In order to truly learn something, you have to be vulnerable.
3 Things I Believe:
1. Women don’t owe the world any sort of explanation for their sexuality, autonomy, or validity.
2. Mental illness is not a character flaw, and taking medication is not a sign of weakness.
3. All bodies are good bodies.
3 Things I Also Believe:
1. Women don’t owe the world any sort of explanation for their sexuality, autonomy, or validity. Except for me.
2. Mental illness is not a character flaw, and taking medication is not a sign of weakness. Except for me.
3. All bodies are good bodies. Except for mine.
A lot of people walk around feeling like this. A lot of people also stay in bed all day and feel like this. I’ve done both, and neither is very enjoyable.
A few months ago, I went to the launch of Jes Baker’s new book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. Body positivity is at the core of my personal values, something that I try to live by every single day. I read Virgie Tovar’s Hot and Heavy anthology in high school, and to say it changed my life is an understatement. It gave me a world I could see myself in. But it’s not a world I can feel myself in. Not yet.
At the book signing that launched her tour, Jes read a passage from Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls that moved most of the audience to tears. My Editor-In-Chief was next to me while we listened, and it wasn’t long before she was sobbing. Heaving. Someone gave us a handkerchief. I glared at the cameraman following each tear with his giant lens. And I realized that I felt completely numb to all of it.
I could feel where it was, where body positivity was living inside of me. I just couldn’t reach it.
Body positivity lives in the same place as my feminism and my mental health activism. Up in my head, tidily sectioned off from any sort of personal application or cathartic crying spell. They exist for a reference guide, for advice giving, for anything but their most important purpose. I can talk about them, but I can’t embody them. They may as well be on a bookshelf.
I understand feminism so well in theory. I’ve read all the books. Seen a million documentaries. I write about it all the time – I even run a weekly newsletter all about body positivity. But all of that seems to stop short of where I really need it.
It isn’t there when I leave my meds at the pharmacy for weeks at a time, sure that I am “strong enough” to get by without them.
It isn’t there when I skip a meal (or two, or three) after getting weighed at the doctor’s office.
I can’t seem to find it when I panic at the thought of being intimate with someone, when I bring myself to the emotional equivalent of my old Mormon bishop’s office for so much as daring to love someone.
It’s been years since I first heard the word “feminism,” or had my therapist hand me a sheet of paper about mental health stigma, or curled up in bed with my copy of Hot and Heavy and a bowl of ice cream. I’ve learned a lot, but not enough. And what I need to learn can’t be found in a book or a documentary or any logical sequence I have designed inside my head.
At some point intellect has to make room for something bigger, for something scarier than just about anything. In order to truly learn something, you have to be vulnerable. You have to walk in and set your broken parts on the table and say, “Here, fix it. Or at least be broken with me.” You have to sit in a bookstore, listen to Jes Baker read to you, and cry. None of it matters unless you feel it. No one can hand you a handkerchief unless they can see that you need one. Nothing can dry tears you won’t let yourself cry.
So go ahead. Cry. Pass the handkerchief my way once you’re finished.