Colorado school system wants to rewrite history

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While I was off in Europe, something really disturbing was happening here in my own backyard.  Special thanks to my friend Kelly for writing about this and thus bringing it to my attention – it’s really important that this be discussed.

Jefferson County schools in Colorado – a school system that serves parts of the metro Denver area- has a board member who is proposing that the school censure and carefully frame how history is presented to students.

The proposal states:

Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.

So let’s break this down.  How I read this, and how I think it’s meant, is that we need to reframe our history in a positive light, and leave out any of the more negative aspects.

Particularly any sort of civil rights movements – this proposal seems to be to be proposing to completely erase whole racial groups and their struggles.  From the Trail of Tears to the horrors of slavery to the Civil Rights movement of the 60s to the first and second waves of feminism to the current fight for LGBT rights and the continued efforts toward women’s rights – all of these things should be either ignored, or whitewashed (literally!) beyond recognition, all for the sake of ignoring the more problematic parts of our history.

She’s backtracking a bit now, even at one point admitting that she’s not particularly familiar with the curriculum, which is even more frightening.  But even her “let’s not encourage children to disobey the law” rationalization is total bunk – because people should absolutely disobey the laws, if the laws are wrong, harmful, discriminatory, or misguided.  People should stand up and protest – as peacefully as possible – when a proposal is being made the sounds like it is not in the best interest of the people it is meant to serve.

JeffCo students staged peaceful walk-outs several days in a row.  I’m proud of these students.  Incredibly, heart-swellingly proud.  Not just because they’re standing up for themselves and calling out the school board proposal for exactly what it is, but because they’re demonstrating something very important, something that they likely learned from our recent history – that these kinds of protests are necessary to bring about change, and to make sure the voice of the underrepresented are clearly heard.

I’m not a big fan of obeying authority for authority’s sake, nor am I a big fan of reframing our country’s history to be positive and celebratory.  There are things about this country that I love, but it has had some really dark, shameful moments, and it’s important to talk about these things.  And it has had moments of social strife that have inevitably resulted in positive change, and it’s important to talk about these things.  And it is still far from perfect – racism, sexism, and classism are still alive and well, and although certain aspects of these things are technically illegal, they continue to operate within our culture in very big ways.

We need to talk about all of it, the good and the bad, the celebratory and the shameful.  Because if there’s one thing I do believe, it’s that adage that people who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.

The only rewriting of U.S. history that I personally condone is rewriting it to account for the voices of minorities and women whose voices and experiences are often subsumed or glossed over.  And while we’re at it, let’s do the same in American Lit – get those minority and female writers in there.  We have plenty, and we need to weave them into the curriculum like they are – gasp! – a part of our country’s literary and historical heritage.

Raising money for a good cause!

Greetings from London!  I’m having a great time here, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about something that’s on my mind back in the states.

My good friend Tricia is the mother of fourteen year old twin girls, and her friends are trying to help her raise money for them to be able to be on the varsity cheerleading team.  They did a lot of work to get ready for try outs, and both girls made it!

Here’s the problem, though – for both girls, fees and uniforms will cost $840, or else they can’t cheer with the team.  Tricia is a single mother who is receiving only sporadic support from the girls’ father.  She wants desperately to be able to make this happen for her daughters, but she can’t do it alone.

Tricia is an amazing person – someone I truly admire for her positive attitude despite whatever negative situation she’s facing, her self-sacrificing nature, and her seemingly uncrushable sense of humor, which allows her to laugh at situations that would make most people cry. Everything she does, she does with her twins in mind.  She’s an extremely devoted and engaged mother who will do anything she has to do to make sure her kids have a better chance than she did.

And I have to commend her for all her hard work, because it’s definitely paid off – her girls are hardworking, considerate, intelligent, love school, have ambitions, love their mother, and are generally just enthusiastic and engaged kids.

Not just that – but these girls are also self-sacrificing.  In the six years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her girls pout, cry, get angry, or throw a fit when Tricia has to tell them know.  Instead, they tend to be the ones reassuring her that they understand that she sometimes can’t afford things, and that it’s okay.

I think that these two amazing kids and their mother deserve a bit of good karma.  I can’t think of anyone I know who deserves a break more than this family.

If you can spare even just a few dollars, please consider donating to the twins’ uniform fund. 

Cheerleading is a rigorous sport that requires a lot of physical stamina and focus, as well as a huge time commitment, while still maintaining good grades.  I honestly believe these girls can do both and excel at each, and I honestly believe it will enhance and benefit their lives in many ways.

Please, internets, help my friend out.  Even $10 would help.  Anything you can spare (provided you’ve met your own needs first.)

If you’ve read this far, thank you over and over.  If you can’t spare any money, perhaps you’ll be willing to send some good vibes their way…CM.

Possible hiatus?

Just so everyone knows, I’m traveling for the next two weeks.  I will have internet access, but given my recent depression and the fact that I’ll be having to do a lot of walking with an energy level that’s lower than normal, I don’t know how much energy I’ll have to be blogging.  I’ll try – I’ll be in London, which is an amazing city, one of my favorite places on earth, and Edinburgh, which is another really interesting city, and beautiful…especially in the rain.  I have a picture, somewhere, of Edinburgh Castle in the rain that I took during one of my previous trips.

This is actually my third trip to the UK.  It’s been 14 years since the last time I was there.

I want to update and share pics.  I intend to.  But if I don’t…I’ll be back in early October.

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So here’s a link to somewhat misguided (in my opinion) blog from The Guardian entitled, “Do you know what too fat looks like?”

In it, the author says that because more and more people are overweight or obese (using clinical terms b/c that’s what the author used), the stigma they face “must surely die away.”  And you’d think so, but actually, it’s not dying away at all.  More and more fat/size acceptance advocates are speaking up and calling our culture out on fat phobia, sizeism, etc., and that’s awesome.  But dying away?  Not quite yet.  Sizeism is still very much alive and well in our culture (and the author’s culture as well.)

The author then goes on to describe a study that showed that African American women in the U.S. have a different perception of what an overweight body looks like than medical doctors.  They used the following scale in their study:

 

 

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Turns out, the African American women surveyed identified images 8 and 9 as obese and the weight of those images as possibly unhealthy, which, according to our author, is a negative thing.

Spoiler:  According to researchers, images 2, 3, and 4 are the normal/acceptable images.  1 is underweight, 5-9 are overweight or obese.

Personally, I think white culture here and abroad can learn a lot from African American culture as far as being more accepting of different body types – I’ve read multiple studies which discuss how African Americans are more accepting of larger body types, more dismissive of standards of thinness, and very aware that beauty standards are inherently racist.  I count all of those things as positives.

The author goes on to quote one of the study’s researchers, who basically says that because African American women have a different standard of what is overweight/obese than the medical profession does, simply being told by a doctor that they’re overweight may not be enough to motivate them to lose weight.

To this I say – good for those women, because the medical profession is rife with its own weight biases and is in desperate need of an attitude overhaul and some new measurements and standards when it comes to how to work with fat patients.

Then this paragraph in particular bothered me:

“When most people around us are overweight or obese, it’s hardly surprising that we no longer notice it. Fat has begun to look normal. In one sense, that’s great – the stigma that overweight people have suffered in the past because of the way they look must surely die away. But it’s a dangerous road. If we don’t know we are overweight, we may be at risk of sleepwalking into crumbling joints, heart problems and diabetes.”

Emphasis mine – because I’m reading this as, While it’s good that stigma is dying, it’s also bad because health.  If fat people see bodies like their in images and in society, they might start to think it’s okay to be fat and then we’ll all get sick and die!

This is called fear-arousing communication, and it’s a powerful rhetorical strategy that basically aims to persuade people do to what you want them to do by scaring the ever-living shit out of them.  This sort of fear appeal contributes to stigma, because now everyone is putting themselves at risk and it’s an epidemic and WILL SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN and OMG FAT PEOPLE DRIVE UP HEALTHCARE COSTS WITH ALL THEIR FAT PEOPLE DISEASES and THEY’RE GROSS ANYWAY BECAUSE FAT IS ICKY AND UGLY AND THEY’RE ALSO DISEASED AND EW, FAT PEOPLE!  See how that works?  <– (Sadly, this is not entirely sarcastic, nor an exaggeration.)

So since we clearly can’t have fat people walking around thinking that it’s okay to be fat, the blog author comes to this conclusion:  “The researchers suggest that health messages should be accompanied by pictures of what healthy and unhealthy weight actually looks like. It’s something we are all losing sight of.”

Pictures?  You want to show people pictures of fat people so that you can label their bodies as unhealthy?

WHAT?!

So let me break this down:  Because there’s so many fatties walking around, we’re all normalizing to fatness which means the weight stigma thing is going to die out, which is apparently underscored by African American women having more tolerance for body diversity and typically disagreeing with the medical profession, thus we need to accompany already stigmatizing public health messages with actual images to make sure we’re properly body shaming people into wanting to lose weight.

To me, sounds like an advertisement for stigma and body shaming.

I have a better idea.

Let’s stop making BMI the be-all, end-all of what is fat and what isn’t, because it’s not always reliable.

Let’s start encouraging the medical profession and health researchers to check their own biases and stereotypes when they’re talking about or dealing with or studying fat people.

Let’s stop thinking that body shaming is motivating, and start focusing on health over outward appearance.  Embracing Health At Every Size (HAES) is a good way to do that.

Let’s start understanding that body weight and indication of health are mistakenly conflated and need to be separated in public consciousness.  I’m walking proof of that – I’m only thin because I have a GI system that doesn’t work correctly.  When I was fat, I was actually healthier – I worked out more, I was physically stronger, I had more stamina, and I was way more active in general than I am now.

And for god’s sake, let’s just put to rest the notion that because more people are fat, fat stigma is dying out.  This is not a neatly polarized, thin vs. fat issue.  Having more fat people in the world is not making fat stigma go away – in fact, I think the “obesity epidemic” and all the concern-trolling and stigma that has grown out of public health campaigns shows that tolerance for fat bodies is not necessary increasing along with our collective waistlines.

Also, not all fat people are okay with being fat.  There are fat people who have internalized and end up perpetuating the stigma.

And there’s a thing called stereotype threat that even fat people who are okay with being fat have to deal with.

In short – let’s start treating fat people like human beings who matter and have a right to exist, let’s stop making assumptions about other people’s health, and let’s start embracing movements like HAES which focus on positivity rather than spend copious amounts of time and resources on negative messages.

I’m willing to bet that tolerance, acceptance, and positive motivation will get us a hell of a lot further as a society than negativity will.

 

 

How I’m handling depression v. 2.0

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So after the hellish bout of depression that I dealt with from fall of 2011 until summer of 2012, I decided that this time, I’d better be more proactive about asking for help.

It’s a bit easier, this time around…but I must remind everyone that asking for help is not always easy.  If you know someone who needs help and isn’t asking, please don’t blame them for not asking, or dismiss them by saying, “If you need help, ask.”  Neither of those reactions are helpful.

Anyway.  No one worry, I’m not alone, I’m not anywhere near as badly depressed as I was a few years ago, I’m simply recognizing that the feeling is back.  The mood is back.  I know that if I let it go, I’ll sink further into it.

It’s mainly the lethargy I hate.  The lack of motivation.  How it impedes my ability to write.  A big warning sign that something’s wrong in my life is when I stop writing, or write infrequently.  For some reason, it’s hard to think during a depressive mood.  I guess that’s why the call it depression – it suppresses your ability to focus, dampens your enthusiasm, and makes you feel tired all the time.  That’s how I feel, anyway – I’m tired a lot.  I don’t have a lot of energy.  No spare energy, that’s for sure.  One workday burns me out.

One of the things that felt *so* good after coming out of the first depressive episode in 2012 was the fact that when I got home from work, I still had energy.  I would write, I would read, and it was effortless.  I had the focus.

Now I’m pretty much forcing myself, because I know what’ll happen if I don’t.  So I’ve increased my reading lately, partially because it’s a low energy activity (well, low physical energy), and it stimulates the brain.

I also get free counseling through my employer, and I’m using it.  I have a coworker who’s great about getting me to walk at lunch, and she pushes me to keep moving when I don’t really want to.  I was doing a lot of photography the past few weekends, as you can see in my previous posts, and that’s been quite therapeutic.

I’m also preparing for a trip, which is occupying a lot of my time, and is something I am looking forward to.  Mostly.  It does feel a little overwhelming sometimes – travelling takes a level of energy that I’m not quite up to – but I’m going to keep pushing myself while I’m still able to.

Last time, I lost that ability.  So again…don’t blame people in your life who can’t snap out of it, or push themselves harder, or just keep trying, etc.  I’ve been at the point where I honestly couldn’t do those things, and that’s the only reason why I’m able to now – because I understand what’s happening this time.  Last time, it took me a while to understand and accept that I was depressed.  This time I get it, and I don’t feel ashamed of it, and I’m not in denial about it.

I’m owning up to it because I think it’s important to accept that things like depression happen to a lot of people for a lot of reasons, and to dispel some of the myths around it, like the fact that people just aren’t asking for help.  Sometimes they are, but you don’t hear it.  Sometimes they can’t, or don’t want to, and they shouldn’t be chastised for that.

Depression is also not weakness, it’s not giving up, and it’s not not due to a lack of character.  It doesn’t mean you can’t function – it can, but it doesn’t always.  It’s not for attention, it’s not just something that people can snap out of, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone.  Not all of us display sadness or cry a lot – some of us just appear tired and more muted.  So don’t judge and don’t preach and don’t make assumptions.  Those things don’t help.

What helps?  For me…people who try to keep me moving in ways that I’m capable of moving – like walks and photography.  People who say, “Hey, I hear you, and I’m here,” and just leave it at that.  That’s enough, a lot of the time, for me.  I don’t like it when people are too pushy, or try to get me to open up.

I’m lucky enough to have friends and coworkers who get that, so I’m counting myself as fortunate.  I’ve pushed through depression before, and I believe, at this point, that I can do it again.  The effort it takes at times feels monumental and overwhelming, and I have moments where I want to retreat and not do the work and just find a safe place where I feel good enough and can function, but I’m not letting myself stay there.  That’s really what people need to know – I’m trying.  It’s just that trying is a slow process.

Feelings & Photography

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I’ve got stuff going on in my life at the moment.  Stressful stuff.  Stuff that zaps my energy level.  And I feel that familiar slide happening – that slide into listlessness and lethargy that happened to me back in 2011.  I don’t want it to happen again.

This time, I’m trying to be proactive.  I am seeking therapy, but that only happens once a week.  That leaves me with a lot of waking hours to fill, hours where I need to be productive and learn and support others while trying to keep myself from sinking further down into a place that makes it hard to resurface.

Unfortunately, these sorts of mental states tend to render me incapable of writing anything of significance, so I throw myself into other outlets. Lately that’s been reading (more than usual), and photography.

I always read a lot, but I’ve been reading less social science stuff (with the exception of what I read for grad school) and instead indulging in comfort books.  They’re like comfort foods – books that you can lose yourself in for a little while, books that make you feel better.

But taking pictures is helping the most this time – photography has been the best buoy.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been indulging in it a lot more than usual.  I’m planning on getting up before sunrise tomorrow to do some more.  I enjoy doing it, but it also feels therapeutic.

It’s the birds, I think.

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Maybe the butterflies.

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Maybe just the process itself.  Watching, waiting.  Being patient.  Being present.

I don’t know, exactly.  I just know that it helps.  It keeps me floating.

This week in fat news…

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In case you haven’t heard, there’s fat shaming in the new Scooby Doo.  Also, apparently a size 8 is considered fat.  And their attempt to throw in a “looks don’t matter” moral at the end of the story?  Superficial at best…and certainly doesn’t undermine the idea that being fat is bad.

Short Q&A about some truths behind obesity research.

Interesting review of a book called Fat Gay Men, which I present without comment as I am neither a man or gay, and have not yet read the book.  (Any gay men want to comment?)

5 tips from a fat positive activist on how not to be an ass when interacting with a fat girl.  I love the general tone of this piece – she’s blunt and unapologetic.  :-)

Interesting article about why nuts are awesome and you should eat them that also drives home the point that fat phobia is so rampant, that we fear all fat – often at the expense of our own health.

This week in fat news…

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This author was fat shamed during a breast cancer scare – luckily she was fine and the doctors who treated her condition after this weren’t total doucherockets.  Has anyone ever had an experience like this?  How did you react?

Republican congressman fat shamed in political ads.  Come on, guys, even Republicans should be treated with respect.  Weight has no bearing on competence to do a job.

PsychCentral explains how fat shaming does not do anything positive.  It actually causes harm.

Australian PSA receives backlash for fat shaming rhetoric, claims it’s not about fat shaming.  Here’s another link about it – it’s disgusting on multiple levels.

And because I like to end on a positive note, here’s a photo set celebrates a variety of real bodies in all different shapes, sizes, and colors – NSFW!

Fat Activism Conference!

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So there’s a Fat Activism Conference happening this weekend!  It’s totally online, and it’s totally affordable!  And included in the conference fee is access to recordings of all the sessions, in case you need to miss a few or can’t log in over the weekend.

You can read more about it and register here.

Clearly the advantage to participating live is the ability to interact, but if you’re at all interested in fat acceptance, size acceptance, weight stigma issues (particularly in healthcare) and how fat/size acceptance intersects with other stigmatized groups, I highly recommend you register, and listen to the recordings later on.

Check out the schedule – it’s a wealth of really great topics and issues.

And here are the organizers, Ragen Chastain and Jeannette DePatie.  I’m so grateful that they’ve put together such an amazing schedule of topics and speakers.  *virtual applause!*

Here’s why asking for help is hard

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This whole “ask for help” rhetoric that we’re seeing a week out from Robin Williams’ suicide is continuing to bother me.  Granted, it’s well-intended, and I definitely appreciate that people are being encouraged to ask for help, especially when resources for getting help are listed.

But here’s the thing – it’s not always as simple as asking a friend or family member for help and support.  It’s not always as simple as picking up the phone.

I can only speak from my experience, so that’s what I’m going to do.  Here’s why asking for help is very difficult for me…

[Note: Content about abusive relationships ensues.]

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The world isn’t ready for fat bodies (but fat bodies are ready for the world)

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I was out with a group of people last night that involved alcohol and unfiltered conversation.  At some point, we were talking about the different effects that different sorts of alcoholic beverages have on us, and one coworker commented that when he drinks tequila, he inevitably ends up naked.  He commented at that point, and again a second time later in the evening, that “the world isn’t ready for that yet.”

[Note: NSFW content - post includes nude photos.]

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Atheists don’t believe in nothing

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It’s always a mixture of amusing and annoying when theists say that atheists don’t believe in anything.  Just because you take the supernatural out of the mix doesn’t mean that we’re left without ethics, a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong, or the desire to do good.

I just means we don’t believe there’s a supernatural reason why we should do these things.  We don’t believe, for example, that there’s an angry god waiting to punish us if we don’t conform to certain standards.  We don’t believe in lightning bolts from heaven, either literally or figuratively.

To illustrate this point, a friend of mine posted this on his FB timeline yesterday…

Fish

(Source of meme.)

Sinful fish?  I don’t think so.  And I don’t think any Christians think so either – it’s a little atheist humor that illustrates the overarching point that we just don’t think there’s some bearded father-figure sitting in a celestial kingdom cataloging the faults over every single human being (or sea creature) on the planet.

Atheists believe that humans can be good and productive and experience growth without any supernatural powers to tell us what and what not to do.

And as the number of atheists is growing, we’re organizing and beginning to create mottos, missions, visions, communities, and generally structure ourselves a bit.  A major example of this is Sunday Assembly, also known as the Atheist Church, a godless congregation whose motto is live better, help often, wonder more.

They say, “We won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can.”

They also say, “Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.”

Love, tolerance, helping others, having a sense of awe and reverence, celebrating life – wow, do these not sound shockingly similar to what a lot of Christian communities profess to promote?  And all of that from a group of godless heathens!  ;-)

Point is, we’re not devoid of values.  We just don’t factor the supernatural into them.

Getting help is not as easy as it seems

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Earlier this year, we lost the amazing actor Philip Seymour Hoffman to a drug overdose, and for a while, it brought the nature of addictions to the forefront.

Yesterday, we lost another great soul – Robin Williams.  While Hoffman’s death was ruled an accident, early reports are that Williams may have committed suicide.

Since then, my twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as many news sources, have blown up with exhortations to people to ask for help and seek treatment.  And while I know that people mean well, it’s a bit misguided to assume that everyone is able to ask for help, or even realizes that they need it.

(Note: Content safe for work, no visuals, but frank discussion of depression and suicide.)

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