Sunday, 5 May 2013

Another decision made

Tw: diets, disordered eating &c.

Today I discovered this website. And it made me really angry. It's all about intuitive eating. Saying "fuck it" to diets, completely, totally. Accepting your own urges to eat three cookies or ten. To say "no" to boiled cabbage and "yes" to steak, cheesecake, camembert, whatever, as your body asks you to. To avoid eating habits and exercise habits driven by the goal of weight loss.

So, three things you may or may not know about me:
  1. Throughout my teens and adult life, I've varied only between "overweight" and "obese" by the BMI categories. Today, I weigh 183 pounds (13 stone 1; 83 kg) giving me a BMI of 28.5.
  2. I've basically spent the last 15-18 years on a slow journey from feeling very unhappy in my own skin to being very comfortable with my body and myself. I used to feel ugly, gross, dissociated. Not just because of the weight, but because I felt deeply unhappy in myself, and defined my body as a meatbag for getting my brain - the bit of me that mattered - from place to place. Now I live in my body in a more peaceful way.
  3. I have never, ever been a disordered eater. Holy shit, I've never really binged or purged or cut out a food group. I've never counted calories or tried to vigilantly avoid carbs or fats or whatever. I've never forced myself to eat my greens - I like vegetables (I like all categories of food). Food has never been the enemy.

I've never dieted - never committed to a diet, anyway - and I've always been happy about that fact
I look around at my beautiful friends and their dissatisfaction with their bodies. I read of women who feel the need to spend their lives in constant vigilance against themselves. I see and hear misery - unnecessary misery.
Front pages of non-glossy magazines alternating, week by week, between judging famous women for being too thin and for not being thin enough, and telling us that they're struggling, that these women are deeply upset, as if to deliberately reinforce the narrative that if you aren't the mystical "right size", the only appropriate - only known - response is to be deeply upset.
Women judged for what they look like and for what they eat. Moral judgements made about people's personal appearance and eating habits. "Fat bitch"; "skinny bitch". Adults referring to the eating of a cookie as "naughty", and refraining from doing so as "good". Men starting to experience the same pressures more and more.
A horrible classist negativity to people in poverty who are overweight or obese. Never mind that they're in circumstances that stretch their energies even thinner than their cash. Never mind that I can take cucumber and hummus to work and if it doesn't satisfy, drop a couple of quid on a sandwich to fill me up without blinking (a privilege they lack). And never mind that when my life or yours is as difficult as theirs - which is seldom - those are the times you "indulge" and they have to handle those challenges 24/7, for months or years or forever. Why can't they just eat well?

I see it all, and I think: Fuck That Shit. I've plumped for opting out of that culture. Do Not Want.

And yet. I like "wholesome" food, and I try to eat plenty of it. Vegetables, in particular. I've been trying to up my dairy of late, being as how I'm female and want to minimise my risks of osteoporosis down the line. If I have much in the way of carbs at lunchtime, I get sleepy at 3pm - just when I need to be getting a second wind to get another couple hours of good work done before clocking off - so I've been trying to avoid having substantial carbs at lunchtime. I've taken to having breakfast before work, and having a "graze box" snack at breaktime, to keep my energies high so I don't get lethargic or crabby or snappy with my students. And, quite frankly, I've been concerned about my sugar intake, since I drink a bottle of soda most days. So I've been trying not to have too too much sugar (though I opt for sugar in preference to sweeteners). And I sincerely want to know how what I'm eating is likely to affect me - what micronutrients and macronutrients I am and aren't getting enough of. So I asked a dear friend if there's an app she knows of which tracks this data, and she referred me to myfitnesspal.

This app is refreshingly upfront about being a weight loss tool, but I figured I could ignore that functionality and focus on seeing if I'm getting enough fibre, iron, vitamin A. Find out what proportions of protein, fat and carbs I'm taking in, and whether they vary much day to day. Seeing how much sugar I'm consuming and finding out easy ways to manage that.

So I got it and started using it. And it was interesting! Gosh, the yogurt I can get at school has rather a lot of sugar in. Whoa, actually, I'm apparently way overconsuming sugar. And underconsuming protein (the app set me a goal of 71g a day - yet I've found information online suggesting that women shouldn't be banking much more than 40-50g a day). And there's my calorie goal, right up where I can see it every time I enter a foodstuff. But apparently I'm getting next to no iron. Or vitamin A. It sadly doesn't track all the micronutrients I'm interested in, but never mind that. If I enter a half-pound british beef rump steak, that - apparently - contains zero iron. Hmm, I was under the impression that beef was an iron-rich food! I guess the folk populating the (admirably complete) database of foods care more about calories and fats than iron and selenium. And so my attention drifted to what was available: the energy content of food.

First, sugars: my daily "goal", set by the app, is 38g. To put this into context, one banana, an unsweetened yogurt, and a glass of carrot and orange juice - a healthy breakfast, by my reckoning - puts me on 41g sugar for the day before 8am. Ah. Never mind that my GDA is a more attainable 90g… I'm consuming more than that too… but it seems a bit orthorexic to me to cut sugar down so drastically that an apple, a banana and a yogurt (I'll say again: unsweetened) fills your entire allowance for the day. Being more aware of my sugar intake has benefits - I know to reach for a typical yogurt or a cereal bar if I want a quick boost, rather than a light snack - but these guidelines seem dangerously constraining.

So I started paying attention to calories. That didn't take long! (the first day I entered was Tuesday this week - 6 days ago)
When you "complete an entry" for the day, it predicts how much you'd weigh in 5 weeks if that were your regular intake. I can also reassure readers that if you consume less that 1200 calories a day it warns you both that putting your body into "starvation mode" is counter-productive for weight loss, but also that it's "difficult to receive adequate nutrition at these calorie levels". But I also now know that if I stick to a banana, an apple and a yogurt each day, I could weigh 165 pounds by mid-June, and that's a freaky and unsettling notion.

On Thursday, I entered my foods on quite late… and was "over" on calories. But I'd not eaten the cookies I'd bought yet, so I gave away a cookie and a half out of the three-cookie pack I'd bought at Subway. I commented, as I hung out with my friends that evening, that I'd somehow transitioned into being on a diet. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I want to be fitter, stronger. I can certainly see advantages to being at least a little slimmer - maybe one or two dress sizes. On the other hand, if I lose more weight (this is as slim as I've really been), then lots of lovely clothes won't fit me anymore. And I really, really like my wardrobe. But more than that, I fear getting sucked into that culture. Into feeling a conflict between what my body's telling me it needs and what my smartphone's telling me would be naughty. Into analysing foods to the exclusion of experiencing them. Into resisting and resisting and then letting go and eating a whole bunch of cookies and then feeling shit about myself. Feeling weak. Into food being something to monitor and control; into food being the enemy. But I had a new skirt on that made me feel quite slender, and I was enjoying it. So, ok. I'm on a diet now.

And then I read this website. And I felt really angry. I was properly pissed off - with myself. I don't believe that my weight is medically unhealthy, nor a sign of immorality, nor a thing that renders me unattractive. It's not something that needs correcting. And so, I'm back to where I was before: should something tell me that I should restrict my eating in any way, shape or form, I say: Fuck That Shit.

Dieting apps? Fuck That Shit.
Staff at the gym, when inducting me, recommending cardio during my weights sessions to burn calories? Fuck That Shit.
My boyfriend making jokes that if I eat a lot after going to the gym is undoing the hard work? Fuck That Shit.

I eat to nourish myself, listening to my body and my emotions. I've never binged. I exercise to strengthen myself, to feel fitter and more powerful. Not to burn calories.

And it's "naughty" to pull someone's pigtails. Eating a cookie is a fucking lifestyle choice.  Fuck All Of That Shit.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Possible Epiphany

Oh my holy shit!

So I've spent yesterday and today mostly trawling through two of my very awesome friends' Tumblrs. It feels like I'm wasting time, I've berated myself in the past for wasting my time thus - on my fave social justice blogs instead of what I should be doing.
Then I have the words to explain to a student why it's wrong to say certain things, or I gain the self-belief that I tell my oldest brother that actually, no, I don't appreciate "fat" jokes, or I show empathy in a staff meeting about a student suffering with a mental illness I've never experienced and the other staff look at me like I'm a space alien. So… "wasting", when it makes me kinder about others' difficulties and about my own? When it makes me more respectful of others' boundaries and of my own? Nah.

But anyways. I was shuffling through Vorvayne's Tumblr and hit across one thing that related procrastination to perfectionism, so I was all "gosh, it must be so much harder for the perfectionists than for me!" because procrastination is something I struggle with deeply.
Then I went through a bunch more pages of… you know, Benedict Cumberbatch, feminism, cuts from Supernatural and Game of Thrones, more Benedict Cumberbatch, pictures of pretty ladies, Who, kittens… you know, cool shit.
Then I went and had a shower on the basis of "better late than never". And when I was in the shower I thought about how I put off marking because it's such a time-suck. Because I could never, ever find the time to mark the way I want to. Because the way I want to mark is about 10 minutes per student per week… and I have around 150 students and I don't have 25 hours a week to mark, I have 6.
And I thought about how whenever I cook I sincerely want others eating the food how I could've made it better than it is. Is it undercooked at all? Too sweet? Do you prefer your curries more or less spicy than this? TELL ME WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT SO I CAN DO BETTER NEXT TIME! And they're all like, "nom". And so am I. But I wanna do it better next time.
And I thought about how badly I hate housework. I'm not good at it. I'm not good at keeping things tidy. And I keep feeling like, if I could ever get things *properly* tidy then it'd be easier to keep that way. But I've never seen "properly". And so I don't have a set-point of "this is good enough" versus "no, this needs some work", because I've never found it "good enough" for more than 5 minutes and so it always needs work so… fuck it.
And I thought about all the things I've tried to write and then given up on, even though I know that I have a plot, an idea, and characters worth sharing, because I read it back and my voice sounds so fucking sophomoric. And I know that the only way to get better is (a) write more and (b) be critical of my own writing. But then I read it again and think "yep, that's shit. Top tip next time: write better!"
And I thought about the fact that, as much as I utterly dread lesson observations, I always welcome feedback afterwards. The last serious observation I had, a teacher was very hesitant and tentative about telling me that my classroom manner is slightly cold. I was all like "tell me more things I'm doing wrong! Stop worrying about my feelings I NEED TO KNOW".

And I thought, for literally the first time in my life:
"Holy shit. I a perfectionist?"

And this is a brand-new thought so I may well not be at fucking all, but the fact that it's never *occurred* to me before… :-o

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Check Your Privilege!

Lots of people (including my boyfriend) don't like this phrase. Lots of other people (including me) like it a great deal. So we talked about it a bunch, and it quickly became clear that we had very different understandings of what the phrase means and, more importantly, what it implies. So I'm going to lay out my viewpoint on what "check your privilege" means and implies.

First off, what is "privilege"?
I'd make the claim that there are any number of properties that a person has that cause that person to be more or less favoured within society. Within my society (UK, midlands):
White - favoured; non-white - disfavoured
C of E - favoured; Catholic, generic "Christian", atheist, progressive or nonreligious Judaism and other "white" religions - less favoured; Islam and Sikhism - disfavoured
Currently able-bodied - favoured; Visibly and definitively disabled - less favoured; more invisibly, especially mentally or emotionally disabled - disfavoured
Gay vs Straight, Trans vs Cis (see ) - take a guess

And so on. I'd also make the specific claim that, while membership of either gender has some advantages and disadvantages, girls and women are more systematically disfavoured by society and its systems. This is called marginalisation - women are marginalised, as in "pushed to the margins" in a wide variety of scenarios. This is a Bad Thing. Men are not pushed to the margins so much, which I'd say is good, and are in many cases beneficiaries of these unfair systems (if women are kept out of a profession, then entry to that profession is easier for men than it would be in a fairer system), which is bad.

Now here's the thing. We have two separate issues here: (a) people in the non-marginalised populations having rights that all people should have, and (b) people in the non-marginalised populations having unfair advantages. Both of these are called "privilege".

From the point of view of a lot of the world, that I grew up with plentiful clean running water, with access to medical intervention as and when I needed it, and with free attendance of both primary and secondary education, are huge privileges that they're missing out on. It doesn't mean I shouldn't've had those things - I should. It doesn't mean that I've done any wrong to have had them, or that it makes me in any way a worse person that I did - I didn't and am not. But it does mean that people in the world have not had those things, and that's something I'm morally obliged to consider before I, for example, judge someone who didn't have access to education for not being able to read (I mean, that'd obviously be a dickish thing anyway, but stay with me).

So, from my point of view, references to "male privilege"(see ) are not necessarily criticisms of menfolk. In the majority of cases I use the term, it's not a criticism. Men getting away with misbehaviour because society excuses it are the exception, but that’s not my emphasis in this post.

And yes, a man can be marginalised by dint of his race, or social class, or financial background, or sexual orientation, or any number of other properties, or combinations thereof. But will, in the vast majority of cases, be in a better position than a woman who shares those various other properties.

And it's not a competition. What I'm looking for is not a way to silence others, but a way to be heard.
Men are more seldom silenced in our society, and women more often - especially when daring to talk about "Wimmins' Issues". But it's not a bad thing that men aren't silenced - that's an example of a privilege that men have which we should all be entitled to. On the other had, some men are so used to female conversational submission that they presume a right to a disproportionate quantity of the conversational airwaves. That is worthy of criticism. I think it's worthwhile men in general taking a bit of time and effort to try to listen more - women, in general, have been socialised into this behaviour already.

So. Say you're a man, and I'm talking about street harassment that I've experienced today, and you laugh it off, saying that if it'd happened to you, you'd be flattered (see ). And I respond "check your privilege".

It does not mean "you're a man so you have to STFU"
It does not mean "you're a man so you're oppressing me"
It does not mean "you're a man so you're wrong"

It means "you're a man, so I think you've had qualitatively different experiences in this area of life than I have. Try to bear that in mind, to listen to what I'm trying to describe and why it might've upset me, to take the time to empathise with the experiences that I've had that you haven't. Try to remember that your life experiences give you a differing perspective. Try to hear me".

I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask.

Oh and: prison rape of men, underprovision of mental health services to men, higher homelessness rates among men - these and other things are indeed serious issues. I take them seriously, as does every feminist I choose to associate with (I'm so not a second-wave rad fem). They're part of the patriarchy, the kyriarchy, and intersectional feminism is concerned about changing them. This particular post wasn't. Nothing's about everything.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

"Hey Guys, Look At This!"

I was listening to a "Philosophy Bites" episode earlier (they're podcasts, lasting 15-odd minutes, with Nigel Warburten (until recently, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the OU) interviewing a working philosopher on a particular topic, and discussing it at the layman's level. They can't possibly deal with all the complexities of a particular philosophical issue in 15 minutes, but they give a good overview and some insight into a single, specific issue each episode. I enjoy them, I find they remind me of the philosophy that I love, and I feel like they could be enjoyable to those who don't have a formal education in philosophy but do have an instinctual warmth toward it (such as, though he tries to pretend it ain't so, my fella).

In these posts, I'm not even going to manage a "bite" - I want these posts to be quick and dirty - but I do want to put down my own thoughts on a topic. So these make no pretence at being rigourous arguments, or even a real defence. It's very simply a smidge of background (if that), my own perspective and a brief explanation of why that's my perspective. That really is it. I'm gonna call it a "nibble" :-)


Nigel spoke to Derek Matravers about art: "What is art? Can anything be a work of art?"

Derek mentioned Duchamp's Urinal as being a critical piece in challenging philosophy's existing conception of what art is; he also mention Emin's Unmade Bed and Hirst's shark in formaldehyde (a piece which I cannot pretend to know the title of, and I ain't looking it up right now). These pieces were not created by the artist in order to cause pleasure in the viewer on account of the beauty of the piece, which was the pre-existing conception of art (as in Monet's or Rembrandt's work). Derek suggested the notion that something is art if the "art world" called it such (giving a broad definition of the "art world", such that if someone claims to be an artist then they are). But he referenced a counterargument that, even if that were so, it's an empty claim - if what makes something art is that an artist says it is, then there must be a reason why they call that thing art and not other things, and the reason why they called it art is the interesting thing here, not simply the bald fact that it has thus been named.

Derek counters that there are many reasons why people call something art, just as there are many reasons people get married (but "they have been through the process of getting married, and the marriage has not for any reason ended" is still a satisfactory definition of who we do call married). Yeah... but I think there is a common thread in why people - artists - call something art. The "hey guys, look at this" of the title.

I think when someone calls something art, they are saying that it is worth looking at (if physical art), or listening to, or whatever, and focusing one's full attention on, for more than just the time it takes to evaluate it. It's an item worthy of consideration because it is expected to produce in the observer an emotional or cerebral reaction (usually some of each). It should be, in some way, surprising. It should be inspiring - but it doesn't necessarily have to inspire simple pleasure (in fact, pleasure alone may not be enough to admit it in my eyes; anything that is insipid, that is too cheaply commercial, though it may be enjoyable in the moment, is not art if it does not inspire deeper consideration).

By this definition:
Mad Men is sometimes art. There is one episode (set in California) in which Don is approaching a swimming pool, and I've often paused watching it and considered that shot for a moment, struck by Don in his suit - a patch of grey surrounded by lush colour. I could pick other times also - Joan's rape, for example - but I don't want to spend too much time on this. I think the famous pace of Mad Men - it's as packed with plot as many soaps, but the pace of each scene tends to feel leisurely - gives the viewer to reflect more deeply on what they are seeing, and gives the show time to inspire. By contrast, I would say that, say, Hollyoaks, is seldom art.

Jackson Pollock's paintings, so I hear (I'm sorry to say I've yet to see one physically) stop many people in their tracks and take their breath away. So: art.

However, the "modern art" so often hung in restaurants and coffee shops to make them feel less soulless, but not challenging or inspiring the observer - background stuff, muzak or dance music, tables to put your mug down on and demanding no further thought, entreating no deeper appreciation - these things are not "art" according to the definition that I am proposing.

I guess this is the cause of my antipathy for poetry - to my mind, it's self-indulgent and pretentious. However, it clearly is inspiring to others, so it ought to be considered art and I must name myself a philistine with regard to it, rather than deny its worth.

And yes, by this definition, I do consider that an idea, an argument, a mathematical proof, may be art also.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Some random thoughts on relying on others to validate your reality.

I've really come to recognise in the past couple of years how much I value being able to check in with my friends. How often I go to certain specific ones and say "This happened and I thought this..." or "I feel this..." or "I'm considering doing this..."

" that ok? Normal? Human?" being the implicit question to that. I'm seeking validation on my own perspective.

And I know that (or I feel that) I do this more than the people around me seem to. I dunno, mayhaps I'm comparing my insides to their outsides and labelling what I do one way and when they do it, I call it  "conversation". I know at least one very close friend who uses me for this function (which I'm extremely happy to perform).

I do think, though, that doing this to some extent is a fundamental part of human socialisation. We watch what others are saying and doing to tell us what we should be saying and doing. Hell, I use this tendency at work - the students at my school are trained to stand behind their desks until invited to sit, but they've yet to be trained that I always 100% expect that, so typically 1-2 will forget and sit down. And I will look at them and wait for them to look at me or around the room and jump back up again.

Asch (1951) had a bunch of folk in a room, showed them a question with a clear answer, and had several stooges give the same, wrong answer before the participant was reached. And the participant would go along with it. Because that's what we do. What I'd be really interested in is whether the participant actually distrusted their own reality in that circumstance.

It reminds me of two things. I'm only going to discuss one here - the other's the focus of its own post at some point.

I used to be friends with a woman. We met at the very beginning of doing the same double-major university course. She gave me a Hell of a lot of guidance on social interaction... I think. I feel like she did. I'd never felt particularly socially competent before I knew her and she certainly gave me lots of instruction. I valued her opinion massively. I don't clearly recall ever having other friends [I did when we both had semesters abroad, seperately - I had several friends just for those few short months]. I think I had it in my head that I didn't need other friends, if I had her. I was extremely attached to her, and I know that I put her on a pedestal. I had a view of her as extremely socially astute, and extraordinarily good at telling what others were thinking or feeling. 

So when, 3 years ago, she started saying that I was acting in a way that indicated that I didn't respect her, I had some serious cognitive dissonance. Because I didn't think that I did respect her less... but if she said that it was so, then how could it not be? I spent a lot of time and emotional energy trying to unpack my feelings towards her. In the meantime, the arguments that we'd always had were getting to be a higher proportion of our conversations (these arguments were always overlaid strongly with a sense that I didn't know the way out of this conversation. That I didn't know what to say to make things better). And, for the first time, I had LOTS of friends that weren't her. Intimate friends, friendly acquaintances and everything in-between. I was getting along better with my family than I ever had before. I was having dozens of conversations every day, and never feeling that trapped, "what the hell do I say now?" feeling that I did with her. My disagreements with friends were civil. My boundaries were respected.

She said, on a trip we took to Bristol together at this time, that there were so many things that she "wasn't allowed" to talk about with me. That I would cry if she wasn't careful enough about what she could say.

I cried a lot in my friendship with her.

She'd always said that she didn't have these kinds of arguments with anyone else in her life. For the first time, I was able to say: I have lots of friends who I talk to about lots of things, and neither do I!

And, in truth, I do have some arguments. I remember one with a girl I was friends with my one year in junior college. I remember a few I had with a friend when I was in teacher training - the friend who looked at me with distrust when I said my hair needs washing daily, who said that she doesn't believe that men can be expected to stop having sex partway through at their partner's request. I've certainly had several with my boyfriend. But in none of them did I feel like there must, somewhere, be an invisible hoop that I need to jump through for this to be over.

Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it was. I found a lot about the friendship deeply rewarding. She was the first person I found that I could have abstract, philosophical discussions with (and I crave that). We enjoyed a lot of the same things. She was important to me.

But then maybe the friendship was always fucked up and unhealthy.

My point is: I'm never going to know now. My memories are too scattered and too weak (from my POV) to deconstruct the entire affair. I don't have a third party to check in with. And I'm out of contact with her now - likely permanently - so I couldn't ask her if I wanted to. I'm never going to get that information, and I have to deal with that lack.

But I can say, with sureness, that I am the ultimate arbiter of what I am thinking and feeling and what I have thought and felt.

Was her life off-course from what she wanted, three years ago? Yes.
Was my life going suspiciously well? Yes.
Did I respect her less at that time?