Don’t Look Me up and Down: Look Me in the Eye – a Fit Woman’s Opinion on Non-Verbal Body Shaming

For some time now, we have been witness to wonderful campaigns directed towards the acceptance of all body types, especially, if not solely, the various body types of women. The Dove campaign is to be applauded for giving every woman a chance to champion themselves and identify with an image much like their own on television, the internet, billboards and in magazines.  In a world where you have to look deep beyond the surface to find what is real, it is important for people to see a reflection of themselves in advertising.

On social media the acceptance of self was such a hit that there were even spin off topics borne by the politically correct righteous that made me hold my tongue until now.  Let me elaborate.  As a woman, I feel strongly that every person (men included) should feel good about themselves.  I believe that everyone must have as many (if not more) attributes that they love about themselves than ones they dislike.  I, and some who share my belief, feel that people must have a sense of self worth that allows them to veer away from behaving and or dressing inappropriately to prove to themselves and possibly others, that they are cool, young, sexy, hot, in control or whatever tier of esteem they are trying to attain.  There is something about showing less to ever so coolly reveal that there is so much more to who you are.  There is something to be said for elegance and grace and quiet confidence at every age, size and shape.  But whenever anyone implores others to really reach for something more substantial within themselves, they are criticized by the politically correct others who feel we are “shaming”.  These people like to say if a person (and let’s use women in this example), a woman in her 40’s feels to dress like her 14 year old daughter, who are we to judge her?  If she wants to let her butt cheeks hang out of her shorts or she wants to wear a tight crop-top with leggings, we should applaud her courage. What then do we say about a scantily clad  teen girl at a dance not walking away from a group of boys until each one of them upon her request, makes out with her and her friends?  Is this group of young teen women empowered? Are they controlling their sexuality?  Dictating to the opposite what they want done, when and how?  Is she empowered when she takes to social media and posts revealing photos of herself?  The “selfie” takes on new meaning then, doesn’t it?

Okay. Sure. Maybe I’m a prude. Maybe I am guilty of “shaming” other women but looking in from the outside, I can’t help but wonder what there is to gain when children disassociate themselves from their mother’s attire or demeanour in embarrassment?  What is there to gain when the persona that accompanies the outfit draws the people who want to be a part of the show for a moment, who then walk away speak insults under their breath?   Why do my sons have to be privy to your exposed self in a public place that is not a beach?  Congratulations, Mom for looking “hawt” and sexy at a Minor Level Sporting event.

In the spirit of championing oneself I am going to take my turn to lash back in defence of women like me – active women whose bodies are perfectly imperfect.  We have muscles and are generally strong and in good health.  We are the women who like our sports, our dance, our yoga and whatnot and we play because it’s fun and relaxing and we are okay with a little sweat and okay with our post partum bellies that could, in the right light look like a deflated beach ball.  We are the women who LOVE to eat but stop when we are full.  We eat junk sometimes only without the excuses and we own the consequences and do something about them. We never criticize anyone’s appearance yet so many people have no problem telling us how we are lucky we are to be skinny (when clearly we are not) and have no problem calling us names in jest (in jest my ass) because you are dissatisfied with yourself. We are the women who don’t dress to flaunt, don’t triple coat our faces with makeup yet look beautiful, comfortably wearing what we love and being who we are. So for those of you who talk to us but deep down dislike us, do us a favour – stop trying to shame us with your quick head to toe glances of jealousy.  I have been exposed to that since I was 6 years old.  I have noticed grown-ass adults  – family friends, 4 specific high school teachers of mine and worse, a couple relatives who would stand right in front of me, talking to me doing the head to toe scan sometimes even telling me what they did not like about me or what I was wearing in the poor guise of a joke. And again, I was a child at the time.  It was evident they were not listening to a word I was saying. I knew it at age 6 and I have always known it.  They did not hear one iota of the conversation because they were busy scrutinizing (or like we say in Trinidad, macoing) every aspect of my body , my face, my clothes, my shoes and my hair.  Hating ALL of what they saw because they truly LOVED what they saw and just could not have it, or develop it because it was MINE.

I remember telling my mother I noticed when some people had conversations with others, myself included, they tended to look not at the face when they spoke to you but did what seemed to be several critical, quick glances at a person’s clothing and body and did so quite frequently as they spoke. I asked her why this happened and my champion mother simply said, “Jealousy, baby”.

But, I was a child and I had nothing.  Nothing at all except my childhood, my imagination and myself.  I had what everyone had and in the case of adults, you could say I had even less so why would they be jealous?  Then my mother said to me ever so calmly, “I am sorry people look at you like that.  I know how it feels because I have had that happen to me too. – I think it is really rude.  Perhaps they don’t realize they are doing it, but I think deep down they do know.  I think they did it once, then twice and then it became a rude habit.  That is their problem, not yours.  In your whole life there will be many people who glance at you up and down repeatedly because their parents did it and they unfortunately learned to do it too. They may be smaller than you, bigger than you, older or younger or the same age, They may be wealthier, poorer or of the same income. They may be a different colour or religion than you; they may not. These  people may never look at you in your eyes when they talk to you.  It is an attempt maybe to make you feel self  conscious. In those moments I want you to feel self assured that you are perfectly fine. Just remember that is their jealousy, their lack of confidence and therefore their problem, not yours, ever. You must always draw confidence from those people and never let their glances get you down. Be your comfortable self.”

My mother may not have gone to a fancy university or held a position of power in the world but she has always been powerful to me.  My mother knew her role as a mother.  There was a friendliness about her without her trying to be our friend.  Lines were never crossed by her or us and she injected into us the power to be quietly confident and when we needed to, be boldly so.  Because of my mother, my sister and I have been able to give our children the confidence they need in what is a tougher, more bullied society and dare I say, I think the confidence she gave to us and indirectly to her grandchildren can be considered life saving.  We all hear the stories of the kids who tragically end their lives because they just couldn’t “shake it off” or “get over it” as some people like to say.  There are so many people who just love to dig and dig at you until you start to doubt yourself.  They are annoying and they make life uncomfortable and the best thing you can do is turn it right around and show them that you are not the problem. They are the problem.  They are the ones spending time trying to figure out how to bring you down and in reality it stems from their self dissatisfaction. They say things to make you feel insecure because they are insecure.  They reject your knowledge because they are ignorant. They scoff at your attempt to lead because they are born followers. They mock your talent because they wish they possessed a fraction of it.  They pick on those who have disabilities because the determination and accomplishments of the disabled scare the shit out of them because they have no courage.  They criticize your clothes because they dare not dress like you because they can’t buy your personal cool.  They like to bare it all when they should be covering it up because to wear something decent is to admit they have shortcomings, I suppose.

So while I agree we should all be happy with ourselves, our varied skin tones and shapes and sizes I do not for a moment think that people who have been made to feel shunned and bullied are not guilty of bullying.  They are often adults who have taken the bitterness of the pain they felt and instead of using it for something positive in their lives, they ever so subtly twist it into other people who have done nothing to them personally…except of course showed up looking healthy or tastefully dressed.   I had yet another one of those up and down glances happen to me today, way before I had my morning coffee. I decided right then and there that I was going to write about it once and for all.  I am going to champion myself because I don’t look anyone up and down and scrutinize them and I am tired of having it done to me.  In fact, I have spent many years teaching my boys, especially my autistic son, to look people in the face when they are speaking to them, yet so many people don’t do that to me.  I remember Adam telling me that looking into people’s eyes is too much. Too much information so he looks away so he can focus on what is being said to him yet he has learned to glance at a face in order to illustrate he is engaged with a person.  That is so much work for him, yet he tries so hard to do it because he has figured the value in it and he knows he needs to embrace some of these traits to function in this world.  Meanwhile, people with no sensory processing disorders, people who don’t have to organize anything at all in order to have a conversation give me the up and down scan when they are speaking with me?  To hell with you and your rudeness.  Here’s a news flash on behalf of women and all people who are fit and healthy who try to take care of themselves.  We have reaped what we have sown and if you don’t like it, or have that little zing of envy or hate when you see us because you feel we don’t understand what it is like to be you with your issues – too bad. Champion who you are and own it. This is called life and everybody’s got something…some shit that grabs us by the gut and we have to deal with it.  God knows I was dealt a hand and a frigging half in my life.  Would you up and down scanners preferred if I looked haggard and worn because my life has not been easy?  Would that have made you feel better?  Would you have looked me in the eye then? Perhaps you would have pitied me.  I have never needed pity thanks to my upbringing and I am glad my retaliation to adversity was strength and wellness – of mind, spirit, soul and body.

If you ever had a conversation with me and you’ve looked me up and down (and you damn well know if you do it because you have control of your eyes) please don’t talk to me again if you are going to do that. It’s rude and you are wasting my time and you are making me waste precious breaths and words. Don’t talk to me if you aren’t going to engage or listen.  I’m really okay with that. I’d rather sit quietly alone with my thoughts  for company because I am comfortable with myself. I was taught and I teach my children to look people in the face when speaking to them and I expect the same from others. So all you head to toe scanners out there, know this – the group of us you love to hate in your head because we chose to work at taking the steps to fell healthy and well – we make no apologies for the way we are so enough with looking us up and down and look us in the eye.  What you are doing is distracting, rude and disrespectful and when you do it to me, it only reveals how insecure and vulnerable you are.  Worry less about me and work more on you because you are just as bad as the cretin bully who spat out hurtful words to you.

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On the Eve of Fifty, Everything’s Just Fine.

We have swapped pumpkins and cornucopias for holly wreaths, twinkling lights and Christmas trees and the weather has finally changed.  It is still rather mild and we have had only one snowfall  and although everything has pretty much melted, winter is officially here which means my 50th birthday is less than 2 months away. For the past two years I have blogged about the goings-on in my life as I approach this milestone.  I looked at myself, looked at the way I approach things and and the way I live my life and somewhere along the way I had this notion that I would have it (my life) all figured out with all the answers to how to “be” as a 50 year old and on the day I cross into that year, I somehow will start this next stage of life differently. Along the way it felt like I was preparing for a trip to a foreign land, learning as much as I could from my experiences so that once I reached my destination I would be free of all doubt and confusion, ready to accept the wondrous things that would come with new territory. But with barely 2 months to go, I realize there is no new start, no expectation of anything remarkable save for the fact that I have been blessed with a good and healthy life and have been able to walk this planet for 50 years and for that, I am thankful.

Lately, I have been driving a lot for work and while it can be exhausting, mostly I look forward to my road trips where I’m in the car by myself, listening to music that matters to me and basking in that glorious time of reflection and peace.  I also had the house to myself this past weekend, the boys busy with their lives out and about with their sports, leaving me to care for the elderly dog.  Having been on the road for 4 hours of my 12 hour day and coming home to the silence of a man free house, I was able to continue my thoughts on turning 50 and what I have done and where I am in my life now, decorating for Christmas all the while.

I busied myself trimming the tree and thought about what I view now as the absurdity of my teen years. Everything was way too important and ever so highly embarrassing.  God bless them, but teens are just not fit for society. They need time to flounder and they need to be allowed to sort out their unready-for-adulthood brains in their own way and in their own time with as much or as little guidance from us as they approach their 20’s.  My teenage years were no more special than any other teen’s. Not quite a woman but by no means a child, there was just no perfect place for me.  I was confused, I had occasional clarity. I was bursting with self esteem then riddled with insecurity.  I yearned to fit in, was desperate to stand out, longed to be cool yet craved to be alone and invisible. I wanted big boobs yet secretly wanted my small ones to go away because I hated that my body was changing.  I wanted to wear make up and be fashionable but I loved being in a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes. I was the graceful dancer with every hair in place pulled into a tight bun on the one hand and the sweaty, after lunch break. tennis and volleyball tomboy with hair flying everywhere or tangled like a nest on the other.  I wanted to be independent yet expected my parents to conveniently make things right, right away – which of course never happened, thank goodness.  I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted to be free, I wanted to go to parties and be allowed to do some of the things other teens were able to do but my parents were fairly strict and did not often allow me to go out late at night before I was 18.  I thought that life was great and I thought it was unfair as I drifted in and out of confidence.  In my teens, I realized that my childhood passion for the arts continued to give me great joy.  However it was a passion but I was made to understand would not yield great earnings and that I should turn them into hobbies and while I did resent my parents for this particular guidance, I know they were doing what they thought was best with the knowledge they had at that time.

As I looked back on my 20’s (which for me was a more polished extension of my teens), I smiled as I recalled how adrenalized I was about everything.  I was young and eager to make a difference clear enough for all to see.  In my 20’s the world raised me up and brought me crashing down, often on the same day and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the true meaning of everything, wondering what the underlying tone was when someone said or did anything only later figuring out that sometimes people just did or said stuff and there was nothing more to it even though I wanted there to be.  In my 20’s I was emotional.  I made myself feel everything and I mean everything, from sponsoring children in underprivileged countries, to the plight of dolphins caught in tuna nets and really getting into everything earth friendly, to listening to anyone’s sob story to worrying about my family….sigh…I went in 120%!  That was all well and good but it was a little exhausting for those closest to me because back then my emotions were pinned right on my sleeve where everyone was able to bump into and bruise them and have them spill onto everyone and everything like hot lava. I was always ready to argue or get to the bottom of everything right away because that was my agenda and I’m pretty sure even though they loved me, I had moments when my parents and sister considered me quite off putting.  Can’t say I blame them.

By the time I was 26, I sorted myself out and started being more comfortable in my own skin.  I had lived on my own for quite some time, paid my rent, my bills, took care of myself and had my job at the bank in addition to several freelance television jobs that kept me busy.  At 27 I felt that Tom and I were in a good place in our relationship and we moved in together until work took him out of Toronto for the beginning of what were the coolest years of our lives.  I made the decision to join him and leave my family behind, living for 2 to 5 years at a time in different locations around the country.  There was eventually a wedding, new jobs, followed by a baby born in the east of the country and another born in the west and adult life in the blink of an eye was in full force.

I have lived a whole lot of life that seemed to snowball right to the eve of my 50th birthday.  Having a special needs child, I have not always enjoyed a “normal” motherhood and if you are going to say “what is normal anyway”, stop right there, because normal is a life raising kids where you don’t have to have a plan A, B and C to go for a walk or for every single trip to the grocery store, or to school. Normal is booking a vacation and not having to tell everyone involved with your trip from the travel agent to the airline, to the hotel to the restaurant that you need to make special arrangements so that maybe you could have a relaxing and enjoyable vacation.  While it is better now because we put in the work, time and love, we have never been able to just get in the car and go – ever.  But even with all the trials of having Adam, I would not trade any of it because this has been and still is our journey and mothering these boys has been my purpose in life. It has made me and the life I lead, worthwhile.  I remember always struggling to figure out what I was meant to do with my life; why was I born?  My moment of clarity came New Year’s Eve, 2000 when I woke up from napping n the couch in our apartment in Montreal .  I nodded off while I was waiting on the ball to drop in Times Square while watching Dick Clark’s Rockin Eve, and I glanced over to where Tom was sitting at the computer and saw Adam’s playpen and could hear the occasional static of the baby monitor and I said to myself …”Oh yeah.  Right. I’m married with a child”.  I remember thinking life was really perfect. Too perfect and I had a feeling the other shoe was going to drop but I didn’t know how big the bomb was going to be until Adam started showing signs of autism and I realized what had been looming.

In your 30’s you start to settle into life .  You are used to working and you know how to live out your role as a member of society, an adult, a spouse, a worker and a parent.  Like most parents you look at the state of the world and you just want the best for your child and you focus on giving them a life even better than yours.  You set the example, you guide, you encourage and love and from time to time you are just scared shitless of screwing up their lives and even though it is perfectly normal to screw things up from time to time, we are hard on ourselves when we do. Most parents want to create opportunities for their kids to succeed and somehow hope to perfectly balance that with protecting them while trying not to overly shelter or smother them.  Add to that the responsibility of moving ahead in your career, always competing with yourself and others for a better salary so you can give your family a comfortable life and hopefully give yourself some kind of retirement.  Yes, your 30’s is a different kind of struggle and in our family, we were soaked by a big bucket of autism.

We became a family living with autism in 2002 and we always will be.  There have been and still are so many difficult times but I have to say there have been many more glorious times and I could not be more proud to be Adam and Logan’s mother and Tom’s wife. Throughout the years I have met many fabulously kind and generous people and very talented and unique people via my firstborn son and even more through our charity Adam’s Hope. When Adam was diagnosed, I was called to sacrifice work many times to be a wife and mother in an era when it is more acceptable to have a career than be at home raising your children, being a wife and running a household on one income.  While juggling the proverbial balls of my life, there were days when I juggled them perfectly catching them all, and other days when things would go hopelessly wrong, I would lose my grip and drop them, only able to watch them roll far away from me. You see, with autism, your bad days are the ones spent trying desperately to reach a child who may or may not connect with you when you desperately need him to so that you can do other things you can no longer ignore.  A child with autism was just one of the balls of life I found myself juggling, only when it slipped out of my hand, sometimes there was no catching it and it took the other balls (paying the bills, preparing meals, changing the soiled diaper of the screaming baby etc) tumbling down with it.  It was draining but I have had to (and to an extent still do) try and figure out what my son needed or wanted and then of course I have had to advocate for my son, and have been his voice most of his life while making an effort every day to give Logan the regular life he deserves. This was not how I imagined my life would be with constant re-adjustment and scheduling and modifications and therapy for Adam but there are days when I can honestly say I am happy I did not miss out on all it has given to me.

By the time I was done decorating our home for the holidays, my mind drifted to my 40’s.  While still quite consumed with family, work and autism, it was in my 40’s that I truly appreciated life and all that Tom and I had done and accomplished as a couple and parents and in our past and present careers. In my 40’s I could see that this marriage and this life we created for the 4 of us had the mettle to withstand the test of time.  I had learned and was continuing to learn so much more.  My outlook on life was based on a wisdom I had heard my mother and her friends speak of and I was truly grateful that I was getting older. I have never had a desire to re-live my 20’s and certainly do not miss raising babies and little children like I did in my 30’s.  My 40’s allowed me to confirm to myself that I am bat shit crazy about Daniella. I love her dearly and I am proud of her.  I have survived the grief and pain of my child’s diagnosis and I have watched both my children accomplish far more than I have ever anticipated.  Together, Tom and I have overcome many difficult times that were exacerbated by the fact we were trying to raise a child we were barely able to understand and trying not to deprive Logan of the attention he needed and deserved.  The effort we have put into raising them, the attention, love, care and independence we have given them and expectations we have placed upon them have helped them become young men of whom we are tremendously proud.  I have sacrificed my career path to raise them and I have done all that I was supposed to do to get them to this point in their lives and now, while still here for them, I get to do what I want to do and it feels great.

In my 40’s we moved our family across this country for the last time to a place I do not love but I can tolerate because I am able to leave it often and get to cities east and west of here, many times in under 2 hours.  We moved here primarily because my husband’s parents are ailing and he needs and wants to be here for them.  It is a place quiet enough to raise a family without the hectic nature of a bigger city.  It is one where I have made many acquaintances and at one point, even called some people friend, quickly learning that even in your 40’s friendship does not have the same meaning for everyone and the best thing to do is to remove those people from your life and find friendship in the places and things you know best.  In my case, it was keeping connected with my friends in the many cities and provinces in which I have lived and the group of women I was able to reconnect with thanks to a life changing 30th high school reunion and the click of mouse that bridges the distance between us.  I stood beside these women when we were just girls and being able to chat with them and keep up with their lives is a blessing and I am honoured and proud to refer to them not just as friends but as sisters. Knowing they are just a car ride or a click away has kept me in tune with my roots, what really matters in my life and who I truly am.  Having this reinforcement from them has allowed me to seek and make smarter connections with people close by who are intelligent, kind and interesting human beings with whom time is well spent.

One of the most difficult times in my 40’s was the year we lost our father.  His death allowed me to take stock of my life, get over my arrogant assumption of longevity and realize just how little time there is to spend with the ones we love and doing the things that really matter to us.  In my 40’s I began to take ownership of my actions and remove many of the things I would do for others (albeit worthwhile and necessary at the time)  from my life.  I considered how pressed for time we always were and I started to eliminate the things that consumed way too much of it. I passed on the operation of my charity to three younger and fresher mothers and cut back on volunteering my time for many things.  I realized that people often forget that we have Adam and that he needs extra guidance.  I think people forget that we can’t just commit to things the way others can because we often have to plan every minute of our day just to keep things running on even keel in our home. We should be the last people anyone asks for help yet we have stepped up and done our fair share of giving of our limited free time.  We have done a lot for charity, spending precious days when we could have been with our boys with other people and now we are done.  Now that they are teens my husband and I are are looking forward to creating new memories with our sons and spending time with dear friends and family.  I want to plan escapes where I can enjoy the performing arts and sporting events and culture with my family and go away on family vacations once a year instead of every two or three years now that we know for certain Adam can handle long periods away from the routine of school and home. With regards to work, I am will continue to mold our business into the well oiled machine it is shaping up to be and will work side by side with my husband to make it successful and unmistakably ours.

I am thrilled my 40’s allowed me to really dig in and be okay with who I am and excited about who I am going to be.  Known to be outspoken since childhood, I have learned over the years when and with whom I should share my opinion, generally doing so only with people worth the time.  I have learned over the years when to persist and when to cut and run and I have truly digested the importance of self preservation. I know who I like and whom I can live without.  I know who and what to take seriously and who and what I can ignore.  Loving oneself, protecting oneself, making one’s happiness a priority and being kind to oneself key to having success in all areas of one’s life as well as learning to accept the long hard times and the times when we fail.  In my 40’s I also learned to own my health and my faith by often connecting the two.  No longer a gym member or at mass every Sunday, I enjoy yoga, my ballet and contemporary classes and working out at home because it is in those times I am able to still my mind and speak to the Divine and truly connect and pray.  I have found that while I still enjoy the beauty and ritual of the Mass my connection with God is strongest when I am taking control of my physical and spiritual health …and it’s peaceful, simple, easy and, well … nice.

Throughout the different phases of my life I have had unfulfilled wishes and regrets and for the most part those are on me but I am thankful for them because it is from our mistakes we learn to do things better for ourselves and for others.  Throughout my life, I have done what I was supposed to do and now as I approach a new phase of my life, I am going to do what I want to do.  By the time I had my house decorated for Christmas and was admiring it from the couch while sipping my tea, it dawned on me that there really is nothing to figure out about turning 50, nor is there anything mind-blowing about it.  I know that now, because it seems I already have it all together and there is no need to spend precious time trying to figure out how to live life.  I have worked on my marriage, my family life, my career.  I have compromised and sacrificed, taught and guided. I have worked through the obstacles, have won and have lost. I know there is so much more good and bad still to come but I am armed with a great deal of life experience and no fear.  I know what I like and what I want and I don’t compromise those things anymore.  From the moment we are born, life happens and all we can do is the best we can with what we have been handed.  Until I die, I will always have to roll with the punches and I suppose the one thing getting older really changes is how we choose to roll.  I hope the people dear to me will have long and happy lives and I hope for the same for myself, my children and Tom, the love of my life.  I hope to see many places and experience many things that will fill my soul with joy and I hope to see my children grow into adults and watch them chase their dreams, achieve them and soar.  Life is hard and it can be ugly, painful and even cruel but somehow these are the ingredients so crucial for what makes life fantastic and joyful for out of the darkest nights, dawn the brightest days and we should be mindful to taste the bitterness of the bad so we can learn to appreciate the sweetness of the good … life is too short to do otherwise.

 

 

To all my SJC sisters and friends who have turned and are about to turn 50, I thank God for you and for being so blessed to have you in my life.  Your friendship crosses land and sea and I am so happy we were able to find each other again and happier still to be able to get together and celebrate with a few of you.  I wish you good health and all the sweetness life has to offer. I hope we stay connected for years to come and are able to have many more opportunities to gather together . I love you all, my 50 year old friends.  Cheers to a new phase of our lives. ~ Danie.