Celebrating Women (Subtitle: Leave My Sister Alone.)

I’m a fat activist. That is, I’m fat and I am an activist. Or, at least, I’m as much of an activist as I can be between teaching five classes, running an online writing academy, donating my time to sit on the board of directors for the Golden Crown Literary Society, marketing my novels, finishing my second master’s degree, trying to find a publisher for my women’s fiction book, and dealing with immigration with my Canadian wife. I’m not glorifying busy here, it’s just the state of my life right now.

When I *am* focusing my attention on the fat-phobia that permeates our nation, I generally do so by pointing out the wage gap often seen between fat people and non-fat people, the way folks seem to think it’s okay to yell insults at me when I’m outside exercising, and the way seemingly well-meaning people like to say, “I have this new diet you should try.”

Mostly, my activism comes in the form of gently correcting people who mean well and raising my middle finger to people who don’t. Sometimes it comes in the form of reposting quotes from people who step outside of the patriarchal idea of womanhood in adele.PNGone way or another.¬† Do I shave my legs? Nope. Do I care what you think about that fact? Nope.

Most days, however, my activism just comes in the form of living my life as a large woman and dealing with the bigotry and hatred that is often directed at people, especially women, of size by this world that has somehow made it clear that being skinny is preferable to being fat, even if that comes at the cost of one’s health.

 

On a related topic – my sister has always been unhappy with her weight. Like me, she yo-yo dieted for much of her life. Like me, she grew up in a household where our weight was a main topic of mockery and discussion. Our father used to have a saying, “There’s large, there’s extra-large and then there’s you – Whoa, my god, it’s coming toward me.” Like me, she got into relationships with people who didn’t value her body the way it was. Like me, she suffered insults and jabs and substandard medical care. Like me, she felt out of place almost all the time. Like me, she learned from our mother that dieting and self-deprivation is the only way to be a good person. Like me, she hated her body and everything else about herself. Like me, she lived with abusive people far longer than she should have because she didn’t think she had any other choices. And like me, she ultimately came to fall in love with someone who loved and accepted her just the way she was.

This is where our stories diverged. I threw myself into my life and, with the help of my wife, decided to stop dieting ever again. We’re vegan, we eat mostly whole food, plant based. We sometimes have cake. We’ve been known to order a vegan pizza here and there and eat the whole thing while watching Doctor Who episodes. We go for walks, we go for bikes rides, we sleep in and drink coffee in bed. We eat the same things, same portions, same snacks. The difference is that my wife is tiny and I’m fat. (And she also travels so she sometimes [often] gets bags of M&Ms on the road. I see you, babe. Love you.) I didn’t spend my time losing weight, but I spent my time getting happy with my body, luxuriating in how it feels to be intimate with someone who adores the feel and look of my body. I focused on self-care, self-advocacy, and self-love. I learned to stand up to doctors who, when I walk in to talk about a sore throat, say, “Let’s talk about weight loss.” I’m fat and I’m healthy. My blood pressure is normal, my blood sugars are normal, and I have an incredible life in every way. In essence, I became a fat activist simply by existing.

My sister, on the other hand, decided she wanted to lose the weight. She wasn’t happy with her body, she didn’t feel comfortable moving, and she wasn’t healthy. She started Brightline Eating and she lost a lot of weight and she has kept it off. If anyone here has ever lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, you know what an incredible feata laura that is. I liken it to being harder than quitting smoking, because when you quit smoking, you can just be done with cigarettes for life, but you always have to come back to food. She put a ton of work into it – skipping parties or taking her own food to restaurants, weighing and measuring everything she ate. And she is happy with her accomplishment. She’s happy that she can move her body in ways that feel good to her. She’s happy that she succeeded at something so hard.

And she got to be on a magazine cover! I mean if that isn’t a super-incredible reward for a ton of hard work, what is? My sister worked hard and she’s proud of herself. And she should be.

Fast forward to people sharing the picture from the magazine above and inevitably, someone has to say, “You’re harming fat women by celebrating your weight loss.” My sister calmly responded that this was a personal achievement that she needed to do for her own health and happiness. And at least one person came back with the idea that my sister was parading and flaunting herself and putting it on magazines which perpetuates the idea that thin = healthy.

Folks. this entire culture is designed to make women feel bad about their bodies. Everything in the media, in commercials, in movies, in music videos is designed to make women hate their bodies.

For us to turn around and shame a woman who has moved out of the cycle of self-hatred is also participating in that culture. My sister is a rock star and I celebrate her hard work. When she posts a picture of herself celebrating having lost the weight, the person who shames her for that is just as bad as the culture that created a need for women to hate their bodies. It isn’t right. And it isn’t fair. How dare you blame my sister for perpetuating something we are steeped in 24/7 from the moment we are born? How dare you slam her for finding her own way to deal with a culture that tells her (us) that she is wrong no matter what she does? How dare you?

Women, the only way to truly lift ourselves and each other out of this lifetime of oppression is to support and nurture each other. That means accepting each other’s choices. It’s why my sister doesn’t try to force her lifestyle on me and it’s why I don’t get to force mine on her. It’s no different than accepting that some women will color their hair and some will go naturally grey. Some will be bald. Some shave their legs. Some have armpit hair. We don’t get to tell another woman what she should do with her body and we don’t get to decide for another woman how to survive in a culture designed to bring us down.

 

 

 

If You Don’t Truly Love Yourself…

For many years now, I’ve been a big proponent of body positivity, health at any size, and loving yourself no matter what. I’ve been at the forefront of fat activism with a kind of in-your-face like me or fuck off kind of attitude.

But something happened in the past two years that has, in a way, eroded a lot of my self-work in regards to my relationship with my body. I fell in love for the first time with someone who wholly and irrevocably loves my body, heart, soul, mind. Not in a fetishist sort of way, and also, not in a “well, I love your heart, so I’ll deal with the body” kind of way. I mean my wife unabashedly adores me, loves me, lusts for me, and respects me in a no holds barred, all of me for all of you kind of way.

That’s the best feeling in the world.

And – also…

For some reason, it has really triggered all of the buried self-hatred that I thought I had dealt with so many years ago. I’ve spent so much more time being disgusted by my body over the past two years than I had previously in a decade. And it’s really only within the past few months that I’ve been able to pinpoint why and start working out of it.

For years, I was either single or, more often than not, dating someone who had hangups about my body. There were the blatant fat-shaming ones. There was the one who seemed to be okay with my body, but then would ask friends who were with big women, “How do you deal with this size thing?” There were those who claimed to love me as is but didn’t really ever look at me or reach for me.

And in parsing it out with my wife a few months ago, I realized that I was body positive in defense. I was dealing with not only the messages from the outside world, from the memories of my parents fat-shaming me, from doctors berating me, from people on airplanes shoving me, from strangers in the street calling me names, I was also dealing with it in what was supposed to be my safe space – my relationships.

And so the self-work that started when I quit smoking and skyrocketed when I left my decade-long, toxic relationship was thrown into overdrive. You’re not going to love me so I’m going to love myself harder and show you what a more evolved and better person I am than you. I don’t think anything like that was ever in the front of my mind, but it does make sense. In the same way that I found it so easy to complete P90X, an uber hard 90-day workout program because my partner at the time was so scornful of it. It was what my friend Nikki calls oppositional defiance disorder.

I had friends who loved me as is and that helped. I counseled other women on body image issues and that helped. I could see through the veil of patriarchy that profits on women hating themselves and that helped. And also…

I remember calling my friend SSML one day after an ex told me I couldn’t blame her for having moments of hatred toward my body. After all, she had to live in a society that gave off the message that fat = ugly. Fat = lazy. Fat = gross. Fat = sexless. And if she had to live in that world, how could I blame her for sometimes having those thoughts? SSML, true to form had gone on a rant of epic proportions about it not being my fault that the person hadn’t done the self-work to get past her own misogyny and patriarchal bullshit.

And I hung up the phone feeling righteous and strong. Because, as SSML reminded me, I’m an Amazon and I show up. That’s what I do.

And then I met my wife. And I suddenly knew what a safe space really was. And I realized that all of the times I was filled with uncertainty and indecision about relationships was because I wasn’t in a safe space at all. And then I was and somehow, the feeling of being completely accepted, cherished even, gave me room to unpack the decades of buried hatred and insecurity.

I remember the day I told her my weight. Said the number. And cried and shook and waited for her to freak out. She just hugged me and said, “There’s nothing different than there was before you told me.” She said, “How is this different than me telling you that thing I never told anyone?” Everyone thinks their own shame is so different, so much worse. I remember giving a self-love workshop to close to 100 women once. At the end of it, I said, “Who here now thinks that the people in this group are carrying shame about things that aren’t really shameful?” They all raised their hands. “Now, who here still thinks your own issue is so much more shameful than everyone else’s?” Again with all the hands.

The truth is we all have shame around something. And unpacking it is the only way to get rid of it. Sometimes that unpacking means talking to a therapist. Sometimes it means sharing it with a friend. And sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “I hate this about myself” and letting someone acknowledge that it’s okay for you to hate that, but to let you know that they don’t.

It has been a learning experience, going back through all that old baggage I thought I’d gotten rid of long ago. My wife has some of her own body image issues and we’ve held each other through them, working them out with grace, acceptance, and unconditional love.

It reminds me of that stupid phrase¬† – If you don’t love yourself, you can’t truly love anyone else. You know what? That’s bullshit. It’s just another form of shaming people who feel broken from the society that broke us in the first place.

You absolutely can love and be loved when you aren’t truly in love with yourself. In fact, I’d venture to say we love even deeper.

If there’s something you hate about yourself or something that you feel shame around – find someone to talk to. Sometimes, the simple act of saying it aloud is the first step to throwing it away.

 

 

 

 

Conference Call

The incredible Bella Books and GCLS anthology Conference Call is a delightful collection of short stories by some of the best writers in lesbian fiction. The proceeds go to the Golden Crown Literary Society, an organization designed to promote, education, and recognize lesbian literature.

 

https://www.bellabooks.com/9781594935749-prod.html

 

I contributed an intense story about an affair – written in first person collective which puts the reader in the audience with the rest of the conference goers. And that is just one among many. It is worth a read.