While attending elementary school in Western Pennsylvania, Letty Oaks* drove my sisters and me to school in a Suburban. Back in those days, station wagons ruled the roads, and SUV-type vehicles were a rare sight. Her unusual vehicle was one of the many reasons my sisters and I were totally intrigued by her. With a cigarette constantly lit, and in her deep gravelly voice, Letty regaled us with life stories filled with insights and nuggets. When our mom would ask us what we learned in school that day, our response often started with, “Letty Oaks said…” and we recited the Gospel of Letty. My mom carefully navigated that tricky line of honoring Letty’s insights and offering possible alternatives. Such as the times we explained to Mom that “only the good die young,” “the best education is the school of Hard Knocks,” and though Letty smoked two packs a day, her doctor had said her “lungs were as pink as a baby’s.”
Throughout grade school, I used Letty’s insights to guide me through tricky hurdles and confusing situations. I realized recently that I still do this. Letty Oaks has been replaced with authors Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle Melton, Caitlyn Moran, and other wise, kind, funny, and insightful women.
There are certain essays and passages from these writers that I have photocopied and keep on hand to share with folks who really need their wise words. I pull out my well-worn, tear-stained, marked up copies of Gifts of Imperfection, and Rising Strong when I need to reset. There are phrases I carry with me in my wallet, such as Cheryl Strayed’s guidance in her book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar:
There is no why. You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out the ones you’re holding.
These are the new vehicles for guidance and growth. But our minds and bodies are vehicles too. They carry us through life, and treating them well can be our regular maintenance. Self-care routines can be our tune-ups. Body Image Activist Taryn Brumfitt has joined the ranks of personal guides, my Letty Oaks for adulthood. When Brumfitt posted an unconventional “before and after” photo that went viral, the reactions (both wildly positive and cruel and hurtful) inspired her to set out and travel the world to explore the issues of body image. Her journey and the people she interviewed is documented in the film, Embrace. She founded the Body Image Movement, the organization’s mission includes “encouraging women to be more accepting of who they are, to use positive language regarding their bodies and others, and to prioritize health before beauty.” The phrase I repeat like a mantra is Ms. Brumfitt’s statement, “This body of mine, it’s not an ornament, it’s a vehicle.”
In conjunction with the Annual Clothing Swap (a fabulous event made possible by the hard work of coordinators Jennifer Moore, Stacia Oparowski, Laura Horwood-Benton, Kimberly Curry of Goodwill Northern New England, and the crew of incredible volunteers) the library screens a fashion related film the Thursday before the Swap, and provides a sneak preview of some of the clothes.
This year we are showing the film Embrace. A perfect fit. The Swap promotes sustainable style, shedding clothes that no longer speak to us, passed on to someone who will enjoy the new threads. Always jam packed, the Swap exudes positive and collaborative energy.
I made a mix in honor of Embrace’s body positive message. Our bodies are vehicles. Let’s focus on what these vehicles can do. Let’s take care of these vehicles. Love these vehicles. Celebrate the variety and beauty of other vehicles too.
The Mix is available on Spotify. The library is not endorsing Spotify, there is a free level of membership if you decide to sign up. Click on the song to see the video (I linked to the official video when possible.) Click on the artist to link to the library’s music CD. The CDs are also available on Hoopla.
My Skin. Lizzo
Girl Can’t Be Herself. Alicia Keys
Sum Of Our Parts. (audio only) Mary Lambert
Scars To Your Beautiful. Alessia Cara
Stronger Than My Fears. (this links to the Women Sports Film Festival trailer) SHEL
Warrior. (live) Aurora
Brave. Moriah Peters
Good As Hell. (explicit) Lizzo
Secrets. (explicit) Mary Lambert
Sit Still, Look Pretty. Daya
Get Ur Freak On. (explicit) Missy Elliott
This song was used in one of the UK’s This Girl Can PSAs. Their website states, “This Girl Can is a celebration of active women who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. Funded by The National Lottery and developed by Sport England, we want to help women overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping too many women and girls from joining in.” If you can only watch one video on this playlist, please watch this one.
Salute. Little Mix
White Flag. Joseph
*her name has been changed.
Mix Messages is written by library assistant Heather Armitage. She enjoys reading fiction and humorous essays, traveling, trying new vegetarian recipes, and dancing in the kitchen. She’s grateful her dog, Floyd, doesn’t judge her moves. If you have suggestions for future Mix Messages, please email her at email@example.com