I always feel like I’m walking into a trap when I start any type of self-improvement. Despite my good intentions for doing it and the fact I WANT to do it, the moment other people get wind of what I’m doing they start projecting these expectations on my motives. Eventually I join in until I don’t recognize why I started anymore, and the constant external plugging of Instant-Great-Life makes me quit.
I am physically healthy for a 5’7″, 237 pound African-American woman, haven’t had anything remotely close to high blood pressure or high cholesterol, haven’t tested anywhere close to having diabetes, and have a slight tendency towards anemia (my white blood cell count has been on the low side since I was a kid). Yet whenever I go to the doctor’s office or whenever I tell someone I want to lose weight (mostly to become fitter and for my mental/emotional health since I can’t afford therapy, not even on a sliding scale), my doctor insists DESPITE MY DAMNED MEDICAL CHART we have reviewed together, that I need to ward off these specters of disease because BMI says I’m obese, and people presume that clearly I have been written a death ticket because I’m a fat black woman who wants to lose weight.
Reading this Bitch article on the links between privilege and a larger anti-feminist empowerment structure put it into perspective for me, because while I’m trying to make lifestyle adjustments and visualizing goals, I inevitably start wanting unrelated things. I start wanting things that, for whatever reason, I’ve assumed that I can’t have now while I’m fat. An excellent career. A healthy romantic relationship. Lots of money so I can join a gym, do a class, buy cute outfits. Driving lessons and a car, so I can get my license. Dancing lessons, so I can learn to dance.
Then when I look at all these little fantasies I’ve erected, I wonder, “How the hell did I get to wanting these things when I just want to get rid of these two asymmetrical rolls on my back? Why is this my laundry list when I only want to get to the point that I can run and not feel like I’m going to collapse after an 1/8 of a mile? If someone doesn’t think I’m attractive now, rolls and all, what does it say about me that I assume they’ll come running once I’m fit and slimmer? Even more, what does it say about them that they felt no need to approach me until I conformed to their aesthetic?”
Weight Watchers is simultaneously improving and ruining my life. Let me explain.
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve lost 25 pounds. I lost the first 17 pounds using a free tool online called My Fitness Pal for calorie counting and estimating my activity. I’ve lost the 8 pounds through my enrollment on Weight Watchers through my job. I’ve been on the program since April, and I like the POINTS system as much as I like calorie counting; but of course, the POINTS calculator makes tracking more convenient, and you don’t have to rely upon people’s inaccurate assessments of nutritional facts as often.
But I am swiftly realizing it may have been a mistake to enroll in the Weight Watchers program through my job and to let it garnish my wages. That choice has switched me from eking out a living with an administrative job to existing from paycheck to paycheck. I cannot afford to go out with anyone. I cannot afford to buy anything I need. Instead, my money funnels towards home, student loans, and paying for the times when my fantasies of having enough, having it all, and continuing to have more blinded me to the reality of being a poor black woman with a relative to care for and the constant need to weave her own blessings from dust and dreams.
If I had that Weight Watchers money every two weeks, it would make a WORLD of difference. But on the to-do list for a girl playing at privilege she doesn’t have — to eat, to pray, to spend — praying is the only thing I can afford! So I do it regularly to instill some heaven into the hell I’ve created.
Credit is now the bane of my existence. I relied mostly on credit to fuel my fantasies of having it all. I could subscribe to magazines I liked. I could buy my friends thoughtful gifts. I could donate money to people and charities. I could go out to eat.
And I LOVED going out to eat.
I ran up my credit card in college feeding myself and my friends. Although we were granted the privilege of being served unappetizing food, sometimes undercooked food, often not very healthy food through our college diet plan, we opted not to take it. We would either go to other places or buy groceries and cook ourselves. We would choose our own unhealthy adventures, thank you very much, and we did it until we couldn’t anymore. My little baby credit card, given to me at 17-18 (with parental supervision, initially) has grown from an $800 limit to approaching $10k while I’m the ripe old age of 24. Guess how much your girl owes after 5 more years of higher learning, 5 years of running after security in shopping bags, and 5 years of wanting to feel responsibility through spending instead of through… well, taking responsibility.
I’m coming down from an addiction, and I’ve had mini-meltdowns in recovering from my need to show that I’m magnanimous and generous through spending. Spending money helped to curb my social anxiety in a big way and helped me feel engaged in a non-profit model that gets by with constant solicitations for money and signatures instead of time-consuming interaction with issues, instead of recognizing the patterns of how these issues affect my life even if I’m not immediately proximate to the causes. And it’s telling that lately in activism, saying the phrase do something translates often to give money to starting/stopping something.
I learned earlier this year that I cannot afford to write for free. The second I felt the impulse to sit down and write here, on my space, I would follow it up with a question: “Can I make this longer and pitch it somewhere?” Writing is something I enjoy; it’s something I do to sort out the thoughts that don’t belong anywhere else. But it takes time, and time is money. I’m foregoing a trip to work for time and a half to write this. This is the best self-care I have.
I’ve slowly tried to phase out using Sylvia Peay as my writing name. I have a body of work here and other places writing under that name. I’ve made great friends and occasional enemies writing under that name. But for a woman who constantly writes things like “this is who I am” to keep using a name that is not the one she was given — it grew tedious.
Some writers do well pseudonymously. But I like my name. I want to write for free and write for money (multitasking!), and I want to do it under my name. I found an archive of posts from The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum by chance a month ago (proving nothing ever truly dies in cyberspace), and I will slowly integrate them here and bulk up my archives. Eventually I will learn how to get my own domain space, buy said space, and see if I can pretty things up beyond what WordPress has given me.
I’m Monchel Pridget. I’m a Christian (non-denominational), lawyer, writer, poet, radical woman of color, online activist, armchair revolutionary, and big mouth. Honesty is one of my most precious commodities, second only to love. My words, opinions, and occasional fits of hubris belong to me and not to anyone employing me at any given time.
Nice to meet you.