The Body Is Not An Apology

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

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On Illness, Belief, and Saying Yes

Andrea Gibson’s essay is submitted as part of The Body is Not An Apology’s #WhenWeSayYES Campaign. Raising money to build the world’s most powerful radical self love website. Give Here:www.igg.me/at/whenwesayyes

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[The above photograph is of Artist Activist Andrea Gibson in a bent over squatting position. Their hands are crisscrossed and cupping below their knees.  They are wearing brown, laced dress shoes, black jeans that are cuffed at the ankles. There is a set of keys hanging from their right hip. They are wearing a fitted red and black plaid button up shirt with sleeves rolled above their elbows and stark black suspenders. Their hair is nearly shaved on the right and left side with longer bangs that slightly drape over the left side of their forehead. The back is shoulder length with shaved sides. Their facial expression is intentional, holding and soft. They are stooped in front of a body of water with a rusted metal structure back and to the right of them and a faint cityscape in the distance behind them.] 

I’m gonna come right out and own the fact that I’m a hypochondriac.  For as long as I can remember I have been unusually anxious about my health.   When I was a kid my mother made a list of all my ailments and hung the list on the refrigerator hoping it might open my eyes to how unlikely it would be for a person to actually have that many things wrong with them at one time.  On any given day the list might read something like this:


1)  Tongue feels swollen when drinking juice

2)  Potential black widow bite on left ankle.

3)  Feels like there’s TV static in my left big toe

4)  Ears ring after hoola-hooping

5)  Skin cancer freckles

6)  Popping kneecap, possible dislocation?

7)  Heart isn’t beating right

8)  Asthma around the bbq grill

9)  Skin turns to grandma skin in the bathtub


I’ve had the privilege of having had enough therapy to understand where my fears are rooted, to know how they came about, and over the years I’ve managed to build some sincere compassion for the part of me that hasn’t always felt instinctively safe in my skin.  I also feel particularly fortunate that when I’m not in perceived immediate danger, I can step back and find some humor in the extraordinary imagination of my fearful brain.  But in the moment when IT is happening, IT is never a pretty sight.  Take for example the time i ate a handful of peanuts on the airplane then immediately convinced myself i had a deadly peanut allergy that was certain to kill me by asphyxiation thirty thousand feet above De Moines, Iowa.  I was sweating and gasping and grabbing my throat in a humiliating scene that I am sure made the flight attendant the hit storyteller of all her future holiday parties.  When i eventually crawled back to reality, I had the same thought I always have after I’ve survived another run in with mind, “What is going to happen if I ever really get sick?”


In 2010, after several years of feeling generally not well, I woke up one morning with a sore neck.  By that evening my elbows and wrists were throbbing and pain was radiating through my arms and hands.   Within two week I had to hold myself back from screaming whenever I moved any part of my body.  If you’ve ever had a charlie-horse in your leg, imagine that kind of shocking pain in every muscle and joint, and imagine it every single day for nearly a year while desperately knocking down the doors of scores of doctors who can’t figure out what you have.  I remember being curled up on the floor of the Minneapolis airport after the last poetry tour I ever did without the help of a tour manager, knowing i would not be able to walk to my next gate. I was sobbing into the phone, my doctor’s sweet-hearted nurse having no idea how to respond to my screams, “My veins feel like they’re full of crushed glass! My blood feels like it’s made of crushed glass! Please please please help….”   


My spirit, during that time, atrophied as quickly as my muscles. Everyday I would wake up wanting to die and everyday i grew increasingly more ashamed that i could no longer take care of myself.   I couldn’t comb my hair without my shoulder stiffening into a hot cramp.  I couldn’t drive my own car because it hurt too badly to shift gears.  I couldn’t carry my laptop from one room to another. I couldn’t even sit on my ass, because my ass had literally disappeared and you can’t balance on an un-cushioned tailbone without pain.


It took almost a year, thousands of dollars in tests and doctors bills, and a seemingly unending maze of humiliation from the medical industry before i finally got diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease, a disease surrounded by political controversy at least partly born in the deep pockets of insurance companies who want to deny its existence so they don’t have to pay for its treatment. It probably goes without saying that a disease that people deny exists is the last disease a hypochondriac wants to tell people they have.  So when THE BODY IS NOT AN APOLOGY called me last week, almost 4 years after I started treatment for Lyme, asking, “Would you be willing to write something about your process of learning to say yes to loving your body while living with an illness,” I’ll be totally honest, my first response was “Absolutely not.”  


What eventually started stirring my YES, was realizing my primary resistance to speaking about my experience throughout these past years has been my fear of not being believed.  And while my particular history of run-ins with innocent packages of airplane peanuts has likely made me uniquely sensitive to the matter, our culture is notorious for refusing to believe the experiences of chronically ill people, not only people with Lyme.  What comes of that is not just an immeasurable amount of isolation and invisibility, but also unthinkable numbers of people who will suffer or die without ever getting the diagnosis, treatment or support they need.  If you’d like a resource for learning about Lyme I highly recommend checking out this site:   http://www.ilads.org  Something I learned years ago in conversations with trauma survivors is one of the most important things you can ever say to a person is, “I believe you.”  I know the instances in my life where I have personally failed to do that have caused an overwhelming amount of pain.


Over the last 4 years while undergoing intensive treatment for Lyme through a combination of eastern, western and holistic medicines, I have been extremely lucky to watch my health  improve.   Though I still have hard days, and though I often feel sadness about what i can’t do and what i may never be able to do, the experience of living with an illness has in so many ways positively changed my relationship to my body.   During my first year of treatment on a particularly difficult day, I was having a conversation with Carolyn Suslovich, a mentor/therapist/teacher of mine who has been living with Lyme for the past 30 years.  Sobbing into my hoodie in her couch in Denver I said, “I hate my body.  And my body hates me. My body is my biggest enemy.”  With her usual kind-hearted patience Carolyn said, “I think I have the opposite experience.  When I feel really sick, I feel extremely aware of how hard my body is working, how hard it is fighting to keep me alive. On my worst days I feel so much love and gratitude for each and every cell of my body working to pull me through.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever had the experience of having my perspective changed so quickly.  In that instant, I started seeing my body as my ally, and i started nurturing a new belief that i could trust my body to tell me the truth.  Pain, after all, is the body talking.  Panic is the body talking.  More times than not the message is simply, “There is more to heal.”  


Someone told me a few years ago that when a human dies the soul misses the body, actually grieves the loss of its pulse, its lips, its toes, its hands and all they could hold.  I think much of learning to say yes to loving body has had to do with learning to live in gratitude for everything my body feels, even its hurt and its terror, because of the truths those feelings surface.  That doesn’t mean I don’t scream at the top of my lungs when I’m in pain, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll want to sit in my row if you ever see me eating nuts on an airplane, but it does mean the list of things I appreciate about my body is now longer than that list of things that once scared me to death, and I feel good about saying I think that’s a solid start.



About Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and the first winner of the the Women’s World Poetry Slam.  Gibson has toured venues around the world with readings on war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and spirituality.  They have released six full length albums and published two books, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, and The Madness Vase.   Gibson is co-founder of “Stay Here With Me”, an online space working to prevent suicide by using art to decrease the isolation, shame, and suicidality experienced by many in relation to trauma and mental illness.

 

 

Filed under Andrea Gibson WhenWeSayYes chronic lyme disease queer activist visibility

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Singledom: The Art of Being Free

by Levi Caudill, Guest Writer

Source: Keepcalm-O-Matic

[Image description: Against a red background with a white crown on top, the text reads, in white letters, “I’m single and I like it.”]

My name is Levi Caudill and I was born and raised in Kansas. When I turned 30, I decided to leave my life as I knew it and move to Florida. That move was the best decision that I have ever made, as it allowed me to find myself. I learned a lot about who I am, what I stood for, and what kind of life I wanted to lead. It also taught me to love myself inside and out with no apologies for who am I and what I will become.

As we grow up, it’s engrained in us that there is a certain path that we should follow. Getting your education, learning to be a productive member of society, finding a partner to share your life with, starting a family to call your own, and work until death or retirement – whichever may come first.

While circumstances – such as divorce, infertility, disabilities, or the basic lack of desire to make something of yourself – can change this path, we’re still raised with the idea that this path is the only acceptable path to follow. To step outside of it can often be misunderstood or even looked down upon.

What do you mean you don’t want to have children?

What do you mean you don’t want to go to college?

What do you mean you want to be single?
There it is. Perhaps the most puzzling question of them all. Making the conscious choice to be single, to not seek a partner in life, to choose to be your own better half. We just want you to be happy. We just want you to find someone special to share your life with. These are statements that the single person is bound to encounter at some point in their life. What if I am what makes me happy? What if I am the special person that I want to share my life with? This, for most, is baffling. The concept of choosing to be single is something they can’t wrap their minds around.

There are over seven billion people in this world, yet we are told to find the ‘one’ – the ‘one’ that complements and/or completes us. The ‘one’ that is our end-all, be-all. To me, this idea is unrealistic. Are we really supposed to sift through the masses to find the ‘one’? That seems so unattainable.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the ‘one’ is out there. How are we know they’re even in our same city? Our same state? Our same country? Many would call this pessimistic, but I consider this to be more than logical. Numbers don’t lie.

I will say that I believe in fate. I think that most things happen for a reason – even if it’s a reason we don’t understand or may never understand. I also believe in soulmates. I think that there are kindred spirits out there who can complement our souls in such a way that it feels as though we’ve known them since the beginning of time. However, the idea of having 
one soulmate is also unrealistic to me. Who’s to say that soulmates have to be romantic? I have many soulmates. I have a wonderful family, wonderful friends, and a wonderful support system. I consider all of these people to be my soulmates. They all complement me in one way or another. They know me inside and out. They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. They understand me, they get me, and they love me all the same. To me, a soulmate can play any role in your life. My soulmates are, by far, my biggest blessing.

With all of that said, I have chosen a life of singledom. I have chosen to be free from the “flavors of entanglement,” as Alanis Morissette so beautifully put it. I have made a personal choice that is mine and mine alone. This is the life that I want to lead. I am not a victim of circumstance. I chose this path. This path was not chosen for me. I have loved and I have lost, I have won and I have failed, I have lived and in many ways I have died. It took many, many years to realize that I am in control of my life. I am in control of my happiness. I am in control of my destiny. I may be flawed, but I am certainly not broken. While the things that have happened may have
shaped me, they certainly have not made me. It took years of trial and error and much self-reflection to lead me to the decision to be single – a decision that I did not take lightly. I didn’t wake up one day and say ”you know, I think I’ll just be single forever.” It took a lot of internal deliberations to come to the conclusion that this is what’s right for me. This is what works best for me

Have there been outside factors that have had an influence on this decision? Absolutely.

I want to do what I want, when I want, however I want, with whomever I want. I have no desire to be accountable to or for another. I have no desire to take anyone else into consideration when making decisions that have a direct impact on my life. I am extremely selfish in this sense and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It took a lot for me to realize and accept this. While many are going to jump to the “you’re just an asshole” conclusion, I challenge you to think about what’s more selfish: being selfish and single or being selfish in a relationship? It is my belief that, if more people could realize and accept this, then that would fix a lot of broken relationships.

It’s not as though I am completely inconsiderate. I lean upon and value the opinions and viewpoints of my inner circle. I always take my support system into consideration. However, when it comes down to things that directly affect me, my daily life, or my overall happiness, I will be the one to have the final say. I am the one who has to go to bed with and wake up to every action I take and every decision I make. I am the one who has to live with the consequences of said actions and choices. Therefore, they are mine and mine alone.

In addition, I have a mental health disorder that I have to work hard to manage. I am, in myself, a full-time job. Taking care of me is priority one, as it should be. I don’t always have a lot to offer to others when my energy is spent on making sure I get through each and every day in one piece. I have worked long and hard to get to where I am at today. It’s taken me an abundance of therapy, three stays in psychiatric facilities, and the right combination of medications to stabilize myself. I’ve bit and scratched, and cried and clawed my way to the top of my game. To be frank, I worked my fucking ass off to be where I am at this exact moment in time. I have spent years fighting my inner demons to get to this level of happiness and contentment. Though I still have a
long way to go, I have come so very far. When managing mental health issues, you have to be aware of the situations you put yourself into and the people you surround yourself with. As someone whose boat can easily be rocked, I am simply not willing to let anyone or anything throw me out of balance. I’ve worked too hard for too long to take a risk on something that has no guarantees.

More and more people are choosing this life for personal reasons (like myself) and professional reasons (like focusing on their careers). Some are busy making a living instead of making a life. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It is a personal choice that should not be looked down upon or judged. Do people like myself look down upon others who have chosen the straight and narrow? Absolutely not. To each their own. Who am I to say what’s best for you and who are you to say what’s best for me? Personal choices are just that. Personal. It’s not something to be argued or debated. It is what it is. Period. What it boils down to is respect for others’ decisions or choices that may not match up exactly to yours.

Growing up in a town of fewer than 3,000 people, I experienced homophobia at its worst. The name-calling, the threats of violence, the damage to personal property – all to prove a point that I was less than everyone else. Reaching adulthood and being diagnosed as bipolar was yet another stigma that I had to overcome. The looks, the stares, the whispers, the assumptions that I was less than everyone else yet again. Now I’ve come to a place in my life where my choice to be single and free is looked down upon and/or misunderstood since I’m not following the ‘norm’ of society, no matter what that may look like.

I’m hoping that my path and my experiences can help others understand the life of singledom and the art of being free.

Filed under Levi Caudill bipolar disability singledom the body is not an apology

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Whose Body Is It Anyways?

by Kaley Roosen, Guest Writer

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Source: DoctorDisability

[Image description: Against a blue background with a white border, the graphic shows two white hands nearly cupped together with a wheechair icon between them.]

When I was in the 10th grade, like most students, I started thinking about what I was going to do after high school. However, unlike many high school students, I was concerned about who was going to help me get ready every morning once I moved out of my parents’ home. I have muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-wasting disease that impacts the muscles in both my legs and arms. I had been just two years shy of using a wheelchair at that point. Going from standing to sitting all day, I had gained some weight. And weight gain for a disabled woman, I learned, was not an option.

At first it was my doctors. They warned me that my parents would not be able to lift me all my life and that I would have to find a new way to transfer from sitting to standing. This scared me. Terrified me! If no one would be able to lift me, how would I ever leave the house again or use the washroom? Then there were my attendants, who frequently made comments about my weight and how difficult it was to help me. The thought of not being able to move out on my own and go to university also terrified me.

Because of this, I started to diet, but as with any diet, especially for a person who can’t exercise, it didn’t work so well. I had to keep cutting out more and more in order to continue to lose weight. And I did lose weight. As I did, the compliments grew. But, they weren’t the compliments that you would expect. I wasn’t told that I looked better in my clothes; I was told that it was so much easier to lift me. I wasn’t told that I appeared to be healthier; I was told that it was so much easier to help me pull up my pants. The compliments weren’t about me. Rather, they were about how much easier I had made it to help me.

Persons with physical disabilities are often told that they must change their body in some way in order to make it easier on their caregivers. This becomes a huge problem in encouraging weight loss, especially for a population that is already at risk for weight gain because of numerous factors, such as low income and difficulty with movement and exercise. Weight loss is not just seen as preferred; it is seen as necessary for your very survival. When you place such high stakes on weight loss, the means to achieve that weight loss becomes less important, even if it means that a person is starving.

Health care providers and caregivers need to be aware of how powerful this fear can be on persons with physical disabilities. It is not just enough to scare us into a lower weight category; equal attention must be paid to the means to achieve that weight loss. Often, weight maintenance methods are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Very few gyms have adaptive equipment and, if they do, can often have costs beyond the means of a disabled person’s income. More work is needed in supporting persons with disabilities to achieve a healthy lifestyle, independent of their size.

Regardless of how much assistance we require, our bodies belong to us. Disabled or not, steps need to be taken to reclaim OUR bodies.

Kaley Roosen is a senior doctoral student in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests fall broadly in the area of health psychology and disability studies. She studies eating and weight management (from eating disorders to obesity), disability, and preventative health care for ‘at-risk’ groups. Her dissertation examines the experiences of disordered eating and body image issues in women with physical disabilities. She also works clinically both with women with disabilities and women with eating disorders. Kaley uses her personal experience as a woman with a physical disability and as a disability advocate to help inform her research and clinical practice.

When asked why she submitted this piece, Kaley wrote: “I submitted this piece to TBINAA because, as a woman who uses a wheelchair, I have struggled to accept my own body in a culture that discredits both disabled and overweight bodies. After speaking to various women with disabilities and studying eating disorders on a clinical level, I have come to realize just how pervasive this internalized view of ourselves as ‘too much’ (too much work, taking up too much space, etc.) really is. I wanted to share my experience as a woman with a disability when I lost weight because it was a profound example of how weight-loss becomes often mandatory for basic life-sustaining needs. This story, losing weight to make life easier for the people around us, came up again and again in my research, and I hope that by writing about this, people become aware that their ‘preferences’ for skinny, able-bodied bodies has a very damaging effect on all those who can never fit that ideal.”

This piece first appeared on the National Eating Disorder Information Centre website and is reprinted here by permission.

Filed under Kaley Roosen disability body positivity the body is not an apology girls women eating disorders weight loss

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Slow Walkers See More

by Heather Watkins, Guest Writer

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Photograph by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

[Image description: The photograph shows a light blue Morning Glory that is white in the center and surrounded by sun-dappled leaves.]

As a woman born with a disability that remained “hidden” until about 8 years ago – when I began using my cane – I’ve had quite the evolution. Disability permeates every aspect of my life. It has factored in my decision-making and helped chart the course of my life’s trajectory. Who would I be without this particular detail?

"Slow walkers see more" is my life’s motto.

I once internalized my disability as negative because I saw the limitations as defining and distanced myself from the comprehensive experience of disability. It didn’t happen overnight, but introspection yields insight, and I learned to see disability as natural. That realization has shaped my perspective and my work to inform public policy.

That doesn’t mean that I never get frustrated, but the frustration soon abates because I have an increased awareness of myself, a great support network of family and friends, and a whole slew of adaptations!

*shakes booty and bounces shoulders to ♪I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me!♪ (lyrics from the song,”Video” by India.Arie)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq86e4Fhja0

The lyrics to “Video” can be found here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/indiaarie/video.html.

Heather Watkins is a graduate of Emerson College with a B.S. in Mass Communications. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, Heather is a cane user and a mother who loves reading, daydreaming, and chocolate. She is the co-founder of the “Divas with Disabilities Project,” a supportive sisterhood network representing women of color with disabilities, and she serves as the Vice Chair of the Boston Disability Advisory Commission. Her publishing experience includes articles in MDA’s July 2007 Quest magazine, the Mass Rehab Commission’s Fall 2012 Consumer Voice newsletter, and the sites OurAbility.com, Artofliving.com, and Thankgodi.com. Heather’s short story, “Thank God I have Muscular Dystrophy,” was recently published as part of the Thank God I…Am an Empowered Woman ® book series.

When asked why she submitted this piece to The Body is Not an Apology, Heather wrote,In a moment of reflection, I realized my own evolution and exhaled. I wanted to share how I now proudly self-identify, knowing that it falls somewhere between a shout and a whisper. ‘Showing up unapologetically’ takes practice and, although I may not ever love steps, I curse them a lot less on this journey.”

Filed under Heather Watkins disability body positivity girls women the body is not an apology

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NSFW: Why Facebook Hates My Ass: Navigating Radical Self Love and Hypocrisy on Facebook

Written By Sonya Renee Taylor

Founder/CEO The Body is Not An Apology

This piece is an installment in the #WhenWeSayYES Campaign

[In this photo: Sonya Renee Taylor, an African American cis woman is leaning over. Only her backside, vulva (which is blurred out) and a portion of her thighs and belly can be seen against a white background. On her backside is a blue and white painted image of The Body is Not An Apology’s Facebook page. The word “censored” is written in red letters diagonally across the page.] (Uncensored image below)

The first time Facebook suspended my page was about a year after starting The Body is Not An Apology, a movement of radical self love and body empowerment when I posted a stunning image of Senegalese tribal women. What should have been a non-controversial celebration of the beauty of another culture was removed within an hour and I was slapped with a 3 day suspension for violating Facebook’s “Community Standards”. The second time Facebook suspended me, TBINAA shared a photo of a bald, topless woman. Across her torso, breasts and face was the quote, “The Church says: the body is a sin. Science says: the body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business. The Body says: I am a fiesta.” ~Eduardo Gaelven, The third suspension was the image below:

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[In this photo: the image is a black and white photo of a pregnant body.  The person is on their knees leaning back which makes only the knees, upper things, pregnant belly and the mounds of their breasts visible]

“Oh, Facebook has an issue with breasts!” I thought after the third 3 day suspension.  That is until I found this page and until I was suspended for 14 days for posting a status about racism, only to have my white friend post the EXACT same status, be reported 3 times (just to test the theory) and still not be suspended.  To date, Facebook has removed 8 images from my page, suspended my account 4 times. and responded to my inquiries regarding my suspensions ZERO times.   Whether it was the artistic image of a pregnant woman’s belly, a photograph of a woman’s body as a butterfly, or a picture of an actual clam (even crustacea naturally resembling female genitalia have to go!), Facebook has continued to find ways to stifle and silence the work of radical self love.

I wasn’t trying to start a body empowerment movement. On February 9, 2011, I had given myself a personal challenge; share the selfie that had been hiding in my cellphone for 4 months. The issue was not that I thought the photo was bad. The problem was I felt incredibly beautiful. and was hiding this picture because I did not believe I had the right to feel beautiful. Beauty was supposed to be the domain of women with very different bodies than mine. Beauty was for thin, white, straight,able bodied women with smooth legs and long blonde hair. Beauty was for blue eyes and photo shopped skin. Not me. Despite my beliefs about my beauty, something in my gut was wrestling with the word, challenging it, stretching it to fit a new body.

In workshops from Germany to Louisiana, I tell people, “You have never seen a 3 year old complaining about his thighs, whining about the squishiness of her belly.” This is because three year olds know we were born as radical self love. Of course, we’re beautiful! The quiet voice that loved the photo was radical self love. Any noise telling me otherwise was the inheritance of childhood trauma and bullies. It was a shame that had been sold to me and capitalized on by advertisers, reinforced by churches, and legitimized by bigotry. The idea that I should not feel beautiful in my large, black, bisexual body was not a thought I conceived on my own. It was implanted in my head like some rancid seed and had grown into a vicious screaming forest. Somehow, through the barbs of indoctrinated self loathing, the words,“You deserve to be beautiful, Sonya.” pushed through, thin and persistent enough to nudge me into one infant act of fear facing action. I posted the damn photo.  

[In this photo: an African American woman with dark skin is standing in a mirror taking a selfie. She has one hand on her hip and the other is outstretched holding a pink phone. She has a large curly dark afro and is wearing a black corset and black panties. There is a a doorway in the background with a painting and a dark brown table.]

Once I posted my selfie, I asked friends on Facebook to share photos, visual examples of their own decisions to be beautiful rather than waiting to have it conferred upon them like some royal title. People around the country posted images of their empowered, imperfect and incredibly beautiful bodies! They posted thin bodies and fat bodies. They posted gay, lesbian, inter-sex and transgender bodies. They posted bodies with Cerebral Palsy and Bipolar Disorder. They posted Black bodies, Latina Bodies, Indigenous and Asian bodies. They even posted thin, blonde, able-bodied White women with smooth legs! I woke up to a world where we were all allowed to love and celebrate our bodies exactly as they were! Three years and over 37,000 Facebook “likes” from 45 countries later, TBINAA has been working to remind us that we came to the planet as radical self love and we don’t need permission to value ourselves. Gorgeous projects like Denise Jolly’s Be Beautiful project were birthed from this community. Much of that work has been done on Facebook, a place that has allowed us global connection while simultaneously hindering our progress or just plain shutting us down. Facebook is a company, not a location for radical self love. Today, Facebook’s constantly changing algorithms show you content based on what they like you to see (which mysteriously correlates with who buys ads and not who has “liked” your page already). Small non-profits have seen their reach drop from tens of thousands of people to two or three hundred per post, strong arming them into paying if they want to continue to reach their constituents. All this while, removing images like this and this, and allowing racism, sexism, sexism, sexism, pro anorexia, body shaming, and all of the above to thrive with hundreds, thousands, in some case, millions of likes and no suspensions.

Unsurprised but enraged nonetheless, that the site founded to compare girls to barn yard animals might be unsupportive of radical self love, Facebook was monopolizing my thoughts when I walked into body positive pin up studio, Shameless Photography in San Francisco on a Friday to have my vulva painted and photographed . No, not a painting of my genitals. Yes,a painting on my genitals. The artist, Piyali Banjerie,had already done 60 genitalia paintings, including Gloria Steinem, Rosario Dawson, Eve Ensler, and others. Sophie Spinelle, Founder of Shameless Photography, had always supported TBINAA and reached out to me because Piyali was ready to do work that engaged queerness, otherness, trauma, and marginalized bodies in a complex and political way. Had I never immersed myself in the concept of radical self love, this meeting with Piyali would have never happened. But I did and I was ready to use this opportunity to make a radical statement about bodies, shaming, policing and reclaiming. It was time to challenge the use of our bodies for objectification and profit by others. When I thought about all of the images of celebration and love in our bodies that had been snatched off so many Facebook pages;

[Image is the opening photo uncensored]

nursing mothers, pregnant bodies, lgbt couples kissing, I wanted nothing more than to illustrate Facebook’s BS silencing tactics while at least artistically telling them where they could put their body policing.

Two things resonated for me the day I posed face down for 6 hours to have The Body is Not An Apology’s censored Facebook page painted across my backside. The first was a deeper understanding that every part of my body is beautiful and worthy of a radical self love, even my wide ass with ravines of stretched skin and the dark petals of my vulva. The second epiphany was that brilliant poet and activist, Audre Lorde was unquestionably right when she said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The Body is Not An Apology used Facebook to get in the game but the end goal; a world where we are allowed to live unapologetically in our bodies regardless of age race, gender, sexuality, ability, size etc, cannot be won there. It requires a space that knows our beautiful bodies are not the problem. The belief that there is some state in which we do not deserve to be seen in our beauty is. Of course, I am counting down the seconds until my next suspension. In the meantime, I will be building a new home for radical self love,one where every BODY is welcome.

Please help us build the world’s most powerful online platform for radical self love, a digital SUPERCENTER of information,education and community building.  Fund The Body is Not An Apology’s #WhenWeSayYES Crowdfunding Campaign. Www.igg.me/at/whenwesayyes

Filed under The Body is Not an Apology radical self love Body empowerment facebook censorship body shaming breast feeding race african american women vaginas art nipples LGBT Rights LGBT love ableism sizeacceptance haes Trans Allyship mental health racism audre lorde poets oppression anti-oppression Aging

51 notes

Smile! The Pressure to be Happy

by Megan Ryland

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Sometimes it seems like Happiness (with a capital H) is not just desirable—it’s enforced.  The attitude sometimes seems to say, “If you’re sad, they have drugs for that now.” The power of positive thinking is supposed to solve your problems, whether it’s cancer or bad test scores or unemployment. We are expected to be happy, perhaps because most of North America is so much better off than they were historically (although that might not be saying much), or perhaps because we’re expected to be able to buy our way out of problems now. Regardless, the expectation doesn’t make it true. What does the “happiness imperative” mean for the average person muddling through? What about the approximately 1/10 Americans who report experiencing clinical depression?

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet.

When being unhappy feels like a failure already, being diagnosed with depression may feel like an additional blow. It seems increasingly common to believe that the point of life is to be/become happy—isn’t that the definition of a happy ending?—but if the point of living is just to be happy and you can’t be, what’s the point? The over-valuing of Happiness undervalues lives lived ‘imperfectly’ in any way, downplaying the experience of minds, bodies and environments that don’t lend themselves to easy access to the kind of Happiness we’re used taught to recognize. I’m talking about the Happiness that looks like something we might see on the big screen: a heterosexual, cisgender, neurotypical middle class family, likely with two kids and a dog, definitely no obvious barriers to fulfillment or self-actualization, and unfamiliar with trauma or violence. I wonder if anyone truly lives that version of the happy ending outside of the television. In reality, most people live with a mishmash of happy, sad, angry… all over the place.

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

In a society where you can confess your life story on social media at the drop of a hat, there is a lot of emotional management going on; we have to regulate how we perform our emotions in a lot of spaces both on and offline. This is actually a lot of effort. In reality, no one’s life is as glossy and rainbow-filled as it might first appear by looking at their LinkedIn profile or Facebook page, but there is significant pressure to seem Happy. In fact the constant performance of happiness might make us less happy.

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

If you’re sad and you know it and you really wanna show it,

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

The capacity to be sad in public, to be unhappy, feels like it is rapidly shrinking. You can’t just have a bad day; you must be cheered up, or you must be just whining if you refuse cheering. Sometimes, sad is just how you feel though, and that’s okay. Delirious happiness just isn’t a constant state, no matter how lucky you are. So whether it’s men on the street demanding that you “Smile!” or people expecting cancer patients to always stay positive, see the lie behind the ridiculous pressure to be happy at all times. You’ll smile when you want to, but being happy should be an emotion to experience, not a performance to put on. Radical rejection of Happiness? Sometimes, a frown is what unapologetic self-love looks like.

Filed under the body is not an apology happiness imperative emotions pressure to be happy emotional management confession culture happiness depression

16 notes

Clenched Fists: Stoicism, Masculinity and Unapologetic Emotions

by Megan Ryland

3 AM by by Carlos Andrés Gómez and Adam Falkner

(Transcript available under the Read More. Video contains explicit language and slurs.)

The equation of emotions = weakness fails everyone, but the impact on the lives of men is often expressed in violence. I’m no expert on masculinity, but documentaries like Tough Guise and the upcoming The Mask I Live In help to try to explain the negative, often bloody, impacts of how Western masculinity makes an enemy of emotion, and anything coded as feminine.

In the poem “3 AM” above, Carlos Andrés Gómez and Adam Falkner delve into the way that expression of emotions can leave them feeling dangerously vulnerable. Framing the poem with the reunion of two childhood friends, Carlos beautifully articulates the problem of wanting to connect with his friend while also keeping up the walls required by a masculine performance. At the same time, he intertwines this story with a struggle to express himself and the constant violence men around him threatened and were threatened by. The denial of emotions and intimate connection remains throughout, only highlighted by slurs, drive-bys and threats. The ending breaks my heart as it encapsulates the moment of wanting to connect, but gendered norms getting in the way.

Stoicism is demanded of men who are taught not to cry, not to be affectionate, not to emote; only anger is allowed. When we demonize emotion, we are denying a shared part of humanity. At the same time, this phenomenon also tends to demonize those who are seen as emotional: women and gay men. It’s no accident that the slurs heard in the poem are aimed at these groups. The fear of emotive men is part of society’s homophobia and misogyny, and it puts gay men and women at risk.

Unapologetically embracing emotion can be a tough goal when you have been raised to pretend you don’t have any feelings, but giving people the space to be emotional and masculine humans is a start we can all make. Next time you catch someone (maybe yourself) picking on a someone for expressing emotions, think about whether you’re supporting positive masculinity. If we ditch the gender norms around feelings painting feminine as emotional and masculine as stoic, we can start to create a world where everyone can access emotion and connection.

To continue the conversation, you may want to check out Man Up by Carlos Andrés Gómez or Tough Guise with Jackson Katz.

Read more …

Filed under the body is not an apology masculinity positive masculinity carlos andres gomez adam faulkner slam poetry 3 AM emotions explicit language emotions are for everyone so is masculinity

38 notes

That’s Hysterical: Owning Emotions

By Megan Ryland

[Newspaper Clipping: Black and white photo features a white, middle aged woman holding her head in her hands and grimacing, while an older white woman with glasses observes her distress. The headline reads, “These Hysterical Women.” The article proceeds from there but is unclear.]

One sure fire way to undermine someone is to accuse them of being overly emotional. In a world where appearing irrational can be used to undercut your argument, it is often a fatal blow to be called “emotional”—the presumed enemy of rationality. The assumption that emotional = irrational has supported systems of oppression for generations and it’s about time we deconstructed that idea.

If you are being discriminated against, it’s only rational to be emotional about it. It’s only reasonable to be angry. In fact, it’s not rational to be calm in the face of injustice if being calm means accepting the status quo. It is a particular skill to be able to discuss oppression dispassionately, and one that is cultivated by those who are constantly told that their emotional reaction - their response to their oppression - must be biasing them, clouding their judgment, or making them irrational. The art of swallowing injustice and speaking calmly over the nausea is not a skill you want to be forced to learn.

Unfortunately, in order to be listened to, marginalized people must often play along with the rules of Western, masculine society that is constantly waiting to say, “You’re just being oversensitive” (aka creating a problem where none exists by having feelings) or asking, “Are you on your period?” (aka is menstruation making you incapable of rational thoughts? Are you… PMSing?). Many of the classic derailing tactics are aimed at marginalizing people for expressing emotions, especially anger, hurt, grief or trauma (click here for a great list of examples).

Women in particular have a track record of emotions being used against them as a group. The term “hysteria” has a long history and its application to women justified many different treatments, abuses and one-way trips to asylums. Women could be diagnosed with hysteria for a variety of ridiculous reasons in Victorian England, but the most common motivator seems to be the fact that a woman had some sort of emotions that could not be controlled. Today, a woman is more likely to be questioned about her periods than accused of hysteria, but it comes from the same place: the assumption that women are irrational. We’re just “crazy” right?!

Gaslighting is the term often used to describe the process of manipulating someone into believing their reactions are unreasonable or “crazy.” A popular 2011 Huffington Post article addresses the topic well if you’re unfamiliar with the term. I think that gaslighting has been a tool for oppression for a long time, used on a societal scale when marginalized people are told that they are not being oppressed. Every time an Asian American is asked to ‘prove’ his experiences of racism, or a trans woman is told her gender isn’t valid, or anyone argues that sexism/racism/heterosexism/ableism/classism is over, they are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) saying that experiences of oppression aren’t real. They’re saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re just overly emotional/overreacting/over sensitive. You’re crazy.” When someone expresses anger about their oppression, they’re simply turned into a stereotype so that they can be ridiculed instead of listened to and/or further marginalized through ableist accusations like “crazy.” This is gaslighting on a social scale. This constant gaslighting can then become internalized until you don’t need anyone else to tell you that you can’t trust your own emotions—you do it to yourself.

Being unapologetically emotional about what is important to you is a radical act. It’s a step towards self love to stop apologizing for having feelings, but it’s also a rejection of the pervasive cultural opinion that says having emotions weakens you (and your argument). Having feelings about a subject doesn’t unfairly bias you—in fact, it may inform you. Everyone in political conversations has emotions in play (that’s just the near constant state of the humanity) but emotions come under fire when they’re from someone inconvenient. If it’s from a woman who wants the right to reproductive freedom, or a migrant worker who wants a just path to citizenship, or a queer youth who wants to feel safe in their homes, emotions are said to distract or detract from an argument. They are seen to blur vision, not sharpen focus on their needs and the solutions. It’s a lie.

Having feelings is human. It’s also part of what drives people to make change. We can’t have a movement without them. No more apologies for caring, or crying. It’s our movement and we’ll cry if we want to.

 

Filed under the body is not an apology hysteria women's bodies women's medical history gaslighting crazy ableist language emotions stigma

20 notes

Surviving Sexual Assault

by Trechechus, Guest Writer

[Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault, abuse, violence]

Source: Trauma, Violence, and Human Rights

[Image description: The graphic consists of a light blue ribbon with a black border. Inside one end of the ribbon are the words “End sexual violence.” Inside the curve of the ribbon are the words “support our ribbons dot com.”]

There is one person in the world to whom I have told the full extent of what happened. Some people know bits and pieces, and some people still believe that it was a relationship that had simply ended as so many do – that we had drifted apart. There is a large part of me that likes to allow people to think that. It’s safe and easy, and I don’t need to explain anything to anyone.

Yet there is another part of me that wants to scream my story to the world. It’s that same part of me that cringes whenever anyone asks me about something that happened when I was with him.

It’s sort of like this:

Friend: Hey, didn’t you and ___ go see that show together a few years ago?

Me: Yes. (Short answers. Always short answers.) Uhm, do you want to go to the beach? (Change the subject. Please. Change the subject.)

The voice in the back of my head: HE RAPED ME.

I spent eleven months of my life allowing him to make me believe that I – my body and my soul – were not good enough. I was seven years younger than him, and that made me stupid. I was mindful of what I ate, and that made me fat. I cared about people and animals and the planet, and that made me weak. I was a virgin, and that made me his.

I met him two weeks before my twenty-first birthday. We met on the university campus and wound up going for afternoon pancakes at IHOP and then on a nature walk. I liked the person he made himself out to be. He was adventurous, studying in California to get an idea of what life was like here. And he was smart, getting his MBA and making sure he could pay for everything so he wouldn’t ever have to worry about debt. He dropped me off at home in his well-kept black Mustang convertible, and he asked if he could see me again.

After we had been dating for a bit, I decided I wanted to paint him a picture to hang in his bare-bones apartment. It was going to be a surprise, so in passing I asked him what his favourite animal was. “The chicken,” he told me, “because it’s the most delicious.”

Despite the fact that I found his response revolting, I tried again. “Very funny, but don’t you just have an animal that you like because you like it?”

He shrugged and said, “I never really thought about it” and moved on. It didn’t dawn on me that what he was really saying was, “I don’t have a use for anything unless it directly benefits me.”

It took him a month before he finally manipulated me into giving him my virginity – even though I had expressly told him that I did not want to. I had wanted it to be something special. Without going into details, there was absolutely nothing romantic about it. While I cried, he took a shower. Then we went for Thai food.

I spent eleven months of my life allowing him to tear me into pieces. In fact, he once actually told me that one of his goals was to make me anorexic. He called me a cow and he told me my favourite animal was the manatee because I looked like one. As a result, I drove my body too hard and forced myself into an unhealthy light weight. When I left the gym, I did not feel invigorated; I felt like I was dying.

Hurting me literally turned him on, and it didn’t always stop at emotional abuse.

On New Year’s Eve, we went out to a fancy dinner and to watch a fireworks display over the harbour. I had bought a nice new fancy purple dress that cut off just above my knee, wore some warm high-cut boots, and made myself up as best I could. I felt beautiful. After we got through dinner, though, a marine layer had rolled in and the ocean mist blocked the fireworks. All we could see was blotches of colour on a pale grey sky. We decided to go back to his apartment and watch the Dick Clark New Year’s special on television instead.

At least, I did. He had different ideas about what he wanted to be doing when the year changed.

As the countdown began, he tried to get me into the bedroom, but I told him several times that that was not the direction this night was going. I just wanted to watch the ball drop and then I was going to go home. He told me that if that had been my plan, I should not have worn my “fuck-me” boots.

He literally dragged me across the floor by the hair into his bed.

As he fell asleep, I stared at the ceiling and whispered aloud to myself, “This is not what I want.” But who was I to complain? I was sleeping with him on a regular basis by this point, so how could I argue that what had just happened was not consensual? He was my boyfriend, and that was just what boyfriends did.

I stayed with him for five more long months and, in that time I started to lose myself. I became mean and short tempered, and I didn’t know who I was any more. I never wanted to do the things I loved. I verbally attacked people I hardly knew. And my family annoyed me all the time. I could feel myself spiraling, but I didn’t know who or how to ask for help. I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t have the perfect relationship I had always thought I would have.

Blessedly, his visa ran out just before summer, and he had to leave the country. I was an absolute mess for a month straight because I had let him strip me of everything that I had been, and I had replaced it all with only him. Now he was gone. I had nothing.

But from the hole that was left, I slowly started to grow again. I moved two hours up the coast and started the search for myself again. Though it was very hard for me to let people in at first, I started to find where I fit in again. I could talk to people and have fun again. And the sun – the warm, bright, amazing sun – was finally allowed back into my life. And, at last, I took hold of my physical health and put back on about ten pounds.

Though I still felt broken, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to date again. But I was afraid. I had had one serious relationship in my life, and I had this idea in my head that all men were like he was. However, a friend convinced me to try online dating. As is true for many people, I was skeptical of it, afraid that I would find only weirdos (because I had obviously had so much luck avoiding weirdos in “real life.”) Admittedly, I did get my share of unwarranted sex proposals and revealing photographs, but just as I was ready to throw in the towel, I sent one last message.

And that last message led me to meet the most amazing man I have ever met in my life. He had also just come out of a bad relationship and, having gone through hell, we really understood where the other was coming from. I invited him to go for coffee with me, and if things went well, perhaps we could cook dinner together and watch a movie. We bonded that first night we met in person, and from that has blossomed the kind of love I thought existed only in the books I had read.

I cannot forget what happened, though I have tried and tried again. If I could bore a hole through my head and forcibly remove the memories, I would. That being said, I have grown from it, and one of these days, I will wear that dress again. Because I am enough.

Trechechus is a part-time lab assistant and a full-time student studying environmental science and policy. Born and raised in California, she loves the sun, doesn’t like wearing shoes, and lives for the summer. She has a passion for helping others, whether they be human or animal, and has found that, before she could reach out to heal the world, she first needed to work on allowing herself to heal. She believes that happiness is found in the small things and in learning to love yourself.

Filed under trechechus the body is not an apology sexual assault rape misogyny rape culture women girls survivors

42 notes

What A Cruise Taught Me About Body Love

by Lisa Steiner, Guest Writer

[Image description: The photograph shows the author, a white woman with shoulder-length auburn hair and sunglasses, wearing a floppy black and white striped hat. Her face, right shoulder, and chest are visible, along with two white straps, a blue bikini strap, and the grey strap of a handbag.]

Last week, I spent eight days in the beautiful Caribbean on a cruise with 17 members of my family. I had such a great time! And of course, I had fun with the fashions that would be appropriate in an island paradise. I even decided to get a “fatkini” - a regular bikini top with a high-waisted bikini bottom.

My bikini. Love it!

What I didn’t expect was how much I’d come to not care about how I looked or the idea that I don’t have what many people would consider a “beach ready” body. (Of course, to me, having a “beach ready” body consists of getting your body on a beach.) The majority of passengers on the ship were from Puerto Rico, and they were focused on family, music, dancing, and loving life. Most women wore very form-fitting clothes that showed off what most American women take all sorts of care to hide - the underbelly, the pooch, or the FUPA (Fat Upper Pubic Area). It kind of blew my mind.

[Image description: The photograph shows two people sitting on the beach. Their backs are facing the camera. On the left is a white woman with auburn hair. She is looking at the ocean and wearing a blue bikini top and black bikini bottom; the skin on her arms and upper back is visible. On the right is a white man with brown hair; he is not wearing a top and the skin on his arms and upper back is visible. In front of them is a blue and turquoise ocean with a green-and-black island and several small blue hills.]

I saw many women wearing bikinis without a care in the world. One of my family members commented that an older woman who had a large belly and a bikini didn’t have any respect for herself. My thoughts were that maybe she had saved her entire life to go on this cruise, and dammit, she was going to wear a bikini! Or maybe she had lost a significant amount of weight and finally felt confident in her body. Or maybe she just really didn’t care what her body looked like. Being my loud-mouthed self, I shared these thoughts with the aforementioned family member, who didn’t have much to say in return.

The more I saw these women, and the more I saw how much they didn’t care - and the more I saw how much other people didn’t care -  the more I noticed not caring about my own body insecurities either. I had a fun pair of shorts with palm branches on them that were shorter than shorts I normally wear because of my thighs. But they were fun! And they were comfy! So I wore them and let my thighs jiggle away!

I wore my bikini on the beach and got a sunburn on my belly for the first time in more than a decade. And I felt super hot wearing it! I let my midriff show when getting super hot and wearing a full-length tankini under my shirt, and I was totally comfortable in my skin. And guess what - no one cared! I didn’t get weird looks. I didn’t get people commenting on all the extra skin. I didn’t burst into flames because I wore something unconventional for my body type. It was so freeing to be in an environment that allowed me to be who I was, and to not have to worry about my size, or this roll showing, or that piece of fat hanging out.

[Image description: The photograph shows the author sitting on the deck of a sailboat with the ocean and a green cliff visible behind her. She is a white woman with auburn hair; she is wearing a white dress and sunglasses. Behind her are three other woman sitting on the deck.]

I really hope the current body-positive movement in the US starts to take hold and give people the option to feel happy in their skin, to wear what they want, and be comfortable with their imperfections. Having an entire week of that was kick-ass awesome, and I’m not going to allow myself to take any steps backward with my own confidence and positive body image!

Lisa Steiner is an administrative assistant by day, and performer, writer, and body love activist at all other times. She came into the body-love movement about 9 months ago; organized a local online community to discuss issues of body image, the media, and how to deflect all the negativity we encounter everyday; and attended the first Body Love Conference in Tucson in 2014. She recently started a blog called FashinSpiration, a place to discuss fashion, body love, and how she fuses the two together to be a happy, healthy, and sassy lady.

When asked why she submitted this piece to The Body is Not an Apology, Lisa wrote, “This particular piece was something I wrote because it was an experience I hadn’t anticipated. I always love these experiences in life and wanted to share it with others. I want other people to be able to see that there are other ways of thinking out there in the world and that we shouldn’t be afraid to go find them.”

This piece first appeared on the author’s blog FashinSpiration and is reprinted here by permission.

Filed under Lisa Steiner the body is not an apology fat acceptance body positivity girls women