Author Archives: laketothelight

About laketothelight

Feminist. Tea drinker. Cat snuggler. Canadian marryer. Queer. Fat. Lover of movement.

Gendered from birth: our obsession with baby junk


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I’m 33 weeks pregnant on Sunday and there’s one question I’d be pleased to never hear again.

Is it a boy or a girl?

A variation of this question includes what is it? And my personal favourite: do you know what you’re having?

I’ve begun laughingly answering to those with whom I feel comfortable enough oh, we’re having a whale shark. A puppy. A wombat. It’s a semi gracious way to sideline the question and convey that I’m uncomfortable with it, with levity for good measure.

With those I don’t feel comfortable I usually say oh we just want a surprise. I loathe saying this because it is untrue – we actually aren’t telling anybody what junk our baby has, much less allowing others to make that the basis of gender delusions – yet this is the only socially acceptable way I can squirm out of the question without getting into a huge treatise on sex and gender politics. Which I’m not always up for – sometimes the person asking me is a midwife, or a co-worker, or a neighbour, and I’m tired and sore and hungry and just don’t want to get into it right then and there.

This question means a lot though. It tells me so much about how far we have to go when the list of questions about a baby’s identity begins with gender interrogation. It shows how little we know collectively about gender and how it works. How we effortlessly conflate sex and gender, and how sex and gender really still matter. Even though we try to convince ourselves that we’ve evolved, I’m not sure we have.

This mattering, this essential base need to know what a baby’s genitals are before we can respond meaningfully to them or connect with them, is so troubling to me. It is rife with projection and reproduction of stereotypes and roles and bio-essential notions and it is the ground zero of all of that. It is where it begins.

Just as a baby’s life begins as cells divide (disclaimer: I am pro choice! Don’t get distracted, I’m being figurative here), I feel their gender journey begins with people putting them into pink and blue boxes. And encouraging parents to with that relentless bloody question, what is it?

It is a useful question from a social function perspective, in that it is a tool for constructing identity from birth, but time and again evidence is showing us how gender stereotypes are toxic and punishing to children. Yes, you can gender your child at birth based on their physical sex characteristics and still work against stereotypes and rigidity and there are many ways to parent in a gender neutral, or gender questioning way. But as parents we should never forget that gender is assigned. It is not, at birth, who children are. We grow into gender, work it out, or don’t. Gender is a mess and nobody decides but us.

Our choice to not assign gender at birth or disclose our child’s physical sex characteristics to anyone beyond those who may need to know for physical care reasons (such as doctors) is a very personal one, and I don’t think it is more “right” than people who assign gender at birth and work on challenge gender notions along the way. There’s a lot of different ways to go about this stuff, and gender is a mysterious muddle we all blunder through together. For us, it feels weird to announce what our baby’s junk is, and all that it would invite to do that feels even weirder.

Cordelia Fine blew my mind when she talked about (in her book Delusions of Gender) how we speak to boy and girl assigned children differently. How we provide for them differently, nurture them differently, teach them differently. I don’t know if I can disrupt all of these things in myself but I can certainly deprive everyone else, for a while, of the main lens through which they may interpret my child. I want them to have a chance for a while at least to just be a child. To just be a human. A person.

I’ll respect, also, whatever my child indicates about themselves. And I acknowledge that some gendering will inevitably happen along the way because we are all subject to and swept into this gender “stuff”. However, I won’t accept rigidity around gender as a fait accompli. I know agency is a myth (thanks Foucault) but you still have to have a crack at things. Do what you can with what you have. And hope for the best.

I resolve, first and foremost, to never ask my pregnant friends what they’re having. It’d be nice if every one else could stop caring about this too – because it shouldn’t matter what’s between a baby’s legs. If it does matter to you, enough to continually hound an expectant parent, that’s on you, not them.

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Bodily autonomy: from birth


It interests me how much right people feel to cuddle a newborn.

The desire to is understandable – they’re cute. They have smooshy, squished up, grunty little faces and they do baby farts and their tiny fingers are delicate and amazing.

But when this desire to hold a newborn tips over into a feeling of entitlement to hold them, I think we see something very different.

When you get huffy or upset or pressure new parents about not “getting a hold” you’re really saying that this baby is an object that exists for your gratification, instead of a person with needs and rights that you holding them may not meet in that moment.

It seems radical to some people to say that babies are people with rights. They are, though. Their bodies aren’t consumables and they don’t exist for our entertainment and pleasure. In fact, babies have no duties to us. Nor do the parents of newborns. Their role is instead to keep their babies safe, and sometimes “safe” means comforted, calm, close to their parents, and not in the arms of strangers (and yes, close family are strangers to a tiny human who has been in the world not long at all).

At 31 weeks pregnant I know I will never feel guilty for denying people cuddles with my baby once they are born if I feel it isn’t right for them to be held by someone else at that time. As their guardian, it’ll be my job to work out when being held by someone other than me is appropriate or not.

As they age, it’s going to be part of a larger patchwork of teaching them that their bodies are their own; and nobody has a right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. There’ll be no forced cuddles in our house.

Bodily autonomy from birth means that we are our own; and touch should always be invited, appropriate and optional. Until babies can show us – and they do, quickly – who they want to be held by, and who they don’t, it’s our job to watch them closely for cues, and make decisions based on them.


In bed with Dr Google (and ok with it)


Triggering for mentions of miscarriage, stillbirth and fertility difficulties

I’ve tried a few times lately to blog about this fertility rollercoaster but with little success. There’s so much to write about, and knowing where to start or finish is a problem. Disclaimer: everything I’m about to write about is subjective, and this is a sensitive topic, so if you think reading about someone else’s fertility “journey” or whatever is going to upset you in some way, stop reading now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the feminism of how we think of and talk about women who are experiencing fertility “issues”. Here I include everything from difficulties falling pregnant to finding out you are categorically infertile for some reason through to pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth/the death of babies shortly before birth. I also include women who have fraught pregnancies due to complications and disability.

I was finishing up reading J.J Keith’s book “Stop Reading Baby Books” yesterday on the bus while doing that “crying strategically behind sunglasses” thing as I read how she described what it felt like after she’d had three miscarriages before carrying her first babe to term. She talked about how she began to think about doing other things with her life; and about how deeply awful it felt to think that her urge for the motherhood of a living baby might never come to fruition.

I’ve now had two miscarriages, and still no baby has come home with me. It does something to you, that. Everyone responds differently of course, but in my case it has fundamentally changed how I approach life events – that capacity to relax and take good things for granted is completely gone. My counsellor said that something many parents grieve as a result of recurrent pregnancy loss is “the death of the carefree conception and pregnancy.” No truer words were spoken.

Yes, I’ve become the stereotypical hyper-vigilant woman who obsessively checks forums and web.md and knows everything you could possibly know about cervical mucus. I’ve watched youtube videos that demonstrate what egg-white mucus looks like, and I know all about how to thin it (Robitussin, but only in the original variety), how long sperm last in it (3-5 days in fertile mucus; 1-2 hours in dry mucus), what an open and tilted cervix looks like, and I’ve pissed on sticks twice a day for a week to pinpoint exactly when I’m ovulating. The things I could tell you about sperm motility and lubricants! About implantation cramps and spotting! About how HCG works, when you start producing it, how quickly it doubles, what a low or high reading means, and how to calculate your expected implantation date, your luteal phase or the best apps to track symptoms. And let’s not even get started on blood thinners and vitamins and iodine and spinach or the impact of the acid in saliva on sperm.

When I think back to the light hearted young lass who got pregnant all those years ago, in 2009, I mourn the death of that bright and breezy sureness that “things will work out.” I sometimes look at my browser history and it takes a good few minutes of scrolling before I get to any links that aren’t pregnancy or fertility related.

I’m sure some friends and maybe even my partner are quietly critical of this now rather intimate relationship with Dr Google, but I am interested in how images and ideas of the “good suffering woman” are constructed when it comes to fertility troubles.

I think our culture is set up to judge and condemn whatever women do, and fertility is one area in which women are often told they are feeling ‘incorrectly’. Firstly, if you have a miscarriage and you’re not that emotionally effected, this is seen as unforgivably pragmatic – as though you’re a cold individual who is incapable of feeling anything at all towards children or the events of your life. And then, when taken to the other extreme, women who are deeply emotionally impacted are seen as taking it too seriously.

If you fall into the camp of someone planning a pregnancy when you’re having trouble getting or staying pregnant, you may find yourself obsessively reading forums, articles, blog posts, and musing constantly in your own head and aloud with interested (and maybe not so interested) others. Let me tell you now: this is normal. Of course you bloody are. Needing to understand and find some answers among the inscrutable mysteries fertility difficulties throw at you is NORMAL AND OKAY. Doctors give scant support at best; hell, even fertility specialists shuffle you in and out speedily. Needing some control and grabbing for it via information addiction? Yep, taxing. But a part of life. You’re not alone, or strange, and if the plethora of users of online forums discussing recurrent pregnancy loss is anything to go by, you’re far from in a minority.

What I find interesting is that when you express exhaustion or emotional disturbance as a result of the massive head-trip this constitutes, you invariably get a lot of judgement from people about how you’re handling things. You aren’t suffering right. You need to just let it happen and just put it out of your mind and you’re just putting pressure on yourself and you want it too much are some of the tidbits of “advice” people offer.

Women who are embroiled in fertility woes are often painted in the media we consume as the pained obsessives who track every basal body temperature in a spreadsheet (pfft, we have apps now) and stand alone staring at a pregnancy test/ovulation test in despair and emptiness. We are supposed to feel sorry for this figure; to pity her and quietly pass judgement on her for “wanting it too much”. Often these women are painted as shrill, partner-organising/bossing harpies who poke and prod and chart and are somehow deeply insecure. Because you couldn’t just be having mundane, fair enough feelings about difficult circumstances, am I right? It is the same sexist, hetero-normative trope of the nag and the high maintenance, highly strung wife delivered through the lens of reproductive issues. It works effectively to erase the legitimacy of women’s experiences.

What winds up happening I’ve found is that many women flock to online forums because here, at last, they can somewhat lay down their burdens and be with their people – other women who are also struggling. Because of the endless judgement and platitudes, stigma and discomfort of others, they address their isolation by finding a  flock online to share information and feel understood – and this is kind of beautiful (while also being kind of problematic and filled with flaws).

While I’ve gotten quite a bit of support from within my immediate friends and family, I’ve still been judged by some I considered close friends. When it happens – when you are told you are suffering wrong – you shut off, go inward, and wind up reading 15 articles on egg quality before crying yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever have a baby and then wake feeling guilty for the reading and the tears. You start to buy in to the idea that you are doing this wrong. Cue more worry and anxiety you don’t need.

As I grow more and more aware of how “struggling correctly” with fertility issues is a fundamentally misogynist way of viewing this experience, it is helping me to let go of some of my apologist feelings and encouraging me to keep toxic people away. I’m getting better at just feeling my feelings, obsessing about what I need to, and being ok with my resting smartphone scroll reflex.


Marriage counselling part 1: clearing the decks, building skills


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My husband and I have been going to couples counselling now for around three months, seeing the fabulous Frances Amaroux who specialises in working on relationships. She has chops as a poly counsellor and understands the intricacies and complexities of building relationships within a poly framework, whatever that may be for the couple concerned.

When we first began seeing her, our relationship was under a lot of stress. We’d just lost our baby in early pregnancy and were trying to unpack the fallout. My husband was struggling with the anxiety of going through the visa process to qualify for permanent residency. We’d sunk into a state of constant conflict and competitive arguments, with a big empathy gap on both sides (despite me thinking at the time that my husband was the only one lacking empathy – I’ve since realised I had some work to do as well). Neither of us was enjoying the day to day of relating to each other because of some serious relationship skills deficits on both sides. Our first appointment was pretty rough, and revealed starkly just how much we were struggling.

Frances was robustly caring, yet pretty frank that we had a lot of work to do. She was also frank about all that we had going for us. She sort of presented us with a choice: break up, or work on our relationship. Neither of us wanted to break up. We just wanted to not feel so miserable all the time.

She took us back to the basics – she talked about the three circles to be cared for: our individual circles or “I spaces” and then the third circle of our relationship or “we space”. I know, it sounds hippy dippy but hey, it’s good stuff to contemplate and getting ‘back to basics’ has been good for us, and in three years we’d just been feeling it out and hoping for the best. She quickly assessed some of our biggest hurdles, and gave us simple tools to start taking them apart.

Thankfully, both of us had a starting point of goodwill, and I’m grateful that’s the case. Knowing that about ourselves, and each other, is the best start. Cunning Minx, a poly commentator who has been podcasting with the amazing Poly Weekly for over 10 years, mentioned in a pod-cast I was listening to the other day that “the assumption of good faith” was a really important ingredient in communication and negotiations. That really struck me and I’ve taken it quite to heart. I now try every day to assume my husband is working on things in good faith, and try in as many ways as I can, to reassure him I am doing the same. That assumption makes a HUGE difference – because how can you possibly work out a problem if you’re convinced your partner is out to get you? Instead if you’re uplifted by the assumption that you’re both trying your level best to work things out with each other’s well-being in mind, you’re liberated from a certain cynicism that really shrinks trust.

We both love each other enormously, and thanks to Frances we’re no longer in constant “emergency” mode. We’re getting increasingly skilled at checking our ego at the door of our marriage and instead focusing on being well in ourselves, taking care of each other’s wellbeing, and taking care of the “third circle”. We’ve concentrated on being ambiently aware of each other’s mental health, how the other person’s day is going, and we’ve also started to assess our individual happiness – how much we are taking care of ourselves personally (because this has a huge impact on how we relate to each other, obviously.) I think my husband has been doing too many practical things for our relationship, and not taking enough time for exercise or hobbies, and he is starting to address that. I’m trying to take better care of my health, and I’ve taken up crochet, which really comforts and engages me. Having a hobby again is great – something just for me. Poly is still kind of on the backburner, but is on the “discuss again soon” list now that things are settling down. Getting our relationship right before engaging with others has been a priority.

Some of the key skills and ideas we’ve learned include:

  • The importance of developing ambient empathy – being aware of each other’s wellbeing and state of being as a basis for making decisions and communicating with each other. We do this by checking in through the day with texts, phone calls, emails or whatever works and using a numbers system – asking how each other are on a scale from “1-10”. That establishes a bit of a baseline from which we can ask questions. “How come you’re only feeling a 5? What’s happening today?” Or “I’m glad you’re an 8! I’m a 9 because I’m getting a lot done at work today.”
  • Not flooding. I’m a BIG flooder. When D asks me a question or we discuss something I TALK AND TALK AND TALK and he only really processes the first two things I’ve said. Using the numbers system above helps make emotional information a bit more concise, and then he can seek out more clarity, little by little, and get a picture of what’s going on that he actually understands. Nothing is gained by me talking if he is unable to process what’s being said. So slowing down and chunking out information is important.
  • Active listening. A lot of lip service is paid to this, and sure I’ve HEARD the term a million times but actually practising active listening well is pretty hard. What is active listening (other than something I need to practice a lot more?) It is when somebody talks and you reflect back to them, paraphrasing and without judging or commenting or adding to it, what they’ve said to make sure you’ve fully understood them. They can then clarify if you’ve not totally grasped it. When you have fully understood them, you can move on to the next point. “So what I hear you saying is that you felt pressured when I asked how long it would be before you can get your citizenship?” Reflect, seek clarity, reflect. Rinse and repeat. It seems like such a simple thing but it really reduces the chances of conflict based on misunderstandings.
  • Owning your shit and not talking for others. This is pretty important because we were both shocking for it. Rather than just talk about how we personally felt about something, we were talking about what each other thought/felt, which was causing a lot of aggrieved feelings. Pretty much nobody likes being spoken for, especially when the other person is making a bunch of negative assumptions. Increasingly, we just try to speak about our own perspective and then inquire as to what each other are actually thinking/feeling.
  • Topping up on affection. Frances encouraged us to keep, as much as possible and is consensual, a constant drip feed of affection and care flowing between us. It could be something small – a touch of a knee, a kiss on the head, a nice friendly text, a shared joke, a cup of tea made, or generally reminding the other person you think they’re pretty cool. Keeping the other person aware that you love them, and they are loved, means the “trust account” gets filled up all the time. When shit hits the fan, we are finding we are now so much more resilient and accommodating of each other because of that baseline of care and tenderness.

I’m really glad we’ve started this process in the aftermath of the loss in early pregnancy of our baby, Elliot, because I think it will make us stronger parents. Both of us (and some of our friends if I’m being honest) were feeling scared about the consequences for a child of our poor communication; my pregnancy with Elliot had really highlighted some of the major flaws in how we connected. And rather than split up and waste the last three (mostly really enjoyable) years, we decided to work on our stuff collectively so we could deal with the issues at hand before I got pregnant again. I am so glad we did! Things are looking so much better, and now that we’re feeling functional again and can go weeks without conflict (and when conflict arises, we are dealing with it SO much more carefully and thoughtfully) I feel we have a fighting chance of having a relationship that actively supports the well-being of another life.

We just got the great news that my husband has been made a permanent resident, which is a huge weight off his and our shoulders. Now that lots of pressures are off, we can breathe a little, and try to enjoy each other as we prepare for the next stage of our lives together.

Next up on this blog: negotiating “job roles” as we embark on our next pregnancy! TBC…


Snarling #12wbt: veganism, eating disorders, orthorexia and the culture of food policing


This post involves discussions of eating disorders and veganism, which may be triggering for you depending on your circumstances. Please read it in a safe space and access support people if you think it will trigger disordered thinking or behaviours for you. Negative comments on this issue from friends aren’t welcome and are actively triggering of ED, so please refrain from that if you know me personally.

This is not an easy post to make because it discusses aspects of my life and identity that have underpinned some of the most important bonds I’ve made in my communities, and who I see myself as. It is a complicated, long post, but I think some of the things I’m going to discuss are important to talk about.

As I’ve been embarking on building a realistic, settled and balanced relationship with my body and food, I’ve discussed a bit about my history with disordered eating here. I’ve posted here about my how my relationship with food has been fractured and dissonant from a very young age.

I remember having compulsive eating behaviours from the age of about eight. I was a compulsive emotional eater, and engaged in covert or “sneak” eating – a mountain of mugs built up under my bed from quiet gorging on icing (frosting) that I would make and eat with a closed door. Sneak eating is still something I do, though I try to minimise it. I can’t remember if I ever saw covert eating modeled for me, though I think all of us have seen compulsive overeating in our communities.

Disordered eating, even if it doesn’t develop into a diagnosable disorder, is really common and was very observable in the interactions of the microsystem I grew up in, particularly with my parents and siblings (holler ecological systems theory and Bronfenbrenner) – and I think that’s influenced by and tied up in lots of non-medical social stuff, particularly around gender from our macrosystems. Hiding food is something I think lots of women do, or at least, I’ve known lots of women to do it. And fixation on food and dissonance around how we think and behave is not the fault of the individual in a wider sense, because our culture encourages it in everyone, especially women.

So, my baseline throughout my life has been to have a very quirky relationship with food – I have reflexively used it to service every emotional state. Celebration, sadness, shame, self hatred, joy, feeling ill. My thinking around food has tended to be historically very extreme – food has been good vs bad, and eating certain foods has by extension made me good or bad.

Food is interwoven fairly inextricably in how I process my feelings and identity. Untangling that is not totally possible, though taking steps to minimise the entanglement is positive for me.

When I was 20, I discovered a lot of things about animal testing and the way that animals are treated in food production that disturbed me (and still disturb me) and my response to this information was to exclude animal products from my diet, very strictly. I went vegan. This conversion happened over a period of a week. It was pretty sudden and pretty dramatic (like a lot of things I’ve done in life!) I think that my response was a rational and positive one.

Veganism can be a rational response to cruelty. It is. I believe that. I believe everyone has the right to choose to distance themselves from systems that they observe as harmful. I think veganism is pretty rad as a way to disengage and also engage with systems that are often unspeakably awful.

I became more involved in the vegan community online, and made lots of friends in the Sydney vegan community, who now remain some of my deepest, most meaningful friendships. I love these people. They are honestly some of the kindest, most gentle and caring folks I’ve ever known, and they’ve been there for me through thick and thin. I don’t think it is their veganism that makes them awesome, but I think their general disposition towards being concerned about justice and kindness informs their veganism. They want the world to be fairer and kinder, and this is how they go about it.

I wanted (and still want) that too. Unfortunately my disordered eating – cycles of binging and restriction and very polar thinking about food that has distinct mental health outcomes of depression, anxiety and physical health symptoms (starvation, overeating, swings in weight and blood sugar) – was worsened by veganism. It’s really easy to develop an even more extreme set of rules (and ways to rebel from these rules) about food when you’re following an ethical framework that sets out, very clearly, “good” and “bad” foods. The labels are a bit different – “ethical” vs “unethical” but the thinking is so close as to be the same. For a person with ED, separating disordered eating from veganism is close to impossible. I’m very proud of people who through therapy and lots of personal work are able to do this.

The problem for me became that my ED both caused ‘lapses’ from veganism because of it’s nature and my veganism caused behaviours with my ED, because of culture of the framework.

When you’re vegan, you feel the weight of the suffering of all animals on every meal, on every bite (and many vegans would argue you should, and that this constant gnawing guilt is positive. I personally think that’s a bit fucked up.) Every choice you make takes on global, massive, heavy significance. And let’s be honest here: many (not all) vegans scrutinise each other and everyone else. They just do. They scrutinise others in the same way people do on thinspiration/pro-ED forums. They do in the way hardcore paleo people do. The organic crew. The no-sugar people. They do in the way any group others people outside the club. And I know what vegans say about other people when they’re 100% sure no other non-vegans are in the room because of how long I flew stealth because of shame, before awkwardly admitting in a few calculated safe-risk situations that I wasn’t as pure as my friends.

I went away for the weekend with a girlfriend/partner back in the day, who was vegetarian but pretty accepting/non judgemental of most folks, and at the time I was pretty seriously vegan. I remember sitting down for a buffet breakfast at this fancy, lovely hotel and agonising over eating the mushrooms (which may have been fried in butter, but I didn’t know either way and it was killing me). Her gentle, kind words (which I’m kind of paraphrasing here because it was a long time ago!) have always stuck with me: it’s just a plate of mushrooms. You eating these mushrooms doesn’t make you a good or bad person.

If there’s one thing you know how to do as a person with fucked up eating, it’s hide things and worry about what everyone will think. The thing that is sad about veganism and some other frameworks for eating, is that the fear of social exclusion is not ill-founded, and being on the receiving end of abuse and hostility is a real thing that happens (especially online – like many other folk, vegans are some of the worst keyboard warriors I’ve met). I think it’s a bit more intense with veganism though than say, organic eating, because it can go to the core of how people see themselves in their world. I was intensely worried about what eating those mushrooms would mean for my friendships, and my whole sense of self. Who was I, if I ate the mushrooms? Was I bad or good? Was I worse or better? It was deep ED land, compliments of veganism.

I know that’s not a nice thing to hear, but it is true. Vegans need to stop and think about how what they do and say may be actively triggering and harming people in their ranks (and outside of them. And I’d argue that distinction is heaps more murky than people like to acknowledge). And while veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders, it can make them worse without heaps of support and critical reflection, and I’m not sure that kind of support and reflection goes on in these communities enough. I really do believe people with ED are attracted to things like veganism and say, paleo or low carb eating as well, because of their strict rules. I know I was.

It’s all very muddy and hard to pick apart when you really sit down and look at how it all interacts. I would engage in sneak eating of forbidden cheese because it was “bad” and doing bad things felt good (and then bad again very quickly) and I would then renounce cheese and engage in ritually shaming myself (mostly in my head). I would also engage in shaming and criticising others (sometimes on this blog!) for eating non vegan foods, mostly online (because hiding behind a keyboard and sneering at vegetarians/omnivores is a lot easier than doing it in person at a dinner party, where you have to deal with the social consequences of the actual rudeness of saying these things to another person’s face). Shaming others for food choices is a pretty classic ED behaviour which I don’t do any more because I am aware of it, and check it. It makes me sound like a dick and it ruins connections with others. There are other ways to talk about veganism that are more positive and helpful for everyone (who doesn’t love a vegan cupcake stall, or vegan cooking blog, am I right?)

And I am not vegan at the moment. That’s really hard to type. HARD, PEOPLE. I hide my non vegan things (see how I say “things?” rather than naming the actual items? Yep) in the opaque vegetable crisper drawer of my fridge because I am just so fucking ashamed and terrified of my non vegan friends seeing my dirty shameful food. In my head, no matter what I do, I can’t separate the eating of an egg (though a painstakingly researched free range, low concentration of hens per hectare egg) with being an evil person. This may sound bonkers to you, but it isn’t wild thinking in the context of the vegan community. The answer isn’t as simple as not eating the egg either, because the underpinning psychological tic just lays dormant, waiting for another object to affix itself to. And I need complex conditions under which I can stop feeling the guilt and shame (such as being abroad, where making vegan choices is way way harder, therefore being vegetarian is less of a transgression. Welcome to the merry-go-round, guys!).

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

There’s a name for this manifestation of ED, and while it isn’t a diagnosable condition, it’s pretty spot on (and I didn’t know about it until a friend mentioned it in passing to me today and I was pretty much like WOAH and that prompted this post). It’s called ‘orthorexia’ and you can read more about it here, and here, but basically it is “righteous” eating. To quote:

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating.  It is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).”

I believe that orthorexic thinking is, at least for me, something that can crop up for people who are trying to overcome restriction and binging. It’s a nifty little side step in which ED can hide. I’m not counting calories! I’m eating healthy! I’m not logging my food, I’m just NEVER EVER EATING SUGAR. I’m not obsessively exercising, I’m just religiously having a green smoothie every day and excluding gluten (even though I’m not gluten intolerant or coealiac). I’m not weighing myself, I’m just feeling like a saint because I’m only eating organic food. I’m better. I’m healthier. I’m good. You might not be pathologically orthorexic, but I bet a lot of us “good feminists” (hello, more purity politics) recognise these thoughts!

There’s been some famous cases of orthorexia and people being honest about their food habits, such that of Jordan Younger – and some heavily oppressive flack they’ve copped for that honesty. I get grumpy at the coverage of this – you’ll notice a distinctly anti-vegan, pro-meat tone in some of the articles (hooray, this silly person now eats meat again just as they should! Down with vegans!) or a pro-vegan subtle weight loss message (do we really need to include before and after photos of the person who had dramatic weight loss due to their restrictive veganism? Who is that useful for? So basically we’re still ogling and approving of the skinny, right? Fuck off.) Personally I think Jordan Younger is really fucking brave to do what she did. 

I should be really clear in writing this post that I think our politics around food need to start functionally omitting discussions of blame, “total” behaviours, or polarity. If I could encourage myself and others to have one personal affirmation, it would be “I am not my food, and my food and habits do not determine my worth.”

That is super challenging as an affirmation because many vegans and healthy eating gurus (including, let’s face it, me still) just Do. Not. Believe that. Or preach it. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message is: your food DOES make you good or bad.

My friend Cassie, who is vegan, is probably one of the most legit excellent vegans I know because when I nervously talked to her about this, she just didn’t judge me (or if she did, she didn’t do it out loud, even if that was super hard for her). I think she saw my anxiety and decided somehow that being a good human was more important than being the vegan police. That giving me a space in which I could be my whole integrated self, and not triggering my ED, was more important that insisting I meet a standard. For that I’m grateful, and even if she doesn’t realise it, I felt closer to her and less fucked up in that moment.

I am facing a new health challenge at the moment that I’m still mulling over, and trying to be critical of when fitting it into my knowledge of myself as a person with “food issews”. My fertility doctor just told me I have the compound heterozygous MTHFR gene mutation, which has implications for how I absorb folate (I don’t do it well, and need to supplement with folenic acid), and has links to recurrent pregnancy loss as well as other health concerns.

There’s a raft of information about eating and living with MTHFR, but my friend flagged with me that it could prompt orthorexic thinking and eating, which is a legit concern. Some of the advice given to people with MTHFR (particularly compound heterozygous MTHFR and single or compound homozygous MTHFR genes) is pretty extreme and I’m not sure yet how scientific some of it is. Some doctors with information online about MTHFR genes recommend excluding dairy and gluten, but the rationale for that I’ve yet to discover.

I’m not feeling triggered by the (so far small) changes I need to make to diet and supplementation because of MTHFR so far. I know I’ll need to monitor that, though. There is always within me the potential to find just another new way to limit or alter my behaviours for piousness. And the potential for that around making babies? Huge, because of how huge the stakes are emotionally. There’s few things I want more than to take home a healthy baby at this point, so I need to be reeeeally careful I don’t unthinkingly use that to support making wild choices. 

The #12wbt probably does provide a holding space for people with orthorexic thinking and behaviours, I don’t doubt. Loads of it is triggering of those thoughts in me. There are messages around altering your social ties, avoiding or altering social situations and creating defence mechanisms for eating “unhealthy” foods that definitely cater to orthorexia.

But on the other hand, Michelle Bridges does preach balance. She talks about the whole journey being important, not the destination. There’s lots of contradictions in the message, but she does try to encourage people to be real about their eating and not judge themselves for what they eat, instead being consistent and generally nutritious, not perfect. There’s so many competing ideas in the #12wbt but I think an effort is made to navigate away from extreme eating, and to include a range of foods. There’s no eschewing of sugar or carbs or fat. There’s a little bit of everything, and I like that.

This post is not designed to say that veganism is bad, because I don’t think it is. I would love to somehow find my way back to being vegan and not feeling fucked up by it, I’m just not sure that will happen any time soon – and I carry daily guilt around about that. I would like to get rid of that guilt (even as some people think I should feel it even more keenly, I’m sure) and reclaim my humanity from the intrusive “not good enough” feeling that always comes from somewhere. Veganism is not bad because ways of eating can’t be inherently bad – but it is complex, and it is made up of flawed humans who sometimes make not very kind choices in how they treat people. In the end, there will always be the vegan who doesn’t give a shit about how people feel because they’re a warrior for animal rights, and then there will be the ones who make you soup and celebrate the efforts you do/can make. The ones who remember that veganism was originally designed to be about what is “practical and possible”. 

At the moment my focus is just on eating balanced meals that have a bit of everything (and by everything I do mean sometimes chips, chocolate and beer) and becoming a person who is generally thoughtful about food but not compelled to act by an internal script of goodnes/badness.

I really want to be able to display chilled out, balanced behaviours around food for my children and minimise purity politics in my home. This probably means they won’t grow up in a home that is 100% vegan and with a Dad that sometimes eats meat (and a Mum who doesn’t feel totally comfy with that choice, but tries not to be a dick about it). I mourn that a bit. I don’t want them growing up thinking veganism is bad though and I want that to be a choice they can make if it is made feeling whole, and empowered, and happy. I recognise that will probably be complicated for them, just as it is for me.

Most of all, I want my kids to know that I will love them no matter what they do or don’t put in their mouths. That their worth isn’t defined by what they eat. While that seems to have skipped my brain, I want to work hard on it being installed in theirs from the beginning.


Snarling #12wbt: fitness, pregnancy and failure


There’s lots of inspiring posts by bloggers and feminist commentators on the web about the way pregnant women are monitored and socially controlled. Notions of success and failure as pregnant women (and as parents) are omnipresent and heavy to shoulder, and many of us uncritically and despite-our-critique internalize and suffer through them. If you’re a feminist who is or who has been pregnant you know what I’m talking about.

During our most recent appointment with the fertility doctor, I willingly (because I want to have a baby) entered into a space where no critique was off the table. My food intake, movement, use of substances like alcohol, sleep and weight were critiqued. Pretty painful and non evidence based statements about the relationship between weight and miscarriage were made (for the record, there is no link between being overweight and miscarriage although there is to being seriously underweight). I was told to make my body like “fertile ground for a baby to grow”. My male bodied partner was asked two questions and fleeting attention was given to his diet. It was all about how I might succeed or fail in my fertility and it was, almost 100 percent, about how that was squarely on me.

This is not really radical or harsh. It’s the norm. Women’s bodies, always under scrutiny, become even more pressured and framed as public property open for discussion (by family, co-workers, friends, doctors, strangers) when people become aware that you are trying to become or are pregnant. If you are already fat, people feel incredibly entitled to comment. Every mainstream book and article drips with judgement for fat bodies. And to resist this in any way is seen as irresponsible and un-motherly. People will give you props if you wholesale drink the koolaid, no questions asked. Be a good girl, be ashamed of your fat.

Here’s where it gets complicated for me. I want a natural birth as much as possible. I am very medically phobic and want to minimise the involvement of obstetricians and interventions in my birth journey. This means doing everything in my fucking power to avoid gestational diabetes, which pretty much boots you from the birthing centre. I am very, very worried about GD. Medically I’m in a “risk category” (we could talk for a long time about how these are used to frighten mostly women, and mostly women of colour regarding pregnancy).

I’m choosing to address my concerns by exercising and eating well but I have to wonder at how much GD is shaken like an angry fist of the gods (mostly by obstetricians, GPs and birth lit) rather than just put on the table as a necessary thing to negotiate much like fatigue and morning sickness. It’s a thing that bodies do, but unlike nausea and tiredness, GD is directly linked to weight and weight is an issue through which we can control women.

It features more thought, but the politics of pregnancy are pretty deep. I am privileged in that I have enough able bodiedness to avoid some of the worst of it, but I definitely get some blowback.

For some interesting reading about how fitness is a site of failure and success in fertility and pregnancy, you can always read Alice MacLachlan’s words over at Fit Is A Feminist Issue.


Snarling #12wbt: One month in – what’s stuck?


I’m now a month into the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation. What’s the verdict so far?

Not as triggered as I thought…but by design.

I knew going into this program that there would be loads of triggering shit in the videos and the forums and the articles, so I’ve chosen pretty carefully and wisely what I read and when. I’ve basically avoided reading anything on days I’ve felt like crap, and just followed the food plans and done a bit of moving.

I’ve definitely had more “weight loss-esque” thoughts and feelings than I’d like, and there’s definitely moments where I’ve been more focused on my moderately shrinking body and how it looks in the mirror than the joy of moving and eating with joy and structure. But I would say those moments have been in the minority. And because of the intentionality with which I approached re-ordering my eating (I’m surprised at actually how big a part that has played in making me not go off the compulsive deep end), I think I set up some good decisions that have shaped my approach throughout. I’m coming back to my mantra of “happy habits” (doing things that make me happier in the short and long-term) rather than worrying about my waist.

For instance, I’ve worked out that I just generally do not want to work out five to six days a week. I get that some women doing this program “religiously” follow the exercise plans, but I can’t be fucked. Really, if that’s your bag, go for it. But ill health and exhaustion aside, I simply just cannot be bothered getting to the gym full time. I’ve discovered that it is more important to me to be ENJOYING and WANTING the movement I engage in, than to go hard and slam myself. I am just not interested in that.

I’ve also discovered that unlinking my brain from any kind of feeling of obligation to the program (oh I’m paying for this! I should be following everything it says!) is of less value to me than being a grown ass woman who makes decisions for herself based on what she can and wants to be doing, guilt free. Don’t want to go to the gym? Want to go for a short walk instead, or crochet and decompress from a crapper of a day? Don’t mind if I do. We are not obligated to move. It should be a joy. And when I’ve done it over the last four weeks, it has been increasingly a joy, not an obligation.

I like exercising with people AND THEN AGAIN, alone.

Oh the duality of this! I have discovered that some days I want to be walking and chatting with my honey, and some days I want it to just be me and the cross trainer. Makes sense that movement can be a lot of different things, and that it doesn’t also have to be the focus but instead a backdrop to social engagement, chatter, thinking aloud, laughter, or time alone. Just as eating is more than fuel, I’m discovering that movement is more than reps and time goals.

My eating is radically fucking different and BETTER.

Biggest differences to eating in this house for both myself and my husband include:

  • Low sodium cooking. I never realised how much salt I used in my cooking until it wasn’t there. I rarely use salt in my cooking now, and when I do I only use a very very small amount, and I really notice it when food had added salt (such as the presence of soy sauce, or when I eat a meal out). My husband says he’s finding some meals a bit bland (but then he can add salt. I choose not to and am perfectly happy). I’m enjoying how food tastes without being massively salted – it seems like my palate has reset, and I like it.
  • Much less oil, and when it is there, sparingly and deliciously enjoyed because it is appreciated for it’s own unique flavour rather than being the baseline of my cooking that drowns out a lot of other stuff.
  • Way more fruit and veg. WAY. It’s a joy to open my fridge and BAM, there’s so many pretty colours to look at.
  • A sudden influx of new recipes has meant I’m never bored, and I’m more creative in the kitchen. The cook in me is very happy with new ideas to tinker with, new ways to play with food. None of the food is boring or unattractive. It all looks very pretty indeed in my plate (especially things with red cabbage and snow peas. And we’ve covered my weakness for sweet potato.)
  • Satiety. I feel more full more of the time and the temptation to snack is covered by the two snacks a day inbuilt. I’ve finally broken my habit of eating all of my food in one go at lunchtime – the gorge effect – and I’m learning to pace myself so I can idle along at a nice rate of fullness most of the time. My pattern is somewhat addled by shift work, but mostly not too bad. I eat around 6:30am/7am, snack on fruit around 11am, eat my lunch at 12:30/1:30 and then have a proteiny snack when I knock off, as I’m catching the bus home. Then dinner happens around 7.30/8pm. Eating every few hours means I’m not hangry and much less likely to compulsively eat or teeter into weird ethereal low blood sugar highs which lead to fucked up OMG I’M SO INVINCIBLE WITH MY DIGNIFIED HUNGER, LOOK AT ME, I COULD STARVE LIKE THIS FOREVER. (Yeahhh…disordered eating thoughts are FUN.)
  • I always always always pack my lunch. And our wetbags from Planet Wise arrived so we can kiss disposable glad bags a big fat goodbye.
  • Husband is learning to cook, and is quite good at it. That man can really rock a wok. I love having dinner made for me!

kebabs

Veggie kebab skewers and a couscous salad (above) and our new PlanetWise wetbags for taking lunch to work - no spills!

Veggie kebab skewers and a couscous salad (above) and our new PlanetWise wetbags for taking lunch to work – no spills!

Gone are the days of eating at all hours, relying on takeaway, eating lakes of dhal and feeling sick aftwerwards, giving myself heartburn from using so much damn oil, and never kind of understanding what it meant to stop eating when full. Gone is the scavenging for protein at work and coming up with noodles. Gone is the snacking on random sugary shit from the seven eleven.

Just goddamn decent cooking and plenty of it. Pow!

I’ve still got eight weeks to go and I plan to start saving lots of the recipes and menus so I can keep at it once this round is done. I am beginning to get the inkling that doing the #12wbt will have been a game changer for me in many wonderful ways.

Bring on week 5!


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