Resolved: A No-Diet New Year Starts Now

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I’m excited (and a little nervous) to share my very first published piece of 2017. Hope you enjoy, and happy new year!

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“I’ve noticed you’ve gained a little weight,” Mom said as we sat in the car. I was 11 years old and my body was just beginning to hint at hips. She reached over, tugging on the new roll of stomach fat that was hiding under my t-shirt. “Getting a little pudgy,” she teased.

I’d been too busy feeling awkward that I was morphing into what adults called “busty” to specifically zero in on what my stomach had been up to — no good, as it turned out.

[Continue reading over at Salon]


My Body

My body
Is not a temple
because those belong to deities.
Is not holy ground
because that can be desecrated.
Is not a building
because that can be owned.
Is not a pillar
because those can crumble.
My body
Is flesh and blood.
Is fire and magic.
Is mine.


A baptism into self-love (or, the first time I wore a bikini)

There I was, standing in the sun, showing off the body that is mine.August 13, 2016. I feel like I should permanently mark the day on the calendar because exactly a week ago I accomplished one of the most radical acts of self-care and self-acceptance I’ve ever undertaken.

I wore a bikini in public for the very first time.

It was a hot day, so the husband and I decided to go to the lake after dinner. We’ve gotten to know the lake with its regular crowd rather well this summer — Pokemon Go players wondering around with their phones, guitar-strumming lifeguards singing when it’s too chilly for people to swim, hookah smokers camping out at their usual picnic table, Mormon missionaries attempting to catch a Pokemon Go player or two, children throwing rocks at ducks, and I even saw a baptism once. Baptism. The last time I’d swam in a lake I was in high school, and it was the lake I was baptized in.

As I’d watched the baptism out of the corner of my eye from the shady patch of grass that I’d claimed, I found myself remembering the baptism class I took when I was 12. “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward commitment,” the senior pastor had said. It was a way of announcing to the world what you’d already privately decided. It was a way of proclaiming that as a result of your commitment to Christ you were no longer the same person.

As I watched the woman being baptized come out of the water soaking wet and smiling, my own baptism felt like a lifetime ago. It had been a statement that I was different. But as I looked back, 12-year-old Kelsey felt so much different than 29-year-old Kelsey. I’ve changed again. I’ve changed a lot. Read More


Self-Care: Relaxing Into My Body

I cautiously dip my toe into the bath in order to check the comfort and safeness level of the water. Then, as the faucet is still spewing warm water out its mouth, I gradually lower myself into the tub. As a kid, bathtubs felt like huge water-worlds unto themselves, but now I feel like an adult trying to fit in a child’s world. The water sways like it’s listening to its favorite song as I try to figure out where to put my feet.

As a kid bath time meant bath toys. My bath toys lived in a white mesh bag that hung over the showerhead, out of reach. I’d play in the bath until the water was cold and my fingers looked like I’d just aged about a hundred years. But I didn’t care that the water was cold. I didn’t care about my fingers. I didn’t even care about my exposed little body. All I cared about was that the bath toys were finally within reach.

Maybe I should buy a rubber ducky, I used to think when I first started taking baths as an adult. Maybe it would give me something to do, something to distract myself from … well … me. My body. My skin. My thighs. My stomach. Everything. That’s what’s so troublesome and wonderful about baths now, you see; all those parts of me that I try to hide are visible.

I look down at my stomach, at the soft roll of skin and fat that’s sticking out even more than normal thanks to the smallness of the bathtub. It reminds me of the first time I ever noticed it, the first time I thought it was wrong and ugly. “Your thighs are getting flabby,” the tactless observer had said. “And your stomach is starting to stick out.” And then she poked a criticizing finger at my stomach. “You need to go on a diet or you’re going to get fat.” I was only 11-years-old and had barely even noticed the early signs of puberty setting in but with her words still hanging in the air I tried to suck my stomach in a little more, crossing my arms over it to provide extra coverage.

I went on a diet after that, the first of many. In middle school I regularly skipped breakfast and sometimes lunch time, too. I was hungry a lot. In high school I gave up desserts and French-fries and chided myself on my inability to give up pepperoni pizza with gooey, stringy cheese.

The apostle Paul, who I don’t think was exactly a self-care enthusiast, said that he “beat his body into submission.” And this, sadly, became my diet mantra. My body was defective. My body was weak. My body was broken, flawed. So I would force it to submit to my will and ideal pants size.

This self-abusive weight management continued until I was in my mid-twenties when I caught a horrible stomach virus. I was sick, really sick. And I started dropping weight like crazy. By the time I was over the Stomach Flu From Hell, I was one whole size smaller than my Dream Size; the size I’d never been able to get my body to stay at for longer than about half a breath; the size that I thought would make me valuable and whole and pretty and happy. And I was smaller.

When I went to the store, trying on pants in order to find a new pair that fit, and I realized that my horrible-awful-no-good stomach demon had left me so malnourished I’d lost more weight than I ever had before, I wasn’t happy. In fact, my very first thought was, “Maybe, if I work hard enough, I could go even smaller!” I wasn’t happy. But maybe then I would be. Maybe then I’d be pretty. Maybe then I’d have worth. Maybe …

Somehow reaching that point made me realize that there wasn’t a magical number on the inside of my dress or on the scale that was going to make me happy. There wasn’t a number that could tell me my worth, value, and beauty. Even if I managed through obsessive self-abusive dieting or catching extreme stomach viruses to achieve my Dream Size, it wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t be happy. And then Dream Size would just be replaced by a different, smaller number.

Dream Size was nothing more than a mirage promising me palm trees, acceptance, worth, and a body that would make Victoria Secret models dead jealous. I was running through the hot sand, dehydrated and malnourished, as I chased after happiness and self-worth in the form of a number that told me absolutely nothing about myself.

Remembering the years of dieting, the countless times I’ve yanked at my stomach in disgust and all the lies about my body I ingested when what I needed to be ingesting was food makes me sad. “I’m sorry,” I gently whisper, running my hand over my stomach.

When I first started making baths a more regular part of my self-care regimen this past year I’d put a hand towel over my stomach so that I wouldn’t have to look at it. But now I pat it encouragingly. “You’re beautiful,” I say. I’ve been telling my body that a lot lately, especially my stomach and thighs because they’re still bruised from having heavy, jagged words like ugly, worthless, embarrassing and disgusting hurled at them. “You’re beautiful,” I say again, this time meaning it a little more. “You’re beautiful.”

I relax into the water, breathing in the hint of lavender from the bath salts. And I relax into my body, at least a little more. My body and I have a long, complex history together, but one bath at a time, one You’re beautiful at a time we’re slowly mending the rift in our relationship.

It can be hard sometimes to not fall back into old patterns, especially when it’s Diet Season, but generally I don’t self-objectify as much these days. I don’t think of my body as a thing that’s not cooperating or working correctly. I see my body for what it really is—alive. And living things need to be gently cared for and loved.

This year you won’t find me standing on a scale or trying to shrink myself into an old pair of jeans; this year you’ll find me in the bathtub, getting comfortable with my own skin and what an actual body—not some airbrushed, photoshopped Dream Size model—looks like. You’ll find me learning to tell myself that I’m beautiful rather than waiting to hear it from someone else. Instead of dieting this January 1st, I’m celebrating six years diet-free and that, unlike so many other numbers that I’ve worried over, is actually a number worth celebrating.

My New Year’s wish for all of you is that you’ll relax into your body. May you tell yourself you’re beautiful, and begin to mean it a little more each time you say those precious words. May you be reminded that you have worth and dignity. May you begin to believe that your body is magic. May you tell dieting to fuck off.


Special Update: January, with all its messages yelling that it’s time you get your butt and linen closet in gear, can be an especially hard time to practice self-care. Everything from our home organization to the shape of our bodies is called into question and scrutinized; everything seems to be old, outdated and in need of repair and a fresh coat of paint.

So I have a special treat for you. Every Friday, starting next week and going through February, I’ll be featuring a guest-post series by writers I respect on how they practice the art of self-care. Small, intimate slices of life that were dedicated to self-care and can help remind all of us to take care of ourselves.

Happy New Year. It might be a different year but you’re still the same fabulous, beautiful you.


Telling Myself I’m Beautiful

Flickr CC Emily

Flickr CC Emily

I drip some cold body lotion on to my hand and rub in gently on my upper arms and elbows — the part of my body that no matter how many times I drench it in lotion probably hasn’t been hydrated a day in my life. When I was a kid the dry bumps embarrassed me so much that I’d sometimes try to pick them off (this never ended well). And eventually I swore off tank tops in order to keep the dry bumps under wraps. Rubbing the lotion into my arm I take a moment to whisper, “You’re beautiful.”  Yes, you. With your super dry skin and not-exactly toned arms. You. Yes, you.

I squirt some more lotion onto my knees and work it up to my thighs. I used to refuse to wear shorts in the summer because I thought this region of my body was too knobby, too dry and bumpy, too flabby and cellulite-y to be allowed out in public. It was too ugly to be allowed to run free and wild about town; it might frighten the children or the old ladies. But I work the lotion in, gently, and whisper kindly, softly, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you. You don’t need to be hidden and kept out of sight.

Rubbing the lotion into my stomach feels like a silent apology. I’ve said so many unkind, hurtful things about it. I’ve called it ugly, called it flabby and fat, and declared it the most embarrassing region of all. I realize as I work in the lotion that I’ve never been gentle, loving with it before; I’ve tried to suck it into jeans that were too tight, grabbed at the bits of loose skin in disgust, and I’ve put it on several diets. But never been gentle. I rub it with lotion and whisper softly as before, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you. I’m sorry. I love.

I nearly, accidentally, skip my breasts completely. I’m so used to trying to ignore and conceal them. The goal for years was to minimize and hide them because breasts, I was told, caused men to stumble. They were the part of my body, more than any other, that could cause sin. When puberty hit, I hoped they’d barely be visible when they were done growing because that would make the goal of hiding them easier. Every time I had to go up a bra size I nearly cried. “Please, stop growing,” I remember silently pleading. Curvy. That’s never seemed like a good thing. But I said it to them as well: “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

I rub the leftover lotion that’s on my hands on my neck and under my ears. The skin under my left ear is bumpy, scared from an old surgery. I’ve tried every type of scar-be-gone cream from the drugstore on it. But it’s still there, hiding just under my ear and jawline. I’ve always planned my hairstyles and haircuts around hiding it; I’ve never wanted people to know it’s there. But I tell it, for the very first time, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

I pull out my face lotion and squirt some in my hand, starting by rubbing it into my cheeks and then working outwards. I’ve spent so much time analyzing that face in the mirror. The scar from an old pimple I shouldn’t have picked at; the large pores around my nose; those hairs out of place; the dark lines under my eyes; the uneven patches of skin. I’ve spent so much money and time on trying to fix it or at least hide it. But I gently rub in the lotion and say, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.

As I put the cap back on the lotion I look over my skin one last time and remind myself, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, you.