On Being Tough. Or Not.

fearless

“You’re the toughest person I know.”

It’s a sentiment I hear often. People commend me on this, and their intentions are sincere. I believe that. They leverage these words as grandiose reminders of the crossroads I’ve traversed. Barricades I’ve thrust aside. Mountains I’ve trekked to an unfamiliar precipice.

They applaud my supposed strength as though I’ve earned some bragging right—“Look what I overcame. No coup de grâce will finish me off.”

Except for one caveat. I don’t feel strong. Not even remotely. Under that impenetrable bravado I’ve fought to maintain, I sometimes feel damaged beyond recourse. Wary of exposing those chinks in my armor but desperate for someone to glimpse the truth…

It’s no bragging right to possess insider knowledge of how a psychiatric ward operates. To detect the muffled yet deafening click of a deadbolt for which you have no key. To forfeit both dignity and independence upon stepping inside.

To hear medical professionals issue warning after warning that your actions have fatal consequences, while not caring one iota. To curse a body that you’ll never escape. To pine after an identity which doesn’t compute as your own. To just keep existing—but without purpose or vitality. Or…to flirt with the temptation of not existing altogether.

Those are the memories swarming my consciousness when I’m labeled “tough.” Because the fact is, I’m not.

Today’s cultural climate demands I revoke this confession before it can materialize further. Don’t admit your frailties or vulnerabilities. That’s the accepted mantra. Disguise your battle scars. Force a confident smirk to repress the emotion. And never concede that you can’t survive this alone. That maybe—just maybe—you need another lifeline.

But I won’t conform to those standards anymore. This arbitrary rulebook on how to feel—how to live—I reject its merciless constraints. I’m no hero archetype whose staunch self-reliance is more than enough for whatever crises loom ahead. Nor should I feign this performance. I’m a fragile, breakable human being. That’s my truth.

Flawed but redeemed.

Wounded but healing.

Uncertain but learning.

Weakened but sustaining.

Fragmented but still breathing.

Emotionally stunted but growing.

I’ll take those attributes over “tough” every time because they manifest something emphatically more worthwhile—courage. And even if nobody declares me “the bravest person they know,” choosing to view myself through that lens is enough. More than enough, in fact.

In the (Start-Up) Business of Loving Myself

self-love

Self-Love is a buzzword I hear often. Even social media hashtags proliferate the concept. Yep. #SelfLoveSunday. It’s a thing.  So are those barefaced “I woke up like this” selfies. Of course you did. After 10 minutes of choosing a filter.

But regardless, the implication is clear. We should accept, embrace, even flaunt our own uniqueness. And the haters can just shove their criticism. Well…umm…brownie points for that empowering mantra, but one issue still remains.

Social media is not an accurate depiction of reality. Which makes me wonder: How many of these self-love posts crowding my Instagram feed represent women who really do love themselves?  

Do they feel as confident, poised and vivacious as their expressions would suggest? Or is there a secret shame cowering behind that camera lens?  A brokenness hidden beneath a brazen facade?

I’d guess the latter.

Not because I’m a cynic, but because we live amidst a contradictory culture that heaps emphasis on airbrushed physical standards, while encouraging women to appreciate their idiosyncrasies.

These two messages can’t coexist. When society demands perfection, where does that leave the imperfect? Scrutinizing every inch of their bodies, chasing self-love but coming up short.

I’m no stranger to this cycle.

In fact, the first conscious realization of my own “subpar” physique came at 8 years old. This perception (however irrational) spiraled into a decade long struggle with distorted body image, restrictive behaviors and obsessive hyper-criticism. A.K.A. the antithesis of self-love.

No hashtag is gonna convince me to change that perspective though. No social media campaign will reverse these beliefs entrenched in my psyche. No superficial impetus can undo the damage within. Healing comes from a much higher pursuit.

When you recognize that vulnerability isn’t weakness.

That admission of flaws isn’t acceptance of defeat.

That relying just on yourself isn’t a buffer from pain. 

That drawing strength from others isn’t disempowerment.  

So, why is self-love an elusive concept? Because we’re conditioned to skepticize and overanalyze these simple truths instead of affirming them at face-value. But when we move past the barricades, we experience more than self-love.

We discover identity.

body-positive-quotations

 

 

 

Breaking Vegan: a Relatable Read for Real Life

First things first: gonna start this post with a disclaimer—I’m not vegan. Aside from a vegetarian experiment back in college, I’ve always felt comfortable eating fish, poultry and certain animal by-products.

This is worth mentioning because I know several members of the vegan community have reacted forcefully to the memoir I’m about to discuss. So, for the record, my thoughts on Breaking Vegan are less concerned with this titular label and geared instead toward the author’s portrayal of disordered eating.

Alrighty. We’ve established I don’t follow the diet in question (although my love for fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins is real!), so why have I dedicated an entire post to this book?

Breaking Vegan book cover

Well…because it’s not just about veganism. It’s about being human.

Which sometimes means taking our passions to harmful extremes. Ignoring any smidgeon of logic that might contradict our single-minded intent. Forcing ourselves to believe whatever dogma, justification or outright lie supports our lifestyle choices. Rolling our eyes at those who voice concern. And disregarding our basic need to feel.

But this book is also about redemption. Healing both physical weakness and emotional wounds. Surrendering that insatiable urge for control. Embracing life’s hairpin turns, breakneck speeds and unpredictable thrills. Filling those empty spaces with a mindful center. Swapping out numbness for self-awareness. Affirming—even [gasp!] loving—every little quirk. And choosing balance over reckless abandon.

Basically, this book is about me.

Well…if you wanna get technical, it’s about Jordan Younger (a.k.a. The Balanced Blonde) and her relatably raw transition from orthorexia to personal acceptance.

But yeah, also me. And anyone else who’s lost their identity through the pursuit of perfection. That’s why Breaking Vegan is an important read. Not because Jordan bashes veganism (FYI: she doesn’t), but because she validates our right as individuals to live without labels.

While entrenched in my eating disorder, I used the “wellness” facade to rationalize my irrational behavior. I tossed that buzzword around like a humble brag and considered it my benchmark for success. Yet relentlessly pining after “health” made me unhealthier than I’d ever been. Gotta love irony, right?

Like Jordan points out from her own experience, I couldn’t even contemplate—let alone, begin—the recovery process until those identifiers no longer defined me.

I’ll always gravitate toward “wellness,” but there’s more to life than caloric counts, ingredient lists or sugar grams.

Passion often turns into obsession. I know this firsthand. The challenge, therefore, lies in restoring equilibrium—an elusive concept yet vital component. Sometimes my grasp on this feels superficial, but here’s one takeaway from Jordan’s story: healing can happen. Her message of sustainable, centered and [of course!] balanced health is exactly how I wanna approach this thing we call living.

So…Challenge. Accepted.

And since some messages are most impactful straight from their source, I’ll leave you with an excerpt of my favorite Breaking Vegan quotes:

Word.

Open Letter to an Insecure Girl from the Guy Who Finds Her Incredible {Guest Post}

I devote large portions of this blog to promoting body positivity ’cause — quite simply — I believe women in today’s society need to hear encouraging messages and words of affirmation more than ever before.
       However, lately it’s occurred to me that these “body positive” mantras often come from a sole female perspective. While this isn’t a negative thing, it does exclude one crucial component from the overall equation.
       Let’s face the facts. We ladies care deeply about how we’re perceived by the men in our lives. Often, we have absolutely no idea what they’re thinking when they give us the requisite once-over. But, deep down, we crave their wide-eyed approval, reassuring us that we’re still desirable.
       Seriously, though…what DOES a guy think when his girl enters the room — tiny flaws and all? I’ve recruited a certain dapper dude (otherwise known as mah boyfriend) to answer this question. It’s about time we added a male voice to the “body image” commentary and shed some light on what they see behind our self-deprecation.
       So, without further ado:

                                                                                                                              To an Insecure Girl from the Guy Who Finds Her Incredible

Dear Beautiful,
       Before we go out on a date, I’m usually the first to get ready. I’ll be sitting on the couch, scrolling through some article on my phone, and then I’ll look up and catch a glimpse of you getting ready.
       You’re straightening your hair. Picking out jewelry. Zipping up that dress. Then, you examine yourself in the mirror. You’ll stare silently for a while before beginning the inspection: legs, arms, torso, backside…the list goes on. Finally, you give this look.
       A look I know too well.
       A look that reads: Disappointed. Not impressed. Not good enough. 
       You’ll leave the bathroom, unaware that I’m gaping at this radiant goddess in front of me. I’ll say “You look incredible,” and you’ll respond with a small, quiet “Thanks.” 
       But I still know what you’re thinking: Disappointed. Not impressed. Not good enough.
       So, here’s my response to those toxic words poisoning your mind. 
       They’re simply not true. Nope, not all. 
       Before I reveal what’s really going through my mind when I say “You look incredible,” there’s something else you need to know. And this might just be the most important thing I’ll ever tell you. So, take notes. Remember my words. Make sure they stick. 
       You, my love, are beautiful — both on the inside and out.
       Did you read that? Carefully?
       I repeat: Beautiful on the inside and out
       You’re probably wondering right about now, “Did this joker actually say he cares about my character? Not just my physical appearance?”
       Listen. I won’t lie about the male species. We do respond to visuals. And there are plenty of men out there, who focus only on visuals. Those guys are pigs, though. Assholes.
       I apologize for the pigs and assholes you’ve encountered throughout your life. They’re not real men. Maybe they’ll learn to become one someday.
       But, the real men — who respect their peers, support their loved ones, and stay true to their morals — those men want a real woman. 
       I want a real woman.
       I don’t want an airbrushed model on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit or that busty chick in some Playboy spread. I want the beauty standing right in front of me, who I can see with my own eyes. The feisty spit-fire I can debate with over cocktails. Someone with hopes, dreams, and goals.
       A real woman is kind. Intelligent. Funny. Compassionate. Ambitious. Strong. And it just so happens that this man is attracted to this real woman.
       I’m crazy about her smile, her infectious laughter, and the way her voice pitches when we discuss a topic she’s passionate about. I melt when those huge, engaged eyes stare into mine, embracing this moment just between us. I love how she plays with her hair when she’s nervous or casually sips her drink with those smooth lips. 
       That’s real.
       Those artificial, photo-shopped images you’re obsessing over — the ones you think all men desire — they can’t satisfy a real man. 
       They’re just ideals that many girls wish they could emulate. But I find this sad because a real man doesn’t want an ideal. He wants you
       I. Want. You.
       Because you’re real. And they’re fake.
       So, stop. 
       Stop comparing yourselves to those other girls. Stop scrutinizing your reflection and thinking “my thighs are fat” when, in reality, they’re gorgeously toned. Stop pinching your stomach and sighing “this isn’t flat enough” when there isn’t even extra skin to pinch. Stop jiggling your arms and moaning “Look at all this flab hanging from my biceps” when such nonsense couldn’t be further from the truth. Stop staring at your chest and wondering “If these boobs were fuller, maybe he’d be more into me” because, babe, that’s outrageous!
       Just stop! Don’t stack yourself up against those false representations. You know what will happen? 
       You will decompose. 
       Decompose before my eyes. You’ll gradually become consumed with dangerous thoughts, like “If I eat less, I’ll look like her,” or “Gotta skip lunch and dinner if I want that perfect body.”
       No. That is not healthy. That is you rotting away. And you’ll lose yourself in the process. These ideals — the ones you constantly compete with — they’ll win. Please don’t let them win. Never in my life would I want to witness you deal with such torture.
       My desire is to see you grow. 
       Grow into that strong, capable woman you truly are. Grow into that confident bombshell, who loves herself and takes pride in her uniqueness.
       Your physical shape or size simply doesn’t matter. A real man will love everything you have to offer. He won’t hear the negative voices screaming in your head. He only sees you marching to the beat of your own drum.
       And that’s what a real man finds most attractive.
       So, when you finally walk out of the bathroom, and we leave for our date night, pay close attention when I say “You look incredible.” Because here’s what’s on my mind…
       I’m so blessed by you. Blessed to sit across from you. Blessed to slip my hand into yours. Blessed to learn more about you. Blessed to make memories we’ll both cherish.
       Knowing we’re spending this evening together — me and this lively, passionate goddess — makes my heart race. How did I get so lucky? The most beautiful girl I’ve ever known chose me, and I’m truly honored.
       In a world full of illusions plastered on computer screens and magazine covers, you’re all I see. 
       Because you look incredible.
Love,
A Real Man
me and Brandon prof pic

Why I’m No Longer Pro-Fitspo

Lately, I’ve noticed several articles cropping up around the web — from fellow Bloggers to the Huff Post — all focused on the same controversial issue: FITSPO.

Since this has become such a hot topic in the fitness community, I’m suddenly feeling the urge to “weigh in” and add my voice to the conversation. But, first, let’s clarify why Fitspo is even a thing and what its original intent was.

Here’s how Urban Dictionary defines the trend:

Short for “fitspiration.” Images of active, strong and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet.

So, that’s the purpose Fitspo supposedly aims to fulfill. However, now it’s teetering on the brink of soft porn.

Soft porn that makes you kinda sorta question everything about your physical worth.

(Like…does this REALLY have to be either-or?!?!)

flat stomach or sweets

image courtesy of Pinterest

How did this movement — which should have been a positive and dynamic lifestyle initiative — veer so far off-course?

Hell, that’s what I wanna know.

When I initially heard about the whole “fitspiration” concept, I wasted no time jumping on-board. I mean, here was the confidence-booster we’d been waiting for, right?!

Thinspiration’s healthier twin sister.

Social media’s gift to female psyches everywhere.

Rather than bombarding us with airbrushed propaganda of unrealistically skeletal frames, Fitspo motivated us to strive for “strong” over “skinny.”

image courtesy of Pinterest

image courtesy of Pinterest

Well, in theory anyway. Because that’s where the motivation ends. Despite these so-called good intentions, Fitspo still panders to an exclusive audience. It doesn’t celebrate the beauty of each unique physique but, instead, discriminates against body types that aren’t tucked and toned in all the right places.

Case-in-point: “strong not skinny” is actually a derogatory message. Some women are naturally thin — not eating disorder thin per se, but thin. They can’t change their builds any more than curvy women can.

Nor should they. Stick-straight, hourglass or voluptuous — the female figure is worth embracing, regardless of shape or size.

So, why have sculpted obliques and sinewy biceps become the arbitrary benchmark to gauge our “hotness” levels?

Well…umm…compliments of Fitspo.

Don’t get me wrong, if you do have sculpted obliques and sinewy biceps, take pride in those accomplishments. After all, fitness requires both effort and commitment. You know what though? Sometimes, even the most vigilant efforts won’t turn us all into Miranda Kerr doubles. And there’s no shame in that either.

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t feel inspired by body-shaming mantras disguised as “healthy” workout incentives.

I’m not gonna run a marathon because some Pinterest meme-creator thinks I’ll be spurred into action by Victoria’s Secret angels in barely-there spandex, sports bras and the uplifting text overlay — “Train Insane or Remain the Same.”

image courtesy of Pinterest

image courtesy of Pinterest

Nope. I’ll exercise for ME, thanks. Not a subliminal you-aren’t-working-hard-enough quote, or some sexually stimulating model with an unattainable bod. Those are illusions. And illusions won’t get results.

Society has begun equating fitness with the feminine ideal, but this label misses the mark. Who cares about looking like a superficial slice of eye-candy when you can strive for personal acceptance instead? Exercise isn’t about some fleeting “Dayyyum, girl!” once-over.

Exercise is about vitalitytoughnessexhilaration — both physically and mentally. Fitspo, however, won’t get you there.

So, what will?

  1. Gradual progress at your own steady pace.
  2. And self-love. Yeah, TONS of self-love.

My final advice, then? Unplug from this Fitspo trend. It’s basically just Thinspo with a sportier-sounding name.

love yourself

image courtesy of Pinterest

On Turning Your Body Image from Naughty to Nice

The holidays are a challenging time of year for me.

I won’t even bother pretending otherwise.

So, with Christmas just 2 days around the corner, that telltale anxiety has begun creeping up on me.

In T-48 hours, the festivities will commence. I’ll be plied with cut-out cookies, green bean casserole (whose appearance at the buffet table always makes me wonder: why is this even a thing???), and every sugary beverage imaginable. I’ll spend Christmas dinner inwardly squirming because there’s no socially acceptable reason to escape “family time” for a stress-relieving workout.

And — most cringe-worthy of all — I’ll nod and *fake* smile as the table conversation invariably shifts to, “I reeeeeeally shouldn’t eat this, but…”

Don’t give me wrong though, I still love the holidays.

No, seriously. I do.

I’m a sucker for seasonal traditions. I can flawlessly quote Elf, and I know the lyrics to every musical sequence in White Christmas (that’s right…not just the title song!). I’m always convinced reindeer can fly upon watching the “Santa Tracker” with my younger cousins. In fact, I’m even listening to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” while typing this post.

Yep. There’s no denying it. Christmas is magical.

Too bad the magic often takes a backseat to my “holiday weight”-centric neurosis.

Negative body image seems grossly intensified during this time of year, and I sure wish Santa would fill my stocking with manuals on getting through the season, unscathed by those pesky insecurities. All gift-wrapped and foolproof because I am on the Nice List, don’tcha know.

Right. If only.

Instead, I’m left to my own devices when faced with excessive eating, thoughtless comments, and degrading voices inside my head. And — if you’re anything like me — you’ve likely experienced the exact same struggle.

But, since we’ve established the Big Guy won’t be bringing any “Body Image Survival Guides” on his sleigh anytime soon, I’ll leave you with this:

3 strategies, which have empowered me to sidestep feelings of inadequacy, so I can actually enjoy the festivities. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, as well. Just sayin’…

  1. If you want a cookie, have a cookie! Depriving yourself  is counterproductive and will frequently lead to a binge. Instead of suppressing a sweet tooth or restricting your regular intake to compensate for said sweet tooth, only to lose control and devour the whole damn cookie jar when nobody’s looking, allow yourself some wiggle room. Don’t overindulge, but listen to those internal hunger cues. If your body is craving chocolate chip goodness, for instance, feed the urge.  Eat 1 cookie. Taste it. Savor it. Then, walk away from the remaining dozen. Sweet tooth satisfied. Anxiety alleviated.
  2. Enough already with “good” vs. “bad” foods! There are no bad foods (unless they’re loaded with artificial preservatives…then, they can’t really be considered food). Only bad eating habits. Example: I might avoid green bean casserole, but my sister loves that shit. Therefore, green bean casserole is neither “good” nor “bad.” Regardless of our individual taste buds, it’s still just food. How food is consumed, though, can be detrimental. Whether you’re obsessively counting calories or mindlessly munching until nausea ensues, you fall into the disordered eating category.  So, eliminate those labels. If you like something, just eat it.
  3. You can be social while staying in shape! Rather than sneaking away from the crowd to sweat off Christmas dinner, turn exercise into a family bonding activity. Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood together, while enjoying holiday lights. Organize a backyard touch football scrimmage. Even play Wii Sports with your cousins (that’s what I do!). By all means, get moving! Just don’t let fitness take precedence over relationships. Strike a healthy balance. Instead of turning your desire for physical exertion into a covert mission, invite others to join in the action.

Oh, and (because…randomness) here’s a picture of some cookies.

Christmas cookies Yes, I baked them. I also — gasp! — ate them.

Guiltlessly.

If I can, anyone can.

You’re welcome (and Merry Christmas!).

Why We Shouldn’t Need to Mind the Gap

I’ll admit…

I became preoccupied with obtaining a “thigh gap” before I even knew it had a name. Let alone a hashtag.

All I knew was if my feet were together but my thighs were NOT apart, then that equaled failure. If they so much as grazed against each other during an evening jog, I’d inwardly curse the loose folds of cellulite that had taken up residence there. Granted, this egregious cellulite only existed inside my head, but still…

Why. The. Hell. Must. Those. Stupid. Thighs. Touch?!

Arrrrrgh!

What is this madness?!

Madness indeed. Not only was I fixated on a meaningless centimeter of space between my inner thighs, but now millions of other young women are too. You can’t scroll through an Instagram feed or peruse Tumblr posts without being inundated by this troubling trend. #MindTheGap has recently become just as much an institution as social media itself. Proponents of the elusive “gap” use these sites as sounding boards to either tout their progress or bemoan their inadequacy. Nope. There’s no mistaking it: thigh gap fixation has given us tunnel vision toward our own physical appearances.

It’s no longer acceptable to simply be considered fit and trim overall. Now every last INCH of our bodies demands perfection.

But, let’s be honest, are thigh gaps even all that noticeable? If you didn’t spend a solid 10 minutes positioning your legs at just the right angle to snap a boastful – and perhaps teeny tiny bit…filtered – selfie, would your friends have any idea that you claim membership in the Thigh Gap Club? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Which raises even more questions: Why is this our new benchmark for beauty? Why is a sliver of breathing room separating 1 skin layer from another suddenly the latest status symbol? Why do we measure personal success in such superficial, fleeting terms?

No, really. WHY?!

Do yourself a favor next time you cringe at your own reflection. Rather than gauging the dead air between your legs, consider instead how those same legs move you through each miraculous day of your beautiful life.

Not that’s worth minding.