Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

195 pounds
I've had a bad day.

A really bad day.

Like many women, I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and what that means is that a lot of time I can't get rid of what I need to get rid of, if you get my drift. When this happens, I get really bloated and feel a million times bigger than I normally do. Even when I'm not backed up, I struggle to feel good about my body, so on days when I am extremely bloated, positive thinking is about as unlikely for me as winning a karaoke contest in a room full of American Idol finalists. In other words, it's impossible.

And that's obviously why I've had a bad day. Every time I looked in the mirror today, my morale dropped a little bit further. To make matters worse, I had to go back to school tonight to help some of the students set up for the department book sale tomorrow, and because I was going to play tennis immediately afterwards, I showed up at my place of work in a pair of ratty old sweatpants and a bleached-out t-shirt. I had expected the halls to be deserted, but I think I ran into more of my colleagues tonight than I do most afternoons. And the cherry on the sundae occurred when I was standing in a coworker's office and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in her window.

Needless to say, the image I saw in the window appalled me. I didn't look anything like the person who'd been staring back at me all day every time I glanced in the bathroom mirror. I looked much, much, much worse. My stomach was a perfect half-circle, emanating from the area beneath my chest that I used to think of as my rib cage and disappearing somewhere above my knees. It was an version of myself I had never seen before—not at home, not in the bathroom at work, not anywhere—and without thinking, I let out a little cry of defeat.

I've had this kind of thing happen to me before, usually when I visit my parents' house where it seems that every wall is plastered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. And it's always the same experience—when I catch a glimpse of myself in an unfamiliar surface, I am shocked (and often horrified) by the unique perspective it offers me. Afterwards, I am left to wonder how it is that I've allowed myself to go through my days with such an incorrect picutree of myself in my head. Have I been in denial about the person staring back at me day in and day out? Or am I just catching myself at a bad time? Inevitably, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime—the mirror or reflective surface that so surprised me. And nine times out of ten, I find that it has not played tricks on me. My body really does look exactly as it did the first time—much different than I thought it did. Which again takes me back to my first question—how is it that I've allowed myself to have such an incorrect perception of the way I look? And how long has it been going on?

I worry that one of the side effects of having a positive attitude about my body most of the time is that the image I have of myself is not always entirely accurate. Sometimes I feel like I have what I like to call "Shallow Hal disease." If you've ever seen the movie, you know that Hal (played by Jack Black) is only attracted to insanely gorgeous women until he is hypnotized in a way that makes him see a person's inner beauty rather than her physical attributes. The end result is that Hal meets and falls in love with an obese woman who he sees as thin and beautiful because she is such a good person. (This character is played with grace and subtlety by Gwyneth Paltrow.) So I wonder if having a good attitude about my body makes me act like the hypnotized version of Hal: do I look at myself and see the whole me, the me that I know is on the inside, rather than just the surface me? And what on earth can I do to stop that???

I know what you're thinking right now because I'm thinking it too—is that really such a bad thing? Maybe not, but it means that when I catch my reflection in unexpected place, the result can be jarring, almost debilitating.

I know I'm the one who wrote about the fact that we need to realize that people focus on our attributes not our flaws, but some days—days like today—it just seems impossible to do. I guess I'm writing this post to let you all know, then, that like anyone else, I'm as human and fallible as the rest of us. And I only hope that in doing so I haven't completely let you down.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Afternoon delight: why it makes sense
to eat dinner early in the day

194 pounds
There was a story in USA Today a few hours ago about the oldest living man in the world. At 113 years old, Walter Breuning (pictured here) attributes his longevity to the fact that he only eats two meals a day: breakfast and lunch.

On the one hand, I'm opposed to anyone denying themselves food or skipping meals. On the other hand, I wonder if old Walter might be right about one thing—it makes more sense to eat your biggest meals earlier in the day than at the end of it. I'm not advocating cutting evening meals or snacks because those are essential, despite Walter's assertion. (It's unhealthy to skip ANY meal because your metabolism slows, your body starts storing fat, and you miss the carbs necessary for fuel and in order to stabilize blood sugar.) But I do wonder if it's unwise to eat our biggest meal towards the end of the day.

For years, my husband and I have eaten our dinners late at night—never before six-thirty and often closer to eight o'clock at night. I always suspected that this wasn't the ideal way to do it, but we're night people. And since we stay up late, it seemed to make sense to eat later. But over the past few years, I've been re-thinking that approach.

My new approach to "dinner" started in the summer of 2007. Like many academics, my weight sometimes fluctuates up a few pounds during the school year and then drops in the summer because I have more time to cook healthy meals and exercise when classes are not in session. The 2006-07 school was no different in that regard. I had probably gained somewhere between two and five pounds during the school year and wanted to make sure that I didn't carry it over to the next fall. Because I always like to try new ways to lose weight without dieting, I proposed that we start eating our big meal of the day, our "dinner," during the afternoon—between two and four—rather than later at night. We were still eating something else in the evenings, but we were eating lighter meals at night—salads, soup, sandwiches. The kind of thing most people normally eat at lunch.

The consequences of this decision were two-fold: 1) I got more work done in the time leading up to two o'clock because I knew we'd be taking a long break to cook and eat, and 2) I lost the few pounds I had gained during the school year in no time. Like I said, it's normal for me to lose a few pounds over the summer, but I really believe that I ate less over the course of the day when we had our biggest meal in the afternoon, which might be why the pounds dropped so quickly.

Part of the problem for me when I eat dinner later in the evening is psychological. In my head, I know that dinner is supposed to be the last meal of the day, and because of that, I overcompensate by eating as much as I can. It's the same thing you always hear about cavemen—they would eat whatever they could get their hands on because they didn't know when their next meal would be. (Supposedly that's why we all have an inherent desire to overeat). And that's definitely what I'm like at dinner—sometimes it seems as if I'm getting ready to hibernate, collecting as many nuts and twigs as I can fit inside my swollen mouth. In this way, I'm the the kind of person who almost always goes back for seconds. I've tried taking a bigger first portion, but that doesn't keep me from getting seconds. I've tried taking smaller portions, and I've even tried that trick of putting my food on a smaller plate. But when I take tiny portions, I go back even more! Nothing seems to keep me from overeating at dinner—even though most of the time I only overeat a little bit.

But when I move "dinner" to two-o'clock in the afternoon, everything is different. I never worry about it being the last meal of the day because I know that there's still more to come. And if I'm eating something I absolutely love and want more of, I tell myself that I can have more later in the day, making the idea of a second serving feel more unnecessary and less like it's my last chance.

It also can't hurt that when we eat in the middle of the afternoon, we're more likely to exercise afterwards. When we used to eat a late dinner, we almost never did anything athletic once the dishes we're cleared. In fact, it was just the opposite: after a big meal, we usually were too tired and lethargic to do anything more taxing than work on the computer, read, or watch television.

Because it worked so well the first time, we have gone back to eating our main meal in the afternoon every summer since then, and I am convinced I eat less—at "dinner" and all day long—when we do this. And if you think about it, this is how people eat in countries like Spain: they have a big, filling meal in the afternoon, take a siesta, and then get back to work. Sounds like the perfect day to me!

I imagine that when most of you read this, you will think, Great, but I don't want to be at work that late! That's not really surprising since it's not unusual to see Americans trying to get to their jobs really early in the morning so they can be finished with work as soon as possible. And maybe therein lies another part of our problem in America . . . we look at work as something to "get through" rather than something to enjoy. If we didn't dread working so much, maybe we also wouldn't need to eat so much when we're finished with it.

Of course, it's hard for us to eat dinner at two o'clock while school is in session, and I know it's even more difficult for those of you who work nine-to-five jobs all year long. But that doesn't mean that eating a dinner-like meal earlier is impossible. When Dave and I are on campus all day, we try to eat as soon as we get home—as close to five as possible. (And one of the ways we accomplish this is by cooking meals that last more than one day—as I discussed in my "Nothing beats a home-cooked meal" post.) Another option is to eat a big lunch at work, especially if you have to go out to eat. Lots of people indulge when they dine out during the workday, and if you're that kind of person, it makes sense to have that be your biggest meal of the day. After all, the Spanish have been doing it for years. Why not us?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Miracles really do come true

195 pounds
If you believe in miracles, this is the post for you.

After two years of looking for new knee-high boots, I am the proud owner of not one, but two! new pairs of knee-high boots.

This past Sunday, I opened the Target circular that arrives in my inbox every weekend and saw that knee-high boots were on sale this week. The last time I found knee-high boots that fit my calves was three years ago—back in the fall of 2006—when Target carried "extended calf" size boots designed my Isaac Mizrahi. As I said recently in my "These boots aren't made for wearing" post, I love my Mizrahi boots, but they have three-inch heels and are very girly, and I've always wanted a more rugged looking pair that I can wear with my casual skirts and dresses. But even though I've searched high and low for a pair like that, I have not been able to locate a single other pair of knee-high boots that fit my calves.

That is, until this weekend.

I had looked at Target's fall shoe line a month or so ago but not found any extended calf sizes, so I never bothered to try on any of the boots in the store. It had never occurred to me that knee-high boots that were not specifically marked "extended calf" would fit my calves, which at just over 19 inches are a bit bigger the 12-inch shaft offered in most taller boots.

But when I saw that Target had knee-high boots on sale, I couldn't resist calling them up on my computer screen for a closer look. And I was shocked by what I learned when I got there: several of the reviewers said that the Kallista Riding Boot by Merona (pictured above) was perfect for women with larger calves.

And that was all I needed to hear.

I literally jumped up from my computer, threw on a t-shirt and my favorite jean skirt—perfect for trying on boots—and headed to Target.

As it turned out, the reviewers were right. The Kallista Riding Boot is made with elastic that stretches to fit my muscular calves. They were a little more snug than I would have liked so I bought a half-size bigger than normal, but I am not kidding when I tell you that they look absolutely fabulous and, believe it or not, might even make my calves look smaller!

But wait! It gets even better!!

When I went to the three-way mirror to get a better look at the riding boot, I was shocked to see another curvy woman there trying on a completely different pair of adorable knee-high boots—the Kady boots by Mossimo (pictured below).

She was asking her boyfriend what he thought, and he was acting appallingly noncommittal. But I could not keep quiet. I told her they looked simply amazing, and that I was going to immediately go back to the shoe section and find a pair for myself, which is exactly what I did. As it turns out, the Kady boot not only fit, it looked just as good as the first one. Maybe even better. It was like I had died and gone to boot heaven!

Unfortunately, the Kady boot is no longer available online, but they still have some left in the store. The riding boot, though, is available in every size online, and at $30 a pop, it's almost a no-brainer. If you're like me and don't have calves the size of toothpicks, I recommend that you stop whatever you're doing and go immediately to Target to buy these unbelievable boots.* Because for all we know it could be Y E A R S before us curvy girls can find another decent pair.

*Be sure to go up a size or two; if you buy online, you can get free shipping if you spend over $50 by ordering the boots in more than one size and then return the pair that doesn't fit to the store free of charge!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The art of being cool

195 pounds
If you read my "Why we should all be watching Mad Men" post, you know that I've gotten hooked on Mad Men lately. I'm almost finished with season two, and soon I'll be able to start season three—the one that's currently showing on AMC—which I've been recording on my beloved DVR since August.

There's a lot to dislike about Mad Men's Don Draper, head of Sterling Cooper's creative department and the show's lecherous protagonist. He's a serial cheater, constantly spending the night in Manhattan with voluptuous women while his loyal wife sits at home in New Rochelle waiting . . . waiting for his return, for his love, his lovemaking, and, more importantly, for her real life to finally begin. He's also possibly one of the most vain and self-absorbed characters you can find in contemporary film and television—save possibly Deadwood's Al Swearengen. And, of course, as befits a person with these qualities, one of the most tragic.

But despite all of this, the viewer can't help but love Don Draper in all of his narcissistic glory.

Why do we love him? It's simple. Don loves himself—if not, the inner Don Draper (who isn't really Don Draper at all), but the image of himself that he presents to the world. He loves the way he looks, the way he dresses, the way he holds himself. And why wouldn't he? When Don Draper walks into room, it's hard to look at anything else. It's not just that he's good looking—because though he is very handsome, he is not as singularly beautiful as say a young Paul Newman or Robert Redford—it's that he's supremely confident and almost absurdly self-assured.

In an episode I watched this week, Don decides to travel to Los Angels for business after having a falling out with his fed-up wife. On the flight west, the viewer senses that Don is going to LA to commit his favorite sin—get in the sack with a gorgeous woman who isn't his wife. And you can't help but wonder: will Don Draper really be as lucky in sunny, optimistic California as he is in gritty, cynical New York? But when he walks into the pool at his hotel—gorgeous women lounged on every chair—Don immediately catches the attention of the most beautiful (and the youngest) woman on the scene. Hardly a dozen minutes pass before one of her friends approaches Don on her behalf. And when the woman finally moseys across the patio to meet Don, she tells him that she simply had to meet a man who could look so comfortable standing all by himself. And even though I knew it would happen, I'm still shocked by the fact that Don Draper never goes a night without a beautiful woman on his arm.

Right now you're probably wondering why the heck I'm writing about a man who is—on paper, at least—one of the most offensive characters to ever cross the small screen.

And here's why: even though I loathe Don Draper in some ways, I also admire him. I admire that he is as comfortable with himself as this woman describes. No matter where he is—standing in front of a conference room full of advertising executives, sitting in the dining room with his wife and kids, or waiting by the pool of a Los Angeles hotel where women half his age are lounging in almost nonexistent bikinis—he is perfectly at ease with himself. A character in Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons says that being cool is about detached confidence, and nobody captures detached confidence as well as Draper. And it hit me in the past twenty-four hours, that that confidence, that ease, is really the key to it all. If we can feel that comfortable with ourselves, if we can accept ourselves the way we are and truly like ourselves, then the world will be ours—not in the sexual sense a la Don Draper, but in all the important ways: in love, with family, at work. To put it simply: in life.

And so I vow to start channeling my inner Don Draper. To feel as confident and assured as he did standing next to a dozen bathing beauties. Just watch me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The model cousin

194 pounds
I caught up with two of my favorite cousins last week in Nashville, and though I was thrilled to see them for the first time in years, I was horrified by the way my self-confidence plummeted in their presence. I've talked before about the way family members can affect how we see ourselves, but I don't think I realized before last week, that this can happen even when we are around family members with whom we have supportive and loving relationships. I guess that's what took me by surprise: I've always been close with these cousins, I've always enjoyed their company, and never once have I thought that they were judgmental about the way I look. So why did my self-perception change so dramatically when I saw them?

The first thing that might have played into this change is the way my cousin Jim looked. Most of the people on my mother's side of the family are solidly built, and as a former high school football player, Jim has always been broad shouldered and brawny. But when he walked through the door of my favorite Nashville restaurant last week, he was so thin that I barely recognized him. Jim had slimmed down after high school, but he still always had that hulking footballer look. This was not the case last week. The man who met us for dinner was a far cry from the Jim I had grown up with. In fact, he's now what I would call model thin—not too thin, but thin enough that it's easy to imagine him posing for an underwear ad. I was, of course, surprised by the change in his physique, but more than anything, I was surprised by how handsome he looked. Never a bad looking guy, Jim is now a bona fide hottie.

And I couldn't help but wonder if underneath his former football player body, this model had been waiting to come out all along.

You can probably guess what I thought next—is there a model inside of me waiting to come out? Could I look that good if I lost a significant amount of weight? Have I been approaching this whole weight loss thing the exactly wrong way???

After dinner, my other cousin Jeff got out his camera for a few pictures, but when I looked at the first one, I was horrified by what I saw. I had turned to the side for the photo, and when I looked at my image on the tiny camera screen, all I saw was arm. A huge, flabby, fleshy piece of whale arm. I was disgusted with myself.

I had not seen Jeff or Jim in years, and here we were, finally reunited—Jim looking like he'd just stepped out of the pages of GQ and Jeff as boyish and cute as always—and I imagined I must have reminded them of the fatty ham our grandmother put out every year at the family's Christmas dinner.

Admittedly, this is exactly the kind of talk—exactly the kind of thinking—that I want to steer people away from on this blog. But that doesn't mean I'm entirely immune to it.

Yes, I was feeling horribly unattractive in the moment, but I was also simultaneously angry with myself for breaking the very rules I set forth on this blog. So if I understood even then how wrong it was to see myself that way, why did I still do it?

The answer is probably too complex for someone who's not schooled in the psychology of the mind to fully understand, but I can take a guess: when we're around family, we revert to the roles of our childhood, whether they be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. When I saw Jeff and Jim, I became the person they grew up with—the insecure, awkward, somewhat nerdy child of my youth. I often become this way around my immediate family, but it surprised me that I would do this with my cousins as well. It wasn't that they didn't believe in me. It's that they reminded me of the person I used to be. And maybe it's not the worst thing in the world to remember whom we used to be. Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize how much we've changed and grown?

Maybe there is a model lurking somewhere deep inside of me. A model I might be able to find if I were willing to starve myself for the rest of my life, which is what I'd have to do to lose and keep off the fifty pounds I'd need to shed to find that model. But what's different between the me I am now and the me I was when I was a kid roller-skating with Jeff and Jim in our grandmother's basement is that I no longer want to be that model. I no longer believe that I'll finally be happy when I look like I've just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.

No, I no longer believe that happiness is something I'm waiting for. Now I believe it's something I already have.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Advice from a friend

195 pounds
After my exercise and television post last week, my friend Carrie wrote to me and made another wonderful suggestion for squeezing exercise into a workday that is too busy for a full-blown trip to the gym or the walking trail. And Carrie's idea is so inventive that I just had to share it with all of you.

Carrie told me that she does "toe raises" while brushing her teeth most nights. Can you imagine?! She said she picked up the habit when she was a gymnast and has never stopped.

I always feel like the minutes I spend brushing my teeth are wasted time (sometimes I even read while I'm brushing), but now I know exactly how to fill that dead zone with something that will make me feel even better about myself.

Carrie says that to do a toe raise, we should stand with our feet together and go as far up on our tippy toes as we can (making sure to keep our ankles together) and then come back down. She usually does about ten to fifteen of these toe raises with her feet together and then five on each individual foot, though she mentions that a one-footed toe raise is a bit harder to balance while brushing but still totally doable.

The good news? As Carrie says, though these mini-workouts are short, they're always enough to make her calves burn.

Carrie also points out that the benefits of toe raises include strengthening calf muscles and ankles, which "prevents ankle rolling when running or falling" and "can help improve balance" if you stand up straight when you do them: with your "back and tummy flat" and "hips rolled flat."

So the next time you manage to go through a whole day without ever finding the time to exercise, consider this little trick when you get out your toothbrush at night.

And thanks a million, Carrie! I really appreciate the tip.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

These boots aren't made for wearing

195 pounds
I’ve been trying to find a new pair of knee-high boots for over two years now. I have one pair of Isaac Mizrahi chocolate-colored, suede knee-high boots with a three-inch heel that I bought at Target back in '06. They’re very dressy and girly, and I still love them, but I also want a pair that are more casual and rugged. The Frye “Campus” boot (pictured here) is my ideal, but as fate would have, the “shaft” of that boot is too narrow for my calf.

In fact, what I’ve found over the past two years is that hardly any knee-high boots fit my calves. Do I have especially big calves? I’ve definitely got big bones—even when I was a little girl, I was never able to stretch my fingers around my wrist—but I don’t think my calves are really that much bigger than anyone else’s.

Like I said, I started looking for a more casual pair of knee-high boots two years ago, and after a few months, I began to enter the desperation phase of my search. Whenever I become obsessed with locating a hard-to-find item, my search usually goes through five stages:

Stage One: Initial Excitement—this is when I first decide that I want to find a certain item, and I feel completely titillated by the prospect of looking for it.

Stage Two: Momentary Confusion—confusion sets in when I don't easily find what I want. At this stage, I spend precious time wondering why something as straightforward as a pair of boots is so elusive in our consumer-driven society.

Stage Three: Frantic Desperation—once I understand that it's going to be a struggle to find said item, I start to get frantic: my adrenaline begins to rush, my nerves start rattling, and my forehead starts to sweat.

Stage Four: Righteous Anger—when I finally realize that the item I want is either not available—or in this case, not available to me—I do what any smart woman would do: I get pissed off.

Stage Five: Bad Choices—And sometimes when I get really frustrated and irritable, I even go so far as to make a bad decision, buying something I don't even really want just to satisfy my insatiable desire for a purchase.

But last fall, I still hadn’t even reached stage four, so I tried to convince myself that I just hadn’t looked hard enough. I figured that the boots I'd tried up to that point probably ran smaller than normal and that I just needed to be more thorough in my search. So with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and focus, I hit the local mall one weekend last fall.

But what I had hoped would be a fruitful search ended up being a disaster, not to mention a huge waste of time. I think I must have tried on every single pair of knee-high boots in the entire mall but could still not find one pair that fit my calves. I even asked the salespeople in the various shoe departments for help, but though they tried their best, ultimately they looked at me with pity, as if they were secretly thinking, poor little fat girl can’t find any cute boots. You might think these looks would bother me, but they had the opposite effect.

I had entered stage four: I was pissed.

Eventually I regrouped and approached the problem from a more scientific angle, measuring my calves to see if that information would aid the process. It turns out that my calves—which I still think are pretty average-sized—are nineteen inches around.

That's bigger than I thought anyone’s calf would be, but looks can be deceiving. So I went online with this crucial information, and what I found was that most knee-high boots have a circumference of twelve inches. Twelve inches? That’s barely over half the size of my own calf. Are my calves really almost twice as big as those of most other women?

Then I remembered that my friend Kelcey once told me that Banana Republic carries “extended calf” boots—that is, knee-high boots that have more room in the calf area. As soon as I thought of this, I went to the Banana Republic website and scoured the shoe listings, but I discovered that the boots there—at $300 and up—are way out of my price range.

So my search continued.

At Zappos, I typed in “extended calf” and "extended shaft" and "wide calf" and whatever else I could think of. But I found that only a handful of knee-high boots—made by Fitzwell and R.S.V.P.—offer more room in the calf, and none of them fit my needs so I put off my decision, hoping for some kind of shopping miracle.

Before I knew it, winter was over, and my material needs were changing. I shelved my search for the perfect pair of casual knee-high boots and focused on other things.

But I never completely gave up, always keeping an eye out for a pair that would fit my unfittable nineteen-inch calves.

I never had any luck—every time I tried on a pair, I was either unable to get my nineteen-inch calves inside the shaft or unable to get the zipper closed over them—and now that it’s September, I have found myself back at square one: I still need a different kind of knee-high boot for my fall and winter wardrobe, and I am now beginning to believe that such a boot doesn’t exist.

And, to be perfectly blunt about it, the idea of this pisses me off in a way that I haven't been pissed in a L O N G time. Are there really no boots for girls like me? Girls who wear the size that most women in America wear?

Women’s clothes are available in all kinds of “plus” sizes, so why aren’t boots available in a plethora of sizes as well? Are my calves being discriminated against? It’s as if the fashion industry is trying to tell me that girls like me are not allowed to have cute boots.

I got so frustrated that I emailed Piperlime—a competitor to Zappos—and asked them if they carry any extended calf boots, and they actually wrote back and said, “Unfortunately we do not have boots with extended calf sizes. We apologize for any disappointment this causes.”

They apologize for any disappointment this causes?

Is that it???

They’re acting as if they’re merely sold out of the size I'm looking for when, in truth, they don’t even carry my size, a size that I bet most women in America wear. I’m no longer feeling simple disappointment. I’m feeling righteous anger.

Because if Piperlime—and all of the other stores I visited—don’t carry boots for someone like me, aren’t they reinforcing the notion that the only women who should dress in a fashionably way, the only women who are allowed to look good, are women who resemble the stick-thin models we see on the front of our magazines?

I wrote back to Piperlime and told them that I won’t be spending my hard-earned dollars at their store until they carry boots for all sizes of women. In the meantime, I beg you to please let me know if you are aware of a place where a girl like me can find a nice pair of knee-high boots.

For now, I’ll just have to keep looking.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why we should all be watching MAD MEN

195 pounds
I recently started watching Mad Men* on DVD. I'm just about to finish Season One, and I already know that what all of my friends have told me about the show is true—not only is it an outstanding drama with amazing actors and brilliant writing, but it is also a vitally important show because of the fact that it features real-sized women who look absolutely fabulous. (A group I argue are all but absent from film and television in my "What's wrong with this picture?" post.)

The most obvious example of this is Joan Holloway, played by the insanely talented Christina Hendricks. As the most powerful "secretary" in the office, Joan is a true leader. But she's not just a leader in the secretarial pool, she's also—and even more importantly—the person who the "mad men" look to for focus and guidance. When anyone in the office—male or female—is struggling, Joan is usually the one who's called in to set them straight.

This type of characterization would be impressive all by itself, but what makes it doubly important is that Joan is not just a real-sized woman, she's also a drop-dead gorgeous one who struts her stuff with as much sass and pride as a prize-winning peacock. Because it's not just her inner strength that the employees of Sterling Cooper are drawn to, it's her stunning looks.

And who wouldn't be drawn to her? Joan has a wonderfully full face, knock-you-out hips, strong legs, an impressive badonka donk, and ample breasts. Assets she knows how to work to her advantage. She uses her powerful hips—and sometimes even her butt—like some people use their hands: as tools of expression. In this way, those hips are as much a part of personality—and her strength—as her striking red hair.

It's also notable that it's curvy, red-headed Joan—not the blonde and frail Betty Draper—who all the men find so seductive.

Obviously, it's wonderfully refreshing and completely validating to see a real-sized woman play the most desirable woman on a television show filled with beautiful woman—finally, an actress I can aspire to look like!—but what's even makes me even happier is that she accomplishes this while also being strong, smart, and powerful.

She's a triple threat, this Joan Holloway, and I truly hope the writers give such a deserving character something to be happy about.

*The third season of Mad Men is currently showing Sunday nights at 10:00 EST on AMC.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Exercise and television: a pledge for you and me

195 pounds
I'm sure most of you know that watching television is directly linked to obesity. As a matter of fact, "For every two hours spent watching TV, there is a 23 percent increase in the risk of obesity."*

So I guess we should all stop watching TV altogether, huh?

Yeah, right.

No one—not my doctor, not my husband, not you—is making me give up Mad Men or The Office or 30 Rock or Southland. (If you can't tell, I like to spend Thursday nights in front of the TV.) Why won't I give these things up? Because certain television shows help me relax and give me a break from my real world concerns. I'm sure you have shows you're not willing to give up for the same reason either. And I don't believe that giving up our favorite television shows—shows that sometimes help us keep our sanity—is the answer.

So rather than give them up, I'm going to make them work for me.

When I was laid up with my knee injury this summer, the only exercise I could do was on the floor, where I did stretches, leg lifts and sit-ups and lifted weights. I did this for an hour a day, and in order to keep from dying of boredom—and stay motivated—I watched television while I did it.

Normally, I'm not a fan of having the television on during the daytime, but you know what they say about desperate times.

As it turns out, I'm entering a bit of a desperate time again. I found out on Friday that I'm going to be teaching five classes this semester instead of three. Yes, I said five. And if you know anything about college professors, you know that's more classes than most of us teach.

I know from past experience that this could be a recipe for disaster in terms of my health and my weight. I haven't told you the whole story yet (and I will soon), but the last year I lived in North Carolina and the first six months I lived in Kentucky, I gained about twenty pounds because my life was so hectic that I didn't have time to eat well or workout on a regular basis.

But I'm not giving in so easily this time. After all, I've got this blog to keep me motivated. And there aren't many things more motivating than having to post your weight online twice a week. Sure, I have a tough schedule, but that doesn't mean I can't find ways to stay healthy.

Since cooking food at home is a crucial part of my approach to weight loss and healthy living, I'm going to be forced to be just like the couple I discussed in my "Nothing beats a home-cooked meal" post, making food with Dave on Sunday that will have to last all week.

I'll also have to find different ways to fit in my exercise routine. The first way to do that is to exercise before I go to work in the morning (at least three days a week)—something I always hate to do but which is now necessary if I have any chance of getting in a real workout on weekdays. And the second way to do that is to start exercising in front of the television again. In fact, I'm going to make a commitment to exercise for at least thirty minutes every time I turn the TV on. I don't watch television every night, but when I do watch The Office and Mad Men and 30 Rock this semester, I'm going to be on the floor, hoisting weights in the air and crunching my way through dozens of sit-ups.

(Of course, in addition, I'll supplement these weekday activities with more frequent and more fun exercise on the weekends.)

What I would love is if I could get some of you to commit to doing the same. What do you think? Anyone want to make this pledge with me? Thirty minutes of exercise every time you turn on the TV? Let's say just weekdays to make it a little bit easier. To be honest, some part of me thinks that if everyone American made this pledge, we'd be a country of healthy individuals in no time.

So what do you think? Are you game?