RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

 

When you talk to a 5 year old March 30, 2015

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“Whatcha playing Miss Rachel?”

I look up from the screen of my phone at the wild mop of blonde hair covering her blue eyes, “Just a text from mommy, that’s all.”

“Oh. OK” she sings and bounds off to play with her my little ponies.

I look back down at the screen and reread the text from Abby’s mother, “Abby has made two comments lately about being ugly or not liking her face. She had told me she doesn’t like her face and then a few nights later that she was ugly. I can’t figure it out.”

Abby is FIVE. She reads and writes on a first grade level despite the fact she is only in pre-school. She loves to take care of her two year old brother. She sings, dances, and enjoys putting on shows. She is funny and sensitive and loves Disney princesses. And, apparently, at the age of five, has decided she is ugly.

My heart dropped after reading her mother’s text. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday; hating myself, thinking I was ugly, feeling like I did not fit in, wanting to be like everyone else, knowing I was fat…all of that and more, I felt all those things at Abby’s age. And there is no way in hell I was going to let this little girl feel the same way!

I remembered Abby’s mom had made a book with the photos I had taken at Abby’s 5th birthday party, and retrieved it from the shelf. I wanted Abby to hear what I would have wanted to hear at her age. Abby and I sat down on the couch to read the book together. Then I found the photo I had been looking for; Abby’s friend Lee. Lee was recently adopted from China at age 5. Lee is amazingly smart; learning English in only a few months. He loves to tell stories, and is very fond of dancing. Lee also happens to only have half of a left arm and a deformed hand on his right. I discussed with Abby what she likes about Lee and what fun things she does with him. Never once did she mention his physical differences. I asked her if Lee being different mattered to her. Abby said that Lee would be her friend no matter how he looked. We talked about how God made Lee special as we continued looking through the book. On the next page was a photo of Abby talking with Queen Elsa from Frozen (well, an impersonator Elsa).

“What do you like about this girl, Abby?” I asked as I pointed to a picture of her.

“That’s just me, silly”

“Seriously, Abby, what do you like about this girl?”

Abby thought for a few minutes before hesitantly responding, “I am smart. And I am funny. And I’m a good singer.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m fun to play with, and I’m good at helping mommy with Ross (her younger brother)” she said with more confidence.

“And do you know what I like about you Abby,” I asked. Abby shook her head no. “I like how nice you are, how much you love others, your smile, the way you laugh when Ross chases the cat. I like you for you, Abby. I like you because God made you Abby and there is no one else like you.”

Abby smiled and looked up from the book, “Wanna try on princess dresses Miss Rachel?”

“Yes Abby, yes I do” I responded.

On her way up the stairs Abby turned around, “I love you Miss Rachel. You have a big heart.”

“I love you too Abby bug. You are smart and beautiful and loving. I am lucky to be your babysitter.”

That day Abby taught me to take a moment to love myself. She taught me how important it is to remember the amazing qualities God gave each of us. She taught me to view the world through a lens of love instead of hate, and to let the light within me shine. This week I am writing down two positive self-talk moments a day to remind myself of the goodness and grace that exists in me. Each time I reread one of these moments, I am able to remind myself that, just like Abby, I am awesome. I encourage you to write down your positive self-talk and then revisit it often. Never forget that you are an amazing person!

Abby

Princess Abby with the Elsa decoration from her party.

Isaiah 64:8

Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

 

When you play with magnetic poetry July 8, 2014

As the four kids I nanny were sitting at the kitchen bar eating their lunch, I absent-mindedly moved their magnetic poetry words around their refrigerator door; as I had done countless times before. The words had all come from a magnet from the adoption agency that facilitated their second youngest child’s adoption, so it had words that related to adoption. Between trips to refill milk cups, grab napkins, pushing the dog out of the kitchen, and handing out second helpings, I would move another word into the design. Here is my final product:

my "poem"

my “poem”

I have been struggling with my ed a little as of late, so I started with the phrase “embrace beautiful”; hoping that seeing it on the refrigerator would remind me to embrace my beauty. And I do not mean that in a vain sense. I feel embracing my beauty is more than my appearance; beauty is more than how I look. Beauty can be found in my attitude, how I allow others to treat me, my brain, how I treat others, what I say, how I act, and how I choose to see the world.  But, more so than embracing my beauty, I want to embrace the beauty around me; the dew on my car when I leave for work in the morning, the way the youngest child I nanny curls up in my lap and calls herself “Rachel’s girl”, the way the bats fly out of my neighbor’s trees at night, and so much more. Embracing beauty reminds me to be in the moment, to breathe and be present. We spend so much time going through the motions of life, that I truly do not think we stop to embrace the beauty in and around us as often as we should. It sounds cliché  to say to “stop and smell the roses”, but I think that is something we all need more practice with. 

 

The next words I chose to put into my word collage were love and hope. Hope has always been a favorite word of mine; I have it tattooed in Cherokee on my wrist. I think it was Brené Brown who said that hope is not a passive word, but an active one. We cannot sit around all day just waiting and hoping for things to happen, to get better, to work out, etc. We must put that hope into action; making a plan to accomplish what we hope for. We can have all the hope in the world for something, but until we set out to find it, nothing will ever happen. I chose the word love for multiple reasons. First being, I must remember to love others. I often get to caught up in caring for others and making sure their every need is met, I often forget to show the love that makes me do those things for them. They may know I love them, through the actions I do for them, but I seriously doubt they have ever heard an “I love you” from me. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I chose love to remember to love myself. Lucille Ball once said, “Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” This is probably one of the most accurate statements about love that I have ever heard. A huge part of recovery, for me, has been learning how to love myself and everything that comes with me. 

 

Support became my next word when I realized how huge of a role support has played in my recovery. No one can recover without support. For me, mentoring, therapy and understanding friends have served a key role in my support team. On days when I did not feel like staying on the path to recovery, I would say, “I’m doing recovery for so and so today, until I want it again for myself.” Eventually, “I’m recovering for so and so,” was replaced with, “I’m recovering for me.” Without support from others, there is no way I would be as far along in recovery as I am today. Asking for support takes a lot of strength and courage, but it is 100% worth it.

 

And speaking of worth, my next word in the collage was worth. All too often, my eating disorder convinced me to engage in thoughts and behaviors by telling me I had no worth…that I could never have worth. Ed persuaded me to believe that I could never be worthy because I was not thin enough, smart enough, nice enough, giving enough, tall enough, pretty enough, kind enough; to Ed I was never enough and could never gain worth. She lead me on a path of self-destruction in which she promised the elusive “worth” I wanted so desperately. She claimed I could only gain worth if I followed her every whim and direction; I wanted worthiness so much that I fell for that lie. The truth is, we are all worthy…just the way we are. We are worthy of love, life, good things, beauty, happiness, and everything else we desire. The myth of not being “enough” of something was designed by Ed to steal our worthiness. Don’t let her have it.

 

Wish was chosen for much the same reason as hope. I wish, one day, to be rid of this disease and for others to be free from Ed’s chains as well. Wish, however, is also an active–not passive–word. We can wish upon every star, make a wish at every 11:11, and snap all the wishbones we can find. However, until we put that wish into action using goal-setting, it will remain merely a wish. And while it is good to have wishes, it is also good to have those wishes come true. 

 

The next word moved into my collage was laugh. Laughter, I believe is an important part of recovery…of life.  I realized there is something very therapeutic about laughing. There is no law that states recovery must be this solemn undertaking in which no fun or laughter shall ever take place. In fact, I think not having laughter in our lives only keeps us stuck in Ed’s grasp. While I understand the need to put in hard work and be serious when setting/accomplishing goals, I am also aware of the need to let loose and be silly sometimes.

 

I then noticed the word son…it had been turned upside down by one of the kids. However, when the word son is turned upside down, it reads NOS–as in my diagnosis. I chose to put that on the bottom to show that my Ed has no place in my life; it is under everything else and will get buried by all the recovery-oriented choices I am putting into action.

 

Finally, I chose to put the words I belong at the top of my collage.  For a long time I have failed to believe that I am deserving of recovery (or even a diagnosis). By putting these words at the top of my word collage, I am ready to acknowledge that I do belong in this crazy place we call life; I am worthy, I can have hope, I can love, I can wish, I can laugh, I can ask for support, and I can embrace beauty. I belong, and so do you. 

 

Colossians 3:15-17

 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

  

 

When a kindergartner makes you think March 5, 2013

“Pick a color” she instructs while holding out an origami fortune teller mere inches from my face. I look at the four squares with blue, purple, brown and black hearts.

“Blue” I reply. Blue is my favorite color.

“B-U-how do you spell blue?” she asks as her small hands fumble with opening and closing the paper between her fingers.

“Let’s sound it out. Buh”

“B” she opens the paper

“Luh”

“L” she opens it the same way; she cannot make her fingers open it in the opposite direction.

“Ew.”

“I don’t know.”

“U-E.”

“U-E” she says, confidently opening and closing the fortune teller again, in the same direction. “Now pick a number”

“8” I say, knowing I can only pick an even number.

After she counts to eight while opening and closing the fortune teller in the same direction, “Pick another number”

“2” it is the only even number left.

 

She struggles to lift the flap to reveal my fortune. Finally, she gets her finger under the paper, “You are pretty.” As I stand there in somewhat stunned silence, she bounces off with a wide smile to tell the fortune of another one of her friends. After she leaves I absent-mindedly pick up some trash on the floor; I am supposed to be teaching after all.

 

All I could think of was my “fortune”. Every time I look in the mirror, ED tells me I am not pretty. She (yes, my ED is a girl. She has my voice—which is feminine—so why can’t she be a girl) goes to great lengths to prove to me that she is right. As long as I can remember I have listened to ED; her tempting voice whispering in my ear—luring me towards self-destruction. I want to please her, but I know it will come at the expense of my own life. When I think about my fortune, it reminds me that I do not have to listen to ED.

 

We live in a world where beauty has become a way to categorize ourselves. As in, “she is the girl who is short, with black hair and green eyes.” Not, “she is the girl who likes to take photos, who works with the kids in the room down the hall, who always shows up obnoxiously early.” We have become a world obsessed with looks, clothing, and overall appearance. And, while sometimes describing people by appearance is helpful (for example if I were in a room of all red-heads, it would be easiest to say, “the brunette”), it should not be the be all, end all of each individual. In fact, the messages with which we are bombarded every day in the media of western “beauty” are often unattainable. Why is it that we feel we must conform to these ideas of beauty? We cut our faces and pull them tighter, inject poison into our wrinkles, we put plastic bags of saline in our breasts to make them larger, we inject silicon into our lips, we have the fat sucked out of us like a vacuum, we have our noses broken and molded back into a more desirable shape, and so on and so forth until we look less like a human being and more like an alien…all in the name of conforming to society’s vision of beauty.

Having never fit into the “ideal western beauty”, Ed has turned me towards believing that I am worthless. But a simple kindergartener’s paper fortune teller has reminded me of the truth. I am pretty. I am worth thinking well of myself. I am better than the negative things Ed tells me. I may not always believe it because I am still under the spell of Ed’s lies, but I, Rhea, am going to tell Ed no by learning to accept myself. I will accept that my scoliosis leaves one hip higher than the other. I will accept the jade green eyes that I got from my father instead of envying the blue eyes of my sister. I will accept that my stomach, stretched by years of overeating, will always be a little saggy. I will accept my wonderfully olive skin. I will accept my scars; including the one I got when my neighbor pushed the fertilizer spreader into my eye. I will accept me. Only by accepting me and acknowledging the truth that God made me beautifully imperfect, will Ed shut up.

 

I absolutely love the band Seabird. I have seen them live several times and am consistently amazed by them. I also love that they are local boys (coming from just across the river from me).  “Don’t you know you’re beautiful” was filmed entirely in my hometown of Cincinnati, has the most amazing imagery I have ever seen in a music video, and is full of inspiration. This song is a reminder to everyone that they are beautiful in the eyes of those around you, but especially in the eyes of God. You are beautiful. You are worth recovery.

 

Hebrews 6: 18-19

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

 

Holidays We Should Observe October 31, 2012

Today is Halloween. And as I sit here dressed as something closely resembling a pioneer or Amish person, I’m thinking about all the weird holidays we celebrate. I mean, come on, how weird of a holiday is Halloween? We pay money to scare each other and gross people out while going door-to-door in costumes getting candy from strangers. Although tonight I am taking Buzz Lightyear and Mario, those are my nephews’ costumes not their names, trick-or-treating. That is only acceptable one day a year. After doing a little unproductive and time wasting Googling, I have found a list of weird holidays and found ways we, in the ED community, can celebrate them.

1/10-National Peculiar People Day= This is an obvious one. Everyone is peculiar. Whether it is your collection of mint condition Wheaties boxes or your habit of doing everything in even numbers (that would be me)…embrace it. Everyone is an individual and can be viewed as peculiar by another person. I propose that we attach a positive connotation to the word peculiar and embrace and parade our peculiarities. God made all of us unique for a reason; don’t try to be everyone else. As John Mason said, “You were born an original; don’t die a copy.”

February- Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) sets aside one week in the month of February to draw national attention to the education, awareness, treatment and challenges facing eating disordered people, their family and their friends. By participating in NEDAwareness week, you can help lower the stigma attached to EDs and educate people what they are really about (instead of the false and clichéd stereotypes most people cling to). Each year has its own theme and past themes include “Everybody Knows Somebody” and “Be Comfortable in your Genes”.

3/30-I am in Control Day= Although ED will try to convince you that he is in control…this day is a wonderful reminder that YOU are in control. You are stronger than ED, and health is way better than sickness. You always have the choice to pick health over ED behaviors, to eat, to keep it down, to exercise a healthy amount, to throw away the laxatives. YOU. ARE. IN. CONTROL. You, yes you, are stronger than ED and you CAN RECOVER. It takes an immense amount of hard work and commitment to recover from an ED, but if you remember that you are in control you will find yourself much stronger when working towards recovery. “Nobody controls me, I am uncontrollable, the only one who can control me is me” John Lennon

4/14-Look at the Sky Day= Ok, so it may seem a little silly, but I think this day is actually a good idea. How often do we just go day to day fighting ED and not paying a lot of attention to what goes on around us? We get stuck in a rut, not noticing the beauty that surrounds us each and every day. Take time to just look at the sky, take in its splendor, pay attention to your body and what it does for you; take time to just be, to just breathe and just relax in the magnificence of the day. Each day is a gift from God and we should take time to appreciate each new day, as each new day is one more day we’ve conquered ED. “Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books” John Lubbock

5/11-Eat What You Want Day= “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating” Luciano Pavarotti. Ok, this holiday is pretty self-explanatory. Tell ED to give it a rest, you will be making the food decisions for today. Disregard whatever he tells you to do, not just today, but every day. I know it is hard, but it only takes one day, one choice, one thought to put ED on the train to splitsville.

6/11 or 6/29 depending on what you read-Hug Holiday= So, I’m not one to hug. I actually don’t like people touching me at all, let alone get close enough to actually hug me. BUT today is a great day to get out of your comfort zone and hug someone or be hugged. Show some compassion, help someone who looks like they could use it, show empathy, and be a friend. As Marya Hornbacher says in Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, “Contact with another person reminds you that you are also a person, and implies that someone cares about you as such…Contact with another body reminds you that you have a body.”

7/3-Compliment Your Mirror Day= All too often I find myself critiquing and condemning what I see in the mirror. The only problem? Those are EDs thoughts, not Rhea’s. So, today, compliment what you see in the mirror. Look at your body and think about what each part does for you. Be thankful that it exists despite everything that has happened to it. Take time to appreciate its intricacies and strength. Your body is amazing; take the time to show it gratitude. “The thing that is really hard & really amazing, is giving up on being perfect & beginning the work of becoming yourself” Anna Quindlen

8/15-Relaxation Day= Sometimes it is hard for me to relax and just be. Take time today to just relax. Take a break from your schedule. Unplug your computer. Turn off the phone. Take time for you. You are important, if not more so, than anything else that could happen today. “Next time you’re stressed: take a step back, inhale and laugh. Remember who you are and why you’re here. You’re never given anything in this world that you cannot handle. Be strong. Be flexible. Love yourself and love others. Always remember, just keep moving forward” unknown

9/21-World Peace Day= ““The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” Thich Nhat Hanh. This holiday was established by United Nations, so it is actually a real holiday. A wonderful way to celebrate peace day would be to find peace with and within you; although I think the UN meant it as a no more war kinda thing. It would be a great day to create a peace treaty with your body; write down what you are thankful for, terms of agreement on how you will treat it and all the wonderful things I can do for you in return. Hang the peace treaty somewhere you can access it frequently.

10/5-Do Something Nice Day= “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” Plato. It is just a great reminder to be kind to everyone you meet and those you’ve never met but interact with on a daily basis. No act of kindness is ever futile. Don’t forget, though, that do something nice day doesn’t just apply to doing nice things for others. Do something nice day also applies to you. Do something nice for yourself too; anything that makes you happy or feels good.

11/20-Beautiful Day= Although you should feel that you are beautiful EVERY day, take some time to think about how beautiful you are today. Not just in the physical sense, but in others as well. Beauty can come in all different types. There is beauty in being able to do art. There’s beauty in the way you interact and care about people. There is beauty in your heart. There is beauty in your mind. There is beauty in serving others. There is beauty in the unspoken moments. Take time to appreciate that beauty. “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” Anne Frank

12/15-Bill of Rights Day= “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside of you that is greater than any obstacle” Christian Larson. The Bill of Rights was written to set a standard for the rights and liberties of the people of the United States. And, while that is all well and good, I suggest creating your own Bill of Rights. What are your rights and liberties as a person free of ED? Examples include: I have the right to love myself and all that I am. I have the right to make my own food choices not based on ED’s rules. I have the right to eat with friends. And so on and so on. You will know what “bills” are right for you. Have fun with it. Display your “Bill of Rights” somewhere you can see it when ED tries to challenge you.