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?!

Toxic Positivity and What Do You Mean “Talk about It”?!

How about the direct approach when faced with toxic positivity? Not everyone will be comfortable confronting their supposed-to-be support systems about toxic positivity, but my aim is to give you scripts to tackle it.

But first, a recap. Over the last few days, we learned:

Now, we need to discuss a strategy for calling out and avoiding toxic positivity. That strategy is direct communication. There’s SO MUCH power in direct communication, but people fear it. They don’t want to offend, be a burden, hurt someone’s feelings, be seen as mean, and so on. But indirect communication is keeping us stuck. It prevents us from seeing the gift of direct communication:

https://twitter.com/karmaldonado_/status/1246957935969759232

While not everyone is being “phony,” I do think we aren’t being true to ourselves for the sake of others. After all, the best way to be kind is to not hurt other people’s feelings, right?

Yeah, no. I’m not saying we should go around saying hurtful things to others because we can. Instead, I’m saying we cannot control how people feel, if they get offended, or their reactions to what we say. We have no say in how others react. As a control enthusiast and a writer, I want to evoke certain reactions in my readers. I might succeed with some, but others might call bullshit. I have zero control over that. Admitting that sucks.

Also, the desire to be kind is admirable, but what if being direct were kinder?

Not convinced? Say hello to Jordan and Taylor again. Here’s option one:

Taylor: I’ve been feeling really sad lately, and I don’t know why.

Jordan: What? Why? You have it so great! Just cheer up! Don’t be sad! Whatever it is, you’ll get over it!

Taylor, internally: That doesn’t make me feel better.

Taylor, to Jordan: Oh. Yeah. I guess.

That felt sad. Here’s option two:

Taylor: I’ve been feeling really sad lately, and I don’t know why.

Jordan: What? Why? You have it so great! Just cheer up! Don’t be sad! Whatever it is, you’ll get over it!

Taylor, internally: That doesn’t make me feel better.

Taylor, to Jordan: That doesn’t make me feel better. It feels like forcing positivity when I’m not feeling positive.

Jordan: Well, sometimes, you have to fake it to make it!

Taylor: I feel like my feelings are being invalidated with toxic positivity. It’d feel a lot better to be heard and have my sadness recognized. If you’re not in a place to hear me out, I understand. Please don’t minimize my feelings though.

Taylor might feel awkward and anxious, but those feelings are important too. Jordan might get upset, might agree and apologize, or might change the subject. None of that is in Taylor’s control. However, Taylor stood their ground, protected their feelings, set a boundary, and let Jordan know why a certain behavior was unhelpful. Notice Taylor didn’t say, “Jordan, you’re being a jerk.” There is love and kindness in direct communication. It means we want the other person to do and be better.

Notice also Taylor made it about their feelings and not about Jordan’s character. This is not a personal attack on Jordan; it’s the truth about what Taylor is feeling.

Lastly, notice Taylor directly stated “toxic positivity.” We cannot improve our behavior if we don’t have the names and tools to learn. Having the behavior labeled gives us a chance to research (and by research . . . memes?). While we don’t have to force the phrase into the conversation, it does help others to know about the patterns of their behavior.

Here are other approaches if you’re on the receiving end of toxic positivity [with the phrase added for clarity]:

  • It’s important to me to be heard and not disregarded [with toxic positivity].
  • I know you mean well, and I appreciate that. I’m looking for a listener and not advice [or toxic positivity].
  • I need time to feel these feelings [which toxic positivity doesn’t allow].
  • I want you to validate that it’s normal to feel this way [and not respond with toxic positivity].
  • I’d normally ignore this, but I feel compelled to say something [about toxic positivity].
  • It might be uncomfortable, but please just hear me out first.
  • It’s so sweet of you to want to fix this. I want a listener, not a fixer.
  • Can you just hug me?
  • Maybe you could do [X] to help?
  • Could you hand me my stuffed penguin, and gimme a little time to myself? (Yeah, that one’s oddly specific to me.)

If you’re the one being toxically positivity, here’s alternatives:

  • It’s OK not to be OK.
  • Your experiences and feelings are valid.
  • How you feel is important to me.
  • What can I do to help? (I like this more than “how can I help” because it stresses the desire to be given actual tasks.)
  • I might not be able to relate, but I can listen.
  • I’m not sure I can help, but maybe we could find helpful resources together?
  • Ugh, that sucks. What helps you when you feel down?
  • Crying [or snuggling stuffed animals, emotional eating, leaning into the feeling, watching your favorite show] is a healthy way to cope! Want me to join you?
  • I love you!
  • Want a hug?
  • Would time alone help?

My sincerest hope is for us to feel more comfortable with being uncomfortably honest to honor our feelings. I want us to have enough compassion for ourselves that we don’t protect other’s feelings before we protect our own. With that in mind, I turn it to you. What are some things that you might say to someone who is using toxic positivity? What are some things you could say to avoid toxic positivity? Share with me in the comments!

And tomorrow . . . the questions: How has toxic positivity kept you down? How has a culture of toxic positivity kept you from facing the pain of growth? How has American toxic positivity furthered your trauma? What can you do about it?