I know what healthy is. Healthy is not using food as a drug. Healthy is maintaining a weight and/or body composition that does not increase my risk of disease and early death. Healthy is feeling strong and flexible and agile in my body. Healthy is feeling clear-headed and rested and productively engaged with the world. I want healthy.
I also know what unhealthy is. Unhealthy is purposely overeating so that I feel so disgusting inside and out that I can't imagine anyone wanting to touch me -- and in the moment that someone does want to touch me anyway, unhealthy is being disgusted by their desire for me. Unhealthy is compulsively overeating because feeling "fat" is so much easier than feeling anything else... like anger, disappointment, hurt, confusion, fear, stress, insecurity, even love at times. Unhealthy is being so afraid of losing someone I love that I refuse to love them. Unhealthy is being so afraid of death that I engage in self-destructive behaviors like compulsive overeating to simply get it over with.
Since I found my old journal entry that grappled with the question of how to be a feminist and want to be fit at the same time, I've done some casual searching to see if anyone else is talking about this. It turns out, a handful of bloggers, philosophers, sociologists, writers and others ARE talking about this. It's not just me. Feminists, like me, do feel torn when they are approaching weight loss and fitness. We shouldn't want to be other than we are. We shouldn't want to make ourselves smaller just because that's what society wants from us. We shouldn't work to try to change our bodies to fit patriarchy's norm, right? Of course not. But...
None of those are the reasons a feminist seeks fitness. And this is why QueenPrincess loves the Mermaid.
Mermaids are often NOT used as icons of feminism. I understand this. Very often Mermaids are simply a sexy extension of the typical bimbo-barbie-doll-anti-feminist icon. THIS is not the QueenPrincess Mermaid.
The QueenPrincess Mermaid is a mascot and a champion for Feminist Fitness. Why? I'll give you 5 reasons:
1) Mermaids are compassionate, kind creatures who want to help others BUT Mermaids are inherently selfish. That is, they do not sacrifice themselves for others. They do not make choices based on the desires of others. They swim because THEY want to swim. They eat well because THEY want to eat well. They lift weights because THEY want to lift weights. If you accuse a mermaid of losing weight for her partner's sake or because she's trying to fit patriarchy's norm for female beauty, she might just drag you down to the bottom of the ocean. I'm just sayin'. I mean, if you're lucky, she'll just laugh at the notion but if she's already having a bad day, she might get all davey-jones-locker on your ass. The thought is absurd. Mermaids do what they do for no one but themselves. Indeed, that is precisely how you know the "help" you get from a Mermaid is sincere and authentic. They do not help unless they want to help. They do not give unless they want to give.
3) Which is exactly why you DON'T see Mermaids eating fried shrimp or lounging around at the bottom of the ocean: Mermaids are not afraid to feel. Mermaids do not need to "stuff down" their feelings with any kind of addiction. The concept of addiction is absolutely foreign to a Mermaid -- because addiction (including addiction to compulsive overeating) is driven by a need to suppress pain and other uncomfortable feelings -- but Mermaids are not afraid of these feelings -- not even pain or fear or rage -- not even love or happiness or contentment. They accept that emotions are real. They are as real as the water we swim in. They are as real as the air we breathe. We can't hold the water in our hands. We can't see the air we breathe. But we believe they are real. We believe they are both important -- even necessary -- to our survival. So too, with feelings. And this is where the Mermaid gets really feminist. Patriarchy deplores feelings. Patriarchy tells us feelings aren't to be trusted. Patriarchy tells us that logic is far superior to feelings -- as if the two are mutually exclusive -- as if they are opposites. They are not opposites. It is logical to allow ourselves to acknowledge, accept and yes, FEEL our emotions.
5) Mermaids believe in feeling beautiful. Okay, everyone's little patriarchy radar just went crazy -- but hear me out: FEELING beautiful is different than defining beauty or "being" beautiful. Mermaids know that "beautiful" is not a definition or a standard. "Beautiful" IS a feeling. It does not have a particular weight or shape or body composition or BMI. Beautiful is a feeling. No one can tell us if we are feeling beautiful. No one can deny us the right to feel beautiful. Beautiful happens fully inside of us. And what do the outer realities of our lives have to be so that we can FEEL beautiful? It's different for each one of us. I can't feel beautiful if I'm not routinely active. I can't feel beautiful if I'm not mindful of what I'm putting in my body.
"Patriarchy Fit": focus on thin; focus on other's judgements & depravation; obsession with size and uptight "counting" and "weighing-in" constantly; Cardio is most important activity because it "burns fat"; Judges other women based on their size & shape; Is only concerned or mostly concerned with physical image; Requires constant reassurance. (Today I would add: Is anti-mermaid)
"Feminist Fit": focus on strength; focus on confidence & comfort; awareness/ mindfulness of body leads to emotional calm; includes spiritual components like yoga & meditation; embraces ALL women regardless of shape & size; considers the global/ environmental impact of eating and exercise practices; Provides own reassurance, does not seek reassurance from others.
I love that I found these lists again. I don't remember making them. They are in the journal I was keeping when my mother died. From the other pieces in the journal, I can guess that I wrote them a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of days before she died. That timing is significant because I learned an absolutely patriarchal obsession with body image from my mother. She lived her life under the thumb of that obsession. Patriarchy kept her bound to her body; a body she could not love. My mother died of a sudden -- and yet, not surprising -- heart attack. Just before this happened, I was beginning to unlock a door to help me find a different fate. For her, it was too late.
I wrote this journal entry then, in 2009. The "Feminist Fit" list above became my working model for a fitness regimen. I didn't even really look at the list much after I wrote it but -- as I always tell my students it does -- writing internalized those concepts for me. But, life is so tricky. Bad things happen that knock you on your ass and send you right back to where you were before you learned all those great lessons. After my surgery this summer, my marriage hit a rather rocky shore (totally unrelated to the surgery). Recovering from a hysterectomy would have been enough of a challenge to my athletic endeavors but handling the emotional flotsam and jetsam that surfaced around that same time has proven more of a challenge than I was prepared to handle. It's been three months and I still can't bring myself to journal about the issues that arose in my marriage this summer. It's been three months and I still can't let myself feel the feelings. I've been eating them instead. Very anti-mermaid of me. And, while I've been eating my feelings, I've been grumbling about the Patriarchy and the lessons it taught me. Lessons like: I must keep my man happy OR I must sacrifice myself/ my needs/ my dignity for my children's sake OR I do not matter (that's one of the funnest patriarchal lessons a girl learns -- I learned it very early on). And these lessons only make me angrier. And that anger only makes me pay less attention to the food going into my gullet. And all that food going into my gullet makes my body feel sick and nasty and not at all terribly beautiful... and so... mermaid is just gone...
But I stumbled on this old journal a couple of days ago in some great cosmic wake-up call moment. I am no novice. I have been working towards health for a long time. I have unlocked the door. I've even walked through it a few times. At the moment, it feels like I'm standing right in the threshold. And this time... I'm going to swim through... and keep on swimming.