Are you doing something that is triggering someone you know with an eating disorder? Take a second and think about that. What about in your online life? What do your updates on Facebook and twitter say to the world about weight, body image, working out, eating and other related issues?
I started thinking about this after @FairAndFeminist tweeted this on July 14:
When posting constantly on #fb about ur diet/weight, pls rmmbr that statistically, you know someone who has survived/has an eating disorder
Interesting. So, how culpable are we in what we say in the real world as well as the virtual one? It’s certainly a though-provoking message.
I admit that I have often used Facebook as an outlet for posts about body image, my weight, exercising and working out as well as what I eat. While I don’t do it all the time, these are topics that come up every now and then. I also share if I had a good (or terrible) experience at a restaurant but I’m certainly not one of those types who recites their lunch order every day. And I have definitely used Facebook as an outlet to log my workouts and a place to vent about various food allergies and my recent foray into becoming an accidental vegan. I see these posts as alternately cathartic, therapeutic (especially in the year after having a baby), inspirational, and sometimes hopeful.
For instance, with workout posts, I have a select agenda. The first and most simplistic reason is to keep a log for myself. I don’t always remember to write these things down and I sometimes can’t remember if I liked a certain DVD or how a certain course or trail felt. And since I know many of my friends workout and do exercise DVDs, I have found many useful conversations debating the finer points and weaknesses of different programs. I mean, that’s what the social network is for, right? So we can have these conversations and reviews of things in our lives?
Another reason I started talking about workouts on Facebook was back when I was running in 2009, before I got pregnant. For a really long time I had resisted running and, in fact, hated running. But I also hated any form of cardio, hated going to the gym, etc. But in truth, I hated having a lot of health problems more and being overweight was creating a bad feedback loop in that regard. When I endeavored to change my health for the better, it necessitated that I also endeavored to change my outlook on physical fitness. If you realize that something has to become a part of your life, well, forever, then you want to somehow make peace with it. I mean, it takes a lot of energy to hate something forever. So, part of my process was to try to turn my hot summer night runs into something empowering and inspirational for myself. Each time I went out for a run and went farther or faster than before, I wanted to capture that moment in time so I could remind myself that there was progress. And so I could inspire myself on those 100-degree nights (yes, nights!) when I did not feel like lacing up my running shoes. (And sometimes other people’s comments helped buoy me, too.) But the flip side of that was that I did hope to inspire others, too. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Because back when I was running in 2009 I weighed over 200 pounds. And on my 5-foot, 6-inch frame, that’s a lot. I have asthma. I have year-round, terrible allergies. I have a chronic, immune system illness that effects many aspects of my life and makes doing something like running really hard at times (which is why I am not running these days). And so, there were a few people in my close circle who I did want to inspire by my actions. Because yes, if that fat, asthmatic, sick-girl can get out there in 100-degree heat and run a mile, or two, or three, well maybe you can do more than you thought you could, too! (*And I’m going to circle back to that fat remark in a minute.) And you know what? My little acts of bravery — and I mean facing my demons on the running courses — did inspire some of my loved ones. In fact, my dear friend from college took up running because of me. And now she’s a marathoner!
Another area that I don’t post on that often, but it does happen, is about food. For me, this is purely related to the burdens of being a person living with food allergies and now IBS (which is why I went vegan). I post funny things that happen to me related to food problems as a way to laugh it off myself. And sometimes I post as a way to educate on how pervasive some type of allergy is. And sometimes I do it to educate, because I am constantly getting asked how I survive with so many severe restrictions on my diet. “What do you eat?!” is usually how that gets asked. So, I post on it when something happens that I think might illuminate my situation for those on the outside. But, in general, I am frustrated with so many food allergy and severe dietary restrictions that sometimes I just don’t want to think about food at all (at least lately).
The one area I try to be careful about in posting on Facebook and twitter is about body image. I believe we all have days when we maybe don’t feel like we look our best or are dissatisfied with our bodies for whatever reason. But I have always felt that self-loathing remarks like, “I look fat today,” or, “Whenever I see Heidi Klum, I remember how fat I am,” are nothing but a disservice to ourselves and each other. That is quintessential fat talk and it’s toxic. …*Now, getting back to my earlier remark in which I called myself a fat asthmatic: I do see the negative in using such a descriptor of myself, even in past-tense. But I also think that there is a way to use the word fat simply as a descriptor, and not as a judgement. I was overweight. Actually, I was obese on the federal BMI standards. So, in that sense, I was fat. Period… But there is a huge difference between using an adjective correctly and using it as a weapon against yourself and/or others. I recognize that. And I recognize that we as a culture are not necessarily at a point in time when we can distinguish those two uses very easily.
And that kind of gets me back to the original question, which was presented to me in that tweet. When is posting about weight and/or body issues a part of normal musings and not laden with baggage or politics? When is it backed by an agenda? And are we responsible for the triggers that others have?
When I write about the things I do, be it on my blogs or on a social media site, I do try to do so with some level of responsibility. And sometimes it can feel like there are so many things that can be triggers or sensitivities for others that you feel like you have nothing left that is safe to share. But then I think about how I would feel if a Facebook friend constantly posted about molestation or sexual assault, in triggering ways. It would be excruciating for me. And, something happened in my social network last month that actually fits this discussion and did change how I approach some of this stuff.
Last month, someone I know gave birth to her first child. She was ecstatically posting updates on Facebook (and I was happily cooing at the beautiful baby pics!). Around that time, I had started a new workout DVD and posted something about trying it on Facebook. And then my friend commented about how she will need to start working out soon to lose the baby weight. This was within 48 hours of having given birth! I was appalled that my little comment about a workout DVD had somehow caused her to think about her situation in such a way that she was already plotting when she would be working out to lose the baby weight. I felt a little sick about it. And I made sure to contact her and tell her that the last thing she needed to think about was baby weight when she has a beautiful baby and the transition to motherhood in her life right now. I implored her to forget about what her body looks like now and just relish these moments. But I also felt deeply guilty about triggering her to think about losing weight at such a momentous time in her life. (And she does not even have an eating disorder.) So, from then on I pledged to myself that I would not post anymore about working out.
But then @FairAndFeministing’s tweet made me think about the weight part of this picture, too. I have posted and blogged about how much weight I’ve lost since having my baby a year ago. My intention in writing about it has always been to do so in order to disarm the ideas behind negative self-talk. My mission has been to make peace with how my body is today. It is changed by pregnancy and child-birth. It is changed by breastfeeding. It is changed by aging and gravity. But I want to model positive self-esteem and body image for my daughter and I can’t do that if I am saying one thing but doing another. I can’t tell her that she should love herself no matter what and that she is beautiful no matter what and then go stand in front of a mirror and pick a part all the body parts I don’t like on myself. I can’t complain that I would be pretty if I just lost those last few pounds. She is watching me all the time. She is learning about how to be a woman from how I am today. Not tomorrow’s dream of who I will be. But right here. Right now. And to that end, I stand by what I have shared in terms of my weight. I think that’s the trickiest part of this dilemma.
How do we dismantle the power of eating disorders and bad body image unless we talk about it and about those related issues? How do we create spaces to share our experiences — which include how we feel about our bodies — and make sure that it is not done so in a way that harms others? I don’t know that I have the answers. All I can do is navigate through the issue as carefully and thoughtfully as I can. And I pray that I do no harm.