A Time to Heal

My heart has been heavy all day. December 4th will forever be marred in my mind as a day associated with pain, sadness and loss. A year ago today at around 7:30pm, my family and I heard news of a fire that had started near my sister’s riding school in Santa Paula 14 miles east, about a 20 minute drive from us in Ventura. The next several hours are honestly kind of a blur. We lost power and received numerous texts from friends closer to the fire that it was time for us to start packing our bags. It wasn’t until 10:30pm, that we received an amber alert on our phones that said we were in a mandatory evacuation zone. At the time, I was getting calls and texts from friends saying that they didn’t know where to evacuate to because every hotel in town was at maximum capacity. My friend Jessica who lives about 15 minutes away in a town south west of us offered sanctuary at her place. Our biggest concern was for my mom’s new lungs, which we had been gifted only six months before and was very sensitive to bad air quality.

My sister and I began to frantically load her car with valuables and a few changes of clothes. We could see bright orange flames creeping up over the hill directly behind our house and were doing our best to just stay focused on what we needed to do. Once everything we could think of was packed, I thought of our sweet German Shepherd, Nina. She had been suffering serious neurological issues since my mom had been in the hospital earlier that year having had countless seizures and wasn’t herself at all. I found her outside in the backyard and began screaming at her with tears rolling down my face telling her that it was time to go. My mom finally came out and told me to just leave her if we had to, she wouldn’t budge from where she was lying on the grass, it’s like she knew what was coming and had just given up. I thought I would never see her again.

*We ended up having to put her to down a few weeks later, the day before New Years Eve because the vet thought she had a brain tumor and irreversible damage.

After arguing with my parents trying to convince them that it was time to go, and that risking my mom’s health after having gone through so much with her transplant wasn’t worth it, their stubbornness was unwavering. They had built their entire life in this home for the last twenty plus years and weren’t willing to leave it just yet. My sister and I got in her car and I began to drive. As we got down the hill from our house, Sarah said to me, “Aly, don’t look back,” and as I did, my stomach dropped as I watched walls of flames engulf the hills of our neighborhood, our street, maybe even our home.

The traffic was so thick with people in packed cars trying to flee flames and smoke. We finally made it down to Jessica’s house and immediately began calling my mom trying to figure out when she was going to evacuate. I regretted not forcing her to get in the car with me, looking back I wasn’t thinking straight- none of us were. A kind neighbor called me and told me that she and her husband had made sure my mom got out and she was driving down to meet my sister and I. After being so terrified to lose here in the hospital before and during her transplant, we weren’t willing to lose her now, which may sound dramatic, but it felt that way in the moment. My dad and dog were still at home. My dad is a Scorpio and the most stubborn and proud person I know. He and his brothers had saved their home from a devastating fire in LA in the 70s and I think he thought he would do it again now.

We didn’t get a wink of sleep that night. Since the power was still out nearly everywhere, the only updates we could really get on where the fire was and what was happening was from social media namely VC Scanner on Twitter. We watched videos from neighbors posting videos of fires in their backyards and on the hill sides a block from our home. We were so worried about my dad being there, but he would give us updates every hour or so saying that he and some of the neighbors had put out spot fires before the firefighters came to the rescue.

The following days were continued hell as we moved to my grandma’s house and received news of countless friends who had lost their homes. We cried a very steady stream of tears that day. One of my closest friends lost everything including her car, another wasn’t allowed back up to her neighborhood to see if her home was still standing or not. It was devastating.

When we finally returned home after a couple days, Ventura looked like a war zone. The air was so thick with smoke that the sky was permanently tinged a murky yellow. Something that will always stick with me, is the way the sun casts eery orange shadows on the ground when there’s smoke in the air.

My sister and I decided to walk a few blocks taking in the devastation in  total disbelief. We were wearing n95 masks but in hindsight, it wasn’t great to be out in that air. We passed homes that were still smoldering and some  that had nothing left at all. We walked by electrical workers trying to fix power lines and we stomped out smokey spots in backyards as we looked on at scenes from battles people had fought with rakes and hoses. In many places, it looked like fire fighters and civilians had stood on back porches and stopped the fire from within a foot of their house.

For weeks after the fire, it felt like we were living in a strange purgatory with no end in site. There were military personnel blocking off certain streets to keep looters out of decimated vacant neighborhoods. There were exhausted fire fighters camped out all over town. I can’t remember when the smoke began to dissolve, but it must’ve been close to a month or more.

Now’s the time to add that the night before the fire started, my family and I had been at UCLA’s Annual Heart & Lung Transplant Holiday Party and reliving trauma from that experience. Hearing tragic stories of people losing loved ones and what it means to be from a donor family. These stories were hard to digest to say the least.

2017 was full of pain and tragedy that I am still not ready to relieve, but because of those experiences I learned things like grace and strength and resilience that really can’t be taught. I remember getting back into our home with my mom after we were positive that the fire was heading away from us and looking into her eyes and saying, “I think God saved our house because we couldn’t have handled anything else this year.”

In a way, I feel guilty recalling my experience of the Thomas Fire because we still have a home while so many people I know lost everything- and especially after this year’s recent Woosley  Fire and devastating Camp Fire. But I know from personal experience that finding community in traumatic situations can be healing, and I hope someone who needs to read this will and know that they can rise from the ashes to start a new.

Healing is often depicted as beautiful and romantic in movies, tv shows or  books. But it actually happens in those moments when you summon the courage to crack your heart back open and work through what made it hurt so much in the first place. I’ve done a lot of inner work this year, in fact it’s been my sole focus and I can say that I am a better and more emphatic person because of it.

I hope that my sharing can inspire you to do the same.

xo Aly

 

 

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Twenty Something

I just spent the last two hours trying on countless outfits, in search of the perfect birthday look. Nothing felt right, nothing felt like me. While drifting in and out of various chain stores on a Sunday evening, the day before my birthday- the looming weight of another year began to settle around my shoulders. Self deprecating thoughts began to seep into my mind asking the ominous, “what are you doing with your life?” Ah the Quarter Life Crisis has resurfaced (I thought we were leaving him behind in twenty five).

Before this shopping trip, I had had several unsuccessful shopping trips in the past few weeks. Shopping is a vice that usually offers me solace and escapism from other areas of my life but now it just amplifies the fact that I am entering my DUN. DUN. DUN. LATE TWENTIES. My current crisis has been grappling with what’s appropriate for a professional woman my age to wear. I seem to fall somewhere between the Free People floral crop top and the tailored Calvin Klein pantsuit. I texted my sister during the trip and told her that I was having an identity crisis (ha).

Waiting until the day before my birthday to shop for an outfit I’ll need to wear the next day is classic me. I wait until something is so close that the mountain of anxiety I have about the event cripples me, and makes me feel like every area of my life is spiraling out of control (anyone else)?

I think I have always felt comfortable shopping and buying new clothes because these new items that adorn my body have helped me to reinforce the idea that my value is in the way I outwardly present myself to the world. However, I’ve been working really hard to unlearn this (I talk a lot about it here on Don’t Call Me Pretty).

Aside from the shopping trip, I’ve spent the last week listening to my stream of consciousness evaluate what I’ve learned and accomplished in the past year. It keeps hitting me in waves and the recollections come knocking one by one. First it was, “wow I haven’t dated in over a year, I must be wasting my youth, what’s wrong with me?” followed by the more free-spritied side of me who retorted with, “but think of how much you’ve been working on yourself. You’ve worked so hard to heal a lot of past trauma and have learned love and accept yourself.” Followed by, “Aly, you’re almost twenty six years old, how are you STILL living with your parents?” Like I said, this back and forth has consumed me for days and without the distraction of the new season of Las Chicas Del Cable, it probably would’ve driven me bananas. But in those moments of back and forth, I realize that the moments where I learned something proved to stick with me and make me feel the best, so I’m going to list some of what I’ve learned and experienced during my twenty fifth trip around the sun:

  • I learned that the only validation that really matters is my own, seeking validation and approval from others – especially a romantic partner doesn’t serve me
  • I learned that I should nourish my body instead of always being at war with it
  • I learned that my “Soul’s Purpose” is to amplify the stories of women – especially women with stories much different from my own. It’s what makes my heart sing and my eyes fill with water
  • I worked really hard on building Don’t Call Me Pretty and started my own small business!! Can’t wait to see where this takes me in the next year!
  • I again took on a full time job and learned how to balance working on my own business and other clients all the while working from home
  • I learned to forgive (or I am in the process of forgiving) forgiving myself and forgiving others who may have wronged me
  • I learned that healing from pain and trauma is not linear and some days are really great and some days are tough and acknowledging how you feel in a certain moment is really important
  • I learned to ask for help and to set boundaries
  • I learned that it’s okay not to answer texts, emails, calls right away and people who really care about you will understand if it takes a while for your to get back to them and vice versa
  • I rediscovered spirituality and a belief/faith that God/Goddess/The Divine exists and really cares about what happens to us
  • I got to experience the joy of celebrating my mom’s one year anniversary with her new lungs which was a triumphant win for my entire family
  • I learned that loneliness isn’t necessarily a bad thing
  • I learned that being vulnerable is being strong and that vulnerability and truthfulness are the foundations for strength
  • I learned that in moments where I feel combative, that I need to try and step back from the situation and lead with love
  • I learned not to give my time to people who are not dedicated to my growth and mission
  • I’m learning that growth is discomfort and sometimes much slower than we’d like
  • I learned self love and it’s unconditional and a PROCESS
  • Probably the biggest thing I learned during The Shift Retreats which has really been ingrained into my core is how to change my thought process from “Why is this happening to me?” to “What can I learn from this?”

Looking forward to all this next year has to offer. Thanks for coming along with me.

xo Aly

Living Authentically

At this moment, right now I am living the most authentic version of myself I ever have. It’s taken me so long to get here, but I am here and damn, it feels good. It’s just like a weight has been lifted from my physical and spiritual body and where feelings of distress and fear once clouded my heart, feelings of peace a optimism have replaced that same space.

I haven’t felt really compelled to share publicly because I believe, experiencing true transformation is a private process (at least for me). In March, I decided to invest in myself and signed up for a transformational women’s retreat in Joshua Tree hosted by my now Coach Brandilyn Tebo. I went into the retreat not knowing what to expect, but knew that I needed to experience healing and transformation in multiple areas of my life. Within a safe space made up of brave vulnerable women with vastly different backgrounds, I was able to pour open my heart and revisit past trauma that I had buried so deep, I didn’t know it was still causing me pain. I apologized to my inner child for being so cruel to my body and hating myself as a teen and I learned coping mechanisms for how to deal with challenges by changing my mindset from “why is this happening to me?” to “what can I learn from this?” I let go into my subconscious during meditation and felt the healing powers of  plant medicine during a cacao ceremony where we made music and danced under the desert moon. I made peace with a lot of trauma and people who had caused me past pain in that magical incubator in Joshua Tree and returned back to “real life.”

Post retreat, I realized doing one-on-one coaching with Brandi would be beneficial as I still felt unfulfilled in my job, living situation and inadequate in numerous other ways. For those of you just tuning in: to summarize, this time last year, I was experiencing depression, exhaustion and was really just tapped out mentally and physically. My mom had just been in the hospital for almost 6 months before having surgery to receive a double lung transplant and had just been released home and she was incredibly weak. At the time, I was living in LA and barely working because of my depression so I was completely broke, I felt it was my job to move home to Ventura to help rehabilitate my mom and to take some of the strain off of my dad and sister. The fact that I was moving home “because I was broke” felt like defeat. But at the time, I didn’t have the ability to take a step back and look at the entire situation to realize I was in desperate need of a spiritual recharge. I had lost so much of myself during long hours at the hospital, going out and partying to numb the pain, and not eating enough or regularly, and had lost all inspiration and drive to push myself forward. I was just going through the motions. Moving back home and being around a supportive group of girlfriends I had known for years was a blessing but again, I was blind to that at the time.

Fast forward to the months of April to June working on my transformation with Brandi. She helped me identify different areas of my life that needed improvement and gave me homework after each Skype call to work on creating actual effective change. I read books, changed my morning routine, worked on relationships with people close to me, began practicing yoga regularly again, explored my spirituality and developed a gentle and understanding approach to myself and others using the mantra, “lead with love.” It’s amazing how in situations of frustration or anger repeating this mantra and knowing that I would feel better afterwards if I approached a situation like this is so affective. I also sometimes remind myself that I’m vibrating on a higher level now and don’t need to go back to a place where I feel that I need to be reactive or combative, which doesn’t align with who I am as a person (libra’s are super non-confrontational and all about balance).

This Mercury retrograde has brought A LOT of feels (I know I’m not the only one) and this past week has been full of ups and downs. On Wednesday, I woke up and had a shit mental health day. I couldn’t really explain it, or where these feelings were coming from, but I felt inadequacy creeping in evoking anxiety ridden questions like, “why hadn’t I again moved out of my parents house and branched out on my own?” I let those feelings marinate inside me for most of the day, but then on Thursday I got right back to it. I wrote down my intentions for August inspired by all the possibility for the month and cried happily to my sister as I realized how close I am to achieving some of the goals I’ve been manifesting for my brand Don’t Call Me Pretty.

Listening to the universe and all that it has to offer instead of resisting it is the biggest thing I’ve learned this year. I looked forward to the monthly check in call I had scheduled with Brandi on Friday. I gave her all the positive updates I had and then we spent a good chunk of time brainstorming all the possibilities for where I can take Don’t Call Me Pretty including a series of workshops I’m planning to host on college campuses in the Fall. And although I am not quite where I want to be, I am finally content with where I am in this moment and I am excited about all the abundance I am ready and open to receiving.

Living authentically for me right now means spending a Friday night in reading a good book in my favorite kimono and not feeling bad about not going out, it means practicing yoga to nourish my body, it means feeling proud of myself and not needing outside validation for recognizing how far I’ve come. It means not beating myself up when I do have unproductive days. It means not feeling bad about creating boundaries. It means listening to my intuition. Most importantly it means, loving myself unconditionally.

Life shows up for us when we start listening and stop resisting.

xo Aly

Time Alone

If I’ve learned anything in the past several months, I’ve learned that the ability to be alone and comfortable with yourself is a gift. When you get past the point of no longer needing constant outside stimulation from other people in order to avoid time with yourself, you have made a monumental gain.

Time alone is a time for reflection and introspection. It’s a time to acknowledge the noise, but to choose to brush aside societal pressures and to listen to the truth inside your heart. It’s a time to ask yourself questions like, “What needs mending?” and ” What can I work on inwardly in order to live more fully outwardly?”

For many of us, being alone is terrifying because we don’t do it often enough. Real honesty, especially with one’s self is terrifying.

We live in a culture that capitalizes on the expectation to be constantly social and when we’re not, we’re deemed things like “loner” or “un-lovable.”

What if, in Western culture, we chose to accept those traditionally negative labels, and turned them into something positive by proving that time alone creates strength and love inwardly that can then be transmitted to others?

For a long time, if not most of my life, I thought my own worthiness of love, abundance, and happiness was completely based on what I put out or allowed to the surface. Such as, if I changed something about my appearance, I could more easily find love. Or if I held a certain job title then I would gain the respect I craved from family and peers- which in some ways, is still true. But, I have seen first hand people who live on a surface level instead of purposefully who choose to never face their possible inner demons and never find peace, love or happiness in a way that feels truly fulfilling.

Being alone does not have to feel lonely. In fact, you can find peace in being alone within a group of people. For example, while practicing yoga in a class setting or participating in a group mediation. I am able to see my most true authentic self in those situations, and I think now for the first time ever, I am at peace with myself. And although I am still learning how to heal wounds from past trauma, I am finding that I am okay with this strong, beautiful, colorful and more importantly, whole person I am.

Last week during a group mediation/coaching session, I said that, “I see myself becoming the woman I want to be,” to which I received the response, “what if she’s always been there? What if you’ve been her since the time you were a child? You’re just choosing to accept and see her now.”

And I really believe I am. 

A Strong Female Lead

I was scrolling through Netflix recently and one of my top recommended categories was “Emotional Movies Starring a Strong Female Lead.” I stopped and reread this category ironically smirking to myself asking, “is this a metaphor for my life in 2017?” As I continued to scroll, many of the other categories were variations of this same title, “Witty TV Comedies Featuring a Strong Female Lead” and “Independent Movies Starring a Strong Female Lead.” There I was in black and white on Netflix. Who knew a site that was meant for mindless binging could actually reflect my real life situation so accurately.

Since this Netflix typecasting, I’ve realized that all the while I thought I was using this site as an escape to take me to places and scenarios so different from my own, I was actually choosing to watch characters who maybe mirrored many of the qualities I have gained this year.

I’ve been struggling with how I wanted to reflect back on 2017, and truthfully a lot of the experiences are so fresh, maybe I’m not far enough from them to make real judgments about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. But I want to do it, so in a year I can look back and be proud of all the things that I’ve survived this year.

I had to step into the role of strong female lead so many times this year I probably can’t even recall all of the moments. But here are some that stuck out:

When I decided to go head on into activism leaving my full time job and taking on a role helping to plan Women’s March Los Angeles.
When my mom was admitted into the hospital in February and I went to visit her for the first time, knowing how difficult it was going to be.
When my mom experienced her “dry run” where we thought she was going to receive the lung transplant we had waited for so long and then didn’t and later pulling myself out of the fog of depression days afterwards.
Helping my sister with her depression.
When I came to terms with my own mental health and finally went to therapy.
When I began to regularly practice yoga as a form of self care.
When I visited my mom in the ICU almost daily and then weekly for almost six months.
When I let myself date again and open myself up to the possibility of a relationship.
When I got the call about my mom’s lung transplant in July and was a pillar of strength while waiting 12 hours with my dad and sister anxiously waiting for the surgery to be over.
When I updated friends and family about my mom’s condition and what was going on even when I didn’t feel strong enough to do so.
When I visited her in the hospital following the surgery and held her and tried to calm her down as she cried in pain and faced the affects of the difficult recovery process. I was there when no one else was.
When I decided to move home to help out with my mom and take her to appointments.
When I finally opened up about my sexual assault that took place 4 years ago #MeToo.
When the Thomas Fire broke out and my family and I were forced to evacuate.
When I worked to spread information about the fire and ways to help the victims.
When my family and I decided to end my dog Nina’s suffering by putting her into a forever restful sleep.

 

I originally mapped out this post as a reflection of all things that happened in 2017, but it was much too lengthy and long winded. After all, I don’t want to dwell on the negative. A friend and fellow writer Sarah Doyel (The Feminist Vegan) recommended I frame this reflection as 10 questions to ask myself what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. I got the idea from Cait Flanders here.

1. What makes this year unforgettable? 

In short, EVERYTHING. Getting the opportunity to help plan Women’s March LA, my unforgettable trip to Mexico City for Zona Maco, the huge chunk of time I spent visiting my mom in the hospital, the incredible friendships I relied on in tough times, turning 25, almost losing our home in the Thomas Fire, losing a best friend (Nina the German Shepherd), my own transformation and growth into the woman I am.

2. What did you enjoy doing this year? 

I enjoyed finding my calling in activism. Tough times really are times for trying and I felt like I really stepped into my purpose. I’ve been given the gift of a voice and leadership and I feel blessed to be able to use it.

3. What/who are you grateful for? 

I am grateful for my incredible support system. My immediate family, chosen family and friends who kept me going when I thought I couldn’t anymore. I have never seen/felt it before like I did this year. True love and friendship is when friends reach out and support you when you are in too dark of a place to pull yourself from. I was surrounded by that throughout this entire year, so thank you to everyone who showed me love. I appreciate it.

4. What’s your biggest win this year? 

At the risk of sounding cliché, SURVIVING. This was a year of experiencing trauma, but not succumbing to it in a way where I inflicted serious self harm. There were lows, but I was able to find a way out. I’m a survivor and I’m proud of myself.

5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year? 

It was the year of the WOMAN for me personally. I listened to diverse female powerhouse artists on a GRL PWR playlist I made, a lot of 70s classic rock and my favorite Janis Joplin because so many lyrics from that era signify a time for change which parallels the time we are currently living in.

I watched a lot of women-centric tv shows (a lot of them foreign) including Ingobernable, Las Chicas del Cable, Land Girls, Insecure, The Crown, Broad City, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and my forever favorite Jane the Virgin.

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?

This pretty much speaks for itself. I worried about my mom’s health while she was in the hospital, and my family falling apart. But GUESS WHAT, we f*cking made it!!! And by some inexplicable miracle, she received a new set of lungs and a second chance at life.

This was also my first year as an independent contractor figuring things out completely on my own and I really struggled with finances. Being on top of this is an intention for 2018.

7. What was your biggest regret and why?

Not taking care of myself and my mental health sooner. I waited until my depression was all consuming to get help. I was putting my mom and my family and basically everyone else before me. When I first started seeing my therapist she asked, “when did you lose yourself?” I’ll never let that happen again. Because now I know that if I am not whole and healthy, I’m no use to anyone else fight their own battles.

8. What’s one thing that you changed about yourself?

This is a tough one! I feel like I changed a lot of things, but one that stands out in particular is that I cut out bullshit. I stopped doing work that I felt dispassionate about, I stopped talking to guys who made me feel less than and most importantly, I learned to be honest with myself.

9. What surprised you the most this year?

I know this kind of goes along with some of my previous answers, but I really just can’t believe how much I overcame and accomplished this year. My own strength surpassed what I ever thought I was capable of, and here I am ready to take on the new year ahead.

10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?

Woooo so many things. Stop talking to that boy, he’s a waste of time, find some consistency in work before everything feels out of your control, things are going to get very hard but don’t feel like you have to support everyone, take care of yourself, remember your self worth, move home sooner- it will help with some of the stress, and most of all, inspite of all that’s going on, everything is going to be ALL RIGHT.

Looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything about 2017. It was the year of transformation. The year I transformed into a butterfly and I am now migrating into the direction of the rest of my life. Drifting forward forever more, never looking back.

Happy New Year! I hope you have a joyful, peaceful, loving and hopeful 2018.

xo Aly

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

It’s no secret that Thanksgiving is an extremely bizarre holiday. It is fundamentally based on colonialism and the idea that we should celebrate a day that represents the genocide of indigenous peoples, and ultimately the undeserved accomplishments of white people. It’s so strange to me that a majority of people (including myself) haven’t realized that until fairly recently, but I guess sometimes it takes us a while to really “wake up.”

When celebrating this holiday as a child, all I really cared about was the food- which I think is pretty standard. However, since celebrating this day as an adult, so much has changed. Three years ago, I celebrated the day with my family by inviting two Dutch exchange student friends to cook with us who had never experienced a traditional Thanksgiving. The next year a dear friend who’s a vegan joined my family and introduced us to some great new dishes (and ended up doing most of the cooking). Last year, at the height of my mother’s illness, my sister and I worked tirelessly to cook an entire meal while my mom had to painfully watch on the sidelines. One of her greatest joys is cooking meals like this on the holidays and her not being able to participate was such a hard thing to see. I remember my sister and I burning the first round of bread crumbs for the stuffing and the gravity of such a simple mistake felt much greater because my mom wasn’t able to help.

This year will be completely different, we are celebrating Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house, and although my mom won’t be able to cook everything, tomorrow she and my sister and I will be able to make a few staple dishes before heading over. It’s funny how you don’t appreciate things like stressing out together over making a holiday meal until you aren’t able to do it.

I remember doing a project in junior high where the assignment was to talk about family traditions and I was so frustrated because a lot of my friend’s were Latino and had all these incredible traditions that were so rich and colorful, and I somehow wasn’t able to pinpoint my own family’s traditions. Now I see them so clearly. In the way my mom meticulously plans her recipes like an astronaut preparing for launch; in the fact that we still make a sweet potato recipe from my Dad’s mom who has been gone for years now; in the way that we have added the Dutch Boterkoek cake as one of our essential desserts; in the way we are always perpetually late; and most importantly, in the way that I couldn’t imagine spending this holiday without the people who I am most grateful for.

My gratitude was shown to me in a new light after listening to a podcast that featured two women, one who received a kidney from the other after knowing each other for a very short time. Listening to their story, and identifying with so many of the things they were talking about put my own life into perspective. Words they used and scenarios they described brought me back to moments I have tucked away in the corners of my mind. It’s been really tough for me to take a step back from everything my family and I went through with my mom’s lung transplant surgery, but somehow hearing a similar story made me better understand our own. When I was finishing up my walk this evening, I ran into my sister and mom who were also finishing up a walk (it still feels unreal to see my mom being able to trek up our hill sans oxygen tank). I told them about the podcast I had just listened to and I realized how remarkable our story truly is. My mom then shared a really intense piece of information about her donor she had been holding inside for the past four months and it made me cry. I cried because it made me realize how truly deserving my mom was to receive these new lungs. These last 4 months since her surgery, I have just been learning how to be okay and relearning to live my life, but for now I am grateful. The universe works in mysterious and beautiful ways and the fact that I’m going to get to have my family together for another year is a truly a wonderful thing.

 

The In Betweens

*This piece is in response to Rihanna’s Perspective on Her Weight Changed How I Think on Manrepeller.com.

 

It’s about a week before Halloween Weekend 2017 (a usually very important holiday for me) and I am without a costume. I have plans to go to a big party, but no motivation to begin planning a costume. I’ve noticed in the recent heatwave that all my miniskirts and shorts are suddenly too tight in certain areas. After struggling trying to shimmy into a few different garments, I give up. My ass is larger than it was at the beginning of the summer and my waistline is certainly not it’s fairly trim usual self. I look at myself in the mirror and feel like shit. I say to myself that maybe I just won’t go. I begin to process the external factors that could be causing this; moving home, stress eating, inconsistent mental health, etc. A couple days later the friend I’m going to the party with sends me texts with her own costume ideas and I still don’t feel inspired to get creative with a costume- which is an area where I normally thrive. Thoughts of self-loathing start invading my head like, “you can’t wear a cute costume, you’re two sizes bigger than normal” or “your fat ass won’t fit into anything.” These are the kinds of verbal self abuse that fill my head when I gain weight because that is how I’ve learned to view my body. As an attractive able bodied, white woman, my worth lies in my physical appearance- and more specifically my weight (or at least that’s the fucked up version of the truth that I’ve been taught).

Fast forward to the day of the party, I decide to at least try to scrap some cliché costume options together. I come up with a cat/cheetah hybrid (very original I know) by throwing on a body suit, with my go-to faux leather skirt. As I begin trying to pull on the skirt, I get frustrated because it doesn’t slide as easily on as it had in the past, in fact, once I wrestle it on and pull up the zipper, I can hardly breathe. I look in the mirror seeing a completely distorted version of myself from what’s actually there. I send a photo of the outfit to my friend and she says it looks great. I thank her, but the evil dark voice inside my head says, “she’s just saying that to make you feel good.”

Later that night, I’m at her house and we’re getting ready. I’m getting in my groove a little bit, slowly regaining some of the mojo I seemed to have lost as of late. I slay a cool cat makeup look and then begin to pull on my fishnets, body suit and then the anxiety-inducing faux leather skirt. I again look at myself in the mirror with the full look and am still questioning if I look okay, insecurity clouding my judgement. I turn to my friend and ask what she thinks. She says, “you look great. Don’t you feel hot? I thought you always felt confident?” I told her no, I haven’t been feeling very confident lately and she was taken aback, this is fairly out of character for me. I normally revel in my own vanity and female divinity that I own so well, but lately that just hasn’t been there for me.

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One of the first times I realized that my body was special or desirable in a sexual way to the white cis colonized male mind, I was probably a Sophomore in high school and my friend’s boyfriend made a comment about my butt while I was wearing a skin tight one piece bathing suit before a water polo game.  It was my uniform, I was an athlete about to get a pool and brutally wrestle other players while attempting to stay afloat, I couldn’t believe I was being sexualized. I was so uncomfortable after the comment was made, but then it gave me a bit of confidence because it validated my worth and gave me a power I didn’t necessarily have to work for. During that game I was so painfully aware of how my body looked that it probably affected how I actually played, in fact I know it did. These types of comments continued in high school, I spent time hanging out with older girls who encouraged me to go to college parties with them where I was conditioned to be just another “hot girl.” This is how I learned to base my encounters with men around, I could use my body and looks as tools without having to put my emotions on the line. It was easier to act like a fantasy girl than a real woman that they might reject. This lasted for many years later (I’ll go into detail in another blog post). Comments from male strangers about my body became common place upon entering college at Chico State. I thought virtually any attention like this was “good” because I thought it meant I was desirable and ultimately worthy of the space marked female. Chico was the first place I got cat called for being “thick,” I was so out of touch, I didn’t even know what it meant at the time. All I knew was that this comment came after I had gained about 30 lbs. from my freshmen year and I was truly unhappy with myself.

About a year later, when I moved home, I lost that weight and then some by obsessively writing down everything I ate militantly abiding to a points program. There were so many nights where I had already used my daily points allowance before dinner time and agonized about how hungry I was but didn’t want to go over the limit. I lost weight fast. Similar to a diet competition I had done in my senior year of high school with some friends to try to only eat about 700 calories per day. This was the time I considered an Iced Carmel Macciatto a “meal.”

Everyone complimented me on this new weight loss as though it were one of my biggest accomplishments. I had just turned 20, and found that this new ability I was gaining because of my physical appearance was empowering. I was then a size medium/small in the waist, 6 in dress size and 28 in pants. I looked thin and long and I liked it because I was getting attention and special treatment for the way I looked. It helped me land a job as a hostess having had no prior experience, it helped me get good grades and gave me a fair number of guys to turn down- after all, I couldn’t focus on anything else but keeping my weight under control, right?

After that year, I went to study abroad in Spain for the summer. It was there that I was reminded how much I enjoyed food and indulging (mainly on bread and wine). I met a friend who opened my eyes to a new view of my own body. On a train ride to a friend’s country home for the weekend, she described me having an hourglass figure likened to the sensual goddesses in greek mythology. My softness and gentle curves were beautiful. I had never heard my body talked about in this way and I certainly had never thought of it like that.

Fast forward to about two years later (I was 22), a couple friends turned me onto the idea of plus size modeling. I was about a size 8 at the time, not technically considered plus, but definitely not a “straight” model (sizes 0-4), nevertheless I decided to pursue it. A friend shoot some basic photos of me in different poses, I wrote down my measurements and sent them off to a few agencies. One popular agency in LA who preached inclusion and acceptance completely ignored me, while another in the UK got back to me quickly and said that although they thought I was “gorgeous,” I just wasn’t the right fit. I took this literally as my body was inadequate in some way. I had already failed at being a normal size model and now I couldn’t live up to this requirement either. I was a mess, but retreated inward not talking to friends or my boyfriend at the time about it. At the same time I was wondering, where was the space for the in betweens? For the women who have curves, but our hips aren’t wide enough and our legs are not long enough and our bellys are just not flat enough?

At the time I was struggling to finish my last full year of college, and really wasn’t finding a real sense of purpose in any aspect of my life. So I thought I’d go with relying on my looks, an obvious choice given my track record. I was dating a materialistic artist who had an affinity for for pretty things- I apparently was just another “pretty thing.” He would manipulate what I wore, how I did my makeup, wore my hair and even sometimes what I was eating.

I have been defined my entire life by these influxes and changes in my weight. Virtually every important or pivotal moment I have associated with what my body looked like at the time. I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time but haven’t really had the motivation until reading about Rihanna’s own perspective on her weight, she has been talked about heavily in the media over the past several months because of her recent weight gain. In which her response is that she, “has had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type.” The word pleasure, never crossed my mind in relation to weight gain which I, like so many other women have traditionally been taught is completely negative and devalues you as a human being. I realized that I too have the pleasure of a fluctuating body type and I can certainly learn to work with the in-between moments and sizes. The pants size 12 does not define me and adversely, neither does a 6. I know where I feel my best, and it is certainly not now but I have to learn to appreciate and take care of my body at various stages.

One thing this article talks about that really struck a chord with me is that 59% of black women describe themselves as beautiful compared with 32% of Hispanic women and 25% of white women. More black women also agreed with the statement, “I am happy the way that I am,” when they looked in the mirror. “Growing up, black women are taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough.” These are survival tactics in a world that doesn’t appreciate #BlackGirlMagic like it should.

Of the many things white women steal from black culture, we could really take a page from this. If white women work to relearn their worth and teach girls from the get go that they are whole and beautiful just the way we are, these statistics wouldn’t be so startling. Progress is tangible and I think we can really make it happen. I’m going to do it, starting with me.

xo Aly