Guest Post

all bodies are good bodies, my body is a good body: affirmation as a path to better health. (guest post)

I had the awesome privilege of spending 2014 working on an amazing project at Planned Parenthood Toronto. They had secured a grant to develop youth friendly, peer-created sexual health resources, to address the fact that sex education in Ontario (and like, everywhere) has been failing young people, most especially queer and trans young people, whose experiences and needs have been invisible inside that pocket of education for too long. There have been some shifts in Ontario’s sexual health curriculum since this time, which is pretty darn exciting (and heavily controversial) , but while educators are catching up to new curriculum, and while queer and trans youth are still so marginalized in the education system, there is serious need for additional resources for young people in sexual minorities.

I got to work with fourteen genius young people on this project. We spent several weeks learning about all sorts of things related to queer and trans sexual health, and then began to think about what it was that we wanted to create. We gave workshops with other groups of youth about queer dating and consent, about navigating relationships we choose and ones we are stuck with, and about gender identity and expression. We also wanted to create some concrete things, something that could live on and be passed around long after this group no longer had the funding to work and learn together.
One of those early days of sunny spring, we moved our meeting outside to the park across the street from the Sherbourne Health Center where we often met and one volunteer led us in a writing exercise. He gave us the prompt what I really needed was… and folks spent a few minutes writing about the unmet needs of our younger queer and trans selves. There might have been some tears that day. Lots came up in the sharing of people’s thoughts, but a common thread that ran through was the need for supportive community. We weren’t in search of promises that things would get better, but folks to let us know that we were already okay. That our feelings of marginalization are legitimate. That our identities and experiences matter. That we are using our skills of coping and survival every day. That we aren’t alone.

cb1

Maybe the link between sexual health education and affirmations seems fuzzy to you, or the link between affirmations and feminist fitness. I had a formative moment in my learning about working with marginalized youth when I was a new grad from social work school, working at Project 10 in Montreal. I read a zine about HIV prevention made in the 90s (I wish I could tell you the name of it, but I don’t remember!). There was an interview with a young man with HIV who wanted to push against the ways that info about sexual health for young queers often focuses on long term consequences of “risky” decisions around sex. This guy explained that these kinds of messages just bounced right off of him, because he didn’t think he would have a future to be concerned about. Building supportive community, representation, and legitimacy to young people’s experiences and identities are key components in demonstrating that as a society, we give a shit. This isn’t about promising young people that things will get better; it’s about making space for wherever they are, however they are, right now. When young people feel seen and valued, that can have a powerful impact on how we feel about ourselves and our ability to create change in our own lives as well as within our communities. In a context of care and value, the possibilities of working through decisions about health are way more vast.

cb3

We couldn’t give everyone parents who support them unconditionally. We couldn’t guarantee that teachers would use their names and pronouns. We couldn’t promise that friends would accept and love them just as they are, or as they might become. But we know the power of words, of recognizing yourself in someone else’s experience, and so we came up with the idea for the Affirmations Deck.

cb2

A subcommittee was struck and we began to meet and dream up a list of affirmations. No idea was a bad idea, and we eventually amassed a list of hundreds of statements. Piles of pizza were consumed while we wordsmithed and narrowed our focus. We laughed our butts off over affirmations like it’s okay that you started a fight at that family gathering and it’s ok that you weren’t really 18 when you went to that website. Some of them came out real funny in first draft, like the ways I use my body in sex is only the business of me and the people i’m sexing with and your fantasies don’t have to be real life commitments.

We eventually arrived at a final list of 62 affirmations, and set about designing the cards. The motifs that surround the words on the cards were hand drawn, and they correspond with the themes that the cards address, which are also printed at the bottom of each card. That means that if you want to pull out all the cards about identity, or all the cards about consent, or all the cards about bodies, you can find them both by their labels and also by the drawings on the cards. Affirmations that reference more than one theme have a blend of multiple drawings. The font that the group selected is called OpenDyslexic, an open source design that was made to be more easily read by folks with dyslexia.

These cards have spread far and wide from their original printing in the fall of 2014. Physical decks have made their way to community organizations serving youth across Canada, into the hands of queer and trans youth across the country, and even to folks who are incarcerated. The cards are also available as a free printable PDF, so anyone with some cardstock and a printer can make as many sets as they desire. If you’re a Toronto local, you can walk into Planned Parenthood and ask for a free deck at clinic reception. The deck has also been featured in the brand new LGBTQ health anthology The Remedy, edited by femme force of nature Zena Sharman.

If you run a clinic or community space, you can leave a deck at reception for folks to look at. You can stick your favourites in your locker or on your walls. You can colour them in and mail them to your faraway friends. You can give them to your therapy clients or your doctor. You can give them to parents who want to support their kids, however their genders and sexualities develop. You can hide them in library books with queer subtext. You can use them as writing prompts, or as debriefing tools in workshops. You can burn them ceremonially and make wishes on their ashes. You can write your own affirmations that speak to your personal experiences. You can use them however you like. Please do use them, and share them with folks who might benefit from their tender magic.

Carly is a 32 year old white genderqueer femme. She is a freelance workshop facilitator in Toronto, mostly working on community building, body autonomy, intersectionality, queer sexual health, trauma survivorship, and keeping people alive. She likes roasted vegetables and bitter foods, and hates cantaloupe and anything gelatinous. She thinks that leopard print is a neutral and that prisons should be abolished. She is also a tarot reader- find out more at http://www.tinylanterntarot.com

fitness

Fuck Fat Loss, but like, actually (Guest post)

The weight loss industry is stealing the language of the body positivity movement and using it against us. I feel like a conspiracy theorist writing this, but guys, this is a real thing that is happening.

I just read this piece on medium called Fuck fat loss and I was so hopeful when I opened the page. It was written by a personal trainer, so I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up so high, but that’s a punchy title! I wanted to know what came next. Then I read it, and felt dismayed. Then I felt betrayed. Then I felt angry.

Here’s the thing. After a bunch of smart and interesting writing about sexism and how our worth is not tied to our body size, the author drops the bonus-bomb. She argues that when you focus on activity and healthy eating for their own sake, weight loss will be a happy side effect, rather than the explicitly stated goal. Your *actual* goal is EMPOWERMENT (and GUESS WHAT??? Empowered women are skinny! YAYYYYY)!

Sorry, what? “Fucking fat loss” is actually being sold here as a METHOD OF FAT LOSS?? Ow, my brain.

This feels like a violent co-optation of the sorts of things fat people have been trying to say forever,  not to mention some seriously circular logic. Try to lose fat, but approach it from a place of not trying to lose fat, and then you actually will!

“And then you actually will!” is the promise-lie that every kind of weight loss product, service, meal plan, diet, and machine has been trying to sell us forever. And even couched in faux body positive language, it’s still bullshit!!!

Sometime in my university life, I was having trouble with my laptop. It took its sweet time opening programs, or closing them. I got the swirly rainbow icon all the time. It was telling me to wait, and I did not like it. I asked a friend of mine who knows things about machines what the heck was up. He explained to me that I was not the most important factor in the functioning of my laptop. I looked at him like he had several alien heads; how could it be that my computer had its own agenda, related to its continued functioning? My computer was doing *other stuff* that I had no understanding of. Its priorities were not my priorities. Sometimes it just said no. Sometimes it did as I wished. It belonged to me, but I was not actually its master.

I think this is a lot like how bodies are. We feed them things, and say “ok body, use the fat from that avocado to make the amount of hormones I need, ok?” and maybe instead it plops that delicious delicious vegetable fat on your luscious ass. You go for a long slow jog, and say “ok body, burn the calories from the dessert I didn’t mean to eat at that wedding last weekend and am currently punishing myself for” and instead it builds strong firm muscles in your calves and your belly stays exactly the same (lovely) size and shape and softness. When your body does these things, it isn’t a betrayal. It actually knows better than you do how to survive*. It knows better than you do how to best use the energy and nutrients you supply it with. It belongs to you, but you are not actually its master.

For me, actually loving my body has come to mean honoring those things that I don’t totally understand, and practicing lots of non-attachment to outcomes related to its size and shape. I actually trust my body to do it’s job (which is to keep me alive, not to make me attractive to people who only have one idea about what that word even means). I believe it when it tells me it’s hungry. I believe it when it tells me it’s tired. I believe it when it wants to move, and when it wants to rest. Okay- I try to. It’s not always easy!  No one taught me how to do that, In fact, I’ve been taught the exact opposite for my entire life.

I have decided that my job isn’t to discipline my body, my job is to care for it, to safeguard it, to be generous and gentle with it, and to thank it for taking me through my days. It is not my enemy. My love for it is not conditional on it fitting into a certain pair of pants, moving at a certain speed, accomplishing a particular task.

And that’s a battle. It’s a battle every single day, because people (and also not-people, like the internet and media and pretty much every representation of the human form in existence) tells me that my body is wrong and gross and bad and unsexy and imperfect and holy gosh do I ever need help. Even articles entitled “Fuck Fat Loss” think I should lose weight; I should just do it without actively wanting to. I should sneak-attack fat loss by way of empowerment and reverse psychology!

Well. Fuck that. Fuck that every day and twice on Sundays.

Instead, I try really hard to offer my body unconditional love. I wonder what would happen to the weight loss industry, to beauty standards, to clothing sizes, to art, to sexism, if that became a zeitgeist. So give it a whirl? I dare you.

 

* I want to acknowledge that this is a gloss; bodies also do lots of disadvantageous things, and folks living with chronic illness or pain or disability might have some things to say about this idea. I’m speaking for me, and I super want to hear/read more about the ways that disability justice and fat activism can work more coherently together

 

Carly is a 32 year old white genderqueer femme. She is a freelance workshop facilitator in Toronto, mostly working on community building, body autonomy, intersectionality, queer sexual health, trauma survivorship, and keeping people alive. She likes roasted vegetables and bitter foods, and hates cantaloupe and anything gelatinous. She thinks that leopard print is a neutral and that prisons should be abolished. She is also a tarot reader- think of it as single session therapy, with a witch! Find out more at http://www.tinylanterntarot.com

body image · fitness · Guest Post · weight loss

not my resolution; thoughts on January weight loss from a cheerful chubster (guest post)

I celebrate not only the Gregorian new year, but the Jewish one, plus the all the new moons and witch holidays. I love an opportunity to reflect on how things are going, and to think about what I’d like to shift. I have planted my intentions with seeds, and watered them with wishing well water. I have written myself notes and ceremonially burned them. I have mailed myself letters for the future. I have gotten tattoos to remind me of lessons I am still working on learning.

All this to say that New Years resolutions should be right up my alley…but they’re not, because more often than not, the way the dominant (white, North American) culture approaches these resolutions is through stunning self-effacement.

I will erase myself and overwrite a better version of me (who I am is wrong)!

I will stop all my bad habits (stop employing my coping mechanisms)!

I will become better, faster, and stronger (suddenly demand more of my body than ever before, and expect it to cooperate without injury or protest)!

I will lose weight I will lose weight I will lose weight (I am too much)!

In truth, I believe in body autonomy over nearly anything else, so I actually think it’s fine to want to lose weight (or gain it! or change your body in other ways!); and you sure don’t need my permission to make a resolution for yourself.

What I want is for us to get value-neutral about body size and about food. I sometimes err on the side of YAY FAT because the opposite voice is so loud and omnipresent, but legit what I think would be the best is if everyone got to decide for themselves what felt right and good and healthy and hot for their own body, and we got to be less fettered by literal constant messaging that thin bodies are sexy/healthy/desirable/virtuous and that fat bodies are lazy/unhealthy/unloveable/a project that can never be abandoned. My body is not a problem to be solved. It is not a disease, and I need no cure. I’m just fat (and honestly, I’m kind of into it).

I do workshops about body image with young people at a TRULY AWESOME summer camp. As an opening exercise, I give everyone paper and a pencil, and I ask them to make a list, as long as they can, of things they love about their bodies. I give an additional prompt that folks can think about a) how their body looks, b) how their body feels, and c) things their body can do. Then we sit in silence for a few minutes and I watch these strong, smart, powerful, visionary youth struggle to think of something, anything, they like about their bodies (I promise the workshops get less depressing from there).

Here is a short list of a few of the things I love about my own body, to use as reference or inspiration in case you decide to try this exercise for yourself (and I recommend that you do)!

soft belly/ juicy butt/ impressive armpit hair/ truly amazing for being the little spoon/ summertime freckles/ cute little feet/ dexterous fingers let me knit fast/ my eyes change color/ multiple orgasms/ strong legs/ strong bones (never broken one)/ general sturdiness/ great lips (for coating in lipstick)/ soft skin/ cool hair/ tattoos/ being a shorty means I always have enough leg room on trains on in the backseat.

I could go on (it miiiiiight get a little more NSFW if I did).

At this time of year, it seems like there is a big, resounding WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER thing ringing through the air about disciplining our bodies into something different, and folks, I am not in this with you. This is not a universal project. It can be yours; but don’t you dare suggest that it should be mine.

This doesn’t mean I love everything about my body all the time. I sure don’t. But I want to love most of it most of the time, and I am way more interested in working towards that goal than towards the utterly Sisyphean one of making my body conform to the standards expected of me.  Not only is that unattainable, it’s not actually what I want! I have come to love the physical power that comes with living in a larger body, and I don’t want to give it up. My body is extremely well suited to standing firm, holding fast, and comforting people I love. These are precious gifts.

If you want, even as a tiny thought experiment, to try on body positivity or body neutrality, or whatever words you want to give to the deliberate shifting of how you evaluate and understand bodies (yours and other people’s), here are some ideas of ways forward. YMMV, and I support you in the struggle, however it goes.

1. If someone you care about announces that they have lost weight- instead of leaping to congratulate them, first ask- “how does that feel for you?” (or something like that) and listen to the answer.

2. Don’t talk shit about your own body. See what happens if for 24 hours, or a week, or a month, you don’t speak out loud (even when you are alone) a single disparaging comment about your body (it can hear you). You may even owe it an apology (or several million of them). Might that be delivered by a massage? A pie? A love letter to your abundant thighs? A thank you note for every orgasm you’ve ever had? A long slow run through a wooded area? Several glasses of cool water with lemon? Acupuncture? Doritos? A nap? What is your body asking you for?

3. Make whatever choices feel right to you about what you eat, but don’t then coat them in a veneer of virtue. Your food is not “clean” (my food is not dirty). Your food is not “good” (my food is not bad). Your food is right for you, and that is awesome. Avoid the “cupcake? I couldn’t possibly!”s and the “I’ll have to work this off later”s. Eat what you eat, don’t eat what you don’t eat, and don’t shit on someone else’s pulled pork sandwich.

4. Try taking an appreciative approach to your body. What are the things you love about it, and how can you cultivate those (rather than trying to erase or modify the things you hate). This might lead you to the same actions- for example – if you want to be smaller, you might decide to dance more. If you love how your body feels when you dance, you might decide to dance more. Even with the same result, I promise doing the thing will feel differently if you’re doing it from a place of cultivating love and connection with your body rather than punishing it for existing too much.

5. Fake it. Fake that you think you’re hot as fuck. Fake that you “can pull off” that dress. Faking is actually doing, in a lot of circumstances, and eventually it might not feel like faking.

6. Make a change to the kinds of images of bodies you are exposed to. Find a blog or an instagram account or a porno (or twelve) that shows different kinds of bodies (fat bodies! hairy bodies! genderqueer bodies! disabled bodies! bodies with scars! bodies with stretch marks! bodies like yours) like, having fun. Wearing cute shit and going to the aquarium. Wearing sexy things or doing sexy things. Doing sports or dancing. Notice your own judgements, and try to let them go.

7. Get mad! Get mad about little kids who refuse to eat because their fear of being fat is so visceral. Get mad about the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry that is SO INVESTED in us hating ourselves. Get mad about Oprah repping Weight Watchers. Get mad about the misogyny that is embedded in a deep societal hatred of bodily squishiness. Get mad about how much we could all accomplish if we spent as much energy learning Russian or ASL or solving mathematical equations or cuddling our small humans or making soup for our sick friends or starting a small business or dismantling the prison industrial complex as we did picking apart our bodies and planning their (partial) demise.

Good luck with whatever goals you set for yourself; I’m already proud of you.
carly
Carly is a 32 year old white genderqueer femme. She is a freelance workshop facilitator in Toronto, mostly working on community building, body autonomy, intersectionality, queer sexual health, trauma survivorship, and keeping people alive. She likes roasted vegetables and bitter foods, and hates cantaloupe and anything gelatinous. She thinks that leopard print is a neutral and that prisons should be abolished. She is also a tarot reader- think of it as single session therapy, with a witch! Find out more at http://www.tinylanterntarot.com