Culture

Barbie Bods

Late last week the big news on the Internet was the launch of Mattel's new more body positive Barbie line - new dolls with various skin tones, hair-dos, and sizes, including curvy, tall and petite. The announcement immediately garnered a ton of press, both positive and negative. After decades of feminist criticism of the doll due to her promotion of unrealistic beauty standards, many people were thrilled that Mattel was finally getting with the times and listening to their consumer base. More radical body positive activists cried out that while it was a step forward, it was a tiny baby step, and one further promoting the 'acceptable' plus sized ideal of a size 12 (no fatter, please!) and calling out corporate culture for profiting on the body positive movement.


image courtesy www.usatoday.com

This week the debate has continued, with a Twitter campaign to revamp Ken as well as Barbie, giving him the more realistic "dad bod." While I agree the Ken doll proportions could use a little body positive/realistic upgrade, I find the term "dad bod" harmful and problematic in general.


My kids have never been big into toys at all. Lucy and Alice, as girls, have often received dolls as gifts and while they may play with them for about a week, they ultimately end up long lost at the bottom of a toy box. Barbies especially. They do, however, have a vintage suitcase full of them, most from my 1980s childhood, including one Latina Barbie, one Caribbean Beach Barbie with very dark skin that I bought for Lucy for her 2nd birthday, hoping to diversify her toy box, and at least three Kens with some serious plastic washboard abs.


Mostly these Barbies are naked because, let's face it, those tiny clothes are so damn hard to put on, let alone get off. Many have legs and feet chewed to bits, either by long deceased dogs or teething babies, and several are headless. One 1960s vintage mod Barbie lays lonely in Arlo's nightly bathtub, her slick blonde shoulder length bob floating amidst the bubbles.


Lucy and I were watching our beloved CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend, and they did a quick story about the new body positive Barbie body line. It was brief and to the point and during the next commercial break, my smart 11-year-old daughter turned to me and said,

You know what would be really cool, Mama? If they created a Barbie that looked just like you, and it came with a black bikini, and tiny heart stickers that you could put all over her body. Or three washable markers, so you could draw your own hearts and then wash them off and do it again and again.

image courtesy Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

That, my sweet girl, would be revolutionary, I said.

Barbie's new looks are certainly partly a money-making move in a consumerist culture, but I still think it's a step forward. By diversifying the bodies we see in mainstream media, companies like Mattel are helping make a more body positive visual landscape for our kids, one toy at a time. There is still so much ground to gain, however, so here's to future toy designers and entrepreneurs, marketing gurus and advertising professionals. Let's raise them right so that their future contributions to our consumer culture, or otherwise, may be even more positive.

Write Your Own Obituary

Last summer I was asked by the Boise Public Library to teach a "write your own obituary" workshop for their November Death in the Library series. As you may or may not know, I have some unique qualifications that make me the ideal person for such a job. 1) I used to work with dead bodies at a funeral home in Oregon 2) I went on to study the history of American death culture in graduate school AND wrote my thesis on the architecture of the American funeral home 3) I was hired by Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis to give art historical walking tours and I continue to give walking tours around Boise cemeteries and 4) I'm a writer.

But most importantly, not on this list, I'm a human and I'm a mother, two things that have made me even more aware of my own mortality.

A week or so ago one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, wrote this status update on her Facebook page, inquiring about the thoughts about death from all her fans:

At what point did you start seriously contemplating your own mortality? I mean in a real way. At what point in your life--if you have indeed reached this point in your life (some of you likely have not and some perhaps will never reach it) did the actual, vivid understanding that you and anyone you love may very well die today? I walked around in a cloud of never-imagining until my mom died. And then--every single day since then, since I was in a kid in COLLEGE--I've had the ...active, present thought that I or someone I love might die today. Today. It's not a neurotic fear thing. It's not a horrible monster that rules my life. I don't make decisions based on this feeling. It's simply an awareness of a presence and that presence is the stone cold fact of our mortality. Is it weird to have this daily awareness or do you also have this daily awareness? Is this awareness unique to people who were close to people who died young? (It would in some ways seems so.) Do you have this feeling even if you've not lost someone young? If you're a parent, did this feeling come/increase when you became a parent? Does this post feel utterly foreign to you because you hardly think of your own (or anyone's) mortality at all and you think I'm a mad hatter? I'm curious. I've always wondered.

For me, becoming a mother has made me so aware of this tenuous line between life and death that we all walk daily. Like Cheryl, I don't obsess over it (usually....unless I hear sirens within the 10 minutes my husband has left our house to bike to work or my kids have left our house to walk to school two blocks away because I am a bit neurotic and anxiety-ridden and please say YOU DO THIS TOO RIGHT), but it's something I'm constantly aware of.

I have had two miscarriages in the past three years and I've written about them before, often during October, which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Making and growing babies is a miracle, as all mothers can attest to. Things can go so wrong in such an instant and in so many ways, that we are the luckiest - those of us with children who are down the street at elementary schools and sleeping in cribs in the other room. Honestly, birthing my dead babies into a toilet felt more like giant chunks of my heart just fell out of my body and, maybe, to the rest of the world I could just flush it away but to me, it clings and swells and informs every moment of my life since. I imagine that's the case with all deaths of those close to us, and although people experience grief in such diverse ways, it likely informs every moment of life after.

My writing workshops in November were amazing and the most thought-provoking conversations came up, about how obituaries tell specific stories of our lives, depending on who writes them. If they are funny, is that trivializing the intense pain of losing someone and downplaying the ritual? If we gloss over the hard or negative parts of the deceased's life is that preserving a false memory? When a person is gone, do we care where they went to college or worked or do we want to read more about how they grew the most beautiful roses in town and changed minds with their activism?

I set a goal for myself to write my own obituary as practice before the end of 2015, but I was too busy living and enjoying life to sit down with pen and paper and take on such a serious task. But also? It felt so solemn and scary to write my own obituary at the age of 40. And then I started thinking that, as a writer and a blogger, I have put so many words out into the world at this point, and that those words - THESE WORDS - are a true testament to my life story. I am, in effect, writing my own obituary on the reg.

At the age of 25 I became the only female mortician's assistant to pick up dead bodies at night for a small funeral home in Corvallis, Oregon. It was as weird and dark as it sounds. In fact, it may be even weirder and darker than you could ever imagine. I recently told some of these sad and heartbreaking, gruesome and hilarious tales as a celebrity storyteller for Starry Story Night for the theme 'departure' here in Boise - a fun public storytelling event at the Boise Contemporary Theater. So, instead of writing my body removal tales, I'll let you listen, because sometimes actions speak louder than words and sometimes it's better expressed in spoken word.

And sometimes it's all of these things and moments and living so much life while always on the verge of death that makes us beautifully human. So whether or not you put fingers to a screen and write or stand in front of an audience and talk or hug your kids or run up mountain trails or knit fingerless gloves or bake cakes or fix cars, we are all writing our own obituaries.

Make yours one worth reading.

** It's about 15 minutes long and you might not want to 1) have your kids in the room and 2) be eating your lunch - just fair warning. You may also want to have a tissue handy, because the audience cried, and so did I.


The Year of My Best Body

These past few months I've gotten to know some of the leaders in the body positive movement better, women who have helped pave the way before me and continue to inform and inspire. Chrystal Bougon is the owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, a shop that not only sells plus-sized lingerie, but offers a supportive atmosphere for women of all sizes to reclaim and celebrate their sexuality. Yesterday she put forth a call for photographs from people of all shapes and sizes showing off our "best body" in response to Oprah's body shaming Weight Watchers commercials where she calls for finding that inner thin woman and shedding the weight for "your best body" in 2016.  Chrystal got angry, and rightfully so, and wrote this great rant on Facebook about this particular commercial yesterday:

What got me really fired up again about this #oprah #weightwatchers debacle is I caught the end of American Idol last night and there's Oprah telling me to try to have my #bestbody in 2016. All of those talented and excited young people watching American Idol hearing the message that even Oprah feels like she needs to diet down to be the best version of herself. That breaks my heart for all of the people who are ages 10 to 25 who are super impressionable and watching AI and who are going to think - wow, Oprah has given away more money in her life than I will ever even earn in a lifetime .... and she still can't seem to love her body. That fires me up. My 12 year old self watching this super successful accomplished woman peddling a diet that only works for 3% of people. And, a person who has EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE KNOWN to HUMANS, yet her body is still something she is trying to "find" the best version of. 
 
And literally almost in the same instant another body love badass, Adiba Nelson, published an article for Ravishly on the exact same subject titled "Thanks But No Thanks, Oprah #DitchTheDiet2016" in which she writes:
 
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for changing habits for your health, if that’s what you feel you want to do/need to do. But because we’re all thinking, breathing, non-idiotic human beings, we know that body size/shape, numbers on the scale, and health are not mutually exclusive.
 
Fitting into last summer’s skinny jeans does not shield you from a heart attack, just like tipping the scales at 205 pounds does not mean you can’t climb 17 flights of stairs in under five minutes or cycle 12 miles in under an hour or still look fly as hell in a size-16 wedding gown — ALL OF WHICH I DID IN MY BEST BODY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MISS O.
 

And pretty soon all three of us amazing fat warriors are writing on the same Facebook thread about this debacle and I'm sharing my open letter to Oprah and we're all answering Chrystal's call to share our favorite photos for the hashtag #bestbody2016. I sent her this image, because it certainly exemplifies my best body: a forty-year-old mother whose saggy breasts, cellulite, stretch-marked skin, silver streaks, heart, soul, vulnerability and courage are showing.
 
courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design
 
We all know as grown adult women that Oprah can do whatever she wants, and that she alone has sovereignty over what is right for her own body. That being said, she's got so much power over what other people think, especially impressionable young people. And she's got a lot to gain from peddling a product that has an over 90% failure rate, ensuring that its customers keep coming back and spending their money. She's profiting off making other people feel bad about how they look and (apparently) isn't required by law to disclose the fact that she owns 10% of the stock in Weight Watchers, despite being it's new spokeswoman and apparent enrollee (again).
 
Mostly, though, I take issue with the fact that in these two Weight Watchers commercials she makes claims that "inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be" and "let's let 2016 be the year of our best bodies."
 
Because you know what? There is not, and never has been, a skinny girl inside me dying to get out. There is only a fat fabulous feminist who is strong and smart and proud. I had a pretty damn good 2015, but 2016? It's gearing up to be the year of my best body yet, all 209 happy pounds of it.
 

Potty-Mouthed Mother Of The Year

This past weekend I came across this article written about me in September. I am still unearthing loads of press and websites and blog posts and Facebook mentions on business pages about my stand for self-love. Google Alerts hasn't been able to keep up for months, but I love this organic way of stumbling upon them or having people send them to me. They all touch my heart and make me proud.

But this one? BOOM.


Mother of the Year? My heart didn't just swell, IT EXPLODED.

In the article the author Kelly Bryant states, "In this age where bullying and negativity doesn't just happen in person, but anonymously all over the Internet, body positivity and self-love have become two of the biggest concerns parents have regarding their children." And she's absolutely right. Mothers (and I would argue fathers as well) may be the single greatest influence on their children's body image and self-esteem. (Don't just take it from me, doctors and scientists corroborate.) These kids of ours, both our daughters and sons, they listen when we tell them their bodies are strong and able and good and perfect as-is. They also listen to what we say in front of them, about ourselves and other people, and take it to heart. Not only are they aware that they are physically a part of us and love us just the way we are, they internalize everything we say. Especially right now, at the start of a new year, with January bringing out body shaming talk and resolutions to change physical appearance, we need to be so careful with our words.

"Ugh, that sweater makes him look fat."
"Well, she is dressed sort of slutty."
"Look at these love handles."
"No way am I putting on a bathing suit with these thighs."
"I can't have dessert tonight because I already ate a muffin at breakfast."
"I probably gained five pounds after eating Christmas cookies last week."
"We need to run this mocha off tomorrow."
"These jeans make me look so fat!"
"That haircut is really not flattering for her round face."

Image courtesy of www.amightygirl.com

This past weekend I also spent hours worrying and crying and yelling and, finally, hours on the Internet scouring resources to help us parent a child that was recently diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder with severe Hyperacusis. Part of that diagnosis means that she is neurologically wired differently than most of us and hears sounds many, many decibels higher than we do, making her ears very sensitive to noise and causing her ear pain to the point of making her physically ill. The other part of the diagnosis means that she is sometimes volatile and angry, sad and sensitive, overly active and falls down a lot, difficult and amazing, exhausting and terrific. All parts of the diagnosis have been hard in so many ways for our little family. This past weekend we put together an Anti-Anxiety Kit and ordered essential oils and crafted up a Calm Down Jar. The jar is handmade from glitter, glue, a Lego guy and water. I thought, how hard can this be? Um....

Hers.


Mine. (Pinterest fail, anyone? Whatever it looks like, it seems to be helping her.)

This past weekend I also bought tickets for a mama daughter date to Sights and Sounds of Cuba, an afternoon performance of Flamenco, piano, guitar, singing, drumming, and images of Cuban art. For my Lucy's 6th grade class project she's doing research all semester on the country. We've been having so much fun exploring Cuba from Boise along with her, from eating fried plantains and cubano sandwiches at Casablanca Cuban Grill just up the road, scrolling through a friend's photos and watching videos of her belt out jazz in Spanish at Cuban nightclubs, and checking out all the travel and history books on the country that our public library has to offer.


This morning I woke up to sad news that the beloved musician and artistic genius that was David Bowie had died at the age of 69 after a 18-month battle with cancer. I read this really sweet article once called "10 Things All Teenage Girls Should Know" by Caitlin Moran and the suggestions were so perfect - about beauty and sorrow and fear and being true to yourself. #9, though, really hit home today. Doing things differently, challenging the norm, standing out, and being brave sometimes really can change the world. We can be heroes, indeed, as Bowie sang in the 1977 song of the same title.

Image courtesy of www.bookofsuccess.tumblr.com

And while I was lamenting the loss of this treasure to the world and Facebooking on my phone and simultaneously trying to get dressed, Arlo grabbed an empty pint glass, dipped it into a toilet full of my old pee and filled it up. A toilet that I hadn't flushed all night long because 1) it wastes water 2) no way in hell am I risking waking the baby 3) I'm lazy. And then?

HE DRANK IT.

I didn't catch him until after a gulp or two (please please please let that be all he drank) and screamed, "OH FUCK! NOOOOOOO!" to which I completely startled him and he dropped said full cup of pee and it splattered ALL OVER MY ENTIRE BATHROOM.

(Which is a bigger parenting fail, screaming the f-word at my baby or letting him drink my urine? You decide.)

I won some and I lost some this past weekend, and every weekend for that matter. Mother of the Year? Probably not. But I do think that my stand for self-love was a huge win - for me, for my children, for all of you. So is being careful how I talk about my body and others' bodies, prohibiting food shaming conversations, being brave, taking risks, and showing my weird true colors to the world. Taking the time to do research on Cuba with my 6th grader is another "good mama" mark I can make. Yelling and flailing around a special needs child with a complicated diagnosis and swearing and letting my baby guzzle my piss? Prooooooobbbbbably not award-worthy parenting.

I don't know what I'm doing most of the time, but damn it, I TRY. I'm still figuring this out.

So instead of Mother of the Year, how about:

She's Trying Really Damn Hard

or

Sometimes Fucking Up But Really Doing Pretty Good

It may be the best I can hope for.

Bind Them As A Sign, Fix Them As An Emblem

A few months ago I stood silently in a crowded marketplace in Boise, Idaho, in a black bikini, a blindfold, with a chalkboard sign at my feet and three Crayola markers in my hands. I said nothing, but you heard me loud and clear. My silence spoke to your heart and you stood up beside me and said, "Me, too."

I haven't erased the chalkboard since I hand-penned this sentiment four months ago and I just may never.
 
And then I started talking about that hour stand for self-love and telling stories about activists who came before me and the history of dieting and feminist literature and motherhood and sadness and joy and saying yes and saying no more. I've been preaching these things for years and writing about them here in this space, but now more people were hearing them, and media all over the world were sharing my story. The tales were coming out of my mouth and spilling onto the page. My words spoke to your soul and you kept reading and listening and said, "I've got a story, too."

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

One of my favorite posts from the media frenzy when all I could think was OMG THIS LIFE and FUCK YES.
 
Within three weeks of the video going viral my Facebook friend requests maxed out at 5,000. My Instagram followers have gone from 200 to over 2,000. The body positive community in the Boise Rad Fat Collective has grown from 30 to 730. The video stands around 130 million views at this point, making it indeed one of the most viral internet videos of all time. 

Illustration by a young fan and California artist Lexi Lozano, 2015


So many exciting things happened in 2015 to me, because of you. I got courageous and super brave and showed some vulnerability and you did, too. You have written me letters and emails and stop me in public restrooms and call out at the grocery store and share tears. You drew hearts all over my body that day in the market with my daughters' markers and later the sweat and tears and a warm shower washed them all down the drain, only not really. Those hearts have been etched into my own swollen heart and you kept sending them to me on the internet, in words and emoticons. I started drawing hearts with markers on my children each morning, and them on me, because the symbol has become such a powerful reminder of self-love in our home.


In October my friend and Presbyterian minister Marci Glass wrote a sermon about binding as a sign and talked about the mark making that people did on me that day in the market, and how I've continued the practice in my home with Sharpies and my children. That Sunday in church, she told her congregation beautiful stories, as she always does, some about historic body practices and tattooing and one of them was about me:

She said she has started drawing small hearts on her kid’s bodies each day. She says something to them while they eat their cheerios, something like “I believe in you” or “you are valuable”, “when you make a mistake you are still beautiful”. “trust your instincts”, etc.
 

She wrote that it is “something for them to look at while they are away from me, growing and leaning in to their own separate worlds from mine, and remember that they are good and strong and there is no wrong way to have a body.”

She said her children have started returning the gesture, drawing hearts on Amy and on her husband.

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The author of Deuteronomy is asking us to do what my friend does with her family. It doesn’t have to be with sharpies or tattoos. It doesn’t have to be tefilin or prayer shawls. We are called, however, to take these words into our very selves so that we are changed by them.

That day in the market people wrote words, not just hearts, and, like Marci said in church that day, I took those words into my self so that I am changed by them. So, as a reminder, especially for those hard days when things are just HARD, this morning I had one permanently inked.


On this last day of an extraordinary year, a fellow Boise artist whose illustrations and tattoo work I've admired for a decade drew one small heart just on top of those stretch marks on the dimpled fat of my right thigh. A thigh that has never failed me through four decades as I have learned to stand up, walk, run, jump, and kick. A thigh that I exposed to the world in all its imperfections. A thigh that many people examined critically and felt the need to write horrid mean things about, but also that many people felt the need to write heartfelt warm things about. Here's to continuing to expose those thighs, our hearts, and our kindness - to ourselves and each other. I'm planning to continue the revolution in 2016 and I hope you'll join me, because I'm just getting started.

Digital artwork by Boise artist Amy Granger, 2015. She told me that the profiles behind me are the other women I'm inspiring to follow my lead, take my hand, and stand beside me, herself included. So she created this to hang above her desk as a reminder every day, and shared it with all her friends and fans so they could do the same, and I cried my eyes out. Again.
 
There are a few great lists out there written by some amazing activists with suggestions for personal resolutions revolutions in the new year, like this one and this one, with lots of great ideas. One very simple thing you can do for yourself in this new year is take tiny steps toward being more body positive and kind to yourself. And I've got just the place to help you find out how. If you'd like more education, more tips, more kindness, and more love, I encourage you to ask for an add on Facebook to the Boise Rad Fat Collective. And if you're already there (thank you!), add just one friend who you think is ready for more positivity in their lives, who is ready to begin living with an open mind and heart.

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

I'll keep writing and talking and standing, if you promise to keep showing up. As the uber-talented Caroline Caldwell said so eloquently:

In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.

2015 was spectacular. Let's keep going with the rebellion in 2016.

Six Favorite Body Positive Books for Kids

I write a lot about books, because reading is so important to me. I'm a lifelong academic with two bachelors degrees and a masters degree and, as a researcher and a writer, devouring books has become a way of life. It also fueled my body positivity and feminism and continues to do so. I've instilled that into my children as well - not only are we the stewards of a pink doghouse-turned-Little Free Library, we are avid users of the Boise Public Library system. My kids have had their own library cards since they were toddlers, and we are at the library at least twice a week, picking up books on hold or attending baby storytime or borrowing movies or going to fun kids art classes. As a writer and an artist I've been asked to teach classes and workshops there as well.
 
Christmas is a mere eight days away now, so I know it's a bit late in the shopping season, but I wanted to share six of our favorite body positive books for kids, in case you're looking for a last minute gift for little ones in your life, or an upcoming birthday gift or just more quality books for your home library. I do most of my shopping via Amazon (holla 2-day Prime shipping!), but our local bookshops also carry most of these books. And, of course, I know for a fact that the Boise Public Library does, too, if you're more of a borrower like we are. 
 
Brontorina by James Howe, 2010



This is probably one of my favorites this year, and Alice's, too. Brontorina wants to join in a ballet class but can't find shoes that are big enough nor a studio that is large enough to accommodate her. She's enthusiastic and kind, but all the other children are worried that she's going to smash them with her large body or knock them over with her long tail. Until the instructor realizes that "the problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small." So they make an outdoor dance academy that animals of all sizes and shapes can enjoy, expanding the love of dance for all. We got this at the library but I love it so much that it's now on my shopping list.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, 2013

 
A Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo is about dance and friendship between a chubby child and a lean bird. From the dust jacket: "In this innovative wordless book, a tentative partnership blooms into an unlikely friendship between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony." We love wordless stories in our house, as we make up different words each time. I think this is such a creative way to experience a book with children.

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, 2007


Yep, this one is written by THAT Julianne Moore, the famous actress known for her acting chops and beautiful red hair and freckles. However, as a kid, she wasn't so fond of either, and her freckles were always something everyone commented on. She was embarrassed by them and tried to scrub them out and cover them up until she met others with red hair and freckles who helped her learn to live with them because, after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU. Freckleface Strawberry is a sweet little girl who grew up to be a frecklefaced woman who realizes : who cares if you have a million freckles if you have a million friends.

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson, 2004

 
Lucy received this book as a Christmas gift ten years ago from a dear friend and it's become a favorite in our house. Hilda is a hefty hippo who loves all types of dancing, but she's so large that she shakes the earth when she moves her fat body, much to the chagrin of all the other animals around her. Unfortunately, they convince her to try out hobbies that are quieter and take up less space, like knitting, but she hates them and ends up synchronized swimming, combining water and dance. She loves it, ultimately, but I kinda hate the part where everyone else makes her feel bad for moving her fat body because it disrupts their peaceful world. I wanna yell, "FUCK THAT, HILDA. Make some noise and live large!" so I add that part into the story whenever I read it to my kids. Minus the f-bomb, of course.
 

 
This book came out of our Little Free Library, where we often pick up some treasures (and also some lame propaganda and trash, which, if you follow me on Instagram, you're familiar with). The story goes through ways we are all different, like how our noses look, featuring drawings of human noses of diverse shapes and skin tones along with Muppet noses, like those belonging to Snuffaluffagus and Big Bird. The next page talks about how our noses are the same, as they all breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff. It's goes on like this and is darling and the familiar characters are like salve to my soul.
 
It's Okay to be Different by Todd Parr, 2001


 
Another of my favorites, I ordered this a long time ago when I wanted to teach my kids about diversity in a unique way. Kind of like the Sesame Street book, it highlights ways that we are all different and that is what, in fact, makes our world such a beautiful interesting place. It's okay to have two dads, it's okay not to have hair, it's okay to get mad, it's okay to need some help, it's okay to be different. You are special and important just because of being who you are.
 
These are all messages I can get behind, and while I can (and do) tell my kids over and over that all bodies are good bodies and that there is no wrong way to have a body, it's so nice to expose them to other voices, artists, and stories in addition to mine. I truly believe that books can change the world and that as parents, we have the greatest influence on our children. Here's to raising readers and radicals. 

BOOK REPORT : A Popularity Guide

A few years ago I started a mother/daughter book club with a few literary loving friends and their book adoring girls. We all have daughters about the same age and thought it would be fun to let them each take turns picking an age-appropriate book and read it together and then join up for food and conversation. Some guidelines were set forth:
  • No more than about 300 pages
  • Ideally no one in the group has read it before
  • Also ideally, there have to be several copies available in the Boise Public Library system
  • We have around two months to finish each book
 
The book selector and mom host the book club and are in charge of assigning dishes for the potluck dinner, selecting the date, and organizing the discussion questions. We've read some amazing books and done cool things together to celebrate them - like reading The Giver and then going to see the movie and assigning everyone to bring an object from home that they think defines "art" to them for our discussion of Chasing Vermeer.

photo courtesy of www.dispatch.com
 

This past month Brigette and Sage, one of our six mama/daughter pairs, picked the 2014 book Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, a memoir by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was 14-years-old when she picked up a thrifted copy of the 1950s Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide and decided to read it and give Betty's outdated advice a go during her 8th grade year as a social experiment. Maya was an introverted geek, she says, and secretly took on a different chapter in Betty's book each month of the academic year and journaled about it. From hair to clothes, good grooming to earning money, Maya tried out some of Betty's tips in an effort to see if 60+ year old advice from a mid-century fashion model still held true. And, would it, in fact, make her more popular?

Betty Cornell's book was out of print, I believe, until 2014, when Maya's project inspired a reissuing of it. You can find it at a few bookstores and on Amazon.com, but it's nowhere in our local public library system, so I haven't read it in its entirety. In addition to the quotes printed in Popular, I have found some chapters online, and it's pretty archaic, shallow, and body shaming, to say the least. Some excerpts from her Introduction and chapter 2, "Figure Problems:"

I was accepted as a model, but not for glamorous poses. My early modeling consisted of posing for tubby teen pictures. I soon learned there was not much future in being a tubby teen. So at sixteen I took stock of my situation and decided to really go to work on myself.

I did all the things that you will read about later in this book. I went on a sensible diet, cut out between-meal nibbling (I used to eat enough between meals to satisfy an army), did daily exercises, cleared up my complexion, and styled my hair. And with the help of my family, including Bob, and the advice of my friends and fellow-models, I learned how best to cope with the social situations that came up in both my private and my professional life. At the end of my self-improvement campaign, I was no longer a tubby teen in every sense of the term, I was a real junior-size model with a lot of self-confidence.

The reason I say it’s fun is that every girl, I don’t care who she may be, wants to be attractive and popular. To get to be that kind of girl, all you have to do is try some of my suggestions. They work. What I did, you can do too. I found that the best way to tackle the job is to recognize that success is up to you. If you put real elbow grease into acquiring beauty, poise and polish, you’ll find it pays off with more dates, more fun, more good times. Gee, what more could anyone ask?

But just because your body is restless and refuses to settle down is no reason to despair of having a good figure. It is a question of mind over matter. Start by intelligently figuring out your figure problem. Find out about your body. Are you large-boned or small-boned? Is your tendency toward longness and leanness or to shortness and plumpness? Stand before your mirror and contemplate yourself from head to toe. Fish out the measuring tape and take statistics.

Statistics are alarmingly accurate. Chances are when you take yours you will wish they weren’t so. Those extra pounds that you guessed you might have gained are unequivocally recorded on the tape measure. What you feared has come to pass, what a popped button or a pulled seam has been plainly insinuating for some time, is true: you are overweight.

Now overweight is nothing to be alarmed about. It is easy enough to do something about it and do something about it sensibly. Don’t lose your head and go on a starvation diet. First talk the matter over intelligently with your family and your doctor. It may be that your extra pounds have come about because of a glandular disturbance. It is more probable that they are a result of overeating. But never take the chance of upsetting your body routine by a silly diet. Always check first with your doctor before you make any plans to lose weight. When you get his O.K., then and only then diet, and diet under his supervision.

Betty goes on to give lots of dieting tips, including full on restricted meal plans, a few of which Maya does try out in the book, but quickly realizes how crappy the diet makes her feel, how she can't think straight, and decides it wasn't worth it for the 1-3 lbs she lost that month. She also wears pearls and white gloves to school, takes on a babysitting job, tries out makeup for the first time, and steps out of her comfort zone by eating lunch at table with a group of kids outside of her social standing and going to prom without a date. Maya is quirky and honest, funny and shy, smart and thoughtful, and takes Betty's old-fashioned wisdom in stride, which is what I loved about her so much. She learns that being true to herself is the most essential, and that being popular means something different to everyone and, maybe, isn't that important after all. In the end, everyone in Maya's rural Texas school near the Mexican border knows who she is and likes her, for her weird way of dressing and her noteworthy actions in the lunchroom. She resonates with one particular bit of wisdom from Betty Cornell, that I do, too:

Being pretty and attractive does help you to be popular, but being pretty and attractive does not and never can guarantee that you will be popular. There is another factor, a very important factor, and that is personality. Personality is that indescribable something that sets you off as a person. It is hard to explain but easy to recognize.

photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/popularthememoir
 
Lucy and I loved this book, and I looked forward every night to cuddling up in my bed and taking turns reading chapters out loud to one another. We laughed about Maya's nerdy professor father and her sweet autistic sister. We cringed at some of the mean kids at her school and related to Maya's thrift store shopping. I ripped up strips of an old tee shirt and put Lucy's hair into rag rollers and we tried to close up our pores with ice cubes at night just like Maya did. These sorts of mother/daughter bonding moments are significant, but the best part about reading this book with her were the discussions we had about being introverted or extroverted, pretty or plain, nerdy or cool, popular or unpopular, and how all of them are just fine ways to be.

That blurry disembodied hand is Lucy sprinkling crushed candy canes on our tiny personal sized bundt cakes. How perfect are our 1950s cake carriers, right?

Last night all twelve of us donned our best (or fake) pearls and cardigans and discussed the book over noodle casserole, classic Jello salad, Betty Crocker's Candy Cane Cake, vintage soda in bottles, deviled eggs and celery stuffed with pimento cheese. We heard from our preteens/teens that this popularity and group/clique stuff is real and consequential, as is your appearance in junior high school. The girls laughed as they took turns trying on my faux Spanx girdle (that I wore once and WTF NEVER AGAIN) and posed for silly photos. Serious conversations were had about how far body positivity has come since the 1950s, how dangerous dieting can be, how it's okay to be shy, and how you don't owe anything to a boy who takes you on a date except a polite thank you. We talked about how maybe it's more important to be kind than popular, and how maybe being inclusive and real can make you popular. Stories were shared about how overrated being pretty is in this country and how our lives are more enriched by being passionate, intellectual, and thoughtful.

 
 
While none of us came out as big fans of Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide in the end, we certainly came out big fans of Popular, and of Maya Van Wagenen. I follow the young author on Twitter and liked her Facebook fan page, and sent her a photo and a note thanking her for her wisdom and honesty, and for being a role model as a writer and a human being. She may not be super pretty nor popular, but we all know there are more important things in life to be, and that beauty and kindness are far more than skin deep. Kind of like a few other girls I know.

Get Off

I never thought the day would come when I'd be writing about erections on the internet, but I also never in my wildest dreams thought I'd become famous for standing in a blindfold and my black bikini in Boise in the name of self-love. Life is strange and amazing. And here I am sharing stories of boners and body shaming.

[photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design]
 

As the cumulative views of the video of my stand for radical self-acceptance in August near 130 million, making it one of the most viral videos of all time, the response to my courage and message that all bodies are valuable has been overwhelmingly positive. I've received thousands of emails thanking me for my bravery and compassion. Strangers have told me their stories of self-loathing and eating disorders, surgeries and sadness, joy and healing. The media and people on the street and new fans on the radio have all shared the same sentiment.

[One of my favorite Rad Fatty Merit Badges just received in the mail from UK artist Stacy Bias. Her body positive art celebrates the creativity and resilience of fat folks surviving stigma. ]
 
There have been, though, some people who have felt it their prerogative to share other viewpoints about my stand, my self, and mainly, about my body. The only negative feedback I heard during my hour blindfolded in the marketplace was the word "inappropriate" in reference to how I was dressed from one or two folks in the audience that August afternoon. I later saw in the photos and video footage some serious side-eyes from women giving me leery looks of disdain. The minute my blog post took off and the video reached 50,000 views and the local media picked up the story, though, things changed. Suddenly my story and images of my half-nude 40-year-old mom bod were EVERYWHERE. I was on national media homepages, websites, Twitter, Instagram and all over Facebook. And thus began the hateful vitriol. They made all sorts of assumptions about what kind of mother I must be, how smart I am, where I must be from, what I eat, and how little I obviously exercise and have sex. And most of the negative comments about my physicality have come from men.

Disgusting.
This is what an ugly ass fat bitch who needs to lose some weight looks like.
No one should be proud to have boobs on their back.
Feminists do look like that - fat, ugly and disgusting.
Her legs look like an old awful leather jacket.
What's wrong with her boobs? They're so saggy and look like she's hiding Oreo cookies in there to eat later.
Gross! She needs to keep that cellulite under wraps. She looks like an overripe pear.


Guess what, assholes? YOU JUST PROVED MY POINT.

Conversely, I also have attracted just as vile stuff in private messages, stating the reverse. Notes about how hot I am, how much they'd like to have sex with me or marry me.

I love your sexy legs.
Have you ever considered doing porn? You should, because you're a big, beautiful woman.
I've watched your video over and over and jacked off every time.
Do you have a boyfriend? Because I'd love to show you you're beautiful every day.
What man doesn't appreciate you? I'll help boost your self-esteem.
Girl, you damn hot.
I want to fuck your knees.
You shouldn't feel bad about yourself because you're thick and fine.

Guess what, creeps? YOU ALSO JUST PROVED MY POINT.

All of you who have responded to my performance art piece in these ways are part of the overwhelming majority of people in this country world who need this message so badly. You are, sadly, part of the reason I put myself out there in the first place. Regardless of how I'm dressed (or undressed), you have no right to shame my body.

I am not here for your lack of a boner.

Images of my body placed on the internet do not give you the right to make assumptions about me. This includes selfies, which are often misconstrued as vain and selfish, based on our misogynistic culture. They are especially a popular tool for self-acceptance and challenge the idea that we, as girls and women, need a justification to be seen. I am not asking for you to find me attractive, but I am asking that even if you don't like how I look, you don't deny me the respect of being a valuable human. Like fat activist Kath Read wrote in a blog post recently about this very phenomenon, many men only treat women with respect if they find them attractive.  It’s the Nice Guy phenomenon.  Those men who are only “nice guys” to the women they want to sleep with. Which leads me to this:

I am not here for your boner.

Nor did I stand half-nude in the market because I was desperate for a man to come and save me from my self-esteem woes. I don't need a boyfriend or a good lay or you to tell me that you want to bury your face in my big juicy ass. Not only do I not need it, I don't want it. Your messages are unappreciated and unwelcome, just like your asshole friends up above.

It's never okay to shame women for what we are wearing, or not wearing. Just like a little girl in a spaghetti-strapped tank top is not responsible for "distracting" little boys at school, a big girl wearing a bathing suit in public is not to blame for the bad behavior of big boys with a computer. Mini skirts are not "asking for it" and leggings are not "too revealing." This is not a new game, nor is it a new problem. Women's bodies have been objectified by men for centuries and, in fact, this is not my first experience with horrible male internet trolls, but it has been by far my worst. I have very thick skin and know that it's easy to make rude and unkind and irrational comments on the internet behind the safety of our screen. The horrible things written usually come from fear, lack of education, and self-esteem issues of the writer who is misplacing them onto me, but it still hurts a little. And it makes me angry and fired up.

Big boys all over the world would like to control what I, as a woman, do with my body. But I make the rules. I get the final say. And I will use my blog, my voice, my body, and my clothing (or lack of it) to say it.

[Another of Stacy Bias' Rad Fatty Merit Badges in my collection.] 
 

I glorify love. I glorify happiness. I glorify acceptance. I support health at every size. I support the fact that there is no wrong way to have a body, regardless of gender, age, ability, size, health or nationality. And that you alone have the right to sovereignty on what you do with it, put on it, and put in it. I glorify this one wild and precious life. I support this body.

[This Is What A Feminist Looks Like tee courtesy of the University of Idaho Women's Center]
 

And, since this album has been on repeat in my car for the past few months, it's become a bit of a soundtrack to a revolution, in my mind at least. So, as the badass P!nk says so succinctly what I tried to above:

I'm not here for your entertainment. And you don't really want to mess with me tonight.

Making Your Own Way

Nearly six years ago I got a surprise email from a woman I'd met only once before. She was the sister-in-law of a dear friend of mine, a fellow University of Idaho alumni, and a local interior designer in Boise. She wanted to meet for coffee and talk about a proposition. I'd recently been laid off from my job as a curator at the only art museum in Idaho. I was blazing my own trail and cobbling together the career that I really wanted, including being my own boss in the local art scene, a writer, and a burgeoning body positive activist. I'm always open to meeting new people and taking unexpected paths, though, and thought, why not?


I pride myself on having an intuitive read on people and a savvy sense, so after a long conversation over brunch at a little bistro at a garden nursery in Boise's North End, I knew I'd met my entrepreneurial match. Kristin had an idea - she'd seen a lack in the art and craft scene, particularly around quality holiday bazaars. I couldn't agree more, I said. Boise needs something a little edgy and indie and high quality. I think we should start one, but I need you. I've got the business experience and organizational expertise, but I need your curatorial eye and connections in the art world, she said.


A lot of research, organization, hard work, long hours, and creative sessions later, Wintry Market | Handmade for the Holidays was born. And here we are, celebrating our fifth birthday this weekend. Since the beginning, we have prided ourselves on hand-selecting our vendors for the best quality and diversity in one marketplace, while charging a modest booth fee and taking no artist commission. Kristin and I spend hours doing tax paperwork and making Excel spreadsheets and working with a local artist to design our poster each year. We write blog posts and Facebook updates and promote on the radio and craft press releases. Our assistant, Anna, is the creative genius behind our amazing website, where she volunteers her time. You'll see our husbands there up on ladders and our parents babysitting grandchildren and hanging signs and my 11-year-old daughter Lucy selling art at my booth, including embroideries she stitched with her own little hands. The behind-the-scenes work that goes into this successful local event is extraordinary and so worth it, as all the best small business endeavors are. Over 1,500 flock to our free event each November on the weekend before Thanksgiving and shop. They meet the artists in their neighborhoods and buy earrings for themselves and hand-crafted candles for their grandmas. Their kids hang out at our free art stations and snap photos at our photo booths and eat lunch at local food trucks in the parking lot.


Our very first Wintry Market was at Ballet Idaho with around 30 vendors one snowy weekend five years ago and we've grown to take over the entire historic El Korah Shrine with 63 vendors, both upstairs and down, and a full bar for your cocktailing pleasures. This year we're excited to partner with the Boise Public Library to bring you a free 3-D printing workshop where you can make your own tiny jewelry treasure. The annual Boise Holiday Parade will be happening in the neighborhood on Saturday morning as well, so bring the little ones, wave to Santa, and stop by to meet the makers afterward, including Kristin and myself. She'll be upstairs near the stage at Inspire Me Gifts with darling stockings she's been slaving away at over her sewing machine and I'll be downstairs at Ticky-Tacky, selling subversive cross-stitches and thrift store monster paintings. You may not find us at our booths much, though, as we'll be running around like happy little elves, stocking toilet paper in the bathrooms, helping with parking, chatting with vendors, (hopefully) sipping a cocktail in the Oasis Bar and spreading the truth and love about making your own way in the Idaho grassroots art scene.  Because not only do we at Team Wintry believe that to be true, we've proven it to be a successful business model and a way to give back to our art community, making it the best kind of business to be in.

 {I take unloved and discarded landscape and still-life paintings from thrift stores and rummage sales and illustrate and paint quirky monsters in them giving them a silly new life. $20-$40 at my Ticky-Tacky booth at this weekend's Wintry Market!}
 
{As a radical feminist artist, I often incorporate needlepoint, particularly cross stitch, in subversive ways. These stitched up bits of craftivism are all unique and available at my Ticky-Tacky booth at this weekend's Wintry Market, $15 each.}


Uprising

I emailed Jae West before I took my stand for radical self-love at the Capital City Public Market in August to talk about it. To ask for her blessing in my interpretation, to talk about logistics, to get support, to tell her how inspirational and meaningful her project was. She wrote back with excitement right away, and told me she only stood in Picadilly Circus for about 20-30 minutes. I told her I stood for 50 minutes and could've stayed longer if I hadn't run out of skin to write on and ink in my markers. Very quickly my video went viral and news media from all over the world were calling and texting and emailing and it was being shared everywhere, from NPR's Facebook wall to Alanis Morissette on Twitter. Take care of yourself, Jae told me. Having your motivations and your body picked apart by the world can be very hard emotionally. She spoke from experience.
 
And it has been hard. It's been emotional and amazing, exhausting and exhilarating, scary and stimulating. It's been a ride that has taken me up and down paths I never imagined before, all in the course of a few months time. I have adventures and experiences on the horizon that I never dreamed of before, and I'll be forever grateful for that moment I took a deep breath, centered myself, and took off my dress, just in front of Juniper restaurant and the bakery tent that hot Saturday morning.
 
In addition to people all over the world reaching out to me, from celebrities to news reporters, writers to fathers, I've been so surprised to see women from all over the world rise up in black bathing suits in the name of self-acceptance and demand to be seen, for their imperfect bodies and broken souls, beautiful stories and courageous journeys. 
 

 {photo courtesy The Sudsbury Star}
 
Like Sheila Bianconi in Canada, who suffers from self-esteem issues and 'invisible disabilities' like fibromyalgia and depression.
 
 {photo courtesy of Gabby Allen}
 
And like this group of young women in Roseburg, Oregon, who sent me this photo along with a sweet note:
 
Hi! I just wanted to let you know that you were a big inspiration and source of strength for three of my friends and I. We saw your video and were very moved by it, and decided we'd like to see someone in Roseburg Oregon do the same. Amazingly, we were met with a huge amount of positive reaction. Thank you so much for being you.
 

 {photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
{photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
And Mary Ann Conlin, an American living and working in Seoul, South Korea, where there are strict standards of beauty and weight, bringing an interesting perspective as a foreigner to a native audience.
 
{photo courtesy of http://anaptuze.blogspot.com}
 
And this young woman, Zsofi Forras, whose stand in Budapest, Hungary, had the police worried for her safety, and rightfully so, given parts of her story she shared in her blog post:
 
There were a few incidents when I felt like the trust I had put into the public was violated. Somebody rubbed his face on my bottom while taking a picture. Another guy expressed his strong wish to be with me in a more private setting after drawing two dicks on me with his friend. He wouldn’t leave even though I made it clear how uncomfortable he was making me feel. Another man stuck a pen between my thighs. As I winced he pulled it back and asked if he could draw testicles on me. I asked him not to and he left.  
 
 
And this woman, who at 250 pounds, stood in a leopard print bikini downtown Chicago just last week, sharing in the message of no body shame.
 
It may be this unique video take on the radical stance of self-acceptance, though, by high school student Genny Zuniga, that is my favorite thus far.
 

 
There are probably dozens more stands for self-love that I have yet to hear of or that are still in the works. I can't think of a more beautiful legacy to the project. Here's to ARMIES OF WOMEN IN BLACK BIKINIS from all corners of the world rising up from the ashes of a society profiting from our self-doubt, standing alongside me and Jae, and saying, "US TOO." 

{photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design}

Weighing In

I've been active in the body positive movement for nearly seven years now. In early 2009 I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy with it?" and after scrolling through pages and pages of diet industry links and how to be happier by losing weight, I finally stumbled across two blogs that forever changed the way I look at my body and the world. I will always be indebted to The Curvy Fashionista and the Fat Heffalump for leading me down a fat acceptance path of revolutionary feminist thought that has helped create the person I am today. I devoured book after book and blog after blog and researched like mad for the following three years, working internally on my voice and self-love, getting stronger day by day. It was showing up in my art and writing and, by early 2012, I was ready to take it public in a big way.

I applied for Ignite Boise, an innovative public presentation event where a few lucky speakers stand up and have 5 minutes and 20 Powerpoint slides to share an idea with the 800 Boiseans who pack the house at the historic Egyptian Theater that night and, later, the world via YouTube video. I offered up a program titled "Accepting the Big Ass: How to Be Fat, Fit and Flabulous," proposing a brilliant and subversive spin-off of a 2011 blog post by Dianne Sylvan called 10 Rules for Fat Girls. Ignite Boise said yes, and I was scared shitless as I stood shaking on stage and told the entire audience that I was fat and that I weighed 250 pounds. It was liberating and terrifying and I'm still pretty damn proud of that performance.

 
A few weeks later I wanted to do something guerrilla art related to celebrate International No Diet Day on May 6th. I had long been a follower of fat activist Marilyn Wann, who had created some body positive art called a YAY! scale, a traditional bathroom scale turned craftivism that gives you affirmations rather than numbers when you step on it each morning. I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I took my old scale and disassembled it, making my own radical piece.

I decided to sneak it in to Modern Art, a yearly event put on inside a mid-century boutique hotel, in which rooms are rented out to local artists to use as an impromptu gallery for the night. There's live music, drinking, dancing and performance art and it's a super popular Boise event that draws thousands of people to the small downtown hotel.

I placed my version of the YAY! scale along with a sign right near the women's restroom off the lobby. I tucked it into a corner, perfect for people waiting in line to use the only bathroom in the place. The spot was too tiny for covert photographing, but I secretly watched people read the sign and stand on the scale and laugh with joy about their "measurement."


Beautiful
Caring
Smart
Kind
Adorable

Instead of an arbitrary number.

 
Right before my Ignite Boise talk I had stood on this very scale before covering those numbers up with positive words, because it felt important to disclose my exact weight to the audience. I could reclaim those numbers like I had reclaimed the word fat.

I do, in fact, still keep another scale hidden in a cupboard alongside my YAY! scale, mostly used over the years to weigh my baby/toddlers to make sure they are getting enough to eat and on the right growth track. Sometimes it's used to weigh heavy packages for shipping estimates around the holidays. Every once in a while, though, I pull it out to weigh myself, especially if I'm about to speak/write about body positivity, because being honest in my work as a fat feminist is a source of pride.

Last year I wrote a story for Mamalode magazine called A Love Letter to 226 Pounds, about renewing my drivers license and the lady at the DMV refusing to update my weight. Again, part of my reclamation of my body as my own is sharing that number with the world, and not being ashamed of it.


In keeping with that spirit, I just pulled out my scale today. I'm down to 210 pounds, forty pounds less than I was three years ago when I stood on stage at the Egyptian Theater. There are many reasons for this. I've been pregnant three times since 2008. I've stopped taking birth control pills after twenty years, a medication that makes me gain weight. A few years ago I also stopped taking SSRI pills for panic attacks from an anxiety disorder that I've been able to manage sans medication. This is something I have gone through several times in my life - meds like Celexa and Paxil have historically caused me to gain 30-50 pounds within the first year on them, and later I've always shed that same 30-50 pounds when I go off of them. I'm also officially in perimenopause and my symptoms are wacky and intense, including severe morning sickness/nausea that makes me either vomit, not want to eat very much most days, or both. Weight loss is not my intentional goal, it is just something my body is doing naturally right now, finding its own rhythm at this place in my life journey, and I'm okay with that.


(This is how I really feel about the archaic brand name of my thrifted vintage bathroom scale hovering over those arbitrary numbers. Health at every size FTW!)
 
While just like proudly telling the world that I am 40-years-old, I will always powerfully declare that I am also 5'5" tall and 250 226 210 pounds and that I (usually) wear a size 22 20 18 and a 40C bra. And the freedom that comes with sharing those numbers is amazing. But none of these numbers really measure me. I'm more than a number on a scale. I am, in fact, so much more than my body at all.

I hope you know that, too.

An Open Letter to Oprah & Alex Trebek

Dear Oprah and Alex,

I'll start by saying I'm a big fan (pun not intended but also YES) of both of yours. I've been watching you on the television since I can remember, at least by the age of ten in the early 1980s. As a smart young girl, I was always so pleased when I could answer something in the $200 or $400 categories on Jeopardy!. When you brought on interesting young actresses or world-changing women to your show, Oprah, I knew in my teens that you were doing something good for daytime TV. Both your talk show and your game show, Oprah and Alex, were among my early favorites. I'd turn the TV off and feel I came away with a little more knowledge and a little less guilt for wasting precious time watching TV when I could've been crimping my hair or making out with my boyfriend.

I went off to college and grad school and watched less and less television, but was always thrilled when I'd catch Jeopardy! around dinner time. It's always been one of the cleverest game shows around, and I love how it highlights the nerd in all of us. Oprah, you've continued to empower women and be an uplifting woman yourself and I was excited to receive a subscription to O magazine a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

Unfortunately, you've both disappointed the hell out of me lately, I'm sad to say. First, Oprah, with the major faux pas in your magazine a few months ago about not wearing a crop top unless you were toned and tiny. Really? Well, backlash ensued, and your mag apologized, but I was still super bummed.

 
 image: Instagram user 

I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since you've been quite boisterous about your personal (yo-yo) dieting and body shaming, ever since you pulled that little red wagon full of fat on stage back in 1988. But this latest thing where you've saved a (fortunately and finally) failing Weight Watchers by buying 10% of the company and joining their board is unforgiveable. How can such a feisty feminist not see how they are oppressing women by restricting us and profiting off our self-doubt? And you are a diet industry dropout yourself? You are not the feminist I thought you were. This quote by Naomi Wolf, from her 1991 book The Beauty Myth, which I read as an undergrad and changed my life, says it best:

A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.

And, you, Alex. Just a few weeks ago I hear that Jeopardy! had a category called THESE WORDS COULD GO ON A DIET.

 photo: Dances With Fat

Really, Jeopardy!? You pride yourself on being an academic-minded and forward-thinking program but dedicate an entire category to blatant size shaming and harmful use of language to degrade people and call them names? UGH.

I don't normally give much thought or power to television these days, just as I couldn't give two shits what celebrities are wearing or who they are dating. But, from an intellectual level, I know that popular culture, especially the media, set the bar for lots of things, body positivity included. My standards are pretty low, I guess, for anything on the television to be thoughtful. I've always seen you both, Alex and Oprah, as savvy, college-educated entertainers who prided your programs on considerate discourse. I was holding out hope for you, in a lame lineup filled with cupcake wars and snarky and slimy 'reality' families.

TV, I'm so done with you. (Except CBS Sunday Morning. PLEASE DON'T FAIL ME NOW.)

Feeling not surprised, but still sad,

Amy

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

There's this brilliant but wacky spiritual leader named Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert in Boston in the 1930s. He went on to get his PhD and do research on LSD in the 1960s and travel to India and become enlightened and write a lot of books and have retreats. People adore his teachings. Today he lives in Maui and spreads his guidance via the internet and has a lot of really great ideas and things to say. I'm not much of a follower, but since I started on my body positive journey as a fat activist nearly six years ago, I've been drawn to a story he tells on self-judgment:

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

 
One summer when I was 20-years-old I was camping near Payette Lake in Idaho with my boyfriend and laying under the sky looking up at the ponderosa pines. I grabbed a beer, a pen, and a paper plate, which was the only thing I could find to write on, and scrawled this poem:

They stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of a whole
The oaths, the families, the stories, the Friends
An old regal one scraggles over with years and rings and wisdom far beyond
the youthful inches of baby growth it protects.
Wise wide ones loom tall above, standing high with energy and vigor
And as long as this forested royalty remains
the Ponderosas will whisper gossip to the Blue Spruce
and the Hollies will always flaunt their scarlet berries
You see, this private community, so robust, yet equally as fragile, trust few to its realm.
Even the Deer must make a silent commitment to secrecy.
Those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of their whole duty and beauty and strength unimaginable
Yet when the Rain pounds from above they all bow and hover
And when the Wind blows her loud tales they all laugh and dance and twist with joy
And when the Human and the Fire interrupt the peaceful power of this solemn circle
One never stands alone
Because they stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society.


Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Two and a half years ago I got pregnant on accident after missing a few birth control pills one month. I'd been on the Pill for twenty years at that point and had missed several pills plenty of times before and never gotten pregnant. At the age of 37 with two daughters aged 5 and 9 years, we weren't planning on having any more children, but there were two pink lines and I was surprisingly so happy. It was meant to be, until it wasn't. I hadn't been to the doctor yet, and I had no real idea of when we'd actually conceived, but probably somewhere around 8 weeks pregnant I started cramping and gushing blood and went into what I can only describe as a 'mini labor,' complete with contractions, pain, nausea and an overwhelming fear and sadness that I can never appropriately describe.  Dr. Brown and I grieved hard and alone, as we'd told no one we were even expecting a new baby.

I spent a few months healing, both in my heart and in my uterus, and we decided to try again because we were certain there was a soul missing from our family. I conceived in June and knew almost immediately I was pregnant with twins; I could just feel it from very early on, as many mothers of twins can attest to. Not to mention the nausea and vomiting and growth and exhaustion were double what I'd experienced in any previous pregnancy (something else many mothers carrying twins will tell you). I was terrified for this pregnancy, so soon after my first miscarriage, and felt a tiny bit better after passing that 8 week mark that was so devastating the last time around. At 11 weeks pregnant I got really bad sciatica and nausea and sat down to pee one morning, gushed blood, and passed an 11 week old fetus into the toilet. I knew immediately what it was and snatched it out and went into shock and called my doctor. An emergency ultrasound a few hours later where I was expecting the worst news revealed a healthy heartbeat of the other baby in utero. I had another miscarriage in a somewhat unique phenomenon called 'vanishing twin syndrome,' where one of the twins die and usually dissolves back into the mothers system, never to be seen in an ultrasound again. In an even rarer situation, like what happened to me, the mother will actually miscarry the deceased fetus in what I call 'not-so-vanishing twin syndrome.'

I spent the rest of my pregnancy with Arlo puking and scared, sad and thrilled. I was mourning two dead babies and one growing in utero and the emotions of sorrow with joy were overwhelming. I was at once angry with my body and in awe of its strength. I couldn't keep any food down and was losing weight rather than gaining and I couldn't/wouldn't take the anti-anxiety medications that I'd been on for years for panic attacks. It felt impossible to see the forest for the trees.


The expression 'can't see the forest for the trees' is often used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. I was a body positive warrior who spent much of 2013 so angry at this life-making vessel I'd worked so hard to love. But I was pregnant! A pregnancy that was at once terrific and terrible and brutal and beautiful. But I had the hardest time seeing the forest for the trees. I hadn't yet found others who had suffered silent miscarriages like me. I didn't yet know anyone who had lost a twin while pregnant. I hadn't yet discovered my Tree Society.


This past spring we planted a tiny plum tree near our pink Little Free Library on our corner lot in honor of the babies in our hearts. After Dr. Brown dug the hole, I placed in it a worry locket I'd purchased from an Etsy jeweler with the birthstone of the first baby we lost and a positive pregnancy test from the second baby we lost. Alice drew a picture for our 'dear dead babies,' as she calls them, and placed it in there, too, before soaking the hole with water necessary for the plum tree to take root. I cried and thought about how it will grow to shade the library stop so popular with neighborhood kids and will bear fruit for us to enjoy. About a month later, we noticed the tree had started leaning and looked crooked in spots, but it was also sprouting new leaves, and thriving.


All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies are scarred, twisted, scared, and complicated, as unique and lovely as trees. I'm so glad I can see you all out there in my forest now and am grateful for the roots I've planted with this blog, in Boise, and in my own front yard. Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes, and this time of year makes me very sad, as I honor my babies who live in both my house and in my heart. Here's to new growth rings and ancient stories and shedding bark and rebirth with seasons.

Drawing Hearts


Immediately after my stand for self love at the Capital City Farmers Market ended, I wanted to look at my body to see what words were written and take in all the loving hearts people made with markers on my body. As I had used washable Crayola markers from my daughters' art kit, some of the marks were already being lost due to sweat running down the rolls of fat on my back and in between my legs. It was nearly 90 degrees that late August afternoon, and, as we stood in the alley, Melanie captured much of the words on film while we basked in the glow of tears and humanity and joy over the love we had just witnessed.
 
 
As I got home, I stood naked in front of the mirror in my bathroom and looked lovingly upon the canvas that was my body that day. My husband, Eric, read off the words to me that people had written while I scrawled them quickly on the back of a public library checkout receipt. I dreaded taking a shower and losing the feeling of those felt tips on my skin, the warmth of a revolution.
 
 
Soon after my blog post dropped with the video that has now gone viral and been viewed cumulatively nearly 115 million times around the globe, I began replying to the messages of love that began pouring in to my email, Facebook messenger account, Instagram, blog comments and more with simply a heart emoticon. To me, that heart - the simple symbol I'd asked people to draw with a child's marker on my skin and the one I can push a button to leave on any social media post - had become the symbol of the rebellious body love revolution.
 
It turns out others felt the same way. So many of you responded to me that you shared in my message of self-love and were fed up with a society that profits from our self-doubt. You told me how you would've drawn a heart on me if you would had been there (including a handful of celebrities like KEVIN BACON OMG), and sent me the emoticon as your heart for my body and my message.
 

It may be the piece that fat activist and deputy editor at xoJane magazine Lesley Kinzel wrote about my radical art performance that really hit the nail on the head about the hearts. I recommend reading her article in its entirety, but at the end she sums it up with this:
 
She changes the framework, she stands up with confidence and a blindfolded smile and invites them to comment in the context of her own struggle for self-acceptance, and in the shock of this unfamiliar ground, they can only respond with love. They are kind, with no strings attached.
 
What if we looked at everyone around us with such care all the time? What if that was how we looked at ourselves? What a home for all bodies we would build, if only we could be psychically drawing hearts on one another’s skin every time we looked at each other.
 

 
A few days after I ceremoniously washed the marker from my body and watched it swirl pink and purple and blue down the drain and forever into my soul that hot August afternoon, I began drawing hearts on my children. Daily, we get out the Sharpie marker, and as a reminder that all bodies are good bodies, we say something kind to one another and each other, and draw a heart.
 
I believe in you.
You are valuable.
You are interesting.
You are beautiful.
When you make a mistake you are still beautiful.
Your body is your own.
You have say over your body.
You are creative.
Trust your instincts.
Your ideas are worthwhile.


 
I usually pick one of these affirmations each day to say while I look in their eyes or over a bowl of Cheerios. And then I draw a small simple heart. Something for them to look at while they are away from me, growing and leaning in to their own separate worlds from mine, and remember that they are good and strong and that there is no wrong way to have a body. And you know what? They've started doing it back - to me, to their father. Drawing hearts on us and their siblings, reminding us all that every time we look down at a little pen scribbled heart on our skin to follow our own.
 
You are capable.
You are deserving.
You are strong.
You can say no.
Your choices matter.
You make a difference.
Your words are powerful.
Your actions are powerful.




40 for 40

On August 1st I was at the city pool with a very dear friend talking about how I'd be turning the big 4-0 in less than two months time and how I should probably do something epic. Or go on a major vacation. Or buy something spectacular. Instead, I started thinking about how it might be sweet to do forty things. Tiny but beautiful things with people I loved. So I started to make a list under the newly discovered NOTES feature of my iPhone (yes, I'm a bit of a luddite).




My friend contributed his idea to start my 40 for 40 list, so #1 on my list reads, "Go out for a tiki drink with Zac" at a fun Boise bar we love, dressed in our greatest tiki attire, celebrating a kitschy era we appreciate. From there, the list grew to include things like having coffee with my friend Rachel, seeing Brandi Carlile in concert with a few of my favorite ladies, taking my eleven-year-old daughter Lucy to the fanciest French patisserie in town, having my first solo art exhibition, entering my herbs and garlic in the state fair, and browsing the feminist art section at Rainbow Books.



After a summer busy with camping and late night patio parties, I wanted to enjoy one last hurrah to my favorite season with our annual backyard movie night littered with neighbors and friends. I wanted to try paddleboarding with my daughters for the first time and wear fishnet tights and my FAT BABE pin while riding my bike in Tour de Fat. I infused my own vodkas to make a new signature cocktail, had ice cream cones at Fanci Freez, sexted (AHEM) my husband, and found the new baby anteater at Zoo Boise riding on his mama's back.

 
 
Sometime around August 15th, I saw (my new friend) Jae West's video go viral for all the best reasons and thought about it hard with all my fat activist and feminist thoughts and talked about it with some of the best people and came up with a plan which read, in simple non-sensational text in the NOTES section of my iPhone as #2 on my list, "body positive performance art downtown."

{photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}

Little did I know that my small subversive and personal experiment, one of the 40 things I should do before I turned 40, was to become one of the most life-altering and amazing accomplishments of my time here on this earth. I'm so damn proud of what we've achieved together in the body positive movement over the past month. We have ignited a revolution of love in honor of ourselves and each other.


{photos courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}
 
People are often saddened by the thought of turning forty, scared of what being middle-aged means. I say, 40 MIGHT JUST BE MY BEST YEAR YET. Tomorrow, September 25th, I celebrate 40 spectacular trips around the sun and look forward to an even brighter future, given the way we've changed the world, my friends. Thanks for the best birthday present a girl could ever imagine.

A Stand For Self Love

Two years ago I started this private group on Facebook called the Boise Rad Fat Collective. We're a secret society of super-sized feminazis who can't get laid and sit around complaining about our ugly clothes while eating Big Macs and cake.

RRRRIIIIIGGHT.

That's not at all what our group is about, despite what Internet trolls and mean people would like to believe. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. We're a group of socially engaged Idahoans of all shapes and sizes who are fed up with mainstream media and society telling us what a valuable body should do\be\act\look like. And while it started with just a handful of my best strong female friends, it's expanded now to include people I've never met (even though we do try to plan regular meet-ups in real life). And generally speaking, we're a positive bunch who share lots of news on cutting-edge literature and scientific studies and fun films and personal stories, while being supportive and thoughtful in our Facebook wall discussions (gasp!). New members are always welcome and, no, you don't have to be fat to join in nor do you have to live in Boise, but you do have to be respectful and smart and adhere to one basic concept - that all bodies are good bodies.

(PSST! And most of us have sex. On a regular hot basis.)

.....

Two weeks ago this video by The Liberators International went viral. The Liberators are a group out of Australia whose mission is to involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so by clicking my link above, but, in a nutshell, it's a moving social experiment where a young Liberator named Jae West sheds her clothing in London's busy Picadilly Circus, armed with markers, a sign, and a blindfold, asking people to draw hearts on her body if they share her promotion of self-acceptance, after overcoming an eating disorder. She has now been interviewed extensively about the importance of the project and how terrifying and exhilarating standing alone half-nude was for her, and the outpouring of humanity that has followed it.

My friend Angie and I posted a link to the video to the Rad Fat Collective and we all agreed it was a powerful performance art piece, and discourse ensued. How would it be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho? Turns out, we weren't the only people asking these questions and talking about this important project of West's - the alternative media was, too. So, I made a (GULP) plan and asked another one of my friends in the Collective (who also happens to be a professional photographer), Melanie, to document it.


We picked a date (Saturday August 29, 2015) and one of the most pedestrian-rich locations in the city (the Capital City Public Market downtown Boise) at the busiest time of day (noon). I decided to wear a black bikini instead of a bra and undies (conservative Boise) and changed the text on my sign to read something a little different and pertinent to me. I decided to tell no one except the Rad Fat Collective that this was happening, as the idea of leaving the experience organic and up to chance, rather than fill the audience with known body positive activists and friends, was more appealing. Everything seemed in order and to fall into place quickly.

Until my nerves set in.

.....

I woke up Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep and puked. And bloated with horrid cramps. And a raging period. (Hey, Donald Trump! MAD MENSTRUATING WOMAN ON A MEANINGFUL MISSION ALERT!). And I was terrified. I was scared that I might get asked to leave by the police or that people would yell terrible things at me or that no one would draw a heart on my body and I'd stand there alone and crying for minutes that felt like hours.

Well, none of that came true. Except for the crying part.

.....

I let the farmers' market director (who happens to be a friend of mine) know what we were staging about an hour before the event. Not only did I have her support, she suggested I stand in the middle of the busiest spot of the market, that she would handle any negative feedback or complaints, and could she borrow a marker to draw a heart on me now in case she missed the performance? It was probably with that first heart that I knew this was gonna be good. I had no idea just how good it was about to get.

.....

Melanie set up her camera, Angie was my ear on the ground, and I hit my spot, barefoot, and stripped off my dress. The hush in the crowd around me was instantaneous and I barely had time to tie on my blindfold, prop up my sign and grab my markers before the first woman rushed up to me, touched my hand with her shaky one, told me I was brave and powerful and asked if she could give me a hug and started to cry. And then I cried, too. But I could tell she didn't just draw a heart on my body. She wrote a word. In fact, by the end of my fifty minutes of continuous public support, there were dozens of words that covered my body, and even more hearts.


Badass
Love
THANK YOU
Hope
Strong
Awesome
God Bless You
You are beautiful
You Rock
Divine
Stand Strong
I Love Me
You look great
Power
Amazing
You are gorgeous
Big Love
Inspire


You'll see all this in these photos and the video - that the hugs continued, as did the tears, a flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done. And, undoubtedly, like me, you will also see other things in these photos - the sweat running down my rolls of back fat, cellulite (on strong legs that have carried me for four decades), a wonky bikini top with sagging breasts (that nourished three babies), stretch marks (that represent my transition from a chubby adolescent to a curvy teenager to a woman who's been pregnant four times), and darkly tanned skin (from a summer spent at the Boise Public Pools with my friends and my children).


The most important things about this performance, though, are the ones you can't see.

The personal stories of struggle.

The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to "this is what a beautiful woman looks like."


Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.

Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer.

Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model.


One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space, she said. All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable.



And the twentysomething man who stood behind me and whispered, The effects of what you are doing here are far reaching. It's absolutely amazing. The power of this moment will go on and in ways you never thought possible. You are changing more lives than you know.


Oh, Boise, you restored my faith in humanity, you blew my mind with your kindness, you saw the beauty in my body and your own. You are ready for a body positive revolution, and I'm honored to stand by your side. Take my hand, if you need, and I'll pull you up.


We can't truly love one another until we fully love ourselves. And once we do, I guarantee, that together we can move mountains.



Radical Self-Acceptance: The Stripped-Down Body Postivity Experiment from Melanie Flitton Folwell on Vimeo.
 

{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}
 
*UPDATED TO ADD LINK LOVE FROM PRESS AROUND THE WORLD
 
 
BuzzFeed (story)
BuzzFeed (video)
Mamalode magazine, Fall 2015, Positively
The Dr. Oz Show, November 23, 2015
Beauty With Plus, Hungarian blog & accompanying newssite
All Bodies Are Good Bodies - Good To Know UK guest writer, January 2016

#perimenopause #stillseventeen #polkawhaaaaat

I can't even begin to describe how insane my life, and the other four lives in my house, has been over the past few months. So much goodness, so much business, so much school stuff, so much extracurricular activities. All my babies were born within three weeks of each other in March/April, so we had birthday parties for a one year old, a seven year old, and an eleven year old. There's been a testing and a diagnosis and school IEP team meetings regarding my youngest daughter which has been so hard (a story and a post for another day). We've celebrated and played Little League baseball, and won track meets, and participated in piano festivals, and written grants, planted gardens, been in the news not one, not two, but three times in about a week's time. Life is so wonderful and fun and the adventures are amazing and my life is charmed indeed.
 
During all this living of my life, friends I graduated from high school and college with have started celebrating their fortieth birthdays, with grand weekends away, raging parties, and quiet retreats at spas. I've been thinking about how I'd like to celebrate mine, sneaking up on me in just six months. I've also been thinking about how scary it sounds to be 40. How middle of my life I am. Is it really half over? Maybe. But we're all dying, every day. I'm not super afraid of my mortality for my sake, but for my childrens' sake. I have to be around as long as possible for them. There's also this nagging part of my brain that I can't shake: I still feel seventeen. I'm not alone in this notion - one of my dearest gal pals from high school, Mandilyn, feels just the same way. So much so, in fact, that we've been hashtagging each other in all sorts of posts on social media about buying jewelry at Claire's in the mall and loving Taylor Swift and our affinity for the high school TV drama Friday Night Lights as #stillseventeen.
 
As life would have it, Mother Nature has added insult to injury by officially setting into motion PERIMENOPAUSE. Like, seriously, I went to the doctor because my body has gone HAYWIRE and here's the documented proof because THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING I'M STILL 39 AND I JUST HAD A BABY FOR CHRISSAKE:
 
 
The journey to this diagnosis was two months in the making and many late night internet searches for what seemed to me to be unrelated symptoms that turned out to be related after all. So, to aid my fellow young friends who have entered menopause freakishly early, and should they come upon this blog post in a frantic late night internet search to find out if they are crazy or dying or just MENOPAUSING, here's a list of a few of the crazymakingly odd symptoms that you may be experiencing right now and may last for 5-10 years and may get worse or change AREN'T WE LUCKY:
  • Mittelschmerz like you can't believe, but the cramping and back pain doesn't just last a week, it's constant!
  • Menstruation for three weeks straight! Heavy and filling the toilet with lots of internal tissue and clots.
  • Headaches!
  • Moodiness and tearfulness! And not just during PMS or menstruation, but all the time.
  • Moments of sudden rage! Like maybe you are making scrambled eggs and talking with your husband and it turns into an argument and you slam the plastic spatula on the stovetop to make a point and it breaks and he's like WTF ARE YOU CRAZY?! and in turn you pick up the entire pan of eggs and throw it on the floor BECAUSE YES.
  • Bloating! Again, not just during PMS or menstruation, but a permanently puffed out belly.
  • Gingivitis! Swollen, bleeding gums that make it so painful to eat.
  • Lack of appetite! Everything tastes off and weird like it did when you were pregnant (hello again, crazy hormones!) which is probably fine anyhow because GINGIVITIS.
  • Hair loss! My hair is falling out in huge clumps, just like it does a few months after I give birth. At least it's growing back; I've got a head full of baby gray hairs to prove it.
  • Acne! I keep breaking out. ON MY BACK. Which hasn't happened since I was in high school (the irony of #stillseventeen is not lost on me here).
  • Weird muscle and joint aches! I threw my back out for the first time in my entire life last week. Ain't got no time for ice when you're crawling after a toddler on the floor. Also, picking up a 25 lb. baby in this condition SUCKS.
  • Sudden dark spots appear on your face! The technical term is melasma, or hyperpigmentation of the skin due to extreme changes in hormones. Sometimes it happens during pregnancy, or sometimes you just wake up one day when you're 39 AND LEAST EXPECTING IT and your upper lip is strangely dark brown.
  • Itchy dry skin! I feel like bugs are crawling on me and my EARS ARE PEELING. Thank goodness for bulk jars of coconut oil from Costco.
  • Breast swelling and tingling! This actually ain't that bad. Except it feels like I'm pregnant but my body is actually doing the exact opposite of making a baby (sob).
  • Heart palpitations! This happened when I was pregnant as well, it's something due to hormones and thinning of blood, but it is also a version of hot flashes, I guess. Anyhow, my heart will flutter and race for a few seconds several times a day and it's real off-putting.
I'm stopping there because I'm literally in tears over it. Turning 40 and the loss of my fertility is making me so sad and depressed and I KNOW IT'S FINE and part of life and I'm so lucky and it's no big deal and it's the biggest deal ever and I just have to go through it (MENOPAUSE EVEN THOUGH I'M ONLY 39) like every woman before and after me and be brave and look on the bright side. I'm trying.

So I bought myself a blue polka dot bikini.

Because I deserve it.

And #YOLO.

And #STILLSEVENTEEN.


 
Swim Sexy blue polka dot bikini from Swimsuits For All, size 18 top and size 20 bottom. It might be the best plus sized swimsuit shop in all the world, because of the high quality and ability to order different sized tops and bottoms. It was recommended in a Facebook group I'm part of called the Curvy Girl Guide, and the suit has become such a tour de force we've christened it with it's own hashtags. #polkawhaaaaaaat #thesuit


Dear Arlo: A Birth Story

Dear Arlo,

We went camping on Cousin Beach (our name) in Riggins in June of 2013 with Uncle Garrett and Margot and Iris. It was literally 100 degrees and we drank beers and never changed out of our bathing suits. I got super exhausted and slept for twelve straight hours in the tent one day. I think you were implanting in my uterus.

On our 13th wedding anniversary, July 11th, I took three pregnancy tests from the Dollar Tree and they all came back positive. We couldn't have been more excited, or scared.

Three weeks later the morning sickness hit so hard, as did the tiredness and bloating. Six weeks later I got excruciating sciatica and I knew what that meant; it had happened before. It was Labor Day weekend and we were traveling home from the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Idaho Falls and I was terrified. It was the same feeling I had when I miscarried the first time.

The next day I did, in fact, miscarry your twin at home, in the bathroom. I thought desperate thoughts about it being all over. I sobbed tears of confusion and joy during an emergency ultrasound when I first saw you, my little wriggling bean. You are 11 weeks alive. I bled for the next six weeks and puked for six more months. I spent much of my pregnancy with you hovering over the toilet, crying and crippled with worry. My belly continually measured larger than normal and I had extreme pregnancy symptoms, my placenta was too low and you were breech. I believe you and I and my body were still making room for your sibling. I swam twice a week at the rehab hospital pool to get you to flip because the thought of a cesarean birth ripped at my heart. I meditated and reminded myself about hypnobirthing techniques I used with your sisters.


At 36 weeks you turned, head down, and I had a baby shower for you at my house. The contractions had started, and the mucus plug had fallen out. By 39 weeks, I was walking around dilated to 4.5 centimeters. My doctor was leaving on vacation for Spring Break and didn't want me to deliver without her, so scheduled an induction the day after your due date, March 21, 2014, the Spring Equinox. The contractions hit again, coming every five minutes on your due date, March 20. Ah, I said, here he comes. Grandma Lou came to stay the night with your sisters, in preparation for the induction at 8am. We got burgers and Oreo shakes at Big Jud's for dinner and ran into friends. I paced the restaurant, as the chair was uncomfortable, and the contractions were, too. You look like you are about to pop, the waitress told me.

We went home and I slept for five solid hours, waking at 4am. I got in the shower and shook your daddy at 5am. He's coming! All on his own! We drove to the hospital and your daddy dropped me off in front of the family maternity center. I looked up at the bright moon, pacing and rocking and breathing. Two other women in labor were dropped off next to me. We walked a few feet and stopped to breathe through a really tough contraction, repeat, repeat, repeat. The hospital is full. I was preparing to call you to cancel your induction, the nurse told me. No need, I said, I'm already here and he's already coming, on his own.


They put me in the tiniest and least favorite and only remaining room and I'm dilated to 6.5 centimeters. At 7:30am, my water breaks and it's full of meconium, so the NICU staff is called and you and I will be monitored. I breathe and imagine waves in the ocean crashing and that with each contraction my uterus is opening up a bit more like petals of a flower, pushing you out. My thoughts and my breaths are calculated and important and I move into my animal/earth mother zone and shut my eyes so I can't see the commotion. I'm dilated to 9 centimeters by 9am and they are calling my doctor. My bed is broken, so they can't lower it. My veins are too difficult to get an emergency IV into, just in case, but they poke me with a needle a dozen times. I squeeze your daddy's hand and roll and moan and STOP PUSHING, cries the nurse. We all know I'm not pushing, you are making your way out all on your own. The NICU arrives, frantic phone calls are made, the on call doctor makes her way to my feet, your heart rate is dropping so an oxygen mask is haphazardly slapped on my face, my doctor rushes into scrubs in my room, you are crowning with your umbilical cord over your head, it moves and with a flood of blood and poop and fluid your whole huge, pink body is out, and I'm shaking ferociously. Your daddy bursts into tears and it's 9:38am on a gloriously warm March spring day.


I feel strong and powerful and like I just lost a limb. We name you Arlo Valley Brown, after your most kind great uncle Arlo from Weiser, and the Treasure Valley, where we live and love and make our Idaho home.

The NICU nurses rush to grab you but I hear a noise from your tiny lungs, and I know it's okay. Your hair is reddish brown and matted and there's not that much of it, really, compared to your sisters. Your APGAR scores are great and they hand you to me and I cry so hard and you latch on to nurse right away. A few minutes later you squawk at us. Finally, we weigh and measure you, 8 lbs 14 ounces (almost nine pounds! I cry) and 21.5" long (the same as Lucy! I cry). You get a warm bath under the faucet in the sink and we find a birthmark that looks like a bursted blood vessel on your belly (it's still there) and that one of your ears is kind of flat and a bit wonky (it still is). I wear baby diapers filled with ice for the swelling and blood and would give anything for a hot shower. Your Grampy brings me a peanut butter cookie dough Blizzard from Dairy Queen upon request and I order a turkey sandwich from room service. We don't hear a peep from hospital staff for three hours, except for the ringing of lullaby bells each time a new baby is born over the loudspeaker at the hospital (seven of them the same day as you!). Later in the afternoon we are finally moved to a recovery room and I can't stop staring at you.


Your sisters arrive after school to meet you in their matching BIG SISTER tees and they hold you and love you immediately. It's calm and lovely and I get a salmon dinner with sparkling cider and a massage and a dozen white roses and (finally) that shower. The next day the staff photographer comes and takes newborn photos of you and when she returns two hours later with proofs on her iPad, I sob hysterically. Because here you are, my rainbow baby. The beautiful calm after a storm of failed pregnancies and so much pain and more tears and confusion. And with your arrival you brought more joy and love and healing than I ever thought possible.



This week we celebrate our first year with you. You suck your two middle fingers just like Alice, your hair is blond, your eyes are brown, and you've got that lucky ear. You have three teeth, are just about to walk, jabber up a storm, and still squawk at your daddy and I. Eating is your favorite, and so is playing in the water. The backyard chickens are hilarious to you, and you giggle like mad when we tickle under your arms.



Holy moly, we couldn't adore you more. Our Arlo, our baby boy, our little potato. You complete us. Happiest first birthday to you.

Love,
Mama

Mid-Range Parent

Alice has always been a highly active kid. And tinier than normal. When she was less than two-years-old she could run and climb with almost as much dexterity as her five-year-old sister. She had a lot of energy that has always needed channeling, so we have always spent a lot of time at Boise's city parks. At 22-months-old, I felt comfortable letting her climb some of the smaller play structures at the park alone, careening down slides and climbing ladders. I was close by, of course, watching like a hawk. One day an angry mother came marching over to me. Your baby is on the top of that play structure. That is very dangerous. You need to watch her better. She glared at me as she climbed up tiny steps to be less than a foot away from her toddler. She's just fine, I snapped back. She can climb these things. But my eyes stung. I was watching her - grow stronger and braver and up and away from me.

I guess I'm not a "helicopter parent."

.....

I always put my babies to sleep right next to my bed from birth. I'm too paranoid that I'll roll over on them and suffocate them in the night to co-sleep, but I'm too scared to put them in their own room. We lived in a tiny 1920s brownstone walk up apartment downtown Minneapolis when Lucy was born, so there was no other room for her to have to herself anyhow. She slept in a little woven Moses basket on the floor next to our bed, or in her carseat because it felt best for her acid reflux. (This was in the days before we knew this was dangerous.) Alice slept in a travel pack-n-playyard in our bedroom here in Boise for the first year of her life and Arlo is doing the same. Because I can't sleep if I can't hear their tiny breaths right next to me. I keep the fan running in the bedroom and check to see if Arlo is sweating, because both are precautions against SIDS. I'm not ready to let him sleep twenty feet away from me instead of one.

I guess I'm a "neurotic parent."

......


I've been writing about parenting and my kids for magazines and newspapers and blogs for the last seven years, so back in 2008 when Lenore Skenazy let her then nine-year-old son ride the NYC subway alone I was following the story. She wrote about it, and it made national news. In fact, it inspired a movement called "free-range parenting" and she launched a more successful career, a book and a blog about it. The basic idea is how to raise safe, self-reliant kids without going nuts with worry. Hmmm, I thought at the time, back when I had a four-year-old and a newborn. She seems smart and logical and wants to teach her son how to safely navigate life in New York. Seems fine to me.

Last year when those poor parents in Maryland were accused of child neglect for letting their six and ten-year-olds walk home by themselves from a park near their house, I was worried. Shit, Eric and I said to each other, we do that all the time. Lucy is a very responsible fifth grader, and we all spend a lot of time at our neighborhood elementary school, just four blocks from our house in Boise, Idaho. Alice is in first grade, but proved to me during the first month of the school year that she would listen to her sister and look all ways before crossing streets, never leave the sidewalk, and be aware of anyone asking her to come into their house or car. I met them half way for the first week or two, watching from a comfortable distance. Since the first of October, though, it's become old hat. They walk not only home from school, but to their friends' houses in the neighborhood, some a few blocks more than four.  Would other parents in my neighborhood call the police on my children? I'd like to hope not. That wasn't the case for those parents in Maryland, though.

I guess I'm a bit of a "free-range parent."

.....


We can’t rely on our neighbors to help look out for our kids, and that’s why our neighborhoods don’t feel safe enough. When you let a 10- and 6-year-old walk home on their own, it feels scary because they’re fully responsible for their own safety. What’s missing is the sense that we’re all responsible for everyone’s children, says a story in the Washington Post.

But how do we change this environment that makes us so detached now? How do we rebuild our village?

We can invite a next-door neighbor over for dinner.
We can make a point of attending neighborhood events, such as farmers markets or park dedications or festivals.
We can make an effort to chat with other parents when we pick up our kids from daycare or school.
We can walk instead of drive, so that we see our neighbors and have a chance of talking to them.
We can teach our children that if they’re alone and feeling scared, they can seek out a woman with children and ask for help. Teach them not to fear all strangers.
We can tie the shoe of someone else’s kid at the playground, or reach out a hand when someone else’s kid wants to get down from the playground ladder. We can ask a parent who’s juggling too much stuff: “Please let me carry that for you.” We can accept offers of help instead of demurring. These small things say “We’re in this together” when every message around us says “It’s all on you,” the writer tells me.

But, I do all of those things above, and I still feel worried about it. Especially this week, as those poor parents in Maryland were found guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect, which means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what would happen if the Meitiv children get reported again for walking without adult supervision.

.....

Last night around 4:30 or 4:40 Alice went out front to draw with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Lucy did homework in the living room and I put Arlo in his high chair with toys while I started spaghetti with meatballs for dinner. Eric had to work late, and I watched Alice from the kitchen window. Our little 1950s ranch house is close to the street with traditional midcentury interior design - a front window above the sink overlooks the street out front to wave at neighbors while doing dishes. Around 5pm a Boise Police Department officer appeared before my eyes in the window, talking with Alice while looking at my house and back down to his phone. My heart stopped beating for at least 2 seconds. I left Arlo safe in his chair and the noodles boiling on the stove and bolted out the front door. Alice kept drawing.

Hello? I said. Hi there, he responded. Just admiring her artwork.

I saw his large black SUV parked down the sidewalk a bit, in front of my neighbors house. I immediately scanned the area for activity; it's not uncommon for BPD to make an appearance in my 'hood. If you've seen any standoffs or assaults or drug houses or possible kidnappings on the news in the past several years, the likelihood that they are taking place in my inner city neighborhood are high. I saw no other cars or officers or suspicious activity, so my heart calmed a bit. I also saw that Alice was fine - unfazed, in fact.

I saw her crouched down here and just stopped to make sure she was okay, he told me. I can see what her favorite book is, as Alice completed a large red and white Cat in the Hat. Yep, I stilled my shaky voice, It's Dr. Suess' birthday week. Did you know that? They are celebrating it at school. Hmmm, he nodded, and slowly ambled back to his rig, got in, and drove away.


I didn't make her come inside with me, as my mind raced. Did someone call the police on my kid being out front alone for the past twenty or thirty minutes? Did they not know I could see her from the window? Did the officer think she was home alone? Did he think I was a neglectful parent? Was he logging me and my address into the "possible bad parent book?" Was it because I live in a "bad" neighborhood?

Or was he simply doing his job as a kind, helpful civil servant, checking on a child crouched on the sidewalk to make sure she was okay as he told me? I hope - I believe - that's the truth.

But, all night long, I couldn't shake the fear that I had done something wrong. Not a fear that my child was going to be hurt or abducted or badly parented, but that I was going to be punished for my belief that she wasn't. The Maryland story and the NYC subway story and all the like stories were running through my mind. When Eric got home, he even felt nervous, worried. Maybe she should only draw in the backyard from now on. Maybe someone did call and report us and the officer just couldn't or wouldn't tell you.

I was just doing my job being a parent. Alice was just doing her job being a good kid. And the police officer was just doing his job to watch out for our community.

I don't know if I'm a neurotic parent, a helicopter parent, or a free-range parent.

What do I know? I'm a thoughtful parent, a careful parent and a trusting parent. It's the best I can do.

These Are The Days (You'll Remember)

6:15am or 7:03am or maybe 7:59am if I'm super lucky | Arlo stands up in his Pack-n-Play and pats my head. Yep, still sleeping in a travel bed right next to my bed because I still wake several times a night to listen to him breathe.

8:01am | Bring his smooshy warm cheeks into our bed, where he pats his daddy awake.

8:05am | I have to go to the bathroom, ahem #2, at the same time every morning when my body starts to wake up and if I don't I won't go ALL DAY LONG and it's sad and painful. During said bathroom trip I always write in my mom's one-line-a-day journal about something sweet or mundane about yesterday because if I don't I won't REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED the day before the day before and it's also sad and painful (my memory).

8:06am | Hear the girls screaming and fighting over playing Minecraft on the Kindle, even though there are rules about no gaming on weekdays.

8:07am | Scream back at the girls to stop screaming. (Because: brilliant parenting.)

8:10am | Wander to the kitchen to turn on the kettle for hot water for Arlo's bottle, praying that Dr. Brown pre-set the coffee pot the night before (he didn't).

8:11am | Yell for the girls to come eat breakfast and watch them pour cornflakes more on the counter than in the bowl but whatever.

8:15am | Feed Arlo his bottle while checking Facebook and email for anything that needs immediate morning attention (read: gossip or birthday notifications or reading new mean comments on late night news articles on KTVB's page or snoop on the latest updates on a fight happening on another friend's wall about politics or breastfeeding or Taylor Swift).

8:30am | Try to get Alice to stop doing cartwheels and get dressed for school and remind Lucy to please don't forget to put deodorant on today.

8:45am | Hard-boiling eggs for breakfast (while Instagramming them, of course!) and yelling at Alice because now she's round-offing and still in her pajamas.

9:00am | Dr. Brown to the rescue, smoothing out the bumpy socks and finding the matching gloves and calming the preteen about how late it is and getting both girls out the door for the walk to school with a mug of coffee from a nice, steaming pot that he has now made for both of us.

9:15am | I hide the Kindle for the rest of the day and kiss Dr. Brown goodbye, sending him on his merry walk to work with his podcast already streaming through earbuds.

9:19am | Change Arlo's first poop of the day (he's regular like Mama) and stare at the diaper because the contents still look remarkably like they did when he ingested them 12 hours prior. Worry about whether or not he's extracting the necessary vitamins in his tiny system.

9:22am | Settle back into various morning internet routines, reading messages and mail and news stories while refilling coffee mug 3x.

10:00am | Check the paper wall calendar (read: your life scheduling bible) on the fridge and pray you didn't schedule any meetings or appointments before noon since 1) you're not dressed 2) it will completely fuck with Arlo's morning napping routine.

10:01am | No meetings today, actually, no reason to leave the house at all unless we want to. Snuggle sweet baby boy into his fleece sleep sack for his morning nap and turn on the stuffed bear that blares the beating heart sound that neither you, Arlo or Dr. Brown can sleep without now.

10:02am | Stand outside the bedroom door for a manic minute, trying to decide in what order and how many things that you need to accomplish in the next hour sans baby.

10:03 - 11:15am | Write a blog post, print and mail off a grant, put in a load of laundry, fold another load of laundry, take my braless boobs outside with the kitchen compost bowl to dump, let the chickens out, pick up the handful of goddamn pink Idaho Statesman ads in bags strewn across the front yard, close the door on the Little Free Library, wave (embarrassed) at my neighbor, order my niece a birthday gift direct mailed from Etsy the day before her birthday, send an apology text to parents of said niece for late gift. Basically, cram as much shit at possible into a little over an hour's time.

11:17am | Grab screeching baby from his bed while your landline is ringing for the fifth time this morning with some toll free number appearing on the caller ID screen. I pick up and hang up on them immediately.

11:30am | Prepare bottle #2.

12:01pm | Remember that you need to call St. Als about a billing question because you can't keep straight all the bills and all the monies for all three children and your birth 11 months ago and a vasectomy 4 months ago and why are we just getting charged and still paying for these things? My cheek hangs up my iPhone on customer service rep (GADS!) and I call back again and wait for 4 minutes and restate claim and apologize for the baby perched upon my hip that is yelping into the phone.

12:33pm | Phone rings again with a representative from a local organization that is reviewing one of the grants I wrote for our school garden (yea!) but again I have to apologize for said hip screeching baby. (She isn't amused.)

1:06pm | More poop. More worrying. Facetime Dr. Brown to show him and express my concerns.

1:31pm | Friend texts she's stopping by in a few. Shit. Strip Arlo out of pjs and pop him in the tub with me while I shower carefully, sidestepping his slippery body and that pointy Big Bird toy.

1:40pm | Dress Arlo in a 6 month sized shirt and 18 month sized pants which both remarkably fit his tiny 11 month old body perfectly because baby clothing sizes MAKE SO MUCH SENSE.

1:51pm | Friend stops by to drop something off and I apologize for the cornflakes and pick up Alice's dirty underpants from the living room couch and I lie and say that our "house is unusually messy because WE'VE JUST BEEN SO BUSY."

2:04pm | I realize that I've forgotten to feed Arlo (and myself) lunch, so I put some frozen peas in the microwave while wiping the breakfast food off the highchair with a baby wipe. I search the fridge for leftovers for myself because if there aren't any, I'm eating a cold plain tortilla.

2:39pm | Googling about starting whole milk a month before Arlo's first birthday somehow leads me down an internet rabbit hole of searching Pinterest for ideas on how to make a play tent and then I end up watching the newest Ask A Mortician YouTube video and then my another friend messages me about what age I think is appropriate for our daughters' to read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? and we end up chatting about Girl Scout cookies and mutual friends and, eventually, world domination (truth). All the while, checking Instagram on my phone and posting more pics of random things around my house using artsy filters.

2:47pm | Wonder what time I last gave Arlo a bottle because he's crabby. I think maybe he's got a fever so I grab the Vaseline and anal thermometer because Mama takes no chances on inaccurate temps and hold his legs tight while singing Katy Perry songs to get him to keep still.

2:51pm | While making another bottle, I hear sirens in the distance and freeze, holding as still as possible to hear their location better. I can't decipher how close they are, so I run out to the front sidewalk to make sure they are not headed towards the girls' elementary school a few blocks away.

2:55pm | Satisfied that no one I love is in immediate danger, I return to a house filling with smoke from a now empty water kettle turning black from all heat and no liquid.

3:11pm | Will we have time to walk up to the corner market to pick up a lemon needed for dinner? We haven't left the house today and Arlo could use the fresh air and I could use the sunshine, so we take the next 15 minutes trying to find shoes and wrangle his tiny body into a hat and coat he hates.

3:40pm | Make it to the market and halfway home when I realize Arlo's ditched his hat out of the stroller somewhere. I turn around to see it floating in the wind several blocks back. I seriously consider how many other winter hats we already own and if I need to retrieve this one or let it go. Rational thinking sets in, and we retrace our steps.

3:54pm | I decide, every day, to try to lay Arlo down for his second nap MINUTES before his two sisters come barreling in the door after school with their fighting and gymnastics. (Because again: brilliant parenting.)

4:00pm | Baby up, girls in, fighting started.

4:12pm | Demands for stovetop popcorn begin and will not cease. Swipe something small and dangerous from Arlo's mouth for the 39th time today. Have I changed his diaper lately? Did he poop today?

5:01pm | Start pacing the sidewalk watching for Dr. Brown. Re-enter the house to see ants, everywhere, eating some remnants of food. Fuck, I think, but leave it.

5:06pm | Lucy is watching Maroon 5's "Sugar" video on the TV on repeat a thousand times AND LOUD OMG. Alice is now spewing at me all the details of who said what and who touched what and how she looked at her and what happened in P.E. and what the duty on the playground said and who cried at school.

5:35pm | Dr. Brown still isn't home and I start washing a basket of purple fingerling potatoes to prep for dinner and I briefly think how lucky we are to still have fresh produce from last summer's garden until I dump half the basket which is full of dirt along with the potatoes into my sink and the whole thing turns to mud crusted piles of dirty dishes still from last night.

5:39pm | HOME. Another adult in the house THANK THE LAWD.

6:07pm | I carry Arlo outside (I'm pretty certain my right hip is permanently marked by this child's spot) to see how Dr. Brown is faring grilling the steaks (read: desperate attempt to talk to another adult for any amount of time/number of minutes possible). He grabs my ass.

6:31pm | We eat as a family. Alice wants to draw a card from our question basket, but Dr. Brown makes one up instead. If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go? Lucy: Universal Studios in Florida. Amy: Paris. Dr. Brown: Hawaii. Alice: Roaring Springs Water Park. In Meridian. (We decide that Arlo's dream vacation might be Atlanta, Idaho, though, so he wins by default.)

7:01pm | Lucy, it's time to practice the piano, I say.

7:11pm | Lucy, please practice the piano. Now, I say.

7:18pm | I told you to practice the piano CAN YOU NOT HEAR MY WORDS? I SHOUT.

7:18 - 7:38pm | Piano is practiced for the next twenty minutes. I attempt to tackle a kitchen full of dirty dishes.

7: 40 - 8:00pm | Repeat the same scenario as above, only this time VIOLIN. (I'm so tired.)

8:01 - 8:15pm | HOMEWORK. (14 minutes worth? SMALL MIRACLES.)

8:15pm | Showers and baths commence. Our parental tag team on this nightly scenario is ON POINT.

8:29pm | Adam Levine really is hot.

8:35pm | Baby Arlo on lap with bottle in one hand, paperback in the other, Lucy and I read together while I can hear the names Almonzo and Pa from the bottom bunk in the other room. (Again, parental units divide and conquer like old pros here.)

9:07pm | Everyone tucked in after teeth flossed (Six cavities! $88 a piece! That's what savings accounts are for!).

9:10pm | 2nd attempt at finishing the dishes, sweeping the floor and finally eradicating the ants. For now.

9:40pm  | I'm so fucking tired. All I want are my 'jamas, my bed, and the copy I just picked up from the library of Lena Dunham's new memoir. I'm on the chapter about her wild college sex years and I can't wait to live vicariously through her adventures because I'm 39 and it's 9:40 and I'M IN BED ALREADY.

9:58pm | Brief thought about possibly having sex tonight.

10:00pm | Out. Like a light.


And as you feel it, you'll know it's true that you are blessed and lucky.

It's true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you.

These are days.