Occupy Beauty

How many people are actually as beautiful as the media ideal?  Not too many, I dare say.  A very small percentage, I expect.  I actually don’t know what that percentage might be, but I’m betting if we looked at the worldwide population (and especially if we do something daft like limit the “media ideal” to the North American/European ideal), it might be around 1%.

This of course makes me think about the Occupy movement and the idea of the 1% vs. the 99%.  (I know this is an imperfect analogy, but bear with me.)  The way I see it, the 99% of human beings who are not considered beautiful by the media aren’t therefore automatically ugly, even if that is what the beauty/dieting industries would like us to believe.

So I think the 99% of non-media-beauties need to Occupy Beauty.

Own your own beauty.  Recognize it.  Embrace it.  Celebrate it.

Better yet, learn to own the beauty in others as well.  Recognize the beauty in other human beings.  Embrace it.  Celebrate it.

Because all human beings have beauty in them—and I’m not just talking about “inner beauty,” either, whatever that’s supposed to be. I’m talking about physical beauty.  I truly believe that if we open up our eyes and really look at one another, we will see the beauty in every human being.

People of every age, every race, every ability, every size, every health level are beautiful.  People with scars, people with skin conditions, people who are tall, people who are short, those who are fat, those who are thin, those who have four limbs, those who have less: we are all beautiful.

I’m not talking about some kind of philosophical aesthetics here.  There are people who have spilled a lot of ink on the nature of Beauty.  Psychologists will tell you about how babies prefer pictures of faces that are more symmetrical than others.  I’m not trying to deny that there are people who are aesthetically more pleasing to look at than others.

What I’m trying to say is that human beings aren’t art objects.  We shouldn’t be judged by the philosophies of aesthetics.  A sculpture that lacks aesthetic qualities can be called ugly or deemed to be “not art.”  But a human being should never have their worth demeaned simply because they didn’t have the genetic good fortune to be symmetrical and have, I don’t know, “great bone structure” or something.

As a follower of Jesus, I find human value in the fact that we are all made in the image of God.  When you think about that, it’s pretty neat.  Despite the absolutely mind-boggling amount of diversity in human appearances, each one of us is made in the image of God (which probably says something amazing about the nature of God).  In my mind, that automatically makes us all beautiful.

Here’s the really neat part: in the Occupy Beauty movement, there is no “us” and “them.”  In many cases, being a part of the 1% isn’t the great privilege that it’s supposed to be.  Those who look like media beauties are often subject to more criticism about their appearances, and they especially suffer from the fear that that privilege of Being Beautiful might at any time be taken away from them (cue the Keats poetry).

But the 1% have the same right to Occupy Beauty as the 99%.  They, too, are—of course—made in the image of God and therefore are beautiful according to that standard.  When we recognize and celebrate the beauty in one another, we brush away the differences that are meant to keep us apart.

For I believe that it is not actually the 1% who are trying to maintain their position of privilege over and above the 99%.  I believe it is the beauty/dieting industry that is trying to keep the 99% in a place where we are always striving after that illusive 1% ideal, for the simple reason that they want to profit by our pain.

So, I implore you to fight any message that tells you, “You aren’t beautiful.”  Fight it with every fibre of your being.  Because you are beautiful, just as you are.  You don’t need anything—clothes, cosmetics, diets, anti-aging creams, muscle-building powders, hair dyes, whatever—to make you beautiful.

Today and every day, then, find a way to Occupy Beauty.

No More Silence

Part II: I Will Write About This

So I will share.  On May 3, 2013, I had had enough.  I was sick of feeling tired all the time.  I was scared because I was starting to forget things that would usually have come to mind easily and without effort.  I was having trouble concentrating or making decisions.  And because of my family medical history and my own blood test records, I had come to the conclusion that I had…hypothyroidism.

I told the doctor as much when I went in to see her that day.  I said, “my blood tests have been low in the past.  You said that we should monitor it, especially if I showed any symptoms.”  She asked me to list the symptoms.  As I did, she looked at my chart, at my previous test results.  Then she started asking questions about my life.  Did I have a job? (No.)  How much did I get out during the week? (Not much.)  Did I want a job and how was the job search going? (Yes, I did, but there are no jobs for me.)

“I’ll certainly send you in to take a blood test for your thyroid,” she said, “but I don’t think that it’s the problem.  I think you might have depression.”

I put the “I Can Handle This” mask on.  Nodded sagely.  Secretly suspected hoped that she was wrong.  Agreed to come back the next week.

I went for the blood test right away.  I would show her.  The test results would be positive for hypothyroidism and I would be vindicated.  It wasn’t depression.  Couldn’t be depression.  Why not?  Because hypothyroidism could be “cured” with a little pill every morning.  Depression…well, depression is a Mental Illness and can’t be cured. (Or so I feared.)

A week later I returned to her office chagrined.  I’d seen my test results online: not hypothyroidism.  Okay, then.  She was very nice about it (I have found the best walk-in clinic doctor in the world, to be honest).  There was no “I told you so.”  She prescribed me 10 mg of Celexa and plenty of fresh air and exercise and told me to come back in 30 days.

Less than a week later I was crippled by nausea and diarrhea.  (Interesting fact: the human digestive system has the same number of neurons as a whole cat.  Your stomach is a cat brain.)  Blessedly, it only lasted a few days, which really was a blessing since that weekend I headed to my church’s annual weekend retreat, and really didn’t want to spend it in the loo.

I spent the next month or so doing a lot of thinking.  A lot of remembering.  Depression.  It became clearer and clearer that what I had been experiencing with increasing severity was exactly that.  Because there was more to it than fatigue, forgetfulness, and a lack of concentration.  I had stopped enjoying the activities I normally enjoyed.  I felt terrible about myself.  I was sad almost all the time.  And although I didn’t want to kill myself, I didn’t especially want to live, either.  The terrifying truth was, I’ve been experiencing waves of these symptoms for years, probably since I graduated from undergrad in 2002.  But this time it was worse.  So much worse.

By the end of the 30 days, I really hadn’t experienced any noticeable changes.  She prescribed a higher dose: 20 mg, the standard therapeutic dose.  We delayed it a week since I was going on vacation to see my parents and feared a revisiting of the side effects from the month before, so I stayed on 10 mg one more week and then raised the dose.

Gradually, gradually, the lights have been coming on.

I know some people have a bias against medications for mood disorders (or anything, really).  I was afraid of the drugs, at first.  Afraid that they would flatten my mood.  Afraid that I would feel—or rather, not feel, if you know what I mean—like a zombie.

I’m not afraid anymore.  Those little pills are a Godsend.  I mean that sincerely.  They give me the perspective I need to recognize the thoughts that come from depression and to fight back against them.  They haven’t yet made me feel especially energetic, but I feel fatigued less often.  I am motivated to do things in a way that I wasn’t before (especially exercising, although a recent heat wave effectively put the kibosh on that).  I am enjoying activities again.

So I know that this depression thing isn’t going to own me anymore.  This morning shows me that I still have a ways to go, but all this writing is calming my heart.  I hope to do more of it over the next few weeks, but right now I don’t need to return to the pressure of trying to get a blog post out regularly.  I want to gain momentum, but the last thing I need is to introduce a source of guilt to my life right now.  For now, the writing should come from the I Want to Create well.

Part I: No One Else Has to Know

There are good days and there are bad days.  Sundays are often good now (a change from before the drugs).  Yesterday was a Sunday.  I actually felt happy yesterday: genuinely, unmixedly happy.  I had all these plans to begin writing again today, to share about my depression, to work on my resume, even.

Then Monday morning happened and as I consider writing a blog post that would share about my depression, I am paralyzed with fear.  I want to run from my computer, from my thoughts.  My throat feels choked and I begin feeling tired again.  Sad again.  Am I ever going to beat this thing?

Maybe it’s because I want to write something triumphant: “I beat depression.  I learned from my pain and now I’m writing again and all will be well.”

Maybe it’s because I know that once I write it down, once it’s published online, it’s out there more-or-less forever.  I have depression.  Now the world knows.

The clarity I had yesterday has been obscured.  Yesterday I could tell you that my depression is a condition that arises from some process or chemical in the body going awry, like arthritis or hypothyroidism or diabetes.  I was comfortable with the fact that my brain was trying to lie to me about who I am and that I had the power now (brought to me by citalopram) to combat those lies.

Today I am feeling tossed about by the lies.  I will never write anything worthwhile again.  I am ultimately uncreative.  The doctor said I didn’t need therapy, but she was wrong.  I need a therapist, if only to tell me how messed up I really am.  Even as I write these things down and identify them as lies, I am fighting the physical expression of the anxiety, fear, and sadness to which the lies are related.

But I guess there’s something else.  It’s a little triumph.  A whispered, “Ha!” instead of a conquering roar.  The lies told me I couldn’t possibly write today.  But look at this…339 words and counting.  It wasn’t what I planned to write, it may never be published as a blog post.  But maybe it will.  Maybe this is the way I need to share about my depression: raw and vulnerable, a bleeding out onto the virtual page.  Red, swollen eyes that expose to the world the truth about the chaos inside.

 

 

I wrote Part I before Part II but offer them here in reverse order for artistic reasons.

TL;DR: I have recently been diagnosed with depression, which is why I haven’t blogged in a long time.  I am now taking antidepressants.  They are starting to work.  This is good.

Body Size Discrimination and You

One of the most destructive elements of body size discrimination is that it interferes powerfully with the ways in which we interact with other human beings.  For example, how many of us have jumped to conclusions or passed judgment on someone whom we deemed to be “too heavy”?

I’m guessing that almost all of us have let those thoughts pop into our minds from time to time.  Sometimes it’s self-justifying: “Well, at least I’m not as fat as that person!” we might say to ourselves.  That says more about how we feel about our own bodies than it does about the person we’re judging.

Sometimes it’s just simply hateful: “How disgusting!” we think, “Don’t they have any shame?”  Not only have we just thought of another human being as disgusting, we’ve just made a moral judgment about them as well, insofar as we have presumed that they

  1. ought to be ashamed of their body, and
  2. are not feeling that shame.

Truth be told, that person does feel ashamed of their body.  But what are they supposed to do about that?  In fact, for all we know, they might be actively involved in a healthy manner of living that includes making wise decisions about eating and getting plenty of physical activity.

So, if they are living a healthy lifestyle but not losing the weight, what do they have to be ashamed of?  Frankly, if I’ve just had the thoughts above, I should be the one feeling ashamed, because I’ve just made a million assumptions about a complete stranger that are probably wrong, and then assigned moral status to something that they cannot change: who they are.

Because that’s the gist of it, folks: a person in a fat body is a fat person.  Before you accuse me of throwing around tautologies, think for a moment.  When we condemn a person for some aspect of their physical makeup (ahem, such as race, gender, height, weight, etc.) then we are condemning the person, since our bodies are our selves.  It’s a bit of worn-out feminist phrase, I know, but being old and overused doesn’t make it less true.

Our bodies are our selves.  We have no other self but the body with which we interact with other bodies.  When I walk into a room, you don’t see my deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories.  You see my body, and I see yours, and through those bodies we get to know one another’s deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories.

So why do we judge other people on the basis of their body size?  Why do we presume that because a person is overweight (according to whatever sliding scale we are using at the time) therefore s/he is lazy, gluttonous, out-of-control, weak-minded, bad?  More importantly, why do we continue to do this when our own experiences ought to teach us that this is not the case?

Think about the people you know.  Are any of them overweight?  Are any of them very overweight?  When you think about these people, is their body size the first thing you think about, or do you think about how funny they are, or what good listeners they are, or how great it was that one time they helped you out of that mess?  I suspect that most of us (dare I say all of us?) know someone who falls into the infamous categories of overweight or obese, partly because, if the oft-quoted statistics are correct, then 2/3 of Americans fall into that category.  I also suspect that once we get to know those people, we find out that they are just the same as we are: they have the same kinds of dreams, hopes, fears, loves, hates, memories, and so on.  We value those people for something more than their physical shape.

So why, if we are able to like and love overweight and obese people whom we already know, are we so quick to judge overweight and obese strangers?  What gives us the right?  And are we aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves and to any potential relationship we might have with the person whom we have just judged?

The World Online: Real or Not?

My hand typing on my keyboard alongside the other things on my desk

Why is what I put online less real than this?

Is your online life “real”?

It’s an important question.  For many people, the “life” they experience online is detached somehow from the life they have in the “real” world.  Some people eschew the use of social media because they believe that it prevents them from connecting with people in the “real” world.

I hate that phrase: “the real world.”

When we interact with others online–whether in the context of social media, online gaming, email, voice-chat, or IRC–we are interacting with real people.  We are using our real bodies to interact.  What we do online is as real as anything else we do in our lives.

Yes, it is possible to construct an online persona that is different in some quantifiable or qualitative way from the persona that you project to people you meet away from your computer screen.  I think we are all guilty of using personae to protect ourselves both in our online interactions and offline.  We do that to protect ourselves.  Being completely honest about who you are is a very vulnerable place to be.  And, really, how many of us ever know who we truly are?  I think most of us spend our lifetimes constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing our identities.  Our online interactions are just one part of that.  Although aspects of the personality you present online might be different than the personality you use offline, I believe that, except in the case of deliberate dishonesty, we are experimenting with identity in both cases.

Some people will suggest that too much screen time leads to disengaging from social interaction in the “real world.”  For some people, like myself, interacting with people online provides more social interaction than we are likely to get offline.  If I was to cut myself off from the internet, would it drive me to socialize more with people offline?  Maybe, but it might also drive me deeper into social isolation and make me a lonelier and more depressed person.

Are friendships made with people we may never meet offline less real than those we make offline?  I don’t think so.  I am often more honest, open, and vulnerable with people online than offline.  Offline, I am constrained by social rules and shyness, which inhibits me from sharing openly or seeking out interaction with others.  Online, I share more freely, uninhibited by my attempts to read other people’s facial expressions or to provoke certain positive responses from them in conversation.  Offline, my fear of conflict and rejection can prevent me from being all of who I am.

Interaction online still requires the use of my physical body.  No one has yet invented a port that connects our minds directly with the internet, and even if they had, we would still need our physical brains to form the thoughts that are in our minds. (At least until they figure out if it is possible to “upload” our minds, and even then, we would simply be trading a body of flesh for a body of electrical…*ahem* I read a lot of sci-fi.)

So, I believe that our online life is just as real as our offline life.  In fact, I think if we integrate them both, it will help us to find a fuller understanding of “who we are” and, instead of being a barrier to relationship and communication, it can be a path to greater and deeper connection.