How Much Weight Have You Gained? On Pregnancy And Fat Talk

“How much weight have you gained?” If I gained a pound for every time someone has asked me that question during the course of my pregnancy, I would beat everyone at see-saw for the rest of my life. Instead, I generally answer with, “I’m not going to answer that question,” because I believe in granting anyone listening permission to rethink the appropriateness of this common routine. It’s okay to refuse to answer a personal question you didn’t invite. It’s okay to not ask women to recount statistics about their bodies in lieu of asking how to support their experiences within them. It’s okay to opt-out of fat talk, including pregnancy-specific strains of fat talk. Fat talk is a profane part of the lives of women and girls.

Defined simply, fat talk is a negative “my body sucks” conversation that takes place between women. It is a game of one-downwomanship that often goes like this:

– “I can’t believe I ate that.”
– “No, look at me, I had [this bad food] and [that bad food] last night.”
– “No, no, no, I’m so bad, I haven’t been to the gym in [a certain length of time].”
– “Yeah, well look at my ass in these jeans. I am so fat. No wonder I’m single.”
– And on, and on, and on, women saying horrible things about themselves that most would not say openly to their worst enemy’s face.

As someone who is pregnant and has a history of an eating disorder that nearly killed me, and someone who is thinking very deliberately about the kind of behavior I want to model for my future daughter and her friends, I experience pregnancy fat-talk as a one-two ladle full of bullshit punch:

In a social context, how much weight I have gained is irrelevant to my experience of pregnancy. If it were truly relevant, a doctor would have pointed it out to me, and if I wanted help from others in gaining weight at either a slower or faster clip, believe me, I would ask. Just like I would ask for your help if I thought you were the right person to help me avoid a urinary tract infection, a yeast infection or any other issue related to my reproductive health.

In a statistical context, how much weight I have gained is neither an accomplishment nor a tragedy. I am having a baby. My body is, amazingly, doing what it needs to do to pull off this particular pregnancy. My pre-pregnancy weight, my post-pregnancy weight and the so-called time it takes to “get my body back” — one of the most offensive of all fat talk frames placed around pregnant women, for I’m certain this is my body now and will remain mine in any and all shapes it takes — these are like toxic body culture baseball card statistics for women. Except unlike baseball cards, the statistics don’t revolve around our accomplishments as pregnant women (not throwing up during the meeting! continuing to experience physical strength! dodging bigoted lawmakers who want to regulate our every move!), but disembodied numbers that encourage judgement from others and worse, ourselves.

Like lots of women on the brink of having a daughter, there is so much I want to give her a chance to experience. Near the top of that list is comfort in her own skin, in spite of what I have experienced painfully and personally as a toxic body culture that is especially awful for young women. In a study recently covered by The New York Times, 93 percent of college women said they engage in fat talk.  I hope that all little girls will grow up not feeling the pressure to trash themselves on the basis of food behaviors and body measurements that say nothing meaningful about their experiences and worth as human beings. I hope that instead all little girls will grow up proud to share their accomplishments and experiences with one another, seeing this practice as a source for joy and collective strength, rather than bragging or an attack on the status of others. We have so much power that can not be pinned to a number, or a shape, or whatever the latest ridiculous comments are about Kim Kardashian’s appearance as a pregnant woman.

It is for the little girl who will soon be mine that I am refusing to participate in pregnancy fat talk. It is for the friends she will someday have. Also, proudly, it is for me.

On Feminism And Accusations Of Censorship

There are certain joyless people in this world, generally belonging to a subset of angry white men whose fortunes depend, at least in part, upon furthering racism, sexism and homophobia, who would have you believe that feminists are politically correct harridans obsessed with censorship and shutting you the hell up. Since feminists stand for freedom and justice for all people, starting with women at the center, this charge tends to be inaccurate, untrue and, often, purposefully misleading in keeping with a larger right-wing strategy of claiming victimization on behalf of the dominant whenever the gals, gays and people of color get a little more visible.

Censorship is the institution, system or practice of censoring. Let’s consider the following discussion from the Concise Encyclopedia on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

Act of changing or suppressing speech or writing that is considered subversive of the common good. In the past, most governments believed it their duty to regulate the morals of their people; only with the rise in the status of the individual and individual rights did censorship come to seem objectionable. Censorship may be preemptive (preventing the publication or broadcast of undesirable information) or punitive (punishing those who publish or broadcast offending material). In Europe, both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches practiced censorship, as did the absolute monarchies of the 17th and 18th centuries. Authoritarian governments such as those in China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and the former Soviet Union have employed pervasive censorship, which is generally opposed by underground movements engaged in the circulation of samizdat literature. In the U.S. in the 20th century, censorship focused largely on works of fiction deemed guilty of obscenity (e.g., James Joyce‘s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence‘s Lady Chatterley’s Lover), though periodic acts of political censorship also occurred (e.g., the effort to purge school textbooks of possible left-wing content in the 1950s). In the late 20th century, some called for censorship of so-called hate speech, language deemed threatening (or sometimes merely offensive) to various subsections of the population. Censorship in the U.S. is usually opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. In Germany after World War II it became a crime to deny the Holocaust or to publish pro-Nazi publications. See also Pentagon Papers.

In other words, censorship is practiced by governments or institutions for the purposes of control. It is associated most frequently with authoritarian states or religions. It is generally against freedom, which is, again, not where feminism and other civil and human rights movements calling for the emancipation, empowerment and inclusion of more people and more people’s perspectives in free public life are headed.

This stands in stark contrast to religious and/or sexual fundamentalist movements who regularly call for the restriction or silencing of medically and scientifically accurate information, or simultaneous presentation of know-nothing mockery and false equivalences having no basis in reality, as well as consensual sexual expression and artistic depictions thereof, within public schools, public libraries and public life for the purposes of maintaining a currently unequal and unjust balance of power that favors heterosexual white men with money and some allegedly, dubiously celibate men within religious orders that seem to spend increasing amounts of time and money to suppress free sexuality on others’ behalf and hide sexual proclivities or outright crimes on their own behalf. Here are a few quick examples of their censorships and/or justifications for them:

  • “Evolution is just a theory, but Creationism has been advancing within the scientific community.”
  • “Abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life.”
  • “Schools shouldn’t teach about condoms because they make you more likely to get sexually transmitted infections.”
  • “If you’re raped, you’re less likely to get pregnant than with consensual sex, therefore if you’re pregnant you wanted it.”
  • The regularly reoccuring Global Gag Rule that has required international family planning entities that receive U.S. funds not use any separate funds to even say the word “abortion.”
  • The history of books, including James Joyce’s Ulysses, going to court within the United States.

There are a few regularly reoccurring accusations of censorship leveled against feminists that I’d like to address directly, and why the actions discussed are not censorship.

Applying pressure to a private business that has condoned, promoted or not taken a position against hate speech against women is not censorship, it’s activism. Our lives are increasingly defined by corporations and their policies. Telling an advertiser to stop objectifying women isn’t censorship, it’s applying consumer demand within the free market. Telling a business to stop sponsoring a show that calls women sluts for using basic birth control — nearly every woman in this country at some point in her life — isn’t censorship, it’s assisting them and other consumers in allocating their dollars wisely. Telling a user-dependent website to stop tolerating rape imagery isn’t censorship, it’s an uprising within the user community for the purpose of adjusting community standards to those that are safer for everyone. Private corporations are free to ignore the activism, and they are also free to do the right thing. When given sufficient nudge they often do, because women are important consumers.

Supporting policies that require the posting of disclaimers within settings where medical care might not be offered, despite presentations to the contrary, is not censorship, it’s the supplementation of additional (accurate) information in keeping with the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. At the local level, feminists often take action to ensure that crisis pregnancy centers representing themselves as medical facilities make it clear that many or all staff are not medical professionals and that they are not dispensing medical advice. That is not censorship. No one is stopping them from lying and saying that abortion causes breast cancer, and other non-truths that have been debunked. Posting a sign when a pharmacist refuses to dispense contraception is not censorship. Requiring Catholic hospitals that don’t provide the full range of medical care to make that clear in materials is not censorship. In all cases they are left free to continue lying and suppressing — how is that censorship?

The “censorship” charge against feminists tends to be ridiculous, and we can expect it to keep on coming. It’s almost worth a laugh since those who yell it the loudest tend to be those who most rely on censorship to continue legacies of discrimination that the human spirit has long outgrown. In the meantime it’s important to remember that those leveling the charge are more often those who wish to leverage institutions to control and suppress others, while feminists are those who wish to expand institutional freedom to allow more people to live equitably and with justice for all.

Swapping Oppressions Is Bad Organizing: Why “Fitch The Homeless” Is No Good

Let’s say the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch explains that his stores don’t sell clothing for larger women, while they do for men, because they only want to market to “the cool kids.” This is outrageous and worthy of action, something many of us have done (myself included — here’s my open letter about eating disorder culture to the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch).

Action is applying pressure to a decision-maker to bring about a change. There are many ways to take action. In the case of Abercrombie & Fitch, a corporation dependent upon success in the consumer market, some of the most obvious routes to change include letter writing, petitions, demonstrations and meetings — basically direct “look at me here” actions targeting the company itself. Public pressure of this kind makes sense not just because Abercrombie & Fitch makes its own decisions about what clothing lines it will carry, and what kind of CEO behavior they are willing to tolerate, but also because it is motivated to have a brand that sells.

Successful organizing often entails not angering your natural allies. You want the focus to remain on your cause, not on a newly created controversy of your own making. This is why a recent viral effort called “Fitch the Homeless,” a campaign where some disgusted with the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch started giving away his clothes to homeless people and videotaping it in order to allegedly tarnish his “cool kid” brand was so off-base. Using homeless people as props is simply offensive. It does nothing to dispel eating disorder culture. Further, it does not help homeless people with issues they are facing (in fact, one of the larger issues in helping the chronically homeless is establishing trust — and how does forcing them to become part of a viral video campaign in which they are expected to play part of a joke do anything but erode trust toward those who say they want to help?). Finally, it alienates potential allies who are justifiably angry with the dangerous and as-yet unrecanted words and policy of an eating-disorder culture promoting CEO.

Takeaway for organizers: Don’t take advantage of vulnerable people to make a point. Trust that your message is strong enough to stand on its own two feet — introducing one oppression to end another doesn’t work.

Feminism Goes Mainstream: The Obligatory Lean In Review

I saved Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead until these final moments before my maternity leave because I like to match books with times in my life to the extent practical, I was reading other things first, and I’m not as mainstream as the feminists who received advance copies that allowed them to review the book in a more timely fashion.

Within 10 pages of reading, I started getting misty-eyed with happiness. Sheryl Sandberg is not another generation’s replacement for Gloria Steinem — nor, for a variety of reasons, is it particularly relevant or useful in this modern feminist era to try to anoint a new one — but what she and coauthor Nell Scovell have created is a game-changer: Feminism has gone mainstream. Specifically several feminist ideas have gone mainstream. They are being read and talked about by people outside the women’s movement and outside the progressive movement. Lean In is sparking much-needed conversations, some of them uncomfortable, within settings where everyone otherwise politely agrees that women are equal while men hold most of the power, as if no disconnect exists between professed ideals and glaring reality. This is huge.

In the form of a memoir peppered with statistics and practical advice, Sandberg gives other women permission to say to themselves, I’m going to step up and believe in my professional ability. Not every woman has a fear of sitting at the main table, or negotiating a salary, or taking on a leadership role when they know they might want to have kids someday. Not every woman, many of them due to multiple discriminations that cannot be mitigated by a change in attitude, can even dream of having these problems. But for those who do, and there are a lot of them, Sandberg’s message is inspirational. We must believe in ourselves.

Self-esteem is an irreplaceable ingredient in any march toward justice. When you are taught to believe that women have not achieved equality and parity — that you are getting paid shit, that you got raped and your military commander dismissed the charges, that the president has taken multiple breaks from running the country to force you to show a driver’s license before you can buy a birth control pill — not because of systematic discrimination against women but rather because there’s something wrong with you, personally (oddly, all of us), believing in yourself is a radical act.

A great deal of internecine debate exists within the feminist community, I think partially from a fear that Lean In will be seen as a canon on modern feminism, which it is not. Sandberg is a business leader who wants to help other women overcome self-doubt and fill executive leadership roles. This is not a book that was written to advance feminist theory, and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t. So many feminists have criticized this book that I don’t need to feel the need to recap all of their criticisms. A few: Systemic change requires institutional-level solutions (not negated by Sandberg’s book). This book is more relevant to upper class, heterosexual white women (yes, this is true, but Sandberg wasn’t trying to speak for all women; if anything Lean In suggests that women who don’t fit Sandberg’s profile, especially women of color, need to be supported by the feminist community in publishing mainstream-level books, and sign me up as someone willing to help).

My primary criticism of the book is that in a few places, Sandberg asserts that women in power will help bring other women up. That’s simply not true. How many years has it been since Sarah Palin stepped into the cement shoes of that outdated liberal feminist assumption and threw it into the river? A feminist agenda must include law and policy, which may be acknowledged by Sandberg herself as outside the scope of the book, but that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass to claim something that’s untrue. Women who lead often don’t bring other women up with them, and it’s routinely suggested that’s because it’s easier to admit a token woman who displays patriarchal behaviors, or women want to make sure other women don’t crowd them out of their uniquely successful position (what I call the ‘there’s only room for one smart girl in the room’ theory). In the first place, we shouldn’t promote women for the purposes of resolving sexism for other women. It’s not fair to let men currently in power off the hook like that. We should have women represented equally in leadership because we as a society have a moral obligation to do so.

Lean In is an easy, quick read designed to bring feminist ideas that women should believe in their potential to a mainstream audience. On those grounds, it has succeeded wildly. I’m happy to celebrate that from my maternity leave, whenever it begins. Many of the issues she wrote about are becoming realer to me than I could have imagined just one year ago.

Babies Exposed Online! Privacy And The New Mom

Tearing through the finish line is something you’re supposed to do with triumphant arms in the air, running as fast as you can, but this is me nearing the end of my pregnancy so I’ll take this this brief respite from waddling to the bathroom to blog about the pressure to post photographs of one’s baby online.

Previously, I made a wildly unpopular decision to not post pregnancy photos to Facebook, and to opt out of baby bump and pregnancy mania digital voyeurism in general. Now I anticipate virtually everyone who knows me and wants to see BABY PICTURES SO MANY BABY PICTURES OF A BABY IN A HAT AS SOON AS I GIVE BIRTH AND THEN ALL THE TIME FOREVER is going to look at the screen and scream once more, because I have some pretty negative feelings about the pressure to post baby photographs online.

Here are the issues, as I see them:

Encouraging and respecting individuality, individual expression and free will are some of my highest values, and this extends to my initial thoughts about parenting. As I see it, my baby is going to be her own person and it’s one of my jobs to create as much space as I can to encourage her to be herself. This is especially poignant to me as a feminist expecting a daughter in a world that objectifies women and girls. My contention is not her participation in digital culture itself: I understand that as she gets older she may pose for and post photographs online. However, I tend to feel that in a digital space those are choices for her to make on her own, not choices for me to make for her.

Social networking photographs are forever. It seems we are in an unprecedented time for digital representations of childhood. When I was growing up, there was no permanent search engine trail of photographs in the tub waiting to someday be discovered by a recruiter looking you up before a job interview, or someone trying to hurt you. This doesn’t mean people should hide from having their photos put online, but as a future parent I am concerned about making permanent digital mistakes on behalf of a child I want to be her own person. On a separate, but related note, political hero Krystal Ball famously said the following when racy photographs from Facebook were leaked online during her 2010 run for Congress:

But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.

Granted, baby photos are not sexual, and I don’t plan on trying to restrict my daughter from using social networking sites when she is of age to do so. In fact I agree with Krystal: People have to face up to our pictures and our social lives online, especially women of my age and lower, and a societal inability to do so will lead to negative political consequences. But I draw a strong distinction between someone posting photographs of herself and having a digital trail created for you by someone else without your consent.

And how many people who look at your digital presence online would you invite into your home? During the early days of life, beyond the Internet, new babies are seen by the people closest to you. People you invite in your home. People you make an effort to go see. Social networking has changed this equation, and I’m not sure for the better, especially for someone like me who maintains an Internet presence for political purposes.

This is not an attack on people who post baby photos online, which includes most of my friends with kids. I don’t judge you. Further, this is not an attack on mothers in the style of anti-feminist troll Katie Roiphe, who suggested that moms who put their children’s photos on their Facebook pages are struggling with a toxic loss of identity.

This is concern that intrusions upon my privacy, which I have experienced by the barge load during the process of pregnancy, will soon extend to a baby I want to protect. I know this thinking is very unpopular, and it is probably impossible to have a completely non-digital baby, especially when good people I care about are already begging. In any case others will probably take and tag their own pictures whether I like it or not. And for all I know, perhaps the process of having a baby and parenting will make me want to share photographs online all the time. If there’s one thing I know right now it’s that I don’t know how I am about to experience parenting. I believe preferences and viewpoints can change and that ability is a sign of strength, not weakness. But at this moment as I waddle to the finish line, I can say:

It makes me sad that so much of pregnancy and caring for a newborn — incredibly private moments — seems to have turned into visual digital performance for other people, one that can easily be objectified and made permanent without consent.

Embarrassment Is A Powerful Tool For Social Change

Today Minnesota will become the twelfth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to remove discrimination against lesbian and gay people from its marriage laws. Just last year, it was the first state in the nation to defeat a ballot initiative that would have amended its constitution to ban marriage between same-sex couples — by 51.2% of the vote. This turnaround is truly remarkable, and from an activist perspective, it illustrates how useful embarrassment can be as a tool for social change.

To be sure, decades of difficult work made this moment possible — including grassroots organizing work, legislative coalition building work and electoral work. But we can’t discount the hard work that spanned more than one generation fighting to take pride in identity, people coming out of the closet — often at significant personal cost — to say, I’m gay and I’m proud, and others standing beside them and saying, and why should we not embrace that?

Ultimately, all of this work together has made it embarrassing to support legal bigotry on the basis of sexual orientation unless you are part of the extremely extreme extremist right wing. For those who are not, it is embarrassing to be associated with those folks. As it should be.

One of the nation’s most overt bigots goes covert: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), hides in the bushes during an LGBT rights rally outside the Minnesota Capitol.

Across movements, greater acceptance and inclusion at a societal level are the underpinnings of progress to protect civil and human rights legislatively. Often the link between societal desire and legislative progress is tenuous (reference the recent failure of a background check expansion for gun purchases, which had the support of 91% of the population and failed in the U.S. Senate), because legislators are more often beholden to donors spending big money to support the status quo. So they tend to move slower.

What this means, as activists, is that embarrassment is a tool we shouldn’t turn our backs on as a motivator for social change. Minnesota, as a state, was rightfully embarrassed by the right-wing push last year to ban same-sex marriage; the law changed. Senators who voted against gun background checks should rightfully be embarrased for acting so far outside the will of the people; there are signs we may get a new vote. Anti-abortion rights extremists who call me a baby killer should rightfully be embarrassed when I remind them I am so pregnant I can hardly see my feet; and a few have apologized when they realize that. This is as it should be. Embarrassment works.

That said, I want to draw a clear line between embarrassment, which I define here as public consternation around one person’s actions or views inasmuch as they hinder the dignity, rights and/or worth of others, and shaming, which I define here as public consternation around one person’s actions or views affecting only themselves. For instance, attacking the weight of Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is not embarrassment as a sound strategy to effect social change (if you want to get him out of office, stick to his policies), it’s public fat shaming that reifies bad societal ideas that one’s body is an appropriate forum for public comment and intervention. The bottom line is that embarrassment and shaming are different tactics, and one is ethical while the other is not.

People should be embarrassed when their intolerance is showing. At times, they can be embarrassed into change. Public embarrassment is one tool activists shouldn’t be afraid to employ.

Time To Abolish “Self-Promotional” As A Slur Against Women

Like slut, “self-promotional” is a charge levied against women for the purpose of silencing, shaming and shutting them down. It refers less to unseemly behavior and more to an idea that whether the offender is too aggressive, too self-confident or simply too unique, she is a woman who has stepped out of the can-can line and seems to be enjoying herself and her continuing success too much.

How frequently are men:

Called aggressively self-promotional in a negative way?

Seen as a problem for making it known within the workplace that they are seeking promotion, an increase in pay, an increase in responsibility — and making sure their superiors can easily track their accomplishments as a path to getting there?

Encouraged to “lean back” and not worry so much about how to get from the present to the goal, however improbable, because it will all work out? Encouraged to gain more experience before taking risks that will help them grow?

The answer is, they’re not. Certainly nowhere near as much as women. Examine your personal life. Look at the proportion of Congress (less than one in five elected representatives are women). Take a business example and consider the aggressively self-promotional Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and how he is commonly portrayed as charismatic and chasing the dream.

Bluntly, self-promotion is part of chasing the dream. You are much more likely to achieve success and get what you want if you make it known to yourself and others what your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow looks like, and how far along the beam you’ve traveled so far. Without shame and with pride.

I’ve found that women who first come to my attention with a “self-promotional” whisper coiling around their reputations tend to be women I love. How exciting to have dreams. How wonderful to go for it. How silly to claim that a woman should sit down, shut up and take whatever bits are tossed at her. If you’re doing something cool, we should all be so lucky to hear about it and share in your success. And if you’re calling another woman self-promotional as a slur, kindly shut up.

Update: Response To Open Letter About Eating Disorder Culture To CEO Of Abercrombie & Fitch

Late last night, I received the following response to my open letter to the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch about his comments that larger women aren’t part of the “cool kids”, and that’s why his stores sell larger sizes for men and not for women:

(bolding mine)
Erin,
Thanks for emailing into Abercrombie & Fitch.
While I am unable to escalate this letter straight to our CEO, we understand that what our CEO said has offended many of our customers and we are taking all feedback for review. I will make sure your feedback is reviewed by the appropriate business department.
Akira
Customer Service
Abercrombie & Fitch
Check us out!
This means comments are being heard, and change could be in the offing soon. The more pressure, the more likely we are to see a change. Please take a few minutes right away to write your own letter to Abercrombie & Fitch. It matters. The link to write your comment is here. Thank you!

Please Don’t Promote Eating Disorder Culture: An Open Letter To The CEO Of Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch
Mike Jeffries, CEO
6200 Fitch Path
New Albany, OH 43054

May 8, 2013

Dear Mike,

As an anorexia survivor and a soon-to-be mother of a little girl, I am writing to request you recant your statements explaining why Abercrombie & Fitch offers sizes XL and XXL for men, but won’t carry larger size clothing for women:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

As you know, your market is primarily “kids,” or young adults who are at an age most specially prone to eating disorders. As many as 10 million women and girls in the United States alone suffer from anorexia or bulimia — and 95 percent of those with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 26, the core of your target market. These facts make your statements particularly heartbreaking.

I’m writing because I believe your statements hold dangerous power, more than you may realize. For many but not all young people the Abercrombie & Fitch brand is an arbiter of cool. I’ve been a babysitter before, and seen how important it is to many tweens to have your labels showing. How devastating for a young woman who hates her body, as too many do, to realize that your store doesn’t sell larger size clothing because you say she’s not cool, she can’t belong, she’s a loser.

In high school and early college I fought tooth and nail for my life. During one hospitalization, a fellow patient went out on a day pass and won a modeling contest while she was still wearing her hospital bracelet. That’s not “cool,” that’s cruel. To send her a message to keep up the good work killing yourself! To send others a message that the most beautiful woman in the world is a corpse. While it’s impossible to expect the entire fashion and modeling industries will change tomorrow, it is quite possible for you to make some positive clarifying statements about the humanity and inherent worth possessed by people of all shapes, sizes and bodies.

It would mean a lot. Thinking about your comments nearly brought tears to my eyes. During one of my rougher periods with anorexia, I was not eligible to participate in my physical education class but still had to show up in order to graduate. There was a gymnastics routine that everyone else needed to complete in front of the entire class. A larger girl was forced to do somersaults across a room in front of 30 classmates, several of whom audibly laughed and called her a “fatty” and “loser” and “whale.” I remember going home that night and sobbing to my mother, my decrepit body shaking with fury. “How could they do that to her? Don’t they know what they are doing? And why didn’t I speak up?”

I wasn’t ready to speak up then. I am now, and I welcome you to join me. Not creating larger size clothing for women, while creating it for men, is discriminatory. Making negative statements about larger people, especially larger women, and most especially larger women who fit in your target market of teens and young adults, is part of an eating disorder culture that kills.

I know you can do better than this, and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Erin Matson

Does It Make Sense To Work When Child Care Is So Expensive?

On the brink of another life change, before I got married the first time, my mom offered the following unsolicited advice:

“Always have girlfriends, and always keep your own bank account.”

In other words, always stay interdependent with others outside your family, and always maintain enough independence to call at least some of your own shots.

It’s something I’m considering as I navigate the fraught terrain for women planning to merge career and child care for the first time. How do I find this stuff? How much should it cost? How do you make sure it’s good?

And the biggest question of all, one that keeps coming up with other friends who are expecting children or new parents:

Is it selfish to keep working when child care is so expensive and he makes more money than I do?

That question. My goodness. That question we’d heard before and never thought would apply to us.

I keep thinking back to my mother’s advice. Always have girlfriends. It’s not just about friends. It’s not just about marriage. It’s about a woman’s place in a broader world. It’s about support systems. Having just one support system is not supporting yourself as well as you could. My family is important to me. But I feel like I’m selling all of us short if I don’t have friends and career, which are also important to me and my sense of identity.

Always keep your own bank account. This one feels more tricky. Like a lot of women married to men, my husband makes more money than I do. And with a kid on the way, the questions get louder. As one New York Times blogger wrote, Why Do I Think My Salary Pays for Child Care? I admit to the same thinking, and hearing it among friends. Does it economically make sense for me to work? Given that we almost always direct this question at women, how will we clear the way so our daughters don’t have to ask this question? Sure, we often get paid less. But maybe if we stick around at work we can help be part of the ongoing and as-yet unrealized call for equal pay.

It’s also about now and not just the future. As one of my friends said to me, sure he makes more than I do, and he’s going to pick up more money for the baby’s needs. What if I work less or not at all to stay with the kid, and I want to buy a pair of jeans? What if I want to stop for a coffee? And whether we’re talking about disposable income or accessing basics like food and health care, that’s what money really comes down to: Power. The power to make your own decisions and be in control of your life.

I don’t have easy answers to these questions. Our baby will come soon. As I consider a life on the brink of great change, I can’t stop thinking about what my mom said. Mixing interdependence, independence, child, work and family is not easy. It makes me frustrated that these issues are typically seen as women’s issues. They are societal issues. My guess is the more we move toward that frame, the easier it will be to make some changes.