Monday, August 26, 2013

Scales Ain't Shit

Okay.  Here is a thing that has been occupying a bunch of my attention: the scale.

On August 1, I added a new warm-up progression to my lifting sessions, one that about doubled my volume—not the load, just the number of reps I perform at any load.

At my very next session, my weight had shot up 5 pounds.  Okay, self, I said, this is water weight from increased volume; I have heard that this can be a thing.  It will go away.  And I waited for it to go away, weighing myself more than is really a good idea.  Every time I'm at the gym.  Before and after my session.  Uh-oh.

It did not go away.  I held steady for nearly three weeks at that higher weight.  And when it finally started to change, it went up.  I put on my customary three or four pounds in the several days before my period.  Okay, self, I said, this is water weight from hormones and whatever.  It will go away.  Maybe it will all go away after your period.

It did not go away.  My period ended and I didn't drop anything.  Not one of those presumably-water pounds.  I'm currently eight to twelve pounds over where I was at the end of July.

And I can see it, too.  My face is puffy.  My measure-pants barely button when they button, and sometimes they don't.  All of my clothes fit differently.  The bulges around my bra band were driving me so berserk that I switched up to an old bra in a bigger band size.

It has been, for the last nearly-four weeks now, a daily investment of effort to make sure that I don't freak out and start restricting.  I have not started restricting, though I have been quietly freaking out a little.  Shit shit shit shit shit, my mental monologue has gone.  I have mollified myself with repeated readings of articles about weight lifting & water retention and also with the fact that this month has been so damn productive in the gym.  My squat is up 30 pounds and the month isn't even over yet.  That's more than it went up in the two months prior.  Damn.  I have reviewed my food logs to make sure that I feel good about them; I do.  I am not eating beyond my hunger.  My intake is balanced.  And I feel good.  So I have been working over those reminders on the daily, to stave off the freakout.

Two days ago, my boyfriend, whose policy on commentary on minor aesthetic changes to my body is NO NEVER EVER (and bless him for it), looked at me towards the end of a busy afternoon of nakedness for long enough that I said, "What?"  He said, "You look so good.  Your shape.  It must be all the weights you're lifting."

Um, okay.

Today I stopped in the deli by the bus stop for a Diet Coke (I <3 aspartame; Diet Coke is maybe the only dietary habit I have that I really consider a vice), and the owner was there.  This man, who is fond of me at any size and has been so for a year now, lost his damn mind.  His eyes lit up when I walked in; he told me how beautiful I am several times.  Then he asked if I had been losing weight.

NO, deli man, I HAVE NOT.  I weigh six to eight pounds more than I did when last you told me several times how beautiful I am, circa mid-June.

But I am willing to believe that these two people see something that I do not see.  I have heard of this thing happening to other people.  The articles on starting, intensifying, or increasing lifting and retaining water suggest a timeline of weeks and mention this exact thing: you will look different, but you will not weigh less.  I may not be the lone exception to this trend, and it might be my blind spot, not my bionic eyes ("Can you seriously not see how puffy I look?" I keep saying to my boyfriend.  "How can you not see it?"), that is showing me only the bloaty parts and not some overall effect that I am too close to see.  This might be a "new normal" because muscles and intracellular water or whatever, or it might be temporary but not as temporary as I would like (fingers still crossed for this last one, because, neurotic).

So as this has ticked along I have started thinking about the role of the scale in my whole thing.  I have repeated to myself the last sentences of this article: "Your scale is broken.  Bring it to me and I will fix it.  With my sledgehammer."  Why do I need to know that piece of data?  What if I stopped knowing it?  What if I trusted my sense of my behavior and my experience of my embodied self?  What if I stopped knowing what I weigh?  What if I stopped knowing it forever?

Today, in the gym, I had already weighed myself, hoping I had finally started to drain (NOPE.  ROCK SOLID) and was changing when a middle-aged woman and a young girl came into the locker room together.  I assumed that they were mother and daughter.  The girl couldn't have been older than fourteen, and she was totally normal-sized.  The mother got on the scale and went to go change.  Then the girl got on the scale and then went to report the number to her mother in a whisper.  They discussed it in lowered voices; I caught the phrase "lose ten pounds" from the girl.

I almost cried.  I don't mean to sound precious or pretentious or sanctimonious or whatever; I am reporting the facts of my reaction.  I almost cried.  I had a fleeting thought of saying something, but what would I say?  It's none of my business.

I am not ready to say I am going cold turkey right this second.  But I am really close to saying that.  I think I have moved past precontemplation and into regular contemplation.  What if I gave up knowing what I weighed?  What if I gave up this fucked-up female compulsion, this fundamentally irrelevant data point?  What if I started now to become the woman I hope will be able to raise a daughter who can be free of this particular obsession?  What if I thought of this as a service to the child I was and the child I'll have?

Getting closer.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fat Chat

I have one fat friend.

Shit is different for her because she is a butch dyke who carries her fatness in the typically male pattern and whose gender presentation and clothing preferences are suited just fine by a belly.  I know she has her angst about fatness and I'm not minimizing it, just pointing out the divergence in our experience of fatness.  I would like a fat feminine-presenting friend with whom to bitch and shop.  But this friend is a good deal.  She is, although not currently doing a lot of reading and thinking about fatness, a person who is on my theoretical/political page in her approach to identity issues, including fatness.

My boyfriend recently moved into a big communal living situation run by this friend, which is nice because it means that I can sleep in to a normal-person hour when he has to wake up obscenely early for work because I won't have to be awkward and invisible with his roommates, so when I woke up there this morning, I got to have a little hang with her.  It had been a bit.  We went out in the rain to the coffee shop around the corner and we had a catch-up.

The conversation took some turns, and at some point, in the middle of our regular-volume chat about identities and fat stuff, I realized that I'm not even a little bit embarrassed to refer to myself as fat in public anymore.  I'm just not.  I don't have the feeling that I'm outing myself, as if no one will notice that I'm fat if I don't point it out.  I am, if I am being honest, a little bit embarrassed to participate in a conversation about my friend's complicated poly romantic situation in tight proximity to other tables full of people, though, so I suggested we take the conversation to her roof, since it had stopped raining.  Her roof is where I met my boyfriend, lo these several years ago now, which is part of what makes it funny that he lives there now.  It has an incredible view of the entire sweep of the Manhattan skyline.

We sat on the roof and I smoked two of her cigarettes (first cigarettes all summer, kind of sad to break the streak, but I like smoking on occasion).  I talked to her about the gap in the literature that I've been thinking about—this came up because she was talking about an acquaintance of hers who's a pretty well-known fatshion blogger, and I'd mentioned being surprised to hear that even the folks who sort of lead the charge around fatness in the collective consciousness are often struggling with the nuts and bolts of their own day-to-day self-care.  I told her about the "being a body" theme I've been pursuing.  We sat on the roof and watched the thick clouds roll over the Empire State Building.

We are grown-ups, and this is a way in which I have changed.  I no longer feel like I'm climbing a giant fucking wall when I talk about fatness; I no longer feel myself choking up around the words.  This is just a thing.  I have come a long way towards getting my head around it.  If I am being honest, I think I have come a longer way than my friend—and I say this without judgment—perhaps because I devote a larger percentage of my emotional and intellectual energy to it.  At some point she referred to herself as an "inbetweenie" in a way that seemed to request my stamp of approval for that, like, "I am not THAT fat, right?", and later said that she'd been losing weight, in a way that also felt approval-seeking, like she wanted to be congratulated.  But I didn't feel hurt by either of those things.  I didn't feel angry, I didn't get mad at her.  I was just happy to get to chat with her about it.

Onward and upward.  It works if you work it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Note to Self: Process, or Feedback, or Something

That when we are talking about chosen resources, voluntary associations, the thing is about what parts of you will be validated.  This is another way of approaching what I have trying to approach over and over again, which is the lack of a perfect resource.  What qualities are accepted, praised, valued, reinforced by the communities from which you seek solidarity and support?  Which version of you do they want?  Which version of you won't find space?

Reading Audre Lorde ("The Uses of Anger") helps, but there is still the fact of the power of consensus, agreement; and this is related too to the erstwhile closing of ranks around Hugo Schwyzer.  The wrong person got the job, over and over again; the wrong person was believed to be right.  The wrong person was believed to be worth concern, worth empathy.  Of course, all people are worth concern and worth empathy, but on whom are groups of people spending their time and their emotional energy?

What of this is just human weakness (narcissism, blindness, defensiveness, failures of empathy and of intellect)?  But also then, what of everything, all systems, is just human weakness lined up in rows to make load-bearing structures?

Where can I find a thing that will know that my anger is righteous and also that it is fragile?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Gaps in the Literature, or, "The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me."

Maybe a week ago, during a talk about fatness (we have had several lately), my boyfriend said that he thought I should write about this stuff.  Like on the internet.  Like on a blog.

And what I said is—and I think this is true—that there are already people doing most of the stuff I would want to do.  Lesley Kinzel (and to a lesser extent, Marianne Kirby also) has the giant platform of xoJane, which is fabulous, and though I hate that she has had to tone down the more theoretically challenging aspects of her thinking, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have representing my interests to a mainstream audience.  She is great at her job.  She has got it covered.  There is Lindy West at Jezebel talking about the perils of doing anything visible while fat.  There are fatshion bloggers writing about how to look like a person you want to look like while remaining a fat person and being okay with that, Gabi Gregg leading that charge.  And there are bloggers, lots and lots of them, writing about eating and fitness, and some of them do so while attuned to body image and some of them, quietly, all over the internet, are having little eureka! moments about restriction and disordered eating and broader social mindfuckery about bodies.  

So...what am I doing here?  Why am I still writing this blog that people used to read but don't anymore (that's not self-pity, internet!)?  What am I trying to accomplish here?  Or at least, what am I trying to accomplish that I can do anonymously?  (Because I do think if I just suddenly started putting up notes on Facebook or whatever about this stuff under my own name, where people would come across it just because they know me and not because they are specifically interested in fatness, it would be a different and perhaps more important project.)  

What gaps are there in the literature?  This is a question that we ask in academia.

What there isn't, I don't think—and I have already said this in a different way—is a feminist, fat-positive voice getting into the nitty-gritty of embodied self-care.  There are bodies here, real ones, circumscribed and pushed around and beaten down and carved up by ideologically-driven behavior.  This is true of bodies of any size, but it is almost certainly amplified around bodies of larger sizes.  My body is a cultural boogeyman, and I am a part of the culture—my relationship to my body, then, is refracted and partitioned, because it is both me (obvs) and not-me (because of the way the "I" of the cultural neutral position works).  That's to say, fat people experience an iteration of W.E.B. Du Bois's idea of double consciousness.  Whole other thing; about to head off on a tangent; just gonna leave this here for a second.

Okay.  I had an interaction on the internet just recently in which a woman I had never met and never spoken with previously identified herself as fat and suffering from either an eating disorder (she did not specify, but implied binge eating disorder/compulsive eating) or a food addiction.  She was seeking advice.  In response to this post, she got—not just from me—a lot of information about patterns of restrictive/reactive eating.  It was pointed out to her—and again, not just by me—that her problem was more likely to be undereating than overeating.  That what she was identifying as "binge" behavior or "lack of control" was more likely a physiological response to a history of restriction and underfeeding.  There was a little tangent off into diagnostic criteria for BED, arguing (as argued by Gwyneth Olwyn at Your Eatopia in more length) that it can't be diagnosed in the presence of a history of restriction.

She said, "The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me."


The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me.

Do you know how big a deal that is?

It is a real big deal.  

I told her, "[Her Name], welcome to the other side."  Immediately after hitting post on that sentence, I realized that I had no idea what it meant.  What other side?  The other side of what?  It felt viscerally correct, though, and she responded to it as if it made sense to her too; she said: "[My Full Name], that made me cry.  I have wanted to be here all my life."

Where?  What?

Her own side.  All on one side, not split in half against herself.

This is the connection to double consciousness: you are both yourself, your own basic needs, and socialized into the cultural norms that think your body and thus necessarily your behavior are aberrant.  You are split in half; you are on your own side and you are on the dominant ideology's side, even though the latter seeks to obliterate/assimilate the former.  

But in this particular case there is an objective constant that won't be obliterated or assimilated.  That constant is the human fucking body.  Your body is not an idiot.  It will not lie down and die.  It will not consent to be starved.  It is hungry, and it does not care that you are emotionally uncomfortable with wanting more than you are supposed to want as a woman and/or a fat person.  And so it reacts.  It won't obey because it can't, but more importantly, it shouldn't.  There is no getting your body on the side of the cultural consciousness, not for good, and especially not for fat women.  It won't work.  Your body won't bend that far backwards.  There is only getting yourself on the side of your body.  And that reality is under-acknowledged.  This is what happened on the internet, then: someone realized that the only way to stop being split in half was to get on her body's side, even if it means doing something she is not supposed to do, something she may experience resistance, from herself and others, to doing. 

That interaction was the best thing that happened to me this week.  It felt like doing something that mattered.

Some days I think I am going to take the PhD and go to work on this gap in the literature, because this is why I became an academic, really: because information can feel like freedom.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Love Letter to Lifting

When I lift I talk to myself.  Today I talked to myself an awful lot.  And when I lift my self-talk is warm: "Attagirl," I say.  "That's my girl.  Come on, baby.  You got this.  You got this.  You want to try another set?  One more?  You can stop if it's too much.  You're a girl who tries."  Like seriously I say these things aloud—I guess I mutter them under my breath, but I am really telling myself these things, and I am not faking it—this is the way I feel about myself when I lift.  I feel proud, kind, encouraging, supportive.  Sometimes I feel a gut-punch of sensation like the thing that happens when I am sitting on my couch with my boyfriend and he says something brilliant or funny and I realize how much I love him; it feels like a gentle vortex inside my ribcage, something that reaches out to someone else even as I experience its centrifuge.  Except when I am lifting and I have that sensation, it is for me.  It is me that I realize I love.  This sounds cheesy as hell, but inexplicably, I am so serious.

My session today was fucking beautiful.  I'm doing a little tinkering lately: a new warm-up approach (okay, fine, a warm-up approach that actually involves warming up; unsurprisingly, it is helpful!  Although it also increases volume, which made the same squat weight feel a little more dubious at the end.)  I added 5 pounds to my press—promised myself two sets at the new weight.  Did the two.  Had to gut it out to get lockout on the last rep; there was a second I thought I was going to have to bail out and let the bar crash onto the safety rails and make a terrible, embarrassing racket, but I got it.  Took a recovery break.  Thought about it.  Did another set, easier than the one before.  Took a recovery break.  Thought about moving on to deadlifts; thought about what my warm-up progression should be.  Thought maybe I'd just try one more set of presses.  Had to fight for the last rep.  Fought for it.  Got it.    I switched from touch-and-go deadlift sets to resetting between reps, to the tune of a 10-pound PR (although four reps instead of five: I'll get the five next time I deadlift, you mark my words).

And I took the bus home with a new gym friend—this guy who came up to me a couple weeks ago and asked, "You a former athlete?"  When I told him no, he shook my hand.  "You don't see too many women back here.  You was getting real low on those squats, too."  (The way to my heart is through my squat form.  FYI, internet.)  Today I ran into him at the bus stop and he sat himself down right next to me and we talked about how I got started lifting and how great it is and how it is a thing you can do all your life (I am looking forward to a lifetime of lifting).  His name is Michael.  I have gym friends.  It is bizarre.

Engage your quads and your core when the press gets tough.  Shove your knees out and spread the floor with your feet on the way down in the squat.  Activate the posterior chain to drive up out of the hole.  It is a million kinds of interesting: lifting lights my brain up, trying to monitor several things at once, and all the while attuned, experiencing.  The initial gains you make when you start lifting are driven by neurological connection: it's not muscle mass that you're creating or even the potential of the muscle you've already got that you're tapping—it's the connection between the brain and the muscle.  The brain is reaching its tendrilly little synapses out into your body, touching the parts of you that you didn't even know were there.