Today’s Read: Say Her Name, Michelle Cusseaux

This is a summary of the police murder of Michelle Cusseaux. CW: Gun violence, murder

A few months ago, I watched this Ted Talk on intersectionality from the woman who coined the term, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. She opened my eyes to #SayHerName and the total silence about Black women who’ve been murdered by law enforcement. We know George Floyd. We know Tamir Rice. We know Philando Castile. But can we name any Black women who’ve died so unjustly?

I want to note the importance of knowing, saying, and sharing their names. This isn’t about Black trauma porn (i.e. think about why you’re watching and sharing videos of seeing Black folks die violent deaths). This is simply knowing that Black women die at the hands of law enforcement as well.

This is merely one woman’s name. This is merely one example of the abuse of power toward Black women (and the examples are all triggering as fuck). This is merely one case of so many ways in which the stigma against mental illness leads to unnecessary death.

There are more. Take the time to learn and say her name.

Today’s Read: Midwest Access Coalition

Along with the Iowa Abortion Access Fund (for which I am a sustaining donor), I just want y’all to know this exists.

I don’t really care what your views on abortion are. Abortions are health care. They are medically necessary. They aren’t going anywhere. If they become harder to obtain, we’ll find ways to make sure people get the care they need. That’s it. There’s no discussion about it.

And as the saying goes, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.

Today’s Read: Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

You know that person who hates doing anything before noon? If you ask them to meet up for breakfast, they’re like, “Uh, you mean breakfast for dinner, right?” It’s me. I’m that person.

For my entire life, I’ve been made to feel lazy and immature because I’m not a morning person. People assume I’m irresponsible, and when I push to have meetings later in the day, you can sense the judgment. When I say, “I’d rather stay up and work at 2 in the morning,” people think I’m odd. And damn near everyone thinks it’s something to fix. One of my old bosses would laugh at me and accommodate me for half an hour. He’d think I was being ridiculous when I grumbled about teaching 8 a.m. classes. All I have to do is get up early and suck it up, right? Or worse, I get tons of unsolicited advice on what to take, what to try, etc. Yeah no. I’ve tried it. Forty years of sleep issues. I’ve tried it. Please save your suggestions.

But guess what? It might not be something people can control. I’m working with a sleep specialist, and she thinks I’m dealing with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. It’s rare I fall asleep right away. I went to bed at 11:30 last night, exhausted, and I don’t think I fell asleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. I wanted to sleep. Badly. But I couldn’t. And yet my brain woke me up at 8 a.m. because sleeping later is frowned upon. Mind you, I stay in bed for at least an hour in the hopes that I’ll go back to sleep, but I usually don’t. And then I’m tired all day and think about napping, but if I nap, it’ll interfere with my sleep even more.

On any given night, I might sleep three hours or I might sleep ten. I never have any idea what I’m going to get. Add in the possibility of sleep apnea (sleep test coming soon), and yeah, there’s a reason my answer is always, “I’m tired,” when you ask how I am. I’m not just life tired; I’m actually sleep deprived.

And guess what else? That probably impacts my weight, my mental health, my physical health, and so on. And because I know I’m not alone in this, DO YOU UNDERSTAND NOW WHY I AM FOREVER TELLING MY STORIES TO TRY AND HELP OTHERS?! Like . . . no one tells you this shit. You have to figure it out as you go, and that gets old.

I get tired of having all the things that make me who I am assumed to be character flaws. Y’all . . . I wanna be normal, but I’m literally not wired that way. This is why I’m always trying to embrace my weird.

End whine.

Today’s Read: “Why Do Women Hate Their Bodies?”

I appreciate the apparent intentions behind this piece; however, it’s rife with examples as to why it’s so hard to burn diet culture (re: anti-fatness and patriarchy) to the underground. CW: Obesity, eating disorders

First, it’s not that women hate their bodies, as if it’s something we opt to do. It’s that people are influenced to hate their bodies. Always remember the motivation behind unrealistic body portrayals in the media is to sell products. It’s always about capitalism, power, and control. The article acknowledges the role the media plays, but it fails to shift the language away from diet culture nonsense.

Second, it cites examples of improvement in the media away from putting emaciated bodies first, and two of those examples use the BMI as an accurate indicator of health. If you don’t remember, the body mass index is deeply flawed and entrenched in racist, sexist views. It does nothing but measure the ratio of height and weight, which is a two-dimensional equation for three-dimensional bodies with fourth-dimensional (sure, I’m going with it) social and genetic factors.

Third, it makes little effort to recognize that fat is normal.

What I appreciate is its analysis of the media’s role. However, the company behind this website describes itself as “the largest health information property in the U.S.” a.k.a. the media. Y’all. I’M the media too. Websites, blogs, books, magazines, television, radio, music . . . it’s all media. We’re all trying to influence your knowledge. We should be asking what role they play as well. You should be questioning what I’m trying to do! You don’t think I hope to make a buck? (And yes, I have a ton of capitalist guilt, but that’s a post for another day.)

Yet again, we live in a society that puts continued attention on symptoms and never enough on the causes. This article would do a helluva lot more if it asked, “Who made women hate their bodies?”

Today’s Read: Melody Mercado’s Piece on Sweet Tooth Farm

Monika is everyone’s favorite person including mine. So, it’s shitty when the city decides to fuck with her livelihood. My favorite Register reporter, Melody Mercado, details that shittiness the city is putting Monika, Sweet Tooth Farm and Radiate DSM through all in the name of money. Because feeding hungry people isn’t important. As someone who faced a lot of resistance to feed hungry college students, I cannot stand when people get in the way of food security. One of the easiest ways to maintain systemic discrimination is to keep the marginalized hungry. In other words, fuck the systems. We cannot fight for our wholeness if we can’t even keep people fed. (Sadly, that’s the whole plan by these assholes, isn’t it?)

Additional relevant links:

Sweet Tooth Farm

Her IG

Radiate DSM

Rooted Farm Collective

Heart of Des Moines Farmer’s Market

Today’s Read: Anti-Diet Culture is Pro-Social Justice

I deeply enjoy Dr. Alexis Conason’s work. So, of course, I had to share this piece.

With the conversation in my IG post today, I needed to highlight this excerpt from Conason’s piece:

Our preference for the term “diet culture” over “the patriarchy” mirrors what has happened in the “body positive” movement, which quickly left behind its roots of radical fat activism to morph into a movement centering privileged bodies that allowed people to feel empowered without requiring any real change. Body positivity is cool while fat acceptance is not.

Dr. Alexis Conason, “Why Do We Say “Diet Culture” Instead of “the Patriarchy?”

Why do I go hard on hating diet culture? It’s because it disempowers women and non-binary folks, and it continues to insult, ignore, and harm fat folks.

Tackling Taboo Talk

Alliterations aside (heh), part of why Whole Damn Woman exists is because I grew tired of being told things weren’t polite to discuss. I remember in the early days of my Instagram use, I shared I wanted to talk about bodies and sex and food and politics and sexuality and race . . . a friend replied, “You mean all the stuff that’s not polite to bring up over dinner?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Think about it. We live in a constant relationship with our bodies, but we rarely talk about them. During a presentation this morning, I asked attendees if they were ever asked as kids, “How do you feel about your body today?” Or even “How are you feeling in your body today?” No one said yes.

Yet we’re also told, “Listen to your body.” Like how? No one teaches us that. But we can’t bring it up because talking about bodies is impolite.

The same goes for politics, which influences and affects literally everything we do. Yet it’s rude to talk about it because it’s supposedly divisive.

Sex? Literally how we are created.

Food? Literally how we stay alive.

Sexuality? Literally how we maneuver major relationships.

Race? Literally a part of how we encounter one another.

Yet we aren’t supposed to talk about these things? This is my problem. Calling such major topics “impolite” forces us into silence, which perpetuates hatred, violence, abuse, and ignorance. If we can’t talk about what massively affects us, how are we to tackle the problems?

Maybe calling it all “impolite” was by design . . .

Let Me Re-Introduce You . . .

My name is Seeta, and I am the founder and CEO of Whole Damn Woman! Grab a chai and plop on the couch. I wanna tell you all the things!

The Questions

My name is pronounced C-tuh. I’m named after a Hindu goddess. Yeah, it is pretty fucking cool. Yes, I’m half Indian as in India. I’m also half Black. That covers the standard questions, I think.

The Basics

I’m 42 (we miss you, Douglas Adams; and today is the 20th anniversary of his passing . . . that was pure coincidence), and I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. The only other place I’ve lived is Shithole, Kansas. I have a Master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative nonfiction (i.e. telling true stories using the elements of fiction). I also have a graduate certificate in sociology, and yes, I want the full degree when I can afford it.

What can I do with that education? Not get rich or have a steady job, apparently.

I taught as a college instructor for twenty years, most of that as an adjunct or part-time instructor. Why didn’t I go full-time, you ask? I tried at least four times at one campus, and I lost track of the other efforts. And this is how the business came about . . .

The Motivation

After my fourth rejection for a full-time position at the campus where they called me “family,” I took an intense look at my relationship with that family and realized it was fake. They had no legitimate reason for not hiring me (and no, old boss of mine, White supremacy and misogyny aren’t legitimate reasons). After sixteen years at that campus, I walked away. I kept teaching for a bit at other colleges, but my days were spent commenting on the proper places to put periods in MLA citations while inside I was screaming, “THE WORLD IS DEHUMANIZING YOU.” So, I was done with traditional education, but I wasn’t done teaching.

At first, Whole Damn Woman was DSM Food Lover on Instagram, and I focused on the good stuff I ate at restaurants in Des Moines and on the occasional vacation. But it was too singular. My passions are writing, communication, sociology, self-awareness, and food, so I expanded my focus to . . . whatever I wanted. Then a theme emerged. I wanted to tell people all the ways society fucks with our senses of self and steals little bits of what makes us who we are. I kept coming back to helping people find ways to fight society’s bullshit (“be yourself, but not that way!”).

The Business

I ended up here: Whole Damn Woman helps people rediscover their wholeness. We are born whole, but everything around us wants us to think we aren’t. If society can convince us we aren’t whole, it can sell us solutions to problems they’ve convinced us we have.

It’s. All. Bullshit.

Worse: We’re told not to talk about any of this stuff. It’s considered too much information, too personal, not for dinner conversations, not polite, inappropriate, and so on. It’s only allowed to be discussed by the people selling you the solutions.

No.

Nope.

Not OK.

We are human. Nothing human is off-limits or taboo to us. How are we to grow, rediscover our wholeness, and fight dehumanization if we can’t talk about this stuff? Whole Damn Woman makes it OK to talk about it all. We facilitate difficult conversations and take the edge off what it means to be ourselves. Talking and learning about our humanity is the only way we can fight social injustices. We have to communicate, share, and teach to learn that it’s OK for us to be who we were born to be! We have to talk about the things that steal our wholeness for us to get our birthright back.

Can you tell this is the stuff I love?!

Des Moines Politics: I’m Out

For most of my adult life, I’ve thought about going into politics. I specifically wanted to run for Des Moines City Council. That is no longer a goal or even a consideration for me. Not only does it kill whatever joy I have, it makes me feel like I’d be selling my soul. Here’s what pushed the decision:

For the last couple months, I engaged in an email conversation with council member, Josh Mandelbaum. I voted for him, and he seemed like the ideal liberal to represent my section of the city (where you can’t go far without running into a BLM sign). I was also asked to partake in Carl Voss’ campaign. I declined because I was concerned about his lack of work for people of color. Voss himself went door-to-door including to our home. I made my concerns clear to him, and he said he was aware and would work to improve it.

I was wrong to believe in either man.

Voss, it seems, has rolled over and played dead to appease the rest of the council. He’s stopped being responsive to emails or social media messages. It feels like a total bait and switch. That might be harsh, but it is my experience with him, and I’m beyond disappointed.

Mandelbaum gave me a little hope because he was so willing to engage. And then I realized he was lawyering me in his emails. I see no soul in his response; just legal maneuvering to make it look like he cares. I know ego-writing when I see it. I engage in it all the time, I graded it for twenty years, and I edited four books (this, friends, IS ME EGO WRITING). I know when someone is trying to leverage their experience.

But experience means jack if you don’t give a fuck. Caring is asking questions and trying to figure out how to do better. And none of the words Josh Mandelbaum sent me seemed about anything more than his ego. I recall no questions about what he can do better. I felt no effort to empathize. The whole thing read like campaign about why I should vote for him again.

It should also be clear I’m pretty sure the only reason he contacted me was because I threatened to run against him the next time he runs. It seems he saw a threat to his power, and he wanted to squash it.

This is why people hate politicians. This is why good people don’t run for office, and if they do, they end up so corrupted that there is little redemption left.

To my fellow Desmoinians: I hope you dig deep into what’s going on behind the scenes in this city. A major portion of the control here is about real estate. It’s about who owns what, who controls zoning, and who is related to or friends with whom. Des Moines is not unique in this sense. However, the Cownies are STEEPED in this apparent real estate corruption, and the rest of the city council is not much better. (I also had a moment where I found myself in Cownie’s old office before he was mayor, and the art on his wall shocked me to my core. It’s something I’ll never forget, but it’s also something I will never be able to prove. I trust no one in that family. Not even a little. And yes, I voted for Cownie more than once, and I’m ashamed of that.)

So, I’m out. I want to keep my soul. I want to make differences for others, and none of that happens in politics. What I want is community. I’ll always post about local stuff as long as I’m in this city, but I hope it will always be about the people we all can help, befriend, and support, not the people we can bribe and control.

Enjoy yourself, Des Moines City Council. I hope you find deep meaning in the pockets of the power-rich in this city because you’ve almost certainly lost your wholeness.

People Who Get It, No. 1: Glennon Doyle

What I’m reading . . .

I had a feeling this book would fall exactly in line with what I’m trying to do with my business. There have been SO MANY things I’ve wanted to underline! Alas, I checked it out from the library, so I’ll just have to buy it when I’m done. But yeah. Glennon Doyle gets what wholeness and social expectations (as she puts it, “indoctrination”) is all about, and I’m only 73 pages in. It’s truly an astonishing book that I want everyone to read. At least so far.

I’ll be reading big chunks of it this weekend, so I’ll update you when I’m done!