On Body Image Issues

Anyone who looks at me for the first time will notice that my stomach…well…sticks out. I am overweight, and there is no doubt about that fact.

I will even admit that I’ve had my insecurities, at times, about the fact that I am overweight. Part of it is because of how I look, because honestly I often haven’t liked the look of my stomach sticking out. Part of it is the very legitimate concern that, because I’m overweight, I am at an increased risk for just about every health problem ranging from heart attacks to arthritis at an earlier age. And then part of it is that I feel like I’d be perceived of poorly because I look a little fat.

I think that these insecurities—insecurities which seem to be shared by many other people who’ve struggled with body image issues—need to be broken down for everyone’s sake:

The Idea that a Stomach Sticking Out (or Jiggly Arms or a Fat Neck) Looks Ugly

I could be wrong, but I think this message has been sent because the idealized bodies in our society are viewed as athletic men with six-pack bodies and women in fashion who wear size 0 clothing.  As such, many of us strive for that size 0 or that six-pack body. And I can’t lie—at times before, I have been envious of guys with six-back bodies from a looks standpoint.

For people who feel this pressure, you ARE beautiful. And I mean that. Just by virtue of the ways you can help people by using the body you have, you are beautiful. Whether you are of a healthy weight, overweight, or underweight, you are beautiful because you have a body that you can use to give smiles, help others in various ways, and make the world a better place.

Concerns about Being Overweight and Having Health Problems

We hear all the time about how overweight people are at risk for everything from arthritis to heart disease.  People of a healthy weight don’t need to tell those of us who aren’t about all of the potential health problems as if we’re ignorant; I, and many other overweight people, know and are aware of these issues.

At the same time, it’s also not healthy to be underweight. Being too underweight comes with health problems as well. Furthermore, taking measures too drastic to lose weight could result in anything from eating disorders to exercise addictions, which also are not healthy.

The bottom line is that, while it’s ideal for people like me to lose some weight, none of us should go to the other extreme and try so hard to lose weight that we create a new set of health issues.

Worries about Being Perceived of Poorly Because of Looking Overweight

Many of us, myself included, worry that, because we’re viewed as fat, we’ll be viewed as: a) lazy, b) not conscious of our health, c) couch potatoes, d) sloppy, e) not having the “right” kind of body to attract a significant other, or f) some or all of the above.

I do not belittle any of these insecurities because, quite frankly, I’ve experienced all of them! People who have no idea how many miles I like to walk when I relax in my free time have told me to “go to the gym,” and people who don’t know how hard I’ve worked to tweak my diet have questioned whether I care about my health, for example. And, as silly as this sounds, parts of me wondered at times in the past if my not having a girlfriend had to do with my not having the right physique.

If you experience any or all of these insecurities, too, my big encouragement is that we should not let ourselves be defined by how others view us, or how we think others view us. We should define ourselves in other ways, and hopefully ways that give us more fulfillment and happiness than stress and dismay.


While the individual insecurities are different, there’s one central theme with each insecurity. Namely, they all revolve around concerns that our bodies are not sufficient, that they are not “enough.” And that is a lie. Our bodies are enough. Believing anything short of that would be unjust to ourselves.

Picture of me
This was me at the International Young Leaders Assembly at the United Nations in Summer 2016. The body in the picture is capable of doing great things, and so are others’ bodies.

 

Addressing Concerns About #MeToo

I know people who have supported the people who’ve decided to post #MeToo and the people who are #MeToo but are too scared to post it. I’ve known people who’ve used this as an opportunity to reflect on their own actions and see how they may contribute to a culture where so many people are “Me Toos.” And, sadly, I also know many people who can say #MeToo.

However, I’ve also heard lots of other people express various concerns as a result of #MeToo. In this post, I will address the concerns I’ve heard as best as I can. So, here we go…

Does this mean that we can’t hug anymore?
Okay, so I can somewhat relate to this question, because I have friends, both men and women, who love to give a good hug (and a few of you may be reading this post).

But to answer this question, we can hug, as long as the desire to hug is mutual. The key, of course, is that it’s mutual, and if it’s not mutual then you shouldn’t force a hug on someone. So, if you open your arms to invite a hug, but they don’t respond, consider that a “no,” and back off. Consent matters.

What about all the gray areas?
Especially with the Aziz Ansari story, which I wrote on and shared a post on, numerous people (mostly men) brought up “gray areas.”

If you feel that you’re in a gray area, the best thing to do is ask. By asking, you know whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. The worst thing that could happen is not a “no,” but committing an action that goes against the wishes of the person you’re with.

But what if I can’t read someone’s mind?
Some news media, including an article from The New York Times, think that the only crime of people like Aziz Ansari is the inability to read the mind of the person they’re with.

Frankly, there’s no mind reading that needs to be done. As I said in a previous blog post, unless both people say “yes,” the answer is “no.” If you need to read someone’s mind to try figuring out whether someone wants sex, then the answer is still “no” unless you get a clear “yes.”


Hopefully, I’ve addressed the biggest concerns that people have expressed about the #MeToo movement. That being said, I recognize that there are limits to my perspective, and if anyone else has concerns about #MeToo or their own responses to concerns about #MeToo, please reply in the comments section below.

Ageist Responses to Florida Shooting Survivors-Turned-Activists

“Well, let’s ask ourselves, do we really think—and I say this sincerely—do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

“The big question is: Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

“I absolutely know these children are heartbroken. But I also know they probably do not have the logistical ability to plan a nationwide rally.”

While some of the conspiracy theories about the Florida shooting survivors-turned-activists has both gotten attention for all the wrong reasons and been debunked (and rightfully so), the ageist sentiments such as the ones in the quotes above (all of them coming from prominent political commentators) should not just be debunked but also called out for what it is: ageism.

Ageism—defined by me in a blog post many months ago as “a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look”—is very apparent in some of the ways people are viewing and judging the shooting survivors-turned-activists. By saying that these teens are not capable of organizing a nationwide rally since they’re seventeen, or shouldn’t be promoted just because they are “teens in an emotional state,” we’re judging them as being too young (and therefore incapable) of doing certain things. And by promoting such messages about these teens not being capable of certain things because they are teens, we’re actually promoting ageism.

But it’s not enough to say that people are ageist for saying that high school kids are not capable of being activists on a national level. I urge us to go a step further, by promoting narratives that debunk such ageist thoughts. I urge us to promote the story of Malala Yousafzai, who became internationally known for advocacy at the age of 12 and nearly died because of her advocacy. I urge us to promote the story of Mo’ne Davis, who at age 16 has gone from being a pioneer (a girl starring in Little League Baseball, a sport traditionally for guys) to launching a shoe collection that benefits impoverished girls. I urge us to promote stories like that of my fellow Dickinson College alum Noorjahan Akbar, who was featured in major publications as early as when she was 19 and 20. Stories like these are the most powerful rebuttals to any notions that young people are not capable of doing something special just because they’re young.

People of a wide variety of ages are capable of doing special things. Young people are capable of doing special things. Old people are capable of doing special things. Middle-aged people are capable of doing special things. Ultimately, there are some things that do keep us from doing great things, but age is not one of them.

Why We Should Avoid Revenge

There have been times in my life when I felt wronged by someone. In many, if not all, of these instances, I was tempted to seek revenge on the person who wronged me. Most of the time, I didn’t give in to this temptation. But on a couple of occasions, I did.

I know that I am far from the only person who considers revenge against the wrongdoer. In fact, a recent blog post had to do with the Trump administration seeking revenge against the United Nations, which voted against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

However, I make a call for all of us, regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs, or personal views on other matters, to avoid revenge.

One problem with revenge is that revenge is so focused on “getting even” with someone that we fail to consider how our “getting even” might hurt the supposed wrongdoer, or hurt others who have nothing to do with the situation in which we were wronged. The Trump administration’s decision to cut American funding to the UN is an example of this—the administration’s desire to get even with the UN after the vote on the Jerusalem issue will end up lessening the UN’s ability to deliver humanitarian services, and as a result will hurt people who have absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s decision or the UN vote. While I hope that our struggles with revenge will not have consequences as potentially catastrophic as the example from the Trump administration, revenge nevertheless has the potential to hurt others.

If we seek revenge, we could also hurt ourselves. For example, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sought revenge on the Mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey because he didn’t support Christie’s campaign for a second term as governor, and the result of that revenge (closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge) was a scandal that ended any hopes of Governor Christie becoming President Christie in 2016. Examples like Christie’s demonstrate that it really is in our own best interests to avoid revenge.

Critics of my anti-revenge message might say the following: “What about seeking revenge for unjust actions? Wouldn’t that be okay?” Actually, that is not okay. The most effective movements for human rights in recent decades, and the most effective human rights activists, urged people to avoid revenge. Mahatma Gandhi once said that, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Malala Yousafzai didn’t “want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, rejection, and retaliation.”

I will, however, go one step further than simply urging us to avoid revenge. We should “bless those who persecute us” and “love our enemies,” as Jesus Christ (another proponent of peace) said. We should do what Gandhi, Malala, and Dr. King did, and respond to hatred and hurt with love and compassion instead of revenge.

On the Aziz Ansari Sexual Misconduct Story

I have to admit that I knew very little about actor, comedian, and filmmaker Aziz Ansari before I heard about the sexual misconduct allegation against him.

In the wake of the babe.com story detailing Ansari’s sexual abuse, I learned about his career, his apparently being a feminist, and his committing actions that go against his supposed values.

Now that I know some about him, and now that I’ve read the article detailing the sexual misconduct allegation against him, I think that it’s time to say a few things that are relevant to this case and the theme of exposing blind injustices on this blog:

  1. We must listen to accusers. I feel the need to emphasize this because many people haven’t listened to Ansari’s accuser, who goes by the name of “Grace.” Doing anything less than listening completely and wholeheartedly to Grace would go against the very notion of listening to and empowering victims—something that #MeToo is supposed to be all about. In the spirit of #MeToo, and of human decency in general, we must listen to her.
  2. We need to learn about consent if we haven’t already. Unless both people say “yes” to kissing, advances, and sex, the answer is “no”! If one person says “no,” like what the woman said in the piece, the answer is “no”! If someone doesn’t specifically say “no” but makes body motions or verbal cues indicating that the answer is “no,” the answer is “no”! And silence means “no” unless you’re told “yes”! I just feel that this review of consent needs to be made painfully clear in the aftermath of how some of the talking heads handled Aziz Ansari and the issue of consent.
  3. We must also stop trying to justify actions that cross others’ boundaries. In the case between Grace and Ansari, people on social and even some news media tried to find ways to justify what she said Ansari did to her. Honestly, there is no defense for kissing, going at her breasts, or anything semi-sexual or sexual he did when there is no consent! We should stop defending such non-consensual actions as a society, because if we do, we’re frankly starting to become part of the problem that led to #MeToo.
  4. We should remember that the Ansari story is a cautionary tale of how advocating against injustice doesn’t make us immune to being unjust. Ansari shows that you can be a feminist (which was how he described himself) yet still do something to a woman that you regret. If I’m honest with myself, there have been multiple times when I too have advocated against an injustice only to commit the injustice I’m trying to advocate against. If one man could be a feminist who assaulted a woman, and if I could be a racial justice advocate who has advocated for things that hurt people of color,[1] then you could certainly be, say, an LGBTQ+ supporter who has said or done homophobic things.
  5. Finally, the Ansari case should be a call for all of us to examine our own actions. Some of us may shock ourselves by committing the very injustices that we advocate against. However, unless we carefully look at our own actions, both good and bad, we will repeatedly commit wrongful actions and never do anything to correct our wrongs. May we not make this mistake.

For some of us, maybe even most of us, following all five of these suggestions will be difficult at best. However, it is in our own best interests, and the interests of those around us, to start acting on these suggestions.

[1] I once advocated that my college would not ban an anonymous social media application called Yik Yak, even though it was clear that some of the things on Yik Yak were repeatedly hurting students of color. It wasn’t one of my better moments, to say the least.