The Things You Shouldn’t Say

Eighth grade is a time of life I’d never revisit. That in-between period where everyone is going through puberty yet exhibiting its signs in various ways. It’s not pretty—well not for everyone. Of course, there are always the girls who seemed to blossom into young womanhood with ease, their bodies becoming lithe and womanly overnight, with clear skin and eyes that didn’t need glasses to see. Whatever they lacked naturally was made up with access to salons and the best stores.

For a girl such as myself, whose gift from the puberty fairies were extra layers of fat and unruly hair, thicker glasses, and zero access to the fashions I wished I could wear, the inequities of middle school womanhood were never more apparent than in the locker room. Yup, we all had to dress out for PE, changing from our school outfits to shorts and school-logo shirts.

You can tell how females feel about their bodies by the way they will change clothes in shared spaced such as a locker room. Those with nothing they wish to hide would strip off shirts and jeans, taking their time transitioning to PE attire while laughing and chatting in their underwear, which was decidedly more adult-looking than not. The rest of us would change clothes quickly and efficiently, taking special care to expose no part of the body to anyone as much as possible. At that age, you either had too much of something, not enough of what you wanted and a shared loathing of the unfairness of it all.

I didn’t grow up with female role models who paid attention to healthful eating and exercise. What I had been exposed to be many women who married and had babies and no longer looked like the women used to be. This was usually blamed on the marriage and the babies and accepted as the price one pays for the life they got. It was a cultural thing because our move to Southern California when I was 12 years old showed me a very different narrative. These girls who floated past puberty woes were the daughters of women who appeared to have floated past pregnancy and childbirth woes. My insecurities were only further inflamed.

But here’s what didn’t help—adults in my world who felt compelled to comment on what was none of their business—my body.

While trying on a junior bridesmaid’s dress, the bride brought over a size 5, which was too tight on me. She commented that her waist was 24 inches and how was it that at age 13, mine was not? Her fiancé walked by and saw me in the dress and said, “well, you know you need to lose weight, right?” But the more tragic part was the shame I felt, tainted with the foolish notion that it was my duty to answer them all and acknowledge that yes, I needed to lose weight.

I got chubbier and high school started. That summer I got a turquoise lace, tea-length formal dress on sale (hideous, but this was 1989). There was a family wedding in the fall, and I was excited to debut the monstrosity there. When I arrived at the wedding and greeted uncles and aunts I hadn’t seen since I was a child, whatever bubble of loveliness was popped when the relatives gave me the up and down and said, “What happened to you?” with looks of disappointment on their faces.

Those experiences and my teenage desire to be someone different from I was, got me motivated. I got serious about improving myself halfway through 9th grade and started doing aerobics classes I’d tape on VHS off of ESPN. When you are young, it doesn’t take too much to kick your body into great shape, and before long all sorts of people made comments about my body again. But this time, the flattery filled a hole that had been dug by the cruelty. And it wasn’t long before my sense of worth became completely propped up by someone else’s approval of my body.

Then I had my first baby, and the pregnancy weight didn’t fly off. Again, relatives and even casual friends made comments about how large I had become. About how I’d need to commit myself to work harder to look better. And I took it, smiling through humiliation, yet seething and hurt on the inside.

How was this anyone’s dang business?

In South Asian culture, there is this very unfortunate phenomenon where pretty much anyone, but especially if they are related to you, feels perfectly entitled to comment, even ask for explanations, about one’s weight gain. Those same people will clamor all over you like ants on an unsupervised slice of watermelon at a summer picnic when you lose weight and, in their eyes, are now acceptable. All of it is wrong.

All I choose to say is this: If you have ever told someone to lose weight or fix themselves up, shame on you. If you are a parent or other adult meant to love and support a person who was verbally assaulted with such unkindness and did nothing about it, shame on you.

And if you’ve been on the receiving end of this BS, know this. Those people who dared to make hurtful comments about something that is none of their ever-loving business are the ones with problems beyond your care or control. And if the ones entrusted to do better by you stood by while you were hurt, they were the ones with the problem.

I was enough then. I am enough now. You were enough then. You are enough now.

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Bombay Begums and India’s #Metoo Movement

Scrolling Netflix one day for my latest series to binge (hurry up with season 6 Outlander!), the top suggestion of the moment was Bombay Begums. Bombay is more currently referred to as Mumbai, its ancient name before the British thought Bombay was more fun to say, and Begum is an aristocratic or royal title for women who are “up there.” In the context of this series, which at first, I thought was going to be a reality show about rich, film-industry connected Indian ladies of leisure (alas, Netflix already has one of those), “begums” refers to high-powered career women and those trying to climb the ladder.

So, spoiler alert. Rani is the powerful CEO of major Bombay bank. Fatima is fast on the rise in her career in finance with a husband lagging behind her. Aisha is young, pretty, ready to climb but needs to figure herself out first. Finally, Lili is a street-smart former prostitute who wants to earn her money with respect. The series is narrated by Shai, Rani’s stepdaughter who has figured out the power of women long before the grown-ups have. Long story short—these women all become more intertwined than you’d think they would at many points at odd with each other, but finally coming together in a quad of strong women supporting strong women. The biggest common denominator among them all? They’ve been manipulated, abused, and made to be complicit by the men who dangled the keys to success in front of them. Smart and competent women all of them, but voiceless until they all start talking to each other.

India has a patriarchal culture that happens to have a lot of very strong and brilliant women working their way through it. Indian women are entrepreneurs, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, and society-shakers. Yet they too face the same dilemmas women around the world face in navigating their place in whatever fields they choose to conquer. And like so many women around the globe, finding their voice to speak out about the abuse many of them have suffered has been key to taking back their power and paving the way for the women who follow them. In a culture that clings to tradition while embracing modernity and innovation, the clashes between them are great and often frequent.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has often been sadly seen as part of the job. But as we all well know; all it takes is just one person to come forward and the house of cards quickly crumbles.

German website published a piece about the movement taking root in India.

 “Like in other places across the world, the #MeToo movement generated discussion in India about sexual harassment within the workplace, particularly in the entertainment and film industries.

As an immediate aftereffect, more women were encouraged to speak up against their harassers, both publicly and anonymously.

Filmmaker Vinta Nanda had spoken up against veteran Bollywood actor Alok Nath, whom she accused of rape. ‘Before the movement, I was afraid to move because I felt isolated and ostracized,’ she told DW. But now, she added, ‘I know I am not alone.’

‘Most of the others who have spoken out feel the same way as I do and that is one massive step forward that the women’s empowerment movement has taken,” she said.’*

In this context, a series such as Bombay Begums is groundbreaking as it sheds considerable light on a serious problem. This happening in a country where many women—no matter how educated or high-powered they are—fall victim to the same discrimination, harassment, abuse of women regardless of socio-economic background. Given that the series also portrays sex, adultery, and a woman’s choice in them (topics Indian media and film/tv productions tend to gloss over), the show makes a strong statement about the bodily autonomy of women.

In one particular scene, Lili witnesses Aisha being sexually assaulted by a senior team member of the bank and tries to stop it. The stereotype dictates that Lili, as a prostitute is used to, even accepting of, a man using a woman’s body at a whim. But the narrative blows the lid off that: Lili has done what she has needed to do to provide for her son and herself. But it is her choice, even if it’s not the ideal choice. So, when she sees another woman being forced to give up her body autonomy 1. She doesn’t question Aisha. She sees what is happening and calls it out. 2. There is no dawdling over consent—she saw that questions answered in Aisha’s eyes and body language. And she’s ready to testify.

Women don’t usually get assaulted or harassed with a witness nearby. And even when someone is willing to corroborate their story, the risks of telling the truth are sometimes too great to take.

But like with many things, there is strength in numbers. As women in India and around the world, get better at believing each other, being willing to stick their necks out for each other, and stand together, it is becoming increasingly harder for the perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault to blend back in the shadows. And when men stand with women, the effect is even more powerful. This is how it must be.

As the male character who assaulted Aisha said (and I’m loosely paraphrasing), “It’s getting harder to be a man with this #metoo stuff.”

And while we know it’s not all men, that is exactly the point of speaking up.


Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Moms are People Too

I’m ironically streaming one of comedian Ally Wong’s Netflix specials while writing this. It’s a hidden and well-cultivated talent—multitasking and all. Moms—if you know you know. So, Ally, who is pregnant in this special, starts off talking about returning to the workforce in her chosen profession of stand-up comedy. Of course, even her fellow comics are thrown off course by this woman coming back to a field that appears isn’t always welcoming to working moms with babies at home. But Ally’s explanation to her colleagues is true for a lot of us. After being at home with her infant day and night—with the sleep deprivation, lack of regular showers and meals, you know, the total, laser focus on a small human who commands your every move, Ally said she loved her baby girl more than anything in the whole world. But if she didn’t return to work, she might throw her daughter in the garbage. Before CPS Karens go nuts, Ms. Wong was joking, ok?

Eight weeks of the stay-at-home mom life turned out to be not as ideal as Ally Wong was told it would be. “A job,” she says. “A wack-a** job.” I’m laughing. Because I get it.

I’m way on the other end of those heady new days of mom life, and gratefully so. And while I squeal when colleagues show us their babies on Zoom meetings, and feel my “quickly expiring eggs in their about to retire ovaries” make some weird quivers when I watch baby videos on Tik Tok, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to square one with the motherhood/babyhood days. I think this also means that I’m going to dig the grandma life eventually.

“Grandma: All of the hype, none of the responsibility.” Sounds good to me!

While I have found all the stages my kids have gone through to have had beautiful merits in each one, motherhood has demanded something extraordinarily great of me. Aside from the devotion, anxiety, and the willingness to die for my offspring, it demanded I put the Essence of Wilo in storage for a bit.

I think all you moms can relate. Who was this woman that got this man to pledge his life to her because she was singularly sharp, funny, well-read, compassionate, quirky, interesting, beautiful, spiritual, and fascinating, only to pop a baby in her and have all that wonderfulness compete for surface time for the next 18+ years? For all you chicks like me hovering closer to the empty nest drop zone, the idea that there is this person inside firing up her jets for a quickly approaching take-off is exciting. It’s deserved. It’s time.

Why? Because our kids seem to care not that we existed as human beings with dreams, passions, ideas, goals, daredevil spirits outside of our roles as mothers. Because, and some of these precious souls have had the cojones to remind us of this, they know more than us what motherhood means. They know what a mother is supposed to do. And like many a middle-aged mom (or younger or older), you might have been informed that you’ve missed the mark on several occasions.

If you are in the thick of it in those days of toddlerhood, preschoolhood, elementaryhood—all the hoods—I know you are up to your eyeballs. Especially if you are also juggling a paying gig in or outside of the home (and well, a lot of us have that juggle going in the house right now). I know you were also this great girl that did very cool things—who had a bucket list of places to travel to, or art to develop, maybe political interest, or activism in college or grad school. All of those things are still very much burning inside of you, but you—like all moms—have had to reprioritize. And its sucks at times. But it’s totally fine because your kids are the #1 priority—as they should be. But while you have all this great stuff about you and who you are and what you still have to offer this big world, those fluffy-headed munchkin goofball children are completely and blissfully oblivious.

Then come the teen/college years. Now I’ve seen this go both ways at this stage in life. At some point, your kids see you and your “things” as kind of cool. While they are teens and their need for you becomes less all-consuming, thus allowing you to delve into reclaiming some parts of yourself, they will indulge you, support you even. As long as you don’t embarrass them in any way shape or form (like blogging or podcasting, for example), you can continue with your cute new hobbies. Then there is the other side where your almost grown children want nothing to do with this story of who their mother was and what she is still becoming. They want you to stay in your lane, which must never veer into their lanes, while supposedly welcoming them when they try to swerve into your lane, a lane that is none of their dang business.

Moms, we are so much more than the uteruses that brought our offspring forth, or the bodies that fed them and fret over them still. We still have these sides of us that have lain dormant for years that deserve to awaken. We still have growing of our own to do. New things to discover, new accomplishments to add, new ways of thinking and being.

My daughter, at the age of 6, asked me if I’d be dead when she went to college. I was 30. When she did go to college, I was 43 and very much not dead. She’ll graduate next year, and my son will be off this fall as a college freshman. So, what does that mean? At the age of 46, I still have 20 years (as I project it) for my day job and all this other time for whatever the heck I want. And that will be an ever-evolving pursuit.

My point in all this is that ladies, I know the raising of our babies puts a lot of things in a different order than we might have wanted. But advocate for yourself to be true to yourself. Does that make sense? Along the journey of raising your families, you’ll find spaces to tap into the part of you that has nothing to do with who you are as a spouse, parent, friend, or daughter. Give an ear to those things and cultivate what they are saying. And if you get pushback, take the sage advice my mother-in-law gave me on what to do when your kids are being total, ungrateful pills (at any age): ignore them!

We were once these very cool people. Newsflash: we still are.

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash


Women, why can’t we be safe? Why can’t we walk outside at night without clutching a key through our fingers like a weapon, speed walking to get to the car fast, always trying to get an escort or a group of other people to walk with?

Why can’t we get into an elevator in a strange building and not immediately tense up when men get in with us? Why do we always have to look over our shoulders, carry pepper spray, share our locations with loved ones on our iPhones when we drive anywhere alone?

We do this because we could get hurt. Still. After all this time. Nothing has changed.

As children, most of us were taught to turn to the police for help. To call 911. To use all the programming on our smartphones and in our smart cars to make that call for help just one touch away. But what happens when your name is Sarah Everard?

If you aren’t familiar with her, Sarah Everard was a young British woman who lived in London. She did all the things you’re supposed to do as a woman walking alone at night in a big city, and yet she went missing. Days later her body was found and a London police officer was soon charged with her murder. The situation, which occurred a few weeks ago has ignited London in protests against violence against women and frustration that in modern cities, women still aren’t safe.

The parent in many of us and the concerned human being in all of us may have a knee-jerk reaction of “just stay at home and don’t go out anywhere if you are alone.” If you have young girls or women in your household, it’s tempting to extoll the virtues of an early curfew or stay-in nights. But it’s not practical, nor would that idea ever take root.

Because we aren’t living in the chivalrous days of long ago where women had protectors of both reputation and body. We are our protectors—of those same two things. But all the Take Back the Night Marches (that originated in the 1870s), haven’t changed this familiar story. A woman is out alone. A woman is found raped or beaten, and/or murdered. It happens in busy cities, on well-lit college campuses, in small towns, and pretty country roads. We all have stories—of people we know, or people we’ve heard of. Of we have the first-hand experience, running the gamut from harassment to outright crimes being committed against us. There isn’t a woman anywhere who doesn’t have a story to tell.

Is it simply bad luck?

What would it take to make it safe for women to be out, doing whatever it is they are out of their homes to do and to know they can make it home without fear?

A male friend of mine suggested that men need to have curfews. A nice idea, but in all fairness, perhaps all of us need them, and it doesn’t solve the problem of violence against women that still occurs in broad daylight.

Why do the sick men who commit these acts view the night hours as an open season and the women they see in the streets as objects to be hunted? Their psychology is one forensics experts and mental health professionals have studied for years. But there is no winning formula for keeping women safe that any of us can apply. We do our best—and that is all we can do. The rest, sadly, seems up in the air.

The solution isn’t entirely in more lightbulbs in parking lots, buddy walking services on college campuses, women evacuating the streets at dusk, or even in curfews for men. But I think strides can be made in ways we collectively have not done the best in thus far.

It starts with the birth of baby boys and takes off from there. Teaching little boys about respect, consent, protectiveness out of empathy and compassion, not dominance; helping them to understand from a young age that the safety of others—especially women—is part of their responsibility as good human beings. Females and those identifying as females should not have to fear men when they are out at night by themselves.

What would the world look like if more men were raised in such a way and continued to raise their sons in that fashion? What if society and the media advocated for treating each other with kindness and care, that in looking out for one another, especially the more vulnerable, we were contributing to something greater than ourselves? That sounds like something akin to utopia, doesn’t it?

We may not get there in our lifetime, but we can certainly do what we can now. Keep the conversation going. As males, think about things you might unknowingly do that positions you as a threat and change that. How can we see our allies better and how can they be of more help to us?

In the meantime, ladies—pay attention to your God-given instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. If something seems off, or if you have strange feelings about a situation, listen to them. Try to protect yourselves all the ways you possibly can. For now, it’s all we can do.

Photo by lucia on Unsplash

This post and additional exclusive content is available on my podcast The WiloPod on Spotify.

One Year Office-Free!

A year ago, my husband and I got word from our daughter in college in California that classes were going 100% virtual for the rest of the school year due to what was quickly becoming a public health crisis. I was starting to get very nervous about her being so far away from us as at that point, no one knew what we were in for, let alone what to do about it. She was going to come home for spring break anyway, but we didn’t want her out there alone any longer than she had to be.

All around us we were hearing of students studying abroad being sent home and parents like us making quick travel plans to get their kids to them as quickly as possible. We didn’t miss a beat and got her on the next flight back. My son’s district called a two-week stop to school as well. So, with the kids safely in the nest, my husband I felt better even if our work situations were up in the air.

Leaving the office at the end of that week, I packed my laptop and chargers, some paper files, and my notebook, just in case we got the word that we’d be taking a work-from-home period for a few weeks, as we’d discussed might happen. Well, the work-from-home situation was called and this week marks one year of living that telecommuting life. Of course, what was supposed to be a few weeks turned into one year of online learning for the kids (my daughter has returned to campus but still taking classes virtually, while my son will begin the last two months of his senior year in a hybrid setting next week), and getting my job done in the same room I sleep, exercise, and veg in.

We’ve all learned a lot through the last year, so here are 10 things I’ve appreciated from this very unexpected and strange turn of events.

  1. I don’t need an office to accomplish and increase my work. My laptop and notebook are all I’ve needed.
  2. As a self-proclaimed girly-girl, daily makeup wearing is overrated. (But who am I kidding, I’ll still put some on when we eventually head back).
  3. When one has to wear a mask most of the time, lipstick is completely unnecessary and dare I say it, foolish.
  4. While seeing people in the flesh is nice, Zoom has been a bit nicer. Our team has communicated and collaborated more than when we worked in person.
  5. Living in a virtual context has allowed me to attend all kinds of events, readings, and seminars that I would never have been able to otherwise.
  6. The pandemic and the virtual life reconnected my high school senior year squad of BFFs. I hadn’t spoken to some of them in 20 years. Now we “meet” up monthly. That’s been an unexpected blessing.
  7. Telehealth Therapy—a lot of us have needed it, my family included, and healthcare companies and practitioners have it super accessible now.
  8. Zooming to different churches. I’ve enjoyed tuning in to some of my favorite California congregations instead of my usual local church. It’s been refreshing and affirming.
  9. More time—for lots of things. This past year my Indian food cooking game has grown exponentially, I’m averaging reading one book a week, I’ve written a children’s book, launched this blog, am working on another book project, and am dipping my toes into the world of podcasting.
  10. We’ve explored more of our area than ever before through “Drive and Eats.” We find a new and highly rated take-out spot (up to an hour away), order online en route, pick up and eat in the car (it’s still cold here).

We’re not completely out of the woods yet, and I’m all for remaining prudent with mask-wearing and social distancing with the unvaccinated, at least for a bit longer, but like spring blossoms, there are signs of hope poking through.

Despite a lot of sadness and suffering, surely there have been some good moments sprinkled here and there. What are they for you?  

Photo by Mikayla Mallek on Unsplash