Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.
Today we have Lisa Febre, a Los Angeles & Las Vegas blogger who also appears in the T.O.F.U. Body Image issue, having penned an article on vegan dining in mainstream restaurants.
Lisa, 39 years old, petite and fit after one pregnancy. 5’4″, 120 pounds
I have been vegetarian/vegan for 23 years (since 1990), but it wasn’t a straight path. In 1990, I was a sophomore in high school watching my first PETA videos and was horrified at what I was seeing. That same day, I became lacto-vegetarian. There was a lot of resistance from my parents, my mother in particular, because she was the one doing all the shopping and cooking. Even though I had the best intentions, I could not sustain a 100% meat-free existence. There was a lot of pressure and guilt associated with not eating what was offered, and on occasion I would “slip.” At that time—and for a long time—I did not fully grasp the connection between dairy and meat, so I continued to eat dairy and, occasionally, eggs. When I went off to college and was finally able to control my own diet, I experienced something very new to me: a vegetarian community. Strength in numbers was something I’d clearly needed all along, and something I firmly believe every single new veg*n needs to find.
In 2007, at the age of 33, I finally made the leap to veganism. The dairy connection finally clicked into place and that was it: No more dairy ever again. In retrospect, I can see that’s where my vegetarianism went wrong, in that I and my family viewed it as a diet, or worse, a fad diet. But veganism quickly became a way of life. It defines who I am. On the short list of roles I play: mother, wife, yogini, vegan, musician—vegan has to be there.
I do actually put quite a bit of work into my body, but not as media would have us believe “work” entails. I am a dedicated yogini with a 15-year, daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga. This, compounded with veganism, is truly a way of life. Yoga begs for a healthy attitude toward the fuel you put in your body, and veganism easily delivers. I take a B12 supplement, but that’s about as far as supplements go with me. I live an exceptionally clean lifestyle. I have minimized exposure to chemicals in our home, buy organic produce, avoid GMOs, and do not eat anything that comes from a box, bag, can, or jar. The downside is that this practice makes me more sensitive to chemicals in other people’s homes, and lower-quality foods often make me ill.
Going vegan actually made a huge difference in my body image. The feeling of “lightness” that some vegans describe really made all the difference in the world to me. My yoga practice deepened once the fats were expelled from my joints, my head felt clearer, my skin and hair became healthier, progressively my seasonal allergies have all but disappeared (which I know can’t be proved it’s because of veganism, but the relief did coincide with cutting dairy), and my mental health seems more even.
“Healthy” is not about weight for me, it’s about my attitude. When I’m feeling healthy, everything falls into place: my weight, my general outlook, my activity level. I feel open and aware, introspective and empathic at the same time. There’s a vibrance to my body when I’m feeling healthy. I have suffered from depression, I have experienced the deepest depths of despair, and can only say that “healthy” is so obvious to me it’s difficult to put into words, like describing “green” to a blind person.
I have been lucky in that I don’t suffer from an eating disorder, but would consider myself a restrictive eater. To me, this term means that I eat the same thing day in and day out, and to break this pattern can leave me feeling stressed or guilty and, if I’m not careful, can lead to even more restrictions in the days to follow. I am fully aware of this behavior because it did get out of control during my depression–I went from 120 to 102 pounds because of my self-imposed restrictions. At a healthy point in my life now, I recognize my behaviors and can quickly negotiate my way out of destruction. I used to be deathly afraid of going out to eat for my blog (so many calories!), and would restrict for days to follow, but now I work through those stresses and fears and have found much more constructive ways to deal with these feelings.
I think there’s a negative view, sometimes, of people who are fit, and then that’s exacerbated if they’re also vegan. It starts “Of course you’re thin, look how much yoga you do,” then quickly descends to “and you’re vegan (sigh),” like I’ve done something to wrong them. I haven’t really seen the positive side of people’s views of vegan bodies. Either people are looking at me like I might be secretly sick, they can’t believe I’m even alive much less able to walk a straight line, or they are comparing me to themselves with a tsk. There’s no winning. I think it’s as important for us vegans to look healthy as it is to live healthy.
Unfortunately, our outward appearances affect people’s views of this lifestyle. If we are happy with our choices, it shows, and it forces others to reassess their own negative and suspicious views of veganism. Sometimes it feels that for each person who supports our veganism, a hundred will condemn and criticize; it’s important to have a thick skin and let those comments go. Personally, I am proud of my choices, of the way I live my life, and the effect it has had on my body and spirit. And the strength I’ve found in this lifestyle gives me the courage to stand up again and again for what I know is the most compassionate choice there is.
Thank you, Lisa!