Foreword by Babette Maxwell, Founder and Executive Editor
Stereotypes suck. And, I don’t mean a little. They suck a lot. They especially suck when they come from within the very group of people upon whom you depend the most. Lots of what is a challenge in our own community comes from within… sometimes? We are our own worst enemy. Before you read on, and put yourself into the very sweaty size 8 gym shoes of my fellow military spouse, friend and colleague, Erin, remember these things:
We’ve spent decades telling people we DO NOT wear rank. Our husband’s or otherwise.
We have insisted publically and privately that we are NOT what is assumed about us.
We have broken every barrier, every road block and glass ceiling in our collective lives to MAKE it better for ourselves. Think Oprah, Think “America’s Got Talent”, Think CNN and FOX News, Think GMA. Think MSJDN, MSEI, and many others. And, that was just this year.
So, when we find material about how our actions, the way we dress, the way we might look in a single snapshot of our day somehow negatively impacts our spouse’s careers…well, that’s just plain garbage (actual word redacted for delicate ears).
Remember, you don’t know what’s happening in another’s life, you don’t know what led up to this “snapshot” you are witnessing, you don’t know where they just came from or where they are going, but you should check your gavel at the door. I don’t think any of us would welcome the worse moment of our day, that moment where everything is colliding, defining what and who we are indefinitely.
Instead of thinking “What kind of military wife does THAT?”, or “I can’t believe she came to the store wearing XX!” Perhaps shift your thought process to “I bet she’s losing weight so her Rheumatoid Arthritis doesn’t keep her from taking her baby to the park” or “I bet she’s trying to get her health under control after multiple surgeries.”
Instead of assuming the worst? Try assuming the BEST. At the very least you should ask “Why?” “Why might she look like that?”, “Why….?”
Chances are you’ll be right more often.
I’m Fat, and My Husbands Military Career is Just Fine
by: Erin Whitehead, Digital Editor and Military Spouse
The baby was almost out of diapers tonight, so on my way home I stopped by a local grocery store to grab some. On my way into the store I saw a friend and her baby, stopped to say hello then made my way through the store. As I was passing a glass case near frozen foods, I caught my reflection and cringed. Ugh. I looked terrible. There I was, in public, with my tight yoga capris, my hair thrown into a sweaty ponytail, no makeup on, and wearing what folks in the south affectionately refer to as a “wife beater” tank top that is too big so my bra straps are hanging out all over the place. I immediately thought of recent chatter that I have seen online about military wives… about how many of them are fat, lazy, unkempt, have no pride in their appearance and how it can reflect poorly on their husbands military career in one way or another. In that moment I was a bit ashamed of my appearance.
Let’s be honest. This “chatter” about fat, lazy military wives is nothing new. I haven’t seen any discussion about fat, lazy military husbands online… but give all those pages and sites dedicated to “spouse shaming” some time… they will catch on and learn to include the guys too. I would like to say that these stereotypes are so old they are boring me…but the vitriol surrounding military wives seems to be getting worse all the time. More disturbing? Many times it is coming from our own community. You have all heard them; we are fat and lazy, we don’t have our own identity, we wear our husbands rank, we are all in it for the money and the coach purses, we have a sense of entitlement… the list goes on and on. Perhaps because it is my job to be intimately familiar with the needs and concerns of our community, I see more of it than most. And honestly, because I hear a lot and put myself out there for criticism on a weekly basis… I have pretty tough skin. So, it surprised me that I was affected by the sight of my own appearance… and actually questioned if I was, in fact, poorly representing myself and my husband in some way by walking into that store. The words of strangers making judgments online had gotten to me.
For just a moment.
Then, I blinked and my brain kicked in. You know WHY I was in the grocery store looking like hell on a Sunday night? Because I had just come from my CrossFit gym where I had gone in on my rest day to make-up fitness testing and had just set a personal record when I deadlifted 168 pounds. Why was I making up my testing in the gym on my rest day? Because I missed testing when I was recently in New York City performing on the biggest stage in America on a nationally televised program; fake eyelashes glued on, hair styled by the pros, a customized dress taped to my body to ensure no Janet Jackson moments, and more make-up than you can shake a stick at. But to look at me in the grocery store tonight, unless you knew me… you might assume something very different.
And, well, you know what they say about using that “ASS-U-ME” word, don’t you?
At that moment my shame quickly shifted. I was no longer ashamed of my appearance, but ashamed that I, for one second, allowed people on the internet to make me second guess myself. People who, given the opportunity, would probably never DARE to say the things out loud that they so freely spout off behind the protection of their computer screen. People who do not know a single thing about me, or 99% of the wives they feel entitled to criticize. People who, if we are being honest, probably have tons of their own demons which can be tucked away when they are focusing their hatred and opinions on someone else.
Judgment. It’s a funny thing. On one hand, it really irks me to see anyone make a negative judgment on another person when they have no idea what is going on in that person’s life. On the other hand, I know that every single person is guilty of judging others… and to some extent we have to. When you are walking out to a parking lot and someone pulls their car up next to you and follows you slowly, you are probably going to make a judgment about their intentions. If a waitress is being overly flirtatious with your husband, you are more than likely going to make a judgment about her intentions. When you meet your daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, I can promise you that judgments about his intentions will fly into your brain. Some call that intuition… but it is really judgment, based on physical and verbal cues, our own life experiences and our current life situation.
So, if we all do it, then what is the problem with judgments people make on military spouses? Well, it’s not the judgments that are the problem. It is opening our mouth (or laptop, or smart phone) and screaming those judgments at other people… perpetuating a culture of drama, gossip and negativity in the military spouse community.
If you don’t have anything nice to say…
Does this mean we can’t have discussions about things that seem to be a problem within our community? Absolutely not. But it does mean that there is a better way to go about it. A supportive, compassionate way to go about things that might actually help make things better in the long run.
I have been very honest about my struggle with weight loss and physical fitness. If you haven’t read it yet, go check out my article “Fat Girl at the Gym” for more background. I am fat. In fact, I am still considered clinically obese by medical standards. And here is the newsflash of the day… it has in no way impacted my husband’s career in the Marine Corps. Now, I won’t tell you that I am happy in my skin, that no matter my size I am confident and love myself or that I am okay with the way I look. Because that would be a lie. I hate being fat, and have hated it my entire adult life. I promise you, there is not one single negative thing anyone can say about me that I have not, over the years, said to myself.
I have an addiction to food. I use it to medicate myself, reward myself… sometimes just because it is Tuesday. I have had this addiction my entire adult life (and then some) which means over 20 years. I am starting to make changes, but fall off the wagon frequently. There are still some days when the only thing that will make things right is a Little Debbie (cause to be honest I don’t think I have actually ever seen a bon-bon… what in the world are those anyway?)… and then I hate myself for not going for a walk instead. I may never, ever beat this addiction to food. Imagine being addicted to heroin, and trying to quit… but still having to shoot up just a little bit of it every single day.
But to hear the folks online talk, I am obese because I got lucky and conned some military man into marrying me and then decided to sit on my couch and get fat, taking his paycheck and stuffing my face with pastries while watching soap operas all day as the CDC takes care of my kids. According to these opinionated folks, being fat is a decision, and not being fat is as simple as getting off the couch, running and changing what you put into your mouth. If they can find the time to go to the gym and eat well, then so can I and I must not really want to be healthy. My husband is probably ashamed of me, so I must be really good in bed because what other reason would a physically fit Marine have to stay faithfully married to a pig like myself for 14 years? Furthermore, if I am cooking food that makes me fat, then my husband (who apparently lacks any self-control or discipline) will eventually suffer too by gaining weight. His work environment must suffer, you know with all of the embarrassment surrounding having such a lazy slob as a wife. How can he be a good Marine if he can’t even get his house in order and make his wife shape-up?
Think that paragraph was harsh? Do not Google “Dependasaurus”. Trust me.
I don’t know if folks think that a little “tough love” is in order and that perhaps by saying these things they are helping. I do know that does not work. I do know that in order to lose weight, get fit, or beat an addiction… you must do it for you. I do know that understanding and compassion go a hell of a lot further than bullying.
So the next time you see a military spouse at the pool, or the commissary, or a homecoming celebration… and your brain starts judging her on her appearance, or her weight, or how flabby her rear end appears… instead of spouting your assumptions about that person online, perhaps you would be better suited to go introduce yourself to that wife and learn a little about her life. You might just be surprised to learn that “fat, lazy wife” has a PHD, is a marathon runner, was a pageant Queen who came down with a life-altering disease, makes more than her husband, just spoke to Congress, or sits up late at night after beating her previous record on a deadlift by 73 pounds… to write a piece like this.
Then, you might have something intelligent and useful to add to the conversation…