Michelle

Michelle and Annette completed their interview together. Check out Annette's Page here where she also took some photos with another friend, Hallah.

Kyira: “What made you decide to do this? Why did you decide that this project is important enough to push past that fear and get up in front of somebody you’re just meeting for the first time and having them interview you?”

Annette: “Well, especially today, in today’s society, there’s so much pressure to look a certain way and like fit a certain body type. I’m sure you’ve heard this answer a million times, it really is just to get comfortable in my body because I don’t know that I ever have. I don’t know, and with all the social media and everything, like you’re just expected to be perfect because you really do only see the sides of people that they want you to see or that they edit or that they pretend to be happy at.”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm.”

Annette: “There’s actually this really cool project, I can’t remember the Women’s Health magazine is doing this – I don’t know if you’ve heard of this – where you take a picture that you posted on social media and the caption that …”

Kyira: “Actually, I’m part of it. I just got interviewed for it.”

Annette: “What? I wanna do it! I wanna do it, OK.”

Kyira: “The project where like you post the caption on social media and then they follow up with you like, ‘What were you actually thinking?’”

Annette: “Yeah! And I have like, I have so many of those that I could use because a lot of it is complete bullshit.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Annette: “So, yeah.”

Kyira: “Well, and I think what you said in the beginning, so yes, maybe we’ve heard the answer more than one time that that’s a big part of it, and I think that highlights just the hugeness of the problem, like how bad that problem really is if the reason that so many people want to do it is because they’re being crushed by the culture they live in to fit something that they’re never gonna fit. And so I often ask that same question of like, who drew that box? Like can anyone pinpoint who that person was that drew the box that everyone tries to fit in? And like you said, we just sort of expect it, even though nobody can obtain it.”

Annette: “I also think that college culture, too, really accentuates that because like whenever I’m around women, especially women at the gym, it’s strictly to look a certain way. Like I’ll go with my friends to the gym and I wanna lift and I wanna get strong and, yes, I want to look a certain way as well. But I’ll go with my friends and they will literally pick themselves apart the whole time and it’s really hard cuz I try so hard to not do that. Like my whole job is to not do that, my whole job is to empower women to feel comfortable in their own bodies and to eat the right way and take care of themselves in the right way. And sometimes I feel a little hypocritical because it’s not easy.”

Kyira: “And also then it shows the pressure you put on yourself being in that job of like, ‘I’m supposed to have it figured out so that I can help other people.’ When in reality, I don’t think anyone has their shit figured out. So what is that like, to let people see that vulnerability cuz often times that can translate more strength to other people. Like, ‘OK, and we’re doing this together.’”

Annette: “It’s actually really true. Half the stuff that I say to my residents, I’m like, ‘Huh, I probably should do that as well.’”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Annette: “Like I will say, ‘OK, go write a list …’ You’re laughing. It’s so fucking true, though. I’ll say, ‘Go write a list, you know, a list of things that you’re grateful for.’ And then I’m like, ‘Mm-kay. I’m gonna do that as well!’ (Laughing.) Because that’s pretty necessary for me too, right now.”

Kyira: “What about for you?”

Michelle: “Um, I wanted to do it because I’ve hated my body for so long. My mom and grandma were so critical of my body and my appearance and my weight growing up. And I actually had an eating disorder for probably two years. And it’s just really impacted my whole – and being in the eating disorder world there’s so many people that look a certain way. You feel like you have to fit the ideal. And you have society that wants you to look a certain way. And so that kinda just perpetuates the eating disorder even more.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Michelle: “And so, um, I guess I just want, like I’m tired of feeling that I’m not beautiful, like I’m not good enough. And I’m tired of society putting its standards on people. And so I just wanted to kind of crush that and put myself out there and try to feel good about my body again.”

Kyira: “Yeah. I mean, I think what you just highlighted about even the, like, there’s almost a competition factor even within the eating disorder community, how fucked up that is (laughing). Cuz I remember I was like, I didn’t even want to tell anybody I had one anymore, cuz then everybody then compares to everybody else and then it’s a whole new layer of chasing something that’s even more messed up than just the original societal piece. So it’s how do you break past all of those. And it also sounds like maybe letting go of some of the voices that still carry some weight for you in your head now from your past overall.”

Michelle: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So, I think you both have really hit on a little bit about society has really impacted views about yourself. Let’s look at other layers of culture, so maybe the community you grew up in, your friends, school, maybe it is parents or grandparents or family. How has that shaped your perception of what you’re supposed to look like or how you need to perform? Both on a physical level, but likely that perception is extended well beyond just your body.”

Annette: “My dad, my whole life, has always controlled what I eat. And I never thought that was an issue until I started my job. As I was growing up, he would, he would literally control everything I ate. If I went to the kitchen to eat a snack, but if I – even if it was before dinner, it would be no, where almost like, ‘You don’t eat that.’ I would legitimately hide food, like if it was a snack. Like all I wanted was a fucking Oreo or two and I’d go and I’d try to eat it and I’d sneak it. I’d sneak into the kitchen and have the Oreo that I wanted all day. It’s not a bad thing to eat an Oreo once in a while. What? It’s two Oreos, what the heck? And he would just tell me how bad that was for me. And he never said anything about the way my body really looked, but he would do shit like hug me but then grab on my hips and like squeeze a little bit. And he started, he used to pay me to go on runs. I hated running. But he would say like, ‘Here, you have three weeks to work up to running two miles in this time, and if you do that I’ll pay you 50 bucks.’ And I was like, ‘Sweet! Like what a good deal. Like this is cool.’ He just wants me to be happy and healthy. What on earth? Like what on earth? And, um, and now he has a full-blown eating disorder. He’s 65.”

Kyira: “Probably not only just now. He’s probably always had one to some degree.”

Annette: “He always had some sort of, yeah, disordered eating, for sure. But now he’s, I can’t fit into his pants. I mean, I’m curvy and I get that. But like, that makes me feel like shit. Because then I’m worried about him and I go home and I see his appearance.”

Kyira: “And then you feel worse about it.”

Annette: “And I do. Yeah, like I convince myself I just wanna see how bad it is with him, but I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, I can’t fit into my dad’s pants. Wow, I must be overweight. I must not look the way I’m supposed to look.’ And, aw, it’s just so fucked up. I never realized it was a problem, but it’s definitely affected me. I went home over winter break and I was eating toast for breakfast. And he said, ‘Oh, don’t eat toast, that’s bad for you.’ I was like, ‘What? What on earth?’ And at first I’m just like, ‘Oh, my god, that just goes to show how bad his eating disorder is.’ But now every time I eat bread that voice is in my head like, ‘Oh, I could be eating something else.’ I don’t eat pasta because carbs are evil, you know …”

Kyira: “According to him.”

Annette: “According to him. I love pasta. I’m Italian and I love pasta.”

Kyira: “You also want to go back to Italy!”
Annette: “I also want to go back to Italy (laughing). And that’s, that’s another fear too, is like, the people in Italy are tiny. They’re sticks and they eat a lot. And I just don’t get how they have that body type. And the men, too, are like very thin. And I like don’t, I just don’t feel beautiful there because my body type is – like, I’m, I am very much fat in their eyes. And I haven’t been straight up told that but like …”

Kyira: “You feel it.”

Annette: “I feel it but I’ve also was like hanging out with a guy a lot there and he would say things like, ‘No, like I think you’re beautiful despite your figure.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, that doesn’t feel great.’”

Kyira: “Well, and there’s also then the conditions of worth. So for your dad, telling you to do all these things that you wanted to do – wanted to give money, probably, to your kid. But also, like, two there were these things that you wanted to do to be closer to him or to feel connected to him.”

Annette: “Yeah, absolutely.”

Kyira: “And then it’s like, well, if you do these things then you are worthy enough, then you are this. And when you have that reiterated in another culture when this guy you’re talking to says, ‘Well, there’s this stuff but I guess I’ll overlook it.’ It just kind of feeds unto itself. And it’s perpetuated by people, like you mentioned, like friends when you go work out then they’re nitpicking themselves, not to try to bring you down. But it all connects back to the cycle of like, ‘Well, what do I have to do to be worthy enough and valuable enough in my own skin?’”

Annette: “Yeah, for sure.”

Kyira: “What about for you?”

Michelle: “For me, I grew up an athlete so there was that, um, pressure like physically to be very, very fit and very conditioned and in shape. And I just remember – she’s my adopted grandma – but like I was a swimmer and she’s like, ‘You just have big, broad shoulders.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s just kind of a swimmer thing. Like you make me feel like a man.’”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm.”

Michelle: “And so there’s was like kind of that criticism. And just like with my coaches, you know, ‘You need to lose weight. You need to be conditioned.’ You need to almost like look like a man with like muscular arms and legs and just be really thick. And then the other thing, I grew up, both my parents were diabetic and I was diagnosed as a Type I diabetic when I was 16 and so I grew up around a lot of diet food. And going to friends’ houses and stuff, they had like Froot Loops and regular Coke and cookies. And like at my house, that wasn’t allowed except for times when – like I think my mom has an eating disorder, too – but she would binge. She’d buy cookies and chips and stuff. And, you know, she would binge and then I would binge. It just kinda got into this cycle of, you know, what’s right, what’s wrong. Like food was kind of an issue like I didn’t know what the right thing to do was. So I was just really confused growing up. And I mean, that’s really what started my eating disorder.”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm. Yeah, having these like labels on things, having these discrepancies between your house and then being told to do one thing but also having, you know, modeling of certain disordered behaviors that aren’t helpful either. And then on top of that, you have coaches telling you this whole other layer of things, too, that’s also being in a female body you can only do so much to build certain musculature and do certain things that looks very different from a male body in their teenage year and things like that, so how much pressure that is, too.”

Michelle: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So when you think about it, I mean for both of you, you can tell the incredible amount of insight you both have gleaned, just from past experiences and how you might have maybe developed certain beliefs or like things that you’re really trying to work on breaking out of or have been able to break out of. What do you think has been the hardest part as you’ve started to do that more investigative work of getting clear of, ‘Wow, this stuff goes way deeper than I thought.’?”

Michelle: “For me it’s just been accepting all of it and kind of knowing it wasn’t always right, what people said. And it’s kind of that society norm again, that just because society thinks you should look a certain way doesn’t make it right, that you’re beautiful no matter what, no matter how you look, whether you’re, you know, muscular or you’re thin or you’re, you know, overweight. However you look, whatever your body wants to be, like, I firmly believe like god or a higher power makes your body into what he wants it to be. And I guess, I just want to feel beautiful no matter what my body looks like.”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm. Yeah, absolutely. And like, I don’t know if this is true for you, but I remember sort of going through that myself. It also got a little easier for me to beat myself up about like, 'Well, why didn’t I accept those things earlier? And why did I let myself get into that? And like sort of that cycle of we turn it inwards in things. I don’t know if that ever happened for you? But think of how hard that is and how you move on and realize, ‘No, it’s not me. It’s the fucked up society and experiences that I’ve had.’ You’re not pointing the blame on others, either, it’s just collectively that’s really hard.”

Michelle: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “For sure.”

Annette: “I totally agree with what you just said about like how I beat myself up for like not being OK with like accepting that it is society putting this on me. I’m just, I get so frustrated with myself, like, ‘Well, why can’t I just accept that?’”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Annette: “What is wrong with me that I must not be able to overcome the fact that my negative thoughts aren’t because I don’t love my body, it’s because others don’t love my body. And I also think that it’s so hard to stand up, like stand up to people, to like try to get them to realize the things that they say, to acknowledge the fact that they’re perpetuating this culture.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Annette: “And like, when my dad says things like bread is bad for you, it’s hard to stand up to. Because I don’t want our relationship to suffer. Or like when my friends will go to the gym and they pick apart their body and I say things like, ‘Oh, stop, you’re beautiful.’ I really just want to say, ‘Do you see how problematic this is? Do you see how you are perpetuating this culture? And what you say, how that affects other people, too.’ But it’s not, I don’t know, it’s not easy to say.”

Kyira: “Well, as far as what would happen if you did say that? Cuz there’s obviously that fear about what would happen if you say it. What’s the fear?”

Annette: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think anything would happen with my friends, especially because they’re very, I don’t know, they’re just more aware of things like that. My dad would get pissed and defensive and not talk to me. He’d be very upset with me. And you’re right, like I do get my self-worth from what people think of me, especially me dad.”

Kyira: “And it’s also, I think, something where it’s what’s the lesser of two evils, you know? So if you continue in a relationship that you have those like personal things that happen, you’re going to continue to be broken down throughout that time and it’s really hard, like you’re chasing something uphill right now. And it’s like the boulder crushing back down on you and you’re trying to chase back up. And it’s really difficult to build yourself back up and get past that when someone else is, carries so much weight over you. And they’re very real people in your life you don’t want to not be connected to. And so how do you hold both and still be able to have a relationship that will look different than what you might want? Um, which also sounds like it’s just really challenging.”

Annette: “Mm, hmm.”

Kyira: “So how do you, how do you nurture yourself now? Or what have you come to find out the more that you’ve continued to investigate about yourself and learn about yourself that you hold on to that really does work to build you up and like lessen that load that you’re fighting against?”

Michelle: “For me it’s just like focusing on being healthy, doing everything that I can to do what’s right for my body. So not over-exercising, not restricting, not bingeing and purging, not manipulating my insulin. Just doing what my body needs for fuel to survive and not trying to please anybody else. Because I’ve done that my whole life and I think I still, like I don’t have a relationship with my mom and I just think, you know, if I can get down to this weight, she’ll love me. But I know that’s not the case. But weight’s so focused on and I just feel like I need to just do what’s best for me and not worry about everybody else, as hard as that is.”

Kyira: “How are you also gentle with yourself during those moments where it becomes really damn difficult? Because there’s still a day that those behaviors, I’m sure, pop up for you.”

Michelle: “Yeah, definitely. Um, I guess I just try to do self-care stuff, you know, taking a bath, reading, playing with my cat. Just kind of journaling, just thinking about, you know, why I am wanting to recover from my eating disorder, why. Like I’m beautiful, no matter like – there’s a quote, it’s, ‘You are beautiful no matter what they say.’ And I just think about society, um, you know.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Michelle: “And I think of that quote a lot, just because I think society’s always gonna have their expectations but I think we’re the only ones who can change that. Because if we don’t stand up for ourselves with our friends or family, they’re just gonna keep beating us down.”

Kyira: “Yeah. And to like come forward now and even create this type of community we are here, just all these people saying, ‘We’re working on it, too, and we’re all sort of united in it now.’ So even, at least for me, I’ve found that finding safe communities – because, you’re right, like certain people no matter the weight, that’s not gonna be the tell-tale of when you’re gonna have a great relationship with your mom. Or certain people are still gonna have those negative views. How do we build safe communities for people as they’re going through this so that they aren’t so alone in it either.”

Annette: “Yeah. What was the question?”

Kyira: “How do you nurture yourself now or sort of celebrate what you’ve learned and kind of take care of yourself moving forward?”

Annette: “Um, thought challenging is a huge thing. You’re smiling ..”

Kyira: “I’m smiling because every time I hear that I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it’s hard as shit!’ (Laughing.)”

Annette: “It is!”

Kyira: “I feel like that’s such a therapy term. Now what the fuck do I do?”

Annette: “Well, it is! That’s where I learned it. But I learned it four years ago and this is the first couple of months that I actually …”

Kyira: “Are doing it?”

Annette: “Are doing it, yeah. It’s really easy to get out of the habit, especially when you’re young, cuz people don’t thought-challenge or say things like, ‘Bread is bad for you.’”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm. Do you notice a shift for you? One thing I’ve found is things like thought-challenging are still inside of our heads a lot of times, which we get really good at spiraling back into some of those bad behaviors or some of those thoughts that aren’t so helpful for us to feel good in our skin. Do you notice a change when you find those safe communities to say it out loud? Like it sort of has less of a hold on you? Or have you tried that yet, I guess, like the other side of it?”

Annette: “I say things in my work to women I work with like, ‘You have to cook a meal every Friday. And pasta is often a challenge food.’ They have no idea that that’s a hard thing to do. So I kinda put it on them a little bit, you know, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you can do this. I’ll be right here with you.’ You know, like, ‘If we’re cooking this together, it’ll be a lot easier than for you to go home and cook it.’ It’s also, it’s also, you know for myself.”

Kyira: “Yeah, what if you told them that, like, come on Friday, like this is a challenge for us together. Like let’s talk about it together.”

Annette: “I don’t know how appropriate that is, because I don’t know if it’ll make it, I don’t know, look like I’m not qualified to do my job or …”

Kyira: “Because you’re a human, who struggles?”

Annette: “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Kyira: “I think, and maybe that’s not the right place. I’m just curious, too, about like where we find that, where we vocalize it in some way. And, like some of the thoughts that I have when my anxiety kicks in are so fucked up and irrational. And until I say them out loud, I don’t want to admit that, so they’ll replay in my head over and over again even if I’m with a client, telling them some of the same for me. But once I say it out loud and have somebody hold it with me, it changes it a little bit. So maybe it’s not your residents, but I’m wondering what it would be like to let somebody else carry that burden. Cuz you both are describing like the tremendous amount that you’ve carried for years and also probably learned to do that because not a lot of people that you were close to were safe to like let them in because of the messages you received from them. So what it’s like to find new people to trust to build that with together, to thought-challenge with somebody, not just by yourself.”

Annette: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “Are there things that I didn’t ask that feel like you want to go there, stuff that now you’re sort of like marinating on a little bit that you kind of want to put out into the universe.”

Michelle: “I mean, I don’t know if this is appropriate to say, but like …”

Annette: “It’s all appropriate. (Laughing.)”

Michelle: “For you, like saying that pasta is a fear food for you, like I never knew that, I never would have known that. So for me knowing that you have a struggle, too, like makes me feel a little bit better. Not like in a bad way, it just makes you more human. It makes me want to fight a little bit harder. Because, yes, like there’s times that I think that you guys are normal and you don’t have any fears at all. And it’s just kinda nice to know like other people still have those same fears, they still have body-image issues. And not knowing that about people, it’s just kinda like, dare we say – you know in recovery – ‘Secrets keep you sick.’”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Michelle: “And I kinda feel like that’s, you know, with kind of the coaching that I’m doing right now, that I feel like they’re perfect. Like the coaches are perfect, and they don’t have any problems with food. And just kinda hearing their struggles too, it makes me feel a little bit more human and a little better, too.”

Kyira: “For sure. Cuz otherwise, right, they’re like here and you’re here, and it’s like, ‘Well, you all didn’t get the fucked up gene and I did. So clearly something’s wrong with me and all these other people down here that we can’t get our shit together. And you all stand up here, perfect, cuz you have something that I don’t have.’ And sometimes it perpetuates that, versus like, ‘No, this shit’s hard for anybody.’ You may or may not just have had some more difficult stuff or gotten a diagnosis for it and need some different type of support. And I still can’t go home and make pasta myself, either.”

Michelle: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “What was that like for you to hear that?”

Annette: “She saw my reaction. And I’m holding back, too. (Crying.).”

Kyira: “You don’t have to, though.”

Annette: “It was good to hear. But in my mind I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, if Jenna knew we just had this conversation, I’d be fired.’ I genuinely think I would be because …”

Kyira: “I won’t post that part! (Laughing.)”

Michelle: “You can leave that part out!”

Kyira: “We’ll leave it out of it!”

Annette: “I don’t know, because I’m still, I’m comfortable with you and I’m so comfortable with you that sometimes I want to – god, Michelle, sometimes I want to talk to you about my problems! I really do.”

Michelle: “And you can!”

Annette: “No, I can’t. No, I don’t know that I can. I don’t know that I can.”

Michelle: “I can handle it.”

Annette: “This is like an indirect way to let you know that I’m fucking really not perfect. But I’m, you know, but I can sit there and really talk about my problems. I know I’ve done it before where I disclose some stuff to you but that is in a setting where I know, where I feel like that might help.”

Kyira: “Yeah, there’s a difference in self-disclosure that’s thinking of it about you and self-disclosure that’s helpful for the person you’re working with, regardless of the role. Telling somebody that I can’t eat past either without feeling shame is helpful for the other person, it’s not just about you. If you were like, ‘Let me tell you all my problems and fix my shit and I don’t wanna talk about you.’ That’s different. But letting somebody in, it’s not the ‘I’m gonna get fired,’ it’s ‘Holy shit, that’s a whole different level of vulnerability.’ And I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.”

Annette: “I think it’s really good to know that that’s helpful for you.”

Michelle: “Yeah, cuz you’ve been, I don’t know, like I guess I didn’t really think about it til now, but the other day at breakfast and you were having toast, I could tell that you were kind of contemplating it. And hearing you like say that today …”

Annette: “For real?”

Michelle: “Yeah. It just, I don’t know. You kind of stopped for a little while and left it there and I just kinda wondered, you know, what was going on. I don’t know, I’m just looking back …”

Annette: “I didn’t even recognize that. I didn’t …”

Michelle: “I recognize those things (laughing).”

Annette: “Jesus.”

Michelle: “Well, actions speak louder than words sometimes.”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm.”

Annette: “I’m rattled (laughing).”

Michelle: “Sorry!”

Kyira: “I think it’s also part of maybe where you two want to keep your conversation going beyond just the scope of this, too.”

Annette: “Yeah absolutely.”