The Wild Welsh Heart
Kendra has taken her sharp New York sense of humour around the world. Currently she lives and works in Whales helping women and men battling eating disorders. She also runs The True You Project – which helps people connect with their truth. Kendra has a lot of truth. She also has so much energy and enthusiasm for life she could be plugged into the national grid.
We’ve chatted over Skype a couple of times and sometimes we talk about our respective bulimia (hers was six years, mine was eleven) but we end up drifting to other subjects like eating disorders and relationships (ug, so complicated), cooking (she’s one of those rare ex-bulimics who loves cooking) and bodies and the media and letting go and travelling without needing a guide to the best loos in every city.
If you met her you would never think, for one second, she would have spent any time wasting her life obsessed with diets or binges. That’s the bitch of bulimia. It can happen to the best of us.
We tested out the FABIK questions, our bastardized Proust questionnaire. When I asked what she didn’t like about her appearance she told me she wished she had higher cheekbones. Like mine. Meanwhile, I had been staring at her face thinking I wish I had fuller cheeks, like Kendra’s. That’s ridiculousness right there.
But there’s nothing ridiculous about Kendra. Here she is:
1 What is your idea of happiness?
I never really think about this. I just know whether I am happy or not. I suppose to sum it up in one word: Contentment. Of being content and at peace with exactly where I am. Of course being somewhere warm, sunny, pitching a tent, watching the sunset with a glass of wine in hand, lighting a fire, grilling some artichokes, and falling asleep while star gazing always helps 🙂
2 What is your greatest fear?
Oh geez. Where do I begin? They all have to do with people. Rejection. Being laughed at. Failing and the judgement that might ensue. Sometimes fear of success and what others might think of my ‘success’. It boils down to disconnection. Also a fear of being completely and utterly seen and exposed for who I am. What will people think then?
3 What is the trait you most deplore in others?
4 Which living person do you most admire?
I don’t think there is one person. I admire different things about different people. I admire the way Brene Brown speaks and shares her work in a relatable way. I admire how Liz Gilbert writes and I can laugh and cry on the same page. I tend to admire things in other people that I wish for myself eg I wish I could deliver captivating and impactful talks, or write like that. When I realize that, then I’m like, oh cool! I probably can one day!
5 What is your greatest extravagance?
This is such a great question because for years I denied myself of any kind of extravagance whatsoever. I grew up on a strict budget. We’d have to keep track of how much gas we put in the car and the price per gallon and miles driven! Control much? Everything was purchased within budget so there was no ‘extravagance’. And I learned to always shop the sale rack. When I was living in Manhattan I bought a pair of designer heels with this beautiful blue floral silk print as the sandal strap and glitter gold on the stiletto. They were dangerously sexy. I paid about $200 for them on sale. That felt extravagant, but they were still on sale. For our wedding I splashed out and had my dress custom and hand-made and bought myself a pair of Tiffany diamond earrings. That felt decadent, but also there was a bit of a trying energy in there… trying to be the most beautiful bride ever. Now I don’t see extravagance as having to do with price so much. I am trying to break the Deprivation/Indulge cycle I’ve been in for so long. Now, if I know that I want something, I give it to myself (within reason). The other day I saw these beautiful pink silk Laura Ashley cushions with white silk hydrangeas stitched on them. They were in a 2nd hand shop and I bought them on the spot. No debating. No guilt. I loved them and I gave myself them. They were like £20. I’m not sure that counts as extravagant but it felt damn good.
6 What is your current state of mind?
I feel healthy. I am uber aware of and feel connected to my mind. I tend to analyze (possibly overanalyze?) all my thoughts, feelings, actions. I want to know why I am thinking, feeling, doing something. I feel awake.
7 What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Diligence. I was commended for being diligent all throughout highschool and college and even after for my commitment to running. ‘Wow, she runs everyday! She’s so diligent!’ Yes, you can call it that. But it was also an unhealthy obsession with ensuring my weight was maintained to an acceptable number, and when it wasn’t, it was punishment to burn off the calories. When I see people uber committed to something where they do it on a daily basis I am curious as to why they are doing it. Do they really love it and themselves so much that they give themselves that gift on a daily basis? Or is there a pull towards something that they think the daily action will give them?
8 On what occasion do you lie?
I became an expert at this for a while. You have to when you’re bulimic. You have a lot to hide. I was really good at, and am still pretty good at, lying to myself. I can mask and cover up feelings and emotions for a long time before the truth comes out. I’m also really good at those ‘white lies’ to friends, family, colleagues. ‘Oh, it’s no problem that stayed for an extra hour!’, when really I wanted to use that time for something else and was seething inside. I’m learning to set healthy boundaries, which means speaking my truth in a loving way so I am not covering up my needs, wants, and desires.
9 What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I judge my face a lot. Which is crazy because unlike my thighs, bum, stomach, arms, I have very little control over what it looks like. I idolize high cheekbones, almond shaped eyes and pointy chins. Like Jennifer Lawrence has, although maybe she just knows how to wear bronzer???? I sometimes look in the mirror and think my eyes are too bug-eyed, or my cheeks too jowly. Other days I catch my reflection and I think it is beautiful.
10 What do you most like about your appearance?
I love the little tiny yoga muscles on the outside of my shoulder. I love how little they are yet how strong they make me feel.
11 What is the quality you most like in a man?
Stealth Sexy Solidarity. (Is that three or one?) The quiet confidence is sexy 🙂
12 What is the quality you most like in a woman?
When a woman owns her beauty and shares it with the world. When she knows that sweet spot on the Deprivation/Indulgence see-saw. She doesn’t hide her beauty and she’s not OTT and flaunting it.
13 How is your relationship with your body?
Me and my body are tight right now. I am really grateful for how it looks and functions, and it’s grateful to me for how I care for it. I feel in tune with it. I’ve learned to surrender to it, let it decide how much movement it needs, what nutrients it wants. If I’m craving a steak, I listen to it because I know it means I probably want some iron or something else in there that I could use a boost of. If I’m craving yoga, or a run, or a bike ride, I do that, not because it’s Tuesday and it’s in the schedule, but because my body is asking for it. I also let it feel emotions that I used to resist big time. It’s scary and awesome at the same time. The crazy thing is that most of the feelings I now let myself feel I feel in my stomach… which I used to try to appease with food.
14 How is your relationship with food?
I think it’s beautiful. It is ever evolving as I evolve. I respect it. I value wholesome foods. I let food get on with it’s job of nourishing me and also giving me pleasure. I love growing food, cooking it (especially sans recipe, just experimenting and making it up as I go. I wish I could live life like that lol), and then eating it. I love the colours, smells, taste. It’s such a sensory experience. What I eat has shifted over the years. I’ve always been ‘health conscious’ but in my bulimia days it was in the Deprive/Indulge cycle. It was OK to eat ‘healthy’ foods but not OK to have chocolate, cheese, fried foods, etc. As part of my healing I had to allow myself to eat anything and everything. Including food that I wouldn’t normally eat now, like Krispy Kreme donuts. They used to be on the ‘no-go’ list, or binge trigger list, but then I said, no, eat it and find out that you will be OK. (I was OK except for the heart palpitations I got from the sugar rush!) Now I am at a point where I want to be eating foods that taste good AND nourish my body, which means Krispy Kremes don’t fit the bill. I don’t actually like them (too light and too sweet) and they don’t do anything for my insides (aside from the heart palpitations). That’s not to say I’d never eat a donut. There is a donut shop on Staten Island, Country Donuts, that makes the best Crullers ever. They are dense, cake like with just the right amount of sweetness, and deep fried with a crispy outside. If they were on the table, I’d have one.
15 What makes you feel safe?
Money in the bank and the deep knowing of my husband’s love. That is my knee-jerk reaction. I am OK with those answers for now and I also hope that in a year’s time, my knee-jerk reaction would be something like this: a deep connection with myself and my source. I know in my head that if I look for safety outside of me, I am not really safe, and that really what I am wanting is a sense of security from within. I’m on the way, but not there yet.
16 Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Yeah yeah yeah. As in, if I’m listening to someone then I go, yeah yeah yeah in agreement. It drives my husband nuts. That, and read this interview and count the cliches 🙂
17 What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Wow, this is crazy. So I think again, I want my answer to be God, my source. Possibly because it feels like a ‘should’, but I also know I crave that, which means it probably is true to an extent. But then I think, well if my husband and money was my answer to #15, then maybe that’s my reality at the moment.
18 When and where were you happiest?
Positano. I was there for a long weekend when I was still living in NYC and getting over myself. It was the first time I bought and wore a string bikini and actually didn’t care about my body or my weight. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I soaked up the rays, lounged by the beach, drooled over the cute waiters. When I got back to NY I realized my clothes felt looser. I had lost weight without even trying or realizing it. I hadn’t been obsessing about food, or running, or my body for four days. I was happy and my body regulated itself. That blew my mind.
Sardinia. I was there for two weeks with my husband in the first we dating. It was the first time I went away with a guy, just the two of us. I put down a lot of guards; jumped off the rocks into the water for no other reason than the sea was calling to me. Ate cheese, drank wine, wore a bikini everyday in front of a man who I had no certainty from. I fell in love with myself and with him over those two weeks.
19 What triggered your eating disorder?
Now THAT is a loaded question. I will try to keep it brief. Basically I was super disconnected from who I am. I was listening to what I now know to be shame, while trying to avoid vulnerability and navigate that fear of people I told you about. It started what I call this Trying and Hiding dance. Trying to portray to the world a version of myself I thought would be more acceptable, and hide what I thought was the fallible and unworthy me. The running environment gave me the perfect backdrop to do this dance in without being noticed. Try to turn my body into a machine that performs and is accepted. Hide that I am ridden with fear and shame, and my self-worth is attached to the number on the scale and the time on the clock. It was unsustainable. I needed a release. The binge/purge cycle gave me that.
20 Do you think of yourself as disordered now?
No, and sometimes Yes. No because I am much more connected to my ‘True You’, and my relationship to food and body feels free. Sometimes Yes, because sometimes I catch myself doing the Trying and Hiding dance in response to the same shame, fear and vulnerability avoidance I had earlier, but this time round, in other areas of my life. Like for 2 years, I’ve been ‘Trying to have a successful coaching business.’ which means getting caught up in a lot of the coaching and business advice out there. Meanwhile I was hiding, from myself most importantly, that there were parts of the business that didn’t feel good to me. Also hiding from the world parts of my story and gifts eg that I LOVE FOOD!. Anytime I become aware that I’m hiding the parts of me and my life that I’m not OK with while trying to adapt to fit a mold, I’m like, crap, it’s back! I also think that if I’m aware, and I don’t let it own me, than it’s not so much a disorder, but more of a process that I (and we all) will keep going through that can lead me (and us) to our truth.
21 If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
That I’d be able to say what I’m thinking in the moment without caring what people think. And that I’d stop trying to find the ‘right’ answer all the time. Man that is tiring! As is trying to have it all figured out before taking action. I’d change that too.
22 If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
That it would be sunny and warm in Wales all year long 🙂
That, and that everyone would live as their True You all the time and then all do amazing things on whatever scale their True You is meant to do, and then everything would work amazingly. There’d be world peace, we’d care for the environment, we’d stop selling chemicals packaged into items we call ‘food’, and we’d all live happily ever after. Like in Avatar.
23 Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d LOVE to be a DJ in a club and be able to mix the most amazing house music.
24 What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting over bulimia with very little outside help. I went to see a shrink once, read few books, but basically, promised myself I’d stop binging and purging and eventuall I did. I have to say though, the real healing began after that point. And for that part, there have been many people involved. I think you can stop the behaviour on your own (it’s kind of another form of control, right?) but to heal, we need each other.
25 What is kindness to you?
A form of grace. Showing love when it’s not necessarily expected. If I think of when I say ‘be kind to yourself’, what I am really saying is, stop beating yourself up, or depriving, or punishing. Give yourself a break, a hug, do something that you’d enjoy but that you don’t normally do for yourself.
26 What advice would you give your younger self?
That you will be OK. And that you don’t have to try so hard.
27 What was your lowest depth of misery?
It was before I finally made a choice not to be bulimic anymore. I was calling in sick to work sporadically because I just couldn’t face my life. I’d spend the day or night day-dreaming about having a different career like teaching, or a personal trainer, or a person who got to blaze trails in the forest (I could never find the official name for that one). I’d get discouraged trolling through online job ads. I’d start eating and then binge. I was planning binges; I’d buy food just to go home and binge on it, knowing full well I’d see it come back up later. I was waking up each day hoping today would be different and it never was.
28 What was the best advice you had in recovery?
A wake up call was when I went to a seminar about body image and the lady drew an image of a tree, roots, fruit and all, and asked the question, where are your roots? What are you grounding yourself in? Because your fruit is a reflection of your roots. At the time I remember thinking, gosh I have no roots. I am just like a tree sitting on the ground without anything holding it in place.
29 What’s your greatest trick for staying well/healing?
I stay in bed until I’m ready to get up. I’m not a morning person, and so forcing myself out of bed in the morning to play by somebody else’s rules starts the day off on the wrong foot.
30 Can feminism and eating disorders be in a Venn diagram?
I think so. I don’t know much about the feminist movement, but one thing I’ve realized this past year is the importance of us embracing our feminine energy. I lost mine for years. My masculine energy was through the roof (Now I know why my now-husband told me I wasn’t very submissive when we first met. I had no idea what he was referring to as we hadn’t even had sex yet. But he was picking up on the massive pair of balls I was carrying around with me.) I think that in the effort to give women an equal place in society to men, we’ve asked women to do this by BECOMING men. We lose the softness, the slowing down, the connection to intuition, the valuing of community, and the embracing of curves and our natural beauty. We become disconnected to part of ourself. That is the overlap. The disconnection.
31 What is freedom to you?
On one hand, being able to do what I want, when I want, where I want. On the other hand, being just who I am. They probably go hand in hand 🙂
32 What is your motto?
I’m borrowing this from a friend because she sums it up perfectly: ‘Just be You, boo’.
– Did you see this fantastic poem by Blythe Baird ‘When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’
– Or comedian, feminist, film-maker, Jessie Kahnweiler, comes out about her bulimia. It’s a promo for her webseries The Skinny and when I first saw it I assumed she was just acting, but she’s the real deal. She acts, she makes it funny and she battled bulimia for about a decade. The whole series is genius.