Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fatness equals happiness?

Me, age 2
Yesterday I was feeling bad because I outgrew another pair of pants and was down to one skirt that was appropriate for the workplace that I could wear comfortably (now I've given in and bought two more bigger pairs of pants, dammit). As I lay awake in the middle of the night, it occurred to me that many of my early childhood photos show me with a serious, if not grim, expression. The photo above was taken when I was about two and it's one of the more cheerful ones. Okay I'm joking, but there are several photos of baby Gina that show little happiness. In photos from a little later in life, it's clear that at about age four or five I learned how to smile for the camera because after that my face wore posed grimaces.

But I also remembered, as I lay in the dark last night unable to sleep, that there's one photo of me looking absolutely joyful to be alive and it's a photo of me as a baby in a stroller, surrounded by the vibrant colors of Olvera Street (in Los Angeles, California USA), and I'm just as fat as could be. I didn't keep my baby fat long and was a skinny kid, but in that photo -- and that photo alone -- I'm a little butterball laughing in the sunlight and I look delighted.

It also occurred to me that my four-month-long change from a size 8/10 (where I'd been for years and years) to a size 16 has been a difficult adjustment for me, but my new roundness makes me easier to look at. My childhood definitely included people who were chubby and cheerful, and others who were unhappy and thin. These body types were probably just coincidences, but the impressions went deep and I can still feel their effects. In spite of my American prejudice against fatness (which I'm trying to get over), I find my face easier to look at in the mirror because it appears softer, nicer, like someone I wouldn't mind getting to know. My more angular, sleek face more closely matched the American ideal of beauty, but I didn't always like looking in the mirror.

As the hour of 3 a.m. became the hour of 4 a.m, I realized there might be a false belief behind my current steady weight gain (there's nothing wrong with gaining weight, but I'd like my weight to stabilize enough to stop requiring me to buy a new wardrobe every two months). I finally fell asleep close to 5 a.m, but spent the day continuing to wonder. Was a belief that fatness equals happiness keeping me from settling into a new size? Am I subconsciously trying to put as many pounds as possible between me and my skinny, miserable past self? Am I trying to guarantee that I'll never be suicidal again if I just plump up enough?

It's irrational but it's possible. I feel so much better about myself and my life these days and -- what a coincidence -- this is also the first time in my life that I've stopped beating myself up about what I eat and look like. I'm relaxed and pudgy and getting pudgier. Maybe I am trying to distance myself from my thin, frightened former self whose reflection reminded me of unpleasant people. If so, I really hope I reach the new me soon because I'm sick of wasting money on clothes that only fit for a couple of months.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

I added HBO to my cable package just to see the original documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. I had braced myself for the children's stories of sexual abuse, their nightmare of growing up with this paralyzing secret and the descriptions of predatory priests allowed to get away with this shit for decades. What I didn't expect was to find out that the rape of children has been a part of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and that the Vatican began codifying its response to pedophile priests in the 1800s. Not only have the cases of sexual abuse in American and Irish parishes since the 1960s not been anomalies, but an entire culture of protecting, "rehabilitating" and recirculating pedophile priests is sanctioned by the highest offices of the Vatican, including the pope.

According to the documentary, documents have been found in Spain that show that as early as the fourth century A.D. there were priests sexually assaulting children. Each century thereafter the Roman Catholic Church solidified its standard response and procedures for such cases. In the 1950s the Vatican established the protocol of sending the pedophile to spiritual rehabilitation and then sending him on to another parish, without punishing him or informing anyone of the priest's history.

For centuries the Vatican has prioritized its reputation and the careers of its clergy over the personhood of Catholic kids. FOR CENTURIES. What the fuck? I'm a former Catholic, angry atheist, but even I'm shocked that the Roman Catholic Church, for most of its existence, has built its reputation, wealth and power in part by disposing of its most vulnerable members: its children. I'm enraged by the bloodlessness of an institution that spares not a glance towards the families that have been shattered by the actions of its priests. The RCC has sacrificed its children so that it can maintain its deception of purity and devotion.

There are those in such pain after being sexually assaulted by men of the cloth that they never recover their spirit and live their lives in the shadows. There are people who believe the Roman Catholic Church and its pope should be tried for crimes against humanity, dismantled and the whole thing burned to the ground. I agree when I consider that the RCC is responsible for the destruction of countless children over at least 1,700 years. If that doesn't break your heart, maybe this will: while they were being sexually assaulted, most of those children were also faithful. Their rage came later, to be acknowledged by no one.

But this is also the church of my Mexican American family and millions of good people around the world who do good works every day. Nuns and laypeople carry out the true intentions of Jesus as they understand them: serving the poor, attending to the sick, caring for children who have no place else to go and taking in those who ask sanctuary (maybe nuns are less corrupt because women aren't allowed access to the upper echelons of the Vatican, so they aren't seduced by power and wealth). It's sickening that at the top of the Roman Catholic Church, this religion of Jesus and the Golden Rule and suffer-the-little-children-to-come-unto-me, sits a ruling body so heartless and power-driven that they have institutionalized child rape.

So who is the Roman Catholic Church? Is it the Vatican or is it its millions of faithful? How can we resolve this nightmare of hypocrisy when the head of the organization is poisoned, but the rest of the body is not?

Or is the rest of the body unpoisoned? The organization as a whole will not change until many things happen (like hell freezing over) and one of them is how much Catholics revere priests. Mea Maxima Culpa makes clear that Catholics really see their priests as being closer to "God" than the average person. For decades it was truly inconceivable to the parents of abused children that a man of the cloth would touch a child's genitals, and this deification of priests continues.

I'm not your average Catholic, but even when I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church I didn't view priests like that. I saw them as authorities like teachers, but not as holy. It's stunning and appalling that anyone could abuse vulnerable children so cruelly, but I don't find it particularly difficult to believe that an ordained minister of the Roman Catholic Church would. They've pretty much always looked to me like just a bunch of guys, and one interviewee in Mea Maxima Culpa makes the statement that Catholics need to start seeing pastors as ordinary humans who make mistakes.

I'd like to hear from one of those humans who's made mistakes. I want to hear from a cardinal on the inside of the highest offices, who can tell us what drives the Vatican to value the lives of its clergy so much more highly than the lives of its children. What fuels beliefs that the deaf don't feel or that children won't remember? The Vatican's dehumanization of children couldn't be farther from Jesus' love of the innocent. I don't believe in Jesus, the bible or God, but the Vatican supposedly does, so how do they live with this destructive hypocrisy?  Is this what they think Jesus would do? I really want to know.

Maybe it goes back to the Old Testament practice of sacrifice. Maybe throughout history, the popes and cardinals of the curia made peace with sacrificing the psyches and lives of millions children. After all, it's for the greater good. But if it were true that the curia were in lock step about sacrificing children, there wouldn't be so much conflict over it. Mea Maxima Culpa recounts instances in which a priest, bishop or cardinal wanted to take action against a pedophile, but was restrained. Our current pope (for a few more minutes) headed a Vatican office called the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful. As head of this office, then-Cardinal Ratzinger received every piece of evidence documenting the sexual abuse of children by clergy and wanted to begin an investigation into one of the worst serial violators. He was unable to do so while Pope John Paul II lived. As often happens, the most dangerous predators in the church can be the best at ingratiating themselves to those in power, and Father Marcial Maciel was well loved by Pope John Paul II (and then Maciel died before John Paul did, so he was safe).

But then-Cardinal Ratzinger also had documentation on countless other pedophiles who were leading parishes, clergy who should have been removed from contact with families immediately. His Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful contains data on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church since the 1990s. Did Ratzinger take action against any of these active pedophiles when he became pope in 2005? Nope. (By the way, Ratzinger's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful was established in the 16th century and was originally called The Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.)

That's why I support any attempt to arrest Benedict/Ratzinger on charges of crimes against humanity: besides organize files he did little to stop the rape of children when he was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful, and he's done no more as pope. As pope even.

Remember him acting shocked by news that Boston priests had been sexually assaulting kids? He knew all about that before he even became pope. The hypocrisy and mendacity of the Vatican as presented in this film astounds even this cynical post-Catholic atheist. According to the documentary, the Vatican is also aware that less than 50% of American Roman Catholic priests actually practice celibacy. Apparently they're cool with it. (I'm against clerical celibacy and think it's fine if priests don't practice it, but this just shows more Vatican hypocrisy.)

I'm trying to keep in mind that the Vatican is not the entire RCC. Millions of Catholics had nothing to do with this. Burn the whole Roman Catholic Church down and be done with it? That isn't my opinion when I think about all the good that individual Catholics have done, Catholics that weren't corrupted by their own hubris and supposed closeness to God. But those millions of Catholics are responsible for stopping the worst practices of its church, once they know about them. I hope this documentary serves as a further call to arms for the faithful because priests are violating children right this minute all over the world. There could be a pedophile in your parish, but you'd never be informed of it. The only way you'd know if a priest is inappropriately touching your child would be if your child told you and you listened.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is currently only available on HBO, but I hear you can pre-order it on Netflix. Those who don't do HBO or Netflix might have to wait for it to hit Hulu or Amazon, but it's worth the wait. If you can stomach watching it, use what you learn to educate others about the importance of holding the Vatican responsible for the rape and assault of millions of children throughout the centuries. And if you're a Catholic parent whose children have any contact with priests at all, let this history strengthen your resolve to protect your sons and daughters against any predator, even if he's been ordained.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Cliteracy: 100 Natural Laws by Sophia Wallace states plainly a lot of things that women, especially straight women, think, but don't say. Her art installation doesn't so much celebrate the clitoris as much as it demands equal attention for it. In this video she says she decided not to use any photos because when it comes to the clitoris, images become distracting. Instead powerful statements fill the panels of her installation.

I'd love to see the installation and carefully read everything, but from what I can see in this video, these are the statements that stand out for me:

Democracy without Cliteracy: Phallusy

Ribbed condoms for her pleasure - up there with subprime mortgages and hair in a can: worst inventions of all time.

Touching a clit is like scratching a record.

In stark contrast to prostate and penile surgeons, gynecological surgeons are NOT trained to avoid cutting.

OH, yeah...CLITERACY. If you'll be in New York, New York USA between 6 and 10 March 2013, you can see this installation live. I wish it would come to Chicago!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My favorite thing is still cake

From my favorite bakery ever: Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois USA. I have very specific tastes when it comes to cake and this bakery is the only one I've ever found that makes my personal ideal of what white buttercream frosting should taste and feel like and my ideal of how moist and light-heavy yellow cake should be. This cake also has lemon filling. IT IS SO GOOD.

But I live in Chicago and Mt. Prospect is not close by. It's a good 45 minute drive through several towns and I'm not a confident driver. So last night my wonderful husband picked me up from work on his day off and drove me west to this bakery. Since we left my building at 5:15p, that meant heading straight into heavy commuter traffic. Bob does not like commuter traffic, but he did this for me and I greatly appreciated it.

When we arrrived an hour later, it was like entering a wonderland. Central Continental Bakery has a huge selection of cakes, cookies, pastries and loaves of bread, not just behind glass but piled up on top of it and in display cases. I could have spent a long time in there just inhaling and and gaping at all the creamy sweetness, but it was dinnertime and Bob and I hadn't eaten. So I picked up the cake I had ordered to my specifications and happily walked out with it. After dinner I was too full to cut into it, so I waited until this morning and had some for breakfast. OH yeah....

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


You know when you're walking along, minding your own business and some guy you've never seen before tells you to smile? Right out of the blue, this stranger looks at you and says something like, "Smile! It's not so bad." You know that?

If you're a man, your answer is probably no. If you're a woman, your answer is probably yes. That's because this is some bullshit that men do to women, not to other men, and I've never heard of a woman doing it to a man.

For my entire life I've been baffled by this masculine behavior. What does some stranger care if I'm smiling? And where does he get off criticizing my relaxed, natural facial expression anyway? If my regular face isn't good enough for him, too bad. He doesn't get to rearrange my features so they're more pleasing to him.

One of the comments on this post on gives me insight into this situation. The person posting is a man who admits to having told women to smile, but writes that he had no idea he was coming off as an asshole. Then his father told him that such behavior is about power: trying to get a woman who doesn't even know you to smile just for you, is you being on a power trip. Grateful to his dad, the guy stopped that crap.

So the next time a man tells me, "Smile, honey! It's not that bad," I'll say, "Why should I smile? Thinking you can get a woman to smile just because you've requested it, is some kind of power trip."

Or I might just say, "If you don't like how I look without a smile, don't look at me."

So there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fat Tuesday 2013

Happy Fat Tuesday!

I made cupcakes for work. How about you?

Let us all have a day of indulgence and then lounge around like my dog. Here he is doing some dog yoga:

Enjoy the day! Worry tomorrow.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thin or happy? It might really be a choice

A book called Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon is causing big shifts for me. It promotes accepting all bodies regardless of size and making health the priority instead of thinness. One of my favorite parts of her book is the description of a study that took two groups of women and put them on different programs.

The conventional program included:
  • Restricting fat and calorie intake
  • Keeping a food diary
  • Weekly weigh-ins
  • Walking and other exercise
  • Counting fat grams
  • Learning to read food labels
The Health At Every Size (HAES) program included:
  • Learning to accept their bodies just as they were
  • Exercising in ways that were fun
  • Embracing intuitive eating:  eat whatever you want, whenever you want, without restriction or guilt, but also listen to your body and only eat what your body is truly asking for. Eat when hungry, stop when full. 
  • Self-nurture with the focus on health, not weight.
After six months, the conventionally dieting group
  • Lost weight
  • Gained that weight back
  • Felt much lower self esteem than at the beginning of the study
The HAES group
  • No longer struggled with food issues
  • Had moved from dieting to intuitive eating (free to eat what they wanted, when they wanted it)
  • Had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Had increased energy and felt much better about their bodies. 
The women in both studies were pretty much the same size as when they started, but the HAES women were much happier. I'm taking that story to heart.

Health At Every Size, as the title suggests, promotes feeling happy and healthy no matter what size you are. It encourages us to let go of the goal of thinness and accept our bodies exactly as they are today. Yes, that means a hell of a lot of self-esteem building for many of us, but that's the point. This book makes the case that permanent, significant weight loss is a myth, so choose happiness over chasing the weight on your drivers license (for me that's 125 pounds - ridiculous).

I never would have read this book and would still be mucking around in my self-loathing and no-wheat obsession, if I hadn't had a major breakthough in healing my low self-esteem last year. Doing that is different for everyone (for me it involved years of various kinds of mind, body and mind-body therapies), but if you're ready to break the belief that your body needs major improvement and always will, I strongly recommend books like Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size and Kate Harding's Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Stop Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body."

Many of us say, "It's unfair that the weight goes on so much more easily than it comes off." I say, no, it's NOT unfair that the weight goes on more easily than it comes off. It's unfair that American culture has vilified that natural tendency and taught us to hate our bodies for doing it. It's unfair that Americans market sugar and fat to each other and get ourselves hooked on it just to make a buck. And it's unfair that powerful, beautiful, brilliant people are hampered by the fear that we're fat and ugly. We burn so much precious energy worrying about our weight when there's nothing wrong with our weight. We've been brainwashed from childhood to believe our bodies are flawed.

For anyone who wants to argue that being fatter means being less healthy, see the following links (being so fat that you have mobility issues is another story, but the majority of Americans are not in danger of disease and death because of their size alone):

Recipe for a long life: overweight people have LOWER death risk
Obese and healthy: not all overweight people need to worry
Top Ten Reasons Why the BMI is Bogus
Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic? (PDF)
Et cetera...

For those of us who happen to have health challenges AND are fat, I don't believe the fat is the cause of the disease. I believe there's no causative relationship between, say fatness and diabetes or fatness and heart disease. I believe a problem with glucose regulation underlies diabetes, fatness and heart disease. The problems are correlative, not causative.

The scientific data to back up the assertion that fat can be healthy is there, we just have to be willing to listen. Now that I'm listening, I'm able to consider a question like, "What if there really were a choice between thin-and-miserable or chubby-and-happy? How would I want to live?" If I take off my American thin-is-superior goggles and realize that all bodies are equally good, the answer is stupidly clear: I'd rather be happy! All bodies being equal (and they are), take the happy option, people! Here's the HAES website.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Dentists are fine with me

Am I the only one in the world who doesn't dread going to the dentist? I'm very relaxed in the chair, with slurping things hanging out of my mouth and whirring, shrieking things going in. No problem.

My favorite dental story is about the time I had this older, traditional dentist who needed to take a mold of my tooth, so a crown could be made. When the goopy tooth cement tray (or whatever it's called) had been stuck to my gums for several minutes, he pulled it out and examined the imprint.

"Hm," he grunted. "That didn't quite come out. We're going to have to do that over again."

I hesitated, then said, "That's strange. I'm usually very good at impressions."

The old guy chuckled briefly and I knew I had succeeded at dental humor!

So, is there anyone else out there who does NOT dread dental appointments? Am I really the only one?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On Fat Tuesday I will fear no food

I'm excited about Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras on 12 Feb) this year because now that I've embraced the Health At Every Size approach to health, I no longer torment myself with food as I used to. If I want the food, I eat the food; if I don't want the food, I don't eat the food, y se acabó. Removing all my restrictions on food has gone a long way towards reducing my cravings. Now that I don't believe in good foods and bad foods, donuts and cake have lost their "forbidden fruit" appeal. It turns out that when I give myself permission to have sweets whenever I want, I don't want them all the time!

I've also given myself permission to be whatever size my body naturally is. No more restrictions on food or size for me. It's not easy. A part of me (my inner critic) thinks I should stay thin and eat "right," so many days I struggle with shame and self-hatred. It's tiresome and boring and I'm sick of it, but I'm working through it. Lots of EFT and therapy and writing, but I won't give up because the alternative is to give in to self-loathing, fear and depression.

The book Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body is helping me immensely. Written by Kate Harding of the blog Shapely Prose and Marianne Kirby of the blog The Rotund, this book takes oppressive beliefs about body image and health head on. I'm carrying this book around and reading parts of it over and over. My favorite lessons from it are:
  • The human body is designed to gain weight over time, not lose it.
  • There are no safe, convenient methods for permanently turning a fat person into a thin one (eating less and exercising more only work if you're willing to starve and exhaust yourself indefinitely).
  • Accept your body and focus on being healthy instead of thin.
  • The weight loss industry is milking the whole "obesity epidemic" for profit, at the expense of our self esteem.
  • Science has not proven that carrying extra pounds is bad for your health.
  • There are no good foods or bad foods. There's just food.
  • Girls are taught to dislike and distrust their bodies, which sets women up for a lifetime of misery.
  • Fight impossible feminine body ideals: stop dieting and accept your body as it is right now.
Now that I've read this book, I vow to follow my body's hunger and fullness cues. That means no going hungry, no forcing myself to eat certain foods because they're "good" for me and no guilt or regret over anything I eat. I also avoid eating when I'm not hungry.

I’m also not watching television shows that feature skinny actresses, but no chubby ones. That means I probably won't find out what happens on Revenge this season (an ABC show starring the skinny Emily Van Camp and Madeleine Stowe), but so be it. I will fill my head with typically sized people and know that I am absolutely fine as I am.

I'm even thinking of baking for Fat Tuesday. Why not? This will be the first Fat Tuesday in decades that I won't feel afraid of the goodies. This year I will not tremble in the face of king cake or pączki. If I feel like having sweets, I'll have them. If I don't feel like having sweets, I'll have them later. On Fat Tuesday I will fear no food!
Having written all this, I'm still struggling to fully internalize these new, healthy beliefs. I still quail when my work pants fit tight and I daily mourn the physical moves I can no longer make with my thickened waist. My self-hatred comes and goes. So I keep tapping and I keep re-reading chapters of  Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body. It might take the rest of my life to reach peace with myself. On bad days that prospect depresses me, but on good days I know I can live that way as long as I'm moving in the right direction.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Good weekend

Settling in for movie night
I just had a great weekend. On Saturday morning the snow was coming down and I enjoyed being out under the cloudy skies. The EFT group was excellent as usual, and on the way to the meeting I visited Bulldog Bakery at Belmont and Elston. I had a cupcake and a chocolate croissant. MMmmmm...good stuff. Then I walked the rest of the way to the meeting. I love gray snowy days.

My husband and I had John Belushi night: I made “cheeseborgers” for dinner and then we watched The Blues Brothers. I’d never seen it, but Bob had it memorized. I liked it a lot because it was set in Chicago, had great music, and I love jokes about Catholics. My favorite part was when Elwood and Jake visited Sister Mary Stigmata, to whom they refer as "The Penguin." I also liked the Aretha Franklin performance and found it funny that the man she’s singing to still walks out even after her powerful anthem. Sometimes it's like that.

On Sunday I sat down with our finances and got a grip on what Bob and I are now bringing home in 2013 and how we need to adjust our budget. Like most Americans, we’ve been regularly adjusting our budget since 2007 because money just seems to evaporate out of our checking account. We want to keep supporting the economy with vacations and purchases, but our paychecks and rising bills just aren’t cooperating. As frustrating as it is, at least I know everyone is in the same boat, and it felt good to work with hard numbers and know where we are.

On Sunday I also did some good walking and stretching (felt great), and plenty of napping with the dog. I caught up with my sister on the phone and then Bob actually made it home from work in time to watch most of the Superbowl. The 49ers lost, but that’s okay. I’m not enough of a fan for it to really matter (sorry, San Francisco). At the end of the evening, I started a good book called The Losing Role.

It was just an excellent weekend all around! Life was good.