Personal Progress

When I was still Mormon, we had this program called “Personal Progress” wherein we would earn medallions for mastering skills of domesticity, spirituality, and submission. It was an honor to have earned your Personal Progress Medallion; the bishop even presented you with that little necklace in front of the whole congregation; a public declaration that you were well on your way to becoming a perfect daughter of Christ, worthy to be the helpmate of the CUUUUUUTEST return missionary in the whole stake. The best thing a girl could be.

I was an anxious, insecure, perfectionistic young woman. This program was made for girls like me. And so I plunged in with both feet, finishing the entire thing in two years, when it could take some as long as six. During this time,I learned the metrics of self-worth; Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue.

On paper, all of those values look well and good, but remember, the underlying motive of this program is to get young, impressionable girls to strive toward what their church arbitrarily defines as a Righteous Woman; the optimal feminine status being that of the devout wife of a worthy, priesthood holding, “provider/protector” husband, in addition to being the nurturing mother of Zion’s future.

At twelve, I didn’t know what “faith” was, nor did I value it. It felt silly to say the words “I believe” when talking about things I didn’t understand, and couldn’t prove whether they were true or not even if I did. Believing in things that are not seen hasn’t been my specialty since the Santa Claus Illusion was shattered.

“Divine Nature” was irrelevant to me, because even in adolescence, I didn’t really think about divinity, nor care about my royal status in heaven as a literal daughter of The Almighty. I’m a literal daughter of my biological parents now, and that has always been more than good enough for me.

I really can’t argue with the value of “Individual Worth.” God knows teenage girls need to find that. And I gotta hand it to the Mormons, they specialize in making their flock feel special. I didn’t believe that I was special until well after Mormonism, which I’m honestly rather grateful for, because the kind of special you are when you’re mormon breeds a superiority complex that I fortunately avoided, I hope.

Knowledge is a value in any context, and my youth leaders certainly urged me to pursue as much as I could get. I would eventually carry the burden of educating my future children to prepare them to be righteous spirit children of the Most High. I’ve never wanted children, though, which gave me the freedom to value knowledge for its intrinsic benefit, and pursue it for my own gain.

Choice and Accountability felt a lot more like Guilt and Shame. Under this value, we became well-versed in the Church’s arbitrary code of conduct-dress modestly, no coffee, don’t swear, no tattoos, no sex before marriage, don’t have fun on Sundays, you get the idea. Here, we also learned that it’s actually really easy to choose the right when everyone is policing your every move, even beyond those chapel doors. And we also became very much aware of the disciplinary protocols that would follow our inevitable transgressions.

Mormons do a lot of Good Works for their own. In order to learn this value, we’d bake cookies for the widows in the ward, volunteer at the Bishop’s Storehouse, (an inter-congregation food bank) rake leaves or shovel snow for the elderly members, things of that nature. I’m glad we did those things, it forced me to get out of my own narcissistic world and do something for someone else. I wish we’d hit this value harder, I still struggle to get my head out of my own ass to help my fellow man.

When we learned about integrity and how to have it, we covered all the basics-don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t intentionally hurt people, exude decency. We pledged to have the “moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.” But then I learned that morality isn’t universal, and it’s totally kosher for you to chop a guy’s head off to steal his stuff if God wants you to. This “knowledge of right and wrong” was getting pretty murky, so I just hoped that God would never ask me to behead anyone.

“Virtue” is code for “Chastity.” A righteous young woman is sexually pure. She has to be if she’s going to have her fairytale wedding in the holiest of holies; the temple. Hormonal adolescent girls are the gatekeepers of sex and therefore must keep the young men at bay by not bearing their shoulders no matter how hot it gets, only dating in groups, and keeping their boyfriends in line. I was not good at this. And when my “virtue” was forcefully taken from me, I’d accepted my fate of being ineligible for an eternal marriage with the love of my life, as I was not willing to jump through the hoops of redemption. That would require confessing a sin I didn’t commit to a man who had no legitimate authority over me.

I do not possess any of these values as the church defines them, but I feel comfortable considering myself a righteous woman all the same. I swear a lot. I drink coffee like healthy, well-adjusted people drink water. I help my fellow man, even the one who doesn’t look like me or doesn’t share my beliefs. I know that I have inherent worth, but not as a spirit crammed in a flesh vessel banished here by her omnipotent dad to prove herself, no. Just as a person on a planet with other people who miraculously get to experience life here for a while.

I guess the church and I just measure personal progress differently.

 

M.

 

 

 

 

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Xenophobia

The Meninists are at it again.

Meninists

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that this post was intended to be empowering to women. However, in my calm, objective opinion, it is just another instance in which sexism confines people to prescribed parameters that have no logical basis in reality.

Allow me to elaborate.

As my Sociology of Gender professor so articulately stated, “The only job men can do that women can’t do is be sperm donors, and the only job women can do that men can’t do is be milk and egg donors.” This is obviously due to a concrete, biological difference between the sexes. *Keep in mind that some people are androgynous*

In terms of occupation, everything else SHOULD BE free game.

I am honestly baffled by the fact that it’s 2016 and we as a society still struggle with sexism.

Women shouldn’t have to “prove” that we can do what men can do. Women can (and do) become CEO’s, politicians, truck drivers, construction workers, and every other stereotypically male profession that you can think of, and they are successful at their chosen profession.

Likewise, men shouldn’t feel repelled from selecting traditionally female professions. Men are also breaking into “female spheres” and becoming nurses, secretaries, teachers-you get the idea.

Let’s address the second part of the quote: “women were created to do everything a man CAN’T do.” Aside from making babies, what exactly is it that men can’t do? Clarify this for me, meninists! You’re confusing my inferiorly feminine brain.

Additionally, this part of the quote conveys the message to me that women are simply here to attend to the non-manly things that men are above doing (i.e. childcare, housework, DISHES) which reinforces traditional gender roles, which I dismiss completely.

One of my favorite parts of this entire thing is the claim that “women are losing their uniqueness.” Ah, yes, because we women are all uniquely the same.

In terms of personality traits, there are more differences BETWEEN women and BETWEEN men than there are between men and women. Does that make sense? If not, you can read the results of an empirical study published by the American Psychological Association here. So what exactly is our basis for determining what men can’t do and women can’t do?

In conclusion, this quote is a beautiful illustration of just how confining sexism is to males, females, and everyone in between. Women were created to do whatever the hell they want, just like men were.

As a feminist, my goal is not to prove that I can do what men can do. I know that already-I am a completely capable, articulate, strong person who happens to be a woman. My goal is to accomplish what I intrinsically value, despite the confining attitudes of meninists, traditionalists, and the like.

That’s all I got for you for right now.

M.

 

 

 

 

Aficionado

I was in a pretty dark place when I wrote yesterday’s post, and I want to thank everyone who reached out to me. You guys are #1, I genuinely appreciate your willingness to help me re-center, find my strength, and resort back to my default mode, which is complete badassery. Additionally, I didn’t expect the content I share here to be received so positively. So thank you guys.

My Anorexic Mind would claim that what happened yesterday as a “binge episode.” However, my Logical Mind recalls that a binge episode is classified by the consumption of a large amount of food (8,000-10,000 CALORIES) within a short amount of time (less than 2 hours). Since today I’m in a place where I am primarily employing my Logical Mind, I can give a more objective post-hoc analysis of my experience.

Realistically speaking, I probably consumed 300-500 extra calories, or two servings of really grainy cereal, my favorite thing to binge on. We eating-disordered people, we tend to memorize nutrition facts. I could accurately report to you the nutritional content of virtually any food with a label; I spend an obscene amount of time researching foods before they even enter my mouth. Annoying, right?

Anyway, it seems that I had what physicians are calling a “Subjective Binge Episode.” dun dun DUN.

Basically, a subjective binge episode varies from an objective one in the amount of food consumed (objective binge episodes involving the consumption 5-15,000 calories, which exceeds daily recommended intake for both males and females). However, both types have the commonality of feelings of lack of control during the binge, which I completely identify with.

My weight has significantly increased since yesterday (I’ve weighed myself thrice), so that’s something I’ve got to cope with today, in addition to beginning research for a literature review on the pharmacological treatments of eating disorders.

Let’s get to the point of today’s post: Pro-Anorexic content.

I spent a couple of hours browsing through the world of blogging last night, eagerly searching for the most effective way to compensate for the extra calories I had had (I hate that had had makes sense in the English language-another topic for another time), and I was appalled by the myriad #thinspo, self-starvation content that I found.

It was addicting. I couldn’t stop reading pro-Ana blogs, looking at “thinspo” images of thigh gaps, rib cages, and hollow cheeks. These images were often accompanied by slogans such as “Skinny girls don’t eat” or “Starve, bitch, Starve.”

Before I knew it, I was researching diet pills. I was contemplating self-induced vomiting. I was eagerly perusing blog after blog of anorexics sharing their foolproof tricks to keep themselves from eating. I told myself that I could do that, too. I could live off black coffee and water. I could run six miles tomorrow. I could do it, I WOULD do it, and I certainly would not allow myself to binge ever again. I was right back where I started seven years ago, when I opened the door for Anorexia, took her coat, and invited her to stay a while.

I am PLEADING with those who propagate pro-Anorexia content, please cease. Get help. See a therapist. The content you post is triggering the delicate-willed like myself, and undoing all of the progress I have made toward living a normal life without disordered eating and body dysmorphia. More importantly, you are hurting yourself. Not only are you catalyzing eating disordered behavior in others with this content, you are empowering yourself to continue down a road that leads to one sole destination; self-destruction. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of ANY psychiatric disease, and damn it, being thin at the cost of your life is. not. worth. it.

Then again, I was a pro-anorexia girl once.

I am making myself crazy with all of this. I am so distressed and so anguished that eating disorders are so damn prevalent and that I keep relapsing, falling prisoner to this disease that causes so much cognitive dissonance, anxiety, and significant decrease in self-worth. I would give anything to be cured, if such a thing is even possible.

On the other side of the coin, I am so distressed and so anguished by any sign of weight gain, no matter how small. I am so anxious about food, and I feel as though I am unable to direct my thoughts to where I want them. I am not the sole pilot of my brain. I need to feel in control.

It’s as if there’s a throw down between my Anorexic Mind and my Logical Mind, but my Anorexic Mind has a mean left-jab, and my Logical Mind lacks the ability to defend itself from invasion.

Who will win?

Oh, and to the asshole who told me last year that eating disorders aren’t ‘real disorders,’ please reevaluate your claim, or at least back it up empirically.  

M. 

 

Recidivism

Having completed 92% of my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology has significantly and falsely inflated my confidence in my ability to control my own mental health. However, it has come to my recent attention that memorizing theories makes me no better at remedying my own cognitive malfunctioning than any other average Joesphina.

I don’t want to say that I’m relapsing, because to say so would indicate that I had, at some point, completely recovered, which would be a false claim.

Diagnosing mental disorders is complex, due to the complex nature of the human mind. In physiological pathology, there is typically physical evidence of that particular disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with a renal cell carcinoma, the doc has detected cancerous tumors on your kidneys. However, mental disorders manifest themselves behaviorally, and behavior is dynamic, idiosyncratic, and highly unpredictable.

I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was fourteen years old. (You can read more about it here) and it has displayed itself behaviorally via various mechanisms over the years. We initially thought that my Anorexia was a co-diagnosis with depression. However, after years of self-reflection, I’m convinced that I’m not depressed at all, really. I am anxious.

Today was Mother’s Day, and the first thought on my mind was “Today is going to be a disaster.” Why did I start a perfectly beautiful Sunday off with such a damning thought? Because I knew that today was going to be a “bad eating” day. And boy, was I right.

I eat according to a premeditated, perfected, measured, perfectly balanced and repetitive menu. Every. Damn. Day. And if it get thrown off, everything goes to Hell. There is simply no in between.

With Mother’s Day being a special occasion, my family hit our favorite authentic Italian pizzeria for dinner. As soon as we were seated at our table, the anxiety set in, and my brain started racing. My eyes danced up and down the menu in vain, because I already knew that I was going to be ordering the salad (After all, I’d already eaten a roll with breakfast, and I NEVER eat bread) but the aroma of fresh-baked crust was making my mouth water.

That’s when I knew I’d already surrendered my control. The waiter took our orders, everyone ordering a pie but myself, and my thoughts began to race. What if I’m still hungry after I eat my salad? Will I be able to decline offers to eat somebody’s crust or eat more than my share of the appetizer? What if I can’t stop? My breathing rate sharply increased.

Our plates arrived, and I eagerly eyed everyone’s plates but my own. I scarfed down my salad as quickly as I could; my brain demanding that we take in as much as we can, because we could go into self-induced starvation mode at any moment.

Mere minutes had passed since receiving our food, and I had already cleared my plate. My attention immediately shifted to what everyone else had on theirs, and I began snatching crusts, half-eaten slices, and toppings off of others’ platters, and shoving them down my throat, breathing minimally.

I had completely ceased control, and something automatic and instinctual had taken over my executive functioning. “More, more, more!” my brain screamed, as if we were preparing for a famine, and I continued to consume other peoples’ calories.

My family were all critically commenting on my vulture-like behavior, and giving me strange looks, but honestly, I was hardly listening. I continued to eat off of everyone else’s plates until they were completely clean.

And then the guilt came pouring down. I wiped my face with a napkin and excused myself to the restroom so I could lift up my shirt, poke and pinch at my stomach, and tear myself apart until my sister was knocking on the bathroom door, yelling at me to hurry up so we could leave.

Situations such as these are a frequent catalyst for anxiety and a complete surrender of self-control for me. I had convinced myself previously that I was capable of managing my impulses and anxiety attacks, but this is simply not the case. In fact, I probably won’t sleep tonight, because I’ll be replaying this episode in my head until morning, at which time I will be exerting myself at an extensive cardio session at my local gym.

So it appears that I require another round of cognitive therapy so I can get a grip on this persistent problem of mine, because frankly, my disordered eating habits are annoying and exhausting, and I have so many more important things to invest my energy in, like becoming a badass master of academia.

I hate to admit it, but I require assistance. People get over these kinds of things, right?

M.

 

 

 

Magistral

Being a female doesn't always mean that you have to fit into a pre-set role of femininityI am frustrated. I am frustrated because people think it’s their job to police others’ femininity or masculinity.

It’s like, we’ve all been prescribed a quota-a level of femininity or masculinity, that we are required to meet, and if we don’t, other people are entitled to confront us about our shortcomings, so that we may make adjustments.

I, like each of you, have been socialized into performing my gender by means of behavior, dress, grooming, etc., and I happen to feel secure in conducting myself in a feminine manner, which falls in line with society’s expectations of the way I’m supposed to behave and interact with others. However, this is not the case for a lot of individuals.

I have a very dear friend whose significant other has been exceedingly critical about what he perceives is a lack of femininity. Consequently, she has been adjusting her appearance and behavior in order to please him.

I find this disheartening, because I really admire this friend of mine for her ability to be herself un-apologetically, and regardless of what anyone else might think. And I like the person she is.

Men are also prescribed a very rigid list of traits to obtain in ordered to be considered as adequately masculine. For both genders, and any gender in between, the societal expectations to behave a certain way are very constraining to individuals.

Real men are buff, real women have curves; men can be scruffy, women should be void of all body hair; aggression is acceptable for men, but women should remain passive; men must be diligent breadwinners while their wives maintain their households.Being feminine is a personal choice, and should never be decided by society

You get the idea-there’s a lot of rules to remember. And if you choose to disregard some, or take on characteristics of the other gender, your femininity or masculinity is called into question.

Managing to conform into a functional member of society while simultaneously developing an individual identity can be dizzying, and quite the balancing act.

There’s no wrong way to be a woman, and no wrong way to be a man. I just wish that society would allow us to perform our genders in an authentic fashion, rather than jumping through hoops in order to meet the expectations that have been prescribed to us before even our grandparents were born.

Imagine if these hegemonic masculinities and emphasized femininities didn’t exist-I think that we all would have turned out vastly different.

M.

Purposive

Now that everybody’s done sharing their tentative New Year’s Resolutions with their online social circles, I think i’ll finally reveal my plans to make myself a less-shitty person than I was in 2015.

 

Though I love the person I’m developing into since my faith crisis, nose-dive into feminism, and increasingly curious mind, I find myself becoming exponentially more cynical, which is something I hate about myself.

I find myself often looking for reasons to be pissed off, which makes it really, REALLY hard to be the happy, energetic ball of sunshine I once aspired to become, but will never be, due to my chronically sarcastic and brazen personality. Indeed, since I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of liberalism, I seem to have the tendency to search for things that people do that strike me as problematic, and will consequently set me off.

There are specific groups of people that are extremely hard for me to get along with (i.e. meninists, anybody who still subscribes to traditional gender roles).  I totally feel justified in avoiding individuals who fall under this category completely, but I also feel that I am much too hard on people.

For example, my dating life is a literal train wreck. Most of my interactions with men are terminated by me giving them a lengthy, wordy lecture about how sexist it is to not be interested in a girl who can’t cook, or won’t send a racy snap-chat after the first date.

I feel like I’m constantly having to defend my feminist views; nothing flips my bitch-switch faster than when a gentleman i’m dating says anything that could be seen as sexist, even if you have to flip it upside down and squint with your left eye.

So i’m going to work on that. Perhaps instead of ripping his head off every time a suitor says something I don’t agree with, I can calmly present my point of view on the matter, and then change the subject as I squeeze the hell out of the stress ball I just bought.

This resolution’s due date might extend into 2063, but it’s all about progress, people.

Additionally, I am going to get out of my own way when it comes to relationships with other people. This is a very poorly-defined goal, but I have very specific quirks that I use in order to build sky-scraping walls around myself, thus protecting my isolation.

First of all, I have got to make peace with my relationship to food and to my body. I’m talking about my obsession/preoccupation about eating in a manner that will cause me dramatic weight loss, and dutiful, religious, nauseating exercise. When one is as engrossed in the aforementioned activities as I have become, there is little time or energy left to spend on stuff that matters significantly more, and after 6 years of eating-disordered behavior and body dysmorphia, I’m tired, damn it. And ready to invest myself in building some meaningful relationships and kicking ass even harder in school.

This problem is never going to resolve itself, so I’ll have to look back into going to therapy.

I always complain about how pathetic it is that I’ve attended my current university for two years, and haven’t made a single friend, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have never once initiated any kind of effort to make friend at college. So this year is going to be different. I am going to focus on becoming more inviting, friendly, and talkative. I am going to take some risks, start some conversations, hell, even ask out a hot guy from my Stats class (after checking his finger for a ring, obviously. We have lots of super young, married folk where I’m from.)

In addition to all of these resolutions, if I have time to spare, perhaps I’ll attempt to kick my caffeine addiction.

Just kidding, I’m taking 19 credit hours. There is no way in hell I’m decreasing my latte consumption.

So there you have it. An outline of how I am going to go from a shitty person in 2015 to a noticeably less-shitty person by the end of 2016.

Happy New Year!

M.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post

I get it-you’re all sick of metaphorically hearing my whiny voice. So I’ve decided to start doing some research on others’ viewpoints on topics that interest me, and share their responses with you. I am fortunate enough to know many diverse people from various backgrounds, so finding content was a snitch.

My first guest author is a young woman whom I’ve come to know, respect, and love as we endured our teens and early adulthood together. Without further ado, I now present her take on the YW program. Take it away, Sam.

Cognitive Dissonance

How was my experience in the Mormon Young Women’s program? Thanks for asking.

To a budding pre-pubescent, the prospect of joining older girls in Young Women’s at the age of 12 made the misery of sharing Primary class with the 7-11 year olds…bearable. Once you reached that fortuitous age of 12, a few of the Young Women would sit in the back of Primary class until “announcements”, wherein the Primary leader would announce that this was, indeed, your time for that coveted rite of passage. BOOYAH.

I remember heaving nervous breaths through my A-cup chest (I’m still an A-cup, so that’s the only thing that never changed through puberty. Damn it.) I finally got to sit in the same room as 15, 16, even 17 year olds! My sister was already in the program, and I was more than ready to join the big leagues.

At the beginning of every Young Women’s meeting, we would simultaneously recite the Young Women’s Theme.

“WE ARE DAUGHTERS of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. WE WILL “STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are:

Faith • Divine Nature • Individual Worth • Knowledge • Choice and Accountability • Good Works • Integrity • and Virtue

WE BELIEVE as we come to accept and act upon these values, WE WILL BE PREPARED to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.”

(Virtue hadn’t been tacked on the end of the values until I was 14, so that was a pretty exciting change-up).

Basically, the first two or three years are bliss. You’re surrounded by peers, taught by beautiful women of God, and conditioned to giggle, flirt, and regurgitate sexist language verbatim. But then…the boys start getting cuter. You start your period. You are exposed to a greater pool of friends in school.

And…you start to pay attention to the words you are reciting.

Strengthen home and family? Sacred covenants? What sacred covenants? What even is ‘divine nature’”?

Then, you hear the boys recite their theme:

The purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood: become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live its teachings. Serve faithfully in priesthood callings and fulfill the responsibilities of priesthood offices. Givemeaningful service. Prepare and live worthy to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and temple ordinances. Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission. Obtain as much education as possible. Prepare to become a worthy husband and father. Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the reinforcement of traditional gender roles here.

Women: be a shining beacon of virtue and divinity. Be the kind of woman who supports your man in the home!

Men: don’t be a dick to women. Take the role of leadership in the home (priesthood). Get an education.

I’m not opposed to gender roles, but the roles of each gender in the church should not be predetermined by a panel of older men (the General Authorities). They are between the two partners. Girls shouldn’t be taught at a young age that they are meant to be the family support. Men shouldn’t be taught that they are to be the provider of the home, regardless.

And that was my experience in Young Women’s. Constant reinforcement of gender roles. We would be decorating scripture bags while the boys would be playing basketball in the gym, or mowing people’s lawns. For summer camping, we would stay in a condo while the boys would embark on a 5 day high-adventure trip into the mountains.

What upset me is that most of the girls bought into it! When I would help put away tables, people would chastise me for doing “boys’ work”. The boys were always required to clean put away chairs while we had the first go at the dessert (which was awesome, but totally not fair to them). I always felt very isolated with my blunt, “masculine” personality. The things I was told…I couldn’t believe it. They told me it was okay to be educated, but I was ultimately to support my husband’s Priesthood authority. I was to raise the kids in the light of the Gospel and be an example of chastity and virtue.

My initial aversion to the church wasn’t even an aversion to the Gospel itself. It was an aversion to the attitude of the Young Women’s program, and the expectations to which I was held.

If any Young Women are reading this right now, I ask you this: are you completely satisfied with the role that is required of you in life by the Mormon Church?


Interested in becoming a guest author at DownWithTheNorm? Head on over to the Contact Me page and fill out the form with your article and a quick bio so the rest of us can absorb your wisdom and insight. 

M.