Fearless Friday: On Relationships

I’m really kind of seriously embarrassed to say that I definitely based almost all my expectations for relationships, boyfriends, and my own behavior as a girlfriend on what I’ve seen in movies and television shows.

And for this, I apologize to a lot of people, and thank my current partner for putting up with me while I traverse this realization and unlearn many things I internalized growing up.

I’ve always been keenly aware of the fact that media provided a very unrealistic and unreliable source. For the college essay I wrote to Stanford (different from all my other college essays because Stanford *gasp**swoon**faint*) I tried, and failed, to traverse this by analyzing The Breakfast Club. I’m sure the Stanford admissions board was confused both because I completely lacked the language and insight to talk about this at the time, but also because I was applying to study engineering and this is on the total other side of the educational spectrum.

Not the point.

The point is, in the last ten years (sheesh, I cannot believe I was applying to college a decade ago), I’ve learned a lot more. And yet, I never revisited trying to write about this topic.

You have to understand, I mostly write, even on this blog, to work through thoughts faster. Writing forces me to explore things that I would otherwise allow to lay dormant for who knows how long.

This week I came upon a trope called manic pixie dream girl describing a very specific kind of character most recognizable (to me) as Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State. I’m going to throw in here that this trope is controversial and in fact the person who coined the term has since then retracted it because it total spun out of control (coining, retraction).

That being said, learning more about this trope made me realize why I’ve struggled with relationships forever. You see, to some disgusting* and somewhat embarrassing extent, instead of being myself, letting people (mainly guys, I didn’t have this problem with female peers) know me, and attracting men with my awesomeness, for a large part of my adulthood, I played the character I thought men wanted to date. And I was taught this character largely by movies and somewhat by TV as well.

I played these characters and then got frustrated when men didn’t like me for me, cause eventually I’d get out of character (what? I’m not a professional actress).

I played these characters and then got frustrated that real men didn’t respond the way the men in the movies had.

I played these characters and expected a happy ending that doesn’t exist the way it does in movies.

This is problematic not only for me but also for the men I’ve dated. Because in the same way I thought they wanted a specific female character, I expect(ed) them to fulfill the corresponding male role. A lot of my struggles came when I felt that they didn’t live up to their part. I didn’t realize until very recently that there wasn’t a part for them to fill. And there isn’t a part for me to fill either.

The thing with relationships is they really are just two people choosing to be themselves together. And loving each other for who the other is, both their amazing strengths and their equally amazing flaws. When people enter a relationship they don’t suddenly change to fit in the girlfriend or boyfriend role.

Relationships are complicated. Traversing through life alone is hard enough. Trying to traverse it with someone else, provides its own sets of difficulties. These are heavily outweighed, for me at least, by the positives that come with sharing the journey. But relationships are made even more complicated by the oversimplified versions we often see on screens. People often criticize movies for ending at the “happily ever after” point, but I’m starting to realize that really very few movies get any part right.

*I really just want to add a note here saying that none of my acting was a conscious thought or decision on my part. I wasn’t out to lie to men or something. That didn’t cross my mind at all. I guess to some extent I just thought it was expected of me. Unavoidable. A part of life. Don’t hate me. Judge me. Hell, I’m judging myself. But realize it just happened, I saw something and emulated it. And now that I’m aware of it, I’m trying to undo it.

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My Body Story: Ch. 5

So, this used to be easy to write and lately it’s been really hard. As in last week. Last week it was really hard. That Ch. 4 post was super painful. Not because of the content. I don’t think that content was any more difficult than other posts of written. It’s just started feeling like pulling teeth. There was no flow. It was choppy. And so I’ve decided to try something new, and take a more positive approach this week.

You see, the truth is, my body story has not been 100% bad. But this series make it seem like that might be the case.

So I’m coming clean (any body keeping track of how many times this is?), my body story has had some pretty amazing upsides, namely thanks to the fitness side of the bargain.

Ahhh my fitness story. To be honest, I was never the most athletic person. Let’s call it a lack of hand-eye coordination. So when an ice rink opened up in Scottsdale right when we moved to Arizona, it seemed like a good time to take up a sport.

I proceeded to figure skate for seven years, the longest I ever stuck to any extracurricular activity (other than television, am I right?!). Although the sport had me moving for an average of an hour a day, I can’t say my body was showing any sign of the physical activity (as in it didn’t make me lose weight…THE HORROR). And now, as I write this, I’m realizing that’s exactly what fitness should be. It should be something you love to do, regardless of how it impacts your appearance.

After that, I didn’t do much regular physical activity until college. As I mentioned, during my summer internships I walked about 3 miles a day five times a week. That was mostly out of convenience…it took me a little longer to get where I was going than it did by bus, but I wasn’t reliant on a schedule…I could head to work whenever I pleased.

At some point in college, I started working out regularly with friends. At first, it was doing Insanity with a few of my friends in the mornings before class. Eventually I found my own regimen through something called BodyRock: 12-25 minute HIIT workouts. I loved these workouts: they were short, they were intense, I could definitely tell that my fitness level and my ability were increasing.

Eventually I needed to switch it up…my personal fitness didn’t not completely overcome my serious body-image issues and comparing myself to the hosts of BodyRock was noticeably impacting me. At this point I tried a few other fitness programs and was eventually asked by a friend if I would be interested in running a marathon with her in nine months time. That was January three years ago.

While I had dabbled with running off and on since my last year in college, I had never run even six miles at that point. I had never done any kind of training that had a goal in the end. I had never, ever in my life considered becoming a long distance runner. I jumped on the idea.

My first run over six miles was a week after that first break up that I mentioned in Ch. 3. I ran 6.7 miles. It was easy. I was amazed at the success of training. I was AMAZED at what training allowed my body to do. I finished that marathon. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to give up at mile 14. A guy collapsed next to me at mile 20. My hamstring cramped at mile 24. But I ran the whole thing and I had never been prouder of my body. Six months later I ran a half marathon with very little formal training. I cheated myself of the awe of training, but again I was in awe of what my body was physically capable of.

During my first round of training I started using weights to increase my strength. After running my second race I started focusing on strength training. If I had to guess I’d say I read somewhere that strength is actually more effective for weight loss than cardio (fuck, I know). Around this time, Beach Body’s 21 Day Fix came out. Then 21 Day Fix Extreme. Honestly, these two programs focus almost entirely on weight loss. But they were also my gateway into formal weight training. These programs only supported my body issues, supporting before and after pictures, supporting sticking to diets, selling supplements.

Eventually I did a solely weight lifting program called Body Beast. This was, I’d argue, more targeted towards men and focused more on bulking up rather than leaning out. The last Beach Body program I did was called Hammer and Chisel. And on that faithful day in February when I realized I continued to working out because of how much I hated my body, I stopped that too.

I stopped, but I still look back at all these trainings and programs and think about what my body was capable of doing: how many miles it ran, how many pushups it did, my heaviest squat, my fastest mile. The problem is, going into these programs hating my body, made me lose track of these amazing accomplishments and got me focusing on how my body looked as a result of them.

I hope to work out again soon. I hope to do short, concentrated HIIT workouts. I have visions of hill sprint workouts (I loved these when I started speed training). But I am also scared. I am scared that if I start working out before I’ve figured out my body image issues, I will just spiral into hate, into before and after pictures, into restricting and binging. So that’s why I’m not rushing myself. I’m working through the random loathing I’ve felt at how lazy I’m being. I’m working through the weekly random loathing of the little gut that I’ve formed. I’m celebrating the times I look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of the weight I’ve gained. And some day, I hope soon (but no rush, right?), I will put on my running shoes, and I will go to a track, and I will do a short workout, and I will come home and I will revel in knowing that I did something good for my body out of love, and not out of hate.

So what are some of my accomplishments? I have completed one marathon, one half marathon, a tough mudder, two 10k races, two 5k races, I’ve run a sub 8 minute mile, I’ve squatted upwards of a hundred pounds, I’ve deadlifted 95 pounds, I’ve done more push-ups and burpees than I can attempt to count. I can touch my hand to the floor in a forwards fold, my head to my knees in a seated fold, and I can touch my heels to the ground in a downward dog. Before I quit skating I had landed a double axel and all the jumps beneath it. I was very proud of my camel-to-sit spin to back sit spin, though I never got my back bed quite right. I’ve walked and run countless miles outside my races. I’ve hiked anywhere from easy to more challenging hikes all around the US. I’ve kayaked, played tennis, done stand up paddle boarding. I have swam (swum?) and done back flips off docks into rivers. I tried (and failed hilariously) at water skiing. I even faced my fear of heights and took a 15-20 foot leap into a river off my friend’s porch. I’ve rappelled. I’ve rock climbed (though not in a while). I took ballet and jazz for as long as I skated. I even tried to teach myself to surf once. These are all the things my body has helped me achieve, all while I’ve hated some part of it. I wonder what we can accomplish once I’ve learned to accept it!

 

My Body Story: Ch. 4 – Fearless Friday Edition

When recovering from disordered eating behavior, we often feel ashamed and alone. In hope of fighting shame for myself and others, I’ve decided to slowly start sharing My Body Story. This is another chapter in that story.

It’s a My Body Story meets Fearless Friday combo! Am I the only one excited by the prospects of this?! Believe me, when I tell you that I am using excitement to overcompensate for what I am about to share because I consider it one of the lowest lows, but hell, shame shall hath no power over me, I shall move forward fearlessly!!!!

So I fearlessly confess, I reverted to using weight loss/fat burning pills once in my life…hi mom, sorry! I promise I’m taking way better care of myself now.

The weird thing is this embarrasses me for two reason:

  1. I know weight loss pills are physically harmful to my body (and seriously, do not even think of convincing me otherwise, I may not do the scientific research to back this, but anything that makes my pee biohazard yellow is just not something my body wants) and just plain stupid.
  2. I am embarrassed that I tried to take the easy way to weight loss (that’s right people, on equal par with being ashamed that I was quite probably harming my body, I am ashamed that I was lazy about losing my weight. Touché, society. Touché).

Something I didn’t share in Ch. 2 of my story, is what diet (I’m sorry…”lifestyle change”) I was following that summer after freshman year when I was quite probably anorexic.

I had heard at some point upon returning home (and finding double down wrappers mysteriously hidden in the trash…I will do a whole additional chapter on dieting as a family pass down), of this new diet book that sounded super science-y. It was all about the role that hormones play in weight gain/weight loss and how to use food to control those hormones to lose weight.

It was the first time I ever went out and picked a diet book for myself. We had had diet books around the house for as long as I could remember, but this was the first one I bought for myself, read cover to cover, and followed.

I will admit I still feel a lot of anger towards this book, this program, and its author. She is one of the many people who took her own weight loss journey and decided to profit from it. While I’m sure that at least some of her intentions were good and  that she hoped she was helping others who had faced the same struggle, it’s hard, where I am now, to not be angry at people that promote weight loss as opposed to health goals.

Her book, if I remember correctly (and keep in mind I read it nine years ago…I feel old), was actually very detailed. She spoke both scientifically and from personal experience and shared some of her own daily habits. The problem at the time was, the end of the book also provided mini meal plans. And by the end of that summer I realized those meal plans weren’t entirely in line with what the book was saying. But obviously, a few pages that outline in handy charts what to eat at every meal are much easier to reference in a pinch than a 250 page book. So suffice it to say, I followed those meal plans to a t. Never understanding where the author had managed to fit in a square of chocolate every day. That wasn’t anywhere in the charts! So I forewent it…I mean fewer calories would mean more weight loss right?!

So how does this relate to diet pills? Well a few years later, when following some kind of binge-laden episode I decided I had to lose weight fast for something, I went in search of some pills to do the trick and came upon a product by this author.

At the time, I picked it up, paid for it, took it maybe a handful of times, got freaked out (by a racing heart-rate and the aforementioned radioactive colored pee), and stopped taking them.

But something about those pills, promoted by the same woman who wrote this book, irked me then. And the further removed I am from that incident, the more it bothers me.

So many of these people that sell us various diet plans, including this woman, do it under the guise of health. They are helping us become healthier people. This is good.

The creation, marketing, and selling of these pills bothered me, because to me these pills are clearly not health related.

Where the dieting industry managed to fool me for over a decade with the message of losing weight for health, these pills never did. And to be honest, they didn’t really try. Diet pills have always been advertised as “take these and look hotter sooner.”

So when someone tries to sell me both well-earned health and diet pills, some warning goes off in my head that something is just not right. I think that’s why in all my years as a user of BeachBody I’ve never bought any of their supplements. There is something that just plain old freaks me out about the stuff.

Anyway, that’s my deal with diet pills. It was short and sweet and maybe not the most informative, but deal. I do think this is an appropriate time to share a story I read earlier this summer that nearly moved me to tears. It really made me rethink dieting and putting so much value on a thinner body.

Two months ago, NPR aired an episode of This American Life titled “Tell Me I’m Fat.” While a few people spoke in it, including Lindy West, author of Shrill, the second act is the one that really stuck in my mind. I’m not going to summarize it for you, I urge you to go and listen to it here or read the transcript here.