A Nice Body


For as much as I preach body positivity, for as many sleeveless shirts and short-shorts as I own, I spend a lot of time trying to hide my body from my ribcage to my thighs. I see my front torso as a problem. I don’t dislike it, but I’m pretty sure everyone else does, so I try to drape it in such a way that no one has to look at anything unpleasant. (If you don’t like my arms, or my legs, that’s your problem. I live in Texas.)

But something happened last week.

First, I had to look at pictures of myself, and I thought I looked like a truck. I had felt really glamorous and pretty getting ready for the sitting, and in some of the resulting photos, I looked pretty glamorous, but in others, I looked like a short, fat girl, wearing a giant tulle skirt.

See, I knew the skirt did nothing to straighten my lines, or make me look svelte, and did widen my hips by a good two feet, but I loved it so much, I did not even care. I do not even care. I am having a torrid love affair with the skirt. My love of it reminds me of how, when I was small, I would wear a half slip on my head to pretend I had long, silver hair, and think I looked like Twirly Curls Barbie–even though I was clearly wearing a slip on my head.

It didn’t matter what you, or anyone else said. I had long, silver hair, and I looked like Barbie. Same with my Underoos. It didn’t matter that I was Wonder Woman in the front, and Blank Space in the back, or that I was 8 years old, and barely 3 feet tall. I was Lynda Carter. I’d dare you to have told me otherwise.

So, even though I looked like a truck, I still loved the skirt because it turned me into a ballerina. I am secretly a ballerina–did you know?

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I cannot tell you how I love this skirt.

 

Then, my godson posted this meme to his Facebook page:

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The first statement grabbed me by the love handles and gave me a shake. “I was supposed to have a nice body for people to look at…” I was. Wasn’t I? Because a nice body sure isn’t for me to enjoy. We get angry at people who enjoy their bodies, or make money from them.

I enjoy my body right now. I like me. I don’t mind looking at me. In fact, I super like looking at myself, which is why I hate handing my phone over to someone else, to scroll through my picture gallery. Selfies, yo. I put the “I” in selfie. If I ever write a memoir, I have to name it Me, Myselfie, and I.

Still, I am hyper aware that I am not what people want to see on the beach in a bikini.

I was supposed to have a nice body for people to look at, and since I didn’t, I bought blousy tunics, and drapey swimwear so people could look at pretty fabric instead of my torso.

A few days later, my friend, (the fabulous author) Jenna Barton posted this:

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Reading that, I thought of Amy Schumer’s skit, The Last F**kable Day.

 

And thinking about that, I wondered what was my last “f**kable” pound?

Because we have them, right? The pound that tips the scale from cute and curvy, to Twinkie-eating lardass. What is it? Who decides? Who decides what we are supposed to like to look at in a bikini? Who decides what is the exact point at which we cannot show our meat?

I decided that I did.

I decide.

I say.

So…I ordered myself this top:

 

 

And, I ordered myself the short, black version of my beloved tulle skirt (get it here–you know you want one). I’m going to wear them together. And I am going to twirl. And I am going to look like a ballerina. A giant ballerina. A really chubby ballerina. A really happy, in love with her skirt, giant, chubby ballerina. You probably won’t notice anything but my smile.

As much as I hate the phrase “sorry, not sorry,” I am saying it to you, World. I’m not going to be working as hard to hide my shape for you anymore. I don’t have a “nice” body for you to look at, but it wasn’t there for you in the first place. If you don’t like what you see, look away. I don’t need your eyes on me–I validate myself. Just check my phone.

I may not have what we call a “nice” body, but I have a great body for carrying my kid on my back, and for bounding up stairs, and for dancing terribly, and for chasing the dog, and for roller skating, and for giving hugs, and for swimming, and for doing dishes, and for packing boxes, and for things we don’t talk about in polite company, and for hosting my brain and my soul, and for a million other things. And, I am going to stop calling my torso my “problem area” because it does everything it is supposed to do*.

I’m sorry it doesn’t look like Hollywood for you, but I’m not sorry. And I’m going to wear what makes me feel happy**.

 

*My eyes are my problem area. They don’t work as well as I’d like.

**And if the crop top doesn’t make me as happy as the skirt, I’ll send it back because this isn’t a declaration that I intend to wear unflattering things. I simply intend to wear what makes me look in the mirror and go, “Yeah, mama!”

Dear Imaginary Daughter: Cover Your But


(In which I address the daughter I never had, with the advice I always wanted to give.)

Dear Imaginary Daughter,

I did not fully understand the value of my all-girl education until I was an adult woman, confused by the confusion I kept encountering in collegiate, and corporate settings, when I would say what I thought without qualifiers. I didn’t know girls were supposed to soften their opinions before offering them. I spent most of my young life in rooms full of brilliant girls, who were encouraged to be articulate, outspoken, and maybe raise a little hell because RARRR! Girl Power! Getting Things Done!

The women in my family were all outspoken, assertive, and did not shy away from anything. I thought that was the way to be.

Along the way, and really when I decided to devote myself to religion, I learned that if I pretended I was a Lady, people in positions of authority would like me more. Pretending to be a Lady didn’t get me anywhere, but at least I quit hearing whispers of “bitch” behind my back, and people quit accusing me of having a spirit of Jezebel on me. When I pretended to be a Lady, people thought I was nice. Sweet. Good.

As an adult, even in personal conversation, that all-girl education, and that all-girl privilege can get me in trouble. Unless I am really working to present myself gently, I tend to state my thoughts bluntly. Around women, I revert to that all-girl mentality, and I fully expect spirited, excited exchange. More than once, I’ve had people tell me that my strident delivery made them feel like they couldn’t respond to me, or like I didn’t respect their opinions, or like I judged them for their beliefs. –Like, you don’t want to pet a barking dog, but if you are also a barking dog, you know you’re just interacting, and you’re just excited to have a friend.

Unless I am really thinking about it, and really working to craft my communication into something culturally palatable, I forget that I am supposed to start sentences with phrases like, “I could be wrong, but,” and finish them with, “but, I’m sure you know more than I do.”

I forget my but.

Your father, your brother, your grandfathers, your uncle, your boy-cousins–listen to them talking. They don’t have buts. They have opinions and ideas, and that’s it. You’ll notice that your mother, your grandmothers, and your girl-cousins also have opinions and ideas, BUT, they also have buts. We have an idea that if a woman wants to be heard, she must show her but. Her but is what makes some men (not men like your father, or your brother, or your uncle, or your grandfathers, but some men) feel safe. Men (and some women) like buts.

I want to tell you that you cannot make a career, or a satisfying personal life on your but. If you spend your days superseding your own intellect, and suspending your own feelings with buts, you will spend your nights chewing off the insides of your cheeks.

Yes, if you won’t show your but, people might call you a bitch. They might think you aren’t very nice. Nice girls don’t show their butts, but their buts are on full display. People also like reminding girls of their buts. You know, like they did with Grandma. “Oh, Jo is for Joan. Well, we wanted you to play baseball for us, but…”

Imaginary Daughter, I have no interest in you being a nice girl.

I’d like you to be a fully self-realized*, confident, opinionated, assertive boss. I hope you stir the pot, and get things done. That can take on a lot of forms.

You can be a public servant, working to change the world through politics. You can be a research scientist, working the change the world through chemistry. You can be an astronaut, working to change the world through exploration. You can be a mother, working to change the world through parenting stellar children. You can be a librarian, working the change the world through dedication to sharing and archiving the written word. You can be anything you want to be. No buts.

Own your thoughts. Own your opinions. Understand that you might be wrong, and that isn’t bad. Learn from mistakes, and turn them into foundations for higher education. Never be afraid to speak your mind.

I leave you with these words of advice from a woman whose but is smaller than any other I’ve ever seen. She gets called a bitch a lot. That’s okay. She’s probably going to be our next President, and if not, she’s already been a Senator, and the Secretary of State, so she knows a thing or two about having to speak up. No buts.

“Speak your opinion more fervently in your classes if you’re a student, or at meetings in your workplace. Proudly take credit for your ideas. Have confidence in the value of your contributions. And if the space you’re in doesn’t have room for your voice, don’t be afraid to carve out a space of your own.” Hillary Clinton via The Toast

Love,

Your Mother

*I think self-realized people are people who are self-assured, self-aware, and that with self-awareness comes a sense of one’s place in society, and the responsibility we have to one another. That means, I expect you to be respectful of humanity, and a contributing member of society.

 

 

Be Kind to Your Banker


I am a full six months out of my role as a banker, and I have to tell you…I don’t miss it. While I was working for the bank, there were several things that happened–all post-worthy, none of which I felt comfortable posting then. But now?

Following are some of the things that happened over the course of the past five years. All of them are true, unembellished, and can be corroborated by coworkers–save for the one, and let’s just start there:

  1. A man put his hand down his pants and started to masturbate at my desk. Well, first he told me I was pretty. THEN he put his hand in his pants.
  2. A plumber was sitting at my desk, and started cleaning gak out from under his fingernails while I helped him. That’s bad enough, right? He was cleaning gak from under his nails WITH HIS TEETH.
  3. Another man sat across from me, bit off his fingernails and spat them onto my desk blotter while maintaining eye contact.
  4. One of my branches was located inside a highrise, next to a bank of elevators and a stairwell. I went in to the building and knelt down to unlock the lock at the very base of the door, and looked up when one of our creepiest customers said, “Hello, Lane. I’ve been waiting for you.” He tried to push his way into the branch with me, but I kept him out and called for my opening team-member for help. That customer never came back to that branch.
  5. While trying to remember enough Russian to have a short conversation with a native speaker, I accidentally said she had given me great pleasure (in the biblical sense) when I meant to say it had been a pleasure speaking with her.
  6. A manager told me that my face made people feel stupid. She did not elaborate. She also told me that my glasses made me look like a nerd. Another manager told me I needed to wear more jewelry, and more lipstick. I worried that she had never looked me full in the face.
  7. I complimented a woman on the feather jewelry she was wearing, and she–without guile–thanked me effusively, and shared the story of how she had found the feathers in a WalMart parking lot.
  8. Another woman came to my desk on one of the hottest days in August, and sat there for over 20 minutes telling me that God had used her menstrual cycle to tell her that her husband was not cheating on her, and that she had confirmed his fidelity by confronting his favorite Twin Peaks waitress. Then, exhausted by her story, she sighed, “I guess I should leave. My kids are in the car.”
  9. Yet another woman came in with her dog and stood over my desk talking. All I could see was the dog’s PROLAPSED ANUS, which was about three feet from my face.
  10. I was working in the drive-thru, when a man pulled up to the commercial window directly on the branch wall. I turned on the speaker to ask how I could help him, just as he pulled a gun out of his glove box, aimed toward me. He put the gun down very quickly, but my life flashed before my eyes even faster. When he drove off, a coworker told me he was a Dallas Cowboy.
  11. A man came in twice one day, once to do business, once to stand across the lobby and take pictures of me.
  12. A man came in with a bloody gash in his head, busted up knuckles, and sat at my desk. I managed to get him some wipes, and some bandaids, but he refused any real help. (I did call later to check on him. He was fine.)
  13. Any number of men who told me they were in love with me, wanted to take me out, or just wanted to sit at my desk to “watch [me] smile.” Or, who wanted to tell me to smile more. Or, who wanted to drop things for me to pick up.
  14. Any number of people who were having a bad day and decided my desk was the hill to die on, and who would absolutely unload their frustrations with God, the school district, the pest control guy, cable customer service, and their goldfish onto me. In five years, three people called me back and apologized later. But that mess was daily.
  15. I could go on, and on, but I will leave you with this short conversation I had with a man, which I transcribed for a select audience at the time:

Man: (grumbling about “bitch wife” he is divorcing.)
Me: (nodding sympathetically)
Eminem: (crooning softly in the background about tying a woman to the bed and setting her on fire.)
Man: Eminem, man. He gets it. He really gets it.
Me: er…
Man: His songs speak to me.
Me: well…don’t be a Stan?
Man: (laughs darkly)
Me: (shudder)

So, when you go to the bank, and you are tempted to throw your ID at the teller, or snot at the banker, or hiss at the manager, please be civil instead. Because the banker knows in which chair that incontinent gentleman sat, and might offer it to you as silent punishment for bad behavior.

 

Why I Believe in Good


 

This is my grandfather, John Young.

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My grandfather was a veteran of two wars. He very rarely spoke of his service, at least to me. He said those weren’t stories for little girls. However, once, he told me about taking a church in Germany.
He said that as he and his men were taking the building, he realized there was an attic, and the only way into it was through a trapdoor in the ceiling. In order to secure the church, someone had to go up through that little door, and whoever it was would be going in headfirst, without the ability to defend himself as he went. If enemy soldiers were waiting, then the man going through the door was as good as dead.
So, he went because he said, “You never ask your men to do something you’re afraid to do.” And he said he had never been more afraid in his life, but he went through the little hole in the ceiling, and was fortunate to find the attic space empty. He was safe, and he had kept his men safe.
For the whole of my growing up, wherever we went in my mother’s hometown, if we said we belonged to John Young, people would drop whatever they were doing and try to drag down the moon for us. Everywhere we went, someone knew my grandfather, either through the Army, or through the civilian job he held after leaving the military, or because he’d seen a need in them, and he’d filled it. Everyone who knew him, knew his honesty, his compassion, and they loved him for how he changed the little piece of the world around him through his genuine acts of service.
My grandfather was not a perfect man, but he was truly a good man. He helped everyone he could, and he helped anyone–no qualifiers.
When bad things happen, I think about him. I think about the example he set, the kindness he showed, how courageous, and good he was. He was meek. He didn’t raise his voice, or his fists (unless he had to), and he put others before himself, but he was the strongest person I’ve ever known, and made of more character than anyone I probably ever will know.
We’ve had a lot of bad things happening lately. I believe there are more John Youngs out there than there are Bad Guys. I believe that because I come from a family full of men and women like him. I married into a family of men and women like him. My friends and my tribe are made up of women and men who are like him. I’m raising a child who is already like him. My cousins are raising children like him.
The good outweighs the bad. We notice the bad more because it hurts so deeply, and because good people–compassionate people–empathize with those who have lost, and who grieve. But the good is there. The good is there.
The good is in you.

Orlando


“Stanley Almodovar III’s mother had prepared a tomato-and-cheese dip for him to eat when he came home from his night out.

Instead, Rosalie Ramos was awakened by a call at 2 a.m. Sunday telling her something had happened.

Ramos told the Orlando Sentinel her son, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing on his way to Pulse nightclub.

‘I wish I had that (video) to remember him forever,’ she told the newspaper.”

 

I woke up this morning, and did as I always do: I woke up my son. I chased him around the house, getting him ready for his day, then out to the car where we usually settle into a routine patter. I opened my right hand, and he put in his left. I said, “I love this little paw.”

He said, “Paw, paw, paw.” And, he squeezed my hand and took his fingers back, so he could pick his nose.

I told him that was gross, and not to wipe his boogers on my car’s seat. He intimated that I was delusional, and had only imagined seeing him rolling snot between his fingers, to rub it on the side of the seat. I threatened to make him eat what I scraped off the side. He laughed and said, “THAT is what’s gross.”

We went to the orthodontist, and then I placed him very gently* at camp. Then, I drove away to work.

Yesterday, I sat with one of my sister-friends, and I held her newborn. We talked about how sturdy babies are, and about how easy it is to break one. There are words you don’t like to use when you talk about your children, so you try to make the words sound funny instead. You say them crouched down, and knocking wood, hoping you don’t anger some god who will punish you for feeling relief that you’ve made it X number of years without doing permanent damage.

While I was bouncing that boy, Rosalie Ramos was identifying hers.

You can do everything right as a parent. You can love your children, and accept them, and support them, and enjoy them, and appreciate them, and think ahead to be sure they have something good to eat when they come home from a night out with friends, and some other fool’s brokenness is all it takes to deliver you from relief into what has to be a relentless nightmare.

With my son, I try to leave every interaction on a note of love because I can’t be sure whether I’ll get another chance. I don’t know who is gearing up to pay a visit to his school, or the movie theater, or the marathon, or the federal building, or the club, or the office. All I can do is be sure his heart is full wherever he is. All I can do is try to be sure we have the kind of relationship where he feels happy to share video of himself singing and laughing. All I can do is try to build him up into a man who will be part of the solution.

I hate feeling like we live in a world where the opening of Bambi is an instructional video, but more than that, I hate that when Rosalie Ramos opens her refrigerator today, she’s going to see that tomato-and-cheese dip, and her heart is going to break again.

I wish love, and peace to Rosalie and the family, friends, and loved ones who woke up this morning without faces to kiss—be they in Orlando, or Omaha.

 

*When Thor was three-years-old, he asked me not to “drop him off” at school anymore. He said, “Mama, please, place me very gently.” And I have done so ever since.