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What’s New at SOAM?

Hello, dear readers!

I’ve been hard at work here updating the website and working towards growing SOAM into something new and bigger. For one thing, check out the new logo that is (FINALLY) up and running. Brenda is an incredible graphic designer, a pleasure to work with, and someone I’m proud to know. Throw some business her way if you are needing design work. Check out the stuff we’re up to!

**FREE for a limited time! Body Positivity Parties in San Diego County – facilitated by me! All you have to do is invite some friends!**

Check out our new mission statement!

Come visit us in April at BabyFest!

Read our most recent posts:
Mothers and Mental Illness
A Primer on Fat Phobia
The Poetry of Our Bodies

Categories: News
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A primer on Fat Phobia

A few years ago when I was enrolling my oldest child in middle school, I had to drop off some forms at the school nurse and I saw this poster. It made my blood boil because the very first thing listed for harmful effects due to overeating and overweight was “Psychological problems.”

I want to be very clear here: Being fat does not cause psychological problems. Being fat does not cause blame, guilt, shame, disgust, or depression. Those things are all caused by fat phobia.

One more time: Being fat does not cause psychological problems.

But this is the message we are sending kids who are struggling at the most physically sensitive time in their lives. Puberty and brain development are on overdrive at this age as kids become aware of their bodies on a whole new level (and I don’t mean simply in a sexual way, but there is a deeper cognitive understanding of their physical shape and size and how it relates to the world going on at this age as well). Weight is already driven home in every aspect of our daily lives and as we bring media deeper into our consciousness through our devices and new, more insidious forms of advertising, these messages get harder and harder to notice and to critique. So these kids head into their new school which will be the driving force of their entire lives for the next two years and they see this sign and it says two things. To fat kids (or kids who believe they are fat) it says they are at fault for their size. To everyone else it says that bullying is okay – of course it doesn’t say that in so many words, but that is the message that inevitably ultimately settles into social habits in the brain.

So here’s the question: Are fat people to blame for their size? Sometimes, sure. Other times, they aren’t. For one thing, there are many physical conditions such as hypothyroid that cause weight gain and equally make it difficult to lose weight. And, of course, there are also life-saving medications that cause weight gain. Antidepressants or steroids can do this. And it’s a side effect to keeping a person alive and functioning, in which case Medicine has decided that weight gain is a better choice than not functioning or not surviving. Overweight is also a class issue and a disability issue where poverty or disabilities can lead to weight gain through lack of accessibility. But there’s yet another form of overweight caused by dieting. We have known for years that diets don’t work. They can sometimes shock your body into weight loss, but in doing so, the body reads its recent starvation as a time of famine and it slows the metabolism. Permanently. In this case, people have been trying to follow the good advice, often given to them by a doctor, but it is not sound science and it ultimately fails the person who is trying so hard to “be good.”

The bottom line is that overweight is a wildly complex issue and simply cannot be reduced to just one facet.

Quite literally the only thing you can determine from looking at someone’s size is your own personal bias against fatness.

(Someone awesome said that and I can’t find the actual quote to give credit right now. If you know who said it, leave me a comment and I’ll edit.)

Okay, you’re thinking, but if I KNOW someone eats unhealthy and doesn’t do anything to lose weight, surely I can judge them then, right?

Nope!

But, you say, I’m doing it for their heath. I care about their health!

This is a noble intention, yes, but just stop and listen for a minute.

Because here’s the thing: people who live in fat bodies are humans. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize that Jesus was a pretty wise dude and when he said “Do not judge,” it’s good advice. Judging places us in opposite corners, it creates a false sense of separateness. It isolates the person you are wanting to care for and reinforces the lies society tells us, as illustrated by the poster in my kid’s middle school. Depression lies in and of itself, and it’s hard enough to learn to determine the difference between what are and are not lies, but when you also hear these same lies in every corner of your life, it will, in fact, beat you down until you simply cannot function anymore. And to reiterate, the lies I’m speaking of aren’t about whether or not weight gain causes other physical ailments, but whether or not weight gain causes guilt or shame. It does not. Ever.

The fact is that people do unhealthy shit all the time. We drink too much or we don’t exercise, we don’t always wear seat belts or we smoke cigarettes. We go to tanning salons despite knowing the risks. We fuck up all the time. But no one is judged quite like fat people. And it always assumed their weight is their fault. Why? Why do we pick one sin and make that the one we are so cruelly vocal about?

Because you know what? A ton of thin people eat like crap and never exercise, but because their genes aren’t expressed in a proclivity to gain weight, we look at them and assume they must be healthy.

That right there? Is the ultimate proof that fat phobia isn’t about health at all; it is about size and it is only about size.

Last Friday night I shared a progressive ad from plus size store Torrid which featured an overweight woman rocking a bikini. I especially liked this ad because, unlike so many attempts at size diversity, this woman wasn’t too smooth, and she wasn’t just a little chubby. She looked more like me with my weird lumps and cellulite. I liked seeing someone like that feeling confident in a bikini because it inspired me to remember that my body is just a body and I deserve not only to feel confident, but also to feel the splash of the ocean and the warmth of the sun. Fat people deserve joy just as much as thin people. Why? Because we are people. Period.

But the post blew up and we spent the next couple of days arguing over whether or not this ad should even exist. The excuses thrown into the mix included everything from “This is simply bad marketing because the people who would want to look like this model are too few and far between” (I mean, I think Torrid is kind of doing okay right now) to “I’m not fat phobic because I do not literally have a phobia about fat” (which is not even the way the word is used here, it’s arguing false semantics). Ultimately it boiled down to not wanting to normalize fatness. But fatness is already normal. People are fat. People need clothes. Fat people need clothes that fit them. Companies make those clothes. Companies want people to know they exist so they must advertise. By banning such ads, not only are you erasing an entire population of people from media exposure (the absolute antithesis of SOAM’s founding principles, might I add?), but you are also insinuating that you don’t want fat people clothed, or at least not in anything cute that might accidentally make them feel good about themselves.

There is a lot of information out there suggesting that fat may not be as dangerous as we have believed for so long, but this post isn’t even about that. Because that’s irrelevant. The point of this post is that fat people are PEOPLE. And people deserve equity. People deserve to feel cute. People deserve to feel joy. End of story. Period. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation about this with people who are not yet acquainted with these principles – and I get that, I really do! Ideal body size is a construct and constructs are nearly impossible to see and even harder to entirely demolish. I’ve been working with SOAM for 13 years and with body image for most of my life and I still struggle with it. I promise you, it’s okay to have a hard time grasping this shit if it’s new for you. But the reason it’s so hard to discuss is because every argument will inevitably go back to “but health…?” It’s time to fully separate health from fatness, and it’s the only way to move forward. Health IS important, yes, but not only is size a poor indicator of health (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. are much better indicators), but another person’s health is not your business. Even if you love them. I promise. Shame never healed anyone.

Because I know people will be asking, I’ll make a simple acknowledgement that offering support is always loving and wonderful, but it absolutely must be with consent and on the person’s own terms because they are the only person on this planet who is an expert in themselves, and only they know which steps they need to take in their life at this moment.

So please, think about the people living inside the bodies, rather than the bodies themselves. End fat shaming. Now.

Categories: Activism, My Own Ramblings, News
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Mothers/Parents and Mental Health

This is a really important article from NPR that I shared on our Facebook page a few days ago. It talks about postpartum psychosis, which is when a new mother has a break from reality. This illness is rare, but not as uncommon as you would think, because most women are too afraid to talk about it. According to the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Women’s Mental Health, only 1 to 20 women per 1,000 will have this disorder. But here’s the thing: women are, consciously or subconsciously, held by society to be mothers. Women who fail at this in one way or another are judged harshly. Women whose mental health suffers and affects their children are dealing not only with the stigma of “bad mothering” but also with that of mental illness.

I am going to say this one time only: mental illness is just another kind of regular illness. The brain is just as much a body part as the pancreas, but one would never judge a mother with diabetes for needing to stop to adjust her insulin, or for needing insulin in the first place (well, at least we tend not to judge those with Type I diabetes – the stigma against fatness is a whole other blog post).

Sometimes our bodies fail us. It is simply a part of being a living creature; we are imperfect.

And I do not deny that mental illness is a challenging thing to deal with. Unlike many other physical ailments, it can affect personality and that is truly a hard thing for those who suffer with it as well as those around them.

But it doesn’t make the stigma any more valid.

Here is a fact for you: Most medications are tested on men. Women have very different bodies and very different neurology, particularly in regards to hormones. Thus, being a woman and needing medication of any kind, you are already at a disadvantage. To add in something as complex as postpartum psychosis which, as we already noted, is dealing with two stigmas, and to try to balance the body and mind with a medication that hasn’t been tested on women, especially postpartum women, is a problem. (Here is a video that talks a little bit about the gender gap in medication testing. The video itself is about pain, but it’s not irrelevant because we do know that the gut and the brain, as well as the immune system and the gut, are connected in ways we do not fully understand.)

And the stigma is built into the mental health system, too. For instance, in trying to find care for my daughter (it is okay with her for me to discuss this publicly), we were met again and again with limited care for mental health. There are clinics here who will only see a patient for 13 visits, with a second set of 13 visits possible if still necessary, but no more. This may be logical for a kid who is simply needing to learn some coping skills or needs help navigating difficult interpersonal connections. But for a kid with a true mental illness, it is simply not enough in any way, shape, or form. You’d never find a medical hospital with a 13-visit limit on any other kind of care. If a child goes through the expected number of chemo sessions and still needs medical help, they will get appropriate medical care. But this isn’t true of mental health care. The stigma is built into the system itself.

If you read that NPR article, you will see the difference between care models here in the US and those in the UK where babies are sometimes allowed to stay with mom. Here in the US, however, infants are not even allowed to visit and breast pumps are not readily available. This is a woman’s problem in that it affects women directly, but it is a social problem when we consider the time off work the woman’s partner will need to take, the childcare involved of the infant and/or older children. Something like this could make or break a family’s survival and here in the US where we don’t offer healthcare to everyone, health problems often do break families, forcing them into poverty and potential homelessness.

I am not over-exaggerating.

I’d also like to quickly note that, yes, police can be involved in mental health cases where it is not safe to transport a person yourself. If you need to call for care (at least here in San Diego – you will want to look up your own local information) you should ask for the PERT team (psychiatric emergency response team). They will handcuff the person while transporting them and, while this is often perceived as treating them like criminals, it is not the intention to do so. It is done for safety and probably policy reasons. Perhaps this is something we need to work towards changing – I’m down with that. But I’m sharing this right now primarily because I think this is important information for the general public to know – it’s certainly not something you want to be surprised by at your lowest moment, and it’s something that can be so easily misunderstood.

So, what do we do about this problem of mental health care, in particular as it pertains to women?

Well, first of all, we share the facts. Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to appropriate medical care. People struggling with mental health issues are at a disadvantage when it comes to appropriate access to services and care. Women struggling with mental health issues are dealing with this from every angle, and women of color or other oppressed groups are oppressed even more. So talk about this. Share the facts with your friends and family even if – especially if – they do not pertain directly to you. A voice outside the community can be a powerful ally.

Second, listen to your friends and family when they speak of their mental health issues. Do not tell them how to fix it, do not offer suggestions. Instead just tell them that you hear them. Offer to help them find services (here in San Diego the Access and Crisis Line is your first stop). Promise that you don’t judge them and that you love them. Remind them that this is just another illness like any other illness and the fact that it is happening in their head doesn’t make them any less worthy of help or love.

If – and only if – you are ready to share your own story of struggling with mental health, share it. The more people admit secrets, the more we find we are not alone – just like with our pictures of our bodies here, we can stand together and be stronger than we are alone. If you want to share your story here, you can do that here.

And if you are a mama or a parent who has struggled with mental health issues of any severity, I am here to tell you that you are not alone and that it does not make you a bad parent. You are worthy of love and life. It is scary sometimes to seek help, and I will admit that sometimes even mental health practitioners are terrible at understanding mental illness, but keep moving forward. Don’t allow yourself to believe anyone – professional or not – that mental health problems are something you should be ashamed of. It’s simply a thing that happened, just like any other challenge people face, no stigma necessary, no judgement at all. You are strong and worthy and beautiful just as you are. I see you and I hear you.

Categories: Activism, Depression and/or Mental Illness (Unrelated to Pregnancy), My Own Ramblings, News, Postpartum Psychosis, PPD – Postpartum Depression
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