Body Love: Societal Rebellion vs. True Liberation
This past week is one that will stay with me forever. What I thought would be a chill week of drinking green juice and relaxing, turned out to be a deep detox of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. While I have facilitated and participated in countless offerings focused on emotional and spiritual healing… this was my first time bringing so much focus to the physical body; journeying through release in the realms of nourishment and my relationship to food. A big revelation came for me throughout, as I became aware that I carried heavy guilt around my cleanse participation… and even more so, in the sharing of my experience.
This is because I worry about contributing to a culture that shames bigger bodies and praises thinner ones. I worry that people will think I’ve ‘Sold Out’ and have been sucked into the world of appearance comparison, not-enoughness, and people pleasing. I worry that my choices rooted in my health will only feed the eating disorder epidemic. Will make others feel bad. Will be triggering for those I love. But… with deep reflection and discernment, I realize that all of these beliefs are born from a distorted version of #BodyPositivity, which represents Rebellion rather than true Liberation.
My Journey with Emotional Eating
I share my journey here because I know that it reflects an extreme pendulum swing that so many of us have experienced.
PHASE 1… First I lived in the land of conditioning, body policing, appearance comparison, and disordered eating. Growing up in the competitive dance world, I was constantly judging myself in studio mirrors and striving to measure my worth in my thinness. In high school, I would spend hours a day exercising, skipping classes to use the elliptical before heading to dance for 5 hours of training. I would count my calories and secretly purchase underground diet pills, containing who-knows-what. Rather than feeling my emotions, which were more than I knew how to hold at the time, I would overeat and sometimes purge. I lived for Shaun T’s Insanity program and #fitspo images pasted on cardio machines. None of this felt problematic to me, as our culture has normalized so much of this, deeming such obsessive behaviours as: Good, Healthy, Fit, Motivated, and Strong-Willed.
PHASE 2… Second, I lived in the land of deconditioning, anti-body policing, distorted body positivity, weight denial, and rebellious eating. This happened when I woke up to the reality of cruel cultural conditioning and the ways in which the diet/weight loss industry uses self-loathing to sell us their products. This phase came with feeling the heart-shattering impacts of objectification culture and resentment built towards the commodification of our bodies. The point where my pendulum really, truly, dramatically swung to the far-end of this side, was after experiencing sexual trauma. This is when I started using food as a: Fu*k You. My previously perfectionist palate began to choose foods as protest. I let my plate become a symbol of just how ANTI objectification, body policing, and appearance obsession I was. I gained weight at this time, ate foods that were toxic to me, and binged often. Note: There is a significant link between sexual abuse & eating disorders, here’s some info if you’re interested in learning more.
PHASE FREE… And finally, third, I built a home in the land of True Liberation. This is a home made of self-love, intuitive eating, and the reclamation of my right to nourishment. Here, my food choices are motivated by gut and heart, enhancing embodiment, rather than dissociation. I choose to honour my being by respecting my hunger and fullness cues, so that I feel Good and my nervous system remains calm. I choose to listen deep within my body and to value the wisdom that flows through my blood, rather than looking towards external sources. From this depth of my being, I let my decisions be born, rather than basing my life on what society tells me what/what not to do. To me, this is true empowerment and freedom.
In my book, Re-Humanize, I write…
“I believe that there is almost always an option outside of society’s box: true liberation. For instance, say you are dropped in a dark cave. 1) You can resist and destroy all that is in the cave. 2) You can accept the cave. 3) You can truly liberate yourself by leaving the cave.”
How do we leave the cave and move towards Phase Free?
How do we shed light on the fact that Phase 2 is a still oppressive, illusive form of liberation?
How do we distinguish #BodyPositivity from a distorted, rebellious version of the movement?
Shift #1: Size Does Not = Level of Liberation
Just as we cannot judge health by appearance, we cannot judge liberation by size. The first assumption we need to break down in order to move from rebellion (Phase 2) to liberation (Phase Free), is that people lose weight because they have given into cultural conditioning, westernized beauty standards, and the thin ideal.
Thin does not equate to oppressed, conformist or conditioned AND fat does not equate to liberated and free. A dear sister expressed this concern to me, as she reflected on being shamed for her nourishment choices within the ED recovery community. This was immensely eye opening for me, as I realized the prevalence of these #BoPo distortions. It is absolutely true that Body Positive activists have been shamed for weight loss and simultaneously, fitness lovers have been shamed for weight gain. To me, the former is quite the same as a feminist shaming another woman for shaving her legs. A major issue with this is: that we are still obsessing and over-emphasizing weight on both ends of the spectrum! So long as we are shaming one another in the name of freedom, we are not going to transcend these hurtful paradigms.
Phase Free says: Your body, your choices. you will be celebrated and respected no matter your weight, food/exercise decisions, or size.
Shift #2: societal thinking —> self guidance
When faced with a menu or a fridge, a question I like to ask myself is… If I were the only person in the world right now, what would I choose to eat? When you’re around different people, do your eyes wander to parts of the menu that would differ if you were alone? Something I’ve noticed within myself, is that when I’m with friends who I know have struggled with food/weight preoccupation, I tend to choose foods that reflect Phase 2. Ones that suggest: I don’t care about my weight or what society has to say about it… to me I saw this as compassionate and sensitive. But this kind of behaviour is a trait of people pleasing and self-sacrifice. It harms my own body, silences my intuition, and enforces a narrative, which frames my friends as helpless and impressionable. Rather than inviting in freedom from these messages of body shame, such actions normalize further emphasis on what society says vs. what our bodies are trying to tell us.
Phase Free says: Make decisions from the inside-out (internal experience), rather than the outside-in (performative, societally focused). Choose from the gut/heart, not solely the head or the eyes of the people around you.
Shift #3: Prioritizing nourishment
When I was volunteering with NEDIC, we celebrated something called #NoDietDay, encouraging people to bond over anything other than their diets. In accordance, this is how I feel… I don’t really care to hear about your diet. I would much rather hear about What Nourishes Your Body, Mind, Soul. For instance, what nourishes me is time spent with trees and beautiful friends, remembrance that the sky loves me, dancing wildly, drinking Cacao, facilitating circles and retreats where I get to see women rise in love with themselves. What nourishes me is energizing foods, foods that make me feel warm in the winter time, foods that are colourful and portray the miraculousness of nature’s rainbow. What nourishes me is the celebration of my sexuality, honouring my body as temple, being oh so kind to my inner child, and appreciating those who came before me.
Phase free says: We can teach the world to honour our beings, by treating ourselves with a newfound standard of respect, presence, integrity, and love. Let our why be deep self-nourishment, let our how (food choices, etc.) be whatever may follow.
Commitment to liberated body love
May we integrate all of these shifts and dive deeper into nourishment with each passing breath. Let our eating be led by intuition, relying on the wisdom of the body, rather than the washing of the brain. Instead of using food as a way to rebel against our conditioning, let nourishment become an inward experience, transcending such cultural paradigms. If we are constantly pushing Against a system, we are putting substances into our bodies based on what we Do Not Want, rather than deeply understanding and claiming What We Do.
If we are going to make a statement with our food choices, let it be this: When I eat, I am not focused on feeding the minds of the people around me, instead I am committed to nourishing my depths: My ancestors, my inner child, the parts of me that have been neglected, the parts of me that have been loved. May my diet decisions be motivated by this empowerment, as I transcend the duality of Conformity&Rebellion and move towards a life, guided only by Nourishing Love. If my actions, which are born from my centre, happen to create ripples of revolutionary change within this culture of confinement… then so be it. But let this motive not be my driving force. Let me stand strong in my intent, as I release my grip on whatever greater impact may come. Let this devotion to claiming my enoughness be enough.