How dieting stifles you


That's the word I've been chewing over lately. Sometimes literally. 

When expressing myself and thinking about what I want in the world, stifled feels like a fitting word. My experience is not that different from others. This feeling of being stifled is especially true for women. 

We're often told we're too much of something. Too bossy. Too fat. Too serious. Too emotional. Too silly. Too flighty. Too vapid. Walking the delicate line between being too cold and too emotional is impossible.  

Because it's impossible, we stop. We barely walk at all actually because each step could make us fall. 

Women learn at a young age to limit themselves. This often starts with food. 

One obvious way we learn to limit ourselves is through dieting. Our daily walk on eggshells starts with each morsel of food that passes our lips. 

At age 15,  I have a distinct memory of enjoying a cookie. Some man noted, "A moment on the lips, forever on the hips" while he proceeded to eat his own cookie. 

Because I was not an adult woman with the ovaries to say "fuck off," I nibbled slowly at the rest of the cookie. I promised myself it would be my last for a while. And that was when I learned that having what I wanted wasn't acceptable and it was okay for dudes to police my eating. 

Years and years of this feeling of being watched every time you eat slowly wears down your psyche. 

We learn by living this not to trust our bodies. Over time, we unlearn how to trust ourselves. We look outward to others to answer our questions. Or at least that was my story.  

Years of ignoring hunger culminated in a total lack of attunement with my own needs and desires. Each calorie skipped was a daily reminder that my most basic instincts were incorrect. 

As a young woman trying to navigate the world, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have agency. What does it mean to ask for what you want?

 It might start with asking for what you want to eat. 

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I'm not going to lie. The news has been getting me down. 

Planned Parenthood is close to being defunded. A pro-life judge was appointed to the Supreme Court. Bombs are exploding on the Russian subway system. Someone is attacking Syrian children with nerve gas. For me, feminism and activism have a large role in helping the world. It's been exciting to see how active and involved people have been since the election of Donald Trump. 

 Instead of actually doing the work of activism, a lot of us are caught up in commodified feminism. 

A lot of  women have a perfect Instagram-style way of looking really feminist. Their haircuts are cool. They have that perfect Rosie the Riveter red lipstick on. Their tattoos and piercings seem to flaunt their totally bad-ass rebel lifestyle.

Cool hair and tattoos don't tell me that they're ready to write to their senators. All these rebellious fashion allusions point to is a well-curated social media account. 

This article by Aminatou Sow on Racked explains this idea really well. Buying a t-shirt is way different from real political action. She writes:

" 'Capitalist investors' use feminism to sell us clothes! Because feminism is cool now! We are told that everything from “period panties” to “granny panties” to high-end couture most of us cannot afford can be feminist. Don’t let all this canny marketing distract you from the fact that wearing high-waisted underwear is not in fact liberation work."

Feminism is cool. It's something we want to buy. It's something we can buy.  But, don't get it twisted (especially not your period panties.. hehehe). Wearing period panties is different than volunteering to provide period supplies to homeless women. 

I want more unshaven "ugly" intellectual activist friends than I want beautiful Instagram friends. 

I keep looking for my tribe out here. I want to hang out with smart feminist ladies who are trying to make the world a better place.

I want them to challenge me to not give a fuck. I want them to help me lean in or tell bosses that their attitudes are patriarchal. I want them to invite me to the rally or the march or the letter-writing campaign. 

 I think the world needs it. 

The reason behind my blog name

The Women's March on Washington (and a bunch of other places) is today. 

It's got me feelin' all fuzzy about being female. It's pretty awesome to see all these women coming together. 

The past few weeks I've been writing about things you focus on instead of weight loss. 

Behind this work of intuitive eating is a greater cause: lifting women up. 

I feel strongly that women are held back by worrying about weight. When I started Phenomenal Jane, it was because I wanted women to be stronger. I wanted women to feel good enough already. 

Unencumbered by concerns about beauty, we could change the world. 

One time in middle school, I read Maya Angelou's poem Phenomenal Woman. I liked it so much, I kept a copy hanging up on my wall. It still is hanging up on the wall in my childhood bedroom. 

I hope one day that every woman feels as confident as Angelou did when she wrote this poem. Every woman. Even the plain janes could be Phenomenal Janes.  

by Maya Angelou


Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them
They think I'm telling lies. 
I say, 
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips, 
The stride of my step, 
The curl of my lips. 
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman, 
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please, 
And to a man, 
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees. 
Then they swarm around me, 
A hive of honey bees. 
I say, 
It's the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth, 
The swing of my waist, 
And the joy in my feet. 
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman, 
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me. 
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery. 
When I try to show them, 
They say they still can't see. 
I say
It's in the arch of my back, 
The sun of my smile, 
The ride of my breasts, 
The grace of my style. 
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman, 
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed. 
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud. 
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud. 
I say, 
It's in the click of my heels, 
The bend of my hair, 
The palm of my hand, 
The need of my care, 
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman, 
That's me.



from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.



Musings on Tess Holliday

Tess Holliday is considering plastic surgery and I'm feeling all the feels about it. 

Before I ruffle any feathers about my opinion on this, I want to say a couple things: 

1) The patriarchy does not own all aesthetic decisions that women make. 

This is the crux of the point that Tess Holliday is making. She is specifically saying that she does not view her body as "flawed." She just wants to make some changes to it. 

 I don't think that the patriarchy influences my aesthetic choices always. For example, when I choose to wear a sweater, it's usually because it's cold outside. It's not because "the man" is telling me to wear a sweater. 

It's important to acknowledge that Tess Holliday sees herself having agency in this decision. There's no gun pointed at her head or an abusive husband demanding that she change her body. This is something that I've talked about before. It is possible to have agency in the patriarchy. 

2) This post is helpfully vague in what she is planning on changing. 

 It's hard to know what her decision is based on when we don't know what's going on. Maybe she is getting scars or stretch marks removed. Maybe she is adding scars and stretch marks. She could be getting a mastectomy or another medical procedure and still wants to keep her modeling career. 

We just don't know. And it probably is none of our damn business. It's her Instagram page not her medical record, even if she's a public figure.

3) Tess Holliday's body positivity is palatable. That is what makes her a successful activist. 

When I first starting trying to look at larger bodies and see them as beautiful, I went on Pinterest. I looked up plus size models in bikinis. 

Tess Holliday, Kate Upton,  and Ashley Graham look like the runway models we usually see. Their frames are hourglass. Their skin is clear. Their makeup is on point. They are predominantly white and upper class. They generally are trying look like Cindy Crawford. 

Seeing women who are bigger who look beautiful really really really helps. 

In a big way (pun intended), Tess Holliday is helping women. She's showing people bigger women can be attractive in a way that allows them to see it. She uses these markers of traditional attractiveness to make people comfortable. 

 Having scars or stretch marks or parts of her body that prevent her from making this appeal are "off brand." They might be taking away from her work as an activist in a pivotal way. 

4) And, yes, absolutely, Tess, "what you do with your body is your business."  

That is at the heart of the pro-choice movement. Whatever you decide, you still own your body. Nobody else does. 

But... I'm still a little disappointed. 

 Her choices affect other women because she is a public figure. 

I've talked about Anita Sarkeesian's talk about choice feminism. The choices we make have an impact on other women. 

Not all choices, just for being choices, are feminist choices. My choice to wear a sweater is not a feminist choice if I'm making it based on the weather. 

 I think what she's saying is CONFUSING. 

How can she explain to women looking up to her how she decided what she didn't like isn't a "flaw?" 

It's just confusing. She's saying, "Yeah yeah yeah. I'm perfect. I don't need to change but I'm going to and I want to." 

 The exercise and diet obsessed, who were on the path to recovery, now have this Instagram post to point to. They can say, "But I don't like my body. It's my body. I get to decide. I can decide to keep doing (insert unhealthy behavior)."

 The "man" could appropriate this to convince women that body hate is "empowerment."

I did a lot of work in therapy on being able to hold two things at once. I can love my body and I can want to change it. You can certainly love your body. You can certainly change your body as an act of love. 

My concern is how companies appropriate the language of body positivity to sell products. I fear we won't allow women to feel like they can just be in their bodies as they are. We will use the language of body positivity and feminism to "empower" women to hate their bodies. 

This has already happened around dieting and health. These days we mask disdain for fat people with "concern for their health." 

 It makes me sad that even my heroes can feel like they want to change.

I'm disappointed because women like her are the women I look to on my bad body image days. When I dislike how my body looks, I want to see women who are unabashedly proud of how their body looks every damn day. 

I want Instagram posts about jiggly thighs and stretch marks and scars and saggy boobs. I want to see belly rolls and wrinkles and birth marks. Instead, I'm seeing a "body positive" advertisement for cosmetic surgery. 

But, here's my deus ex machina. 

I appreciate that Tess Holliday is being honest. I appreciate that she's being vulnerable. I appreciate that she is tackling this complex concept of how she chooses to live in her body. 

After all, the rest of us make choices everyday about what we're going to change and what we won't. 

For example, I shave my legs but I don't shave other parts. I sometimes wear makeup and braid my hair and care about what clothes I'm wearing. It would be too exhausting to be perfectly feminist or perfectly body positive. 

I don't think you have to walk around in a paper bag and demand that society accept you as you are.

 BUT.... society should accept us unchanged, naked, make-up free, belly rolls, stretch marks, saggy boobs and all. 

We're all human beings, right? 

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