A colleague recently sent me a YouTube video called “An Epidemic of Beauty Sickness.”
To be honest, my first thought was, “Ugh. Another useless rant about our cultural addiction to thinness.”
But, given that this is the year I decided to embark on a full-scale about-face in how I accept (or don’t) my own body shape and size, I kept her email to watch….later.
“Later” came today.
For the record, I am so glad I saved the link – so glad my colleague thought to send it my way – so grateful to the researcher (Renee Engeln) who braved the disdain of her own colleagues to pursue her research in this area.
I have discovered in Renee a kindred spirit – a no talk, all action, balls-to-the-wall, let’s call it like we see it kinda gal.
In 15 minutes (courtesy of TEDx), Renee outlines the issue, how it harms us, the choices we have, practical steps to make those choices, and the potential (positive) outcome if we do.
Not so long ago, I found myself standing on a warm, sunny, sandy beach in my very favorite place on earth.
My folks and I were passing a pair of binoculars between us.
The focus of our avid interest?
Soft round brown harbor seals.
After struggling through half a mile of soft sand on foot, we burst over the top of the High Head dunes on Cape Cod to discover them by the hundreds, basking on the warm sand and bobbing happily in the surf with just their plump sweet noses upturned towards the sun.
We were riveted.
Suddenly I heard myself exclaim, “I love seals and all their round soft cute rolls of blubbery goodness!”
Did I really just utter the equivalent of “I love blubber?”
Yet there I was, standing on the beach beside them, feeling uncomfortably, well, blubbery, myself.
The older I get, the more perspective I gain about what works for me – and also what doesn’t.
For instance, trying to manage the stressors of life by using eating disordered behaviors doesn’t work.
Drinking caffeine all day to keep my energy level at a consistent “high” doesn’t work.
Ruminating excessively on all possible “worst case scenario” outcomes doesn’t work.
Taking handfuls of over-the-counter mood management supplements doesn’t work.
These are just a few examples.
What works for me is quite simple: medication + meditation.
Specifically in that order.
Meditation without medication offers some benefits, as does medication without meditation.
But together, they have forged an alliance that has given me a quality of life I had no thought possible.
Such goes my favorite line from one of my new favorite movies, “The Sapphires” (2012).
The film is based on the true story of an all-girl singing troupe who entertained the troops during the Vietnam war.
As aborigines living in their native Australia, the girls were marginalized – even hated. They were not even classified as people by their own government, but instead were considered part of the “flora and fauna.”
A chance meeting with a white talent scout puts them on the road to stardom, but even before this occurs, it is so clear they already have what many stars-in-the-making (and people, for that matter) will never have – a solid foundation of self-esteem to live from.
In fact, when the film opens, one of the future girl singers has just been left at the altar. Even while crying it out in the presence of her mom and sisters, she looks at her face in a hand mirror and bravely says to her mother, “Who wouldn’t love this?” (technically, she names her former fiancé here, but one can substitute any name with the same effect).
And throughout the film, in similar fashion, the girls pull no punches with one another, their scout-turned-manager, or themselves.
They may be young….they may be inexperienced in the ways of the world….but they are not letting any of that get under their skin.
Recently, I happened across a post on marine ecologist and author Carl Safina’s website called “How to Be Important After Graduation (Anytime Really).”
I wish I could remember anything – even a single word – our commencement speaker shared the day I graduated.
If any of the words had been these words, I know I would still remember them.
Carl begins his speech by saying “graduation is always a joyful time.”
It wasn’t joyful for me.
It was scary, and strange, and artificial.
I felt lonely and very much unprepared.
I wasn’t ready for any of it, but it wouldn’t wait any longer. I could hear it in the background stamping its increasingly impatient little foot, telling me I’d better hurry up and get ready….”or else.”
I was in my late 20′s, and well into my struggles with anorexia and bulimia, before I began to perceive a tangible difference between “my body” and “me.”
After so many years of casually speaking about “my body,” “my mind,” “my heart,” “my spirit,” I finally started to wonder just who the “my” was who claimed all of these things.
Who owned “my body?”
Who was in charge of “my mind?”
Who sensed the presence of “my heart?”
Who was it who spoke of “my spirit” with such confidence?
Well, it must be …. “me.”
All at once, I became deeply curious about just who this “me” was who rated a body, a mind, a heart, a spirit all her own.
With this post, I return again to that literal tome of life wisdom, “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
I have always learned so much from my animal companions….and continue to do so each and every day.
I also love watching nature documentaries that follow animals during their day-to-day lives so I can learn.
Sometimes while I’m watching these programs I think, “Oh, no, I could never eat termites for lunch!” and that is that.
At other times, the documentary reveals something so profound….a shared sense of deep and timeless, well, humanity – only the species I share it in common with is not technically “human.”
At a particular point in Safina’s book, he is describing the despair researchers have often felt as they have battled against humanity, global warming, inertia (from the general public, interested parties, and other scientists), and the suffering of the sea turtles themselves to maintain the hope for species regeneration.
All the senior professionals…..they all work from hope. They’re not the types to gloss over problems or look through rose-tinted lenses. Quite the opposite; they’ve been the first to sound alarms. They’ve felt despair and fought despite it. I’ve learned this by observing the real professionals who go the distance. You dodge despair by not taking the deluge of problems full-bore. You focus on what can work, what can help, or what you can do, and you seize it, and then – you don’t let go. What they see, and what I’ve come to see, is the possibility of making things better. That’s what hope is: the belief that things can get better. The world belongs to people who don’t give up. (emphasis added)
But wait – it gets even better:
If you’ve been following this blog for longer than five minutes, you already know I’m a staunch champion of mentoring (plus the blog title kind of gives it away).
And not just for eating disorders recovery, either, or even for recovery in general – I’m also a huge fan of mentoring just for living life.
Mentoring (like feathers) makes everything better.
From the moment I met my first mentor, the alienation I had always felt from everyone and everything else began to fade.
At last, another being SAW me.
A single other soul really LOOKED at me – into me – noticed me.
I felt known – like my name suddenly took on greater meaning, and so did my life.
If I tripped and fell, someone else would care (and bring a band-aid and antiseptic wipes).
If I had a great day (or even a great minute) someone would cheer and celebrate with me.
The gift of mentoring changed my life – my whole world.
Since founding MentorCONNECT in 2009, I have been working with a wonderful researcher, Dr. Marisol Perez, and her team at Texas A&M University to quantify the value of mentoring as a source of support during the eating disorders recovery process.
I have been blogging a bit about a fabulous book called “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
At some point, this book has become less about gaining a simple “tortoise education” and more about learning how to simply live life.
In one of my favorite quotes, the author writes (this about watching a single baby sea turtle enter the surf for the first time, encouraged in its first steps by a group of witnessing conservationists):
I wonder if this is the end of something ancient or the start of a future regained. I’m not certain what it is, but I know what it means: it means there truly is hope. Other peoples, other species, even other kinds of sea turtles – in situations as bad, sometimes worse – have recovered. Turtles have taught me this: Do all you can and don’t worry about the odds against you. Wield the miracle of life’s energy, never worrying whether we may fail, concerned only that whether we fail or succeed we do so with all our might. That’s all we need to know to feel certain that all our force of diligent effort is worth our while on Earth. (emphasis added)
And in fact, I told myself this very thing (although not so eloquently) when I first began my mighty struggle to recover from anorexia and bulimia.
The odds seemed powerfully stacked against me – leaning over me like a slobbering muscular bully, in fact.
My “support team” was minimal – one mentor, and me.
I had no money for therapy – inpatient, outpatient, or any other kind.
No one – least of all me – really understood what was wrong with me or how to fix it.
And I wasn’t yet fully convinced that what was wrong was a “something” – that it wasn’t just me, consummate failure at life and all things.
Yet I had nothing but time at that point, and I wanted to try.
I don’t typically pay much attention to daily news.
This is because I know if really big news hits, I will hear about it from someone.
Such is the case with Nature‘s recent discovery.
It would seem our universe is quite a bit more vast than we may have previously assumed it was.
With study results titled, “this is the most detailed map yet of our place in the universe,” I eagerly scanned the results.
Then I wondered – with surprise – why I wasn’t feeling surprised.
Perhaps is it because I have watched and rewatched the movie “Contact” for years (this movie, of course, is a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel by the same name).
In the film, budding scientist (Jodie Foster) asks her dad if there is other life “out there.”
Her dad wisely responds, “Well if there isn’t, it would be an awful waste of space!”
I guess this has always just made sense to me.