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Note: This is far from comprehensive, and I am not any sort of authority on these things. For further education, I highly recommend Virgie Tovar, Ragen Chastain, Dr. Linda Bacon, Marie Southard Ospina, and Melissa A. Fabello, as well as everything at The Body Is Not An Apology and Everyday Feminism. I also endorse body-positive coaches Isabel Foxen Duke, Summer Innanen, Sarah Vance, and Meredith Noble, as well as registered dietician Glenys Oyston, because they are all wonderful.

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  • The “Body Positivity Movement” has been co-opted from the fat-acceptance movement.

Modern body positivity is derived from the fat-acceptance movement, which has existed in the United States since the 1960s. Amid anti-war protests and anti-racism sit-ins were fat-acceptance advocates, holding “fat-ins” (complete with ice cream) and burning photos of iconically thin model Twiggy.  The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was founded in 1969 and has spent the last 46 years “protecting the rights and improving the quality of life for fat people. NAAFA works to eliminate discrimination based on body size and provide fat people with the tools for self-empowerment through advocacy, public education, and support.

Before we go any further, I should note that “fat” is a label reclaimed by the fat-activism community. In recent history, the word “fat” has been systematically used against people of size, so many people—women in particular—find power in reclaiming it.

  • Fatphobia intersects with sexism.

It is common knowledge that women and nonbinary people experience the ramifications of fatphobia much more heavily than do men. The pressure to be thin plagues women and girls of virtually all ages; studies show that girls as young as 5 experience bad body image, and only 12% of American women over 50 are satisfied with their bodies; in fact, one study shows that 13% of women over 50 engage in disordered eating.

There is no doubt that boys and men, too, experience bad body image and the pressure to conform to society’s ideals. However, on the whole, women bear the vast majority of the burden. Just think of the women ridiculed for their pudgy midsections and the men who proudly pat their “beer bellies” without shame. The double standard is real.

  • Fatphobia intersects with racism.

Different ethnic and racial cultures foster different ideal body types. For example, the African-American community is overall heavier than white Americans. The reasons for this are multifaceted, including biological differences.

When “black” gets coded as “bad,” so too do the traits associated with blackness—including fatness.

  • Fatphobia intersects with classism.

The data is clear: people living in poverty are more likely to be fat. More specifically and totally unsurprisingly, this is truer for women and children. (Of course, women tend to be poorer than men, but that’s a discussion for a different day.)

Because of this, fatness is often associated with people of a lower socioeconomic class.

  • True body positivity is anti-ableism.

Arguably the most marginalized group in our society is the disabled community, and yet, in many popular “body-positive” spaces, disabled people are missing from the picture. Disabled bodies are, yes, often fat. They are by-default desexualized, or else fetishized. The fake-body-positive themes of praising your body for what it can do instead of what it looks like leave out people who are physically unable to do many things.

Fortunately, this issue is rising throughout the bopo community as of late, but it’s not quick enough. True body-positivity is inclusive of disabled bodies and employs the philosophy that “all bodies are good bodies.”

  • True body positivity is LGBTQ+-inclusive.

The body-conformity pressures experienced by LGBTQ+ people are specific to their intersectional identities. Some studies show that lesbians and bisexual women tend to be heavier than straight women. Even more, it may be true that lesbians and bisexual women experience less body-dissatisfaction, perhaps because of less concern about the male gaze. However, 16% of transgender college students report having an eating disorder, as do about 3% of sexual-minority people (SITE 14).

But regardless of body size, LGBTQ+ all face discrimination based on their bodies, be it their predetermined sexual preferences or gender orientations. Body positivity is for them, too.

  • True body positivity includes the fight against social and socioeconomic inequity.

This means, of course, that fatphobia and body negativity cannot be dismantled without addressing the needs of all marginalized groups. Quite frankly, anyone who claims to be body-positive must fight and give and vote for the rights of women, people of color, poor people, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people.

This idea—that social justice issues are bound together—is, of course, intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

  • True body positivity approaches health with a Health At Every Size mindset.

Despite popular belief, the Health At Every Size movement, founded by and based on the research of Dr. Linda Bacon, does not “promote obesity” or claim that eating/moving habits don’t affect physical health. Instead, the data-based tenets of HAES are that diets don’t work, and health can be pursued at any weight with a weight-neutral approach.

We know that 97% of the population cannot control their body weight, and, in fact, most dieters gain back all the weight they lost and then some. We know too that fat people don’t suffer worse health than thin people; in fact, the data show that all “overweight” people and most “obese” people have a lower mortality risk than “normal weight” people.

There is no good reason to approach health with body weight in mind; the data is clear.

  • The socially-desired body type changes with time and geography.

A quick stint in an art museum shows that, for hundreds of years, fat women were the “ideal”; in the ancient world, fat women were the subjects of paintings and sculptures; they were the models for goddesses. In the 1800s, the image of beauty was a “rubenesque” woman. By the 1920s, though, thinness had made its debut in the U.S.

Other parts of the world hold up significantly different ideals, however. In central African countries like Uganda, fat women are celebrated for their size. This is in striking contrast to the U.S., where almost 1% of women will suffer from anorexia in their lifetimes.

  • Fatphobia is fueled by capitalism.

The weight-loss industry brings in $20 billion dollars every year. This industry profits from women (and others, but mainly women: 85% of weight-loss-product consumers are women) hating their bodies.

This doesn’t even include other fatphobic businesses, like many clothing retailers, restaurants, and more.

It’s hard to sell unwanted products to people who are happy with themselves, so it is in the best interest of industry to perpetuate body negativity.

  • Body positivity exists for the most marginalized bodies, but we all benefit from it.

To wrap it up: As discussed, body positivity began as fat acceptance, which advocated not for all bodies but for the bodies of fat people. Body positivity intersects with a plethora of other social-justice causes, all which revolve around the rights, needs, and advancement of marginalized peoples. As such, body positivity exists for most-marginalized bodies.

Most bodies are in some way marginalized—few bodies are cisgender, male, straight, white, thin, able, and wealthy. Therefore, the vast majority of people benefit from body positivity. However, the bodies in the spotlight need to be transgender, female, queer, of color, fat, disabled, poor. Those with privilege must use that privilege to amplify marginalized voices and not their own. Everyone is invited to the bopo party, but the guests of honor are the marginalized, and they get the mic.

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(I swear I wrote this yesterday.)

Can I cop out today and say Toronto? Because I’ve never been to Toronto but am very seriously considering moving there this fall for graduate school.

That’s surely not in-line with the spirit of this challenge, though.

I think I would live in Finland. It might be hard to secure a teaching job, as teaching is one of the most revered occupations, and their teachers are so well educated, but maybe I could find some position in a Finnish school. I would love to witness their superb education system. Plus, they have low poverty and prioritize social justice. I think I’d fit in just fine. (Of course, I’d have to learn Finnish . . .)

 

  1. I once dyed my hair pink, in celebration of having raised $20,ooo for Invisible Children. I did it (raised the money and died my hair) on a livestream, with people all over the world watching. The pink didn’t last long (I opted not to bleach first), but hey—for a few days, I had a head of magenta hair.
  2. “Ellen” is a family name. My great-grandmother was Ellen, and my grandmother is Patricia Ellen. My mom totally should be an Ellen but, alas, is not. I think it’s rockin’ that my great-grandmother named her daughter after herself, and I plan on passing the name down to my daughter as well.
  3. I was an English major in college. This surprises people who don’t know me but do know my job title (computer science teacher). In actuality, my English degree equipped me with many of the skills I need (presentation, effective rhetoric, reasoning, analysis) and an ability to acquire any skills lacking (during my interview, my now-boss asked, “Do you know much about computer science?” I replied, “No ma’am, but I can learn.” English majors can learn anything.).
  4. I was a student at the school where I now teachTo my knowledge, I’m the only St. James alum who has returned to be a faculty member. Today, I’m preparing for the sixth-grade graduation, working on slideshows and awards. One decade ago today, I was myself a sixth-grade student, preparing to graduate and move out of The Bubble.
  5. I have two tattoos—a white one on my wrist that I want to fade away (or else to cover it with something new) and a brown one on my ankle that I love more and more every day. I regret neither of them; giving myself freedom to make and not regret mistakes has been a necessary and liberating part of my journey.
  6. I played soccer for nine years. I started in the fourth grade and kept going through my first year of college, only to quit because I felt the team to be oppressive, disrespectful, and lacking sportsmanship (mean girls are mean, you know?). I so wish that that had not been the case; what I wouldn’t give to have spent four years playing college ball. Now, if I play, it’s on the school’s field with a group of ten-year-olds (still very fun—and wow, they’re fast) (also, they think I’m super cool because I have an ounce or two of skill).
  7. I have Bipolar II Disorder, or something like that. It’s more annoying than anything;  I never know what kind of day I’ll have or how long an episode will last. I manage, though, and use my situation to my benefit: I wholeheartedly believe my disorder is an advantage because, while it makes day-to-day functioning way tougher, it also grants me a greater capacity for empathy and understanding. I am a better person, teacher, and friend because of my experiences with mental illness.
  8. I’ve been to 15 countries on 4 continents: USA, Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, England, France, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Tanzania, Greece, Israel, Uganda, Honduras, and Belize. I am so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to travel, and for the passion for travel that my mom instilled in me. This summer, I’ll add Canada and Turkey to the list, about which I am more than excited.
  9. Meanwhile, I’ve only (“only”) been to 19 different states (and some of those barely count—just ate a meal there, etc). I have a lot of backyard-exploring left to do.
  10. I’m currently looking to pursue a MEd in Developmental Psychology and Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (at the University of Toronto). We’ll see if that happens; it’s obviously quite far away from home, and taking such a step would be huge, but for now, I am enjoying the dream.

I was 15 and had been dating a boy, John, for a bit, probably a couple of months. I had trouble with physical contact then, as I do now; even things like holding hands made (make . . .) me nervous, so we most definitely had not kissed.

John’s best friend was dating my best friend Shea, so we had a “double date” at her house one evening. After watching a movie (“Marley and Me”), we sent the boys home; they, 16, had ridden together. Shea and I saw them off, and we hadn’t even made it inside when the truck circled back into the driveway, and her boyfriend, in a thick southern accent, hollered out the window, “I hear someone didn’t get a kiss tonight!” Lovely. So I walked up to the truck, and Shea and her boy made their way behind the truck, out of sight, to do their own kissing.

John and I somehow managed to kiss once; “That was awkward,” I said immediately. So we tried again. “Nope, still awkward.” So we tried once more, and, finally, it was enjoyable, PTL.

I loved John through all of our high school years, the way kids love. He was good to me and to my family. He was comfortable to me, physically and emotionally. He allowed me a glimpse into what vulnerability minus anxiety feels like.

I think that, one day, I will experience the grown-up version of love.

Of course this is a guess—how can anyone truly know what their earliest memory is? Or maybe it’s not so much a guess as it is a choice: I am choosing this memory to stand in for my earliest. It may or may not be a lie.

It takes place at the house of my great-grandmother, my namesake: Ellen Lavendahl Hart, Grandma. The living room had true-green carpet. Her rocking chair and rocking foot rest were mustard yellow, the fabric worn a bit rough. Directly in front of that foot rest sat the television. I remember sitting in front of that foot rest, the world and room dark, watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” and eating homemade (or supposed homemade) banana pudding, rocking along with the music and my grandmother, as if we and the chair and the foot rest were one.

 

Five problems with social media:

  1. It’s distracting. It is hard to be productive when you spend your time tweeting. Before social media, people were so much more productive; before the 21st century, before all of these technological distractions, the world advanced at a much more rapid pace . . . right?
  2. It enables people to post whatever. they. want. Personally, I like my people like I like my coffee: quiet and un-empowered. Social media really pushes the boundaries of “freedom of speech.” It’s one thing to guarantee the right to it under the law; it’s another thing for it to be legit accessible to people of all races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, national origins, and ages.
  3. It’s so political these days. Political information should come from one place and one place only: The Capital-M Media. If I want political updates or analysis, I’ll turn on CNN or Fox (or, god, maybe I’ll pick up a newspaper . . . nah). Diverse perspectives are overrated.
  4. It keeps people glued to their screens. I see it every day: people on the bus, in a line, at the grocery store, eyes fixated on their iPhones. It’s just too much. I fall prey to this myself; the other day, for example, I found myself on Facebook during the movie preview previews (the weird commercials that come on before the actual previews). So ridiculous. All I was doing was catching up with friends who live on other continents, reading articles about Rosa Parks, and doing a little guerrilla marketing. I should have been watching the local retirement home ads that were running. Ugh.
  5. One word: #HASHTAGS. So apparently hashtags are meant to organize information—which, okay, #icangetdownwiththat. But the super-long, non-organizational hashtags? Nonsense. Is nothing in this world purely #utilitarian anymore? The English language has no room to accommodate more rhetorical innovation. Leave well enough alone; beauty comes from the status quo. Also, “hashtag”? Really? #poundsignforever

 

This is the document I wish I’d had when I started my life at Centenary College of Louisiana in the SBC. This list won’t include the givens: everyone knows (or quickly learns) that Strawn’s has the best pie, Rhino Coffee is the best off-campus study spot, and students get in free at the Robinson Film Center. This guide, then, covers the things I learned to appreciate too late in my college career/stay in Shreveport. Trust it; hang it on your dorm room fridge; don’t do Life at Centenary without these gems:
CULTURE
R. W. Norton Art Gallery (+ gardens)
4747 Creswell Ave

Features:
a remarkable, super-diverse art gallery
beautiful gardens, great for picnicking, studying, walking/running
the huge (and I mean huge) wind-chimes in the gardens; just too cool

Pro Tips:
Go during Azalea Week, the approximate week in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Imagine pink and white blooms as far as the eye can see.
Know that the Folks Who Be recently banned photography and pets; I still Instagram it every time my dog, River, and I hang out there.
Texas Avenue Makers’ Fair
Corner of Texas Ave and Elvis Presley Blvd

Features:
locally- produced products: visual art, food, apparel, housewares, etc

Pro Tips:
Be sure to carry with you money and a big shopping bag. Seriously.
Meadows Museum of Art
on campus (you’d think this convenience would mean students would take full advantage of this lovely part of the world . . . but no)

Features:
Jean Despujols permanent collection
outrageously cool, never-boring visiting exhibits

Pro Tips:
Attend show openings; (delicious) free food and drink aside, they’re just a lot of fun—cool people, great art, stimulating dialogue.
Follow the Friends of the Meadows on Facebook; you don’t want to miss any of their events.
Greenwood Cemetery
On Stoner Ave, where Centenary Blvd becomes Market St

Features:
graves (duh) of tons of people really important to Shreveport’s history, including four mayors and the namesakes of various landmarks around town
grand memorials
an informational area, complete with a map and description of the area
a surprisingly lovely pond and fountain

Pro Tips:
Lace up your sneakers, take your camera, and set aside a couple of hours (or at least one hour; I could spend three or four there, but I do recognize that I’m perhaps strange in this regard).
FOOD
Bistro Byronz
6104 Line Ave

Features:
dining environment that lends itself to college-kid casual (yoga pants) and fancy shmancy
delicious food (duh)
a great little porch that’s perfect for sunny days

Pro Tips:
Order the Bleu Cheese Chips (or the non-bleu ones, if you’re lame). Your life will never be the same. During particularly rough schoolwork weeks, my roommate and I have been known to call-in cheese chips and eat them at home.
Superior Grill
6123 Line Ave

Features:
as you surely know, they’ve got great Mexican food

Pro Tips:
What you probably don’t know is that they have the best dessert ever: The Holy Grail. I think it’s listed on the menu as ice cream pie, but it’s totally known as The Holy Grail, for reasons that will be made clear to you the moment the spoon enters your mouth.
Jabez & Jabes
4460 Youree Dr

Features:
calm atmosphere
delicious and affordable food; best sushi in town

Pro Tips:
Order the Fuji Mountain. Proceed to revel in your elevated coolness.
Maxwell’s Market
4861 Line Ave

Features:
typical market fares—meat, produce, packaged food, libations
not-as-typical fares—phenomenal dips, marinades, breads
prepared food section
made-to-order sandwiches and burgers

Pro Tips:
Call ahead to order any hot sandwiches.
Don’t skip the fountain drink; their ice machine has good ice (like Sonic ice).
Their rosemary bread is to die for.
SHOPPING
King Hardware
4834 Line Ave (not on Kings Hwy . . . )

Features:
hardware
some women’s apparel
jewelry
great gifts

Pro Tips:
Stock up on the Caldera linen spray. Your dorm-mates will love you for using it, and you’ll be even more excited to get into bed every night (slash every time you take a nap). It is a product of the gods.
And now, A Few Pieces of General Advice:

Learn how to get around via bicycle (also, own a bicycle). Our neck of the woods is pretty bike-able; you can easily get from campus to Rhino, the Norton, Brookshires (both the Kings Highway one and the fancy Line Ave one), even the health food store on Youree. Not only will this knowledge allow you to travel sans-automobile, it will also help you learn the fastest routes via car. The easiest way to start figuring out the lay of the land: ask someone (probably a professor or staff member) (or me) to draw you a basic map of the Highlands. Then start pedaling; you’ll figure things out pretty quickly.

Work hard not to forget how beautiful campus is. Crumley Gardens? Outrageously pretty. The Hardin porch swing? The perfect spot to read, write, have philosophical conversations. Even interiors, like the English Department Lounge, are lovely. Enjoy every second you get to spend here.

Decide what you love, and then do that—and leave everything else alone. Don’t join an organization because you like the idea of being in that organization; join only if you will love more than the idea of it. Be selective and then generous with your most precious resource, your time. College passes in four (or three, or five, or however many) years’ time whether you’re spread too thin or luxuriously free. I’ve been both spread too thin and miserably bored with too much time on my hands; neither situation is good.