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Archive for the ‘Body image’ Category

First things first — thanks to all who took the time to fill out my blog evaluation survey! Your feedback was really valuable, and I’m delighted that you all want me to maintain my current focus! Btw, for those who haven’t filled it out yet and want to do so, be my guest!

Now that you’ve recommitted me to my previous blogging path, be prepared to be taken deep into a web of neuroses also known as my mind. Yes folks, today I tackle what will no doubt be the first of many posts on this topic, since it’s one that has had to assume a fairly prominent place in my life. I’ve written before about my body image struggles, but I never felt the urge to expand on those thoughts as the problem spiralled out of control. I was trying everything from Weight Watchers to a personal trainer, but the weight kept piling on, climbing higher and higher every month. I finally reached a point of actual terror for my health and decided to take more decisive action — I sought medical help and now attend a full-service clinic run by a physician and devoted entirely to weight loss. It takes a multi-faceted approach and features a diverse staff of doctors, dieticians, physical trainers and psychologists. I was greatly relieved to learn that I am sound as a bell health-wise, even with my weight at an all-time high. Still, I realized full well that this could change at any moment, and I embarked on a dedicated quest to shed the pounds once and for all. Making wholesale changes to your lifestyle has a way of triggering the soul-searching reflex, and I’ve come to an interesting realization over the past few weeks — blindness and weight loss are just about the worst combo ever!

Think about it. Common weight loss wisdom suggests you won’t be able to slim down unless you zealously monitor every bite of food that enters your mouth and radically step up your activity level. Neither of these things jibe whatsoever with the life of the average blind person. I’d be perfectly happy to measure out precisely three ounces of hallibut for my evening meal or an exact one ounce of goat cheese to top off my lunch-time quinoa salad…except I can’t read the display on my inherited kitchen scale. As for reading the callorie content on my breakfast cereal of choice and determining the designated serving size, I may as well try to drive a car. Measuring out level tablespoons worth of olive oil can be tricky with the standard-shaped utensils, and slicing that whole grain harvest loaf into dietician-sized slices relies a little too heavily on hand-eye coordination for most blinks’ tastes. Then there’s the exercise component. Mosts sports require the average blind person to ask a sighted friend or family member for help, a request they may not be able or willing to accommodate as regularly as necessary for sustained benefits. Gym equipment is increasingly difficult to manage, since digital displays and touch-pad controls are quickly honing in on their more accessible, push-button cousins. Blind folks who struggle with mobility issues are as likely to take to the streets for an independent walk as they are to play Pictionary (it may happen, but isn’t too likely :)). Even if they do take the time to learn a route or two and attain the comfort level to travel it independently, they soon get tired of literally covering the same ground every time. Add in the fact that the blind population is chronically under-employed and often lacks the financial resources to make the right food purchases/enlist professional help, and you have a serious conundrum.

Many of these issues don’t really apply to me, so I am in no way using my blindness as an excuse for my current size. I have a great job with a more than adequate income. I live with a partner who’s well able to read me labels, coach me on how to use the treadmill in our building’s workout room and generally pitch in where it’s needed. My fleet-footed guide dog sets a brisk clip on our walks and gives me the confidence to stray far from the routes I would only tackle as a cane user. The rest of it is all too familiar to me, however, and I’ve had to get creative in finding the right coping strategies. Fortunately there’s an answer to everything. Measuring ingredients becomes a snap when I’m careful to buy very concave measuring spoons that hold the fluid in place while I use my fingers to make sure I’ve reached the rim. Ditto for measuring cups, which are the dieter’s best friend provided they come in the right units. A simple set of detachable scoops in 1, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4-cup measurements will give you all you need to accurately portion out solid food, while a single one-cup liquid measure gets me through on the fluid ingredients. The vessel is small enough that I can tell when it’s half-full vs. three-quarters empty, and it also prevents me from overdosing on any one ingredient. The manual dexterity to produce perfect bread slices has only come with practice, but a really top-knoch, razor-sharp chef knife did wonders to help me refine my technique. Even the label challenge can be conquered with some help from my friend the internet. Calloric and other dietary details for just about all common brands are readily available through a simple google search, while SparkPeople is the perfect accessible web tool for the enterprising cook who wants to get a callorie breakdown of her latest random creation. The web is also, of course, a bottomless source of first-class recipes on days when creativity is running low. The only issue left to sort out in my own kitchen is the problematic scale, and technology will likely solve that one for me too when a talking unit is released (there may very well be one out already).

There’s no doubt that this new effort is very labour intensive, as it would be for anybody. My blindness compounds the effort I put into the program, but may also be arming me well. I’ve become accustomed to working my way through issues that may seem insurmountable at first blush, and resourcefulness has become my watch word in all facets of my life. It’s also bred in me a certain level of determination that I know I’ll need to draw upon if I hope to succeed at this weight loss game for good. It hasn’t let me down yet. With some luck I’ll cross the 15-pound threshold tomorrow…perhaps my blindness and the qualities it’s given me may prove to be an asset afterall.

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A picture of me dressed in the outfit I wore to usher in my 30's. The bottom half is all black, with mock crock 2-inch heels, microfishnet hose and a pencil skirt that hits just barely above my knees. I've paired all this with a deep red top that has a pattern of black flowers, and I've synched it in at the waist with a wide black belt with a mock croc buckle. Around my neck I am wearing five strands of similarly sized white pearls, which are knotted in a cluster at the front and lie evenly around the sides and back. I'm wearing deep red lipstick and my hair is loose around my face.

Dressed for success...bring on the 30s!

I’m not usually much for birthdays, but turning 30 last week brought on a flood of reflections. Allow me to indulge a little and share some of them:

1. I had a very sheltered childhood. It was full of happiness, love, fun, privilege and safety, and yet it’s not a time I would choose to relive. I prefer the independence of adulthood, despite the insecurity that comes with it.
2. I had an uncharacteristic progression as I grew up. Most people dread their teens, and though mine started off disastrously, they proved to be a wonderfully fun and happy time. It was the reverse for my 20’s, which started out blissfully but were trying and sometimes even painful on the whole. Fortunately they ended better, and I’m hoping lessons learned will form a good foundation for the next decade. And yes, I’ll discuss the good parts.
3. I am gregarious and friendly, but at heart very insecure and sometimes even melancholy.
4. Fear of doing wrong has been a persistent theme throughout my life, and to this day I am incapable of dismissing others’ opinions to the degree I probably should.
5. My blindness has become more of an issue as I aged. This seems counter-intuitive, but makes sense upon further reflection. The protective childhood I had instilled me with a boundless confidence and the firm belief that lack of vision would never interfere with my personal plans. Maturity brings reality checks, and this has been a major one that I confronted in the latter half of my 20s. Blindness will put up barriers from time to time, and not all of them can be overcome to my satisfaction. I’ve learned to deal with it, and ultimately it’s better to be stripped of that delusion, but sometimes it’s still hard to swallow.
6. A lot of my natural impulses, emotions and characteristics have been toned down as I got older. I’m still sensitive, emotional, social and any number of adjectives, but to a lesser degree than I used to be. The only trait that seems to have intensified over time is my impatience.
7. Though insecurity is a key part of my makeup, I’ve gained assurance in other areas. I’m a nerd, and am finally proud of it. Nerdiness is the kiss of death to an anxious kid, but tremendous fun as an adult when you can surround yourself with like-minded people who love the books, music, films, games and passtimes that make you most comfortable.
8. Those preferred passtimes haven’t changed a whole lot from when I was 20. My musical horizons have broadened in large measure due to my boyfriend, who has introduced me to some artists I used to ignore, but my general preferences were well-established as I exited my teens.
9. My priorities, however, have changed immensely since then. I remember at 20 being determined to be as interesting a person as possible. This meant exploring people, places and art forms that would provide me with limitless material for sparkling conversation, profound writing and the like. This hilariously idealistic notion has been set aside, thank goodness. At 30, I now want to be successful, and this entails a lot more than just financial security (though that’s there too). I want to be competent in as many areas as possible (career, house-keeping, relationships, social endeavours, etc).
10. I am on my way to achieving some of those goals. Much to my surprise, I find I’ve been able to create and maintain a home that my boyfriend and I are happy to return to each day and that I’m eager to welcome my friends into at any time. I’ve found an interesting career, but haven’t excelled the way I hoped. I’ve rebounded from some savage lows and no longer feel like a social dud as I once did. Still, this goal is far from accomplished, which ultimately is a good thing…it’ll keep me honest!
11. I need to be kept honest and focused on a goal, because I have discovered an inherent lack of drive that trips me up surprisingly often. I was an over-achieving teen who has turned into a very ordinary adult, and it’s entirely due to my own lassitude. It frustrates me and fills me with self-recrimination sometimes, and I must get the better of it.
12. Many things have suffered from this lack of drive, but music is probably the most notable. I devoted much of my teens to piano and singing and achieved a fair bit of success in both. My time in classical choirs gave me some of the most joyous experiences of my life, and I took great pride in completing the second highest level offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music. I have let it go, and I don’t know why. I miss it, but can’t seem to get going again. One major barrier is the lack of affordable, decently transcribed braille music. It’s a genuine problem, but sometimes I wonder if I’m using it as a cop-out.
13. Reading and writing have helped fill some of the void left by my music, and I’m happy to report that the quality of my scribblings has improved over time.
14. My figure has gone much the same way as my music, and this actively triggers my self-disgust. I let it get this way and can’t seem to reverse things. I must do it for a variety of reasons, especially health, but my own paralysis in this area frustrates me more than I can express.
15. There are flipsides to all this, of course. While I’ve let myself down in some ways, the trials of my 20’s have made me realize that I’m a stronger person than I once believed.
16. I make my 20’s sound like a decade of unending misery, and it wasn’t like that at all. I gained a lot during that time, chiefly a partner who genuinely loves me and who I deeply love in return. We’ve supported each other through a great deal, and I honestly believe we’re better for the experience. His 20’s were rocky in the extreme, and I’m hoping our 30’s will prove more fun for us both. Fortunately our shared sense of humour ensures much laughter in our current home, and hopefully in the future ones we hope to own.
17. Other gains from my 20’s: independence, a great education, amazing guide dogs (both my retired golden retriever McClure and adorable little black lab Reva), a sound and engaging career, a deeper appreciation of my family, wonderful friends (many of whom have seen me through from my teens), a more sarcastic sense of humour, better awareness of my good and bad qualities and better knowledge of how to balance them.
18. Lighter discoveries have revolutionized my list of guilty pleasures, which now include Harry Potter, American Idol, and V.I. Warshawski from Sara Paretsky’s series. More substantive fun finds include pot luck parties, tea, hydrotherapy, the novels of Khaled Husseini and Kazuo Ishiguro, the fun in fashion and style, thai food, the buzz you get from actually working out properly, film (learning to appreciate it more), tv comedy like 30 Rock and Arrested Development, and the music of Eva Cassidy, Donnie Hathaway, Tori Amos (most of the time), Opeth (most of the time), Jeff Buckley and Giacomo Puccini. 🙂
19. I’ve lost a number of things in my 20’s, and I really only miss a handful of them: my self-confidence, my physique and a couple of key friendships.
20. I used to be big on new year’s resolutions, but have now totally eschewed them in favour of more general guiding statements. For example:
21. I’m nostalgic by nature, but can’t let that get the better of me — I have more of my life ahead than behind me, and that should be my focus.
22. I am not too young to cry if I need to.
22. I am not too old to sing and dance when the mood is upon me.
23. I’m probably too old to keep a favourite stuffed animal in my room, but I don’t care — here he stays. 🙂
24. I am definitely too young to hate long flights of stairs and/or steep hills. Must change that.
25. When embarrassing moments attack in my 30’s, I must always remember that it will never be as bad as the time my prosthetic eye fell out during a job interview at age 27. 🙂 A well-developed sense of the ridiculous has kept me laughing so far and can’t be spared now!
26. I’ve had extraordinarily good luck throughout my life. I’ve been at the right place at the right time to meet incredible friends, land influential jobs, even find my current apartment. One of the biggest strokes of luck I’ve experienced was the timing of my birth. The rapid advancements in technology make this a great time to be blind, and I’ve benefited enormously from them all. That said, there’s a traditional streak in me — when it comes to personal contact, give me a phone call over an email/facebook message every time.
27. I have personal qualities that I should nurture through the next decade: cheerfulness, humour, empathy and my ability to truly listen to others all come to mind.
28. Less admirable ones, like selfishness, impatience, oversensitivity and excessive bluntness, should be weeded out as much as possible.
29. Self-care is not shameful, and indeed is probably now more important than it used to be. By insisting on getting enough sleep, taking care of my skin and making time for myself to work out, I’m not being frivolous — I’m using forethought and ultimately benefiting more than just myself. I want to extend this to care for broader concerns, such as living in a more environmentally friendly way.
30. Getting older feels good! I only recently stopped referring to myself as a girl, thinking of myself as a woman for the first time. It’s empowering, and I’m ready for more!

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It may sound foolish when someone puts off confessing something that’s immediately obvious with a simple glance. I am not a skinny girl, much as I might wish to be, and my size has caused me considerable angst over the past few years. Despite the fact that someone can note my size as easily as they spot my blindness (my silhouette and my guide dog make both facts equally apparent), I have always balked at the idea of admitting that I am a plus-sized woman. I haven’t let my denial shape my clothing choices — my preoccupation with fit drove me to the plus-size/woman/above average sections at most stores years ago, but admitting that I had exited the realm of mainstream fashion was a blow to someone who has always struggled with body image. Even at my slimmest I was never what one could consider small, though I was comfortably in the size eight to 10 range. My struggles with weight have escalated as I aged, taking a sharp turn for the worse when I moved out on my own. My abject failure to keep my weight in check caused me powerful feelings of inadequacy. I was raised on a healthy diet and knew full-well what constituted a good food routine, but as I discussed before, my culinary skills are entirely self-taught and a certain amount of trial and error was required. When the trials went poorly, I’d cop out and just order in. And even as my experiments met with more success, it took me ages to learn to use callory-intensive ingredients in the right ways. By the time I got it right, the damage was done and my figure had changed.

A long spell of self-castigation ensued during which I struggled to come to terms with my new and not-so-improved body. I hated sitting on public transit for fear I was crowding those around me. Walks with my guide dog were marred by fears that everyone was staring at the ungainly, chubby blind chick who was hogging all the sidewalk space. Getting dressed in the morning became a nightmare, and even meetings with my adored family became anxious affairs. Their criticisms of my weight and appearance, though warranted to some degree, bit deep and compounded my emotional state. My most unfortunate urge to indulge in “emotional eating” would then kick in, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, the circle game was afoot. My fashion choices suffered along with my self-esteem and social life. The idea of showing off my upper arms filled me with dread, I was convinced I had no waist to showcase, and I was loath to expose my tree-trunk-sized calves for any reason. But gradually I decided to approach my size much the way I handle my blindness, i.e. trying not to be frightened by the status quo and resolving to make the most of my present situation. Weight loss takes time, and I already resented the feeling that my life was on hold until I tipped the scale at a more reasonable number. I forced myself to start seeing my slender friends again and was greatly relieved at their understanding of my uncharacteristic lapse. I tried to ignore my unhealthy thoughts when out in public and began focusing on proactive steps I could take to improve my appearance. Angie and the You Look Fab community have been invaluable in helping me to make the most of my current physical assets and keep my style current. If I can’t have the body I want at this very second, at least I can wear flattering, up-to-date clothing that boosts both my confidence and my style quotient. I still don’t love my calves, but I wear knee-length dresses and summer pants at a more flattering length because life’s too short to hide completely. I rejoice in the fact that I have a proportionally small waist and now actively try to highlight it, and my upper arms will see the light of day if the weather gets hot because I’m just entirely too cranky and unpleasant to be tolerated if I’m overheated. 🙂

Being attractively dressed and looking polished has become even more important to me in recent years as I strive to overcome the negative social stigmas associated with being overweight. My size and my blindness have put me at two social disadvantages, and although one is of my own making, I feel an extra onus to counteract the stereotypes they evoke. Being entirely realistic, blindness does present some limitations and fatness (for lack of a better word) can sometimes accurately convey an impression of laziness,, carelessness or lack of productivity. Taken in tandem, the two could combine to form a deadly first impression — one that I am eager to dispell from the get-go. Many blindness-related limitations exist solely in the imagination, and being overweight should never at any time be synonymous with the negative associations I’ve mentioned above. Weight struggles have myriad causes and just as many effects. In fact, some people take pride in their size and are able to conduct their affairs with total confidence.

I envy these people, for I can never join their ranks. I loudly applaud the size-acceptance movement for the emotional liberty it has granted hundreds of people, and I delight in the fact that size-biased industries like fashion are finally starting to take a more broad-minded approach.
But my current size does not make me happy. It threatens my health, dampens my confidence and curbs my enthusiasm for some of my favourite pursuits. I am working towards long-term weight loss, a process which can be both empowering and demoralizing. My occasional failures can take an emotional toll on me and cause me to withdraw from ventures I am genuinely engaged with. When this blog falls victim to one of those spells, plese understand where it’s coming from. I will try not to let those lapses happen often, and it is my hope that coming out as plus-sized, so to speak, will help hold me accountable in a variety of ways.

Thank you for getting through this admittedly self-indulgent rant. A lighter tone next, I promise. 🙂

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