Beautiful Woman, Striving To Be Skinny

Beautiful woman, striving to be skinny.

I see you everywhere.

You’re on my Facebook, posting selfies of your latest workout as sweat drips from your brow, words like dying, puking, exhausting are hash tagged underneath.

Punishment.

My Instagram is filled with pictures of you, sporting your Lorna Jane as you burn away the calories of the cake you shouldn’t have eaten, but were too weak to resist.

Penance.

You sit opposite me, order your salad, no dressing, berate yourself for being a kilogram heavier this week.

Self-loathing.

You are fraught with comparison, with how short you fall next to the mothers at the playground you’ll never be fit as, the group of women at the gym you’ll never be strong as, the bodies in the magazines you’ll never be sexy as. You beat yourself up. Promise tomorrow you’ll eat less, work out more. No excuses, no matter what. Push yourself, purge yourself, pressure yourself.

Workout

I was once like you. I obsessed over the number on the scale, lived by punishment or reward, survived on protein shakes, applauded myself for staying under 1000 calories a day. I worked out, no matter what. No matter how tired my body was, no matter how run down, exhausted, unwell. I worked out until I almost threw up, head over my knees, rebuking myself with slogans. Go hard or go home. Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going. Excuses are for people who don’t want it bad enough. I pushed past the pain and worked out when my muscles were fatigued, when my body screamed for me to stop, when I injured my knee, my shoulder, until I eventually tore a disc in my back.

And that changed everything.

In an instant, I could no longer work out. My world ended. There was no worse fate that could have happened to me. I laid on my stomach for a month, unable to do anything. I cried with frustration, beat myself up with failure, drowned in self-hatred. I feared. I feared getting left behind, losing all the work I had put into my body, feared people thinking I was lazy or weak. But mostly, I feared getting fat. Because in my eyes, that was the ultimate failure.

And so before my body was healed, I started to work out again. Each time would see me back where I’d started, in pain, on the floor, unable to walk. I did this for months, until I just no longer could. Until I had to listen to my body, surrender to what it needed. Rest. Recovery time. Gentle walks. Stretching. Yoga.

No more sweat-pouring, fat-burning, muscle-aching workouts.

At first it killed me, this surrendering. It yelled defeat, poked and prodded into my deepest places of insecurity and challenged my self-worth to the core; more bound in my body image than I realised. It’s subtle, the infiltration of what we are programmed to believe is beauty, we don’t realise the way it creeps into us, the way we yield to society’s standards even when we think we are immune to them.

Eventually, it became easier to surrender, easier to let go of the demands I had placed on myself to look a certain way. I stopped seeking my value in the number on the scale and found it instead in my mind, my heart, my character, my contribution to the world. I shed lies, so many lies, of what I had come to believe beauty should be. I realised I had nothing to prove to anyone. Every day I practiced kindness, spoke to myself the way I would speak to any other woman.

Beautiful woman, who you are, right now in this moment, is perfect.

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I know you don’t believe me. I know you fill your head with your pre-requisites of beauty. A flatter tummy. Toned arms. Size 10. Lose another five kilograms.

But I understand now.

Beauty isn’t measured in centimetres, my dear.

And the moment you understand will be the moment you find freedom.

You’ll begin to exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it. You’ll eat food that brings you life and health because your body craves nourishment, not deprivation. You’ll run in the sunshine because it brings you joy, not because you’ve earned punishment. You’ll let go of striving, of negativity, of guilt and frustration and failure.

But mostly, you’ll come to realise how beautiful you really are. How strong, how brave, how kind, how intelligent, how clever, how funny, how generous, how thoughtful. How much you love. Not how much you weigh.

Beautiful woman, stop.

Stop striving to be skinny, as if that’s the only measure of your worth.

Instead, strive to change the perception of beauty, the lies we have been told.

Strive to empower women, our daughters, through the truth of their worth.

Strive to see how beautiful you really are, right now, exactly in this moment.

And then watch the world become more beautiful, because of you.

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The Year My House Of Cards Fell Down

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The winter solstice falls again today, landing hard against my birthday as it does every year. The irony is never lost on me, that the one day of the year I wish would last forever actually carries the shortest amount of daylight hours and seems to end oh-so-much faster than any other day. I’ve stopped believing I was born on this day because God hates me, rather, I now relish in the justification of more hours to spend by the fire with a bottle of red. Maybe God doesn’t hate me so much after all.

I hold no sentimentality about birthdays. I don’t sit and ponder on years gone by or years still to come or anything of the sort. Usually it’s more of an obsessive search for unbidden grey hairs and an excuse to eat two pieces of cake rather than one.

But as I walked outside this morning, bare feet on damp earth, winter sun against my back, my heart bursting open with gratitude, I realised how significant this year has been for me.

How much I have lost. How much I have found.

How much I have let go of. How much I have taken anew.

How much I have changed. How much I have learned.

But mostly, how much I have grown up.

The growing up is the hardest. The moment you face your own truth. Your house of cards, so precariously built on cracked foundations, falls down around you, and you are faced with a choice. Rebuild the same house, the same way, knowing you will suffer another inevitable collapse? Or build a new house, one that will finally be on foundations strong enough to hold you together this time?

See, the thing is, some of us had help building our houses.

And some of us did not.

For those of us who floundered without help, we played pretend. We didn’t know how to lay strong foundations, build unshakeable structures, lay bricks in straight lines that wouldn’t fall. So we watched others build their houses, and we copied. It didn’t matter if their ways were right or wrong, truth or lies, healthy or destructive. We just knew we needed some kind of shelter from the storms that raged around us, so we built with flawed tools and foolish hands. We did the best we could with how little we knew.

But we knew our houses weren’t built well. They were thrown together with crooked lines and uneven edges, unbalanced, unstable. We looked at the houses around us, built by those who were taught well, and we were ashamed of what we’d built. So to hide our shame we put up a wall of perfectionism, a shield that kept everyone away. That way they would never see what a mess our house really was. They would never know our foundation was built on lies, our bricks laid upon cover-ups, our walls painted with the picture of the life we wanted others to believe we had. The life we wished we had.

We were driven by one thing. To keep up the appearance of perfection, no matter the cost. No matter how many lies we had to tell, no matter how many secrets we had to cover up, no matter how many people we had to hurt in order to keep them from seeing beyond the façade. We couldn’t let anyone see inside our house, into the broken mess we had built with our own two hands. We never meant to harm or hurt. We never meant to deceive or betray. These things grieved our hearts. We were simply so desperate for others to believe we were whole, we were the same. Our greatest fear was exposure. That others would see into our houses of shame, and would hate us more than we already hated ourselves.

Those of us who have dwelled in these houses of pretence know what it takes to hold them together on the outside when we feel them begin to collapse on the inside. We clutch at our survival skills, our defense mechanisms, our skills of adaptation, unwilling to let them slip from our grasp. They have become so much a part of us, we have no idea how to live without them.

Until there comes a day when we no longer can. Our ways of survival are all we have known, the only way we have known how to live, and they served their purpose when there was no other way to make it through the chaos. But we no longer need them. They no longer serve us. And we know we can no longer continue to live in such destruction.

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It’s often not the storms that blow our makeshift houses down, not the wind, the fire, the rain or the floods. Our houses are surprisingly strong. We are survivors, after all. We can withstand any force of hell thrown upon us.

Instead, we are often dismantled by our own breath. By one moment of stillness when we dare to look inside our house. It hurts as we survey the damage, the destruction. It hurts to think of how many years we have lived like this, and what that has done to us, and the ones that love us. And in that moment we know. We just know.

We no longer want to live this way.

Slowly, we begin to tear down the walls, dismantle the structures, wipe out the foundations. It takes courage. It takes persistence. We feel exposed and vulnerable, we get tired of the renovations and long to crawl back into our familiar hovel. But we continue the work. We stop blaming others for their lack of help in building our houses, and take it upon ourselves to learn new ways, better ways. We find it within ourselves to lay a foundation of truth, build walls of integrity, floors of authenticity, ceilings of strength and courage. But most of all we build large windows, where the light will always pour into the core of our very being.

We no longer need to hide in the darkness of our shame.

The year gone by has been significant in many ways. It’s the year I stepped into my destiny and called myself a writer. The year I became a yogini. The year I put away my scales, drank red wine with no guilt, embarked on my first novel, began to work through my PTSD, fell in love with Grey’s Anatomy, learned to honour my creative process, learned to forgive myself, love myself, embrace this journey that is uniquely mine.

It’s the year my house of cards fell down. The year I had to choose whether to continue to hide in the shadows of my paper house, or stare my truth in the eye and begin the work of change, of rebuilding myself on a solid foundation.

It’s the year I found freedom.

It’s the year I finally grew up and stepped into the woman I was always meant to be.

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Rape Culture Exists Because Men Rape. Not Because Women Drink.

Caidoz

Let me tell you about this time I crossed the road. I didn’t have to cross the road, but I wanted to. I was warned against it, told it was dangerous, told I could get hit by a car. But I didn’t heed the warnings. I wanted to live, unafraid. I wanted to trust in the goodness of the drivers, the goodness of humanity. I wanted to believe that just because I walked across the road didn’t mean I would get hit by a car.

Except, I did get hit by a car.

I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t standing in the middle of the road. But even if I was, it didn’t have to hit me. But the driver hit me anyway. He chose to hurt me. He saw me there, and he didn’t wait while I crossed. He didn’t help me, or make sure I was safe. He hit me.

And then he told me it was my fault, because I crossed the road even though I knew it was dangerous. If I hadn’t crossed the road, then he never would have hit me.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

Yet, this was the argument put across this week by a renowned Christian blogger in response to Brock Turner and the Stanford rape case.

As I sat and read the gut-wrenching letter the victim wrote to her attacker, my heart cracked open in my chest. Grief flooded my body, puddles of tears gathered on the table in front of me for the way this woman suffered.

And then I read this tweet, written by this blogger, whose claims to write only Absolute Truths:

 “Drunken hook up culture is the problem, not “rape culture”. Women can protect themselves by not participating in hook up culture.”

And no longer was I filled with grief, but instead, rage. Rage that a white, privileged, Christian, male blogger would dare insinuate that this woman, or any woman, is responsible for being raped simply because she went to a party, drank too much and mingled amongst a drunken hook up culture, to quote his words.

At what point did it ever become okay to place the responsibility of rape upon a woman? To point the finger at how much she chose to drink, the length of skirt she chose to wear, the party she chose to attend, the time of night she chose to walk home? To make her somehow feel it was her fault because of the choices she made?

Alcohol doesn’t equal rape. A short skirt doesn’t equal rape. Nor does a party, an empty street or a consensual hook up. What equals rape is lack of consent. And when a woman is unconscious behind a dumpster, nearly naked, being raped by some pretty boy swimmer, there is no consent. In fact, when a woman is fully conscious and being raped, there is no consent. When a child is raped by a trusted family member, there is no consent. When a wife is raped by her abusive husband, there is no consent. Rape is not something that only happens in hook up cultures, when there is alcohol and loss of inhibition.

And this is exactly what enables a rape culture. Men who hold women accountable. Men who condemn women for their lack of modesty, who claim this is the reason they sin. Men like Turner, who said he rationalized that “since we had been making out where each of us fell to the ground, that it would be a good idea to take things a step further.” Yes, she fell to the ground. Unconscious. And then he took it a step further, without her consent, or even her awareness. And then claimed he was the victim.

To insinuate a rape victim responsible for her victimization because of a choice she made or didn’t make is perhaps the most shameful words ever written by a male.

Because here’s the thing. I don’t deny hook up culture is a problem. But rather than condemn women who choose to drink too much and hook up, I choose to look beyond the action and see the cause. To realise what we are seeing is the result of a broken generation, a generation of women desperate to be noticed, to be seen, to be loved. Because regardless of the façade of hook ups and casual sex and friends with benefits, nothing has changed. Girls are still just looking to be loved. Not raped.

The problem doesn’t lie with hook up culture, it never has. The problem lies with the foundations of our society being built upon male privilege, boys not being taught to respect and value women, men being taught through porn industries and the like that women are nothing more than objects of no value to be used for their gratification.

And yes, even through biblical teaching that places men in the position of authority, which women must submit unto. Cue said blogger, who also quoted, “We can’t end rape culture if we don’t end hook up culture.”

No, we can’t end rape culture if men continue to rape.

But this is how we can end rape culture.

Teach our sons what it means to be real men. That real men respect women. Remind them they are here because they were carried by a woman, birthed by a woman, nurtured at the breast of a woman. They were rocked to sleep in the arms of a woman, cared for by the hands of a woman, taught of life by the wisdom of a woman.

Teach our sons to value women, cherish them, love them. To uphold them. Never to hurt them. To honour the strength of their manhood through the protection of women, not through the dominance of them. 

But mostly, teach our sons that real men don’t rape a girl who has blacked out a party. They pick her up and carry her home to safety.

Because drunken hook up culture is not the problem. Women not protecting themselves is not the problem.

Men who believe they are entitled to rape is the problem.

And that, right there, is the Absolute Truth.