Internalized Prejudice

Society’s prejudices and assumptions are tricky. They can sneak in in all sorts of ways you don’t expect and wish you could get rid of.  It’s nearly impossible to grow up without internalizing some sort of prejudice or judgment, and it’s incredibly difficult when you realize that the assumptions you grew up with are wrong. Doubly unfortunately, many of those judgments often intersect with our oppressions: e.g. I have a great deal of internalized fatphobia thanks to my eating disorder, which is incredibly difficult to control and combat. Another example of this might be radical feminists who vehemently oppress trans women. When you’ve been oppressed, you often end up with a lot of hatred towards other people or even towards yourself. But the most interesting examples of internalized prejudice (at least to me) are the times we actively work against ourselves in ways we would never do to others.

It’s often easiest to recognize our own prejudices by how we treat ourselves. Oftentimes our behavior towards ourselves is far more honest than our behavior towards others. Our behavior towards others is more often moderated by societal norms, group expectations, shaming behaviors from others, and empathy. Interestingly, many people appear to find it easier to express empathy towards others, whereas towards themselves they rely on rules and “shoulds”. We fall back on the things we’ve internalized because trying to inhabit our own emotions can be more difficult than inhabiting someone else’s.

But the ways that we treat ourselves in comparison to others can reveal a lot. If you have a great deal of privilege and treat yourself super well and think awesome things about yourself while you simply treat other acceptably, that says something. Or if you treat yourself like crap over things like weight, gender, or mental health status, this might reveal some internalized prejudice. Oftentimes these are things you don’t even notice at first. But if you take the time to examine each judgment and negative thought you have about yourself, you might realize that it rests on a myth about how people should be.

As an example, I’ve been incredibly insecure for some time about my sexuality. I don’t have a high sex drive and I’ve often felt that I’m broken or that something is wrong with me when I’m not actively attracted to someone that I love and want to be with. I’ve often avoided thinking about it out of fear that I have some sort of trauma in my past that I haven’t processed, or that I don’t really trust people. It was only after reading a number of websites about asexuality that I realized that some people are simply wired to not have a strong sex drive. There’s nothing wrong or broken about it. The judgment that I had towards myself was actually reflecting an attitude about anyone who differentiated from the sexual norm. I was even medicalizing my own difference, telling myself that asexuality was a mental or physical defect, or that I would get over it when I was healthy. While I thought that I was simply making a judgment about myself, a closer examination revealed that I had some assumptions about what sexuality should be that were highly offensive and erased the experiences of many people (including myself). Many of us have experiences like these.

So what do we do when we make realizations like this? I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with the fatphobia I know I have because of my eating disorder. It’s hard. You don’t know how to treat yourself or others, and you certainly don’t know how to convince your mind that it’s wrong. How do we argue against ourselves? How do we learn to treat ourselves better?

In general I am not a huge proponent of guilt. Generally if you’re feeling guilty you already know you’ve done something wrong, the guilt has already played its role to tell you that you have behaved inappropriately, and from there on out it just turns into self-flagellation. Particularly with internalized oppressions that are directed towards yourself, I can very rarely see guilt being helpful (I can just imagine someone feeling fatphobia towards themself, feeling guilty about it, hating themself even more, and then proceeding to link fat with shitty once again).  When you turn oppression and stigma against yourself, it does not help for either you or others to guilt you or tell you how shitty you are or how you don’t understand. You are the one suffering here, and while your suffering is contributing to negative conditions for others, you do need to take yourself into account. Here are some suggestions:

1.Sympathy towards yourself and others.
Cut yourself some slack! Cut other people some slack! Now I know that this borders dangerously on telling people to just calm down and let prejudice and stereotypes and oppression go cause it’s no big deal. That is not what I mean. I mean that if someone is already struggling, feeling guilty, and really working to improve their actions and mindset, then you don’t need to beat it into them any further. You can offer them praise for things they do well or simply tell them that yeah, things suck.

2.Imagine whether you would do these things towards other people.
Oftentimes we’re far more willing to be jerks towards ourselves than towards others. I call myself horrific names I never would call others, and expect ridiculous diets out of myself that I would tell others they should never engage in. It can be helpful to spend some time imagining what your reaction would be if the offender was someone else. Sometimes I have to imagine that I’m speaking ot my best friend instead of myself so that I can understand how cruel I’m being.

3.Try to explain why you’re mad at yourself so that you can see what myths you’re using.
This might seem somewhat useless, but it can be incredibly helpful. Taking the time to examine what you’re actually saying about yourself, to read up on some of the social justice literature surrounding some of your issues, and to really dismantle the hidden assumptions that you have can make it much easier to fight back. Once you put those assumptions into plain English it’s often obvious how stupid they are. From there, you can remind yourself of these myths when you start to beat up on yourself again.

4.When calling someone out who is the victim of their own stigma, try to be more gentle than you might otherwise: they’re probably fighting a really hard battle.

It’s incredibly hard to recognize our own prejudices and to act against them. It’s particularly hard to fight them in our own lives. Unfortunately we rarely talk about these internalized elements of oppression, and they can be one of the fastest ways that oppression reproduces itself. Let’s start that conversation.

Fat Stigma: Change of Perspective

Hello all! Today’s post is going to be short and sweet because it’s my birthday and I said so. This week is fat stigma awareness week, and so I wanted to talk a bit about my own experience of fat stigma through the lens of something that happened to me this morning. I am well aware that I have internalized a lot of fatphobia and it’s something that I fight against as often as possible.

This morning while I was on the bus, someone who was overweight and using a walker got on. I noticed that I instantly questioned why she needed the walker: whether it was just because she was overweight, or did she have “actual” health problems. Particularly because she left it at her seat and went back to pay the bus driver, I was judgmental. I noticed this and told my brain to shut the fuck up because it was none of my damn business and I didn’t need to police anyone, but I knew that I was still judging her.

This woman was sitting next to me, and as the bus went around a corner her purse fell off the walker and onto the floor in front of me. I bent down to pick it up, and as I did her wallet fell out and some business cards spilled onto the floor. I apologized profusely and picked them up for her, and as I was doing so I noticed that one of them was for The Emily Program, the same place that I get my eating disorder treatment. Instantly any judgment I had for this woman was gone and all I wanted to do was hug her and punch her eating disorder in the face. I wondered what else her eating disorder had taken away from her besides her mobility and I wished I could help. It was amazing how having one thing in common with this woman suddenly humanized her. It was a major lesson for me. Despite how hard I had told myself to judge her not before, it was only once I had the tiniest glimmer of understanding that she struggled that I could have real empathy. And that’s a problem.

From now on, I’m going to imagine that every person I come across who is different from me has something written on a card that tells a bit of their story. I’m going to imagine seeing it fall to ground and imagine how it would change my perspective and give me sympathy for them. EVERYONE has those things. We need to learn how to see them.

How I got Through My Bad Day: A Chain Analysis

I was planning on writing today about recognizing your achievements when your each a goal (especially for those who are competitive and highly driven), but it’s been a bad day. I woke up to a super triggery comment, read a few articles I should have avoided, and my mood plummeted from there. Add in a lack of sleep, and the soreness from working out for the first time in nearly a year, and you’ve got a recipe for a bad day.

 

So instead of talking about what I was going to talk about, I’d like to talk about chain analyses and applying skills to stop a bad day before it happens. Sometimes it can be hard to notice when you’re on the path to a meltdown. You might know that you’re having a bad day, but you don’t quite know why or you don’t know what you can change. I’m going to try to go through a chain analysis of my own day to give you all a conception of what it might be like to think about what’s making you anxious, unhappy, depressed, or stressed out, and then go through the steps that I could have taken (and may still take) at different points during the day so I don’t engage in any target behaviors (this is DBT speak for doing Bad Things like restricting, purging, drinking, self-harm, suicidal ideation etc.).

 

I’m going to start by talking about emotional vulnerability. I’m surprised this isn’t something that we talk about more often because it’s intensely important when you’re having a bad day or are on the verge of letting your mental illness take over. Emotional vulnerabilities are those factors that make you more prone to feeling extreme emotions. The most basic forms of emotional vulnerability are things like lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of exercise, use of drugs or alcohol, etc. These things make us sensitive and keep us from regulating our emotions well. Right now, I haven’t eaten since last night, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and I have been working out more than I’m used to, leaving my body tired and sore. I’ve also been dealing with some headaches and bad tension through my shoulders and neck that are really fairly painful. These things are making me far more emotionally vulnerable.

 

However in addition to these very obvious forms of emotional vulnerability there are other things: are you stressed out and busy? What’s going on in the back of your head that’s stressing you out? Are you having relationship troubles? Are you unemployed? What other things are hanging over you that surround the events of the individual day or event that you’re trying to understand? For me, this includes a number of things. I recently changed jobs and I’m not good with transitions. I had some new information about my family that was Big and Important and Scary dropped on me this weekend. A number of my friends have been having relationship troubles recently and I’ve been worried and anxious for them. I also haven’t been keeping up on my blogging so I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and busy. Each of these things adds to that cloud of vulnerability that’s surrounding me today.

 

These are helpful concepts because if you start to notice vulnerabilities you can try to head them off. I’m going to go get something tasty and filling very soon, not let myself work out today, and try to get to bed early. Sometimes you can’t fix the vulnerabilities, or you get triggered or upset before you notice them. When you’re doing a chain analysis, the next step is to figure out what some of the precipitating events were. These can help you notice or avoid these kinds of events in the future, or if you’re in the moment, figure out why they bothered you and how to process/deal with the emotions you’re having right now.

 

So today the precipitating events were a few things. The most noticeable of them was getting a comment on a blog post about veganism that said “having an eating disorder is no justification for forcibly impregnating cows and keeping pigs locked up in tiny pens etc. etc.” The topic of veganism is an intense trigger for me. I was writing about this in the post, and this person chose to ignore that and tell me that I was wrong and bad for trying to take care of my own health needs. I felt disrespected, and I felt as if another person was confirming to me that I am not worth the food that I put in my mouth.

 

In addition to this, I saw another blog post defending “Blurred Lines” that made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. So I could see that the precipitating events to having my mood spiral out of control were that I felt people were challenging my values and my self-worth. So now I have a good understanding of what the problem is. I’ve had this difficulty a number of times before and so I’ve learned some techniques to help with it. One of them is that I try not to click on links that I know will upset me, and so usually I can head it off at the pass, but sometimes one gets by me or my morbid curiosity gets the better of me, and I can’t exactly not get the comments that are emailed directly to my inbox. Whatever your precipitating event is, it’s good to understand what it did to you and why so you can either avoid it in the future or figure out how to best tailor your response.

 

So my response was to reevaluate my values. Check the facts. Remind myself why I do the things that I do. Remind myself why I felt that Blurred Lines was offensive. And then I tried to radically accept that some people have different values from mine. I did some self-soothing, because I felt attacked and raw and afraid (especially when someone said the line in “Blurred Lines” that goes “you know you want it” is not rapey, cause damn is that triggering and not ok at all). This consisted of seeing my boyfriend for lunch and drinking a chocolate shake. I tried some distraction by playing Lumosity and by focusing on work. But I also did some self-care by allowing myself to tackle the simplest tasks at work first so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Because I had figured out all of the ways I was riled up, I could address each of them. Now that I’ve calmed down some I’m willing to look again at these emotions, understand what provoked them, and understand how my use of skills actually worked quite well.

 

If you do engage in a target behavior, your chain analysis might include ideas of what you could have done differently. That’s why I find them incredibly helpful. They give me a framework with which to reflect on my experience without ruminating and becoming overwhelmed. You can even draw it out all nice and pretty like with bubbles and arrows and things. If you want to really break it down you can delineate your reaction into thoughts, emotions, actions, and bodily reactions (so did you clench your hands etc.). This chain analysis method helped me head off the nasties before they got too nasty, but I’d love to hear other suggestions in comments. Tea, hot bath, nap, delicious food, mindfulness, self-soothing…whatever helps you!

Fiction Round Up!

It’s been a while since I posted some fiction for y’all, so here’s what’s been coming out of my brain.

Sometimes I am afraid of my hunger. When I remember to feel hungry, there is no end. My stomach aches, a deep empty pit that will never be full. I contain too much, infinities between my head and my toes and they must be filled. It gnaws and pulls, and always asks for more. What will I do when I cannot satiate the lust for more reality? There is so much space within me, a hollowness of curiosity and rampant need. I can consume the whole universe and be left licking my fingers for the last crumbs, always wanting more. What would happen if I were to let the beast of my hunger free? Sometimes I fear that I might have started something unstoppable, my whole body flaming out as it consumes my beloved world. But I will never let it go free. I will control.

 

 

When I am on solid ground, I am a klutz. I injure myself. I run into things. I overbalance at anything. I am not coordinated, and I am not graceful. I have accepted this.  I will never be a ballerina or a runner or a tightrope walker.

But last night, I slipped into a pool and I was powerful. My body was sinuous, long, and elegant. I could stretch the length of myself through the water and arc myself into curls and and waves. My arms could hold the world as I pull myself forward and slide endlessly under, under the surface. I hold the water, cupping it against me, feeling myself grow. I can surpass anyone here. I am at home.

Food: I Love It

The following blog post is a personal challenge for me inspired by the following quote: ‘‘I love to cook so much . . . food represents to me something truly positive, fun and liberated, and sensual and loving . . . it feels to me like being in control, not in the . . .bad and neutralizing sense, but in the sense that I do not let external forces control me and tell me that I cannot eat.’’ In the spirit of this quote, I want to tell you what I love about food, and why I view eating as a radical feminist act.

 

Food is comforting. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but when you get home from a long day, all you want is something warm to put in your mouth. The sensation of chewing something with a good texture, of letting the flavors sink into your tongue, of feeling yourself heat up from the inside, is reaffirming: I am here. I am alive. I deserve this good thing. I can feel myself regaining strength when I eat food. I can feel my mood brightening. Food gives me life. It affirms to me that I should be in this world, not in a far-off intellectual space with no body. When I eat I feel solid.

And food. Food tastes AMAZING. A piece of really good chocolate, fruit, or ice cream? I could eat them all day, letting them melt on my tongue and sink into my consciousness, sweetening up my day. Or the deep, delicious savoriness of a pizza, which you can’t quite replicate anywhere else. Or simply the taste of MEAT. I’m sorry, but as a recovering anorexic, I cannot explain to you how perfect a hamburger is. And salt. Salt and vinegar potato chips, hash browns, FRIED FOOD. These things are delicious. I love the experience of eating them, of tasting them, of gobbling them down. And textures are stellar too. I had some pasta last week that was the perfect kind of chewy, and I just wanted to keep eating it forever so that I could have that texture in my mouth indefinitely. It makes my teeth almost hurt just thinking about it. Or ice cream on a sore throat. Food makes you feel good.

Food can completely change your experience of a day or a temperature. A hot drink on a cold day leaves you shivering as you feel the warmth reach out into your belly. Cold ice cream on a hot day makes everything suddenly ok. Food can define experiences.

Food is a mental game. You wait for it. You get excited while you cook. You see it and smell it before you can taste it and taste it before it’s really yours and in your belly. You can savor every little bit of it. You can build it up and appreciate the excitement of it all day. Cooking is an art and baking is a science and you can create and play and explore the world around you by changing it into something it wasn’t a few hours ago. It’s fairly amazing, and it reminds you how powerful we are. We can change our world in order to make it taste better. It’s a powerful form of creating culture by changing the natural materials we’re given. It makes us more human.

Food is an experience that is hard to replicate. Each meal is the coalescence of a place and people and culture and history, all come together to create what is now. Your food means different things at different times and in different places. It comes together through your culture, mediated by cultural symbols. Your food represents where you are coming from, but by definition it is where you are going because it is the sheer fuel that allows you to go there. Food is time, because what else is growth and maturation and ripeness and cooking and every other process by which our food becomes appropriate for us to eat? Food is all these connections. Perhaps the most beautiful of them is the community. Sitting down to a good meal with a pile of friends is one of the best experiences in life. Everything becomes a bit warmer, everyone a bit more vivacious, more talkative. We move closer to share, to ask about each other’s food. Sharing food is a sign of trust, of care, of closeness.

And food tells us what we deserve. It is something we take for ourselves, something we should never question whether we deserve or not because it is the most basic thing that everyone deserves. It tells us that we have the right to take up physical space, to interact with things and people, to speak, to be in space. Food is our right to a body, and tells us we have the right to exist in the same space as others.

Perhaps my favorite part of food is the memories that it creates. Whenever I want to imagine my childhood and the things that made me happy about it, I imagine eating spaghetti. When I think of my current relationship, I see it in the story of meals that we’ve eaten together. Certain people I remember in the scent of food. Certain foods can reduce me to tears or laughter with their memories. I love how human food is for this reason. I love remembering.

I love food for these reasons. It is hard for me to say that I love food, but I love the experiences of food. Food is not something you’re supposed to love. You’re supposed to eat it for sustenance and health, but not for your soul. Well I call bullshit on that. Food is intimate: it is one of so very few things we put into our bodies, and we are certainly discriminatory about our sexual partners: why shouldn’t we give the same care and attention to our food? I love my food because it represents so much of the beauty of being human, so many of the deeper experiences, because there is so much to question, explore, and learn about how we come to have the food that we do.

I tell myself this over and over because women who love food are Bad. They are out of control. They are self-centered. I tell myself this because I have made myself an imperative. Taking care of myself against the messages that I have gotten that others are more important, that work is more important, that accomplishing is more important, that I can rest when I’m dead, that my happiness is secondary to what I create and accomplish has become my revolution. I am my oppressed minority, and eating is our protests, eating is our bombs, eating is our artwork and songs and stories and essays. “Eating is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of radical “ Audre Lorde. This quote is our mantra. Every beautiful thing I recognize about food as I put it in my mouth is another blow to every message that says “be less”. When men tell women that they exist as objects, I choose to eat something and TAKE ANOTHER BEING into myself. Objectify that. When people call me crazy and say that psychos are just making it all up, I eat my dinner and reflect again on how impossible that was a year ago and know I am stronger than anyone who has never thought twice about their dinner.

My very existence as someone who is mentally ill and female is a struggle to claim as my own. My food is the last symbol that I can choose what to do with my life and my body. When I stop choosing purposively to eat, how to eat, what to eat, and when to eat, I give up the most basic level of control and self-assertion I have. Food is my revolution when I allow myself to take up space, when I refuse to give up on my potential, when I connect myself to my family, to my memories, to my stories, when I write my own narratives, when I deeply experience the world. Food makes me more human. It forces me to recognize my humanity, on par with anyone else’s, no better and no worse. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the power of food to connect people to each other. I believe in how fantastic food is.

Post Round Up

Hello all! You might have noticed that this blog has not been quite as active lately as it has been in the past. I’ve started a new job and I’m BUSY. I won’t neglect you all though, I promise. The other reason I haven’t been posting here quite as much is because I’ve also been busy across other parts of the internet. So here’s an update of what else I’ve been up to and where else you can read my work.

I’m really excited about a post I’ve got up over at Mental Health Talk right now. It’s about the experience of being in the middle of treatment for an eating disorder. It’s pretty personal and in-depth about the ups and downs of life while fighting a disorder.

A while ago I also wrote about porn over at The Quail Pipe. Yes I watch porn. Yes I’m going to tell you about it. Why? Because I’m sick of the idea that only men are sexual beings who get sexy.

You should also probably check out what will likely be my last post at Teen Skepchick, about the relationship between feminism and atheism for me. The reason it’s my last post is because I’m moving over to plain ol’ Skepchick! I couldn’t be more excited!!!!

And last but not least, my birthday is coming up real soon. Now usually I’m the queen of asking for EVERYTHING on my birthday, but not this year. This year I want one thing: I’m asking for donations to The Emily Program Foundation. The Emily Program is the place where I receive my eating disorder treatment, and overall I’ve had a pretty stellar experience there (as stellar as it can be to have all your coping mechanisms and safety blankets challenged). I love my providers and they treat me like a for reals human being instead of a problem. The Foundation does a lot of great stuff including scholarships for treatment, education, and Recovery Night. If you’re interested in donating, I’ve set up a fundraising page over at GiveMN (which is where I work now!). Consider sending something their way if you like my writing, because I would not be capable of all this if it weren’t for them.

That’s all for now kids!