The current toxic positivity around diet culture has caused our problematic relationship with movement, food, and our bodies. How revolutionary would it be if society introduced girls to exercise as a pleasurable way to strengthen and stretch their bodies instead of losing weight or correcting a physical “imperfection”? On How Body Negative, we talked about how society has pressured us into having distorted ideas about our body image. Continuing that conversation, we invited Nicole Pearce (a badass fitness instructor and human body nerd) and Melody Afkami (founder of Melody DanceFit, a new fitness style, blending positive psychology with intense cardio in a club atmosphere) or to talk about serotonin-based movement.
Through most of this damn pandemic, I’ve been in bed. Yes, I am sometimes masturbating, but I’ve been depressed doing what depressed people do a more significant amount of the day. Things like scrolling down Instagram reels, sleeping 16 hours a day, scolding myself for not doing what I “should be doing”, feeling useless and stressed for being so unproductive, or whatever other activity that could constitute psychological self-harm while doing absolutely nothing to feel better. This is a spiral I think all of us have gone through.
We’ve been so addicted to social media going through the repeatedly traumatic events that these year has brought that we forgot how our bodies and minds really work. Granted. Some of us have had a bad relationship with exercise since forever, but, in the context of lockdown, we’ve all fallen into certain toxic behaviors because we’re constantly seeing “killer ab workouts”, “bubble booty lunge fests,” and “how to shred fat arms”—accompanied with before and after pictures that reassure us that a skinnier version of us is a better and worthier version of us.
Why do we want a balanced, varied, and sufficient diet paired with dopamine-inducing movement? It’s not related to aesthetics but to improve our quality of life. Feeding and moving our bodies helps break the cycle of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. For decades we’ve been bombarded with advertisements that remind us how much we are not enough if we’re not doing barre, pilates, yoga, cycling, swimming. Every day new info pops up about the “best way to burn calories”, “to get leaner”, or “to get rid of ‘stubborn fat’ in ‘conflictive’ places”. Our culture has been infested with fatphobia in such a powerful way that we now see food with a moral value and exercise as a metric that has to balance out. These behaviors are disordered. Health doesn’t mean pushing harder and harder against your body’s (and mind’s) needs, and it doesn’t mean keeping track obsessively of our daily calorie expenditure on our smartwatches. Here at How C*m, we define health as pleasure. What feels good is good, and disordered dieting and exercising behaviors definitely don’t feel good.
Okay, pleasure. Let’s break it down. We are so misinformed that we tend to relate health to discipline and pleasure with rebelling to that discipline. When my disordered brain thinks about pleasure, it automatically goes to the extreme opposite of discipline. I must eat (preferably food with no nutritional value) until I can’t breathe properly, I must stay in bed until my back hurts, and I must stare numblessly at my phone until I have a migraine. How can I have pleasure without falling into self-harming indulgence? I learned this the hard way: sedentary, dehydrated, and malnourished bodies have chronic pain, fatigue; and the minds that inhabit them are anxious and depressed. Bodies that are well-fed and move regularly (and have fun while doing it) have more strength and flexibility, and the minds that live in them have dopamine, fewer mood swings, and are generally better at coping with daily life.
However, how do I go from being a depressed fuck to being a healthy human?
Well, I shouldn’t listen to diet culture, but then what should I do? Our first impulse is to always fantasize about that version of us that is perfect. “On Monday, I will wake up at 6 am; I’ll have a green smoothie, go for a run, meditate, work for a while, have active breaks every 30 mins, eat low carbs, blah, blah, blah”. Monday comes by, and if you manage to get something done, you end up more frustrated because you couldn’t accomplish ALL the things “perfect you” would have done. We do this instead of celebrating the things we did do. Diet culture led us into these toxic behaviors, so why don’t we just listen to our bodies rather? Nicole and Melody mentioned something that shook me to my flabby core: “A good workout isn’t the one that leaves sore the next day”.
What the fuck? I don’t think I’ve ever worked out and not felt sore the next day.
And then it clicked. Baby steps. We’re so desperate to get results that we forget that progressions are necessary to obtain them. My best friend is a physiotherapist who is definitely ready for hot girl summer, and we have had many discussions about my exercise needs. Every time I decide to work out like a maniac after being in bed for weeks, she says, “that’s not a proper progression; you’ll hurt yourself”. And she’s right. The next day I’m sore and possibly traumatized by the extreme stress of thinking, “just one more minute of cardio, you fat bitch”.
This is a lesson that has taken a lot of time for me to understand: The best workout is one that improves your cardiovascular resistance, increases your mobility, and/or releases endorphins, sure. But, more importantly, it’s made with love and care towards yourself, and it leaves you satisfied enough that you want to do it again tomorrow.
Final food for thought: Earlier this year, I read “Hunger” by Roxane Gay. It’s a brutal memoir of her body as a morbidly obese black woman. Reading this book was extremely triggering because I have rarely felt so identified with a piece of writing. I felt like I was reading my journal as she talked about how hard it is to inhabit her fat body in this very fat-phobic world. But hold on. I have a privileged body. I’m white, and I’ve never weighed more than 135 pounds. I’ve never been told by a doctor that I have to lose weight; I’ve never been overtly discriminated due to my weight. When I walk in public, I’m sure people aren’t staring at my enormous body because I fluctuate between sizes 2 and 4. If the way society sees her is so different, how can I feel so connected to her experience? How can our relationship with ourselves, our perceptions of self-worth, and our anxious thoughts when being in public be so similar if our bodies look so different? Roxane's words are healing because of her candor. She is ruthlessly honest about the pain, shame, and guilt of having fat people issues (like sitting on tiny chairs and getting on a stage that has no ramp or rail among other things people who look like me have never even thought of); she is optimistic about the future (curious and open-hearted, not toxic); and she drops some fucking big truth bombs about how we define worth in our society.
This is an invitation for you to change your language regarding the body you live in, and to also quit the cycle of judging, commenting, and observing other people's size. Let's take this opportunity to move our bodies in pleasurable ways. To amend our relationship with movement, food, and our bodies, because we deserve to be living our best life (not our thinnest one).