Friday, August 4, 2017

My Body and the Great List of Why

I’ve been the first one in line for the body positivity movement. I’ve walked around in a world obsessed with thin, proud of my plus-size body. I felt like I was an example of how you didn’t have to follow society’s standards of beauty. My makeup, my clothes, my numerous dates were a big fuck you. My low blood pressure, lack of diabetes and  low cholesterol have also been a big fuck you.

But, there’s always a but, isn’t there?  I don’t know when it started. It’s not like I never thought about losing weight. I’ve tried it all. My follow-through sucks. But it doesn’t always suck for the reasons one might assume.  I get it in my head that I’m perfectly content with myself. That I can can continue on my own path.  And for a really long time, this was true.

But then secretly, despite all my rhetoric, something changed. What felt like minor inconveniences became embarrassments. It wasn’t simply being unhappy with myself in pictures (which I am). It wasn’t simply the way I seem to have lost my neck (which also didn’t help).

It was the fact that my body was getting in the way of itself.

Little things like crossing my legs to bigger things like holding my daughter in my lap or sitting in a booth to much bigger things like not being able to buckle up on an airplane. Yes folks, it’s gotten to that point. I’m that person who takes up the kind of space that threatens people. Although, I’m not one to shrink into the corner even if I am taking up space.

Two incidences happened almost exactly a year apart. Last summer, I was at Six Flags with my girlfriend, her sister and my son. We spent the day riding roller coasters. Then we got to the big wooden coaster I’d been waiting to ride all day. We waited in line, got to the front, climbed into the seats, and buckled our seatbelts….well, she buckled her seatbelt. I attempted to buckle mine….over and over again. It simply didn’t reach across my body. In front of everyone, I had to climb out of the seat (luckily my girlfriend also climbed out) and go down the exit stairs. When I got down the stairs, I burst out crying. I was horrified. I was lucky to have my girlfriend there. She was so kind and non-judgmental. She held me until the worst passed.

This summer, I went to a punk show in Philly with my best friend. It was 90 degrees outside. We got there too early, so we decided to get something to eat. He chose a cheesesteak place half a mile away. Big deal. Right? Wrong. My body no longer wants to walk half a mile with any semblance of self-respect. I am slow. My hips and butt hurt when I walk. But, I sucked it up. As we walked, he walked ahead of me, I pretended I was just taking my time staring through the windows of the funky Fishtown shops. When in reality, I was forcing one foot in front of the other as I sweated in the oppressive July heat.  

Then it happened. We were crossing the street and I looked down. My bright pink converse was untied. UNTIED. I literally had no idea how I was going to tie my shoe. We got across the street and stopped in front of a bank. Best friend waited for me as I stared down at my shoes. Fuck. I was hot, wearing a dress, and tying my shoes had become a difficult endeavor even under the best of circumstances. So, I finagled my body into some strange shape, tried to bend over and half-attempted to tie my shoe with little success. I stood back up and we started walking again. Of course, two blocks later, I had to do it again.

Once we reached the cheesesteak place, I was relieved to see that it was sit-down. However, now that my shoes were somewhat properly tied,  I was faced with yet another challenge: sitting in a booth. My body hates booths. My stomach shoves up against them uncomfortably, embarrassingly. A friend told me to sit sideways in the booth. Works like magic until I think about the fact that I have to sit sideways in a booth. Once we walked the half mile back to the show, in the heat, the room was crowded and unconditioned.

I didn’t want to admit to my best friend that his favorite activity was making me miserable.

Or really, I was miserable while standing in the middle of the show. The show would have been fun if I attended it in a different body.

Since the first incident, I made a secret plan for myself. Either I lose the weight by the time I’m 40, or I’ll look into bariatric surgery. A year went by, I tried my normal routine of walking, eating better, weight loss protein shakes, staring at my old Weight Watchers app, stopping, starting, stopping, not caring, not thinking about it...round and round and round.  

When you’re a body positive chubby girl who feels pressure to be the ultimate chubby girl role model, it’s hard to look in the mirror and give yourself permission to dislike your body.

But, if I’m honest, I don’t recognize myself anymore. There have always been things that I don’t like, but I’ve never been utterly displeased when I look in the mirror.

A couple weeks after the show, I had a conversation on the phone with my sister. I can’t remember the exact conversation. But I do know that we talked about body image. And for the first time, I said it out loud. “I think about getting bariatric surgery.”  While I’m sure she’s not surprised that it might be a good option for me, she certainly never thought it was a road I would want to go down.  But that night, unable to sleep with Best Friend snoring next to me, I thought, “What am I waiting for? Why 40? Why not now?” And in that moment, I knew for sure that what I wanted and what I needed.  

It’s oddly empowering to be so honest with myself. To come to this realization without anyone else’s opinion.The world I grew up in and the world I live in have always told me that my body wasn’t good enough and that my self-confidence was an anomaly. In turn, the voices in my head remind me how self-confident I am as if I’m failing my confidence if I give into the outside world, I’ll be turning my back on my true self.

But this is my true self. This is the body I have to exist in-- not the body others look at, think about, react to or judge.

So now, I start the process.  I already spoken to friends who’ve had it, got approved by my cardiologist, signed up for my informational session, and had my surgery consult. This is far from an easy fix. This is the hardest choice in fact. But I’m strong. I’ve powered through two c-sections and recovered from two open heart surgeries. I can do this….

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Receiver of the Slain

She stares up the stairs. He looks down at her with his cold blue eyes, well, at least they feel cold to her. She wouldn’t even know if his body felt warm. Standing on the landing, he stops, covers his mouth and coughs. His eyes widen, his hand full of blood. It drips from his mouth, slides down his chin and onto his stiff white collar shirt. Isabel stands frozen at the bottom of the stairs.

“Thor,” she manages to whisper.

And then he tumbles down the steep steps his large athletic body limp, blood trailing. Life suddenly moves in slow motion. Somehow she dials 911. Somehow she kneels down over his body. What do you do when someone you hate is lying on the floor bleeding? Isabel wants a flicker of love and hope to course through her veins, but she is numb. She isn’t a monster. She helps. She opens the door for the EMTs. She watches as they wipe away the blood to administer CPR. She is in the ambulance. At the hospital.

She is listening to a doctor. She wonders if she should fall to her knees. She has blood on her hands. She feels like Lady MacBeth. Except Lady Macbeth felt guilt. A blood clot, they tell her, filled his lungs.

"He must have had symptoms, Mrs. Erickson."

"Dr. Erickson-Fink," she wants to correct him with his white coat and sympathetic face.

“I’m sorry. There was nothing we could do.”

Thor and his light eyes and blond hair and broad shoulders is dead. His anger is dead. His silence is dead. His cold unforgiving stares- dead. His late night texting with god knows who- dead. And relief washes over her-- blood still covering her hands and her clothes. Tears flow down her face as she sinks to the ground. A nurse reaches out to comfort her. Isabel cringes. Isabel feels like sin. Isabel feels lightened and guilty. Someone takes her arm, lifts her up.

“Do you want to see him?”

Does she want to see him? She closes her eyes and tries to remember what it was like to love him. She tries to remember when his breath on her neck felt like heaven. Instead her brain shifts to the phrase she’s uttered over and over again in her head all these years, “I wish he would just hit me, and then maybe he’d feel bad.” And now he’s dead and they expect her to view his lifeless body. Hasn’t his body always been lifeless? Or maybe just loveless. She wants to scream and run and tell someone the confused tangled thoughts invading her mind. She puts her hand over her eyes. She knows she looks like grief.

“Do you want to call someone. His parents, perhaps?”

Isabel looks up, wanting to laugh. Thor was alone in America. She used to believe he was alone because his family was heartless. Now she knew that he was heartless. "Was that too dramatic," Isabel wonders. "Does shock bring drama?"

Soon, she is whisked into his hospital room. The room is cold and white. He is cold and white. She sucks in her breath. For a moment Isabel wants to touch him to take her husband in her arms and breath life back into him. He was already almost not her husband anymore. And now, she is a widow.

A nurse interrupts her thoughts. "Mrs. Erickson?"

“Isabel, you can spend as much time as you need dear."

And then what?” This isn’t a movie where people know what to do. Where people have plans. She is unprepared. His body still lies there. “Cover him up!” she wants to scream. “Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone!" Thor. I worked so hard to be brave enough to leave you. I almost worked up the courage. Thor, I can’t remember loving you. I want to feel love right now. I want to feel horror that another human being has dropped dead in front of me.

She slumps to the floor again. Isabel doesn’t want to see him again. She wants him to be taken away.

She wants to be alone.

She is totally alone.

She is free.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Body Cleanse

Last month, a friend, whose book I am editing, shared with me a new cleanse system she is following: a regimen of two shakes a day and one healthy meal, a host of extra vitamins and two cleanse days per week for the first two weeks. Something about her enthusiasm struck me. And for some reason, I wanted to jump on board. She was happy to guide me. There was something inside me that screamed- I can do this! The question, of course, is why. Why do I want to jump on board. Is it about health? Is it about weight? Is it about body image? Am I giving in? Am I selling out? Am I? Am I? Why Why why?

I struggle with this issue on many levels. My most public fight is the body-positive feminist in me who dreams of opening a plus-size boutique and fights for women like me to know they are beautiful despite what society might say otherwise. But my private fight is with my history, the long line of disordered eaters in my lineage, my own defiant eating, my holding onto the weight of rebellion, of grief, and of the struggle to feel normal. I walk around with the feeling that I am beautiful in spite of not because of my body. I walk around with confidence and horror; pride and shame.

The most private answer to why is that I want another baby. 

Bam, I said it. Now, it’s out there in the universe. Besides being single (which isn’t a factor that would necessarily stop me from getting pregnant), I don’t feel that my body is in a place to get and be pregnant. I’m not asking for much from my body. I’m not asking to be skinny or even non-plus-size. Just….different.

Another piece of the conversation is my heart. People jump to what they think is the obvious reason: my heart. Yes, I just had open heart surgery. Yes, there are people who are overweight that need open heart surgery. My surgery, however, was about structural deformities that I was born with. There is no plaque filling my arteries, my blood pressure is not high, and I don’t even high cholesterol. Why am I even telling you this? Because I am sick of justifying my weighted existence. I am sick of people who think they have the answers to my questions.

I have mixed feelings about my body image. On one hand, I am beautiful, I have great style, and as everyone knows, I am never lacking in the dating arena. But then it happened...that moment every fat girl dreads-- being called out by a stranger. Not a total stranger. My best friend’s new boyfriend.  I met him for the first time on New Year’s Eve. It was a great night. Or, so I thought. He had one huge problem with the whole night: me.  Everything about me irked him: from my cleavage to my clothes to my open conversation. But what irked him the most was my fat. I can’t recall everything my best friend relayed to me, but the gist of it was that he couldn’t understand why I was fat. Why was I occupying so much space? (Frankly, I think every way I occupied space bothered him and not just my weight). 

She quickly dumped him, but his words stuck with me. They occupied  the deepest weakest part of my being. Some dumb, immature, grown up man who cared for no apparent reason (if we had been on a date and he wasn’t attracted to me, that is a completely different story. That I can understand and that doesn’t hurt me) had pointed out my biggest fear--- like he’d unraveled some deep dark secret. I suddenly felt the space I was occupying. My normal confident shell cracked ever so slightly. (okay, maybe more than slightly).

So, then my friend comes along with this shake program and suddenly, I’m like, fuck it. Why not?

Except after a pretty successful two weeks the culture of the program gets under my skin. I am in awe of the results pictures in our support group, and there are things I really enjoy reading and sharing, but it really isn’t a support group. It’s a virtual pep rally, and I’ve never really been one for pep rallies. I’ve come across real issues. The cleanse drink for the two consecutive cleanse days makes me violently ill. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t even think about it without getting nauseous. 

While my friend has been amazing about it, the group as a whole just seems to think I should work harder at it. Suck it up. Drink it anyway. My body thinks it poison and I should drink it so that I’ll get skinnier faster? Is that healthy? Then there is the fact that you aren’t supposed to eat for two days. Just drink the drink. Last night, I couldn’t do it, so I ate some veggies, and guess what? I felt like I’d failed. Eating veggies made me feel like a failure. 

Am I setting myself up for disordered eating? What kind of example am I setting for my kids?

That’s the one I struggle with the most. I didn’t have someone to teach me healthy eating. I was taught to fear food. And to not eat in front of my children seems like a terrible idea. If I should change anything, it should be modeling a positive, healthy, and smart connection to food.

I have no really answers right now, just a million questions I’m throwing out into the universe. I have no intention of giving up the program. For the most part, I really enjoy it, but I need a little more reality with my cleanse. I need someone else to say- this sucks! I’m miserable. I’m confused. I’m struggling. and I want the answer to too. me too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

38 weeks

I want to write her name in the sky.
And watch it blow away in the wind.
I want to scream her name with joy
Pronouncing every syllable
Savoring each sound like fine wine
Or rich chocolate cake.

I want to fold perfect paper airplanes filled with each letter
And fly them into space.
I want her name in a bottle
Across the sea.

I want her name to mean something in this world.
I want to know it is more than a whisper from my mouth
Or a dream inside my head.

I want the idea of her to be
Honored and exalted.
              She is holy and her name is holy
Her name is my love
Her name is forgiveness
And light
Her name is my devotion
my loss
my grief
my pain
my wonder

Her name is my secret

My heart is broken but when they cut it open, no matter how they poke and prod,
her name will remain in my swishing heartbeat
in the oxygen that fills my body
Lifting my exhaustion.

It is her name that pulls at my heart
Making it beat faster

She's the angel that pushed me down to earth with my broken heart
The only sign of her remaining in the indentation
of her fingertip above my lips.
Her fingertip that erased my memory
leaving me with a lifetime of searching for the answer
to some foggy thought I can't quite catch

She's the piece that will mend my broken heart
not enough for perfection, but enough for life
So, she doesn't have to save me again

Her name is a blessing
She is my blessing
May her memory be a blessing

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Liberation Theology

When I was editor of the Jewish VOICE, I wrote a reflections article on my problems with Passover. As Passover approaches, I thought it would be good to share.

Liberation Theology
By Shoshana Kohn, Editor

I spent a long time staring at a blank page.  Why? Because as a part of a greater Jewish community, I realize that we are hold our own beliefs and these beliefs mean everything to us.  However, I think most of us struggle with something in Judaism, and if we don’t talk about it, and share it, we may never get over that struggle.  So, let me start by saying, while you, dear reader, may not agree, I, Shoshana Kohn, am a Biblical skeptic.  Therefore, as I grow older, I find myself more and more troubled with Passover. 
When it comes to historical fact and the bible, the academic world is very complicated. We know King Solomon was real. We know there was a Kingdom of Israel and a Kingdom of Judah.  Clearly, we know there was a Babylonian exile. However, other stories are historically murky.  The Exodus is one of the best examples of historical murkiness.  According to Prof. Israel Finkelstein in his book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts:
There is no evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt, not the slightest, not the least bit of evidence. There are no clues, either archaeological or historical; to prove that the Israelites built monuments in Egypt, even though the biblical description of the famine in the Land of Israel may be accurate. We know from archaeology that there was a migration of Canaanites to Egypt in the first half of the second millennium BCE, that these migrants built communities in the area of the Nile Delta, and that the Egyptians afterward expelled them from there. Perhaps that is the ancient memory, I don't know.
Many other archaeologists would agree that there is no physical evidence in the Sinai: no bones, no food refuge, no trash, and no tools— nothing that proves a people wandered through the desert.  More so, the Egyptians didn’t speak of us in their stories. So, archeologically speaking, it didn’t happen.
Of course, this begs the question: just because we aren’t aware of the evidence, does it mean that it doesn’t exist?  I would argue that the scope and breath of the investigation is so great that the archeologists are pretty spot on. Think of slaves in America: the books, the sales receipts, the physical remnants of slave labor throughout the south; the evidence goes on and on.  While yes, the story of the Hebrew slaves happened thousands of years ago, however, we know the kinds of records the Egyptians kept: the elaborate burials, the pyramids, and yet, the Israelites aren’t part of their narrative. Someone might argue that they wanted erase the narrative, but we possess too much information about the history of Egypt to assume something has gone missing.
Frankly, to me the greatest wonder of the Torah is that an intricate, complicated piece of literature has sustained itself all these years. Its power is in its stories. Its humanity, its characters, its life lessons. It is not simply a roadmap to how to live our lives, but a mythology that speaks to the very essence of what it means to be human. We grapple with those tales together. We analyze these characters we argue their words, their actions, their motivations. It is a millennial long conversation that keeps going.

And yet, at Passover, I take pause because through the recitation of the liberation from slavery, these stories morph from myth into historical fact. We recite so that we never forget what it meant to be slaves. However, in my mind,  I fear we have created a liberation theology without liberation.
This stops me dead in my tracks. How dare we call ourselves slaves when we live among the grandchildren of slaves? How dare we call ourselves slaves when women and children are sold into modern slavery?

But then- where did many slaves gain courage liberate themselves? The Exodus from Egypt. It is our story that we cultivated over time, our stories that we told and retold over thousands of years, that we, the People of the Book, upheld, carried, passed down over generation after generation. It is our stories that even with the creation of a new religion among other nations, was kept alive.
Why? Because it struck them just as it struck us: as worthy, as life giving, as strength.
No, we weren't slaves in Egypt, but we've been captives and wanderers, we've been tortured and broken- only to rise up again and again. We use our book to build community. We use our book to build a great democratic nation-whose own strengths and weaknesses are a reflection of the stories that have come before.
When Harriett Tubman led slaves through the Underground Railroad, they called her Moses. When slaves secretly learned how to read, they read the Bible, and in it they saw a people, not only yearning to be free, but a people who found their way to liberation.
Our stories are a light to the nations not because they are fact, but because it doesn't matter if they are fact. They are power.
As we sit down at the Passover table, we are giving our children the power of these stories. And maybe, just maybe, we can keep using our stories to bring about liberation until no one else needs to be freed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

This Is 35

This morning I read an article on Huffington Post, This is 38. It didn't sit right with me. Not because her reality wasn't truthful, but it was so different than my own reality. So, on the edge of my 35th birthday, I thought I'd write my own version. (And, a note to the grammar police, I decided to write 35 instead of thirty-five.)

This is 35

35 is rejections you thought would be over by now keep coming. It is losing the job that looked so impressive on paper. It is realizing that you hated your boss anyway. It is wondering where that perfect job you worked so hard to have will jump in your lap. At 35, looking towards 40 is much more appealing than looking backwards at 30. Being 25 sounds awful. Getting carded is no longer fun; it’s just confusing. 

Being 35 means leaving your old life and starting another. It means ex-husbands and anger. Missing children and sadness. It means that being the First Wife is a much happier life than being the Forever Wife. 35 means finding the friends you only dreamed about, feeling comfortable in your own skin, and learning you don’t have to talk to everyone- especially the ones you dislike. 35 is the great art of saying no.

Happiness is nothing like you imagined it. Sorrow is more likely to come from the days and days without your children than being stood up for a date. It also means that you still stay out late with your friends, drink too much sometimes, but feel much worse with a hangover.

35 is learning the curves of someone else’s body. It is the kind of confusion you missed in your twenties because you were already married. It is wondering if you’ll ever have another baby because time is ticking away and you can’t wrap your head around someone new and baby-worthy. It is waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is cowering and crying and praying that next fight won’t come with silence, punishment or cruelty. 35 is not knowing what better looks like.

It is nights on the couch drinking wine with your best friends. It is brunch and bookstores. It is wondering why your new girlfriend doesn’t realize turning the heat up to 75 costs a crazy amount of money. It is breathing deeply, so you don’t get mad.

35 is letting your daughter sleep in your bed and overindulging your son with inappropriate video games. It is staring at wife number two unable to see why she is appealing. It is the realization that you wasted too much time worrying about the pretty girls. It is knowing she is nothing like you. It is wondering if he secretly hurts her too. It is hearing your three-year-old call some other woman mommy because she’s too young to remember life without her. 

It is wondering what you ever saw in him. It is a door slammed in your face. A fight on the lawn. It is a judge. It is battles. It is freedom even when the freedom feels hard and scary.

It is seeing your parents in a whole new light. It is losing your last grandparent. It is arguing with your sister about your childhood and laughing at your ridiculousness. It is a large empty house that echoes when you walk. It is paying teenagers to shovel your sidewalks and jumping your car with your own cables.

It is wishing you hadn’t waited so long. It is bringing women together. It is knowing you aren’t alone. It is staring death in the face and living life anyway. It is numbness and madness. Desperation and exaltation. It is wonder and relief. Pain and chaos. It is shame and the need for forgiveness but not knowing where to start. It is desire and redemption. 

35 is trying to figure out who the fuck you are and striving to find who you want to become. Because becoming isn’t over. Becoming is just beginning. 35 isn’t old. It isn’t an ending. It is just the beginning of joy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


He is tall and slender with a crooked nose, big eyes, full lips, a steady professional job, and a neatly button-down shirt. His ordinariness is so extradinary it makes my heart ache. He belly laughs at my goofy, well-timed joke. His wedding ring laughs at me when it bumps against the table.

I am unsure what hurts more: the baby at the next table or him.

Both of them hold someone else's joy and on another day, in another week, in another year, neither would grab my attention with such strangling unyielding force.

And oddly, it's his force that pulls me more than the baby. Because, well, through all of this, my lack of a partner has left me emptier than I've ever known I could be. Even while pregnant, the loneliness grabbed me and pulled me down forcing the howl out of my throat.
And don't tell me about the kind of loneliness you feel when your partner isn't really your partner. I know every nook and cranny. I know every sharp edge.

But I can gather as many family and friends around me as I want. And they can give me strength, but this loss is mine and mine alone. There is no other hand to hold, no other heart that's broken, no one to even feel annoyed at because they aren't grieving the way in want them to grieve.

I don't even know how to grieve.

But I know how to want and wish. And that ordinary looks so good. It looks safe.

And I am no longer numb.