Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To be real...

I haven't posted here in nearly a year. Life has been such an amazing whirlwind of adventures since then. So, writing took the form of a thesis and final grant proposals, in order to finish graduate school. I did. Now, I am settling into the space I found myself in when I first moved to Milwaukee. The awkward stage of, "I did what everyone told me I was supposed to do; now what?"

The dreaded space of "now what?" I can't tell you how many people have asked me what the "real world" feels like, or when am I going to get a "real job?" 

Excuse me? Am I not real? What world have I been living in? I chose real-ness a long time ago. I chose to be real when I chose to follow trust instead of fear, and uncertainty over predictability. I chose real life when I chose to be who I am, and to quit hiding behind an eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, trauma, bad choices, etc.

I am reminded of stupid body image posters that said, "Real women have curves," or "Real women are healthy, not skinny," blah, blah, blah. I'm calling BS.

Real is about being, not about looking. Real is in the showing up. I choose to be real in how I show up for my life. There's more to being a real woman than my body. Real women have bodies. Real women are badass, fierce souls no matter if they yell or whisper. We are all real women. So, what kind of real woman are you? 
I am real enough to:
Not hide myself from the world
Love myself fiercely and courageously
Be a huge force of open-hearted love 
Bike up hills halfway, and walk the rest
Cry the big, ugly, sobbing cry when I need to
Hug strangers
Fall in love, and make mistakes

Most of all I am real enough to let my heart crack wide open, even if it breaks sometimes, so that I can follow its wild, excited desire for living life.

This is the kind of real woman I am. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

I don't run.

I told my sister I was going for a run tonight.

"Mandi. You don't run." was her return text to me.

--God damnit. I thought...eating disorder, thank you for forever RUINING my credibility. I hate you!

Yet, this is why I love my sister more than words crawling across a screen can describe. In the deepest, darkest parts of my eating disorder, I used to run in secret. I ran for miles and miles, never considering that running requires proper compensatory nutrition in order to support its usefulness. My sister and I were roommates at the time, and I'll never forget the day she discovered my "stash" of workout clothes that I had been trying to hide. I'll never forget hearing my sister crying on the other end of the phone while I lied to her. I will never do that again...
A few years have passed since then, and my sister is still one of the most perfect examples of a supportive family member of someone who has recovered from an eating disorder. She remembers the red flags, and calls bullshit if she smells it. No sugar-coating. No artificial sweeteners either.

 I forget how much I have yet to learn on this journey of living life without an eating disorder...

My sister was right, I don't run. I dance. Nia. Nia and more Nia is usually how I respond to a desire for movement. It's in my body, and I can't get enough of it. Nia isn't just dancing. I've danced since I was 3 years old, and it never touched my body, mind, and spirit all at the same time. When I found Nia, I found life without an eating disorder. I learned how to be mindful of my body, my mind, and my emotions. I learned that I could challenge my physical limitations only if I found joy. Whatever movement I did, had to create joy in my body. I had to be mindful of my body to sense joyful movements. It didn't take long before that "rule" traveled with me outside of the studio walls. The Joy of Movement moves me now, in whatever way I choose to move my body...even if I'm not initially aware of it. I knew I had a lot of energy, so I knew I wanted to MOVE! The urge to run was no longer a punitive one or a compensatory weight-focused one. I sent a text to my sister that read, "You're right. I don't; unless I have a lot of energy. I won't 'run' either. I'll "wog" (half walk, half jog).

Putting my earbuds in my ears, I swiped the screen of my iPod and turned up some rat pack-era soul music and zipped up my sweatshirt. Three blocks (yeah, I counted) from the beginning of my "wog," I noticed myself sensing each part of my foot as it made contact with the sidewalk. I felt the crisp November night air flow into my lungs, contrasting the warmth of my chest as it rose and fell with each breath. I felt a smile stretch across my face as I enjoyed sensing two sensations existing simultaneously. I opened my mouth slightly to take in more air. The increased amount of oxygen sparked a deep joy sensation that started deep inside my core and raced to my heart, then filled the spaces in my head. It was at this point that I realized my sister was right. I don't run. I dance. I will always dance.

I mindfully move my body, attending to even small sensations. I seek joy in my movements and want to move myself in ways that increase the joy I express in body, mind, and spirit. It's all a dance, a dance to the rhythm of life. The embellishments are mine to explore.

Monday, July 28, 2014

First generation of body-loving revolutionaries!

Back in 2003, when I first attended college, I remember many scholarship applications asking me if I would be the first generation of my family to attend college. I've been thinking about this recently. It led me to think of other "first generation"... instances. Why is this something to be so proud of? Some of my friends are the first generation of their family to own their own homes, others to become citizens of the United States, some are the first generation to be executives, others are the first to raise families outside the constraints of poverty, and the list goes on. The pride in these monumental firsts have deep roots. It shows generations of love, hard work, and dedication to make life better for those who were, and are to come. These "first generation" stories show that, not only is someone honoring generations passed, but also honoring and acknowledging that there are still paths to be forged. It means perseverance, success, and dedication to make a corner of the world a little brighter for generations to come. So, in writing and sharing my intention publicly, I hope to do the same.

I come from generations of strong women. But I also come from generations of women who've all criticized their own bodies, as well as the bodies of others. I've decided to be a part of a new generation.  I'm dedicated to be the first woman in my family to actively denounce the notion that it's not ok to love my body without stipulations, conditions, or boundaries. I am exactly who and how I need to be, right where I am. This may change tomorrow, but I promise to love that to. This means, I will be the first woman in my family to promise never to call myself and/or anyone else "fat" as if to shame it into being or looking any differently. In doing so, I am going to urge you reading this to do the same. For generations, women in my family have accepted a notion that I am no longer willing to continue. It was ok to be strong and independent, but "sometimes you had to suffer to be beautiful."
That phrase taught me that beauty was something conditional of how much I had to suffer and strive to make it happen. It also eluded that it was something no one ever truly achieved. My grandmother heard this phrase from her mother, my mother heard it from her mother, and my mother taught it to me. So, I know this extends at least three generations.

Until very recently, I was as guilty of perpetuating it as anyone else, but I don't believe it any more. I can't watch or listen any longer. I learned far too young that the size of my waist was something directly correlated to my value as a person. Most family gatherings and casual conversations eventually drifted off toward the newest diets and amount of weight gained or lost by so-and-so or what's-her-name. We tested out various new diet recipes and tried to convince each other of the validity of the our latest diet or exercise regimen. I can even remember precisely how many "points" a certain salad counted for at cousin's birthday party years ago. I've been following along these conversations my entire life. It's time for new conversations, because believing that the appearance of our bodies determines our worthiness or value has become generational. 

Recently, while visiting my 81-year-old grandmother, we sat on her porch thumbing through the pages of magazines discussing all sorts of existential topics. Suddenly, I heard her sigh as she paused on a page with a woman wearing a stylish, navy blue, A-line dress. I was admiring the dress fondly as I love 50's-60's retro styles. She, however, voiced a serious concern, "Ah, we're back to this again?" she lamented. "I remember the first time these dress styles were fashionable. Suddenly with one trend, women had no reason to watch their figures at all anymore. They could just hide behind the flowing fabric, and it was such a shame."

I wonder if my jaw hit the floor, or if I just sat there completely stunned. I realized that I could no longer blame just the media for its portrayal of women. We've been continuing this "obligation" of ideal women for generations, we've embodied it through our ancestors. Now I knew just one more reason why my own recovery from anorexia had been. It wasn't until I discovered the body-honoring practices of yoga and Nia that I could fully recover and fully re-inhabit a new, heavier body. My recovery journey had been treacherous and through relapses for many years. The realization that an underlying dislike of our bodies has been present in my family for generations, I vowed to forge a new path. I became part of the first generation to truly practice self-love. Self love includes loving, not just tolerating the amazing and beautiful body I inhabit. I began to wonder how many others women like me, have the nagging conscience, influenced by generations of subtle expectations, that tell them that as women, we always must be watching our figures? For God's sake! My 80-something-year-old grandmother is STILL worried about it! Crap! I want to be loving every wrinkle and gray hair at 81, not worried about my figure!

Even now, the only "watching of my figure" that I want to do is admiring and appreciating the changes of my body as it supports and sustains my adventurous LIFE! Yes. I'm part of the first generation to never shame myself or others into comparing the size of my thighs to the amount of my worth. 
My body is what it is, and so is yours. Nia has taught me to see my body, and others' bodies with new eyes. These eyes see beauty with gratitude.Yeah, my thighs are massive, but so are the hills that I climb every day on my bike. I absolutely love biking, so I love the thighs that help me to do it. No thighs, no big bike rides. I know that loving my body makes me want to care for it with good food and exercise like dancing Nia pretty much every day. I prefer to talk about the size of my love, and not worry about whether that love comes with handles or not. :) Nourishing the body with good, nutritious food and exercise is important, but nourishing it with love and admiration for the way it is, and the way it moves me through this life is just as important. I refuse to deprive my body of this love. I refuse to be part of the generations of women in my family through the years who taught me strength and independence, but secretly always criticized their bodies. Never will my niece hear me talking about a diet or calories at a family function. In fact, she will only hear me talk about my body, or anyone else's body in admiration. Perhaps I am the first one in my family to have suffered with and recovered from an eating disorder, but I want to be the last. I want to be more than recovered. I'm joining the generation of dancing, body-loving revolutionaries who celebrate joy in moving the body to the rhythm of life. 
No, it may not be as prestigious as being the first generation in my family to attend post-secondary education, but I wonder...if maybe it could be. Perhaps it might be easier to embrace and love one another if I can do that more fully of myself? Wouldn't it be much easier for future generations of children to love and honor their bodies if they see examples of grown-ups forging the path ahead of them? Be a part of the first generation to embrace true body-loving self-acceptance!

Monday, April 7, 2014

I've fallen...

I wasn't supposed to fall in love.

But somehow I did. It caught me off guard. I didn't just fall in love, I let it envelop and embrace me. I not only fell in love, I felt in love. 

With a city...
A city that continues to hold so many spaces for me to discover, to be safe, and to heal. 
A city whose light has taught my eyes to see things from the perspective of love, of understanding, and of compassion.
A city whose beauty has shown me to see the sparkle, the depth, and the meaning in moments, not in things.
A city whose vastness showed me my own beauty, creativity, and potential.
A city whose places welcomed my crazy, my hurt, my tears, and my stifled feelings.
A city whose people gave me an opportunity to fall gently into the places in which I've always belonged.

I fell in love because I wasn't supposed to fall in love. I had fallen in love with the lies that told me I didn't deserve to feel. I like kicking these lies' assess. I'm a rebel like that, I guess. Those lies told me I was incapable of finding joy, purpose, and beauty in life. I guess I'm glad I don't follow the "supposed to's" and the "supposed not-to's," because I discovered a secret treasure. I discovered my own heart, and my heart holds way too much love to ever be told that it cannot love or be loved.

Unfortunately, my love is not monogamous. I haven't just fallen in love with a city, I've fallen in love with beauty, with love itself, and in all the small, meaningless silly details of life. I've fallen so deep that I'm swimming in it. It surrounds me, and the city is just the beautiful space in which I can explore the possibilities for now. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inspiration knockout

Rarely a day passes in which I am not creative. Creativity is a part of my livelihood. What I didn't realize, or perhaps just didn't connect was just how profound this actually can be...

I've always admired the antique lace and crocheted tatting that mother saved from my great-grandmother. I have used this in several of my artistic creations in the past few years. Other than thinking it was beautiful, and a cool vintage tribute to my great-grandmother, I never thought much about it other than of its uniqueness. It set my clothing designs apart, but that was about it.

Tonight I held a few pieces of this lace, one from the cuff of a sleeve, one trim from a petticoat, and about 6 inches of trim off of a corset cover. I stitched the ends together, gathered them in the center and made three beautiful, antique flowers to accent my sister's wedding garter. I held the large rosette in my hand and looked at it in the palm of my hand, still connected to my needle and thread. Suddenly, I envisioned what these pieces might have looked like over 100 years ago when they were first made. Then I realized that my 29-year-old hands, busy with creative energy, were touching the same pieces of lace that were held in the hands of my great-grandmother, Frieda. She died when I was 4, and my memories of her are mostly comprised of stories and sparse snapshot-like memories. But then I realized it was deeper than that. I felt connected to generations of creativity. Suddenly, my usually steady hands started to tremble a little bit, and I felt the tears well behind my eyes and fall down my cheek.

I saw that I wasn't just holding lace, or flowers, but I was actually holding the hand of my great-grandmother through our shared creativity. All of a sudden, art transcended time, and I sat awhile with my great-grandma. I've never considered how deeply rooted my creativity is in my spirit until tonight. I knew my parents were creative, and that I must have learned it from them. Tonight I understand it much deeper. When I stared at the yellowed, time-worn lace in the palm of my hand, I saw the hands of a woman whose heart I share. Creativity is in our hearts and is shown in the work of our hands. Thus, through the things I create with my hands, people can see into my heart...and into the hearts of those who came a long time before me. It's more than a tradition, family value, or even genetics. It's a connection, a connection that only hearts understand. Thanks for hanging out with me tonight Frieda. Come back again soon. Love, Mandi

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is your revolution?

You. Yes, you. You are a little revolution, just waiting to happen. So, be here--in your own body, ready to make it happen! It is absolutely OK to be happy with your own body! It's actually even ok to love it!

Just those few words are enough to incite panic and fear for some of us. I get it. I have been there. Being in this body, and loving it were two of the very LAST things to cross my mind! In the next week, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) will dedicate an entire week to raising awareness nationwide about the prevalence, symptoms, treatment, and statistics surrounding eating disorders. However, my idea of awareness starts much earlier. What if we all believed that we truly deserved to love and respect the body in which we reside, just EXACTLY as it is? No changes needed. I don't have to change who I AM! The potential is there, just waiting to be awakened. I don't need to have a certain body type/shape/weight in order to deserve the space I occupy! Neither do you. Neither does anyone.

So what is your revolution? Mine is self-love. Radial, unapologetic self-love. I'm not talking about an arrogant or conceited love. It's a love that says, "I refuse to hate any part of my body, even the imperfect parts." Imperfections are unique fingerprints of our creative potential. Imperfections are what make me unlike any other person that walks the face of this earth. I can't help but believe that embracing, redefining and loving our imperfections can heal the negative thoughts that feed the eating disorder monsters. I actually strive to be perfectly imperfect with confidence and style. In doing this, I hope that others can see how empowering and freeing it is to live and dance through life like this! When I gave myself the permission to screw up, admit that I was wrong, laugh at my clumsiness, and forgive my shortcomings, I stopped trudging through life looking down at the ground! I decided to dance!

My body isn't perfect. It's not what society considers a "dancer's body." I don't care. EveryBODY is perfect, and everyBODY deserves to dance. This has been one of the most valuable, life-changing lessons I have been given through the practice of Nia. No, I'm not "skinny." Yes. I dance. I can even teach! I dance feverishly and crazily with my whole, imperfectly perfect body toward a revolution of changing what it means to love our bodies.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where to focus?

I don't particularly enjoy the concept of having an entire week devoted to Eating Disorder Awareness (this is next week, by the way). Don't get me wrong, I think that there is far too little attention given to these deadly disorders and the lifestyles that foster their development. However, raising awareness just draws attention to actually diagnose-able cases/incidences of these insidious disorders. What about the countless numbers of little girls (and boys too) who criticize every flaw and blemish they see in the mirror? What about the constant focus that most of us have upon the way we look? Body judgments, body shaming (fat or skinny), body sneering, and just plain disregard for our bodies is literally EVERYWHERE! How is awareness of the diagnosed cases going to keep this from stealing more lives? It's not enough to just notice the symptoms and get treatment. It's not enough, by far.

Like most things, I have found that I prefer to focus on what is wonderful or beautiful about something first, before or rather than focusing upon what is ugly, not good enough, or wrong  with it. I think the same goes for bodies, weight, size, shape, and appearances. What would happen if little girls were taught to love their cute little bodies from their foreheads to their feet, and everything in-between? What if we let kids teach US how to exercise? What if we stopped waging war with the mirrors and scales by learning to love and accept what they show us? What if I laughed at myself in the mirror every morning instead of sighing in disbelief as I pinch or poke the parts of me that disgust me? What if little ears NEVER heard us say, "I hate my body!" or "she/he/I/you/this is so ugly!"? What if the word "fat" just became another adjective? The world would be a much different place if I took the feelings out of the word "fat." (Think about that one for a moment--take the feelings away from the word "fat")

How on earth can we make changes to anything by HATING it? I can't change my body by hating it into compliance! If my primary reason for exercising is because I hate my body because I'm not exercising, it is a pretty sure sign that before long, I will hate the exercising too. Trust me, I did. I HATED going to the gym. I hated running, and I hated counting laps or miles run on the treadmill. I was told that I would love the body it gave me, but that was a lie. I hated that too. Physically, I may have weighed much less back then, but I can tell you that if you could have put my self-hatred on a scale, it would have weighed FAR more than the 50 pounds I had lost. That hatred was worse for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health than the weight that I have gained since then ever will be. It is so much easier for me to WANT to take care of a body that I love than it was to stop abusing a body that I hated.

What do we have to lose by believing that we're wonderful and beautiful and deserving of love and affection?  The despair and darkness of self-hatred? Maybe. I, for one, am willing to try. And with that, I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

The same goes for bodies. Join the revolution of body love. A revolution that starts right now, in your own body.