I’m done hating my body.

I remember the exact moment I began to wage a war on my body, one that would last almost 30 years. I was around 8, and I was jumping off the pool deck into the water at my parent’s house, with my brothers and sister. Drinking in summer’s delights in the way that only small children truly can. I was wearing a rainbow bathing suit, with black “paint splatters” over it, with a giant circular cutout at the belly, a tiny little ruffly skirt underneath it. I LOVED that bathing suit. My mom was sitting there, and turned me to her. She patted my stomach and said, “You better be careful. You’re getting thick in the belly.” She really didn’t mean anything by it-she was raised in a family of incredibly vain Italian women, who constantly commented on appearance. Nonetheless, it stung. It was the first time I recall ever feeling like something about me was defective.

On top of that, I developed breasts at a really young age. I was wearing a bra in the third grade, and I remember wearing a white shirt to school one day, and this boy, Brian, teased me about the fact that he could see my bra through my shirt. I still will not wear white shirts, at 35. My chest became a part of “me” by high school, in that it was a way people identified me: “big tits”,I think, was the phrase I heard uttered most. I tilted my spine inward in an attempt to shrink them, shrink myself. Looking back at photos of myself when I was 16 or 17, it was evident that I had a body that belonged to an adult-it was a common topic of conversation, particularly among the boys I counted amongst my friends. I knew I was supposed to just laugh along, accept it as some sort of compliment. It never felt like one-it felt like a liability. I know now that it was a liability.

As women, our bodies are ALWAYS liabilities. You’re too fat, too thin, too busty (and likely a slut), too flat, too tall, too hairy, too masculine. Our bodies are public domain for comment, for possession, for violation. Leers, comments, touches, judgments.  I remember squatting down at my locker in high school when I was a junior, and my then-boyfriend came up behind me, yanking the waistband of my jeans up, propelling me forward into my locker. “Pull up your pants. I can see your underwear-you look like a slut.” It seems enraging to me now, almost laughable if not so sad, but at the time, I believed him. I thought I did something wrong. Again, shame.

Into adulthood, I became less active and more heavy. For the past 15 years, I have swung so widely, weight wise: there is almost a 90 lb. difference between my lightest and heaviest. Reproductive and endocrine disorders have continuously conspired to make this even more difficult. The problem is, I have always felt huge, a massive distortion from what is acceptable. No matter what size I am. Thick in the middle, as my mom said. I feel invisible and overexposed, at the same time. I lay in bed at night, running my hands over the soft flesh of my abdomen, avoiding the extra fat on my thighs and arms with my eyes,  disgusted by it. As a freshman in college, I noticed a series of tiny, silver stretch marks running along the part of my arm where it meets my chest, and I felt utter horror. Meanwhile, this discovery happened in the midst of an idle moment of a volleyball game, one where my strong, capable body was performing well. But all I really saw, were those marks. Marks that shamed me. The shame I have always felt from my body has felt as normal as a body part-it’s a part of me.

But, I’m tired of feeling bad about my body. My body has carried me through so much in life-a successful athletic career as a teenager, sustained me during times of deep sadness and stress that I thought would overtake me, and perhaps the most incredible of all-it sustained a pregnancy that doctors said would never happen, and delivered the most beautiful boy into my life. Those breasts I hated so much? They provided my child’s nourishment for 15 months, helping him grow strong, into the beautiful little boy he is now. It carried me through the crushing blow of my mother’s death while simultaneously bringing that little boy into the world. While everything around me felt like it was crumbling into dust, I felt so much confidence in my what my body is capable of.

And over these past few years, I’ve become less and less interested in quantifying my worth by my pants size, my weight, my belief in an unrealistic ideal. I am kind and funny and accomplished in my work, smart and driven and eternally optimistic about the future and the goodness of people. Who the fuck cares if my pants aren’t a size 6? I’m tired of chasing one-dimensional concepts of what I think will make me content. I am enough, just as I am. Beautifully crafted at my core.

It’s hard for me to expose these things about myself, but I want other people to stop hating their bodies, too. And in order to do that, we need to stop feeling so isolated and shut out by it. The garbage we are fed by the culture and the patriarchy about what about bodies should be, and the bogus value assigned to it, are never going to stop, unless we force it. So, for anyone who has ever thought, “Things will be better once I lose weight, I will be better when I lose weight”…I’m with you. I AM you. And I promise you, you are enough. 

Armchair activism doesn’t stop rape.

By now, everyone has heard about the reprehensible sexual assault that took place at Stanford by Brock Turner, a 20 year old student athlete, who was convicted and sentenced to a mere six months in jail for his crime. This alone caused an outcry, and then his father, seemingly the most tone-deaf individual on the planet, wrote a letter defending his son, and lamenting the mental and emotional toll his ’20 minutes of action’ and their consequences have had on him. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, and as a human being in general, this story has made me ill. It’s made a lot of people ill-everyone has been talking in depth about it across social media, sharing their strong reactions to the heinous act, as well as the abdication of justice, with Turner being given such a short sentence. Good, I thought. People need to be talking about these things. And then I came across a blog post that I am assuming has gone viral, as many of my friends have reposted it. It’s titled “We With the Pitchforks”-you can read it here.

I share in the author’s frustration, as well as those who re-posted it. And a large part of me agrees with every single word written. But, there is something about the angry mob mentality that just seems counterproductive to me.I say this not out of defense for Turner…he doesn’t deserve defense. He’s dug his own grave, and this will follow him for the rest of his days, both personally and professionally, as it should. I say this out of a pure desire to want better for us, as a society. Armchair activism so easy, in the age of social media. It’s easy to share a blog post on social media, it’s easy to rant about it over a dinner party (and these are all things I’ve done, about a myriad of issues, myself). What’s not easy, though, is to change the culture of rape that we’ve so blindly allowed for far too long. This happens every single day, across the world. Fighting a hateful act with more hate is not the answer. Filling the world with the righteous courage necessary to act up against the institutions and systems that treat these crimes as permissible, is. And it’s not just about sexual assault-it’s about all forms of gendered inequities and violence.

My point is, by all means, share information…but share productive information. Share statistics on the prevalence of assault across the country. If you know someone who is willing to share their own story of assault, help them put it out into the world. Learn about rape crisis programs in your area, and support them, whether financially, or through interfacing with your legislators about the importance of these services. Stop teaching little girls and women that it is THEIR responsibility to avoid being raped, and start creating the expectation for boys and men NOT TO RAPE. Stop laughing at jokes about gender stereotypes, or sexual assault, or feminism. It’s not all in good fun. It creates an environment of acceptability, and of women being lesser than whole. If you’re a dad or uncle or any other man with a special child in your life, model how to respect and speak about and equitably interact with women. I promise you, they are ALL watching. Challenge your own beliefs and values (you too, women, because we all internalize it) on relationships and interactions between men and women, and how we view “roles.”

Let’s create a world where the Brock Turners fade into the ether, a bad dream, and where women can move freely without the threat of violation.

Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.

A different diet for the new year.

I’m exhausted, you guys. I’m talking, physically and emotionally, right-into-your-bones, sort of tired. Life is crazy, as it is for all of us at this particular stage in life-career, relationships, kids, adult stuff. Those are OK things, though-I can handle them, keep them in balance.

What I can no longer keep in balance, however, is the flood of negativity, vitriol, hatred, violence, horror and general terribleness that rushes into my life every time I lazily step into any sort of online environment-facebook being the number one offender, as it usually compiles all of these different avenues of media into one little neat stream. But, man…does anyone else feel like they are being crushed under the weight of all the terrible things that are happening in the world?

I’ve always been pretty tapped into world events, for better or worse. I like to know what’s going on, I want to better understand humanity. And with that, comes the unfortunate side effect of taking some of it on, personally. But lately, I don’t know-I can’t handle it. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe (likely) it’s because I’m raising a tiny human to become an adult human who will be left to make his way in this world, and I’d like that world to not be burned to the proverbial ground by then. I’d like his spirit to remain intact, to not be jaded by what he sees and hears. I want MY spirit to remain intact.

This has all been accelerating for me over the past few months, thinking about the need to pull the plug for awhile on being so “connected” all the time. A poor choice of words, for sure, given that I can’t think of anything more DISconnected than looking around in a public space and seeing literally everyone’s face buried in their phones. When did we stop understanding that human interaction is necessary, that it makes us who we are?

I believe in the power of media, of social media in particular, and the rise of citizen journalism and what that means for accountability and transparency on all levels. However, what I can no longer deal with, is absent-mindedly hopping online in the same manner that people continually open their fridges even though they know nothing has changed inside, and reading that overnight,  a man has thrown his 5 year old daughter over a bridge, killing her. Or that attempts at forced censorship include a mass murder of illustrators and editors. It has officially infiltrated my heart, and it is just another thing weighing me down, that I don’t want.

So, all this to say, I’m going on a diet. A crash diet that includes no social media and very limited news exposure. I am not deleting anything (as evidenced by the fact that you guys are reading this, through a linkage between WordPress and FB or Twitter), but I removed the phone apps, and let’s face it-who the hell is on a laptop or desktop more than they ever have to be? For 30 days, I’m going to focus on remaining present, at all times, and allowing what is good to flow into my world (how’s that for some weird, new-age garbage?).

I’ll be back, at some point, if for no other reason than my son’s apparent internet celebrity. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my blog to get updates on new posts (because I’m going to be writing a lot more), or shoot me an email at JenniferLHurlburt@gmail.com, if you want some occasional photo updates on what the Ginger is up to. Or, be like, “Eh, whatever, who the hell cares?” Either way, see you on the other side.

Sorry I’m Not Sorry.

Have you guys read this post? A few people have shared it via Facebook and for me, it was one of those things you may hear a thousand times, but then on that 1001st time, you really listen. And then you start thinking: what are all the things I am apologizing for, things for which I am not even remotely remorseful?

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on this very tic (which is what it feels like), catching myself apologizing, then following that up with, “No, actually, I’m not sorry”. Which, admittedly, probably sounds a little off-putting to whomever happens to be there, but I don’t care. It’s the only way I can reinforce my commitment to stopping that knee-jerk response. I think that as women, we are given a very clear message from infancy-that we need to act like ladies. What does that even mean? It means that we need to not take up too much space, we need to be quiet, agreeable, and please everyone around us, to the very real sacrifice of ourselves, of what makes us who we are. And, my friends, is bullshit.

Take little girls, for example. Before the world swallows them up, and spits them back out into the world of adolescence, they are vivacious, joyful, spirited, and confident. I watched my niece stand around in her bathing suit recently, little belly jutting out, dripping a popsicle gleefully down her face and arms, and I was jealous. I was actually jealous of the fact that she has no concept of being painfully conscious of her body, her visibility, the eyes of others following those rivulets of melted popsicle as they trickle down her chin. That, is freedom. Not automatically trying to shrink herself into invisibility, wondering what people are thinking about her belly, her legs, the fact that she’s eating for pleasure. That’s all going to erode, though; in 3, 4, 5 years, she’ll start to doubt herself, her body, her voice. She’ll start to be sorry.

And think about all of the apologizing we do to ourselves-the way we might lament speaking “out of turn” at work, or how we hunch over, wearing dark colors and high necklines, because we feel like our breasts are too big, a liability for own safety, and for being taken seriously. Or, my personal favorite-gathering the courage to ask for what you want…and then immediately following that up with “Is that OK? Sorry to ask, but…”.

This article helped me to better evaluate the things I’m apologizing for, overtly or otherwise. And I needed it, because this age of 33, this journey into what I consider true adulthood after the extended adolescence of our twenties, is a beautiful thing. I’m becoming so much more comfortable with who I am, what I represent, and the things and people I value. So, no…I’m not sorry for my body, or my desire to be by myself at times, or my political bent, or for making jokes that “women shouldn’t make”. I’m not sorry for a million things. Those things make me who I am, and I happen to think that I am pretty fucking awesome. I do, however, apologize if you find issue with that. That, is a genuine apology.

Tell me ladies (and you boys, too, if you’re so inclined)-what are you ready to stop apologizing for?

Full-On Mom Jeans.

That’s the nickname I’ve given myself-Mom Jeans. Alas, I have become that asshole that I have always hated-posting a million photos of my baby on IG/FB (that no one ultimately cares about, I know this; I mostly didn’t care about your baby, either), posting inane status updates about my lack of sleep/loss of independence/back pain/baby screaminess, and commiserating with other moms about the glamorous life of parenthood. It’s annoying, and here is where I issue my blanket apology-I’m sorry. I will also not stop, so it might be a good idea to remove me from any social media feeds or defriend me altogether. Maybe block my phone number too, if I’m texting you unwanted photos. But it’s a baby! In tiny shorts!

Even more startling are my behaviors in private-perpetually tiptoeing around the house, squealing D’s name over and over again so I can get through a shower without him losing his shit (this only works 14% of the time), singing every ridiculous made up song I can conjure off the top of my head, and putting more thought into his outfits in the morning, than my own. Oh, my eating habits? That consists of anything I can grab with one hand, and stuff into my mouth, like a raccoon. This runs the gamut from healthy (apple) to disgusting (finger swipe of peanut butter). I know this is normal, and I don’t hate it. It’s just..shocking, sometimes.

And don’t even get me started about my appearance. My crowning achievement has been that I shower and dress every morning. That’s a non-negotiable for me (although I understand how many people don’t get to it). However, my mascara wand has never seen less activity, my hair is in a perma-knot atop my head, and I don’t so much care that there’s a rivulet of baby spit/drool/milk all over my shoulder. My dirtiest little secret? Even though I fit comfortably back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I cannot make myself stop wearing my maternity jeans. Please note, I know this is in no way flattering, as they are huge and baggy on my legs and butt, but weeee! Jeans that also feel like sweatpants! Just toss a longer cardigan on, and no one is the wiser…unless you’re walking behind me in Wegman’s, and watching me hike my pants up every 2-3 strides.

It’s all just interesting to me, how you become almost unrecognizable to yourself once you become a parent. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. Like I said, I certainly don’t dislike it, nor do I find it to be a bad thing, but I didn’t always intend to be a parent. I never daydreamed about having kids and all that jazz, nor did I ever think it would actually happen. But now, here I am, with this little redheaded, doe-eyed boy, and I love him so much that it almost takes my air sometimes. He has taught me so much about myself, made me happier, much less willing to abide nonsense from other people, and has given me a sense of purpose that I thought I always got from my career, but is so much more fierce now. I feel incredibly lucky to be his mom, and to have the opportunity to help guide another person to the best life possible. So what if I AM doing it with bags under my eyes and ill-fitting pants? He will grow more independent, and I will look presentable in public again. And I bet, when all is said and done, that I’ll probably miss this time.

What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.