I had intended for my next post to be about how fabulous my forties have been, but then I got COVID, lost my job, and spent two of my darkest months since, well, this time last year when my lovely boyfriend ditched me during a cancer scare. During that time, I’ve done a lot of thinking. A LOT. And, while I will eventually get to my #FabulousForties series (because I have some very cool guests lined up), the truth is a bit more complicated. It often is. And, because this is how my brain works, right now I’m pretty fixated on beauty, so we're gonna head down that rabbit hole for a bit.
I went into 2020 needing to lose 20 pounds or so to be at my “ideal” weight. I left it needing to lose closer to 50 pounds. My struggle started long before COVID lockdowns, and I suspect it has more to do with stress and hormones than being home. In fact, I want to sidetrack for just a bit to go on record as saying I absolutely loathe the meme about “Now that I’ve lived through a plague, I understand why Renaissance paintings are full of fat women laying on couches.” It doesn’t make me giggle even a little. My entire life, I’ve looked at those paintings and told myself that had I lived in another time, I would have been beautiful. That even in my time, there is a beauty to my curves. That stupid meme makes it clear how the rest of society sees it, though.
And the thing about being heavier than society dictates as acceptable: People make assumptions about you. I literally had a date ask me once if I’d ever considered dieting. The saddest part is, it wasn’t my last date with him. It should have been, but I'm rather used to men making comments about my size and, at the time, I was still clinging to some home that my person might be out there somewhere.
“I just want you to know, I like the way you look. Don’t be self conscious about your size,” was the closest any of the men in my life have come to complimenting me. Actually, two different men said that one. Like they were embarrassed to be attracted to me. I was a size 10 or 12 at the time, for reference. Curves. Flat stomach. Toned arms. What the actual hell, guys?
Before COVID, I was eating 1300 calories a day and working out at the gym an hour a day, five or six days a week. I did this for two months and I GAINED weight. Before you say “muscle weighs more than fat…” My jeans were tighter, not looser. My shape did not change for the better in any way.
When lockdowns hit in March, I walked 5 miles a day. No change. Then I got incredibly sick (for the second time since January). The COVID test came back negative, but it took forever to recover and my lungs never did tolerate 5 mile walks again. I’d worked back up to two miles by July, when I got sick again.
Somewhere during all of this, I was gaining weight. I now have one pair of jeans that fits. My arms, my stomach--they disgust me. I have to give myself nearly daily reminders to love this body and all she’s been through.
Probably about August, I was talking to a health coach in Australia who wanted me to come work for her. In effort to learn more about what she did, I signed up for her eating challenges and threw myself into the incredibly strict dietary changes she recommended for the women she worked with. The easiest way to describe it is Paleo on steroids. For more than three months, I cut all dairy, gluten, and sugar from my diet. No white rice or potatoes. I ate more vegetables than I had in my life. I paid attention to the balance of nutrients on my plate. I moved my body more. I told myself my body had been good to me, it was time I give her the attention she needed. In time, things would right themselves.
Nothing. Not one pound gone.
This particular health coach was adamant that women shouldn’t count calories, they should focus on nutrition, so I tried it her way for the first month or so. When it hadn’t seen results, I downloaded an app and counted every morsel that passed my lips, even the oils used to prepare the foods. Most days, the app yelled at me for not eating enough because I’d come in under 1,000 calories and have to add more.
Before I’d undertaken this diet change, I was eating the wrong kinds of foods (poor people food, which is never healthy), but my weight has never been about overeating, despite what people assume when they look at me. Most days, I eat maybe two meals.
Even though I’d had a resounding lack of success with my own foray into the health coach’s suggested lifestyle, I went to work for her and left the safety of my corporate job behind. That job was causing me immense amounts of stress, which I was guessing to be the root of my stubborn weight gain.
It was a bit of a gamble that would leave me without health insurance for a month, but by this point, I was desperate to get away from the toxic atmosphere, so I took the leap.
And instantly came down with COVID. I mean instantly. The new job told me to take as long as I needed to heal. Unpaid, of course. Two weeks later, they notified me they were scrapping the project they’d hired me for.
By this point, I was a single mother with little savings, no health insurance (because I could no longer pay the premium on the new plan), too sick to walk to the bathroom, let alone work. My breathing was shallow and my heart felt like someone was squeezing it. I distinctly remember the night I went to bed, certain I would not wake up in the morning. I did my best to get right with God and put it in His hands.
I did wake up and eventually mend, but it was the longest month of my life. I’d been cautious of COVID before, now I truly fear it.
The thing about COVID is you feel too horrible to eat. You have to force yourself, and then only if someone brings it to you. My sister was sick while I was and lost five pounds. Want to guess how much I lost? None. Of course.
There is another meme that does amuse me. I went searching for it and found it sprang from a Tweet. I giggle snort every time I come across it because I feel its truth to my very bones.
My boys and I left my marriage with nothing. No car, no furniture. We had little more than the clothes on our back. The house we moved into was over a hundred years old and had no insulation. (A friend once told me "I can literally see the sun coming through the side of your house.)
I worked three jobs to repair my credit from my marriage and pull us up out of that. There’s another story there, one I may eventually get around to telling, but for the purpose of today, I’ll simply say that I am proud of how far we’ve come. I worked hard to provide them with a nice house, nice things, and a comfortable life. All by myself.
And now, with one fateful decision and a bit of crap luck, it’s all in danger. I used my savings up getting us through the first month. Friends kept us alive the second. A fierce job market and holidays mean I’m now peering into an abyss, unsure where month three will come from. My boys are unsure. The reality is that we will be going our separate ways soon; my empty nest thrust upon me all at once and much sooner than planned because of this whole mess.
What does all of this have to do with an article that has thus far lamented weight?
It’s changed how I look in the mirror. My eyes are sunken, the circles under them pronounced. I see the wrinkles I could ignore before. Any beauty I had in my youth seeped out of me during the long months of this COVID nightmare. Some days, I tell myself I will be healthy again. I will build a life for myself that will help my body find its balance and I will be healthy and strong and I will feel beautiful again, even if the men of the world don’t see it.
I was raised to believe I needed to be beautiful to attract a man, was told I needed one by my side. For whatever the reason, men don’t find me attractive and the ones that do only cause me pain. But what I’ve come to realize is that my beauty is for me, not them. Even now, if I stand up straight, I can see that I still have killer curves. They please me. I have pretty hair that’s long and soft, and I love the way it waves.(And I'm really digging this henna rinse that's turned it fiery red.) I love my eyes and how they change color with my mood. I have feminine hands with pretty fingernails and I love the shape of my feet.
As I looked back through old photos, trying to find one to put with this post, I was struck by the fact that my weight has fluctuated throughout the years, but the core of who I was did not. I have grown, changed, learned. I have lived and laughed and loved. (Pardon the cliché) But I was always more beautiful than I felt at the time or gave myself credit for. Even in the times when I carried more weight.
Because I am more than the sum of my waistline and more than the number of men who desire me.
I am a woman who raised three beautiful sons, mostly alone. Sons that have become competent, compassionate men. I have written and published twelve novels with millions of readers all around the world. I have held my own in board rooms where I was the only woman and negotiated multi-million dollar deals with globally recognized brands. I tried on the Super Bowl ring!
I taught school children and Sunday school. Mentored youth and sat on the floor with young girls while they cried. I worked up the courage to sing in front of a live audience. I’ve been in plays and given speeches. Fought against human trafficking. Been in parades and backstage at one of the largest music festivals in the country.
I learned to live off the land. I create gardens that are beautiful and can nourish my family. I learned the forgotten art of herbals and how to make butter from scratch. I’ve raised chickens and goats and ducks. Rescued horses. Rode turnback in a herd of bison for the president of the National Cutting Horse Association. Sat in a goat barn with my favorite doe licking my forehead while she labored. Brought a stillborn kitten back to life. She's actually curled up next to me purring at the moment, come to think of it.
These arms I so loathe have held babies, built fences, and fixed water heaters. They’ve wrangled alpacas. These hands have painted--walls and canvas--to fill my world with color.
My beauty, whatever that might be, does not have to be appreciated by others to exist. And if it is so easily erased by my weight fluctuating during a few particularly hellish years of my life, then it most definitely was not appreciated to begin with.
One of my sisters said something pretty brilliant yesterday: When food is scarce, the beauty standard is to be fat. When food is plentiful, the standard is to be thin. Pretty much whatever is opposite of natural women at the time.
I haven’t researched the historical accuracy of that, but it sounds about right.
I cannot control what the world appreciates. I cannot control their memes or pettiness or how shallow their depth. I can only control myself. My depth and what I appreciate.
And it’s past time for me to appreciate that the sum of me is so much more than the number on the scale or the size of my jeans.
I have a weird Twitter handle. Nine years ago, when I was told by my new publisher to join Twitter, @HeatherHuffman was already taken. All of the obvious spinoffs were too long, and I am like a deer in headlights when it comes to choosing usernames. So, after weeks of trying to come up with a name/driving my family crazy, my sister suggested @Heathers_mark. (The underscore was so it wouldn’t read Heather Smark.) It seemed fitting and I was tired of thinking about it, so I went with it.
Aside from raising awareness for social justice issues like human trafficking and the failures of our current foster care system, a common theme in my novels is that we all have a unique mark to leave on this world. My tagline at the time was Leave Your Mark. It all evolved into graffiti parties instead of typical book launches. They were incredibly fun parties. The venue was a pub on Cherokee Street that was featured in several of the novels. Musician John Bartley, the inspiration behind the character Danny, played at them. Readers, friends, and family came from all over the country to launch my book babies in style. I hung giant painters canvas from the walls and everyone who attended signed or graffitied them.
Those tarps went on book tours with me. They went to fundraisers to fight trafficking and liberate captives from North Korea. They went to school talks, where 8th graders learned about modern day slavery, internet safety, and activism. People of all ages from all over the country signed those tarps, acknowledging that they, too, had a mark to leave on this world.
That time in my life — that campaign, those talks, those books — they are what I am most proud of (aside from my children).
And then life changed and through a series of unfortunate events (and unfortunate choices) I was forced to set aside the words and the causes and return to corporate America because kids require things like warm shelter and food in their bellies. (Needy little buggers)
And during the quiet years, life became less about leaving my mark and more about surviving and healing. It was a time of transition and pain and joy and growth and, ultimately, finding peace. During these silent years, I began to wonder if the mark I’d left was worth much at all. I gave talks about human trafficking to schools and women’s groups, but I’ve never had the impact of one sentence from Ashton Kutcher. The money I’d donated from book royalties was a joke compared to what he’d done. I began to feel silly. Useless.
It was too big of a problem for me to handle and there were so many other injustices I wanted to tackle that I didn’t even know where to start.
And then I got an email from a 70-year-old reader who said she’d learned about human trafficking through my books, so now she always keeps an eye out for it. This year marks a decade since Throwaway made its debut and I still regularly hear from readers who want me to know what the book meant to them. That is a rare and beautiful gift, and one I do not take lightly. The entire conversation with that reader is one I treasure on many levels, and I don’t think she’ll ever realize how timely it was for me. She reminded me that we don’t always know what kind of impact we’re having on other people, so we should keep doing what we know to be right even if we don’t see the results.
Not long ago, I was discussing climate change with my son and we were debating whether the responsibility for change lies with the individual or with corporations. I argued that while corporations certainly have the ability to make a greater impact, there are 7 billion people in the world. Surely if each of those 7 billion people did one little thing to help the climate, the cumulative effect would be great. Fast forward a month, and stories began to hit social media of the reduction in pollution thanks to quarantine.
Whether we intend them or not, our actions have impact. The ripple caused by our choices touches others, and we have no way of knowing how far it reaches. Not really.
I am realizing I got it wrong ten years ago when I encouraged people to leave their mark. Because we will all leave a mark of some sort on this world. It’s up to us to decide what that mark will be, for better or for worse. Rather than #leaveyourmark, I think the appropriate hashtag is #chooseyourmark.
There is so much about our world right now that breaks my heart. I can’t begin to know how to fix any of it. I know cognitively that control is only an illusion, we never really have it, but my life feels especially out of my control at the moment. If I can’t begin to know how to fix my problems, those of the world at large most definitely elude me.
So, I’ve decided to tackle the little things I can fix. I’m making a concerted effort to be kind to those around me — my children, my coworkers, the clerk at the grocery store… pretty much anyone I encounter. I ordered laundry strips and am switching our soap products to reduce the amount of plastic my family adds to the landfills. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. And, being totally transparent, the nice thing really is taking a bit of effort at the moment.
I can’t say if I will ever have any kind of grand impact on this world. Hell, I’m almost 43 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have failed abysmally at choosing a life partner, I fumble my way through parenting, and most days I struggle to free the words trapped inside me.
But I can do little things to make the world around me brighter. I can encourage my children as they find their own path. Inch by inch, I can do my part to leave this world better for my having been in it.
Right now, the world needs all the brightness it can get, so I encourage each of you to look around you for the opportunities to make it better. I want to hear from you - what is your mark? What’s the thing you give the world to make it a better place? I promise you have something you’re capable of doing, whatever your circumstance. Share it with me and use the hashtag #chooseyourmark if you’re on social media.
The world is filled with an awful lot of darkness right now. Let’s see if we can shine a light together to make it a bit brighter.
What do you think of when you hear someone say “childhood sexual abuse”? If you’re like most people, just hearing those words likely stirs up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings, even if sexual abuse hasn’t touched your life in any way. There’s a stigma and a taboo surrounding sexual abuse, but there shouldn’t be. If we have any hope of bringing light into the darkness of abuse, we have to be able to put aside our discomfort and talk about it.
Let me speak first to survivors. Shame thrives in the darkness of secrecy, but it can’t survive without the secret. The first and vital step toward healing is to speak. As impossible as it sounds, freedom from shame only happens by shining a light on the very thing you feel compelled to hide. All of the things you imagine happening if someone were to know your secret are just that—imaginings. I let those imaginings keep me silent for a lifetime. Please don’t let that happen to you. Freedom is found in speaking your truth. People who love you will still love you when they know. I promise. And it won’t change how they think about you either. To the people who know and love you, you are so much more than anything—even this—that happened to you.
So what if you’re not an abuse survivor? How can you bring light into the darkness of abuse? Well, you are the very people survivors need to be able to tell. One of the fears that kept me from sharing my story was the fear of how people would react. It’s a valid fear. Hearing those words come from the mouth of someone you know can be shocking and can stir up that discomfort I mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t have to.
I’ve come to know a young man who is a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Matt Pipkin is the founder of Speak Your Silence (www.speakyoursilence.org). Speak Your Silence is all about helping survivors find their voice and share their secret. But Matt has gone about his mission in a unique way. He’s reaching out to the people who will hear the stories! He wants to create an environment where survivors know they’re supported before they speak their first word, and he has a tangible way to do it—The Stitch. The Stitch is an orange zigzag sewn onto any piece of clothing or accessory that represents the voice frequency of survivors. I recently interviewed Matt and here is how he explained The Stitch.
“The Stitch is not simply to be worn by those directly affected by child sexual abuse, but by all of us. Imagine you’re in room surrounded by people you love and you have a story you’ve never shared before, due to fear, shame, and guilt. How much safer would you feel sharing your story if every single person in that room was wearing The Stitch?”
How cool is that? The other thing Matt told me in his interview was how he felt when he first shared his story with his mom and dad. They overwhelmed him with love. When he told me that, it brought me to tears. That is the reaction every childhood sexual abuse survivor deserves.
So…survivors, speak! And listeners, love overwhelmingly!
Speak Your Silence has other unique ways you can directly help abuse survivors. Check them out when you have a chance.
Niki Krauss is a Yankee by birth, a Southerner by choice, and a joy-filled lover of Jesus by grace. After twenty-four years of moving around the country as the wife of a Marine Corps aviator, she and her husband of forty years have settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Niki is the former assistant editor for the Marine Corps Gazette, the professional journal of the United States Marine Corps, where she wielded her red pen for fifteen years. As a sexual abuse survivor herself, her most recent passion is leading faith-based support groups for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Connect with Niki online
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Little Girl Mended, Niki's powerful story of abuse and redemption, is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
I don't do many events these days, but reviving 61 Strong is forcing me out of my hermit cave a bit. Our first event is Saturday, November 14th from 6 - 9 pm in St. Louis at 3617 Grandel Square. We're hosting a game night to benefit Kaleidoscope Network. You can check our their website to learn more about them, but I think the recent Twitter chat hosted by 61 Strong did a great job of really capturing who they are and what they do.
I'll have books for sale at the event, and there will be chances to win books. It's a family friendly event with games for kids of all ages and the young at heart. We're encouraging area churches to bring their youth groups. Fingers crossed, Vox Dei YA author Tabitha Caplinger will also make an appearance. (Oh my goodness, her novel is good.) We'll have lots of fun prizes (non-book stuff, too!) and some snacks on hand, with more available for purchase. We're suggesting a $10 donation per person/ $20 per family, but we're flexible. You can give more or less as you can.
For my readers in the St. Louis area, you should stop by! I'd love to meet you.
Today's guest is a woman I greatly admire. She brightens this world with her beauty and has made it her mission to help others realize how beautiful they are. I met her through my book blog, Word Menagerie. I agree to review her indie book, Entertaining Angels, as part of a book tour. I found it - and her - completely enchanting. When I took the helm at Vox Dei, I asked Emerald if she would be interested in republishing under our imprint. Thankfully, she was, and Entertaining Angels became the first book to launch from Vox Dei under my direction. I'm so thankful to have Emerald as part of the Vox Dei team, and I'm thrilled to be introducing her on the blog today. (Actually, I was supposed to do this yesterday, but as is always the case these days, I'm running late!) ~Heather
If there’s one thing that I want to do, it’s help girls/women/men feel beautiful and worthy of love. So often we get lost in letting the pressure of today’s society beat us down and tell us that we’re worthless, that we’ll never be pretty or good looking. Well, that’s a lie. We’re all beautiful! We’re all worthy!
Since the moment I first began writing Entertaining Angels, it was a “take that society, this fat chick can find love” novel, but as I dove deeper into it, I realized that it wasn’t about finding love. It was about learning to love ourselves. The real message of this book was to prove that despite how we look, be it fat or skinny, we’re beautiful and deserving of our own love. Our body image doesn’t determine WHO we are; it’s just a small part of the real person. It’s the package, so to speak. Who we are is more than our looks, our status, or how much money we have. It’s about who we are on the inside, and to me, once we accept who we are for our “flaws” and all, we’re one step closer to realizing how truly beautiful we are! We’re one step closer to really loving ourselves.
My main goal is to help girls/women/men see that what they look like doesn’t determine WHO they are. I’m fat, and that’s okay. My health is fine, and yes, I realize that if I were in a smaller weight class, I’d feel better, etc, and I’m in the process of trying to fix that for myself. I’m NOT losing weight because I feel like I HAVE to to be beautiful. I’ve finally reached that point in my life where I’m doing because I want to, not because I “have” to.
And that’s what I’m trying to get other people to see through my #youarebeautiful campaign. We’re constantly surrounded by ads telling us that we have to lose weight. We can’t wear “this” if we aren’t [insert a super tiny size here], and that’s not the case. If you want to wear skinny jeans, wear them. If you want to wear shorts, wear them. We don’t have to worry about what other people think because we know we’re beautiful. But, if you don’t know how beautiful you really are, you will worry. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that feeling for the better part of my entire (soon to be) 28 years of life.
I’ve just now decided that I don’t care what people think of me because the One who matters the most already said I was beautiful. God created me, knowing exactly what I was going to look like, and I’m still here because He loved me enough to form me in my mother’s womb.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 has pretty much become our “battle cry” for this #youarebeautiful campaign. “He hath made everything beautiful in His time…” God has made EVERYTHING beautiful. That’s me; that’s you; it’s the woman in the grocery store, and the man walking down the road. It’s the kid with down-syndrome in the mall with her mother. It’s you, and it’s me. We are all beautiful, and I have such a desire to spread the word about this because I want you to know just how truly beautiful you are!
You deserve to feel worthy. You deserve to feel beautiful, and you deserve to love yourself instead of hate the reflection staring back at you. You’re a child of God, and He has made everything (everyone) beautiful!
My favorite part of the journey I'm on as a writer is the people I've met along the way. Galit Breen is one of those amazing individuals I never would have met had I not mustered up the courage to chase my dream. She's one of the kindest, warmest people I've ever encountered, so it broke my heart when I heard she'd been the victim of cyberbullying. Leave it to Galit to take something bad and flip it on its head, using it to make the world a better place. Can't say enough how much I adore this woman or how happy I am to introduce you to her today. ~Heather
3 Lessons I Learned From Being Cyberbullied
This summer I wrote an online article about marriage and the comments that came in on it were about my weight. I learned a lot from this. These are my top three lessons from experiencing cyberbullying firsthand and how we can use them to help our kids if it happens to them.
1. Cyberbullying hurts. It hurts a lot. Even though my friends didn’t know what had happened because they weren’t checking the article comments like I was, it felt like everyone knew and I was embarrassed and devastated. I felt very alone.
Lesson learned: Don’t diminish this hurt. Allow the person who experiences cyberbullying to feel sad, mad, and embarrassed without ever (not even once) telling them, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
2. When I talked about what happened, I felt better. When I turned inward all I had was my own hurt. But when I turned outward, I had all the goodness of the people around me. This was a lift.
Lesson learned: Don’t silence someone who is speaking up. Bring it up, listen when they want to talk, hold space for this significant experience. We focus a lot on staying positive in our society. And I do believe in the power of positivity, but talking about the negative, the hard, the ugly has its place, too. And this is it.
3. This world is filled with a lot of good people. But you only get to reap the benefits of this if you let them in. I’m a tried-and-true introvert, reaching out can be hard for me. But I would still be in a very bad place if I didn’t let good people get close.
Lesson learned: We have to pick who we surround ourselves with purposefully. And we have to teach our kids this skill as well. I’ve been very transparent with my own children about how good the people in our lives are, and that I had to reach out to them first before they knew to be there for me. In this case, letting someone “in” can be translated as letting someone into our hearts, into our vulnerabilities. This isn’t easy for everyone. We need to encourage and model this for our kids. And we need to show them that this works by listening to them and being there for them when they do it.
A few months after my cyberbullying experience, after I had a chance to be good and sad about it, I did speak up. I wrote a second article calling out my cyberbullies and calling for online kindness. That article went viral. I wasn’t alone anymore.
From there, I chose to take lemons—being called fat online—and make lemonade—write a book about how to teach our kids to be kind online. I even titled it, Kindness Wins.
All of this happened to me as an adult. And even though I had the perspective and experience of understanding the power of using our voices and telling our stories, it was still a process to get to the “doing” part of things. I wasn’t able to, in Heather’s words, leave my mark—immediately or alone.
So if someone you care about is cyberbullied remember to move slowly in giving them time to be sad and listening to them talk. And move quickly in telling them that their story matters, that they matter, in standing by their side, and in telling their story, too.
Heather asked me to share what mark I want to leave on the world. Kindness Wins is definitely it. I want to be a part of the conversation that creates a culture of kindness where all of us and our kids can be online without the assumption that one of us will be cyberbullied. I want online kindness to be a given and cyberbullying to be the surprise. It’s through these conversations that we’ll not just say that kindness wins, but ensure that it does.
As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm a bit of a tomboy. I don't usually take time for things like manicures - and things like Jamberry nail wraps are completely foreign to me.
Since I'm co-hosting a fundraiser this weekend for the Liberty for Anna fundraiser, I decided I've give the nail wraps a try.
Here's what my nails looked like to start with. Mind you, I had to cut them completely off in January for goat kidding season, so they're really short.
I watched the official Jamberry application video and rounded up my supplies. Since I'm barely a girl, I didn't have most of them, so I improvised.
I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was. I mean really easy. It took about fifteen minutes, and that's only because I didn't know what I was doing. I did this because of the fundraiser, but I seriously think I'll start keeping nail wraps around for my one girly indulgence. They're an easy way to do something special just for me. (And when I order from Rachel Frost, I know I'm also fighting human trafficking.) The added and unexpected bonus is that I told my guys I can't do dishes today since I'm not supposed to submerge my nails for a few hours after application. Darn. And I smile every time I look down at my nails. They're kinda happy today.
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