It’s a strange time to deposit a literature PhD dissertation.
I finished the final draft in the last hours of 2016, nearly crushed by the weight of the knowledge that the project I poured every available ounce of my energy into for the past 5 years means very little in the grand scheme of things.
Who cares about diet culture when human rights are increasingly at risk?
And yet, diet culture is nothing but human rights.
Diet culture seeks to strip us of autonomy, of connection, of pleasure, and of potential. Among other things. It is not a separate entity from racism, misogyny, transphobia, disability discrimination, and reproductive rights (as none of these exist separately from each other). Indeed, the personal is very much political.
And yet, I spent nearly the entire day after the Women’s March on Washington feeling like I’d done less than I could because I didn’t march. Instead, I updated my website and planned my forthcoming online course for body image renegades. It seemed like small, insignificant work. I wondered if I should quit to do bigger, bolder, more “political” work.
In these moments of crisis, I turn–as I always do–to smarter women. I needed two this time.
First, I turned to Betty White, who refused to be baited by Katie Couric in an interview about our starkly divided nation.
We’re not in the best place we’ve ever been. That’s the time to buckle down and really work positively as much as you can. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible. He’s terrible,’ just think, ‘All right, there’s nothing I can do about that right now. But I can do the best in my little circle. So if I do that, maybe you’ll do your best. And we’ll get through this.’
We all have to choose where we put our energy, and sometimes that leads to a sense of helplessness when we can’t affect change in all the areas that need it. And, sometimes the reach of our energy seems small, especially when we see others doing more public activism. If you feel like that too, listen to Betty–if you do your best, that might help someone do their best. And that’s worth a lot.
Then, I took that bit of wisdom and combined it with the words of Audre Lorde, one of the first black women whose writing had a profound impact on my worldview. In a well-known quote about self-care from the epilogue of A Burst of Light, Lorde denies self-care as an indulgence (aka the self-care of White Feminism), insisting instead on its inherent value as bodily preservation to be an act of “political warfare.”
If you’ve never read this quote before, I’d like to ask you to read it again. Slowly. Carefully. There are many interpretations for this quote, but for me the most important message is that when powerful people and institutions want to destroy your body–and “destroy” is meant very literally–caring for that body is an act of resistance akin to political warfare.
I also turned to one of my favorite parts of Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, a book that is on my must-read list for anyone, ever:
Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation, and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.
For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.
It is necessary to teach by living.
So, doing the best in my circle to teach by living means:
- exercising (in public for added political benefit when I feel like it)
- teaching my preschooler that all bodies have value
- always putting alt-text in my web images
- checking in with friends who are doing more public work
- calling in when necessary, working to help people understand inclusive language
- sharing self-care resources like “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay–questions to ask before giving up” from Eponis Sinope
- making sure my political drive does not interfere with my own self-care
- sharing reaction GIFs that might make you smile
I’ll do the best I can. You do the best you can. The work is worth doing and it matters. Your work is enough.
p.s. the links to Lorde’s books are affiliate links. Audre Lorde’s books are also available at many public and university libraries.
p.p.s. My online course, Already Extraordinary, is going to be INCREDIBLE. Sign up below if you want to be the first to know when it’s ready.