But first, we grieve for our Harbin heart

Right now, as we speak… by all indications, Harbin Hot Springs has been reduced to ash in the Valley Fire in Lake County. Those who don’t know what Harbin Hot Springs is may shrug and think, “Yes, Harbin Hot Springs, and half of California.” It’s true… piece by piece, California is becoming charcoal. Harbin Hot Springs is just one more item to tick off on the “cremated” list.

Those of us who are part of the extended Harbin community already feel the grief. It is a death. Harbin is the heart where all the veins meet. Where WE all meet.

Met.

The place itself is gone… the memories, those cannot be destroyed. And oh… the memories…

About 10 years ago, I discovered Harbin while attending the very first Goddess Workshop, taught by Lokita Carter. Without any exaggeration whatsoever: That one experience changed my life. In that workshop, I discovered a pulse of life I’d been yearning for, searching for… I could feel that it was there, but didn’t know where it was. Until I found it. That one workshop led to other discoveries, in particular, the Pagan community of which I am proudly a part. The Harbin path led me directly to the door of the Pagan world. I found My People. My Community. I could, finally, exhale.

I returned to Harbin again and again after that first workshop, to attend other workshops with Lokita and her husband Steve, but mostly just to go there and soak up the serenity and peace and vibe of the land and the people. And the people… everyone there was of like mind. There were no political or religious barriers, no arguments about candidates or countries… just love. Healing. Oneness with the earth, everything that grew there, everything that lived — and died — there.

No other place on earth made me feel more at home in my own body, my own soul, than Harbin Hot Springs. It truly is sacred ground to me. It’s where I go when I need to transcend the roar and rattle of everyday life, whether in a car, or traveling by meditation, sitting right on my own living room floor. Harbin is home.

The memories… they come to me like a montage….

… the first glimpse at the iron dragon gate… letting us know we’re home…

… sipping hot Cafe Americana on the porch next to the Blue Room, watching the day wake up, still in sweaters because the mountain mornings are chilly

… carrying my ribbon round and round the Maypole

… sitting quietly by the fountain, in the dark, looking at starts, listening to the frog that lived in the little pond near the vendors

… early mornings spent soaking with my husband in the warm pool… the first touch of a toe on the surface and sinking into the warm mineral waters, feeling every ounce of stress just melt away… floating there, him holding me, nothing but water against skin… morning sunlight making dancing patterns against the overhanging fig leaves… closing my eyes and seeing dancing red light… feeling nothing but love and healing and light and warmth

… our handfasting in the temple with only the people who performed the ceremony – Steve and Lokita Carter. We wrote the vows, and when Lokita called us inside, she’d made a ring of pink rose petals, in which the ceremony was performed, right under the peak of that amazing, swirling structure

… morning yoga classes… stretching tight aching muscles and feeling them release and relax

… our favorite tuna sandwich at the La Sirena cafe, sitting in saris, pointing and laughing at all the little lizards skittering across the steps, and so many wonderful meals at the Harbin restuarant

… dancing and swirling in the temple until we were soaked with sweat and sitting on the cushions until we could jump up again

… walking the quiet paths along the grounds, stopping to find out what insect makes that chirping noise and what is crawling to make the grass crackle… pointing out little ferns that grow here and there… savoring the spicy, heady scent of bay laurel everywhere

… feeling warm, bare skin, soaking up sun on the sun deck… completely relaxed and at one with our bodies, with those around us, with (at that moment) the entire planet

… holding each other on the sun deck at night, star gazing, looking for satellites drifting by… feeling the wonder of gazing up at the same stars that every human being who ever lived also gazed at… in the same wonder

… and oh, the massage… heavenly, heavenly massage, particularly with Cora, who I adore so much…

… and the watsu… with Joe… so gentle and healing, melting into bliss…

… the funny jays bouncing on the lawn with their black, pointed tufts on their heads, so different from our valley jays

… the Buddha head at the warm pool… leaning my hands against the side and looking at him… and the path up the hill… hearing the sound of waterfalls and happy sighs…

… the turkeys gobbling, strutting… the deer wandering around, chewing brush, resting in the shade

… the huge, amazing buck that wandered right to the top of the stairs about the market, his head and antlers framed in orange and yellow fall leaves, backlit by the autumn sun… him staring us down… and us backing slowly away…

… the funny little orange tabby cat who always found us when we’d sit in the garden or near the Zen sandbox (oh, how I hope he made it out… how I hope…)

… quietly walking the labyrinth and placing a “Stupid Cancer” button from my friend on the altar at the center… praying for Harbin’s healing energy to touch her… sadly, it did not…

… Samhain, Beltane, Mabon… at Harbin, they all had their special flavor… going with that flow… jumping the broomstick over a fire on Beltane, which is when our handfasting took place… so special

… a Samhain ritual, holding hands in a circle by the meadow building as the light died… singing… “We all come from the Goddess, and to her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean… hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all who die shall be reborn, corn and grain, corn and grain, all who die shall rise again.”

… so many, many more memories… too many to enumerate… they all swirl in my heart, and my mind. The sounds, the scents, the sensations… they’re all there, still safe. Still beloved.

Our Harbin, our Heart… has been cremated… but she shall rise again, not as we remember her, but reincarnated with the love and devotion of all of us who will welcome her in her new form. Buildings and structures can be destroyed by flames. Community only becomes stronger, and the fuel is not flame. It’s love.

Namaste.

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The tip of the temple peaking through the trees at sunset, under a full moon in May 2015, our sixth anniversary and our last visit to our beloved Harbin Hot Springs.

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Boob Blog: Don’t throw away those Victoria’s Secret bras — buy more!

You may remember that the last time I wrote about my rash issues that I’ve connected to Victoria’s Secret bras, I had a nice chat with some VS staff and they recommended that I go see a doctor to be tested for my chemical/textile allergies. Their position remained that there is nothing wrong with their bras, and that I am merely one of a relatively few number of people who reacts to something in their bras. When I find out what that is, they can then advise me which bras would be safe to wear.

Wait a minute — does that mean they already know which chemicals are in which bras, which, by default, means they know that something in their bras is making certain women break out in horrific breast rashes that itch like poison oak and take weeks to go away?

Hmmm….

Anyway, I told them, I’ll play along. I’ll see a doctor, and that’s just what I did last week. I made an appointment with a leading UC Davis allergist, and explained my situation. First off, he informed me that the skin patch test for textile allergies the VS rep recommended doesn’t exist. Secondly, he said, without the item of clothing that caused the problem, there’s no way to test for what I might be reacting to.

Shit!

Long before I even realized there was a connection between these rashes and VS bras, I’d thrown away the particular bra I’d reacted so violently to, as well as another one that caused a mild reaction — rough, tissuey nipples rather than the full-blown rash. Into the garbage, vile things!

HUGE mistake.

I’ve been advising women who visit this blog to save their bras in zip-lock bags because they may be useful evidence for those with severe allergies to whatever is in those bras — formaldehyde being a prime suspect. You see, there were no bra rashes until VS moved its manufacturing site from India to China and then — bam! — breast rashes started bubbling up all over the place. A CBS news report targeted formaldehyde in the Chinese-made bras. Aha!

So, the story gets a little curiouser, in that VS knows full well about the rashes and they must be concerned about them, given that they contacted me about my blogs — how could my humble little blog possibly get the attention of a multi-national billion dollar corporation? Not only have they read my blog, and they’ve also apparently read the comments, because how they deal with customers has changed. Formerly, if a customer complained of a breast rash related to one of their bras, they advised them to return it and get a full refund at any VS store, no questions asked. Okay, fine, you get your $40 back, but nothing has changed overall.

Just last week, however, a woman commented on one of the Boob Blog posts that she contacted VS and informed them of the breast rash, and they said they’d refund her money, no problem, but then they advised her to throw the bra away.

Whaaaaat? Throw it away?

I find this very odd. There are a couple ways to interpret this. One, they are having too many bras returned that can’t be resold and are tired of filling the dumpster with them. Two, it’s more cost-effective to just refund the money than deal with customers in person. Or three (put on your Tin Foil Conspiracy Hats, please!), they’ve analyzed those returned bras and discovered some sort of nasty chemical presence, and are advising women to throw the bras away so their customers won’t have any evidence to take to a doctor.

Ladies! Hold on to those bras! In fact, go buy more of them! Let’s see if we can figure out which bras are the culprits – a certain fabric? Color? Style? If we have enough of them, we can find a common denominator. So, this is what I intend to do. Go back to my beloved cotton VS bras, partially to see if I can find one that causes the problem and also because I have tried a few other brands, and bottom line is they all suck. The best you can do is find ugly bras that are comfortable. But — who wants to wear an ugly bra? I don’t. The best I could find is JC Penney’s Ambrielle line, and it is tolerable.

So, there’s the irony: We need to buy our VS bras and hang on to the ones that cause the problem. Maybe all of us can find a laboratory willing to receive them to figure out what’s causing the problem.

Oh, one more thing I found out from the allergist is that although there’s no way to figure out which textile chemicals I’m allergic to (well, there probably is a way, but it would be like finding an extremely expensive needle in a haystack), there is a blood test to detect formaldehyde allergy. So, I’m going to go get that, because I still believe that formaldehyde is the issue.

In the end, this rash issue is frustrating, particularly when there is an easy solution: VS could either put warning labels on their bras to alert those with chemical allergies, just like they do with eggs or nuts on food, or they could design a line of clothing made from 100% U.S. grown hypoallergenic cotton. Which I already suggested to them, along with ideas about marketing it and pointed out to them that this is a wide-open market for them. The only hypoallergenic bras on the market are too hideous to wear, unless maybe you’re Amish or something. I would not have them on my body. I’d rather let the girls bounce free than resort to that.

So. Bottom line: If you have “the allergy,” hang on to that bra!! Don’t throw away your only evidence! If you’ve already thrown the bra away or returned it and gotten a refund — go buy another one, and if you don’t react to it, great! But if you do, put that thing in a baggie and contact me!

 

 

 

Women are raped from the day they’re born

Rape is more than the uninvited penetration of a woman’s body by a man. It’s more than being overpowered, abused and shamed. It’s more than the body parts involved, it’s the psychology of it all. When a woman is raped, her very sexuality is raped. It is perverted and contorted into the shape the abuser chooses.

Our very sexuality — raped. Consider that…

In our society, female sexuality itself is overpowered, abused, shamed and, yes, raped from the moment we’re born into the world as “female,” because different rules will be placed upon us based simply and arbitrarily by our chromosomes and genitalia. Actually, sexuality for both sexes is raped from the start, from the moment Baby slaps a hand down on his/her genitals while Mom changes the diaper and pulls that exploring hand away, but it plays out differently. But how it plays out over the long run is so much more insidious and damaging for girls than for boys.

In most families, children are treated differently based upon gender. Girls are discouraged from fighting, boys are discouraged from crying — and it has nothing to do with whether that girl is a tough little scrapper or the boy has a tender, fragile heart. We’re molded into whatever our parents perceive as normal and acceptable, regardless how we feel about it. Step outside that “normal and acceptable” template, and we get reprimanded, punished and shamed. And, that goes double, quadruple even, when it comes to sex.

Childhood rolls along into puberty, and regardless of what Mom and Dad taught us to do or not to do with our bodies, Mother Nature will step in and let youngsters know in an irrefutable way that their bodies have urges and sensations that are difficult, if not impossible, to ignore. In adolescence, however, the visible evidence between boys and girls is different. A boy will see a photo of a girl in a bikini and get a stiffie, and there it is: Front and center and throbbing, and not to be ignored. This is why teenage boys take long “showers” but never seem to be any cleaner for it.

So here’s the thing: Girls get stiffies too. But you can’t see them. It’s undetectable to anyone else, barring a little face flushing and squirming. Teenage girls also take long “showers.” And I’m going to toss the great equalizer right into the spotlight: They say 80 percent of males masturbate. That being the case, I’d guess that 90 percent of females do too. You know all those nerve endings in a big, ole penis? The very same nerve endings are packed into a clitoris — in one 20th the amount of space. The clitoris… she will not be ignored. She will, however, be lied about, because girls are showered in shame for their sexuality, and even more so for taking ownership of it and doing whatever they want with it. This is the root of the whole “Virgin or Whore” polarity.  A woman has two choices — deny her sexuality and be a virgin, and view her genitals as some rare prize that will be gifted to only the most perfect prince, or claim her sexuality and be labeled a harlot. Meanwhile, males are happily getting to know their own sexuality, exploring and discovering as normal sexual beings do, without having to be in the either/or category.

There is no male equivalent for the word “harlot.”

Very telling, isn’t it?

The reason is that exploring sexuality is encouraged for most males and viewed as normal (barring, of course, those whose sexuality has been suffocated by extremely religious parents), while the very same behavior is scorned and shamed in females.

How fucked up is that. Seriously.

Thankfully, we now live in a society where both males and females can explore and discover their bodies and sexuality freely, and have access to protection and birth control. Why NOT find out what amazing sensations can come from that throbbing pole or button that screams for attention? Why the fuck NOT? If God didn’t want us to enjoy our physical bodies, he wouldn’t have created them to be capable of such exquisite pleasure — both male and female. To say that exploring one’s own body is sinful is akin to saying that looking at a blue and pink and peach streak of an incredible orange sun sinking into the ocean on the horizon’s edge is also sinful. We have senses. They are meant to be used and enjoyed. You don’t get a rebate for what you don’t use or enjoy. You just go to your grave missing out on the cumulative pleasure you could have experienced while existing in your one and only trip through this world in the one and only exquisite body you will ever get.

So, this is where we’d arrived in years past — both sexes given a green light to own and enjoy their sexuality, and if the people around you don’t like it — you can move away from them and find a place more in line with your own values and beliefs. Recently, however, I saw a discussion ignite on my very own Facebook wall about the issue of intoxication and “legal consent.” If a man and woman are both intoxicated, and they have sex, the theory is that the woman is incapable of legally consenting to sex, and therefore the man is guilty of rape.

What a bunch of politically correct, hypersensitive victim-mentality bullshit. It’s sexism at its worst! And, this “men bad, women good” thinking erodes true feminism. All men are not bad. All women are not good. And, there is a vast space where those groups intersect. Unless a woman is unconscious or unless she said “no” (in those cases, yes, it’s rape, absolutely), if a guy and a gal tie one on and end up having a wild and crazy night of delicious sex, both are responsible for whatever happens. Transfer this “legal consent” argument to a car. If a woman gets drunk, gets behind the wheel and causes an accident that kills someone else, she is guilty of vehicular manslaughter. No one in their right mind would say that she didn’t legally consent to driving the car, and therefore she is innocent. The law applies to males and females equally. Inebriation does not guarantee innocence — nor does it equate to helpless victimhood.

The other piece of this imbalance is that women, from the moment we’re born, are brainwashed into believing that our genitalia is at the same time priceless and filthy, when in fact, it’s neither. Our genitalia is our genitalia, as our noses are our noses and our ankles are our ankles. This irrational, erroneous hyper-religious garbage we’re saturated in is the real issue, the real crime… the real rape. Brainwashing is psychological rape. It’s the forced penetration of someone else’s will. It’s the injection of something unwanted and uninvited into our most private, sacred space… our very own minds and souls. Unlike physical rape, however, as adults, as we realize the ludicrous self-abasing poison we’ve been force-fed our whole lives, we have the power to put up a protective barrier between what we believe and what others want us to believe. We truly can say “NO.” And put a stop to it. Just like that. We have all the power in the world — we just seem to sit around waiting for someone to give us permission to use it.

Empowering women means lifting them up to an equal level with men — not pulling men down. Everyone rises up to the same level on the game board, everyone has access to all the pieces, and moreover, everyone takes responsibility for where they put those pieces and how they use them. Those who are unable to take responsibility for their choices and actions should stick to taking long showers until they are. Mature, consensual, curious sexuality is about the best fucking thing (redundancy mine) on earth. Great sex is fabuloso-awesome-wonderlosity covered in candy-coated glitter and dripping with caramel honey. On a rollercoaster.

Which actually sounds like fun… and if I did it, yes, I’d own up to it, and not blame it on the tequila. Moreover, I wouldn’t blame it on the guy who bought me the tequila, in a vain attempt to protect myself from layers of multi-generational, cultural and societal shame, over which I feel helpless.

Our entire society needs some sexual healing, and women in particular. We need to de-villainize the human body, especially the female human body, and strip away the centuries of fear and shame, and learn to view our sexual sensations as just one more in the line of taste, touch, sound, smell… just another wonderful thing to enjoy while we explore our existences in our bodies.

Girls, ladies, sisters… you have genitalia. Get over it. It’s no more special than the plumbing the guys have. They aren’t prizes, they’re pussies. Meh. Essentially just another body part. But let me tell you, learning about that body part will be a lot more fun than learning what your knees can do. Enjoy it. Own it. Empower yourself by taking back your own genitalia and your sexuality. You’ve been raped long enough.

Boob Blog: Victoria’s Secret responds to breast rash issue

Those of you who’ve been following the sad saga of rashes that appear to be triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras may be pleased to know that VS is apparently, finally, listening. I was contacted by one of their “external communications” reps, and I was all set to let them know they had a tiger by the tail. Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. It was not only a pleasant, civil discussion, where all sides were heard, but also ended on a note of “how can we make this work for everybody.”

People. How often in life does that happen? Like… never? Maybe the VS reps and I should take a seat at the United Nations and start working on world peace.

For those of you who came late to this party, I’ve been blogging for a couple years about a severe breast rash that I finally figured out was triggered by a particular VS bra, which makes the investigation into the cause very tricky because it’s not all the bras. Only certain ones. One random day, I googled “Victoria’s Secret breast rash,” and bingo: a CBS report on formaldehyde in the fabric. Since my first blog on the topic, testaments have come trickling in at a steady pace from women who had the exact same experience: nipples turning rough like sandpaper, and getting a tissue-like texture, and horrific, irresistible breast rashes that itch like poison oak. Many cannot resist the itch (like myself) and end up bruised and with broken skin.

And then… not knowing what the cause is… we put the bra back on, over broken skin.

The result is UGLY. And definitely not sexy.

A few women have reported this issue with other brands, but 98 percent of the women responding here were VS customers. And here’s the thing: Virtually all of them say they can’t find an acceptable substitute for VS products — they want to go back to VS but are afraid. You can find comfortable things that are ugly and matronly, or cute sexy things that are uncomfortable, flimsy and cheap, but nothing that compares to VS. That is product loyalty, people.

Some women got fired up and suggested a class action suit against VS, and I entertained that thought for awhile myself, but have decided that this approach won’t make anyone happy, except for the lawyers. Lawyers are the bottom-feeders of humanity, and they are perpetually ravenous. They’re essentially prostitutes with law degrees — they’ll blow anybody for a buck. And, in the end, even if a class action suit against VS was successful (the last one wasn’t — the VS lawyers made mincemeat out of the plaintiff), what would it gain in the end for you and me, sister VS loyalists? Forty bucks? Fifty bucks? That’s being overly optimistic. More likely, it would be about $11.75 apiece — don’t spend it all in one place. Meanwhile, the bottom-feeders are fat and happy, gulping down the barracuda’s share of the settlement. At the end of the day, we’d go through all the stress and hassle, just for a little pocket change that won’t even buy a pizza. And more important — still no bras we’re happy with.

Here’s the other thing: Upon further consideration, I’m also realizing that those of us who react so violently to whatever is in some of those bras are a very small minority. We are like those with severe peanut allergies, who could die from eating a drop of peanut butter. So, part of our responsibility is to be aware that we’re allergic, but it would also be nice if garment manufacturers could label products that may contain trace amounts of chemicals that are known allergens for some people — just like they do with products that contain nuts or eggs.

Will that happen? Until someone dies from a breast rash, don’t count on it. That said, while maintaining innocence about textile additives, the VS rep suggested something quite reasonable: Get a skin patch test and find out what I react to, and then they can guide me toward a product that will still work for me. OK, sure. That’s reasonable. I’m willing to play along, because if there is a way to get back into their all-cotton bra (heather gray!), I’ll do it. That is the world’s most perfect bra, and all-cotton ones are hard to find, let alone sexy ones (where I live, it’s 106 degrees today, hence my love of cotton over polyester, which makes sweaty boobs smell like ballsacks — also not sexy).

So, I’m going to line up this skin patch test. I’ll report back after it’s been done, and how things went with VS.

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Seriously! Who would put their boobs in this ghastly thing! AND! It sells for $55.75 at herroom.com. This vile garment is an insult to boobage everywhere. For $55.75, I think VS could do infinitely better.

My other pitch to VS was a new line of products. I told them they’ve pretty much played out the “very sexy” thing. They’ve torn right through that envelope. They’ve done it all. What’s left? Rhinestone encrusted buttplugs and matching cotton candy nipple caps? There’s nowhere left to go with sexy. You know where there is somewhere to go? Comfy. Comfort is the new sexy. As long as it still looks sexy, of course. I suggested they develop a brand new line of bras that are hypoallergenic. It’s an open market. Google hypoallergenic bras and you’ll see bras so heinous, you usually have to be Mormon to wear something that unattractive under your clothes.

So, come on VS, make some all-cotton or all-hemp, 100% natural bras and panties, and if you make them in the good old USofA, that would be even better. There’s even a built-in test group — all the women commenting on this blog. If we don’t react to the product, you are golden. You will make a freakin’ fortune off this line: “Barely Me.” Not only did I hand VS a name for this product on a golden platter, I rattled off about 15 potential product slogans off the top of my head: “This is how sexy feels”… “Sexy is as sexy feels”… Seriously, I can spray this stuff out like a sprinkler set on “genius.” (Somebody hire me to do marketing. Newspapers are a dead end.)

As I was floating all this by the rep and also her assistant who was on speaker phone, she said, chuckling, “Stop! Don’t tell me anything more! If we use them, you’ll say we stole your idea and sue us!”

And I replied, “Oh, I totally will!”

And I would, if Barely Me© comes to a VS shop near you, and I’m not getting compensated. Because, let’s face it — it’s fucking brilliant. BUT: I wouldn’t sue over the formaldehyde, or whatever it is, because given a choice between $11.75 or having my favorite heather gray cotton bras back, I’d rather have the bras.

Fear not, my itchy sisters — ditch Victoria’s Secret and try Ambrielle bras

Not by virtue of any actual plan I set in place, this blog has unofficially become the “Boob Blog” — not as a celebration of our lovely breasts, but because it has become a place where women who have been suffering from mysterious breast rashes have discovered that A) they aren’t alone and B) it’s not a disease — it was their Victoria’s Secret bra.

The cure for the horrid, itchy, unsightly rash is simple: Stop wearing VS bras and see what happens. If your rash clears up… and comes roaring back immediately when you put it on again, it’s the bra.

No, you don’t have some weird form of breast cancer! You can exhale now!

A 2008 ABC news investigation indicated that the source of the issue apparently is formaldehyde in the Chinese-made fabric in some Victoria’s Secret bras. VS, of course, denies all of this, but will take back any rash-inducing bras and give a refund, no questions asked. That’s a LOT of bras returned. I’m sure they know about the issue, but fixing the problem might be interpreted as an admission of culpability, so they just keep selling these bras — yes, even NOW! — and women keep buying them.

Part of the problem, of course, is there’s just nothing else like a VS bra. Many of the women responding and commenting on this blog have verified this. We can find comfortable bras, sure. But… they look dumpy. The cute, sexy ones are cheap or don’t provide great support. Everyone is searching for a satisfactory replacement — it’s the question I’m most often asked — and we’ve all come up empty. (How sad is this… all these loyal customers, and VS isn’t interested in supplying us with a product that doesn’t cause those with a formaldehyde allergy to suffer miserably.)

Well, take heart, my itchy sisters! I think I’ve found something. The line is called “Ambrielle” and has lots of cute styles and a wide range of sizes. The bra is available on the JC Penney website. I followed the fitting directions, and although I was a bit shocked at the result, I gulped and ordered. For a site unseen fitting — not bad! In my opinion, the cup size runs a bit big, but not enough to send it back. Will I order more? You bet!

Another woman who comments on this blog also discovered Ambrielle. She’s been wearing her bra for several weeks, without any rash! I wore my new one all weekend – nothing! We both ordered cotton blend styles.

So, former VS customers… if you’ve been searching for a replacement, maybe we’ve found it! Give Ambrielle a try! You can buy two of their bras for what one VS bra costs!

Introducing the term ‘belly shame’ and destroying it at the same time

I googled “belly shame” recently, and what popped up? A verse from Philippians and stories about pork bellies. No one has coined the term “belly shame” yet? How can this be, given that nearly every American female has it? Maybe we’re so ashamed of our bellies, we can’t even say the words out loud?

Just ask women how they feel about their bellies, and most will wrinkle their nose in discomfort. They won’t even respond with words, and if they do, they’re derogatory. We hate our bellies, to a pathological degree. Why? Because belly shame is drilled into us from childhood.

I was talking with a friend about bellies yesterday, and she told me about going to summer camp as a child. She was sitting in a two-piece bathing suit and another girl pointed to her and said, “Ewww — you have rolls.”

“It was the first time I felt ashamed of my body. Before that, I didn’t know anything was wrong with me.”

She added another salient point: The girl who ridiculed her had already gotten the message that a normal, fleshy belly is disgusting.

My own belly shame began while reading a teen magazine. Sandwiched between a feature on Donny Osmond and a how-to piece on macrame was an article about weight, which declared: “An inch of pinch equals flab.” I pinched. I was flabby times three! I was horrified! I was suddenly physically unacceptable!

I was 12.

And so it begins.

By the time girls become teens, if we succumb to Big Beauty, we’ve accepted that however we’re shaped, it’s wrong. And there’s a product to fix that!

Except it doesn’t.

And we buy it by the caseload anyway.

Ladies, how many times have you seen magazine headlines that scream, “Ban That Belly Fat”? You know why there are so many? Because they sell. It’s not really about bellies. It’s about bucks, and how many belly shaming rakes in.

More recently, round bottoms and ample thighs have become mainstream sexy, and I thank you, my sexy sisters of color, for raising awareness that beauty comes in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Sadly, no one of any color has been able to do the same for bellies. Ghetto booty, yes. Ghetto belly, oh hell no.

I wonder if the source of belly hatred is evolutionary: Maybe our cavemen ancestors avoided thick-waisted females because they were likely already pregnant and therefore poor choices for mates. A tiny waist means fertile ground. A thick waist — maybe not. Maybe men are genetically predisposed to avoid thick-waisted women. Something to think about. Kinda makes sense. Those cavemen who got a rise for round-bellied women didn’t spread their seed any further. They went the way of the pterodactyl.

As for belly fat itself, true too much isn’t healthy. But I’m not talking about a 57-inch apple-shaped person on a path to heart disease. When I say “belly shame,” I mean average, garden variety, normal American females with average, garden variety, normal American bellies.

Women stupidly — yes stupidly! — compare their normal bellies to the perfectly taut, flat abdomens of the professional anorexics on the fashion magazine covers and believe that unless their bellies look like that, they’re fat. You know what? Most of those models don’t have perfect bellies either. They’re the creation of someone sitting at a computer, transforming women into his/her own idea of female perfection.

In other words, those women — those bellies — don’t actually exist, except in a “Plato’s Table” fashion.

Hmmm. “Plato’s Belly.”

Hint: It doesn’t exist.

Belly shame is painful enough on its own, but it’s exaggerated even more after we have babies. Except for a rare, lucky few, our bellies are never the same after we give birth. They’re plumper. They sag. The muscles are stretched and no matter how many crunches we do, our abs never look the same as before. Some of us have caesarian scars. Most of us have stretch marks — and, a thousand crunches a day won’t change that.

Most women look at their stretch marks and feel despair. The notion of wearing a bikini is abandoned, and we suddenly prefer sex with the lights out. We see flaws rather than the symbols of how our bellies got that way: by carrying and birthing the babies we love more than our next breath.

An interesting movement exploded onto social media via Instagram recently: “Love Your Lines.” It’s helping women to not only accept, but be proud of their stretch marks. Women are starting to push back against the “stretch marks = ugly” meme. If we can learn to “love our lines,” could we also learn to love our bellies?

Mother’s Day is next Sunday. How about taking the day to do some self-mothering and reject our belly shame? Begin by replacing your negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones. First, stand in front of the mirror and just look at your bare belly. (I bet you’re squirm already. How sad is that?) Cradle your belly, like the famous Gaia statue created by Oberon Zell, and for every negative thought you have, say to yourself — out loud, so your brain hears it —“Beautiful belly.” Rinse and repeat.

If your belly shows the saggy, striped signs of having carried children, here’s another mantra: “I love my kids.” Recall your love for your children, really feel it in your heart, and transfer it to the visible signs of having carried them. Channel that pure, sweet love right onto your belly. Your scars. Your stretch marks. Feel the love there. Trust me, that infusion of self-love will feel infinitely more wonderful than your lifetime of belly shame.

We women still have some work to do. We’ve reclaimed our sexuality via birth control. We’ve made strides in equal rights, voting, education, employment and finances. We’ve cleared these external hurdles, but still stumble over the internal ones — the ones that erode our self-esteem.

Let’s use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to reclaim our self-esteem, beginning with our bellies. Reject Big Beauty. Reclaim your beautiful belly. It’s fine just the way it is. Don’t be the one who tells you otherwise.

#NoMoreBellyShame

gaia-millenial-full-TG-MGS

This Gaia statue was created by Oberon Zell, and can be found on GoddessGifts.com, as well as many other outlets.

Women still having allergic reactions to Victoria’s Secret bras

Check out this comment posted on one of my “boob blogs” just yesterday:

My 13 year old daughter purchased a VS bra. Three weeks ago with her own money — $40. About that time she started getting welts/hives periodically across her back and chest and up her neck. Couldn’t figure it out. Went to the allergist. Nothing positive. Tonight she was getting dressed. Within 2 minutes I watched these long red welts covering her. She’s the one that said I think it’s the bra. She took it off and 20 minutes later they were gone. So happy to find this posting. She has no receipt or tags but I personally am going to try to get a refund.

The really frustrating thing, beyond the fact that this was a 13-year-old girl, is that whatever is causing these allergic reactions (formaldehyde is the leading suspect), Victoria’s Secret still isn’t slowing down with sales of these harmful products. They’re still making their products, still selling them, and still not (at the very least!!) putting a warning label on their product to alert those who are sensitive to formaldehyde that this product contains trace amounts.

True, most women don’t react to trace amounts of formaldehyde. But many do. Go through the “boob blogs” on this website, and read all the personal stories of horrific, agonizing rashes and welts triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras specifically. The stories aren’t coming in about other brands…. just Victoria’s Secret.

Of course the simplest answer would be to stop having their product manufactured in China, where consumer safety is a joke, or simply demand that all fabric used to create the bras must be COMPLETELY formaldehyde free — no trace amounts, no nothin’.

Should you find yourself tempted by Victoria’s Secret’s lovely products (which is the really sad part — all the women who are allergic to their bras love the product and none have reported finding an acceptable substitute), check the label. If it’s made in China, don’t buy it. Period.

No matter how sexy and slinky it is, no matter how good it makes you look… there is nothing sexy or slinky about huge red welts all over your breasts and rough patches all over your nipples. There is nothing sexy or slinky about squirming around at work or school trying not to scratch yourself as if your chest is covered in poison oak. And, there is nothing sexy or slinky about being consumed with anxiety because you think you may have some weird form of breast cancer or some other mysterious disease because no matter what you do, the itching and welts won’t go away.

Until you take the Victoria’s Secret bra off.

Is formaldehyde Victoria’s biggest Secret?

October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s the perfect time to talk about boobies, or more specifically, things that harm them. Like our bras.

In May 2013, I wrote about a horrific rash I kept getting on my breasts, and over time realized that it reoccurred every time I wore a particular Victoria’s Secret bra. I googled around and discovered other women reporting the same thing, as far back as 2008. The culprit? Formaldehyde in the fabric. The problem began when Victoria’s Secret switched from an Indian manufacturer to a Chinese one. Women who wore their product for years suddenly started having reactions. Like myself, they didn’t initially suspect a product they’d been wearing for years without incident.

But, little by little, I figured it out: Stop wearing the bra, and the rash gradually subsides. Put it back on, and it comes screaming back.

It’s the bra.

As for the rash, it’s not just any rash. It itches like poison oak or chicken pox. You can’t NOT scratch it, which causes welts, bruises, broken skin, and even then… you can’t stop scratching.

A lawsuit was filed over the issue (Roberta Ritter v, Victoria’s Secret Stores, Inc., et al, Case No: CV 08 659494) but Victoria’s Secret and its parent company, L Brands, having deep pockets for legal protection, and convinced the plaintiff to drop the lawsuit. Their lawyer’s statement is posted on the L Brands website (follow the links under “Our Bras Are Safe”). The lawyer states that formaldehyde at less that 20 parts per million (ppm) means a product is legally “formaldehyde-free,” therefore declaring that VS products are “formaldehyde-free” because they’re within the legal range.

The remainder of the statement focuses on denigrating Roberta Ritter. Blame the victim, blame the plaintiff — same diff.

On the L Brands website, under “Do your bras contain formaldehyde,” is this statement: “Victoria’s Secret does not add formaldehyde to its bras…”

But: It doesn’t say that formaldehyde isn’t already in the fabric before being purchased to make the bras.

“… and multiple, independent tests confirm that Victoria’s Secret bras are formaldehyde-free or contain only traces which are significantly lower than allowed by the most stringent textile guidelines in the world…”

“Or.” Or! Is formaldehyde there or not? It can’t be both. Unless you’re a lawyer.

“…Dermatologists and various authorities all confirm that even those individuals who are allergic to formaldehyde would not have a reaction at this low level.”

Really.

I have a few “various authorities” who beg to differ.

Since I began writing about VS bra rashes here on this blog, women came out of the woodwork reporting the same horrific rash associated with VS bras exclusively. Most disturbing — their complaints are current. The bras are still on the shelves. Even though Victoria’s Secret knows their products may cause excruciating discomfort to some of their customers — they’re still selling them. And of course they are! Removing ALL the formaldehyde from their products now would be acknowledging the problem!

As for the reliability of the lab results on the formaldehyde content of VS bras, I’m skeptical. Not all the bras cause a rash. I still wear some of my VS bras with no problems. The only one that caused the rash was the 100 percent cotton bra in heather gray. Beige or black — no problem. Only the gray. Others also report that the rash only occurs with a particular style of VS bra. With hundreds of bra styles in hundreds of colors, unless they’re all tested, as far as I’m concerned, the lab results are meaningless.

On my blog, I advise women to put those bras in a ziplock bag for evidence, to see their doctors and get the diagnosis of “allergic contact dermatitis” documented, and to take photos of the rashes. Since no lawyers seem to be interested in this case, I’m hoping a government agency will take notice. The issue of formaldehyde in fabric is much larger than simple breast rashes. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, recognized by both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. Could formaldehyde in bras, to which our breasts are regularly exposed, contribute to breast cancer? Don’t you think it’s time someone found out? Maybe those of us who react to formaldehyde are lucky. We take the bras off. Those who keep wearing them are being exposed to formaldehyde every day.

So far, I’ve contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was no help. They said the bra itself didn’t cause the injury, the chemical did, and referred me to the Environmental Protection Agency. Both phone numbers they gave me connected elsewhere. One was some unidentified entity offering Walmart gift cards for only $1.99, and to “have your credit card ready.”

Great. Our federal government at work. But who else is there to turn to?

Yes, I hit some dead ends, but I’ll keep searching for the needle in the governmental haystack responsible for monitoring chemicals in fabrics. I’ll lobby for another look at “acceptable” amounts of formaldehyde in fabrics. If you’re allergic to formaldehyde, the “acceptable” amount is zero. If the product contains formaldehyde, it should have a warning label, just like products containing eggs, peanuts or dairy.

There’s the real irony — despite the misery their product has caused, VS customers would come running back if the products containing formaldehyde were labeled so we could purchase something else. We can’t find another product we like as much.

The simple solution would be for Victoria’s Secret to use truly — not legally — formaldehyde-free fabric. Sadly, Victoria’s Secret would rather lose our business than admit there’s a problem. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. Since I began blogging about this, and googling “Victoria’s Secret bra rash” shows a link to my blogs with many women reporting the same problem, Victoria’s Secret started paying attention. They follow me on Twitter. And I rather doubt it’s because they love tweets about my cats.

 

Why I left yoga (and why I think a helluva lot of people are being duped)

This is thoughtful and insightful commentary on what’s happening in the yoga world today, and hits all the points of why I prefer to practice yoga at home, alone. That said… I have attended those clothing optional Tantra couples workshops, and found them to be life-altering and deeply valuable. And yet, I can see at the edges… there is a lot of money being made.
I really appreciate this writer’s detailing of the various cultures and regions in India, as well as her exasperation that Americans paint the entire country and culture with one brush.

The Shift Has Hit The Fan

Like millions of Westerners out there, I too joined the yoga bandwagon about eight years ago after trying out my first Bikram class, moving on to Moksha and then settled at a hot yoga studio which practices all types of yoga in a hot space.

I too fell in love with how yoga made my body feel after a particularly tough workout.

I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice.

And, finally I too got burned out by the practice, disillusioned and at times, even disgusted at the people who I thought should be setting an example to the rest of us but turns out that they are even more messed up than you realize and the yoga was just an effective cloak to hide their true nature and personalities.

For me, it was and always will be the health benefits of yoga which attracted me and still…

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The Boob Blog: women still reporting breast rashes from Victoria’s Secret bras

To my astonishment, this topic is STILL a concern amongst women, who are telling me that bras they JUST purchased from Victoria’s Secret are still causing horrible rashes and blisters.

Debra DeAngelo

At the risk of this becoming the Boob Blog, I must shine a light once again on the rashes reported by Victoria’s Secret customers. Despite the fact that Victoria’s Secret knows full well that many of their bras contain formaldehyde, they continue to produce the contaminated and damaging product. I started writing about this topic more than a year ago, and women are STILL popping up on this blog, reporting horrendous rashes and welts, and irresistible itching.

The issue of breast rashes and the connection to Victoria’s Secret first arose in 2008. It is now 2014. Clearly, Victoria’s Secret simply doesn’t care that their product hurts women. Clearly, they’re continuing to make mountains of money off products that, although lovely, let’s face it — are ridiculously overpriced, and we continue to buy because we like them that much and nothing else comes close. But once you’ve had the rash…

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