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The Fat Blog.

This blog is about four years in the making.  It’s been spinning around in my head forever… sentences and paragraphs have been written over and over in my head… so it feels kind of surreal to sit down and actually embark on writing this blog.  I only hope I can get my thoughts, feelings and perceptions out with satisfactory amounts of academic eloquence and appropriate amounts of humor.

So here it is, The Fat Blog.


I hate to admit it, but one of my biggest fears is being fat.

I know, I know… I’m not really allowed to say that.  All bodies are beautiful and wonderful and it’s incredibly vain and not politically correct for me to say that as my number one fear.  But there it is.

Fortunately, despite my genetic predisposition to low metabolism, unhealthy food choices and a sedimentary lifestyle, I’ve made it my (almost) thirty years without being ‘fat’.  At least not according to American standards.

I remember the first time the ‘fear’ of being fat crept into my mind.  I was around 8 years old and my mom was on a phone call with one of her cousins. I was supposed to be in my bed sound asleep, though instead, I was sitting on the floor by my bedroom door eavesdropping on the conversation, hoping to score some juicy family gossip.  Unfortunately, instead of hearing some drama about my great aunt’s live in boyfriend or my other cousin’s next money making scheme, I heard my mom say,

“Samara’s really starting to get fat.”

That’s it.  That one sentence.  Of course, my mom didn’t know I was listening… and probably still didn’t know I heard that until she read this blog.  But that one sentence entered my psyche and changed the way I viewed my little 8 year old body.

I don’t think I ever even thought about being fat before that.  I mean, yes, my family members were mostly plump people, but that never really mattered to me.. they were my world.  They were the coolest, funniest, most interesting people around me.  Sure, I knew they were fat, but what did that have to do with anything?  As far as I can remember, it was that one sentence.. that one sentence that I was never intended to hear, that turned ‘fat’ into fat. That turned being fat as something shameful, undesirable, ugly.

And at that point, I became ashamed.  I began to believe that I was fat and being fat was shameful.

This twisted body image stayed with my for the majority of my life.  I started dieting as early as I could and was always ashamed of the makeup of my Palestinian/Italian genes.

I have a distinct memory of weighing myself in the 8th grade and hitting 101 lbs for the first time.  I was in my soon-to-be stepdad’s apartment bathroom and I cried.

But, again, I was never actually overweight.  Looking back at pictures of myself from middle school and high school, I feel brokenhearted for that little girl, who was so petite, so perfectly beautiful and yet hated her body so much.

Freshman year of college, with it’s excessive drinking and drug use, pressures of school and social life and the death of my great grandma, ushered in the freshman 20.  You can imagine how I handled that…

not well.

Coming home for winter break my friends and family could tell I had put on that weight and without trying to be too obvious… made it clear that they could tell.  Soooo… when I went back for second semester I started a new diet. The slim fast shake and a nutrigrain bar a day diet and… successfully lost that twenty pounds.

My college friends praised me for how good I was looking as the weight came off and I vividly remember thinking that my friends were idiots because I was literally starving myself but all they noticed was how my jeans fit.

But hey… starving was better than being fat.. was it not?

Happily, I can say, that once I reached my goal weight I started eating in a more balanced way and have never drank another slim fast smoothie again. I was able to maintain a very normal, healthy weight throughout the rest of college.  (Though, I never stopped believing I was fat.)

Flash forward to the World Race.

In 2010 I embarked on the wonderful World Race experience.  The World Race, not to be confused with the Amazing Race, is an 11 month ‘missions trip’ around the world.  You spend about a month in 11 different countries doing various service projects with a random group of individuals just about as crazy as you.

One thing the World Race experts told us before we left was that if we’re not careful we will all gain weight (men excluded… the men, they said would lose all their weight… ).  They encouraged us to get in the habit of exercising and making our physical health a priority regardless of the country we were in or the circumstances we were living in.

Right.

Well, the experts were right and we ignored their advice.  The women on my squad, with very few exceptions, all gained at least 10 lbs over the year.  I came home a whopping 25 lbs heavier than I was before.

I attribute that weight gain to an unsteady diet of ever changing carbs, feeling entitled to ice cream or Western candy whenever it was available and then a bout of depression that only got harder to deal with every pound I put on.

Coming home after the World Race was no walk in the park for me.  I could and probably should devote a blog to telling that story, but that is for a different time.  Coming home from the World Race, I was fat.  Beginning at 8 years old, I had always felt fat, but in 2011, for the first time, my BMI actually told me that I was ‘obese’.

Fortunately I had a distaste for slim fast and therefore, instead of going back to my tried and true starvation diet, I turned to something much healthier to try to get the weight off. I miraculously trained for and ran my first half marathon.  and I lost not. a. single. pound.

Then I moved to Thailand.


I recently wrote a sort of ‘tongue and cheek’ blog about adapting to Thai culture.  The things I mentioned were all very surface level, superficial cultural things that make for easy reading and light chuckles.  The reality of cultural adaptation is a lot less funny.

Cultural adaptation is a bitch. (sorry).

While I have done, in my opinion, an extraordinary job adjusting to the new society that has become my home, there are certain things that I have yet to understand or be okay with.

One being the ‘news, weather, sports’ type talk about people’s appearances–to their face. Upon greeting a Thai person, you should expect to receive some sort of comment about your physical appearance.  Apparently these comments, regardless to how we, Americans, understand them, are completely matter of fact and are in no way personal.

That being said, a couple of the first words I learned in Thai were: อ้วน (fat) and ก้นไหญ่ (big butt).  I learned these words so quickly due to how often I was greeted with them.

Samara: Hello

Thai Person: Hi.  You are fat.

Samara: :(:(:( dies a little inside.

I also learned very early on that here, in the Land of Smiles, I am not สวย (beautiful), but rather น่ารัก (cute) because the word for beautiful is reserved for people who are not fat like me.

Welcome to Thailand.

Let’s just say that wasn’t easy for me.  A person with an already corrupted since of self worth and body image being called ‘fat’ to her face on a regular basis does not a merry person make.

By God’s good grace (and I mean that so sincerely) I realized that as much as I hated people talking to me in this way… I could not change the culture.  And if I didn’t stop being hurt every time someone called me fat or let me know about my big butt, I would quite literally die. I decided that I had to be the one who changed.

At first, I thought that I had to be the one who changed in the more physical light.

I needed to loose weight.

So I became much more active than I had ever been previously in my life.  I don’t know how many times I have completed Jillian Michael’s 30 day shred or how many of stupid Shawn T’s Insanity videos I’ve done… and I trained for an ran another half marathon…

Though try as I might, I could barely get the scale to move.  (I lost about 6 lbs amid all of this.)

No, loosing weight to appease Thai beauty standards was not the kind of change that needed to take place. I needed to, once and for all, get over my fear of being fat.  I needed, for the first time in my conscious life to be okay with my body.  I needed to be able to be called fat (everyday, to my face) and not be affected by it.

Well, how the hell does one do that? (sorry again).

I wish I had a straight forward answer to give you.  But, the reality is, that for the first time in my life I got really honest with God about my skewed body image.  I got honest about the hatred I felt towards my body and I asked Him for help.  I wrote down all my perverted belief systems about beauty standards and bodily ideals and asked God to show me what He thought. I asked Him to change my mind.

Within this process, I realized that I had corrupted the word ‘fat’ in my mind.  I changed the definition of ‘fat’ making it mean: ugly, worthless, unloveable, gross, lazy, pitiful, shameful.

I had to ask God to redefine this word that was constantly being used to describe me.

It was not a quick or painless process.  I cried. A lot.  I had to continuously take the words from my peers and give them to God.  I had to continuously pray to be washed from people’s comments about my appearance.  I had to continuously forgive and ask for help forgiving.

Eventually, though, through the combination of my new and active lifestyle and lots of vulnerability with the Lord, I began to accept myself.  I began to believe that not only was I not fat, even if I were, ‘fat’ does not mean I am those ugly words I used to associate with it. I slowly began to love my overweight self.


Despite about three years of trying to tell my Thai friends to not comment on my physical appearance, the comments have not stopped.

While I was still at my highest ever weight, I would try all sorts of tactics to explain how hurtful their comments were to me.  I would use vulnerability, sarcasm, humor and/or straight up bluntness… but the comments never subsided.  However, the pain that used to accompany the comments disappeared and I was able to just be annoyed with the culture that I didn’t understand rather than allow the comment to chip away at my self worth.

Over the last nine months the extra weight I had been carrying since the World Race has disappeared and I’m back to the weight and body shape that I had been before.

The funny thing is, the extra weight didn’t go away until it no longer matter to me if it did.  I finally became okay with my new shape and just accepted myself as I was.

Now that I’m back to what was my previous ‘normal’ I wish I could say that the comments about my body have stopped.

Unfortunately they have not.  They have just taken on a new form.  Instead of ‘you’re fat’ I am told, ‘wow, you are so much more beautiful now that you’ve lost weight’ or ‘you look hungry’ or, my personal favorite, ‘if you loose anymore weight, you won’t be beautiful anymore.’

Basically… I just can’t win.

I try to not get too annoyed when I hear these comments.  I typically reply with something corny along the lines of ‘thanks, but beauty has nothing to do with my weight’ or ‘thanks but I was always beautiful’ or ‘beauty is in the heart’.  Honestly, it’s almost become a game to me.


I am not able to change Thai culture.  Thank you Jesus, that that is not my responsibility. That’s a daunting task.  But… perhaps, just maybe, I am able to help people change the way they see themselves.

The reality is that we will never live up to the world’s beauty standards.  As soon as we achieve one standard, there is a new one that needs to be met.  As soon as your weight is acceptable your eyebrows won’t be… and if your eyebrows are fine… you better focus on your frizzy hair… it’s an endless cycle.

Being honest, I’m really happy to be back to my normal weight.  I like dressing up and putting on makeup, I like doing things that make me feel beautiful, but at the end of the day, as cheesy and corny and trite as it is, my beauty has absolutely nothing to do with any of that. The scale does not measure my self worth. (and if it did… shouldn’t it be the heavier you are the more worth you have?!?!?)

I am beautiful because God made me so. I was made in his image–big butt, thick calves, frizzy hair and all.

I’m not a mommy, but I am a teacher and a big sister.  I want to live in such a way that my fight to love myself may cover the young people in my life.  I want them to be able to glean from my victory.  I want them to see me love myself amid my imperfections and an ‘non-ideal’ figure. I want them to carry every ounce of self worth and self respect that I have had to battle for.

No, I can’t change Thai culture, but I can set an example for the young women and heck, even the young men, in my life and perhaps their battle won’t be as long or as hard.

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Lessons of the Loofah

for Norma

***

In 2011, after returning from the World Race, I needed some…um, special attention?

That 11 month trip around the world altered things inside of me that I did not expect to have altered; parts of my personality were chiseled into a new version of myself and ways that I responded to situations was no longer the same.  A lot of good things came out of that whirlwind experience.  I learned the importance of using my voice, I learned some of the qualities of a good leader and I met some of my most dear friends.

I also came home from this experience incredibly depressed.

Depression, while not at all a friend, became a constant companion in my life. Beginning the last couple months of the World Race my new companion taught me how to withdrawal from relationships and shut off my emotions.

Being welcomed home by all my friends and family wasn’t an easy task.  I knew that they had missed me and I had missed them too, but with my new companion I wasn’t exactly very engaging.  No one was expecting me to bring this companion home and I wanted to avoid their questions, so for the first couple months of living in America I pretended that I came home alone.

Oddly, while I was going through the motions of christian life in America, I was also walking through the process of becoming a church planter to Thailand. Through the early stages of this process, the church leadership thought it important for me to get some help sorting through what was going on inside of me.

That’s when I met Norma.  I can remember our first meeting so vividly.  I was scared, cold and walled off; she was bright, open, full of love, light and warmth.  I felt safe.  I didn’t know Norma–had only seen her at church and heard her name, but something about her set me at ease.  I knew that with her I did not need to pretend.

So I didn’t.

I was honest about my companion and remember distinctly telling her that I don’t believe in the ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’

Somehow, the things I said to her didn’t scare her away.  She wasn’t scared of my companion, of my pain, of my mess.  Instead she loved me, listened to me and taught me.

I left America, still holding onto the fingertips of my trusty companion, but have since been able to let go completely and through a lot of grace and relearning how to trust my Papa, have been freed completely from it’s influence.

***

***

During one of our first meetings at the Tea Smith, Norma asked me what was one of the hardest things for me during the World Race.

Simple enough question…I can still write a pretty substantial list without thinking too hard, but that day, for whatever reason, I told Norma that the hardest thing for me was the incredible difficulty in finding loofahs.

In case you don’t know:

loo·fah:
ˈlo͞ofə
noun
 
  1. a coarse, fibrous cylindrical object used like a bath sponge for washing. It consists of the dried fibrous matter of the fluid-transport system of a marrowlike fruit.
  2. the tropical Old World climbing plant of the gourd family that produces these fruits, which are also edible.
 
 
Norma tucked that answer of mine–sarcastic as it may have been–and kept it in her heart, never making mention of it again.
 
 On the day of my departure from America to Amsterdam and then to Thailand Norma gave me a tearful hug and a gift bag that said not to open until my birthday, which was about four days away.  I hugged her and thanked her and boarded my plane.
 
I celebrated my birthday in Amsterdam with two good friends and there opened my gift from Norma.
 
It was a loofah.
 
My friends thought this a strange gift, but I didn’t, Norma was making sure that I would have what it was that I had lacked before.  Upon my explanation one of my friends gave me four more loofahs to take to Thailand, just in case.
 
A couple days later, when I settling into my new bedroom, I noticed the welcome note Tracy left for me on my vanity, along with a loofah.
 
 
That did it.  I had received six loofahs over a week.  I thought it incredibly hilarious, but also felt like there had to be something behind it.  So I asked Papa if He was trying to tell me something.
 
As I sat and tuned myself to His voice, I felt like He said to me:
 
 
Daughter, the things that you have lacked in the past, I am giving you now in abundance. 
 
 
I let that resonate and chose to believe it.
 
As life moved on and settling into Thailand happened, I would often catch myself believing that I live in lack, when that kind of thinking settled in, I would call myself to remember the lesson of the loofah.
 ***
 ***
I’ve lived in Thailand for a year and a half now and have received seven more loofahs from Norma.  Each time one come in the mail or is delivered by a visitor I have a good laugh to myself and thank God for His abundance.
 
Over the past couple months my storehouse of loofahs has dwindled.  We’ve had various people come live in our house for differing amounts of time and I have opened my supply to them and then forgot one at the condo we were staying at when we went to the beach.
 
I noticed last week that I only had one loofah left.
 
In the smallness of my thinking I got kind of sad.  I knew this was only a symbol of God’s provision, but if He had really spoken to me about His abundance, shouldn’t I never lack the thing He was using to speak to me?  I knew that I could go to the store and buy a new loofah when the last one was spent, but at the same time I felt like that would ruin the whole story.  (So instead I just stopped using the loofah all together in order to preserve it’s lifespan… which in reality is my feeble attempts to control the story.)
 
I know this is funny, but I was really sad about the lack of loofahs in my life
***
***
I had been awaiting a package from my gramma for a couple weeks now.  I had ordered a t-shirt and was therefore very excited to get this package.  Gramma told me that she threw in a few other goodies, but I didn’t know what to expect.
 
When I opened my package I was greeted with three ‘natural sponges’ and a new loofah.
 
What a laugh, what a gift.  What a specific gift from Papa.  Gramma had no idea about any of this, no idea about the lessons of the loofah or about my current belief of lack.  To her, she was just sending me a loofah.
 
 It’s all so silly.
But so real and special to me all the same.
 
I have no lack.
No lack of patience.  No lack of peace. No lack of creativity.  No lack of ideas.  No lack of resources.  I have no lack of relationships.  No lack of opportunities.
 
Instead, I am a daughter.  Completely loved, completely provided for.  Completely seen.  Completely known.  Completely complex and completely understood.
Completely and abundantly.
 
 
All this heart revelation and from a loofah.loofah
 
 
 
 

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an Ode to Airports

Airports  have long held a soft spot in my heart.

eppley parking lot

The pickup/drop off area in front of Eppley.

The Eppley Airfield in Omaha has been to me a gateway into worlds unexplored, a doorway to adventure–or, on the receiving end,  a welcomed solace after a whirlwind experience, a simple and familiar friend after life unfamiliar.

the simplicity of Eppley Airfield

the simplicity of Eppley Airfield

During the 11 months I spent traveling around the world with 35 other vagabonds, airports offered us (at least the hope of) clean bathrooms, air conditioning, free wifi and a semi sanitary place to lay our heads to rest.

sleeping in the airport

Chiang Mai International Airport has now become the airport in my life.

chiang mai airport

It’s at this airport that I have been able to stand and wait to welcome friends from America, Uganda and Cambodia; it is here that I have embraced people that I haven’t seen in a long time and it is here that I have had to say many goodbyes.

Last month, it was there that I was given the pleasure of welcoming these two faces into my world:

IMG_1410

The month of October was spent sharing my world with my mom and my grandma.  I was able to spend the month introducing these two ladies to the people that have stolen my heart, taking them to the places that I have fallen in love with and ordering them the food that I don’t know how I will ever be able to live without.

Eating bugs was all on her own accord...

Eating bugs was all on her own accord…

For one month my mom and grandma were given the opportunity to experience the temperatures, tastes and traffic of the place that I call home. Together we celebrated both the beginning of my 27th year of life and the completion of my first year living in Thailand and together we travelled to the south of Thailand for a week of rest and relaxation before the three of us head back to our normal routines.

IMG_1391

Mom at one of our dinner spots. I like everything about this picture.

Of course, three generations of strong willed, independent women spending three weeks together in a culture unfamiliar leads to some tense moments, and tense moments there were.  Moments of misunderstanding, moments of cross cultural frustration, moments of unmet desires and expectation.  Moments of life being lived in community.

The story ends with another trip to the airport and another goodbye.

For the first time, instead of me saying goodbye to them, they said goodbye to me.  For the first time, I stood back and watched them go through security and onto immigration.  For the first time they would head back to that familiar friend Eppley and I would stay put.

Goodbyes are a strange thing.

The ending of a season and the beginning of something entirely new.

After saying goodbye to the two woman who have loved, raised and supported me these past 27 years, I was able to say ‘hi’ to craziness that has become my normal routine.  I got to say ‘hello’ to Jed who is now part of our funny family, ‘hello’ to two new students in my first grade class, and ‘hello’ to another year of life.

So, thank you ladies for coming.  Thank you for embracing the people and the food.  Thank you for loving the students and for loving me so well, and thank you for letting me stay.

I love you.

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