You Have Such a Pretty Face…

I was a tween at a friend’s house for dinner. It was my first time there. I was painfully shy and always relied on the good manners that my Mom had instilled in me. We were having dinner around an actual dinner table, which we never did at my house. So I was already feeling awkward.

I can’t remember all of the dinner, except for this one point. The meatloaf was so dry and terrible that I was drinking soda to choke it down. I didn’t want to insult the Mom by not eating it, so I forced it down my throat.

Then the problem of seconds came up.

She leaned over with the pan and her spatula ready, “You want some more, right?”

“No thank you,” I said, flashing a smile, having put my flatware down on the plate like I’d been taught.

“What do you mean you don’t want more? Just take more.” Her voice was sharp and I felt it cut into me. Everyone had stopped talking and was watching this unfold.

“No thank you,” I said again, looking down at my plate, hoping that a sinkhole would just appear underneath me.

“Well look at you, I know you eat way more than that,” she snapped and plunked more food on my plate. “Now eat it.” I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. I was overweight and therefore equivalent to a human garbage disposal. I never went back to that house.

I’ve always been a bigger girl, having a growth spurt before everyone and then I just kept growing (up and out). I’ve grown used to my curves, even learning to love them. I’m more comfortable as a 30- something-year old woman than I ever was as a teen, which is generally the way it is, right?

The trend of being disrespected or assumptions made about me and my eating habits didn’t stop there. I’ve noticed throughout the years that women were more likely to tell me negative things about my body. Always the first ones to pass judgment.

unnamedShould you really be wearing a skirt? Your thighs are so big.

You would be so cute if you would just lose some weight.

If you can find a boyfriend…then I should definitely be able to find one!

It’s so brave of you to go to the beach in that. I’d never be able to if I…you know…look like…you…

I even had someone leave a comment on a Facebook pic from my birthday. I was wearing my new favorite dress, I was with my favorite man, and we were going out for dinner. My b-day cleavage was out and about like they were dessert. My grin was shining. The comment was, “You know there’s a time and place for everything…” apparently pointing out my breasts. I don’t think she would’ve left that prudish comment on a slimmer girl’s photo. It would’ve been more on the lines of, “You go girl!” What bothered me the most, was that put a pall to my evening. I felt like the 12 year old being forced to eat more food. And it made me a little sad…and pissed me off.  Then I shook myself and reminded myself that I like this tig ole bitties and not to let someone else’s words ruin my night.

The worse is of all of these is the “You have such a pretty face,” which is usually accompanied by a sad smile and even a sympathetic cluck of the tongue.

I also have a huge ass. When I sit down, you can almost rest a beer can on it. It is unapologetic as it shimmies and shakes behind me, threatening to brush up against everything that stands in our way. My thighs complete my hour glass and unapologetically display the curves of the divine. My hair is a thick and lustrous thing of gravity defying beauty. The bigger the hair, the closer to God. So we must be next door neighbors. My lips have made grown men cry and whisper pleas for ecstasy that I can bring. My stomach is soft and round, reminding me of Gaia. The world lives there. My hands can soothe, stimulate and gives me access to my life’s love: the written word.

And it’s ok the some people will never see that beauty. To them, I’m a slobbering mound of gelatin-like flesh, little more than Jabba the Hut and a reminder for them to not eat carbs. Fine.

Just shut up about it.

I’m tired of women trying to tear me down, and make me feel bad about myself. Do not try to candy-coat your disdain for my perceived bad life choices with some ill-conceived effort to help me to “snap out of it” and lose weight tomorrow.

My fat is here. It’s a part of me. I’m not just someone who is “unfortunate” to be saddled with a pretty face and has nothing else going for me. I’m a woman who doesn’t have to change to suit anyone else’s expectation. This isn’t a post about nutrition. This is a post about loving myself where I am today. If I lose weight in the future, then I hope to still love myself then. This is about acceptance, and self-love.

I’ve never understood this tendency for women to tear each other down. We should stay by each other, pillars lending strength to keep moving forward. Every time I’ve befriended big-bootied women in the past, I’ve tried my damnest to get them to love that big ass. To find clothes that fit and make them feel beautiful.

Why spend time hating; yourself, a body part, your voice, your hair (and the list goes one.)? Accept it. Find peace with it and then find the beauty in it. In yourself.  Your body is amazing. You are a thing of wonderful. Own that inner power and run with it. Be body positive. It feels good to be free.

*****

unnamed (1)Tamara Woods was raised (fairly happily) in West Virginia, where she began writing poetry at the age of 12. Her first poetry collection is available at Sakura Publishing and Amazon. She has previous experience as a newspaper journalist, an event organizer, volunteer with AmeriCorps and VISTA, in addition to work with people with disabilities. She has used her writing background to capture emotions and moments in time for anthologies such as Empirical Magazine, her blog PenPaperPad, as a contributing writer for the online ‘zine Lefty Pop, and writing articles as a full-time freelance writer. She is a hillbilly hermit in Honolulu living with her Mathmagician.

You can also find Tamara here:

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Bathing Suits and Birthing Hips

I have not worn a bathing suit in public since I was 13 years old. That next summer, I grew five inches in only 4 months and went from a size 0 to a size 6. I immediately realized there was something wrong with my body, something that was easily seen by holding up a mirror and looking backwards—it was right below my waist and just above my ass and it sprung out on either side like the golden arches of McDonalds.

I decided my body was misshapen and started wearing baggy clothes. No one had ever explained that becoming a woman often involved developing hips the width of Texas. The entire concept made me feel like a foreigner grasping to understand a new word. The topic of womanhood was never discussed in the den of masculinity where I was raised.

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Eventually someone explained that I’d been blessed with “birthing hips.”  I could only assume this was a good thing, considering I’d been told that the sole pride of a woman was in having babies.  My Mom used to write letters of protest to churches with daycare programs because they were enabling women to work outside the home.  It was always understood that I’d eventually grow up, get married, and have my own babies to stay at home with.  I have to admit, I never really thought about pursuing a professional career or traveling because that’s what selfish women did and we felt sorry for them.  We definitely felt sorry for their children.

It took me quite a few years to realize that being a woman is not defined by any one single act or right of passage.  I’m 28 years old, I’ve never been pregnant, and I can assure you I am most definitely a woman.  If someone wants to ask me how many babies I have then I’ll list off all 17 countries I’ve traveled to.   I don’t feel that I need a man to put a baby inside of me before I can claim the honor of being a woman.  My family, on the other hand, may disagree.  My sister-in-law periodically sends me articles about how likely it is that my children will be born with Downs Syndrome.  On my 25th birthday she sent me a statistic on just how many of my eggs were dead and floating about my ovaries like the burned bits of quinoa in the bottom of a pan.

It’s not that I don’t like kids, because I do.  I actually happen to be the Best Aunt Ever.

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I’m hoping to eventually make my own babies—just not yet.  I have an agreement with The Boyfran that for every year past 32 that I don’t get pregnant, I get a new pet.  I’m currently in the market for a kitten, a baby goat, and a turtle so I figure I have plenty of time.  When I do have children, especially if I have a daughter, I won’t be passing on this limited definition of femininity and womanhood.  Being a woman is amazing—whether you’re pregnant (let’s talk about your lesbian sex dreams) or have kids (let’s talk about their cuteness) or are still trying (let’s talk about how hard that is) or have chosen not to (let’s talk about how great it is to do whatever the hell we want).  There is no single thing that ranks any of us above the others or plots us in some chart of achievement.

Watching my nieces in all their feist and cleverness makes me think we’re born with an awareness of our capacity but that its often stripped by someone who gains from our limitation.  I wouldn’t trade anything for this journey, but if I could go back and tell 13 year old Aussa what it really means to be a woman, I’d borrow a few of the same words that I plan on telling my nieces and maybe, someday, my own daughters:

 

 

*****

10259992_1461639377402038_8238494803804831722_nHi I’m Aussa. I don’t make good choices but I do have good stories.I work at a psychiatric hospital– but the patients aren’t the crazy ones.I don’t ascribe to the “Eat. Pray. Love.” mentality that flitting about the world collecting passport stamps will grant you some sort of spiritual enlightenment. I ran away from my life because I’d lost control of it and had to forcibly relocate myself to a place where no one spoke my language or knew I existed.My attorney first called me a “Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy.” in the midst of a court battle against my abusive asshat of an ex.

Hacker Ninja Hooker Spy

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How to Talk to Little Girls

Back in 2011, Lisa Bloom wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” I haven’t met a female child since without flashing back to her opening words:

“I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”

girlsBut I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it?”

Bloom goes on to recount how she asked Maya whether she had a favorite book, and the two bonded over words and stories until Maya was so excited she could barely get to sleep. I’m 100% sure that made for a better icebreaker than, “Maya, you’re so cute!” but the comments on this article were all over the place.

There was a dad screaming in all caps that, “It’s a NATURAL response, and it will be a COLD DAY IN HELL when I don’t tell my little girls how beautiful they are!!” There were others praising the idea: “I have three daughters, and we talk around the dinner table. About rain forests, slang words, cultural diversity, and the like. They have become intelligent, socially competent, and intellectually curious young women, and I am proud to be their mom!”

You can guess where I land in all this. Wait! This is a guest post and many of you don’t know me, so let me clarify.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling a child they’re beautiful. When you’re a small human, though, you have very little say in your appearance. Genetics chose your features and your parents choose your clothes. So, if you put yourself in the shoes of a little girl, wouldn’t you be more excited to hear something that hadn’t been said to you a hundred times before, something that actually means an adult wants to know what you think instead of merely commenting on you?

I would.

So now when I hang out with my own nieces, I ask them what music they’re into these days, what their new favorite foods are, and whether their big brother did anything funny lately. I do tell little Katy that her sparkly gold boots are AWESOME (because they are!) and I whisper to tiny Evie that she smells AMAZING (because she does!), but I don’t linger there too long. There’s only so much to say about physical beauty, after all, but there are endless things to say about IDEAS and ACTIONS and LOVE.

With this, you’ve reached the end of my thoughts on how to talk to little girls… but we’re still not quite finished with the larger topic.

The thing is, we also need to consider how we talk about “big girls.”

One of my closest man-friends has a habit that drives me crazy: he always refers to “guys and girls.” Say he’s referencing an adorable toddler at the pool: “That girl’s having so much fun!” A college-aged waitress at a restaurant? “That girl is the best server in this joint.” A Supreme Court judge explaining a ruling on TV? “That girl knows what’s up.”

Do you hear what I hear? They’re all treated the same, and that feels off to me.

It is true that he calls all men “guys” as well, but let’s be honest: “good guy” has a whole different connotation than “good girl,” and does Ruth Bader Ginsburg strike anyone here as any kind of a “girl?”

Some of you will think this is overly PC, so let me semi-reassure you: I’ve never been big on titles for the sake of propriety. I’m not a ma’am, thankyouverymuch, and the professors I work with aren’t doctors – at least, not when I address them. But I really feel the lack of a casual word for female folks. Everything I can think of is problematic:

  • Guys and gals
  • Gentlemen and ladies
  • Dudes and chicks
  • Men and women

All these options feel either too formal or somewhat patronizing. And, while I learned to skate by using the all-encompassing “y’all” during my stint in customer service in the South (where “you guys” is considered the death of manners), I would be an *ahem* happy woman  if  someone would come up with a suitable alternative and make it catch on.

Until then, I’ll stick with my best possible options: Girl, young woman, and woman (based on age), because I’d rather sound a little stiff than refer to a mother of three daughters as a “girl.”

“That woman is an excellent mother,” I’ll say, and my friend will respond as he always does: “Yeah, that girl loves her little girls.”

So… how do you address little girls? What about older people of the female persuasion? And – most importantly – what do you think Justice Ginsburg would have to say about all this?!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg

*****

unnamedJennie authors the blog Tip of My Tongue. By day, she works as the coordinator for a university writing program. She loves playing with ideas and has been known to follow her passions down some very colorful roads.

Moms: Stop Judging & Start Supporting

mommyI suspect we have all felt discriminated against at one point in our lives. Someone judged you for whatever reason because something made them feel superior.

I have been judged too many times to count, but never as much or as often as when I became a mother.

From the moment I became unexpectedly pregnant at 35, the criticism began and it has never stopped.

I am a mom at “Advanced Maternal Age”, an actual diagnosis now that goes on your medical paperwork.

I am a mom who was already overweight prior to becoming pregnant after suffering through a period of depression.

I am a mom who chose to return to work after maternity leave.

I am a mom who chose not to circumcise her son.

I am a mom who chose to vaccinate her son.

Perhaps the biggest issue of them all, I am a mom who chose to bottle feed.

I have my reasons for all of these choices, none being made lightly, and all having led to conversations and arguments that we now refer to as “The Mommy Wars”. And the fact that this is even a phrase, hurts my soul. Why oh why must everything be a competition amongst women? Why must we judge one another? What purpose does it serve?

For instance, here is a screen shot from an actual “friend” of mine on Facebook. She didn’t know my age prior to this and assumed I was younger although she never acknowledged my response. This is only a snippet of the ignorance and judgement I saw that day:

unnamed (2)

I thought long and hard about my response before I commented. As much as I wanted to post an emotional response, rationally I knew that wouldn’t change things. The only way we can try and stop these mommy wars, is to educate and support each other; to stop the emotional reactions; to stop breeding judgment and spreading hate. We need to be objective and rational so we can have these important discussions. We need to realize that because you went with choice a and I with choice b, neither makes one of us a better mother than the other.

This is not a competition.

So, this was my response:

unnamed (1)

I could’ve done better, but it’s a start and it’s how I always respond to these kinds of things. I remind them that it’s just another line drawn in the proverbial sand separating one mother from another, telling one she is better and criticizing the other.

And yet, why does no one see the irony in all of this?

We ALL have one HUGE thing in common: we love our children. We want the best for them and our natural instincts are to protect our children. It’s a natural emotional response to become defensive if you hear choice a is better than choice b, especially if you opted for choice b. Immediately the thoughts race through your mind about how you could’ve hurt your child or not given them the best option or not provided the best opportunity or even stolen from them in some way.

I know because I have thought those thoughts and felt those feelings.

But, they aren’t rational. It’s emotion and it’s misleading us, steering us away from the potential we have to come together as a united force to be reckoned with.

We should be having these discussions about breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding, circumcision, vaccinations and so on.

We should want to learn the pros and cons of all the options available to our children.

But….

We should respect everyone’s right to make the best choice for their child and for themselves.

We should love ourselves and each other more and without judgment.

We should understand that no two situations are the same. We are all unique individuals and that includes our children. What works for you may not work for someone else.

We should consider that everyone has walked a different path and until you have walked in their shoes, you can’t fully understand their journey.

We should fight together for better research and education.

And most all….

We should support each other, hold each other’s hand and help one another through this adventure of motherhood. While it’s beautiful, it’s still not an easy road. Why make it harder?

*****

unnamedDeanna Herrmann is a freelance writer blogging her way through motherhood and unemployment. She is also Managing Editor of the online literary community, Tipsy Lit. Join her on Facebook or Twitter for some free therapy sessions and help her justify those degrees she’s still paying for and not using.

 

The Dog Bite

*Trigger Warning: Domestic abuse and miscarriage

I was twenty, in college, working two jobs, and living at home.

He was eighteen, rebellious, on probation, and my mother hated him. In other words, irresistible.

We dated in secret. When my mom found out, she kicked me out of the house in an act of tough love. Unfortunately, this only increased our resolve.

I moved in with him and lost myself in the process.

I quit my jobs, school, my family, friends….everything, but him.

He was uncaring. Manipulative. Controlling. And despite intense jealousy, he cheated constantly.

But I loved him, and protected him with tsunami intensity.

tsunamiI had zero backbone and even less confidence. Raging insecurity took over any shred of logic, feeding the belief that I didn’t deserve to be treated better.

Not long after our two year anniversary, we moved into a tiny garage apartment in seedy East Dallas. The owner had a dog who was always tied to a long chain in the backyard.

One morning, I walked through the backyard towards my car when the dog  – not realizing who I was – attacked me. I can still feel his teeth driving deep into my leg.

Later that day, it was clear I’d have to see a doctor. The bite ached and throbbed.

I didn’t have insurance, so I went to a tiny doc-in-the-box. Before administering a tetanus shot, the nurse, as a precaution, asked if it was possible I could be pregnant.

I remember laughing and telling her no way.

I hadn’t had a period in months, and my stomach was beginning to protrude from my far-too-skinny frame.

Denial. Maybe if I didn’t think about it….it would just go away. We couldn’t take care of ourselves, much less a baby.

A week after the tetanus shot, I noticed spotting and assumed it was my long-lost period. Relief is the understatement of the year.

Four days after that, I doubled over in the worst pain I’d ever felt. I popped pills for days to sleep through waves of cramps. I bled tremendously.

I knew what was happening.

After days of bleeding and intense pain, I finally had him take me to the emergency room.

He was annoyed with the inconvenience.

I’d lost so much blood I couldn’t even get out of the car. They had to come get me with a wheelchair.

They confirmed I was miscarrying. He was furious with me for losing the baby. The baby he had known about for all of five minutes.

He left while I had a DNC.

I woke up in a hospital room.  Alone.

Hours later, I was released. He wasn’t answering my calls, so a friend gave me a ride home.

He wouldn’t get my pain medicine from the pharmacy.

So I laid there for days with nothing. He didn’t make me food, or help me to the bathroom.

That was the Last Straw. Something inside me began to boil with rage, and I knew I had to get away from him. I finally believed I deserved better.

It took time, planning, two attempts and an actual covert operation, but I finally left him for good, ten weeks after the dog bite.

The dog bite that led to a miscarriage. The miscarriage that led to rock bottom. The rock bottom that led to ENOUGH.

Ironically, the loss of one life was the birth of another.

It’s been over twenty years since then. I can hardly believe I was ever that girl, which is why I tell this story.

I have a lovely eight year old niece now, and if there’s one thing I want to teach her, it’s to never underestimate your value.

Believe you matter, and protect that belief with tsunami intensity.

 *****

CaptureBeth is a day dreaming introvert who managed to acquire an amazing husband and co-create two lunatic boys. She’s a writer, artist, and recovering crazy cat lady who probably doesn’t day drink at all. Writer B is Me is where she unleashes all the shiz in her brain. Consider yourself warned.

Blog: www.bethteliho.wordpress.com

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My Ponytail Prisoner

pony

I am a mom, with a ten year old daughter, who is struggling to raise a strong individual who will also be a compassionate friend.  Girls can be downright vicious to their own gender.  I think it is important for women to stand together but more often than not we end up bullying each other into adulthood.

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If you have seen Orange Is the New Black, then you have a clear picture of what it looks like to be a girl in the elementary school system.  “Mean Girl” mentality is an old epidemic that has evolved into survival of the fittest for our young women today.  The advent of social media has made the spread of this disease even more potent and hostile.  It isn’t only a war the kids are engaging in but the parents are wearing full metal jackets and armed with Facebook.

It sounds like I don’t like the public school system which isn’t entirely true.  My daughter loves going to school.  She loves to learn and she loves her friends for the most part.  I can’t shake the feeling, however, that my daughter is a ponytail prisoner learning how to survive her stay in the elementary, and if she is serving an 8 year sentence there are a few things I hope she learns on the inside.

Girls learn a lot from their parents so I try very hard to be a good example but often times I am the example of what not to do.  If we want our kids to be strong, independent, outspoken, fearless, and beautifully kind then they must first learn they are perfectly imperfect just like us.  Here are a few things I think we can do as parents to teach our daughters to be great friends.

Pay attention to your daughter.  Don’t just direct them to do certain things or tell them what they need to do.  Helping them learn to make their own choices will teach them to be responsible adults.  Listening to what they think about and engaging them in a thoughtful discussion is always better than just telling them to do something.  She is more likely to come to you with her problems at school if she knows you are on her side and have an active interest in her life.

pony3

Benefits of being un-jealous.  Jealousy is a very normal emotion but jealous behaviors can cause all kinds of damage.  Being happy for a friend’s success and letting envy fuel your own desires to be better is an invaluable lesson to learn.  Sending flowers or a congratulations card to a friend who just accomplished something wonderful is a great way to show your daughter how to support others.

Consequences have nothing to do with how much they are loved.  For every decision there is a consequence.  My daughter knows her choices will have positive and negative consequences and that if she gets grounded it has nothing to do with how much I love her but everything to do with the choice she made.  I try to teach her to empathize with others and that she can cause real pain to someone else if she isn’t careful with her choices.

pony4

Keep your enemies close but your friends closer.  Take the time to get to know the children in your daughter’s life.  Ask them what they like and don’t like about their friends.  If your daughter has a close friend then it’s time to get to know the parents.

My daughter has one friend who likes to tell on people.  Since we know this we can encourage her not to confide in this friend.  Another friend is very aggressive and displays mean girl behavior.  We don’t limit her exposure but we do help her know what is appropriate and what is not and what she should and shouldn’t allow in their friendship.

pony5

Play what if games.  I have done this with my daughter since she was old enough to talk.  It started out with “what if a stranger” and has evolved into peer pressure type questions.  What if a friend says, “Hey I just learned to smoke this weekend and it isn’t so bad, we will try it when you come over tonight!”  Letting your daughter come up with clever answers and maybe helping her with answers will help her have a real voice if she is ever asked for real.

Respect them so they know what respect looks like.  We want our daughters to be respectful and the best way to teach them is to be respectful to them.  Teaching them to see things from another person’s point of view can help foster a respect towards someone with a different personality.  With respect comes kindness.  Teach them how to be un-jealous by being a good role model.

In an effort to raise our daughters in a “mean girl” society we have to instill a confidence in them using the tools above.  It isn’t easy to spot a bully among girls because they don’t normally push and shove.  They use words and rumors.

Hopefully your daughter can avoid, circumvent, or even disarm a “clique” whose main strategy in elementary school is to banish, spread rumors, belittle, and emotionally and/or physically bully their friends in order to control their social standing.

How to spot a “mean girl”

pony6

  • They are jealous and want what others have and they display jealous behaviors to ruin the person they are envious of.
  • They care too much about what others think.  They make friends based on how it will look to others.
  • They love to gossip and are always involved in girl drama.
  • They will do anything to control their friends.  This one makes me think of “Pretty Little Liars”.
  • They belong to an exclusive group of friends who do almost everything together called a clique.
  • Super focused on looks and fashion.  They will often use looks and fashion to demean others.

 

In short make visiting hours with your child a priority.  Equip them with the commissary they will need.  Have their back on the outside ready and willing to break into the prison if they need you to back them up.  How they make friends in elementary school will dictate how successful their friendships will be well into adulthood.

*****

unnamedHastywords is the author of two self published mixed media works.  She didn’t start out dreaming of publishing but rather to fight depression by listening to the voices in her head and letting them have their say. She writes with a hope that her emotional journey will make another person’s journey less lonely and she will find new pieces of herself along the way! She feels the most rewarding part of writing is being on a shared journey.

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The Skinny Girl Rant

It was your typical last day of school. I walked hand in hand with my three year old daughter, enjoying the breeze of a warm sunny day lightly tease her golden curls. I let go of her hand and watched her run to her best preschool friend as I joined the girl’s mother for the rest of the walk to our cars. We exchanged the normal small talk and answered questions about plans for the summer. Then she said, “We should get the girls together sometime over the break.” I suggested swimming because it’s summer in Texas, and it’s hot.

She stopped in the middle of the parking lot, looked down her nose and scowled at me as she said, “Well I’m not going swimming with you. Maybe if you had more of a mommy body,” and then walked to her car like she didn’t just insult me. In front of my daughter.

I said nothing, waved her farewell, and buckled my daughter into her little safety seat. Then I sat in my car, hands firmly gripping my steering wheel, shaking my head wondering what gave that other mother the right to talk to me that way, to make me feel bad about my body, to look at me with disgust.

Why is this acceptable?  Why did I not say something to defend myself? Why did I let her talk to me that way? Not only did she shame me in front of my daughter, she did it in front of her daughter, too. She pointed out our differences as if appearance is all that matters. What does this say to our girls?

I’m angry.

I’m disappointed.

I’m hurt.

And I’m sick of it.

differentTruth: people have been saying things like this to me my entire life. Some things were worse. As a teenager, I was mocked for being thin, for not having boobs, for not having curves. Kids teased me relentlessly calling me “twiggy” or “lil’ bit” or my favorite “mosquito bites.” Girls constantly said, “Why don’t you eat a hamburger…or two?” And when they felt kinder, they said things like “You’re so skinny,” which was not a compliment.

Today I often hear, “You’re just so lucky because you’re naturally thin.” “It must be nice to get to eat what you want and not gain weight.”  “You must have good genes.”

What if I turned the table on the other mother at the school? What if I said, “Nah, I don’t want to go swimming with you because you haven’t lost all of your baby weight?” What if I said, “Maybe you should eat fewer hamburgers?”

That would be called fat shaming. We’ve read the articles. We’ve nodded along, appalled at the audacity of people to hurt other people for their weight. We argue that it needs to stop. Yet, when we flip the coin, and the skinny girl sits in the hot seat, it is suddenly okay that she gets berated for her body type.  It’s okay for that mom to tell me that my body isn’t good enough to be in a swimsuit in front of her. It’s okay for someone to tell me that my figure is disgusting. It’s okay for someone to say to me, “Eat more.”

And that is the definition of a double standard.

I have a confession to make. I absolutely hate to wear a swimsuit in front of another woman, and it’s not because I don’t like my body. I hate the judgment. I loathe the looks, the whispers, the mean girls who so clearly are talking about me, so this summer, I even bought a special swimsuit to wear around the other mommies.  And then I took it back. Because I refuse to cover up my body for the sake of someone else. I refuse to allow another mom to make me feel bad about being fit. I refuse to succumb to the mean girls.

Let me clarify something. I work really hard to maintain my weight. I spend hours in the gym. I go to bed sore every night. Every.Single.Night. I don’t keep junk food in my house because I have no will power. I don’t eat fast food (often). I drink about 130 ounces of water a day. I don’t eat after 8:00 pm (except for date nights). I make healthy choices most of the time. I work really hard to maintain my weight, and it doesn’t come naturally.

As a teenager, yes. I was naturally thin…to a fault. Try being sixteen and the only girl without boobs in the locker room. Try being the girl whose ribs stick out no matter how many “hamburgers” she eats. Try being the girl who’s different and can’t do anything about it. Try being the only girl who doesn’t get noticed by the boys because she looks more like them than the girls. While my closest friends were buying sized C bras, I was crying in my bedroom. While they were getting felt up for the first time, I was playing basketball with my brothers.

As I got older, I finally began to gain some weight. When I had a car accident, I was forced to be in a wheelchair, and I gained the much needed freshmen 15.  I missed my legs. I missed aerobics, and as soon as I gained the ability to walk again, I went straight back to the place where I always found solace. The gym.

In my twenties, my metabolism slowed down, I experienced the heartache of infertility, and I gained thirty pounds. I was unhappy. I didn’t feel good about myself. I didn’t like who I saw in my reflection, so I made the decision to lose the weight, to pull out of the darkness, and to carry on with or without a child. I lost the weight. It was a struggle, and I worked really hard to do it.

Several months later, I saw the two lines on the stick for the first time. I gained thirty five pounds, and when I delivered that beautiful baby boy, I only lost 7 lbs. 9 oz.  The other twenty seven pounds didn’t come off over night. I worked my ass off to lose that weight.  And then as soon as I was back in my skinny jeans, I got pregnant again and had to start the process from the beginning.  Why? Because it’s important to me that I like what I see when I look in the mirror. I do it for no other reason. Three years later, I’m in my skinny jeans again, and I’m proud of my body.

I still have insecurities. I still see the places on my body that are forever changed by the precious beings that it carried, but my love for myself is what drives me.  How dare someone say I don’t have a “mommy body?” This body carried two babies, delivered two babies, and nursed two babies from my breasts.  Does it look different than other moms’ bodies? Yes. Is it better than their bodies? No.

Different isn’t better or worse. It’s just different.

It doesn’t matter whether or not I have good genes, or if I’m “naturally thin.” It doesn’t matter if she isn’t thin. None of this matters. It’s not a competition.

We are women.

It’s time we take a united stand and stop shaming each other.

We must break this cycle of meanness. We need to find the good in each other, to point out the beauty that we see, whether it’s external or internal beauty. We need to teach our daughters to do the same, to build someone up rather than tear her down, to make her feel good about herself rather than break her spirit. To remember the Golden Rule. To be proud of her reflection whether or not she sees curves or flab, cellulite or bones, muscle tone or baby weight.

It is our jobs as mothers, aunts, sisters, friends, women, to teach our daughters. We are the ones who are responsible for breaking this mean-girl cycle. We must let our younger generation hear us find value in other women. Stop gossiping. Stop pointing out each other’s flaws. Stop allowing your insecurities to fester into bitterness. Don’t let these girls hear you say, “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not pretty enough.” “I don’t fit in.” Be proud of yourself. Praise yourself. Applaud yourself out loud in front of these girls.

Allow them to join a world where they can find safety and solidarity in the presence of other women rather than shrink or retreat away from them. Pave the road to better self-esteem. Show them they are valuable, no matter what they look like on the outside, by finding value in yourself first.

My name is Mandi. I’m 36.  I’m 5’3”. I weigh 120 pounds, and I’m not ashamed of it.

*****

unnamedMandi is a happy-go-lucky  Texas girl. She loves tell stories, laugh, and have dance parties in her kitchen. She tries to keep life simple and to live on the bright side. To learn more, visit her at: Cellulite Looks Better Tan and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

I Have a Voice

The world was poised to paralyze me almost the very second I was born. It was the last year of the ‘80s on a night with -90 degree windchill. And then I appeared. Proof that the world can be chilled and aching to freeze my bones, but I’ll still be here.

I grew up in a family that consistently went to church. The first church I remember is at 4 years old, when we moved to Montana and began to attend a house church. The house church felt cult-ish. Many of the women wore handkerchiefs to cover their hair. I can’t point to anything distinct about their beliefs, but I remember the feeling of being condescended to.

My parents eventually left the house church and became involved in different charismatic churches, mixing this up with some Word of Faith beliefs. For those of you unfamiliar – charismatic churches are the ones where you raise your hands when you worship, and if things get a little crazy you might “fall down” under the spirit of God. Word of Faith is a set of people who preach that if you ask God for something and you believe to receive it, it’s yours.

There was a lot of fear and legalism. If you didn’t believe hard enough, you weren’t going to get it. And “spiritual authority” was a big deal. Men were the authority. Leaders were the authority. The line to God went “children-women-men-leaders-God”. You didn’t cross anyone above you, ever. And if you did, you would die. After all, the Bible said, “honor thy father and thy mother, that you may live long in the land the Lord thy God has given thee.”

It was around this time that my dad picked up the habit of reciting that verse to us when we disobeyed. He picked up the habit of yelling that he was the head of our house and deserved respect. He picked up the habit of using these phrases abusively to keep us in line with his delusion that God was going to magically grant us 1.7 billion dollars.

My family was so cowed by my dad that I remember all of us hushing when he walked into the room. He created this atmosphere in our house.

backAt church, it was reinforced that I needed to obey my dad, and God, or ELSE. I was afraid of my dad. I was afraid of God. If I didn’t do just what God wanted, I’d lose out. I’d die.

Then came my teen years, and a lovely thing that we now call purity culture. Even at the time, I remember being frustrated that people were talking about sex so much. Couldn’t we talk about something else? But hearing that over and over spread it through my bones like marrow, and it got stuck inside. It didn’t help that my family held a purity ring ceremony for me and my twin at age 13. I wore a ring from Tiffany, set with a blood red ruby. In part of the ring ceremony, there was the signing of a contract promising ourselves to our dad’s spiritual authority. If we stepped out from under his “covering,” it was disrespectful… and we would surely die. This was my subconscious belief.

My dad became a huge proponent of Joshua Harris and we all read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, the follow up. This further impressed in my mind that keeping my distance from men was much safer. My dad expressed the idea that we would all have courtships – me and my 3 sisters. The young man would come to him as the spiritual authority over us and ask my dad if he could possibly date one of us.
I didn’t realize what the insidious affect of this was until recently. This view made it clear that men were only interested in sex or subjugation. You had to be on your guard around them all the time. If you didn’t have a pure heart, even if you were just holding hands, it was suspect. Furthermore, if I crossed the line and didn’t guard my motives, I didn’t only disappoint God, I disappointed my dad. I’m not sure who was more terrifying.

Guard your heart was the moratorium. Search yourself for any wrong motive. And let me tell you, I was really great at following moratoriums. I was used to following rules out of fear by now. I was amazing at scrutinizing myself to keep myself safe. It was perfectionism run rampant. I think these beliefs, compounded by my dad’s behavior, came together to give me a huge fear of men. They were bigger and stronger and “authority.” If I crossed them, I would die.

Underneath this fear of men was a huge fear of myself. I had been told that men, and leaders, obviously were closer to God then I was. This means they obviously knew more than me. I learned early to keep my mouth shut and become extremely adept at following the rules.

To this day, I am looking over my shoulder ready to run when (not if) a man hurts me. I am hyper alert for betrayal. Hyper alert for men who only want sex. Quickly putting men in boxes so that I feel safe, instead of seeing them as people. Extraordinarily quick at just trying to follow the “rules” to good relationships. Objectifying physically AND emotionally, to maintain distance.

If I don’t, I will die. Nowadays, if it’s not God striking me down, it’s people I’ve highly respected, or people I put in parent positions. For that matter, it’s the culture that continues to insist that women are less capable than men of having a strong voice. Everything around me, everything, screams that I must follow the rules or I will die.

I am just now coming to the point where I am learning to follow my own internal voice, not the voices of others and especially not the voice of fear. A song I recently heard encapsulates this idea really well:

“I was born to love, I’m gonna learn to love without fear.” – Born, by Over the Rhine

I was born this way, but along the way I lost myself. I was caught in a tangled web of how things for women were supposed to be. I bought into the lie that others were smarter than me and the only way to stay alive was to follow the rules of the oppressive culture. But I’m waking up now. I refuse to allow oppression to silence me.

Perhaps the story of Esther, in the Bible, was always so appealing to me as a child because I realized that she did not let the rules keep her locked in silence. Though my view on spirituality has changed, she still represents to me what spirituality should be about – taking risks for the good of the community, and having a voice when others try to silence you.

And as she said, “If I perish, I perish.”

I will speak on.

*****

unnamedLaurie Works writes over at her blog, Resilient Audacity. At 25 years old, she’s courageously forging a life lived by her own rules. She writes about growing up with a mentally ill father, witnessing her sisters’ deaths in a mass shooting, her marriage and divorce, and how she continues to thrive in spite of what she has experienced. She invites you to accompany her on her journey!
Twitter: @laurieworks (twitter.com/laurieworks)

A Tale of Two Tracies

In elementary school, the principal is merely a figurehead.

The school is really run by a tightly knit group of women – a gung-ho group of stay-at-home Power Moms.

They establish themselves in the very first year – The Kindergarten Mom Mafia.

 

bulliesThe KMM (Kindergarten Mom Mafia) hated me.

I’m used to not fitting in.

But when you have a kid – and the other moms ostracize you – your child suffers.

And it’s BRUTAL.

 

Kindergarten is an enormous milestone.

People were actually going to take my kid for a whole day, and I didn’t have to pay anybody?

There must be a catch.

There was.

 

The school encourages the kindergarten moms to volunteer.

I use the word “encourage” lightly.

Every day there were 10 more emails asking for help with the buses, at lunch, in the art room, with the pretzel sale, at the book fair, in the school store…

Volunteering for kindergarten is a full time job. And I already had a job.

But my schedule was flexible, and my kid really wanted me there.

Plus, I was hoping to meet other mothers.

About half of the moms in the class signed up to run all the activities for the kindergarten year.

Of this group, I was the only one who worked outside the home.

 

 

I know I’m a little different from the average suburban kindergarten mom.

I dress differently.

I didn’t show up looking like some Goth Punk Princess.

Maybe I was in destroyed skinny jeans, a Pink Floyd tee-shirt, some black booties.

I’m sorry. I don’t own frocks and cardigans.

Maybe I had a little ink here or there. A tat on my foot. It’s not like I had “fuck the police” emblazoned across my neck.

Maybe I’ve led a pretty different life than most of the women in suburbia, but what of it?

I don’t smoke crack and run a phone sex business out of my kitchen.

My house is always immaculate, I’ve got good grammar, and I bake a mean cupcake. I figured I was qualified for admission to any kindergarten clique.

 

I joined the volunteer squad, even though hanging out in the lunchroom with 50 raucous kindergarteners hopped up on fruit punch and Ring Dings was about as fun as having a root canal – without the Percocet party.

And I dialed down my personality a bit.

Shut up.

did.

 

It didn’t work.

I don’t know why. I’m adorable.

And it’s not like I did anything off-putting, like referring to my son as “that douche bag.”

At least, not right at the beginning.

 

But I was emphatically denied admission to the KMM.

And just like that, my adolescent insecurities reawakened like a dormant virus.

 

In the “hierarchy of the clique,” the core members are the leaders.

The two leaders of the KMM had zero interest in me.

They were both named Tracy. Convenient, right?

I’ll just refer to both of them as “Tracy.”

The same way when I was growing up, the neighborhood referred to my entire family as “The Jew.”

 

Tracy wasn’t openly hostile to me. It was more passive aggressive.

First, she ignored my Facebook friend request, but it was early in the year so I assumed it was just an oversight.

But then I noticed she avoided any eye contact with me.

Or conversation.

This is no small feat when you’re working at a school event.

It takes talent to ignore someone sitting across from you at a kindergarten table the size of a shoebox.

 

At birthday parties she made sure I was excluded from the momversations.

She would actually turn and position her body while speaking to someone so that I was physically barricaded from the conversation.

But I caught snatches of their latest lunch escapade, or their Friday night Applebee’s adventure. I was like a kid standing outside a bakery, with my face pressed up against the glass.

Able to see, but not partake.

 

It was ironic. When I lived in Manhattan, the only feelings I had towards the Bridge and Tunnel crowd were annoyance and disdain.

If my friends and I went to a club, and there were too many badly-dressed Jersey-ites, we left.

And now I was hyperventilating because a gaggle of New Jersey housewives were going out to lunch without inviting me.

 

Because it wasn’t just about me.

All the play dates hinged around the moms who bonded.

And my own unrelenting outsider status had a trickle down effect on my son’s social situation.

If you’re a part of the “in” crowd, you get asked for play dates.

If not, you can chase a piece of string around in your backyard, alone, until you rot.

 

In this respect, I completely failed my son.

 

He was left out of everything.

 

In school, Tracy was EVERYWHERE.

Even events that she wasn’t scheduled to help at, she showed up for.

She suffered from what I refer to as CVS: “chronic volunteer syndrome.”

It’s a disease that afflicts some women who, because they don’t work or have interests outside the home, measure their lives and sense of self worth in their children and what goes on at their children’s school

 

I work with the kids of those vicariously living moms, fast forwarded to high school.

Those kids who were given absolutely no breathing room.

And those are the kids who grow up and escape their parents faster than you can say “out of state college.”

 

I tried even harder to be nice to Tracy at school events.

I never called her a bloated, culturally barren, intellectually-stunted suburban fucktwit, but maybe my innermost feelings were not as well-hidden as I thought.

Or maybe it’s like I’ve always suspected – people in a tribe can sniff one another out.

Even though I spoke and acted like THEM, I clearly was not one of THEM.

 

Of course, my friends tried to make me feel better about the clique.

“You wouldn’t even want to be friends with them anyway” was the constant refrain.

Yes, outside the kindergarten arena I would have no reason to befriend Tracy.

But I didn’t want my son excluded, punished really, because Tracy had decided not to like me.

 

My gym friends warned me, “They’re never gonna like you – you’re too skinny.”

Well, it’s not my fault Tracy hadn’t lost the baby weight – and her baby was six.

Maybe if she wasn’t living vicariously through her kindergartener by organizing the lunchroom schedule, she wouldn’t be stuffing all her unfulfilled desires with Dunkin’ Donuts.

 

“It’s because you’re Jewish,” my Italian girlfriend warned me.

Okay – next Halloween I’ll dress my son up like Hitler.

Will that help him fit in better?

 

“It’s because you’re a single,” my male friend told me. “They think you’re after their husbands – or their husbands are after you.”

Really? I didn’t want my husband. I certainly don’t want yours.

 

After speaking about this for several years, it appears that many people believe it has a lot to do with the invisible line drawn between working and non-working moms.

If so, this pointless and nonsensical line needs to be erased.

 

After kindergarten, you’re not asked to come in on a daily basis.

Thank God. 

And now, I volunteer for many events, but I’ve developed a thicker skin.

I don’t know if I have outgrown the politics of cliques or I simply do not care anymore.

 

 

Little Dude had a really rough go making friends the first couple of years.

All because of the Kindergarten Mom Mafia.

But – because he’s awesome, and because kids eventually outgrow the friends their mothers designate for them in kindergarten, he has a full social life.

That social life is HARD WON. 

He knows it. We’ve discussed it.

And I have never stopped feeling guilty for that.

 

What’s most irksome about Mommy cliques is that they’re harmful to the very children those passionately involved parents are trying to help.

 

This type of exclusivity sends our children all the wrong messages.

It fails to teach them important social and emotional skills.

Bullying has become one of the most prevalent and widely discussed topics pertaining to school age children today.

 

Maybe the focus should be off the KIDS – and on the PARENTS.

Who do you think is teaching them to be bullies?

 

 

Do you ever feel left out or ignored by other school parents?  Has your kid been affected by this?
Should the schools be addressing the Mom cliques, and the trickle-down effect it has on our children?
Talk to me.   I’m listening.

*****

unnamedSamara is a die hard New Yorker. Every day she wakes up in suburban New Jersey, her soul dies a little more. She blogs at A Buick In the Land Of Lexus. Samara can occasionally can be found on Facebook, and Twitter. But only when she’s supposed to be working.

Turning Up the Knob on Your Humanity

Photo: Shawn Allen via Flickr
Shawn Allen via Flickr

As the person behind Gunmetal Geisha, it’s my pleasure to guest blog here. Please remember, women’s issues are human issues.

Do you roll eyes at so-called inspirational quotes and self-betterment platitudes? I know I do, which means if you don’t, you’re already a step ahead of me in terms of grace. After all, what is it to me if people find themselves uplifted where I might not? I should have the grace to summon neutrality in myself, rather than contempt, when it comes to how others choose to spread what they believe is goodness. And I’m working on it. In fact, I’m working on eliminating all contempt within myself in relation to other people’s tastes and beliefs that differ from my own. As my friend Joshua says, no need to “yuck anyone’s yum.”

Still, you can imagine how I struggled with writing a “messagey” piece, which this is about to fast become. How can I keep people from rolling their eyes when I’m about to rehash thoughts they’re subjected to from all directions, starting with trite TV sitcoms, the preaching homeless man on the corner and Twitter? I can’t. I can only show courage and risk repeating what they already know. So here it goes.

It’s simply not possible to navigate life through the twisty bends of work, finance, family and relationships without encountering bumps and stalls some of the time.

But it is possible to train one’s self to handle the rough parts with grace and dignity.

Why is this important and why do we need yet one more person suggesting it?

You know why:

You can start at the individual level and make a better world.

If I work on me, and you work on you, and we each humbly share what we find valuable with the next person, and so on, we could have a bonafide epidemic. But you know, without the pestilence.

You’ve heard a dozen secular and religious variations of the thought: Pay it forward. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It was tempting to abbreviate the last sentence and leave it as: Do unto others. But already, we don’t think about the actual meaning behind those tired words. The more we hear something, the more it ceases to have meaning. So maybe, let’s start by taking the proverbial aspect out of it and work with the simple version:

Treat others the way you want be treated.

I know, I know, I want to punch myself too. Believe me, I like to avoid saying things everybody else says. But I’m going to be stubborn and ask you to really consider what it would mean, in a worldwide sense, if every individual on the planet conducted themselves according to the Do Unto words. And let me clarify, I am by no means religious. But if you are, far be it for me to yuck your yum.

Is it possible that if we only had to go by one life rule and still prevent full-on Wild West mayhem, treating others the way we want to be treated would be the most simple and reasonable?

So why is it so hard?

Self-interest, that’s why.

Every screwed-up thing that happens in this world, whether among quarreling couples or warring governments, is rooted in self-interest.

Even when we adopt the Do Unto policy, our thought process is rarely, “If I were that guy who’s accidentally cutting me off in rush hour traffic, I wouldn’t want me to honk at myself in anger,” and calmly wave him in front of you.

It would more likely be, “That selfish asshole who just cut me off clearly hasn’t adopted the Do Unto policy, because if he had, he wouldn’t cut me off. So I’ll reign honking terror on him to remind him he wasn’t treating me how he’d want to be treated if I were him.”

Too often, instead of treating others the way we’d want to be treated, we treat them the way we assume they would mistreat us.

The problem is, our own interests are often in conflict with the interest of others. And we’re so good at twisting everything back around to our self-interest.

So treating everyone the way we want to be treated would actually involve giving their interests equal weight to our own.

This is not an easy feat by any measure, however, it’s not impossible. Especially if we all participated. Well, that part might be impossible – expecting a collective agreement from all human beings.

Or, is it?

We do, for the most part, collectively agree not to enter each other’s homes and take stuff. We do collectively agree to stop at red lights. All I’m saying is, it’s not impossible to self-implement a policy in which we at least attempt to give the same weight to other people’s interest as our own.

What if the thought of other people’s children dying on the battlefield horrified us as much the thought of our own? What if people in business accepted they don’t want be ripped off as much their customers don’t want to be? What if everyone was willing to get a little less rich because they showed more scruples? What if a stranger’s hunger caused the same sense of urgency in us as our mid-afternoon sugar-craving?

It’s not an outrageous reach to imagine our individual selflessness leading to a collective selflessness impacting why we war or how wealth is distributed.

Some may say that’s an oversimplification of global issues. But think about it, greed is simple. Even cruelty is simple.

I began speaking about gracefully handling bumps on the road, and later dragged actual traffic into it. We’ve all been the person who gets cut off or does the cutting off, and we’re all familiar with angry-driver behavior, including our own. Every driver thinks they’re in the right, honking ensues, middle fingers fly, and someone begins a drag race either to intimidate the offending driver, or to get away from the wronged one rolling up with a face of fury.

It is in the midst of this most mundane of circumstances that I had the opportunity to see the simplicity and impact of decency.

I was making a left at a busy, wide intersection. My mind doesn’t usually choose such moments to wander, but on this occasion, it did. Somehow I managed not to see the car continuing straight on the lane into which I was turning. It certainly wasn’t my intention to cut off the car, and probably terrify the driver, but I did. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I noticed the car in my rear view mirror vrooming directly towards me. When it reached me, it angrily veered to the right to roll up next to me, which would have been my cue to take off. But instead, I found myself shocked that I had caused such a reaction in someone at all. Instinctively, I slowed down until the car was parallel to mine, at which point, I began rolling down my passenger window.

The driver was a woman and she looked almost cracked with the stress lines of anger. My window rolled down all the way and I slowly shook my head in contrite dismay. I mouthed, “I’m so sorry!” And it was from my heart.

What took place on her face was a wonder. Her face transformed from bitter rage to unexpected delight. She was immediately placated and didn’t feel the need to finish whatever sentence she had begun. Instead, she nodded with a satisfied smile and drove on.

It was that easy to diffuse someone’s rage? Simply take responsibility when you’re at fault? In other words, basic courtesy? That is as micro, mundane and individual as you can get.

And yet, it was a grand experiment regarding conditioning versus inspired reactions.

Maybe the woman would now be more patient with her kids when she arrived home. And because of that, maybe her kids would be nicer to other kids in school the next day. And so on.

Infection doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I believe allowing ourselves to experience negative emotions like disregard, spite and jealousy towards others is in our control.

In the same way, our heart has a humanity knob on it that turns up and down. It’s our choice which direction to turn it.

*****

V1Writer, fledgling filmmaker, actress. A person living life imperfectly. Those are the things I write about, especially the imperfect part, but also about ways to gain better footing on an uneven path.

You can find Gunmetal Geisha’s blog here!

Also find her on Twitter @GunmetalGeisha and Facebook!