Friday, February 25, 2011

African Women Food Farmers

Disclaimer: In no way shape or form did my mother or anyone else mentioned purposefully or cruelly affect my self image.  I have always been uplifted and supported by my loved ones and all insecurities begin and end with my own self doubts.

In 4th grade, I weighed 75 pounds.  
If you follow this blog you know this was the year I became a feminist.  It was also the year I realized I was fat. Nothing happened.  No one said "You're fat." This realization just sort of came over me as if it was naturally supposed to occur.

Goldfish Bikini
Still have it but my friends
won't let me wear it in public.
(it's 11 yrs old and falling apart)
The summer before 5th grade, I had a bikini on at the beach and my mom made a silly joke about how I had a little belly pudge.  I didn't wear a bikini again until I was in 10th grade. I bought it in Florida on Spring break from Ron Jon Surf Shop. I loved it because it had photos of goldfish on a boob and the butt.  I purchased an XL because I thought that would make me feel less fat in it. I weighed 117 pounds and was a size 2.  It fell off me all the time and my younger sister took some x rated pics of me swimming by mistake with her underwater camera. 

In college, I watched girls in my dorm starve themselves everyday in order to dodge the "Freshmen 15".  I ate a whole bulk box of Hostess Cupcakes the first month because I wanted to prove that I wasn't concerned about gaining weight. After being moderately active in sports as a kid, I refused to do any type of working out.  In fact, I think some of my friends will remember a time when I was adamantly against yoga. My reasoning was not wanting to feel as if I needed to do anything to stay thin.  I felt like that was a weakness for some reason.  So I ate and lounged as much as I wanted. I was a size 6 when I started and a size 10 when I graduated.  

During my first year as a "grown up", I whined to my boyfriend that I wanted to lose 20 pounds.  He looked at me and said I would be fine if I lost 10.  That made me want to lose 30. We broke up. I thought it was because I was gross and fat (not the reasons). I wore clothes a size too big for me and jeans and sweaters in the summer. The idea of being looked at by anyone was too overwhelming.

After moving to Denver,  I became pretty active since I had to bike EVERYWHERE which made me feel better.  The Starbucks I worked at was right across the street from Forever 21.  My weekly tip money went to clothes that were cuter and more weather appropriate, but always empire-waists and loose fitting.  I felt better about myself but started to compare my shape to every other girl I was around.  In my mind, they all had littler waists and better bodies than me.

Back in Chicago I had a job at a chocolate factory. I ate truffles everyday.  I still didn't work out.  Paying two rents (my CO apt was flooded with sewage and I was not released from my lease) and making minimum wage created immense stress and I took it out on the way I saw myself in the mirror.  The fat feeling overcame every thought I had about my appearance.

When I was finally hired for my first "real" job, it came with a free gym membership and  cheap workout classes.  I lost 5 pounds and felt awesome. I weighed 150 pounds.  That number still made me feel fat much like 75 did when I was nine.  So I celebrated the weight loss by gaining 9 pounds and blaming fat for all of my life problems. My gyno even told me that I was "just a bit overweight" for my height of 5'6". 

That was 2 years ago.  Today I weigh less than what I did but that doesn't matter.  I'm still fucked up.  I just got a State ID and I put my weight at 155 (more than I weigh right now) because I thought knowing it was wrong would make me feel better when I looked at it.  That doesn't make sense so don't try to understand.  But now I don't want anyone to see it because it says 155 and once they read that they will KNOW I'm fat, right?

The craziest thing about all of this is I actually think I look great!  Anyone who knows me knows I have a substantial ego when it comes to my looks. I think I'm pretty. And I get plenty of positive attention.  I carry myself as though I have all the confidence in the world. However, I've decided thinking I look thin (which in my mind means "good")  is some sort of reverse body dysmorphic disorder. No matter how positive I feel about my body, I know I'm wrong. I am constantly reminding myself I do not, in fact, look good. (With this post, all of my crazy cards are now on the table.)

Is there a way to not feel fat?  

Friends of mine who weigh much less than me struggle with the fat feeling as well.  I was talking about wanting to lose weight with a former coworker once and she looked at me astonished because she said if she were my size she would feel great.  The grass is always greener I suppose.  

Current Details Cover
And it's not just women.  Plenty of my guy friends get down on themselves for their weight and shape as well. Details mag (marketed to men), has a whole issue dedicated to body image and weight loss. There was even some bullshit about rice cakes being more fattening than fries.  I was surprised to see a lot of the same fat shaming rhetoric from the lady mags so it's not solely a one sided gender problem. But the negative focus is usually on us gals. 

At an Oprah taping I went to about 5 years ago, the big O chose several women from the audience to come on stage and line up according to their pant size.  The actual show had nothing to do with body image and this was just something she did after the taping. Oprah stood by the size zero and hugged her and kept repeating "This is the dream. This is the dream." It was one of the weirdest moments of my life.  Here we have one of the most powerful people in the world longing for something that seems so silly considering the success she has achieved. She also has spoken out a lot about how we need to accept our bodies so to see her be so completely enamored with the size 0 was unsettling. But Oprah is a regular woman just like the rest of us so it shouldn't be too surprizing to learn that she wrestles with the same issues. 

Some of the most beautiful women in the world talk about their constant struggles with their body image.  Julianne Moore says she feels hungry ALL THE TIME and suspects most other women in Hollywood do too. I don't want that. But also I don't want to feel like I'm wearing a coat of extra skin. (That's how I'm referring to my fat these days) I'd also like to stop googling the weight of celebrities just to see how much I would have to lose in order to be their size. Objectifying them in order to serve some sick selfish insecurity isn't really what I should to be doing.

Glamour mag just did a study that revealed that 97% of women are seriously negative towards their bodies every day.  I'm not normally a big fan of these types of magazines because they usually just make me want to buy shit that I don't need.  BUT sometimes Glamour comes out with interesting articles.  This is one of them.  

Basically, they had women note every negative thought they had about their bodies for a day.  97% of women had at least one.  I should say that I am always skeptical of these studies, and this one doesn't necessarily seem too scientific since they aren't very specific about their study controls.  But, I for sure would have responded like one of the negative women who participated so the study is beneficial for me. 

Nothing that they state is very revolutionary.  I know that the problem isn't my actual body. Reviewing the timeline of my relationship with body hate clearly suggests I have deeper issues.  The reason why this article is sort of helping me right now though is that I feel like I'm finally really tired of the self hate.  Remember when I said that I think I am generally good looking?  They list tips to help with focusing on the positive so I'm already off to a good start.  These steps seem manageable and I am actually working out right now (tip 3) because it does make me feel better.   


Here's where it cycles back to being really fucked up...if I am more positive about my body, I'll work out more, eat only when I am actually hungry, not because I'm having anxiety, which will then result in looking better/being better.  Boys will like me! Girls will envy me! I'll finally be the best Julia ever! And I guess I should assume that I will like me, right? (a faux positive feeling typical of a post-Glamour article read so maybe the study is bad for me, who knows?)


It will need to be a process.  Posting this now is a big step.  I wanted to wait until I lost like 40 pounds and could be all "Even though I'm super hot now and not jiggly, I still struggle like everyone else". You know, like all those pretentious celebrities who hawk weigh loss shit after they've lost weight. Or I could have said something like Jennifer Hudson about how I was fine with myself before the weight loss.  That wouldn't be true though.  I'm not fine. I'm not the worst ever, and I don't think that I am alone in the struggle but I want to feel better and stop treating myself so terribly. My life is too good to be wasted on such worries. (Easier said than done)

Women's relationship with food and our bodies is not always about weight and shape.  We are the first food source for human beings, from conception to infancy.  We breastfeed and when children are weaned off of our milk, we cook them dinners and pack their lunches.  We do these things because we care about the health of our families and we want them to be nourished.  For most of my community, food isn't hard to come by.  If we don't eat, if we starve ourselves, that's our choice.  We don't choose that for our children and we wouldn't choose it for our other loved ones.  We tend to only mistreat ourselves while simultaneously caring for others around us.

Some women don't have the luxury of choice.  They don't eat because they have no food.  They can't breastfeed because their bodies are undernourished and can't produce milk. Not because they have implants, feel uncomfortable, or see their breasts as purely sexual instruments.  Hunger affects 2 billion people to varying degrees worldwide.  As natural providers of food to our children through our bodies, the burden of starvation is heaviest on women.

As I mentioned in the anniversary post, I've been thinking about what it means to be a feminist and why it matters.  While this post is a lot more personal and not about a particular woman, I did want to tie in African women food farmers because they are an actual example of feminism in action.  Feminism that is about empowering women to push society forward.  I guess I could have tied my fat loathing into a figure who "loves her curves!" But what good does that do? How is that positive feminism or a new take on an old problem?  Sure positive body affirmation is something that benefits women, however, it is still superficial.  
Women Farming

African women who farm food are the key to their entire continent's future viability.  They are responsible for producing 80% of Africa's food.  They grow, harvest, market, and invest. Their gender does not guarantee them land rights to the fields they farm and they are under- represented in their governments. Many believe their misfortune lies in the hands of God or their biological disposition. They don't know that this is a manmade societal restriction that is crippling their efforts to keep their people afloat.  

The Hunger Project has awarded rural female farmers a grant to help subsidize their farming.  The strategy for the project was devised by African women leaders.  These women know of the struggles that their sisters are facing and are working from the inside to establish a system that benefits all Africans.  Many of them are out and proud feminists and gender rights activists.  Real feminism includes feeding people through positive action; not castrating the male masses.

How does this tie into my body image issues? It doesn't really.  But the reality is that there are many more women in the world who are worrying about the survival of their communities than how fat their asses look in skinny jeans. Or in my case, my calves. I hate my calves. It's also good to be reminded that our bodies aren't just objects to be gawked at. We serve a greater purpose and that is often forgotten the further away from nature our western culture moves. 

The logical way of dealing with this is to just get over it and appreciate what I have around me. I'm overfed because I have the luxury of having emotional issues, not survival struggles. I'm not emaciated because I don't have to spend hours a day in a field harvesting my dinner. I'm not obese, but I exhibit the same types of destructive, gluttonous habits of a person who expects life to be handed to them in the easiest way possible. In order for me to become a better feminist and a stronger woman, I need to set my sights on something that isn't so fully fixated on me.

Some idiot once told me women need to accept that they are judged on their appearance first and foremost.  That's just the way it is, he said.  Honestly, I believe a lot of people do accept that way of thought.  If I didn't I wouldn't have all of these complexes.  But because I believe it, I contribute to its choke hold on the way women's bodies are assessed and degraded.  I'd like to be better than that. There are plenty of women who are beyond this mindset. They don't buy it and they live beyond the restrictions by not obsessing over their physical appearances. Someday I'll be there. Good thing I have this blog to hold me accountable while I go through the process.  

1 comment:

    Seriously I have so many thoughts about this but I don't know how to formulate them into sentences so I am just going to list them off haha
    -I am struggles with my weight right now
    -I compare myself to a certain friend way too often bc she has a FLAT model-like tummy
    -I am trying to eat healthier and get back on my exercise kick bc I want to have kids and I want to be able to run after them and play with them and show them that even though I am not a size zero I am healthy and beautiful and confident
    -Oprah is crazy