This post deleted. Because... I'm ridiculous.
Ten years ago today, my mother died.
It turns out the time after a parent dies takes on the same pace as the time from when a child is born. That is, as a parent, I am always saying, “how did my daughter get to be 11 already?” or “how did my kid get to be 16 already?” And now I’m thinking: How is it possible that I’ve lived for ten years without my mother? How is it possible that it has been THAT long?
When my mother died, I was 35 years old and I resolved to stop hating my body. I resolved to stop dieting and tracking every food I put into my mouth, as she did more often than not. I resolved to stop wasting time worrying about my body and instead I resolved to live my life. I did not keep any of these resolutions for long. Just as it had during my mother’s life, Diet Culture stepped in hard on those plans and forced me back into body hatred, back into the incessant tracking, back into being so obsessed about my body that life went on without me – because I was somewhere, always in the back, counting calories or macros or fat grams.
A couple of years ago, my obsession with thinness and my old belief that thinness is synonymous with health became intolerable. In the pursuit of thinness and “health,” I had become mentally ill, mired in disordered eating and I could eventually no longer keep going down that road. And so, gratefully, I tell you that I have found a certain freedom from all of that bullshit; a freedom that, to my knowledge, my mother was never able to find. And on this tenth anniversary of her death, I am ready to reestablish my commitment to self acceptance and body liberation.
In our culture, all people are herded as soon as possible after birth, into the prison of Diet Culture (which is now sneakily masquerading as “Health Culture”). There are at least two tiers to this prison and the lower, more punishing, tier is reserved for those of us who identify as female. This is the place my mother lived in all of her life. It is the place I have lived in for most of my life. This is not the place I want my daughters to live.
In this prison of Diet Culture, my mother and I learned that the only thing that makes a woman valuable, worthy of love, or acceptable in this world is how much her physical appearance complies with contemporary ideals of beauty. We learned that my mother’s body was unacceptable and disgusting. We learned that my body was unacceptable and disgusting. And these lessons forced both of us into a lifelong pursuit of trying to make ourselves acceptable and lovable to the world.
But here are some of the things I’ve heard people say about my mother in the last 10 years:
“She was so kind.”
“She always had room in her home, in her life, at her table for another person in need.”
“She was always volunteering to help in the community.”
“She was always so good with kids.”
“She could always make me smile!”
“She loved children.”
“She was so creative.”
“Her gardens were so gorgeous. She had such a green thumb.”
“Oh my god! Her cooking! I loved her cooking!”
“Her beautiful smile! I miss her beautiful smile!”
“She loved being a part of the choir at church!”
“She was such a beautiful person.”
“She had such a beautiful soul.”
“She was so beautiful.”
People who knew my mother – family members, friends, and acquaintances alike – have said these things about her. Only ONE time, in TEN years, has any person expressed any sentiment about my mother’s weight and that was a family member that was extremely close to her who said, “Yep, she struggled with that a lot. It’s too bad that she struggled so much with that.”
It IS. It is really TOO BAD that she struggled so much with her weight and her body and the vast difference between what Diet Culture told her her body SHOULD be and what it actually was BECAUSE… her body was a gift given to her by the universe, the vessel through which she touched all these lives that remember her as “beautiful” and the lies that Diet Culture told her, it told her just to make a buck. Diet Culture isn’t even REAL! My mother’s life, my mother’s beautiful smile, my mother’s ability to grow thriving gorgeous plants from seed, my mother’s kindness to children and elders and everyone, my mother’s compassion, my mother’s cooking, my mother’s soul was REAL. And she wasted (we all waste every day) PRECIOUS TIME in the bullshit prison of Diet Culture worrying about how our bodies refuse to comply with invented (for profit) contemporary beauty ideals. And that is really TOO. BAD. It’s bad.
In the ten years since my mother’s death, I have realized that so much of who I have always been come from the lessons that she was always teaching me by example. Be kind. Have compassion. Help out. Help things grow. Do those things that make your heart sing. Keep your heart open. But I have also learned that really living in these lessons with all of my heart now requires escaping the prison of Diet Culture, requires believing that these lessons and these attributes of human existence are far more important and worth paying attention to than whether my – or anyone else’s – bodies comply with contemporary beauty ideals. I have learned to value what is REAL in this life and to question and ultimately, defy, those things (like Diet Culture and its capitalist, ableist, racist, misogynist, fatphobic, transphobic beauty norms) that are not real.
After ten years, my mother is still REAL and here with me and with every person her life touched. I believe the impact she made on my life and everyone else’s will still be REAL even 1,000 years from now because that’s how the world works – one person touching a life that touches a life that touches a life that touches a life and so on. And I WILL honor my mother and the life she gave me, by continuing on this journey of Body Liberation for myself and for every person that MY life touches.
Figure out what's REAL, with Love, Teamies.
I’m feeling different about my body than I ever have before. Most of the time, I genuinely feel either neutral towards it or good; really really good. I feel like it’s either no big deal what the hell I look like or I look pretty damn good.
But when I imagine what my body looks like to other people, I sometimes feel super shitty still — maybe even shittier than before. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t deserve to live because I’m so ugly and disgusting. I think this feels shittier than before because I used to just readily agree with that. THAT opinion used to be MY opinion. But now my perception of what people see in me is so at odds with how I see myself. So it’s even MORE painful to imagine that outside perception.
Yesterday, when I was feeling particularly hot and sassy, an older guy in a truck rolled his window down to tell me, “hey! You look great!” I smiled and giggled and thanked him then got back in my car and suddenly felt like all the wind had been taken out of my sails. I had felt great. I had felt beautiful and abundant and powerful. THEN his comment reminded me harshly that actually, I am not. I am still JUST a woman who gets to be objectified and consumed by the culture I live in. And worse, because of my perception of how OTHER people see my body, his comment seemed condescending as if “for a fat woman” was the hidden, mutually understood next part of his sentence. He made me feel like shit.
It’s complicated. And I know there are many people who think I am the one making it complicated. But I’m not. It IS complicated. The world wants me to accept this man’s comment as a kindness but as a woman who has grown up inundated by Diet-Rape Culture, the fact is there is just no way to understand this man’s comment as a kindness. This kind of comment is a violation; it is a reminder that I am not safe and my body is not really acceptable.
I sat with this comment and this interaction for a good 36 hours before fully understanding its impact on me. When my husband and I cuddled the following evening and he expressed an interest in being intimate, I had a really hard time; much harder than usual. I felt that I could not inhabit my body. I didn’t want him to see or touch my belly, my hips, my thighs. I wanted us both to imagine that he was with a totally different body altogether — such was the extent to which I could not find my own body worthy of intimacy with my husband whom I absolutely adore and whose body happens to conform to Diet Culture’s ideals far more than my own.
It is unacceptable that a random stranger’s off-handed comment created a schism in the intimacy of my marriage. Unacceptable. It makes me angry. SO angry. But I’m not exactly angry with the man who thought he was just being nice. He was raised in a culture that taught him my body was his to objectify, consume, and judge. He was raised to believe that HIS opinion of my body was FAR more important than my own — or worse yet, that HIS opinion should be my own. It’s not his “fault” exactly. It’s not his fault that I was raised in the same culture with the same assumptions. I was raised to hate my body and to think of my body as a problem and to accept whatever judgements of my body were handed down to me from men. And that’s not MY fault either. This is just the water we swim in. This is just the soup women like me are drowning in. It’s no one person’s “fault” but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable or any less enraging.
As women like me begin to throw off the shackles of Diet-Rape Culture and demand better from the world, many men are inevitably feeling more confused about what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable with regards to their relationships with women. So, in the interest of helping them navigate these waters let me offer THIS advice: NEVER - EVER EVER EVER EVER — comment on anyone else’s body when your comments have not been solicited. ONLY if someone asks for your opinion of their body, should you give it. And even then, preface your judgement with this simple statement and force yourself to understand the truth in it: “of course, it doesn’t matter what I think of your body— it only matters what YOU think of your body but...” THEN choose to be nice and polite. When would a woman ask a man for his opinion of her body or her appearance? Possibly while being intimate. Possibly before going out on a date. Possibly before going somewhere important — meeting parents; a gala or awards dinner or something of the sort. Possibly before an important business meeting. I suppose there are many possibilities. Women are programmed to NEED validation of their beauty from outside sources (that’s what many of us are working to deprogram ourselves of). So, we’ll probably ask. But I can tell you the situation in which we will almost NEVER ask a dude’s opinion of our bodies— we will probably NEVER walk up to a total stranger in a truck in the same parking lot that our car happens to be in to say, “um... excuse me strange man, what do you think? Do I look okay to you?” [please envision dramatic eye rolling here]
Mind Your Own Body, Teamies, with Love
When I was a young woman, and freshly married at the age of 19, I was fond of saying, “all men are rapists.” It was my catch-all explanation of my newly found and complex brand of feminism. I would say it casually which would be even more upsetting to the men in my immediate vicinity, including my husband. I felt no particular rage when I said it, it was just a fact to me that ALL MEN are rapists.
Then, I grew up and I put aside that phrase in favor of a more understanding and loving feminism that made room for my male friends, my male colleagues, my male students, my second husband and my son. And I lived for a LONG time in the vague haze of “not all men.” I call it a “vague haze” because other than the occasional personal kindness I experienced from the men in my life — personal kindnesses, I might add, that were shocking and very much out of the ordinary of MY history — I rarely saw any concrete action taken by men to fight violence against women.
Then, I grew up some more. It is not true, of course, that all men are rapists. It is also not true, as I often liked to follow up with, that all men WOULD rape if they knew they could get away with it. It is obviously true that some men are truly good men. BUT it is also very much true, it is ABSOLUTELY true, that our culture WANTS to make rapists out of ALL MEN. It is true that ALL MEN in our culture are raised to believe that “boys will be boys” and boys have a god-given right — even a responsibility — to TAKE whatever they want, whenever they want. That is the baseline philosophy of patriarchy and patriarchy is our culture. Even if their families were smart enough not to raise men this way, it doesn’t matter because eventually the culture’s influence is as strong as, then stronger than, the family we are raised in. Men are raised to be rapists by our culture. ALL. MEN.
Of course, it is also true that I am one of those hardened, hateful, hurting, angry “survivors.” It is also true that I, myself, have had my life taken hostage by rapists and sex offenders (yes, multiple). So, sure, I’m biased. But in case you are unaware of this ever-so-popular statistic, 1 in 4 women are, so... we are legion. I am not alone.
I’ve asked before which men are willing to stand up and say they will no longer accept this behavior from their brethren. I want so badly for there to be a yearly march men can join or a t-shirt they can wear or a specific hashtag that they can use that would declare clearly and out loud to the world that they are not a rapist. #iamnotarapist might work. I even originally finished this post with more ranting about how until I see this hashtag on your profiles and your posts, I don't know, I can't be sure. And I've been trying to figure out why I want so much to force men to show themselves as they are -- either as the misogynists and rapists that our culture has forced them to become or "the good guys." And I think I've figured it out.
Hey! Guess what? I don't feel safe. I don't feel my daughter is safe. I don't feel that my female friends, colleagues, family members, students, etc... are safe. And I live with that feeling, based on the very solid fact of my life and world history, every single minute of every day. And mostly I don't feel safe because we can't tell who you -- misogynists and rapists -- are just by looking at you. So I wish -- my inner 19-year-old feminist wishes -- there was some easy way to tell you guys apart. I wish good guys would declare themselves in some obvious fashion so we know whether to trust you or not -- and it would have to be in a way that the bad guys would never put on even as a disguise because that would just muddy the water even further. I want you -- the good guys -- to wear all pink all the time. I want you to wear a fuzzy purple hat on your head. I want you to wear special jackets like you're all a gang and the back of your jackets can declare: we are not rapists! I want -- I NEED -- some kind of method of telling you apart, you see, so that I can feel safe. Because feeling safe is a basic human need.
Why don't more "good guys" speak out against violence against women? Oh, there is the occasional activist, the errant celebrity, the random young man with a blog who will raise his fist and demand better treatment for women for a day or two but most of y’all are hiding. Hiding. Why? I have had a recent terrible thought about why. Maybe because ultimately, a rapist’s Power is YOUR power and god forbid you give up YOUR power — even if it means ONE in FOUR girls and women suffer at your brethren’s hands. This is akin to the white person who claims not to be racist but refuses to speak out against racist groups, racist activity, racist behavior and racist sentiments because ultimately THAT white person knows that they are benefitting from white supremacy even if only subconsciously. Is that possible? Could you subconsciously be unwilling to give up the power that patriarchy and rape culture provide you? Even if it means that your sisters aren't safe? Your mothers aren't safe? Your own daughters aren't safe? Really?
In the light of Shane Piche (new celebrity rapist) receiving NO JAIL TIME for raping a 14-year-old girl, I hereby once again declare: ALL MEN. His lawyer, Eric Swartz — ALL MEN. His judge— Justice McClusky — ALL MEN. The spokesperson for the court — ALL MEN. ALL MEN. ALL MEN. ALL MEN. You see, I can't help myself because THAT'S HOW IT FEELS and that's how SCARY this shit is.
Justice McClusky went so far as to say that Piche’s pain and his consequences — of being on the sex offenders list and being on PROBATION—were SUFFICIENT. Sufficient!?!?!? He stole the mental and physical health of another human being. SHE will NEVER be the same. The entire rest of HER life will revolve around exorcising the terror of HIM from HER BODY.
And I had only just started to recover from the Kavanaugh trials.
See, each time a rapist is in the news, us surly, bitchy, hateful “survivors” have to relive our shit. Every. Single. Time. It will take a minute, an hour, a day, several days, a week, a couple weeks, a month, several months, for us to glue all the pieces back into place AGAIN. Where are the men helping us do that? The husbands? The boyfriends? The sons? The lovers? The friends? That IF a woman is LUCKY enough to have, help her pick up the pieces? Don’t they get tired of paying for the bullshit their brethren cause in THEIR lives? If they won’t step up to step out of their BULLSHIT power to rape, for us, could they maybe do it for themselves? For the fact that it’s actually really inconvenient to live with women who are constantly falling to pieces every time a man gets a tiny slap on the wrist for “just being one of the boys”? Which is FAR too often.
DO NOT tell me “not all men”! BULLSHIT. Tell me — and say it loud and proud— #iamnotarapist BECAUSE since I was a small child I had no reason to look in the face of a man and believe that he wasn’t. As a grown-ass woman who understands the way men are raised in our culture, I know for sure the seed was planted in you. So, what? Are you like Brock Turner, Shane Peche, Swartz, McClusky, Chalfen, Kavanaugh, Trump— just embracing that seed and watering it and nurturing it so it blooms to full-on misogyny in you? Or are you different? Are you one of the good guys? Are you intentionally, purposely, knowingly, lovingly refusing to allow that seed to grow? I want to know. And how will I know unless you tell me then show me by speaking the fuck up over and over and over and over again like women have been doing forever -- attempting to demand some semblance of safety? #iamnotarapist or #notallmen ? You choose. I'm sorry it has come to this. I don't want to have to demand this of any fellow human being -- to prove whether you are good or you are evil. I want to be able to assume -- until proven otherwise -- that you are all good. But I would be an idiot -- in the face of all of this evidence -- to live that naively. I would be a fool -- with my safety and the safety of all of the women around me so obviously compromised -- to be that trusting ever again.
You have to find SOME way to prove that you are one of the good guys. Please.
Until then: ALL. MEN. I'm sorry to have to tell you.
EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Until we are safe.
Demand your safety, Teamies, with love (ALWAYS, with love).
At some point in our lives, we almost all develop an inner critic that runs its nasty little voice on repeat like it’s the natural soundtrack to our lives. I’ll never be good enough. I’m an idiot. I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. Maybe your personal soundtrack is a fun little cocktail of all of these self-defeating thoughts. I know mine is! I have recently started to realize that the connection between my hatred of my body and the voice of my inner critic is complex but they both have one simple purpose: To protect me.
You see, if I have a constant negative loop playing in my head about all the bad that I am, when you judge me or hurt me or call me out for being anything negative, I’ve already beat you to it, baby. Theoretically, according to my body hatred and inner critic, you can’t throw any hurt at me that I haven’t already been putting myself through for years. So, good luck with that.
Except, my body hatred and inner critic are wrong because it still hurts when people hurt me and in the meantime, I’m just constantly hurting myself. And the super disturbing effect of constantly hurting myself is that I create phantom bullies that actually don’t even exist. I imagine hurt before it even materializes. I imagine people hate me that have never given me a second thought. I imagine people hate me that actually end up kind of liking me. And I’m particularly adept at imagining phantom tragedies that might materialize if I stop hating my body.
Early on in my recovery from eating disorders, I finally made a list of all of the tragedies my self-hatred was protecting me from. It went something like this: If I stop hating my body, I will die from a heart attack; If I stop hating my body, my children won’t be healthy; If I stop hating my body, my husband will leave me; If I stop hating my body, people will hate me; If I stop hating my body people will talk about me behind my back; If I stop hating my body, I will be disgusting. If I stop hating my body, I will be foolish; If I stop hating my body, I will be stupid.
It wasn’t until I had all of these imagined tragedies written out in front of me that I could see how utterly insane they all are and how deeply I had internalized the messages of Diet Culture. You see, I needed to hate my body in order to keep it in the eating disorders and I NEEDED to keep it in the eating disorders because that was the only thing keeping me safe from all of this tragedy BECAUSE if I stopped hating my body, if I started to eat food like a normal person again, if I stopped punishing my horrible body with exercise, I would get fat and, as anyone living in Diet Culture knows, fat is the epitome of unhealthy, unworthy and unlovable, right?
But it’s not, friends.
The truth is the stress, depression and anxiety I carry with me when I’m in deep Diet-Culture induced body-hating mode is worse for my heart than making peace with having a bigger body. The truth is teaching my children that restriction, starvation, deprivation and punishing exercise are “health” will be extremely damaging to their overall health in the immediate AND the long run. The truth is any man that would leave me because I gain some weight is not a man I want as a husband. The other truth is, my husband is not the kind of man who would leave me because I gain some weight. The truth is that my father was the kind of man who treated my mother’s weight gain like it was some personal offense to him – something that made her unworthy and unlovable. The truth is, I did not marry my father. The truth is I have absolutely no control over what people think of me whether I am fat or thin. The truth is people who gossip about other people’s bodies are not really being very good humans anyway, so fuck ‘em. The truth is that probably the most disgusting, foolish and stupid thing we can actually do is to waste our one precious life constantly fearing fat.
Hating my body, being afraid of becoming fat, Dieting, developing the inevitable eating disorders from that Dieting, never protected me from any of those phantom tragedies. These things only created actual tragedy in my life in the form of depression and anxiety; in the form of mental illness, which, is the opposite of “health,” friends.
I still talk about my body hatred in the present tense because it is still sitting on a shelf somewhere in my heart. My inner critic (which I envision as a tiny weeble-wobble dressed in my father’s work overalls) is still in there too – rocking back and forth – just biding his time. In moments when my PTSD is triggered or I feel threatened in any way, my body hatred leaps from the shelf and smothers me in a soft warm flood of shame and my inner critic suddenly blows up to the size of a hot-air balloon and starts ranting the soundtrack of its fear. But through acknowledging the reality of these negative loops in my head and in my body and understanding what it is that they are there for, I’ve also learned to turn them back down to their more manageable size. I’m now able to say, “oh, there you are again, okay. Well, you know, actually, I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense so how about you just pipe down because I have better ways of keeping myself safe than your tired old methods.” Sometimes, lately, I’ve been able to stand up to my body hatred and inner critic immediately. Sometimes, there are a couple of sleepless nights between their sudden looming and my ability to talk them down. Sometimes there is a morning or a whole day where I just don’t get out of bed while they are doing their best to convince me that no, I really am a complete piece of shit that people have the right to treat like garbage. But sooner or later, I get myself back in the driver’s seat of the bus and those two animals just get drowned out by the wiser, calmer voices that I’ve drawn closest to me.
Tell your Inner Critic, with love, that you are grateful for its concerns, Teamies, but that you got this because you totally do.
“Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though its breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by…”. I remember the words pouring out of my mother in a thick sorrowful crooning as she stood at the kitchen sink, perpetually washing dishes. “If you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.” I could have been six years old or twelve or seventeen. I knew there was something wrong with this message even as a young person but it was never something I could fully articulate until I was older. “Light up your face with gladness. Hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near. That’s the time you must keep on trying. Smile, what’s the use of crying? You’ll find your life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” I also knew my mother was living with abuse but again, that wasn’t something I could name or understand until I was older because for me, that was just what family was and did.
And because things weren’t all bad ALL the time, I understood why we would smile and be happy. There were lots of happy times and happy days and things to be grateful for. There was certainly a reason to believe our lives were still “worthwhile.” Until there wasn’t.
There’s nothing exactly wrong with the song, “Smile.” Taken from one perspective, it is about finding the inner resilience one needs to carry on despite misfortune. Simple enough. We ALL need to create, cultivate, discover our inner resilience at one time or another. From what I witnessed, experienced, understood my mother had fairly great misfortune in her relationship with my father and her subsequent attempt to raise a happy family with him. She was probably the first person that I witnessed actively creating and cultivating her inner resilience.
But in a culture that already tells women to “shut up and smile” in every possible way, this song is also total bullshit. Faking happiness while in the throes of great pain is perhaps one of the most damaging ways that women cooperate with the patriarchy and rape culture. This one act – that is lauded for being so self-sacrificing and so “motherly” – is responsible for so many stigmas around women’s mental, emotional and even physical health. We smile through postpartum depression. We smile through sexual, physical and emotional abuse. We smile through workplace harassment. We smile through relationships with people who don’t treat us well. We smile through chemotherapy. We smile through shitty interactions with total strangers who have deemed it their right to treat us badly. We smile through the difficulties of pregnancy. We smile through misdiagnoses. We smile through unnecessary C-sections and hysterectomies. We smile through harassment from teachers. We smile through acquaintance rape and marital rape. We smile through feelings of total overwhelm and the expectation that we can give everything to everybody all the time. We smile through the shame that Diet Culture heaps onto us in the guise of “health.” We smile at the doctors who basically refuse to look at any other indicator of our well-being other than BMI. We smile even though we know that they are wrong. We smile while being passed over for promotion and raises that we deserve. We smile. We smile. We smile. And when we smile through all of this, we are creating a future and a legacy of rage and fear and depression and anxiety.
Rage. Fear. Depression. Anxiety. When we smile through the great misfortunes of our life and pretend everything is okay; when we do not get the help we need to work through these misfortunes or take the time that is necessary to do so… we eventually break. Usually, as an added awesome bonus, we break on the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is, our children suffer for our pretending. That is, our dignity will ultimately suffer from our pretending. That is, we will eventually behave in a way that seems absolutely crazy all because we thought the right thing to do was pretend. And the legacy we leave is to our children who will do exactly as they saw us do; who will do exactly as they were told to do. “Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking.” They won’t know that they are allowed to ask for help. They won’t know that they are allowed to feel their feelings. They won’t know that they can trust their own body and their own mind that is telling them something is wrong, something hurts. We will have taught them to shut those voices up… and smile.
When we find ourselves, as grown-ass women, who have been taught this horrible lesson, we can use the excuse that “this is just how my mama raised me” and continue this legacy of rage, fear, depression and anxiety. Or, we can do the work to break the cycle.
Doing the work to break this cycle might mean leaving an abusive relationship, or learning how to stop being abusive yourself. It might mean getting help managing and/or quitting an addiction. It might mean leaving a job that feels like constant revictimization. It might mean learning how to stop making impulsive, ultimately damaging choices. It might require us to not only find and start seeing a therapist but also to find the courage to tell that therapist the truth so that they can really help us. We might have to read books that make us face hard truths. We will have to have hard conversations. We will have to make ourselves vulnerable. And, above all, we will have to find true inner resilience – not the kind we fool ourselves into believing we have when we “just smile” but the kind that grows stronger the more vulnerable we allow ourselves to become—the kind our children will be healed by rather than further harmed by.
“Just” smiling is not going to help you realize your life is still “worthwhile” for very long. But, refusing to participate in our patriarchal rape culture’s insistence that women “hide every trace of sadness” just might.
Trust Your Body, Teamies! And if your body tells you something is wrong, don’t pretend that everything is okay. Pretending doesn't make you stronger or cooler or somehow more badass -- it only makes you and eventually, everyone around you, miserable.
My husband and I have been presented with an opportunity to make a major life change that we have been looking forward to making for many years now. We have been waiting, patient for the right time, for a sign from the Universe that it is go time.
And now it's go time. The Universe is shoving us out the door and into the new life we've been envisioning. It's an exciting, invigorating feeling but it's also terrifying because for the first time in many years the future is an unknown.
My husband really dislikes unknowns. He's a play-it-safe kind of guy which makes us a great team because there's not much I like more than an unknown. I bring the adventure. He keeps our feet on the ground.
Yesterday, I asked him to read my new blog post. When he was done, he said, "It's like you're pregnant!"
This took me a minute and some further explanation from him to process particularly given that biologically, it is impossible that I ever could be pregnant again (no uterus, remember?) but, ultimately, it made perfect sense. IF we could possibly somehow find out that we were pregnant, it would be a weird time for us to have a baby and it would be very scary considering my age and the fact that we're both pretty psyched our kids are both old enough to almost be self-sufficient. But we would, without question, choose to have that baby and we would simply arrange our lives around making room for it. This would not be a decision based on financial intelligence. Having a newborn right now (or anytime) would not be a financially intelligent thing to do. But it would be a decision we would make with our hearts (those are the kinds of decisions I'm best at, by the way -- maybe the only kind I ever make). In the end, it wouldn't feel like a choice to us -- we would do the thing that needed to be done and do it with our whole hearts and selves.
My husband and I were lucky that we had our actual babies when we did, without much (well, ANY really in the case of our oldest) thinking it through, without much waiting for the perfect time. We've both seen many couples try to plan the perfect pregnancy and it usually doesn't work out so well. There is almost never a "perfect" time to make a heart decision. There is almost never going to be enough of everything one needs to take such a profoundly life-changing step. Having a baby is a perfect example of leaping and letting the net appear underneath you, as you fall.
Yesterday, my husband said, "There's never going to be a perfect time but it's obvious that THIS is the time. There is no other choice. THIS is obviously the ONLY choice."
So, just like we have done with every other unknown in our lives -- including our actual pregnancies -- we will hold hands, take a step and start falling into this new life, together. Whatever that means and whatever that brings, we can be certain of one thing -- we had no other choice.
"I would do that, if I could afford it!"
I keep hearing that because... it seems... the only thing we measure the sum of our lives in is money.
What about measuring out lives in, as Jonathan Larson suggested, "Love" or better yet, Soul?
If a Soul feels stagnant, misused, unappreciated, drained of life, like nothing more than a cog in a machine, that is, itself, ultimately broken and dying... that Soul can't afford to stay in that place. Maybe to leave that place is financially risky. If the only thing we measure our lives in is money, Soul doesn't matter. But if we measure our lives in Love, if we measure our lives in Soul... we can't afford NOT to take the occasional financial risk.
Of course, we all want the sweet spot where both Soul and Bank Account are equally full. And... one man's soul-sucking job is another man's passion-fueled career. But the hard fact is no one does a soul-sucking job well. The hard fact is that when our once passion-fueled career becomes a soul-sucking job it is highly probable we have become incompetent in that position. If we have ANY love left for the people that job is supposed to serve or for our colleagues who are still fueled by passion to do the good work, we cannot afford to stay. To stay would be sacrificing Love and Soul for Money.
I can't afford to do THAT.
My father was the first truly vain person I ever knew. Obsessed with physical appearance, he fussed more over his hair and his beard and his clothing than any grown man I have ever known. If it had been acceptable in his day for a man to care about these things to the extent that he did, my father would have made metrosexual cool about 50 years before its actual time.
I remember him discussing a weight loss plan for both himself and my mother before their… maybe fortieth… high school reunion. He refused to go unless they both lost fifty pounds. They had both been voted “Best Looking” in high school and he could not stand the thought of facing those old schoolmates as an older, fatter version of the gorgeous young man they all once knew. My parents did not lose “the weight” and thus, did not attend that particular school reunion.
This was just a minor blip in my memory but I bet it was a relatively big deal in their lives. I think about the private conversations my husband and I have behind our closed bedroom door, outside the ears and understanding of our children. I think about the decisions we agonize over, feel shitty about, yet have to make all the same – decisions my children are absolutely oblivious to. I wonder what their conversations about that school reunion were like. I wonder what their conversations about their aging and failing good looks were like.
Like everyone living in Diet Culture, both of my parents were victims of the belief that a thin, young body was much more valuable than an old, fat body. The older and fatter they both got, the less valuable they felt. Even as a child, I understood this deeply. I took the lesson of their dissatisfaction with their bodies deeply into my own psyche. My father especially taught me that a person’s worth – particularly a woman’s worth – was in her physical appearance.
While I was learning these lessons at a very young age, I was also being introduced to pornography. I watched pornographic films. I spent hours pouring over pornographic magazines. With the gorgeous, lithe, naked bodies of so many young women spread across the pages and across the screens, I learned that this is what a valuable human looked like. Conflating my father’s messages and porn’s messages, I learned that a woman’s body had to be young, thin, flexible, sexual, open, ready, passive and obedient in order to be desirable and valuable.
I’m sure my parents had conversations that I was never privy to that would shock me. I’m sure they discussed their bodies and their lives and their insecurities in ways I can’t possibly imagine. In fact, it is very nearly impossible for me to believe that my parents ever delved into any sort of deep conversation about any of this. And, honestly, I don’t know if I’m willing to concede that their conversations were ever that “deep.” Like most Americans, even now, they never seemed to question Diet Culture or their long-held belief that physical appearance determined human value. They certainly do not seem to have wondered whether it was okay for their children to grow up with the belief that their physical appearances determined their worth. Still… they MUST have had sorrowful conversations about their preoccupation with their own weight. They MUST have had to reconcile their own aging and rounding bodies with their desire to be close to one another anyway.
In my therapist’s office yesterday, I realized that I’m still carrying around my father’s preoccupation with physical appearance. Like him, I STILL believe that my primary value is in how “beautiful,” by society’s standards, my body is. The problem is I’m heavy (again) and I’m 45 years old. I am not one of the lithe, ready-and-waiting, pornographic goddesses that I was taught women needed to be in order to be valuable. No. In fact, I look much more like my mother did at my age than one of those sexy girls in a porn.
I remember watching my mother stand up out of a bath when I was a little girl. She heaved her massive body up and water ran off of her in great streams. The tub that had moments ago looked like it were filled to the top with water now seemed to deflate to just a few inches of water – her body had been taking up that much volume. I remember staring, fascinated, by her enormous drooping rolls of belly fat and her huge bottom that sagged in pockmarks of cellulitic dimples. Her fat arms full of those same dimples and rolls. The way she struggled and really had to maneuverer to open her legs enough to dry between them. The way her breasts seemed deflated and loose over her body. How even her hips had rolls. She was gigantic. And, from even this very early age, I was disgusted by her body. She was nothing like the porn goddesses.
Between my mother’s self & body-hatred, my father’s obsession with thinness and “good looks” and the daily, sometimes major and sometimes minor, traumas of living in a dysfunctional household, I learned to hate my mother’s body. Everything in the world of my childhood screamed at me to make sure I looked like the porn goddesses and NOT like my mother as I grew up. The porn goddesses were valuable, were worthy of love. My mother was not.
It is no surprise to anyone but myself that here I am, at the age of 45, with a body much more like my mother’s was when I saw her getting out of the bath than any girl in a porn, hating my body and believing my body is simply not valuable; believing, in fact, that in my current body, I have no value in this world.
But I’m smart, and I’m self-aware and I’ve done SO MUCH work on all that internal shit. I know logically this can’t be true. I volunteer at the elementary school. I’m a passionate and dedicated teacher. I love my family and they love me. I’m a writer. I’m a good cook. I’m a deeply spiritual person. I’m passionate about social justice. I’m a good friend. I KNOW in my mind that there is more to me than my body. And yet…
The deep and early conditioning of childhood does not simply disappear overnight. Despite knowing that I have value beyond my body, I still – at times – simply hate myself because I can no longer force my body to be what I was raised to believe it HAS TO be in order to be worth loving. I am deeply ashamed to admit that there are times I consider and even plan killing myself because I can no longer live with the pressure and shame surrounding the size of my body. I have had these suicidal thoughts in response to my own body hatred since I was a young teenager. I rarely admit them because they are SO shameful; so self-obsessed; so petty and vain and foolish. But the emotional pain of not being good enough is truly that intense; truly, THAT unbearable.
It is only dawning on me now that the emotional pain comes from my father’s own vanity; my father’s lessons about what makes a woman worthy of love. I simply cannot be what my father taught me to be. I simply am not capable of being the woman my father thought was valuable and worth loving.
Hearing me say this, reader, I know you’re thinking, “good! What your father taught you was wrong!” Thank you for thinking this. You are right. But, he was still my father – the only father I will ever have – and to feel deeply in my bones that I am unlovable in his eyes, that I always was unlovable and always will be unlovable is heart-wrenchingly painful. Even with my smart mind and heart screaming at me: “YOU ARE LOVEABLE. YOU ARE WORTHY. EVERYTHING HE TAUGHT YOU WAS BULLSHIT,” my bones, my body, my deepest sense of self is wracked by the emotional pain of this realization that I will never be worthy of his love, according to the rules given to me in childhood.
Once, as a full-grown adult, my father picked me up for some family event. As I got closer to the car, he said, “your hair actually looks pretty nice today!” This was the closest he ever got to complementing my appearance. My niece – who was in her late teens at the time – got into the back seat of the car with me as my father gushed about how gorgeous she looked. There was something gross and enraging and depressing about all of this to me – and now I understand it. His non-compliment was another reminder to me that I was the worst thing any woman could be, in his opinion, “ugly.” His gushing over my niece’s beauty was a reminder that he judged women by how much they resembled the desirable porn goddesses that he tucked tightly in his stack of magazines under his bed. The reason this made me feel gross and angry was that MY FATHER – my NIECE’S GRANDFATHER – was judging her based on how sexually desirable she was in his eyes. And yet, however insane this sounds, it made me achingly sad that he did not find me sexually desirable – because I knew that meant I did not have any value to him.
Humans are complex creatures and the human mind and heart is a vast and contradictory tangle of thoughts and feelings that is usually just too much to understand – even for those of us who try desperately. I don’t know if it is possible to free myself for good and forever from my deep need for my father’s love. I do know that since I never really received it, I have spent most of my life pretending as though I never wanted it in the first place. Sour grapes. The easiest coping mechanism. But if I am ever going to reconcile who I am and who I want to be with the lesson’s my father taught me, I must first admit that I did and I do desperately want my father’s love and approval. Desperately.
It is obvious to me now that this desperate desire for his love and approval is a huge part of what has driven me to dieting and weight loss and into my eating disorder again and again and again throughout my life. Every single time has been an attempt to make myself into a woman who is worthy of love.
Logic tries hard to scream at me in this moment: YOU ARE ALREADY WORTHY OF LOVE!
I hear logic and I agree, logically. This is what I believe, deeply, for everyone one else in this world. I want to believe it for me too. I have tried and tried to believe it. But I have to admit that I still don’t. I still feel, in my bones, that I am unworthy. I am unworthy according to my father. I am unworthy of my father’s love, according to his definition of what makes a woman worthy. And in this admission, I am left with a choice: Either I go back into the eating disorder and I try again to gain his approval, to shape myself into the porn goddess he wanted me to be OR I stand, in my mother’s body, demanding to be seen as worthy of love exactly as I am. I know there is only one real choice but that choice is so much harder and requires so much more courage. That one choice – to demand that I am worthy in my mother’s body – means disobeying my father and betraying my father’s teachings. I have done many many hard things in my life – and I am afraid – so afraid – that THIS may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do yet.
I intend to live to be very old. I have put my request in to the Universe. Old, please. Hella old. Old enough to see grand-babies and great-grandbabies (even if these babies are covered in fur because whether my children have children is not up to me) and old enough to be completely confused by the world I live in by the time I die (I’m halfway there already anyway). Part of this request is also that I maintain my mind, my mobility, and my ability to listen, speak and write until the day I die.
Yes, I’ve made the request. But, it is entirely up to the universe whether or not my request is fulfilled.
Human beings are organic creatures. Everything in our body is alive. Like every living thing, it is part of our NATURE to die. Most of us don’t have a clear understanding of why that is; not really. We explain it with religion or science but emotionally, spiritually this is the mystery of our bodies, of our lives; that we WILL eventually be severed from everything we have ever known and loved. The simplest and clearest explanation for this that I’ve ever been able to wrap my mind around is that, knowing this, our lives (and sometimes life itself) becomes precious to us.
So precious, in fact, that we have developed a specific mental illness around the inescapable fact of our death: Obsessive Health Culture. We believe that we can out-Diet, out-nutrition, out-weigh, out-exercise death. But my sweet Readers, we can’t. We can’t. We can’t.
The effect of this belief is that we see our bodies as problems. We see death as a challenge that those of us “willing to put in the work” can somehow avoid completely.
I have put my request in to the Universe for a long long long long life and to show I’m serious, I DO put the work in on my part — to the best of my human ability. But recently, part of that work for me has been trying to accept that, ultimately, WHATEVER I do, it is NOT my decision. The Universe decides. And that decision, that timing, that reason for that decision at that time— there is absolutely no earthly way to understand that. THAT is the Universe’s business. Fully beyond my comprehension.
I have heard — as nauseum — people say: “everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes, that is absolutely true because humans are reason-seeking creatures and the beauty of our minds is that we WILL find order however we can.
I have said that both my parents died when they did because they would not have been able to bear watching one of their sons die slowly and painfully. They would not have been able to bear losing one of their other sons suddenly and unexpectedly just a month before that! Two sons in one month! Death spared them this tragedy and this grief. But the truth is, I don’t know why they died WHEN they died. They just died. That “reason” is just my human brain creating order out of what truly is the ultimate chaos.
My parents were not particularly “healthy” people but that is not WHY they died. They died because people die.
One of the most aggressively stupid and cruel things that Obsessive Health Culture does is make death our fault. People can’t stop thinking, talking, obsessing about WHY someone becomes ill, WHY they die — and eventually, almost everyone gets blamed for their own death. I did this to my own mother when she died. If she just would’ve lost weight, if she just would’ve been more active, if she just would’ve taken care of herself... what? If she had done all of these things, she would have lived... forever? No, she would not have. She STILL would have died. MAYBE she would’ve died a little later BUT I’ve seen enough seemingly “healthy” individuals die young to know that’s not the case either.
It is OFFENSIVE to me now when I hear people talk about WHY my brother was diagnosed with and died from ALS; about WHY his wife died so young and unexpectedly. I have heard every possible “reason” thrown around. They ate too much venison. They are too much fish from the Great Lakes. They didn’t take proper vitamins. For real! I’ve heard people say this. And now... I want to say, “no, bitch! They just died.” It wasn’t their fault that they died. People do not live forever!
Obsessive Health Culture will fuck you up. It will lie to you about the kind of control you have over your body. It will tell you that the very nature of your living, breathing, body is “wrong” because part of that nature is death. Obsessive Health Culture wants you to believe you can avoid death by doing guess what... buying its products. Buy the challenge package with the daily protein shakes! Buy the organic vitamins! Buy the skin-care products made without animal products! Buy the bread that has whole seeds in it! Buy this magazines that somehow has all the secrets to immortality in it for just $4.95. Buy Buy Buy Buy Buy. But, oh babies... the Universe doesn’t take bribes.
The result of this inundation from Obsessive Health Culture is that we see our bodies as having something inherently wrong with them which, ironically, makes us careless with our bodies; makes us unloving and unkind toward our bodies.
“So... what then?” You say? “Is the answer to just stop trying to be healthy at all?” You say.
No. Authentic Health and Obsessive Health Culture are not AT ALL the same mindset. Obsessive Health Culture pathologizes our understanding that life is precious and greedily attempts to horde and stockpile health. Authentic Health accepts that yes, life is precious and thus lives in this moment — because it is all we have. Authentic Health creates people who care about other people, who treat themselves and others with kindness and gentleness, who behave in accordance with the understanding that all we can do is the best we can do.
Obsessive Health Culture tells us there IS a way to cheat death — simply achieve “perfect” health. But there is NO “perfect health.” Perfect Health is a lie. Perfect health’s goal is an endless life which is impossible. If you can’t achieve an endless life, which you can’t, you will always be imperfect, wrong, a problem, according to Obsessive Health Culture.
But... in Authentic Health your goal is not to live forever (which, I will remind you again, is NOT possible), your goal is to live well RIGHT NOW. How do you want to feel right now? How do you want to behave right now? How do you want to treat the people around you right now? What kind of relationship do you want to have with the world around you right now?
Obsessive Health Culture — with its focus on an impossible goal — creates mental illness in its practitioners by making them greedy for what they could not possible obtain and hateful of what they already have. Ironically, Obsessive Health Culture creates even more physical disease, mental illness, bad behavior, self-hate, and other problems.
Authentic Health — with its focus on the now and its acceptance of the natural facts of what it means to be human — creates peace, love and clarity.
Death is nobody’s fault. You will not escape death by participating in a culture that shames and blames people for their own illnesses and deaths. You will only become more frightened of your own death and more hateful of your own human body.
Put your bid in to The Universe. Then, do your best to love your body here and now by respecting that here and now is the only time the Universe has actually promised us.
Get Free from Obsessive Health Culture, Teamies
and accept Authentic Health, with love.
Five months out from my divorce and alone in the world for the first time in my adult life at the age of 28, I splurged and bought myself a spa day for my birthday. I had never had a brow wax or a pedicure or a massage until that day. In my world, this was not out of the ordinary. In the world I grew up in, these were not typical services that middle-class women would treat themselves to.
My massage was the last treatment of the day and it was a pretty good thing that it was because the touch I received during those other services kind of warmed me up for the compassionate touch that I received during the massage. By the time I got to my massage I realized that this type of service industry touch was skilled, trustworthy and – even though it felt intimate – professional.
At the end of my massage, the tenderest voice in the universe spoke to me through the fog of relaxation and surrender I was drifting in to say, “Okay, JodiAnn, you can take your time gathering yourself and getting up and come out of the room when you’re ready.” My massage therapist shut the door behind her as she left and the moment I heard the door click shut, I experienced a minor explosion in my psyche. I immediately began both laughing hysterically and crying hysterically at the exact same time. I had no idea why I was doing this but it was pouring from me with absolutely no effort on my part. It felt like emotional vomit – THAT uncontrollable, THAT involuntary, THAT horrible and THAT relieving all at once.
I will be 45 years old in about a month. I have had many massages since that first one. In the new world I have built for myself, a massage is a service a middle-class woman can and will from time-to-time treat herself to. Massages are also a service that THIS middle-class woman believes should be fully covered by health insurance – but that’s a subject for a different post.
Yesterday, I had my most recent massage and remembered my response to that first one again. I wondered why I had felt like that – where had that response come from? I considered these things as the strong hands of my wonderful massage therapist moved capably and firmly over my body. I considered my body, naked on a heated table under luxurious blankets, being touched by a stranger in a private setting with soft music playing and the lights turned down low.
And then it dawned on me; almost 16 years after that experience of my first massage, it dawned on me. That first massage was the first time in my entire life that I felt what counselors and therapists specializing in sexual assault like to call “good touch.” My massage therapist didn’t want anything from me, wasn’t trying to get anything from me, other than, obviously, her well-earned pay. My massage therapist, in earnest, was trying to make my body feel good, better than it did before. Her work was not to hurt me or violate my trust. Her work was to heal me and heal me she did, though I doubt she could ever know to what extent.
Understand, Dear Reader: I had been married and with the same partner for 12 years. I had left him for another man. I had had many sexual encounters with about a handful of people since the age of 13. I had two parents, five biological siblings, two cousins who lived with us, and a very large extended family in my early life. My whole life, I had been surrounded by people and people touching me. BUT… I had also experienced early childhood sexual abuse, incest, date-rape as a young teen, marital rape, and attempted gang rape as an adult. I could not remember a time in my life that touch EVER felt safe or welcomed or good. Even when I desired sexual touch, it was always tinged with fear and a memory of violence. Even when I desired physical closeness to my mother, who was a warm and cozy person to snuggle with, it was always tinged with her need, her dysfunction, her self-hatred that she so eagerly wrapped me and my body up in without at-all realizing what she was doing.
It took me 28 years to feel “good touch” and another 16 years to realize what that even meant. In that 16 years, I found a great partner who gives me lots of good touch. In that 16 years, I had two children whose snuggles are nothing but sweet, perfect, wholesome love. In that 16 years, I learned a whole new definition of family and of love and of trust. I learned that none of that has to hurt.
Survivors don’t come forward sooner, in part, because we do not even understand what is happening to us. The whole world tells us we were asking for it, we deserve it, that’s what our bodies are for. Many survivors learn from a very early age that our bodies do not belong to us and that we do not deserve good touch. In fact, most survivors who learned “bad touch” early do not have any idea that there is any alternative. Touch just IS bad. Touch just IS terrifying. Touch just IS violent.
I have been vocally supportive of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse for many years. I have sat – sometimes quietly and sometimes not so quietly – and listened to other women and men in my family, in my schools, in my workplaces question, disbelieve and slander any woman who would dare to come forward about her abuse and against her abuser. In the last couple of years, I have watched interestedly as the tide seems to be beginning to turn, as #metoo gained momentum, as an entire generation of voters woke up and some of the generations before them FINALLY woke the fuck up. I continue to watch, still interested.
Yes, it’s true, individual sexual assault cases are often rife with complexity. My own are absolutely no exception. In many of the cases of sexual assault that I was involved in, even I realize that my perpetrators did not understand what they were doing to be “wrong.” Men are raised in this country, after all, to believe that “boys will be boys” which means they can get away with whatever the fuck they want as long as they stay ignorant and foolish.
But, where we stand with regards to the overall concept of sexual assault is VERY simple: either we believe her or we do not. If we do, we are clearly aware and awake to the patriarchal soup we are swimming in. If we do not, we are ignorant and careless and callous to a long history of male violence. And that’s it.
The #metoo campaign is an important, necessary, and inspiring movement. Watching people wake up to the patriarchal paradigm is great. But, as a survivor, every case, every article, every conversation, every public hearing involving sexual assault – particularly when centered around the basic question of “do we believe her or not?” is a trigger and a difficulty and a reminder that the world at large isn’t even close to being safe – even if some of us survivors have learned to create something as close to safety in our own worlds as we will probably ever get.
Choose where you stand, Teamies,
and if you don’t believe her, fuck off, sincerely, with love.
I remember when my mother was diagnosed with heart disease. She was 45 years old and I was 10 (I will be 45 this year and my daughter is 10). I doubt I was told in any kind of clear or sensitive way that Mommy had heart disease. I’m sure I overheard my mother and father or my older siblings talking about it. I might have asked some questions. I got the gist.
One night around that time my mother and I were sitting on the couch and I asked her if she was going to die. I meant, are you going to die immediately from this heart disease, but that isn’t what I said. She said, “Someday” and laughed. It was probably the first time I really thought about the fact that my parents would die someday, that my mother would die someday. The fact that she thought it would be a long way off was not at all comforting, particularly in the face of her recent diagnosis.
Since the time of my mother’s diagnosis, I have been terrified of my own heart. I have felt it racing, skipping, beating and been worried – worried, literally sick, into panic attacks – that my heart was killing me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more concerned that I would be diagnosed, like my mother and my brother were, with the same type of heart disease.
Like everyone else in our culture I have always bought into the nearly-religious belief our mainstream medical community has in thinness being a cure-all for any ailment. If you are thin, everything is better. If you are thin, your heart is healthy and protected, right? This belief coupled with my tremendous fear of heart disease grossly contributed to the development of my eating disorder.
My mother died of a heart attack when she was 70 years old. My father died just two years later of a heart attack as well. In between their deaths, I turned, once again, to dieting and sunk into my eating disorder like a religious zealot. I would save my life by becoming thin. I would save my heart. I would not go out like that.
I did get thin… and the crowd went wild. OBVIOUSLY, I had figured it out. I was finally and forever HEALTHY! Yay! Every person I encountered – including every doctor, friend, family member, colleague, etc… if they mentioned my weight loss at all (which most of them did), mentioned it with beaming pride and acceptance. They took my weight loss as proof that unhealthy people could get healthy. Fat girls could get skinny. Yay! We can all be safe from illness and death as long as we are willing to deprive and restrict ourselves and develop eating disorders to prove our allegiance to the church of thinness.
Here’s what really happened folks: I weight cycled. Like MANY MANY MANY larger people in our culture, I “lost the weight” only to “regain the weight” for the THIRD time in my adult life. THREE TIMES I have lost 30 or more pounds only to regain it all, plus some. Twice I regained it all, with interest, quickly. This last time, because I had also thrown in a MASSIVE obsession with exercise for good measure, I was able to hold on to the loss for about two and a half years (that’s NOT a diet tip, my fellow strugglers – it’s a cautionary tale!).
Here’s the kicker: Weight Cycling is one of the worst things people can do for their hearts. Weight Cycling in women is a predictor of future heart disease. Weight Cycling puts additional strain on a heart. People who weight cycle have LESS HEALTHIER HEARTS than their non-dieting, non-weight-losing counterparts. Go ahead and look that shit up.
I first read an article about this years ago, before my last big loss. I remember it was a small article and it didn’t get much attention. I thought, this just CAN’T be true. If it were true, more people would be talking about it. If it were true, doctors and “health” magazines and fitness professionals would not be pushing DIETS so damn hard, would they? Nah! Impossible! If this were true, people would not be so fucking ecstatic to see you when you were able to lose thirty pounds in three months. They wouldn’t congratulate you and light up when you walked by and call you a “bitch” for getting so “skinny” and pull you aside and tell you that you were “beautiful” and “smokin’ hot” or express their deep heartfelt happiness that you were “finally healthy.” This was LITERALLY my experience after my last weight loss. This is what people do to one another. This is the fucked up society we live in. But would we keep doing this if we accepted the fucking scientific truth that dieting (and the consequent development of eating disorders) actually does MORE damage to our health than just being the damn weight we were simply meant to be? Maybe. Maybe we WOULD still want people to obsessively chase after thinness even if we knew it would make them unhealthy (ALL current evidence points to this being the case) because dammit we are just THAT afraid of fat in our culture. We would rather die than be fat.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. By the time I was 10 years old, some studies already demonstrated this truth about weight cycling. By the time I was 15 years old, books were already being written and published that were screaming at us to wake the fuck up to the truth about dieting! By the time I finally developed a full-blown eating disorder in my early 20s, the scientifically proven link between dieting and LACK of health existed. But doctors wouldn’t change their belief systems. “Health” magazines knew they’d lose their advertising if they embraced this truth. The 70 Billion Dollar Diet industry couldn’t afford to stop preying on little girls and young women – EVEN after they knew. No single person ever told me – until it was already way too late – that one of the worst things I could do for my heart was LOSE WEIGHT by dieting. No, on the contrary, EVERY SINGLE THING AND PERSON IN OUR ENTIRE CULTURE TOLD ME ONE UNANIMOUS TRUTH: YOU. MUST. DIET.
My mother dieted up until the day she died. My mother weight cycled many times throughout her adult life. Despite all of the doctors and the medications they prescribed and the fucking pacemaker that was eventually implanted in her body, the truth is NO ONE ever really gave a shit about my mother’s heart. All they ever wanted from her was thinness. All the world ever told her was: be thin. All the instruction she ever got about how to take care of her body was: Diet. And this clear and resounding instruction only hurt her heart more, only made her heart MORE unhealthy.
NEVER. AGAIN. Not for me. In honor and memory of my mother, I sincerely declare the fucking buck stops here. No more dieting. None. Ever. Praise glory hallelujah. There is a better way – and every day I’m getting closer and closer to finding it.
Stop Dieting, Teamies. Find a better way, with Love.
There are days or even just moments when we stagger in thelight and beauty of the world. The sun coming up over a green horizon. The sun going down behind the big lake. The stolen snuggle with the youngest child as we hit the snooze button for 10 more minutes of this deep magic.
The trick is to have a mental treasure chest to keep them in. The trick is to sink this treasure chest somewhere down behind your heart or between your lower ribs and your lowest belly. Hold it there. And NEVER forget it.
Because there will be other days and other moments that are not like treasures at all. And at these times, we will need to dredge up the booty that we’ve hoarded and, one gem at a time, remember with clarity every beautiful thing we have ever been given. And be fiercely grateful.
Only we know where we have hidden our own treasure. Only we know how to open the chest. Only we know how to perform this trick, for ourselves.
Hoard your treasures with love, Teamies
When I first started college, I had no real idea what I wanted to study. I thought I would get a degree in microbiology and become a dolphin trainer. For real. If that didn’t work out I was seriously considering Astronaut. I’m absolutely not kidding. But, something strange was happening to me as I attended more and more college classes. I was becoming enchanted – like in the fairy tale, magical way – with my Professors. And I remember, this one day during my very first semester, walking back to my flophouse apartment from class and rehearsing – in my head – how I would introduce myself to my first college class. In this little fantasy, after introducing myself, I even started to “go over” the (fantasy) “syllabus” and it felt extremely exciting. I knew I wanted to be a Professor.
I was given every conceivable warning. I was told by what seemed like hundreds of people (though I’m sure it couldn’t have been that many) that I would NEVER achieve this goal. At first, I sincerely didn’t even know what I would teach! I just knew I wanted to be one of THOSE amazing, intelligent, knowledgeable, cool-as-hell, deep-as-hell people that filled my head with questions and opened up my world to things I never even knew existed.
Then, I took an introduction to poetry class with the smartest, quickest, most bad-ass woman I had ever met to date and she recited “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798” by William Wordsworth BY HEART. Did you hear me? BY. HEART. And if you think the title of that poem is long, you really need to have a look at the poem. I sat in awe as she recited the poem I had read with loathing just the night before. She made it come to life. A few weeks later, she invited those of us who wrote our own poetry to read out loud to the class. I had been writing poetry since I was 12 years old and this might’ve been the first real chance I had to share it with people that weren’t in my immediate family or friends. After I read some of my poetry out loud in her class, she suggested I meet with her during office hours. When I did, she told me that I should study poetry. Until that moment, I had no idea that was even possible. So, let me rephrase that previous sentence: She told me I COULD study poetry.
And then I knew EXACTLY what I was going to teach. I would be a Professor of English – specializing in Poetry. Holy Shit! You’d have thought I was telling people I wanted to be an Astronaut! I remember a couple of individuals I worked with even laughing out loud, to my face, when I told them what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” People don’t do that. First-generation college girls who grew up in houses without books and who have been working since they were 13 years old and fully supporting themselves since they were 17 years old JUST. DON’T. DO. THAT.
But I did.
Or, at least I almost did.
As I just mentioned, I have been supporting myself since I was 17 years old and working since I was 13. There isn’t much I know more about than making a buck, doing whatever it takes. So, during my grad school days when I had my graduate assistantship to teach two classes each semester – while I was taking full-time classes – I ALSO decided to teach classes at the local community college. It was a smart work-related move. I increased my value as an employee post-graduation by gaining this experience. I also loved it. I loved that the community college students I taught in Southern New Mexico were bad-ass, do-it-yourself-ers like I had been. I liked that I could relate to them and help them more than I felt like I could relate to or help the still-scrappy but a bit more spoiled University students I saw during my graduate assistantship.
Also, during my first graduate program in Southern New Mexico, I went through a difficult divorce and… well… sort of a complete unraveling. Through this experience, I decided to leave academia all together. I knew how to work. I went to work. For about six months. Then, I remembered my original goal: Poetry, becoming a Professor of Poetry. And I wanted it again – badly. So, I did what I do: I got a job --- across the country—in a lecturer position at a big University. AND… I applied for a second graduate program that would give me the MFA in Poetry I needed to at least begin to apply for “Professor of Poetry” jobs. So, while I was teaching full-time and part-time too at the local community college (I know how to WORK, remember?), I started my MFA. And, oh ya… I also met a guy and got pregnant. I was pregnant the first year of my MFA program and had an infant during the second.
It was during this second semester of my first year when I was HELLA pregnant, unmarried but partnered, teaching six classes, a full-time student, really had still JUST gone through a divorce and… well, fucking spent, when I found myself seated across an office from another woman that would change my life. This was my first advisor during my MFA program. I adored and respected her though, in retrospect, I don’t think the adoration or respect was remotely mutual. She was young (maybe 5-7 years older than me), no children, unmarried, widely published and recognized as an up-and-coming poet. She had completed the PhD program of my dreams – the one I was gearing up, at that moment, to apply to – and she had studied with the EXACT Professors (the keepers of the light and knowledge, you know) that I had wanted to study with. We began a conversation about this PhD program, and PhD programs in general. I was telling her the schools I was currently readying myself to apply to, with as much excitement as I could muster in my WAY overworked and thoroughly exhausted pregnant body – and she said the words that determined the course of my life from that moment until right now. “You shouldn’t do a PhD. You should teach at a Community College.”
Her logic was solid. I already had a fair amount of experience at Community Colleges. It was easier to get jobs at Community Colleges. PhD programs are expensive and while you’re going through them you live, essentially, in abject poverty – and was that what I wanted for my baby? Yes, she played that card too. Suddenly, sitting in that little office, I was a bad mother if I pursued my dream an inch farther. And by the time I left this meeting, I knew what I had to do in order to continue to take care of myself and my child: I had to keep working. And “working” meant, no PhD, no dream job of being a Professor of Poetry. According to her, the competition was simply too steep and I just didn’t have it in me.
I only realized the consequences this one meeting with my advisor had on my life within the last couple of years. Until then, I was dutifully fulfilling the assignment she had given me: go forth, get a job at a community college, make the best living you can for someone with as little talent as you obviously have. Every other time I’ve tried to write about this in the last couple of years, I’ve been too angry with her to make any real sense to anyone else. I’m not as angry as I was at first. I understand that she was speaking out of her own experience. She was also exhausted. She felt her University Professor job was “hard” and obviously she had enough expenses to have to take extra work to make ends meet because she was moonlighting at the school where I was completing my low-residency MFA. So, she was also overworked. And her PhD study was difficult and it had taken a long time and she had struggled through it – and she was looking at her current life thinking that getting her PhD wasn’t worth it. She was extraordinarily ungrateful for what she had and for what she was able to do with her life. And she had absolutely no idea what completing my PhD and being a University Professor of Poetry – or at least CONTINUING TO TRY – meant to ME.
There is, of course, no telling what my life would currently be like if: I had had the strength to withstand her bullshit “advice;” If I could have taken a deep breath and remembered who the fuck I was and where I had come from and how hard I had worked for so long; or if I could have known what I know now – that modeling a relentless pursuit of my dreams for my children is actually JUST as important as a steady paycheck. Who knows? That’s really not even a question I should be bothering myself with at this point.
I did become a Professor of Poetry, at a Community College which -- and this is the part my MFA advisor could NOT possibly have understood – meant that I really am a Teacher of Composition at a Vocational School who, for a little while, got to teach Poetry for funsies. I quit teaching Poetry at my Community College last year because it was no longer even remotely fun and all it did was add to my workload.
I don’t mind working as a Teacher of Composition at a Vocational School. It’s far better than most of the other jobs I’ve had since I was 13 years old. I am grateful for the many lessons I have learned in my current job. I am grateful for the many experiences I have been able to have in this current job. I am extremely grateful that I have been able to support my family well. But – and I am just beginning to really admit this and wonder what the hell I can possibly do about it – it was never my dream. Never.
Keep moving towards YOUR Dreams, Teamies!
And watch out for bullshit advice!
I recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training during which I learned many different methods of meditation. Since I’ve been practicing meditation (off and on) for about twelve years, only a couple of these methods were brand new to me. One of the methods that was new to me was “practicing silence.” When our teacher told us that was what we would be spending the morning doing, I did not really realize, or maybe believe, that it was a method of meditation. I thought it was just being quiet, not being allowed to talk, not really a big deal. But I soon realized “practicing silence” is the most powerful method of meditation I have ever learned.
It seems simple enough, right? Just...don’t talk. That’s what I assumed. Our teacher explained we would go about our morning, being in the world, just not speaking. Then, as she gave us one last opportunity to speak, I started to mildly panic. How was I going to manage in the world — even for a few hours— NOT speaking!? I mean, I’ve spent an entire day ALONE not speaking out loud of course but talking to people is how I get along in the world, it’s what I do. I didn’t know how I could even be among other humans and not speak. It suddenly seemed impossible and ridiculous.
We began our morning of silence with a yoga practice. That was easy enough. Students don’t talk in yoga usually anyway so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But it was also a smart way to begin this practicing silence business because by the time I had to go out into the human world, I was centered, calm, and all wrung out. I was ready.
In the few hours that followed, I learned several unexpected lessons.
First, I learned the world is FILLED with noise. I am usually comforted by the noise of the world. It reminds me that I’m not alone. But in this case, I realized that the noise felt like a physical pressure on my head and body. It felt oppressive.
Second, I learned that people fill their interactions with each other with lots of meaningless talking. I am especially guilty of this. Ironically, I am a long time hater of small talk because I’m actually pretty antisocial but because I’m extroverted I’m also pretty good at it, it comes naturally to me. Despite my typical desire to be left alone, I fill the quiet space between me and other people easily with...well, bullshit. During this practice of silence I realized this action too feels filled with pressure, oppressive. During this practice of silence I was released from this pressure. It felt good.
Third, it also dawned on me that filling this space between me and other people is often filled with negative talk. Being somewhat of an empath, my mood and energy will often fall in line with the dominant mood and energy of a certain space. If the energy is highly negative (as it has been at my workplace for at least the last five years), I will be highly negative. This coupled with my ability to nonstop verbally bullshit adds up to A LOT of horribly unnecessary negative talk on my part in certain situations.
Finally, I learned that I LIKE being silent. I like being “forced” to LISTEN without the pressure of responding. I like really hearing other people and the world around me. I like being able to have enough distance between myself and the noise of the world around me to decide what noise I want to allow into me and what noise isn’t productive for me to allow in. I like being able to hear myself and know what I need in that moment — not in relation or response to the stimulus around me but just arising from my own authentic being.
My workplace has been a source of stress and suffering for many years now. During this practice of silence during my yoga teacher training, I realized it’s not only because it’s a highly negative environment but also because it is just SO LOUD, SO filled with noise. I also realized that over the years I have contributed much more than my fair share of negative noise to that din. So, it became clear to me that what I had to do at work was “practice silence” – NOT as a method of withdrawing or protesting, but as a method of controlling my own contribution to the stress and suffering.
Mostly, this works, even in meetings so far but, there are times it doesn’t work. Obviously when I’m actually teaching, it does not work at all. But something really interesting has already started to happen in my teaching because of my practicing silence outside of the classroom as much as possible. I’m much more careful about speaking in my classes. I allow much more space for my students’ voices to determine the shape of their learning. I am much more tuned in to their conversation and their immediate needs. I can hear them better. And the same is true with my colleagues.
Practicing silence calms the frantic feeling I have had ever since I can remember that I have to get people’s attention and make sure my voice is heard. I was the youngest of six kids. For a time when I was really young, I was the youngest of EIGHT (my mother fostered a couple of cousins of mine). My next oldest sibling is eight years older than me. By the time I was born, my oldest brothers were nearly teenagers. My home, my life has ALWAYS been filled with noise and chaos, people coming and going, people who have always been more important than me. As a child, I was easy to miss until I discovered my ability to make noise. And that didn’t take long. But practicing silence, now, as a grown-ass woman, calms that frantic little noise-making, attention-seeking child in me and makes me aware of when she is just rattling around in my head, desperate to find a way out. This awareness makes it easier to control her, for her own sake, for my sake as a grown-ass woman who is better off NOT behaving like a noise-making, attention-seeking child in almost ALL circumstances.
So, I guess, I recommend practicing silence – particularly if you, like me, are a natural extrovert and live with the constant expectation (yours and other people’s) that you WILL make noise. Try not making noise. Try experiencing the noise that comes at you without needing to respond to it. Learn how this noise affects you. Learn how to have more control of the noise you make back at the world.
Practice Silence, Teamies, with Love.
Almost a year ago, a couple of months after my forty-fourth birthday, I was diagnosed with two eating disorders. Before I divulge what these two eating disorders were, let me tell you a few things that I had come to believe as ABSOLUTE TRUTH through my forty-four years of indoctrination into diet culture.
First: a person would have to be wasting away to nothing in a hospital bed while their families begged them to eat SOMETHING for their “illness” to count as an actual “eating disorder.”
Second: only (or, at least, primarily) younger people, obsessed with their appearance, have eating disorders.
Third: restricting yourself from eating “junk foods” and “unhealthy” foods is MANDATORY for losing weight AND… losing weight is the healthiest thing anyone can do. In other words, to pursue “health” is to pursue “weight loss” -- period.
Fourth: It is okay for thin people to eat intuitively – i.e., basically whatever they want – but un-thin people (like me) need to watch what we eat very carefully or else… we’re bad. Period.
I went to my medical doctor and my therapist about what was happening in my life because I thought there might be something wrong. Physically, yes, I had some digestive issues that were becoming troublesome (once again) but, more than that, I felt like my behavior might be suspect. If I saw my daughter, my friend, my sister, or my niece behaving this way, I might be concerned.
A month prior to my appointments with both medical doctor and therapist, I had decided to undertake the gruesomely stringent practice of an elimination diet. I told myself and the people who recommended it to me that this was strictly to find out what was causing my intestinal distress but in the back of my mind, my real motive was always clear to me. GET. SKINNY. AGAIN. On this diet, there were a list of about seven things that I was allowed to eat. And I ate them, and nothing but, for an entire month and a little weight came off.
The behavior that was unusual though was the extreme panic I felt around food. I have always been obsessed with food. I have always hated my body. I have always restricted calories and starved myself at times then swung the opposite way and binged out of rebellion and desperation. This has been my way. Diet Culture has taught me that this is just THE WAY, the only way. I never thought, for one moment, there was anything wrong with this way other than the fact that I was obviously too weak, too stupid and too incompetent to manage to parlay this obsession with food and hatred for my body into lasting thinness.
One night, I went out with two of my closest girlfriends for “drinks” only my drink was hot water with lemon. They ordered French fries and wings to go with the beer they were drinking. I ordered a “salad” with nothing on it but lettuce. I was not “allowed” to eat any of the other vegetables or the cheese or the croutons that would have normally come on my salad. Both of my girlfriends are much thinner than I am. I reasoned that I was on this elimination diet because there was something wrong with my body. There is nothing wrong with either of their bodies so they were allowed to have the food and drink they were having. For me, it would’ve been a sin. One of my friends questioned me about my choices that night and I shut her down with an, “I don’t want to talk about it.” She respected my wishes, didn’t push, but later admitted to me that she had been very concerned.
But… back to the panic. What was MOST disturbing about that night and indeed that entire several months of my life (the panic had begun long before the elimination diet) was how inside, I felt like I was being chased by a tiger or like someone had a gun to my head. Every single time I had to put a bite of anything in my mouth – even if it was LETTUCE – I would berate myself for being disgusting for having to eat. I would tell myself if I were stronger, if I were smarter, if I were just a better person, I could stop this madness – stop eating, stop having a body like I had, be good, be normal, be attractive, be thin, be worthy. But I couldn’t. I had to keep eating, as humans do and so I just kept on hating myself, living with the tiger at my back, living with the gun to my head.
I had experienced panic like this before in my life during periods of restriction but it was limited to panic around putting “junk foods” or “unhealthy” foods in my mouth. During a period of massive restriction if I had the nerve to eat a French fry or one piece of pizza, I would hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate myself – the tiger, the gun would all be there. I would sweat. I would feel sick to my stomach. I would feel exposed, like the entire world was watching me “cheat.” But, I had NEVER felt panic around ALL food before – even fruits and vegetables and brown rice and plain chicken breast. EVERY time I had to eat or drink ANYTHING was a moment of panic and… well, trauma, for me.
So I went to find out what this was. The doctor recommended therapy and I told her I had that covered. My therapist recommended another therapist that specializes in “healing people’s relationships with food” which I later realized was, only mildly disguised code for “specializes in eating disorders.” The eating disorder specialist recommended A LOT of therapy and after a little therapy a visit to a dietician (who also specializes in eating disorders). And the most shocking recommendation made by every single one of these people – EVERY SINGLE PROFESSIONAL that I saw – was: “STOP. DIETING.”
The eating disorder specialists agreed I had what is called “atypical anorexia” which is, basically, all the madness with none (or very little) of the thinness. They also agreed that I had suffered from this disorder since I was a teenager, based on the history I had given them. They also said that, in recent years, I had begun to suffer from a more and more commonly occurring – and, as yet unclassified disorder—in our culture called Orthorexia, an obsession with the healthiness of one’s food.
Because I have had to stop dieting and embark on the journey of healing by learning intuitive eating, I have gained more weight than I ever thought I’d be comfortable with. These are different stories for different times. But the point is, here I am: 44-years-old; “overweight” according to mainstream, agreed-upon standards; with not one but two different eating disorders; and transitioning into a new career in the health and fitness industry. Just. Fucking. Embarrassing.
could it be the moment – MY moment – to heal EVERYTHING? Could this be the next pile of ashes I rise up out of?
You bet your sweet ass it is.
Keep Rising, Teamies. Always, with Love.
In Sports Conditioning, the concept of Periodization is used to create programs for athletes that allow them to strength train, build endurance, shed or gain weight, improve their sports-specific skills, keep their bodies safe and healthy, and even work on active recovery, flexibility and continued mobility in their joints. What Sports Conditioning understands about athletes bodies is that they CANNOT do ALL of these things at the exact same time AND all of these things are necessary to a body's overall training. Therefore, their programs will take them through “periods” of the appropriate aforementioned activities. What is “appropriate” for a specific athlete is rarely appropriate for an athlete in a completely different sport or even with a completely different body. And, I’ll say it again: Periodized programs INCLUDE REST!
We don’t like rest, do we? We think it’s weak. We think there must be something wrong with us if we need to rest. We think we should be able to work at maximum capacity all day every day. Even lots of athetles WANT to operate this way. Especially lots of athletes resist rest. We all do.
For YEARS, I beat myself up because there were some weeks I just didn’t feel like running. In fact, there have been months and years when I didn’t really want to run. I wanted to dance instead. I wanted to strength train. Or, I wanted to ride my bike and go hiking. Some days I don’t feel like strength training but there’s lots of other things I enjoy doing.
But we also don’t LOVE to “enjoy” ourselves when it comes to exercise. When it comes to exercise, we think: “no pain, no gain.” PUHLEEEZE. Of course it’s true that there are some days we are better off dragging our reluctant asses out of bed to do some movement that may sound like torture. And it is likely, on those days, we know -- even when we’re in our warm cozy bed – that when we DO get our asses up and moving, we WILL feel happy that we did so and better for the rest of the day. But there are other days, weeks, months and years when an activity that used to be our thing just isn’t our thing anymore. It no longer makes us happy. It no longer makes us feel more alive when we do it. It no longer lights some kind of fire in us. And that’s what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the fact that our bodies and our minds and our beings ALREADY KNOW about PERIODIZATION. They slow us down when we NEED to slow down and they STOP us when we NEED to stop and they give us clear cues for when they want more of something and less of something else. I’m talking about the fact that I don’t need to look back at what activities I’ve done or left undone and feel like I did a damn thing wrong. I did what I could. I did what I wanted to do. I did what my body was telling me to do. And I, usually, didn’t do the thing it told me not to do. And I promise you, those days when I DID do the thing my body didn’t want to do, THAT was a bad idea. I was not following my body’s naturally periodized program for me – and I suffered.
I’ve only just started personal training but it is amazing how many people are OBSESSED with these three thoughts:
I’ve already told you how I feel about the first thought. Sure, I love to get to the point in a workout where I want to gouge out the eyes of my instructor or trainer for making me work so hard but ultimately… those are the trainers I end up loving the most. So, I get wanting to FEEL the workout. But… this brings me to the second thought… it is neither possible, nor healthy, nor safe to go as hard as you can every single workout, every single day. Our bodies REQUIRE rest.
IN FACT, CHEW ON THIS: It is not EVEN in the ACT of working out/ tearing muscle/ getting our distance PRs that we are doing our body ANY good AT ALL. It is not until we REST that our bodies can rebuild, re-assess, and integrate everything it has just gone through into our system in order to become a more efficient, happier, healthier machine. Our bodies REQUIRE the rest to USE the work.
This, OF COURSE, does not mean that sitting on our asses all day long every day is the best thing we can do. No. Our bodies can’t become (or even stay) strong, efficient, capable of doing everything we need to do all day every day by doing nothing but REST. We need the work. We need the rest. We need BOTH.
Which brings me back to this: It is very likely that you are – and have always been – going through periods, long or short, of work and rest. And when you are resting, it is likely that SOMETIMES you like to strength train and SOMETIMES you like to ride a bike and SOMETIMES you like to swim and SOMETIMES you like to take a yin yoga class, etc… etc… etc…. So, let me suggest something STRONGLY to you: You are not doing it wrong.
You have never done it wrong. You’ve done what you needed, wanted, were capable of doing at the time. Give yourself a HUGE break. STOP telling yourself that working out means pain or that physical fitness means you must look a certain way or that you must never rest. Give yourself, your body, the activity that it wants WHEN it wants it. Period. Periodize. Naturally. Just like you probably always have.
Keep working & resting, with love, Teamies!
I am starting to understand and believe that holding someone accountable for their body’s size is like holding them accountable for the color of their eyes. It is absurd to connect value to something that is almost completely out of our control. “Wow! Brown eyes! You must work really hard for those!”
I was born a light to middle-weight big girl. What that means is that the size of my body has always been what some people would consider big and what some people would consider smaller (than themselves, than whomever they were comparing to) but I’ve rarely been “skinny.”
I say “rarely” because there have been several times in my life when I’ve been able to diet down to skinny or, at least, quite skinny for me. One of my proudest skinny moments was in college when someone pulled me aside and asked me if I was terminally ill. Never mind that I was a 4.0 student at the University of Michigan or that I had recently been accepted to the Peace Corps. The thing I was MOST proud of was that I had finally starved and starimastered myself down to cancer-skinny!
And even though I have almost always been what most skinny women could call or consider “fat,” the only times that I have truly been Fat were right after my children were born. To me, Fat means having to seek out clothing that fits well or looking for the “Plus” sign at TJ Maxx. Fat means taking up more space than the world I live in is comfortable giving me. Sitting on an airplane or in a classroom is mildly (for some, extremely) uncomfortable. Fellow gym-goers stare or give condescending “good for you!” encouragement. Doctors express their concern.
There are many women, at this point, who have reclaimed the word Fat. Fat Acceptance has been a social justice movement for years. We live in a fat-phobic society. Fat is a feminist issue.
But… so is Chubby.
What I’m getting at is that it is not fair for me to call myself Fat in the face of the Fat Acceptance Movement nor in the face of a woman who reclaims the word Fat. We all have those skinny friends who constantly complain about being fat – right in front of us! As if they can’t see that our body is twice their size. They call themselves names like “disgusting,” “pathetic,” “gross” and we stand by silently wondering, “what the hell must you think of ME then?” Yes, yes, we have had to compassionately understand that it’s very hard to go from a size 2 to a size 8 and the FEELING of weight on the body is relative but COME ON! I feel that – if I stood up in the middle of this movement to claim the word “Fat” – I would be, in some ways, behaving like this ignorant skinny woman. The major difference being, of course, that I would be claiming Fat to feel empowered, not to disparage fatness. But the result, I feel, would be similar. I can’t claim to truly understand what it feels like to live as a Fat woman in this world. Fat is a moniker that does not fit me. I have privilege in this situation. I have been privileged throughout most of my life to not be treated, talked to, or discriminated against as a Fat woman is.
I actually had a conversation with a water aerobics student – and friend – once that made this distinction quite clear to me. She is a woman who proudly uses and wears the word Fat. She was talking about Fat Acceptance one day in my water aerobics class and I said something along the lines of my belonging to that movement/ in that category. She said, “No. No. You don’t get to be in the club if you’re normal-sized. You don’t need any special treatment for being normal.” She didn’t say this in a mean way. She is a woman who speaks her mind openly and clearly and I have come to love and respect that about her. She meant what she said. I might not be skinny. But I’m also not “Fat.”
Now, “Chubby” on the other hand fits perfectly – and has for MOST of my life. Chubby is what I naturally am when I’m not making sure I eat between 1000 & 1400 calories per day and workout for at least 90 minutes every day. And I can absolutely tell you – with confidence – what life is like for Chubby women in this world. The fact that I’m naturally Chubby has caused me anxiety, depression, self-hatred and generalized pain my entire life.
And while this pain comes from many different directions, one of the places it comes from is the fact that, in our culture, body size is understood to be almost 100% within our control. The main assumption of Diet Culture is, if you are thin, you must work really really hard and “eat clean” and if you are overweight (to any degree), you must be lazy and gluttonous.
Until recently, I bought this lie with every fiber of my being. I believed firmly and self-righteously that my chubbiness was a clear indication that I wasn’t trying hard enough, I didn’t want a “good body” badly enough. I entered into a course of study (working to be a “Health Fitness Specialist”) that would – in almost every single way – reiterate this lie of Diet Culture to me on the daily and surround me with (mostly very young) people who are becoming devout disciples of this lie.
But buried in the literature, the research and the actual science of the materials for my course of study the truth is made plain. Genetically, we are who we are. We are born with our bodies. As children, the predispositions of our natural bodies are either enhanced (we get fatter or skinnier) or they are manipulated (we learn behaviors that grow us against our natural bodies – creating habits that become our nature – thin, lifelong athletes that come from families of mostly fat people are an example of this). By a certain age (that is slightly different for everyone), we have a set-point and, without herculean effort, moving a few percentage points to the right or left of that set-point is all that is possible. But, health-wise, moving a few percentage points to the right or left might be all anyone really “needs” to do, if they NEED to do anything at all.
In my course of study, we are taught the additional lie that this herculean effort is absolutely worth the health benefits that arise from weight loss. But further science explains that the stress of that effort could be more damaging than our original, NATURAL, weight was. Further science explains that “weight cycling” (losing a large amount of weight just to gain it back again and again) is actually worse for your heart health than simply carrying around that NATURAL weight your whole life. And further – utterly undeniable – science demonstrates that almost ALWAYS (as in… 95% of the time) that herculean effort is NOT sustainable and, ultimately, leads to FURTHER weight gain.
This is just the tip of the iceberg I’m currently discovering. And the presence of this iceberg in the vast sea of health myths and diet culture we swim in every day has massive implications on every facet of my life and work. I am learning. But the first thing I must do is learn to be chill with being Chubby.
Be chill, Teamies!
When I was in third or fourth grade, I would hole myself up in our basement with the record player and dance my ass off. I would make up elaborate dances that were one part really bad ballet impression, one part modern jazz, one part interpretive dance and another part weirdo. I LOVED to dance. I loved getting sweaty. I loved moving my body.
Around that same time and in a rare occurrence of joiner-hood, my mother agreed to buy me some ballet lessons. I didn’t necessarily want to do ballet exactly but I wanted to dance and that seemed to be the only kind of dance on offer to a little girl at the time. The first day in class, I noticed that my belly stuck out MUCH farther than anyone else’s. In fact, it was the second time in my life I felt fat (the first is a story for another time).
It was a painful feeling. I don’t particularly remember any of the girl’s teasing me exactly but for some reason, I have a memory of my instructor’s face being disapproving. No words. Just a look. I remember too, looking around at all of these whisps of girls with their flat – in some cases, concave! -- bellies and their long necks and their toothpick legs with thigh gaps a mile wide and knowing that everything about me was wrong. I did not belong. One of these things was not like the other.
I’m not sure how I came up with the greatest lie I’ve ever told but I do remember that it came to me suddenly and felt absolutely right. When my mother picked me up after the second or third lesson, I sat in the back of the car and told her what seemed to me like a hilarious story: The instructor – in front of everyone – had laughed out loud and told me that my belly looked as if I had swallowed a basketball then the whole class laughed at me, along with her. As I told this story – which was a complete invention of my hurting little girl brain – I laughed like it was the greatest joke I’d ever heard. My mother laughed too. It made her angry with my instructor but, for whatever reason, she thought it was hysterically funny. And, I KNEW that she would. I knew that was the reaction I would get. That’s why I told it. I remember over the next several weeks and months, I got to retell that “joke” a million times. My mother would remind me of it from time to time even into my early adulthood. She would laugh and laugh. Whoever else was hearing the story would laugh and laugh.
And every single time, it hurt.
It’s weird and you probably don’t get it. If I was hurting, why would I joke? If I was a child, why would I have to tell a made-up story instead of just telling my mother the truth about how uncomfortable I was?
In my little girl’s brain, the shame of being “the big girl” in what seemed like a sea of waifs didn’t stop at size, it was compounded by the fact that I felt shame at all. It felt like feeling sorry for myself which I was not allowed to do. It felt like caring too much about myself which I was not allowed to do. My size – particularly at that age – felt like it was something I had absolutely no control over. I had no control over the other girls’ sizes. I had no control over the disapproving look on the skinny dance instructor’s face. But SOMEHOW I had gained enough sophisticated language use and understanding of my mother’s psyche to know that if I turned my horrible discomfort and self-hatred into a JOKE that made my instructor look like a raging bitch and me like an ugly, little fat girl that I’d never have to go back to that class again, no matter how much my mother paid for it. And I didn’t. I just had to endure telling the I-swallowed-a-basketball-whole joke about a hundred bazillion times. I wasn’t allowed to share my real feelings but I was allowed to make a joke of myself and my pain.
I have always wanted to dance. After the basketball-in-the-belly ballet class, I didn’t much. Not until… I discovered – at too young an age – drinking and dance clubs. And both were like a portal to another world.
As I got older though, that behavior, was no longer sustainable. So, I found yoga trance dance videos and danced through my pregnancies in my living room. I found Zumba. I found Break the Chain – a choreographed dance for the One Billion Rising movement. I dance in my living room, my dining room, my bedroom. I mean… I put on workout clothes, I clear a space, I crank up the music and I dance my ass off – belly and all!
I haven’t exactly put it all together yet: The relationship between body shame and dance and liberation and my particularly intimate history of growing up in a body shaming household and family. All I can say for sure right now is despite the heaps and heaps of body shame that have been packed upon my body since I was a baby, there has been a dancer inside of me that has refused to stop moving. She seems to dance in fire and light. She refuses to believe that I am not allowed to dance. She forgives the little girl who made the joke that took her away from ballet lessons. She is beginning to convince me that my body is not a joke. And even though, for the most part, I have hidden her away from the world as much as possible, I am beginning to see that she is the wisest, deepest, most authentic piece of myself. SHE will be the reason I survive the rest of my life… as she is probably the reason I have survived this long.
Whatever this fatphobic, health-obsessed, body-shaming world tells us, the shape and size of our bodies does not determine whether we get to feel the liberation of dance – or any other kind of movement. Not when we are children. Not when we are teenagers. Not when we are grown-ass adults. We are allowed to dance. We are allowed to move. We are allowed to exist without apology or shame in this world.
Dance your asses off, Teamies!
Dan Pink says: Human Beings are not like horses. We treat people like they are horses by dangling carrots and beating with sticks. That is, we live in a system of rewards and punishments. But… because people are humans, not horses… we really don’t become successful or achieve our ultimate goals by living in this system of rewards and punishments. Human beings are successful and achieve our goals when we find our ultimate purpose and connect to a meaning beyond ourselves.
And this made me think about learning; about how this system of rewards and punishments exists in our thinking about learning.
First, let me say this: Learning is NOT measurable. No one will ever convince me that it is. Learning (Not Education, with a capital “E”) – REAL Learning – happens this way: A “teacher” plants a seed inside a “student’s” head, heart and possibly even soul. The “teacher” may even water that seed, fertilize that seed but when and how and how slowly or quickly that seed germinates, matures then blossoms is entirely up to the student’s subconscious being. Every learner is unique in every context. Some people learn quickly all the time. Some people learn some things quickly and other things slowly. Some people learn slowly all the time. Some people learn some things slowly and other things quickly. The seed may bloom instantly. The seed might bloom a year later. The seed might lay dormant for 30 years then bloom when no one expected it to. All the while, the student does not consciously control when the seed blooms because this uniqueness is determined by everything the student is, has been through, and has the potential for being. Therefore, unless you hook a newborn infant to all of the brain-activity monitoring machines and have a trained psychologist performing behavioral tests on them from the day they are born until the day they die (and even then I would argue, no, that still doesn’t quite measure it), you cannot measure what that human being has learned, is learning, will learn. You can’t.
Within a system of “Education,” we test and we assign writing tasks to determine how much learning has taken place. At best – at the VERY best – we MIGHT be able to determine what this student learned on this one (very narrow, considering the entire canon of potential knowledge) specific topic at this one specific time in this student’s life. Even on that specific topic, the learning that they are able to demonstrate will be different on different days, depending on a host of external environmental factors and internal bodily factors.
The tests and writing tasks are graded. The student receives a letter. In “Education,” we tell ourselves that the letter represents how much learning was demonstrated but that is a lie. It is an absolute lie.
But MUCH worse than this lie is what living in a system of rewards and punishments does to students. The bottom line reality of a rewards and punishments system is that no one has any intrinsic worth. We are all only as worthy as the last action we took. We are either good or we are bad. We are either going to get a reward or we are going to get a punishment. We live in a constant state of seeking approval and reward so that we can feel worthy ALL THE WHILE fearing punishment which will be solid proof of our unworthiness.
We are caged animals. We are slaves. We are not free to be our highest selves because when we are stuck in a system of seeking reward and fearing punishment, we CAN’T discover our true purpose and we CAN’T connect to meaning beyond ourselves. We are mired in obsessive / compulsive actions CONSTANTLY begging for a sense of worthiness and fearing that we will be proven worthless.
The result of this enslavement in American students is that they disconnect from learning altogether. Because we tell ourselves that Education measures learning, students associate Education with their ability to learn; with how much they know. They learned very early on that they were either “worthy/good” or “worthless/bad.” Whether they were good or bad, or somewhere in between, they associated learning with a painful experience of having to constantly beg to be considered worthy AND fear a judgement of worthlessness. They came to believe that this is what learning is. They accurately realized that Education is a cage. So, whether they learned to play the game or not, they disconnected from REAL learning. They don’t learn to learn, to know their purpose, to connect to a meaning beyond themselves. They learn to feel worthy by getting rewarded for good behavior. OR they learn that the system believes they are worthless --and therefore incapable of learning.
Please note: THIS does not accurately characterize every context within our education system, mainstream or otherwise. BUT… I would argue vehemently that IF a student learns to love learning for the sake of learning itself, if a student engages in REAL learning, it is because either the teacher, the student or the institution itself is engaging in some form of teaching and learning that is outside the scope of the mainstream. In other words, somewhere in that context the system is being subverted. Someone within that context is trying to open up the cages and set the students free.
When we are free to engage in REAL learning, we know we are intrinsically worthy. We were born worthy. We do not have to beg for the carrot. We do not have to fear the stick. We learn because it gets us closer to understanding our specific purpose on this earth. We learn in order to connect to meaning beyond ourselves.
Open the cages with love, Teamies.
Al Franken sets up a re-education camp for sexual predators like Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Garrison Keillor and other men who simply thought that what they were doing all these years was just what men are supposed to be doing.
It’s like a conference… to educate the asshole out of these people.
First, they need to talk amongst themselves, with themselves and for themselves about how shocked they were to realize that they had actually offended or hurt anyone. Or how shocked they were that any of the people they had offended or hurt actually had the balls to come forward and say it out loud. Because I can’t think of a single woman who would want to hear that shit, however, they should get a compassionate man to listen to them and talk to them about how hard it is to realize that you’ve been an asshole your whole life but it’s not too late to change. Give them space to accept and understand their shame and embrace their vulnerability in this moment. Franken would be a great facilitator of a conversation like this.
Then, when they’re ready… I’d say on day 3 or 4 of camp… have strong, scary-intelligent, truth-speaking women like poet Mahogany Browne and psychologist Brene Brown to introduce them to what it means to be a proper human in the world. They’re going to need a couple of days, at least, to make it through this curriculum.
Then, as the mere beginning of their penance, require these men to go online and find a poop emoji Halloween costume (there were so many of these leftover on such a crazy discount this year that I could have bought a whole fleet of them myself). With these costumes, these men will hold the first of a long series of semiannual (we’ll need to do this at least a couple of times every year for a while) “Piece-of-Shit Parades.” The Parades will take place all over the country but the biggest ones will be in Hollywood, New York and DC. These reforming men will don the poop emoji costumes and carry signs that name their particular transgressions and say things like:
I WILL NO LONGER BE A PIECE OF SHIT!
They could use any of these phrases as chants too! These parades will start a revolution of young men who have enough courage, enough emotional intelligence and enough humor to face their shame and vulnerability and become proper human beings. The parades will be fun. Men can decorate their bikes, wear homemade poop costumes, throw candy (tootsie rolls seem appropriate – and are often the parade candy favorite anyway), start “Piece-of-Shit” bands that will play in various parades around the country. They will attract women and children and everyone will say, “Look kids! This is a celebration of the fact that we’re not going to let men act shitty anymore! Yaaaaay!”
And one day someone will be able to say to their kid: “You know, a long long time ago, men used to get away with just grabbing girls and boys and women and groping them or kissing them, or even masturbating in front of them without getting consent. Can you believe that?” and the kid will say, “No. Way!”
And Al Franken will lead the biggest parade every year with a big black and white rectangular sign that says:
ANNUAL PIECE OF SHIT PARADE
THEN… all of these reforming men can start a campaign fund for aspiring women (both cis- and trans-) politicians. They can run a website that champions women politicians, provides insightful information about women in politics and encourages girls to get involved in politics. Each year, they could choose a particular woman doing amazing work to help men not be pieces of shit and they could name her Woman of the Year and give her cause lots of money so that she continue to help men not be pieces of shit.
Crazier things have worked – and humor is ALWAYS a quick way to engage the masses in a task as difficult as this. And, for the record, I am dead serious. Despite their idiotic and shameful behavior, Franken is hilarious, Louis C.K. is outrageous and Keillor is mildly entertaining in a grandpa sort of way (I'm still too skeeved by Spacey to say what he is -- but he does do some pretty amazing impressions). These are the kind of guys that could pull some stupid shit like this off.
I am hereby copyrighting the idea of the “Piece of Shit Parade,” by the way, so if anyone actually does DO this, I want credit.
Keep your sense of humor, Teamies.
Dear Al Franken,
Thank you for resigning last week from the U.S. Senate. It took courage and integrity and a strong commitment to what you and I both know is right for you to do this. I wanted to recognize that.
Mr. Franken, I am a survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse and assault. My stake in this current movement to call out sexual predators runs deep. For many years, I have carried so much hatred and anger in my heart. For many years I have lived in fear. For many years, I have internalized these feelings so successfully that they manifest themselves simply in a deep and abiding SELF-hatred.
Throughout these years, I have become a keen observer of the asinine things that men (like you) do. I have come to understand, both through observation and through study, that it is our culture that raises you to not only believe you have a RIGHT to do these things but that you have a RESPONSIBILITY to do them if you are to be considered a man.
Mr. Franken, I know you. In my undergrad days, at the University of Michigan, I was the girl who hung out with guys like you at parties. You made me laugh. You were clever and quick and relentlessly liberal and desperately flirtatious in your nerdiness, with a tiny edge of sweetness. For an angry, young feminist in the early 90s, these were an intoxicating combination.
While I was in the Peace Corps from 1997-1999, I was assaulted by a man just like you (survivors are often re-victimized throughout their lifetime, Mr. Franken—until we can fully accept that our victimizations were NEVER anything like “our fault”). When he got drunk, he’d say and do inappropriate things. Many of the women in my Peace Corps group knew this already but, they said nothing and did nothing about the behavior because, ultimately, they felt bad for him. He was a nerd. He was a smart, witty, nerd who was desperate for our attention. And because women have been socialized to eat up every ounce of male attention they get – however inappropriate it is – the women in my Peace Corps group thought of his desperate, nerdy inappropriateness as “a little sweet.” But after he assaulted me, I told on him. Because I was a survivor, I recognized his ridiculous behavior for what it was: dangerous. As soon as I told our medical officer what he had done to me, the alpha male of our pack – a handsome, strapping young man from Jersey – was sent to me to tell me that I was a “bitch” and that “friends don’t tell on each other.” I guess he didn’t realize that I do not consider people who assault me, “friends.” I was ostracized from my group for the rest of my Peace Corps stint. There were two women in the group who would still talk to me after that. They were both survivors.
My first husband was like you too. JUST like you. Oh, I know you.
But Mr. Franken, the reasons this fellow Peace Corps volunteer and you, and my ex-husband, and all of these poor, nerdy boys get into trouble is that our culture has not taught you how to be a proper human. Indeed, it has pushed you – forcefully – to turn your back on what it means to be a proper human and instead, “BE A MAN!”
The message you get from our culture is to pursue, to push, to grab, to get, to take, to overpower, to destroy if necessary. The message you get from our culture is that we are no more than objects for you to play with. The message you get from our culture is that emotional maturity, intuition, intelligence and responsibility are weak. Communication is weak. Expressing desires – in a way that is not creepy – is weak. You can’t possibly be a “real man” if you have to ask for it.
And this is particularly hard for the nerdy boy or the dorky boy. Possessing few of the natural qualities that make aggression and objectification easy, the nerdy boy learns to pervert his intelligence, emotional intuition, propensity towards compassion into something unnatural indeed. Our culture forces you all to twist your innate “feminine” qualities in on themselves until you all implode. Usually, this happens in the form of some inappropriate behavior – whether that’s unwanted touching, stalking, or rape. Meanwhile, the girls you grow up with learn to accept your inappropriateness as a form of flattery or even love. So, this leaves you stuck in a pretty hard place – having no actual idea that what you are doing is so absurdly wrong.
But this is changing, Mr. Franken. We won’t have it anymore. Obviously, you know this now.
So, you are caught in an interesting time – both historically and personally. You could do what so many men like you have done before. You could retreat into the shadows of obscurity or small local offices or the pages of memoirs and go down with your ship. You could defend your predatory behavior until the day you die and stick to the story that men like you are the REAL victims. So far, Mr. Franken, you don’t seem like that type, so I’m writing to urge you to continue to take a different approach.
And let me say, in order to set you on the right path, that it is not a turning away from masculinity that we, as a culture, need. I am not asking you to berate men for wanting to be strong, powerful, and in control. Indeed, the qualities of the masculine protector are necessary for all of our survival – and in many ways, are the foundation of a healthy emotional life. More of us – of all genders – should seek these qualities. BUT… these qualities are only useful so long as they are tempered by those typically feminine characteristics of compassion, emotional intelligence, vulnerability, patience and empathy.
We all possessed all of these qualities as babies. We all had the capacity for strength AND vulnerability as children. We NEED to get to work on repairing the fissure our culture created in each of us between these two sides of ourselves– but particularly in those nerdy boys who wanted to inherently be everything they were told they should/could not be.
This is not an unimportant point: This fissure will not be mended by shaming sexual desire out of everyone. This fissure will not be repaired if we tell people to simply become more prude-ish and suppress their natural sexual desire. This will only continue to rip us further apart. A vulnerable acceptance of and openness to natural sexual desire is essential to move this conversation forward. Nerdy boys are not inappropriate because they have sexual desires. They become inappropriate when they are not taught the proper way to manage and express these sexual desires. Until we can put away our shame surrounding sexual desire, we will never be able to teach boys how to behave appropriately and we will keep producing sexual predators.
Mr. Franken, what I’m asking you to do is to take this opportunity to become a champion for Survivors. A TRUE champion. Take this opportunity to become a role-model and teacher to those men – especially the nerdy boys and young men – who are LOST in this wilderness of take-or-be-considered-weak. This movement to end sexual predation has long needed truly courageous, truly STRONG men who are willing to stand up and tell other men the exact nature of their wrongs and the exact way that they can fix it. Take the time. Gather your strength. Study. Write. Make the connections. Then, Mr. Franken, please, be that man.
Thank you for your time,
I get it now.
A blog is supposed to be a bite-sized thought. A small meal, at most. Most of my former blog posts were like an entire year of meal plans rather than a small meal or a bite.
See… I thought that I had to tell you EVERYTHING. I thought I had to give you as much background and as much context as I possibly could so that you could read that one post and understand everything.
I’m a forest person. I’m not a tree person. I can’t see the trees. When I look at the trees, all I ever see is the whole forest. I thought I needed to write the whole forest.
But you don’t need to know the whole forest. You don’t need to know everything or be told everything right now, in this one post. You don’t want everything. And if you DO, you can read the archives. You can read them all day long if you want. Get lost in the forest! And little by little, post by post, you will come to know as much of everything as I have been willing and able to share to date.
And THAT is how it works. THAT is actually the beauty of a blog. One post is just an invitation. The whole blog is my house. And you get to decide how far you want to come inside. Take the invitation and continue reading one or two more posts – you’ve made it to the foyer. How many posts do you need to read to make it to the living room... or the kitchen? It’s kind of like asking how many licks to the center of a tootsie pop.
For now, I show you the one tree, I send you the invitation, I just offer you this bite. If you want more, you know where to find it.
Nom Nom Nom with Love, Teamies!
I can’t sleep.
The first time I checked the clock, it was 1:50am. I finally got out of bed around 2:30am. I’ve learned it’s just no use laying there, hoping. I won’t go back to sleep until I feel tired again, which should be sometime around 8am when I’ll be expected to get the day going.
I think it’s the moon’s fault. Have you seen it tonight? My god! It’s enormous and so bright that it’s almost like daytime outside. It forced me to step outside, onto my porch, in my pajamas, to see where all the light was coming from.
I think I’m a creature of the moon like that. I think I need, from time to time, to bathe in it.
Ancient cosmos-based medicine says moon bathing is cooling. It says the full moon brings out unresolved emotions in us then calms them.
Have you noticed how scary the world is right now? I have friends who are worried about the end. I have friends who are worrying about how to protect themselves from what seems to be coming – friends that can’t just hide – friends that will be hunted if and when the hunting happens. I have friends who shake their heads and throw up their hands. I have friends who have given up.
Then, I have friends – well, one friend – who insists the sky is NOT falling. We’ve been here before. Many times. She says.
I like the sound of that – that the sky will remain intact. And it will.
But… it’s hard not to think that, because of this one friend’s race/ethnicity, orientation, and socioeconomic class, she just doesn’t realize that for many people, the sky actually HAS fallen before. She probably doesn’t realize the extent to which it might FEEL like the sky is ACTUALLY falling when everyone you love dearest is under attack, is hunted, is poisoned, is murdered, is raped, is left for dead. Will it happen to everyone? Does it happen to everyone? Has it happened to everyone? No. But for those it does happen to and for their kin, for their survivors – the sky falls, the sky fell, the sky will fall.
Except not entirely. The ACTUAL sky will not fall. The ACTUAL sky is a reminder that we are so small; so miniscule.
“Not people die but worlds die in them” says the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Human worlds die. Yes. The Universe remains.
It’s not REALLY a comfort at all. It’s just what is. After the dramas of our lives – our individual and our collective lives – play out, the sky will still hold the stars (dying themselves, all the time) and the moon will still bathe the earth, until, eventually, the sky swallows them up too.
This isn’t to say that human destruction does not matter. It’s to say that human destruction matters all the more. The sky, the moon, the stars, the cosmos, the UNIVERSE is constantly asking us: “Why are you wasting it all? WHY? LOOK AROUND YOU! HAVEN’T I GIVEN YOU ENOUGH? WHY MUST YOU TRY TO TAKE MORE BY DESTROYING EACH OTHER?”
“and every time again and again/ I make my lament against destruction (Yevtushenko).”
The moon is so beautiful tonight. Beautiful. Behind the black silhouette of the pine and the naked elm's arms, set in deep violet-blue, tiny glints of starlight gleam in scattered glitter fashion upon the sky.
I am accepting my smallness. I am listening to the Universe. I will continue to make my lament against destruction.
Howl, Howl, Howl
And keep Howling,
Yep -- still talking about shame. And it's probably going to be a bit before I stop so... please bear with me.
I’m good at the shine: the big ideas, the showing up, the flash, and the working of a room. It’s the follow-through I know I need help with.
I used to think it was just because the follow-through was boring. The shiny night of an event moved people, touched people, motivated and inspired people. The day after the event? The emails that need to be sent? The papers that need to be filed? The thank you cards that should probably be written? The phone calls that need to be made? The checks that need to be written? BORING! Tedious! All of it. Blech.
But uncovering more layers of shame, I’ve also recently realized, I’m not so good at the follow-through because after the big shine, I ache with shame.
If I talk to you at a dinner party – even if we talk all night long and have a grand time – the next day, I will play our conversation over and over and over in my head, I will see your face again and again – a slight wince when I said this, a looking away as I was talking about that. What did all of that mean? Did you secretly hate me? Find me awful? Wish I would shut up? Are you someone I can really trust? Should I have spoken to you all night? Are you one of those people that seem one way one night and then act a different way on a different day? Do you like me? Are you somewhere thinking about how stupid I am?
You probably are.
And that’s it. ESPECIALLY if there has been vulnerability. We connected deeply over something or other. It wasn’t a dinner party, but an open mic poetry reading I MC’ed where an incredibly diverse group of people bared their souls to one another and promised to keep the light of poetry burning together. Or it was... a group discussion about sexual assault on campus where many of us divulged the nature of our survivorship. Or it was... a sermon I delivered in a Unitarian Universalist church in front of ALL THOSE PEOPLE. Or it was... a particularly surprising teachable moment that arose in my classroom where we broke through the BS and actually connected on an important level. Or it was... a reading of my own poetry where I left it all on the stage (something I have only done once or twice in my entire life because I can't handle the aftershocks of all of that vulnerability). ALL of these moments shine BECAUSE of the vulnerability. But the day after, I have what Brene Brown, calls a “Shame Hangover.”
When I used to drink alcohol, especially before I had children, shame hangovers were often accompanied by regular hangovers. The first thought I’d wake up with was, “what did I do?” and a deep sense of shame would overwhelm me until I had called every single person I had seen the night before to see if I needed to apologize or not (This, kids, is what they call “a problem.”) Even though the Shame Hangover after a shining event is a better – more righteous – one than the kind of shame hangover that came with an alcohol-induced hangover, it still sucks. It still prevents me from the follow-through.
Every email I have to send, every form I have to file, every phone call that needs to be made is a reminder that during that shining event, I made myself vulnerable. I showed everyone a side of myself, a piece of myself I don’t always leave out in full view. And I come from a world (we all do, really) that tells me I have no right to do that… I should be ashamed of myself.
The annoying AF thing about all of this is that the inability to follow through has hampered my professional life. I mean, I do okay. I’ve done alright. But if I could get over this shit, I could freakin’ SOAR. I could be a seriously amazing badass… whatever it is that I am. This lack of follow-through has also hampered some of my relationships. I mean… we connected but remember… you’re probably just somewhere thinking I’m stupid now, right? So… no follow through. Again. I’ve done okay. I’ve got some friends. I think it’s possible that SOME people don’t mind having me around. But, could those connections be more solid? Could I be a better friend to the people I’m “friends” with? Um… yep! If I wasn’t embarrassed of the follow-through, that’s for certain.
It’s good. It’s good to know what you’re doing wrong. It’s good to know why. And it’s also very good to know how to fix it. So, that’s what I’m going to do now.
Follow Through with Love, Teamies.
lives, cooks, mothers, teaches, walks, runs, wuns, ralks, trains, bikes, swims, kickboxes, steps, writes, obsesses, dances, stresses, learns, karaokes, loves, zumbas and dreams big big dreams in Frankfort, Michigan and elsewhere as time, money and opportunity afford.