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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.

Do you ever have moments when it seems like nothing you do is good enough, or right? I’m kind of stuck in one of those periods now…it seems like everything is blah and gray, that nothing good is happening, and that nothing will ever change. On one level, I know this isn’t true, but on the emotional side it sure feels that way.

Take teaching my class for example…I started off out the gate slow – I lectured (god forbid), and then made the mistake of lecturing again. If you’d asked me after my second class period about how the class was going, I would have told you, “awful.” Things have improved some – I’m bringing in discussion and we did a movie today along with some lecture on APA format. The hard thing is, I still feel like I’m an imposter and that I completely, totally suck at this. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been teaching, but I honestly don’t ever remember feeling this unsure of myself in the classroom. Still, I’m muddling through. We did “early alert” evaluations for new faculty today – I’m scared spitless about how they’re going to come out, and whether or not I’ll have a job next semester. Am I catastrophizing? Probably – but it’s also where I’m at emotionally here.

My work on the private practice is another area of angst – I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and that I’m trying to ride with one wheel missing – I don’t have an “advertising budget” and I’m working the resources I have as much as I can, but still – nothing is happening and it’s very frustrating. No clients, no group…nothing. I keep wondering if I’m just not meant to succeed…but then I think, “Dang it girl – hard work and keeping this going is what will pay off!” So…I keep on keepin’ on here. I call people, I send out flyers, I leave messages on voicemail, and I keep praying and hoping something will happen. In my dreams, the phone rings and I get a therapist on the other end saying, “Hey, is your group still open? I have three people I’d like to refer to you…” Ok, I admit it probably won’t happen like that. The bottom line is that I have to “do my homework” to make this work…and realize that it WILL take time. Great on the “brain” level, but still hard on the “heart” level – emotionally I feel like I’m a failure again.

And then there’s finances…oh heck…I’m worried if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, given that nothing is happening with the practice and that my teaching job pays very little. It’s a good thing I generally love what I do in the classroom – I’m certainly not doing it for the wonderful paycheck. I think that’s what has been hardest for me with the teaching – I LOVE teaching psychology, and I’m very frustrated that I don’t seem to be communicating that or the material very well. Instead, I feel pressured, anxious, and incompetent. And I’m NOT used to feeling that way in my classroom!

So where do I go from here? I really don’t know. I’m frustrated, feeling down, and more than a little nervous about the student evaluations and upcoming faculty evaluation. I’m scared about what’s not happening with my practice and am wondering if I can make it work. I’m overwhelmed about the finances as a result, and feel like if I think too much about it, my head will explode. I just hope it gets better – that I find my footing again in the classroom, and that something “clicks” with the practice end of things. If not, that I can find work that will help me pay my bills – no small undertaking in this economy. As you can see, I’m great at judging myself – so one of the things I’m trying to do is be gentle with myself and not judge myself so harshly. Chances are, I’m judging myself much harder than anyone else is. So…I try to be nicer to myself and keep on keepin’ on. I keep hoping, praying, and working to see if I can make any of this happen.

Warning: This post has should probably be rated PG-13, with an “L” for language

I read an interesting blog post from one of my favorite blogs here, Kate Harding’s “Shapely Prose”. The subject was sexual harassment, and how we women are trained pretty much from birth to be quiet, ladylike, submissive and “good” – and how those same qualities get turned into blaming the victim when a rape occurs. It got me thinking about how many experiences we have of being assaulted, harassed, and violated.

One of my first memories was going with my dad to the barber shop when I was a very little girl. I remember feeling creeped out by the way the barber would talk to me, and yet I also remember being told to “be nice.” Now that I have a daughter of my own, I cringe every time I hear someone tell a little girl who is clearly uncomfortable to “be nice.” “Being nice” is more about OUR comfort as adults than it is about respecting a child’s right to her/his own feelings. And that’s sad.

My first husband…well, prior to our wedding we had talked about that first night because we were both virgins. I made him promise me he would stop if I asked him to, because I was afraid of the pain. He promised me he would, and guess what? He didn’t. He didn’t to the point of taking me three times that night. I could barely walk the next day, and when I called my mother her response was, “well you made your bed, now you have to lie in it.”

I also remember being in the hospital at one point, and having another patient – male – enter my room and try to sexually assault me. I told the staff about it, and they “arranged” a time for me confront him. When he got up and left the room, slamming the door in my face, they simply said, “well he’s brain damaged. We can’t expect more.” Then, I knew I felt violated a second time and didn’t say much – where was it going to get me? Today…well, I would have said, “You sure fucking can! Get me a lawyer, because I want to press charges.” The hospital was lucky I didn’t sue them as well.

The really sad thing? For literally YEARS after that incident, I would have nightmares of being chased and hunted down, and not being able to yell or scream because I couldn’t open my mouth. Talk about dreams reflecting real life…at this point in my life, I recognize that I was dealing with classic PTSD, generalized anxiety, and depression. It didn’t help that my husband was an emotionally abusive man either, or that I grew up in a verbally and emotionally abusive home. Following years of being verbally and emotionally abused took its toll on me though, and I didn’t even realize that they (both the hospital and the man) shouldn’t have been able to get away with what they did.

Another incident occurred while I was in graduate school. This time I was guest lecturing for my advisor, and was confronted by extremely rude, confrontative, aggressive behavior from a male student. The first time I lectured, he “merely” made sexist comments. My advisor (a woman) “advised me” to let it go, so I did. In graduate school, advisors have a LOT of power over you, so I didn’t feel I could take action. The second time this happened, I was more firm and the student nearly became violent at the end of class. He was calling me a “motherfucking bitch” and “cunt” and other names. When I turned away, he yelled “Don’t you turn away from me, you motherfucking cunt!” Where was my advisor during all this? Trying to placate HIM. It turns out this student had various harassing incidents on the student listserv, and other in-class violations which had gone unreported.

When I told her I was going to report this incident, my advisor wanted me to “collaborate” with her and her teaching assistant so we could “be consistent” in our reports. I went over her head, and felt every right in doing so – she was essentially revictimizing me by trying to put a face-saving spin on the incident. I wasn’t having any of it and went to my teaching supervisor and the department head – both male and both more supportive than my advisor. Now, you have to realize that my advisor was one of the more vocal feminists in the department – I realized after that incident that she was more talk than walk. It was a horribly sad, eye-opening incident.

What ended up happening was the the case was taken to the student ombudsmen, who supported me. The student was expelled. The damage between me and my advisor was irreparable though, and shortly afterward I changed to a different advisor. I found out later that one of my friends had been raped her first year by another graduate student and that our (mutual) advisor had acted very similarly, and actually discouraged her from reporting it. So much for being a feminist, or even supportive. You would think that incidents like these would affect this woman’s career – but no. Tenure is a powerful thing, and this woman is internationally known and acclaimed for her research. So…like many incidents involving women who are in unequal power positions, it got swept under the carpet.

The truly tragic thing about these incidents is that they’re not isolated. They’re COMMON. Nearly every woman and far too many girls have stories like this to report. It is hard for me to even accept that I’ve been assaulted at all, but I consider myself a survivor. I’ve survived a lot of abuse, and yet it’s nothing compared to what some women and girls experience.

In our society, women are still objectified and judged by their attractiveness to a male audience. My appearance and my body size – my attractiveness – are what matters in society, and all of these are open to scrutinization and comment, whether I want it or not. I’m STILL being violated, as are ALL women, whether we want to admit it or not. This is in addition to everything SweetMachine writes about – women are victimized if they dare vary from the ideal of what a woman should look like or be. This kind of thing is still ignored, minimized and laughed at, because we want to believe our society has overcome these kinds of abuse.

And that’s what these incidents are – abuse, pure and simple. Women in this country, and around the world (in even worse situations) are abused on a daily basis. It’s so common, we don’t even think about it at ALL, much less think about it as abuse. As SweetMachine pointed out in her post, we think that the way we’re taught to behave, the way we’re taught not to be provocative is protective and normal. In reality, it’s the beginnings of blaming the victim. Before something even happens, we warn women and girls, “don’t do anything that could be taken wrong.” We SHOULD be warning men instead, “don’t do things that hurt people.” It’s that simple – we’re blaming the potential victims for the inappropriate, hurtful and violating actions of others.

No wonder we’re afraid to report. No wonder we’re afraid to talk. No wonder we keep quiet on the blogs, listservs, websites, emails – we risk being harassed or hurt every time we open our mouths. And now…I’ve had enough. I’m opening my mouth, and not just talking but yelling it to the rafters: “THIS IS WRONG! WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM ABUSE!”

It’s that simple.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I belong to a certain faith tradition at the moment, but I consider myself more a person who wants to learn about and find commonalities in as many faith traditions as possible. I wasn’t always this way – for a long time, I was furious with God, and then after that was not even sure that a deity existed. Now, I fully believe that there is deity, and that connection with the divine is not only possible, but is offered freely if we’re open to it.

This journey began with a child’s faith – I was taken to church (sporadically, but taken) and went to Sunday school like most kids in my area. I didn’t even begin questioning differences until I invited a Jewish friend to one of my youth group get-togethers. You have to understand – I didn’t even really know he was Jewish, and had I known I probably still wouldn’t understand the cultural consequences of what I’d done – I invited him to a Yule log hunt and hot dog dinner. (Yeah, I can see the cringing – I still cringe too). He taught me a couple of lessons her – first, that there ARE differences and second, that it’s important to understand them so you can respect them. I still had a ways to go, but I was at least started on my journey.

In the course of my wanderings, I’ve been Episcopalian, Latter-day Saint, Wiccan, agnostic, and Lutheran. In my teenage years, I flirted with Catholicism out of the sense of calling to be a nun. The gist here is that I’ve been all over the board when it comes to organized and not-so-organized religions. In my darkest periods, I wondered if there was anything out there at all. As much as I doubted, though, I still had the sense that there was, even if I didn’t want to believe it. That’s where Active trust came in. During this period (the time after I left the LDS church and while I looking at Wicca), I doubted the very existence of deity. My experience in the LDS church was that God had been made in the image of man – and I use “man” deliberately. Women, especially feminists, were marginalized or even ostracized. I found I didn’t fit the mold, and that there wasn’t much tolerance for that. (One bishop told me that it was too bad I’d been born with the mind of man stuck in the body of a woman.) I was burned out on male domination and religion in general.

Gradually, though, my sense of the divine around us came back. My heart didn’t want to see it – I was still smarting from the earlier experiences. In this case, although it may seem illogical to some, I let my head overrule my heart. I let go of my religious prejudices as best as I could and tried to trust in the Divine. This trust led me to experience the Divine as feminine through Wicca, and later as both male and female (indivisible from each other). It also let me experience faith and even religion to some degree as a supportive environment. However, that’s not to say I fit any real mold of what a “religious person” looks like – I say that I’m more spiritual than I am religious.

These days, I say there are as many religions as there are people.
Now before y’all bomb me with fire and brimstone, let me explain. Our organized religions are about community – shared beliefs and the sense of belonging. However, each one of us interprets our faith traditions through the understanding of our own experiences. My experiences are different from yours, and yours are different from every other person. Ideally, we’re able to share our experiences, find meaning in them, and maybe put them in the framework of our religious beliefs.

I find as I’m getting older, though, that I’m wanting to find the common ground in all the different traditions. The more I read, the more commonalities I find. My active trust these days centers on believing and trusting that understanding and peace can come about, in spite of our differences. My heart tells me that it may not be possible, but I let my head overrule that lack of trust and fear. It may not happen – but by using my active trust I can do my part to work for it happening. I may not always succeed, but I do try to live my ideals and by living my ideals bring others joy and hope as well. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone – I believe that my acts and my life are my offerings and that if I live according to my beliefs I won’t need to push them on anyone. Finding commonalities, building trust between each other, creating community and peace – all of these unify us and help us understand and celebrate each other. To me, that’s the essence of love and of relationship – caring for and about each other, and that’s what I work for and try to live.

Idealistic? Maybe…but without ideals and hope, regardless of whether it’s religious or not, where would we be? Hope, in my opinion, is the embodiment of active trust and hope is where I want my heart to be.

So here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, feeling a lot like there isn’t a whole lot of hope for the future right now. I’m still generally optimistic about my private practice and about teaching, but I’m having a hard time feeling motivated at the moment.

Now to be fair, this is coming after a morning in the church nursery with a bunch of rowdy preschoolers and toddlers – it’s like herding wet cats back into the bathtub. I also only got 4 hours of sleep, and those were interrupted by disturbing dreams. So, I’m legitimately tired.

However, some of the exhaustion is emotional too. Starting a private practice takes a lot of work and energy, and starting any business is a slow process. I know I need to be patient AND I want it NOW. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do too well with ambiguity, although I’m trying. (And yes, the old saying about what comes into your life is what you need to work on very much applies here!) So, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not getting very far.

I’m also feeling very pressured about getting my class(es) ready for fall – I’ll be teaching at the local community colleges and one class is a brand new prep – I’ve never taught it before. It’s Developmental Psychology, and is cool stuff – but pulling together a brand new course in a little over a month is a LOT of work.

I’ve written on my professional blog about feeling emotionally paralyzed – when I feel overwhelmed, that’s what happens to me. And right now, I feel paralyzed out of my mind. I try to follow my own advice, though, and even though I’m not feeling super-confident at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ll be feeling better in a few days. The hard thing is right now, when I’m feeling this way, I tend to get down on myself – I tend to think of all the things I’m doing wrong, or think of the “if only’s” and “what might have beens.” I feel like I can’t do anything right, or that I’ll never succeed. This isn’t true, but emotions can be a web that catches you – and sometimes it’s hard to break free. Getting judgmental of anyone – even ourselves – isn’t a helpful thing.

“Tenebrous Ennui” basically means a dark, gloomy sense of a utter weariness and discontent resulting from lack of interest or boredom. In my case, it’s not really lack of interest or boredom, but more withdrawing and avoiding. (So maybe “ennui” isn’t the best term, but the whole thing, “tenebrous ennui” sounds pretty cool.) Anway, feeling overwhelmed and gloomy is the order of the day. I know this isn’t the case, but right now my life feels empty and barren – and I know that it comes from being overwhelmed with TOO much. Life is anything BUT empty and barren.

So where do I go? I ask myself the same thing I ask my clients…”What do YOU think?” My sense is that I need to counteract the sense of fear that underlies the feeling of being overwhelmed. To do that…well, I need to take my own advice and “move” and “do one thing.”

So, for the class…I could work on putting together the schedule. For the private practice…I can finish the application I’ve got for the local community mental health agency I contacted. (Having an interview tomorrow provides some motivation – stressful, but motivation all the same.) I also need to remind myself that my situation isn’t ME – it affects me, but doesn’t define me. I exist outside these stresses, and I can still enjoy things and take care of myself. I don’t have to be judgmental and punishing with myself – in fact, it’s way better if I’m not. This is something that takes a LOT of reminding for me, though!

I have a feeling that once I’m back in the thick of it and don’t have time to ruminate and overanalyze things, I’ll be ok. Meanwhile, I don’t want to marinate in my own gloomy sauce – so I’m going to go DO something. Even if it’s only ONE thing – it’s something.

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/

Ok – I worked my tail end off yesterday – syllabus for the class I’ll be teaching this fall (Developmental Psychology), Designing my business cards and brochures, meeting with people about office space…it was a busy, busy day. So, I’m taking a break today.

When I work with clients, I’m always encouraging people to be gentle with themselves. That doesn’t mean not being accountable for your actions, by the way – it does mean if you have to take yourself to task you can do it in a way that’s kind and gentle.

One of my friends recently about how the Golden Rule also means treating yourself the way you’d want to be treated. If you’ll notice, the Golden Rule doesn’t say, “Treat others as you treat yourself,” but rather “as you’d want to be treated.” So, why do we have so much trouble treating OURSELVES the way we’d want to be treated?

How often do we find ourselves chronically putting our needs last? Or ignoring our bodies’ needs for rest and relaxation? How often do we take care of everyone else, leaving no time to do so for ourselves? For women, especially, it’s a chronic issue.

When I work with people who chronically ignore or negate their own needs I used what I call “Healthy Selfishness.” I use this temr for a couple of reasons. One is that “selfishness” has been a label thrown at us likely since we were children, and it has such a negative connotation that reclaiming the word in a different way helps people see that it’s NOT a bad thing to take care of themselves. That’s the “Healthy” piece. It’s healthy to care for ourselves, and to let ourselves enjoy life and things we enjoy.

So, today I’m going to play. I’m getting out my kid’s easel, and we’re going to paint on the porch with bright tempera paint and great, big, chunky kids’ brushes. We’re going to splash in the wading pool, and we may go to the library as well. The point is, I’m going to let me kids teach me to play again.

Somewhere along the way to being a “responsible adult,” I lost that. I was always the “responsible child” so losing play happened pretty early for me. Today, I find myself yearning to let go, to play, to let loose – and I don’t know how. So…I’m going to the best teachers I know – my children.

I do have things I “should” do – I should work more on the development psychology class, I should work more on the paperwork for my private practice…but I also should relax, take care of myself and treat myself the way I’d want to be treated. I should also not judge myself as harshly and punitively as I do. I should treat myself gently, respectfully, and lovingly. And that means paying attention to my need to relax, play, and cut loose a little.

So, this is my attempt to work on those things. I’ll post pictures here next time of our painting adventures – all of us. 🙂

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.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror