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Living Beyond Body Image

Living Beyond Body Image

One of my favorite ways to spend my free time is boating with friends and family. For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to the carefree days on the lake with nothing to worry about aside from how long I can surf the wake and the downloaded playlist that will be on repeat all weekend long. As I grew older I became aware of my body and the unrealistic expectations that society was trying to force upon me. Instead of solely feeling excited, I had other feelings cropping up. Although the excitement didn’t disappear, it was accompanied by feelings of vulnerability and nervousness. Instead of living candidly like my inner child wished I could, I felt limited and distracted by the way that I was taking up space and the way that I looked in a swimsuit. One of my favorite quotes by Lindsay Kite reads, “Having positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it is believing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.” (Lindsay Kite, 2020). Knowing that your worth isn’t defined by the way your body looks, opens doors from the unrealistic box society tries to force us into.

Have you ever felt unworthy of an experience based on the way you perceived your body? As I think of all of the memories I would have missed out on if I were to give in and avoid certain experiences based on these uncomfortable or unknown feelings, I would have missed out on so many of my all time favorite days and events. When I think of all  of these core memories, I think of the word free. And having the freedom of not limiting myself based on the unrealistic expectations society tries to enforce upon me, requires vulnerability. As you think of your personal experience and your experience surrounding your healing journey, I want you to consider journaling about each of the following questions:

What does it mean to be vulnerable in my healing journey? 

What does freedom surrounding body image look like to me? 

Am I allowing my perspective of my body to limit my experiences?

Am I allowing myself to feel all emotions that are being brought on by my healing process or am I suppressing specific emotions in effort to avoid feeling uncomfortable? 

When we look back on our favorite memories, we are often thinking about the way that we felt, not the way we looked. Making an effort to work through uncomfortable emotions provides a pathway towards a life full of freedom and experiences that we may otherwise miss out on. 

Lessons from my Relationship with America

Lessons from my Relationship with America

I was the grumpiest one at the parade. Maybe the only grumpy one? Everyone else was smiling and laughing, all decked out in their red, white, and blue outfits. But I was having a hard time celebrating America this year. 

The last month has been heavy for me. The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas broke and angered my heart. I was then deeply upset by the overturn of Roe V Wade and what that means for women in our country. This year, I felt like I was living in a country I didn’t recognize. 

I left shortly after the parade was over, even as my friends and my children all clamored to go to the local fair to play games and eat corn dogs. I knew I needed to engage in self-care and re-set before rejoining the day-long festivities that is our country’s birthday celebration. 

I went where I knew I would find refuge: the mountains. As predicted, after a few hours of hiking, I felt grounded and ready to enjoy the evening with family and friends.

As I hiked, I thought through my emotional experience with everything happening right now and had some important insights for myself. 

I picture our current America like a dysfunctional family. There are absolutely parts that are not going well, parts that harm people, and those things need to change. There are also many things that continue to go right. I do experience so many freedoms and live in a land, community, and country that I love. I showed up for a protest rally right after the overturn of Roe V Wade. Could I also show up and celebrate my country’s birthday as well? I asked myself to hold this complexity and nuance as I started to cook for our BBQ celebration. 

This complexity parallels so many of our relationships. Whether that’s community, family, friendships, or even our relationship with ourselves. 

It’s easy to let the scales in these relationships tip one way or the other. Maybe we focus too much on what is going wrong. Looking hard at what isn’t going right, is important. We need awareness to shine a light in dark spaces in order to know what needs to change. But only  focusing here can leave us depressed, overwhelmed, and helpless. In the week after the Supreme Court Roe V. Wade overturn, this is exactly how I felt. On the opposite end, maybe we look too much on the positive. And yes, you can look too much at the positive. This may feel comfortable, but doing so negates growth. 

Every relationship is complex and dynamic. Indeed, every human is complex and dynamic. This is part of why I love my job so much. I love witnessing and supporting humans in all their complexity. I believe strongly in my personal responsibility to hold myself, others, and relationships, in that complex nuance. 

That balance is chronically hard to achieve, and I absolutely don’t do it perfectly.  Because of that, I try to hold myself lightly in the journey. After the parade, I gave myself space to feel my sadness and distress around the state of our country. And as I allowed myself that space, while simultaneously taking care of myself, I was able to come back to the place where I could hold my own dialectical experience: the joy and pain, together. 

When I was too tilted into my distress, I fantasized about moving to Canada. I felt helpless and angry. Re-centered, I still hold my anger and distress, but I also feel compelled to show up in proactive ways. Because this is my dysfunctional family after all. When I hold my love for my country, simultaneously with my distress, I want to claim my country and advocate for change. 

 I want this lesson to deeply internalize to myself as well. When I get too down or critical about myself, I feel depressed, angry, trapped, and helpless. If I can hold myself in my complexity, which includes pretty great parts of myself too, I want better for myself. I want to show up for myself in proactive, healthy, compassionate ways. 

We are all complex and dynamic. We are all capable of growth and change. As we journey, I hope we can all hold ourselves with compassion, honoring and holding that complexity, looking hard at what we need to change, and loving ourselves enough to show up in all our dysfunction. 

At War with Yourself

At War with Yourself

Do your mind and body feel unified? Or are you constantly at war with yourself? 

A few years back I attended a yoga class that shifted my understanding of my relationship with my body, and I’d like to share that shift with you. 

​I was very new to yoga and thought it would be a fun hobby to get into. I found a spot in the back left corner of the studio and glanced around the room observing others as they prepared for class. A few moments later, our instructor had us sit at the front of our mats and tune into our breathing. She helped the class set the intention to connect with and be grateful for our bodies that were enabling us to practice yoga that day. 

As we began moving through different poses, I found myself becoming deeply emotional. I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. I felt my throat choke up as I tried to swallow the feelings down and blink away the burning in my eyes. This continued for the entirety of the class as waves of emotions passed over me, but I only partially succeeded in pushing them away. 

The class ended with a meditation lying on our backs. As I laid there, I had a realization that completely changed my life. I realized that I had been at war within myself for as long as I could remember. The subconscious war of my mind and my body. 

My body welled with emotion again as I recognized the pain I had put myself through for so long. The constant disappointment I had placed on my body as it failed to meet the expectations of my mind. This disconnection screamed at me as if my body was finally able to communicate how wrong I had been! I had been fueling an intense and gruesome war within myself and it needed to end.

I have thought so much about this experience and how to mend my relationship between my body and mind. We live in a world that distracts us from inner connection. If we aren’t careful, we allow feelings of hatred, unworthiness, and disappointment to become the foundation of our relationship with our bodies. As I have sought answers, I’ve recognized how common this separation is within all of us, big or small. 

Dr. Melissa Smith often talks about “Laying down your weapons of war”. To me, this means recognizing that we shame our bodies for not meeting our mind’s expectations, and shame our minds for not meeting our bodies expectations. 

We desperately need to view the shame, the should’s, and the disappointment within us as cruel weapons against ourselves, and LAY THEM DOWN. 

When we acknowledge the war we have created between our minds and bodies, we can begin to grasp just how vital connection really is. We are not meant to live with a constant war inside of us. Our minds and bodies were created to work together, to be unified. As we do this, we enable that connection to spread like wildfire in our life. This means greater inner peace, sense of self, meaningful relationships, and an overall increase in quality of life.

 

Another Point of View

Another Point of View

I live in a privileged body. And while I am an advocate for Health at Every Size  (HAES) and body diversity, I know I don’t speak from embodied experience about what it’s like to live in a large body. There are many body-diverse activists out there, sharing their perspective and experiences. I wanted to add to these voices so I invited my friend, who lives in a large body, to share with us.  

Here is our conversation:

Q: Let’s start with the word “fat.” How do you feel about the word fat?

A: It depends on how you say it. It can be used as a description or an insult. I know I’m fat. That doesn’t make me less worthy. As long as it’s descriptive and not derogatory, it’s fine.

Not every fat body is unhealthy. Fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. Thin people can be unhealthy. Fat people can also be unhealthy but it’s not causal.  Being fat also doesn’t mean lazy. I worked out when I was thin and I work out now. “You’re fat and you work out every day? How much do you eat?” People assume I must binge eat my feelings. I eat normally but my body processes food differently now.

Q: You used to be thin. What are the differences you experience from being in a smaller body to now?

A: Thin privilege sucks. When I was thin I got more respect from people. Doctors treat me differently in a fat body.

Q: Can you give examples of how doctors treat you differently in a fat body?

A: One time, I hurt my knee playing handball. I stretched a ligament. A doctor told me I needed to lose weight. Whether I was thin or fat, I still would have hurt my knee. Another time I broke a finger and a doctor told me I was fat and needed to lose weight. I broke my finger and he somehow felt it was relevant to comment on my weight.

Q: How do you feel about your body?

A: I love my body. I stopped caring what others think of me. People hate when you love yourself in a fat body. It’s unacceptable. It’s radical to love myself fat.

Q: How did you stop caring about what others think?

A: I stopped caring because I want to live and enjoy my life. I no longer count calories. I like cooking. I like baking. I like to exercise. I like living. What people think of me only took away from my ability to do that.

Q: Are there still sometimes that it’s hard not to care about the opinions of others?

A: It’s hardest not to care about how my own family reacts to my fat body. It hurts when my family encourages me to lose weight. My mother is thin and struggles with her own body changes. She checks in with me about my eating and exercise habits, instead of checking in with me about how I am doing overall. I know she cares about me but when she does this, it seems like she cares most about my weight and “health.” 

Q: How is dating for you?

A: As a heterosexual, fat woman, men don’t understand why I can love myself. People don’t think people in fat bodies can be loved or be in good relationships. This is absolutely not true. When you are fat, people think you should settle for anyone you can get. “How can you say ‘no’ to propositions?” If you say “no” to someone who approaches or propositions you, they’ll say “your loss” and possibly make a derogatory comment about my size. They believe I don’t have many options so I have to say “yes” but in truth, I have a lot of options. I have dated a lot and have many opportunities. And if someone is attracted to me, thin people wonder, “Why would he want to be with a fat girl?” News flash: There are people who genuinely don’t care about my body size! But it’s hard for people to believe that.

Q: What would you like to say to people?

A: Love yourself. Don’t spend your life wishing you were a different number on a scale. Just live your life. Don’t let the judgements of others hold you back. Ever. Live your life. Enjoy it. Do what brings you joy. Eat the ice cream. Eat the greasiest pizza you want. You can also choose to eat salad. Don’t be afraid to take up space. Be loud. Be proud.

 

The Swimsuit

The Swimsuit

It’s almost summer, which means it’s almost swimsuit season. Do you dread swimsuit season? Well maybe my experience can help you. As part of my recent vacation planning, I kept a running list of items, including sandals for my one-year old, a beach umbrella, and a new swimsuit for myself. Not just any swimsuit. A maternity swimsuit. (Cue some dark scary music) I started on the impossible task of finding a cute, comfortable, maternity swimsuit.

Swimsuits are hard enough to find, but try finding a cute maternity suit and the task is almost impossible. So I took my quest online and ordered a few options to choose from. When they arrived at my house, I pulled them out of the package and instantly thought “there’s no way that will fit me – it’s huge!” Guess what, they all fit. One was actually a little tight if I am being completely honest. I could feel myself start to dread our family trip and I actually said aloud to myself “stop it!” 

When talking about her body, Dr. Anna Packard refers to it as she/her and I started to do the same. I started to list the positive qualities of her as I looked in the mirror. It went sort of like this: 

“She is growing a human!” 

“She is strong.” 

“She has the arms to carry and hug her one-year-old.” 

“She is growing a human!” 

“She can feel the ocean breeze on her face.” 

“She can read Harry Potter aloud to her son.” 

“She is growing a human!” 

I repeated that last one quite a few times. I didn’t all of the sudden love that I was fitting into these much larger suits, but the dread of laying on the beach in them started to lessen. Try it! When trying on clothes, give your body some positive self-talk. Maybe the changing rooms won’t be such a dreaded place. 

Invisible Scars

Invisible Scars

I got my first scar at five years old. I was playing at a friend’s house and bent down to pet their Scottish terrier. I accidentally surprised the terrier, and he greeted my advance by tearing flesh off my face. I remember warm towels and the feel of wiry stitches pulling through the skin above my lips. Today, this scar looks like a misplaced, poorly angled smile line.

​In third grade I loved playing soccer with all the boys at recess. I especially liked playing against Matt Cisek; the love of my elementary school world. One fateful day, Matt and I collided brutally on the field. His foot missed kicking the ball and connected directly to my shin instead. The strength of his kick was so forceful that it knocked cartilage off my bone. To this day, as my fingers trace my shin bone I can feel a divot left from the lost cartilage.

My stomach bears a variety of puncture marks. Some randomly scattered holes came from playing capture the flag on a moonless night when I was 17.  My best friend Robert told me to “run for the trees!” when the enemy spotted us. I ran full speed and never saw the barbed wire fence. Several people had to, literally, pick my body off the rusted coils and call my parents to make sure I was current on my tetanus vaccination.

Three other scars, right beneath my ribcage, bear witness to my emergency gallbladder surgery that took place just five days before my wedding. It turned out my stomach pains weren’t actually “pre-marital nerves.” The ER doctor told me that if I didn’t get my gallbladder out immediately, I wouldn’t make my wedding day. My stomach barely squeezed into my wedding dress later that week, still bloated from the surgical gas and wrapped in gauze.

Three more holes puncture my lower abdomen where doctors saved my life after an ectopic pregnancy burst my fallopian tube and tried to take me. These holes remind me of the miracle that is my preserved life and the life that was the twin baby safely nestled in my uterus. We both survived the trauma of emergency surgery and so much lost blood.

While scars manifest the physical impact life has on my body, my body also holds invisible scars deep inside her soft spaces. The creases around my eyes bear witness to years’ worth of smiles and laughter. The ache in my chest weeps my deep loss and empty arms. My upset stomach testifies of my vulnerabilities and yearning. The soft, gray hills inside my skull guard and protect my precious memories.

Scars and marks aren’t pretty, but they reflect truth. They reflect moments lived and the passage of time: a physical autobiography. My scars remind me that through all my living, my body has borne witness to my messy and wonderful life. My body was built for this. It was built to hold all that is me: every memory, emotion, and experience.  And isn’t that beautiful?  

 

Body Image and Your Younger Self

Body Image and Your Younger Self

One of the more difficult parts about recovering from an eating disorder is healing your relationship with your body. This is often so difficult because your relationship with your body has been developing since you were young, reinforced by external messaging time and time again.

Can you recall some of your earliest memories of body shame? How old were you? Do you remember how it felt? Did someone say something to you? If so, I’m betting that you probably remember their exact words and tone of voice. Did you engage in any specific behaviors after this first experience of feeling shame about your body? What other factors influenced your developing relationship with your body?

Most of your current negative experiences of your body probably stem from childhood. Part of natural child development is looking to others to help you understand the world. You watch how your friends pump their legs to swing higher and so you do the same. You see your dad lick the spoon of the chocolate cake batter and so you try it too. Your mom swears when she’s upset and the next time you stub your toe, you use that word as well, much to her chagrin. However, because young human brains are constantly taking in information from others to try to understand how things work, you might also have taken in some painful, negative messages that have been truly hard to shake as time has passed. These messages might still be part of your core belief system about your body and about yourself.

For me, one of the most difficult and informative experiences happened when I was in about 7th grade (the most awkward, humiliating time of life). I had a good friend tell me that the boy I had a crush on told her that I would “be the prettiest girl in our grade if I was skinny.” Oof. Talk about one of those memories that sticks with you. My little 12 year-old self drew some pretty painful conclusions from this conversation. Conclusions that stayed with me for more than a decade after.

When you are trying to heal your relationship with your body, I believe that it’s helpful to go back to those early, formative memories that shaped your relationship with your body and try to understand what happened there. Your younger self is probably still clinging on to those messages even if your current self understands that those beliefs are untrue.

There are several ways you could try to help younger you when it comes to healing your relationship with your body. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Look compassionately at a picture of your younger self from a difficult time in your life. How do you feel about your younger body? Do you feel critical? My guess is that you don’t. If you can view yourself the way you’d view a younger child, you might be able to look at your body in the photograph with more compassion. That body is still yours. That body may have changed, but it never lost its value along the way.
  2. Write a letter to your younger self around a painful memory that contributed to the development of your body shame. What would she need to hear? How can you help her in a time of difficulty and uncertainty? How can you show her compassion?
  3. If you’re up for it, do some exploring of the source of some of these negative messages you received. Was this person or source trustworthy? Were they dealing with their own body-image issues? If it was a company or organization, how did they benefit from you feeling insecure? For me, one of the most healing things when it came to body image was reconnecting with my childhood crush/friend on Instagram, the same boy who said the painful comment that I had in the back of my mind for years. We kept up with each other on social media and he was kind, supportive, and respectful. This new interaction helped me look back at that painful event with new eyes. I was able to understand that he was probably also an insecure kid (at the time, he was much shorter than all the girls in our grade). He was also probably a product of diet-culture and media that portrayed beauty in a certain way. Going back and analyzing the source didn’t take little Kylee’s pain away, but it did help me recognize I gave a lot of power to a struggling, insecure teenage boy who was not actually the expert on my worth.

What is it like for you to revisit some of these difficult messages from your past? In what ways have you found healing as you’ve gotten older? What healing does your younger self need a little help with?

Lessons from Vienna

Lessons from Vienna

 My all time favorite song is Vienna by Billy Joel. Every time it begins playing, I feel the need to sink into my chair, close my eyes, and soak in all of its goodness and wisdom. Over the years I have learned a few lessons from the lyrics that I would like to share with you. Feel free to pause here and listen to Vienna if it’s been a minute for you, then come back. 

  1. “Slow downnnn, you’re doing fine”. These words can be applied to every single one of us, and in many areas of our lives. Here’s a gentle reminder: Healing takes TIME; Oftentimes, a very frustrating amount of it. But you are going to get there, and there is so much to be learned along the way that you are meant to experience. I know too well how easy it can be to get caught up in anxieties, what-if’s, and should-haves. But what really happens is we miss out on the present by stressing out over the future. Slow down, you are literally doing fine! 
  2. “Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two”. Consistency is great, but so is flexibility. We truly need a balance of both in life. It’s okay to take time off, switch up your routine, or not be working towards a goal 24/7. When it comes to recovery, it’s impossible to be perfect. In fact, the healthiest thing we can do may be to take a step back from perfectionism. It’s okay to take a day off of school, work, or any other stressor in your life. Trust me, you can afford it. It may actually pay you back. 
  3. “You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need”. I think our minds like to distract us from the raw and real sides of us. So much so,  we create tasks and situations that distract from truth. In my own journey to healing, my anxiety propelled me into every future possibility. When I hear these words, I think back on what I really needed at that time, which was emotional and physical safety, and basic self-care. Ask yourself, am I using distraction to cope with something? What do I actually need right now? 

This song reminds me that the nature and beauty in life comes from growing, learning and experiencing. Life would have no purpose if we already had it all figured out. The truth is, no one has figured it out yet, and neither should you! If you are feeling stressed or discouraged in your healing journey, take a second to zoom out for a bigger perspective (maybe give Vienna a listen to help you do so). Create some space between yourself and the heavy parts in your life and recognize that you don’t have to carry it all at once. We are all simply doing the best we can on the bumpy path we are on. The nature of life is to figure it out as we go, and we are exactly where we need to be right now.