Friday, November 21, 2014


Today in the news feed on the side of my facebook wall there was a link to articles about how Teenagers are Tweeting pictures of their school lunches with #ThanksMichelleObama. What I want to focus on is not the gross nasty disgusting things schools try to feed children (no one should ever be fed canned green beans, is it any wonder kids think they don't like vegetables?), and it's not about the inadequate number of calories on some of those cafeteria trays (there are a lot of athletes in high school, there's no way they should have to make it through the day on three chicken fingers people!) What I want to examine is the reaction of adults to the tweets. 

I know, I know, "Don't read the comments!" But the comments are such a great place for blogging inspiration, and well, my eyes get to the comments before my brain can jump in and remind me that I really don't want to wade into the negativity.   

But oh the negativity! From self-righteous comments about how their food looked just as bad and wasn't nearly as nutritious, to swearing at the kids for being ungrateful, and calling the kids lazy because they don't bother to pack their own lunches, and pointing out that it's not Michelle's fault it's the school that isn't implementing the new regulations creatively. Oh, and then there are the people who are going to jump on the Michelle bashing bandwagon while still managing to hate on the kids. Once again I am shocked and saddened by how hateful adults are toward the youth of American. I also find it ironic that those same adults blame the young people for being angry and rebellious.

So many people want to silence the voices of the kids. It's the out dated and misguided idea that children should be seen and not heard. When you take away the voice of a group of people, or you've never let them have a voice to begin with, that's oppression. 

Here's what I see, the older generation, the good old boys who have long held the power, and people who want to maintain the status quo or return to the mythical "good old days," are in for a shock. The young people of today have grown up with technology. They know how to pick a hashtag that's going to get noticed, and they know how to leverage the power of social media.

People in America also forget that, while we often do our best to infantalize them, teenagers are intelligent, capable people. Increasingly social media is giving them a voice and they are going to use it. (The Epstein-Dumas Infantilization Inventory (EDII)   has a list of interesting questions to consider if you think we don't infantalize teenagers.)

I think adults forget what teenagers have done, historically, to change the world. Perhaps it's time for everyone to go back and watch the movie Sarafina!  When we do everything we can to control, limit, humiliate, and demean young people, we should not be surprised when they are angry, depressed, and not involved in meaningful ways in their communities. I think it's awesome when teenagers use social media to make their voices heard. When we take teenagers seriously - interacting with them respectfully, listening to what they have to say, validating their experiences, and encouraging them to join the conversation - we create the opportunity for young people to use their energy and passion to help make the world a better place.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kids are easy to make fun of.....

There are memes on the internet that make fun of little kids. People post them forward saying how funny they are or adding snarky comments about their own kids. People post pictures of kids throwing tantrums, sometimes tantrums that the parents caused just for the photo op. When I commented on a thread, after someone posted a meme about kids who were "picky eaters," I was shocked by the harsh words that came at me when I tried to point out a more compassionate perspective.  I'll write a post about the term "Picky Eater" another time, because it's not a phrase that's helpful. Today I want to respond to something that was said in the previously mentioned thread:

"I miss being able to just laugh at kids being weird...."

By the time this was said I have given up trying to add anything positive to the discussion, but here's what I wanted to say to the young woman who made this statement: 

Do you miss being able to laugh at people who are gay because they are weird? 

Do you miss being able to laugh at minorities because they are weird?: 

Do you miss being able to laugh at women because they are weird?:  

Do you miss being able to laugh at people with Downs Syndrome because they are weird? 

Why? Why do you feel the need to laugh at anyone? 
Does it make you feel powerful? Does it make you feel "better than" or superior? 

More and more people are realizing the harm that Racism, Sexism and other isms cause. However, many people fail to realize that ageism is an issue that needs to be taken into consideration.

Kenneth Quinell wrote your Handy Guide to -Isms that I highly recommend reading.  

Do you ever wonder about oppression as it relates to kids? This post, Are Children an Oppressed Class, asks great questions and doesn't claim to have all the right answers.

I find it sad that more people fail to view children with compassion. It's even worse that parents have no problem publicly humiliating their children, which I addressed in my post Shameful Parenting

Why is it that many people don't have a problem with oppressing others? Perhaps it's because most people grew up with it and learned to accept it before they were old enough to know what was going on.

"Adultism is the first oppression all people experience. Parents must take charge of their relationship with their children. Presenting the world as a dangerous place with murder and hurtful people along with a "That's the way it is" attitude they instill powerlessness in children. As new forms of oppressions are later introduced, we now accept them without fighting back. Born with an open, zestful and cooperative relationship to everyone we are hurt very early by this irrational behavior of adults. While we are in emotional distress, our vast human intelligence momentarily seems to shut down and the new information is stored wrongly or "jams up" in a tied-up knot, and we are blocked." Read more Here  (I'd use the word "ageism" instead of "adultism," but that doesn't change the value of what is being said.)

By being kind and compassionate in our interactions with children, being respectful to children, this is how they learn to be kind, compassionate and respectful. And that means being aware of what we say about our kids on facebook,too, as I pointed out in this post, What Your Words Say About You.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is School More Important Than Your Child?

Is school more important than your child? 

This may seem like a ridiculous question, but it seems that many people view school, grades, and academic success as more important than their child's health and well being. I'll admit that once upon a time I fell into this category. I would have denied it vehemently, but I made my crying 7 year old get onto the bus more than once. It was horrible, I felt bad about it at the time, but she needed to go to school, school was important. But was it really more important than her mental and emotional health?  

Is school more important than your relationship with your child?

Again, you are probably shaking your head and saying, "Of course not!" And again I will point at myself and tell you that as much as I said I loved my kids and that they were more important than anything else, I let school damage our relationships. Do you think my crying 7 year old felt loved and cherished when I made her get onto the bus? Do you really think this strengthened her trust in me as a mom who would protect her and take care of her? 

Parents send their kids to school even when they know their kid is being bullied. Parents make their kids go to school even when they know their child is bored because the work is too easy or struggling because they aren't cognitively ready to meet the benchmarks created by someone in an office building somewhere. Parents punish their kids for getting poor grades or not doing their homework. Parents push their kids to do more and do it better, because, they tell you, they want their child to be successful. Parents feel like they don't have a choice, it's what the school expects from them as the parent.
“By far the most important predictor of adult life-satisfaction 
is emotional health, 
both in childhood and subsequently. 
We find that the intellectual performance of a child 
is the least important childhood predictor 
of life-satisfaction as an adult.”

School isn't more important than your child. School isn't more important than your relationship with your child. You do have a choice, you don't have to be the homework enforcer. You don't have to send your child to school.

Think I'm crazy? 
Read Alfie Kohn's article, "Rethinking Homework," or better yet, his book, The Homework Myth, to learn more about why homework isn't necessary or even beneficial. And as for sending your kid to school, you really don't have to! Homeschooling is legal in every state. And if you think homeschooling means mom or dad hovering over their kids, who are sitting at the kitchen table working through workbooks, think again! Homeschooling can mean visiting museums, going to the zoo, meeting up with friends at the park on a sunny September afternoon, or playing computer games. The options for educating your child at home continue to expand at an incredible rate, look around, there is probably an option that will work for you and your kid. And remember, the academics aren't the important part of homeschooling, having a chance to support your child's mental and emotional well being, getting to explore the world together, those are the important parts. 

Think you can't homeschool because you have to go to work? Get creative! Find another homeschooling family that would be happy to have your kid spend his days with them. Ask the grandparents if they would enjoy having company during the day. You might also consider the educational options in your community, maybe there are charter schools, magnet schools, learning cooperatives, private schools, or internships that would be a better place for your child. 

We took all three of our children out of school 6 years ago. Setting ourselves free from the school system has made a huge difference in our kids and in our relationships. Am I worried about them getting into college or being successful? No. If they choose to go to college I have no doubt that they will be able to meet the requirements for admission. And as for success? For our family success is wrapped up in knowing who you are and what you love to do. If my kids follow their passions and end up doing something they love, that's what is important, that's what will create life-satisfaction when they are adults. For us, school has no part in our exploration of the world and we are all mentally and emotionally healthier as a result. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Being a Parent Your Child can Trust

Fat shaming frequently includes comments about health, as in "I just want you to be healthy." 

News flash! Fat people can be healthy and thin people can be unhealthy. In my own life my health has affected my weight much more than my weight has affected my health. 

I recently had a child tell me that they shouldn't eat sugar because it causes Diabetes. When I questioned that, saying that there was more to someone having Diabetes than just eating sugar, the child responded by saying that it usually happened after a person was grossly overweight for a long time. 

It always bothers me when parents use scare tactics to try and control or manipulate their children's behavior. Parents do this all the time! It's sometimes based on some aspect of the truth, but it's often a gross exaggeration and said in a way that is mean to create fear based avoidance in their child. Sometimes parents believe what they are saying is true, even when science doesn't back them up.

For example, many parents still cling to the idea that eating sugar makes their kid hyper.  As this video shows, that's not true:  Sugar Doesn't Make Kids Hyper

If you want to have a relationship with your child that is built on mutual trust and respect, then you need to provide them with facts. If you don't know the facts, research them, possibly together with your child. And I don't mean shoving the facts down their throats! Exploring the world together does not mean exploring the world according to your agenda, if they aren't interested, let it go. If you avoid pushing information onto your child, or using it to try and manipulate their behavior, they are much more likely to come to you when they are interested in exploring a topic. If you insist on pushing information onto your kid, or using half truths to scare them, chances are they will learn to tune out what you are saying or stop trusting you to tell them the truth. In the long run, telling your kids the truth and sticking to the facts gives you a better relationship, and makes it more likely that your kids are going to hear what you have to say on topics that are important to you. 

But back to weight and health and the facts! According to the American Diabetes Association: 

Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight. 

You can learn more facts about diabetes on their website HERE.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What more can I do?

How do we model compassion, empathy, generosity, and caring for our children? 

Lately I've notice people saying, "I wish I could do more...." in response to the struggles faced by our family and other people we know who are coping with health or financial crises. As much as I know that the people who say, "I wish I could do more..." are trying to express their support or sympathy, it tends to irritate me more than it makes me feel better. The truth is that many of them do kind and generous things for other people. They aren't uncaring; they are often truly worried about the person or situation. 

So, what's my problem? (Obviously this is my problem and not theirs, right?)

Maybe these people can't do more, or maybe they don't want to do more. That's o.k. we all have our personal and financial limits. We get to choose how much we give and how much we do. But it's hard when someone says to me, "I wish I could do more..." while I am struggling to buy toilet paper and they have financial security that I can only dream of having, someday, maybe, but it doesn't seem likely at this point. If they aren't going to do more they could say, "I hope things get better for you soon," or "I'm sorry things are so hard right now." 

If you really wish you could do more it would be better to ask, "What more can I do?" 

If you can afford to buy toilet paper, without feeling stressed by the expense, then you can probably do more. If you aren't sure what to do, how about starting by buying an extra package of toilet paper and leaving it on the porch of someone you know who is struggling. If you feel like that's not enough, try adding a tag that says, "I'm sorry life is shitty right now." 

Our children learn compassion from us, from our interactions with them, but also by how we respond to the needs of others. What an awesome world it would be if our kids grew up asking, "What more can I do?" instead of standing to the side, wringing their hands, and saying, "I wish I could do  more."

The next time you have a friend who is facing a challenge ask yourself, or ask them, "What more can I do?" 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

False Dichotomy

In our efforts to empower girls, it's important that we avoid inadvertently limiting them, or creating a false dichotomy. As Emma Watson said in her speech at the United Nations:

"It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum 
instead of two sets of opposing ideals." 

Girls should not be shamed for liking pink anymore than they should be shamed for wanting to be on the wrestling team. But really, girls should know that they can like pink *and* enjoy wrestling. Young women can choose to wear makeup *and* raise dairy cows. They can excel in science *and* be a cheerleader. While we are encouraging children to expand their horizons and dream big, we need  to avoid bashing traditional girl roles, choices, and stereotypes. We need to remember that there is nothing wrong with a girl who enjoys baking cookies or curling their hair. Empowering young people involves communicating to them that they get to decide what it is they want to do and how they express themselves. They are no longer limited by traditional gender roles; they get to choose how traditional gender roles will inform their choices.

Yes, we still have a long way to go before there is gender equality around the globe. But, we won't get there any faster by hating on traditional gender roles, or telling girls what they should or shouldn't be. We will get their by supporting all young people in living authentically and by loving them unconditionally. We will get there by setting our children free to explore all the possibilities, to experiment, to show the world the outward expression of who they are on the inside, without shame or fear.

I love that girls do not have to choose between liking pink and cosplaying at Captain America. My daughter does both, and, as she pointed out, there is no gender limitation or restriction that applies to the rank of Captain. She doesn't need to be "Miss Captain America."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Work Clothes

What a person is wearing does not indicate their skill level, their qualifications, 
or how strong their desire is to learn something new or complete a task.

At our house fancy dresses are everyday wear. The girls can choose to wear an apron or paint shirt over their dress, or not. The girls can choose to save a dress for special occasions or to make every day a special occasion. At our house pants and boots are everyday wear, too. What each person wears may change depending on the weather, their mood, what they will be doing, and how they want to express themselves. What they wear does not change how capable they are.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


This was originally posted on my blog With The Family, September 17, 2010. At that time my oldest was about to turn 14. Now she's heading toward 18, and her siblings are 14 and 15. With three teenagers in the house I still agree with everything I wrote four years ago. (That's a relief!) 

Hopefully Someday You Will Have a Teenager

Last night my daughter asked, "Why do people have kids if they are just going to spend their lives arguing with them?"
Why do people have kids? There are as many answers to that as there are people, however, most people don't say, "I want to have kids so we can argue." Actually, while people may talk about having kids, they often end up saying, "I want to have a baby." They picture experiencing the joys of cuddling a baby and picking out cute baby clothes. Their minds may travel down the road to first words and first steps. Some prospective parents may dream as far down the road as block towers, tea parties, and cheering for their mini-soccer player. But that is as far as the fantasy of parenthood usually goes. Have you ever heard someone say, "I've decided to have a teenager"? Fortunately, parenting is a journey. Starting with conception we are given time to learn and grow, as our child learns and grows. With the exception of parents who adopt older children or who come into a family that already has children, most of us do not jump into parenting mid-stream.

If you have a baby you will also, hopefully, have a teenager. Some people might sarcastically ask why anyone would hope for a teenager, but I assure you that the alternative is not something most parents like to contemplate, much less experience. Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. How do you feel when you think about your child reaching the teenage years? Our society has cultivated a terribly negative attitude towards young people ages 13-19. I have three daughters so that may affect my perspective, but I think that girls get more than their share of this attitude. The number of times I have heard someone say, "Wait until she's 15" is astounding.

The truth is that I look forward to when they are 15. Not that I am in a hurry for them to grow up, I think their ages right now are pretty cool. However, my oldest will turn 14 in a few weeks and, if the past year is any indication, I expect that the next few years will be an enjoyable experience. I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of my daughter's friends who are older, and have found them to be delightful and amazing people. Their parents would agree with me, too.

How is it, in a society that almost universally maligns teenagers, that I am looking forward to the teenage years? Who are these other parents who think that people in the later years of their transition from child to adult are a whole lot of fun to have around on this adventure called life? What makes us different? What makes our children different?

The answer lies in our relationships. We are not perfect in our parenting, we have our grumpy days and times when we do not live up to our own ideals. Our children are not mini-me's who live lives of obedience and compliance. We do not expect our children to live their own lives in ways that make our lives as parents easier. We live our lives in partnership with each other. We all live within the realities of our chosen lives and our children understand that some times there are limits, but these are not arbitrary limits. We put our family relationships before everything else. We do not feel that because our  children are teenagers now they need less of us. We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies. Think about that for a moment: We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies.

Meeting the needs of young adults can be every bit as exhausting, challenging and complex as meeting the needs of a baby. It is even more so if their needs were not met during some period of their earlier childhood or infancy. If there are wounds that need healing or trust that must be mended, if you as a parent are not used to being aware of their needs or if they do not trust that you really want to meet their needs no strings attached, the path before you may be intimidating. Meeting the needs of your child at any age is much easier if you made your relationship a priority from the moment you decided to become a parent. The relationship you have during the teen years is the relationship you have been building for over a decade. It is also affected by your attitude, expectations and beliefs about teenagers.

Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. Hopefully some day you will enjoy having a teenager. The choice is yours. Do you want to spend the years arguing with your child or do you want to spend them enjoying your life together? When your child is a young adult do you want them to spend as much time as possible away from you, counting the months until they can move out and have a life of their own? The choice is yours. You can spend your time and energy trying to get your child to live life according to your expectations of who they will be and how they will behave and what they will do, or you can let them live their own life from the day they are born and spend your time and energy on your relationship. You can support them in who they are and what they like to do and how they like to do it from the start.

Putting your relationship first means that as a young adult your child will be able to trust you. They will know that they are free to be who they are without being criticized. They will come to you expecting honest, respectful communication about anything they want to discuss. They will know that if something does not turn out as they hoped or planned that you will be there to support them, no matter what, without lectures or punishment. They will feel your support for their dreams and passions. Putting your relationship first means that you and your child can enjoy the teenage years.

Revisit my blog post Trust to read more about parenting and trusting our children.

If you already have a teenager in the house and you would like to argue less and enjoy life together more revisit my post Conflict or Connection.

Other posts relating to teens:

Privacy and Trust in the Tween and Teen Years

What Can Your Teen Tell You?

Proximity and Technology and Relationships

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Hazard of Raising Our Kids to be Nice

One of my kids recently played a role in a musical theater production that involved an onstage romantic relationship. That’s part of life as an actor, it was bound to happen sooner or later. And really, since she had already played a young pregnant woman at age 13, getting engaged at age 14 wasn’t nearly as challenging, well in theory. 

The challenge was that she really didn’t like the young man cast as her love interest. Pictures of from the show give no hint of this. She was determined to act the part well, to be completely in love on stage, but off stage was a very different story. 

As her mother, I was tempted more than once to encourage her to be nice to this boy. She mentioned having made it very clear to him that he was not to touch her in a romantic way when they were not on stage. She talked of letting him know that she Did Not like him at all. And I worried that she was hurting the boy’s feelings, that she was perhaps being a little too harsh. 

Then I thought about the message being sent if she was told to “be nice.” 

If she felt it necessary to draw very clear boundaries with this boy, which she did, that’s what she should do. If she had the confidence to stand up for herself and say, “No, you may not touch me!” that was a valuable life skill. If I said,”You should be nice. Be sure you aren’t hurting his feelings,” it could undermine her development of interpersonal skills that could keep her out of potentially dangerous situations or relationships in the future. 

Even though this boy seemed very nice on stage, I had no way of knowing what he was like in real life. If my daughter said he was kind of a jerk then that was probably closer to the truth than what he seemed to be while playing a fictional character. This same thing can be true off stage as well. People can put on a character, seem very nice in public, and particularly put on their “nice face” when parents are around, and then turn around and be disrespectful, cruel, or even abusive, in private. 

My daughter is generally a kind and empathetic person. She’s not mean for the fun of it, she is friends with a wide variety of people. That’s all the more reason I should support her in doing what she needs to do to feel comfortable in a situation where she’s being called on to act like she’s in love with someone she does not like. 

Learning to set boundaries, saying no to people who are older and stronger, and being clear about what is or isn’t o.k. in any particular relationship are all life skills that I have struggled with. Because of some of my own experiences, I can see the harm that could come from being raised to “be nice,” avoid rocking the boat, keep feelings hidden with an ever present smile, avoid creating conflict, and to remember that the man in a relationship has the final say.  

Sometimes when we need to say “This is not o.k. with me” it can come out sounding not very nice, but being nice is never more important than being safe. Setting boundaries, trusting our instincts, and being honest about how we are feeling are healthy things to do. We need to support our kids as they navigate relationships. Hopefully if our relationship with them is built on respect and honesty, as well as compassion, it will be easier for our kids to go out into the world and have relationships with other people based on this same foundation.

Unfortunately, many (most?) kids still grow up in families where might makes right, the adults use control and manipulation to get what they want from their children, and punishment follows any unwillingness to comply or conform to the adults’ expectations. Because of this our kids may find themselves negotiating relationships with other kids who feel the need for power or control, to make up for the lack of power and control they’ve felt growing up. Our kids will end up interacting with kids who have never had respectful relationships based on honesty and trust modeled for them. This means they may need say “No” a little more firmly, state their boundaries a little more clearly, or be what on the outside looks like “not very nice” in order to feel comfortable or safe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Raising Allies

The Raising Allies Welcome page states that: 

Raising Allies is a blog that advocates parenting respectfully, with unconditional love and compassion, fully accepting our children as the individuals they are. 

The words sound good, but how do we apply them to our lives with our families? 

If I had to list three concepts that create a solid parenting foundation they would be:

Focus on your relationship

Let go of your expectations

Stop trying to control your child

There are so many voices telling parents how they should parent that figuring out how to be a good parent can be overwhelming and confusing. How do we know what to do, how to handle every age and stage and situation that comes along? Apply cookie cutter parenting techiniques to our unique child doesn’t work. How do we find the answers we need when we feel challenged in our role as a parent? 

Using the three concepts listed above we can create a set of questions that help us stay focused on the parent we want to be, for the child in our life, based on our values. 

Focus on your relationship. Nothing is more important than your relationship with your child. Always start by asking yourself if what you are doing, or considering doing, is going to draw you and your child closer together. Is what I’m doing strengthening or damaging my relationship with my child? 

Let go of your expectations. Your child is doing the best he can at any given moment, in any given situation. Trust this. If your child isn't meeting your expectations then examine your expectations, don’t punish your child.  What are my expectations? Why do I feel they are important? Am I placing more importance on my expectations than on my child’s experience or our relationship? 

Stop trying to control your child. Start acting as your child’s support system. When conflict or frustration intrude ask yourself: What does my child need and how can I meet that need? As she gets older you may also need to ask: What does my child need and how can I support her in getting that need met? 

When our desire is to parenting respectfully, with unconditional love and compassion, fully accepting our children as the individuals they are, we have a framework, or point of reference, for everything we do as parents. We can compare our parenting to how we want to be parenting, checking in and changing course mid-stream if we find ourselves failing to be the parent we want to be. 

Suggested Reading: 

Radical Family Parenting: A guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect and Unconditional Love,  written by Jess Robertson 

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason, written by Alfie Kohn

Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The relationship Approach,  written by Mira Kirshenbaum and Charles Foster, Ph.D.


Joyfully Rejoycing

With The Family

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bullying in Schools, Again

"Saying it's a trigger for bullying is like saying 
a short skirt is a trigger for rape. 
It's flawed logic, it doesn't make any sense." 
Noreen Bruce

You may have heard about Grayson Bruce, the 9 year old boy who was being bullied because of his Rainbow Dash backpack. Did you pay attention to the story? For me, it was one post in my facebook feed and there weren't many comments. Why not? Because stories of kids being bullied at school have become common place. The problem with that is that once something becomes common, the usual, run-of-the-mill, we stop paying attention. 

Some people heard about Grayson’s experience and dismissed it along the lines of “that’s normal kid behavior, he needs to toughen up” or “he was asking for it.” Most of us agreed that the school handled the situation poorly, but with a passing nod of our heads we quickly returned to scrolling through our facebook feeds or tumblr pages.

We cannot let Grayson’s story pass by as a blip on our radar. We need to pay attention and keep the conversation going. We need to raise awareness and continue to work toward a society where children feel safe and people of all ages are compassionate in their interactions. 

Do you remember hearing about Michael Morones

January 23rd, 11 year old Michael Morones attempted suicide because he was being bullied due to being a fan of My Little Ponies. When the story broke, almost 2 months ago, it received a lot of attention. Yesterday his tracheotomy was removed, he’s breathing on his own, but he will require medical care for the rest of his life. 

How many of us were outraged when we first heard Michael’s story? How many of us have given any thought to him in the last couple of months? 

I am not suggesting we make these boys the poster children for bullying. I’m guessing that while their families can use support, they also need privacy so that they can take care of their children, recover, and make the best possible choices about meeting their children’s needs in the future. We do, however, need to stay focused on the issues. We need to think about the causes of bullying and not just treat the symptoms. 

Lamentably, we live in a world where some people still think that a girl wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped and a boy openly being a fan of a children’s television show is asking to be bullied. We need to speak up, making it clear that blaming the victim is an inappropriate response and punishing the perpetrator is not an adequate solution. Change needs to happen on a larger scale; our society needs a paradigm shift.

My previous post “Bullying Begins at Home” also addresses this subject.

I have written more on the topic of schools, bullying, and suicides over at With The Family.  

Does your Child want to Stay Home from School?” 

Schools, Suicides and Stockholm Syndrome.

Show your support for Grayson and Michael by liking and following their facebook pages: Support for Grayson  and  Support and Love for Michael Morones.

Learn more about the Michael Morones foundation HERE

Come join the conversation at Raising Allies facebook page. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Let's Stop Comparing and Judging Bodies: Size Doesn't Matter

This year I turned 46. There’s nothing young about being 46, but there’s nothing particularly old about it either. The past 3 years I’ve been dealing with chronic health issues that have caused my weight to fluctuate down 30 pounds, only to rebound higher and then decrease again, followed by another swing to 40 pounds heavier than I was before I lost that initial 30 pounds. Right now I weigh what I weighed in the 9th month of my 3rd pregnancy, but there’s no celebration of the beginning of a new life at the end of this weight gain.

The ups and downs I’ve faced over the past years have caused me to spend time reflecting on my body, as well as the deluge of messages from society, friends and family about weight, health and acceptance.

Growing up, I internalized the message that if you are fat you aren’t good enough. This message was much louder about women than it was about men. Fat women weren’t attractive, fat women weren’t loveable or desirable. Thin people were righteously superior to people who were fat.

Now I’m 46 and have realize all of that was a lie. But I’ve also realized that over the years I made myself feel better about my body by comparing it to the bodies of other women, the same way that I could feel worse about my body by comparing it to other women’s bodies.
When I wasn’t very fat, but wasn’t exactly thin, the comfort could be found in comments like, “You’re the thinnest woman in the room.” Now that I’m fat it’s embarrassing to realize how much pride I took in being thin, or at least thinner than most of the women I knew.

Some how women have internalized that our value is relative to how we look, which is determined by how closely we match some mythical societal norm, and we spend an awful lot of time comparing our bodies to other women. We look at women who weigh more than we do and we feel smug. We look at women who weigh less than and we think, and some women come right out and say, “Wow, you’re so thin! I hate you.” And while women may say comments like this as if they are joking, there is way more truth that teasing in those words.

As a woman, I know that the “perfect” female body has measurements of 36-26-36. An hourglass. A curvy body, but not too curvy. The reality is that my body tends toward not having a waist. Even at my thinnest, I’m not going to attain an hourglass figure. In fact, I think my ever increasing hips give me a look closer to curves than I’ve ever had before. Add to that my increased breast size and derriere, and I can almost think that this weight gain makes me sexier. Except for the belly that has also increased, and the lumpy and saggy places that might not been seen as curves.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that there have been very few times in my life when I’ve really felt attractive. I’ve had noticeable varicose veins since my 20’s. After three pregnancies, even with wearing compression hose for the latter two, my legs are a mess. Having relatives with varicose veins on both sides of the family tree, genetically I didn’t stand a chance. Now that I’ve reached my mid 40’s my ankles are splotched with purple and standing in one place for any length of time is painful.

My entire life I’ve had thin hair, and my illnesses and medications haven’t helped in that area, either. Straight thin hair is not sexy. It’s not attractive. It’s not fun. Have you watch shampoo commercials lately? My greatest contentment with my hair came when it was cut extremely short. However, in my mind, you have to be thin to have short hair. The voices in my head are very opinionated about things like that.

So here I am: fat, veiny, with thin hair, getting older every day.
And that, along with research, has helped me realize that much of what we have internalized about our bodies, how we look, and what’s normal or healthy, is bull-shit.

Over the past three years I’ve had people tell me I look amazing when I’ve been horribly ill. The voices in my head join in that chorus. Sometimes I’ve gained weight because I was getting healthier and my body was reacting to previous drastic weight loss. Other times, I’ve gained weight because my medication levels were off. And then there was the weight gain from medications that were slowing down my metabolism. Along the way I had the opportunity to see how the various shapes and conditions of my body affected how I felt about myself. This metacognition was complicated or convoluted by my mental state.

Because, along with the fluctuations of weight and physical wellness, I had fluctuating levels of mental wellness. There were times when anxiety prevented me from driving the car. Other times I’d get angry and fly into a rage, all the while watching myself and knowing that wasn’t how I wanted to respond. Depression would creep in and affect my ability to think rationally about my life. These mental variations were brought about by the same illnesses and medications that were affecting my body. As with my body’s changes, they weren’t something I could control.

And that’s what I want other people to understand. The media, our friends, our families, tell us we should look a certain way to be considered beautiful, healthy, or acceptable. We’ve internalized, at least I internalized, that I needed to look a certain way to be worthy of love. But to a very large degree we have much less control over how we look than the media, diet industry, and society would like us to believe.

If you are thin there are primarily three reasons for that: you were born genetically predisposed toward thinness, you are ill - including the possibility of an eating disorder or addiction , or you have the privilege of devoting a sizeable amount of time, energy and money toward being thin.

If you are fat there are primarily three reasons for that: you were born genetically predisposed toward carrying fat on your body, you are ill, or you do not have the privilege of having the time, energy or money to invest in being thin.

It’s the last point that people are most likely to argue about so let me clarify:

If you are poor, if you are in survival mode, if you have few resources of every kind, you do not have the time, energy, or money to go to the gym and workout. If you are poor and in survival mode you do not have the time, energy, or money to buy and fix meals that focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are a caregiver who is taking care of other people, who does not have adequate support, your chances of having the time and energy necessary to invest in being thin are slim.

Here’s something I’ve learned along the way: thin people aren’t always healthy. Not only that, but being thin does not make you healthier than someone who is fat. And finally, your level of health and fitness are no one’s business but your own.

We need to stop judging other people’s levels of fitness the same way we need to stop judging other people’s, or our own, weight. You cannot look at someone and determine their level of health or fitness. When I was thin, had a rosy glow in my cheeks and could fit into every pair of pants I owned, I was living at risk of a heart attack or thyroid storm. I couldn’t walk up stairs without stopping to catch my breath. Strenuous exercise was absolutely out of the question. I looked fabulous, it was a lie.

If you are thin and you judge other people because they are fatter than you are you might need to check your privilege. If you are like me, your reason for comparing weight isn’t really based on how much you care about that other person’s health or wellness, but it’s based on your need to make yourself feel better about your own perceived flaws. Chances are you were born with thin genes. If you are predisposed toward carrying more weight but you choose to go to the gym, restrict your diet, and pound your body into the shape of your choosing, remember that’s your choice. It’s not a choice anyone else needs to make, it’s not necessarily a healthy choice for someone else, and it’s not required in order for someone to be healthy or beautiful. If you are thin and never quite feel like your body measures up to your expectations or society’s dications you might consider working on loving your body no matter how it looks.

If you are fat and you judge people because they spend time intensively exercising and planning their meals, you may want to consider if you do this because it helps you feel better about yourself. If you are fat and you are hating your body it can be hard to overcome that because of the voices all around us, and the voices in our head. I hear you can learn to love your body just the way it is, thin or fat, but I haven’t really managed to do it myself, yet. I can say that it’s worth working toward loving yourself more, even if you never manage to quiet the critical voices in your head completely.

We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and start loving ourselves more, just the way we are.

If you still believe that everyone should be or can be thin, or you believe that being thin is healthier than being fat I encourage you to read a couple books:

And if books aren’t your thing read a few blog posts at The Fat Nutritionist: Eating Normally is the New Black  

I've written some related blog posts as well: