Body image lessons by way of my children

I learned in 3rd grade that I was ugly. I may have suspected it before then, but it was confirmed in the sing-song tones of childish torment that told me I was fat. And I needed no one to tell me that fat=ugly.

Humans come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some people are angular; some people are curved; some people are a mixture.

I am round. I have round arms and legs, round belly, round butt cheeks. No matter what I weigh overall, my body is curved. From very, very early on I learned that I didn’t fit, that I spilled over in ways that should rightfully embarrass me, that my body was shameful and something I should not inflict on other people any more than I had to.

And not too long after that, I learned that it was my fault. I was greedy. I ate too much. I was morally inferior, and it was showed plainly in the shape of the body I inhabited. By the time I was in 7th grade I had come to hate my body. Anyone who told me different was obviously lying, either from spite or in a misguided attempt to make me feel better about myself.

A high school relationship not grounded in consent or good communication did further damage, and by the time I got to college I literally could not feel touch or receive love or appreciation. Stomach churning with my terror of intimacy, I vomited during or after more than one date.

Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I have, by dint of ongoing work, come light-years from that place. I can look in the mirror at myself, and not only not recoil in disgust at the sight of all that fat (as I did for long, long decades), I can see beauty, vitality, evidence of the way I love and move and act in the world. I can see thick wavy hair, dark eyes, strong legs, capable hands, a bountiful chest, and even, sometimes, a belly that stretched and increased in capacity to nurture three human beings in two pregnancies, and whose skin is a map of those gifts.

My two youngest are twins. They are very different from each other, though when we brought them home from the hospital we put fingernail polish on J’s nail so we could be sure that we didn’t get them mixed up. At that time they were alike in their tiny-old-man wrinkled hairlessness, very similar in weight. Now, they are growing into very different bodies and temperaments.

J is taller, slender, lighter-haired, elfin. E is shorter, rounder, darker, powerful.

Looking at E this morning, I realized that her arms are a smaller replica of mine. Her limbs are sturdy, like mine. J’s arms and legs are longer and not just thinner, but a different shape altogether. She has lines where her sisters have curves.

There is a part of me which has really struggled, seeing H, my older daughter, develop a body like mine, too. That self-hating, fat-phobic piece of me which is desperate to see thin rather than thick legs, a flat belly rather than one which is round. I must have compassion for that piece of me, wounded so early and so deeply.

They all eat the same thing, a pretty healthy diet which prioritizes vegetables and protein over carbs.

They look different. They have different bodies. This has nothing to do with failure or weakness. They are different. I was the plump person in a family of thin people. I was not worse. I was just different.

This morning I had an orchestra rehearsal. Walking back to my car carrying my cello in the sunshine, I could access gratitude for my body, with which I make music, hug my friends and family, cuddle my children, make love with my partner, see blue sky, hear birdsong, feel the textures of my clothing, make and taste food. My body, which tells me when I need food or rest, which carries me and nurtures me. My body, which I can decorate. My body, which houses my heart and mind and spirit. My body, which is beautiful with life and vitality, tenderness and expression. I need to keep listening to my body, caring for my body, appreciating my body rather than taking it for granted.

I owe myself just as much love as I wish to offer my children. And while my children do not owe me love, they offer me loving lessons every day. I am grateful for their presence and their authenticity.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

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This phrase feels so powerful for a number of reasons, including that it is an accurate tagline for me. I persist. It has been an attribute, a behavior pattern, a tendency of mine since I was little. Along with it comes courage, bull-headedness, clarity of vision, fear, blindness, determination, an ability to see the big picture, an aptitude for analysis, strong intuition, desperation, hope, confidence, belief.

We are all such complicated, conflicting, sometimes beautiful mixtures of attributes and actions.

Persistence is what we need to teach and encourage in our children, especially our girls. Research shows that girls respond to a (learned) belief in innate characteristics by giving up when they don’t succeed “fast enough”.

One thing factor that contributes to girls’ learning and ability to develop patterns of persistence is having role models in the form of women in positions of power, women who persist, women who are able to tackle problems and move forward because of or despite those challenges.

I thank the universe for the rough grace of Elizabeth Warren. And I am proud of myself. And I will keep persisting, keep resisting, and stay committed to my values and my heart.

Appearance & aging: self-hatred & self-love

When my first baby was born I was 40 years old. I had increasing numbers of grey hairs appearing at my temples, scattered amongst the brown. I didn’t want to be mistaken for my kid’s grandmother, and I decided to get my hair dyed. I have liked my hair color for a long time, and indeed, liked my hair for a long time. That’s a significant thing, given that for a long time I actively hated my body and my appearance.

I have thought about the reduction for a long time. Not really for medical reasons:  yes; I have strain on my back, but honestly, I’d love to be able to wear clothes that fit my upper body, including button-down shirts. And the focus below the neck is real, and I experienced it a lot when I was younger.

A C-section and twin pregnancy later, my body is not the same shape it was before. It never will be. For a couple of years after the twins’ birth, sunk in the pit of self-directed fat hatred, I considered having surgery to correct nature’s deficiencies. In that time I realized that I actually believed that if I were thinner I’d be a better person.

But I have daughters. And have read a number of compelling pieces about how my self-image will impact theirs. And so, (m)other-love has given me a route to a firmer foundation of self-love. Now I’m looking at better bras, learning to look at myself in the mirror and consider my shape with loving and compassionate eyes, and tell myself I’m beautiful so that I can fight the internalized self-hatred that insidiously blossomed in elementary school with the taunts of other kids.

I’m going to keep dying my hair for while, because I like the color. I want to be real about my choices, to be honest with myself. But I reject purity-founded guilt about them.

Ghostbusters!

I saw the new “Ghostbusters” tonight. I came out of the theater glowing, so happy I felt it sparking through my body, off my skin, lighting me from head to toe. Four women. Four women! FOUR WOMEN! Leading the film! Not talking about relationships! The dramatic tension in the movie was NOT about a relationship with a man! Four funny women taking out the paranormal trash!

Was the movie perfect? No, of course not. But I laughed out loud many times. I got my jolt of nostalgia through listening to the music and the visual style of the ghosts. And I was incandescently happy about the lack of sexy-woman-ness in the movie. Oh god, it was so wonderful.

NO FAT JOKES! Not a one. Women eating, joking, getting to know each other. Women screwing up, women being smart, women running but not in an unrealistic superhero way, women getting shit done, and nary a bikini in sight.

It is literally impossible for me to convey how much all that meant to me. It’s like being told, finally, that I get to be a real person. That will be impossible for many people to understand. But the total and complete absence of anyone of my gender who looks like me NOT being the butt of jokes through the movie, or of pity. Oh my god.

I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in a lot of ways. But even Buffy stayed pretty hip by nice tight jowl inside the universe of our screwed up beauty standard. And a lot of the tension in that show was built with more or less standard tropes, having to do with Buffy’s feelings about the various boys and men in her life.

Melissa McCarthy is only 2 years younger than I am. Kristen Wiig is 3 years younger than Melissa. Leslie Jones is my age. My god. Middle-aged, competent, funny, brave, interesting, smart women kicking ass.

Nostalgia is powerful. The patriarchy is yet more powerful, enormously so. Seeing this movie starts to show me how deeply I have absorbed the message that only men can be authoritative, funny, creative, believable, and *real* in that authentic, representative of the human species way. I can feel that programming resisting the data in front of my eyes. When humor, language, physical presentation, emotive expression, and style are all placed inside small, predictable boxes, it becomes hard to even recognize anything else. I remember the first time I had milk fresh from a cow. I was 14 years old. We were staying on a farm B&B in Cornwall. I didn’t like it. It tasted nothing like what came out of our plastic white jugs at home. It was warm, and so strong-tasting. Ew, I thought. It took a few days for my taste-buds to start adapting, for my expectations to change, for my mind and body to open to new experience.

Watching this movie, watching the few others I have seen where the female lead is not driven by romantic love or sexual trauma, and especially where the female lead is doing comedy, has been a similar experience. I almost cannot recognize the material. It is immediately filed away in my brain as not-right, less-than.

In fairy tales, the heroine is (at least in the books of my childhood) almost exclusively the youngest and the prettiest and the sweetest girl. Those stories were always about someone else. The rewards were unreachable, and the lessons learned directed at others. I never imagined myself as the heroine. How could I? I was none of those things.

Movies are even worse. There is visual evidence that people of interest, people to whom we are meant to relate, are in a category and class entirely unreachable by me. I’ve written about that before on this blog.

And so the reaction I describe above seems to me to be to be a societal definition of girl- and woman-hood that excludes everyone else, creating self-hatred, which is then directed outward again at any sort of cultural/artistic expression which counters it or provides an alternative vision.

The sexist backlash against this movie has been predictable and disgusting. Some people act like the makers of this movie and desecrating an altar, reaching into their minds and ruining their memories. And the racist backlash has been even more awful: Leslie Jones felt it necessary to leave Twitter due to the horrific things being tweeted her way. (http://fusion.net/story/327103/leslie-jones-twitter-racism/) The violent, violating, infantile fury of people who want a white world of strong white men and sexy white women is a thing that damages people every day. It must be resisted every day. I think many people forget the necessity of resistance, because it’s the water we all swim in, and it’s made that way, to corrupt and divide and vanish into the murk when challenged.

And so, we give into self- and other-hatred, we dismiss, we acquiesce, we judge.

But I have had experiences where I feel the scales falling from my eyes, where I stretch and breathe and get a different sort of oxygen in my lungs. Spending time in dyke bars does that for me. Spending long and intensive time with women does that for me. Sometimes in a great while a book does that for me. And I am going to watch this movie over and over until I can chuck the societal definitions screaming in my head, and take in what is before my eyes, let it sink in.

A place where someone like me can be fully human.

I saw the movie with a friend who is 22 years my junior. I have known her for 15 years, since she was in elementary school. When the original movie came out I was in my mid-teens, 10 years younger than she is now. The world was a different place then; I was very different then. Being a private cello teacher, I’ve had the chance over the past couple of decades to watch quite a number of kids grow up. I have been so happy to see how many of my female students are involved in sports, reaping the benefits of a more vigorously enforced Title IV. My friend has had since she was a kid a stronger sense of herself and her capabilities than I did when I was a kid, partly due to family environment, and partly to personality. But also, though it’s not linear and there are definitely ways in which things have gotten the opposite of better (gender expression polarization, for example, and the toxic explosion of pink-beauty-princess-defined girlhood), there have been real gains made too which I see manifested in her life and the lives of my students.

Being able to have a feminist joy-fest with her, to share the laughs and the joys with her, was a special gift.

My 7-year-old has been picking up on the pretty significant gender disparity in media and books. She notices. And that is a great thing. I tell her what I think about it, but I cannot tell her what to think about it, not really. What I want is for her to notice. She’s starting to notice the media white-wash, too. I told her this afternoon that I was going to see the movie. I told her I was really excited about it, because it was a remake of one I’d seen when I was a kid, and this one was 4 women. She said, “Oh, and it was all men before?” I said that yes, it was. “And,” she said, “was it all white people?” Yes, I said, it was.

Right now, though I am terrified, horrified, agonized about many things happening in the world, I do believe that change is possible. It is possible to re-learn. It is possible to prioritize justice and love and collaboration. And to do so one has to live it every day. And one has to forgive oneself for the thousands of times one fails to do so.

This movie makes me want to shout and punch things and dance and laugh and conquer and learn and grow.

Thank you to everyone who made it.

What the forced-birth movement produces: terrorism, pain, and death

15+ years ago I aborted an embryo. I do not regret the decision. The father-who-would-have-been had zero willingness to enter into that relationship, and it was the right choice for me. I sometimes grieve the loss of the POTENTIAL human life I let go at the sixth week of my pregnancy, but I do not regret that choice. I appreciated the support offered me by Planned Parenthood, throughout the entire process.

Very few women get an abortion close to the 20th week of pregnancy, and a tiny, tiny number get an abortion in the third trimester. I cannot say that no woman has ever casually aborted a super close-to-term fetus, but I think the percentage is enormously smaller than the percentage of people who make stupid or careless driving choices that cost other people their lives.

The harder it is to get an abortion, the further women have to travel, and the more restrictions placed on them, the more women are going to be pushed into later and later term abortions, at greater cost to them and their families and society at large. When abortion is free, easily available, and legal, there will be a lot less pain all around.

Parenthood has reaffirmed my pro-choice stance, and I hold it now with ferocity and passion.

There is no legitimate partial support of women’s civil right to control over their bodies. Either you support choice, or you support forced birth and the undercutting or removal of the civil rights of people with uteri in this country. Yes, if you support choice that means that inevitably some women will sometimes make choices you find challenging, disturbing, or emotionally difficult. I support the right of our government to have a military force, regardless of the fact that I find 99% of military conflict morally repugnant. I also don’t go around trying to kill people who have left the military out of a feeling or belief they may have done something I think is wrong.

The attacks of women’s clinics is nothing short of domestic terrorism. I will support candidates for political office who state this plainly, and who take on this issue boldly. I will no longer support candidates who do not.

Of course I understand that a lot of people have a lot of strong feelings on the topic. And it is not my intent to offend, but people are being killed by other people who believe that they have the right to take life, indiscriminately and with malevolence, and IT MUST STOP!

‪#‎shoutyourabortion‬

http://www.attn.com/stories/4418/victims-identified-planned-parenthood-shooting

Recovering from parental and partner mistakes

So, Ted and I have had an evolving but pretty consistent media plan since Hazel was born. We had originally decided no TV or movies for her until she turned 7, but we moved that back to 1st grade, which started when she was 6.5. When she was home sick over the past few years she was allowed to watch, “Microcosmos”, an almost entirely speech-free French documentary about bugs, which is actually pretty fascinating and beautiful. Even that was a lot of input for her: when she first started watching it she wanted us to be with her. When she was 3.5 and we were visiting friends she was introduced to “Pingu”, a cute Claymation series about a penguin kid and his family. We started letting her watch those this year, and then quickly decided they were fine for her twin sisters too. And she’s been allowed to play 10 -15 minutes of games on a phone/tablet/other device since she was 4 or so (drawing games, connect-the-dots, “Fruit Ninja”, and “Plants VS Zombies”).

Ted and talked about what to do once we had the twins, and we made a plan; that was, that this year we’d start Hazel watching movies, and the twins would be allowed to watch Pingu, but that we’d stick with the 6.5-year-old start for them for movies. We were comfortable with that plan.

This morning I made a partner/parent mistake, and brought up the possibility of watching, “Frozen”, about which all of our kids are nuts despite never having seen it, IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. Had Ted done that, I would have likely been pretty pissed off at him. Of course the kids exploded with glee, and even though we both were reluctant (I was already regretting my mistake), we felt locked into watching. So. We agreed on a 30 minute limit, and we sat down to watch it, pausing it once in a while to talk about what was going on. At 30 minutes we were in the middle of a tense scene, and decided to continue until a more peaceful moment. We did.

The twins clearly could not track, could not follow, could not understand. And Emily got scared to tears when Anna had snow fall on her head and then when she fell into a pond.

I felt like shit. *sigh*

So, we stopped at about the 40 minute mark, promising that we’d watch again in a week. The kids protested, quite vigorously. We followed through on our plan to get outside, which prompted more vigorous protestations.

On our walk around the block a few minutes later I apologized to Ted.

After more thought and a good couple of conversations, tonight Ted and I came up with another plan. Instead of just cutting them off at the pass entirely, or on the other side of the spectrum letting them watch the whole thing while regretting it intensely and risking really freaking them out (which happened to me when I was a kid, and I had nightmares from one Art Museum art horror series of shorts until after I’d graduated from college), we are going to let the twins watch a few selected songs, and continue watching the whole movie with Hazel only, when we have Mommy/Daddy/Hazel time (once a week). We’ll tell the twins the truth, that we made a mistake and realized that the whole movie is for kids older than they are, but that they can see the songs they love, and they’ll be able to watch the whole movie when they’re 6.5, like Hazel is now. And then we’ll work our way through the tears and shouts and recriminations which are likely to occur.

And I will use this as an object lesson to remind me of the critical importance of talking to my parenting partner about significant parenting choices. It is the right thing to do, the most respectful thing to do, and also the way that the kids get the best and most thorough parenting.

I told Hazel in a recent conversation that I am learning as I parent, just as much as she’s learning as she grows. She didn’t believe me. I told her that yes, I have learned a lot from her and will continue to do so. She immediately challenged me to give her an example. I reminded her of the sock example, that she had taught me that it’s ok to wear not just colorful socks, but UNMATCHING colorful socks, which I now do with glee. This, though a seemingly small thing, was a major victory for me, and I credit her example and inspiration. She was very pleased by that idea.

So that’s my plan, to continue to learn, and to be open to learning, as long as I am alive.

And I thank Ted for his understanding.

Radio spot gig, Skyping with Grandma L, going to the park, picking up Hazel, school year clothes

Tonight I participated in doing a radio spot with one of the orchestras of which I am a member. The room in which we played (and then did a bit more recording) is exceptionally dry. One of the people with whom we were working reminded us to really play out, to imagine being in a large concert hall, because in that environment people tend to start playing down, closing in a bit. After our spot we re-recorded a few things, after which we got to go into the sound room to hear parts of what we’d done. The difference was extraordinary, because they’d added some reverb, something you’d expect to hear in an old European church, perhaps. It was mind-boggling. It transformed the Bartok pizzes we’d been doing into the sonic equivalent of close-up, slowed down footage of a raindrop hitting the pavement. (Ok, so the footage I found was a water drop falling into a glass of water. It’s late. That’s what you get. I also just spent a while trying to find footage on YouTube of a Bartok pizz, but I think I shall now desist, as it’s even later.)

Anyway….

We did Mozart, Vivaldi, Grieg, and a modern piece we premiered last year. There were only 11 of us, but in that room with those sound engineers we sounded like a much bigger group. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a recording studio, and I enjoyed it, though it can also be somewhat nerve-wracking. There’s a moment in one of the slower movements of the modern piece in which I have some glissandi (sliding) in combination with quarter tone notes (that means, notes that are slightly lower or higher than we’re used to hearing in the traditional repertoire). In a moment of my solo in that movement my slide was, let’s say, broader than I’d intended. But it worked. It’s nice when something you don’t plan works out that way, definitely preferable to the alternative, particularly on the radio.

After our work there, most of us went out for drinks and nibbles, and conversation that ranged quite wildly from inanities to profundities, something that is probably typical for a bunch of musicians out at a bar at night. It was wonderful to have the chance to get to know some of them better, and just to spend some time being non-parental and laughing at ridiculous things.

—–

This morning I had another long chunk of time with Emily and Joanna. We spent some time Skyping with my mom. She read to the girls, who were very intent and engaged. At one point they went and got out the pinwheels (you know, like these) and, after sticking them in my face and saying, “Blow!”, started putting them in front of the laptop screen for Grandma L to blow. Being only 2 years old, they couldn’t understand why that wasn’t possible. Oh, and Emily said Grandma for the first time today. Another high point of the conversation was when she did her toddler evil laugh (not something I can replicate) and my mom got to hear it.

Later on, I took them to our neighborhood park. On the way Joanna pointed to the lion jacket (part of a Halloween costume) and said, “Yeah! yeah! yeah!”, so I put it on her, at which point Emily decided she really wanted to wear it. Luckily, we still have a tiger jacket from a Halloween costume we got when Hazel was a year old. I ran and got it, and got to take a miniature lion and tiger with me to the park. Ted said that we should really acquire a bear costume for Hazel so we can have the set, and march around saying, “Oh, my!” constantly. Well, he suggested the bear costume. I’m the one who’s likely to devolve into marching and chanting, truth be told.

After nap, our friend A came over, and we walked to Hazel’s school to pick her up. She was thrilled to see both of us waiting for her, and ran happily over to us.

So, the big room she’s in is enormous. Storytime at the end of the day involved the usual big chair and a circle of kids on the floor listening. Additionally, the teacher reading the book was using a microphone. Mind continuously blown. I have a feeling that is going to be the case for at least another 15 years, and I should just get used to it. I am an old codger. I already knew that, but having a kid in kindergarten is reconfirming that fact for me.

This afternoon after Ted got home I sat in the comfy chair with Hazel and showed her some dresses from the Hannah Andersson site I thought she might like. In honor of her new school adventure I got her five dressed and five pairs of leggings. I gave her a choice between a few pink options (she could pick one, and she did) and several non-pink options. I think both of us are happy with what she chose.

Then I spent a huge amount of time trying to find a backpack for her that wasn’t pink and wasn’t camouflage. *sigh* We did find something, a ladybug backpack somewhat similar to one we bought her when she was really little, and that sadly got lost when she was about the twins’ age.

Then I stressed about not having practiced before my gig, and then I went off to my gig. And there’s that circle completed. 🙂

Tomorrow morning I need to practice piano with Hazel, but other than her lesson there’s nothing on the calendar. I’m looking forward to a mostly unscheduled day. I need to practice for our next concert (two weeks away), but other than that I think we’ll be able to hang out at the park and have some chill family time. That will be good.

Have a good weekend, everyone!