Tuesday, February 8, 2011

winter rainbow

I used to be skinny. I also used to hate myself.

I was a US size 4-6 for most of my teen/young adult life. I always had big tits and a big ass/hips relative to my frame, which is a tiny one (I'm somewhere between 4'9" and 4'10". The rest of my family is also that short). My body was sexualized from a very young age, a site of shame, and as I went through puberty I also learned that it was an easy way to get attention (both negative and positive - it took me a long time how to figure out how to separate the two).

I can remember being 11 years old (the year, interestingly enough, that I became socially involved with the boys that would sexually assault me two years later). I weighed less than 90 lbs. I'd lie in bed pinching the skin on my sides and belly. I was so disgusted with myself, so depressed, so suicidal, that I'd seized on my weight as the thing to focus on (having been bombarded with messages about weight and attractiveness and self-worth from every conceivable angle). I ate nothing but yogurt for a week. I starved myself sometimes, and then I'd binge. I hated myself so much. I wished to disappear. I wished myself out of my skin, away from the frame and flesh I found so repugnant.

And so I developed body dysmorphia.

That stuck around as I developed healthier eating habits, as I stopped doing insane amounts of drugs, as I started coping with the fallout from that assault at 13 and both earlier and later issues, as I started putting myself together slowly and carefully, as I worked on my mental and physical health in fits and starts. I never saw other fatter women as anything other than beautiful, though I'd compare myself to skinnier women and wish that I could look like them, wished that I could benefit from whatever I perceived them to benefit from (the more I unpack it, the more absurd and irrational it's revealed to be). All of my bodily self-hatred was focused toward the things that deviated from the standard - my hair, my nose, my height, my shape. Fat was a strange phantom, a psychic location for my inner self-hatred.

When I went on anti-depressants I gained weight, and a few years ago I was diagnosed with PCOS, and both the PCOS and the hormonal birth control I went on as an attempt to deal with it were contributing factors to my gaining even more weight. I am now a US size 10-12 (still smaller than average, but on my frame that means something different than it might for someone taller than me). At first I was really unhappy with how I looked (as I always had been), but as I began to talk to friends of mine and women in my community who were larger than I am I started realizing a few things:
1) That it's incredibly insulting to other larger women for a smaller woman like myself to speak in the way that I was speaking about my body, regardless of my intention (I feel terrible about this on a daily basis);
2) That I benefited from thin privilege for a very long time, and that I still do to some extent (I can shop in straight size stores, etc);
3) That the weight loss industry is horrifying, misogynistic, manipulative and nothing more than the hand of capital in my pocket;
4) That my health is my own business and that nobody has the right to judge anyone else based on their weight;
5) That I am personally a thousand times healthier and happier in all respects than I was when I was skinny.

Without movements like Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size, without the words of wise women out there (both friends and strangers), I doubt I would have come to these conclusions. I owe these women a debt of gratitude far larger than I can ever repay. I am proud of my belly, my big thighs, my big hips, my ass. I no longer find shame in my hair, my nose, my short neck. My cleavage is my business, and I can choose to reveal it or not as I please. These aspects of my body are all part of me, and my body is beautiful because it is MINE and because I love being alive. The phantoms no longer haunt me.

I never thought I'd get here, much like I never thought I'd shake the constant cloak of depression and PTSD that I was hiding and suffocating in (that I wrote about in December). But I have, and I write about it here to flout the myth that skinny is necessarily better or more desirable. I feel more loved, more comfortable, more proud and beautiful than I ever have.

We all have different bodies, and we have to learn what's comfortable and what's right for us. Sometimes what's right and comfortable and natural for us aligns with socially acceptable standards, and sometimes it doesn't. I'd love to live in a world that celebrates the beauty and power of all sorts of different bodies, but as long as there is money to be made off of shame and pain the fight for that utopia will be a tough uphill battle. I'm inspired to fight, though. I am full of fire.

Monday, January 10, 2011

the common-sense guide to being a survivors' advocate

1. If there's a story in the news about rape charges or a survivor brings a story to you, don't dismiss that story. Listen. Don't assume automatically that the charges are false or could be false. The chances of it being false are extremely low.

Don't make excuses for the person who is being charged or the person you're being told the story about ("Wow, but he's always been cool to me!" is the most obvious example of the kind of dismissive language/excuse I'm talking about here). No matter your intentions, this is rape-apologist language, and it's one of the many factors that contribute toward survivors not speaking up - a cultural atmosphere in which we we as survivors have historically had our experiences scrutinized, minimized and dismissed.

2. If a survivor comes to you with a story and would like advice as to how to proceed, let the survivor direct the course of action (as long as that course of action isn't dangerous to anyone). Remember that there are survivors' organizations and crisis centers in your area that can help and have the resources to do more than you can alone; that's always my first suggestion. Those organizations will also in many cases help the survivor through criminal, legal and medical filing if that's what the survivor chooses to do.

3. Donate your time and/or money to a worthwhile organization that supports survivors' services in your area. There are local and national shelters, hotlines, and other nonprofit organizations that are always in need of your energy.

4. If the person being accused of assault is an artist or musician (or producer of goods, so on and so forth), step back and question why you're supporting this person's work, if you are. There are enough artists and musicians out there that you're not losing anything significant by not focusing on, supporting or choosing not to associate yourself with that person's work. If that person is a member of your community, help figure out community strategies to deal with the resultant issues. Keep in mind that safety within the community comes first.

5. Take the time to educate yourself. Start here:
Yes Means Yes
Rape Victim Advocates
Support New York
Men Can Stop Rape

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Stretch your arm out. Point your finger.
A to B. Nebula. There is no connection.
There are a thousand possible links.

We chew on ourselves. Our mouths are full
of flesh and dead words, cells sloughed off.
The newsday sets when we stop the noise,
screaming silenced beneath the fold.

Ourobouros. Nothing left. Seize the immediate.
Nothing left. There's a narrative. There is no connection.
There are a thousand possible links.

Each of us an empire, collapsing. The dust from
our abandoned cities clouds the sun.
Lay the blame: a new foundation.