Monday, April 30, 2012

real bellies.

I was delighted to recently find this gallery of nearly 100 non-photoshopped belly photos.  Each with its own individual story and inspiration to share.  It is called "The Real Girl Belly Project".

And I know once you look through those, you're going to want some more.  So? Here.  Here is a whole other gallery.

I believe that as we expose ourselves to honest, positive media such as this, we will all come to love and appreciate our bodies for how they are right now, and for what they do for us every single day!  How grateful I am for a strong, healthy body.

Beautiful, real bellies for all!!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Mom, I'm Fat:" One Mother's Inspired Response to her 7 year old--submitted by Robyn Richardson

This is great.  May there be many more liberating-naked-mommy-daughter-dances in the future.

Seeing yourself as others do--submitted by Charla Finnigan

In this article by Miki Meek, and these self-portraits by Jen Davis, we are presented with artistry, a story, and some inescapable realities about how we see fat bodies.

I went to a dance concert the other night.  In some of the numbers, there were two girls much larger than any other dancing body on stage.  In my post-eating-disorder/feminist/body-image activitist/NEVERTHELESS-socially conditioned mind, I had a hard time knowing what to do with what I saw.  They danced the same as anyone else--their steps were in time and they knew the choreography.  They danced with legs and arms and torsos that weren't so different from that of the other women on stage--only that they were larger.  I have more thoughts about this experience that I will share in a different post (ideas on artistry in dance working with, not against, the "fat" body) but in the mean time, read this article, look at these pictures.

What does looking at these pictures do to you?  What thoughts come that are confusing or upsetting?  What do you find yourself thinking about your own body, and how others see your body?  How do you look at a fat body?  Why do you look at it that way?  How do you wish others looked at your body?

Friday, April 27, 2012

From The Beauty Myth--by Naomi Wolf

By the 1980s, beauty had come to play in women's status-seeking the same role as money plays in that of men: a defensive proof to aggressive competitors of womanhood or manhood.  Since both each quickly loses any relationship to real-life values.  Throughout the decade, as money's ability to buy time for comfort and leisure was abandoned in the stratospheric pursuit of wealth for wealth's sake, the competition for "beauty" saw a parallel inflation: The material pleasures once presented as its goals--sex, love, intimacy, self-expression--were lost in a desperate struggle within a sealed economy, becoming distant and quaint memories

Interesting.  Granted, the book is somewhat dated but I think many of these words ring true.  They definitely did in the 80's--decade of the "you cannot be too rich or too thin" mentality.  Money was no longer the means to the end.  Money became the end.  Of course, money is a tricky "end" because where does it end?  What is enough?  What sum is reached to finally grant permission for happiness.

Of course, we all know people who are rich and miserable.  Short-answer, there is no end.  And when money and wealth become the ultimate destination, the arrival will always prove empty, unsubstantial, and transitory.   

Is the same true with beauty?  While I relate to the sentiment, I think that, for myself, in many ways I still see beauty as a means to an end.  I desire the connection, the intimacy, the love, and expression.  I believed for a long time (and still struggle with these old demons) that if I were thin enough or beautiful enough I would then be "worthy" of aforementioned pleasures.  

And yet, once we have intimacy and love, is that enough?  Has beauty served its purpose or has beauty (as presented, marketed, and perpetuated by media and society) become our mission--our subliminally culminating and supreme end in this life?  

I'm curious to hear your thoughts including those of you who are in healthy and enjoyable relationships.  

Warning--Submitted by Gregory Nichols

consider yourself warned.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thank You, YMCA Locker Room--By Ashley Mae Hoiland-Christensen

With permission from Ash Mae, I present to you a post from her blog.  Ash Mae is an artist, a writer, a mother, and a WOMAN.  I am grateful for this story.  I am grateful for her.

Take.  Eat.

It's free month at the YMCA, so naturally, I found myself in the women's locker room on April 2nd.  What I came upon there shouldn't have been surprising, but it was.  What I saw there moved with the grace of sunrise and felt as old and real as the canyon I spent my childhood hiking into.  Naked women walked across the green-tinted, wet, tiled floor around me and my navy-blue one-piece-swimsuit-clad body.  The light was just so. White and beaming from long florescent bulbs above their heads so that they all glided around the foggied place like they didn't belong to the real world.  I want to describe every single body I saw that night because in a way I wasn't expecting, they meant something to me.  The woman with skin like a white elephant who spent so long putting her leg brace back on before she pulled up her socks.  The black woman in the sauna with a plastic grocery bag tight over her hair, she rubbed vanilla scented body wash over her skin until she looked like a perfect batch of dark carmel heating on a stove.  The woman stretched out below me who came in fully-clothed and while we talked about toes, of all things, undressed and lay down to read her book.  Her belly-button ring, her rounded hip sticking up like a wide, rolling hill.  The older asian woman with short hair who was incredibly flexible.  She would step outside the sauna with her towel around her waist and put her head to her ankles.

What surprised me was not the nakedness, nor the candor of all of these women to be so perfectly at ease. What really got me thinking was the way their bodies were so imperfect, all of them.  It was one of the more liberating hours I've experienced in a long time.  I haven't seen too many naked bodies, and the ones I have seen live exclusively in T.V. or in magazines.  Supposedly perfect bodies that curve in all the right places and are smoothed and tan all over.  In my head, I knew this barbie-body-mantra wasn't reasonable and hardly realistic, but also, so easy to perpetuate and compare to, especially when I've been exposed to little else. 

I don't know if a sense of comradery is simply assumed by everyone in a situation like the locker room at the YMCA, but that is what I felt.  Many women had stomachs that had clearly housed children at some point, breasts that had served their purpose and now seemed like symbols of the feminine. Younger women who were round and glowing.  Some skin was smooth, but not all.  Flat feet, wide calves, skinny arms, rolly backs.

Why I hadn't supposed that all bodies are vastly different and not at all like what I've been cultured to believe, I can't quite figure out.  I've seen many people clothed, and they clearly aren't going to be chosen for America's next top model, but still it was honestly such a surprise and also a delight to realize that I am a part of something much larger than a few photoshopped magazine spreads or flashes of women in bikinis on fancy shows. I, with my large-hipped body and less than flat stomach am on the inside of something important.  I am already part of the tribe.  More of us have VIP invitations to this club than we realize. The images that the media slaps in our faces are not on the inside, they are the minority, and in a room-full of women who have lived a lot of life, they must seem a little silly.   I don't think that being slender, or having an "ideal" body is a fault, I think it is lovely, but it's also not the only way we are made. 

I haven't been back to the YMCA because we are on vacation in Utah, but I plan on re-visiting, and I think I may be brave enough next time to take off that old, wet swimsuit and let myself be a part of something sacred.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

heal thyself

(I promise the raw, honest, I-didn't-know-anyone-else-experienced-these-things-and-I'm-glad-we-can-talk-about-it posts are coming soon.  In the mean time.  This.)

To varying degrees we all experience pain daily--physical and emotional.  Some of it is temporary and some is ongoing, providing us with daily battles and struggles.  Healing is a PROCESS and takes time.  (Maybe in one way or another, a lifetime?) Yet, there are choices we can make day to day, even right now, to help.

What's one simple choice?  Chances are, you are a busy person.  You have places to go, deadlines to meet, people to love, things to write down, obligations to keep, appointments to make, projects to fund, and probably a bed to make.

I know.  Nevertheless.  Go outside.  Shut the lap top, turn off the computer, leave your phone at home and go outside.

Maybe you aren't like me, but maybe you are.  Maybe, like me, you have found yourself in bed, hunched over your laptop, after far too many minutes (hours?) cruising the interwebs, compulsively typing fac... into the url space which fills in facebook for you, so you can look for any red little notification number to see if you've received online validation for your existence.  Maybe, like me, you have found yourself looking at your old crush's now ex-girlfriend who is currently married to someone else and asking yourself questions like "How does her stomach look so flat after two kids?  Why don't I have two kids to justify my belly?  Why am I not married?  Look at her.  She's got it all.  Her blog has almost 100 subscriptions.  She's got her MASTERS?  I BARELY scraped by with a B.A.  Looks like she's been in a few plays as well.  Why didn't I ever try out for any shows at BYU?  Because you suuuuuuck, Dana.  That's why.  I have so many regrets.  Oh hell.  She started an orphanage in INDIA.  WHY AM I NOT SAVING ORPHANS IN INDIA???"


And it is frequently after such moments that I verbally say "Dana.  Stop.  Back away from the computer screen."  I flip my lap top down and leave the bedroom.  I walk straight to the front door put on my shoes and get out.  It doesn't really matter where to.

So.  Get out.

Facebook serves some convenient purposes and heaven knows I have no intention of deleting my account.  It also fosters a creepily complex network of comparing yourself, your body, your achievements, your family, your job, your talents, your days, your VERY LIFE to others in a way that is skewed and detrimental to your self esteem.  When I spend longer than a certain amount of time on facebook, or when I scroll through the newsfeed in a certain mindset, part of me dies inside and can take hours, even days to revive.

Save yourself the trauma and just shut the laptop, wherever you are.  Go outside.

I went outside today.  I ran in Finch Arboretum--65 acres of beautiful tree covered land along Garden Springs Creek in the southwest part of Spokane.  I ran on the designated trails and I ran through bushes and shrubs under trees.  I stretched under the cherry blossoms.  They aren't indigenous to this part of the country, but I'm just glad they're here.  I put my nose in the blossoms to smell and the little pink petals stick to my sweaty face.  They are so intricate and perfect just the way they are.  I wouldn't change a thing about them.  I'm in the Arboretum with so many different smells and tastes and sights.  I am there to experience each tree, the smell of spring and pine, the sunshine on my gold hair.  I weep under the cherry blossoms.  It is good to have a body and to be alive.  It is good to be living.

Experience outside however works for you.  So you can't run (yet)?  Walk.  So you want to run but can only do so very slowly and not for very long?  Run very very slowly and very gently.  So you live in concrete? Use your internet to find someplace green and go there.  I lived in Jersey City (just south of Union City) for about 7 months.  Believe me, you can't get much more concrete than that.  Yet, I remember playing Frisbee in a grassy park along the river surrounded by trees in Hoboken.  I remember my morning runs in the park near the cliffs of Jersey City, stretching in the gazebo while the sun rose over the Hudson.  I ran very slow those days and for not a very long time.  It didn't matter.

If this post moves you to get outside, come back and share your experience here if you like--where you went, what you did, what you thought about, what you learned.

Your existance is valuable and your body is fine.  You have reasons to live and love.  WHEN you forget these things (as I do so, so often) get outside.  Let the God of Nature remind you of what you know, and teach you things you never knew.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Like This--Translated from Rumi's Divan by Fatemeh Keshevarz

Rumi--a Persian poet and Muslim Sufi mystic from many moons ago.  There is something in his words that, to me, completely engage the body while at the same time transcending any social pressures or shallow ideas about beauty or appearance.  His words make me feel alive, and heavy with love.  More of him to come.  Enjoy this one.  

Like This

If anyone asks you about the huris, show your face, say: like this!
If anyone asks you about the moon, climb up on the roof, say: like this! 
If anyone seeks a fairy, let them see your countenance, 
If anyone talks about the aroma of musk, untie your hair [and] say: like this! 
If anyone asks: "How do the clouds uncover the moon?" untie the front of 

Your robe, knot by knot, say: like this!

If anyone asks: "How did Jesus raise the dead?" kiss me on the lips, say: 

like this!

If anyone asks: What are those killed by love like?" direct him to me, say: 

like this!

If anyone kindly asks you how tall I am, show him your arched eyebrows, 

say: like this!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Exploring Mormon Thought: Sex--Submitted by Austin Smith

"The intimacy of sex hinges on the intimacy of a shared confession that we both are bodies and that these bodies we share are, even to ourselves, a mystery."  Read here for more.  Thoughts?  Responses? 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

For Strong Women--by Marge Piercy--submitted by Jess Young

For Strong Women

A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing "Boris Godunov."
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.
A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why aren't
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why aren't you dead?
A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together, 
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Aunty Flow's First Visit--by Dana Fleming

How might it have been different for you if on your first menstrual day, your mother had given you a bouquet of flowers and taken you to lunch, and then the two of you had gone to meet your father at the jeweler, where your ears were pierced, and your father bought you your first pair of earrings, and then you went with a few of your friends and your mother’s friends to get your first lip coloring; then you went,
     for the very first time,
          to the Women’s lodge,
               to learn
                    the wisdom of women?
     How might your life be different?
                                                                        -Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones

The first adjective I used to describe the female menstrual cycle was undoubtedly gross.  Or maybe I just died a little inside?  So what you’re telling me, the girl who can’t keep it together when she sees an ant squished or feels the blood trickling down her index finger when she cuts it on a tuna can, is that at some point in her life she will begin bleeding, from her girl parts (which is another story in and of itself) on a monthly basis for decades?  So long, cruel world.  I…really can’t do this.   

And I couldn’t.  At least, not the first time.  It was December 23rd and I was 13.  I was a different girl from 6 years beforehand when the concept was first introduced to me, and I wanted my period.  Why?  Because at Jenkins Middle School, having your menarche meant a right of passage.  You were a woman.  A woman could have sex and create children.  I had no intention of doing either at this point in my life, but the possibilities were thrilling.  I pined for the day when a tampon would roll out of my backpack’s front pocket in front of some guys and I would blush.  “Oops” I’d say as I hurriedly and bashfully picked it up.  Embarrassing?  Meh.  I’ve done worse.  Still, they would know, and I would know that they knew that I was undoubtedly a woman—with the promise of breasts and hips to follow shortly thereafter. 

I waited and waited and even prayed for it.  It felt strange telling God I wanted to start my period, but only when I considered the possibility of anyone ever finding out.  Barring that it felt like the most natural thing in the world.  Aside from my dad to quit cigarettes and wanting to be thin and beautiful I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted more in the world than my right of passage.

I was funny and gregarious.  People liked me.  But to be liked alone?  The world would soon know that I was born to be loved.  The world was just waiting for me to lose weight and become a woman.

December 23rd was more than I bargained for.  My partner in crime Mollie and I were making crank calls to guys our age.  Hawk, Caleb, Gabe, Adam, and Jordan.  All made my stomach turn, but the worst was Adam.  His shaggy bowl cut dark hair, freckles, blue eyes, and the emotional vomit he called poetry that he’d write for his flippant girlfriend Kumiko.  What a romantic.  I vomited my fair share of emotion about him.  All of the poems were addressed to “you”, and “you” didn’t change for three years. 

The calls were dumb.  They were innocent.  (After dialing *67, “Hello!  My name is Gertrude and I represent McDonalds the fast-food chain.  We are conducting a survey on french fry satisfaction.” )But just to be sure we decided to make certain that Mrs. Black wasn’t home.  I knew how.

“Mrs. Black?  Are you home?  I started my period and I need your help!”  We snickered.  I told Mollie I’d be right back as I had to use the restroom. 

Blood.  Blood?  BLOOD!  YES!  Oh…NO.  I immediately felt dizzy and placed my head between my knees. 

“No, no, no, no, no” I whispered between my tears.

“This is what you wanted” I told myself.  A little girl just died.  Murdered in a stripe of blood on some wad of toilet paper.  In some inexplicable way, the realization of adolescence set in.  I wasn’t a kid anymore, but I certainly was no woman.  So I bled?  So what?  There was no magical change within me.  I was still insecure, still funny, still 13, still…Dana.  I was, however, no longer chubby.  That, however, had nothing to do with my period.  Quite the contrary--it was a wonder I started.    

After taking a few minutes to pick up the pieces (and after circulation returned to a functional level) I went downstairs to tell Mollie.

“I started my period.”

She laughed.  I felt like it was a joke as I said it.

“Dana, we’re done playing around.”

“No Mollie…I’m serious.” 


She was incredulous the entire afternoon.  She didn’t believe me until later that evening when I attended Saturday night Mass with her and her family.  Sit, Stand, Kneel, repeat.  Standing.  My thoughts went to what was happening in my underpants. 

“I am bleeding.  Blood is leaking from me.  I am bleeding from my vagina…oh dear…vagina…oooooh dear…”

I fainted.  I was escorted by Mollie’s mom out of the church to lay down in the car once I came to.  Mollie believed me after that.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Flatulence and Authenticity--by Anna Hargadon

I teach Fine Arts at a school for teenage girl's with emotional and social disorders, and learning disabilities. When I teach (anywhere) I like to do this thing called "Group Check-In" at the beginning of every class. We come up with a random question (like "if you had a super power, what would it be?" or "what brings you peace?" or "what was your favorite childhood toy?") and then go around the circle. You say how you are doing and answer the question. One night I told the girls to express how they were feeling using only one word. About halfway around the circle one of the girls, completely serious, said, "Flatulent." My insides started giggling, but no one else seemed to register it, not even the other staff in the circle. I nodded appreciatively and listened as she finished her turn, trying to control my internal giggle organs. A number of weeks later she used the word again and this time I couldn't stand it--my face broke into a huge grin. When one of the staff turned to me and said "What does that word mean?" my giggles exploded into a few loud laughs. I turned to the girl, who was trying to hide the grin that was spreading across her own face, and made her explain. She and I laughed together as everyone else processed. 

That month, I learned about authenticity. If I feel that way and someone asks how I'm doing, I just might say, "Flatulent." 

Alvin Ailey Dance-Wade in the Water from "Revelations"

from the introduction to "The Good Body" by Eve Ensler

 "I am stepping off the capitalist treadmill. I am going to take a deep breath and find a way to survive not being flat or perfect. I am inviting you to join me, to stop trying to be anything, anyone other than who you are. I was moved by women in Africa who lived close to the earth and didn’t understand what it meant to not love their body. I was lifted by older women in India who celebrated their roundness. I was inspiredby Marion Woodman, a great Jungian analyst, who gave me confidence to trust what I know. She has said that 'instead of transcending ourselves, we must move into ourselves.' Tell the image makers and magazine sellers and the plastic surgeons that you are not afraid. That what you fear the most is the death of imaginationand originality and metaphor and passion. Then be bold and LOVE YOUR BODY. STOP FIXING IT. It was never broken."