It flared up all of the sudden. I opened my mouth to yawn and my jaw seemed like a creaky, old door, the muscles stiff, the joint popping. I iced it all evening and took pain pills. It was possible to still speak, but annoying to do so. I had almost forgotten what TMJ felt like.
Earlier yesterday, and I mean 4:40 AM early, there was an earthquake in nearby Pacoima. I felt it. I jumped out of bed. The day started stressful and somehow, despite my mental stress being allayed, it seemed that stress had landed into my vulnerable jaw.
I’ve had TMJ most of my life. It’s not a new thing. What’s new, though, is my understanding that it flares up during stress. Though yesterday was hectic by any account, I was reminded that mind and body are one. They communicate and interface. My body was telling me that though I had rationalized my stress away (seemingly) it still hadn’t been thoroughly dealt with.
I wake up today with pain that’s less intense. That’s a good thing. Time to slow down, face fears gently and baby that jaw some more. Pain and suffering are not the same thing, though we often connect and interchange them in daily discourse. If we listen to our pain and get curious about it and attentive to it, we can heal ourselves more deeply and thoroughly.
Today, I am thankful for my jaw pain, because pain can be my teacher if I choose this.
Note: These Botero-inspired, body positive fashion images are NSFW. They are also not safe for preserving outmoded paradigms of what a woman’s body should be.
We are born naked and when we die, our bodies are stripped, examined and prepared for burial. Between birth and death, we are contextualized and classified by fashion. It is our nakedness that is universal and transcendent. It is fashion that gives us a sense of time, space and place. Fashion changes. That’s its nature. Our nakedness does not change.
So much of fashion for women revolves around hiding, camouflaging, binding, masking and correcting flaws. Many of those flaws even become fashionable after a time. What’s considered beautiful to one generation is horrifying to another. Binding of the feet, whalebone corsets, and obligatory shape wear are all examples of how we try to minimize women even in the space that they take up in their physical, tangible life. We do this in the name of beauty and glamour, but the tacit message is that a woman is not allowed to take up too much space and must expect to suffer as part of daily life as a matter, of course, to be acceptable to those around her. Wallis Simpson’s famous quip, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” has stayed with women long after her death.
Idealized images of the female form have been around since humans began the endeavor of making art but over time, our ideas of what a woman should be and could be have grown smaller and smaller. Would the Venus of Willendorf be considered gorgeous today if we saw her living, nude, in the flesh?
Siegfried Kracauer famously said, “The photograph annihilates the person.” Indeed, we live in an age of hyper-inundation of images. The average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, many of aspirational models portraying fictionalized situations rather than actual people living actual lives. Kracauer also said,”…what appears in the photograph is not the person but the sum of what can be subtracted from him or her.” People are reduced to objects, things, ideas, sales pitches, and talking points instead of subjectivities. The average woman has been annihilated in this unrelenting tide of over-processed, idealized imagery of unobtainable standards.
Is body positivity just having a moment? Is it fashionable? Or is body comfort, body positivity, and body acceptance something that we can reclaim as women? Is fashion having a fat fetish moment or can we truly embrace women of all sizes? Can we truly and whole-heartedly say all sizes and shapes are deserving of being clothed well?
These photographs are deeply informed by Fernando Botero’s oeuvre. Botero often imagined bodies as round and full, comic even at times, as opposed to clean lines and hard, harsh angles. Can we too have a full circle moment? Is it possible to enjoy looking at many different types of body types in photography and allow for their subjectivity?
We privilege chiseled perfectly toned, perfectly controlled bodies. This is what we hold up as the ideal. This is what advertisers sell to us. This is what so many women suffer for— trying to prove that they are in control of their lives by being in control of their bodies. It’s about proving to the world if you are indeed control of your own life. The sad history is, that even today, with remarkable freedoms for women, not all women have equal access to those freedoms. We are not always in control of our bodies at all times, all over the world.
Nakedness is also vulnerability. You’re not hiding, you’re not distracting, and you’re not camouflaged. You’re there with all your rolls, pooches, all your stretch marks, all your cellulite, freckles, and moles. Forty percent of American women are obese. That’s a large minority. Instead of pressuring these women to be more in control, to work harder, to do better, perhaps we should unbind our thinking. Perhaps we should drop our whalebone thought corsets and make fashion compassionate. Let’s be seen, heard and accepted as we are.
According to the American Psychological Association, women are twice as likely to report that they’re stressed and then men. Instead of gouging women’s pain points as a means to sell them things, it would be far more effective to extend the everyday woman the compassion she deserves, whether she’s a size 6 or size 16 or a size 26.
Instead of belaboring whether a woman is visually attractive or sexy, it’s far more important to help every woman find what’s within her that’s attractive, vibrant, sexy and alive. That’s why body positivity is so important–not to make the range of what we find sexy and sexual bigger, literally, but to help people feel better about themselves in the world that often undermines our mental and emotional health and our well-being in the name of profit.
When I was in 3rd grade, I broke my left arm. I fell off a swing backwards on the playground and snapped my left ulna. The bone was set properly. It seemed to heal quickly.
Flash forward a few decades, it’s giving me trouble when I do Wheel Pose during yoga. I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with yoga. I’ve settled into a steady yin and restorative regimen. I’ve always loved Wheel Pose. I made an ambitious goal. I was going to practice Wheel Pose every day.
It seems the old injury has come back. I can’t get up into wheel everyday. My left ulna needs a rest for a day and then it will cooperate the next day. It took me a week or two to figure out why this was. And then I remembered my elementary school swing incident.
Healing is an ongoing process. Long after the cast comes off, long after you’ve done talk therapy, you may still have flare ups from an old wound, whether the wound is physical or emotional. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to say, “not today”. It doesn’t make you less than.
It seems my left forearm needs my patience. If I force myself into the position, it hurts. How often have we forced something that ended up hurting ourselves or another? Probably more often than we’d like to admit. We’re often told to toughen up, feel the pain, push past it or get on with it. That’s not how we heal. We heal by listening. We heal by respecting our boundaries and limits. Right now, I have three limbs that are consistently ready to do the Wheel. My back appreciates the stretch too. My left arm needs a little coaxing and permission to back off when its too much.
Compassion for yourself is trusting your process–even if its decades-long.
You know that person that uses the same picture from ten years ago on all their social media profiles? That picture than shows them 15 pounds lighter, not as wrinkled, and probably at a wedding or some other special occasion where they are made up or dressed to the nines? That person may have a body image issue or at least a problem living in the NOW. That person may or may not be you, but many people have this issue.
It’s heartbreaking to me that many people choose a photo from their more distant past as their profile photos. It’s like they can’t accept or acknowledge fully where they are today. Our whole personhood is not dictated by one image. There’s no perfect image of us. We change each day. Too many of us privilege that “one special photo” of us and can’t stop to appreciate the beauty of our maturation, the beauty of our experience. Some are even ashamed to put up a more current photo because of how they think others will react to their picture.
The next time you’re tempted to put up a photo from your not-too-recent-past as a profile photo, question your motives. Are you trying to escape what you perceive to be your shortcomings in the present? Do you feel the pressures of ageism? Do you feel like the past was somehow better? Our social profiles are now the face we show to the world. Less and less, we interact in person. Computing has diminished the need to go to coffee with someone. We can chat through a small window. We don’t have to give someone our full attention if we don’t care to. That small chat window also tricks us into believing that we somehow “save face”. We can project that idealized version of ourselves from 10 or 15 years ago without much consequence.
It’s time to embrace who we are today, with our wrinkles and cellulite, with all the “flaws”. We are more than one image, frozen in time. We are living, breathing, maturing, evolving persons and we should all celebrate who we are NOW, today.
If you’ve ever been to London, you’ve probably taken the Tube, aka the subway. Most people who ride the Tube remember signs everywhere saying, “Mind the Gap”.
Years later, I’ve been fascinated with gaps, but mostly gaps in thinking, gaps in awareness, gaps in consciousness. What I’ve learned from my own life and observing others is that gaps can cause pain, especially a gap between who we truly are, today, this moment, and who we’ve been taught or conditioned we should be. The larger that gap, the more we feel that pain. One of the biggest issues I’ve had to grapple with concerning gaps is the gap between who I am, physically, and what advertising. retailers and diet culture tells me I should be.
It’s about time we “mind the gap” in other places than subways. We need to mind the gaps of our thinking, the gaps in our aspirations, the gaps in our awareness. If you don’t mind the gap in the subway, you may slip and fall and worst case scenario, slip just as a moving train is whizzing by. Life has many in opportune moments–sudden illness, unexpected death, catastrophic financial loss, just to name a few. There’s plenty of chaos to go around. If we are not minding our mental gaps, those unexpected trains may hit us too hard.
Body positivity is about acknowledging our gaps–acknowledging the pain they cause and most importantly, bridging or closing the gap. Exercise, eat right, train, but also realize we live in a culture that privileges dangerously thin representations of women’s bodies. Temper your expectations of yourself with a little compassion.
This week, I had a lesson in how valuable I am. From time to time, we say to ourselves, “I’m valuable. I’m important. I have something to offer,” etc. It’s easy to pay lip service to those affirmations, but it’s a whole different matter when we actually have to calculate our worth in real terms. Yesterday night, I was crunching a bunch of numbers regarding some of my business ventures and I realized that I had a good sense of my worth. I wasn’t asking “Who would want to pay for that?” Instead, I was asking, “Who wouldn’t?”
Various studies have shown that overweight people are seen as less conscientious, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, less productive, lazy, lacking in self-discipline, and even dishonest, sloppy, ugly, socially unattractive, and sexually unskilled; the list goes on and on.* The stereotypes run so deep that even obese people hold these same discriminatory beliefs about other obese people.
It’s hard to stand up for what you’re worth as a plus size woman in the world. It’s hard to fight years of stereotypes, especially the ones we’ve internalized and had used against us. The saddest thing to me is that people with weight challenges do often hold these beliefs about others with weight issues. I know I too struggle with this and I have to check myself.
Today’s the day to really ponder what you think you’re worth. Are you short-selling yourself because you’ve told your body makes you “less than”? You’re important and valuable whether you’re a size 0 or a size 5X.
Also, don’t forget to measure value in more abstract terms too. Real dollars and cents make sense, but are you treated well at your work? Do you feel valued and important? Your paycheck may be adequate but the emotional cost of your work environment may be too much. There are some things money can’t buy, and one of those things is a happy heart and an ebullient spirit.
I think one of the most freeing things that can happen for anyone struggling with body image issues is to get to that head space where you have “zero f**ks given”. You’re just doing you. That’s the zero you ultimately want to achieve. Zero is not a size to achieve but an attitude to aspire to, where you know what makes you happy and you’re not allowing others to dictate to you what you should think and feel about yourself and others. So that’s the zero that I wish all people get to–not a teensy weensy size but a big, bold attitude of self empowerment and self worth.
It’s very easy to cherry pick reality these days. It’s very easy to ignore what’s inconvenient or what doesn’t matter or apply to you. In the curvy and plus size community, we deride “thin privilege” but we have less conversations about “skinny shaming”–picking on someone because they are “too thin”. How many times have you thought “that person should eat a cheeseburger”, not even knowing them?
There’s at least two sides to every issue and while we as plus sized people do suffer from “thin privilege” we pay very little credence to how thin shaming hurts everyone too. I recently discussed this in depth with Lacretia Lyon on her Mrs. Brightside show. Lacretia and I both had relatives that could not put on weight no matter what they ate and we discussed how that impacts them and our perceptions and relationships with them.
One thing we have to remember when we discuss the human body is that human bodies are human. Picking on people hurts them. Being picked on hurts and damages. Unacknowledged bias hurts and impacts people. One of my new mantras going forward is “no shame”. No thin shaming, no fat shaming…no shaming period. If we extend a little more love, respect and compassion for others, perhaps we’ll start to become the change in the world we want to see.
Tess Holliday clapped back this week against those she called, “concern trolls“, declaring that ther health is no one’s business. I agree with Tess. Her health is nobody’s concern but her’s but it did cause me to look at my own health and define what I consider to be a “healthy” version of me.
Is the healthiest version of me thin? Not necessarily. Is the healthiest version of me a certain set of measurements. Nope. What is health then, in a world that fat shames, peddles diet pills, counts calories and reduces women’s value to measurements?
The healthiest version of me is doesn’t cry in fitting room because I’m not squeezing into a specific, idealized size. The healthiest version of me does not look in a mirror and automatically think, “You’re so fat.” The healthiest version of me does not reach for the control top shape wear every time I have to go out of the house for the most mundane errand. The healthiest version of me doesn’t care about what the advertisers say or the celebrity gossip rags say about what parts of my body I should feel insecure about. The healthiest version of me is the version of me that doesn’t mind the jiggles or the cellulite so much.
The healthiest version of me is the happiest version of me. The healthiest version of me is the version of me that’s compassionate to the woman I am today, all my layers. The healthiest version of me is the version of me that knows that I am worthy just because of who I am. The healthiest version of me is the embodiment of self esteem, no matter what the scale says.
Health is whole body, whole mind, whole spirit experience. It’s not set of measurements or how you look in a photo. Embrace your whole self and whole health this week.