Tuesday, April 14, 2015

#ToTheGirls

I was going to apologize for not having time to put all of my ideas for Courtney Summers' #ToTheGirls campaign in action.  And then I realized that that is antithetical to what I actually believe.

I will not apologize.  I've been busy with work, which I rock, and blogging, which I love, and reading, which makes me a better person.  I am a girl who was a nerd in school, who thought that she'd never find a place, and here I am, on my own, rocking librarianship and trying to rock at life (still working on that last one).  AND THAT'S OKAY!

My high school English teacher would have probably shot me (no, really, she went to Africa and shot wild game and mounted it on her walls) for all of my sentences here starting with "I."  But I'd go back to her now and say,"My opinion is important.  So I start with me."

I've always been one for books and learning and knowledge and sitting around thinking about ... stuff ... than putting on a gym outfit and running around the track.  Or swimming in one of the communal bathing suits (yes, this was a thing).  I used to think that this made me unattractive.  That it's why I got "fat" in high school.  That it's why I'd never get married and no one would love me ever.

I've also needed control.  I'm not ashamed at all to talk about mental illness.  I have depression, BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) and EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).  The last two, I think, were triggered by the lack of control I felt when I went to college.  In high school, I had a schedule.  I had a goal: get into a college so I could study French.  And then when you get to college it's like being tossed into a great glob of Jell-O.  Every step you take is uncertain.  You might get a professor who's more interested in the experiment running in the lab next door than in actually instruction students.  You might get a substitute professor who, as a white woman, thought that she was Native American and swanned around the room in turquoise jewelry and accused everyone in the class of "killing Native Americans."  I couldn't control it: I had to do it to graduate.

Plus, I had just come off of my senior year of high school, which was, actually, pretty great.  I had been a tetch overweight since I hit puberty, probably due to my habit of eating sour candy and having a bagel with nacho cheese for lunch every day.  Hey, it was better tasting than the salad bar, which looked like it had washed up on the lake shore last week.  But I worked out and paid attention to my hunger and got strong.  At Senior Banquet, one of the girls I admired but was too shy to actually try to be friends with told me I had a bangin' bod--why did I hide under big clothing?  That made me pause: not the compliment so much, but the question.  Why was I hiding?

That night, I received the Senior Dumb Award for Madame Curie, and I couldn't have been happier.  I gave one of the commencement speeches and I spoke from my heart.  I gave no platitudes or empty promises.  I was flying high.  My high school crush gave me a hug and we cried because we did it.  We survived public education.  (NB: High school crushes might turn out to be SWOLE dudebros.  Dodged a bullet).

And there I was, seventeen years old and in college and I felt like I needed to control something.  So I started monitoring my weight.  I was convinced that I would gain weight by being a commuter student and then I would be even more unattractive and then people would be disgusted by me and I'd never have a boyfriend and the world WOULD END.  I truly believed this.

So I started restricting my food intake.  I still felt squishy and lumpy next to other girls I saw.  So I started throwing up what I ate.  I'd have a latte at the coffee shop and then throw it up and then go to modern dance and dance for an hour and a half.  I knew this wasn't normal or healthy but I didn't care because I so loathed my body.  I didn't notice that it was doing awesome things in dance class, things that got me invited to join a company.  All I saw were flaws.  And they weren't really flaws: they were things that society told me were "bad" and could be "fixed" so I could have a bikini ready body in six weeks!

My parents intervened and explained that I was hurting myself very badly.  I wouldn't be able to study and teach in France if I didn't work on my destructive behavior.*  Strangely, once I got to France and ate bread and butter and cheese and duck fat and drank wine all the time, I felt better than ever.  I felt free.  These things were normal and celebrated.

Slowly, I've been working through how my mind "works" (that would be works in a wonky and messed-up way, but it still works!).  I can now identify my irrational thoughts and be stronger than them.  Or at least try.  I don't always win.  In fact, I lose a lot.  But when I win, oh, how sweet it is.

I don't want anyone to feel the way I did, and still do, sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) about my body.  Your self-worth is not your weight.  Your value as a human being is not your BMI (which is, as Gail Simone would say, "fakey" and meant for insurance premiums anyway.  We all hate insurance premiums almost as much as taxes, so feel free to hate on BMI too!).  Whatever happens to you, you deserve the best.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  All body shapes are wonderful and normal and beautiful.  I love all of my friends of all sizes and shapes because they support me, they make me laugh, and they are good people.  

So, all of this backstory means what, in sum (if you made it through the wall of text)?

It means:

Own your brain.  Your mind is strong and wonderful and unique.

Your body is yours.  It does not belong to society or those people in the locker room or the scale.  It is YOURS.

You make decisions about your sexuality.  They are YOURS to make.

If you feel you have flaws, acknowledge your feelings.  Then step back and find all of the awesome things about yourself.

Don't be afraid to be kind.

Don't be afraid to speak up and shout and make your voice heard.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Being smart is not a curse or a punchline.  It is AWESOME.

If you need help, it is not weakness to seek help.  It shows your strength.

Never, ever, ever, ever forget that people love you.  Maybe you've never met them.  Maybe they are shy.  But they love you and care about you.

#ToTheGirls: Be.  Fight.  Thrive.

*If you have issues with body image or an eating disorder, please seek medical help.  This is not shameful or weak.  If it helps at all, Laurie Halse Anderson's wonderful Wintergirls probably helped save my life.

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