Homelessness is sooooo funny, right? Right?!

I love Halloween. I love dressing up. I love seeing other people’s costumes, particularly when they get creative and have something unique and clever to show the world. Kind of like this guy.

But it seems that lately my favorite holiday has been turned into an amalgam of racist, sexist, and all-around bigoted costume choices. From black face (often including things like domestic violence, i.e. Ray Rice and murder victims, i.e. Trayvon Martin) to caricaturized costumes of Native Americans, Mexicans, and more . . . . it’s disgusting.

You know what else is disgusting? Making a joke out of people living in poverty. But, of course it’s Halloween, so there’s always bound to be some douchebag who not only doesn’t think anything is wrong with it but also scoffs at “oversensitive liberals” who call out their offensive bullshit.

A dear friend of mine, Stephanie, was scrolling through her Facebook feed when she came across the picture below. The woman on the right is a friend of her friend and the sign she is holding reads, “”HELP M3 I’M POOR.” Stephanie was quickly unfriended for speaking up . . . . and honestly, good riddance. But people need to know that this is not okay.

Homelessness

Steph wrote the perfect comment, so instead of continuing with my own rant, here’s hers:

Hey there random Facebook friend… just want to make sure I’m not jumping to any conclusions, but is that girl in the picture with you dressed for Halloween as a homeless person? If so, that’s pretty freaking offensive, and it takes a hell-of-a-lot of privilege to think that dressing as a (apparently stupid, judging by the sign) homeless person is a good idea.

So what kind of people end up homeless?

“Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other, housed families living in poverty. In fact, many poor families – homeless or not – share similar characteristics: they are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are usually young, and have high rates of domestic violence and mental illness.

Some families living in poverty, however, fall into homelessness, usually due to some unforeseen financial challenge, such as a death in the family, a lost job, or an unexpected bill, creating a situation where the family cannot maintain housing.”

What about those heroes who put their lives on the line for our country and come back ravaged and broken to a system that doesn’t give them the support to heal from the mental and physical wounds that they received while defending your picture-friend’s right to be an ignorant twat?

“According to data collected during the 2014 Point-in-Time Count, 49,933 veterans experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2014.”

What about those in our country who are suffering from severe mental illness, through no fault of their own?

“Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.”

We are all only a few poorly-timed circumstances away from ending up homeless and on the streets.  Stigma and mockery like that shown by your picture-buddy (i.e. – homeless people are dirty and stupid) are HUGE barriers to people seeking the help they need to pull themselves out of an already fucked up situation. It’s nothing to laugh at. It’s nothing to mock. It is something to be shamed by and something that could potentially affect someone you love, someone in your family, you, or (heaven forbid) your offensive friend from that picture.

Listen, I’m not trying to attack you.  I’m hoping that you were an innocent bystander to this girl’s poor costume choice. I know this was not you that was dressed this way, and that it was probably not meant to be offensive, but it is every decent human being’s responsibility to take a stand and let people know that things like this are NOT OKAY.  I encourage you, and anyone else who knows that girl, to speak up and let her know how terribly offensive her costume was.

To read some more statistics on homelessness, check out the following links (where the quotes came from):

End Homelessness – Families

End Homelessness – Veterans

NAMI Fact Sheet

Today, I wore a bathing suit

Clementon 1More specifically and more importantly, I wore a bathing suit and nothing else – no pants or shorts, no t-shirt, no cover up of any kind. Today, I wore a bathing suit in public, and ya know what? It was okay.

(I don’t have photographic evidence because, well, progress not perfection.)

It’s been about 6 or 7 years since I’ve worn a bathing suit without a shirt and capris over top . . . and that was about 80 pounds ago. I was still fat then, but I wasn’t this fat. I hated how I looked back then too, but not this much.

Today, my family went to Clementon Park. It was a bus trip with my daughter’s summer camp, so she did have some friends she could go on rides with (I only did the log flume and the Ferris wheel because I’m not sure I’d fit on the others). But around 3pm, my daughter wanted to go in the wave pool and none of her friends were around . . . and, honestly, I wanted to go in too. I love roller coasters and I love the water and I love doing fun things with my daughter . . . and while I may still be too fat for the roller coasters, I am not too fat for the wave pool. So, I decided to join my daughter.

I didn’t bring a second pair of pants, and I knew if I wore my capris in the pool that I’d end up back on the bus wet and uncomfortable. I made a decision . . . and for the first time in 6ish years, my thighs saw sunlight.

This is a big deal, and not just because of my insecurities about my weight (though that’s certainly a nice size chunk of it). Some of you reading this might already know that I’m a (mostly) recovering self-injurer. My thighs have always been my burning and cutting location of choice because I’ve always felt fairly confident they would never be seen. I have scars from lighter burns and razor cuts, some from my most recent relapse, which was only 3 months ago. I can write about self-injury, and I can talk about self-injury, but I have not put myself in a position to allow the world to see my scars (not this fresh, not this noticeable) for about 17 years.

Clementon 2I can’t say the decision to remove my capris came without anxiety. I spent more time than I care to discuss thinking about the possibility throughout the day. But in the end, enjoying the moment with my daughter was more important than my insecurities.

And guess what . . . I had a great time. We splashed and played and jumped waves for nearly an hour. My daughter didn’t notice my scars; she couldn’t have cared less about my fat. She just enjoyed playing with mommy, getting flipped and dunked by mommy, laughing and being silly with mommy.

Next year, I hope to ride those roller coasters with her, but in the meantime, I can still be an awesome mom who does fun things with her kid . . . . even when . . . . especially when that means overcoming my insecurities.

Dear Parents (from someone who works with your kids)

Dear parentsI read a blog post the other day written by a parent of a child with special needs. The post is titled Think Before You Judge An Autism Parent: Until You’ve Walked in My Shoes and it covered two main topics – one, don’t judge the parents of children with special needs because, quite simply, you have no idea what their lives look like or what their children need, and two, health care providers, child care providers, behavioral health workers, mental health professionals, etc. don’t care about your child – they just want to shove meds on your kids and collect their checks at the end of the week.

To point one – I 1,000% agree . . . 10,000%, 100,000% . . . . as much as you possibly fathom an exaggeration of completely effing agree, that’s how much I agree. Though I would elaborate to say that we need to stop judging parents all together. Whether it’s a rowdy kid in a supermarket or a tantrum in a restaurant . . . or whatever . . . as the person standing on the sidelines, we have NO IDEA what the situation is really about and we would do well to remember that.

It’s the second point that I’d really like to address in this open letter. The one that says that we don’t care about your kids. I have worked with children, both with and without special needs, in several different capacities for 20 years. I babysit, provided personal behavioral support, I taught elementary school kids in both special education and general education, I taught preschool, worked at an afterschool program, and am currently a therapeutic support staff for children with behavioral health needs. . . . I won’t lie and say that I’ve loved all of the children I’ve worked with. I won’t even say that I’ve liked all of them. What I will say, quite emphatically, is that I have, without a doubt, cared about every single one of them.

I’ve never looked to blame parents, ignore parents, get parents in trouble, or in any way make parents’ lives more difficult. In fact, I’ve always tried to do the exact opposite . . . listen, take everything they say into consideration, and help make their lives easier, if at all possible.

I know that all of us aren’t like this. I know there are bad teachers and bad therapists and bad doctors and, well, bad everything out there. I’ve seen people who were supposed to be working with kids sit and play on cell phones all day. I’ve read about teachers who say things like this. I will not discount the author’s experiences, though they do sadden me. But I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who cares . . . . and it’s heartbreaking to think that some parents may avoid getting services for their children because they think anyone who is paid to work with them doesn’t care.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s my job. Yes, I collect a paycheck for what I do. But honestly? I could make more as a waitress . . . . and without the stress of being cursed out by preschoolers or almost having my nose broken by a 12-year-old or cleaning feces off of playroom walls. I’m not in this for the money. I need what little I make to live, but I do what I do because I care about your kids.

I really can’t stress that enough. I care about your kids. I care about how they’re feeling and it makes me sad when they’re upset. I care their progress and light up when I see them achieve a new success. I care about what I can do to help them succeed . . . so much so that I think about it on the bus on the way home and talk about it while eating dinner and even get out of bed write down some new ideas to try the next day.

So, please, all I ask is that you don’t judge us . . . . in the same way that we should not judge you. We’re not the enemy. And the best way to help your children is if we work together.

Photo Credit

To the man who yelled “fat ass” out his window

Fat ass

No way!?

Thank you. I’m sure you were just trying to be helpful. Your words were truly enlightening. I had no idea prior to your comments that I do, in fact, have a fat ass. Even has I pulled my size 24 pants on this morning, I just completely missed the fact that my ass is fat. So, thank you.

And although you didn’t have time to elaborate as you drove past, I’m sure you were really just trying to point out my obesity in order to remind me of health risks, such as diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Of course, those are all things I would never have thought to discuss with my doctor (whose office I had actually just left) if you didn’t take the time out of your busy day to call me a fat ass.

You’re not the first, ya know. I’ve heard various forms of “fat ass” throughout my life. All that fat must clog my brain and make me stupid because I obviously need constant reminding. So, of course, you won’t be the last either.

I’m sure you’re an expert on all that is me. You learned all you needed to in those few seconds. I’m sure you know how lazy I am and that all I do is sit on the couch, watch TV, and eat Twinkies. It must have just been a rare occasion for me to peel my bulbous behind off the sofa. Just looking at me, it’s obvious that I’m undisciplined, unmotivated, and of course, sedentary.

But, you know, just in case you have a few things wrong, or you’re even remotely interested, here are some real things about me . . . . good and bad:

~I have a 9-year-old daughter who is my world.
~I watched my mom die when I was 16.
~I battle anxiety and depression every day.
~I’m a sci-fi/fantasy geek . . . and am particularly obsessed with Doctor Who and all things Joss Whedon.
~I wasn’t always fat, but I’ve always thought I was.
~I work with kids with special behavioral needs. It can be incredibly stressful but also incredibly rewarding. I love what I do.
~I started working as a freelance writer/editor four years ago. It was something I had wanted to do since adolescence but never thought I’d be able to pull it off.
~I’m a (mostly) recovering self-injurer and I’m working on a book to help myself and others realize they’re not alone and self-injury does not just affect teenage girls.
~I want to learn how to sew just so I can learn how to make better costumes for comic cons, renaissance faires, and Halloween.
~I’m an adult child of an alcoholic.
~I have an obsession with books.
~Even at 300+ lbs., I can still walk a 15-minute mile.
~I’m an emotional eater. I’ve always had difficulty loving myself and I learned a long time ago that food is a comfort when I can’t find it elsewhere. I’m fighting to break free from that.
~I’ve always wanted to travel, but I’ve never made it out of the United States (and I haven’t even traveled much within the country).

This is just a small sample of the things you can’t possibly know about me just by looking at me, but, of course, my fat ass trumps them all.

Street harassment is not “friendly conversation”

Note: Street harassment can be perpetuated by men or women and can happen for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m specifically referring to gender-based street harassment by men and against women. In no way am I saying that other types of street harassment don’t exist.

15 – I was sitting in the back of the bus with my cousin and her friends when a guy put his hand on my thigh and said, “Anyone ever tell you, you have nice legs?”

17 – I was waiting at the train station for my boyfriend when a man came up to me and said, “I bet some people think you’re fat, but you’re perfect for a black man.”

21 – I was speeding through the station trying to get to my train when a guy who passed me turned around and yelled, “Hey shorty can I get your number?” After I said no, he continued to follow me and talk to me until I got to my train.

27 – I was squatting in front of a shelf at work straightening the products when some guy waiting in the pharmacy said, “Damn girl, you’re flexible.”

31 – I was speed walking down the street when a man said to me, “I like fat girls. They’re great in bed.”

33 – I was waiting for a bus when a guy came up and asked if I had a boyfriend. When I said yes, he proceeded to talk to me, ask me for my phone number, and then asked me if I wanted to move in with him.

34 – I was standing at a bus stop reading a book when a man started talking to me and asked if I had a boyfriend. When I told him that I did, he asked if he could give me his number “just in case.” When I said no, he said, “Okay shorty,” and grabbed my hand and tried to kiss it.

Street harassmentThis is, by no means, an exhaustive list . . . just some of the more memorable examples. Each one of these encounters made me uncomfortable. Some were outright terrifying . . . when my personal space was deeply invaded, when I’ve been pinned against the back of a bus, when I’ve been touched and grabbed.

These are not compliments. This is not “friendly conversation.” This is harassment. And it’s not uncommon.

It’s this kind of street harassment that inspired Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art project Stop Telling Women to Smile, and it’s that art project, or rather, some of the responses to that art project that inspired this blog post.

There seems to be an overwhelming number of people who think “women are being oversensitive” or “women don’t know how to take a compliment” . . . people who think that this campaign demonizes men for just trying to talk to women . . . people who don’t understand the difference between friendly conversation and harassment . . . and people who just don’t realize and can’t seem to understand how frequently these things happen. So, I’m going to try to break this down as simply as I can.

No one is claiming that all men act like this. No one is even claiming that most men act like this. A woman might pass by hundreds of different men while walking through the city or traveling on public transportation, and the vast majority of them will mostly likely never say a word to her. They won’t invade her personal space. They won’t try to touch her. This campaign and anyone speaking out against street harassment are not targeting any of those men.

However, while most men will not behave this way, most women (particularly those who live in an urban environment) have experienced this behavior from men . . . on multiple occasions, some damn near every time they go out. At best, it’s uncomfortable and annoying. At worst? It becomes violent.

Hollaback! is another excellent campaign working to end street harassment.

Hollaback! is another excellent campaign working to end street harassment.

Speaking out against and trying to education people about street harassment is not being oversensitive. Telling a complete stranger she has a nice ass, must be good in bed, has great tits, etc. is not complimentary or flattering. It’s creepy. Telling a complete stranger to “smile sweetheart. It can’t be that bad” isn’t sweet. It’s condescending.

Here are some things for men to think about before approaching a woman they don’t know –

–Is she busy? Is she walking somewhere, on the phone, reading a book, or talking to someone else? If so, leave her alone.

–What is your motivation? Are you actually interested in having a conversation or do you just want to get her in bed? If it’s the latter, leave her alone.

–Would you say this to another man? If not, leave her alone.

–Does she seem engaged in this conversation or does it look like she’s trying to get out of it (looking at her phone, nodding and giving one-word answers, stepping away)? If she’s doing the latter, leave her alone.

–Is she physically moving away from you? If so, leave her alone.

One of the posters in Ms. Fazlalizadeh’s campaign states “Women do not owe you their time or conversation.” This is the most important and the most all-encompassing statement for me. To act as if a woman must engage in a conversation with any man who speaks to her or that she should thank him for “compliments” that most likely made her uncomfortable is dehumanizing and arrogant.

Or if all of that is still too difficult to grasp, try remembering this – women deserve to be treated as human beings and “are not outside for your entertainment.”

Is public humiliation really “parenting done right”?

The first time I saw a video of a parent publicly humiliating his child as a punishment, it turned my stomach, though I couldn’t fully articulate why it bothered me so much. Each similar video and picture I’ve seen since has only strengthened my disdain. But so much worse than those videos and pictures have been the applause and accolades from all corners of the web.Humilation 3

“I wish all parents were like this!”

“Parenting: You’re doing it right!”

“Go mom!”

And it goes on and on.

While I am sure there are a couple of parents out there who truly felt like they were at their wits’ end and believed this was the only way to help steer their children away from a lifetime of negative behaviors that would only yield negative consequences, I also have no doubt in my mind that the majority of these public humiliation stunts are more about parents getting a pat on the back than disciplining their children. I don’t think Andy Warhol had any idea just how accurate his predication of 15 minutes of fame would be. YouTube and social media have made it all too tempting for people to seek out that attention and parents are now doing it at the expense of their children.

I'm totally on board with the punishment listed here - the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents' egos.

I’m totally on board with the punishment listed here – the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents’ egos.

Maybe not all parents are interested in their pictures and videos going viral, but whatever the motivation is behind public humiliation, it’s just lazy. It’s so much easier to pick up a camera and mock your child for an audience of any size than it is to find out what has caused your child’s behavior and dealing with it directly. It’s been my experience as a parent, a teacher, and a mentor that when a kid acts out, there is almost always something more behind it.

I’m not saying that discipline isn’t necessary. It most certainly is. But it should be something dealt with on a family level, not a public one. One of the first things I was taught in my education classes, and it is something I always considered common sense anyway, is that you praise in public and criticize in private.

Sometimes disciplining in public can’t be avoided. I once gave my daughter (she was about 4 at the time) a time out on a busy city sidewalk. She wouldn’t hold my hand and tried to run into the street a couple of times, so I made her sit against the building with her hands folded for few minutes while she screamed. When it was time for her to get up, she held on to my hand without any more problems. Disciplining on the spot is sometimes necessary. It is never necessary to document it and post it on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the idea of the "get-along" shirt too . . . but once again, there's no need to post your kids' picture for the world.

I love the idea of the “get-along” shirt too . . . but once again, there’s no need to post your kids’ picture for the world.

In this age of technology, it’s important to teach our children that everything they put online never goes away. We tell our kids to think about what they post – whether it’s an inappropriate picture or nasty comments or anything else they wouldn’t want the world seeing, today or in 5 or 10 or 20 years – because you never know who is going to see it. And yet it is somehow acceptable to broadcast our children’s punishments. As much of a long-shot as we may think it is, we need to realize that a future professor or colleague or boss or spouse could see this one day. Is that really what we want?

Kids make mistakes (adults do as well). They do stupid things and can behave poorly. This is nothing new. It seems every generation wants to talk about “kids these days,” but the truth is that kids have always been kids. This generation has not cornered the market on bad behavior. I doubt anyone publicly humiliating his/her child was perfectly behaved in youth. Take a moment to think of your worst punishment growing up, and now think about what it would feel like if evidence of it was still floating around the internet.

What are we teaching our kids when we value them so little that we draw amusement from their humiliation? I think it’s easy for a lot of people to forget that kids are still people, human beings deserving of being treated as such. And yes, even when they screw up. Especially when they screw up. That doesn’t mean to let your child get away with everything or to ignore negative behaviors. It means to deal with them as a parent and not as an internet sensation.

I generally make a conscious effort to keep my judgments of other people’s parenting in check, but when you make the conscious effort to put your parenting on display, you’re inviting feedback. This is mine. I won’t applaud you. I won’t give you a pat on the back. I’ll feel sorry for your kid and perhaps have a bit of understanding about where his/her negative behavior came from in the first place.

“Yo mama is so . . . .”

IMG_0394They were innocent jokes, and I never took offense. I’d smirk and roll my eyes at my young co-worker. Sometimes I even laughed. I was 19 and working on my Freshman 15 while working at a deli far from home but close to school. She was 14 and hyper and sometimes a pain in the ass but a good kid. And my mom had been dead for three years.

When she made the first joke, I didn’t say anything. I knew it wasn’t serious, and there was no reason to make her feel uncomfortable. A year later, long after I had lost count of how many “insults” were thrown, she said, “You know, I want to meet your mom.”

I tried to dodge the statement. I tried to dodge the questions of “why not?” when I said that she doesn’t. But I couldn’t put it off any longer and finally told her.

And that’s when it came . . . what I had been trying to avoid for a year . . . that look of discomfort, that seemingly endless moment of awkwardness. And then we moved on and, of course, the jokes stopped.

I retold this story to my therapist the other day. It’s only one example of many similar situations, but it’s the most significant to me. It demonstrates a struggle I face on a daily basis – my fear of and personal discomfort with making other people uncomfortable.

I don’t know how to handle other people’s reactions to things I tell them about myself. In this particular instance, it really wasn’t a big deal, but it resulted in a change in how I was treated. I don’t blame her. If the situation was reversed, I probably would have reacted in a similar way. But that doesn’t make it any less awkward for me.

I don’t want to be treated differently. I have never wanted people to walk on eggshells around me. And if this is how things can be when the situation is inconsequential, how much worse is it going to be when it’s something more substantial?

When I do have a lot going on and could use an empathetic hear, I consistently feel the need to backtrack the second I say anything negative. “But it’s okay. I’ll be fine,” has become a staple of my vocabulary, whether I believe it or not.

It’s better than listening to other people stumble over their words, searching for the right thing to say.

After my mother died, I was put through the worst possible torture – the receiving line at her viewing. I stood there, holding back tears, while everyone who was any kind of acquaintance of my mom’s, some I knew, many I didn’t, took my hand or hugged me and told me how sorry they were. Some didn’t know what to say. All of them looked uncomfortable. And I just nodded and thanked them and told them that I was okay.

There’s a conflict that builds inside of me – this fight between needing people to see that I’m in pain and the overwhelming desire to not be seen as weak. I want someone to look at me and understand that I’m not okay even when I say that I am, but at the same time, even the thought of that terrifies the hell out of me.

I don’t know how to reconcile that conflict. I suppose that’s what therapy is for . . . and the writing, of course.

Photo Credit

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