IMG_8388.JPGAnyone more or less attuned to social media and world news will remember the #SochiProblems hashtag from the 2014 Winter Olympics. It can be summed up as “that time a whole bunch of privileged Western people thought it would be funny to mock Russia’s lacking infrastructure”. Despicable, out-of-touch, tone-deaf behavior by the same people who brought you colonialism. In the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, we’re seeing something of a revival of #sochiproblems-esque behavior. This time, however, rather than originating on Twitter as a ‘bottom-up’ group activity of mocking a country different to theirs, we are seeing the news media embrace this in its early stages.

The political circumstances in Brazil have gotten very complicated this year. In 2014, Dilma Rousseff won the presidential elections in Brazil by a very small margin. It was a tough, very divisive election. The legitimate 2013 protests that began around the Confederations Cup were co-opted by a power-thirsty right wing that had failed to win the presidential elections since 2002, when Lula – Dilma’s much beloved predecessor – came into power and began to change the face of my homeland. The building blocks of a welfare state were built, eradicating hunger and extreme poverty. The country’s economy was booming and foreign investment pouring in. The optimism was palpable. BRICS for the win.

Yet Lula’s and Dilma’s stream of center-left government left room for some fundamental mistakes. They are largely accountable for Brazil’s terrible environmental track-record through investment in oil and other extraction activities like mining, manufacturing, and creating tax breaks for the auto industry that made cars more affordable in order to keep labor unions happy and up production. There’s a reason business was booming in Brazil. In terms of progressive policies, too, Brazil has left a lot to be desired. Alliances formed with Christian conservatives and the ultra-rich landowners in these governments made it so that neither legal abortion nor agrarian reform – both with very deadly consequences for my people – ever took off.

Earlier in 2016, in what can only be described as a coup d’état, president Dilma Rousseff – who herself committed no culpable crime beyond the reshuffling of money to be able to cover social welfare programs – went through an impeachment vote both in congress and the senate. There was no absolute majority in the senate, which meant that she’s been more or less put ‘on hold’ while an investigation takes place and that her vice-president, a man fit for a cartoon villain, was put in place. Remember those misguided alliances with conservatives? They’re in power now. A quote often attributed to Bossa Nova king Tom Jobim has, lately, seemed more fitting than ever: “Brazil is not for beginners”.

In the course of this novella-like drama, the world media did a more or less 180 degree turn in terms of coverage. Once regurgitating the same paranoid madness found in the largely oligarchic Brazilian media about how the people were taking to the streets to demand the impeachment of a corrupt government – the largely white, middle-class ‘people’ were out on the streets to ask for things like the return of a blood-drenched military dictatorship and the end of social programs for ‘lazy’ (read: poor) people – the world media seems to have finally caught on to the fact that this was more of a Game of Thrones situation. Yet in many ways the damage was already done. Even satirical news program like John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight – usually on point about the ridicule of world politics – was momentarily swept away by the wave of yellow-football-shirt-wearing idiots, covering the ‘protests’ as an en masse uprising against corruption. As these things usually go, the actions that followed Dilma’s period on the reserve bench of presidency – like the all-white, all-male government that was quickly put together and the absurd amount of members of the new government who are entangled in the Petrobras scandal – showed that corruption was not what was being overthrown. A center-left female politician was simply put in her place – outside of the political ring – courtesy of middle class ignorance.

Political turmoil has been growing worldwide. People are frustrated by austerity measures, tired of economic stagnation and slowly downing in debt. It’s a geopolitical reality created by the global forces of capital that opportunistic political movements of the right wing are capitalizing on. From Donald Trump, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and the Brexit voters so clearly divided between class lines in the West to the former middle classes in South America now having to share space, wealth and opportunities with traditionally working class non-whites, the fiscally conservative, solidarity-poor people of the world appear to be winning. It’s crazy to think how close we were to going the other way. The Occupy movement, the optimism of a leftist government in Greece, the ‘Feel the Bern’ campaign… All slowly crushed by the rampant fear-mongering tactics of the status quo.

And when we speak of the circumstances in Rio, it’s important to realize that this is not the context under which Rio made a bid for the Olympics. As previously mentioned, Brazil was booming. Moreover, Rio has long lived in the imaginaries of the world as a paradise-like place. Now, years on, with a fractured presidency, corrupt and inapt ministers, a health crisis of very serious proportions and violent crime on the rise, it’s not hard to understand why the world is alarmed. Nonetheless, the aggressiveness, pessimism and downright bigotry of the media coverage have been absolutely disgusting.

In prepping Rio for the world stage, too, severe mistakes were made. Forceful gentrification bulldozed through existing communities of the city’s illegal settlements to make space for the pretty pictures of Rio you see today. There is a quite literal genocide of young black men going on in Rio’s poorer communities. The police force is violent, underpaid, undertrained and deeply corrupt. These are sufficient reasons, from a human rights perspective, to be very critical of Rio hosting the Olympics. There are economic reasons why hosting massive sporting events is always bad business – remember London?

But let me be clear: these are not, by any means, the mainstream critiques. No, no. It’s only ever the very few that truly care about the people who love, live and die in other countries. What people really care about is having to be exposed to difference. To the substandard truth of global reality.

Using euphemisms and colorful vocabulary, we’re seconds away from seeing the Western media refer to Rio as a ‘shithole’. If there was ever any doubt as to why the Olympics were never before hosted in South America, well, doubt no more.

girl-690327_1280About a month or two ago, one of my best friends – and fellow formerly miserable teenager – informed me and another friend that Garbage (the band) was going to be in Amsterdam. Garbage is led by the incredible alt-rock chick Shirley Manson, whose lyrics about not belonging and feeling depressed made weird, eccentric teens like us feel understood. I even recorded a cover of ‘I’m only happy when it rains’, their somewhat humorous ode to those who wallow in personal misery, with my sister’s producer friend in São Paulo when I was fifteen. That song was more than an anthem. It was therapy.

I jumped at the chance to see them live, but secretly wondered what the crowd would look like. Would it be primarily middle-aged goths stuck in the 1990s? Would it be mostly people like us, the once gloomy teen girls who survived it all mainly unscathed? After years of listening to their music alone in my bedroom, I couldn’t help but be curious about who my fellow fans would be. When we finally got there, what I saw was hundreds of very different people who clearly felt a deep, individual connection to those songs and explosive lyrics. Women, men, of all ages, singing their hearts out. I wondered if we had all felt that same comfort in the Garbage songs that made me feel normal in a strange world – and not the other way around. It was moving. Really. My friends and I left feeling that what had often felt like a lonely, atypical and imperfect coming of age experience was actually pretty normal.

It got me thinking about what made all of us relate to Manson’s lyrics about being the ‘strangest of the strange’ and ‘getting high upon a deep depression’ so very much. I mean, teens have a pretty bad reputation. And out of all teens, teenage girls in particular. Watch any movie or show that falls under the nauseating ‘family comedy’ category and you’ll see an out-of-control, emotional, potentially mean and superficial teen girl ruining everyone else’s life. We are all guilty of perpetuating the stereotype too. I recall very recently making fun of my sister when her daughter didn’t want to be seen with her. “It’s starting…”, I gleefully insinuated. But is that really fair? Being a teen is hard on anyone, but in the world we live in, being a teen girl is potentially the absolute worst.

As a teenage girl you’re trying to figure out your identity – in itself more of a life-long pursuit, of course, but it’s not like you know that at the time – while being treated like a child by your parents and like an adult by a male population that seems to mushroom out of nowhere in the time that it takes you to blossom into the adult feminine form. The major creep factor of the male gaze aside, it’s confusing to be expected to respect the same rules as always – bedtimes, curfews, general dependency – when you start being treated like a woman outside of your home environment. You’re being told that puberty and all the changes it brings about are normal by the same people telling you to suddenly dress differently because of how your body might affect how you’re perceived in the world. It’s a major mind fuck.

During your teen years, sexuality is both expected and encouraged, and severely punished. Dressing like a child is as disapproved of as dressing like a woman. Being desired by ‘boys’ is a good thing, enjoying it is not. Being good at sports helps to maintain your idealized girl physique, but being too sporty is unattractive. Exercising is encouraged, but no one tells you where to buy a decent sports bra so that you can continue to play sports for fun without the embarrassment. It’s a roller coaster of feelings and a schizophrenic set of expectations. Feeling left out, misunderstood, weird and trying to respond to all the different expectations that exist of you at once is damaging to anyone’s psyche. And, the more I think about it, the resulting mess is far less on teen girls than it is on our messed up society.

After all these years, I feel like I finally get it. But seeing as I can’t go back in time and tell my teenage self to not take it all so seriously – and to realize that the mixed messages from adults come from their own discomfort, not your existence – I hereby vow to be a better aunt to my niece who’ll one day be a teen, a better sister to my baby sister who’ll also grow up to be a teen, and a better friend to the teenage girls – warriors, really – I encounter out there in the world. It’s honestly the least we can do.

We can’t take away all of the pressures and insecurities and inevitable pain of being pulled in so many different directions at once. But we can stop pretending it’s their fault.

womens-running-early-track-raceComing to terms with being almost 30 is weird. I’ve always kind of felt 30. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’ve always felt like a grown-ass adult. Immature as I was in my late teens early twenties, I craved the respect people like my husband received from fellow adults simply because of the beard populating his general facial area – this was, of course, before I realized that kind of respect doesn’t come with age, it comes with a penis. But my whole life I wanted to grow up quickly. Skip the bullshit and develop the life skills that would take me from dependent child to strong, independent woman as soon as I could. But now that I’m here, I see that the ‘thirty package’ is a little more complicated than some fantasy about the meaning of adulthood. It’s easy to lag behind.

I’m turning 29 this year and I’ve had my first ‘career job’ for a year, my prospects are good, I’m making a respectable living for a young person, I’m married to a man who also has a good job, things are a-okay. But the thing is, of course, that I didn’t graduate from my Master’s until two years ago. My husband didn’t graduate from his Bachelor’s until two years ago. So while we’re doing just fine, at 28 and 34, we are playing catch-up. Everyone my age seems to have about four to five years’ experience. Everyone my husband’s age is on the eight-to-ten mark. But we’re catching up. And while now it feels like we’re all on more or less on the same page, the big life-plan making abilities of our friends are certainly more advanced.

I struggle to think of a couple that I know, roughly my age, that isn’t considering purchasing a house or doesn’t already own a house. To give you some context, house-buying is the Dutch equivalent of a very fucking serious relationship. People here don’t really get married, but they commit to one another financially. And that shit starts more or less once they get offered a ‘permanent contact’ at work. It’s one of these European labor laws that make it really hard for an employer to ditch you without a good reason and a serious severance package. This happens about three years into a job. It’s that decisive moment where they either fire you – because they don’t want to be stuck with you forever – or you get, basically, tenure.  Needless to say we are not there yet.

Renting a place in Europe also has its advantages. I’ve been sitting on this apartment for the good part of a decade and my rights as a tenant mean that the building owners can’t raise my rent by more than 2% or so at a time. In the last eight years, they’ve raised our rent by some 40 euros in total. In the meantime, the city of Amsterdam has become something of a playground for the upper-middle class. Salaries haven’t gone up by much thanks to the financial crisis, but real estate speculation has made every apartment in our area absolutely unaffordable to us. Our rent is relatively affordable and we live in a pretty fancy location, right in the city center. Meanwhile, virtually every young couple buying property now is moving fairly far out of the city center. But I digress.

Babies, properties, great savings, promotions at work, significant salary increases, that’s all in the future for us. And I swear I’m okay with that. I waited a very long time to be treated like somewhat of an adult; I can wait a little longer to feel like one. But the fact that thirty is knocking on my door makes this whole situation feel very pressing. Look, I had a quarter-life crisis. I know the drill. So I’m trying to have some ‘chill’ about the whole situation. Yet, try as I may, I can’t reinvent the societal meaning of the big 3-0. You know? These expectations are outside of myself. They’re just out there, floating in the world and waiting for us to meet them.

Sure, I can rebel. I don’t see myself wanting to own ‘property’ any time soon, for instance. We aren’t Dutch – not really, anyway. So buying a place would be rooting ourselves here in a very scary way. Plus, the role of banks in the deal makes me a little uncomfortable. Babies are for people who definitely want children and we haven’t quite figured out where kids would fit into our lives. I have enough friends with weird relationships with their parents to know that having kids for the sake of it seems pretty idiotic. Promotions and salary increases, too, come with experience. We are both so, so new at our career choices. So if I relativize the whole thing I can see why we are where we are. And yes, it’s hard to feel like you’re playing catch-up while everyone and their mother appear to be moving so much faster.

But maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Perhaps being an adult is about being okay with your own pace, values and life choices. And that, my friends, I can confirm.  

dandelionYou know, I’ve always been the kind of person to take things very far. I’ve maintained toxic friendships until there was no other way but to cut ties, I’ve stayed in bad relationships until their sourness poisoned everyone involved, I’ve insisted on staying in jobs and academic environments that were clearly not doing my mental health or general development any favors, I’ve even stayed in one particular country for most of my life without ever having been entirely happy about it, the list goes on. It’s not one of my best traits, but I believe it comes from my need to see things through. I am from the generation where everything and everyone could end up in the trash: electronics, food, plastic, human lives… This culture of wastefulness has never quite sat well with me. So I stick with things. Like a hoarder. Until I can’t.

Eventually and invariably, once I reach my limit, I walk away without regret. No regrets and no forgiveness either. After a remarkable endurance of crap, I can be very ruthless. Once I’ve decided to remove myself from a situation I want it to burn, disappear, and pretend it never happened. I have no interest in revisiting the past. Especially the kind that made my otherwise strong self feel vulnerable. It can go to hell. And stay there.

But as you get older, the past has a way of resurfacing. Kids who made your life hell send you Facebook friend requests, school reunions organized by those same teachers who made you feel like a bad kid or really, really small suddenly pop up, step-people (the gender neutral term for the awful people your parents introduced into your life at one point or another) and ex-boyfriends are suddenly very keen to rekindle the friendship that never was. I call bullshit on the whole thing. I may have fond memories surrounding people who turned out to be appalling human beings, but I relativize them because I know that I’ve been through this before and those fuckers are not to be trusted.

Sure, I know what it’s like to be going through a weird phase and do things you regret to good people. I’ve ‘sinned’ too. I’ve been a hormonal, boy-crazy girl who ditched her friends because of some blonde skater boy – oh the proud moments. I know that it doesn’t make me fundamentally bad to have been a selfish asshole at 14, but I wouldn’t be dying to rekindle a friendship with me if the shoe was on the other foot. If you’ve been burned, it’s smart to stay away.

But as you get older and build up confidence and acquire a certain level of success – personal and professional – you can think: oh what’s the harm? Right? I mean, these people aren’t in any way part of your life. You’ve grown so much. You’re strong now. You’re happy. Don’t be so bitter. Throw them a bone, meet up. Go to the fucking reunion. Have drinks with an ex. Wear a cute dress and the man you love in arm and you’ll feel like a million bucks. But the thing is, if you’re still hung up about it, you won’t.

The issue with not partaking in the ‘throw-away’ culture is that, girl, you have a hard time letting things go. It’s easier to block it out, like a bad thought late at night after seeing a horror movie, than to face it. Not because you’re afraid or not strong or successful or happy enough. But because you’re a sensitive person. And you distanced yourself from people who make you feel bad not because you’re Elsa the ice queen of your friend group, but because it’s goddamned self-preservation. You don’t want to see these people really. You maybe want to find out that they’re not as successful as you. You want to Pretty Woman those motherfuckers. But maybe they are. Maybe life is so fundamentally unfair that they are successful as fuck. Maybe their whiteness and class privilege has handed them all the things you worked your ass off for on a silver platter. Maybe they’re miserable, as you secretly thought you’d want them to be, but all it does it suck you back into their lives. So from one sensitive person to another, I’m going to go ahead and give you some fantastic advice: unless you truly don’t care, don’t. do. it.

You’ve built yourself a fort, you’ve grown and blossomed, and you love who you are. Now relish in that shit, celebrate your life and let the past be in the past. You can thank me later.

laumamaAs a married twenty-eight-year-old, I have started hearing the age-old question that has haunted women of my age and marital status for all of human history: When are you thinking of having kids? It comes from a good place, I presume. ‘You seem relatively grown up, I like you, please make more people for me to like.’ That’s, of course, not entirely how it comes across. It’s the kind of pressure I never thought I would live to see. In our culturally-aware times where feminism is mainstreaming, I thought I would escape such expectations. But alas. I know quite a few mothers that are roughly my age. It mostly ‘happened’ to them, and granted, if it ‘happened’ to me at twenty-eight I most probably would just let it, and simply cope like the grown ass woman that I am. But my examples of motherhood – my mother and her mother – are not exactly something I could replicate. So how does one rear a child in Western societies like the one I live in?

You see, I grew up in Brazil. And Holland, sure, but I was brought up from a helpless tiny infant to a relatively independent eleven-year-old child in Brazil. And in Brazil, women like my mother had full-time jobs. Almost all if not all middle-class families in Brazil were two-income, two-job affairs. Mom and dad worked and hired someone to look after their kids. When the kids were little, it was not uncommon to have a nanny and a cleaner. Eventually, in most middle-income households, the nanny would be phased out and an incredible super-woman would have to cook, clean and look after the children. Until we left Brazil, this ‘other woman’ was an unquestionable fact of life. Living in or out, we had help.

My mother is a very well-accomplished woman. Her career is really stellar. And she did all of that while being as present, caring and involved in our lives as she possibly could. She would drive home from across town to have lunch with me and drive me to school every day. She was there whenever I really needed her. But her kind of professional success and accomplishment, her model of motherhood, my fulfillment and development as a child, none of it would have been possible without the other women, the surrogate mothers, hired to raise us. Erenilda, Marili, Marcinha, Tania, Marcia and many less memorable characters were the women who made my privileged childhood possible. Sometimes they were mothers themselves, invariably they were poor and working class women who sought employment in the private sphere due to lack of options.

My mother was a good boss on all accounts. She made sure these women were working on furthering their careers outside of our or anyone’s households – and many did. Long before a center-left government in Brazil made it mandatory for domestic workers to be treated like any other worker with rights, signed contacts, paid vacation leave and a decent wage, my mom made sure every single one of these women had that. She never let us order anyone around – a disgustingly common sight when I was child in Brazil was a tiny little tyrant disrespecting and humiliating ‘their (the possessive form used by the bratty products of class-societies) maid’, affirming their superior place in society and the household – and demanded that we did some basic chores like making our bed, putting our clothing and toys away, etc. I realize that to most people this may sound absurdly obvious, but in those days, my mom was a revolutionary for not allowing us to be awful.

As previously stated, almost all Brazilian mothers in my immediate surrounding worked. But their care duties and responsibility for the upkeep of the household was in no way diminished. Buying this labor in from other women, effectively outsourcing these now secondary duties of the household, was a ‘logical’ solution. My mother’s emancipation, as a highly educated divorced woman with two daughters and a family that lived seven hours away, was only really possible in the context where another woman was confined to her household. The private realm remained the realm of women. Poor women.

This two-working-parent model that I upheld as the absolute symbol of success, the success story of my middle-class family, isn’t one that I can live with. Or up to, really. I live in Amsterdam. Help don’t come cheap. My own mother had to learn a new way of ‘mothering’. Her mother was a stay-at-home powerhouse who raised seven kids, a few of their friends and took care of my grandfather’s parents. She stopped studying at nine years of age because her traditional Italian patriarch of a father decided that she had learned enough – her one ‘ugly’ sister, who he feared would not marry, was the only one allowed to study further – and made sure that all three of her girls became accomplished professionals. To this day when I call her, she asks when I’m getting my PhD. She wants another doctor in the family – medical or otherwise.

That life, my grandma’s life, was not a desirable outcome for women of my mom’s generation. They wanted all of it. But with no government systems in place and no cultural shift that divided household responsibilities between men and women, they were stuck in the impossible position of having to have it all. But all can’t be had with no help. So they bought help. And at my age, and marital status, with an ocean or two between anyone my husband and I are related to, I wonder how in the world I’m supposed to do motherhood in the way I grew up thinking I would do. Every mother I know in this country works part-time and has family help. I didn’t even know what part-time was until I was old enough to enter the labor market. We didn’t discuss professional sacrifices in our household. I’m sure there were many, but this was not the narrative we wanted to focus on. Success and family life that was compatible with it; that was our story.

I am not really ready to take such a massive plunge and start making humans any time soon. As far as I’m concerned I’m pretty young. And so far, I’ve done a pretty good job of not get knocked up. But, honestly, looking around me, I feel like when I do I’ll need to reinvent the wheel a little bit. This mother’s day, I’ll be thinking of Erenilda, Marili, Marcinha, Tania, Marcia and the other less memorable characters who made my privileged childhood possible.

Wishing for a society where motherhood isn’t punishable either by professional stagnation or by the unfair confinement of poor women to the private sphere.

away

I spent some of my life as somewhat of a closeted leftist. Not because I didn’t think my values were worth discussing, but more because, as a middle class Brazilian girl in private school, I didn’t exactly grow up in an environment that was very conducive to racial awareness, class consciousness, and feminism. My parents were militants of left-wing parties and certainly gave me an infinite wealth of amazing values that I got to pick up from an early age about social justice, equality, and critical thinking. And yet, I didn’t truly begin to develop the vocabulary to eloquently express these ideas until push really came to shove. Tightening immigration policies, the solidification of fort Europe, blunt racism being broadcasted on mainstream Dutch media, and the hate dripping out of politicians’ mouths in the early 2000s in the Netherlands pushed me out of my closet. More than ever before, I felt I truly needed to take a position. It mattered on a personal level now. As an immigrant, I had to position myself. I had to.

This inquiry into finding the right language and discovering sources of information that I could use to make my ideas intelligible, even to myself, drove me to study sociology. I threw myself into a world of meaning, where words were acts of bravery, violence, and description at once. And I loved every second of it. I continued to feel as somewhat of an outsider due to the severe whiteness and Eurocentrism of my particular university and academic field, but I was also learning the language to express that. The critical thinking I learned turned right back at the oppressive institutional practices of the University of Amsterdam. It was an important realization. It helped me understand years of discomfort and I’m grateful for it.

Taking position after position has been liberating. I may be learning to be less radical in the way I express my utter disgust at cultural insensitivity, institutionalized racism, sexism and the like, but I am no less eager to, as much as possible politely, express how I feel. It would be torturous not to. I have to position myself. I have to.

And increasingly, this has become a filtering mechanism for deciding who to spend my time with. As I get older, I find myself being less accepting of what I perceive as other people’s fundamental shortcomings. It is no longer just a question of people being good, kind, and ethical – although these are certainly the first filtering round. I now also find myself losing the patience I once had for uncritical people. People who never stop to problematize their surroundings or very own existence bore me. Finding deep, moral dilemmas or political issues inappropriate or uninteresting topics of conversation is, lately, perhaps the biggest personality crime that someone could commit in my presence. And yet sometimes, when I let it show, when I can no longer hold my sheer irritation for someone’s lack of depth, I can’t help but feel like a total asshole.

Even if I’m offended on a very personal level by every bullshit word that flies off someone’s lips, there’s something of a social convention that as good, kind, and ethical people, we should have mountains of patience for just about anyone. Tolerate their chosen ignorance while nodding and smiling or else you’re somehow, defying all logic, also in the wrong. After all, it would be impolite to show any sign of judgment of human moral failure.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have many shortcomings myself. I am an immigrant from the Global South and yet I am dowsed in privilege. I know that. I’m white-passing, I’m straight, I’m highly educated, I have never known true economic hardship, etc. I am often perplexed at my own ignorance regarding issues that don’t personally affect me. I’ve used very problematic language in the past and have been called out on it by some of the wonderful people I’ve managed to surround myself with. It’s not that I never have some questionable thoughts or never say things I immediately regret, but the point is that I do. I do regret them. I am self-critical. I see the quest for advocating ethical behavior and social justice as a process of life-long learning because if history has taught us anything, it’s that ideas that are acceptable in this era may not age very well.

In knowing my own shortcomings, I do often ask myself whether I shouldn’t make more of an effort to be tolerant to other people’s lack of politicization. But you know what? No, sorry. Maybe fifteen years ago claiming lack of access to information was a valid excuse for bad behavior. But in 2015, for fuck’s sake: educate yourself.

Because, honestly, your goddamned ignorance is only really blissful to you.

woman-weighing-selfI recognized at an early age that the world valued thinness and female discipline above most other qualities of desirability and, until recently, I would comply. I would comply by either accepting that I was less worthy or by disciplining myself into thinness. Thin privilege is a thing and the people who don’t want to acknowledge that are kidding themselves. I remember the first time I lost a good 10 kg; I was 11. The boy I had a crush on told me I’d be cute if I lost weight. So Weight Watchers it was. A bunch of morbidly obese housewives and myself, learning to count calories. These women, telling tales of suffering from health complications due to their habits, would tell me that they were thin when they were my age. My fatness was, even to those women, unforgivable. Young women surely have a reason to be thin? I lost the weight. For the first time since I was 9 I could fit into my older sister’s clothes. It was glorious. But then we moved countries, and I survived being away from everyone and everything in the coldest winter my Brazilian self had ever experienced by feasting on Dutch junk food and hibernating.

My second weight loss attempt happened when I was a teenager. I must have been around 13. I was in full puberty and had somehow befriended some of the most attractive girls in school but that only made it more painfully clear that I was not one of them. So I decided to starve myself. And, like magic, I went from borderline invisible to boys to experiencing a sexual awakening in the time that it took me to learn to fake sleepiness to skip dinner. Fat-free yoghurt for breakfast, an apple for lunch and no dinner: an imperceptible eating disorder at its finest. I received so many compliments about my appearance I barely knew what to do with myself. The school dance that took place in that short period where I was thin was probably my most unforgettable. It was like being high. And I would specifically not shop for new clothes so my old, ‘fat’ clothes would just hang off my body, showing off my success. And successful I was. Oh the compliments. Two months, it took me to lose all that weight. And all people had to say about it was how great I looked. No alarm bells. Anorexia is for thin girls.

But I sucked at having an eating disorder of that kind. So I inevitably gained the weight again and didn’t go back to dieting until I was 17. Let’s just say I freaked myself out with this whole not eating regime. Then by 17 I went back to the Weight Watchers for a second time. At first everything was going really well, I lost steadily, I felt great. Almost a year went by before I dropped 10 kg. I was exercising and eating well and still occasionally having a beer or ten – this was perfectly legal in Holland where drinking age used to be 16. Again my accomplishments did not go unnoticed. Oh thinness, how much joy you bring. How you make yourself worth all the sacrifice because you make people feel worthy. Worthy of love, of friends, of everything. The world is at your feet when you have struggled enough with your body image to develop a personality but still managed to self-discipline into thinness. It’s like every item of clothing was designed for you. It’s like the world was designed for you. Ten mere kilograms divide the line between worthy and unworthy of all this fulfillment. Oh what power you have.

After my great loss into adulthood, I met a boy who made me insecure. And so I continue to self-discipline and I lost another five, precious little kilograms. It was a revelation. The privilege of the weight that took me to normal was nothing compared to those last five that brought me to skinny. I was a VIP member of every club. It was almost worth all the self-doubt and insecurity that caused me to panic about having had an extra spoon of rice so my stomach wouldn’t expand again. So long I had tried to stop the feeling of hunger and just like that, all my success, all my amazing accomplishments of being skinny would go away and no one would be proud. No one would say I’m beautiful. No one would look at me, mesmerized that I was that same chubby girl they once knew. Oh thinness, only you can give a girl that kind of pleasure.

I freed myself from the boy that made me insecure and within a few years I was back to my more comfortable shape. The average shape that lowers the stock of my attractiveness. The disgusting evidence that I have no self-discipline, even though I know what kind of life I am giving up by not complying. Oh the thin life. It is almost worth everything.

And then I met a boy who loves me for me. The first person in my adult life that I confessed the extent of my previous struggles with weight to. He understood, he supported me to do whatever. He had struggled with both slight under and slight overweight himself. But as we became more intertwined, I started to confuse my eating needs with his – and being that I’m little and he’s big, you can imagine what happened next. Again I put on weight. And I crossed a line. That ten kilo mark that became a dozen. So I went back to the Weight Watchers.

And this time I was calorie counting like a motherfucking freak. I told myself: you were thin for that other asshole, but this amazing man doesn’t get to be with your best self! Your ‘best’, thin self, that is. I thought such crazy things obsessively. And I lost the weight. Then stress came and, two years later, my dozen became fifteen. And I didn’t care. For once in my life I didn’t need that recognition. I didn’t need thin privilege. It was freeing. Not that I didn’t want to feel fitter and better and losing weight was one way to achieve that, but this time it didn’t matter for those same reasons. I am worthy. I am loved. I matter. I have something to say. And you know what? Fuck you, mandatory thinness. You make otherwise sane women who don’t naturally fit into a mold feel like they have to obey you to self-love. You’re a fascist little bitch, you.

Then came the proposal. Last year, that boy became my husband to be. And together we decided to put in the work and feel amazing by January 3rd 2015. We did it. I dropped a good ten, as did he. But we did it out of self-love. Entirely. We got super into cooking and green smoothies and all of that but we never let it get out of hand. We drank beer, we ate cheese and if we swapped rice for quinoa to make those waistlines look picture-perfect, so what? We made sure it tasted amazing! I wasn’t trying to starve myself into a size 0. For once, I wasn’t really trying to be thin. And I really wasn’t thin by the end of it either. I was comfortable in my own skin and strong as hell. Mentally and physically. And boy was that necessary. Imagine 35 degree Celsius heat combined with wedding stress?

When we came back to Amsterdam, I was unemployed for three months and I ate myself into a state of serenity. Do I regret having fallen off the wagon? Sure, I had a good thing going. But only because I liked feeling good, not because I am somehow a loser for being chubby again. I have a husband I love, my first real job that I really enjoy, and a whole lifetime ahead of me to get back on track. I refuse to shrivel up into self-hatred. And yet the world is such a hard place to stay sane… All you ever hear from women around you is self-deprecating things about their bodies. Bodies that are abled, beautiful and much closer to thinness than I even aspire to be. I try to just disregard it, but it’s a daily exercise of patience and self-assurance.

My message to anyone else struggling to self-love is that you are already worthy of love: losing that belly isn’t going to change who you are, ‘no pain no gain’ is literally the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my entire life, and it’s about time that we stop treating thinness like the absolute measure of self-worth. It just fucking isn’t.