Saturday, April 17, 2021

What The Hell Is Wrong with People?

So often, I feel the need to show some restraint on this blog, but the more I look on social media, the more pissed off I become. The misinformation people spew makes me want to vent, uncensored and hard. It's difficult enough to understand the journalists, "experts," influencers, and former elite athletes who fib on a regular basis, but what I just don't get are the loads and loads of fans who cheer their shit on, especially when there are so many truly inspirational people to be found. 

Perhaps this need to constantly like whatever is filling up a person's social media feed stems from wanting to belong. It gives a person a sense of being part of a team. These days, the "it" team is The Elect. If you're not with them, you're against them and also a bad, morally corrupt person, but if you're with them, agreeing or even giving the appearance you agree gives you a sense of belonging. 

Initially, I was going to dive facepalm-first into the worst of the worst "influencers" on Instagram, especially one in particular who claims a healthy regimen is to "intuitively fast" (there's no such thing) from late evening until sometime in the afternoon the following day and then drink celery juice and shit before consuming what the fuck ever compost on toast meal of the day. Hey, if you choose to restrict and exercise, that's your right, but don't shove that crap in other people's faces and call it healthy. And don't post videos of yourself trying to exercise using poor form and tout that as helpful. It's not. It's potentially dangerous, in fact. 

I think I can address a few topics at once with a letter to my former self style post, a different one filled with more accurate advice than one I already wrote

Maybe this isn't so much a letter, just some truth I feel the need to spill.

Dear whomever this may concern or whoever wants to read it:

1. You can fuck right off if you feel the need to share your story and can't refrain from putting others down. For example, you're not a hero for avoiding an eating disorder and don't need to suggest that those who have one are weaker in any way. You were born genetically and biochemically lucky and were probably fortunate enough to be placed in environments that weren't conducive to developing one. Congrats on that. Same thing if you run well. Hard work goes into it, but success comes down to a combination of raw talent, hard work, and timing. Some good support and guidance can't hurt. 

2. I'm repeating myself, but eating disorders are not a sign of mental weakness. Some of the most successful athletes including Nadia Comaneci, Dara Torres, and Bahne Rabe, for example, suffered from eating disorders while they were competing at an Olympic or world class level, so stop with the bullshit that those who struggle are somehow not as mentally tough. Again, it's not that having a life-threatening illness gives you any kind of advantage; it doesn't. It's more that you can be both mentally tough and suffer from mental illness. Getting lost in an eating disorder makes everything more difficult and riskier. You have to be mentally tough just to survive the fucking hell of an eating disorder. Think about it. Your mind is so powerful that it's telling you to deny or get rid of the very substance that is life sustaining. Having this kind of illness is not about trying to gain some small advantage like a slight increase in VO2 Max. Increased injury risk, muscle fatigue, depression, and risk of death aren't exactly advantages.    

3. You can't tell if someone is sick by looking at her, especially when considering eating disorders. Plenty of people who struggle are at what most consider a "normal" weight. Mental illness is not visible to others. Don't pretend you can tell who has an eating disorder just by looking. Assuming will lead nowhere and reveal nothing. 

4. Coaches don't cause eating disorders. They can definitely foster an unhealthy or a healthy environment, but mental illness doesn't come down to one factor. That means a person can contribute to someone developing an eating disorder, but that's not the same thing as someone actually causing it. 

5. Stop promoting the idea that "strong" women don't get eating disorders and that "confident" women can look at numbers objectively. Fuck that. That's like me walking into an AA meeting and telling a group of alcoholics how amazing I am because I don't find myself unable to stop drinking when I start and have the willpower to just say no. If this is your response to someone who has an eating disorder, you clearly do not get it. You just don't. 

6. Puberty and menopause don't have to be events to fear. The more you tell everyone that your world gets turned upside down during these transitions, the scarier it is for young women. Stop it. Every single person is different, and you do not know how someone will react just because you experienced things one way or saw a few people go through some shit. Just let people have their individualistic experiences and stop trying to predict what will happen to someone else. Maybe instead of trying to terrify young athletes by telling them they will have a rocky transition through puberty, offer some guidance on how to manage through any major transitions. "Riding it out" tells an individual nothing, and it's a myth that performance has to drop during this time. I like what Elizabeth W. Carey and other experts have said about zooming out to see the big picture during this time, a concept others have copied, but it's useful advice. Also, don't plagiarize. That shit is bad.  

Here are some words of wisdom to help get through puberty:

  • Talk to your doctor 
  •  Talk to a therapist
  •  Get plenty of rest and listen to your body
  •  See a registered dietitian and make sure you are getting the right kinds of nutrients, especially minerals like magnesium, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • At the advice of Melody Fairchild, use this time to build strength by doing things like lifting weights and cross-training
  • Make sure you are still enjoying the process

7. Speaking to athletes, should you decide to "give up" and pursue something else. Good. You should always go where your heart is calling you, and if running isn't it, there is nothing wrong with that. Running is a sport that will always be there down the road if you change your mind. Don't be afraid to let it go, temporarily or for good. It's something you do, not who you are, and you don't have to force it. People have this warped idea that being a top athlete is the main goal in life. It need not be. 

8. I get tired of saying it, but developing an eating disorder isn't about being the fastest or most beautiful. These illnesses are so much more complex than that. Eating disorders are not fueled by dreams of "short-term success". Success might be a temporary byproduct of the initial phases of losing weight, but nobody lives the absolute hell of an eating disorder simply because she wants to run faster. Also, not all eating disorders lead to weight loss anyway. Weight might be one very small consideration of running, but so is muscle strength and leg speed. Remember, people who develop potentially deadly disorders have a genetic predisposition. Perhaps if you don't, you shouldn't speculate about the reasons why others get them, unless you have studied these disorders in-depth, not just on the Internet.  

9. Your observations and personal experiences are not everyone else's. 

10. You don't need to be so god damn fucking condescending to others who struggle. I think I already said that. Shit. I could have had ten points, but now I'm making it 11 because I need to say this again. 

11. Men, especially male athletes, develop eating disorders, too. This is not just a female problem. 

By all means, if it make more sense to like and amplify the words of the latest body-image guru of your choice, go ahead. The Internet is a fucking free-for-all, but maybe take some time to think about what feels right, deep down in your heart, before doing so.

Yours truly, 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Know Your Audience

Lately, for the life of me, I can't seem to string together a coherent or interesting sentence. It's not so much that my interest in writing has waned; it's more that I become paralyzed by my limitations. And I'm tired. I'm questioning my grammar every step of the way, and I'm in a fog so deep that I seem to be making errors everywhere I type. It's probably no surprise to anyone that my vocabulary is not and never has been that of Cormac McCarthy or David Foster Wallace, and I'm often so afraid of fucking up in some way that my writing ends up rigid and plain. In all art, if you can look at writing as such, proper technique is the first step to creating something of substance, but what comes from the heart is where real brilliance emerges. This is true whether you're a runner, a mathematician, musician, or painter. Technique first, creativity follows. 

I'm just not there. I'm still in the corner practicing my scales. And just like I know I will never reach that wonderful moment of zen in running again, that feeling of being in the zone where pushing against the edge of what your body can handle transcends pain into a sensation of being connected and at one with the world, I will never achieve greatness in writing. I know that. On the other hand, what else am I to do? So I jog instead of run, and I allow my fingers to stumble across the keyboard, occasionally putting out content that a few people read. I suppose it's better than doing nothing. Still, it often leaves me frustrated and sad, wondering if I should bother. Perhaps I should stop comparing myself to what I used to do or what others can do and focus more on working the scales in a way that's more creative, an etude that's pleasing to the ear, so to speak, which is what my blog seems to provide, a place to work on shit.

When I first started this post a while ago -- I have a tendency to start and either not finish things or finish them much, much later --I was planning to write about my experiences after my first year in college when I transferred schools and what a wreck that whole scene was. Instead, something came up and I'm being pulled to change course. When the mood strikes, go with it, right?

I'm finally seeing more sensible takes on the topic of transgender athletes competing against women and girls. In a recent piece on LetsRun, Amby Burfoot states what I believe so many of us who don't land on one extreme or the other in the debate think when he writes the following:

All clear-thinking individuals believe that transgender women and men should receive the same social, cultural, educational, financial, etc, rights as others. Not all agree about athletic rights. 

Diving deeper into the article, I appreciate that, in addition to addressing both sides of the issue fairly, Amby clarifies that Caster Semenya is not a transgender athlete. She was raised as a girl from birth. Too often, articles are misleading readers when they bring up her name and then slide right into issues related to transgender athletes. Amby very clearly makes the distinction, and it's an important one. In contrast to the thoughtful approach Amby takes is the misleading article I just mentioned written by someone who fabricates stories. In her women always have the shit end of everything article (not the real title), Lindsay Crouse pushes the false idea that anyone who supports a ban on transgender athletes competing in women's sports is transphobic. She's not the only one suggesting this and worse. This is a tactic the left often complains the far-right uses. Present one side, insist your opinion is morally superior, call anyone who disagrees names or insult them, and, above all, don't listen to or interview anyone who doesn't support your idea 100 percent. 

In that same article, Crouse mentions how disappointed she is that 46 percent of women support a ban on transgender athletes but conveniently leaves out the last part of the poll that mentions athletes competing on women's sports teams. In other words, 46 percent of women polled support a ban on transgender athletes competing on women's sports teams. On social media, she pushes the same false idea that these types want a general ban on transgender athletes and are transphobic. Notice how deceptive it is to omit that last part, but lying by omission is nothing new in journalism. And people eat this shit up. They don't want a middle ground. For so many, the draw to be a fan of someone pushing this kind of dishonesty, for whatever reason, is there, and people cheer on those posting misleading content, no matter how bizarre or flat-out wrong it may be. 

After bringing up transgender athletes, Crouse had this to say:

Crouse, Lindsay

Notice how she tries to shame anyone concerned about an issue she just brought up by using the term “obsessed.” The post is just a weird way to shove one unrelated topic on top of another, but it's also another way to put down anyone who disagrees with her. Most people understand that humans can be concerned about two topics, even when one issue might be more pressing than the other. In aiming to shit on one group of individuals, those who express concern about transgender athletes competing in women's and girl's sports, she accidentally sprayed a bunch of innocent bystanders who simply follow the topic. 

Crouse’s latest schtick hits a little too close to home for me to remain silent. I'll be honest and admit that I can't fucking stand any talk at all about "pandemic weight gain." I find it unproductive and generally ignore all of it when it lands in whatever social media feed I'm viewing, but the message below really rubbed me the wrong way. People joke about eating too much cheese or drinking too much beer during the shutdown, and while not funny to me and most people who have struggled with eating disorders, it's not nearly as potentially damaging as Crouse's message. This is one of several of this nature by the journalist for the New York Times, too often focusing on body size despite being part of a group suggesting sports announcers should avoid all talk about female bodies. 

Crouse, Lindsay

In addition to disregarding individualistic experience, what I find so problematic with this kind of tweet is the subtle message that being at a healthy weight is about self-control. Actually, there was no mention of health anywhere in that tweet. It's about looking a certain way, being a certain size. She's not addressing the many possible causes of weight gain during a pandemic that include depression, stress, underlying health conditions, etc. Her focus is on looks only. That's another problem and makes the tweet appear a lot worse. Anyone who has struggled with any kind of eating issue, and she admits to having done so at Harvard, should know that "control" is a loaded term. These issues are always far more complex, and maintaining a healthy weight shouldn't be a huge struggle. If it is, there's often an unaddressed underlying issue that's contributing to some form of unhappiness or unhealthy relationship with food and/or body acceptance. In general, maintaining weight isn't about willpower or control. It goes much deeper than that.  

A blanket statement suggesting a lack of control is the cause of weight gain is as bad as claiming you can control an eating disorder by simply choosing to do so. I understand what she is trying to say and am not saying gaining weight is necessarily the result of an eating disorder. What I'm saying is that there's a difference between understanding and addressing the behaviors that lead a person to be at a certain weight and simply aiming to control your weight with blunt force without addressing any psychological aspects or issues around body acceptance, size, and weight. The latter is usually a recipe for disaster. If weight maintenance really were simply about showing more control and ignoring the emotional ties humans have to food and the other reasons why people overeat or restrict, fewer people would struggle. Can you see why it's upsetting when people blurt out statements without much thought?

What I believe she meant to say is that energy spent on looking a certain way -- and you could apply this to anything from applying makeup and dyeing your hair to dieting and lifting weights -- could be better spent elsewhere, and it might be freeing to let go of it all. But the message she is actually sending is warped and twisted in such a way as to shame anyone who has issues with weight. She suggests it's OK to gain weight but also implies that doing so is because of a lack of self-control. In this same scenario, those who do spend time working on themselves to be a certain size are frowned upon for spending too much time and energy on themselves. It's kind of a no-win situation she's presenting. There's also a valid point to be made in response to Crouse's take that if you need all kinds of self-control to stay at a certain size, it might be a size that's not right or not healthy for your body. Ultimately, though, decisions around weight and size should be left to the individual and her doctors and therapists, not people on the Internet. There's no right or wrong way to get through a pandemic no matter what your size or shape or appearance. 

Above all, remember that my experience will not be the same as yours. Plenty of people had no trouble moving about and adapting to a new routine or keeping an old one during the pandemic, and there shouldn't be any judgment around those who were affected one way or another. Surviving is the main goal, so however people manage shouldn't be of concern to anyone else. If it took reduced exercise and more comfort food, that's fine. If it took more exercise and eating more vegetables, that's fine, too. You do you, as they say. In general, we should show more compassion to everyone no matter what weight or body struggles people are facing. Who cares about someone else going up a size as long as they are healthy and comfortable with it? That should be the message and may have been had she not messed it up by throwing in assumptions about control.

I think people blindly like certain posts without thinking too hard about what they're really saying or how they might affect certain groups of individuals. In general, maybe a tweet like Crouse's wouldn't be so bad, but this is coming from someone who, not that long ago, wrote about a young woman who had an eating disorder. Her audience, I would assume, is made up of people who might be sensitive to this kind of comment.  

Now, why spend time picking apart random articles and posts? Because it matters what people say, especially those with a large following on social media who pretend to be advocates for any number of causes. What a journalist posts should be a lot more accurate and well thought out than what someone in the general public posts. It matters because people often take someone with credentials seriously and assume articles and posts are well-researched, not misleading blurbs intended to generate likes. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Sometimes Twitter Isn't So Bad

I started writing this blog post before the shooting in Boulder occurred. At the time, the topic I chose seemed more important or at least more relevant than it does now. I'm going to post it anyway, simply because I need to feel like I'm doing something other than work and worry. I've added taking care of my mom more full-time to my list of daily activities, so even though I'm happy to help her, I'm exhausted. I'm so tired, in fact, that in the last week I have put the milk in the cupboard, washed an ice pack in the laundry, showed up to an appointment a week early, and almost served my mom a carton of orange juice after putting a glass of it in the refrigerator. It's hard to focus after everything that happened. 

It turns out that three of the 10 victims in the mass shooting were acquaintances of mine. I also found out that a close friend of mine who is also my mom's nurse right now was there when it was happening. She pulled into the parking lot and decided it was too crowded and left right before the shooter took aim at his victims. There are so many stories like this, close calls instead of the unthinkable. Another friend of mine took the day off but usually goes to King Soopers for his lunch break right about that time in the afternoons. But then there are the 10 who didn't make it and all the witnesses who were there to see it. The community is still struggling to process it all.

One way to come together and help our community after this tragedy is to participate in this event hosted by Lee Troop:

And now for the less important stuff.

Sometimes Twitter can be a great place to hang out. Despite the often hostile environment that's filled with bullies and trolls, there are pockets of humor and inspiration if you look hard enough. I even find a little humor in deceptive journalists complaining about a lack of journalistic integrity, I've probably laughed harder in response to various tweets than I ever have looking elsewhere on social media. Lately, I've been following Holly and her eight or nine cats, especially Smol Paul. These kinds of accounts make me smile, but Twitter can also be a source of frustration, especially if you search hard enough, and sometimes I do intentionally go looking for accounts I know will upset me -- just to see, occasionally to interact, though it's rare to see any kind of debate coming from Twitter's wannabe famous profiles. For the most part, though, Twitter lands somewhere between the bowels of Hell and Fairyland. 

A little while ago, someone I admire and a fellow eating disorder survivor tweeted about a race announcer possibly saying something problematic, but what a contrast it was to the last time someone did this. Apparently, the announcer suggested runners at one school weren't allowed to eat doughnuts. Because it's not a funny statement in any way, people were left scratching their heads, and it was understandable that a few took the statement literally when it was merely a joke, possibly an inside one, that fell flat, missed its mark, and caused alarm instead of the groans it should have. In this case, I can understand the initial reaction of the OP, and I think many other people did as well. 

What's good to see is that nobody called for the announcer's head or tried to cancel anyone. The tweet questioning the event was carefully worded and invited a conversation. The only trolls seemed to be a few angry loudmouths who were criticizing the OP. Her post, though, was focused less on the announcer and more on the fact that doughnuts are perfectly fine to eat. It turns out most people agree, or so I thought. I'll get to that later. 

When a runner associated with the school in question politely explained that the announcer's statement gave the wrong impression about the team and coach, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. One might wonder why anyone would think that a coach in 2021 could attempt to impose such silly rules around food and diet, but not that long ago, there were coaches who actually did make absolutely ridiculous demands on their athletes and created absurd rules for their teams. In my book, I mention a lady whose coach banned her from the ice cream shop, claiming she was too heavy, despite the fact that she was running well and set a school record that lasted about 20 years in the mile. 

If you look at how people responded to the Krispy Kreme free doughnut giveaway, you start to realize how judgmental people can be when it comes to observing other people's food intake. Roxane Gay just wrote an excellent post about this. I can't really add to what she wrote and encourage everyone to read her post and her other writings. The Internet dictators who enjoy policing other people's diet and exercise programs are one of a few ways in which Twitter and other websites get ugly. Sub-elite runners mock the 30-minute-a-day joggers who buy products meant for the pros, and clean eaters frown at those who eat sugar and bread. It's clear to me that this kind of policing and judgment is not the same as an announcer describing an athlete's body. One is fueled by disdain and judgment whereas the other is fueled by observation and often admiration. Because the former is so prevalent and distressing -- some don't even realize they are doing it -- it's easy to see why reactions to comments about doughnut restriction can be exaggerated. We live in a world where finger-wagging at anyone who has the nerve to enjoy a cruller is so common. 

What I really appreciated about the OP who started the "doughnuts are actually OK" thread is that she allowed a conversation to unfold. Unlike those who shut down the conversation by calling anyone who disagrees names (idiot, transphobic, freak, Nazi, bigot, jerk, racist, etc.) or completely ignoring those who have a different opinion, the OP actually invited those who disagreed with her to engage in the dialogue. It was very nice and rare to see.