MY MYSTICAL LIFE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THIN FROM WITHIN?

When I agreed to co-host the launch of a book called “Thin From Within,” it was because I wanted to talk about what makes that word so triggering—and to confront our collective conditioning about body-image, weight, and food …

When I announced that I was going to be co-hosting the launch of my friend Robyn Youkilis’s new book, Thin From Within, I was expecting something of a backlash. This platform, which is so much about healing and self-acceptance, promoting a weight-loss program? Only one person actually reached out on Instagram to voice her concerns, to which I replied: “I hear you, thank you. Because we really need to talk about this.”

*Since writing this post, many more people have also let me know that my supporting Robyn’s book has been disappointing (at best) and / or been triggering for them. Over the past week, thanks to conversations sparked by this incredible, conscious and loving community, I have learned so much about the issues with promoting thinness and the thin ideal—even when approached from a holistic angle. Conversations that have been uncomfortable, confrontational, and absolutely VITAL. Not only for me as I grow into my role as a leader in the wellness space, but also as a human being with all my own messy and imperfect feelings about body-image. 

In response, I have decided to add some of these key learnings to my original piece—which I am including in bold below. Inclusivity and integrity are two of the core values of this platform. I am aware that the layers of complexity and shadow surrounding this issue mean I cannot possibly speak to each and every reader individually with my words here—but my hope is that sharing my own journey towards cultivating more awareness about the issues herein, may help others to do the same. 

Yes, it seems counter-intuitive. My own eating disorder history aside (more on that in a minute), the whole message of my book is that true health, happiness, confidence and wholeness, is the result of peeling back the layers of conditioning we’re subjected to from birth. Including, for example, the toxic message that to be beautiful, valued, and loved, our body must look a certain way and never exceed a certain number on a scale.

But the fact that our thinking about “thinness,” as women and as a society, is so fraught and so emotionally charged, is exactly the reason it was a HELL YES when Robyn asked me to co-host her launch. Anywhere there is a stigma, a taboo-the places our pain points are most easily triggered-is exactly where we need to be focusing our awareness.

*The HELL YES came from deep in my Soul—because it knew I still had so much to heal from personally when it comes to body image. That there is so much shadow work for me still to do here. They say you are not in a position to teach from your experience until it has been fully integrated and healed, and it was only after posting this article—which made me sick with nerves—that I realized how far I still had to go …

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Thinness, and what that word means to me, had also been on my mind the past year. The stress of having my book come out had led to me losing weight “naturally” for the first time ever. Meaning I was so frantic juggling everything (extreme feelings of vulnerability about sharing my most personal work to date included), I would literally forget to eat. When I had an appetite, that is. Whereas lately, it had gone the other way—meaning when things got chaotic I saw food as both pleasure and fuel, a comfort and a way to nourish and get back into my body.

This mentality is one of the reasons I’d considered myself fully “healed” from my teenage eating disorder. An anorexic, I spent the ages 16 through 20 living mainly on apples, milky lattes, and the occasional muffin or handful of dried prunes (I was chronically constipated, of course). For those who know my story, these were the “Capricorn” years.

After I left him, I found a way of eating just enough of certain “safe” foods to maintain a consistent size 2 frame. My body a tool to help me gain favor with my new fashion industry friends. As far as I was concerned, this meant I’d “got over” my issues. I never had any therapy or even really acknowledged to myself that my ongoing obsession with thinness was problematic. Not least because, as far as I could tell, my body image issues were nothing out of the ordinary.

*I have bolded a key line here. The fact I had never dug into the root of my issues—or acknowledged the “thin privilege” that I have benefited from as a result of my body shape, natural or as a result of disordered eating—makes me absolutely under-qualified to speak on this issue. Writing this post was a clumsy first step towards educating myself—since my aim was to spark a conversation that I and my readers could learn from. I am committed to educating myself fully on body-image going forward so that I can speak to this from an empowering and inclusive place. However, I also acknowledge that my own thin privilege makes me not the best spokesperson. Means that whatever my own issues, I cannot know how it feels to have been shamed, name-called, or discriminated against because of my size. And I so am also investigating ways to invite people representing all different body types to share their stories here instead.

I also found this great article on thin privilege, which everybody needs to read.

Being in an abusive relationship, coupled with my Aries competitiveness, meant I might have taken things a little further. But as far as I could see, the vast majority of women I knew (and plenty of men) felt exactly the same about thinness as me—that it was our desired / required body shape, and one which invariably meant constant, careful monitoring of our calorie intake.

A war against weight we were all obediently waging together, without ever questioning how we even came to be enlisted.

*Questioning the reasons for society’s and my own obsession with thinness has been painful and humbling—as I can now see clearly the inherent fat phobia in the pursuit of the thin ideal. Fat phobia that is RAMPANT and that goes largely unchecked in our society. I’m handing over to Jillian Murphy from Food Freedom Body Love here, who helped me understand this better: “THIN is not an ideal. It’s also not shameful. It’s just a state of being that is available to some humans but not others. Unfortunately, especially for women, THIN has come to mean superior (smarter, more together, more in control, more desirable, healthier, more fit, etc etc etc) and women are consistently encouraged to do things that are detrimental to their physical mental, emotional, and spiritual health in order to achieve the thin ideal—which may or may not ever even be possible, and most definitively does not directly result in any of those aspired qualities.” (Jill’s full comment on this post is below)

But over the years, as my career progressed, my self-confidence grew, and I began to value my peace of mind over the number on a scale, I slowly let go of all that. Including the scales themselves. Began to focus on eating “healthy.” Without thinking too much about it, my weight steadied out at where it had been after my 16-year-old body first began to bloom into womanhood. A comfortable size 4-6.

*There was no reason for me to include a “number” here—especially since I just shared how part of my healing was letting go of scales and mirrors. Numbers just create more comparison which is sheer poison when it comes to body image pride.

My “disordered” history with food was firmly in my past. Or so I thought.

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Cut to the summer of 2016. At the age of 40, I have purchased my first ever pair of denim hotpants … and I feel fucking GREAT in them. Sexy and strong and sassy. For the first time in my life, I even like the way my legs look in short-shorts and flat shoes. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I got weighed when I went for a health check and discovered I was 10lbs heavier than I had ever been.

*More numbers—ugh, this is my old magazine industry conditioning showing. It makes me so mad when magazine interviews always list a woman’s age, but rarely do the same with men. And I just did it here. Again, ugh.

It was in this moment that I truly understood what always felt like kind of a lame cliché-that “thin” (or rather, the desirable attributes we have attached to what is actually just an innocent adjective) is a feeling. Sexy, strong, sassy. How I felt at my heaviest weight ever. This was a cause for celebration, surely!

*Thin IS just an adjective—but not such an innocent one thanks to the layers of meaning we have learned to attach to it. I also can see now how sharing my personal experience of being “thin” or “heavier” here is problematic, as it further emphasizes the dangerous messaging that feeling a certain way is a result of being a certain size.  

No. Seeing that number on the doctor’s scale, my immediate reaction was “WTF. That can’t be.” Meaning, that is not a number that my body is allowed to be. The ancient conditioning hadn’t gone anywhere. I’d just got so confident and happy in myself (having shifted my career in alignment with my purpose and done a shit-ton of healing work on myself, for example), that it no longer had any hold over me.

The weight I went on to lose the following summer, following my book launch? Part of me, the part that never actually healed after all, welcomed the nausea and the insanity. Was secretly stoked that the intense heat of my anxiety appeared to effortlessly melt those extra 10lbs from my frame. There was even a certain Angelina Jolie-style glamor to it; as if this was how brave women let the world know we still had some fight in us, despite our suffering.

*This is where I began to think more deeply about WHY we are so afraid of fat. Why fatness is equated with laziness and self-indulgence, while thinness is upheld as virtue. I think this ultimately comes down to control. We, women in particular, have internalized the message that to control our appetite, our desires and our needs is “good,” while to acknowledge our hunger / needs (for food, recognition, to say no, to claim space, to relax, to come, to create), and to demand that our needs be met, is not only unacceptable—but something to be afraid of. I posted about this on Instagram a few weeks back, after I first agreed to help Robyn with her launch, along with this quote from Naomi Wolf: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one.” 

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Looking at pictures taken then, I see a thin woman. Meaning, a weak, fragile, undernourished woman (just some other adjectives for “thin”). A woman that I am ALSO learning I must love and accept as part of me, as much as I do her sexy, sassy, strong, 10lbs heavier counterpart. The past year has taught me that healing my weight and body image issues cannot mean locking the thin me away in the past and throwing away the key. Impossible, since the key—the shame and vulnerability that unlocks her padded cell—is also a part of me.

And so, it was a “YES” when Robyn asked me to co-host her launch. I even had her use one of my “thin” pictures in the artwork for the event (above).

*I have removed this image. I had thought that explaining how I really felt at my thinnest (weak, fragile etc.) would expose how this “look” is NOT ideal—but ultimately I was just sharing another picture of a thin white woman, and perpetuating the problem. In the words of one reader: “If I’m to be brutally honest, viewing that poster my thought was, ‘easy for them to talk about eating healthily and loving yourself when they’re both skinny.’ It made me feel less-than.” This has made me think much more carefully about how I can create a more visually diverse platform that is truly inclusive and empowering to all. 

The title of her book may be triggering, but without acknowledging the part of me—of us—that loads the word thin with generations of personal and societal pain, it will always be there, starving for our love and attention, and silently screaming to be heard. To give that part of us what she (or he) needs in order to be nourished, we first have to learn to listen—to find out what it is she believes “thinness” will fix. 

There is nothing inherently evil or wrong about wanting to lose weight. People will buy Robyn’s book for all kinds of personal reasons, some from a place of deep self-love, and some from a place of weakness and fragility. But what they will find within, is a program designed to help them: “finally feel the lightness you’ve been searching for on the scale.” Meaning, a way of thinking about food that has nothing to do with numbers and targets, and is all about addressing the emotional and physical dis-ease of traditional dieting (yes, especially supposedly “healthy” juice cleanses and Whole 30s).

*Robyn is a smart, loving, and inspiring voice in the wellness landscape. Yes, she too benefits from her thin privilege, and in deep conversations we have had this past week about what’s come up for her since bringing this book out, she has acknowledged her own naiveté in thinking that the title would not elicit such a charged response. At her launch, she shared how she initially said “no” when her publisher asked her to write a weight-loss book—but then realized she could use this as a way to talk instead about how to shed emotional weight. Problematic, still, as it still implies that “less weight” is “good.” But also, considering the dominant mainstream messaging about weight and body image, a step in the right direction. Robyn has also thanked me (and the Numinous community!) for helping take this conversation deeper than perhaps she ever intended—as her Soul intention is also to help end our collective fucked-up-ness about body image and food. 

As leaders, and as humans, neither of us are perfect. The best we can do when we make a mistake, or discover a blind spot, is to see it as an opportunity to become stronger and wiser. I’m going to end with this quote from Anne Richards, the second female governor of Texas, as shared by the IG account @words_of_women: “I believe in recovery, and as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.” Not only that, but to use we’ve learned to help us all to heal.

I also acknowledge that this is a complex and multi-faceted issue. This post in itself may have been triggering for some, and it contains generalizations that are a reflection of my personal experiences—also that I have my own blindspots about this issue, which I am seeking to overcome. But wherever you are at in your personal journey with food, weight and body image, know that we are all in this together—and that more honest we can be with ourselves and each other about it, the more resilient to our thin-conditioning we will become.

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Thank you, my Numinous community, for your conscientious, intelligent, and ultimately loving feedback on this piece. I wanted to start a real conversation about these issues, and you have stepped up to the plate! I am expecting further comments of course, and welcome those which are in service of the core values of this platform—which center around healing and growth through awareness. I love you. 

MY MYSTICAL LIFE: SOME EARLY VALENTINES SELF-LOVE, AND CHELSEA DOES DRUGS

Haute Chocolate and some new lingerie on the path to self-love, and thank you Chelsea Does Drugs for a grown-up conversation about humans and the quest for altered states of consciousness…

Pandora’s Box, $30, Haute Chocolate Brooklyn

:: MONDAY ::
Early Valentine’s #1. So when the founder of a local fine chocolate company reaches out to ask if you’d like to sample her wares, you do not say no, despite the fact that a couple of weeks back you vowed to get off the sweet stuff “again” having got back on it in a pretty major way over the holidays. But wait! The mouthwatering treats at Haute Chocolate that arrived today are all organic,organic, vegan, and bittersweet, and billed as “virtuous hedonism.” Yay party in my mouth.

:: TUESDAY ::
Early Valentine’s #2. When my friend Sophie alerted me to new lingerie site True&Co I had to check it out, since treating myself to good underwear has become an ongoing self-love practice of mine. Not least since writing my book means I barely wear “outside” clothes these days, and a nice piece of lace is like literally the only thing standing between me and all out pyjama-geddon. The most fun thing? As a new customer you get to do a quiz that helps work out what items on the site will fit you best – kind of like…brastrology! And yay, when my pieces arrived in the mail today they fit like a dream.

Lovestories Nightrider bralette, $64, True&Co

:: WEDNESDAY ::
MUST MUST MUST watch TV alert!!! Chelsea Does Drugs. A.k.a. Chelsea Handler going to Peru to do ayahuasca as part of her new “Chelsea Does…” series for Netflix. Chelsea has always been a guilty pleasure of mine – I know she rubs some people the wrong way, but I just love her realness. Which comes across in every frame of this segment – in which she also gets high with friends at a pot-themed dinner party, smokes a joint with Willie Nelson, gets monitored by a doctor while on Adderal and then Ambien (+ vodka), and visits a shaman to try and access a non-drug induced trance state. She also interviews recovering drug addicts and experts, and if the aya scenes, which show every step of her ceremony, steal the show, honestly it was just so refreshing to see an honest and non-sensationalist discussion IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA about humans and drug use. How grown up! As for why Chelsea likes to access altered states? Of course I had to Google her birth chart right after – and with a Pisces Sun and Leo Moon…well, say no more.

:: THURSDAY ::
Major kudos to my friend Robyn, who launched her book Go with Your Gut with a party in NYC tonight – and 9 months pregnant too! I didn’t make the event since I’ve been feeling totally wiped out this week (like the majority of people I’ve spoken to actually, what-up cosmos?!), but I’ve got my copy on order – mainly since Robyn’s theory that not only good physical health but our mental and spiritual wellbeing is directly related to our gut health is a pet subject of mine. In fact, here’s a great story we posted on this subject a while back.


:: FRIDAY ::
Had a “material girl” moment interviewing J Crew president Jenna Lyons today – what a woman! I’ll post a link when my interview comes out – it was for a Red magazine in the UK – but for today, I’m still mainly obsessing over her office, which is about the size of most NYC apartments and stacked to the rafters with 25 years worth of books, pictures, trinkets and momentos (including a MAJOR Citrine crystal cluster she picked up in Marfa, TX). To me, she’s living, divinely feminine proof that you can be a real person and totally rock it in the corporate world, having risen to the top by simply doing 100% Jenna. An inspiration fo sho.

EAT, PRAY, DANCE: THE ONLY FOOD RULES YOU NEED

Certified health coach Robyn Youkilis is the creator free video training series The Rockstar Roadmap, which she designed to prove it’s possible to love food and still lose weight and get the body you want. If, that is, you follow The Rules (and say a prayer or two).

Image: Mathilde Francois Girbaud ad campaign SS 05

1. If you’re dining alone you must eat with ZERO distractions. Turn away from your computer, close the magazine. You may look out the window and listen to music, but do whatever you have to do to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a snack in peace. I know, it’s boring. You want to cry. It just feels so lonely! But it also feels great to learn when you’re full and to be able to end your meal at exactly that time, which will never happen if you’re not 100% in your body while it’s eating. How about you get a Buddha and eat with him? I have a large black stone Buddha that sits on the corner of my desk with a few other trinkets, and every day I dine with him. Of all the food rules, this is one is the hardest (that’s why I got it out of the way first!), but it’s also EVERYTHING. But please don’t stress if you’re not able to do this for all your meals.

2. Tea is your new best friend. “But I thought YOU were my new best friend Robyn!” Well I am, but so is tea. Herbal tea, that is. Ginger will help with digestion, nettle is good for digestion, mate gives you energy and run will clear your mind.But mainly, as you try to become your healthiest you it can takes a while to calm the cravings, which are usually based in the need for a calming moment. That’s why I call a tea a hug in a mug.

3. Breathe, God dammit. Half the time this is the answer to stopping cravings and getting back in the moment. There, you’re cured! Just kidding. But seriously breathe DEEPLY. None of us do it enough.

Breathing will help:

  • energize you
  • lift your spirits
  • keep you from making less than stellar decisions (in food and life)
  • help you feel connected to something bigger than you
  • calm you the f*** down
  • calm the situation around you the f*** down
  • make you a happier, shinier and more likable person (promise)

4. Eat greens until they’re coming out of your ears and mix them up (okay, that’s two rules). I can already hear you…but I have a salad for lunch and a green with dinner most days (and if you do, that’s already awesome)! Well, I want you to have more. Find a way to get them in your breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m not just talking kale smoothies. I mean mustard greens, dandelion, sprouts, purslane, bok choi EVERYTHING GREEN. Don’t know what to do with them? Shred them and have them raw with a simple dressing massaged in or steam or sauté them with olive oil, garlic and lemon.

5. Healthy fats are your friend. Avocados, nuts and seeds (small amounts, like way smaller than you think), coconuts, oily cold water fish should be welcomed onto your plate on a daily basis. As the former Snackwells queen, I’m still getting over my fear of fat too. Personally, I was never heavier than when I was eating fat free. When I began eating all the yummy, healthy and satisfying fats listed above (in moderation), I lost not just the 20 lbs I put on, but another 10. Oh, and your new glowing skin will thank you too. Remember, fat is not a four-letter word (it’s not, it’s three).

NB: these girls are not following The Rules

6. Chew your food until it’s liquid. I know this sounds like pure insanity but trust me, contrary to popular belief, your stomach does not have teeth. Half the time pesky digestive issues (bloating, less than frequent pooping, etc) can be solved by chewing more. And you don’t have to sit there counting. Until liquid is good/great enough.

7. Start your day with a prayer or blessing and end your day with a prayer or blessing. Not into the spiritual thing? Tough. It’s been proven that individuals with a spiritual practice of any kind (concentrating on your breathing is already a spiritual practice by the way) are happier, healthier and most likely to be living in the body they desire. It can be something as simple as; “Thank you for today.”

8. Smaller plates, smaller forks, smaller everything. I know, I know. The idea of eating my lunch or dinner off of a salad plate used to feel pretty lame too. Eventually I got used to it, and you will too (promise). I found a smaller plate that I loved (these can vary a lot so shop around, look for 6-8 inches with a border – we tend to want to stay within the lines). Now, a regular dinner plate (and the amount of food that typically accompanies it) looks enormous to me. This switch can sometimes be the easiest rule to follow because all you need to do for this one is swap out a physical item.

9. This is your life and it’s not meant to be painful, restrictive, unpleasant or unfun (I made that word up), but it’s also important to remember that as human beings, we do better with accountability, support, love and goals. So keep it real, girl. I am here for you, yes, but most importantly, you are here for you.

10. With that being said,  here’s a song to dance to! If you’re somewhere you can’t actually dance, then just close your eyes and dance in your mind. If you’re in bed reading this, use the song to sit up and meditate too and if you happen to be working out right after this GO FOR IT. Dancing is FREE. It relieves stress, lifts the pressure and gets us moving and back in our groove.

The Rockstar Roadmap with Robyn Youkilis is a free video series about getting healthy and losing a few pounds while NOT giving up your life to make that happen. It all kicks off on May 14, and you can sign up here.