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by Rachel Goldin

enhanced-buzz-19750-1369063628-1Over the weekend, here in Tucson Arizona, the inaugural Body Love Conference happened on the third floor of the student union  at the University of Arizona. This was the brainchild of Jes Baker, who made national news last May with an elegant “f**k-you” to Abercrombie & Fitch.
This was an amazing day of workshops, lectures, activities, and opportunities to meet incredibly strong women, and to help each other find the beauty within and without each of us.
My takeaway was the final and irrevocable breaking of my own personal judgmental bullshit about fat people.

I call myself a feminist, and I usually discuss that in terms of personal lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, this did not generally include the choice of kindness when observing a heavy human on the street; my internal knee-jerk reaction was usually condemnatory and unkind. I watched my mother pick up and put down the same 50 pounds my entire life. This left me with a determination to not follow in her yo-yoing footsteps, and left me without patience for those who were not as fortunate as me, either in terms of genetics or what I considered to be “willpower.”

But last Saturday changed me. I spent eight hours in the company of women of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I was by no means the smallest person there, and I was by no means the biggest. But what I took away from hearing these women’s stories was a great reminder to not make assumptions about the people I see while I walk around the world.

One woman, a holder of a doctorate, explained that she’d been shamed by her family for her size her entire life, but had had no real health problems until she decided to conform to others’ expectations and get lap-band surgery- twice. This left her with health issues that impact her quality of life on a daily basis, and she “still looks like this.” This was in a workshop titled “How to Raise kids to be OK in a Society that Isn’t.” Boy howdy, no kidding. In that hour, I realized that my perfectly private, mental condemnation of fat people was contributing to a “Society that Isn’t.” No more.

Another woman pointed out to me the “thin white” ideal of beauty that is poisoning all aspects of media today. That workshop was called “Redefining Beauty,” and the most powerful takeaway was a shot of Gabby Sidibe, who is very dark-skinned in candid shots, but is the same color as Halle Berry when she appeared on the cover of “Elle.” That was only one of dozens of examples; the light-bulb was realizing the insidious effect that this thinning and whitening of American women in media has on our self-esteem.  No more.

How did I know that my heart and mind had undergone a paradigm shift? I saw a heavy woman  waiting at a bus-stop across the street from my yoga class last night. The first thing I noticed was her infectious laugh and smile; I didn’t notice her size first. Then, I went into class, feeling a little bit better that even if only in my own head, I had made the world a more compassionate place. It may not seem like much, but every tiny drop of water contributes to the mountain’s transformation into sand.

If you’d like more details about what I learned, please watch this prezi that I made for my boss; I teach high school and I found much of value that we could use to help make school a safer place for all students. Fair warning- as of 4/8 it’s still a draft. Thanks for your understanding.

2013-01-25_11 02 25Rachel Goldin lives in Tucson AZ with her husband of 21 years, her Boston Terrier, and her half Boston Terrier/ Dachshund. She has been teaching for 18 years, and holds degrees in English, Secondary Education, and Educational Administration. She has a black belt in tae kwon do and spent four years in Tucson Roller Derby. These days her focus on yoga helps her tamp down the misanthropy that today’s societal quirks often stir up. She wishes she were more diligent in her writing, and is working on that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece was originally posted to Daily Kos and can be accessed here.

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Rachel Goldin
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