If you missed the The Melissa Harris-Perry Show yesterday on MSNBC, here’s Margaret Cho’s segment. It’s a good one! She talks body image, bullying and the quest for self-image validation. Take a look!
I’ve been working out hard and watching my diet for several months now, and I am doing well. I enjoy exercise and it’s one of the few moments that I get to have to myself during a busy day. It’s not really so much about changing the way that I look as opposed to changing the way that I feel. My back pain has become more manageable and my moods have become stabilized. I sleep better at night and also can shift between time zones more easily. There’s a spring in my step and I feel younger overall.
Of course I love food and I cheat on my ‘diet’ every day, and when I say ‘diet’ I mean eating pretty much gluten-free/grain-free/sugar-free foods but of course there’s always cookies and shit in there. It’s all about being consistent and doing something for myself physically every day.
I work with different trainers and they’ve helped a lot – but what they cannot prepare you for is when your body does change. How do you deal with being physically different? For me this manifests itself in a lot more attention from others. This is not always positive. In fact it can be quite disturbing. Being thinner, I have noticed people approaching me – mostly men, and it can be very strange. I don’t know what this is about. When you adhere more to a socially ‘acceptable’ body, there’s something that attracts others more to you. Last week on the Atlanta airport tram, an angry man sat down next to me and demanded to know why I was had so many tattoos because it was obvious I was old and really only young people should have them. He was very aggressive and I think was trying to hit on me, but really could only come at me in this very insulting way. I didn’t say anything – as I was actually truly terrified. He kept saying I was too old to have that many tattoos and kept looking at my body and my face trying to find some explanation. I wanted to run away but I was trapped on the tram and couldn’t find an escape. I remained silent, which triggered him further and made him come closer to me. Fortunately the tram stopped and I was able to run away from him. The male attention I have received since losing weight has been both aggressive and hostile like this and more tame, yet still boundary violating like some dude grabbing my waist and rib cage on the street, catcalls, etc. I am not sure what to attribute this to other than my changed appearance.
I also have been receiving more positive attention – and that’s a bit of a problem too. I think that trainers need to educate their clients on what to do with the amount of attention we receive in our new bodies. I think that for me, being thinner always meant being more sexual, and this is not necessarily appropriate for me. In the past, whenever I got thinner, I wanted to show my body to as many people as I could because I was convinced I wouldn’t have it for long, and so I wanted proof that it existed in the approving glances of others. I am old enough (not too old for tattoos) and mature enough now to know not to go crazy like this anymore. I want to keep my body healthy and enjoy being fit, and not feel that I have to be thin in order to be valued. I am valued at any size.
The other thing that trainers don’t really warn you about is shopping. It is such a rush to go to a store and be able to buy clothing! Before, when I shopped with my beautiful, thin actress friends, I would never be able to buy anything but housewares! They’d be trying on the cutest outfits and I was limited to mugs and bead curtains. Now I can wear different kinds of things and it’s so exciting that I want to shop all the time! It’s absolutely insane! To look at clothing tags that say ‘m’ and ‘s’ and even ‘xs’ sometimes is a total rush for me. It’s an expensive high though, and it’s not the right thing to do. It’s wonderful to be able to treat yourself to beautiful things, especially if you’ve been working hard toward a goal, but for me it’s a dangerous preoccupation!
Trainers have helped me so much in finding a good balance with eating and exercise, but the social behaviors are something that I need help with too!
I wonder how many adults realize the damage they do to kids in just fleeting moments of life that cannot be retrieved. There are things that I have held onto for decades, these events that define me, that control my everyday lady actions, even at 42, even at the lady successful level of charmed existence that I lead. No matter how many dreams I have dreamed and realized, these nightmares still haunt me. I’ve never grown up really. They are small things. Barely a blip in the consciousness of another, but a deep unrelenting scar that aches for eternity in me.
Sitting down at a friend’s family home, just teenagers satisfying that after school hunger that is insatiable. There is something about eating after school – there’s no way to fill up the bottomless well there. School was such a battle, for me all the years I managed it. I never went to school one day where it was okay. From daycare on – it was always always terrible. To this day, I still wake up at 6:50am and my first thought is, “I don’t have school today!” and I am sure I will think this every morning and will worry the day I don’t think this first thing. Miraculously, I did manage to have a friend here and there. She and I ate often at her home after school, where the blessed refrigerator was not filled with embarrassing Korean things fermenting, which is what my home was; giant jars of cabbage and fish that shamed me painfully then, but what I would give anything for now, as a sophisticated and worldly gourmand. Then it was just the pain of my immigrant existence. But her kitchen was filled with buttery chafing dishes of noodle kugle, thick with raisins and cream – there was not a fish eye or egg in sight – welcome relief further intoxicating me with the exoticism of white people. I loved her family’s Russian Jewish cooking. All the latkes in the world will never be enough for me. My kingdom for a stuffed cabbage.
That day there were latkes there, cold stacks, tiny air bubbles dotting the surface like steam widened facial pores, ready to be filled up with sour cream and applesauce. Rolls of stuffed cabbage, tomato sauce crispy with celery and onion – and of course the beloved noodle kugle. What I love about the eastern European dishes are the sweetness – probably invented to cut the bitterness of life there. Whatever the origin, whatever the reasons – it’s fucking good. We dished out heaping servings onto thick rustic 70′s plates and microwaved them without covering, so the food was heated unevenly, bites containing scalding hot morsels and disconcerting cold lumps. It didn’t matter because it was about getting the food down. Her mother came in suddenly and sat down, taking a moment from the ‘Me era’ to sit with her daughter, but probably only to satisfy her own guilt, so it was still in keeping with the times. She looked at the food on our plates and she looked at me and said, “You have an eating disorder. You have to stop eating like that. What is wrong with you? What makes you eat like that? You have to stop! You have to STOP RIGHT NOW!!!” My friend threw her fork down and said, “GOD! MOM! SO EMBARRASSING!!! This is why I have like NO FRIENDS!!!!!GOD!!!”
I felt sick immediately, the fat in the food coagulating in my blood and stopping it. It felt like a heart attack, or a tranquilizer dart right in the chest, felling me in my tracks. Like when you take your battery out of your phone – just blank screen. Blank. Mother and daughter were full on fighting now but I had checked out and gone somewhere else. We were all still sitting there but I don’t really know what happened after that. Perhaps we went to my friend’s room and drowned out her neurotic mother’s musings with Duran Duran, but whatever happened I know that I was permanently changed. I had been marked with a big scarlet letter “E” on my chest for “eating disorder.” That was when I was tagged in the wild and categorized forever, and even though I was put back into the general population, I carry the mark to this day.
I went to “Dancing with the Stars” last night, enjoying the fabulous five remaining couples and relieved I didn’t have to do the instant dance! I can’t tell you how much my hole still puckers when they play that weird pulsating music and announce the names right before each couple dances. The involuntary DWTS farthold never leaves you, however I was prepared for that. What I was unprepared for was the tidal wave of compliments and comments and generalized insanity about what I perceive to be my (relatively) unchanged body. Of course, I think I look great now, but I thought I looked great before. I am sure I am insane, but I am the type of person who receives and answers a compliment with a pang of suffering at having not heard the praise before. I don’t take in the sweet words, I only remember the times when they were not forthcoming. I live in the lack.
It’s true, I have changed the way I have been eating and exercising, trying to stay in my body as much as possible, after having abandoned it time and time again for almost an entire lifetime, but I am not trying to lose weight, I am just trying to lose the feeling of being unconscious, trying to jump into my skin out of the ether every day, plunge into the depth of being. I feel that I deserve this, I owe myself the time and commitment it takes to be healthy. I am so sad and angry at my young self, because I was such a beautiful kid and I never appreciated it because I was convinced I was fat. Now I look back and see that I wasted so much time hating my body, when it was really truly lovely.
If you are a young person and you feel frustrated with the way you look, I beg you to look again. I can tell already, you are beautiful. Your life is just beginning. Don’t let this time go by without enjoying it. Don’t listen to the bullshit that people say. It’s just awful. I listened to the media and the dumb indignities and insensitive comments people made rather than looking at myself with my own eyes. So much weird stuff would stay in my brain – the numerous times people asked me if I was pregnant/with child/when I was due/if I had a thyroid problem/if I had ever considered bariatric surgery (seriously). Also – there was so much unsolicited weight loss advice! Bitch I don’t care! Don’t tell me what you do unless I ask you to tell me.
Now I am getting less of this type of criticism and more questions and jaw dropping reactions to the way I am looking now. Why are people so bowled over? What I would love to hear are your stories about body transformations, and how people in your life react to it. How do you react to it? I am overall kind of resentful, like why is it better now, why couldn’t you say nice things to me before? I am not a different person, I am not even that different a size, what is it that makes me so acceptable now? I am still as bad at holding in a fart now as I was then.
I remember talking to a beautiful young woman many years ago at the gym, one of my many many many times I had started to exercise and try to get fit, after a whole night of not sleeping and lying in bed, hating my body, furious at my own fat, unable to sleep because I felt so fat – which is such a horrible thing to do. Insomnia is awful enough but ‘insecurity insomnia’ – that is a true nightmare. This is sad to me because I look back at pictures of my younger self, and I really have never truly been fat – I just thought that I was – therefore I missed out on appreciating my young body. Now I just have to appreciate my old body (which is not so bad).
So years ago, I was at the gym for the first time after a long absence, tired and worn out from hating myself ferociously all night. While waiting for a step class to begin (oh shit remember Reebok STEP????? Bruises appear all over my shins when I even think about fucking STEP), the woman and I were talking about her marathon training. She had run in the Los Angeles marathon and was thinking about going to Boston and New York to run in those famous city marathons. “You can eat anything you want…” which to me are like weird magic words. Have you ever heard these words uttered – “if you take this class/pill/powder/hire this trainer/dance this number/drink this drink/swim every day/get on a vibration machine while you work out with weights/buy this ab-flex/watch this dvd/learn to purge/run this marathon – you can eat anything you want.” If I ever am fortunate to encounter a Genii, with his muscly arms and curly shoes, I would ask for just one wish consolidated from all three – “I want to eat whatever I want” (presuming that my body would be perfect to begin with and then just never change). My mother tried to append this wish by adding “and never get full” because truly that is her desire – because fullness gets in the way of eating whatever you want! Goddamn body – doesn’t it know we are not eating for hunger!! We are eating for reasons entirely personal and unique and emotional and mental – not physical at all!
The marathoner got to eat whatever she wanted. She ran and ran and ran away from the food and it never caught up with her. Her eyes got misty and far away as she reminisced about bagels and cream cheese, countless pasta dinners, desserts long ago eaten and enjoyed and burned away by running. She ate and ran to utter exhaustion, and after the race was over, she felt incredibly triumphant. Her face glowed as she said, “and afterward, my body was just…..CARVED.” She described the thinness of her own body after running a marathon with a pride and satisfaction that I have never known for myself. What a strange world to live in – to enjoy oneself and love oneself so you are high from it. She actually looked high – thinking about how thin she was, despite eating everything. Is this the runner’s high that is so sought after, yet to me is so elusive? Then she talked about all her toenails fell off and I got grossed out and never tried running.
Home now eating delicious sweets from friends and enjoying an early night. I am so grateful for everyone who voted for us and kept us on the show. Yesterday was a really rough day. I wasn’t sure what to feel or think. I want to stay in the game so badly, so much that I can barely think straight. I know I can dance. I feel it in my bones. I want to do this for myself, the little girl in me who wants to be a beautiful princess – who wants to be seen and heard and loved and praised. I want to do this for all the girls who have been told they are not perfect – who have been told they are ugly and fat – who know deep inside that they are not those things… it’s so hard to face your own insecurity and doubts and fears. I really feel like I am doing that.
My body feels sore but also strong and capable. I am doing spins that weren’t possible two days ago. I can feel the floor through my bruised and calloused feet and my body is starting to understand what to do – where to step, where to stop, where to be physically silent, where to be loud. Louis is pushing me further and further – I am crying now all the time, not because I am sad, but because I feel like I am really in my body. I didn’t realize how much I have been avoiding being here – how little time I have spent in my skin – for my entire life. It’s the same with my house. I never really unpack. I never really am home. it is the same with my physical being. I have been told so many times that my body was not right – for this reason or that. I have abandoned myself so much that now it feels strange to stay here. To be here. One thing is certain – I am here now. I am doing this. It doesn’t exactly feel good, but it feels right.
I am dancing better. It’s all getting better. My body feels good. Not as sore and in shock as it was. Louis and I are also having fun on the road, on my Cho Dependent Tour, which is great. I wish he could come with me all the time.
I think that this entire DWTS experience has forced me into my body and I am loving it. This is what people must feel like all the time. I don’t live in my body normally. It’s like there is a sign up, “Back in 5” – with a little clock equipped with movable hands, but I never actually come back. I live in a small space above, deep in my head, like I am renting the space but don’t own it. Well, it’s time to come downstairs.
It’s weird to be in your body. I usually try to escape it as much as I can. If I have to sit somewhere for a minute, I need a book or my computer or my blackberry or my ipod. When I am eating I want to watch TV. When I’m here, I want to be there. To me, ‘autopilot’ is ‘on.’ I can easily be tattooed for hours because I am not feeling it. I am not in me. Even when someone else is in me. Isn’t that sad?