What does it mean to “love yourself”?

I just read this article about Demi Lovato getting flack for promoting detox tea and claiming that ‘getting rid of the bloat for summer’ isn’t “loving yourself”. Which led me to ask this question about what exactly that means.

I’ve dieted on and off for years. At my tiniest ever, I was 116 lb. To be honest, I can’t believe I ever weighed that much. When I walked down the street dudes honked at me, I got attention in bars, I could wear size 2 jeans, all for a few glorious months before I realized I like food and craft beer way too much to maintain being this tiny. And eventually all of that faded away. Not that “guys honking at you” is any indication of hotness, or that you should glean confidence from that. But I can say, those same guys who honked at me when I was a size 2 were teasing and bullying me when I was a size 18 and weighed 200lb. I was the same person. This says more about society than it does about me, or even the guys.

I dieted, not because I wanted that kind of attention from men. I dieted because I wanted to be the best version of myself. Because I wanted to look in the mirror and for once, not see someone out of control she’s unable to regain, not someone who floats through life just doing the same old shit all the time, but someone who bothered to try to be someone else, even if just for a while. I became that person. For the first time, I did feel confident. In a lot of ways, I attribute finding my first and second careers, meeting the love of my life, ditching old ‘friends’ that were toxic influences on my ability to be a good person and look for the best in others, and running 2 half-marathons with another coming up in 3 weeks, all to my initial weight loss (thank you, Weight Watchers, for this – I will always be grateful for it). I dieted to prove wrong an ex that I somehow believed then, needed to be proven wrong. And I did prove him wrong, in my own way.

Now, I’m ‘dieting’ again (Weight Watchers, and the current program I’m on, refer to this not as a “diet” but a “lifestyle change” – this is somewhat true too, I suppose). I’m dieting this time, and on a very strict and actually very painful fitness regimen, not because I ‘hated myself’ before and this was the only way out. But because I remembered those long ago days where I felt confident, I felt like the best version of me, I felt like the world was at my fingertips and I had so much possibility just based on this radiant confidence alone. I’m dieting because I want to work harder to reach a personal best and achieve personal goals, now that some of my career goals have been met, and I have the time and energy to work on these goals. I’m ‘dieting’ because I want to learn more about how to be a better version of me.

Having said that — am I being ‘body-negative’? Would you or could you argue that I’m changing myself in order to become more attractive to men? That I’m submitting to a patriarchal standard of beauty that must be crushed? Should I have protected what I so believe to be true about body positivity and being and doing what you want without feeling a guilt about not conforming what magazine standards of beauty suggest is the most important way to be? Am I being a negative role model to young girls I teach by dieting and exercising 5-6 times a week? It’s a conundrum.

Some people believe “loving yourself” means eating cleanly and making positive changes. Others believe that eating what you want and not caring what you look like, dress like, or come across like to others is the way to be the best version of yourself you can be and that is what it means to ‘love yourself’.

Both of these ‘theories’, are bullshit.

Loving yourself means being and doing what you are comfortable with without giving a fuck what other people want or expect from you. If Demi wants to get rid of her bloat for summer, that means she is entitled to that. To me, what is slimy about the post was the promo code – advertising to your younger followers is the only “wrong” thing she did with that post, if anything – but really, reaching a personal best in anything – an eating contest, a triathalon, a gaming marathon, the highest score in Frogger – is truly an important part of loving yourself. I’ve been on both sides of the coin – overweight and desperate for body-positive validation to avoid that patriarchal guilt feeling; fit and working my ass off because I felt like I needed to be that version of myself. And both have made me happy or satisfied at different times of my life for different reasons. We all have our own thresholds. Understanding and realizing our own selves is what helps us to truly LOVE ourselves in all facets of life.

Listen to Demi, or don’t. Loving yourself means that choice is up to you.

I hate March… or do I?

March and I have been long-standing enemies, ever since the unspeakable incidents of 2008 that I don’t need to mention again. I hate the weather, the memories, the associations, the fact that March is supposedly almost ‘spring’ and yet the last two weks in this city, there has been nothing close to spring -and all I can see around me is snow and shitty roads and gray and dark mornings. March makes me angry.

But —

Today I left the house and it was a warm wind that could only mean spring is on the horizon like a thin strip of light on the dark morning that I could just barely see on the horizon on my long, long commute to work. I was thinking about more positive memories of this month in past Marches – the ending of my teaching practicum which led to me receiving my teaching certificate; the first concert I went to with my best friend, 12 years later; spring break; coming back to outdoor running after months of leaving it (mostly) behind; and, the happiness knowing that I’ve left things behind. In lieu of new things that are on the horizon.

It’s okay now. I hope this is the last of -30, and I hope this is the last of broken hearts, or even the shreds of them. It’s still astounding how over time, wounds disappear until you scarcely notice that they’re gone.

“Home”.

Life is full of lessons.

We see them plastered on bathroom walls, we hear them from our teachers, mentors, parents, friends. We see them in the form of pretty, artfully decorated quotes on social media. We are always absorbing concrete lessons, tiny pieces of information, like flecks of edible gold on the dessert that is our lives.

It is oft-said that the most important of these lessons, are in addition, the hardest to learn. And that lessons have to be understood, felt, in order to be learned. I could sit and talk at someone for hours about their horrible boyfriend, the job they complain about constantly, the friend who is always taking advantage of their money or time. But until they live those consequences – innately and deeply feel and absorb them to the core of their mind, body or soul… that lesson will still be tough to understand and appreciate. Any other lessons, advice, quotes, are all just smoke and mirrors, lies, illusions, unless they are felt, followed.

For the last two years, I have been struggling to figure out what possible lesson being stressed, bored, closed-in, away from loved ones, and drowning in sorrow and bitterness have taught me. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” seems too trite and obvious. And anyway, often that is not true. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you feel like you’re holding onto the edge but that edge is slipping away beneath your fingers until there is nothing left to hold. If there is a ‘God’, I don’t know what His plan is for me, to have to be so miserable in this, my life, the precious few years of my twenties and early thirties where I should still have vibrancy and hope, and I shouldn’t be jaded and bitter and curled up in the fetal position every sleepless night, waiting for some magical ‘way out’ of my situation. Being happy where you’re at without reaching for happiness out in the distance and being grateful for the ‘good’ things in life might be another lesson that one could pull from this dreary cesspool of sadness. But, at the end of the day, none of this seems to be enough.

But the other day, I had a conversation.

My beautiful boyfriend has called Vancouver ‘home’ for ten years before moving home in 2015 to pursue teaching and save money. That December, he was ripped away from the comforting confines of friends, a twenty-something lifestyle of fun and weeknight drinking, a neighbourhood and apartment he loved, a girlfriend who was starting a short-term contract job in January, all for the sake of finding stability. And at times, he’s so grateful for that stability because of the success he feels, the income, the permanence, something he’s never had in the Neverland that is Vancouver. And yet, he’s still left without those amazing friends, the neighbourhood, the apartment that smells like home, the familiarity of your favourite hangouts, that walk to the bus stop every morning, friends just dropping by out of nowhere on their own way home from their coffee shop job.

Vancouver was home for me too, but only for a short time. And while I miss the city – its beauty, the Stanley Park seawall, my own favourite restaurants and views and bars and daily walks and my own sunny, cozy, ocean view apartment, I remember how it was for me at times when I had that 3-month contract job; I hated the commute every morning because it was an hour on that crowded train and I would often be seasick or tired; I felt useless and frustrated at my job there because I never had any work. I literally felt sometimes, that I was paid to do nothing. And while some believe that’s ‘living the dream’, it is lonely to feel so undervalued in your day-to-day life. I’d rather have been paid nothing at all, and spent each precious hour of each precious day doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. My friends left during that time and approaching summer, most of them had moved to try and find their own definition of stability. Back to Alberta, to Ontario, to the Kootenays… unfortunately, everywhere is more ‘stable’ than Vancouver. I worked my own precious ‘stable’ job, using the income I had to travel back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver on weekends, to visit the person I loved with all my heart. I had collected every WestJet on-flight magazine. My heart would flare up with passion and excitement at the prospect of each and every one of these weekends. Heading back to Vancouver wasn’t ever difficult; but it was nevertheless, painful. Leaving the person you love is never, ever, not painful.

These days, I keep feeling as though I left ‘home’ when I left Vancouver. And even sometimes, while I was enjoying the vigor and excitement of Vancouver, I did still feel like Edmonton was ‘home’ and I had left it for this lack of security, this monstrosity of wealth and poverty, this sickness of wondering when I would find stability again like the stability I had with my career, my life, my friends, back in Alberta.

And then I lived in Edson. And now I live in Red Deer. Places where my family is far away, where I live alone in mostly-empty apartments, places where I exist without living, just for the sake of making the living that I don’t have a use for at home. I don’t go out. I don’t leave the house. I don’t do anything, because I have no one to do it with. I’ve gotten so in the habit of being at home all the time, I’ve changed as a person. I used to go home to sleep. Now I barely enjoy leaving the house, even to go grab the milk I forgot on the way home. And I miss the people I love, the people who bring me vibrance and vigor and happiness, the people that I can talk to for hours and not run out of things to talk about, the person I want to kiss goodnight every night for the rest of my life.

The important lesson to learn from all this is also trite, but one of the most valuable lessons I have ever, or could ever, learn: home is not a place; it’s a person. Home is sitting on the couch with the person you love, one of you watching TV, one of you surfing the internet, both of you in neat and perfect silent comfort; home is those late-night talks following watching The Bachelor with your best friend. Home is board games with your siblings. Home is going out to your favourite karaoke bars with the people you loved hanging out with in high school, doing crosswords at the Second Cup that was down the street from where you lived when you were 19, home is Oilers games and drinks with friends and knowing where you’re going when you get in the car.

Home is the best thing there is. No matter what it looks like, who it entails, what the cost is to obtain it, who you spend time with. HOME is not just a silly concept that you sew into a needlepoint and hang on the wall; it is everything.

And so, when you don’t have a home, physical or metaphorical, you have nothing.

cynicism.

I have been cynical about many things for a long time. And sometimes my cynicism has been proven incorrect. And sometimes not.

I stopped believing in “love” and then I met the person who proved me wrong; that love does exist, but it’s finding the person to love you and who loves you in return, is a journey of soul-searching, openness and acceptance.

I stopped believing in “bffs” because my two best friends stabbed me deeply, multiple times, and not just in the back. But then after some reflecting I realized I do have “bffs” – three of them. And they’ve been my friends since the beginning of my adult life, the beginning of my life as a city girl, who saw me through the challenging times and who I can trust and tell anything to. And they may not have been the “bffs” I thought were in my life, but they are even better and I shouldn’t take old friendships for granted just because of the ebbs and flows and locations they transition through.

I was cynical about the world; about people; about the government, and war, and when truths about the planet and disenfranchised people would be uncovered. And then Barack Obama was elected. And now I feel cynical all over again that someone who is even worse than George W. Bush has been elected, and now sits in the drivers’ seat of the most powerful vehicle on the planet. And now my cynicism runs deep and full and sad. It has made me suspicious and angry and frustrated and perplexed. What gives me hope are outlets for our pain; artists, comedians, sympathetic ears online and in person, and the fact that there are marches of thousands who refuse to accept or believe that Trump is theirs. And yet, still, I am cynical.

I’m cynical because I’m stuck out here in a life I hate because financially, I can’t have the life I want. And nobody deserves that life more than me. I want to wake up next to the person I love every single day. It’s all I want but seems impossible to ask for, or hope for, at this point. I watch my happiness, my exciting life, my vibrancy, my youth, slipping away because I threw it all away for a career that I wanted, which is one of the most competitive career fields, one where people like me are constantly griping like I am, about the lack of work, the lack of ‘good’ options. It’s exhausting.

So I say a silent prayer (though I’m not religious) for someone, or something, to take the cynical pieces of me and transform them into floating feathers that will soar into the sky when carried by the wind. It’s all I have right now and I need something soft and uplifting to keep me moving forward.

 

It’s Just About the Last Month of my Twenties.

I keep telling my students (who don’t believe I’m nearly 30; in fact, one of them told me the other day that if she didn’t know you had to be older to be a teacher, she would have assumed I was 19 – lucky me) that when they see me crying on a school day in October, they’ll know it’s my birthday.

Milestone birthdays bring with them this bloated weight of panic. Who will I be by the time I hit my “milestone birthday”? How much longer will it be before where I ‘should be’ and where I am are exactly the same thing? What will it feel like to hit a milestone birthday?

I can remember turning ten and my mom making this big deal about me being a ‘decade old’. It made me feel so grown up, like I was almost there. When you’re a kid, all you want to do is grow up. When you’re grown, all you want to do is be younger again. We always, always want as a species, to have whatever we don’t have. Age is finicky and it never feels complete. That’s something valuable that I guess I’ve learned this past decade.

I think my biggest growth in my life was between 24 and now. When I was 24 I made a decision to change my body, and in turn, my life. I made the decision to walk away from the guy who broke my heart, a pre-fuckboy fuckboy who had one fit in and one foot out and craved the attention that I craved giving him. I made decisions to do what I wanted and be a different person because I was given that option due to the willpower and prowess that I suddenly obtained after years of unhealthy habits, a self-pitying attitude and a crippling shyness that prevented me from having the life I wanted to have.

In my twenties, I learned that female friendships that bring out the absolute worst in you are so far from worth keeping that the only way I could move forward was abandon all memories, ties and feuds, and other things too, and both start over and look back at the real people who’d always been there for me simultaneously. It left a bitter taste, but the most crucial decisions sometimes have to be that way.

In my late twenties I met the love of my life, a man that is at the same time perfect for me, an exact opposite of me in many ways. And yet, there is something inherently common and important that we share. I can barely put my finger on exactly what it is but it comes up sometimes and reminds me of just how much I love this person and just how valuable and important he is in my life.

In my twenties I decided to have an incredibly challenging career and sometimes I regret that but sometimes I am so, so grateful for it. Every day is a struggle but not always in a bad way.

All in all, where I feel sometimes that I ‘should’ be is married with a house and a permanent job and some sort of concrete stability in my life; and what I have is nervousness about floating between jobs, concern about where I’ll land next year, and an apartment that costs a third of my income (although it’s beautiful so that’s a comfort). I still have help paying bills and I still want to spend money on trips and clothes instead of savings and investments. So am I where I ‘should’ be? No. I’m not at all. I’m selfish, irresponsible and adolescent in many ways.

I’m glad my twenties happened. I’m so glad they happened because they helped steer me into the somewhat-adult that I ended up being right now. There are so many things that I would do differently, and yet there are equally so many things that happened exactly as they should. In the mixed up world of my life, I have found a belonging place and I have found the starting point of what’s right.

I’m going to be okay. 30 will be okay.

Why is Pride Important?

In light of the #heterosexualpride hashtag trending on Twitter, in light of the Orlando, FL massacre, in light of countless instances of institutionalized and individualized homophobia, is this question even worth asking?

Recently, a friend of mine who is marrying his boyfriend in a year from now was booking wedding photographers. Once the photographer found out it was a ‘gay wedding’ she declined the offer because as this photographer said so pointedly, they only do ‘legitimate weddings.’

Another friend of mine was once kicked out of a youth group because it was discovered that she was gay.

While I don’t have any close trans gendered friends, it comes to mind that I have students in my classes sometimes poking fun at Caitlyn Jenner.

Do I really want to press on bruises of the LGBTQ community by bringing up all the instances of prejudice and discrimination that are thrown in that community’s face every single day? Can you really ask someone who would spew this kind of hatred why pride is important? Is it true what Brian Kinney said on Queer as Folk, that “there are two kinds of straight people in this world — the ones who hate you to your face, and the ones who hate you behind your back”? I don’t believe that last statement for a moment. But, if you are a member of this beautiful, diverse, amazingly familial community that faces this kind of disgusting and somehow socially acceptable discrimination, can you blame someone for believing this?

Pride is important because every life deserves equality. Pride is important because of the alarmingly high suicide rate among LGBTQ teenagers. Pride is important because to this day, it is still considered somewhat acceptable to call someone a ‘sissy’, to hashtag ‘#nohomo’, to proclaim to men that being gay is the worst thing they can possibly be. Because people are afraid to come out to their friends and family because of how they might be perceived differently by those who love and care for them. Because trans-gendered people are arguably THE most discriminated group of individuals on this planet.

Pride is more than just a celebration of homosexuality; it is a celebration of diversity and of its importance. Pride is about being proud to be different and sticking it to the bullies, and the bigots. I’ve participated in pride celebrations not as a gay woman but as an ally, and despite being an outsider in that community, I felt completely at home because despite that the LGBTQ community is one that often experiences hate, never responds with anything except love.

Pride is important because it gives voice to the voiceless, no matter who they are and how they identify.

Reconnecting with who I am.

After coming back from my first ‘real’ vacation in about two years, I realized that one of the reasons I’ve been struggling so much to be happy and stress-free this past year is because I’ve lost so much of what makes me me. The stuff I love — long, long walks; going to concerts; shopping; rain; being energized by the mere casual presence of interesting strangers; having afternoon beers and/or food with my best friends; looking at the ocean; walking my boyfriend’s dog with him; running; karaoke — is not something I have the time and/or resources to do lately, and so it’s been a tough go since September to not necessarily be able to do these things. I just had my ten days off and did all of these things, and it was beautiful and wonderful and captivating and I felt more like myself than I have in months. I’m disgruntled to be back at work tomorrow after having such wonderful, full days off to do all the things I really and truly love to do but at the same time, my holiday was the motivation I needed to truly be who I was and am meant to be and that’s enough to push through the next few months and think less about what the future holds and think more about who I can be and continue to be right now.