Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Stand For Self Love

Two years ago I started this private group on Facebook called the Boise Rad Fat Collective. We're a secret society of super-sized feminazis who can't get laid and sit around complaining about our ugly clothes while eating Big Macs and cake.

RRRRIIIIIGGHT.

That's not at all what our group is about, despite what Internet trolls and mean people would like to believe. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. We're a group of socially engaged Idahoans of all shapes and sizes who are fed up with mainstream media and society telling us what a valuable body should do\be\act\look like. And while it started with just a handful of my best strong female friends, it's expanded now to include people I've never met (even though we do try to plan regular meet-ups in real life). And generally speaking, we're a positive bunch who share lots of news on cutting-edge literature and scientific studies and fun films and personal stories, while being supportive and thoughtful in our Facebook wall discussions (gasp!). New members are always welcome and, no, you don't have to be fat to join in nor do you have to live in Boise, but you do have to be respectful and smart and adhere to one basic concept - that all bodies are good bodies.

(PSST! And most of us have sex. On a regular hot basis.)

.....

Two weeks ago this video by The Liberators International went viral. The Liberators are a group out of Australia whose mission is to involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so by clicking my link above, but, in a nutshell, it's a moving social experiment where a young Liberator named Jae West sheds her clothing in London's busy Picadilly Circus, armed with markers, a sign, and a blindfold, asking people to draw hearts on her body if they share her promotion of self-acceptance, after overcoming an eating disorder. She has now been interviewed extensively about the importance of the project and how terrifying and exhilarating standing alone half-nude was for her, and the outpouring of humanity that has followed it.

My friend Angie and I posted a link to the video to the Rad Fat Collective and we all agreed it was a powerful performance art piece, and discourse ensued. How would it be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho? Turns out, we weren't the only people asking these questions and talking about this important project of West's - the alternative media was, too. So, I made a (GULP) plan and asked another one of my friends in the Collective (who also happens to be a professional photographer), Melanie, to document it.


We picked a date (Saturday August 29, 2015) and one of the most pedestrian-rich locations in the city (the Capital City Public Market downtown Boise) at the busiest time of day (noon). I decided to wear a black bikini instead of a bra and undies (conservative Boise) and changed the text on my sign to read something a little different and pertinent to me. I decided to tell no one except the Rad Fat Collective that this was happening, as the idea of leaving the experience organic and up to chance, rather than fill the audience with known body positive activists and friends, was more appealing. Everything seemed in order and to fall into place quickly.

Until my nerves set in.

.....

I woke up Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep and puked. And bloated with horrid cramps. And a raging period. (Hey, Donald Trump! MAD MENSTRUATING WOMAN ON A MEANINGFUL MISSION ALERT!). And I was terrified. I was scared that I might get asked to leave by the police or that people would yell terrible things at me or that no one would draw a heart on my body and I'd stand there alone and crying for minutes that felt like hours.

Well, none of that came true. Except for the crying part.

.....

I let the farmers' market director (who happens to be a friend of mine) know what we were staging about an hour before the event. Not only did I have her support, she suggested I stand in the middle of the busiest spot of the market, that she would handle any negative feedback or complaints, and could she borrow a marker to draw a heart on me now in case she missed the performance? It was probably with that first heart that I knew this was gonna be good. I had no idea just how good it was about to get.

.....

Melanie set up her camera, Angie was my ear on the ground, and I hit my spot, barefoot, and stripped off my dress. The hush in the crowd around me was instantaneous and I barely had time to tie on my blindfold, prop up my sign and grab my markers before the first woman rushed up to me, touched my hand with her shaky one, told me I was brave and powerful and asked if she could give me a hug and started to cry. And then I cried, too. But I could tell she didn't just draw a heart on my body. She wrote a word. In fact, by the end of my fifty minutes of continuous public support, there were dozens of words that covered my body, and even more hearts.


Badass
Love
THANK YOU
Hope
Strong
Awesome
God Bless You
You are beautiful
You Rock
Divine
Stand Strong
I Love Me
You look great
Power
Amazing
You are gorgeous
Big Love
Inspire


You'll see all this in these photos and the video - that the hugs continued, as did the tears, a flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done. And, undoubtedly, like me, you will also see other things in these photos - the sweat running down my rolls of back fat, cellulite (on strong legs that have carried me for four decades), a wonky bikini top with sagging breasts (that nourished three babies), stretch marks (that represent my transition from a chubby adolescent to a curvy teenager to a woman who's been pregnant four times), and darkly tanned skin (from a summer spent at the Boise Public Pools with my friends and my children).


The most important things about this performance, though, are the ones you can't see.

The personal stories of struggle.

The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to "this is what a beautiful woman looks like."


Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.

Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer.

Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model.


One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space, she said. All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable.


And the twentysomething man who stood behind me and whispered, The effects of what you are doing here are far reaching. It's absolutely amazing. The power of this moment will go on and in ways you never thought possible. You are changing more lives than you know.


Oh, Boise, you restored my faith in humanity, you blew my mind with your kindness, you saw the beauty in my body and your own. You are ready for a body positive revolution, and I'm honored to stand by your side. Take my hand, if you need, and I'll pull you up.


We can't truly love one another until we fully love ourselves. And once we do, I guarantee, that together we can move mountains.



Radical Self-Acceptance: The Stripped-Down Body Postivity Experiment from Melanie Flitton Folwell on Vimeo.
 

{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}
 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

BOOK REPORT: Three for International Book Lovers Day

Apparently today (August 9th) is International Book Lovers Day, something I learned about from Reese Witherspoon's Instagram account this morning. I had already planned to write up a little just-off-my-nightstand-book-report on the blog today anyhow, so it was fortuitous.

I've been devouring stories this summer, which is part of the reason I haven't been writing very many of my own here. Let me tell you about three that just made their way back to the library shelves.

 
The best thing I've read this summer, hands-down. Fat feminist fiction might just be three of my favorite words strung together in one description. This is Sarai Walker's very first novel and it's so fun and surprising and a fast read. Subversive stories about female characters that are not centered around men is so hard to find and so satisfying. Plus, Dietland is not what you think it may be. I cannot recommend this book enough, ladies.
 

 
This read was part of my way of extending the end of an era a little longer. For those of you who've been living under a rock, the best television series of all time, Mad Men, ended in May. I've read so many books about the show and life in the mid-century, but just finished this one loaned to me by a dear friend. Author Natasha Vargas-Cooper started with a blog called Footnotes of Mad Men which she later published into this book. There are many chapters/essays on real life of the 60s, in particular, stories of actual advertising Mad Men in New York which many of the fictional characters were modeled after. If you were/are a fan of the show, Mad Men Unbuttoned is an easy informative read.  
 

 
Written in 2012, Lucy and I co-read this book this summer for our Mother/Daughter Bookclub. It's a young adult novel about an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who cannot walk or talk but has a photographic memory. With the help of a few stellar adults in her life, she makes major headway in her education and communication in her late elementary school years, but the story is not without gut-wrenching heartache and the last few chapters will leave you devastatingly in tears. Beautiful and sad and celebratory, Out of My Mind is totally worth it.
 
My nightstand is already littered with new reads, including the short stories of John Cheever and Hold Still, photographer Sally Mann's memoir. With that, I'm off to bed to enjoy them. I hope your summer has been full of beach reads and sweet stories to curl up on the hammock with. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Diving In

“I’m gonna jump off that high dive,” my reserved, anxiety-ridden, long-legged eleven-year-old Lucy told us on the scenic drive from our Pocatello, Idaho, hotel to Lava Hot Springs.  I gave Eric the side-eye in disbelief.

Located in the mountainous valley of the Portneuf River along the historic Oregon Trail, the site boasts a handful of soothing hot springs pools, several waterslides and a series of high dives, including a dizzying 10 meter diving tower into 17 feet of clear, warm water. It’s the playground of my youth and I was excited to share it with my children. Except maybe not the high dive part.

I tentatively signed the waiver that we wouldn’t sue in the case of death, got the wrist band, heard the instructions. Lucy went right out and climbed the stairs, stood in line, hung her toes over the edge in anticipation, and looked down. The lifeguard held her number up and watched carefully, as did the rest of us. She stalled for what seemed like an eternity, turned and came back down the stairs. She wasn’t ready, she told me. Maybe in an hour.

It was just the time she needed. Lucy thought it through, watched a few others, went on the waterslides, gathered her courage. We talked about maybe plugging your nose, being pencil straight, keeping your arms to your side. She jumped. It wasn’t that bad, she said. It looks so much higher than it feels. She wanted to do it again, but just as it came her turn, a small boy launched off the tallest high dive and attempted a flip which turned into a belly flop that knocked the wind out of him and required emergency assistance from the lifeguards. Lucy turned and came back down the stairs again, this time in tears. The boy’s accident scared her, and knocked her courageous feeling from her heart. She felt like a failure, that her accomplishment was somehow diminished because she couldn’t replicate the jump. She’d lost her bravery, and her pride.

Eric and I spent nearly an hour that afternoon talking her up from her perceived failure. We explained that sometimes being brave means knowing when to stop. It takes courage to know your limits and be true to your heart, follow your gut instinct, take your time.

Bravery can be not taking that risk, it can be saying no.
 

“I’m gonna buy another bikini, a tinier one,” my 220 pound, brown-skinned, body loving, 39-year-old self said out loud while perusing a plus-sized swimsuit website in my pajamas a few months ago, to no one in particular.

And I did it – first a sky blue retro looking bikini with white polka dots and a high waist. It makes me feel glamourous and flirty, strong and sexy. My youngest daughter, Alice, snapped a photo of me wearing it while lounging in the bright sun one afternoon in our backyard while the baby slung the hose around and the neighborhood kids chomped up popsicles. I hesitantly posted it on Instagram and the photo ended up being selected for a curves in bikinis challenge, promoting the fact that all bodies are beach bodies. My prize was a $100 shop credit from my beloved polka dot swimsuit maker. I didn’t hesitate a second to snatch up two new bikinis- a sleek black two piece with a plunging neckline and a cute red, white and blue number with a fireworks print and underwire and boy shorts.

And they don’t just sit in my closet. I’ve worn them nearly every day this summer, to the river and the public city pools, lounging with cold beers and chasing my baby down wet kiddie slides. It takes courage to push your limits, follow your heart, take a chance.

Bravery can be taking that risk, it can be saying yes.
 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We Go Together Like...

I've been lucky enough to write a bit for Mamalode magazine out of Montana for a few years now and have not only become friends with the editor and staff, but have been introduced to some amazing writers along the way. Mamalode is a magazine. A website. A movement. Our readers and writers are moms—with a smattering of dads, kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. They become Mamaloders because we give them something nobody else does—the truth and each other.

The latest print issue just came out and I wrote a little piece about some of my favorite things, pairings that are meaningful to me, collaborations that are both mundane and extraordinary in our life together.


Your soft chubby thighs wrapped around my thick right hip

Red wine in a mason jar stashed in my purse at the movies

His naked body in our messy bed

Peanut butter chips in chocolate oatmeal bars in my dirty oven with one broken burner

My uterus with a baby kicking around in it

Doing the dishes with storytelling podcasts

Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers in the pockets of all my comfy jeans

Her fingers and our 1913 upright piano

My ass in those leopard print panties from Lane Bryant in the mall

Cold Junior Mints sprinkled on a bucket of buttery popcorn

Her lithe little body and cartwheels and round offs

Our garden and chicken poop

A cigarette with an old friend

Bare shoulders and sun

Your hand on my thigh

A tent and the stars

Fingers and dirt

Kisses and lips.


 
 



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

FOODIE: The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge | March & April

I know I'd hoped to write monthly updates about my 2015 New Year Challenge of making all 109 recipes in the Pioneer Woman's cookbook, but the spring just slipped away from me. Really, though, there was too much other stuff going on. I did, however, continue cooking and baking and making as planned. So here's our favorites and not so favorites from the past couple of months. Well, April and May at least. I know, I'm so behind. But rest assured I'm still cooking up a storm, just not taking the time to blog about it as regularly (read: I've now boarded the toddler crazy train + summer).

Links to the recipes via her website are provided if available.

THE REVIEWS:

First, the NAWS.

Eggs Florentine: No recipe, except it's exactly like the Eggs Benedict one below but wilted spinach in place of the Canadian bacon. Ugh. I hated it. Plus, leftover hollandaise sauce is not good, at least we didn't think so.

Chicken Parmesan: I thought we'd love this basic recipe, but we didn't. Like, at all.

Fancy Mac and Cheese: PW says this is one of her all-time favorite recipes and so I thought for certain it would be mine, too, but no go. It has several kinds of fancy cheese and bacon in it and STILL. Not that great. Arlo loves it, though. But that baby eats anything and everything and a lot of it.

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce: Another ugh. Just okay. I also thought we'd love this simple dish, but no.


Quesadillas de Camarones: Shrimp quesadillas that I thought the kids would like due to their extreme love of shrimp, but nope. We thought them just okay, but we're looking for really good here.

Panfried Kale: Just olive oil and garlic and kale. I'm still not a huge fan of kale, made into those healthy chips or otherwise. It was just okay.

Panfriend Spinach: Same as above, although I like spinach more than kale. I think I still prefer both fresh and in salads instead.

Now, the FOREVER AND EVER AMENS.

Eggs Benedict: I've never made my own hollandaise sauce before, and it was pretty good. It made a ton of it, though, so we made those Eggs Florentine which I thought were yuck. Also, I am not a fan of poached eggs, so we fried ours for this. Pretty good.


Pizza dough: This is a good one and easy and handmade. It makes two pizzas and keeps in the fridge. A new favorite!

Breakfast Pizza: She's got a handful of homemade pizza recipes in the book using her pizza dough, and this breakfast one with bacon, eggs and hashbrowns is yummy! It makes a ton, though, so best made for a crowd.


Thai Chicken Pizza: This is probably our favorite of her recipes these past two months. We all loved this! Chicken with sweet chili peanut butter sauce? My kids love them some Asian foods, and we'd make this a million more times.

Sloppy Joes: We loved these, even the girls and they are the pickiest. They aren't as saucy as Sloppy Joes I've had in the past, which I was so glad for. Don't forget to drain the grease, though, after frying the hamburger.

Cherry Limeade: No recipe on the blog, but basically it's lemon-lime soda, fresh lime juice, sugar, and a jar of maraschino cherries. Shake and serve. With our without vodka. We did it without vodka for March Mother/Daughter Bookclub and of course the girls loved it. A fun, fruity sweet drink.

Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce: Holy moly, Alice and Lucy couldn't get enough of this. Arlo, too. Eric and I thought it was pretty good as well and super easy. I used the last jar of homemade pesto from the freezer from last summer making it that much easier.

Fried Chicken Tacos: After the Thai Pizza, this is definitely our second favorite recipe. So simple, but the frying in oil with the corn tortillas sends this over the edge of decadence. It makes your house oily and smelly, but in the best way.

Beef Stew: Great flavor, and even better the next day. Would totally make this again and it quickly became a family favorite! Best use of simple ingredients like carrots, potatoes, onion and beef. Her spices are spot on here.

Buttered Rosemary Rolls: These are so easy. Rhodes frozen dinner rolls in a pan with butter on the bottom and top and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. The butter makes the crispy and decadent and we all love rosemary. Yum!

Strawberry Shortcake Cake: Lawd have mercy, this was Lucy's 11th birthday cake, and while it wasn't as much like traditional strawberry shortcake as she'd liked, it was divine. Especially the leftovers with coffee the next morning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#perimenopause #stillseventeen #polkawhaaaaat

I can't even begin to describe how insane my life, and the other four lives in my house, has been over the past few months. So much goodness, so much business, so much school stuff, so much extracurricular activities. All my babies were born within three weeks of each other in March/April, so we had birthday parties for a one year old, a seven year old, and an eleven year old. There's been a testing and a diagnosis and school IEP team meetings regarding my youngest daughter which has been so hard (a story and a post for another day). We've celebrated and played Little League baseball, and won track meets, and participated in piano festivals, and written grants, planted gardens, been in the news not one, not two, but three times in about a week's time. Life is so wonderful and fun and the adventures are amazing and my life is charmed indeed.
 
During all this living of my life, friends I graduated from high school and college with have started celebrating their fortieth birthdays, with grand weekends away, raging parties, and quiet retreats at spas. I've been thinking about how I'd like to celebrate mine, sneaking up on me in just six months. I've also been thinking about how scary it sounds to be 40. How middle of my life I am. Is it really half over? Maybe. But we're all dying, every day. I'm not super afraid of my mortality for my sake, but for my childrens' sake. I have to be around as long as possible for them. There's also this nagging part of my brain that I can't shake: I still feel seventeen. I'm not alone in this notion - one of my dearest gal pals from high school, Mandilyn, feels just the same way. So much so, in fact, that we've been hashtagging each other in all sorts of posts on social media about buying jewelry at Claire's in the mall and loving Taylor Swift and our affinity for the high school TV drama Friday Night Lights as #stillseventeen.
 
As life would have it, Mother Nature has added insult to injury by officially setting into motion PERIMENOPAUSE. Like, seriously, I went to the doctor because my body has gone HAYWIRE and here's the documented proof because THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING I'M STILL 39 AND I JUST HAD A BABY FOR CHRISSAKE:
 
 
The journey to this diagnosis was two months in the making and many late night internet searches for what seemed to me to be unrelated symptoms that turned out to be related after all. So, to aid my fellow young friends who have entered menopause freakishly early, and should they come upon this blog post in a frantic late night internet search to find out if they are crazy or dying or just MENOPAUSING, here's a list of a few of the crazymakingly odd symptoms that you may be experiencing right now and may last for 5-10 years and may get worse or change AREN'T WE LUCKY:
  • Mittelschmerz like you can't believe, but the cramping and back pain doesn't just last a week, it's constant!
  • Menstruation for three weeks straight! Heavy and filling the toilet with lots of internal tissue and clots.
  • Headaches!
  • Moodiness and tearfulness! And not just during PMS or menstruation, but all the time.
  • Moments of sudden rage! Like maybe you are making scrambled eggs and talking with your husband and it turns into an argument and you slam the plastic spatula on the stovetop to make a point and it breaks and he's like WTF ARE YOU CRAZY?! and in turn you pick up the entire pan of eggs and throw it on the floor BECAUSE YES.
  • Bloating! Again, not just during PMS or menstruation, but a permanently puffed out belly.
  • Gingivitis! Swollen, bleeding gums that make it so painful to eat.
  • Lack of appetite! Everything tastes off and weird like it did when you were pregnant (hello again, crazy hormones!) which is probably fine anyhow because GINGIVITIS.
  • Hair loss! My hair is falling out in huge clumps, just like it does a few months after I give birth. At least it's growing back; I've got a head full of baby gray hairs to prove it.
  • Acne! I keep breaking out. ON MY BACK. Which hasn't happened since I was in high school (the irony of #stillseventeen is not lost on me here).
  • Weird muscle and joint aches! I threw my back out for the first time in my entire life last week. Ain't got no time for ice when you're crawling after a toddler on the floor. Also, picking up a 25 lb. baby in this condition SUCKS.
  • Sudden dark spots appear on your face! The technical term is melasma, or hyperpigmentation of the skin due to extreme changes in hormones. Sometimes it happens during pregnancy, or sometimes you just wake up one day when you're 39 AND LEAST EXPECTING IT and your upper lip is strangely dark brown.
  • Itchy dry skin! I feel like bugs are crawling on me and my EARS ARE PEELING. Thank goodness for bulk jars of coconut oil from Costco.
  • Breast swelling and tingling! This actually ain't that bad. Except it feels like I'm pregnant but my body is actually doing the exact opposite of making a baby (sob).
  • Heart palpitations! This happened when I was pregnant as well, it's something due to hormones and thinning of blood, but it is also a version of hot flashes, I guess. Anyhow, my heart will flutter and race for a few seconds several times a day and it's real off-putting.
I'm stopping there because I'm literally in tears over it. Turning 40 and the loss of my fertility is making me so sad and depressed and I KNOW IT'S FINE and part of life and I'm so lucky and it's no big deal and it's the biggest deal ever and I just have to go through it (MENOPAUSE EVEN THOUGH I'M ONLY 39) like every woman before and after me and be brave and look on the bright side. I'm trying.

So I bought myself a blue polka dot bikini.

Because I deserve it.

And #YOLO.

And #STILLSEVENTEEN.


 
Swim Sexy blue polka dot bikini from Swimsuits For All, size 18 top and size 20 bottom. It might be the best plus sized swimsuit shop in all the world, because of the high quality and ability to order different sized tops and bottoms. It was recommended in a Facebook group I'm part of called the Curvy Girl Guide, and the suit has become such a tour de force we've christened it with it's own hashtags. #polkawhaaaaaaat #thesuit


Monday, April 6, 2015

BOOK REPORT: 101 Ways to Help Your Daugher Love Her Body

Sit up straight so your tummy doesn't hang out. Thin is always in. You look so much prettier when you smile. Guys like girls with big boobs. Now that you've got your period, you'd better be careful. I'd kill to have legs like yours.

UGH.

Having just watched the season premiere of the final season of Mad Men last night, and the powerhouses of the female lead characters Joan and Peggy and the struggles they have fought throughout the seven year run of the show (which takes place from 1962-1970), I just want to vomit a little. Things really haven't changed that much for women in the past fifty or so years.

That's why books like these are so important.


This was recommended somewhere on the Internets, either via the reading list on A Mighty Girl's website or Amy Poehler's Smart Girls Facebook page, but I can't quite remember. (Regardless, both these websites are the ultimate resource for those of you parents of girls.) I picked it up at the Boise Public Library, where I get all of my books because 1) public libraries will change the world and 2) a library card is one of the most powerful things a girl can have in her purse.

 
The book has two authors - one a clinical psychologist, the other an award-winning journalist - and both are women. They combat those clich├ęd phrases I started with above, all things I (unfortunately) continue to hear spouted to women and girls all around me.  
 

The tips are practical and so easy to implement and there are plenty of them geared towards fathers, too. Seriously, skills like teaching them how to read a recipe and how to read a map, to more intangible things like how to say no and how to ask for what they want. It's such a great how-to guide that reminds us, most importantly, that as parents we are mirrors to what our children learn and know and do. Take a long hard look and reflect what you want her (or him) to see. I can't recommend this book enough as one of those parenting books you should definitely have in your arsenal.