Mattie Jo Cowsert
Blog-A-Holic (and other addictions)
Hello there friends!
I guess it’s just going to be a thing where I apologize for taking so long to write. Life is crazy but this is a joy. So, ya know what? I’m not apologizing for taking so long to write but instead for withholding such wonderful storytelling from your lives. I am deeply sorry. But since my last blog, as you might have noticed, President Donald Trump actually got inaugurated which feels like further celebration and legitimization of a lot of things but particularly unapologetic misogyny/rape culture. So I think I’m experiencing some PTSD. And also I went to Europe for a month. And then I got back and haven’t stopped responding to the cries of desperate parents all over Manhattan needing me to watch their children. Oh and deciding if this “dream” of being on Broadway even matters. Did you know we all die? And in Europe they value education, recreation, and healthcare more than working themselves into depression? Anyway. Just some haunting thoughts I’m not totally sure what to do with. Anyway I’m back! And full of positivity obviously.
I’ve gone back and forth on what story/stories to share next. The chronology is getting a little wonky at this point but that’s okay. Also I’m not sure if I want this to just be me complaining about how shitty men are. Even though, they totally are.And my complaining is 200% justified. Still. The woman I am today isn’t entirely attributed to all the dickwads I’ve encountered and the emotional, physical, and mental rebuild of dealing with said dickwads. A lot of women are fucking MVPs. And I think it’s time to share their amazing influence in my life.
Shortly before I moved to New York City, I listened to an interview of MSU Alum Kyle Dean Massey. He answered a question about the top three priorities you should have as an aspiring professional actor in New York City. He obviously gave three but I only remember one: Get a gym membership. Your body is your vehicle. You must take care of it and it must be in the best shape possible for the life you’ve chosen. You mean “get your Equity card ASAP” isn’t number one? Go to the gym? I can totally do that! Right? Wait. It costs how much? Shit. Oh well Kyle Dean said to do it YOU CANT STOP ME.
So I marched my happy Upper West Side princess butt the approximately 14 steps it took to get to the nearest gym and got a membership.*
* Little nuanced detail about living in New York City. The really nice gyms – with towels, more than 1 foam roller, wi-fi, blow dryers, even MOUTHWASH-only exist in the rich neighborhoods. Showers and towels and blow dryers are important because often as actors we need to workout before or after we are en route to another place. Because you don’t want to take 30-45 more minutes on the train going back to your apartment to get ready for work after an audition. In the acting world, we carry SO MUCH shit with us everyday, i.e. audition clothes, book, dance shoes, etc…carrying a wet towel and hair dryer just adds to the poundage. The irony is I joined this gym at a time when I didn’t even need towels or a blow dryer because my apartment was literally RIGHT THERE. I could have stumbled into my gym drunk at that point (which I never did…), but I still paid $80/month for a membership because going to a shittier, cheaper gym meant going to a cheaper neighborhood which meant I had to commute to a gym without towels or blow dryers. Are you getting the sense of JUST HOW different City and country living is?
Right as I joined, a trainer nearby overheard me discussing with the sales guy my Missouri origins. She immediately popped up and exclaimed, “I’m from St. Louis!!!!” And there we went. For the sake of anonymity we’ll call her Jay. And she offered to give me a free training session. We met within the week.
Jesus is My Fitness Spirit Guide
I had never had a personal trainer and I certainly had no idea how much they cost. I figured she would kick my ass and I would be sore for 3 days after and not work out until the next time she trained me. What actually happened is she made me do some squats, told me I had a tendency to supinate my feet/knees and then we went down to the office to talk. Uh oh. Was I in trouble? I didn’t even sweat! Personal training is weird…
She proceeded to ask me about my life. About what brought me here. I told her the important parts that didn’t seem too personal. I vaguely mentioned Catholic but she asked me to go further. What the hell, lady? I need you to make my (anatomical) ass defy gravity not talk about my ex boyfriend. But Jay knew what she was doing.
We talked about Catholic. Honestly I don’t remember how much I told her. I think I tried to deflect the story and ask her about her life (That will make me seem selfless, right? Just talk about her!) but she kept digging. And then before I knew it we were talking about God and how she felt I was this gift He had brought into her life. And she wanted to train me for free as a kind of tithe.
For those of you who don’t know, personal training sessions in NYC run for about 100-250 bucks an hour. Also she worked for a gym. Which meant training me for free was illegal (lol. Breaking rules for Jesus). Also, I didn’t know you could tithe actions? That 10% is a hard non-negotiable last time I checked! Acts of service? Relationship building? PFFFFFT.
So yeah. I moved to NYC and got my first personal trainer for totally free. Thanks, JC!
Our sessions were cathartic for both of us, I think. I would sweat and almost die. And then spend the rest of the week working out on the elliptical with a book because I was so sore (yes at one time in my life I was one of those people who read at the gym. IMO only really old people should be allowed to do this. The gym is for heavy breathing and sweating. The library, subway, couch, and bed are for reading. Understanding appropriate context is hard). I was also always afraid for her to see me on the elliptical. I didn’t want her to think I was a wimp (even though I totes was)! One time she came up to me and goes “What the hell are you doing? Should I get you a cigarette? Would you like a table and ashtray while you enjoy your gym membership?” lol. Touché. #EasilyMocked
As far as I could tell, having a personal trainer was great! Except for one pretty big issue…
Every time I stepped into the gym for a workout, I felt it was totally pointless because I had spent the entire week prior dealing with the deep guilt of my binging habits. Binge drinking and eating and then complaining about how I looked was my favorite past time/identity. I didn’t even like to hang around people who didn’t want to complain about their bodies (I hate to admit this, but I think it’s what really bonded Camille and I in college. Other than our terrible breakups. We found solace in another human who was totally beautiful but hated themselves. If she’s THAT beautiful and hates her body, maybe I am delusional after all. Anyway, did you know I ate like FIVE apples today??? Ugh. CARBOHYDRATE OVERLOAD). I mean, how can any female truly be okay with how they look and how they eat? They’re total liars if they don’t admit they hate themselves. You can’t love yourself AND be a woman, that’s not how the world works (I obviously don't believe this. It's just like the incessant message women receive).
At that point in my life I was waking up in the middle of the night to eat spoonfuls of peanut butter, cookie butter (have y’all had this? If you haven’t DON’T DO IT YOU’LL NEVER STOP), or even sleeves of saltine crackers. Then I would go to sleep dreaming of food, ready to wake up just to eat, but feeling so guilty about midnight eating that I could hardly look at food. The cycle was terrible. And it consumed my thoughts. My laxative abuse was in full swing. Sometimes I would take laxatives the night before just to keep myself from midnight eating. I knew the pills wouldn’t work well if I ate after I took them. And then I’d spend all day…well. You know. The opposite of vomiting. I suppose after a month-ish of feeling totally helpless, sad, guilty, frustrated, mad at myself for not taking advantage of having a FREE personal trainer to get ahead on my physical goals, I decided to seek help. Which was really tough because, ya know, trainers are just gunna tell you to eat more protein and have more willpower. And the last thing I needed was another diet guideline I’d probably fail to meet.
I cried to Jay. I told her everything. She listened. And then she asked me some questions.
J: How do you feel in those moments when you want to binge?
Me: I just. I feel like if I don’t put food in my mouth, I might die.
J: So physically what does “I might die” feel like?
Me: I…I don’t know. Just all around discomfort? I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly the physical description.
J: Okay. So next time this happens, I want you to try and sit still. And just FEEL. Can you do that? Just try to observe what is happening in your body. Whatever you do, don’t immediately get up to eat. Just sit where you are, as uncomfortable as it may be, and observe what is happening in your body. Is it in your chest? Stomach? Arms? Head? And then before you go eat, journal that feeling. And then, hopefully, by that point you won’t even want to eat anymore. Maybe you’ll just want to write?
Me: (internally) What the hell? You aren’t going to like sell me a protein bar that will help cure all my cravings? I FEEL SO JIPPED. But okay fine I’ll try it you’re the professional.
I decided to give her method a go. And for the following weeks, I did what she said. I observed my discomfort. I found the pain to be in my stomach, my face, my chest. When I told her this she gave me words that totally changed my life:
Alright MJ so here’s the deal. Next time you feel those feels, not only are you gunna sit in your discomfort, you are going to breathe through it. You are going to sit there and experience that discomfort until it passes. Maybe you have to go on a walk. Maybe you have to call a friend. Whatever you do, feel your pain. Don’t cover it up. Feeling is the best thing you can do. What you have learned to do is, the minute you feel pain, eat or drink to make it “go away.” And then you manufacture a different problem on top of your actual problem and what you have now is years and years of binging your way through not dealing with the actual problem.
No. No no. The problem IS food. If I could just be skinny, I'd be so happy! No? I'm wrong?
And just a friendly reminder that nothing else in my life matters cuz Taye Diggs did this to my head once.
I have struggled with body image since about 4th grade. Before that I can’t remember giving two shits about anything more than “clippy cloppy shoes” and wishing on blue M&Ms that Jonathan Taylor Thomas was my boyfriend. But from 4th grade to my college years I experienced everything from anorexia, exercise bulimia, actual bulimia, straight binging myself to a 20 pound weight gain, laxative abuse...you name it. Being thin and beautiful was on the forefront of my mind always. And I always ALWAYS hated the fact that I could never be beautiful or thin enough. I'm honestly surprised I always did so well in school considering how much thought I gave physical beauty achievement tactics. I can look back on my life and tell you exactly how I felt about my body in any given month or year. But I probs couldn't tell you about my soul. Until now that is. Cuz, Jay. She catalyzed the loooooong journey of me recognizing and addressing: My living in misery had nothing to do with my failed efforts to meet some elusive physical beauty standard. It had everything to do with my ability to sit still and figure out what internal bullshit was causing me to hate me.
So there I was. Sobbing at the gym with my personal trainer. So...feeling the pain is okay? But…but then what if I learn what the ACTUAL source of the pain is and I can’t just make it go away?
J: It will get better Mattie Jo. I promise.
Me: How do you know?
J: Because (beginning to cry). I know exactly how you feel. EXACTLY how you feel.
Because I think almost every woman knows exactly how we feel.
Then she proceeded to share with me her same struggles and how she’s also worked for years to not be afraid of pain. Instead she tries to feel, honor, address, and heal the pain. Repeating truth to ourselves every day to heal the lies we’ve not even recognized as such for most of our lives is an on-going effort.
Jay and I are still very good friends but she’s no longer a trainer (I actually ran into her on the train as I was editing this. Ha!). She works as a professional dancer in New York and I’m so stinking proud of her! I love Jay. She isn’t Midwest nice about about giving me stuff I need to hear. Cuz sometimes you just gotta wake the fuck up. Jay lives five minutes away from me in Harlem now. As she described to her mom, “we don’t work together. We don’t dance together. We’re just…friends.” Yeah. We’re just friends. #happyhandsmilyemoji
My Truth is Yours
Maybe none of this is monumental news/advice to any of you. But for me, it was absolutely pivotal in how I moved forward in my adult life. What I found in my slow process of feeling the pain, not just eating over it, was that I am a 5 foot 2 inch mass of insecurities, fears, and badassery ready to be unleashed. I wasn’t sick of being fat. I was terrified to fail at being a professional actress. I wasn’t unlovable because I wore a size 8. I was unlovable because I didn’t love myself. I realized I truly didn’t think I was talented enough to be doing the whole musical theatre thing. I was a total poser. I was haunted by voices of everyone behind the auditor table talking about how terrible I was at singing, acting, dancing. Men thinking I was attractive but a lamo “actress.” Or thinking I was attractive but “gave it up” too easily (this inequity might bother me more than dad bods being okay but mom bods not). Everyone back home mocking me for not being able to “make it.” God thinking I’m well-intentioned but really just a loose harlot who ain’t neva gunna get a good husband with them kinda morals. I mean shit. Even God was slut shaming me! No wonder I wanted to eat so much cookie butter…
I guess around the time I started feeling my pain so often, I started taking gym time more seriously. It was a way to release all the bad feels but feel great instead of remorseful afterwards. Then I lived in a whole new world of actually feeling good and got addicted to it. I also stopped talking about my food issues as much. I learned from another great woman (Darlene, my second beautiful soul of a trainer), that what I say has power over me. So me constantly texting my friends about how much I regretfully ate/drank the night before, reiterates that I AM a binger, a failure, a fatty. That’s who I am. But I’m not a binge eater/drinker. I’m Mattie Jo. And sometimes I drink too much and eat too much because this is America where everyone struggles with moderation because we live in a culture of excess. Not my fault we are setup to fail. Anyway. That’s another blog. Self-talk. Not how capitalism is killing all of us. But I could write that blog too and definitely will.
Three and half years after that initial sobbing in my gym revelation, I am still not a perfect eater. When I'm feeling stressed and out of control, food is the first thing that I have to avoid indulging. I am much much better at not making matters worse by eating my way through a kitchen (usually someone else's because I honestly don't have the money to binge anymore. Thanks nanny families!), but it has taken a ton of mental practice to recognize a few lies I'm telling myself in those moments and correct them. When I feel a binge coming on now, I try my hardest to stop and ask what's actually wrong. Are you pissed Donald Trump is president? Are you pissed Florin lives in a different country and immigration is FUCKING hard? Are you pissed you woke up at 5am to make money to pay for dance classes while the little kids you babysit have richass parents who are giving them the childhood you didn't even know you wanted? Yes probably. Do you want to eat that Oreo? Also yes probably. But I do not want to eat twenty-two Oreos.
The Truth is All I Can Hear, Every Time You Lie **
This blog could be over now, but I want to address another huge truth that has helped me overcome my body image/eating problems. How straight up FUCKED is it that most women (on some level) believe in this “physical beauty is errthang” lie so much that we subconsciously blame our physical appearance as the source of all trouble? I still battle this Every. Single. Day. I have legitimate fears about being unwanted by the time I’m in my mid-thirties. Not because I will have become less intelligent, cool, or generally uninteresting. No! The opposite is true. I bet I’ll be even more amazing at 35 (I mean, shit. I'll at least have been in a few Broadway shows by then, right???)! But no. I’m afraid I won’t be wanted because I’ll be an old woman. Which means I’ll be invisible. Women don’t get to be “silver foxes.” We get to be that “still single woman who chose her career over a husband.” Yeah. Maybe we didn’t choose that? Maybe men are just intimidated by strong, established women and would rather date “hot” 24 year olds as they get older? Because they can. They get the choice. Men get to age like fine wine. Women get to age like...produce. Just throw that shit away it smells ew.
I know this isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. The gender injustice definitely exists. But in this social climate, I think some people believe we are just “annoying women whining about sexism again!” Well we’re going to keep “whining” until it changes. Because it’s not fair that LITERALLY EVERY WOMAN I TALK TO fears being alone if she doesn’t snatch someone up “in her physical prime.” We are driven by a biological clock that:
1. Won’t let us have babies past a certain age. Something men will never understand because their sperm works til they die. Fuckers.
2. Makes us less desirable cuz wrinkles and sags
I had/have to make a conscious decision to not let my worth be determined by how men treat me. Men are mostly clueless and entitled. But it's important to remember they're victims of these societal lies too. Lies that tell them they shouldn't or can't be attracted to women who look a certain way. Women who act a certain way. Being masculine means *fill in the blank*. They're all muddled up in the bullshit too. I think there's some scripture about this...something along the lines of Paul blaming all his bad behavior on the "sinful nature within (him)" so it's not really his fault. It's the "sinful nature" that's at fault. Yeah that's what's happening here. Society (Sinful nature) causing men (Paul) to act terribly. But I hope it also goes without saying that this is a total cop out. We can't just blame all your shit behavior on someone/something else. Paul was probably acting like a dick and needed to own it/take control of having better behavior. And we also need to work together in not perpetuating these societal lies by being total dicks. Make sense? No? I tried (This is not a legitimate Biblical interpretation. It's a satirical one. I think what Paul is actually saying is, he's not sure why he acts like a dick cuz he really doesn't want to act like a dick so he needs Jesus to help him not be a dick. Dad, did I get this right? #StudierOfTheWord).
In conclusion (lol proper summarizing phrases), beginning the process of not eating/drinking away my inside garbage enlightened me to believe truth I now live by in every moment of struggle. Whatever you’re going through, if you’re sad, mad, angry, horny (teehee. Had to throw that in. We’ve hardly talked about sex at all in this blog!), FEEL. IT. Don’t numb it with another problem.
I gotta be honest. I’m sad. My heart breaks almost everyday. For my friends abroad. For my friends here. For myself. I’m in love with someone I can’t be with. I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore. Do I want to be an actress? Do I even know what that is anymore? Maybe I’ll work at a dentist office…Alex Jones, you hiring? Okay but seriously. This world. Refugees, racism, sexual abuse, and our dumb president actively participating in all of it (except the refugees. He wants nothing to do with them). It’s A LOT. But we cannot mask our pain and cultivate a new problem without dealing with the source. Whatever it may be.
So I'm sorry Kyle Dean, but I think you were wrong in that interview. I don’t think taking care of your body is the #1 priority. I think taking care of your soul is. However, I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t listen to your advice and meet Jay so thanks a million anyway, dude.
Sit still. Sit. Still. Breathe. And feel what you are feeling. Good or bad. Because the ability to feel deeply is, in my opinion, the most important thing our world needs today. And forever.
** Demi Lovato lyrics circa 2010