Casey's and Sloane's Blog
Will I always be a fat girl?
It will never matter what size I am on the outside, I fear I will forever be a fat girl inside. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. I love myself. I am confident. I see my beauty. I didn’t state that I believe I am ugly. I just see myself as fat.
Does this have anything to do with reality? Since beauty is relative to culture and geography. I guess it depends on where I am standing.
In my late teens and early twenties, I became very obese. I can go into a long story about genetics, depression and identity. But take it from me: I gained an outrageous amount of weight.
Then, I met an amazingly kind and level-headed doctor, who showed me the way to a healthier and much thinner me. I lost over 120 pounds during my first lifestyle evolution.
I went on to lose more, but after that 120 mark I learned to watch the numbers you get from blood tests – not a scale.
I look nothing like the Casey from those years. The photos I have stashed away deep in a closet look like a stranger to me.
After my weight loss, I suffered through two surgeries to correct some of the damage my body had suffered. And I still hope to complete that surgical journey one day. It has been scary, painful and exhilarating.
One day, many years after my weight loss and surgeries, I made myself a promise to never again judge myself by my size and to let go of the “fat girl” forever.
So why is she still here?
Because this week the Disney empire carved the soul out of little girl named Merida to fit her into a smaller dress.
Everywhere I look, the message is skinny is beautiful, skinny is healthy, skinny means you have self control, skinny is sexy, skinny is better than fat.
My pain is real. I have been unable to write this blog without taking breaks to cry heavily into my hands. I deeply hope this open letter to the world will help me take another painful and cathartic step in the right direction.
There are days I feel strong and up to the fight – days where I am grounded, I feel empowered and beautiful.
And, there are days when I want to scream.
Here is the article where I found this image.
I will forever be haunted by this photo of garment factory workers in Bangladesh.
I had an early hand in their death. Years ago I shopped for clothes for my young son and was always searching for the “cheap tee”. He ripped through them by using them – painting in them, playing in them, using them to their fullest. I can remember actually saying to a friend of mine while standing in a big box merchant, “How can they afford to sell these shirts for four dollars?”
Now I know they – we – can’t. The cost is too high, and these two people – and upwards of 1,000 others – paid the price I wasn’t willing to pay for expensive clothing.
My friend Missy stated it loud and clear at a charity event a few weeks ago when she was telling us all about the sponsors of the event and how we “vote with our dollars” and should “consider moving our money to the businesses who care about what we care about.”
Photo credit: Taslima Akhter, Bangladeshi photographer and activist. Retrieved from: lightbox.time.com.
On a Friday night over a week ago, I stood under a tent in a large urban park at a memorial service for no one in particular and for every one on this planet. I held the microphone in my hand and began. Began again. To tell my story of AIDS.
Friday night was a small candlelight ceremony for those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS in our community, and they were celebrated that evening by those under the tent. But I have lost no one. No one I can hold up a photo for. No one I can memorialize on a T-shirt, flag or banner.
I held that microphone as tightly as I hold my son. That was who I was fighting for, I said. Sixteen years ago, I held a newborn boy in my arms as I volunteered for the first time along the route of the AIDS Walk. Months before he was born, a friend had asked me to help. Standing in the grass on a spring morning sounded magical to me in my eighth month of pregnancy. When the day arrived, it was dreamlike. Me, my husband, my new son – all sporting little red ribbons and helping a band entertain walkers and enthusiastic runners in the sun.
Last year’s Walk.
Every year since, I have worked on the Walk and moved up through the volunteer ranks. Route helper, volunteer coordinator, project coordinator, special event committee person, steering committee member, Walk co-chair. Every year since that first one, I’ve had a little hand in mine or a little head in my eyesight on Walk day. My son has never missed a Walk and now joins me as a full-fledged committee member on one event. Walk day is a family reunion for all of us.
My story is short and simple. I desire deeply a world without AIDS for my son. For all sons and daughters and mothers and fathers. Sisters. Brothers. A world free of stigma and hate. Pointed fingers and whispered admonishments will be behind us. Every year I renew my commitment to making that world come to be.
This year I stood in the light rain as my son walked by me carrying a dated memorial flag representing the 25 years of the AIDS Walk. Three long blocks later, I looked up, and there was my niece sporting a flag of her own. This one held the name of someone who no longer walks. She carried it to its final place with the others in a circle of flags that every one of the 2,000+ walkers walked by. My tears were easily covered by Mother Nature’s water show.
They are my future and my chance to live in an AIDS free world. They’ve never known one.
I believe that they will.
My niece in her AIDS Walk hat.
My husband and I owned a home before the one we live in now. But to my father’s father, this is our first home. The other one was “nothing but air, really.”
It was a condo in a converted warehouse downtown. The first such condos in Kansas City. We were practically pioneers! But to the midwestern farmer, a large space without bedroom walls four stories in the air isn’t something you own, is it? I called all of my grandparents when we closed on the condo because I was so proud. I owned something, and this, I felt, was something they could embrace with me.
Three of them did. One, not so much. He would call it “my apartment” while he and my Grandma Ginny made themselves comfortable on our sofa. I would smile and begin to tell him all about condo rules and association dues, beautification committees and other details. He looked at me with incredible blue eyes like I was speaking in tongues.
I moved on.
My grandmother loved the loft. She loved everything about her grandchildren, whether it involved property ownership or not. She clearly got the idea of how a loft was less work and less maintenance – snow removal, house painting, etc. – and I think it excited her a little. They had worked hard all of their lives on their home and properties. Our loft was a new concept, not only to them but to many Americans, and she sparkled while asking all about it and what we planned to do.
When we purchased the house we live in now – the one with the yard work, the roof repairs, the exterior paint jobs – my grandfather practically rejoiced. This he could understand. We owned the actual dirt our house stood on. It was built of wood and stone and brick and it was solid. The neighbors weren’t on top of us or below us. They were a secure distance away.
My grandmother couldn’t wait to see the house. She waited until all our “pretties” were in place – which means she gave us about two weeks to get settled – and then they arrived. I was so terribly excited because they had agreed to spend the night – something they had never done at the loft, although my grandmother had wanted to. The lack of interior walls threw my grandpa for a loop.
In the back of the pick-up truck, under a cotton sheet and inside an old pickle bucket, was a collection of sticks with small green leaves on them stuck in crumbly mud. It was fall when they arrived, so these sticks were moving towards being done with the growing season. They looked sad and a wee bit pathetic. Until earlier that day, it had been part of a larger bush near their home in mid-Missouri.
My grandfather hauled them out and walked with me around “the property” to find a place to plant “this bush”. I was intrigued because what I saw in the bucket looked like what we had spent most of a week tearing out of our plot. Junk. Detritus. Weeds.
It wasn’t any of that. It was what my grandmother called a “bridal wreath bush. You’ll see what I mean next spring.”
I trusted them both in their ability to grow things. They were farmers, for goodness’ sake. So, I let my grandfather pick a spot in the far end of the back yard up in a raised bed. It made him happy. A little bit of run-off and a good spot not to “gather up too much late afternoon sun.”
And it has stayed there for almost twenty years, only getting bigger and needing no maintenance. My grandparents are gone now, but every spring I go out and tell them hello. This year, like every spring in the past, they were delighted to see me, and they put on quite a show.
This continues to be a sad and tragic week in America.
I have been struggling with maintaining my inner happiness. Faced with all these events, how do I keep talking about free scarves, tailgate parties and art?
My friend Scotty Johnson, a marathon runner and remarkable woman, posted an image that said, “We will run and we will remember!”. This was a gift. I am not a runner in the traditional sense. But, I am a runner in the broader sense. I have had my foundation shaken many times and I have somehow taken a step and then another and then another…until I learned to run again.
Today I will work to just take that first step…
And, with my sister’s hand in mine, I pledge that every day at STUFF we will run. We will keep offering a place built on “happy”. A place where everyone is welcome to soak up joy, art and inspiration.
We will run and we will remember.
Casey & Sloane, Wings of Hope 2008
Parades are funny things. Not just because of clowns and puppets and dogs. Not because of men in tutus and babies in top hats.
Parades are funny because they bring out the best in America. The slowing down of time, the sitting still and watching the world go by, the embracing of simplicity.
Last month’s Brookside St. Pat’s parade was the 11th time we have marched as a unit for STUFF. Every year we start thinking about it the minute the calendar clicks over to the new year. And every year we don’t start working on it until March starts. Lots of time in there between the thinking and the working, which is not like us.
We’ve learned to slow down and not rush into decisions. We’ve learned to let the magic of an idea sink in and then rise to the surface. This year we simplified and let the people who walk with us – the customers, the dogs, the children – tell our story.
We are about people, not product. We are about hand-crafting, not production. For one short parade route a year, we are about the color green and candy and laughter and shouting and smiling.
It’s that simple.
I attended a charity luncheon last week, and the main speaker – a graduate of the program we were there to raise money for – spoke of her life, her troubles and her achievements. A clear voice she remembers from her past, a grandmother, told her when she was young that she would never amount to anything. Ever.
I was breathless. I carry voices in my head from the women in my life. One grandmother, when life was too good or edging towards bad, would tell me, “It’s a rich full life.” Another grandmother, “Let’s get this done.” I can’t imagine my life without my family standing behind me. Perched there waiting to step in with help or preparing to step back in pride.
Less than a day after the luncheon, I was sitting at a breakfast to celebrate the leaps and bounds a local university has taken in accepting and embracing people in the LGBTQIA community. At this celebration, three young people told their stories of coming out to their families and their greater world.
Much like the woman from the day before, they stood there proud of their accomplishments but wracked with the pain of the voices they carry in their heads – of family and friends who have not been accepting of their life. An institution – and members of its staff – was clearly stepping in to fill a painful void. A void that four small years of learning or a five week empowerment program can’t completely fill.
These young people stood there alone at their microphones – placed arms’ lengths away from each other – and shared openly. It took every fiber in my body to stay in my seat half an auditorium away as they each reached a crescendo in the stories that left them speechless and upset. I wanted to be near them – right behind them and much closer than an arm’s length – to remind them silently that it is a rich, full life. That the norm is not for those you trust most to leave you or let you down.
I stayed in my seat, was joyously a part of the raucous standing ovation, and left the room wondering. Wondering if I was correct in my assessment of what the norm is for family behavior.
I will never know the answer to that. You are given one life full of challenges, loss, gifts, celebrations, pain and love. I doubt normal ever dips its foot into these waters.
p.s. My week ended at an amazing fundraising party for the KC CARE Clinic. The women in these photos are many of the voices that live in my head – from just that one night. I treasure every single one of them.
For the last 14 years, I have volunteered on an outreach, education and fundraising project for AIDS Walk Kansas City. And for the past 10 years, STUFF has been a corporate sponsor along with amazing small companies and businesses in Kansas City of the Mosaic Project.
Tiles at the First Friday event this year. April 5th was full of art!
This project is simple. High school students in school districts around Kansas City paint six-by-six inch ceramic tiles in the theme “A World Without AIDS” with glazes in an eleven-color palette. We ask that they watch a short video about the AIDS epidemic that ends with a step-by-step on how to paint a tile. Then, we hope their creativity will fly and that their small artwork will show us a world without AIDS.
The simplicity continues. The tiles are fired, cataloged and finally placed on display en mass during one of the busiest weekends of April, First Friday in Kansas City’s Crossroads District. Thousands of people converge upon this remarkable area of town to live, breath and consume art in its many forms.
This year’s volunteer army!
The simplicity ends in that it takes many, many hours of volunteer time to schlep these tiles all over town, coordinate delivery and retrieval with amazingly generous art teachers, number them, clear coat them, keypunch all the data, manage the two events – public and private – and, finally, inventory and pack it all up for next year.
Which is what I did yesterday with four members of our stunning committee. The generosity of the small businesses – like STUFF – that donate discounted or free tiles, glazes, bowls, labels, artwork, printing, etc., is not wasted. From year to year, if all the supplies are not consumed from the year before, we pack it up and store it for the next go round.
All Mosaic supplies packed up and inventoried. Ready for 2014.
I am so very proud of what we do. We hope young people will spend a few minutes thinking about their fragile health and the world around them and then show us – through art – what their world would be like without AIDS. Many take the time to tell us, in words, and we make sure this story travels with the tile to its collector through the label we adhere to its back. We do this with heavily discounted – but mostly free – supplies and volunteer labor. Then we sell these tiles and raise money for the 5,700 women, children and men living with HIV/AIDS in Kansas City.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
My dream for a world without AIDS is simple. That things like the Mosaic Project cease to be. That our energies will be placed differently because we have beaten this epidemic into the earth.
Until then, I will live in the art, creativity and community this project has enriched my life with. I am one of the lucky ones. It’s that simple.
p.s. The 2013 Mosaic tiles can be seen for the last time as a group (reduced in number due to sales at the April 5th event) at the 25th Annual AIDS Walk. April 27th in Theis Park. Right in front of The Nelson. Come and see them and take a great piece of art home to remind you what a glorious place a world without AIDS would be. Art lives!
In addition, my greatest thanks to the following companies and people for joining STUFF in supporting such an amazing outreach project: Dal-Tile, Scott Francis and The Art Lobby of The Chair Building, KC Metro Ceramic and Pottery Supply, Crane Yard Clay, Hoop Dog Studio and Fern Exposition and Events.
I have had mixed emotions since learning of Margaret Thatcher’s death. I was raised with strong feminist tendencies, and I am co-raising a son in the same vein. I think a lot about issues that women and girls face, and I have built a business with my sister that does what it can to help women succeed. I march, speak up and act up. Regularly my voice breaks at the microphone due to my passion running so swiftly.
Mrs. Thatcher clearly shattered the glass ceiling in British politics, but in getting there she pulled up the ladder for the other women waiting to lead by following in her footsteps. I honor her ability to forge into a world unknown to women at a time when that could not have been easy.
And, yet, the woman that keeps popping into my mind when I think of the opposite of Mrs. Thatcher is Madeleine Albright.
This quote says it all for me.
Rest in peace, Prime Minister. You may not have directly helped a woman standing near you, but there were hundreds – maybe thousands of us – watching and learning from you. I pray we took the best and left the worst behind.
p.s. This is one of my favorite articles this week. It involves women and girls.
Fred Conlon is a comic genius. Seriously…check out these new pieces by our hug-a-bug friend and creative force, Fred Conlon.
He works with scrap metal to up-cycle junk into his playful sculptures.
I look at these pieces and just break into a smile…with a touch of a little giggle.
His attention to detail makes each piece one-of-a-kind. I want them all over my courtyards at home. I am a “why own one when you can own them all?” kind of girl…but where to start? Collecting is about a beginning with one.
Which one would you buy first?