Body Dysmorphic Disorder

bddAs many of my long-time readers and friends know, I have struggled with body image for a long time- since I was about 8. There have been periods in my life which have felt better and periods which I have felt much, much worse. Much of my mood surrounding my body image has been pinned to my weight, and a particular number on the scale.

Last year, about this time, I put our scale down in the basement and I haven’t weighed myself since. I want to feel good about my body, and not have an external message, in this case a pretty arbitrary number, tell me how to feel and think about myself. I even closed my eyes both times I was weighed at the doctor’s last week.

But since about October, my negative self talk and obsession with weight and body shape have been on a downslide and the past couple weeks have become worse. I finally typed in “body image disorder” into Google and was amazed to read about body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t necessarily think I could be clinically diagnosed with the disorder (although I do think it’s quite possible), and that part doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter to me is that what I deal with on a daily basis has been experienced by others, and it is considered a significant and detrimental experience; it’s not just a “silly” concern of mine, narcissism, vanity, or selfishness. And when people tell me that it’s “crazy” that I have body image concerns, I think to myself: You don’t understand. I logically know that my body shape and size is healthy and that many people find me attractive. But I am compulsive in my self-critiquing and worries and have no relief from my obsessive thoughts. (And many, many people in my life have told me I’m “crazy” or “silly” for my worries- it’s a common way of trying to compliment someone on their body.)ME_108_BodyDysmorphic

I spend hours a day obsessing about the parts of my body that displease me (usually, my thighs and stomach), thinking about food (how much I’ve had, what I want to eat, what I should and shouldn’t eat), and thinking about exercise (how much I have had, what I want to do, what I should do). I mirror-check constantly, to the point that it cuts into getting other things done. My obsessions interfere with my ability to concentrate on work, personal projects, and conversations I am having with people (including J, friends, and family). These obsessions have impacted my social life, making me feel as though perhaps people don’t like me or respect me. They have impacted my sex drive and sexual life. This comic is a pretty accurate portrayal of my internal world, most days, a lot of the time:

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My counselor understands that these are deep concerns, but because she is a psychotherapist, she is less driven to help me with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and much more interested in why and how I got these concerns. She sees my obsessions rooted in a fear that I won’t be valued or loved if I am not a particular body shape, and thinks I received these messages from my mom.

I don’t think my counselor is wrong. I definitely think all of that makes up part of my BDD/body image obsession pie. But I’m really not sure how far I am really going to get in dissecting my early childhood experiences related to body image, eating, and exercise. I’ve already thought about it all way too much, and I just want relief.

I want to wake up in the morning and think about social plans or work goals or personal projects, and not in a frantic dizzy over “needing” to exercise a certain amount, obsessing over my breakfast, or worried that yet again today I will not look good enough to myself in the mirror. I want to stop constantly looking at myself in every mirror, analyzing and critiquing and absolutely hating on myself. I want to appreciate and love the body I have, because it’s the only one I have.

bdd sign

Eating disorders are stigmatized, and it seems from the little bit that I have read that BDD that it  is particularly difficult for folks to talk about because it can come across as narcissism or vanity. However, it is way more like OCD or anorexia to warrant such dismissals.

I want to reclaim my mind and my body from my mom and from my childhood friends and from the media and from the fucking mirror. I’m on the road to figuring out how.

Sex Workers, the Internet, & Stigma

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Emily Kennedy, a sociology PhD student studying the role of the Internet in shaping the ways in which we view sex work and sex workers. It was a fantastic experience- one of the highlights was when I started talking about my experience with withdrawing from my counseling program and she jumped in her seat: “That’s you?! I saw that post on Tumblr!! I can’t believe you’re part of my interview sample!” She was so excited, and I loved that she had seen the HoP post. We talked about how Internet use has helped me attract customers, how I have communicated with regulars, how I got started stripping and why, who I have disclosed my experiences to and why, if I have had any negative experiences with school or law enforcement or other people in my life, and whether I think there has been a shift in general attitude toward sex work in the past 10-20 years. It was really fun to talk about all of that with a sociology student who herself has direct experience with sex work and also has a deep curiosity for how sex work is viewed and treated culturally in our country.

My interview came after an interesting afternoon at work, something I am still somewhat processing. I met with a coworker to discuss planning a financial planning workshop for sex workers in the area, and after about 20 minutes of me offering a lot of information without much clarity of source, she asked me:

So… how did you get involved in this work?

I stumbled for a minute, and probably looked a bit uncomfortable. Ummm…

You don’t have to tell me at all! It’s okay.

No, I’ve been struggling with this. And so I guess I’ll just tell you, and you (as I nodded to the coworker who I share an office with). I’ve actually been a stripper, so that’s how I got really interested in sex workers rights and advocacy.

Well that is so cool! You have a lot of insight then and probably a better ability to reach this population. What an asset. How great!

After I told my two coworkers I started doubting myself- was that a smart decision? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut? What is wrong with me? So many people don’t talk about their personal lives at work- why do I have this compulsive need to be out everywhere?

I remember Louisa Leontiades telling me in a Skype chat once:

It’s addicting to be yourself.

It’s so true. Once you have felt what it’s like to be yourself, totally and completely, without shame and without regard for what others think, it’s hard to go back. It’s hard to stuff pieces of yourself away, for fear of retaliation or judgement.

I had a longer conversation with my officemate after the other person left, and she understood completely my need for discretion and to continue to feel out the culture of our program and the attitude of other coworkers. I trust her and I don’t worry about her telling anyone or gossiping about it. Then later, I emailed my other coworker and thanked her for her understanding and respect and discretion. And she replied with more kindness and a confirmation that she adheres to the Vegas rule- whatever was said in our office, stays in our office.

I need to trust my intuition about people- my coworkers felt like safe and supportive people to disclose to, and they are. While I have largely had good experiences coming out as a stripper, I also have enough experience from my school snafu to know that not everyone sees my stripping experience as an empowering, rich, and positive perspective. So taking it slow in my new work environment in disclosing feels like a good path to take. I am also feeling more “all here,” which is freeing and grounding at the same time.

One of the last questions that Emily asked me last night was: You’re only 25, but how do you think general attitudes toward sex work has changed in the past 20 years?

To which I replied:

Well, I was only 5 20 years ago, but I know from the time I was in high school to now, I personally have undergone a massive shift in how I view sex work. I used to have my mom’s attitude toward sex work- that it is objectifying, degrading, and hurts all women and people. I carried that through college, and it wasn’t until my partner and I opened up that I had a catalyst to unpack my views surrounding sexuality and sex work. I have noticed that a lot of other women in my age cohort have gone through similar transformations with how they view sexuality and sex work, although they have had different catalysts than me. It gives me hope!

She laughed and agreed.

In the Closet Again

I am so excited that I have been able to stay involved in the local Sex Worker Outreach Coalition as part of my work. It gives me something to stay motivated about when I am sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, perusing Facebook and Pinterest (aka doing Nothing).

Last night, though, I re-experienced a familiar and uncomfortable feeling: being back in the closet.

A woman from the place I volunteered all of last year, who helps with the coalition, and another person on the coalition both know about my dancing experience. But I am not out to my new employer, supervisor, or coworkers. And I don’t have any plans for coming out, although I would prefer to be out. I am not concerned that my colleagues would out me (they are sensitive and informed about the stigmatization of sex workers). In fact, if I could be out at the coalition and not out at my home work base, I would be. What got me last night was the fact that there are a couple of dancers who are working with the coalition, and one was at the meeting last night. I felt so weird sitting there, knowing that she and I share an experience (and she knows I dance as well) and yet feeling totally stifled. And I felt envious as she is an out sex worker doing community organizing and activism.

This also rubbed up against a bunch of class stuff: is it because I am middle class and educated that people would have a hard time with my simultaneous “professional” employment and stripping work? If I came from a lower class background and didn’t have higher education would people “understand” my experience differently and perhaps accept my experience stripping more readily? I think it’s that victim-blaming/sex negative/sex work negative/patriarchal/madonna-whore sentiment of “Well you have other options! Why on earth would you strip?!” that I assume would come up. (And yet I know many other college educated strippers who have various other jobs… Maybe this question causes me so much anxiety because I don’t have a pretty, wrapped-up answer for people that would actually satisfy the question.)

I left the meeting feeling like I was going to cry. I couldn’t place the sadness I felt until I realized that by taking this 9-5 job that I was putting pieces of myself away for 40 hours a week. It’s not something I have had to do (except for around family- which has been it’s own big struggle as you all know). And it’s especially difficult given I have a lot of insider knowledge to offer and yet cannot back it up with how I have it (I had a conversation with my coworker and supervisor today talking all about strippers and clubs and other kinds of sex workers and continued to offer details about those experiences, and they kept looking at me like “Wow, how do you know all that?”)

There are definite pros to keeping myself in the closet. I don’t need to worry about the organization I work for retaliating against me based on any “professionalism” clause in their handbook. I don’t need to worry about stigma from my coworkers or supervisor, and won’t need to scrutinize interactions for discrimination or exclusion. I won’t need to think about my stripping experience interfering with future employers or recommendations.

But the cons weighed on me last night, and while they are not paining me as much right now, I think I’ll be dealing with them all more than I initially thought.

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I Did It

I disclosed dancing to my cohort this week. I thought I was going to throw up, but I did it! Also, now that it’s over with, I feel like school and talking to people in my cohort feels easy-breezy.

In counseling this week, I began opening up this new idea of mine: that my professors don’t control my future. I can disagree with them about the ethics of dancing and client safety, and I can still be an awesome therapist when I am done with my program. I don’t need their approval. I just need mine. That is huge for me. Really, really huge.

I am going home this weekend (the first time in 3 years!) and I feel so much more relieved just thinking about it. Somehow, coming out to my class has taken a huge amount of pressure off of my guilt and weirdness about not telling my parents. I think, too, that piece about not needing my professor’s approval is beginning (super slowly and tiny bit by tiny bit) to spread to other deeply-rooted associations (i.e., my parents). I have pretty much always needed and wanted and sought my parents approval- but I am feeling that pressure alleviating a bit. Thank goodness.

Happy Weekend!

Merging the Academic with the Personal

I explored something kind of uncomfortable, but necessary, in counseling this week:

When and how will (or if) I decide to disclose 1) that I am in an open relationship, and 2) that I am a stripper now that I am back in school (which, yes, is fabulous so far!)

I told my counselor that being in an open relationship is not shameful for me and that I am proud of it. I feel like that part of me is an easy share. I have already shared that in my personal statement for my school applications. During the interview process, I shared that my main goal is to work with folks in plural relationship structures. So I am not that concerned about disclosing my personal experience with open relationships.

But, stripping feels like another matter. I feel like as much as nonmonogamy is misunderstood and stigmatized, sex work is even more misunderstood and stigmatized. Interestingly, I feel like if I used to strip, but didn’t any more, I wouldn’t feel as weird sharing my experience. But because I am still actively stripping, and plan to continue stripping, my experience moves into the present, rendering me still sexually deviant. There is an element of shame to my stripping experience, as much as I don’t like or want to admit it. And it’s related, I think, to my realization that stripping feeds several things for me, and I don’t want to contribute to a misunderstanding that strippers engage in the work they do because they have “daddy issues” or are “attention whores.” I have articulated for myself that stripping was, in the beginning of my journey, about exploring my sexuality and sense of exhibitionism, reclaiming my sexual power in a very loud way, and about the empowerment and feminist stance of using my body however damn way I chose (related to struggles I had with my mom growing up). In the middle, and up until a couple months ago, it was about feeding my deep desire of being seen and heard. Most recently, it has mainly been about performance, about exercise, about perfecting my sense of presence and gratitude to move my body sensually and artistically. 

Some organizations classify stripping as a form of sex work, in that a stripper exchanges sexual energy for money. And yet, I more readily identify as a “dancer” and less so as a “stripper” or “sex worker.” Could I proudly raise my hand in class and say “I am a dancer”? “I am a stripper”? “I am a sex worker”? I don’t know.

And honestly, I am concerned about the implications of disclosing this personal experience on my future job, work, volunteer, etc opportunities. Again, I really don’t know if I could proudly raise my hand without knowing what kind of ripples this might have for my future self.

And, in what context would sharing this be appropriate? Just tonight, in my first class, a fellow classmate said to me: “Do you not work? What do you do with all your free time??” To which I shrugged off and deflected. It didn’t feel like the right time and place for some reason to say: I do in fact work. I am a dancer.

I imagine the context in which I might want to share would be one in which we are discussing working with vulnerable populations, including those working in marginalized occupations (including sex workers). I really dislike and feel aggravated by “othering” conversations (oh “those” people, “they” blah blah blah). I would feel compelled, and like it would be the right thing to do, to disclose my status and experience to bring some humanity to the conversation.

I also recognize that disclosing both of these things about myself feeds a “look at me” desire. The attention whore at work. I want to be seen, noticed, heard. And being “different” and then telling people about that feeds that circuit loop.

I’ll figure this all out, in time, and as it happens. But it’s been a little stressful and weighing on me. I think I would feel best to me if I could just tell everyone about my experiences without worrying about judgements and prejudices- but I can’t control other people’s reactions or thoughts or behaviors toward me.

My counselor reminded me that even if I decide to keep something private, it doesn’t mean I am ashamed of it. So now I am trying to really figure out: am I ashamed of dancing? Or am I ashamed of the discomfort I may cause people (ie, taking on the feelings and needs of others again)? Or am I ashamed of why dancing is so fun and satisfying for me?
 
It’s still a rub: how to manage the private, the personal, the academic, the professional.

Thoughts, feedback, love? 🙂

February was a Busy Month!

Yikes! I can’t believe I haven’t posted in a month and a half! That is way too long… and it’s not because we haven’t been pursuing open opportunities, communicating, negotiating, and having fun… that is precisely why I haven’t posted in so long (that, and school has literally been steam-rolling me. speaking of which, I am procrastinating from writing a take-home final, but I just can’t concentrate on that anymore right now!)… but now for an update!!

So… Valentine’s Day=awesome. J got some “X-Rated Valentine’s Candy Hearts,” the Tenga Air-Flip sleeve, and a subscription to Cosmo. Yes, Cosmo. He likes to read the insane pieces of advice and “insight” into the male brain. For example: you can tell how much a guy is into you by how he holds your hand. If you and your sweetie hold hands and you hold onto each other with your free hand, that means he is really into you- the possessiveness is a key (positive) indicator that he is into you. Whoa.


Dun-dun-dun-dun!! We got engaged! February 18, baby! (officially) We had a very long pre-engagement, as we got my ring right before Thanksgiving. Because we wanted to exchange rings (and yes, believe us, our families do not get it), we had to wait until J’s got made. His ring finally arrived on Valentine’s Day, and we had a lovely weekend going out to dinner and proposing to each other with letters we wrote to each other. Cute, right?!?


We have had a few ups and downs over the past month and a half, mostly related to unknown expectations and communication issues. For the most part, we have retained our sense of cool and gotten through them much more smoothly than bumps in the past. I think the more experiences we have where something might trigger one of us, our refractory periods of needing time to process and think and get over an insecurity or jealousy shortens. For example, my last “bump” so to speak only set me back a few hours. If this situation had happened a few months ago, I think it would have lasted a day or so. Progress!! I have also identified some of our most common communication errors: insufficient information about a partner or interest in a partner, and selective hearing (not really listening to something the other one is saying, but hearing what we want to hear). Identifying these common slips is helpful when communicating, so we can both do it better.


I have continued my vagina quest.. In fact, I met a lovely lady a couple of weeks ago through CL, and she’s pretty awesome. It hasn’t gone very far very fast, but that is fine. We are having a good time so far, so that counts!

J and I have continued to explore our fantasies together… including very dirty dirty talk, spanking, and hair pulling. All in all, I have been burning the candle at both ends…and really need more sleep (who am I kidding?? I would WAY rather get an hour or two less of sleep if I am having kinky, hot sex!)


Another thing that has happened recently that I feel compelled to share is that a very near and dear person to me came out to me in a couple of different ways. She recently started dating women, and is creating an open relationship with a new primary partner. How much she shared with me is completely breathtaking, and I just feel so honored that she included me. I had told her about our relationship last summer, and I remember feeling so nervous to. I hadn’t told a lot of people at that point yet, but I had a feeling she would be open, receptive, and respectful of it. J and I are continually amazed at how if we are honest with people, people usually respond with honesty. I think it is wonderful that I was able to share so much of myself with her, and she in return trusted me enough to share her experiences with me.

We recently hosted some vanilla friends. In fact, it was a friend I had in elementary school that I hadn’t seen since. She and her husband live not too far away from us, and decided they wanted to check out our neck of the woods. I thought it would be great if they stayed with us (despite my uber-stress over school- not a great decision), and it ended up being pretty fun to see them. However, it made both of us realize how open we are with our lives, and how open we love to be with our sexy friends. I remembered that not every couple will disclose their sex life, kinks, fantasies, values, etc with us… J and I were even a little embarrassed when our friends found us in the sex section at the bookstore (not really-we know that is nothing to be embarrassed about-but it was a shock to remember that not everyone talks about sex, haha).


Looking forward… I can’t believe that J and I have been open almost a year. April 1 is our anniversary of opening up, and I am planning on posting a reflection of the past year. I am also taking an independent class next quarter on human sexuality, and the instructor gave me some great stuff to read! I’m sure those books will make their way into the blog. She is also having me present to her undergrad class on a couple of topics of my choice… I will definitely present on alternatives to monogamy 🙂 I also bought “The Sex Diaries Project” and “Sexual Intelligence” and am hoping to read them over our spring break- look for reviews of those, too!!


Happy March!

Family & Friend Reactions: Coming Out

We decided to tell a select group of family and friends about our adventures outside of monogamy. Part of this for me (K) was about authenticity and honesty in my day-to-day life. I don’t want to feel like I am hiding any part of my identity, and my sexual identity is a major part of who I am. Another part of this for me is a little more intellectual. I feel like our society and culture has a twisted relationship to sex: we are punished for deviating outside the monogamous and married relationship, and yet every advertisement and media message we receive encourages us to dress half-naked, aim to sexually please our partner, and buy products to enhance our attractiveness and sexual appeal. Therefore, it is important to me to begin, in my own small way, to dispel the ideas that sex is “bad,” the only ways to have fulfilling sex is through a married and monogamous relationship, and that having more causal sexual encounters are also “bad.”
 
We began selecting individuals in our lives that we felt would be open to our new ideas and adventures. These individuals are the same ones that we initially invited to read this blog. All of these individuals had one thing in common: they would still love and accept us regardless of how we decided to create our relationship. We didn’t feel like we would be shunned or lectured; all of these people have open hearts and minds. We anticipated awkward conversations, and knew some of the people we told would be surprised or even shocked. But we decided it was important for our sense of honesty and authenticity to be able to tell people that we care about.
 
While the circle of people that we have talked to about all of this has grown a little bit, neither of us has talked to our parents about our decision to open up our relationship. Maybe it’s none of their business, but we would both like to. Perhaps a good way of broaching the subject would be to ask “Have you and Dad (or Mom) ever talked about or thought about having an open relationship?” I don’t know if and when I will be ready for this conversation, but it is one I think about often.