Beautiful in Black & White: My Experience with the 4th Trimester Bodies Project

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It started with a request to sign a copy of my book. She'd be in the same state, after all, and seeing as how I only live four hours north, maybe I could meet up and we could take a few selfies together to prove we'd inhabited the same physical space after years of conversations in 140 characters and status updates. 

"Of course," was my response. No matter that I would be the one driving the four hours. When you're this far north, hotel rooms and rest stops are just real life if you want to maintain contact with real life. Besides, Target and Starbucks don't exist where I live. If I want you to like me in person, I'm not about to ask you to make a first impression while navigating around Amish buggies and breaking for moose standing in the middle of the roadway. If I had stopped there, if nothing more had come out of my mouth, maybe signing a book and laughing over bad camera angles would be all that had happened. But I didn't. I kept talking. "Maybe I should get naked for you, too."

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson.  Click here to purchase.  

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos/ Book by Ashlee Wells Jackson. Click here to purchase. 

There was a chuckle in response. Or, I think there was one. I'm a writer. I hear the rhythm of the voice writing the words that would be spoken if the conversation was a spoken one. I fill in the blanks with facial expressions, uuhhhmmm's and ahhhh's, and the blinks that take up the space around the words I hear in my mind. She chuckled when she read my sentence about getting naked; eyes twinkling, probably. She knows my sense of humor. We've known each other a few years now, at least. "Maybe not naked," she said. "Just down to your bra and panties." 

"Only if you buy me dinner first," I shot back. And she chuckled again and I laughed out loud because I actually did Laugh.Out. Loud. I detest the LOL acronym. I know for a fact my sister never LOL's even though every single text she sends indicates otherwise. When I Laugh.Out.Loud, I actually am. Otherwise, I am merely SWMWME (Smirking While Smiling with my Eyes) or LIMH (Laughing Inside My Head). LOL is like the push up bra of the Facebook world. We all know you're selling us more than you've actually got, so let's drop the act and just call it what it is, okay?

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

It was all in fun. No commitment. Just banter. But then she said "YES" and I knew the yes wasn't about the dinner joke but about the me getting down to my 'chonis thing because, it turns out, my friend, the famed Ashlee Wells Jackson of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, had an opening for her Portland, Maine, shoot, and she was sending me a contract to sign and ... and ... 

Holy...

Shit. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is what happens when you make a habit of pushing your own boundaries using thinly-veiled sarcasm. There's really no commitment because a No in response to your Maybe I could can be brushed off as a joke and no one gets their feelings hurt. A Yes still comes with an automatic Out because I was Totally Kidding and can quip about how I never let a date get to third base before the third date, at least, because I have fucking STANDARDS. There's alway a moment of pause when the Yes happens. The window of opportunity to wrap my arms around the Thing I Probably Really Want to Do But am Totally Terrified Of is small. Generally, it's understood that I am verbally agreeing, all semblance of general smartassery lost, because Shit Just Got Serious, y'all. 

I'm signing the contract before I have had a chance to process the ramifications, not because I'm an idiot, mind you, but because posing for a shoot in your well-endowed bra and Lane Bryant panties is scary shit, indeed, even for an outspoken body image activist like myself. If I even stop to think, just for a moment, I'm going to Come to my Senses and say But I was Joking and tell the Ashlee's in my life that they'd better give that  open slot to someone else cuz I'm not about to put All of THIS on the internet -- not when my every day is Spanxed and layered and carefully pieced together so as to maintain some semblance of containment and purposeful form. 

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

Photo credit: Laura Weetzie Wilson

 

Even after signing the contract, though, I toyed with the idea of backing out. Eliana didn't know it yet, because I needed to come to terms with the Actual Doing before I got her all jazzed up about a mother/daughter photo shoot with a famous and celebrated photographer, but she would be there, with me, celebrating herself as she is next to the mama hoping she was brave enough to do the same. I wrote a book about accepting the bodies we have right here and right now, the scale and Other People's Expectations be Damned. I have a website celebrating our bodies and ourselves in every possible way (which I suck at keeping updated because the aforementioned book takes a lot of time to write and edit and promote upon publication). I am outspoken about my struggles with mental illness - anxiety, depression, ADHD - and my eating disordered past and ever-present body image issues. Once it's a part of your story, it always will be. But until now, I've been able to hide myself behind words and stories that painted pictures for readers to relate to and see themselves in. 

I’m not important enough for media coverage. No need to find the most flattering dress for my shape to talk about my work on daytime TV. No magazine spreads to hope the PhotoShop Fairy I usually hate sprinkles her fairy dust over to maybe make a few bulges here and a few inches there smooth out and disappear. 

 

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

This is real. Black and white. No tummy-controlling undergaments. No bullshit. 

Period. 

It’s everything I stand for and nothing I’ve been brave enough to make happen. 

Until now.

Before packing up the overnight duffle and looking for a hotel, I told The Husband about the shoot and asked him to check out the 4th Trimester Bodies Project site, and waited for his response. I wasn’t looking for permission, mind you, but maybe I’d been hoping for an excuse to say no. “My Husband is being a giant asshole about this whole thing and I’d just rather not deal with the drama” is way easier to say than “Yeah, I know this is exactly what I stand for, but let’s pass on this round because I’m scared shitless that I won’t see myself as beautiful, okay?” But he only waited for me to tell him why I had directed him to the site to begin with because he knows me and simply nodded when I told him I had been invited to participate in the project. “You know I’d never stop you from doing something like this,” is what he said. So I was left with no way out but through my fear and self-judgement, booked the hotel room, gassed up the truck, told the excited little chingona-in-training what we were doing and why, and listened to her sing Eliana Mercedes Originals all the way to Portland about celebrating our bodies and loving who we are.

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

As we stood in the dressing room at Lane Bryant (because I’m not about to drop my pants for the world unless it’s in brand new undies, my friends), Eliana joked with me about third boobs and very solemnly pointed out the styles of panties and bras she thought fit best and so those are the ones I bought. I mentally patted myself on the back for taking the emotion out of the dressing room and replacing it with logic and reason. My audience was watching my every move and I wasn’t about to taint every future dressing room experience with tears and squished face disgust at what perceived flaws. My todays are building the foundation for her tomorrows, after all, and while I may be far from perfect, I’m working with what I’ve got. 

“Mama,” she asked me while trying on her black leotard at our last stop before we checked in for the night in Portland, “What’s so hard about celebrating our bodies? All we have to do is appreciate what we have.”

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

Photo credit: Pauline M. Campos

These are the words I remembered and held onto that night, because I didn't sleep. They are the words I remembered when I stood before Ashlee in nothing but a bra and panties the next day. The words I held onto when she pointed the camera at me and asked me why I was there during the pre-shoot interview. 

“What made you want to participate in this project?” she asked me.

I looked at Eliana, waiting patiently to join me for the session. She smiled at me because she knows I am not as brave as I say I am, and that’s okay. 

 

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jacskon

Looking into my daughter’s eyes, I responded. “Because perfection is photo-shopped. Because self-acceptance is reserved for the finish line. Because you can’t step on the winner’s podium until after you’ve proven your worth until after you’ve stepped on the scale. Every day, I wake up ready to teach myself love the me that I see again. Because this little girl is my reset button. 

Because there was no reason that wasn’t an excuse to say no and every reason that matters to say yes.”

And then we did it. We smiled and we laughed and we posed and celebrated our way through every shot and then again while working with Ashlee to select the image used for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. There was a headshot. There was a safe image. And then there was the one where I wasn’t shielding myself with my daughter’s body because I’m the one that’s supposed to be on the frontline helping her find her way, dammit. That’s what you see. This is who I am.

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson

We signed books for each other at the end, as planned. We hugged and smiled and selfies and hash-tagged because we don’t know when we will see each other again. I didn’t even make her buy me dinner. 

Later that night, after hours on the road in between errands on the way home, I saw the status update in my Facebook stream indicating that Ashlee had tagged me on her fan page. There were no tears. No self-deprecating tearing apart of the self I saw standing next to the future I am raising. “Look, Eliana! It’s us!”

“We’re beautiful, mama!” She squealed with pride. She beamed. She looked into my eyes, waiting for me to answer the question she would never dare to ask.

“Yes, baby,” I smiled back and met her eyes because I know this will be one of the moments she look back on as she grows and I need her to see that I believed the words I was saying are true. “Yes we are.” 

The Year the World Grew

I live in a small town.  

My chiropractor is my pastor, the closest Starbucks is a two-hour drive, and my 17-pound dog once tried to go bear-hunting at 2 a.m. I stopped him in time, but if my dog could have spoken to me as he self-righteously huffed his way back into our house, I'm pretty sure he would have insisted that he could have had him and it was my fault we weren't having bear for dinner tomorrow night.

Thanksgiving marked our first anniversary of our new life in Northern Maine. Last year we ate a turkey dinner at the local truck stop. This year we ate with friends as our kids played together in the basement. Last year we knew almost no one and purposely drove anywhere to see and talk with other people. This year, I haven't been able to catch a breath during the last week because our little world has grown.

We added a new friend today in this little world of ours. Her name is Josephine.

Eliana insists on calling her Josephina. And Josephina doesn't seem to mind at all.

The Beginning of Another End (In List Form)

* We stayed up all night cooking for our tiny Thanksgiving with new friends.

* Eliana decided to help Mama with the split ends I've been meaning to cut but haven't had the time.

* Thankfully the child has so much hair that it was next to impossible to see where she actually snipped off a good three inches of her curls.

* She's still grounded until she's 40.

* Pumpkin pie is possible even if you are egg, gluten, grain, soy, corn, and dairy free. And it's fucking fabulous.

* The Christmas tree is up.

* The Elf on a Shelf Eliana has named Etsy (shut up, she's clueless) has arrived for a month's worth of Hide & Seek.

* Naughty elves and crafty elves and Smore-Making elves are not allowed in my house unless they come with a house-keeping elf to clean up after, a blogging elf (with it's own elf-sized smartphone and laptop) to document the shenanigans, and a creativity elf who'd sole responsibility is to think up and set up tomorrow's escapade.

*There are presents to buy and wrap and mail, Christmas cards to order and address and send off.

* Tomorrow we decorate the tree. In four weeks we wake up to Christmas morning and surprises from Santa. In five we welcome a new year.

* Sometimes I stay awake at night just to hold on to a few extra pieces of today before it fades into tomorrow. Right now, that's exactly what I'm doing.

Redefining Flowers

 

My mother's birthday is tomorrow. She'll be 55.

My father's death anniversary is tomorrow. That makes things awkward. It probably always will.

Six years ago my father went into the hospital for heart surgery. All signs were good that he'd be in the hospital recovering and bitching about the crappy Thanksgiving meal and begging us all to sneak him in some of the good stuff. But signs can sometimes be misinterpreted. Or maybe they weren't and fate just decided to throw us a curve ball.

Either way, our family stood beside his bed while he took his last breaths. Then I caught my mother before she hit the floor.

They'd been married 30 years and he'd just turned 50 that year. I know that because I was just 6 weeks short of my 30th birthday when he died. I'd always kept track of my parents' anniversary and ages by adding 20 to my age for the anniversary and my dad's birthday and then subtracting one to get my mom's age.

That's how old they were when they got married and welcomed me into the world before the ink dried on their wedding certificate at the courthouse. Nineteen and 20.

So young, everyone said when my mother dropped me off at school.

So young, everyone said when she became a widow, quite unexpectedly, at 49.

I want to send her flowers for her birthday but flowers make me think of death. I want to send her something sparkly and frivolous but that makes me think he's been gone long enough for it not to hurt so much anymore. It's the same struggle every year. And I still feel guilty for being thankful no matter what day Thanksgiving falls on now. Pretty sure I always will.

The year my dad died, Thanksgiving happened to be the day before his heart stopped working and my mother celebrated her 49th birthday. Ying and Yang and good balances with bad and the world spins round and round. It's Thanksgiving week in 2013 and I learned of one friend losing an uncle just moments before I learned another lost her home and everything she owns in a house fire last night. Even her purse.

I breathe. And I remind myself that for every bad thing in this world, there is good. And that the good balanced out the bad. That equation works both ways. For every last day, there is a tomorrow.

Flowers. I'll buy her flowers, dammit. Flowers mean spring and life and a cheap vase my mom is never going to use again but never get rid of after the bouquet finally gets thrown away because she will always see it and know that is the vase her birthday flowers came in.

And she'll smile every time.

 

Get Ready for #BodyThanks

 

Are you ready for the #BodyThanks twitter party?

Tonight is the night and August McLaughlin and I are so excited to start off the holiday season with an evening dedicated to supporting each other and honoring all that we are.

Click here for party details and be sure to register by adding your twitter handle/URL on the linky to be eligible for prizes!

Spread the word, share the link, and let’s get #BodyThanks trending together. The holidays are difficult on those with body image, self-esteem, and eating disordered thinking (both active & recovering). Share the #BodyThanks love and we can join each other in a kick-ass show of support. Simply copy and paste this link to tweet, Facebook, pin, tumble, & Google + the #BodyThanks event for all it’s worth!

 

Because Cookies Fix Everything

There's more I need to write about. Other things I'd like to write about. But for now, it has to wait.

Every four hours, Eliana gets to sit tight with her nebulizer to control an extended asthma flare. It started two weeks ago with low-grade temp that she couldn't shake until recently.

She's complaining of leg pain and woke up at 3 a.m. because It Hurts, Mama. When I finally got her settled back into bed at 5 a.m., I watched her work to keep her legs straight because They Need to Be Straight, Mama, But They Hurt.

This morning she asked me if she has dry skin on the palms of her hands. I held her little hands in mine and they were soft and warm and her fingers curled into my own. "No, Baby," I said. "Your hands feel just right."

She frowned. "But they hurt, too. I wanted them to be dry so your lotions would fix it."

On the way home from errands this afternoon, I heard her tired voice from the backseat of the truck.

"Mama? I just don't feel like myself right now."

I know, little girl. I know.

Your daddy had growing pains, I say. And I tell her how he grew so fast his legs needed to be in casts to ease the stress on his bones. Eliana is going to be a tall girl (shes already over 48 inches at 6 year's old) and she's growing fast, just like both The Husband and I did. But I can't relate to growing pains, even if I was 5'1'' at 8-years-old and at my full adult height of 5'6'' by my thirteenth birthday. I just didn't feel them. Not like this girl.

I've watched her go from Silly and Happy to Listless and Grumpy so many times in the same day since this started that I'm not even phased when she switches extremes anymore. Thankfully, she just ate her first solid meal of the day at 6 p.m. (a bowl of black beans because she loves them so much and rubbed her belly to prove it) and she's back to herself. She asked for a chocolate chip cookie (gluten-free, but not paleo because I don't have any made right now) and I said yes.

And the cookie made her smile.

Monday we see her pediatrician to discuss asthma maintenance. I've made a note to discuss the growing pains. Until then, she gets cookies because seeing her smile makes me feel better.

Supply & Demand: Return of Kings, Dating Girls with Eating Disorders, & My Response

Warning: This post -- and the links contained within -- contain possible triggers for those with eating disorders and body image issues. For that reason, I am purposefully placing the image associated with the original piece I'm commenting on below the fold. It's been 48 hours since I first learned about the much-talked about Return of Kings post entitled Five Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder. Highlights include nuggets of wisdom like She's a Cheap Date and She's Fragile and Vulnerable. I won't lie; I read it three times. Not because I wanted to, mind you, but because the first two reads were almost blind. Like a gawker driving by a bad car accident, I couldn't take my eyes away from that they had just seen. My eyes had kept locking on the image of a woman in a little read dress and stilettos, hunched over a toilet with her fingers in her mouth, ready to force a purge.

Since it's publication last week, the site's publisher has issued a response to the resulting backlash. I'll give you a spoiler here and tell you now that the non-apology is almost worse than the original post, but (sadly) that is to be expected. ROK does not endorse eating disorders, they say. Rather (and this is the part where ROK pats themselves on their collective backs for their good graces) they proudly boasts their encouragement of America's single men not to "pass" on eating disordered women just because they have an illness.

Well, shit. Why didn't they say so in the first place? Silly people...we over-reacted!  Stigma = bad. Seeking out and preying upon the fragile emotional state of a woman in crisis = good!

I call bullshit.

But before anyone assumes I'm calling out the ROK site for piss-poor justifying the publishing of 5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Every single one of you 134k who liked this piece on Facebook get an equal share of the blame for providing the market.

Just like the media can't take the all of the blame for causing eating disorders, ROK cannot (and should not) be the sole focus of your outrage for trivializing them. While every one of the 5 reasons makes me cringe for fear of their impact on actively eating disordered women (and men) reading them, we must remember that without the demand, the supply eventually fades away.

Let me put it this way:

* Glossy magazines and emaciated models, headlines shaming celebs for gaining weight and praising them for their unrealistic thinness, and Hollywood approved diet pills and crazy fad diets...all of these topics (and more) are on a never-ending loop that keeps being re-written because we keep buying them.

Conclusion? We are part of the problem.

* ROK and 5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder is disturbing (at best) and triggering (at worst). And while ROK's very existence makes me wish the internet came with a giant mute button, the site is incredibly popular with a loyal fan base that has given them the platform to continue publishing pro-fat shaming writings and stories like the one we all happen to be talking about now.

Conclusion: We are part of the problem.

People like this, y'all. And I don't just mean those who may have liked or otherwise shared the post in order to share in the outrage. I mean LIKED as in By Golly, That's Brilliant! That, my friends, is a very sad commentary reflecting right back on today's society. Then again, so is the fact that ROK received death threats because of 5 Reasons and its publication. To those of you who thought that little gem was the way to go, don't help. Just sit down, shut up, and let the rest of us finish this fight because you're not doing us any favors.

I'll be honest; when I sat down to write this my intention had been to list all the ways 5 Reasons is hurtful, harmful, and even dangerous. I was going to tell you about my failed attempts at anorexia (except for that one time I made it 4 months on just one apple and a single slice of cheese every day), but Rita Arens did an incredible job discussing anorexia and why ROK crossed the line in this BlogHer piece. As a woman who would most likely be singled out by ROK as a Fatty with No Self Control should they see this post, I was prepared to speak about Bulimia, binging and purging, and the emotional ship-wreck I was during that time period that guys I was dating hadn't realized was part of the package.

That's what I was going to do, but then I sat down to write and this is what happened.

If you've suffered through or are currently dealing with an eating disorder, the world is not made up entirely of assholes. There are plenty of us good-hearted souls who are here to help. Rita listed her email in her BlogHer post encouraging readers to reach out should the need help.

I'm here, too.

Aspiringmama@gmail.com.

 

 

Honoring Ourselves with #BodyThanks

If I asked you what you are thankful for right now...what would you say?

Would you say you are thankful for your health? Your family and friends? Your job or the view from your bedroom window?

All of those and more, I would imagine. We're grateful for our kids and for our family pets and for flannel pajamas on cold winter nights. We thank the Universe for our coffee in the morning and our soft pillows at night. We thank the internet for existing and allowing us a creative outlet in whatever area of social media we've taken as our own path.

We are thankful for many things, even on the worst days. Those are the days nothing in the closet fits us right and we are so very cognizant of our battles with food, body, and self-image issues. We binge. We starve. We wish we were less. We want to be more.

We feel alone when we aren't on those days, and with Thanksgiving just a few days away, it's time for us to take just a moment to honor ourselves and our bodies ... just the way they are ... in a joint #BodyLove twitter party (November 25, 9-10 p.m. EST). I'm honored to have teamed up with the incredibly kick-ass August McLaughlin for this event and hope you are just as excited as we are.

So who are we, exactly? Allow us the pleasure of introducing ourselves via third-person bios, because that's who we writers like to exercise our license to be eccentric. It's okay. We're good with that, too.

 

About August

August McLaughlin is a Los Angeles-based health and sexuality writer with articles featured regularly by LIVESTRONG.com, DAME MagazineHealthy Aging magazine, IAmThatGirl and more. She’s also an internationally recognized certified nutritionist with specializations in eating disorders and sports nutrition. Before completing her first novel, In Her Shadow, she worked in the fashion, film and wellness industries, wearing hats ranging from Parisian runway model to culinary coach. Considering her longstanding passion for thrillers, she wasn’t surprised when her attempt at a memoir turned quickly into a fictional tale of suspense. August is represented by Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and loves connecting with fellow writers and readers! Learn more about August here.

About Pauline

Pauline Campos is founder of Girl Body Pride, a site born from the single realization that it was her actions and her words that will determine how her own daughter will see herself in the mirror as she grows more aware of the world outside of fairy tales and princesses. She also makes it a point to speak out on Girl Body Pride regarding the constant barrage of celebrity weight gain articles to hit the press. A former newsroom journalist with gigs at community newspapers before working at The Detroit News, Pauline is a regular contributor to 30SecondMom.com and has been featured on various websites. She blogs at www.aspiringmama.com, is Latina Magazine's #dimelo advice columnist, and shares her insight on the NPR Latino USA show in an advice segment called #LatinoProblems. Read more about Pauline here.

Details are still being finalized, so stay tuned. August and I will be posting updates on our blogs and via our social media channels as we confirm sponsors. For now, though, I can let one little piece of fabulous slip. BlogHer Deputy Editor Rita Arens, author of The Obvious Game (Inkspell, 2013), and an eating disorder survivor, has agreed to take part in the #BodyThanks discussion. Arens also has graciously offered a signed copy of her young adult novel --  about a young girl's changing world and the eating disorder with which she tries to control the uncontrollable -- to one lucky #BodyThanks participant. Please be sure to stop by Arens' blog, Surrender Dorothy.

You can thank us later.

Let's get this party started!

Spread the word, share the link, and let's get #BodyThanks trending together. The holidays are difficult on those with body image, self-esteem, and eating disordered thinking (both active & recovering). Share the #BodyThanks love and we can join each other in a kick-ass show of support. Simply copy and paste this link to tweet, Facebook, pin, tumble, & Google + the #BodyThanks event for all it's worth!

Register Here!

 

 


I'm going to the Voices of the Year Reception at #BlogHer15!
I'm going to the Evening at the Expo at #BlogHer15!
I'm going to the Multi-Culti Party at #BlogHer15!
I'm going to the Open Mic Salon at #BlogHer15!