My Dirty, White T-shirt of a Flag

Yeah, about that “return in full force come May” thing…

Well, inspiration just never quite hit. I returned home and attempted to digest all that I’d experienced and chew on the simultaneous stagnancy and rapid change that I returned to and spit it all out just to take another bite, and it seemed that it was all the same stuff. No one wants to read someone else’s confused detritus over and over again. And that’s fine, because the beauty of the blog is that there are no rules.

And so, in the interest of cohesiveness, here’s a quick update: after a wonderful three weeks in New York City with my grandma working on a piece about perfectionism for an organization called Ma’yan, my time in South America with Where There Be Dragons was incredible. I fell in love with the Andes, was injected with a healthy dose of respect for the Amazon and the people that live in it, learned a lot about myself and work I need to do, read a lot of good books, wrote in my journal regularly, and underwent countless other experiences, some of which you can read about more presently and in depth in my travel blog. As expected, it was hard, because life is hard. And even while I was tucked away in a bubble of privilege to have that opportunity, with guidance and exempt from the full responsibilities of traveling alone, there was still the reality of navigating new and challenging situations, traveling with twelve other American teenagers who I’d never met before and attempting to negotiate group dynamics, leaving home for the longest I ever had, and the indelible truth that I will likely always be on a journey of finding inner peace. In short, it was exactly what a 16-year-old high school graduate who thinks too much needed.

But now I’m 17, and times have changed. (Just kidding.)

Upon homecoming, my head was still spinning from watching my 98-year-old host grandmother (see below) cry when I said goodbye, visiting El Tío with the star (Basilio) of the PBS documentary The Devil’s Miner (which I highly recommend), and our recurrent conversations on service and its detriments, among other things.

Maria (or Flora), my 98-year-old Quechua host grandmother who chases chickens and chops alfalfa and is a general all-around badass

Maria (or Flora), my 98-year-old Quechua host grandmother who chases chickens and chops alfalfa and is a general all-around badass

 

El Tío (The Uncle), god of the mines and a simultaneous force of evil and protection. He has a long history in relation to forced labor of indigenous miners, and is at once a companion in the long hours and dark depths of the mines as well as a source of fear and trepidation. Miners offer coca, pure alcohol, and other gifts. El Tío is said to be married to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and if women work in the mines Pachamama will get jealous and cause misfortune. Women can enter but not work in the mines. Idols like this can be found throughout the mines in Potosí.

El Tío (The Uncle), god of the mines and a simultaneous force of evil and protection. He has a long history in relation to forced labor of indigenous miners, and is at once a companion in the long hours and dark depths of the mines as well as a source of fear and trepidation. Miners offer coca, pure alcohol, and other gifts. El Tío is said to be married to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and if women work in the mines Pachamama will get jealous and cause misfortune. Women can enter but not work in the mines. Idols like this can be found throughout the mines in Potosí.

Life at home had kept moving while I was gone, of course, and also felt exactly the same. There was slight reverse culture shock while I tried to reconcile the two realities and attempted to resist falling back into the same patterns that I’d left. What I realized, though, was that there are no two separate realities, existing in different universes at different times where I am different people. While it is essential to recognize those enormous differences — not doing so is delusional and a recipe for misunderstanding and disappointment — that incredible and vibrant portion of my life is another fold, an additional step bringing with it new ideas and perceptions of the world.

I am constantly dumbfounded by my luck and privilege to be born into a circumstance where I can explore and learn from countless people in Bolivia and Peru at 16 years old and continually discover how much more there is to learn. And yet…

I move through every single day undulating between forty-seven different states of existence, often loitering in a default of despair that I wish I could climb out of but now I see there’s no other path than to embrace it. To settle in. How do I position myself as an effective ally for and active participant in the meaningful and imperative issues of social justice and collective healing — America’s abhorrent and vibrant racism; pervasive devaluing, controlling, and shaming of bodies (women’s in particular); honed and entrenched sexism; consequences of colonialism; the often-callous destruction of our environment, etc. — that I truly care about when I am still holding out hope that whatever is wrong with me will someday be righted?

I am tired of that burden. There is nothing wrong with me. The longer I believe there is, the less I have to offer to the dismantling of those injustices and the system that enables them — from which I often greatly benefit — and the less gratitude I can feel for my very actuality in which I can sleep in a stone hut high in a remote Andean village and then return home to a memory foam-lined mattress. The longer I believe there is something wrong with me the more damaging a family member I am, the less tolerant and less spontaneous a friend, the less soft caresses I can muster to bestow upon my survivor of a belly.

And so I will continue to wonder, to move and progress because I have no choice, to continually and constantly remind myself that I am a ping pong ball and I better learn to get served. When 6 months have passed without writing and I’m still deciphering what I’m trying to say I will give in, I will give up. Surrender is the only noble option.

 

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Playing Pretend

I’m not quite sure what growing up is, but I imagine it might feel something like this. I think it might have something to do with having discussions with myself where there is legitimate consideration of reality instead of emotionally-charged accusations. I’m picturing maturing a little bit like watching my body in the mirror, not quite liking what I see, and moving on with my day because I have other shit to do. Maybe growing up is something kinda like hearing opinions I don’t agree with or statements I know to be insane, acknowledging they are ridiculous and don’t really affect me, and smiling like the somewhat condescending, pretending-to-be-uninterested-in-pointless-conflict person that I sometimes am. I wonder if the person emerging from the other side of years of shaping, teaching, advising, and confusion might be walking down Broadway with my pitifully minimal selection of music inundating my ears as I bob my head and mouth the words, smiling at the rushed, frustrated commuters and feeling my little bubble of a world form around me, reassuring and encouraging but porous and permeable.

Perhaps embracing my own complete personhood entails accounting for the consequences of my actions while simultaneously giving myself a break for less-than-perfect decisions that leave me feeling beat up and ashamed. I’m entertaining the possibility that I’m approaching the VERY non-linear, very non-utopia where mistakes can be analyzed and learned from without translating into my own self-worth.

Slowly, yes — crawling, seeping, creeping, pulsing in an amber mass of caresses — I feel that root-sprout stretching down, circumventing the cells of resistance to ground me in a transportable, interminable habitat of my own fertilization.

In other words, I don’t give a shit.

I’m living in a world of contradiction, exposing myself to vulnerability and protecting myself from getting my foundations shaken out from under me; questioning my own beliefs privately while defending them against challenges; hesitating on thoughts and leaning into impulsive decisions. I can pretend in my head and walk around like I’m a brilliant, jaw-dropping bombshell while I go 3 days without a shower and wear my grandma’s pants. It’s a wild ride out here and I might just be continuing my entire-life crisis.

I’m learning, though, as it would be impossible not to. I’ll probably forget and I even forget the lesson I learned yesterday. I’m tricking myself into thinking I’m growing when maybe I’m just a big infant and all the growth charts had it wrong the whole time.

Back in my very first blog post I thought there was a skill to enjoying one’s own company. At this point I’m pretty sure it’s just listening to the same 10 songs on my unnecessarily extensive daily walk and harboring a suspicion that maybe deep down I’m actually a moderate Republican (HAAAAAAAA that was a joke. I’m not, don’t worry).

And you’re all over there stifling pity laughs saying “Yup, you go on thinking that. No, seriously, you’re probably right. You’re not ridiculous; you’re definitely growing up. Cute.”

And now, excuse me while I join you.

Too Many Metaphors — It’s Part of the Plan

More often than not, life does not go as planned. In fact, planning is such a useless attempt at control and securing future comfort that I now view plans as a likely predictor of what will not occur in reality, regardless of almost any efforts to steer the universe in my pre-ordained chain of events tailored specifically to meet my perception of productivity. I think most of us understand that, at best, planning is setting an intention that will come to fruition on the off chance that every decision preceding it also disregarded everyone else in the world and decided to heed our personal desires to ensure that our expectations and preparations are not left waiting for a date that perpetually no-shows.

Let it be known that as I sit here preaching the futility of control, I also have next to me a list detailing the activities and times of errands I would like to accomplish today to be prepared for leaving home for 4 months and millions of other lists outlining my long term goals, my short term goals, epiphanies I’ve had, people I want to apologize to, etc. You get the picture. Alas, writing this blog post did not show up in my plan for today. Whaddya know.

BUT, sometimes, little latent ideas of a desperately desired outcome seem to seep their way out of the molten iron that is reality doing its best to sever and block our plans, relishing in the irony that although they were originally part of the plan, the fickleness and impracticality of these outlines rendered them even less feasible.

And so arrived the relentless tears on the plane back from Thailand. Somewhere between seven straight movies, many episodes of multiple TV shows, and a repeat listening of an entire Broadway musical soundtrack (Ahem, Hamilton, I reallllly wouldn’t object if you decided to kick someone out of your eternally sold out shows to help a friend), it hit me.

The marvelous aspect of this particular realization is that I wasn’t drinking coffee. It wasn’t in the morning, it wasn’t after exercise, it wasn’t during a fired-up discussion on social justice issues I’d convinced myself I understood. It was, in fact, in the midst of 30 hours of traveling, permeating simultaneously with a feeling of intense fullness, leftover minor food poisoning, bodily frustration with sitting for so long and building anxiety over returning home. Despite all these historical indicators of despair and curling up into a ball with no desire to emerge unless my life magically became someone else’s, I cried because I felt a little shrapnel of peace finally lodging itself in my shoulder like a reminder for a war veteran.

I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pinching my body in shame. I couldn’t go through an existential crisis every time I felt bloated or decided not to follow my body’s instructions. I couldn’t dictate my self-worth based on whether or not I had the motivation to exercise and I couldn’t look around the airport fighting the urge to compare my own body to that of every other female traveler — hell, male too. I was never, ever, ever going to embody the altruistic, confident, razor-sharp goddess I envision as a product of mastering my “issues” if my sense of deservedness as a member of humanity fluctuated depending on how my stomach felt.

Here’s the thing: this was part of the plan. I was scared to leave home for the sole reason that I know it’s impossible to run away from problems. Frolicking around in Thailand, then New York City, then Bolivia and Peru will not “fix” me. I am painfully, anxiously aware of this. Yet, with this ineffectiveness of control and annoying fact that I actually can’t escape my own company no matter how far I fly, I’m still a writer. I get to decide my own story. (Even if you’re not a writer, you still do. You don’t have to even know how to read or talk or be articulate or respectful or have any qualification as a productive member of society. Even if you’re Donald Trump you get to create your own character.) Though planning — like dieting, arguing and assailing with the intention of changing someone’s political party, denying that you share any characteristics with your mom, and refusing to acknowledge the merits of technology — in effect, doesn’t work ever, I am inevitably the author.

If I can’t get out of writing the longest book ever and constantly redeveloping the main character, why the hell should I waste it on not being a badass, hilarious, edgy, compassionate, impulsive, sometimes offensive, sarcastic, supportive, open-minded impossibility of a really short human?

Granted, this idealistic perception glosses over the very, very real inevitability that even since that realization I’ve crawled into bed with the intention of talking to no one and intense wish that I could teleport to an alternate path for this Barae person with complete disregard for the community issues that light the passion-fire in my belly. And these times harbor not an inkling of glamor. They suck, really hard, and I forget my lifetime position as editor in chief, fact checker, correspondent, and author of my little story because I don’t want the job. I am attacked with pointed, pungent reminders that I am not in control, never will be, and also probably will never be able to fully surrender my desire and hidden theory that I am, in fact, in control.

With no other choice, I accept the position of head author and also every other contributing writer. But don’t let it go to your head, Barae, because I was turned down by literally every other opportunity and given no alternative offers. So now we’re stuck together, and I intend to develop my reputation as a hell of a committed writer and a scary investigative journalist that everyone loves to hate, especially famous people with nothing to hide.

I’m currently accepting applications for the position of editor.

 

I’m Not Sorry

Discrimination is hardest to overcome when you believe it.

Oppression is hardest to end when you’re a participant, on any end of the spectrum.

Even if we’re aware of harmful and inaccurate beliefs that we hold, sometimes it seems there’s no other way to think. As I grow older and am exposed to new perspectives that challenge my own and consciously work on discovering and staying true to my core values, I find that dismantling discrimination that I am involved in is essential to my internal serenity. When I put substantive time into dissecting the reasons for my own beliefs and learning the opposing viewpoint, I not only feel a much stronger connection to humanity but also personal fulfillment and empowerment.

As I travel on my own indeterminate journey of accepting myself as my traveling companion, I become more and more aware that I need to completely deconstruct and retire the judgements that are keeping me from appreciating the various bumps and unforeseen curves that characterize an interesting trip. Because my discrimination is against myself and characteristics of myself I see in others, or ideas I was taught to believe by this gaseous steamroller we call society. While I strongly support and advocate for equality, acceptance, and celebration of diversity in race/culture/religion/sexual orientation/gender etc., I feel that there’s many discriminations and superiority complexes hidden within the folds of “bigger issues.” It seems to me that the “big” issues and the “small” issues are all just the same issue in different forms and represented in different places.

I do, actually, have a lot to say (imagine that… me having something to say) about current racism — especially in Alaska — and systemic, faulty fear-mongering, and hopefully I’ll write on those topics soon. This post, however, (like many others) is dedicated to girls struggling to exist proudly in this era of often surface level empowerment still plagued by preposterous expectations. That is not to say this invitation doesn’t apply to other demographics and I don’t have strong compassion or passion for other causes. Believe me, I will make that known in every way if it’s not already common knowledge. I intend to make it my life’s work.

Since I was little I have always compulsively said sorry. Even when there’s no problem or absolutely nothing I could have done, I have an immediate reaction and need to apologize for any way I may have contributed to an inconvenience. When I look around me at clever, powerful girls, I notice that they, too, are constantly blurting “sorry” at every turn. We are told everyday to just “be confident” and stay true to ourselves, yet nearly every message in our world shows us otherwise. I catch myself nursing envy of another girl’s body or even accomplishments and good fortune, yet for some reason I don’t feel that same competition with boys. We are often encouraged with approval to promote ourselves by discounting and distancing ourselves from others — mainly girls — and demonstrating our apathy and, yes, masculinity. In a very decidedly feminine and attractive way. Which is nearly impossible.

It breaks my heart to see girls using inauthenticity as their lifeline and most effective coping mechanism. A chasm splits and widens between what nourishes my spirit and what creates more work for me to repair when I see myself making excuses for the overflowing person that I am or disregarding someone else’s validity. To be clear, adapting to various situations or acting appropriately and acknowledging developments does not constitute inauthenticity.

When I inject a little (or a lot) extra kindness into gestures or comments or interactions, the reassurance of my solid place in my own morals and truths extends its portable roots. I’ll never be able to reverse the damage I’ve done to others or myself, and that’s why each moment is so grand and special and worthy. It’s not worth living for any other moment besides this one.

So stop apologizing. Stop sucking in. Stop pretending you’re not offended. Stop letting snide comments slide by for fear of being labeled as a “feminist” because then you’re just contentious and whiny. Stop believing that being unattractive is the worst misfortune that could ever befall you and that it’s objective and your fault. Stop believing you either have to be beautiful or badass and tough or nerdy and bossy and remember that you can pick and choose or be all of that or none.

This discrimination and oppression targeted towards young girls and their bodies and confidence goes unnoticed and unchallenged too frequently. We can extrapolate these internalized norms to the pervasive war women all over the world are waging against their bodies and the $60 billion/year weight loss industry. We can extend these minor misunderstandings to preoccupation with appearance and judgement that defines the first world, both women and men, and distracts from other injustices we could all be combatting.

As this vulnerable demographic, we need to support each other and also empower ourselves. We need to air our dirty laundry if it’s smelling up the house and trust that other people can follow their own noses. We need to relinquish our fear of vulnerability and know in our very core that we have the unwavering strength to do so and grow even more confident in our own validity. We need to live unapologetically.

EMERGENCY

Okay, well, don’t get too excited.

I actually had a few topics I wanted to write about, but then something happened and it was just begging to be documented and who am I to turn down inspiration? (Even if I am hunkered down on the side of a precarious dirt road furiously typing on my phone and greatly increasing the risk of giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome).

Let me paint a picture for you: I just had a reasonably disastrous night in some ways. It’s 70° F in Homer, Alaska and I’m biking out to a Russian village that starts where the road ends, or at least in that general direction. I biked back and forth between my house and a friend’s a couple times in my sweatpants and essentially a bathrobe because I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the bike work, and I’m not too skilled a biker, mind you. I’m wearing a funky, too-big, bright orange/red helmet and a large and bouncing fanny pack. I saw a mama moose munching that didn’t see me, which is the very best kind of human-moose interaction. I’m not going to describe the view, because my clumsy semantic attempts at imagery can’t begin to do justice to the never-ending range of blue peaks varying height and shape with effortless perfection and cradling pristine expanses of glacial fairy dust. Oops. I just did.

Well, actually, I could just give you a real picture.

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Kisses all around

I’ve been taking something of a break from exercise and any type of dietary consciousness for a while: “letting myself go” if you will, though I’ve been trying to see it as just another stage in the mysterious process.

So, in something of a revolutionary twist, I biked along the path of moseying. I stopped for water and snacks and texts and selfies and views, I downshifted frequently (meaning I made it easier for myself), I stopped to write this in my phone’s notes; in short, I wasn’t really doing it for ‘exercise,’ per say.

An absolutely amazing thing happened. I’m not sure exactly where; perhaps after the multiple confused trips to actually get the bike or after I realized hills don’t have to be so hard if you don’t stay in the highest gear or when I thought about my friends on a cross country bike trip or when I found out I actually kind of enjoy biking despite what I’ve been telling myself…

Regardless, somewhere amidst the ridiculous amount of enormous trucks which seem to be almost exclusively populating the road,

Exhibit A, although this one isn't that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

Exhibit A, although this one isn’t that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

my unbridled (okay, maybe a little bridled) joy burst out of me like a hyped-up-yet-still-kinda-slow sprinkler. Bridled because I know I’m still injured; I know this feeling is temporary; my tummy still talks to me when I put food in it ’cause it’s not so good at digestion, especially when I feed it much, much, much more than it was asking for; I’m aware part of me is still doing it for the calories; and I’m not foolish enough to think any one thing will change my world forever.

BUT. I FELT it. It’s real and that oppressing cloud of depression and self-hatred and doubt and bleak resignation and unjustified resentment and hopeless abandon was tangibly released from duty for a little while.

I have not a single delusion that soon I won’t find that annoyingly relentless companion by my side again. But a stupid chocolate granola bar never tasted so good and I never felt the soft parts of my belly with such acceptance and the mosquitoes and bees never bothered me so little and I worked so fucking hard to get here. Oftentimes against myself, but nevertheless no one can deny I was working my ass off to the point of exhaustion without respite.

I’m not “there,” but this is certainly, without a doubt, a far different universe than the one I’ve been loitering in — hell, than the one I was descending into last night. I can still touch that other universe and access it at a moment’s notice, and I know I’ll be there again soon.

I didn’t want to believe it. For some ludicrous and asinine reason I didn’t want to believe that satisfaction and genuine smiles were waiting for me, that every opportunity is a chance for escape and that I too have the ability to open the door.

Caveat: don’t just think I’m all better (whatever that means) and abandon me and that the rest of my posts will be love letters and celebrations to life. This is NOT the endpoint, in case you haven’t gotten the gist of my precautions yet.

‘Cause the mosquitoes and flies are starting to bug me a bit (sorry, couldn’t help it) and I have to bike back up this bouncing, headache-inducing dirt road.

I’m kidding, I’m not back to that universe yet.

I’ll be sixteen tomorrow, and to jump straight into cliché city, it can only go up from here, right?

(I mean, there’s a fairly nasty uphill and then the rest is pretty much all downhill back to my house, but let’s not get too caught up in the details.)

A Funny Kind of Gratitude

Amidst my fixations on the difficulties and opportunities for disaster that seem to pop up nearly every time my outlook approaches a point of genuine positivity and excitement, I have so, so, soooo many things to be grateful for. When I try to “count my blessings,” as they say, I am invariably overwhelmed by my fortune and have to go remember all the shitty parts of my life so I don’t burst with gratitude.

I’m kidding; that kind of overpowering sentiment is ALWAYS welcome into my consciousness with an open door and all the accommodations.

When I’m stuck in my little whirlwinds of panic, my mom tells me to “get bigger” and get outside myself. Honestly, this advice makes me a little annoyed, because when I’m hosting a pity party I really don’t want to be reminded of the incredibly vast and mystifying world that doesn’t include my endless, larger-than-life personal problems. Really, her advice makes me mad because of course I know she’s right; I don’t even try to deny it, I just resort to screaming “I don’t WANT to go outside!” Which is an obvious indication of my delusion and utter wrongness.

But in those moments of lucidity, of acceptance and fulfillment — aka after drinking coffee — I simply want to twirl around in my dress of clouds and sun rays in the field of laughter and collect a line dance of thankful people smiling so hard the only thing left is sore cheeks.

I’m just glad that that fairyland — the real world, as far as I’m concerned — can peek through the fog sometimes.

Because the truth is, when I look up from my feet shuffling along the tundra and notice the untouched mountains stretching to the ends of the earth and the minute stream trickling through the moss and the rich, just-budding alpine flowers opening their baby-flower eyes, I have absolutely no choice but to believe in magic.

There’s just no other explanation for the utter love I feel in the midst of a laughing fit so intense my breath takes an unpaid vacation and my eyes stream with the shared understanding of a joke that was, in reality, probably pretty lame. There’s no other explanation for the existence of a miniature floating mermaid house that doubles as a sauna or a glorified tree(lake)house. (See below)

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There’s no explanation devoid of magic for the beauty in becoming a silhouette with my sister lost in the clouds.

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When I read the works of a master or praise myself for a thoughtful gift-giving job well done or witness the authentic happiness of someone I care about or realize I overcame a crippling obstacle or stop to take in the utopia of wilderness I somehow gained the privilege to enter, that other, very real place of desperation and solitude becomes simply another ingredient in the magic.

If I didn’t know suffering, I would never be able to find inside me the understanding of the freezing homeless man stuck in a thankless refuge of alcohol or the glacier melting without ever being asked if it may have wanted to stick around and contribute to the ecosystem for a while longer. I would never be able to appreciate the extreme stroke of luck I encountered to be born into a situation of such freedom and fortuity. I would never fully experience my heartfelt compassion for the friend who will live the rest of her life without a mom or the kid who just couldn’t care less that he wears the same stinky clothes to school everyday because he’s a hell of a lot more concerned with staying away from his loveless and dangerous home.

I’m not saying I know what it’s like to be in any of these situations. I hope I never do. But my own suffering, however pathetic or self-imposed, has opened a whole world of feeling that adds an invaluable layer of depth to my own experience. I can understand the irrational obsessions and idiosyncrasies of someone I’ve never met. I am no longer grossed out or condescendingly perplexed by compulsions or socially unacceptable actions. When I find myself judging someone on their physical appearance or food choice, for example, I make a concerted effort to stop and remind myself that while I remain an irrevocably opinionated person and may not be able to completely halt those judgments, I actually, truly, do NOT believe in their validity and that perception will NOT dictate my understanding of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still harshly judgmental and make fun of strange occurrences all the time, almost subconsciously. It’s ingrained in our psyche to have an unacknowledged superiority complex lying under the thick strata of self-deprecation, and I am by NO MEANS an exception. I’m moody and volatile and selfish and secretive and close-minded.

But my acquaintance with shameful despair and bottomless doubt has exposed me to the nuance that makes the colors brighter and the sounds harsher, the wind colder and the boredom longer. It makes the disappointment greater, the tears saltier, and the apathetic insults cut a little deeper.

In essence, sorrow makes life sharper, and living in a blurry state of delusion is only half the human experience. (There is a time and a place for delusion, without a doubt).

I’m not to that annoyingly contented point where I can say I’m thankful for the hard stuff and I wouldn’t change my struggles because they’ve made me who I am today. (Annoying because we’re all jealous of people who feel comfortable with themselves and their situations). I’m definitely not there yet.

I’m just thankful I’m taking the time right now to remember the feeling of a heart ready to explode with the fullness of circulation.

A Body Manifesto

I love stories. I love novels and short stories and poems and movies and biographies and stories about the hilarious look the teacher made when he heard that one kid fart and then blush until his lips started trembling from the effort of trying not to let on that he was the culprit of that god-awful stench. But my favorite kind of stories are the ones behind the expressions I see every day and actions I scoff at or that shoot right over my head. Consciously or not, I anticipate the revelation that comes from hearing the stories of people I judge or misunderstand. (Judging is a whole ‘nother issue that we can discuss later. Don’t worry, I have lots of issues.) Despite the countless reminders I send myself about respecting each person’s own experiences and needs, I still catch myself determining the validity of others’ opinions or decisions for them. Because I am the ultimate authority on everything, obviously.

Any time I am lucky enough to hear someone else’s story, I am once again reminded of the seemingly insurmountable demons and obsessions that whirl around and stir up tornados — to varying degrees — in everyone’s personal realms, and the different lessons we’re all taught by them, however painfully.

As I mentioned before, my demons have grown pretty evil and gigantic lately. In fact, sometimes they look exactly like an extremely short, talkative girl with a big nose, brown hair, and thoughts bursting out of her brain (see picture in footer, or any picture of me ever, or just me). Whaddya know. Unfortunately, a lot of my struggles have taken the form of an epidemic that plagues most women in the country and nearly every teenage girl: body insecurity.

Yayyyy, a huge part of my problems are excessively characteristic of being a white, upper middle class teenage girl and center around superficial societal expectations. Could I be a little more dull and self-absorbed, please?

But body image/food issues have ballooned into a ginormous, uberly oppressive force that is ruthlessly conquering the brain of every woman (and men, but overwhelmingly women), extracting her sanity, and doubting her self-worth.

As something of a disclaimer, I’ve spent the last year and half almostly constantly immersed in this topic, or with at least half my being trained primarily on the issue, so I have a lot of ideas about it. My thinking swims and jumps around in shapes I can’t even begin to describe. I’ll have the unquestionable, fool-proof theory or solution in one instant and be utterly crushed and contradicted the next. In short, I still have no clue what I think or what the answer is.

That being said, I do have quite a bit to say on the topic, and if I can induce any kind of discussion, relation, release, inspiration, or really any authentic reaction, this mission is worth undertaking. As I travel on this healing journey of falling in love with myself and consequently this spectacular world I’m surrounded by, I hope that the bulk of my actions can benefit both my inner and outer environments. In other words, this exploration and liberation is undeniably for my own welfare and support, but my aim is to widen the scope and include other wise and delicious souls in the entire process and discussion.

My history with this beast includes a host of “disorders” and destructive habits, actions, and thought processes. I’m the Queen — and King, for that matter; hell, I rule the whole damn empire — of digging my own holes, dredging them into ruts so deep Everest-grade climbing ropes can’t pull me out, covering the surface so I can hardly breathe, and doing my best to drag everyone else down with me. One of my biggest struggles has been the fact that I really don’t fit into any of the “food issues” categories (mine ranges from binging to over-exercising and always accompanied by utterly crippling obsession).

For all of our sake, I won’t get too in depth into the endless list of dirty details that have festered in the midnight rut for far, far too long.

What I will say is that being at constant war with myself and being so focused on my own maintenance and image that there is truly no room for any other meaningful consideration SUCKS. Not letting myself eat sucks, eating so much I can’t move without pain sucks, feeling paralyzing shame and disgust at my own body sucks, letting my emotions and validity be inversely proportional to a number on a scale sucks, it’s all just sucky yucky muck.

While I am fully aware that my own food/body image obsession is wholly irrational and absolutely by no means universal, there is something wayyyy too common about this whole situation.

WHY DOES THE SIZE OR COMPOSITION OF OUR BODIES HAVE ANY BEARING WHATSOEVER ON OUR CHARACTER OR WORTH OR STATUS OR LITERALLY ANYTHING EVER??!?!?!?!

I get that some people feel a toned/muscular/skinny/fit body is a sign of discipline and self-care, but you know what’s not? Obsession and misery!

A lot of us who struggle with this monster are severely ashamed of its shallowness and vanity. At the risk of repeating what has become one of the most talked-about yet stagnant issues, I would, again, like to point out that it’s really REALLY HARD to feel worthy, capable, attractive, powerful, and lovable when every social construct designates “fat” as an insult. We’re at “WAR with obesity,” for God’s sake!

This preoccupation with food, body image, and appearance has become so entrenched in mental health and personal accomplishment that it’s become hard to isolate. How could this perpetual evaluating and comparing and squeezing of our flesh result in anything other than a deep, shameful yearning for approval and a hidden (or not so hidden) pocket of penetrating guilt?

Health is important. I’m just not convinced healthy means cutting out chocolate if that’s all you can think about or going to a spin class that you really really hate. A lot of my own behaviors are unhealthy and very difficult to change, but I think health has a whole lot to do with not squashing your own worth into a bullet that can’t fill a cartridge but is fully capable of being shot.

I’m not sure what healthy means for me, and I’m just as confused now as I ever was. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when a six-pack and sanity are coexistent, but that’s not right now. Maybe I’ll gain 30 pounds or maybe I’ll suddenly discover I can eat a meal without stuffing myself to the point of popping. I really just have no idea, and I’m learning (trying) to be okay with this state of not knowing, perched on the edge of catastrophe and bliss.

I feel a little unjustified making these statements because no matter how deeply in my soul I know these words to be true, I still (very) often fall prey to that inexplicably cruel wave of guilt and self-doubt. But I’m ready to surrender and break open the floodgates of hot, sticky, magnificent, boundless love that I know is stirring around somewhere. I can feel it boiling and spreading and aching to join with all of yours.

This will most likely be a resurfacing theme, and I’ll try not to linger too long but some things just need to be let out.

This is my story. My heart has an opening for yours.

If anyone has any experiences/thoughts/questions/insights/anything at all that surfaces for you I would be SO honored and thrilled to hear them. Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me at hirschbarae@gmail.com

Art by Gail Baker

Art by Gail Baker