither should anyone else.

I was running some errands a few weeks ago and was wearing a crop top. An older woman look at my and made some kind of noise in disgust while looking at me. Even last year, this would have made me want to run home and change. Now I can laugh about it. If you are so upset by how another person is dressed, you are the one that needs to change, not them. My midriff caused this woman emotional distress, so I must be pretty fucking powerful if I can do that with two inches of stomach. Imagine if I was wearing a bikini, she probably would have had an anger-induced aneurysm right there.

My point with this whole post is that people suck and will judge. BUT there is a silver lining: when you stop giving a fuck what other people think of you, you can accomplish more and are generally a happier person. The more you speak out, the more judgment you will notice, but you will also notice that you feel more free and authentic. When you are an activist and a feminist, you are going to encounter opposition and judgment, but try to meet that hate with love. You certainly don’t have to love homophobic, sexist assholes, but love yourself, love your world, love what you do, and you will surpass all those fuckboys who ever made you feel insecure.

Keep Calm and Shut the Fuck Up

 

I am angry. These three little words make many people very uncomfortable. I have been thinking of writing this for a few weeks now but I couldn’t get up the courage to do so. It is true. I am angry. Not at one person in particular but at events, and the systems and frameworks that serve to oppress over half the worlds population.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the events in Baltimore, and before that in Ferguson. As much as we hear we now live in a “post-racial” society, we do not. The only people who try to claim this are the ones that do not have to deal with racism or other forms of ethnicity-based oppression. For purposes of clarity, I will give a definition of racism.

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Now this is important: racism is systematic.

Let me say this again: racism is systematic. There is no racism against white people. This seems to be a point of contention among many white people, which still confuses me. I have never understood why so many people wish to experience racism. I understand that it isn’t that simple; it’s not racism these people wish to experience, but an alleviation of guilt/knowledge/responsibility of their participation in systematic racism.

In the last few weeks, I have heard or been told that I (or other people of colour) “make too big of a deal” about racism or are “too sensitive” about racist comments. I have heard countless excuses for the behaviour of police officers in the United States or the refusal to do anything about the thousands of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. I saw countless, I mean that I stopped counting because I couldn’t keep track: the excuses for racism were too numerous and too upsetting to keep counting.

Often times, when the conversation turns to race, people get visibly uncomfortable. That makes sense, especially if they are not used to this kind of conversation or are suddenly aware of their own racism. Here’s the thing: It is ok to be uncomfortable. It is ok to realize that you have been wrong and to feel bad about that. What is not ok is continually excuse and reinforce racist attitudes and behaviours.

When I, or another person of colour, says that they are angry with white people, it is does not mean that we hate you. It means that we are pissed off, hurt, and tired because of the hundreds, thousands, of years of oppression that we have experienced at the hands of white people.

I remember reading years ago that during the Civil Rights movement in the US, white people were panicking at the thought of black people getting rights. Their fear was, of course, loss of domination. One thing that stuck out to me, was how many people stated that they fear black people/people of colour would turn the tables and begin to treat white people as they had treated them. Nowadays, this irrational fear is heard in arguments of gender equality, and still sadly, of race.

I want to make one thing clear to all my white readers: oppressed people do not want to recreate the system of oppression and racism that is in place now. We want to tear down this system and create one that is equitable and free of violence. Let me put that even more clearly (just in case). People of colour, women (included in the first as well) and LGBTQ+ communities demanding and taking rights does not mean the loss of rights for white people, men and heterosexuals.

I am obviously not the first person to say this, and certainly not the last. I do not understand why it is so difficult to accept. I wonder if it is because those living with the most privilege are so bound to their ideas, structures and norms that they can not imagine a world where one is not given power through the oppression of the other.

I am mixed race. I have respect for both of my cultures. I don’t feel more white or more brown, yet I have been told for most of my life that I should choose. It seems that the only thing people hate more than a different culture, is when two cultures unite.

The first time I remember someone telling me to choose was in high school. A “friend” told me I didn’t seem “black, because [I] didn’t listen to rap.” I was shocked. It never occurred to be that my love of punk music would completely discount my ethnicity! Thankfully, some white teenager told me or I would have lived in ignorant bliss my entire life! I mentioned this to a black friend of mine, and she suggested I “just choose a side” to make things easier. I wanted to tell her this was impossible. I am a whole, not two pieces I can separate. I had one mixed race friend in high school and luckily she understood what I was going through, as she was experiencing the same thing. When you are mixed race, it seems like there is not safe place to land.

I grew up in a rural community that was predominately white. Although I have experienced racism my whole life, I didn’t begin to notice it until I got older and more aware. When I was younger I assumed racism was racial slurs, not being served at a store or racial profiling by police. I did not realize there were more subtle forms.

Just recently, I was very upset about the violence against black men and women in the United States and was talking about this with a group of friends. I said something about being a woman of colour, and one of the people there responded with, “but you’re so light, it’s not like you can even really call yourself brown.” I was so angry and taken aback that I couldn’t respond. Yes, I have lighter skin. But that doesn’t mean I am white, or that half of my race ceases to exist because I’m looking a little pale. My race is something I am proud of. I come from a long line of farmers, travellers, and fighters. My mother’s side (Irish) were expelled from their land by English colonizers and had to begin a new life in a harsh environment. My father’s ancestors were conned into coming to the ‘new world’, where they were enslaved on sugar cane plantations. They survived. My grandparents brought my parents to Canada for a better life, and now I am trying to create a better world, not just for myself, but also for all people of colour.

I have been told many times that it is shameful to be mixed race, to be a woman of colour, but I refuse to believe this and I refuse to be quiet. My anger may make you uncomfortable, but I have the right to express it. I have the right to work for a better, more equitable, future. I do not need your permission to move, to speak or to be. I will not be limited by stereotypes of submissive Asian women or sassy black women (who aren’t taken seriously). I will express my anger, my joy, my sadness and my strength.

Yes, it’s easier for you to ignore racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, but do you wan to live in a world where your freedom relies on the oppression of others?

 

Faith and Illness

I consider myself a spiritual person; I have always believed in a higher power and was raised in and around religion. My mother was Irish-Catholic and my father was raised Hindu, and my extended family still participates in Hindu rituals. Since, I was a child I felt a strong spiritual connection to something, whether you call that something “God” or “Brahma” or “Mother Earth”, I knew there was more than just me.

Like most people, I have struggled with my faith – defining and reconciling it with what I see in myself and in the world around me. The first time I remember struggling with my belief in a higher power was when I overheard my parents talking about the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s. I caught glimpses on TV of bombings and injured or dead people. I remember being distinctly aware that this was in opposition to everything I had heard about “God”. God was supposed to protect us. This is what I had heard at school, in church and at prayers (practitioners of Hinduism hold prayers a few times a year and for special occasions). I wondered why God would let so many people die. I was a child, so the thought went quickly out of my head.

My next crisis of faith came when I was in my early teens. I was suffering through Anorexia, my family went from middle-class and comfortable to quite poor. I wouldn’t say I stopped believing in God, but I was very angry and wanted nothing to do with any higher power. Through my teen years, I was too focused on my eating disorder to really question what was happening with my body and mind spiritually.

I looked for spiritual connection through the Catholic Church and attended services on campus. This was a great comfort in my first two years of university; the priest was kind and the congregation offered the support I needed at the time. I could not reconcile my political and social beliefs with the Church, particularly under the conservative leadership of Pope Benedict. I stopped attending church, but learned a lot about my own spiritual beliefs and needs.

The next spiritual challenge I faced, and still struggle with today, was dealing with chronic illness and still being spiritual. Again, I began to question what kind of God allows this, or does God (or any higher power) have any say in what happens to us? I have not believed in an omnipotent God in many years, not since I was a child. I still angry though. I think I am a pretty decent person, I haven’t done anything so horrible to “deserve” illness. And since I was still born human and privileged, I probably didn’t do anything in my past lives either.

Every few months or weeks, I get very ill. I know when it’s happening and try to deal with it best I can, but my illness interferes with every part of my life. My illness challenges my faith, particularly when I am experiencing severe symptoms. Just yesterday, I was lying in bed and wondering why this is happening to me? I don’t have an answer, and as of now, no one else does either. I have stopped thinking that God is punishing me or that God can even control this.

I believe in something. Some kind of higher power. I don’t believe that this higher power has control over our lives or chooses how we live or die. I do think things happen for a reason. Living with chronic illness has taught me a lot about myself and my faith. I have found that I am stronger than I thought I was and a big part of that strength comes from faith. I have met amazing people because of my illness. Every time I am in treatment or the hospital, I meet someone or learn something that helps me. I hate being there, but I am learning to find the good in being ill.

I still get angry over all the time I have lost and how shitty I feel most days, I struggle with reconciling hardship with my faith. Faith is not about things running smoothly all the time or about something/someone else being in charge of your life. It is about finding that strength in yourself, in those around you and in whatever higher power you believe in.

I am trying to find a balance in my spirituality and in my health. I often feel a disconnection between body and soul. My soul wants to do so much and my body does not always cooperate. There are many things in life I cannot control and this is what I struggle with the most and it also where I find having faith to be the most helpful. If you know me, you know I like to be in control, I like things a certain way and I hate when I can’t achieve that. It is in these moments, I find my faith to be saving grace. It is in the moments where I at my lowest physically and mentally, that I rely on my faith. In my first year at Acadia, someone I knew told me they were shocked that I believed in God/a higher power since I seemed so logical. I cannot prove there is any higher power beside my own feeling that there is. But that is not the point of faith. Faith is personal and is not based on logic. It may not be logical to believe in a higher power, but it is part of what keeps me alive, what keeps me fighting for recovery and looking for treatment options.

I was in the hospital one time and as usually was younger than everything there by about 50 years. An older woman was encouraging me not to give up and she mentioned she would be praying for me. I gathered from our conversation that she was Christian and while I do not consider myself Christian, I appreciated that she would be praying to her incarnation of a higher power for me. I told her I would pray for her too. My prayer does not involve clasped hands or kneeling in pews. Sometimes, my spirituality comes out of a walk through the woods or during yoga practice.

I struggle with being ill and keeping my faith, but I know there is a reason for all of this, even if I can’t see it now.

Media, Mental Illness and Race

In recent years, the media has focused more on mental illness. That should be a good thing right? Not always. In the past few years, we have been hearing about mental illness in relation to violent acts. Cases like Elliot Rodgers, the 2012 Aurora shooting, and Sandy Hook have drawn mass media attention and many pointed to the perpetrators supposed mental illness as a reason as to why these men committed mass murder. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators but because stories like this, many people think that mental illness equals violence tendencies.

There were different motives in each case, however they all have something in common: young, middle or upper class white men committed the murders. Each time a white man commits mass murder, the media points to mental illness as the cause. This excuses the behaviour of murders and vilifies those with mental illness. Compare this media attention to that of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or John Crawford (a young man murdered in a Wal-mart because he was holding a BB gun, which was sold in store); when these men where brutally murder while unarmed, there was very little sympathy for them in the media. Martin was branded a thug and Crawford seemed to be blamed for simply picking up an item on the shelf. Let’s say these men were armed, let’s say they shot first – how would the media react? Would they defend these young men, say they were mentally ill, not in control of their actions? I highly doubt it.

There is another aspect of this; the media portrays mental illness as something that only affects white, middle class people. When I was younger, I thought I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t tall, blonde and rich. I saw girls with EDs portrayed in the media in a very certain light. Honest and diverse portrayal of mental illness in the media is really important. While the media does discriminate, mental illness does not discriminate.

One in Four will be affected by mental illness. Take a look around; at least one person you know is currently dealing with mental illness. It could be depression, an eating disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, anxiety, etc. Mental illness can manifest in many ways; it does not matter what socioeconomic class you are, what your race is, religion, sex, mental illness can affect you or someone you.

Mental illness is not a white, middle/upper class issue. Mental illness is also not an excuse. I will admit I was an awful person at times when I was deep in my ED. I was mean, rude and a liar. My illness was a reason, but not an excuse. I am in charge of my own recovery. There are things we cannot control when we are mentally ill, especially when we are not getting treatment, but once we are aware of our illness and getting the help we need, we must take responsibility for our actions.

*1 in 4 source: http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

Lapses & Perfection

Each time I have attempted recovery I went into it with the idea that I would have the “perfect” recovery – whether that meant following my meal plan to the letter or exercising a certain way for a certain time, I wanted to be perfect. I spent over a decade trying to be perfect in my eating disorder, and failing.

 

Lapses are a normal part of recovery, there a shitty part, but completely normal. My first lapse, I came to my therapist almost in tears I was so ashamed. I told her how sorry I was for “ruining” my recovery. I thought I was all over because I engaged in eating disorder behaviours. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As I went through treatment and made more friends in recovery, I realized we all struggle, we all trip, we all fuck up. And that is ok.

 

This isn’t just for ED recovery, no matter what you are recovering from: PTSD, depression, OCD, etc. Slip-ups are normal, the main this is that we learn to cope with our struggles in a healthy way. After a lapse, it can be easy to beat ourselves up, feel like we have failed – we haven’t.

 

Often people with eating disorders, anxiety disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have perfectionistic tendencies anyway, so when we bravely attempt recovery and then slip up, it normal react strongly.

 

Lapses are terrible, confusing and scary. Lapses also give us the opportunity to reassess our needs, to practice self -care and to fight even harder for recovery. If you lapse, the best thing to do it is reach out to a friend who you can trust and remember that you are human and perfection is impossible.

 

We will never be perfect in our illness and we will never be perfect in our recovery. We find who we are through our imperfections, there is more to life than striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect through recovery will only hurt progress. Let yourself be human.

Are Eating Disorders a Feminist Issue?

 

 

I decided to ask around online if people agreed that Eating Disorders (EDs) were a feminist issue, I received some really great answers, which I will discuss later on, but mostly I got negative feedback, personally insulting me. People responded by saying that I didn’t understand eating disorders (despite me explaining that I have had various EDs for the past 12 years), that “men don’t give women eating disorders” and that I am stupid for even asking. The common denominator in these responses was that because I mentioned feminism, I must be unintelligent and a man-hater.  Basically, I found most people didn’t understand eating disorders or feminism.

 

Through my recover journey, I have found that people – medical professionals included – often do not take EDs seriously. I was struggling with Bulimic tendencies a few years ago and it was taking a toll on my health. I was describing some ways I had been feeling and discussing my abysmal blood work with my then family doctor when she said that I “wasn’t one of those dumb, vain girls with eating disorders.” I was dumbfounded and didn’t even consider seeking help for another year. There is a stereotype of people with EDs that is false and dangerous; many people think that the only people who are suffering are young, white, women with certain personalities. In reality, eating disorders do not discriminate. I know people of all ages, races, genders and socio-economic classes that suffer from eating disorders.

 

The comment made doctor made about women with eating disorders being vain and dumb is sexist and incredibly untrue. First off she was assuming that EDs are about looks and that there is choice in getting this illness and that EDs are a problem only for women. The women and men I know that are suffering or having recovered from EDs are some of the most intelligent, kind and compassionate people I know. They are not vain or stupid.

 

Over 24 million men and women in America have eating disorders. Most suffers are women, with 5-15% of sufferers being men. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest rate of mortality in all mental illness. Bulimia and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) have incredibly high rates as well. Yet, we still see pro-anorexia shirts being sold at Hudson’s Bay Company and weight-loss ads everywhere we go. Women are constantly told to look a certain way; that we shouldn’t be hungry, that being on a diet is normal and anything about a size 4 is fat, or that there is something wrong with having fat. Women are expected to starve; from the time I was a child I remember hearing conversations about growing teenage boys and how much they should eat, but it seemed like every woman I knew was on a diet. Why must be always shrink away?

 

Men are affected by patriarchal standards as well. They are told that being weak is not manly; that they have to be ripped or work out six days a week or no one will love them. I have known men who have engaged in disordered behaviour on the advice of coaches or their fathers.

Women are the main target of body criticism and outdated standards, however it affects our entire culture. We are teaching children that their looks are more important than their character and that a number can define them as a person.

 

Mental health is stigmatized throughout society and part of that is influenced by patriarchy. Equality of treatment and access to services is vital in the fight against eating disorders. Many women, myself included, have been told that it is “normal” to hate our bodies, to starve ourselves, to exercise to the point of danger. These are not normal behaviours. The idea that it is normal for women to hate themselves is disgusting! We must challenge the idea of low self-esteem and disordered behaviour is the norm for women and girls. When we create a environment for positive body image and healthy eating, we can better fight the root causes of the messages we see in society.  

*Statistics from NEDIC

Surviving Diet Season

 

Each year we are bombarded advertisements, articles, and conversations about dieting and achieving the “perfect” body. There is no such thing the perfect body – all bodies are perfect in the way that they are our own, our bodies are special and in no need of perfecting.

 

Whether it is a magazine telling us we can get a abs in 10 minutes or the one food that will change our lives or that these 99 tips will help us achieve some kind of perfection, it is saying: you are not good enough. We are not defined by our weight, shape or perceived imperfections. It can be difficult to hold on to confidence when everywhere we look we are told we are less than.

 

Each year I struggle with not having a perfect “bikini body” but this is the first year that I will not give in to those thoughts. I may not love my body, but I do not have to destroy it.

 

Embracing your body does not mean always being completely positive about yourself; some days you are going to wake and feel like shit. On these days instead of focusing on your flaws and acting on your negative thoughts, look in the mirror and say, “I am worthy, I am beautiful and unique.”

 

Diets will not make you happy, neither will losing weight or changing your body in an unhealthy manner. Trust me on this. I wish I had spent more summers frolicking on the beach rather than staying home counting calories and forcing myself to try all those fad workouts.

 

This summer, forget about achieving perfection and enjoy life. Treat your body with kindness, it’s the only one you have.