The Thing No One Tells You About Shame

There is one gnarly emotion I’ve battled against my entire life that makes its presence known in the shittiest of ways. The insidious thoughts that accompany it always stop me in my tracks and leave me feeling like I’m an awkward, seemingly unlovable eight-year old again. It’s a dark fucking place, the spot where this emotion carelessly drops me. And for a really long time, not a single other person could pull me out of it, because no one knew I was even in that painful black hole to begin with.  

That emotion is shame

If you’re as well-versed at the shame game as me, then you know how it usually goes. There you are, going about your life and generally feeling awesome, and then something unexpected happens. Maybe you receive unsolicited criticism from someone you trust. Maybe you just tried on your favorite pants, and they’re surprisingly too small to pull up. Or maybe you messed up at work and totally forgot about a big ass deadline that got you into hot water with your boss. That’s when you’re suddenly transported to an emotional experience that starts to negatively influence every thought you think, every action you take, and every belief about yourself you hold dear. You begin doubting yourself. You decide you aren’t worthy of your own love. And it sucks the big one. 

But what if I told you that there are a few simple ways to deal with this complex emotion that could help you no longer see it — or you — as a chronic problem? Here’s the secret I’ve learned that no one tells you about shame. Just go with me on this one. While I’m not a mental health professional, I am a master-level expert at experiencing lifelong shame. And I think I’ve cracked the code of how to officially kick it to the curb.

Think of yourself like a house. As a child, you had visitors who you may not have felt comfortable asking to stay at the door. They could have been family members, teachers, friends, or just about anyone else in your life. Maybe they were even media messages coming to you from the shows you watched, the news your parents had on, or the magazines you read. These visitors entered your house, with or without your consent, and dumped piles of messes all over your place. Maybe they were recurring people in your metaphorical home, or perhaps they just visited once and left. Whatever the case, you’re probably living in a shit ton of messy piles from these experiences. If you never learned how to pick them up and throw them out the metaphorical door as a child, and if you didn’t know how to acknowledge that they weren’t your messes to begin with, you may likely discover that they’re still inside of your “home” in adulthood. 

You are that house. Shame is the piles of messes left behind by others. And your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to finally clean house. 

Growing up, we all had people and experiences in our lives that shaped how we feel about ourselves today. A bunch of us were cared for by adults in our world who, whether knowingly or not, tore down or dismissed us for how we looked, behaved, and expressed our feelings. We also received a ton of conditioning from the media and society that left us feeling like our bodies were never-ending problems. Basically, the vast majority of us were taught by external forces that lovability and inherent worthiness were not our birthright and that mistakes or moments of messiness made us somehow “bad.”

When we were young and the adults we trusted didn’t show us the love and kindness we so deserved, do you think a single one of us stopped to realize how fucked up that was? When the television ads were pressuring our young bodies to get skinny AF at any cost, do you think any of us got pissed at these institutions for lying to us? And when we encountered childhood trauma, neglect, or dismissal, do you think we ever blamed those responsible for their abusive behaviors? 

Not a chance.

Biologically speaking, most youth who are abused and shamed aren’t actively hating the parents and grownups they depend on. They learn to hate themselves instead. Think about it. We’re hardwired from birth to need our parents and the adults we trust. When the grown ups we love are abusive, shaming, or even modeling a way of being disconnected from their own self-love, it doesn’t help our young narrative to start rebelling against them from the start. We need these grownups for our survival. It makes much more sense for our young minds to believe them and distrust ourselves.

If there was no one in your world to counter the shaming experiences you had as a youth with unconditional love and support, you may be stuck on autopilot as a grown up and listening to the barrage of negative thoughts in your head that you now believe to be facts. I completely understand why you’d do that, because it’s how I operated for nearly half of my life. But then I learned the dirty little secret about shame. All of the thoughts and beliefs attached to this feeling were originally placed inside of me by others, and they no longer need to be mine to hold onto anymore. And honestly, I never needed to hold onto them in the first place. Because anyone who is shaming someone else, intentionally or not, is also living in the same kind of shame they’ve attempted to pass along to you. Which means that shame, while feeling so tremendously personal, is not actually as personal to or reflective of who you authentically are as you might have previously thought it was.

According to Brene Brown, the University of Houston shame researcher and author of five New York Times bestsellers, shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” This particular definition resonates so much with me, because I spent two long decades believing I didn’t deserve to be loved or belong. I felt like an ongoing problem for everyone around me. After years of childhood abuse and emotional dismissal, I believed that I was too much for this world. And I went to great lengths to avoid being myself so that I could receive the approval of others. 

Over the past four years, a whole lot has changed. I’ve become a mom twice over, healed a lifelong eating disorder, come to terms with a complex PTSD diagnosis, and learned just how many messy fucking piles have been sitting inside of my metaphorical house. As I’ve leaned into the work of self-love and trauma recovery, I’ve started bagging up the old ass toxic shit others in my early life placed within me, and I’ve shown it the door. As a result, I’ve never felt freer to be my authentic self in my entire life. Realizing that shame was never mine to hold, as it had zero to do with my inherent worth as a human being, has allowed me to also realize that when someone shames us, it is never about us. It is always about the other person. 

Now, does this mean I’m advocating for being a giant asshole to everyone around you, throwing care to the wind, and telling consequences and hurt feelings in others to fuck off? Absolutely not. Of course, we want to show up in all of our circles with compassion, kindness, vulnerability, and love. I’m simply focusing on the shame that has laid dormant inside of you for years because it’s still secretly hanging around from your childhood. And when you were a child, nothing endangering that happened to you was ever your fault, no matter how much shame has lied to you. 

Because here’s the thing. We aren’t born hating ourselves. We aren’t even born feeling shame about our choices, actions, bodies, or existence. We are taught to feel shame about ourselves when we vulnerably show up as young, messy, lovable, work-in-progress humans in this world who will eventually grow up into older, messy, lovable, work-in-progress humans in this world. The problem we run into along the way is that others place shame inside of us that incorrectly teaches us about ourselves. Which is why cleaning house at some point, no matter where we are in our life journey, is so stinkin’ important. 

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My Partner Made Me Feel Ashamed Of My Pregnant Body

Trigger warning: verbal abuse and domestic violence


The hardest part of my pregnancy was my body changing.

Domestic violence hit me the hardest during this time.

This is why I get emotional when I legit see pregnant mommas living their best lives with their miraculous growing bods — oh, I see you.

Being with someone that tugged on my thighs and looked at other women from top to bottom that were fit, built, and gearing up for spring break and me, at my core, feeling the heaviest and ugliest, sweating profusely, very pregnant, trying to walk for 20 minutes on incline at the university gym.

I felt my clothes didn’t hug my bump cutely like others. I refused to buy maternity jeans until mine busted from being kept together with a hair tie — and towards the end, I didn’t want to leave the house at all.

I felt so much shame for my pregnant body — if I’m being honest, hatred for it.

I remember looking under the sheets soon after delivering and realizing I still remained there — pregnant appearing, but now no child within me.

I remember weeping in the shower, leaning against the wall, and seeing my changed body appear beneath me.

I wept for this body I imagined as soon as these nine months were over.

My partner, throwing a women’s fitness magazine at me while we were still at the hospital, telling me that it should make me feel better and get motivated that one day I would look like them again.

I remember being in labor and looking at my nurses and wanting them to hide and their shifts to be over because they were cute and I knew I couldn’t compete — while giving birth.

I remember juggling every day after … losing weight fiercely and way too quickly while breastfeeding because I needed to “get it back.”

I remember having piles of animal crackers on my Boppy pillow at night while my nursing son was absorbing nutrients from my epic body, and me counting the individual animals, trying to tell myself I couldn’t eat too many.

I remember my first post-birth walk, post-birth run.

I remember shorts being gifted to me after he went on a shopping spree, with a pair of tennis shoes, and pulling them up and realizing they were too tight still. Thinking he may have bought that size on purpose so I must fit into them.

Talking to my therapist the other day, who is a male, I told him how I struggle with my after-appendectomy body, my after-baby body, and how I feel like I still get held back because of these voices in my head. I can know they are not my truth. But I hear them nonetheless. I’m tired of them.

As I told him, “When I look in the mirror, still after all this time — I still hear his voice in my head.”

“Saggy. Boob. Bitch.”



… And the cheating didn’t help.

You didn’t like that language? Yeah, I didn’t either.

You know what I gotta say in response to this? Wear the dang bathing suit.


Don’t just wear it — own your body in it. All these scars, stretch marks and pieces of your body that tell your story. Allow them to be seen, honored and heard.

I should’ve been able to walk around the hospital for my first post-birth walk and not feel like every other woman or man would think I still looked pregnant. I should have strutted my stuff, knowing I had an incredibly hard pregnancy; mentally, emotionally, sexually, and physically. I birthed a healthy baby, the sweetest, most beautiful human that made me into an epically changed woman.

Do not, for one more second, keep your soul at home when you decide to bring your body out.

Do not do it any longer.

Go check yourself out right now. Breathe her in. She is mighty, strong, brilliant, sexy, fierce, intelligent, brave, resilient and her body tells the most epic of stories — one of her life.

Wear. The. Bathing. Suit.

And each time you scan the pool or scan yourself, remind yourself that you are a straight up masterpiece.

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The ‘Lose Weight By Breastfeeding’ Message Is Hurting Postpartum Moms

Lose weight while breastfeeding? Breastfeed to lose weight?

For years, women have been indoctrinated to believe the most effective way to lose weight postpartum is to breastfeed. Or that the best reason to breastfeed is for weight loss.

It’s high time to call out this crap for what it is: an instrument of diet culture to manipulate women during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The truth is, this message is destructive and harming new mothers in alarming ways. 

Rather than focusing on the things necessary to promote postpartum recovery and healing, new moms are inundated with false promises that prey on their vulnerabilities.

I’ve heard too many stories from moms who did breastfeed but didn’t see any expected weight loss. This left them feeling like failures or as if something was wrong with their bodies. On the other hand, I’ve seen mothers who were really struggling with breastfeeding but felt like they had to push through the pain and discomfort because they believed it was the only thing that would guarantee postpartum weight loss.

For too long, telling women to breastfeed for weight loss has not only created an illusion around breastfeeding and postpartum bodies, it’s served as a distraction for what women really need to be focusing on after birthing and bringing babies into the world. Not to mention, this myth around breastfeeding creates an arbitrary and unrealistic standard for women’s postpartum bodies.

Trying to incentivize a postpartum mom to breastfeed because it will help her lose weight is effectively communicating the message that her body is not good enough as it is.

Can you imagine saying this to a new mom after everything she went through to bring her baby into the world? This is not okay, people, and we need to change this damaging propaganda against pregnant and postpartum moms.

Pushing this idea of weight loss on a brand new mom buries her beneath an impossible amount of pressure to “lose the baby weight” — a message that’s been internalized by all postpartum women due to diet culture.

Don’t postpartum moms have enough to worry about without the added pressures of changing their body size to comply with the arbitrary standards set by diet culture and mainstream media?

Isn’t the gap between expectations and reality wide enough for new moms without adding these additional unrealistic standards over her head?

The sad thing is how this message shifts the focus from the postpartum period being a time of healing and recovery to manipulating weight, food, and body size.

I’ve known too many moms who prematurely forced themselves to start rigid exercise or dieting regimes in a desperate attempt to meet these impossible standards for postpartum women, all the while suffering physical harm on their bodies, as well as emotional and mental distress. I’ve worked with postpartum moms who tore their cesarean incisions from trying to exercise too soon, who had a difficult time breastfeeding because they weren’t eating enough, or who experienced mental health complications triggered by body image distress.

This is not okay.

It’s important that we normalize the body changes women go through during pregnancy and postpartum in order to challenge the arbitrary standards that set up new moms to fail. We need to challenge the diet culture propaganda around weight loss and breastfeeding to create space for women’s bodies to do what they were meant to do.

Let’s shift the focus to help new moms focus on healing, rest and recovery.

Does Breastfeeding Help Weight Loss?

There is no solid scientific evidence supporting the claim that breastfeeding helps support long-term and lasting weight loss.

So why perpetuate this damaging rhetoric?

Studies that have shown a correlation between breastfeeding and weight loss in postpartum moms show no evidence of that weight loss being statistically significant, nor does it demonstrate the weight-loss stuck long-term. Any effect is relatively small and may not be detectable in studies that lack adequate statistical power, have imprecise data on postpartum weight change, or do not account for the exclusivity and/or duration of breastfeeding.

Bottom line: There is no scientific evidence to back up this claim that breastfeeding facilitates weight loss in postpartum moms.

The other thing to note is the potential protective effect of increased fat stores while postpartum and breastfeeding.

Women who are breastfeeding have increased levels of the hormone prolactin, which helps produce and maintain milk supply. The hormone prolactin, which is at an all time high in breastfeeding moms and necessary to produce breast milk, has actually been shown to reduce fat metabolism. Which means that a breastfeeding mom may actually have higher fat stores while breastfeeding.

And you know what?

Higher fat stores in postpartum women serve a protective and proactive function while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding plus being postpartum is one of the most nutrient expensive times of a woman’s life. A woman has a higher need of most nutrients in order to support healing after growing and birthing a baby, as well as to initiate and support breastfeeding (should she decide to do so.)

Nutrient requirements for vitamins A, B6, and C, and for iodine and zinc (among others) are increased by more than 50%, but lactation may actually be protective against certain maternal deficiencies. Having higher fat stores ensures that her body has sufficient energy to work with.

Because of the effects of prolactin in the body, a more common experience for breastfeeding moms is to hold on to and build fat reserves.

If this is normal and biologically advantageous, why aren’t we talking about this? Why aren’t we normalizing what is actually supposed to happen in women’s postpartum bodies?

The damaging myth that women should be losing weight while breastfeeding is not a common experience and perpetuates a false narrative around what breastfeeding should look like. So when a postpartum mom doesn’t have this experience, she begins to believe that her body has failed her.

Even worse, she’ll believe that she is failing.

When there is an overall lack of nutrients and energy, this can create a host of physical and mental side effects for the postpartum mom.

Risks With Postpartum Dieting, Rapid Weight Loss

How might postpartum moms reconcile the “breastfeed to lose weight” message with what their bodies are actually doing?

For one, postpartum moms who are not seeing an expected weight loss shift while breastfeeding may begin to look for other venues to facilitate weight loss.

I’ve worked with a number of postpartum moms who felt something was wrong with their bodies because they weren’t losing weight while breastfeeding. Diet culture puts undue pressure on new moms to not only lose weight, but to do it quickly. Many women are battling with an arbitrary timeline in their head that makes no sense for what their bodies are actually capable of doing, like needing to fit into their pre-baby clothes or lose weight by a certain amount of time.

The truth is, your postpartum body is going to do what it needs to do to not only heal and recover, but to feed your baby.

Your body may be holding on to weight and fat stores as a protective factor. You may have increased hunger levels in order to support what your body needs to cover the nutritional demands of everything you’re going through. Diet culture has demonized increased hunger, appetite and body changes, all which are familiar to a postpartum mom — especially while breastfeeding. 

It’s not uncommon for postpartum moms to turn to dieting tactics to try to facilitate weight loss.

Dieting is associated with a number of risk factors for postpartum moms, including but not limited to: 

  • Decreased milk supply if breastfeeding

  • Body dissatisfaction, which can increase risk of maternal mental health disorders and lead to overall poorer mental health function

  • Shorter durations of breastfeeding

  • Prolonged time healing from pregnancy and childbirth

  • Nutrient deficiencies, which can contribute to physical and mental health complications

  • Poor mental functioning

  • Postnatal depletion

  • Fatigue, exhaustion

  • Mood swings

You can see how problematic dieting can be for a postpartum mother.

Many moms feel like they have no choice but to resort to dieting tactics, frustrated that breastfeeding is not facilitating weight loss or with how their bodies have changed.

But when you’re preoccupied on manipulating your body size, you’re unable to fully focus on doing what is necessary and needed for you to recover, heal, and thrive during this new season of your life.

Why Postpartum Moms Are Searching For Weight Loss

It’s also important to note some of the potential reasons why postpartum moms may feel a strong pull and sense of urgency to lose weight after having a baby (aside from the damaging rhetoric from diet culture).

One thing I’ve learned from my own experiences is the deeper meaning behind, “I want my body back.”

Because, like all things, there is always more meaning beneath the surface. 

When a new mom is saying this, she may also be expressing unspoken feelings like: 

  • I miss a sense of normalcy in my life

  • I miss my body being my own

  • I miss having more autonomy and independence

  • I miss having the freedom to do what I want to do

  • I miss my relationships being the way they were

There is no question that the body changes that come about after having a baby are uncomfortable.

I think it’s also important to realize that body changes aren’t the only uncomfortable thing happening in your life. Having a baby means adapting to many different changes that are hard and uncomfortable, but we don’t always see the things happening beneath the surface. We might not be able to see past the changes in our body to see the full picture of what is happening at this point of our lives.

In reality, the postpartum season can feel like many things are happening outside of your control. It’s normal to look toward things that you feel like you can control in order to establish a sense of normalcy, to create order out of chaos. Controlling your body size or weight creates an illusion of control, which is why it’s so enticing to pursue.

But don’t miss the forest for the trees here. 

Be aware of the other changes that are uncomfortable for you. Understand some of that discomfort you may be feeling in your body may also be related to the greater changes in your life. But changing your body size may not be the answer you’re looking for. In fact, engaging in dieting tactics in an attempt to change your body size may further jeopardize your overall health and well-being, which can make motherhood that much more difficult.

What to Focus on Instead of Postpartum Weight Loss

What can you focus on instead?

It’s helpful to realize that you can still choose to be kind to yourself and make healthful choices that are respectful to your postpartum body, even if you feel indifferent about your body.

You don’t have to rely on feelings about your postpartum body to dictate your choices about caring for your body. 

There are many positive and effective ways to support your overall mental and physical health without engaging in dangerous tactics to manipulate your body size. Remember the postpartum period is also a time to recover, restore, and rest to support your healing and mental health.

Here are some ideas to engage in healthful behaviors to support yourself postpartum:

  • Focus on adequate postpartum nutrition to support healing and mental health

  • Give yourself permission to slow down and get restorative rest as you’re able

  • Connect with support groups for community and a sense of belonging

  • Engage in gentle movement, like walking, yoga and stretching

  • Get some fresh air and sunshine daily

  • Drink adequate amounts of water

  • Take your prenatal vitamins

  • Connect with a counselor or therapist to support you through this transition

  • Take a break from social media to give your brain a rest from over-saturation

  • Allow yourself time to engage in activities that don’t have to do with your baby — like reading a book, coloring, journaling, or any other activity that you might enjoy

You deserve to enter the postpartum season of new motherhood without being weighed down with unrealistic expectations.

You are worthy of the time and space needed to focus on your recovery and healing. Growing your baby and birthing life into the world is nothing less than miraculous.

Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise or make you feel inadequate because your body is not complying with diet culture. You weren’t meant to fit in that mold anyway, and by honoring your individual body and what it needs, you are building a healthy foundation for you and your family for years to come.

How You Feed Your Baby is Your Choice

At the end of the day, how you feed your baby is your choice.

How you decide to feed your baby is a highly personalized choice that should take multiple factors into consideration.

Many women assume because breastfeeding is “natural,” it should be the default decision. But assuming this neglects to consider a new mom and her individual circumstances, including her mental and physical health, her support system, home life, and more.

Ultimately, you should be able to make the choice on how you feed your baby based on what works best for you and your baby. You are part of the equation too, mama. And your decision to breastfeed shouldn’t be based on manipulating your body size through the process or because of false incentivization.

You don’t need to change your body after having a baby to prove anything to anyone!

You can trust your body through this postpartum process — even when it feels foreign and uncomfortable to you.

In the same way your body grew and carried your baby into being, your body can also be trusted through this postpartum season. It only asks you to be gentle with it, to treat it with the respect and kindness it deserves.

Supporting a New Mom

If you have a new mom in your life, here are some tidbits for you, too.

You don’t need to comment on her body or how her body may be changing. Telling a new mom, “You’ve already lost the baby weight!” can send her down a self-shaming spiral she doesn’t need. Really, you don’t need to say anything about her body or appearance. Please, just don’t.

The next time you see a new mom, take time to connect with her and ask her how she’s doing. Ask her how she’s coping with the new changes in motherhood. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job. And if you’re really interested in supporting her, volunteer to do something that would be helpful for her, like bringing a meal or helping clean her house. (PSA – Don’t ask a new mom what she needs you to help with, because she likely doesn’t know. Just tell her what you’re going to do, or better yet — just do it. She’ll never forget your kindness).

Remember that mothers are more than their bodies. They have innate worth and value that goes beyond how they feed their babies or what their bodies look like.

Let’s lift them up as such – they deserve to be cherished. 

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Let’s Stop Commenting On ‘Mom-Bods’

One day, my friends and I were sitting and watching The Bachelor finale when a friend said one of the girls was “chunky.” I responded, “No, she’s not. She’s like my size.” The answer to that? “Yeah, but you’ve had two kids.”


Not that it wasn’t true. Throughout my life, I seemed to be the first person on many milestones. I graduated high school early, got my college degree early, got married young, and was halfway through grad school and giving birth to my firstborn one week after my 21st birthday.

What a way to ring in being of legal age, right?

And though all of that came with a whole bunch of happiness (and some major stress), I didn’t realize that I’d suddenly become the only person I knew with the “dreaded” mom-bod.

You know what I’m talking about–stretched out skin, the lingering smell of dried milk, sagging boobs (thanks, nursing babies), and the forever dark circles that lie beneath your eyes.

Plus, the comments. All the, “Wow, you look great for being a mom.” “Don’t be too hard on yourself, you just had a baby.” I was now held to a much lower standard, one I aptly appreciated but also despised. Just tell me I look good! Even if I look like crap! Don’t add the “for being a mom” at the end.

Thanks to the body positivity movement, people are a lot less likely to comment on a woman’s body. But it seems like that doesn’t carry over to moms. They’re constantly peddled weight loss apps, multi-level marketing shakes, and gym memberships. People assume all moms want to and have to get back to their pre-baby bodies.

Don’t get me wrong–most of our friends aren’t telling us to get weight loss shakes. If they are, they’re definitely not a real friend.

But seriously, no one told me how bonkers it would feel to be the first person in a friend group with a “mom-bod.” No one could relate to me, and I was stuck feeling ten years older than I was. It was isolating, and honestly, strange. Though I knew their comments of “looking good for being a mom” came from a good place in their hearts, it still became awkward.

Here’s the thing: Moms have to work their butts off. We work our butts off all day long with our kids, but if we want to lose the baby weight and “look good for being a mom,” we have to somehow carve out time from screaming kids and other responsibilities.

It’s hard.

Despite all the movements, there are many women who still comment on other women’s bodies, and when your friends have kids before you, you might not know how to react. Maybe you’re up late working while this friend is up late at 2am because of a crying baby. So when you see them, you think it’s just best to tell them that they look good, even with a crying toddler strapped around the bulging love handles (guilty).

Moms lose a lot of friends when they have their first baby. Because it’s a whole different world! To the friends of moms, they might not know how to relate to you, either. They can’t imagine doing everything that you’re doing either–they’re simply trying to survive, especially in those first few years of raising kids.

So, if you’re a friend of a new mom, please, do not comment on her mom-bod. Especially if she’s the first of your friends to have a kid. It doesn’t matter if she looks amazing or crappy. Find something else to comment on. Try commenting on how amazing of a mom she is. Or, if you feel like you can’t relate to the mom stuff, try reminiscing about the days prior to her becoming a parent. When we become moms, we don’t lose our old selves. We still like the same shows, music, and people. We still have dreams of our own, and we still want to feel like we’re a person beyond being a mother. Talk about some of that stuff. Ask her about herself. Everyone focuses on the baby (and they’re amazing!), but in all aspects of life, it’s clear that mothers are being forgotten. Just look at how many doctor visits there are for a baby versus a mom after childbirth.

I don’t want to be the person who looks good even though she’s a mom. I just want to be a person. One who’s allowed to look like whatever she wants to look like, whenever she wants. And guess what? All moms do.

We don’t want you commenting on our mom-bods. Good or bad, leave our bodies out of the conversation. Remember, behind the sippy cups and crying toddlers, we’re still the same person. A whole lot more tired with a lot more life experience than a few years ago, but we’re still here.

One day, when you have kids, we’ll be the first ones there to help, and we won’t comment on your mom-bod either. And if you don’t ever have kids, that’s cool too. We still love you, and we still want to be friends (even if it takes us a day or two to respond to a text). Let’s just leave our stretch marks out of it. Deal?

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Weight Gain And Body Changes Are Normal For Non-Moms, Too

How many times have you heard a woman who has given birth to children lament the body changes? Her stomach and breasts are nothing like they used to be. Maybe her skin is looser. Her boobs are saggy. Her formerly smooth tummy is marbled by stretch marks.

For a lot of women, this is true. They once had a body that fit the cultural ideal of beauty, and carrying children changed that. Our culture holds all women, regardless of age, parenting status and genetics, to the same standard. It’s no wonder that it’s so common to see a woman feeling great disappointment in her post-baby body.

It’s also common to see a woman feeling a lot of pride in an unchanged post-baby body. Diet culture has conditioned us to be allergic to normal body changes — unless those changes take us closer to the impossible Hollywood ideal.

It’s all pretty bonkers.

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Of course, pregnancy and nursing does change a lot of bodies. Since I’ve become a mom, I have noticed some differences. Let’s just say, I got my nipple stuck in the bottom band of my bra last week. I’ve also had a nipple pop right out of the top of the cup. Nursing has turned my sweater puppies into lazy old dogs. They wander to and fro. They have a life of their own now. My boob elasticity is at an all-time low.

But the truth is, I was fat, stretch-marked and soft before I ever had a baby. I’ve been a higher-weight person since I was a kid, and my body looks the way bodies look when they carry fat.

In the beginning of my motherhood journey, I was insecure and hated the body I inhabit. I found a lot of validation in my ability to reproduce. It was the first time I ever felt like my body did something right. I was also relieved to be able to blame some of my perceived flaws on my baby.

But I’ve moved past that kind of insecurity. I don’t feel like I need to blame any part of the way my body looks on having babies anymore. I’ve stopped begging for acceptance and trying to be a good fatty in a desperate attempt make people choose to be kind to me instead of cruel.

My body is what it is, and anyone who has an opinion about that needs to ask themselves why the size of another person’s body matters to them that much. It’s pretty weird, tbh.

Sure, pregnancy can change a body, but motherhood isn’t the only “excuse” for a changing body, because there is absolutely no need to make excuses for the size or shape of your body. Ever.

Plenty of people who have never carried a child and will never carry a child are soft, fat, or otherwise deviate from society’s idea of perfect. Don’t assume a person with stretch marks got them from pregnancy. Don’t assume a fat mom “let herself go” after having babies. (Whatever TF that even means.) Don’t assume a round belly is housing a fetus.

And don’t think “mom bods” are only for mothers. Not everyone who has carried a baby is a mother. Trans parents exist. Gestational carriers are a thing. Expand your mind. This is not 1950.

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I’ll never forget years ago I was in a work meeting and my boss decided to pay me a compliment. The only issue was that the compliment was about my body. She was actually doing this with well intention but what she didn’t know was that I was in the middle of an ED with severe body dysmorphia and that “compliment” triggered me to eat even less going forward. I felt super uncomfortable for obvious reasons but also the fact that everyone else in that meeting was actually expecting me to ENGAGE in the conversation about MY BODY. All eyes were on me waiting for me to respond. I mean she was complimenting me, how could I NOT want to join in the convo right??? Yeah wrong. Super wrong. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to smile and politely change the topic. Or better yet if you have bigger balls (I didn’t back then and please excuse the terminology) you can say to someone “I feel uncomfortable talking about my body” or “my body is not up for discussion” and move on to the next topic. They could be family, a best friend, a neighbor, the cashier at Target, whoever. We are programmed and raised to be polite. Especially women (generalizing please don’t get offended). But what we are not taught (most of us) is that it’s really not polite for someone to think it’s okay to make comments about your appearance. Even if the comment is “positive” like the example above or “negative” which is straight up bullying. It’s not okay and it’s perfectly fine to let others know that you have a line drawn. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #edrecover #edrecovery #haes #progressoverperfection #progressnotperfection #dietitianapproved #rdapproved #dietitiansofinstagram #rdsofcolor #rdsofinstagram #registereddietitiannutritionist #healthyeah

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There are a million reasons any person might not look like a runway model, and they’re all valid. Weight gain and body changes are morally neutral, nothing to be ashamed of, and they’re normal for EVERY kind of body.

It’s easy to focus on the pressure society puts on women’s bodies, but we aren’t the only ones who struggle to find peace in our skin. Impossible standards of perfection extend to men, too.

Since COVID-19 has been keeping us home, my usually slim husband has put on some weight. Getting to the gym has been more of a challenge with COVID restrictions, so his body has naturally begun to store the energy he typically burns. For him, a naturally thin person, this is likely a season. When he resumes his normal activities, his body will almost certainly return to its typical state. Temporarily carrying some extra weight has made him confront his own fat biases in a new way.

This man lives with me, loves me, affirms all fat bodies exactly as they are, and instills body positive values into our children. He knows more about fatness than most people ever have to because it’s something I really enjoy delving deeply into.

Yet he has been struggling with his own body changes. Turns out what’s good for the goose is really bothering the gander.

I have gently reminded him that he doesn’t need an excuse to gain a few pounds. It is totally fine that living in a way we have never lived before has produced a body he’s never had before. That makes complete sense, and he needs no excuse.

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My big, soft belly. My earliest memories that my body was "wrong." A site of torment and trauma that taught me that I, myself, was shameful. Self-inflicting harm in the hope that it would protect me. From a world that hates fat people and men who are soft, physically and emotionally. "Casual" comments, and their impact that I tried to ignore. To acknowledge them fully, would mean being too soft in both body and spirit. # My big, soft belly. As men, we must be hard and angular, like chiseled impenetrable statues. Unchanged by external conditions- seasons, quarantines, life events, traumas, systemic oppression and emotions. We are told that our bodies reflect our inner-state, and that we must always be in control. Of our lives, our emotions, "our women," and our bodies. We are taught that a lean and muscular physique is the prize of self-control and that this is worthy of unending obsession as we sacrifice our joy at the altars of these lifeless statues that we worship. All of the trauma, self-hate, self-punishing exercise and food restrictions I put on myself had to be worth it, right? The more the better. Resentful of friends who got "credit" for their leanness when they didn't have to harm themselves like I had in order to achieve it. Of course, I received some specialized awards for how dutifully I slit my throat and let the softness bleed out of me, as I watched myself harden to stone. # My big, soft belly. Bigger and softer than ever before. As my personhood and spirit blossoms and grows, my body and my belly does as well. Symbiotically, they support the growth of each other. As my healing takes deeper root, it supports me in growing in wild, uncontainable, and unknowable ways. What would be possible, if we could see the growth of our bodies as intricately connected to healing our our spirits, our relationships with our bodies, food, movement, and to the world around us? # My dad's big, soft belly. Like mine. Too unique and beautiful to fit into the hard boxes created to contain soft men. I feel his pain, like I feel my own. My softness allows it. And he is gentle, kind, empathetic…soft. Our softness is magic. There is beauty in our softness.

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I finally live with the understanding that I don’t need to use my babies to explain any of my perceived imperfections. I don’t have to justify my size to anyone. No matter how it looks, I am allowed to live in my body in peace.

The same is true for every single body. It is important that we all give ourselves the freedom to live in a body that changes. That’s just the nature of being alive.

I had a fat body before I carried babies, and that is okay.

Moms do see a lot of changes in our bodies after having children, but we don’t have the market cornered. Soft bellies, sagging breasts, stretch marks, rogue hairs, drooping, sagging and a million other body changes just happen when human beings eat and move and get older on a planet with gravity.

It’s normal for these body changes to happen to men. Women who haven’t had babies. Non-binary and trans peeps. Parenthood is not the only thing that changes a body. If we want to help everyone achieve a healthier relationship with their body and change the way society talks about body size and shape, we have to be careful to validate ALL bodies while we are having these conversations.

As long as we are all human, we are all subject to seeing and struggling with the same basic changes to our bodies, and it’s time to normalize that.

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Feelin’ Good As Hell

“Hair toss, check my nails, baby how you feelin’? Feelin’ good as hell!”

Lizzo’s voice rang out clear and strong in the shower. And I was feeling good. Good as hell, as a matter of fact.

It was one of those lazy summer quarantine mornings when the kids were (miraculously) playing quietly with one another, breakfast had been had, and I stole some time for a nice long, hot shower. I turned on a little waterproof speaker I keep in the bathroom and found my “confidence playlist” on Spotify.

I haven’t always had the best relationship with my body (kind of in the way that France and Germany weren’t besties when the Nazis were occupying Paris), and have struggled with weight and body image since I was about twelve years old. This 38-year-old body has been through so many weight loss gimmicks, over-enthusiastic exercise routines, hyper-restrictive diets, and the equal and opposite reaction of bingeing that came when my willpower ran out.

In that time it also birthed and nursed three babies, hiked in fifteen national parks, summited mountains in three different ranges, kayaked in bioluminescent waters, and sustained me over the course of three graduate degrees. All while I was scanning my reflection and mentally taking inventory of all the parts of my body I wanted to change. Tying my hopes on the next cabbage soup diet that would “fix” me once and for all.

Spoiler alert — the cabbage soup diet didn’t fix me.

Partly because that wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle for me (and oh dear God the gas…)

Partly because I hadn’t looked at the emotional component of my relationship with my body (something I’m still in the process of sorting out).

And partly because I wasn’t broken. I was a body (and a person, and a life) in progress.

And I had (and still have) a lot of growth to do when it comes to learning to joyfully inhabit this body. It’s something I’ve been working on with an entirely different focus and urgency, now that I have a daughter who is looking to me to tell her what the value of women’s bodies are.

While I haven’t quite figured out the whole “joyfully inhabiting” thing, my body and I have reached something of a truce. We try to do right by one another, mess up a lot, apologize, and try to do better (and acknowledge that whatever the right balance is has to involve ice cream sometimes). We do our best to parent these three children so that hopefully they won’t be forming awkward truces with their own bodies when they’re nearly forty.

That day, though, my body and I were having a good day. On this particular morning, the water was scalding hot (because in my mind it’s only a shower if I come out looking like I have second degree burns all over my body), the music was exactly right, and I was dancing in the shower with all my usual grace. (For reference, I’m the kind of graceful that regularly bumps into doorways. I’ve had to limit my dancing in the kitchen, because last time I did, I spilled hot coffee down my arm. So when I say “my usual grace,” I just mean that I’m lucky if no small children are accidentally harmed in the process of me dancing around the house.)

In the middle of my assumed-to-be-private dance party, I saw a little shadow through the frosted glass of the shower door dancing with me and heard a little voice piping along with the music. It was Lila. I peeked out of the shower door, and she gave me a conspiratorial grin. It was just us there, dancing away to Lizzo. After a few minutes, the shadow had gone from the door and I was alone, rinsing off and getting ready to move forward with my day. I was grateful, though, that my daughter had caught me enjoying being in this body of mine. This imperfect body that I was working toward strengthening (by the way, has anyone else noticed that boxing is wonderful stress relief? Who’s been keeping that secret all these years?). Lila saw me in a brief moment of moving joyfully in the body I have right this second, and I hoped that she took that in.

Because while I’m always so careful to use nothing other than body positive language around my kids, I know that they are watching us so much more than we think they are. I hope that she hasn’t seen me staring my body down in the mirror, like it was high noon in the wild west and we were preparing to draw our weapons. That she hasn’t noticed how often my eyes flick up to the shelf in the pantry where we have the little container of treat foods.

I hope that she remembers when I told her my stretch marks were her and her brothers’ first art project, and that they make me smile when I see them. That my feet are calloused and cracked from having hiked so many wonderful trails, and that I’m grateful to them for carrying me where I want to go. That the creases by my eyes are because her dad has a great sense of humor and makes me laugh, and we’ve been together so long that I have lines to remind me of all of the fun we’ve had. So many stories fade away as we grow up, though.

Later in the evening it was shower time, and I was working on an assignment for a class while keeping an ear out in case Lila needed anything. I heard something and went to check on her, but it was a little voice from the bathroom singing out “Feelin’ good as hell! Ooh, child, feelin’ good as hell!”

And I hoped she was dancing.

More than that, I hoped she would keep dancing in her amazing, strong body her entire life long.

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Owning My Blackness, Hair and All

Black women and our hair, the act of getting it done, spending hours (typically the better part of an entire day, or say 5+ hours) at the salon, the waiting, the routine of it all, it is an activity that has in some ways, defined us. It has inevitably allowed us to create a kind of community among us, a haven of sorts where we can figuratively wash away the troubles around us.

As a child, going to the salon was a family affair. Every other Saturday morning, I’d drive with my maternal grandmother, aunts, and cousin and we’d sit for long periods. We would ping pong between the dryer and the hairstylist’s chair, waiting our turn to get our ‘do done. For myself and many other Black women, it was one of the ways we found a space to explore our own identity.

For so many years, more than I’d like to admit to, I fought against getting the hairstyle I have today, sisterlocks. In the ’80s I donned a Jheri curl. In the ’90s, it was a svelte cropped cut, which I’d sometimes swap out for long synthetic braids which were interlocked into my hair. Then in the ‘00s came the flat-iron.

By 2011, I’d had enough of my trips to the salon, enough of traveling the winding road to find another hairstylist because I’d moved to a new city. I was ready to embrace who I was, and root myself a little deeper into my Blackness, not to mention save money. I decided to do the big chop and wear the hair on my head exactly as it grew out of it: no alterations or any modifications of any kind.

As my hair grew out, so did my confidence. I had more money in my pocket, opting to take on the responsibility of my hair maintenance on my own. I also grew into my skin more. I began to own my Blackness in a way that I’d never done before. Not only did I have hair confidence, but confidence in my body too. My thighs, the same ones I thought were once too big and jiggly, I appreciated more for carrying me. And I chose to view my nose and my dark skin as badges of honor, finally appreciating them for the beauty. 

My wife, on one of our very first dates, asked me “Have you ever tried dreadlocks? I love them!” The disgusted look on my face and the explanation which followed turned her question into a yearly one, but one she would never let go of. After my twin daughters were born, I could not bear giving myself five minutes to even take a shower let alone commit two hours needed to twist my hair every other day and maintain it the way it needed. The idea of committing to something as permanent as sisterlocks became more of a reality with each passing day. So I spent twenty-seven hours in my new hairstylist’s chair, known as a loctician in the sisterlocks community — with a sore butt and all, kind of like what your ass feels like after your first spin class when it was all said and done. I then paid her close to $1,000 for her work and had 520 mini locs to show for it. I was all in; there was no turning back now. 

With my hair done and a slight fear that I would not like it tomorrow when I looked in the mirror, this ‘do was something I said I would never actually do. So why now, in 2020, did I decide to finally lock my hair? Why did I find myself losing countless hours on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest searching up “sisterlocks” or “natural hair” or drooling at the sight of Naptural85’s loose luscious curls or Jess_inprogress_’s gorgeous locks? This hair community, albeit online, was now my community. I could “be” in the salon with thousands of other black women, with sisterlocks or natural hair, who for so many years, I would have given the side-eye to.

Now, I am one of them. Not only were they introducing me to different hairstyles or ways of life, but they were (without even knowing it) reintroducing me to myself, to who I am as a Black woman, hair and all. With each swipe left or right on Instagram, I felt empowered to live more confidently in my skin. I began to pack up the notion I’d told myself over the years, that dreadlocks and sisterlocks would make me “too Black.” If this was the story I told myself, then wearing my straightened ‘do meant that I was not Black enough, didn’t it?

What I truly know now, as a 38-year-old Black woman, is this: I am me. I am a work in progress. I am not searching any longer for something on the outside to make me whole on the inside. All I need is right here within my Black body, hair, and all.

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Diet Culture Is Just The Patriarchy In Action

I know a thing or two about diet culture—the idea that thin bodies are healthy and should be idealized while larger bodies should be fixed. Once upon a time, I was completely wrapped up in diet culture, an expert in all the various diets with a strong opinion on which ones were worth trying and which ones were not. To be honest, if I’m not paying attention, I can still find parts of my subconscious wandering into a diet culture mentality—weighing the delight I’ll find in that piece of chocolate against how many steps I’ve taken in the day.

Which isn’t surprising to anyone. I’m a thirty-seven-year-old woman and most—well, all—of my formative years were shaped by diet culture. For that reason, most—well, the most recent—of my adult years have been shaped by trying to unlearn diet culture so I don’t pass that nonsense on to my daughter, who has so many better things to think about than the size of her pants and the calorie count in her chocolate milk—who should grow up knowing her worth has nothing to do with the size or shape of her body.

In my unlearning, I read the messages that are often shared and re-shared on social media: diet culture is the patriarchy; diet culture is just another way men are trying to control women’s bodies; if women didn’t spend so much time trying to be smaller, think of what we could do with all that brain power.

I nodded and clicked like on each message. But the truth is, I didn’t actually know what it meant when I read diet culture is the patriarchy. The loosest link I could find was in the fact that diet culture needs to be dismantled and the patriarchy needs to be dismantled, so, sure, the two could be one and the same.

It wasn’t until I saw a post that showed the names and photos of all the most popular fad diet creators: from Paleo to Atkins, Raw Food to Master Cleanse, that I realized what the true link was between diet culture and the patriarchy. All those diets, all those food moderation systems aimed toward making women smaller, keeping them distracted while men built empires, were created by white men—as in, the ones in power. As in, the patriarchy.

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Do you notice a pattern? Anything these pictures have in common? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⁣⁣ ⠀⠀⁣⁣ These white men have been telling women how to eat. If you don't think diet culture isn't part of the problem, then you're missing the point. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ We said it before, but we'll say it again. You can't unlearn diet culture without also unlearning racism.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ***Edited to add:⁣⁣ While the ketogenic diet was created as a medical intervention for epilepsy and proven to be effective for patients who needed it, the “keto movement” has been popularized by diet culture because of the side effect of weight loss. This post is focused on demonstrating the negative influence of the patriarchy—we acknowledge that white women are just as at fault for popularizing many mainstream fad diets.⁣⁣ .⁣⁣ .⁣⁣ .⁣⁣ .⁣⁣ #antidiet #fuckdietculture #werenotweighting #tonyabythespoonful #thetracyvazquez #dietculturesucks #healthateverysize #colorateverysize #womensrightsinislam

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It was a light bulb moment for two reasons. One, because it gave a visual to the words I’d only nodded along with. These men have been telling women what and how to eat in order to lose weight. These many men have been telling women they need to use their precious mental bandwidth to decide what’s “right” to eat and what’s “wrong.” And these men have been behind hundreds, maybe even thousands, of conversations I’ve had with other women over egg white only omelets and salads with no croutons.

And two, because that post made me realize that, despite believing I was “unlearning” diet culture by not actively participating in a diet, I maybe wasn’t unlearning as much as I thought. I didn’t really understand the link between diet culture and the patriarchy in a more than social-media-superficial way.

Scary Mommy spoke with Stephanie Roth, LCSW, CEDS, Intuitive Eating Counselor, to get a deeper understanding of how diet culture and the patriarchy are linked.  She pointed us to look at the moment women earned the right to vote, the moment we began to scrape together a little power for ourselves, to see how diet culture exploded. The posters and ads against the suffragette movement showed women in larger bodies in a negative, undeserving way. In essence, “As we became more powerful, they tried to shrink us,” according to Roth.

One stark example of how diet culture exploded in response to women’s empowerment is to look at the 1960s “second wave” of feminism when women rejected the repressive roles of the 1950s and the rise of Twiggy, a hyper-thin supermodel who rose to fame and became the ideal for beauty and body types.

Naomi Wolf, author of New York Times Bestseller, The Beauty Myth, writes, “[W]hen women came en masse into male spheres, that pleasure [of a woman enjoying her natural fullness] had to be overridden by an urgent social expedient that would make women’s bodies into the prisons that their homes no longer were.”

While women were attempting to fight for women’s rights and equal treatment, the patriarchy, the men desperate to hold onto their power, began bombarding women with the message that they should be smaller, they should take up less space, they should strive to meet this impossible (and unhealthy) ideal rather than strive and fight for the things that matter. According to Roth, “the message women received was that we were not good enough as we were, and in order to have power we have to look a certain way, we have to act a certain way.”

All these decades later, nothing has changed. Men are still creating diets aimed to make women smaller, aimed to keep women talking about whether they can cheat with that piece of cake rather than about how to build that empire, or even how to dismantle a system that constantly wants them to feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

Understanding the link between diet culture and the patriarchy makes it that much easier to reject all the noise of diet culture. Which is important, because, as Roth points out, “we can’t fight the patriarchy or do much else on an empty stomach; we can’t reach our full potential as women if we are constantly thinking about shrinking our bodies and calories.”

The undeniable truth to take away: have that piece of chocolate, because it’s one step closer toward dismantling the patriarchy.

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No, You Don’t Need To ‘Socially-Distance’ From Your Fridge

Because it’s been hard to shop and we tend to stock up when we’re able, many of us have more food around than usual. We also don’t have much to do. This combination leads people to presume others are doing nothing but snarfing COVID-19 snacks all day — or, at least, that with stockpiling comes the right to fat-shame.

Fat-shaming has reached — excuse the pun — pandemic proportions. We’ve all seen the jokes about social distancing from the fridge. On Facebook, people say that with nothing to do, they’re going to gain the “COVID 15.” Even the memes get in on the action. There are too many of these “jokes” about weight gain and social distancing from the fridge circulating on the web to include them all.

The world seems to agree: unless we’re the other side (which is posting our #workoutgoals and #covidfitness pics on Insta), we’re endlessly tempted to chow down on all the things, all the time. They present it like it’s this either/or dichotomy, like we couldn’t possibly be working out and eating food at the same time.

This totally offensive picture even made the rounds on Facebook recently.

Apparently, the bikini is some kind of motivation: you have to look good in it, because your intrinsic worth is determined solely by arbitrary Western beauty standards bolstered by a capitalist system designed to sell goods through banking on women’s insecurity. In other words, you have to look hot in that bikini — because if you don’t worry about looking good in it, you won’t buy more diet stuff and other products meant to make you look better. Somehow all this justifies shaming you into not eating during a pandemic.

Social Distancing from the Fridge

Social media keeps talking about “social distancing from the fridge” like it’s some hilarious joke. We socially distance from one another to stop the spread of a pandemic … and the insinuation here is that the fridge contains the danger (food). Food itself is dangerous. Why? Because fat is bad. 

It’s just one more way to fat shame people.

These jokes and memes aren’t funny. They do two things: they make people feel ashamed and small. They make them feel embarrassed and miserable. They can also be highly triggering. As a recovering atypical anorexic, it’s terrifying to me to live in a house with this much food. The last thing I need to see is a meme about social distancing from the fridge, because to my disease, it sounds like a good idea. These memes can trigger people with all kinds of mental illnesses and eating disorders.

It’s Not Even About the Food

“I need to socially distance from the fridge” doesn’t mean “I need to put physical distance between myself and my refrigerator.” It means “I need to be sure I don’t get fat.” Since getting fat is, of course, the worst thing that could ever happen. (Insert all the eye-rolls here.)

Yeah, it’s just as scary to gain weight as it is to get COVID-19, which killed more people in a month than the flu does in a year. Uh-huh. Photos like the one above and general commentary on “social distancing from the fridge,” use COVID-19 as an excuse to fat-shame.

They use a disease killing hundreds of thousands to make fun of fat people.

Sounds pretty bad when you say it like that, doesn’t it?


It’s Okay to Eat

Let’s have a talk about food and the pandemic. And let’s get one thing straight: We do not need to socially-distance from the fridge.

We use food for a lot of reasons. We use food as fuel for our bodies. We use food to celebrate, like many of us did at Passover or Easter. At a time when it’s hard to get certain foods — we were delighted, one week, to find ground beef at the grocery store — even that finding can be a kind of celebration, a “we got ground beef, so let’s grill some burgers and celebrate a little bit of normalcy here in the middle of this pandemic.”

We also use food for comfort. We don’t need social distancing from the fridge — some of us may need social comforting from the fridge. We’re calmed and soothed by comfort food. Ask yourself: what’s more important at the moment: your mental health, or possibly gaining a few pounds? Do you need to feel better about life, or do you need to fit into that theoretical bikini at all costs? Friend, if it matters that much to you, you can lose weight. It’s much harder to repair your mental health. It is okay to use food for comfort at a time when everything feels like it is falling apart. 

Look, at this point in the pandemic, Team Scary Mommy endorses all comfort measures that do not injure/pose a danger to other human beings or yourself. And comfort eating? Your mental health is more important than a few pounds.

Stop joking about social distancing from the fridge. Stop telling women to wear their bikini all day. Stop using the pandemic to fat-shame. Because when you do that, the only one looking ugly is you.

The post No, You Don’t Need To ‘Socially-Distance’ From Your Fridge appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Middle School Boys Body-Shamed Me More Than The Girls Ever Did

When I was at the height of puberty, the popular girls I was friends with at school decided to have a “spa weekend” sleepover. We brought bathing suits for the pool, razors and Nair to remove every inch of our body hair, and self-tanner to get our glow on. I had just gone bleach blonde and was feeling awesome about myself, even if I hated how I looked in a bikini.

As we lathered up the self-tan lotion, eradicated all of the peach fuzz from our legs and self-consciously compared each other’s bodies in the mirror, I couldn’t help but feel like I belonged to a group of peers who were so much cooler than the rest of my peers. All of these girls seemed to like me, and my self-esteem soared that weekend.

We had solemnly promised to wear sleeveless shirts and shorts to school on Monday to show off our newly smooth and tan limbs. When I got home from the sleepover, I noticed that my mom had a bottle of Neutrogena “Deep Glow” self-tanning lotion in our bathroom that seemed to be calling my name. I grabbed it and voraciously plastered the orange goo over my body to make myself even tanner. As I fantasized about how awesome I’d look as a sun-kissed babe, I failed to notice that my hair had turned a slight shade of green from being overly chlorinated in the pool.

In hindsight, I totally should have stayed home from school that week. But I didn’t. Because I desperately wanted everyone to see my societally approved body alongside the popular girls who had befriended me. While I was definitely a thin kid, these young ladies always appeared to be thinner than me, especially when puberty rolled around. I wanted whatever they had going on, and I went to great lengths to look exactly like them.

I remember walking down the locker-filled halls with an ear-to-ear smile, even though I kept getting strange looks from random classmates. To my great disappointment, I walked into my class and saw that none of my friends had kept their promise. I was the only one there with shorts and a tee-shirt on, and I immediately felt a wave of embarrassment as I found my seat.

Then lunchtime rolled around, and life as I knew it would never be the same.

I heard the loud chanting as soon as I entered the dining hall. A bunch of the most popular boys in my grade seemed to be playing some funny game at one of the tables. They all had dinner rolls and orange Snapple cans in their hands, and they were laughing up a storm while they belted out the words I wish I’d never heard. As I curiously walked closer to get an earful of what they were singing, my eyes welled up with tears. These middle school boys were taking the “Oompa Loompa” song from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and adding my name into it. Worst of all, they made faces to imply that I was fat as they sang the body-shaming anthem.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been made fun of, but it was definitely the most hurtful. I’d already been called a “grandma” in fourth grade because I liked to go sock-less in penny loafers and don vintage shirts. As a kid, I thought that what I wore would be the only source of appearance-based ridicule I’d encounter, but that assumption was painfully shattered after I got my period and started developing.

As soon as I entered middle school, I was told by some random 14-year-old guy that the reason no boys liked me was because I had a fat butt. My seventh-grade boyfriend called me “wide load” behind my back after I broke up with him. And my all-time biggest crush in the whole wide world laughed in my face and loudly said me I was a “tubby bitch” when I disagreed with something he said in class.

It bears repeating that I was told all of these hurtful things while living in a body that the world considered skinny. Sure, my hips had widened a bit, boobs had appeared for the first time on my chest, and there were new stretch marks cascading across the sides of my legs from the recent changes of puberty. I’ve also always had a little junk in my trunk, but that never seemed to be a problem until the male classmates at my school made it one. By the end of seventh grade, I got the message loud and clear – boys hated my body, I was much too big in all the wrong places, and nature was trying to punish me.

Maybe if this had been the only type of bullying I’d encountered, I might not have struggled so damn hard with my self-esteem. But life at home made things infinitely worse. I was a child who endured physical and mental abuse and was verbally bashed on many occasions for physically evolving. Comments were regularly made about parts of my body that left me riddled with self-hate. I learned quickly that the only way to be truly lovable was if I conformed, became scarily skinny, and pretended I was okay all of the time. And yet, despite successfully doing all of that shit, I still encountered cruelty from the boys at my school.

I had already spent years watching movies and television shows that had me blindly believing that mean girls were the enemies to fear, and their sole purpose was to make your life a living hell. When the boys unexpectedly became the real threat to my body image and the heartbreaking reality didn’t match up with the skewed media messages I had been inundated with, I just chalked it all up as the product of my own failure to get it right as a girl.

From that shame-based place, I started obsessively monitoring my food intake and ultimately dove headfirst into a diet pill addiction and an eating disorder. Body dysmorphia also became an insidious struggle in my daily life. I went to dangerous lengths to recreate images of the skinny models I saw in magazines, but I never felt thin enough, pretty enough, or good enough.

Thirteen-year-old Lindsay didn’t deserve any of this. She deserved to feel inherent worth no matter how much her body changed and to spend her days not totally hating herself for existing. I wish I could go back in time, give that little kid a big bear hug, and assure her that she was never the problem. It’s been 23 years since I was body-shamed by middle school boys, and I finally understand now that society – and not me – was the problem all along.

Here’s the information that my seventh-grade health teachers should have included in their curriculum, but sadly didn’t. On average, a girl can gain 40-50 pounds during puberty, and a boy can gain up to 60 pounds. Stretch marks, wider hips, and breasts of various sizes are natural fucking changes that many girls encounter when they get their period.

Astonishingly, many preteen children have already been overwhelmed by media imagery that idolizes thin bodies and unrealistic beauty ideals by the time they hit puberty. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 69% of elementary school-aged girls who read magazines say that the pictures influence their idea of a perfect body, and 47% report that the images they see make them want to lose weight.

We have got to start teaching our children, no matter their gender, how damaging appearance-based bullying can be. Teasing an adolescent about the size of her butt or the width of her hips can have grave consequences when combined with the toxic diet culture that pervades our society. Boys need to be held accountable as much, if not more, than girls and taught to value and respect people of all sizes. The moment we realize how damaging and destructive it is to incorrectly teach our kids that their worth exists outside of them is the very moment we can help them discover that it’s been living inside of them since the day they were born.

I’m a mother now to a four-year-old girl, and I am doing everything in my power to ensure that she will always feel at home in her body. It begins with giving myself the love that I lacked for way too many years and mourning all of the times when my inner light was dimmed because a bunch of boys thought that it was okay to shame a girl for taking up space however she did.

As painful (and a little funny) as it is to know that I’ll never go near self-tanner again after being traumatized by the experience, it’s also empowering as fuck to know that I never needed it in the first place. Younger Lindsay was awesome all on her own, and the boys were so fucking wrong about her body.

The post Middle School Boys Body-Shamed Me More Than The Girls Ever Did appeared first on Scary Mommy.