feminism

My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part Five of Six

One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.

 

In my mid-twenties I came across the books Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach and When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. They were part of my discovery of feminism and the proposition ‘the personal is political.’ Through them I realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggles with my body, and they weren’t all my fault. I began to understand that the challenges people, especially women, have with food are substitutes or masks for other struggles that we don’t have the emotional space or safety in our lives to confront. We don’t have the social will in our culture to take on. Intellectually, I connected many dots within myself. Academically, I did a master’s degree on why women use food and their relationship to their bodies to have autonomy and give meaning to their lives. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am still finding my way.

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My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part One of Six

One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.

 

I was in the middle of getting my hair done at a salon (a luxury I treat myself to every week) when my phone rang. I wasn’t surprised as it was the opening night of the film festival I was mounting in honour of International Women’s Day—a huge event I’d created on my own for a cause I am passionate about. The caller identified herself as being from the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, and asked if she was speaking to the Michelle Brewer who was responsible for the event. I replied that she was. She then asked me if I spoke French. I paused. I have worked hard at my French—including having lived two and a half years in immersion in Québec City. In fact, I can usually even pass as francophone for the first few sentences—that is, until my lack of vocabulary, my English mind moving faster than my French mouth and the letter R betray me. Still, out of love for the film festival and being a proud Canadian, I took a deep breath and responded oui.

 

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brene brown photo showing I am Enough written on a woman's chest

I am enough.

How can something that feels so wrong actually be oh so right?
Why you shouldn’t always believe what you’re thinking.

 

Oh my God…what have I done? What was I thinking to share my ideas like that? Who am I to think I can be on a mission to spread the word about mindful eating? I am still working through eating issues myself. Who am I to think I can be a specialist in this?

This is exactly what was blaring through my head when I woke up Monday morning after two days at the amazing workshopping weekend “The Good One Hundred Experiment” for businesses and projects out of Edmonton that focus on the social and local good. Even though I loved the weekend, got amazing feedback on what I was doing with mindful eating, and met some truly fantastic people, my overall take away at that point was that I was a fool for sharing myself like I did. I was sure that the people there were thinking what a quaint little project I had but was truly out of my league, or what I loser I was for talking so openly about something that is better seen as a private and shameful issue that only belongs to weak and undeserving people. (Underscore the word shameful–more to come.) When I was thirteen and started to gain weight, I learned pretty quickly that my ‘go to’ position on my weight gain was to give the world the impression that it did not matter to me…in spite of all the pain I was feeling inside. That way, people wouldn’t be able to use it against me. Now, here I was some thirty years later telling a room full of participants that it was my issue, and it meant the world to me. I felt naked.

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The Quest for Women’s Equality: How Much of What is Stopping Us is in Our Heads?

I was grateful to be the keynote speaker at the Soroptimist International Club of Edmonton. In case you cannot follow the audio in the video, I have provided the transcript below:


Hello. Happy International Women’s Day! I welcome all the women who are here, and all the men supporting all the women who are here. It’s great to have everyone. Can you hear me alright?

(No!)

Happy Women’s Day. Happy International Women’s Day! So thank you so much to everyone for being here. We are here today on International Women’s Day, in my opinion, because there is still work left to do; equality still hasn’t been achieved. We come together every year to commemorate this and to see what we can do to change the world.

(applause)

The theme this year is women in history, women making history and, for me, women not making history. I say this because I am a philosopher. Occupational hazard is I look at this in generalities and ask big questions: What can we do so that women can make more history? To my mind, making history means great achievements in the public realm: social, economic and political as opposed to our historical limitation to the private realm. The realm of childbearing, child rearing and while you’re there housekeeping.

To have more women making history we need to have more women taking a place in the public realm. This is precisely what the Soroptimists do. We’ve already heard today that they try to help women in a social economic way, especially through education. And this is fantastic and this necessary work. But my question is, and I think there is a deeper question going on, is why with so many more opportunities today, why is it that some women don’t take the opportunities that are there for them? And that is the question I want to talk about.

As I see it, part of the answer is that it is something that is, is that it is something in their heads. I know that doesn’t sound quite right yet. So bear with me. I think you’ll be with me by the end of it.

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How mindful eating changed my body, mind and life

I had always been a slender and active kid, never giving a second thought to my weight until puberty, when I suddenly realized I became fat. At age 14, I tried various diets. One high fibre and low fat diet worked well for me—so long as I stayed on it.

 

At age 17, I found a life-changing book called Thin Within. It was my first exposure to what I term intuitive hunger eating principles: eat when you’re hungry, eat exactly what you want, do so with presence and intent, and stop as soon as the hunger goes away. The book also explained that if you eat outside of intuitive hunger signals, you are likely eating for emotional reasons. It was as though a light had been switched on for me. (It had already occurred to me that if diets were so great, why did people gain weight back? I wondered why some people manage a “good” weight their whole lives yet eat whatever they want? It occurred to me that if people eat a lot but get hungry again, haven’t they burned off all the calories?) The intuitive eating philosophy ultimately led me to ask myself why I was turning to food, which sparked a healing journey in me that continues to this day.

 

A few months later, I had some bad experiences with my mum’s boyfriend. I felt unsafe around him, and unheard and unsupported at home. Anxiety and confusion overwhelmed me. My body, unprotected by fat, felt too unsafe. I literally could not stop eating, and over the following weeks my weight climbed from 120 to 180 pounds. I remember not recognizing my reflection once, in a mall mirror . Thick red stretch marks stared back at me unapologetically from all over my body. My family judged me and made verbal swipes. Intuitive hunger eating seemed beyond my control. I felt humiliated and unworthy. I see now that I was trying to protect and care for myself through the weight.

 

When I left home things got easier. With the help of therapy, I gained significant insight into my personal and family history, and what the weight was voicing for me. I lost much of the weight. But my size would still fluctuate a bit based on the love and security I was feeling at any point in my life. Food was my “go-to” for warmth and stability.

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