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. 

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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.

It’s time to tell our stories.

When I was nineteen, I was raped, just a few days after returning to school for my sophomore year. It was something that took me almost seven years to fully process. And by fully process, I mean that I dealt with horrible anxiety/depression, an interruption in my education, weight gain, an inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and this uncomfortable startle reflex whenever anyone approaches or touches me without warning. These last two issues, while less severe, still linger. It took me a long time to stop feeling like I did something to warrant what happened to me, the ever-expanding list of “I shouldn’t have” statements growing in my mind.

I never reported what happened to me, to the school or police. I told my friends, who supported me in the best way they could. The boy approached me a few days later, as I was pouring cereal into a bowl at the dining hall, to offer a half-hearted apology for “getting out of control”. I didn’t know his name. My body felt hot as I stammered back, “It’s ok”. It wasn’t. I couldn’t meet his eyes. I wonder if he felt absolved. I went to Planned Parenthood, where they tested me for every lingering consequence. Everything was fine, thank God. I still consider those women who treated me to be some of the most important people I’ve encountered in my life. They saved me in a lot of ways, when I had no one else, and changed the way I viewed the world. I couldn’t bear to tell my parents at the time, or the person I was dating. I felt like it would destroy them, that they would find fault with me. I kept this from them, and started therapy, thinking it would help lift the feeling of being suffocated. It didn’t.

I told my boyfriend. He promptly dumped me. I told my mother, and in response, I got “Oh, we’ve all made dumb decisions when we’ve been drinking. Stop beating yourself up about it.” I’d like to believe she was just misunderstanding what I was telling her, but I don’t know how much clearer it could’ve been. I didn’t dare tell my father, as I honestly had no idea how he’d react. I’m not sure if my mother did. These responses from the people I needed the most, sent a very clear message: you did this to yourself. It took me a long time to realize that was incorrect. I never believed that women could feel they were at fault, after a sexual assault. Until it happened to me.

I’ve told a small number of people this story over the years, and the response has always been the same: Why didn’t you report it? And while the 33 year old me has the wisdom to know that I should’ve, the 19 year old me didn’t. I had no voice. I felt like I would be blamed, my actions picked apart, my reputation destroyed. I was smart enough to know how these things panned out, but not smart or strong enough to know how to fight back against it. To say that nothing I did gave anyone permission to violate me in the most heinous of ways. The panic and trauma coursing through me sent one clear message: get away from this. Put it away. Otherwise, I feared at the time, it would follow me. I needed to just move past it.

But it did follow me, an apparition reminding me that life would always be divided into “before the thing that happened at school” and “after the thing that happened at school”. Until just a few years ago, I couldn’t even say the word “rape”, in regards to my situation. It was always “the thing that happened”. The more I thought I was distancing myself from it, the more I realize now that it was tethering me back even tighter.

I’m sharing this not for you to feel sorry or angry for me, I’ve done enough of that for all of us over the years, and I have finally made peace with it. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience the past few days, after reading this article from the NY Times, about the alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct case of a young woman named Anna at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, here in Geneva. After reading the article, as well as the HWS official response on their website, I can’t help but feel like there’s a fair amount of accuracy in the NYT article, and a fair amount of backpedaling and “Let’s quote our policy and practices to cover our asses” in their response. In my opinion, HWS grossly mishandled this situation, and failed not only this student, but any student who has ever kept quiet about a similar experience, for fear of reprisal or dismissal of its severity. Regardless of all that, more than the pain I feel for the young woman, I feel incredibly proud of her bravery. She is so young and so vulnerable after such a trauma, to have found her voice, and gone to such great lengths to tell her story, her truth. I lay in bed last night, trying to imagine the firestorm that is surrounding her now, how dizzying that must be. I wondered if she second guesses her decision now, and the feedback she’s getting from people. I love that despite the fear and apprehension she’s likely feeling, that she plans to return to HWS in the fall, to continue her education. “Someone needs to help survivors there,” she said.

And she’s right. Interactive videos or other vague educational tools are not going to stop sexual violence. It’s going to take a cultural shift to change people’s attitudes about power, assault, and sex in general. That shift will only come from people speaking up about their experience, and taking individuals and institutions to task their slut-shaming, scrutinizing of a victim’s actions prior to an assault, and dismissing of claims. Boys need to be taught from a young age that girls are not merely there for the touching or invading of space, and girls need to be taught to be strong and comfortable in the claiming of their bodies as their own. Women (and men, in those cases) need to come forward, share their stories, and remind others that without exception, no always means no. Because as I’ve said before-if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

If you’ve read the article and HWS response, and are compelled to voice your support for the improvement of the colleges’ handling of sexual assaults, you can do so by signing the following petition:

https://www.change.org/petitions/to-president-gearan-and-the-hws-senior-staff-president-gearan-and-hws-senior-staff-take-action-to-prevent-further-mismanagement-of-campus-assault-cases#

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?

It’s time to get angry.

Read this. Read this, and get mad. Rageful. Cry. And then act.

Because until we all start to recognize that this unspeakable violence against women is real (and happening everyday, everywhere in the world) then it will continue to happen-unless we do something about it. And if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Every single time.

Thanks to Lauren at I’m Better In Real Life for sharing this article.