NO OFFENSE, MOM, BUT WHY ARE YOU CHUBBY?

"No offense, Mom...." she began.

For weeks, she had been begging me to take her running with me. But, with a 4:30am wake up time during the weekdays in order to get a workout in before our morning commute, I simply could not invite her along in good conscience.

But, today was Sunday. And, the wake up call was 6:30am. 

The night before, she laid out her running clothes -- a pair of athletic pants, a short sleeve shirt, and a warm sweatshirt. Her matching headband was dangling off the round knob of her dresser. 

She grabbed her music player and put on her big, pink headphones. She listened to "Hamilton" on repeat. We walked and ran together, alone in our own world of musicals and podcasts. 

We were about two laps into our workout when she peeled back one side of her headphones. 

"No offense, Mom. I mean, really, I'm not trying to be offensive. But, how come you work out so much and are... still... you know... I guess you'd maybe call it .... chubby?"

I assured her I wasn't offended.

Twenty-five years ago, I would have broken down into tears. Twenty-five years ago, this was all I ever thought about. 

Most of my life, starting at an age younger than my daughter, who, not offensively, asked me the question, I have been obsessed with my body. I remember, at the age of 6, being on my first "diet." By 10, I had already convinced my mom to buy me Jane Fonda and Gilad aerobics tapes. By 11, I was running up the street to the local track where I would repeat lap after lap after lap. By 13, I was consciously restricting my eating. By 16, I had developed problematic behaviors that I had learned from a friend. By college, I made up for nights of drinking, french fries and pizza by smoking to suppress my appetite during the day. By graduate school, I had experimented with weight loss drugs that made my heart race out of my chest and made my hands twitch uncontrollably in class.

But, by my mid-twenties, I was pregnant with my first child.

I was terrified about getting pregnant while, all the while, doing whatever I could to figure out why my body was having so much trouble getting pregnant. 

I worried about how my body would change. I worried about losing my tight abdomen, a result of running 3-5 miles a day. I worried that I would never be the same. 

And, I wasn't. 

My body held on to the weight after I delivered the baby. 

But, my body wasn't the only thing that had changed.

Frankly, I stopped obsessing about my body. I, for the first, time, realized that my body was actually a miraculous thing -- something that didn't just burn calories and build muscle; my body could make something. My body could grow, nurture, and later feed an infant. 

Thirteen years ago, I let go of "my body as thing" and turned to "my body as beautiful." 

I have never been the same weight as I was pre-baby. And, that's been okay for me. 

My daughter and I spent the next lap talking about body image. I told her that, for years, I didn't like my body. I didn't like how it looked. I didn't like how it felt. I didn't like how it fit. But, I realized that so many of those messages were fed to me from media, from magazines, and yes, even from family. I told her that relatives used to say, "Oh, Liza, you've gotten so fat!" instead of "Oh, Liza, how are you? Nice to see you!" I told her that people in my extended family were always talking about dieting, while they crunched on white rice and lechon and chicharon. I told her that my life was filled with mixed messages about who I was and what I was worth.

"Yes, I am chubby," I told her. "And, no, that's not offensive to me, anymore." I explained that there were other indicators, beyond the size of my body, that signaled I am healthy: my blood pressure is just right; I don't have any problems with blood sugar levels; my cholesterol is perfect. I get enough sleep. I eat healthy foods. 

I shared that I had spent lots of years restricting what I ate, thinking that being thin would make me happy. But, instead, it only made me grumpy and even more obsessed with what I looked like.  I told her that I used to wear baggy clothing and hide my body, even though I was trying to make it perfect. That's why, now, I wear beautiful dresses and bright colors -- I want to draw attention to my body size and shape and be proud of it instead of hide it. I wear bold stripes and patterns. Dresses that hit just above my knees. And, I'm not ashamed of my wiggly arms or my pouchy tummy. 

And, I'm happy. 

I shared that bodies come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Some of it we can control; some of it we can't. Sometimes, we just need to know that lots of types exist (check out this amazing woman named Jessamyn Stanley). 

It was almost our last lap. She asked me, "Mom, what do you think my body looks like? Do you think I'm thin? Do you think I'm athletic? " I simply responded, "What do you like that your body does?"

A smile crossed her face. 

We have the same smile.

"I like that it's going to..... beat you to the next light post!"

And, she ran. 

She turned back around, surprised that I was just two steps behind her. She began to raise her hands up in a sign of victory. 

Instead, she reached out and grabbed my own.

"Thanks, Mom." 

Peace and love, 

Liza

Weighty Goals

Yes, it's just after January 1st. Yes, I have embarked on another list of resolutions rebellions. I have to admit. There is a bit of a public vs private message here. On my blogs and in my status updates, I write about body acceptance and loving oneself. In my mind - not written down - I promise myself that this is the year I'll lose weight. Just a little. Okay, a lot.

It's the struggle, I believe, of being a body-positive feminist and being the product of a system that has, since I was born, told me I needed to be slim, thin, and attractive.

I started dieting when I was six years old. I don't remember who told me, but someone said to me that I had a big butt. I remember that person pointing out a picture of me where my butt curved out from my back.

I was six.

It didn't end there.

For as far back as I can remember, I have tried to be thin.

Now, as a practitioner in an elementary/middle school. I can admit this here - there were times when I told my mother I was too sick to go to school. She would leave for work with my dad. When I knew they were gone, I changed into workout clothing and spent the next three hours exercising. Jane Fonda and Gilad were my babysitters for those next few hours.

I skipped school -- learning, engagement -- so that I could be thin.

I was twelve.

I had battled negative thoughts about my body up until the time I was pregnant with my first child. That was the turning point. I saw the power of my body as being more than just a shell. It had become a miracle. It had made life. It was capable of more than just leg lifts and pushups.

But, I became pregnant when I was twenty-seven years old. I had spent 21 of those years believing my body was not enough. I spent 21 of those years believing that my body was something to constantly change -- a goal for which to strive.

And, here again, in January 2016, I started to think about all the ways I wanted to get healthy change my body.

The other day, I caught this Melissa Harris-Perry segment where she commits her letter of the week to Oprah Winfrey. We all know that Oprah Winfrey has had a public journey with her weight. Back when she lots tons of weight in the 1990s, I bought her audio cassette and listened to it on repeat while running on the track. So, not only do I know her journey well, it inspired me to want to change my own body.

But, listening to Melissa Harris-Perry changed me today. As Oprah starts her video with "Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be," I know what that's like. I know what it's like to wonder if the woman on the inside matches the woman on the outside. I know what it's like to wonder if people perceive body size as an indicator of who you are and what you have done.

As I start my busy travel season, I'm already having thoughts of "What should I wear?" or "Will those people think I'm too fat to be smart?" Will they think to themselves, "She's the person we paid all this money to come and talk to us?" I'm not joking. I actually think that shit.

But, MHP reminds Oprah that "Oprah, you are already are the woman so many want to be."

There is nothing Oprah would have done better with a size 25 waist. And, though I have, indeed, gained weight over the past few years, I have also accomplished more in this world than I ever dreamed of attempting.

I know that my contributions to eradicating racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and inequity in our communities, classrooms, and hearts could be done at any weight and body size.

I know that my research and scholarship and (so close to achieving) earning my doctorate were not dependent on whether I was a size 6 or a size 16. I wrote a badass dissertation, and it wouldn't have turned out better if I was 50 lbs lighter.

I know that my writing, blogging and consulting that have comforted women, men, children and families who are facing cancer were not affected by my weight gain in the past year.

I know that my continued learning about the lives of others, and working towards allying with people, were not hindered by my size 16 pants or my XL shirt size.

I know that my strength to call out microaggressions both in my life and wherever I go do not diminish when the scale goes up.

I know that my work at the national level providing leadership in communities that I care deeply about are not affected by my dress size.

I also know that the effects of racism can kill me. I know that the stress of working in justice can increase my blood pressure. I know that the time consuming acts of traveling to different schools, flying, driving, and crossing over time zones takes a toll on my body. Because of this, I certainly will not let racism take hold of my health. I will strengthen my body and mind in order to fight the daily fight that I have been called to do.

But, my weight? Nah. I have already achieved more weighty goals in my life than I ever imagined that I  -- a single person -- was capable of doing.

My weighty goals -- those of love, compassion, justice, humanity, intelligence, education -- those are driven not by my waist, but my belief that there isn't time to waste.

Peace, love and achieving who we are meant to be,

Liza

On Growing Up

Who the heck is that girl? Who IS that?? photo(4)

First off, I can't tell you how many imaginary vodka tonics I had to down before building up the courage to post my high school senior picture. Yeah, I thought I was the shit back then. And, oddly enough, my hair actually does still look kind of the same (sans the spiral perm, of course). Major differences? Well, gee, let's see. I suppose we can start with the couple of tens of pounds I've gained since I was 17 years old. (side note freak out: I am just realizing that was 17 years ago!!) Someone, pass another bottle of Sky, please?

Why imaginary vodka tonics? Well, as such things have evolved, and thanks to a pretty immature and early tango with alcohol, I no longer choose to drink much anymore. Could be all the alcohol I dumped into my body in a brief amount of years -- back when I definitely wasn't mature enough to handle it -- and a few too many alcohol related regrets. Drinks, now, pretty much consist of a sip from Jorge's glass of wine a few times a month or an occasional drink at a reception.

But, I digress....

Coming up soon, I'm going to be reliving a major part of my high school experience. Think, "Glee" but with sparkly magenta dresses, Aqua Net hair styles, blue eyeshadow, and more jazz hands. Where the brown kids (the 3 of us in the entire choir) had to endure wearing "nude colored uniform nylons" which made the white girls look cute but made dark girls look like chocolate lollipops on little white sticks. Yes, fans, I was in Show Choir. And, I loved it. Like crack, if we had crack in the suburbs. I loved performing, dancing, singing, and warming up as if we were running the NYC marathon. I recall hitting the track - on my own time - so that I could build my stamina for a brief 15 minutes of singing and dancing. Uh-huh.

While there are key things I loved about high school -- orchestra, show choir, some of my classes, music competitions -- I don't often look back fondly on those years. Now, as a 34 year old, mother of 3, survivor of a billion medical obstacles, and educator, I sometimes feel embarrassed for my 17 year old self. I was immature, annoying, and insecure. And, like any kid struggling with those issues, I was often mean, petty, catty, gossipy, controlling, and obnoxious. I didn't know how to be comfortable in my own skin, and so I didn't know how to connect with people who did. In an effort not to show anyone that I felt like I was worthless, I tried to over compensate by putting other people down and not giving room for other kids to thrive. In the kindest terms, I was 'not nice.'

College didn't get much better for me. On one hand, I knew I wasn't mature enough to be on my own and ended up commuting to a local college my first year. That was definitely a good idea as it forced me to be somewhat a college student, but still enabled allowed me to live in this high school/dependent world. But, seeing all of my friends leave our hometown and have amazing stories to tell about their college experiences only made me feel more insecure. I turned to alcohol. I was desperate to find ways to connect to people. I took a lot of the anxiety out on myself and made far too many unhealthy choices. When sophomore year rolled around, I did feel ready to leave the nest (from a safe distance of only 1 hour and 15 minutes away). I felt myself growing up a little bit more, but still made lots of bad choices.

As a college administrator now, I am always so in awe of my students who really put themselves out there and who demonstrate such maturity. I look at some of them and can't see myself in them at all. I have students who have studied abroad, who spend more time volunteering in the community than sitting in classes each week, and who know exactly what they want to do with their lives. I work with students who are in college for the sole purpose of creating a better life for their families. I meet with students who possess such a deep level of maturity, of sense-of-self, and of purpose.

Yet, it's the student who isn't quite sure what to do, or who is struggling, or who is socially awkward that I'm drawn to the most. I see myself in them. I see the same panic in their eyes that I had. I see the same tenseness in their bodies, the same timidness about their futures. But, this time, I hear the comments that others make about them. I hear the subtle groans that others make when these kids talk or act. And, I can't help but accept that others had noticed my own awkwardness when I was in college.

Honestly, I can point to the exact time in my life when I finally let go of my insecurities, my awkwardness, and my self-doubt. I was 29. I had just been told that my daughter had cancer. People sometimes look at me funny when I say that "I'm thankful for Joli's illness" but, it's so true. It forced me to be genuine. I grew up. From that point on, I never tried to be anything other than what I could be. I gave up my obsession with being the most "perfect" person -- popular, thin, brilliant, a size 6, wildly charismatic, effortlessly funny, etc. I finally accepted being just me. And, Me was the only thing I could offer my child. ME was the only thing I could offer myself. I gave up wanting to try so hard to be the best mother, sister, daughter, wife, worker, and just allowed myself to accept the kind of ME that I am. Heh, the funny thing is, that once I gave up trying to be all those things, I started on the path towards being all of those things.

Sound like complacency? I guess it is, sort of. But, I have found great peace in not wanting to "keep up with the Joneses" anymore. I have no desire to out-do anyone, to belittle anyone to lift myself up, nor to be anything but the authentic me. I stopped trying to have the best clothes, the best car, and all that goes with upward status mobility. Yes, that authentic me is way fatter than my 17-year old self. But, the authentic me is also a hell of a lot happier.

I've been through hell and back. And, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna get sent back-and-forth a few more times. That's okay with me.

So, why the anxiety about going back to high school this weekend? First, I don't think I've ever made peace with my 17-year old self. I think I'm still angry at her. Angry that, when I was 17, I didn't think enough of myself to just love who I was. Angry that I relied on other people and other means to define who I was. Angry that I likely made some people feel horrible so that I could feel better about myself.

I think I need to take some cues from my high school, though. I'm going back to that school for the first time in 17 years. And, I hear it's gone under lots of renovation and rebuilding. In a notice I received about the weekend, one of the organizers wrote, "Wait until you see the new auditorium!" Healthy dose of symbolism, anyone?

I'm a different person from the girl I was 17 years ago. Half my lifetime ago. Here's hoping that I can come to peace with who I was, where I have traveled, and who I am today. I'm sure I'll have to take a deep breath, sit in my car a minute, and brace myself for the insecurity that's gonna overtake me when I walk into that gym. And, in those moments, I hope to put my arms around those 17-year old thoughts and say, "You did your best. It's who you were. It's who you had to be." Then, I plan on walking into that gym, dancing my much softer/wider/jiggly body that was home to 3 absolutely beautiful babies, singing with happiness, and give thanks for all that my 17-year old self had to overcome in order for me to be who I am today.

To loosen that...

Raising a Body Positive Girl

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with my weight. I can't remember the color of my first backpack, can't really remember what type of bedsheets I had when I was little, and I can't remember what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. But, I can remember exactly what my first bathroom scale looked like. Actually it wasn't mine. It was the bathroom scale in my parent's room. The scale was oval, dark brown, and had large black numbers in the transparent screen at the top. It had a textured top, too - kind of like little triangles scattered in a geometric pattern. At every chance I could get, I used to sneak into my parent's bathroom and step on the scale.

Weight was always an issue in my family. Not sure if it was cultural or just something that occured in my own extended family, but the phrase "Hello! My, you look so fat!" was the said in place of "Hello! How are you?" Everyone commented on how fat someone had gotten.

I know I was a pudgy kid. For a little Asian girl, I had a butt that protruded out. Standing up straight, the natural arch in my back accentuated my 6-year old bum more than any other kid I knew. And, because I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, went to an all-white school, every other kid I saw had a stick straight figure. I stood out in lots of ways.

I went on my first "diet" at age 11. By the time I was 13, I started skipping school (sorry, Mom and Dad!) just so that I could spend the day working out. But, I always did indoor aerobics so that none of the neighbors saw me running around the block and call my parents. By the time I was 16, I was doing 300 sit ups every morning. But, it was when I was 18 that my obsession with weight hit an all time high. I counted every calorie that went into my body, and every calorie that was burned off. Four years of college, and being surrounded by wealthy, skinny classmates didn't make it any easier. I did this all while writing my Honor's Thesis on "Eating Disorders." How ironic.

I knew I wanted to be a young mom, but I feared being pregnant. My husband and I talked about what it would mean for my body to change, for my stomach to get bigger and, more importantly to me, for the numbers on the scale to get higher and higher. Through some preventative measures, I ended up being just fine with the weight gain. And, for the first time in my life, I embraced my growing body.

Being pregnant, seeing the beauty that grew inside my body, was very healing for me. I gave birth to the most beautiful and precious little girl. And, on the day she was born, I looked her in the eyes and promised that "weight" would never be something that I taught her to fear. Who would have known that, two years later, those same eyes would betray her with cancer.

For years, I fought having a scale in our bathroom. But, with additional pregnancies, I wanted to make sure I was gaining a healthy amount of weight. Six months after the birth of my son, the scale is still in there.

The other day, I stepped onto the scale just as my daughter walked in the door. "Oh, Mommy! I want to weigh myself too!" I froze. I didn't want her to weigh herself. At 6-years old, she is at the same age as when I started my first diet. My daughter is built similar to me. She has a little bottom that arches out. She also has legs that are twice as long as her body, and she is in the 90% percentile for her height. "50 pounds" said the scale. How do I react? Do I say "Ooh! Cool! 50 pounds!"?? Do I say "Yes, 50 pounds."? Or do I not say anything at all. As I thought of repercussions of each statement, I realized the growing silence was also sending a message. "50 pounds, Mommy! Is that good?"

Is. That. Good.

Those words hung in the air. I began to feel my tears come to the surface. I wanted to say, "it is what it is", but she wouldn't have understood that. Instead, I heard the words, "50 pounds. 5-0 is fifty. Okay, let's go get dressed," and I took her out of the bathroom.

How do we do this? How do we raise body positive kids? I wasn't one. I'm still not one. I'm in my 30s, and while weight is something I've grown to embrace, it's hard to shake the 20+ years of being cruel to my body. And, more importantly, cruel to my mind.

How do I teach my girls to embrace their bodies? How do I teach them that their body structure - as  a reflection of their culture - may be different from others? How do we teach children to loosen their interpretations of what is acceptable, what is beautiful, and what is criticized?

Yes, I'm fat.

Hat tip to Carmen VanKerckhove (via Twitter) who got me thinking about fatploitation. I'm fat. I'm fat. I know it. Feel free to hum the tune of your favorite Weird Al song, but I'm serious (and, I apologize if that tune is now stuck in your head!). I'm fat. I could blame it as battle wounds of my three children and my 50 hour a week job. I could say that I'm fat because of some deep embedded belief that I actually *like* being fat, and therefore that is why I am fat. I'm sure my former therapist was trying to unravel the reasons why I subconsciously think that fat will protect a more vulnerable part of my psyche that I subconsciously wish to keep hidden. Being fat - and coming to terms that I have always thought of myself as fat - is a daily struggle.

While I'm proud of my body and what it has done, I am still embarrassed to show it. One out of every 500 pictures might have one of me in it -- and none of them have my entire body. My Facebook profile has either a carefully cropped version of the side of my face, or I am strategically placing all three of my children in front of me to "create this illusion that I am thin." (note to self: when you can fit THREE children in front of you and STILL see your body, you are not creating any illusion....)

The truth is.. food is yummy; And, I eat more than I burn off. Before I had children, I used to run 3-5 miles a day (2.5 miles before breakfast; 2-3 miles after dinner). Now, I feel productive if I can do 3-5 loads of laundry a week. As newlyweds, my husband and I used to spend evenings making dinner. Now, dinner with three grumpy and tired children, a work-induced headache, and a barking dog begging for attention, dinner preparation consists of opening a box and boiling water. When there was only two of us, our salaries went to paying for rent in a safe neighborhood where we could walk for miles around a well-groomed suburban block. Now, our salaries are stretched thin to support our family, and we live in an area right off of a very busy street and major highway.

Exercise is a luxury; and I get very little of it. All my great girlfriends and Mommy friends will, no doubt, come to my emotional rescue and say, "Taking care of 3 children IS exercise -- laundry, dishes, daily vacuuming, picking up clothes, lifting bags of groceries, walking the dog, lifting children into car seats, etc." I love them for it.

I am always on my own case for being fat - though, not necessarily for padded emotional reasons. Rather, I saw my own child face mortality. My friends have died from cancer. My sister battled cancer at a very young age. For them, their illnesses weren't their choices. For me, to some extent, being fat has been a choice. So, how could I betray them? How could I take my own health for granted by choice when they faced each day praying for their health?

Picture 2

But, regardless of the 101 reasons why I am fat, I have come to accept that I Am Fat. And, while I'm still not brave enough to post my exact weight nor my exact size, I don't apologize for being fat. I am pleasantly surprised at each physical that - despite my weight on the scale - I have a healthy cholesterol, excellent blood pressure, normal blood sugar processing, and a pretty uneventful first 10 minutes of my doctor's appointment. Then, I get on the scale. The nursing assistants are always very kind - putting that big weighted bar at least 1-notch too light. "Uh, yeah, you're gonna want to move that over 1-more-notch," I say unapologetically.

Picture 3I've been awake quite a bit more during the night, and have been catching some interesting television shows lately. To my pleasure, I've caught on to a number of shows that I say have very "body positive" characters, themes, and messages. Drop Dead Diva has been a favorite in my house - and even my brother-in-law admits to looking forward to watching it. I almost dismissed the show, being mildly turned off by the idea that some skinny blond model has been "horrifically trapped" in a size 16 (gasp!) body. Barf, I thought. Another "I can't believe I'm a fat girl!" theme. But, DDD turned out to have an excellent writing staff and a very body positive message. Not to mention, my girl, Margaret Cho is on there. And, she's not being all crazy and weird, either she rocks.

Then, I caught "Dance Your Ass Off". WTH?? What is this thing? So, it's fat people Picture 4dancing? I admit, I watched it out of sheer curiousity, but ended up feeling both inspired and moved! Here was a group of fat contestants who were HOLDIN' IT DOWN!! Damn, these people can dance!! Do they cha-cha and high kick like those on "So You Think You Can Dance" or "America's Best Dance Crew"? No. Not at all. But they work with their bodies, and they seem comfortable in their bodies. And, while the show is about them losing weight, it's also about showcasing their talent and the ways they appreciate movement and style.

What about shows like "The Biggest Loser" or "More To Love?" Well, I've watched a few episodes of The Biggest Loser and definitely like it, but I also accept that the contestants have to undergo such major changes in their lives, with the goal of being skinny and healthy (physically and emotionally). I don't follow it closely, but I certainly do like seeing the changes people go through as a result of their hard work. "More To Love"? I don't really watch these reality dating shows, anyway, so I'm a bit more skeptical that MTL embraces the diversity within the body positive community. I'm told, as with all the dating reality shows, that the interest is more in the personalities in wide spectrum as opposed to being very body positive. But, in their defense, I think it's about time that the media shows that people of all sizes are looking for similar comforts of love, happiness, and togetherness.

Seeing someone with a body like mine represented in media is as exciting as when I see someone of Asian heritage in a mainstream role. I think the conversation around obesity, childhood diabetes, unequal access to healthy and affordable foods in underresourced communities, and the decline of exercise is a very serious one. I realize I have the privilege of sending my children to a school that continues to promote physical education and exercise. I accept that I have the privilege of only needing to work one job and being home at a time when I can encourage movement vs television. I own that not everyone has those privileges. And, for me, my focus here isn't about these institutionalized injustices. Rather, it's about seeing people like me have a public voice and about actually being seen and heard.

Yes, I'm fat. And, seeing other fat people on television and mainstream media who are living the same lives, expressing the same interests, and experiencing the same journeys is refreshing. I hope we continue to move in this direction where these mediums are not used to exploit nor mock others. Rather, I am optimistic that we are becoming a society that is starting to give voice -- a normal voice -- to people who make up the very fabric of our every day lives. Yes, I'm fat. And my fat life is life filled with compassion, care, confidence, and courage. And, yes, the occasional ice cream.

Coming soon!: The ways in which body image, race, and anti-racist parenting intersect.