One of our intrepid posters has begun a rather popular thread on how people are currently challenging their eating disorder and it got me thinking about motivation. And this, along with a recent by chance encounter has got me thinking about the "healthy living" movement...
Operation Basic Hygiene
I borrowed one of those numerous biographies out of the library on one person's journey through recovery from an eating disorder a while back, and in it someone had placed an Operation Beautiful.com post-it note letting me know that I was beautiful.
It was sweet and certainly an excellent book in which to place such a motivational statement, but something seemed missing.
By way of explanation for those not familiar with the project, people are encouraged to leave inspiring notes (often on mirrors in public bathrooms) as a way to try to pass on a general attitude of self-acceptance and appreciation.
The woman who founded Operational Beautiful is a genuine soul who wants to support the eradication of negative self-talk in girls and women (and boys and men too). She also runs a blog called Healthy Tipping Point.
I like and dislike the Operation Beautiful efforts and I was finally able to put my finger on why I am so ambivalent when I visited her blog.
Imagine if we had blogs dedicated to teeth brushing, or our day in and day out experiences of sleep (or lack of sleep) and our efforts to brush healthfully and sleep healthfully.
While good sleep hygiene is likely more important than whole foods and activity when it comes to today's modern existence, I'd be hard pressed to imagine that I'd want to write about my night's sleep on an almost daily basis. And yet healthy eating and exercise? Well, we are swimming in blogs on those topics (Healthy Tipping Point being yet another in the genre).
So what am I getting at? Perhaps I have my own kind of eating disorder goggles strapped on too tight these days, but all I see with all these blogs is a narrowing of focus towards the anxieties and compulsions of the pursuit of health for its own sake rather than its basic role in our pursuit of living.
As daily travel logs through personal hygiene efforts, it seems as though we still define beauty far too narrowly for our own good. True beauty is not reflected in habits, it's reflected in ephemeral passing moments and the odd breath-taking epiphany.
Describe a lovely meal with family? Great. Tell me how you struggle to eat "healthfully" while traveling through airports? Don't care. What's the difference you might ask between those two scenarios? The former is about life, but the latter is about self-absorption and a fear of the consequences of having to eat "unhealthfully" (GAK!) while blasting through an airport. I could well imagine you might feel equally uncomfortable and anxious if you forgot your toothbrush and had to go 36 hours without brushing your teeth, but lo and behold you are able to re-establish your teeth brushing habit and the sky does not fall in (nor do your teeth).
I don't think we should teach boys and girls about healthy eating and exercise in schools. We should teach boys and girls about compassion, care, empathy, courage, flexibility, resilience...any number of facets that will be helpful in their wellbeing as they grow and the wellbeing of those around them as well. Girls and boys should learn how to cook, not learn about macronutrients. They should learn how to swap family recipes, not how to skip desserts and watch the salt intake. They need enough free time to be outside and playing—unstructured play. That's all the connection they need to the joy of being active to want to maintain the habit throughout life.
What I like about Operation Beautiful is that there is beauty within it. But the beauty is not in being told you're beautiful; the beauty is actually in the giving and receiving of kindness, empathy and compassion.
What I don't like is the undertow of a message that suggests beauty is self-acceptance, self-worth and a bunch of hygiene habits that you blog about to try to whitewash the anxiety you have that those habits could be all that stand between you and ugliness.
I am neither beautiful nor ugly. I don't exist on either plane and I don't accept the either/or and the obligatory simplification it implies of my existence on the planet. And what I really have appreciated so much about the community that has been developing here on this site is that everyone is seeking that "neither/nor" space to break away from even the well-meaning but still horribly reductive concepts of beauty.
What Matters Most
The whole inspiration for this post comes from one of our members who is working her recovery very, very hard. She submitted a well known image of a kitten looking in the mirror and a lion is staring back in the reflection and she offered it up as motivation. It's that the image reflects potential, courage and hope that perhaps makes it a truer reflection of beauty than a 5K run, flossing the teeth twice a day or dedicating yourself to raw food lunches.
I know now when someone has not only reached remission but is liable to move on from this site. They often describe something in their lives that may or may not be a self-revelation but certainly reveals that moment of passage to me. Perhaps they may have to return someday for a tune-up, but generally the world of hygiene is just habit to them and something else has captured their imagination, their passion and their existence. They don't just escape from the beauty trap, they transcend it.
I remember one in particular, because she was one of the first that I walked alongside as she struggled to recover from originally anorexia, then bulimia, then anorexia athletica, and her moment was when she spoke of a day at work. She was horrified and shocked that her colleagues were so derogatory and pretty much blatantly racist towards Latina women who enter the facility for medical attention (she was in the health care industry obviously). The veteran colleagues assured her that with time she would become weary and frustrated by them as well. She reflected that she could never imagine doing so.
I knew right then that she would soon move on from her past struggles with the eating disorder (she had successfully restored her weight and health at that point some months prior). And the reason I knew is the same reason that I know that to this day, and in the decades to come, she will never treat those women the way her colleagues do no matter how many years she is at that job.
We find our reason. Our purpose. The same poster who provided our kitten with the heart of a lion was concerned that nothing seemed particularly special about her. She could not be more wrong. And I am already counting the days when there will be that same moment where (whether she recognizes it at the time or not) I will know that she is about to transcend any need to feel special because she lives it.
That is what a healthy tipping point really looks like.