Bumbling through body image

ATTENTION READERS: This post includes references to disordered eating (binge and starvation). Continue at your discretion- KW.

I still remember the first time I looked at myself, pinched my belly, and proclaimed, “I want to get rid of my fat”. How I came to this conclusion, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s because I don’t remember a time when my stomach was completely flat, or maybe it’s because I knew women were supposed to be unhappy with their bodies. But the bottom line was, I felt fat. I was six years old.

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A photograph of me around that time.

“It’s just baby fat, honey. It will go away when you get older,” said the YMCA staffer I had shared my discovery with. Her heart was in the right place, but it didn’t get to the heart of the problem: I was afraid of being “fat”. At an age where everyone was telling me I had infinite potential and could be anything I set my mind upon, the strongest message I got was that I never, ever wanted to be fat. I hated the way my thighs splayed out like pancakes when I sat on the edge of a pool, and the way my stomach rolled together like a torpedo roll. I wanted to be thinner and prettier and fit into that perfect package deal of a girl that I never could quite figure out.

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. I was one of the unfortunate students who was scheduled for the last lunch period, meaning I was making it through almost three-fourths of the school day without having a chance to eat. I was voraciously hungry by the time lunch rolled around and I  hated the gnawing feeling in my gut. That’s when I started taking the time to have “breakfast”. I would drink a chocolate meal-replacement shake on my way to school so that I wouldn’t be dying of hunger during my math class. There were some not-so-nice side effects to the shake, namely intense nausea and cramping for roughly twenty minutes in the middle of the day, but once I powered through that I was no longer hungry. After a few weeks of this, I stopped buying lunch. My stomach shrank and soon I was unable to finish my dinner because I was so full. But that godforsaken chubby stomach didn’t go away. Add onto this the development of wider hips that comes with puberty and I felt huge. Even though I was barely bigger than a size seven in juniors, I felt massive. I purchased a pair of size eleven pants because they “fit”.

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An elusive full-body shot of me at fourteen.

I didn’t realize anything was wrong until people started expressing concern. I felt fine; I wasn’t hungry, and I sure wasn’t a skeleton. I thought you had to look emaciated to others and gigantic in the mirror to experience disordered eating. Maybe it’s that way for some people, but my experience was far more insidious. Nothing seemed wrong on the surface unless you were there to watch me (not) eat. Truth be told, I probably would have kept it up indefinitely if not for my school chorus’ trip to Disney World. I needed to be well-nourished and hydrated to be out and about in the parks all day; the issue was that we were handed some money and told to spend it on our lunch each day.  Naturally, a fourteen year old at a theme park isn’t going to want to waste perfectly good money on food, especially if she doesn’t feel hungry. So I let myself get fatigued and irritable until finally I ran into my mom (a chaperone on the trip and a fellow Disney addict) and she got me a frozen chocolate dipped banana to eat. All it took was one banana and suddenly I realized how hungry I had really been for months. I was eating full meals again.

I had some issues with binging for a a few months after that trip, but there was not a tremendous amount of weight gain to go along with it so I don’t think anyone ever knew there was a problem. A package of twelve breakfast sandwiches would disappear in one sitting and as guilty as it made me feel, I didn’t stop. The food was warm and it left me feeling pleasantly full. I started to get things more under control after the initial shock to my body of actually eating had subsided. I substituted tea for excessive snacks because it gave me the same feeling without being an unhealthy choice. And that was more or less the end of my disordered eating.

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Summer of my freshman year of college.

 

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Fall of my senior year of college.

In college, I experienced a lot of weight fluctuation, but with it came a lot of acceptance about the body type that I was born with. I started out with terrible eating habits and a very inactive lifestyle and pushed myself towards more balanced meal choices and regular exercise. What happened surprised me: I started seeing how beautiful my body has always been. No matter how active or inactive I’ve been, I have had my soft, round tummy and my chunky cellulite thighs. I’ve also had a slender waist this whole time, and a really cute nose, thanks for noticing. Everyone’s body is different. Everyone’s version of healthy is different. I know these words don’t mean much coming from someone who has never been actively berated for her size, but I truly believe that all bodies are beautiful just as God made them. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

All my love,
Katherine Wheel

The writer is blocked.

Anyone who says writers have an easy job has clearly never tried to write something substantial or of quality. Writing is sitting in the same spot for three or four or five hours, only pausing for bathroom breaks. Writing is typing out sentence after sentence only to delete them all and start over again. Writing is a jousting match with that little voice in your head that says, “You’re terrible at this. Give up already!”. But don’t get me wrong, writing is 100 percent worth the struggle. On a good day with a clear mind, it’s the truest form of expression there is.

Full disclosure: when I decided to major in writing, I thought it would be easy. I was accepted to my dream school but not my dream major, so I had to settle on something else. Writing was the natural choice; I’ve been writing for as long as I could hold a pencil. Dreaming up new worlds and bringing them to life on the page was my favorite pastime. For this reason, I loved when we had opportunities to write fiction in English class throughout the years. I even took a creative writing course in high school where I explored poetry as a serious medium for the first time. With all of this in mind, I had never seriously committed myself to the craft. I was a stronger writer than many of my fellow classmates, so it never seemed necessary.

And then my first collegiate writer’s block came.  With assignments due every two to four weeks piling up, I was running out of ideas and running out of steam. Panic set in and it felt like I would never be able to get things done. I talked to anyone who would listen, searching for writing prompts, ideas to explore, and characters to play with. I delved into my craft, taking older ideas and reworking them using new techniques. I fought through those creative blockages because there was no other option. “I had writer’s block” isn’t going to get you an extension on a ten page story.

So why does writer’s block feel like such an insurmountable challenge now? It’s true that there are no serious consequences to me throwing in the towel and quitting this website before it’s really begun. I’m debating installing one of those writing apps that blocks all other programs on your computer as a way to force myself to focus. Barring that, I might just have to go back to basics and write things out by hand. I’ve always focused better that way. Regardless, I’m not giving up on this.

All my love,

Katherine Wheel

Lowering expectations

Here’s something I’m getting really tired of hearing in my post-grad life: “lower your expectations about your first job”.  Honestly, I don’t think I have sky-high expectations; feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I  think that having completed my Bachelors I should be able to at least secure a job as an administrative assistant or something of that ilk with regular hours and pay that is a little more than a dollar above minimum wage (in Massachusetts, its $10/hr).

Currently, I make $10.25 an hour as a customer service representative at the local supermarket. I know many people might be grumbling about how lucky I am to be employed at all, which I don’t deny. Money is a necessary evil in our capitalist society. I just know that I deserve better than what I am currently getting out of my employment. Unless I sell my life to the company in the hopes of securing a full-time job, I can never get insurance through my job. While this isn’t an immediate issue, I really need to find a job with benefits before I turn twenty-six and am required to get my own insurance.

Here’s the problem: I am evidently under-qualified for nearly all of the entry-level jobs available in my area. Many of these jobs require between one and three years of relevant work experience (which I don’t have) or a valid MA driver’s license (which I am in the process of finally getting). It really sets me off that employers think that “entry-level” jobs are reserved for people who are in fact seasoned in a field of work. Where am I expected to get this job experience? As I’ve previously griped about, I didn’t take advantage of networking opportunities in school so I don’t have any professional contacts, and I don’t come from a family who is well-connected. I am lucky enough to come from a family who can afford to house and feed me until I can secure a job that I can actually support myself on. If things are this hard for me, I can’t imagine how much harder it is for people who don’t have my privileges.

Should  comfortable employment be contingent on the circumstances of your birth? Absolutely not, but that is the story of our society. And I am not going to take this lying down.

All my love,

Katherine Wheel

What they can’t teach you in school

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Our intrepid author procrastinating schoolwork circa April 2015

For someone who constantly seeks perspective and guidance from others, I am exceptionally bad at listening to perfectly good advice. I know I’m not the only one with this problem. There wouldn’t be an entire industry built around self-improvement if society could collectively swallow its pride and admit that outside perspective is important. In a culture where self-sufficiency is equated to happiness, how could we not all struggle to take good advice?

If you ever find the answer key for life, send a copy my way; I’m not going to pretend I have all the right answers.What I do have is a great deal of experience in royally screwing up. Here’s what I’ve learned, and I hope it’s helpful.

  • College is about a lot more than getting a degree.
    My biggest regret about college is not taking advantage of all of the resources that Career Services and my department provided. There are so many networking nights that I didn’t even sign up for because I thought it would be a waste of my time. There were many workshops on how to find jobs that I didn’t attend almost entirely out of laziness. I threw away these opportunities because I didn’t think I wanted a career in writing. Even if you are certain you’re going on to get your Masters in a completely different field, I highly suggest attending these sorts of events. Plans change, and you don’t want to be left behind in the lurch.
  • You can’t make a person change.
    This is a noble mistake to make, and one that I am very guilty of. When someone you care about is hurting themselves or others in some way, it’s hard not to intervene. Just remember that once you’ve laid your feelings out on the table, it’s all in the other person’s hands. There is nothing you can do to make them change. Change (or at least a change that lasts) has to come from inside of a person. As the child of an alcoholic, I know how easy it is to feel responsible when a loved one won’t make a change. I urge you to let go of that self-blame.
  • You don’t need to keep negative influences in your life.
    At some point in your life, you’re going to meet someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. A good example of this is the fair-weather friend. You know the one: the girl who says how much they care about you and  how much they love hanging out with you, but never seems to text you or check in unless they need something from you. These people want all of the benefits of friendship without having to return the favor. Another example is the friend who always pressures you into doing things you’re uncomfortable with.It doesn’t matter how minor the thing may seem; if someone isn’t respecting your boundaries they are not a person who deserves your time.
  • The number one person in your way is you.
    I’m not discounting that everyone has varying levels of physical and intellectual ability, nor that everyone has varying access to resources. There are some parts of life that are out of our control, and that’s totally okay. What I’m talking about is that little voice in your head that says, “don’t even bother”. I can’t be the only one who missed out on lots of amazing opportunities because I was too scared to even try. Hell, I almost didn’t apply for a raise at my unfulfilling part-time job because I was certain they would choose a teenager over me. It took an army of my coworkers supporting me to get me to toss aside that fear and self-doubt and ultimately snag that 25 cent raise. Even if you don’t have a team of cheerleaders backing you up when you try and talk yourself out of new opportunities, I sincerely hope you fight against that uncertainty. You deserve it.At the end of the day, all of this is pulled directly from my own experience. These revelations might not ring true for you, and that’s totally okay. We’re all still learning how to get by. I wish you all the luck in the world in coming up with your own truths.

    All my love,

    Katherine Wheel

Greetings from a tired mind

sometimes the way forward is the way back

Hello, I’m Katherine, and welcome to my newest creative venture. I would call myself a recent college graduate, but the truth is that I’ve been out of that world for almost a year now. I meant to dive right back in to academia, but full-time graduate school, an internship, and a soul-sucking part time job in customer service hell took a combined toll on me. I’m not going to make excuses for myself; I didn’t put in nearly enough effort to my courses, and by the time I realized that I had been seriously slacking, it was too late to get caught up. I half-assed what assignments I could motivate myself to do, and I ultimately gave up and took a leave of absence. I told myself (and my adviser for that matter) that I would come back, fresh and focused in the fall. Who was I kidding, though? The new branches of self-doubt that had sprouted in the fall have only grown and flowered in the time I have spent out of school. Even if I go back to school, I’m certainly not going back for the same subject. A few months space won’t make the books more exciting, or the assignments more clear. It won’t give me the years of relevant work experience my peers had, or a more applicable undergraduate degree. All I have is some regret and a little more debt.

So where do we go from here? In a life that has been plagued with uncertainty, I have always known that I could write. I spent four years in central New York on the collegiate carousel, grasping desperately for the golden ring. I came close, but I never really got a firm grip on it. I figure that this website could be another shot at that elusive prize. If you choose to join me on this ride, I thank you.

All my love,

Katherine Wheel