Episode 49: Visiting with Elizabeth R. Ortiz and her story, “To Scale: Reframing Our Relationship with Our Bodies”
Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:28
We are back here at The She Said Project Podcast. Thank you so much to our friends and our fans who show up each week and listen and meet one of our new She Said Sisters here on the podcast. I’m Jenette Jurczyk, one of your hosts today.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:44
I’m Kerry Rossow, Co-Founder, other host.
JENETTE 00:46 Other host. Other hostesses… with the mostessess. [with Kerry] And we’re live in the studio at Illinois Public Media, also known as WILL radio; so grateful for this partnership that allows us this platform to keep sharing stories.
JENETTE 01:01 Today on the podcast… okay, Kerry is nodding and holding back a giggle because she knows how important this is.
The She Said Project started in Champaign, Illinois. There was talk. There was vision about it growing into more cities. We’ve been able to sneak it into some new communities here in Illinois. But our guest today is from a show that was born in Pennsylvania because a group of women said yes, we want to produce That’s What She Said in our town. And I’m speaking of the ladies of the Junior League of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. We went on a 18-month journey together to give them all the tools that they needed to launch their very own production of That’s What She Said. And I had the extreme honor of being in the audience when they were on stage this past March. And today we’re welcoming one of the ladies from that stage here on the podcast. Kerry, are you ready?
KERRY 02:02 I am so ready. I’m so ready.
JENETTE 02:04 With us on the line is Elizabeth Ortiz, who appeared on that very stage. Elizabeth, I am so happy to have you.
ELIZABETH 02:13 Hi, Jenette. Hi, Kerry, I am so thrilled to be on the call. Jenette, it was fabulous to meet you. When you came all the way out to Pennsylvania with, from what I remember, like a whole family of people?
JENETTE 02:28 Yes, it’s a little known secret that I grew up on the East Coast. I’m from New Jersey originally. And yes, I showed up that night with my entourage. I had my mother, my sister, couple family friends and nieces. It was a good time. It was really great.
ELIZABETH 02:41 Yeah, no pressure when they’re like, “The National Director will be in the audience that evening.”
JENETTE 02:46 And I’m so glad it worked. I gave myself that title, just so I could create that feeling of fear and awe. I want to be everywhere that the women are who say yes to this, this journey and this experience, because it’s magical every time. And I hope that you felt some of that She Said magic as you were going through the process of preparing your story for the stage.
ELIZABETH 03:04 It was, actually, you know, one of those moments where they called me up from the Junior League, and one of the women who called me, Jess, had actually been one of my students, and graduated many years ago when we became friends. And she said, Would you do this? And I said, you know, oh my gosh, like, Tell me more. And I want to hear more. And I went online, and I watched some of the clips from some of the other shows. And I said yes, absolutely. This is amazing! I want to be a part of like this magical thing that I was seeing unfold. And then we hung up the phone and I was like, Oh my gosh, what am I going to talk about? [Kerry laughs] I had no idea. I had no idea what I was going to talk about. But I did say yes!
JENETTE 03:51 And you found something to talk about. From one moment, one little nugget in time, where you witnessed something in your family that changed everything. That changed your perspective. That changed you as a woman and a parent. And I don’t want to give too much away, but Kerry and I, those are some of our favorite stories, when it’s really about this one moment that shifts everything. Right? [sounds of affirmation]
KERRY 04:14 And I was telling Jenette, you had several one-liners… that well, one was kind of creepy, because I say it all the time and I think it all the time. Because this show was created so far away, I didn’t get to be part of the planning and the writing and all of those things. And so it was really a gift, like all of your pieces were a gift to me because I got to experience the show the way everyone else does. I had never been able to just watch a piece and I was literally watching it for the first time. But when you said, “They’re watching.” I think this to myself all the time when I need to be brave because I know my kids are watching, and for different reasons, but my boys and my girls, you know, they are watching and so I really have to dig deep and like while I’m being pulled to say something snarky or do the wrong thing. I’m… or even toward myself, you know, even if I’m thinking I want to make a joke about my own self, or, you know, I got a little fluffy during the pandemic, whatever, you know, and I really force myself to think of they are watching and be very careful with what you say, and the impact of those things, and especially when it comes to body image. So I was so moved by everything you had to say. It was a real gift, just to me.
ELIZABETH R. 05:27 Oh! Well, you know, it’s, you know, I’m sure you’ve heard so many stories at this point. And I’ve heard so many as a teacher and then being a part of this amazing cast. And it was really wild to me, because each story was unique, but none of us felt alone. And that was, that was really, really special. And I was reminded of that, as I was rewatching the clips from the March event, you know, each person just kind of came out there, and everyone was so brave. And even though one person was at the microphone, I don’t think any of those people ever felt alone. And that’s something pretty special.
JENETTE 06:03 And that’s something I do credit Kerry and her creation, haha.. alliteration. But it is that all the women are onstage throughout their performance. They are… they physically have your back. And that is something so unique to That’s What She Said, different than TED Talks, different than Moth, different than these other platforms, where it’s a sole storyteller on stage. These are women supporting women, like you see it in action. And it really does change the dynamic and gives women that courage to say the things.
KERRY 06:36 Well, and we always say, it’s as important to tell your story as it is for the people hearing it. It’s really important. And we.. one of the things we try to be aware of when we’re creating the lineup is we want to be—it’s the old analogy of: be a mirror and a window. We want people to see themselves and recognize themselves and have that like yep, yep, me too. And then we also want you to have the experience where you go, oooh, wow, never saw it that way. And you’re looking out a window at something you’ve never seen before. And your show certainly did that.
JENETTE 07:07 Oh, Elizabeth’s story was a mirror for me and I think every woman in that audience, in fact, you even commented on it. And so before, before I go too far here, let’s go ahead and play. Play your performance for our podcast listeners, because, oh my gosh, ladies, this story is going to resonate. If you’re a woman, if you’re a mom, pay attention, because you’re going to you’re going to hear something here that is going to stick with you. So let’s take a moment and listen to that powerful story one more time. We’re talking about Elizabeth Ortiz, who appeared on stage at That’s What She Said, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, in 2022. And her story is titled: To Scale: Reframing Our Relationship With Our Bodies. Take a listen.
[originally recorded March 11, 2022 at Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA.]
ELIZABETH R. ORTIZ 08:00 Thank you. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you again to the Junior League tonight. For the first, but not the last, That’s What She Said - Lehigh Valley edition.
08:12 So here’s the thing I agreed to speak here tonight. Before I was really sure what I knew I was going to talk about. And like some of my new siblings up here on stage, I didn’t necessarily think that I had a story to tell, or not one that was more important than anyone else’s. And I was right, but I was wrong. We all have a story to tell. And that’s what we’re learning tonight. We’ll continue to discover that while our journeys are unique, we are not alone.
08:42 So I’ve heard this event described as the party after the dinner party, a place where the stories get told that aren’t quite fit for everyone to hear. And as I thought about it, I flashbacked to a moment in my own life that was among the lowest, but led to a moment of realization and subsequent transformation.
It was about 12 years ago, and like any mother of a toddler, I was in the bathroom trying to get ready for the day, as my daughter was, was running around in the bathroom. There’s no rest for the mamas, right? And she was singing and talking and opening up the cabinets and pulling open the drawers and moving things all around in the bathroom. And so, I peeked out of the shower just to make sure that it wasn’t, you know, utter destruction. And in that moment, I saw her go underneath the cabinet and pull out the scale and lay it down and step on to it. She was two.
09:41 Now a scale is not inherently good or bad, but it’s our relationship with the scale that demands interrogation. For me in my life, a scale had been the thing that I returned to every single day: to step on, to see how I measured up in that moment, to make sure that that number was the same as the day before. Less would have been okay. Less was always welcome, right? That scale was just a normal part of my every day. As long as I can remember, my mom stepped on a scale. And my grandmother stepped on a scale, it was an expectation for women to know their weight. And to control it. You step on the scale in the morning, right, before you eat. But after you use the restroom, [laughter] that’s a knowing laugh. Uh-huh. I’m not alone. And that dictates then how you feel for the rest of the day, what you eat, or what you don’t eat, how you see yourself for the next 24 hours, right, until you’re back on that scale the next morning.
10:50 In that moment when my daughter stepped on the bathroom scale, I realized that while she may not yet have those feelings of trying to measure herself against the impossible, she was beginning a routine that could, in time, come to mean more than just seeing those numbers fill the screen. And she was learning it from me. Not from magazines, or television, or social media, or any of the societal influences that I lecture about as a media literacy educator. She was learning it from me. So I sobbed. And it was that ugly cry that hurts every part of your being—as I picture it in the shower, too. So it’s really dramatic. [laughing] And I’m sobbing, sobbing, I can laugh now, it’s 12 years ago. [audience laughs]
11:40 Every part of me hurt, right, I had already broken her. I was trusted with this beautiful little life. And I had taught her how to crawl. And I taught her how to walk. And I taught her to climb the stairs. And I taught her to step on a scale.
11:56 I stopped crying… eventually. And in that moment, I made a promise to myself and to my daughter and to my future daughters, because I now have three, that they would only see me love my body and love it fiercely. My weight is simply a number of fact, calories are the thing that fuels us. And our bodies serve us better when we are good to them. Since I’ve started to explore the role of the scale in my own life, I’ve found that so many others have shared similar experiences. But even beyond the scale, we have a society where we’ve normalized talking about our bodies, not for what they can do, but for how they look. We say things to ourselves about ourselves that we would never say to those that we love. And we very rarely utter to those that we love. And we don’t always say these things internally or quietly. It’s common to bond with others about wanting to lose weight, cheating on a diet, or not liking the way that we look in a photo. We compare ourselves to others, and we compare ourselves to our previous selves too, the previous selves that we didn’t think were good enough back then. Mm-hmm.
As a society, we talk about other people’s bodies too. Many feel perfectly entitled to tell someone that they’re too fat or too thin. And these remarks start early. Women and girls can recall these comments from as early as elementary school if not sooner. And I’ve talked with people over the years and poured through stories online and Twitter threads and social media posts. They showed very early memories of being body shamed, and how it impacted their relationship with food, with their family, and above all, themselves, during what were critical developmental phases. So, whether these remarks come from external sources, or internal sources or an unfortunate mix of both, we internalize these remarks and spend our precious time and brainpower thinking about weight we want to lose or gain. Hair we’d like to grow or lose. The muscles we’d like to trim down or bulk up, and how to erase the lines that took years and decades of laughing to create. We have created—or more accurately—inherited, a culture where it is totally desirable, and yet completely impossible, to be perfect. Totally desirable and yet completely impossible to be perfect. A world where disordered eating, anxiety, depression, low self esteem and body dysmorphia, are all too common.
14:41 But I’m an optimist. So, here’s the silver lining.
14:45 We have the power to disrupt this cycle. While we may not individually have the clout to change the societal narrative about our bodies, we can change the conversation in our homes, in our families, and in our circle of influence. And when loving our body does not feel in reach, we can practice, as my friend Jamie Karpowicz calls it, body neutrality. Meaning we may fall short of loving our body on a daily basis, but we can still value who we are, and all that we can do, and remind ourselves that our worth lies not in how we look, but in all that we are. And the even better news? [satisfied laugh] While our individual influence may be limited at times, there are 250 of us in this auditorium and we can create change by speaking our mind, sharing our stories and selecting where we spend our dollars. Tonight in this room, we can promise that the generational pain of shaming our bodies and comparing ourselves to the impossible—stops with us. We can recognize the power of our words and actions and choose both with care knowing that they hang on far longer than they hang in the air. We will encourage the young people in our lives to recognize that beauty comes in all shapes, all shades, and all sizes, we will remind ourselves of that too, we will remind ourselves often. And when we have a moment of doubt, we’ll remember that the next generation is watching. And we will love ourselves fiercely, so that they may do the same.
Thank you. [applause]
JENETTE 16:37 So that’s the moment I’m talking about. Liz, you called it about the time in the morning when you step on the scale. And you said the words, “That’s a knowing laugh.” Because we all, so many… I don’t want to say all, but so many women can relate to the relationship with their scale and how it sets the tone for the day. Bravo to you. If it wouldn’t mess up the sound I would clap right now, because you went there to a place that most women are afraid to talk about.
ELIZABETH 17:05 Yeah. And to be quite honest, I was a faculty member at the school where we were giving this presentation. And my students know me and they know me well, because I’ve been in their space. I’m an alum of the college, I spend a lot of time with them in the classroom and out of the classroom and so they know so much about me. And yet that piece was not something that I had shared. Because to be quite honest, I talked so often about media’s ability to shape and reinforce our perception of beauty or what it is to be normal or, you know, fill in any number of things right here that are constructed by media. And I talk to them all the time about race and gender, and representation in media literacy. And yet here I was in the shower or in my own home. And I wasn’t fully practicing what I was preaching. And it was this moment for me that I got to realize, they might see me and think that I’m living this and I’m living this truth that I’m sharing with them while I’m teaching. I thought I want them to know that they are not alone in feeling that they are not alone in having these daily struggles. This is not something that I went on and earned degrees and kind of taught myself out of, it’s not that simple. Our relationship with our bodies are so complex and made even more complex by how much time we spend with media, what we’ve passed down from generation to generation, what our own friends and families say about their bodies and our bodies. So it felt very, very raw. It was very anxious while I was writing it. But I have to tell you once I got up on that stage, and I looked out at those 250 women and and seven, seven other folks who were there joining us, we had a core group of guys that were there spread through the audience who were amazing, amazing supporters. Honestly, I wasn’t, I wasn’t afraid at all, once I got up on that stage, and I’m gonna remember that feeling for a really long time.
KERRY 19:11 What was the feedback that you got after the show?
ELIZABETH 19:14 You know, a lot of my friends didn’t know the story either. So, you know, I said about my students didn’t know the story, but a lot of my friends didn’t either, because I made this very deliberate effort never to talk about my body in that way. Right? Other than for what it can do and its strength. And so they always kind of knew I was that person who if they started to say something about themselves, I’d say nope, nope, not not gonna happen here. We’re not gonna go there. You are strong. You are good. I mean, I think moms do it a lot, right? Like, oh my body or this or that. You grew a human, girlfriend, like give yourself a break, right? Like we have to be better, better for ourselves. And so, so many of my good friends had heard the story for the first time. And so the days and weeks that followed, were really filled with people reaching out, going, I didn’t know that you experienced that I always thought that you had it figured out or something. They kept saying, I can’t tell you how much or I really, or I can’t tell you how much I felt that I had one of my friends tell me that she got rid of her scale. [Kerry and Jenette quietly gasp.] And that was really special. That was really special. It’s been such a gift. And I feel like though it’s the gift that kind of keeps giving. So you all reached out about this podcast, and I just thought how exciting that I get to be a part of this. And you, you all said it, when you described to us on the phone call the one day this is a family like once you’re part of the She Said group, you’re in it, you’re in the family, and that couldn’t be more true.
JENETTE 20:52 Well, I want to thank you for sharing that perspective. Because, again, we sit here in Illinois, and to know that it’s working, to know that even though, you know, new producers are coming on board and new women are joining the party, that the sisterhood, that the feeling remains. And so that’s a blessing to know that the work is real, and it’s continuing.
JENETTE 21:13 I had… got all the feels from your story, all the feels, I have two daughters, I have had a lifelong struggle with my weight, I could relate, relate, relate… like all the lightbulbs going off. I can I could feel your pain when you were in the shower, you know, bawling your eyes out, that, that guttural cry, we’ve, we’ve been there. And that, that’s what like touches women’s souls, it gets right into their gut, because it’s real. It’s so raw, it’s so real. But you, you listened to your body and you did something about it. And you made a choice not to let your daughters go on thinking the way you had been for so many years. I also love that you shared that you were safe sharing that piece of the story because it had been 12 years since that moment in time. And we always say share a story from the scar not from the wound and that was, that’s a perfect example. Enough time had that it was safe to share the real truth and so that other women could learn from it. Beautiful, beautiful.
You said that that was your first daughter, right. And now you have several? Three?
ELIZABETH 22:24 Yes, I have three girls. And the venue that we held the event at is my alma mater, Cedar Crest, which is a women’s college. We were founded in 1867. And so it has been over 150 years of educating girls and women and while we serve all genders now, at our core, we’re still really about women’s education. So I always joke with my friends and with my husband, like I knew I was going to have all girls like of course, I was going to have girls like that. That is my mission in life. And and yeah, so I had my I have three girls, now they are 15 and 12 and 9. And to me, I just don’t want to miss out on their lives. Right. And I think as, as women, when we worry so much about our body size and our body shape, we remove ourselves from life, from our own lives from, our children’s lives. In so many ways. I mean, it can be something as simple as limiting the clothing that we wear, you know, not wearing shorts or not wearing a tank top or not wearing a swimsuit, because, you know, there’s something that someone at some marketing agency decided was a swimsuit body, right? With my students, I always joke, it’s like a swimsuit body is the one that has a swimsuit on it, you know. Period. End of story.
KERRY 23:48 I’m rocking my poncho body over here. I’m proud of it.
ELIZABETH 23:53 Let’s do it. I mean, but that’s, that’s the reality, right? I mean, I think what 5% of people actually have, you know, the majority of bodies that we see in, in media, that is not, that is not real life, it’s made to fool… to sell products. Right? If we all felt really darn good about our bodies from morning until night, we wouldn’t buy the creams and the… and the shapewear and the, you know, this and that that we wouldn’t need to consume as much as we do if we felt really good in the skin that we were in. Right. So marketers have a real job to make us, you know, feel that we are not quite measuring up.
JENETTE 24:29 Clearly we need to contribute to the economy. [chuckle]
ELIZABETH 24:33 Yeah. So yeah, I mean that we limit the clothing we wear, we limit the activities that we do, because we feel our body doesn’t measure up in some way. And then there was no way I was gonna let my girls grow up and I was gonna miss out on the fun. We can’t do that to ourselves. We can’t take ourselves out of the good times because we think we’re supposed to show up in a particular way.
KERRY 24:58 Amen and amen. We’re like nodding so hard. It’s amazing we don’t just fall out of our chairs. [Liz laughs]
JENETTE 25:03 And that is our PSA for today. What a strong message that came out of that one moment in time that carries forward and it sounds like you’ve integrated it into your work even today.
ELIZABETH 25:15 Yeah, it’s been really wonderful how the personal and professional so often weave together. And I think it sounds like that’s true probably for both of your lives as well, right? This idea to want to amplify voices, and in particular women’s voices, comes from sometimes not being heard—comes from knowing that there’s stories out there. And so, yeah, I’ve been able to really think about my own daughters, my own life growing up, as I teach media literacy education to K through 12 students, but also those in higher ed, and sometimes even spaces beyond that, right. So how is it that we might lessen the effect that media has on us? And how can we continue to enjoy media and media products? I mean, this podcast, obviously one of them, right? How can we be selective in what we choose to listen to? How can we be selective in, you know, what we bring into our lives? So that when we are spending time with media, we’re feeling good about the choices that that we make? Or at least we’re having fun doing it. Right?
KERRY 26:22 Okay, Liz, you’re like speaking my love language. I don’t know if you know this, and you’re just messing with me, or if this is just our worlds colliding. But when we were starting, well, what we thought was going to be a one-nighter, we were sitting around on a patio, and there were seven girls between us and we were talking about what the image is, as our girls were growing up in media and images of what women were like, what our relationships were like, about our place in the world. And we were all sort of lamenting, like, oh, you know, how are we going to shield our girls? How are we going to protect them? How are we going to, you know, you can’t take images out of their mind, but how are we going to be part of what goes into their heads. And finally, we were just like, you know what we’re not, let’s not wait for someone else, let’s create a show of women supporting women, of women, that all that look like real women, a diverse group and age and in ethnicity, and, in story and experience, and all of those things. And let’s just have one night where we show our girls. This, don’t buy into this, this image that’s been sold to you. This is the reality, the women in my life are a bunch of bad asses, and they’re doing amazing things. And they have each other’s backs. And they all look very different and sound very different. And, and so now you’re saying all these things, and I’m like, Who paid her to say this? [Liz laughs out loud] You’re speaking right to my heart.
ELIZABETH 27:40 But I think it speaks to the need for this She Said whole community of people. I mean, you said let’s not wait for someone else. And you and Jenette and those other folks on the patio having a really good time that night. Bet that was a really fun night! That you didn’t wait for someone else. I think that, for all of us and for our girls. And for you know all the kiddos too. We’re just tired of waiting for somebody else to show us something. And so we think, you know what? This is, this is our turn. And so, as a teacher, and someone who spends a lot of time in the classroom, in particular, with college students, I feel really excited about the future. Like the students who are in my classes, they care about each other deeply. They look out for each other. They are fierce advocates for those that don’t have a voice. And I just feel really good about it because they’re growing up. And they’re getting to see all of the women that you talked about. And I love the graphics, by the way for the podcast and for the show. It shows women of all different shapes, just being together. And being in that space. And being on stage is just completely inspiring. And I just don’t think it’s going to stop. And I love that.
KERRY 28:55 I think we’re just getting started.
JENETTE 28:56 And…you’re hired.
KERRY 28:57 You’re hired.
JENETTE 28:58 I love everything that you said. And you would think that we started this podcast just to keep getting this positive reinforcement, but knowing that it’s working is just so gratifying. My girls are eight and nine, just approaching those awkward tween years. And I look forward to the day that I can play this podcast episode and have that conversation with them. It’s probably sooner than I think, and making sure that their lives are not controlled by a number on a scale. I think this is an important message for all the ladies out there all the moms all the teens and tweens and, and soon to be adults and moms just, just keep talking, you guys. Keep reminding each other that you are beautiful, just the way you are. Liz, thank you so much for helping us amplify this message, for being brave and standing on stage and for coming back to join us on the podcast so that we could share the story with even more amazing women out there.
ELIZABETH 29:58 Thank you so much Jenette. Thank you so much Kerry and, of course, Kevin, and all my She Said siblings because I’m so excited for everybody to hear the stories that came out of the first Lehigh Valley event. It was an amazing, amazing night. Thank you all so much.
JENETTE 30:15 It was a beautiful night. I’m so grateful I got to be there and I’m so grateful I got to spend this time with you here today. And thank you to all of our listeners for joining us today. I mean, you need to see a show live if you can.
JENETTE 30:26 If you’ve been inspired by what you heard today, follow us at The She Said Project Online, on social media, on our website and learn more. Thank you for joining us. It’s time to say “See ya!”
KERRY 30:37 Over and out.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 30:41 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows, go to shesaidproject.com. This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme continues to play until it ends]
Jenette and Kerry are excited to introduce our first guest from Allentown, PA, where the Junior League of Lehigh Valley launched That's What She Said in March 2022. They have a meaningful discussion with Elizabeth R. Oritz and her mission to change how women view their bodies, as she shared in her story, "To Scale: Reframing Our Relationship with Our Bodies."
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.