Dear Future Daughter (Part 2)

Dear Future Daughter (part 2),

Two years later, I have some more to add to my original letter Dear Future Daughter from April 2016.

I am older now, though arguably none the wiser.  Even so, continuing to get older as a woman is quite freeing.  I wish I could save you the heartache of girlhood and teleport you to the time, whether it’s in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or later, when you find peace with yourself.  But you will be a girl (unless you choose to be otherwise), which means you’ll have to run the gauntlet like all of us, with your too-thick eyeliner melting and your torturous but cute shoes chafing and your bangs that you haven’t figured out how to style yet sticking straight up in the wind.

So the least I can do is pass along the moves to help you, hoping they’ll sink in earlier for you than for the rest of us.  As I continue to learn the choreography myself, I hope writing it down will help you and me both.

Here are three more steps:

Move #11 (continued from earlier letter): Change often, with the core intact.

The older I get, the more I think that constant change is necessary in order to grow and thrive as a person.  This means changing attitudes and beliefs; trying new roles, jobs, or professions; learning new skills; traveling or moving to new places; meeting new people and new TYPES of people; and asking new questions.  The more you input into your brain, the more connections the neurons can make, and the smarter, more creative, and more versatile you are.

People know this, sort of.  They always say: “Change is good.”  They hacky-sack the phrase along with other half-hearted platitudes back and forth to each other.  But the fact is, most people are very unwilling to change.  The status quo is warm and cozy.  It makes you home-cooked meals and puts you to bed on time.

Did you know that one of the best predictors of the greatness of a classical composer is the sheer number of compositions he creates?  The quantity of ideas people come up with is one of the things Adam Grant, in his book The Originals, says distinguishes people who become great in their respective fields.  His premise is that the most successful people aren’t necessarily MVPs; they are just up at bat more often.  They generate more output.  The more they crank out, the greater the likelihood of coming up with a revolutionary idea, theory, product, or solution.  And how can you do that without gaining new perspectives, changing up your routines, and thinking differently?

That said, you still need a foundation while you’re renovating the house.  This is mine:

  1. God
  2. Jamie
  3. My family
  4. My key friendships (mutts included)

Everything else should, I think, be shaken up every now and then.

Move #12: Don’t do or believe anything that the TERRIBLE HORRIBLE CERBERUS TELLS YOU TO DO OR BELIEVE. 

What, you ask, is the terrible, horrible Cerberus?  Well, as you may know, Cerberus is the three-headed hound of Hades.  In modern times, however, Cerberus’ three heads manifest in the following ways:

  1. Fear
  2. Envy
  3. Guilt

About two years ago, I started to both consciously and unconsciously take a break from the things in my life that I was doing because Cerberus told me to: going to church, using social media, staying home from social (read: scary) gatherings, turning down or not going after challenging (read: scary) opportunities, dampening my personality to fit what I thought was the norm, and “eating healthy” (aka obsessing over every damn calorie that went in my mouth).

And in those two years, something incredible happened.  Cerberus started to retreat.

I’m not sure when it happened.  It could have been when I lip synced solo to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” in front of 500 colleagues and the company C-suite at a charity work event (yeah, I would have listened to Cerberus on that one, but I didn’t know I was the only person who had signed up as a solo act or that the CMO and his cabinet were going to be the judges of the event until approximately two days before and at that point, I was already committed).  It could have been when I realized that I was a capable professional and started to gain confidence in my work self.  It could have been when I revealed how crazy I am.  It doesn’t really matter; the point is that, even though Cerberus is always there, he doesn’t rule me anymore.  And I hope you can figure out how to subdue him even sooner and more effectively than I.

Move #13: Be yourself, always.

I’ve been told often that I’m different, sometimes from people I don’t even know that well.  One of the people I roomed with during a study-abroad after my freshman year of college looked me right in the eyes and said, “You know, Libby, you’re really weird.”  And it was said in much more of a quizzical than a gently teasing way.  My brother-in-law once told me I was kind of like a banana: “quirky, but generally well-liked.”  A friend of mine in high school told me that I live “in my own little Libby-world.”

It used to make me uncomfortable that people thought I was weird.  But I realized that after high school and even, unfortunately, sometimes college, the gold standard (i.e., conformity) rapidly becomes worthless.  Outside of that warped adolescent bubble, people are actually looking for nonconformity.  It rapidly gains value as a currency.  Diversity of thought leads to much more creative and innovative outcomes in most areas of life (who knew?).

If you’re normal though, that’s fine too.  Generally, being normal helps you out in life.  I’m just saying that if you’re still pretending to be your dogs’ publicists for their mayoral campaign when you take them for walks at age 25, or dancing to the Pon Pon song when you’re happy about something, or collecting Funko Pop action figures to be your friends at your desk at work (Sadness from Inside Out is really pretty bad at giving positive feedback on my work, though), you might (maybe) still be okay.

To summarize these three new moves: Defend your core while freeing yourself in every other way.  You’ll miss too much if your head’s down and you’re too focused on staying in between the lines.

It’s a beautiful life – live it!

 

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In response to #metoo, Weinstein, Nassar, and the broken world we live in

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In the shadows, hordes of women keep silent all the time.

They have reputations and careers to protect. It’s somewhat of an easy choice to make between your dignity and your career if you are an ambitious woman in a world that makes you choose between the two.

Meanwhile, the men who have historically been in power continue to build up wealth and fame…and an illusory fortress of immunity. They know they are protected when they hold the power. Until.

Until…the tide begins to turn.

Every woman learns the second she hits puberty that her body is now public property. If, like me, you’ve never experienced sexual harassment or assault, then you know that, regardless, you are still on public display as a girl or a woman. You are open for commentary, opinions, legislation, misinformation, and judgment. Some of the aforementioned can haunt you even after the formative years, even after you know who you are and who you want to be and really don’t care what others have to say anymore.

And if, unlike me, you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault, then my heart aches for you, because you know the true pain that stems from a system as sick as ours. And really, this is a sick system we live in. It goes even beyond sexual harassment or assault, although that is one of the cruelest and most visible symptoms of it.

As women in this country, our rights to run our own lives and make choices about our own bodies are subject to legislation. Our bodies and looks are allowed to be commented on – whether positively or negatively – by pretty much anyone who would like to make a comment, in any circumstance. Female worth is still too often derived from looks. The way we live our lives and conduct our relationships, the way we raise our children, our choices to work or not work – particularly after becoming mothers – and our preferences and priorities, are all up for public debate. So many institutions are still set up to retaliate against us if we challenge the system.

These institutions include workplaces. Workplaces toxic to women still exist despite lots of progress made, as we’ve seen through the recent stories about Silicon Valley and other high tech companies and the stories pouring out from celebrities and actresses about the entertainment industry. We elected a president who has an undeniable track record of disrespecting women and who has made decisions like the one to roll back the birth control mandate, citing religious freedom.

Ah. There’s an aspect of this system at large that no one wants to talk about. What about our churches and religious institutions? The ones that quite often preach that men should be the spiritual leaders, that women are not necessarily equal to men but rather glorified “helpers” to men (as [male] religious leaders say in an avuncular manner while citing Genesis), that women should submit to men (often caveated that women should submit to one man, their husbands, as though this does not still set up a very specific power dynamic).

I am generalizing in the paragraphs above, and I want to acknowledge that of course not all individuals and institutions are active or complicit in this. But still – in a broad sense, every facet of life that a woman might participate in perpetuates a male-centric power dynamic.

Whether directly or indirectly, women have been taught that there is a natural order to things, and though they may move up within the system, moving up does not come without consequences, without payment to those in power. And those in power are immune to consequences (or at least used to be), as we have seen in the Larry Nassar case, where the USA Gymnastics leadership’s failure to do anything about Nassar despite clearly being aware of his actions was exposed by girls who had become women who were silent no more. These are the brave women who were willing to take a hammer to the wall of immunity and found it wasn’t as indestructible as they were coerced into believing.

I am amazed and humbled by the women who have begun to speak up, or who have spoken up before and are speaking out again, who have always known that this wasn’t right, who are now experiencing the support in many cases (but still not all) that they always should have had.

I am not worried for men in general, as I know some are. Some cry “witch hunt” or worry for the world their boys will grow up in. They think this is an indictment of men. They think the innocent will get dragged into the fight.

But I haven’t yet heard an accusation against a man who didn’t deserve it. My basic philosophy is, if you’re not an asshole, you won’t be accused of being one. Even Aziz Ansari’s actions, regardless of what you believe about the allegations themselves, were not those of a man acting respectfully toward a woman. My life is full of good men – most of the men I’ve ever known are good men – as I know is true of many. That’s not the point. The point is that there are a lot of men out there who either are NOT good or, in less extreme cases, are woefully misinformed, many of whom are in positions of power, many of whom are perpetuating a status quo that people are now challenging as damaging, sometimes oppressive, and ultimately wrong.

The world our boys will grow up in is a world where asserting dominance, sexual or otherwise, over women won’t be tolerated, where society will teach them that men and women are equal, and women are to be respected. And that is something to be celebrated.

The rules of this life should be simple. We all were created equal: male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, questioning, black, white, or somewhere in between, foreign or domestic, young or old. We all deserve the right to make our own decisions about how to live our lives, free from coercion or judgment.

This all ultimately comes down to a relatively simple concept: respect – respect for the people who live life alongside you, respect for your superiors AND your subordinates, respect for all people you encounter, regardless of the circumstances. And although the #metoo movement and its peripheral issues are mostly about men respecting women, we all could benefit from a little more respect toward each other in this world.

We are living in the midst of another civil rights reckoning, and I am excited. Though I am angry and saddened by the system in place, I am inspired and hopeful as it begins to crack and give way to something new and beautiful.

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Big Hair and Big Asses

I sent this picture recently to my friends. The question I posed to them was: Okay, tell me the truth. Is my hair too big to wear out in public?

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I’ve been trepidatiously doing this thing lately where I’ve been wearing very minimal hair product, if I bother to wear it at all. It’s really been quite liberating to let my hair to unleash its natural DGAF attitude. It feels like I’ve been this smothering, overbearing mom who wouldn’t let her child be who it was all along. I tried to wrestle, tame, and mold it with hot irons and pounds of gel and enough hairspray to undo all 21st century environmental efforts.

And finally it was like my hair said, “YOU KNOW WHAT, MOM? I’M NOT STRAIGHT, OKAY?! AND I NEVER WILL BE!” And I finally accepted that and let my hair be free. And now we love each other.

It’s taken awhile to get to the point of saying the following words (and actually meaning them): “I love my hair.” It took awhile because my junior high years were filled with hormones, bullies, social media, and celebrity magazines, i.e. the Dark Overlords of Teenagedom. All of these, of course, served to constantly remind me that my curly hair was absolutely not a desirable trait.

“Oh my GAWD, if I had your hair, I’d shave it all off and wear a wig,” *girl on the back of the bus* (oh yes, we had all of two interactions in my entire life, but I definitely remember her name) said to me as I stepped off the bus. “You’re ugly,” said *other boy on the bus* (yup, also remember exactly who he was), whom I often tried to avoid by blasting Blue October’s “Hate Me” (lol) on my iPod, wrapping myself in an invisibility cloak of angst, and pressing myself against the window, praying he wouldn’t see me. He usually did, and I spent most of the 20-minute bus ride both ways in silence while he proceeded to tell me I was ugly and gross, poke me, and/or say the word “penis” over and over again to make me uncomfortable.

“You hair kind of makes you look like the Predator,” the father of my best friend in junior high once told me. Ahh, just what every 13-year-old girl wants to hear from an older man. Another teacher told me I looked like a Pomeranian, which at least was a step up from Predator. This was followed by an attempt to pet me.

Other people/things I’ve been compared to include cocker spaniels, Rosanna Rosanna Danna, and a person who had just stuck her finger in a light socket. Needless to say, having my looks compared to someone being electrocuted did not quite inspire confidence in my young self.

My big hair issues were compounded by another rather large feature that sprang up, to my surprise and chagrin, right around the age of 12 or 13: my ass. Now, let me tell you: The early 2000s were not kind to young white girls with big hair and big asses. I had a boyfriend during the latter years of junior high who was very complimentary of it, but the sheer volume of butt references he made rendered me quite uncomfortable. I just didn’t know what to think – should I be flattered? Insulted? He referred to it simply as “big.” Like…as a noun.

Him: “Big is looking great today in those jeans.”

Me: *Anxious, panicky, emotional internal battle over whether I should be flattered or humiliated – OMG, how big does it look?! Do I look fat? Is that all he can focus on?! He’s probably thinking I look fat. And how big does my hair look? And did I put on enough eyeliner today? (Answer from future self: YOU PUT THE ENTIRE COSMETIC AISLE’S WORTH OF EYELINER ON, PLEASE GO WASH IT OFF AND LISTEN TO SOME MORE UPLIFTING MUSIC)* “Thanks.”

A J.Lo butt, a Beyoncé butt – okay, I’ll admit that hearing this was more of a self-esteem booster than “you look like the Predator,” but the sheer VISIBILITY of my butt, the presence it commandeered, and this weird dichotomy between the sensuality of a large ass and the condemnation of it by mainstream media and the world of The Thin White Girl standard – not to mention the complex dance of innocence and adolescence at the tender age of 13 – made it all immensely overwhelming.

I carried all of this discomfort, this tattered self-esteem, with me too long after those bleak junior high years. There were remnants of it even when my hair and butt lost their volume during the years I tried to starve myself, and then they came back when I finally said, enough is enough with the eating disorder, and put on over 20 pounds between my sophomore and junior year of college. And then I put up with this nagging, niggling little self-hating voice in the back of my head for a little longer after that. Especially after that, because, of course, the butt was back – perhaps with a little less pomp and flair than before, because I’d gotten taller and filled out in other ways that balanced me out a little more – but still, it was back. And the hair was bigger than ever.

And then, responding to the picture I sent to my friends, my L.A. friend told me that big hair is in, which must be true because she lives in L.A. and she said so. Around the same time I sent that photo to them, I also read this “article” (I feel silly using the word “article” as if this was actual news or education) about big butts making a comeback. I told my husband, “Did you know big butts are a thing again?”, to which he replied, “Were they ever not a thing?”

I had this moment where I realized that big hair and big butts are “in” right now, and I had to laugh because it dawned on me that our world is so fickle, misguided, and confused when it comes to a woman’s sense of self and worth. These beauty things go in and out of style, and we obsess, gawk, consume, gossip, and wallow, and then the styles change, and we do it all again. Meanwhile, the world keeps spinning, babies are born, opportunities come and go, laughter echoes, and life gets ever more beautiful by the second while we’re wasting time in front of a mirror.

We could spend a lifetime obsessing and draining all our valuable mental energy, or we could learn to love ourselves. Big hair and big butts (or small hair and small butts) and all.

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Spousal Differences: The 2016 Presidential Election

My husband and I are different people. This is how we work together: We balance each other out. That was clear today, the day after the 2016 election polls closed and Trump was declared the next POTUS. Let me walk you through the day to demonstrate the difference between me and my husband Jamie. This is why I’m grateful for him and for his perspective.

Day 1 of President Elect Donald Trump: My Perspective

Me at 5:30am: *wakes up* *immediately looks at election results* *heart sinks*

Me at 5:45am: HOLY SHIT WE ELECTED DONALD TRUMP OMG!!

Me at 6:20am: *wakes Jamie up* JAMIE TRUMP IS PRESIDENT!! (Jamie mumbles that he knows.)

Me at 6:45am: OMG OUR ECONOMY IS GOING TO GO INTO A RECESSION. Dow futures are down 750 points! He’s going to provoke sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia! There will be violence in the streets! Our country is a mess! What did we just do?!

Me at 7:00am: You know, it does show how out-of-touch “liberal progressives” are. They aren’t necessarily representative of most of America. There was a segment of the country that demanded its voice be heard – and that might not be a bad thing. There are people suffering out there and not seeing change.

Me at 8:00am: But OMG what does that mean for my LGBTQ+, Hispanic, African American, Asian, otherwise multicultural, disabled, and veteran friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and family? What does that mean for ME as a woman? I am actually afraid!

Me at 10:00am: Okay, it seems too late for them to call a recount. Could he possibly get impeached before too much damage is done?

Me at 10:30am: *talks with a Trump supporter* Hmm, well, it’s possible that all of his bombastic rhetoric is actually very calculated? Maybe he’s talking in extremes to galvanize action but doesn’t really mean everything he says to the literal, extreme degree? There are certainly things that could use fixing, after all.

Me at 12:00pm: Wow, Hillary’s concession speech was amazing. People, we elected him over her?!

Me at 3:00pm: Well, let’s be real, I wasn’t too excited about a Clinton presidency. And also, the “stock market crash” the media was predicting didn’t happen. The media, in fact, has been embarrassingly wrong about everything thus far. Are we just fed lies constantly? How can we know what’s true anymore? Is this was the country was responding to? Are they bringing an indictment against the media?

Me at 4:00pm: People calling Trump supporters racist, sexist, homophobic, and bigoted are doing the same thing racists, sexists, homophobes, and bigots do: over-generalize and stereotype. Oh, what is our world coming to? We’re so divided, and it’s so sad. We’re falling apart no matter what side you’re on.

Me at 5:30pm: Okay, I get it. I understand why the people might have elected Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him, but I recognize that we’re a divided America simmering with discontentment. Voices have been heard. A populist movement is in full force.

Me at 6:00pm: It might not be all bad. America was due for a revolution, I suppose. Checks and balances, right? That’s what keeps us strong. That’s what keeps us from becoming complacent.

Me at 8:00pm: I’m still just so confused. We’ll get through this, but I’m worried about Trump as a president and person in power. We face some uncertain times, but this I know: I love my fellow Americans above and beyond our similarities and despite our differences. We’ll get through this. I can give Trump a chance. I believe in my country.

*And many other emotions and musings in between*

Day 1 of President Elect Donald Trump: Jamie’s Perspective

Jamie around 6:30am: *wakes up* *sighs* I really just don’t want to have to listen to everyone’s opinions on this today.

Moral of the story:

We’ll be okay. The end.

 

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Want to know the secret to happiness? Lower your expectations.

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There’s an epidemic in this day and age: discontentment.

So many people are discontent. They don’t like their jobs; they don’t like their age/stage of life/etc.; they don’t like themselves. They wish they had a partner or spouse, or they wish their partner or spouse would pay more attention to them. They wish they had a family, or they wish they had more time to themselves, or they wish they lived somewhere else, or were doing something else with their lives. They wish they had more money. They wish they could travel. They wish they weren’t wishing so much for more, or for something else, than what they have. It’s especially concentrated among people under age 45 or so, I believe, but no one is immune.

There is a simple remedy for discontentment.

Lower your expectations.

I don’t mean don’t have ambition or don’t have dreams and goals – but making those dreams and goals the end-all be-all, the things that you must achieve before you could ever even consider being content, can make you miserable in the interim. People these days think that reaching self-actualization is the only way to be happy, but that’s simply not true. Happiness is all, always, a state of mind. You can be happier far further down the pyramid.

I know because I used to make myself miserable wishing for something more. I wished I was someone else, I wished I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, I wished I was better or had different skills, I wished I had done something truly memorable. I was like that from about age twelve until just after I got married. Fortunately I married a man who is good at being content, at sustaining peace-of-mind. And that’s not to say he doesn’t have ambitions and goals – no one without ambitions and goals subjects himself to law school – but he works diligently and humbly while still being perfectly content with this phase of life. The fruits of his labor will pay off later and until then, he allows himself to be satisfied with his life (although probably you shouldn’t ask him how satisfied he is with his life right around final exams).

It’s funny because even just a generation ago, people didn’t necessarily have time to be discontent – to stare wistfully off into the distance wishing for some ivory-tower change in their lives. My father started his first business in fifth grade mowing lawns to put himself through college, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to go otherwise. I’m sure mowing lawns and loading trucks third-shift in high school to put himself through college wasn’t exactly his picture-perfect idea of his high school years, but he did what he had to do to get where he wanted to go with no complaints and no forlorn day-dreaming. He didn’t have time to pine after a life other than his own – he was on a mission.

And his parents before him, my grandparents, certainly didn’t have the time or energy to ponder the life that would ultimately fulfill them. My grandmother was in a displaced persons camp in Germany as a child, her mother stolen from her and placed in a Russian labor camp. Her escape to America, though brimming with possibility, also meant a long and difficult road ahead. She spent hours translating her homework from English to German so she could complete it in German before translating it back to English. Neither she nor my grandfather went to college, and my grandpa never finished high school either, so their dreams centered less upon themselves and more upon providing a better life for their children. And they achieved it – four kids that earned at least a bachelor’s if not a master’s degree and found success. You should hear the pride in their voices when they talk about their children. As for them, they stepped back for a breath after their children were grown and found that they too had accomplished much in life, the product of working hard to build something from the nothing they had when they first arrived in the United States.

And then there was my father-in-law starting up his law firm with his wife pregnant with his fifth child and a small sum in the bank. I’m sure he was thinking less about self-actualization than about providing for his growing family by practicing his craft the best he could. And practice his craft he did, realizing success along the way.

My point is this: I think oftentimes success and fulfillment come not when you’re desperately searching for it, yearning after the insubstantial vision of something grand and wonderful for your life, but when you’re working hard, not necessarily expecting anything beyond providing for yourself and the people you love, and being content along the way. That doesn’t mean you’re not striving to be CEO or to leave a lasting mark on the world or to get married or to have a family or to start your own company or to get your PhD…but it does mean that you don’t need those things to be happy. It also means you’re not expecting great things to happen to you, or feeling like you’re entitled to them.

It means you can be content with yourself, just as you are, which also means you can be confident in yourself to control what is in your power to control and let the rest go.

Excuse the cliche, but life is much too short to live it discontent. Lower your expectations. Work hard. Love yourself. Love the people around you. And one day you may find you’ve reached that utopic state of self-actualization in ways you never expected.

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Why Donald Trump’s Comments About Women Matter – And It’s Not the Reason You Think

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Hardly anyone I’ve heard has tried to argue that Trump is a good person. One of my mom’s and my favorite quotes is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” It’s a Maya Angelou quote. Trump has consistently revealed who he is, and I think for the most part people believe him; whether or not that translates to a revocation of political support is another story.

And I also think the response to Trump’s comments about women – both the general ones about appearance and such and the more explicit ones about unwanted sexual advances – shows that people generally understand the gravity of his comments. But there are still people out there supporting Trump, and despite my reservations about Hillary (I cannot excuse the issues plaguing her past either, and I am still terrified at the notion of a liberal Supreme Court determining the direction of business and employment laws), I am deeply concerned about Trump’s impact on our society, and particularly on our young women. There are even deeper issues about self-worth and the human spirit that are not being addressed when discussing Trump’s flippant, disrespectful treatment of women.

Let me caveat this by saying that I think we have made great strides when it comes to the equal treatment of women. But there are remaining obstacles to overcome, and Trump represents every one of these obstacles.

The reason why I care deeply about Trump’s comments is because I was one of those young  women whom I can envision internalizing the kind of comments Trump makes and being adversely affected by them. I distinctly remember becoming aware that the world tends to judge the worth of women based on their looks in seventh grade. I will add that I think much of this is perpetuated by women themselves (which for the life of me I cannot understand – but anyone who’s ever seen the satire Mean Girls knows this is true), but it is also perpetuated by men like Donald Trump.

To compound my seventh-grade realization, puberty was not kind to me. Between the bullying on the bus, the lack of friends, and a rather anxious and reclusive personality, seventh grade was mostly a hellish nightmare for me. I didn’t exactly do myself any favors when it came to the social scene, as I tended to carry a book with me everywhere and converse with literary characters rather than real people. But although I did and do of course love reading, books were also my defense, as I was traumatized by most people I interacted with. The literary world was a welcome break from the real one.

I can remember all of the comments on my appearance throughout middle school. “Jesus, if I had your hair, I’d shave it all off and wear a wig.” “You kind of look like a Pomeranian.” “Has anyone ever told you that you look like the Predator?” “Ha! You look like you stuck your finger in a light socket.” Those were a collection of the hair comments…some of which were actually uttered by adults, not kids. The worse parts of my day were the bus rides. I remember the older boy who would seek me out every morning and afternoon while I silently prayed that he would sit elsewhere. I dreaded the moment he stepped onto the bus. One of his favorite hobbies was sitting too close to me, poking me incessantly, and saying the words “penis” and “vagina” over and over again to make me uncomfortable. Which was highly effective. I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as sexual harassment, as that tends to imply some sort of sexual desire – but he frequently reminded me of how very ugly I was, so I knew that wasn’t the case.

I also had the rather unfortunate experience of my hips and thighs filling out much more rapidly than my top half, which made me want to cry when I stepped into the girls’ locker room during P.E., because the girls whose proportions followed the unwritten rule of the beautiful woman, the kind of girls who never talked to me, were confident and beautiful and social and made me want to hide inside the locker and not come out until it was time to go home. I also had connecting eyebrows, which someone, to my embarrassment, brought to my attention in seventh grade. And it was funny because before seventh grade, it never even occurred to me to care. I was confident, active, imaginative, and vibrant, and I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.

I’ve reached that level of peace with myself again, but it was a long, hard road that honestly took me nine or ten years, the discovery of brow waxing (thank God for brow waxing), lots of horrible hairstyles and highlights-gone-wrong, and years of battling eating disorders to overcome. I am light-years from that 12 or 13-year-old seventh grade girl with her forehead pressed up against the glass of the bus, listening to angry music like Blue October’s “Hate Me” and wishing she was anyone but who she was.

As I got older, the conversation changed a bit. Looks still mattered, of course, but there was also the discussion of what a woman should do with her life. And coming from a conservative Christian community, I have to admit that conservative Christianity often doesn’t help. Granted, the ’90s were very different from today, but look up Trump’s comments on the role of a woman to an interviewer in 1994 and you’ll see what I mean. This kind of thinking still persists. I don’t know whether Trump still believes those things, but some people do. We live in an era where women can be anything they want to be, and they can choose how to live their lives. They can choose whether or not they want to get married. They can choose whether or not they want to have children. They can choose (depending on their economic resources) whether or not to stay home, work, or do a combination of both. We live in a world where women can do anything – they can be breadwinners, stay-at-home moms, equal contributors to the household, working moms, single, married, in a relationship, indifferent. They can do whatever the hell they want.  And no one should be able to say anything about it or place any kind of value judgment on it. The same goes for men.

So when we have a presidential candidate who thinks he can make these kind of value judgments, who calls women “pigs”, who (allegedly) made sexual advances on women without their consent, who fired a woman from his reality show for being, in his opinion, too fat, who responded to a woman’s allegation that he groped her on a plane with “Believe me, she wouldn’t be my first choice”, you can imagine why I might be worried for the young women of America. Don’t get me wrong, Hillary has plenty of flaws, and with the exception of some of her social stances, I disagree with most of her policies.

But for the self-worth of our female youth (and a host of other reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t want an asshole for president of the United States), I cannot elect Donald Trump. I want to live in a world where women are respected and celebrated for their intellect and achievements, the impacts they make on people, and quite frankly the people they are – rather than how they look or how sexually desirable they are. Donald Trump is not the sole problem, of course – but he is a representation of it and as a leader, he may have the power to perpetuate it.

And I simply will not stand for it.

 

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An Anorexic Life

About three years and a few months ago I stood on the mushy colored tiles in the hallway of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital holding a white slip of paper. In stark black and white were the words DIAGNOSIS: ANOREXIA NERVOSA. The words swam above the watery blue and green tiles like little black insects trapped in some sickening sweet syrupy concoction.

It was the second time I had held that diagnosis. The first time had been four years prior to that moment.

The words of the pediatrician who had known me now since I was a sullen and angry fifteen-year-old glaring at her in her office and daring her to try and break my will echoed in my head: “Well, here we are again, Libby.”

I’ve been thinking lately about that moment: how much can change in just over three years. Three years ago, I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with myself. Three years ago, I was desperately clutching to the remains of my girlhood, searching for something I wasn’t going to find amidst the war I was waging against myself. I was on my knees sifting through rubble, thinking I had found treasure.

I thought somehow that I could break myself down and build myself back up into something else – something better. I don’t even know what it was I thought I needed, what it was I was striving for.

Once upon a time, I thought I had a miraculous story of healing. The first time I was diagnosed with anorexia was at the age of fifteen. An awe-inspiring turnaround happened when I found Jesus, and I thought that was the end of my story. I thought I had been healed. I thought I had found the light, that the old me had been shed like a light summer dress and the new me was dazzling and new.

That’s not actually how it works, most of the time.

I found that out when I found myself struggling anew in college, stuck in the same old story.

It was maddening. It was confusing. It was – I know now – entirely necessary, because I hadn’t ever really let go the first time. It wasn’t until I was faced with some real, true choices – when I had everything to lose – that I could stand up to my old friend the eating disorder and say, “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY LIFE.”

Because God wasn’t going to let me live an anorexic life, a life slowly starving, wasting away on the inside even while the outside looked okay. He wasn’t going to be all right with that. He was never fooled by the almost-healing, the gilded surface.

He still isn’t fooled by me, which is good, because I’m (usually) not fooled by myself anymore. I love my life – my husband, my family, my job – but I am, quite frankly, a crazy mess held together mostly by prayer and lots of laughter. Also chocolate.

There is a choice. He always gives us a choice. Even when your crazy messy insides are attacking you from within and you feel powerless to stop the fight, you aren’t powerless. I know that because He kept giving me choices and the power to choose right, long after I deserved it. He kept giving me reasons, saying things like, “See this family I gave you? See how much they love you and want you back?” or “See this guy Jamie? See how much he loves you and how much you love him and how much joy he brings you?”

The truth is, I don’t want an anorexic life. There are lots of ways to lead an anorexic life, and I don’t want a part of any of them. I want a life that is full and rich and decadent.

To be clear, I don’t mean I need to travel the world or accumulate lots of wealth or make it on the cover of TIME. I just mean that I want a celebration of a life, that I will choose the full life, the joyful life, over one whittled down by bitterness or discontentment or yearning or whatever else it is that drives humans toward the anorexic life instead.

He told us there would be a time to weep and a time to mourn. And there is.

But there is also a time to laugh and a time to dance. And I will seize onto those times with everything I have.

 

 

 

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