The Body Is Not An Apology

Fostering Radical Unapologetic Self Love, Body Empowerment and Healing Around the WORLD!

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Warning: Contents May… (Trigger)

by Megan Ryland


[Image: Yellow triangular sign with black lettering. It reads “! TW,” a common shortened form of the term “trigger warning.”]


Trigger warnings are becoming part of modern conversation. You’ve probably seen them around at the beginning of articles or in tags on Tumblr, sometimes shortened to “tw.” They seem to be having a ‘moment’ right now—something that reportedly started gathering steam in anti-violence and social justice spheres online has moved into general internet spaces and is now entering offline content and conversation. This trend is bringing renewed attention and scrutiny to the use of trigger warnings as a conversational alert system for content that people might find triggering.

You may be intimately familiar with the idea of trigger warnings, but this week I want to take a step back and take a second look at trigger warnings. Starting from the basics, moving to arguments against them, and then looking at the big picture, I hope that by the end of the week, it’s clear why writers at The Body is Not An Apology use trigger warnings, and why you might want to start using them too (if you don’t already).

The first important question to answer is, “What is a trigger?” Well, a trigger can theoretically be anything and people often have triggers that are unique to them. Some people are triggered by smells, or a familiar feature, or a certain phrase, all of which may be difficult to control or avoid.  That fact may make trigger warnings seem useless, as you cannot possibly warn for everything that could act as a trigger. But instead of throwing our hands up in the air, we can warn for certain items.

Kyriarchy and Privilege, a tumblr with a lot of social justice resources, has a pretty comprehensive list of common trigger warnings, to be found here. If you’re familiar with tumblr, you’re probably familiar with trigger warnings like those for rape, abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide, drug use and many others. The Body is Not An Apology frequently makes use of them.

If you’ve never been triggered by something, you may not quite understand the purpose of the warnings. Being triggered isn’t something that people have come up with to force others to be politically correct or tiptoe around conversations. The term describes an actual, powerful experience for many people and is used by those who have experienced trauma, sexual assault, bigotry, child abuse, PTSD or other events. According to 1 in 6, being triggered brings your past trauma rapidly to the present, potentially causing intense stress, anxiety, flashbacks, sudden fear or anger. Shakesville features a more extensive definition:

A trigger is something that evokes survived trauma or ongoing disorder. For example, a person who was raped may be “triggered,” i.e. reminded of hir rape, by a graphic description of sexual assault, and that reminder may, especially if the survivor has post-traumatic stress disorder, be accompanied by anxiety, manifesting as anything ranging from mild agitation to self-mutilation to a serious panic attack.

Those of us who write about triggering topics (sexual assault, violence, detainee torture, war crimes, disordered eating, suicide, etc.) provide trigger warnings with such content because we don’t want to inadvertently cause someone who’s, say, sitting at her desk at work, a full-blown panic attack because she happened to read a triggering post the content of which she was unprepared for.”

As mentioned, you cannot always anticipate what might trigger someone. In my opinion, that’s not an excuse to dismiss the idea of anticipating the experiences of your listener or audience. We actually do this all the time in other ways, whether that’s gauging someone’s sense of humour or whether right now is the best time to ask for a favour. The reality is that in a room of ten people, someone has likely experienced violence first hand. Accepting that we are collectively responsible for caring for our community, even and especially those who might need support or accommodation to feel comfortable, is part of practicing social justice.

I cannot claim to have been triggered in the way that some people experience it, but I still appreciate trigger warnings, as they allow me to make an informed choice about the content I’m ready to dive into. It’s rare that a trigger warning dissuades me from reading a piece, but it does prepare me for what I’m about to read in a way that I appreciate. On days where I’m tired or I’m already down, I might bookmark the page and read it later.

This is the informed consent aspect of the trigger warning. The warning arguably offers readers, listeners or watchers an opportunity to opt into the material. Instead of demanding that someone participate in a conversation where you set the terms and catch them unawares, you are asking them to participate in a conversation of shared interest. With a trigger warning you’re putting a few more cards on the table so that someone knows a little more about what they’re getting into. It’s not asking a speaker to tiptoe or stay silent. It’s asking them to allow others to enter as informed participants, ready to engage with the material.

Words and images are not as harmless as some people would like to believe. New research suggests that some journalists exposed continually to violent images and stories may develop symptoms of PTSD without exposure to the violent events themselves. We all know from experience that some things can bring us back vividly to an intense memory—maybe that’s a smell reminding you of your grandma or a song bringing you back to prom night. Now imagine that this vivid memory was attached to something that you’d rather not re-live at the drop of a hat. It only seems considerate to give someone a heads up if that might happen.

For me, a trigger warning is a small gesture for those who may not understand what it’s like to be triggered but care about those who do. We are all a part of a culture that incorporates violence, and this violence has an impact on members of this culture; therefore, we are all implicated in that. Trigger warnings ask us to remember that we approach content differently and to care for one another. Used as an alert for content, trigger warnings don’t censor or shut down conversation; they open up conversation to those who need support to feel safe to engage, and they allow informed participation in topics that can be rough to discuss. By taking responsibility for your own content through trigger warnings, you don’t ask people to apologize for their experiences or their triggers. You anticipate what’s required to open the space to as many people as possible and do what little you can.

Filed under the body is not an apology trigger warnings tw compassionate community activism social justice online communication

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Sensory Overload and Self-Diagnosis

by West Anderson, Content Writer


Source: Vimeo

[Image description: A close up drawing of a young boy’s face, colored orange with swirls or yellow, pink, green and blue over it. His eyes are screwed shut in pain and his hands are pressed over his ears.]

I’ve always been an introvert – someone who recharges by being alone rather than drawing energy from spending time with others. But in the past year, I’ve noticed a worrisome pattern in my life that, for a while, I couldn’t find the cause of. If I pushed myself past my limits, even a little bit – by agreeing to a babysitting job, or an outing with friends, or just going outside and dealing with the busy world when I didn’t really feel able – it would lead to an emotional and physical meltdown. And my limits were really low. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that I couldn’t do the average amount of things I saw other people accomplishing in their day-to-day lives. When I pushed myself to try to do the “normal” amount of things other people accomplish without issue – working a part-time job, seeing friends more than twice a month, going out for drinks or to complete much-needed errands – I would exhaust my body to the point where I could, without fail, predict getting a cold.

I felt lost and scared about my own body. My low threshold for activity didn’t seem normal, but I couldn’t find any words to describe it that made it seem valid. I told myself I must just be lazy and avoiding expanding my comfort zones. Maybe I just needed to try harder to be around people and wash my hands constantly to avoid catching colds? Finally, I brought up what I was feeling with my mom, and she suggested I could be dealing with sensory sensitivity issues, something she was diagnosed with herself. I took the sensory processing test that she got from an occupational therapist, and found that I scored as “more sensitive than most people” and “much more sensitive than most people” in every category.

Once I realized that I am indeed more sensitive to sensory input than average, I started writing down everything I could think of that I have trouble with. Putting together a picture of my various sensory issues was helpful in letting me see what specific things were driving me to such painful meltdowns.

I found that visual and auditory input were the most tiring, with touch being a challenge too.

When it comes to touch, I pull myself inward when I am in public to keep a large bubble of personal space around myself at all times. I have, since a young age, become anxious when walking around in public, avoiding entering people’s personal space by walking on the edge of the curb or in the road, pulling myself inward, tensing, and speedwalking or weaving through groups of people on a sidewalk in order to get away from them and the anxiety being near them causes me.

Visually, I get overwhelmed when there is too much input for me to handle. Being in a crowd of people is tiring because of the constantly changing visual stream, in addition to the auditory input from many conversations and trying to maintain the “proper” personal distance from others. Large stores are exhausting because I feel the need to look at everything in a given aisle or section, which often means I spend a long time cataloging everything I see in three of four large sections in a store. I don’t avoid large stores because I like shopping and I like looking at all the things, but I am exhausted after I leave them. Grocery stores take me a long time, even when I have a list of what I’m getting. If I don’t have a list, it takes me much longer to find what I want.

With auditory input, if there is more than one conversation going on at once, I can’t focus on one well enough to hear and understand everything that is said. It takes a lot of mental energy to listen and understand people fully. Often if I’m in an environment with multiple sources of noise or overlapping conversations, I have to either leave for somewhere quieter, ask the sources to be quieter, or close myself off and not respond to any of them. If I’ve been doing a lot of work hearing, I have to leave and seek out a quieter space or be alone to recover.

The worst situation I was in recently was going to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on the Fourth of July. Five minutes after I got there, I had to leave. The crush of people, fireworks going off not a hundred feet away with no warning, the traffic, and the noise – I ended up tensed and crying and covering my ears all the way home in the car.



[Image description: An outline of a blue face in profile with a cloud where the brain would be. Tendrils are coming out to connect to pictures that surround the face of a hand for touch, an eye for sight, a mouth for sound, a nose for smelling, and an ear for hearing.]

Auditory and visual input are almost always occurring together, and depending on the amount of things going on visually (a group of people, items in a store, cars) and the accompanying audio (people talking all at once, me having to find the right words to say and appear focused and interested in the discussion with my eyes, a sudden bang from outside, road construction), it can quickly become exhausting and my ability to handle it all gets depleted.

If I have done too much in a given day or week, the result is often a meltdown that can sometimes feel like a panic attack. I have to rest and let my body recover by taking it easy and doing very little for the next few days. For a while this winter, if I did even one thing over my limit, I would get sick for a week.

I’m struggling to feel that these issues really do apply to me, and that it’s okay for me to take these terms and apply them to myself. I feel like I need a doctor to prove that I do indeed deserve to use these labels. But the process of being referred to a doctor who can help me is proving to be a very slow one. So until then, I feel trapped in a limbo between feeling that I shouldn’t apply these terms to myself until I get a professional diagnosis and needing these terms and ideas to help me get through my day-to-day life. It is a relief to find there is a way to describe what I am experiencing, and that it is okay to take care of myself and respect my limits. Searching for information about sensory overload led me to helpful information about how to deal with sensory meltdowns and avoid them. It also helped me to stop beating myself up about my different needs and limits and to start asking for support and accommodations when I needed them.

Recently, I was babysitting for a family. I was playing Monopoly with two eleven-year-old kids while a five-year-old tried to join in, while the mom was talking to a neighbor right next to us, while Spanish music was playing. Once the game was over, the kids headed outside to play tag. Knowing that I was about to push myself past my limits, I explained to the mom that I needed a break from all the input because I have problems with sensory overload. She was very understanding and gave me food and a quiet place to relax before I headed out to play with the kids again. It was one of the first times I didn’t push myself past my limits because of my desire to keep up with everyone else. And it was really amazing to have my needs heard and respected!

In addition to advocating for myself and resting when I need to, I also learned about joint traction and compression as ways to combat sensory overload. Now when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can lift weights or have one of my partners pull on my arms and legs, which helps immensely. It’s a big relief to have concrete things I can do to lessen sensory overload.

I’m hoping that through therapy, I will be able to pinpoint what my limits are in my body so I can know when to stop doing something. It is difficult for me to know when I am past my limit for a given sense. I am getting better at it, but the pressure to push myself to go to a social event, to work, or to do an errand or chore is intense. Often, if I’m not already way past my limit, I think that it will be okay. But it never is, so I want to learn where my limits are better. I want to honor them and stop hurting my body.

Filed under sensory overload sensory processing disorder spd sensory sensitivity the body is not an apology west anderson

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Leaving the Land Called Girl: My Gender Journey

by West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: One of several symbols used to denote “transgender”. A solid black outline of the venus symbol for female, which is a circle with a cross coming out of the bottom. The arrow of the mars symbol for male is coming out of the top right of the circle, and an arrow with a perpendicular line running through it is coming out of the top left side of the circle.]

Hi. I’m West, and I’m non-binary. I also use the label transgender.

Transgender (trans): Identifying with a gender different than the one assigned to you at birth.

Cisgender (cis): Identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth.

Non-binary: Not identifying within the male/female gender binary.

I was introduced to the wide world of gender in my first year of college, thanks to my hallway’s Resident Assistant. Ze is bigender and uses ze/zir/zirs as pronouns. (So, instead of saying “I saw him,” or “I saw her,” I would say, “I saw zir.”) Meeting zir and learning about non-binary genders from zir was like a revelation. In the next few months, I learned all I could about the transgender community. I had always been very interested and involved in the LGBT community as an ally, but the more I learned, the more I started to wonder whether there was a reason I was so drawn to this community.

During that first year in college, I also began detoxing from high school, where I had been forcefully taught how to be properly feminine. By the end of high school, I had grown out my hair from the pixie cut I had loved as a fifteen-year-old, and I owned a wide array of women’s clothing I found incredibly uncomfortable to wear. After half a year at UC Santa Cruz, the hair was cut off. Clothes from the men’s section were bought, one T-shirt at a time. I very nervously began looking more androgynous, and when the world didn’t collapse – in fact, when no one seemed to mind at all – I started to realize how much better I felt presenting this way. And I began to wonder what it meant to be a girl.

Of course, shifting my presentation to be more masculine didn’t automatically mean I was transgender. There are many masculine women and feminine men and people in between who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Pink is not actually just for girls, and blue is not automatically only for boys. Breaking gender rules is a pretty common phenomenon, which goes to show how fake and malleable the categories we consider “boy” and “girl” really are.

But as I changed how I presented, I began to wonder what being a girl meant to me. I remember one conversation I had with my mom while we were walking around Berkeley. I’d been contemplating my gender for a month or so, and was talking about it with her. She asked me, “Do you feel like a boy?” Immediately I replied, “No. But I don’t know what it means to feel like a girl either.”

I didn’t know I was trans from a young age. I played with Barbies and wore dresses. I also played with plastic dinosaurs and toy cars. But I spent the majority of my life firmly believing I was a straight cis girl. (Look at me now, mom!) It’s only when I started poking my history with a stick that things began to fall out.

When I look back at my childhood self, I see a kid who wasn’t concerned at all with gender or clothing. I wore baggy tie-dye shirts and colorful band-aids. I played around with makeup when my friend’s sister gave us makeovers. I ran around with my shirt off for as long as I possibly could, because I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Then I hit high school, and switched from being homeschooled to going to a small private school. For the first couple of years, I wore what I pleased, and there were some pretty wonderfully weird outfits involved. I cut my hair short because I had been wanting to since I was ten or eleven.

Then I became close friends with someone who “taught” me how to stop doing all the things I was doing “wrong” with my presentation and my gender. It wasn’t just her – the pressure to be feminine, and especially to be feminine in order to attract the attention of boys, came from all directions. But the worst of it was from her.

Over and over, she picked at things about my body and my presentation: my short hair, my tiny chest, my boyish face. I looked like a man or a lesbian, she said, and she let me know it wasn’t a good thing. She drilled into me that I didn’t know how to dress myself properly or do makeup properly, and that I had better let her teach me if I ever wanted to look good. To look good was the most important thing there was. So I grew my hair out, wore skirts and shirts that were really uncomfortable to me, and did my makeup every day.

When I got to college, I was still following these rules, even though the friendship had broken up. I was so afraid that people wouldn’t think I was pretty, and therefore wouldn’t like me, unless I was feminine. The decision to cut my hair short again took months and a good long talk from my now-partner Sequoia. I can’t believe how frightened I was that people would think I was ugly or dislike me if I looked masculine. The first time I bought a pair of boxers, it took me twenty minutes to work up the courage to go to the cash register. I thought for sure the cashier would say something or look at me funny. I had a line about how they were for a friend planned out in my head. The person said nothing, and I walked away unscathed.

It’s really shocking to me to look back on the fears I had as I began to change my presentation from more feminine to more masculine. On the whole, masculine people who were assigned female at birth don’t face as much backlash as feminine people who were assigned male at birth. Trans women, and especially trans women of color, face incredible violence for being who they are. As a white AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) person, I encounter none of the violence and discrimination that I see trans women and AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) trans people facing. I’m very privileged to not face the harassment and violence that are directed at trans women daily.

Yet I kept expecting something bad to happen as I began to transition. The message that I had to be feminine to be likable had been so cemented into my head in high school that I kept waiting for people to abandon me, to not like me anymore, to not want to associate with me. Thankfully, starting college at a school 3,000 miles away from my high school, I discovered that the things I had been taught as a teenager were not how most people thought. I met incredible, wonderful people who liked me just as I was, however I chose to be. It surprised me for months that people liked the way I was changing. It was a huge confidence booster, and a lot of growth that was halted in high school happened in a huge burst in the new supportive environment I was in.

Despite this support, the decision to come out as non-binary was terrifying. So far, people hadn’t turned their backs on me as I broke the rules of Girlhood I had been taught, but what would they think when I started asking for strange new terms to be applied to me? For weird new pronouns that didn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “him” or “her”? I felt like I wasn’t really trans, that my feelings weren’t real, that the terms I wanted used for me were fake and silly.


Source: Storenvy

[Image description: A set of six pronoun stickers in the style of red “Hello my name is” stickers. These particular stickers read “Hello address me as,” then contain a blank spot for a name to be written on, and on the bottom have different pronouns on each sticker. The red one says “Please use: They, Them, Theirs,” the orange one says “Please use: He, Him, His,” the yellow one has a blank spot to fill in one’s own pronouns, the green one has “Please use: She, Her, Hers,” the blue one has “Please use: Ze, Hir, Hirs,” and the purple one has “Please use, Xe, Xem, Xyrs”.]

But the need to be referred to and seen in a way that made me comfortable was stronger than my fears of what people would think. So I came out to my hallway, to my Facebook friends, and to my family. I got a lot of support, which was wonderful, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It was very difficult for my childhood friends to start referring to me by a different name and pronouns, and although most of them meant well, it felt like a punch to the gut every time they called me the wrong name or the wrong pronouns. Having to come out again and again is still something I struggle with. If I find the courage to tell someone new who I am, not knowing how they’ll react, I also have to find the courage to correct them every single time they get my pronouns wrong, which is usually many, many times per conversation. This was – and is – hugely anxiety inducing for me, and often the easiest route is to give up and let them misgender me. It makes it difficult to create new friendships or be myself in old ones.

After I came out, I began presenting as even more masculine. I knew then to some extent (and it’s obvious to me now) that it was an attempt to make my gender seem more valid to outsiders. It was hard for me to exist in a non-binary space that no one knew about, and so my solution was to at least try to get people to assume I was a boy, rather than a girl. But trying to pass as male was terribly stressful, and I didn’t enjoy it beyond the satisfaction that came from being a way that I had been taught I shouldn’t be. Being a boy was not my real desire, and it never fit well. I began to head towards a space that was neither boy or girl, but sometimes both masculine and feminine. However my presentation changes, I still find that I can’t connect my looks, my body, my brain, to a binary gender. So I live in an unnamed place, wearing what I like and looking good doing it.

My gender journey has not been a solid progression from a point A to a point B. It’s been a looping, curling journey with few sign posts and no GPS. If I had not heard of non-binary identities, I might still be comfortable in the land called Girl, although I probably would have moved towards a more butch girlness for my own mental health. Despite my moving away from the things I was taught I had to do in high school, I do still like being feminine, and I own a bunch of pretty dresses. But when I put them on and put makeup on, I do it the way I want to, for me. Not for anyone else’s approval or benefit. Not by anyone else’s definition of what I “must” do to be a certain gender. The great thing about learning about this stuff we call gender was that I found terms and identities and ways of being that made me feel more comfortable in my body. I’m a lot happier with myself today being non-binary then I ever was identifying as cisgender.

Filed under non binary transgender genderqueer the body is not an apology west anderson

59 notes

Coming to Terms with My Asexuality

By West Anderson, Content Writer


[Image description: The asexual pride flag, which is four horizontal stripes of color, going from black at the top, to gray, to white, to purple.]

I figured out that I was asexual in 2012. Two years later, I’m still working out how to navigate this new identity and what it means for me. I find it difficult to appreciate my asexuality at times; it has made me feel broken, incomplete, and worthless. But what I remind myself each time these feelings rear their heads is that I am not broken or worthless because I don’t want to have sex. It’s the people and cultural messages telling me that I should be having sex (and there is something wrong with me if I don’t) that make me feel less than whole.

Truly, figuring out I am asexual was the start to a path of healing and self-love for me.

When I began wandering into the dark woods of adolescent sexuality, I believed that eventually I would figure out how to have sex right, so that I would enjoy it. I believed (and had been taught) that everyone is sexual. To not be sexual was to not be a person. I comforted myself with the fact that I was a beginner, and I learned from many people, magazines, and websites that it takes everyone a while to have an enjoyable sexual experience.

But as I graduated high school and entered college, the fears that had been whispering in the back of my mind for years became louder. What if there was something wrong with me? I couldn’t seem to get anything out of sex. It wasn’t fun for me, and the only reason I sought it out was the hope that maybe this time, it would be better.

When my current two partners and I were starting to become close (they were already a couple, and I was spending more and more nights at their place rather than in my dorm), I began to worry about how I would navigate sex with them. I could tell they would be into it, if I wanted to. I liked them a lot, I wanted to be with them, so I figured the knot tangled in my belly was because this was my first time navigating this experience with two people. Because I thought if we all wanted to be together, that would by necessity include having sex.

But then a night came when we were hanging out in their bedroom, and my now-partner Sequoia started to give me a backrub. I felt tense because I knew that the evening could progress into something more. I was thinking about whether I wanted to do that, when I realized that the way their hands felt on my back was all I ever wanted to experience. It felt good, really good, and I didn’t want to do anything more. I started crying. I thought, if I’m asexual, how will I ever find someone who will want to be with me?

I had heard of asexuality a couple of months previous, but that was the first time I ever considered applying it to myself. That alone shows me how deep our culture’s focus on sex as a natural and necessary part of life goes. I was never able to even consider that I might just not want to have sex. And I never heard words to describe such a thing until I was nearly twenty.

Now, I have been dating those two people for two and half years, and I couldn’t be happier. They love me just the way I am, and I have discovered for myself that sex isn’t a necessary part of love and relationships. I feel more secure in who I am and how I present myself. Embracing my asexuality has made me feel stronger and more whole. I feel confident wearing what I like and acting how I please. The right to wear and do what one wants without owing someone sex is a right that belongs to people of all sexual orientations. For me, it was only through my exploration of my asexuality that I came to fully realize this. If someone thinks my clothes or my actions are an invitation to sex, they are wrong. I am not teasing anyone or leading anyone on. I can exercise my right to say no, and to set boundaries around what other people say and do to, with, and around me.

Even though I have embraced asexuality as an important and essential part of who I am, I still struggle with our culture’s focus on sex. I mean, it is everywhere. And I often still feel like I’m missing out on something that is really enjoyable. The pressure to have sex is not an easy thing to will away, but I am grateful to the people who speak out against it, and to my partners and friends for their conversations about it and their reassurances.

Being asexual has taught me a lot. It has taught me how to hone and enforce my boundaries. It has taught me that I am lovely and worthwhile and whole even if I never have sex. It has taught me that if someone doesn’t respect me, my sexuality, or my boundaries, that is their problem and not mine. I appreciate those parts of myself that have strengthened, and look forward to continuing to learn and change my perspective until I never feel less than whole because of my asexuality again.

Filed under asexuality the body is not an apology west anderson

43 notes

Being Liberated by Aging

by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, Content Manager and Writer

[Image description: The photograph shows the face of the author, a 56-year-old white woman with blue-green eyes and short graying hair. She is wearing glasses and a blue headband, and looking directly into the camera and smiling.]

As I begin this piece, I find myself wondering how many people will even read a piece with the word aging in the title. Most people see the word aging and think, “Ew. Scary. Mortality.” I certainly did when I was younger. And then aging came and met me much, much more quickly than I had expected. One minute, I was 20 and I thought I’d be young forever. And then, all of a sudden, I was 56 and I was no longer young at all.

It was a rude shock, I’ll admit. In American society, aging is difficult, especially for women. I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was connected with my fertility under I started menopause. I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was connected with my sense of myself as a young woman until I no longer looked like one. It was difficult to see the changes in my body. At one point, I did a photoshoot of all of the parts of my body that I was afraid to look at. Looking at the photos, writing about the photos, sharing the photos – it all helped me come to peace with my changing body. I realized that all bodies age, and that it was inevitable, and that I needed to get over it already and move on with my life.

And I did. I no longer look at my body as a thing to be judged, to be objectified, to be approved, or to be rejected. I just live in it. It allows me to do lots of wonderful things – to drum, to learn ASL, to write, to deliver food, to walk, to think, to feel, to love. I’m so busy doing those things, I just haven’t got time to worry about what I look like doing them. What a relief!

At this point, I find that the most difficult part of aging is looking at the world and realizing that I will not see the kind of change I want to see in my lifetime. I grew up in the 1960s, when we were sure that change was just around the corner. Every morning, my mother watched a television show introduced by Mama Cass singing There’s a New World Coming, and that song, along with The Times They Are A-Changing, became my anthems. There is a grand hopefulness to There’s a New World Coming that almost makes me cry now:

There’s a new world coming
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a new world coming
This one’s coming to an end

There’s a new voice calling
You can hear it if you try
And it’s growing stronger
With each day that passes by

There’s a brand new morning
Rising clear and sweet and free
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me

Yes a new world’s coming
The one we’ve had visions of
Coming in peace, coming in joy
Coming in love

We were so certain that the world was being made new, that justice would prevail, that peace would come, that racism and sexism and economic injustice would be healed – and all very soon. Were we naïve? Certainly. But I think that many young people believe that they will see the change they want to see in their lifetimes. I’ve seen a number of posts on my Facebook feed in which young people talk about how they can’t wait until their generation takes power, because their generation is more peaceful, more conscious, more committed, and less bigoted and ignorant that the older generation. When I read things like that, I smile and feel a kind of bittersweet sadness, because I remember my younger self saying exactly those things about my parents’ generation. Exactly. All that’s missing these days are the mod flowers and the beaded necklaces.

I think it’s natural to want to see the world be made better in your lifetime. It’s painful to realize that you may never see the fruits of your labor in this life. But I find that, as I age, I’m coming to terms with it. I realize, in the words of the Talmud, “It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it altogether.” In many ways, it’s liberating to know that you won’t see all the changes you want to see, but that you can keep doing the work anyway. It’s one of the best hedges against burnout that I’ve ever found. I can do a great deal now and just send it into the world in the hope that those who come with me – and those who come after me – will use that energy for good. I can work to see change, knowing that I am doing right – whether the world knows it or understands it or even cares about it. And I can go forward in the belief that no good is ever wasted.

In the midst of all my outrage over the wrongs of the world, there is a serenity I have found in my 50s that I’ve never felt before. It doesn’t keep me from getting outraged. It just makes the outrage easier to carry. I find myself becoming more audacious, more present, and more myself every day. I’ve stopped making gods out of the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of other people. I’ve started walking my own path as fearlessly as I can.

Here in my 50s, the walk doesn’t have to be graceful and the path doesn’t need to be smooth. It just needs to be mine.

Filed under rachel cohen-rottenberg the body is not an apology girls women aging self-love

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I Don’t Fear Aging. I Fear Wasting Time.

by Content Writer, Rev. Katie Norris

I have grown up with people considerably older than me. My parents were 41 when I was born. Not unusual today, but unusual 35 years ago. My four siblings are all at least one generation older than me, between 10 and 14 years my senior. I have never known my mom without gray hair (actually, it’s a gorgeous silver). I remember being at school and the women in the pickup line would say, “Katie, your grandmother is here to pick you up!” My mom hated that. People assumed my mom was my grandmother and my sister was my mother. 

Now, my parents are seniors (77 years old). My family and I lived with them for two and a half years to help take care of my mom, who has Lewy Body Dementia, and I work with people with dementia. While living with my parents, my husband, son, and I spent a ton of time with seniors. We chose to spend a lot of our mornings biking in the local parks with our elders and then going to the typical “wet food” establishment (where the food is usually soggy and not all that tasty, but you can sit there for hours and chat while you drink coffee) to converse about sports, politics, and all of the issues of aging.

My mom was deathly afraid of aging and getting dementia, which her mother died from. Her worst fear came true. Actually, it was even worse because Lewy Body Dementia is dementia with Parkinson’s, so she lost not only cognitive ability but physical ability as well.

[Image: Rev. Katie with her mother. Woman with brown hair and red glasses in a green shirt is leaning in with her face beside an older woman with short silver hair who is seated in a wheelchair. The younger woman is holding a frosted gingerbread cookie. The older woman has her eyes closed, is wearing a blue shirt with white polka dots and her hand is covered in a white bandage. They are inside a home with red walls and a black stove behind them.] 

At 35 I am supposed to be afraid of aging, if you go by the media. I should be upset that my hair is gray and that I am starting to get wrinkles. I should be worried if my career does not take off soon and I am not a success (by our culture’s standards) by 40. I should be scared watching my parents age, and being with so many people who have lost a lot of functioning in their senior years.

Sometimes I feel ashamed of aging because our culture hates aging so much. I am often told to color my hair and cover my grays, which I have had since I was 22 years old. We disrespect our seniors and make fun of how they drive, how they shop in the grocery store, and how some of them struggle with using technology. However, I am not afraid of aging.

The only thing I am afraid of is getting dementia, but really that is because I am afraid to lose my mind — which really is not a fear of aging so much as a fear I live with every day, because of my bipolar disorder. It’s really just a reality of my life.

Living with people substantially older than me has taught me the most valuable lesson in life, which is to not take it for granted and to spend time on things that really matter. I make decisions based on what is best for the long-term, not what might make me more wealthy or popular right now. My husband and I are very intentional about making sure that work does not take over family time, even though my husband has often travelled for his job over the last nine years. We both want to have good careers, but we have both made sacrifices so that each one of us can grow while not neglecting our personal relationship with each other or with our son. We are learning to strike a balance of quality time with people, doing the things that bring us mental stability, and doing the things we have to do to survive.

As a minister, I have sat at the bedside of dying people, of all ages. None of them reflected on their awards, money, or prestige. All they wanted was people who love them beside them as they die. I always ask adult children of ministers what they suggest for me as a minister with a young child. Often this comes up, sadly, at the funeral of a colleague. Ministry, like many other vocations, can take over a life. People get caught up with the popularity and power. All of these adult kids have told me, “My parent put everyone else first. Everyone loved them, and if you ask anyone, they would say my parent was wonderful and kind. But my parent was never there for us. Don’t abandon your family for your ministry.”

We have no idea what our future holds for us. We could die tomorrow, or we could die when we are 100 years old. I do not see a point in fearing aging. Instead, I have a healthy respect for it. I won’t assume that I can abuse my body and then be able to function well when I am 80. I also won’t assume that if I care perfectly for my body that I won’t get an illness that makes me non-functional at 80.

I see my mom, who is unable to move, talk much, or feed herself due to her dementia, and then I see my dad who runs, bikes, swims, and helps me run a non-profit. I know that our aging process is a function of what we do, the environment we live in, and also the fact that stuff just happens. The best we can do is make the most responsible choices for ourselves to have the best chance of aging well. We also need to make the most responsible choices in our relationships, so we age well with others around us. I am more concerned that I have a good relationship with my son and husband so that when I age, no matter what happens to me, I have those relationships.


Rev. Katie

Filed under Aging dementia Rev. Katie Norris family relationships aging parents lewy body dementia

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Age is Just a Number? On Being Younger than I Expected

by Megan Ryland

Something they don’t tell you when you enter the “Real World” after school is that everyone else is older than you. After being surrounded by my peers constantly for years, it was strange to suddenly enter a world of work where I was almost always the youngest person there. In many places workplaces, youths don’t make up the majority and they are rarely members of the management. I’m lucky enough to work in an office where the demographic tends to lean a little on the younger side, but when we call in Board meetings, I’m inevitably among the very youngest at the table (and I try my best not to feel like I belong at the kid’s table…).

[Photo by Michael Bentley here. Two young, white boys sit on small blue chairs at a little red table. They are both eating hamburgers on a sunny day. They are seated at a table in the grass in front of a tree and wheel barrow.]

Economically, it’s not so great to be a youth (15-24 years old). Canadian unemployment for youth in 2009 was 12-18%—that’s basically double what it was for other age groups. Plus, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, temporary employment (contract, seasonal, casual and agency jobs) make up a larger and larger percentage of available jobs, and 28% of employed 15-24 year olds are already in this kind of position. Finding full-time employment is rough for young people in unique ways, as this demographic often has the least work experience (emptiest resumes) and the smallest professional network. There are also specific assumptions that are made about young people, whether that’s stereotypes of entitlement to unreliability to immaturity.

I’d been warned about ageism as it might impact someone who is experiencing discrimination because they have more life experience - people who are prejudged as less capable because they are seniors, for example - but I hadn’t previously put much thought into how youthfulness could be a disadvantage. Then I realized that I look more like someone’s daughter than their colleague. This was not my favourite realization, but it’s something to contend with and be aware of—and often work against.

When you’re surrounded by people with 15 years in your field, it’s hard to blend in and “belong.” You just don’t blend in, generally, and when networking or trying to build confidence in your equal place on a team, it’s rough to stand out as significantly younger than your coworkers. However, some workplaces do a better job than others integrating young team members into the internal and external network—bringing you into the fold.

I feel very fortunate to have found a foothold in the “Real World” where I can learn from people, particularly women, who have more experience. I have never been so thankful for and interested in mentorship moments or relationships, because I know that my lack of experience limits my perspective. Finding people who will treat me as peers and colleagues, despite an age and experience gap, has been truly valuable—and, frankly, empowering. Being taken seriously makes such a difference. Finding people, people older than myself, people I respect, who will take my wishes, ambitions and work ethic seriously is… I cannot explain the impact that this has for me. As a young person navigating my choices post-graduation, it has been important to me in a way that I would not have anticipated.

I feel young, out here. Younger than I have in years. It makes me feel like I have something to prove. Some stripes I need to earn. The people who make room for me at the table are the ones who make me want to belong there.

Filed under the body is not an apology ageism youth youth employment youth unemployment mentorship women mentors intergenerational learning

82 notes

Dear Abby, Please Don’t Body Shame

by Content Writer Rev. Katie Norris.

On August 10, 2014, this letter discussion appeared in the popular “Dear Abby” column:

“DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.

When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.”

I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women.

Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO

DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.

While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”

[Image: Drawing that says “Dear Abby. Please, no body shaming, only love.” With “body shaming” inside a red circle with a line through it.]

I would like to respond by saying:

DEAR ABBY: You are not wrong for voicing your opinion, since it was asked for. But please remember that when we are talking about a person’s body, their wishes take precedence. No one has the right to shame another person because of their body. Not a mother to a child. Not the owner of the house the person happens to be visiting. Not even you, where you tell Offended Daughter in Chicago, “I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”

While you are comfortable with your body shaming speech, it would be interesting to know if you have ever read any of the research on the actual correlation between body size and health, as well as the research that shows shame is not likely to cause a change in behavior. I suspect we would all be prouder of you if you had done your research before contributing to our culture’s body shame problem.

Here are a list of resources to get you started:

Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health by Glenn Gaesser

Can You Be Fat and Healthy - Or Thin and Unhealthy?

Brene Brown, PhD for all research on how shame does not help. Brown says, “You can not shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.”


Rev. Katie

Filed under body shaming fat acceptance dear abby Rev. Katie Norris

41 notes

Mental Illness as a Spiritual Issue: A Reflection on Matt Walsh’s post about Robin Williams

by Content Writer, Rev. Katie Norris.

Cross-posted from Rev. Katie’s blog, Bipolar Spirit. 

I read Matt Walsh’s blog post "Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his own choice," and I wanted to hate it. Ok, well, I hated most of it. I vehemently disagree with most of what he wrote, and find parts of it far too shaming of people who die by suicide. In fact, I don’t particularly like most of what he writes on his blog in general. We just don’t line up politically, and that is fine.

I don’t think arguing with him is the best course of action, but I do want my own readers to know where I stand on the basics of some of what Walsh said.

I disagree with Walsh where he says:

"First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw."

I think this is too simplistic a look at the disease of mental illness. I do believe mental illness is very much like cancer, and that the disease has the ability to take over our mind enough that we do not have a choice. Just like cancer can progress so far that no amount of radiation or treatment will save a person, the mind can be so compromised that people can no longer save themselves. I have seen people get at that threshold. The mind can break, just like any part of the body can.

Our mind is what controls everything. Our mind controls our ability to choose, and if the mind is ill enough, then it makes sense that such a choice may at some point become unavailable to us. From Williams’ recent stay in rehab, we can tell that he was reaching out. He was trying to intervene with his illness early enough and trying not to get to that threshold where suicide would claim him against his will. We don’t understand mental illness enough to know if a person is safe being left alone for five minutes, or not. We don’t have a test to show how broken the brain is at any point, and if a person is at risk of death by suicide. Death by suicide is not an “excuse.” Talking with compassion, rather than shame as Walsh’s post does, about people who have died by suicide does not increase the incidence of it. Having a compassionate stance on death by suicide, just like we have with death from other illnesses, gets us talking about it. This allows people to know that it is safe to reach out before their mind has completely shut down so that they have more of a chance of recovery.

I could go into more details of the other parts of Walsh’s post I disagree with, but I think this gives a basic overview: I fundamentally do see mental illness in the same way as other illnesses, and I take a hard, shame-free stance, when talking about death by suicide. (Here is a great post on how mental illness is not selfish.)

The one point Walsh brings up that I do think is worth taking a deeper look at is this:

"I can understand atheists who insist that depression must only be a disease of the brain, as they believe that our entire being is contained by, and comprised of, our physical bodies. But I don’t understand how theists, who acknowledge the existence of the soul, think they can draw some clear line of distinction between the body and the soul, and declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in one but not the other. This is a radically materialist view now shared by millions of spiritualist people."

First of all, I know a lot of atheists, and I have ministerial colleagues who are atheists, so I won’t even argue how Walsh’s definition of atheism that supposes atheists have nothing to do with spirituality is inaccurate. Theist or not, I do think there is a point here that mental illness is also a spiritual issue. I define the spiritual or divine as that which you feel is greater than yourself. For some people the spirit is a personal soul, for others it is God, for others it is the energy of the Universe that created us and holds us all together, and yet for others it is the connection between humans or even our own connection to our deep inner selves. All things are connected, and I would say that all disease is spiritual as well as physical. Most of the world’s religions understand there is a connection between mind, body, and spirit. We need to treat all illnesses from a spiritual perspective, as well as a physical one, and that is why I think Walsh does bring up a good point about mental illness being a spiritual issue.

I love the line from the musical, Next to Normal, (about a woman, Diana, with bipolar disorder) where Diana sings "What if the cut, the burn, the break, was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?" This was referring to the fact that, while she had a lot of medical intervention, part of her illness was triggered by the death of her son, This was a spiritual loss, which her husband refused to address, and which was not a main part of her treatment.

[Image: Lissa Rankin, MD’s Whole Health Cairn. Drawing in black and white of balancing stones, each stone has a label. Starting from the bottom the stones are: inner pilot light, work/life purpose, relationships, spirituality, creativity, sexuality, environment, money, mental health, physical health. The balanced stones are drawn inside of a circle with love, pleasure, gratitude, and service around it.]

I do think that one of the things missing in mental health treatment is the spiritual aspect, and that is one reason why we have such low success rates for treatment.

I would encourage people to read Lissa Rankin, MD’s book "Mind Over Medicine" for a great resource on the current research on how the mind, body, and spirit are connected. It is the perfect mix of how a medical and spiritual model can meld together. I love her "Whole Health Cairn," which depicts stones balancing on top of each other that show what you need for whole health. The stones are housed within a bubble of service, love, pleasure, and gratitude. Many of the “stones” we need to balance for whole health are spiritual, such as the biggest base stone being our “inner pilot light.” Rankin says: "Your Inner Pilot Light is that ever-radiant, always-sparkly, 100% authentic, totally effervescent spark that lies at the core of you. Call it your essential self, your divine spark, your Christ consciousness, your Buddha nature, your higher self, your soul, your wise self, your intuition, or your inner healer. The minute sperm met egg, this part of you ignited, and it’s been glowing away ever since."

So yes, I see mental illness as a physical and spiritual issue, and in order to have a good treatment plan, one must work on the spiritual side as well. For each of us that is different. For some it will be a deep belief and connection to God or Jesus, for others of us it will be a focus on spending time in nature. I strongly believe though that all of us need to have a connection with our own inner pilot light in order to heal. You will notice this being important even in Walsh’s post, where he says, in struggling with his own depression,: "When we are depressed, we have trouble seeing joy, or feeling it, or feeling worthy of it. I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it."

If we do not have a connection to our soul, our inner pilot light, our deepest selves, then yes we see ourselves as awful, sinful, or bad. I would say, we feel shameful, as Brene Brown, PhD defines shame as the belief of: “I am bad.” In all the people I work with who have mental illness, this is the sticking point, the core belief, that few people seem to understand, and medications have a very hard time treating. I believe this is the extra work, the spiritual work, that we need to do in order to decrease the rates of death by suicide. I also believe this is why we can not talk about death by suicide as a “choice,” “excuse,” or “selfish.” Such shaming talk reinforces the core belief that we are bad, which worsens mental illness. Plus, shame is the opposite of empathy, and as Dr. Brene Brown says, shame cannot survive empathy.” So what we really need is an empathetic response to suicide, suicidality, and mental illness if we are ever to help people heal. That is the spiritual work we need to do as a community.


Rev. Katie

P.S. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. I have called, I know many like me who have called, and they help. 

Filed under mental health mental illness robin williams Suicide matt walsh shame lissa rankin brene brown spirituality treatment Rev. Katie Norris next to normal spirit

37 notes

Shaming One Person Hurts the Whole Community

by Content Writer Rev. Katie Norris

In the span of a week, I was able to meet two amazing body-positive bloggers when they were in town and hosted readers’ dinners: Jes from The Militant Baker, and Andrea from I’mPerfect Life. They are two fantastic women who, each in their own way, advocate for acceptance of people as they are and for individuals doing the things that make them happy and whole. At these dinners, there were other readers of their blogs in attendance, which meant that I got to meet local women who also believe in body positivity and creating a shame-free environment. I was able to be in groups of people who did not judge one another, and who were genuinely interested in the uniqueness of each person. It was an amazing, supportive environment.

In the days that followed, I was feeling more safe, more comfortable in my own body, and more self confident. I even noticed that I was not obsessing as much about exactly what I wore every time I walked out of the house. I was shocked one day when I found myself talking to a cashier at the grocery store and actually looking them in the eye, even though I had no makeup on. Normally, I look down and try to hide my face if it is not made up. I was shocked at what increased exposure to kind and positive people can do for you.

A week later, I was at a social dinner in another setting. I was talking freely with people, and I had much less generalized anxiety than usual. I was having a good time because I had had such good experiences with the blogger groups the week before. I had this general feeling that people are just nice and that the world is a relatively safe place.

With one conversation amongst some of the men and women at the table, the positive effects of the bloggers dinners washed away. A few people started talking about how unprofessionally dressed a female executive was at their company. They seemed to think that this woman deserved less respect and authority because she was not dressed as they expected her to be.

I sat there and started shrinking into my seat. I talked less and crossed my arms over my body more. I wanted to get the heck out of there because I did not feel safe. Would I be the one they were making fun of tomorrow over lunch because my personal style is a bit out of the norm? If they think less of this woman and her ability to do her job because they did not like her outfit, what does that mean about how they judge other people they meet?

A shaming and judgmental environment broke me down. I noticed that, for the whole week afterwards, I was hiding my personal style more and not looking people in the eye when I talked to them. I did not just run out for errands in my gym clothes and no makeup. Thankfully, I am able to realize that this type of situation made me feel more self conscious. I can work on spending more time with body-positive people and people who are safe in order to keep programming my mind to understand that it does not matter what other people think about me. I can wear what I want and be myself. Plus, just because someone commented on another person, it does not mean they really are judgmental and mean all the time. It was more likely a case of them expressing their own bias in a not-so-compassionate way.

What these two experiences helped me realize is that it really matters how we talk about people. The second experience probably seems like just a casual conversation that was not a big deal. However, it does point to a bigger issue: We think it is perfectly fine to  judge a person’s worthiness on how well they conform to our standards. (And our standards are all subjective.)

Shaming one person creates an unsafe environment for everyone. It places a small seed of anxiety in people’s hearts because they know that, at any time, they could be shamed as well. Shaming also teaches the collective whole that it is okay to think less of a person because they do not meet our subjective ideas of what is “right.” My son was at the table and that conversation was teaching him that it is okay to see women as objects that need to conform to standards, and that they have no worth if they do not. (Of course, I talked with my son about the conversation to counter the messages it was inadvertently teaching him.)

This experience taught me that, if we are ever to create safe spaces for all of us, we need to be more cognizant of this habit of shaming others in “casual conversation.”


Rev. Katie

Filed under body shaming community Rev. Katie Norris women dress codes