F is for Fat

“Don’t call yourself fat, say you’re full-figured,” my aunt offered as a comment on a picture I’d posted on Facebook. Since I had been knee-deep in fat studies literature and the more pop-culture versions #BodyAcceptance and #BodyPositive movements, I had almost forgotten that for many, fat was still very much the F-word.

I have had a curious journey through my own fatness. It began as being the chubby kid with “baby fat” to the “solid” teenager, the “thick and curvy” young woman in college to whatever I am now. Having not been thin or even average weight since I was about four years old, fatness and I knew each other well. For many of those years it was a struggle; I did not hate my body, exactly, but I was also not terribly fond of it. Sure there were pieces of me that I liked (my eyes, my smile–which paired with my chubby cheeks always reminded me of Janet Jackson’s famous grin) but by and large, I was not a fan of my body.  I waffled between wanting to appear confident and strong, and wanting desperately to lose weight, my only real success coming around both of my graduations–college and my masters–where I lived on salads and diet pills, running and circuit training all to look good from every angle in my graduation photos. Even at the time, though, I always felt fat. And here I mean the word in an emotive sense; I felt large, unattractive, bulky and gross. My thick thighs rubbed together drawing up fitted dresses and skirts, walking around in the hot summer months in the south meant sweating and there was nothing worse I hated than sweating when, to me, all the thin people did not seem to be bothered by the heat. To me, everything that was associated with my body was negative.

For the most part I was silent about it because I did not want to hear lectures of “how to fix it” because when you’re fat, all the world is a personal trainer slash nutritionist. I also did not talk to friends about it, and when I worked out I never claimed it was about losing weight. I was so deeply uncomfortable with even discussing weight and it took me lots of soul-searching to even understand why that was. For one, it is incredibly vulnerable to open up to anyone about one of, if not the biggest insecurity you have. I also wasn’t interested in pity or claims that I was beautiful no matter what. It always felt forced and so incongruent with how I felt about myself, I was unable to receive those messages at the time. Lastly, I am an incredibly accomplished, and prideful person. Admitting to anyone else, but mainly myself, that there was something I could not master or even get a handle on, meant admitting I was weak and incapable. I had no interest being a victim, and I certainly would not ever suggest to someone (or myself) that I was not fill-in-the-blank (diligent, focused, ardent, fortuitous, smart, persistent, strong, etc) enough to lose weight. So I avoided the topic and the conversation entirely and completely.

Failed attempts to shame myself into losing weight by taking unflattering “before” pictures and keeping track of my progress on a secret blog that I would only ever publish once I was thin, happened a few times. As did a few public proclamations on this blog, my public journal, such as the time I told the world I wanted to lose 100lbs.  And while I was successful with eating and working out for a while, eventually I would fall back into my old routines and the weight loss would come to a halt. I would talk to classmates and friends who managed to lose notable amounts of weight about how they did it. Fascinated by their personal journeys of trial and triumph, I would often leave the conversation both inspired and wondering what was wrong with me that I could not seem to get to that magical turning point in my own life where “enough was enough”.

My own turning point with the f-word did not truly come until after I was sexually assaulted. That may come as a surprise to some, it was even to myself, because months prior to the rape I had made a professional decision to study fat women and their experiences with body, self, and leadership for my dissertation. Seemingly I was comfortable (enough) discussing the topic, and even my own personal relationship with being a fat woman and articulating what that meant to me, but deep down I still very much held the belief that no one truly wanted to be fat and that weight loss was always a goal, whether iterated or not.  Then something interesting happened. I was barely managing to take care of myself while trying to teach, work, write, and get through one of the hardest six months of my life when I looked up and had lost over thirty pounds.  I did not feel particularly proud of the loss because it had come accidentally, nor did I seek attention or praise for it because it had come at the helm of not eating and high anxiety.  And it wasn’t until then that I could truly begin to look at myself in the mirror and love and appreciate my body.  Not for what it had the potential to be, but for what it was. As I struggled to see myself as a survivor of sexual assault, I found that it required careful reflection and examination of who I was: who I really really truly was.

It was not helpful to only own my intangible self, traits and characteristics like charm and wit. No, I needed to also own the thighs that touched down to the knee and made jeans buying impossible, but that would snap shut and protect me from unwanted attempts at physical intimacy. I needed to own my calves which were too large to fit into boots every fall, but would manage to kick a grown man back off of me.  I needed to own my back which had four rolls of fat that made bras and bathing suits ill-fitting, but would be put into a corner after I escaped his hold, forcing him to face me, something he avidly tried not to do.  I needed to own all of me and that included my (fat) body.

Now when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning, I study myself and I feel a warmth that I never felt before in my life. It is the warmth of truly loving that woman staring back at me in the mirror. She has been through so much and yet she still rises with the sun, shining and with just as much light. More protective over my body and with whom I share it, my body, my fat body, is sacred and cherished not by men but by me.  My ears no longer strain to hear affirmations or compliments, I am able to give them to myself. And what’s more, I am able to receive them. For the first time in my life, I feel at home in my vessel.

IMG_4267So here is what I can say about being fat. It is not all of me, but it is part of who I am.  It does not hurt me to call me what I know myself to be. Fat is not a death sentence, fat is not lazy, fat is not jolly or comedic by nature. Fat is not ugly, fat is not so big a flaw that it is the only one that can exist. Fat is fat, nothing more and nothing less. To me, it is an identity through which I see and experience the world, but it is not inherently negative anymore. Fat, my fat, is beautiful…how could it not be? If I am beautiful and I am fat, and the two exist at the same time, as I am the living proof.  I no longer fear being noticed in the same way that I used to, in fact now I would offer that I am perfectly at peace with being seen. There is something truly special about seeing yourself, truly seeing yourself and acknowledging all of your beauty. You do not shrink away or feign humility when offered a compliment, because you know your truth. You are beautiful. Although the greatest part of this story is that you no longer need to hear it from anyone other than the reflection in the mirror.

This post is part of The Layers of Beauty Tour created by GG Renee of All the Many Layers.  Follow the tour through the blogs of 25 women exploring the complexities of womanhood and beauty from A to Z.  Click here to keep up with each post and enter to win a giveaway package of goodies for your mind, body and soul.   #LayersAtoZTour

Torchbearer’s Creed

There are very few things I love more than my alma mater, and anyone who spends any extensive time with me can attest to that.  From my Tennessee home key, to my “you’ll always be…” necklace, to the orange and white checkered post-it notes that sit on my desk, I am a Tennessee Volunteer through and through. But if I had to choose one thing that stood out among the traditions born on Rocky Top I would solidly choose the Torchbearer’s Creed.

One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.

I found myself standing with these words on Saturday as I thought of a goal for myself: to be the torch and the torchbearer. When I made the proclamation I was thinking of being fire–owning the power that is within me that, yes, has the potential to destroy but also has the potential to warm and sustain–and also being the giver of light to others.  This brought my life long goal full-circle.  I have always only ever wanted to inspire people. Simple, right? The piece that was missing was the former part, recognizing that in order to give others’ their light, I have to first be the light.

I woke up this morning in a curious predicament. I was wrapped up in my blankets and sheets, quite literally they had formed a cocoon around me and as I came into full consciousness I wondered what on earth had I done in my sleep? I rarely ever move in my sleep, and yet here I had swaddled myself in the night.  My morning ritual is to begin by saying thank you to God and expressing gratitude for anything that comes to mind.  So I began my thanks, and as my feet hit the floor I knew something was different. I felt different.  Now, it would be awfully cliche to suggest that on the night I cocooned myself in my bedding that the next morning I emerged this wonderfully transcendent and enlightened butterfly, and I am not suggesting that.  What I am suggesting is that today and everyday after today will be markedly different than the days that have preceded it.

Last night in hearing the incredible gifts that each of my colleagues, friends, and confidants shared in class was was so therapeutic. One in particular though was in so many ways my story and as he offered how he would go through it all again just to be where he was today with us, that there was and is a divine reason and order for everything.  So when I woke this morning I said thank you to my father. And I thanked him for the hard time that I/we went through between 2007-2009. I thanked him for loving me in the very best way that he knew how.  I forgave myself for making him the villain in so many stories I’ve told and I understood that had it not been what it was, I could not be where I am.  Similarly, in the moments of last night I thanked my weight. It sounds weird to admit. But, had it not been for the sheer volume of my physical body…I remember it was raining on perhaps one of, if not the, darkest days of my life and thinking I could just as easily disappear…and that I would go through with committing to my physical nonexistence if it were not for leaving this ugly body to then be handled and seen by all sorts of people. Its really…honestly its fucked up to think about and it seems so far away in the emotional memory of me, but it was there. I couldn’t die without being beautiful first, and that meant thin. So I thanked my weight because if I had been anything but 334lbs in that moment, I might have done something irreparable.

And then there is right now, the moment where I see the immense value of my life and am very aware of my purpose during my time here. The space where I see what I have to offer and am beginning to find outlets to engage and grow. The place where I recognize the gifts that those around me have to offer and I am inspired by them. I live in a garden with so much potential around me and it is exciting and inspirational and a blessing.

When I consider where I was and where I am, I have this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. It is with absolutely grace that I look over the events in my life and think, my god was it beautiful.  I learned to stand alone when I was left. I learned the gift in living when I most wanted to die. I learned the power of my own voice when I was asked to be quiet. So I suppose this is but a continued portion of my morning ritual, a moment of thanks.

4736433638_c21b813e01_mSince the time of my depression I have not considered my own mortality. I have never thought of what it might be like to not be here anymore, and while I do not fear death it is quite an awesome (in the true sense of the word) state to contemplate. What I smile at is that by spreading my own light, that pieces of me will exist in anyone ignited by my flame. And in that way, we are all infinite…as is by design. What is perhaps the most cool thing about the universe’s way is that it only works if we are a we…we are not an multitude of i’s. That is the only way it works, as a collective; the creed too because it is with the other that I, the torchbearer, find my purpose. And to that I have to say thank you to you, simply for being and in doing so, bringing me into existence.

Reflections after Day One

After one of those weeks where I feel blessed beyond measure to be one within this community of people who encourage questions uncertainty and growth in the now…there was more.

It has been a long day and at the end of it, all I wanted was quiet. I wanted to close my eyes with my keyboard in my lap, as I am doing right now, and let all the words that had bubbled to the surface of my consciousness flow out of my fingertips. I write from the purest space when my eyes are closed. It’s like I can hear better then. I suppose it makes sense…because when vision is taken away then the other senses are heightened. Also, it is curious that I rarely make typing mistakes when my eyes are closed, or if I do I can correct them easily, however when my eyes are open I stumble all over the place. Curious and yet not curious at all.

Anyway, so I spent my day at an Action Research Conference at my university. Ever since I really understood what it was, I’ve been fascinated by it, mainly because the rsearcher has a place in the work and reflection is welcomed. I seems like a type of research that fits with me…I can imagine that throughout my dissertation process if I did not do action research, I would have jornals upon journals filled with thoughts and reflections. Why not make the apart of the process? Anyway so I had so many memorable quotes and reflections (to see them check out the hashtag #SOLESar2013) but among them, was this:

2. Willingness of practitioner to self-disclose, telling his or her own story and how that relates to that of the students they advise. Vulnerability begets vulnerability, are we, in student affairs practitioner training programs, setting an expectation of discomfort/uncertainty/vulnerability? <>Torbert
–>>idea of self disclosure opening one up to judgment and questions of the safety of space as excuse to avoid the work of vulnerability. Work avoidance.
–>>action research on dynamics course?

I find myself, throughout the refinement of my research area of interest, constantly trying to balance my love of self-work and the practitioner, and how said work then affections our actions, and the self-work itself. At first I wanted to look at how practitioners rejuvenate, spiritually. Then I wanted to look at how spiritual practice affected decision making. That turned into how identity (en totale) affects decision making. Which evolved into how decision making processes are different for those with different identities. That, then, became looking at how identity negotiation and salience affected decision making. And now we have arrived at how the development of the practitioner affects the development of the practitioner. And perhaps it is not yet done evolving because it still has to get smaller, more focused. The obvious choice, after hearing today would be to explore story-telling and how transparency/authenticity/vulnerability of the practitioner affected their students. But…when I step back from it all and think about what all these things have in common I see, self work, and how that somehow informs professional practice. In what ways do we bring our true self to our professions? And how does that influence our product/output?

I think that this absolutely comes from self-inquiry. I HAVE to feel at home in work in order for me to do it. I cannot just put my head down and bear through things, I have to make a bed in work. Swim in it. Live in it. I have to be intimately connected to my work. I think that is why I a really good at jobs I love and really horrible at jobs I do not love. In those instances…I bail. In reflecting on a situation where I was being asked (silently) to connect and to share in a time and space where I felt I shouldn’t have it, I bailed. In looking back I wish I would have realized in that moment or in those series of moments that I was being solicited for intimacy and withstood the discomfort…my OWN discomfort for the growth of something bigger than myself and more resilient/functional/useful than my shadow. Once upon a time it may have served me to retreat? Maybe? But I guess I now want to call attention to it and stand firm in the eye of it…and I want to know how other people are coming to those conclusions as well.

Long day…still processing, but lost in thought isn’t the worst place to wander.

A reconsideration of sorts

I had just gotten done working on a part of my research when I got on the elevator heading down to the car. Feeling the box adjust just slightly as I stepped in my heart sank ever so softly into my chest and I asked, “how long have you been telling yourself that something is wrong with your body?”

I didn’t bother to answer. A few weeks ago I decided I was going to start adding physical aspects to my morning gratitude practice. Thanking God for my body in various ways. I thought, more than anything, right now, I am so very grateful for being my mothers daughter.” And what does that mean? It means never being satisfied with the superficial, it means being caring and candid, it means appreciating laughter, and it means being charismatic. Neither of my parents are shy “keep to yourself” types, and so I guess its only natural I have this strong pull to connect with others.

I saw a classmate of mine who told me he reads my facebook posts, and my blog when I post links to it. “You haven’t posted in a while,” he said. I forget. Not to post, but that even this place is a testament to connection.

No one has ever been as hard on me as I have been on myself. I have held myself to ridiculous standards and held dreams just out of reach like a dangling carrot to a mare. In coming to terms with my own…well, with myself, I have grown to understand how much I’ve limited myself. And why? Because I didn’t look a certain way? Weigh a certain weight or dress a in a particular style? Its just a lie. Its an ugly lie and its so clearly not true as evidenced by my amazing life.

I have loved. I have jumped off mountains and treetops. I have drank too much. Danced for too long. Laughed too loudly. Given too much. I have lived. And not only that I have lived a damn good life. And I am so grateful for my story (so far). I am ready for whatever adventure awaits me, and I plan to greet it with grace and curiosity.

In my journal I wrote, as I listened to Joel Osteen:


And I meant those words. I am worthy of love. Of belonging. Of connecting, that is my birthright as a divine being. I feel I’ve come to the point in my life where I can recognize how many miracles I’ve been privy to experience and I realize just how great its been. I can look at the darkest corners of my being and say with love, “it happened.” I recognize my survival, my strength, my resilience. And any flaw I might have thought I had just isn’t a good enough excuse given all I’ve overcome. No. I am fearfully and wonderfully (that is, full of wonder) made. I am walking ordered steps.

It happened, yes, but God…



I love photography. I admittedly am one of those people that change my facebook profile picture every few days because I get tired of the shot a few days later. Usually, its about the outfit, or the hair or the make-up or some…accessory that has temporarily made me feel (fill in the blank). I took one of those pictures the other night before a friend’s birthday party. My hair was curled, my lips were pink and pouty, my eyes were understated drama…I felt pretty. And yet a photo I took days before still haunts me in a wonderful way.

While I felt pretty in the “dolled up” picture, I feel beautiful in the other. Its plain, pretty ordinary and otherwise unremarkable. My hair was straight, my make-up…well what make-up? Its just me. And I guess I see myself everyday, but I certainly do not look at myself and see the beauty I see in that picture.

I was having a conversation with myself; thinking about where I am and where I’m headed. I thought about my strengths, my absolute strength being in people. In connecting and relating and listening to people. I wondered, challenging myself a bit, how I could get better at this. I’ve long believed that the bashert things are easy, we make things hard when we fight against the way. Yes, again…surrender.

So I thought about the things that have come easy to me…the good things like making friends and the bad things like quitting on my health. And I’ve talked myself through “the fights”, asking myself why I stayed in the ring. In past relationships it boiled down to wanting to prove I was worth sticking around for. In past failures its been my own stubbornness is not wanting to accept that not everything was meant for me.

But when I look at that picture, I get a glimpse of the woman who is sure of herself. The woman who is not defined by her relationship status nor her partner. The woman who loves fully because she chooses to, not to validate herself. The woman who is capable of anything she puts her mind heart to. I smile because I see her. And until I can see her everyday, I am going to keep searching for glimpses through the photograph. Glimpses that remind me of who I am and who I was created to be.

Everyday miracles

I believe in all the things that are normally left in fairy tales and make-believe. I know angels to be real and love when I see little timestamps in my journey that tell me I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Last night I had statistics class. I hate it. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because its just not my cup of tea. It also does not help that every example we get to make the content “real” is biology related, but I am taking it in the nursing school. Needless to say I spend a lot of the class lost. Yesterday ways particularly difficult for some reason, I am not sure why. Normally, our professor gives us the last 45 minutes or so to do our homework and everyone stays to take advantage of her help. Last night, I couldn’t do it.

I walked out of class frustrated at not being even the slightest bit interested in a class at this stage in my education, and then the funky spiral. I got upset because I wanted to go home and couldn’t because it gets dark so early now that walking home is not the best idea. And I hate that my plans to get a car are always ruined by some unfortunate circumstance. I had worked myself up and just wanted my bed to be my fortress of solitude.

Then I looked down at my phone and saw an email from my student asking about extra credit. I remembered that I’d sent them to “some leadership workshop” and thought, well let’s see what I’ve sent them too. I walked to the UC imagining how nice it would be to have my own car finally and to be able to just come and go as I please. I was lost in thought the whole walk over. As I arrived to my destination I thought about a classmate who works in the building. I thought maybe she’d be around and I could ask her for a ride home. So, I touched the handle and said outloud, “find something to be grateful for.”

Ten steps later I get to the doors of the workshop and its Zachary. And Crystal. And my advisor. I also saw Mass Elle, who I’d been texting earlier about how miserable I felt in stats class. I looked around the room and found lots of familiar welcoming faces and I took my seat and joined the work.

The thing that I have to laugh at was how I so desperately wanted home. Its all I could focus on, and now here I was dedicating another hour to being on campus, but that space with those people was and is home. Not only that, but the work we were doing was work I told Zachary I wanted to do more of with him. Well played, God. Well played.

So there was still the issue of going home. How was I going to get there? Mass Elle told me I could just take her car and drive back in the morning. I could have cried. Not because of her offer, though it was incredibly kind and I am grateful for it. But because of the quick return on my prayer. I needed that independence, to feel it, it have it affirmed and if only circumstantial and if only for one night.


When I went downstairs to get keys from Mass Elle I saw the book Blue Like Jazz which I have referenced several times. There it was just sitting there on her desk. I asked her who’s it was and she didn’t know, but I knew. It was there for me to notice. For me to be sure that in this moment I am where I am supposed to be. In every sense; physically, mentally, spiritually, etc. I recalled the opening lines…

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I also took one more step in the direction of choosing teaching. Because, after all, it was my students who lead me there. When Henry asked me what was important to me right now (because, he said, this same thing will govern the trajectory of my next years) I thought of two things, family and seeing people go within. That’s really what I want to do. I want to show people the way. Not my way, the way, so really “I” just want to get out the way.

Two things just struck me, the night I saw Henry, he sang this little light of mine with his wife, my advisor, what an appropriate song for the space. And also, some of our students put up a board outside the Student Life building with the question, “what is it you have been called to do?” I wrote big as day in bright orange marker, LOVE~thats all there is~

Way to bring it full circle. Again, well played, God, well played.

After all that I’ve been through…

Of course everybody is reflecting this time of year but I am not putting anything into words because Ciara already has:

Click/Hover for song

Click/Hover for song

[Verse 1:]
21, and I’ve realized,
Everything you want’s not meant to be.
21 then you qualify,
The standard to reponsibilities.
So I tried to prioritize
By deciding what I know is best for me.

And then there’s always, love that tries to trip you up.
You try to catch yourself before you hit the ground.
But nothings from us.
Friends are there to cheer you up,
To give you strength and mend you up when you are down.
So I set sail emotion

I say
So long, farewell,
My lifes moving forward.
My ship has sailed,
And im so glad it’s over.
My heart is well,
After all that I’ve been through
I found myself.

[Verse 2:]
22, I hope that I’m,
With someone who truly cares for me.
If im not, I’ll be alright,
I’ll accept the time i know God has for me.
One day I’ll be the perfect wife.
That’s what destiny,
And i won’t be afraid to try
though is always….

Love that tries to trip you up
But then someone who sweep you off the ground,
But nothings from us.
I’m not gonna give it up
Just because the last one let me down.
So I set sail emotion.

I say
So long, farewell,
My lifes moving forward.
My ship has sailed,
And im so glad it’s over.
My heart is well,
After all that I’ve been through
I found myself.

[Verse 3:]
I’m looking out for me,
Taking care of my needs.
Life isn’t guranteed,
It’s time to start living.
It wont always be the same,
Can’t be afraid of change.
You wanna have your way,
Demand til you’re satisfied
Don’t lower your self esteeem,
You gotta live your dream.
It’s all bout confidence,
To let them know that you can stand up.
You never try,
Learn to express you mind.
Sometimes you gotta fight,
I’ts your life so don’t you give up.

I say
So long, farewell,
My lifes moving forward.
That ship has sailed,
And im so glad it’s over.
My heart is well,
After all that i’ve been through
I found myself.
After all that I’ve been through
I found myself………