Tales from the Lesloom Episode 3: The Awakening

Something lighter for this week because the last two weeks have had extremely heavy topics . If you haven’t read any of the Lesloom stories, I suggest starting with the first and second episodes to get a background of what the lesbian futon is and how its adventures began. For those who are up to date on these short little fairy tales, I present episode 3 “The Awakening.”

The futon settled into its new home and routine easily. Living with Emma felt so right that an outsider would think the two had been together for years rather than just a few months. Emma felt an instant trust with her new bed, opening up her soul to the futon and revealing her secrets. It became a ritual of sorts for Emma to tell the futon about her day as she prepared for sleep. And the futon did exactly what it was born to do—it listened.

Though Emma had not become aware of her orientation yet, the futon could sense that her sexual awakening was not far off. A futon, though you may not suspect it, has a keen sense of smell. And the hormones that gently arrived to tip Emma’s world upside down were unmistakable even to this inexperienced futon.

Emma could already tell that she wasn’t the same as some of her friends. Although she’d hung a few pictures of boy bands on her wall, she didn’t feel what they felt. She didn’t gush over the boys in school or fret about dating. She kept her difference to herself, only telling the futon, “I just don’t get what they see in them.”

The futon sighed, I know. Give it time.

“But I just don’t want to get married,” she whispered back. “Why does everything have to change? Why can’t we just stay the same?”

The futon knew that the “we” Emma was referring to was her best friend who, up until recently, hadn’t shown any more interest in boys than Emma. But as Rebecca too started to change, Emma had withdrawn more into herself.

Slowly, Emma stopped hanging out with the most of the girls in her class. She felt awkward when they talked about boys and found it easier to be alone, but Rebecca didn’t let her pull away.

One night Emma begged her mom to let her stay home from a classmate’s birthday slumber party. “I don’t feel well!” she complained. It was becoming her go-to excuse since she’d discovered that it caused the fewest question in her quest for solitude.

“Do you want the heating pad?” her mother cooed sympathetically.

Letting her mom think it was cramps, Emma shook her head and buried her face in her pillow.

“Okay, I’ll let Janie’s mom know you won’t be coming.” With a gentle pat on Emma’s head, her mother left to spread the convenient lie.

Emma had been snuggling into the safety of the futon, watching a movie and trying desperately not to think about her lack of attraction to boys, when Rebecca suddenly strolled through the door.

“My mom sends her special menstrual relief salve,” she said with a sarcastic smile.

Emma jolted upright. “What are you doing here?”

The futon perked up at the tension that suddenly emanated from its ward. It fluffed itself protectively around Emma’s small form and sent out a silent warning to Rebecca. Don’t hurt her.

“I came to keep you company.” Rebecca flopped down next to Emma, her dark hair cascading to cover the computer screen. Reaching over, she tapped the space bar, pausing the movie. “I didn’t feel much like hanging out with a bunch of twittering idiots either. Are you really on your period?”

Emma grimaced at Rebecca’s frankness. “No,” she admitted.

“Didn’t think so.” Rebecca laughed and pushed the computer out of the way. “So what do you want to do?”

“I dunno.” Emma had never been so tense around Rebecca. The futon did what it could to purr out some comfort, but Emma wasn’t listening to her furniture friend. She was too busy trying to hide her discomfort from her human friend.

“This puberty thing sucks, doesn’t it?” Rebecca continued after a moment.

Emma flinched again. “Why do you have to be so . . .”

“Because why should I be afraid to talk about what’s happening to me? I’ll never understand it if I don’t try.” The words were harsh, and Rebecca seemed to regret them as soon as they were out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be mean. I just . . . don’t understand why it’s so tough to talk about this stuff.”

Emma chose not to respond but rolled over and grabbed a deck of cards off her nightstand. “Wanna play?”

Rebecca nodded and folded herself into a cross-legged position. Emma shuffled and dealt out a simple game of rummy, and the two of them settled into the familiar comfort of the cards. Emma was thankful for the distance the card pile between them created, but deep inside she was aching with a longing that she didn’t know what to do with.

“Have you ever . . .” she began the question, but didn’t know how to continue it.

Rebecca looked up from her hand. “Have I ever what?”

“I don’t know.” Emma stared fixedly at her cards, nervously arranging them before finally discarding one. “Sometimes I feel like I’m doing the whole puberty thing wrong.”

Rebecca picked up the discarded card, adding it to her own hand and throwing out another. “How do you mean?”

Emma blushed and hastily drew a new card. “Sometimes . . . I just wish boys would stay out of the picture.” She looked sheepishly at Rebecca to see if she was picking up on her meaning. “It’s not that I don’t like the idea of kissing. I just don’t like the idea of kissing boys.”

The futon’s heart was racing by now to match Emma’s and, surprisingly, Rebecca’s—though she looked perfectly calm to Emma.

“Well, I don’t think I’d dislike kissing boys,” Rebecca began.

Emma sagged into the cushions just slightly, playing her cards without a word.

“Of course, I’m not like the others . . . I don’t always think about kissing boys.”

Emma opened her mouth to retort, but Rebecca cut her off. “Sometimes I think about kissing girls too.”

“Is that . . . is that normal?” Emma couldn’t hide the hope in her voice at hearing someone say what she’d been feeling for so long.

Rebecca shrugged.

“Me too.” The admission was made more to the futon than to Rebecca.

The futon sighed visibly with the relief of the truth, startling both girls.

Emma giggled nervously. “I forgot where we were in the game.”

“Me too,” Rebecca echoed, throwing her cards into the center and gathering the deck together. She began shuffling aimlessly. “We could, uh—” The cards scattered on a failed riffle. “We could try.”

“What do you mean?”

“We could test out how we like kissing—girls.” Rebecca shrugged. “Each other.”

The poor futon trembled for Emma. As much as it wanted her to find herself and find love, it could foresee the beginning of the painful road of awakening that would accompany the end of this time of blissful ignorance.

Emma’s first kiss was awkward, she and her best friend leaning towards each other over a mess of cards. It started with a peck.

“What did you think?” Emma asked, her voice unsteady.

After a moment, Rebecca replied, “I don’t know. It was too short.”

So back together they went, lingering this time on each other’s lips in as sweet a second kiss as you would ever see. Emma’s heart soared with the perfection of the moment, finally understanding a little bit about what all her friends had been gushing about. This—this feeling! This moment! This contact!

Over too soon as Rebecca pulled away again. She rubbed the back of her hand over her lips. “It’s nice.”

Emma withdrew to her side of the futon, wondering what “nice” meant. “Yeah . . .”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Rebecca said in what she seemed to think was an encouraging promise.

Emma shook her head. “Me either.”

There was so much other stuff she wanted to say though and didn’t. The rest of the night passed in the same way that their sleepovers usually passed, with movies, games, and snacks. The kiss wasn’t mentioned again. No other kisses followed.

Emma had entered into that torturous stage of first love when nothing is certain and no one knows how to move forward or backward. She went to bed with a bittersweet memory lingering on her skin. Unsure of whether to be elated or devastated, she lay still until she thought Rebecca was sleeping then whispered to the futon, “But I liked it a lot.”

“Me too,” came the soft whisper next to her.

The futon hugged the two girls to itself, proud of their honesty with each other, apprehensive of their hearts, and wishing with all its might that it could tell the future. But it was just a futon and had to settle with doling out lots of loving energy to the girls in the hopes that it would make their dreams happy and their sleep restful.

 

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Killing the Messenger: A Closer Look at Anger

Last week in talking about forgiveness, anger and violence frequently came up. Even though I normally would do something lighter after such a heavy topic, I feel I need to cover my position on anger to try to clear up the misunderstandings. To be honest, I’m not even sure how much of this is original to me or to another psychotherapist because it’s a topic that we’ve covered in depth several times. Then again, how much of an idea is ever original to anyone? All ideas are formed based on our interactions with others. Therefore, here is my spin on what I’ve come to understand about anger through the exchange of ideas with very wise others.

I suppose if you weren’t shocked about my previous post, you won’t be shocked to learn that I’ve come to see anger as healthy. I lost count of how many times I said that last week. Anger really is the most demonized shadow emotion, and it’s unfortunate because anger can be such a powerful tool.

I think the aversion to anger lies in this myth that anger is the same as malice, violence, and abuse.

It’s not.

First, malice is an intent—wishing someone harm. While I could argue a relativistic approach about the neutrality of a “wish,” I do not believe that intending someone harm is either good or healthy. But anger doesn’t have to come accompanied with intent. I can be (and am) angry at my abusers without wanting to see them harmed.

Second, violence and abuse are behaviors—a certain way of expressing various attitudes and emotions. Anger can be part of that mix, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes violence and abuse can be about control, entitlement, sadistic pleasure or prejudice without anger ever entering the picture. Even if anger were always part of violence and abuse, it would be fallacious to assume that one is equal to the other. In order for anger to become violence, there must also be a script.

And by “script” I mean exactly what it sounds like. Shakespeare wasn’t too far off when he likened the world to a stage. Life is filled with little scripts that tell us what to do and say in various situations. Think about the majority of your interactions and how rote they can be in the beginning and end. There might be some variation, but for the most part we all follow a basic model of interaction.

Scripts aren’t instinctual from birth. They’re conditioned and taught through culture and, as a result, often vary from culture to culture. If someone tried to kiss me in greeting, I might duck and run, but if I grew up in Europe, that would not be an awkward way of saying hello.

Whereas our scripts are conditioned, emotions are universal across humanity—the one language that can be understood across cultures—and shared with other species. We tend to downplay the importance of emotion in science, but the fact is emotions serve a pretty significant evolutionary function. Our species could not survive without them. They’re one of the oldest surviving aspects of the mind because they are essential to group interaction.

As an emotion, anger has a purpose. It’s the warning light that goes off when something is wrong. By itself, that warning is neither good nor bad . . . actually, I could argue that it’s good because without that warning light we’d have a hard time knowing when something crossed an important boundary. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it neutral.

We are taught how we’re supposed to react to that warning, and that is where we get into problems. When we think of anger, the scripts that most often come to mind are suppression or rage—neither of which are healthy. In many ways, I also see them as the same response. Anger out of control is anger that can no longer be suppressed. And suppressed anger will eventually become out of control.

Let’s use the analogy of urination. It’s not something we consider all that pleasant, but it is a natural bodily function that we all have. If you can’t pee, there’s something wrong with your body. If you try to suppress your body’s need for too long, sooner or later you’re going to pee uncontrollably all over yourself. If you suppress your body’s need consistently over time, you’ll cause permanent damage.

Similarly, when anger is considered something we need to suppress or drive away from ourselves, the only time it ever finds its way out is when we get to the point that we can’t suppress it any longer. Then, yes, we’re going to get unhealthy and unwanted expressions.

If we consistently fail to give ourselves a healthy outlet for our natural emotions, it will also cause all of those nasty little health problems that everyone associates with “negative emotions.” And if the pee analogy isn’t enough to convince you that the health problems are a result of an unhealthy expression of anger, consider adrenaline. It’s common knowledge by now that too much adrenaline in the body can cause pretty significant damage, especially if adrenaline levels are kept elevated over time (aka stress). But no doctor would argue from that knowledge that we shouldn’t have an adrenaline response. We’re advanced enough in our understanding to recognize that adrenaline serves an important function in the fight/flight response. It gets our body ready to deal with an emergency. We need that ability. But if our adrenaline response is repeatedly triggered and our body isn’t given the proper outlet for releasing that energy, it causes problems.

Why should anger be any different? Go ahead and make note of the unhealthy approaches to anger, but don’t kill the messenger because you don’t know how to make use of the message! Instead, find the positive approaches to anger.

It’s an arousing emotion, meaning it creates energy. Like most people, I used to associate that energy with destruction, in a bad way. It’s true that anger can be destructive, but as a part of creation, destruction can actually be healthy. Sometimes it’s better to end a relationship because it’s toxic. Sometimes it’s better to cut some ties, pull down some walls, demolish some beliefs, and tear up some letters. Anger as a destructive force gives us the energy to bring to an end something that no longer contributes to our health and/or growth.

Kali--goddess of time and change, often a symbol of destruction but also a symbol of creation. My "goddess" of anger.

Kali–goddess of time and change, often a symbol of destruction but also a symbol of creation. My “goddess” of anger.

But, I’ve discovered that anger can also be constructive. Some of my best art has been created during a period of intense anger. It’s been the force behind much of my healing and the impetus that prompted me to create a better life for myself. And I wouldn’t be learning how to build relational boundaries without the anger that tells me when someone has done something that violates my person.

Putting the destruction and construction together, I see anger as the catalyst for change, inspiring activism, social justice, and protests. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, child labor laws—all of it involved some sort of anger at the injustice of the situation and a desire to see that change. Hell, the U.S. wouldn’t even be here without anger. Anger is a valuable stressor that pushes a system to make adjustments. Otherwise, the system has no reason to change.

Sometimes anger can just be an extra boost of energy. Some of my best workouts have been fueled by anger. I absolutely love running when I’m pissed. Yoga, with angry girl music blasting, is pure exhilaration. And let’s not forget that rumor about angry sex. I’ve been doing my own little experiments on that. I can’t reveal my results, but the gist of my post could probably tip you off. 😉

I’ve even come to see anger as an expression of love! By allowing myself to experience anger over my abuse, I am showing love to myself. By allowing myself to get angry over the injustice that I see against another, I am loving them enough to get upset at the way they are being treated. And I really can’t bring this point out enough—even Jesus (you know, the love your neighbor as yourself guy) got angry enough to build a freaking whip and overturn the tables of a bunch of swindlers.

So, to wrap up my exhausted ramblings, yes, anger can have significant problems associated with it–as can any emotion or natural function that has been demonized and pushed into the recesses of our psyche. And it’s true that living in a constant state of anger can be problematic . . . but to be fair, no emotion is healthy to experience as a constant state of being (not even happiness). So really, the constant state thing is a moot point.

When we no longer try to dictate to ourselves which emotions we’re allowed to feel, the body has its own way of finding balance. Our job is to listen to it (yes I said that last week, but I think it’s important) and sit with the process. We start by questioning the scripts we’ve been taught about our emotions and giving our emotions space to simply be–without judgment, without expectation. Just be.

Forgiveness is Bullshit

Please Note: I will no longer be approving comments that prescribe forgiveness to me or others or imply that we “just need to do it right.” I’ve already covered that extensively both in the main post itself and in the comments. Feel free to comment about your own personal experience (good or bad) with forgiveness, but keep your opinion about what others need to do to yourself. Thanks!

Wherever you find an intolerance for and avoidance of “negative emotion,” you are almost guaranteed to also find a “doctrine” of forgiveness. I cringe every time I hear forgiveness come up. For a while, my cringing was accompanied by guilt because I felt horrible that I would see such a “positive” action/attitude as repulsive. I could easily understand why I might feel repelled by the fundamentalist definition of forgiveness, but I didn’t understand why I was also disgusted by the more “liberal” definitions of forgiveness.

As I’ve taken the journey to reclaim my right to have my emotions, even the shadow ones, I’ve gained a bit of a better understanding of my hatred of the very idea of forgiveness.

Basically I’m here to say it’s all bullshit.

Yes, I know I’ve probably made many of you gasp and even branded myself in some minds as a “bitter person.”

That’s okay. If you don’t feel like reading on about how the idea and pressure to “forgive” can actually be harmful, you are free to stop reading here. But I guarantee there are going to be a good number of readers who sigh with relief at what I just said because, deep down, they feel that way too.

Why do I think forgiveness is bullshit? Before I answer that question, I want you to close your eyes and think about your best denotative definition for the word. Can you?

Well, let’s go over some of the popular quotes and quips about forgiveness. Then at the end, we’ll actually look at the dictionary definition and discuss that (now please don’t ruin things and look it up in the dictionary just yet).

  • “Forgive and forget”: I actually got this one a lot in fundamentalism. It’s a very convenient phrase for teaching children to suppress memories and accept repeated abuse. In fact, when I, as a teen, confided to a counselor at The Wilds Christian Camp that I couldn’t “forget” about my abuse and I was having a hard time “forgiving” the abuser as a result, I was told that as long as I never talked about it to anyone ever again and pushed the thoughts about the abuse out of my head whenever they intruded, I would be able to forgive, even if I didn’t officially forget. It should be pretty easy to see why equating forgiveness with amnesia of an event is bullshit. Stupidity is not a virtue.
  • “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” This little gem from C. S. Lewis is representative of another commonly repeated idea in fundamentalism. It doesn’t really define forgiveness, merely mandates it as a divine expectation, which can be just as bad as the definitions. I would actually classify this as spiritual/emotional abuse even without having a definition like the one above simply because of the way that such a divine mandate is wielded against the wounded to undercut their healing. It’s probably also the only idea off the top of my head that I would say Jesus should be ashamed of propogating with his “seventy times seven” statement in Matthew 18:22. . . unless of course, the translation effect fails to account for the possibility that at that time and in that period “forgiveness” wasn’t what we think of it as today.
  • “True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’” (Oprah) Bullshit should be so easy to find in this one. I can think of several experiences that I would NEVER thank someone for, my sexual abuse being the most prominent that comes to mind. In fact, if forgiveness is really finding the ability to be thankful for what someone else did to you that hurt you, I’d have to say that I’ve never forgiven anyone who wronged me, nor do I want to.
  • “Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” (C. R. Strahan) This is one that on the surface seems nicer. And there are a lot of variations on the idea of freeing or healing oneself through forgiveness. But my next question is, if forgiveness is not absolving someone, what is it? These types of phrases never give an alternative. And I’m sorry to break it to anyone who likes this definition, but it’s not in the real definition. “Absolving,” on the other hand, is. So the attempt to whitewash forgiveness into something entirely personal and not connected to the offending person is really just all BULLSHIT.
  • “Forgiveness is the discovery that what you thought happened, didn’t.” (Byron Katie) Bull-fucking-shit! I actually expected better from Byron Katie. I’ve heard a lot of good things about her and was horribly disappointed to find her propagating such a stupid definition of forgiveness. It’s just another form of the amnesia prescription of forgiveness, but with an even more sinister undertone. Instead of just forgetting it happened . . . it’s actually suggesting that it didn’t happen. Yes, let’s tell a grieving parent that forgiving a drunk driver who killed their child would mean discovering that the driver didn’t actually kill their child. That doesn’t sound insensitive at all! For that matter, I’m sure there are a few spouses who might also protest at the idea that forgiveness means discovering that infidelity didn’t actually take place. In case it isn’t obvious, what Katie is describing is called a misunderstanding, and that doesn’t require forgiveness, merely clarification.

But what about the real definition? Okay, here you go. According to Dictionary.com, forgiveness is:

  1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
  2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
  3. to grant pardon to (a person).
  4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
  5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

The definition and connotation of forgiveness is all about the other person—the person who wronged you—and setting them free, absolving them, letting them off the hook, ceasing to feel anger (or bitterness or whatever the new demonized emotion is) towards that person.

I’m here to cry bullshit on the whole charade.

Forgiveness isn’t necessary for healing.

Forgiveness is not necessary to “move on.”

It’s not even necessary in order to feel compassion or love for someone.

It’s not necessarily healthy.

In fact, more often than not, in the instances when forgiveness is prescribed (severe betrayal, severe hurt/abuse, severe tragedy, severe trauma), it’s actually harmful to the person needing to heal. There’s a reason why anger is listed as one of the main steps in grief—it’s important! Getting angry, feeling sad, holding someone else accountable, they’re all part of “moving on.”

What does a statement like “you just need to forgive” do? It heaps more guilt on the person who is experiencing those emotions—those necessary emotions—by making them feel like they’re wrong or unhealthy or weak for experiencing them. In other words, it’s blaming the victim, encouraging them to ignore their own needs and cater to another person’s desires.

It denies the mind’s natural way of healing itself.

You don’t get past the anger by suppressing it. You don’t move through grief by denying it. The only way to get through those difficult aspects of healing is by claiming the right to feel them.

And the only reason why forgiveness sounds so “positive” to us is because we have this fucking stigma about the shadow emotions being “negative” (which I discussed briefly here). We as a society don’t know how to handle those intense emotions, so we distance ourselves from them. And when someone else is experiencing them, we prescribe “forgiveness” as the fix-all that allows us to sound helpful without actually doing anything to help. If we move past the idea that shadow emotions are negative, suddenly the need to forgive by letting go of those emotions is non-existent, along with the need to distance ourselves from those emotions.

Does forgiveness ever have a place?

Maybe.

I’m an open-minded person and willing to consider that forgiveness really does have a legitimate purpose somewhere buried underneath all the bullshit–that it can potentially be a healthy  byproduct of healing in some circumstances. But I’d be more than willing to bet that, in those instances, the forgiveness happens fairly naturally.

In the instances where the hurt is bigger and the problems larger, i.e. whenever forgiveness takes up focus, it should be up to the individual to decide if that is something they need or even want.  It should be up to the individual to decide if the relationship is worth the work of restoration or if it’s safe to continue with that relationship. Moreover, it shouldn’t ever be the goal. Healing should be the goal, whether or not it includes forgiveness.

And without a genuine apology for the pain and damage caused and change to avoid repeating it, I don’t think forgiveness is either possible or healthy. Healing comes in those instances by learning to set boundaries, take a stand for your own needs, and hold the other person culpable for their actions, not by giving a blank check to someone who repeatedly hurts you.

I think it’s high time we forgive ourselves this absurd expectation that we should always forgive. It’s time to allow ourselves to recognize that healing isn’t about forgiving the other person; it’s about listening to ourselves.

Fighting the Wrong Villain: Thin Women and the Thin Ideal

It’s the beginning of a new year, so I expect to see a lot of posts and articles about losing weight, working out, eating healthy, etc. I’ve been encouraged by seeing some fighting back against the annual guilt fest and claiming their right to love their bodies and selves as they are.

However, as you can easily guess, the positive body-image posts and resolutions are the minority. Even on sites whose entire mission is to fight the unrealistic expectations of the thin ideal, there is body disparagement, ranging from the typical self-critique to demonizing and criticizing others.

A couple of days ago, Beauty Redefined posted a quote from Zooey Deschanel about refusing to give in to unrealistic beauty standards, and I was dismayed to see how many people dismissed what she had to say because she is thin.

But I probably shouldn’t have been. It’s not really much different from what I have gotten on a regular basis from others.

I’m not a particularly large person, though certainly not as small as Zooey. My mother was very petite, and I inherited her small bone structure. My freshman year of college, I went through a brief period of being slightly heavy, according to the charts, but for the most part, I’ve always been within a “healthy” weight.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t struggled with my body image. Even though I can’t be classified as overweight or obese, I’m still far from meeting the standards of the thin ideal.

I’ve been working hard the last couple of years to learn to accept and love my body for what it is instead of what it isn’t, but it’s been a lonely journey. It’s difficult to express my insecurities to others. More often than not, when I dare to bring up my own struggle with the thin ideal, I’m met with comments such as “You’re thin; you have nothing to worry about” or “If only I were your size. You’re perfect.”

Perhaps comments like that are meant as an encouragement, but they don’t feel encouraging. Failure doesn’t really come in degrees. I fail to meet the thin ideal as much as anyone else who fails. The goal is still as much out of a healthy, realistic reach now as it would be if I gained an extra hundred pounds, and my need to overcome the thin ideal and to accept my body is as great as any other woman’s.

I’ve grown so tired of being dismissed. I’m tired of seeing women like Zooey vilified for being small. The goal of redefining beauty standards shouldn’t be to make thin “bad.” Rather it should be to accept the range of healthy expressions that women’s bodies can take–“fat,” “thin,” and anything in between.

More importantly, it should be to break away from the idea that a woman’s value is based in her appearance. Zooey’s wisdom or my journey aren’t diminished because of our weight—or at least they shouldn’t be. No woman’s should be, no matter what her weight.

So while we’re all talking about our resolutions and health goals for the year, can we also please stop demonizing women, whether heavy or light, for their bodies? I’d love to see every woman reach a place where she can stand up and celebrate her body as a beautiful part of herself, as my beautiful and amazing friend Dani did, but I understand that kind of journey is a long one that some may not ready to make.

At the very least, though, we can refrain from making the journey harder. The next time you feel like dismissing someone’s body concerns because they don’t match yours, take a step back and just try acknowledging that she is allowed to struggle too.