August 6, 2007

The Book Skinny Bitch

Posted in books, emotional healing, mental health, physical health, veganism at 4:40 pm by nevavegan

The authors of Skinny Bitch were on the Today Show. I would love to hear some further discussion of the pros and cons of Skinny Bitch, but an internet search turned up almost nothing except some book reviews.

Apparently “Posh Spice” has been photographed with the book, though she gave some statement that she eats fish. Am I the only one who finds it odd that such a very thin woman would be reading a weight loss book? But ok, moving on…

I have to admit that I purposefully have not read the whole book, but only a few excerpts, because I really don’t need to feel any worse about myself or the way I look. So maybe I’m not in the best position to comment. I know people in real life who would be happy to call me a “loser” and a “fat pig” but I avoid them, so why would I pick up a book to put that kind of stuff in my head.

While marketing veganism as a weight loss diet may get people to give veganism a try, I have doubts about the sustainability of such an approach. This might also be why it can be criticized as a “fad diet” as opposed to a sustaining lifestyle that is kind to animals, the planet, and our own bodies. People tell me that Skinny Bitch encompasses these ideas too, and it’s not merely a weight loss book.

Part of my concern is from participating in the Vegan People forum and seeing quite a few young women join the forum and post that Skinny Bitch has inspired them to try veganism for weight loss and describing their current non-vegan diet and asking for help finding vegan versions. Most of the non-vegan diets being described were severely calorie and nutrient deficient to begin with, and it did worry me that veganism was being regarded as a new way to be eating disordered.

This is troubling because I know that I have had difficulty finding doctors that didn’t regard my own veganism as a form of eating disorder, to the point that now if I need to find a new doctor I have to open with “I’m vegan. I take this seriously as an ethical lifestyle. I am not underweight. Here is my height, here is my weight. I eat 3-4 good meals a day. If my veganism is going to be a problem with you, it’s better that we just agree right now that I should find a different doctor.”

Another thing I find worrisome is the alleged catch phrase of Skinny Bitch which is “skinny=healthy, fat=unhealthy.” Because this is so glaringly inaccurate, I wonder if people will disregard all other information in the book. While I agree that everything else being equal, it is better to be a healthy weight than overweight, mortality studies actually show that being underweight is associated with a higher premature death risk than being slightly overweight according to BMI indexes (though these stats might be misleading as nearly all athletes are “overweight” by BMI charts).

Furthermore, some diseases, like osteoporosis are more common in thinner people. I hope Skinny Bitch covers exercise and physical fitness. It is worth mentioning that there is increasing awareness lately of how being thin but out of shape carries significant health risks and that people who appear thin but don’t exercise can have similar organ damage as the obese. So skinny definitely does not automatically equal healthy.

The language is actually an issue for me, though others may disagree. I don’t believe in calling women “fat pigs,” nor do I approve the use of words like “pussy” as a derogatory term because it implies something inherently defective in being female, particularly as the term is generally used to mean weak, wimpy, useless, etc. So many women (and I think more and more men as well) in our culture already have self-defeating “tapes” playing in our heads telling us our worth is based on our physical appearance and weight, and that in those regards we can never measure up. I’d prefer to see veganism promoted in a more holistic way that empowers rather than degrades people.

I do think a low-fat vegan diet, in addition to an exercise plan can help people be healthier and in some cases lose weight. But I’m a vegan who couldn’t be called “skinny,” though I think I’m relatively healthy. I hate to encourage a mindset that does only value women for what they look like or a number on the scale. A person can be overweight and still do good work to help animals, contribute to society and culture in many ways, and look very attractive while doing it all.

By all means disagree with me, though. Tell me more about this book, so I won’t cave into the desire to read the whole thing and risk restarting those self-critical tapes in my head.

Edit: I edited this entry because I worried that I was implying all vegans are thin, which they’re not, or that people who weigh more than they should are somehow not trying hard enough, which is also something I didn’t mean to say.

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July 2, 2007

Anger has a place too

Posted in animal advocacy, emotional healing, vegan, veganism at 5:54 pm by nevavegan

Invisible Voices posted a blog entry the other day about how other people might be very uncomfortable witnessing our emotions. Particularly she applied this to animal advocacy, where people would say she was angry when she felt she was just pushing for compassion, justice, and fairness to non-human animals.

There is always this risk, when we do the hard work and we face those things most people turn away from, that bitterness over this heartbreak, this awfulness, will start to define us. Still, the bitterest people I’ve known in my life weren’t vegans; they weren’t animal advocates.

I do think we need to realistically define and keep an eye on our emotions, if for no other reason than that our message can get lost in a sea of undirected anger. But at the same time we don’t need to apologize for having emotions when we see animals killed, used, mutilated in such horrible ways.

In fact there seems to me to be something defective about someone who can look at immense suffering, who can look at hens crammed into battery cages next to their dead sisters, and just see dollar signs, just see loss or profit. There is being in control of our emotions, and then there’s just being deadened to all empathy.

But the fact remains that many people are uncomfortable with other people’s emotions. Often these people who can’t handle the emotions of others aren’t necessarily unemotional themselves, but they subscribe to certain myths about emotion. Perhaps they feel that emotions like anger or disgust are always wrong. Conversely some people might view anger as “strong” but grief as “weak.” Others might feel we have some obligation to those around us to only express “good” emotions like happiness.

The truth is that all of our emotions are part of who we are. We don’t have the right to take those emotions out on others. We shouldn’t be passive-aggressive in handling our emotions. But sometimes anger is simply the sanest response possible to a given situation.

I recently got a copy of UPC’s latest Poultry Press and in it was a picture of a battery hen who was too weak to stand or walk and some college students at KSU had thrown her onto their basketball court from 30 feet up in the stands. Other hens were painted red and blue and tossed onto the court. Two of the hens died.

The only possible response to instances like this, where the strong purposefully hurt the weak, is to get angry. Bullies thrive because nobody ever stands up to them, nobody confronts them. We can get angry, but we need to use that anger toward a measured response, a thoughtful strategy. We don’t need to just lash out wildly, without thought, but our emotional response, our outrage is justified and necessary.

If we think about all the millions of battery hens who suffer and die hidden from sight, then the anger and the grief is almost incomprehensible.

Gender stereotypes work against us as well. Many people will tolerate a certain level of anger from men, but adhere to a myth that women should be gentle, quiet and sweet at all times. Women aren’t supposed to get angry. But of course we do, we get angry about injustice against ourselves, just as any human being does. Some of us get angry about injustice directed toward others, because our compassion leads us to care what happens to them.

As always our anger doesn’t give us license to hurt others, but it can give us energy if properly directed. If we keep an eye on our mental state as well, perhaps we can know when the anger crosses some line and moves away from energizing and more into exhausting and consuming. That’s when we know we need to take a step back, visit a sanctuary, hug a dog, find something happy and cling to it for a while.

Still some of the people who’ve told me in my life that they think I’m too angry, were themselves among the angriest people I’ve ever met. People who deny and suppress their anger aren’t necessarily diffusing it. Instead it might be waiting, boiling right below the surface, waiting to leap out at the first opportunity. It’s much better to harness it to good work.

April 2, 2007

Do you need to fire your therapist?

Posted in emotional healing, recovery, survivors, therapy at 4:23 pm by nevavegan

I know, I’ve got other stuff to write and then a conversation with a friend brought this topic to mind and I’ve just got to write it all out.

I believe in therapy. I believe in feeling better. I don’t think that anyone should be miserable and unhappy every day. I believe if you or I or your cousin are in a really dark place and can’t find the way out, then the bravest, strongest thing to do is for us to ask for and find a way to get the help we need.

However, that doesn’t mean that we’re always going to find the help we need the first time at bat. It might be necessary to try a couple different therapists before we find one that works for us.

In my opinion it’s vital that therapists challenge us at times. They might have something to say, that needs to be said, that isn’t flattering or coddling to us. In the process of therapy we might uncover memories or issues that are extremely upsetting. We aren’t likely to leave every single session feeling happy. However, if we leave every single session feeling worse than when we went it, then the therapy, in my unprofessional opinion, isn’t doing what it was supposed to.

I mean, I’m not paying someone to drive me further into depression, I was doing that well enough all on my own.

When I first started thinking I needed some help, I was facing both depression and a pretty crippling case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the same time I was largely functional by many of the measures we’re taught to pay attention to, for example I wasn’t suicidal, I didn’t sleep all day, etc. I thought I’d just call up a therapist, have a few chats and everything would be better. Sure, denial is a great place to live, too bad we can’t all stay there forever.

The first therapist I saw really didn’t get animal issues at a fundamental level. I hadn’t anticipated that being a problem, because I wanted to work through issues relating to a physical attack. However, that therapist kept somehow bringing everything back to his idea that my being vegan and rescuing cats and rabbits was an expression of my unresolved trauma. He felt that I had some pathological need to rescue rabbits in particular because I was identifying with the rabbits and expressing my feelings that I needed a rescue that never came. Um, sure. You know, I have no idea. I like to think one is not related to the other, but even if it is, I’m so not interested in being “fixed” to the point that I only care about myself. So I stopped going to that therapist. He might be helpful to dozens of other people, but he couldn’t deal with the animal issues, so I needed to find someone who did.

The next therapist was very sweet and totally got animal issues (she should have—after the first experience I asked some fellow rescuers for a referral of a therapist who loved animals). I did feel much better when I was seeing her, but she followed a pretty standard psychotherapy format, which was I talked and talked and talked without much input. It was beneficial in improving my mood, but we somehow never got to dealing with the trauma, and I continued to do what I’d done all along which was bury it until intrusive memories and flashbacks caused me to freak out, and then I’d bury it again.

Next therapist I asked my doctor for a referral of someone with more experience in handling sexual assault survivors. She recommended a very highly qualified female counselor, but ultimately this was not a good personality match for me. I really tried, and it took me a while to come to the conclusion that as wonderful as this therapist might be for others, she wasn’t really helping me. This was one of those situations where I’d leave therapy every time feeling far worse than when I went in. We rehashed traumatic events and yet I never found closure on them. This therapist also had this habit of raising an eyebrow at me and asking “Why would you do/say/think that?” I think the point was to challenge me to confront some poor thinking patterns that had put me in bad situations in the past and could continue to place me in danger. However, one of my main issues was that I really felt worse than I can describe in thinking over my own behavior, and tended to place labels of “stupid,” “naïve,” “crazy” or whatever to myself and my own culpability in what happened. Ultimately, her style of questioning and this internal tendency in myself was just pushing me further into despair.

So, I had to fire my therapist. It doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, or even a bad therapist. It just meant her particular style wasn’t helpful to me.

So in the end I found a therapist who was able to help me sort through all the stuff and start feeling better, though of course it’s always a process and there are worse days and better days. For me in particular I found it helpful to do a very structured specific type of therapy that is designed just for PTSD, although we also talked about other things. I also felt better about learning coping tools and techniques for getting through difficult situations, as opposed to just endless talk therapy. Another thing that this therapist was able to do for me was to put a more positive spin on some of my negative self-assessment. So where I’d be blaming myself and thinking “how could I be so overly trusting, so naïve, so stupid…” The therapist simply said to me “You have an incredible ability to love and care about people who are really not lovable, but the downside of that is that you might have to work harder to protect yourself than others have to.” Which really sounds a lot nicer, don’t you think?

But these might not be the solution for everyone. Nobody should feel that a type of therapy has to work for them just because it has worked for others. I believe in giving it a chance, opening up to the therapy and really trying, but ultimately if it doesn’t work, that’s no condemnation. It doesn’t mean you can’t be helped. It doesn’t mean no therapy will ever work. To me it’s more like you’ve been trying to use the Philips head screw driver and you really needed a standard screw driver. You set aside the tool that isn’t working and look for one that will.

March 13, 2007

What I Deserve

Posted in emotional healing, entitlement, fur, vegan at 2:25 pm by nevavegan

Yes, this about veganism too.

All too often when I’ve tried to talk to people about wearing fur, and the cruelty involved in producing fur, I’ve heard “I’ve had a really hard life, so I deserve this fur coat.”

It’s really hard to look at someone, and listen to their hard luck stories and still say “No, you don’t deserve this.” Of course to me, it’s not really about deserving anything. People deserve to feel good about themselves, they deserve to be happy, they deserve to have some clothing they like. But that really has nothing to do with the horrors of the fur industry; in that case the animals deserve better.

But the question of deserving and entitlement run very deep in my psyche. I was raised with some soul-killing guilt and shame heaped on me. Guilt for being my own person even, for having my own thoughts or desires. Things have been rough at times, and I deserve more than this.

Still, I’m a slow learner at times so I tend to have these mouth-agape, pick my jaw up off the floor moments of realization. One such moment came when I was sitting in the therapist’s office describing how my mother essentially ruined my sister’s birthday and the party we’d planned was cancelled, and my sister nearly went off the deep end, running away screaming and crying. And I told this entire story, and the therapist asked some questions, and I did what I almost always did which was to launch into my litany of excuses. My mother is old, my mother is very sick, she has this health problem and that health problem. She calls me non-stop to tell me how much pain she’s in, all the medications she’s on and their side effects, how she can’t sleep, she’s having palpitations and so on and so on.

The therapist looked at me and said “All that may be true, but you need to realize that being sick doesn’t entitle someone to mistreat others. People can hurt without trying to hurt others. We can excuse an occassional slip up, everyone gets cranky. But just because someone is sick doesn’t give that person permission to terrorize and bully everyone else.”

Hello Jaw, meet floor.

I mean, I always knew this. I often don’t feel well, and while I do have my less than stellar moments of behavior, I never felt I could just trample over everyone in my path because I’m in pain. I never felt that having been abused myself gave me the right to abuse others. But I have this deeply entrenched excuse-making habit. For G__’s sake, I never reported or filed charges against the guy who attacked me because he told me he’d been molested as a kid and I felt so sorry for him. Yeah, it’s pretty pathological, huh?

While I would never put wearing fur in the same category with abusing other people (if for no other reason than wearing fur is condoned in our society, so many people just don’t get that there’s an issue with it), I do think there’s something applicable here. We can feel great sympathy for someone who has been through rough times, but that doesn’t really absolve them of living up to their own morals. I do think that if someone is saying “I’ve had it rough; I deserve this” then on some level they know there’s cruelty involved in producing fur. The person who isn’t aware is going to say “Huh? What are you talking about?”

But here are some thoughts on what all of us deserve. We all deserve to know that we are beautiful in all our many shapes, sizes, colors, or whatever, and that this beauty radiates from within us and is not enhanced by wearing expensive clothes (fur or not). We all deserve to love, and to know that we cannot accept the love offered to us until we love ourselves. We all deserve to be honest with ourselves, like a loyal and candid friend, who will call us on our b—sh–, but forgive us for it at the same time. We all deserve to continue to learn and grow everyday, but without growth there’s only death. None of these things we deserve can be bought at a store, but they are much more valuable.

Of course you also deserve that perfect outfit that flatters you perfectly, you know, so long as it’s vegan.