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I’ve been reading a lot lately about the so-called “War on Obesity” and find myself wondering about both the terminology and the idea of waging war on what amounts to a difference between people, much like skin color, age, or gender. Now before you fly into righteous umbrage at my comparison of weight (which many people believe to be completely controllable, much like smoking) to factors that are completely out of one’s control, please listen to one fact: Weight is in between controllable and uncontrollable. I know, I know…I can hear the vitriol on both sides of this issue pour forth…sigh. However, research shows that body weight is as about much genetics and biochemistry as it is sensible eating and exercising.  Ok – one argument down – it’s not completely controllable, and it’s not completely uncontrollable – so let’s get on to the meat of this idea.

Given that whatever the cause we know that people who are overweight and obese suffer discrimination, I wonder if our “war on obesity” actually amounts to war on the obese. Study after study has documented that overweight men and especially overweight women experience discrimination in their jobs and in the rest of their lives (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2008-05-20-overweight-bias_N.htm and http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/BeautySecrets/story?id=4568813&page=1 for more information). We hear terms such as “fatty,” “pig,” “heifer,” or “fat cow” more often than many of us care to admit. We’re oinked at, barked at, and yelled at. We get rejected by dates, bosses, and family members because of our appearance. In this war on obesity, the obese are the casualties. My question is, does it have to be this way?

I get that obesity is not healthy, again no matter the cause. But if that’s true, why don’t we support the obese in their attempts to become healthy? Discriminating against people does not cause them to be more motivated to change; rather, it pushes people into resentment, anger and defensiveness, making them less likely to change. When you see someone who is overweight out walking, or exercising in any way, what stops you from saying, “Way to go! Awesome!” rather than “Fat Rear” or “Moo”? Why aren’t there more plus-size exercise clothes, exercise equipment, etc? If we truly want to fight obesity and help people get healthier, we need to STOP discriminating and start motivating.

Any psychologist can tell you that reinforcement (rewarding behavior you want to see increase) works way better than punishment – so why do we punish people and expect the behavior we want to see increase? It simply doesn’t work that way – punishment is designed to decrease a behavior. So guess what – when you discriminate against overweight/obese people, you’re NOT motivating them. In fact, you’re decreasing the likelihood that they’ll want to engage in change behaviors.

In this war on the obese, if we really want to see change, we’ll reward the behaviors we want to see – we’ll make accomodations to exercise equipment, we’ll make more comfortable, attractive workout clothes, and we’ll make access to health care services targeted to obesity more affordable and less stigmatizing. We’ll support people who are working on their weight AND we’ll recognize that people do come in different sizes – and that’s ok. We’ll support movements like Health At Every Size (http://haescommunity.org/). Most of all, we’ll accept that people who are obese having feelings, and have the same rights and privileges as every other person when it comes to access to jobs, employment assessments, and salaries/promotions – size simply is NOT an indicator of worth.

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This is one of my favorite blogs here (“Shapely Prose”, and here are two posts on being different in our world:

“The Fantasy of Being Thin”:
http://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/

“The Fantasy of Being White”:
http://kateharding.net/2009/07/08/guest-post-the-fantasy-of-being-white/

What seems to be a weed, may be a bouquet of blessings in disguise (image copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

What seems to be a weed, may be a bouquet of blessings in disguise (image copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

I recently had a couple of lessons on appearances and judging people by their appearances. I was on the receiving end of an act of verbal violence when someone drove by and yelled, “Fat Rear!” Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident for me – I’ve been “moo’d” (as have many of you, unfortunately), barked at, and been called “a dog.” We live in a society where a person’s worth is initially judged by their appearance – a quick judgment that often dismisses a person before we even know anything about who they are.

Glenna Peterson, a columnist for the Idaho Statesman, wrote that:

Height, weight, shape, hairstyle, dress, age, complexion – all are things we see and catalog when we look at others. When they open their mouths, we note accents, grammar, speech patterns, and make more notes in our mental catalog.

There is an old adage that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” While external clues may give us information about the person, they do not really give us the full picture – and often we make a decision without all the facts. My mother often lamented what she referred to as a “rush to judgment,” noting the times she had written off someone, based on appearance, who on closer acquaintance displayed personal qualities that led to admiration and friendship.

I suspect most of us have had such an experience. While appearance can provide some clues regarding a person, it does not tell us about the “real” person.

She hit the nail on the head in this article. And even though I had so recently been the victim of such judging, I found myself doing the judging a few days later.

After being at my mom’s in Orem for a few days, we left to head to Idaho to visit my husband’s parents. This was a long, tiring drive and by the time we were a few hours away from Boise, we were all cranky and sticky and dirty. The kidlets needed a potty break and we needed gas, so we stopped in this little brush town called Rupert. What initially looked like a travel plaza turned out to be a refurbished hotel that was turned into a gas station/convenience store. The restrooms were outside, and so I took little Becca to use the girls room. We locked the door, and a few minutes later heard a knock – I said, “We’ll be right out.”

When I opened the door, I was faced with a large woman with tattoos, long dyed platinum blonde hair, tight “biker” leathers and T-shirt – if you’ve ever seen the “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and know his wife, Beth – this lady could have been a much larger, dusty ringer for her. And I – who had so recently been judged myself on the basis of my appearance – fell into the trap.

All the stereotypes of bikers came up. I was immediately concerned for my daughter’s safety even though NOTHING even remotely threatening had occurred. We came out, and I smiled and said, “Sorry we were taking so long, she’s just starting to use the potty.” Here’s the thing, though – even though I didn’t SAY anything offensive, I was caught in the trap just as surely as were the young men who yelled at me.

My daughter – being the little extravert that she is – beamed up a huge grin and said, “Hi!” The woman smiled at me and said “hi” to Becca, and then smiled again and said, “She’s a little doll isn’t she?” She was a nice, friendly person and I’d almost missed the chance to find that out because of MY prejudices and biased thinking. Again, I learned a lesson – one that seem to need to learn over and over again – you can’t judge people by what they look like. Really.

I’ve heard that we keep gettings experiences designed to teach us, until we learn the lesson these experiences teach. If that’s the case, I must have a long way to go. I learn each time something like this happens, though – and I’m grateful for the lessons even if they ARE painful on occasion. So, I keep trying – I keep forgiving those who hurt me, and I try to be a better person myself. In a way, I hope I keep learning because it means I’m still growing – and I never want to stop learning or growing.

Glenna Peterson also wrote,

By looking only at the external we may miss opportunities to learn and grow from the interaction with a special person. I look at pictures of famous people who have contributed to mankind: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela. Some of them are not attractive. Others might be discounted because of gender or color of skin. But reading their words or others’ accounts of them leaves me wishing I had known them.

I agree with my sister-in-spirit here – attractiveness, skin color, weight, height, hair color, skin condition – any physical attribute that you can think of simply doesn’t matter and has no bearing on what kind of person someone is. The clothes they wear, the car they drive, the state of their home – it may give you information on how they live their live, but it doesn’t tell what kind of person they are.

I hope that someday I can be as gracious and wise as Ms. Peterson – as well as the people she mentioned in her article. At this point though – I have a long journey ahead and the road is long. And I’d better get started on that path.

Till next time, when we meet again – God/dess be with you and may your days be full of love and acceptance.

Something happened to me tonight, that I’m sure has happened to millions of other large – fat – women worldwide. I was verbally assaulted, on the basis of nothing more than my appearance. I am visiting my mother in Orem, UT and I was unloading our van, when a truck full of teenage boys roared by. As they leered out the window, they took it upon themselves in all their righteous ignorance to yell out, “Fat Rear! Fat Rear! Fat Rear!”

I was shocked. I was hurt in a way that few people can do to me anymore – this was sheer violence, expressed in a verbal way. Now one of my areas of expertise in psychology is peace and violence. Violence is expressed in two ways: direct and indirect. Direct violence is an attack, whether it’s physical, verbal or another form. Structural or indirect violence is the structure in society that allows the direct violence to occur – these are our prejudices, our stereotypes, our discriminatory actions and our “isms”.

Tonight, I was victim of direct violence – a verbal attack that was meant to be cruel and hurt. Even more harmful, though, is the fact that these young men felt justifed in making the attack. Fat prejudice is so ingrained in our world, that we don’t even think twice about denigrating someone who doesn’t fit our idea of conventionally attractive. Women who are fat, who have deformities, who are different-looking from the norm are all considered fair game. This is wrong, in any uncertain terms. Women in general are paid less than men – fat women are paid even less. One study examined hiring biases and pay biases. Men in general earned more and were hired more often than women, but here’s the really interesting part: Fat men were hired less and paid less than thin women, and fat women were paid the least and hired the least often of any of the groups. The students who participated were divided into groups, and each group was given the same resume – the only difference was the picture attached to the document.

Fat women were judged to be less intelligent, less competent – not to mention completely unattractive. Being fat in this society is bad enough – fat prejudice is one of the last “acceptable” biases there is. We are seen as “fat and ugly,” “fat and smelly,” “fat and lazy,” or “fat and stupid.” The point is that no matter how you justify it, no matter how righteous you feel in believing that it’s a matter completely under control and that if “you only exercised more and ate less, you’d be fine”, no matter how “helpful” you think you’re being by mentioning someone’s size – even if commenting on weight loss – you are engaging in fat prejudice. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? It is – and imagine what it’s like being on the OTHER side. Think about what it would feel like if someone said to you, “Wow – you’ve gained some weight! You were starting to look like you were starving…remember those concentration camp survivors? I was wondering if you were one.” Insensitive, clueless and prejudiced, isn’t it? Point out what seems to be a good thing – weight loss – often reminds the person of how unattractive s/he used to be perceived.

I’ve had people say to me that I’m making excuses for looking the way I do. Here’s my question back – Even if I am, SO WHAT? What business of anybody else’s is it if I look different from the norm? Ok – some of you are going to say, “Well MY insurance premiums and health care costs are higher because of you” – is that REALLY true? If you say this to me, I’ll first tell you that a) I”m healthy and have the medical records to prove it, b) that I DO eat well and exercise, even if you don’t want to believe it, and c) Mind your own f***ing business. Frankly, there are so many conditions, so many socioeconomic reasons – including the pharmaceutical companies’ greediness, so many people in poverty that being larger than normal is a drop in the health care bucket.

I’m not talking about morbid obesity, or fetishist obesity – those are problems, and in the case of a lot of involuntary obesity honestly beyond control (and don’t even get me started on voluntary – or fetishist – obesity.) The bottom line – if you’ll forgive the pun – is that we, as a society need to move beyond our prejudices and discrimination. We consider it a hate crime to use certain terms about people of color and people of Jewish descent – as a society, we HAVE accomplished some things.

So, why – WHY, WHY is it acceptable to do the same to large women? This is every bit as much a hate crime, and should be treated as such. And here is where my struggle comes in.

Being the kind of person I am, I realize that these young men at their root are more empty, more lost than I ever will be. THEY are the ones who are hurting – and they express their insecurity, their immaturity, and their emptiness by hurting others. I, at least, have a sense of myself as a warm, caring, intelligent, helpful, and yes, beautiful human being. I hope these young men eventually grow out of their immaturity, and I’m praying that they do. If I have to be honest, there’s a part of me that wishes they would somehow experience the hurt that they’ve inflicted on others. I’m sure I’m not the only one who they’ve hurt. There’s a part of me that wants vengeance, that wants to crack their empty heads together.

But…the part of me that values who *I* am really doesn’t want to do this. That part of me wants to use this experience. That part of me will use it – to help me understand the people who end up seeing me in my office, who I end up working with as colleagues and as students, and who I encounter when I’m not feeling my nicest. I pray that I remember this when *I* feel like being hurtful or cruel, or when I feel angry. I pray I remember it as I move on, and I pray for those young men – and everyone else – who can’t see past our physical bodies to see the wonderful people we are inside.

Something really cool happened this week – Aidan lost his first tooth. I know I wrote about that earlier, but what’s amazing to me, and where I learn so much from this child comes from what he did later.

Now you all know that the tooth fairy is a pretty cool gal, right? Leave your old, fallen-out tooth under the pillow and she gives you MONEY for it – sounds like a golden exchange in MY book! And inflation has affected the exchange rate since when I was a kid…I used to get a dime. Kids nowadays get more. I’ve heard of as much as five dollars…but in our world, the tooth fairy is an activist that shares a little with each kid so (ideally anyway) every kid gets something. So, in our bleeding-heart liberal, activist house the tooth fairy gives the kids a dollar.

Now some kids would be saying, “ONLY a dollar? C’mon, Mom…you can’t buy anything with just a DOLLAR!” Aidan with his autism really doesn’t have any real idea about what quantity means with money, just that money means you can buy things. And Aidan didn’t want the tooth fairy to leave paper money – no, he wanted COINS.

Aidan likes coins…they’re shiny, you can line them up, you can count them, stack them, roll them…they’re a lot more fun than a piece of paper you can’t even color on. Aidan also knows that you can buy things with coins and “cards” ( or “plastic fantastic” as one tour guide I ran into called them.) Paper money really doesn’t mean much to him – coins are more substantial and have a lot more meaning.

For days after the Tooth Fairy came, Aidan held onto his coins with a vengeance. NOBODY was going to touch his coins. He either carried them in his little fist, or had them neatly lined up on the kitchen counter. Yesterday (Saturday) he wanted to take them to church.

Now I run our church nursery during all the services on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Aidan is friends with one of the pastor’s little boys, and I assumed he wanted to show Gabe his coins. Gabe wasn’t there that night – in fact, there was no one in the nursery so we went to sit and enjoy the service. Becca doesn’t do too well during these, but Aidan loves to go. He’ll listen and try to say the prayers, sing the hymns and generally do what everyone else is doing. It’s not just imitation, though – Aidan seems to genuinely “get” church and spirituality. I learn a LOT from this little guy.

So when offering came, Aidan pulled out his four quarters from the tooth fairy, and put them in the offering plate. The usher looked at me, and I shrugged. I whispered to Aidan, “Honey, if you put these in, you can’t take them out again. Do you know that? He nodded and the usher went on. After the service I checked in with him again: “Aidan, did you want to get your money back? I’m sure they’d let you get it.” He shook his head, and I said, “Are you sure, sweetie?”

This is the moment where, yet again, Aidan blew me away. “No Mommy. I give it to God.”

Wow. How many of us, thinking about everything else we can do with money, think of God last? And here is this little 5 1/2 year old boy, who knows he can buy things with coins, giving literally every bit to God.

I like to think of myself as a giving person, but that day, in that room, I saw how little I actually do give. This little person, who gave everything he had, has given far more than I ever will. Most importantly, he gave to me – the lesson of giving, and of God.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who love your children…the single mothers taking on both roles, the new fathers, and the fathers with children who are growing up…the fathers of grown children and the grandfathers…the men who are fathers in every way except for biology, the men who realize that “fathering” is a verb that goes WAY beyond conception, and most of all, our Father and Creator.

I don’t know about you all, but to me the idea of a “retreat” sounds pretty wonderful right now. (A Caribbean vacation does, too – but hey, I’m trying to think realistically!). A friend of mine in Connecticut, Corinne “CoCo” Melvin is hosting a women’s retreat with the theme “Realize, Release, and ReFire” in Westport, CT. (Not to mention that face that being in CT in and of itself is a retreat for me!)

I admit it – I’m jealous! Frankly, I would love to ease back, and enjoy a retreat…I’d have hot teas (herbal, decaf, and regular), and yummy foods: fruit, cheese,crackers – and of course, chocolate! Soft relaxation music playing… I envision a group of about 20-30 women, interested in empowering themselves, living fully, and realizing the power of each other by learning about themselves and each other over the course of a day…a place where we can come together, and know that we’re not alone in all this. We are not alone – powerful words, again.

I’d have journaling workshops with all kind of creative materials, a stretching or yoga class, a meditation class, or creative visualization. I’d do a session on developing and writing your own personal myth – YOUR story, and where you want it to go, as well as do something where people could develop and create a personal symbol for them – to symbolize their growth, their self-love, and their connection to what’s important to them. I would hope to find something where people could connect with their dreams, and the person who gets lost in the day-to-day hassles of everyday living – and be able to take home that symbol as a reminder that this person is STILL there.

I would love to finish the day with a meal – literally, break bread with each other, and end with a releasing and celebration service or ritual, in the outside world…a park or yard, some outside space whereever we’d be.

As women, we often have the sense that we have to go it alone, that we have to be perfect and never show any weaknesses. We feel so isolated, even around people, because it’s so hard to let our authentic selves out. We feel vulnerable, judged, possibly rejected because we may or may not fit in, or we may not fit what we thing others want us to be. We are so alone, and lonely sometimes…I would love to have this retreat as a way to connect with each other, to say “you’re NOT alone” and “I understand”…”WE understand.” “You really CAN be who you are here, it’s ok.”

Anyway, that’s my dream retreat. I hope someday soon, I can make it happen. Until then…I’m dreaming, too – and working to make that dream a reality.

This is cross-posted from my other blog, “The Other Side of the Couch” where I discuss more psychological and professional issues.

My son, Aidan, is autistic. We began to suspect that something was wrong when Aidan didn’t start to walk on time, like other kids. He eventually did walk, at 16 months, and our doctors told us, “Don’t worry, he’s fine.” Now to any other parent, that might sound reassuring – but to me it was extremely frustrating, because I KNEW something wasn’t right. I have the advantage of doctoral training in counseling psychology; one of the many things we learn is how to recognize, assess, and treat developmental disorders in children. And yes, autism is one of those disorders. So, I had an “in” when I started recognizing symptoms.

Aidan is a little different in that he never really regressed, as many children with autism do. Aidan simply stopped. At about 18 months, he had tubes put in his ears for chronic ear infections – we had hoped that he would start catching up when he stopped being sick so much of the time. His second birthday came and went, and he was still delayed. He had trouble eating independently, and didn’t like to be hugged as much as I would have liked to hug him…so, although there were some “red flags,” they weren’t flying high enough to really warrant a lot of attention. Still, at his checkups, I brought up the possibility of autism with our family doctor. Her advice was to “wait and see.”

One thing I should tell you is that I have a really, REALLY good working relationship with my family doctor. She is an incredible, amazing woman that I trust. More importantly, she listened to me and considered my concerns. Again, though – I had an “in” because of my training, and I’m sure that helped.

Aidan’s sister was born a few months after his second birthday, and Aidan didn’t react to her at all in the way you’d expect a toddler to react to a new intruder. He simply didn’t care and actually acted as though she simply didn’t exist. Unlike most toddlers, he wasn’t curious and he wasn’t jealous. He simply…was. Again, I was concerned – after all, I knew what to look for.

Aidan’s 3rd birthday came and went, and he was pretty clearly not meeting the developmental milestones. I’d been keeping track of these since I’d first noticed difficulties early on – and, as I mentioned earlier, he simply “stopped.” He wa stuck at about 2 to 2 1/2 years old. Our doctor listened to my concerns, and again we give it a few more months just to wait and see. Ok…so we did.

At three and half years, she saw him again – she’d wanted to assess his development specificially withing the few months between visits to see if there were any changes. There weren’t…he as still “stuck” in the two year old phase.

Now if any you know, have been around, or have children at this age, you KNOW what fun I’m talking about. Learning the power of “no” is huge at this age – now imagine getting stuck there, and dealing with it for over two and half years. Potty training – the same. Stuck at early two.

After this visit, our doctor decided that it would be a good thing to run a complete evaluation – ironically enough, she recommended my training clinic as the best place to do this. I KNEW what the outcome of the evaluation would be – after all, I’d been tracking symptoms and such for 2 1/2 years. So, off we went to CSU for the evaluation. I remember telling therapist (who again ironically enough was in the same exact position I’d been in three years before) that I thought Aidan had autism and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD; essentially disobeying for the sheer idea of disobeying and argumentation.) She said, “Well, let’s do the tests and we’ll see.”

Guess what? Amazingly enough…he was diagnosed with mild-moderate autism and oppositional defiance disorder. Here’s the thing – even when you’re prepared, even when you know what’s coming – hearing it is a shock. No parent ever wants to hear that there is something wrong with their child. I’d been through this before when my oldest was diagnosed with ADHD. I thought I was prepared.

And on the way home, with Aidan babbling in the back seat of the care, I cried. Partially out of relief – here was the evidence for what I’d known for years – and partially out of a profound grief. There was something very wrong with my baby.

From this point, we entered the world of “services” and “therapy.” I have to say that I’m eternally grateful to the local hospital and therapists – their work in speech and occupational therapy worked wonders. It’s expensive and I’m also glad we had insurance that covered it. AND, I thought about what life would be like if we didn’t have these advantages.

Today, Aidan speaks relatively close to his age group – he’s about 1 year behind. His motor coordination is better, and he interacts with people much more often and appropriately. I thank God every day for that. He has improved immensely, also in part due to the wonderful Head Start program – he had a wonderful classroom staff and was thrilled to be a “big kid” and go to school. He hugs, kisses, shows affection, interacts and even initiates play with other kids – all of these are miracles I’ll never take for granted again.

There are things about Aidan, though, that are noticeably different. He tends to speak in a monotone that sounds intense or pressured – there isn’t much emotion or inflection in his words. He looks a little different too – there is just something about him that seems a little “off.” He’s fascinated with things no other child I know of has ever even noticed: power poles and lines, “red balls,” train tracks (not the trains – the tracks) and signs. One more thing – heaven help me…I’m STILL changing diapers. (Changing poopy diapers for a 5 1/2 year old is NOT fun, either!)

His little sister speaks more clearly and in a more complex manner than he does, and she’s potty-trained now. She’s teaching him some things with language, interacting, and normal pre-school stuff that he needs and can really only get by interacting. He’ll be in a regular kindergarten next year, and I’m worried for him.

We all know how kids treat other kids who are different and how early it starts. My prayer for the other children and for Aidan is that, somehow, they can overcome the differences and help each other.

I posted a little while ago on how “fat” is not a four letter word. And yet, it comes up again and again and again – in how people have lost weight, gained weight, lost it again, gained it again, etc. Look at Oprah – how many times are we (and her) confronted with her weight? I mean, REALLY! The woman has done incredible things with her life, and has helped so many people…but what do we (and the tabloids and magazines) focus on? Whether Oprah has gained or regained weight -as if her entire identity is defined by what she looks like. Puh-LEEZE!

Nia Vardalos – the writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” has written about her journey with weight loss…yes, yet another star telling us how she did it. (http://www.usmagazine.com/news/nia-vardalos-opens-up-about-pressure-to-lose-40-pounds-2009126)  The difference? She’s REAL. She doesn’t talk about liquid diets, personal trainers, diets in general, weight loss pills or anything of the like. She talk about how diet changes and exercising more was the way she did it. Nia also mentions that people don’t want to hear that – they want the miracle cure and quick fix.

Folks, there is no magic pill or quick fix. The weight didn’t come on overnight  (although for some people it’s quicker than others – and I’ll explain that in a bit), and it’s not going to come off overnight, either. I know this from both research and experience. Yes, I’m fat. I wasn’t always fat, and I’ve both gained and lost weight in the last year.

Over the last two years, I had lost 70 lbs. I had people coming up to me all the time, asking “How did you do it?” These people wanted the same answers that people wanted from Nia – they wanted to know a diet they could do, a pill they could take, etc. I got the point where I’d say, “It’s pretty simple. It’s called the ‘Eat less, exericse more diet’ .” I’d see people’s face reflect disappointment as they’d say, “Oh. Ok.”

I wish I could say I’ve kept the weight off. Throughout my life, I’ve also dealt with a mood disorder, and have been looking for something that woud help that as well. I finally found a combination of medications that has really helped. The problem? They CAUSE weight gain. Not just “weight gain may be a side effect,” but actually, “This product usually causes weight gain in patients who use it.” I am faced with a choice of feeling decent in terms of my mood or staying thin.

You can guess which path I chose, based on the focus of this post. I’d much rather be feeling good – about myself, my world, and my future – than be skinny. This flies in the face of what a lot of women say: “I’d rather be dead than fat.” That kind of thinking really pisses me off, to be honest. So, in the 6 months that I’ve been on this medication, 30 of the 70 lbs. have come back.

Here’s the thing that’s really hard. I still eat the way I did and exercise the way I did when I lost the 70 lbs. That hasn’t changed. It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror and realize that, after all that hard work and continuing hard work, the weight is coming back. There are times, honestly, when I’ve looked at myself and cried. I really worked hard for that, and it took time.

My doctor tells me, “Well…just eat less and exercise more again.” Folks, I eat 1000 calories a day. I walk 3-4 times a week, for about 4-5 miles (at an aerobic pace.) For those people who are going to tell me, “Well, you can’t be doing all that and have weight gain,” guess what? I can and do. And it sucks, to be honest. If I cut out anymore or exercise more, I’m going to start falling into the realm of anorexia. I sometimes joke that I’d be the world’s fattest anorexic, but it’s really NOT funny. Anorexia is serious problem, and eating disorders run in my family. I’m NOT going to go down that path, simply to look thin so other people can tell me how great I look.

Frankly, I think I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been. My latest blood pressure reading was 106/69. And again, for those of you who want to believe that you can’t be fat and healthy – think again. It IS possible, and I’m living proof. Am I going to give up and just go back to the way I had been before my weight loss? Hell no.

I’m going to keep doing what I did to lose the weight in the first place. If things stable out and I start losing again, great. If not…well, I’m a good person, I’m attractive the way I am (and yes, I’ve had people tell me that), and I like myself. And that’s worth more than anything any diet or weight loss pill could ever bring me.

I’m fat…and I’m smart. I’m fat…and I feel good. I’m fat…and I’m heathy (believe it or not). I’m fat …and I exercise and eat well. I’m fat…and I’m beautiful. Period.

So…in spite of my attempt to not show my face to my friends on SL, I did take that risk and showed myself. Most of my pictures are not very good, as I’m not very photogenic, but there are a few – mainly when I make a concerted effort to look good. I struggle with body image a lot, especially lately, because I know that in real life, a pretty face and body get you pretty far. Conversely, not looking like the ideal has consequences, both personal and professonal, as I’ve discussed before.

Psychological research has shown that both women and men who are overweight are judged more harshly and more negatively than their thin competitors. Those without attractive faces fare even worse. So, generally I get a double whammy. One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was in my undergraduate research methods class. We all had to get into teams and replicate a psychological study, and one group decided to test the attractiveness theory. They asked me to model, and I found out later that they used me as the “unattractive” model. I had a hard time showing my face in class after that – but I got revenge – I earned the top grade in the class. It felt like a very small, pyrrhic victory.

This week, I showed my face to two of my friends on SL for the first time. I found out that one had already viewed a picture of me, one that was less than flattering, but I knew this was a possibility as I had given him the ability to find me. The thing is, I learned a lesson from this incident – personality does count for something. Not only was I not rejected, but felt even more valued for myself as a person. That was surprising to me. I was pleased to see that there are people out there who really don’t judge a book by its cover, but the contents inside.

Ironically enough, both of these friends I found through SL, where everybody wears a mask of one sort or another. I’m as guilty as the next person, but over time I’ve found myself peeling away the mask and revealing who I am. When I do, I feel as if I’m risking rejection – even though my friends have assured me otherwise. I think that revealing your inner self, whether or not you have a pretty face, makes you vulnerable. I’m losing the mask I use to hide myself, my insecurities, and my vulnerability. And it’s scary.

In fact, sometimes I think that having a pretty face may make it even harder – you might never know if people really like you for who you are and not what you look like. I’m lucky: I’ve made good friends, who value a person for who he/she is, not only for what s/he looks like. Not everyone can say that. I’m lucky enough to have some good “real life” friends like that, too. However, as sassy as I can be, I feel insecure at times. I fight it, and I’m reminded of the Crhistina Aguilera song, “Beautiful”:”

“Don’t look at me
Every day is so wonderful
And suddenly, i saw debris
Now and then, I get insecure
From all the pain, I’m so ashamed

I am beautiful no matter what they say
Words can’t bring me down
I am beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring me down
So don’t you bring me down today ”

I’m also reminded that the way I see myself is not necessarily the way others see me. The other day I commented to my husband how beautiful our daughter, Rebecca, is. He replied, “Of course -she looks like her mother” to which I said, “wow…I feel sorry for her.” He looked at me and said, “You know, when you say that, you’re saying that she is ugly, too. That hurts me, because I love both of you and think you’re both beautiful.”

This was a lesson to me: A) keep my mouth shut, and even more importantly, B) beauty is more than one ideal, and truly is in the eye of the beholder. Lastly, C) maybe I am too hard on myself.

So, my point here is, no matter what masks we wear (whether in real life or not), there is a part of our real selves that shines through. Anonymity may hide the physical aspects of who we are, but the truth of who we are always manages to break through, somehow. Over time, it’s hard to hide our personalities and our selves, try though we may. And I’m very, VERY lucky to have people in my life, both real life and second life, who realize this and value people – including me – for who we are and not necessarily what we look like. So…when I started this blog, I decided to bare my face and be who I am – warts and all.  That said, I did want to find a picture that looks attractive.

So, I wore a dress today for the first time since….well, I don’t remember when. I even wore it to church, which was pretty amazing considering that I’m in the nursery with a bunch of rowdy toddlers. But…I wanted to feel pretty, and I haven’t felt that way in a long, LONG time. It’s hard to feel that way when you look like I do – society doesn’t reward women who don’t fit the ideal. Instead, we (all of us – even I fall prey to it now and then) tell women that they’re flawed, ugly, undesirable, etc. because they’re not 6 feet talll and 110 pounds with looks like Kate Moss or Giselle Bunchen. So, I wore it, and I did feel pretty. Several people told me the dress looked good on me, and that I looked good – I haven’t heard that in a LONG time.

It’s getting to be summer here – at least weather wise, and feeling pretty in a pretty dress while standing in the sunshine and smelling the lilacs was like receiving a little gift from above. And then…back to the real world, when I looked in the mirror.

It’s funny, though, because in Second Life, nearly everyone is drop dead gorgeous. I have to admit that I created my avatar to be that way as well…I could make her look like me in real life, but if I can control appearance and size why would I want to? I talk about self-acceptance, but I’m not happy with the way I look. I’ve been exercising for about a year now, with no substantial weight loss, so I saw my doctor this last week – I am now on what amounts to a starvation diet – 1000 calories per day with one hour of aerobic exercise every day. I am losing weight, but I wonder if I’m losing my sanity along with weight – is it worth the sacrifice? I want to look good, and feel good about myself. I generally have good self-esteem nowadays – until I look in a mirror. I want to be accepted – and yet I still have trouble accepting myself.

What prompted the change was the way people reacted to my avatar in Second LIfe (SL). I will NEVER look like my avatar – no matter how much I work, because there is no way to make a 42-year old woman who has birthed and nursed three babies look like a twenty year old who has never had children and looks like she eats less than Lindsey Lohan. However, I also think there are steps I can take to look and feel better. When I am on SL as my avatar, I feel pretty. I know that it is a virtual mock-up of a fantasy, but my personality reflects the difference. I’m flirty, active and fun…and I feel attractive. In the mundane world of real life, I’m a flabby, tired mother who spends a great deal of time chasing kids, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes – it’s hard to feel attractive when you smell like diapers and have spots of smushed peas and carrots on your clothes and in your hair.

So what’s the point? A friend of mine on SL and I were chatting about how easy it is to get sucked into this virtual world. It’s easy to want to escape real life, because real life is not always fun. It’s messy, dirty and you can’t always hide between an attractive exterior. It’s also more intense. I think in part that’s because it’s overwhelming at first to find yourself in this beautiful “world” where the normal inhibitions of everyday living are absent – in it’s own way, it’s addictive.

And therein lies the trouble…Am I my avatar, or is she me? I think it’s a little bit of both, and people continue to be people, whether in virtual reality or not. He told me of people who have exacted revenge by destroying the virtual property of people that have jilted them, and of others who have been hurt by the actions of people they thought of as friends. Even though it’s “play” for many, for others, the lure of social contact and an end to loneliness seems like a lifeline.  When the two collide, people get hurt.

Ironically enough, it seems easier to trust people online -we think we are anonymous when on SL, but in reality, there are probably ways to find out to whom we’re speaking. Psychological research has found that people tend to be more open and less inhibited when they think they are anonymous; this is as true on SL as in any research study. The possibility of real life hurt and damage is very much present, and we (myself included) act as though we have blinders on. We’d like to think that the people we trust with our identities and our secrets are trustworthy, but that’s not always the case.

So, back to the issue at hand – for a long time, I wouldn’t let my online friends see pictures of me, because I was afraid that after seeing what I really look like, they would see the real me instead of the attractive avatar. Dishonest? Probably…but also grounded in real-life experience. There’s nothing like getting to know someone, only to see a look of disgust or shock in their eyes when they see the real you for the first time. I’ve found, through experience, that no matter how great your personality is, some people will always judge you by how you look. And I want to keep feeling pretty.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror