Phil: Hey, this is Phil AKA Corrine.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you’re listening to the…
Phil: I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
Alex: Today, we are tackling the topic of body image, starting with a story from Raven.
Raven: My name is Raven. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. My freshman year of high school. I went to a school that was pretty gay. So when I moved to North Carolina, my second year, my sophomore year in high school, I was probably one of maybe five gay kids.
I remember watching The L Word on Showtime really, really late at night and just seeing these women that liked other women. And I, before then I had… I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t know… I didn’t know that I could be confident and be gay.
I remember there was an episode of the character Max and his storyline was pretty much from becoming this woman to a man. And I remember seeing him bind his breasts and I remember thinking that maybe that could be a way that I could use to help make sense of how I felt about my body.
Alex: You know, so often The L Word is the thing that I feel like ends up being a cultural reference for everyone around so many issues. And we know that The L word, you know, for all of the good that it did in representation, it’s an extremely whitewashed, thin-centric, upper-middle-class show. And I feel like in this vein, the representation a lot of people have in terms of understanding their masculinity, a lot of the mainstream conversation around masculinity in female-bodied individuals or folks who are assigned female at birth, is this like really narrow conversation.
Phil: Extremely. Extremely.
Phil: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more on that. It is extremely narrow and it doesn’t… it doesn’t allow for different body types. It doesn’t allow for different sizes of bodies. It looks like one thing. And if it falls outside of that, then there’s this – there’s almost like there’s no representation of that.
Raven: So I’m just going through high school with this discomfort and not anybody to confide in. And I walked around with a lot of anger because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know who to come to. There was this one instance where in my senior year, during the pep rally, my guidance counselor was like, You know, our graduation, you can’t wear a hoodie and sneakers and jeans. You’re going to have to… you’re going to have to figure out something else. You’re going to have to wear a dress. Be formal. You cannot come as you are. I felt like she was telling me I couldn’t be myself. I felt like she was telling me to be someone else and then come to prom and graduation.
And yeah, I felt like she was trying to erase me.
I went outside and cried in front of the cafeteria while everybody was at the pep rally. I remember a friend coming to check on me, but I didn’t… I didn’t tell her that that is why I was crying. It didn’t even click to just be honest and be vulnerable.
Phil: When I think back to Raven’s story, what happened with the guidance counselor was very troubling. You know, and just basically saying, You can not go to graduation dress that way. You got to put on a dress. You gotta dress it up. You cannot wear this hoodie. Like you can see that in the story that it actually affects her in such a way, like, where she didn’t even kind of mention it to her friends, because it was… it impacted her to such a level that you couldn’t even really open up about it.
That’s to me why this idea of representation is. So huge. It’s so huge. It’s so big and it’s so necessary.
Raven: So I graduated, moved back to New York and for awhile I felt relieved and felt like I could be myself. But again, like, these insecurities weren’t addressed. So I carried them with me to New York.
So I was watching an episode of The L Word one night and I remembered that this person was binding their breasts and I’m like, Oh, maybe I should try that out. I don’t really like my breasts that much anyway.
At first I had one ACE bandage and I realized that my breasts slid out of the bottom. So I bought another one. So I would wrap pretty much like around to where I couldn’t be wrapped anymore. Like just before my breasts fell out the bottom. And then I would wrap from like… I would just wrap the rest until just a little bit over my rib cage. But not too, too tight, but tight enough where they were flat.
I ended up going out to a club with some friends one night. And I saw somebody that I knew, and I, like, gasped from, like, excitement from seeing this person. And I collapsed in her arms. And she asked me whether or not I was okay and I was like, I’m just happy to see you, girl! It was like I was choking.
So I went to the bathroom and I’m thinking, I’m like, You should go home. You should unwrap this and go home. So I’m on my way home and I’m cursing myself out and I’m just like, I can’t wait to get home so I can, like, free myself. So I get home and I’m pretty much, like, standing in front of the mirror, undressing and taking off these bandages. I’m just, like, looking at myself and there’s prints from just the bandage. And it’s, like, under my arms, on my chest, and I’m just pretty much taken it all in and coming to the realization that I could have killed myself. I was pretty much just admiring myself in the mirror and just taking in… just taking in my reflection.
Phil: There was, to me, an interesting thing that was happening with her, where it was like part of her after binding was like, Okay, I bound my breasts. You know, I feel flat. Like, I’m sure that there was some comfort in seeing herself look like that. But there was a… I think there was a different part of her that was like, what you’re doing right now may be harmful to your body. And you got to stop now and go home and unbind and really just think about what’s happening here.
Raven: So this was around the time where my selfcare started to come into play. Um, so every day was just like, what can we do today? We, as in me, myself and I. What can we do today to, like, feel com- feel comfortable in this body? I was clear that I didn’t want to be a man. And I was becoming more accepting of myself as a woman that was masculine presenting, with a few very, very feminine traits here and there. So I pretty much gave myself permission to, like, redefine my life and who I am as a masculine-presenting woman that likes other women.
My relationship with my body today is way more healthier. I’m not the same person that I was 10 years ago, binding my breasts. I don’t bind my breasts anymore because I like my body now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with, like binding… binding your breasts or binding parts of your body. But as long as you’re doing it in the most healthiest way. My only concern is that people are finding… are finding the most healthiest way to do so.
Phil: I have to tell you Alex’s story spoke very… very, very much to me as somebody who is born female, but identifies as they/them. And also as someone who is masculine of center. And I think that one of the things that kind of stood out to me in the story is that for people who are masculine of center and who are female and who may not be thin or muscular, that How do I live authentically in an identity that feels 100% right to me with the pronouns that feel right to me, but also deal with the body I have?
And it’s… it’s… it’s something I see people struggling with left and right. And I struggle with it myself. It is a very difficult thing. You know, I have to hand it to Raven because it’s… it looks like, you know, she really did a lot of work with trying to figure out How do I live in this body and be okay with it? I go through it firsthand and I completely agree.
Alex: A lot of times growing up when you’re LGBTQ, you’re taught that you’re the problem and that, and really it’s the world not accepting you is the problem. Because I feel like in Raven’s story, there’s this real tension between seeing these images in The L Word that really resonated with her and spoke to her and her relationship with her body, and then having this interaction with an adult in her life who was like, so pressuring her to conform in a way that is painful.
And I feel like it’s just this real divide between the messages that we’re told about our bodies and our expressions, and then how we really feel best as ourselves.
Raven: Okay, so the next story we were talking about is Richard and Richard as an adolescent gained weight.
Richard: From my second grade to high school, I basically progressively became… not a heavy, not obese child, but relatively heavy.
My father set a great store by looks, by what one looked like, the appearance. He was, he came from a family of… of good looking folk and he… it meant a lot to him. And he wanted that for me. And being slightly overweight and then more than slightly overweight as I got older affected him. He got very annoyed about it.
And he would taunt me pretty consistently. “You’re getting too fat. You know, what are you doing? You know, you could be attractive. Don’t look like this. Why you’re doing this? You know, you look awful.” And, I finally had enough just listening to all this and the things that I had to deal with. And so I basically, I… I starved myself.
I did anything I could. I had a break in my head and said, That’s it. I’m going to just stop this. I’m going to lose a lot of weight. And so I forced myself big time. I did anything I could, between, you know, purging, you know, just not eating or eating too much and purging or whatever.
But it just went down and… a lot. I went from, I want to say 178 pounds to 118 pounds in roughly two to three months time. And my father was very happy about it. And years later, I went to him, we had an argument and I said, “You know, I almost… that period was absolutely horrendous for me. I almost died.”
And it put the cap on it because he basically said to me, “You know, the end justifies the means.” And he was very clear about it. It didn’t matter what you went through. It was worth it. And that really hurt big time. But what made all of this, to me, poignant was, you know, that was now it’s 1979, turning into 1980. And I realized I was gay.
You know, I came out at 20 and, you know, I decided to do something about it. I decided to explore. I went to – I found that my college had a gay club, it was off campus and I decided to join it.
My first boyfriend had, I believe, dropped me off at my house and my father got to meet him. And that precipitated him asking me, you know, “Are you gay? Are you gay?” And you know, when he found out I was gay, he asked me, as I say, and I said this and he said, “Well, Why did you tell me? Why did you tell me?”
“Well, because you asked. You asked.”
And he said, “Well, that’s not the answer I wanted.”
“Okay, well, but that’s the answer you’re getting. And he says, well, you know, How dare you?, basically. He actually was going that route and it’s like, you know, How could you hurt me like this? I want to kill myself. I feel like committing suicide right now being told that you’re gay.
I just don’t really know what precipitated his anger towards it, other than the fact that he just had an image of what I should be and I just didn’t measure up.
Phil: I think that what was interesting about the story is that with Richard’s dad, you see him as not really seeing himself as separate from Richard in some ways, do you know what I mean?
It seemed very much like the things that Richard did was such a reflection on him that there was no separation. It was as if they were one. I mean, do you… is that… did you see it that way as well?
Alex: That… oh, I sure did see it that way. And it just reminded me of, I think, the experiences that I had earlier on when I was coming out with how my parents – who have obviously come an extremely long way – saw me as… and my queerness as a reflection of them and a reflection of their parenting, a reflection of their morals, a reflection of their values, a reflection of their everything.
And then for me, where that’s also tied up in body image is I think that, like, as a cis femme for me, I think I internalized also a lot of the way my own mom navigated the world in her body and her own body image. And I think that’s not uncommon to do, but this story, it just, yeah, it just everything that you’re saying as… whoo, I just feel like that you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Richard: He passed away when I was 35. So, it was like 15 years after the coming out. So I would say we were never… I would say we became at a better place, but it never fully resolved itself. Not completely. But we did try to make peace. It wasn’t all bad. He actually was a very funny man. I mean, that’s where I got my really silly sense of humor from my dad, because with all the nonsense, he had a very light side. You know, a very whimsical side and I just wished he had been a little more like that with me and not all the heavy duty stuff.
Alex: Sometimes we can’t understate how harmful it is, especially when the adults in our lives had a really specific idea of how we needed to conform and then impose that on us.
Phil: You see this idea of someone outside of the individual, affecting the individual to such a level that it’s created a huge, like, a rupture within that person that is really intense. So, yeah. So the guidance counselor for Raven, but also Richard’s dad.
Alex: I was wondering if you’re in your own process, because now, you know, you host another podcast about style. This is something that you think really deeply about and talk about and you’re an expert in. It’s like to me, this conversation, it’s like a graduate level conversation or something, you know what I mean? Like, I think for people who are maybe first thinking about these kinds of things, where it’s like, L word, maybe, 101, this one is a little bit beyond that.
Like, did you have an evolution in terms of the way that you were thinking about these things?
Phil: Like, I always talk about coming out as a being like gender-nonconforming and being more masculine center as a second coming out. I think that was the moment where I was like, Oh, wait a minute. Like, I’m not done coming out. There’s more coming out to do, and now it looks completely different. And now I have to really think about my body. I have to think the way I look, I have to think about what I feel comfortable wearing as opposed to what I’m no longer comfortable wearing.
And when I started to grapple with that, I started to look around me and see a lot of other people grappling with the same exact thing. If I want to really live in my masculinity, then having curves, having breasts, you know, having a butt, having all of these parts of myself that don’t really align with that become very challenging.
Alex: Like, we live in a culture that tells people they’re not valuable if they don’t have a specific kind of body or they’re not thin enough, or they don’t conform in a certain way. And so I think that it’s so difficult not to internalize some of these messages. And for queer and trans people, it’s, you know, you’re both navigating the pressure around being thin or losing weight, et cetera. And then you’re also navigating gender identity and expression and the pressure to conform in those ways. So it’s like very much these overlapping things that really interact with each other and impact each other.
Phil: Like, as we know within sort of gay culture, there is this whole towards wanting to be thin and muscular and look a certain way.
Alex: Oh, yeah. I feel like that’s such an important point. Like there’s the way – the messages that we get from like straight people. And then there’s also once you’re actually out and like in LGBTQ+ spaces, people have different values around bodies.
Like, I feel like I’ve been in a lot of lesbian spaces where in my experience it’s been a little bit more accepting, but at the same time, I know a lot of queer-identified women and non-binary folks who really struggled with their body image and eating disorders as an extension of a lot of the pressure they felt to be straight or to be feminine. You know, these things that end up just connecting with each other so much.
Phil: Right now in the queer community, you’re seeing a lot of queer people who are body positive, allowing for body liberation. And you hear about a lot of queer brands who are trying to cater to bigger sizes. I do think that we’re doing a little better job a bit in the queer community as opposed to outside. I think there’s a little bit more focus and there’s a little more freedom there. And I’m not sure not everyone would agree with that, but to me, that’s how it feels.
Alex: Yeah. I do feel like that there is more of an understanding maybe of, because we’re dealing with issues around sexual orientation and gender identity, as they relate to our bodies, you know, I feel really strongly that people should be able to have bodies however they want.
And that whether it’s your gender identity or any kind of expression or the size of your body, like, I really want to live in a world where people can do whatever they want, be whatever they want, feel accepted however they want. And I think I agree with you in that I do feel like there is more of a sense of that in the LGBTQ community. Although I’m hesitant to say that it’s that way across the board.
I kind of feel like I want people to be able to have – like, I definitely, I was a competitive gymnast growing up. You get a lot of messages about the shape of your body and size of your body vis-a-vis that sport. And I… I’ve kind of gotten to a place where I feel like I want people to have whatever kind of relationship with their body that they want to have. Or even, I’ve become interested in the body neutrality movement, which is like, you actually don’t have to have any kind of feeling about your body or it’s okay to feel bad about your body on some days. I want to get to a place where I feel like people should be able to have whatever kind of relationship they want to their own body image, or whatever kind of relationship that they… that they just have, you know? And that that is enough for them.
I know for me, one huge turning point in my own relationship with my body image was when I started playing Roller Derby, because it is a sport that to go from gymnastics, which is a sport that is really almost oppressive in some of its messaging about the size of your body and the practices around it, to go from that to a sport that is really – there is a role for every single kind of body. This extends from your sexual orientation, gender identity, to whatever the shape of your body is. It really was such a revelation in the way that I thought about my body, because then I was finally – it was really one of the first times where I learned that it’s okay to take up space that also really made me think about what my body did in the sport, rather than what it looked like.
Phil: The idea of loving your body and having a very positive body image is very tied to how you show up in the world. We think about your mind, your body, your spirit, and you think about all of these various sectors, you know what makes us individuals. And I think that it’s worth taking this on because if I want to show up in the world in the best way possible, I have to be able to reconcile and resolve any sort of issues I have with myself on all of those levels.
Phil: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne
Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Andy Egan-Thorpe.
Phil: It’s recorded as a program of I’m From Driftwood, a worldwide nonprofit LGBTQAI+ story archive.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood’s Founder and Executive Director is Nathan Manske. It’s Program Director is Damien Mittlefehldt.
Phil: I’m From Driftwood is a nonprofit organization, and this Podcast was funded in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Alex: Additional funding is provided by TD Bank and Heritage of Pride New York.
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Alex: Thanks for listening y’all.