Tag Archives: development

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.

GAAAAHHHH!
GAAAAHHHH!

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.

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A story of choice

Alex asked:
What was/were the best decision(s) you ever made in your life? (Either because there were immediate benefits or it caused a chain of events that lead to something else you didn’t know you needed.)

Life is replete with opportunities to choose between two or more courses of action. Shall I turn left, or right? Should I take the long way home? Which will have the better pay off, Option A, B, or C? We make so many decisions arbitrarily, rarely considering how one such harmless and innocuous choice could alter our life forever. When you asked me what decision I made most changed my life, this is what I thought of: decisions that, only in hindsight, you are able to identify as life-altering.

Certainly, there have been times when I decided on a course of action, knowing in advance that it would result in complete upheaval. Every so often, you can see a singular moment, a choice that will alter your course irrevocably. The decision I made to move to Hawaii from California when I was 18 was one such decision. I made it during a visit to Hawaii to see my mother and stepfather, while sitting in the dark on their lanai, looking out at the ocean off of Kailua Beach and desperately trying to divine what was going to come next in my life. Many decisions are like that, you know? Made out of complete desperation. I wanted so badly for my life to start, but I was terrified of the prospect of severing ties with everything I knew in order to catapult my life out of torpidity. So reluctant was I to actually make that decision, I broke out my tarot cards and asked Spirit to tell me what to do. I don’t remember what cards manifested in that reading, nor what message they delivered, but clearly recall making that most momentous decision that very night. I flew home, packed my bags, and returned to Hawaii just a few months later, though I can’t say that I never looked back.

I knew moving to Hawaii from California was going to change things forever, though I certainly couldn’t have predicted in its entirety the complete magnitude of that decision. I had anticipated moving, going to college, graduating, and going back home. That last part, though, never came to pass. Part of it was my parents dying and the following sense of being truly marooned on an island, but there were other factors as well. A nondescript moment in my first semester of college where I sat down with my mother to choose next year’s courses and decided Sociology 100 over Psychology 101, for instance. An inane choice between the study of society and the study of the mind that had more to do with my dislike of Sigmund Freud than anything else ended up changing my life entirely — I met my husband in that freshman classroom. Had I not moved to Oahu, I never would have encountered him at all, and we may have missed each other, had we both not made an arbitrary decision to sit in Ms. Mann’s class on sociology at 9:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays that fall.

I’ve made countless other life-changing choices since then — and clearly, the choice to become pregnant and give birth to Moira is at the top of that list. To be honest, though, I’m not sure any of the other decisions I’ve made in the last ten years have been quite so staggering as those first two. The reason being that each subsequent decision I made; to go to college, to become an interpreter, to marry William, to have Moira; all of them followed naturally after first deciding to up-end my life and move to the island, and then to meet my husband (unintended though that decision was at the time). I made a necessary, heart-wrenching decision to relocate to a strange place and live among strangers in order for my life to start — and boy, did it ever.

Mean Girls

“Women are such catty bitches!” I said to my friend, completely exasperated. She laughed and I laughed, and we both understood — there is no animosity between you and I, but get a group of females together in any greater number, and shit just hits the fan.

Why can’t we all just get along?

I am not, nor have I ever been, especially popular. I don’t have a raving social life. I am very good at maintaining close friendships, but awkward when in a group. I’ve never been a member of a clique, though it wasn’t for lack of trying in my adolescent years. There was a time when I so desperately wanted to fit in. Typically, people join groups that align with their personal interests, finding kindred spirits among the other members, but I’ve never had success in that way. Maybe I was an ASL student, a writer, a pagan — but whenever I tried to assimilate into an established group of those individuals, I still found myself feeling like an outsider.

Instead, I excelled at close, personal ties with other outsiders. Maybe we’re weird, but at least we can be weird together, we would say. I felt I had my niche. If I couldn’t be popular, at least I knew who my real friends were. I waited patiently for college and for my grown-up life to start. Adulthood, they promised, would be different.

They lied.

It has been ten years since high school, but I still feel like I’m surrounded by mean girls. Girls who view each other as competition, rather than colleagues; potential threats rather than potential sisters. Contrary to what our Mommas told us, it doesn’t always get better — bullying and social aggression is still prevalent throughout adulthood. To add insult to injury, bullying in adulthood is most commonly seen in females against other females. WAY TO GO GIRLS! While we were talking about women’s rights and equal treatment, we forgot to confront the idea that internalized hatred influences how we treat each other.

One might think that those same mean girls from school just grew up and continued to be mean, but studies suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case. Often times, it is the former victim of the schoolyard bully who grows up to utilize relational aggression in order to exert power over her peers. Prolonged feelings of powerlessness awaken the primal need to establish one’s self as an aggressor in order to regain power and control. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reasons that adult women are observed to indulge in more bullying behavior than men. (Because if anybody knows what prolonged loss of self-agency feels like, it us. Right ladies?)

It is discouraging to find that childhood torment can follow you into adulthood. After all, shouldn’t we have grown out of this juvenile behavior? Perhaps not, as evolutionary psychologists have long since established that bullying behaviors can be biologically advantageous, despite the fact that they are also socially damaging to the community. We know that bullying is ubiquitous among all cultures on earth, and while the behaviors of our ancestors are shrouded by the passing of time, we can easily observe bullying behaviors in other non-human primates. It seems that we are hard-wired to be suspicious and untrustworthy of any perceived threats to our resources, and unfortunately, our primal instincts aren’t equipped to differentiate between friend or foe. It’s just part of the human condition.

Our drive to dominate one another is inborn and subconscious, but from a moral standpoint, our society has pretty much unanimously agreed that bullying, ostracism, and engaging in social hierarchies is wrong. Then why do we continue to engage in these behaviors? In some cases, it is because the group dynamic favors the action. In having developed a sense of morality, human beings as individuals are able to justify their most primal behaviors as necessary to ensure the safety or success of the group as a whole. As psychologist Christoper Boehm points out, “we learned to gang up not just against our superiors but against individuals who we feel are so deviant that they deserve to be treated as outsiders.” Even though we know that different isn’t bad, our minds trick us into rationalizing our prejudices so we can act on them, guilt free.

It’s awful, though, isn’t it? All right, so bullying goes way back, and it once paid off in former contexts, and it is a self-propagating social disease, causing it’s victims to become aggressors themselves — but, really, can’t we just agree to stamp out that impulsive lizard-brain bullshit and be good? Perhaps, but it will take more than an after-school special to drive this one home. In media, the female aggressor, or the Iron Lady, is a trope that is highly celebrated and played out in film, television, and books. Movies like the Devil Wears Prada indicate that in order to be a successful business woman, one must be manipulative and conniving, ready to sacrifice relationships toward the end goal of dominating the workplace hierarchy. Does this mean that sisterhood is dead? Not necessarily. But the misconception of “assertiveness” being achieved through “bitchyness” ought to be shown the door.

All signs point toward mindfulness as the key to solving unnecessary aggression. We must all rely on our higher functioning minds to lead us with compassion and morality when the primal need to aggressively assert oneself arises. We must also, as a society, come to the agreement that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable, neither in childhood nor in adulthood. The current movement toward making our schools and other learning institutions “Bully-Free Zones” is a start, but we also need to face the truth about adult aggressors. Bullying is not a uniquely adolescent problem and it needs to be addressed accordingly. According to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, thirty-five percent of adults report being bullied in the workplace. Such a hostile environment increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and is naturally counterproductive to the success of the group. And yet it continues, ultimately because we allow it to.

I’m one of those idealistic freaks who would like to remake the world in her image (perhaps this is another reason why I’ve always been a bit unpopular…). For as long as I can remember, my relationships with people have been contingent on the “you either really like me, or you really don’t” principle, but I, just like most people, would prefer to be taken as I am and judged on my merits rather than my faults. (Or better yet, not judged at all.) In aiming to treat other people how I want to be treated (your Momma really did have that right), I have a fairly laissez faire attitude with people — you are what you are, and that’s fine by me. I will take you as you come.

Granted, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. You aren’t going to be friends with everyone you meet, but you can sure as hell make up your mind to be civil. And if you’re one of those people who have engaged in divisive, bullying behavior — particularly if you’re a women waging social war on other women — it needs to stop. See the bigger picture: how can we change the things that are wrong with the world, if we continue to be a part of the problem?

A work-in-progress

One of the biggest take-aways I ever received from my first interpreting mentor is that we are all, each and every one of us, a work in progress. We never stop learning, growing, developing, and becoming more of the people we are meant to be. For interpreters, this is a fairly common precept: in order to remain relevant in your field and to maintain your credential, you must earn continuing education credits in order to show a persistent commitment to professional development. In our personal lives, though, people tend to think that at a certain age who you are ought to be fossilized at a certain stage in development: your tastes, predilections, personality, mannerisms, et cetera shouldn’t change too much past an imaginary point in time. It’s true, to an extent, that some things tend to remain stable over time. My taste in music, for example, hasn’t been drastically altered in the last 15 years, though I’ve come to appreciate alternatives to my favorites. But what about our looks? At a certain age, if you deviate too much from what people have come to expect of you, you are branded a midlife crisis or said to be “going through a phase”. Change just freaks people out once we get beyond our formative years. But, honestly, shouldn’t all of our years be formative?

Case in point: my whole life, I’ve been more of a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl because it’s easy, if not fashionable. I’ve always liked make-up and looking pretty, but never enough to put a whole lot of effort into it. My idea of professional dress is “a nice top, and nice bottoms”. I don’t accessorize a whole hell of a lot because I can’t be bothered.

And then this happened.
And then this happened.

In the last year, I’ve started getting into vintage fashions, hair, and make-up. I always enjoyed the look of the 1950’s pin-ups like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, but it didn’t occur to me to try it until I was well into my 20s. This morning when I was getting ready for work, I looked down at my pencil skirt and monochromatic saddle shoes and thought, “Boy, I’m in full costume today.” But it isn’t a costume. Not really. Just because I’m altering my outsides doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it to match my insides — what my insides have been all along.

I don’t think we ever complete the process of becoming who we are, even when we are suffering ill-effects in that process. I recently began seeing a new therapist, and while going through my medical history and listing my various small-kine crazy behaviors on my fingers, I mentioned that it was only in 2012 that I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, likely as a result of untreated long-term depression and anxiety following my parents’ deaths. My new doctor said with a smile, “Ah, well, you just hadn’t fully bloomed yet.” I found that very profound. I like the idea that my endless struggle with mental illness is actually part of the process of becoming more of, not less than, myself. So many people think that their internal struggles — depression, anxiety, mania, self-harm, OCD, what have you — detract from their true self. I beg to differ: embracing and managing my illness is helping me achieve a new level of self-actualization that I hadn’t considered before. My pursuit of happiness, I realize, is a journey fraught with pitfalls and set-backs. The long and sometimes treacherous walk down that road has imbued my being with both good and bad, and has made me, Me.

I had to get pretty sick in the head, and come to terms with my ailment, before I could start really liking myself. How’s that for a kick in the pants?

Today is an appropriate occasion to turn to this discussion: April 16th is for the Semicolon Project, a social media movement for those that suffer from depression — who self harm, are suicidal, unhappy, have anxiety, or are living with grief — to embrace their story as on-going. Semicolons represent a sentence the author chose not to end. We are the authors and the sentences are our lives. My story doesn’t end here. I am a work in progress.