5 Body Positive Tips

Thinking about body positivity? Here are 5 tips that I find useful—maybe you will too!

1. Learn the facts

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Often when people talk about body positivity it gets relegated to the world of emotions. That’s fine, but it’s also about stone-cold facts. Deciding to be body positive means learning a few truths we are rarely taught:

  • 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it all back and sometimes more within 5 years. This is true for people who try to lose 5 pounds or 100. We’re not evolutionarily programmed to sustain intentional weight loss. This means we’re not to be able to control the size of our bodies, and the sooner we accept this the better (and healthier).
  •  Body diversity is real. We’re not all supposed to be tiny; bodies are meant to look differently.  
  • The BMI has been disproven as a measure of health. You can’t tell anything about health by looking at someone’s body size.

Learning to be body positive is about arming yourself with these facts and more. Next time you start to judge your own body and wonder if you should lose weight, you can remind yourself of the truth: there’s just no logical basis for weight loss.

2. Change the goal

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Sometimes it’s about acceptance.

I am not the first person to say this, but you might not feel positive about your body all the time. That’s ok: that doesn’t have to be the goal. Some days you may look in the mirror and think, “Hot damn I’m a fox.” Other days—not so much. But the point is really that you have a body. Just notice that. Bodies are neutral, body parts are neutral. You don’t you have to muster up total adoration all the time. Try saying impartial things: “Oh look, it’s my stomach, my human stomach.” “I have legs: whaddaya know.” “Today my body is breathing easily.” “I notice my body is hungry.”

 

3. Take stock of your media sources

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We are inundated with media all day long, and the majority of this media furthers the message that people (and women in particular) should be skinny, white, able-bodied, and have Eurocentric features. We are shown that people who look like this get rewarded with everything from love to power. The trick I learned from Isabel Foxen-Duke is to work to minimize how often you get this message, and to maximize alternative messages. True, you can’t hide in your house avoiding all billboards, TV, commercials, magazines, and music videos. But you can cultivate your social media: un-follow any celebrities, “health” experts, fitness blogs or other pages that trigger negative body talk. Replace them with body- and fat-positive bloggers, chefs, athletes, activists, models and dancers.

4. Remember: you were a baby once

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Here are two more facts: 1) Body hate is not an inherent human quality.  2) If you’re struggling with body acceptance, you’re not the only one. Babies aren’t born begrudging their thighs or trying to “cut back on milk.” To me, babies look like they are fascinated by the features and functions of their bodies. You were a baby once too. You probably loved exploring the limits of your new body, grabbing your feet and flailing your arms. Then some messages wormed their way into your life. These messages may have said things like: bodies are bad, sinful, ugly, fat, wrong. You might have learned this from your caretakers or from friends. You likely learned from the media, the healthcare system, the education system and from many other places. It happened systemically. And when things occur on that widespread level, we call it oppression. Hatred of bodies was established by systems of oppression including: sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and Christian hegemony (more on bodies and Christian hegemony here). These systems put together sent the message that “bodies are bad and should be controlled” and “some bodies are better than others.”

If you ever find yourself having negative body thoughts, remember that it’s not your fault, it was intentionally set up that way. The truth is that being body positive is really about a commitment to ending all forms oppression. Sometimes if I’m feeling bad about my body, recommitting to my activism also reconnects me to the truth that bodies are good.

5. Seek support & talk about it

 

The 4 tips I listed above are hard. But you don’t have to do it alone. Pick a trusted friend and do some research together. To arm yourself with facts, try reading Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, or watch TED talks like this one together. Tell the story of what happened to you in order to remind your brain that you weren’t born with these thoughts: you learned them, and you can work to unlearn them. Talking about this might bring up feelings of shame, but keep reminding yourself that it’s not your fault. There are coaches, like me and many others, who can work with you to sort through both the feelings and facts, and who can support you to keep going on this body acceptance journey.

Talia Cooper is an anti-oppression trainer and activist. She provides phone-based body coaching to people looking to heal their relationship to food and their body. Open to people of all genders, all ages, in all locations. Email talia.cooper@gmail.com for more information.

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The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us

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The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us:

1. Measure Self Worth by Work: Don’t believe in the inherent goodness of people. Instead decide that everyone’s worth is only as much as they achieve.

2. Accept that Oppression is the Norm: This starts with adultism the moment we are born and conditions us to accept that all other forms of oppression and privilege are just a fact of life, for the rest of our lives.

3. Believe the Dream: Believe that to be American means that your success is eventual, and that any failing is your own individual fault.

4. Get Numb and Numb-er: Close off your feelings and just suck it up. Find a form of addiction that is either secret enough or socially acceptable enough so that you can get by. Then tsk tsk anyone with a less hidden addiction, blame them for the problem and offer them no support.

5. Isolate: grow increasingly more distant from people and community. Develop a nuclear family from whom you may attempt to get all of your needs met, and lash out at them when it doesn’t work.

6. Disassociate from your Body: Make your mind and body separate entities. Find pieces of yourself to love and pieces of yourself to hate. Attempt to buy things to close the gap. Tell yourself that you only deserve rest, pleasure and play when you’ve worked for it.

7. Assimilate: Strive to look like, act like, and be like the typical white U.S.-er you are supposed to be. Forget your history, forget your religion, forget your ancestors: they are no longer a part of this narrative. Stop trying to pursue the art, community and visions you once had: they no longer matter.

The 7 Forms of Resistance All Around Us:

1. Movements: Collectives, groups, organizations, neighbors and friends can get together and learn about oppression and envision liberation. Organizing has worked over and over again throughout history and will continue to.

2. Self Care and Community Care: We can decide we are worth it and we are vital just because we are alive.

3. Tell Our Stories: We can tell our personal stories and the collective story about the white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and christian hegemony that founded this country. With our stories we can refuse to be lied to.

4. Healing: We can use therapy, support groups, co-counseling, somatic practices, art therapy and more to get ever bigger, bolder, stronger and more powerful. We can use the wisdom gained from our healing to create better policy and support communal healing through practices like reparations for slavery.

5. Connection: We can dare to cry, laugh and share our real feelings with all of the people in our lives without placing a limit on the number of people our hearts can love.

6. Love: We can refuse to buy into the idea of spreading self-hate. Even in our hardest moments we can remember we are a human with a human body and we deserve the goodness all humans deserve.

7. Art and Culture: Artists can rise up everywhere all the time to say we will not accept this world, we will build a better one. We can choose to learn about our ancestors, their histories and traditions and find ways to reclaim them afresh for ourselves.

I believe that we will win.

Love,
Talia

Tips for Responding to Offensive Comments

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on March 23rd, 2015

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Last week we posted your responses to how you handle offensive comments at parties and family gatherings. This week we’re letting you in on a few of our tricks.

Before even figuring out how to respond, you first have to determine if to respond. When deciding, here are some things to consider:

1)   Who the speaker is and your relationship to them 

Some people find it easier to engage when the offender is a close friend or family member, someone with whom they experience unconditional love. Others fear damaging the relationship most important to them over something seemingly small. But you know your relationships best and can figure out what everyone can handle.

2)   Who else is around to hear it 

We got feedback from our readers that it really matters who else is around. And we agree! If two women start fat-shaming each other in front of younger girls, standing up against internalized sexism sets an important model for the next generation.

3)    How you’re doing/feeling in that moment 

“I prefer to respond when I can be chill about it,” replied one of our readers.

Trying to explain how the history of colonialism continues to play out today might be more difficult after the longest week ever. You are the best judge of whether or not it’s time to engage.

4)   Knowledge of subject matter 

Readers reported preferring to have enough information. Don’t feel like it’s a subject you can take on? Check out our resource guide for more 411 on all sorts of topics. Also, if you’re having a gut instinct that something is wrong, you can always share your opinion and follow up with more information later.

5)   Personal relationship to subject matter 

Did someone just say something that directly insults you, your relatives or partner? Depending on how painful the subject is for you personally, your response in that moment may need to be more about self-preservation than education.

Did you decide to go ahead and engage? Here are some strategies you can try out:

1)   Humor 

It doesn’t always have to be serious. Try combatting racist jokes with jokes about racism itself. Or say “I always love comedians who actually expose racism instead of just perpetuating it.”  

2)   Pretending you don’t understand/Asking questions 

My friend Julie has a favorite example: a male acquaintance referred to another woman as a JAP. Fully aware of the meaning of the slang Julie asked, “What’s a JAP?” “You know, a Jewish American Princess,” he said. “Did she live in castle?!” Julie asked with joy on her face, effectively employing both strategies number 1 and 2, and forcing the man to reconsider his language.

This strategy can also be used more seriously if humor doesn’t feel appropriate. When people say “I prefer not to walk in that kind of neighborhood,” asking questions about what they mean can lead to the underlying classism and racism ingrained in those statements and can produce a genuine conversation.

3)   Storytelling/I-Statements 

Often most successful in producing empathy is just telling a personal story. “I don’t like when people say negative things about women’s bodies. My mom used to do that when I was a kid and it made me feel bad about myself. I’m now learning to heal from that and part of my healing is trying not to engage in negative talk about other women.”

4)   Flagging for later 

Sometimes you can keep it simple if you don’t have the energy, time, or necessary information. For example: “We don’t have to get into it now because I know we have a meeting agenda, but I want to come back to this assumption that only rich people donate to charity. I’m pretty sure I’ve read some countering statistics that we don’t have time for. But I’ll be sure to look and send them out with the notes.”

5)   Straight talk 

The scariest for some, the easiest for others. (Bear in mind: humans are strong and capable and can heal from anything.) It would be okay to say, “Hey, when you talk about the Muslim people like that it feels bad. There are over 1 billion Muslim people in the world, the vast majority of whom preach peace and love. As a Jew I know what it’s like to have my people hated and I’m just not down with perpetuating that for another religion. What’s your feeling on that?” And then engage.

What’s the worst that can happen? (And if the answer is: something truly awful can happen, see #6).

6)   Self-preservation/Boundary Setting 

As I said earlier, sometimes the topic might be too painful for you to even be around. You can say you will need to leave if the conversation continues like this. You can actually get up and leave.  Another reader provided a few short phrases she uses: “ouch,” “too far for me,” “can’t hang out with those thoughts.” If you’re up for it, you can also try, “When comments like that are made it triggers these feelings inside me. It may not be your intention for me to feel this way, but I want you to know how I feel in response.”  You get to take care of yourself, and you know how to do that best.

7)   Diffusing 

Having trouble thinking of a response? Feeling stuck? There are still strategies for you! Readers provided responses including “Ok! Moving on!” and the “specifically vague” phrase: “Well, now, that’s a thought!” (which is reported to lead to a subject change). One reader said, “Sometimes I feel that just gently not participating in the conversation or giving any response is enough to register that I’m not agreeing or colluding.” Others reported using body language to show lack of interest in continuing the conversation. Other phrases to try: “That statement doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t feel like getting into a debate about it now, but maybe we could just move on?” “I’m pretty sure that’s inaccurate, but I will look up more info about it and send it to you later!” “I think this conversation is better continued just the two of us at another time.”

Hard stuff, right? The good news is that we don’t have to be perfectionists about it. Maybe we’ll come up with a great response, maybe we won’t. Maybe someone will appreciate what we say and maybe not. What matters is that you made the assessment, you tried something (because even not responding is trying something) and then you will learn from the result.  If it’s not the result you wanted, oh well! The good (er bad?) news is that you will have plenty more opportunities to try again. Additionally, it sometimes feels like the very moment it happens is the only opportunity to respond.  While It is often is easier in the moment, it’s not your last shot. “Remember yesterday when you said that thing? It actually upset me because…” is also valid.

This stuff is also really cultural. People from different class, race and ethnic backgrounds might have different ways of handling tricky moments.  Our way is not the only way, and ideally we all get to learn from each other.

I think the best advice we can offer is just to notice. Does your heart race? Do you sweat? Do you get really angry? Do you repeatedly choose not to engage? How do people generally respond to what you say? Try to notice without judgment and keep track of patterns. How come I usually feel tongue tied? What am I most scared of? Start collecting information. The more information you have, the more likely you can make rational decisions in the future (hm, I notice that Im having that body sweat thing again. I remember that that means Im scared. But there is no real threat here. Okay! I think I can respond!). Be gentle with yourself and keep at it. And if you yourself said something offensive, you can be gentle on yourself too and learn about it for next time.

There’s also something in all this for you: every time you speak up, you get to have the experience of seeing yourself as someone who acts on the things you believe in. This is not for self-kudos, but for the experience of inner-alignment. And the more you practice, the more you build the muscle.

By the way, if you are an educator, we lead a workshop on this stuff! It’s called “Evaded Issues” and was originally developed by Naomi Less and Shira Epstein. The workshop is designed to help educators with strategies to engage when tough topics unexpectedly arise in educational settings. Let us know if you’d like to schedule a workshop for your school or organization!

Written by Ma’yan staff: Talia Cooper, Shayna Goodman, Andrea Jacobs

No Lotions, Potions, Diets or Pills: Here’s One Tip on Aging You Won’t Wanna Miss!

This piece was originally published on the Ma’yan blog

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Talia Cooper explains how combating ageism can be a remedy to our fear of aging and obsession with youth: “We say age is power, but only to a certain point. We have young people trying to look old and old people trying to look young. Where does this leave us?”

Part I: 28 and ¾ Years-Old

My dad likes to wax nostalgic about a story I wrote when I was little featuring a “24 and a ½ year old” protagonist. Why is it that as kids we are proud of every month of our lives? At what point does that stop?

Well now I am 28 and ¾ years old. In other words, I’m in my late 20s. In other words, I’m approaching 30.  That’s around the age that people start to think about aging more negatively. After all, turning ten equaled new adventures in double-digit land and 20 was a step closer to 21. But 30? That’s some real stuff. My friends have already started to point out gray hairs, new wrinkles, sagging skin and deep-colored-veins.

As a young girl I would spend time looking in the mirror, pinching the skin next to my eyes in hopes of developing crow’s feet like the ones I saw decorating the faces of my mother and her friends. To me, these lines were like magical rivulets, or like flowers bursting from a trumpet vine. I tried to explain this to adults but their laughter taught me that wrinkles were not okay and were not to be wished for.

So now, like many my age, I’ve started to feel a little nervous. How much longer do I have in my youth? If I obsessively go to the gym or drink lots of water or eat chia seeds or use oxygen cream on my face, can I extend my youthfulness?

And then it hit me. There is only one, soundproof, fail-safe, air-tight way of combating this aging process. But we’ll get to that later.

Part II: I Won’t Grow Up!!

Why are we all so obsessed with not getting older? It is documented that older men and women have increasing difficulty finding jobs. A friend of mine, who’s in her 60s, told me she would gladly leave her hair its natural white color, but she gets significantly more professional clients when she dyes it brown. The media loves to demonize pop stars for the “work” they get done. But when an increase in age leads to a decrease in job opportunities—can we blame them? Ageism is real and pervasive. And when you mix ageism with racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia and/or other such goodies, you get quite a stew. No wonder this aging thing gets a little scary. Then again, being too young is no good either.

As an educator and youth organizer I’ve spent years learning and teaching about adultism: the way society treats young people like they are less than full humans. I remember being in high school wondering what life would be like when I finally got to “the real world.” I’m only now understanding that things were just as real back then. We may worship youthfulness, but we sure don’t worship our youth; we deny them the right to vote, we prescribe them pills and curricula without their consent, and we treat them either like scary monsters or shallow beings obsessed only with gossip and social media.

There’s this funny thing about age: if there is in fact a sweet spot (not too old but not too young), it doesn’t seem to last very long. Either you’re young and not real yet, or old and irrelevant. What does this mean that we praise youthfulness but devalue the young? We say age is power, but only to a certain point. We have young people trying to look old and old people trying to look young. Where does this leave us?

Part III: A New Premise

What if we start over, all of us, with a new premise: every person deserves to live and be treated as a full human being. To us at Ma’yan, this is what it means to be a feminist. What could that new premise look like in terms of age?

What if young people were asked what excites them and how that can be incorporated into their broader learning? What if people of all ages were encouraged to experiment with new activities, ideas and creative endeavors?

What if older people were asked for advice and valued for their experience? What if people of all ages made decisions for their future (and the future of the planet) based on the assumption that they have a full, rich life ahead of them?

What if all cities and institutions were up to date with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring equal access? What if respectful and loving care was widely available to the elderly at affordable rates, and the domestic workers who provide it were also treated with dignity? What if people did not automatically assume that older people or people with disabilities required help? What if no one was ashamed to ask for help when they needed it?

What if we always complimented people for their whole beauty as they are now (not how beautiful they will become or how we imagine they once were)?

What if employers appreciated the different contributions of people of all ages? What if older people were not forced into early retirement? What if we worked to end the system based in capitalist notions that humans are valued only according to their productivity?

What if doctors always assumed they can speak directly to their patient, no matter how old or young? What if voting laws became more inclusive? What if young people formed committees to serve as advisors to government?

What if there were more intergenerational friendships and collaborations?

What if we were all proud of having made it exactly where we are?

Part IV: Anti-Ageism Heroes!

I’m aware as I write that readers might pay more attention to a piece on ageism from someone like me, who is approximately still in the ‘sweet spot’ (old enough not to be young, young enough not to be old). Marjorie Dove-Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, encourages us all to be “unlikely allies,” active in causes that might surprise others and make them notice (Gasp! She cares about older people!).But I would be remiss if I didn’t share that there are amazing people out there doing incredible anti-ageism activism, and they want you to know they are old and proud!

Like Ashton Applewhite who blogs about ageism at This Chair Rocks and says:  “I know I’m not young—do not call me ‘young lady’—but I don’t think of myself as old either. I certainly qualify, if oldness is measured by time from birth or defined by my laptop’s dictionary: ‘having lived a long time.’ I prefer ‘older,’ which emphasizes that age is a spectrum. I reject the old/young binary: that imaginary line in the sand after which it’s all supposed to be downhill. The problem lies in equating ‘old’ with diminishment alone. The reality, as experience proves, is far more nuanced and positive.”

Maggie Kuhn, founder of the intergenerational education and advocacy organization called the Gray Panthers, said: “Old age is not a disease–it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” (She also said “Sex and learning until rigor mortis.”) In her work for justice, Kuhn hoped to have older and younger people connect over the shared experience of ageism.

Part V: The Big Reveal: My One and Only Trick on Aging

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the media frenzy and want to minimize my own aging process. But when I take a moment to breathe, read the thinking of people like Applewhite and Kuhn, I don’t see anything wrong with getting older. After all, each decade of my life has been better than the last, and they’ve all been pretty good. I fully expect this upward trend to continue as I grow and learn.

So I’ve realized that if I, myself don’t want to experience the harsh ageism I see lobbed at older folks daily, I have only one real course of action.  It’s not a special diet or cream. It’s not a surgery. It’s not any product I can buy. You ready? Here is my one and only trick on aging: fight to end ageism.

As Ellen Snortland says:  “At any age, to partake in ageism is to lay the foundation for your own irrelevancy.” I have no intention of doing that.

Part VI: Taking Action

(Pictured above: Talia Cooper and her grandmother Dorothy Gartner)

A few actions we can take to fight ageism:

  • Interrupt ageist and adultist comments when you hear them (such as “I’m having a senior moment” or “all kids bully each other on social media.”)
  • Start treating people of all ages as the full humans they are (this includes yourself).
  • Get support to work on your own feelings/fears about death and disability.
  • Create alternative advertisements and birthday cards that exhibit a joy in the aging process
  • Practice both living in the moment (assuming you are extremely important just as you are RIGHT NOW), and assuming you have a long life ahead of you.
  • Get involved in campaigns to protect the planet for the long haul (such as the work of 350.org).
  • Take action against employers with ageist hiring and firing practices, and support organizations and unions doing this work, like JPAC and NYSARA.
  • Lobby congress to institute stricter policies against ageism in work and housing.
  • Work intergenerationally. Don’t assume anyone is too old or young for responsibility. Don’t put all your hopes and un-accomplished dreams on the next generation.
  • Find safe spaces to vent feelings of hopelessness—do not ask the next generation to hold this.
  • Make art that exhibits pride in your own age.
  • Encourage school systems to listen to students’ voices.
  • If you want to know a kid’s age, start by telling them how old you are (“I’m 52 years old, how about you?”).
  • Stop complimenting people on their youthfulness.
  • Insist that Hollywood hire people to play their own age.
  • Get involved and support organizations who work for the rights of older people to age with dignity and care, such as Caring Across Generations and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
  • Check out the youth-made movie Ma’yan’s recent Research Training Interns created resisting oppressive media messages!
  • Ask people of all ages their thoughts and advice on aging.
  • [Insert your creative ideas here.]

When I asked my Grandma Dorothy Gartner (who’s almost 90) her advice on aging she said, “Love the preciousness of yourself, keep that alive.” When I asked my friend Anya Tucker (who’s almost 13) she said, “Take the passing years not as a sign of being closer to death but as a sign of your growing wisdom.” I would like to imagine aging like a tree: sinking my roots in deeper and stretching my branches further than I ever thought they could grow.

Ageism is harsh and pervasive—even more so when mixed with other -isms.  It is difficult to combat the societal messaging. But when I think about it, doesn’t getting older actually mean I have the enormous privilege of living another day?

Talia Cooper is a musician and the Program Director at Ma’yan. She has been working with youth for seven years. She has led workshops for people of all ages on the topic of ageism, and is interested in thinking more about the complexity of intergenerational work. Want to know more? Contact talia@mayan.org. Talia will be 29 in September 2014.

 

The Un-Discussed Ism in the Miley Cyrus Scandal

Miley Cyrus has been making me sick. Her performance at the VMAs and her video of “We Won’t Stop” were both filled to the brim with racism, cultural appropriation, misogyny, and general unappealing weirdness.

Even so, I posted on Facebook my discomfort with the woman-hating that ensued. Miley’s performance was offensive, upsetting and nauseating, but she doesn’t deserve to have her butt compared to the backend of a turkey, or to have all kinds of slut comments thrown at her (especially when Robin Thicke didn’t appear to take much heat for his creepy rapey-ness).

Yes, Miley is an individual, and she has agency and a voice (and a fairly good one at that). She could stand up, take charge and refuse to propagate this bullshit. Instead she perpetuates it by saying she wants a “black” sound, using black women’s bodies and sexuality to promote her own coolness while never having to learn anything about black culture, history and oppression.

She could take a stand.  I hope one day she does.

But Miley is also being produced, marketed, engineered, managed and generally controlled by a whole lot of older people who are out to make a buck, and will encourage any wild antics if they seem like money makers.

If Miley says she wants to twerk, my guess is it gets run by a whole bunch of older men who eventually come to the consensus: yes, Miley twerking= profit.

This is sexism, capitalism and a whole lot of yuck in one seemingly small interaction.

But there is one other ism wrapped up in this that no one is talking about.

Adultism.

In my organization- Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA)- we talk about Adultism as the oppression of young people by older people. It is different from ageism (which is oppression based on age, and also targets the elderly).

Adultism is the way that young people get oppressed by adults and society because they are young. Adultism is adults who won’t think twice about screaming at children and teenagers to shut up and behave but would never speak to their peers that way. Adultism is stores that put up signs “limit 3 teenagers at one time” and no one calls the ACLU. Adultism is youth getting sent off to die in wars at the age of 18, but are not trusted to drink responsibly. Adultism is the way youth in most school systems get zero say in their education. Adultism is the way young black men get stopped, frisked, beaten, killed by cops on the street all the time.

Adultism doesn’t stand alone. It intertwines with racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, militarism and much more. It’s also important to say, as we do in JYCA, that the opposite of adultism isn’t treating youth like adults, but rather Youth Empowerment: helping youth see themselves as powerful agents of change. Just in the way the opposite of sexism isn’t “treating women like men,” but rather building rights and power for people of all genders. So too, youth empowerment and anti-adultism is about meeting youth where they are at and supporting their process. In fact, it would be adultist to try to treat youth like adults, rather than their actual age.

Back to Miley. And to me.

Miley, daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, famous country music star.

My parents aren’t famous on a Cyrus level, but they are both well known in some Jewish communities. I’ve spent much of my life with the name “David & Linda’s Daughter.” I dreamt of making a name for myself (of being Entirely Talia). I love my parents, and sometimes being their daughter gains me access to people and places that have given me enormous privilege. But the adultism of not being treated like my own person is hard. And I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids of big time celebrities.

At age 11 Miley became famous in her own right: a Disney Channel star, an immediate success with her role as Hannah Montana, a character trying to be a normal kid while leading a secret life as a pop star. Like all Disney stars she is sweet, funny, innocent, perky, pretty…

Miley is not the first Disney star to progress from lovely princess to sex-pop icon. Most notably, Brittany Spears went from Disney Mousketeer, to innocent schoolgirl seductress, to full-out sex kitten, to mental breakdown and back again. Christina Aguilera also ditched her Disney innocence for her “grown-up” image. It looks like Selena Gomez is right on track. Heck, even Justin Timberlake was eager to show off his sexuality post-Disney days.

So what’s going on? Is there some Disney conspiracy to create future sex icons?

Perhaps.

But I think this is also how oppression and adultism works.

These young folks with talent are taken from their lives, offered promises of fame, money, popularity, and then forced to promulgate a specific image of youth (that has nothing to do with their actual lives): a sugary image which then gets spoon-fed to the rest of the nation’s young people who will gladly take a break from their own lives filled with adultism, sexism, racism, poverty, boredom and whatever else. In these adult created Disney representations of young life, kids experience snafus, embarrassment, fights with friends or parents…. But they are well taken care of, well resourced, with a perfect rainbow of friends who never have to confront racism in multiracial friendships. They have crushes, but they don’t have sexualities.

So I admit it. I watched a few episodes of Hannah Montana when it came out. I watched because I was taken with her singing. She was this very young girl, and yet her voice was so mature. In fact at some moments, she almost sounded like an adult. Hmm. As if that’s what it takes for young people to get an adult’s attention. To sound like an adult. To act like an adult. To look like an adult.

Given Brittany, Justin, Christina and everyone else- I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised what happened.

In 2009 Miley came out with “Party in the USA” and was bombarded with accusations of stripper-ness. Disney refused to comment. Then- you know the rest, with her new “black sound” and scandalous performance. And now women are accusing her of being slutty, of not being a good role model. Youth are not supposed to talk about sex, even as they (and all of us) are being bombarded with it thousands of times a day.

These young Disney girls get set up to be fantasies. Whether they are the fantasies of young people wanting a better, easier life, or the sexual fantasies of older men with some healing to do, or even the fantasies of adults such as me, intrigued by something adult-like within them. Is it any wonder they rebel, partially by running in the other direction (“I’m not that innocent!”) but also straight in the direction they have always been pointed: deeper into fantasy land, taking the hidden sexual fantasy element of their stardom and making it fully public?

The oppressive cycles of adultism, sexism and capitalism continues.

I wonder what would happen if we could get Brittany Spears and Miley Cyrus to one of JYCA’s Youth Empowerment and Adultism workshop. If we could teach them about how Adultism is the first oppression that everyone experiences and how it conditions us to accept all other oppressions and eventually perpetuate them ourselves? If we gave them space to remember what it was like for them when they were young, all the ways adults controlled them and took away their voice even as they belted it out. Would they then go out to all the other young stars and say, “Hey, it’s okay. Oppression is real. I know. What’s it been like for you? What do you really want for yourself? For the world?” Maybe we could start an army of pop princesses, marching hand in hand right to the studio execs, to the 1%, to anyone who will listen and demand an end to adultism, to racism, to sexism, to the perpetuation of oppression.

By the way, if you’re a high-school aged youth in the Bay Area and want to talk about this stuff more, come to JYCA’s “Adultism and Youth Empowerment Workshop.” Sunday September 15th, 2013 at noon in Berkeley. Email Talia@JYCA-Justice.org to RSVP or for more info. (Open to all high-school aged youth)

For more info on JYCA and Adultism, you can visit our website, and follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr.  Contact Info@JYCA-Justice.org if you are interested in bringing the Adultism and Youth Empowerment workshops to your organization, workplace, circle of friends etc… (for groups of all ages).

If you want to hear my music (not my parents!), check out my Facebook, Reverbnation, YouTube, Twitter and WordPress.

And for more information on Adultism, also check out Paul Kivel’s website for lots of great resources.

On Self Care and the West Coast Port Shutdown

“Here’s where I’ve come to,” I explained to Paul Kivel (my activist mentor), “In the realm of Self Care.” Paul and I were checking in over the phone. I’d been going non stop from meeting with Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), to board meeting, to music rehearsal, to Occupy assembly to Occupy protest… and so Paul had started encouraging me to sit down and do some reflecting on this illusive topic: Self Care. Two words that have haunted me for years (though “haunted” seems a little dramatic).

When I hear those two words I picture: wealthy women dipping manicured hands into luscious coconut cream and paraffin wax, cucumbers over their eyes, an unnamed person rubbing their feet, as a small breath escapes their lips forming a frozen comic book bubble above them reading: “I just needed a little Self Care.

I also picture activists who needed Self Care, who went inward, and then never seemed to return to the movement.

Capitalism tells me Self Care is going shopping, is getting drunk or hooking up with someone, is eating to the point of discomfort, is watching TV ‘til my brain feels like birdfeed and burnt out firecrackers… all because I needed to “let loose” and “have a little fun.” All because I just needed a little Self Care. When I look at it this way, I can’t tell how coconut cream, going inward and birdfeed equals the collapse of capitalism. Sounds more like collusion. Sounds like systems of oppression running just fine. I’m trying to bring this shit down, not fuel it.

The day before my phone check-in with Paul, the Occupy Oakland camp was raided for a second time, and there was a 4am call for support. I thought: I should go. Then I thought: I’m exhausted, I’ve been worried about getting sick and I have lots of work. I’m staying in bed. So I slept. It was later that morning when I finally took Paul’s advice and sat down to do some writing before giving him a call. I wrote, “I guess I made the Self Care choice by continuing to sleep…. But it seems like the Self Care choice for everyone should have been to stay home. How was 4am healthful for anyone? And so does the movement depend on some people not following Self Care practices? And then why should I be one of the people who gets to take care of myself if not everyone can? And how does Self Care make sense for a movement, when it depends on some people not actually paying attention to it?” I wrote and wrote, but could not arrive at an answer.

“Here’s where I’ve come to- in the realm of Self Care,” I told Paul on the phone.

“You have to see it as over a lifetime,” Paul said, “It’s not just one 4am protest, or one meeting, or one action. It’s the whole movement over a whole lifetime.”

We talked about the ebbs and flows of a movement, the ebbs and flows of our lives, and what each of us has to give. For some, being a parent is the top priority during a time period, and parenting in and of itself can build towards justice for future generations. And when their child grows up, the parent can refocus their energies to contributing in new ways. For others, creating posters for events and email blasting all of their friends is more healthful than actually going themselves. Self Care, Paul reminded me, isn’t just a bath and tea candles. Sometimes Self Care is actually showing up. For some, getting to support Occupy Oakland at 4am was completely thrilling. It gave them energy and passion. And maybe they even had time later to go home for a nap. For those folks, showing up was Self Care. When each of us thinks about our goals, passions, capabilities and roles, we get to show up at these Self Care times.

“Besides,” Paul reminded me, “The day before the raid, you were at Occupy Oakland supporting youth to lead an Adultism and Youth Empowerment workshop. Youth Empowerment is one of your main roles in the movement. That is what you are showing up for.”

And for me, youth work is energy-giving.

This past Monday was the West Coast Port Shutdown to show solidarity with workers’ rights and against the corporate greed that drives this hyper-capitalist system. There were two picket shifts: 5:30 am and 5pm. JYCA youth planned to have an evening contingent.

I spent a while thinking about that 5:30am shift. If one of my main roles is youth empowerment, then it was important that I be awake and energetic enough to bring JYCA in the evening. But as I thought, I kept feeling drawn to the 5:30am shift, to the idea of seeing the sunrise over the Oakland port picket line. And, I realized, I would have time to take a nap before 5pm. Could it be, in this case, that showing up at dawn actually was Self Care?

The night before the port shutdown I laid out my clothes. I set my alarm for 4:40am. I packed oatmeal in a Tupperware. In the morning I headed out towards BART, noticing how empty streets feel like an extension of my bedroom: my bed, my closet, my carpet, my front door, the cement broken by tree roots, the storefronts and their “closed” signs, the dirty white of the crosswalk, the ticket gates, the BART train… I arrived in West Oakland and found a friend with a nuzzle-able cheek. I clenched her hand and we started marching. Other faces, familiar from the past few months of occupying, early-morning fuzzed around me. Knowing smiles were shared as we groggily chanted: “We! Are! The 99%!” And the sun began to spill out over our picket line.

Later that morning, I did get my nap. As my toes thawed out under a blanket I started to dream. There I was, back at the port. The sun-spill even more golden than in real life. Our picket line circled and we chanted loudly: “We! Are! Fully Alive! We! Are! Fully Alive!”

Update 10/15/12 Just read this blog post by B Loewe at Organizing Upgrade that I think gets at some of the systemic issues involved with the feelings I was grappling with. Loewe’s point is a good one- if what we’re striving for in justice is a sense of community and connectedness, why would “self care” be the goal, instead of “community care?” But many, including  Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at brown star girl, have accurately pointed out how this rhetoric privileges able-bodied people. What do you think?

Preamble: JYCA and Troy Davis (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

On September 21st, 2011 Troy Davis was executed after a long wait on death row and a decreasing amount of evidence. The day he was executed I spent hours glued to the radio. The night before I had made phone calls and signed petitions. I had contacted the youth in my organization (Jewish Youth for Community Action– JYCA) and asked them to do the same. When Troy’s time neared, all I could think was Oh My God, they are going to kill an innocent man and we are all just listening. I felt alone as I listened to the voice of Amy Goodman. Then they postponed the execution. I found a vigil at Plymouth Church and joined the group—a mix of passers-by like me, and church members. Together we held candles and rang bells while reading the names of the 700 people currently on death row in California. 700.

A few hours later I met with a group of youth action leaders from JYCA and just as I pulled up to the meeting, the Supreme Court announced they would do nothing to stop the execution.

I presented the youth with my original meeting agenda for the night. The plan had been to talk about the things that make us numb and get in the way of our core drive for justice. But we knew it didn’t make sense to talk about our general activism when injustice was happening at that very moment. Instead, we listened to the live Troy Davis coverage. We turned it off. We held each other and cried. We talked about how powerless we felt, how powerless the executioner must have felt. To simply act on their job like that. And then, though I too felt small and woefully under qualified to facilitate such intense feelings, I was somehow able to shift our conversation. If this is how disempowered we feel, then others must feel this way too, I prompted. So isn’t our role as action leaders to help people feel really powerful so that they stand up and act for a change? The youth thought about it. Yes, yes, that’s it, they said. They shared success stories, they shared goals. They couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the group the truth they discovered: that we are really powerful. And we do get to act for change.

What with the foreclosures, bank fees, bad mortgages, and also the murders of Oscar Grant and Troy Davis, we have been feeling hopelessness. We caught a glimpse of inspiration as young folks, from Egypt to Greece, Israel to Libya and all over, decided to stand up. And finally in the U.S, we caught on too.