Self care, world care: hoping it’s not either/or

Yesterday my friend Janet and I went cross country skiing at Foss Farm west of Boston.  It was a picture-perfect snowy day in the woods.

The woods at Foss Farm, ski tracks in the middle and trees all around.

On the way back home, we stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things.  I ran into a fellow feminist philosopher (hi, Naomi!) in the produce section.  I noted my ski clothing and said what a wonderful day it was to be outside.  She replied that she had been at a demonstration in Cambridge to protest the Dakota access pipeline, and pointed out her very warm clothing.  We parted, planning to get together for a snowy walk soon.

It’s funny (interesting, not haha) that I should run into a friend who had been protesting instead of skiing that day.  Talking with Janet while enjoying the woods, I mentioned that I was really interested in going to the March for Science in Washington, scheduled for April 22.  But I can’t, because I had already scheduled to go to the East Coast Paddlesports kayak symposium in Charleston, SC.  I’ll be doing 3 days of on and off-water kayaking classes in warm water.  It should be great, and I am/was really looking forward to it.

Was? Why was?

Maybe it’s bad luck/timing, but I now count three times that I’ve missed chances to join others in public protest against political conditions that I consider dangerous for my country, the environment, and human rights.  The third miss-out was when I was at a cooking course at the Kripalu center in western Massachusetts on the weekend of the Women’s Marches.  I had scheduled that trip weeks before the election– who knew this would happen?

All of these things I’ve been doing or am planning are part of my efforts at increased self-care these days.  I’ve written about struggling with eating in healthy-to-me ways,  and also with physical activities that I love but in which I am  less adept/fast/comfortable/fit than I used to be.  So I made the conscious decision to shift my focus a bit.  I am teaching less (fewer overload courses, which means less money), going to fewer conferences, saying no to new projects (this is in itself a work in progress!), and doing more focused service at work and in my community (i.e. not saying yes to every shiny new opportunity).  I’m also trying (really, I am) to space out my social events– I love love love seeing friends and really hate to miss out on dinners, parties, etc.  In fact I’m going to try to go to both a lasagne dinner and a karaoke party next Saturday.  We’ll see how that goes…

Back to the conflict at hand.  Our time is limited, our energy is limited, our personal needs are real, and the needs of the world are wide and deep.  Lately it’s feeling like saying “yes” to myself results in my saying “no” to the world.  And maybe vice versa.  What to do about it?  How to find that seductive and elusive karmic balance in life?  I guess that’s what I’m asking.  At times like these it feels as mythical a goal as this:

 

an elephant balancing on a beach ball on the beach!

It’s funny I’m writing about the difficulty of balance, because I’ve always been good at balancing.  I skate (ice and roller), I ski (downhill in past, cross country from now until I expire), and I used to dance ( ballet, tap, modern) and still do recreationally when I get a chance.  I’m venturing into new realms of balancing– edging a kayak is an exercise in balancing yourself and the boat to optimize on the physics of forward motion and turning.  And yoga?  Yeah.  Don’t get me started on all the balancing that we’re supposed to do there.  Like this one:

Woman doing a forward arm balance on a yoga mat

Seriously, that is not happening.  But I found out just yesterday that I’m rather better than I used to be at this one:

Two children doing tree balance pose on a yoga mat

What I wish and hope is that getting stronger and caring for ourselves will open up new energy for caring for the world, which really needs our attention.  I’ve recently gotten involved in several teaching projects for minority STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students at my university.  It feels stimulating to develop two new courses (philosophy courses on race and racism, and also a science and values course).  Maybe I’ll figure out how to make time for protests.  Or maybe protests won’t be the route for me– there’s lots of work to do to forward the causes of justice (however we see it).

Readers, how have recent world events shaped your time and energy and balance?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

 

I don’t have any fitness goals for 2017 (Guest post)

Other than to listen. And to understand.

We are at war with so many things. And our voices are hoarse from yelling about things that we can’t believe we still need to yell about. And yet we are still at war with our bodies.

Image result for i can't believe i still have to protest this

I am becoming acutely aware of where I sit in this space. My race, the gender I identify with, the way my body is put together puts me in a particular position. I acknowledge my journey the past year and a half has been one of more fun movement, less punishment, loving food and full-belly breaths (no sucking in!) – but I also recognize how lucky I am that my journey looked that way, that I was able to explore those avenues.

But now it’s time to listen. I can’t tell you to celebrate your body (as much as I want to because you’re awesome). As a beautiful friend of mine said, it’d be like me saying you don’t need face creams when I’ve never had a zit (as an example – I’ve had plenty of zits in my day). I do hope that while we are looking at this world around us that seems like it’s growing increasingly unfamiliar, we also take time to examine where our goals around our bodies are coming from (there are correlations between a lot right now).

Many of us are stuck in this endless loop of self-improvement and striving, without knowing the roots of where that striving might actually be coming from (race, privilege, patriarchy, colonialism, etc.). And what I have taken away from it right now is that I need to be, open, on my own path and there for others.

So I will listen. And be there. And I hope you will be too. Because while we share many similarities as humans, our differences are still making a big difference in the way we are each able to experience life and our bodies.

 

JESSICA IRELAND-4 - Copy.jpg Jessica Ireland thanks all of her friends who increase her awareness on her privilege and how she can help others, while still validating and giving space for her own life experiences. She chooses to be kind to her body by being fortunate enough to move it often (often there is smiling involved), not eating animals, getting rest and choosing not to qualify food. She hopes others find ways to be kind to themselves and others that work for them. We may have a long road ahead of us – please listen and take care of each other 🙂 

work-life balance: just what is it supposed to look like?

comic on this modern life showing 3 panels: work (on computer), home (on computer), play (on computer) and sleep (dreaming of being on computer)

Last weekend my friend Norah and I took off from our busy lives to spend a weekend at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts.  We are lucky and grateful for the privilege of the resources (time, control, money) to be able to take such a nice vacation.

Kripalu has limited internet access and strict rules against cell phone use in most of the building. The idea is to create an atmosphere in which people can take a break from their regular lives and from the regular stream of information and demands coming in over the airwaves (to use an old twentieth-century expression).

We both took full advantage of the break, enjoying lots of yoga, cooking, eating supremely yummy and healthy-to-us food, meditating, strolling in the woods, resting and reading.

Yeah.  We should all run–not walk– to such places.

three stick figures--standing with no, walking with no, running with yes

But here’s the thing: all of the lovely activities that Norah and I did– the woodsy strolling, yoga, cooking, reading, meditating, chilling and hanging out– can all be done at a much lower price AT HOME.  So why don’t our non-vacationing non-getaway lives look more like this?

Here’s one reason:

graphic of the word "work"

We all work.  We work too hard.  We work too long.  We work at home. We work on vacation. We work at all hours of the day and night.

Contrast last weekend with this week:  Norah went to Florida Monday morning for big work meetings for a few days.  She was steeling herself for having to do regular job tasks on top of these extra meetings.  Let me clarify here:  her job required traveling and going to a bunch of all-day and into-the-evening meetings.  But there was also the expectation, nay, requirement, that she complete tasks that she would be doing normally at her job while not traveling.

And get this:  the schedule for the work meetings included breakfast at 5:30am–7am, whereupon employees would be shuttled to the convention center for the big meetings.

5:30am digital image

Good God.

Some of you who read the blog (and everyone who’s ever met me) know very well that I’m not a morning person.  But seriously?  Starting the work day at 5:30am?  I can see getting up early if the goal is to commune with nature that looks like this:

early morning sunrise over marsh and water

But I suspect Norah’s day began looking much more like this:

people eating breakfast at a convention ballroom

But wait– we forgot about the work tasks that Norah had to be BEFORE her day began.

working on tablet at night, colors in background

No, it probably didn’t look or feel like this.  The image was too pretty, however, not to share.  Likely it felt more like this:

stick figure working at computer

What does my rant about working too much have to do with fitness?  With feminism?

the word "everything"

When work life takes over every waking (and many of the sleeping) minutes, we are unable to cope, to take care of ourselves, to take care of others, to move in ways we love, to sit still alone or with others, to cook and eat food that nourishes and delights us, to think about how to make the world better and then do something about it.

This year I’m paying more attention to when and how and how often I work.  I’ve planned to go to some conferences, but fewer than last year.  I’m planning fun activity trips with friends and family and fun activities at home.  Sam and Tracy have blogged about their approaches to scheduling activity during their week.  I had, over the past couple of years, lost my rhythm, and am paying some attention to getting it back.  Or rather, finding a new rhythm.  I can say now it will not involve getting up at 5:30am (except for special outdoorsy activity occasions), but I am looking for something that can stand as a bulwark against the constant encroachment of work.  I know, something like this might seem like overkill:

a stone bulwark-- defensive wall

But some structural help, to keep me from letting work seep into all the cracks, is needed.

I don’t have concrete plans yet.  But my weekend away helped me wake up to the need to make some concrete plans.  So for now, I’m at this stage:

work in progress

Readers, what sorts of ways do you cordon off time and space for life outside work?  I’d love to hear some of your plans and structures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marching toward goals, outer and inner

On Saturday, women and supporters of women marched in cities and towns all over the world to protest against injustice, including misogyny, sexual assault, and discrimination. They sent a message to the incoming American presidential administration that people were watching and ready to act in response to injustice.

I wasn’t there. I didn’t march with them this weekend.

A month before the US presidential election, my friend Norah and I made plans to spend a weekend at the Kripalu yoga center in western Massachusetts.  My last trip there was transformative in helping me find the reset button for my eating practices. Since then I’ve maintained some of those changes—I’ve largely eliminated artificial sweeteners from my diet (e.g. no nutrasweet in coffee or tea, and almost no diet coke), which is one of my goals, as it seems more healthy-to-me (yes, there’s also evidence for health benefits to this move, but, as Sam says, you do you).

I planned this trip in part for Norah, who has been attending to ailing parents and dealing with the effects of family deaths, all of which are physically and emotionally draining. She needed a break and a rest, and I found the perfect program for her: an entire weekend of yoga nidra, deep relaxation yoga. I’ll post about this kind of yoga practice another time, but suffice to say, she has unwound and de-stressed like nobody’s business in the past two days.

For me, I chose a weekend cooking course called “5 ingredients, no time”. Who could resist? The executive chef of Kripalu, Jeremy Rock Smith, taught knife skills, stovetop/oven techniques for cooking both vegetables and proteins, and menu planning. He also kept us in stitches, amusing us with his irreverent and hilarious commentary on everything from millet-as-bird-food to Kripalu itself (“welcome to Ohmville”). We cooked (and tasted) more than 20 recipes, all featuring interesting vegetables, spices, and a variety of proteins. I now feel recharged to face my kitchen with new ideas for healthy-to-me and tasty-to-me cooking.

But I kept feeling conflicted all weekend. I didn’t march with those women and friends-of-women. Their cause is my cause. I feel a civic responsibility to participate, to be active, to show up to protest when I see injustice. And of course there’s the FOMO: fear of missing out. It’s clear, just from the smidgen of Facebook posts I looked at (there’s deliberately limited internet access at Kripalu), that the experiences of women who attended were tremendously positive. And that’s great, and I’m moved and delighted by their pictures and stories. But I wasn’t there.

Let me say here that I am aware of the position of privilege from which I am approaching this dilemma. First, I am lucky and grateful that I have the resources of time and money to choose to come to a lovely place like Kripalu for a weekend. Second, I am aware of the benefits to me of others spending their time and money and other resources to march in protest against something I am also against. So I thank them here from the bottom of my heart.

All that said, spending time engaging in self-care around clearly identified personal issues (emotional exhaustion for Norah, and being stuck around healthy-to-me eating for me) feels like some steps in a long march of our own. It’s hard to set aside dedicated time for this. However, it’s already resulted in a bunch of benefits for Norah. She says that spending all this inward time has made her ready to get back out there. Good on you, Norah!

I’ve been dealing with feeling stuck about health behavior change over the past year. I’ve toyed with challenges, eating plans, new gym memberships (pro tip: don’t rush to join a gym when you’re feeling blobby and out of shape; it’s not the right time), etc. Yes, I’ve been riding some, walking some, doing some yoga, and the occasional other physical activity (e.g. cross country skiing the one time we got snow in Boston). But I don’t feel like I’m in charge of my eating and activity. I still feel buffeted about by my schedule, my emotions, the world, everything.

I want to march. I want to march for justice, peace, and truth. I want to march for inner peace, for calm resolve, for my life goals of health and happiness.

I used to march a lot. I mean actually march—I was in high school and college band. I was on the flag squad and loved it. I wore a white cavalier hat with a big red feather and carried a seven-foot long flag that I swooshed and slammed around (in accord with others, of course). It was so much fun, marching at half-time at football games and parades. I enjoyed being part of a large (and in this case musical) group, moving with a purpose.

Moving with a purpose. That’s what I missed most about missing out on this weekend’s march. Being at Kripalu felt like marching in place, which is not as fun as moving forward. But I remember from band that getting the lineup right is important, too. You don’t want to step off on the wrong foot.

Here’s hoping that Norah’s and my next steps will be toward all of our goals, inner and outer.

Finding my fitness spirit animal (Guest post)

I have figured out my fitness spirit animal.

My desire to get in better shape has been a long time coming. I’ve always dreamed of being the kind of person who truly enjoys physical activity, who opts for a salad instead of something crunchy and deep-fried. One of my good friends is one of these people. It seems to come to her naturally—she runs marathons for fun and honestly enjoys vegetables. She often says that her spirit animal is a hamster because she can relate to the need to run on a wheel that doesn’t go anywhere—just to burn the energy.

I envy these people. And I cannot relate to them at all.

In the past I’ve related most closely to lazy housecats. Or maybe to a blubbery seal sunbathing on a rock with half-eaten fishtail dangling from its mouth.

 

seal-on-rock

This is how I spent much of the last two years: sprawled out on my couch with Netflix and a family-size bag of chips balanced expertly on my chest. (For you non-snackers, a family-size bag is much bigger than a regular size bag.) I was going through some intense stuff in my personal life and so hibernation seemed the most sensible option for a time when I was feeling so emotionally raw. And don’t get me wrong…I do have some fond memories of nights alone surrounded by blankets and snacks, like any happy seal would. I don’t regret this perhaps necessarily indulgent time in my life. But the problem was that it became a fairly regular habit. From “What the heck, just this once!” to “Oh, maybe I’ll only indulge on weekends,” to “Well, Thursday and Friday are basically the weekend,” and so forth. You get it – it got out of hand.

I think part of the problem was also that I viewed myself as a very physically awkward person, so anxiety around my own physical awkwardness prevented me from taking action sooner. I just never thought of myself as an “athletic person.” And this would always be reinforced when, in the past, I’d be working out and feeling strong and graceful, only to catch my reflection in an ill-placed mirror and suddenly think, Oh God! Is that what I look like right now?? (Have you ever seen a seal try to get around on land? It ain’t pretty.)

 I mean, I probably suffer from an average degree of female-related self-consciousness about my body, but the combination of athletic anxiety and my perceived physical awkwardness didn’t help.

Who knows, maybe it’s that “fitness clothes” (bright and skin-tight) just aren’t that flattering on bodies like mine (soft and curvy with doughy bits). Don’t get me wrong, I do love my body and have admired myself in many a reflection on a good day—I even considered entering a burlesque show once—but by today’s standards of “fitness,” or what it means “to be fit,” I often see myself as too round, soft, and flat out awkward to be an “in shape” person. And it doesn’t help to see people with gazelle-like grace running past me on the street while I get sweaty just from walking around with a backpack on. My idea of what it meant to be active had become too dichotomous.

However, during my time of hibernation, another friend of mine had completely transformed herself from a hard partyer to heavy weight lifter. It was inspiring to see her journey and what appealed to me most about her story was that she had done so with no previous experience or even inclination to make such a change. When I asked her about her experience, she told me that she too had been initially intimidated by fitness culture and by gyms, never daring to try more than the elliptical or treadmill. But the real clincher for me was when she told me she still indulges in homemade desserts and other delicious treats every night. She still has nights sprawled out on her couch with Netflix.

It was a revelation.

Never before had I meant a healthy and fit person with the same lazy, snack-fueled inclinations as myself.

Image result for hamster on a treadmill

I used to think there were two kinds of people: the gazelles and the hamsters of the world who love to run and don’t eat junk food, and the housecats and blubbery seals like me, doomed to lie about on our rocks and couches indefinitely. And while I know that different people have different inclinations (health- and activity-wise), it took me a while to realize that “fitness” is a wide-ranging sliding scale.

I used to think that being healthy and fit meant pretty much never eating fun stuff again, never lazing about guilt-free again. And this would mean that becoming healthier would be changing who I am and giving up some of the things I truly enjoy. It hadn’t occurred to me that incorporating fitness into my life would be about harmonizing my internal athlete and couch potato, my inner hamster and housecat.

While so much of the culture around “being fit” can seem impenetrable, exclusive, and intimidating—especially for someone who has never known quite how to go about it—finding someone who had found a way to take control of her health and wellness in her own way was eye-opening for me. I just had to find my own way that worked for me.

Strangely, I had been afraid that becoming healthier and more active would mean losing a part of myself. But what I learned was that I had it in me the whole time. My fitness spirit animal is still 100% a blubbery seal. But here’s the thing about blubbery seals, they know how to relax on land, but they get down to business under water. They are my fitness spirit animal: the perfect combination of awkward and graceful, blubbery and strong, lazy and active.

img_0177

Tracy de Boer is a real adult lady currently living in Toronto and completing her PhD in political philosophy at Western University. She is passionate about the ways philosophy enables people to think critically about everyday life. She is also very sad about the results of the U.S. election. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram, @tracyrwdeboer.

 

Unpacking the ACSM’s Body Composition Table (Guest Post)

In my Advanced Physiological Assessment class the other day, we conducted a body composition lab which measured body fat using a variety of clinical assessment tools including bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), underwater weighing (UWW), and DEXA scanning. 

These tools use either electrical currents, x-ray scans, and Archimedes’ Principle to measure body density which is then converted to body fat. The conversion formula is then selected based on race, age, and gender, with many groups that are underrepresented. 

As a white, 21-year-old female, I was privileged in that there was a formula that was representative of my body. While the methodology is a little different, all of these tools rely on the principle that fat is less dense than water, muscle (which has a lot of water), and the other components of fat free mass, like bone and soft tissues. Some of these are pretty good assumptions, while others, like bone density can be highly variable.

On lab day, I was pretty excited. I am a 21-year-old competitive cyclist and triathlete, and as an exercise scientist, I am genuinely curious as to how my numbers compare to population norms and other athletes (to give you an idea, I voluntarily did a lactate threshold test which involves having your fingers repeatedly pricked during a graded exercise test just for funsies #nerd). I followed the protocol as best I could, holding my arms straight out and standing tall during the BIA, exhaling ALL of my air during two trials of underwater weighing, and laying perfectly still during the 7 minute DEXA scan. 

I will note that I was not able to follow all of the BIA protocol which includes no eating or drinking four hours prior. After running the numbers, I was completely astounded as to what the ACSM, the American College of Sports Medicine, that is, classified my body fat % to be. Turns out, depending on the method used, I’m either “good,” “fair,” “poor,” or “very poor.” Here’s a brief breakdown of the results:

Height: 170 cm

Weight: 64 kg

BMI: 22.2 = normal

Hand-Held B.I.A. Body Fat % -regular: 22.3% (Fair, 42nd percentile)

Hand-Held B.I.A. Body Fat %- athlete: 22.2% (Fair, 42nd percentile)

Scale B.I.A. Body Fat % -regular: 28.9% (Very Poor, 15th percentile)

Scale B.I.A. Body Fat % -athlete: 24.3% (Poor, 31st percentile)

D.E.X.A Body Fat %: 24.7% (Poor, 30th percentile)

D.E.X.A. Bone Mineral Density: 1.103 g/cm^3 (Normal)

Underwater Weighing Body Fat %: 19.2% (Good, 62nd percentile)

The rest of the classifications are “very lean”and “excellent.” There are so many problems with this that I hardly know where to begin.

First, the 2010 ACSM Body Composition Table for Women developed these norms based on patients from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. As my professor pointed out in class, people who have their body composition measured tend to be rather self-selecting- athletes looking to “cut weight” for sports or individuals on weight loss programs to see how much fat loss is appropriate. 

The Cooper Clinic is a medical center that specializes in “comprehensive preventive exams.” By looking at this chart, I can only assume that they have a “very lean” patient base if the 50th percentile for a female between the ages of 20-29 is 21.0%. In fact, my most accurate number, which I will assume is from the DEXA scan, wouldn’t be exactly average until I was 40. Anecdotally, most of my female college of health sciences peers have body fat percentages around 25%, which is likely lower than campus as a whole. One would think that surely, this is the result of a small sampling base, but no, the listed sample size for my age group, 1360, with a total sample size of 12,116 for all females. If the average female wears a size 14-16, and I wear a size 4, it would make sense that I would be more towards the left side of the bell curve. The American Council on Exercise classifies obesity for women as having a body fat of 32% or higher. The ACSM chart stops at 38.9% for 20-29 year old females and 40.5% for 70-79 year old females as being the top (fattest) 1%. If 64% of American women are supposedly overweight or obese, these “norms” are clearly NOT representative of the United States female population.

The second problem with this chart is the very narrow classification ranges. I completed all four tests within 30 minutes of each other and got a wide range of results. On the 2010 ACSM chart, a difference of 2.6% moves you from the midpoint of “poor” to the midpoint of “fair.” I had a 2% difference between the scale and handheld BIA when they were both on the “athlete” setting. With such varied results, how can healthcare professionals make recommendations using this chart in good conscience?

Finally, the classification terminology is demoralizing and clinically meaningless. I would like to point out that essential fat, the fat that is necessary for normal healthy functioning for females is around 12-14%. Without it, your organs, central nervous system, muscles, and brain would not function. On this chart, values lower than that is not called “anorexia,” but “very lean”. Which, if you’ve listened to the health/fitness/diet industry lately, “very lean” is what we should all be striving for, right? I will concede that there is an asterisk next to the “very lean” classification that does state that body fat percentage less than 10-13% is not recommended for females. I will argue that “not recommended” doesn’t even touch the gravity of that lethal situation. That should be a call for medical attention. 

Unfortunately, “very lean” is the only descriptive term used on this chart. “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,”  “Poor,” “Very Poor” are completely subjective terms that have no clinical significance whatsoever. They are fat-phobic and encourage the orthorexic ideal that a lean body is the only kind of good body. I’d like to emphasize that this is the chart for the American College of Sports Medicine, the most respected medical organization that writes health and fitness recommendations for the general public. These are doctors, researchers, rehab professionals, professors, and trainers that rely on their information to make well-informed decisions regarding patient care every day.

There are other normative charts available, like the one mentioned above from the American Council on Exercise, although their terms, “essential, athletes, fitness, average, obese” aren’t much better. I’ve seen a similar chart where “average” is replaced with “acceptable.” I know many athletes who have body fat percentages much higher than mine. They are no less, perhaps even better, athletes because of it. I think that statement gets to the heart of the problem. What exactly is an acceptable body? Is it one that is healthy and functions as it needs to? Or is it just a thin body? If we rely on size as a quick indicator of good health, we’re not even measuring what is actually indicative of cardiovascular health- how the heart, lungs, and muscles work together. I know that my “poor” body fat percentage doesn’t mean I’m unhealthy- my other physiological markers such as blood pressure, lactate threshold, cholesterol and VO2 max all show that I have excellent cardiorespiratory fitness. My behaviors (which are perhaps even more indicative of long-term outcomes) like engaging in regular aerobic and strength training exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet (I like something similar to 80/20), taking time for self-care, not smoking, and getting enough sleep agree with that.

Fortunately, the ACSM has updated many of their exercise prescription recommendations as of 2015. Some updates are expected in 2017, but I am not sure if the body composition norms will be included. For now, I’m taking these results with a grain of salt. I know that despite what the ACSM has to say, my body is good, acceptable, perhaps even above average no matter how much fat I have.  

The author carrying her bike up a hill at a cx race

Charging my way up the run up at the Boone Town Throwdown CX race!

Wherever you go there you are: presenting my whole self

This week I was at a very cool conference at the University of Texas at Dallas on social relevant philosophy of science and values in medicine, science and technology.  If you’re interested, the program is here.  Conferences are fun for me, but also sometimes a little stressful, and the level of stress tends to depend on how prepared I am when I arrive there.  This time I had not finished preparing my talk, called “The case against the term ‘obesity'”, so was worrying a bit and trying to squeeze in some time to finish it.  Part of why I hadn’t finished the talk is that I had spent the previous week at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness at a workshop on mindfulness and eating.  It was an intense experience that involved sharing (sometimes painful) stories with 18 other people about our stormy relationships with food and our bodies.  I blogged about it here.

We all have to manage separate parts of our lives– work, family, friends, sports, etc.– while incorporating those parts into some semblance of a coherent whole person. (Reading that sentence, I can’t help but think:  philosophers spend a lot of time taking ordinary experience and turning it into something very complicated; why do they do that?  Yeah, well…)

This week for me, the forces of compartmentalizing/incorporating came into conflict.  I have two roles that I commonly play:  1) academic obesity researcher; 2) fat woman struggling with food and body image issues.  Last week at Kripalu I spent a bunch of time identifying with 2), something I’m not comfortable doing with others.  But it was very powerful– I was seen and heard and supported and cared for.

But this week (even now– I’m finishing the blog post and then running into a conference session today), I’ve shifted back to 1).  And I was supposed to give a talk arguing against the use of the term “obesity”.  I’ll post about the details of my arguments another time, but I was using lots of data from medical and epidemiological studies, and slinging around terms like “hazard ratio”.  In effect, I could hide my more vulnerable self behind graphs with U-shaped curves and big error bars.

At this conference, I was talking with a good friend about feminism and philosophy and the idea of framing arguments in a context.  She was pointing out that knowing about the ways issues come about, who is involved, how arguments affect people and environments, and what other uses arguments are for enriches us.  This information does not make us less rigorous, less professional, less smart.  Au contraire– it makes our arguments useful, and keeps us intellectually and morally honest.

So I decided to give my talk with that in mind.  I said (in front of people) that I’m a woman who is hurt by the ways that medicine categorizes me.  I also expressed anger  during the talk about the ways media and research information outlets present data in (what I argue are) skewed ways that stigmatize people based on their body size. There was a little yelling, a little mocking, a lot of laughter, and also warmth in the room. Wow.

Does anyone remember the Hair Club for Men ads from the 80s?  Sy Sperling (its president), did these now-kitschy-seeming ads about hair replacement.  You can see it here.

The punch line of the ad (go to :50 in the clip) is where Sy Sperling says, “I’m not only the president of the Hair Club for Men.  I’m also a client.”

 

client

I am Sy Sperling.

What about you, readers?  Do you ever merge (or pry apart) some of these separate parts of yourselves?  Does revealing the more soft parts help? Hurt?