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June 28, 2017 · 6:36 pm

Dear Men

HI Guys,

You’ve let me down again. I’m not actually surprised. I’ve been trying to make peace with you for most of my life and I know how fruitless it is.

I’ve tried to tell you that I’m inviting violence every time I interact with one of you, simply because I was born in a female body. I’ve tried to explain that more women are killed in genocide worthy numbers by men. I’ve told you that almost every single woman I know has been raped or hit or grabbed or kicked or beaten. And the ones that haven’t been physically hurt have still been the victims of verbal assaults. I’ve tried to make you understand that women are under siege in this world.

I’ve even tried to make it personal by explaining that I’m afraid. That I’ve been a victim of your violence and that you scare me. And I’ve asked you to please listen and understand that it is our whole culture that contributes to you feeling as if you own women, that we owe you something.

I’ve tried to show you the news articles about men who kill women who say no to a date or to sex. The one where the man slammed his fist into a woman’s vagina and eviscerated her intestines. The one where the woman was beaten nearly to death, then set on fire and then managed to crawl to a road where she was found and hospitalized and lived for several days in unbearable agony until she finally died. The one where the guy asked a woman to marry him and she said no so he shot her. The one where a woman had acid thrown in her face because she said no. Male violence.

I’ve even learned to control my words, to say them in nicer ways because your feelings get hurt when I just tell the truth. So I sugarcoat my sentences. I start by saying, “I know not all men rape, but can we please talk about the ones that do?” or I say, “I know *you* care about this. So maybe you can help me understand why you’re the only one.”  Even when I sugarcoat my words, you still get upset and shout me down and yell about not all men. And you call me an angry feminist and you try to invalidate what I have to say by calling me too sensitive. I’ve learned that men are more concerned about their feelings than they are about the fact that the women in their lives are in danger every time they leave the house. (And even when they don’t.)

But now something has happened that affects you, too. We have a man in the white house who has gleefully admitted to sexually assaulting women. We have a rapist misogynist in the white house. I know that’s not enough to alarm you. But he is also threatening immigrants and people of color and the LGBT community and those on medicaid and the poor. And the things about that is that those groups include a lot of men.

And even though you have let me down repeatedly and even though I have never seen you share statistics about violence against women and even though you didn’t speak out when I was trying to get you involved in the fight against female genital mutilation and even though you didn’t answer when I asked you to talk to me about male violence and the cultures that create it, I am still going to stand with you when your group is targeted. When your group, whatever it is, is the next on the block, I am going to be there, trying to help. Because even though you have let me down and you’ve refused to help me and you are part of the biggest wave of violence against any one group in history, I believe we still have a chance to work together.

Let me know if you need some pointers on surviving a ubiquitous enemy. I have years of practice.

 

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What Rape Culture Teaches Women

Women learn at any early age that we need to put up barriers to try to protect ourselves. We learn to be aware of our surroundings when we are alone. We learn to hold our keys between our fingers. We learn to look behind us. We learn to lock our car doors as soon as we get in. We learn to try to not be alone with a strange man. We learn to control the way we dress. We learn to keep our heads down and ignore the calls when men scream at us on the street. We learn to try to sit or stand in a protected position on subways and buses so as not to be grabbed. We learn to lock our bedroom doors. We learn to install safety lights. We learn to go in pairs to any place where we can be a victim, which is every place. We take self-defense classes. We buy mace. We learn to shoot. We learn to find safety in women’s spaces. We learn body language that might indicate we are in danger. We learn that when we talk about these things, we are being alarmist or hurting men’s feelings.

We learn that no matter how many of these things we learn, it won’t be enough. We are raped, assaulted, beat up, grabbed. We are kissed against our will. Our hair is pulled on the playground and we are told that boys will be boys. We learn that a man can brag about sexually assaulting women by grabbing their pussies and people will still proudly proclaim their support for him because boys will be boys. We learn that being raped is our fault, even when we try to say it isn’t, because people like Brock Turner rape women and still, the main fear is that the poor boy’s life will be ruined. Women learn that our lives do not have value. If you have been raped or assaulted or attacked, and if you are a woman, chances are, you have, please know that I, at least, know that it is not your fault. I know this because whether you were drinking or you were wearing a short skirt or you left your bedroom door unlocked or you forgot to look behind you when you stepped into the parking garage, you are not at fault. You are not at fault because this society has determined that you do not deserve to have autonomy over your own body because it was born female.

We are under siege and the war is being be perpetrated by males. Women learn that men who claim to be good men aren’t really good when they refuse to speak out against male violence. Women learn to protect each other or we learn to build walls around each other in an effort to try to protect ourselves.

Women learn and continue to learn and we grow and evolve and we develop more elaborate security measures and in the end, it all comes to shit, because we are not teaching men and boys that women’s bodies do not belong to them, that there is no such thing as a friend-zone, that rich, white boys who rape unconscious women are violent criminals who deserve to do hard time, that men who brag about grabbing women’s pussies are rapists.

We learn that your silence about these things means that we can’t trust you. This is rape culture.

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You are Worth the Work

All relationships require work, don’t they? There are moments of pure joy and moments of tearful recriminations. The best relationships aren’t great because there is no conflict, but because both parties make a point of being kind to each other, to keeping open communication, setting boundaries, engaging, being passionate about and for each other.

But that takes work and sometimes the work is hard. And sometimes, you have to ask yourself whether the work is worth it.

A relationship with yourself requires the same commitment. Your own self-esteem, self-love, all of that takes work. And it’s a process. Sometimes, I feel I go through months of feeling on top of the world, proud of myself and all of my accomplishments, sure that I am living the dream, looking in the mirror every day and telling myself how awesome I am…. and sometimes, I feel I’m a half a step away from losing my mind, and just getting out of bed and changing clothes feels like a gigantic step forward.

Self-love is a process. It’s not a straight line, it’s a never-ending spiral. You’ll keep  coming back to the same problems, the same issues, the same old recordings you play back in your head. The times you were abused or insulted or made to feel less than. Self-love works to dig out those old recordings, but sometimes, the tools learned through self-work really don’t erase the tapes. They simply give us a way to hit pause when they keep coming back around.

My classes aren’t about fixing you because you aren’t broken. Even if you think you are, I promise that you aren’t. My classes are about giving you the tools you need to move forward into your own self-work… they’re about teaching you that learning to love yourself isn’t a far away dream. It’s real and it’s attainable and it’s worth it. It is so worth it.

Come join me on Monday, August 8th at 8 PM EST for a six week course on self-love. We’ll address abolishing negative self-talk, overcoming fear and self-doubt, setting healthy boundaries, and so much more.

 

Email me at bethburnett70@yahoo.com for more information.

 

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Whose Day Did You Ruin?

 

beth in leggings

 

My partner bought this dress/top for me right before we went on a cruise and I wore it on our special date night with a pair of black leggings and some white slip on sandals. It was perfect for a cruise and we both got a kick out of the dress, the way it fit, the way the bottom swings when I twirl, the colors in it, and the way she instinctively knew how perfect it would be for me.

 

When my friend Yvonne asked me to go to a showing of The Sound of Music tonight, I was definitely up for it. We both adore The Sound of Music and she found a group that was showing it on a big screen, complete with audience sing along and some people in costumes. It was a fun, unique event and I wanted to look cute so I picked this adorable dress. I paired it with the same black leggings from the cruise , only this time, I added a pair of funky Sketcher heels. Even put on some lip gloss and added a little shrug. I felt sassy and cute and ready to have a fun evening.

After I was dressed, but before it was time to leave, I logged on to Facebook on my phone leggings memeand I saw this meme posted by a friend. She had gotten quite a few likes on it, and several comments, including one woman who said there should be weight limits on certain kinds of clothing. Then I made the mistake of clicking on the original post and reading some of those comments. And I realized that no matter how I surround myself with super supportive friends and loved ones, no matter how much time I spend with my tribe of women who love me and think I am the sexy, beautiful goddess that I am, there are still hundreds or thousands of people out there looking at me and judging me negatively because of the size of my body. Despite all of my years of self work, and my ultra-confidence, and my happiness with my adorable outfit, I suddenly felt like nothing more than a fat woman in leggings. I was so hurt, I got a knot in my stomach and I seriously considered not even leaving the house. Because I am a self-love teacher, I want to say that I went out anyway and had an amazing time. I did. But friends, I put on a pair of jeans instead and it changed the whole feel of the outfit. And when I changed, a small part of me knew that I was hiding and acting out of fear and shame. I let someone else’s bad opinion of me form my own bad opinion of myself.

I shook it off. I had a great time with my friend and I enjoyed the sing along and I laughed and danced and watched a movie I love. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next time I go out, I will wear my sassy outfit and I’ll feel good in it again. But for tonight, just for tonight, my heart was broken by the fact that no matter how much love I put out into the world, there are still people who think that they have a right to define how I dress. And worse, I let them. As I said, I shook it off. I shook it off because I have done so much self work and I am proud of myself and I do believe in my value and beauty and awesomeness. But there are people out there who don’t. And somewhere, someone is seeing a meme like that or other mean-spirited memes and they *aren’t* shaking it off. Someone’s day has been ruined by something like that. Someone is crying because of the weight of all of the judgment of people who haven’t yet learned that the only person they have a right to judge is themselves.

This is why I teach self love classes…. because there are people out there who judge you for one reason or another. There are people out there who, purposely or not, will ruin your day or your week or your life. And there will ALWAYS be people judging you. No matter how evolved you are and no matter how you surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, there are still always going to be haters. Self love is about learning that *you* are the one who gets to define how you feel, that *you* get to choose to love yourself, that you get to decided how to dress your body, or whether or not to wear that bikini. You get to dance or not. You get to have the pure pleasure of knowing that your body, your beautiful body has carried you this far in life, and will hopefully carry you a little further. No one else has the right to tell you what is right for your body. No one.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shame

Shame doesn’t work. Don’t move your body because you hate it and want to punish it. Move your body because you love it and want to take care of it. When exercise and nutrition feels like a punishment, you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re not good enough the way you are. Start from the understanding that you are amazing just the way you are and you deserve to take care of your body in ways that feel good. That means moving in ways that feel healthy to you, eating in ways that feel healthy to you, and even, occasionally, eating a small piece of delightfully sinful dark chocolate or something else exquisite.

To learn how to move beyond shame and into a place of self love, join my online women’s empowerment classes. Email me at bethburnett70@yahoo.com for more information.

 

 

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My Year in Review: The Good AND the Bad.

I did one of the Facebook “year in review” apps… you know the one. They take your most liked pictures or something and paste them all together and call it your year in review. I have to admit, looking at my gathered pictures from the past year, it looked as if I had had a pretty amazing year. And let’s face it. I *did* have a pretty amazing year.

I juggled grad school, writing, sitting on the board of the Golden Crown Literary Society, and teaching online self-love classes with my own self care, taking care of my beloved pets, being present as a friend, and still sometimes remembering to call my mother. I took over co-managing the Writing Academy and have spent a great deal of time and energy working to ensure it all runs smoothly and the students get the most out of it they can.

I started the New Year with a New Year’s Eve dance. I snow shoed. I biked. I went to farmer’s markets. I hiked. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and felt all of the feelings, good and bad. I traveled to New Orleans. I ate a beignet for the first time in my life. I drank only the best coffee. I hugged. I touched. I kissed. I loved.

I came to the rescue of a friend in trouble. I gave my winter hat to a person in the cold. I paid for a senior citizen’s groceries. I donated money I didn’t have to a friend’s breast cancer campaign.

I experienced the joy, repeatedly, of having someone tell me that I had changed their life through my self-love classes and workshops. The ripple effect. They will go on to change other lives. My heart swells at the very thought.

I got straight As in every single class I took this year.

I did squat challenges and wall sits and stair step and plank.

I made the most amazing, colorful, veggie-filled meals and I made the leap from being a vegetarian to being vegan.

I spent a weekend in Traverse City.

I went to Chicago for a party with several hundred amazing women. I won a ticket to fest there and got to go up on stage and say a few words about what fest meant to me.

I danced. Oh, did I dance. I danced and danced. I abandoned all care of what the world may think of me and I danced. I danced because I love the way my body and soul feel when I’m dancing. I danced because it feels good to move my body to music. I danced.

I found some deeper connections and I found some connections aren’t meant to be that deep.

I explored my new community.

I was recently being interviewed about my writing on a lesbian fiction group and the host said, “I tried to find a picture of you that I could post on the page, but it is rare to find a picture of you alone. You’re always hugging someone.” That’s my year in review. I loved.

If you look at my Facebook, you’ll see the statuses and the pictures of a happy life.

But my friends, I want to talk to you about the stuff that doesn’t go on Facebook. Because for the most part, I only put the happy stuff on Facebook. And if you’re out there looking at my page and feeling depressed because your life isn’t a constant string of fun adventures… well, my lovers, neither is mine. And that goes for anyone’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever. People are posting the good stuff because it’s fun to remember the good stuff. Those year in review posts are a great story but they are only part of the story.

Truly most of my stuff was good. Most of it was very, very good. But there were nights when I felt so wrapped in anxiety that my stomach hurt. There were days of feeling as if I had so much to do, I couldn’t do anything. A night when I woke up in a panic because I couldn’t feel anything and I called my friend and then my partner in the middle of the night because every time I tried to go back to sleep I felt as if waves of panic were washing over me. There were times when my house got so messy, I was embarrassed when people came over. I cried. I grieved. I sometimes ate my feelings and felt sick after.  I asked my partner to be there for me for something and she wasn’t and we argued.

I yelled at my dog. I stepped in cat puke. I had a migraine so bad that I thought I was dying and texted two of my closest friends to come check on me to see if I needed to go to the hospital.

One of the things I often hear in the self love classes is that women feel they aren’t measuring up. They feel that they’re somehow doing this whole “life” thing a whole lot worse than everyone else.

First of all, remember this. Comparison is a form of self harm. Don’t compare yourself to your sister, your neighbor, your best friend, that woman from the gym. You are your own unique individual and only you know what you are capable of. What they do doesn’t matter. It only matters what YOU do, what YOU want, what YOU dream. Your self care is important. Your heart is important.

Secondly, it helps to know that we never know what is really going on in a person’s life. We don’t know if that person who just posted the meme about positive thinking is doing so because she’s trying to lift herself out of depression. We don’t know if someone has just lost a partner, a child, a pet, a friend. We don’t know if her boss screamed at her that day at work, and she bled through her favorite pants, and she got a ticket because the meter expired, and she came home and ate macaroni and cheese straight out of the pot. We don’t know it because most likely, she posted a picture of herself on a boat in St. Maartens and you’re looking at it from your home thinking that you wish you were her.

This, then, is the upshot of my year in review. Focus on yourself. Work on what you can do to make your own life closer to what you want it to be. Enjoy your friends’ posts but remember, they have struggles, too. We all do. You aren’t alone.

 

Happy New Year.

 

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Dear Lisa Vogel

Dear Lisa Vogel,

I had two items on my bucket list this year for the final Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

  1. I wanted to meet Sara St. Martin Lynne.
  2. I wanted to meet you.

I met Sara. In fact, I ran into her several times. I kissed her, hugged her, drank champagne with her, told her how deeply I admire her work. I recorded my own story with her for her “voices from the land” project. She is even more gracious, beautiful, and insightful in person than she is in print.

Bur I didn’t meet you. I didn’t even see you. I looked, though. I wanted to see you just once. I think I wanted to tell you that I didn’t like who I was before I found fest. I wanted to somehow be able to make you understand that everything good in my life came from my fest experience. I wanted to see you just once so I could blink back tears and show you a picture of the women I love most in the world, my family, all of whom came to me because of fest. Lisa, the women who support me and bolster me and treat me as if I am worthy of respect and devotion are in my life because of you. I am held because of you. I am seen and heard and loved because of you.beth on womanly way

I didn’t see you, though. I looked for you while I was lying on the grass at day stage listening to Crys Matthews. I didn’t see you while I was laughing during Elvira’s performances. I didn’t see you while I tripped happily through the ferns in my bikini, proud and accepting of who I am. I didn’t see you when I wore my see-through black dress in the rain and I wanted to see you at that moment because I thought if I saw you then, I could tell you that I would never have considered wearing something like that before I came to fest. I would have hugged you and told you that four years ago, I not only didn’t love myself and my own body, but I couldn’t believe that anyone else did, either. Lisa, I wore that see-through black dress in the rain and I looked sexy as hell. I wish I would have seen you that day.

I didn’t see you during my self love workshop when a woman approached me and told me that I had changed her entire life by giving the same workshop the year before. I wouldn’t have taken the credit, though. I would have turned to you and said, “That’s because of you. Her life is changed because you changed my life.” You would have seen the circle as a woman who once believed that the only love she was worthy of was a love that kept her oppressed and abused was now giving a workshop that taught other women to see themselves as worthy of so much more than that. So much more.

I didn’t see you at the Weird Family campsite where we cooked pizzas in the woods, drank a little sangria, laughed, cried, and held each other. I would have introduced you to each of the members of my family and we would have thanked you for changing how we see ourselves and each other.calendar 29

I didn’t see you during load out, when I finally got my period and made trip after trip up the hill in front of RV while bleeding heavily. I thought I was going to pass out as Forrest and I loaded out the dining canopy and the pizza oven and the extra tents and the coolers and the flags and the popcorn maker and the signs and the chairs and the full length mirror. I would have smiled ruefully at you and explained that we wanted to create something magical for our family back there on Easy Street. Even when I pulled the last load, I didn’t regret what we brought. We decided to send out this last festival with a bang and to us, that meant making sure our family had a safe place in the woods, a retreat where they could feel comfortable and fed and warm and loved.

At long last, when it seemed everyone else was gone, Forrest and I went to take one last shower and found the water was turned off. Regretfully, we trudged back to the parking lot, tired, sore, exhausted, sweaty, and sad to find the keys were locked in the truck. It was late. It was getting dark and the mosquitoes were biting and we were hungry. We had to call a locksmith. When Forrest went to the front gate to wait for the truck, I sat on the tailgate in the near dark, wrapped in a blanket, swatting mosquitoes and wishing for a granola bar. In the dark and the quiet, I cried over the ending of fest and tried to imagine what the universe wanted me to learn from this miserable moment. I didn’t see you there in the dark, Lisa. If I had, I would have said this wasn’t the way I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave at the peak of my fest experience, happy, and victorious, riding out in the sunshine with the wind in my hair while sisters called reminders to me to put my shirt on before I left the land.

And then I figured it out. You left victorious. You didn’t let someone destroy you. You didn’t let a beautiful old woman die a painful, tormented death. You chose your own terms. And you weren’t compromised.weird family

That’s when I realized that I *did* see you. I saw you in the ferns and I saw you at night stage. I saw you in the blond curls of the naked girl running safely through the grass. I saw you in my lover’s smile when she turned to me during Ferron’s set and took my hand. I saw you in my chosen daughter’s eyes as she stroked her facial hair and came to the realization that she was beautiful. I saw you in Elvira’s laugh and Ubaka’s drumming and in the smile of the womyn who sold me ice cream at day stage. Lisa, I saw you in the girls running wild through the woods and the womyn slowly opening their eyes. I saw you in the festie firstie who, after our shared shower, told me with wide eyed wonder that she’d never showered in front of anyone before. I saw you in the belly laughs of the audience at day stage. I saw you in the triumphant raised fist of a woman walking a slack line and realizing, for perhaps that first time in her life, that she could truly lift her feet off the ground. I saw you in the tears rolling down our faces. I saw you in my own reflection.

This may have been the final fest, but it isn’t over, not for me, not by a long shot. I see you in the way I feel empowered to find a way to carry on, to keep my family together, to keep empowering womyn to take their own power and remember that they are strong. Lisa, I didn’t meet you, but I did see you. I do see you.

Thank you, Lisa.

Love always,

Beth

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Michfest and Me. Grieving a Loss, Celebrating a Life.

In February of 2012, I was broken. I had left a toxic long term relationship in which I had spent ten years tiptoeing around in the hopes of not provoking an angry, alcoholic outburst. I didn’t realized how much I had changed myself to keep the peace until I finally broke free and started trying to figure out who I really was.

I was broken. I was unsafe and I was broken. I came back home to Ohio from the Virgin Islands and I put one foot in front of the other to get through every day. I didn’t miss her, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or where to go, or what to do to make a living. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t have many friends and the ones that I had were far scattered. Living that long with someone who had a tendency to piss off everyone I knew left me without a circle of friends. I felt wholly alone.

I was unsure in my skin. I hated my body. I didn’t like being naked. I was sure I was a terrible lover. I felt insecure and nervous. I had anxiety. I was afraid.

I had heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival many years before and it sounded incredible. I brought it up with my ex a few times and she wouldn’t even consider it. She used to say she hated lesbians. I didn’t hate lesbians and I didn’t hate women, but I think a small part of me must have hated myself because I let her keep me from going. The thought of me going by myself wasn’t even an option.

Being single meant adjusting to a lot of things I hadn’t had to consider in many long years, but it also meant that for the first time, I was free to make my own decisions. And one of the first decisions I made was to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

I posted an announcement on Facebook and my BFF of all time immediately responded that she was going to fly to Cleveland and come with me. There was no backing out after that. I went to fest that year. It changed my life.

I’ve written before about my first fest, and my second fest, and my third. This year, I will write about my fourth and last. Lisa Vogel, the amazing Amazon who started this life changing space, has announced that fest is ending after the 40th anniversary.

I’ve gone through various stages of grief. The sadness comes in waves as I remember moments from fest or I think about things that I haven’t yet done. I feel sorrow for those who will never attend, for the girls who won’t scamper safely through the woods, unafraid and confident in a way I never was. I’ve shed tears over involuntary thoughts about the future. The community of women have gathered on Facebook and through phone calls and in person and through text to grieve together something that we all share whether we’ve been going for forty years or we’ve only been once. The understanding that there is nothing else like this in the world. The knowledge that Lisa and all of the other women who have worked to build this community year after year have created something that is so much more than a music festival. So much more than a camping trip. So much more than a week in the woods. They (we) created a tribe. We created safety. We created, we continue to create, a community of women who bolster and love each other. We’ve created a space where women can see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that women are powerful, that women will rise up, that women can create any fucking thing that they want. That’s what fest is… it isn’t a week in the woods. It’s a revelation. It’s a revolution. It’s belief. It’s love.

Fest has brought so much to me. Every lover I’ve had in the past three years has been a fest woman. I have friends who see me and hear me and just get me and love me down to my toes. I met my current partner at fest. I learned about radical honesty from fest women. I first heard the term self-love at fest. I bought my first dildo there. I tanned topless in the sun there. I danced. I sang. I kissed. I laughed. I walked and walked and walked through the woods in the light and the dark and I wasn’t afraid for my safety. Not once. Not ever.

When I got the news, all I wanted was my tribe. I wanted my love and my family all gathered around so we could all hold each other and share memories and laugh and cry together. It felt like a death or an impending death of someone we couldn’t bear to live without. I needed my arms around my loves, so we could grieve and be grateful that whatever amount of time we have had at fest, we had that time.

Laying in bed last night, thinking about my chosen family and fest, and all of the things that it means to me, I realized that I am myself. I’ve *become*. That somewhere between that first fest when I timidly crept into the shy shower after dark and could barely convince myself to even say hi to strangers to my last fest where I gave a workshop on self love, basked in the glow of my tribe, and walked around the land like I OWNED it, I have become myself. I have found my own power. I’ve cast off the years of oppression and I’ve forgiven myself for letting it happen. I’ve not only marveled in the idea that women can create anything, I’ve come to realize that I myself can create anything. I took the lessons that the generations of women at fest have given to me and I’ve used them to build a fortress of self love around my soul. I’m me. I’m Beth Burnett. I am an Amazon. I’m a lover. I’m a mother earth goddess sexy brilliant warrior of love. I *am* Michfest.

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Why I Love my Fat Body – And Why You Should, Too.

Whenever I see pictures of fat women (almost exclusively women) posted online, I inevitably see a bunch of comments about how sickening it is to glorify fat because it is so unhealthy. Bodies come in all degrees of health. There are skinny unhealthy people and fat healthy people and everything in between. If you are using the illogical fallacy of fat being unhealthy to fuel your hatred, you might as well go onto a page of people with heart disease and spout off about how ugly their chest scars are. At any rate, if you’re the kind of person who goes to the comments on posts like that just so you can talk about how unhealthy fat people are, please stop reading this post. You are too stupid to grasp any of what I have to say after this.

I’ve spent a lot of years overcoming the sad effects of a society that punishes people for being fat. There are those who think they mean well such as the “you have such a beautiful face” crowd and the well-meaning mother who struggles with her own self-esteem and pushed new diets on me from the age of twelve. There was the time my sister, also a victim of the bias against fat women, told me that I better lose weight before high school because if I wanted to be in the marching band, I was going to have to get changed in front of everyone else in the band. In fourth grade, we had class weigh ins right in front of the whole class and everyone tried to see what mine said. Throughout middle school and high school, other kids oinked or mooed at me on a regular basis. Once, when jogging, a man actually slowed down his pickup truck to yell, “Don’t break the pavement, fatty” as I ran by. I walked home and didn’t run again for many long years. I absorbed every comment, every snide remark, every well-meaning, but still cutting aside.

As an adult, I set about trying to comes to terms with my fat body, even while putting it through the hell of every diet I could find. I ate nothing but grapefruit. I did the cabbage soup diet. Once, I lost sixty pounds and bought clothes in the “normal” stores and still thought I was ridiculously fat. And ugly. I equated fat with ugly back then. I joined a group of women who purported to be about size acceptance but really consisted of a lot of sad women sitting around talking about how much it sucked to be fat.

I had relationships in my twenties, but I attributed that to people who just fell in love with my personality and put up with the fact that I was fat. In essence, I didn’t love myself, so it didn’t occur to me that someone else could love me just as I was. Of course, because of that, I drew people who didn’t love and embrace me the way that I was. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fast forward to the age of 38 when I, though a positive and loving woman, was not doing well. I was in a long term relationship with someone who did not celebrate me. I was a two pack a day smoker. I was a daydreamer, but not a doer. I had moved to a beautiful Caribbean island and I loved a lot of things about my life there, but I wasn’t treating myself with respect and care.

One day, I decided that had to change. I was tired of hating my body. I was tired of being afraid of what people had to say about me. I was tired about not going to Zumba classes or refusing to go for a swim because of the way certain people looked at me.

It was a slow process. I started by quitting drinking. Then I quit smoking. I started hiking with my soul friend, Aj. We took huge hikes up the sides of gigantic hills that I thought might kill me. I knew it was the best way to keep from going back to smoking. I started meditating. I became a vegetarian. Eventually, I left that dead end relationship and moved back to the states.

And something amazing happened. I grew to love myself. I didn’t just love myself in spite of my fat body. I loved myself AND my fat body. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where I saw women of every shape and size and age and color and ability laughing and loving and dancing and celebrating themselves and me. I fell in love with my own breasts, the weight of them, the way they felt when I lifted them in my hands. I grew to love touching the soft skin of my stomach. I admired the strong and fat curves of my butt. I expressed gratitude for my big thighs that have carried me this far in my wonderful journey. I made love with womyn with the lights on. I refused to be with someone who didn’t love my body the way it was. I set my boundaries and my boundaries involved only being involved with womyn who celebrated and cherished me. And since I’m not a hypocrite, I applied that same rule to myself. I celebrated and cherished myself.

Then something even more amazing happened. I realized I wasn’t just talking about it. I was living it. I celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t feel defensive around women with thin bodies or athletic bodies. I didn’t equate skinny with beautiful and I didn’t equate fat with ugly. I started to see through the patriarchal bullshit that insists women be in competition with each other. I started to call out instances of fat shaming, or any kind of shaming of women for their bodies. I stopped watching anything to do with celebrities and I refused to look at fashion magazines and I realized that I have gotten out of the Matrix. That all of those people who think that they have the right to tell women what they should do with their bodies are poisoned in their minds. They’re sick. They are the unhealthy ones. The people who yell “fatty” at a jogger or sneer at a fat person in an exercise class or peer into someone’s cart at the grocery store to see what kind of food they’re buying or purposely go to a page about fat acceptance to leave idiotic comments about fat being gross and unhealthy or lift their eyebrows when they see a woman with hairy legs or write off older women as useless or refuse to see any woman who falls outside of the standard societal expectation of pretty as just that. They are the sick ones. They’re what’s wrong with this society. Those people who feel they somehow have a right to hate someone based on the way they look.They’re hurting our society and they need help.

My journey continued until I was not only loving myself the way I am, but teaching other women how to do the same. Women who have felt too old, too skinny, too muscled, too fat, too wrinkled, too scarred. Women who, like me, have been told that they are not enough the way they are. Women who wore the negative opinions of this sick society.

I learned that I’m beautiful. More importantly, I learned that I am worthy of love and happiness and respect and desire. I learned that I am a woman in every true sense of the word and anyone who can’t understand that isn’t worth my time.

Finally, today was the culmination of all of my self love work. I’ve been telling women of every size and shape that they are beautiful for years. Today when I opened a link to look at the pictures of Leonard Nimoy’s fat nudes and I realized that I thought every single one of them was incredibly fucking beautiful. I felt it down to my very soul. These women were divine and miraculous and beautiful and worthy.I’m not sick anymore. I’m not warped by this sick society. I’ve won. I’m healed. You can be, too.

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