Monday, July 29, 2013

Happy Two Years, This Ambiguous Life!

Happy Two Years, This Ambiguous Life!  My first blog post, written July 29, 2011, was terrible!  Who knew I'd still be rambling after all this time?

Thanks for all the support, friends!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Katie Reads Anything

Katie reads anything. She's attracted to the printed word like a zombie is to brains.  I've caught her reading the owner's manual to her booster seat, "because it has pictures of babies and it shows you how to put it together!"  She reads without parental prodding.  Most often if the house has grown quiet I can find our girl sitting in some corner with a book in her lap.  

Today during our walk around the lake, she stopped to read this warning sign.  She informed me that we were not allowed to jump into the lake.  Or drink the water.  Good thing there was a sign.  I came this close to jumping in and taking a refreshing gulp of lake water.  Dodging all that water fowl poop along the path made me thirsty.  

But I was happy to drink the iced tea I made at home and brought with us on our picnic.  Katie stood with me in the kitchen while it steeped.  She hasn't learned how to read tea leaves yet, but she did stand there and read the tea bag carton.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Other People's Opinions

"I'm just going to delete it," I said, walking down the hallway toward the stairs leading to my laptop.

"No!  Don't delete it, Mama!" Katie called out from bed.

I was having trouble falling asleep even though it was late.  I had pimples and parenting on the brain.  I laid in bed with my eyes closed, trying to force my body to toggle into subconscious mode, but my brain would not cooperate.  I kept thinking, "Maybe they're right?  Maybe I've gone too far this time.  Oversharing your personal stories and photos of yourself in a bikini is one thing.  Oversharing potentially embarrassing stories and photos of your kid is another."

I'm super-sensitive about everything, but there are few things that stir my inner anxiety worse than criticizing my parenting style.  Yesterday I shared a photo and blog post about Katie's first pimple.  I thought the point of the piece was to explore how society does more harm than good by teaching young people to cover their pimples and other so-called flaws.  I thought sharing a photo of my daughter proudly showing off her first pimple and an essay about how I'm trying to eliminate negative self-talk about my own skin issues around my daughter so she learns to feel confident about herself and the skin issues she might inherit from me was a positive, uplifting thing.

I was surprised when the first reaction to my post was so negative:

She'll kill you later for sharing this with the world.

"What?" I thought after reading that comment.  "Did she not even read the post?"

It seems to me that insisting my daughter will kill me some day for sharing this photo implies that it's something she should feel embarrassed about.  That's completely counter to what the blog post is about.  My point is that pimples are nothing to hide.  I spent thirty years covering my skin in an attempt to hide my pimples.  A few years ago I quit wearing makeup because my husband doesn't like the taste of it.  I discovered that my skin is less irritated and more vibrant looking without foundation caked on it.  And guess what?  Pimples are nothing to be ashamed of.

But apparently not everyone agrees with me.  Another friend chimed in that she agrees that some day Katie will hate me for posting this photo.

I don't get it.  I think they're jumping to conclusions.

I don't know what kinds of things Katie will find embarrassing when she's older, and I'm her mother.  Katie and I have a special bond.  How could others who know her less well than I do know for sure how she'll react some day to this post when even I'm not privy to that information?  We'll just have to see.

I want to encourage my daughter to not feel ashamed of her so-called flaws. Communicating honestly about things we think are gross or embarrassing helps us to become more confident. I don't think she'll want to kill me for trying to teach her that pimples are nothing to hide.

But in a fit of second-guessing myself, when I was having trouble falling asleep, I got up and announced, "I'm just going to delete it."  Maybe they're right, I thought.  It's better to err on the side of caution when it comes to my daughter's wellness, I told myself.

But Katie wouldn't let me.

"No!  Don't delete it, Mama!" Katie called out from bed.

"Why?  What if some day the picture embarrasses you?" I asked.

"What's embarrassed mean?" Katie asked in a sleepy voice.

"When you get older, you might feel shy that the whole world is looking at a picture of you with a pimple on your face," I explained.

"No, Mama!  When I grow up I'm going to show my pimples to the whole world!!!"

I laughed.  I turned around.  I crawled into bed next to Katie and she snuggled with me until I fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, a good friend had sent me a private message telling me he understands my perspective and gave words of encouragement about how Will and I are raising Katie to be "an amazing woman."  And then I saw that my favorite psychologist, Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of so many books that have changed my life, "liked" my post.  I felt like floating to the moon.  The approval of important mentors is intoxicating.  

Just as I wish other's negative comments about my parenting didn't affect me, I wish I didn't crave the validation of people such as my good friend who messaged me, and Dr. Lerner, but I totally do.  I feed off of other people's opinions of me.  When criticized I become filled with self-doubt.  When praised I become filled with self-confidence.  I'd like to learn a way to internalize my confidence more, so it's not so dependent on the attitudes of those around me.  But what can I say?  We're social creatures.  What other people think of me matters, no matter how much I wish it didn't.

Remember the old saying sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me?  Yeah, fuck that.  Words and communication are what give meaning to life as human beings.  Words are important.  They should be used cautiously and thoughtfully.  

I feel good about the way I've communicated the story of Katie's first pimple.  Thanks for allowing me to share it with you.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Katie's First Pimple

Katie got her first pimple today.  My baby's growing up!  She's only seven, which seems too young to start getting pimples, but I know it's not.  I was six when they began sprouting on my face, so I'm prepared for the experience with my daughter.

My mom didn't know what to do with me other than teach me how to cover them up with makeup.  She bragged that when she was a teenager, while her friends suffered with them, she could fall asleep with full makeup on and she still never got pimples.  I inherited what we called "bad skin" from my dad.  His face and neck are covered in pock-mark scars from the early acne he had.  Dad and I were not close, so I never asked for his advice or expected his sympathy.

One pimple does not mean Katie's doomed to a face-full of cysts in the near-future.  Perhaps it's just a reaction to the oily sunscreen she's been wearing a lot lately.  But if she does end up inheriting my skin type, I will try my hardest never to refer to it as "bad skin".

I used to complain about my skin all the time until I had a kid and realized every negative thing I say about myself influences the way Katie feels about herself.  I read somewhere that kids don't take their parent's advice, but they follow their example.  If I want my kid to feel good about the way she looks, I have to cut out all the negative self-talk crap.

I want to share the photo with you even though I'm generally hesitant to publicly share photos of my kid on the Internet.  I share tons of photos of Katie with my friends via social media.  As long as I know you're a real person and I have ways of contacting you, and I trust you're not doing creepy things with images of my kid, I'm cool with sharing photos with you on Facebook.  But to keep my baby as safe as possible in this digital age, I like to block off her eyes in photos I share on my blog.  Nothing personal.  If you're the real deal and not a creeper, send me a friend request on Facebook where you can see the full image.

Katie's first pimple, top-center of her forehead

Especially since I'm so anxiety-ridden, I'm proud that Katie's confident enough to not only wear her hair back in a headband to show off her first pimple, but to let her mom take a picture of it.  I remember feeling mortified upon seeing my first pimple show up in my first-grade school picture.  Not Katie.  She wants to show off what a big girl she's becoming.

Hooray for confident kids!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Big Beautiful Bikini

The tailor fixed my bikini top in less time than she said it would take.  I was able to wear it today in my community to promote body acceptance and "active living" at the Gardner Aquatic Center.  Will and Katie joined me.  We had fun.  No employees asked me to cover up or leave, like they did with Madelyn Sheaffer in Independence, Missouri. No patrons laughed at me. No one insulted me or really paid attention to me at all.

Health at Every Size® for the win!  Thanks for all the encouragement.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Birthday Suit Alterations

Almost a week ago I said this in a blog post:

I'm going to get my bikini top altered so it fits me just right.  Me.  My body.  Then I'm going to take my body in my tailored bikini to some pools in my community and see what kinds of reactions I encounter.

I had decided not to lead the swim-in protest I'd blogged about here.  I decided it's best to fight my own battles.  I didn't know at the time it would be such a challenge to get suited up with the proper equipment for battle.

I ordered a bikini online for the swim-in I eventually decided, after the order had shipped, I didn't want to lead.  Still, I want to find ways to promote the Health at Every Size® philosophy.  Two of the main ideas are that "active living" and body acceptance are healthy for all people, no matter how fat or how thin.  So I've decided to draw attention to these ideas, that a fat person can be active and happy with her body, by wearing a bikini at the community pool.  If someone says something to me about my big body in a bikini, I'm going to try to muster all my courage and respond in a calm, reasonable way and use the opportunity to talk about Health at Every Size®.

That's the plan.  We'll see how it goes.  I'll be working against my temperament.  I'm anxious and shy and prone to tears more than reason.  But this is such an important issue for me now, I feel I must brave it for the greater good.  I want Katie to grow up in a society where it's not unusual to see a fat woman comfortable enough in her own skin to show off a little extra at the pool.  I want to raise my daughter to feel good about herself.  The best way I know how to do that is to feel good about myself.  I don't feel good about how fat women are treated in our society.  I must change that.  As Gandhi said, I must be the change I wish to see in the world.

I've tried to change my body, but that didn't work.

I've tried diets.  I've tried gym memberships.  I've tried everything to lose weight.  My whole life I've only found one thing that works: starvation.  I lost lots of weight when I was anorexic.  I was also the least healthy I've ever been.

So I read this book Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon about three years ago and it changed my life.  I follow her advice.  I eat a variety of food, primarily plants.  I engage in "active living".  I love myself as best I can.  It works.  I'm healthier than ever.  I feel great.  I look great.  I have energy to keep up with my husband who is ten years younger than me and my daughter who is thirty-five years younger than me.  Not too shabby if I say so myself.

And yet I'm still fat.  I've lost a few pounds.  But not much.  Not enough to even be classified as simply "overweight" instead of "obese".  The Health at Every Size® philosophy is a big deal to me.  I have that fervent born-again-like need to evangelize my findings.  Hence, the bikini at the community pool idea.

I called one tailor last week.  I explained to her that I had received a bikini top that is about two sizes too big for me and that I need to get it tailored.

The company I bought it from has run out of the smaller size.  I could return the whole thing and try finding another one, but it's very difficult to find a bikini in my size.  As you can see, it's difficult to find a bikini in my size, according to their sizing chart, that actually fits me, so starting from scratch seems defeatist.  I decided to find a place that could alter it.

I made the first call.

After I explained my situation, she said sure she could fix it and to bring it in.

So I brought it in.

The woman, the only person that was in the store from what I could tell, was sitting behind a sewing machine.  She rose and walked toward Katie and me.  She asked if she could help me.  I took the bikini top out of my bag and held it up for her to see, explaining my situation again.

She stared at me blankly.

"I'm the one who called this morning.  Was that you who I spoke with?" I asked.

"Yes, that was me.  But I can't do this," she said, waving her hands between her body and the bikini top I was holding up.

"You can't do what?" I asked.

"I can't alter your bikini," she said, flatly.

"Oh."  I didn't know what to say.  I stood there for a moment with the bikini top still in the air.  "But this morning on the phone you said you could," I said.  My voice cracked mid-sentence and I could feel my rosacea flaring.

"Well, I see now I can't," she said.

I put it back in my bag.

I didn't know what to think.  She cut me off so suddenly, I thought I had done something wrong.  I turned toward the door.  "Come on, Sweetie," I said to Katie, putting my hand on her shoulder to spin her around toward the door.

As soon as my hand touched my daughter's shoulder I no longer felt like slinking off.  I stopped and turned around.  I cleared my throat and I called out, "You shouldn't tell people you can do things for them if you can't."

She didn't say anything.  We left.

I have no idea what was going on inside her head.  It was odd.  She seemed angered by my presence in her store.  Was she judging me, a fat woman, for bringing a bikini top into her shop?  That's how it felt.  Or did she honestly just take one look at the bikini top and know it's not something she can alter?

I talked it over with Will later that night.  He brought up the fact that maybe she didn't know what a bikini top is when I talked about it on the phone.  She did speak with an accent, so English is not her first language.  Maybe she thought a bikini top was some kind of blouse?

I chose to believe that story.  Why should I allow myself to get upset over an implied injustice that could have been a simple misunderstanding?

I waited a few days to call around to other tailors.  I've been in a depressive slump.  I don't think it's from the odd alterations encounter.  I think it's because yesterday was my dead brother's birthday, the brother who sexually abused me when we were both kids, and the emotions I've been feeling stem from the anniversary effect, and the day before that I found out my aunt, who I was never close to because she was so fat my dad shunned her, died on my birthday twenty years ago, which had no effect on me at the time since I didn't know, but it's left me feeling oddly connected to her now.

So yeah, a lot's been on my mind.

After dragging my ass out of bed this morning, I managed to call two more tailors.  The first one said flat out they don't alter swim suits.  So I felt a little better, knowing it's at least fathomable that the first tailor honestly misunderstood my request on the phone and she really can't alter any swim suits.  Not just my big swim suit.

I called the second tailor and the woman assured me they repair swim suits.

"Even two-sizes-too-big-bikini-tops?" I asked, needing reassurance after my initial bad encounter.

"Yes, bring it in."

So I brought it in.

And everything went well.  Well, almost everything.

The good news is, I left behind my pinned bikini top for them to alter.  The tailor assured me she could do it.  She made no fuss about it at all.  She had me try it on.  Then she took some pins and pinned it up the way it would look if she stitched it.  She asked if I was in a hurry and I said no, so she said it would be ready in about a week.  She didn't mention anything about my size or stare at me or make me feel uncomfortable in any way.  It was an easy, pleasant experience.

The bad news is, inside the dressing room where I tried on the bikini top there was this incredibly fat-phobic cartoon:

image found here

Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Yes, laugh at the old, fat lady.

I would have brushed it off had I been alone.  But I wasn't alone.  Katie was in the dressing room with me, and she noticed it.

She stared at it for a moment, her mouth moving subtly the way it still does when she's reading.  Then she said, "What does that mean?  What's a birthday suit?"

"Oh, it's a joke.  A birthday suit is a funny thing people call your naked body.  Like, it's the suit you were born in, since we're all naked when we come into this world."

"Oh," she said, looking it over again.

"Why is it a joke?" she asked.

"Well, the joke is that the fat lady is at the tailor's asking if they can make her fat body smaller, to 'take it in'.  But you can't make someone's body smaller by taking it in, so it's a joke."

"Oh," she said, looking it over once more.

I had my bra and shirt back on by then, ready to leave, feeling satisfied that this nice tailor could fix my bikini for me so I can go out into the world and promote the Health at Every Size® philosophy.  What I didn't realize is that I'm already promoting it.  To my child.

"You're not like that," Katie said, looking away from the cartoon at me.  Her smile proud.

Her comment surprised me.  I kind of laughed at the recognition of it and said, "No.  No I am not like that at all."

We held hands on our way out of the shop.  I can't wait to take this girl swimming when my bikini top's done.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Anniversary Effect: Numerology Genealogy

"'Anniversary Effect', sometimes called Anniversary Reaction,is defined as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.  Sometimes you can trace the reason why you're feeling sad, irritable or anxious. One look at the calendar and you connect the dots from your current emotional state to the traumatic event. For example, the birthday of someone who's no longer alive...When you live with a mood disorder, you need to realize that you live with two calendars. One that keeps track of time, while the other stores emotional experiences. Anniversary Reactions signal that you are still working on moving through the trauma of your experience - and it is a normal part of the grieving process."  --from Two Takes on Depression: Treating the Very Condition You Live With--A Clinician's Dual Perspective by Deborah Serani, Psy.D.

Today would be my brother Pat's birthday.  He died on January 14, 2011 at the age of 49 of alcoholic liver failure.  He was born on July 16, 1961.  I miss him, but I expected to, so it's not so bad.  

This year I knew his birthday was coming up and I prepared for the emotions I'd likely feel upon its arrival.  What I didn't know is that another anniversary date I'd been previously unaware of would accompany my sad feelings toward my brother's death.

I found out yesterday that my Aunt Joyce died on my birthday twenty years ago.  

I mean, I knew she's been dead all this time, even though I wasn't alerted of my aunt's passing until her funeral was over.  My dad was living in Texas with his third wife and he didn't even bother coming home for his sister's funeral.  I just didn't know the exact date.  

My dad was outwardly embarrassed by my Aunt Joyce.  I only saw her a handful of times growing up.  My dad thought he was a big shot.  He got his bookkeeping certificate from a business school after getting out of the Army after World War II.  He got a good-paying white collar job as the office controller of a big trucking company where he worked for twenty years until shortly after I was born in 1970.  He would not be like their father, the man who used to beat him with a belt, the man who died at the age of 48 after a lifetime of heavy drinking, although the offical cause of death was a heart attack.  His wife, my dad and Aunt Joyce's mom, had just left town with another man a couple days before my grandfather died.  My dad had just turned 23 when he found his dad dead in the shower that day, May 5, 1950.  Aunt Joyce was 15.  She got married a few months later on September 9, 1950.  

It must have been traumatic for my dad to go through that, finding his dad dead, having to call around and find out where his mom was so she could come home, and taking care of the funeral arrangements and taking care of his younger sisters.  I know why he avoided his family.  His family dysfunction was painful to think about.

It must have been very difficult to have your mom run off with another man and have your dad drink himself to death when you're a fifteen year old girl.  Girls of Aunt Joyce's generation and class had limited opportunities, especially if they didn't have the firm foundation of a supportive family.  I'd have probably gotten married if I were Aunt Joyce too.  What else would I do?

But Dad didn't see it that way.  He thought Aunt Joyce was low-class.  She married a dairy farmer.  She was going backwards!  Dad and Joyce's dad had run away from his parent's farm and lived in the city, working at the slaughter-house.  Joyce had a succession of children.  She was a stay-at-home mother, not a career person like my dad who sat at his own desk and earned money and bought a new car every-other-year and wore a tie to work and had enough money to travel and forget about his roots.

Maybe that's what paying attention to dates is, a way of remembering my roots.

It freaks me out a little to find out, twenty years later, that my aunt died on my birthday.  We weren't close while she was alive, but now that I'm becoming more involved in the Fat Acceptance Movement and I'm more aware of the incredible discrimination that fat people experience in their lives, I've taken up a new-found affinity for my fat aunt.  I have no idea how much my aunt weighed while she was on this earth, but she was even fatter than I am now, and I'm fat enough to fit the AMA's classification of diseased, so you can only imagine the scoffs my aunt got for her size.

It's true that, as a person with a mood disorder, I live with two calendars.  The one that keeps track of time in my head is skatterbrained.  At any given moment, ask me what date it is and I generally have no clue.  Ask me what date it is and I have to look it up.  I'm a librarian, not a timekeeper.

But the other calendear in my head that stores emotional experiences and makes a big deal over the significance of anniversaries is hyperalert.  I make a big deal about dates.  I easily remember people's birthdays and deathdays and I notice how the numbers form patterns.  I'd be an excellent numerologist if I took that shit seriously.  

So today I've been doing a little numerology genealogy, if you will.  I found an amazing document detailing the family on my paternal grandmother's side of the family.  My paternal grandmother is a fifth generaton American with a record of her earliest relative living here in 1773.  On a side note, I scanned the document and found no evidence of my family (this side at least) owning people.  So, whew!

Here are some interesting dates I gleened from that document:

Curtis Evert Burton, my paternal grandfather, was born February 20, 1902.
Audrey Alvin Key, my paternal grandmother, was born October 22, 1907.  (Will and I got married on October 22nd without an awareness that it's my grandmother's birthday.)
Evert and Audrey married December 22, 1923.  He was 21 and she was 16.  
Glen Byron Burton, my dad, was born April 1, 1927.  Evert was 25 and Audrey was 19.  
Joyce Elaine Burton, my paternal aunt, was born October 23, 1934.  Evert was 32 and Audrey was 27.
Donna Lynn Burton, my paternal aunt was born September 10, 1936.  Evert was 34 and Audrey was 28.
Curtis Evert Burton died May 5, 1950 at the age of 48.
Joyce Elaine Burton married September 9, 1950 when Joyce was 15 1/2.
I was born on November 22, 1970.  My dad was 43 and my mom was 32.  I'm the product of the second marriage of both of them.
Audrey died on June 8, 1976 at the age of 68.
My husband Will was born January 22, 1981.  (My sister Kit on my mom's side of the family shares a birthday with my husband.)
Aunt Joyce died November 22, 1993 when she was 59.  I was 23, living in my own apartment, my dad down in Texas.  I had no idea she died on my birthday.
Will and I got married on October 22, 2004.

It's weird to think about how when things happen and we're not around we don't know about it so we feel nothing.  But when we're informed of something happening we feel such strong emotion about it even though we're not physically present.  I'm not there to say goodbye to this aunt of mine I barely knew, and yet I feel so sorry for her now that I know more about her life.  I didn't even know I missed her until I was reminded she's gone.  And I feel even more connected to her knowing the exact day her soul took its exit I celebrated another trip around the sun.

On a day when I'm missing dead relatives, it's a comfort to find this document about my paternal grandmother's genealogy.  Since I'm not close to my living dad I never would have thought I'd care so much about his ancestors.  But having specific names and dates makes people more real and it helps me imagine what their lives were like and how much I miss them.   

All this reflection reminds me of one thing: Our time on earth is limited.  We must live each moment to the fullest.

I'm off to go play with my daughter now.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fat Liberation is Totally Queer: Anna Mollow Seeks Feminist and Queer Allies

Last month I blogged about the similarity between the Gay Rights Movement and the Fat Rights Movement in my post entitled It Gets Better for Fat People Too.  I said this:

A fat person should not feel so embarrassed by her body that she's ashamed to move it in front of other people.

Fat people, like gay people before us, come out of the closet!

The fresh air and sunshine and fun things we can do with our bodies is amazing once we get over the fear of other people's judgment. And it's not just a health benefit for ourselves. We can change the world.  Sure, I can exercise inside my own home where no one else can see me. But when more fat people get out and say, "Hey, I'm fat AND I'm healthy" and feel confident enough to swim and dance and move our bodies in pleasurable ways for the whole world to see, it can create a cultural shift in attitudes toward fat and health.

I'm thrilled now to read this excellent post by Anna Mollow on Bitch Magazine entitled Fat Liberation is Totally Queer.  The whole essay is fantastic, but this part especially resonates with me:
“Being fat is a choice, and being gay is not," respondents to my article maintained. Being fat is not a choice, but being fatphobic is—and it’s a choice I’m so glad I did not make when I began falling in love with my partner many years ago. Even if fatness were a choice, many fat people love their bodies and would not want to change them.
This week, the Supreme Court made it clear that “skim milk” marriages will not do. Neither will fat-free, or fatphobic, feminist and queer movements. After all, isn’t fat liberation what feminism and queerness are all about: loving ourselves and each other without regard for what mainstream culture defines as “normal,” “healthy,” or “beautiful?” If I had chosen not to challenge the anti-fat prejudices that I, like everyone in our culture, had been taught—if I had failed to see how gorgeous and sexy fat women can be—I would have missed out on the love of my life. Fat liberation is totally queer, and embracing this cause must be one of our movement’s next steps.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This Ambivalent Protest

A friend of mine recently told me he'd heard John Lennon was a wife beater.

What?  The "imagine all the people living life in peace" guy himself?  How could that be?

I've heard that Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist minister and great Civil Rights leader was an adulterer.

I have no idea if either accusation is true.  But the fact is, heroes such as Lennon and King are people.  People are imperfect.  Not that I expect my heroes to be perfect.  I understand that just because I admire one thing about a person it does not mean I'll like everything about them.  Instead of looking to our heroes to lead the way we can take their advice and then follow our own path.

Not that anything I've read leads me to believe that Madelyn Sheaffer is like wife beaters and adulterers, but I did come close to elevating her to my personal hero without knowing much about her.  The more I get to know, the more I see she's a regular person with mainstream, fat-phobic opinions, and not the hero to the Health at Every Size® cause I wanted her to be.  Which is fine.  She never asked to be my hero.

I got sucked into her story when I saw this video clip about it.

On July 4th, I blogged about Sheaffer getting kicked out of an Independence, Missouri community pool for refusing to cover her big bottom with shorts.  By July 5th, through the encouragement of some friends and online allies, I blogged about my decision to create a "swim-in" event at the Adventure Oasis Water Park, the facility where Sheaffer's booty got booted out, to protest the size and age discrimination I feel Sheaffer experienced, and to promote the concept of body acceptance and the Health at Every Size® philosophy.

I had good intentions.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

I got my first Internet troll.  But that turned out to be fun.

At first I was excited.  Especially when Madelyn Sheaffer herself posted these amazing words on her Facebook timeline:

July 6th: "I want it to be known that there was always something in my life that I thought I had to hide. We use clothes as barriers to hide our distorted sense of self which is what the media has given and fed to us since birth, in order to sell us products. I wore a one piece swimming suit, as well as a thigh and buttocks "cover up" for most of my life. I wanted to be "perfect". I was ashamed that I was not "perfect". The enlightened truth is that all of us are perfect, in all of our variety of shape and form. Just as the haunting Arizona desert contains a different form of beauty than the pounding Pacific Sea at Big Sur, just as the holiness that is The Grand Canyon contains a different mythical quality than the (you can not tell me it is not enchanted) Redwood Forest, every one of our bodies are equally magnifique, and created by the magnificent and perfect mind of God. You exist because you were chosen. You are perfect."

Yes!  Such a great role model for the Health at Every Size® cause, I thought.

But it turns out Sheaffer's cause is different than my cause.  As much as she professes we're all perfect, a few red flags were raised when I read that she's proud to have recently lost 100 pounds because now she feels confident enough to wear a bikini.  I wanted to say to her, why didn't you feel like your body was bikini-ready before?  I wanted to share this meme with her:

I kept thinking up ideas and making arrangements for the "swim-in" event.  But I worried that maybe I was fighting for the right cause (body acceptance) but with an imperfect hero at its helm when I saw that Sheaffer wrote this on her Facebook timeline:

July 7th: "When it comes to more than a 30 lb weight gain, most of us are protecting ourselves at some level with our wall of fat."

I've heard this theory before.  Sexual abuse survivors and other people who have encountered other types of body shame will subconsciously pack on pounds so they don't have to worry about their body being "sexually attractive" anymore.  The problem is, as I can attest, unwanted sexual advances take place no matter what your size.  And what about people who have come to terms with their inner embattlements and yet they're still fat?  Just as not everyone who is fat has heart disease, not everyone who is fat has a mental illness.

I want to say to Sheaffer, what about 31 pounds, or 30.5?  Why the arbitrary number?  Plus, 30 pounds on someone who is small boned and 4'8" is different than someone who is big boned and 6'8".  Is the short person protecting herself more at "more than a 30 lb weight gain" than a tall person is?  Why can't we just leave weight out of the equation?  Through the Health at Every Size® philosophy we know that fat people can be healthy, just as thin people can be unhealthy.  We see that it's not weight but a person's fitness level that's indicative of health.  And it's possible to be fit and fat at the same time.

I began worrying more when I read this on Sheaffer's Facebook timeline:

July 10th: "All of my social anxiety disorder is hitting strong at once, and in spite of the fact that part of me would really like to hide out in the warm, and oh so safe cave of my old 100 lb fat suit rather than gain all of this media attention, I am going to take a bath and hit the gym tonight, so that I can represent the healthy side of female well."

I'm happy Sheaffer has become more confident with her body, but what happens if, like most people, she regains the weight she lost?  Will she no longer love her body if she weighs more than she does now?  That's not self-love.  That's not body acceptance.  That's internal size discrimination.

How can we overcome society's hate when we hate ourselves?

I feel like I'm creating a "swim-in" event to promote body acceptance to tie-in with the size and age discrimination experienced by a person who is herself fat-phobic.

Then, to top it all off, the bikini I ordered just for the event came in the mail yesterday, and despite the fact that I went by their size chart and my measurements it is a good two sizes too big on the top.  And they're all out of stock in the smaller size.

How can I lead a body acceptance swim-in event if I feel awkward in my bikini?  What have I gotten myself into?  An event I'm not sure I fully support in an unsupportive bikini top.  Great.  Just great.

Now I know why John Lennon resorted to Bed-Ins.  Some days it's all just too overwhelming to get out of bed.

As my hero Maya Angelou says, "I think when we don't know what to do it's wise to do nothing.  Sit down quietly; quiet our hearts and minds and breath deeply."  Please do not tell me you heard Ms. Angelou is a child abuser or something similar to tarnish my golden opinion of her.

After much reflection, I realize I do not want to lead the "swim-in" protest.  I want to promote the idea of body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, but I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it, to latch on to someone else's cause that is not my own.

Will has a great idea.  Instead of leading a formal protest, I can just continue living an active life in my own community.  Instead of protesting someone else's discrimination, I can put myself into positions in my own community where I might encounter fat or age discrimination and then I can fight my own battles.

In other words, I can go to the local pool whenever I want with my husband and daughter and show off my healthy, well-loved, well-cared for body.  The best revenge is a life well lived.

I don't need an event.  I'm going to get my bikini top altered so it fits me just right.  Me.  My body.  Then I'm going to take my body in my tailored bikini to some pools in my community and see what kinds of reactions I encounter.  Not in any formal way.  To have fun.  To promote not just active living, as Dr. Bacon advises, but activist living.  Instead of creating an event that will start and end, my daily actions can be an on-going protest.

It will be far from perfect.  But it will be my own.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Big Fat Profits: Diet Industry Worth $104 Billion in 2012

Peggy Elam, clinical psychologist and publisher at Pearlsong Press, shared a link to this press release.  Here's a quote from it:

"The North America Weight Loss / Obesity Management Market was worth $104 billion in the year 2012 and is expected to reach $139.5 billion by 2017."

Here is Dr. Elam's commentary, which I couldn't agree with more:

"This press release describing the anticipated growth in the 'weight loss/obesity management market' and the high growth (profitability) potential of bariatric surgery illustrates why the American Medical Association was so hot to declare 'obesity' a disease against the advice of its scientific advisory council."

The diet industry wants your money.  I want your love.

Instead of wasting your money on the billion dollar diet industry trying to shrink your waist, eating away at your sanity, here's some free advice from Dr. Linda Bacon's book Health at Every Size, which if you want to achieve frugality at epic proportions, you can probably check out for free at your local public library:

1)  Give up trying to lose weight.  This is really hard to do in our culture, but you can do it!  It's been three years now since I've ditched dieting.  My internal measurements of health (blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure) are all great.  I feel better, both mentally and physically, than I ever have.  This forty-two year old non-dieter could easily whoop the ass of my inner twenty-two year old dieting ass.  And there's no comparison between my health now as a fat forty-two year old vs the eleven year old anorexic I once was.  Remember that no matter how old you are or what size body you have, we're all entitled to good health.  

2)  Regardless of your size, “enjoy a variety of real food, primarily plants.”  By real food Dr. Bacon means less-processed.  And don't assume "junk" food is cheaper than real food.  A bag of potato chips costs more per pound than a sack of whole potatoes.  You can spend ten bucks on ingredients for a giant salad or you can spend ten bucks on a giant meal at a fast food restaurant.  Pay attention to how you feel when you finish both meals, an hour later, two hours later, a day later, etc.  Which ten bucks makes your body feel better?

3)  Move your body in pleasurable ways, which Dr. Bacon calls “active living.”  Free things you can do with your body include taking a walk outside, playing tag with your kid, going on a hike in the woods or at a nearby park, lifting "weights" as you watch TV using canned goods from your cupboard, enjoying a romp in the sack with the person you love the most, doing yoga poses in bed, in a comfy chair, or on the floor of your home using a free book from the library, checking out free music from your local library and dancing to it in your living room, or at a party in your garage.  What other fun things can you do with your body for free?  Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

4)  Most of all, love yourself.  Just the way you are.  This might be the hardest part.  If you don't love yourself, why bother with healthy living?  Stop worrying about the spread of your ass and focus on spreading your love.  All bodies are beautiful.  They are vessels of the divine.  My body gave life to my child.  My body is amazing.  So is yours.  Reading this just now, remember, your body keeps you alive.  Channel your inner Mister Rogers, look into the mirror, and repeat,: "I like you just the way you are."

This advice is not going to raise profits for the multi-billion dollar diet industry. But it raises awareness that health comes in all sizes and it has raised my self-esteem immeasurably.  It's time to end this cultural war on "obesity".  The hippies were right: make love not war.  Love your body.  Stop being at war with it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Big Fat Civil Rights Movement

Here's a great way to spend 18 minutes and 56 seconds of your life.  Watch this video:

Caitlyn Becker hosted this HuffPost Live chat with a great panel of activists and experts, including:

Deb Burgard @BodyPositivePhD (Palo Alto, CA) Psychologist; Co-Founder of Health At Every Size®

Golda Poretsky @bodylovewellnes (New York, NY) Health Coach and Activist; Author of Stop Dieting Now: 25 Reasons To Stop, 25 Ways To Heal

Lawrence D. Frank Ph.D. (Vancouver, Canada) Professor of Public Health and Urban Planning at the University of British Columbia

Marilyn Wann @MarilynWann (San Francisco, CA) Author of the book, FAT!SO?; Fat Activist

Virgie Tovar @virgietovar (San Francisco, CA) Author ; Activist ; Editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion

The video asks this question, Is it time for a civil rights movement for fat people?

I say yes!  Long overdue.  I'm fired up and ready to go!

I no longer worry about the fat in my body hurting me thanks to what I have learned by reading Dr. Linda Bacon's life-changing book Health at Every Size.  It has taught me to love my body and to care for it by enjoying healthy foods and pleasurable movement.  I do worry about one thing, though: all this big fat activism hurting my mental health.

I'm sensitive and prone to depression and anxiety.  I have post-traumatic stress disorder from early childhood sexual abuse.  I entered psychotherapy the first time at age eleven when I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  At nineteen I was given lithium by one doctor and told I needed to sever ties with my family of origin by a psychotherapist, both extreme advice I rejected.  Over the years I've fine-tuned my health regimen, mostly by taking little medication, although I do keep Clonazepam in my medicine cabinet just in case, enjoying an occasional glass of wine or beer, daily active living including swimming, hiking, walking, dancing, playing kickball with my kid, eating healthy pleasurable foods, and writing every day.  At forty-two years old, I'm probably my most healthy, both physically and mentally.  I love myself.  I have a good family life.  I've come a long way.  But despite our best efforts all of us have our bad days and, so, I worry.

I hope all this new body acceptance activism I've been doing lately--reading and blogging about it endlessly, planning swim-in events to promote a love for all bodies--is going to continue to strengthen my mental health by helping me feel proud to make this world a better place.  My biggest fear is that I'll listen to the trolls, that I won't always have an epic comeback, that I'll succumb to anxiety and self-doubt.  The old mental illnesses I've worked so hard to overcome these past two years since I started my blog, flaring back up like a bad rash.

As much as I admire the great feminist Shulamith Firestone and the work she did to promote the status of women in our society, I don't want to be like her.  I worry some day I too will go crazy trying to make this world a better place.  It's a Sisyphean task I can't seem to break.  I hope it doesn't break me.

You know what helps?  Your support.  I can't thank you enough for reading my blog.  It helps me stay motivated.  And sane.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Final Fantasy VII (American)

Will has tried with no luck to get Katie interested in playing Final Fantasy VII (American) with him.  Last year he broke out The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, which Katie immediately became obsessed with.  But not this game.  She's just not into it, Dad.

Tonight, once more, Will mentioned that they should try to play it together.  While he was talking up the game, he said this in a way that sounded like it was a big freaking deal: "Punkin, it's got two main characters who are girls."

Katie rolled her eyes and blew air out her mouth up to her bangs.  "Two?!" she huffed.  "I want like fifty!"

"That's my girl!" I shouted, and we high-fived each other in solidarity.

If you agree with Katie and me that there should be way more main characters who are girls in video games, check out this video from Anita Sarkeesian:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My First Internet Troll

Well here's a social media milestone for me: I have my first Internet troll.  Aww, isn't that sweet?!  I feel like a real blogger now.

Some of my friends and loved ones are concerned about my mental health and well being and think I should refrain from interacting with Internet trolls, but I can't help myself.

I'm particularly fond of this exchange in the comments section of this article about the Madelyn Sheaffer incident that I've blogged about recently, here and here:

Del Trahn

I say protest the park by having a "swim-in". That's right everyone that's a bit hairy, fat, or old go down to the park and have a great time! You are all beautiful in your own way. Show those superficial, pretentious twits a thing or two. Make a FB page and organize weekly summer events. Kinda like Revenge of the Nerds style. I wish I lived there, this would be fun..

Becky Carleton:

Hi, Del Trahn. Great minds think alike! I plan on wearing a bikini to the event, but participants should feel free to wear whatever makes them feel their best. It would be cool if we got a bunch of people of unconventional sizes to show up in bikinis, but if you prefer something more modest that is entirely your choice. I want this event to raise awareness of the Health at Every Size® philosophy, which aims to teach people to love their bodies. So please, the only requirement is that you must love your body. And to have compassion for other people's bodies. I just need to figure out the right time and date. I blogged about the idea:

John Winslow:

Great minds think alike? Ok...well...let me be the first to rain on your parade. You think to protest a business by gathering many, many peoples of all shapes and sizes and going to this business and giving them $30 per demonstrator? To prove a point? I tell you what...round up all your fat buddies, charter a bunch of grey hound buses (at the plus plus size, we'll probably need a bus for every six people) and you can come out to my farm and graze for a free.

Becky Carleton:

You have a special place in my heart, JohnWinslow. You're my first Internet troll. Nonresident prices for adults are $9 according to the Adventure Oasis Water Park's website. The City of Independence operates the facility. I'm happy to pay $9 to spread the message of Health at Every Size® , to spread the message that our bodies are all beautiful. I would hate for the world to succumb to communication only by sad, hateful trolls. I'm ready to step outside the virtual world and step into the real world to spread the message of body acceptance and compassion for all people. Thanks for the offer to visit, but I'm kinda busy making this world a better place.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Swimming at Every Size

I'd like to create an event in support of Madelyn Sheaffer, the full-figured 43-year-old woman who was escorted by police out of the community swimming pool in Independence, Missouri a few days ago when staff asked her to put on shorts to cover her bottom and she refused.  I blogged about it here.

I want to invite my friends of all sizes to join me for a fun day of swimming at Adventure Oasis Water Park, the pool where Ms. Sheaffer had the audacity to wear a swim suit that others with younger, smaller bodies can wear without harassment.

I plan on wearing this bikini to the event, but feel free to wear whatever makes you feel your best.  It would be cool if we got a bunch of people of unconventional sizes to show up in bikinis, but if you prefer something more modest that is entirely your choice.  I want this event to raise awareness of the Health at Every Size® philosophy, which aims to teach people to love their bodies.  So please, the only requirement is that you must love your body.  And have compassion for other people's bodies.

I don't know what's the best date yet to arrange this event.  I've tried to contact Ms. Sheaffer, but I'm sure she's busy.  Or maybe she's ready to be left out of the limelight for now.  I'll keep you updated on what time and date I decide to schedule this event.  Feel free to leave comments with any advice you have.  Thanks for the support, friends!

I love you just the way you are.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day (As Long As You Hide Your Big Body in Independence, Missouri)

Happy Independence Day!

Katie and I are putting on our swim suits, getting ready to have some fun outside.  I'm excited because I finally broke down and bought a new swim suit.  I bought my old one the summer Katie was born, so it's nearly seven years old.  It has lost so much of its former elasticity or spandexy or whatever that when I enter the pool I have yards of fabric floating all around me.  As much as I think people should get to wear whatever they want at the community pool, as I wrote about here, even I was getting embarrassed by my old suit.

Will convinced me to buy this sexy suit:

It's the first black suit I've owned.  I read once in some women's magazine that people with very fair skin look awful in black swim suits.  I no longer pay attention to women's magazines.  I listen to myself.  And, my encouraging husband.  Will says the black against white is a nice contrast.  Whatever.  It's comfortable.  I like the way it looks on me.  And I like the way Will looks at me when I wear it.

Will had encouraged me to get a bikini to flaunt my body to raise awareness of the Health at Every Size® philosophy I've been touting lately.  I'm more confident about my body than ever, yet I'm still somewhat shy, so I settled on this sexy black halter one-piece.

I'm wishing now I'd gotten the bikini, in solidarity with Madelyn Sheaffer, the woman from--how's this for irony-- Independence, Missouri, who in this video describes how she felt being told she had to cover up her big bottom or leave the community pool:

“I just felt like I was singled out,” Sheaffer said, “I felt like it was both age and body discrimination and I felt like I could look around me and I could see a handful of other girls half my age, wearing the same size swimming suit and not being singled out and told to put on clothes or leave.”

The City of Independence is backing up the pool manager's decision to have this full-figured woman escorted from the community pool for wearing a swim suit that others with younger, smaller bodies can wear without harassment.  From this article that accompanies the video above:

"The City of Independence says it’s up to the manager to decide if a person’s attire is appropriate or not and they don’t feel like they discriminated against Sheaffer."

What do you say, Internet friends?  Should Ms. Sheaffer have been kicked out of a community swimming pool because of her itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikini?  

It sounds to me like the only thing too small in this story is the mind of the City leaders and the pool manager and staff.  I'm going to contact the City of Independence to complain.  You can too, here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Early Childhood Memories

Katie came downstairs where I was writing to ask, "Mom, have you seen the Shrek Forever After DVD?"

"No, but I bet it's on the shelf there with the other DVDs," I said, pointing with my head so I didn't have to remove my fingers from the keyboard.  I was in the middle of a thought and I didn't want to lose it by removing my fingers.  They sometimes contain a better memory of things than my brain does.  Just as if I try to think too hard what my various passwords are and I cannot for the life of me remember them, if I sit down and key them in, my fingers know what to do.

Katie found the DVD on the shelf and started back up the stairs.  Her feet stopped.  She asked, "Mom, have you ever seen Shrek Forever After?"

This question was big enough to break my concentration.  I spun around in my chair to face Katie on the stairs and I said, "Yeah!  Don't you remember?  I'm pretty sure that's the first movie Daddy and I ever took you to see at the movie theater.  We had so much fun!"

Katie's blank face led me to believe she wasn't following me.  "Don't you remember that, Hon?" I asked.

"No.  How old was I?" she asked.

"Oh, when does the DVD say the movie was released?" I wanted to say she was about three, but I can't help but be a librarian and have to verify my sources, even when I'm off duty from the library.

Katie turned the DVD over and scanned it.  "2010," she said.

"Yeah, so if the DVD came out in 2010, the movie would have been out in theaters even earlier than that, so you would have been about three," I said.

"I don't remember a lot of things from when I was three, Mom.  That was a long time ago," Katie sounded so mature saying this to me.  She'll be seven in a couple of weeks.  Where has the time gone?

"Yeah, most people don't remember things that early.  The memory parts of our brains must not be fully developed until we're like four or older," I explained.

"I remember some things from a long time ago," Katie said.

My stomach felt butterfly-y.  I knew where this was going.  Katie's told me before what her earliest memory is and I'm sad it's not a happy one.  And it's my fault.

"Oh yeah?" I said bravely.  Butterflies or not, I'm her mother and I must remain strong in the face of her criticism so we can both learn from my mistakes.  "What's your earliest memory?"

"My third birthday party," Katie said.

Oh, I wasn't expecting her to say that.  "Oh yeah?  The one where you hid in your bedroom because you felt shy?" I asked.  This one was still my fault, but it's an easily forgivable mistake.  I'd invited all our relatives to Katie's third birthday party, forgetting that she was going through an uber-shy phase.  I didn't ask Katie if she wanted a big birthday party.  I just made the plans without talking about it with her.  So when thirty people, almost exclusively grown-ups, showed up to her third birthday party, Katie hid in her room for the first thirty minutes, crying.

"Yeah.  There were too many people in the house and I felt scared!" Katie said.  "Then Aunt Dale came into my bedroom and talked to me and she made me feel better."

My heart melted like a Popsicle on a sunny front porch.  "Aww, I'm so glad Aunt Dale made you feel better. What did she say to you?" I asked.

"She said to come out and have some birthday cake!" Katie exclaimed.

I was pretty certain I had tried that same tactic when I tried to get her to come out of her bedroom too, but this memory is not all about me.

"So next time you won't do something I just need to offer you some cake?" I asked, winking.

Katie rolled her eyes at me.  So mature.  I don't know how much I like this whole growing-up thing.

"Well that's a pretty good memory.  I was afraid you were going to say your earliest childhood memory was when I yelled at you that one time you smeared your poop all over the living room like it was Play-doh," I said.

"I remember that!  You were so mean to me!  How old was I when that happened?" Katie asked.

"Oh, I dunno.  Probably about two," I couldn't remember exactly.  I don't think I documented the event like I do when I have a proud parenting moment.  I don't think I wrote, "Today I screamed at my child for doing something perfectly developmentally healthy and I've doomed her to many psychological disorders stemming from early childhood potty trauma" on my Facebook status, in my diary, or inside Katie's baby book that day.

"So that was even before my third birthday."  Katie just had to point that out.

"Yeah, so I guess that really is your earliest memory.  I'm so sorry, Honey.  I should have never yelled at you for being curious about your poop at that age.  I was ignorant about it and I was so disgusted to have to clean up poop from all over the living room I just freaked out," I explained.

"What's ignorant mean?" Katie asked.  It made me smile that she is more interested in word definitions than in defining her mother as a bad mother from this one bad parenting incident.

"It means I didn't know any better.  My mommy told me that kids should be fully potty trained by the time they're two and I had never heard of any child playing with their poop.  So I reacted by yelling at you, and I shouldn't have yelled at you.  Yelling never helps anyone learn something.  And also, since it happened I've read about it found out that lots of kids play with their poop when they're two.  It's a gross, but perfectly healthy, stage of development."  I stood up from my chair and walked over to Katie on the stairs, to give her a hug.

"I'm sorry.  I hope you can forgive me," I said as I climbed the stairs to meet her halfway.

"It's OK, Mommy," Katie assured me, receptive to my big squeeze.

She started back up the steps.  "I'm gonna watch Shrek Forever After now."

I turned around to head back down.  "I can't believe you don't remember seeing that movie with Daddy and me at the theater.  It seems like just yesterday to me," I said, back-to-back with her on the stairs.

"Not to me!  Katie countered, climbing the stairs, "I was three a loooooog time ago, Mom."

I sat back down at my computer, but I didn't start typing right away.  I sat there for awhile thinking about my own earliest childhood memories.  Many of my earliest memories are of traumatic things, sexual abuse, my dad yelling, my mom crying, my siblings plotting revenge against my dad, being told to hush and keep secrets.

But if I think about it, I have fond memories of early childhood too.  Warm, protective hugs.  Eating popcorn out of a brown paper sack in the back seat of the car at the drive-in with my parents in the front seat and my giggly siblings surrounding me.  Listening to songs on the radio.  Watching "Sesame Street" on TV.  It wasn't all bad.

Why are bad memories so much easier to remember?  I have posttraumatic stress disorder.  One of the symptoms of PTSD is having flashbacks of traumatic events.  But even with PTSD, if I sit quietly and focus my thoughts I can recall good memories of my early childhood.  Not to cover up the bad experiences of my early life.  But to remind myself of the good alongside the bad.  Life's beautiful ambiguity.

I heard the movie come on upstairs.  What I like about all the Shrek movies is that they have good soundtracks.  When the first song came on, I heard Katie upstairs call out, "Oh, I remember this movie!  It's goooood!"