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Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Loveless at 34

July 12, 2017
garbage

By Shauna Lange

The day I found out I was having a heart attack, was a day like any other.  Other than the radiating pain in my arm and chest every time I moved, it was a fairly average day.  I smoked my two cigarettes on the way to work.  I typed my spreadsheets, drank my coffee, enjoyed some laughs with friends, binged at every meal, and smoked my last 2 cigarettes on the way to my second job.  Most importantly, I spent a good portion of the day internally bullying myself for every calorie, every mistake and bullshit excuse, with the good old stand-by “I’ll just try again tomorrow” – rationalizing every ugly moment.

Since complete self-loathing accompanies the decision to eat a few too many McDonald’s french fries, sans ketchup (to save some calories) you can only imagine my emotional state when the ER doctor came to me later that evening.  With a look of shock on her face, she told me that I was having a heart attack. As the tears streamed down my face, with a gaggle of hospital staff staring at me, paralyzed by my meltdown, I realized how truly broken I was.

I felt rejected by my own body.  How could it do this to me?  Stupid heart.  Lazy ass.  Ugly idiot. Fucking food addict.  I stayed up all night in the hospital in this state of anger and loss. I cried or I berated myself.  I sat there for hours and tried to figure out all the things I had done that lead me to that moment.  The years of poor eating and binging, the avoidance of exercise over the last year, the decision to take myself off my diabetes meds while putting myself on birth control to avoid my fear of pregnancy, all the way to the final cigarette I tried to have in the car as I drove myself to the hospital with pain shooting from my chest to my arm.

March 22, 2017 was my day of reckoning.  It was time to pay for my sins.  At 34 years of age, I was now confronted with the reality that all aspects of my life needed to change.  Each health issue needed to be addressed; each coping mechanism needed to be taken away and replaced with something healthy.  And while I had spent the last four years of my life making some healthy strides emotionally and physically, it was time to take off the kid gloves and dig into the mess.  Quit smoking, control my diabetes, exercise, and most importantly, finally deal with my compulsive eating.

I spent the first few weeks after getting out of the hospital lost.  For me, it’s been difficult not to blame my own actions for my heart attack.  “If only.”  The words circled around in my brain every day. While I was able to quit smoking and start exercising fairly easily, the food continues to be a struggle.  For the last 15 years, binging has been a way of life.  Food is used to celebrate or mask all emotion.  Hating myself for eating is an automatic response.  Choosing to eat poorly is easy, and frankly, safe and comforting.  Once that food is shoved into my mouth, an insult immediately follows.  With each bite I take, I berate myself, and imagine years of fast food piled on top of each other, an impenetrable wall in my stomach while the self-hate has created a wall around my heart so I feel loveless.  No love can get in, and no love will come out.

Where did my love go?  I don’t have problems expressing love, or cheering people up.  In fact, making people laugh is my favorite thing about life.  Making someone truly laugh is powerful.  So, why do I stop the love from penetrating my heart?  Where is my self-compassion, my patience, my own truth?  Even when people asked me how I was doing, I replied very upbeat and excited and made sure to reassure them that I was good.

I finally admitted to myself that I failed.  Not at losing the weight, or taking care of myself, or listening to the experts, or any of the shit the world throws at you.  I failed at loving my body, inside and out.  I became loveless at 34. “You gotta love yourself first” they say, right?  Fuck that. You have to love period. I realized that so often, I’m not actually sad or mad or angry.  I THINK I need to feel this way.  That my life should have some drama in it, or it’s not worthy.  But when I asked myself – “Worthy of what?”  – I came up with a lot of bullshit and decided enough was enough.  I admitted that while I can enlist the help of family, friends, doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists, they can’t do the work for me.  They can love me, and I can love them, but I still need to love myself.  This is starting to sound like an ad for masturbation….Let’s move on.

I admitted that regardless of the number on the scale, size of my boobs, the strength of my arms, the color of my nails, or the shininess of my hair, what is actually important to me are the beating organs that keep me alive. The gifts of the senses.  The ability to sleep and dream and wake up rested and ready to take life by the proverbial lady balls.  My body is not a garbage disposal, a punching bag, or a broken piece of glass. It’s fucking beautiful, in all its messy, fatty, sexy glory.

I may have a stent in my artery, but that just means I’m one piece closer to being bionic! I’ve got amazing bedhead.  I love my eyes, and sometimes I look at them in the mirror because the color is so unique.  If you ask me, my boobs are perfect.  I hate wearing a bra, and thankfully, my breasts are still a little perky!  My brain never stops, and while sometimes it’s exhausting, I love the constant state of randomness it’s in.

I’m learning to love the bloody, messy bleeding heart inside me.  I want to tear the wall down and build a nice soft pillow to protect it and keep it safe.  My heart is my queen, and she’s getting stronger every day.

I am beautiful, and I am fat. I have heart disease, and I am a diabetic. I am both complicated and simple.  I am love, and I am pain. I am loud and shy. We are all these amazing dichotomies and creations of our own choosing, and I am learning to embrace all the good and the bad, because I no longer want to be perfect.  I just want to be me, and as corny and cheesy as it sounds, it took breaking my heart to find the courage to accept that I want to live a life full of love.

Shauna Lange was born and raised in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from Lemoyne College in Syracuse NY. While she dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, it’s only been recently that she has allowed myself to write, and share it with the world. Shauna can be found on facebook and on instagram. She also loves photography, comedies, and the beach.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, Self Image

Pale Pink Robe

April 16, 2017

By Anonymous

I have a pale pink silk robe hanging in my closet.  Every time I open the door, it makes me feel delicate and artful and foreign and adventurous. In life, I am better off in a gray zippered sweatshirt because of the coffee I dribble, the olive oil spatters that zap me when stir-frying onions, the mascara wiped on my sleeves from the night before. Once a week I put the silk on, feel chilly, and go back to the sweatshirt.

But, god, I love that robe.

I bought it at the Casbah on Sunset. The Casbah was my favorite place to write ten years ago. Everything was beautiful and curated and sheer and perfect and the coffee was strong and there was the sense that the owner didn’t treat the staff like garbage. It was a good place to be. A good place to write and get hopped up on caffeine and candied apricots and look at huaraches and baby T-shirts and Turkish towels I could not afford.

When I look at the robe in my closet now, I think of the day I got it. I was with two friends. I had stared at it during previous visits. The perfect, barely blushing pin-up, nippley shade of pink with a muted, red, woodblock pattern, a simple cut, sheer-ish, a belt. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

Why I’m Thrilled To Have Gained 50 pounds

February 10, 2017

By Jennifer Ann Butler

Hi, I’m Jen. I weigh around 160 pounds and am 5’4″. This is me today:

 

And this was me at my skinniest, 50 pounds ago: (I weighed about 110 pounds and wore a 00 and was excited about having to shop in Abercrombie Kids upon losing more weight.)

  You’ll notice a cane and a bandage on my foot/ankle in the first 111-pound pic.

That’s the injury that saved my life.

At that time, I was only ingesting 1100 net calories a day, and that was including my alcohol intake (which was substantial). I ran a 5k (3.1ish miles) at least 5 days a week and worked out some way or another every single day. If I ever took a day off from exercising, I further limited my food (but never my alcohol) to make up for it, and constantly berated myself for being “lazy” by not exercising.

Oftentimes, I would get on Instagram and look at pictures of beautiful skinny women until I felt ugly enough to work out, no matter how exhausted or sore I was. I chewed pain pills and regularly took Midol and Goodies powder to numb myself. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

One Twenty Three

October 10, 2016
body

By Beth Cartino

Obscene.

This is the word I hear in my head whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a car window, bathroom mirror, or full body photograph. I sometimes freeze in disbelief. I have no idea who this reflection belongs to.

A dress, seemingly tasteful and flowing on a smaller body becomes obscene over the dimpled creased lines of mine. My body always seems as if it is trying to burst out of my clothes. I wonder how I live with myself sometimes. I wonder when my body betrayed me. I wonder when I betrayed by body and why have I made the distinction between myself and my body. I am two separate beings inhabiting the same skin and we are at war. We are mortal enemies. I am the Hatfield’s and my body the McCoy’s. I am Irish Catholic, my body Protestant.

There can be no peace between us.

I am my own body terrorist. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

I Know What You’re Staring At- Teeth and Class in America.

September 30, 2016

By Celeste Gurevich

The scene goes like this: you are chatting with someone, somewhere, and because you’re half deaf in your right ear, you’re standing pretty close so you don’t lose the ends of words. You’re right there in the conversation, and then that thing happens. That jolt in your body when you see the person’s eyes looking a little bit crossed and aimed lower down, and you realize that they’re not looking you in the eyes anymore, but not quite at your chin either and somehow their gaze is both loose and locked.

And then, like every time, that stomach melting wallop of shame. It blasts into your nerve endings and makes you want to cry. Or run. Bolt stage left, and crawl under a rock.

Because that crossed eyed dip of the eyes south means they are staring at the crack in your front tooth.     Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

The Bare Truth

July 22, 2016
aging

By Leslie Wibberley

I step naked from my morning shower. My calloused feet leave damp shrouds on the tile floor as I move towards the gilt-framed mirror that holds court above the double sinks in our bathroom. My belly jiggles. Silvery threads drawn in lacy patterns across my pale skin by my two beautiful babies dance in a gentle rhythm. They remind me that my daughters are now adults in the eyes of the law, although never in my own. My small but pendulous breasts play a counter melody, softly slapping against my chest with each step.

I am fifty-seven years old. Fully clothed, I can pass for fifty-six, on a good day. But here, in my birthday suit, bathed in the unforgiving brightness of this early spring morning, I appear much older.  The mirror reflects back an image that has, in the past few years, slowly begun to resemble that of my mother.

Horizontal lines groove my forehead. Etched by twenty-three years of motherhood, worry, stress, and exhaustion. Matching channels run from the corners of my nose, to the edge of my lips. Marionette lines, I’m told. Lines easily erased by fillers, Botox, or, as far as I am concerned, other equally implausible solutions to the ravages of time. These wrinkles are balanced nicely by a series of crow’s feet that fan out from the corners of both eyes, and a few parallel lines running just above the tip of my nose. From scrunching when I smile, I think.  These are my happy lines. Drawn by decades filled with triumphs, big and small, and endless joyful moments. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Young Voices

Born To Be Bald

June 8, 2016
acceptance

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Addie Newcombe

Many people have never heard of Alopecia Areata. It means you don’t have any hair. So the obvious million-dollar question comes up over and over again: if you could have your hair back, would you?

Many women answer yes, and that’s fine. But I offer a resounding NO! I do not want my hair back. Ever!

Yes, this puts me at odds with a lot of bald women, including the four profiled for a piece in the “Fashion and Style” section of the New York Times. They all wish they had their hair back because the emotional discomfort of being bald has not yet subsided—washing their insecurities clean.

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles. It made me completely bald at the ripe old age of…six. That was fifteen years ago. Out of the 6.6 million people in the United States who have the disease, I have only met two people without hair—well, three including myself, but I’m still meeting parts of who I am. Not experiencing others with the disease has been extremely alienating. In a country with over 6.6 million people with my similarity, how have I only met TWO? Maybe I am wildly unaware of other people’s baldness or they are wearing hairpieces that are so life-like that I just don’t notice. I don’t think that is a bad thing, though. Anonymity is so hard to come by when you’re so physically different. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Self Image

Weight.

March 23, 2016

By Celia Finkelstein.

The first time I know that I am fat and that is bad is when I am ten.

That is the year I become a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. My mom says I asked to go on a diet. I don’t remember what precipitated this request, but I am sure she’s right.

I weigh 135 pounds at the first weigh in. When I find that first weigh in card ten years and 150 pounds later, I cry. I was my adult goal weight at 10.

Goal weight. It’s a phrase that causes mini-PTSD symptoms even as I type it. Along with words like “food diary” and “carbs” and “weigh in.”

My mother’s mother is weird about food. My mother is weird about food. I am weird about food. It is inevitable, I suppose. We live in the world.

When I was growing up, I could drink as much Coke as I wanted, but to this day I have never had a Twinkie because I wasn’t allowed. I know that I can buy them now, but they still seem forbidden. Also cancer causing.

One night, my mother and I split a Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Fudge Cake for dinner. We have Snickers ice cream bars for dessert. I am not supposed to tell my step-dad. My mother remembers this as a fun, whimsical evening with her daughter. I remember it as my first binge. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Self Image, Truth, writing

Ghosts

February 28, 2016

By Helena Montanez

The thing is, you don’t have to be told that certain things are for white people.

You just know it. Or at least believe it, in the way you believe other seemingly simple and absolute truths.

The sun will rise and set every day. Queerness is for white people. The sky is blue. Only white people can be mentally ill (and normally in the form of depression, or, say, something that can be used in court to explain why a man shouldn’t be held fully responsible for his decision to shoot up a public place). The world is a sphere. White people need more thrills from life, so they mess around with ridiculous stunts like skydiving, and/or the occult.

The reality of these things aren’t as simple; there are all sorts of factors that come into play to create them, such as gravity, lack of proper representation, and the like.

Still, none of that changes the fact that I, as a queer poc with social anxiety who happens to be interested in otherworldly things, am what shouldn’t exist, what some might even go so far as to claim doesn’t exist, because I’m probably making it up, trying to be as “other” as I can be. There’s a limit to how different a person can naturally be from what is the traditional norm before it’s labeled as a ploy for attention, and the bar for that limit is quite often set impossibly low.

In fact, a common consequence of this is the person in question doubting themselves and their diagnoses, sometimes believing that they’re just making it all up, that it’s all in their head (though, of course, the nature of mental illnesses is that it too lives in the mind). These sorts of doubts can be difficult to rid yourself of, even in a span of years, and especially when you can’t see yourself, in people like you, in the media.

I think that’s why I was determined to go on a school trip to take a ghost tour in Virginia City.

It was a good trip, all in all. I’d always been interested in history, and Virginia City is full of that, both good and bad, and readily apparent in the old buildings that line the streets, the boardwalks lined over the partially collapsed tunnels that run underneath the city. You could feel it in the air as we walked from place to place, as the tour guides told us stories of people and times gone by, as they asked ghosts to appear and make their presences known. Still, something about it all bothered me slightly.

The reason why didn’t hit me until later on. Maybe it’s ridiculous, but I’ve always believed in ghosts, or if not ghosts specifically, then at least some sort of entity, whatever you’d like to call it. And more than that, I believe that though they don’t have the same physical form, they’ve still got some semblance of being, and are deserving of respect (of course, there are evil spirits out there as well, but without knowledge of their stories or how they ended up that way, I’m more inclined to feel pity or sympathy towards them, even if they might feel that is worse).

I felt that certain people didn’t always show the proper respect towards the ghosts. In particular, in one part of the city there was allegedly the spirit of a young girl, and they didn’t necessarily act as if she were just that, a child, albeit a ghostly one.

It occurred to me that the ghosts and I have a few things in common, on a few basic levels: we’re not always treated like people, don’t always command respect, and though our reasons for being unable to tell our own stories differ, we often have to rely on others who aren’t like us to do so.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for some time now, despite the fact that I don’t know very many Mexican American authors, and even because of that. And during the tour, I felt a strong urge to learn more about the stories of the people who’d lived and died in that city, and to share their stories with more people, perhaps to bring some of them some sense of justice that they didn’t get to have in life. In the end, I suppose, my wish is the same in both cases: to give a voice to the largely voiceless.

Helen Montanez is an aspiring writer, currently a junior at Sierra Nevada College working towards a bachelor’s degree in English, and well on her way in achieving her goal of ascension to “local strange cat lady” status.

 

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough. Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

Anxiety, courage, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Fix Me

January 27, 2016

By Timna Understein

This story is dedicated to Aidan, who thankfully has found the truth…that there is NO magic pill, and who has discovered his gift of writing, which is ultimately a way through. The song that should accompany this piece is entitled “Falls Asleep at the Wheel” by The Hissy Fits.

Once upon a time, there was a tired girl.  Well, really, it was beyond tired…she was exhausted at best…and pretty much all of the time.  After the first cup of coffee quickly exited her body (by 10:00 AM), the ability to function in a regular day, became a struggle, to say the least.  Example: Up at 6:45 AM, coffee, moderate exercise, shower…typical actions taken by many each and every morning, was followed up by the feelings of, “If I put on my make-up, I’m going to have to take a nap, or maybe I can do my make-up laying down on my bed…But if I do that, I’m not sure I’ll get up.”  She knew this could not possibly be normal, nor did she want to continue to feel this way…everyday!

Many attempts were made through out each day to not feel this way…to fix this..to change it.  These attempts could look anything like drinking 6 cups of coffee a day, to running to doctors to beg for blood work, to plead for information, to be heard.  But…to no avail.

There were times of acceptance about feeling this way, living this way.  No.  Actually, there were not.  Never acceptance, but rather a sense of defeat, of, “Yea, I guess this is how I will feel each day.”  But then, there were also times of hope.  Hope looked like this: a lab result of severe anemia, or a low, positive ANA with the possibility of an autoimmune disorder.  THAT’S hope?!?!  Jesus fuck!

Recently, the girl came to the conclusion (after 7 years of feeling like this, and having every test available in this country done) that this must “just be” fatigue.  Pure and not simple, fatigue.  Ok, fine.  Chronic fatigue.  Yay.  A name for it.  Good.  When there’s a label, then there’s the ability to research, seek solution, obsess.  And oh hell yes, that is exactly what occurred.

This process was swift, just the way a girl like this would prefer- the faster the better.  Urgent.  Make it go away fast.

One day, the girl asked her pharmacologically gifted son if he knew of a drug that helps with exhaustion, but is not a stimulant {insert fact that this girl is in recovery and can not touch a lot of drugs that others might consider}.  He mentions something the girl had never heard of.  Well, actually, she had seen a movie all about it, but didn’t know at the time of viewing, that this was the drug the movie was about (Limitless).

Provigil (Modafinil).  What’s THAT????  The girl dives into the endless praise for this drug, how it’s life-changing and amazing, with no side effects at all.  WAIT!  Life-changing?  That was all she needed to hear.  The quest was on.  Within 24 hours, the girl had a poster presentation showing her valid need for this drug, research to back her, and an appointment with her doctor…for the next day.  Whirlwind into Provigiland. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Intimacy, Self Image, Sex, Sexuality

Ripe: Flaunting My Desire

January 17, 2016

By Andrea Jarrell

When I was ten, my mother declared me old enough to stay on my own between the time school let out and the time her Buick Skylark would roll up from work, tucking in behind our modest apartment near the Pacific Ocean. She tested me first, made me run a mock fire drill and a bad-guy-at-the-door drill. After passing her gauntlet, I was liberated from my babysitter, the muumuu-wearing, horn-toenailed Mrs. Carmichael.

Although we never would have referred to me as a latchkey kid (my mother forbade me to wear a key around my neck), that’s what I was. During those witching hours growing up in 1970s Los Angeles, I banded together with other untethered children. We dared each other to jump from my second story bedroom window into thick ivy below. We roamed the neighborhood on our bikes, stole candy from the supermarket, and tried out the confessional box at St. Bernard’s even though we weren’t Catholic.

But sometime during sixth grade, that daring girl I’d been just the year before turned inward. Unlike my classmates, I’d begun to look more woman than girl. Boys who had once been friends accused me of stuffing my bra; they taunted and grabbed me. Too much engine under the hood for the girl I was, I didn’t know how to respond. I was ashamed of their attentions mostly because my body seemed to be complicit, revealing new desires I wanted to keep secret. Only after school was out, left to my own devices and free to discover the rev and purr of my body, could I appreciate my full breasts in the mirror.

When I wasn’t lost in myself, I escaped into television. This was before VCRs and TiVo. My options were soap operas, bad cartoons, game shows, and my favorite, Westerns. I liked the old ones made before I was born:  Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and The Rifleman. At that age, I vacillated between wanting the rifle-wielding Chuck Connors for myself and wanting him to ride up on his horse and rescue my single mother.

One memorable commercial peppered these shows. Voiced by spokesman James Garner, the ad provoked a longing in me I’ve not forgotten, both a yearning and an urge to act.

The ad was for strawberries, sponsored by the California Strawberry Growers Association.

Just as there was no on-demand television then, fruits had strict seasons that lasted only a few months. Over photos of sliced berries garnishing piping hot oatmeal and piled high on waffles laced with maple syrup, Mr. Garner teased: “Imagine strawberries on a crisp autumn or cold winter morning?” His closing pitch: “Why now? Because they’re here now.”

It was the here now that pierced me. Come October and December, I would want those strawberries, yet they would be an impossibility. The memory of May’s shortcake would be my only salve.

Wise to the growing number of latchkey kids, television executives started creating programming just for us. The ABC Afterschool Special dove deep into taboo topics that called to me. By the time my mother came home, my nose was pressed against a glass of teen sex, runaways, anorexia, alcoholism, and feminism.

Even by high school, though, when the bodies of my classmates had caught up to mine, I had yet to act – to delve into real sex, to drink, to stay out late, to speak out for causes I believed in, to flout authority in any way. Not wanting to risk the judgment of others, I sat on the sidelines hungry for a taste of the grown up things I longed to do.

***

I have a man between my thighs, but it’s not what you think.

I’ve just swung my leg over the back of his Ninja sport bike and tucked my hands into the front pockets of his leather jacket. Pulling away from the curb, already the seat vibrates my most secret places. As we take off down the block, my knees press into his hips, giving me the illusion I’m in control and steering, but with the pavement so close my life is in his hands.

The sun is neon orange and low. It’s Friday evening in early September, technically still summer, the air buttery soft around me. I live on the other side of the country now, just outside of Washington, D.C. My local grocer carries strawberries year round. Not a girl anymore, I’ve been married to my husband Brad for over twenty years. Our daughter is in college and our son has just started his senior year in high school.

The year before our girl went away, I was overcome with fits of crying. Like a wave I could see off in the distance from shore, our life as a family of four was coming to an end. Scared the bittersweetness of it all might pull me under, I braced myself to ride it out. That was a couple of years ago. Now with our son’s departure only a year off, instead of an end it feels like a beginning.

Earlier in the afternoon, I texted Brad, “How about a motorcycle ride?”

We leave our neighborhood behind, heading upcountry on roads whose names—Lost Knife, Old Gunpowder, Bowie Mill, Goshen—inspire the storyteller in me. Sitting at a stoplight, waiting for green, I glance at the people around us, car windows open, heading into their weekends. Two girls in a black SUV are laughing and singing to the radio. They beam smiles our way. Brad reaches back to pat my thigh, his hand lingering. The light changes and we’re gone.

Merging into traffic, we bullet forward. I fly back a little and grip his middle tighter. Who are we to offer up our fragile Humpty Dumpty heads like this? I think. A boy in his last year of high school still needs us. I see my daughter in her twenties and remember myself at that age. They both still need us. I see my mother, my in-laws, our friends and neighbors at our imagined funeral, shaking their heads and saying, Why would they be so stupid, so careless to ride like that?

I’m not sure what Brad feels about this impending time when it will be just us again; I’ve been afraid to ask, and now I’m not sure I want to know. For all the time we’ve been together, part of me has always been on the lookout for that moment when the music will stop and harsh lights will be abruptly cast on the glow of our party.

But on this September evening, I feel freer than I have in years. As we accelerate, I don’t worry about crashing and burning amidst the cars around us, even after I catch sight of a dead fawn on the shoulder, legs mangled, white belly exposed, the burnt-leaf scent of its baking carcass sharp in my nostrils. I relax, the way I learned to float as a child: lying back on the surface of the water, trusting it would hold me.

We ride for miles, as I duck down behind Brad to keep us streamlined and fast. We lean in unison as we take the curve of a freeway onramp to head for home. Shifting lanes, I instinctively turn my head as he does, looking over our shoulders in sync, as if we’re part of a movie’s chase scene, staying just ahead of what’s after us.

Back home, we make love as we both knew we would. After all, that’s what my invitation for the ride was all about. Lately, we’ve been having more sex than ever. The sex has always been good, but something has changed and I think it’s me.

Despite having had my fair share of lovers before I married and a robust sex life with my husband, for all these years I’ve still been shy about revealing the magnitude of my desire. Pleasing someone else is easy for me, but enjoying my own pleasure takes a different kind of letting go. Especially without the tried-and-true de-inhibitor of alcohol. Shortly after we married, my husband quit drinking. In solidarity with his sobriety, so did I.

Yet lately, clear-eyed and sober, I flaunt my desire for him.

Walking naked into our room, no need for the cover of darkness, Feast your eyes on me, I’m finally eager to say. I am that girl in front of the mirror again, reveling in her own body, inviting my husband to be equally seduced. I’ve shed my youthful need to look perfect. I don’t see thighs I once thought too big. Instead I appreciate slim hips and sexy shoulders. I’m grateful for the way my body makes me feel, the way it makes him feel. No longer encumbered by all the pressures and worries of raising children, now my job is to move forward, to keep living.

* * *

The morning after our ride, Brad gets up early as he does every Saturday morning. While I’m still sleeping, he’s opening the doors of a church basement, turning on the lights, getting the coffee ready for the AA meeting ahead. Afterwards, he calls me and laughs as he says, “I kept thinking about last night. During the Lord’s Prayer I was afraid I was going to groan or say something I was thinking out loud.”

After we hang up, I text him, “Come home to me. I’m not sure why, but my breasts are big and beautiful right now. We should enjoy them while we can.”

I don’t tell him that I know exactly why I’ve recently gained more than a cupsize. I’d lost my ample breasts after nursing two kids, but now, in perimenopause, they are larger and firmer. Once again they are the breasts I hid from the boys in school forty years ago.

Our son is on his way to a friend’s soccer game. As soon as he leaves, Brad comes to me, kisses my neck as he lifts my shirt.

“I wonder if kids know their parents are waiting for them to leave the house so they can have sex,” he says as we lie in bed afterwards.

“No, they’re just thinking about their own escape and the sex they want to have,” I say, laughing.

But even as I say this, the knowledge that next year will be different hangs over us. There will be no son down the hall, no children at home, and my full, ripe breasts may wane again for good. Gazing into my husband’s blue eyes, I push such worries from my mind. Determined to seize this season and savor it, I run my hand along his thigh.

Jarrell_Headshot

Andrea Jarrell’s essays have appeared in The New York Times “Modern Love” column; Narrative Magazine; Full Grown People; Brain, Child; The Washington Post and several anthologies, sites and publications. Her memoir I’m the One Who Got Away will be published in 2016 by Booktrope. 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, self-loathing, The Body

The Pretty Machine

January 11, 2016

By Melissa Carroll

When I was little I had an armada of Barbie dolls: Princess Ice Skater Barbie, Safari Barbie, Bikini Beach Barbie. My childhood bedroom was filled with legions of busty blondes. When I was little I was a nerdy girl with a big nose, a girl who got picked last in kickball and faked headaches to miss gym class. At home, when I chopped Barbie’s hair off, I loved the chunked slice of kitchen scissors against her plastic strands. Sometimes I stabbed my Papermate pens into her face to give her blue freckles. Sometimes I curiously examined her, took her pink Velcro dress off, and rotated her stiff limbs in their sockets, plucking out a leg or popping off her head to inspect the plastic bulb holding her impossibly beautiful rubber body together.

*

Certain women in Burma coil brass rings around their necks: slender, braced. The rings weigh down their collarbones, which gives the illusion of an elongated neck. It’s a delicate deformation, the hush of bone and blood.

In Mauritania women are force fed camel’s milk, they are fattened like calves for slaughter. Each brimming calabash promises a man.

Women of North America slice their faces open, peel back skin like almonds boiled in milk—thin, slimy, translucent. They cut their nipples open and insert bags of saline, they paint their faces, bleach their hair, they stick their fingers down their throats.

*

I’m in sixth grade, playing in my backyard with my best friend Carly. We’re inventing a rain dance, clucking our tongues, which looks very much like the chicken dance. This time I’m the shaman, pumping my fists in the air, howling vowels at the sky. We laugh wild, unbroken little girl laughs, loud and crackling.

This is before we learn to laugh while trying to look thin, to laugh and pose for anyone who might be watching. This is when our games are simple and our hair is tangled. We are on the cusp of puberty, when our bodies still belong to us. We have no idea that soon, any minute now, we’ll be fed to the American Pretty Machine, like a wood chipper, arms and legs and brains and hearts on the glittering conveyor belt.

The Pretty Machine materializes into plastic surgeries and celebrity gossip rags and eating disorders and an oil slick of self loathing. It pumps young girls with the idea that being sexy is the most important thing in the world, that looking good equals feeling good. Girls are sent, completely unaware, through the machine and come out the other side shellacked and lacquered, shell-shocked and pretty.

* Continue Reading…

beauty, Eating/Food, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, self-loathing, The Body

Weightless

January 1, 2016

By Kara Waite

Birth control didn’t make me fat, but the teacher who confiscated my pill pack said it was probably to blame for my weight. I wanted to tell her I hadn’t needed a prescription to pile on the pounds. Instead, I said nothing and went back to the county health department after school for another free sample. I needed it because my boyfriend, with whom I’d not yet had sex, said he didn’t like condoms. This was not, at the time, a red flag.

Even at fifteen, I was still, in so many ways, a little girl. Actually, I was never little. I burst out of my mother and into the world at a substantial weight of 7 lbs. 9 oz. (22 inches long), and save for a few periods of alarmingly rapid shrinkage, I’ve been growing ever since. In fact, these days my ass is easily twice the size it was back then – back when what I saw when I looked in the mirror was not “slightly pudgy” so much as Jabba the Hut.

The first time I went on a diet, I didn’t know it was a diet. I just knew that, instead of enjoying those shrink-wrapped slices of Velveeta out in the open, I needed to do it in my bedroom closet. I remember the way they melted and stuck to the roof of my mouth, the way they felt sliding down my gullet in un-chewed lumps after I’d wrapped them around filched Hershey’s Kisses and swallowed fast because I thought I’d heard someone coming.

My grandmother was the one to inform me that my weight was problematic. “You need to watch what you eat,” she told me. This made some sense because, unlike the mouth she was always telling me to watch, my food was at least something I could see without looking in the mirror. So I took her advice literally and started making artwork with my lunch. I’d bite my crackers and turkey into shapes – Christmas trees, my initials, a basketball and a hoop. I watched and I watched and I watched. I squinted and studied and nothing happened.

Well, except that I, of course, ate my creations and got fatter.

It wasn’t just that I was fat. I was tall, too, but no one cared about that. The day we got weighed in P.E. the entire class gathered round the scale, watching the nurse slide past eight-five, past ninety, past ninety-five, not stopping till she hit one hundred and six. It was of no interest that I was taller than any of the boys, taller, in fact, than even the nurse. No one wondered or worried about the view from five-foot-two. My weight, on the other hand, was the source of much preoccupation and discussion.

“One hundred six divided by two is fifty-three,” said my best friend, “you’re two of me.” It didn’t occur to her that this was the wrong thing to say and it didn’t (fully) occur to me either – not then, anyway.

The next week, the circus came to town and we went with her mother and my grandmother, two women who wore their bony asses like Olympic medals. They bought us each a bag of peanuts and, because I was ungraceful in addition to chunky, I dropped mine. I begged for another bag, but my grandmother said no. I asked my friend to share, but, being eight-years-old, she also said no. Continue Reading…

beauty, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Women

THE REAL REASON I THINK I’M UGLY TODAY

December 2, 2015

By Jennifer Ann Butler

I looked in the mirror this evening and the first face I made at myself was one of disgust. There I was, in PJ pants, a baseball tee, messy hair in a bun, no makeup, ungroomed eyebrows, and dirty glasses. But I didn’t walk away. I also didn’t correct the reaction. I didn’t say, “NO, Jen. Be NICE to yourself. GAH.” And force myself to say something kind. Because that’s fake. And, frankly, that’s almost worse than the initial face of disgust. At least that reaction was authentic. Even if it wasn’t healthy or kind, it was authentic. It stemmed from somewhere in my psyche and it deserves light. It deserves attention and affection and expression just as the rest of my emotions and thoughts and opinions about myself do.

See, we’re all onto something with there being body image issues and us needing to love ourselves more, but I feel as though we’re going about it in the wrong way. Oftentimes, we’re combatting the issues rather than offering love and tenderness. By faking it until we make it, we are ignoring the emotions that are so desperately vying for our attention. From my [many] hours of research on self-love and self-acceptance, the main approach to increasing self-confidence seems to be through avoidance. Ignore the bad emotion; concentrate on a good one. Who decided which emotions were good and which were bad? What about making an effort to understand the roots of the emotions instead? What does that look like?

What I’ve learned through asking myself these questions is that we are more than who we are in this very moment. I am more than Jen Butler at 9:54PM on a Sunday night. I am also the Jen Butler from exactly four months ago, when my relationship surprisingly and suddenly crumbled, spending the entire night switching between inhaling the scent of my then-boyfriend’s Hawaiin shirt and reminding myself that yes, I could breathe, despite what my anxiety attack was telling me. I am the Jen Butler who went to the MRI and PET Scan by myself in February of 2014 when the doctors thought my melanoma had returned and metastasized in my brain. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to think I was overreacting. I am the Jen Butler from December 29th, 2011 who stood and watched as my horse was injected with a potent drug that ceased his heartbeat because I didn’t want him to go through the pains of surgeries and be confined to a stall and fed through a tube. I am the Jen Butler who swallowed a bottle full of prescription pills in March of 2011 in an effort to end my life because of how much of a burden I believed my presence to be. I am the 24-year-old Jen who listened intently as my then-boyfriend drunkenly told me of the stripper’s breasts he’d fondled that evening, afraid that if I showed the pain I felt that I would scare him away. I am the 21-year-old Jen who patiently listened to my then-boss’s wife call me a laundry list full of excuses when I explained that my daily retail sales were lower than normal due to having rolled my Trailblazer four times (or five times?) across a few lanes of I-75 the night prior and having a resulting concussion. I didn’t argue. I didn’t stand up for myself. I listened. I even agreed. I remained in my comfortable discomfort of voiceless victimhood. Continue Reading…