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You Matter

18 Apr

Guys, I’m struggling a lot lately and I know a lot of other people who are, too. It just seems like so many of us can’t catch a break. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. A myriad of big and little hurts has piled up and we can’t catch our breath for the weight of life pressing down on us. This is hard.

 

But here is what I know to be true: We matter. You matter.

 

flowers stock photo

 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

 

You are necessary, friend. You are valuable. You were thought up and planned out and you are important.

 

I’m going to take some time today to meditate on that truth, the truth that I’m necessary and I’m loved. I’m going to dig deep and breath deep and do my damnedest to feel it deep in my core that I am a remarkable creation, deeply loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and pursued by the Holy Spirit. And you are, too.

 

You are so incredible. I hope you know that.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo via https://www.pexels.com/photo/flowers-flower-pink-17666/

On Bodies

22 Feb

I knew it would happen sooner or later. Kids are curious and vocal, so I can’t say I was super surprised by the question my five-year-old posed to another mom after story time.

 

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

 

Shit.

 

She clearly didn’t. I mean, she was wearing an empire waist dress, but she was obviously not pregnant. Also, we’ve got a hard and fast rule about saving your questions/comments about other people’s bodies until we’re in a private place.

 

The mom (a new and wonderful friend even after the comment, thank goodness) brushed it off with a self deprecating comment about how her belly was just “big” – she’s got a body I totally envy, by the way – and we got on with our conversation. It really wasn’t a big deal, except it was. It is a big deal.

 

Body image is a huge deal to me, something I desperately want to get right with my kids. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these little souls in my care are completely and utterly beloved by their Creator. I believe that more than I believe almost anything else in the whole world. They are glorious creatures and I will fight to the death for them to know that and hold it as truth deep within themselves.

 

I feel like I’m in a losing fight, though. I mean, I’m just one person and these sweet babies are living in a broken world, a twisted system that has been screaming the opposite from the moment they were born. My five-year-old girl has already been so inundated with labels, and appearance, and the importance of prettiness…it’s second nature to her and to me, too, if I’m honest.

 

I also feel like I’m up against a ticking clock. Right now, these kids take my word for Gospel. But that window is rapidly closing and we all know the day will come when my opinion won’t count half as much as the opinions of their peers. And I get that it’s just the way it goes.

 

I’m also very aware of politeness. I mean, it’s generally pretty rude to make comments about people’s appearance. And the Southerner in me is horrified by the thought of having impolite children.

 

But, after the episode at the library, I couldn’t bring myself to chastise my daughter because I really didn’t feel that she’d done anything wrong. I refuse to squelch her curiosity and I felt like the whole thing was more of an issue of tact than anything else. Honestly, I had no idea how to broach the subject with her.

 

Because the whole damn thing is a catch 22, isn’t it? At our house we believe that all humans deserve dignity and respect because they are creations of God. We believe that all bodies are worthy of respect…big, fat, tall, skinny, whatever. Those are descriptors. All bodies are valuable and, because of that value, they are beautiful. But we also believe that words have power. So, even though I know the word “fat” is just a descriptor, and even though I know that  am fat and most days I’m okay with that because the word “fat” in no way negates my value as a human, I also know we’re functioning in a broken system. I can’t very well teach my kids that words like “fat” are just descriptors and send them out to the playground. The first time they describe someone as “fat,” they’ll be accused of being mean and that’ll leave them so confused and hurt.

 

So what do I do? How do I teach my daughter to love her body and to recognize all bodies as valuable and worthy of love in a world that won’t play ball?

 

I stewed over this for weeks and finally called my best friend who gave me some good advice, ’cause that’s what brilliant best friends do. Acknowledging the weird double-standard of the situation, we agreed that my aforementioned rule of “don’t talk about people’s bodies until we’re in a private place,” should stand. And then she suggested that I give the kids some options. And it’s brilliant. In my experience, children respond better to alternatives than to just being told to say or do nothing. Teaching kids methods of self soothing as an alternative to violent outbursts is far more successful than just telling them not to get mad, for example. Also, I don’t like the idea of children internalizing things and not being allowed to ask questions. We need more question askers in my opinion.

 

So, instead of saying, “Is there a baby in your belly?” my daughter can say, “I love the happy colors in your dress,” and then feel free to ask me about the baby thing when we’re one-on-one.When I discussed it later with the kids, it went a little something like this,

We know that it doesn’t matter what you look like, a person’s heart is what makes them beautiful. But not everybody knows that. Sometimes people believe that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful or people sometimes think that there’s something wrong with their bodies. And it seems kind of silly to us because we know that that’s not true, but those people are confused and it makes them sad to talk about their bodies. We always want people to feel loved when they’re with us, so we don’t talk about things that might make them sad or hurt their feelings.  If you have a question about someone’s body or how they look, that’s totally fine, but wait until we’re alone and then you can ask me about it without being rude.

 

And then I gave them some options of what to say instead.

“I love the way your eyes look when you smile.”

“I like your purple shirt; that’s one of my favorite colors!”

“You look really strong/happy/joyful/healthy today.

“I really like playing with you; you’ve got great dance moves.”

I also think it’s important to consider how to compliment and comment on the person rather than just their appearance.There was a fantastic article by Sarah Powers in the Washington Post on how to compliment little girls that addresses this really, really well. Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas also has a good post on how to nurture a positive self-image in our girls.

While I certainly haven’t solved the world’s body image issues here, I think I’ve found a solution that will work for our family. We’ve practiced what we might say in certain social situations, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be more awkward gaffes in our future. And that’s cool because that’s how we learn. Ultimately I just want to raise some decent humans who make other humans feel decent, too.

What are your thoughts on teaching young kids about body image and respecting others? How would you have handled the situation? Lemme know!

xoxo,

Mary Susan

How Do I Love Me? (Let me count the ways…) – Shamekia’s Story

10 Sep

 

 

Shamekia is a goofball, a Cleveland native, and a human jukebox. Her desire to become Carmen San Diego when she grew up is part of the reason that she has traveled to three African countries in the past four years (Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya). She loves music, food, dancing, cooking, singing (notice a theme here?) and fat animals. She also loves children, particularly when they are listening to stories that she reading aloud.

 

What this really means is that we’re work friends, separated at birth, and making up for lost time just as fast as we can. Here’s Shamekia’s take on loving herself. Enjoy! -Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

shamekia

 

How Do I Love Me? (Let me count the ways…)

 

(((Deep Sigh…)))

 

I don’t typically share this with people, but…I didn’t become pretty until I was 27. I won’t bore you with my years of struggle with low self-esteem (although, the struggle is So. Damn. Real, y’all). I’ll just admit that that’s when things started to click for me internally.

 

Most people shudder when I say this, but here goes: I am fat. Legit fat. For some odd reason people think that I’m declaring my ugliness when I say those words. I know I’m beautiful. I know I’m sexy. I’m also fat. The twain shall-and do-meet.

There are days when I forget how far I’ve come (old habits die hard, blah, blah…) yet even in the midst of down feelings, I think I give off a bravado that is more confident than I give myself credit for. It’s like my inner Foxy Brown/Sasha Fierce hops into action (sometimes without my knowledge). Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned to love myself before I appreciated what was happening. Love came on like the dawn. At some point I realized I was standing in full sunlight without realizing that it happened.

 

When things aren’t clicking for me, when I don’t walk with my normal strut, I have to remind myself of when I was 13 (the worst year of literally everyone’s life). I have to tell that girl that things get so much better. I have to tell her that she is and will be surrounded by love and laughter and people that truly respect her. That she is fearfully and wonderfully made by a God that is smarter than her, so don’t succumb to low self-esteem. Ever.

 

Loving my body is a constant lesson, like being given the same homework assignment that’s due every day. So, what’s so great about my body anyway?

 

My lips are the ‘Cupid’s bow’ shape that is simply made for deep red lipstick (shout out to Sephora).

 

My smile makes people happy.

 

My skin is the perfect shade of brown that looks good in every color.

 

My hair (when well behaved) is a rounded crown of ancestral glory.

 

My hips are epic. My. Hips. Are. EPIC. They are all that is great about womanhood and I’ve been told my many that my hips remind them of music.

 

Do I have to remind myself constantly of the prime real estate that my soul occupies? Yes.

 

Do I still battle with comparing myself to others? Sometimes.

 

Everyone has their bad days, and I’m not exempt from that. But that’s when I read my favorite poems:

I surround myself with friends. I cook. I dance. I laugh my ass off. I remember that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.

Words…and an Announcement!

9 Sep

Many of you may know from Facebook, but to make it super-official, I’m excited to share some good news. I am proud to announce that I’ve joined Stephanie from the Help a Girl Out project as a co-writer, project developer, and general brainstormer. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of this project that is already making a huge difference in the lives of women and girls! Go check us out on Tumblr…and just as a little incentive, here’s a teaser from my first official HAGO post. You can read the rest here…thanks for loving and supporting me, y’all! And as always, don’t forget to love yourself! -MS

 

 

The other day a coworker returned to the office from her lunch break visibly irritated about an encounter she’d had at a restaurant. As she was eating her lunch, a nearby child looked at her, then asked his mother, “Mom, why are some people so fat?”

 

When my coworker related this story to us, everyone became irate.

“You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!”

“That’s horrible!”

“I’m so sorry!”

“How rude!”

 

Apparently the child’s mother replied something about how some people eat different things and bodies are different. My coworkers were horrified by this response. They wanted the mother to explain to the child that he shouldn’t make comments on people’s appearance in public. I rather agree with both responses, given that the child was old enough to know about politeness in public. That’s really not the point, either way, though.

 

What horrified me the most was everyone’s reaction to my coworker being labelled “fat.” The feeling of indignation in the room was palpable. It was as though she told us that the child had called her “stupid” and I was reminded of this quote:

 

“She was struck by how mostly slim white people got off at the stops in Manhattan and, as the train went further into Brooklyn, the people left were mostly black and fat. She had not thought of them as “fat,” though. She had thought of them as “big,” because one of the first things her friend Ginika told her was that “fat” in America was a bad word, heaving with moral judgement like “stupid” or “bastard,” and not a mere description like “short” or “tall.” So she had banished “fat” from her vocabulary.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

 

We’ve all been admonished to banish the word “fat” from our vocabulary. How many times have we said, “I’m fat” only to be assured through heartfelt euphemisms that we’re merely big-boned, chubby, fluffy, plus sized, full figured, anything in the entire world but fat.

 

 

Read the rest here!

Go, Shawty! – Layne’s Story

2 Sep

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Layne from mrspennylayne. Guys, Layne is just one of those infectious people gifted with the ability to make folks feel treasured. Because you are treasured when you’re with her; it’s magical. I need you to know that one of my favorite memories of this girl is from college when I directed the pageant on campus (and that’s a completely different post for another time) and Layne’s talent was performing the Evolution of Dance. She nailed it every. single. time. Girl has moves, y’all.

When she’s not dancing, which is rare, she’s hanging out with her husband, John Boy, and their bulldog, Gus, at their lakeside home in Arkansas. Her heart is so good and her blog is fantastic. I seriously can’t tell you how much I enjoy her point of view and distinct writing style. I know that’s the former English teacher in me, but it’s true.  So, please be sure to visit her and give her some love! -MS

 

 

my goodness, it’s good here. it’s comfy to be in ohblessyourheart. it really is. probably because MS has one of the most welcoming hearts i know. her little online living room is just homey to me.

 

my journey to accepting my body as it is started and ended within about a 20 minute time span. maybe a little longer. maybe.

 

i have always been tiny. picture a normal size kid, reduce it by 20%, and there i was. just a tiny little blonde girl with a chipmunk laugh and the uncanny ability to not know when to stop. (i kid. except i was a teensy bit annoying. still am. workin’ on it.) sure, elementary school was hard, and i got teased a lot and really bullied quite a few times. but i was raised in a traditional home with some really great people. for the most part, i never felt like i had to hide who i was. (my parents, to this day, celebrate my quirks. Christmas 2012? “we picked out the ugliest purse. it looked just like you.” it totally did, and i love it even now. and then when everyone got little disney coin purses to keep in their car? “we got you stitch because you’re kind of a mess.”) all that to say, i never felt stifled growing up. but at 4’9.5″ i was just waiting to…actually…grow…up.

 

 

this was taken in fall 2012. yes…that’s me, age 25, unable to ride a state fair of texas ride. the struggle is real.

 

 

i don’t know what made us check. honestly, it was probably an episode of oprah or something. but we decided when i was 14-years-old to make an appointment with an endocrinologist. at the time i thought this was cutting edge technology. (and it really might have been. i have no clue. i never researched it after my 20 minutes of dreaming.) they could take a sample of your blood and determine if you were going to grow anymore. i remember dreaming of the possibilities. what if i were 5’3″ and could be like my friends that grew over summer and looked so skinny come fall? what if i were taller than my sister? my parents? what would my new legs look like? (i literally have short everything. short arms. short torso. short legs. short attention span. glitter. ponies. donuts. bye-bye.) they took my blood. i think i might have cried for a minute because i hated having my blood drawn. then we waited anxiously in the doctor’s office and dreamt of the possibilities.

 

“well, it’s official. you are not going to grow another inch.” (he lied. i grew a half an inch my senior year. rounding me out to a grand total of 4’10.”)

 

just like that, my dreams of long limbs and towering over everyone were crushed. it took 20 minutes total. it should’ve broken me. 14 is a fragile age for any girl, and i was no exception. but, ya’ll, it was somehow one of the most empowering moments i had ever experienced. i remember looking around the room and having the emotional equivalent of an “opa!” moment. it just somehow, magically, didn’t bother me. i remember thinking to myself, “welp, this is as good as it gets. better get used to it. it’s my forever.”

 

for me, it was a gift. it took the guesswork out, and it made me feel 20 steps ahead in this difficult self-acceptance journey. i just felt free. i felt like myself because i was myself. this was me.

 

sure, i still sometimes wish i was a little taller. when you’re this far under 5 foot, it’s hard to stay in shape. on a good day, my body is kind of pin-up. on a normal day, my body is kind of pinup gummy bear. i have a theory that when you gain 1lb. it looks like you’ve gained 10lbs. and, lucky me, for whatever reason, i gain weight in my face first. thanks for that, universe. care for a few more details? i’ve broken my nose well over 10 times. even tried to have surgery to fix it, but it got broken again. it’s so, so crooked now. i was told by a doctor that i have the equivalent of a 90-year-old person’s back. all kindsa loss of disk space and arthritis goin’ on there. i have random bouts of anxiety, and i have years of insomnia under my belt. (thanks, night shift!)

 

but you know what? it’s my body. all of it. mine. i could’t possibly be another inch taller because then i wouldn’t be me. and i have to be who i was created to be. it’s the only way my life feels comfortable. my short, curvy figure, my crooked nose, my crazy wonky back, and my ability to stay up for 30 hours for no reason. i can’t claim that i never have moments of insecurity. i have them all. the. time. it’s just part of being an ever-evolving human. i get self-conscious about my nose or if i randomly gain a few pounds. but i always go back to one particular quote that grounds me and helps me over and over again: comparison is the thief of joy.

 

and i wholeheartedly love this joyful life. opa.

I Move Through Every Inch of Me – Kate’s Story

27 Aug

kateLater in the Love Yourself series, we’re going to discuss the plus-sized end of the weight spectrum. Today, I’m proud to share Kate’s story, which covers the complex issue of struggling to put on enough weight while being told that certain parts of her body were too big. Kate’s story is one of bullying,confusion, and ultimately redemption.

Kate is a dear, dear friend of mine. She’s the kind of friend I call and random times with random questions and she always assures me that I/my children are completely normal. (No, that doesn’t make her a liar. It makes her nice.) I can’t begin to count the number of times we’ve talked each other down from one cliff or another. She’s a Parent Educator with a MS in Family and Child Studies. Kate lives in Texas with her rescued pup, Penny, where she dances, tells stories, knits, paints, and loves on kids and families. You can read all about Kate and Penny’s adventures here.

Don’t forget to love yourself today! -MS

 

 

I Move Through Every Inch of Me

I grew up with a nontraditional body image issue. I was always fairly severely underweight (due, in part, to being on Ritalin from the age of six, and an undiagnosed acid reflux issue), never got enough sleep, and wasn’t physically active. I was pale, skinny, and had large, dark circles under my eyes.

 

My slender frame didn’t save me from ridicule. Kids are pretty awful. “She’s so skinny, I bet she even smells like spaghetti” was whispered behind my back at age ten, and in high school, a girl told me a boy had said “She looks like a man trapped in a woman’s body.” “You’re flat, Kate, like Meryl Streep” my well-meaning best friend in fifth grade said.

 

And yet, I knew gaining weight would be bad. Very bad. I watched female relatives (who I thought slender) go on diets when they went over a certain weight. Even my classmates were taking slim fast in their lunch.

 

The year I turned twelve, I started out weighing 66lbs, and ended weighing 86. I finally registered on the percentile. Hopefully people stopped thinking I was anorexic or being starved.

 

But then I hit an interesting dilemma. I was fourteen and at a pool party for my dance team. The director (who was already pulling girls aside and telling them they couldn’t dance until they lost weight) was telling us “Every girl either has a stomach problem or a butt problem.”

 

I glanced down at my flat stomach, knowing I was as small as I could possibly be. Sarcastically, I said, “I guess I have a butt problem, then!”

 

She looked at me, looked down at my hips, and gave me a knowing look I translated to “Uh, DUH!”

 

I was so startled. I knew my waist was really small, and I knew there was nowhere “in” to go as far as my hips were concerned. And hadn’t my relatives always protested when I wanted to sit on their lap because I had a “bony butt?”

 

But then this knowing woman had just affirmed that something on my body was too…big?

 

It continued. Measuring us for our crushed velvet unitards (I KNOW), she winked at me and told me she’d “give me 30” on my bust measurement, measured my waist (almost 24), and said “but what I’m really worried about is your hips.”

 

At the end of the season, she separated us into groups, the circles and the lines. The circles had to run a whole lot, and the lines had to tone. I was in the lines. But then she began workout stations and looked pointedly at me when she said “This one will help trim your hips.”

 

I began to think maybe she was right. Even after I realized how manipulative and awful she was and left the team, going to a strength and stretch class with my mom, I told the instructor I wanted to “trim up these,” pinching the tiny amounts of fat accumulated in between my hips and waist. Any time the question of figure came up, I told people I was a flashlight, which was straight until it hit the lens, then out sharply and straight down. I turned around in the mirror, constantly checking. What did a good butt look like?

 

College came around. I continued the narrative. “I look like a teenager” “I have a…big? butt, possibly” “I don’t have a figure” “I look like a prepubescent girl.” A popular thing for girls to say was that we were made to look exactly such a way that would be most pleasing to our future husbands (a concept I find absolutely disgusting now). My (often silent) humorous reply was “oh no, I’m going to marry a pedophile!” I remember one wonderful moment when, after hearing me joking about my sub-par body, my friend Summer stopped me on the stairs in our dorm and said “KATE! You have a FIGURE.”

 

Wait, what? Is that what that was? I have…a figure. Hips, not a huge butt, but a graceful curve coming from a narrow waist, which rested beneath broad shoulders…almost an hourglass.

 

But, still…

 

Surely no normal man would be attracted to this flat, altogether unattractive, loud, opinionated girl, preordained since before the beginning of time or not.

 

And I was proved right over and over again. No normal man seemed at all interested in what I offered. Which furthered the thought – I’m not exactly pretty. I’m not the kind of person someone would find attractive. I’m not going to have a Some-Enchanted-Evening across-a-crowded-room moment. I’m not the kind of girl boys fall in love with. If someone wants me, it will probably be in spite of my appearance.

 

I didn’t end up dating anyone at all until I was 26. And that was a huge mistake we won’t go into here. I did learn, however, that being wanted didn’t make me feel beautiful. It made my body feel like it was not mine. It was hollow, used.

 

Writing this post, I had time to think when I felt most beautiful. I may never consider myself a knockout, but God do I feel beautiful when I’m dancing. When I’m making something. When I’m playing with children or holding babies.

 

I think body acceptance has more to do with its use than with its appearance.

 

When I move through every inch of me, I am every bit as sensual as the most seductive woman on the planet (no matter what anyone else thinks). When I run around with those littles, I am grace and motherhood without being a mother. When I peer down to double check a pattern, or lift up the safety goggles to examine my most recent project, I am a powerful, strong, capable woman. I hope that is the beauty that radiates from me, regardless of my appearance.

 

Oh, and those “too-big hips”? They look kick-ass in a pencil skirt.

Guest Post: Help a Girl Out by Stephanie Barnard

22 Aug

 

The following is an excerpt from a fantastic post by my college friend, Stephanie. Stephanie and I worked on a few projects together in school and I have always admired her heart for others. She’s just so kind. She’s also an incredibly talented artist, a special education teacher, a fairly recent newlywed (holla!) and the creator of Help a Girl Out, a project dedicated to reminding women to love themselves. She’s been featured by the Tyler Morning Telegraph and you can find out more about HAGO on Tumblr or on Facebook. Do be sure to read the rest of the post. You absolutely will not be sorry…there are graphs! That’s all from me; the rest is Stephanie. -MS

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Caged” by HAGO featured artist Allie Lamb.

 

The Results Are In.

I finished the last question and clicked Publish.

 

“Do you really think anyone will fill it out?” I asked.

 

“I’m sure of it,” replied my husband. (He has always been the optimistic one.) “Just wait,” he said. (Come to think of it, he’s always been the patient one too.)

 

I sat at the computer for what seemed like an hour, as if staring at it would magically send a personal mental email to all the women on my friends list.

 

Nothing. “Why don’t you turn it off until tomorrow? Give them time,” he said.

 

Ugh. I ignored him. I couldn’t pull myself away.

 

I’m not really sure what prompted me to create the survey in the first place. It’s no secret that women all over the planet struggle with self-image issues. So why did I need to see the actual numbers? Maybe I needed affirmation that I wasn’t alone in my self-consciousness. Maybe it was nerdiness, remnants still left from college, manifested as a social experiment. Maybe I was just a bored teacher with nothing better to do on my summer break. Who knows?

 

It consisted of only five, anonymous questions so I figured at least one person would humor me, but then again with all the BuzzFeed lists, quiz results, and YouTube videos that get posted to Facebook, maybe no one would even notice my little survey.

 

Then I saw it.

 

The response box that was previously empty now contained a one.

 

A one!

 

Someone had pitied me! Hooray!

 

A surge of excitement shot through me. It literally felt like I was bungee jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Knowing this, you can only imagine how I felt over the next 24 hours.

 

2.

24.

85.

153.

270.

 

To say the response was incredible is an understatement. My original goal was to entice at least ten women to participate, but obviously the final number far surpassed a measly ten. As of today, a total of 345 women and girls have completed the Self Image Survey.  If I had not discontinued it, I have no doubt that the number would still be rising. Even before considering these women’s answers, the sheer number of participants screamed “This is a big deal!”  However, it wasn’t until I began scanning the responses that I realized exactly how big.

Read the survey results for yourself here.

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