It’s About Human Decency

There are many things about the world I cannot understand and hate is one of them.

Over the past few weeks, report after report has rolled in of gay teens and young adults committing suicide due to bullying at school or in their community. It’s something that makes me so sad, so angry and upset, that it’s hard for me to write this post. How, tell me, can someone bully a person so persistently, so viciously, that that person feels they cannot live in this world any longer? How can someone commit themselves so fully to hating a person that it drives their target to take their own life? How could anyone ever think they have the right to treat another human being that way?

I don’t care what you believe. You could think that homosexuality is a choice, that the “gay lifestyle” will corrupt our world. You could think that all gay people are sinners, aliens, crazy people. I don’t care what you think or how crazy your opinions are.

Surely, we can all get behind human decency. I’m certain we all agree that treating people with respect, no matter what the situation, is important.

The problem is that I’m not seeing that. I don’t see that in the world, in the news media, in the way people treat others on TV, in classes, in their everyday interaction. Something has happened to our ability to be respectful. We have forgotten the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. We have forgotten it, and children are dying.

We’ve all been victims of taunting and name-calling. Whether it’s someone calling us fat, ugly, too tall, whether it’s someone deriding our religious beliefs or political affiliation, whether it’s someone bullying us for our race, gender, sexual preference, we’ve all dealt with it on some level. We all know how it feels. Most of us have probably participated in it at some point in our lives. It’s a part of life. One group gets picked on. That group picks on another group so they can feel superior. The chain continues down, trickles down the line, until someone gets told too many times they’re not worth it. They shouldn’t be alive. And so, they go home and hang themselves. They find a gun and shoot themselves. The taunting turns to something sinister. The taunting takes a life.

It’s easy to forget that pain. It’s easy for us to forget how our words can hurt others. It’s simple to think of it as “just a joke” or something that you “didn’t mean.” But we all have a breaking point. These people were broken one too many times.

It comes down to human decency. This should be our wake up call. Think about how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. Every life is worth it.

I was teaching some sixth graders yesterday, and they were being particularly loud. I had to ask them numerous times to quiet down. I had just reached my breaking point when the program director walked in and started yelling at the kids.

“When the teacher is talking, you don’t talk! She has had to ask you so many times to be quiet! It takes one word for a human to understand! She should only have to say one word and you should be quiet. You’ve stopped being human right now. You’ve stopped being human!

It was a lesson in respect, and it struck a chord with me. We’ve stopped being human. It takes one word for a human to understand that they need to be respectful. It took us five lives.

Let this be our wake-up call.

Let us remember how to be decent.

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On Swimsuits and Bodies

My beautiful Avenue swimsuit!

I grew up around water. Whether I was going to one of the Great Lakes for vacation (as I did this past week), or swimming in my grandmother’s pool, or joining the swim team, I spent countless hours perched on the edge of some body of water, wearing little more than a swimsuit.

This past week, I logged at least three or four hours a day in my swimsuit. Spending that much time bearing your body to the world is difficult for many people, male and female. And every summer, when vacation time comes around, it’s something I always think about.

I was lucky, I think. As a kid, I joined the swim team. From age eight up through age fourteen I swam competitively. It was, in many ways, a terrible time for me. I frequently was called fat. I was incredibly uncomfortable in my body and with what was happening to it. I was hyper aware of what my body looked like to other people. But I enjoyed swimming. At some point, I began winning my heats and doing quite well in long distance swimming. (I used to motivate myself to swim fast by pretending there was a shark behind me. It worked every time.) Though I was aware of how my body looked (and how fat I was), I was also aware of what my body could do.

Having spent so much time during my formative years in a swimsuit, I barely even notice it today. Yes, there’s always a twinge when I break out the swimsuit for the first time each year. I stare at it for a while, put it on, glare at the scrap of fabric in the mirror for a while. However, it’s not enough to stop me from wearing it. I vow not to let it stop me from enjoying myself.

But it’s harder sometimes. I sat on the beach yesterday, watching as girls pranced by in their bikinis, and I wished that I had the confidence, the curves, the abs that would make me feel comfortable in so little fabric. I look at them and wonder if I could ever look like that. And then I shake myself, trying to not let myself get invested in that counter-productive train of thought. I remind myself that, even if I were that thin, who’s to say I won’t still want to have a “better” body in some way? Who’s to say I will appreciate what I do have? Who says the body I have isn’t good enough?

Renewing my faith in myself is something I always do. I have to love my body, even in a swimsuit. I have to love my body in a tank top, in a skirt, in a bra and underwear, in long pants and a sweater. I need to love my body in some way every day. And I need to stop believing my body isn’t good enough how it is. Yes, I’m only human, and insecurities come with the territory. Some days it’s harder to do. Yesterday was a day I forgot. Today, I hope I’ll remember.

Fat + New City = Insecurity

I spent this past weekend looking at houses and apartments in the city I’m moving to for graduate school. I’m already getting nervous about leaving the place I am right now. You get comfortable and content in a place with people who care about you, and being uprooted to somewhere new makes all your insecurities rise to the surface. This is part of my so-called “process.” I tend to get anxious before big life changes and start to get nervous that I’m not ready, or not good enough to do well in my new life.

Part of this, of course, is a drop in self-confidence and renewed obsession with my appearance. I always worry that people are going to judge me when they meet me because I’m fat. And I’m terrified that this will happen when I move.

Luckily I’ve secured good, accepting roommates for the fall (I met them this weekend), and already have a few friends in the area, but it’s still tough. It’s one of those times of insecurity that makes me question my resolve. I start to think about losing lots of weight and becoming thin and therefore “beautiful.” I start to want to change myself because I think it will matter to all these new people I’m going to meet.

This, in turn, makes me angry at myself for thinking I need to change who I am for someone else, and continues the loop of frustration. I think I’m secure in my body, but then I start to think negative thoughts and buy back into the same traps and pitfalls I’d had before.

This is one of those times, I think, when I need to be reminded of people out there who don’t care about my size but care about who I am. This is one of those times when I have to remember who I am and what I believe in. This is a time when I need your advice. How do I avoid falling back into my insecurities? What has worked for you in your life? What wisdom can you give me to persist, oh Fatosphere of Wisdom?

The Truth: Sometimes I Need Help

I’ve spent a long time away from this blog. Nearly a year. The thing is, I still open it daily. I look at my header, think about writing a new post. I visit when I get the occasional new comment to approve it. But I haven’t posted here in months.

And what really gets to me is that there’s no reason. I stopped for absolutely no reason. I still keep up with the FA community. I still write about body acceptance, feminism, and other issues that would be fitting to discuss here. But I stopped posting.

I think there comes a time in everyone’s life when they go through an off year. For me, this year has held some of my worst moments, and some of my best. I’ve experienced unemployment and having to live with my parents. I’ve taken temp jobs and finished temp jobs. I’ve moved in with friends. I’ve gotten into grad school. I’ve done a lot, and missed a lot of opportunities.

But, throughout all the good and bad, I think I’ve somehow lost my self-esteem, my confidence.

I find that’s my biggest issue nowadays. Having graduated from undergrad, I stopped having a method of measurement for my happiness. Grades have no relevance now. My friends have scattered. There are no more awards to win. I don’t have a job to be successful at. I’ve had nothing to help me feel accomplished.

And thus, I started to feel bad. Bad about myself, my body, my laziness. I started to believe that I’ve been deluding myself all these years into thinking I was something, someone. I’ve given up, in many ways. Completely given up.

Lately, it hasn’t been as bad. Moving in with friends boosted me up. I started laughing a lot more, crying a lot less. I started recovering myself. I started writing again, researching my obsessions, cooking. I’ve gotten a lot better. There’s something about surrounding yourself with positive people that makes you feel positive. It makes you believe that if they can see the good in you, there must actually be some. I’m getting better.

And so, here’s the truth: sometimes I need help. Sometimes I need you all to remind me why I should keep posting, why I should keep believing in this. Why I should have confidence in myself as a fat woman. I hope to come back here. It’s about time I post here again. I need to get my head back in the game, and take back my body, my mind, my spirit. This is a call for help as much as it’s a thank you for your support. This is my return, my second chance.

Speaking Up

There’s a great post up over at Big Fat Deal answering a question by a newcomer to fat acceptance about when to speak up. She asks, because recently she lost about 20lbs, and is just now seeing friends who she hasn’t seen since she lost it.

Many people haven’t seen me at all this summer, and I am now dealing with lots of weight-less comments about how much weight I’ve lost, and how “good” and “healthy” I am. These comments now make me extremely uncomfortable. This happened the other day with a coworker, and I tried to diffuse the situation by saying that unfortunately I realized that for me, weight loss actually came with a lot of unhealthy behaviors (and muscle loss), and I don’t diet any more and try to practice health at every size instead. It resulted in colossal awkwardness and blank stares.

When I found FA it was after a similar experience. I’ve been pretty vocal about how I had lost about 40lbs while in Ecuador. Immediately after I returned, I found FA and had to deal with the compliments that resulted from losing weight, and trying to find a way to explain to my friends, and sometimes even strangers, my new feelings of self-acceptance.

Unfortunately, this is something that I still find difficult. Although I haven’t gotten weight loss compliments in a while, I still feel like it’s difficult to decide when to speak up. While at school most of my friends and even some people who I didn’t really know were well aware of my fat acceptance activism. Although I didn’t drill it in to the campus like I wanted, I was pretty vocal about being size- and body-accepting. Most of my friends read this blog, and a lot of the campus saw my fat documentary and/or heard me read from my poetry collection. It’s something that I had to be vocal about at that time in my life.

Now, as I continue on to new places with new people, I find it a bit harder. When I started working at the internship I’ve worked at this summer, I wasn’t sure who to tell and what to tell them. I was nervous, sometimes embarrassed, to explain where I was coming from. It was pretty easy, eventually, for me to spread word that I am a size acceptance activist because we’re working on a show about women’s health. When I expressed an interest in interviewing Kate Harding, I had to also explain my fat activism.

So somehow, without really meaning to, I’ve informed almost everyone in my life thus far that I am a fat acceptance activist. And maybe that’s the key: I identify myself as an activist. For me, being a member of this community means I speak out about it. Now, that’s not the same for everyone, but I think that’s why it’s seemingly easy for me, and I’ve figured out, in some wonky way, how to answer those complimenters.

I say, “Thanks.” because I know they mean well. And then, next time I see them I tell them about my blog, or my video work, or my poetry collection, or when they ask about me I tell them who I am. If they’re a friend, I wait until the appropriate time to explain fat acceptance to them. But part of my whole existence in this community is to spread the word. So that’s what I do.

Anyway, I encourage you to read the post and comments at BFD. People have some great suggestions. This is just my meditation on it.

Being Alone

This year is my first year living completely and utterly alone. I had a single room my sophomore year, when I was an RA, but I was still on the meal plan on campus, so I wasn’t really ever completely alone. The first few weeks of RA training (really, most of September), they kept us so busy that I didn’t realize exactly how alone I was. But over the past few weeks, I’ve definitely felt my aloneness keenly.

Though I’m the head RA in my building, and still living in a residence hall, I have an apartment. I have a closet-turned-kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom, all to myself. It’s a great, cute little apartment, and I love it, but GOSH to I feel isolated sometimes. I honestly spend a lot of time alone, in my room. I’m a very social person, although I do need “me” time, but lately, everything has been just me, by myself. I’ve realized, that the only big difference between now and before is that I’m eating alone, and cooking for one.

My friends teased me last year about how I’d be cooking for myself and no one else. Before, meals were always a very social time. Sometimes, it was the only time all day that I would spend hanging out with my friends. I think that meals are important in that way. Before college, I’d eat with my family, at home, around the table. I know that not every family does that, but GOSH was it some of my favorite time ever. And then in college, my friends became my family, and we ate together.

Now, it’s completely different. Eating is a very…lonely affair. And when it comes down to it, I think it’s taken some of the joy out of eating for me. Having to cook is certainly a bit of an experience, since I haven’t had to cook before. But the actual eating is just…going through the motions.

I don’t know how to feel about it. But I think that recently, this has been the key to my feelings of loneliness. I think that in many ways, it’s not good for me to spend so much time by myself. For one, I get almost nothing done when I feel lonely because I’m always spending time on the internet, or talking to people online because it makes me feel like there are other people out there, and not like I’m on my own little island without communication with the outside world.

Second, I have too much time to think, and too much time to get down on myself. I’ve battled with a lot of negativity, especially when stressed, these past few weeks, and that bothers me. I like being my happy, bubbly self, and it makes me feel even worse to think about how down I feel.

Thirdly, I start, because of that stress, to set, believe it or not, HIGHER expectations for myself. And then when I fail to meet them, I’m just a ball of misery. Eventually, yes, I come out of it–usually with the help of my friends, and spending time with them–but I don’t like the cycle. And I want to break it. I’m a firm believer of mind over matter, and I hope that even writing this post will help. I haven’t been feeling as bad lately, mostly due to a lot of quality time spent with both family and friends, but midterms are about to happen, my life is getting busier, and I have a lot to do. Which, overall, means more time spent in my room, by myself.

So, does anyone have an advice on how to handle my loneliness? Please please let me know, and share any stories you might have. It’ll help.

My Middle-School Nightmare

I think the absolute worst part of middle school was gym class. And I had a lot of bad times in middle school. I’m sure it’s every fat kid’s nightmare to be forced to run the mile, wearing skimpy shorts and t-shirts, while your classmates lapped you, teased you, maybe even gawked at you. I really honestly blame my middle school experiences in gym classes for my hatred of going to the gym today. They really did make it a race; we were forced to do all of these terribly stupid things, that really did not improve my physical fitness one bit. And worst of all, we were forced to do them in front of our peers.

I think that middle school institutionalized self-objectification. It built us into observers of each other in our physical exertions. It was, of course, the ideal location in which one could observe those individuals to which he or she was attracted. And for me, it was pure hell.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed some aspects of gym. Swimming, for example. I was among the best in my class because I actually swam on the swim team. I have almost no fear when wearing swimsuits for this reason. Basketball, too. I loved it so much, I even went to basketball camps. I would’ve tried out for the team if my gym teacher hadn’t told me I couldn’t because I didn’t have a physical on file (although, she let five other girls on the team without physicals. I still to this day think I experienced sizeism that day for the first time). I also loved Shot Put. They tried to get me on the track team to do shot put, but I refused.

What I hated about gym, though, was the feeling of always being watched. They would shout out our times when we finished the mile. And everyone would sit around the finish line when you were done to cheer you on. Sometimes, if you took longer than 14 minutes, everyone else went inside, and you had to cross the finish line alone. We show up at the end, and the Mrs. Shaffner would be standing at the end, shaking her head, and ushering us quickly inside to change and move on to our next class. It was like we were something to be hushed up, something they were embarrassed by. It was my biggest failure back then. That effing mile run as my peers stood on the sidelines, watching me jog to the end, red-faced, and close to tears.

Now-a-days I go into a gym, and I feel exceptionally self conscious. My college requires five gym classes for graduation. I have two left. Right now, I’m taking a course called “Individual Fitness” which just requires me to do a weightlifting routine with cardio at least 3 times a week, and journal on two other health-related areas (I’ve chosen to do a food diary, and a time-management journal). The problem is that lately, I’ve felt like I’m constantly being judged and watched at the gym. Yes, this is normal to feel that way, but gosh is it hard to overcome.

I’ve been trying, lately, to channel it into a positive-attention, rather than ignore my paranoia. I know that people probably aren’t looking, but just in case they are, I try to focus myself on having the best workout ever. Like, having the best form when running. Or having the most control with my higher weight sets. I try to look like I know what I’m doing, and I try to do everything to the T.

Thus far, I think it’s a good thing. I know it’s not good to think like that, but I can’t get rid of it. I honestly think it’s left over from that middle school long ago. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have something to prove to everyone around me: the fat girl can lift weights, can actually jog on a treadmill, can bench press, and she can be damn confident when doing it. Maybe it’s just a projection of my own feelings of inadequacy. But for now, I’m just going to use it as therapy. It’s my time for me. It’s my time to expel those feelings of inadequacy, and it’s my time to banish my stupid middle-school nightmare to the depths. I’m activating. I’m motivating. And I am moving forward.

Self-Objectificiation? I Object!

I’ve been feeding my feminist side lately by perusing several feminist blogs and magazines, and today came across this article on Alternet about “Out-of-Body Image” and the predominance of self-objectification:

Self-objectification is a state of “double consciousness … a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”

It struck a cord in me. I know self-objectification all too well. Probably from ages 10-20, I perpetually saw myself through this “out of body” lens. Every little bit of energy for me was focused on how I looked to others, how I appeared, and what they’d think of me. Sometimes, it was positively focused: I’d be walking into a grocery store in a cute outfit and think, “People must see me and think how confident I look, and how aloof and beautiful I am.” But usually, it was in an extremely self conscious way. I’d try to think how I was being perceived from all sides, and pose my body, my mouth, my facial expression, etc. into something more “beautiful” or “polished.” I did it completely without thinking most of the time.

And I did it mentally, too. I saw a psychologist over the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year of college, and the way I explained it to her was that everything I’d ever done, all my perfectionist attitudes, my desire to strive in the theatre, orchestra, my need to get good grades, all of it was making up for my one greatest flaw, which at that point was my fat. I tried to counter-balance my ugliness with an inner-beauty, and success. I was nice to people, even those who were not nice to me. I was diplomatic in most arguments. I made myself emotionally available to everyone around me, for advice, and help. And I was a perfectionist.

My psychologist, who helped a lot in just being the first person to really listen to me, tried to tell me there was no reason to “counter-balance” in such a way. I, of course, didn’t listen.

Moving into college opened up a whole boatload more of insecurities. Sex and physical relationships were all around me. More stress was put on my physicality, and I didn’t have those lifelong friends who saved me from most of my misery in high school. I honestly don’t know how I made it through my first few years in college, but I know that those were some of the loneliest days of my life. I didn’t trust many people. And I often felt betrayed by the people I did at the drop of a pin. I would scream and yell at my friends because they were being “insensitive” and “trying to hurt me” when really, I was just hurting myself.

I know that I haven’t completely given up my self-objectification. I still think everyone is judging me, even my close friends, sometimes. I rarely let go of my inhibitions. But I know now that all of that has to do with me still trying to get comfortable in my own skin.

So know, I’m putting this here to encourage myself to do it, I hope I can think about what I’m doing, and take a step back. Self-Objectification has led to nothing but trouble for me. And, according to the article I read, has been proven to be severely detrimental to performance in all areas of life:

Self-objectification has also been repeatedly shown to sap cognitive functioning, because of all the attention devoted to body monitoring. For instance, a recent study by Yale psychologists asked two groups of women to take a math exam — one group in swimsuits, the other in sweaters. The swimsuit-wearers, distracted by body concerns, performed significantly worse than their peers in sweaters.

AND

….self-objectification impeded girls’ ability to throw a softball, even after differences in age and prior experience were factored out.

AND worst of all:

One of the more stunning effects of self-objectification is its impact on sex. One young woman I interviewed described sex as being an “out of body” experience during which she viewed herself through the eyes of her lover, and, sometimes, through the imaginary lens of a camera shooting a porn film.

It’s not mentally healthy, not physically healthy, and we all need to take the opportunity to stop. So I’m going to try. I’m going to stop judging myself, and others. And I’m going let me be me. In the words of Joy Nash, “You’ve only got one life to live. Live it up!”

Margaret Cho is my Homegirl

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho

I love Margaret Cho. Her humor, her positivity, her activism, her voice, and her beauty all continuously awe me. She is a proponent of loving yourself, and has such a positivity. She speaks candidly about everything from sex, to body image, to identity, to race. And I find her incredibly inspiring. She’s sexy, funny, and a real role model.

You can imagine, then, how gleeful I was when I found the link to this video at Feministing. I’m about to die with excitement. I did not know she was getting her own show, nor did I expect to to be as great. And I am more excited than anything to see it.

I know some people may not love her as much as I do, but I seriously love her. Feel free to disagree, but Margaret Cho is my homegirl!

The Re-boob-olution: Fatshion and Feeling Good

I’m not sure I’ve ever written about how I discovered the FA movement. I’ve come to call it (mostly in my head) the Re-boob-olution. Just after I’d returned from Ecuador, I went to visit my college, and all my friends, who were still in classes for winter quarter. I stayed with my friend, E., who has been a very influential woman in my life. We’re both fat, and throughout our friendship, E. has taught me a lot about confidence, believing in oneself, and living life large. She may not have known it, but I always saw her as an extremely self-confident, beautiful woman. I wanted to be like her because of that confidence, but I never quite got there.

If you were to ask her, she’d say that she’s never been very confident. In fact, she’s always considered herself as having low self confidence, and low self-esteem. Anyway, that weekend that I stayed with her, she and I took a trip to Lane Bryant. I hadn’t been to Lane Bryant since I was in high school, mostly because I had a bit of a hatred of “those stores” (i.e. Plus Size stores) because they sold “old lady clothes” (i.e. Fatshion). But E. loved Lane Bryant. She swore by their jeans. Plus, neither one of us had ever been shopping with another plus size woman before. We’d gone in groups with our thinner friends, but never just us together. It was a thrilling prospect.

First thing we did as soon as we walked through the door was find about FIFTY THOUSAND things we wanted to buy. It happened to be a sale day (the only way we could buy anything), and we just pounced. It was really busy, so we ended up having to wait for a dressing room. We were chatting amicably, standing by the underwear, when I remembered that E. had told me she wanted to do a bra fitting. I found someone to measure us and get us going, and thus the Re-boob-olution began.

As soon as we had those bras on, and had seen the difference they made in our bodies’ shape, we were hooked. It turns out my bra was only slightly wrong in size. E., however, was one of the 80% of women wearing the wrong size bra, and her size was greatly different than what she thought it had been. While trying on our clothes and bras, we almost died of excitement. The right bra made everything look beautiful. It made my boobs fill out the clothes I never had been able to fill out before. It made me feel like my proportions were better, it made me feel more confident.

I spent a fortune at LB that day, and so did E., but it was ALL worth it. My LB jeans made my butt look fantastic. My bras made my boobs look fantastic, and in comparison to all that flabulousness, the parts of myself I hated (arms, stomach, etc.) didn’t seem ugly. The difference wasn’t just the clothes, it was the confidence the clothes inspired.

We went back to E.’s apartment and showed off for all our friends. That same day we watched Joy Nash’s Fat Rant, and the rest was history. Now, I’m not saying that the clothes changed my life. I’m not even going to give the credit to Joy and her incredible film. What changed me was the positivity surrounding that whole experience. Suddenly, my body felt beautiful to me. The clothes fit, the bras fit, the jeans fit, my friends thought I was beautiful, and I began to believe it too. It was the positivity focused on my body, coming from myself and others. It was the beauty I could finally see in my curves. It was the happiness I felt, the success, and it was the acceptance of myself.

Now, when I need a pick me up, I put on my prettiest bra, and my beautiful jeans, and think back to that incredible day. I’m working, this summer, in The Avenue, a plus size store, and I only hope that I can make someone else feel as positive about their body as I do about mine. I try to look nice at work, I smile at everyone, I compliment people’s choices (genuinely), and I tell the truth about what looks good on everyone. A positive shopping experience can boost someone’s day. And believe me, I know how much.

So now I want to open this thread: tell me about your Fatshion positivity, your re-boob-olution, or anything that just makes you feel good about yourself! Ready, GO!