Monday, October 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Oprah & Alex Trebek

Dear Oprah and Alex,

I'll start by saying I'm a big fan (pun not intended but also YES) of both of yours. I've been watching you on the television since I can remember, at least by the age of ten in the early 1980s. As a smart young girl, I was always so pleased when I could answer something in the $200 or $400 categories on Jeopardy!. When you brought on interesting young actresses or world-changing women to your show, Oprah, I knew in my teens that you were doing something good for daytime TV. Both your talk show and your game show, Oprah and Alex, were among my early favorites. I'd turn the TV off and feel I came away with a little more knowledge and a little less guilt for wasting precious time watching TV when I could've been crimping my hair or making out with my boyfriend.

I went off to college and grad school and watched less and less television, but was always thrilled when I'd catch Jeopardy! around dinner time. It's always been one of the cleverest game shows around, and I love how it highlights the nerd in all of us. Oprah, you've continued to empower women and be an uplifting woman yourself and I was excited to receive a subscription to O magazine a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

Unfortunately, you've both disappointed the hell out of me lately, I'm sad to say. First, Oprah, with the major faux pas in your magazine a few months ago about not wearing a crop top unless you were toned and tiny. Really? Well, backlash ensued, and your mag apologized, but I was still super bummed.

 image: Instagram user 

I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since you've been quite boisterous about your personal (yo-yo) dieting and body shaming, ever since you pulled that little red wagon full of fat on stage back in 1988. But this latest thing where you've saved a (fortunately and finally) failing Weight Watchers by buying 10% of the company and joining their board is unforgiveable. How can such a feisty feminist not see how they are oppressing women by restricting us and profiting off our self-doubt? And you are a diet industry dropout yourself? You are not the feminist I thought you were. This quote by Naomi Wolf, from her 1991 book The Beauty Myth, which I read as an undergrad and changed my life, says it best:

A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.

And, you, Alex. Just a few weeks ago I hear that Jeopardy! had a category called THESE WORDS COULD GO ON A DIET.

 photo: Dances With Fat

Really, Jeopardy!? You pride yourself on being an academic-minded and forward-thinking program but dedicate an entire category to blatant size shaming and harmful use of language to degrade people and call them names? UGH.

I don't normally give much thought or power to television these days, just as I couldn't give two shits what celebrities are wearing or who they are dating. But, from an intellectual level, I know that popular culture, especially the media, set the bar for lots of things, body positivity included. My standards are pretty low, I guess, for anything on the television to be thoughtful. I've always seen you both, Alex and Oprah, as savvy, college-educated entertainers who prided your programs on considerate discourse. I was holding out hope for you, in a lame lineup filled with cupcake wars and snarky and slimy 'reality' families.

TV, I'm so done with you. (Except CBS Sunday Morning. PLEASE DON'T FAIL ME NOW.)

Feeling not surprised, but still sad,


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

There's this brilliant but wacky spiritual leader named Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert in Boston in the 1930s. He went on to get his PhD and do research on LSD in the 1960s and travel to India and become enlightened and write a lot of books and have retreats. People adore his teachings. Today he lives in Maui and spreads his guidance via the internet and has a lot of really great ideas and things to say. I'm not much of a follower, but since I started on my body positive journey as a fat activist nearly six years ago, I've been drawn to a story he tells on self-judgment:

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

One summer when I was 20-years-old I was camping near Payette Lake in Idaho with my boyfriend and laying under the sky looking up at the ponderosa pines. I grabbed a beer, a pen, and a paper plate, which was the only thing I could find to write on, and scrawled this poem:

They stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of a whole
The oaths, the families, the stories, the Friends
An old regal one scraggles over with years and rings and wisdom far beyond
the youthful inches of baby growth it protects.
Wise wide ones loom tall above, standing high with energy and vigor
And as long as this forested royalty remains
the Ponderosas will whisper gossip to the Blue Spruce
and the Hollies will always flaunt their scarlet berries
You see, this private community, so robust, yet equally as fragile, trust few to its realm.
Even the Deer must make a silent commitment to secrecy.
Those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of their whole duty and beauty and strength unimaginable
Yet when the Rain pounds from above they all bow and hover
And when the Wind blows her loud tales they all laugh and dance and twist with joy
And when the Human and the Fire interrupt the peaceful power of this solemn circle
One never stands alone
Because they stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society.

Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Two and a half years ago I got pregnant on accident after missing a few birth control pills one month. I'd been on the Pill for twenty years at that point and had missed several pills plenty of times before and never gotten pregnant. At the age of 37 with two daughters aged 5 and 9 years, we weren't planning on having any more children, but there were two pink lines and I was surprisingly so happy. It was meant to be, until it wasn't. I hadn't been to the doctor yet, and I had no real idea of when we'd actually conceived, but probably somewhere around 8 weeks pregnant I started cramping and gushing blood and went into what I can only describe as a 'mini labor,' complete with contractions, pain, nausea and an overwhelming fear and sadness that I can never appropriately describe.  Dr. Brown and I grieved hard and alone, as we'd told no one we were even expecting a new baby.

I spent a few months healing, both in my heart and in my uterus, and we decided to try again because we were certain there was a soul missing from our family. I conceived in June and knew almost immediately I was pregnant with twins; I could just feel it from very early on, as many mothers of twins can attest to. Not to mention the nausea and vomiting and growth and exhaustion were double what I'd experienced in any previous pregnancy (something else many mothers carrying twins will tell you). I was terrified for this pregnancy, so soon after my first miscarriage, and felt a tiny bit better after passing that 8 week mark that was so devastating the last time around. At 11 weeks pregnant I got really bad sciatica and nausea and sat down to pee one morning, gushed blood, and passed an 11 week old fetus into the toilet. I knew immediately what it was and snatched it out and went into shock and called my doctor. An emergency ultrasound a few hours later where I was expecting the worst news revealed a healthy heartbeat of the other baby in utero. I had another miscarriage in a somewhat unique phenomenon called 'vanishing twin syndrome,' where one of the twins die and usually dissolves back into the mothers system, never to be seen in an ultrasound again. In an even rarer situation, like what happened to me, the mother will actually miscarry the deceased fetus in what I call 'not-so-vanishing twin syndrome.'

I spent the rest of my pregnancy with Arlo puking and scared, sad and thrilled. I was mourning two dead babies and one growing in utero and the emotions of sorrow with joy were overwhelming. I was at once angry with my body and in awe of its strength. I couldn't keep any food down and was losing weight rather than gaining and I couldn't/wouldn't take the anti-anxiety medications that I'd been on for years for panic attacks. It felt impossible to see the forest for the trees.

The expression 'can't see the forest for the trees' is often used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. I was a body positive warrior who spent much of 2013 so angry at this life-making vessel I'd worked so hard to love. But I was pregnant! A pregnancy that was at once terrific and terrible and brutal and beautiful. But I had the hardest time seeing the forest for the trees. I hadn't yet found others who had suffered silent miscarriages like me. I didn't yet know anyone who had lost a twin while pregnant. I hadn't yet discovered my Tree Society.

This past spring we planted a tiny plum tree near our pink Little Free Library on our corner lot in honor of the babies in our hearts. After Dr. Brown dug the hole, I placed in it a worry locket I'd purchased from an Etsy jeweler with the birthstone of the first baby we lost and a positive pregnancy test from the second baby we lost. Alice drew a picture for our 'dear dead babies,' as she calls them, and placed it in there, too, before soaking the hole with water necessary for the plum tree to take root. I cried and thought about how it will grow to shade the library stop so popular with neighborhood kids and will bear fruit for us to enjoy. About a month later, we noticed the tree had started leaning and looked crooked in spots, but it was also sprouting new leaves, and thriving.

All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies are scarred, twisted, scared, and complicated, as unique and lovely as trees. I'm so glad I can see you all out there in my forest now and am grateful for the roots I've planted with this blog, in Boise, and in my own front yard. Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes, and this time of year makes me very sad, as I honor my babies who live in both my house and in my heart. Here's to new growth rings and ancient stories and shedding bark and rebirth with seasons.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Drawing Hearts

Immediately after my stand for self love at the Capital City Farmers Market ended, I wanted to look at my body to see what words were written and take in all the loving hearts people made with markers on my body. As I had used washable Crayola markers from my daughters' art kit, some of the marks were already being lost due to sweat running down the rolls of fat on my back and in between my legs. It was nearly 90 degrees that late August afternoon, and, as we stood in the alley, Melanie captured much of the words on film while we basked in the glow of tears and humanity and joy over the love we had just witnessed.
As I got home, I stood naked in front of the mirror in my bathroom and looked lovingly upon the canvas that was my body that day. My husband, Eric, read off the words to me that people had written while I scrawled them quickly on the back of a public library checkout receipt. I dreaded taking a shower and losing the feeling of those felt tips on my skin, the warmth of a revolution.
Soon after my blog post dropped with the video that has now gone viral and been viewed cumulatively nearly 115 million times around the globe, I began replying to the messages of love that began pouring in to my email, Facebook messenger account, Instagram, blog comments and more with simply a heart emoticon. To me, that heart - the simple symbol I'd asked people to draw with a child's marker on my skin and the one I can push a button to leave on any social media post - had become the symbol of the rebellious body love revolution.
It turns out others felt the same way. So many of you responded to me that you shared in my message of self-love and were fed up with a society that profits from our self-doubt. You told me how you would've drawn a heart on me if you would had been there (including a handful of celebrities like KEVIN BACON OMG), and sent me the emoticon as your heart for my body and my message.

It may be the piece that fat activist and deputy editor at xoJane magazine Lesley Kinzel wrote about my radical art performance that really hit the nail on the head about the hearts. I recommend reading her article in its entirety, but at the end she sums it up with this:
She changes the framework, she stands up with confidence and a blindfolded smile and invites them to comment in the context of her own struggle for self-acceptance, and in the shock of this unfamiliar ground, they can only respond with love. They are kind, with no strings attached.
What if we looked at everyone around us with such care all the time? What if that was how we looked at ourselves? What a home for all bodies we would build, if only we could be psychically drawing hearts on one another’s skin every time we looked at each other.

A few days after I ceremoniously washed the marker from my body and watched it swirl pink and purple and blue down the drain and forever into my soul that hot August afternoon, I began drawing hearts on my children. Daily, we get out the Sharpie marker, and as a reminder that all bodies are good bodies, we say something kind to one another and each other, and draw a heart.
I believe in you.
You are valuable.
You are interesting.
You are beautiful.
When you make a mistake you are still beautiful.
Your body is your own.
You have say over your body.
You are creative.
Trust your instincts.
Your ideas are worthwhile.

I usually pick one of these affirmations each day to say while I look in their eyes or over a bowl of Cheerios. And then I draw a small simple heart. Something for them to look at while they are away from me, growing and leaning in to their own separate worlds from mine, and remember that they are good and strong and that there is no wrong way to have a body. And you know what? They've started doing it back - to me, to their father. Drawing hearts on us and their siblings, reminding us all that every time we look down at a little pen scribbled heart on our skin to follow our own.
You are capable.
You are deserving.
You are strong.
You can say no.
Your choices matter.
You make a difference.
Your words are powerful.
Your actions are powerful.