TIME language

‘Ferguson’ Is 2014’s Name of the Year

Snow covers a yard sign placed outside a home near the police station on Nov. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Snow covers a yard sign placed outside a home near the police station on Nov. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Beating out Uber, Malala and a princess from Frozen

In the basement of a Portland hotel Friday, a room full of members of the American Name Society gathered for their big annual event: voting on the name of the year for 2014. They nominated and spoke for and against the names of people, places and things that mattered last year before a decisive vote. By a 15-vote margin over the other finalists, “Ferguson” became their name of the year.

Ferguson, of course, is the name the St. Louis suburb where a police officer shot and killed teenager Michael Brown last year, setting off weeks of racially charged unrest around the country. Others also spoke up in favor of the eventual winner. “We can use our voice for social good and also for a movement that has some political weight to it,” said one member.

Iman Laversuch Nick, the incoming president of the society, gave a short speech in support of Ferguson right before the vote. “It’s the amount of power that it evokes,” she said. “It’s a name like Columbine. This name will always have that meaning. … Ferguson is going to take that kind of place historically where we will immediately have those associations, and I think it’s incredible that a name can do that.”

The town beat out Uber (the car service), Malala (the Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Elsa (the Disney princess of Frozen fame) in the final round of voting. Each of the four were winners in their own respective categories: place names, trade names, personal names and fictional names. About 30 people cast their votes by a raise of hands.

The American Name Society is the oldest and largest society dedicated to the investigation of names and how they develop. Laversuch Nick, a New Yorker who teaches at the University of Cologne, is passionate about how much power names have and how much they say about the people who use them. “It starts with the fact that everything that’s significant to us gets a name,” she says.

She reels off examples. The identity crises people have in naming their first-born child; the arguments people have over who can call themselves a Native-American or whether black is preferable to African-American; why some products have names that resonate with consumers and inspire copycatting across industries (See: the iPod); the life-and-death power of names written on Schindler’s List; genocidal killers in Africa targeting victims with certain tribal names; the act of taking away a prisoner’s name and giving him a number; a woman’s decision about whether to keep or drop her last name when she marries; the fact that tampons are euphemized on aisle guides as “feminine hygiene” products; the unclear reason that it’s hard to imagine a lumbersexual named Herbert.

Because of her first name, one used among Muslim people, Laversuch Nick has had to deal with being constantly flagged going through customs post-9/11. “People aren’t aware how much these names mean to them,” she says. Though among the people gathered for the vote, Ferguson was an obvious exception.

“I don’t think anyone in here had heard it before,” said another member right before votes were cast. “It’s this innocuous place that suddenly is a major city in the world’s perspective. I don’t think anybody will ever forget about Ferguson.”

TIME relationships

Woman Goes Into Hospital for Back Pain, Gives Birth One Hour Later

The baby was 10 pounds

Weymouth, Mass., resident Katie Kropas thought she had put on some extra weight over the holiday season. But after going to the hospital Wednesday with complaints of severe back pain, the 23-year-old was surprised to learn that it wasn’t a food baby but, rather, a baby baby.

“They told me that I had a full term baby, ready to come, now,” Kropas told a local CBS affiliate. “So I found out at 10:15 and I had her at 11:06.”

Well, at least she had a full 51 minutes to process. The baby girl, named Ellie, weighed 10 pounds.

Kropas told NECN that she and her long-term boyfriend were shocked by the news. The new mom was reportedly on birth control and had a “pretty regular” menstruation cycle. She experienced no morning sickness and attributed her swollen feet to her 50 hour a week catering job.

Regardless of the surprising conditions, Korpas was very positive to the Patriot Ledger.

“It’ll be fun,” she said. “I’ll have lots of help.”

TIME faith

It Happened to Me: I Grew Up as a Jehovah’s Witness

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I learned quickly that the kid who tells everyone they’re going to die in a firestorm isn’t terribly popular

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The first time he asked me to sit in his lap a wave of nausea and terror flooded my body. I knew it was wrong but everyone was waiting. He was sitting in an armchair at my aunt’s house, our family gathered around.

“Ho ho ho!” The man boomed. My younger cousins shrieked in excitement. I grimaced. “Come, sit here.” He beckoned to me. I had wanted this my entire life, to sit on Santa’s lap, to regale him with my Christmas wishes but it felt horrible, sinful. I was twelve years old. I was celebrating Christmas for the first time.

Up until then, I had been raised as a devout Jehovah’s Witness. I’d lived the early years of my life in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. My father taught me how to read when I was 3 years old, using a children’s illustrated bible. Jehovah was one of the first words I recognized. I was taught that I was special. We lived in a small world of meetings, going door to door, studying the JW literature. We tried to convert people who were not aware of Jehovah and his promise of everlasting life. I was taught to be wary of the world, to look at things with a critical eye, that Satan had his hands in everything.

My dad immigrated to the States from Mexico in the early 1960s. He had come from a small, rural village where everyone knew each other and then he’d been uprooted by my grandmother and brought to Southern California. He didn’t speak the language, he didn’t know anyone and was emotionally disoriented. A couple of Jehovah’s Witness kids approached him, they spoke Spanish, they offered him immediate community. They told him if he joined their religion he’d have what almost no one else had, ever lasting life on earth when the end of the world came in 1977. Dad signed right up. He met my mom in Brooklyn when he went to study at the JW Capitol in Brooklyn, Bethel. They married in 1975, months shy of when the world was supposed to end. It didn’t. They moved to California.

Our religion didn’t seem to care about children except as future propagandists of the “truth.” There was no Sunday School, no youth groups. There was no fun. Nothing to look forward to except the end of the world. We were expected to be tiny adults. Witnesses had no celebrations, no joy-filled occasions.

A few days before I started kindergarten my parents sat me down to have a serious conversation. They explained that even though I could be nice to the other kids at school, I couldn’t befriend them because they were worldly, they lived lives outside of Jehovah’s approval. I had to make sure I didn’t do anything Jehovah wouldn’t like.

In kindergarten I was the weird kid on the playground talking about how the world was about to end. I learned quickly that the kid who tells everyone they’re going to die in a firestorm isn’t terribly popular.

Holidays were verboten for Witnesses, so my sisters and I found creative ways to endure them. During Halloween we would lock the doors, hide in closets and pretend that the trick-or-treaters were Nazis and that we were Anne Frank, just trying to stay alive.

Every year after Thanksgiving I went into a depression. The weeks leading up to Christmas were painful because I wanted Christmas. I wanted to a magical fat man to deliver gifts to me. I wanted something exciting to look forward to. I was ashamed of my desire. Candy canes were my forbidden fruit and when I got my hands on one I’d suck it into a dagger and poke myself in the mouth as penance for enjoying it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Christmas for various reasons that made little sense to my childhood mind. Christmas, according to the doctrine, was based on a pagan holiday. Early Christians took Saturnalia, a Roman celebration of the God Saturn, and turned it into Jesus’ birthday.

All Jehovah’s Witness kids were expected to be models of pre-Apocalyptic living, the kind of piety that would reserve us our spot in the “New Order,” the promised utopia that all Witnesses were readying for. The New Order was green pastures; the lion lay with the lamb and it seemed everyone had a baby panda or koala bear. This exquisite promise of paradise was supposed to quell our desire to be attached to the worldly world.

Every December, I covered my depression with a self-righteous rage that made me feel holy. I would stare down the kids around me and think Yeah, go ahead, you enjoy your little Santa and Christmas while you can because you’re gonna die in a firestorm and I’m going to live forever. I used to have elaborate fantasies that the apocalypse would come during recess. The firestorm would begin and all the kids who had celebrated Christmas would be running around, screaming their heads off. They’d see me, protected in a bubble of divine light and run up, begging to be let in. I would shake my head and say, You should have listened to me.

Every year there was a holiday assembly where the whole school would gather to sing Christmas Carols. I wasn’t allowed to attend. I would be sent to the nurses office where I’d sit on my cot. I could hear the kid voices singing from across the hall. I would pray as I struggled not to sing along in my head. It was a battle. It went like this:

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

(Dear Jehovah, thank you for eternal life)

Had a very shiny nose!

(Protect me, Jehovah, from their worldy, wordly ways)

And if you ever saw him

(No, Satan! I will. not. sing. along. Satan, nooo!)

You would even say it glows

LIKE A LIGHTBULB!

Oh, Jehovah, I’m so, so sorry.

I was twelve when my mom decided she was sick of waiting for the end of the world, tired of the dogma, and we left the religion. We were immediately ostracized by our friends in the religion because we’d left. I was relieved and terrified. I had lived my entire life as a Witness and I was suddenly expected to forget everything. No more end of the world. Religion had occupied a huge part of my life and then it was gone, and there was nothing left to fill the void. But Christmas was coming.

Our first Christmas party was at a relative’s house. It was what I had wanted my entire life, to be like everyone else. But the Jehovah’s Witness beliefs were ingrained in me by then and belief isn’t a switch you can flip. I couldn’t express my confusion; I was scared if I told my family what I was feeling they would assume I wanted to return to being a Witness.

That Christmas I did what I had always wanted to do, I sat on Santa’s lap. It felt like sitting on Satan’s lap. My capacity for belief in magic and fantasy had dried up. Whispering my wants to Santa wasn’t not something that appealed to me anymore. I did it quickly, with a nervous smile, wondering if Jehovah was watching. It took me years to stop wondering if Jehovah was watching.

These days, when my doorbell rings and I open it to find Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door, I am always polite but firm when I tell them I’m not interested. If the Witness happen to have a child with them it takes a lot not to tell the parent you have no idea what you’re doing to your child.

I still don’t celebrate Christmas, I don’t have any emotional attachment to the holiday. I still have to fight off the old blues of exclusion that come creeping back into my life. I’m not an outward grinch but I’m frustrated at how invasive Christmas is, how it permeates almost every aspect of our society. I grieve what could have been but then I remember the religion gave me a gift, it taught me to look at the world with a critical eye.

I start each day with meditation, then a practice of writing down what I am grateful for. Each day I am grateful that I don’t live under Jehovah’s judgmental eye, and that I don’t have to worry about firestorms anymore.

Lizz Huerta is a writer living in Southern California. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Here Are All the Sexist Ways the Media Portrayed Both Men and Women in 2014

Women have come a long way, but as this video shows, there's still a long way to go

Plenty of things happened over the past year that were great for women. Several female-driven films dominated at the box office, more and more celebrities became comfortable with the word feminism, a 17-year-old girl won the Nobel Peace Prize and stars like Lorde encouraged girls to accept and embrace their imperfections.

But this video created by the Representation Project, a non-profit that works to challenge and overcomes gender stereotypes, shows that sexism continues to prevail in popular media. The video also points out that gender stereotypes aren’t just harmful for women — they end up hurting men too.

Read next: How Far We Haven’t Come: All of the Terrible Ways the Media Treated Women in 2013 in One Video

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME society

What I Learned as a Former Hooters Girl

Hooters restaurant in Chantilly, Virginia on Jan. 2, 2015.
Hooters restaurant in Chantilly, Virginia on Jan. 2, 2015. PAUL J. RICHARDS—AFP/Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Coined “entertainers,” Hooter Girls are expected and encouraged to chat and hang around with customers, which can be awesome or horrifying depending on the customer

xojane

I was 23, jobless and full of Sheetz milkshakes when I made my way past the highway signs promising my destination.

Just a week earlier, I had decided that the stuffy, crowded Washington, DC area was not for me, packed all my belongings into my small SUV, and set my sights on Tennessee. The only premise for my decision to move there was that the people had been exceptionally friendly when I had passed through the year before on my way from Arizona. It was a life-trend I had been participating in since I turned 18 — to pack and move where the wind blew me, whenever it blew.

It was in this fashion that I cruised into Rocky Top — hair in a messy bun, no bra under my worn camisole, a pair of brightly patterned stretch pants hanging from my hips, and a car full of clothes, pictures and yellowed books with dog-eared pages. Prescriptions, paperwork and car information littered the front seat — I tried to keep my life organized, but it’s nearly impossible when you uproot yourself every nine months for the next great adventure.

Taking notice of my growing hunger, I searched the highway exit signs. Suddenly and without warning, a bright orange sign with a wide-eyed owl promised my favorite food and a cold beer! “HOOTERS” the sign read, “Next exit.” I dashed three lanes to the right, risking life and limb for some buffalo wings and a Bud Light.

Just kidding, I was already in the slow lane because I drive like a grandma — I put on my blinker and carefully merged into the exit lane. When I got there, it looked like my utopia. They promised and delivered on the tacky, with brightly colored signs and an exposed ceiling with pipes laden in thick orange paint. Girls sashayed around the restaurant in what appeared to be relative comfort — tight cotton tank tops stretched across their chests, satiny orange spandex shorts that rode up their backsides with a thick layer of nylons to keep everything tucked away and in order.

On their feet they wore thick, white socks scrunched ’80s style and padded white non-slip sneakers. Their hair bounced along with their boobies and they smiled when they brought my buffalo wings. When they weren’t busy bouncing, they perched over tables, giggling and talking, or gathered in clumps, hula hooping and cursing and laughing with one another.

It was there, a few beers deep thanks to the generosity of some balding, middle aged men across the bar, and stuffed with chicken wings, that I made the next great proclamation for my Great Adventure of Life. I would become a Hooters Girl.

I spent the next two days settling into a room I had found off Craigslist and procured a mattress and box spring with the help of a young guy I found in the labor section of the site. He was good looking, had a thick southern drawl, and we would make out at a later date, but for now I paid him twenty bucks to haul me and my new mattress home from the mattress depot in his pick-up truck.

I practiced curling my hair and bouncing my boobs in the mirror — skills I believed would be highly effective for my future career as a Hooters Girl. Finally, I applied, and a Hooters down the road in a less glamorous part of town that was desperately hiring took me up. I was in! Here is what I learned while working as a Hooters Girl.

Those uniforms are extremely unflattering. Seriously. They add at least fifteen pounds and squeeze you in the worst of areas (read: muffin top). Made of spandex and cotton, they were extremely comfortable and provided lots of agility for activities, but looking your best? They were not made for that.

All of my coworkers were beautiful women, and for the curvier of us, these uniforms were a curse. The thick spandex waistband dug into your hips and you had two choices – sling ‘em low and deal with the muffin top or pull ‘em up high and make your hips and butt look like a big orange balloon.

The customers are the best and worst part of the job. It all depended on how they viewed you as a person. Most of the regulars were men, and some of them had a lot of money. It wasn’t unusual to receive a $100 tip on a Monday night after giving mediocre service to a couple of businessmen watching the football game.

There were the regulars who came in every night, and it was their policy to tip $10 or more an hour for every hour they sat at your table, which added up to around $50 by the end of the night. For most, there was the unspoken exchange of money for some conversation and attention.

This is where Hooters really veers off and differs from your regular restaurants. Coined “entertainers,” Hooter Girls are expected and encouraged to chat and hang around with customers, which can be truly awesome, and also horrifying depending on the customers you’re stuck with.

The other side of the coin is that Hooters is cheap eats, which attracts a lot of young hard-working families, blue collar workers, and some down-on-their-luck men angry at women and the world. These tables provide mediocre tips on their small bills and at best, keep us busy when it’s slow. At worst, the women are foaming at the mouth with anger and misplaced resentment toward their Hooter Girl (we’re sorry our boobs are in your husband’s face, there is an Applebee’s down the road), and the men are drunk and pervy, ordering their food and drinks while staring into the depths of your cleavage so deeply that you feel like they can spot the crumbs from the nachos you devoured earlier. Or they’re slipping their arms around your waist, or in worse places.

We are not here for your approval or attention. Most, if not all of us, are here for the cheddar. As I mentioned earlier, there’s an opportunity at Hooters to make much more than at your average restaurant, all in a laid-back and fun environment.

In the time I worked at Hooters, all of the girls I worked with were either in school, raising families, helping out their relatives or just trying to make ends meet. Of the fifty or so women I worked with, I could count on one hand the girls who were trying to make some type of career out of modeling, entertainment, or anything Hooters-related.

That’s right, most of us were not at Hooters to practice walking around in barely there ’80s gym uniforms and smiling. There were plenty of customers, typically men, who treated us as though we were pathetic, thirsty females starved for male attention. Most of us, after a long night at the Owl House, were happy to slip on sweats and baggy T-shirts and drink and stuff our face with nachos, unnoticed by the male population. Most of us had strict personal policies against dating men who frequented Hooters.

And to the women who come into Hooters with their boyfriend or husbands: We don’t want him, I swear. Seriously, if you weren’t comfortable with coming to Hooters in the first place, why are you here? I have to imagine that these women who treat us so poorly do it out of resentment, jealousy and anger.

I get it — you don’t want to watch your boyfriend order his burger into a pair of double Ds that aren’t yours, in a restaurant swarming with more butt-wedgies and tits than an MTV Spring Break, while you sit there fully clothed. That’s understandable. So why not go somewhere else? I don’t get any more pleasure out of your boyfriend ogling me than you do, and it wasn’t my idea for you to come here tonight. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t pretend to be fine just to appease your boyfriend or be the “cool girlfriend” (ew). Tell him you don’t like going to Hooters with him, and if he protests, get a new boyfriend. Trust that one of us won’t be snatching him up in the meantime.

You’re most likely not going to get a date at Hooters. At the end of the night, most of us are throwing out handfuls of wadded up Post-its and napkins with phone numbers on them. I’ve been a waitress for 6 years in other restaurants and I’ve never seen anything like it.

This goes back to the weird idea so many men have that we work at Hooters for the attention. It’s a really twisted logic, considering many men who come to Hooters are essentially paying for female attention. I won’t discount those who genuinely love the wings, cold beer and fried pickles, but most men would be lying if they said they weren’t here for the scenery.

The other girls are truly the best perk of the job. It’s like being in a sorority where every hug is really squishy and delightful. I made lifelong friends working at Hooters that I never would have met anywhere else. We were a working class sorority: down to earth, fun-loving and crazy. Probably because there weren’t a lot of men working in the restaurant, the level of drama was surprisingly low. We bickered about shift swaps and cigarette breaks, but at the end of the night, we all counted tips and drank beers and shared stories.

When extenuating circumstances caused me to return to the stifling snottiness of the D.C. area and leave my orange shorts behind, a piece of me died inside. I have since been employed somewhere I am required to wear pants, I can’t curse or hula hoop, and my co-workers aren’t a slew of beautiful women. And while some may call this “moving up in the world,” I think about Hooters and realize I’ll never have that much fun at work again.

Claire Burgess is a waitress and freelance writer. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Read next: The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Bill De Blasio’s Wife On Police Relations

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Essence

What will it take to build a relationship of trust between communities of color and the police who serve them?

Editor’s Note: Chirlane McCray submitted this piece in early December, before the murders of two NYPD police officers. Ms. McCray tells us, “We in New York were shaken to the core by the horrific killings of two selfless men who embodied the NYPD’s highest ideals. In the wake of this tragedy, New Yorkers will work even more to strengthen the alliance between our police force and our communities.”

Last June, I attended a Brooklyn meeting of grandmothers who have stepped up and taken responsibility for their grandchildren, after violence threatened to tear their families apart. They call themselves Grandmother’s LOV (Love Over Violence), and they are remarkable.

The grandmothers (and a few extra-remarkable great-grandmothers) gather regularly to talk about their challenges and celebrate their successes. They support one another; they know firsthand how devastating it is when mothers or fathers are taken away from their children by murder or incarceration, and they want to help break that cycle of loss.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) founded the group and organizes all the meetings in partnership with the grandmothers and local clergy. As I watched the women interact with their local police officers as friends and partners, I was filled with a great sense of hope. This, I thought, is community policing in action, an organic alliance between police and a community in urgent need of protection.

But then, less than a month later, Eric Garner was killed in an encounter with NYPD officers. And I mourned the step backward as the community reflected on the death of yet another unarmed Black man. Like many, I wondered, What will it take to build a relationship of trust between communities of color and the police who serve them?

I think we must acknowledge that being a police officer is a tough, tough job. In the face of real physical danger, the officers are required to maintain their professionalism and composure. They have to sort out the so-called bad guys from good guys, without resorting to stereotype. And they must do all of this while respecting the dignity of everyone they serve.

We must also provide our police with training, tools and tactics that equip them to engage constructively with our incredibly diverse communities. That work is already well under way in New York City. The NYPD is in the process of retraining its entire patrol force. Officers will receive guidance on how to talk with citizens and—more important—how to listen. They will learn how to de-escalate tense interactions and recognize people who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Moreover, under the leadership of my husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYPD is working toward decreasing the number of arrests for offenses that needlessly create the potential for physical confrontations between police and civilians. Toward that goal, the NYPD ended the overuse of stop and frisk. The city has also adjusted marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests. And in order to monitor those physical confrontations that will happen, the city launched a pilot program to equip officers with body cameras.

I believe our progress depends on our recognizing the thread of humanity that binds us together, which brings me back to Grandmother’s LOV. In September, the NYPD expanded the program to all five boroughs. For me, this news was a reminder that the answers to our most vexing problems are within reach—we just need to grasp them.

This article originally appeared on Essence.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Do We Need a New Year To Create Change?

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Why do we feel differently about change on January 1st than we do on May 15th or August 29th?

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At the end of last year, I got into a spat with someone I love. “Spat” is actually a delicate word for what happened. It was ugly and it hurt and months later, we spoke again, this time more carefully. But underneath the more common-place insults from that day was something sharp and true: “Allison really can’t handle change.” That line stuck with me. Was he right?

There’s a tension between resolutions and outcomes. Some tension is fun and some tension leaves an ache. Anxiety thrives in this environment. But I tried to leave the fear in a small corner. I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how things in my life and the lives of those around me and the events of the world are changing, changing, changing. For me, there were so many questions.

Could I handle a change in plans — an extra guest or two at the table, an early arrival, a cancellation? I didn’t want to be the person who panicked over minor details. In my mind, I’m smooth and sinuous, always above reproach in my gracious manner. But my face betrays the real worries: what if there isn’t enough to go around? What if we never reschedule our plans and it’s because I’m not good company? What if I’m not prepared?

Our lives continuously shrink and expand on a micro level (relationships, jobs) and a macro level (elections, public policy) without the passing of a new year. It never stops. Why do we feel differently about change on January 1st than we do on May 15th or August 29th? The Chinese New Year’s Day for 2015 is February 19th and the Jewish New Year starts on September 13th — these are dates imbued with religious and cultural significance. The traditions hold far more meaning than champagne or confetti or a kiss.

And yet — I like the taste of sweet and crisp champagne. I like being pulled in for the first kiss of a new calendar year (and I love Jennifer Weiner’s line at the end of Good in Bed — “I would like to be the only man you kiss this millennium” — because sometimes I am a romantic sap and that is a hard sentiment for a sap to resist). After the ball drops and I’ve made my way home from the party, I like pulling my hair out from its pins and a nice dress off at the end of a fun night with friends. I am not immune to the charms of December 31st. I’m just not convinced that it’s the driving force behind change.

On a political level, I am profoundly grateful for progressive changes. In 2014, grassroots organizing has sparked revolution on many fronts and demanded an end. The revolution is done with police brutality and the systemic devaluing of people of color. The revolution is done with condoning rape culture. The revolution is done with the exploitation of labor at unfair wages. These are only a few of the many issues crying out for a change. I’m so proud of the revolution undertaken in unions and on college campuses and on doorsteps and in the streets. I’m thankful for the work, the words, the constant and critical effort.

But this year, I wrote less and less about the political activism I hold dear. For the last five years, my writing was centered on feminism and social justice. The articles and reviews were reactions to what I read and saw, but not what I experienced. In my personal time, I read many essays online and the books I read this year were predominantly essay collections: Once I Was Cool, Legs Get Led Astray, Bad Feminist, The Empathy Exams. My writing turned inward and I focused on subjects I had previously shied away from. I can already see the changes in my writing. I feel like I’ve finally found a voice I can write in with confidence.

Part of the reason that I shied away from writing about my personal life was because I felt scrutinized by an inner circle. Why did I keep people around who discouraged my work? What, exactly, made them the final authority on real writing? I found that even when I encouraged their work whole-heartedly, it didn’t make them more supportive of me. If anything, it only made me feel even more isolated and uncertain about how to proceed. For two years, I stopped writing with any real frequency. I was so ashamed. My closest friends — some of whom are also writers — wondered what was happening to me and I couldn’t answer.

Another change in this year meant closing off the links to that inner circle. It happened gradually. There were a series of choices and each time, I picked the choice that echoed my intuition: get away, travel, dye your hair, take the class, tell your friends, read the books, do the work. That little voice saved me from my worst instincts and put me back on a path that keeps me fulfilled while reaching for everything I want to try.

I still have a face that shows exactly what I’m thinking, even if I’m trying to mask those thoughts. I’m still flustered and anxious and I don’t always handle every shift in plans with flawless grace. But I’m changing.

This time last year, I didn’t have a car, but now I’m driving the cute convertible that everyone discouraged me from buying — and then promptly fell in love with once I claimed ownership. I took a chance on the car I wanted most and it paid off. That was in September. It was an ordinary day that changed my outlook on the rest of the year.

Change can happen any time. It’s happening right now.

Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer living in Maryland. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Why I’m Over the Size Acceptance Movement

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

What exactly does SA 201 look like? I’m not sure because none of the loudest voices in the movement focus on that

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My mother started me on diets when I was 7 years old. There were nutritionists, doctor visits, numerous diet plans, even Weight Watchers, and I hated every moment of it. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a WW meeting and being literally applauded for losing 9lbs in one week and being baffled by why something so irrelevant deserved applause and annoyed at being put on the spot.

By the time I was 14 I had had enough. Not only had I not lost weight, I had in fact gained weight — which made sense to me since I was still growing through puberty. So I refused to diet anymore. Needless to say, my mother wasn’t happy about it. I figured that if she really loved me she would accept me the way I was. I didn’t have a problem with my body, she did. I didn’t see why her problem had to be my problem anymore, so I put my foot down, and that was that. I’m now 38 years old and my mother has more or less accepted and respected my personal truth: conversations about my weight are off limits. And, yes, I’m going to eat that.

It was also about that time that I discovered there was a whole movement dedicated to the way I was feeling about my body and I embraced it. Thus a Size Acceptance (SA) activist was born. I spent those early years thinking deeply and critically about healthism, the diet industry, unrealistic beauty standards, gender expression relative to fat bodies, and blatant discrimination and stigma. I was grateful for those outspoken voices who reflected my experiences, my beliefs, and most importantly, my body.

“Riots, not diets” were words to live by and even as a Black woman who weighs 350lbs I felt very much a part of it. I had several blogs that I tended to forget to update and that fell by the wayside, I participated in Substantia Jone’s Adipositivity project (NSFW), and I even helped publish Lesley Kinzel’s book Two Whole Cakes. You can thank me for the subtitle and the fact that the cover doesn’t contain an obvious and cliche fat font. I still regret that the Feminist Press didn’t get to publish The Fat Studies Reader when I worked there, but the book is out in the world and that’s what matters.

Over the past twenty odd years the movement has spawned several sub-movements: Health At Every Size, an overall Body Love/Anti-diet approach, one that is focused on Fatshion, and another that is not much acknowledged by the other groups but that shouldn’t be ignored and is focused on fat sexuality/dating while fat, and one that is not necessarily a sub-group but is more of a vague and diffuse collection of random voices who go on social media to laud any and every public/celebrity/artistic representation of fatness regardless of what that representation actually is or how deeply thought out it is (yeah, no, I’m really not “All About That Bass”). All of this is fine and good, but as this fragmentation happens I feel we are moving away from solidarity and towards an exclusionary “good fatty” and “bad fatty” paradigm. I don’t feel a “riots, not diets” way so much anymore.

What’s more, a lot of these sub-movements focus on SA 101 ideas: eat healthy, exercise regularly, don’t gain/lose weight, don’t have/stop struggling with an eating disorder, love your body, resist stigma and shame, wear what you want, date who you like, and only flaunt your sexuality if your body is under a size 20. What happens when you move past SA 101 ideas? What exactly does SA 201 look like? I’m not sure and I’ve never been able to form a coherent SA 201 playlist or even start much constructive discussion about it because none of the loudest voices in the movement focus on that. Presumably because so many people still need SA 101. And that’s all fine, but I need SA 201.

I think quite a few of us do. And what alienates me most is the fact that none of those voices look like me and I’m left to wonder, “Where do I fit in now?” For the record, I’m Black and weigh about 355lbs, have chronic conditions, and while I’m educated, I’m more lower middle class than upper. I’d probably be considered a bad fatty and so would a lot of other fatties I know. Those SA 101 ideas begin to seem oppressive to me when you can’t afford to eat healthy, when you gain/lose weight for any reason, when you have had or are considering weight loss surgery, when you have chronic health conditions or are not able bodied, when you think there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear, or when all those people/artistic endeavors who are lauded look nothing like you or represent ideas you think are flawed. It seems like there is in fact a wrong way to have a body. Your underpants are not actually your own. And, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!

I’m particularly disheartened by the way straight White women’s needs seem to be prioritized over POC, LGBTQ, men or people who are masculine of center, and people who are visibly not able bodied even though I think we probably do the most subtle everyday activism around the subject just from being so visibly othered. There just aren’t any women who look like me who can speak for me in this movement. There never really have been — but now that I’m in an SA 201 place I need people who look like me. I need voices who are not so thoroughly represented. This movement is especially lacking fat male voices. This lack of diverse representation is especially true regarding the different way fat bodies are read. Fat Black bodies are not read the same way as fat White bodies. They just aren’t. Period. And if one more White person tells me that Black people are generally more accepting of fat bodies I will scream. This isn’t true and I’m tired of saying so. The racially charged events of the past summer are a stark reminder of this.

I really don’t care what other people do with their bodies. Gain weight, lose weight, exercise, don’t exercise, eat whatever the eff you want. Wear whatever, but if you are fat and you dress loudly and then make a sweeping statement about how people stare at you (and by extension all other fat people) only because you are fat rather than how you are dressed or what you are doing in public with a camera on a tripod on crowded city streets, I’m going to call you on it.

Instead of making room for everyone’s voice, I feel like only one collective voice gets recognized as valid. It’s all made me not want to be involved anymore. Lack of solidarity is killing the movement. The call to all fat people to be the same is limiting progress. I don’t have any ready answers for where to go next. I just know that I want to feel represented. I want the people who do look like me to talk loudly and say more. I’d like to have conversations about fatness, fat stigma, and intersectionality — which is integral to moving forward constructively — that don’t devolve into casual racism, or ablist rhetoric, or be told by someone who weighs 200lbs less than me that our struggles are the same. They really aren’t. I’d rather for someone who looks nothing like me to acknowledge and respect our differences, than insist we are all the same. We’re really not and that should be okay.

Just make some room for me at the big girls table and listen to what I have to say.

Cary Webb works in publishing and lives in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Behold, a Hammock for Your Feet

Put your feet up, and watch how it works

This week in offbeat inventions: “The Foot Hammock,” a hammock for cubicle jockeys and gamers who often get restless sitting in front of the computers at their desks for hours on end.

Co-founded by Brigham Young University student Matt Hulme of Provo, Utah, “The Foot Hammock” will have a booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nev. Supporters can look out for its Kickstarter, which is expected to debut this week as well.

A similar “foot hammock” that made the rounds on the Internet this summer appears to be up for sale.

TIME society

This Is How to Melt Soda Cans Into Almost Anything

Here’s how you recycle the cool way

We all know how to recycle the lame way: Just dump your aluminum cans into that blue bin and let the garbage man haul them off and turn them into who knows what—probably just more cans.

Here’s how you recycle the cool way: You build your own tiny foundry like Grant Thomas, aka The King of Random. Then you melt down your old soda cans yourself and turn them into whatever you want with a few molds from the Dollar Store.

We should say upfront that building mini foundries and working with molten aluminum might not be for everyone. For the DIY-challenged, it’s probably a good way to end up with a very confused doctor looking you over in the emergency room.

But even if you aren’t ready to fire up a forge in your backyard, watching Thompson melt down cans with ease and turn them into metal biscuits and other goodies (including a sword) is a fun visual representation of how recycling and reusing metal isn’t just some ambiguous concept. It’s something anyone can do, even at home. Just don’t use your good muffin pans.

Bring on the 18-pack of Mountain Dew!

This article originally appeared on FWx.

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