Let’s play a game. I say, “East Oakland, California.”
You say, “____________.”
Before I moved here in 1989, I called the local police and checked in about the crime stats. After all, I would most likely be raising a family at some point and wanted to hedge my bets proactively. I was told that the neighborhood was,
“Relatively safe with the occasional drive by.”
With that knowledge tucked under my belt, contracts were signed and I moved in. Two weeks later, the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit and my tiny little one story house, nonplussed, re-emerged safe and sound. It was like the airplane scene from The World According to Garp…What else could happen? I have lived here ever since.
The crime in my neighborhood has had its ups and downs over the years with the increases in crime seemingly in sync with economic downturns and desperation. I’ve been robbed once and on another occasion had a SWAT team (no, I’m not exaggerating or using poetic metaphor) in my back yard. But I still “hella love” Oakland.
One of the gems of this iconoclastic city by The Bay, and especially close to my heart, is Lake Merritt. The Lake is a remarkable place of refuge in the midst of a city known for its turmoil. It is a bird sanctuary, children’s playground, nature and science learning center and the walking, biking and running tracks for many an Oaklander. I joined that “team” of Lake Walkers in 2002 after a serious back injury and have been walking the 3.4 mile circuit almost daily in order to stave off the immobilizing back spasms.
A FLY-BY CORMORANT AT LAKE MERRITT
I always walk in the same direction which means that I have, over the years, met about a dozen or so people who are “walking The Lake” at the same time as I but in the opposite direction. It’s amazing that hand waves and one to three word exchanges each day over the course of ten years weaves relationships with people whose names I don’t even know. But it does. When one of my regulars disappeared for a few months, my head was filled with questions about what happened to him…was he okay, had he moved, or merely changed directions? When I saw him one morning back in his regular spot, I waved, “Are you okay? I was worried about you!” He smiled and we high fived each other. Over the course of the week, as we walked past each other, I learned of his close encounter with a stroke and gradual recovery. Goosebumps ran up and down my spine as I realized that he and I are as much a part of the ecosystem there as the pelicans, cormorants and grebes who have their own special sections of The Lake and come and go with migration patterns as predictable as our daily walks.
But a few weeks ago, things changed. I was the victim of a drive by shouting. No, it wasn’t the first in my lifetime, but it was the first time at The Lake and it cut through me like a scalpel. I was happily walking my route, savoring the sun and grateful for the crisp breeze against my face. As a transplanted New Yawker, I still get a satisfied feeling each December when I can leave my house without a snow shovel and in a tee shirt. I had just passed one of my favorite regulars, a young man in his late twenties perhaps, who sports a pony tail and a black suit. It took about a year before I could elicit a brief two finger forehead salute from him and another year before the wave was accompanied by a smile. Today he actually said, “Hi!” and I was filled with a sense of satisfied connection. Suddenly a car, going in the opposite, direction sped by.
The driver aimed and fired,
“Walk it off Baby, Walk it off!”
And he was gone.
Gone before I could respond. Gone before I could recover. Gone Gone Gone. I was left fuming, stewing, hurting. Now please trust me that I do NOT take violent crime lightly nor do I think that a drive by shooting and a drive by shouting are the same. I know they arenot. But if you would indulge me and work with my metaphor, you’ll understand why this type of “assault” is such a big deal to me. His words eclipsed any and all feelings of pleasure that I had been experiencing. I began to spiral down into a very bad case of the “should haves.” As I trudged along I went through a mental rolodex of: I should have said this, I should have said that. If I had his license plate number I’d find him and tell him this, or that. My imagination on fire, I was in Dr. Deah’s Hollywood.
“Hello officer, I’d like to report a drive by shouting.”
“You mean shooting?”
“Okay, yes…A drive by shooting off of a mouth.”
“Yes there were injuries.”
I even crossed into the territory of blaming the victim.
“Deah, why are you so sensitive? Why can’t you just let these things roll off your shoulders? Why give him so much power?”
My big old booty
I also considered his point of view… perhaps he felt he was helping. Maybe he imagined himself a male Jillian Michaels on wheels and was convinced he was shouting out supportive coach-like positive reinforcement because after all wouldn’t the ONLY reason that I’d be out there power walking around the lake be to walk off my big ol’ booty?
But in the end I kept coming back to the anger. If I saw him again I’d be prepared. I’d head him off at the stop sign. I’d lean in toward the car. I would aim and fire,
“Did I ask for your help??? What you said didn’t help. I don’t want your help! Your help is based on assumptions and a one sided point of view. How dare you intrude into my world only to wound me with your misguided bullets of support. The only thing I had to walk off, Babeee, was the anger, hurt, and humiliation you left in your so called helpful wake.”
Sigh. As if…
As a person who has devoted decades to repairing wounds inflicted by “good intentions” it is startling to find that I am still vulnerable when I am the target of an emotional drive by. But I am human and hence, an on-going work in progress. For a few days after the incident I noticed that I was more hyper-vigilant. There was less of a jaunt in my step, and I felt vulnerable. I wondered if everyone assumed that my walking regimen was motivated by my need to fit in to what society expects a woman’s body to look like?
I thought of T-shirts I could wear.
Walking 4 my Health NOT 2 B a Size 4
Who Asked U?
Occupy my Big Fat…
Well, you get the idea…
The good news is that my recovery time is quicker than it used to be and I no longer punish myself for not being perfect in the eyes of others. The inner “should have” voices are quiet again and the P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Shouting Disorder) symptoms have faded. I’m back at The Lake walking and reveling in all she has to offer. Yet as I write this I find myself back in Dr. Deah’s Hollywood where this post goes viral and finds its way not just to my fellow “victims” but to the perpetrators. In a cinematic montage we see the people who believe they are doing a good deed, through their unsolicited coaching and commenting, having an epiphany. In a classic light bulbs flashing scene we witness AHA moments, one after one.
“I get it…she isn’t a project that needs fixing.”
“Eureka! She has her own valid definition of beauty!”
“What is that you say? A health focused approach to living life and NOT a weight focused approach?”
We see them in their cars steering clear of The Lake, or if they do drive by, they smile a knowing smile, keep their comments to themselves and do not disrupt The Lake’s placid ecosystem. Change is in the air and all body self-consciousness has evaporated; cormorants fly by and we fade to black.
But until then, here in Dr. Deah’s Oakland, when I walk, I wear my ASDAH T-shirt and if anyone asks me how I feel about walking around Lake Merritt, my answer will be:
“It’s a great neighborhood, relatively safe, with the occasional drive by.”
AND HEY…MAKE THIS POST GO VIRAL!!!! CHANGE STARTS HERE!
On the third day of our last Am I Hungry? Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly Retreat, I surprised everyone by asking them to step on the scale. The energy in the room shifted noticeably. My request was met with a mixture of surprise, audible groans, nervous giggles, outright rebellion, and even frank hostility.
You see, by this point in the retreat, we had bonded around the common goals of breaking free from the eat-repent-repeat cycle, improving our health, and pursing a vibrant life fueled by fearless, pleasurable eating. I had made it very clear that none of those goals could be measured on a scale. Yet here I was inviting them to step on.
As the first person, Kim, tentatively approached the scale, she set her jaw, slipped off her shoes, and stepped on. When she looked down, relief and a huge smile spread across her face. Instead of some arbitrary number, the verdict read, "Sexy."
Soon, everyone in the room was excitedly lining up to step on the Yay! Scale to discover whether they "weighed in" as perfect, ravishing, cute, lovely, etc. We laughed as some of them still insisted on taking off their shoes! What a difference there was in the energy in the room!
Afterward, we talked about the negative impact that focusing on weight has had on us in the past. Despite the conventional wisdom that weighing yourself daily is helpful, nearly everyone had found just the opposite. Not surprisingly, some of the common weight-related themes were:
Guilt and shame
Determining how the entire day would go based on a number
Holding back from doing certain things until they reached some arbitrary weight goal
Feeling that they were undeserving of many of the things that they deeply desired
Temporary pride that was ultimately unsatisfying
Giving themselves permission to "cheat" on a diet
Consuming precious time, energy, and focus
Distraction from focusing on a sustainable healthy lifestyle
Dismissing one's intrinsic self-worth
We talked about the sources of body dissatisfaction and the effect that negative body image has on our day to day lives. Several people expressed fear that if they accepted themselves the way they are right now, they wouldn't make positive changes to improve their eating and physical activity.
As we explored that belief, it became obvious that many of us have already given up way too much of our personal energy and power to a rectangle on the floor, and that it was clearly hurting not helping us.
We all agreed that a more deserving use of our energy was learning to eat fearlessly and mindfully in order to fuel the vibrant lives we crave and deserve.
If you hate the scale, love your body instead. Here's a little "homework" that you may find helpful. Have your body write a letter to your brain to let it know how it feels. Allow it to tell you what it really wants.
Open the letter with Dear __________ (your name),
Allow your body to express hurt, anger, or sadness about the things you've thought, said, or felt about it in the past. Let it talk about the effects of those thoughts and words. Then move on to let your body tell you what it really wants from you: unconditional love and acceptance, a variety of nutritious and delicious foods, joyful movement, rest, play, and/or other specific requests. End the letter with:
Because I’m a woman and live on planet earth, I have seen subtle and overt expressions of weight stigma my entire life. And because I’ve had my own struggle with weight, I’ve personally experienced what weight stigma can do.
There’s a primal need we all share to feel acceptance and belonging and the worst thing about being stigmatized is how ostracized and alone it can make you feel. And, if you encounter it enough, it can change everything you thought you believed.
The good news is, well, that it’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week! And the theme today is about celebrating the community that has grown up around this issue, to put an end to it. There are growing numbers of wonderful organizations, programs and healthcare professionals who are dedicated to changing the landscape, like-minded comrades who value and accept your undeniable strength and are willing to walk with you on your journey to health and living well.
I want to take the opportunity on the last day of this week to celebrate the community of smart, compassionate and immensely talented women that has grown up around Green Mountain at Fox Run over the last 40 years. So many of these women have felt the deep pain of weight stigma, have shared their stories with and provided support to other women at Green Mountain and many times on this blog, and have gone home to start a mini-revolution in self-care for themselves, their families and their friends. Putting dieting and body hate behind them in their quest for happier, healthier lives. How privileged we have been over the last 14,600 days to be part of something so significant.
So here’s to you, the women of Green Mountain! We celebrate your contribution to building our strong, supportive retreat where women can go to regain their resolve, their health and their hope, and to taking it home, to build a strong, supportive world that celebrates passion, purpose and life.
You do not
have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles
through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your
body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you
mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles
of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the
deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high
in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter
how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like
the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your
place in the family of things.
Celebrate relationships & life experiences! Celebrate as you have each day taken a step forward by recognizing, expressing, reclaiming, & recommitting to make a difference in this world & stop weight stigma! Celebrate your place in facilitating change!
Thanks for joining me in raising awareness about weight stigma!
I want to tell you a story. It’s not my story to tell, but the woman in question has given permission for it to be told. I first heard about, let’s call her Mrs X, about a year ago, when I was doing some training in eating disorders. We were talking about body image and weight stigma, and our lecturer told us about one of her clients.Mrs X was overweight. Or fat, if you prefer. Not cut-off-the-side-of-the-house fat, but just your normal everyday fat that you’ll see in a good percentage of women as you walk down your high street. She had two grown kids, who had left home, and she was living with her husband. Sadly, it was not a happy marriage. In fact, the relationship was abusive.
Mrs X had come to our lecturer for help with her weight, and during the course of her treatment, details of her abusive home relationship began to emerge. Her husband would call her names. Every day. He’d call her fat, tell her she was a pig, that she was disgusting. If he saw her looking in a mirror, he’d tell her that she was so unattractive, nobody would want to look at her. He’d make her cry. He refused to take her out with him to parties or work events. He said he was embarrassed to be seen with her. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to give her money to buy new clothes with. He’d tell her if she wanted new clothes, or to go on holiday, or any other nice things, then she should STFU and just lose some weight. He certainly wasn’t going to waste time and money on her looking like she did now. And it went on.
As our class all sat stunned listening to this tirade, our lecturer asked us what advice we would give to Mrs X if she were our client. I piped up first (being the gobby one, no surprise there) that I’d give her the number of a good divorce lawyer. Several similar comments followed. Then one girl at the front said, ‘He’s probably only saying what she’s thinking anyway’.
This is really important. Because when people call us names, it usually only hurts if we believe them.
Think of all the insults that could be thrown at a person. Then imagine them being directed at you. Some of them, perhaps based on skin colour, or sexuality, or size, may not even apply to you. If somebody said that to you, you’d probably look at them quizzically and wonder what they were on about. But if they called you something that hit a nerve, something that was already in your head, your own nasty little voice, chances are, it would destroy you. Or at least, bring tears to your eyes and hurt into your heart. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
But coming back to Mrs X. That student at the front had hit the nail on the head. The kicker to this story, as some of you may have already guessed, is that there was no husband. At least not the abusive one described above. All of that abuse came from within – that was how Mrs X talked to herself.
Why is it that it is so obvious that this kind of talk is completely unacceptable and nothing short of abuse when we see it in others, but many of us continue to feel we deserve to treat ourselves that way, that we deserve no better, for the sin of daring to be Not-A-Supermodel. Heck, who knows, maybe the supermodels talk to themselves that way too. When did our worth become equated with our looks? When did all that was wrong with our lives become projected onto hatred of our bodies?
Today is Day 4 of the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s second National Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Take this moment to think about how you talk to yourself. And start to treat yourself as you would want somebody to treat your mother, or your daughter, or your best friend. You too are somebody’s mother or daughter or best friend. You deserve no less.
Join Green Mountain at Fox Run as we blog
about Weight Stigma Awareness Week, sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder
Association (BEDA). Today, BEDA encourages us to recommit to taking care of
ourselves, challenging weight bias, standing up for healthy body image and
ending fat talk.
Today I can say that I love to be in my body. This has
been a long road inward, to reconnect to the joy of moving my body, and has
taken every minute up until now.
In my late teens, I started working in
the health and fitness industry, teaching aerobics. Like most young women, I was
unhappy with my body. And I was not very athletic. I felt a lot of shame about
what I believed my body looked like, or couldn’t do well, things like throwing a
ball or doing a cartwheel. Growing up, I arranged my life so as to avoid group
sports and games that I may have enjoyed but feared might reveal my lack of
But I always loved to dance. Teaching aerobics reconnected me to
that love. To be honest, though, what really appealed to me about working in
fitness was to have a job where I could spend hours a day dedicated to fixing my
My approach to fitness came from a place of discontent that I used
to motivate myself and to drive my students. Teaching 20 – 25 classes a week, I
pushed myself hard. And I pushed my students hard. My classes were filled with
students along side me on this body-hating path. It was not uncommon for me to
have a line of students, each gripping a handful of flesh, all waiting to ask
the same question, “How can I get rid of this?” And to them I would give my best
“eat less and exercise more” advice. The same advice I gave myself, to push
more, try harder, no matter how much time or energy. Extreme measures were
I was never satisfied. No matter how much I exercised, I
couldn’t seem to have a good enough, thin enough, “right” enough body. So I was
always looking for the next diet plan, the right combination of exercises. It
Until something shifted in me and I was able to see things
differently… an epiphany of sorts. I started questioning my deeply held belief
that there was something so wrong with my body.
Even though my body
didn’t look the way I wanted it to, I could see that I was strong and healthy. I
recognized that my obsession with exercise was not really about health at
In fact, how could hating my body be compatible with health? On top
of this, I was spending an inordinate amount of precious time on this very
The transition from exercising out of body hatred —
to moving as a way of reconnecting to my body and expressing myself — turned my
world, and my work, upside down. Now, instead of an enemy, my body is my ally,
my teacher. And from this place I can support others in a way that can produce
real health. I can’t say that I live in a place of body love. But at this point
in my life I can say that there are parts that I like. Sometimes. More often I
can feel a sense of gratitude, appreciation for what I can do.
you recommit to taking care of your body and standing up for a healthy body
Recommit to taking care of yourself! Recommit to challenging weight bias. Recommit to standing up for healthy body image. Recommit to taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Recommit to end “fat talk” by discussing ways society and individuals perpetuate stigma around weight.
For me, that means facing my fear and doing the high-intensity cardio work my body craves. I recommit to going grocery shopping on a regular basis. I continue to commit to going to bed at a decent hour, so that my body is well rested, and thus able to make rational decisions.
I recommit to challenging my own biases I have about myself because my weight. I do deserve meaningful relationships. I do deserve to look good & be well-dressed.
I recommit to not talking about other people’s body sizes, regardless of whether those sizes are fat or thin.
Why is it that it is still socially acceptable to make jokes about one’s size? We certainly are well aware that it is not okay to make comments about one’s religion or sexual orientation, but sure yeah, throw another fat joke out there?
I will continue to challenge people to focus on health behaviors, rather than on losing weight. What do you recommit to doing? What does your body need from you? http://eatingasapathtoyoga.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/weight-stigma-recommit/
Join Green Mountain at Fox Run as we blog about Weight Stigma Awareness Week,
sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Today, BEDA
encourages us to reclaim our body image as our own and engage in positive body
When I first decided I would write today’s Weight Stigma Awareness
blog post about reclaiming your body image as your own and engaging in positive
body talk, I thought “piece of cake.” I can write about this.
fear set in. Although I’ve come a long way in making peace with my plus-size
body, I am by no means a poster child for body positivity. I wouldn’t say that
I’ve reclaimed my body image as my own… yet. I felt it would be disingenuous for
me to write about body image.
But, I remembered where I was when I came
to Green Mountain as a participant and where I am today. And I’ve done a lot of
work in this area.
Before Green Mountain… I didn’t give my body TLC. For
instance, I bought clothes because they fit, but I didn’t think my body deserved
After Green Mountain… I know what styles and brands work
for my body and I buy those because they make me feel good.
Mountain… I would tell you I pretty much didn’t like anything about my
After Green Mountain… I can look in the mirror and appreciate the
things I do like… my feet (especially after a pedicure), my strong calves, my
soft shoulders, my summer freckles.
Before Green Mountain… I held on
tight to my “body fantasy,” the tape of “when I lose weight…” always running
through my head.
After Green Mountain… I decided that I didn’t want to
keep waiting for my life to happen until I lost the weight. I spent the summer
swimming, hiking, canoeing, and bike riding.
Even I can recognize I’ve
made some very positive steps. But I know I still have a journey ahead.
Sometimes it’s overwhelming and I think I’ll never be “okay” with my body. And
when I feel like that, I’m going to pull up this list and look at what I’ve
changed. I’m going to pat myself on the back for the small victories because
they add up. And they’re easy to discount.
Furthermore, I’m going to
remind myself to go slow and keep in mind that change is a process, not an
event. And I’m going to ask myself – whenever I feel bad about my body or feel
that changing my mindset is impossible – what can say in this moment to reclaim
my body image?
And, the affirmation that works for me is this: I
appreciate my body because it swims across lakes and it hikes mountains. My body
is strong and capable.
What is the affirmation you are going to
PS – In writing about reclaiming body image, I felt it was important
to include a picture of myself that I like. I feel good about myself in this
picture. I’m hiking, I’m taking care of my body, and the smile is 100% real.
you talked to your friends the way you talk to your body, you’d have no friends
Take some time today to notice how you talk to
yourself in reference to your body. Is the way you think about and
feel about your body consistent with how you talk to and treat others in your
life? As you go through your day, attempt to challenge weight bias
and body dissatisfaction/hate with yourself. How can you recommit to
ending weight bias towards yourself? Submitted your writing to WSAW@bedaonline.com to be included in the Blog Carnival!
Reclaim your body image as your own! Be the first to engage in positive body talk, Think about your REAL values…. and what impact you want to have on the your fellow human beings. What you say matters!
I don’t want to be defined by my body. Even if I was a size 4, do I really want to me known as the girl “with the thin body”?
I want to known for…
my compassion, my love, my loyalty, & my humor.
My size has nothing to do with those things.
I show compassion, love, loyalty, and humor to others, but what about to myself?
Compassion to myself looks like giving myself a break, knowing I don’t have to be perfect.
Love to myself means facing fears, and trying.
Loyalty means sticking up for myself to myself when my inner critic gets going.
Humor means finding the funny side of things when I feel stuck, hopeless, & overwhelmed.
Who are you, really?