Category Archives: disability/disfigurement

BlogHer ’08: Amazing Women Everywhere You Look

<b>Laurie and Debbie say:</b>

This year’s BlogHer conference was in Laurie’s home city, and just across the bay from Debbie’s. Laurie went to the presenters’ party Thursday night. Laurie says: “The party gave me a chance to see folks I met last year in Chicago, have lots of brief intense conversations, and meet face to face and talk with panel members. Then I went to a party on the top floor of the Westin St. Francis and was completely knocked out by a 280 degree view of the city through tall windows. I took a slow tour around. It was amazingly beautiful. The St Francis is an old nouveau style hotel and I loved the decor.”

Friday morning, we both skipped breakfast and the keynote, and showed up in time for the first breakout session. We chose “Is Mommyblogging Still a Radical Act?” (liveblog transcript here) and found our first outstanding panel of the weekend. Lindsay Ferrier was an extraordinary moderator: the BlogHer style is to encourage statements, as well as questions from the audience and to operate with the assumption that everyone has something interesting to say. Lindsay modeled this perfectly, going to the audience even before all the panelists had had a chance to do more than introduce themselves. The result was a high-level, freewheeling discussion which nonetheless managed to stay focused. Laurie was really happy to have Lindsay as an example before she moderated her panel later that afternoon. All three panelists–Polly Pagenhart from Lesbian Dad, Maria from Immoral Matriarch, and Charlene Li, were as good as Lindsay. (The conclusion: a lot of different meanings of “radical” were in the room, and mommyblogging fits many, if not all, of them. Everyone was interested in the relationship among integrity, commoditization, and blogs as moneymakers. The potential impact of a nationwide–and bigger–network of women building community support networks and political power cannot be overestimated.)

After lunch, we went to “Race and Gender: What are the lessons of 2008?” (liveblog transcript here) If you’re a regular reader, you know that we don’t put much energy into electoral politics. But this panel was billed as going beyond that, and it completely lived up to its billing. The panelists were Adele Nieves (moderator), Maria Niles, Jill Miller Zimon, Cynematic, and Caille Millner. The panel covered an interesting range, not only of issues but of levels of experience. Once again, BlogHer’s cultural expectations made it possible to respect people who are new to these issues while clearly hearing the more complex and nuanced (and sometimes angry) positions. Topics ranged from the controversial New Yorker cover through white people working on racism in ourselves and others, to alternate metaphors (such as the Rubik’s cube) for discussing these subjects with less historical loading.

Laurie’s panel immediately followed this one (Debbie’s liveblog transcript with links to all participants here). Laurie says: “I was nervous about the moderation because Blogher’s approach needs a symphony conductor style. It took a lot of concentration, and it all went really well. We talked about body image issues, including size, race, gender, and sexualization of children in lucid and passionate ways. The conversation about early puberty development in both girls and boys and what that means in terms of parents’ and kids’ body image is one I really want to pursue. All three panelists were clear, lucid, intense and sometimes funny. I got my wish for a panel that discussed kids and body image in the broad and complex sense. The audience comments wove together with the panelists for a conversation that was way more than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure we’d pull this off and I was thrilled. Over the next day and a half, I really appreciated how many women told me that the panel was important, and good for them. I need to thank Denise Tanton and Jenny Lauck for their help.”

On Saturday, we went to one more fabulous panel (well, Debbie went to half of it): Blogging About Our Kids with Special Needs (liveblog transcript here). Panelists were Susan Etlinger, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, Kristina Chew, Jennifer Graf Groneberg, and Vicki Forman. The panel description says these women “are among those mommybloggers who are blogging their experiences and finding both a community and a cause.” Panelists and audience were sharing both intimate support and information and clearly finding the results helpful and important. The women in the room were a stellar example of mommyblogging as radical: this is a group which is truly pulling together to change laws, school policies, cultural expectations, and social attitudes. The discussion was intelligent, clear, and loving. Laurie says, “If you’re only going to read one transcript, read this one.”

There was lots of good stuff in the rest of the conference: other panels, hallway interactions, keynotes, swap meet, evening events. These were just the highlights for the two of us.

Thanks to Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, Jory Des Jardins, Kristy Sammis, and the host of staff and volunteers. We both know what it takes to make a conference as complicated as this one run smoothly, and they did a great job!

L Heart L–J heart J

Lynne Murray says:

Recently I had a conversation with talking my friend, J, about Laurie’s post on writing a letter to her body.

J and I both deal with chronic health issues, which in her case have sometimes been life-threatening, but we share a hard-won positive attitude toward our bodies.

Her challenges are harder, dealing with daily pain, a daunting catalog of symptoms and infuriating so-called spiritual types who suggest that she must “want to be this sick” or she wouldn’t be.

For me the challenge has been to avoid drinking in the poisonous fat hatred that we swim in daily, and to immediately detox from polluted attitudes whenever I encounter them. Sometimes I meet people who are wildly uncomfortable and terrified that my fat or decreased mobility might be contagious. Recently a twenty-something couple stopped by my apartment and the husband, who is training for a marathon, kept looking at my cane as if it would bite him. My guess is that he was telling himself, “As long as I keep running nothing like that will ever happen to me.” I felt like saying, “Maybe yes and maybe no, kid. You can’t order life from a catalog.”

The reality of living with my body is much more serene than some of the terrified people I meet might imagine. Soon after our conversation about loving one’s body, J sent me a little note with two hearts drawn on it. Inside one it said, “J + J” and inside the other “L + L”; for me that note is an illustration of the kind of friendships that are a treasure beyond reckoning. I feel fortunate to have a few of those.

Friendship is a good metaphor for the process of respecting (befriending) my body. It’s an ongoing process. Sadly, it’s also the opposite of how we’re encouraged to treat our bodies. Cruelty to our physical selves is thought of as something to admire in our culture. We’re supposed to outsmart our bodies, fool them into behaving ways not natural to them, and work them till they hurt.

If you constantly beat up, stress out and bad-mouth your friends, they will shut you out and understandably so. Friendship grows much better with a foundation of patient listening, positive words and thoughtful actions. It’s also a collaboration.

The body makes its suggestions nonverbally, but sometimes I will run across something that seems to be under a spotlight, which is my body’s way of saying, “Yoo-hoo! Look at this.” Most recently a suggestion on a label of a bottle of mineral salts suggested a mixing a small amount in a ten-ounce glass of water and then drinking ten glasses of water a day. My reaction was, “TEN glasses, that’s not going to happen. Okay, more water, I could do that.” When I actually did do that, I got a faint but clear signal somewhere in my body, essentially saying, “More water–YES!”

How can we not admire our bodies? They do an amazing job keeping us alive every day despite being treated so badly. They don’t run away (well, they can’t, we’re stuck with each other). They patiently keep asking for what they needs in hopes that eventually they will be heard and heeded. A major part of my own life journey is learning to value and facilitate all the myriad of ways my body lives strong, performs beautifully and takes me through each day with a surprising amount of comfort and pleasure.