Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Original BFFs

Not many people have affected my life the way Michael has. We are, as he likes to call us, the original BFFs.
My life was forever changed when our last names placed us in homeroom together at DuPont Junior High in Belle, WV. No sooner had I placed my Mead Trapper Keeper under my desk and smoothed out my Forenza sweater over my stirrup pants with Chuck T. high tops, when Michael turned to me and said something sarcastic. In that moment something happened.
I’ve heard people talk about love at first sight—but this was more than that. This was humor and wit at first sight: I had found my soul-mate. Michael and I hit it off right away. Immediately, I liked him and the way he could keep up with my sarcastic banter, giving it back as quickly as I could dish it out. Our first order of business was to rename everyone in the class. I still occasionally wonder how “Spiral McPermison” and “Mary Jane Von Stonerton” are doing.
We had fun together. Once, convinced that I should learn to cook after I caught a bag of microwave popcorn on fire, Michael donned an apron and set about my kitchen with my mother’s avocado green mixer. Another time, he hid in my bedroom and scared the bejesus out of me when I got home from school. We spent a lot of time at Taco Bell and TCBY. We may or may not have belted out Taylor Dayne tunes into a hair-brush microphone in his car. One of his shining moments of BFF greatness came on my 18th birthday when he showed up at my grandmother’s house, after our family dinner, with a birthday cake for me, because he knew no one else had a cake for me. I loved him for that. Even if the cake did say, “Happy Bar Mitzvah, Steve.”
We’ve endured some heavy-duty issues in our lives, too. We’re 40 now people—we have jeans older than some of you. So, we have encountered some crazy juju, the most notable of which was a rift between the two of us that lasted the duration of the 1990s and took us all the way past the birth of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.
Alas, the original BFFs hit a major snag somewhere around the early 1990s. About the time Vanilla Ice was hotter than hot, our epic friendship cooled off. As in: frozen. Stone cold. Brrrrrr.
It is a long, complicated story whose details don’t need re-hashing. But during that rift, we missed out on so much: Ross/Rachel, Clinton/Lewinsky, the unfortunate onset of “japris,” my wedding, his coming out, the OJ trial, the SNL Spartan Cheerleaders, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Ace of Base, Titanic, and Y2K. While Will Smith was “Gettin’ Jiggy With It,” we were nowhere near a much-longed-for reconciliation.
During our junior year of high school, Michael and I had the good fortune to end up in the English class of Carol Recco, teacher extraordinaire and all-around fabulous person. She, more than anyone, was privy to the genius of our wit when she poured over those weekly journal entries wherein Michael and I penned, with Pulitzer-like finesse, all the teenage angst and euphoria of (depending on what was being served in the cafeteria) our young lives.
But one big thing wasn’t being written in Michael’s journal: he is gay, but he wasn’t telling anyone. Why, I’ve wondered? But the truth is, it was Belle, WV in the late 1980s and life was not an episode of Glee. (If only!) An adequate safety net did not exist for Michael the way it may today. I think back on that hilarious, attractive, smart, wonderful boy that I loved for all the right reasons and my heart hurts that he couldn’t feel safe telling even one person—even me—that precious part of himself. We were Will and Grace before Will and Grace were cool.
And that is exactly how our reconciliation happened. One blessed day about six years ago, at different times, we both had similar conversations with our beloved Mrs. Recco. She casually mentioned to each of us how much the other would love to reconnect. (Mrs. Recco has always used her super-powers for good instead of evil.)
Finally, we connected in a phone conversation that lasted a few hours. There were tears, there were apologies, and there was story after story in a remarkable reunion that brought us back to that friendship we had so missed.
“This is so Will and Grace,” I said to Michael.
“I’m signing us up for the Amazing Race right now,” said my BFF.
And just like that, we were back, settling into a comfortable banter just in time for me to deliver my third child and Michael to find the love of his life.
Today when I crack open my senior yearbook I see the once and future BFFs, now two grown-up friends.
I see a strong, still-handsome, still-funny, good man unafraid of who he is. He is blessed to be in relationship with an equally good and wonderful man, and it is my great pleasure to know and love them both.
I see a younger version of myself and want to tell her, “Wait until you see the wonderful gifts life is about to hand you. Also, the late 1990s involve knit pants and matching vests. Try to avoid that.”
I’m not sure I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe people are in our lives for a reason and I am so grateful to have Michael in mine.
And thank God for the reunion because there is always so much for us to discuss.  With the fleeting drama of an election year, a divorce for Tomkat and—God, help us—Honey Boo Boo, it’s nice to have a BFF that endures.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Zero is (still) not a size

Ladies, yet again we are being judged for our physical appearances.
In the last few days, Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston has made headlines for confronting the rude author of an offensive email targeting her weight. Livingston, who aptly pointed out that she is “much more than a number on a scale,” took the high road by using the uncalled for remarks about her appearance to bring attention to Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, which happens to be this October. Livingston admonished viewers who may be experiencing ridicule for any reason, to stand up for themselves.
The email Livingston received not only called her obese, but also a poor role model. Come on, crass stranger, really? The man who sent Livingston that dim-witted email wasn’t privy to the inner-workings of her life and soul. She is a mother of three young girls. You can bet that as she got ready for work that morning, before getting to her office and finding the vile  email, she was packing lunches, signing permission slips, tying shoes, brushing pigtails, giving hugs, fixing boo-boos, settling arguments, scheduling meetings, and asking herself if she remembered everything. She likely shared a brief kiss with her husband, fed the cat and grabbed a Luna bar on the way out to the minivan—because that’s how real women function. No one gets to accuse her of being a poor role model, least of all someone who admittedly doesn’t watch her news show. How would he know what kind of person she is?
But to me, the most heinous part of this whole thing is that a perfectly competent, lovely, smart woman—who does not mirror society’s concept that physical beauty is borderline anorexia—is being called out for her size at her job as a television news anchor.
Since when should a woman have to answer to a random stranger—or anyone— for her size?
Since always, that’s when.
Aren’t you tired of it, ladies?  Isn’t enough enough? And while it’s a complete travesty that Livingston was judged, not by her ability, but her appearance, perhaps an equally deplorable reality is that most of us still try our damndest to stay engaged in some ever-illusive pursuit of a “better” body.
Don’t misunderstand—I’m not discarding the benefits of a well-rounded plan for self care that includes physical activity, rest, nourishing food and some kind of balance between our physical, mental and spiritual selves. I’m very invested in mine, and encourage sane, healthy behavior as much as possible.
Unfortunately, our culture still judges women on the way we look. Just last week, there was a scuttlebutt around Lady Gaga’s admission that she has struggled with an eating disorder since she was 15-years-old. Simultaneously, she was being raked over the coals for gaining weight. Duplicitous media messages about her alleged weight gain flew all over the web prompting critics and fans alike to speak out, and Mother Monster herself to post pictures in her skivvies with a message to fans:
  “To all the girls that think you’re ugly because you’re not a size zero,
you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly.”
Amen to that. Besides, zero is not a size. It’s just not. One, five, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty—all sizes. But zero? Not so much. I recently voiced my concern about this to a very nice sales associate at Anne Taylor Loft, which not only offers a size zero, but a double zero.  A double zero! Less than nothing!
Last night I cruised by the magazine rack at the grocery store. I saw 33 magazine covers featuring women who would qualify as supermodels. Only one was a woman of color; most were blond. I’m certain none of them were even average-sized, which is somewhere around a 14. Designers for Hollywood starlets make samples in sizes 2-4. Maybe Livingston’s critic spends too much time in the magazine aisle at Kroger.
Like many women, I can’t remember ever thinking I didn’t need to lose weight: not when I was 10 years old and far too young to be concerned with such issues; not when I tried (another) fad diet at 13, and threw up at the dinner table; not when I weighed 112 pounds and was as bootylicious as I’ll ever be; maybe not even today. Even as I write this, I’m fresh off a high-intensity workout with a friend. But I do remember what happened to my body to change the way I think about it.
I had three babies. I got pregnant, grew these human beings inside me, ate to nourish both of us, and miraculously delivered them into this world safely, un-medicated and in complete awareness. Then I used my body to nurse them—each of them for more than three years, giving them the best possible start, and if you want to get technical, a boost toward avoiding obesity later.
That changed everything about the way I see my body: every curve, every stretch mark, every gravity-controlled part. Remarkably, it brought about a new confidence, a sense of “I’m pretty frickin’ awesome!”
So, I will continue my frickin’ awesomeness and try not to let the detractors emailing inane comments get in my way. I have things to do. I have to counteract for my kids the idea that they should fit into some cultural idea of acceptable beauty. They are already pretty frickin’ awesome the way they are.
And to Jennifer Livingston, keep that spam folder in your email active, and keep doing a great job.

You’re not a disgrace, you’re not responsible for the physical health of La Crosse, Wisconsin and you’re most definitely not alone.