How to Rethink Body Movement

Exercise is body movement. Our bodies need not conform to the fitness industry or diet culture. We can keep it simple:

  • Dance: Nothing formal. Put on that song that makes you move, and move to it even if you’re sitting. My choice: Area by Magnus the Magnus from the iPhone ad.
  • Wiggle: Sometimes, I just wiggle like the Shaq gif.
  • Wave: My friend moves in waves, and it’s beautiful. I had an anxiety attack the other night, got out of bed, sat on my ottoman, and just moved my arms in a Michelle-inspired way.
  • Stretch: I don’t mean follow that list of stretches trainers show you. Hell, even those graphics are centered on fit White dudes. I mean stretch whatever part of your body feels tight.
  • Rest: Maybe your body needs rest over movement. We undervalue rest.

How will you move when you’re ready? Let me know in the comments!

Exercise Is Easy and Other Lies

Exercise makes me cry. I don’t mean that in a funny way. I’m serious. It specifically makes me cry to think about my relationship with my body and the pain associated with moving. It’s the primary reason I sought out therapy.

Society: That’s just because you haven’t found the right thing for you yet!

People make working out sound so simple.

Society: Just move! Just go for a walk! Just 30 minutes a day! Just!

I used to do that. I used to run three days a week in my late 30s. People said it would get easier, that I’d experience a runner’s high. It never got easier. I never got the high. I always ended up with numb feet, and I wanted to sleep for the rest of the day.

Society: You should go see your doctor! That’s not normal!

Now, walking up and down my stairs brings me pain because my hip flexors–no matter how much I stretch–are always tight. Going up my stairs takes ten seconds. You want me to go through agony for 30 minutes a day like it’s no big deal?

Society: It’s because you don’t move enough! It’ll get better!

I’m not physically disabled as far as I know, yet the fitness industry seems to think we all have the same bodies that are capable of anything society deems normal. Mine isn’t geared for normal. Beyond that, I have deep, emotional and mental blocks about movement and my body, as evidenced by my intro.

Society: Oh, it’s not that bad! Maybe you’re too fat.

I remember hating physical education as far back as second grade. They wanted us to play basketball with all the other kids in the class. These are the same kids who wouldn’t hesitate to throw a ball at me because they thought it was funny. I wasn’t coordinated (I’m still not), and catching a ball caused a sudden rise of anxiety. I wasn’t athletic. I’ve never been athletic. Both of my parents were active in their younger years, and my dad still is, so I don’t know what happened to me. It always feels like a shortcoming. It always feels like a failure.

Society: Are you sure you aren’t just lazy?

So, this week, I’m going to explore body movement, exercise, working out, and some of the myths surrounding it. Because I’m tired of being treated as broken all because my body doesn’t operate the way our fatphobic society thinks it should.

Society: Geez, you’re full of excuses, aren’t you?

Q and A: Why, Toxic Positivity, WHY?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I promised questions and answers! This is a culmination of a week of reflecting on toxic positivity. First, I asked my Instagram followers this:

  • How has toxic positivity affected you? (All answers shared anonymously and with minor edits.)
    • “My mother used to do this to me as a child. It would make me feel like my feelings weren’t valid or important enough to be addressed.”
    • “When people say ‘thoughts and prayers’ it feels like that’s their way of ignoring the real issue.”
    • “I feel it truly led to my recent breakdown, as I felt like I wasn’t honoring my own emotions.”
    • “I wasn’t able to ask questions about MY childhood trauma as an adult because ‘I turned out fine, why dig it up?’ As a child grieving a pet death, I thought I was broken because I was told ‘would he want you sad?'”
    • “Narcissistic family member telling me to ‘stop being so negative’ when calling out their behavior.”
    • “My parents will say like ‘it could be worse.’ Makes it hard to have real discussions and share feelings.”
    • “‘It could always be worse.’ Like yeah that’s probably true but it doesn’t help me with whatever I’m dealing with at the moment.”
    • “It’s made me feel isolated at times I most needed to know I was understood.”

It’s essential to notice the pattern in all of these: The NEED for honesty and self-honor. How many issues could we resolve earlier in life if we honored feelings with honesty?

I also asked my followers this:

  • What do you want to ask others (or me) about toxic positivity?
    • How to set a boundary with a friend/loved one that is using toxic positivity as “support.”
    • How do you get people close to you to stop or realize how harmful it is?

My answers to both questions reside here and here, but I’ll pose these questions to my followers in my stories today, so look for that before it’s gone!

And then there are the questions I posited at the beginning of the week. They are below with my answers. My take may not resonate with you, so if you want another perspective, check the hashtag toxicpositivity on any social media. There’s a ton of beautiful, helpful content on this topic.

How has toxic positivity kept you down?

For me, it’s added to my anxiety by making me feel guilty for having legitimate feelings. It’s kept me quiet when I wanted to speak up. It’s kept me from defending myself and self-advocacy.

How has a culture of toxic positivity kept you from facing the pain of growth?

Until I started self-compassion work in therapy in 2020, I didn’t think of so-called negative emotions as valid because I was told to stay positive. This affected me even more than some others because I like to be honest (embarrassingly so), which is not Iowa or Midwest Nice. People would ask, “How are you?” and I didn’t want to lie and say, “I’m good!” So, I’d say, “I’m alive,” and no one knew what to do with that. People often called me “negative,” which I never understood, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.

Now, I know emotions are morally neutral. What I’ve learned is this: What I thought was a flaw in me was others feeling uncomfortable with honesty. Having this knowledge now helps me re-find my wholeness instead of feeling broken and misunderstood.

How has American toxic positivity furthered your trauma?

I’ve kept half the shit that has happened to me to myself. I thought being open about my pain meant I was a downer and an attention-whore. (There is no such thing as an attention-whore, but that’s a post for another day.)

In America, we’re in a society that is so wrapped up in appearance that we are more concerned with looking good than feeling good. Moreover, we mistake looking good with not upsetting people even if it makes us feel terrible. As I’ve never cared much about my appearance, I’m so glad I started putting validity and respect on my feelings and traumas.

What can you do about it?

I can be honest. I can keep working to eliminate toxic positivity from my responses. I can think before I speak. I can stop centering my feelings when I’m listening to others. I can keep working toward recognizing the neutrality of emotions. I can remind my support system to listen when I need that. I can keep working toward not feeling bad when I tell people that I’m not looking for advice, tips, or suggestions.

THANK YOU for joining me this week on this adventure! I’ll be doing similar themes in the weeks ahead. Next week, I’ll discuss body movement versus exercise.

Toxic Positivity and What Do You Mean “Talk about It”?!

How about the direct approach when faced with toxic positivity? Not everyone will be comfortable confronting their supposed-to-be support systems about toxic positivity, but my aim is to give you scripts to tackle it.

But first, a recap. Over the last few days, we learned:

Now, we need to discuss a strategy for calling out and avoiding toxic positivity. That strategy is direct communication. There’s SO MUCH power in direct communication, but people fear it. They don’t want to offend, be a burden, hurt someone’s feelings, be seen as mean, and so on. But indirect communication is keeping us stuck. It prevents us from seeing the gift of direct communication:

https://twitter.com/karmaldonado_/status/1246957935969759232

While not everyone is being “phony,” I do think we aren’t being true to ourselves for the sake of others. After all, the best way to be kind is to not hurt other people’s feelings, right?

Yeah, no. I’m not saying we should go around saying hurtful things to others because we can. Instead, I’m saying we cannot control how people feel, if they get offended, or their reactions to what we say. We have no say in how others react. As a control enthusiast and a writer, I want to evoke certain reactions in my readers. I might succeed with some, but others might call bullshit. I have zero control over that. Admitting that sucks.

Also, the desire to be kind is admirable, but what if being direct were kinder?

Not convinced? Say hello to Jordan and Taylor again. Here’s option one:

Taylor: I’ve been feeling really sad lately, and I don’t know why.

Jordan: What? Why? You have it so great! Just cheer up! Don’t be sad! Whatever it is, you’ll get over it!

Taylor, internally: That doesn’t make me feel better.

Taylor, to Jordan: Oh. Yeah. I guess.

That felt sad. Here’s option two:

Taylor: I’ve been feeling really sad lately, and I don’t know why.

Jordan: What? Why? You have it so great! Just cheer up! Don’t be sad! Whatever it is, you’ll get over it!

Taylor, internally: That doesn’t make me feel better.

Taylor, to Jordan: That doesn’t make me feel better. It feels like forcing positivity when I’m not feeling positive.

Jordan: Well, sometimes, you have to fake it to make it!

Taylor: I feel like my feelings are being invalidated with toxic positivity. It’d feel a lot better to be heard and have my sadness recognized. If you’re not in a place to hear me out, I understand. Please don’t minimize my feelings though.

Taylor might feel awkward and anxious, but those feelings are important too. Jordan might get upset, might agree and apologize, or might change the subject. None of that is in Taylor’s control. However, Taylor stood their ground, protected their feelings, set a boundary, and let Jordan know why a certain behavior was unhelpful. Notice Taylor didn’t say, “Jordan, you’re being a jerk.” There is love and kindness in direct communication. It means we want the other person to do and be better.

Notice also Taylor made it about their feelings and not about Jordan’s character. This is not a personal attack on Jordan; it’s the truth about what Taylor is feeling.

Lastly, notice Taylor directly stated “toxic positivity.” We cannot improve our behavior if we don’t have the names and tools to learn. Having the behavior labeled gives us a chance to research (and by research . . . memes?). While we don’t have to force the phrase into the conversation, it does help others to know about the patterns of their behavior.

Here are other approaches if you’re on the receiving end of toxic positivity [with the phrase added for clarity]:

  • It’s important to me to be heard and not disregarded [with toxic positivity].
  • I know you mean well, and I appreciate that. I’m looking for a listener and not advice [or toxic positivity].
  • I need time to feel these feelings [which toxic positivity doesn’t allow].
  • I want you to validate that it’s normal to feel this way [and not respond with toxic positivity].
  • I’d normally ignore this, but I feel compelled to say something [about toxic positivity].
  • It might be uncomfortable, but please just hear me out first.
  • It’s so sweet of you to want to fix this. I want a listener, not a fixer.
  • Can you just hug me?
  • Maybe you could do [X] to help?
  • Could you hand me my stuffed penguin, and gimme a little time to myself? (Yeah, that one’s oddly specific to me.)

If you’re the one being toxically positivity, here’s alternatives:

  • It’s OK not to be OK.
  • Your experiences and feelings are valid.
  • How you feel is important to me.
  • What can I do to help? (I like this more than “how can I help” because it stresses the desire to be given actual tasks.)
  • I might not be able to relate, but I can listen.
  • I’m not sure I can help, but maybe we could find helpful resources together?
  • Ugh, that sucks. What helps you when you feel down?
  • Crying [or snuggling stuffed animals, emotional eating, leaning into the feeling, watching your favorite show] is a healthy way to cope! Want me to join you?
  • I love you!
  • Want a hug?
  • Would time alone help?

My sincerest hope is for us to feel more comfortable with being uncomfortably honest to honor our feelings. I want us to have enough compassion for ourselves that we don’t protect other’s feelings before we protect our own. With that in mind, I turn it to you. What are some things that you might say to someone who is using toxic positivity? What are some things you could say to avoid toxic positivity? Share with me in the comments!

And tomorrow . . . the questions: How has toxic positivity kept you down? How has a culture of toxic positivity kept you from facing the pain of growth? How has American toxic positivity furthered your trauma? What can you do about it?

Toxic Positivity and Let’s Be Honest

In the last post, I asked if you were ready to talk about toxic positivity and honesty, and here we are. If the last post about finding support didn’t fit your circumstances, maybe honesty with your loved ones is the solution. We don’t have accept toxic positivity from others or within ourselves. We can ask those in our lives and ourselves to shift how we respond to pain.

Let me start with honesty of my own, and I’ll strike a more serious tone because this one hurts.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

Story Time

My family faced a horrible struggle recently, and one night, a family member called me sobbing. I’ve only seen this family member cry twice, and both times, it was instant tears for me. I’d always been told not to cry, so as therapeutic as it is, I haven’t yet overcome the shame of tears.

Once they started crying, I said, “Don’t cry! You’ll make me cry too!” It was a panic reaction, I admit, and it was rife with toxic positivity. First, I invalidated how my family member was feeling; second, I made my family member feel the need to apologize (which they did, and I immediately realized my mistake); and third, I implied my family member was responsible for my emotional reaction, which they aren’t. It made a tough situation worse. I tried to backpedal and say crying was a perfectly healthy way to cope with the situation, but the damage was done. I shamed one of the people I care about most during the hardest time, and it SUUUCCCCKKKKEEEDDD.

Part of me wanted to yell, “But I learned it by watching you,” but blaming them for my failing would only make it worse.

So, I’m left asking, “What can I do better the next time?” The family challenge we’re facing is not over and threatens to be long-term, so I have opportunities to be a better person, offer better support, and validate our emotional reactions together.

The answer is to be honest with myself and my family member.

What I mean specifically is to address in the moment when toxic positivity arises. If you’re non-confrontational, direct honesty might be hard. However, I’m a believer we can all learn to be more supportive, and to do it, we need to know how we might be failing the people we love. Thus, honesty is, as nearly always, the best policy.

Direct honesty can seem impossible in the moment because moments go by fast. Before you end up in that moment, get to know and practice this three-step process to prepare: Recognize, Contextualize, and Respond.

Recognize

Taylor: I’ve been feeling really sad lately, and I don’t know why.

Jordan: What? Why? You have it so great! Just cheer up! Don’t be sad! Whatever it is, you’ll get over it!

Oof. Jordan needs a little practice.

Recognizing toxic positivity is about mindfulness. In other words, it requires us to think about our reactions, thoughts, and words in the moment. It is critical thinking in the present or thinking about our thinking in the immediate. And. It’s. So. Hard. We tend to react and move on. But recognition requires slowing down to think about the words and phrases as we hear them. And if we know what toxic positivity sounds like going into emotional chats, we are already prepared to provide and receive support.

Here’s what toxic positivity sounds like:

These responses range from good-intentioned denial to gaslighting, which is a form of abuse. And we all want to do better than abuse. And if you don’t, let’s chat about therapy options. (Not a joke.)

Contextualize

Next, be mindful of situations when and where toxic positivity can happen.

Say you’re feeling down, and you converse with a friend. The moment you reach out to your friend, think about what you’re feeling, what you want to say, and how you think your friend will react. If your friend is someone who typically utters the phrases above, ask yourself if you’re in the mindset to push back on their toxic positivity. If you’re OK with pushing back, go ahead and call that friend, prepared for the need to call that toxic positivity out. If you’re not, I send you back to yesterday’s piece on finding support.

The same goes for if you’re asked to be there for a friend. As soon as a friend says they are feeling down, give yourself a five-second pause to process what they’re saying, how you normally react, and what might be best. Five seconds in the moment might seem like forever, but you might be surprised how fast that actually goes. It might look like this:

Taylor: I don’t know. I just feel shitty lately.

Jordan, internally: OK, breathe. My friend feels shitty. I don’t want my friend to feel shitty, but maybe they need an ear, not for me to fix it.

Respond

Let’s return to Jordan’s initial reaction. Maybe Taylor doesn’t love Jordan’s toxic positivity, but struggles with confrontation. Taylor might say, “Yeah, I know.” And that’s the end of it. Jordan reacted. Taylor reacted. No one feels any better. No progress is made.

The honesty option lets Taylor be honest with themselves by saying, “I need more,” and let’s Jordan have an opportunity to do better. Here are some things Taylor could say:

  • I’m not sure that’s helpful. Do you have the time and mental space to hear me out?
  • That might be true. I would like someone to listen though.
  • I’m still sad though.
  • I do have great stuff in my life, but I’m still human.

Jordan could react (instead of respond) and continue the toxic positivity by saying things like, “Nah, you’re fine.” If so, Taylor has more choices like saying, “OK, I have to go, but I’ll talk with you soon” and finding other support, or Taylor could push more by saying, “Jordan, please. I just need a friend who doesn’t deny my feelings.” But the latter tends to lead to more conflict, and when you’re feeling down, more conflict doesn’t typically help. It always depends upon the friendship, but when you’re feeling shitty, you shouldn’t have to press for support.

What’s important here is to know it’s OK to end unsupportive conversations. It doesn’t mean that relationship is over or that Jordan is a bad person. Instead, it means Taylor knows now to find support elsewhere because Jordan can’t help in that moment. It might also plant the seed in Jordan’s head that they could change their approach or have some things to work out themselves. We all have trauma, and we can’t always be there for others like they need. The sooner we admit that, the sooner we can reduce toxic positivity.

Next Step

Remembering to try this in the moment can be hard, so I return to the simplicity of the process: Recognize, Contextualize, and Respond. Even if you start with recognize and do nothing else, that’s a huge step, and it’s worthy of Winning at Life Dance!

http://gph.is/2iO6UWl

Like I said in the initial post, the last option I’ll cover is to talk about it. Jordan and Taylor will make another appearance tomorrow as we learn to improve our relationships and talk about those uncomfortable things.

That said, we’re one step closer to answering these questions: How has toxic positivity kept you down? How has a culture of toxic positivity kept you from facing the pain of growth? How has American toxic positivity furthered your trauma? What can you do about it?

7/28/2020: Behind the Scenes at Whole Damn Woman

Today is the first time I’m beta-testing Unlearning 101, and I am nervous as hell. I always get nervous for the “first class” in any setting, but this one is different. This is the first time I’ve created the content from the ground up. I don’t have a textbook to lean on. I don’t have an administrator popping in to my classroom to give me the typical “you can do it” pep talk. I *do* have an IT guy making sure all the equipment is go (thanks, Hubster!). But I’ve never been so invested in something I’ve created.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m SUPER excited! If this works as I want it to, I truly believe this is it. This is what I was meant to do. Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll be discouraged, but then I’ll get back to it because I’ve never felt so locked in and loving toward something I’ve created, not even my novel (which is still there; I’ll finish it eventually).

I never thought I’d be a business owner. Not once. I was always convinced business was not for me. I scoffed at business majors. Now I’m like . . . shit, I should’ve been paying attention.

Every personality test I’ve ever taken said I’d make a great CEO, and I laughed or was confused each time. Now, it’s real. I’m not sure I’ll ever refer to myself as CEO. That’s just weird. But Whole Damn Woman is (so far) everything I wanted it to be. I just hope others love it as much as I do.

EEP! 🙂

Call to Action: #MorrieMailChallenge

Some years ago, I taught a literature course for which the university required Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Of course, the book is moving in countless ways, but this part stuck with me:

When a colleague at Brandeis died suddenly of a heart attack, Morrie went to his funeral. He came home depressed. ‘What a waste,’ he said. ‘All of those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.’

(Albom 12) . . . I’m an MLA gal at heart.

From this comes the living eulogy. Morrie wanted to know why we waited until someone was dead to say nice things about them. Why not tell them while they are alive? I loved the idea and decided I’d write a letter to each person I loved, so they knew how I felt about them. I called it The Morrie Project.

I drafted one letter, and I never sent it.

I’ve sat on this project for over a decade. One person on my list passed a few years ago. I missed my chance. I don’t believe in regret, but I do have sadness over this. I know others feel similar about wishing they could’ve said something to someone while they were still with us.

Today, I was admiring the stamps I geeked out over bought and thought, Maybe I should use these for the project. And then I thought . . . why not encourage others to share their living eulogies while supporting the USPS?

Spoopy Stamps! They’re shiny!

If you don’t know, the U.S. Postal Service is struggling and may cease to exist in the very near future. There have long been rumblings the postal service should be privatized, and the Trump administration is all too keen to see that happen despite the numerous problems with said plans (specifically, the increase in prices and the reduction of service to areas a private company would deem unworthy).

And that’s how the #MorrieMailChallenge tumbled from my brain.

The Challenge: How to do the #MorrieMailChallenge

  • Make a list of everyone you love and admire.
  • Write a living eulogy for each person.
  • Buy stamps.
  • Mail those living eulogies!

That does seem easy, but I’ll be honest: It can be emotionally draining, as my therapist told me when I attempted this again recently. That said, it can also be cathartic. It could be heartwarming and improve relationships. Of course, there’s risk involved, but authenticity and vulnerability are all about taking those risks. I say we are in the best time to make our love known for those we cannot see during physical distancing, and this is an ideal way to do that. Maybe this is the chance to unlearn the fear of being vulnerable.

If you do the #MorrieMailChallenge, I’d love it if you shared an image that represents each person on your social media. Maybe you could use the stamp you sent. Maybe you could post a picture of that person. Maybe you could share an image that reminds you of them. Whatever you do, use the tag #MorrieMailChallenge, and spread some love while supporting one of the most important federal institutions we’ve got left.

Even if you don’t do this, please consider buying stamps, support the USPS, leave a kind note for your postal carrier, and call your loved ones to tell them what they mean to you. Don’t wait until it’s too late. 💚

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