self care

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Working Your Way Out of the Self-Loathing Land

Published September 12, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Recently I received an email from an anonymous reader of Fat Heffalump, that asked me how one could possibly engage in Fat Activism/Acceptance when they absolutely loathed everything about their body.  They made it clear that it’s not that they thought that other people should loathe being fat, they just couldn’t find a single thing to like about their own body, they found themselves just that repulsive.

I think that is a bloody good question and one we should talk about.

Let me just say, there was once a time when I felt that way myself.  Even after years of being steeped in fat acceptance, I still have times where I get caught up in that kind of thinking.  I want to make it clear that there isn’t some kind of magical transformation that converts you to some kind of magnificent 100% self-loving fatty.  It just doesn’t work that way.  All of us have to work on it and practice and hone our skills.  I think the difference is that once you’ve been practicing this stuff for awhile and get better at it, you’re conscious of what it really is.  You’re aware that it’s not about your body being repulsive, but it’s about carrying the emotional baggage of a world that fears, loathes and stigmatises fat bodies.

We also have the benefit of community.  If you have a shitty day and you feel bad, having the community of the fatosphere to turn to is definitely beneficial.  When you have someone else to talk to, even online, who understands how you feel, and/or has had similar experiences, it is so much easier to deal with.

But also, it takes work.  We don’t just miraculously start loving our bodies overnight.  It takes work and practice.  Things like doing lots of reading of fat positive material.  Cutting out body snark of others.  Critical thinking about popular media and culture.  Surrounding yourself with fat positive people.  And taking the time to work on seeing yourself from a different perspective.

The thing that I think started to tip my thinking out of constant self-loathing was learning to be gentle with myself and actually entertain the thought that it wasn’t always going to be that way.  Just allowing yourself to think that there is an alternative way to feel is very powerful, even if you don’t feel that way right now.

So to start you all off, I’m going to share a little exercise that helped me to change my thinking about my body, and if you like you can share it in the comments below.

Think about your body and pick one thing that you like about yourself physically.  It can be anything, from the colour of your eyes, to your hair, your boobs, your hands, your elbows, the backs of your knees… anything on your whole body.  Just find ONE little thing that you like about your body, and think about it.  Think about that body part, you might like to close your eyes for a minute if you can.  Just think about it, the shape, the colour, the texture of the hair/skin/nails, all the different features of that one particular body part.  The only rule is no negative thoughts – you have to let those go.

If you can, take a photograph of that body part, or find one you already have that you like.  Think about what it is you like about that body part.  Think about how that part of your body serves you in your life, in it’s function in your body.

Hold on to those thoughts.  When you feel down about how you look, when you feel like you can’t love your body, go back to those thoughts and embrace them.  Remind yourself over and over about that one feature that you really like.  When you feel ready, have a go at finding another one.  And over time, you will find it easier to find things that you like about your body, adding more and more to your arsenal against self-loathing.

It sounds kind of silly, but it has really helped me in those very tough times.

Just to quickly share mine, I have always loved my feet.  They’re big but they’re a lovely shape. and they get me around everywhere I need to go.  I have funny wee toenails that I can paint cute colours, and I LOVE shoes, so my feet get to be decorated with something I love.  I also have both of my feet tattooed, which is another thing I love about them.  They also served me for many years with my dancing and I’m still very light on them.  Plus my feet never smell bad.  I just don’t get stinky feet, no matter what kind of shoes or socks or tights I wear.

Here’s a photo of my left foot before I got a real tattoo on it, back when I first started doing this exercise:

I’ve almost forgotten what my feet looked like without tattoos!  No matter how much I get caught up in the crappy messages society pushes at me about fat bodies, I only have to remember my feet, and how good they’ve been to me.

Your turn!!

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Shame

Published August 20, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I talk about fat stigma a lot here on Fat Heffalump.  It’s the biggest problem fat people face and clearly the most damaging.  Far more damaging than being fat is, that’s for sure.  I want to start breaking down some of the components of fat stigma and talking about strategies to overcome those as a fat person.  Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of posts along this theme.

Tonight I want to talk about shame.  For me at least, and I know my experience is not universal but I am sure there are plenty of you who feel the same way, the shame placed on me as a fat person has been the most painful aspect of fat stigma, the hardest to overcome, and very much the one that has done the most damage to me.

Fat people are shamed at every turn.  We are shamed for being fat.  We are shamed for not being healthy enough (regardless of how healthy we actually are).  We are shamed for not being active enough, but if we are publicly active, we are shamed for that too.  We are shamed for being sloppy dressers, but if we do manage to find nice clothes and take pride in our appearance, we are shamed for that as well.  We are shamed for wearing shapeless sacks, and we are shamed if we wear anything that reveals any skin.  We are shamed for eating “junk” food, but should we be seen eating “healthy” food we are shamed for that as well (I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that “It will take more than salad to fix you, fat bitch.”)  We are shamed if we hide ourselves away from the world, and we are shamed if we appear in public.  We are shamed if we do not work, and then we are shamed if we dare to want a career and be treated the same as everyone else.  We are shamed for needing health care (and it is implied that we require more than others), but often we are shamed once we get health care for not getting it sooner.  We are shamed if we make no mention of our fatness, and yet if we do, if we are proud of ourselves and own our fatness, we are shamed for that as well.

No matter which way we turn, there is always someone waiting to heap shame on our shoulders.  Many people will say that they’re “Telling it like it is.” or somehow trying to help us when they put shame on us.  But there is one stark fact that we know for sure:

You cannot shame someone for their own good.

You just can’t.  Shaming someone has absolutely no benefit for them at all, just damage.  And shaming someone isn’t about helping them, it’s about making them feel bad, shutting them up, oppressing them and quite often, making the shamer feel better about themselves.

But what does help people, is letting go of shame.  Is empowering them to advocate for themselves, and to feel like they are able to deal with whatever life throws their way.  Empowering them to live their lives to the fullest, within their personal circumstances, that they can.

Every day of our lives, we hear, over and over, that fat people should be ashamed of themselves, for a myriad of reasons.  When you hear so many stories of fat people who are unhappy with their lives, it is so often because they feel worthless, ashamed of themselves because they are fat.  They loathe themselves because the world around them has told them they should.

People who feel worthless and unhappy don’t take care of themselves as well as they can.  When someone hates their body, they’re not going to treat it well and care for it the best they can.  Instead they are going to punish themselves, deprive themselves and look for ways to change who they are.

However, when someone has strong self esteem, and doesn’t carry that forced shame on their shoulders, they are able to do so much more for themselves in their lives.  They cope better with adversity in their lives (which none of us can avoid, we all go through tough times), they are able to focus better on their work and other life matters, they feed themselves better, are more likely to be active and to seek out quality health care.

So, as people who have shame heaped on us from every quarter at any opportunity, what can we fat people do to let go of that shame, and not carry a burden that is not ours to carry?

I can only share what has worked for me, but perhaps some of you have strategies and methods that you would like to share as well.  For me, surrounding myself with positivity helps.  Be it online or in reality.  I have found that the people I have in my life now are far more positive and progressive than when I was in that dark place of shame and self loathing.  I read different things and watch different movies/television shows.  I don’t read magazines or newspapers that indulge in shaming any more, and I am far more selective about which movies and TV shows I watch.  When it comes to my online reading, I find things that build my self esteem and confidence, rather than tear it down.  The same goes for the friends I surround myself with.  When I look back now, I was the whipping girl for so many of the people I called “friend”.  I was the fat girl they used to make themselves feel better.  That’s not a friendship, that’s abuse.

Self care is really important too.  Making sure that I take time to look after myself, be it just a pampering in a nice hot shower, time to read or relax some other way, making myself a nutritious meal, or just finding a way to de-stress when things get a bit much for me.

What also works for me is thinking of the shame as a metaphor.  Mine is kind of gross, but I like to think of the shame people try to hand me about my fat body as a big steaming turd.  I didn’t make that turd, and it’s not mine to carry.  When people try to hand me that steaming turd of shame, I metaphorically hand it right back to them and think to myself “That is yours to carry.”  Sometimes you might get a bit on yourself and have to take some time to clean up with some self care, but it’s still not yours to carry.

I know, it’s gross, but the metaphor works for me!

So how do you work your way through shame?  Has letting go of shame about your body helped you in any way?  Or are you still carrying around some that you need help shedding?

The Right of Self Advocacy

Published July 13, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I’m going to talk about another recurring theme of the kind of comments we see on (and in) articles about fatness (whether they be in the mainstream media as “obesity” articles or  here in the fatosphere ), and that is the theme that fat people should not, or cannot advocate for themselves.  That somehow, by measure of our fatness, we render ourselves incapable of making decisions as an adult about our own lives.

There is a common sentiment that fat people need intervention in their lives.  Be it from those in the medical profession, our families and friends, or complete strangers, either on the internet or in public.  Entire conferences are held by medical professionals into “obesity interventions and prevention”, without any input from actual fat people.  Doctors prescribe restrictive diets, food substitutes, weight loss therapy and at the most extreme, surgical gastric mutilation, without any further investigation than measuring a patients BMI, which in itself is a flawed system of measurement.  Our friends, families and even colleagues feel it is acceptable to “let us know” that we are fat and that we should “do something about it”.  And strangers, be they on the street or online, feel free to advise us, without invitation, without knowing anything about us, and often despite our protests, on what we should be doing with our bodies and our lives.

This of course is presented to fat people as “concern for your health“, but what it really is, at it’s core, is the infantilisation of fat people and stripping of the basic adult right to make ones own decisions.

It reduces fat people to a child-like state of requiring management to function in the basics like eating and physical activity.  It says “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself, so we need to step in and do it for you.”  Usually, it is done without any consultation at all with the fat person in question, and even if the fat person does attempt to explain that they do not require management or intervention, they are often dismissed as being overly emotional or in denial.  No matter what argument a fat person presents to advocate for themselves, the response is dismissive and patronising.

The other main outcome of this kind of behaviour is the othering of fat people.  It reduces fat people to sub-normal beings, as less-than-human others, as though they are animals that require husbandry, a kind of domestic management.  It strips fat people of the fundamental human right to advocate for themselves and make their own life decisions.  This is the kind of personal reduction that we have seen with other marginalised people throughout history and in our current time.  It is the act of reducing fat people (and other marginalised people) as somehow less than the normative.

One of the first things I think we need to be focusing on as a movement is the basic right to advocate for ourselves as adults.  It’s not easy, I know all too well.  Even now I still have trouble standing up for myself, particularly to medical professionals and saying “This is not what I want.” or “That is not my experience.” or even “You are not listening to me.”  Even now, as I get more and more bolshy about my fat activism, I still find myself daunted in the face of the kind of dismissive responses we often get.  Mostly it is born of frustration for me, that even at almost 38 years of age, I am unable to be heard as the capable adult that I am while people only focus on my fatness, rather than the facts, my experiences and my own wishes.

That’s it really.  The problem does not lie with our communication of these things, but with other people hearing them.

But that said, I know I have to keep doing it.  I have to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep demanding.  Because, like any other human being, we have the right to advocate for ourselves as adults.

No matter what size our bodies are, no matter what status our health is.

Dear You, Volume 2.

Published May 29, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Dear You,

Hello again.  It’s a little while since I wrote to you last, isn’t it?  I was just thinking about you.  Yes, you!  And you.  You too, over there in the corner.  I’ve been thinking about you a lot.

I want you to know something.  You’re ok, you are.  Oh I know, you’re not perfect and sometimes you feel fraudulent, like you’re only pretending to be ok, but the truth is, imperfection and “faking it” are ok too.

I want you to know, you don’t have to feel invincible all the time to be ok.  You don’t have to be permanently fabulous to make a difference to the world.  Nor do you have to be completely loving of yourself, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to be ok.  It’s ok to feel afraid, to have doubts, to be a little less than your shiny self from time to time.  It happens to all of us, and that’s ok.  The key thing is to acknowledge it, feel it and allow it to pass.  Or if you need it, it’s totally ok to ask for help.  You don’t have to change the world all on your own.

Also, don’t feel you have to perform all the time either.  There will be times where you just need to step back and BE without worrying about what you have to DO.  Anyone who expects you to be perfectly “on” all the time doesn’t really care about you – they’re caring more about themselves and their own expectations than your needs or feelings.

The thing is, self love is about so much more than just declaring “I am awesome!” and believing it.  You are awesome.  But you are also human, and part of caring for yourself is acknowledging that all humans are flawed, and cutting yourself some slack.  Forgiving yourself.  You will make mistakes, and you will be flawed, but that’s fine.  We are all flawed, we all make mistakes.  What matters is how you work through those mistakes and flaws.  The most perfect thing you can do is acknowledge them and learn from them.  But most importantly, be responsible for your mistakes.  That’s the thing that will make a difference.

Because really, it’s all about doing the best you can within whatever circumstances you’ve got in your life at any given time.  So what if someone else is able to do more, give more, be more.  That’s them, in their lives.  You have yourself, in your life, so that’s what you’ve got to work with.

But there is something I REALLY want you to know.  You are a perfectly acceptable human being right now, this minute.  You are just as valid as any other human being, without changing a single thing about yourself.  That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to want to grow, evolve or improve yourself, or you can’t do better sometimes, it just means right now this instant, you are worthy of your own self love.  Even if it is hard to love yourself sometimes (and boy, is it!), or you’re struggling with some really difficult stuff in your life, you still deserve it.

So dearest you, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and give the best version of you that you can give, but know that even in the tough times, you are still valid, worthy and deserving of your own self love.

I love you.

Kath

An Ode to My Thighs

Published May 17, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Oh I have been so cruel to my thighs.

I have starved them, hidden them, exercised them into exhaustion.  I’ve beaten them, scarred them and mutilated them.  I have blamed them from every issue I’ve had in my life, from past loneliness to not being able to buy clothes.  I have loathed them simply because of their shape and size.  How much vitriol I poured towards them for being fat and jiggly.  I’ve even tried to eradicate them altogether.

How could I have done that after all they have done for me?  They have carried me for over 38 years now.  They’ve propelled me through life and held me upright. They have tolerated everything I have tried to do to minimise them, to eradicate them.  They have given me the power to lift everything from children to furniture.  They’ve cradled lovers.  They have propelled me through water, on a bicycle and around a dance floor.  They’ve fleshed out fabulous clothes, given shape to gorgeous tights, and held stockings up.  They have been part of the foundation of who I am all this time.

They have done so much for me, with almost no complaint, for my whole life.

And I’m sorry I’ve treated them so badly.

I’m sorry I didn’t recognise how beautiful and amazing they are.  That I didn’t see the beauty in their fleshiness, their solidness, their width.  Even the rolls and dimples and scars and cellulite are beautiful.  Most of all their strength and resilience is beautiful.

I’m sorry thighs.  I hope you’ll forgive me and keep on being the amazing thighs you are.

How about you?  Do you think you’ve been mean to any parts of your body?  How about apologising to them and trying to love them?

The Colour Purple

Published April 17, 2011 by sleepydumpling

It’s been a big few weeks hasn’t it? Intense. I think I need to break up the intensity a bit. I do actually have a life outside of this blog and the work I do with fat activism, believe it or not. I have a great job that I love (well, most of the time!) and I surround myself with great friends. So when this intense stuff happens, it can kind of impact on my regular life – particularly if the topics are triggering or upsetting in any way.

It’s those times I need to sit back and focus on some self care. Self care for me usually means spending time doing things that enrich my soul, rather than the things I have to put bits of my soul into. One of those is playing around with my hair colour, just for some fun. Particularly now that my hair is short, and I can chop and change it every few weeks.

I dyed my hair purple this morning. I’m not actually all that happy with it, it’s kind of bland. I was aiming for a bright magenta colour, but it all washed out to a kind of mid-purple. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get that bright magenta, please let me know.

So how did I do it? Well, I started by bleaching the crap out of my hair last night. My hair is naturally a very dark brown (with quite a few greys now), so it takes bleaching to be able to get bright crayon colours in my hair. I’m lucky though, my hair bleaches quickly and right back to yellow, so I don’t do too much damage to it.

Then I took these:

And then you need these:

Then you put a little of this in here:

Squirt in a little of this:

Now mix it together like this:

Once you have them all mixed up evenly, slap it all over your hair.  Get it in all evenly, spread over all of your hair.  Then stick a $1 bathing cap on your head (make sure you clean it off any bits of skin it schmeared to) and go do something else for an hour.  I chose to play Animal Crossing on my Wii.

An hour later, go have a shower.  Rinse all that purpley colour out of your hair, run it all off until the water runs clear.  Then dry off with a good fluffy towel, and VOILA!  You have:

Oh God it’s so fluffy!!  I usually use some texturising product in it, this is pretty much fresh after drying.  See the colour isn’t quite as bold as I would have liked it.

I think I might just use the rest of the blue dye and turn it all blue.

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