Life Lessons from My Muffin Top

I work on the Internet. Last week, it felt as though everywhere I turned the women of the world were talking about body issues. From the viral photo of the fit and unapologetic Maria Kang that prickled many woman’s spine either in outrage or defense, to a popular blogger, Glennon Melton of Momastery throwing away her scale, to this powerful video of a college student’s poetry slam exploring the question of why the women in her family deprive themselves to feel small.

Or maybe it felt that way because I have my own body issues and those are the messages I see through my jacked up filter.

I was a skinny little girl but I remember thinking I was fat. When I was 13 I wore a women’s size 3 which I thought that was way too big compared to my friend’s size 12 JUNIOR. I remember shopping trips to The Gap looking for jeans under the 3 sign and feeling shame that I wasn’t still wearing junior sizes like my friends. I was in the 8th grade, and in gym class of that year when I would also start my period for the first time. By the time I was 14 and a Freshman in highschool, I would be a women’s size 12 while most of my friends graduated into sizes 0 and 1.

Everywhere I looked from the hallways at school to the teen magazines to the commercials on TV — everything told me I was not small enough. That my wide hips and big chest needed to be smaller, thinner, better.

I hated my body with a ferocity in those teen years. When I was 15, and in the privacy of my purple painted bedroom adorned with magazine clippings of cute boys, I would grab  folds of fat on my belly and hips and pull at them — digging my fingernails in so hard I left deep, deep marks. Sometimes I even took a pair of scissors and pretended to cut it off. Sometimes I bled. I always cried. I wanted this fat off OFF my body so bad that daily I fantasized about slicing it off with a knife. Many times I took duct tape and wrapped by body from my hips to just under my breast like a mummy. The tape was so tight I could hardly sit or breathe. When I was done, I went to my closet and tried on different outfits so I could marvel at how much better I looked in them while I was squeezed and squashed to breathlessness under feet of tape. Had I only known a woman would do the same thing years later, call them Spanx and make millions I could have beat her to the punch.

I still remember the bright red flush of my skin as I ripped off the tape. I remember sort of liking the pain. It was what I deserved for being so fat and so weak. My heart aches for that sad girl.

I remained a natural size 12 with the exception of a waxing and waning depression between 17-20 years old where I would occasionally be a size 14. After I gained control of that I was back to my natural size except for one militant phase in my mid 20’s when I counted every calorie and worked out daily. During those years I was able to get down to a size 8 for about a day and a half. That remains my smallest size ever. Somewhere in there I realized I actually liked working out and eating healthy and I settled into a very comfortable and manageable size 10 until I got pregnant with my first child at 30.

Now, two years after my second child, at age 35, I’m still trying to lose the last 10 pounds to get back down to a comfortable size 10. As I write this, I’m on the border between a size 12 and 14.

I work out 4-5 times a week; Zumba, Pilates, Yoga. I can run 30 minutes without stopping and I can do  back bends and head stands in yoga. My body is strong. I eat a healthy diet which I enjoy. I even juice kale and worse — I like it! I have treats in moderation. Ice cream mostly. I do not eat candy or fast food very often and I don’t like things with too much sugar. I drink an alcoholic beverage once, maybe twice a week. On a good week.

I know that I could lose those last 10 pounds if I became militant again, but I refuse. I simply do not have the desire to spend my precious time and energy thinking about food to that level. Plus, that whole process makes me a wee bit crazy. If I slip on a few calories here and there I start to shame myself. I get angry and crabby and judgmental of my every decision and perceived weakness. I’ve been there before and it’s just not worth it anymore.

So for the most part I’d rather just eat healthy, workout, have treats in moderation and be a size 12-14. Accept when I wouldn’t. Those times always come when I see an unflattering picture. At those moments I get angry with myself all over again. That sad 15-year-old-girl who wrapped her body in duct tape reappears inside my head and I must work hard to calm her down. This happened to me about a month ago.

I went back home a few weeks ago to celebrate a friend’s baby shower and there was a picture taken that awoke that scared, self-shaming girl inside my head.

fat picture analyzing

Even among two pregnant friends, I am the biggest one. Even after how hard I work every day… I. AM. STILL. THE. FATTEST. BRIDESMAID. <sigh>

Truth: That picture sent me down a shame spiral… but not as much as what happened next.

A day after this picture was taken I was sitting around one of these friend’s kitchen table. My friend’s 15 year-old daughter was sitting with us. We have known this girl her whole life and have watched her blossom into a beautiful and intelligent young lady. I remember a time when she was four, having been surrounded by a group of young 20-something women, when she said, “My thighs are so fat.”

When I finally became a parent four years ago, I became hyper-aware of the messages I send to children, both verbal and nonverbal. In spite of this fact,  and what I know of this girl, I still fat-shaming myself in front of her.

I was weak that day. I just wanted to let it all fly and I was being selfish. I wanted to hear my friends (whom I don’t get to sit and talk with very often) tell me I was being too hard on myself. I needed help shutting up that 15-year-old girl inside my head and I didn’t care that this 15-year-old girl was listening. That poor, gorgeous girl sat there listening to me go on about how I hate being FAT! As I said those words they stung twice as hard when I looked at her. They still do when I think about it and now I am more ashamed of fat-shaming myself in front of her than I was of the original picture.

That day I gave her an anthropological lesson in the Generation X thin-obsessed culture, but I wished I’d given her a physics lesson instead. I wish I had told her that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I wish I’d told her that the depth of pain I felt as a self-loathing teenager is equal to the amount of love I’m able to feel for myself as a confident 30-something woman, which is actually quite a lot when I don’t look an unflattering pictures of me next to my friends.

I wish I told that bright, talented, 15-year-old girl, that from all the mirrors I hated when I was her age, I learned the real value of appearances. That because of my fat reflection, I’m can clearly see true beauty, and that kind of beauty is not something you can find in a mirror… or a picture.

I wish I would have told her that my muffin top taught me important things about life; things about suffering and grace and self-worth and what it means to overcome, and the healing power of good friends.

I wish I told her that everyone has their Thing. That Thing that makes them feel different and weird and unloveable. But that Thing is really a giant lesson in being human. A benevolent gift of learned compassion.  Being a fat teen was my Thing and now that I’m older, I love my Thing for what it taught me about life. Because often our biggest curses become our equally big blessings. 

But I didn’t do that. I failed her in that moment. I failed me in that moment. And I won’t do it again. That much I have learned. That is why I’m writing this… because for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. May this post serve as my amends.


I Cannot Unsee This… And Neither Should You

I have a family member who is a partner in a large firm. One night, during a holiday dinner he casually mentions that his firm created a special “non-equity partnership” position for peope who deserve to be partners, but for some reason aren’t able to put in the long hours. My interest was piqued and I began asking questions. He said the position is mainly for women with families and that they aren’t given equity in the firm because, as he put it, “they aren’t putting in as many hours as I am.” The firm boasts a whopping 20% female partners. This family member happens to be a single man with no kids. I kinda lost it on him. Sure, Christmas Eve might NOT have been the right venue, but this shit makes me angry. No. Livid.

A couple of weeks ago a friend on Facebook updated his status with a commentary on his venture into Crossfit. The gist of the post was that he was ashamed he couldn’t perform better than a woman. This man has two daughters.

This family member and this friend, by all intents and purposes, are well-educated, respected, productive individuals. They are nice guys who mean well and I like them both very much. And yet when it comes to the issue of gender equality, they have no clue. This is how far we have yet to go to educate our OWN nation on the skewed perceptions and inequities of men and women.

The majority of the rest of the world is worse off.

I fought my battle with goliath through the legal system over my gender and it was certainly my awakening to the realities of this issue. I can no longer stand idly by pretending these things aren’t real. More importantly, I want better for my children. I feel duty-bound to change these misperceptions however I can whether it be at the holiday dinner table, in a response on Facbeook, or here. These ideas are simply no longer acceptable in my world. They shouldn’t be acceptable in anyone’s world, and yet they are.

UN Women – and arm of the U.N. that focuses on women’s issues – created a powerful new ad campaign where they use the most widely used search engine, Google, to illustrate how prevalent sexism and misogyny are worldwide. Everyone knows that Google will automatically populate the most popular search terms when you start to type a phrase, and when you type certain terms about women… the results are no less than shocking.

When I first saw it, I thought maybe it was phony. I know a little about Google and I know they tailor some search results based on previous searches, geography, etc. But when I put the exact same phrases they used in the campaign into my own browser I literally put my hand over my mouth and gasped. THESE are real search results from MY computer. This is something I cannot unsee or unknow and you shouldn’t either. This is what the world thinks of me and my daughter. I used pictures of my daughter as a baby to mimic the original campaign and illustrate just how absurd this is.

Brooke Baby- Women Shouldn't

Brooke Baby- Women Need toBrooke Baby- Women ShouldBrooke Baby- Women Cannot

And because I’m fair and also skeptical, I wanted to see the other side. I put the same phrases in for men. These are the real results.

Men Google Searches

Apparently the world thinks my daughter should not be a cop, a pastors, fight in combat or go to college but men should just avoid wearing shorts. Nice.

To all the people who think I’m a little too far down the feminist road;  who think that just because I fought a harrowing legal battle for the right be treated fairly as a woman, that now everything looks like gender discrimination – I give you this challenge. Put these phrases into your Google search box now. Do not pretend this isn’t real.

The sad truth is, my rose-colored glasses were lifted and I’m no longer ignorant to the issue. And you shouldn’t be either. Particularly if you have children.

Realize that this is not something that only happens in developing countries with fundamentalist rulers…  it’s here.  I guarantee it’s in your family, around your dinner tables, in the off-handed comments and jokes of “throwing like a girl,” “crying like a girl,” or “if a girl can do it… ” This is where it persists and is allowed to fuel the world’s idea of what women are worth.

But there is a search phrase that applies to BOTH men and women. Apparently the world thinks its high time we both “grow up” and you know what? I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps peeking over those rose-colored glasses is a nice start.

Brooke shero

This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall PassI’ve been thinking a lot about time. I suppose fall does that to me. With all the leaves falling and the ground decaying under my feet. It’s Mother Nature’s most in-your-face reminder that time marches on, things change, release, fall away. And I suppose I feel like being grounded too.

I want my feet stuck deep in the mud. Each year the feeling is the same. The ache for grounding, the need for coziness, the desire to cook hearty meals and wear fuzzy socks. I just want to feel warm and safe and stuck into something solid. No more bouncing around like a beach ball on the waves, just stuck flat to the pavement like a wet leaf.

I start looking forward to all the yearly rituals of the holiday season. The Halloween decorations, the Thanksgiving meal, the Christmas, Christmas, Christmas EVERYTHING. These things are my annual touch stones; my measuring sticks of how far we’ve come as a family, how much deeper our roots have burrowed, how much wider our life has become. It’s reassuring and sad in equal measures.

There are these moments when I’m wearing my rain boots, my hood pulled up, my hands shoved deep in my pockets and yet the sun is still shining hard. In those moments I think everything is going to be okay. We are all going to be just fine. I can rest my weary mind for a moment and know that everything will be okay, not perfect, just okay. The okayest. Moments, just minutes at a time when I hear my children laughing or feel them breathing on my neck while rain pelts our windows and I know — there is nothing more I need to do in just that moment.

But those moments fade. The worry returns. And I am bouncing once again on waves of discontent.

Something I read recently by Pema Chondron keeps ringing in my ears. It’s about the “hot loneliness” inside. In Louis CK’s viral video on his rant against cell phones and social media he calls it, “the forever empty… that place where you know it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone.” I’ve been aware of that place lately. That ocean of loneliness inside. I’m feeling its presence more than ever and noticing all the things I do to keep it at bay: social media, the internet, busy-ness, cleaning, eating, obsessing. All this just to look away from the hot loneliness that I know is there rolling inside me. An ocean of forever empty.

I’m trying to sit with that feeling more and more. Breathe through it without feeling sea sick. I can only remind myself of something I have heard my whole life and yet have never really understood until now, “This too shall pass.”

And then all over again I ache for the solid ground. More roots. More boots stuck deep in the mud and my kids racing down the street with red cheeks and buckets shaped like pumpkins. The ritual. The release. The reminders that everything  is alright. Good, even.

Why Feminist Mothers are Destined to Have Stripper Daughters

I bought my 2-year-old son a raincoat that looks like a firefighter’s jacket. For my 4-year-old daughter, I bought a cute hot-pink, cinch-waisted number with a black piping an a bow. I bought them a couple of months ago at Costco and brought them out of the closet this week for Seattle’s most recent, unseasonably cold and  monsoon-y weather. (Yes, even for Seattle it’s been a freezing, soggy mess.)

feminist mothers daughtersMy son was so excited to be firefighter. Pride beamed from his face when I buttoned him up. Then my daughter promptly asked what her coat made her. Unbelievably, these words almost left my lips, “Just a cute little girl.”

But no, no, no way Jose Gloria Steinem! Since I have been enlightened to the plight of feminism, I know better than to absentmindedly (albeit innocently) limit my daughter’s world view of what she thinks she can be. Instead, I said, “You are a powerful business woman — a CEO!” This sparked all kinds of questions about what business women do and wear.

Not five minutes later she opened a “shop” to sell jewels in exchange for cotton ball money. The first step of the game was to fill a small zippered pouch with mommy’s jewelry. Next, my daughter scrutinized the selection for quality and appropriateness (setting aside the marbles I had surreptitiously placed inside claiming “those aren’t jewels!”) When she was pleased with the goods, she dispensed as many cotton balls as she felt necessary.

A pawn shop owner wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned when I said “business woman,” but whatever. She’s being entrepreneurial. We’ll go with it.

Since then, she’s been telling anyone who will listen that her coat is, in fact, her  “business woman coat.” And then pride beams from my face as I mentally pat myself on the back for being so open-minded and all Girl Power Hear Us ROWR!

Then last night as she got out of the bath, still naked, she wanted to play her jewelry pawn shop game. In lieu of wearing the coat, she said she was going to be a “naked business woman.” I am a terribly immature person so I immediately busted up laughing. I said, “No way! Business women wear clothes in this house!” Which launched a whole flurry of “but why’s?”

But why can’t I be a naked business women? But what do naked business women do?

Not wanting to explain the economics and moral implications of being a prostitute, I did what I normally do in these situations — I punted to Daddy. Daddy is even worse at answering difficult questions but his answers are usually funny which provide a nice segue onto other topics. Plus, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say to our naked little pawn shop owner.

“Daad-dy, why can’t I be a naked business woman?” Apparently there isn’t a mature parent between us because he busted up laughing too and said something very patriarchal like “Not in my house young lady!”

And you know what she said? Hand to G.O.D. she said… “Fine. But naked business women always shake their booties.”

And then she danced. Naked.

And this is why feminists mothers are destined to raise pawn shop owning, stripping daughters.

The end.