Getting To Know Oneself Is The Best Journey Of All

May 7, 2010 2 comments

This is fascinating. Do you ever find something you wrote that you forgot about? I just found a speech I wrote that I never actually gave. I chickened out. In February 2009 I produced and hosted a benefit concert for eating disorders awareness. I was going to read this speech to kick-off the evening, but I let it sit in a folder on my desktop and keep my thoughts to myself.

Reading it now… I’m simultaneously impressed and amused. Amused in a dark, ironic sort of way. At the time I wrote this I was bingeing and purging several times a week, and purging almost everything I ate even if it was a normal sized meal or just a handful of pretzels. Yet somewhere inside I knew I couldn’t keep that up, and I didn’t want to. So I’m impressed, I’m impressed at the insight I had, and the strength I had to write it down even when I was in such a depressive, destructive state. No wonder I chose not to read it… the dichotomy of my life at the time was becoming too much to bear. (Being an active bulimic and an active advocate for recovery.)

So here’s the speech, all of which I still stand by today, but with even more conviction and personal strides toward these goals of self-love.

—-

Hello everyone, thank you so much for coming! Before I introduce the first performer, I wanted to talk a little about why I wanted to organize a night like this. So bear with me for a few minutes and then we’ll get to the music. I have been dealing with an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder for about ten years. I started the recovery process about three and a half years ago, and for me, that basically consisted of a lot of personal research and delving into the online activist community.

 

In August of 2007 Kathleen MacDonald, the outreach coordinator for FREED, introduced herself to me through the myspace I had created to promote awareness of body dysmorphic disorder. She invited to a screening of a new documentary about body image which I was unable to attend since it was in Washington D.C. and I was in the process of moving here to New York City, but it sparked a new awareness of people who actually make a living doing advocacy work for eating disorders and mental health.

 

The thing about the recovery process is that it is not a straight path. Not only do physical ailments have to be addressed, but it is imperative that psychological behaviors and emotional wounds are treated as well. Juggling all three aspects of the illness is a daunting task for the individual suffering, as well as for those working to help them back to health. A roadblock many in recovery face is ironically, the point when they achieve physical health. When the anorexic is no longer clinically emaciated, no longer suffers from dangerously low blood pressure, edema or seizures; when the bulimic stops purging just enough to let the esophagus tears heal, stop bursting blood vessels in their eyes, and is able to balance their electrolytes …they become functional. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking everything is OK now, that you’re “just healthy enough” and who cares if you still engage in behaviors, especially as an emotional coping mechanism, as long as it doesn’t interfere with daily life?

 

Well, this is where many stay for decades. But true recovery, which I truly believe is possible, is getting beyond the safety blanket of the “ghost of eating disorder past” and finding, getting to know, accepting, and ultimately loving your self.

 

The mind and the body are intricately connected and the well-being of both are inevitably linked. Feed the body, feed the soul. Sometimes we have to stop and take a step back, breathe and really face ourselves. When all the pain, anger and fear starts smoldering inside us and stunting our growth we have to make a choice. People with eating disorders have become conditioned to self-destruction, but it is in these moments when self-protection is so imperative. How can we help others or save the world if we’re constantly harming ourselves? We can’t. Love begins within and for it to be able to spread, it needs to be harvested within ones’ self first. We have a biological need to be able to say “Yes” and “No”. When that choice is taken away from us, for whatever reason, we start saying “yes” and “no” in irrational, destructive ways. It’s a hard journey, but what journey isn’t? We have the right to be healthy, to be happy, to love ourselves and to say “Yes” and “No” with OUR voices, not the voice of disease.

 

A good place to start is, “Yes, I am beautiful!” and “No, I don’t want to hurt anymore.” So I hope that whether or not you have experienced an eating disorder or are close to someone who has… those statements resonate with you. Because those statements are truth. Everyone deserves to express who they are and not be afraid to stand up to the world.

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Hoop Dancing

I’ve always admired dancers, their fluidity and connectivity with their bodies. This is my new favorite thing to watch. I’m learning hooping, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to MOVE like that, though. For someone who has been at war with her body most of her life… it’s actually scary to think about the possibility of being that comfortable in my skin.

Stay Alive.

February 28, 2010 1 comment

The topic of suicide and depression has been coming up in various places lately so I felt compelled to write a bit about my thoughts.

I would love to write something objective that brilliantly combines theories from science, psychology, spirituality and self-help but that will take a while (because I want to do it right!) so for now I’ll just write a short subjective piece.

A year ago I spent most of my time isolating, restricting, bingeing, purging, cutting, and if I just couldn’t hold it back anymore, crying.

I figured though, that if I could still participate in life and didn’t completely let people down that meant I didn’t really deserve to get better. If I could survive like that, I might as well, because that’s what I deserved. Right?

Well I was drowning (metaphorically) and I did seek help. I knew it was necessary when I went for a walk along the Hudson and spent most of the time leaning against the wall wishing I had the guts to jump in and let myself drown (literally). 

Little by little I fought to find myself again, allow myself to actually feel emotions and utilize healthier coping mechanisms. 

Now I laugh, all the time. I love the details of life. I take more risks and I try not to be so hard on myself when I make mistakes. I breathe. I remember that it’s okay to have opinions, even if they aren’t the same as the majority. I’m learning that I have likes and dislikes, and that it’s okay for me to have them even if they aren’t the same as the majority. I give myself a break, I try to remember that nobody is perfect and nobody expects me to be so I do not have to expect that from myself.

So I guess what this is, is a reminder to anyone suffering.

Just stay alive, and life will change. Even if you do absolutely nothing, life changes. But if you do, even if you take miniscule little baby steps every day such as choosing to get out of bed, going outside for a minute and breathing fresh air, taking a shower, saying out loud “I’M SAD!” anything. Anything, and I promise your life will change.

So just don’t stop living, because every single person has a purpose and deserves to be here.

Why I Love Lady Gaga And Her Message

January 28, 2010 6 comments

“I was always an entertainer. I was a ham as a little girl and I’m a ham today,” says Lady Gaga, 23, who made a name for herself on the Lower East Side club scene with the infectious dance-pop party song “Beautiful Dirty Rich,” and wild, theatrical, and often tongue-in-cheek “shock art” performances where Gaga – who designs and makes many of her stage outfits — would strip down to her hand-crafted hot pants and bikini top, light cans of hairspray on fire, and strike a pose as a disco ball lowered from the ceiling to the orchestral sounds of A Clockwork Orange.

Um… that’s fantastic.

Here’s the deal. I think American culture still suffers from aftershocks of it’s Puritanical beginnings. These beliefs (the naked body is bad! people do NOT have genitals omg!) permeate beneath the surface of our hyper-sexualized pop culture that has been increasing exponentially for the past fifty years. This unnerving cognitive dissonance in our societies’ belief system overwhelms all of our cultural references.

Our society says (I’m paraphrasing):

  • girls like (are) pink. and cute(sy).
  • women & men have equal rights, but women you better be attractive or Ur Doin It Rong.
  • men commit sexual harassment = “boys will be boys” “he has needs/can’t help it”
  • women are harassed = “she was asking for it” “she should have been doing XYZ in that situation”
  • if teenage girls wear spaghetti strap tank tops and skirts shorter than where their fingertips land on their thighs they’re automatically sluts
  • if teenage girls don’t try to hype their sexuality they will never be popular
  • be attractive, never outrageous
  • whatever you do (women), always put the ‘other’ first (i.e. people pleasing is rewarded)
  • whatever you do (women), do not push boundaries!
  • if you are a celebrity and a woman, forget it, you are no longer a human. we (the people) DESERVE to rip you apart, judge you, and condemn you!

And so I take us back to the excerpt from Lady Gaga’s official bio. Gaga, against the odds of her life experience, pushed beyond societies’ hypocrisy and did what made her feel good. Did what made her love herself. Did what she loved.

Often, when a young woman does things that not only make her feel good but that are at odds with convention she becomes a freak, an outcast. Gaga has expressed many times how she felt like a freak as a teenager and is doing what she does now for all “the little monsters” who can relate.

Is she perfect? Certainly not. She had the feminist community in a tizzy over the summer when she stated in an interview, “I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…”

But you know what? She’s doing something right, and in her growth as a pop icon she is also growing as an artist, as a woman and as a human being. In her recent interview with Barbara Walters she explained, “I guess you could say I devoted myself so strongly to my music that for a while I forgot about my family. But um, I only get one set of parents, and um, I think I forgot about that for a little while. But now I get to keep my father, and have music.”

Do I agree with all her antics? All her choices? No. I have a proclivity to abhor things such as “Beautiful Dirty Rich” and tend to avoid the Lower East Side club scene. ….it’s just not my scene (though sometimes I wish it was). That’s fine. TO EACH THEIR OWN. What I LOVE is that she has taken pop music and mass media to make brutally honest artistic statements. I thought her 2009 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Paparazzi” – a tribute to Princess Diana – was amazingly bold and beautiful. (3:05 to the end is what I’m talkin’ about) And yes, I’ve always been a sucker for theatrics.

So what do you think? There have been several mini discussions about her the past few weeks in various circles of people I associate with, and they’re all interesting. Is she a good role model? For who? In what context? Does she live up to the hype? Does her music stand on it’s own outside of her theatricality? Do you think she’s overly sexual or because her sexuality has a context it’s okay?

All questions worthy of their own time in the limelight. Maybe I should do a Lady Gaga blog series. 😉

Questionnaire

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Someone on facebook asked people to fill out a questionnaire she posted about eating disorders. She’s writing an article for her university and wanted diverse experiences. I thought I’d re-post my answers here.

What was your diagnosis and how long into your ED did you go before you were diagnosed? If you were never diagnosed please share.

I never asked my therapist what my diagnosis was, but at the time it probably was bulimic. Though most of my ED history would be EDNOS. I finally saw a therapist specifically for the ED (in the thralls of serious bulimia) after 10 years of EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) which varied in severity and “type” (aka more restrictive vs. more bingeing) over the years.

How old were you?

ED started around 15, diagnosed at 25

Were you in university while struggling with your ed? if yes what was that like for you and what help or hinderances did you find along the way?

first year at college I was very restrictive and exercised a lot, but I thought I was healthier than I was in high school… though eventually friends kept accusing me of being anorexic. This lead to the ED turning 360 and I started bingeing and compulsive emotional overeating second year. This lead to dropping out due to severe depression.

Was there anything that triggered your ED or that kept you from recovery?

I don’t quite understand this question… I wanted to be thin and I felt I needed this secret control over choices even if I knew they were the wrong choices, they were MY choices… 

What support did you need then?

What support did you receive?

my friends tried to be supportive but it backfired. (don’t accuse people of being anorexic… that’s not helpful.)

Were people around you aware of your ED? How did this impact your relationships?

mostly no they weren’t other than the few who accused me and then I just denied it. I started to isolate more to avoid more accusations.

Are you recovered with no problems? recovered with some problems? still fighting? dont want to fight?

I’m in recovery and in a very good place. I haven’t purged since the summer and I’m finally loving my body as it is and allowing myself love. That doesn’t mean thoughts don’t creep in sometimes or certain situations don’t still freak me out.

If applicable, is there anything(s) you would recommend to someone fighting an ED?

life is ever-changing, it won’t always be this bad. The ED is all about fear, find your fear and you’ll find the beginning of the road to recovery.

If you could tell people anything about eating disorders what would it be?

As I said above, the eating disorder is a fear-based reaction to stress and triggers. it’s very serious illness that affects the physical body – including the brain – once the physical aspects are being taken care of… facing fear and working through mental issues and processes are what will lead to recovery… and recovery can only truly occur when a person learns self-love.

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End Fat Talk Follow-Up: Project Lifesize & Meghan Tonjes

October 24, 2009 5 comments

Friday was the end of the “Fat Talk Free Week” Campaign… but that doesn’t mean we should go back to using it! So I wanted to do a follow-up blog featuring the talented singer-songwriter and youtube sensation/social entrepreneur Meghan Tonjes.

I discovered Meghan’s music a year or so ago. Through her youtube channel I’ve been able to watch her release her first album, “Be In Want”, the call for submissions for fans to be a part of her first music video, and the posting of the completed video for her song “The End”, as well as her posts of many brilliant covers on her Request Tuesdays which most have over 1,000 views each including her cover of “Circus” by Britney Spears which has 33k+ views to date and “Not Fair” by Lily Allen which has 122k+ views to date! 

Not only has Meghan made a name for herself as a rising acoustic singer-songwriter on the internet, she has also created a collaborative youtube channel called Project Lifesize that has branched out into a whole social media network that acts as a support system and oasis for women and men to come together and practice self-love, as well as bring critical voices to the hypocrisies and double standards of society. Project Lifesize recently celebrated it’s one year anniversary and currently has over 2,000 subscribers on the youtube channel. 

I asked Meghan if I could interview her for this blog, and the Q&A is below. What I love the most out of what she said was that Project Lifesize isn’t necessarily about weight (size or fat) acceptance, but about self-love in general. It’s not just for plus-sized people, it’s not even just for women. It’s about authenticity and participating in life regardless any body image issues you may be struggling with, as well as giving a voice to those struggles to show that no one is alone. 

***Q & A with Meghan Tonjes***

7S: Why did you start Project Lifesize?

MT: I started Project Lifesize September 2008. It was a reaction to harassing comments and messages I was receiving on my Youtube videos, often centered around my weight and physical appearance. While I was rarely affected by these comments, I didn’t want my younger subscribers to see them. I knew many people avoided posting their own videos in fear of receiving the same hate. I initially put out a casting call, looking for 6 other women who could portray a more accurate and hopefully a more positive view of curvy women. The goal was always to create a dialogue,not about weight acceptance, but self love.

7S: Has Project Lifesize changed the way you view yourself and the world?

MT: Project Lifesize definitely opened a new world up to me. Until then I had never considered myself a part of a plus size community, mostly because there was no community around me. I was always the biggest girl and often felt alone because of it. The women and men who have been a part of the channel, on a regular basis or as Viewers of the Month, have really opened my eyes to different issues that we all are dealing with. It’s easier for me to tell my own story now, whether the stories are funny or sad, because I’ve interacted with the most supportive group of people. I’ve become more comfortable and confident with who I am inside and outside as I’ve seen all of the people who have dealt with the exact same issues. Beyond just men and women who struggle with weight, we’ve connected with people who have felt outcast in general.

7S: Do you find that women in your life fat talk, and if so, how do you react or respond?

MT: Weight seems to be something that women in my life are generally aware of. You know, I don’t think my parents were ever prepared for a plus size child and this led to some pretty hurtful moments in my childhood. Growing up, I’ve always been surrounded by women dieting and trying to be a certain size. I always avoided the topic when it came up.  It wasn’t until recently that I connected  and became friends with curvy, confident women. I remember going to New York several months ago, being on the Subway with two gorgeous, plus-size models. They didn’t care who was looking at them or what people were saying and it made a real impression on me. There was never a mention of losing weight to fit a certain mold, if anything they spoke of having curves as something to be proud of. 

7S: Do these topics come into play as a singer-songwriter and/or as a performer?

MT: Being in the entertainment industry, people automatically want to put you in a box. You are told that in order to be known or successful you have to fit a certain mold and it can be in some ways I think you have to work a bit harder to win people over. Looking the way I do, I feel sometimes that people expect me to be bad. They want me to be a joke. I always see it as a challenge though, and enjoy shocking people out of their own misconceptions.

7S: Who are your greatest musical influences?

MT: Ah! That is a crazy question to even begin to answer. I’m always inspired by strong, female singer-songwriters. Sarah Mclachlan. Tristan Prettyman. Tori Amos. Ani Difranco. But, there’s something about guys with guitars…*sigh*. Jason Mraz, Joshua Radin, Duncan Sheik.  Some of my biggest influences lately have been the indie musicians I’ve met through Youtube. I feel a kindship with them because it is a whole new medium. Chris Cendana. Frank Bell. Katelyn Autry. Allison Weiss. Mike Falzone.Greg Holden… The list just goes on and on.

7S: Who are your greatest role models in regard to size acceptance and health at every size?

MT: I grew up not really feeling like I HAD any one to look up to in regards to size acceptance. I didn’t even know acceptance was an option. I feel like I sort of had to become the person I wasn’t seeing represented. Every day I think we’re finding positive role models who happen to be musicians, artists and writers. I find Joy Nash to be a positive influence on size acceptance in the Youtube community and was really influenced by Wendy Shanker (writer of “The Fat Girls’ Guide to Life”). Every day though, I meet men and women who don’t fit the “norm” and prove themselves to be the most beautiful, giving and loving people. They are my role models.

7S: Any words of wisdom for girls out there who think they can’t pursue a career in a performance-related field because of their size or appearance? 

MT: Whoever said “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” was a bold faced LIAR. You’re going to experience a lot of resistance, but if you’ve found something you love and you’re willing to fight for it…then the only person who can stop you IS you. For every person who hates you because you dare to look the way you do and try to be anything other than miserable, there are ten more who are inspired or moved by your passion. I know that the fear of what someone might say can be paralyzing, but talent and hardwork will lead you to people who “get it” and who genuinely want you to succeed. So, just do it already.

****

For more information about Meghan and her music please visit www.meghantonjes.com. You can also view her original music as well as her Request Tuesday cover songs at www.youtube.com/tonjesml and be sure to check out Project Lifesize at www.youtube.com/projectlifesize. Below is Meghan’s official music video for “The End”. 

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Fat Talk Free Week!

October 21, 2009 1 comment

Monday October 19th began Tri Delta’s week long campaign to end fat talk – Fat Talk Free Week.

Fat Talk Free Week is an international 5-Day body activism campaign to draw attention to body image issues and the damaging impact of the ‘thin ideal’ on women in society. It is about ‘body activism’ – the power to control the way we think and talk about our bodies to affect positive change and prevent eating disorders. The idea came about when Dr. Carolyn Becker, as associate professor of psychology at Trinity University, leveraged the unique organizational structure of sororities to disseminate a groundbreaking peer-led eating disorders awareness program.

The key message of the campaign is “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fat Talk”. I love this concept, because so often women fall into the pattern of sticking together in their words of self-loathing and dissatisfaction. It’s courageous to step outside of that and say, “hey, don’t say that! we’re beautiful just as we are!”

Related to that, is how “natural” it is in our culture to praise women for losing weight and to give compliments based on appearance. Most people don’t think twice before gushing over someone for losing weight, but we have no idea if that person lost the weight in a healthy or dangerous manner. We also don’t know how someone will react to compliments and to “new” attention. Why not compliment girls and women on their demeanor? Their personality? Their intelligence? Their insight?

It breaks my heart every time I hear from friends of mine in recovery from anorexia but who are still underweight say that they go clothes shopping and all saleswomen do is compliment their tiny bodies and speak with envy wishing out loud that they looked like that. How frustrating and infuriating! But the flip side is, those saleswomen probably feel frustrated and infuriated that their bodies don’t look like that and probably never will. What they don’t know if the extreme pain and suffering those women endured to reduce their body mass to that extent.

I grew up listening to my mother say, “I wish I could be anorexic.” So many people still don’t understand what these illnesses really mean. Fat Talk runs THAT DEEP so women WISH FOR A MENTAL ILLNESS in order to fit the thin ideal.

So hopefully one by one we can change the way we speak to ourselves, the way we speak to our friends and family, and the way we speak to strangers. We can change the way our society views the female body and the female spirit. Tri Delta’s campaign is a great start.

Here is their first video which has over 70,000 views since October 2008 on youtube:

And I recently found their newest video for this years campaign, I love it!

You can find more blogs that have written about Fat Talk Free Week at Beautiful You and Frozen Oranges. I’ll continue adding more as I find them. Feel free to leave a comment with a link to yours as well!

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