Category Archives: The World As I Know It

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today was the worst day of my life.
A year ago today was a sad, rainy February Saturday.  I spent most of its hours in a hospital.

I arrived around 2 AM to the ICU to take my shift staying with my mom, relieving my brother.  I don’t remember a lot about those first few hours, except for that I could not for the life of me find a comfortable sleeping position in an upright hospital arm chair.  Around 4:00 or 5:00, I stepped out of the unit to…do something (who knows what it was).  As I returned, a few nurses were pushing a hospital bed out the doors.

“Where are they taking my jacket?” I wondered.  It didn’t immediately occur to me that not only my jacket, but also my mother, was on that bed.  After 2 1/2 days in intensive care, we were moving upstairs to the PCU.

The PCU was like a dream come true.  The spacious room had an actual door instead of sliding glass.  I was relieved to see a cot in the room, and pleased when our new nurse offered me not only a blanket, but a snack.

I closed my eyes, but the heart monitor beeped loudly every time I was about to fall asleep. My mom slept some, but woke up frequently, asking questions that I didn’t have answers to and attempting to rearrange the myriad of medical devices she was hooked up to.  She was recovering from brain surgery and her mind had a lot to work out yet.

My dad arrived to the room around 6:30.  I stayed with them for a while before deciding to head home for some real rest. The next several hours are very blurry in my memory.  I think I may have eaten what was leftover of my breakfast burrito.  I think I may have watched TV while I ate it.  I may have stopped by my sister’s house.  I may have called a friend or two.

But I know that sometime during the early afternoon I ended up back at the hospital.  My dad and my sister was hanging up “get well, Grammy” drawings and messages of “complete healing”.  Shortly after I arrived, the neurosurgeon invited the three of us down the hall to look at the monitors that displayed the MRI images of the tumor on my moms brain- the tumor he had attempted to remove three days prior, but was only able to cut out a small piece for biopsy.

He showed us images from different angles, pointed out swelling, and explained that the tumor had “fingers” that made it impossible to surgically remove without causing life-ending or life-ruining damage.  The lab results had not come back yet, and he reiterated that it was impossible to know the diagnosis or prognosis.

Lo and behold, before we left the room, he noticed a tab on his desktop which he had previously been oblivious to.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and told us that some preliminary lab results suggested that the tumor was caused by a bacterial infection.  If that was the case, good news!  Antibiotics are miraculous, after all.  We felt encouraged and hopeful for a moment.

But then another tab appeared.  The final lab results had just come in.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and just said, “oh”.  He avoided eye contact with any of us as he moved across the room to grab the print out of what he had been reading.  I saw the paper.  It had a lot of words on it that I didn’t know.  But I recognized one thing- and it was the only thing that really mattered: “Grade 4”.

He explained that it was a glioblastoma, which I would later learn is both the most common as well as the most aggressive form of brain cancer.  He didn’t attempt to give a prognosis.  “There are, of course, textbook statistical averages, but every case is different.”

Well of course every case is different, but this was my mom!  My mom who had cancer!  In her brain!  What was I going to have to prepare myself for?

“So what is the textbook statistical average?”  I asked him.  My family members looked at me as if they were both relived and afraid that I had asked.

The doctor didn’t miss a beat, “A year and a half.”

A year and a half.  For my mother- the woman who had been planning on riding her bike through Spain a few months later.  Who was going to Australia at the end of the year.  Who  did yoga and had a personal trainer.  Who volunteered at, ironically, the hospital, every week.  Who decorated cakes and carved clay figurines and made baby quilts and threw all of the family parties.

We walked solemnly back to her room, and the doctor gave her the news so cryptically that my dad had to clarify the seriousness of the prognosis.  “A year and half”, however, wasn’t mentioned.

I remember crying on my knees at the foot of her bed, but other than that I don’t remember much about that afternoon.  My brother showed up that evening, my dad gave him the news, more crying.  My father and sister then left the hospital, and I went down to the cafeteria to eat while my brother stayed with my mom.

I ate a thai curry dish that had been sitting waiting to be eaten most of the day while I returned a call to a friend.  He had just found out that his wife was pregnant.  When I returned to the room, all of the lights were off, my mom was asleep, and my brother was sitting next to her bed, in the dark, watching her.

“This poor boy,” I thought, “this poor boy has been sitting here for the past hour, in the dark, thinking about his mom dying.”

He offered to spend the night, and I went home.  I immediately turned in for the night, but then I heard my dad turn the TV on.  I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to get out of bed and watch TV with my dad.  We watched one episode of Modern Family.  It felt strange, but good, to be able to laugh.

After the show, I went back to bed, bawled like a baby, and fell asleep, ending the worst day of my life.

*******

My mom came home a few weeks later.  She spent most of her time in a hospital bed in our  living room and was visited twice a week by a nurse.  She began chemotherapy and radiation and a month later.  She required physical therapy, as she had lost her ability to move the left side of her body after the surgery.  She took a lot of pills.  She suffered from horrible anxiety episodes.

But things have gotten easier since then.  Every day she pushes her wheelchair as far as she can down the street, and when she can’t go anymore, she pushes it and my dad pushes her home.  I think she’s up to half a mile now.  The hospital bed is long gone, as is the visiting nurse.  The anxiety has also subsided (praise God).

She just finished her 10th round of chemotherapy, and wears an electromagnetic treatment device on her head 24/7.  The tumor spent several months shrinking, and is now what the doctors call “stable”.

I wish I could report that a miracle healing has occurred.

Instead, I am here to report that a miracle life has occurred.   Do you want to know what the good thing is about having the worst day of your life?  It means every other day is better.

I wish that I could go back to myself a year ago while I was crying at the foot of her bed that day and show me what the next year would bring.  I would show us reading in the front room of our vacation beach house.  I would show Thanksgiving dinner.  I would show Christmas eve.  I would show playing games and laughing until we cry.  I would show raising over $2,000 for brain cancer research.  I would show my mom in her craft room, making the shirts we wore when we raised that $2,000.  I would show her out to lunch with her girlfriends.  I would show the doctor’s huge smile as he explained the good news of how well the tumor was responding.  It is amazing how many wonderful things can happen, even in the midst of the worst experiences of our lives.

I am apprehensive to express gratitude, because I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this reality has not been emotionally excruciating.  It has been.  But I am thankful.  I am not thankful for the disease or for the trial or for the sense of loss.  I am thankful that God has used this experience to open my eyes to the beauty and generosity of life and the bounty of His love.

 By the way, when you have a brain tumor like mine, you easily qualify for social security disability. One question they asked me was “do you have a condition that is expected to result in death?” I wanted to answer, “well duh, everyone does. It’s called life.”- My mom

 

 

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The Physical Illness of Depression

These last two days, I have been on the struggle bus.  I usually to describe being like this as “being off”, “not feeling well”, or just “not feeling quite normal”.  Really, I’m depressed.  But I hate that word.

When I hear the word “depressed” I think of somebody who is unambitious, unmotivated, pessimistic, and most of all, somebody who is acted upon, instead of somebody who acts.  I know this isn’t fair- some of the greatest, kindest, most accomplished people I know have dealt or are dealing with depression- but the idea of associating that word with myself makes me feel so very small.

I keep asking myself, “What is wrong with you?!” I keep trying to reason myself into feeling better.  I keep calling people, hoping they will cheer me up- they try. But nothing really “snaps me out of it”.  I will snap out of it, but your guess is as good as mine regarding when or why.

This depression thing, is not just in my head, it’s in my whole body.  It’s not only a mental and emotional, but a physical condition.  Let me sum up my experiences over the last two days for you:

  •  I cried hysterically over something that was inconvenient. Like, barely able to speak because i was crying so intensely.  I knew it wasn’t worthy of such a reaction, but I just felt so out of control, and like my physical response was not aligning with my cognitive understanding of the situation.
  • I couldn’t focus in my institute class.  Like, I got up and left because I just couldn’t pay attention.
  • I am going through an episode of “I am the ugliest person alive and therefor nobody could ever love me.”
  • I just feel so mentally tired.
  • I don’t really feel like talking.
  • When I do talk, I often lose my train of thought, stammer, and take longer than normal trying to find the words to use to say what I mean.
  • I had to decide if I wanted to fill out a Health Insurance application today or in a few weeks after I begin my new job.  I ended up just taking a nap because just deciding when to do it was so overwhelming.
  • The missionaries came over for dinner and I hid in my room because I did not feel capable of acting happy enough to talk to them.
  • Walking 200 feet to my car feels exhausting.
  • Also, I haven’t taken a shower since Tuesday morning (It is now Thursday night).

The symptoms of me “not feeling normal” are a combination of the mental, the emotional, and the physical.

I know that if you were able to perfectly see my body, at the molecular level, something would look different today than it looked a week ago.  Being depressed is as much my choice as having a headache is my choice.

I wish that all the well-meaning friends I have were actually able to fix my mood- I wish it was just a matter of mood.  Understanding that depression is more than just a bad attitude is a little bit scary, because then you know you can’t just make up your mind to not be depressed anymore.

However, it is also a little bit liberating to know that depression is something that happens to you, and is not something you just are.

I really hate the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and I want to be loud and proud about the fact that people who suffer from depression are perfectly normal…as long as they are OTHER people.  I don’t feel so confident in sticking up for myself.

If you have or are experiencing depression, know that you are i great company, and that there is no shame in seeking help.  If you had an infection, you would have no reason to be ashamed of taking an antibiotic.  Likewise, there is no shame in seeking professional help for mental illness, including taking medication.

If you don’t know what depression is like, and want to know how to help someone you know who may be struggling with it, try reading this.

One last thing- I’ve found that, often, the quickest way for me to feel better is to take care of myself in some physical way- either by going for a walk, taking a nap, drinking water, or eating an actual meal.  Additionally, I’ve found that my negative moods tend to come at a certain point in my menstrual cycle.  These things suggest to me that the depression really is a mental manifestation of a physical illness.  When praying, talking, convincing, and meditating fail, just take a nap.

I

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Transgender Children and Being Terribly Politically Incorrect

Recently, the issue of transgender children has been highlighted across socia media outlets, thanks to stories such as this one, where in a family embraces the idea that their 7 year old daughter is really a boy:

While this family’s story is moving, I don’t believe that if you are born female (having two x chromosomes), that there is any way you are “really” a boy.  You are a girl, and that is that.

If adults want to identify as a gender that is different than their biological sex, cool.  If they decide to alter their hormones and genitals to look and feel more like their desired gender, fine.

But it’s not right to encourage a little boy to believe that he was meant to be a girl, or vice-versa.  Allowing your child to be administered unnatural hormones that will render them sterile for the rest of their lives should be considered criminal.  Such an event happens to Josie, an 11 year old who is administered “blockers” so that she won’t go through puberty as a boy.  Her doctor assures her than in a few years, she will get to start taking female hormones.

I was nearly in tears after watching her cry and shake while getting the blockers implanted.  Where have we gone wrong as a culture that we have so many kids thinking they are a different gender, and so many adults encouraging it?

Well- I think we have at least part of the answer- we unnecessarily gender just about everything.

Before our children are even born, we associate them with either balls and trucks, or tiaras and butterflies.  Baby showers are done in either blue or pink.  Babies very first little hospital hats are either pink or blue also.  Have you ever tried to buy gender-neutral baby clothes?  Probably not- it’s impossible to find any, with the exception of plain white onesies.  And not only our baby clothes gendered, I would even call them hyper-gendered, meaning that they serve to emphasize the gender of the wearer.  (Picture pink AND frilly AND sparkly AND lacy).  I understand that babies look pretty androgynous from the waist up, and that some parents want to keep their baby from being confused with the opposite gender, but the “girliness” and “boyishness” of clothes for young children is overdone.  Also, why should it matter if the gender of your child is not immediately obvious to strangers?  As children get older, the gendered-ness of their clothing tends to relax a little bit, but not much.

And then there’s the hyper-gendered marketing of toys.  Now, I can understand if a jewelry making kit is marketed more towards girls than boys, since women do tend to wear jewelry much more than men do.  But why does there need to be girls playing with pink and purple Legos in commercials, while boys play with the normal colored Legos.  Also, toys that relate to home-making, such as dolls, play kitchens, or easy bake ovens, are exclusively marketed towards girls.  But men care for babies and children, clean kitchens, and cook as well as women.  Why would to be strange for a young boy to role-play such behaviors by feeding a baby doll or preparing a meal in a play kitchen?

While working in preschools, I constantly found myself declaring to young children that there was no such thing as a “girl color”, a “girl toy”, or a “girl game”.  Usually such discussion would arise when a boy was last to the table and all that was left was a pink crayon or other “girly” item.  Honestly- pink is a color- there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any color.

I am grateful that as a young child, I spent about equal amounts of time playing with boys and girls, and that no adult ever told us we were playing a “boy” game or a “girl” game.  We played a lot of make-believe- sometime we played house, and sometimes we played cops and robbers.  It never occurred to us that boys shouldn’t pretend to have a family, or that girls shouldn’t pretend to be involved in a violent and aggressive situation.  And when I have children, I hope to minimize meaningless gender distinctions of inanimate objects and activities.  I also plan on dressing my daughters in minimally feminine outfits.  It’s not that I want them to look like boys, but I don’t want them associating their girlhood with frilliness.

Now, to be clear- it’s not that I want to un-gender my children.  I want my sons to know that they are boys and to like being boys, and my daughters to know that they are girls and to like being girls.  But I want for them to decide for themselves what makes them a happy as a boy or happy as a girl.

For example, if my son like the color pink, fine!  Boys can like pink.  If my daughter wants a short haircut, fine!  Girls can have short hair.  If they like playing dress up in the clothes of the oppositely gendered parent, sound like fun!  You can be whatever you want when you play make-believe.

Think about it- if we give a young girl the idea that girls like pink, like to wear dresses and jewelry, like to play with dolls, and like Disney Princesses, then what is she going to think when she likes blue, likes wearing jeans, likes to play outside, and likes Marvel Superheros?  Surely, we’ve taught her that she is doing the whole “girl thing” wrong.  And she’ll see that the things she likes are the things boys are supposed to like…so maybe she’s “supposed” to be a boy.

We mess up children’s sense of gender when we call things male or female when they are, in fact neither.  A totally absurd example of this happens in this 20/20 special with Barbara Walters, at 4:00:

“From the moment he could speak, Jazz made it clear he wanted to wear a dress.  At only 15 months, he would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress.”

Barbara, that is DUMB!  Seriously, anyone who has ever cared for a toddler knows that they are just going crazy with their fine motor development, and love adjusting anything they can their little hands on.  This usually means taking off their shoes, hair accessories, or clothing, since they always have those things with them.  This little boy unsnapped his onesie because that’s what little kids do (and the do it over and over and over- moms and dads, am I right?).  He was trying to get more comfortable- not trying to wear a dress.  And ever if he was trying to wear a dress, men wore outfits that resemble dresses for hundreds of year- there is nothing inherently female about wearing a piece of clothing without two separate leg holes.  The only reason he would think he was doing something girly is if we tell him that what he is doing is girly.

Do you see what I mean here?  Boys think they’re girls and girls think they’re boys because we fill our cultural definitions of maleness and femaleness with meaningless crap.

If my son likes to play with dolls, great.  If he wants to wear a My Little Pony backpack to school I will warn him that people may comment since they are used to only seeing girls with such an item, but that if he wants to wear it, he can wear it.  And if he loves other men, I will tell him that men usually love women, and women usually love men, but that he is allowed to love men and still be a man himself.  Also, loving men doesn’t make one any less “of a man”.

I cannot imagine how challenging it would be to feel like you needed to allow their child to switch their gender in order to make them happy.  While I don’t agree with parents who do so, it is a given that I don’t understand their position or struggle fully.  Also, I understand that there are children who are born with ambiguous gender, meaning that their genitals or even chromosomes do not define them clearly as a male or female.  These situations are not what I’ve been talking about- I’ve been talking about cases where they are born definitely a boy or definitely a girl.

For the sake of the mental and physical health of our children, let’s please stop encouraging crazy gender norms.  Kids are confused, and I’m pretty sure it’s our fault.

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Putting Away Childish Things and Quitting Selfies

I am finished with taking, retaking, editing, filtering, deleting, and posting selfies.

Just a few years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of taking a picture of myself, with my own camera/phone, and posting it to my own social media account.

I mean, really, how conceited does that sound?

Conceited, immodest, vain, prideful, distracted- all words I would use to describe our selfie culture.

In criticizing the selfie, I am really criticizing myself, because inasmuch as I was tempted, I partook.  I always knew that the selfie was a show of vanity, but I dismissed it because, and oh dear Jesus forgive me for saying this, “everybody else was doing it”.  Older relatives whom I respected, pretty women, less-pretty women, mission friends, LDS friends, non-LDS friends, moms, teachers, business women…everyone.

So I jumped on the bandwagon- I curled my hair, glued fake eyelashes to my face, stuck my neck out, put my chin down, tilted my head, pouted just enough to make my lips look bigger and my cheeks look thinner and took the picture.  And then took another, and another, until I captured one I saw fit to share.  I then spent a few minutes trying to find the perfect filter- something that would make my hair look shiny, my skin look clear, and my lips look red.  Finally, I would post it to Instagram, and Facebook via Instagram, with some comment to try to justify the need to post yet another picture of myself and attach ridiculous hashtags.  Then I would wait for the validation.

I am usually a pretty low maintenance girl- make-up is not a part of my daily routine and my hair and jewelry are usually pretty simple.  Except for Sundays, that is.  Sunday is my “go all out day”- I use velcro rollers to make my hair big and spanx to make my waist small.  I like getting gussied up sometimes…and plus, this makes Sunday morning, right before I leave for church, the perfect time for a selfie.

What I am about to admit is so very embarrassing.

I have spent many sacrament meetings with my nose in my phone waiting for notifications of people liking the picture of my face.  I have partaken of the sacrament with my hands while, with my heart, I devoutly worshiped myself.

When I take selfies, there ends up being a whole lot of unused ones (my forehead looks too big, my eyes look to small, that curl is curling the wrong way) on my camera roll.  Maybe I am the only one who takes multiples to try and get the right one- but, I doubt it.

I’ve had instances where I’ve been sharing my photos with a friend and we get to a host of selfies.  I usually make some kind of joke, but I have always felt awkward about it.  It’s one thing to take ONE picture of yourself to share, it’s an entirely different thing to take 15, that differ only by the slightest of angels and expressions.

Really girls, really.

I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 3:6, which refers to the “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts”.  I have a hard time accepting that a woman who is fully engaged in the cause of Christ even has the time or energy to think about taking her own picture to show off to the world.  How silly would that be?

I took selfies because I wanted people to think I was pretty.  More so, I wanted people to tell me I was pretty.

You can insert your own lecture on how we are all beautiful and should find our worth first as daughters of God right about here.  All I’m going to say is that grown women feeling good about themselves because a slew of acquaintances gave them a thumbs up is totally ludicrous.

If you are a selfie-taker who only snaps one picture, doesn’t use filters, doesn’t monitor the likes or comments, and only posts them so that your out-of-state relatives can see how much you’ve grown, then please understand that none of this applies to you. I think it is entirely possible that my relationship with the selfie was more dysfunctional and harmful than most.

Sometimes the selfie helps me feel good about myself- but it is a shallow and fleeting “good about myself”.  And more often, it makes me feel bad about myself- hypercritical and ultimately disappointed.

I find my flaws forgivable when I see myself in pictures taken spontaneously with people I love or while doing something cool or standing in front of something beautiful.  Who cares that my hair is crazy when I’m having so much fun?  Who cares that I look tired when I’ve been on a 22 hour road trip?  Who cares that I have a double chin when I am cuddled up to the people in my life who bring me joy?  Real life shows us the insignificance of our flaws (which really, we don’t have flaws- God makes no mistakes).

But a selfies is all about us- it’s all about the way we look.  There is nothing to redeem us from our perceived imperfections.

Nothing monumental happened to turn me off from selfies- I just happened to see one I had posted to facebook one day while looking for something unrelated when I thought to myself, “I don’t need selfies anymore.  I don’t want them either.”

To me, the selfie was like a pacifier, a teddy bear, a blankie, or a number of other “childish things”- things that really serve no practical purpose, but imitate the things we want on an instinctive level.  Children part ways with their trinkets when they realize that they are just occupying the space meant for something real.

So now that I’m a woman, I’ve decided to put away childish things.

I want to give a thank you to the women I know who have been an example to me by not taking part in the selfie craze, particularly my sister, Megan.  Thank you for representing to me that to be female does not mean to be seen, and to be beautiful does not mean to be approved of.

 

 

 

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Girls, Don’t Be Afraid to Use the F Word

While I was on my mission in 2008-2009, the name of my academic department at UC Santa Barbara changed from Women’s Studies to Feminist Studies.  Since I registered in 2006 as a Women’s Studies major, I still graduated with said title on my diploma.

And thank God for that, because I would have had to do a whole lot of explaining if I went though life with a degree in “Feminist Studies”, and “Women’s Studies” is hard enough.  (But your jokes about how you should have had that major because of how good you are at “studying women” never cease to amuse me.”

“Feminist” is a dirty word to many.  Ask almost any Mormon woman how she feels about women’s rights and she will most likely give you some version of “I believe in women’s rights, but I’m not a feminist or anything.”  Non-LDS women will often respond in the same way.  Bring feminism up to men and they usually just get uncomfortable and make an awkward joke.

Google told me that feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”  Any argument? *Looks around*  No?  That’s what I thought.  We can all agree that gender should not determine the quality with which a person is treated.  So that’s feminism!

But then why does this Tumblr titled “Women Against Feminism” exist, which has dozens of presumably female contributors?  It hosts a series of images of women proclaiming why they don’t need (or want) feminism.  You have probably seen one or more of these images floating around on Facebook.)

It exists because the idea of feminism has been demonized.  Most women who reject the idea of identifying as “feminist” do so because they have one or more of the following perceptions about feminists:

  • Feminists hate men.
  • Feminists are lesbians, sluts, or have some other kind of reprehensible sexual habits.
  • Feminists expect special treatment.
  • Feminists are whiners with entitlement problems.
  • Feminists are brazen bitches who you have to be on eggshells around in order to not offend them.
  • Feminists are anti-family and threaten standards of morality with their advocating birth control and abortion.

Let me be the first to say that I have met many-a-lesbian who would call herself a feminist.  I have also met many-a-brazen-bitch who would do the same.  The perceptions I listed are not entirely absurd.

But you don’t have to be any of the things I listed in order to be a feminist.  I know feminists of most religions and of no religion at all.  There are pro-choice feminists and pro-life feminists, working feminists and stay-at-home feminists, queer feminists and non-queer feminists.  One of the core values of feminism is that women should be free to do and believe whatever they want.  And that means you can be whatever kind of feminist you want to be.

You can be pro-life and be a feminist.

You can be a Christian and be a feminist.

You can be a wife and be a feminist.

You can be kind, gentle, and introverted and be a feminist.

You can even be white, rich, and Republican and still be a feminist.

You can call yourself a “feminist” without worrying about what the man you’re on a date with or the woman sitting next to you in church will think about it.  You are not abandoning a high set of moral values by subscribing to the idea that you and other women deserve fair treatment.

The feminist movement has taken many forms (trust me, I’m an educated expert in the field) and accomplished many things (both good and bad, in my most humble opinion), but attaching yourself to the label of “feminist” does not attach you to every single thing done or ideal held by every single woman (or man) who has ever lived.

Be yourself, be a feminist, and don’t ever feel a need to explain yourself.

(But I’m not like a feminist, lol.)

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PSA: It’s Okay That I’m Fat

It’s okay that I’m fat.

When I describe myself as such, please don’t feel uncomfortable.  I’m not fishing for compliments, for you to say, “Oh my gosh you are NOT FAT” or, “whatever!  I’m the fat one!”

It’s just a descriptor, like “I have dark hair” or “my lips are pretty.” (My lips are pretty, by the way.  You can look at my blog banner for reference)

Fat does not equal ugly.

Fat does not equal lazy.

Fat does not equal disgusting.

Fat does not equal unsexy.

Fat is just…fat.

And it’s okay to be fat.

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