Authenticity Breeds Community
Typically, I keep my blogs very short. I had too much on my heart to write about. Please make sure you have time to devote to this blog. It’s a long one. I had to say it! I hope you enjoy all the pictures. I really want to share the community feelings!
Brené Brown has a great quote in her book, The Power of Vulnerability, “Vulnerability breeds connection”. I thought I would take her idea but change the wording a bit, “Authenticity breeds community”. If you’ve seen my last two Instagram posts, community has been the theme. If you’ve been following me for a while or know me personally, you probably know that community is one of my top five values. Community is #4 and connection is #2. The two are interdependent on one another. If I have connection, I have community. If I have community, I have connection.
I’ve been trying to take in all the awesomeness of Say Cheese & Charcuterie: A Body Positive Event. This event has been in my head for FIVE years. On August 20, 2023, I was able to make my dreams come true by holding the event at Harvest Therapeutic Services. I was blown away that about 100 people attended overall!
In the morning, clinicians networked and ate from the yummy brunch board Christina LeeAnn Creative put together. I had several booths set up with different kinds of organizations that support mental health, physical health, and eating disorder treatment. As person by person continued to arrive, I was in shock! I had no idea so many clinicians would be attending. Everyone was smiling, laughing, eating, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Erin Cox, from ELC Photography also took headshots for the clinicians.
The afternoon was open to the public. A different kind of community vibe emerged. People were super open and friendly. Erin did a photo shoot instead of headshots. Individuals sat around eating cheese and meeting new friends. It was so cozy, safe, and just a sweet space to be in.
I need to give a bit of history leading up to the event and after to tell you why authenticity breeds community.
A big reason I wanted to put on the event is because I hated having my picture taken unless I looked “good” in it. I defined “good” by diet culture terms: no rolls, no double chin, “flattering” angles, toned shots, the list goes on and on. Diet culture told me that if any of those things were visible, I was “bad”, “gross”, and “fat”. Diet culture told me fat was bad! Therefore, I am bad.
Since 2017, Erin has done headshots for me. She makes it so fun! I like the spotlight and being silly with her. I smile with my eyes! I like to authentically entertain, show people you can have fun, and not be so serious! Over the years at these headshot sessions, they turned into a few seconds of a photo shoot. Erin, encouraging my smile and feeling comfortable in my skin. I would feel amazing! Then, I would get the photos back and feel “gross”. I was “bigger” than I thought. I felt shame and embarrassment. Since 2017, I have done work around fatphobia, diet culture, and my own internal fatphobia (I still have so much more to learn.). I’m liking photos more and more, the memories, and feelings they represent about the moment.
I’ve stepped into a space where I get curious when I think I look “gross” or “fat”. When and where did I first get the message that those things were “bad” or “less than”? I’ve also learned with photos, there is a difference between preference and negative body talk. I prefer my pink shirt over my blue shirt, not because one “flatters” my body more but because I like pink better, and it shows the true joy in my eyes! This has nothing to do with negative body talk or what diet culture defines as “good”.
I’ve been using my voice very loudly and intensely on social media with the sizing in the ski industry (fat people ski too), weight stigma in the medical field, and giving shout outs to amazing professionals that support larger bodies. Leading up to my event, I had a weird ailment a few weeks before. I was still getting over being sick just before the event and lost my voice. I was devastated! A few days before, I thought my two friends, Shannon and Grace, were going to have to run the event without me. Last minute on the morning of the event I felt better. I was also able to give a four-minute speech about my heart. I was authentic about my recovery, the dream of having the event, and now, full circle, I am an eating disorder professional. Ironically, in those four minutes I was able to project and use my voice. I could be heard by everyone.
I received feedback in the moment of people’s enjoyment and amazement of the event. That night and even today, I am still getting texts, emails, and social media is still blowing up! The feedback was about authenticity and community! I was overwhelmed. However, I was still feeling so physically depleted I couldn’t “feel” all the goodness and positivity. I’ve had to ration out all the positive feelings as I begin to get better.
I’ve gone back and forth about writing this next part of my story with the event. However, after talking to two amazing clinicians who are also my friends this week, to not write would not be authentic or true to my brand or who I am.
I’ve still struggled to get completely healthy physically the past four weeks. I’ve actually been asked by my doctor to not talk or have minimal talking for the past week due to a vocal cord issue. It’s left me feeling very isolated and disconnected. It seems like the minute I start to feel better, some weird illness pops up in my body. It has also been emotionally draining and has taken away from really experiencing the goodness and connection of my event. Right now, “not too exhausted” is my baseline. For me, when I’m exhausted, my thoughts run wild in every aspect of my life. I don’t always have the energy to fight the toxic ones.
When I do my speaking engagements, 99% of the time, I get the question, “Do you still hear the eating disorder voice?”. I think the audience is usually surprised when I answer “Yes!”. I go on to explain that Coach (name of ED) is very quiet if he talks. I don’t hear him. I rarely think about him. Occasionally he’s loud. I just keep going on with my life. His voice doesn’t impact me in the way it used to in my past. He’s not a continuous noise in my life. He is rarely even background noise. But every once in a while, I acknowledge I hear him and move on.
Ten days after my event, Coach was the loudest he’s been since my early days of recovery. I was taken off guard. Coach threw me a line from many many years ago and was very loud. I was speechless and confused where this was coming from and why was it so intense? Why can I even hear you? I felt vulnerable not having the energy to fight the voice or tell him to go away. Coach was yelling at me to engage in a behavior I haven’t done in over seven years. I thought about it. Maybe? I could? ABSOLUTELY NOT! What is going on? It was wild! The way I felt, the voice, all of it!
I had so much shame even thinking about engaging in the behavior. I felt like I couldn’t talk about it with anyone because I am an eating disorder therapist. I am an eating disorder recovery advocate. I am solid in recovery. I just threw this AMAZING event and talked about my recovery and all the things! Why is this happening? I need to talk to someone, but I can’t. Not after everything I’ve done and said. People are going to think I’m not actually in recovery. So many thoughts rooted in shame and fear. I did end up talking to a friend, my therapist, and two clinician/friends who all validated that it is normal, no one talks about it, and I should continue to be authentic and share my truth on my blog and when I speak.
Even though I was frustrated, confused, shocked, embarrassed, and ashamed, I was able to get curious with myself. It all started to make sense. I am making my voice known. I am making waves in our community. A huge hospital made two policy changes because I advocated for better care after a visit where I experienced weight stigma a few months ago. A large ski company had a Teams call with me in the spring about sizing. A well-known outdoor retail company is meeting with me in a few weeks to talk about extended sizing options in their stores. I just held a powerful event where it naturally created community, authenticity, and connection. I am living in my truth and that is powerful! I do believe in spiritual warfare. Looking back on the past few months, the experiences I’ve had to fight for myself, the physical illnesses, and the successes, all make sense why I would be attacked for my truth and authenticity. It makes sense it would be camouflaged as self-sabotage.
I feel it is important to share the loudness of Coach because I believe the eating disorder professional field perpetuates eating disorder stigma. Let me explain. Yes, self-disclosure with clients in session should be case by case. Yes, what you share is up to you. We all have different boundaries. However, self-disclosure among colleagues is a big miss in the field. I have met clinicians struggling but feel like they can’t tell anyone, especially other clinicians or their own therapist because they are a therapist in the field. I have rarely met an eating disorder clinician who doesn’t have their own eating disorder journey. Most of us have lived experience. We don’t share it with one another when we could support, grow, and help heal each other. I think it’s a missed opportunity to be authentic and build community. I do want to make it clear, I’m not speaking of the nuanced situations where a therapist's sharing could be harming a client because of their eating disorder (we should also as a community support a slide of our colleagues instead of assuming or gossiping about how "they are really doing"). It’s also ok if for you, sharing your story isn’t helpful or needed for you to be authentic and have community.
I think it’s sad I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. Maybe that’s a me thing? But I don’t think so! As I write, I realize if it makes anyone uncomfortable that this has happened to me or I’m writing about it, get curious why you are uncomfortable?!
Is it just me or you too? Drop a comment or send me an email. I would love to keep the conversation going.
Denver Eating Disorder Professional Community, specifically, we have something special! Let’s keep creating safe, authentic, open, honest, and healing spaces for one another! By doing this, we are helping heal our clients as well!
We need each other!
Authenticity breeds community!