Category Archives: Stuff Sarah Says

10 Universal Truths (about wearing red lipstick)

There are some things that red-lipstick-wearers know to be true:


  1. The search for that perfect shade is a Grail Quest that will last a lifetime.
    And as soon as you find it, they’ll discontinue it. In the meantime, you just walk around the drug store like this:
  2. Technique. It’s a killer.
    IMG_5979 Ok, so first foundation, then powder, lip liner, stain, and finally lipstick? But not from the tube. Has to be applied with a brush. Wait, was the powder supposed to come before your first application, or after? And then blott? I don’t even know anymore.

  3. Perfection is the only acceptable paradigm.
    Nothing has the potential to look messier than red lip color.

  4. Whiten those pearly whites.
    Red lipstick does not make your teeth look whiter. Every minute stain left from coffee, tea, or your long-gone smoking habit will be heinously highlighted. You have been warned.

  5. Every water bottle you own is gonna look like this:
    IMG_5452No matter how many times goes through the dishwasher or soaks in the sink.

  6. Contouring.
    IMG_5980What is this witchcraft?!

  7. One is never enough.
    sephora I have an entire make-up bag of red lipstick, lip liners, and stains. And I’m not sorry.

  8. Friends, family, and lovers BEWARE.
    My kiss is deadly! Uh, well, I mean, not deadly, but definitely long-lasting.
  9. And your average make-up remover? HA!
    IMG_4985Try a sand-blaster, my friend. That shit is never coming all the way off. Doubly true if you touch or wipe your mouth by accident. “Oh this? Yeah, I’m just not responsible enough to wear lipstick without getting it all over myself.”

  10. In the end, it’s all worth it to apply that liquid confidence and strut your stuff.
    Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 9.41.15 AM No matter if your battle armor is applied out of a tube — you rock that mutha-f*cka.

    Ohhh yeeeah.

In memorial

Dear Scott,


You do not belong to me. Your loss has loss has touched everyone that knew you, and has devastated those who loved you best. We were friends, and we were close once, but your loss does not belong to me.

Still, I have been thinking of you, enumerating the things I wish I had done differently, and missing you.

I am so sorry. I could have been a better friend to you. I could have tried harder, called more often, showed you that I cared. I should not have allowed shame, misplaced loyalty, or time to drive a wedge between us.

I hope these words can somehow reach you across the void. I hope that you are at peace and no longer in pain. I hope that heaven is one long drift in a fast car, and that you live on with a smile on your face.

With love,

476427_10100441638335226_1526350498_o 557170_10100292750951736_1065481763_n 1931269_539485859046_1395_n

Shoot First, Ask Questions Never: The Great Massacre Epidemic

I started writing this piece just one week ago, when the news broke all over social media that there had been another college campus shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I was heart-sick and overwhelmed, unable to articulate my feelings and ideas into coherence. I jotted down what I could, determined to come back to this piece later, when everything had calmed down some.

It did not.
It did not.

This morning I woke up to two news banners on my iPhone: One dead in campus shooting in Arizona. Developing: Texas University on lock-down after shots fired.

Again. It’s happened again.

I guess I’m just not like the numbed masses of American citizens who see these headlines and shrug: Oh, well, another one of those darn shootings. I care. I care about the people who have been robbed of their lives, I care about their families and friends who will now have to suffer unmentionable grief, and I care about the precedent that our society is establishing for future generations.

Future generations like my daughter.

My daughter is going to grow up in a world where one mass shooting can or will occur every week, and our politicians will say things like, “Crises happen.” She’s going to grow up to believe that this is how people are — cruel, jaded, and dangerous. I’m going to kiss her every morning and send her off to school, knowing that there is a possibility, however slim, that I will never see her again.

Some might say, “Well, that could be true in any case. Even in a perfect world, accidents happen.”


These are not accidents. And if we allow this to continue, then we are all responsible.

We need to start having the uncomfortable conversations that we have been avoiding en masse:

This epidemic — and that is the word we need to start using, because this is absolutely a national health crisis — isn’t just about mental illness. It isn’t just about lackadaisical weapons laws. It isn’t just about a society that has become numb to violence. It really isn’t about any of the things that mass media has been telling you it’s about.

It is high time we as a society come to grips with the fact that it is anger that causes violence, not mental illness, not guns, not exposure to video games and gratuitous violence. Other scapegoats need not apply. Let’s just look at some facts:

This profile is familiar because we’ve seen it before. The two killers of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999? Eighteen and 17-years-old. Male. The murderer of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012? Twenty years-old. Male. The shooter who killed six people in near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in 2014? Twenty-two years old. Male. The perpetrators of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in June 2015, the Aurora, Colorado shooting in 2012 and the Tuscon, Arizona shooting in 2011? All men under the age of 30. The list goes on.

The perpetrators of these crimes are not disenfranchised minorities like the population of American sufferers of mental illness. These shooters are in fact at the highest run of the social privilege ladder — white, cisgender males in the prime of their youth. Perhaps they do suffer from a mental illness, but so do tens of thousands of other Americans, people who are more likely to kill themselves than ever harm another human being. So what exactly causes a a group of men to completely rupture and evacuate their humanity? As mentioned by Cliff Leek in the above quoted article: these individuals, who were born into a society that granted them untold privilege based on their race and gender, are rapidly being taken down a peg by an increasing shift to a more egalitarian society. Simply put, these men seem to have just lost it once having to confront demands that they check their own privilege. Is it so surprising that after raising generation after generation of boys to believe that their manhood is tenuous and revocable based on how much or how little they assert themselves, that some young men have started to crack under that strain?

It’s time that we stopped pretending that toxic masculinity isn’t a thing, and start doing better by our men and our boys. They deserve better. We all do.

Toxic masculinity. It sounds like such a made-up buzz word. But it really is a thing, and a driving force behind this epidemic that we are all struggling to understand. We teach our boys, either directly or indirectly, that they have the right to power and status, and that power and status basically boils down to how many women they fuck, how much stuff they have, and how much ass they can kick. Then we teach them that if they don’t prescribe to this particular formula for success, they are wimps, pussies, or nancy-boys. Not only is our definition of masculinity so narrow as to exclude all but the most lumber-jacking of fellows, but it also excludes any conceits to compassion, emotion, or altruism. We’re raising our boys to be fucking sociopaths and whipping them when they break. If I were a dude, I’d be pissed as hell.

These shooters were pissed as hell. But for all the wrong reasons and at all the wrong people.

They were broken people, and we broke them. Not because girls refused to date them, or because they didn’t get the respect they deserved, but because we set them up to fail by teaching them that they had a right to take what they wanted with no recompense. We taught them that they must lash out, or else be forever condemned to sadness and isolation. Perhaps we have no right to be surprised, then, that these men sought to take their power back by force. That is precisely what we told them they must do.


Not acceptable.

Cruel Intentions

So I’ve been seeing this quote from Louis C.K. floating around on my social media streams a lot recently:

LouisCKIt reads, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

When I read this the first time, I thought, “Hell yeah!” because I, like most of the people who are sharing this meme, have been hurt by people who have then denied responsibility for hurting my feelings or completely negated the fact that I had any valid reason to be hurt in the first place. I think that’s why so many people are identifying with this statement — we all just want to feel validated. To have the person or persons responsible for our hurt to apologize to us, or if not apologize, simply own the fact that they perpetrated some action that caused us pain, whether intentional or unintentional, is a fairly universal desire. We all just want to feel that we have been heard.

I believe that Louis C.K., a comedian and writer whom I respect very much, penned these words to illustrate that simple fact: sometimes, whether or not we mean to, we hurt people, and when that happens, the decent thing to do is show respect for and acknowledge their feelings, particularly in light of how vulnerable one becomes when admitting their emotional experience. Perhaps you could even apologize, if you’re able. Again, as a person who has been hurt by another’s careless or ignorant actions, I can vouch for the emotional validity of Louis’ statement.

That being said, the more I have seen this phrase being tossed around — screen-capped on Whisper, added to a image of foggy trees in the background, written in flowery text — the more degraded the original message seems to have become. I’ve seen these words captioned, “Hell yes!” and “You know who!”, as if the poster were making an accusation or a demand — “You hurt me, so you owe me an apology! And whatever else I choose to take from you in recompense for having hurt my feelings!”

Whoa… slow your roll, there. You mean to tell me that just because your feelings got hurt, you’re entitled to an apology? No, no, no. Victimization and malicious intent notwithstanding, I don’t think that’s how this works.

You see, the way I learned it is that if you’ve done something wrong, you apologize. I was always very comfortable with that simple rule, which much like the Golden Rule (treat others the way you wish to be treated), doesn’t lend itself to much interpretation. However, now we’ve added an element of entitlement to the clause, implying that a.) if you have been hurt, you are indisputably in the right, despite whatever situation preceded your being “wronged”, and b.) if you are hurt, you are unequivocally entitled to an apology, regardless of the other person’s intentions or lack thereof.

This is a very slippery slope for a person like me.

First of all, I am SORRY. I’m sorry all the time. I’m sorry for burdening you, for being a nuisance, for drawing attention onto myself. I’m sorry that I’m making waves, making you uncomfortable, making you think. I’m sorry that I exist and that my mere existence has even the slightest chance of harming you one day. My id will entice me to apologize for literally anything, even things that I didn’t do or couldn’t help, unless my ego steps in to draw the line. And it must. It really must, because otherwise I will turn into a quivering ball of jelly, so desperate to please every one that I dither away into nothing.

Secondly, being the people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding, self-doubting gal that I am, I have been known to apologize for things I didn’t really feel sorry for, just as a way to smooth things over or avoid a conflict. This includes those things that I either didn’t have a hand in, or couldn’t help to begin with. I’m an apology-monger; I’ll just hand those babies out anywhere if it seems at all appropriate or desired. This is not unique to me: women are stereotypically guilty of applying the “gratuitous” or “assertive” apology, due to our collectively warped sense of politeness which requires that we preface our requests or opinions with “I’m sorry, but…”, which is supposed to make whatever comes after the “but” sound nicer, but really just forces us to undermine ourselves from the get-go. “Uh, if you’re sorry about it, then why are you even bringing it up?” Excellent question!

Knowing that I am an apology-monger, I’ve tried to become very judicious about how I use the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”. Like, I’m only going to say it if I really mean it. To that end, some people have gotten mighty pissed with me when, due to my own carelessness or perhaps even a simple difference of opinion, I didn’t apologize either for my actions nor for how they felt. My reasoning was thus: “I didn’t mean to hurt you, offend you, or make you angry. I recognize and respect that my actions (or lack thereof) came off the wrong way, and that despite my good intentions, you were hurt. That is undoubtedly unfortunate, and I regret that it happened.” Period. End the incessant babbling that may lead me to utter an insincere apology. Even as I write this, the entirety of my being wants so badly to append that statement with “I’m sorry” — but what am I sorry for? If it was an honest mistake that caused the other person to be hurt, if there were no cruel intentions, what am I really apologizing for? That someone’s feelings were hurt?

As far as I’m concerned, the meaning of “I’m sorry” or of any apology is to admit and accept responsibility for some wrong-doing. This is where my issue with the above meme comes into play: I don’t think that, just because someone’s feelings were hurt, that the person who ostensibly did the hurting is truly responsible for that. Responsibility implies that someone actually did or was supposed to do something; to take some action. But it seems to me that when people are identifying with and extemporizing this meme, they are actually angry at someone for either unknowingly making a mistake, or simply failing to act in a way that they (the hurt-person) wanted or expected.

If I have done something shitty, then of course, I ought to apologize. Hopefully, this isn’t a point of contention or confusion for people. Generally, I think that if you’ve done something shitty, you know it. And if you know you’ve done something wrong, you ought to feel compelled to apologize. This is probably Utopian wishful thinking, to rely on a person’s innate understanding of morality and the honor system to dictate when and where sincere apologies should be doled out. I can already hear my detractors unleashing streams of misanthropic vitriol about how sociopaths and perhaps even your average person has no innate morality at all. But I’m an optimist (most days), so I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt: If you know you’re wrong, you should also know you need to apologize. If, however, you are merely regretful to have inadvertently caused someone pain, I’m not entirely sure an apology is warranted — and to offer one in that instance would be disingenuous.

I recognize that the shoe has often been on the other foot: I have, through carelessness or ignorance, hurt the people that I love. In that case, I am compelled to apologize, and I will do so in order to make amends. That is how I want to be treated. However, reading that quote from Louis C.K. made me uneasy, not only because (when taken out of context) it implies the entitlement to an apology, but also because it places the burden of responsibility entirely on the perpetrator, regardless of what actions or intentions predicated the hurt. And what if, as has often been my experience, the perpetrator was simply trying to do right by themselves?

Suppose a woman leaves an abusive marriage, and in the course of saving her own life, her mother-in-law asks her How could you do this to our family? I am so hurt by your actions. Should that woman apologize for her actions, for saving her own life? Is she actually responsible for her mother-in-laws feelings?

This is where I absolutely have to draw the line. If you accidentally cause someone emotional pain in the course of doing right by yourself, you are not responsible for that person’s hurt or for their feelings of disappointment. You are not more beholden to the feelings of another than you are to yourself.

FullSizeRenderYou are allowed to put yourself first. You are allowed to continue to develop your inner being, even if your development begins to contradict who you used to be. You are entitled to love yourself first and foremost. Being impeccable with your word, holding yourself to realistic standards, and assuming good intentions is part of the agreement that you make with yourself to be the best possible person you can be.

If we have been inconsiderate, that’s one thing. If we have merely made a mistake, that is quite another. Before we start beating eachother’s doors down for apologies and retributions that we think we’re owed, let’s stop to consider our expectations and which associated intentions precipitated our ire. After all, isn’t that how you would wish to be treated?

You Don’t Look Sick and Other Microaggressions

Having a mental illness means fighting a war on all fronts. I wake up in the morning to fight the same hellacious demons that prevented me from sleeping the night before. And while those dogs follow along snapping at my heels, I navigate a world that is filthy with social landmines: impossible-to-detect people and situations that will inevitably blow up in my face. Some of the worst of these hidden bombshells are the well-meaning, ignorant, or otherwise unaware kind. Harvard psychologist Chester M. Pierce initially coined the term “microaggressions” to connote the insults and dismissals that non-black-Americans hurl at people of color. Later, the term came to apply to all statements of ignorance made by the majority about a minority. For those of us living with a mental illness, these statements belie an underlying dismissal by those who are neurotypical on the bases of invalidation, assumption of inferiority, fear of mental illness, shaming of mental illness, and second-class citizenry.

With the help of illustrator, Ms. Alex, I am pleased to present you with a few of my favorites. (Read: things I’m really fucking tired of hearing.) I would love to see yours in the comments!

“But you don’t look sick.”

imageAnd you don’t look like a doctor. When I hear this from people, I often want to ask them what “sick” looks like. Should I be a homeless bag-lady? Would that my my illness more legitimate? I wonder if this means I need to prove my illness to you. Like, “Here is a list of my symptoms. Is that sufficient evidence to back my story?”

“But you always seem so confident/put-together/capable.”

imageI get that you probably mean this as a compliment, so thanks. I put a lot of time and energy into making it appear as if I have my shit together. And I typically don’t let everyone in on my little secret, so I guess: ha ha, I fooled you!

“Oh, I know what you mean! I’m totally bipolar/OCD/schizo, too!”

imageNo, you’re not. You just think it’s cute to liken your non-clinical experiences of sadness and anxiety to serious mental illnesses that require treatment. But it isn’t cute. Knock it off. Appropriating serious terms for various levels of average experiences within the human condition when you don’t actually have an illness isn’t cute and it promotes a negative stigma about those of us who actually do have chronic conditions.

“I know that you’re anxious/depressed/angry about ____, but really you should just be grateful that ____.”

imageWow. You’re right. I should be grateful for the good things that are going on — but check this out: I am a complex, fully-formed human being, and I can divide my attention enough to feel both gratitude for what’s positive in my life, AND anxiety, depression, or anger about another situation at the same time. Imagine that.

“Well, I’m not a mind reader!”

imageNo, you aren’t, and I don’t expect you to be. I don’t think you should have to anticipate and fulfill my needs the very moment they arise, but it would be lovely if you could have a little more compassion for how gut-wrenchingly difficult and uncomfortable it is for me to ask for help. I would rather floss with barbed-wire.

“You really only needed to ask.”

imagePlease see the above re: BARBED WIRE. I get that to you, and most other people, asking seems like a very simple thing. But I have been trained that asking places me in a high-risk situation where neglect, rejection, or even outright humiliation are all potential outcomes. My very being shies away from any course of action that could potentially cause me harm, and in doing so, I tend to either ignore my needs or run rough-shod over others in order to get what I need without their help. I’m sorry — I know that’s shitty of me. Please try to understand: it’s about my wonky brain, it’s not about you.

“I didn’t invite you because I knew you wouldn’t be interested/would cancel.”

imageYeah, you’re probably right. Can you do me a favor, though, and ask anyway? Because I tend to cope with stress by putting my blinders on, which lands me in a rut. By the time I look up to catch my bearings, I’ve overlooked how isolated I’ve become, and I need you to interrupt me with messages of love and support. I need you to take the time to encourage me to step out of the rut and try something new. And sometimes, I need to be dragged out kicking and screaming.

“I love you, but…”

imageDo you? Do you love me? Is it a love without conditions? And I don’t mean “unconditional love”. I mean “a love without strings attached”. Because I can’t accept love or kindness that comes bound up in expectations. I am clumsy. I will trip over my good intentions and my own words. I will tangle myself up all the strings that bind me to you, and I will hang myself with them. No question. So if this is the only way you are fit to love me, please love me less.

“Wow. This is mighty selfish of you.”

I know. I know, and I feel like crap about it. Try to understand: I am tip-toeing the line between “selfish” and “self-care” while blindfolded, forty feet in the air, and without a safety net. I don’t want to burden you, or land you with the sole responsibility of maintaining our relationship. I promise, this isn’t permanent — it’s just one of my bad turns, and I will get better. When I come out of it, things will be easier for us both. But please don’t leave me behind when things get rough. I have a lot to offer in kinship with someone patient and compassionate enough to love me in spite of my faults.
Everyone is always telling me to “hang on” when my brain tries to kill me — could you hang on, too?

I’m Not (Quite) the Poster Girl for Body Positivity

For hubby’s birthday, I decided to get creative.

I contacted Cherry Girl Hawaii, a local boutique photoshoot company that specializes in the vintage look that I so love to emulate.

I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Ahem. My eyes are up here, bud.
Ahem. My eyes are up here, bud.

The modelling process was exhilarating, exciting, and emotionally taxing, but it felt really good. I hate myself in pictures, and I do not consider myself to be very photogenic, but the photographer made me feel at ease and helped me pose my body in such a way as to be as flattering as possible.

When I gifted the photos to Will on the morning of his 30th birthday, he was very pleased with them — but let’s face it, the man is pretty biased. The real moment of truth came when the pictures went public: Facebook.

I got some wonderful responses.

I got some so-so responses.

And then I got this one from my cousin, whom I love dearly:

With great nakey-pictures, comes great responsibility.
With great nakey-pictures, comes great responsibility.

I was very flattered, both by her compliments and by her praise. But I was also a little recalcitrant — Ooh, no, no, no. You’re giving me too much credit! I’m not the poster girl for body positivity. You can’t put me in that role, you guys, really. I hate myself more than half of the time!

My lovely friends gave me untold congratulations on how confident and beautiful I looked in those photos — and reading their wonderful comments, I felt like a phony. I did this thing, yes. And no, I don’t think I’m bad looking. But I can’t lie and say that I love my body. Even during the photoshoot, I was insecure and anxious, desperate to twist and contrive my flesh into angles and positions that might look halfway decent — at no time in the process did I really feel proud of how I look. Certainly, I felt far from flawless as the photographer (an extremely good sport!) and I squished my baby-belly into that black corset.

I did, however, feel a certain degree of empowerment.

No, I’m not thin. Never have been and never will be. I struggle to like myself, even on the best of days. I have insecurities about my person that will likely persist until the day I die. But, I did the thing anyway because no societal misjudgements, no unfair standards, or even self-put-downs are gonna keep this baby in a corner.

I can’t lie and claim to want to be another Tess Holliday. You’re never going to hear me talk about how I “love my curves”. While I admire the attitude and the message about body positivity and realistic beauty standards, I lack a certain degree of confidence and self-esteem. That being said, I know myself well enough, and I respect myself well enough, to stand up in support of my beliefs, my tastes, and my interests. I’m no less a Witch on any given day or to any given person than I am on tumblr. I’m no less a mother and a wife than I am a hard working professional. And I’m not going to let something as minor as a lifetime of insecurities keep me from showing off my hot bod, even if opinions may vary.

I guess that’s the sentiment I can be the poster girl for — I don’t like myself sometimes, but I’m not going to hide who I am. It’s not exactly “body positivity”, but it’s still pretty good.

Fake it til' you make it, kiddos.
Fake it til’ you make it, kiddos.

My Bipolar Brain Hates Me

Bipolar pushes me to the end of a rapidly fraying rope.

It steals my temper and hides it inside a grenade that I must hold gingerly, never knowing when or how it might go off.

It drives me into a manic state, where every sound is amplified and the air takes on inglorious texture.

It burdens me with terrible habits and compulsions, then robs me of the force of will to control them.

It makes me depressed so I loose interest and passion in things I once enjoyed.

It curses me with a lethargy so powerful, I can barely keep up with my toddler, my work, or the demands of daily life.

It causes me to withdraw from human contact, and then convinces me that I prefer to be isolated.

It constantly demeans and belittles me, making even the smallest transgressions feel like capital sin.

It is easily distracted, never settling on one task long enough to invest time into the task’s quality or completion.

It tells me I’m fat and ugly, then demands soothing in the form of binge-eating.

It causes me to to act recklessly, to say and do things that are potentially harmful.

It constantly warps my perception of my environment, so benign things appear hostile and minor barriers become major obstacles.

It makes me paranoid, suspicious, and jealous, robbing me of my good intentions and the ability to be happy for others and their successes.

It makes me sad — so sad that I see no potential worth in myself, my endeavors, or my future.

It exhausts me in body and in soul, such that I would rather sleep my idle hours away than face the bleak stretch of time before me.

It makes me perseverate, circling the same thoughts round and round the drain of my feeble mind until nothing makes sense anymore.

It confuses my energies, steals my words, befuddles my mind, and makes my hands feel small, inept, and useless.

This is your brain on bipolar.
This is your brain on bipolar.

Bipolar depression bridles me, as mania drives me forward into the Sun. It dampens me, as the cool depths of depression well up and weigh down my limbs, my head, my mind. It is within and without. My beginning, and also my end.

After Crash

So, I was in a car wreck yesterday.

My vehicle is not supposed to be sneering at you.
My vehicle is not supposed to be sneering at you.

I was the middle car in a three car pile-up, otherwise known as “the poor bastard whose car gets pancaked.” I’m all right, just a little scratched up, but my mental health is definitely in question. Yesterday was all anxiety and mania and hysterical crying, while today feels like an out-of-body experience. Is this really happening?

While I am grateful that the accident wasn’t worse and while I know this is just one of those things that happens, I can’t shake it off. I can’t concentrate. I can’t move. Everything I do feels like moving through molasses. Is this post traumatic stress, or is this the bipolar? My mind keeps telling me that this was so minor an accident, to continue to think on it or be effected by it is nonsense. But I still feel scared and out of control. Jumpy, like a rabbit that know it’s being hunted. I know it’s all an affectation, a side-effect of my wonky brain chemistry, but my treacherous mind continues to insist I’m in danger.

Tell me, when does this ride end? I want off.

Don’t Call My Baby Fat

Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists.  I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.


But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy  while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.

Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image.  I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.

Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise or compliments will prevent her from tearing herself down.
Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise will reestablish her ability to love herself.

There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow.  People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.

Friendship Used to be Easy

Being a grown-up certainly complicates things that used to be simple. This week was National Best Friends Day, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about that magical word friend, and the romantic visions that it brings to mind. I have many different kinds of friends and I cherish them all. I’ve made friends with people who share my interests, people I met once and felt a connection to, even people who I have only ever met online. I’ve maintained friendships with people I have known since elementary school (God bless Facebook), and I consider my family tree to be supplemented greatly by the addition of those who I am closest to. My concept and practice of friendship, however, has changed a lot over the years.

I was a pretty friendly kid — a social butterfly, according to my second grade teacher. I remember being able to make friends with whatever group of children I was thrown in with. It didn’t have to be at school, either. It could have been a  playground, at Sunday school, or a family reunion. Kids are gifted that way. Any place where a bunch of kids are thrown together, you can see them form bonds of friendship almost instantaneously. It was natural. Effortless. If you shared the same interests, if played together well, that was all it took! We’d be friends for life!

Many of those friendships are temporary, though, lasting only as long as the gathering itself. If you saw that person regularly, the bond would could potentially be cemented. Looking back, I recognize that my across my lifetime, my Best Friend-ships tended to develop at the institution we shared and then shift when our circumstances changed: my elementary school BFF wasn’t my closest friend in middle school; my middle school BFF and I drifted apart in high school. My high school Best Friend is someone I still feel very close to, though we don’t talk very often. Even those other two girls — well, women, now — are still friends of mine. We’re not close as we used to be, but we’re friendly. Each of these three relationships were extremely hard-won — it takes work to remain friends after all this time, especially when you consider just how much a person changes between ages 5 and 25.

At the time, making friends with those women had been extremely easy. When I went away to college, I struggled in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I wasn’t making life-long friendships the way I had in primary school. Instead, I made many utilitarian pairings: friendships that served their purpose of camaraderie and lunch table companions only for as long as the semester lasted. It was depressing. I missed my real friends back in California, and I often wondered if I shouldn’t just give up and go home. Right around the time I started dating my now-husband, though, something coalesced, as if by magic. A group of like-minded, down-to-earth, plain ol’ good people was formed. We were a unit. Daily we took up two whole tables in the college cafeteria. We partied on weekends. We loved and supported one another like family. Those were the days.

These crazy people are my friends.
These crazy people are my friends.

At my twentieth birthday party — the last I would spend with my mother — she looked around the table at my assembled friends and thanked them for loving me. She commented on how worried she had been when I moved to Hawaii for college, but became increasingly isolated. When she saw me with this group of friends, her worries were put to rest. When she later became very ill and knew that she was dying, she told me to count on those friends for strength. I believe it made her passing a little gentler, knowing she didn’t have to worry about my being left alone.

But shit happens. In the years following my mother’s death I was not an easy person to be around. Many of my relationships suffered or even withered away entirely as a result. Bridges were burned. I didn’t realize at the time that mental illness had become a factor in the equation, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. Some friends were easily dissuaded by my behavior and high-tailed it to safer grounds. Mistakes were made on both sides — I see that now. There were some friends that stuck it out and loved me even when I was almost entirely unlovable, and I was truly grateful. When I started to claw my way out of the darkness, I knew that these people would be in my life forever.

But then, again, shit happens.

You know what’s worse than a break-up? A best-friendship break-up. Man, that shit is ugly. I’ve lost friends before, but never have I been as wounded by the loss of a friend as I was when I broke up with my best friend. It wasn’t like we grew apart or anything — it was a series of wrong moves and then a major blow-out, and just like the end of a relationship, the end of our friendship was long, gritty, and painful. I felt betrayed and confused, especially when I heard from the grapevine that my friend had said things that were untrue and hurtful. I had loved her like a sister, invited her into my home, and gave to her without restraint. In the end, I got burned. The experience made me gun-shy of investing the time to develop new close friendships with other women.

Thank you for your application to be my friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have any available openings at this time.
Thank you for your application to be my friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have any available openings at this time.

The end result wasn’t that different from the aftermath of a relationship break up either. Like a boyfriend/girlfriend that says, “I don’t love you anymore, but let’s stay friends”, so did we for the sake of everything that we had once been to each other. It’s a stilted kind of friendship, one in name only. In terms of adult-like friendships, “friendship in name only” is one of the saddest and most common.

Still, I am very blessed in terms of friendship. Despite having misplaced my trust in the past, I now have an amazing network of friends, here-there-and-all-around, whom I consider family. I appreciate them more, I think, than the friends I had when I was younger. I have experienced enough loss and enough isolation to know how priceless these people are. Perhaps that’s the trade off.  As with many things, as children we took for granted that all life was good, believing as children do, that good must last. Grown-ups know that this isn’t true, but we also recognize that the things that you have worked to achieve have a heightened sense of value compared to those things you are just given.

Bottom line: friendship is important. Our mental health and longevity are both heavily affected by the number and quality of our friendships. The friendships we maintain as adults have enormous potential to become positive and life-fulfilling in a way that our youthful pursuits were not. As an adult, your friends take on the quality of family, particularly in a society that sees increasingly farther distances placed between close relations. In that instance, friendships take on a very vital function to provide us with all the same love and support that one’s blood relatives may not provide. These are the friendships that persist without consideration of time and distance — I don’t care if we spoke last five years or five minutes ago, you’re my family and I will love you forever. If you’re lucky, the friendships you formed when you were young will transcend to this level. If you’re really lucky, the friendships you forge as an adult will be cemented along these lines, too. How, you ask? I really can’t say. The planets have to align, the circumstances have to be just right, and even then, I think lot of it is luck.

Turns out friendship really is magic.
Turns out friendship really is magic.