Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bit of Self-Acceptance

I recently took my daughter to the water park, which is not so unusual, it’s something we do a lot, but this time was different, because this time, I wore a bikini for the first time in 20 years.  Here’s the proof.

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Has anyone died? Are you guys ok? Can the world handle this? There’s a reason you’re looking at this picture, and that reason is hard for me to admit. Although I am a proud, body positive, radical feminist, it took a small push for me to have some tough conversations with myself, and though I am hesitant to admit it, the push came because I told my boyfriend a story the other night and he was like, “Wait, what?”  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m grateful he did.

The last time I wore a bikini I was 14, and I thought the sky blue halter top and boy short bottoms, with their tiny white and yellow sunflowers on them (thank you 90’s!) were camera-ready af.  I brought a little disposable 35mm with me to the beach, ready to look like a model from the Delia’s catalog, oblivious to the reality that was soon to come.

When I went to the store to pick up the prints of my photos a few days later (this story happened in the past, children), I was horrified to learn that I, although mentally a young Julia Stiles, was physically a little more Darla from Finding Nemo.  I had unknowingly developed the unwelcome gift of a belly. Thank you puberty!  The little pooch popped out maybe an inch over the top of those innocent bikini bottoms.  Harsh sunlight created a grim shadow over my braces, and seemed to expose every single red pimple and blackhead on my face, as well as every dimple of fresh cellulite on my body. Also, what was I thinking with that bob haircut?

I felt embarrassed.  As a little girl growing up in the south, I grew up wearing bikinis. I was cute, tan, thin, & blonde and was thus brought up to believe and fully expect that as I became a woman, tits and all, that I would grow up to look like a playboy bunny.  There were a lot of times over the years that I’d be made aware of my failure to achieve this lofty goal, but it didn’t take much more than the shame of those pictures to never risk wearing a bikini again.  

Also, I was a naturally self-conscious teenager in the 90’s.  My role models were self-hating women who smoked cigarettes to stay thin.  There was no mainstream fat acceptance movement.  I mean, I’m not telling the women of my generation any big secrets here.  Being a woman on this planet means you’re taught that fat is bad, that it’s pretty much the worst thing you can be, and that if you’re fat, you’re getting life wrong.  Should you be one of the millions of women who have acquired fat, you should cover it up, and there is no worse fat than belly fat.  There is only one kind of belly you can have, and that’s a flat one, like Julia Stiles.

As I grew up, my braces came off, my acne got better, my bob grew out, but my belly just got bigger.  Then I committed the cardinal belly sin of having a baby and getting stretch marks.  Bikinis were a bridge I was not ready to cross.

Back in the year 2017 though, my brand new boyfriend pleaded with me, “Babe, your curves were MADE for a bikini…”

“Haha,” I shyly whimpered, “but you know, what about my belly, honey?” (translation:  Don’t you know I’m a monster?)

I don’t quite know how to convey the depth and precision of my boyfriend’s eye roll.  He is the master of making me fall out over a raised eyebrow. I could gush for pages about how this guy loves me, but it all boils down to this.  He’s made it abundantly clear how he feels about my body, and spoiler alert, he’s into it.  He’s kind, affectionate, flirtatious, and loves me inside and out. If I have body insecurity, it’s coming from me, not him.

He’s also a smart, practical dude who sees things pretty clearly and has great instincts.  Oh, and did I mention?  He’s in extremely good shape.  He works out on his lunches, goes on 30 mile bike rides, runs forest trails in the July heat, and wins all his company volleyball tournaments.  You get the idea.  He’s an athlete.  He’s like, much better than me at this body sculpting thing, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think he really relates to my irrational fear of being kicked out of a water park for public indecency.

Nope, he just wants to see me in a bikini, and also go shopping for one with me and be in the dressing room.  How much feminist credibility do I lose by admitting how much I love that about him?

Listen, I know what I sound like.  I sound like a woman, who is trying to please her man. I sound like a woman who has been hiding for a couple of decades desperately seeking some male validation, wanting to bask in the warm objectifying glow of the male gaze.  I sound like a bad feminist, like a Bruno Mars song, like a grim porno plotline. “But babe, I love your body that you hate, so you should love it,” and then magically, a big male boner cured my self-hatred.  All I needed was a nice alpha man in my life right?

I promise you, I know what it looks like.

First things first though, it’s not like I never thought about wearing a bikini for 20 years. It’s not unthinkable.  I would say the whole bikini thing, is really just the final frontier in my quest for a healthy self-concept.  I’ve been chipping away at it for a while now.  I like bikinis.  I fully support and have tried on a few of the “fatkinis” they’ve been putting out when I go swimsuit shopping, but they don’t really do me any favors.  They tend to make body parts I’m already on the fence about look weirder (to me).  

I celebrate any woman who dares to bare in whatever way they feel comfortable, bikini or not, and I will high five you and take 45 insta-ready photos for you, but in my journey, I want to wear a bikini that is uncompromising.  I want to wear one that the straight size models are wearing.  I know that may be a detail that’s not worth fixating on.  None of this is, but that’s exactly why the time is now.  I don’t want to waste any more time caring one more second what anyone thinks about me in a bikini.  I have so many bigger fish to fry in life.  That’s why this is frankly, overdue, because it really shouldn’t matter that much.

I just want to live in my real body, not a future or past body, just the one that I’m in, in any way that I damn well please.  I am not one of those girls who thinks they’re ugly but actually looks like Gigi Hadid.  I’m a 34 year old single mother, who thinks she’s beautiful, inside and out, who is fighting for body positivity, for size inclusiveness, against fat-shaming, against misogyny, and who knows what she’s putting out into the world.

If I wear a bikini, I am wearing it with stretch marks, with rolls, with a pooch, and pale white skin that hasn’t seen a sunbeam since I was 14.  I’m doing something that a lot of people still think I’m not supposed to.  I don’t want to be one of them anymore.

I’m not ashamed to say I needed that push though. I’m sure that subconsciously, that’s why I brought this whole thing up with my boyfriend in the first place. I wanted him, somebody, anybody, it might as well be the man who loves me, to hear me and tell me to go for it.  I have resisted having this conversation with myself because of all the years of pain and insecurity I’ve inflicted on myself in the name of pleasing others, of self-preservation, of having one last place to hide.  These things have controlled me, but the truth is, I am interested in my belly seeing the sun’s rays many more times before I perish from this earth.

I am presented daily with a simple choice.  Do I love myself, unconditionally, or not?  Do I hate my body or not?  Do I accept my body or not? For a few years now, I have chosen to accept and love myself, except when it comes to this.

I have made so much progress in other ways. I refuse to ever hurt myself over my weight again.  I exercise when I want to in ways that feel healthy and good to my body. I have worn all kinds of clothes that have previously caused me anxiety from shorts to evening gowns to lingerie.  I created a style blog.  I found love.  I gave birth to a baby girl who I want to teach to value herself.  I don’t want her to be afraid to wear whatever the heck she wants to.  If mommy can wear a bikini with her mommy belly, and her cellulite and all that, hopefully she won’t hesitate to do it either, if that’s what she wants. I at least want to role model for her, what I think is ok for me, and for everyone.  I have zero issue with other women wearing a bikini if they want to, so why should I exclude myself from that?

My only excuse is that I see my fear reinforced a lot.  Every time I’m in a setting where women are wearing swimsuits, the majority of the women wearing bikinis, seem to be thin only. Every time I hear women talk about swimwear at all, I know I’m not alone in my fear. Most of the women I know just dread swimsuit shopping.  When I go to the beach, I see more women doing what I’m doing, hiding their bellies, than not.  Then of course, there’s the media, the advertising, the magazines, etc…

So what did I do about it?

Well, I decided to try and live bigger than that and I let my boyfriend go swimsuit shopping with me.  Now listen, for those of you who believe in like, abundance and the timing of the universe, and all that, you’ll love this next bit.  I unknowingly took him to the biggest department store in town, on the very first day of their 65% off swimwear clearance sale, which means, they still had a HUGE selection of designer swimsuits in my size, at a huge discount.  

Not only that, but there was a SUPER nice lady working the swimwear department that day, who let me bring my boyfriend, my toddler, my stroller, and as many suits as I wanted to try on into the biggest nicest dressing room with a huge smile on her face.  Not one bit of this good fortune escaped me.

The very first one I tried on, a beautiful green floral print by one of my favorite clothing brands, Gianni Bini, looked amazing on me.  I kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the mirror.  I was standing there looking at myself, and he was looking at me with so much admiration, and I felt so damn beautiful and I loved that suit so much and you guys, I want you to really take this next bit in.  It was on sale for $25.  Of course I bought it.

I had found the one, but I still had about 8 more to try on, so I did, because I was like, if I’m doing this, I’m gonna be thorough.  None of the other bikinis quite lived up to the first one, except for the last one, a beautiful blue Kenneth Cole.  We took that one home too, boyfriend’s treat.

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We finished up our day at the mall by sharing some french fries with my kiddo, and it was then that he pointed something out to me that hadn’t occurred to me until that moment.  It had been 20 years since I’d bought a bikini, and it wasn’t until today that I remembered another detail.  I bought the last one, the blue one with the sunflowers, the one from the fateful 20 year old photos of shame, in the exact same store. Excuse me, is that destiny calling?

Now all I had to do was actually wear one.

I decided I needed to do it as soon as possible so I wouldn’t chicken out.  The last thing I wanted to do was ruin the beauty and good fortune of that day by letting my new bikinis hide in a closet and fester with fear and potential humiliation.  I needed maximum exposure as fast as possible, so I took my daughter to the water park the next afternoon.

Is there a better place to risk looking like total trash than a water park in South Mississippi?  The land of unsupervised children and the easiest place to find a lower back tattoo in America?  Is there a better fit for impractically skimpy swimwear either?  It is a place made unapologetically for leisure.  Nobody except for a half a dozen obnoxious 10 year olds is in any kind of hurry here.  America asked for a cross between a pool a river and a bed, and it’s rednecks answered.  If you build it, we will float around on it until we get sunburnt af.

I won’t pretend it wasn’t scary.  It was.  I definitely had a minor anxiety attack getting ready and continued to spiral out for the first ten minutes of our drive over there, but I kept telling myself, this isn’t going to be worth it AT ALL, if you don’t enjoy yourself.  You need to find a way to calm down and let go.  You need to release this fear.

Then the simplest silliest thing occurred to me and I actually said it out loud, “This is the last 10 minutes you are ever going to be afraid to wear a bikini again.”  That was the turning point.  I finally started to feel excited.  I was at the top of a water slide instead of the top of a cliff.

The first thing I did inside was take off my cover up.  I didn’t want to give myself any time to chicken out, and I needed sunscreen.  You can’t just expose lily white stretch marked belly skin to the afternoon sun after 20 years without a little protection, ok?  

I rubbed more sunscreen on my kid and we waded out into the shallow kiddie area.  At our water park the kiddie pool is surrounded by lounge chairs and let me tell you what, I have never paid closer attention to what other people were wearing in my life.  I was desperate for solidarity.  I was looking at every belly in sight (and also closely supervising my child, mommy shamers! She’s fine. She had a great time!).

I was definitely in the extreme minority of people with my belly size letting it all hang out, but there were a couple folks. There was a girl in a larger body than me rocking a beautiful high waisted bikini.  There was a pregnant mom showing off her bump. (BTW let’s talk about how pregnancy is the only acceptable time for a woman to show off her big belly!)  The strong majority of other women there had gotten the same message as me for the last 20 years though.  Plenty of women in smaller bodies, thinner, with flatter tummies were still hiding it.

You know who wasn’t hiding their bellies though?  There was one group of people, from the super thin to the very fat who weren’t hiding their bellies at all, no exceptions… The Men.

Oh yeah guys.  I am frankly EMBARRASSED that I have never noticed this hypocrisy before.  You’re telling me only women are supposed to hide and cover up our bellies?  This double standard is SO deeply entrenched that I, the radical feminist, the women’s marcher, the liberal, educated SJW, has been going to the beach, the pool, etc… for literally my entire life and I have never, not once, batted an eye at how perfectly fine it is for dudes with bellies 3x the size of mine, who have never once given birth in their lives, to feel free to walk around shirtless all summer, bellies out, with total confidence.

Well, let me tell you, that was the final nail in this coffin.  Here lies 20 years of self-consciousness, may my self-hate rot in hell.

Guess how many people cared that I was wearing a bikini?  Zero.

Guess how many people were even paying attention to me?  Zero.

Guess how many people said something rude to me about my bikini?  Zero.

I didn’t even get kicked out of the water park.

Listen, I know it’s not always like that.  I know people can be cruel.  I know that the fact that I found an affordable bikini, that I have enough disposable income to buy a season pass to the water park, that I am a size that can fit in a brand like Gianni Bini is all pretty damn privileged.

That was probably my final takeaway and the idea that took me most by surprise.  It’s a privilege to wear a bikini.  I know I live a privileged life.  I know I’m a white girl in America, with a car and a roof over my head.  I am deeply loved, and well taken care of.  I am grateful for it all, and if I have some privilege, I’m not going to waste it.  I can finally say, I’m not going to waste one more second of my life worrying about something as harmless, as unimportant, or as frivolous, as wearing a bikini.

I did it, and I did it without going on a diet, doing thousands of sit ups, or getting any kind of plastic surgery.  I did it full out, uncompromising, stretch marks and all, and I had a great time.

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Mom School

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Me at 16, before I understood anything about hair, makeup, or clothes, in St. Peter’s Square, on my trip to Rome, standing in front of a 1,000 year old olive tree, in the year 2000

I’m currently taking a continuing education course through the city to get a certificate as a medical billing coding specialist.  It’s the kind of practical thing my mom has always hoped I would do and I have always run as fast away from as I can.  We meet in a 6th grade social studies classroom. It is like going back in time.

Apparently, not much has changed in the 6th grade. There is even a laminated poster of a kitten and a dog cuddling to teach us about friendship that looks as if it has been hanging there since I was actually in the 6th grade.  I can’t read the text on the poster because unlike when I was in 6th grade, my vision is terrible.  I need new glasses but I can’t afford them.  That’s just one thing I’m hoping to correct by taking this class.  I’d also like to visit the dentist.  It’s only been, what, 15 years?  That’s the kind of life I’ve been living, while avoiding classes like this.

I feel as competitive as I did back in 6th grade, when I was a teacher’s pet, above average, honor roll, gifted, always the first to finish quizzes. I’m getting B’s now, but I’m getting them fast, damn it. Most of my classmates are older than me, but I am not feeling so young here, just one of the reasons I refer to it as “mom school.”

The instructor isn’t great. She doesn’t teach much, just flips through the material and adds in missing info that will be on the test. She takes questions with a sarcastic sneer and answers as if we are errant children.  It’s as if the surroundings of this classroom have mistakenly convinced her we are actually a group of rowdy 6th graders, as opposed to quiet, responsible middle-aged women who are here trying to get a leg up, a career change, a job with benefits, some respect in this world. She wears dark teal scrubs to teach in and I’m not sure why.  I don’t know if they’re from her day job, or if she has to, like a uniform or something, but to me it feels like a power play.  She already has the job we’re all hoping to get, and it separates her from us.  She has something we don’t.  Maybe I just don’t like her attitude so I’m looking for more things to dislike about her, you know, the way I did in middle school.

The 6th graders who haunt this social studies class during the day, are learning about the Roman empire.  Scrawled across the white board is one of their assignments.  They are to write an obituary for a roman citizen.  Relevant details include, profession, social status, family, cause of death, etc… I love this assignment.  I cannot tell you how much I wish this was my assignment and not the one I currently have.  Every nerve ending inside me is buzzing at the nostalgia I have for 6th grade, wishing I were back in this class for real, and not struggling to absorb the dry regulatory jargon of the desk job I am learning about in more modern times.

It is not lost on me that back when I did learn about the Roman empire, as much as that sort of thing fascinated me, as much as I needed it, I have never found a practical use for the information.

I have actually been to Rome, something I’m certain most, if not all the kids in this class have never done, hell, my own middle-aged classmates may have never done it either.  I have seen all of Rome’s greatest hits: The Coliseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Sistine Chapel, etc…

It was a trip that totally changed my perspective on life.  I was 16.  I grew up poor, but I also grew up special.  I am American.  I’m white.  I’m an only child.  I went to decent schools.  I worked as a Sandwich Artist at Subway for a year, my first job, to save up for the trip.  It was my first job that came with a W-2 anyway.  I was always working.  I threw papers with my dad.  I babysat.  I cleaned houses, long before my foray into sandwich artistry.

I saved every dime except for $15 from each paycheck. (The $15 went to very important things like Taco Bell and movies.)  Before my trip to Italy I had never fully realized what a small part I had in this gigantic world.  I had never been somewhere as crowded as Rome. I had never seen a structure as large as the Coliseum.  I had never seen any place so old, so ancient, so artful or chaotic or stylish.  I had never eaten Gelato.

That place, that trip, was a revelation for me.  It was the first time I experienced any real sense of independence.  Even though the trip was chaperoned, we were given a long leash.  We had lots of free time to shop & explore.  We were supposed to stay in groups but socially I was a total outsider with these kids and often wandered off on my own, not wanting to do the same stuff as the others.  We had to go out and find our own lunch every day.  It was the first time I ever had so much choice in feeding myself.  They let us drink wine at dinner.  It felt supremely grown up, and I constantly felt under dressed.

Everyone knows that teenagers tend to believe they are the center of the Universe, but I all of sudden had some concept of my place in the world, and I realized I had a lot more to learn.

It’s strange to find myself back in a classroom, learning new things, practical things, things that matter and don’t, like Rome.  That trip to Rome has never helped me get a paycheck.  These paychecks I hope to get as a result of this course will never make me feel like Rome did, or being young did.  If I save them up though, maybe I can go back to Rome some day.

That’s something that this course, for all its flaws, can offer me.  It can offer me some hope.  I may not like the teacher, but I’m grateful for her role in this.  I may not like feeling out of place, but it’s the step you take to transform.  My insignificance in this class, is just as acutely felt as it was standing in front of the Coliseum.  I am a grown woman sitting in a tiny desk, too big for it all, but still needy, like an 11-year-old kid.

When I complain about the teacher, my mom, who I am still living with, who is still the boss of me, at 33 years old, wants me to stand up for myself, to complain, reminds me I am a paying customer, that I spent money to be in this class and that I deserve to have my questions answered.

It’s the first time it’s occurred to me that I have any kind of power like that, not ever, not in my life, but in this class, because that’s how surreal it feels to be a grown woman in such a childlike environment.

Sometimes I feel selfish for wanting my own home.  Sometimes I feel selfish for wanting more money.  I think about people who are homeless, who are living in poverty, starving, who have lost everything, orphans, refugees, and I cannot believe that I would ever complain about my incredible fortune.

It feels wrong to want so much more than I already have, but is it wrong to want to feel like an adult?  Is it wrong to want to feel some autonomy, some responsibility?  I don’t think so, and I wouldn’t begrudge any other soul for wanting that same freedom, not me, and not orphans, and not refugees.  I have to want more if I don’t want to feel dependent.

The thing is, of course, that in America, independence comes at a high price, and if I want it, I’ve got to want money and I’ve got to work hard to get it.  Certainly, if I want luxuries, like trips to Rome, I’ve got to get on my grind, like I did when I was 16.  It wasn’t any more fun being a sandwich artist than it will be at my desk job, but it will give me hope, and it will give me purpose, and I will be useful, and I will be able to give back more in honor of what has been given to me.

After class last week, I was approached by some other students to form a study group.  It seems I’m not the only one who finds our instruction a little lacking and there are other people who are just as nervous about passing as I am.  I think we can help each other.  We agree to meet and to share answers the teacher won’t give us.  I’ve never been great at working in groups but it’s time for me to learn some new skills, so I’m going to try.  I want to go from getting the fastest B’s to the fastest A’s.

It’s Lent, and my little church has given us a book of daily readings.  The end of the first reading for today, Ash Wednesday, says:

We all have the power to let go of self-defeating thoughts.  What thought do you need to deny and release today?

I think it’s that I can’t be more, can’t succeed, that I can’t want more for myself, that it’s selfish to want more than you have, that there isn’t enough, that I am not enough…  It’s a lot, but it’s connected.  It is as connected as a 6th grade class learning about Ancient Rome, and a woman who has been there, learning about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which was enacted when I was just about the same age as them.  It’s all in the same room.

Dear Trump Supporter, On #WhyIMarch

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I live in the deep south, where we don’t have snowflakes, we have thunderstorms, and let me tell you, we saw one today.  Hundreds of people showed up HERE, in Mississippi of all places, to march for women’s rights, to say that Black Lives Matter, climate change is real, love is love, and immigrants make America great, so you can save your insults, because we are not afraid of you.  We are the storm!

I want you to hear me now.

WE WILL NEVER SHUT UP.

I know why you want us to.  It’s because every moment that we resist, speak up, defend our rights, march, rally, tweet, blog, write, perform, sing, and generally take up space, you get a little uncomfortable.  That’s what being wrong feels like. It feels like embarrassment, shame, humiliation.  I understand.  I have felt all those things, and I empathize, but I also see right through you. Your defensiveness, bullying, desperate clinging to old worn out backwards ideas of the south, of faith, of God, of a twisted hypocritical morality are more transparent than the wrapper on a fruit roll-up.

Here’s what you need to know.  We will never get over it and move on.

WE WILL NEVER ACCEPT DONALD TRUMP.

The reason is simple.  Trump has crossed way too many lines, remorselessly, purposefully, to gain personal power.

You may be able to ignore his bragging about sexual assault, but as a survivor, I will never be able to do that.  Every time I see that man, I will remember his cruel, shameful, disgusting words on that tape, and every time they will remind me of my own assaults, of the many times I have been groped, harassed, and treated as an object. Every time he is physically near a woman, I fear for her safety.  I remember the many victims who spoke out against him.  I remember the many young beauty pageant contestants who claimed he violated their privacy and made them feel unsafe.  I remember the insults and the misogynist language he has used to humiliate and threaten women, on tape, for the whole world to hear.  I do not accept that.

You may be able to ignore his mocking of a disabled reporter, but I will never be able to do that.  I have too many disabled family members, have seen too much suffering, and carry way too much empathy and kindness in my heart to accept that.

You may be able to ignore his racism, but I will never be able to do that.  I am raising a woman of color.  I care more about her than I care about anything else in this world.  I care more about her future than anything else in this world.  I care more about her heart and soul than anything else in this world.  I would do anything for that child.  She is the number one reason I marched today.  I will not miss an opportunity to do everything in my power to make her path in life safer and more joyful.

You may be able to ignore his hatred of immigrants, but I will never be able to do that.  I know that had my family, generations ago, and the father of my child’s family, just one generation ago, not immigrated here, that I would not have my daughter, my home, my citizenship, and I know that this country would be worse off.  I cannot accept that.

You may be able to ignore his Islamophobia, but I will never be able to do that, because I know that the freedom I have to practice my religion, is incumbent on all people being free to practice their religion, or none at all, and that hatred is neither Christian, nor practical.

You may be able to ignore his lies, but I will never be able to do that, because I place a high moral value on the truth, on honesty, on facts, on information, on data, on science, and on integrity.

You may be able to ignore the damage he will do to our planet, but I will never be able to do that.  Science does not care what your opinion is.  Climate change is real, and if you don’t understand it, stop reading this right now, and get informed.  All you need to do is a simple google search and you will have a wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips.  Our world already has climate refugees.  We already have melting ice, disappearing habitats, natural disasters, drought, wildfires, earthquakes, rising oceans, rapid warming, grave economic, wildlife, and human loss.  At this point, it is not a question of if it will happen, but, how bad will it be?  Without a president who takes this seriously we will all suffer, gravely, our children and grandchildren most of all, and I do not accept that.

I could go on.  Trump’s list of crimes, frauds, insults, bullying, hate, lies, and ignorance, seems to get longer each and every single day.  The important thing to understand, is that there is nothing he can do to earn my acceptance of him, short of a remorseful public apology to the many groups he has threatened and insulted, followed by his immediate resignation, and disappearance from public life.

But of course, there is good news.  We do not need Trump’s permission to be kind, good, moral, just people.  We don’t need his permission to donate our (TAX DEDUCTIBLE) money to organizations that combat hate, help those in need, and help heal our souls.We do not need Trump’s permission to treat each other with kindness and respect.  We do not need Trump’s permission to accept and love all people, regardless of skin color, socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual or gender identity, or religion.  We do not need Trump’s permission to register to vote, to organize our communities, to run for office, to volunteer, to take back the legislature in 2018, to support women, to fight for our rights, to protest, to make art, to be creative, to believe survivors of sexual assault nor to demand accountability and fairness from our government.  We don’t need his permission to raise an entire generation of strong powerful women, of future presidents, of leaders of the next revolution.

I want us all to take this moment, this day, where we made such an incredible, powerful, open, loving, and massive display of our power and let it be OUR INAUGURATION as the leaders we must be, and Trump supporters, when you live in a fairer, better, wealthier, healthier, safer country because of us, you can thank us later.  You are welcome to join this movement at any time.  There are no walls here.

 

 

 

Goal Setting Video!

So this Friday I was supposed to only talk for a few minutes but FAIR WARNING I talk for like 20 minutes.  If you don’t have time to sit and watch the whole thing I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND. Here’s the basics, sometimes New Years Resolutions aren’t the right thing to do.  If you fail at them, give yourself forgiveness and a second chance, or third chance. Set goals that are important to you, that you want, that you desire.  THANK YOU in advance for watching this video!  If you like it, like, subscribe, comment, share, all that!

xoxo

Leslie

Love is a Battlefield

One of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice on parenting is “You have to pick your battles.”  The original quote is actually “choose your battles wisely.”  Oh, if only I had the wisdom to know.

I think this is true of course. I try, of course. I do let things go sometimes, except I have a toddler fast approaching two years on this screwed up beautiful painful dark evil wonderful healing psycho bi-polar planet and for her, battling me is a deep instinctual urge.  Most days it feels like she chooses every single battle.  She will fight whether I engage or not.

At the moment it feels like I am cursed to battle her over food.  After many years spent creating and then battling my own food issues, I am now doomed to deal with someone else’s and it’s not her fault but, she’s totally irrational about them.  I mean, I can’t blame her I guess.  So was I for a long time.

Where as I once longed for permission to eat anything I wanted, my daughter now longs for permission to eat only a list of pre-approved foods, which feels like it gets smaller all the time.

For the longest time she would eat pretty much any kind of pasta and she used to love lasagna.  I gave her some tonight and she wouldn’t even taste it.  As soon as she laid eyes on it she began loudly and obnoxiously rejecting it, shouting, “I don’t like it! I don’t want to!  I don’t like!” and pushing the bowl away.  Then she grabbed a little fistful and smeared it all over the table, then grabbed the spoon and flung it to the floor, then ran her cheesy saucy hands through her hair.

I halfheartedly went through the motions of trying to convince her to eat it, but I knew it wouldn’t work and it didn’t.  I’ve asked people for new ideas on how to get her to eat and everyone responded with stuff I’d already tried over and over again.

As a baby she tried everything and regularly ate vegetables and other healthy foods.  At school she eats everything they serve.  I am enraged with jealousy.  Her problem doesn’t appear to be the food.  It appears to be me.

I felt insanely defeated.  I let her have some blackberries and yogurt just to get something in her belly.  She then demanded a bowl of goldfish crackers.  I gave them to her.  She ate two and demanded I clean her up and let her get down.  I was too exhausted to fight her.  Dinner time is the worst.

Then we were sitting on the couch and she asked to watch Mickey Mouse.  This child is obsessed with Mickey Mouse.  She’s his biggest fan.  Given the choice between watching Mickey Mouse and doing just about anything else, she will always choose Mickey.  She has a little toy Mickey she MUST sleep with at night or all is lost.  Her favorite book right now that she has to read 45 times a day is a Mickey Mouse Christmas book.

But this is one of the areas where I have the total upper hand.  I control the remote.  I am the only one who knows how to use it right now, and I get the say in what goes on.  I’m fine with Mickey and his friends, but I would really like her to get back into Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which I like a lot better, and she used to love before Mickey took over our lives.

So I said to her, “Nope, sorry.  No Mickey because you didn’t try your lasagna.”

“How bout… Doc Stuppins?”

Doc McStuffins is her second most favorite show ever.

“Nope, sorry, no Doc McStuffins.  You didn’t eat any lasagna.  How about some Daniel Tiger?”

“No Daniel Tiger!  I don’t want to!”

“Well, how bout nothing then?”

“How bout… Daniel Tiger?”

I cannot tell you how good it felt to get her to ask for Daniel Tiger, even out of desperation for some screen time, lol.  It was an episode she hadn’t seen yet and she followed the story really well, afterward pretending to do the same things the kids on the show were doing. Then she asked for another Daniel Tiger!  I know it’s stupid, but I really needed that.

When we were reading books before bed, we went through this one that’s basically like a book of opposites with dinosaur illustrations.  Every page I ask her which is which.  If it’s happy and sad I say, “which ones are happy?” and she’ll point.  I ask her why and she sometimes has a good answer.  My favorite page of this though is the page that says, “Dinosaurs Cute and Dinosaurs Not.”  It has an illustration of two different sets of dinosaurs.  The “cute” ones are thin and attractive with a little bow and the other ones are big and bumpy and awkward.  I have never told her which ones are “cute,” but every night I ask her which ones are cute.  She always points at the “not” cute ones with the awkward lumps.  I have no idea if she even understands the word, but it makes my heart swell with so much love for her every time.  I love that she’s choosing the weirdos so much.  I love that to her the awkward dinosaurs are cute.  I will never ever correct her on this.

That is a battle I get to win every night for now.

Afraid of Dinosaurs

museum-367730_960_720Ever since my toddler has started going to preschool three days a week, I have been amazed at the things she is learning. For sure, the things I love most, are the things she picks up from other kids.  She came home the first week and suddenly knew how to roll a car across the floor, something that had eluded her before, playing alone in our house where she showed very little interest in cars.

Today, she was sitting in the shopping cart at the store and we passed some toy and she said, “That’s 5 dollars.”

What?  I mean, I guess she could have picked this up from me or from TV in some roundabout way, but it was so specific.  My mother’s intuition told me this was some statement she was parroting back that she had heard a bigger kid say (she’s the second youngest in her class) while playing.  I have no idea if the toy in question was actually 5 dollars, but I doubt it.  It was just fascinating to me that we were in a store, she saw something and randomly announced, “that’s 5 dollars.”  I laughed so hard.

One of the more random things that she started doing a few weeks into preschool is coming up to me (especially when my attention is elsewhere) and saying, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama!”  Then she asks me to “hold” or buries her face in my leg.  This is a little performance she does almost every day.  She comes to me, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama!” and then I have to snuggle her.

As a mom, I sometimes find myself at a total loss for the right way to respond to something, especially seemingly irrational toddler things, especially when I have no idea where they’re coming from.  So I had just been holding her up until now saying, “Mama will protect you.  I won’t let any Dinosaurs get you,” and trying to figure out where this fear is coming from.

At first I thought maybe it was my step-dad stomping around the house, which can be kind of alarming, but she did it even when he wasn’t around.  Then one day at school, she pointed out a giant mural of a dinosaur on a storage building in the playground area of the school.  That could totally be it, I thought, she’s remembering this from school and… I don’t really know.

What I do know is that she wants my affection in this moment and she’s pretending there’s a dinosaur there to get it, so I give it, freely and happily.  I am her mama and I am not gonna let her down, but today it occurred to me to try something new as well.

I taught her to flex her muscles and say, “I’m Strong.  I’m Tough.  I’m Not Afraid.  I’m Brave.”

She LOVES it.  She still wants me to hold and cuddle her, and I do, but now it’s an even more fun game of putting on her “tough girl” face and repeating the mantra.  “I’m Strong. I’m Tough.  I’m Not Afraid.  I’m Brave.”  We did this about 90 times tonight because toddler.  It was an incredibly good feeling.

I needed it.  I needed to teach her something good.  I wish that I grew up in a time where these qualities were fostered in me, where being strong and tough and brave was as important for me as it was for the boys around me.  I learned them anyway, the hard way.

My mom has been trying to console me all day.  She knows I’m grieving over this election loss, over what it means for me and my daughter, for our rights.  I haven’t been able to let much positivity in.  I tell her, “Afraid Dinosaurs Mama” and she tells me, “I’ve felt this way before too.  We will get through this.”  She made spaghetti and it was so good.  She tells me my daughter will be the first woman president.

I am legitimately afraid for people’s lives.  I am afraid for soldiers who may be sent to another unending bloody war at this man’s hands.  I am afraid for Muslims, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, people of color, and women who will lose much at this man’s hands.  I am afraid of Black churches being burned.  I am afraid of schools falling apart.  I am afraid of nuclear weapons.  I am afraid of the never-ending bitter objectification of women.  I am afraid that so many people don’t care about that, or don’t understand it.  I wish these things were dinosaurs.  I feel better prepared to deal with dinosaurs.

But I have a daughter, and I have to teach her, and I have to hold her and protect her.

That’s the way forward.  Raise more women who know that they are strong, tough, and brave.  Support the women in your life who are afraid but still fight.  Hold women.  Protect women.  Teach them they are strong.  Teach them they are tough.  Teach them they are brave.  That’s how we change it.

The Last Diet I Ever Went On

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A photo from my former “style blog,” where I stand posed like a flamingo and hold an ice cream bar.

Back in the early 2000’s there was a very popular diet book called The Skinny Bitch diet.  It was a New York Times bestseller, and a secret manifesto for an extreme form of veganism. You were of course, not to know this from the cover.  The word “vegan” isn’t mentioned at all in the marketing. Your first clue that it’s bullshit is that they have to lie to you to get you to buy it. Then when you actually read it, they sell you a vegan diet with compelling, manipulative and graphic depictions of animal slaughter.

The book goes much further than just mere veganism though.  It’s a highly restrictive way of eating.  No animal products of any kind (not even honey, because it comes from bees) and no sugar, no refined carbs, no processed food (unless it was vegan… hypocritical much?), strongly encouraged organic food only, and no caffeine.

For a lot of women who were sick of being fat (so all of us back then, and yes obviously, you could be sick of being fat without even needing to be fat, that’s how pervasive fat hatred is), this was a very appealing book on the surface.  It was like a sassy, edgy, cool diet book. It was marketed like chick lit, and for those of us tired of feeling sad and being on the sad Atkins diet or whatever, it seemed like this might be a diet book that would make us feel angry instead, which is much more satisfying.

The authors used really mean bullying language and lots of profanity; lovely little quips like “don’t be a fat pig anymore,” and “you need to exercise you lazy shit.”  I LOVED it. Let me tell you, for somebody who deeply hated herself, this book was like a breath of fresh toxic air.  The book hated me too!  Finally, I had semi-scientific proof that I was horrible.

This mean ass book had me MORALLY CONVINCED that following its every command was the right thing to do.  It was also a very convenient excuse for me to become the most annoying of all my friends and to have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about why this current version of restrictive eating was TOTALLY ABOUT LIKE THE PLANET AND STUFF and not because I hated my body and wanted to erase it somehow.  One of the ways the diet industry loves to convince you to buy their books and products and restrict what you eat is by convincing you that you have a moral obligation to do so.  Buy this or you’re bad- erase yourself or you’re bad- alienate all your meat-loving family and friends or you’re bad, and so on…

(P.S. I am not anti-vegan.  I know there are reasonable vegans out there who have great reasons to be so.  I also know that veganism is not a miracle cure for weight loss though, and that anybody selling you veganism as a weight loss method is not to be trusted.  A vegan diet does not equal a place in Taylor Swift’s Supermodel Squad.)

Naturally, the authors had totally bullshit credentials, so they wrote a diet book of course, which was cool because they were also already thin. We all know that naturally thin people are like, total experts on losing weight.  It’s kind of like if I had decided to become a mommy blogger before having my kid, even though I’d never given birth, because, I like totally have a mom. I was born!  Listen to me!

So needless to say, this eating disorder masquerading as a diet worked it’s magic.  I bought it all hook, line, and sinker.  I followed the diet in this book for months, to the letter.  I was very committed and yet remarkably, I never lost any weight.  There are lots of reasons why scientists now believe diets don’t work, yet we keep trying them, and I was no exception. I spent tons of money on this diet too, because it was so restrictive and it was like, only the most expensive foods possible were on it.  I was also starving all the time because everything was so low calorie I had to eat a ton of it not to feel hungry, then of course it would pass right through me and I’d be hungry again in what felt like minutes.

I remember the book telling me that skinny bitches only ate one piece of fruit for breakfast, that’s it, and only if we were starving could we have another piece of fruit. There is not a nutritionist in the world who would tell you one piece of fruit is enough calories or balance of nutrients to get you through an entire morning after you’ve not eaten since maybe 6 pm the night before, and that meal was carrots.

I talked about and defended this diet constantly in order to justify how annoying I had become, placing myself in an ever-spiraling cycle of being the most annoying person around.  I was super socially detached, because I couldn’t eat nearly anything I didn’t prepare myself.  I tried to save face a lot by just not eating in front of other people at all.

After months of this, eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, but I was too embarrassed to admit to anyone that this totally unsustainable way of life was making me so miserable.  I never “got used to it” as all diets promise. So I developed this habit of most nights, after starving myself all day or just not having enough money to buy organic avocados and raw almonds for 3 meals a day, going to Wendy’s after work and eating their latest monstrosity, an incredibly delicious sandwich called the Baconator, that feels like eating a heart attack in physical form, with large fries and a coke.  I would shovel this into my mouth in secret in the parking lot of the Wendy’s, so nobody could see my shame, all the while mentally torturing myself for being such a failure.

Then in front of everyone else I would eat slices of orange bell pepper and talk about how much energy I had, even though I was constantly exhausted.

Then, one day while I was living my double life, I came across an article in O Magazine written by a fat girl about my size who had been dieting on and off for years and had stopped and embraced something called “fat acceptance.”  From what I remember about this article (which is very little) she talked a lot about her relationship with her mom and how she thought diets were actually making her gain weight, I think?  She said she had found peace when she started reading fat acceptance blogs.  This was the most shocking thing in the article.  These were literally like BRAND NEW words to me. Okay? FAT. ACCEPTANCE.  What in the hell was that?  I was instantly suspicious.

I was so fucking skeptical my eyes nearly rolled right out of my head, out the door and went off to live a life of their own somewhere without me and my confused ass brain, but the concept that there was something out there that might free me from this misery I was in was so fascinating I had to know more.

I googled “fat acceptance blogs,” with the same curiosity I would, “is Bigfoot real?”

The internet was a little different back then.  If you google this today, you get directed to feminist websites that have entire catalogs of articles written about this.  There’s a Wikipedia page for it.  There are dozens of actual books written about it.  There’s a whole glossary of new terms with which to discuss it.  Back then, it was a relatively small community of bloggers who wrote on their own individual blogs and shared information. It was insulated.  It was subversive.

I don’t know if I can properly convey how it felt to read these blogs.  Literally for the first time in my fat life (all of it post puberty) I felt like I mattered, but more than that, I felt like myself.  Truth bomb after truth bomb just flooded my consciousness.  Everything was just a resounding brilliant exuberant form of “YES!”  Fat people are people!  It’s not nice to make fun of people, even if they’re fat!  Fat people can be healthy!  Skinny people are sometimes unhealthy! Diets don’t work! You deserve love! You are a person! Your body is not bad because it’s fat!  Boom. Boom. Boom.

The fountain of all this fat acceptance wisdom seemed to emanate mainly from one place though, and that was Kate Harding‘s blog, Shapely Prose, where Kate and other bloggers dissected fat hatred, and proposed the radical feminist concept that fat people are people. She certainly wasn’t the only influential blogger, but she was definitely at the top.  She was whip-smart and was published and featured in bigger more reputable places than just her blog.  She also wrote about feminism and other things not related to fat acceptance. She had a ton of credibility and she is an even more respected and widely read author today.

Kate had inspired thousands of women to consider the possibility that they weren’t worthless horrible human beings simply because they didn’t look like Victoria’s secret models.  She had also written, really, the quintessential manifesto for fat acceptance which was and still is, the Shapely Prose FAQ page, in which she answered with sass, research, science, data, logic, and incredibly well-reasoned arguments why being fat is not a crime, it’s actually okay, fine, and not a moral failure.  I will forever be grateful to her and that community for speaking out and giving me this life line.

The thing was, not in a bullying way, but in a frank, in-your-face, truth-telling bad ass kind of way, Kate’s writing gave me similar feelings to what the Skinny Bitch diet had, but instead of angry shame it was more like angry feminist inner power, and this time I could tell, for whatever reason, that without a doubt, she was right.

Even at my most committed on the Skinny Bitch diet, I was dubious that it was trustworthy.  For one thing, I never became the svelte sophisticated glamorous thin woman I had been promised on the Skinny Bitch diet, and I had followed it to the letter for months, yes, even exercising.  I had just gotten sadder.

Nothing in my life improved from dieting, and I think it was this sort of rock bottom that allowed me to see the light.  I was depressed, unfulfilled, overworked, underpaid and not pursuing any of my passions.  I wanted to write but I wasn’t writing.  I wanted to do theater but I never auditioned.  I wanted a boyfriend but I detested my own body and appearance so much that men could smell my misery from a mile away.  I was a walking red flag.

I wasn’t in control of my life at all, and I was placing all my dreams and effort to make those dreams happen in the hands of a diet book written by self-proclaimed bitches.  It’s not like this was the first diet I’d gone on.  I had been on many before it, but this was the last one (and in my opinion the most evil).  I no longer wanted to be thin above all else.  I wanted to be a nice smart person and a good human being, and I started by being that to myself.

I forever gave up on the idea that “once I was thin,” everything would get better, and you know what happened?  Pretty much everything got better.  I moved to New York, where I got my first published writing work.  I put up my own original plays.  I started my own blog, a body positive style blog that I wrote as a silly character/alter ego named Coco Beautiful, and it started raining men.  I was pulling HOT dudes that I never would have even had the confidence to look at when I was in my dieting craze (otherwise known as my entire teenage to adult life to that point).

Also, this new “fat acceptance phase” did something no diet ever managed.  It stuck. Despite the fact that fat hatred is still resiliently lurking around every corner, I am still fighting it, over 8 years later, and my life is better than ever.  My mental health is the best it’s ever been.  I have a beautiful healthy child who fills my life with joy and purpose.  I’m dating a great guy right now.  I’m getting paid for my writing work.  I have incredible friends and family.  I feel beautiful.  I love my style and taste and feel wonderful and sexy in my own skin.  I eat. whatever. I. want. to.

It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t.  If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot more people trying to convince you to be thin than not, but it’s a lot better, and one thing I know for sure, is that I’m pleased as punch not to be anybody’s bitch, skinny or otherwise.

What Happens When You Throw an Anti-Trump Rally in Mississippi

img_20161009_184224Donald Trump has brought out a side of me I haven’t seen since my college days.  He has made me militant af and so far there’s no sign of my backing down.  My level of rage has not abated.  Hearing that garbage human talking about women that way on Friday was very triggering to me and apparently I just live like this now and because I am back to pre-pregnancy, pre-breastfeeding levels of caffeine intake a day  I have a lot of manufactured energy to burn.

I got the idea to throw a “Never Trump” rally and immediately texted my friend Lindsay, who is a very reasonable person, and who has protest experience, and whose husband is a police officer and would know if I was doing something illegal and is also a normal mom with kids who doesn’t want their president and role model to be a sexual predator.

I knew if she agreed to show up, I would go do this rally even if I could only get a few people to show up.

For anybody who doesn’t live in Mississippi, it’s hard to explain the level of political apathy and willful ignorance people engage in here.  The polite term for racists, misogynists, and white supremacists here is, “my redneck cousins,” or “my REALLY redneck cousins.”  When people have gotten engaged lately, it mainly seems like they support Trump.  I wish I could say it were just everybody’s redneck cousins, but it’s not. It’s average people, working class, etc…  He has held rallies here with thousands of people in attendance.  The headline our local TV station chose in the aftermath of the tape was about Trump apologizing for the tape, instead of you know, that a candidate for president had bragged about sexual assault.  It’s no secret that this is a very red state, so why bother protesting?

At the end of the day, I just couldn’t keep quiet.  It seemed too important not to make some kind of statement and I truly believe that most people here would never leave their daughter alone in a room with this guy and would be deeply ashamed if their son acted like that, so I thought it was worth it to try something.

It was very important to me to do it before the debate and in a timely manner before the press moved on to whatever Trump scandal erupted next so I created an event Saturday to protest the next day, Sunday.  I knew this short notice would probably prevent me from getting a bigger crowd, but I didn’t want to wait.

Lindsay and I got the word out fast.  We posted our event on the WLOX article about Trump “apologizing,” and we DM’d multiple likely anti-trump groups.  Our event was shared 14 times in 24 hours by regular people and large progressive groups with huge followings.  We invited people across political party lines and we got at least 54 interested people.  I knew we would only get a small fraction of those to actually show up and I was right, but the people who did come, were so amazing.

I made some very basic signs that said “Never Trump” and a few other phrases, got there early and waited.  I used my stroller to carry everything and set up camp in Gulfport’s largest and most prominent public park right near HWY 90, the main drag on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  People slowly filed in.  We ended up with 8 adults and a few of us brought our kids.

We had a brief prayer/moment of silence for Survivors of Sexual Assault.  My toddler interrupted me and squirmed throughout my short speech where I read off a list of different things Trump has done to disqualify him for the presidency (and public life at all) and then we got our signs and headed toward traffic. (I wore my babe in my Tula, so she was safely attached to me, not running off).

I was very nervous about safety.  I told everyone to stay together, and not to engage with anybody who came at us with negativity.  I told everyone that if at any point they felt threatened or unsafe we would shut down, and if anybody looked like they would get violent we would immediately call the police.  At one point a young skateboarder kind of scared me because my overactive imagination (and the reality that there are tens of thousands of gun owners here) made me question if his cell phone was a gun.

So imagine my relief when the first cars drove by our signs and started honking in support!  We did get a few people (all white) who gave us the bird or a thumbs down or yelled something at us.  We could hardly ever make out what they said.  My absolute favorite moment was when a guy shouting his support for Trump and giving us the bird got slapped in the face by his girlfriend in the front seat.  I was dying.  It was like watching a metaphor for the feminist struggle physically manifest itself in front of my eyes.  The skateboarder kid?  He politely asked to take a selfie with us.  His mama raised him right.

All in all, it genuinely seemed like people were happy to see us out there.  Practically every black or Latino person who drove by us honked or shouted or waved or gave us a thumbs up of support and even some old ass white people did too (and a few other white people).

My favorite was the black guys in their big trucks revving their engines.  It’s just such a quintessential way to show your feelings in the deep south.

It was really nice to meet the other people who showed up to protest.  We all added each other on Facebook and exchanged info about our backgrounds and political involvement.  I think I’ll see them again at future events.

My daughter loved it.  We were outside. There were other kids there.  I brought crayons! Her absolute favorite part was when we would chant.  If you’ve never heard a little baby shouting “Never Trump!” you haven’t lived.  It sounded like this- “Ne-ba Chump! Ne-ba Chump!”  I’m so proud of my little activist.

All in all, it felt amazing.  It felt very empowering to be holding a bright blue sign and shouting at the top of my lungs, utterly rejecting this sleazebag, out loud, in public, unashamed, not hiding.  I felt like I was accomplishing more than I might just losing my shit on facebook during hour after hour of my rage spiral.  I had my laughing baby on my back, good people at my side, perfect weather, sunshine and a cool breeze.  It was a beautiful day and people saw us, they listened, and maybe we let people know, who wouldn’t dare come to a rally, that there were people out there who felt the way they did, that they weren’t alone, and it’s ok to stand against the crowd of people telling you to tow the party line, or not to vote your conscience.  It felt like freedom.

So that’s what happens at an Anti-Trump rally in Mississippi, you have fun, your baby is cute, you get an overwhelming majority of supporters versus cretins, and you meet super nice politically engaged people!  I think you know what your weekend plans are everybody!

Sexual Assault is #notokay

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The first time I was sexually assaulted was when I was 12.  A boy in one of my 7th grade classes groped my breast.  I was embarrassed and scared and ashamed.  I wanted to stay quiet.  A girl I was friends with witnessed it.  She made me tell the teacher.  The boy was sent to the vice-principal’s office. He came back to class that period and sat next to me every day for the rest of the semester because there were assigned seats.  I don’t think anyone ever called my parents.  I don’t know if he was ever punished.

The second time, a family member forced me to hold up my shirt to show him my breasts and threatened me if I didn’t do it.  He also snuck in my room and lifted my shirt while I pretended to sleep because I was too scared to move.  I was 13.

Too many times to count, as a young woman dancing in a club or out for a night, a man rubbed his erection on me on the dance floor or groped me or tried to kiss me without my consent.

Once, when I was hanging out with friends at the People’s Improv Theater in New York, a place I loved and felt safe in, where I put up my first plays in New York, where I still have many wonderful friends to this day, a man who had previously been banned from the theater for allegedly assaulting another woman, without any provocation from me, grabbed my face and kissed me in the middle of the conversation.  I was drunk and confused.  I tried to shake it off.

When he tried to do it again, I stopped him and said, “you shouldn’t have done that the first time.” He got angry and started yelling at me but it was loud and crowded and nobody noticed.  He accused me of leading him on and walked away from me.  A guy I had a crush on was nearby and I was embarrassed.  I was afraid he would think I was into this guy or with this guy who had kissed me without my consent.  To other people it probably looked innocent enough, drunk people making out in a bar, maybe even dating, getting in an argument, you don’t want to interfere, a guy wouldn’t do that in front of everybody if it wasn’t ‘ok’ right?  Especially a guy with a bad reputation who maybe needed to prove that women liked him?

These are my stories, and they all make me cringe and feel afraid and skeptical of men to this day.  I have more too.  I’ve been followed home by men, cornered in elevators, yelled at on the street.  I’ve even been roofied.  I think the horror of being roofied made me talk about it for a long time with a sense of humor.  It was the only way I dealt with it.  The man who roofied me and my friend didn’t get away with anything.  He didn’t get his hands on me, but when I think about what would have happened if he had, I can’t handle that, so I joke about it being a wild night.

Not anymore.

When I heard the Donald Trump tape of him, a rich powerful famous married man, bragging about kissing women without permission, how he could get away with anything because he was a star, how he couldn’t control himself, how he tried to fuck married women, how he moved on them like a bitch, how he could grab their pussies, I felt and remembered every time a man has sexually assaulted me and so did millions of women.

These are my stories, but the story I have told people many times about sexual assault is this, and it is the one that has stuck with me the most, and it is the most powerful one I know.  Once in college, a bunch of the girls in our theater department at school snuck into the school at night to have a slumber party for the graduating seniors which makes me laugh so hard to this day.  This is the kind of wild stuff we college girls got up to.  We snuck INTO SCHOOL.  We hung out with our girlfriends in sleeping bags in the middle of the acting/movement classroom floor.  We sat around sharing our feelings and our stories. We CLEANED UP AFTER.  These were the kind of girlfriends I had.

At some point during the night, we were playing some version of Truth or Dare that just turned into truth, and we all shared our deepest darkest secret.  There were 13 of us, and as we went around in a circle, all but ONE of us had a story about sexual assault.  Some version of a man violating us, taking advantage when we were drunk, or touching us without consent, or raping us.  For some of us it was a family member, for some a friend, a boyfriend, a guy we liked…  In a room of 13, only one had been spared.  It was the moment I knew.  Men are dangerous.

Obviously I’m talking about this, and trust me, I feel very vulnerable doing so-  I feel scared and nervous about the repercussions- but obviously I am talking about this because a man who can do this to a woman, who can brag about it, who can delight in it and laugh about it, cannot be the President of the United States.  It can never happen.

Anybody who votes for him or defends him, is defending sexual assault.  He is against women.  He hates women.  There is no way that you can think this is excusable or okay and not hate women. My language is strong but trust me my actions will be stronger.  Not only will I vote, as I have in every election, local or otherwise since I have been registered in Mississippi, but I will bring my daughter every time.  Not just this November, but every time, until I am dead.  This will be OUR STRONGEST FAMILY TRADITION.  I will NEVER shut up.  I will NEVER stand down.  I will raise my daughter to understand her rights and how to fight back.

I know I live in a red state.  I know I live in the south.  It does not matter.  I will NEVER stop doing everything in my power to stop this endless bullshit cycle of assault.

I know the stats.  There is a strong likelihood that my daughter, even though I am fiercely protective of her, even though I cringe to think of this ever happening to her, will be one of the 12 girls in that room and not the 13th, but you can better believe that I will teach her how to fight back.  I will show her the video of Gigi Hadid elbowing her molester in the face.  I will take her to the polls.  She will grow up with the first woman president of the United States.  We will change the culture.  We will change the country for women.  We have to.

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