Guest Blogger Gets to the Heart of Gender and Body Image

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

I am in the editing phase of my book (to be released this Winter) entitled Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self. I'm taking a long break from blogging to finish this book that I'm so excited to share with you soon.

In my hiatus, I was blown away by the beautiful poetry and clarity presented by Schuyler Bailar, a student/athlete at Harvard University, who spoke so eloquently at the MEDA eating disorder conference I recently attended. Schuyler is studying psychology and competes on the men’s swimming team. He also happens to be a transgender man recovering from an eating disorder and a public speaker. Schuyler finished his warm, honest, and informative presentation with this letter that he wrote to his mother the evening before he had surgery to remove the breasts that he was born with. I will let Schuyler's words speak for themselves. 

There has been a lot of discussion in my professional circles since the release of the movie To the Bone (warning: content of this film may be triggering to anyone who suffers from an eating disorder). One of the major concerns is that this film is yet another with a very thin white female as the protagonist. Those of us who work in the field of disordered eating know that anorexia nervosa (as well as other eating disorders) exist in people who have bodies that are not emaciated or thin. They also exist in people of diverse race, gender, and sexuality.

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

In the wake of this film's release, it seemed timely to introduce this inspiring young person's writing. Schuyler Bailar's piece below was first published on his blog and he gave me permission to repost it here. You can find information about Schuyler and more of his writings on his website

 

 

 

Dear mom.

I know that a lot has been going on.

I just got out of rehab, I‘m asking you to call me your son, and I want to move out.

And it seems like a lot is about to happen.

I know that surgery is scary and I know most people don’t understand why I would voluntarily undergo a double mastectomy to remove a part of my body of which most of my female friends are jealous.

And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m not a little bit scared, and a little bit sad.

Even though I’ve never wanted them, my breasts are a part of me.

Last week I made a video of myself for myself for later, with my bare chest exposed. And as I did so, I felt this strange surge of pride in my body – a love of every bit of me.

I haven’t ever felt like that…

There’s always been something I’ve hated or wanted to change. Some part of my body that I picked out to pick on.

But that day, even though I saw things I didn’t like, even though I saw things I really do want to change, for some reason, I still felt love and pride for everything. Including my breasts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing that’s making me doubt my decision to get them removed, but I felt a sort of strange sadness that they’ll finally be gone – kind of like getting rid of a bad habit or something.

And I can’t say I’m going to miss them. Because I’m not.

But it still feels surreal.

My body will be cut open, the fat sucked out of me, my mammary glands thrown out along with my ability to ever nurture a child.

I’ll be patched back up, and wake up probably 10 pounds lighter…

And I will be whole, yet some of me will be missing.

And I will always love that part of me, in a peculiar way. I will always be thankful for the strength and courage they demanded I show as they grew (and grew and grew and grew) to declare to the world this was not me. I am not boobs. I am not woman. I am Schuyler.

But back to how you’re involved.

I like to believe that this body is just as much yours as it is mine.

My little brain, my little arms, my brown eyes with green flecks, my little fingers all grew in your body from your body.

And my body, though it has a separate consciousness than yours, is an extension of yours.

And I want you to know something as I move forwards in my transition: I do not hate the body you gave me.

People talk about transgender individuals being “born in the wrong body.”

As if being born is just something that happens.

As if there were not people and love and care and pain and happiness and joy and terror involved.

Born. Given life. Brought into the world. There is nothing wrong in that process. There is no “wrong” in birth.

I was not born wrong at all; I was not born with the wrong mind; I was not born into the wrong body,

In fact, you did not birth a body at all.

You birthed me; a whole and entire person.

A person with teeny little finger nails, tiny eyes and tiny hands, little itty bitty feet, and a huge heart… a whole person all the same.

A lot of trans people talk about how their bodies betray them and how they hate their hips or lack thereof, their breasts or lack thereof, their femininity or their masculinity…

But I don’t…anymore, at least. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my days of raging, of self-harming, body-hating… I’ve written a good deal of poems angry at my body — some on my body.

But these days, I do not hate my body.

In fact, I have worked hard learning to love every bit of myself – every part of my body that you gave me to love.

And I am proud of it all.

Because you birthed me whole; I arrived an entire person.

And through the past year of treatment and travel and just plain old life experiences, I’ve learned a love that I will always have

For this body of mine.

For the parts that I don’t agree with.

For the parts that I have always agreed with.

For the parts that are invisible…

For this body of mine.

Because no matter how life changes it, this body will always be beautiful, this body will always be something you created.

So.

Dear mom.

Thank you.

I love you.

© S. Bailar 2015

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

Care of the Athlete (and the Self) Creates a Winning Team

DSCN1016.JPG

The recent Winter Olympics buzz inspired me to write about something that troubles me about athletics and sports today: the focus on winning and being there for the team at the expense of the individual athlete. Even in individual athletic pursuits, there is often a focus on competition. The outcome becomes more important than the process. While setting goals can be motivating, I also wonder if so many people lose the joy of moving the body by focusing on the finish and not on the race.

I work with many athletes and former athletes in my nutrition therapy practice. It’s astounding how many of them have challenging relationships with food. You would think that athletes, whose bodies are their instruments, would have increased reverence for food as their fuel. Many of them do, but I am always amazed at just how many also have a lot of conflict and struggle around food.

P3010012.JPG

Athletic people should ideally be the most in-tune with their bodies. Their bodies are highly capable, and sometimes they depend on these well-trained bodies for a major part of their livelihood. But, more often than I’d like to see, athletes can become quite disconnected from their bodies. They often ignore pain, strain, and fatigue because they don’t want to let the team down. The focus is on winning or finishing or getting the best time or lifting more than they did yesterday... And if a coach has told them that they need to stay thin or lose weight to be top at their sport, then they often engage in dieting behaviors — and sometimes even develop eating disorders — in an attempt to perform their best. Ironically, the dieting and disordered eating often shortens their career or leads to debilitating injuries that last for decades. Some athletes, like football players, are even encouraged to overeat, which can have a lasting impact on their relationship to food and later health.

DSC_0159.JPG

It made me think about the way in which all of us “perform” in our lives. Do we operate from our own desires, dreams, appetites — or are we trying to please our “coaches” or “teams?” Are we enjoying the moments of our lives — or are we chasing some goal, some “should” that keeps getting bigger and bigger the more we practice?

Let’s think about this…

  • When you exercise, are you doing it because it makes you feel great and it’s loads of fun — or are you trying to look a certain way for a certain someone or have a certain image? Do you listen to your body when it says it’s time to rest, or do you have a set amount of exercise that you must do in order to feel good about your workouts?
  • When you make a choice about what to eat, do you choose from what you really want to eat and what you know feels best for your body and palate — or do you eat what you think you should, based on someone else's assessment of what is best for you?
  • Are you living your life on your terms, making your own choices? Do you consult with your “team” of loved ones or advice-givers around you, considering their needs and ideas along with your own — or do you give up your own needs for the team, doing what you think you should do?
DSC_0136.JPG

My last blog post was a reprint of Sondra Kronberg’s article about eating disorders recovery called “Listening Inward.” She wrote about the importance of operating from a frame of reference that is inside ourselves, honoring our own truths and hungers and preferences instead of those of the people around us. If an athlete is doing that, she is more likely to notice that twinge in her knee and stop, instead of pushing on through pain and hurting herself. If a coworker recognizes that her body wants warm, grounding food and choses the hearty soup, she will feel centered and soothed all afternoon — instead of grabbing the salad, like everyone else around her and feeling hungry, distracted, and unsatisfied afterwards. If we all listen to our hearts and work to create a life that holds meaning and enjoyment for us, then we can say “no” to the things that don’t resonate with the life that we want. We can also say “yes” to the things and people that line up with our values and dreams.

Maybe you didn’t beat your best time, but you ran the race with your friends beside you for a good cause. Maybe you didn’t win the game, but you took many wonderful deep breaths under a clear blue sky. Maybe you didn’t lift as much weight or swim as many laps as you did when you used to go to the gym regularly, but you recommitted to your health and well-being by starting to exercise again. Maybe you didn’t dance as long or as hard as the people around you, but you shook your thang and you loved it.

Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Bud-Bud and Boo try out snowboarding.

Enjoy moving — even if you don’t win the gold medal. Enjoy eating — even if you didn’t create the perfect meal. Listen to your body and its wisdom before you jump on the next diet and nutrition fad. In my experience, healing our relationships with food is comprised of the slow, hard work of changing habits and thought patterns, and no quick-fix nutrition solution will do it. Trust yourself above all else. Don’t forget yourself, when trying to be part of a community, family, or workplace. Feed yourself well so that you can move through life the way you want to: with strength, courage, and not overly influenced by your “team.” Life can be a challenging journey. Appreciate your growth, your unique gifts, and the way that taking good care of yourself helps you move through your unique life with grace. You will truly be a better “team player” if you are taking good care of your Self first.