[Harvey Keitel:] Ms. Third ward, your first question – what is your aspiration in life?
[Beyoncé:] Oh… My aspiration in life… would be… to be happy.
(Pretty Hurts, Beyonce, The Visual Album).
As part of my journey at the moment to understand my body and my relationships with food and exercise, I’ve been seeking structure.
Sometimes in life I think it’s powerful to admit when you just aren’t strong at organisation. For instance, at work I bring a lot of creativity and passion to leadership in programming and pedagogy, but organising locker tags? A big fat nope. I’m never going to be the lady with a neat and tidy bedroom 100% of the time (unlike my neat freak partner whose love of order is Sheldon-esque).
And having a history of disordered eating is as it sounds: dis-ordered. Disorganised, chaotic, subject to the whims of emotion and external/internal/historical influence. I swing all over the place and cycles of restriction and binging are often exacerbated by being time poor. Exercise, which I love, also goes out the window and gets complicated by emotions and life pressures and plain tiredness. My job is high stress and emotionally/physically/intellectually exhausting. And my relationship and baby making plans have demanded a lot of me lately, and they have definitely pressured my relationship with my body as well.
I’ve sought structure in the past from nutritionists who’ve left me always wanting more, and I don’t have the cash to afford coaching intensives from expensive dieticians and they only vaguely address exercise. “Move more and eat less” is the vaaaaaguest statement ever when it comes to the huge complexities of how we inhabit and understand our bodies. What does that mean day to day? I know eating nutritionally balanced food and enjoying movement (having fun!) are things that make me feel great, but finding a structure to follow has always eluded me. I just cannot generate that shit on my own.
So I started looking for a program I could follow to help me get a handle on disordered eating and start to get into regular exercise patterns, and as a feminist, pretty much every choice sucked. Pretty much NO PLAN allowed you to eat without calorie counting, and had exercise coaching, and everything made me grumpy. Everything seemed to have fat shaming built into it and it was all about goal-orientation – the goal being to reduce body mass. Because that’s like, everything, amirite?
So, left with few truly good choices, I decided to live in the grey. Perhaps I could take what I needed from a program and critique the unhelpful bits. If I worked on my self talk at the same time as benefiting from some structure around eating and exercise, and used this as a chance to actively trigger myself and work on more helpful internal responses to those triggers, I would actually grow a lot more than if I avoided using any program. What if I used the benefits found, and challenged the problematic messages with critical reflection? It’s not a common approach, but it is a pretty genius one.
After lots of thinking, I found the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation and decided to give it my money – at around $19 a week for 12 weeks, it was a shitton less expensive than seeing a dietician and would probably have similar content.
This program is something you could have a body posi feminist field day with. Alongside the (really delicious, filling and nutritionally balanced) meals and (not too horrible) exercise plans, there is both some truly helpful and truly triggering content and thinking.
My intention? To complete the program and reflect in this blog critically as a feminist to de-construct it as much as I can and give some idea of what it feels like to be inside it. I will live out loud here, in the grey, taking good bits and critiquing the bad bits – from recipe discourse to discussion of body types. Hopefully this will act as a self reflection tool while acknowledging the nuanced reality that I live in: that to access health support, we have to work very hard as feminists on our mental health to disassemble body fascism as we encounter it all “mixed up and in” the very support we are accessing.
I refuse to be a blank eager canvas who slurps up what health gurus dish out. Nooope. Maybe, just maybe, we can talk back to the messages and triggers, pull them apart, and put them back together in ways that make more sense to us and are less punishing. Maybe having these conversations about moderating rather than rejecting health narratives is super important. I think so.
I’m going to be talking once a week about, in real terms, what it feels like to work through health messages mixed into much needed support. As well as stepping through how this negatively and positively impacts my relationship with my body, and everything in between. As a fat, queer, non neurotypical woman with disability and a history of disordered eating, who is time poor and has a real, busy life – how does the 12wbt feel in application?
In the words of Queen Bey, pretty hurts. And so very many health gurus are, underneath or even on top of everything they preach, mixing in some very painful ‘pretty’ with some good advice.
I hope other feminist women who may also be utilising some of the tools provided by the 12WBT program can follow along, and those enjoying journeys with their body in general.
I’ll also be tweeting a feminist critique throughout the process using the hashtag #feminist12wbt and you can follow me over the 12 weeks – @geekhag
Here’s to squats & snark!