Tag Archives: friendship

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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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.

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?

Friendship

After taking a personal inventory, I have made the following observations of myself as a friend. I am:
A.) fiercely loyal,
B.) very good at social networking websites, and
C.) extremely unlikely to ever speak with you on the phone

Also, if I were to be perfectly honest with potential friends upon first meeting them, I would be absolutely friendless.

It would probably go something like this:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____.
Me: Oh, hello, _____. I’m terribly high-maintenance.
New Person: (walks away quickly from the crazy lady)

Conversely, if on occasion I managed NOT to frighten people away within the first five minutes of meeting them, it would ultimately lead to:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____. Me: Oh, hello, _____. I'm extremely high-maintenance. New Person: (walks quickly in the opposite direct of the crazy lady)
This is not conducive to long-term happiness.

Truthfully, I’m not high-maintenance in the worst sense: I don’t want to be surrounded by sycophants or anything. But I am pretty sensitive, and I have a lot of baggage and a lot of hang-ups, and, well, I can be a little crazy. Crazy = inconsistent = unpredictable, and generally speaking, people don’t find relationships with unpredictable people to be particularly effortless. And it comes down to the degree of effort involved, I think, that prevents my making significant connections with many people.

First, there is the problem of defining “effort”. I don’t need, nor do I especially want, my friends to call me on the phone for idle chit-chat. Talking on the phone makes my brain seize up and misfire. People complain that texting or writing emails leads to miscommunications because you cannot tell the affect of the person with whom you are conversing, but I beg to differ: slap some emoticons on that bitch, spice it up with affect cues in asterisks ( e.g. *sarcasm*, *rolling eyes*), whatever — it’s the talking on the phone and not being able to see your face that gets me all discombobulated. For whatever reason, in the absence of face-to-face contact, it’s easier for me to discern someone’s true voice from their writing than from their disembodied voice over the phone.  So, effort, to me, is keeping in constant contact through the avenues that cause me the least anxiety. It is no surprise then that the friends with whom I am closest are those with a 50 word-per-minute minimum texting speed.

Second, there is the issue of how we will interface and spend time together. In keeping with just how much I hate to talk on the phone, I would much rather see you in person than anything else. But there’s another wrench in the works: I’m a goddamn introvert of the highest order.

I have been known to bite.
I have been known to bite when cornered.

(This guide to interacting with introverts is essentially my Rosetta stone.)

But, I am also at the mercy of my moods, which will range from “Fuck yeah, let’s go DANCING.” to “You are welcome to sit beside me in silence while I sit in my quilted cocoon and watch a movie.” The very best friends that I’ve ever had are the ones who understand this and don’t hold it against me, while continuing to venture to bring me out of shell every now and again.

This is what a real friend looks like.
This is what a real friend looks like.

And finally, there’s the emotional crap. The Baggage. Jesus Christ, the baggage. It seems endless at times, the ways in which the emotional wounds inflicted during my youth can impact my present, and by extension, my future. It’s that ol’ ACOA thing again: We don’t know normal, we’re too hard on ourselves, we think love is a commodity that must be earned and traded, we take everything too seriously, we need constant approval and affirmation, we’re highly impulsive, and we have intimacy issues that strain the boundaries of reasonable. That is what I mean when I say that I’m high-maintenance. I don’t want to be that way — it goddamn sucks — but it’s hardwired into my brain.

It is for all of the above reasons I have come to really believe this quote from someone I really like and respect: “I have friends in spite of myself.”