Copyright: The Tired Feminist

Never quite better

Testing … Testing … Is this blog still on?

Good grief it’s been a long time since I sat down and thought about anything more than what needed to be handled five minutes ago. Everything’s the same. Everything’s different. I have had so much on my mind during the past few months, I hardly know where one thought starts and another ends. It’s a blur.

That the pace of life continues to speed up as it approaches the future should surprise no one who spends their days with  small children. I keep putting off mopping my kitchen floor — which is sticky from so many dropped morsels — because I can’t decide if it is less futile to do it on Monday, so that it is clean at least one full day before my child comes home from school or to do it on the weekend, when there are more people about to help out (and help mess it up immediately). There is no end to laundry and dishes, which I can literally never get to the bottom of. Even as I do both tasks daily, I haven’t seen the bottom of my sink in months. There’s just no time or energy in me to do the multiple loads necessary to keep up each day. How do folks with team-sized broods do it? I’m exhausted.

Time and energy. Yes, that’s been in short supply this spring, which in the desert started with increased pollen counts in February because I am the universe’s cat toy. Pollen season hasn’t been this hard on me in years. ERs, immune-boosting prescription drug cocktails (mostly of the nauseating steroid variety), and weeks of bedrest have been the hallmark of the past three months. Naturally, as pollen counts soared near a 12 on the 12-point air quality scale, the nightmare of food allergies nearly pushed me right off a cliff. Down to beans, plain pasta, tea, and water these days. (Okay, there’s some occasional poptarts in there, because I’m weak … and fuck it.) I’d probably be as skinny as Kate Moss, if it weren’t for my stubborn Polish genes and the steroids the doctor keeps putting me on so I can, you know, breathe.

In short, this spring has been a real bitch.

The last time I remember feeling this bad was the spring of 2007, which is, incidentally, the same time I made some rather bold changes in my life, personally and professionally. I’m poised to do the same now. (Yes, there’s something I’m not telling you, but it will be revealed next week.) Something has to give. Actually, something is giving. My body. Things have changed during those seven years. One full-term pregnancy later, my body is healing at glacial speed, if at all. Bruises are taking months to heal. Seriously. Colds are morphing into very serious infections in record-time and then taking an eternity to come back from. The old tricks aren’t working and I’m all out of ideas. (So are my doctors.) I am slowly realizing this is the new normal. I’m getting older. The never-tiring immune system disorder is taking its toll.

I’m not going to lie, I’m angry and maybe a little bit scared. When I got diagnosed in my early 20s, I knew this day would come. I knew there would come a time when it was all going to get that much harder. (And, no doubt, this will not be the last such milestone.) It’s overwhelming. It’s unavoidable. It’s not fair. Now what?

The most practical plan is one many with similar illnesses employ — strict routine. And when I say “strict,” I mean drill sergeant quality. What they do is an exacting daily schedule factoring in meals, treatments, medication times, exercise plans, sleep, hydration, and more. Meals become precise nutrient delivery systems. Exercise routines are implemented to promote maximum success. The weekly schedule becomes over-blown with doctor visits, treatments, alternative therapies, exercise classes, etc. Like food, sleep becomes just another factor in the multi-variable equation. The mantra becomes: MAXIMIZE! As in, “Maximize results.” And, “achieve personal optimization.” It’s robotic.

I detest this plan. This plan is anathema to my spirit, my creative process, and to the spontaneity intrinsic to life. There is no joy to be had in life when your days and weeks are just a series of items to be ticked off a list. indeed, I find my friends who are so regimented to be kill-joys. Deviation becomes suspect and it’s pretty hard to schedule fun. (I mean, I already had to adopt a vegan diet, isn’t that enough?) But my rebellion, my dissatisfaction, my depression about the reality of my situation serves no purpose. I am not going to find spontaneous healing down some rabbit hole yet explored. (I’ve tried that already.) Now is the time for practical application of things that work — however incrementally. However mind-numbingly monotonous. However absent of joy. And the most frustrating part of this is that all that fastidious attention to detail and routine isn’t going to make me better. It’s going to make me functional. (There’s a difference.) I’m still going to be just as sick! And yes, that pisses me off. There is no cure for what ails me. And unless I want to continue to miss out on time with my family because I can barely breathe or am so exhausted by sickness (again!), there is only one thing to do. Submit.

Naturally, as my health is spiraling I am at a time in my career where all the dues are starting to pay off. Opportunities are coming my way. Exciting possibilities are tangible. But I keep having to cancel meetings and postpone projects. Is this how it’s going to be from here on out? Me constantly fighting my illness just to take the shot I’ve worked so hard to earn? Me lying in my bed, staring up at my ceiling, with so many ideas floating in my head I feel like they will spill out my ears? It feels like the universe keeps pushing me back down every time I stand up. And I have moments when I just feel like it would be easier to give up on dreams than to keep feeling them burning in my chest. It would be easier to just live day-to-day, checking off my health-routine list items, emptying the dishwasher, putting the kid to bed, making a grocery list — and repeat forever. Of course, the idea of giving up writing or any dreams I have therein makes me feel like going and finding an actual cliff to jump off. Not that I have the energy to. I can’t even muster the strength to sit at a computer for a half an hour. The futility is palpable.

This is why I haven’t been writing. I have had to carefully conserve my energy for just those tasks that are absolutely vital. I’m in survival mode right now. And the only thing I know for certain is that change is imminent because the way things are is not tenable. My only hope is that change brings some measure of relief.

I haven’t always been a runner

Sin City Siren:

This is a new blog written by my good friend Kris Hill. I think y’all will really like it.

Originally posted on Always Running Uphill:

I was one of those people who said, “I can’t run.” Or another classic non-runner statement, “I hate running.”

In March 2012 I was the finish line of the Mercer Island Half waiting for my friend Ilyse to cross the finish line. I was utterly sedentary at that point. The only exercise I got was walking around at high school softball games taking photos for the community newspaper I used to work for and even that was laughable. Before that race, I was telling my friends on Facebook that I did not understand why they ran, much less 13.1 miles. It made no sense.

Just three months later I started moving toward understanding of the runner’s mindset. A family friend died. Mary was my mother-in-law’s best friend. I first met her in 1996, the summer my husband and I started dating, so she was part of my life for a…

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Screencapture: Bronies

‘Ponies are for girls’ … and so it begins …

Alright Tired Feminists, maybe you can help this mom out. I had a somewhat difficult conversation with my three-year-old last night. We were playing with some My Little Ponies and my kid told me that the ponies were all girls and that ponies were only for girls to play with. (Sigh) Are we really already at this conversation in my kid’s young life?

I’ve been sick for about 10 days straight (with a toddler who has also been sick for about 10 days straight), so my brain was not full-strength but it clicked into gear enough to think, “Oh, this is a teachable moment about gender.” I told my kiddo that ponies are for all people and that all people like to play with ponies. Dad chimed in, too, “I like ponies.”

The kid was adamant that I was absolutely wrong. “Ponies are for girls, mommy.” No matter how I tried to dice it, the kid was convinced that ponies were for girls only. I started to feel angry. Who has been telling my kid that some toys are for boys and some are for girls because that shit don’t fly in this Tired Feminist’s house? (Answer: Society, that’s who.) Finally, I remembered the “Brony” trend of men who love the My Little Pony show and ponies. I showed her the trailer for the documentary about said fan-culture. This seemed to (temporarily?) convince my kid that ponies can be for boys as well as girls.

This feels like winning the battle, not the war. After all, there will be other kinds of toys that will, unfortunately, elicit this sad conversation. And we didn’t even broach the idea that there are more than just (cisgender) “boys” and “girls.” Indeed, we go to church with several people who live their lives outside the gender binary and who are trusted adults in my kid’s life. Whether or not the kid has internalized this flexibility of gender identity is hard to tell but tonight’s conversation doesn’t fill me with confidence.

So, tell me what you’d do Tired Feminists? How do you approach the gender-binary conversation with your little ones? If we want to end the implicit misogyny of gender rules as well as issues like transphobia, we have to start by dismantling the harmful messages our kids get. It takes a village here, people, and I need some help from the village.

Fall 2013

Becoming Diva

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. I’m not sure I have a problem. But I have a … something. A realization? Let’s go with that — a realization. Here goes: I might be a diva.

Some clarification might be helpful here. When we think of divas — or at least when I think of divas — it’s the singularly named singers (Cher, Madonna, Beyoncé) who live in a different strata where bathing is only in solid-gold tubs and walking around in meat-dresses is de rigueur. Sure, deep down they are people just like us. They fart. They get colds. But their lives also come with a staff and loads of money. A staff of people and lots of money can make anyone’s life a hell of a lot easier and certainly frees up time to devote to creative pursuits and working it. I have no such luxuries. When the trash stinks, I have to take it out. Hell, I’m not even known — even in my private life — by a defining stage name. Even my big blog, The Sin City Siren, has yielded a title of “The Siren.” (That’s two words.) And nobody actually calls me that. (I would probably laugh if they did.) But maybe that’s not all there is to diva life. Idiomatic names and money and entourages — those are just the perks.

Contrary to the song, maybe no one is born a full-fledged diva. Maybe you have to grow into it. Maybe celebrity diva’s lives used to be full of all the crap we all have to contend with — bills, deadlines, cranky children or partners, dick bosses, traffic, insomnia, those broken things you keep meaning to fix. And maybe somewhere in the muck of all that regular life stuff, they were also quietly growing into the diva they would become.

The pastor at my church is a delightful man named Greg, who used to be (in his own words) a “Vegas showboy.” He performed for years on The Strip and at various venues around the country. And in case you missed that “showboy” reference, Greg is as gay as they come. I am very fond of him. And as we worked together to do the hate crimes event at our church this past spring, I think he became fond of me, too, because around that time he started calling me a diva. Um, what?

At first, I got really upset about it. I asked him why he kept calling me a diva all the time. “I’m not demanding or a showboater,” I remember telling him. In fact, one of my strengths is being a good team player and what might actually be a detrimental tendency to give other people credit for things I do. I enjoy being the person behind the scenes. I enjoy when I can create an outlet for other people to shine. One of my favorite things is to encourage talent in others and inspire them to achieve things they thought were not for them. I’m the back-up band, not the headliner, and that suits me just fine.

But Greg just smiled at me and shook his head. “You are a diva!” he said laughing.

And at that moment I thought I might actually have a diva-sized fit. Greg looked at me and told he uses “diva” as a term for people who go above and beyond, who are so giving of themselves that they have bigger-than-life impacts on people and their communities. That seemed both better and more impossible than being like Mariah. (Sorry, I just had a moment considering all the ways I am entirely different than Mariah. LOL.)

I don’t consider what I do, whether in my private life or for my work, to be out-sized. I consider what I do to be average good-person type stuff and maybe-better-than-average professional person stuff. In fact, I tend to focus on how much I couldn’t do in any given situation. You know, that still small voice that nags you, If you had worked just a bit harder, you could have done that much better, more. What I internalize from any work I do is the ways I fail and could have done better. The misspelled word. The stain on the hem. The slight stutter when I’m nervous or excited. On top of that, I struggle to be gracious about compliments. I have gotten better over the years. I can say, “Thank you,” to compliments but only because I remind myself that is the gracious thing to do. Sometimes, the best I can do is to say nothing. I would rather say nothing than say something negative that refutes the compliment. You know, like, “It would have been better if …” Or like when you get a compliment on an outfit and the first thing you say back is, “Too bad my ass is huge.” (Actually, I would never say I have a huge ass, but you get the point.)

In my head, I’m always replaying how I could have said something better, funnier, smarter. I’m always considering how I’ve been out-of-the-loop in pop culture and fashion since having a child. I don’t really know what is in style or who the latest hot celebrity is. I go shopping and think all the clothes are ugly. I leaf through a magazine and skip the celeb profile, because who cares? (And a little bit because it makes me think of work.) I have a truly terrible time remembering people’s names. Like even people in my own family who I have known for maybe my entire life, yes, I will forget their name. I think that synaptic function in my brain is not hooked up right. I can remember every detail of a story that someone tells me, but if you ask me their name … blank. Just dead air. Nothing.

But I digress …

My point is, I don’t really give myself credit where it is due. I shy away from awards. I downplay my role in success. And whatever dumb thing I just said or did — I’ll be replaying it my head for like a month. At this point in my life, I also tend to feel like this is it. This is what I am going to be when I’m all grown up. I’m good at writing, being a wife, a mom (I hope), and a friend. I’m okay at being organized and dressed presentably (brushing my hair and teeth counts, right?). I suck at cooking, being anywhere on time, and having a poker face. And I will always struggle to be careful about revealing how much my heart beats or breaks, depending on how lovely or terrible something is; how much I fall in love with people, places, art, food, songs, films, or even a beautiful handbag. All the time. I’m always falling in love with things, people, places (basically, nouns — grammar joke!). Not the romantic kind of love, just … just feelings that are full and robust. I have to keep from throwing myself entirely into things. And so I cultivate calm. I am good at being calm. I am not good at being unaffected.

So maybe the stuff we think a diva is about — the clothes and money — maybe those are just the artifice of diva-dom. Maybe being a diva is how much we feel and let that guide us toward doing good in the world, as my pastor told me. Long story short, maybe it’s about the heart.

As this year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I did this year for the first time. I went on TV, which was terrifying. Then I did it again. I lobbied my Legislature (and cried on the record — coulda lived without that part). I broke stories because they deserved to be told, not because I cared about hit-counts or growing my brand. I willingly sang even though I knew other people could hear me (and it was being recorded) and I was in a music video on purpose. (It was my idea!) I took public speaking gigs, even though I didn’t really know what to say. Not bad for the girl who likes to stay behind the curtain.

All these things … I would never do those things in the past. I pushed myself in 2013 to “say yes” to things that scared me. And I did! And you know what? It made me better at my job and maybe a little bit better in my life. It brought new and different people into my life. It teased out friendships and supporters who were always there but maybe just hanging out silently in the back row. All those things I did, I could only do when I said no to fear and embraced my big-fat heart. I stopped telling my big heart to be quiet because in our society calling women “emotional” is often code for bitch or bother. I stopped trying to hide the things about myself that don’t fit in — which is actually a lot like how I used to be such a long time ago that it’s immortalized in a yearbook. I found my old self. I found my new self. I can’t believe I’m 37 and I’m still finding myself.

Meanwhile, somewhere inside me, change is being internalized. A year ago I got LASIK eye surgery and people who hadn’t seen me in a long time would do a head-fake when they saw me. I just attributed it to the difference between glasses and no glasses. People aren’t as observant as they think they are. Nobody notices the color of your eyes when you wear glasses. Now, when I run into long-lost friends or colleagues, they invariably comment on my big blue eyes. Thanks, I’ve had them for 37 years. And I sort of got annoyed about it for a while. But then I was looking through some old photos and I started to see what I think people were noticing. It’s not the eyes. It’s me. I’ve changed.

Just look at this as an example:

Copyright: The Sin City Siren

Same people. Same pose! But I don’t think I look the same and not just because of glasses or weight or the clothes I’m wearing. I’m different. (Although, seriously, can you believe I’m naturally a blonde? Granted, my hair is lightened in the photo on the left, but still. Meh, blonde. I don’t care if I was born with it. That’s not me.)

When people tell me I look different now, I tend to minimize it. But after thinking about it — and looking through old photos — I decided that it’s true. Maybe when we choose to bet on ourselves and open up our hearts to possibility, we start to look different. That’s the main thing that is different about my life now compared to 2007. And people notice.

Maybe this is how a diva grows. Maybe it’s incremental, sneaking up on you. And in the absence of teams of stylists, trainers, publicists, and the like, maybe the real-world divas aren’t the ones who are demanding only purple foods or won’t be caught dead in something off-the-rack. Maybe real-world divas are people who dare to speak authentically in a world that values sarcasm over substance. Maybe there’s a diva inside all of us.

So go ahead, be a diva. If I can do it, anyone can.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

A request on behalf of the tired, frustrated parent(s) trying to quiet the screaming toddler who is making the entire airplane pissed

Dear people who are stuck on or near airplanes with crying/tantruming child(ren):

As irritating as the situation is for you, try to keep one small part of your heart open to how horrible it is for those parents. Offer them a smile, even if deep down you are imagining throttling that kid if s/he kicks your seat ONE MORE TIME). Hell, offer them a drink! Believe me, when it’s your kid screaming, you want to die sometimes. And it is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever lived through as a traveler.

On one four-hour leg from Seattle to Anchorage, my toddler started an epic tantrum that lasted at least one full hour (not counting build-up or aftershocks) and was so bad the flight attendants came over. My kid crawled under the seat in front of her and was screaming and thrashing. If we even touched her she violently hit and kicked all her limbs, while also going noodley and slipping through our grasp. We’re talking two grown adults could not soothe or wrangle a three-foot-tall child. She’d had it and that was it. We were helpless, trapped, judged. We were those people. I wanted to simultaneously cry and jump off the airplane. It was hell. I would have happily gotten drunk at that point, if I had the capacity to even think beyond handling the screaming.

Remember, when the ride is over, those parents are stuck with that little asshole (because all kids are little assholes sometimes) and have to figure out how to get them to just be quiet and go to sleep already. And you do not. And that’s a great thing about your life at this moment. Get yourself a drink and be glad this too shall pass.

And later, if the frazzled, exhausted, humiliated parents offer you an apology by baggage claim? Be cool. Lie and tell them it was no bother cause kids will be kids. Those parents will know you’re lying, but they will be SO GRATEFUL you did. It’s a lie that is a great kindness. And we parents love you for it. Because we were there. We know it was a big deal. And we feel like failures and jerks that it was our kid who was the asshole this time.

This goes for stores and elevators and waiting rooms and just about anywhere you go and you run into CRAZED TANTRUM CHILD. Because that kid’s parent is just trying to get through the day. They’re remembering how they graduated top of their class and have or do work at really hard jobs — I sometimes flash to interviewing President Bill Clinton — and yet in this moment, they cannot control, bully, plead, or otherwise cajole a small human to just relax and be cool. That kid does not give a shit that their parent is embarrassed or getting heckled by grown-up assholes with no manners. Or even that their parent already has to navigate a world in which grown-ups have adult-sized tantrums (because they totally do). Or jerk bosses. Or unrealistic deadlines. Bills. Broken door handles that need fixing. Or the myriad other things all adults have to deal with. Because on top of that, right now as the kid is screaming on the floor, that parent just thinks, “I suck at this.” And that’s the worst feeling because the one job you really want to ace is parenting. And you are doomed to failure because only Mary Poppins is perfect and she’s only “practically perfect.”

So, have a heart. Or at the very least, don’t pile on with a snide comment or side-eye glance. We already know that shit has gone sideways. We live with this tiny tyrant. Be glad that you get to walk away and never hear that scream again.

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

A place beyond wrath and tears

Outside it is a beautiful, sunny fall day in the desert. I can hear my daughter giggling with her best friend as they run around outside. The house is already starting to smell sweet and savory. It is Thanksgiving and I am filled with gratitude and wonder.

Maybe wonder is not the right word. Surprise? Disbelief? Somewhere there is a word that matches this feeling in my heart. As far as I can tell, I have finally arrived after a long, painful journey from the Land of Broken Toys. And I was broken — so broken I thought I was useless. I could not imagine a life such as this. I did not think joy was real. It hurt to dream.

Why am I filled with this feeling today? Thanksgiving.

I know a lot of people are writing missives about all the blessings in their lives today — food, shelter, health care, and so on. And I have those, too. Once upon a time I didn’t even have those! So make no mistake, I appreciate those blessings. I am grateful for those blessings. And I don’t discount the power of the tangible needs we all have and how vital it is that they are met. I have traveled that road. I know what it feels like to feel the threat of real danger.

But this post is not about those things. Well, not directly anyway.

This post is about the intangible. Because you can go through your life and have all your important needs met and still be miserable. And I have carried all my possessions in a sack on my back and witnessed miracles. So the beauty of life is not just encapsulated in stuff and jobs and paying the rent. Needs are vital but they alone do not heal broken toys.

I woke up this morning and did not feel terror. When I got out of bed, I did not have to worry that when I stepped out of my bedroom that someone was going to hit me or throw something at my head (well, unless you count three-year-olds with bad aim). I didn’t fear that as the day went on people in my house were going to get more and more drunk and that particular drunkenness leads to a pain I prefer not to talk about. When I woke up this morning I was not terrified and I did not immediately construct a plan for how to hide until it was over.

In this life I live now, when I wake up on Thanksgiving — in a home where the vile ways of the old days dare not pass the threshold — it sometimes takes me a second to remember that this is reality and not a dream. The primal warrior in me who survived and survived and survived again has put the sword down — which is something I never thought I could do. That instinctive ferocity is not needed here. This place is well beyond the bruised and broken. This is a place that far exceeds merely being safe (which would be enough). This is the place where joy lives. Maybe not every second of every day, but it’s here. Sometimes I almost think I can touch it.

To borrow a line from one of my favorite poems, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. But there’s a place beyond that — a place beyond survival. And I am grateful that I have found it.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Taking power back from internet trolls

Have you seen this story on Salon written by Caitlin Seida? She woke up one morning to find out she was “internet famous” after a photo of her dressed as the eponymous Laura Croft, of Tomb Raider fame (click the link to see the pic), went viral on a website posted it with the intention of fat-shaming the shit out of her.

There I was in full glory — a picture of me dressed as my hero Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for Halloween — but written over the image were the words “Fridge Raider.”

Funny enough, I wasn’t even angry at first. I was actually kind of amused. Who doesn’t laugh at unfortunate shots of poorly dressed strangers? I’ve certainly done it before; the Internet runs on this kind of anonymous scorn. There are entire websites dedicated to the poor fashion choices of random people. And just like me, most of those people are fat.

Seida goes on to share the evolution of her amusement toward abject horror when she scrolled through the comments section, many of which contained variations on theme — that it would be better if she didn’t exist.

So I laughed it all off at first — but then, I read the comments.

“What a waste of space,” read one. Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.” Yet another said I should just kill myself “and spare everyone’s eyes.” Hundreds of hateful messages, most of them saying that I was a worthless human being and shaming me for having the audacity to go in public dressed as a sexy video game character. How dare I dress up and have a good time!

We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.

I feel like a little piece of me just died a little. And like I want to punch the internet in the face.

There is so much wrong with this situation I barely know where to start. We could start with how wrong it is that people can just swipe personal photos off of social media sites such as Facebook with little to no consequences. Or, that there should be a special circle in hell for internet trolls who publicly bully people for sport. But I think we’ll just focus right on the most disturbing part: We live in a culture that not only tolerates but encourages aggressively abuse fat-shaming as a matter of course.

I’ve been a lot of different sizes over the years — skinny, fat, pregnant, strong, weak, and so on. Even now, as I’ve settled into a comfortable weight that is both healthy for me and feels right for my body, I routinely get asked if I’m pregnant because I don’t fit the socially mandated hourglass (small-waist) beauty standard. If there is one simple truth that I have learned after years wrestling with body insecurity (even at so-called “ideal” weights), it is that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of true beauty or true strength. (In fact, your weight may have very little to do with overall health, as studies are finding.)

Let me tell you something. You can waste far too much of your life being caught up in a toxic conversation in your head about what you look like, what your weight is, grey or thinning hair, wrinkles, the size of your pants, and whether or not you want to take your shirt off at the pool. That’s all a straight waste of your precious life. And it is 100% bullshit. Don’t do it to yourself and don’t let anyone do it to you online.

As a journalist, I have interviewed dozens of strangers as they fought life-threatening diseases or faced their own death. And I have sat at the deathbed of people I loved. And never — not one time — did any of those people tell me they were glad they did a certain diet or that one of their favorite memories was that time they fit into that one dress. You know why? Because the stuff of life that really matters has nothing to do with the size or shape we are as we go through it. The people who love us — whether as family, or lovers, or friends, or even colleagues — they love us for all the intangible things we are and do. At the end of the day, nobody who really loves me cares if I am a size eight or a size 28. But they do care about the time I took to be kind when nobody was looking.

Thankfully, more and more of us are remembering to keep our humanity engaged when we go online. As Seida writes, even with all the negative comments, there were those who defended her:

But along the way, in my journey to control something that was ultimately uncontrollable, I encountered something that cut right through the haze of shock and depression: People were actually defending me.

Perfect strangers pointed out that there was nothing wrong with a woman of large size dressing up to have a good time. Some commenters even accurately guessed that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. The disease is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the stomach, making it look, as one insensitive doctor told me, “like you’ve got a basketball shoved under your shirt.”For every three negative and hateful comments, there was at least one positive one.

In the months since, my attitude toward these throwaway images of mockery on the Internet has changed. I no longer find them funny. Each one of those people is a real human being, a real person whose world imploded the day they found themselves to be a punch line on a giant stage. I speak up whenever a friend gets a cheap laugh from one of these sites. I ask one simple question: “Why do you think this is funny?” Very few have a good answer. Mostly they just say, “I don’t know.” Reminding people of our shared humanity hasn’t exactly made me popular, but it feels like the right thing to do. I know what it’s like to be the person in that horrible photograph. I can’t inflict such pain on someone else.

I’m not going to say that I’m perfect or that I never find something hurtful or inappropriate to be funny. We’re all human. We all have moments when our humanity sort of turns off and we plug into the collective hate machine. I’ve certainly been the target of that a time or two, as a blogger. So it’s nice to know that even when we’re navigating in the often anonymous virtual world, there are folks out there who are still trying to keep it classy.

Against all evidence to the contrary, I continue to have hope and believe in the good in people. And if I can do one thing today, let it be to inspire you to let go of the thoughts in your mind that stop you from seeing your own brilliance and beauty. Your uniqueness is a gift. If you have any doubt, go hang out with an artist for a while and they’ll tell you all the ways you are beautiful BECAUSE you are not like anyone else. (In general, I highly recommend having at least one artist/photographer friend in your life. Their perspective on life and beauty tends to be wonderfully liberated.) Or better yet, if you have a child in your life, go talk to them about who and what is beautiful. I haven’t met a kid (under the age of five) who doesn’t think that her or his parents are practically perfect in every way. And guess what, parents? Your kiddos think that you are the template for beauty in this world. Don’t prove them wrong.

Now, don’t go crazy. Don’t start walking around acting like you are the Supreme Ruler of the Land or anything. But just take a chance and try flipping your perspective upside down. Step outside of your own insecurities and try on the perspective of someone who loves you. You wouldn’t want someone to talk shit about your partner or kid or mom, would you? So why do it about yourself?

And hey, while we’re at it, let’s try to bring a little respect and kindness back to the internet.