Holidays and Body Image

I just got back from visiting my parents for Christmas. It’s over seven hours’ drive between our place and theirs, so we don’t see them nearly as much as I’d like. I had a fantastic Christmas in pretty much every respect except the fact that I didn’t go to church. (Yes, I am a slacker. Yes, I have one excellent idea for a New Year’s Resolution, not that I ever actually keep those.)

My dad always makes a ton of food, because he loves feeding people. And there were no comments about this or that food being “bad” or judgment about who was eating what. Well, we did give my brother a little grief over his love of stuffing, but not in a “You shouldn’t eat that” kind of way. More in a “pass the stuffing to him *last* so the rest of us get some” way. And I ate what I wanted, not to the point of feeling gross or overfull afterwards.

And my mom, when she asked what size I wear for clothing gifts, didn’t say anything negative about the fact that I need a plus size. She just went out and bought me a gorgeous sweater (which I love).

I feel really blessed that my holidays weren’t a weight-related minefield, like so many people’s are.

It made me a little wistful to look at all the old family photos and see myself five, or ten, or twenty years ago. I thought of myself as a fat girl in high school, but when I look at my homecoming pictures, I see someone who’s a pretty average size. Kind of chubby arms, and a round face, but not what you would call fat. Probably wearing a size 14 at the time, so very average. And the pictures of me in college, I’d actually call thin, although I never felt that way at the time.

It’s strange to look at pictures that don’t reflect what felt like reality. But then, it’s not like I manufactured that feeling of “too fat” in my own head. That was what bullies said to me (among other insults, of course) all through later elementary and junior high school. I got called a whale, and all the usual insults. And my parents tried to help me with my “weight problem” and encouraged me when I dieted, and when I lost weight. So even when I wasn’t fat, I was viewed that way. But when I look back at actual pictures, I see a slender child become a chubby young teenager, then an average teen and a slender young woman (who then became an average, then chubby, then fat woman, helped by both regain after dieting and my thyroid throwing in the towel).

It seems like the negative messages are always louder and more prevalent than the positive ones. I’m sure I heard, implicitly or explicitly, that I was fat, or ugly, or weird, or gross, much more often than I heard that I was beautiful, or special, or loveable. Which is not to say that my parents messed up my self-esteem. Heck, my mom always had plenty of positive, encouraging things to say to me–they were just drowned out by the overwhelming onslaught of negative. The fact that I emphasized and magnified the negative and took it to heart, while discarding most of the positive, didn’t help.

I also think this ties into sexism. Our culture spends so much time teaching girls that their only value is a very narrow sort of beauty and that they can never be pretty enough, so of course when you’re told you don’t meet the standard, it hurts worse, and it sticks with you.

I didn’t mean for this to be such a depressing post, because I had a wonderful Christmas and am still having a fantastic vacation. But remembering how much I used to hate myself for not looking the way I thought I was supposed to look, well, it just seems sad. So much wasted time, so much needless pain. And I think that if we could figure out how to build a culture that doesn’t teach people, particularly girls, to hate themselves, that would be pretty awesome.

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Hooray for Small Victories

Ragen at Dances With Fat posted about pointing out to Taylor Mali, one of her heroes, why one of the lines in a poem he wrote about health was problematic. It started off very positive and healthy-behavior oriented, and then threw in a line about “scores are dying because they’re getting fatter and fatter.”

Being disappointed by the people you look up to, whether they’re real friends and family or celebrities whose work you admire, sucks. I remember being really bummed when Alton Brown started getting really fat-hating, because I love his show and his recipes.

But this has a happy ending. She e-mailed, politely explaining why the line was problematic, and he *agreed with her* and said that he wouldn’t use the line if he performed the poem live.

I love it when people listen, when you get to see your words have a positive impact. It’s easy to get discouraged, because for every one person who takes your message to heart–whatever the message is that you’re trying so hard to get across–there are usually a hundred telling you to shut up and go away. But it’s worth pushing through, because not only do you occasionally plant a seed, you show others that it’s possible to stand up for what they believe in. It’s possible, and it’s worth doing. And oh my gosh did I need that reminder right about now.

Why I’m in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

I posted on Facebook why I don’t eat at Chik-Fil-A (i.e., because of this), and I got slammed, snarked, and condescended to by one person. My first thought was to reply in kind, my second was to inform them of the location of the useful little X button on Facebook posts and suggest that if they don’t like what I have to say, they avail themselves of it. But then I decided to try for something more like Amp’s approach here. I’m not sure I was successful, because I wrote a huge essay that I doubt the other person will do more than skim through, and because I didn’t really do enough to tie it to the other person’s experiences (though I tied it to mine), but I can hope.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

Now that that’s* out of the way, I don’t think they’re bigots for believing, in good faith, that homosexuality is a sin. I think they’re bigots for actively fighting against marriage equality and for denying LGBT people the use of their facility.

I think that even if you are fully convinced that homosexuality is a sin, it’s still wrong (and unChristian) to try to continue denying gay people equality under the law. It means real tangible harm and cruelty, like not letting people visit their sick or dying partner in the hospital, or taking kids away from people who’ve raised them. This happens even when the couples in question have seen a lawyer and spent the tons of time and money to get the legal documents that were supposed to be “just as good” as legal marriage. It also means letting kids languish in foster care or group situations when there are adoptive parents who would give them a loving home, but happen to be gay.

The second reason I’m in favor of SSM is that America is not and was never meant to be a theocracy. I also don’t see anything in the Bible to suggest that it’s the job of American Christians to try to make it one. This isn’t Old Testament Israel, where our nation’s laws came straight from God, and nowhere in the New Testament do I find a word about how we’re supposed to force our non-Christian neighbors to live by our beliefs. There’s a lot of turning the other cheek and shaking the dust off your feet and showing love.

And if America wasn’t meant to be a theocracy in 1776, when it was inhabited mostly by Christians and a handful of Jews, how much more wrong would it be to make it a theocracy now when it’s a country of people of every religion and no religion. We’ve been effectively a theocracy in a lot of ways because of a Christian majority and because of some deep-seated prejudices toward people who aren’t Christian, but that’s changing. As a Christian, it makes me happy, not sad, to see that change, because I believe that matters of faith are between an individual and God, not something to be shoved down their throat by whatever majority happens to have power.

I also find it telling which beliefs we feel we have the right, even the imperative, to make others live by. Tons of marriages happen every day that many Christians would define as not Biblical for one reason or another. But we’re not rushing to invalidate the marriages of the divorcees, or the people marrying outside their faith, or the people who have had premarital sex with someone other than the person they’re marrying. Heck, if we want to give all of Paul’s directives about marriage legal force, my marriage to [my husband]** should be just as illegal as the marriage of any two men or two women, because it’s an egalitarian one–I promised to love and honor, but not obey. And on the flip side, there are plenty of Christian denominations that have no problem with same-sex marriage. Even if we were to be a Christian theocracy, whose brand of Christianity gets to be in charge?

Finally, I never said that Chik-Fil-A deserves to go bankrupt and frankly***, if the few bucks I might spend on fast food is going to do in my local chain, they’ve got bigger problems. But I don’t think I’m somehow obligated to have my money go toward things I think are wrong. If it’s okay for Christians who are against homosexuality to boycott Disney for having gay pride days, how is it not okay for me to do the same based on my deeply held beliefs?

I *like* the fact that Chik-Fil-A is closed on Sundays. I like the fact that a lot of the restaurants play Christian music. I would love to be able to support them, but this is an issue that’s important enough to me that I would not feel right eating there.

*”That” was telling him that I didn’t appreciate his sarcasm or condescension. Just because I’m trying to have a better conversation doesn’t mean I won’t tell the other person when they need to knock off the rudeness.

** Hubby’s full name redacted, since this is a public blog and not my “some vague semblance of privacy” Facebook page, where everything I posted is limited to my two-hundred-and-ninety-something “friends”

**He said, among other things, that I was arguing that Chik-Fil-A’s owners are horrible people and deserve to go bankrupt for “acting on what [they] know to be true.”