Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Like A Girl: Physical Conditioning of Girls

My 5 year old is going to start Kindergarden this Fall. Being the diligent parent that I am, I did some investigating of what to expect of his new school. I went to their website and opened up the Parent Handbook. I expected to see information about absences, school closings, dress code, grading scale, etc... What I was surprised to find was their "Wellness Related Fitness Criteria". See here for yourself:

First thing I noticed was the color separation: blue for boys, pink for girls. I couldn't help but think of the irony that these were pink and blue boxes, but I digress. You will notice that boys and girls start off with the same physical activity requirements. However, there is a definite gap as the kids get older with boys being required to do more physical activity. The only exception where the girls are expected to do more is with the "back-saver sit & reach". One of my friends commented that basically they just wanted girls to be more flexible. What a spot on metaphor for traditional gender roles for women! 

I remember this testing in elementary school. We didn't have a gym so we got tested on the stage (behind the curtains thank goodness). My favorite part of that memory is reliving my leg wrestling success. I won all the matches against my female peers except for one who was much taller than me. They never let me try it against the boys but I bet I could have won those matches too. I had a lot of confidence in my physical ability then. I wonder why that changed...could it be...socialization and conditioning (see chart above)?

Some of you may get why this is an issue. For those of you who don't quite get it, you may be saying "but boys are stronger than girls" or "girls and boys have different body types". I would argue that anyone who is conditioned from an early age to reach certain physical goals will as an adult be able to do those things. For example, there was the great episode of Myth Busters where they busted the "you throw like a girl" myth/insult ("insult" because our society thinks associating something with the feminine means it's weak or less than). Watch them bust that myth here (totally worth the 3:39). Basically what they found was that since most boys/men are traditionally taught how to throw a ball/play catch, that...

"men throw with a better technique..and when we removed all that training and had our blank slates throw with their non-dominate hand, males and females threw with almost identical techniques...this suggest strongly that it is cultural, that it is training and when you remove that training you level the playing field...given the training, there's no reason why women can't overcome cultural bias and throw as well as the guys" 

So, if you start from the beginning with a level playing field of training and conditioning, in this case with physical activity, there is no reason why boys and girls won't grow up to have the same level of skills. The reason we require less physically of girls than boys is because of socialization and traditional gender roles. We are taught that women should strive for beauty and men should strive for strength. That does a disservice to us all, but mostly to women. The message is even though we are capable of being strong and reaching the same physical activity goals as men, we should conditioned to be physically weaker because society doesn't value strength in a woman. (What does it value? Beauty.) Women are basically taught to take up less space. It is assumed/taught that women are not capable of doing physical activity up to par with men. Check out this video from Always about "run like a girl". (Fave quote "Why can't "run like a girl" also mean win the race?" Excellent question. It can.)

I played sports my entire childhood. I played t-ball then softball from age 5-17. I played field hockey from age 14-17. I saw that the girls whose parents took them to softball camps where they got extensive training became much better than me, even though I think I was pretty good. ;-) The point is they got more training and conditioning. I got hit by a 70 mph softball (nothing about those are soft, by the way) in the thigh while up to bat once. After I got over being super mad at her for hitting me, I realized just how great of a pitcher she was (obviously not the time she hit me, but I think she meant to do that. #meangirls). Speaking of 70 mph pitches, did you hear about the 13 year old girl that pitched a shutout recently? Awesomesauce! But, did you also hear the Fox News correspondent ask her that incredibly sexist question? Le sigh.

The start of my t-ball career. The 80's were awesome.

With my t-ball team. I was one of 4 girls out of 14 kids.

Freshman year of field hockey. With my goalie mentor Towanda who passed on
her ass-kicking knowledge and my best friend and goal sweeper Tiffany.
Why were we wearing volleyball t-shirts? Because they put no funding into "girls" sports beyond getting us to and from our games but "boys" sports had new equipment and uniforms. Just in case you think what I'm pointing out with this article doesn't matter.

Field hockey Senior year when I was a co-captain.
I'm in the center with the feminist t-shirt. ;-)

A friend of mine who is in the military agreed with me that requirements for girls and boys should be the same. Then he referenced physical requirements in the military. I will agree that physical requirements in the military should be the same for everyone, but not until we have reached that generation where both boys and girls have been conditioned from the beginning to reach the same goals and taught the techniques to be successful. We're not there yet so I don't think it would be wise to raise the bar there until we have leveled the playing field. Say if they changed the standards next year for 6 year olds (the first age listed on the chart above), in 12 years when those boys and girls are 18 and eligible for the military, then the military physical standards should be the same for everyone.

So, let's start now. Let's start telling our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and kids we know from down the street that boys and girls are physically capable of doing the same things given the same training and conditioning. Let's empower everyone to do their best and have respect for others knowing that they are also capable of reaching the same goals and standards. Let's stop telling girls that they're weaker when we don't give them a chance to prove what they're capable of from the get-go. This message to our kids won't just have an effect on what girls and boys are taught in P.E. class, it will have a ripple effect where we start to see and treat both girls and boys (and everyone else on the gender continuum) with respect and give them a level playing field.

In other news, CBS just announced that it will launch the first all-female sports talk show. I have my fingers crossed that they do it right. It could go either way (awesome or stereotypical gender portrayals) but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. I would definitely watch as long as it was on at a reasonable hour and not stuck at midnight or something. Onward! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Under The Radar: My Newest Adventure as a Professional Speaker

This week I was awarded the awesome opportunity to be added to the Under The Radar Speaker Roster through Soapbox, Inc. I have been speaking on women's issues through my current job for the past 9 years so this is not my first time up to bat. This new adventure will give me the opportunity to travel around the country speaking for other Universities or community organizations. You can read my bio and list of topics I am available to speak about here:

I'm very excited to get to combine two of my favorite activities, talking about gender equality and traveling, thanks to the awesome feminists over at Soapbox, Inc.

Wish me luck...or book me...either one is great! :-)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Teaching Empathy to My Boys

Jackson is now five years old and will periodically have emotional outbursts. Sometimes I can easily walk him through them and get him to understand the situation so he won’t be so upset or offer him alternative solutions to whatever he’s objecting to. Recently he got on this kick that he wanted me to do something for him (I forget now what it was, but it was something simple like getting him out of his car seat or fixing him a snack) and not his daddy. I was busy with Myles (who is about to be two years old) so Bill was trying to tend to Jackson. He pitched a fit when his dad tried to do whatever it was and hollered that he liked me better and just had to have me. I tried to talk him down and explain how it didn’t matter who did this task for him and that he needed to be nice to his daddy because he loves him. He just would not stop. I could tell that it was hurting Bill’s feelings so I told Jackson that. “You’re hurting Daddy’s feelings. You wouldn’t want Daddy to say that to you, would you?” I asked. He said no but continued to fuss, tears and all. I try my best to keep calm when he loses his mind like this and I think I held it together pretty well. It was upsetting me though because he really was being mean to his Daddy.

I finally got him to understand somewhat and he calmed down a little bit. It was almost time for bed and I wanted him to apologize to his daddy and give him a hug. I didn’t want him to go to bed thinking it was okay to behave that way. It was like pulling teeth. He crawled over to Bill and hugged his leg and whispered very softly “sorry”. I did not want to get him upset all over again, but that was not acceptable. I kept encouraging him to give him a “real hug” and finally Bill was able to get pick him up and hug him and kiss his little head and tell him that he loved him. You could tell Jackson was just allowing him to do this just to get it over with. It was a half-hearted apology but it would have to do because Bill and I were both over the whole situation and just wanted him to get some sleep. He was obviously tired and that was making him a Mr. grumpy-pants.

The next morning he was better and I talked with him again about how he hurt his Daddy’s feelings. My goal was to help him understand how he was making his daddy feel hoping to teach him to empathize with him. He eventually got back to normal and even randomly said “you’re the best daddy every!” which I could tell made Bill quite happy. He loves being a daddy and is a very good one. Any good parent wants to hear that they’re doing a good job from their kids, so when they throw fits like this and say mean things, it can really hurt their feelings.

I recently read this great article on “Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys”. Girls are taught empathy but boys typically aren’t. I have worked in the field of advocacy for victims of sexual and relationship violence as well as prevention education around those issues for almost 10 year. I see what boys’ lack of empathy for others can do, whether they are the perpetrator of violence against someone or a silent bystander unwilling to do anything to help the victim. Now, Jackson is a long time from college, but I want to teach him this skill early so he will naturally turn to empathy when reacting to various situations.

We’ve talked about a few bullying scenarios he’s seen in Preschool and how that made the person being bullied feel. One of those instances was when a bus monitor called him out for being a boy with painted nails, so he knew a little bit about how it feels. You may have heard people say that babies aren’t born knowing how to hate and I see that to be true. However, it doesn’t take long for them to learn jealousy which I see as a source of a lot of tension among kids (and adults) and that can lead them to bully or be mean to others.

When Myles copies something that Jackson does, or plays with one of his toys, Jackson will pitch a fit or try to snatch the toy away. His latest response to why he doesn’t want Myles to play with his toys or follow him around is because he “doesn’t like babies”. And yet, he will lead Myles around the house in whatever made up game he wants them to play together not long after one of his fits. It can be frustrating that he doesn’t understand when he’s being contradictory, but I have to keep telling myself he hasn’t learned that skill yet.

PARENTING IS HARD! It is a job that requires you to be on your game at all times. If you are tired too often and as a result always react negatively to a situation, that is going to affect how your kids behave toward others.  You can’t just wave a magic wand and make your kids turn out to be perfect angels who have empathy for others and a strong sense of self-confidence and humility at the same time. Actions speak louder than words. When I want my kids to stop hitting each other or one of us (something Myles does as part of his terrible twos) I usually say “gentle” but if I’m yelling it at them it kind of defeats the purpose. See what I mean? I may not get it 100% right all of the time, but I’m hoping that I am resilient enough to teach them how to be good people at least 95% of the time.

I have seen how my efforts to teach Jackson empathy have worked. He will identify how something someone did probably made someone feel and I applaud him when he does that. Now if I can just get him to identify when his actions affect others, we’ll be good to go.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nail Polish Adventures

About a month ago I remembered how much I like to have my nails painted. I got a suggestion from a friend about a quick-drying brand, you know, because if I’m gonna paint them, I have to do it quickly with two little ones running around. I found a few free minutes where I only had my oldest son, Jackson, with me. I told him to entertain himself for a few minutes while I painted my nails purple (my favorite color if you haven’t figured that out already). He asked to watch and of course I didn’t object. It gave us time to talk, and I do love to hear him talk. He’s so inquisitive and clever. Anyway, when I was done with the first coat he said “Hey, can you paint my nails next?” I didn’t skip a beat and said “of course!” If you’ve read my previous blog posts you know I do not limit him to prescribed gender roles, toys, etc… So, I painted his nails purple too. He liked it so much he asked me to paint his toes. He was ecstatic. You could just see the joy in his face. He was so proud and excited to show his friends at school the next day. Now, I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how everyone would react. However, I have worked very hard to instill a strong sense of self-confidence in Jackson and we’ve talked on a regular basis about boys and girls being able to like whatever they like and point out silly things like how McDonald’s always asks if the Happy Meal is for a boy or a girl. Toys are just toys, so they should really ask if kids want the Spiderman or My Little Pony toy (or whatever brands they’re marketing that month). But I digress.

Just look at that joy!
He wanted his toes to match.

I sent Jackson off to school with his purple nails and wondered all day how it was going. I didn’t get any calls from his teacher or his school so I waited until I got home to find out how things went. When I came home from work he poked his lip out at me and said “The kids didn’t like my nails.” I consoled him and asked him to tell me what happened. He told me how the kids asked why he had his nails painted “because nail polish is for girls” and asked if he was a girl. His reply was simply “No, I’m just a boy who likes to have my nails painted”. I asked him if anyone said anything nice about his nails and he said that his friend who’s a girl liked them and so did his two teachers. He then remembered that one of the bus monitors told him to go home and take it off because it’s for girls. That upset him the most. He said “Mommy, can you go to my school and teach her that nail polish is for everybody?” Believe me I wanted too. But I decided to instead talk to him about tolerance and how not everyone is nice when people do things different than are traditionally done. I told him we just have to be confident in ourselves so when we run into people like that we don’t let it get us down or change our mind about what we like or who we are. I called his teacher the next day and asked her how things went. She said she was surprised but told all the kids that they need to respect everyone, even if they do things differently and that if Jackson and his parents thought it was okay then it was okay. She said the kids were fine after that and went on about their day. She had talked to her daughter about it who is also a teacher and was told “You know, Mom, men used to adorn themselves with jewelry and the like in different times and different cultures.” So, she’s “learning a lot from (her) daughter” and I was very please with how she handled it. I did tell her about the bus monitor so that she could keep her eyes and ears open for any similar comments. I didn’t want to cause a big raucous, but I wanted her to quietly spread the word. I didn’t want Jackson to have to deal with any drama from administration. 

After Jackson and I talked about all that he was fine and went to school with his nails painted until it chipped and he wanted to take it off. He kept his toes painted longer. A week or two later he and I were in Target and he asked to pick out some pink nail polish. I found a cheap bottle because it would be just for him. I’m not about to paint my nails pink (not my favorite color). While he was on Spring Break he asked me to paint his nails pink. One of my family members who is very traditional and shall remain nameless asked "what's this" when they saw his pink nails. When I explained, that person turned and scratched their head but didn't say anything about it. I was grateful for that because I want Jackson to feel free to be himself around his family. Everyone else in the family has been great about it and this person has either gotten past it or knows not to say anything that might hurt his feelings.

Jackson (with his pink nails) and Myles enjoying some sweet tea.

When it was time to get ready to go back to school he asked me to take the polish off his nails but paint just his toes so he could still have some nails painted but the “bad teacher” (bus monitor) wouldn’t know it. It was his little secret he said. Internally I was and have been grimacing over the fact that he has to hide some of the things he likes because it’s not the current cultural trend. I don’t want him to feel ashamed. He doesn’t feel that at this point, but the fact that he thought it would be better to hide it worried me. I don’t want that to be how he handles things in the future, but I guess it’s okay for school. I don’t want him to get bullied but I also want him to be who he is and like what he likes. I guess I should be proud he still liked having his nails painted even after other people reacted the way they did. So, I’m still going back and forth about him feeling the need to hide, but he’s happy so I go along with it. This time he wanted his toes painted in a pattern: pink, blue, pink, blue, etc… He’s been learning about patterns in school so he was excited to be able to do that. I haven’t written about this until now because I wanted to see how he continued to handle it. Jackson has remained happy and has learned to just laugh at any kids that ask if he has his nails painted today or if he’s a girl. He’ll say “Ha, ha, ha silly!” and let it roll off his back because he knows “they just have to learn”. While we were waiting for the bus the other day he asked me to go tell the little girl who lives across the road about how nail polish is for everybody and so is pink and princesses. Well, her grandparents were waiting for the bus with her and I wasn’t about to start up that conversation. They don’t seem like the most open-minded folks, but they are nice and cordial. It just wasn’t the right time. Plus, my inner introvert was too shy. LOL I just told him he could talk with the girl about it on the bus if she brought it up and to let me know if he needed to talk through any conversations he had.

Pattern on his toes!

Pink, blue, pink, blue...

Jackson’s favorite color continues to be pink and he has found a love for all things Disney princesses. He even picked out some Sofia the First pajamas. I keep reminding him that not all girls are princesses and that there are different kinds of female characters he could learn about. There is this great book called “Disney Princess Adventure Stories” that actually tells tales of the princesses saving the day, being daring, creative and smart. I found it for him for Christmas and for the most part find all the stories to be positive examples. They’re still “princesses” and fit the ideal beauty standards, but it’s a step in the right direction. He has since discovered Doc McStuffins and she has quickly become a favorite.
Excited to find him a pink shirt in the "boy's" section
(with a shark of course because "Tough Guise" (Film by Jackson Katz you should totally check out).
FINALLY found pink swim trunks!
Playing Legos in his Sofia the First pajamas.

He recently had his 5th birthday and for his party he wanted pink plates, cups, utensils, princess napkins and a princess balloon. We got those things for him because we knew the family and friends around him would be supportive and love him for who he is. He was happy to recently discover that one of his friends who is a boy also likes to have his nails painted. He even had them painted at the party. For his birthday he asked for a princess palace bath toy as well as rescue bots and other various toys. He was super excited to get both of those. We try to balance what kinds of toys we give him and of course avoid the ones with weapons. We also got him some Frozen sheets and he was super excited tonight when I put them on his bed. He is such a sweetheart and I want to continue to encourage him to follow his heart and his interests. It hurt me to hear that the kids’ initial reaction and that of the bus monitor wasn’t positive but I wasn’t surprised. I am just so proud of him that he is still confident in himself and continues to like whatever he wants. He doesn’t limit himself on what he likes and neither will I. I just hope this will last through his lifetime. 
Selfie with Jackson!

Jackson loves his new Frozen sheets!

Jackson with his Rescue Bot

I know people’s discomfort with boys liking pink and princess things has a lot to do with homophobia, but just because he likes those things doesn’t mean he’s gay. And if he is, I’m still going to love him and he’s still a valuable human being so people need to get over themselves. These prescribed gender roles are all about trends and the almighty dollar. It has nothing to do with biology (pink used to be marketed to boys and blue to girls in the early 1900’s). It’s time that our culture relaxed these rigid gender roles and let kids be kids, adults be who they want to be and love who they love.

I love my sweet little fella!

I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to live in a community that was feminist and accepting of difference and non-traditional gender roles. I even thought about starting a Meetup group for the area to connect with parents and kids who just want to be themselves, even if that means breaking out of the pink and blue boxes. I’ll let you know how that goes if I find the time to put it together.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!

My mom and I were watching my kids play in the yard the other day. Somehow the conversation turned to her knowing how to ride a skateboard. I remembered that I had a white one once but that I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t have anyone to teach me. At the time I didn’t realize that she knew how to ride so I never asked her to show me. But her next comment “Oh, I guess I wasn’t around to show you”, really struck a cord with me. My mom pursued her Masters degree when I was young but I never thought of her as “not being there” and I realized at that moment that she holds some guilt about taking that time away from us to further her education. I’m very proud of her for pursuing her Masters and working a job in a non-traditional field for women (computer programming). In fact, there are many things that I am proud of her for and never once have I thought negatively about her pursuing her career or education because it may have taken some time away from me. I don’t remember her not being there. So, I have decided to write this piece to tell you my mother’s story so you can know just how awesome she is and how lucky I am to have her as my mother.  

I don’t ever remember my mother telling me about feminism or even using that word around me, but she certainly raised me from a feminist perspective. I always knew that I could be who I wanted to be and pursue any dream my heart desired. When I graduated high school, I had it in my head that I was going to be the goalie for the US Women’s Olympic Field Hockey Team and work for National Geographic as a photographer. Neither were small dreams, but I had every confidence in my ability to do those things. Granted, I never actually did those things, but that was only because my interests and passions changed, not because I tried and failed and certainly not because I thought I couldn’t. This was because mom instilled a sense of confidence in me that carries me through everyday even now. (Note: when I say confidence, I do not mean narcissism or conceit. She also taught me to be humble when it matters.) She also taught me to be independent and to learn to do things for myself. Thank goodness for that! That is one thing she taught me that I used the most. She shared with me the wisdom that her mother shared with her: never let a man leave you without a car, always wear clean underwear in case you get into a car accident, and always have a financial cushion/save as much money as you can.

She learned that first one the hard way. On one of her trips up to Richmond to attend Masters classes at VCU the guys she rode with from work left class at break and went to a local bar that was having a wet t-shirt contest. They asked to take her keys so they could put their bags/briefcases in the trunk on their way. When it was time to go, they were nowhere to be found and she was stuck 2 hours away from home in a not so safe part of town with no way to get back.  Just the thought of that makes me want to physically hurt those men, leaving my momma stranded like that, but she gave them what for. Around about midnight after waiting around in a local deli she finally saw them coming out of the club. She told them exactly what she thought about what they had done and also let them know about it while she drove them home. Of course, the guys didn’t see what the big deal was. This was in the 80’s before everyone had cell phones so my Dad was at home worried and waiting for her to come home, not knowing all that had gone on. One of the guys was married and his wife also had something to say to him about his behavior and how he treated my mom. The guy who was married finally got it and apologized to Mom the next day. The single guy went around the office telling his funny story thinking nothing of it until all the women in the office responded the same way that Momma did. I think he finally apologized and hopefully they both learned a little about how to treat women better. Of course, the fact that they thought it was a good idea to go to a wet t-shirt contest makes me think not, but maybe it set them on a road to a feminist revelation. One can only hope. My mom also taught me to be an optimist, but never na├»ve, so I know better.  

At another point in her career in the non-traditional field of computer programming, Mom experienced sexual harassment that she actually blocked out and didn’t tell me about until this past year. One of the centerfolds “models” in Playboy magazine had my mom’s same name one month. The guy down the hall at work thought it would be funny to hang up that picture with a cutout of my mom’s face pasted on it in the break room for everyone to see. Now, this was in a time before we had the word “sexual harassment” that could help women describe what they had been experiencing. She felt embarrassed, but mostly angry because with that one act he had reduced her to a sex object after all of her hard work to do a good job and gain respect from her peers as a computer programmer. The guy had no idea why she was upset about it (seemed to be a trend at this place) and brushed it off as “just a joke”. As I said, my mom blocked out this experience , and she was only reminded of it when this guy reached out to her through email this year. He had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment now 20 years later and realized what he had done was wrong and was seeking her forgiveness. In a switch in our roles, she asked my advice. She told me the story and I confirmed that what she had experienced was indeed sexual harassment. I think validating her experience helped her to do what I suggested next. My mom is a Christian so I told her that it was up to her whether or not she chose to forgive him. However, I suggested she not let him off easy, but instead spell out for him just how his actions affected her and why what he did was wrong, because she probably wasn’t the first nor the last that he harassed. I could see she felt empowered and she did in fact email him and let him know just that. I forget whether or not she forgave him but she said she felt better afterwards. It makes me wonder about other women from that generation and what experiences they had with sexual harassment and what they have blocked out. It’s hard enough now to call out sexual harassment and we have a word for it, when they didn’t even know what to call it. I’m very proud of my mother for standing up for herself then and now.

Another thing I admire about my mother that I try to emulate is her compassion for others. One thing in particular is her encouragement of young people, especially girls and young women, to pursue their education. In my line of work I get to interact with and hear the stories of many young women and men and encourage and empower them to follow their hearts. Knowledge is power that no one can take away from you and it can help you to achieve your goals in life. My mom has helped a few women financially that I know of with their college books and the like so they could pursue their degrees. She also tutors kids in math and also guitar (something she tried to teach me but I didn’t have the patience to practice, just like the piano). I love watching her with my two boys teaching them new things, taking them on adventures, and reading them the books she brings for them. Instilling in them a love for reading is something very important to me because it is something that both myself and my husband enjoy. Other ways she shows compassion for others is by giving to charities and volunteering for the local library and various other non-profits, especially her church. Also, she’ll gladly talk to you about her faith but she won’t push it on you. High five for that, Mom! She recognizes that we all have our own point of view and experience of the world. She knows what works for her and won’t deny another the right to have that for themselves, whatever that might be.

My mother is a wonderful person and every time you see her she will have a smile on her face. That smile is not just to be pleasing for others (something that is expected of women), but because she is a genuinely happy person. She loves life and her family and friends. She has worked hard and come through adversity all with a smile on her face. I may be in my 30’s, but nothing makes me feel better and more centered than a hug and conversation with my Momma. I love you Momma! You have always been there for me when I needed you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Body Love Conference Adventure

I just flew all the way from Virginia to Arizona to attend the one-day Body Love Conference, brainchild of The Militant Baker and her friends. The goal of the conference is to promote body love and self-confidence. Of course I had to come out for that! If I had to list my life's passions that would be at the top of the list. I am so grateful for Jes and her crew for putting this together. I left feeling inspired, empowered, and with a lot more moxie, sass, confidence and things to reflect on. It's an amazing feeling to be surrounded by people who look like you, especially since I never see people like me represented in the media that we are bombarded with everyday.

The flight to Arizona was long but totally worth it. When I finally got a window seat I took lots of pictures of the beautiful landscapes of our country. I've never flown this far west so it was amazing to see the differences from back home. I have to admit, I had a brief “where the hell am I” moment once I saw all that dessert. LOL However, I soon discovered the charm of Tucson. Here are a few shots from my trip and the conference for your viewing pleasure (click the link below for more pictures). 

 We had quite a variety of awesome workshops to choose from. Next year I hope they offer them more than once because it was hard to just chose four. I tried to pick workshops I thought would give me ideas for something I could bring back to the campus where I work. I was thinking about potential speakers as well as themes that might appeal to our students. You know you always gotta be on the cutting edge to keep the attention of traditional-aged students. After Jes Baker's super inspirational welcome we jumped right into the day.

My first workshop was "Expanding Definitions of Beauty: Redefining the Thin White Ideal". I chose this because I've been thinking a lot lately about the experiences of women of color with beauty standards. I know that the "ideal" beauty we always see in the media usually only includes white women or white-washed women of color. Pia Schiavo-Campo gave some great examples of this just from screenshots from her Google Images search for "Hollywood Actresses". The women pretty much all looked like the same person. When she searched for African American, Latina and Asian Hollywood actresses you could see just how white-washed they were. Intellectually I knew this, but actually seeing it was quite disturbing. To help add diversity to the media, she encouraged us to take pictures of the diverse women around us, post them on social media and tag them with #RadicalDiversity ("Actively insisting on extreme changes in existing homogeneous views, habits, conditions, & institutions that systematically include or marginalize people who are differently-abled, fat, non-white, aging, or do not fit into the gender binary.") She also talked about how to take a complement (say "Thank you!") and encouraged us not to apologize for taking up space. You know that feeling you get when women around you start to police/pick apart another woman for what she's wearing or how she looks? Well, Pia suggested three ways to handle it: say "I don't want to be a part of this conversation" and walk away; change the topic and make it obvious; or call them out ("Hey, why are you hating on her..."). We have a voice and we should use it to stop the mean girl talk. 

For my next workshop I chose "The Body is Not anApology" by Sonya Renee Taylor. I was excited to hear her speak since I had missed her when she was on my campus a couple years ago. I heard rave reviews about her so I knew I was in for a treat. She did not disappoint. Not only was she engaging, but she was also funny and empowering. She asked us to remember that "thing" that happened that made us first realize we weren't good enough according to society's standards. For me it was standing in line for the bathroom with my classmates in 1st or 2nd grade. My two friends in front of me were talking about how much they weighed. When I realized I weighed more than either of them and that it was a "bad" thing according to them and the rest of the world, something in me changed. My confidence took a big hit and from then on out I always worried about whether or not I was pretty enough. It's taken me a long time to get to a point where I don't give a shit about what other people think or whether or not I fit society's ideas of beauty and it's a constant struggle to keep that confidence. I mean, it's seen as radical to love your body in a world where the messages we get bombarded by through the media are all telling us we're not good enough and Photoshopping is standard practice. The weight loss and beauty industries spend billions of dollars a year on advertising telling us we need to fix ourselves. As Sonya says, body hate is something we learn, not something we're born with. She showed us pictures of adorable babies loving their bodies (bellies, feet, etc...) and I see this in my son Myles who's almost 2 years old. It's the same with racism. We aren't born with hate in our hearts toward ourselves or others, this is something that we are socialized to feel. Luckily, since this is taught, she says, it can be untaught. As Gloria Steinem says the hardest part is not to learn, but to unlearn. We certainly have our work cut out for us. She also touched on a point that I love to make when discussing body image and beauty ideals. The beauty industry serves to distract us from getting equity (just think of what we could accomplish with all that time, money and energy wasted on trying to fit an unrealistic beauty ideal). She called it smoke screens. We're indoctrinated, she says, to think what things are and aren't important which gives others power and control over us. "How you feel about your body has political, economic & social impact on a global scale." We don't think about this because trying to reach an unobtainable beauty standard has become habit and we're all on automatic pilot. It's time to wakeup and start a RUCHUS (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 US). I haven’t figured out what mine will be just yet, but believe me the wheels are turning. When I figure it out, I will be tweeting it to #tbinaa (The Body Is Not An Apology).

Tess Munster, plus size model, make-up artist, body positive activist and blogger, was our keynote speaker. She told her story of being bullied growing up and how she has survived all the obstacles that life has thrown at her. She certainly went through a lot and I think most of us had tears in our eyes hearing everything she had to deal with. She had several empowering messages for us. First, “never give up”. Sounds simple, but having heard what she experienced reminded me that my “struggles” were nothing compared to hers and if she can get through adversity and succeed, then I certainly can. Second, she reminded us “nothing is impossible”. I hear so many women say things like they’d like to be able to do things they deem a “dream” or “fantasy” because of course they couldn’t do that. It’s so disheartening to hear women talk that way. Tess is a perfect example of how you can do anything you put your mind to. Third, “we all deserve to be loved”. It doesn’t matter if we don’t fit the “ideal” standard of beauty, we’re all human, valuable, and deserve love. Fourth, “sexy is not a size”. I wanted to yell out “preach” on this one. I feel sexy sometimes but the media only shows us one example of what they think that should look like. One of my sister conference-goers went to a burlesque workshop and afterwards told me that she felt so sexy because of the experience. We’re all told we’re not good enough and it’s beautiful to be reminded that we are. It’s society that’s messed up. (I’m totally playing “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce in my head right now thinking about this.)” Fifth, “we’re much more powerful together”. I think sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ones who experience bullying and fat shaming due to our society’s unrealistic beauty standards. Seeing the 400 other women in that room that were all on the same page as me about body love was very powerful. 

Pia showed us a quote from Audre Lorde in her workshop that said “Women are powerful and dangerous”. She’s so right on with that. I think these “smoke screens” (as Sonya called them) or requirements for our physical appearance serves to distract us from that power because just imagine what we could accomplish if we didn’t spend all of our time thinking about our appearance. Sixth, “our body is okay as it is”. Jes talked to us in her opener about not waiting to do what we want to do until we lose weight. We can accomplish our goals with the body that we have. Seventh, “surround yourself with positive people”. This seemed to be a theme throughout the whole day. Being around people who accept you for who you are and what you look like with no judgment is a very powerful feeling. I felt myself walk with more confidence while I was among that amazing group of women. Eight, “sex is better with the lights on”. No comment. I’m not about to talk about my sex life with y’all up here. LOL Ninth, “if you want to eat cookies and ice cream, fucking eat the cookies and ice cream”! We should be able to indulge when we want to. Our body speaks to us and if it says it wants a cookie then give it a cookie. And for goodness sake, don’t say you’ll eat salad for your next meal or something like that. Just enjoy your cookie and move on. I love her story and her message. I even bought one of her “Eff Your Beauty Standards” t-shirts even though it had pink on it. That says a lot for me because I am not a fan of pink. LOL

The next session I chose was “Reclaiming Body Trust” by the ladies from Be Nourished. They have such an amazing concept for their business. One is a counselor and the other is a registered dietitian. Their philosophy is “we don’t know what size you should be and we’re the only one with the balls to tell you that truth”. They focus on getting you out of the diet mentality. If you’re focusing on weight loss, even if you’re “not on a diet”, you’re in a diet mentality. Many women don’t realize that this applies to them and are shocked when the light bulb clicks on. Be Nourished practices from a weight-neutral perspective. They encouraged us to be present in our bodies and to stop “fixing” and “checking” (weighing, measuring, wondering what others think of us) ourselves. The dietitian pointed out that we are “prescribing for fat people the very behaviors that we diagnose as disordered eating in thin people”. How fucked up is that?! She also said it was no coincidence that the first beauty pageant was held just a few months after women won the right to vote. I never knew this but it pissed me off. Every time women make advances, whether politically, socially or economically, there is some sort of backlash pushing us two steps backward and it usually centers around beauty. I’m going to have to do more research on the historical accuracy (my husband would like that, he’s a history lover) but it wouldn’t surprise me if she were right about that. At the end they asked us to tell our neighbor that “body trust is your birth right” to encourage us to trust our bodies because they show up for us everyday. They have an e-workshop that will become available soon that I’m excited to sign up for.

My last session was “Loving Your Body Online”. Our speaker was Meghan Tonjes who is a YouTube sensation. I have to admit I had not heard of her, but I’m following her on Twitter now and will be checking out her videos as well. I feel like I have not really delved in to the feminist world on YouTube much quite yet. I’m just finally feeling making great connections and engaging in feminism on Twitter, so baby steps. I’m excited to learn that there’s a whole other group of activists to tap in to though. She started a YouTube collective called “Project Lifesize” for plus size and/or average sized women to tell their stories and experiences. It ended 4 years ago but I’m still going to going to go back and watch videos. She started from scratch on a small scale just like I have. The fates worked together for her and she ended up on the Ellen show! That would be freaking fantastic! AND she got to meet Adele! I started to think, “if Ellen ever invites me to her show, who would I want her to surprise me with”. (A girl can dream, right?!) I’ve already met Gloria Steinem (who I adore an I still have the hairspray she gave me because she couldn’t carry it on the plane), Margaret Cho (who’s hilarious and I still have the pen she used to sign an autograph for me) and Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill, who is a badass but didn’t leave me with a memento but that’s cool because just having my picture taken with her and spending time with her was awesome enough) because I have an awesome job that brought these women to me (my campus). Don’t laugh at me for keeping those two things. LOL They helped me to remember the wonderful experience of meeting them. So, if I had to decide today it would be Beyonce just so I could talk feminism with her. Maybe Myles could play with Blue since they’re the same age. Although, it would also be awesome to meet Maya Angelou (who I really enjoyed hearing tell stories when she came to Virginia last year…she’s funny!). This has inspired me to make a list of women that I’d like to meet one day! I’ll save that for another blog post. Back to the conference! The message that I got from Meghan was to “not be afraid to start something” because “people are going to say shit regardless of how you look or what you do” so you might as well do/be what you want. She encouraged us to just “be kind to ourselves and others”. I did pick up a few hashtags to check out while I was there: #effyourbeautystandards, #honoryourcurves, and #fatkini (which I might have to find one for this summer).

Me and Body Love Conference Organizer, Jes Baker (AKA The Militant Baker)

Overall the conference was badass. It was so inspiring, empowering, uplifting, and much needed. Having positive body image and not letting those negative messages seep into your psyche is a daily struggle. Even among feminists it’s easy to get sucked back in to it because we’re bombarded by these negative messages about our bodies every day. We’re told to focus on our outward appearance if we want to be accepted and valued. I tried to describe my struggles with trying not to focus on people’s appearance with the folks I brought with me to the conference. Basically I don’t tend to comment or complement women on their hair, weight, clothes, beauty, etc… just because I don’t want them to get the message that I value them for that. I value them for their character, humanity, personality, etc… I did have one instance where someone actually felt offended because I didn’t talk about beauty products and clothes because she felt she couldn’t talk about them in front of me. It’s really frustrating being misunderstood, but it’s something I’m working on. I guess I just have to tell people what I’m doing so they’ll get the point. Every now and then I will comment on something that really stands out to me like a cool pair of shoes or awesome shirt, but it’s only because I’m admiring the item and not their appearance in it. It’s rare but it does happen. I am trying to shift the world around me to stop thinking of women’s power and worth in terms of fashion, weight and beauty. Hopefully I can do so in a way that opens eyes and doesn’t offend anyone because that’s not my intent.

There was talk of having another Body Love Conference next year and I’m super hopeful that it happens. It was an amazing experience. I loved that they had a hashtag (#blc or #bodyloveconference) that I could use to connect with other conference-goers. Thank you to The Militant Baker and her crew for bringing this into our world! Here’s to body love y’all!