On Fatness and Empathy

Everyone should be fat at least once in their life.

I say this with the same level of conviction that people who have worked in food service say, “Everyone should work in food service at some point in their lives”. Working in food service teaches you things, most importantly empathy. When you’ve been on the receiving end of a terrible customer, you try harder to never be that customer for someone else.

I say that the same philosophy can be applied to being fat.

Let me set a scene for you.

Two friends are getting ready. One, a size 6, rejects anything tight in her closet because it “makes her look fat” and finally settles on a breezy dress. The other, a size 16, is wearing her favorite skinny jeans and t-shirt combo with heels for the evening out.

This is not an uncommon scene in my life. I’m the size 16. At my heaviest, I was a 24.

We have a way of talking about weight in our society that is highly problematic. We all know this. The body positivity movement is gaining steam and I couldn’t be happier. Women everywhere, on all places of the body shape spectrum, are becoming more comfortable with embracing their real, realistic, bodies. Despite this, as a fat woman, I am frequently shocked by the things that people say to and around me, as if they are normal, decent things to say.

Forget the thinly veiled comments from people who “mean you the best”:

“You’re so beautiful… for a fat girl” “You used to be so attractive” “Should you be wearing that?” “Here is a nice one piece for you, it even has a skirt!” “We shouldn’t shop there, I don’t think you can wear their clothes”  “So, are you depressed or something?”

Let’s focus on the things that people say about themselves:

While shopping: “God, I’m a 6! No one on tinder will want to sleep with me”

While trying on bathing suits:  “Ugh, look at this” *pokes small amount of of belly fat* “That’s disgusting.”

What I don’t understand in these moments is the lack of understanding that comments follow the transitive property just as well as numbers do. If you, at a size 6, are un-fuckable, then what am I, as a size 16, to you? If your tiny layer of belly fat is disgusting, what is my stomach in your eyes?

As I experience these moments now, I remember my size 4 teenaged self making terrible comments about people who carried weight, and am thankful that through my own experiences I’ve now gained some empathy. I find my previous ignorance and judgements appalling.

I like to believe that my friends discuss their own standards for their own bodies in moments of introspection, without thinking about how their comments reflect on others in the room. I like to think that what they are really saying is “I am, personally, uncomfortable with changes in my body because I would like to look a certain way and this is not it”. Which is something I completely respect.  The cornerstone of the body positivity movement is the belief that everyone has the right to look however they want to look, within the limitations of genetics.

But, in moments of frustration, I can’t help but think that people would phrase their comments differently if they had, you know, actually been fat for a while. If they had been forced to confront the stereotypes about fat people and derision for fatness from the other side. Their comments, as spoken, perpetuate the negative cultural views on fatness and alienate everyone who doesn’t look or behave a certain way. And, the most entertaining part of all of this is that my friends are great people who also support body positivity, even if their comments about their own bodies don’t always reflect that.

So, people who exist much closer to the cultural ideal for body type, please do humans a favor. You may not be fat at any point in your life, so, please, just take 5 minutes to pretend that you are. Hear your comments with the ears of someone who is twice your size, and consider how they make you feel. Then, please, keep those feelings in mind when you speak in the presence of others. Empathy and awareness can go a long way.

PS Friends: I’m fine. I know I’m fantastic. Your comments make me sad; I find it distressing that I feel better about my body at a 16 than most of my friends who are more stereotypically attractive. Besides, we both know that I’ve had better sex than you have, so consider us even.

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Living Like You’re Dying

It seems trite, right? It’s over stated. There is even a country song about it. But all that aside, it’s a philosophy that I have internalized to increasing extents the older I’ve gotten.

To me, that heart of the philosophy is: If this moment was your last interacting with the world, or the last conversation with someone that you love, would you be happy with how it went?

Like all things in life, it’s a two sided equation:

On one side, are you feeling fulfilled by your life? Are you happy with your interactions and the energy you spend?

On the other side, how will you be remembered? Will the people on the receiving side of your energy and effort be positively affected by it?

To me living like I’m dying reminds me to be positive and joyous, but honest.

The first time I had a real run in with this concept was when I was 22 and in a bit of a tumultuous period of my relationship. Since I was feeling appropriately angsty, I whipped out the Amanda Palmer playlist, and that was the first time that I heard The Bed Song.

Listen to it, but be ready to cry. In brief, it’s about a couple who, as the years go by, fail to communicate, and fall into a loveless marriage that, it turns out, neither of them are happy with. They each perpetuate the space that has grown between them because they believe that it is what the other wants. All it would have taken is one of them breaching the emotional wall that had accumulated between them in order for them to go back to previous levels of intimacy and fulfillment. They die before they realize this.

Needless to say, this song has had a profound impact on the way that I approach my relationships, not only with my boyfriend, but also with my family and my friends.

There are so many boundaries that we say we should place around our interactions. Things deemed “appropriate” for a given level of intimacy. I have come to firmly believe in blowing those boundaries out of the water.

For me the first step in living like I was dying was to ramp up the level of honesty and communication with those I love. Soren and I approach communication in our relationship in a much more up front way than we used to, even when it hurts, and I can guarantee that that’s the only reason we are going on 7 years. I go deeper in conversations with my friends than I used to, being honest, even when it means that we get to have an awkward conversation about life and life choices. I spend a lot of time with my parents and little sister because, I’ll be damned, but I really enjoy spending time with them, and I know that we may not always be only a city away. On a more broad scope: I try to make every interaction meaningful and positive, even with people who I will never ay again.

What came next were the more action oriented sides of this. I do my best to have tiny adventures every week. I cook something new. Take a tiny trip. Go for an urban adventure. Read a book I wouldn’t otherwise. Try a new restaurant. Go to a new store. Talk to someone new at the dog park. Go to an arts event.

At work, I not only try to be efficient, but also friendly. I not only get things done, but squeeze every ounce of learning out of every task I complete.

So from one side: I hate being bored, and I am an extrovert, so for me, sitting in the house all day is torture. Incorporating tiny adventures into my life makes me feel fulfilled. For someone else, living every day like you’re dying might look a little different.

And from the other side: I have found that focusing on my own joy has made becoming a point of joy in other people’s lives much more natural.

If something strange or terrible were to happen to me, I would know in those last moments that I had thrown myself into my life and be pleased with the way I spent my energy while it still walked this earth.  If I were to find myself separated from those I love, I feel confident that I would feel good about the last interaction that I had with them because it was honest and full of love.

Would you?

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This is the first in a three part series on how I approach life, and try to live it to its fullest.  Check back for posts on living an active life, and the importance of being present.


Why I’m a (Bad) Buddhist

The dark corners of my mind are something that I have been fighting with for as long as I can remember.

These dark corners are the reason why I call myself a *Bad* Buddhist. Over the years I have definitely become a Buddhist: someone who believes that decreasing universal suffering is the ultimate good. But, I’m prone to negativity and, at times, violence. Which is, you know, kinda Bad. I like to think that in the act of awareness of my badness, and my struggle to be compassionate despite it, I am all the more a better Buddhist.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my darkness. To this day I fight against the manifestations of it in my daily life and I have found that talking honestly about it is the easiest way to bring it into balance. It does not take long after meeting me for me to talk about my personality and the way I think and feel.

However, I commonly choose humorous ways to express it, which isn’t the most honest way.

I tell people I have vigilante tendencies. Which makes me sound like Batman, and everyone loves Batman. (Unless you like Superman, which is ok too. Sexy Aliens who work in journalism are hard to turn down.)

Rarely do I tell them about that time in fifth grade when I beat the shit out of the kid who continued to make fun of one of my painfully shy friends. This was the moment that I realized that rules can be broken, because when he told the teacher that it was me, she didn’t believe him, because I was a girl and a model student. I have never stopped standing up for my friends, no matter what it takes.

Rarely do I tell them about that time in ninth grade when I pushed a bully down the stairs, and when I saw the look of pure terror on her face as she barely caught herself on the banister, laughed viscously in her face and told her never to come near me again. I felt a power in that moment that I had never felt before, and it was glorious. I was called “dominatrix” for much of high school.

To continue with the superhero theme: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

I tell people that I have a Galadriel Complex, instead of telling them that I am prone to power tripping, elitism, judgement, and vicious honesty.


That’s the “Bad” part.

Now on to the “Buddhist”:

The short, not-preachy version is: If you are self-aware enough to self-regulate your thoughts and actions in order to not be a butt face, and instead be a nicer human, you win! The world wins! Life is full of unicorns and rainbows!

If you’re interested in the technical terminology:

Right Understanding is the first step on the Buddhist Eightfold Path, one of the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism. Right Understanding focuses on seeing the world as it really is, for only from a foundation of unbiased truth can we properly act with compassion. I frequently take this belief and turn it inward. By recognizing my own darkness as truth I can do two things:

  • Act against it. The Second Step on the Eightfold Path is Right Intention. Once I have recognized my darkness as truth, I can make my primary intention subduing my internal darkness, and decreasing the level of suffering in the world. Which is great, because unicorns and rainbows are made out of kindness and compassion.
  • Recognize it in other people. This is pivotal. Everyone has a little darkness inside of them, and when they are letting it out, it’s important to recognize their darkness in our own, and act with compassion toward them. (See: Dear Shitty People, I’m Sorry). I like this perk of Right Understanding the most, because it lets me know that my darkness as a positive purpose. Without it, I would not be able to recognize it in others, and without that understanding, I think that acting compassionately would be a lot harder.

I’m not trying to convert anyone.  I don’t meditate. I don’t believe in reincarnation or some ultimate spiritual state of Enlightenment.This is but one of many mental paths that leads to happiness and compassion.

What I believe, is that there are a lot of people out there who struggle with their own inner darkness. It can be a deep struggle to find worth and positivity in negativity and fault. As someone who has an extremely secular world view, this is the way that works for me. If more mainstream routes haven’t worked for you, I invite you to give this one a try.

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Dear Shitty People: I’m Sorry

Dear Shitty People,

I’m Sorry.

I’m sorry that you never had a mentor who showed you that open mindedness and compassion are the surest paths to happiness.

I’m sorry that somewhere along your life a vitriolic idea slunk into your brain and took root, growing into a tree, the flesh of which now fuels the flame of your malcontent.

I’m sorry that you don’t love yourself enough to love others.

I’m sorry that you’re afraid.

I wish that I knew that if I held out my hand, you would take it. Open mindedness does not only include those you agree with, but must, in order to be true, include those who are the exact opposite from yourself.

I’m tired of watching people tell each other “You’re wrong”, as if whoever can scream the loudest wins the argument.

Instead I say to you, “I Hear You”.

I hear your fear. I hear your anxiety for what change will mean for you and yours. I hear your terror over losing your place.

I think you’re wrong. I find your thoughts outdated and distressingly lacking in compassion for your fellow man. The act of dehumanizing another in order to further your own agenda is vile. I find your desperate attempt to grasp onto a fading status quo cowardly. Your cruelness and self-centered logic makes you wrong, but I hear you.

Do you hear me?

When you hear me, what do you hear? Do you hear compassion as weakness? What a sad, dark place your mind must be if it is so. I am sorry that you are so full of hate.

I’m sorry that, all too often, you simply don’t know any other way to think. Your mentors through life failed to supply you with the tools to confront change with open arms; to embrace life and all its challenges. Instead you have been taught to hide behind vitriolic words, using out of date logic and fear driven denial to build walls around your beliefs, rendering them impenetrable to those who would bring light to your dark thoughts.

It’s not your fault that you’re a shitty person, and I’m sorry that you have found yourself here. I’m sorry that you were taught to be afraid.

I would teach you joy and compassion if I could. I would re-write your history to take away your fear. People will always disagree on a course of action, but the desperation that comes from fear poisons discourse. Swords and knives are not the tools with which we can build a future. Our words should manifest as fewer duels, and more gardens if we are to move forward.

Old houses fall. Plaster crumbles. Wood rots. Foundations crack. When these things happen we must build anew. I beseech you, do not build a prison out of fear for future generations. When you raise iron walls to keep the things you fear out, you lock the ones you love in. Fear should not be the legacy we leave our children, dooming them to be left behind in a rapidly changing world.

Dear Shitty People: I hear you. I see you.

But you are wrong, and I pity you.

Everyone deserves to know the joys of compassion and diversity. I sincerely hope that it is not too late for you to find them, but if it is, don’t you dare try to take them from the rest of the world. The world deserves better. Everyone, and everything, deserves to learn the benefits of kindness.

If you must, I invite you to watch from behind your walls as the world moves on without you.

But I’d really rather that you take my hand. I promise, kindness doesn’t hurt.

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Why I’m Voting

Four days ago I sat here in my minimally opulent room, crying big, fat, ugly tears of guilt, anger, and frustration. I had just watched John Green’s most recent vlog brothers video in which he shares the story of two of many Syrian refugees. These two are young women, aged 12 and 10. They are two extremely brave, strong young women who are struggling to find some semblance of safety for themselves and their family. They have lost so much, including one of their sisters, and all they want are the tools to move forward and built a better life for themselves, and a future for their people. The tool that they focus on most prominently is education.

Depending on where you get your news, I am sure that you have heard these stories over the last few years. The struggle. The violence. The prejudice. The hope. The experiences that as a white female millennial in the United States of America I cannot even begin to understand.

John Green’s 4 minute segment on just a fraction of the refugees has affected me stronger than any that I have previously encountered. I know that it is because, for the first time, while I still do not see myself in these girls, I can see someone else dear to me: my sister. With the oldest of the sisters being 12, she is just a bit younger than my sister, and the thought of her experiencing the horrors that these young women have gone through is enough to crumple a wall inside my heart. As stated by John in the video:

“When I later asked Aida what she wanted now that she was safe within the camp, she didn’t say electricity or food or rest.  She said, ‘We need to study’… When I asked Aida what message she would want to share with American children her age our interpreter Nita told me she said, ‘We just want to go to school. We just want to have a life’ ”

The life that Aida and her sister long for is not different from the lives that we all hope for ourselves and those we love. These people are people, in need of assistance and stability. They are just as deserving of a safe, profitable future as our own neighbors. Their experiences contribute to the tapestry of human experience that binds us all together. Their story is our story, and the dehumanization of refugees in the media and political processes around the world is exclusively harmful.

But my tears were not just expressions of sadness and anger at the state of the world, and the closed mindedness that all too often prevails, they are also tears of guilt. As someone striving to achieve their own definition of success, including no debt, house and car ownership, and possessions that bring joy to my life, I am bad at giving to those in need. While I donate $10-$20 where I can, adopted a rescue dog instead of lining a breeder’s pocket, and have been known to buy meals for those in need, the percentage of my income that goes to those less fortunate than myself is very small, and for this I feel extremely guilty. When I express this guilt, I am reminded that I do more than many, but I am still acutely aware of the disparity between my comfort, and other’s lack of it, and my guilt is heightened when, during moments of soul searching, I know that I am simply not the sort of person that will devote their live, or paycheck, to humanitarian work.

But I know one thing I can do: Vote.

I may not donate, but I pay a healthy chunk of taxes. Electing a president and representatives that will spend the money that I give to the government in ways that are important to me, from public works to international humanitarian aid, is something I have a right to vote for. And I’ll be damned if I don’t exercise the hell out of that right.

For me, it was the story of two young Syrian girls who just want to go to school that drove home the astronomical importance of political involvement. Your catalyst may be different. It may be a little closer to home, for there are plenty of things that we can do better in or own country. But I urge you, gentle readers, to find your catalyst. Find what you’re passionate about, what matters to you, and exercise your right to have a say in bringing your goals for your country, and your world, into reality.

Unless your goals do not include the spread of compassion for all living beings. In which case, please see my open letter: Dear Shitty People, I’m Sorry.

I voted today. You should too. #vote #getoutandvote #election2016 #primaries #ivoted

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