All the Comebacks We’ll Never Say

TRIGGER WARNING: I’m going to talk about verbal abuse.

So I don’t know if you got a chance to see this, but it’s pretty awesome. Chelsea Handler lays a stupid kind of mean spirited fat joke on Andy Richter and BOOM, he comes back with an amazing zinger that not only puts Chelsea in her place, but gets Conan laughing his fool head off. If you haven’t clicked on the video click at the top of the page yet, go click it. I’ll wait.

See??? BOOM! I mean, don’t you wish you could come back like this when somebody says something mean or stupid or obliquely snide to you about the size of your body? I wish I could. Usually I do, in my head, 20 minutes later. In the moment however, I don’t often come up with something wonderful and witty to say. I guess now, even after it’s happened to me and all my friends and colleagues so many times, I am still surprised. Afterwards I’m not surprised at all. But in the moment, especially when a complete stranger decides to comment on my body, there’s often that moment of shock. I’m not talking about when people make rude comments to each other about me so I can hear them, or make obnoxious mooing sounds, or shout things across the street. I’m talking about when people confront me directly and say mean, stupid or downright horrible things. There is still a moment of shock. Still a feeling of violation. I feel it in my body like a punch to the gut. And often I’m standing there, mouth flapping open and closed like a recently caught fish wondering WHY a person who doesn’t know me, who has no reason to hate me just threw verbal poo at my head. Sometimes I am able to recover sufficiently to say something reasonably intelligent, and sometimes I just walk away shaking my head. But it’s safe to say, I’m almost never as quick on my feet as good old Andy Richter up there.

Now I am a professional speaker. I have had extensive training in speaking off the cuff. I’ve studied improvisational theater. So I often feel I should have been come up with something witty to say. And so the verbal beating I have taken from a complete stranger is often followed by me beating myself up for not handling the situation better. I find myself, after the fact, reliving the confrontation, calculating and discarding dozens of “comebacks” or “burns” I should have used and feeling battered and miserable.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know. I want to share that even though I’ve been in the space of body love and size acceptance for decades, and even though I’ve been in public debates and had speech training and have given literally hundreds of public talks, I don’t always have a witty comeback when somebody publicly attacks me. I’m telling you this because I am trying to learn to focus my anger where it belongs–not at myself for failing to “burn” somebody who is mean to me, but at the person who was being mean to me! I tell you this, because you may be one of the millions of other people in this world who do not have a witty comeback ready when somebody is mean to you. And I want you to know that’s okay. We all love the fact that Andy Richter can come back at Chelsea that way. We cheer because he does something we all wish we could do in the moment that somebody is mean to us–execute the perfect, 10-point, sustained audience laughter burn. But I want to suggest that we can appreciate Andy’s talent while at the same time relieving ourselves of the responsibility to be him.  And I want to suggest that maybe instead of beating ourselves up for not being funny in the face of cruelty, we should focus our anger outwards and self care and love inwards.  Just a thought.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Hey! Don’t “Shop” My Kid!

The girls of South Park learn about Photoshop.

Mahli had always been told that the birthmark on the side of her neck was a “beauty mark”.  So when the photos came back with the birthmark erased, Mahli was very upset.  As if an important part of her were taken away.  Unfortunately just like learning about Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Stork, at some point in our lives we need to learn about Photoshop.  But Mahli had a good excuse for not understanding.  Because Mahli was only six years old.

Mahli and her family learned the harsh realities of the alternate Photoshop universe when her school pictures came in.  Mahli’s picture was digitally retouched by the school photo company to remove the young girl’s birthmark.  They also digitally changed the color of her bow and removed a little snot off her face.  All of this was done without the parents’ permission.

“I don’t want a perfect photo,” said Mahli’s mum, “I want a photo of my perfect child.  It’s her first school photo from primary school, and that’s kindergarten gone.”

Now some of you might be thinking, “Big deal!  Photos are altered all the time.  My 10-year-old nephew is brilliant at it!”

But it is a big deal.  Mahli’s parents had spent time carefully teaching her daughter that her birthmark was part of her.  That it was part of what made her special and beautiful.  Mahli had learned that this was a part of her that she need not be ashamed of or hide.  And then the photos come back with that part of her erased.  What message does that send to a little kid?  Suddenly, that part of her has been digitally removed as if it was too terrible to be seen by the public.  Suddenly she learns that the wider world has different standards than her parents taught her.  And that from now on, any images of Mahli that are for public consumption, must be changed to present an acceptably homogenized view free from “blemishes”, “uninspired fashion choices” or even the “odd accidental booger”.  Because it’s not important who you are, it is only important how you appear in the yearbook, or daddy’s wallet or grandma’s social media feed.

Mahli’s mother is not having it.

“We’re very concerned about what that’s doing to her body image. When she’s 18 how is she going to feel when she looks at that photo and she still has the birthmark but the photo doesn’t?

“Why instill in a six-year-old that she needs to have a complex about what she looks like?

“She’s not doing a fashion shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine, she’s having her photo taken for the family album.”

These are very good questions indeed.  I’ve seen a  lot of commentary online blaming the school and the photo company.  Some have even noted that while Mahli has been honored for respecting others and their things, the school and the photo company didn’t afford her the same courtesy.   But the company that altered these photos without permission (Academy School Photography and Production) surely didn’t just digitally alter this one photo.  Undoubtedly they have retouched many, many school photos, probably for years.  And nobody seemed to complain.  In fact, they probably found that when the photos were retouched, the parents BOUGHT MORE PICTURES.  Academy School Photography and Production is a business.  They would not engage in a time consuming and expensive process unless the net result were more sales.

It’s pretty easy to see how it happens.  Any schoolteacher can tell you that no matter how carefully you prep your little darlings for school photo day, by the time the kids arrive in line to be immortalized on photo day, things have probably gone seriously awry.  Hair is mussed.  Shirts are stained.  Faces are smudged.  A little hair straightening here, a little teeth cleaning there, a little spot removal and voila!  The kid in the photo looks the angel that walked out the door in the morning.  And thus sales go up.  Ah and if a little extra alterations, a few pounds shaved, a few freckles removed, eyes brightened and all that jazz help the parents maintain an illusion that their kid is “perfect” and “media ready” so much the better.  Sales go up and up.  And that comes down to the parents.  Unless parents insist on raw, unaltered photos.  Unless they refuse to buy pictures that have their kids prettied up in post, this process will continue.  Parents need to make a stink about this process.  Not just one parent who tried extra hard to instill body love in her little girl–all parents need to say something.

Because what is at stake here is not just a school photo or a beauty mark.  What is at stake here is how kids learn to perceive themselves and their bodies.  This is part of the process that makes six-year old kids worried about getting fat.  This is part of the process that makes kids under 12 one of the fastest growing groups of eating disordered people.  This is part of the process that makes grade school kids torture each other both online and in person about differences until their very young victims consider suicide.  It’s all part of the thing.  Part of the thing that causes us to find skilled graphic designers to “fix” our dating site profile pictures–the thing that robs us of our humanity and makes us present ourselves as perfect pictures of ourselves rather than our authentic selves.

It reminds me of a surprisingly touching moment in the television show, “South Park” (of all places).  Wendy sticks up for a girl on the cheerleading squad who is less conventionally attractive than the other girls.  All of this changes, when the girl’s newly (and dramatically) retouched photo appears on social networking.  Suddenly all the boys want to date her.  The girl’s boyfriend can’t wait to flip out his phone and show off pictures of his “hot, new girlfriend” to his friends. Soon all the girls at school are doing it…

…except for Wendy.  When Wendy protests that these images aren’t real, when she speaks up at school and even the local news about the process of retouching these photos, she is accused of being “jelly” (jealous) and is told if she doesn’t shape up she’ll be sent to “Jelly School”.  The final scene of the episode as Wendy ultimately caves to the peer pressure is surprisingly poignant and marks the first time ever an episode of South Park made me cry:

So what’s the upshot here?  Who’s to blame?  The school?  Yes.  The photo company?  Of course.  But we, as a society are all complicit in this problem.  And as a group, we will need to buy the photos with the funky hair part and the freckles.  And we will need to speak up when our imperfections are erased for public consumption.  Because a world where a tough, independent minded, intelligent girl like Wendy’s character on South Park, still feels the need to learn Photoshop so she can create a social media acceptable image of herself makes me so, so sad.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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(Body) Love is Patient. (Body) Love is Kind.

As I thought further about my recent post about marrying my body, I wondered what is really the hard part of this for me?  What about the commitment to love my body do I find the most challenging.  And I remember that passage from the bible that is so often read during wedding services.  You know, the one that begins, “Love is patient.  Love is kind.”  And it occurred to me that right now, I’m doing okay with the kindness part of living in my body.  But the patient part, not so much.

It is so hard being patient with our bodies.  Especially when we are hurt or sick.  I have definitely been losing patience with my current illness.  And so one day, I thought I would just muscle through.  I would just do the stuff I did when I wasn’t sick.  I would suck it up and power through.  I did all of that.  And I paid for it.  Oh dear God I paid for it, with interest.  After two days of barely being able to move again, I thought maybe a different approach was in order.  Maybe I should, you know, do the stuff I tell other people to do all the time.  Maybe I should figure out the gentlest and most gradual way possible to go forward and do that.

Except I suck at patience.  I mean I really, REALLY suck at it.  I want to be better TODAY.  I want to be able to plow through and using will power alone be perfectly healthy right now.  The idea that I am still in pain and struggling at this point is INCONCEIVABLE!

But I am.  Why is it that I can have so much patience for helping other people with their struggles and helping them find a gentle and loving and gradual way through and be so utterly bad at it myself?  This is not my first rodeo.  I’ve dealt with chronic pain before.  I should be better at it by now.

Except it is really, really hard.  I am so very glad that we have our RASCAL challenge starting on Sunday.  I’m really looking forward to picking just one or two kind things I can do for myself each day to feel better.  I  am looking forward to making kindness and self-care my agenda and my to do list for a while.  And I am blessed beyond blessed to have a loving family and all of you great people to help me get there.

So even though I’m happily married to my body, I’m willing to admit that we are going through a bit of a rough patch.  We’re working through our troubles.  I just try to continually remind myself body love is patient, body love is kind.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Marrying Me: A Day Full of Love

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I hope you’ll forgive me for being a bit tardy.  You see, yesterday, October 14 was National Love Your Body day.  It was also the 19th anniversary of my marriage to the absolute best guy on the planet.  So it was a day with a whole lot of love in it.  And as I contemplated my lucky, love-filled life, I had some thoughts about marriage and loving and loving your body.

I think my husband would be one of the first to say, that learning to love my body proved to be a very important turning point in our marriage.   While I hated my body, I was unable to believe that anybody else could love me or my body.  Before I learned to love my body, I felt lucky that anybody would even profess to love me.  And when my husband told me he loved me and thought I was beautiful, I thought he was lying–either to me or to himself.  But as I learned to love my body, I came to accept that my husband was telling the truth–both to himself and to me.  And I still count myself lucky.  But now I feel that I’m lucky to love and be loved by somebody wonderful and kind and special.  I no longer feel like he is with me out of pity or sympathy.  I no longer believe he is with me despite my body.  I now accept that he loves ALL of me.  So of course, I feel very, very blessed.

And as I thought over our years together before we were married as well as the nearly two decades we’ve been married, I thought about the things that make a marriage work.  And I thought about how we are in many ways married to our bodies as well.  We can’t really leave our bodies (more than temporarily) while we are alive on this earth.  And while many of us live in a state of being disconnected from or even divorced from our bodies, we really only get one.  So it’s a good idea to learn how to reconnect with and even love the skin we’re in.

So with that in mind, I thought I would have a little marriage ceremony for me and my body.  Since I’ve already learned to love my body (most of the time) it’s more of a restatement of my vows, but here goes.

I Jeanette DePatie do take my body

From this day forward.

To have and to hold,

To love and to cherish,

For better or for worse,

For richer for poorer,

In sickness and in health,

Until death us do part,

Amen.

So please accept my somewhat belated wish that you had a happy Love Your Body Day.  And let me humbly suggest that you do a little restatement of vows of commitment to loving your own body–to love and cherish all the days of your life.  And let me also suggest that one of the best ways to love and cherish your body is to commit acts of radical self acceptance and love like the over 100 acts of love outlined in the new RASCAL program created by Ragen Chastain and I.  It’s a great way to spend the rest of the year loving and being kind to yourself.  We’re only accepting sign ups through THIS SUNDAY so, REGISTER HERE RIGHT NOW!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick

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“You look great! Have you lost weight?” And other phrases on “What NOT to Say!”

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Want to start out with a trigger warning.  I’m going to be talking about illness-induced weight loss and our society’s often idiotic response to it.

Part of my recent health journey includes a little bit of illness-induced weight loss.  Some of it is explained by the fact that the pain and the pain killers made me not want to eat, and part of it as a result of some anemia that I’m facing.  Which has led a few nice, and well-intentioned people to remark and then ask, “You look great!  Have you lost weight?  How did you lose in?”  Now I know that they are trying to be kind, but it’s honestly kind of hard to keep the sarcastimonster in check.  Because the sarcastimonster wants to shout, “I do not look great, I look terrible.  I am a little thinner because I’m in excruciating pain and because my body is not processing food properly right now.  But thanks for the compliment.  If you’d like to try out my ‘Excruciating Pain Weight Loss Program’ (patent pending) I can arrange it for you.  Just come a LEETLE bit closer while I grab this hammer.”

Yup, the sarcastibeast gets a little, um, TESTY when I don’t feel so well.  But the sarcastibeast is right about one thing.  It’s always risky complementing somebody on their weight loss.  First of all, “You look great.” coupled with “Have you lost weight?” implies that before the person lost the weight, they didn’t look as great.  In fact, you’re saying before they probably didn’t look great at all.  Which is decidedly not cool.  Secondly, unless the person you’re talking to has been talking ad nauseum about their latest weight loss program you never know why they are losing weight.  If they have lost weight through deliberate weight loss, they are most likely going to gain that weight back again in the future.  And you just told them that the weight loss made them look great.  If they haven’t lost weight through deliberate means, they may have started smoking again or they may be grieving or they may have cancer.  And you’ve just told them that when they get better, they won’t look as great.  And their weight loss may not have been healthy at all.  I got a lot of compliments the last time I went through a major crazy weight loss program.  I was living on less than 1,000 calories a day.  My bowels no longer moved and my hair was falling out.  My menstrual cycle had stopped completely.  I was cold all the time.  I was very sick, and truth be told, I didn’t look that well at all.  Yet people complemented me all the time about how healthy I looked.

Complimenting somebody on weight loss may cause somebody who is already coping with something that is kinda a big deal to have to cope with something else.  They make come to see their illness-induced weight loss as a silver lining.  Think I’m kidding?  Joan Lunden has been battling a particularly aggressive form of cancer.  She even appeared, bald and smiling, on the cover of Time magazine.  (I’ll bet nobody said to her, “You look great!  Have you lost hair?”)  Last week, during a wonderful interview on the Today show about the challenges and lessons she’s experienced while coping with cancer, Joan started talking about the hidden “benefits” of cancer.  She mentioned how contemplating your own mortality tends to focus your life and help you see what’s important.  And then she leaned over to Hoda (who also has battled cancer) and smiled knowingly as she mentioned that since she started battling with cancer, she’s lost weight.  (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)  This reminds me of a friend of mine who admitted she has a whole closet full of clothes that don’t fit her.  She bought a whole bunch of clothes when she lost weight during chemotherapy.  And now that she’s well again, those clothes don’t fit.  But she doesn’t give those clothes away, because when she was wearing those clothes, during chemotherapy, people said, “You look great!  Have you lost weight?”  Which leads me to another point.

Saying “You look great!  Have you lost weight?” gives somebody who may be sick something else to worry about.  And something else to worry about is the last thing somebody needs when they are sick.  Because the sick person begins to wonder, what will happen when they get better and regain the weight?  What happens when they stop smoking for good or recover from the eating disorder?  What happens when they stop chemo and recover from cancer?  What happens when their red blood cells multiply and their body starts getting oxygen again?  What happens when they are no longer in pain and they start eating again?  What if all this wonderful stuff happens to their body and they start gaining weight?  Will they no longer look great?  It may even make the person wonder if getting better is such a good thing.

Which is patently ridiculous and extremely unhelpful.

On today’s episode of my new show, “What NOT to Say!” I’d like to make a suggestion.  As a society, we’ve learned that unless she’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “baby on board” we’re never to ask a woman if she’s pregnant.  I’d like to suggest that commenting on a person’s weight loss should be in the same category.  It’s invasive.  It’s potentially risky.  It’s potentially rude.  And we just shouldn’t do it any more.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie, AKA The Fat Chick

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The Health Continuum

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The day before I woke up in excruciating back pain, I gave a keynote address at a health conference.  And during that keynote I talked a lot about how we need to make the ideas of health and wellness more inclusive.  We need to have a bigger tent where every BODY can participate.  We need to imagine a spectrum where we can all experience health.

I asked people in the audience to close their eyes and envision health.  What does a healthy person look like?  Then I asked them, if by any chance, their vision of health looked like a skinny white woman eating yogurt?  How about salad?  Does she look like she’s feeling orgasmic over these food choices?  Several people in the audience smiled or laughed.  Yup, that was exactly what their vision of health looked like.  But I told them they shouldn’t be surprised.  As a culture we are taught by marketing and advertising and Photoshop that this is what health looks like.  But what happens, I asked, if you are not white, or a man, or not thin, or not conventionally beautiful? What if you really, really hate yogurt?  Do you not get to be well?  Do you not get to experience health?

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At this point, I took some time to define health and wellness.  I suggested that there is no particular state that a person achieves that call be called healthy or well.  While tons of money is spent convincing us that if we just buy this thing, use this product or service or spend money in a particular way, we will arrive at the ultimate hereafter picture.  There is a place that is nirvana.  We call this place perfectly healthy.  Except there is no such place.  If we are alive, we are aging.  If we are aging we are headed towards our ultimate demise.  No matter what product or service we use, we are still, in the end, mortal.

So I went on to describe health as a continuum.  Or you can call it a spectrum.  (I like continuum because it’s one of the only words in the English language that has to letter “u”s back to back, and like the word banana, it’s nearly impossible to stop saying once you have started.  You know, like continuuinuuum…)  A continuum is a scale.  It is a line with no beginning and no end.  The scale increases in a particular value as we go one direction and decreases in a particular value as we go the other direction.  As we move along the scale towards healthy or well, we get more capacity and energy to do the things we need to do as well as the things we enjoy.  We feel better.  We have more energy.  We sleep better.  We are able to relax sometimes and experience peace.  As we move down the continuum away from health and wellness these things (like energy, enjoyment, peace, sleep) are more difficult for us to access, or we experience them less often.  But again, the line has no beginning and no end.  There is no destination called perfect health where we get to arrive.  And there is also no perfect place which we cannot access.

This is important for a lot of reasons.  One reason is that we are all born at different points on the continuum.  Based on genetics and parenting and socioeconomic status and friends and other family and cultural values and lots and lots of other stuff, we all land at different points on this continuum.  And as we go along and live, circumstances will change our location on the continuum.  We will experience stress.  We will get sick.  We might win the lottery.  We might lose our jobs.  We might get married or be in a car crash or fall down the steps.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes that stuff is wonderful and eases the way towards increased health on the spectrum.  Sometimes stuff is downright catastrophic and vaults us towards decreased health on the spectrum.  Were we to look at health and wellness as a state of being or as a location, most of us just wouldn’t be able to get there, let alone stay there.  Most of us would be on the outside looking in.  And most of us have been taught that we should be consumed with guilt and self-loathing for not being there or staying there.  But if we look at health and wellness as a continuum, there is a sane and guilt-free place for everybody.

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No matter where you land on the continuum, there are things you can do to help ease the way towards better health.  Those things you can do might be wildly different from what somebody else can do.  You might be creeping along towards health at a very different point on the spectrum than somebody else.  But everybody can play.  And we can play with the knowledge and understanding that sometimes fate rolls the freakin’ dice and we land in a different spot on the continuum that we neither desired nor planned for.  But from every place, we can strive.  We can move towards the healthy/well side of the continuum with whatever resources we have at the moment.  This is with the understanding that sometimes those resources will be very low.  Sometimes the movement will be very slow or even imperceptible.  And sometimes, it’s okay to just rest there at our spot on the continuum until we have the resources and/or the desire to strive again.  Sometimes we can be there and just breathe out and in for a while.

You know it’s funny, in a physician heal thyself sort of way, how I gave this talk the day before I found myself tossed violently to a very different spot on my own continuum.  As I woke up, dazed and in pain, I looked around.  Oh, so I’m here now?  This is my spot on the spectrum today?  Okay.  I’ll just have to see what I can do.  Maybe tomorrow.  After I take a pain killer and watch some telly and gather my forces.  It has made all of this a lot easier to bear.  And I offer this in the hopes that it will be a useful visualization tool for you as well.  Or not.  Because we’re all different.  And just as there is no place called health, there is no single immutable path towards wellness either.  There’s just all of us, muddling along in our own way, as best we can.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick

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Radical Self Care

RASCAL

I am so excited to announce our new challenge on the Fit Fatties Forum called the RASCAL challenge.  This stands for Radical Activist for Self Care and Love.  In this challenge, we encourage you to think outside the box about what self-care means and we challenge you to prioritize self care in your life.  Given my current focus on healing, this challenge just could not have come at a better time.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about this challenge is that it helps us broaden our definition of what is included in the definition for “health”.  Some of us believe that being healthy means being thin.  If we are thin, we are healthy.  If we are not thin, we can’t be healthy.  I’ve talked quite a bit about this in the past.  There are lots of studies that indicate that simply isn’t true.  In particular, this study shows that healthy behavior is a better predictor of future health than BMI.  But this begs the question, what is healthy behavior?

Of course joyfully moving your body is a wonderful healthy behavior.  Of course eating in a way that is in tune with your body’s needs as well as your spiritual and emotional needs is a healthy behavior.  But is that all there is to wellness?  Eat an apple and go for a walk and you’ve got it covered?  I don’t think so.  To me health is nuanced and multidimensional.  And health involves self-care.  (Insert deep sigh here…) Why is it that so many of us are so good at taking care of other people and so lousy at taking care of ourselves?  Are we conditioned that way from birth?  I don’t know.  But I DO know that self care gives us the strength to help others.  Think about what the flight attendant says before you take off.  “First secure your own oxygen mask, then you can help small children and those around you.”  In other words, breathe.  Take a moment to care for yourself.

And that moment may involve eating something wonderful or going for a walk.  Or it may involve simply breathing.  Maybe your self-care moment is spending just a few seconds of your day simply being.  Maybe it means getting a little extra sleep.  Maybe it involves asking for help.  Maybe it involves doing a booty-shaking victory dance.  Maybe it means calling a friend and reconnecting.  Maybe it means writing a letter to someone who wronged you.  Maybe it just requires 5 minutes of quiet and a cup of tea.

Self-care is different for each of us.  But it is absolutely critical to our well being.  That’s why I’m so excited about the RASCAL challenge.  We’ve come up with over 100 official Radical Acts of Self Care and Love, and we’re challenging folks to do one of those acts every single day.  Aside from the intrinsic rewards that come from self love, we are ACTUALLY rewarding you with badges and encouragement and prizes for taking care of yourself.  Seriously.  How cool is that?

I hope you’ll join me in spending some time to take care of yourself this month, either by taking the challenge or simply choosing to do it on your own.  Because the world needs you to take care of you.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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