Benediction and Invocation

I’ve spent days trying to find the words. I forgot again that it’s up to me to choose them. I forgot that they don’t need to be perfect. I forgot that the words don’t need to be lyrical to be valid. I forgot that there are no perfect words. Perfection would be terrible anyway.

On this birthday eve, I choose to christen the year to come with these words.

There is grace and self-compassion for the roads taken and the roads not taken. For the bankruptcy that will take another two plus years to pay. For the abortion more than seven years past. For broken friendships. For the yet-to-be spoken. For all that I’m holding onto and all that I’ve let go of.

For what has come before, a benediction: it is what it is. There is grace.

As life beats on into another year, an invocation: May I be more and more who I am and less and less who I’m not. May I continue to learn. May I continue to realize wellness. May I lean in to the hard places. May I be resilient. May I be mindful. May this year be rich with meaning, whimsy, and adventure. May I set and enforce healthy boundaries. May grace and compassion abound. 

Faces of 34

On being fat & othered

The world we live in, you and I,
was not made to accommodate these
hips or thighs.

One of these things is not like the other,
and woe to we, the other.
I am fat, yet I am made invisible, and it is done as though it
were some kind of favor.
Better that you not have to see me
than be offended by the sight of me.
It’s all about you.

Your narrow aisles, your armed chairs,
your armed words, your narrow minds,
Your narrow hips, your one-size-fits…
most.

You are fashion and beauty and
business and family and health.
You are advertising and marketing
and glitter and glam.
I am, if I’m “lucky,” the object you react
against.

I am a headless body seen in a
newscast in a story about — gasp
obesity.
I am the enemy in the war on obesity.
My body is a disease.
My body is your target and your cannon
fodder.

Because it doesn’t fit.
Because it costs you somehow.
Because it offends you by existing
and not fitting in…
To your narrow ideals.
To your skinny heart.
To your privilege.
But there’s plenty of room in your
judgment
To make me the punchline of the joke.
To erase me from your TV screen
except as a prop, an object lesson,
a patient.

As a patient, even with a broken bone
sticking out of my skin,
you see only my fat,
and your reaction, lose weight,
your chorus, your panacea,
cure, palliative, indictment.
It’s like you think shame is a
prescription
.

In church, you co-opt even scripture.
Your body is a temple,
mine an abomination.
Created in my inmost being,
knit together in the womb,
yet my body is still not good enough
for your men, for your women,
for your visible roles.
My visible rolls obscure me.

You shout at me when you drive by in
your car, “Go home, fatass!
You offer me unsolicited dieting advice.
You fear me and fear becoming like me.
You hate me as though hating me will make you happier with your own body.

Your waiters laugh both when
I order the salad
and when I order the cheesecake,
as though it were a moral failing
rather than a meal,
as though it were any of their business.
Oh, wait, it’s exactly that, your business.
You profit off of the othering you manufacture.

And God forbid that you see
a fat person in a relationship
with a skinny person.
God forbid that someone dares to
get naked while fat.
Even the slightest hint of fat is
more than enough to upset you.
As though you were the victim.

The voice crying in the wilderness
saying fat is OK,
love yourself,
be yourself,
you can be healthy at every size,
is silenced by those
who can’t even stand to hear our voices.
Those who want to erase us so much so that they sign and distribute petitions,
troll and terrorize and traumatize,
because our bodies are their problem.

And there are those reading this who will say, not all
We don’t all feel that way.
As if their exception negates the rule
of privilege
As if their special circumstance
is the point
I am other, hear me roar,
or just keep on excusing yourself
and look away,
leave me invisible.

From one headless fatty to another,
one chunky kid on the playground to another,
one fatass on the sidewalk to another,
one other to another other —
Fat is not a feeling.
Fat is not the worst.
Fat is not a cross to bear.
Fat is not a cause celebre.
Fat is not the problem.


Synchroblogging with SheLoves Magazine on the subject/experience of being Othered.

#FaithFeminisms: Valued, loved, worthy, chosen

I’m fortunate to follow some amazing people on Twitter, and this week, many of my favorites, who frequently inspire and challenge me, are holding a dialogue called #FaithFeminisms. To read more, check out www.faithfeminisms.com. Below is my contribution, at least the draft that I chose to complete and publish. Thanks for dropping by!

Disclaimers: I don’t know everything about first-wave, second-wave, third-wave feminism, etc. I’m not deeply educated about all its history and every feminist ever. I haven’t read “Jesus Feminist” yet. Feminism is both personal and collective, just like faith. Feminism is not a united, defined, clear worldview that agrees on detailed tenets. Feminism is not misogyny. Feminism is not a movement for the superiority of women.

What is feminism and how does it relate to faith? My views, i.e., claimers, ha, are my own.

Wrestling with my faith was one of many things creating a miry clay that I’ve found myself sucked into time and again. That soul-dimming stuff is full of negative body image, apathy, cynicism, purity culture, messages that women are less than, privilege that oppresses.

I’ve found feminism to be a lifeline and a saving grace. Feminism is an integral tool in freeing myself from that miry clay. Feminism is also a framework that not only tolerates but *embraces* wrestling with my faith. Rather than casting a judgmental eye on all my doubts, feminism has been a saving grace, in that it welcomes my critical thinking and invites me into deeper relationship, deeper understanding. Feminism reminds me that there is room to live in the tension of not having all the answers.

Feminism challenges me to fight for justice. Feminism not only challenges me to it, but empowers me to speak up. Feminism tells me to use my voice, flawed and unfinished, to speak up, and it gives me a host of feminists to learn from and engage with.

If you substitute Jesus for the word feminist anywhere above, I believe the meaning holds. I’m not suggesting that feminism=Jesus or that feminism is my religion. There is no distance though between my feminism and my faith. My feminism and my faith are stronger together than either on its own.

I’ve wrestled with my faith to many breaking points over the years, and I’ll keep on wrestling. I find belief in God to be inescapable, no matter how hard I try to escape it. But I find the working out of that belief, the choice of faith, the theological development of it is empowered by feminism, which recognizes the humanity of all, the equality of all, the value of all, and desires justice for all in a way that I believe God values and desires.

Feminism means I can deeply question patriarchy, the entire foundation of most world religions. Feminism reminds me to check my privilege. Feminism allows me to see the harm that the church often does to the oppressed, to see the church as oppressor, and to say this is not right.

Faith means that I can question everything, and still I choose to believe. Faith reminds me to pray for the oppressed. Faith allows me to say this is not right, but this is not the end.

Feminism enhances, builds, and strengthens my faith. Faith with feminism brings me to a deeper encounter with God, a more meaningful relationship with Jesus. Faith with feminism empowers me to be renewed in mind, to not conform to this world, to fight for the least of these. Faith with feminism is a growing thirst for reconciliation, for justice, for mercy, for humility, for love, for peace. Faith with feminism steeps me in the truths that I am valued, loved, worthy, and chosen. By the way, so are you. In all our privilege or lack thereof, in our gender identities, in our oppression or as oppressors, in our race, in our splendid, messy humanity, I believe we are each valued, loved, worthy, and chosen.

Vacation Intentions

I’m on day two of a 12-day vacation. Usually my primary plan for vacation is to read, read, read. I LOVE READING. I spent some time setting 9 intentions for my vacation, including reading, of course.

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
2. Blog regularly.
3. Limit time spent on social media.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
6. Remain mindful.
7. Invest in relationships.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
9. Keep spending under control.

Intentions without action aren’t very meaningful, so I these are ways I have acted or will act to live out these intentions.

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
I’ve deleted the bookmarks to work e-mail from my phone. When I feel the impulse to check work e-mail, I’ll check something fun, like Buzzfeed, instead.
2. Blog regularly.
It’s a bit circular, but setting the intention is a start. I’ll work to write to completion rather than saving tons of different drafts. When I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll either finish an existing draft or use a writing prompt and set a time limit. (So far, so good!)
3. Limit time spent on social media.
Put the iPhone out of reach for long periods each day. Don’t worry about keeping up with everything. Set it to Airport Mode and Do Not Disturb for parts of each day.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
I have a giant bag of books with me and my Kindle, so I don’t imagine this one will be hard for me.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
This is my therapy homework. I do know the basic principles of IE, but I haven’t read the book, so I’m going to work through it during vacation. I continue to develop a healthy relationship with food, to stop relating guilt/shame to eating.
6. Remain mindful.
Focus on the moment at hand, the task at hand, existing in my body, breathing. Meditate. Turn off background noise. Listen.
7. Invest in relationships.
I went to a bridal shower today for a friend from college, thrown by another friend from college, and fellowshipped with them and other friends. I had dinner with my little bro and my mom yesterday. Mom and I visited friends this afternoon for a while. Most of the time will be spent with my mom and my mama Mary, who is our best good friend, one could say.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
Eat new foods, go different places, read new-to-me authors. 
I’ll probably go see a band that’s amazing on Monday. They always bring the wonder. And Cirque du Soleil on Tuesday, which always inspires wonder.
9. Keep spending under control.
I moved the rent money over to my savings account already, so that’s safe. I’ll work to be aware of how I’m spending before I spend, to think deliberately about whether it’s something I need, want, what the value is, whether the money could be better spent elsewhere, and whether it will make more room or less room in my life. If I feel like I need a boost of minimalist encouragement, I’ll visit Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist blog (or twitter feed).

Understanding why these things are important to me will help me act on the intentions. Why are these things important to me? What is it that I find valuable, meaningful, enjoyable, etc., about these intentions?

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
It’s important to me to take care of myself, to protect my time away from work by spending it on non-work things and trusting that all is as well as usual at work while I’m vacating and all will be fine once I return.
2. Blog regularly.
I’m more emotionally in touch and less restless when I blog on a regular basis. It feels good to write.
3. Limit time spent on social media.
Particularly during vacation, I want to stay engaged with the present, real-life happening around me more than I’m in touch with whatever’s being shared on social media. I still want to encourage people and keep in touch with what I can, but I don’t want time online to overwhelm time offline.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
Did I mention I love reading? Reading transports, transcends, transmutes. It’s so powerful. Some of my happiest memories are of books.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
I value my therapist’s recommendations. I’ve found her to be insightful and helpful. I have seen the benefit of listening and acting on it over the last year and this has been on the to-do list for a while, so it’s time to follow through. I know that what’s in the book will be of benefit to me.
6. Remain mindful.
I enjoy life more when I am mindful. Practicing mindfulness grounds me.
7. Invest in relationships.
People matter to me. Friendships matter to me. Connecting on a meaningful, authentic level matters to me.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
Adventure and whimsy are awesome and I want more of them.
9. Keep spending under control.
I want to learn from lessons in the past and live as though I have done so, so it’s important to me to make different decisions than I have before and to manage money wisely.

Most importantly, above and through all of these things, my goal is to love myself, to appreciate my body, to treat myself with kindness, and to empower others to do the same

What are your intentions for your vacation? What are your intentions for the coming week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

A picture of a smiling, dark-haired woman, wearing a blue dress, accented by a multicolored necklace, looking to the right; another person's hands are in frame, one pointing left of frame and the other on the woman in blue's shoulder.

“Action” shot from bridal shower

 

 

Why I’m a Body Image Activist (Answering the Clarion Call to Myself)

There are two F words I’m going to claim in this post that might be dangerous to claim. Why? Because I’ve seen the hate and trolling and abuse directed at those who’ve claimed both or either of these F words themselves, those who’ve refused to live their lives in the two-dimensional world of the Internet hiding behind anonymity. No, they’ve boldly proclaimed who they are. I don’t want to be hated or trolled or abused, but it’s time for me to step up and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Whatever the potential backlash, it’s worth it to empower myself and hopefully others by acknowledging my truth and rejecting shame.

What are the two F words? Feminism and fat.

I’m fat. I’m a fat woman. I’m a fat feminist.

Picture of me, a fat woman, taking a selfie in a mirror, text overlay reads "I refuse to hate my body. My body is good. My body is valid."

What’s a post without a picture?

I’ve been fat for all of my adult life. It may shock some people to read that “fat” F word. I’m not denigrating myself. Fat is only an adjective, nothing more. I won’t allow it anymore power over me than being an adjective. In the past, I’ve lived in the harm that can do, and I’m not doing that anymore. I’m stepping out of the shadows, off of the sidelines, and engaging in the work and message of spreading positive body image while embracing, developing, and strengthening my own positive, healthy body image. I’ve been journeying into being a body image activist this past year or so. There are people who’ve been body image activists for ages and ages and their work is awesome. I’m not entering this space unaware of those who have paved the way, nor am I unappreciative of that paving, nor am I trying to one-up the work that’s already been done. I’m intentionally adding my voice as a member of the chorus.

I want to empower other people to overcome body image issues and the only way to do that is to empower myself, to claim myself, to inhabit my body proudly, to reject the shame that culture has heaped on me for years. I believe that no one should live in shame because of their body or any aspect of their physical appearance, whatever size, weight, shape, whether differently abled, male, female, trans, race, etc. We deserve to inhabit our bodies without being inhibited by shame. Bodies should not be made taboo, should not be terrorized by cultural ideals or other people’s opinions.

I’m fat, I’m okay, and whatever size you are, you’re okay, too. I understand now and espouse that all bodies are good bodies, all bodies are valid bodies. My body is good, my body is valid. During this part of my journey, I’ve been seeing a therapist on a regular basis, one whom I trust, respect, and am comfortable with, and it has made a powerful difference.

Months ago, I started seeking out and reading fat positive, size positive, body image activist blogs to understand my experience through others’ experience. They’ve been writing and working in this space for years, and they articulate things in powerful, honest, ballsy, amazing ways. They’ve been ridiculed and hated and judged and trolled in heinous, awful, cruel, hateful ways. They are defenders of the downtrodden, of the shamed, of the broken, of the hopeless, of all kinds of people, of all sizes. They are fierce feminists, independent thinkers, and they all have very unique, strong voices. Here are links to a couple of the blogs that I’ve read most often:
www.bodylovewellness.com
www.danceswithfat.com
www.fatheffalump.com
www.fatchicksings.com
The Fat Chick belongs to/is the work of Jeanette DePatie, who lives in SoCal and holds a free exercise class three times a week. Jeanette has been a great friend and support as well as an inspiration during this part of my journey.

Simultaneously, I’ve been on a journey from misunderstanding feminism and releasing preconceived notions I had to coming into my identity as a feminist and continuing my education about what that means.

I’ve only really been active on Twitter since February or March of this year. Before that, I had an account that I barely used. When I got a new phone in February (thanks, brother!), I discovered the appeal of Twitter (and Pinterest and many, many, many apps). This past week on Twitter has been its own education in feminism in the wake of the UCSB Isla Vista tragedy and the Yes ALL Women hashtag (the hashtag originator asks that it not be used any longer, so the non-hashtagging here is purposeful). It’s been a fascinating, maddening, sad, awesome, tragic, terrifying, powerful discussion.

On the heels of that, there’s been an effort to trend the hashtag, #WhyImaBodyImageActivist, inspired/based on a video of the same name by Melissa A. Fabello (@fyeahmfabello), which was inspired/based on a Why I’m a Feminist video. It was great to participate in the hashtag and to share in, read, favorite, and RT reasons and experiences that led people across a wide spectrum of life experiences to claim their identity as body image activists. Here are mine:

I’m still on my journey. I am powerful, capable, strong. I am healthier than ever, mentally, physically, spiritually. I realize that some people will take issue with being fat, feminist, and a believer embracing both of those F words. Here’s what I have to say to that: My body is a temple of God, the God who created me, who loves me as-is, who accepts me unconditionally. God didn’t put a weight or size restriction on my identity, and I’m not going to be held back by such meaninglessness any longer.

“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. [God] has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

A Benediction:
May you know today that your body is good, your body is valid, your body is amazing. You aren’t obligated to hate your body anymore. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body anymore. You are free to love your body and to accept yourself as the miracle you are. May you be empowered to always speak words of kindness to yourself, to value the body you’re in. May you be empowered to help others to do the same.

*I moderate all comments, so if it ain’t fit for reading, it’ll be deleted.*

A Reflection on Identity, Body, and “Everything You Touch”

Let me preface this by saying I find it kind of awesome and hilarious that Ingrid Michaelson’s “Be Ok” was the first song that popped on in Pandora when I sat down to write this. I think you’ll understand why by the time you’re done reading this.

This evening, well, sort of last evening now, I experienced a play, “Everything You Touch,” written by Sheila Callaghan, directed by Jessica Kubzansky, staged at Boston Court. I say “experienced” rather than “attended” or “watched” because I don’t feel like I was just a spectator. I found it to be a deeply personal experience. The space really invites you in, the performances even more so. I felt like I, along with the cast, was called into vulnerability. They answered the call, and I want to do so, too, in responding to it. Disclaimer: I’m not a theater critic, nor an actor.

The title, “Everything You Touch,” comes into play in a brief song, where the line is “Everything you touch, but nothing you notice.” Jess, the main character, powerfully portrayed by Kirsten Vangsness, is singing about feeling marginalized, feeling invisible, feeling like scenery, feeling like a furniture. Jess’ interactions with her physical body, physical surroundings, imagined surroundings, past surroundings, future Jess, are all tied into these themes of self-perception, self-esteem, externalizing self, internalizing shame, family dysfunction, along a journey toward self-acceptance.

The promotional blurb for “Everything” on the Boston Court pamphlet reads, “A viciously funny look at the struggle to find an identity that’s more than skin deep.” If I were to boil down the themes layered into the play, I’d have to say that it comes down to bodies being seen; the marrow is this idea of how we often look outside of ourselves for definitions; we externalize the task of self-acceptance and, in doing so, we inhibit our ability to experience any acceptance at all. This is summed up well in one of Victor’s lines, “We are all victims of ourselves.”

Tyler Pierce‘s Victor and Kate Maher’s Esme were stunning at portraying the “light” their characters reference. Their stories don’t end happily. Theirs is a tale of dependence on external validation, on the demands of creative profession, of how bitterness is destructive, of loneliness. Victor declares at one point, “I want to participate in humanity… Also I don’t want to be ashamed of it.” Yes to that, so much yes.

Two side notes: Tyler Pierce as Victor eating a cupcake, simultaneously smoking an herbal cigarette, was terrifically amusing. There’s a point where Victor just says “Sigh!” quite dramatically and falls to the ground. Priceless. We might all need to start doing that in real life.

There’s Louella, whose mother is a “firecracker,” charmingly written by Callaghan and charmingly portrayed by Amy French. Louella and Jess both utter this line at different points, and this may be a slight paraphrase, perhaps one beginning “I’m afraid,” “I came to realize I’ll always be the one doing the looking and never be the one looked at.”

Throughout the play, I saw the externalizing of self again and again, the externalizing of body, the projection of self outside of self. It brought into painful relief how we let ourselves be defined by bodies that are external to us. The set itself reinforces this externality, this disjointedness of body. A particularly disturbing chair is a jumble of mannequin hands and arms, perhaps legs, too. A chorus of three models serve as set pieces much of the time, serving as different objects — gumball machine, steering wheel, keyboard, to name a few.

Each in their own way, Jess, Victor, and Esme are stuck in cycles of projection, of seeking to define self by external means. Esme, a model, Victor’s muse, asks him poignantly, “What kind of material am I?” Victor, a fashion designer, seeks validation through fame, success, and approval. Jess is tormented by “seeing” the chorus of three models constantly. The microexpressions and reactions of the chorus, portrayed by Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Fryer, and Candice Lam, were really astute, and though they didn’t speak often, they delivered when they did. The three are tremendously exposed in skin-tone bodysuits much of the time.

Lewis, played by Arthur Keng, serves as an external push for Jess over and over again, even making a list of “freakishly awesome’ things about her that he leaves as a voicemail. Keng’s energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity served as a balance to some of the darker moments. Jess offers Lewis a brilliant breakdown of the Chipotle experience that had everybody in the audience who’s ever been to Chipotle cracking up.

There are themes of “you’re already awesome, but you keep trying to be someone else,” of feeling like we are not being looked at the way we want to be seen, of not being visible at all, of carrying hate that we’ve “inherited,” and of releasing the burden of the things we’ve inherited but that we don’t have to keep holding on to.

It was entirely coincidental and delightful that I happened to attend on a night that was followed with time to meet and chat with the cast. I attended the play by myself, which means there’s no safety in numbers factor in this kind of close but open space. Kirsten was gracious, warm, and kind, and it was such a pleasure to meet her and talk about some of the body image themes in “Everything.”

I also approached Allegra and Candice from the model chorus, and that’s when things really emotionally started to impact me. See, I experienced the play as a fat woman, living in an often-marginalized body, sitting in an audience of not-fat women and men of varying sizes. I experienced a sidelong glance or two from a couple girls down the row from me, and their glances felt pretty judgy.

As I introduced myself to Allegra and Candice, I found myself saying, “I’m kind of scared of skinny, tall girls, and I wanted to come over and talk to you.” I found myself talking about how their vulnerability was brave and how impactful their parts were in emphasizing this ingrained behavior of transposing our bodies on to other bodies. Insecurity is not limited to any particular demographic, it seems pretty universal. It doesn’t rule me unless I allow it to rule me. Acknowledging my body and my insecurity out loud to them, not with a message seeking validation, but affirming that the validation is inherent was very meaningful to me, very powerful.

That’s the truly beautiful, meaningful message that I hope you’ve stuck with me to read: My body is my body. Your body is your body. Stop seeking external validation of internal, inherent self. Stop projecting self externally. Stop asking other people to define inner self. My body is valid in and of itself. Your body is valid in and of itself. You and I are freakishly awesome in ways that we aren’t even awake to, we each are “the most rare creature on the planet,” and we are empowered to define ourselves and so become enabled to live into the full expression of those selves.

A great big thank you to Sheila, Jessica, and the entire cast and crew of “Everything You Touch,” to all the parties and supporters who made it possible, and to Boston Court.

If you live in the SoCal area, go see it! It’s at Boston Court through May 11.

Everything You Touch postcard

P.S. If you’re financially challenged, there’s an economic stimulus show on May 7, all tickets that night are just $5, not available through advance purchase, available only at the door, check or cash, and there’s a limit of two per person.