Raising Boys To Value Women Starts With Us

Date: February 16, 2015

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Valerie Boucher

As a mother of three boys I never really felt that concerned about the campaigns where the focus was on how to raise young girls and empower them with self esteem, how it is important to change the message that the fashion industry sends and how we need to start changing our own behaviors as mothers to set an example.

But then one day we were looking at a movie and one of my boys said that this actress was fat. As I looked at the screen I could not believe my eyes. This character was far from being fat. In fact, she was a very beautiful lady who in my eyes was just glowing.

That was a wakeup call for me. That is when I realised that being the mother of three boys I had a responsibility as well. To teach them what is real beauty. What a real woman looks like.

As they grow into young men, I decided that since they will be the ones looking at their wives in the future I need to make them see what I believe beauty is. And it needs to start at home, with me, how I was seeing myself.

If a woman feels beautiful, she glows, and it shows in every aspect of her life.

Being their mother, we are the first woman that our boys see naked. We are the first woman that they look up to. And if we don’t see ourselves as beautiful individuals, then how can we expect them to see us any differently. If we let the media, the fashion industry with their standards and the magazines everywhere influence our young men on what a woman should look like, then we are missing half of the problem. We may do all the campaigns in the world about empowering women with our real beauty; if we forget our boys then the battle will be so much harder to win!

This past summer I decided that I was going to wear a bikini at the beach with my kids for the first time in years. I avoided going swimming because I did not feel comfortable in my own skin. That was then.

I went to a bathing suit store, tried many of them, finally found one that I felt was fit for my body type and we went to the beach. When I heard my boys telling me how beautiful I looked I almost cried. Because I realised right then, that everything starts within you.

The scars of my pregnancies did not matter anymore. Because I had achieved one thing. To teach my boys that even though I did not look like the magazine covers, I was a beautiful woman. And we went to the beach every single day that we could.

And I began to talk to them in a way to make them see that the messages the media was sending were wrong. I showed them over and over the pictures of me pregnant, and I even let them see the scars on my belly as they called it their little house!

Focusing on the little girls to raise them as future powerful and confident woman is vital and necessary. But teaching our boys on how real women look, so that in the future, when they put their eyes on their wives they will make them feel beautiful too, is also important.

We as women, mothers, sisters and friends have a responsibility, and it’s to make the world see us as beautiful as we are.


Valerie Boucher: As a mother of 3 boys that are  all  into sports, hockey and soccer  i am surrounded by men. I feel it is my responsibility to help change the world and it starts at home.

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/valerie.boucher.121

Email: eranaee@gmail.com


 

An Ode To Blubber, Burgers And Self-Love

Date: December 6, 2014

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Carina Lyall

Do you strive for perfection or feel shitty when you look in the mirror? Are you pretty sure that Self-Love is a short drive from Minsk? These are my thoughts on why being called fat in public once again pushed me to change how I related to myself - for the better.

My weight… Just writing that sparks so many thoughts I have a hard time keeping up. Feeling forced to relate to how I look, what I weigh and most importantly what am doing about it has swung into my life again and again.

Some have said I am easy on the eye, others say there is so much of me I am hard to miss. This is a recent story about getting my personal space invaded by other people’s opinions and the ripple effect of them on me and my life.

The foundation of my work is that you belong here exactly as you are. I believe that there is no perfect ideal to strive for. Body image, intellect, beauty, coolness. It has been the work I needed to do with myself to feel free in my life, and it is how I support women to feel content, happy and strong as they are.

I know that for me not owning that statement has been exhausting. In motherhood I read books, looked at women who wizzed through the challenging parts smiling and looking great, and I felt like a constant failure. Going to meetings with oatmeal in my hair, or saying that “I just” gave birth to excuse the blubber on my belly.

The art of comparison once again left me feeling less worthy. The foundation of being wrong or less than, isn’t a nice place to be and very, very seldom leads to a life with happiness and ease. The self-compassion practice showing up just as I am changing my life.

Does this mean that that foundation is never shaken? No. But it takes a bit more to get the earth quaking, and it happened a few weeks ago.

This is a little story I want to share.

I was out for drinks with my two sisters. We had a great time and we decided to end the good times with a burger. Now it is no secret that I have put on weight after 2 pregnancies and what not, but burger it was – Yolo or something.

In the queue some guys thought we had cut in line. One looked at me and said that I probably shouldn’t be in there anyway, considering my weight. Tears galore came and I felt like crap. Reduced to an unworthy lump of Blubber (did you every read Judy Blume’s book? It’s awesome… anyway).

The sense that everyone in there were looking at me deciding whether they agreed or not felt humiliating. I had to get out of there. Shaken by how someone could effect how I felt about myself stayed with me for days.

Fast forward 2 weeks and my man and I are away for the weekend at a music festival. As I am coming out of the toilet area a woman stops me. She is a scout for a model agency and thinks I would be an awesome model for the normal size/curve department. Huh?

All of the sudden someone’s opinion of me steered me in another direction.

So which “truth” do I go with? A third – my own? How I see myself? How I feel about myself? Or do I let either of their perspectives rule and dictate whether I feel worthy just as I am? Do I wait till I have X weight to go out again or do I pout my lips and work it like a supermodel? The “you belong here, exactly as you are” reminds me that none of the above is my truth. It is their eyes looking at me. What matters is how I look at me. And this has been such an awesome reminder.

BMI and weight has nothing to do with it. I feel it is irrelevant for most women. I believe it begins with how you feel. Does the need to shift come from “I am a problem that needs to be fixed” or does it come from a deep knowing of worth and compassion and from the asking of “So what do I want?”

This is what we can work on – how you see you. And knowing that you belong here, because hey you already are!


Carina Lyall is a story worker and meditation teacher. She has lived in 4 countries, worked with the American and British army and picked herself up from severe anxiety. She now works with women in supporting them to more self-compassionate lives. She has co-written a book on healing from within and creates online courses on story work and self-compassion. She strives to keep it profound and humorous and blogs about her life over at www.carinalyall.com and Facebook at The Self Compassionate Woman.


Image: Christi Nielsen. Find at Flickr.

You Get What You Get, Don’t Get Upset

Date: December 5, 2014

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Alison Tedford

It was Christmas. The lesson was Christmas morning etiquette.

I knew many gifts had been carefully selected for my growing son, and that he lacked a filter for his words (much like his mother). I asked him what he was expecting for Christmas and how he planned to handle it if he received something he wasn’t expecting. He looked at me as if I were asking the most obvious question in the world.

“You get what you get, don’t get upset. That’s what my teacher told me. That’s my plan.”

This is a particularly valuable message for me, as I look down at my 31 year old form some days. This was not what I expected. I have a history of harbouring a certain level of disappointment around my ability to meet my own expectations. Elizabeth Gilbert recently had a very powerful message around perfectionism and its relationship with fear. I think for some of us, as women, we pursue this perfectionist concept of how we should look to insulate ourselves from the risk of rejection. We fear rejection in our relationships and in our professional lives. We fear that this fat that we carry says something to other people about our commitment, our work ethic, our viability as a lover or even our intelligence.

Rejection is something that I have feared because I am far from perfect. There are soft spots, wobbly spots, things that jiggle and sway. I don’t know that I necessarily fit the ideal. The ideal changes a lot too so it’s really hard for anybody to fit the ideal. I don’t know what I expected exactly. I don’t know what 31 is supposed to look like. There’s a lot of conflicting messages from the world about how I should look.

The other day some article on the internet tried to sell me recipes that would get rid of my “flabdomen”. I’m an entry level dance teacher, and my anatomy is rusty, but I’m pretty sure “flabdomen” is not actually a thing. It’s actually a cutesy marketing gimmick that has the added bonus of making fun of something women are already self-conscious about so they might buy your product/idea/philosophy in desperation. Apparently, bellies are not supposed to have fat.

It might not make a lot of sense, but in some ways my fat is like an annoying younger sibling. I’m going to pick on it if I want to, but for goodness sakes don’t presume to pick on it for me. For that reason, I couldn’t disagree more with the external suggestion that my belly isn’t okay because there is fat. My happy fat is privileged, thank you very much.

It’s happy fat because part of the reason it’s gained this shape is my greatest source of joy. The most perfect child I have ever laid eyes on was miraculously formed in the depths of my magical belly. That’s my son’s “humble beginnings”. Some people may not think it’s much, but it’s all he had, and it is home.

It’s really even more than a home, it’s a temple. It’s something to celebrate. My belly is evidence of so many of life’s celebrations. I wouldn’t trade the slice of cake I had at my Grandfather’s 80th birthday for all the cauliflower “rice” in the world, whether it got rid of my “flabdomen” or not. That was a celebration I got to participate in and witness, and being a witness is so powerful.

I’m a First Nations woman, and our culture involves ceremony. Part of Coast Salish ceremonial tradition is that you feed the witnesses, so that they have the strength to witness the “work” or the ceremony that is to take place. I have witnessed a lot in my life, and my body has been fed so that I might have the strength to witness more.

More is something I’m not afraid to be. My body is part of who I am. The journey to accepting my body has turned out to be one about accepting me as a person so that I can be “more” than I was before. My struggle with eating disorders was about disappearing and being “less”, needing “less”, using “less”. I want to be “more” now. I want to be present.

When it comes down to it, my body is a present. It’s a gift and an unexpected one. I used to feel like it was a Christmas sweater: itchy, unwieldy, grating against my skin. Time has weathered it somewhat and it’s now soft, inviting and cherished, lumps and all. It might not be what I expected, but it is a gift to be celebrated. It was given to me with love. Like my son says, “You get what you get, don’t be upset”.


Alison Tedford is a single mom from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. She is a data analyst, a pole dance instructor and an eating disorder support group facilitator. She documents her journeys in fitness, parenting and feminism on her blog Sparkly Shoes and Sweat Drops. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.


Image: Mishi Yoshihito. Find on Flickr.

Shine Bright Like A Diamond

Date: November 30, 2014

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Diane Hopkins

I never used to shine bright like a diamond. I was hiding my beauty – the inner and outer – tucking it away inside my body so no one else could see. A few brave souls ventured there anyway, somehow seeing through the layers of walls I had put up to protect myself through to the real me. But to most of the world I felt invisible - unseen and unheard. I was outwardly expressing myself in my academic career as a lecturer but outside of that world I kept myself censored and locked up.

Why was I hiding? Because I was scared of what other people might say about the real me. Who I really was appeared not to conform to what was normal or desirable. It seemed safer to hide away anything that could be the subject of criticism, humiliation or other forms of negative attention.

I was teased and mocked a fair amount when I was a child and teenager because I looked different. It was mostly my very pale skin and freckles that made me stand out but it didn’t stop at my skin. Other things about my physical appearance seemed wrong - my lips were too fat and my bottom stuck out too much. I remember feeling like I wanted to crawl up and disappear into a big hole in the ground. Of course I tried to keep a brave face and pretend I wasn’t hurt. After all, this is what we are taught by society – to act tough as if nothing affects us.

Whenever I did let on that I was hurting I suffered from accusations of being ‘too sensitive’. The comments usually came from girlfriends and they hurt very deeply even if they were delivered under the guise of playful mocking. I remembered each of these words as if they were arrows to my heart and kept them with me as reminders of how unsatisfactory I was.

Instead of dealing with my hurt feelings I spent my teenage years trying to change myself. I wore fake tan, considered bleaching my freckled skin and even attempted to suck in my bottom by keeping it clenched when I walked. Unfortunately none of these things were very convincing. The fake tan looked orange, freckles would return in the sun, and the bum clenching thing was totally unsustainable.

But it wasn’t just the way I looked that seemed unsatisfactory to others. I often felt I needed to hide my positive qualities to limit positive attention too. Friends and teachers seemed uncomfortable when I shone too brightly so I hid my high-scoring test results from them and pretended I needed help. When I look back upon that time I realise I must have started toning myself down from a very early age to try and be more like other people. It didn’t feel safe to be seen as different and all I wanted was to belong and be loved.

The sad thing was I wasn’t keeping myself safe nor was I really belonging. I was just faking it. Looking back at photos of myself I can see how inward my eyes looked as if I was afraid to really shine my essence forth into the world. It took people a long time to earn the trust needed for me to feel safe to be myself around them. I only dated men who I’d been friends with beforehand and only showed my more extroverted and playful side to very close friends. I’m surprised I let anyone in.

Over the past few years I have been gradually unwinding the fear and hurt feelings that kept the real me invisible to the outer world. I’ve done this by revisiting those painful feelings from my childhood and teenage years with emotional release therapies and through empowering myself to face my fears by exposing my true self more and more as my comfort zone keeps on expanding. My fear of what might happen if people truly see or hear me has started to dissolve as I prove that many of my fears were not founded in truth. I’ve been able to stand up at open mic nights and read my personal thoughts out aloud. I’ve begun dressing in a way that allows my outer beauty to show. I’ve started salsa lessons. I’ve stopped shying away from social interactions. I express myself more.

The most transformative thing about this whole journey is that I now truly understand that if people don’t like what they see or hear in me, then that is perfectly ok. I can handle it and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me. Other people’s views and preferences do not take away from my intrinsic value or worth. It’s not my job to please them.

With this newfound wisdom I claim my birthright to shine bright like a diamond. If not now, when?


Diane Hopkins is Managing Editor at Women Enough. She left behind her career as a lecturer of Urban Planning to go on an adventure in the unknown and follow her passion of writing. Diane is currently completing her first memoir novel on following the signs to love. You can follow her writing about living a life beyond limits at her blog Coffee Shop Guru and on Facebook.


Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões. Find at Flickr.

My Eating Disorder Became My Source Of Empowerment

Date: November 6, 2014

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Erin McKelle

When I was 12 years old, I developed an eating disorder. I was healing from incest, while also coping with bullying and harassment I was experiencing at school. It was the first time I ever felt truly alone and I didn’t know whom to turn to or how to express what was going on to anyone. I was living in shame and denial.

This was also the first time in my life that I no longer had a bedtime set by my mom, so I could stay up as late as I wanted. She usually hit the hay around 9pm, so typically I was the last one to retire at night.

I remember one night around 10pm I was hungry and decided to get a snack in the kitchen while I was watching re-runs of Friends. I found some food and brought it back to the couch with me to eat while I watched. Then, I wanted more. I soon couldn’t stop myself and after about a half hour of this, found myself sickeningly fully. It was somehow, strangely relieving.

I kept doing this and never really stopped. It reached its peak during my freshman year of college, where I lived in a single dorm room and had unlimited supplies of food available to me. I was breaking off an abusive relationship and simultaneously relapsing back into depression. I used food to cope more than ever before.

One day I was at the doctors and when I stepped onto the scale, saw the number 200 flash before my eyes, which was in my mind, was the threshold I would never reach. Plus, it was 15 pounds more than I had weighed 2 and a half months before. It was a serious wake up call and I knew that I had a problem.

That was last October and I’m proud to say that since then, I’ve recovered a significant amount. I’ve managed to maintain my weight, get a handle on binging, and have started to develop a passion for fitness. Getting to this point was a struggle though and admitting to myself that I had an eating disorder was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I felt like an imposter, like I couldn’t be trusted. I dealt with horrific dieticians who caused me to internalize my shame even more. The hardest part was telling people close to me. I’m a perfectionist and always appear to have it together; I felt that this diagnosis would destroy all that I’d worked to create.

It was when I realized that all of this was an image, a façade in a sense, which I put on for the world to mask my true state of being, everything suddenly clicked. I knew that I couldn’t spend my life living a lie or hiding my true self and that I deserved better. Asking for help and admitting my flaws would in fact make me stronger. The more that I owned my experiences and realities, the easier they would be to embrace.

If there is one thing I can tell you about eating disorder recovery, it’s that it will take you as far as you want it to go. You can heal from more than just disordered eating in the process and also find new ways to empower yourself through your body, if you open yourself up to those possibilities. When I realized it wasn’t going to be easy, immediate, or constant (most people relapse, it doesn’t make you a failure), the easier it was to heal.

Having an eating disorder is no longer a hindrance to me, instead it’s a source of empowerment.


Erin McKelle is a fearless feminist, writer, and activist based out of Cleveland, Ohio. She will soon graduate from Ohio University with a degree in Women and Gender Studies and currently works in communications and social media management. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, and follow her Tumblr blog.


 

Pretty Is Just My Face

Date: October 2, 2014

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Tui Anderson

I am 5’6” and naturally thin. When I do put on weight (the usual few pounds in winter), it goes to my breasts first and comes off there last. I have pretty green eyes and an above average IQ.

Now, before you start resenting me, I am 41, have grey hair (under the Loreal #4) and live in Nepal- I am no threat or appeal to anyone! So why have I told you all these things about me? Because it is not the stuff that matters about me. You could admire me for these traits. You could resent me for them. You could downright hate me- whatevs.

You see, none of the things I have described above, bear any reflection on me. They are not achievements, they are not things I have earned- they are simply the package I arrived in. Something over which I have absolutely no control and hence can take no real pride in. Not only am I not my appearance, it is not something I value.

Oh, don’t get me wrong- I appreciate it. I understand the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways in which it has made my life easier. Yes, in this era, it is a huge advantage to be thin. However, in previous times, I would have been considered way too skinny (and would be a bluestocking spinster to boot), so this being an asset is merely an arbitrary function of the timing of my birth.

Compliments on my appearance leave me feeling uncomfortable- it is sweet, but holds very little meaning to me. These are attributes over which I have very little control. I would rather you notice that I am kind or funny or interesting. Or that I have emotional integrity, or that I love my family. These are things I can value. These are things I have worked for and, at times, struggled for. These are (some of) the markers of who I am as a person at this time.

The personal attributes that I value are the things that I have had to choose to be. Things I have had to work at, work for. I wasn’t always kind- I used to be a bit of a bitch. Often accidentally, fuelled by my insecurities, but mean none-the-less. I have worked to stop that. I try to be funny without being mean. Emotional integrity has been a journey of learning to not dump or blame or hit out reactively. Liking my family is not always easy with my sisters. They can push my buttons and I could choose to not talk to them, but I choose to see the love and care in their words, rather than any other interpretations. I choose to be their loving family. These are my choices, these are the things I have earned and worked for and achieved. These are the things I value about myself.

I have always said that pretty blond children grow into very dull adults. They peak in their mid-teens and never learn to be anything more than pretty. If you spent your whole childhood getting compliments for something that was just there, would you work to be anything more? Some of the most interestingly beautiful women in the world have described themselves as being awkward children. So they became more than their appearance, eventually becoming beautiful adults, but also being more than just their looks. Don’t we admire our kind and interesting movie stars just a tiny bit more than the merely pretty or even beautiful ones? Isn’t Meryl Streep far more attractive than Jessica Simpson, even though perhaps not as conventionally pretty on the surface?

So what would happen if we all spent the same amount of time and effort on our mind and heart as we do on our body? How would the world look if being kind and clever (rather than just smart) and generous were as magazine-worthy as being pretty and skinny? What if, rather than that new lipstick, you bought a book? For someone else? What if, rather than spending 30 minutes on your face, you spent 30 minutes on your heart?

What if we were not only kinder to ourselves in all these things, but were more vocal to our friends and out children about these attributes. What if we praised little girls for their kindness instead of their hair color? What if we reinforced little boys when they showed love and emotional courage rather than sporting prowess?

What if we set the same goals around growing our personal values as we do around losing weight? What if we stared into our souls the same way as we stare at the bathroom mirror? What if we bronzed and highlighted our hearts the same way we do our eyes and cheekbones? What if we styled our kindnesses and love to stay in place throughout the day, like our hair? What if we groomed our insides to look as good as our outsides?

You can choose where your values lie. We do get to choose our weight or height or eye color. These things are not achievements. But the height of your kindness is an achievement. The weight of your integrity is a true asset. The color of your heart is everything.

PS. As for the Loreal #4, I am trying to be self-aware, not dead!


 Tui Anderson is a traveling homebody with a busy brain and a calm soul. She accidentally became a writer after the Universe answered a frustrated question with a profound thought. In the words of one Buddhist teacher, she is a “fluffy spiritualist” who believes there are no wrong roads to happiness. You can find her on her public Facebook page Tui Anderson.


 

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