Archive for self acceptance

Puberty is a Rip-Off
In which I fish for compliments and ponder the struggles of being short.

So here’s a question for you…

At what age, exactly, did you first realize that you weren’t going to be beautiful?

Like, maybe you were okay looking, but when did you realize that you were never gonna be heart-stoppingly life-destroyingly gorgeous?

For me, it was a very specific moment. I was at the orthodontist in eighth grade, and he was looking at an x-ray of my hand to determine how much longer it would be until I could get jaw surgery.

“Well, you see,” he said to my mother, “there’s no real space left between the bones of her hand, so she’s pretty much done growing.”

And that was the moment when I realized that this was where I peaked.

See, I’m a pretty short person, and I don’t mean the tiny, fae-like sort of short. I’m more like the…stubby, hobbit kind of short. I’ve been short since day one. I was a short baby probably. I started out short, and whenever I grew, the other kids grew proportionately, so it’s just been a lifetime of shortness.

This has only been exacerbated by my twin brother, who is a giant. He has always been a giant. He is, currently, over a foot taller than me. They literally thought he was going to eat me in the womb. It’s probably the biggest injustice of my life.

And the real issue is that, when you’re a short kid and your behemoth of a brother is making fun of your shortness, adults always say the same thing: “She’ll grow.”

They talk about how they were short as a kid, or they throw around fancy words like “growth spurt” and “growing pains,” and it all adds up to that fact that I entered into puberty with certain expectations. There I was—little fifth grade worm Rachel—waiting to enter a pubescent chrysalis stage and bust out of it as sexy grown-up butterfly Rachel.

Now, I knew that there would be a given amount of acne, and I understood the whole business with a period, but those were all pitched to me as being mere steps in the process to becoming Adult! Rachel.

So in my imagination, puberty was a lot more transformative than it actually turned out to be. It would straighten my nose, fluff my boobs, plump my lips, and make me taller. And by the end I would be a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, because that’s what adulthood is, right?

Now imagine all of those expectations, all of those hopes and dreams, and they’re all smushed by some orthodontist telling you that your height had peaked at five-foot-two.

Okay, five foot one.

People act as if puberty is very cut and dry, start to finish. There’s kid you, there’s teenage you, and there’s adult you. So I hope I wasn’t the only one to have the shock of a lifetime when I realized one day that, hey, adult me is already here, and she still has acne!

I hope I wasn’t the only one to have the disappointing thought that this is as good as it gets.

Please don’t misunderstand. I get by. I have no real issues with how I look. I actually think I’m pretty goshdarn cute. It’s just that I was all set to become a ten, and instead I settled into, like, a six and a half (in the right light). You know, all right, but nothing really special.

And that could have been the sad end to my puberty tale except that there’s a little secret nobody tells you in middle school—

It’s hard work to be pretty.

Being pretty takes time and determination and make-up and spanx. It requires a whole lot of effort. Pretty girls don’t just wake up that way. Well, okay, maybe some lucky jerks do, but most people don’t just wake up one day and find out they’ve become gorgeous (barring plastic surgery). Pretty is something you have to cultivate. Famous people and super models look that way partially because of fortunate genetics, but also because someone is paid a lot of money to spend two hours putting make-up on them.

And the thing is, you can approach this in a few ways:

  1. You can say, “screw it. Screw everything. Screw Tyra Banks and her stupid tv show.”
  2. You can say, “I have control over how I look, and I am able to make myself prettier if I want to.”
  3. Or you can embrace a cautious mix of numbers 1 and 2.

Now, I’m never gonna be on America’s Next Top Model. (Their minimum height requirement is 5’7, the fascists.) But I also sure as hell don’t look the same as I did at age thirteen. Even if I haven’t grown in height, I’ve learned about make-up, I’ve figured out how to dress myself better (thirteen-year-old Rachel really liked cargo pants) and I’ve taken plenty of bombin’ selfies. Turns out it is possible to take the bum deal that puberty gave you and make your own gorgeous out of it. And whether that means t-shirts and yoga pants or sundresses and sandals, we’re allowed to change ourselves into any version we like.

And, just a heads up, at six-foot-three my brother is well within the requirements of America’s Next Top Model, so that’s something for him to start working towards.

 

Rachel Sudbeck

 

(Fat)al: a story of growing up fat in America
… a guest post by J.C.

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Shame. It’s a heavy word.

When people ask for my story, they assume I have been hurt because of prejudice about my sexual orientation. That’s the narrative they want. The you-came-out-as-gay-in-the-South-let-me-praise-you-for-getting-through-this-hardship story. That is not the narrative I feel obligated to write.

Yes, I was ashamed of my sexual orientation when I became conscious of it at fourteen. But that shame no longer exists. Sure, the word “faggot” still gets fired at me, but that isn’t the problem anymore. My “story” is about my anxiety as a fat man, especially a fat gay man. I’ve been ashamed of my fat ever since I can remember. “Fat” is the word that has plagued my entire existence. “Fat” is the hurricane that dilutes my humanity.

My mother provided me with my earliest memory of shame. She didn’t just tell me I was fat: she showed me. Pushed into countless fitting rooms, I was unable to find clothes my size at a young age. Still, she refused to buy me jeans that fit. For three torturous years, I wore pants that would attach by Velcro, not buttons. I wanted to be vapor. I wanted my fat to instantly vanish into thin air because I felt like a burden to her. After all, what would the other parents think of her fat first-born?

Imagine a child as young as eight telling his grandparents he wasn’t hungry because he was fat. That’s what I did. Their solution was to bribe me with one dollar for every meal I attempted to eat.

At age twelve, I was too embarrassed to change my clothes for gym in front of the other boys. Refusing to do so, I received a C in the class. It was worth it.

When I started a food diary, I convinced myself SlimFast was the salve that would weaken the poison fat on my body. I drowned my stomach with that faux chocolate to the point of nausea. It replaced my breakfast and lunch. Every. Single. Day.

I got thin. But I also got weak. And I didn’t lose enough to satisfy myself despite my family complimenting my weight loss. There was a sense of Armageddon within my fat cells. My goal was a BMI of 18: I wanted to be underweight.

When one of my friends got her driver’s license, we went to Walmart, so I could buy Lipozene for the first time. The words “lose pure body fat” coaxed my brain into submission. I took my precious miracle to self-checkout only for an automated voice to say, “Please wait for assistance.” The employee told me I was too young to buy weight loss supplements and sent me home. My friend suggested eating only five hundred calories a day, and we became each other’s food coaches.

A year later, I came out as gay to my mother for the third time. Her response was to “cure” my “queer-washed mind” with anxiety medication. I launched the pill into my stomach every morning, and, as a result, my mouth got sore and eventually bled. I could only ingest a small portion, but I savored the metallic liquid, hoping it would sustain my body for one more day despite the excruciating pain.

In college, I had a health professor who wondered how fat people had sex because “their parts don’t fit.” I felt like the other students were staring at me as if I were the only overweight person in the course, as if I was the target of her words. I felt even more ashamed and thus began a diet of SlimFast and Special K. My roommate and I would run at the gym until I felt like I would collapse. Once, when I ate a cookie, he posted unsolicited advice to my Twitter page: “Go throw up.”

I could have died from that shame.

The treatment I got because of my fat made me feel as wretched as Frankenstein’s monster and as twisted as Mr. Hyde. That’s when I realized I needed to change before I ended up eradicating myself with diet rituals. What I learned is that fat people don’t need to feel shame. I’ve ended up gaining eighty pounds back in college, but I feel healthy and positive now. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and surround myself with people who encourage me to love my body. I have the right to exist and won’t let anyone water me down. I am not a problem, nor am I a before and after dichotomy.

I am a credible, intelligible fat human.

—J.C.

The imperfect figure: accepting our bodies

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We are all born to look a certain way. It’s not until we are exposed to beauty expectations that we start to have issues with the parts we have.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and decided there was something about yourself that you didn’t like? I can answer be honest and say that, yes, I have had that experience.

The women in my family—including my mother, my grandmother, and me—have all been “blessed with” a not-so-prominent backside. I’m talking about our butts. This fact was so well known that for a while I was called “little butt.” To me, the name was always a joke until one day I looked at it in the mirror and was like, “Wow, they weren’t kidding!”

I’m sure that each and every person alive—man or woman—has looked in the mirror to observe a part of their bodies at least once. But what tells us something is wrong with the way we look? Is it the magazines that retouch every photo we see? Take Kim Kardashian, for instance: she’s well known for her booty, so why is it that her photo was still fixed to make her bust, waist, and hips look smaller?

Kim Kardashian

Kim shared this photo with fans and even admitted to having cellulite and not being bothered by it:

“So what? I have a little cellulite.”

This makes me wonder why is it that we label people or point out what’s different about their bodies. Small, skinny, thin, big, wide, fat, average: the names are endless and pointless.

Comfortable is a word that should be used more often, followed by happy.

When I look at myself in the mirror now, I say that my size isn’t small or skinny or thin or average. It’s just my size. And unless I decide to have surgery or retouch every photo I’m, in I’ll always look like this… until I grow old of course. Even then I’m going to accept my wrinkles like I’ve had them my entire life because they won’t be going anywhere.

When it comes to self-acceptance, there isn’t a limit on how much we can achieve. Simply put, we all need to love our bodies and everything that comes with them.

Brittany Eldridge

The Real You Project is now looking for photos and videos

Visibility is a key part of the body-revolution.

Putting yourself out there and claiming that your body type—along with the body types of endless others—is beautiful and should not be ignored. Many body types have been kept out of the media for years, and the best way to change that is to put ourselves into the media.

We here at I Will Not Diet created an online project a while ago called The Real You Project. Before the project, we asked people to submit pictures of themselves that they liked, but also were not filtered or altered in any way.

This year we’re changing that structure of The Real You Project a little bit by adding videos and self-love photos.

The videos The Real You is now featuring are ones in which people discuss their personal stories about how they have learned to love the way they look. The story can be told just by talking to the screen or in a more creative way such as a poem or song. These videos are designed to encourage you to find your voice and share it with us. And then we’ll give you a place to be heard in the hopes that your story will make someone out there feel less alone.

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The self-love photos are simply photos in which the person pictured holds up an index card or whiteboard that explains what they love about their body. This will hopefully become a tool in which readers and patrons can show positivity about themselves and embrace all types of love for their bodies.

Ideally The Real You Project will include as wide a variety of people as possible. Your submission of a photo or video can help make visible the various types of people that exist in this world and allow you all to share your very different stories.

We would like to encourage you to be a part of The Real You Project, and help keep the body-positive revolution strong.

To do so, please email your photo or video to realyouproject@gmail.com.

This story is worth more than a thousand words

I went to the funeral of my last living grandparent today—my paternal grandmother, Margaret McCaffrey, who was 96 years old when she died on Sunday.

Oh, I loved this woman dearly. We all did.

And during the funeral, her youngest daughter, my Aunt Janie, lovingly captured why we all adored her: she was a giver. With tears in her eyes, Jane read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and then told three moving stories about her mother helping those who were less fortunate.

I won’t repeat those stories here because those are Jane’s stories, not mine, but I will tell you that these weren’t stories about simply volunteering at a shelter or giving to charity. These were stories about standing up for people who were different than her at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so.

But I will tell you that these stories fit with what I already knew about my grandmother, which was that she really seemed to appreciate everyone she met. The funny thing is that I didn’t put this together until I heard Jane’s touching speech this morning. I knew she loved and appreciated me and everyone we knew, but Grandma did it so quietly that you almost didn’t notice (unlike Grandpa, who I loved just as much and who was just as giving but who showed his appreciation of others with a volume and humor that sometimes overshadowed hers).

It wasn’t just that Grandma appreciated people for who they were. She also appreciated them in ways others didn’t. She saw the intelligence in the child who struggled in school, the discipline in the adult who hadn’t made it yet, the potential in everyone.

And though I was the awkward sister for many years, Grandma never saw me that way. She saw my beauty before anyone else.

I’ll never forget when I first realized this. It was during the summer of my thirteenth year, between seventh and eighth grade. For some reason I can’t remember, I had decided to visit both sets of my grandparents on my own for a week each. And while I was with my dad’s parents, my grandmother made me pose for a photo one afternoon.

I was wearing a very eighties outfit of short white shorts and a lavender-colored shirt with a matching bandana, and when the photo came back, Grandma went on and on about how beautiful I looked.

“Look at your legs, Molly,” she said. “They are so long and lovely.”

It was true that my legs were long and lovely, but I couldn’t see that because I was too focused on what I saw as my lesser qualities: my shiny forehead, wide nose, and too-short hair.

“And your tiny waist,” Grandma said. Then she turned to me with a sincere smile. “You are such a pretty girl.”

At the time I thought Grandma was either just being nice or starting to show signs of age. After all no one thought I was a pretty girl. My sister was the pretty one. My cousin Amy was pretty. I was the smart one, the thoughtful one. But I was not pretty.

To my great horror, Grandma made copies of the photo and gave them to my parents and other family members. She even had it blown up and framed for me. But I hated that photo because I thought it represented all that was wrong with me and hid it in one of my drawers as soon as I got home, determined that no one would ever see it.

Unfortunately I got my wish. I haven’t seen that photo in years. And now I would do almost anything to find it, to see what Grandma saw years before even I could.

Gaining a little perspective: in honor of Nora Ephron

Watching the “in memoriam” montage at the Oscars on Sunday night reminded me that I hadn’t yet gotten around to writing about Nora Ephron, one of our country’s great writers, who died last year.

Ephron was best known as a screenwriter and has been nominated for three Oscars and won a Writers Guild Award. Many of her movies were also incredibly huge hits. She wrote films as intelligent as Silkwood and Julie and Julia and as accessible as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. And, of course, she wrote When Harry Met Sally, probably her biggest hit of all time.

But she was also a gifted writer of essays and fiction and wrote several books including Heartburn, which was later adapted to a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

While driving to see my parents over the holidays this past December, Dave and I finally got around to listening to Ephron’s last collection of essays—I Feel Bad about my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. It was something I’d been wanting to do ever since it came out in 2008 and had been especially anxious to do since Ephron died last June.

Of course, the title of the book refers to the first essay—”I Feel Bad about my Neck”—but it is two of the other essays in this collection that are the most moving and the book’s true heart. “Parenting in Three Stages” is a hilarious and poignant look at raising children while “Considering the Alternative” is a masterful contemplation on the meaning of life. These two essays alone make this book a must-read.

But, of course, the first essay is the one I want to talk about here.

The title gives away that, obviously, this piece is all about the idea that, at a certain age, the neck starts to go. Like the butt and the upper arms and the thighs before them, the neck wilts and withers and eventually dies.

As Ephron explains, one day, you wake up and think, “I hate my neck.”

Ephron claims this change happens in your mid-forties, and she warns women in their thirties to prepare for this impending doom and enjoy their beautiful necks as long as they can.

I have been known to offer the same kind of advice to my students and random young twenty-somethings: Just look at yourself, I tell them. You are perfect and beautiful. Your skin is completely free of craggy cellulite and sagging flesh. You should just sit in front of the mirror all day, naked, and appreciate yourself. Honestly I don’t know why you’d do anything else.

I am 42 years old, and I have to admit that ever since I listened to Ephron’s book, I’ve noticed how long and lovely my own neck still is. How unblemished and smooth and taut it looks. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror for whole minutes—just appreciating the beauty that is middle-age.

And, of course, the irony of this revelation is not lost on me: to women Ephron’s age, my neck is a lovely delicate flower, something to behold and appreciate. And to me, my students’ bodies are the same way—they are as inspiring and glorious as a flaming sunset on a pristine beach.

It reminds me of the importance of perspective.

Ephron longed for my neck, I long for the body of a twenty-something, and I’m sure there was something about Ephron that women older than her envied. Was it her full head of hair? Or her slim figure?

As for me, I want many things Ephron had: her wisdom, her life experience, her success. In truth, I’d trade a smooth neck for Ephron’s accomplishments any day.

So I will continue to appreciate my neck until I can no longer do so.

I feel it’s the least I can do to honor Ephron, a woman who gave us all so much.

Travel post #1: Do you see yourself as an ugly duckling or a beautiful swan?


Dave and I are on a road trip right now—traveling from our home in Kentucky to California by way of many great American landmarks including Mount Rushmore, Little Bighorn, Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower, and many more. (If you’re interested, you can follow our progress on our Tumblr blog, Across the Great Divide.)

Since I’ll be away for a few weeks and have limited internet access, I’m going to run a series of short travel posts during this time rather than writing regular-length entries.

Here’s my first travel post, which I’m calling “Do you see yourself as an ugly duckling or a beautiful swan”. . .

 

I had an epiphany pretty quickly after we left home. At the end of the first day, Dave and I stopped in Kansas City, Missouri, to have dinner with my very first best friend, Ruthie. Ruthie and I were BFFs when we were very young—from around the age of three to around the age of eight, give or take a year or two. We were pretty tight, so much so that Ruthie once gave me chicken pox and when she told me she was moving to Kansas City after second grade, I cried for two whole weeks.

Since we were so close, it’s no surprise Ruthie remembered many fun stories about me. But one particular memory of hers made me question how I see myself.

Ruthie reminded me about the time I had appeared in a school play—probably in kindergarten—as the ugly duckling.

I had forgotten about this experience, but as soon as Ruthie mentioned it, the whole thing came back to me: as the ugly duckling I stood at the front of the stage with my back to the audience and wagged my fluffy duck tail at all of them. According to Ruthie, I stole the show, sending the whole audience into laughter—just as any five-year-old shaking her feathered butt at a room full of people would. But, to the audience’s surprise, when I turned around and faced them, I had been transformed into a beautiful swan.

That’s all either one of us recall about the performance, but we both also remember that I had no trouble playing the part and was an extremely confident child.

I’m still confident about almost every aspect of my identity, but on rare occasions I struggle to feel confident about my appearance, something I oddly never worried about when I was a five-year-old ugly duckling.

This makes me wonder: why have I changed so much in the past thirty-seven years and what caused that change? And, almost more importantly, what can I do to get back to that level of confidence? The kind of confidence that allowed me to shake my tail at a room full of people and let everyone call me the ugly duckling?

I wish I could go back to my adolescent self—the time when I probably became less confident—and shake my doubts out of me. But since I can’t do that, I guess I’ll just have to obliterate any remaining insecurities now and focus instead on shaking my fluffy tail.

Real bods in the boudoir: "What matters is how you FEEL"












My friend Alison turned me onto a story about a plus-sized woman—”Ms. N”—who wrote about her incredibly positive experience at a Seattle-based photo studio that specializes in “boudoir” photos, and I just had to write about it.

The goal of Seattle Boudoir Photography is to take alluring and provocative photos of women of all sizes.

(One of their photos is featured above, but be warned that if you decide to go to their website, not all of their photos are kid- or work-appropriate and someespecially the couples photosare pretty R-rated.)

If you do look at their gallery, you’ll see skinny women, plus-size women, curvy women, flat-chested women, tattoed women, pierced women, older women, pregnant women, women with crow’s feet, women with tummies, women with generous derrieres, women with fleshy arms and legs, women with men, women with women, and more—one of my favorite photos is of a woman who is small on top wearing a wife beater that says “Sexy Little Bride.”

The women in the gallery have different body shapes and different types of faces, but what these photos have in common is that all of them are absolutely stunning—and somking hot. I highly recommend that you take a look at SBP’s galleries (especially “Bombshells & Babes”) in order to see a great visual representation of the idea that beauty does not come in one size or shape.

Ms. N detailed her own experience at SBP for Offbeat Bride and explains, “I got to spend 2 hours with amazing people who, very honestly and sincerely, thought that I looked beautiful, and did everything they could to make sure that I knew it. And not only KNEW it, but FELT it, too. Nobody ever once looked at me and said, ‘Oh, I sure wish you were thinner,’ or ‘Wow, those stretch marks really take away from this photo.’ What I heard instead was, ‘Oh, you have killer boobs!’ and ‘You look so hot in that pose, for real!’ I could NOT believe my ears. And really, that was all it took for me to suddenly realize this: I’m freakin’ HOT! It doesn’t matter about size or scars or weight or anything. What matters is how you FEEL. And I have never been more amazed at how comfortable I could be with myself.

I could not have said it better myself.

In fact, “What matters is how you FEEL” would be an appropriate tagline for I Will Not Diet.

As long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve fantasized about posing in my underwear in order to prove that I’m happy with my bod—all 197 pounds of it—but also to show that women’s bodies can look attractive at an average size, one that’s more attainable than those of the models and celebrities we see in the media.

Looking at this studio’s work makes me realize I’m not the first person to have this idea and that I really do have to follow through on that goal some day.

Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie—I may pose in my underwear, but I’m never going to show any boob. I’ll leave that to the women who are braver—or crazier—than me.
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