Thursday, December 31, 2009

My new year's resolution: no more resolutions

New Year's Eve Ball, 1978, New York Times

190 pounds
It's New Year's Eve, and the world is alive with enthusiastic revelers and booming fireworks. I love New Year's Eve because of the energy and the hope it brings.

But one of the things I don't like about bringing in the new year is all the focus on resolutions and losing weight. It's almost impossible to think about new year's resolutions without thinking about how happy or unhappy we are with our bodies, and I feel like at this time of year, we focus more on our flaws—specifically what we want to improve—rather than our assets, and honestly, that breaks my heart.

For years, I have made numerous resolutions about my weight and my body. I even made resolutions on my birthday some years.

When I was looking through some old memorabilia recently, I found a list of resolutions from my 25th birthday, one of which was my resolution to get to 140 pounds.

140 pounds!!

What kind of crack was I smoking?!

I weighed 150 at the time and really hadn't weighed less than that since high school, so why did I think I had any chance of getting below that number? And, more importantly, why on Earth wasn't I happy at 150 pounds?!!!!

That's 40 whole pounds less than I weigh now. I can't even imagine weighing 150 pounds now. Nor can I imagine what I would do to weigh that little. I'd probably sell my soul to the devil to have my old body back. So why oh why couldn't I appreciate it when I had it?

I think the answer is simple: because we live in a society that teaches us that we always have to be thinner or better or smarter or happier. It's never enough to be just who we are now. I'm not saying I'm opposed to self-improvement, but I don't think it can be achieved until self-appreciation is also achieved, which is almost impossible if we're always focusing on what's wrong with us and resolving to change.

So rather than make a list of resolutions I won't keep and that will make me feel bad for weeks to come, I'm going to resolve this year not to make any more resolutions. To be happy with what I have and what I am. Right here and right now.

I hope that all of you can do the same, and I wish you all a very happy new year—see you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All I want for Christmas . . .

190 pounds
A few days after my "These Kids Today" post, I followed up on my promise to talk to my nieces about body image after my older niece made some slightly inappropriate comments about my body.

I waited until we had a few moments alone—when the girls were changing into their pajamas on Christmas Eve—and then told them that even though I was bigger than their mommy that didn't mean I wasn't pretty.

(It was easy for me to say these words to them at this point in my life, but when I said them, I was still well aware how far I've come from the person I used to be, the person who couldn't see herself as remotely attractive, much less pretty, especially when compared to my super fit and adorable blonde sister.)

Immediately, the girls jumped in.

"You are SO pretty," they said, repeating themselves over and over in case I didn't believe them: "You are! You are!"

But I did believe them.

Not just because I have more self-esteem than I've ever had, but because the two of them routinely compliment the way I look. Yes, they had made some inappropriate comments about my size a few days before, but those comments were the exception rather than the rule, which was another reason I wanted to use those remarks to start a larger discussion about women's bodies while I had the chance—for all I knew, they would never say anything like that to me again.

"But I want you to understand that size doesn't have anything to do with beauty," I explained. "Bigger woman can be just as beautiful as smaller women."

"Of course, they can!" the girls both agreed without hesitation.

I could see that this was going to be an easy sell, so I decided to go further, explaining to them in detail how genes work and how our body size is determined more by our parents than by our eating and exercise habits. Of course, little kids never miss an opportunity to use any new situation or experience as a way to get even more information, and it wasn't long before they were asking me if I thought their genes would give them big breasts. I stepped around that minefield as carefully as I could and told them they'd probably look just like their mommy when they grew up, and that seemed to satisfy them.

I also took the opportunity to tell them what I thought of the word "fat"—that it's a word that is normally used in a mean way, so they shouldn't use it. They were nodding and seemed to understand, but I wasn't entirely sure they were still with me.

If I had any doubts about the effectiveness of our talk, they were erased the next day—which just happened to be Christmas—when someone used the word "fat," and my older niece jumped up from her chair and said, "That's a bad word! You shouldn't say that."

I can honestly say that it was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season of Indulgence

190 pounds
It's Christmas Eve, and I just finished spending a long night with my family. We did the usual stuff—got dressed up, went to church, ate a big dinner and some holiday cookies, played games, opened our first gifts. It was an average American Christmas in that sense.

But one thing about the night made me feel a little better about our society's normally extreme attitude about the way we eat.

My aunt brought several decadent appetizers including an amazing pepper jelly, which she served over cream cheese with Ritz crackers. Let me repeat that . . . served OVER CREAM CHEESE WITH RITZ CRACKERS.

Calories galore.

When she first got it out, we all thought it was too rich and heavy for us to finish before dinner, but as it turned out, we sat around the coffee table noshing on it until there was nothing left but a few smears of orange jelly around the outside of the plate.

It was that good.

And when I said something about how I probably shouldn't be eating so much, my normally disciplined aunt said, "Who cares? It's Christmas."

I had expected someone to agree with me—especially since both my aunt and my sister are exercise nuts and very thin—but instead my aunt reinforced what I already believed: that sometimes we just have to let ourselves go.

And it hit me while we were scraping the serving plate clean that holidays are the one time Americans allow themselves to eat what we want. Whether it's Christmas or the 4th of July, we let ourselves give into our most indulgent cravings on special occasions and for at least a short time don't think about how they will affect our waist size or the number on the scale, something Americans almost never do the rest of the year.

Despite all the warnings about gaining weight over the holidays, I'm a firm believer in the importance of indulgence, as I've discussed before. Yes, on average people gain up to a pound during the holidays and those pounds add up as time goes on if they are not lost later in the year, but I believe that if we allowed ourselves to indulge all year—and not just during the holidays—we would have less desire to do so on the big days and would be able to do so in moderation. I know it may sound like an oxymoron to promote moderate indulgence, but I do think it's possible. Because I believe if we allow ourselves decadent foods throughout the year, we are less likely to go completely overboard with them during the holidays.

So, on the one hand, I'm thrilled that Americans let themselves go a little bit over the holidays and consider it a welcome change from the country's obsession with dieting that monopolizes the rest of the year, but on the other hand, I wish we would all learn to give ourselves more latitude all year long rather than just a few days a year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

These Kids Today

190 pounds
Like almost everyone on the planet, I'm spending the holidays with family. Dave and I always come to Florida in December to see my parents, and this year—for the first time ever—my sister and her family are here too.

My sister has two girls, and I absolutely adore both of them, which means I'm thrilled to get some time with them over the holidays.

But sometimes I worry about them.

Today we took my two nieces out for the day, and at one point, my older niece pointed to my middle and said, "You have a big stomach."

I tried to explain that my "big stomach" was a result of my recent surgery, but she was having none of it.

"You look like you're pregnant," she said with a small laugh.

Though many women with fibroids do look pregnant, I really don't, but I do look bloated, and as the daughter of two of the fittest people I know, I could understand why she might make that mistake. So I tried to explain.

The girls already knew that I had my uterus—or as they call it, my "baby holder"—taken out, so I went from there: "I look pregnant because my uterus used to have a whole bunch of tumors in it that stretched my stomach out the same way it would if I had a baby."

"Oh," my niece said. "Okay."

And just to clarify, I added: "It'll probably go back to normal by next summer."

You might be thinking that it was unnecessary for me to go into so much detail with my nine-year-old niece, but I saw this as a "teachable" moment (as much as I hate that overused term): I wanted them to understand that a big tummy does not necessarily have anything to do with being overweight or being unattractive and that they shouldn't assume it does.

And I was glad that I used that moment when I had it because it was only a few hours later when my niece told me that I look twenty years older than my thirty-six-year-old sister (her mother) because I am bigger than she is.

The old me would have been gutted by this comment, but it honestly didn't hurt my feelings. Still, it did bother me on a soci0political level, especially since I know she was also thinking that my sister is also prettier because she's smaller.

Since we were sitting with the whole family when she said it, I decided to discuss the issue with her more later and simply told my niece that size has nothing to do with age. But tomorrow I fully intend to talk to her about her implied connection between size and beauty.

Again, you may think that I should keep my mouth shut or just let it go as kid talk, but I fully believe that if we don't teach the young women in our lives—be they daughters, granddaughters, or nieces—to expand their notion of what kind of women are attractive, then we'll still be talking about these same issues twenty years from now.

No, my niece will never have to worry about her own body image—her genes guarantee that—but she will affect how other women see themselves, and I refuse to sit by and let her continue to go through life with such a narrow definition of beauty.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From one extreme to another

189 pounds
I've been lucky enough to see two movies this week—Precious and Brothers.

If you haven't heard, Precious is about a teenage girl (a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Gabby Sidibe) who is the victim of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse at the hands of her parents.

And Brothers is about a Marine (Tobey Maguire, also in a Golden Globe-nominated performance) coming home from Afghanistan after being presumed dead for months. In the wake of what they believe to be his death, his widow (played by Natalie Portman) and his brother (Jake Gyllenhall) form a close bond.

Both movies are outstanding, and I recommend them to everyone.

But what I want to talk about is the way these characters look.

At the beginning of Brothers, Maguire's character looks like a normal Marine—muscular and fit. But after spending months as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, he returns home literally as gaunt and drawn as someone in a concentration camp, which was incredibly disturbing to see.

Not only does Maguire's character come home with a new body, he also comes home with post-traumatic stress disorder and some seriously disturbing issues because of what happened in Afghanistan. As a result, it is nearly impossible for him to be affectionate or intimate with his family. His character—malnourished to the point of being emaciated—looks like the walking dead, and when he lashes out at his confused and frightened children, it's hard not to dislike him despite what he's been through.

On the other end of the spectrum is Precious. Sidibe's portrayal of the movie's titular character is the exact opposite of Maguire's. Yes, like his character, Precious is haunted by a prolonged traumatic experience, but rather than become emaciated as a result of the abuse she suffers, Precious becomes obese. (A transformation which occurs before the movie begins and which the viewer only witnesses when the film flashes back to pictures from her childhood.)

But despite the abuse Precious has suffered, she has not turned into a monster who lashes out at everyone in her path. Instead, unlike Maguire's character, she is warm and giving, always looking for an opportunity for connection rather than shunning it the way he does. As a result, Precious is able to find others to help her deal with her issues in a way that Maguire's character is not.

In other words, the obese character is likeable, and the gaunt character is not.

I suppose this isn't really completely surprising given that overweight people have long been cast as the clown or the funny sidekick. Still, Precious is the MAIN character of the film, the protagonist.

And she's morbidly obese.

And everyone she meets adores her.

And the audience routes for her.

Did I mention she's severely obese?

So I can't help but wonder then if this depiction signals some kind of shift in our society. One of the goals of Precious, the movie, is to demonstrate that Precious, the character, is much more than a number on the scale, much more than her BMI. These things do not define her, nor do they determine how much people like or accept her. In fact, they have almost nothing to do with her interaction with others.

Before Precious, overweight people were a punchline, something to laugh at. But writer Sapphire and director Lee Daniels have given us a fully-drawn, complex character who just happens to be obese.

This raises the question, is it possible that our society is becoming more accepting of different kinds of body shapes? Are we finally learning that a small waistline does not determine a person's self-worth?

The answers to these questions must be yes because there is no way that their depiction of Precious—and Jim Sheridan's depiction of Maguire's Marine—doesn't demonstrate a change in our thinking. No, it seems obvious that with Precious, a clear shift has occurred. We are becoming a more tolerant society. We are accepting the fact that people—likeable people, interesting people—come in all shapes and sizes.

And I all can say is it's about freaking time!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

189 pounds
Dave and I went to dinner tonight with my mother and her sister. The two of them are very close even though they are thirteen years apart in age and don't initially appear to look much alike. But when you really study them, it eventually becomes clear that they share many of the same features—they both have small brown eyes, a tiny upturned nose, and a thin, delicate mouth.

One of the reasons that it's hard to see these similarities is because my mother and aunt have completely different body shapes—my mother is short and squat, and her sister is long and lean. My aunt also wears her hair in a trendy hairstyle and dons age-appropriate but hip clothing. From a distance, she could easily pass for someone in her thirties and forties even though she's in her mid-fifties, and she is—by anyone's definition—very attractive.

As a child, my aunt was a bit of a nerd—wearing cat's eye glasses and looking awkward in her own skin. On the other hand, my mother, a former cheerleader and homecoming attendant, was a head-turning carbon copy of Jackie O in her day. Though she still retains some of that beauty, my mom now looks more like a grandmother than anything else—she wears her hair in a short permed style and has a penchant for tops decorated with flowers. So in some ways, the two of them have traded places—now my aunt is the one who is turning heads, and my mother is the one who feels uncomfortable in her body.

As a result of their differences, my mother often compliments her younger sister on everything—her clothes, her hair, her makeup, and of course, her body. And being the good niece, I also compliment her. I want my aunt (and everyone) to feel good about herself and know how attractive she looks. Which is why I told her how great she looked tonight.

But when I said so, my mother's response caught me completely off guard. She said, "Well, she works out every day!" as if this were the only explanation for my aunt's trim figure.

"I work out every day too," I said to my mother defensively, but based on her response, it was clear that she didn't get my point.

"But Vicki works out really hard," she added. My mother's implication was clear: If I worked out as hard as my aunt, I would be that thin too. And hand in hand with that implication was another one: if I'm not as thin as my aunt, then I'm not trying hard enough.

I'm sure it will be no surprise for me to tell you that I was having none of it: "I work out hard too!" I insisted. "When I lived in Cincinnati, I worked out two hours every day for an entire year, but during that whole time, I never lost any weight."

"That's true," my mother said. "There are other factors involved." Finally, my mother had figured out what I was trying to say, and why her original comment could easily be construed as misleading, even offensive.

But I don't blame my mother for the misunderstanding. I blame society. We are all taught—through the constant stream of advertisements for the latest fad diet and gym memberships—that if we are willing to discipline ourselves, then we can lose weight. And not just lose weight, but be thin. Model thin.

In reality, there are many people who are genetically designed to be bigger than the kind of women we glorify in our society. No matter how much they diet. No matter how much they exercise. And the implication that a woman is bigger or curvier because of her own lack of discipline is, quite simply, offensive. It may even be dangerous. Because it sends the message that if we are not model thin, then it is because we are not trying, we are not good. That message really frightens me, and it's one I will forever try to dispel—both here on the blog and every time I have dinner with people like my mother and my hot cougar of an aunt.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Picture perfect

189 pounds
I turned a corner yesterday—I started, albeit briefly, feeling like a normal person for the first time since my surgery almost two weeks ago. Like any completely insane person, my immediate response was to try and conquer absolutely everything on my to do list. I spent the day at work, and when I came home, I cleaned, cooked dinner, did laundry, started a new book, answered email messages, surfed the internet, and put up holiday decorations. I had felt so bad and been inactive for so long that I had an insatiable desire to do as much as possible in the few hours I had to myself.

And while I was looking for our ceramic Christmas tree in the garage, I came across some old photos, and like most people, as soon as I found one, I couldn't stop looking for more. Before I knew what had happened, I'd spent a good part of the night flipping through old pictures and memorabilia. Not such a bad way to pass an evening, but unfortunately it sent me down a slippery slope.

Because when I came across a picture of myself in my late twenties—a time when I weighed around 150 pounds—all I could think was, why can't I look like that now? And then my next thought was, maybe I should try harder to lose weight, maybe I've got it all wrong. . . maybe I should try to diet or starve myself. Or maybe I should give up soda for a whole year. I heard once that if you stop drinking soda for a year, you can lose thirty pounds. Could that be true?

And as soon as I allowed those thoughts to creep in, another even more disturbing one arrived: My God, I sound just like my parents. I sound like my mom planning her next diet or my dad the year he gave up french fries. Is it possible that I'm turning into my parents?

And that's when it hit me that my response to the picture in my hand was completely dysfunctional and unhealthy.

I don't really believe I can give up soda for a year and lose thirty pounds. So why on earth did those thoughts sneak into my head? Probably because I'm human, and it's only human to create unrealistic fantasies about our lives. But it still bugged me. Here I am writing this blog about not dieting, but I still find myself susceptible to flights of fancy about cutting calories to the bare minimum and being as thin as I was over ten years ago.

When I lived in Cincinnati in my early thirties, I had a friend around the same age who was practically haunted by a picture of herself from when she was eighteen. It was a nude picture, but it was done tastefully, and you couldn't see any of her private parts. It was all stomach, arms, and legs. But she was completely and totally obsessed with the concave stomach, toned arms, and lean legs of her youth. And this was the case even though she had gained only about ten pounds since then. Whenever she would bring up the photo and how much she was dying to get her old body back, I would get really irritated. I would think, my God, doesn't she understand that she'll never be eighteen again? and wonder why she simply could not accept herself the way she was.

And, as most of you know, that's really what this blog is about—accepting ourselves the way we are. The truth is that even though I had a very average desire last night to look as thin as I did when I was younger, I have also accepted myself the way I am today. I don't dislike the way I look now. In fact, I like the way I look, and I really do feel happy with the image I see in the mirror. And that's another way I've changed since that picture was taken—I feel good about myself now (something I was frighteningly incapable of doing when that old picture was taken). But at the same time, I do long for aspects of the younger me. I guess I want the best of both worlds—I want to accept myself the way I am now, and I want to have the body I had back then too. I have to reiterate—it's not that I dislike the body I have now. It's that I wish I had appreciated what I had back then. And maybe I do wish I had another chance in that body. Oh, how I would appreciate it! Oh, how I would take care of it! I would be like Michelangelo and his ceiling: I would tend to every last detail.

I'm not really sure what all this means—that I'm human? That I'm capable of having the same fantasies I dislike so much in others? I guess all I know for sure is that I can't let these fantasies consume me or dictate my choices. Sure, it's okay to have these thoughts from time to time, but if I let them take over my life, I am no better off than that friend who was in love with the image of her eighteen-year-old self. And, to be honest, I don't think I could get up in the morning if I didn't love my thirty-nine-year-old self a whole lot more than the unsure and insecure person I was at eighteen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cheaters never prosper

189 pounds
My weight has dropped dramatically since I had surgery ten days ago. Over the weekend, I hit a low of 187 and now I'm at 189. To be honest, I was reluctant to post that number here and actually hoped that when I got on the scale this morning it would be more than it was yesterday (which it was).

Why was I reluctant to post my current weight?

Because it feels like I'm cheating.

I'm not losing weight because I'm exercising, eating right, and living a healthy lifestyle. I'm losing weight because for the past ten days I've been eating far less than normal.

Last week, in fact, I was probably taking in less than 1000 calories a day, which is very unhealthy and clearly the cause of my weight loss. The ONLY reason I did it was because I was too sick from surgery to eat very much, and I spent most of my days sleeping anyway. And when I started eating closer to a regular amount of food again last Friday, my weight started to creep back up from its low of 187.

Sure, I'm pleased that my weight is under 190 pounds for the first time in over two years, but it's hard to be happy about something that it doesn't feel like I've really earned. (I suppose this is how steroid-loving baseball players feel after they hit a home run or break a new record.)

And I also worry that my sudden weight loss sends the wrong message. I really believe that the way I've lost weight—by cutting my calories to an unhealthy level—is not only dangerous but also ineffective since it will cause my metabolism to slow and ultimately cause my body to not be as healthy as it was before surgery. And that's why my real fear is that now that my body has gone more than a week and a half without eating a normal amount of food I will gain a boatload of weight once I start eating like the regular old me again.

So even though it's exciting to see the number at the top of this page lower than it's ever been before, I hope that none of you will imitate the behavior that has gotten me to this point. (Unless, of course, you also have to undergo a medical procedure that will leave you unable to eat normally because of the painful and disruptive recovery period that always follow surgery . . trust me, it's not worth it.)

And if, in the weeks to come, my weight goes back over 190 pounds, please don't judge me for it! It's going to be hard to get back in shape after this is all over, but eventually I'll do it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Life on the disabled list

192 pounds
As I said in my last post, I had surgery this past Saturday, and I've been laid up since then recovering. I haven't done much of anything this week but sleep and try to avoid taking more pain pills, and the result is that I find myself feeling pretty lethargic and . . . wait for it . . .

. . . completely jonesing for a few good minutes of exercise.

Except for the eighteen-month hiatus from June 2007-February 2008 that led to my recent weight gain, I've been committed to exercising almost every day for coming up on eleven years now. Sometimes that means twenty minutes after work and sometimes that means three hours on weekends, but mostly I come it at around a sixty-minute workout each day. That is, until my surgery on Saturday.

I'm not going to lie . . . there are many, many, many, many days when I don't want to exercise at all. I want to sit my butt down on the sofa and watch re-runs of Glee or Mad Men until I dream about chain-smoking adulterers doing song and dance routines in my sleep. In fact, sometimes I have to practically force myself to put on my running shoes and jog bra, and when things get really bad, my normally mellow husband has to give me a falsely cheery pep talk and reminder about our life goals.

It's not that I don't like to exercise. I always love the endorphins that kick in afterwards and make me feel as giddy as a teenager who's just engaged in a heavy, sweaty, after-school makeout session, but sometimes it's just had to motivate, you know?

But over the past two or three days I have been thinking about how much I love it while I am exercising too. I love it because of the physical rush but also because of the mental one: because I feel more confident and fulfilled both during and after the workout.

So while I've been sitting on the sofa this week and watching re-runs of Glee day-in and day-out with my mom—who's here to help me recover (Thanks, Mom!)—I find myself longing to exercise as much as I normal long for a big, fat cheeseburger. And I promise that once I'm well enough to exercise again—hopefully next week or the week after that at the latest—I will fully appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Molly the Brave

192 pounds
My illness finally got the better of me, and I had to have surgery this weekend. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had a number of fibroid tumors in my uterus, and they were causing major problems with my health. So after months of kicking and screaming, I finally gave in and let them operate, taking out the fibroids and my uterus this past Saturday during a three-hour laparoscopic procedure.

I've been laid up since then—not exercising or eating whole foods (or much of anything for that matter), just trying to recover. I'm still in a lot of pain and expect to be for a few more days at least. As it turns out, a co-worker had surgery the weekend before I did, the father of a good friend of mine is having surgery tomorrow, and the father of another friend who was only in his fifties died last week—somewhat suddenly and well before his time.

So all of this—surgery, hospitals, illness, even death—has been in my head lately, swirling around and making me think about what's important. And when I realized it was time to sit down and write this blog post, it suddenly became very clear what is not important—what's not important is how much we weigh, what's not important is a little bit of fat around our middle. And what is important is feeling good about ourselves today—how we live our lives and how we feel about our bodies.

Not tomorrow.

Not after we lose ten pounds.


I was originally supposed to have this surgery back in June of 2008, but I chickened out because, to put it simply, I was afraid of dying.

I'm still afraid of dying, but for some reason, I was able to go through with the procedure this time despite my fears. I still have lots of unfinished business—a memoir to complete, a novel to sell, pounds to lose, not to mention papers to grade—but for some reason, I was okay with leaving these things undone, something I wasn't okay with eighteen months ago.

So what was different this time?

I think it's honestly how I feel about myself and my life. I now feel as if I really have accepted myself and my life the way it is—unfinished, undone, a work in progress.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gobble gobble

193 pounds
I ended up being too sick to go to the family Thanksgiving celebration this year. It's only the second time I've missed a traditional turkey dinner. (The last time occurred during my adolescence when, due to unforeseen complications, my family ended up eating tuna salad sandwiches for Thanksgiving.) The effect of missing a big family dinner this year has been that I've been thinking all day about the meaning of the holiday and, of course, about the tradition of eating until we feel sick.

I heard earlier today that the average American eats 4400 calories on Thanksgiving day—that's twice what most of us eat on a normal day. As I explained in my post on indulgence, I fully believe in the importance of giving into our cravings from time to time.

And I guess I feel the same way about Thanksgiving. It's hard to imagine going to a big turkey dinner and counting calories or skipping dessert. I mean, what would be the point?

I remember one Thanksgiving years ago . . . I was living in D.C., so I celebrated the holiday with an aunt and uncle who live in northern Virginia. The only problem was that this particular aunt and uncle happen to be health nuts, so there was nothing fattening or high calorie on the table: there was no cheese ball, there was turkey but no gravy, the potatoes—regular and sweet—were baked and served plain, the stuffing and rolls were nonexistent, and the cranberries and green beans were steamed. I can't remember if there was dessert, but I have a vague memory of low-fat ice cream. I felt like I had died and gone to culinary hell. To me, Thanksgiving isn't really Thanksgiving if, at the end of the day, you don't feel like you've eaten too much.

And I guess this all comes back to one of the main reasons for this blog: if we don't allow ourselves these random pleasures from time to time, then I worry that we force ourselves to live in a constant state of denial. A state that pushes us to crave what we can't have even more.

So now that you've all finished gorging yourself on turkey and potatoes and stuffing covered in thick gravy, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, rolls oozing with butter, green beans in a decadent casserole of mushroom soup and french fried onions, and a big piece of pumpkin pie a la mode, don't forget how important it is to give into our cravings from time to time and not feel bad about yourself for doing it. It will all balance itself out anyway. Because chances are that if you went overboard today, you'll probably cut back tomorrow.

And those people who cut the gravy and the butter and the fat and the sugar today? Trust me, they'll be the first ones in line at Cinnabon when they hit the mall tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Talking Turkey

193 pounds
Two days until Thanksgiving, and everyone is talking about what they're thankful for.

It's easy for me to sum up what I'm most thankful for: my husband, our life together (including our jobs), my family and friends.

And I have to say I'm also thankful for this blog—normally I have trouble getting any writing done this late in the semester because of the pile of ungraded papers that all college professors find themselves buried under after the midterm. But this semester the blog has kept me focused and motivated all the way through the term no matter how many papers I've had to grade.

I'm also thankful for those of you who read on a regular basis—I think of you all every time I get frustrated with myself and want to give up living a healthy lifestyle.

You might be thinking that I should be thankful for the fact that I've lost ten pounds since I started this blog, but to be honest, that's really not as important to me as the fact that I've learned to love myself the way I am—at 193 pounds or at 203 pounds. I don't think I can begin to describe how much I appreciate being able to feel good about myself no matter how much I weigh. And I still believe that this is the key to weight loss and healthy living. So I'm thankful for my ability to do that, and I hope that you all are able to be thankful for that as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I will not be ashamed either

193 pounds
I had good news and bad news again at the doctor's office today . . .

. . . good news because my waist size is 35 inches, which is exactly where I want it to be and just within the recommended guidelines since women with a waist bigger than 35 inches are at greater risk for health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and breast cancer*. (For men, it's 40 inches.) I had been worried lately that my waist had grown bigger than 35 inches, mostly because of the fibroids but also because of my weight gain last year, so I was relieved to hear that was not the case.

On the other hand, I felt like the nurse who was taking my vitals was trying desperately to find something to criticize about my health, and that really bothered me.

She was a tiny little woman—petite really—and she kept making strange comments about my body.

First, she said that she didn't want to ruin my day, but I had to get on the scale. I told her I didn't mind, but I was irritated by the suggestion that a number on the scale would ruin my day. And I also was bothered by the idea that she felt comfortable saying that—because it's the kind of comment that reinforces the notion that we should be bothered by these numbers when, in truth, we should all know that such numbers are not necessarily the best indicator of our health or our attractiveness.

Then she took my medical history, and when I told her that I don't know much about health problems in my biological family because I'm adopted, she pushed me on the subject. I had told her earlier that I have met my biological family, so she asked if any of them were obese.

Not if anyone of them had cancer.

Not if any of them had heart disease.

But if any of them were obese.

To be honest, I was offended. Was she trying to say that she thought I looked like the kind of person who might have obese relatives? Because that's definitely the message I got.

But rather than show my offense, I answered the question and told her that I really don't know. No, none of the biological relatives I have met are obese (and none of them are super thin either), but I have only met a handful of the people who share my genes.

She suggested that I contact them and find out for sure, but if you know anything about family dynamics, you can probably imagine how difficult that would be for me to do with people to whom I'm technically related but barely know.

Still, what really bothered me was her implicit assumption that I would have obese relatives. Sure, she was thinking about protecting my health, but I am definitely not the person who walks in a room and makes people think "obese." My body is actually hourglass-shaped, nipping in at the waist and blossoming at the hips. In fact, this nurse was the first person to ever ask me about it. My doctors have told me time and time again that they are not worried about my weight and that I should continue doing what I'm doing: exercising regularly and trying to eat as many home-cooked meals as possible—so it was a surprise that a nurse introduced the subject.

So why did this nurse feel comfortable doing so? What I really believe is that people in our country are so obsessed with body image that they feel comfortable criticizing anyone who doesn't fit into the really narrow definition of American beauty. It's as if we've given small people free rein to judge those of us who are not tiny, as if curvy people and people who are not naturally thin are second-class citizens who are expected to be ashamed when someone asks us to get on the scale or talk about our bodies, a fact that really bothers me and makes me feel even more strongly that we need to expand our notion of beauty. And I, for one, won't give into the pressure to feel bad about my body.

No, I'm not skinny! So freaking what?! No, I don't weigh 125 pounds. Who gives a damn?!

All of the tests they have given me say that I'm in good shape, all of the doctors say I'm healthy, and I will not allow some petite little nurse to make me feel bad about myself no matter how hard she tries to do so.

I didn't say anything this morning because I didn't want to sound defensive, but what I should have done is broach the problem directly and ask her if she was worried about my weight rather than listening to her tap dance around the issue. And that's what I'll do in the future . . . if someone is hinting at something, I'm going to make them say it, rather than letting them make passive aggressive comments that seem designed to hurt my self-esteem more than improve my health. And I recommend that you all do the same.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The race is not to the swift . . .

193 pounds
I'm sure some of you have noticed that I've been stuck at the same weight of 194 to 195 pounds for months now. I hit 193 one day over the summer, but the next day I was back up to 194. But over the past week, I have finally busted through this plateau, hitting as low as 192 over the weekend and bouncing back and forth between 192 and 194 since then.

Plateaus, as we all know, are frustrating as hell, possibly the most frustrating part about trying to lose weight. You're going along doing everything right—eating well but not starving yourself, exercising as much as you can, indulging only on special occasions or weekends—but for some reason, the numbers on the scale won't freaking budge. It's easy to get impatient at times like these and resort to drastic measures like cutting calories to an unhealthy level, but I don't think that kind of behavior solves anything in the long run.

What I do think works is to stay the course, on the one hand, and mix it up, on the other hand. By "staying the course," I mean keep eating well and exercising, and by "mixing it up," I mean changing how, when, where, and how long you exercise. All of the research about weight loss shows that once our bodies get used to a routine—like hitting the gym for 45 minutes every night after work—they adjust to that routine and start storing fat and burning calories at a slower rate, a rate that will maintain our weight rather than reduce it.

One of the ways to get around this problem is to confuse our bodies. There are two simply ways to do this . . .

1) Change your exercise routine by engaging in different kinds of physical activity. If you're normally the person who hits the elliptical at the gym, try the rowing machine and a round of weights. If you always go for a jog every morning, try swimming once or twice a week. Simply changing what kind of exercise you do can confuse your body enough to increase your metabolism and start burning more calories.

You can accomplish the same goal by changing the length and time of your workouts—try working out three times a day for ten minutes rather than working out for thirty minutes all at once—or even the place where you exercise, like running or walking outside instead of on a treadmill.

As I've mentioned in my "Returning to Childhood" post, it always amazes me how boring our exercise routines become as we get older. When we were kids we engaged in a myriad of different physical activities, but as we get older—ironically when we most need to mix it up—we fall back on the same tired, old workout. I'm as guilty of this as the next person, but I try my best to get away from always doing the same thing.

2) The second way to confuse your body is to incorporate interval training into your workout. You can add intervals to your workout by periodically increasing your rate of exertion. So let's say you're out talking a leisurely walk . . . if you wanted to add intervals to your walk, you would walk as fast as you could for 60-90 seconds and then slow back down to your normal pace, and maybe you would do this 3-10 times during the course of your workout.

Again, the reason this can help you break through a plateau is because intervals—like variety in your exercise routine—can confuse your body and, therefore, make it burn more calories.

What's ironic about all of this is that, sometimes, confusing your body can also be accomplished by exercising less, and that's what's happened to me over the past ten days.

As I mentioned in my "Good news/bad news" post last week, I've had some health problems recently and, as a result, have been forced to exercise a lot less lately. My body's response to this sudden change has been to start burning more calories, and that's why I've finally broken through my plateau. It's an interesting turn of events—and a somewhat frustrating one if, like me, you've been trying to lose weight for months with no luck—but I'm not going to complain.

I have actually had the same thing happen to me twice before.

In the fall of 2002, I increased my daily exercise routine from 30 to 60 minutes and started using intervals for the first time in my life. I did this because, though I had lost about ten pounds between 1999 and 2002, dropping from around 200 pounds to 190 pounds, I could just not get below the 190 mark. Once I increased the amount I exercised and added intervals, I broke through my plateau and lost a pound or two, but I was disappointed in how little I had accomplished.

Ironically, the real windfall occurred a few weeks later when I sprained my ankle and couldn't workout for over a month. During the time that I was laid up, I lost an amazing six pounds, brining my weight down to the low 180s for the first time in four years. Of course, what I lost was probably all muscle weight, but when I got back to my 60-minute workouts and regained my muscle, the weight never came back, and I bottomed out at 180 pounds even.

I had a similar experience in 2006 after a year of grueling workouts during which time I was averaging twelve hours of exercise a week in an attempt to get below 180 pounds. I did not lose a single pound that whole year, but at the end of those twelve months, we moved to North Carolina, and, as a result, my workout routine immediately changed. I was no longer able to go to the gym and had to rely on less structured ways to exercise—like walking outside. Within a few weeks of this change, my weight dropped below 180, and I hit my all-time adult low of 176 pounds.

All of this is to say that though it's important to change our routine, it's also important to recognize that even when the scale isn't budging, we're still doing our body a load of good. During that year of working out for two hours a day, I felt like I wasn't accomplishing anything, but the truth was that the effort I was making was going to pay off in the long run . . . if only I could be patient enough to wait for it to happen.

I know full well that my recent plateau-busting weight loss may not last more than a few days, but I also know that as long as I keep living in a healthy way that I know is good for me, I am accomplishing my goals—no matter what the scale says.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lightning Legs

194 pounds
As I've mentioned before, even though I was in perfect shape throughout my childhood and well into my twenties, I was never a small girl, and when I was young, I got the "thunder thighs" comment on more than one occasion. Back then, a comment like that could send me into a downward spiral of insecurity and self-doubt. Of course, I've since learned to love my womanly thighs, but it took a long time to get there.

Fortunately, new research has revealed that big thighs are actually good for you. In fact, an article in the British Medical Journal announced that people "with thighs over 60cm (23.6 inches) in circumference have a lower risk of heart disease and early death" and "those with the smallest thighs—below 55cmm [about 22 inches]—had twice the risk of early death or serious health problems."*

Apparently, the issue is a lack of muscle. Those of us with strong legs can count on our muscles to keep us healthy; whereas, those with "too little muscle mass" can have a problem with "the body not responding to insulin properly, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and, in the long run, heart disease."*

The key is obviously that we want to have muscular legs—not just big legs—but that doesn't mean our legs need to be perfectly sculpted either.

I know many women like me—women who have an active and healthy lifestyle and have never had small legs—who will feel vindicated by this research. As anyone who has engaged in any strenuous activity over a prolonged period of time knows, your legs get more muscular—and bigger—when you exercise a lot (tennis champ Serena Williams being the best example of this), so it's nice to know that well developed thighs are something we can now be proud of rather than ashamed about.

I've long believed that one of the drawbacks of being naturally thin is that you aren't forced to think as often about diet and exercise and, by extension, your health. And this study reinforces the notion that curvy women—who often work hard to stay fit—have yet another reason to walk with pride.

I found the Nike ad above earlier, and I think the copy for this ad is a good way to end tonight . . .

I have thunder thighs.
And that's a compliment
because they are strong
and toned
and muscular
and though they are unwelcome
in the petite section,
they are cheered on in marathons.
Fifty years from now
I'll bounce a grandchild on my thunder thighs
and then I'll go out for a run.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good news / bad news

195 pounds
Let's start with the bad news . . .

I spent Saturday night in the hospital because of complications relating to the fibroids that have decided to make their home in my gut.

(And as much as I wish these people were my doctors, alas, they were not.)

Lots of women—40% to be exact—have fibroids, but until I found out I had them, I had no idea what they were or how many of us were affected by them. Fibroids are "muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus" and are "almost always benign."*

Often, fibroids are harmless, but they can be uncomfortable and big, which is just another reason why it's ridiculous to hold adult women to the unreasonable standards of beauty that exist in our society.

I can't help it if my stomach is no longer flat! I have the uterus of a woman who is 14-weeks pregnant because of these fibroids, and what that means is that my pant size has gone up a size or two from my regular 14. Of course, I'm sensitive about my new little tummy, but what can I do? Like I said, this is a part of life for nearly half of all women, and if I let myself worry about something as silly as the number on my Gap jeans, I imagine I would have a pretty poor image of myself.

So the bad news is that I was in the hospital because of some pretty nasty pain that is being caused by my fibroids.

The good news is that even after the doctors and nurses found out how much I weigh (and interestingly didn't even blink at the number I told them), they spent a significant amount of time complimenting me on my health. They were impressed with my pulse, heart rate, and cholesterol levels; thrilled with my exercise routine and penchant for whole foods; and downright wowed by my Olympic athlete blood pressure—all of which they said is the result of my regular exercise.

I can't tell you how good that made me feel.

In many ways, I felt vindicated because I spend a good deal of my time trying to convince myself—trying to convince the world—that our self-esteem and health is not determined by a number on the scale or the size on our pants but rather by things like our blood pressure, our heart rate, our cholesterol count. And that we can and should feel good about ourselves even if we don't fit into the narrow American definition of beauty.

So when the people in the emergency room—the people who really do know better—repeatedly praised me for my healthy ways, I couldn't help but feel as if I had won a small but significant battle in my war on how we see ourselves.

It was a tiny but important triumph in an otherwise awful day.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

My life in poetry

195 pounds
My friend Tom Hunley recently introduced me to a fabulous Denise Duhamel* poem that I think fits this blog perfectly, and I want to share with all of you . . .

by Denise Duhamel

The manatee tries a diet of only sea grass, but still stays fat.
Mistaking her for a mermaid from afar,
sailors of long ago lost interest when they got too close,
openly making fun of her chubbiness. She knows Rodney Dangerfield
would write jokes about her if she were more popular.
She's ashamed of her crooked teeth, her two big molars
that leave her sucking and grinding
with bad table manners. She swims towards danger
over and over, scars from motor boats on her back
reminders of her slow stupidness. She resents being
called a sea-cow. She hopes her whiskers don't show
in the light. She is the mammal who knows
about low self-esteem. I first met her on my honeymoon
in southern Florida. I was on a cruise in my one piece bathing suit.
The women in bikinis squealed and pointed to the nearby dolphins,
clapping so their sleek gray backs would come to the water's surface.
In the shadow of her prettier ocean sister, the manatee swam by also.
No one but I paid her much attention. I wanted to lend her
my make-up, massage her spine, lend a girlfriend-ear
and listen to her underwater troubles. I dreamt of her
as I slept in the warmth of my new husband. I dreamt of her
as he slept in the warmth of me. On a good day, too,
I can relate to the manatee, who knows
on some level that she is endangered
and believes in mating for life.

The poem captures why dieting stinks ("The Manatee tries a diet of sea grass, but still stays fat"), how we all worry too much about superficial things ("She's ashamed of her crooked teeth, her two big molars/ that leave her sucking and grinding/ with bad table manners") and have a tendency to make bad choices ("She swims towards danger/over and over, scars from motor boats on her back/ reminders of her slow stupidness), why it's so annoying when people judge us superficially ("She resents being/ called a sea-cow"), and how we all crave a loving partner ("the manatee, who knows/ on some level that she is endangered/ and believes in mating for life").

Could anyone have said it any better?

Thanks, Denise, for capturing how we all feel time and time again.

If you like this poem, please consider buying one of Denise's books here.

*Denise Duhamel was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in 1961. She received a B.F.A. degree from Emerson College and a M.F.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, most recentlyKa-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), and Mille et un sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005). A winner of an National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she has been anthologized widely, including four volumes of The Best American Poetry (2000, 1998, 1994, and 1993). Duhamel teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You bring me down

195 pounds
I've talked many times about the dangers of processed foods, specifically in my post called "The Problem with Processed Foods." And I've also discussed in my "Little Pink Houses" post that when I was living in rural North Carolina, I figured out that many of the poor folks there were obese because the foods they had access too—fast food and the processed foods that are so readily available and affordable at Wal-Mart—were so bad for them. It wasn't necessarily that they were eating more as much as they were eating worse.

And this week there is new evidence to prove how bad processed foods really are. As it turns out, processed foods don't just make us obese, they also make us depressed. This is according to a study released Monday that was done by researchers at University College London and published by the British Journal of Psychiatry. And—as you probably guessed—the study also shows that whole foods like fruit, vegetables, and fish help to ward off depression because of their antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and variety of nutrients. In fact, the study showed that "those who ate the whole foods had a 26% lower risk of depression" while people who ate more processed foods were 58% more likely to be depressed.

Of course, this is incredibly ironic since the first thing most of us do when we're depressed or tired is reach for the junk food—whether it's Cheetos to feed our emotions or Rice-a-Roni to feed our families, we often fall back on processed foods to get us through the hard times. And now they're telling us that doing so starts a vicious cycle: we eat bad foods because we're depressed, and they, in turn, make us more depressed.

Thanks a lot, London researchers! Now what are we supposed to do?

I guess the only thing we can do is make sure we have plenty of non-processed foods around the house to help us get through the tough times. I'm not saying we can't ever reach for comfort foods; I'm just saying don't do it all the time—I think limiting processed foods to once a week is a good goal—and other times use whole foods to also satisfy those cravings. Foods like real cheese and whole wheat crackers, mangoes and watermelon, homemade wheat bread, frozen bananas dipped in real chocolate, berries, homemade guacamole, dried fruit, almonds and cashews, yogurt, vegetables with cottage cheese dip. That kind of thing. I go out of my way to keep that kind of stuff around the house. And even though I wish I had a bag of potato chips every time I open the pantry, I'm glad to see that most of the time, all I can find is a big jar of walnuts. If I can do it, I know you can too.

Friday, October 30, 2009

See me on Bitch Flicks!

The amazing Bitch Flicks website is currently featuring one of my movie reviews. I love this site because it focuses on something that is not discussed nearly enough—how women are depicted in film. And it puts all of its films through they Bechdel Test before they are declared a "Ripley's Pick":

1. There must be two named female characters
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than men.

What's really frightening is that so few films pass this test, and you can see a list of those that do on the right side of their website.

Please be sure to check out this outstanding site and look at all of their fabulous reviews. And a big thanks to Bitch Flicks for the work they do and for posting my review.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

America's Next Top Role Model

194 pounds
A few weeks ago I heard about Tyra Banks' 2007 refusal to lose weight despite media pressure to do so, and even though this is an old story, it's one that clearly bears repeating.

As I'm sure many of you know, Banks made a name for herself as a model—both on the runway and on the cover of magazines—and for many years she was whippet thin, weighing around 130, which at 5'10" made her BMI 18.7. Considering that anything below 18.5 is underweight, it's clear that Banks' former weight was impossible to maintain over the long haul unless she gave in to industry pressure to all but stop eating and exercise to the point of being obsessed.

At her new weight of 161 pounds, Banks is still well within the healthy range. Her BMI is 23.1, and she could gain another twelve pounds and still not be considered overweight. Let me repeat that: at 5'10", Tyra Banks could weigh 173 pounds and still be healthy! As I said in my "Delusional Girl" post, I think it's important to recognize that just because the number on the scale isn't closing in on one hundred pounds, that doesn't mean it's not a good number.

But Banks has been retired from modeling and has had her own talk show on The CW for years. I've never watched the show, but now that I know about Tyra's unwillingness to conform to social pressure to be super thin, I might just have to catch an episode or two.

Apparently, back in 2007, someone in the media snapped an unflattering photo of Tyra in her bathing suit and splashed it all over the tabloids with nasty headlines like "Tyra Porkchop" and "America's Next Top Waddle." Not one to let others determine her self worth, Banks took matters into her own hands, wearing nothing but that same bathing suit on her daytime show and posing for the pictures you see here in order to prove that she did not need to lose weight.

And in response to all of the media scrutiny, Banks railed against these comments, claiming that she was definitely not fat and admitting that she still "feels hot." I admire the hell out of Banks for criticizing the notion that, with a body like that and a BMI of 23, she's overweight and saying that she's never felt so sexy, but it's her comments about how the media can hurt adult and young women alike that really impresses me. Banks says she gets "so much mail from young girls who say, 'I look up to you … I think you're beautiful. . . So when they say that my body is 'ugly' and 'disgusting,' what does that make those girls feel like?"

Banks raises a very good point: what does happen to the rest of us when someone as stunning as Banks is called ugly? I'll tell you what happens. The next time we look in the mirror, we see someone who is more than ugly, we see someone repulsive, someone we hate. And we start to feel even worse about ourselves than we already did. As Banks rightly points out in the spread below, those of us with lower self-esteem often revert to starving ourselves when we are faced with such impossible standards. Yes, this type of reporting is not only nasty. It's destructive—for me, for you, and for society.

Some people have called Banks a hypocrite. After all, she used to be one of the models who made us think that being thin means being beautiful, but Banks is hardly to blame for an industry that's been making the thin=beautiful equation long before she arrived on the scene. So rather than criticize Banks for any part she plays in the societal notion that all attractive women need to look like runway models, I'll thank her instead for admitting that there is more than one way to be beautiful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whip it good

194 pounds
I finally saw Whip It this weekend, and I have to say that the movie did not disappoint. I had low expectations because some people we trust had told us they didn't like the film. I always think it's better to go into the theatre with low expectations than high ones anyway because it makes it easier to enjoy yourself if you're not sitting there thinking something like, I thought this was going to be the greatest movie ever made, but this dialogue is awful!

Maybe the movie was a little bit silly and predictable (and possibly not an accurate depiction of roller derby life), but, like I said, since I had low expectations, I didn't even notice.

Because to me it didn't feel predictable as much as relatable, and it didn't seem silly as much as youthful and fresh. And the story is stand-up-and-cheer inspiring: teenage Bliss (played with loads of empathy and huge Bambi eyes by Juno's Ellen Page) has no agency or direction in life (and nothing that really makes her happy) until she sees two roller derby teams in nearby Austin shove it out one fateful night. After trying out for one team, she develops into a derby prodigy named Babe Ruthless who has as much drive and discipline as an Olympic athlete. In this way, it's a wonderful girl empowerment story that will join the ranks of films like Girlfight and Bend it Like Beckham before it.

But the reason I'm writing about the film on this blog is because I couldn't help but notice that all of the actors looked so darned real, which I absolutely loved. They were all different shapes and sizes—Ellen Page's Bliss was an adorable little french fry of a girl while her best friend Pash was a lovely roller coaster of valleys and curves.

And the girls on the various roller derby teams were similarly diverse—sure, Drew Barrymore was in phenomenal shape, but some of the others—Kristin Wiig and Juliette Lewis included—looked their age and sported imperfect stomachs, thighs, and arms without an ounce of shame or self-consciousness. (It's hard to be self-conscious, I suppose, when you're skating around a roller rink wearing a short pleated skirt, a sleeveless, stomach-baring top, and fishnet stockings.)

But it wasn't just their bodies that looked imperfect—it was also their hair (sometimes stringy or uninspired), their makeup (often greasy and overdone), and their skin (blemished on some occasions and wrinkled on others).

Of course, I credit the female director, Drew Barrymore, with keeping these women from looking artificial and plastic while still allowing them to look attractive and even hot. It makes perfect sense to me that it was Barrymore—an actress who's gone through a variety of looks and dress sizes over the years—who felt comfortable letting these women look so true-to-life. In that way, the direction feels both emotionally and physically honest. And the movie is clearly better for it.

For when Babe Ruthless and her cohorts take to the rink, it's incredibly easy for those of us sitting in the audience to cheer for them because they look a lot more like us than most of the women we see staring back at us from that giant movie screen—more authentic than artificial, more lifelike than fantasy, more likeable than distasteful.

So I applaud Barrymore and her talented crew of actresses for baring not only their wonderfully diverse bodies but also their middle-aged and appealingly flawed faces.

And I encourage all of you to support Barrymore—and all female directors by extension—by taking your daughters and nieces to see this film (either now while it's still in the theatre or later on DVD). After all, if we don't support women who give us what we want, we have only ourselves to blame.