Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

My current read on my kindle right now is The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

This book is F@#$%& blowing my mind, you guys! Blowing my mind.


I found this book after it was recommended by the kick-ass blogger Jes Baker of www.themilitantbaker.com (who is a body positive warrior, you have to read her and her work) and I am loving this book. From my Google search, it was published in 1990, which is six years before I even finished high school! So it's an "old" book, but it reads like it was written today!

The basic premise is that "beauty" is not objective, and it's a totally mythical construct in that it is something made up and manufactured as an idea/ideal in order to sell women beauty products and to keep us feeling inferior. Think about it: if you were totally, completely and one hundred percent happy in your own skin (if you have no idea what that feels like, think back to when you were a child, of say, 10), would you need to buy all the bullshit products we are sold on a daily basis? Would you want to go for plastic surgery where they cut your body open? Would you even wear make-up?

I realise that this "problem" of women and "beauty" is not a new one, and this one book clearly will not change the world, but I still urge all of you to read it and be aware of how this social construct called "beauty" is sabotaging our self-esteem and robbing us of our hard-earned money and making us feel less-than and like we are all in competition with one another.

It's part of why I braved posting a "real" pic of myself on Facebook the other day. There IS a new wave of reality out there, where real women are showing themselves for who they truly are, in their real skin. It's wonderful to see!

So yes, because I am now 39 and will be 40 next year, I guess my unavoidable signs of aging are what are getting me to question all this. I am struggling more and more to "look pretty" and am tempted to spend more and more money on my face and my body than ever before. But I have always sensed the bullshit, it's just catching up to me now that my looks are "letting me down". But the truth is, my looks are NOT letting me down. How sad and fucked up that I even could think that about my own body and face? My body and my face are just that: a body, and a face. They are just doing what EVERYONE's will do: age. It's normal.

But do you see how our media has poisoned us against our own precious selves? The poison is so very hard to escape because it's in our own minds, deeply embedded there. To hate your physical form for being itself is a maddening way to live.

And even worse, is that there is this subtle "war" amongst women in terms of beauty. If she is beautiful, she is winning, and if I am aging, or, heaven forbid, gaining weight, I am losing. And so, then, when we do gain some weight, or get wrinklier, we feel like losers.

I say, enough with the madness. This has got to stop. I can't live like this anymore, hating myself for being a human being.

The truth is, I don't yet know how to truly love my physical self. It's not easy. I have been conditioned since fairy-tale days (think Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) to believe in the myth of beauty. But I hope to free myself, one small, tiny step at a time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dear Woman Friend

You may be a real-life friend of mine, or an internet "friend", but PLEASE know this: I think you are goddamn beautiful. Just the way you are.

Please read that again. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL EXACTLY AS YOU ARE.

How do I know this? I know this because beauty is, for me, all about what is on the inside. It really is. Truly.

So I know that you love hard, that you have the same fears and insecurities as I do and that you are doing the very best you can every single day. That is beautiful. I know you are kind and mean well, and that the world and the hardness that life throws at you, and at me, can be crushing sometimes.

I know your body seems to be betraying you by storing fat in all the places you wish it wouldn't (along with some places you are happy about - yay bigger boobs and butt). But our bodies are NOT our enemies. This brand new concept for me is blowing my mind but it's helping me so much. My body is not my enemy. My body is simply a vehicle that is carrying me around on this Earth. Think about it: when you were born, you had no control over what body you were given. You entered with this baby-body, and that was that. The genetic coding of that body is nothing other than that: genetic coding. So if you end up tall, skinny, short, missing a limb, darker or lighter skinned, straight or wavy haired, chubby or very fat...it's not your doing. Which means, for us as a society, and especially as women, to judge each other based on our "spacesuits" is just plain silly. It's silliness.

Yet I have done it, and mostly I have judged myself. I am sure that if you are a woman, and you are reading this, you too have done it. You have found your physical self lacking in some way. I know the feeling.

But you are still beautiful regardless of what you see in the mirror and regardless of society's arbitrary standards. Yes, you might not look close to the "ideal" image of beauty that we are fed (think of any popular model/celeb) but I promise you, if you looked at yourself through the eyes of love, you would see your beauty. And that, my friends, is where beauty lies. In the eyes of the lover. In the eyes of the one looking upon you with love.

How can I be so sure of this? Because it happens to me time and time again. When I see someone's soul, I suddenly find them so freaking beautiful. Do you know what I mean?

Let me give you an example: when I was studying Graphic Design at Tech, there were all sorts of students in my year. All sorts of looks. Some were "ugly" by the societal beauty standard, yes. But as I got to know all my classmates, that quickly disappeared for me, and I soon saw all of them truly. For their natures, for their hearts. And the "ugly" ones became so beautiful, and some of the "pretty/hot" ones were kinda ugly in their unkindness.

See?

And then add to that a deeper layer of complexity: even the traditionally good-looking kids are still beautiful in their unkindness because when you look closer, their actions of unkindness are born out of their own insecurities and fears. And we see the truth of someone, with their vulnerabilities, they become, at least to me, anyway, very beautiful.

I am definitely someone who falls in love with people's vulnerabilities and their humanness. Their "realness", so to speak. And when that happens, the big nose, or the crooked teeth, or the wrinkles that they possess become so lovely to look at. Maybe it's the artist in me, but when someone is open and vulnerable with me, and I see their truth, then suddenly all their flaws look so amazing that I could stare at them for hours and hours. Every pore on the skin, every stretch mark....everything!

So you who feel that your thighs are too wide, or your nose too big or your wrinkles too deep, please stand in your own light and own your true beauty. See it! Please dear woman friend, SEE it. Because I do.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

My new thing: body positivity!!!

Why all of a sudden this about-change from gym-chic to body-loving chic?

Age.

As I age and get softer, no amount of gym training will change that. I may stay mobile, active and strong, but my flesh will soften and wrinkle and I need to learn to love that. Also, I can't subject myself to such rigorous exercise anymore. I just can't.

Maybe I burnt out. I don't know. Or maybe I'm just tired of placing so much value on the outside, when what really, truly counts is the inside.

Maybe I just want to enjoy my food, and enjoy my exercise. So maybe, I don't want food to be either "good" or "bad" and maybe I don't want exercise to be "a grind" or "work" or a form of "burning calories" and I don't want to do what I have heard women say, and what I thought I might be doing, which is to "run so I can eat". No. I LOVE running, mostly (yes, it gets tough, but it's a way of digging deep inside myself and that is part of the enjoyment) and I don't want to see it as part of an equation. I want to run for enjoyment. I want to eat for both fuel AND pleasure both. And if I don't feel like running for a time, I might stop.

Are you getting my drift? I don't want to suck the joy out of things anymore. I have done that before, and become obsessed.

But wait, didn't I love my gym-training and my competing? Yes, I DID! But I honestly believe that if I were to continue competing, I'd need to take something (you all know what I mean) and I just don't want to. I take my hats off to all athletes who do what they do. I am glad I got to peek into their world. I am so glad I learnt what my body could do, but I don't want my mind to fall back into obsession-mode.

I have realised that I have a son to raise and I need him to see me act NORMALLY around food. I need him to also see his mom with a healthy attitude towards her body. I am afraid he hasn't seen that yet in his young life, and it kind of saddens me. He has seen me weigh myself daily. Sometimes more than once a day. He has seen me with a tape measure, jotting down my measurements. He has seen me demonize some foods. He has also heard me obsess about "being healthy", but even that can become a weird obsession, where I freak out about "unhealthy" foods. I don't want to act so freaky anymore. Clearly, I have a tendency to become obsessive, as you can see.

Probably I'm heading towards some body-positive obsessive behavior, but heck, if it promotes self-love AS WE ARE, then I guess it's going to be ok.

I am, unfortunately, so overly-conditioned to hate what I see in the mirror and to want to always, always look younger and thinner, that my thinking around this has become automatic.

But when I delve deeply into my soul, into my true essence, I know that my body is irrelevant. It's totally irrelevant. And here I have invested HOURS and THOUSANDS of rands on it. And yet I could be in a car crash and lose use of my body. Or I could get cancer and have to cut parts out and off. And then what? If I have focused solely on my body, on my outsides, I will feel really lost.

Now, don't get me wrong, there is NOTHING WRONG with exercise, and nourishing your body, and all those good things. My father was a dedicated Comrades runner and I saw how it gave him joy, hope and purpose and lifted him out of his tendency towards depression. When I exercise I sleep so well, and I feel those post-exercise endorphins, but that should be the focus, not on "fat burning".

For me, it's all about the WAY I have gone about things in my head and THAT is what needs to change. If you have hated your body for as long as you can remember, like I have, then please click on these awesome links. Check out these awesome pictures of naked females for body loving inspiration. And this blog here.

More than anything, I want every woman, myself included, to have the power of loving herself AS SHE IS. She could be an athlete, a couch potato, or someone inbetween. She could be rail thin, or fat, or thick, or short, or missing a limb, but each one of us deserves to feel self-love. I believe that. I really, deeply believe that. And each one of us is beautiful in our own way. I also deeply believe that. Even if we are not traditionally beautiful.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Confession: I have a fear of fat!

I have a fear of fat!

Well...duh...you might say if you know me or if you have read my blog before. DUH Louise, I coulda told you that, you would scream.

Seems like it is something I have been hiding from myself though. In my endless fitness and diet pursuits, I have veiled them in the squeaky-clean image of pursuing "health" but the truth is, as much I believe in being healthy, what I always really wanted as a side outcome, was to be thin. Lean. Low body-fat.

Since my competing days, especially my first two competitions (for those that don't know, I competed in bikini divisions of bodybuilding competitions for a brief moment in time) when I was ultra lean, the leanest/thinnest I have ever been in my whole entire life, I have yearned and struggled to get back to that state. The problem is, getting so very lean is hard work. It's flippen' hard work. It takes focus and dedication and doesn't "just" happen. At least, not for me. I am not that type of person who battles to gain weight. Even though I look like that type, it's been hard work and watching what I eat that got me so lean and has kept me in shape.

And the thing is, when something takes all of your mental energy, as well as physical energy for workouts, it leaves very little for anything else. Yes, I was still a good mother then, but I was a shitty spouse. I'll admit it. Can you imagine being married to a chic who only feeds you lean steak/chicken and broccoli for supper night after night? A chic who constantly watches what she eats and eats every meal according to a plan? Who never drinks? Sounds anal, right? Well, that was me, for a good two years. Yes, I had a cheat meal/day once a week but that was scheduled. And sure, I had small breaks in between where I didn't diet, for like a week or two. But I was mostly in diet/training mode, and even when I wasn't, I was thinking about it all the time. Even my "cheats" were controlled and part of the plan. Very little was left to fun and chance.

So yes, it worked and I got the body that society tells us is the "goal". I achieved MY best body. But...wait for it...but...I honestly wasn't any happier than I was before. I wasn't any happier at my leanest than I have been when I was heavier. If anything, I was more miserable. Yes, I was happier with my body but that's it. I was more confident wearing skimpy outfits. I was happier when I went shopping for clothes, definitely, and oh boy did I go shopping for clothes back then, because I finally felt my body was good enough. But I wasn't any happier with myself in general and my relationships were no better.

If I examine deeply what was really going on inside my mind at that time, if I think back and place myself back in my shoes those five and bit years ago, I can see that my mind was totally fucked up. I was totally body-obsessed, spending nearly ALL my mental energy on that one thing. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with taking care of your body, and yes, I learnt a lot, and it was an amazing journey for me who has hated her body for so long, but looking back on how obsessed I was,  I can honestly say, it wasn't healthy. It isn't healthy, and I say "isn't" because I still find myself obsessing, now and then.

For those who know me, you will know I then became a Banting Coach. Banting, for me, became just another form of obsessing over food and body. Yes, I certainly believe it is a healthy way of eating, but for someone like me who didn't need to lose weight, and who was already so super obsessed with every inch of her body and body-fat (thanks to the bodybuilding competitions and criteria) Banting was just a different way for me to obsess.

So yes, I am terrified of letting go and gaining weight. But for my mental health, I have to let go. I can't wake up every day and think about food and calories and the scale or the tape measure anymore. I really, really can't. Well, let's put it this way: I can, but how exhausting. And what a waste of mental energy. Really! And the odd thing is, I can see fat on other people and I think they're beautiful just the way they are, I really, honestly do, but I hold myself to a different standard. Why? Why am I so hard and harsh with myself? Why do I not see myself as beautiful if I am fatter? I blame society. I really do. I know it's conditioned into us, this fear of fat, and this whole crazy obsession with being thin. And so when I got so lean/thin, I felt like I had finally gained society's stamp of approval. And the saddest part of all is that everyone around me confirmed this. People would ask me for diet advice. They complimented me. They praised me. They ALL told me how good I looked.

It's sick, and I am seeing that now. But maybe the really sick one is ME and my mind. Because I let the opinions of others feed me and my insecurities. The truth is I was just as beautiful and VALID even when I was a bit heavier. But I didn't believe it myself. And so I took this journey and I believed the lies. And then I went and confirmed to myself that society prefers me lean and thin by accepting all the praise.

BUT...I have to ask myself one hard question: what did my lean body benefit anyone? Did getting lots of picture "likes" and "thumbs ups" help me or them? No, it did not. In fact, I was just perpetuating the very myth that was trapping me into an obsessive mind.

So what has brought me around to this way of thinking?

Well, I was paging through the November issue of Good Housekeeping and I saw what looked revolutionary to me: real, normal, healthy, curvy women posing in their swimwear feature. And the feature didn't even say "plus-sized" even though these are plus-sized models. (They are actually pretty normal women, but hey! in fashion anything over size zero is considered plus-sized.) I was gobsmacked and blown away. I haven't bought magazines for a while now as I am generally SO OVER them, and their bullshit but I bought this one because the actors from "This is Us" were on the cover and I loved that show.

So anyway, the one curvy model is a young woman called Marciel Hopkins, and the editor's column suggested we go follow her on Instagram as she has such a body-positive account. I read those words, and thought "body-positive"? What is that? So I went to check out her Instagram and discovered a whole world of body-positivity there! What really blew me away and got me thinking was this: she dieted and trained (just as I did when I was competing) in order to be slim enough to fit the Miss South Africa beauty pageant mold. But it wasn't sustainable for her and after a time, she relaxed and let her body return to it's curvy self. What really, really blew me away though, was that here was this GORGEOUS young girl who was happy and accepting of herself with all her rolls, curves and cellulite! And she looked stunning and happy and when I paged through her Instagram, looking at her when she was at her thinnest, and her at her happy weight, she looked MUCH HEALTHIER and better with the extra weight. I promise you. I honestly thought that. 

I was even more thrilled to read her words, and to hear her say: every body is healthy at their own different weights. Yes!
She has some lovely hashtags that all resonated with me: #nowrongwaytohaveabody #bodydiversity
And my favourite quote of hers "If you have a body, then you have a bikini body". YES!

And so I realise that some people will look at me and say "But Louise, you are thin, you have nothing to worry about, your body is awesome for a bikini." But my body is aging (I turned 39 this year) and things are softening and sagging, and my butt is a bit wobblier and it's time to focus on other things now. How my body looks should be the very least of my worries. And yet, I still want to wear a bikini. So Marciel Hopkins' message resonated with me because, hey, even if you have a wobbly butt, you can still wear a bikini.

I am tired. Tired out. I just cannot "pursue" #bodygoals anymore. I can't do it. I have to relax a bit. I have to take a break. I have to just breath and let it all hang out and let my body do what she wants to do. And so I hereby declare that I am going to teach myself how to love my body as she is, right now, here, today. She is worthy. She is just a physical vehicle. If I can look at other women and see their beauty in all their shapes and sizes, why can't I see mine?
This is Jade Beall, an awesome rock star photographer whose work brought tears to my eyes. She is teaching self-love and practising it. 

Image: Jade Beall - from her FB page
Jade Beall Image - how beautiful? These women look like paintings to me, like works of art! 

Lastly, to end off this very raw, stream-of-consciousness post, please go check out Jade Beall's photography page. She is this awesome photographer whose images celebrate the beauty of the human form WITH all it's imperfections. I stared at her images of round, curvy soft and thin women, and saw that all of them looked like famous paintings. They looked like Renoir and Rembrant and other famous artist's models.

Her images actually had me sobbing in front of my laptop as I gazed upon them. Tears just came and were streaming down my face, and I didn't quite understand them, but then I realised that I was crying for myself because I have been so hard on myself. I have not loved myself. I have extended love and compassion outwards to others, and seen their beauty, but how could they ever believe me when I hold my own self to unrealistically high standards? How could other women relax around me and feel my love for them if I am withholding that very soft, compassionate love from myself? And so my heart broke, for myself, and I cried for myself and for all the ways I have been cruel to myself and critical to myself and I promised myself that I can learn how to love myself even if....gasp...I put on some weight.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Family Holiday: Cape Town

We just arrived back yesterday from a family holiday - three of us - to Cape Town, and I have a few thoughts to share.
1: Family holidays are intense. You are with each other, as a unit, ALL the time. We did bicker and rub each other the wrong way, which is probably normal. My partner and I ended up bickering quite a bit. I turned into a grumpy bitch.
2: We were a bit too busy and over-scheduled, but we wanted to see it ALL and do it all. We didn't build in much rest time. We should have.
3: I believe that perhaps humans are born explorers. We were probably meant to be nomadic. I am just musing here, but every day, we had the urge to go out and explore Cape Town. We didn't WANT to be cooped up in our hotel room. We wanted to walk around, to see things, to experience things, to taste things. Which ended up exhausting us somewhat, but we wanted to do as much as we could. The strange thing is, even my partner, who normally naps every day and doesn't want to do much, was on the go all the time in Cape Town. He found his inner child a bit. It was truly wonderful to see.

So maybe this explains why we humans love to run Comrades, and do trail runs, and triathlons. We are probably born explorers.

Wine tasting at Spier. We look super happy but tensions were running high at times during our holiday. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Running time

Just a log for me:

12 Sep 2017
5km Lilicrona - time 29mins 36 secs. I only walked twice, very very briefly, ran 99% of the way. Ran in my pink Vibrams, but straight after I ate something. Legs were still a bit stiff and tired from Sunday's 10km.
Wed 13th Sep 2017
4 km time trial route 24:30
Walked a total of three times, for the count of a few seconds only. Hilly course, tired legs.

Sunday 17th Sep 2017
15km long run.
Around 2hr 45mins. 

Friday 29th September 2017
9km
52:44sec
New shoes, Altra Torin. First time in them. What a noticeable difference running in those to the Vibrams. In Vibrams, my lower legs, feet and calves do a lot more work. In these, it feels as if my thighs and hips have to work more. Shoes feel chunkier. Loads of cushioning. Not sure if I like it, but I like them better than my Asics. So far.

Saturday 30th Sep
5km Parkrun
28mins 54secs
Wore new yellow Vibrams. Loved them.

Sunday 1st Oct
19km training run
2hr 7mins
Wore Altra's - felt very heavy, felt slow, feet hurt - I wore thicker socks. My toes felt like they were rubbing against the socks. Not a pleasant run. Felt ill and very sore at the end, back was sore, everything was sore.

Monday 2nd Oct
4km
no time.
Ran at mom's house, just quick round the block. Loved it. Wore my new yellow Vibrams with the toe socks. Felt free, felt fast, even though I am not sure I go much faster.

Wednesday 4th Oct
5km - Lilicrona
28mins5sec - PB!
Wore yellow Vibrams with socks. Under big toes was only place that rubbed.

Friday 6th Oct
9km (to the beach and back)
Didn't time it

Saturday 7th Oct
8km (ran to gym, did a workout, then ran back home.)

Sunday 8th October 2017
21km with Striders (training run)
Didn't time it. About 2 and half hours.

Wednesday 11th October 2017
7km - 5km PB (27min 3 secs) and hill training.

Thursday 12th October
11km in wet, windy rainy conditions

Sat 14th October
5km - ran, walked jogged - 32mins

Sun  15th October
27.5km Munster run - 3hours, 10mins. Got hot, felt quite thirsty towards the end, battled a lot the last 5km.

Wednesday 18th Oct
5km Lilicrona - PB - 25MINS50SECS
Yellow Vibrams, big toes hurt underneath. Even though I ran fast, I felt fat and heavy.
Plus about 1.5km hill work - did the hill 3 x

Saturday 21st (Seth's birthday)
6.5km run - down to beach and not all the way, then back again.

Sun 22 Oct
Color Run - 5km easy, walked.

Wednesday 25th Oct
4km Time Trials - PB -21mins 28secs!


Sunday, September 10, 2017

I have re-kindled my joy of running/being active

This post is a reminder to myself.

You see, for ages now, I have lost my gym mojo, my active-lifestyle mojo. I have just been going through the motions, not sure of what  I am doing. I think it's because I have had no fitness goals, and I am someone who loves goals.

So I stopped working out intensely, and then about 2-3 weeks ago I got really sick with the flu and couldn't work out at all. I did nothing for two weeks. I was actually enjoying the break, even though I wasn't enjoying the flu. Doing nothing was ok, until the end of week 2 when I started to feel really "blah". I even felt just as stiff and "tired" in the mornings as I did when I would exercise, and I realised that not exercising was not helping me much. So the next day I went for a run, and experienced that lovely post-run euphoria, and wow, all of a sudden, I remembered how good it can feel to exert myself physically!

And suddenly I fell back in love with activity.

I had been feeling mixed feelings about my exercise for a long time. I was even not sure if I wanted to exercise anymore. I was beginning to think that I should just quit the gym, stop running, and throw in the towel completely.

But my run (5km) had me feeling so good that I changed my mind right then and there.

I am vital and alive, I thought, so why would I just stop and sit around? I mean, I don't have to train like a world champion, but I love nothing more than that post-run euphoria, and I am still young and fit and capable. Why WOULDN'T I want to use my body?

I think that competing in the body-building competitions have messed with my mind. They've made the whole focus of me being active all about how I look, when, really, it should be about how I feel. I should be active because I like how I feel, not because I think it should make me look a certain way. Before I did those bikini contests, I simply enjoyed running and dancing for the sheer joy of doing them. Now, I do things with "weight loss" or "cutting" or "building" in mind and if I am not "getting anywhere" I tend to feel like it's pointless. But when I enjoyed that little run so much I realised that I could be denying myself such joy by not moving.

So I will exercise if I feel like it. And I will move to feel good. And for now I am setting a little running goal of completing a 21km half marathon. Just a goal for fun.