Fighting Fear

quote-our-deepest-fear-is-not-that-we-are-inadequate-our-deepest-fear-is-that-we-are-powerful-beyond-marianne-williamson-199331

The end of the semester is not just focused around finals and closing the residence halls, but also around staff evaluations. I have always enjoyed the conversations that happen in evaluations-it’s a chance for me to tell my staff the things that they’re good at and push them in a different way. I feel my Developer strength really plays into this-I typically say something to my staff members about themselves and they look at me and go, “Wow, you’re right.” I am often surprised at how strong my intuition is, but it never really fails me.

One thing that I have noticed through my three years completing these evaluations has really made me think about how we all perceive ourselves and how other people perceive us. So often, I have to tell people that I see so much potential that they are not using. I also have to tell them that the expectations they have for themselves are so much higher than my own, or my department’s. I had chalked it up to be a factor of our student population (first generation, blue-collar), but I’m starting to wonder if it’s actually something else.

I have been doing a lot of work recently on myself and read a book called The Universe Has Your Back, by Gabrielle Bernstein. In it, it talks a lot about how we let fear hold us back from a lot of things, not even intentionally. It made me think a lot about my life up until this point and how I have let fear hold me back from so many things…one of those things being my career. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and it’s important work, and I adore my students. It’s just that I don’t think this is what I was ever meant to be doing. Music is my true passion, but I’ve never had time to devote to it the way that I want to and that’s because I was never allowed to pursue it fully. One of those reasons was the fear that I wouldn’t “make it”. The other was the fear that I wasn’t good enough. Another was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to support myself. Fear drove me away from the one thing that I feel is my absolute calling.

I have also come to realize how much fear has held me back personally. I’ve been afraid to put myself out there, afraid to meet new people, afraid to do things that I really want to do because ultimately I am afraid of not being accepted. I am afraid of rejection. I am afraid of being told that I’m not good enough. As a result, I have let so many opportunities pass me by, and now all I can do is sit here and wonder what would have happened.

But I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. I think MOST of us do this. We’re told to go after your dreams and pursue them, but we’re also told of the consequences of doing that. “Don’t be too bossy. Don’t be so emotional. Don’t do this and don’t do that.” Often times the things we most desire are the things that society tells us we shouldn’t or can’t do. But here’s the kicker-deep down, we all know this. We know that we hold ourselves back. We are all aware that there are things in life that we can do better, be better at, things we wish we could achieve but we’re afraid of it or the consequences. And we are right to weigh the options and consider all of the outcomes. But I think that we see ourselves differently than how other people actually see us, and our self-perception plays much too big a part in our minds. Our self-perception skews our capacity to achieve.

It makes me sad that my student staff don’t see how amazing and wonderful they are. I try to tell them how much potential they have in their evaluations. Whether or not they choose to use it is up to them. All I know is I want to get them, and myself, out of our comfort zones. I want us all to push past the fear. Who knows what we’ll be able to do when that happens.

Higher Ed Plus-Fat and Job Searching

A few months ago on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page, there was a post from a woman who stated that she had been advised by a family friend who had worked in higher ed for years to talk about her energy levels during an interview. The reason why? Because she was plus-sized, and she should let her potential employers know that, in case they didn’t want to hire her based on her body type.

Woaaah, slow down. You mean that employers in Higher Ed discriminate against larger bodies?

Sad to say, it’s apparent that they do. This post only highlighted that.

Most people were outraged. “They can’t do that!” They exclaimed. “If they do, they’re not worth your time.”

Obviously the friend of the woman knew more than these comments.

The thing is, being plus-sized in higher ed, when you go into a job interview and are rejected, you rarely if ever know the reason. So, it’s really not apparent whether or not we weren’t hired based on something we said or did, or if the employers felt we wouldn’t have enough “energy.” How could we possibly know that? This friend of this woman apparently knows something we don’t: that comments about people’s weight take place behind closed doors and are important in hiring meetings.

While reading the comments, it became apparent to me just how little people know or understand about the plus-sized community. For all of Higher Ed’s talk, there is little to show for it when it comes to this area. People were saying things like “THIS IS ILLEGAL!” And in fact, in many states, it’s not. Body size is only a protected class in a few cities and states throughout the U.S. Therefore, someone can be discriminated against because of their body size in their place of work, and it is perfectly okay. Other people shared stories of being called “frumpy” or even being told “get off your fat a$$ and do it yourself.” In front of students. So not okay.

There were also a lot of comments about showing your energy through your interview…but that’s problematic. Interviews are long and draining experiences. What if you happen to be plus-sized and introverted? You’re in a no-win situation there, because you may not be able to show “energy”, and therefore potential employers may assume it’s because of your weight and decide not to hire you. The REAL problem here is that fat or plus-sized people are assumed to have low energy, because that’s what society tells us. Fat people are lazy. Fat people don’t want to do anything to help themselves. Fat people are disgusting. Fat people could change their ways if they wanted to. Fat people lack “energy.”

And then there’s this thing within higher ed called #saFit. While there could be many benefits to this movement, I think that it can also be extremely harmful. A couple of the plus-sized people in the thread mentioned this movement and said they had received unsolicited advice from those who participated in order to “help” them. I also know of many offices that compete in weight loss competitions or go to Weight Watchers together. My question is, what does that do to the person who is plus-sized in these offices and doesn’t participate in these functions? And what does that say about what higher ed folks believe about weight in general?

Some offices take it too far. I know of a department where they were forced to take a “health assessment” and participate in a mandatory water drinking competition. MANDATORY.

Health is a singular experience. By that I mean that it is only the person who knows how healthy they are. Someone’s weight may not necessarily relate to their health. But we all assume it does. We want people to be healthy, sure. But only that person can tell you whether or not they are. And really it’s NO ONE ELSE’S BUSINESS.

Even if someone is “unhealthy”, does that mean that they are worth less? Does that mean they are treated like a second-class citizen? We place so much importance on this as a field, but I think that it is very misguided. We have a lot of work to do as far as this goes.

So, if you have an opportunity to hire individuals in your department, ask yourselves what you are presenting and promoting during your interviewing process. What questions do you ask? What factors do you consider during decision making? Because there are a lot of biases when it comes to weight within higher ed, as seen on that post.

NEW SERIES: Higher Ed Plus-Back to School Supplies and Essentials!

Hello friends!

I’m excited to introduce a new series to this blog-Higher Ed Plus. Being plus-sized or fat within student affairs and higher education comes with its own unique set of challenges. Even though I’ve wrote about it a little on this blog, I realized I have a lot more to say on this topic. However, I realize I come with my own set of privileges being a white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class woman. I can only speak to my experience with all of that in mind. However, I think it would be great if I someday have contributors to this blog that come from different backgrounds to speak to their experience being plus-sized in the field. I think this is something that is not spoken about often enough, and we do a disservice to ourselves and to our students by being quiet about this issue.

But for now, I’m going to start this series with a Back to School haul of sorts, if you will.  Our Resident Assistants moved back in for training this week…the summer flew by! Therefore, this past Saturday was the last day I would be able to go clothes shopping before the semester started. I believe it’s time to amp up my wardrobe, and so I wanted to  get some things and be a little more prepared for my semester. However, as I will describe later, it proved to be VERY difficult, as per the usual, to find some things that I wanted.

But first, let’s start with the “wellness” items I bought.

image

This year I know that I need to be more focused on my overall well-being. My work/life balance was a little out of place last year. I’ll talk more about this later but I’ve been slowly taking steps to ensure that I am in a good place to focus on that. So I stopped by Bath and Body Works, and they were having a sale on candles-$10 off! I smelled the Autumn Day one and I couldn’t resist, and candles actually help me relax. Next, I was running low on my body scrub and couldn’t find the one I love which is upsetting (it’s a summer scent though so I guess not surprising).  A Thousand Wishes is a really nice smelling scent and it can be used in all seasons. Next, I was also running low on the Stress Relief shower gel that I am in love with. They recently came out with new scents for Stress Relief, and I got the cedarwood and sage scent. I also bought two car air fresheners-one fall scented (Leaves) and the Stress Relief one (because hi, it’s August in Higher Ed). The Stress Relief one I put right in my car and it’s SO good.

Next I went to Lush. I have been wanting to try a bath bomb for a while, especially since I’ve taken to watching bath bomb demos on YouTube…don’t ask. I bought one that would be really relaxing and luxurious, so I bought one with cocoa butter in it. I’ll probably use it either right before or after opening.

Finally, not pictured here, I went to Sephora and got the sample pack of the Glam Glow Supermud mask. If you haven’t heard of Glam Glow before, you should really look it up. It’s a mask that pulls all of the dirt, oil, and impurities in your skin…and you can see it on your face as it dries. Some people may find that gross, but I find it fascinating. It also works extremely well. After I use it, my pores are smaller and extremely clean, and my face feels so good. It’s not pictured because I put it on my face as soon as I got home, as I’d been sweating a lot lately and wanted to clean up my face.

image

Next, I bought a whiteboard, some markers, and magnets. I wanted to create a vision board out of these items. I’ve created vision boards before, but nothing has seemed to stick. I wanted something that I’d be able to update and change easily if my vision changes. I believe this will help me be more focused on balance and wellness, and remind me of the things I want to accomplish this year.

 

 

 

 

But now, let’s get into the clothes.

torrid

Don’t mind my foot…

I picked a few things up from Torrid. They were having a really good sale, buy one get two free on Clearance items, but honestly I didn’t find anything. It was really disappointing, but I did find a couple of staple items that my wardrobe needs!

First of all, I bought a really colorful peach blazer. It’s so pretty and goes well with my skin tone. I bought the flowered tank top to match with it. I figure once I get some other jewelry I can also wear some solids with it, but for now the flowered top will do. I also got a jean jacket because I love the look of a maxi dress with jean jackets in the fall. Then I bought this really gorgeous purple chiffon top. It looks great under sweaters or just by itself. I was disappointed I couldn’t find anything in clearance and hated that I was about to pay full price, but the cashier took pity on me and used a code so that I got $50 off! BLESS YOU, AMAZING CASHIER.

I tried on a few pairs of pants, and I also wanted to find a skirt, but I wasn’t able to find anything. It was a little disappointing, but for some reason the styles that I tried did not fit me. However, this trend unfortunately continued.

lane bryant.jpgAt Lane Bryant, I found some items that I have been looking for since last year! I got a sports bra because I have recently joined the local YMCA. I also got a chambray shirt, and another gray blouse that could go with the peach blazer I bought. Again, I struck out with pants or skirts. I don’t know what’s going on! It could be the styles that I am trying in the stores but I know my size hasn’t changed because I have other pants the same size that still fit me. This is the struggle, not just with plus-size brands but with all brands. Sizes mean different things at different stores, or even within the same stores. It makes shopping that much more frustrating…especially for plus-size people. To make matters worse, everything is so expensive, especially for plus-size people looking to buy work-appropriate attire. There are not many plus-size brands that have business casual clothes either. I struggle a lot to find things, and I know I’m not the only one.

But, I know that I found a lot of great items and I’m excited to use and wear them all. I am still on the hunt for more pants/skirts, but will have to look online for them apparently…and I need to wait until I get paid again to shop some more.

If anyone wants the prices of anything I bought feel free to reach out! I kept all of the receipts.

If anyone would like to contribute to the Higher Ed Plus series, you can contact me on Twitter at @dani_a_johnson.

Yakkity Yak: Talking Back

Professional conferences leave me feeling so refreshed and reenergized. I recently attended NASPA in New Orleans, and I had a great time. I’d never been to NOLA and so I enjoyed exploring the city as well as attended some great sessions on important topics. It was during some down time that I decided to look at Yik Yak to see what the content was like in a different place. That is when I saw all of the controversial Yaks that so many of us in the field have been talking about.

Initially, I was appalled. People who I consider colleagues were talking openly about their judgements on the appearance of others, about how they wanted a “conference hook-up”, and how they were partying on Bourbon street. In my mind, conferences are a chance to learn new things about our field and better myself professionally by networking and bringing ideas and suggestions back to my campus. I don’t know if it’s my status as a new professional or my naievete, but I was shocked to think that some professionals go to conferences for other, maybe not-so-professional reasons. A lot of the things I saw certainly did not align with my values, and so I began to wonder why people were posting these things that they knew would be controversial.

And then the responses to the Yaks came pouring in. As a new professional, I was offended (and still am, as I recently saw another response that said this) that so many people seemed to think that these Yaks were solely coming from grad students or new professionals. I read many responses from mid-levels and up responding directly to the Yaks…who went on the app themselves. I know many mid-level professionals who use Yik Yak on their campuses…and so I would hesitate to think that it was JUST new professionals and grad students who were posting. And apparently (as some of the Yaks stated) the behavior being discussed is not a new thing at conferences. If it WAS all new professionals posting at the conference…where did they learn that the behavior was acceptable? I feel as though a lot of people responding were hesitating to take some responsibility…

Which leads me to the next point many people were bringing up. A lot of people discussed how Yik Yak is a safe place for people to voice their opinions without being judged for them, and that the larger picture is that there is some discontent within our field. I know personally I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be “professional” lately. We have professional standards for our field, ranging from everything to behavior to dress to how we interact with our students and others. Are there some parts of our standards that  marginalize people? Who set the standards for professional dress? Are our standards stifling people? Are they outdated? There have been a lot of conversations about this type of thing on #sachat, and a lot of people believe that standards need to change. Perhaps they are right. But I just wonder if using Yik Yak was the best way to voice that discontent. We may never know who posted those things and why…and that’s a shame. It was a chance to start a conversation…and that chance has been lost to those who posted.

And then ther’s another small part of me that thinks that people knew those posts were going to get some type of reaction, and were doing it just for that. Maybe these people wanted to bring to light some of the hypocritical behavior that professionals engage in at conferences. We teach our students about healthy drinking habits and objectifying others and safe sex practices…but it would seem that some choose to forgo this during conferences. By posting it, some people could be saying “What we’re doing and what we’re saying are two completely different things.”

All I know is that, admist the controversy it caused, the conversations that have stemmed from this incident are fascinating and pose some overall larger questions about how we want to act and be portrayed as student affairs professionals. Some people have said this behavior needs to stop while others say it’s a chance for us to change. I think we need to look more closely about what “being professional” exactly is, how it affects us, and how we can hold each other accountable for that even admist professional standards.

Fat is not an insult-it’s who I am. And I am worthy.

Today I came across an article called My Boyfriend Loves Fat Women. It really struck a chord with me. I have felt so many of the feelings that the author has felt. One of the quotes really got to me:

 As a fat woman, I have been taught that there is an order of operations for love: First, you get thin; then, you can date who you want. Until you do the first thing, the second thing is impossible.

Until recently, as in, like, two years ago, I was truly unaware that people could be attracted to fat people. Really. I have heard for my entire life that fat people are not deserving of love, that I would never find love unless I became less fat, and that no one could ever be attracted to a fat person. Therefore, I have walked around for 23 years on this Earth thinking that I needed to be something different because no one would ever want me. Jeez. No wonder I’ve struggled with my self-confidence.

In this article, the author describes a similar situation. She thinks that by winning the affections of someone who is, shall we say, NOT fat, that she has beaten the system. She has overcome. She even states, “In my mind, I had done the impossible.” Suddenly I realized: it’s not just me. Other fat people have felt the exact same way that I have: that we are not capable of finding love because that is the message that we have always been told.

How TERRIBLE. Shame on us. And I say “us” because I do fall into that category myself. I have told myself that. I have had thoughts about fat people myself. I have judged before I have known what was going on. I am a contributor to this problem.

I have begun to surround myself with more body-positive and fat-positive images. I have recently begun following EffYourBeautyStandards on Instagram and have become an admirerer of Tess Munster. Tess runs the site, and, as you may have heard, has become the first plus-sized model to be signed to a major agency. One of the things that Tess has to clarify over and over again is that she is healthy. She works out with a trainer and eats healthily. She just so happens to be plus-sized. And she has SO much confidence. She’s gotten a lot of backlash because people believe that having plus-sized role models “glorify obesity.” Newsflash: FAT PEOPLE CAN BE HEALTHY. Shocking, I know. But one of the lies that society spreads is that fat people are always unhealthy and that it is not good to be fat. In fact, a lot of people believe it is the WORST thing to be fat. Everyone is always afraid of it. I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear “I ate this today. I am gonna be so fat.” or “Ew, gross. I feel so fat today.” or “I’m gonna be fat and eat all of this!”

I always struggle with what to say to these comments. First of all, many people who say this are not fat. Second of all, it’s like people are subtly saying “Fat is bad and I don’t want to be it, but I’ll continue to act this way because I know I’m not actually fat.” How insulting to people who actually are fat. Because let me tell you from experience: I can do all the right things, eat right and exercise and blah blah blah, and at the end of the day I will STILL be fat. It’s just me. Could I work to become more healthy in my daily habits? Absolutely. And I know I do need to work on it. But I know I won’t ever be a “skinny” person. And that doesn’t mean that I won’t be healthy. Nothing is guarunteed when it comes to health. Someone who could be considered healthy just by their appearance can suffer from heart attacks. Like so many other things, you cannot base how someone is just by how they look. And yet, we continue to do that with fat people AND tell them that they’re disgusting, lazy, and worthless. This is not okay.

It’s made me think a lot about my work in student affairs and how I’ve let this affect my life. I’ve spent far too many years thinking I’m not good enough. This has definitely translated into my work. I’m always afraid that people don’t like me, that my words and ideas don’t matter. On my worst days, I think I’m going to be fired over nothing. Part of that is because I really want to do my best, but part of that is also because I’ve always believed my best is not okay. Sometimes I think people don’t think I’m capable, that I can’t handle certain things. I fear that my colleagues think I’m not a good role model for students. I wonder if students whom I discipline or who don’t like me call me “fat” behind my back because to them, it’s an insult with a capital I. And I feel for the students who are overweight, and I wonder what they go through on a day-to-day basis and if it’s anything like what I’ve gone through.

So many of us in this field have made a commitment to being healthy. And that is wonderful. But with that, we also need to make a commitment to destroy the stigmas of health and fitness-one of them being that fat people absolutely cannot be healthy. If people want to lose weight, they should do it because they want to, not because they feel they have to in order to be able to fit in or be considered worth something. And we should also be open to considering the fact that fat people could potentially actually be healthy despite their size. We should make health more personal. It is a person’s own business of whether or not they are healthy-we shouldn’t be telling other people they need to do this or that in order to be healthier. You can say and share what you’re doing, sure. But no one should be shaming anyone into being what they consider to be healthy. And for the LOVE of ALL that is good-please stop using “fat” as an insult, even towards yourself. By doing this, you are telling people who are fat that they are themselves an insult. You therefore cannot fully help your students that are fat, because you believe that they have something wrong with them. They may have NOTHING wrong with them. It’s not for you to judge.

As for me, I will no longer continue to believe that I am not worthy of love, and that no one will ever be attracted to me. I know this is not true. I will continue to work on my confidence. I love my job, and I’m good at it. And I will work towards achieving justice and equality for my students of every shape, size, and color, because we all deserve to believe we have a place in this world.

 

Judgments and the Job Search

I recently had the opportunity to present to undergraduates, graduate students, and new professionals at a conference. My presentation was about the job search and little tips and tricks I learned along the way. One of those things was regarding professional dress.

“Does anyone follow #SAChat on Twitter?” I asked. A few people raised their hands. “This has been a really hot topic lately.” .

“Here’s the thing: you are going to be judged based on your appearance during your job search. Is that right or fair? I don’t know. But it’s going to happen. So you really need to put some thought and effort into how you are going to present yourself. My suggestion would be to get a second opinon. I’m all for expressing yourself and feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing, but I would think about what outfits you want to wear prior to the conference and ask a colleague or mentor what their opinion is.”

A little while later, I could see some raised eyebrows in the room when I talked about color choices. “My mentor told me that for an initial interview, don’t wear red. Red is bold and bright, sure, but some people could see it as agressive subconsciously. That would be a more appropriate color to wear at a second interview.”

Honestly? It sucks that I had to say all of that. But after a lifetime of being judged based off of my appearance, it’s a fact that I’ve come to know pretty well.

PEOPLE JUDGE.

And honestly, it’s not all our fault. We are hardwired to recognize things about other people because, way back in the day (like caveman times), humans had to make split second decisions about whether or not someone or something was safe based on their appearance. And unfortunately, we still do it today. But, that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to follow through with what we initially think about people. I know that, because of my body type, people may initially look at me and think that I am lazy and do not care about my appearance. My hope is that, while people may think that at first, they get to know me and see that it is not the case at all. I work extremely hard for what I have, and I know that I am beautiful and a really good person. My other hope is that soon our profession will be able to judge not on appearance but also in quality of work as well.

The reason I told that to the attendees at the conference is because I want them to do the best they possibly can in their job search. As it stands right now, I do not think that the Student Affairs profession is ready to look past the way people present themselves as an initial judgement of whether or not they want to hire candidates. But you can bet that I will be challenging those who judge potential candidates based on how they present themselves. And slowly but surely, maybe we can change this culture around. It starts with us!

The Developer in Me

Recently at a RA In-Service, we began talking about our Strengths (based on StrengthsQuest).  We broke out into our staff groups and were asked to share with each other the Strength that you really identify with.

My Strengths, in order, are Positivity, Empathy, Developer, Includer, and Consistency. When I first took the test two years ago I thought…okay, this makes sense. I’m definitely an optimist, and I love making others happy. Empathy and Includer relate to my love for people and my passion for treating them all the same, which also fits in with Consistency. But I did not really know what Developer meant. Once I read the description and looked back on my career, I thought, wow. This is really cool. It is the Strength that I have grown to admire the most about myself.

My StrengthsReport reads:

“People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.”

I feel as though this is the reason why I’ve gone into Higher Ed and why I love it so much. I can see what my students can be before they even realize it, and sometimes they just need a little push in the right direction. I love being able to say I was the one who helped a student realize their true path, since I admire and appreciate those who have helped me in my path. I love helping students figure out what they’re meant to be. My StrengthsReport also says that I enjoy when my words of encouragement push other people to excel. This is so me, to a “T”.

The only problem with having the Developer skill is that I place the needs of others ahead of my own way too often. My report states: “By nature, you sometimes throw yourself into your work even when you are personally inconvenienced.” It is, unfortunately, very true. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t go out of my way to help a student. However, it’s important for me to realize that A) I can’t help everyone and B) I need to take more time to myself and not devote so much time to others. I love helping people, but I should not be willing to put my own health and sanity at risk for them. For me, there is just no better feeling than knowing I’ve helped someone…but I should realize that I can’t help others if I’m not in a good enough place or if I’m not helping myself.

A few days ago I recieved a message from one of my former RAs asking for help in her graduate school search. I was thrilled that she reached out to me and was happy to provide her with information. She then posting a status on Facebook thanking me and our former supervisor for helping her. It’s situations like that that absolutely make this job worth it. The fact that I can keep connections with former students and am able to help them even while living on opposite ends of the country makes me the happiest I have ever felt. It’s just the Developer in me.