Thursday, April 22, 2010

That Girl's Not Fat: She's Big-Boned

“Heaven’s, no. That girl isn’t fat. She’s big-boned.” -Helen Wilmer

Do I dare do it? The topic is kind of scary. Actually it can sometimes be taboo. But I’m going to go for it because…well…because I have to for me, you and the girls in Girls on the Run.


Yep that’s right. And while we’re at it, let’s admit it. Obesity is the politically correct way to say fat. At Girls on the Run I’ve avoided the conversation because just the mere mention of the word “fat” can wreak havoc on a woman’s sense of worth.

Fat. There I said it. And it didn’t feel very good, either.

Merely a descriptive word, an adjective, fat is perhaps one of the most dreaded words in the English language. (As a matter of fact, in a survey recently conducted by the Girl Scouts of America, the numero uno fear of girls wasn’t nuclear war, their parents getting divorced or even bullying. Nope! It was getting fat.)

Even the mere mention of the word “fat” has become taboo.

“Shhh. Don’t call her fat. She isn’t fat she’s “Chunky.” “Big-boned.” “Strong.” “A Big Girl.” We are terrified of the word because of the shaming stories our culture tells about it and the people who are.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. I’ve met many, many beautiful young girls. Inevitably we get around to discussing the importance of being “comfortable in our skin.”

“What do you think it means, to be comfortable in your skin?” I always ask.

The wisdom of 8 years olds always amazes me:

“To feel good about who you are.”

“Loving yourself.”

“It’s good to like yourself just the way you are.”

“To feel safe with your thoughts.”

So, to honor all those fabulous girls…yes all 62,000 of them that last year Girls on the Run had the privilege to share time with, I’d like to introduce an approach to the “obesity epidemic” that those fabulous girls…yes all 62,000 of them…have introduced to me.

I call it the “Just IS It” approach. (Trust me…just say it out loud and that alone will bring a smile to your face.)

Do this sometime. Watch an 8 year old girl. She floats. She runs. She twirls. She naturally moves through space with a flav-ahhhh (yes say it like that, for added impact) that is wonderfully and fabulously all her own.

Children this age are still very much surprised by their bodies and the amazing things they can do. They love to dance, jump and skip, totally uninhibited. They are surprised when they successfully pull off a double turn and successfully land on both feet. “See? Did you see what I just did?” They move through space with a sparkle in their eye--a curiosity to see, feel and experience the space around them.

They are perfectly content with themselves and the minute they are in. Eight year olds are just so darn good at “is-ing.”

I consider the challenges I’ve faced over the years seeking that kind of peace with myself. Somewhere around sixth grade I forgot how to “is”—to be content just being who I am.

The Girl Box didn’t help. Over the years our Girl Box culture reinforced the made-up notion that peace comes from somewhere outside oneself.

“Buy this, try this, use this and then you will feel good.”

Well, go figure. I don’t know a single 8 year old girl who spends much time thinking about the kind of car she drives, the fullness of her lips or her hips or the size of her bank account or breasts. These have all just been distractions, a crazy kind of obsession with the external…distractions that have kept me from what really matters, like loving, feeling the sun on my face and dancing in the living room with my fourteen year old son, Hank.

One little girl put it so succinctly several years ago. Think of your body as some kind of fabulous little sports car…or if you prefer a hybrid, a stretch limo or in my case, a small fuel-efficient, powerful get-around-kind-of-economy-car.

Riding around inside that skin (car) YOU are in, is the BIG YOU…the unique you that is big, bold and beautiful! Nourishing, fueling and taking care of the vehicle (body) that houses that fabulous YOU allows your body to stick around long enough so that the YOU riding around in there actually has time enough to dance, enjoy life, love, evolve and as our children do so well…“is”!

Get it? We are not concerned with physical fitness because we want to look a certain way.

We do it to nourish, fuel and love our bodies so that the BIG YOU on the inside, has the ability to thrive, flourish and find its way out into the world before the body can no longer sustain itself.

Healthy weight management is a very complex issue in a culture that focuses on the external.

The physical way we, particularly women, show up in the world is often a determinant of our “success” in the world. But I’m convinced that Girls on the Run is onto something. The more opportunities we provide for girls and women (heck ALL people) to focus on, celebrate and honor the BIG YOU resting within…right there on the inside…the better care we naturally end up giving to the outside. The more time we spend using words which celebrate and create safe spaces to honor WHO WE REALLY ARE, the less time we spend shaming, judging or damaging the bodies that house them. The shift in focus to the beauty within really does create a beautiful “without.”

So today…consider the following question. How will you nourish, fuel and care for the skin you’re in, so your big, bold and bodacious YOU can get out into the world? How will you implement the “Just Is It” body plan?!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Muscular Empathy

(Photo from To learn more about their amazing work visit their website.)

I want you to meet a new friend of mine. His name is Bill Drayton.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Bill the last several days at the Ashoka Future Forum. ( Bill is the Founder of Ashoka.

On Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with Bill, several other Ashoka Fellows and staff and some fabulous folks from the Knight Foundation. (

The topic was empathy.

Bill Drayton founded Ashoka 30 years ago. Ashoka supports the work of social entrepreneurs from across the globe. Bill believes, as do I, that a big idea in the hands of a social entrepreneur can literally transform the world. Instead of fixing what is broken, a social entrepreneur creates something new altogether. Currently Ashoka has supported, inspired and connected approximately 2000 fellows. I am fortunate enough to be one of those.

Thirty years of carefully examining the connections that bind us, one to the other, has led Bill to see how empathy is the one significant thread that weaves its way through the tapestry of all of the fellows’ works. Every Ashoka fellow is gifted with the ability to view multiple perspectives…to see through the lens of another…to walk in someone else shoes and in my words…love deeply, authentically and wholly.

I was moved several times in the middle of that meeting, but at one point I could no longer contain my tears. I was as present as I’ve ever been.

I realize that my entire life has been focused on elevating the power of the feminine. (The feminine can be honored and held by both women AND men). Tuesday afternoon,I participated in a dialogue where nine very influential men and women understood that power. A part of me rejoiced in knowing that from the spheres of influence seated at that table, something grand was happening. Something grand IS happening.

At last the power of empathy, compassion and love are, indeed, rising up to a new level of awareness across all sub-groups of our world, including the world of men

Bill Drayton is leading that crusade.

I've often felt like a bull in a china shop trying to force empathy, love and compassion on the power-elite...and have known all along that forcing these concepts on anyone will never work. Yesterday I saw and FELT the power of empathy at work in the room and know that as long as we all hang onto IT…as long as we unabashedly claim it as our own and as a driving force behind the work that we do, we will be living the very thing that will bring about the shift we are looking for. In theory, (my idealism is talking now) not only will individuals be at peace with themselves and their neighbors, but so too will nations. As Gandhi said..."Be the change."

And so, today I honor the men, Bill Drayton included, who are willing to talk, live and practice empathy. I am going to intentionally recognize and express my gratitude to the men in my life who so openly share their love, compassion and tenderness with those around them.

As a reminder of the power of empathy, I find myself needing to re-tell, re-mind and re-honor this father…this man who so epitomizes the power of “muscular empathy” a phrase we coined during that meeting. So here goes...this one's for Bill.

His name is Paul. He is 39 years old. A handsome professional man, Paul drives a BMW and wears custom suits with starched crisp white button-down shirts. He is respected and reserved. Yet little known to his friends is the hell in which he has lived. You see, 8 years ago his wife, his life partner and best friend died. She died giving birth to their daughter Shelby.

Shelby’s entrance into this world wasn’t easy. For hours, over 20 innocent and vulnerable hours, Shelby and her mom worked tirelessly to take her from the warm safe waters of her mother’s womb to this world. So when Shelby was finally lifted into this world, her mother went on to the next.

Paul’s world isn’t what he had expected: the crisp starch of his collar, the million-dollar home and a daughter, who looked like every other 8-year old, but had the intellectual and conceptual understanding of a 4-year old.

His life felt like hell. It’s hard work being a single Daddy with a developmentally delayed little girl. Every morning as he would gently brush her hair, Shelby would tell him stories--stories that break a father’s heart. Stories of how she is afraid to speak sometimes, because the other students at her school make fun of her. Stories of how they call her dummy or generally disregard her as anything, but a nuisance. Paul didn’t know what else to do and so when the Girls on the Run brochure floated home in her book bag, he enrolled her. Shelby’s spirit soared at Girls on the Run. Her teammates understood her uniqueness and accepted her not in spite of it, but because of it.

Over the program-weeks, Shelby had come to trust her teammates. They weren’t like the other girls at school. They didn’t make fun of her. They wrapped their little souls around her and walked her through the Girls on the Run games and activities. The Girls on the Run girls were different. They listened to her when she had something to say and they saw the humanness of her. They valued her for who she was.

On this particular day, Shelby was running in her first Girls on the Run 5k and her father was there to see her. I stood at the finish line cheering clapping and high-fiving girls as they crossed that finish line. One hour later every girl had finished. “No wait,” the police escort informed us. There is one more little girl. And so while most folks had moved on to the after-party in the nearby park a handful of us waited.

When off in the distance I saw a little figure walking, as if on a mission. Her arms pumping beside her like pistons. Her blonde pigtails flopped on either side. Her coaches were beside her, smiling and crying. Slowly word spread that Shelby was finishing and one by one folks returned to the finish line. As Shelby made her way up that last stretch of road, hundreds of people ran to take their place roadside.

The momentum was building and then as if directed to do so I looked to my right and there dead center in the finish line stood Paul. His starched shirt, khaki pants and polished loafers. His hair was perfectly placed. Shelby’s jacket was neatly draped across his left arm.

The man was stoic, reserved, empty eyed… and alone.

And then without warning, this man, this brave, brave man dropped to his knees…Shelby’s coat falling to the asphalt below…and with wild abandon, he lifted his arms to the heavens above and wept from the depths of his soul. Tears were flowing down his cheeks to the earth below, like small blessings on the path of his daughter’s approaching feet.

I won’t ever be able to shake the image of this man as he fell to his knees, surrendering his pain, revealing his willingness to shed the external armor of a man trapped in the box of cultural success and apathy, to expose his soul, his core, his vulnerabilities. To welcome his little girl, Shelby, as she ran to him, there at the finish line. Welcome her with his arms around her small body. Welcome her to this new life, this new heaven, the one in which they could inhabit peacefully together.

Running is no longer a means to an end, but a powerful metaphor for what could be.

Empathy, Hope. Joy. Determination. Compassion. Strength and of course the greatest of these…Love.

And so…please, I I need…. the hope that each of you possess. Send me your stories of those men in your life…who have empathetically given, revealed and lived love. Let’s honor them. Now, in this space, this time and invite them to share themselves with the world of Girls on the Run.