Thursday, October 23, 2014

Every Body Is Beautiful!

This week is Love Your Body Week at my University! This is my favorite week every year because I get to talk to students about positive body image and empowering them to use their voices to change the world. This is my photo from our Every Body is Beautiful Photo Shoot. 

If you're interested in learning more about body love, check our the Body Love Conference in Arizona next year. #BLC15

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jackson's Nail Polish Review

Maybe you've read my blog posts about Jackson's Nail Polish Adventures. Well, now you can see his review of his current nail polish collection! The little girl he refers to in the beginning of the video told him boys don't wear nail polish, but he's learned that haters gonna hate and to do/like whatever he wants. We teach him that gender does not limit him. I love seeing him so happy in this video! Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grrrl With Boys Photography: Sharing My View Of The World With You

My first camera circa 1980's.

When I was in middle school my mom gave me my first camera. It was a purple and yellow "Le Clic" 110 camera like the image above and it was the best thing ever. I grew up in the country so there was plenty of beauty around me to capture. I mostly took landscapes and pictures of my dog Kisses. I grew to love photography and even won a few blue ribbons at the county fair. I went to college to study photography but then fell in love with Women's Studies and switched my major. I still love to take pictures and have even done weddings and a few family and senior photo shoots. While I still love a beautiful landscape image to hang on my wall, I have really grown to love doing photo shoots for friends and family.

Recently I created my very own photography Etsy Shop so I can share with you the beauty in the world that I come across. Feel free to peruse the images I have for sale and share with your friends. I take requests for individual, family, engagement, and senior photo shoots. Email me at for details. Click the image below to visit my shop.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

#RaisingBoys: Football, Gender Roles and Violence Against Women

Recently I signed as a speaker with Soapbox Inc. and was asked to write for their SoapVOX blog. Being that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month the video surfacing recently that showed Ray Rice knocking out his now-wife, my first post was about how to talk to boys about domestic violence. Check it out here:

I work at a University and one of the campaigns we do every year for Relationship Violence Awareness Month is the Red Flag Campaign (which I helped to create along with other interpersonal violence prevention advocates from various Virginia colleges and universities). You don't have to be a college student to find this campaign helpful. Last year I wrote a piece about healthy versus unhealthy relationship behaviors referencing the content from the Red Flag Campaign. 
Check it out here:

If you feel that your relationship is unhealthy, there are advocates out there ready and willing to help.

October always reminds me just how important it is to raise my boys to be good men. Have you talked to your kids about healthy and unhealthy relationships?

I love it when my boys hug!
(Yes, that's an Elmo bucket on Myles' head. LOL)

Monday, September 1, 2014

#SelfCare: Doctors, Heredity and Ovarian Cancer

This week I had my annual checkup with my gynecologist. Now that I'm done having kids (we decided that very soon after the second one was born #sleeplessnights), I have different concerns to discuss with my doctor. You see, both my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother died of ovarian cancer. I learned about this when doing an oral history project for one of my Women's Studies classes on the women in my family. My great-grandmother was just 31 when she died, leaving behind my then 12 year old grandmother and my great-grandfather. I can't even imagine how devastated it would be to lose your mother at such a young and critical age. I don't know much about what kind of medical treatment she received or at what point she realized she had cancer, but they had her on laudanum to keep her comfortable. Ovarian cancer is really hard to detect and this was in the early 1920's when she was diagnosed (1923) and died (1925).

My grandmother died of ovarian cancer when she was about 60, so it hit her later in life. I was just a baby when she was receiving treatment. I do have a flash of a memory of getting into a rental car after flying down to Florida with my mom to visit her. The interior was red. Funny how you remember those little things, but I digress. My grandmother was active and healthy and had the same doctor for many years. She went to her doctor about pain and bloating in her lower abdomen but he just said "oh you girls just don't drink enough water" (#sexism). When the pain didn't go away he said it was gallstones. When they went in to remove her gallbladder they did a large incision and noticed that she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. They told her that with chemo she would live 2 more years, but without it she would only live 6 months. She did chemo but lost the battle 11 months later. She got to live longer than her mother, but 60 is still too young. I've heard wonderful stories about what an amazing woman she was and it really saddens me that I only had her for the first few years of my life which I don't remember.

Me and Grandma Rose.
She was sick and towards the end of her life at this point.
I treasure this picture of us as its the only one I have.

My mother had a benign tumor on the outside of her uterus at the age of 50. Because of her family history her doctor recommended a full hysterectomy. She wanted to talk with other women about the surgery and the after effects, but because of HIPPA regulations her doctor couldn't connect her with his patients. She did find online support, but that was in 1998 so there wasn't as much out there as there is now. Despite no knowing much about the after-effects, I'm glad that she agreed to the full hysterectomy. Now I don't have to worry about her as much. She is definitely a wonderful role model for self-care. She was having problems with her hips a couple years ago and went ahead and had them both replaced. Now she's walking around like nothing ever slowed her down. When something is not 100% with her health, she takes care of it. She doesn't ignore it and hope it will go away. This is the main reason why I really listen to my body when it does new or different things. This will hopefully come in handy if I start to exhibit any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, or any other ailment for that matter.

My role model for self-care.
Love my Momma!

I brought up this history with my doctor this week. It was already in my medical chart, but I wanted her to know that I was concerned about it. I asked if there was anything I should be doing or looking out for. Guess what? She validated my concerns! High-five, doc! She asked lots of questions about each of the women on my mother's side, including my aunt, and I was able to answer most of the questions (which I would not have been able to do if not for that Women's Studies assignment). Since my mom didn't have ovarian cancer (thank goodness for that), and we don't know if she would have, but my grandmother and great-grandmother did, she decided to treat me as if my mother had had it. She prescribed me ultrasounds every 6 months. She said this is not fool-proof method. She told me of a patient that developed ovarian cancer in between her biannual ultrasounds. However, there isn't much else to help you detect it. There is a blood test, but that isn't always accurate. She said I may want to have the genetic test done to see if I'm at a higher risk. The ultrasounds are less invasive which I appreciate. If you've read either of my previous blogs Knitting Pidgen or Femiknitzm you might have picked up on that I'm terrible at giving blood. I've had enough ultrasounds with the three pregnancies (one ectopic) that I'm not nervous at all. Well, except maybe for the results. Speaking of my ectopic pregnancy (2008), I brought that up to my doctor as well and she said that had nothing to do with ovaries, just tubes. That piece of info helped me to relax a little.

I always thought I would have daughters, or at least one, but now that I'm really thinking about all this, I realize that it is a good thing that I had boys. This way I don't pass on the ovarian cancer gene or whatever it is to daughters. I mean, not that it would have been a bad thing. Maybe by the time my daughter would have been my age they would have discovered not only a cure but a shot that would prevent it. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that my mom had me, and her mom had her, and her mom had her. I'm just a little relieved that I don't have to worry about continuing our history of ovarian cancer. I have many more positive things that I want to pass along to my future generations.

I do have an older sister and I will be talking with her about all this. I think she's pretty good about listening to her body and getting things checked out, but it can't hurt to have a sister-to-sister chat. It's important that we know our bodies, listen to them, and talk with our doctors when we feel something might be wrong. I know people worry about being thought of as a hypochondriac, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Check out this video (and the symptoms listed below) from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition:

Okay, so now you get that it's important. Now what? Know the symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
These symptoms can seem like every day kind of issues, but if they persist for more than two weeks and don't go away after diet changes or rest, talk to your doctor. If your doctor brushes you off, find a new one. Ask your friends who they go to and trust. Just reading through the list worries me because I have several of these symptoms. However, I also know that I inherited my dad's acid reflux issues which can cause some of these symptoms. I'll admit that I'm a little worried, but my first ultrasound is scheduled for September 16th. Read all about ovarian cancer and the symptoms here at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Listen to your bodies and choose a doctor that listens to your concerns and validates them instead of brushing them off easily. Your life depends on it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Like A Girl: Physical Conditioning of Girls

My 5 year old is going to start Kindergarden this Fall. Being the diligent parent that I am, I did some investigating of what to expect of his new school. I went to their website and opened up the Parent Handbook. I expected to see information about absences, school closings, dress code, grading scale, etc... What I was surprised to find was their "Wellness Related Fitness Criteria". See here for yourself:

First thing I noticed was the color separation: blue for boys, pink for girls. I couldn't help but think of the irony that these were pink and blue boxes, but I digress. You will notice that boys and girls start off with the same physical activity requirements. However, there is a definite gap as the kids get older with boys being required to do more physical activity. The only exception where the girls are expected to do more is with the "back-saver sit & reach". One of my friends commented that basically they just wanted girls to be more flexible. What a spot on metaphor for traditional gender roles for women! 

I remember this testing in elementary school. We didn't have a gym so we got tested on the stage (behind the curtains thank goodness). My favorite part of that memory is reliving my leg wrestling success. I won all the matches against my female peers except for one who was much taller than me. They never let me try it against the boys but I bet I could have won those matches too. I had a lot of confidence in my physical ability then. I wonder why that changed...could it be...socialization and conditioning (see chart above)?

Some of you may get why this is an issue. For those of you who don't quite get it, you may be saying "but boys are stronger than girls" or "girls and boys have different body types". I would argue that anyone who is conditioned from an early age to reach certain physical goals will as an adult be able to do those things. For example, there was the great episode of Myth Busters where they busted the "you throw like a girl" myth/insult ("insult" because our society thinks associating something with the feminine means it's weak or less than). Watch them bust that myth here (totally worth the 3:39). Basically what they found was that since most boys/men are traditionally taught how to throw a ball/play catch, that...

"men throw with a better technique..and when we removed all that training and had our blank slates throw with their non-dominate hand, males and females threw with almost identical techniques...this suggest strongly that it is cultural, that it is training and when you remove that training you level the playing field...given the training, there's no reason why women can't overcome cultural bias and throw as well as the guys" 

So, if you start from the beginning with a level playing field of training and conditioning, in this case with physical activity, there is no reason why boys and girls won't grow up to have the same level of skills. The reason we require less physically of girls than boys is because of socialization and traditional gender roles. We are taught that women should strive for beauty and men should strive for strength. That does a disservice to us all, but mostly to women. The message is even though we are capable of being strong and reaching the same physical activity goals as men, we should conditioned to be physically weaker because society doesn't value strength in a woman. (What does it value? Beauty.) Women are basically taught to take up less space. It is assumed/taught that women are not capable of doing physical activity up to par with men. Check out this video from Always about "run like a girl". (Fave quote "Why can't "run like a girl" also mean win the race?" Excellent question. It can.)

I played sports my entire childhood. I played t-ball then softball from age 5-17. I played field hockey from age 14-17. I saw that the girls whose parents took them to softball camps where they got extensive training became much better than me, even though I think I was pretty good. ;-) The point is they got more training and conditioning. I got hit by a 70 mph softball (nothing about those are soft, by the way) in the thigh while up to bat once. After I got over being super mad at her for hitting me, I realized just how great of a pitcher she was (obviously not the time she hit me, but I think she meant to do that. #meangirls). Speaking of 70 mph pitches, did you hear about the 13 year old girl that pitched a shutout recently? Awesomesauce! But, did you also hear the Fox News correspondent ask her that incredibly sexist question? Le sigh.

The start of my t-ball career. The 80's were awesome.

With my t-ball team. I was one of 4 girls out of 14 kids.

Freshman year of field hockey. With my goalie mentor Towanda who passed on
her ass-kicking knowledge and my best friend and goal sweeper Tiffany.
Why were we wearing volleyball t-shirts? Because they put no funding into "girls" sports beyond getting us to and from our games but "boys" sports had new equipment and uniforms. Just in case you think what I'm pointing out with this article doesn't matter.

Field hockey Senior year when I was a co-captain.
I'm in the center with the feminist t-shirt. ;-)

A friend of mine who is in the military agreed with me that requirements for girls and boys should be the same. Then he referenced physical requirements in the military. I will agree that physical requirements in the military should be the same for everyone, but not until we have reached that generation where both boys and girls have been conditioned from the beginning to reach the same goals and taught the techniques to be successful. We're not there yet so I don't think it would be wise to raise the bar there until we have leveled the playing field. Say if they changed the standards next year for 6 year olds (the first age listed on the chart above), in 12 years when those boys and girls are 18 and eligible for the military, then the military physical standards should be the same for everyone.

So, let's start now. Let's start telling our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and kids we know from down the street that boys and girls are physically capable of doing the same things given the same training and conditioning. Let's empower everyone to do their best and have respect for others knowing that they are also capable of reaching the same goals and standards. Let's stop telling girls that they're weaker when we don't give them a chance to prove what they're capable of from the get-go. This message to our kids won't just have an effect on what girls and boys are taught in P.E. class, it will have a ripple effect where we start to see and treat both girls and boys (and everyone else on the gender continuum) with respect and give them a level playing field.

In other news, CBS just announced that it will launch the first all-female sports talk show. I have my fingers crossed that they do it right. It could go either way (awesome or stereotypical gender portrayals) but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. I would definitely watch as long as it was on at a reasonable hour and not stuck at midnight or something. Onward! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Under The Radar: My Newest Adventure as a Professional Speaker

This week I was awarded the awesome opportunity to be added to the Under The Radar Speaker Roster through Soapbox, Inc. I have been speaking on women's issues through my current job for the past 9 years so this is not my first time up to bat. This new adventure will give me the opportunity to travel around the country speaking for other Universities or community organizations. You can read my bio and list of topics I am available to speak about here:

I'm very excited to get to combine two of my favorite activities, talking about gender equality and traveling, thanks to the awesome feminists over at Soapbox, Inc.

Wish me luck...or book me...either one is great! :-)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Teaching Empathy to My Boys

Jackson is now five years old and will periodically have emotional outbursts. Sometimes I can easily walk him through them and get him to understand the situation so he won’t be so upset or offer him alternative solutions to whatever he’s objecting to. Recently he got on this kick that he wanted me to do something for him (I forget now what it was, but it was something simple like getting him out of his car seat or fixing him a snack) and not his daddy. I was busy with Myles (who is about to be two years old) so Bill was trying to tend to Jackson. He pitched a fit when his dad tried to do whatever it was and hollered that he liked me better and just had to have me. I tried to talk him down and explain how it didn’t matter who did this task for him and that he needed to be nice to his daddy because he loves him. He just would not stop. I could tell that it was hurting Bill’s feelings so I told Jackson that. “You’re hurting Daddy’s feelings. You wouldn’t want Daddy to say that to you, would you?” I asked. He said no but continued to fuss, tears and all. I try my best to keep calm when he loses his mind like this and I think I held it together pretty well. It was upsetting me though because he really was being mean to his Daddy.

I finally got him to understand somewhat and he calmed down a little bit. It was almost time for bed and I wanted him to apologize to his daddy and give him a hug. I didn’t want him to go to bed thinking it was okay to behave that way. It was like pulling teeth. He crawled over to Bill and hugged his leg and whispered very softly “sorry”. I did not want to get him upset all over again, but that was not acceptable. I kept encouraging him to give him a “real hug” and finally Bill was able to get pick him up and hug him and kiss his little head and tell him that he loved him. You could tell Jackson was just allowing him to do this just to get it over with. It was a half-hearted apology but it would have to do because Bill and I were both over the whole situation and just wanted him to get some sleep. He was obviously tired and that was making him a Mr. grumpy-pants.

The next morning he was better and I talked with him again about how he hurt his Daddy’s feelings. My goal was to help him understand how he was making his daddy feel hoping to teach him to empathize with him. He eventually got back to normal and even randomly said “you’re the best daddy every!” which I could tell made Bill quite happy. He loves being a daddy and is a very good one. Any good parent wants to hear that they’re doing a good job from their kids, so when they throw fits like this and say mean things, it can really hurt their feelings.

I recently read this great article on “Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys”. Girls are taught empathy but boys typically aren’t. I have worked in the field of advocacy for victims of sexual and relationship violence as well as prevention education around those issues for almost 10 year. I see what boys’ lack of empathy for others can do, whether they are the perpetrator of violence against someone or a silent bystander unwilling to do anything to help the victim. Now, Jackson is a long time from college, but I want to teach him this skill early so he will naturally turn to empathy when reacting to various situations.

We’ve talked about a few bullying scenarios he’s seen in Preschool and how that made the person being bullied feel. One of those instances was when a bus monitor called him out for being a boy with painted nails, so he knew a little bit about how it feels. You may have heard people say that babies aren’t born knowing how to hate and I see that to be true. However, it doesn’t take long for them to learn jealousy which I see as a source of a lot of tension among kids (and adults) and that can lead them to bully or be mean to others.

When Myles copies something that Jackson does, or plays with one of his toys, Jackson will pitch a fit or try to snatch the toy away. His latest response to why he doesn’t want Myles to play with his toys or follow him around is because he “doesn’t like babies”. And yet, he will lead Myles around the house in whatever made up game he wants them to play together not long after one of his fits. It can be frustrating that he doesn’t understand when he’s being contradictory, but I have to keep telling myself he hasn’t learned that skill yet.

PARENTING IS HARD! It is a job that requires you to be on your game at all times. If you are tired too often and as a result always react negatively to a situation, that is going to affect how your kids behave toward others.  You can’t just wave a magic wand and make your kids turn out to be perfect angels who have empathy for others and a strong sense of self-confidence and humility at the same time. Actions speak louder than words. When I want my kids to stop hitting each other or one of us (something Myles does as part of his terrible twos) I usually say “gentle” but if I’m yelling it at them it kind of defeats the purpose. See what I mean? I may not get it 100% right all of the time, but I’m hoping that I am resilient enough to teach them how to be good people at least 95% of the time.

I have seen how my efforts to teach Jackson empathy have worked. He will identify how something someone did probably made someone feel and I applaud him when he does that. Now if I can just get him to identify when his actions affect others, we’ll be good to go.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!

My mom and I were watching my kids play in the yard the other day. Somehow the conversation turned to her knowing how to ride a skateboard. I remembered that I had a white one once but that I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t have anyone to teach me. At the time I didn’t realize that she knew how to ride so I never asked her to show me. But her next comment “Oh, I guess I wasn’t around to show you”, really struck a cord with me. My mom pursued her Masters degree when I was young but I never thought of her as “not being there” and I realized at that moment that she holds some guilt about taking that time away from us to further her education. I’m very proud of her for pursuing her Masters and working a job in a non-traditional field for women (computer programming). In fact, there are many things that I am proud of her for and never once have I thought negatively about her pursuing her career or education because it may have taken some time away from me. I don’t remember her not being there. So, I have decided to write this piece to tell you my mother’s story so you can know just how awesome she is and how lucky I am to have her as my mother.  

I don’t ever remember my mother telling me about feminism or even using that word around me, but she certainly raised me from a feminist perspective. I always knew that I could be who I wanted to be and pursue any dream my heart desired. When I graduated high school, I had it in my head that I was going to be the goalie for the US Women’s Olympic Field Hockey Team and work for National Geographic as a photographer. Neither were small dreams, but I had every confidence in my ability to do those things. Granted, I never actually did those things, but that was only because my interests and passions changed, not because I tried and failed and certainly not because I thought I couldn’t. This was because mom instilled a sense of confidence in me that carries me through everyday even now. (Note: when I say confidence, I do not mean narcissism or conceit. She also taught me to be humble when it matters.) She also taught me to be independent and to learn to do things for myself. Thank goodness for that! That is one thing she taught me that I used the most. She shared with me the wisdom that her mother shared with her: never let a man leave you without a car, always wear clean underwear in case you get into a car accident, and always have a financial cushion/save as much money as you can.

She learned that first one the hard way. On one of her trips up to Richmond to attend Masters classes at VCU the guys she rode with from work left class at break and went to a local bar that was having a wet t-shirt contest. They asked to take her keys so they could put their bags/briefcases in the trunk on their way. When it was time to go, they were nowhere to be found and she was stuck 2 hours away from home in a not so safe part of town with no way to get back.  Just the thought of that makes me want to physically hurt those men, leaving my momma stranded like that, but she gave them what for. Around about midnight after waiting around in a local deli she finally saw them coming out of the club. She told them exactly what she thought about what they had done and also let them know about it while she drove them home. Of course, the guys didn’t see what the big deal was. This was in the 80’s before everyone had cell phones so my Dad was at home worried and waiting for her to come home, not knowing all that had gone on. One of the guys was married and his wife also had something to say to him about his behavior and how he treated my mom. The guy who was married finally got it and apologized to Mom the next day. The single guy went around the office telling his funny story thinking nothing of it until all the women in the office responded the same way that Momma did. I think he finally apologized and hopefully they both learned a little about how to treat women better. Of course, the fact that they thought it was a good idea to go to a wet t-shirt contest makes me think not, but maybe it set them on a road to a feminist revelation. One can only hope. My mom also taught me to be an optimist, but never na├»ve, so I know better.  

At another point in her career in the non-traditional field of computer programming, Mom experienced sexual harassment that she actually blocked out and didn’t tell me about until this past year. One of the centerfolds “models” in Playboy magazine had my mom’s same name one month. The guy down the hall at work thought it would be funny to hang up that picture with a cutout of my mom’s face pasted on it in the break room for everyone to see. Now, this was in a time before we had the word “sexual harassment” that could help women describe what they had been experiencing. She felt embarrassed, but mostly angry because with that one act he had reduced her to a sex object after all of her hard work to do a good job and gain respect from her peers as a computer programmer. The guy had no idea why she was upset about it (seemed to be a trend at this place) and brushed it off as “just a joke”. As I said, my mom blocked out this experience , and she was only reminded of it when this guy reached out to her through email this year. He had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment now 20 years later and realized what he had done was wrong and was seeking her forgiveness. In a switch in our roles, she asked my advice. She told me the story and I confirmed that what she had experienced was indeed sexual harassment. I think validating her experience helped her to do what I suggested next. My mom is a Christian so I told her that it was up to her whether or not she chose to forgive him. However, I suggested she not let him off easy, but instead spell out for him just how his actions affected her and why what he did was wrong, because she probably wasn’t the first nor the last that he harassed. I could see she felt empowered and she did in fact email him and let him know just that. I forget whether or not she forgave him but she said she felt better afterwards. It makes me wonder about other women from that generation and what experiences they had with sexual harassment and what they have blocked out. It’s hard enough now to call out sexual harassment and we have a word for it, when they didn’t even know what to call it. I’m very proud of my mother for standing up for herself then and now.

Another thing I admire about my mother that I try to emulate is her compassion for others. One thing in particular is her encouragement of young people, especially girls and young women, to pursue their education. In my line of work I get to interact with and hear the stories of many young women and men and encourage and empower them to follow their hearts. Knowledge is power that no one can take away from you and it can help you to achieve your goals in life. My mom has helped a few women financially that I know of with their college books and the like so they could pursue their degrees. She also tutors kids in math and also guitar (something she tried to teach me but I didn’t have the patience to practice, just like the piano). I love watching her with my two boys teaching them new things, taking them on adventures, and reading them the books she brings for them. Instilling in them a love for reading is something very important to me because it is something that both myself and my husband enjoy. Other ways she shows compassion for others is by giving to charities and volunteering for the local library and various other non-profits, especially her church. Also, she’ll gladly talk to you about her faith but she won’t push it on you. High five for that, Mom! She recognizes that we all have our own point of view and experience of the world. She knows what works for her and won’t deny another the right to have that for themselves, whatever that might be.

My mother is a wonderful person and every time you see her she will have a smile on her face. That smile is not just to be pleasing for others (something that is expected of women), but because she is a genuinely happy person. She loves life and her family and friends. She has worked hard and come through adversity all with a smile on her face. I may be in my 30’s, but nothing makes me feel better and more centered than a hug and conversation with my Momma. I love you Momma! You have always been there for me when I needed you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Body Love Conference Adventure

I just flew all the way from Virginia to Arizona to attend the one-day Body Love Conference, brainchild of The Militant Baker and her friends. The goal of the conference is to promote body love and self-confidence. Of course I had to come out for that! If I had to list my life's passions that would be at the top of the list. I am so grateful for Jes and her crew for putting this together. I left feeling inspired, empowered, and with a lot more moxie, sass, confidence and things to reflect on. It's an amazing feeling to be surrounded by people who look like you, especially since I never see people like me represented in the media that we are bombarded with everyday.

The flight to Arizona was long but totally worth it. When I finally got a window seat I took lots of pictures of the beautiful landscapes of our country. I've never flown this far west so it was amazing to see the differences from back home. I have to admit, I had a brief “where the hell am I” moment once I saw all that dessert. LOL However, I soon discovered the charm of Tucson. Here are a few shots from my trip and the conference for your viewing pleasure (click the link below for more pictures). 

 We had quite a variety of awesome workshops to choose from. Next year I hope they offer them more than once because it was hard to just chose four. I tried to pick workshops I thought would give me ideas for something I could bring back to the campus where I work. I was thinking about potential speakers as well as themes that might appeal to our students. You know you always gotta be on the cutting edge to keep the attention of traditional-aged students. After Jes Baker's super inspirational welcome we jumped right into the day.

My first workshop was "Expanding Definitions of Beauty: Redefining the Thin White Ideal". I chose this because I've been thinking a lot lately about the experiences of women of color with beauty standards. I know that the "ideal" beauty we always see in the media usually only includes white women or white-washed women of color. Pia Schiavo-Campo gave some great examples of this just from screenshots from her Google Images search for "Hollywood Actresses". The women pretty much all looked like the same person. When she searched for African American, Latina and Asian Hollywood actresses you could see just how white-washed they were. Intellectually I knew this, but actually seeing it was quite disturbing. To help add diversity to the media, she encouraged us to take pictures of the diverse women around us, post them on social media and tag them with #RadicalDiversity ("Actively insisting on extreme changes in existing homogeneous views, habits, conditions, & institutions that systematically include or marginalize people who are differently-abled, fat, non-white, aging, or do not fit into the gender binary.") She also talked about how to take a complement (say "Thank you!") and encouraged us not to apologize for taking up space. You know that feeling you get when women around you start to police/pick apart another woman for what she's wearing or how she looks? Well, Pia suggested three ways to handle it: say "I don't want to be a part of this conversation" and walk away; change the topic and make it obvious; or call them out ("Hey, why are you hating on her..."). We have a voice and we should use it to stop the mean girl talk. 

For my next workshop I chose "The Body is Not anApology" by Sonya Renee Taylor. I was excited to hear her speak since I had missed her when she was on my campus a couple years ago. I heard rave reviews about her so I knew I was in for a treat. She did not disappoint. Not only was she engaging, but she was also funny and empowering. She asked us to remember that "thing" that happened that made us first realize we weren't good enough according to society's standards. For me it was standing in line for the bathroom with my classmates in 1st or 2nd grade. My two friends in front of me were talking about how much they weighed. When I realized I weighed more than either of them and that it was a "bad" thing according to them and the rest of the world, something in me changed. My confidence took a big hit and from then on out I always worried about whether or not I was pretty enough. It's taken me a long time to get to a point where I don't give a shit about what other people think or whether or not I fit society's ideas of beauty and it's a constant struggle to keep that confidence. I mean, it's seen as radical to love your body in a world where the messages we get bombarded by through the media are all telling us we're not good enough and Photoshopping is standard practice. The weight loss and beauty industries spend billions of dollars a year on advertising telling us we need to fix ourselves. As Sonya says, body hate is something we learn, not something we're born with. She showed us pictures of adorable babies loving their bodies (bellies, feet, etc...) and I see this in my son Myles who's almost 2 years old. It's the same with racism. We aren't born with hate in our hearts toward ourselves or others, this is something that we are socialized to feel. Luckily, since this is taught, she says, it can be untaught. As Gloria Steinem says the hardest part is not to learn, but to unlearn. We certainly have our work cut out for us. She also touched on a point that I love to make when discussing body image and beauty ideals. The beauty industry serves to distract us from getting equity (just think of what we could accomplish with all that time, money and energy wasted on trying to fit an unrealistic beauty ideal). She called it smoke screens. We're indoctrinated, she says, to think what things are and aren't important which gives others power and control over us. "How you feel about your body has political, economic & social impact on a global scale." We don't think about this because trying to reach an unobtainable beauty standard has become habit and we're all on automatic pilot. It's time to wakeup and start a RUCHUS (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 US). I haven’t figured out what mine will be just yet, but believe me the wheels are turning. When I figure it out, I will be tweeting it to #tbinaa (The Body Is Not An Apology).

Tess Munster, plus size model, make-up artist, body positive activist and blogger, was our keynote speaker. She told her story of being bullied growing up and how she has survived all the obstacles that life has thrown at her. She certainly went through a lot and I think most of us had tears in our eyes hearing everything she had to deal with. She had several empowering messages for us. First, “never give up”. Sounds simple, but having heard what she experienced reminded me that my “struggles” were nothing compared to hers and if she can get through adversity and succeed, then I certainly can. Second, she reminded us “nothing is impossible”. I hear so many women say things like they’d like to be able to do things they deem a “dream” or “fantasy” because of course they couldn’t do that. It’s so disheartening to hear women talk that way. Tess is a perfect example of how you can do anything you put your mind to. Third, “we all deserve to be loved”. It doesn’t matter if we don’t fit the “ideal” standard of beauty, we’re all human, valuable, and deserve love. Fourth, “sexy is not a size”. I wanted to yell out “preach” on this one. I feel sexy sometimes but the media only shows us one example of what they think that should look like. One of my sister conference-goers went to a burlesque workshop and afterwards told me that she felt so sexy because of the experience. We’re all told we’re not good enough and it’s beautiful to be reminded that we are. It’s society that’s messed up. (I’m totally playing “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce in my head right now thinking about this.)” Fifth, “we’re much more powerful together”. I think sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ones who experience bullying and fat shaming due to our society’s unrealistic beauty standards. Seeing the 400 other women in that room that were all on the same page as me about body love was very powerful. 

Pia showed us a quote from Audre Lorde in her workshop that said “Women are powerful and dangerous”. She’s so right on with that. I think these “smoke screens” (as Sonya called them) or requirements for our physical appearance serves to distract us from that power because just imagine what we could accomplish if we didn’t spend all of our time thinking about our appearance. Sixth, “our body is okay as it is”. Jes talked to us in her opener about not waiting to do what we want to do until we lose weight. We can accomplish our goals with the body that we have. Seventh, “surround yourself with positive people”. This seemed to be a theme throughout the whole day. Being around people who accept you for who you are and what you look like with no judgment is a very powerful feeling. I felt myself walk with more confidence while I was among that amazing group of women. Eight, “sex is better with the lights on”. No comment. I’m not about to talk about my sex life with y’all up here. LOL Ninth, “if you want to eat cookies and ice cream, fucking eat the cookies and ice cream”! We should be able to indulge when we want to. Our body speaks to us and if it says it wants a cookie then give it a cookie. And for goodness sake, don’t say you’ll eat salad for your next meal or something like that. Just enjoy your cookie and move on. I love her story and her message. I even bought one of her “Eff Your Beauty Standards” t-shirts even though it had pink on it. That says a lot for me because I am not a fan of pink. LOL

The next session I chose was “Reclaiming Body Trust” by the ladies from Be Nourished. They have such an amazing concept for their business. One is a counselor and the other is a registered dietitian. Their philosophy is “we don’t know what size you should be and we’re the only one with the balls to tell you that truth”. They focus on getting you out of the diet mentality. If you’re focusing on weight loss, even if you’re “not on a diet”, you’re in a diet mentality. Many women don’t realize that this applies to them and are shocked when the light bulb clicks on. Be Nourished practices from a weight-neutral perspective. They encouraged us to be present in our bodies and to stop “fixing” and “checking” (weighing, measuring, wondering what others think of us) ourselves. The dietitian pointed out that we are “prescribing for fat people the very behaviors that we diagnose as disordered eating in thin people”. How fucked up is that?! She also said it was no coincidence that the first beauty pageant was held just a few months after women won the right to vote. I never knew this but it pissed me off. Every time women make advances, whether politically, socially or economically, there is some sort of backlash pushing us two steps backward and it usually centers around beauty. I’m going to have to do more research on the historical accuracy (my husband would like that, he’s a history lover) but it wouldn’t surprise me if she were right about that. At the end they asked us to tell our neighbor that “body trust is your birth right” to encourage us to trust our bodies because they show up for us everyday. They have an e-workshop that will become available soon that I’m excited to sign up for.

My last session was “Loving Your Body Online”. Our speaker was Meghan Tonjes who is a YouTube sensation. I have to admit I had not heard of her, but I’m following her on Twitter now and will be checking out her videos as well. I feel like I have not really delved in to the feminist world on YouTube much quite yet. I’m just finally feeling making great connections and engaging in feminism on Twitter, so baby steps. I’m excited to learn that there’s a whole other group of activists to tap in to though. She started a YouTube collective called “Project Lifesize” for plus size and/or average sized women to tell their stories and experiences. It ended 4 years ago but I’m still going to going to go back and watch videos. She started from scratch on a small scale just like I have. The fates worked together for her and she ended up on the Ellen show! That would be freaking fantastic! AND she got to meet Adele! I started to think, “if Ellen ever invites me to her show, who would I want her to surprise me with”. (A girl can dream, right?!) I’ve already met Gloria Steinem (who I adore an I still have the hairspray she gave me because she couldn’t carry it on the plane), Margaret Cho (who’s hilarious and I still have the pen she used to sign an autograph for me) and Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill, who is a badass but didn’t leave me with a memento but that’s cool because just having my picture taken with her and spending time with her was awesome enough) because I have an awesome job that brought these women to me (my campus). Don’t laugh at me for keeping those two things. LOL They helped me to remember the wonderful experience of meeting them. So, if I had to decide today it would be Beyonce just so I could talk feminism with her. Maybe Myles could play with Blue since they’re the same age. Although, it would also be awesome to meet Maya Angelou (who I really enjoyed hearing tell stories when she came to Virginia last year…she’s funny!). This has inspired me to make a list of women that I’d like to meet one day! I’ll save that for another blog post. Back to the conference! The message that I got from Meghan was to “not be afraid to start something” because “people are going to say shit regardless of how you look or what you do” so you might as well do/be what you want. She encouraged us to just “be kind to ourselves and others”. I did pick up a few hashtags to check out while I was there: #effyourbeautystandards, #honoryourcurves, and #fatkini (which I might have to find one for this summer).

Me and Body Love Conference Organizer, Jes Baker (AKA The Militant Baker)

Overall the conference was badass. It was so inspiring, empowering, uplifting, and much needed. Having positive body image and not letting those negative messages seep into your psyche is a daily struggle. Even among feminists it’s easy to get sucked back in to it because we’re bombarded by these negative messages about our bodies every day. We’re told to focus on our outward appearance if we want to be accepted and valued. I tried to describe my struggles with trying not to focus on people’s appearance with the folks I brought with me to the conference. Basically I don’t tend to comment or complement women on their hair, weight, clothes, beauty, etc… just because I don’t want them to get the message that I value them for that. I value them for their character, humanity, personality, etc… I did have one instance where someone actually felt offended because I didn’t talk about beauty products and clothes because she felt she couldn’t talk about them in front of me. It’s really frustrating being misunderstood, but it’s something I’m working on. I guess I just have to tell people what I’m doing so they’ll get the point. Every now and then I will comment on something that really stands out to me like a cool pair of shoes or awesome shirt, but it’s only because I’m admiring the item and not their appearance in it. It’s rare but it does happen. I am trying to shift the world around me to stop thinking of women’s power and worth in terms of fashion, weight and beauty. Hopefully I can do so in a way that opens eyes and doesn’t offend anyone because that’s not my intent.

There was talk of having another Body Love Conference next year and I’m super hopeful that it happens. It was an amazing experience. I loved that they had a hashtag (#blc or #bodyloveconference) that I could use to connect with other conference-goers. Thank you to The Militant Baker and her crew for bringing this into our world! Here’s to body love y’all!

Monday, March 17, 2014

#GirlsCan Accomplish Their Goals Without Makeup

Have you seen the latest Cover Girl commercial promoting #GirlsCan? Check out my blog post on it over at Hashtag Feminism!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guest Post: "Girl Toys" vs "Boy Toys

Having two small children means I see and think about (and step on) toys a lot. Check out my guest post over at Fabulous Mom Blog discussing gender roles and stereotypes in toys and what messages that is sending to our kids about who they can be.

Thank you Tiffany (AKA Fabulous Mom) for letting me discuss this on your blog!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"It's Time to #LoveYourSelfie!"

Do you like to take "selfies" and post them on social media? Yes? Good!

Check out my latest post over at!

It's Time to #LoveYourSelfie! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Guest Posting for Fabulous Mom Blog

I am excited to announce that I will be guest posting over at my childhood friend's website Fabulous Mom Blog! Later this week you can find my first post about gender roles and toys. For now, check our this sweet introduction by my friend Tiffany. 

I am so happy to have such great friends to support me and help lift up my voice. These issues are so important to discuss and I hope to have some great discussion with you both here and at Fabulous Mom Blog!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Purse Girlcott

I've had an epiphany. I don't need to carry around a purse! I've never had an obsession about purses or needed to buy the most expensive brands. I usually just look for a purse with the right amount and sized pockets to carry around all those things I need, or might need for myself and possibly others. Purses, like Mary Poppins' carpet bag, become a catchall for variety of things you might possibly need and can start to weigh a ton and wreak havoc on the alignment of your spine. I recently discovered that I could fit everything I actually need on a daily basis in to my pants or coat pockets. It has been strangely freeing to go without my purse. I'm not weighed down, I don't have to worry about people stealing it, and I don't have to find a place to safely store it when I sit down somewhere. My arms and hands are free to do whatever. I feel light as a feather when I walk out the door. Initially I did panic that I had forgotten something, but I got over that in a few days when I got in to the habit of leaving my purse at home. This small change has given me a great amount of freedom that I wasn't expecting.

I've decided this is a great way to speak up about something that has always bothered me. Advertisers like to sexually objectify women and Photoshop them down to nothing in order to sell their product. They dictate to us what is trendy, cool and beautiful and tell us that we're not good enough unless we look like the women in their ads or purchase their products. Let's get one thing straight, they just want our money. They will do/say anything to make a buck. That's their ultimate goal, and it's at women's expense. Not cool. Purse companies also employ these same tactics in their advertisements. Here are a few examples:

The problem with this add is the purse is used to cover up her "hoo-hah" referencing sex. She also appears to be sitting on the double lines of a road which seem to be going right towards/in?/through? her "hoo-hah". So, using sex to sell. Oddly enough, you'd think these type of ads were aimed at men or lesbians since its referencing sex with a woman. But no, their target audience is women so the only obvious goal here is to teach women what is sexy and how they should behave. Something else that we need to open our eyes to is the size of this model. She is super thin sending the message that thin is sexy. If this were one of many body types used in advertising then I wouldn't draw that conclusion. However, this is the body type that is used most often in advertising. Girls and women are internalizing these messages about what is sexy and beautiful. 

Another example of women's sexuality being used to sell products.  It's a purse! A purse has nothing to do with sex (or maybe I'm just vanilla) except for maybe that's where you keep your birth control.

Another common theme in (most) advertising is negative body image messages.

(BTW, I had to spend a LOT of time searching for an ad for purses using a woman of color. This is why I only have one shown here. That's messed up...not that we want them to be objectified like this too, but why aren't they present in ads? If you find more ads with women of color, please send them to me at . I can really use them for my WMST class and future posts. Thanks!)

These two ads again uses an extremely thin model to sell the purses. When all we see are these very thin bodies, girls and women get the dangerous message that they should strive to look like this. Only about 5% of U.S. women have a body type capable of looking like this (and even then many models are still Photoshopped into "perfection"). Think it's a fluke? Just check out the the high rates of eating disorders in the U.S. (ex: Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.  And it's not just anorexia and bulimia, many women have some sort of body dysmorphic disorder. No wonder, when this is the body type we always see glorified as beautiful.  By the way, here are 20 ways to love your body.

So, whether you go purse-less (for an hour, day, week, forever) to help your back, feel a new kind of freedom, or to boycott sexist advertising, I urge you to try it. I'd love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

#IResolveToGain & My Radio Debut!

Recently I discovered the Hashtag Feminism through Twitter. You should totally check them out. They're discussing feminist activism through the hashtag. They were gracious enough to post a piece I wrote about the onslaught of dieting and weight loss ads that are aimed at women every New Year's. You can check out my piece here: "This New Year's #IResolveToGain Rather Than Lose".

Lo and behold the wonderful folks over at Feminist Magazine in California discovered my hastags and blog piece. They liked what they saw and invited me to guest speak on their radio show. Their focus for that hour was Feminist New Year's Resolutions so mine fit perfectly in the mix. It was my first time talking on the radio but I think I did pretty well. However, this New Year #IResolveToGain more public speaking skills so I can include less "um's" when I'm speaking. LOL Luckily, the live broadcast was recorded for your listening pleasure.  I start talking around minute 3.

It was a lot of fun and #IResolveToGain more opportunities like that to spread a message of positive body image and self-esteem.

What will you resolve to gain this year? I hope it's something that will make you happy that's not related to your weight or appearance.