I preached body positivity — and sunk deeper into my eating disorder at the same time.

I don’t usually write about my mental health when things are “fresh.”

Not in the last couple years, anyway. I prefer to let things marinate, and to make sure that the words I choose are empowering, uplifting, and most importantly, resolved.

I prefer to give advice when I’m on the other side of something — largely because I know I have a responsibility to my readers, to make sure I’m nudging them in the right direction. I know this blog can be a lifeline for folks who need something hopeful. I try to remember that.

But sometimes, when I perfectly package that hope for an audience, I can delude myself into thinking that I’ve cracked the code and, therefore, can tidily leave a struggle in the past. The perfect conclusion to the chapter, as it were.

“I know better now,” I think to myself. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

If you were to Google “transgender body positivity,” I’m fairly sure more than a few things I’ve written will come up. I’ve been interviewed for podcasts and articles, and hoisted up as an example of a trans person who — in a simple shift in perspective and following the right insta accounts — came to redefine his relationship to food and to his body.

Three articles that appeared in a Google search for "transgender body positivity," all written by Sam.
I wrote all three of theseDelightful.

That version of events is one that I love, because it’s so simple and comforting. One shiny, bright epiphany, and I emerge victorious, having evolved beyond any worldly, frivolous concerns about my stretch marks or eating ice cream for breakfast.

“Fuck you, diet culture!” I jubilantly exclaim. “I know better now. I’ve learned my lesson.

When you are a mental health advocate and writer, especially in such a public way, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you have all the answers to your own problems. But that illusion of control and self-awareness is exactly that — an illusion, and a deceitful one at that.

It’s easy to point to the years I’ve spent in this space, and everything I’ve published about this exact thing, and insist I’ve got things under control. It’s not my first rodeo, pal. Or second. Third. Fourth. (I’ve got experience on my side.)

If I can support others through their recovery, surely I can navigate my own. Even as I write that, I know it’s patently ridiculous — giving good advice is much easier than applying it to yourself, especially where mental illness is concerned.

But the version of me that I prefer is the one that said in this interview, as recently as last June, “When you get to the other side of whatever you’re struggling with, you’ll see that not taking those chances — living only half the life you could’ve been living — is a lot scarier than any disaster you imagined would come from eating that slice of cake or whatever it was.”

Says the person who is, really and truly, living in that fear in a life half-lived right at this very moment.

Body positivity has felt like a relationship I dove into at such a young age, long before I knew myself or even my eating disorder. And once I was in too deep, having positioned myself as triumphant, I didn’t know how to step back enough to ask for help.

I wanted to believe it was like an incantation I could say in front of the mirror several times — “all bodies are good bodies! all bodies are good bodies! all bodies are good bodies!” — and POOF! I was absolved of any guilt, shame, or fear I felt around food or my body.

I could say all the right things, like a script that I’d rehearsed, and love the idea and the image of myself when I peered through those rosy-colored lenses.

But where eating disorder recovery is concerned, a script — even when memorized — is not a substitute for the work.

And no amount of Instagram memes and photos of belly fat could touch on the old, painful wounds that had positioned food as my enemy, and my body as the site of a war.

Which is all to say, I am not recovered. The work hadn’t even begun. In fact, I used my proximity to body positive spaces to disregard the very idea that I needed help — and I’m paying the price physically, mentally, and emotionally now.

I wore body positivity like an accessory, to project the image of myself that I wanted to be, and my eating disorder reveled in the idea that I could suspend the reality of my illness simply by curating my social media accordingly.

My understanding of body positivity — and by extension, its roots in fat acceptance and liberation — was shallow at best, but only because my eating disorder thrived so long as I sustained the illusion that I knew better. This was yet another way of convincing myself that I was in control, that I was smarter than my ED.

My disorder had a vested interest in lulling me into a false sense of security. I couldn’t have an eating disorder, I thought — disordered eating, maybe, but who doesn’t? I couldn’t because I was evolved. As if mental illness ever gives a fuck about the books you’ve read.

Eating disorders have a way of sneaking up on you. That realization is a new one for me — not because I didn’t logically understand that, but because I’ve only come to accept it in the context of my own lived experience in the last few days.

And I wish I could say that this epiphany came to me on my own, inspiring me to reclaim my life, but there’s no such heroism here. It came to the surface only because my doctor asked the right questions during a routine checkup, and my bloodwork revealed what I feared to be true — my body was coming undone in the absence of adequate, much less nutritious, food.

“I don’t understand how people decide when to eat,” I confessed to my therapist. His eyes widened with deep concern.

“They eat when they’re hungry, Sam,” he said gently.

At some point or another, I had utterly forgotten that simple, basic fact. There is a mechanism in the body, intended to guide me, and I’d cut all ties to it completely.

I don’t share this as a criticism of myself, but rather, as a very simple truth: Many of us who are lauded as faces of recovery are still, in many ways, right in the thick of it along with you.

Sometimes what you’re seeing is not a portrait of success, but rather, a small piece of a more elaborate, messy puzzle that we’re frantically trying to assemble behind the scenes, so that no one notices that we’re in pieces.

My eating disorder recovery is, in truth, in its very infancy. I’ve only recently stopped using “disordered eating” to obscure the reality, and this morning, finally spoke to a dietician that specializes in EDs.

This morning.

Today is, in actuality, the first real day of recovery. That’s three years after, by the way, I wrote these words: “No more justifications. No more excuses. Not another day . . . this is not control.”

I know there are readers who might have looked at my work in body positivity, and absorbed the misguided notion that eating disorders (or any kind of body negativity or food aversion) are simply mazes that we think (or in my case, write) ourselves out of.

If that were true, I wouldn’t be sitting here, sharing with you a very uncomfortable truth about recovery: There are no shortcuts, no mantras, and no quick fixes.

And as we glamorize the idea of an easily attainable self-love — as though it’s just one perfect crop top away — we miss the deeper work that must be done within ourselves, that no amount of sparkly, inspirational quotes we retweet can replace.

Trauma is not on the surface, and to strike the heart of it, we have to go deeper.

This is an awful and uncomfortable truth that I am coming to grips with — mainstream, watered-down body positivity can open the door and invite us in, but it’s up to us to do the real work of recovery.

And that begins not externally, but within us. Recovery is an ongoing commitment that we must choose every single day, deliberately and courageously, with as much rigorous honesty with ourselves and our support systems as humanly possible.

No matter how we curate our social media to remind us of where we’d like to be, the aspirational vision we create is never a substitute for the reality that we’re living in.

As is so often the case with eating disorders, I’m realizing, the aspiration — that “what could be” — so often becomes a compulsive, maddening drive, where we live in a future that we never arrive at.

And unless we commit ourselves to being grounded firmly in the present, even (and especially) when it’s uncomfortable to be here, we relinquish our power and fall under its spell.

My ED loved the naïveté of Insta-friendly body positivity, leveraging that illusion of safety to delude me into thinking I was in control, that I was better than all this.

And I can’t say I’m surprised by it — EDs seem to take many of the things we love (ice cream, yoga, fashion) and turn them against us in some way or another.

I don’t have all the answers, except to say this: We are works in progress, all of us, even those that you look up to. A pedestal is a lonely place to be, and loneliness, I think, is where eating disorders (and many mental illnesses) often thrive. I’ve been up here for too long, silently waiting to fall or for it to crumble underneath me — whichever came first.

As I make my descent, slowly climbing down from the pedestal and stepping into the light of my recovery, I’m going to embrace the truth that every one of us needs to remember: It is okay not to be okay.

It’s okay to not have all the answers, even if the rest of the world expects you to, even if you expect yourself to.

I am not, as some people have described me, “the face of transgender body positivity.” If I am, I don’t want to be — I don’t want any of us to be if that means we’re not allowed to be human.

I want you to scrub that image from your mind and, instead, know where I really was yesterday: Clinging onto a nutritional shake for dear life (literally — it’s kept me alive these last few months), having not showered for three days, while texting the words “I think I need help.”

So many of the advocates you look up to have had equally unromantic but profoundly brave moments just like that.

We do every single day, whether we have a selfie to prove it happened or not. (Some of us have group texts, and trust me, we are all on the Hot Mess Express together. Promise.)

If you’ve felt like you’re not allowed to “fail” (or rather, have an imperfect, messy, even fucked up recovery), I want to give you permission to live that truth, with every bit of honesty and vulnerability that you need.

It’s okay to let go of performing recovery. And trust me, I know how big of an ask that is, because that performance has been my security blanket (and the source of my denial) for so, so long.

You can surrender to the doubt, the fear, and the discomfort that comes with doing the work, and give yourself permission to be human. You can let go of that control and — I’m told, anyway — it will all be okay.

And this amazing community of recovery warriors that we’ve created with our memes, our inspirational quotes, and our crop tops? We will be right here, waiting to support you.

I can’t say that I know this for certain (hello, Day One), but I have a strong suspicion that this kind of honesty is where the real growth happens. And wherever there’s growth, I’ve found, that’s where the healing truly begins.

And that’s what we deserve, every one of us. Not the aspirational kind of healing, but the deeper stuff.

I want that for me. I want that for all of us.

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Struggling with food? Body stuff? Or just need someone to talk to? The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is a wonderful place to start. They’ve been an incredible resource for me — and I hope they’ll be for you as well.

Before you go…

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This blog is not sponsored by any fancy pants investors that are trying to sell you stuff.

It’s funded by readers like you via Patreon!

Every donation counts. Help keep resources like these accessible to everyone that needs them! And help buy me a cup of coffee, because I write a lot of these blogs after work, late at night, so I could definitely use the caffeine.

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

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Queer People Deserve Nuanced, Dynamic Conversations About Our Bodies

It is undeniable that how we experience our bodies is often impacted by the identities we hold. I’ve known this deeply as a transgender, queer, and mentally ill person, trying to navigate self-love and body acceptance in a world that routinely denies my humanity and my worth. Our bodies are, perhaps, the most politically-charged battleground that we know; how we honor, protect, touch, and understand them often collides with the de/valuing of those same bodies in the culture at large.

Having conversations that acknowledge this complexity is a rare thing. Queerness, by its very nature, complicates the way that we move through the world — and by extension, the relationship we forge to our bodies and to each other. It’s worth talking about, and yet we are only beginning to collectively unravel this dialogue.

I’ve never known a queer person who hasn’t had some kind of complicated relationship to their body. Dive deep, and you’ll find there’s an abundance of perspectives and experiences. It’s normative ideas about what queerness “looks” like; the privileging of some bodies over others; the ways in which embodied violence intersects with different oppressions; the ways that our aesthetic and expression codes our gender, sexuality, and community ties; the notion of who is most and least desirable; the suggestion that only binary experiences exist; and the erasure or inescapable visibility of our queerness depending on how we present.

It’s all this… and it’s so much more.

If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. We could talk about this for days and still only scratch the surface.

So when we consider mainstream ideas of “self-love” and “body love,” it becomes apparent that what queer people need from this conversation is real nuance. It is impossible for queer folks to have these conversations without some kind of acknowledgment about the unique ways we connect with and disconnect from our bodies — especially when we consider our bodies a site of struggle, trauma, and even violence.

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When Elizabeth Cooper invited me to be a part of the Queer Body Love Speaker Series this year, all of these messy, half-formed thoughts really came to the surface for me. We need spaces like these, and we need vulnerable, dynamic, layered conversations from a multitude of perspectives.

We deserve unique resources that help us untangle the messy profoundness of our queer bodies, at every intersection they live in. We need to move beyond Lisa Frank bopo and stretch mark selfies, and sink our teeth into the very real work of queer liberation, beginning with our bodies and extending to one another.

I’m so excited to be able to share the Queer Body Love Speaker Series with my readers. It’s a series of video interviews with queer activists, leaders, and artists that expands the conversation of “body love.” It’s such a rare, accessible (the whole thing is transcribed AND captioned!), and wonderful resource for queer folks and those that love them. It’s been inspiring to watch this unfold as both a viewer and a participant, two years in a row now. It’s easily one of my favorite projects I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of.

This year’s question is one that I’ve grappled with a lot since beginning this work: How do we love ourselves, our bodies, and each other in the face of oppression? 

Elizabeth invites you (and I do, too!) to explore this question with our amazing crew of queer speakers. She writes:

Personal and spiritual development in the Western world often tries to forget that we are humans living in bodies in society. And… we are humans living in bodies in relationship to other people. Our cultures and the systems we live in affect how we see ourselves and literally how we feel in our bodies.

It makes sense if you’re struggling with really experiencing your own, embodied sense of self worth. Most mainstream cultures teach us to de-value our authentic selves.

And there is another way.

Choosing self-love isn’t an individualistic endeavor. We need each other. We need to hear and know that we are not alone in the struggle to love ourselves. We need possibility models, hope, inspiration and practical ideas and tools to support us in really committing to self-love.

That’s why I’m so excited to share these amazing interviews with you. It’s time to explore what it really means to take pride in all parts of ourselves. It’s time for us to learn from each other how we CAN love our ourselves and each other in the face of oppression — and through it, to the other side.

You are so worthy. Let us show you how you too can believe that.

This is a resource that creates real opportunities for self-insight, healing, and community-building. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out the website here and sign the heck up! Not only did Elizabeth interview me and some incredibly rad activists, but my cat, Pancake, makes a guest appearance as well… so it’s obviously worth it.

Sign up for the Queer Body Love Speaker Series by clicking here. (It’s free!)

See you there!

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PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!

 

Let’s Talk About The Transgender Community, Body Positivity, and Fatphobia.

Y’all, I did this super scary thing where I talked, unscripted, for half an hour about the intersections of fatphobia and transness, along with sharing SO many feelings that I have about body positivity.

I did this with the amazing Elizabeth Cooper, founder of the Queer Body Love Speaker Series! You can learn more about it by clicking this link right here.

Their introduction to my interview is super generous and makes me feel important! Check it out:
Sam Dylan Finch

More people have recommended Sam Dylan Finch as a speaker for this series than anyone else. He’s the most famous advocate for trans inclusivity within the body positive movement, and in this candid interview he shares about his own experience as a non-binary trans person who has both learned from and has critiques of the body positive movement. This topic of navigating a fatphobic, transphobic society is SO important and has something to contribute to us all.

Interview highlights:

  • Why “every body is a bikini body” body positive beach photoshoots are exclusive (and how to reframe such projects to be trans inclusive)
  • 2 impactful lessons Sam has learned from body positivity
  • Why Sam literally sits in front of a mirror staring at his body (this is a unique exercise I haven’t heard of before)
  • How to deprogram internalized voices of oppression
  • The difference between dysphoria and dysmorphia 
  • What it means for Sam to be a non-binary trans person & how this relates to his relationship to his body

I’m not sure if I’d call myself famous (read: I would not call myself famous), BUT OKAY ELIZABETH. I am flattered!

If you sign up on the website – which just involves sharing your email address – you’ll gain access not only to my interview, but to dozens of other interviews from queer folks and queer-competent clinicians, talking about the many complexities of queer body image!

And before you tell me, “Sam! You’re only saying this because they paid you,” umm, EXCUSE ME. I did this for free!

I did this because I genuinely believe these are some of the most important conversions to be having right now, in a society which tells transgender people in particular that they are inherently broken, and as fatphobia and gendered ideals fuel disordered eating in our community.

And if you’re not interested in watching my face make weird expressions while I talk about this, or if it’s simply not an accessible format for you, there’s also a transcript available so you can simply read what I (and all the other speakers!) had to say.

It’s rare that I put myself on video without a script to talk about these things, but this was a unique occasion in which I wanted to connect directly with folks who, like me, are trying to navigate body positivity – which is a profoundly cis-centric movement – while also being transgender or non-binary.

So really, go sign up! I promise it’s not a scam (well, if it is, we can be victims together, okay, because I totally signed up too). It’s just a bunch of queer people who want to talk about our bodies in a way that we seldom have the space to do.

And be sure to spread the word! I can think of countless queer and trans people who need access to these conversations. Let’s bring everyone to the table. Let’s support and uplift one another in our journeys toward self-acceptance.

See you there!

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PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!