Monday, October 3, 2016

The trap of the healthy fat chick

When a plus size woman dares to love herself unapologetically on social media, a few things often happen.  One, lots of people are happy.  Yay! Because if we can love ourselves, maybe they can too.  Or because they already do and are happy that someone else does too.  Or because their plus size sexual partner is beautiful to them and they want her to see the beauty they see.  Or a million other personal reasons.  Yay for happiness and body love. 

Two, some people are dicks.  How dare this woman feel good about herself when she is aesthetically disgusting to them?  So they compare her to animals, threaten physical violence, or otherwise behave like the worst kind of human, because for some reason or other, her self love is threatening to them.  Or they’re bored or something.

So that’s kind of the best and the worst.  But there’s a third thing.  A sneaky thing. 

The concern troll.

“I’m so glad you feel good about yourself, but that size can’t be healthy.” “Promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.” “Glorifying obesity.”

Thankfully, I have been largely spared the aggressive and violent comments online, but I’ve been concern trolled aplenty.

And I haven’t been responding to that properly.

I have used language in my body love blog posts reassuring the trolls in advance that my fat body is healthy.  I have pointed out that I exercise and eat well.  I’m healthy, y’all. Fat and healthy.  Dont worry,  I'm one of the good fatties.  No need for your concern trolling here…

Except.  What a bunch of insidious ableist bullshit that was. 

I love my body and I’m worthy of love and I’m beautiful.  Full fucking stop.  Period.  Healthy or not.  Exercising or not.  Eating kale chips or potato chips. Diabetic or not.  In shape or not.  This is my body and I love it and I’m allowed to love it and celebrate it!  I’m allowed to take up the space I take up.  My health is between me, my doctor, and the people who love me.  No one else.

The trap of allowing and responding to the concern troll is that it says that I am only worthy of loving myself if certain conditions are met.  What a load of crap. 

Some things have happened recently that forced me to look at just how much I have allowed the concern trolls’ voices inside my head.

For the first time in my life, at age 42, I have a medical condition that could be partly due to my weight.

It also might not be.

I have hypertension.  I’m managing it with my doctor in the ways that we have decided together, and my health is fine.  But when it happened, when those numbers crept up, and I could no longer explain them away as “white coat hypertension,” I found myself on unstable ground. 

Shit, I thought.  They were right.  It was just a matter of time until my “unhealthy,” “obesity glorifying” lifestyle caught up with me. 

I felt ashamed because of some numbers on a blood pressure machine. 

Together, my doctor and I decided that before medicating, we would try weight loss, increased exercise, and reducing salt intake.  For months, I obsessively tracked every morsel of food to go in my mouth.  I exercised.  I reduced salt.  I lost ten pounds.  My blood pressure continued to increase.

I broke the Pam.
During that time, I had a nasty fall.  I slipped on some mud while walking in the woods with my kids, sprained a ligament in my knee and tore a ligament in my ankle. I hopped around on crutches, scooted around the house on a rolling office chair, leaned heavily on my husband for help, and eventually got to the point where I could walk with a limp.

I couldn’t stand or walk for long, and couldn’t do stairs.  Grocery shopping was enough to make my leg ache badly for hours.  I considered using one of those motorized shopping cart scooter thingies at the grocery store. 

But, I couldn’t ride one of those.  People would think I was just fat and lazy.  Every time I sat down when others were standing, every elevator ride, I heard the voice in my head, “fat and lazy.”  I felt lumbering. Like a fat caricature.  I considered wearing a knee and ankle brace, not because I needed them, but because they would signal to people that I was injured, not just fat and lazy.

Because if I’m fat and just feel like sitting down or taking the elevator, what?  I’m not worthy of the air I breathe?  The space I take up?  Can I be fat and (temporarily, in this case) not able bodied and have a medical condition and still be beautiful and love myself?

Uh.  Of course I can.

But for a minute, I didn’t know that. 

I had trapped myself in the story of a beautiful fat chick who was the exact size she was supposed to be, as evidenced by good health and an able body.

Pam, check your privilege. 

I’m plus sized.  I’m fat.  I’m fucking fabulous.  Sometimes I’m super duper lazy.  Sometimes I’m active.  Mostly I’m healthy.  In some ways, I’m not healthy.  My body is aging.  Some of that I’m embracing.  Some of it kind of sucks balls.  Exercise waxes and wanes with my mood and other factors.  I like salads.  And cheetos.  And bourbon.  And lentils.  And cake.  And dancing.  And sleeping late. Sometimes I wear fabulous clothes that make me look like a pin-up hourglass.  Sometimes I wear yoga pants and a tank top with no bra. 

And I’m beautiful and worthy.  I love myself and I love my body.  Full stop.  No conditions on that love.

Unconditional.  Just like my love for others.  I’ve finally learned to give that to myself.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The fine art of being bad at stuff

Let me start with a little story.  As a baby, my mom thought that maybe I was deaf, because I never babbled.  These days, we would have that kid tested and getting services so fast their head would spin, but this was the 70’s, era of kids bouncing free in the back of station wagons with no seatbelts.  It was a more chill time. 

Spoiler: I wasn’t deaf.  Eventually I talked, but only once I could say real words. No baby babble for me.  My first word was a perfectly identifiable, “meow” while my mom was reading the Three Little Kittens.

My little personality was already in there.  My tiny little baby perfectionist personality.

I hate being bad at stuff.

Here’s the thing though.  In order to get good at most stuff, you have to be bad at stuff first.  And you work on it, and practice, and get incrementally better at that thing until you no longer suck.  That’s how life works.  I would totally teach my kids that.

Except… I don’t do that myself.  I hide my badness at stuff.  I practice in secret until I can get all A’s.  Or, in most cases, I just choose stuff to do that comes easily to me.  I know how to learn and study, sort of, in theory. But I never really had to do it much.  Matrix algebra, a requirement for my statistics masters, was difficult for me. I cried, because I sucked at it, and I didn’t know how to get good at it. Through the magic of grade inflation, I still got an A, but I never really learned how to learn. 

I have a PhD and two Masters degrees, and I don’t know how to learn.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn things in school.  I did.  The most important thing I learned in graduate school was how to speak in public without vomiting.  I learned confidence in my intellect, how to speak up in a room full of incredibly intelligent people without questioning whether or not what I had to say was worthy.  I learned research design and analysis skills, how to develop and teach a course, how to write a grant.  I learned how to work on a team and how to manage people working for me.  I learned an enormous amount. 

But not in the buckle down, practice, be bad at stuff and then get better at it kind of way.

So here I am, at the ripe old age of 42, learning how to be bad at something. Specifically, I am learning to play the piano.  I am happy to tell you all that I completely suck at it.

I took lessons as a kid, but as soon as I couldn’t get a skill easily, I dropped it.  I played other instruments, and I guess I sucked.  I mean, at some points, I certainly sucked, but I didn’t really know I sucked.  The pieces we played in band were easy.  I didn’t have to practice that much to feel competent.  It might not surprise you at this point to know that when I auditioned for things, I hit the sight reading out of the park.  Consistently super high scores on playing stuff that required no preparation.  Abysmal scores on scales.  Because who wants to practice scales?  Not this girl.

But we have this beautiful piano that we got for free from a good friend.  And neither of my kids chose piano as their instrument.  And every time a friend or my brother would come over and play it, I would be so happy the piano was getting some love.  It almost made me cry.  My kids play around on it, and I taught them to read music on it, and how to find the notes of songs they know, but no one was playing it beautifully, and it made me sad.

At the same time, I found myself envying my kids their music lessons.  My fingers itched to try the violin or bass.  I wanted to be learning an instrument too.

So I decided to take up piano.  And boy, do I suck.

At the same time, I’m super proud of myself for sucking and continuing to practice.  I am progressing.  I can play stuff now I couldn’t play a week ago and couldn’t have dreamed of playing a month ago. 

My parents were here last week and I played one of the songs I’m working on for my mom.  It felt really weird.  When eight-year-olds play the instruments they’re learning and struggle with it or hit a wrong note, we expect that and we cheer for their progress.  It feels different as an adult.

Forty-two year olds are supposed to be good at stuff.  Forty-two year old piano players should not suck. 

Unless they’re beginners. 

My friends who teach music have said that adult beginners are the worst, because they expect to get good right away, and I can completely see it.  I’m embarrassed by how terrible I am at playing a simple melody on one hand and simple chords on the other.  I’m embarrassed every time it doesn’t sound like music. 

But I’m also incredibly proud of myself.  Proud of my progress, and the fact that I am practicing every day, and that I’m learning, finally, how to be bad at something and get incrementally better. 

That’s how you get good at things.  And I’m showing that to my kids too.  They see me sucking.  They see me practicing.  They see me getting better.

It’s not adorable when I’m bad at things the way it is when kids are learning.  But… in a weird way… I’m finding it kind of beautiful.  A new journey for me when I wasn’t expecting one.  A skill I thought was a bucket list fantasy that would never happen.  But it is happening. 


Suuuuper effing slowly. 

And it’s not cute at all.

But it’s awesome.