Tag Archives: different

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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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?

Play nice

It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow, that time of year when we lay the law down upon ourselves (or not) and get real (or don’t): lose weight, make amends, do better. We resolve to improve something about ourselves or our lives because the turning of the clock from one year to the next is supposed to psychologically prepare us for a clean slate. Still, the landscape of broken promises that lies across the frozen tundra of February and March can attest to the futility of the exercise. Every New Year’s resolution is made in full acknowledgment of the years’ past and how they were infamously squandered.

I haven’t really made a New Year’s resolution since I was eleven and I resolved that in 1998, I would resolve to make no more resolutions.

It’s been working out for me, I think, because that was I promise I made to myself that I could actually keep. More over, it was a promise I wanted to keep. Why set myself up for failure and disappointment by publicly declaring a lofty goal that is more societal construct that actual personal passion or desire? To hell with that — I just want to be happy in my own skin. I want to see the people I love and care for be happy as well. But this year, maybe I’ll bring the New Year’s resolution back. You can do it with me.

Maybe, for the year 2015, we should all resolve to be a little bit fucking nicer to each other.

Just-Be-Nice
For realz.

There is no reason I can think of that increased mutual respect, appreciation, and care for one another as individuals wouldn’t be accepted by each and every one of you. And if you want it, you gotta give it, baby. That’s how it do.

But it do, Mr. Gamble. But it do.
But it do, Mr. Gamble. But it do.

I just can’t think of a good reason to be a jerk. Having a mental illness doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole. Not even being a schizophrenic gives you the right to be a dick. I don’t care if you’re an unmedicated bipolar in your ninth month of pregnancy (been there, done that; I wasn’t handed a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card) or an over-worked, underappreciated retail slave. We all have our our horror stories, our various loads of baggage, our scars and battle wounds. I will gladly help you carry the load. I will even share war stories with you. But I am not going to stand still while you displace all of your emotional trauma onto me. No one on this earth should serve as another human being’s emotional punching bag. You can be miserable, if you need to be. You can be a fucking troll, if that’s what gets you going. But I’m not going to stick around for it — I owe you nothing.

Granted, I’m bipolar and sometimes I can be a raging bitch — I’ll own that. My husband refers to my daily allotted patience and stamina for social interactions as “people points.” Time alone or in small groups of close friends will typically replenish my People Points. Frustrating, emotionally exhausting days or large groups of people cost me a lot of People Points. There have been times when I have maxed out my People Points before the day is over, then I was unable to manage a stressful situation when it arose. The shit hit the fan, and — MAN DOWN! — I lashed out at those around me. But even then, even in the throes of my deepest, darkest, most disassociative behavior, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and I most certainly apologized once the dust had settled.

There are no real acceptable excuses for lavish rudeness — unless you’re an honest-to-goodness psychopath, you know when you’re doing wrong. The kind unmitigated malice that used to exist behind closed doors and cold shoulders is now on message boards and Facebook feeds. We’re hungry for it. We lustily turn to our friends’ posts just as the comments get juicy, either jumping in feet first or sitting back to enjoy the carnage for sport. These are school yard fights for a new age, only no one calls out the bullies any more, because at one point or another, we have all been the bully.

Resolve not to be. Peaceably accept that the Internet is never going to be the platform from which you will be able to have an intelligent debate or discussion on any topic, and let it go. See your college roommate’s Facebook post on the insidiousness of Chemtrails, take a deep breath, and keep scrolling, my friend. Your blood pressure will thank you. Yes, that commentor did use “literally” to mean “figuratively” — let it go…

And remember: Be. Nice.
And remember: Be. Nice.

Finally, happy birthday to my wee little blog! The Real Sarah C is a year old! Woo-hoo! I am so stoked to have brought this project so far, and so grateful to all of the readers, subscribers, and commenters. Mahalo!

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

An embrace

When I was in high school, I was not massively popular. In fact, being what I affectionately term as “prematurely middle aged”, I was often teased and mocked for my word choice (what writers and other linguaphiles would call “voice”), in addition to my overall manner. With a few notable exceptions, high school was not a happy time.

Reflecting on that now, though, it is difficult to say if the observations of my philistine classmates, cruel as they were meant to be, were entirely inaccurate. After all, I do use “big words” when more average vocabulary would suffice (see the above use of the word “philistine” in place of “childish ass-hats”). I’m not a partier, I’m not especially adventurous, and I’m typically only extroverted when I am in my element. One classmate of mine, whose face and name have faded into obscurity leaving only his words behind, said that my demeanor reminded him of an old lady sitting down for tea. He added to the overall picture of this meaning by pantomiming sipping from a teacup and holding a saucer, both pinkies out, pursing his lips prudishly.

At the time, it bothered me. He had pressed upon a long-standing insecurity of mine: I am not normal. And how I desperately longed to be normal. I wanted so badly to be accepted by my peers and by my family, I often hid or transformed my interests to be more palatable to the people I wished to impress. When it came to my peers, “fitting in” meant abandoning healthy, productive interests in favor of lukewarm baddassery: smoking, skipping school, majoring in Boyfriendology, and finally landing myself on probation. I would drive my life into the ground to prove to these people that I was as young and carefree as they were, if not more so. (Being a latch-key child sure helped, in this instance.)

But I suppose this young man wasn’t all wrong. Now as an adult, I belong to a group of women who gather regularly to sip tea from old china teacups (though few would accuse us of being prudish, as our conversations can quickly devolve from bawdy humor to downright dick jokes). Sometimes we even wear funny Sunday hats while we do it. I have found I’m happiest and most confident when I’m done up to look like I walked out of a 50’s hair salon. I’m embracing and making peace with my inner old lady, complete with a personal collection of antique teacups.

image

Rather than being normal, I’d like only to be embraced for my differences, as I will seek to embrace others. After all, who am I trying to impress anymore? And what, pray tell, is “normal”? As another brilliant and insecure woman once said, normal is a curse word. It is a social construct that we hold over our heads and those of the creative, off-beat souls who frighten us with their bravery to be different. Despite the time and energy I have spent over my lifetime hiding or obscuring it, I am different. And even though I have wasted wishes on aspirations of sameness — same as my family, same as my peers, same as my heroes — I’m coming to be quite pleased with our differences.