February Resolutions, Body Image and Safe Spaces

I can’t wait for sober month to be over. Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets, I’m just excited to be able to drink socially again. The past few weeks have yielded new tests in my sobriety: A record-breaking blizzard, dinners out on the town, a first date, and a live podcast event. Again, it’s been easy to say no. This month has certainly reinforced what I learned last year: it is much easier to take something out of my routine than to add something to it. Congratulations and thank you to my family members who have completed sober January with me, and to those who have consciously drank even a little bit less. I love you all.

Working out is still eh. Oh well. I’ve come to realize that in my current situation I can choose to have two of the following three things…if that:

1. A consistent workout schedule. 2. An active social life. 3. Healthy sleep habits.

Working out has still fallen by the wayside more often than I wish it would, but it’s been better. I’ve also found that my reasons for wanting to work out have shifted from when I began the month as a result of my newfound ownership of my identity. More on that later.

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Although I haven’t worked out a ton, I have maintained a regular                                           Tuesday night (and occasional weekend morning) Bikram yoga class. I’ve been doing Bikram inconsistently for about 4 years now, but am excited to be going again regularly. Yoga helps my body to feel it’s best, helps me calm my mind, and also helps me practice achieving “flow.” Flow is a concept I first learned about from an episode of This American Life titled “Meet The Pros,” where host Ira Glass and team bring together incredible stories of people who desire to reach the pinnacle of their field. Flow is a difficult, yet extremely valuable skill to achieve, first described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This term describes a state of mind where someone is extremely tuned in to themselves and what they’re doing, allowing them to achieve extremely difficult, gratifying, impressive tasks. One of the many methods of cultivating this level of focused determination and skill is through meditation.

In February, I will try to meditate at least 10 minutes every day. I will try to do this either first thing in the morning, right before I go to bed, or as soon as I get home from work. I have encountered many different resources for guided meditation, and will be trying quite a few of these, as well as some unguided meditation techniques. Adding meditation every day, even for only 10 minutes, will be tough. The hardest part will not be the time added to my routine, it will be the challenge of sitting still. My other February resolution, taking away sweets, will be a piece of cake. Well, quite the opposite actually.

Yes, in February I will be adding ten minutes of meditation each day, and taking away sweets. I don’t think I will have any trouble taking away sweets because I actually did it for an entire year (2014). The hardest part of that challenge was turning down delicious smelling, baked with love, homemade treats from friends and family. The only other issue with giving up sweets for the entire year was that once I started eating sweets again, I was insatiable. I was left with a much bigger sweet tooth than I’d ever had. You might think I’d learned my lesson from that experience: taking something away will only make you crave it more, and as a result, overindulge. Perhaps that is the case. Regardless, I want to take away sweets for the month and then return to eating them more mindfully. If I can say no to sweets for an entire month with this end goal in mind, it should be easier to say no afterwards. So, will you be joining me? No sweets for a month? Meditate for 10 minutes each day for a month? Both?

Now, for a bit of reflection. The best thing that came out of my January mindfulness was my identity exploration. Opening up about my identity has been liberating in more ways than I thought possible. I no longer feel pressure to be or portray anything that I am not. I especially no longer feel like I have to have a certain body. At the beginning of the month, I wanted to work out both to be healthier, but also undeniably to work towards achieving a certain beauty norm. I simply wanted to become more “attractive.”  I wanted to be thinner, more toned and less fatty, but for the wrong reasons. Being attractive (as defined by American culture) is an easy way to fit in and be non-threatening to societal conventions. I now feel liberated from beauty standards that I was never going to be able to achieve through healthy means. I am now focusing instead on having a healthy body that I am proud to be in. Growing up I was extremely self conscious of my muscles *flashback to “manly lesbian” shame.* I am no longer ashamed of my strength. I am finally able to just be proud of my capable, healthy, strong body. Dealing with my body shame/body image issues is not over, but it’s better.

I feel confident now exploring my identity in other new ways, largely thanks to all of the support and wonderful feedback I received about my last post. I was so nervous to be vulnerable and put my identity out in the open like I did, but now I’m so incredibly glad that it’s out there. Thank you to everyone who reached out to share their support. I also want to thank those who came to me with their own invisible, misunderstood, private struggles. I am always happy to lend a listening ear. I know how tough it can be to deal with something that eats away at you inside. Something that makes you feel icky, unlovable, weird, misunderstood, or any number of negative emotions. Something that will entirely consume you unless you can figure out how to deal with it, or let it run it’s course. Some of the many examples of such struggles include body image issues, addiction, depression, anxiety, gender identity, sexual identity, physical or emotional abuse, disability, illness, etc. There’s no magic cure for dealing with these struggles. I hope it is at least comforting to know that everyone fights their own invisible battles, and many people feel alone in dealing with them. I can only hope that writing about my experiences will continue to inspire people to fight on. I am happy to listen, help find support, or really help in any way that I can. This too can pass. This too shall pass.

These invisible struggles can be especially difficult if the spaces you occupy do not acknowledge them. The best part of finally admitting my genderqueerness to family, friends and coworkers is that it has transformed the way I think. My inner and outer identities (struggles) no longer conflict or work against each other. Even though I have considered myself genderqueer for a while now, allowing other people to know how I identify has made me even more comfortable with, and positive towards myself. The amazing Tricia Donegan, owner of Bikram Yoga LES says often in class, “95% of who we are is how we talk to ourselves.” The importance of this lesson cannot be understated. I am speaking to myself in a much more open, non-judgemental, accepting manner, and I’m infinitely happier for it. I have a long way to go in terms of learning to be patient with myself. Tricia is helping me see the power of positivity and action both inside and outside of the yoga studio. We have some exciting things coming up this month. Keep posted for those. Not everything is rainbows and butterflies, but the world is definitely a little bit more colorful these days.

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Something else has been on my mind a lot as I’m really diving into an obsession with identity. I have been thinking about children, young, spongy minds, and the way that identities are formed. It has come up in a few ways: conversations I’ve had, my everyday life at work, and reading I’ve done, all of which I will briefly touch upon.

I have always had trouble putting things into words verbally, which is why this is a blog, not a podcast or a vlog. I much prefer to write my thoughts and feelings, because I can obsess over word choice, edit meticulously, and make sure that I’m saying things exactly how I want them to be said. Regardless, I had a wonderful conversation with Julia Curtis-Burnes (who I mentioned in the last post), founder of Initiative Space and OUTsideHERs, the podcast for which this conversation was documented. Our discussion on “claiming terms” helped me tease out a lot of my feelings about identity and genderqueerness verbally. One idea that we discussed has particularly stuck with me. In the conversation I mention that if my younger self could look at me now, little Eileen would be delighted by the symbolic aspects of my identity (hair, clothing) that are still present today.

My return to short hair and a tomboyish style is completing a loop that began before I felt pressure (real or imagined) to be something different; something easier. Now that I have a more well-rounded perspective on identity and social coercion, I feel that I have something unique to offer the children that I work with every day. I love answering questions about my hair or attire or gender. I love when a child asks me, “aren’t ties for boys? Why are you wearing that?” My answer is simply: I am an adult, so I get to choose for myself. This makes me feel happy, so I wear it!

A parent who read my last post has been initiating conversations with me about gender neutral classrooms. What would a gender neutral upbringing or classroom look like? It’s a very interesting question; one that I’m still trying to figure out. If anyone has resources on these topics, I would love to learn more. I am certainly not in a position to make grand changes at the childcare center where I work. I can not change all of our practices to be conscious of gender neutrality, nor would I want to. I am, however, well equipped to lead by example, mostly by living my truths, as one of the many human beings in these children’s lives. The topic is incredibly sticky because regardless of the safe spaces we create for children, they are inevitably a part of a larger society; one where norms of all sorts are still so deeply ingrained. How do you create a space that is truly safe? Both safe internally, and safe in the grand scheme of things? I believe this space would not have to be separate from society and culture as a whole, but aware, critical and open about the different perspectives and reactions by and to other human beings. The goal would be for children to learn to lead by example, and acquire tools to help them look at different perspectives critically and patiently. What that would look like is still unclear. There are certainly, however, some wonderful shifts happening in popular culture, resulting in different role models for our children to look up to.

I think it’s wonderful that there is a “trans moment” happening right now in popular culture. I love seeing transgendered folks/roles on screen. I don’t necessarily consider all of them to be role models, or people to aspire to, or representative of trans culture as a whole, but the fact that this community is now in the public eye is beautiful.

Laverne Cox wrote a beautiful piece shortly after Caitlyn Jenner was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair. This piece is wonderful for many reasons. It applauds Caitlin for her courage, the positive public response and the representation of transgender folks in the media; but it also lends a much needed critical eye to the disconnect between the pop cultural representations of transgendered people and the realities of being transgender out in the world. She writes: “I hope, as I know Caitlyn does, that the love she is receiving can translate into changing hearts and minds about who all trans people are as well as shifting public policies to fully support the lives and well being of all of us.” Read the entire article here.

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Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are also working to bring social norms into question with their website/newsletter Lenny that discusses: “Feminism, style, health, politics, friendship, and everything else.” One Lenny article is beautifully written by Hari Nef, a writer, model and actress who I first learned of in Transparent season two. Hari wrote a beautiful piece about becoming a transgender person in the spotlight. She writes about receiving criticism from other members of the trans community on Tumblr: “As my followers crept toward 30,000, I could see only 30 when I posted. I reported to them wide-eyed, or smug; I took space without consequences, until I couldn’t.” Read Hari’s beautiful piece titled "Hypervisibility."

Jennifer Lawrence wrote another wonderful post for Lenny about the ridiculous gender pay gap in Hollywood, which was recently exposed by the Sony hack. She writes about the societal conditioning of gender norms. She writes about being angry with herself for not being a better negotiator out of fear of seeming “difficult” or “spoiled.” Read her whole piece here. The truth is, we have a long way to go. If we cannot even treat women who were born into female bodies with due dignity and respect, how in the world are we going to support, encourage, uplift, and include people who feel disconnected from their biological gender? Don’t even get me started on healthcare.
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What do you think needs to happen for our culture, our political system, our healthcare system, our society as a whole to embrace our evolving humanity? Can we really expect our dated systems to exist, unchanged, despite our ever changing conception of what it means to be human? How can we make the necessary changes in a safe, sustainable way? These are all bigger questions, ones that we may never be able to answer. For now, I’m going to focus on being the best version of myself, and enable others do the same whenever possible. I think that’s the best thing I can do, the thing that I have the most control over, to make positive changes in the world. What about you?

Thank you, I love you.

A special thank you to Lisa. She edited my work when we worked together in web marketing, and continues to do it for this blog! Your friendship and opinions are dear to me. Thank you again.

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Finally, some thoughts from family members who also did sober January:

Dad: “Losing body fat, sleeping better and saving money has convinced me to extend my sober January into sober February!”

Mom: “My sober January was easier than I thought. I did have to cut back on my favorite thing to do in the city though…eat out!”

Grandma: "Giving up alcohol helped me save some money, and I was able to use that money for things that could make other people happy."

You all made it! Well done! Thank you for joining me.