I have always had what I call a healthy self esteem. Despite being overweight since puberty (but was I though? like, my memory tells me I was chunky in high school but when I look back at pictures I don’t see it), I’ve never felt, or at least never felt that I felt, less than because of my weight. Or my height. Or my zits. My physical appearance has never mattered as much to me as my character, is what I’m saying.
In my adulthood I have, however, done intentional work to love and celebrate my body and to also honor, respect, and celebrate everyone else’s bodies, too. I have talked and written about how skinny does not equal better and fat does not equal less, even though I believed it did for a long time (and probably still do in some ways, because society).
Whenever I read a fellow fat woman’s words (like Lindy West’s in her book Shrill) about how she didn’t believe that she actually deserved to be loved and romanced and married because of her body, I CRY. Because, damn it*, part of me still believes that.
*Like, literally, DAMN that thinking. Damn it to hell where it came from and belongs.
This summer I watched Season 4 of Queer Eye over the course of about 24 hours. By the end I thought, “I wish I could pay the Fab 5 for their services.” Wouldn’t it be cool if you could pay the Fab 5 to spend a week with you? Especially Tan.
Listen. If I had the means, I would put other people in charge of every aspect of my physical appearance. I already have someone doing my nails, washing and brushing my hair (occasionally, not every time), and I’m considering dipping my toe into the world of waxing (making my body hair someone else’s responsibility). If I could pay someone to clothes-shop for me and plan out my outfits every day I 100% would.
Anyway, almost immediately after having the thought, “I wish I could have the Fab 5 come and tell me all of their wise and encouraging things,” I thought, “Wait a minute, Suzanne. You are pretty self-aware. You have watched every episode of Queer Eye and follow all of the Fab 5 on Instagram. You KNOW what they would each say to you.”
Tan would say something about how wearing big, flowy shirts makes me look bigger than I actually am. He would talk about how I have to actually own some kind of pants. He would remind me that how I present myself as a professional matters and don’t I want to put my best foot forward? He would also take me to get sized for a bra and help me get some good ones. All things I already know from years of What Not to Wear and none things I put into practice.
Antoni would teach me some cool vegetarian recipe that is totally doable and I would be distracted by his huge hot mouth and cute, subtle accent. But ultimately I can look up cool vegetarian recipes online and it’s not really that cool to objectify people, even if they are attractive men you don’t know in real life.
Bobby would redecorate my house and it would be great! I like my house, but I wouldn’t say no to Bobby coming in and doing his thing. He’d probably give me a bedframe and a headboard and a new mattress. He’d probably give me an unstained couch (that would be stained again real quick – so many pets) and more kitchen utensils. Wait – who pays for all of these things?
I honestly don’t know what Jonathan would do with my hair but he would talk about how thick and gorgeous it is and would make me smile so big with his compliments and encouragements. We would have a lot of fun together, I imagine.
Karamo would tell me that if I ever want to fall in love romantically with a man that I actually have to meet new people and put myself out there. He would probably take me out in public to where other adult humans are and encourage me to interact with them. I’m not going do to that, Karamo. I’m trusting real hard that either God will dump my husband in my lap or I’ll be single. I’m good with any option that does not have me mingling with strangers in public.
In 2017 when I finished my summer as an Area Director with YouthWorks I said, “Okay, God. I can’t keep living with one foot in the YouthWorks world and one foot in Jarabacoa. I need to pick one.” And then, independently, without actually listening to what God had to say about it or thinking about it too much, I picked Jarabacoa.
In March when YouthWorks emailed me and asked me to be an Area Director this summer I felt very compelled to do it. And I’m glad I did. I did a good job and was a part of a great summer of ministry and service and fun.
At the end of the summer, just a couple of weeks ago, I said, “Okay, God. I can’t keep living with one foot in the YouthWorks world and one foot in Jarabacoa. I need to pick one.” And God said, “Nah. I’m gonna have you live in the tension of both.”
Whenever people ask how long I’m planning on living in Jarabacoa my standard answer are, “For a long time,” or, “Forever.” I’ve been afraid to go back on that, afraid of other people judging me the way that I judge other people when they move back to the States after living here for a year or two. (I’m a work in progress, okay? Acceptance is the first step.) I am a decisive person. I like making a decision and then sticking with it no matter what. I like knowing what’s next and routine and dreaming about the future within very defined decided-by-me parameters.
I’m also afraid to move back to the States. Can you imagine? I’ve only ever been an adult here in the Dominican Republic. I don’t know how to be an adult in the United States but I hear it’s very expensive and I have very few dollars.
I’m not planning on moving back to the United States anytime soon, but I am acknowledging that it could happen one day. It could! Anything could happen, right? (Ah!) I am also acknowledging that sometimes what I think I need isn’t actually what I need and that sometimes the hard option actually is the best option. I am acknowledging that there’s something (or a bunch of things) to be learned while living in the tension between serving and leading and growing with YouthWorks and serving and leading and growing in Jarabacoa.
I am acknowledging (after learning and accepting) that THINGS ARE OKAY WITHOUT ME and that feeling guilty for “leaving” people is actually super prideful and controlling. I left Jarabacoa for the summer and nothing terrible happened as a direct result. God still works even when I’m not there. No institution or organization or ministry or person NEEDS me to exist. So I’ll live in the tension for now, loving and leading with YouthWorks and here in Jarabacoa.