Pardon Me If This Blows You Out Of The Water, But You Cannot Contain Me

Dear Mommy,

I am a woman and I am fat and I hate my body. I try so hard to feel positive about my body, to feel confident, and to forget everything I’ve been told about it, but all I can do is obsess about how much I hate it, which also makes me hate myself. How can I feel better about my body?

Hi, my love.

I have a fat body. Isn’t it so funny that typing those words out for other people to see fills me with palpable dread, especially at the thought that people who know me in real life will read them? Even though everyone who has ever seen me has seen that I have a fat body? I think part of it comes from the fact that I don’t have very many friends that have bodies like mine, and I don’t see many positive images in media of people that have bodies like mine. Being fat and happy, fat and comfortable, fat and beautiful, fat and visible, fat and unashamed, are not archetypes widely available to me, which makes even the act of naming my body as fat very scary. Every time I go to the park or a show or a party or any other place where people my age gather, I scan the crowd trying to find people that have bodies like mine. Where are they? Are they all gathering somewhere else? Are they all indoors? Should I be indoors?

Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’m supposed to be trying as hard as I can to not have a fat body, but I don’t. I never try to actively lose weight and that makes me feel like a failure. I don’t do it mostly because, when faced with the idea of counting calories or figuring out an exercise plan geared toward dropping pounds, I always think of so many other, better, more interesting things I could be doing. There’s also an ornery side to me that is pissed off that there is some unknown entity out there trying to dictate what is beautiful and what I should look like and what health means and I refuse to buy in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of losing weight, that it doesn’t enter my mind multiple times every single day, that I haven’t wasted hours of days, years of my life, wishing it would happen.

I don’t know if people who aren’t fat realize how much of a BATTLE being fat is, every single day. Especially especially especially if you are a fat woman. I have felt shame because I couldn’t starve myself enough to lose weight. It made me feel like I had weak character. I have concocted elaborate fantasies in which I am in a terrible accident and enter into a coma, which would mean I could not eat, which would mean I would lose weight. Can you believe that? Can you believe that I have wished very extreme harm on my body in the name of being thinner? I bet you can. When I was a teenager, I took pictures of the parts of my body that I hated the most and printed them out from my family’s home computer. I kept them in my bottom desk drawer and I would look at them to remind myself not to eat. I have harmed my body because I hated it.

I grew up knowing I was supposed to be looked at, and if you are a woman you probably did too. I know that’s some well-tread territory for a lot of us, but it’s still in me all the time and still worth talking about. No one took me, no one took most girls, aside and said, “Follow your dreams! But always remember that your main purpose in life is to be gazed upon by men. Let that be a part of everything you do. Let that seep in and become as fundamental to your functioning as the blood in your veins! As natural as breathing!” No one said this explicitly, and no one person even did this but, like, I knew. I knew then and I still know, even though I would desperately like to know better. It would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. I’ve had it pinned down, I’ve had it named, for years now yet I still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. As women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons. We are all walking that path together, and I’m always gonna tell you that your body is holy and, yes, I will bow down to it. You just have to ask. But if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. You can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. Unless you are living it.

I think we all know that this pair of eyes is bigger than any one’s actual pair of eyes, and that it’s not really a pair of eyes at all. (So how the fuck is it looking at us?) But this pair of eyes that isn’t a real pair of eyes does affect the way people with real pairs of eyes view my body. And if you are a fat person, a fat woman especially, you learn very early that people hate what your body looks like. People hate what my body looks like! Would you like to know how I know that people hate what my body looks like?

A SHORT LIST TO ILLUSTRATE HOW I KNOW THAT PEOPLE HATE WHAT MY BODY LOOKS LIKE

  • At an old job of mine, my favorite coworker approaches me and says, with no prompting, “You want to know something embarrassing? When I was a kid I had to wear [she kinda whispered at this point] plus size jeans.” “I WEAR PLUS SIZE JEANS NOW SHOULD I BE EMBARRASSED? JUST KIDDING, I DON’T EVEN WEAR JEANS CAUSE THEY DON’T FIT ME! SHOULD I BE DEAD?” is how I respond, later that night in my bed, in my mind, replaying the incident for the 600th time.
  • A close friend says to me, “I hate when fat people leave the house in sweat pants or pajamas. Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you get to stop trying.” “Hmmmmmm,” I say as my entire being splatters onto the windshield of her car.
  • In middle and high school, the phrase “I love ___ like a fat kid loves cake” becomes popular. I hear it over and over, over and over, over and over again. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like. a. fat. kid. loves. cake.
  • In high school, a boy at a party asks me to follow him downstairs. “You’re fat,” he tells me. “Okay,” I say. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he says. When I refuse, he calls me a piece of shit four times. Was I a piece of shit because I, the fat girl, was not grateful for his attention?
  • The thin, beautiful manager at my first college job loves cookies. My other manager brings cookies to every meeting. “Are you trying to make me fat?!” she cries. Everyone’s uproarious laughter borders on outrageous. Aside from wounding me deeply, it just…isn’t that funny.
  • I am walking on the street one evening a few years ago. Two men sitting outside a bar are, presumably, trying to find a woman for one of them to date. “Why don’t you date her?” One of them says as I walk by. “Yeah, maybe if you gouged out my eyes first,” replies the other. I have to keep living as a human being after that. I don’t get to burst into a beautiful cloud of dust and transcend this painful plane of existence.

These are a few examples. I had many more to choose from. I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about how much people hate, are disgusted by, and dehumanize fat women. Unless you are also a fat woman. Then we’ve both forgotten more than they’ll ever know.

Which brings me to your question. “How can I feel better about my body?” Oh my god. You sweet, incredible, powerful, and smart child of god (whatever that is). I wish so, so badly I could tell you. I wish I knew. I am sitting here, writing this, begging the world to send me the answer, because you deserve to know. It has never helped me to look in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful.” It has never helped me to write myself affirmations. That advice has always felt so puny to me. In fact, very little has ever helped me feel better about my body. Almost nothing. But I can think of two things.

The first is seeking out the stories of other fat women. Nothing, nothing, nothing helps like feeling less alone. A huge, giant recommendation is Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Holy shit, I’ve never felt so known. I’ve never felt so healed. Women create such beautiful, incredible things. It takes my breath away, I am BREATHLESS as I type this to you. Find them find them find them! Women will save you, they will pull you out of the water to breathe the freshest air.

The second thing is…writing this. Did you know you can write out the scariest shit in the world and share it with the people you love and you will still be alive? Maybe even a little bit lighter in the heart? Did you know there is nothing more powerful than saying to the world, “Pardon me if this blows you out of the water, but you cannot contain me. You are not allowed to bind me with your notions of what is appropriate to feel, to talk about, to experience. You cannot contain me. I am uncontainable! I am allowed to talk about what scares me, and what scares you. I am allowed to roll up my sleeves and lay my scars bare for all to see.” Write it all out, sister. You don’t have to share it, just get it out. That voice that tells you that you are unlovable, unfuckable, disgusting, inhuman, worthless, powerless? That. Is. Not. Your. Voice. That is the voice of demons. You are not a demon, you are a glorious human being so take a fucking pen to paper or a finger to keyboard or a paintbrush to canvas or a gluestick to magazine cutout or a guitar pick to guitar and tell your fucking story, girl. Find your human voice. How can you feel better about your body? It starts with looking at your demons right in the motherfucking eyes and daring them to murder you in cold blood and finding out that they can’t do that when you’re looking at them right in the eyes. Fuck you demons, you cannot contain us.

Love, Mommy

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Your Life Is Yours, Part One

Dear Mommy,

All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?

Hello, friend. I was writing a response to your question and I couldn’t stop! I wrote you a letter way longer than I’d expect anyone to read in one siting, so I’m going to break it up into two parts. Today I offer you Part One!

What really stands out to me about your situation is that you don’t want to be engaged or have kids, yet you’re still feeling like shit when you see 500 baby pictures on social media when a friend gives birth or get a wedding invitation in the mail. I’m going to make the leap and assume that, while those aren’t the specific life events or lifestyles you want, you really want to experience the feelings that you imagine are associated with those particular milestones. Let’s break them down:

  • a feeling that you are loved and cared for
  • a feeling that you are needed
  • a feeling that that you are moving forward in life and building something
  • an outpouring of love built into your day-to-day life
  • a feeling that your life really means something
  • a feeling that you have people you belong to and who belong to you
  • a feeling that you have people that give a shit if you get out of bed in the morning

In the best-case scenario, those things all seem to be part of the package that is marriage and/or parenthood. And because those two particular milestones are given such importance and heft in our culture, you can be absolutely positive that they are not things you want for yourself AND still crave them in spite of yourself, or at least what you imagine accompanies them. It’s so confusing! And you may also be experiencing that more general, crappy feeling that can happen while perusing various media, where you see what you think are insights into people’s perfect lives, so different from your own. But those are really just snapshots of a small and possibly aesthetically pleasing moment in a life that is no doubt as messy and full of pain and confusion as yours! You are, without a doubt, not alone in this. So, where does this leave you poor, pathetic souls? (I’m listening to Johanne Bach as I write this shit, so I’m puh-reeeety confident about my place in this world and don’t consider myself affected by this particular issue! (I am joshing you so hard. Not about the Bach though. Don’t be intimidated! I’m just your average classical music-loving genius (I put on Bach by accident)))

To answer your question directly, I don’t know how you can stop from feeling down about it. But I think I can offer some hope that you can carve out a small place on this earth where you feel loved, appreciated, and less alone. I can think of two concrete things you can and should do.

The first thing I want you to do can be done in mere moments, or it can take all day or the rest of your life. Make a list, make it right now or after you finish reading this. In your notes app, in your journal, on a piece of scratch paper, a pizza rolls bag, whatever. It can be huge, It can be tiny, It can be medium. Make a list of all the good shit in your life that transcends the crushing weight of this shitty feeling. Just absolutely every moment and every thing you can think of, big and small, that makes your specific life worth living. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL!! You have to do this, and you have to repeat as often as necessary. We can get pretty stuck in the mudslide of going to a job every day where we don’t feel appreciated, of the big or small dramas of our various relationships,of all the little hurts and insecurities swirling around in our absolutely precious and sacred hearts and minds all the goddamn day long, of a scarcity mindset we can’t seem to shake, in which we never have enough – enough money or love or friends or anything. This list is to act as a metaphorical… stack of sandbags (???) that will help stop that flow of negative feelings about your own life, just like a real-life stack of sandbags stops a real-life mudslide! Is that how you stop a mudslide? I’ll offer up a few items from my list:

  1. My inexperience with serious, life-threatening natural disasters. Mudslides, for example.
  2. I recently got to see Joanna Newsom live, who occupies a position in my life I can only liken to a pastor or other spiritual leader. Not exaggerating. My sensitive little heart was burst wide open. I smiled and I cried, an hour and a half went by in ten minutes, and I saw everything in this world exactly as it really is.
  3. I watched Good Will Hunting the other night, in my bed on my laptop. I’ve seen that movie three times and I just love it for some reason. It’s cheesy at times, but it moves me. And yeah, I cried at that part where a young and skeletal-looking Ben Affleck is all, “Every day I come to pick you up I hope you’re not there! You owe it to me to work for the NSA or whatever!” to a baby-faced Matt Damon. I cry at that shit every time! As Matt Damon drives down the highway in the shitty car his friends built him and the credits start to roll, I took a screenshot to remember that evening by. A few days later, I went to a Paige Powell exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Paige Powell is a photographer from Portland who worked for Interview magazine in New York and became friends with Keith haring and Basquiat and all those other New York artist-types. The exhibit was a re-creation of a 1984 exhibit of her photographs from that time. It was held in this little enclave and I walked in and walked straight up to a picture of a baby-faced Matt Damon! I don’t know! I don’t really give a crap about Matt Damon, but it was a special moment, if minuscule and meaningless to everyone in the world but me, so it’s on the list.Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.23.53 PMIMG_3106
  4. Last weekend I was at my best friend’s house and I walked home at 2AM. I stopped at a late-night pizza place on the way and got a slice of pizza. It was full of people emptying out of a dance night next door. It was really weird to be alone at 2AM, very close to my house, a little drunk, not know anyone around me, and order a piece of pizza. But it was kind of exciting too! It made me feel young and anonymous and alive. I walked the rest of the way home and ate the pizza listening to Joanna Newsom. It was really hot and burned my tongue. I didn’t care.
  5. A few months ago, I started to tell all my friends that I was going to start a blog called Mommy and it was going to be an advice blog. I would be so excited about it every day, but then in the dark hours of the night I’d start to feel stupid and silly. “Who the hell am I to even think that I could offer advice to random people on the internet? Who the hell am I to even think that I could call myself a writer? Everything I write is crap! I am crap!” There were moments where I almost let nighttime-me win and told everyone I changed my mind and stopped doing the thing. But I persevered and wrote in tiny bits and then in larger chunks until I had my first post, and here I am writing my second post to you and feeling so proud and alive and joyful. Because I’m doing the thing.

My list could go on and on and on, and what’s intentionally missing from it is all the moments in between where I am lost and confused and crying in public, and I assure you those moments are MANY (many many many). But I find that I spend lots of time focusing on those crappy moments, and this list helps bring my focus to the fun, sweet, and fulfilling aspects of my life. This list also helps me in a way that is related to your problem. It makes me feel like my own wife! Some things that are really appealing to me about having a relationship are having someone to share those small special or funny moments of life with, the feeling of being known really intimately by someone, and having someone to love. When I look at the list above I realize that I am sharing all those moments with myself, I know myself more intimately than anyone ever could, and that I have someone to love! She just happens to have the same body as me and also…be me. I am in a relationship with myself! I am not saying that I feel like this all the time but, as I’m making the lists and reading them, I’m reminded. Make a list whenever you need to be reminded that you are your most important relationship.

I also want to acknowledge that your relationship with yourself is likely extremely complicated in ways no one else will understand. I have a hard time loving myself almost all of the time, so please don’t think I’m advocating this as a quick and easy road to self-love. I don’t want to make it seem easy, because you and I both know it’s not and there are many other things you need to do to get right with your own heart and brain. I understand that through trauma, other people’s actions, systematic oppression, and media you consume by choice or not, we can be poisoned against ourselves and that it takes so, so much work to get that poison out. I say all this because I sometimes read an article or comment on the internet that’s like “Just love yourself! Stop feeling bad about [thing you feel bad about]!” and I’m like, “Fuck you! You have no idea what it would take for me to love me!” I want to be clear that this list is a tiny thing toward that step, but that tiny things can also turn out to be very worthwhile.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week, in which I illuminate my second piece of advice!

Love, Mommy