Pilot Blah

Gah.

Dedoose is not the right software for my research. Using just a spreadsheet will kill me. So now I’m looking at a student license for NVivo which has way more stuff to deal with social media data. Good news: it’s only around $100 for a one year student license. Bad news: after that I have to pony up around $1500 for a full copy if I want to keep using it. More gah. But maybe I’ll just worry about that bit later. First rule of dissertation club: FINISH THE FUCKING DISSERTATION.

I’ve taking a break for a few days because I’m busy and on steroids for my asthma (Thanks, Austin) and it’s wreaking havoc with my sleep. Also insert a kid stomach flu and separate emergency room visit, and having to migrate my upcoming class from Blackboard to Canvas, and there goes my week. My family is coming to visit next week for my daughter’s 6th birthday, which will be fun but likely will not result in finishing my pilot in the next week.

I’m also stalled out on writing my CV and teaching statement because I really have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I need to get it done. There are some cool jobs open right now and I need to apply for them. No pressure.

I’m glad I’m keeping the password-protected thinky blog, because it helps me figure out where I’ve been in my thinking on the pilot data. I have a tendency to have these “ahah” moments over and over again and think that it’s the first time, Memento style. I think I’m getting somewhere with the mortality/fear stuff. It will be part of my thematic analysis, after I do the more granular discourse/psychodynamic stuff.

I have people I can reach out to for a lot of this stuff, but I have a tendency to curl up in a ball when I’m overwhelmed, which is antithetical to reaching out. I need to reach out. Nobody has to do all this shit alone.

I find that all the thinking I’m doing about psychodynamic stuff is also changing how I look at myself and my relationships. I find that I’m trusting my intuitions a lot more–checking out my reactions rather than just sorting them into rational/non-rational buckets. This may change the nature of some of my relationships, and is a pain in the ass when I’m triggered and I need my denial thank you very much, but I mostly like it. I like having a deeper connection between my feelings and my mind. It makes me more compassionate and better able to draw good boundaries.

Meanwhile, I need to take care of my poor bod and let it heal from the garbage that has infested my lungs. And switch up my hair color. Priorities.

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Big Sigh: The difference between self-shaming and self-acceptance

I read an article on Huffpost a couple nights ago and became full of ragey, judgy feelings. The title alone is totally cringe-worthy: Yes I’m Fat. But Why Is That All Anyone Sees?. Ugh. Just, ugh.

The author talks about how becoming fat has made her invisible, or judged, or reviled by others, obscuring her accomplished past as a journalist, athlete, expat, and parent. She feels vulnerable to the perceived (but rarely given) criticisms and judgements of others. She assumes that her fat body makes it impossible for others to think that she has had any kind of life beyond slamming oreos and bacon.

I’m trying to feel for her; I really am. But she demonstrates a trope in the body-acceptance/weight discrimination movement that I’m mightily tired of. “I can’t be okay until everyone in the whole world stops having judgmental thoughts about me! Fat discrimination is ruining my life, because it makes it impossible for me to love myself!” <–these are made up quotes that summarize the underlying message I’ve gotten from many activists and bloggers.

But then she goes on:

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be fat. I want to feel the way I used to feel. I am on a constant diet and trying every new one that comes along. I watch the weight loss shows and fantasize. I exercise with a personal trainer; I obsess over food and how many calories there are. I get creative with vegetables and eat a ton of them. I get discouraged and pick myself up again. But since my transplant and the steroids I take to keep my body from rejecting my new kidney, I can’t seem to lose the weight that I put on since that life-saving surgery. But losing weight is not what this is about.

Oh God, please make it stop.

Gurl, the diet industry is not your friend. America’s Biggest Loser is not your friend. There is a whole socio-economic system built around making you feel shitty about yourself so you will buy things, continue to feel shitty about yourself, and then buy more things. Diets. Supplements. Idiotic television shows. Spanx.

And here’s the little secret that one one tells you: This system makes all women (and many men) feel shitty about themselves, not just the fat ones. Even if you’re thin, you fear being fat or you monitor yourself obsessively, compare yourself to other women, and feel like slitting your wrists when you read a fashion magazine. The system is rigged, and it doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin. So GET OVER THE SYSTEM. Get therapy (lots of it), find positive, healthy, fat role models, sit with your shame and fear and realize that they are just feelings, and your “new body” is the same body you’ve had your whole life, and will continue to have when you’re old and realize that all the time you spent hating yourself was wasted and could have been better spent LIVING.

You do not need to be thin (or white, or straight, or tall, or able-bodied) to have sexiness, mojo, success, or visibility. Cases in point:

Mary Lambert, Queen Latifah, Tess Munster, Jill Scott, Adele, freaking Oprah! And so many more…

The great thing about the internet era is you can curate your media and entertainment experience, which means instead of consuming the bilge that the advertising industry has been feeding us via network television for the last 60 years, you can choose instead to expose yourself to people who don’t fit norms attainable only by winning the genetic lottery and lots of surgery. Discover YouTube (just don’t read the comments if you’re having a bad day). Look up some of the gorgeous, independent plus models and bloggers who are telling social norms to fuck off and celebrating their bodies. Read The Beauty Myth. Today. Opt out of the social hysteria surrounding fat and just LIVE, girl. Your body survived a transplant! It made a child! The same body that did all those awesome things you lament the loss of is THE SAME BODY YOU HAVE NOW!

And here’s a little secret, from one fat girl to another: When dating, being fat screens out a great many asshats.

I don’t know how old the author is, but she reminds me very much of myself in my teens and 20s. I dieted, dabbled in eating disorders, struggled, hated on myself, compared myself to other women, and generally bought into the big lie that only one kind of female body was beautiful and it was never going to be mine. I was miserable. With a lot of therapy, determination, and a conscious re-focusing on my whole self health instead of my weight, I became the self-loving badass I am today. I still have shitty moments, but they’re just moments. I am happy, loved, and fulfilled while fat. I’m much more worried about writing my dissertation or getting my kid to eat vegetables than I am about the size of my jeans. I like my jeans. Amazing! Is this legal?

The author closes with this:

My dream, of course, is to lose some weight. But, if I continue to be unsuccessful, will I ever been seen and acknowledged again the way I used to be? Will anyone step back and see me, want to know me, or will they just continue to see that I am fat?

My dream is not to lose weight. My dream is to raise a confident, strong daughter filled with self-love and respect who sees all bodies as beautiful and sacred. My dream is to help more people reject social norms that have nothing to do with health or happiness. My dream is to make a difference in this hard world, not to whinge that what I do doesn’t matter unless my body somehow reflects my awesomeness so hard that everyone else can see it all the time.

Get a new dream, girl.

 

Shaming the Mother

The attacks on women are now so vicious and varied that it’s hard to know where to start. From Hobby Lobby winning the right to refuse to cover contraception in their employees’ health insurance, to the near ban on abortion in my state, to the decriminalization of rape by universities and the military, it’s bloody hard to be a mother raising a girl in this society. How do I teach her the primacy of sexual consent in a culture whose legal system blames the victims of sexual assault? How do I teach her sexual responsibility in a culture that simultaneously holds women solely responsible for birth control and limits its availability?  I don’t have the answers to these questions, other than VOTE.

However, I am interested in a phenomenon that I’ve experienced and observed called mother shaming. Our culture seems to relegate mothers and the practices of motherhood to the home or out of sight, and reacts negatively when we don’t comply. It seems a combination of the pre-cultural revolution separation of the spheres of women and men, combined with the second wave feminist ideals of not allowing motherhood to consume women’s lives. Put these together (along with a still highly paternalistic corporate culture) and you get a world where any representations of motherhood are supposed to be sweet, gentle, clean, and most of all, out of sight. We must be Athena in the workplace and the Virgin Mary as mothers. To this I say bullshit.

There are myriad problems associated with this phenomenon. Breast feeding shaming and harassment. Ignorance of postpartum mood disorders. Lack of paid maternity leave. Unavailability of high quality affordable childcare. Career penalties for women who take time off to care for children. Social stigmatization for returning to work instead of caring for children full-time.

These problems play out on systemic, interpersonal, and psychological levels. The lack of subsidized (systemic) childcare financially strains families, particularly those that need two working parents (or a single working parent) to survive. The social stigma surrounding both staying home and returning to work are inescapable. Psychologically, it is difficult to escape  the feeling that we must do (not have) it all, and never complain, cry, scream, or sleep. Women sometimes enforce these social norms on each other as a way to direct their own internalized pain around these issues. The condescendingly named Mommy Wars are well-known to any of us who have been judged for our parenting decisions. Consequently, while I think the extreme right-wing is responsible for feeding the flames of mother shaming in our culture while advancing legal barriers to female health and safety, we must also take control of how we internalize and enforce these unhealthy norms on ourselves and one another.

I wrote in my Manifesto about my experience as a new mother starting my teaching career, and the negative feedback I received from a female student for not hiding my nascent motherhood skillfully enough. That was in 2011, and since then the legal penalization of women regarding family planning and care has increased more than I could have possibly imagined.

I’m particularly concerned with the archetype of the mother in our society. As a mother, I’m supposed to be sweet, self-deprecating, patient, kind, self-sacrificing, graceful, gracious, and accommodating. I should happily subsume myself into the care of my family. If I work outside the home, I must completely compartmentalize my mother identity while working and then put it back on when I get home.  Mothers are not sexy, but they shouldn’t let themselves go (get old, fat, or tired). Mothers consider others before themselves. Mothers are vessels for their children long after they have stopped being the physical vessel and nourishment; we don’t need personal space, solitude, or interests.

I am supposed to be an flawed version of the Virgin Mary; stained by my sexuality, but redeemed by my ability to subsume myself in a wholly receptive identity.

I’m not even talking about what I’ve been told, or what other women may feel; these are the messages that I’ve internalized about motherhood from living in our culture. I certainly wasn’t taught these values by my family; I somehow just absorbed them over time. When I became a mother, it was like somebody threw a switch in my head and suddenly this was who I thought I should be. Weird.

It’s bullshit. I need space and solitude. I do not have limitless patience or energy. I have intelligence, ambition, personality, sexuality, and a big independent streak. No one would  describe me as passive. I get angry, sad, tired,  and scared. Daily. I don’t stop being a mother when I’m working, and I don’t stop being a teacher/student when I’m mothering. This doesn’t make me a shitty mother; it makes me a good role model for my daughter, and a wiser teacher and student. I love my daughter to pieces, but she does not define me; I do.

When I see my friends trying to compartmentalize their motherhood to appear “professional” at work, or repressing their personalities to be good mothers, it makes me sad. When women judge other women for choosing the “wrong” identity or not playing their roles well enough, it makes me angry. And when our society shames or penalizes women for delaying motherhood, remaining childless, or choosing to becoming mothers, angry doesn’t even begin to cover it. Livid, perhaps.

I have an image of a dark space around the idea of the Mother in our society. That there is some subconscious aversion to the very idea of motherhood that causes us to react by trying to conform to these harmful ideals. There is an invisible blind spot, or an unhealing wound that we avoid through negative judgement and the creation of unquestioned social norms. I sometimes imagine the archetypal Mother trapped within a spherical prison that emits some kind of repelling energy that keeps us from examining why exactly we expect women to hide or modify who they are in order to survive.

Motherhood is messy. The process of making another human being and expelling him into the world with our bodies is strange, frightening, painful, and gory. Nourishing a child with milk that our bodies make for her is not clean. It is a messy, strange, mysterious, and earthy process that makes the fact that we are animals–not angels or gods–utterly inescapable. It is also the most powerful force in the world. Our species would cease to exist if women’s bodies could not menstruate, gestate, and lactate. But instead of revering these abilities, our society degrades them and insists we keep them out of sight.

The true nature of motherhood not fit with the objectified, sterile version of women peddled to us by traditional media and advertising. Our stretch marks and loose belly skin are not shameful or ugly. Breastfeeding is good for our bodies, and good for our babies’ bodies. Shaming mothers who breastfeed, and idealizing artificial breasts is unnatural and insane. The assumption that our work as parents has no relevance or positive impact on our work for pay makes no sense at all. I think the entry of many men into the childcare workforce may be helping to change these norms, but slowly.

We need to release the Mother from her prison. Millennia ago, socio-religious systems encoded power into spirituality by claiming that women were lesser and innately sinful instead of the source of our being as a species. I believe we can choose to stop playing by these destructive rules and live as the full, ripe, powerful beings that we are. We create and nourish life. We need to share the wisdom that comes with this miraculous ability, instead of allowing it to be reduced and degraded until we have no sense of our own, limitless value.

Losing My Religion

I’ve belonged to a certain church my whole life without realizing it. It is the Church of Female Inadequacy. I’m quitting.

Some people grow up in strict, dogmatic, oppressive religions that make them feel sinful and toxic about themselves. Some eventually realize that they no longer accept the contradictions and rules that they were raised with and leave the church, or look for a more accepting community.

I’ve written about my epiphany on one of my other blogs, so I won’t recall it here, but in some ways gaining a connection to God was losing the religion of hyper rationalism and the assumption that experiencing the mystical meant accepting all the most strange, dogmatic, and often brutal aspects of organized religion. So in a sense, gaining God meant discarding the religion of Atheism, which can be pretty dogmatic and elitist.

This is a bloated way of segueing into my topic de jour: radical self-acceptance. I grew up in the 70s and 80s on the heels of the feminist movement. I knew that as a woman I could go to school and study what ever I wanted to. I could be an astronaut or a lawyer. I could be smart, political, well-read, and intellectual. What I couldn’t be was fat or ugly. I got this message EVERYWHERE–I grew up in Southern California. ‘Nuff said.

So while I didn’t grow up in the gilded cage of the Victorian girl, or the stunted expectations of women of my mother’s generation before the sexual revolution, I still occupied a tiny, painful, and ever shrinking cage. As my adolescent body grew and filled out, the bars got tighter and more painful. (The medical industry’s definition of a healthy weight also shrunk.) I absorbed the idea that my mind and my abilities were valuable, but my body was subject to valid and indisputable criticism by others. Any others. If anyone had a problem with how I looked, I was in trouble. I was defective.

I was a healthy, smart, talented teen. I wasn’t particularly fat or thin. I believed  I was grotesquely fat, and I fantasized about getting liposuction on my thighs and plastic surgery to make my neck thinner. I hated myself for eating and enjoying my food. I constantly badmouthed myself, and lived in constant fear of anyone else noticing my “flaws.” I hated my body.

I eventually “took control” by going on more and more extreme diets, until I was eating 800 calories a day or less. Weight Watchers had told me that I needed to weigh between 98 and 113 pounds, and I couldn’t make my body that thin, so I just ate less and less. By the time I got down to 117 lbs, I was getting dizzy and seeing spots. A few friends and teachers were concerned about my weight loss, but I mostly got positive feedback on how I looked. I went to the doctor without any idea that my lack of food intake was causing the problem.  At the doctor, after screening me for drugs, I was sent to a nutritionist who asked me about my food intake. She told me I had no fat left on my body. “But what about my thighs? Weight Watchers says I should weigh no more than 113 lbs.” The nutritionist told me I needed to start eating sandwiches for lunch instead of a lone apple after my diet shake breakfast.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I had been flirting with anorexia, and that if I had continued to lose weight I would have died. So I gained weight. And more weight. Every time I had to go up a size, I hated myself more. I hated looking in the mirror (although not any more than when I was underweight). In the opera industry, my voice teachers felt free to tell me when they thought I needed to lose weight. I started to fight back. I eventually decided (after a crapload of therapy) that the nasty, self-annihilating little voice in my head who told me I was repugnantly obese was full of shit. So I left the little cage behind, and found a bigger one. A cage where it was okay to be “overweight”. Where I could accept that my fat put me at risk for myriad health problems (according to the lowest common denominator of the medical and diet industries) and  if I was smart, eclectic, confident, and accomplished enough I could still be loved and admired. I guess I traded orthodoxy for reform.

Today I’m a bigger girl. I love food, I love to cook, and I limit my sugar intake to fight the weight I started to put on when I turned 40. I run, do yoga, walk, and belly dance. I feel pretty comfortable in my skin, as long as I stay in about a 20 lb range. I’m married, have a fantastic daughter, am happy, and accomplished. It’s a comfortable, livable cage. I don’t watch commercials or read women’s magazines (besides the occasional Oprah). I’m in a profession that does not subject me constant physical scrutiny as opera did. I’ve found some balance between compensating for my inadequacies and rejecting social norms. Still, if my jeans get tight, or I’m having a bad day, or someone takes an unflattering picture of me, all that shit from my adolescence comes right back up, and I feel once again like miserable, dimorphic teenager.

What if this whole religion of self-denial, self-hatred, and voluntary discrimination was total and utter bullshit? What if it was predicated on a biased and corrupt social system that spawned a medical industry that makes billions of dollars on teaching women we’re innately flawed?

Hi, I just finished reading The Beauty Myth, and I am well and truly pissed off.

The book was written in 1992, and the social phenomena it documents and interprets were what I grew up during my childhood and teenage years. Until recently, I was woefully ignorant of the history of feminism. For the past year I’ve been glutting myself on the more populist feminist literature, while studying sociology for my PhD. These books are not what my school would consider “source material” but they reflect what was going on at the time they were written. And where The Feminine Mystique taught me what my mother’s generation faced, The Beauty Myth describes my life and inner world in technicolor. Most importantly, it puts my experience in historical context of earlier practices that advocated various forms of self-inflicted or condoned violence against women. Read it.

I grew up down the street from a vibrant, brilliant woman who was a kindergarten teacher. She was large, and her weight made it hard for her to work because of the strain on her knees. She eventually enrolled in a medical weight loss program. It was an all liquid, incredibly low calorie diet. She lost weight, hair, and her teeth started to come loose. But it was medical, so it must be healthy and ethical, right? Losing her hair and teeth was better than being fat, right? The book says that the Beauty Myth requires that women “live hungry, die young, and leave a pretty corpse”. This certainly seemed to be the goal of this medically-supervised weight loss program. When my ex-boyfriend’s mother was dying of cancer, radiation caused her to lose most of her body fat.  Ruth had beautiful skin and a good wig. Her friends told her she looked more beautiful than she ever had before. Thin does not invariably equal healthy. I promise.

When I was a young woman and someone told me I was too fat, or I needed to watch my weight or face dire social (not health) consequences,  (This happened many times. Can I tell you what I would do if someone said that to my daughter? Hell. Would. Rain. Down.)  I would fight back. I would say that I was fine the way I was. But I eventually internalized every message and every paranoid fantasy that I was being  fairly and impartially judged by the world at large as flawed and unworthy.  I would fail in my profession, and never by loved by a worthy and worthwhile man. I was and would be an outcast.

My story is not unique. A girl who bullied me in elementary school died of anorexia at 23. A friend’s student died from gastric bypass. I have a friend who is a high school counselor who watches girls slowly kill themselves with eating disorders.

Let me break it down for you. The diet industry makes money by teaching women that they are mentally defective, which in turn makes them physically defective. This is not science, this is a sales strategy. The health industry uses science that is sometimes credible, sometimes biased, and sometimes false. We are not educated on how to evaluate the credibility of a scientific claim. What type of methodology was used? What were the variables? Have the conclusions been tested? What have subsequent studies shown?

The food industry sells diet products riddled with chemicals and additives that are far worse for our bodies than fresh food cooked in organic butter.

The cosmetic and beauty industries also play on our collective insecurities, most of which they created. Don’t even get me started on the ethics of advertisers using psychological research to manipulate people with no ethical safeguards. I’ll save that post for another day.

So, I’ve decided to leave the Church of Female Inadequacy. I will love my body, love eating, love moving, and love being me. I will not compensate for the things I was taught were ugly or shameful about myself. I will not teach my daughter to accept the subjective judgements of others as her mirror. I will love my fat, my curves, my big round butt, my strong calves, my baby stretch marks, and my frown and smile lines.

The scariest part is thinking about letting go of my cage. I’m really comfortable in my cage. In my cage, bigger jeans=BAD! same jeans=okay, smaller jeans=Awesome! Cutting sugar out of my diet is a way to stay in my cage. It’s not a bad thing; sugar is pretty clearly at best extraneous and at worst toxic for our bodies in large amounts. But I refrain partly because I fear getting too big for my cage. And when I get too big (i.e. bigger jeans), all the old fears come back. I’m not loveable, not valued, not worthy.

I’m going to work really, really hard on learning to listen to my body instead of the dogma I absorbed in my early life. I believe my body wants me to be healthy. I don’t exercise just to control my weight; I exercise because it makes me feel fantastic. Because running through the nature paths in my neighborhood and counting frogs and rabbits and deer makes me feel delight and lights up my daughter’s face when I come back and give her my critter count. Because shaking my butt and belly to music with a bunch of other beautiful, juicy women is joyful and liberating. Because walking outside and looking up into the huge Texas sky makes me feel loved by God. Also, my back hurts less.

I’m going to work on making decisions for my body and soul, instead of to keep the demons at bay. The demons are made of nothing but the collective weight of a culture that can’t stop oppressing itself.

Join me! Leave the Church. Choose a different spiritual path that honors and upholds everything that makes us women, at every age. And let me know how it goes.