Category Archives: women

Bless Our Mess

My son’s occupational therapist shared with me something cute my 8-year-old shared with her at school. She said, “He said my house sure can be a mess sometimes, but its the best mess. Its my favorite place to be.” At first, I have to admit, I was mortified because I carry a little bit of secret shame about my free-spirited, “just trying to survive and stay sane as a working mom” housekeeping philosophy. But, then, I was struck with how profound my son’s statement really was. Our house, our family, ourselves sure can be messy, but messy can still be amazing. Messy can still be our favorite place to be. A big ole come as you are mess is actually quite comforting and endearing. You are always accepted and don’t have to clean up first and fit everything into a neat and tidy toy box. It’s the expectation of shiny, well-organized constant perfection that trips us up in so many ways, isn’t it? I honestly don’t want a constantly neat and tidy house. I want a sanitary house with clean dishes, the litter box scooped, enough clean clothes for the week and the trash taken off, but do I want floors with daily fresh vacuum lines and with toys neatly in their place or my son’s art supplies in perfect order at all times? No, I really don’t.

One of my favorite things about my Mom’s parenting style was that she was very relaxed when it came to her expectations of the house. She would rather let us relax, study, and play at home most days than to have a rigid chore chart schedule. There were times she asked for help or told us “alright that’s it, your room is a disaster its time to clean it up,” but overall there was always a sense of home being a place to rest, get schoolwork done, and to not have to be as tightly wound as the outside world expected. I want my kids to look back on their childhood the same way. That their home is the one place of constant refuge where they can kick back and relax, be messy, be themselves, but also a place where they can earn a dollar if they help Mama do the dishes.

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Of course, I’m not advocating never cleaning or letting your house be unsanitary, but I am all in favor of relaxing a bit and instead of shaming myself for my messy home, savoring the fact that this is my son’s favorite place and “the best mess.” My kids don’t care that my desk is overflowing with books and papers for the online class I teach. I’m thankful my youngest son’s room looks like a Lego explosion and he feels creative freedom and relaxation. I’m thankful my oldest son’s room is an explosion of stuffed animals and art supplies where he can shut the door and decompress after school. I’m thankful I can go to yoga or read a book instead of spending hours each day trying to get my home to look like a magazine. I do not enjoy cleaning at all because it is an exercise in futility and I don’t have the time to put any effort into futile pursuits my kids will just undo for me. Why spend an hour picking up Legos or hounding my son to do so when I could instead be playing Marvel versus Capcom with him or even just sitting by him on the couch reading a book, available if he wants to talk while he draws? He is just going to empty out the Lego boxes looking for the perfect Darth Vader helmet tomorrow anyway, so why bother? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I sure don’t. I work 3 jobs for goodness sake and take care of 2 boys, one of whom has special needs that take up any excess energy I might have. When you are just trying to survive as the parent of a child with special needs, you don’t have time to get neurotic about perfection. You start to accept and cherish the beautiful mess that is your life because your ideas about perfection were shattered the day you received that diagnosis.

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As I think and write, I realize that housekeeping tends to be a deeply personal issue for me and for probably most of us women. Men are pretty much off the hook because if someone comes over and the house is a wreck, no matter if the wife works just as many hours or not, somehow the spoken accolades or the passive-aggressive disapproval falls on her. Her only hobby  after working full-time should be cleaning and childcare right? That is the unspoken expectation so many of us feel. It is us women who frantically announce, “Ya’ll! Clean up NOW Grandpa is coming over in 2 hours!” as we bust out the mop, the vacuum, and the shovel for all of those toys simultaneously in a flurry of panic at the thought that our family member or friend is going to judge us harshly for slacking off and maybe playing with the kids or reading instead of non-stop cleaning.

Who do you allow into your home? I am very selective. I know which friends are my “safe friends” who I don’t have to clean up the house for if they want to swing by for coffee and these friends are the same ones I go to when something serious is going on in my life and I need to share my pain or my emotions without having them judged “a hot mess” or offering to “tidy up” my feelings for me either. There is something beautiful about accepting the messy parts of ourselves, our people and our homes. Let’s cut ourselves and each other some slack as we wing it through parenting, housekeeping, and realize we are all really a mess in one way or another. But we can find the love in our messiness. We don’t have to get it all in the toy box to be loved or enough.

selfcaremama

 

 

 

Christmas Miracles

Every Christmas, I look for miracles. My dictionary reads: A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being, magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader. So what miracles would this year bring, I wondered? I have been  praying for miracles for an injured family member, an overwhelmed friend,  a little girl in my community who is fighting cancer and for Joey Feek, whose music and testimony has touched my heart deeply in a way I can’t logically explain. My sons and I have been donating to (because sometimes you have to help miracles along with love when you can) and praying for the refugee women and children who are in need of so much more than we have to give. This world really needs some miracles right about now, doesn’t it? 

So, I was praying for people who needed a miracle. I was keeping my eyes and heart open in gratitude to see the many miracles all around us that we all too often fail to see. But, in some ways, I just wasn’t feelin’ it this year. Ever had trouble just getting into the Christmas spirit? You try and try and just can’t quite get there? That was me this year. I had been feeling a little (ok a lot) burned out. Stressed out. Feeling stretched beyond my limits, but without any real options to change my situation or reduce my stress load anytime soon (believe me, I’ve rolled my options around in my head 1000 times, crunched numbers, and I’m just gonna have to hang in there as is unless an amazing new opportunity that doesn’t involve selling anything comes along). My headaches had started coming back. All of this was waaay before Christmas even rolled up…I was feeling like this in November. The past year had been filled with challenges at work, home, financially, everything breaking down all at once, health issues, etc.  So that’s where I was at emotionally in early November. Cringing as the stores brought out Christmas decorations and my go-to uplifting Christian radio station started playing “Jingle Bells”. Just exhausted, wanting to hop on the first plane to the Bahamas and run away from it all before Santa even flew in to take up residence at the mall. And then something interesting started happening….

Through a strange serious of events, I was called to help a young woman (not a client). More disadvantaged, alone, scared, and facing many more obstacles than any of my clients, she was someone I could not in good conscience decline to assist. But, if I’m honest with you, I have to admit that some of my first (selfish) thoughts were, “oh no, Lord why me? I don’t even know if I can be of much help or if this is just going to cause me more headaches and be the stress that pushes my sanity into a ditch. I know I’m supposed to be servant-hearted, but I’m dry bones, Lord have mercy I’m tired. And in December? Really?” But, I answered the call nonetheless. It was a situation I am uniquely qualified to help with for many different reasons due to my life experience and professional training. Saying yes, I will help, has resulted not in further burnout, but instead in my own Christmas blessing! God and those mysterious ways again…

My faith is expanding as I’m seeing God work in miraculous ways in this seemingly impossible situation. I’m doing my part to be love and practical help (within my means) to someone who needs lots of love and support right now. In doing so, my heart has been touched deeply, my faith expanded, and I have been re-energized about my calling and my life’s work as a counselor. So many things have come together in such a short period of time. God’s hand is undeniably all over it stirring sweet grace and mercy into the situation with the help of a network of believers as generously as Paula Deen stirs butter into her recipes with a spoon. The Body of Christ has come together so beautifully it is restoring my faith in my fellow Christians (many of us didn’t even really know each other well before this need arose and we don’t even come from the same church family). I wish I could tell you the details and tell you the full story, but I need to keep the details private. My part of it is just doing what I can and thanking God for this Christmas blessing of expanded faith and confirmation that I need to stop feeling guilty for not doing things that are not my callings and the gentle yet firm reminder to say yes to my callings even when they don’t make sense or appear at first glance to be too much. Lord, your yoke is easy and burden light (Matt. 11:30) because what you ask us to do, those things that are our true callings, end up blessing us back in return.

Speaking of miracles….at Christmas, I always meditate on Mary and what it must have been like for her. She was called to do something completely out of her comfort zone, something that initially jeopardized her upcoming marriage/life plan/stability, her safety, stretched her heart and soul, put her on a physically arduous journey to Bethlehem and upon her arrival (in active labor no less) was told there was no room at the inn. No room. No. The world couldn’t make room for her or this baby. Mary did what she was called to do in spite of all of this, even though it was hard and illogical. She was likely feeling exhausted and scared. What that moment must have been like between Mary and Joseph as this young couple struggled through labor and birth far from home in a stable with animal noises and smells. What would it have been like for Mary to be lying on hay, nursing baby Jesus and see the shepherds and the 3 wise men from the Far East converging upon them to gaze at their baby in wonder and awe, handing gifts of great value to this poor couple who no one could make room for just a few hours ago!? Wild. What a wild night. Mary bore a lot, but how blessed among women did she feel at the end of that night? Maybe she still felt confused and tired, but certainly she must have been more sure of her calling and her faith must have been expanded exponentially with baby Jesus lying in her arms and a star shining brightly above that stable.  

This is the true miracle of Christmas. The story that we can reflect upon in gratitude year after year with its rich symbolism and continued relevance, regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of if our prayers are answered as we wish they would be in our human understanding, the original Christmas miracle is one that we all too often overlook as we listen to the voice of the world that tells us the lie about “buying Christmas.”  I’ll take the original Christmas story over the modern consumerist story any day.

 

BRAVE: Self-love and bucking the trend of deprivation-focused eating as a woman

This weekend our Pastor gave a sermon on what it means to be “brave.” I pondered what it means to me to be “brave”.

I thought to myself, “Its brave just to be a female in our society who actually EATS!” Most women I know are either on a diet or just live a lifestyle that is perhaps not a diet but is undeniably restrictive and deprivation-focused. “I don’t eat carbs” “I eat Paleo” “I had a fat-free, sugar-free yogurt for lunch” “I only eat vegetables” is the way most women live. Even when I starved myself on an ultra-restrictive low-carb diet and compulsively exercised daily, I didn’t fit into society’s “beauty box”. I looked like a flat-chested body builder. Guys would come up to me in the gym and ask me how I got my legs so massive and ripped. No matter what I do, my body will never be waif-like aka “model-like” unless I go full-out anorexic. Today, I take a stand as I write this. I will never go back to that. I will never go back to feeling tired, hungry, angry and deprived all the time (even when people give me all kinds of compliments for doing so).

dieting

I am all for healthy eating. I am not saying go out and eat a KFC “Double Down”. Fruits and veggies are our friends. But dessert doesn’t have to be our mortal enemy. I’m just saying that I don’t want my day-to-day life to consist of counting calories, culling carbs, and smoking cigarettes to try and keep my appetite suppressed. I don’t want to feel bad for putting dressing on my salad. I don’t want to feel bad for having…God forbid…a cookie for dessert. If I had a daughter, I would want her to feel free to have that cookie and not stress about it. I wouldn’t want her on some restrictive diet trying to lose weight so that her friends are complimenting her instead of criticizing her natural shape. By “natural shape” I mean the shape she finds herself in when she eats a balanced, healthy diet and engages in regular physical activity. I know girls who eat so healthy, work out, and are a size 12. What’s wrong with that? We all have different size frames, genetics, etc. Some of us are 5’5 and a size 8 in peak condition. Some are 6’2 and a size 14. That’s ok.

perfect body

I think we should celebrate diversity and health. Today, I celebrate the fact that this body of mine grew and birthed two strong and robust baby boys without the need for any medical assistance. Yes, I received prenatal care, but there were no medications or interventions at any point. I birthed both of my boys at home with a midwife present. See, these wide birthing hips are actually a genetic advantage, an asset. But, my whole life I hated them and saw them as abnormal because all I saw on TV was a bunch of narrow pelvises and women who looked like 13-year-old boys with breast implants.  Even when I was anorexic, I was a size 7 because of these hip bones. And that’s ok. I don’t want a “thigh gap.” My husband loves these thick thighs. I told him about the concept of “thigh gap” and he snarled his nose up looking disgusted and horrified. God, I love my man.

What’s funny is that most men I know don’t even particularly like the skinny girls more than the thick girls. But we women want to be skinny girls or uber-fit girls. Why? Because we think it makes us “better” and then the slippery slope “better than.”  I think we women actually perpetuate this culture of deprivation, alteration, and lack of acceptance because we internalize it so deeply that we spew our dissatisfaction with ourselves onto other women. We project it onto our friends and daughters.

diet

Mothers urge their daughters to slim down and worry that their daughters might get the slightest bit overweight. They don’t worry like this about their sons. A “stout” boy is ok, but a “stout” girl? No. Grandmas tell us to stand up straight and suck that stomach in.  Our friends ask us to join them on fad diets and restrictive cleanses. I always want to say “ok so are you saying I need to diet? Cause personally I don’t!” when asked to buy the latest diet supplement or join a fad diet. We buy Spanx to hide our real shapes. We buddy up about weight loss because we need “accountability” not to have that darn cookie with dinner. We lust over our husband’s butter-laden baked potato while we act happy to eat steamed broccoli. At least I do…or did yesterday…dang it I’m just not going to live like that. Because that’s not living. It’s trying to shave off the square edges of WHO I AM to try and fit me into this small round hole that is the “beauty box” society tries to sell to us women and girls everywhere we look. I like baked potatoes and I like my wide hips and strong thighs.

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Brave is standing against that. Brave is loving my body as-is. Brave is just continuing to do the next right thing for me, for my health, not for a number or a size or a thin aesthetic. Brave is eating like French women do. For pleasure and for health. In balance, with portions that are not too large or small. Without cutting out bread and wine. With a nice long walk after eating.  Enjoying life. Balanced and happy. Chocolate and champagne are not off limits. We shall see how it goes…

Tell me, how do you eat in a way that is healthy and doesn’t leave you feeling deprived, angry, and sad? What works for you? This women and food thing is difficult terrain to climb alone. Let’s wing it together and fly to the top of this craggy mountain! 

Breaking News: Boobs! Meanwhile in New York beautiful things are happening…..

So I go online this morning and the “top news” story trending is this story about a celebrity’s breasts (although I applaud her speaking out about the negatives of breast implants): https://gma.yahoo.com/melissa-gilbert-feels-going-size-dd-just-average-134014073–abc-news-celebrities.html 

I look forward to a day when women’s bodies are no longer “breaking news” and instead our minds, hearts, spirits, professional accomplishments and philanthropy are the “top stories”.  Amazing things are happening in this world! Flowers are breaking through the hardened sidewalk of society. Stories like this one:   http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/24/living/feat-humans-of-new-york-harvard-fundraiser/

How are we in 2015 and still women’s bodies are not only fair game for commentary, news stories, judgment, etc. but these stories overshadow stories about exemplary women who are making a difference in the world every day in ways that have nothing to do with appearance? How many news articles do you see discussing a male politician’s new hair-do or fashion choices? How many male actors are plastered on a magazine shamed for gaining weight? No matter how accomplished or dignified a woman is, her body is still subject to the gauntlet of public opinion. News stories about women’s bodies or fashion choices trend, while other stories get overlooked. Why is that?

little girl

It’s no wonder we women are so dang messed up and every woman I talk with has some kind of body image issue. Some part of her body she hates. Instead of seeing herself as a whole woman with inner and outer beauty, a woman will take issue with her breast size or shape, how big or small her butt is, or how big her nose is. Why can’t we all rise up and just buck this trend? Because it is all around us. It is pervasive. We can’t dig a hole, crawl in and escape it.

I am an accomplished, professional woman who has received numerous kind and crass comments about my body over the years (especially during my stint waiting tables and during my dating days) from women and men alike. I just want to tell all of them “please don’t comment on my body; its mine you know. I’ll ask if I want your opinion.” I hate how every time we are at the park with my father-in-law he comments on women’s appearances. I hate how one of my best friends slipped and called me fat the other day joking around…even though she knows my struggles…and she struggles too. I hate when I try to open up about my insecurities to a friend and she offers me diet advice instead of advice on how to love myself…

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The worst thing for someone like me is when all of a sudden I start receiving a lot of compliments about how good I look when I’ve lost weight. You see, I don’t ever let myself get “scary skinny”. This is a common misconception about eating disorders. That only people who look skeletal have one. Not true. These people who complimented my slim physique were well-meaning, but they were complimenting my eating disorder. They are positively reinforcing my anorexia. When I slip back into my patterns of restricting food and compulsively exercising, I am literally flooded with all of these comments about my body from women and men alike “oh you look so good! What are you doing?” I’m starving myself eating an apple, a yogurt, and a salad everyday….I’m exercising for hours at a time hating myself….I don’t recommend it. It’s a pretty miserable existence.  No one compliments you when you gain weight, even if on the inside you are psychologically the most healthy and happy you’ve ever been. In our society, weight loss and uber-fitness is lauded as the pinnacle of success. “She has it all” yeah…including an eating disorder and self-loathing….no I don’t have it all. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even have dessert! Have you tried living like that?

If I’m about 10 pounds overweight I’m in my happy place with my eating disorder and food. If I’m skinny again, I’m losing. Losing and risking my life. I’m having heart palpitations and my stomach is screaming for food and I’m not listening. But I sure do get a lot of compliments….

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For the past two years, I’ve been in the best place of my life. I have felt like I was in full recovery and have started to love myself as-is instead of constantly trying to change myself. My husband and my counselor have both helped me start to love myself even with a little extra weight on me that comes from….you know…eating and not compulsively exercising. My husband is the only person who tells me I look better the way I am today than when I was 100 pounds. Even my friends remind me that I looked “so great” back then. Sigh…they can’t help it. They are women and they have been acculturated just like I have.

So I’ve been doing well with this thing, but yesterday….I saw a picture of myself and was horrified. Utterly disgusted. I broke down crying. It triggered something in me that I couldn’t talk myself down from. I couldn’t see the sweet moment I was having with my children in that picture. I couldn’t see the smile on my face. All I could see was fat. FAT. FAT. FAT. DISGUSTING. LET MYSELF GO. NEVER GOOD ENOUGH. I cried and cried and then I had to go to work. I didn’t eat all day. I felt dizzy.

There are three precious little girls at work. They asked me why I was only eating a small piece of chicken and a small salad for dinner as I sat with them. They knew I normally ate more and enjoyed dessert. These girls tell me they love me every day. Over and over. They smile and run to hug me when they see me. They want to be around me 24/7. They want to play games and eat with me. I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth. I lied to them. I told them I had a late lunch and my stomach wasn’t feeling so good today. But it wasn’t my stomach that was hurting. My heart was breaking. My mind was racing and at a loss. I don’t want to go back down the road of misery, but I don’t want to look at pictures of myself and feel horror.

When I start focusing on doing the “Paleo diet” or whatever other “eat this, not that” diet people tell me to try, it spirals out of control into orthorexia then anorexia. Honestly, I’d rather just not eat than eat food that I don’t like and get no pleasure from eating. I don’t like being in a deprivation mindset. It feels icky. It feels wrong to me. The only way I have overcome anorexia is trying to eat healthy foods, but not put too much thought into it. As long as it doesn’t contain MSG, artificial sweeteners, or anything else that is just plain toxic, its ok by me. Carbs are ok. Desserts are ok. I don’t count calories (counting calories always becomes a game to me of how little I can eat and survive). I just focus on moderation and healthy choices as my goal.

dieting

But, look where “not thinking too much about it and just eating normally” has gotten me? To the point where I am horrified by a picture of myself. Obviously this “eating like a normal person” thing isn’t working either. I don’t know what to do but turn back to my old ways…nothing I’ve learned in counseling school works for me. No advice my healthy friends give me works. Mindful eating? Nope. I enjoy it too much and fixate on the pleasure of food to the point where I binge. “Healthy eating” turns into a contest to see how I can use fruits and veggies to drastically reduce calorie intake. Treating my body like a temple? Then I start feeling guilty for not being able to eat perfectly (I hate smoothies and I can’t stay on a “30 day challenge” of any kind) and I get depressed because I am a failure and my temple will never be good enough.

Food and I have such a messed up relationship. I don’t understand how some people just go about their lives eating and not having this love-hate, starve-binge, freak out if their pants are tight, freak out when they see a bad pic where they look fat issues….I wish I could just be normal. But I’ve struggled with this since I was 9 years old. I am a highly sensitive, perceptive, and intelligent woman who grew up in this culture where women’s bodies are always the subject of commentary and news stories. My mom would go on and on about how much she hated her stomach and how fat she was (she wasn’t actually ever overweight). Family members would praise me when I was starving to be thin. This stuff has deep roots.

My natural body type is curvy with wide, child-bearin’ hips and thick thighs. I am short. I have never had a perfectly flat stomach even before kids. I’m stronger than many men. My biceps are bigger than my husband’s. That’s just how God made me. I am still living in a culture which floods my mind with photoshopped images of women who look nothing like me and I can’t even scroll through my Facebook newsfeed without someone posting pictures of scantily clad women or their “before and after” weight loss pics (they usually look better in the before though). I wonder how my husband could want me when there is so much (real or fake) “perfection” out there. But he does. He is so good to me. He always says the right thing and he is so atypical.

I would never want this for these little girls I was sitting and eating dinner with. I would never want to model food restriction to these beautiful, perfect angels. I would want them to know that they don’t have to be what the magazines try to tell them they need to be. They are wonderfully made by the Creator who made the stars. I want to be a role model for them…but I’m back-sliding….it feels like I’m sliding down the mountain and I’m grabbing onto it, but my fingernails are breaking off and I know I can’t hold on. I pray and pray and cry and cry. I don’t want them to see me fall. All I can do is hide from them how I really feel. And that is not who I am. Of all things, I never want to be a liar again. Authentic is my goal, my mantra. But tonight, I can’t.

friends talk

I can look at any other person who is overweight or normal weight and not ever think a judgmental thought. I actually think women who are “thick” are so beautiful, so sexy. But not me. I see me at a normal weight, maybe 15 pounds overweight and think “Oh my God what have I done! I’ve let myself go and pretty soon the next picture I see of myself I will look obese and then…..”(down the rabbit hole I go with all of the awful things that will happen to me if I don’t look good enough). Why can’t I just love myself when I am able to love every other person on this Earth just the way God made them? My whole life has been chasing “good enough”. I’m still chasing it. Why can’t I find it? Intellectually, I understand that God made me perfect, whole, loved, accepted, cherished. But in my heart I know that this world doesn’t run according to how God sees me. And, as much as I hate it, I have to live in this world. 

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We have to live in a society that tears women apart with subtle things like every single magazine having articles like “How to stay slim without feeling hungry”. Women compliment each other on weight loss and eat fat-free Nutrasweet laden yogurt for lunch. Men download porn and view women as 2-dimensional objects who exist solely for their guilty pleasure. They don’t wonder who these women are…what they think…what their lives are like…if they are sad or addicted or contracting AIDS. They don’t wonder if maybe when she was a little girl she really wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, but she’s doing this instead because she has 3 kids to feed and they have a deadbeat daddy. They don’t know that a lot of abused girls grow up trying to take their power back by claiming to “enjoy” doing this for a living. They don’t realize that girls who are posting naked pictures of themselves online seeking attention are feeling empty and insecure. They don’t care.

There is so much sickness in our society. Even women who have fulfilling careers, who excel academically, who earn professional degrees and hold our heads high as our strong bodies walk down the street know eyes are looking at us. Not at the whole woman, not wondering who we are, what we do, what brings us joy, what good we are doing for the world….those eyes are looking at our body parts… undressing us with their eyes. Other eyes are comparing our waistlines to their waistlines. We women are all trying to answer the question, “Am I ok? Am I good enough?” 

I hope the women in my life I love dearly have found their answer and that it is “yes, I’m wonderful.” However, based on what clients tell me in counseling sessions, most girls lose that confident assurance around the same age they go through puberty and start looking outside into the world asking the world that question and receiving a resounding, “NO. Not good enough” everywhere they look.

I’m gonna fight this thing. I am determined not to slip as far down as I once was. Today, I may still be sliding down the mountain. Yesterday, I lost the battle of my mind. Today, I’m going to try again. I’m going to try and make peace with food, with bad pictures. I’m going to try to “love myself as my mama loved my baby feet” (thanks Mary Lambert). I’m going to try and see myself how I see those precious girls at work. “You don’t have to try so hard, you don’t have to try try try try, you just have to get up get up get up you don’t have to change a single thing” my Pandora radio sings to me as I write this.

Today I’m going to make a Youtube playlist and listen to songs like these over and over, winging it until something sinks in…are you winging it through a messed up relationship with food? Are you a woman who is just trying to figure out how to live in a world which tells us only certain body types are acceptable or attractive? Share your wisdom, struggles and thoughts with me please.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8NvU9Ah-uY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3f1zii5skA