Friday, August 14, 2015

It's my body, and I'll diet if I want to

Body image is a HUGE discussion topic in the media (both mainstream and social) these days. Both women and men are judged against harsh, barely-attainable standards for their appearance, with their character being called into question if they fail to meet these lofty expectations. No one particularly criteria seems to be as derisive as body size, however - those who are larger than average are considered lazy, weak, incompetent, or undisciplined. Weight-loss is praised at every turn and everywhere you look, some new diet or pill or patch is promising extreme - even unhealthy - results. (This one simple trick!)

If you've seen me - in person or in photos posted online - it's pretty immediately apparent that I am fat. This isn't self-deprecation, it's merely a fact. I don't take insult to simply being called fat, because it is a factual statement about my physical appearance. Well-meaners who tell me "oh, you're not fat!" seem patronizing to me - I'm loath to call them out on it, because I know they are trying to make me feel better about myself. But I don't NEED to feel better about myself. Being fat is part of my identity. It doesn't define me as a person any more than my skin tone, hair color, or freckles do. Yet, I'm supposed to be ashamed of it. It's not like it's any great secret, so why all the taboo associated with owning up to it? When people tell me, "oh you're not fat," what it seems to mean is "I don't equate you with any other stereotypes associated with fat people - you don't smell, you aren't lazy, you don't walk around eating burgers all day, you work, etc." The problem with this, of course, is society has assigned a set of attributes to "fat people" based on one characteristic that may or may not occur as a result of these other habits. I may be fat, but I'm a "good" fat person. I don't wallow in it. I take care of myself. I try to lose weight. This is, apparently, commendable.

But here's the thing - I don't strive to be a "good" fat person. This is not my goal in life. And I don't owe it to ANYONE to lose weight. I love the fat pride movement for spreading this message, even in the face of harsh, often cruel, criticism. A fat person has not committed a sin against society. A fat person doesn't need to lose weight so they are more pleasant for everyone else to look at. A fat person has just as much control over their body as a thin person. It may be shocking to realize that some people WANT to be fat. There are happy fat people. There are successful fat people. Perhaps most shockingly, there are FIT and HEALTHY fat people.

The flip side of this - and the teeter-totter I currently live on - is that you can accept all the above as true and still be trying to lose weight. (This has the added benefit of being scrutinized by both sides - you believe being fat is okay, but you also think losing weight is okay. Clearly, you are a plant and cannot be trusted.) Depending who I'm talking to, I have to either sound ecstatic I've lost weight, or contrite and apologetic. While the vast majority of people I choose to associate with are super supportive, the rest of society seems to be firmly in one of two camps. The obvious, larger sect claims I haven't lost nearly enough weight yet and therefore none of my success matters (and I obviously do not understand eating well and exercising because I am still large - never mind the fact I was 25 pounds larger a few months ago). The second, smaller camp is the body size appreciation movement who treat me like a traitor if I decide I want to change my fatness.

My choice to lose weight is a personal choice. I have made it for a lot of reasons, none of which are related to society's opinion that larger people, especially larger women, are unworthy. I love who I am and I love my body. But I love my body BECAUSE it's my body - which it will still be 50, 100, or 150 pounds lighter than I am now. While there are plenty of perfectly healthy fat people, I have developed high blood pressure and I want to lose weight to try and bring that down. I also enjoy running (jogging... waddling...) and having less body to lug around when I do makes it more enjoyable. It irritates me when seats are too small for me, and I'd like to avoid that discomfort. It's harder to paint your own toenails when you are fat and I enjoy having nicely colored toenails. The list goes on and on, but the important thing is they are all for MY satisfaction.

I spent a lot of years buying into the nonsense that fat women were less desirable, less admirable, less worthy. I still live in a reality where that's the prevailing belief - I simply chose not to subscribe to it. It is a difficult path - getting to a place where you love your fat body in a world telling you you shouldn't. And I have complete respect for people who have gotten to that point and decided losing weight is not for them because it means they accept themselves as they are and have decided their personal happiness is more secure at this size. But I've decided I would like to. It's hard to balance the two mindsets, but the realization that I'm doing it for me, for things I want, and valuing the journey and myself and my body along the way has helped me reconcile the debate in my head. As a life-long geek, I've frequently said I won't change my personality or my passions just to fit in, that being true to myself was more important than conforming to the crowd. If I have no reservations holding that belief with my mind, why should I struggle to extend it to my body, as well? And being true to myself means doing what I want to best increase my happiness. Right now, that means losing some weight. But if I get rid of the things holding me back before I hit "thin," then I will stop at whatever point serves me best. If I am healthy and happy and able to do the things I love without discomfort, no one's opinion of my body or my appearance is relevant. End of story.

This doesn't mean stray insults never hurt. This doesn't mean I don't get frustrated when I'm shopping for clothes and nothing fits just right. This doesn't mean I don't struggle to run, even if I like doing it. It just means I am happy - both with where I am, and with the fact I'm trying to change that. It's a process. And I can love the process.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I had jury duty today.

This is not a particularly notable statement - under normal circumstances, it would garner no farther response than a distracted "ah" or maybe a grunt of commiseration.

My level of anxiety about "newness" tends to augment most "normal" circumstances into unabated nightmare scenarios in which anything can - and will - go wrong. I have been summoned for jury duty three times before, but one time I was living in a different county than my legal address, and the other two times my juror number did not have to report. So this was NEW. I hadn't been there. I didn't know what to expect.

Everyone has a comfort zone. Even people who thrive on adding new experiences on a regular basis have a trusted set of familiar locations, habits, and situations. I see every new opportunity, however, as a perfect storm of unanticipated circumstances. "Going with the flow" and "letting things roll off my back" has never been my style. (I've heard both of these phrases so many times throughout of my life, I should probably cross-stitch them onto throw pillows just so I can punch them as needed.) I'm a fast learner and I pick things up quickly, but every "first" is filled with anxiety, even when it's something I want very badly or have been looking forward to. When I start something new that I really enjoy, I yearn for a time when it will be comfortable so I can focus on enjoying what I'm doing instead of the stress bred by unfamiliarity.

I realize a lot of people will identify with all or part of this. I am not alone in preferring the comfortable, and even among that subset, I am not alone in having a strong adverse reaction to these sorts of situations, a bit above normal discomfort but still slightly below full-on panic. Still, a lot of people don't understand where this comes from - especially in a circumstance like today, where the source of my anxiety was a standard, commonly-disliked obligation everyone's been reluctant to participate in in the past. The irony here is that I was no more adverse to performing my civic duty than I am to any other "new" experience. It was precisely the newness of it I was opposed to.

I rationalized everything to myself repeatedly in the days leading up to my jury duty date - most jurors are serving for the first time, or have done it so infrequently in the past they won't know the procedure any more than I will. I am not on trial. I will not be scrutinized. I can't do anything so dumb that I will derail the entire legal system of Orange County, Florida. They'll just be glad I actually showed up instead of trying to duck out with any possible excuse. And all of these things were true, of course. This didn't stop me from worrying about a plethora of opposite situations - I would get lost on the way in and be late, I would be scheduled another day for some reason and not be able to get it off work, I would be put on a long trial despite the financial hardship it would cause me with no way out, a family member would have a terrible accident and I wouldn't be released to see them... and, well, they just got more irrational from there. It's pretty amazing what an anxious mind can completely justify as reasonable, actually. The possibility of some apocalyptic scenario causing the End of Times while I was sitting in the juror lounge was not beyond my fathoming.

But you know what? I DID get lost and was a few minutes late. And it was fine. Everyone was friendly. No harm befell me, no earthquakes tore the state off its continent, no loved ones met untimely demises. I just sat in a room for four hours on my phone and got sent home with a letter proving I was there. Done.

And next time, it won't be new.

This post isn't really about jury duty. It's about my apprehension in the days leading up to it and the feeling of dread I just can't shake before I partake in something NEW. It's about not being alone in that and speaking up in a way that's hopefully a bit more constructive than whining on Twitter about not wanting to do things I haven't done before. The fear I feel is real, but it doesn't need to control me and it certainly doesn't need to dictate how I handle a new situation once it arises. There's nothing logical about this sort of anxiety, but the more I can accept that it's there and feed it with evidence I've survived new things before instead of handcrafted recipes of utter disaster, the more I can truly convince myself it's going to be okay. Things don't have to be okay NOW, I've learned - but knowing they WILL be okay can bridge the gap between "I don't know how to handle this" and "wow, I DID handle that!"

And I did.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


One of the reasons I don't blog as much as I should - or as much as I'd like to - is that I feel this blog doesn't have an identity of its own. When I want to post about something, I think to myself "no, that's not in the direction of this blog." But then I realize that it has no direction. I can take it anywhere I want, and change the course at will. I am a passionate person about a great many things and perhaps lacking a cohesive focus won't help me build a solid base of followers, but not blogging at all because I'm afraid to cross boundaries certainly hasn't been helping, either.

I have many fields of interest and time may see all or none of them represented here. I'd assume topics I may feel the urge to explicate in length may involve photography, religion (both cross-culturally and in regard to my own faith), space and space exploration, my cat (who doesn't?), political issues I feel strongly about (from both ends of the spectrum), world events that I believe deserve notice, weight loss (or lack thereof), and mental health and suicide prevention. I don't tend to blog about work or my personal life very often, which begets a chasm between where this blog will likely go and the general Truman Show level most blogs endeavor to achieve. But here's the cool part about my personal worldview - that's fine! There's a niche for everyone on the fantabulous internet. I am not a mom, nor do I have a design to be one, but I can appreciate a good mommy blog because it gives me insight into a lifestyle I don't lead. I believe understanding and appreciation of differences is a huge step toward peace and equality and I make a point to seek out those different from me because it makes me a better person to appreciate others. So I don't fit in with them. I don't want to, and I don't have to.

I hereby, then, establish this blog's identity as an extension of myself - as random and unfocused as that may be.

And who am I, then? I'm a married woman in Orlando, Florida in my late 20s. I was born in Hawai'i and will always consider that home, even though I've lived in Florida for two and a half decades. I have a husband I love with my whole heart, even when it's not easy to do so. And sometimes I'm not easy to love, either. I have a degree from the University of Florida in Anthropology with a specialization in archaeology and a minor in religious studies. I am an animal lover. I have a cat named Loki and my world revolves around him. I have a camera, and this has changed everything. I have two part-time jobs I'm unlikely to talk much about - one I love, and one that makes money. I love rockets and the expansion of mankind from this rock onward to the stars. I love my Catholic faith and it's made all the difference in every aspect of my life. I struggle sometimes with anxiety, and it's not always pretty, but I believe being open about this (everyone! everywhere!) is the only way to change the world. I love science-fiction and fantasy because it's not bound my reality. I'm a gamer on occasion, a writer on occasion, a cross-stitcher on occasion. I love playing card and board games and wish it wasn't so dated. I love to swim and water makes me happier than anything else in the world, except maybe staring at the stars in the night sky. I'm afraid of fireworks and dragonflies. I take everything too personally and care too deeply about things I can't change. But when I care about something, my passion knows no bounds. I seek to be a better person every day than I was the day before. My past has made me who I am, and even the terrible parts helped me grow. I'm not ashamed of it because without any part of it, I'd be less of a person than I am today - good and bad. But all those parts are me, and I'd be forsaking my own identity to disown any of them.

I don't make sense and I'm a little eccentric at times. I love glitter and stuffed animals and decorating desserts with sprinkles. My picture is probably next to "random" in the dictionary. Following me anywhere is probably a whirlwind attack on your sensibilities. I can't promise it will be worth it, but I can promise it will be honest and true and that I will always seek the entertain and sometimes maybe even say something worthwhile, too.

I remember when I was in elementary school, we had an author come to talk to us and his advice was "write what you know." And this what I know - who I am, and how I feel. So that's what I'll write.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Good Bye

My grandfather passed away on June 1. I probably have a lot more to say about that, but not right here - at least, not right now. What I DO want to share, however, is the memorial poem I wrote for him. I'm not making any great strides in literary history, but that's not what I was going for. I was trying to sum up 90 years of life in a few stanzas that I wrote in between yelling matches with my computer and some sobbing. So it's not great. But it's exactly what I needed it to be.

My favorite hero isn't from
A distant world so far away
Just an island in the sea
And a ranch with horses, cows, and hay

Among his many super powers:
Unyielding faith in God Himself
A gift for humor, wit to match,
Love of family above all else

In his eyes, a gleam of mischief
On his lips, a joke or song
On his face, a stalwart smile
By his side, a cat or dog

Each day a daring feat was carried out
Each deed contributing to his story
From picking mangoes and running cranes
To singing songs of morning glory

From him I learned to truly love,
To care for someone with all your might
Forsaking all for those in need
And fighting on through dark of night

But now my hero's flown away
And left us here to fill his place
Each day I feel his loss and grieve
And pray for healing through God's grace

So I fall back on how he lived
And make my way through all the rubble
With love in my heart and faith in my God
And sometimes just a bit of trouble

Though he's gone, I look to him
To guide me in my life down here
I live as he taught me to;
A piece of him is ever near

Good bye, Papa.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


In the wake of this week's Santa Barbara shooting, there's been a hashtag going around Twitter: #YesAllWomen

It seems the shooter was anti-woman due to lifelong rejection and this predicament garnered small amounts of sympathy across the internet with complete disregard to the fact that the women who were killed are the actual victims in this case.  It seems his vendetta didn't stop there and he had an entire manifesto of people and types of people who deserved to die. Admittedly, I have only read the cliff notes and news blurbs about the actual tragedy, but I did take a good, long look at the #YesAllWomen hashtag.  I even contributed my own tweet:

But I feel like I couldn't contain the entire sentiment, and why it struck me so harshly, in 140 characters and have it hold its own amid the tweets of domestic violence, assault, and severe discrimination.

Was I ultimately harmed? No.  Was I able to make my purchase?  Yes.  Was there any tangible end result to my story?  No.  But I walked into a hobby store and into the camera department to purchase something.  The antique fossil of a gentleman working there kindly informed me the device I wished to purchase wouldn't work.  When I pressed him farther, he said it would only work with the camera set to Manual, and, knowing nothing about me other than what he could see, assured me I couldn't use a camera like that.  Even when I insisted I could, he took the device away and said he was doing me a favor.  I insisted, and left with the device.  Many might say "no harm, no foul."  But I was humiliated, and I felt helpless and belittled, standing there, begging for the right to purchase something.

This is a significant indication of a pervasive culture belief that it's okay to deny women something "for their own good" and an enforcement of the belief girls just don't "do" certain things - in this instance, photography.  If you tell any number of truly tragic stories of violence against women or sexual assault, 99% of listeners will reply with horror and sympathy - and rightly so!  But when I tell this story, I'm usually told to get over it, or that it was no big deal.  But what scares me about it is the fact this sort of discrimination is so nonchalantly accepted as insignificant when, in reality, it comes from the same root problem - and underlying, persistent belief that women are inferior and less capable.  And best, this means Mighty Men must save poor, helpless women from themselves.  At worst, this means women are commodities for Mighty Men to use as they see fit, for pleasure or punishment, with no regard to their bodily autonomy or human rights.

While embarrassing me in a hobby store isn't going to impact my future in any meaningful way, that way of thinking, that habit of marginalizing someone and treating them as inferior based solely on their gender presentation, is a dangerous line of thinking which begets instances of violence, assault, and segregation.  There is outcry against the end result, but condonation for the mindset that allows these egregious human rights violations to continue to exist.

You can't put out a fire by blowing out the flames while the embers continue to smolder. The point or origin must be addressed, and it lies right there, in a hobby shop, at the camera counter.  In the office with no female managers.  In the White House.  On the football field.  Everywhere women are discounted based solely on one fact, with no regard to their total personage.  And the blind eye society turns is just fanning the flames.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Judge me by my size, do you?

I ran my fourth 5K of the year this morning. And by "run," I really mean "jogged, then power walked, then kinda waddled for about a mile, but totally finished at a sprint while everyone at the finish line was looking!"  My pace was a whole four seconds faster than the last run I did, and, darn it, that's improvement.  I had a lot of time to think during today's race - particularly between miles 1 and 2, which are my weak point, physically and emotionally - about how I'd never really be a runner and this was a disaster and I was totally fooling myself to pretend I'd ever improve.  But I came to another realization, too - underneath all the discouragement and mental self-flagellation, I had a stone-cold confidence about the situation. I was confident that I wouldn't time well, and I certainly wouldn't place, that it would be hard, and I'd fight myself the entire way... but that I'd keep going, I wouldn't stop, and I'd finish strong.  And I did.

At my first 5K back in April of this year, I was more nervous than you can imagine.  Not only was the physical aspect overwhelming, but I was embarrassed.  I wondered how someone my size and my fitness level could even pretend moving their hulking mass 3.1 miles around the course was a good idea that had any possibility of NOT ending in utter disaster. I could feel the eyes of everyone around me as I imagined they haughtily scoffed in my direction and wondered what the fat girl thought she was trying to prove and how long it would be until she dropped out. But, I didn't drop out.  I finished.  And I thought I was going to die.  I spent the time between miles 1 and 2 chanting in mantra-like cadence "this was a bad idea, this was a bad idea."  But when I hit that Mile 3 marker and saw the finish line, I felt like King Kong on steroids. (Bonus points if you get that reference.)  I ran under the finish line and felt like I was going to explode from sheer excitement.  My time was 54:10, but no one could say anything that could make me any less proud of what I'd accomplished.

My second and third runs were those novelty-type runs that are popular (and awesome) right now - Color Run and Aqua Run.  At both runs, I found myself surveying the crowd, seeing if I stood out as the fattest one there, and trying to avoid the judgmental stares of those around me.  But I ran Color Run faster than my first run, and, even more importantly, I felt better after I'd finished.  In contrast to my run in April, where it took nearly two days before I even felt like a person again, I finished Color Run feeling awesome.  Aqua Run I didn't time, but I had fun, and I played around, and I finished and again felt awesome.

This morning, I arrived at check-in and I could again feel people staring me down.  This was a much smaller event, only about 64 runners.  I was petrified of coming in last.  I had visions of being the last runner left on the course, of running to the finish line as they were breaking it down and yelling "No! Wait for me!" as everyone laughed at the fat girl who couldn't run.  Instead, the small crowd of runners were very supportive, smiling and chatting as we waited to start.  Still, there were wayward glances here and there.  But I realized, for the first time, that I didn't care.  I truly did not.  I had done three 5Ks already this year.  I had business being there.  I knew I would finish, no matter what they thought when they looked at me.  I know at my first few runs, my mind was awfulizing the stares and glances and making them seem worse, more malicious than they were, because the deep-rooted shame I had about my own fitness level was exacerbating what was already there and transforming it into crippling disgust.  I thought I was going to fail, so I assumed everyone else thought that, too.  Today, I came out knowing I would succeed and that made all the difference.

Today was a harder run for me than the last two. It was chilly, which was rough on my asthma, and I had a terrible cramp down the back left side of my body that didn't let up from about a half a mile in.  But, still, something amazing happened.  For the first time, I passed other runners!  People who started ahead of me finished behind me.  I never thought I would pass anyone, and yet, I gleefully realized, not only was I not last, I was gaining on those ahead of me!  Also, short of the first minute of two of the race where everyone is sorting themselves out from the start and organizing the pack, no one passed ME until a few late runners caught up near the end.  I finished strong, ran under the finish line, and crumpled onto the curb to collect myself.  But I. Felt. AWESOME.

"Running While Fat" is definitely a phenomenon I know other overweight runners have experienced.  It's hard to be around fit runners who you know can lap you without breaking a sweat and not feel drastically unqualified to step onto the race course.  But I'm finding my confidence building.  It's empowering to know that, while they may finish in a third of the time I do, I'm heaving three times the body mass they are around the same course and still finishing strong.  Maybe I will never be a "runner."  But I'm finding myself out there on runs as I realize I'm not letting my weight define who I am an what I can do.  As I divorce myself from the image of that fat girl who can't run, I'm finding the woman inside who doesn't care what anyone else thinks, who just wants to push herself to be better than she was the time before, and who might be just a little amused at the stares of people who never thought she'd finish as follow her across the finish line.

Friday, February 1, 2013

"The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors."

The title of this post is the quote from then-president George W. Bush I used to title the post I made on February 2, 2003, after spending a day in utter shock, unable to digest what I'd seen unfolding the morning previous.  The post, made on Ye Olde LiveJournal, reeks of 17-year-old self-importance and just enough childish naivety to punch me in the gut as a re-read it.  In a very grave sense, Columbia was my generation's disaster.  Apollo 1 happened long before my parents even met and Challenger was lost when I was two and a half months old, but I watched Columbia.  I saw that now-iconic image of fragmented orbiter streaking through a blue Texas sky as it showed up on television, live, staring through tear-clouded eyes and begging for some other explanation than the one even my teenage mind knew to be true.  Tragedies didn't happen in MY space program.  They were a thing of the past.  My heroes were invulnerable.  My shuttles were flawless.  And yet... this was happening.  I saw it, I felt it, I experienced it in a way I can't relate to Apollo 1 or Challenger.  That doesn't lessen the sadness I feel when I remember those two tragedies every year, but Columbia is personal, and slices just that much deeper.

I never met any of the astronauts that died that day - though I share a somewhat uncommon name with one of them, which led me to immediately identify with her - but they were the faces of all my aspirations.  While the next ten years of my life took me in a very different direction than I ever envisioned my life going, at that point, I was hell-bent to be an astronaut.  I would accept no less.  Aside from making my role models strikingly and gruesomely mortal, it was also the first time I realized how dangerous the career path I yearned for could be.  And by accepting the gravity of this, I gained that much more respect from the seven men and women who had just given their lives without a second thought to put stars in the eyes of children like me who longed to continue their mission and push humanity to strike out among the stars.  "Hero" status isn't earned by those who act "cool," but by those who take on real risks - and are sometimes called to cash in on that gamble - without any concern to their own lives, but the contribution their work, and sometimes their sacrifice, can make to everyone else.  The seven astronauts lost on Columbia - and the seven on Challenger, and the three on Apollo 1, may have lost their lives, but achieved immortality through this.  They became larger than anything they were on earth or in space.  They are infinite, they will never fail to serve as constant motivation and a reminder of those who have gone before to inspire those who are still to come.

Every year this tragic week in NASA history passes by without a current manned program in this country is that much more tragic, in my mind.  I know, better than most, that space exploration is NOT dead; it is alive and thriving and just waiting to advance.  But I look at the lives we've already put down in deposit and it hurts my heart that it seems that advance is put on hold.  And I remember, and I ache.

February 1, 2003 was a Saturday.  I was a junior in high school, and I wanted to sleep in.  My mother said she would wake me so I wouldn't miss the sonic booms, and I could watch Columbia on TV as it glided in for a smooth, perfect landing.  I'd listen to them welcome the astronauts back to Earth, and I'd smile at the end of another mission... and then I'd probably go back to bed.  It never dawned on me that my perception of the entire space program would change that day.  I vividly remember my mother waking me up and saying, "Laurel... something is wrong with the space shuttle."  And I saw that something was very, very wrong... and in my world, at that moment, everything was wrong.  I'd lived my whole childhood with a burning passion for all things NASA, and I had full confidence that nothing would go wrong.  But it wasn't the end.  And it never will be.  As long as we look up at the sky and believe that the greatest risk isn't in failing to succeed, but in ceasing to explore, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon will continue to inspire us, and they will never be lost in the hearts of everyone who knows we belong among the stars.

Godspeed, Columbia.