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Abortion, Guest Posts

Automatic Failure

February 10, 2021
know

By Bethany Petano

The automatic toilet flushes, mistaking projectile vomit for human movement. The backsplash hits me in the face. I vomit again at the thought of public toilet water mixed with my own throw up dripping down my cheek. Again, the backsplash hits me in the face. This continues until I am emptied. At the sink, I fill my hands with water and bring them to my face, scrubbing it dry with a paper towel, avoiding my reflection in the mirror.

Only six more hours before I can finally go home and crawl into bed. If I hadn’t already missed one class–I wouldn’t be here. The attendance policy for the Saturday Program at Bay Path College is severe. Missing two classes out of a six-week course means automatic failure.

Automatic failure–I was already one of those.

At least class gave me something to think about–besides overwhelming waves of nausea and the cramps gripping my abdomen in a steely vice. After my third sprint from classroom to bathroom, the women in my class exchange knowing looks.

“Does someone have a touch of morning sickness?”

Grinning faces blur as I blink back tears.

“Just a stomach bug,” I mumble. Pointedly turning my attention back to our professor.

A stomach bug I caught six weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, one that I felt almost the instant it was created.

***

“You don’t look so good, Doll.”

My friend Amina is leaning against my cubicle partition ready to go on our mid-morning coffee break. We’ve been friends for years both in and outside of work.

“I don’t feel so great. Can’t keep anything down.”

“Ginger ale and saltines.”

“I know, I’m on it.” I lift my warm can of Canada Dry in a mock salute. “It’s super weird though, like–I can smell everything. It’s not helping.”

“Girl.”

“What?”

“I could smell everything the instant I was pregnant with Khi.”

“What?”

“You need to take a test.”

***

I call my primary care physician and make an appointment. In addition to measuring and weighing me, I am given a specimen cup to pee in. When the doctor enters the room she is beaming.

“Congratulations! You’re pregnant.”

I immediately burst into tears.

The doctor is visibly taken aback. This is not the response she expected.

“If that’s not necessarily good news, there are options we can discuss. Of course, we do not provide those services here.”

“Okay,” I manage to get out.

“I’ll give you a moment to get dressed.”

I cry the entire time I put my clothes back on. Finally, after countless deep breaths, I pull myself together. I do not stop at the desk to check out, leaving the practice without settling my co-pay.

Who the fuck congratulates an unmarried woman who isn’t trying to get pregnant?

***

The smell of eggs sends me running to the bathroom. Amina and I are at Friendly’s, explaining my situation to our buddy Johnny. His friend, Chris, is the partner-in-crime for my current predicament. We had only just started hooking up. Fucking for the first time after the Anti-Valentine’s Day Party I threw, and then again after a sub-par dinner date. At first, Johnny doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation, until Amina eludes I may not want to simply make this “problem” disappear.

Somehow, by violating the first rule of casual hook-ups (Don’t get pregnant!), we had reverted to a middle school era social construct with our appointed representatives negotiating the terms of our deal. Only this time, there is more at stake then holding hands during lunch.

Johnny contacts Chris, explaining the situation. It’s agreed, Chris and I will talk later that afternoon at Forest Park.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

We start walking, shoulder to shoulder, not touching. The March air is brisk but small bursts of pale green signal signs of Spring.

“Why don’t you want to? We used a condom every other time for a reason.” He looks over at me.

“We didn’t use a condom on Valentine’s Day?” I ask, looking up.

“The first time. The second time you climbed on top of me and went for it. I just assumed you were on the pill,” he shrugs.

“I used to be. I don’t remember that. I just… Never thought… I would, you know?” I’m doing my best not to cry when I realize my feet have stopped moving.

“Do you not believe in it?” he asks, gently touching my shoulder.

“No, it’s not that.” I turn to face him. “I just always thought I would have kids someday.” I look past him, staring at nothing.

“Right, someday.” He ducks his head trying to catch my eye.

“But I’m twenty-eight…” I look him in the face.

“I’m only twenty-three. I’m not ready to have a kid.”

“I don’t know if I am either,” I admit softly, looking away.

But, what if this is my chance?

“So don’t,” he says softly.

The words hang between us. The meniscus of tears welling in my eyes finally spills over, falling down my cheeks. Chris pulls me into a hug. The wool of his grey pea coat scratches my face.

“I’m scared,” I mumble into his chest.

“I’ll be there with you,” he says, looking down at me.

There is a gentleness to the desperation screaming in his eyes.

“Can I think about it? We have time.”

“Of course.”

He keeps his arm around my shoulder as we walk back to our cars. This was not how I imagined this moment would go. Not how I imagined starting a family.

What if I had it anyway?

Would Chris help?

Would he hate me?

What would we tell the kid?

Could I do this alone?

Do I want to do this alone?

What does that even look like?

I don’t know.

I don’t know. 

I don’t…

No.

“Okay,” I say when we reach the parking lot.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“No.” My body releases a sob/shrug/laugh.

He wraps both arms around me. His embrace is warm but feels somehow wrong now.

I pull away.

“I guess I’ll call and make an appointment.” My eyes don’t quite meet his.

“I’ll pay for everything and go with you. If you want me to?” He touches my arm, leaning down, trying to make eye contact.

“Umm sure, okay, I’ll let you know when.” I turn, walking the rest of the way without him.

“Thank you,” he says emphatically, staring at me over the roof of my Honda Civic.

I can practically see the relief pouring off him.

I drive home. Not seeing the road through my tears. Not caring.

***

I think we will never talk again, but for months after, he checks in on me. The Facebook messages feel intrusive, but I understand his need to “do the right thing.” I don’t know what that looks like for me yet. It is awkward and uncomfortable to think about, so I put it all in a box and drown it with vodka.

I think about writing and sharing my experience. Maybe it will help others feel less alone. Maybe it will help me feel less alone. When I tell my mother, she cautions me, “Do you really want your father or grandfathers to know about that? I don’t.”

Shame wraps me in a heavy, black blanket, tucking the emotions I had almost processed back to bed. I made her a mother, as she birthed a daughter. Neither of us lives up to the other’s expectations.

At first glance, on the surface, you would not look at me and think of anything other than “pretty white girl.” Except maybe, loud-mouthed pretty white girl. That is a privilege I have become startlingly aware of recently.

Because my mother is blond and light-skinned, she has never been identified as a “spic.” A word she forbad us to use. I remember as a child having dinner at my father’s parent’s house. We were eating hot dogs and beans so it must have been a Saturday. I’m not sure how old I was, probably eight or nine. Gramps was on a racist rant about “spics and niggers.” Such comments were commonplace but on this occasion, I was paying attention. A realization hit me-I was probably a “spic.”

“What about me, and Mom, and Grama Gloria? Are we “spics,” too?”

The clattering of silverware ceases as silence fills the room and the adults look from one another communicating without speaking.

The silence is broken as my grandfather clears his voice, “Ahem, uh, you’re different,” he says ending the discussion.

That was the only explanation I received about my question of race. But, never again did I hear my grandfather speak that word. I sincerely doubt he stopped using racial slurs all together but he had at least developed a sensitivity as far as his granddaughter was concerned.

Identifying as Puerto Rican wasn’t something that ever occurred to me until filling out college application forms. It seemed logical that I checked the box next to Hispanic. And, even though, at the time, you weren’t allowed to check more than one box, I also checked the one next to white. I was both, wasn’t I?

When I came up with the phrase “Quarter Rican” to explain my racial identity my mother was horrified. At first, I thought this was because she equated the phrase to a racial slur. Then I found out–my mother only checks one box–white. Is that why she said nothing to her racist father-in-law?

Growing up my mother was teased by classmates–for her mother had an accent she didn’t hear. That doesn’t seem like a deep enough wound to deny one’s heritage. But, before I judge someone else’s trauma too quickly, I wonder, is that what my mother’s shame looks like? A tiny Puerto Rican lady I recall mostly through hazy memories of other people’s stories.

My shame–she takes many forms. She’s crafty like that. The day I told my mother I was pregnant drenched blue with shame. Even March in Connecticut couldn’t cool the red hot burning humiliation of also admitting I wasn’t quite sure who the father was. There were only two options but shame stood on the coffee table and screamed, “Whore!” I had no recollection. The night was a blackout. One of many. Disgrace filled me with darkness.

After he begged me, “please, don’t have this baby.” I again went to my mother and told her my news. My shame turned cold and gray. Like the sky on the March day he sat in the waiting area while I was counseled, poked, and prodded. I found it ironic the vaginal ultrasound wand looked exactly like a vibrator. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up there if I’d just taken care of myself.

***

That was 2009, a decade before, “you know me,” would become a trending hashtag on Twitter. Hell, it was before most people even knew what a hashtag was. In May 2019, on her talk show “Busy Tonight,” host Busy Phillips shared facts and figures from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The statistic is one in four women will have an abortion before age 45,” she said. “That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion.’ Well, you know me.”

Phillips followed up her on-air insight with a social media post, creating the hashtag #YouKnowMe. The response was instant. Thousands of women shared their own abortion stories. Scrolling through Instagram, I came across Phillips’s post. The pinprick of tears surprised me. I was certain in the last ten years I had processed my feelings about my own abortion. It turned out I was wrong.

Reading post after post of women publicly sharing their stories cracked something open inside me. Tears streamed down my face. Shame can’t live in the light. Busy Phillips shined a bright hot light on abortion and women everywhere stepped into it. I tried to step into it too. Typing and re-typing my own post. Trying to find the right words that would eradicate my shame. I couldn’t find them. I hadn’t realized yet that inherited shame isn’t a gift you have to accept. There is, in fact, a return process for other people’s judgments—even from family. It starts with boundaries and it ends with the truth. I had failed to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy but I was not a failure. #YouKnowMe

Bethany Petano grew up and still resides in New England. Her work has been published in the literary journals Weatherbeaten and Meat for Tea. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Non-fiction from Bay Path University.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Kindness, parenting, Self Love

Golden Repair: A Disfigured Mom’s Quest to Raise a More Loving Child

February 8, 2021
god

By Melissa Akie Wiley

She looked at my face with disgust. My infant daughter cooed. I had just placed the baby into a shopping cart when the woman first approached. A stranger. She came too close. Staring at my daughter.

“Your baby is perfect,” she said. “She looks like a doll.”

I thanked her and pulled the cart away. Then the woman looked up at me and froze. She was silent and scurried to her car, as if I might run after her. I stood in front of the grocery store with my daughter. The automatic doors opened and closed but I didn’t move. My baby smiled. Too young to know that she is beautiful but her mother is disfigured.

My daughter is 2 years old now. She has round blue eyes and blonde hair. Her face inspires joy. My face is lopsided and scarred. It was a dog attack. I was five. I am not afraid of dogs. People always seem more concerned about my feelings toward dogs than they do about me. I have had over thirty surgeries and they helped. But my face is instantly noticeable. And the world is bothered by asymmetry and imperfection. I am also part Japanese and part white. My skin is too pale and my hair is too dark. People tell me that my daughter is perfect and then they say she looks nothing like me.

I have never looked like anyone. Bi-racial and disfigured is a cocktail of isolation. In childhood, I left my hometown of Boulder, Colorado every summer to visit my Japanese grandma in Tucson, Arizona. One summer I begged her to take me to a crowded shopping mall to buy doll clothes. I was 7 years old.

“Did you see that disgusting girl?” a woman said then.

She was talking to her daughter and looking directly at me.

The girl met my eyes and glared. Her hair twisted in a tight braid. I dreamed of ponytails but didn’t dare wear my hair up. I looked at the girl’s flawless appearance and sank into shame.

“So gross. I can’t believe she even came out of her house. She’s going to give me nightmares. She’s a monster,” the girl said. She was my age and already this callous.

The mother hugged her daughter and shot my grandma a scowl.

Then she said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. People should know better but she’s clearly with some immigrant nanny who probably doesn’t even speak English.”

We stood in silence with our doll clothes. I felt devastation that my grandma should suffer due to my deformity. I tried to wedge myself behind stacks of toys to prevent further commentary. My grandma adjusted her glasses with shaky hands.

“I am sorry I don’t speak good English,” she said.

That day she bought more doll clothes than she could afford. She had worked as a hotel maid and saved tips in the form of crisp dollar bills. She set this carefully preserved money aside for me. When we approached the counter to pay for the items, the cashier said, “what’s wrong with her face?”

“Nothing wrong with my granddaughter,” she said, in broken English.

Once I asked my mom if she was mad at God. We were sitting in my grandma’s backyard in Tucson. Looking at the night sky. It’s easier to talk about God’s failings in the dark.

On the day of the dog attack, she had only looked away for a minute. Long enough to drain noodles from a boiling pan. When she turned around, the yard lay covered in blood and my face was gone.

“No,” she said. “Because you are extraordinary. You have shown me what it is to live next to suffering and become truly beautiful.”

People ask how I survived. The answer is my mom.

I want to tell her that I am not mad at God because he gave me her, and a good mom is worth more than a pretty face.  I am thankful I learned this lesson in youth. When I still have more years on the earth with my mom.

Tragedy in childhood is a spiritual offering. Early redemption creates a fast track toward a more meaningful and grounded life. I shed the frivolousness of appearance, money, and status like a butterfly discards a cocoon. Because when the world rejected me, I sheltered only with the tender hearted and my own soul. And if we’re lucky, that is where we all eventually end up anyway.

My daughter will grow up with a disfigured mom.

On my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college, I will take photos of her and children will stare. After I am gone, they will ruin these moments of childhood by asking what’s wrong with her mom. I know this because these moments were taken from me, too.

I will want to stay in the car to spare her. But I will not. Instead I will show up for everything. And when we hear the comments, I will tell her that the Japanese have a word, Kintsugi, which roughly translates to golden repair. It is the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and patching it with gold so that the imperfection is illuminated instead of disguised. I will tell her that my mother’s love was the glue that made my flawed life golden. And my love will hold her together, too.

This pain will make my daughter kind. It will teach her that the world is unduly harsh because we are all more broken than whole. And she will learn that love is restorative and the only thing of true beauty. She will inherit this wisdom in childhood. When we are both still young enough to walk the earth together.

And when people ask, I hope she says, “There is nothing wrong with my mom”.

Melissa Akie Wiley is a public servant and fierce local government leader by day and a mother and writer by heart. She strives to infuse joy into all aspects of service by living with authenticity and resiliance. After overcoming a disfiguring childhood dog attack, Melissa committed to a life of repair and love. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in Denver, Colorado. She is the director of the nationally-recognized, Denver Peak Academy and is currently working on her memoir.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 
We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click here for all things Jen

Eating/Food, Guest Posts, Self Image

Body Unlovable

May 8, 2019
body

By Karie Fugett

In my small Alabama high school, before I’d ever considered the calories I put into my body, a boy told me I needed to eat more cornbread to get some meat on my bones. He told me I had a flat ass, then said “But at least you got DSL.” I was fourteen. I was fourteen and I’d never heard of DSL, so I had to ask around to find out what that meant. This was before the high speed internet DSL. Back then, according to another boy who laughed at me when I asked, it meant dick sucking lips. I’d never considered that before, either.

. . .

When I quit high school, I gained weight rapidly. In a single year, a whole 20 pounds.  I was no longer on Adderall, was no longer playing sports. When my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, I stood at a payphone, cars buzzing by on a highway, all of them oblivious to the tragedy that was unfolding on the sidewalk. He told me he’d gone to New Orleans and cheated. “I got my dick sucked. I never wanna see you again.” He actually fucking said that.  I figured it was the weight I’d gained, and I craved punishment for letting it happen. That night, I stood looking in the mirror, crying, and cut a large chunk of my hair off, dyed my hair black, buried myself in my closet under a pile of garbage-bagged clothes mom kept forgetting to bring to Goodwill. I wished I could cut the fat off, too, leave chunks of my body hidden in the closet, pretend it never happened. Instead, I cried and I cried and I cried some more, the wet plastic from the trash bags sticking to my arms, my hair crooked and dark, my body unlovable. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

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.

 

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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…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Surviving

The Dress That Binds, Or How I Learned To Love My Mother

July 15, 2016
mother

By Jill Rothenberg

I held the delicate piece of lace tulle between my fingers, the light pink froth of it peeking out between the hot pink of the skirt layered on top. I pulled it off the rack and held it out at arm’s length, considering what kind of top would be perfect: plain white bodysuit or the cream-colored sweater with gold bling at the neck? Would the perfectly coordinated pastel pink fur coat be too much?

I took them from the rack and considered them all, holding each over the skirt in my right hand.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been looking all over the store for you. Put that stuff down and come on.”

I jumped and turned around, the clothes falling to the floor.

There was my boyfriend, who had caught me red-handed in the little girl’s section of Target.

You would have thought he caught me with porn. Continue Reading…

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, 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…

feminism, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Young Voices

A 16 Year Old Writes “The Day I Became A Woman.”

November 5, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: This is a piece for my “Young Voices” series. It was written by  Anastasia Kranz who is sixteen years old.  I am in the process of organizing the next Girl Power workshop so please stay tuned to this site and my social media, especially @GirlPowerYouAreEnough on instagram.

I am looking for more young voices to publish so please submit if you have something to say. Please note, if you are under 18 you must have parental permission unless you are using a pseudonym. I am so excited to be working on the book Girl Power: You Are Enough, as well as the workshop for young women which has been a HUGE success so far. Please help me spread the word and sign up or sign your daughters/nieces/friends. I am also in the process of selecting ambassadors to represent #GirlPowerYouAreEnough. More information on this on my instagram at @jenpastiloff. Love, Jen

By Anastasia Kranz

The day I became a woman was not the expected landmark in my puberty, it was the day I realized I needed to be a feminist. There were many factors that culminated in this epiphanic moment, and all of them were issues that I would later find addressed by feminism.

Two years ago, at fourteen, I was obsessed with the prospect of a perfect body. Despite asthma and a lack of athletic skills, I forced myself to run every single day after school. On a warm day in June I put on my running sneakers and started my workout playlist. As I was running, I heard a harsh voice—I turned around and the biggest fear of my preteen life was realized. A middle-aged man had pulled his car up next me and was opening the passenger door. He yelled “Get in the car!” repeatedly at my trembling face. I froze, then ran in the opposite direction, only pausing at the traffic light where I met my friend–to whom I didn’t relay the story. Later, when I got home, I didn’t even tell my mother. At the time, I wanted my freedom—and I needed freedom because I wanted to burn calories. At the time, I did not understand that I had just experienced an attempted kidnapping.

The scariest part of the event was surprisingly not when a man attempted to abduct me. Instead, it was what I was told by the police, a few days later, after I told my parents what had happened. I met with a detective whom I believed would be helpful and supportive. Instead, the detective labeled me guilty: for not reporting the event earlier, but also for the running clothes I’d been wearing. In the gray box of a room, I sat with my knees hugged to my chest and listened to the detective tell me that I should not have been outside alone wearing “provocative” activewear. Then he said that if, per se, my little sister had been abducted in the time that I had waited to report the event, then her abduction would have been my fault. The shame and guilt I felt from the words of this man were the detrimental effects of victim blaming. I knew that what he said was wrong and problematic, but I did not learn what those phrases meant until later down my journey when I learned about feminism. Once that word was in my vocabulary it became my identity and I discovered that this would be part of me for the rest of my life.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Young Voices

Bathing Suit Season

July 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Addie Newcombe

Here’s my hunch, most women don’t feel truly comfortable in a bathing suit—not even the 5’11, 130 pound woman with blond hair and legs that go on for miles. I believe it’s because we are constantly comparing ourselves to other women. It is an involuntary action that starts at a young age and just becomes normal, as we get older. I’m 5’5 and 145 pounds and I wear one-piece bathing suits that are a size ten, sometimes twelve depending on the make.

I wear this style because society has told women of my size that two-pieces are not an option. Is that because others will see the imperfections that come with being human? And what is my imperfection? My legs jiggle when I walk. A little side to side motion. But what bothers me the most is when the bottom of my bathing suit in the front is too tight creating a bubble of fat near the top of my legs. Because of my imperfections, I put on a one-piece and tell myself, “This is what my size is supposed to wear.” And what the hell does this mean anyhow? Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

I Am Trapped Inside My Body.

June 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amanda Redhead

I am trapped inside a body that I loathe. Drowning in the doughy, white excess of flesh.

I have always struggled with my appearance, riding the roller-coaster of weight before my age was even double digits. I look back at the pictures of myself as a teenager- thin, lithe, strong- and wish I could have that body back. I cannot imagine how I thought that body was overweight, unattractive. However, I am secure in the knowledge that I will never look back upon my body as it is today and want to live inside it again. I am housed inside the body that I have always feared I would I have.

When I was seventeen I was in a group therapy program for fellow teenagers. I was deep in the bowels of a great depression and sat daily in a circle with bored, slack-jawed teenagers whose parents decided, as mine had, that this group therapy would be the answers to all of our ills. We sat in silence while the therapist moderating the group chirped cheerfully at us and nearly begged us to share. There was little sharing, but there was much staring and gawking at the doorway in the corner of the room where a similar group of teenagers met. That group was for fellow teenagers struggling with anorexia. They also sat in stony silence, one by one being led over to be weighed in the corner. Every time a weight was announced outloud, everyone in both groups could hear it.  I would surreptitiously place my hand underneath the back of my shirt and pinch myself painfully at the sound of each number, pinching the fat on my hips until it sometime bled.

The staggeringly low numbers should have saddened me, as should have the appearance of many of the girls- bearing their clavicles proudly to the world, all hard edges of bone and sharp angles. Most of the weights called out were well under one hundred pounds. Some of the girls looked directly from a movie about the concentration camps during the Holocaust- devoid of every bit of fat.  They draped themselves in clothing and blankets, perpetually cold.  I admired the persistence of these girls. I felt shame at my own thick skin. I sickeningly wished that my depression had manifested itself as anorexia instead of the slow-moving, perpetually tired melancholy sickness that had taken over my world.  This thick, molasses slowness felt even more of a failure than it had before in comparison to the persistent, dedicated illness that I saw in those girls. Every pound of flesh on my body felt heavier upon leaving. I wondered if those girls thought of me when purging their food after the therapy sessions. I imagined their disgust. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Sex

Dear Life: I’m The 34 Year Old Virgin.

April 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

 

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions.  (Email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by the amazing Amanda Miska.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter.

See you at a workshop soon!

Dear Life,

I am a 34 year old virgin.

I have no conservative religious beliefs and I’m not steadfastly “saving myself” for marriage. I just haven’t had sex….ever.

I have spent my life lying to the world, and myself, pretending to be something I’m not….or, more accurately, pretending to have done something I haven’t. People just assume that I’ve had sex and so I haven’t bothered to correct them. I feel like a fraud and a liar and so disconnected from one of life’s most basic human experiences. Stronger still are the feelings of shame and embarrassment and feeling like I’ve not only missed the boat, but am nowhere even near the water to have any hope of getting on board.

“BUT I’M NOT NAÏVE OR A PRUDE!!” I want to scream out in my defense, both to those who assume wrongly and to those who might suspect. But my scream has long been silenced by the fear of judgment, of criticism, of rejection. Why do I need to scream anyway?

I have “fooled around” with a couple of guys in my life. The first one, at age 19, was my university lecturer. He was probably triple my age but I let him touch me because I was in such desperate need of attention and care amongst the chaos of my life at the time. I hated his hands on my body and his lips on mine. Initially I said nothing and went along with whatever he wanted. When he tried to fuck me, I had to tell him that I’d never been this close before. He was going to figure it out pretty soon anyway, right? But, he just rolled over, his back to me and never touched me again. That was the end of that.

For the next 12 years I said nothing to no-one. No guy was even on my radar, let alone close enough for intimacy. I was confused, depressed and held myself hostage to my own walls, the ones I’d carefully built up to buffer myself against further rejection. I thought maybe I was a lesbian, cos I hated that man’s touch, yet I was not sexually attracted to women. So, I decided I must be asexual and concluded that love (and sex) just wasn’t for me. I didn’t need it. Instead, I threw myself into my nursing career and my travels and buried any questioning feelings with food.

Then, while travelling aimlessly around Africa searching for my soul, I unexpectedly fell head over heels for a bad-ass Kenyan guy with a good heart. He was not my type at all. But, how did I even know if I had a “type”? Regardless, our hearts connected and things went further. I loved how he touched me and how his lips felt on mine. Then, almost at the point of no return I dropped the V-bomb on him also. He had a similar reaction to the lecturer, though perhaps not so harsh. But, while it still hurt like hell, I became even more attracted to him, mostly because he had rejected me less. Then I had to return home to Australia, to reality.

In the three years since Kenyan-Guy and only a handful of awkward, ill-fitting dates, I haven’t had to think much about sex. But, now I think I’ve met a guy. I am attracted to his energetic spirit, his humour, his eyes. I don’t know if anything will even happen. But regardless, my virginity fears are oozing to the surface. I want a real, honest and loving relationship involving growth and connection on all levels, including intimacy and sex. But, in order for this to happen, I need to have a rather challenging conversation with the guy, whether it’s with this guy or someone else. Where do I even start? How do I explain myself? Will any guy even want me once they find out? I am so scared of being rejected again that I’m teetering on the edge of resigning myself to voluntary singledom forever. That scares me as well, because I can’t shake that deep desire for just a chance at real love. But, how do I begin to move forward and tolerate being a virgin in a non-virgin world?

Sincerely,

Never Been Laid

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Continue Reading…