Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for 'critique the culture not your body'

I chose not to press charges against the perpetrator when I was raped 30 years ago. I didn’t want to suffer re-victimization in order to prove he was guilty. I didn’t want to put myself on trial, proving my victimization, justifying my choices, verifying my credibility, demonstrating my reliability as a witness to my own experience of rape. I didn’t want to be placed on the witness stand where my integrity and character would become the topics of the trial.

I was at a bar with friends. I met a man. We kissed. He asked for a ride home. We left the bar together. And suddenly, according to some perverse understanding of relationships upon which the criminal justice system operates when it comes to rape, our friendly engagement and public displays of affection had apparently given him permission to insert his penis into my vagina!

Who is on trial?

Who is on trial?

At least, that’s what the investigator from the District Attorney’s office said would happen if the case went to trial. She empathized with me, validated my experience and seemed to covertly agree with my protests of injustice. But she also reinforced the fact that my history of drugs, alcohol and sexual engagements would be used by the criminal’s attorneys to prove his innocence.

Unlike the vast majority of rape victims, the morning following the Friday night incident I called the rape crisis hotline and went to a local hospital for treatment of my injuries (bruising on my legs and arms and tearing of my previously un-penetrated vagina). With the support of a rape crisis counselor who met me at the emergency room, I reported the crime to the police. They interviewed me, took photographs of my bruising and collected physical evidence. At the end of the emergency room ordeal, I accompanied the officers to the site of the crime as well as to the bar where we met.

The police gathered information, identified the criminal and arrested him later that day. He spent the weekend in jail and was released on bail the following Monday.

Unlike Emily Doe who courageously took the stand, suffered the humiliation of her own life and history being put on trial in order to bring about justice, I chose to drop the charges I’d filed. I wasn’t willing to have my life become the target of his defense. I wasn’t willing to be re-victimized by a criminal justice system that continues to make rape victims the guilty ones by allowing our alcohol and drug use or sexual histories to become part of the trail.

Emily’s letter to her attacker reveals much about why, out of  every 100 rapes, only 7 of these crimes lead to arrest and only 3 are referred to prosecutors:

“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who didn’t even take the time to ask me for my name, who had me naked a handful of minutes after seeing me. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up…”

To add to the injustice of it all, even after being found guilty of three felony charges related to sexual assault, the criminal was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail plus probation. And, assuming he’ll be on his best behavior, he’s likely to serve only 3 months.

I stand with Emily and others in protesting the sentence handed down by the judge who has a history of bias in favor of student athletes. The judge justified his leniency by expressing concern that the standard sexual assault sentence of  6 years in prison would have “a severe impact” on the criminal, a former Stanford University student.

Isn’t severity the message demanded by justice? Doesn’t the serious violation demand a harsh sentence? What is the message being sent to the criminal by letting him off easy? What is the message being sent to other perpetrators? Other potential victims?

“If you’re a young white male and have a potentially bright future ahead of you, material and social resources, we’ll let you off easy and trust that because you come from a place of affluence and privilege, you’ll get the rehabilitation you need and become an upstanding citizen.” 

I wonder if the judge would have given the same sentence had the offender been from the wrong side of the tracks, a struggling community college student working at a gas station or any one other than a former Olympic hopeful who also happens to be a caucasian male?

Brock Turner is an adult deserving of the maximum penalty and time for rehabilitation as a sexual offender, not a slap on the wrist and a few months of jail time to consider the errors of his ways. In the United States the average prison time for rape is 8-9 years in prison. Three to six months is not enough for the needed punishment and rehabilitation–which is ultimately the goal of our criminal justice system, isn’t it?

A recent blog post from the Breast Cancer Action (BCA is a nonprofit advocacy group for health justice for women at risk of or living with breast cancer) reminded me why I don’t buy pink.  All the hype about “Think Pink” during October’s breast cancer awareness push is as much to benefit companies using the slogan as it is to increase awareness. Some companies claim to care about breast breast cancer yet produce, manufacture or sell products with chemicals linked to the disease. And some department stores, clothing and accessory manufactures and other companies that sell pink products donate only a small percentage of the profits to the effort. That’s why I don’t buy pink anymore. Although I once did.

This Thanksgiving I’ll be 23 years out from that horrific holiday season I spent being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. The first few years I walked or ran in “Pink” fundraisers, only to find out later that the companies organizing  the events were pulling in huge profits. I wore pink ribbons or related products, only to discover that in some cases only a minor percentage of the profits went to anything breast cancer related.

I’m grateful for awareness that allowed me and other early diagnosis patients (AKA “Bosom Buddies”) to live full and long lives post-cancer, but I’m not buying any pink products. If I want to give money to raise awareness or research I’ll give it directly to the providers.

Katy’s story reveals the subtle way companies use breast cancer to promote the very products that contain chemicals linked to to cancer. They don’t do it maliciously…at least I hope not. But, as my wise spouse often points out, corporations don’t have a soul. They have no moral compass to guide their decisions. The bottom-line is…the bottom-line. Morals and ethics are a side-note at best and most often not even a part of the conversations about how to do business.

While companies that use the “Think Pink” slogan to sell pink hats, shoes, shirts and other products may give some or all of the profits to breast cancer research and advocacy, the companies do it for their own sake as much as for those of us impacted by the disease. Certainly the decision to give breast cancer patients products full of toxic chemicals linked to the disease wasn’t done with morality or justice as the bottom-line.

Celebrating Life Together with My Bosom Buddies

Celebrating Life Together with My Bosom Buddies

I’ll be celebrating life with my bosom buddies at our annual ThanksLiving party next month. And we’ll be serving as much organic, close to nature food and drink as available. After 23 years I am still careful to eat organic and use personal care products with as few human created chemicals as possible. I’m convinced that all the pesticides in the foods I ate during puberty played a role in activating cancer. That’s why I support Breast Cancer Action’s work in the world. They focus much of their effort toward awareness of the role environmental toxins play in the onset of breast cancer – something the tradition medical industry refuses to address.

As Katy’s story exemplifies, if companies really had her welfare in mind, they’d do something other than provide free products that contain chemicals that interrupt the effectiveness of the medication she’s taking to prevent reoccurrance. And, if they really had the interests of women at risk or living with breast cancer, they’d invest all the time, money and energy spent on developing pink promotional products toward direct services for those in need rather than pocket a portion for themselves.

To join me and Breast Cancer Action in telling the Personal Care Products Council and the American Cancer Society to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in personal care products please sign send a letter.

Thanks for joining me in this effort to stop the abuse of all the good being doing through breast cancer awareness! Let’s “Think Pink” but do so in a conscious and ethical way!

 

 

The extra fat living on my belly these days reminds me that in my sphere of reality over consumption is a way of life. While a large percentage of people on planet earth struggle for access to enough, I have too much.

I want to give thanks for the abundance.

I want to be grateful that my refrigerator and pantry are full, that I can drive my car a few miles and purchase mass amounts of consumables or dine on gourmet food at a restaurant where the portions are so large I take some home for the dog.

But this Thanksgiving morning I’m aware that the abundance of my Thanksgiving table, along with the month of consumption ahead, has come to reflect the too muchness of life in the USA. We have so much available that unless we are highly conscious about our choices we will end up consuming too much and storing that excess in our bodies’ remarkably efficient energy storage systems.

I want to be grateful for my body’s amazing capacity to survive potential famine by storing energy as fat.

I want to be grateful that I am so aware of my body that I notice even subtle shifts in my body mass composition.

I want to be grateful that I can take a rigorous walk this morning, get a little sweat going and seek to come into alignment with my body.

I want to be grateful that I no longer regulate my energy intake and output based on external guidelines or fears of weight gain.

I want to be grateful that when I eat our Thanksgiving feast this evening I will savor the love of family and friends around the table as I take in the delicious meal set before us.

But my mind is on those who don’t have enough. On the hungry and the homeless. And, on how ironic it is that many of the homeless and needy I’ve met when volunteering in local soup kitchens are also carrying extra fat on their bellies!

Current research on nutrition and fat storage indicate that the number of calories we eat as well as the quality and types of food we consume contribute to how our bodies metabolize and store energy. Much of the food served to those showing up at soup kitchens are high glycemic carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, sugar) that increase the likelihood of weight gain in many of us.

I’m not sure what I can do about that today. But expanding my view of reality to consider those who don’t have a home to gather in, a table of their own around which to dine, or loved ones to share it with, gives me perspective that helps me love and enjoy living in my body, just as I am. Because ultimately my life is not measured by my level of fitness or my body mass composition, but by the degree to which I live in loving relationship with myself, my family and friends, my colleagues and acquaintances, my neighbors, as well as the “strangers” around the world who are my brothers and sisters here on planet earth.

For me it comes back to gratitude and living in the tension of celebrating the goodness of life that has come to me as I remember that while all is well in my world, much of the rest of the world suffers.

Today I will seek to savor rather than consume

Today I will seek to listen to my body not just for me, but as a reminder that over consumption of resources doesn’t just impact me and my health, but contributes in a small way to the unequal distribution of resources that leaves many homeless and hungry on this day of Thanksgiving.

It isn’t about guilt for having more than enough. Rather it’s about loving myself and my neighbor enough to pay attention to my consumption so that I don’t carry around more than I really need either in fat stores on my body or otherwise.

This holiday season I am going to work on compassionate consumption. Compassion recognizes suffering with kindness and non-judgement and comes alongside with intention to alleviate that suffering to the degree that I can.

Eating just enough is one way to do that today. And if I choose to eat more than enough, not judging myself for breaking my intention but kindly stopping when I recognize I’ve passed the point of satiation.

As we head into the holiday consumption madness begins tomorrow, may we consider what compassionate consumption might look like in our lives. What presents, decorations and other stuff do we really need? What is enough? What is too much? And how can we take our excess and use it to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others?

How can we choose to let go of our possibility of having it all so that all may have?

Two commentaries on the challenges of being female in the church and in the broader culture came to my attention this week.

Andrea Heinrichs’ blog “What I Would Tell my 12-Year Old Self About Gender Roles” reminded me that in spite of great strides toward egalitarian relationships between women and men through groups like Christians for Biblical Equality, most of the church is still stuck in a binary model that assigns roles, capabilities and value according to gender. Similarly, in the culture-at-large women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in government, media and business. On top of all of that, media stereotypes about masculinity (“real men” are tough, stoic and violent) and femininity (“real women” are sex-objects) limit our options for moving beyond the binary model.

I first came across Laci Green when searching for videos for my human sexuality and sex therapy class. She began her public work on gender and sexuality as a sex educator while studying at U.C. Berkley. In her signature irreverently humorous style, her video “Why is Zero a Size Tho?” confronts multiple issues related to women’s embodiment As she points out, “zero means nothing…It suggests that a woman should take up so little space that she actually disappears.” A culture filled with both covert and overt messages that make staying small and taking up as little space as possible severely limit the possibilities for female empowerment.

Finally, I love the way Richard Rohr’s daily mediation this morning reminds me what my faith in Christ says about who I am and what it means to be a real woman or man:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world. Here “there is no distinction…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Mature Christian spirituality leads us toward such universals and essentials. Yet people invariably divide and argue about non-essentials!”

Amen!

I lead a workshop on working with same-sex attraction for counseling trainees and interns at Life Pacific College last weekend. The clinicians were hungry for information and tools to help their clients cope with not just same-sex attraction, but a long list of other sexual issues.

I presented the work of psychologist Mark Yarhouse on narrative sexual identity therapy, along with some provocative thoughts from anthropologist Jenell Paris’ new book The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Both teach at conservative Christian colleges where they are seeking more compassionate and helpful ways to think about and work with issues of sexuality among this very confused, ill-equipped and all-too-often guilt and shame ridden group of young adults.

Pastor Steve Smith of Malibu Presbyterian church says that from puberty to marriage students from conservative backgrounds are in sort of exile from their own sexuality — he calls it “Sex-ile.” The church tells them to “wait” until marriage, but then offers minimal resources to integrate and develop a healthy sense of their own sexuality while they wait.

A former student from Azusa Pacific University where I taught human sexuality and sex therapy for 8 years sent me a link to a story that illustrates how well intended but limited efforts to prescribe chastity as the answer for sex-ile can end up doing more harm than good. Samantha Pugsley says that she waited until her wedding night to lose her virginity and wishes she hadn’t. It’s a tragic example of the kind of outcome that I suspect will become even more common among these young people if we don’t develop alternatives.

Meanwhile, five days ago ethicist David Gushee, who’s wise counsel helped me with my decision to discontinue teaching at Azusa Pacific this past summer, stirred the pot in a big way with his speech “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” at the Reformation Project Conference. As expected in the heated conversation taking place about same-sex attraction in the church world, he was soon on the chopping block of those who disagreed with his presentation.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

I remain in the conversation, committed to staying open and being part of the solution. One day at a time.

Amen.

Twenty-two years ago I chose not to have reconstructive surgery following my mastectomy. My reasons were psychological (I wanted to process the loss of my breast before adding anything new to my body) and practical (I figured I’d wait until after I had children then get both breasts done to match). There was nothing noble or moral or revolutionary about it. I just wasn’t ready.

I spent the next decade healing from my own disordered relationship with my body as I walked with others in the same journey. None of that was in my plan when I started graduate school training in marital and family therapy. Developing my own media literacy skills and teaching clients to critique cultural messages and social conditioning about beauty have played a critical role in deciding not to have reconstructive surgery, and to my commitment not to have cosmetic surgery of any kind in the future. It also plays a part in why I’ve chosen not to color my hair — although that is still negotiable as at some future date I may decide to go blonde or add an orange streak to my hair!

Why is having two breasts so important? Does having only one breast make me any less a woman or less sexy or less myself? Would I feel “more myself” and have greater love if I had two breasts? NO! And what about my softening neck or wrinkling eyes? Am I less beautiful with a sagging neckline?

Cultural critique was on my mind yesterday morning as I reflected on my experience at a self-help conference. The beauty and wellness communities are full of self-love messages. Ironically cosmetic surgery to alter self-perceived unacceptable aspects of physical appearance is often also viewed as an acceptable avenue to greater love and self-acceptance. How does “love and accept yourself” work together with choosing cosmetic surgery?

Clinical psychologist William Sheldon wrote that “Deeper and more fundamental then sexuality, deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even that the desire for possessions, there is a more generalized and more universal craving in our human make-up. It is a craving for right direction – for orientation. ” For youth and young adults, that orientation is about developing a solid sense of who they are, forming an identity that enables them to use their lives to create a better world for everyone.

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As I viewed Darryl Robert’s latest documentary America The Beautiful 3: The sexualization of our youth on Sunday night identity development was on my mind. The first two America the Beautiful films explored America’s obsession with beauty and body size. All three documentaries draw attention to the exploitation of basic human insecurities by commercial industries. Sex, slim bodies and beauty sell products from hamburgers to pharmaceuticals. Picture vibrant, slim, well dressed,  youthful looking middle aged couples in commercials for Viagra!

We want to be beautiful or handsome. It’s a basic human longing. We want to “look good.” Even before mirrors and photography people engaged in beauty enhancing techniques based on cultural norms. While across cultures the definitions of what is attractive vary, it seems that throughout history how one looks factors into identity development.

As a “chubby” child and early adolescent, I escaped the beauty, weight and sex traps by opting out of the game. I knew the rules: fat is not attractive. So rather than even trying to play the game, I mostly sat on the sidelines and played support crew for my more beautiful friends who were on the field. That isn’t to say I wasn’t deeply ashamed of my appearance – at least my body size. But I learned that my identity needed to develop from something other than how I looked.

Fast forward 40 years and I am grateful for the psychological insulation my fat provided. I learned that looking good (whatever that means) isn’t as important as being a good, kind, genuine person. I learned that being sexy was actually quite risky as I watched my “more attractive” friends suffer the slings and arrows of adolescent love games. Not to mention a few that ended up choosing to abort unwanted babies when they’d “forgotten” to use protection or the one who ended up marrying the father, moving to Oregon and becoming a teenage wife and mother.

Before I get on too much of a downer here, let me come back to what initiated this blog. My friend Chris Kresbach, who works in the film industry and knows all too well how messed up our cultural norms about beauty, weight and sexuality are, posted this video on Facebook today. It’s a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on women, beauty and body image. All of which, along with sexuality, are central to the essential human need to know who we are. But they aren’t everything. We must find ways to love and enjoy our physicality and work with the inevitable challenges and changes, but not allow appearance to define us.

Let’s be at the forefront of reminding ourselves and each other about what is most important in life. Perhaps sharing this video with your friends would be a fun and simple way to do that!

Offered with my prayer that you will find ways to love and enjoy your body,  just as you are today!

Last month I met filmmaker James Colquhoun at a screening of his film Hungry for Change. This month I’m excited to tell you about his recently launched FoodMatters.tv – a website devoted to bringing the best information about food and health together in one place. They are on a mission to educate and inspire us to remember the wisdom of Hippocrates: food is medicine. In their vernacular: You are what you eat!

James and his wife Laurentine share my vision of individual responsibility for good health. “We believe that your body is worthy of good care and that no one is more suitably qualified to care for it than yourself.”  Amen!

Inspired by the healing of his dad’s chronic disease through eliminating a boatload of medications and introducing a plant-based diet, James and Laurentine are the real thing. I’m delighted to benefit from and support their efforts to help each of us become our own best advocates for good health.

On Wednesday, April 30th at 7:30 p.m. I’ll be at the Laurie Hendricks Gallery in South Pasadena for a screening  and panel discussion of Long Live L.A. - a series of artists’ videos addressing the public health crisis. If you’re interested in the intersections of health and art, how media can change lives for the good, or looking for ways to engage, educate and inspire health in yourself and your community, I’d love to have you join me!

Long Live L.A. was originally commissioned by Freewaves and broadcast on L.A. Metro  County buses during February and March 2014. With 70% of health care spending going towards diseases that are preventable through lifestyle changes, finding new and culturally relevant ways to educate people and inspire good health is an important part of the solution. Art is a fabulous way to access our “WHY” for taking care of ourselves in ways the written word alone cannot.

Six of the original videos will be screened followed by a panel discussion about how artists can contribute to public dialogue about health while educating people who might not be reached through traditional formats. Maybe I’ll see you there!

1504 Mission Street, South Pasadena, 91030

LA Times writer Michael Hiltzick’s article “Federal rules on diet supplements do users no favor” lends further support to the point of my last blog. Uninformed use of diet products, supplements, energy boosters can be hazardous to your health! He exposes a dietary supplement named OxyElite Pro that has been linked to multiple hospitalizations and one death.

According to Hiltzick, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Heath and Education Act “essentially requires the Food and Drug Administration to assume that dietary supplements are safe until proved otherwise.”

Not surprisingly, the authors of the bill, Senators Harkin and Hatch, both cashed in heavily on campaign contributions from supplement manufacturers and related professional associations.

While some of us may benefit from and need supplements, eating real food as close to nature as God created it is the best way to nourish our bodies.

If you decide to explore dietary supplements, be a wise consumer and do your research. Be wary of brand-new products and anything promising too-good-to-be-true results. And nothing can replace the support of well-trained, licensed professionals. Always consult with your doctor when introducing even seemingly benign supplements as everybody is different.

Additionally, there’s a growing number of integrative medical doctors, like my colleague Marina Khubesrian (offices in South Pasadena and Montrose), who are trained in both traditional medicine as well as complementary methods. They can help you get a clear picture of  your health profile to accurately assess and determine appropriate supplements as well as make recommendations on other non-traditional interventions.