The Freelance Dilettante

what i want to be when i grow up

Month: March, 2013

The “Daily” Dilettante #8: Defying Shame: A Writing Whore No More

Never again will I go to the Dark Side

Never again will I go to the Dark Side

This is a post I began writing last October, before I went overseas to India and came back only to immediately have to pack up all my crap (yes for a fourth time since late 2009/early 2010) for my move to the Bay Area. It took me some time to get everything (mostly) in order. I am proud, however, to announce that I no longer have to rent a storage unit.

I admit, I haven’t been so great at keeping this blog up and running, but like the common cold, I assure you I’ll always come back again, you just might never know when. I have been feeling the fire in my belly to write, however, and have several unfinished posts I’ve been keeping back, so perhaps/maybe/probably you will see a flurry of new postings.

So, last fall, I was turned onto a fantastic blog (The Nearsighted Owl), written by a beautiful woman named Rachele. Rachele is a body acceptance activist, and she also has really amazing hair. She posted an awesome link up called “Proud of my Size.”

I have not always been proud of my size. I spent my teen years feeling fat and unattractive, when I was, in actuality, thin (117 pounds at age 15), and cute. Because of my lack of self acceptance, I sought validation by having a long series of boyfriends, none of which, of course, could fix me. Most of them got tired of my needing/wanting fixing, and I don’t blame them.

The summer after I graduated high school, I gained 25 pounds (I blame loneliness and Carvel’s “Fudgie the Whale.”) Still cute.

Over the years, my weight has gone up and down. My top (recorded) weight was 194, my average hung around 175. I am 5’4″ and no matter what size I am, I have usually been perceived by those who love me as being cute, sexy, pretty, and whatnot. I have not had trouble finding lovers. I have, however, had trouble finding complete success in self-acceptance. (See my last post for more on that.)

What does this have to do with writing? Well, at the beginning of my adventures into freelancing, I was given a job writing for a blog as an advice columnist, short story writer and expert on relationships. (A job which was rather blithely described as “sexpert.”)  The idea was to write for couples who were stuck in long-distance relationships and wanted to keep romance alive. Now I don’t mind writing about sex, but I did mind that, even though they said that the topics were wide open as long as I didn’t get too explicit, they refused to print any of the articles/stories I wrote dealing with homosexuality. Soon, they switched me away from that job, asking me to write some articles for an “emergency” project. Once again I asked for guidelines, and they gave me none. I was supposed to write a “flirty” profile for a girl, and some blog articles. Turns out, it was for a site where women were asking men to pay for their boob jobs, and promising “before” and “after” pictures, as well as sexy chat, in compensation.

Now I’m the last girl in the world who would ever want or need a boob job. Seriously. I also became suspicious when they would not give me any details on this person I was pretending to be, which made me realize that the whole thing was likely some sort of scam, although they did provide “before” and “after” photos. When it came down to it, I also thought, if it WAS true, it was pretty sad that these women felt that they had to exploit themselves to men in order to make themselves “more appealing” to the same men.  The more they wanted me to do this, the less comfortable I became. I decided quickly that I would no longer be available when they called. I also promised myself I would never do this kind of  craptastic, sexist, exploitative work again.

As I grow older, I am learning to appreciate, if not unequivocally adore, my body. It is healthy, it works well (as long as I take care of it; I do have a wonky back, but have since birth), it’s good in bed (I should know, I sleep with myself nightly), and it looks great in well-fitting clothes. I have recently taken on a promise to love myself. I have always said that a healthy body is beautiful at any size. I also believe most any sized body can be healthy. Because of my specific health problems and risks, I have recently begun to work out and lose weight, but in a slow and healthy way. I will stop when I feel strong and pain-free. That’s all I want: pants size be damned.

I am not a very active activist (a pactivist?) but I often feel the need to speak up on behalf of thin women (of which I am not one.) There seems to be a lot of backlash against skinny girls in the wake of the movement towards fat acceptance. Not from fat activists, who have a lot more awareness than the average person, but from men and women who, no doubt pushed to the edge, spend far too much time on the defensive. A new slew of “skinny girls are not ‘real women'” and other derogatory comments are made and posted every day on social media sites. Models, actresses, and thin women on the streets are automatically assumed to have eating disorders, just as fat women are assumed to be lazy gluttons. A couple of years ago, I was caught out doing this very thing, and I am still ashamed and regretful. The woman I hurt is a real woman, and also a thin woman. I can’t apologize enough.

Twenty years ago, I lost 40 pounds on Weight Watchers. Part of the reason I left (and gained all my weight back plus some) was that they engaged in relentless body shaming. “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” Bullshit. I can think of 25 things off the top of my head that taste just as good if not better. Also, as I lost weight, I was bullied. “Aren’t you thin enough?” a woman snarked at me (it wasn’t the leader or anyone who worked there, of course. They would have been happy to keep me there for another 10 pounds or so.) On top of that, I piled on the self-imposed shame: I was a bad feminist, trying to mold myself into the Barbie ideal. I didn’t deserve to be slender. Also bullshit. I deserve to be whatever way I want to be, to make my own body choices, and to be as fat or as thin as I want. My size has nothing to do with whether I’m a good feminist or not. (I also shave and occasionally wear thong underwear and high heels. Sometimes all at once. Some people would take my feminist card away for that, too.)

Twenty years later, and I’ve joined the ranks of the weight watchers once again. I chose to return for a few reasons. The program is easy, and you can eat whatever you want on it, which means I can choose to eat healthy in any permutation I choose. I like the accountability that comes from the weigh in, and the tools they provide online to keep me aware of what I’m eating. And they have, for the most part, given up the mantra of thin, thin, thin. In fact, they even changed the phrase, which now states, “Nothing tastes as good as being in control feels.” I can get behind that.

Of course, everyone says “healthy” these days, and by healthy they mean thin, but I can ignore that, and replace it in my mind with fit. There are a lot of nice big fit girls out there. Also, I don’t give a flying pig if anyone else wants to be fit or not. I make my choices only for me. 

However, I have another reason for being part of Weight Watchers these days. I’m there to infiltrate. I am a little crazy. A little bit of a rabble rouser. I speak up and say things in meetings. Things about self-appreciation, and self-esteem, and loving yourself where you are. I don’t plan on stopping. I want ALL women to know that their bodies are beautiful and acceptable just the way they are. Even if they want to change them, the change won’t make them any more or less attractive, bring them a soulmate, or cause their lives to magically become perfect. I find it sad when people are in despair, and think that they are hideous and unworthy of appreciation, when they are not.

Sometimes I want to stand on a chair and say: “Listen to me. There is someone out there who will love you and think you are sexy whether you are  a size 0 or size 30, whether you have big boobs or no boobs; whether your stomach is concave, or round as the Venus of Willendorf.  Someone will find you beautiful if you have excess hair on your body or even if you have a beard. This person will find you beautiful if you are tall or short; if you are able bodied or have a disability. If you have flawless skin or acne scars… whatever your flaw is, someone somewhere can see through it to YOU.”

How is this possible? Because ugliness and beauty come from the inside. There are ugly people, and some of them look flawless from the outside, but cruelty, bigotry, selfishness, and/or manipulative behavior makes them hideous.

Last Fall, a picture of a Sikh woman with a beard was going around the interwebs. Personally, I thought that she was quite attractive, regardless. She proved herself beautiful when she responded with kindness to those who bullied her.

The woman, Balpreet Kaur wrote, in part:

…I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.”

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I feel like weeping when I read this. It is a beautiful testament, and something every young person should be taught at an early age.  I believe bullies are mostly made, through emotional abuse, insecurity and/or bad example. People who don’t like me or others based on superficial reasons (such as looks)  should mind their own business.

I know I wasted a lot of time hating my body when I was younger (and ironically, at a very socially “acceptable” size.) I feel sexier and more beautiful now at 43 and in size 12-16 range (women’s clothes vary in crazy ways, and I am a different size on the top than on the bottom) than I did at 15 wearing a size 7-8. I was ashamed that I wore an 8, however, if my weight loss continues, I’m sure I’ll fit into one again. Of course, in the early eighties, when I entered high school, a standard size 12 was made (according to Commercial Standard (CS) 215-58,  retracted in 1983)  to fit a 125 pound woman of my height (5’4″), with a 26″ waist. Even when I weighed 117, I had a 27″ waist (no hourglass figure, here: straight up and down, except for the lady lumps.)

Today I vow that I will never whore myself to public opinion. By that I mean I will not exploit myself, punish myself, or measure my self-worth against negative opinion in order to gain validation or acceptance. This means I will not censor myself because other people might be offended. This means I will not hide my face, body, feelings, creative outpourings, or opinions. I will express myself freely, however I need to. It won’t always be easy. Do I like, want, and (some days) need words of approval and validation? Yes, every person does. However, there are plenty of people who love and appreciate me just as I am, and so do I, and that is all I need.

I work these days to maintain a healthy body by eating nutritiously, walking, and doing yoga. I try not to deny myself any kind of food, albeit in moderation, and I refuse to poison my mind with “shoulds” whether the scale goes up or down. I feed my mind and my creativity by reading, and observing the world, and talking with people, and living. I refuse to write sexist trash or for people whose point of view counters my ethics, just so I can make a buck or two. Today I weigh 155 pounds. I have a 37″ waist. I wear a size 12 (thanks to manufacturer vanity sizing. People pay more to live in denial.) I dream, I take notes, I do small articles, write this blog, and take jobs which feed me in more ways than one. I feel good, and happy, and smart, and beautiful. I hope you do, too.

The “Daily” Dilettante #7: Picture Perfect: Healing my Inner Mary Sue

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This morning, a friend, a sister, wrote on her Facebook about the difficulty of believing in one’s own beauty: something I have struggled with all my life. While I try to find the beauty in everyone and everything (even things/people not conventionally beautiful), I still have a problem fully accepting that I am beautiful. Then another sister posted a photo she took of herself. Nude but not revealing (Facebook, y’all) and without makeup, she looked so strong, so naked, so real: inspiring.

The light was lovely today, the sun through the venetian blinds casting interesting stripes over the bed, so I took some photos of myself (some before showering or putting on makeup, and some after, with mascara and a little lip gloss.) Taking photos of myself is something I have often done over the years, ever since I bought my first digital camera in 2004. In these photos I take of myself, I can finally see my own beauty. From the outside, it may seem vain, but in my experience, it’s not vain as much as it is healing.

Photos expose reality, good or bad. When I see a photo (especially one taken by someone else), I can not longer deny my flaws. No one can.  One may be fat, or short, or wrinkled or a bad dresser. One may have rough skin, or pimples or uneven color; s/he may be “too” white, too brown, too freckled, or not freckled enough (personally, I like my freckles.) One may have cowlicks, or be balding, or have too much unwanted hair, or be going grey. However, when one is in control of taking hir own photo, s/he can also control what is displayed for the viewer’s gaze (even if only hir own.) For me, this is self-validating, and internal validation is more important than the external, because admitting to myself that I AM beautiful is a very difficult thing. Maybe the most difficult thing, along with believing that I am good, and smart, and talented and worthy. (Which I am.)

Intellectually I know that I am attractive, and that other people think so. I’ve received plenty of external validation, and it’s appreciated; however, my inability to internalize this knowledge is something deep and psycho-emotional. Something about my inner child is insecure, wounded, and vulnerable.

I think most people suffer from this in one way or another, this inner-child insecurity and doubt. For some it’s centered around their looks, or their abilities, or their intelligence, and sometimes all those and more. It is certainly the Inner Critic who cuts the child down, who remembers all the times s/he had a bad hair day, or was extra spotty or plumpy (ugly on the outside), or less than ethical or kind (ugly on the inside.) The Critic recalls in painful detail each time the inner child was wounded: not only as a child, but when the grown-up Self got turned down, rejected, or cheated on, or lost an opportunity, or looked at a magazine and forgot that the photos were all airbrushed, or looked in hir wallet and it was empty, or looked at hir life and saw only failure. All of these things batter human beings. It’s a fight to have healthy self-esteem, and much easier to give in to crippling doubt.

I suspect an attempt to comfort this inner child is at the root of the Mary Sue/Marty Stu, the too perfect-character which indicates an author’s attempt to insert hirself into the story as hero/heroine. The child in us wants to be a princess or a superhero. S/he wants to be gorgeous, and perfect, and perfectly loved by a perfect mate; s/he wants to be powerful, outrageously successful in both business and in pleasure. By creating the perfect Self in text, the author is trying to heal the one within who never got that dream.  It doesn’t work, though. Mostly because no one ever got that dream, and intelligent readers get pissed when some character they are supposed to relate to exhibits impossible perfection. How can anyone relate to perfection? We have already tried it all of our lives, and failed.

So, by taking private photos of myself, dressing/undressing, making up/not making up, posing as I wish, editing the results or keeping them as they are, I can make my own Mary Sues privately, in pictorial form. This here is the perfect Sarah. Look, she is flawless, she is ideal, she is beautiful.

I can also take risks that are hard to take under another’s gaze. This is the imperfect Sarah. Look, she is flawed, she is scarred (inside and out), she is beautiful.

I get defensive when people question why I have so many photos of myself. Why do they care? Who is it hurting? Are they calling me egocentric and vain? My inner critic would be happy to agree.

However, most of the photographs I take, no one else will see. That’s okay. They are for my eyes only; they are my compliments to my Self, my F.U. to the Critic, that wicked bitch.

In the end, this is why I have so many pictures of myself. This is my secret: each photo is a mantra worth a thousand words, and each of them has the difficult job of countering a thousand self-inflicted words of doubt.

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Me. No makeup. Cowlicks and all.