Monday, 20 July 2015

Dear Able People: I Eat. by Jennifer E. Hudgens

Dear Able People: I Eat.
by Jennifer E. Hudgens

You know the feeling that you get when someone holds you down to tickle you, then you’re laughing uncontrollably, and you have lost control over your body? It’s the same sort of fight or flight that rolls through a person with anxiety -- this is what it feels like to live with an eating disorder. As of July 28th, I will have hit my six-year mark of having had a gastric bypass. Just prior to the surgery I weighed 500 pounds.

I was proved sane enough and ready to undergo one of the most damaging and transformative things I’ve ever experienced.

I lost around 200 pounds in less than six months. I had a difficult time looking at myself in the mirror, I didn’t know who I was looking at. Among the massive amount of speed bumps and trauma that go with having this sort of surgery, I had to finally face the dark thing that brought me to 500 pounds in the first place. At one point I’d gone back to smoking three packs a day and living on diet pills and laxatives. I’d lost over 320 pounds and I could not get thin enough. If you see a picture from around that time my cheeks look caved in. One might wonder what causes a person to gain that much weight.

When I was little and still in diapers, I was molested. The molestation went on until I was around twelve years old. I had some unsavory family members that to this day make me sick to even think about, let alone see, at family functions. I was withdrawn, often kept to myself, and had very few friends as a child. When I was ten, my younger cousin and I had a shared birthday party. I was taken aside by one of the men that had hurt me; he told me that if I ever told anyone about what he had done, he would kill my mother.

That day, I gathered a large amount of cake on a plate, I hid in a room and shoveled as much of it in my face as I could. I ate so much cake that I made myself physically ill. There was a bathroom in the back of the house that nobody really used; I hid in there, feeling like I was going to vomit. That’s exactly what happened. After vomiting every bit of that cake and crying like crazy, I felt euphoric. I felt like I was in control.

I’d like to think if I had been an adult around a child that was so obviously introverted and shy, and had any number of signs of abuse, I would have done or said something. This is not to judge my parents, they worked hard, and provided the best they could. All of those years, nobody noticed. No one. I have barely spoken to anyone about the abuse that’s happened to me, I swallowed the guilt and shame of it.

The cycle of addiction, of binging and purging, continued for a few more years. I hoarded food. I hid food in my closet, under my bed, any place I thought that I could. I learned that gorging myself and purging the self-hatred was the only way I felt any sort of control.

As I became a teenager, I stopped the purging and started living on diet pills and cigarettes, a behavior that went well into my adulthood. I attempted suicide my freshman year of high school. I was sick of being bullied because I was quiet, fat, and didn’t fight back. I learned very early on that my only means of fighting back was a battle I had to fight internally.

I have had a number of abusive relationships that definitely contributed, too. I once dated a guy who sexually assaulted me and convinced me nobody would believe me. He said, “Who would believe a disgusting thing like you?” For so long I believed this about myself. I used to let others define my value as a woman and as a person. I thought my weight defined my worth.

I am now 36 years old. I weigh 255 pounds. I have loose skin, about 40 pounds worth. As a way to cope, I still eat my feelings. I will, on occasion, stop eating and start taking diet pills, water pills, and laxatives. I do this because sometimes I spin out of control, sometimes I unravel. I am not one of those people who thinks that eating disorders can be cured. I think that we can grow healthier relationships with food, absolutely. We can learn to love ourselves, and realize that those things that made us, do not define us. I still have days where I hate my body. More often, I find myself just not caring what anyone else thinks.

Originally from Oklahoma City, Jennifer E. Hudgens has been published in some stuff and is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma. She thinks life is poetry if you’re paying attention. Jennifer watches the sky the way most people watch television. She is terrified of clowns, horses, and animatronic toys. She genuinely hopes you enjoy her poems.

More posts in this series:

Wearing the Inside Out by Jerry Garcia
Dear Able People: New Series

If you would like to share your thoughts, please comment below. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please feel free to get in touch. We welcome anonymous guest posts on this subject, as we are aware of the pressures of discussing these subjects in a public forum.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Blood and Money: Rihanna, Feminism, and BBHMM

by Siofra McSherry

Rihanna is a fascinating cultural figure whose output I always consume with pleasure, as she has continually defied the expectations of her genre. Her new video has generated a reaction that is intriguing in itself, with young fans expressing their desire to be kidnapped and tortured by their idol, like the video’s hapless hostage. Dazed & Confused and breathless fashion folk like it because it delivers Tarantino-lite, Instagram-filtered retro visuals with blood spatter and cult film references. Many more love it because it shows a Black woman taking power, unapologetically and unambiguously, from a white man, and that is something I can show up for. However, what has horrified me and many feminists is the fact that the video perpetuates the idea that the way you signal power is to beat up women, and the higher the social status of the woman (white, thin, blonde, wealthy) the more power you derive when you degrade her.

Some have suggested that the hostage—played by Rachel Roberts—is a legitimate target because of her race and her class. The first category is more complicated. It has been suggested that this spectacle of violence against the person of a white female is legitimate given the generations of systemic and person-to-person abuse from white womento Black women. But abuse is not a hierarchy anyone would really want to be at the top of, and the historical system is not in any way being meaningfully deconstructed here. We see an individual woman of colour taking power over an individual white man via the patriarchy's favourite technique, violent domination, and especially via the abuse of his wife, who is treated as his property. The empowerment of one woman comes at the expense of another. We know this story because we have seen it over and over again: Rihanna as protagonist takes the place of the male abuser that is this narrative’s native and its audience, and re-enacts her own—and our—abuse upon a subjugated female so stereotypically feminized that we are encouraged to not even see her as a person.

Therein lies the second category: class. The female victim of BBHMM is a parody of a woman, some women have said; a cartoon representation of all-American feminine aspiration, rich, white, thin, with an impractical dog, and therefore not a reasonable object of empathy. Her symbolic value overrides her personhood. Even her breasts override her personhood. The stark difference in the treatment of Rihanna’s nudity and that of her female victim is telling. Rihanna’s body is adorned with the blood of her antagonist and the cash she has earned for displaying it, in an unambiguous statement of power and control over the circumstances of her nakedness. This is the same point made so magnificently by her appearance at last year’s CDFA awards wearing nothing but Swarovski crystals. Her victim, on the other hand, is gagged, suspended, silenced, her breasts filling the screen in lieu of her agency or characterisation. The male victim, of course, remains clothed throughout. Nobody wants to see a naked accountant, right?

Rihanna’s character in BBHMM expresses a legitimate rage as a woman of colour in the most hostile of industries, a psychotic iconoclast, and she is adored for it. I am told that I am not the audience for this work, that this is a warning, a recalibration, a calling out of the historical, collective complicity of white womanhood in patriarchy and systemic racism; and that may be true. However, the target of the video’s violence is yet another sacrificial, stripped, tortured female body, objectified beyond the point of standing for anything, even herself. The target is not the patriarchy, nor racism, nor even an individual male abuser, as in the video for Man Down. In that story Rihanna’s revenge killing of her character’s rapist is questioned in the lyrics, which express guilt and sorrow. The Rihanna of 2015 seems to have evolved beyond regret or moral nuance. Even Tarantino’s unpleasant revenge fantasies are directed at Hitler, or slave-owners, or the guy that shot your entire wedding party and stole your baby. In BBHMM Rihanna is pissed that someone withheld part of the $120 million she is worth—an offence that calls for a lawyer, not dismemberment. The major brunt of the fantasy isn’t even bourne by the actual perpetrator.

In the end, the point of BBHMM is the glorious spectacle of a young Black woman wielding power with an icy and unwavering focus on the fulfilment of her will. However, while power may mean gaining the upper hand at any cost, empowerment implies liberation from the system that oppresses, not its endless restaging.  I could watch Rihanna be a badass all day, but I must question whether the means by which she gains and demonstrates power—through the subjugation of another woman—are useful or constructive in the long run.

Siofra McSherry is a writer, researcher and doctoral scholar. She has published her poetry widely and writes art reviews for

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Quote of the Week - Rose

From Rose's film Modern Daydreams: Deere John
"... don't blink because the new is unfolding."

I love this - as a life mantra! It's actually Mitchell talking about his wonderful crowd-sourced dance film Globe Trot in Screendance Journal.  I love this film and all of Mitchell's work. Shooting dance seems easy, but to do it in a way that translates the spirit of dance takes a dancer's eye for line and a filmmaker's understanding of the frame. Mitchell's work has all of this plus humor and a sense of human nature that are unique to his point of view.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Quote of the Week - Nightingale

"It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light; that, after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room, and it is not only light but direct sun-light that they want. . . . People think that the effect is upon the spirits only. This is by no means the case. The sun is not only a painter but a sculptor." 

~ Florence Nightingale, Notes On Nursing

In this quote, which I came across in Norman Doidge's wonderful book,The Brain's Way of Healing
we see both why Nightingale was a great healer and also how much we have lost in our ways of healing.

I totally recommend daily sunshine in the healing and self-care process. Also - it's free and widely available - go get some sun!