Be Less Crazy About Your Body, Carnaval Style

Well, hello, dear reader. I’m writing to you today from my hotel in São Paulo, Brazil, where I arrived Saturday after two stellar weeks in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa. Yes, it has been a helluva trip, and I am fully aware that I am basically the luckiest bitch alive. (So are you, probably, if you think about it!)

Saturday night was particularly amazing, because I got to experience the explosion of color and sound and energy that is Carnaval. It was a little surreal, because it’s Carnaval, and also because I’d just gotten off a 12-hour flight from South Africa. After a short nap, my confused body and I found ourselves here, in the middle of a full-on fiesta, at midnight.

Before I got there, I have to admit that my ideas about Carnaval were pretty stereotypical. I expected to see lots of beautiful almost-naked women with amazing bodies, and I did …

But I saw lots of other kinds of people, too! Old ladies doing hip rolls in neon spandex crop tops. Big hairy guys grinning and jumping up and down in crazy pink and green and gold outfits. Skinny girls with crooked teeth … thick girls with soft round bellies poking out of their bikinis … people of every color, size, and shape having a blast and getting down.

Sure, there were lots of conventionally sexy gals in tiny costumes with giant sparkly headdresses -- it’s Carnaval! I’d expect nothing less! But what really got me, and brought tears to my eyes more than once, was the fact that, on that night at least, everyone was beautiful.

Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it didn’t really matter who was hot and who was not. What mattered was the music and the color and the feeling in the air. What mattered was that we were all together, shaking what our parents gave us and loving life at 3 am on a steamy São Paulo night.

Now, I understand that Brazil is not a body-image utopia. I know people here struggle with the same kinds of things that you and I struggle with. We all have days when we feel like Jabba the Hutt. We all board that train to Crazy Town at one point or another.

But what I’m feeling here -- what I felt at Carnaval, and what I feel when I watch people walk down the street and when I see the variety of bodies in bikinis at the beach -- is a decidedlack of shame. We might not all be perfect, but by God we all have the right to feel the sun on our bellies and our bundas. We all have the right to enjoy our bodies and what they can do, and there is absolutely no reason to be ashamed. Not one.

Our imperfect bodies can bring us mortification, or they can bring us pure undiluted joy. It’s up to us to decide … so let’s go for the good stuff, what do you say?

Escaping the Beauty Trap (You Don't Have to Chew Off Your Leg)

Last week, I read a beautifully written piece on The Toast about a young woman’s experience with beauty ... how it feels to be beautiful versus not beautiful ... how feedback on our looks seems to severely impact our choices even when we don’t want it to ... and, most poignantly, how to deal with little girls’ ideas about beauty. Is there anything we can say or do to keep them from falling in the Beauty Trap just like we did?

It’s a lovely piece -- you should go read it -- but I gotta admit, it kind of bummed me out. Especially toward the end, where the author’s little sister is making up a story about a couple of fairies, one beautiful and not-so-good, and one good but not-so-beautiful, and she’s struggling with how to reconcile the ideas about beauty and goodness that are emerging in the tale. The author tries to help her out, but finds that she’s at a loss, too:

I look at the time and try to get off the phone. I don’t want to hear the rest, and I don’t have a counter story. Even in my make-believe world where looks shouldn’t matter and girls should be free to be who they are, unbound by appearance, I can’t escape beauty …

It’s the same bullshit story. It’s the same place my sister’s fairy story was going to end up. It’s the same place I was going with my fairy story. It’s the only place we know.

I loved this piece, because I get what she is saying. The hard truth of it. The inescapability. The feeling that for all our progress in the external world, not much has changed in how we see ourselves. Not for hundreds and thousands of years. When you realize that your culture has actively attempted to turn you against yourself from the moment you were born … well, it’s easy to go straight to despair. To assume that all this crap is embedded so deeply that there’s nothing to be done.

But, really, can we afford to accept that as truth? We’ve been brainwashed and now that’s it? I appreciated this writer’s honesty in describing the enormity of what we face, and she did so with a great deal of eloquence. But where is the next part of the story? Knowing what we know about how we’ve been infiltrated by the patriarchy, where can we go and what can we do?

These questions go a lot deeper than just figuring out a non-beauty-obsessed bedtime story. They go straight to the heart of figuring out what a woman is.

Is she, as our bullshit sexist culture teaches us, merely a bag of meat on a marketplace?

Or is she actually something more like a portal through which unique hilarities and adventure and discoveries and growth and goodness can come into existence?

I believe that this is a question each of us must decide for ourselves, and then, even more important, we need to try as hard as we can to live up to our decision.

I won’t deny that it takes effort to rise above a culture that wants to reduce all women down to a hot-or-not rating. It takes courage to reject the prevailing paradigm, to forge a different kind of story, to imagine and then live a heroine’s journey that’s centered around something bigger than being pleasing to others.

But it’s not impossible. There are billions of other stories we can develop -- about soccer stardom or dragon-slaying or colonizing Mars or running away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or living off the land or studying gorillas or literally any other thing. We’re not really trapped in beauty. None of us are. We're free to write any story we want.

So then why do so many of us behave in ways that are complicit with culture’s bullshit sexist story? Why do so many of us objectify ourselves so completely -- more thoroughly than anyone else possibly could? Why do we live our lives as though we agree that, yes, we ARE less important, it’s only RIGHT that we should be subject to constant appraisal, and what we’re good for really IS about our appeal to other people?

I think it’s a simple lack of understanding. We think that the way we are right now is our destiny, and that destiny is immutable as stone. That we have no freedom or ability or hope to change, not even in the privacy of our own minds.

But I am here to tell you, that is also the voice of our bullshit sexist culture talking to you. You ABSOLUTELY can change the way you think about yourself. We ALL can. The ability to transform our patterns of thought is, in fact, one of humanity’s only true superpowers, and it’s available to anyone who makes a sincere grab for it.

Right now, I believe history is asking us to decide what we are … what women are. Bags of meat? Or something more?

And it’s not just about you and me being happier with our bodies and our lives in the here and now. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is about the future of womankind.

This is our generation’s fight. Our foremothers busted their asses to gain freedom in external reality, to vote and own property and exercise the right to do as they pleased with their bodies, and now it’s our turn to keep the emancipation party rolling. Only this time, our task isn’t to get anyone out there to recognize our freedom. It’s to recognize it for ourselves.

Our brains have a Beauty Bug programmed in them -- it’s true. But it is possible to work around it. And once we learn how, then we can show our friends how to do it. And they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and before you know it, a million new stories will sprout up from the rubble of what women used to think they were, illuminating the truth of what we really are, and the path toward what we can be.

It all starts with believing it’s possible, and being willing to try really hard to get there.


How do we do this, you may ask, and it is an excellent question. I wrote a lot about it in my book, and you can read the intro here. Here are a couple of blog posts that may also help:

Guaranteed or Your Money Back

Be Less Crazy About ... Weight

Be Less Crazy While Shopping

Be Less Crazy With ... A Bike!

It started on our honeymoon in Costa Rica. Most tourists rent a car, but we chose not to, because our beautiful rental house in the jungle came with two bikes, and they became our main mode of transport.

Every day we’d take a quick ride into Manzanillo to pick up the day’s provisions of Heineken and avocados. Or we’d get going at sunrise and ride to the unbelievably beautiful and deserted beach called Punta Uva. Or we’d head up to the Chiquita Cafe to check our email, stopping for an early dinner at Pita Bonita and riding home in the pink-turning-purple dusk.

We rode to the Jaguar Rescue Center where I held a bebeh mernkey. We rode to Aquamor Dive Shop, where we rented snorkels then swam out to the coral reef to spy on all the fishes. We even rode with all our stuff on our backs to Le Cameleon, a fancy hotel where we had a mini-honeymoon-within-a-honeymoon, our dirty red faces standing out starkly against the all-white surroundings.

After I got over my initial terror of traffic and got a little fitter, I found that the ride to wherever we were going was always at least as fun as where we ended up. We saw giant blue butterflies, we heard the hilarious monkeys howling their hearts out, and we smelled the dirty sweet smells of the jungle. I got good at not running off the road while flicking off bugs who tried to hitchhike on my person. And I came to believe that nothing can ever taste as great as a cold Coke from a glass bottle, downed in one after a long sweaty ride.

Over our month in Costa Rica, I realized that riding a bike is one of the most fun things that we get to do as human beings! Wind in your hair, feeling like a kid, singing at the top of your lungs FUN. A major benefit of having a body.

And super pragmatic as well, as I learned on the day I walked to Punta Uva instead of biking. How slow those miles seemed to go! And how much I missed my own self-generated breeze in that hot Caribbean sun!

So, when we got back to Pittsburgh, even though it was already November and gray, I went and got a bike of my own. (At Thick Bikes, which is where you should go, too, if you are in this neck of the woods -- they are so great!) And I had a blast riding her to work several times in December. But then there were other things to deal with like a dislocated shoulder and weird spells of vertigo and UNENDING SNOW.

Finally, last week, health problems sorted and snow all melted away, I got back on! Wednesday I rode the 6 miles to work, then met up with my friend Matt for dinner and The Book of Mormon (which was hilarious, btw).

Matt had his bike, too, so after the show we zoomed past the snarl of downtown theater traffic -- later suckers!! -- across the Smithfield Street bridge, and down the South Side trail to his house and my bus stop. This was my first night ride, and it was pure magic. Like we traveled through the back of a wardrobe to a secret Pittsburgh where the lights of the city dance on the river and dozens of bunny butts glow white in the darkness as they hop across your path.

I’ve ridden into work a few more times since then, and I keep noticing more wonderful side effects. Like this morning, when as soon as I turned onto the trail I was greeted by a herd of young daffodils nodding hello to me in the breeze. Or when I found myself singing as I rode underneath the highway along the edge of the Allegheny River. Or when I got to work, and my colleague came to talk to me about a big hairy project looming over us, and I noticed that it didn’t stress me out at all. Not a drop!

And, also, I feel extra cute! Have you noticed that? How, even if your body is exactly the same body as yesterday when you felt gross, doing something physical makes you feel hot again? Amazing!

I have to give thanks to A+ financial blogger Mr. Money Mustache, whose post What Do You Mean You Don’t Have A Bike?!?! face-punched me into buying one and also helped me get over my wussiness about riding it in Pittsburgh. Yes, there are big hills and lots of potholes and many, many dickhole drivers. But also! Bunnies and daffodils and riverbanks and the complete lack of stress that comes after a good hard sweat!!!

And there’s something more, too. As MMM says,

A bike-based lifestyle is an all-encompassing change for the better. It’s like rolling back the past hundred years of humanity’s clueless paving-over of the surface of the Earth, without having to sacrifice a single benefit of modernization. It’s like shedding all of the stress and responsibility of adulthood that have crusted over you and going back to being eight years old again... without losing an ounce of that golden power and freedom that comes with being an adult.

A bike is actually an automatic life balancing machine, passively creating harmony in your life better than even the bossiest life coach could hope to do.

I can’t say it any better than that.

When I first got my bike, a friend asked me if I was going to become one of those people who gets in your face and yells, “Share the road, asshole!!!!”  Which is hilarious to think about, but no, that’s not me.

I think I’m just becoming someone who gets to fly down a hill at 25 miles per hour singing at the top of my lungs whenever I want. It feels exactly like this song sounds:

Anyway, do you have a bike? Do you ride it? WHY NOT YOU TOTALLY SHOULD!