Friday, April 26, 2013

Beyond Gender

These men in drag are hot.  According to BuzzFeed's report, "Kurdish men are dressing in women's clothing in response to the punishment given to a convicted man earlier this month. He was paraded down the streets of Marivan in a woman’s dress in order to humiliate him."  

Because looking like a woman is humiliating, evidently.

These Kurdish men are dressing in drag because they disagree.  They think there is no shame in dressing like a woman.  And it's not just men.  Women in drag are hot too!  A few Iranian women are dressing up as men to protest too.  Here are some of my favorite photos of these brave humanitarians.

From the neck up, these two look like they could be my aunt and uncle.  I'm some white chick living clear across the planet and yet there is a familiarity to these two people's kind faces:  

Photo source: Facebook

Then there's this guy.  He looks like someone I'd like to have coffee with and talk about all those books he's got on the shelves behind him:

Photo source: Facebook

This guy kinda looks like my husband, Will.  Or, what I imagine Will would look like dressed up in the same outfit.  I wonder if this guy's a meticulous hippie, too?

Photo source: Facebook

I like the look on these people's faces.  They look like they're trying to look like they're thinking "Unite and take action!" or some such tepid progressive talk, but what they're actually thinking is, "This is bullshit!  When are these stupid people in power going to realize young people all over the world today are bored with this nonsense?  We have moved beyond gender.  Repressive Regimes, take note: It's time to catch up!  Come on, now, I'm tired of this bullshit.  I wanna go back to looking at pictures of cats on my phone."

Photo source: Facebook

I like the colors and composition of this photo.  Like Book Guy above, I'd totally have a coffee with this dude, out on this patio with all the lovely foliage.  He looks like he has interesting things to say:

Photo source: Facebook

We all have interesting stories to tell, no matter what our gender.  Here's one I heard on public radio the other day.  It's a touching story about a local woman, Stephanie Mott, who struggled with her gender identity until she found hope and love at a church in, of all places, the land of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church: Topeka.  It's an awesome story.

People should not have to struggle so hard to be true to themselves.

Gender is ambiguous whether you're transsexual or not.  What does a woman look like?  What does a man look like?  In American culture, gender roles used to state that women wear dresses and men wear pants, but that custom is no longer in fashion.

I wear men's shoes because I have wide-ass feet.  I wear pants or dresses, depending on my mood.  I do not wear high heels because I am a klutz, and, again, wide-ass feet.  It's impossible to find heels I can afford that are wide enough to fit my feet.  Professional drag queens must spend a fortune on their heels.  I hope they claim them as a tax deduction.  

I no longer wear makeup or put hair styling product into my hair because I've discovered I look and feel better without it.  I shave my legs because my husband likes me to just as I like him to shave his beard.  But I also know he loves me even when I have hairy legs, just as I dig him full-bearded.  My husband has always had longer hair than I have.  I do not let my finger nails grow out and I do not polish either my finger nails or my toe nails because I don't like the way it looks on me and I have a compulsive need to pick the polish off.  

Does my appearance make me a mannish woman or a hippie?  What does it matter if I'm not hurting anyone?

What does it mean to look like a woman?  What does it mean to look like a man?  The answer to those questions depends on the time and place you happen to find yourself living on our planet.  If the answer changes with the times and with the places, then whatever answer you give seems a bit arbitrary and irrelevant, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meticulous Hippie

Will asked if I'd do the grocery shopping because he had to pick up Katie from school after he got off work and he wouldn't have time.  I miscalculated how much time I needed to finish a writing project, so when I got to the store I only had an hour to stock up on our family's groceries, get them home, and get myself to "work"--my paid job--at the library.  I did the best I could but I ran out of time.  I managed to get all the perishables put away and I put up high anything our Great Pyrenees mix Earl could swipe off the counter and tear into, but I ended up leaving a bunch of jars and cans and bottles on the counters before dashing off to the library.

When I got home from work and saw that all the groceries had been put away in neat rows inside our cupboard, I thought fondly of the days when I first met my meticulous hippie.

Will and I met eleven years ago when we both worked at the library.  He's long ago moved on to other opportunities, but back then he had recently been hired as a Reference Page.  I saw him from across the library, holding a big book in his arm, walking forward, steady on his long legs, a big grin on his face.  He had on a bright blue button down shirt, almost too nice for a library job that requires a lot of bending and stretching to shelve heavy reference books in their proper place.  His long hair, half-way down his back, in-between dark blond and light brown, fluttered behind him as he kept a steady pace.

I said to my friend and co-worker, Brent, "That new Page is kinda cute."

I wouldn't have said it to The New Page's face, though.  I'd had the proper harassment training.  Plus I'm shy as hell when I first meet people.  So I said nothing to him.  Will had the mandatory harassment training, too.  But he was smoother than I.

He tells me the first time he saw me, it was Halloween and I was wearing my book worm costume.  My ex-girlfriend Kristin took a big box and designed it to look like it had the cover of The Color Purple on it.  I wore it with my face and hair painted green and wearing green pants.  I was the book worm inside one of my favorite novels.  When Will saw me he said to himself, "I wanna get to know that chick."

The first time we actually talked was at the Feed the Need chili contest in the staff room.  I had made some vegetarian chili with TVP.  Will sat across from me and took a bite of the chili I had made.

"Mmm.  This is really good," he smiled with those bright red lips of his.  "What kind of meat is this?" he asked.

"It's TVP," I explained, smiling shyly.

"What kind of meat is that?" Will took another bite and smiled as he chewed it.

"It's not meat.  It's textured vegetable protein.  It's vegetarian."  I explained.

"So it's not meat?  It sure tastes good," he said, taking another big bite.

Other than that Will and I rarely saw each other.  He worked nights and weekends and, at that time, I worked only days, Monday through Friday.  I recall showing up to work first thing Monday morning and there it would be: this colossal mound of mail, piled up in neat rows awaiting the courier to take it to the post office.  It was impressive how he managed to get it just so.

"Looks like Will worked hard again this weekend," my friend and co-worker Linda would say, glancing at the mountain of mail.

"Yes.  Impressive, I'd say."

It's weird that meticulousness turns me on but it does.  I'm terribly sloppy and disorganized myself.  I'm impatient.  I hate puzzles.  I don't want to bother my brain trying to figure out how to clean up a mess or assemble boxes and bags of mail so they can be most efficiently transported.  I throw them in a bag, seal it, and toss it into the postal box.  Done!

So I admire people like Will who takes such pride of ownership in his work.  He assesses the job and figures out the best way to tackle it.  He thinks ahead, works slow and steady, and ends up with not just a completed job but a thing of beauty.  This is a man who neatly arranges items on the shelf at his job at Whole Foods, then takes his six-year-old daughter to a pretend play place and proceeds to straighten the shelves in the pretend grocery store, then he comes home and arranges the items in our cabinets in proper order.

Will restocking the groceries at the pretend grocery store.

This is the same guy who likes to put together impossible puzzles.  For fun.  Puzzles like Phish's Lawn Boy, which consists of mostly bright green blades of grass.  

I don't know why it makes my stomach get butterflies when I see this man tidy and straighten and fit things together, but it does.  He was bagging mail in my department at work the first time he asked me out.  His schedule had been tweaked so he was in my department on Friday afternoons.  

He was so smooth about it, he caught me off guard.  

We'd been talking about movies.  He was getting ready to put the DVD "The End of the Affair" into a bag.  I said I loved that movie.  He asked how I could possibly love a movie that's about an affair.  We talked about art and morality and finally the conversation got less intense and we began talking about different movies we like and he asked me if I'd seen "Lord of the Rings" yet.

"No," I said.  He'd mentioned this movie once before, when we sat across the table in the staff room eating chili, after our little TVP discussion, now that I thought about it.  He must really like it.

"You want to go see it with me?" Will asked, smiling big and confident.  The big tower of mail in neat rows behind him.

"Uh, um...sure." I said.

He was 21.  I was 31.  I immediately thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?  Who is this kid?  Asking me out?  He didn't even know what TVP is!  But he did just defend monogamy and fidelity which is sweet and kind of cool.  Oh what the hell, this could be fun..."

I was so nervous and my inner thoughts were distracting me so much that when he asked me to write my phone number down (this was in the dark ages of no cell phones to instantly plug someone's digits into) I started to write "Becky's phone number 515-1234" but half way through I thought to myself, "Oh, but what if I'm not the only Becky he knows?"  So I thought I changed it to "Becky Burton's phone number 515-1234," but what I actually ended up writing down on the little slip of paper was, "Becky's Burton 515-1234."

Will took one look at it, smiled, and thought to himself, "This is going to be easy."

See, I'm so awkward and messy, I need my meticulous hippie to keep me from drowning in my anxious muck of a life.  To make things neat and easy.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sergeant Librarian

First thing this morning I said to my six-year-old daughter, "Good morning.  How're you doing, Punk?"

She rubbed her eyes and replied, "Good."  Then she opened her eyes and smiled.  "No, not good.  Great!"

"Why are you not just good but great?" I asked, expecting her to tell me about some funny dream she had or something fun she and her daddy did last night while I was at work at the public library.

"Because it's World Book Night!"

According to the flier Katie brought home from school, World Book Night is "a night in which free books are given away to adults and students to promote reading and literacy."  It continues, "There are no strings attached.  Just show up and pick out your book!"

But they're not just giving away books.  There will also be fun family activities such as:

R.E.A.D. Dogs--special educational dogs trained to sit and listen to children read their books.

Crafts--make a bookmark for your special new book, or maybe a new cover for your book.

Snacks and drinks.

Special guest readers.

It's not shocking our kiddo is excited for World Book Night.  We've known since she was very young that, as comedian Bill Hicks said, "Looks like we got ourselves a reader."  Here's a video of her "reading" Goodnight Moon from memory when she was two years old, to our dog Sawyer:

My brother and his wife had to visit with my niece's second-grade teacher because my niece wouldn't stop reading in class.  That sounds absurd, but I'm totally serious.  My niece would keep a book open, hidden under her desk on her lap, and she'd read instead of paying attention to what was going on in class.  My niece moved on to the gifted program at school, attended a fancy university, and got a well-respected job doing what she loves, so it's not like getting in trouble at school for reading too much hurt her in the long run.

I'm similarly not very concerned about Katie's obsession with reading.  No matter how irritating it can be when I catch her reading instead of doing "what she's supposed to be doing", I'm still proud she's so reading-crazed.  Just this morning I had to nag her to get ready for school.  Every two minutes I'd poke my head through her bedroom door to make sure she was getting dressed.  After five times of catching her, still naked, reading her book, I raised my voice:

"Katie!  If you don't put that book down right now and get ready you're going to be late for school and it's going to throw your whole day off and then how are you going to enjoy World Book Night?!"

She threw the book to the ground and got dressed faster than a private enlisted in the army.

Call me Sergeant Librarian.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Burtons Come from Whales

When I was in second grade my teacher assigned a genealogy project.  We were instructed to ask our parents where our ancestors came from and then write a paragraph or two about our family's country of origin.  Mom's European Mutt family (Swedish, English, Spanish, French, German/Jewish, German/Catholic) was too complicated for my slacker ass to explain in one or two paragraphs, so I chose to focus on my dad's side of the family.

The problem was, I was too scared to talk to my dad about much of anything, let alone to interview him about our family history.  In our family it was an unspoken rule that no one talk to Dad, especially when he first got home from work, at the dinner table, while he was watching TV after dinner, or just before bed.  I'd heard rumors that Dad was relatively cheery first thing in the morning, but he always left for work before I even climbed out of bed, so that option was out too.

Every summer we went to the Key Family Reunion.  The Keys were on my dad's mom's side of the family.  My grandmother had died when I was only five, so I barely remember her, but Dad dutifully brought us to his mother's family reunion every summer to visit with his aunts and uncles.  My grandmother was the eldest child of twelve, so there were lots of aunts and uncles to visit.  My grandfather died in 1950, twenty years before I was even born, and my dad wasn't as close to his dad as he was to his mom.  But we occasionally also went to the Burton Family Reunion, to see my dad's dad's side of the family.  My grandfather was the eldest child of ten and grew up on a farm in Bethany, Missouri next to my grandmother's family, so lots of his siblings also married my grandmother's siblings.  With lots of aunts and uncles not just on his side of the family, but on both sides, we usually killed two birds with one stone and just went to the Key Family Reunion.

It was the one time of the year I ever felt like my dad was proud of me.  It was weird and I always felt awkward.  I'd be sitting at a picnic table eating the breading off the fried chicken--I refused to eat meat on a bone--and brushing the salt off my slice of watermelon--I complained to Dad that I hate salt on my watermelon every year but he never listened to me--when suddenly I'd hear, "Becky, come over here and say hi to Aunt Lorella/Uncle Elmer/Aunt Opal/Uncle Clyde" or whichever relation Dad was standing next to at the time.

I'd walk over to my dad, my heart racing, my face getting hot, and when I stood next to him he'd always pull me closer and squeeze my shoulders in a side-hug, saying, "Lorella/Elmer/Opal/Clyde, this is my youngest, Becky."

I'd smile shyly and look at the dirt and say "hi" in my mouse-squeak voice and then, the instant Dad loosened his grip on my shoulders, I'd run back to my breading and salty watermelon.

Dad was never very affectionate, physically or verbally.  He didn't like to be hugged or kissed, especially in the winter, because the dry air in our house inevitably caused us to shock him, so these once-a-year summertime side-hugs were it.  He never, ever, said he loved me, or anyone else in our family.  I finally gathered the nerve to tell my father I love him when I was in my early thirties and he called me on the phone two states away at his winter vacation home to inform me that he was about to go in for quadruple bypass heart surgery.  His second bypass surgery.  He'd had a triple bypass twenty-one years prior to this one.

"I didn't know a person could have two bypass surgeries in their lifetime, Dad." I said.

"Me neither, but I guess if you live long enough they can go in there and clean you out again.  It's like getting a tune-up on an old car."  Dad half-heartedly laughed.

"Do you want me to fly down there?" I asked.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  I just thought you should case something happens," Dad said.

"Oh.  Yeah.  Sure.  Uh.  Ok.  Well, I, um.  I, uh.  I love you, Dad," I said.

"I love you too," he said without hesitation.

At that moment, it felt like it was my heart that was about to stop ticking.

Dad got through the surgery just fine and he's still around, at age eighty-six, dancing and playing bridge and just being a general curmudgeonly old fucker.  Whenever we talk on the phone now, no matter how much of a pain in the ass he is to me, I make a point to end our calls by telling him I love him, and he always says it back to me.  It takes an effort, but it always leaves me feeling courageous.

But I wasn't courageous enough to initiate affection or even simple conversation with my father when I was young, so when I was working on my second grade genealogy project, even though it was about Dad's side of the family, I went to Mom with my questions.

"So where does Daddy's family come from?" I asked.

"Well, when Glen and I had our first date I asked him where his family comes from and he said, 'Uh, I think Kentucky originally.'"  Mom laughed.

"What's so funny?" I didn't get it.

"Well, Punkin, Kentucky is a state in our country.  When I asked him where his family comes from I meant farther back.  I meant which country in Europe does his family come from," Mom explained.

"Oh, I see.  So he wasn't going back far enough."

"Right.  I don't think your father knows very much about his ancestors.  But 'Burton' is a Welsh name, so I'm pretty sure his family comes from Wales," Mom said.

It all made sense.  I ran off to write my paper, satisfied with Mom's answer, asking no further questions.

Really?  Our family comes from whales?  That must be why everyone on Dad's side of the family is so fat.

I wrote my paper about how my family evolved from whales.  I was excited to show it to my second-grade teacher, who I loved.  I knew she would be impressed.  I even drew a picture of a whale with water shooting out its blowhole at the bottom of my paper.  As I placed my assignment on top of the pile of my other classmate's papers, I wondered if anyone else was lucky enough to be related to an animal.

I remember my sweet second-grade teacher pulling me aside as the others went out for recess the next day.  She showed me my paper and said I'd done a lovely job on it, but that I should know that people can't be related to animals.

"But my mom said Burtons come from whales," I said, confused.

My teacher smiled and said, "Oh, Honey, I think she means Wales, the country.  It's a small country in Europe, on the same island as England."  She walked me over to the globe in the corner of the room and put her finger on it where, right there I could see with my own eyes, there is an actual country called Wales.

Huh.  Well, I guess that makes more sense, I thought.

But I was disappointed too.  It kinda felt like finding out there really is no Santa Claus.  My family is normal and boring, just like everyone else's.  We didn't evolve from beautiful giant sea creatures.  Just a bunch of stocky peasants who moved to Kentucky and then to Bethany, Missouri, and then to St. Joseph, Missouri, and then to Kansas City, Missouri, and then to Overland Park, Kansas where I reside now with my husband and our daughter who will one day ask me where our family comes from and I'll get to share our story with her.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Here's to You, Ms. Middle Age: A Guide to Body Acceptance and Bravery

My six-year-old daughter Katie is obsessed with the game The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.  She plays it on my husband's old school Nintendo 64.

image source Wikipedia

The game both thrills her and terrifies her.  She prefers to play it only when Will is home so he can take over the controller for her during the super scary battle scenes while she sits beside him on the futon with her hands over her eyes, peaking out of the cracks between her fingers.  Sometimes when Will isn't home she's jonesin' for Zelda so badly she succumbs and tries to play by herself, but inevitably she gets to a scary fight scene and cries out for help.

"Mama!  I can't do this!  It's tooooooo scary.  When will Daddy be home?!"

She asks for her daddy because her mama is no gamer and she knows it.  All I can do for her is be a good role model and offer advice.

"If you want to play the game now, you're going to have to practice being brave.  If you don't want to practice being brave right now, turn off the game and go play something else.  The wisest people know when to stay and be brave and when to run away and clear their minds of what's troubling them."

I'm no gamer, but I still get to practice being brave.  I don't fight external enemy pixels.  My battle is internal: shame.

But I'm getting braver.

Three days ago I shared a blog post about my experiences with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder--Winsteads--with a group of Health at Every Size® activists on a listserv Dr. Linda Bacon invited me to join months ago when I shared with her another blog post, Camp Empathy, which discusses how her book Health at Every Size changed my life.

I've been blogging since July 2011, and since then I've connected with some of my writing idols--Linda Bacon, Laura Moriarty, and Harriet Lerner--by sharing some of my posts with them on social media.  It's thrilling to have my writing idols read my blog.  Laura Moriarty even sent me a gift, a copy of the book Tiny Beautiful Things, after reading a sad post I'd written about my dad because she, rightfully, believed it would resonate with me.

It's both thrilling and terrifying to receive such love from my idols.  Jeez.  If they love me I guess it's time I start loving myself.

Then another thrilling and terrifying thing happend.  Another writing idol, Marilyn Wann, friend requested me on Facebook.  She friended me.  Wann initiated the friend request after she read the post I shared on the Health at Every Size® listserv.

Marilyn Wann.  The Marilyn Wann?  I've been recommending her awesome book Fat!So? for years at the library where I work.  Are you fucking kidding me?

Totally not kidding.  Wann loved my post and shared it with her like-minded friends.  And she's offered to share some of my other HAES-related posts, too.

I'm stoked about this new friendship with Wann not only for the exposure my blog gets each time she shares one of my posts, but also because her own posts are fascinating and inspirational.  Take this one Wann shared this morning, Judging the "Best Figure in Hollywood," 1931 by Anne Helen Petersen.  It discusses how a Hollywood fan magazine in 1931 featured a contest for which starlet had the "best figure" according to a panel of "expert judges".  It's both a laugh riot and sadly triggering of my own body dysmorphic history.

The part that really gets me is the chart that features each movie star's age, weight, and measurements.  It then shows an "Accepted Hospital Chart for Women's Weights."  I'm nearly 100 pounds heavier than this chart deems acceptable.

It doesn't bother me in the least that this chart states I'm too fat.  Today's BMI charts tell me I'm "morbidly obese" despite my internal measurements of health--low cholesterol, low blood pressure, average blood glucose--and my own doctor assuring me I'm quite healthy.  What bothers me are the sad memories triggered from seeing this old chart.

A couple of years before I was diagnosed with anorexia, my mom brought home a book from the public library's book sale.  My dad was too cheap to allow us to buy brand-new books.  Why buy books when you can check them out for free at the library? is his motto.  But he relented and allowed Mom to pay a dime for an old, discarded book at the library book sale.

The book mom brought home is Here's to You, Miss Teen: A Guide to Good Grooming and Poise by Mary Sue Miller.  It was published in 1960 and withdrawn from the library on October 20, 1977.  Mom gave it to my teenage sister Jenny.  But by late 1977, Jenny was fourteen going on twenty-four.  She had boyfriends galore.  She knew how to put her hair up in hot rollers and style it like Farrah Fawcett.  She wore stylish clothes, even on our paltry family clothing budget.  She has one of those personalities that everyone adores.  She's funny and smart and kind.  She didn't need no stinkin' guide to beauty and poise.

I did.  Or at least I thought I did.  I was six going on sixteen, and even though I couldn't read well enough yet to understand much of its content, I coveted my sister's book and stole it from her, hiding it in my drawer until I was old enough to read it myself.

I became obsessed with the book the year I turned eleven, the year I was diagnosed with anorexia.  I read it cover to cover, over and over, as if it would save my life.  I realize now it just warped my sad little anorexic brain even more than it already was.  Look at the "notes" I made inside the book all those years ago:

The book contains a chart with a measurement guide for girls "ages 16 and 17."  Here's a picture of that chart from my copy of the book:

See how I marked it up?  I even cut myself some slack by adding 1" to the measurements for my large "bony structure".  I still never measured up.  Before I began starving myself, at age 11, I was already "too big" according to this chart.  

I was an early developer like my dad and his side of the family.  Even though Jenny is nearly eight years older than I am we could wear the same size clothes from the time I was in third grade.  We have the same mom but different dads, and Jenny takes after her petite paternal grandmother.

So when I took this book out of my drawer and began studying it when I was eleven, realizing I was already "too big" according to the charts, I began starving myself.  At my lowest point, when my shrink and my parents were threatening to hospitalize me and stick a feeding tube down my throat, I was 5'3" and weighed 79 pounds.

I am still 5'3".  I stopped growing the same year I was diagnosed with anorexia.  I used to think it had something to do with malnutrition, and it very well could, but my Physical Anthropology instructor at the community college once informed me that most girls stop growing about one year after they begin menstruating.  I started my period in January 1981, about a year before I stopped growing.  (Side note: the same month my husband was born - isn't that freakishly funny?)

I am still 5'3" but I no longer weigh anything close to 79 pounds.  Thank God.  Thank myself.

So now I'm going to practice being brave.  I'm going to do something that terrifies me, but I also know it will set me free.  My own husband doesn't even know how much I weigh.  I've kept it secret from everyone, hiding in shame.

It's time for my body to come out of the closet.  

This morning, after reading the article shared by Wann and looking over my old copy of Miss Teen, I decided to measure myself, for old times' sake.  

I am no longer ashamed of my measurements.  I used the same guidelines the judges used to assess the figures of Hollywood stars back in 1931.  So here goes. 

Age: 42
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 229 lbs.
Bust: 50"
Waist: 40"
Hips: 51"
Glove: 7" (I have no idea how to measure my glove size, so I took a guess and measured from my wrist to the tip of my longest finger.) 
Shoe: 9 1/2WW (or men's size 8W if I can't find wide enough shoes in the women's section)

Wow.  What a relief.  That was fucking scary.  But I was brave and I got through it.  And guess what?  Nobody died.  In fact, I now feel more alive.

This is me, this morning, reading my old book like a long lost friend.  A very sick friend I've grown apart from.

Fuck you, charts.
Fuck you, comparing ourselves to movie stars.
Fuck you, expert judges.

This is me, this morning, reading a new friend's book:

I love my body just the way it is.  My body carried my amazing child.  My body intertwines with my husband in blissful delight whenever we have a hot date night.  Or better yet, nooners when the kiddo's in school.  My body carries me throughout the world where I meet fascinating people and participate in wonderful activities.  My body carries my brain.  My body carries my heart.  My body carries my soul.  

My body.

Not yours.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Katie's Handwriting Book

Katie brought home from school her handwriting book.  Each page has a picture she was instructed to color any way she likes.  Most of the pages have pictures of people.  What I find fascinating is that Katie, who is white, didn't color all the people with white skin.  In fact, of the twenty-one individuals, she colored twelve with white skin and seven with brown skin.  I asked why two of the people have red skin.  She said, "They're sunburned."  

I suspect Katie's interest in exploring diversity in her art has to do with the influence of her class of twenty-two students, eleven with brown skin and eleven with white skin.  It's good for her to be around all sorts of folks.  I'm thrilled she's getting such a broad education.

I hope Katie's district decides not to allow concealed carry weapons in school even though Gov. Brownback just signed this law.  If they do, because Will and I are such hippie peace mongers, we'll have to pull Katie out of public school and homeschool her.  We can't afford to send her to private school.  But we don't want our child going to a pro-gun school.  

I'm concerned that a homeshool education might limit her exposure to "all sorts of folks," but I'm more concerned about my child accidentally getting shot in some freak accident.  What happens when someone accidentally leaves their weapon behind in the restroom like this Michigan security guard did?  I don't want to shelter my child from a variety of life experiences.  But gun violence is one experience my child can remain blissfully ignorant of and that's just fine by me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ethicial Introspectionism

While digging through boxes of old photos yesterday, I came upon an essay I wrote when I was working on my Associate's degree at the community college.  I hated high school.  I was on the honor roll because I'm good at taking tests, but I was terrible at turning in my homework and actually showing up to class on a regular basis.  When I finally broke free from the bonds of high school, my dad offered to pay for me to go to the community college.  He even bought me a car so I could get there in our public-transit-poor suburb.  But then we got into a huge fight one day and I gave him back his car.  I took the bus for a semester, but I eventually dropped out in my early twenties when I got my job at the public library.  I had passed a couple of classes, but I was far from completing my Associate's degree.

By my late twenties I was getting bored with my clerical job at the library.  I wanted to be what we call an "Information Specialist" which is basically a paraprofessional librarian, or, in less-fancy terms, a librarian without a Master's degree in Library Science.  In order to be an Info Spec you have to have a minimum of 60 credit hours of college, plus experience working at the public library.  I had the experience.  I just needed to go back to school.

I did, and I loved it.  I paid for it myself and I took classes I wanted.  I even put on my big girl panties and took Public Speaking, one of the requirements for getting an Associate's degree.  I took Finite Math and actually got a B.  I took Logic, one of the hardest classes I've ever taken, a class so hard the instructor always graded our exams and papers on a curve.  I never thought of myself as a very logical person (who returns a car to someone and ruins her chance at getting an education over a stupid fight?) but I'm proud to say, it was always my exams and my papers that set the curve.  My Logic teacher told me I should think about taking some other philosophy classes.  It was the best advice someone in authority had ever given me.

One of the proudest moments of my life was when I opened a letter from the community college with my Associate's degree inside.  I was too chickenshit to attend the graduation ceremony, but I had completed the coursework and finally got my two-year degree only eleven years after high school!  Woo hoo!

One of my favorite classes was indeed a philosophy class, Ethics, taught by Omar Conrad.  For our final paper we had to write an essay about our personal moral philosophy and explain why we adhere to it.  We could use the works of philosophers before us to put together a hodgepodge of our own beliefs, or we could come up with something original.  I came up with something original.

Mr. Conrad loved it.  He asked if he could keep a copy of it to distribute to his future students as an example of a good final essay.  Here's what he wrote on the back of my paper:

This is a great essay.  It is one of the most original I've read. 40/40

Yep, this slackass got a perfect score on her Ethics final.  It turns out I'm not such a bad student when I love what I'm learning.

Here it is, my Ethics final from so many years ago:

Ethical Introspectionism
Becky Burton

Introspectionism n.  A doctrine that psychology must be based essentially on data derived from introspection.  (From Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

Introspection n.  Contemplation of one's own thoughts, feelings and sensations; self-examination.  (From: The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition)

There are two types of introspectionism, psychological and ethical.  The dictionary does not yet know the distinction.  Its definition I will rename psychological introspectionism.  The second type I will name ethical introspectionism.  Therefore, the definition of ethical introspectionism is as follows:

     Ethical Introspectionism n. A doctrine that ethical theory must be based essentially on wisdom derived through introspection.

We now know what ethical introspectionism is, so to whom does this principle apply?  Certainly it cannot be universalized, since not all beings are capable of introspection.  If a cat cannot introspect, then a cat cannot morally judge others nor be judged morally for its behavior.  Morality appears to be a human creation.  However, not all people introspect, since young children, the mentally ill, or mentally impeded adults are also incapable of introspection.  They all lack the capacity to perform moral judgments, and therefore they cannot be judged morally for their behavior.  Only healthy, mentally and emotionally developed beings are capable of introspection.  Only healthy, mentally and emotionally developed beings are moral judges and the morally judged.

There are three things that constitute health, mental and emotional development in a being, three things that determine whether someone can practice ethical introspectionism: egoism, sympathy, and boundaries.  My definition of egoism is not to be confused with selfishness.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are three definitions of egoism.

     Egoism n. 1.a. The ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest.  b. The ethical belief that self-interest is the just and proper motive for all human conduct.  2. Excessive preoccupation with one's own well-being and interests, usually accompanied by an inflated sense of self-importance.  3. Egotism; conceit.

I am adhering to definition 1.a., that egoism is the ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest.  I am not putting any negative connotation onto the word.  By egoism, I simply mean ethical self-interest.  Furthermore, my definition of sympathy is not to be confused with selflessness.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are five definitions of sympathy.

     Sympathy n. 1.a. A relationship or affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.  1.b. Mutual understanding or affection arising from this relationship or affinity. 2.a. The act or power of sharing the feelings of another.  2.b. Often sympathies.  A feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; compassion or commiseration.  3. Harmonious agreement; accord: He is in sympathy with their beliefs.  4. A feeling of loyalty; allegiance.  Often used in the plural: His sympathies lie with his family.  5. Physiology.  A relation between parts or organs by which a disease or disorder in one induces an effect in the other.

I am adhering to definition 2.b., that sympathy is the act or power of sharing the feelings of another.  Sharing implies giving and taking, one and the other, not one or the other.  It has nothing to do with selfless martyrdom.  Once a healthy, mentally and emotionally developed being achieves a state of egoism and sympathy, he or she understands the boundaries between the self and others.  Understanding boundaries means knowing where you stop and others start.  The domain that connects yourself to others is called heaven.  This heaven is not home to the afterlife, but instead a metaphysical state of bliss.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are five definitions of heaven.

     Heaven n. 1. Often heavens.  The sky or the universe as seen from Earth; the firmament.  2.a. Often Heaven.  The abode of God, the angels, and the souls of those who are granted salvation.  2.b. An eternal state of communion with God; everlasting bliss.  3.a. Heaven.  God: Heaven help you!  3.b. heavens.  Used in various phrases to express surprise: Good heavens!  4. Often heavens.  The celestial powers; the gods: The heavens favored the young prince.  5. A condition or place of great happiness, delight, or pleasure: The lake was heaven.

I am adhering to definition 5., that heaven is a condition or place of great happiness, delight, or pleasure.  I will add that it also exemplifies the perfect union of egoism and sympathy.

The purpose of ethical introspectionism is to attain wisdom that leads us to this heaven.  Heaven is achieved not through religious salvation but through self-salvation.  No one can save you but yourself.  Self-salvation is liberation through introspection.  No one knows what is right or wrong for you but yourself.  One knows what is morally right and wrong not because others say so.  One knows what is morally right and wrong because one knows so.  One knows so from the wisdom derived from introspection.

It is impossible to teach others morality.  Morality is self-taught through introspection.  There are three absolutes in ethical introspection.  The rest is up to each introspectionist to discover.  It is immoral to:

     a) intentionally impede your own freedom to introspect
     b) intentionally impede other's freedom to introspect
     c) cross over boundaries, allowing others to interfere with your freedom to introspect or interfering with other's freedom to introspect.

Said more positively, it is moral to:

     a) intentionally support and respect your freedom to introspect
     b) intentionally support and respect other's freedom to introspect
     c) intentionally maintain the heavenly domain between your and another's existence.

As examples, we will sojourn within the realm of human sexuality.  According to ethical introspectionism, the only immoral sex acts are those that impede the development of yourself, others, or those that cross over boundaries.

The first example shows an impediment to the development of yourself.  One of the clearest paths to introspection is masturbation.  It is immoral to feel remorse or to allow others to discourage you from doing it in solitude.  It is the physical expression of introspection and should be advocated, not in a lewd manner, such as in public, but as a private self-study.

An impediment to the development of others, child molestation is another example of sexual immorality.  Children are not mentally and emotionally developed enough to fully understand the boundaries between themselves and others, to separate other's needs from their own.  When you use a child for your adult sexual gratification, you send a message to the child that her/his purpose in life is to be the object of other people's happiness and gratification.  The child will discontinue to develop freely her/his egoist side.  Eventually, the child will break down when s/he discovers that s/he has no sole control over other's happiness and gratification, because you have taught the child that s/he is the source of your happiness and gratification.

The third example of sexual immorality involves overstepping the boundaries of mentally and emotionally developed beings.  It is immoral to interfere with an introspectionist's pursuit of the domain that connects the self to others.  Any consensual sex between introspecting beings is praiseworthy, not shameful.  It is analogous to sitting in a coffee shop, having a stimulating philosophical discussion with someone.  Any law--whether religious, social or juridical--that labels consensual sex as immoral is immoral.  Homosexuality, oral sex, premarital sex, one-night stands, and recreational sex should all be sanctioned and included with marital sex as rich forms of discovery for beings seeking to partake of the heavenly wisdom that signifies their connective force.

In response to the question of whether or not moral dilemmas can be tragic, the ethical introspectionist's answer is yes.  Ethical introspectionism is not an attempt to eliminate tragedies but an attempt to eliminate confinement of the soul.  The two basic elements of ethical introspectionism are egoism and sympathy, which can easily run alternate courses, leading to tragic conclusions.  If you only consider your own needs, tragedy ensues when other's needs are overlooked.  If you only consider other's needs, tragedy ensues when your own needs are overlooked.  The goal of ethical introspectionism is to achieve the heavenly state of balance between your and other's needs.  But even in this domain tragedy can occur.  Your intent may be to act in accordance with what you think the other person would most want, but unless that person is around you constantly to tell you what s/he wants, sometimes your guess will be wrong.  Since wisdom comes from introspection, the only person's perspective you will ever understand entirely is your own.  You can always try on another's shoes and walk around in them, but the only pair that will ever fit you completely is your own.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


We finally ate at Winstead's.  Will had been asking me to join him and Katie at one of their favorite local burger joints for years.  I always said no.  The reason?

The only entree on the menu I'll eat is a grilled cheese sandwich.  Why go out to eat a grilled cheese sandwich?  Even I can slap cheese between bread and fry it at home.

Health Nut:
I don't need to be eating fries and shakes.  You and Katie don't have PCOS.  You don't have to watch your junk food intake as much as I do.

Restrictive-Diet Competition
If we go there I'll be tempted to get a cherry limeade and that's going to ruin my no-sugary-drinks record.

It's been thirty-one years since I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  I feel better about my body and myself now than I ever have, thanks mostly to Dr. Bacon and her Health at Every Size® approach.  But I still carry with me a twinge of the inner anorexic.  Restrictive eating.  Self-critical.  Arrogant.  Moody. 

It was my moodiness that changed my mind.  I'd been uber-grumpy with Will for a couple of weeks.  So when he said this to me, I relented.

"It'd mean a lot to me if you'd go with Katie and me to Winstead's.  I'd like to take my girls out for a special family meal."

My girls.  What a ridiculous thing to say.  I'm 42.  I'm ten years older than Will.  And yet there was no hint of condescension in his voice when he said it and it made the heat rise to my face and chest the way it does when he surprises me in a good way.

As we scooched into our booth, I mentioned that I once worked at Winstead's.

"What, was that one of your three-month-long jobs you had when you were young?" Will teased.

"More like three-day.  I worked the soda fountain and I was responsible for making all the drinks and shakes and sundaes for everyone.  Even the drive-thru.  It was too much for me."

We both laughed.  I can barely manage to get three items hot and ready at the same time when I make a meal for just the three of us at home.  My hands were made for typing on a keyboard, not multitasking in a kitchen.

"I have a picture of myself in my Winstead's uniform," I remembered aloud.  "I had to wear a little dress and apron."

Will and Katie howled.

"I'd like to see that picture," Will said.  "You should post it on your blog."

It was 1989 when I worked at Winstead's those three days.  I was eighteen.  Either a senior in high school or getting ready to start my first semester at the community college.  I can't remember.

I had to go digging for the photo.  Back then we used film and had to take it to the drug store to have them process it and give you prints.  Then you'd stick the prints inside a box in your basement and throw them out with the garbage after the next spring flood wiped out the memories in your cobwebby basement.

With all my moves and with all the basement moisture my photos have endured, it's amazing I still have as many as I do.  Here's the one of me in my Winstead's uniform:

Becky Burton, 1989, age 18

While digging through miraculously-unflooded boxes to find this old photo I encountered many more that brought back floods of memories.

Becky Burton, 1975, age 4

I was four when I first started getting fat.  I was a big baby.  Not huge, but big.  Eight-pounds-one-and-a-half-ounces. I memorized it from the moment my mom first told me how much I weighed when I was born.  It began an obsession with keeping track of my weight that did not end until I read Dr. Linda Bacon's book Health at Every Size® a couple of years ago.  And although I no longer keep track of my weight, my inner anorexic still recalls in an instant how much I weighed at various times in my childhood:

newborn: 8 pounds 1 1/2 ounces
age five: 50 pounds
age nine: 112 pounds
age eleven: 79 pounds
age thirteen: 135 pounds
age sixteen: 150 pounds

I've read that sexual abuse survivors often develop tics and habits that help them feel like they have control over their body.  That makes sense to me.  I was four when I first started getting fat.  I was four when I got my tonsils out and quit having chronic sore throats.  That could explain why I suddenly began to gain weight. Food simply tasted good sliding down my throat.  I was also four when I was sexually abused.  Lots of kids hide their bodies from a cruel outside world by stuffing themselves.  I can see that in myself.  Here I am by the time I was five, with my tubby tummy:

Becky Burton, 1976, age 5

I ate and ate and ate.  I remember being the last one up from the dinner table each night, not because I was forced to sit and eat my peas--I loved me some peas!--but because I was finishing up what my two parents and four siblings left on their plates.  I remember losing my first tooth, at age four, on a piece of corn on the cob I had taken off my sister's plate and began to gnaw on.  I remember various family members teasing me, "Becky, stop eating!  You're going to explode!"

I'd think to myself, Can a person really explode?  Would I fill up like a balloon and float into the air and suddenly go--pop!--or would I just burst open right here at the dinner table?

But I didn't quit eating.

Then, in third grade, my parents sent me to Weight Watchers.  Here's my school picture from either second or third grade.    

Becky Burton, circa 1979, age 8 or 9

Here's one from about second or third grade too, about a year before I was sent to Weight Watchers:

Becky Burton, circa 1979, age 8 or 9

It's weird looking back at these old photos.  Like the one above.  Sure, I'm a little fatty.  So what?  In the same picture is my fat dad and my fat grandmother.  Why was I sent to Weight Watchers and not them?

Here's what I looked like in fourth grade, one year after I started Weight Watchers and one year before I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa:

Becky Burton, 1980, age 9 1/2

It went downhill from there.  These are the ugliest, saddest pictures of me.  When I was anorexic:

Becky Burton, 1982, age 11 1/2

Becky Burton, 1982, age 11 1/2 

See my tiny breasts?  I started developing breasts in third grade.  I hated them.  I was the only girl in class who had to wear a bra.  In fourth grade some boys at recess started calling me "BB" and laughing maniacally.  At first I thought "BB" stood for "Becky Burton" but later one of my friends broke it to me that "BB" stood for "Big Boobs".  I was thrilled when I lost so much weight  my boobs shrank and I didn't have to wear a bra anymore.

My mom took me to the doctor one day when I passed out at school.  The doctor said I had anorexia.  He recommended I see a psychologist.  I did.  I got worse.  Then I got better.  Slowly.  Here's what I looked like by sixth grade:

Becky Burton (far right with braces), 1983, age 12

Even though I had stopped starving myself and running up and down the basement steps for forty-five minutes each day, and my parents and therapist quit threatening me with hospitalization, I remember thinking my calves were fatter than my mom's and both my sisters' when I first saw this picture.

But I got healthier and stronger each day.  Here's what I looked like by the end of seventh grade:

Becky Burton, 1984, age 13

I won the layup contest that year.  I made 24 out of 25 layups and won a blue ribbon.  I thought my thighs looked hideously fat when I first got this picture.  I showed it to none of my friends, too embarrassed by my thighs.  I quit wearing shorts in public and I quit playing basketball after that season.  As I continued to gain weight, my big boobs came back.  I couldn't find a bra that kept my boobs from not hurting with every jump.  

I tried softball again that summer.  I hadn't played since I was an anorexic eleven year old.  I was terrible.  I quit after one season.  Even though I was terrible, I always liked this picture of me.  Yeah, yeah, look at my big white thunder thighs, but they kinda look muscular and I look pretty strong.

Becky Burton, 1984, age 13

Here's what I look like now, after many years of therapy, reading self-help books, and introspection:

Becky Burton Carleton, 2013, age 42

I found a lot of old photos of my family members too.  People who influenced me and taught me their beliefs.  Two people in my life especially shaped how I viewed my own body and I observed their struggles with disordered eating.  My Aunt Joyce, a compulsive overeater and my grandmother, a bulimic.

Here's a picture of my Aunt Joyce.  She's my father's younger sister.  She was in her early fifties when this picture was taken.  She died a couple of years later of complications due to edema and some kind of infection in her legs.  My father did not go to her funeral.  My father always treated Joyce as some kind of fat Pariah, like he'd catch some of her fatness if he spent too much time with her.  When my family members would tease me and tell me I was going to explode from eating too much, I worried that I'd grow up to be like Aunt Joyce.

Aunt Joyce, circa 1984, early fifties

And then there's my grandmother.  The same one pictured above with my dad and me, just before I was sent to Weight Watchers.  My mom's mom.  We called her "Ma".  Ma was very sick when my mother was young.  She had a hysterectomy before they had hormone replacement therapy and it made her nervous and ill.  She was mostly bedridden.  But here is a picture I have of her.  She does look sick and frail.

Ma, 1942, upper twenties

When I was an anorexic eleven year old my mom didn't know what to do with me so she shipped me off to live with Ma during the summer.  Ma bleached my hair blond and yelled at me a lot.  I'd catch her binging on junk food and then throwing it up or giving herself an enema so she'd stay slim.  

I don't remember much about my Aunt Joyce since my dad hardly ever took us to see her, but I do recall one time at a family reunion she joked that she liked to keep her hair a little greasy because she couldn't do a thing with it when it was freshly washed.  Most of the people on my mom's side of the family are cosmetologists or at least quite concerned with their appearance.  I was shocked at the time to hear a grown woman rejoice in her natural unkemptness.  Now I see she was one of my first fuck-you-it's-my-body idols.  She laughed and ate and enjoyed her family.  I didn't know what my dad's problem was.  I liked Aunt Joyce.  She was real.  I'd much rather take after her than my mentally unstable, abusive, bulimic grandmother.

Better yet, I'll just be myself.

This trip down memory lane, all thanks to a cherry limeade and the sweetest husband and kid on the planet.  The meal was delicious, by the way.  I indulged myself and had not only a cherry limeade but fries and onion rings.  I heard Will's voice inside me when my inner anorexic started to complain:

I'd like to take my girls out for a special family meal.

I shared my maraschino cherry with Katie, who shared with me a few sips of her butterscotch milkshake.  She also got a hot dog and onion rings.  I came this close to lecturing her about how hot dogs are unhealthy because of all the nitrates in them, but I held my tongue.  It's my greatest hope in parenting that I can somehow help Katie overcome my family's history of eating disorders.  Nagging her constantly about her food choices won't help.  And besides, my mouth was full of fries.


Recently Katie had a shitty day at school. She's ten now. Fifth grade. Early developer, like I was. She was the last one picked for a game, and when some boys could tell she was upset by the look on her face, they laughed at her. When she told her dad and I this story at home, we tried different ways to console her. We found that the most effective way to help Katie understand that this incident was one day in her big long life, that someday she'll be a grown up looking back on the day those boys laughed at her and how lonely and sad she felt, and that it will still sting, but it won't hurt as bad. We all go through these feelings, each one of us. Especially as kids, around other kids who can be so mean.

So Will and I told her some stories about our own experiences as kids feeling left out and awkward and like nobody understands us. Our stories helped Katie understand that she is, in fact, not alone. We all go through it. And, it's a cliche now, but it really does get better.

Here's a selfie I took recently. I'm forty-six, and I'm finally not embarrassed of my big boobs. In fact, I look and feel pretty great.

#BigBoobsSelfie, 2016

May Katie grow up healthy and strong. Her daddy and I will help her as best we can.