Becoming a member of a Board of Directors of Boulder Youth Body Alliance seemed like a natural fit. With prior work in the non-profit world, I figured I couldn’t have found a more perfect partnership, right? Yet, I wasn’t prepared for this natural partnership to show me that my own self-perception was not healthy.
As a teenager I constantly struggled with eating issues and a negative body image. I spent my high school years measuring my worth based on what size jeans I could fit into and how much I ate during the day. And this judgment transcended into adulthood, manifesting in my day-to-day life, during vacations, into relationships, and beyond.
I have spent countless hours exercising, making jokes about that “cookie going straight to my thighs”, and scheduling a hard workout after each and every “fattening” meal I ate. More than once I have chosen to not wear something because I thought it made me look fat, and I have even burst into tears in a locker room at a gym after finding out I had gained a pound. But this was normal, right? Didn’t everyone have baggage from those agonizing teenage years?
Upon joining the Board, I began to realize that maybe this mindset wasn’t normal. I witness the youth involved in the program and know their mindset and experiences are so foreign to what my own was—and even is now. I often wonder how my life may have turned out differently if I had been a “BYBAer” myself.
While I am not a parent, I often think about that day in the future when I will hear the word “mom” come from my own son or daughter. And while there are still MANY things about parenthood that make me break out in a cold sweat, I think the most fearful thing I can think of is that my own child will turn out like me and experience the same type of self-hatred.
When asked by donors, foundations and even my own peers about the importance of BYBA, I often don’t know how to respond. Those who ask the question aren’t usually prepared for an hour-long self-sob story. And references to making a better world for my own future children tends to make my boyfriend exhibit the “deer in the headlights” look…..
Yet, I must say something. So, instead, I often respond, “Did you ever dislike yourself? Imagine what your life would be like today if you hadn’t.”
–Boulder Youth Body Alliance Board Member
My name is Martha Hartney and I’m a board member for Boulder Youth Body Alliance. I’m also a lawyer so I think about the many efforts the organization undertakes in legal terms.
One issue that shows up repeatedly is the fact that weight (or shape) continues to be an allowable factor from which to discriminate against people throughout the nation. “Weightism,” the systematic exclusion of people with body shapes that are different than “the norm” is one of the few remaining reasons people can be discriminated against.
I was drawn to working with Boulder Youth Body Alliance because its core value is that all people are valuable, regardless of body shape, and that the best way to enjoy our bodies is not through a constant battle with one’s body shape, but to eat intuitively and to move in ways that make us happy and joyful.
In short, the best way to be healthy is to ENJOY YOUR BODY as it is right now, to nourish it with good foods by listening to its deep knowing of what it needs, to let ourselves play unapologetically, and move without worry about what others might think.
What a world it would be if we could all do this! But weightism weighs us all down. Weightism hurts. It hurts the kids at school when they’re called names for being shaped differently than others. It hurts men and women of all ages who have been told that they’re not good enough. Heard often enough, even the toughest among us may stop aiming as high as we might for fear of criticism and bullying. And, it hurts the people who do it. We don’t think much about the self-loathing that people who tease and bully might feel when they bully. But, that too, is a cost in life-energy.
Recently, peer leaders of Boulder Youth Body Alliance spoke eloquently before the Boulder Valley School Board, asking them to add physical appearance to the anti-discrimination policy. This group of remarkable youth, who have learned to advocate convincingly for change, was asked for and received, a significant change to the school district’s anti-discrimination policy, placing “physical characteristics” alongside race and gender as factors that cannot be discriminated against among employees or students.
The peer educators of Boulder Youth Body Alliance are busy reclaiming the life energy and power of all youth, teaching other teens one-by-one how to love who they are and nurture themselves. And I for one, want to be someone who helps them do that. We need every young person to be actively engaged in life, in politics, in commerce, in steering our world toward being the peaceful, abundant place we had hoped for our children. And that starts with each of us, loving who we are and valuing what we have to give the world, regardless of the package we come in.
We would love to hear from you! What do you think this change in policy will mean to the youth of Boulder County?
By Nia Wassink, Board Chair
My journey to Boulder Youth Body Alliance is not unlike many others. I grew up with the typical, American body hatred that is instilled in most of us as children. I dealt with the shame and humiliation for a body that was non-normative. Unlike many, I was lucky enough to have a family and friends who loved other aspects of me that I used to overcome or at least ignore the hatred when I could.
While working for another nonprofit, Carmen and I were matched up to look at some possible collaboration. Her charisma and truly impactful work drew me in. What started as a simple work-related meeting in January, has become a friendship and immensely important volunteer position for me.
When I became the Board Chair in August of this year, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me. Our group of Board members not only needs to chart a course for the agency, but also pick up the oars and get us there. We know that the programs are amazing. Every time that Carmen shares a story from the youth, we get energized. It’s all the business stuff, behind the scenes, that could come between where we are now and the goals we’ve set for making a difference for youth in our community.
Recently, we sat at our Board retreat, discussing some big topics about our organization and where we are headed. As I worked to facilitate these discussions, I was impressed with the varied opinions around the room, each of them valuable and with the agency’s absolute best interests in mind. While we wrestled with some issues, all were met with enthusiasm, productive discourse, and the imperative that we better this agency and the issue it addresses.
One quote that was shared that has really stuck with me is that Boulder Youth Body Alliance gives youth “another option.” It doesn’t have to be body hatred, disorded eating, or worse. We can actually love ourselves, whatever size that may be. Refocusing on health instead of size is a HUGE social change that we are seeing starting to take root here in Boulder. We know the battle will not be easy, but with Carmen, these amazing youth, and help from the Board, we can affect real change.
I remember my mom’s smooth voice cascading over my pillow, my worn out eyes working to stay open. I was captivated by her lullabies and they were the only remedies for coaxing me into my bed after a day at the pool toasted by the sun. Like my mom, I have alwayssang. I sing when I’m happy, I sing when I am excited, I sing when I am sad. But for a period of my life my song became dark and ominous. Its story became one of a girl who had completely lost her place. She was consumed by a skewed perception and couldn’t see past her appearance.
The song this girl sang wasn’t mine. It leaked out of my pores without me knowing it, reminding me that I was living in a abyss of self hate. I didn’t even recognize my own voice and I lost track of the music when it started to be about a girl I didn’t recognize anymore. The rhythm of my song sped up and I could never achieve the greatness I saw in my head. I though if I could only reach that next frontier, I would stop putting my body through the wringer and be happy with myself. But my song became one of addiction and it became too loud to ignore.
I finally heard the dangerous voice of my body and realized that I had lost sight of what I loved to do for an unattainable goal. I had to reprioritize my life and face the haunting cacophony of noise that was my insecurities.
Singing will always be a part of my life. I now realize that I dictate my own life and write my own soundtrack. I write poetry and music as a form of catharsis and when the past insecurities pry at me, I use them as inspiration and channel them into music and writing.
I write songs about future journeys and adventures that this phenomenal body of mine will carry me to!
My name is Vanessa Jacks and I’ve been a BYBA peer educator for almost 2 years now. Since the beginning of high school I have found that I have a tendency to get sucked in to my own head and no matter what, I have no way to block out my internal dialogue. Society has trained us to believe we are required to dislike our appearances and I was not lucky enough to be left out of this infectious trend. It wasn’t until I joined Boulder Youth Body Alliance at the beginning of my Junior year that I realized there is a different option besides self hate, and it was in fact possible to break out of this unhealthy societal mold and just be okay with myself in my entirety, “imperfections” and all.
Now obviously, this is much MUCH easier said than done, so in order to find my own path to self acceptance, I had to find something that dragged me out of my mind, even if, on some days, it was kicking and screaming. I have always been able to find my peace in Nature, and I noticed that while all of my destructive thoughts were occuring, I was always couped up in my room, blinds closed, with no fresh air. I find that when I’m out listening to the breeze, dipping my feet in a cold creek, or wandering through the trees, I’m too in awe of this incredible planet to even have room in my brain for any negative thoughts at all. In a world of endless possibilities, so much is lost when you’re too consumed with negativity to experience the beauty around you. If humans come from this incredible Earth, then how is it possible that each and every one of us doesn’t encompass all of that beauty within ourselves? Everyone has something that brings them true happiness, it’s just about finding the movement, scenario, or hobby in your life that makes you see the bigger picture, and not just the narrow minded societal conformist in your head that reminds you of all of your faults. It is a constant battle against the media and other things that bombard us all the time, but self-love is about taking time to appreciate the small beauties around us and stop the battles against our own beautiful bodies!
My name is Maia Rain Huey. I am a peer educator for BYBA. I joined BYBA because I had struggled with not only eating disorders, but also low body image since the 2nd grade. Having it go from just disliking the way my teeth went straight, to restricting my food or over working my body for the sake of changing it, became a harsh downward spiral. My life has always been out of control, I have moved 30 times in my life and I am only 17. My dad started a Sober Home out of our house, and even though he was helping people, my privacy became non-existent. Food became the one thing I could control, whether it was over-eating, or skipping meals… finally I had something that was all mine. But the scariest part for me was knowing I was really good at hiding it. Knowing I couldn’t ask for help even if I wanted to because my friends would judge me and my parents, well they were part of my reason for making the choices I did. And in the midst of all my struggles I had to make a choice, that even if I wasn’t to get over my eating disorder it was important to educate youth about it, and what healthy body image can mean to someone. When I joined BYBA I was in a period of nutrients restriction, and I can’t emphasize enough how much this group helped me.
BYBA taught me that control can be found in the choices made to find something to love about my body every day. I was taught that size and happiness don’t have to go together and that healthy looks different for everyone. But more than anything, I learned I wasn’t alone. BYBA was a place that finally I could put my self out there and be received with open arms. I learned that isolation is not the answer and that “fat talk” with friends is NOT bonding. I now enjoy doing my yoga class three times a week, because I love how flexible my body can be, and I love being healthy not only physically but spiritually. I do my best to not regret the things I eat or don’t eat, and be more in tune with whether or not it was a nourishing choice that day. I love that I can bring this knowledge I have from BYBA and apply it to my life with friends and at work. I work at a clothing store, and we all know dressing rooms can be a scary place for young girls. But it’s amazing to see people light up when they are given little compliments. BYBA has changed my life, and now I hope to change many others.
Hi, My name is Kirby Dyrendahl and I am a senior at Boulder High School. This is my first year in BYBA, I wish I had joined sooner because it is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. But better late then never, I guess I joined BYBA because I had sufferedwith an eating disorder for 2 years on and off. It started to greatly affect my life as I entered High School, but I didn’t want to admit I had a problem so I just allowed for it to control my life. So, by senior year I decided it was time to make a change in my life, and no longer be ashamed of my past. Being a member of BYBA has opened so many doors for me, and gave me confidence I never thought I would find in myself. I have learned that it’s okay to love myself, and it’s okay that I don’t live up to standards of perfection.
To celebrate my newly acquired lessons, I take part in activities that I am finally doing for me to commemorate how lucky I am to be here today. I hike with my friends because I love the feel of nature, and the sound of the breeze in the trees is something I find to be incredibly reviving. I try to get my yoga mat out at least once a week, and take classes because I love connecting to my breath and feeling the strength of my own body. The activity I do that I love the most is spending time with my horse, Mo. Riding is about the only thing I can do that gets me out of my head. I am normally very anxious but when I’m with him, the whole world seems to disappear. He is the most incredible thing to happen to me, and I am so thankful to have him in my life!