Stunned Silent Watching Others’ Battles

A week ago we went to see the movie “Embrace—Your body, the movement, global change”. I watched the promotion of it with curiosity. It was strange for me to see a local connection to a deeply personal issue, one of the hosts was my neighbor, friends of mine were posting on Facebook that they would be attending.

I’m used to managing my demons in a private vacuum. I know there are women in my community who have battled with image and that there are abuse survivors, even closet liberals, but I’m more accustomed to finding connections on these issues through the relative safety and anonymity of the internet.

I suppose me talking about anonymity is strange as someone who has voluntarily shared great parts of my life over these last twelve years of writing online. Early on my writing did feel anonymous because no one locally read what I was writing; that has changed. I still have parts of my life that are kept for my family and me.

The themes in Embrace are deeply personal and intimate. I won’t lie, there were scenes that made me gasp audibly. Nudity, candor and a matter-of-factness to the way women’s bodies can be treated like cuts of meat to grade.

Skin       Stomach        Ass        Lips        Breasts       Vulva      Thighs

 

 

Thin women get judged for how they look, heavier women get criticized for liking themselves, older women are chastised for being sexual.

Get over it, go to the gym, eat a sandwich, cover up, dress your age.

One of the things I really valued was that Embrace wasn’t a dissection of the media making women feel bad, it was an honest depiction of various people’s lives. It does not lay blame as it portrays the different ways women feel about their bodies. It also acknowledges that men have complicated relationships with their bodies, but the focus here is on women.

I sat next to Fin, Briar was to her right, then Avery, and then Sean. We were in a booth, which felt safe. The theater was intimate and seeing faces we knew as well as people we didn’t was intense. I was proud and grateful that people in the community wanted to support this movie and participate in this conversation. As the scenes unfolded I heard weeping, I saw parents watching their children’s faces, and I saw heads nodding in agreement. At one point Finley squeezed my arm and pulled me toward her to whisper, “Mama, do you like your body?”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know the answer. Separating years and years of not thinking I was doing enough—working out enough, eating right, moisturizing, grooming, you name it, it ran through my head.

“I’m not sure, but I am trying,” I answered. I felt her shift. I waited, then I said, “No, let me change my answer to I do. I do like my body.” She smiled and squeezed my arm, “I like it too.”

 

Finley asked me if I liked my body. A while later in the movie, Taryn Brumfitt said, “The purpose of your life is not to be an ornament.” I jotted both things down on the notepaper they provided.

I sat through the rest of the movie processing the idea of allowing myself to say that I like my body without qualification. It feels complicated to separate vanity, arrogance, shame, aspiration, and perception. 43 years in, I am so ready to shuck the cloak of not-good-enough. I’ve long since given up trying to understand when I put the damn thing on, I know it doesn’t suit me, nor does it help me. As much as I want to be the best parent that I can, it’s also not possible to do it for somebody else. I am trying, I think I’ll always be and that is ok.

I asked the girls after the movie how they felt. It was hard for them. We talked about Photoshop and peer pressure, and the feeling at school “that you have to do and want certain things by a certain age, but I don’t.”

 

I’m not sure if I expected the movie to be some sort of magic potion that would settle things once and for all. I know that I should be kinder in how I view myself, I want the girls to not pine for “skinnier legs” and “to be small like my classmates,” but those words have already been uttered, along with, “the more athletic kids get treated differently, like the teachers like them more.”

Whether we call it girl power or self-love, I hope that we work together to understand that there is a difference between wanting to improve and wanting to be something or someone else entirely.

 

 

A Game of Chicken with Weight

I have obsessed about weight. In college I abused laxatives. I’ve battled with disordered eating. I said hateful things to myself. I compared myself to women in magazine, classmates, strangers, and, quite possibly, people who didn’t even exist. The lengths I took to keep the bar of how I was supposed to look and what I should weigh just out of reach was staggering. I made it impossible to succeed.

As I raise three daughters I feel terror because of all the very real threats in the world, hating ourselves can be the most devastating. I watch them grow, their shapes changing constantly, and each new contour and curve makes me fall more intensely in love with who they are. They have never had a blemish, freckle, or roll that I have seen as anything short of magnificent, and yet that is still not a way that I can respond to changes in my own appearance.

I’ve largely quieted the voice in my head. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still in there, but she no longer possesses the mic around the clock. I don’t writhe to get out of my own skin like I once did. I donate clothes that don’t make me feel good, I move my body to remind myself of its strength, and I try to lean into the things that I used to hate. I work at loving myself.

I used to have no-touch zones on my body, worried that someone feeling my stomach would think it was too soft, I worried about the size of my butt, the width of my calves, I once came to think that my index fingers were hideously shaped. I had self-loathing super powers, but I couldn’t possibly tell you where they came from. I can’t blame my mom, I don’t remember a pivotal moment in time when I heard or saw something that specifically said I was the wrong shape. This is what terrifies me. How do I help the girls or is it simply inevitable that they will hate parts of themselves?

I want to believe we can do this. I let them see me. I tell them that sometimes we feel sad for no reason or that things can go bad, but that these are moments in time, not concrete definitions. We talk openly about changes, puberty, peer pressure. Tight skirts, skimpy tops, make-up or no make-up. I tell them that it is all ok. I don’t know if that’s enough.

Sisters conquering the mountain.

Taking Action

Today we are going to see Embrace—the documentary. It is one woman’s journey to understand why we apply so much pressure to ourselves and what is at the root of the relentless sense of being less than. I realize that there is a good chance we’ll be exposing the girls to sentiments that they haven’t entertained. They don’t look at each other’s body with envy; they very plainly understand that each of them has her own shape, speed, height, weight, you name it.

The comparisons I hear them make to classmates and celebrities has nothing to do with weight or beauty. Yet. I want to do this with them so that we can all be reminded of perception. I think sometimes we are more receptive to seeing the flaws in self-loathing logic when it isn’t our own voice. “Of course she shouldn’t feel like that” unless of course, the she is me. Right?

“Darling girl, don’t waste a single moment of your life being at war with your body, just embrace it.”

I want to work toward that, and so in a couple of hours, our entire family will go see the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing from the girls on the other side of it.

 

 

 

Country, Not Candidates.

This morning I woke up to read the story about Harvard immediately canceling the remainder of the men’s soccer team season as the result of a revelation of ongoing sexual harassment. It is a bold and unequivocal move, penalizing some who may not have participated. Or did they? Is not speaking up complicity? Was it only the soccer team or is it more prevalent as one female soccer player said? This behavior is unfortunately new, what is new is the effort to address.

I have been grateful for Kirsten Gillibrand here in New York who has worked on how sexual assaults on college campuses and in the military are handled. You don’t have to look very hard to find the accounts of women who bravely strode up to police stations and campus offices to report a rape only to be told they were less victim than they were cause.

 

The last couple of years have brought up a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary that some people refuse to embrace. It’s hard, I get it, embarrassing even. As I parent I have to go back and relive some of the decisions I made, I am not proud of all of them, but they are a part of who I am, who I have been, and who I can work toward becoming. The truth is some of these words and phrases are hard for me to use precisely for the way I know certain people feel about them.

 

What I’d like to do is offer places to go and read about them. You can do it privately, you can disagree, you can process, whatever it takes. What happened at Harvard and what happens at colleges and conferences all across the country is a part of why we need to acknowledge these words.

Feminism

Rape Culture also see here

Privilege

Trigger

Cultural Appropriation

Ally

Intersectionality

Macroaggressions

Micoraggrressions

Systemic Racism

Narrative

Gendered

I’ve even struggled with posting the Hillary 2016 bumper stickers I have. We have them displayed at home, I have tweeted the hashtag #ImWithHer , but even as I finally put the bumper sticker in the window of my car two days ago, I have feared what people would think or do.

Then I saw this:

 

 

I am very comfortable saying that I am not him and furthermore that I do not want to contribute to a world that encourages, even silently, people like him.

I want to be like Harvard.

Brooklyn Community Foundation

Mila Kunis

Jen Hatmaker 

This means that all these words that make us uncomfortable need to get normalized so that we can truly see what we are supporting. Donald Trump will lose his cool, he will continue to rewrite the rules, evade the truth, make rash decisions, and take women’s rights and racial issues back decades. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated a commitment to public service, expertise in conflict resolution, listening, and maintaining superhuman calm in the face of attacks, lies, and the general drag that being a politician in America has.  Donald Trump is full of hate and rage, but this isn’t about candidates, it is about our country and the people in it—all of us. We need to look toward what the person voted into office will do to/for our country in 2017. Tax breaks mean nothing if the environment is ignored. Immigration means nothing if our foreign relations become weak. Homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues can never get the support they need if the richest among us continue to leverage every loophole to keep their wealth and blame people for their circumstances. Eliminating abortion access will not save babies, it will kill mothers. Double standards on the law, sexism, intelligence, and credibility will leave us with a lemon. Voting for a third-party candidate in this race or writing in a name will not help the broken system we have now.

 

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Thanks, Jessica Shyba!

 

 

We need to avoid a 2017 with a commander-in-chief who does not put the country and the individuals in it first. We need to care enough to vote. We need to continue to care in 2017 with local elections. Let us build up third-party candidates and demand more of those representing the two major parties.

We all contributed to getting us where we are today, but we can also work together to change our course. We can be more than great, we can be a United States of America.

 

 

 

 

 

From the first breath

I remember the way it felt when the ultrasound tech put the gel on my belly. I was not yet accustomed to the frequency and casual way that I would be expected to undress. Looking back I realize it was good preparation for a kind of naked vulnerability that never goes away once you are a parent. Fear, hope, longing to make things right and have everyone happy, it strips you bare.

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This year I had to get an inhaler, my stress levels make it hard for me to breathe. It’s funny because all my life I’ve been so strong and healthy, and it’s literally my insistence to do it all that I cannot breathe. You’d think that would knock me into better behavior, but it doesn’t. I carry an inhaler, but the truth is it doesn’t make me breathe any easier. When Avery got sick earlier this year she had to use a nebulizer. It was my first dance with treatment or medication being a part of our daily routine. Even as it helped her breathe, it felt like a failure. Then they prescribed an inhaler—one for school and one for home, “For when I can’t breathe,” she said with a serious face.

ave

 

 

Last week when I was in Chicago (Yay Cubs!) Sean took Finley to the doctor. The night before I left she’d said, “Mom, sometimes my heart hurts me when it beats. Does that happen to you?” I tried to keep panic at bay, there I was, defenseless from fear; naked. I knew shortness of breath was a moment away, just breathe. Ha!

Sean called me in Chicago to tell me that the doctors found nothing wrong with her heart, “Maybe we check her for asthma is what they told me,” he said.  I find myself struggling to breathe even as I type this. Air is essential for all of us. When it comes to my girls, I can’t bear the idea of their breathing being compromised. Our issues aren’t even that complicated. We lead active lives. We have access to and the means to enjoy quality health care. Breathing though, I can’t control it. They are going to need to be able to breathe long after I’m around to help them.

 

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I don’t think this is exclusively a parenting issue, seems to me it’s more of a human issue, nor is the sensation of being naked in the face of all the danger and hurt the world throws at us reserved for parents. I was compelled to action by Clean Air Moms Action and my own experiences related to trouble breathing. This election has made my stress spike, my daughters’ breathing difficulty has impacted my breathing, and through it all I have become more aware of my own responsibility. It isn’t just my daughters’ health or the conditions where I live, it’s everywhere and everyone.

It’s my responsibility to advocate for a healthy environment and I can do that with my vote. When it comes to voting I am focused on the welfare of people, particularly children. We ignore the issues of Clean Air, Climate Change, and Toxic Chemicals at our peril. Focusing on emails or even sexual misconduct is not the most pressing thing. Itty-bitty lungs, tiny dimpled hands clutched at delicate necks, parents in cities we’ll never know gasping for breath at the idea that their children cannot or should not breathe; this is what we can influence by supporting candidates who care about these issues.

 

Air pollution from fossil fuels leads to bad air quality in too many communities. Increases in smog can trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate other chronic health problems. Don’t let children’s health be voted away to protect polluters’ profits. Instead, vote to protect little lungs from toxic air pollution.

The same harmful pollution that is making our children sick is causing rising temperatures and extreme weather events. Our changing climate is making smog worse. It increases respiratory health threats, particularly for people with allergies and asthma. Also intense heat waves exacerbate heart and lung conditions. 

Dangerous chemicals are found in our daily lives. They often enter our homes and bodies without our realizing it. In fact, these chemicals may not even have been disclosed, identified or studied. Thousands of toxic chemicals found in everyday products are linked to potential reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, asthma, headaches and skin irritants. Children are among the most vulnerable to such chemicals.

We can vote to protect little lungs from toxic air pollution.

We can vote for candidates who support proposals to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. And vote to put our country on a clean energy path while protecting American jobs.

I am using my vote for a candidate who is undeterred by attacks and continues to brave a hostile environment in order to press the most important issues. Donald Trump does not have the safety and health of our children in mind, nor does he have plans to support women.

 

 

I know for a fact that there are many women out there who have every intention to vote, but are not comfortable talking about in online or in person. If this post does one thing, I hope it’s that it convinces anyone still on the fence that their vote matters. Will you take the pledge to vote? You fill in three boxes. That’s it. Oh, well, I mean then you go and vote next week, but that’s it. It will matter.

 

 

Clean Air Moms Action is canvassing the country to document real life stories from moms. You can watch more of them on their Facebook page.

You can find them on Twitter.

Check out their pictures on Instagram.

Get involved in the coming days by using the hashtag #CleanAirMomsVote

Please vote.

This post was produced with support from Clean Air Moms Action. All opinions are, of course, my own.

It’s You

Sometimes when I am driving by myself I turn the radio off to ride in silence. This morning as neighborhoods passed by in a blur I thought of how I told Finley after we straightened her hair that it “Looks so long!’ I said this because that’s what she wants, and it does actually look longer when it’s straightened.

A few blocks later it hit me that almost all compliments to people, women in particular, seem to be about how something about them is different.

“You look so skinny”

“You don’t look 40”

“You look taller”

It’s weird, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if we said, “You. You are wonderful.” Are we only better when we change? I don’t have the answer, but as I wake up each day in my 40s I am struck by how often and how hard we work to get somewhere different than where we are, literally and figuratively.

One of the things I love most about witnessing my daughters growing up is the way that the infant and woman blend with the girl they are before my eyes.

 

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Sometimes it’s a look in their eyes, other times it’s a gesture as they talk, their eyes and hands wildly expressive about something. I revel in their exploration and steely conviction. They are unafraid to feel and not yet muted by experience, judgement, or trepidation about taking a stand that might not be the most popular.

 

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I have not been so bold. I find myself thinking I need those compliments that tell me that I am other than I am—younger, skinnier, tauter, more athletic. I’ve also stayed silent or tempered my opinion to not upset others. I have had people tell me recently that they are glad people are speaking up, that it’s important, but that they just can’t quite do it.

I can’t do that, just like I can’t tell people in my professional life to invest in something that they need and will be good for them, if I don’t do the same thing in my own life.

I have three daughters.

I had male high school teachers say inappropriate things to me.

I have survived sexual assault.

I have pumped milk in a work bathroom and been ridiculed for carrying breastmilk to a cooler.

I have witnessed hate.

I have been ogled, cat called, and then yelled at for not “politely accepting the compliments.”

When it comes to the 2016 Presidential Election, I bring all of these parts of my life and the years ahead for my daughters to the polling booth. I can appreciate people saying that neither of the candidates are perfect, but the reality is that none of us are perfect. I have heard the argument that just because there is no one better doesn’t mean that you should pick a bad candidate.

The way I see it, we are faced with a reality of two candidates. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he will lead the country with hate, anger, a short temper, and deaf ears.  Trump has deliberately refused to share his plans, explain his rationale, define how he would do things, or even commit to honoring anything that he says behind the podium.

Hillary Clinton has proven her mettle, in the workplace and beyond. She has a capacity for listening and compromise that is corroborated even by people who do not like her. Secretary Clinton has made adjustments in order to appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, she has allowed her view on gay marriage to evolve, and she has acknowledged that she has made mistakes and learned from them.

I know that Hillary Clinton has an awareness that the things I have experienced as a woman have really happened, that I’m not being difficult or bitchy, I’m not whining or faking. She is not distracted by the messiness of life, she works through it. More importantly, I believe that she genuinely wants to make life better for Americans. I am not voting for her because she has a vagina, I am voting for her because my daughters and I do, and that should not make us disgusting to our country’s leader.

I am investing in my daughters’ future by saying out loud that I cannot stand for hate. I am calling bullshit on the idea that Donald Trump, “shoots straight.” He is every weak punchline on a sitcom that you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you watch. I am donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I am supporting the Democratic National Committee, and I owning that the outcome of the election is on all of us.
It’s you voting. It’s you not voting. It’s you speaking up. It’s you staying quiet.

 

I am emphatically with her.