Archive for October, 2008

12
Oct
08

los thingeles.

I live in a city of thin people.

Let me clarify.

I live in a city filled with thin and beautiful people.

Let me clarify again.

I live in a city filled with people of all shapes, colors, and sizes, but the people I live near, work amongst, and see parading around the hip streets of central Los Angeles are thin and beautiful and cool beyond anything you have ever seen.

Now, the coolness thing I can handle. Nothing is so uncool as the parade of coolness, and whenever I see a scruffy-necked, long-haired, aviator-besunglassed, dirty-jeaned, beautiful-mouthed boy or girl lounging over their espresso or their ginger-infused carrot juice at a cafe or restaurant or sometimes just sitting in the street, I feel fond and sisterly and immensely cooler since I don’t have to try to be cool. I just am. I’m not bragging, it’s the truth. (There’s a certain amount of irony riddled through this last paragraph. Just so’s you know.)

And the beautiful thing I can handle, too. I like beautiful people. I surround myself with them for a reason. The thing is, beautiful isn’t qualified for me by thinness or coolness or regular features or typically Caucasian phenotypes. For me beauty is created by a certain combination of radiant health, personal carriage, clarity of mind and a glowing sense of humor. So I don’t walk around with a cartel of Christy Turlingtons, yet I still think I live and play with beautiful people and one day I hope to have the esteem skillz to count myself among them.

It’s the thinness that doesn’t work for me.

Los Angeles culture, white Los Angeles culture at least, is so heavily invested in thinness and so heavily equates thinness with general prosperity, beauty, and humanity that I’m finding it hard to maintain a mantra of size-doesn’t-equal-health. You know all those commercials and films and fashion magazines that so relentlessly deny worth in any body but the thin one? Yeah, living in Los Angeles is like living IN those commercials and films and fashion magazines. This isn’t a phenomenon for women only, either. A couple of days ago I was eating lunch with some friends at work and a colleague of ours stopped in to chat. He sneaked a sweet potato fry from my plate (which were delicious, mind you) and then moaned, thumped his flat stomach, and said, “Look at this gut! Time for a cleanse.”

A cleanse? Did he mean fasting or an enema? Because either answer proves that the man has an eating disorder if he thinks he needs to radically purge a single sweet potato fry. It also proves that he might have body dysmorphia on top of it, if he thinks his flat stomach is a “gut.” I’m not trying to diagnose him, but I do remember being flabbergasted at his suggestion that day and ready to contradict him (probably a pointless exercise but what can I say) except that my friends responded first with emphatic nods and quick delineations of their own expanding bodies and derailing diets. What? Not a single one of them, from what I can tell, are overweight. They may indeed be unhealthy but no one was talking about health in any real terms – it was all about the size of their bodies. In fact, it was all about certain parts of their bodies, as if their guts or their flabby thighs or double chins were somehow disconnected from the rest of them. The word “health” was tossed around plenty, but it was mostly accompanied by such phrases as “good power cleanses” and “healthy raw food diet recipes” and not about living a happy, active life.

So there’s a certain amount of performance involved here. It’s something I’ve noticed a lot from people who’ve been living in LA for a while (including me): this need to perform one’s health-consciousness or diet-consciousness for the sake of others. Diets and strategies for diets are easily the most discussed subjects at my work outside of politics and general moaning about the workload. People can negotiate their anxiety about their bodies by acknowledging their anxieties (fat thighs, double chins, guts) and then quickly assuring their listeners that they’re about to start a diet to take care of those imperfections. “I know I’m eating a sweet potato fry and that you might associate me with reckless eating and fatness because of the one sweet potato fry, but rest assured, I’m on it, I know I’m fat, and I’m on a diet.”

I’m not absolving myself of this phenomenon myself. I often feel the need to explain to people that I haven’t been fat all my life and that really I’ve been either thin or in a cycle of expanding and contracting the size of my body. That narrative is true, but doesn’t the repetition of it scream thou dost protestest too much?

Just a thought. More of them a-coming.

08
Oct
08

I should be in the bed place.

Yoga class again tonight.  This will not be a yoga blog.  I swear to it.  But.

Tonight’s class was definitely more of a challenge.  I’m definitely getting a better sense of the basic poses (warrior 1 and 2, triangle, pyramid, dolphin, the-dog-that-faces-downward, ooh, how I love that).  A moon salutation, which was cool.  My arms feel especially tired, and I don’t know why because I think we were supposed to be working the lower half tonight.  We did the yogic equivalent of leg-lifts, which made me want to sob (I do not have what the professionals call a “core”)`.  At one point we did the standing-on-one-leg-while-bent-forward-and-sticking-your-other-leg-out-behind-you pose.  And the arm in the air.  I could do one side of that pose but not the other.  Strange: trying to balance on my left leg proved painfully impossible.  Just as we were leaving the class, I tried it again and felt fine.  Not only could I balance, but there was no pain.  We-eird.

What else.  Hmm.  I got singled out again.  The instructor corrected my downward-facing dog, a long-time friend pose that I thought I had nailed back in 1999.  She gave me a reel of instruction, none of which I couldn’t follow, and suddenly I was transported back to ballet class: at the bar, in first position, butt sticking out because I was five and that’s what my butt did, and the ballerina pressing her yardstick against my back to show what “good” posture is and for heaven’s sake, tuck in your rear!

Followed up the class with a Pinkberry yogurt, which makes me the tritest example of an LA person imaginable.  Yoga followed with frozen yogurt.

It was good, nevertheless.  Both.

03
Oct
08

school of diet.

Friends and well-wishers, of which are probably three, and certainly two of them are my mother, I had an epiphanous day.

I teach at a high school. You can imagine what I find there: high schoolers. Young, fresh-faced, eager, awkward high schoolers, not unlike the high schooler I had been (young, eager, awkward, be-spectacled and braced). Being around them reminds me, inevitably, of myself.

Mainly, inevitably, I’m reminded of the way I used to eat back in high school. Classes started so early that I rarely had time to eat breakfast before I left for school; sometimes I would walk to school eating a piece of toast, but more often I simply went hungry, or on a bellyful of coffee. Yes, at fourteen, a bellyful of coffee. And then I’d put in a full morning of classes with nothing to eat. Finally, when lunch rolled around at noon, I’d still be unable to eat because I rarely brought packed lunches. My memory is that I didn’t like them that much, but I’m sure it’s a bit more complicated than that. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that my parents, both from different countries, didn’t know how to pack American-style lunches and I was often ashamed of the food I’d bring and its inability to conform to Wonder Bread and Hi-C standards. Or perhaps I had a squeamish thing about eating apples that had been oxidizing in my backpack for half a day. I do remember that I’d often “forget” a brown-bagged lunch that my mother or father had made and that at a certain point they simply stopped packing me anything, assuming that I was packing something for myself. Which I was not. So often even at lunch time, I’d either go hungry, eat whatever my friends couldn’t finish, or if I had some change, I’d buy some junkie snack off the snack cart. More often than not, though, I would not eat a single bite of real food until well past 3 PM every day. And what would I eat once I got home, ravenous and unchecked and unsupervised? Oh, God, everything. Everything I could find. And I’d keep on eating until my father came home and made one of his rich, French-y dinners.

I don’t want to devote this blog to any kind of eating or dieting or caloric minutiae, but I can’t imagine it’s good by any stretch of the imagination for a teenage girl to spend the first two-thirds of her day without eating only to inhale half the refrigerator in a matter of hours. And under a certain amount of emotional stress, but that’s for a different episode of Oprah. The point is, I learned early on to be a disordered eater, to ignore natural calls for hunger, and to organize my eating to accompany social and emotional stresses.

And what’s been going on lately? Teaching high school, moving across country, adjusting back to life in Los Angeles (a dangerous place for any non-normative body). Stress, right? And guess what’s happening yet again. Yup: skipping breakfast, forgetting to pack snacks, and wolfing down a 2 PM lunch of heavy food. And the coffee. Oh, the coffee. Oh, the nine cups of coffee I drank yesterday.

So the epiphany? It’s still epiphanizing, really, but I think the center of what I’ve been realizing is that eating patterns are deeply ingrained. Duh. Of course. HAES folks have been saying it forever, right? But, no, really, those patterns are in you and they have a purpose. Right now, I’m not sure what that purpose is. I can’t say that teaching high school has necessarily “triggered” past behaviors, since I have more or less been following a binge-purge pattern for half my life now. It’s more like I can see the genesis of some of those behaviors, manias, and obsessions — the then me — paralleled with the supposedly adult and ostensibly self-aware me of today. Who is still manic, obsessive, and who still waits way too long in the morning before she eats.

What to make of this, I don’t know.

.alicebody.