This is a story about how I gave my story to someone who was careless with it. Someone who was offering diet advice that was masquerading as an invitation into a genuine conversation. I mistook concern trolling for a sincere desire for connection; and even though I should have known better — did know better — I made myself vulnerable when I should have protected my story, my Self.
And I knew they weren’t safe, weren’t a trustworthy story-holder. This isn’t the first time this person has put my story into a back pocket and forgotten about it, sent it through the wash with their jeans. Or folded it into a paper airplane and sent it gliding off into goodbye. Or smiled politely and handed it back unread: “Neat.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve said, No, I’m done making myself needlessly vulnerable, done gathering the scraps of myself off the floor and reassembling them with scotch tape in the wake of a person who is careless with my story. And then, sure enough, when they reached out again with the sales pitch for the advice they believed I needed, there I went imagining good intentions where there were none and offering myself up again: grace means giving the benefit of the doubt!
And then, later, again: carefully, gently smoothing the wrinkles and creases out of a story that has been crumpled up and thrown away.
That was not grace; that was poor boundaries, making myself vulnerable to someone who is not safe, who is not capable of holding my story in their hands and seeing the gift, the importance, the weight of it. This was a person who didn’t want to know me; they wanted to change me. They had what they thought would fix me in all the places that seemed, to them, obviously broken; and they weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say about the broken places, or whether I was broken at all.
Grace is saving my story, my me-ness, for when they are ready to listen, to hear. Grace is understanding that even with all the benefit of the doubt and I have stacked around them like sandbags, that person may never be ready to listen at all; may always think I’m broken and damaged. Grace is my knowing I am whole anyway, and resting in the love of the One Who made me so.
Grace is my not giving in to the stab and ache of rejection and throwing my story in a bonfire, but keeping it safe, knowing its worth. Grace is cultivating the relationships with people who will be safe, careful, with the secret, important parts of myself; seeking to know me for who I am, not for who they think I need to be.
Diet proselytization is not very different from religious proselytization. (The type of people who are eager to share unsolicited eating and lifestyle advice are often as devoted to their diets as others are to their religions, after all, and see everyone around them as a potential convert.)
At church a woman in my small group was telling us about her new coworker. “I thought she was a Christian, and I was so excited, because there aren’t any other Christians in my office!” But the new coworker soon corrected her, and she was heartbroken at losing a Christian comrade at work; she told us, “I guess we won’t be friends after all; I’ll just have to witness to her instead.”
Another friend, J., was telling us that a friend from college, one he’d lost touch with, has come back into his life. He’s gay, and J. said that he thinks God brought his old friend back into his life so J. could help him turn his life back toward God.
These friends of mine, it’s like they don’t want to deal with the mess and chaos of relationships; they’re not seeing the fact that you don’t just get to dive in and start giving advice on how to fix the other person’s broken places. They don’t understand that you must honor the other person’s story if you want them to hear yours; and that it’s the stories that shape us, not the platitudes and advice. And this is frightening, because the power of stories is that we can be shaped through hearing, and being careful with, another person’s story, when we think we were there to shape them.
Redemption comes from a relationship, not a sales pitch; and sometimes it isn’t the other person’s redemption that happens, but your own.
Alternate title: Cats in a Basket on a Rainbow*
I found myself unexpectedly frustrated and sad this weekend when I was reading the comments on a blog post about cats**, of all things — I guess that’s what they mean by “triggering”: when you encounter something that sends you spiraling into reactions you can’t completely control, angry and hurt by something that isn’t about you at all, feeling misunderstood and guilty and isolated, sending you back to that place where food and your body were your enemies.
Jen wrote about taking her cat to the vet, and as an aside, mentioned that one of her cats is borderline too-skinny while the other is too fat, and did anyone have any feeding suggestions for this situation? The commenters — all of them trying to be helpful, concerned about the health and well-being of these two cats — replied with a range of creative solutions (“Put the food up high where the skinny cat can get to it but the fat cat can’t jump up” and “Put the food in a box with a hole big enough for the skinny cat to get in but too small for the fat cat” were typical) designed to encourage the skinny cat to eat more food, but keep the fat cat from eating more than a prescribed amount.
What was jarring to me was how reflective the comments were of the accepted beliefs about food and eating and size — the context of animals provides the distance necessary for people (actual well-meaning human people, not troll-people) to candidly say what they really think about bodies: that those with fat bodies need to have their food intake limited, and can’t be relied on to regulate their own food intake. As one commenter said: You really need to moderate -how much- the cat is eating, don’t just toss some in a bowl for them and leave it there all day (That would be like tossing us in a buffet with no time limit haha). Because it’s about health: The last thing you want is to end up with a cat who has diabetes and needs insulin shots every day, that’s hard enough on a human who understands the concept behind them, but to a cat you’re just poking them with a needle and they don’t know why.
As far as the situation with cats goes, here’s my experience: I have two cats — Orla, a chubby (not quite fat, but definitely big) cat, and Shrodinger, a skinny one. Both are happy kitties, both are active, and both see the vet regularly because they’re positive (but not yet symptomatic) for FeLV. They’re allowed free access to their food dish, and their food intake is not regulated or monitored in any way; but from observation, I can tell you that Shrodo spends much more time at the food dish, eats about twice as much as Orla, and is prone to stalk me around the house, nipping at my ankles, if the level of food in the dish drops below a certain point. Both cats are healthy, neither cat over- or under-eats, they just have very different body types, is what I’m saying.
But mostly, my reaction to the post was one of sadness and frustration, because my perspective on food and size issues has shifted irrevocably away from “normal.” Lately I make it a point to immerse myself in fat-acceptance blogs and minimize my exposure to pro-dieting, anti-fat sources, so when I’m unexpectedly confronted with so much “normal” about food, when I’m reminded of just how deeply enculturated these disordered eating habits really are, it makes me realize just how far from “normal” I’ve turned. I’ve taken several giant steps away from “normal.” I realize there’s no way I could comment on that post that (in the absence of other unhealthy factors) cats can be trusted to eat the right amount of food for their bodies, just like humans can, yes, even at an unlimited buffet — that’s so foreign, it would sound like nonsense. Saying that my two cats of wildly different sizes are both healthy would sound just as insane as saying that I don’t restrict my food intake in any way and yet most of the time I wind up eating mainly produce because that’s what my body is asking for, not because the food pyramid told me to (and sometimes I don’t, but that’s okay too).
And frankly, sometimes I miss being “normal.” When I started dipping my toes into fat acceptance and health at every size, I didn’t set out to create a schism between myself and “normal,” but it’s there now, and there’s a grief about realizing how far I am from everyone else. Yes, I used to hate my body, but at least I was on the same team as the rest of society, united in agreement that my big ol’ body was hateworthy and untrustable and wrong. Now that I’m on Team My Body Is Rad instead of Team “Normal”, I can see that my new normal is better, healthier, saner than the cultural “normal” — but it’s a little depressing, too, knowing that I’ll never again be on the same side as the majority, when it comes to bodies. Because the new normal is isolating, even while it’s healing.
I’m just glad my cats can’t read internet comments.
*Yes, this is a 900+ word post about cats. I’m feeling very Debbie Loves Cats as a result. I just — sorry, I’m getting emotional — I really love cats, is all.
**I think Jen is fabulous, by the way, and I totally recommend her blog for girl-geekery and gentle humor. I was just caught off guard by the comments on this particular post, which were in no way mean-spirited, just totally reflective of how society treats food and weight.
Lately, since I’ve publicly renounced dieting, I’ve gotten a handful of concerned questions from friends who aren’t sure they’re understanding me correctly. Or they aren’t sure I’m understanding me correctly. The conversation usually goes something like,
Friend: So what are you saying – you’re not even going to try to lose weight anymore? Because [lots of sciencey things about how terribly unhealthy it is to be fat].
Friend: Well, sure, the ridiculous magazine diets are all bunk. What you really need is a lifestyle change that involves eating less and exercising more — have you thought of that?
Friend: I get that the human body isn’t designed to respond to caloric deficit by reducing weight long-term. But what if you just reduced your food intake and lost weight really really slowly so your metabolism had time to adjust to having less food?
Friend: If you just sorted out all the psychological reasons that made you fat in the first place, and all the negative emotions you have about food, I bet then you’d be able to lose weight.
Friend: [any other condescending suggestion that tries to find a loophole in the decision I've made, after a lot of thought and research, to stop trying to lose weight in favor of adopting behaviors - like intuitive/body-conscious eating and regular enjoyable exercise - that are proven to have a positive impact on my health]
I’m going to be as clear as I can: I am no longer trying to lose weight. Click the links above and you’ll see why I’m convinced that continued efforts at weight-loss are a losing (har!) proposition for me, based on loads of evidence that bodies are wired to want to stay the same size, that the process of losing and then regaining weight (which is the near-inevitable result of dieting) taxes the body more than maintaining an “overweight” size, and — most importantly — my own experience has taught me that trying to lose weight is detrimental to my mental and emotional well-being.
I’m choosing to be content with my weight instead of pitting myself against my body in attempt to somehow circumvent its genetically predisposed size. If science is able to come up with a proven method for permanent weight loss in a way that does not otherwise compromise my physical, mental, or emotional health, I’m sure I’ll revisit this choice. But until then, I know I’m a healthier person for living in a way that values and nurtures my body in the size and shape that it is.
I’m choosing to stop dieting. And before you ask, no, I’m not going to be doing [insert any other term that means "trying to lose weight"] either.