Welcome to the second edition of my Saturday Reading series. As with last week and all future weeks, I am focused on the work of women and queers. I chose articles that I think relate to physical, emotional, psychological, creative, and social health this week and I am SO excited to share them with you. Enjoy!
1. Facing Failing Health as a Vegan by Sayward at Bonzai Aphrodite
Bonzai Aphrodite is a vegan lifestyle blog, brought to you by Sayward Rebhal. Sayward writes sweet posts about her life regularly, which I always enjoy but for me, this post about facing failing health as a vegan, hits particularly close to home. Sayward was facing dangerously low protein and cholesterol and in this post she writes about how she figured out how to get herself back to health using all-vegan methodologies. She talks openly about considering going off of a vegan diet, and why she chose not to.
Not so long ago, I faced my own health crisis as a vegan (fairly severe digestive reactions to basically every form of vegan protein) and introduced pasture-raised eggs into my diet for approximately six months. Although I do think it was important for me to add things into my diet at the time as opposed to subtract, I eventually concluded that I felt best on a vegan diet for ethical reasons. Instead of eating eggs, I looked into eliminating most raw vegetables, sprouting grains and beans, and stress reduction to deal with my chronic IBS. (It worked.)
I think it is really incredibly important to keep the human voice in veganism and Sayward’s article does just this. She speaks from a place of both strength and compassion about her journey and steers clear of some of the judgey-preachy stuff that vegans can be known for. (My hope is that a vegan’s compassion can look past animals and on to non-vegans, you know?)
2. To Breed or Not to Breed- by Melanie at Fig and vine
In this post Melanie (a self identified queer-femme) discusses her ambivalence about children from sociological, biological, emotional, and political perspectives. The post is thought provoking, beautiful, and poetic, examining both sides with an open heart and as with Sayward’s piece, no judgement.
“The human capacity to love is truly remarkable and we have big hearts … As queer/punk/feminist/anti-capitalists, we have fought our whole lives to re-define everything, including the meaning of “family.” I think I could, in the end, be totally elated with any child that was mine to nurture and protect and teach, whether they were made up of my genetic material or not.” (Beautiful, right?)
In this post Tyler talks about the fluidity of gender, and how they navigate a world of flux. My absolute favorite aspect is the refusal to choose a side, to pick a way of identifying, to compromise self-hood to fit into a box. Any reminder that societal pressures force people into inauthentic categories is super great in my book!
“Sometimes I feel like my gender is an optical illusion: Light me from one angle, and you’ll see a pretty girl; from another, I look like a pretty boy. I am neither, and I am both. Many people will never understand how I feel, but what matters to me is that I understand myself, even if I can’t find myself in words. The possibilities seem endless.” BOOM.
4. Genius Chickpea Tofu by Sarah B. at My New Roots
In addition to every recipe I’ve ever tried from this blog being standout-amazing, the photography is incredibly beautiful and the content is always super informative. In this article Sarah teaches us how to make chickpea tofu and also talks about the pros/cons/controversy of soy use. Because Soy is such a hot-button issue these days (I can’t TELL you how often people ask me about it) I think it’s great that she takes the time to break it down a little for her readership.
Perhaps the biggest regret of the year is not having the time/space in my life to go to the Body Love conference. The lineup of speakers was an incredible powerhouse of body love power and the workshop titles alone were enough to bring tears to my eyes. (Body love yoga, beautiful post birth bodies, perfectly imperfect: learning to love your body with a physical difference, the self-advocacy toolbox, etc.) By the time this list posts the conference will be wrapping up, but please donate to future conferences, sign up for all the speakers newsletters and blogs, and meet me there next year.
One of the most profound things I ever did was stop restricting my food.
For so long it was a running dialogue
How much did I eat today? Is it too much? If I have more will it become too much? Let me just enter in my numbers. What are the people around me eating? What did they eat before that? Am I hungry? I think I’m hungry or I wouldn’t be thinking about food. What is hunger? I probably shouldn’t eat. I want to eat. Maybe just a couple bites. I have no self-control.
I remember asking a good friend how she knew when she was hungry. She smiled and said “I know I’m hungry because food just sounds really, really GOOD!”
She looked happy thinking about it, excited to get hungry, crave food and then enjoy herself. And me? I was talking myself out of nourishment until I had all but dwindled away.
I did not wake up one day and say, “I accept myself as I am now, and I am no longer going to be afraid of food!”
Instead, I woke up one day and had a bite of almond butter on some toast and cried. Then I did that until many months later I was able to wake up and make an entire full balanced breakfast with a shaky and nervous hand. Eventually, I expanded balanced meals into lunch and dinner and I gained weight. I hated my body for the betrayal, hated everyone around me for their sunny faces as they chirped, “you’ll be fine!!!!”
I backslid, then moved forward, backslid, then moved forward. I talked a lot about food. I exercised too much. I was better but not great for many, many years. Sometimes I was still doing really, really poorly.
I became a teacher. Despite never being quite well, I finished graduate school, I got my first big girl job and then droves and droves of teenaged eyes watched me. I thought, “What is this thing that I’m always trying to do to myself? This weakening?”. I couldn’t bring myself to restrict my food because it seemed silly all of a sudden. Inconsistent with the things I would say.
I picked up a barbell and it felt fucking freaky in my hands, even with hardly any weight on it. Lifting it a few times wrecked me, then made me feel strong. It left me enthused and starving, made it so that I couldn’t possibly question my hunger. I lifted the barbell again, and again and again. My students watched me every single day when I went to work and they said “Do you exercise?! You look strong!” I told them I lifted weights and that I was strong. I told them that every day I was eeking toward becoming more powerful.
My body changed, lifting all those barbells and eating all that food and so did my mind. I stopped counting calories, or minutes of my workouts, or days that I took to rest when I needed them. I strengthened my body all the time, and my students saw me do it.
I let them eat lunch with me so that they could see that I ate. They sat eating too, turkey and mustard wrapped in lettuce. They said they were afraid of weight lifting because it might make them big. I asked them why they needed to be small. They said to gain self-esteem they try to lose weight. They asked me how to get rid of belly fat. They said their favorite food was sugar-free Monster Energy drinks.
My students were wonderful. Their bodies were fine– more than fine! They were just getting to adulthood, just settling into what they would be. They did not need to lose weight and Monster Energy wasn’t fucking food.
I told them this, and they shrugged. They went back to quietly nibbling and I could see them thinking. Maybe they are deciding they don’t need to be so small! I’d think. Maybe tomorrow they will bring more to school than meat and lettuce.
I never backslid after I became a teacher because I felt my students watchful eyes even when I was alone.
Thanks to them, I eat when my body tells me to eat. I turn my head the other way when somebody’s weight loss is highlighted as a big accomplishment, something to celebrate. I still lift wights. I am happy enough with my body, but I’m even happier with my actual life.
I have things to talk about that don’t relate to food now, and that’s maybe the most powerful thing of all.
When I was a little kid my favorite activity was to be pushed on the swings by my grandmother. I swung as high as possible, pumping my little legs, and as my grandmother pushed me she would always ask me the same question:
“Are you a bird brain, or a big brain?” she would say.
“BIG BRAIN!” I would shout, because duh. Obviously I was a big brain. It was barely a question worth asking. The truth was apparent.
My grandmother ate chips. Potato chips, greasy ones with onion dip. She ate them and between bites she would bemoan herself.
“Diet starts tomorrow,” she’d say.
“I am turning into a fat pig,” she’d say.
“When I was young I used to think I was so big. I look in the mirror now and I’m huge. Now I’m REALLY fat”.
After chips she ate cabbage soup for a week straight until the smell of her farts made her eyes water.
“I give up,” she’d say between bites of chip. “I give up.”
My grandmother smoked, then didn’t smoke for twenty years, then smoked again. She got lung cancer almost immediately once she re-started and then she had tests.
“THE CANCER HASN’T METASTICIZED!” she said, full of joy when the tests came back.
The chemo and radiation ravaged my grandmother. Her hair fell out, large clumps, and she was hooked up to a breathing machine and bald. She was gasping, she couldn’t breathe. My once soft grandmother became hard, spindly and small. She threw up from the chemicals. She had a stroke and couldn’t use her left side. She fought, she fought, and then she could no longer talk.
My mom tells me that the night my grandmother died she couldn’t move, speak, eat, breathe. She was tiny, frail. Half of her body was slack and limp. My mom pulled her face over my grandmother’s hospital bed and said:
“It’s okay if you go. We will be okay. I promise.”
My grandmother passed just as soon as she got permission.
After my grandmother was dead I found out she had a boob job, before boob jobs were really even a thing. She had been flat chested and self conscious, saw her breasts as an error needing to be fixed. She had liposuction too, and forever thereafter had been worried when fat came back and grew in different awkward places.
I wonder if my grandmother ever thought about how sad it was that she spent her life getting hacked up, dieting.
I wonder if she explicitly emphasized my brain on purpose so that I wouldn’t do what she had done. I wonder why she couldn’t do that for herself.
I wonder if anyone ever told my grandmother she was of value, that her body was wonderful as is. That she deserved to exist without augmentation. Of course she must have noticed that the chemo dwindled her body as she’d wished she could have done with diet. I wonder how she felt about that. I wonder if she saw the irony.
In light of this, I wake up every day and I have to let myself exist honorably.
I honor my brain, as I was taught to do, by learning as much as humanly possible.
I honor my body.
I honor my body by respecting it, by listening to it, by thanking it. I honor my body with good sleep and water and food and physical activity and connections.
I honor my butt and my thighs because that shit is big and strong, and they don’t need to be smaller. They deserve recognition, not from a yelling man on the street but from ME. This butt, these thighs, all this is mine and yeah, hollering man, obviously they look hot. Like I don’t know. Please.
I honor the part of me that has been hurt in the past, confused and unable to eat because I thought my body was not good enough, whatever good means.
I honor my body because I am a role model for teenage girls and teenage girls are pretty much the most important thing in the entire world.
I honor my body because growing up I had no role models to show me how to do this. (How is it possible that I grew up surrounded by strong-as-fuck women who hated their bodies with every fiber of their beings?)
I honor my body because my grandmother never learned to honor hers.
If I can do it, you can do it too.