Tis the season for body positive Valentines

In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from some body-positive reminders, here’s my Valentine’s week gift to you: some Valentines that remind you of your worth and capacity for love and pleasure, right now. As is.

Enjoy! (And share with whoever might appreciate them or could use the reminders.)

Ever watchful,


1 Pleasure sizes-01.jpg

2 confidence-01.jpg

3 the time-01.jpg


5 majestic-01.jpg











Why 2017 demands a different approach to resolutions


If you’re like the vast majority of people I talk with online and in real life, you’ll probably agree that 2016 will go down as an especially relentless and difficult year. Painfully divisive politics, global atrocities and the many deaths of beloved celebrities are just a few of the things weighing on the hearts and minds of so many during these final days of the year.

Traditionally, this is one of my favorite weeks on the calendar — that liminal space between Christmas and the New Year. As a professor, I have at this point survived the hecticness of finals, and as a mother, I have at this point survived the chaos of Christmas with lots of little people in the house.  I use this week to do substantial housekeeping (both literal and symbolic), ordering and decluttering my house, my mind and my body in anticipation of the clean slate that comes with a new year and a fresh semester.

Last year my New Year’s focus was fairly traditional: I resolved to focus mental and physical energy toward fostering practices of self-care and body positivity, and to do so in a public way via this blog (**happy birthday, blog!**) in order to make this work feel a bit less like naval gazing and a bit more like community-building and media literacy development.

My work in these areas — in my daily life or on this blog space — is not done, but as I look straight into the eye of 2017, I can see that the year will call for a different approach to resolutions.

Doesn’t it feel different this year? Doesn’t it feel like there’s more at stake? Doesn’t it feel like the need for connection, understanding, education, intentionality, purpose and a strengthened sense of our mutual humanity is almost painfully pressing?

In light of the enormity of these feelings, I’ve decided to take a different approach to my 2017 resolutions. And if you’ve considered supplementing your own goals beyond the more traditional resolutions of healthy eating or exercise or tightening the budget (all noble endeavors!), perhaps you might find this list useful as well.

In 2017, I resolve to…

1.) Improve my practices related to one aspect of consumer culture.
There are times when ‘the work that needs to be done’ can feel overwhelming and fiscally impossible. Thanks to all of the information at our contemporary finger tips, it’s now clear that there are many ethical quandaries related to the things we buy as a society: our clothing, our food, our health and beauty products, our jewelry, etc., both in terms of how they are produced and the effects they might have on our bodies. It’s too easy to say “Because I can’t do everything, I won’t do anything.” But a friend recently shared the fact that she and her husband prioritize one of these issues each year, taking a long-term approach to creating more conscious and ethical consumer practices. This felt doable to me. My personal goal for 2017 will be to work toward developing a more ethical approach to clothing and fashion, with a focus on upcycling, repurposing, second-hand shopping, and sustainably produced pieces.

2.) To curate a month-by-month reading list that will allow me to learn more about other people, other places, other ways of life and other times in history.
I love to read for pleasure, but I tend to get stuck in a fiction bubble because, frankly, pretend worlds, with their beautiful characters and happily-ever-afters, offer up a nice place to hide. But there’s no reason I can’t devote some of my free reading time to learning more about the world we’re living in, and how it got to the point where we are. I want to be sure to read a variety of books by people from many different life experiences, not because I anticipate agreeing with every perspective, but because I want to better understand how our ideas about personhood, community and nation evolve. My 2017 non-fiction reading list will look something like this:

City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York (by Tyler Anbinder)
The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War (by Arkady Ostrovsky)
China in Ten Words (by Yu Hua)
-Between the World and Me (by Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Evicted (by Matthew Desmond)
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (by JD Vance)
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle (by Angela Davis)
The Rise and Fall of American Growth (by Robert Gordon)
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (by Ari Shavit)
Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape (by Peggy Orenstein)
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (by Naomi Klein)
The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World (by Ruchir Sharma)

3.) To become locally active on an issue that’s speaking to me
My husband came to bed a few weeks ago and the minute he said goodnight, I dissolved into hysterical sobs. It was in the midst of the latest violence in Aleppo, Syria, and my day had been peppered with an endless string of posts, images and gory statistics about the violence happening in the region that I hadn’t allowed myself to fully process. We donated some money to a trustworthy charity on the ground there, but it didn’t feel like enough. As my husband and I continued to talk over the next few days, he made the suggestion that I might try to get involved with some sort of refugee- or immigration-related initiative closer to home, and even the thought of engaging in this work made me feel more hopeful. More useful. So this will be one of the opportunities I’ll pursue in the new year as a way to feel more active in a global cause that can at times feel impossibly far away.

4.) Work to create more intentional community in my personal and professional life.
Stop me if the following scenario sounds familiar: You’re casually acquainted with lots of interesting, intelligent and like-minded people that you’d love to get to know better, but you can’t seem to manage to actually spend any real, quality time with them. That’s surely the case for me. This goal, creating intentional community, is a recurring one for me (mostly because I keep failing at it.) We’ve moved so often in our 12 years of marriage, and the last decade of my life has been so affected by pregnancies, births, breastfeeding, and establishing my career, that for a long time it’s just been easier to say: “I couldn’t possibly.” But this year I want to do better about actually creating face-to-face interactions with the people in my midst who inspire me, enlighten me, and who are living out personal and professional lives with missions that feel well-aligned with my own. I want to create more rituals, more traditions, and more memories beyond “I went to work and kept my kids alive today.” As I approach 2017, this extends beyond just my extroverted and social nature; at this particular moment in time, it seems especially imperative to strengthen my face-to-face support systems.

5.) Carve out time for non-productivity
As I’ve confessed here before, I tend to be a productivity junkie. What started out as fairly generic over-achieving tendencies in my teen years morphed into a survival strategy of sorts during my grad school/breeding years. And though a firmly structured schedule actually tends to calm me, I can go too far with it, and I don’t leave in enough wiggle room, or time to recharge or just do whatever I feel like doing. The specific type of non-productivity I want more of in the new year is walking just for walking’s sake. Walking is a very particular kind of muse for me, and I’m not alone in believing that purposeless walking activates my creativity in very specific ways, but it’s something I’ve treated like a luxury (translation: it never happens.) In a way, incorporating a practice of walking just for walking’s sake  will be a practice of self-care, of unplugging, of rejuvenating, and of seeing where my oft-addled mind wanders without me pulling it along on a tight leash. Given the work that needs to be done in the new year — in my classrooms, in my community and in our larger society — a little more time to reflect, rejuvenate and think things through now feels essential.

These are the tactics I’ve developed to approach 2017 with intention and purpose. Wherever you are, and however you’re feeling about the final chapter of 2016 coming to a close, my wish for you for 2017 is for work that satisfies you, family and friends and colleagues who support you and the ability to cling to hope in the year to come.

Ever watchful,


P.S. Two quotes from Edward Everett Hale, because this gal can’t resist a good quote:

I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do.”


“Look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in, and lend a hand!”



Locker Room Culture (or, the Todd Packer platform)

This week’s political news has me thinking of a television character I haven’t thought about in quite some time: Todd Packer.

If you were a fan of the NBC show The Office, you’ll remember him as the Outside Sales Representative for Dunder Mifflin who made the occasional, and very memorable, appearance in the Scranton office of the fictional paper company.


To describe Packer as lewd is an understatement. Beloved by branch manager Michael Scott but loathed by most others in the office, Packer served as the hyperbolic antithesis of civilized contemporary office culture, with its diversity trainings and sexual harassment prevention policies dictated by HR teams and armies of corporate lawyers fearing a lawsuit.

Packer is the kind guy who says what he thinks, filters be damned, and regularly throws out rude sexual comments, homophobic innuendos, sexual body gestures and off-color humor in the workplace, such as:

“Where’s Michael Snot? Sniffing some dude’s thong?”

“What has two thumbs and likes to bone your mom? This guy!”

“Hey, what’s going on, you guys? Yeah. Three muske-queers. ”

Though he horrified the vast majority of the Dunder Mifflin employees, he delighted Michael Scott, who wanted nothing more than to be one of the ‘cool’ guys. In Michael’s fervent desperation for alpha male approval, he coveted the hypermasculine currency Packer offered, even while others cringed.

So what has me thinking of Todd Packer, this infrequently appearing character from a television show that’s been off the air for years? It was after I read the transcript of the leaked Donald Trump audio this week, with choice phrases like:

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

I don’t have the time or emotional energy to outline all of the things I felt or thought upon learning about this conversation, but somewhere, amidst the rage and the anger and the astonishment and, frankly, the lack of astonishment, Todd Packer occurred to me.

If Packer had been on that bus with the journalist and Trump where the conversation happened, he would have freaking loved it. “Hell, yes!” he would have shouted, offering a high-five to Trump, and that kind of puppy-eyed adoration that he was accustomed to receiving from Michael Scott. He would have reveled in that crude behavior. In the casual reference to sexual assault. At the reduction of women to objects available for men to kiss and grab without consent.

In that exchange, Trump, in an attempt to earn the respect of the other men in his midst, evoked that same hypermasculine currency that defined Packer as a character:  shock humor, over-the-type hypersexuality, trivialization of women, and bravado.

That same sexual braggadociousness, if you will.

I can picture the bumper sticker almost perfectly –Trump/Packer 2016: The Pussy Grabbing Platform.

As soon as I heard about the leaked audio, I imagined the excuses that Trump, his campaign, and his supporters would wield. (Comments that comprise the bread-and-butter of rape culture.)

It was just a joke. 

That’s just the way guys talk.

It was off the record. No one was supposed to hear it.

It’s just locker room banter.

To which I say, no. no. no. no. Locker room culture is something a colleague and I consider  in an analysis of gendered hierarchies within the corporate culture of The Office. Locker room culture alludes, generally, to traditionally all-male spaces where the rules of our overly sensitized, PC-obsessed society no longer apply. It’s a bro-friendly safe zone, where no topic is off limits. Where ‘boys can be boys,’ even if they’re men.

The ‘locker room’ is metaphorical, of course. This sort of secret, ‘safe’ male space could be a literal locker room, but its spirit can be found lots of other places — on the golf course, in boardrooms, in the back rooms of bars where deals are brokered. On Access Hollywood media buses back in 2005 (interestingly, the same year that The Office debuted and the world met Todd Packer.)

Though I do pursue news from many different sources, many of my personal acquaintances and lots of my favorite news sites have a feminist perspective, so when something like this happens, I admittedly experience a pretty massive echo chamber of outrage from dozens of angles. As I processed the original release of this story, followed quickly by the feminist media reaction to it, it was overwhelming, and I shut the laptop and returned to my first morning to-do item: making pancakes with my two-year-old son.

In between patiently allowing him to scoop out teaspoons of salt and cups of flour and cleaning up the resulting spills, my mind stayed on Trump, on Packer, on sexual assault, on rape culture, and on toxic masculinity. It’s jarring, when my brain does this thing — bouncing back and forth between the sweetness and goodness of my young sons and horrific examples of hypermasculinity that surround us every day.  As I’ve written about elsewhere, my scholarship and my experience raising four young sons are inherently linked and I can’t think about one without the other. My sons are the reason I started studying masculinity in the first place.

I need them to know that there is no locker room ‘safe’ enough for this type of cavalier, violent discussion of women’s bodies is okay.

Even if it’ll get a laugh.

Even if it’ll make a certain type of guy like you more, or, inexplicably, respect you more.

Even if you there aren’t any women around.

Even if no one else was supposed to hear.

Many of us have some choice about the level at which we engage with the Todd Packers of our worlds. Do we humor them? Befriend them? Turn a blind eye toward them? Sleep with/date/marry them? Raise them?

And, perhaps most pertinently, do we hire them?

Ever watchful,



Finding and Minding Our ‘Check Engine’ Lights

My car, Sadie the Saturn S-Series, is 17 years old. She’s been in my family since I was a high schooler and I’ve driven her for more than half of my life.

She’s a dutiful gal, and she’s been there for the major events of my adult life — driving my husband and me out to our honeymoon in Colorado, driving each of our four newborn boys home from the hospital, and moving our family across the country to start our new life in Massachusetts after I accepted a tenure-track position at a university out here.

One fun fact about my car is that the check engine light has been on for the better part of four years. Naturally my husband and I were concerned at first, but each quick fix proved untenable. Whatever the mechanic did to fix the problem would work for a week or two, but eventually the light would pop up again even if the car seemed to run just fine. Ultimately, we were assured that the issues causing the light to perpetually glow were both expensive to address and non-critical in terms of safety, and we simply accepted its omnipresent warning.

Relatedly, we also rarely drive the car more than five miles at a time, just enough to get me to campus and to the YMCA.

Regardless, every time I sit behind Sadie the Saturn’s steering wheel, I look at that bright, glowing little message and think about the car’s health and well-being.

It got me thinking about my own body and self-care. Do I have a check engine light?

On the surface, surely not. Someone would have pointed it out by now. But do I have internal indicators that hint when I might not be taking the best care of my body? Undoubtedly, though it took me a lot of years to recognize them.

This year’s journey toward self-care has, for me, really been about becoming more in-tune with my body and striving for balance. As part of that journey, I’ve tried to grow more sensitive to the cues that my body and mind give me when things are swinging out of whack and I’m making decisions that aren’t in my own best interest. There are certain parts of my academic year that are more vulnerable toward this unbalance than others, and I happen to be in the thick of one such period now (after the new semester has started but before I’ve settled into a comfortable groove that accounts for all my to-do tasks. Before any kind of rhythm sets in.)

So what do my personal ‘check engine lights’ look like?

I stop making grocery lists. When life is running smoothly, I plan out all of my shopping lists a week at a time (or sometimes even a month at a time.) Meals are strategic, shopping trips are scheduled in advance, and I’m getting plenty of balanced meals each week. When the grocery lists go out the window, meals become chaotic, unplanned, unbalanced, and my energy levels and mood tailspin. Warning light.

I don’t read for pleasure for days or weeks. My one true indulgence in life, my most genuine “me time,” is spent curled up with a novel (usually a mindless romance.) If this isn’t happening, it’s a good indicator that frantic productivity has taken over virtually all of my time, and that’s not a healthy thing. As a productivity junkie, it’s essential that I carve out time each week merely to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s creative labor. Warning light.

I stop reaching out to family and friends. When I’m feeling healthy, well and balanced, I call my parents, I reach out to my girlfriends. I make coffee dates and plan for the occasional evening out with friends. When I’m out of whack, this all goes to the wayside and weeks can go by without me reaching out to someone else. As an extrovert who feeds off of these social connections, this spells trouble. Warning light.

I get that “treading water” feeling. This one’s hard to explain, but it feels like a physical manifestation of low-level anxiety. My mind’s never at peace because there’s always a ‘should’ hanging over my head. It’s hard to sleep. I feel the slightest tightness in my chest and knot in my stomach from the knowledge that I’m not quite where I should be in some arena of my life — my professional work, my fitness goals, my healthful eating, my creative writing, my parenting or wife-ing (that’s a word, right?) I wake up early and stay up late, trying to squeeze a few more hours of productivity out of each day. Overall I feel like I’m mostly just treading water, or exhaustedly running on a hamster wheel, working relentlessly in all corners of my life, but not getting anywhere or ever experiencing the satisfaction of a completed task. Warning light.

For me, graduate school represents the years that, like Sadie the Saturn, my check engine began to glow non-stop. I eventually recognized the signals, but I didn’t get a check up. I simply ignored them. Because of time. Because of money. Because of gestation. Because I’d said yes to too many things due to my feelings of imposter syndrome. I pushed full tilt and took poor care of my body and my spirit. Unfortunately, I brought these bad habits with me even into my first years on the tenure track.

I told myself for a lot of years that self-maintenance was impossible. That the adjustments it would take for those ‘lights’ to go off, for my life to settle back into a healthy balance, weren’t feasible. During the labor of my precarious graduate school years, this was more true. Now that I’m working full-time and in a more privileged position, it’s less true, and I’ve had to unlearn some bad habits in order to acknowledge what is now in my power to change after years of feeling helpless to the realities of my working conditions.

But from time to time, those old, unhealthy habits resurface. So now I’m trying to be better at 1.) recognizing those bright neon ‘check engine lights’ that glow within me from time to time throughout the year and 2.) conducting prompt maintenance to get them to shut back off. I no longer say “I’ll just push through until the end of the semester.” I’m actively working to reject the train of thought that says “Just survive for ‘x’ more weeks and then you can take care of yourself.

So what does this more routine maintenance look like for me? First it usually means a few long evenings of journaling, reflecting, looking at my typical weekly schedule, and talking with my family members about what is and isn’t working about our current situation. Sometimes it means asking for help (not my forte!) and sometimes it means lowering my standards in some aspect of my life (even less my forte!) Sometimes it means stepping down from a responsibility that I took on but can’t sustain. It often looks and feels like slamming on the breaks drastically.  But what I’ve learned from too many years of pushing my engine past its comfort zone is that when I do this, the quality of everything suffers and I get less satisfaction from my work, my hobbies and my relationships (you know, those little things that collectively comprise MY ENTIRE LIFE?!)

Sadie the Saturn is in her golden years. Though it makes me weepy to think about (yes, I cried through that How I Met Your Mother episode about Marshall’s Pontiac Fiero), her days are numbered. But mine aren’t. I’m an early-thirties professional with decades of professional work ahead of me. It no longer suffices for me to go rumbling down the highway of my life, ignoring the obvious clanking in my engine and praying I don’t break down on the side of the road.

If you have ‘check engine’ lights in your life, if there are physical, mental or emotional warning signs that you turn a blind eye to over and over again in the hopes that they’ll somehow, miraculously disappear, I encourage you, if it’s even remotely within your power to do so, to consider a self-care tune-up. That’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. I think my engine will thank me.

Ever watchful,


Go Topless Day, Burkinis and the Policing of Women’s Bodies

A fellow feminist scholar/friend posed an interesting question to me and a group of like minded friends, today of all days — Women’s Equality Day. “Would you ever take part in Go Topless Day?” she asked.

Go Topless Day, which falls this year on Sunday, August 28, falls in line with the platform of the Free the Nipple campaign. Both initiatives seek to eliminate discrimination regarding social norms, laws and standards related to being topless in public. In short, if men can go topless in public, activists argue that women should be allowed to go topless as well.

To bring attention to the issue, ‘Go Topless’ parades and events will take place in cities around the country this weekend. The organization even goes so far as to provide a “boob map” to help would-be participants better understand “topless laws” in their geographical region.

I had a mixed response to my friend’s inquiry. Would I participate in such a public event? My knee-jerk, feminist response was defensive of the movement, despite my imagined personal discomfort with participating. My reasoning fell somewhere along the lines of: “Well, I wouldn’t want to participate, but I support other women’s right to do so.” When I think of possible causes related to women’s equality, toplessness wouldn’t top my list (ba-dum-ching!), but if it tops someone else’s list, then they have my support.

After all, I do believe that U.S. attitudes toward bodies, women’s especially, are puritanical, and these breast-related controversies that bubble up on a regular basis here, probably have our European peers snickering all the way to their packed nude beaches.

But then… I started to unpack that imagined personal discomfort around participating in such an event. Considering that I support the cause philosophically, why would the thought of participating in a Go Topless event create discomfort in me, a body-positive, sex-positive feminist? A flurry of responses, many discordant, concurrently sparked into my mind. I present them in no particular order.

Going topless on the city streets would feel too sexual. God, I hated that this was the first place my brain went, but like many other women, my mind and my body have been socialized to equate toplessness with sexuality and the male gaze. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but then again, maybe the fact that people still feel like this is the whole point? Isn’t the relentless hypersexualization of women’s bodies exactly part of the problem that this movement is trying to address?

I wouldn’t want that attention. Strangers? Looking at my half naked body? Yikes, maybe I am more of a puritan than I want to admit. What if someone harassed me? Or, perhaps even worse for my psyche…

What if someone ridiculed me? Oh, I recognized this voice right away —  the voice of Jessica’s Early Thirties Body, having now grown, birthed and breastfed four children. (And, side note, the young, slender, normative bodies that the Go Topless movement uses on their website imagery don’t exactly elicit a sense of body diversity within the movement. Can we get some fat activists in your materials, pretty please?) I’m well aware that this bullet point wouldn’t have been on Jessica’s Early Twenties Body’s radar. I’m also aware that Jessica’s Early Forties body is probably screaming from the future, “Trust me, if you’re going to do it, do it now!”  Alas.

Bras suck. Anything that moves us away from the tyranny of underwire is a good thing. Maybe I should join the cause for this reason alone?

I breastfed in public for four years, but modestly. So my boobs have been out in public at least in some small way. That was utilitarian, though. This is different. But is it? And also, nothing about the thought of “utilitarian nipple exposure” feels right.

I’m not sure where this movement leads. Is this one small step toward full public nudity? If we’re desexualizing body parts for the personal comfort of individual people, what comes next? Am I really at a place where I’m ready to see penises out in public on the regular? And if my answer is no, does that make me a hypocrite?

I’m a professional/a mother/a wife, so this behavior doesn’t feel appropriate. This does not fit my understanding of what a body “like mine” should do.

Like I said, these reactions aren’t perfect or even consistent, but all were genuine, and I think that part of the development of a feminist worldview is being open and patient to all of these conflicting instincts and perspectives that have been forged in one’s mind over the course of a lifetime — through our families, our relationships, our social institutions, our education, and our media culture. For me, one of the most valuable parts of learning more about feminist theory and other critical cultural lenses has been learning to delve into discomfort, and to allow myself time to wade through contradictory, instinctive notions rather than rushing to a too-neat conclusion.

It’s not lost on me that these Go Topless events on Sunday close out a week in which much media coverage has been devoted to an unsettling incident in France, where armed police forced a woman to remove her modest ‘burkini’ at a beach in order to implement a recent ban against clothing that indicates strong adherence to religious practices. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, in his campaign for re-election, has said that the burkini must be banned at the national level, and the Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls has called the burkini “a symbol of the enslavement of women,” connecting its presence in French public spaces with radical Islam.

Critics have called the burkini ban a gross violation of women’s rights, an act of religious oppression, and xenophobic. Though the French minister for Women’s Rights says critically that burkinis and burkas function primarily to “hide women’s bodies to better control them,” most of these officials fail to see that bans such as these serve the same function. Rather than controlling through forced covering, they seek to control women’s bodies through forced revealing.

To have a female body is to have a lifetime of experience in having your body policed by others. Wear less. Wear more. Don’t be too sexual. Don’t be too modest. Be quiet. Speak up for yourself (but that voice had better not be ditzy or squeaky or high pitched.)

In the end, I feel comfortable with my decision to sit out this weekend’s Go Topless events, because on this Women’s Equality Day, that’s my wish for women all around the world — that they have the ability to choose the actions, the lifestyle, and the presentation of self that feels most comfortable to them, be that bare breasts or burkinis. And though I won’t be marching in the streets, I’ll instead use the awareness raising these activists have done, as well as the conversations and ethical considerations of the policing of women’s bodies internationally, to continue to explore my own complex attitudes about my body specifically, and bodies in our wider society more generally. That should keep me more than busy.

Ever Watchful,


Raising boys who are accountable for their bodies

The story this week is of a Stanford swimmer, but it’s a sickeningly common scenario:

Boys and young men (often athletes) who rape women (often drunk or otherwise incapacitated) and try to use their merits and sites of privileges as a defense.

But he was an honors student…

But he was a varsity athlete…

But he volunteers at the local soup kitchen…

Or the most chilling to me:

But he didn’t think what he did was rape.

In this week’s story of the Stanford swimmer, many have lashed out at what they perceive as the judge’s “light” punishment for this particular convicted rapist, or shared their outrage at the rapist’s father’s attempts to get his son out of trouble, both scenarios which serve to perpetuate what many refer to as rape culture.

Rape culture, considered in-depth here, might most simply be described as a culture (including its media) that normalizes both the sexualization of women and the sexual aggression of men, so that when sexual assault does occur, the victims tend to be blamed more than the aggressors. Rape culture perpetuates rape myths (considered in-depth here), such as that victims “ask for it” by the way they dress or what they drink, that “boys will be boys” and can’t be held accountable for their testosterone-fueled bodies, and that you can’t be raped by a friend or significant other.

I’ve thought a lot about rape culture from an academic standpoint, taught about it, and researched it, too, but these never ending real-world case studies cut straight to my heart as a mother of four boys.

Am I doing enough to teach about consent and bodily responsibility in my own home? 

Rape culture doesn’t originate out of nowhere when young people walk into a high school party or a college campus. Rape culture, and the ways it distorts our collective understanding of our bodies and power, has its roots in many, many other types of interactions that begin as early as preschool. Opportunities for conversations about bodies, power, consent and responsibility pop up on an almost daily basis at my house, and I wanted to share a few of our humble but intentional attempts to address them here.

Scenario 1: But I wanted to keep playing the game.

  • Child A wants to keep running, chasing, tagging, tickling. Child B says he’s done. Our message to Child A: It doesn’t matter if you still want to play. The person you’re interacting with is done. They’re in charge of their bodies, and they can declare the game over. The first time they say “Stop” or “I’m done” or “I quit,” the game is off. As is perfectly exemplified about this cartoon about tea and consent, it doesn’t matter if Child B had been happily playing the game, plays the game most other days, or was the one who asked to the play the game. When they say they’re done, you’re done, too.

Scenario 2: I was so hyper that I couldn’t help myself.

  • At our house, we try to be especially aware of when one of our children claims to not be in control of their body. Maybe they’re feeling too hyper, too silly, too sleepy, maybe they joke that they had too much sugar or caffeine and that’s why they acted a certain way. These justifications don’t fly. We remind them that they are always responsible for the decisions that they make, and that they can’t use a temporary state as a justification for why they failed to listen, why they crossed a line, or why they broke a rule. It might seem silly and mild-mannered when the alleged culprit is Mountain Dew, but raising awareness around ‘altered states,’ and about how these states do not justify harmful or disruptive behavior, is a lesson we hope will have far deeper consequences.

Scenario 3: I’d rather not hug her goodbye.

  • One thing you’ll never see with our boys is a forced greeting with a guest. Our boys determine how they interact with the people around them — we do not require them to kiss or hug on demand, even if it’s a family member or a close friend. On the flip side, we make sure that our boys know that they don’t always get to decide if they get a kiss or a hug from someone else — that’s up to that person to decide, and it needs to be communicated clearly so all parties are on board.

Scenario 4: Do you think he might need help?

  • One of the most sickening aspects of these rape cases is how public the original assault was (often taking place at a party or even in plain sight on a street or at an athletic event) and the consistent lack of action by bystanders to stop what they see, or report it at their first opportunity (another by-product of rape culture.) Bystanders matter, and childhood sets up plenty of opportunities for children to practice ‘seeing’ the actions of other people, and determining if they may be of assistance to another person (reaching something, helping to pick up or fix something, fetching an adult or a tissue or a glass of water.) In my experience, getting kids to practice this sort of ‘seeing’ is not an easy task, especially as younger children often float through the world in a self-focused bubble. But by modeling this behavior for our kids, and asking them to think through possible scenarios, we hope to begin normalizing this practice of seeing others and acting on our instincts to care.

These moments with young children can feel innocuous, but they come up endlessly, and the lessons behind them need to be reinforced over, and over, and over again, as do all things related to children and their bodies and their tempers (kind of like how, if you’re like me, you’ve had the whiny “Whhhhhy do I have to brush my teeth?! conversation about 1,452 times.)

The hope is that by laying the foundation of bodily responsibility in our home when the context seems low-consequence and non-sexual, that the conversation can evolve into more serious and consequential scenarios as the boys grow older, so that by the time they get to those high school parties and college campuses, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about bodies and consent.

Only time will tell how successful these strategies will be, and there’ll be much to learn and adapt along the way as our boys grow, but it feels hopeful (especially in face of the never-ending stream of sexual assault-related headlines) to be starting these conversations now.

Ever watchful,


P.S. If you’re interested in raising more emotionally intelligent boys, I highly recommend this thought-provoking article on fostering nurturance culture among men, which the author argues has great potential in reversing the realties of rape culture.

A return to the loveliness of things

I’m no Oprah (as my bank account will attest), but there is one thing I know for sure: the path toward balance and self-care and wellness is non-linear.

There are going to be bumps in the road. Sometimes those bumps last a day. Some last a week. (Or, you know, some last for five years, like the one I experienced in grad school….)

Culturally, we don’t have a lot of nice names for those ‘bumps.’

Falling off the horse.



“Being bad.”

Any college professor can tell you that a lack of self-care is the standard expectation in our profession during the last 3 weeks of the semester. We wear it like a badge of honor. As the grading piles up and our students get more panicked and the end-of-the-term reports and service work ramp up, the expectation is that we’ll stay up too late, we’ll eat like unsupervised toddlers, we’ll fall off the fitness wagon, and we’ll drink too much.

If, in late April, you suggest to a fellow academic that you’re managing three, balanced meals a day, getting to bed by 10:30 p.m. each night, and maintaining your marathon training, you will likely make yourself an enemy.

It reminds me of the time I overheard a student say to a peer right before finals week: “Dude, sometime this week I’ve got to eat a vegetable.”

Same goes for your professor, dude.

While I’m proud to report that I kept my fitness on track the entire semester (something I’ve never EVER managed, even back into my grad school days), my nutrition did hit a slump (well hello there, emotional eating!) Thanks to my new lens of self-care, however, it really was a different experience, and I tried to approach my change in behavior with curiosity, not condemnation.

First, because unhealthy, un-mindful eating is now an outlier, I found it easier to think more about the why of emotional eating.

I ate __________ because I thought it would make me feel (or not feel) ______________.

I found that the longer it had been since I’d used this reasoning, the more absurd it seemed. Hmmm, Jessica, you’re saying that eating 1/2 a pound of the sad, unwanted lingering Easter candy didn’t ACTUALLY make you forget about the tedium of having 60 essays to grade in two days? How unexpected!

The very fact that these impulsive instincts are now the exception rather than the rule also allowed me to appreciate the extent of my transformation over the last 4.5 months. “Huh, this used to be how I coped with things and how I treated my body every. single. day.” Even as I was dabbling in old ways, I felt proud that they now felt like, well, old ways.

Most importantly, as I was out of balance late last month, I tried to think about emotional eating as a very obvious signal to check in with myself. The urge to cast aside the hard work and the lifestyle changes I’ve carved out for myself serves as an important warning sign: something’s off. You’re pushing too hard. Something’s gotta give or shift. It was an opportunity to ask myself: What’s going on in my personal or professional life that’s pushing me past a comfortable point? Basically, my instinct to eat an entire box of macaroni and cheese at 11 p.m. is a lot like an electronic device with a red flashing light — it’s time to recharge the batteries.

In the time that I was returning to some older lifestyle patterns, there was a phrase that kept creeping up into my subconscious, and it’s one that’s stuck with me:

Return to the loveliness of things.

Colorful, fresh food on a pretty plate, eaten at a table (ideally with a candle burning.) A big mug of tea with a good book. Eating in community, not isolation. Eating mindfully (not via multitasking). Though I’m not on Instagram, I began to think of my relationship to food through that lens — would this meal, or this eating experience be worthy of a photo? Would I like the story it’s telling about how I’m treating myself? How I’m balancing things in my life?

This most recent finals week will not be the last time I’ll be faced with these questions, or veer away from my mission to take better care of myself, but it’s a comfort to have gone through it with more curiosity and more compassion. It felt healthy to think about it as an indicator of my stress levels, and an invitation to adjust things in my life accordingly, rather than a failure of character or something to berate myself over.

Frankly, when the stress of finals time dissolved and the recent wave of “indulgence” passed, I actually felt excited to return to some healthier lifestyle practices. If you had told me 5 months ago that I could actually miss salad, I’d have laughed in your face. I’d have felt a little bit bad about it, because that would have been rude, but that’s what would have happened.

Me craving salad. It just goes to show: miracles are possible, friends!

Ever watchful,


P.S. Want to know the best thing I ever read about salad? (I’d actually be shocked if any one out there did, because that’s just a weird pitch…) BUT, seriously, if you think you could never be a salad eater, start here: Salad Tips from a Reformed Salad Hater.

Then make these mason jar salads. Doesn’t get more lovely than these — they’re practically artwork! #GameChanger

Fear of Persnick-ification


A few weeks ago I was having a mini-existential crisis trying to pack for a three-night academic conference where I was preparing to present some research with a few of my dearest, funniest, sharpest grad school girlfriends.

My dilemma was: Do I bring my workout clothes or leave them at home?

Since my decision to focus on self-care back in January, I’ve exercised at least 5 days a week, almost every week. My body is grateful for it and my spirit is soaring due to all those endorphins. It is an integral part of my wholistic wellness plan and the consistency of it gives me great comfort and mental clarity.

And yet, on a work vacation with my besties, I didn’t want to be that person. You know, the one who wakes up early to workout, potentially making everyone else feel guilty for sleeping in?

The one who orders a salad while everyone else orders a burger, or a water when the rest of the group is getting a round of cocktails?

The one who packs almonds in her purse just in case the hangries strike midday?

Point blank, I didn’t want to come across as persnickety.

Now keep in mind, these women I was meeting and rooming with are some of my dearest friends on earth. Friends who read this blog (hi ladies!) and know all about the self-care journey I’m on. These are women with whom I have no conversational boundaries. We can discuss body hair and boob sweat and childbirth and menstruation and a hundred other bodily topics as casually as we rank the men of the Gilmore Girls (for scholarly purposes, naturally.)

So where does this fear of persnick-ification come from? That answer merits a bit of unpacking. I don’t have a solid answer yet, but after a few weeks of introspection, I do have some leads that overlap in many ways.

  1. I’m a classic Midwestern Nice Girl. Making people feel comfortable and being perceived as easy-going and low-maintenance is a big part of my own cultural and communal sense of self, even now that I’ve relocated to New England.
  2. Perhaps it may relate to our cultural embrace of what Anne Helen Petersen* calls Cool Girl femininity, embodied by Jennifer Lawrence’s seemingly effortless coolness. For the Cool Girl, Petersen explains, “Her body, skin, face, and hair all look effortless and natural — the Cool Girl doesn’t even know what an elliptical machine would look like …  because trying hard isn’t Cool. Cool Girls don’t have the hang-ups of normal girls: They don’t get bogged down by the patriarchy, or worrying about their weight.” The Cool Girl instructs women to: “be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel.” Which relates to the fact that…
  3. The work of maintaining a ‘culturally acceptable’ female body is supposed to be invisible. Our media environment is flooded with an endless visual stream of impossibly thin and fit women who are never actually shown exercising, lifting weights, showering, or making health-conscious dietary choices. In fact, most all of the physical aspects of women’s bodies, both in the media and in the real world, are acceptable only in private: menstruation, lactation, sweating, and any manner of bathroom-related processes. ‘Ideal’ women don’t slog away at the gym, they don’t skip happy hours, they don’t avoid restaurants; they merely exist in mysterious, slender perfection. (Whoever said women don’t sweat –they sparkle– has clearly never stepped foot in a TRX bootcamp.)
  4. And finally, I’m still figuring out how to be both a body-positive feminist, and a woman with an actual body who is working toward a fitter, healthier lifestyle (re: working out a bunch, eating right, and losing weight.) Contemporary feminism, in reaction to the many restrictions that women have faced throughout history, often aggressively supports indulgence, and a sort of self-focused ‘treat yo self’ and ‘to hell with your standards’ mentality. There’s a voice in my head that tells me that a good feminist, much like Petersen’s Cool Girl, should cultivate an eff-off attitude unconcerned with the pain of exercise or the seeming deprivation of an intentional diet (a Cool Feminist?) But to point #1 above, this attitude doesn’t suit who I am at my core and secondly, the lifestyle changes I’ve made are making me feel like a million bucks, so I am defensive of their merit. Unfettered indulgence made me heavy, dull and at times down-spirited. Fear of deprivation, as this post argues compellingly, can throw a life out of whack in numerous ways and can become its own kind of torment.

So back to That Time When Almonds Made Me Feel Like a Jerkface. Of course my friends didn’t actually care about my healthier decisions on our work-cation. They cheered me on (when they finally woke up), and we had plenty of good time to talk about all the things that were going well in our lives, and the various challenges we were facing in our bodies, our careers, our families. I don’t take that support for granted, having had my fair share of first-hand experience with the discomfort and defensiveness some women express when they see other women try to better themselves or reach ambitious goals. But these women are the. best. (More on the self-care significance of supportive lady circles in another post…)

When I began this journey, I thought that the main source of guilt related to taking care of myself would relate to my family, and my kids especially. I had geared myself up to have those talks with the kids, about why mama needed to get out to the gym, or why we were having certain sorts of meals, etc. What I’ve learned since, though, is that there are many spaces whereI catch myself self-conscious and even ashamed of my new health-focused perspective. Where I harbor a deep fear of persnick-ification. At potlucks and dinner parties. At work luncheons and retreats. On holidays. At conference socials. When company’s coming.

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not I consider my own goals to be a higher priority than the social fear of coming across as particular. High maintenance. Un-indulgent. No fun. But I’m learning that there is graciousness to be found in these exchanges, as well, and that by handling them with humor and tact, I don’t have to give up my Midwestern Niceness in order to be an intentional, self-preserving woman. I’m entitled to craft experiences that best serve me and my personal goals, even in mixed company. Even when they might put someone else on the defensive.

It’s not high maintenance to take care of your body in the ways that make the most sense for your schedule. It’s simply maintenance, and it’s a requirement for keeping any powerful machine running.

Ever watchful,


*P.S. If you don’t follow Anne Helen Petersen’s work at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style on social media and on Buzzfeed, please rectify that immediately. She’s one of my favorite combos of scholarly + popular + journalistic and her insights are sharp, timely and often hilarious.

The Brick Wall That is February

I have a personal mantra: Never make any major life decisions in February.

Why is this my mantra? Because the world always seems more bleak in February.

Though I personally have been trying to embrace a mostly mindset, there isn’t much about February in New England that isn’t all or nothing.

It’s cold. It’s dark. The daylight hours are cruelly short. It’s icy and snowy. Someone in the house is sick each week. It’s difficult to get enough fresh air. The kids are stir crazy and bouncing off the walls.

February can feel relentless.

I don’t have anything as serious as seasonal affective disorder, but in my mind and body and heart, there’s a heaviness to the month. It feels like I have icy weights on my arms and my legs and my spirit, and all of the things that usually feel simple and even enjoyable seem just a little bit harder to get through. I’m slower to get up in the mornings, grouchier about getting to the gym, less enthusiastic about cooking, and find myself unable to do much more than hunker down and read a novel under a blanket by the end of a February day.

For an achiever-personality coming off of the New Year’s resolution high, this transition in February, while predictable for me, doesn’t feel comfortable. Progress on my personal, wellness and creative goals slows way down. Efficiency and productivity feel less energizing, which makes me feel panicky. It’s as if some little part of my soul says, “Hibernate. This is not the time to push. Stick to the minimum.”

I don’t recognize this voice, and it freaks me out.

It is a little audacious, isn’t it? The way that modern humans have decided that life in February in cold climates must just go on as usual? Despite the plunging temperatures, the feet of snow that bury us in, the illnesses that take out entire families for weeks at a time… life must go on. Sports practices and choir rehearsals and classes and pilates sessions and long commutes to work each day, all forge ahead, despite the many natural reminders about why staying home and resting might be ideal.

And that’s part of it for me, too. I’m a very extroverted person, but February tries to convince me otherwise. It always feels simpler, easier and safer to stay home in February. Fewer germs, no icy travel, no messing with coats and hats and boots and mittens spread across the house. Visits with friends grow few and far between.

In my own path toward wellness and self-care over the past few months, I’ve knocked down a lot of walls out of sheer will and determination. But I’ve come to realize that for me, February is not a wall I can just knock down. The metaphorical wall that I run into in February is something that’s to be endured, much like the coldness and the darkness outside.

The brick wall of February will recede in its own time. And just because it’s still lodged firmly and icily in the ground for now, doesn’t mean that I won’t get past it to get closer to my own personal and creative goals. And importantly, its fixedness right now, which can feel so discouraging, doesn’t make any of the walls I’ve broken through on my way to it any less valid. Sometimes transformation is a sprint; sometimes it’s a crawl. Honoring a different pace is not a regression.

For me, self-care in February means letting go of almost every lingering ‘should,’ remembering that baby steps are still forward motion toward a goal, and listening very carefully to my body and my heart as they ask for rejuvenation and nourishment and comfort in very different ways than they might during any other time of the year. I must keep in mind the February Filter, avoiding those big life decisions when I’m feeling especially fatigued and feeling things a bit out of proportion to their reality.

Spring always returns, along with my motivation and ambition. And the daffodils. And flip flops. And beach days. And road trips. And ice cream runs. And campfires after late sunsets.

I’m getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, I think I’ll find a book about someplace warm and sunny to read, so that as I’m tucked into bed (far too early, for lack of the energy to do anything else!) I’ll remember what it is that’s waiting for me on the other side of the wall.

Ever watchful,


“No winter lasts forever. No spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland


Dear Fitness Instructors: A Plea for Body-Positive Commentary

Dear fitness instructors,

This letter comes from a place of love. I adore group fitness classes. You welcome in people of all shapes, sizes and abilities and you serve as coaches to the masses, particularly for so many of us who can’t afford personal training or super-specialized classes.

I’ll never forget my first group class back on a recent wellness push, when I’d added a spinning class into my more typically solo, machine-based cardio routine. At the peak of the workout (or one of the dozen peaks — have you people ever taken a spinning class?!?), the instructor yelled, “YOU CAN DO THIS!” from her bike up front.

“YOU’VE GOT THIS! DON’T GIVE UP!” she insisted, her voice a roar over the crescendo of the music.

In that moment, I was grateful for the darkened studio we were in, because her words led to the teensiest bout of ugly crying on my end.  No, she wasn’t talking to me specifically, but she SPOKE TO ME. She coached me when I felt tired and weak. She made me feel seen and supported in a process that so often feels isolated and invisible. She reminded me that community is part of my wellness journey.

I could mist up again just remembering the power of moment. And similar things have happened multiple times since I’ve gotten back into fitness classes, like the time one instructor referred to me as “the new athlete joining us for the day” when I showed up in her studio for the first time. Me? An athlete? No one had called me an athlete in more than a decade. Swoooon. After that confidence boost, you can bet I had my swagger on the entire class, newbie status be damned.

The work you do as fitness instructors is so important, which is why I feel compelled to bring up the idea of body positivity in the context of group classes. Because the only thing that jars me from the euphoria of a fitness class (well, besides sweat dripping in my eyes and concern about the competency of my sports bra and general exhaustion…) is the use of body-shaming language that seems to bubble up in some of the classes I attend.

You know, phrases like:

“Push harder now so that you won’t feel guilty having a drink tonight!”

“If you’ve been bad over the weekend, it’s time to make up for it here.”

“If it’s still jiggling, we’ve got more work to do.”

“Don’t forget, bikini season is right around the corner!”

The last comment in particularly stopped me in my tracks at a class a few weeks ago, particularly because there was a young girl in there, maybe 13. I hated that this young soul had such a body-negative message reinforced in this otherwise positive space.

I hated the way so many of the women in the class nodded knowingly after hearing the comment. Like, “Yep. This is finally going to be the year that my body will be bikini ready. And then I’ll find true life satisfaction.”

I hated the reminder that I’ve been spending my early thirties trying to undo all of the body-negative B.S. that I internalized in my tweens and teens.

It wasn’t just the 13-year-old girl in the class who got me thinking about the implications of that “bikini season” comment from our instructor. See, right next to me was a nearly 90-year-old man, exercising his heart out. I simply refuse to believe that his personal motivation for attending the class was to look better in a bikini, which only reinforced the very gendered and ageist slant of the remark from the otherwise awesome instructor.

I understand where these sorts of comments come from. They’re the bread and butter of many fitness and lifestyle magazines that I’ve been reading since I was a kid (see the collage I made up top!) and the theme of a gazillion fitness DVDs and VHS tapes that probably still fill many of our basement shelves. Not to mention how much of female bonding relies on body shaming and “we’ll be naughty together” reasoning (more on that in another post.)

But I think that the fitness community can do more to collectively embody a broader conceptualization of what it means to be ‘well,’ avoiding the kinds of negative myths that a body positivity mindset rejects, such as:

  1. If we’ve consumed rich food or drink, we’ve been bad and should feel shame.
  2. Strict diets and brutal exercise are penance for laziness and indulgence and weakness.
  3. Our bodies are only desirable or useful when they conform to thin beauty ideals.
  4. A bikini body ready is a thin, muscular body; the rest of us should stay hidden indoors between the months of June and September. (Under parkas, preferably.)

As I’ve said before, on my own path to body-positive wellness, I’ve begun to conceive of weight loss as a potential side effect, but it’s not the main goal. There are endless studies that suggest non-aesthetic reasons to exercise, including better sleep, improved mood, improved sex drive, better focus, decreased anxiety and depression, and more.*

Exercise is magic. Plain and simple.

Even Women’s Health magazine has recently taken the leap to remove some body-negative language from its cover. What two phrases did audiences most want to see banished from the front? “Bikini body” and “drop two sizes.”

Hear, hear!

I believe that fitness instructors have a powerful role to play in this reconceptualization of what wellness means to people (and especially women) today. So how can you motivate us without relying on the knee-jerk standby comments about penance and being good or being bad or getting beach-body ready?

Remind me of my power that I tap into in these classes, a power that is always mine for the taking.

Remind me that movement is an essential part of my expression as a human.

Remind me that this is a space for me to focus solely on me, and to leave my baggage (and my self-consciousness) at the door.

Remind me that some of my classmates have been doing this for years, but that they had to start somewhere, too.

Remind me that I already have in me everything I need to transform my life (note: not my body) in the ways I desire.

Remind me of the self-discipline it took to get up and get to a class on a cold or dreary morning.

Remind me of the energy boost I’m likely to have for the rest of the day based on my decision to exercise.

Remind me of how exercise relates to self-care and self-love.

Remind me of how I have to take care of myself before I can take care of others.

Remind me of how much you like my funky socks (because for real, my gym sock game is on. point.)

I love you coaches so much. I hope you can take the time to think about this message, and help reduce the instances of body shaming that may be keeping people outside your doors, or feeling ashamed within them. We need you!

Ever Watchful,


*Erin Brown’s post on how she uses exercise to manage depression transformed my postpartum life after the birth of my third son. Check it out!

P.S. I LOVE this episode of ‘Braless’ about the notion of a ‘Bikini Body’ (coupled with a whole bunch of pictures of diverse bodies rocking swimsuits.)