5 Body Positive Tips

Thinking about body positivity? Here are 5 tips that I find useful—maybe you will too!

1. Learn the facts

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Often when people talk about body positivity it gets relegated to the world of emotions. That’s fine, but it’s also about stone-cold facts. Deciding to be body positive means learning a few truths we are rarely taught:

  • 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it all back and sometimes more within 5 years. This is true for people who try to lose 5 pounds or 100. We’re not evolutionarily programmed to sustain intentional weight loss. This means we’re not to be able to control the size of our bodies, and the sooner we accept this the better (and healthier).
  •  Body diversity is real. We’re not all supposed to be tiny; bodies are meant to look differently.  
  • The BMI has been disproven as a measure of health. You can’t tell anything about health by looking at someone’s body size.

Learning to be body positive is about arming yourself with these facts and more. Next time you start to judge your own body and wonder if you should lose weight, you can remind yourself of the truth: there’s just no logical basis for weight loss.

2. Change the goal

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Sometimes it’s about acceptance.

I am not the first person to say this, but you might not feel positive about your body all the time. That’s ok: that doesn’t have to be the goal. Some days you may look in the mirror and think, “Hot damn I’m a fox.” Other days—not so much. But the point is really that you have a body. Just notice that. Bodies are neutral, body parts are neutral. You don’t you have to muster up total adoration all the time. Try saying impartial things: “Oh look, it’s my stomach, my human stomach.” “I have legs: whaddaya know.” “Today my body is breathing easily.” “I notice my body is hungry.”

 

3. Take stock of your media sources

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We are inundated with media all day long, and the majority of this media furthers the message that people (and women in particular) should be skinny, white, able-bodied, and have Eurocentric features. We are shown that people who look like this get rewarded with everything from love to power. The trick I learned from Isabel Foxen-Duke is to work to minimize how often you get this message, and to maximize alternative messages. True, you can’t hide in your house avoiding all billboards, TV, commercials, magazines, and music videos. But you can cultivate your social media: un-follow any celebrities, “health” experts, fitness blogs or other pages that trigger negative body talk. Replace them with body- and fat-positive bloggers, chefs, athletes, activists, models and dancers.

4. Remember: you were a baby once

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Here are two more facts: 1) Body hate is not an inherent human quality.  2) If you’re struggling with body acceptance, you’re not the only one. Babies aren’t born begrudging their thighs or trying to “cut back on milk.” To me, babies look like they are fascinated by the features and functions of their bodies. You were a baby once too. You probably loved exploring the limits of your new body, grabbing your feet and flailing your arms. Then some messages wormed their way into your life. These messages may have said things like: bodies are bad, sinful, ugly, fat, wrong. You might have learned this from your caretakers or from friends. You likely learned from the media, the healthcare system, the education system and from many other places. It happened systemically. And when things occur on that widespread level, we call it oppression. Hatred of bodies was established by systems of oppression including: sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and Christian hegemony (more on bodies and Christian hegemony here). These systems put together sent the message that “bodies are bad and should be controlled” and “some bodies are better than others.”

If you ever find yourself having negative body thoughts, remember that it’s not your fault, it was intentionally set up that way. The truth is that being body positive is really about a commitment to ending all forms oppression. Sometimes if I’m feeling bad about my body, recommitting to my activism also reconnects me to the truth that bodies are good.

5. Seek support & talk about it

 

The 4 tips I listed above are hard. But you don’t have to do it alone. Pick a trusted friend and do some research together. To arm yourself with facts, try reading Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, or watch TED talks like this one together. Tell the story of what happened to you in order to remind your brain that you weren’t born with these thoughts: you learned them, and you can work to unlearn them. Talking about this might bring up feelings of shame, but keep reminding yourself that it’s not your fault. There are coaches, like me and many others, who can work with you to sort through both the feelings and facts, and who can support you to keep going on this body acceptance journey.

Talia Cooper is an anti-oppression trainer and activist. She provides phone-based body coaching to people looking to heal their relationship to food and their body. Open to people of all genders, all ages, in all locations. Email talia.cooper@gmail.com for more information.

The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us

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The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us:

1. Measure Self Worth by Work: Don’t believe in the inherent goodness of people. Instead decide that everyone’s worth is only as much as they achieve.

2. Accept that Oppression is the Norm: This starts with adultism the moment we are born and conditions us to accept that all other forms of oppression and privilege are just a fact of life, for the rest of our lives.

3. Believe the Dream: Believe that to be American means that your success is eventual, and that any failing is your own individual fault.

4. Get Numb and Numb-er: Close off your feelings and just suck it up. Find a form of addiction that is either secret enough or socially acceptable enough so that you can get by. Then tsk tsk anyone with a less hidden addiction, blame them for the problem and offer them no support.

5. Isolate: grow increasingly more distant from people and community. Develop a nuclear family from whom you may attempt to get all of your needs met, and lash out at them when it doesn’t work.

6. Disassociate from your Body: Make your mind and body separate entities. Find pieces of yourself to love and pieces of yourself to hate. Attempt to buy things to close the gap. Tell yourself that you only deserve rest, pleasure and play when you’ve worked for it.

7. Assimilate: Strive to look like, act like, and be like the typical white U.S.-er you are supposed to be. Forget your history, forget your religion, forget your ancestors: they are no longer a part of this narrative. Stop trying to pursue the art, community and visions you once had: they no longer matter.

The 7 Forms of Resistance All Around Us:

1. Movements: Collectives, groups, organizations, neighbors and friends can get together and learn about oppression and envision liberation. Organizing has worked over and over again throughout history and will continue to.

2. Self Care and Community Care: We can decide we are worth it and we are vital just because we are alive.

3. Tell Our Stories: We can tell our personal stories and the collective story about the white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and christian hegemony that founded this country. With our stories we can refuse to be lied to.

4. Healing: We can use therapy, support groups, co-counseling, somatic practices, art therapy and more to get ever bigger, bolder, stronger and more powerful. We can use the wisdom gained from our healing to create better policy and support communal healing through practices like reparations for slavery.

5. Connection: We can dare to cry, laugh and share our real feelings with all of the people in our lives without placing a limit on the number of people our hearts can love.

6. Love: We can refuse to buy into the idea of spreading self-hate. Even in our hardest moments we can remember we are a human with a human body and we deserve the goodness all humans deserve.

7. Art and Culture: Artists can rise up everywhere all the time to say we will not accept this world, we will build a better one. We can choose to learn about our ancestors, their histories and traditions and find ways to reclaim them afresh for ourselves.

I believe that we will win.

Love,
Talia

Your Feminist Guide to a Body-Positive Holidays

originally posted on Ma’yan’s blog on November 24, 2015
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If you’re a human living in the U.S., you’re probably starting to see a particular variety of advertisements, blogs & headlines at this time of year, all containing one basic message: “How to eat nothing and exercise constantly while you cook the most perfect feast so that this holiday season you can shrink down to a size zero and finally (FINALLY) be the powerful, loveable person you always thought you could be (and if you fail it’s your fault, you disgusting pig)!” Or….something like that anyway.

Sound familiar?

The holidays can be a confusing time for everyone, but especially for us feminist, self-loving, non-Christian, anti-capitalist type folks.

So here are ten tips to help you navigate body-positivity during this holiday season:

1. Remember that YOU are not the problem


Diet-culture is the problem. Diet culture will have you believe that anyone can be skinny if they try hard enough. Meanwhile capitalism will make you think you are never good enough and will encourage diet companies to sell sell sell, even though they know their products don’t work. Write yourself a note, make up a song or mantra, or do whatever you need to do to remember that nothing is wrong with you/your body.

 

2. Do a little research

Learn about how diets don’t work, how size-diversity is a real thing (and a good thing! Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone looked the same?!), and how our body type is at least somewhat predetermined and out of our control (see: set point weight theory). While you’re at it, check out some thinking about intuitive eating and how it’s okay to trust yourself. Then sit back and bask in the reality that your body is fine and awesome exactly as it is. You don’t need fixing.

 

3. Know your limit

 Know how much body, diet and exercise talk you can handle before you need to just get up and leave the room (or put sunglasses on and start humming “F*ck You” by Cee Lo Green). Know when you want to engage and when you want to change the subject. If you start feeling anxious, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need. You can engage by using facts, such as: “Hey! Did you know that at least 90% of diets don’t work?” Or with humor, like if someone says, “Oh, maybe I’ll have a piece of pumpkin pie….I’m so bad!” You can respond, “I didn’t realize our virtue was now based in our consumption of squash-based treats.”  Or you can change the subject with a quick, “Water on Mars, eh?” Or, “So what do you think we can do today towards ending white supremacy?”

 

4. Remember that health and eating are not connected to morality


Do you know about the Christian hegemonic roots of our diet culture?! It’s weird stuff. First of all, what is Christian hegemony? Besides being an excellent topic of dinner conversation, Christian hegemony is the system that privileges Christians and Christianity, and labels all other religions and peoples as not-the-norm, weird, exotic. For more on Christian hegemony, read Paul Kivel’s excellent book on the subject.

But back to our story on the origins of diet culture: Reverend Graham and Doctor Kellogg could be called the first “clean eating” fanatics. Yup, the inventors of the graham crackers and corn flakes. Except back then they may as well have been called “Taste-Free Crackers & Flakes.” Why? Because Reverend Graham believed that food should be purely for fuel, and sex should be purely for reproduction. He believed eating bad foods led to bad things like masturbation. Any enjoyment of either act clearly showed a lack of morals. And it sort of makes sense why he thought this: if Christians believe that the body is the source of sin and is the vehicle through which humans are tempted by the devil, then it follows as true that only through abstinence from all temptation can one be pure. So Reverend Graham thought he was on a Christian mission from God to save humanity with his Blandy McBland diet, which would encourage self-discipline.

A lot of people thought those guys were extreme crocks, but the concept of food being connected to morality remains: we judge people as good when they eat salad and yogurt and chia seeds, and bad when they eat donuts and burgers. We turn this inward on ourselves too. And we don’t have to. Instead we can adopt the belief that we are just inherently good, that we never need to be perfectionisty about anything, and that health and eating are not connected to morality.

 

5. A few more suggested dinner conversations

With your tablemates, discuss how crappy it is that racist, sexist, European, white beauty standards have dictated that the ultimate female look is thin, white, fair, weak. Talk about how awesome it is to resist this by loving every inch of ourselves and refusing to assimilate. While you’re at it, might as well mention that thanksgiving is originally a racist, Christian hegemonic holiday in and of itself… (see video example).

 

6. Decide to trust and adore yourself


Eat the food you want to eat, wear the clothes you want to wear, move when you want to move. Don’t count calories. Don’t obsess. Don’t follow rules.  Don’t swear you’ll go on a cleanse when this is all over, as that will make you more food-crazed in the meantime.Trust that your body knows what it wants and knows how to take care of itself. Don’t punish yourself. If you eat a lot of food and feel really full say, “Wow that was really good! Now I’m going to lie around and rub my belly until it feels all better.” Would you punish a child for getting too full? (I HOPE you would NOT!) So don’t blame or shame yourself either.  And if you read this and feel like you’re already “messing up,” don’t use this blog as another way to feel bad. Every minute is another opportunity to show yourself some love.

 

7. Think about what all babies inherently know how to do 

Babies know how to eat when they want to and stop when they want to. It’s not your fault that society taught you to unlearn these skills via self-hate, but trust that you can re-learn what is an innate and inherent skill: how to listen to your body.

 

8. Start following a bunch of body-positive bloggers

Un-follow anyone who makes you doubt your inherent awesomeness. Fill up your social media feeds with people who love themselves. A few good places to start are Virgie Tovar,Everyday Feminism, The Body is Not an Apology, Isabel Foxen Duke, Fattitude andRachel Marcus (many of whom were the inspiration for this blog post). Or just quit social media for a while.

 

9. For an all ages activity, watch Ma’yan’s film

Last year’s interns co-produced Pretty Sexy Sassy, a film about the media’s impact on girls. Watch, discuss, and come up with a family action you could take together (ie writing letters to a company asking them to stop promoting unrealistic and harmful beauty standards).

 

10. Find buddies you can talk to

Find the kind of buddies who are all about the love, not the kind who will give you the side-eye for a second helping.  

You got this! And let me know if you need any extra support.

 

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. Contacttalia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

More on Kellogg & Graham:

http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/03/24/the-creepy-origins-of-graham-crackers-and-corn-flakes/

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/looking-to-quell-sexual-urges-consider-the-graham-cracker/282769/

Posted in Feminism, Power, Oppression & Privilege

A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on April 21st, 2015.
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Over the past year we’ve seen an increase in articles by Jews that seek to disprove the concept of privilege due to experiences of anti-Semitism. These writings upset me because they in no way represent my own beliefs as a white, female, Ashkenazi educator and activist. The articles do not acknowledge the complexity of identity that I believe is necessary for the Jewish community to embrace. Here is my response to a compilation of articles:

Dear Taffy, James, John, Seth & Tal

You have all joined the deluge of Jews venting frustration with the concept of “privilege.” I admit my temptation to pick apart your arguments line by line. The number of offensive statements makes my heart race.

But for the time being, what I’ll say is:

You’re right.

Anti-Semitism is real. It has and continues to negatively impact our Jewish people.

The leftist activist community doesn’t always do a good job acknowledging or understanding anti-Semitism.

And this is a problem.

It’s a problem because it means the left won’t have a full picture of society, which is necessary in order to build power and win. And it’s a problem because it perpetuates anti-Semitism itself.

And also: you’re wrong.

Experiencing anti-Semitism does not preclude other truths: white privilege (for Jews who are also white), class privilege (for Jews who also have wealth), male privilege, able-bodied privilege, straight and cis-gender privilege. None of these experiences of oppression trumps any other; all oppression is painful and unjust.

Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s “simple” because I’ve lived it my whole life.

But sometimes breaking it down feels complex and painful. Do I really want to dive deep into my family history and investigate that the fact that we have money comes from this weird stew of running from anti-Semitism and also gaining white privilege?

In my work with Ma’yan’s Research Training Internship, a big theme we teach isintersectionality: the concept that one person can experience both oppression and privilege simultaneously. It’s complex. But it’s important.

“Privilege” is a word that sometimes scares people. But it doesn’t have to. Privilege doesn’t mean I’m bad or that my people are bad. It also doesn’t mean I’m extra good. One definition we use at Ma’yan is that privilege is a system of unearned advantages that benefits one group at the expense of others. I have to remember this or else I fall into the trap of believing I have “earned” things because I am somehow “better than” others. But that’s a lie that only further isolates me, and leads me to remain complicit in oppression.

I don’t frame this conversation as “Jewish privilege” because Jewish identity is multi-faceted and complex. When working with white Jews, I talk about the white privilege that we experience as Jews. It’s a subtle but important difference. The experience of being Jewish includes oppression—past and present. And even still some Jews have certain privileges.

It’s particularly scary for Jews to think about the idea of holding privilege because of the history of anti-Semitic tropes that say that Jews control the world and therefore their takedown is justified. But I’m not saying Jews are the most privileged.  Actually, we know that the majority of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S are white Christian men. But that doesn’t mean that white Jews don’t still experience privilege. I know I do. Even at the same time as anti-Semitism.

When as Jews we don’t understand intersectionality, it’s a problem for everyone. Not understanding intersectionality means white Jews are more likely to assume a uniform Jewish experience, which keeps us from appreciating the richness of our diversity and perpetuates racism not only to non-Jews but also to Jews of color within our community (not to mention classism, homophobia, ableism and more). Not understanding intersectionality also leads us to believe the myth of exceptionalism: seeing ourselves as the most oppressed, which only serves to further isolate us from the people and movements we could actually be working with. Anti-Semitism is not our fault and it is not our (sole) responsibility to end. But by staying in our narrative of victimhood, we essentially leave ourselves alone and stuck, and we damage other communities along with our own.(For a fuller list of why Jews MUST understand privilege and intersectionality, click here).

“When my Jewishness comes into conflict with my whiteness, I’m not effective in challenging racism,” said educator Randy Clancy in a recent workshop for a group of social justice educators that Ma’yan convenes. We have to embrace all parts of our identity to do the work.

Talking about privilege is just a start. The point isn’t just to recognize it, but to understand our place in fighting for racial justice and ending oppression for all people.

The left also has some responsibility. If lefties don’t understand that anti-Semitism is real, it leaves Jews feeling like they have to prove it over and over again, as we have seen in the articles I linked in the salutation. And wouldn’t it be nice if the right-wing didn’t have a monopoly on defining anti-Semitism for once?

So: Anti-Semitism is real. White privilege is real. Racism is real. These things are linked, but they are not all the same and cannot be compared. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other, and at this moment in U.S history, I see way too many murders of black people to stand idly by. When I say Black Lives Matter, this in no way negates my commitment to ending anti-Semitism. It is not about oppression hierarchies, though we do need to examine the fact that this country was economically built on racism. Ultimately, I believe our liberation is connected. So let’s get to work.

With love,

Talia

P.S. There are lots of great resources put out by leftist people and communities. April Rosenblum wrote a great pamphlet about anti-Semitism and the left. Ngoc Loan TranAsam Ahmad, and others have written beautifully about ending in-fighting among the left.Paul Kivel has also written about being both white and Jewish and showing up in the fight for racial justice. There’s a lot of good thinking out there. Let’s stay in it together.

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan. Contact talia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music.

I Never Dreamed of a White Christmas: On Gilmore Girls and Christian hegemony

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on December 16th, 2014
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On October 25th I heard my first Christmas song of the season. I’m not exaggerating. A week later, said song weaseled its way deeper into my brain, nested, and made only brief escapes out the hum on my lips. Damn.  Christmas.

Recently I’ve been bit by the Gilmore Girls bug. Yes, it’s true, I hopped straight on that Netflix binge-watching bandwagon of the TV show featuring the fast-sass-talking, big-eating, small-town-living ways of Lorelai and Rory. As a pop culture-loving feminist, I note things like the racist portrayal of Mrs. Kim and how the fat person is characterized as clumsy, and file them in my brain under “TV references of racism/sizeism I could use in a workshop one day.”

Here at Ma’yan we’ve been reading Penny Rosenwasser and Paul Kivel. We are learning about anti-Semitism and also Christian hegemony—the system that normalizes the Christian experience, and marginalizes all other religions. Just a few light topics that were on my mind as I watched the Gilmore Girls. The portrayal of Jews in the show is certainly cringe-worthy; there’s Brad (a minor character), the dorky, unlovable schoolmate, and then there’s Paris, the hypertensive, hyper-competitive, hyper-allergic, power-grabbing rival of Rory. Yikes. That’s some serious brain-file material. But for me, the real ick moment occurred in Season 3.

In Season 3 (episode 10), Paris’ boyfriend invites her to celebrate Christmas. When she returns, Rory asks about it. Paris gets this dreamy look as she relays the scene: wreaths everywhere, a 12 foot tree, the wafting smell of cinnamon, the eggnog, the cider, “It wasn’t just nice,” she says, “It was perfect.” She explains to Rory: “I never had a Christmas tree before. One year I asked my mom if we could get a Chanukah bush, and she made me watch Shoah the rest of the week.” She then continues: “I’m looking at this mound of gifts and I’m thinking, eight days of Chanukah? Who’s the skinflint that thought of that deal?” “Don’t the eight days symbolize something?” Rory asks. “Yes, they symbolize eight days of ripping off the little kids who can’t have a Chanukah bush,” Paris retorts. “You’re making me sad,” Rory says. The scene ends with Paris declaring her commitment to return for Easter.

Watching this dialogue unfold I felt queasy, and I realized: that’s it. That is exactly my fear: that Christmas celebrators everywhere walk around feeling sorry for Jews and all those who miss out on the quintessential American experience, and that if we are lucky enough to get to celebrate Christmas, we’ll feel whole, restored, and at last accepted.

Like Paris, I too have been welcomed into a Christmas celebration by someone I was dating. The meal was fun, and I enjoyed it like I do any holiday dinner with family. Adorning the tree was sweet, rather like decorating a Sukkah. The presents felt overwhelming. The fireplace was lovely. Stuffing stockings was awesome. I did not feel wistful or deprived for never having gotten this before. I have never secretly longed for tinsel and candy canes, for jingle bells and reindeers. Jews every year talk about how annoying it is that people say ‘Merry Christmas,’ or even ‘Happy Holidays’ (because we know what that actually means). But that’s not my real beef here. For me, the issue is that Christians think I want it. I have never felt short-changed in my dearth of Christmas celebrations. As a woman I don’t have penis-envy, and as a Jew I sure as hell (pun intended) don’t have cross-envy.

This is what Christian hegemony does—it normalizes the lives of Christians, and it makes it seem like the experience everyone has, or should have, or at the very least should want. And some do. But not all of us.

I should clarify: I am not the Semitic Lorax. I do not speak for the Jews. There are plenty of Jews who have longed for Christmas, who love Christmas songs and decorating ginger bread houses. There is truly nothing wrong with that. Not to mention the many multi-faith households that embrace multiple traditions as their own. I’m all for it. But multi-faith households that include Christians are not adding tradition where there was none before, but rather layering on to an already beautiful tapestry. For me, learning new traditions doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been missing out all along.

So here’s my message to Christians: just because this holiday is the federally recognized one, the one associated with the religion that fuels so many of the thoughts, opinions and attitudes in this country, does NOT make it the holiday we all inwardly wish we were celebrating. But I do wish you the very best, and I’ll gladly partake in a little eggnog and cookies (if you’re offering, that is).