Category Archives: pop culture

On Bullying, Fat Kids, and Fighting Back: It Only Takes One

old school disney pic

Me around age 9 or 10, clearly not like other kids

Recently I was invited by Huffington Post Live to talk on the subject of overweight kids, having been one myself and written about it for Babble.

The word “overweight” is so delicate, clinical. It doesn’t even begin to describe the reality of a child who lives it. The better word is fat. It’s cruel, it’s mean, it’s in your face. You can hide behind overweight; you can’t escape fat.

It was easy for me to be on camera and talk about having been overweight as a kid because people looking at me now wouldn’t necessarily think I have a problem. I went on camera and smiled; I felt confident. But then there’s this picture with Mickey. I brought it to work to show my co-workers the same week. I posted it on Facebook. When presenting the photo, I felt insecure, scared, ready for the laughs. I knew what would happen when I shared the photo — the same thing that happened when I was a kid. This time no one physically beat me or called me names, but inside I became the scared little girl awaiting judgment; waiting to be rejected based on my looks, my size. I confronted the fear and the uncomfortable feelings because that’s how fear is mitigated. And for so many years of my life I felt ashamed of my “fat kid” pictures, never wanting to share them with friends or love interests. I was ashamed of myself for years because no matter the changes on the outside, inside I’ve always been the same person. That person does not change as rapidly.

“When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes…Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that, indeed, she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.””

This is an excerpt from a Vogue article about Dara-Lynn Weiss, who decided to put her 7-year-old on a diet and go public about it. Her memoir, The Heavy, came out in January, and she was also on the HuffPo Live panel with me. (Ironically I had already interviewed her for Babble about her experience with her daughter, which completely mirrored the situation between my mother and myself.

I empathize with Dara and Bea because my mother and I lived through the same thing, except without the glare of public criticism. I’m happy that we were given an outlet to talk about our experience. I’m proud that I shared this photo. I never fought back as a kid, so I’m doing it now. Plus, if I can’t embrace who I am, how can I expect the same of others?

Today I watched the documentary Bully and want to quote a girl named Kelby who refuses to leave her small town despite the threats and attacks made upon her for being a lesbian:

“All it takes is for one person to stand up. You’re not just standing up for you , you’re standing up for all the kids who go through this every single day.”

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30 Going on 13

“13 Going on 30” is one of my favorite girly movies. It’s a story about an awkward 13 year-old who wants nothing more than to be a grown up where everything is perfect. It’s kind of like the girl version of the movie “Big” in which Tom Hanks’ character makes a wish to be big and then has to figure out how to survive in the adult world when his wish comes true. Tomorrow, I turn 30 and I can’t help but feel like I’m still 13, trying to figure this all out.

The problem with turning 30 is that everyone, including myself, expects that you’ll have it all. In “13 Going on 30,” Jennifer Garner’s character hates being a kid so much that on her 13th birthday, she wishes she’ll turn 30 instead–the age when everything magically falls into place. At 30, she’ll have a man, a great job, cool friends, a wonderful closet and so on. And this is what I expected too.

My entire life I’ve always wanted to be older. I wanted the next big thing. As a kid, I, too looked up to women in their 20s and 30s thinking they had it all and I was bursting to get there. Then throughout my 20s, I worked my ass off to acquire all the must-haves: money, a good job, fashionable looks, and a man to get married to. Most of my 20s were so awful, I missed being a teenager.

Now, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I feel like I’m late for a very important deadline. My time to search for all the perfect puzzle pieces is up. At 30, I must already have the puzzle put together and ready for display. I look at other friends my age on Facebook–people I went to high school with, even grade school, and of course college, and a lot of them are married with children. I don’t have that. I hate nothing more than being behind. (Isn’t that why I always dreamt of being older?)

It doesn’t help that my job as a parenting editor reminds me every day of what I don’t have–optimum fertility and a family. These are the missing puzzle pieces and without them I feel like a failure. A few years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law what it felt like to be 30, she said, “well, I’m married and I have a baby, so I’m okay.” Thirty is the only birthday in which a woman goes down a mental checklist of a job accomplished. Christ, at 13, I was so freakin’ happy to finally be a teenager, I didn’t need to have met certain requirements to feel okay about it. (Well, other than accepting the hard truth that playing with dolls was no longer “cool.”)

So far, turning 30 has sucked. I threw a pricey party–the kind you send out expensive, handwritten invitations for–thinking that making a big deal about it would help me embrace it. Wrong. I just got mad at myself for spending so much money for a couple of hours with friends. I expected my boyfriend would make it all okay by getting down on one knee just so that I could enter 30 without feeling so bad. (And the more friends and family and associates push the expectation that he will, just makes it worse. So much worse.) The poor guy has been working around the clock and actually fell asleep toward the end of my fancy party. So many expectations unmet. Whether they’re fair or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m 30 and I can’t check off everything on the master list. If my sister-in-law asked me how I feel turning 30, I would say to her, “well, I’m not married and I don’t have a baby, so you tell me, how should I feel?”

Is it the fault of movies and pop culture? Why do women feel the need to have it all together by 30? I cannot be the only one who feels this impending doom and pressure. The pressure to deliver on things I have no control over is enough to make me snap. Luckily, I have an appointment with my therapist on my birthday. Part of me just wants to curl up in a ball, finish all the bottles of wine in my apartment and swallow a whole bunch of pills. I don’t want to die, but maybe a nice little overdose and a trip the hospital will make me feel like I’ve taken some action and act like some sort of public acknowledgment that I know I’ve missed my deadline and I’m not happy about it.

Those of you over 30 tell me: Where were you at 30? What did you wish you had had by then?

Those of you under 30, tell me: What do you hope you’ll have by then?

Wristcutters…The Movie. And, The Meaning of Life.

I just finished watching the film Wristcutters (2006), written by Goran Dukic. The movie is about a bunch of people trapped in a dreary purgatory created specifically for those who have “offed” themselves. The people who run this purgatory are referred to as the P.I.C., for people in charge (how great is that?!). They decide who got there by accident, who gets to leave and who has to stay. In purgatory, as in life, there is an order that doesn’t make sense.

Sounds like a real upper, doesn’t it? Well, although you’d think I’d need to keep a box of Kleenex and my therapist’s phone number nearby, the film was actually funny. In a dark way, of course.

I’ve always seen the darkness and the humor in almost everything. It’s either my god-given talent or a severe mental malfunction, but that’s neither here nor there. What touched me about the film was the main characters’ desire to figure out the MEANING OF LIFE and how they fit into the whole mess.

Everyone with a brain can relate to the desire to understand LIFE. But not everyone can relate to wanting to die. Anne Sexton, who offed herself in 1974 and is one of my favorite poets, wrote:

But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build.” –Anne Sexton, “Wanting to Die”

I’ve been there–at that confusing point in your journey where nothing makes sense, where lines cross and goodness is blurry, and the option of jumping off the train is more appealing than staying on the ride. But luckily, unlike the characters in Wristcutters, unlike my favorite poets, I didn’t have to kill myself to realize that death isn’t THE GREAT ANSWER.

The thing is, none of us are above getting lost. None of us are above needing something to believe in. Something to hang onto. All I can say is that I’m glad I’ve stuck it out so far because it feels like every five years or so I experience a rebirth (I think they call this maturity?). The longer I deal with this life thing, the more I learn to shake my head, laugh, and say to the P.I.C., ‘what have you got for me today?’

Today’s musical companion is “Home,” by The Engineers.

“Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water/Time/Time after time/I’m feeling so sorry/I run out of words to say/Relieved/I’m so relieved/The tables are turning/Don’t sacrifice this feeling/Goals/There are no goals/There is no order/Paid for in laughter/Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water.”

The Power of Oprah Compels You!

Oprah, the new messiah

All right, look, I’ve watched The Secret, I’ve highlighted inspirational quotes in self-help books; I’ve even enjoyed visiting quotelady.com and thinkexist.com for famous words of wisdom (and still do sometimes). And yes, there was even a time when I enjoyed watching Oprah and reading her magazine (it’s a good magazine and I’m not writing that because I’m afraid of her). But when I opened my mail yesterday and saw an issue of O magazine with my name on it, I felt a burning sensation of rage.

Now I know how satan feels during an exorcism. The dude just wants to be left alone with his misery and his mischief. You can’t cancel a subscription if it’s a gift from someone!* (You know, kind of how the devil can’t fight against a crucifix.)

Who would violate me like this? My mother. She’s always trying to push self-help literature on me. Some of the reading material she’s left in my room or in my bag over the years: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (Steve Harvey), The Essence of Attitude: Quotations for Igniting Positive Attitudes, and for my recent birthday, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (Paul Arden). So basically my mom thinks I’m a negative, unambitious, lesbian. Does she give this crap literature to my brother, the married surgeon who gave her grandchildren? Nooooo. Just leave me alone with my misery and my mischief! I’m happy being a malcontent. Honestly. It’s a safe space. Do you get that, Jesus? Mom? (Um, Jesus, if you’re reading this, I do love you. I truly fear you just like a good Catholic girl should.)

As for you mom, I love you too. But here’s the thing: Yes, I’m jaded. I’m cynical. I can count the people I trust and truly love on one hand (fine, almost two).  And that’s OK. I have best friends, I’ve found the love of my life (it’s a man!), and, well, I kind of have a career (freelance doesn’t mean unemployed, no matter what dad thinks). And the truth is I don’t care to be the greatest or the best, I just want to keep my job. Books aren’t going to teach me how to be in a relationship, my boyfriend will. And I don’t need inspiration. I do what I gotta do and that’s great enough. So, please, cancel your 12-month subscription to Oprah in my name because I don’t want to live my best life according to Oprah, or you, or to anyone else.

And because all of my posts need to end on a musical note:

*But you can change your address and have the magazine shipped to the gift giver instead, mwah ha ha.