Friday, December 31, 2010

The glass should always be half-full

One year ago today, I gave up making New Year's resolutions because I realized how unhappy they had made me over the years—and how unattainable some of my resolutions were. The truth is that resolutions make us focus on what we don't like about ourselves when we should be focusing on what we DO like.

In that vein, here are my 2011 non-resolutions (in other words, the things I appreciate about myself this year). . .

1) I'm proud that, despite a hellish work schedule, I exercised at least five times a week this year.

2) I'm glad that my weight hasn't gone up but instead has stayed basically the same. (In case you don't know, I weigh 196 glorious pounds.)

3) I'm relieved that I did not have any major injuries or physical setbacks this year.

4) I'm happy that I have a closet full of clothes that make me feel good about the way I look right now.

5) And finally I'm thrilled that I still feel attractive even though I weigh more than most people think an attractive person should weigh.

That's it for me—what about all of you?

What are your non-resolutions??? I challenge you to make at least one.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Counting down

Since New Year's Eve is only a few hours away, I'm going to hold off giving you my non-resolutions until then. Don't forget to write yours, and see you all tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where have you gone, Molly Ringwald?

I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful holiday. As for me, I took a few days off, which is why I didn't post anything new last Thursday. It's the first time I've taken more than one day off in a few years, so it was incredibly relaxing, so relaxing that it feels odd to get back to work.

But the new year is approaching fast, which means I've got to start working on appreciating what I have accomplished this year and getting back to my regular schedule.

The good news is that part of relaxing means watching more movies, and tonight I was lucky enough to find my way to a television broadcast of Sixteen Candles, the John Hughes high school classic.

Sixteen Candles was released in 1984, the year I started high school, so I have always felt a kinship with Samantha Baker, the main character who is masterfully played by Molly Ringwald with a heavy dose of teenage angst and longing.

I suppose another reason I connected with Samantha is because she seems so normal—she's cute but not perfect looking, attractive but not head-turner hot. She's just a regular girl—like the rest of us—and that's what makes her both likeable and relatable.

But as we were watching Samantha moon over senior hearthrob Jake Ryan tonight, Dave turned to me and said, "Would Molly Ringwald get this part today?"

He didn't have to explain because I knew exactly what he meant. Molly Ringwald was/is a regular girl, a girl who has perfect skin and big teeth, adorable freckles and a wide forehead, a button nose and a flat chest. And it is these contradictions that make her so beautiful.

But anymore we don't see young women like Ringwald in film or television. We don't see young women who look beautiful but still real and, more importantly, flawed. No, instead we get only young women who have perfectly straight capped teeth, flat-ironed artificially extended hair, plump collagen lips, flawless and perfectly powdered skin, and a facsimile of Ringwald's button nose.

And that's why I had no choice but to say no when Dave asked me that question.

No, as much as I hate to admit it, the young Ringwald would never be cast to star in a movie about teenagers today. (I'm not even sure that her male equivalent would be cast in his role either.) And what that means for our society is that teenage girls today are taught that there is only one way to look and one way to be: perfect.

I can't help but wonder what that will do to their self-esteem in the long run. I know that it can't be good, and I'm saddened to realize that though the Hughes' movies gave my generation an opportunity to watch characters with which they had things in common, this opportunity doesn't exist for kids today. Instead, when young people go to a movie or turn on the TV today, they almost always only see people they will likely never be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Of ballerinas and ball players

We went to see James L. Brooks' new film, How Do You Know?, the other night, and I have to say we really enjoyed it. So many "romantic comedies" have become ridiculously bad that it's nice to watch a movie about real people in real relationships for a change, and I appreciate Brooks for giving us that yet again. (If you don't know, he also made Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, and Spanglish.)

But, as much as I fear I'm starting to sound like a broken record, I have to say that I simply could not believe Reese Witherspoon's body. Honestly, she looked like a little girl, a fact made all the more apparent by her character's jockish wardrobe—she plays a softball player and spends some of the movie in little girl shorts, sandals, and t-shirt.
Her legs were so thin that they looked more like the legs of a ten-year-old than a thirty-something woman, and I found myself thinking back to supermodel Crystal Renn's admission that the goal for models is to have such skinny legs that there is a triangular space between them right below the . . . well, right below the triangle. And that's how Witherspoon's legs looked to me—too skinny to touch each other.

I wouldn't be so upset about Witherspoon's non-body if there were some other movie on the horizon that made me feel better about how women's bodies are being depicted in the current crop of holiday movies, but next up on our list is Black Swan, a film about two nearly anorexic ballerinas starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Needless to say, they both look skeletal and malnourished.

This is a far cry from last December when I wrote about Vera Farmiga's wonderful depiction of a real-sized woman in Up in the Air, and I worry that we're taking steps backward rather than forward.

I have been a movie lover all my life. Though I was a voracious reader as a child, it was really my love of film that made me want to be a writer. But when I continue to see Hollywood requiring its female actors to look like underweight girl-women, it makes me want to give up movie watching for good.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Real Beauty

"I think if you believe you are beautiful, you will appear beautiful to the world."
—Brenda (pictured above)

An amazing student turned me on to this award-winning portrait series by photographer Jodi Bieber called "Real Beauty."

When describing her work on this series, Bieber says, "I felt a strong need to create a body of work that goes against what the media has depicted as beautiful. Even within a complex society such as South Africa, across all communities, women hold unneccesary perceptions of self doubt around themselves and their beauty from an early age.. The work deals with reality but also touches on fantasy. The common ground for my work is both myself and the women I photograph wanted to make a stand for Real Beauty."

To see the rest of Bieber's stunning "Real Beauty" portrait series, click here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Words to live by

The December of issue of Glamour magazine featured an article called "The Secret to Good Health . . . in 100 Words or Less," and there were so many good pieces of advice that I had to share a few:

"Don't try to mold yourself into something you're not. Stop trying to attain this unnatural state where you're skinny and plucked and shaved and waxed and Botoxed and have no hips—it's stressfull for your body and mind, and it's not going to make you happy either. Believe me! I see it all the time these days: Women like that come to my office because none of it is feeding their soul."
—Dr. Julie Holland, a NYC psychiatrist and author of Weekends at Bellevue

"I tell this to my patients and my friends: Your money is much better spent on good food than on a super-expensive face cream."
—Dr. Ellen S. Marnur or Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York

"Eat fewer packaged foods. I see many young women who are all about he grab-and-go. I get the appeal—we're all busy! But you don't want to go home every night to another frozen dinner. Many processed foods are loaded with salt, preservatives, sugar, and unhealthy fat. And it doesn't take longer to make a healthier DIY version. Find recipes online or take a cooking class. Then buy and eat the fresh stuff: fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean protein. After that, if half a bag of M&Ms falls into the mix, so what? Enjoy food: don't revile it!"
—Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston

"Know that everything improves when you work out—stress, sex, your skin, even how well you sleep. I've never regretted a workout, but I've regretted skipping plenty."
—Wendy Naugle, Glamour executive editor

As I said, words to live by.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kudos to Entertainment Weekly's
Lisa Schwarzbaum

As I've mentioned before, specifically in my "Holy hypocrisy" post, women in Hollywood are held to totally different standards than men. We require female celebrities to look buff and perfect well into their sixties—have you seen that new Boniva commercial with 64-year-old Sally Field lifting weights like a thirty-year-old?—but their male counterparts are allowed to age naturally and still get work, as best demonstrated by the recent resurgence of an undeniably overweight Alec Baldwin.

We can do our best to fight this problem by talking about it and "voting with our dollars," by spending money on movies, books, and music that feature regular-looking women. But, at some point, it's up to the media to change what we demand of women.

And that's why I was so glad to read film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum's recent article about Nicole Kidman's face in Entertainment Weekly.

Yes, I said Nicole Kidman's face.

Because her face is such a source of controversy that Schwarzbaum felt like she had to write an entire article defending it. As Schwarzbaum says, "A constant awareness of Kidman's visage . . . has, after all, become an unavoidable topic of conversation."

Unfortunately, that visage has gotten to be a more important topic than Kidman's skills as an actress. It's impossible for one of her movies to come out and not hear about the lack of emotion in her face. "The cosmetic alterations Kidman seems to have chosen," Schwarzbaum explains, "have for years become uncomfortably entwined with the assessment of her talents."

Thankfully, Schwarzbaum also insists it's time to change the conversation.

"Anyhow, enough, okay?" she insists. "Let's talk about something else."

I couldn't agree more. How does it help the rest of us feel good about ourselves if we are constantly attacking women like Kidman?

Yes, I know that plastic surgery is a BIG part of the problem—after all, how can we ever be happy with the way we look when all of the women in the media are botoxed and stitched to within an inch of their lives?

But I also agree with Schwarzbaum that it isn't doing us any good to constantly criticize Kidman's ageless face. As she asserts, "any woman knows what it feels like to work with or against her own aging process in a culture addicted to exaggerated characteristics of youthful female sexuality."

And isn't that the truth?

Isn't it true that we know exactly what it's like to live in a society that wants us all to have perky breasts, sculpted thighs, and smooth foreheads no matter how old we are?

We certainly do, so it's hard to blame Kidman for giving into a pressure we each understand all too well. As Schwarzbaum admits, "movie stars Have Had Work Done since the dawn of hair dye and nose jobs. . . that includes men as well as women," so it doesn't make much sense to go after Kidman for caving to that pressure.

At the same time, we also need to send the message that we would prefer our female celebrities did NOT cave to that pressure. As Schwarzbaum says, "Show us your flaws, Nic!"

And I couldn't agree more.

Show us your flaws, Nic. Show us the Nicole Kidman we fell in love with back in the eighties—the one with kinky red curls and slightly chubby cheeks, the one who by now should have crow's feet and lines around her mouth. For the love of God, please show us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Well, well, well, what do we have here?

For years I have been complaining about Weight Watchers not allowing their members to eat as much fruit as they want.

In my "What is a diet" post, I talk about how my mother-in-law used to eat only a half a banana because it was "too many points" to eat the whole thing and how absurd that seemed to me.

That's not a diet. That's The Idiot's Guide to Eating.

Under the old Weight Watchers' point system, “You could be holding an apple in one hand, which was two points, and you could be holding a 100-calorie snack pack of Oreos in the other hand, which was also two points."*, meaning eating an apple was seen as the same as eating a small bag of Oreos.

I'm sorry, but that's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Not to mention unhealthy.

Well, it looks like somebody was listening to my complaints because now—finally!—Weight Watchers has decided to let their members eat as much fruit and vegetables as they want. As The New York Times points out, "All fruits and most vegetables are [now] point-free."


As The Times explains, this is a huge change for the nearly two million devotees of the national dieting program who are used to counting every grape, banana, and pear: "Their world [has] been rocked . . . A 31-year-old teacher from Midtown Manhattan who had barely touched a banana in six years wanted to know if she could really consume them with impunity."

Yes, it's really true. You can now eat bananas until your stomach is full and your heart is content.

Guess I know what I'm getting my mother-in-law for Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lesson # 3,420

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I talked to one of the women's studies classes on campus today, and I was completely moved by the students' stories . . .

. . . stories of dads who tell daughters with BMIs of 17 that they've gained too much weight in college

. . . stories of athletes who are considered obese by the National Institute of Health because of their muscle mass

. . . stories of women who started dieting when they were nine.

Yes, I said nine.

Not only did their stories teach me—yet again—that we must expand the way we define beauty in our society, but their comments also provided me with material I'd overlooked.

After class, one of the students emailed me and said:

"You have probably already seen this video, but its one of my favorite music videos because it addresses the same thing[s]" we talked about in class today.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have actually not watched this video. I've always loved the song but never before seen the emotional images that go with it. I hope you all are as moved by it as I was.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

May the force be with all of us

Last Thursday, I took the opportunity to thank Carrie and Katie Goldman for reminding us how important it is to be an individual after first grader Katie was teased about her Star Wars water bottle, which the teasers told her was just for boys.

Hearing Katie's story got me thinking about my own grade school experiences with Star Wars, and since Katie asked to hear stories about other girls women who love all things Han Solo and Princess Leia, I thought I'd share one of those experiences here . . .

When I was in second grade, we had a talent show at my grade school, St. Ann's, a tiny Catholic school that was tucked away in a quiet corner of Raritan, New Jersey, only a few miles away from where I grew up.

Not knowing that talent shows usually feature people with significant talent, I immediately signed up to perform the baton twirling routine I was learning in my first-ever baton class that year.

Unfortunately, another twirler performed right before me: Edwina Schwinn. Edwina was my best friend and part of the reason I had taken up twirling. She was also a champion twirler.

During the talent show, Edwina wore a gorgeous sequined costume and a glittering tiara. She threw two batons in the air at the same time, spun around three times, and still caught both of them.

In contrast, I wore a standard-issue black leotard with white tights and could only throw one baton from one hand to the other without dropping it.

As soon as Edwina began to perform, I realized my mistake. I was not talent-show material. Despite this, I got up when my name was called and soldiered through my amateur routine in front of a cafeteria full of my classmates.

As soon as the whole thing was over, I ran to the bathroom and cried.

Thirty minutes later, on the bus ride home, I was still teary-eyed, but the other boys in my grade comforted me by saying that they liked my performance better than Edwina's because of the song that went with my routine.

That song was none other than the theme to the original Star Wars, proving that sometimes liking things boys usually like more than girls isn't always a bad thing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I'm thankful for Carrie and Katie Goldman

One of the main goals of this blog is to encourage people to accept themselves the way they are, and one aspect of doing that is embracing our individuality and truly believing that there isn't only one way to look beautiful. But embracing our individuality is not just about our body size. It is about every aspect of ourselves—our bodies, our hairstyles, our personalities, our quirks, our strengths, even our flaws.

So when I recently read the story below—about Carrie Goldman's young daughter finally learning to embrace her individuality—I just had to share her story with all of you.

The following is cross-posted from Carrie Goldman's blog, Portrait of an Adoption, and you can read Carrie's original post as well as her follow-up post, which details all of the attention this story has received and how you can get involved with a Facebook event on December 10th.

Anti-Bullying Starts in First Grade by Carrie Goldman

November 15-19 is Anti-Bullying Week at the schools. Like so many others, I have been reading with dismay about the recent victims of bullying, and I ache inside for the pain these young people have experienced.

I have often thought of bullying as a problem that faces children older than mine, but a recent conversation with my first grader has given me pause. Maybe it starts right here, right now with our little ones.

At summer's end, Katie and I went to Target to pick out her backpack, lunchbox and water bottle for the new school year. After great deliberation, she chose a
Star Wars water bottle to match her Star Wars backpack.

Katie loves
Star Wars, and she was very excited about her new items. For the first few months of school, she proudly filled her water bottle herself and helped me pack her lunch each morning.

But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, "My
Star Wars water bottle is too small. It doesn't hold enough water. Can I take a different one?" She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, "I'll bring this."

I was perplexed. "Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your
Star Wars one. I think it is actually smaller."

"It's fine, I'll just take it," she insisted.

I kept pushing the issue, because it didn't make sense to me. Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.

She wailed, "The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a
Star Wars water bottle. They say it's only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I'll just bring a pink water bottle."

I hugged her hard and felt my heart sink. Such a tender young age, and already she is embarrassed about the water bottle that brought her so much excitement and joy a few months ago.

Is this how it starts? Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?

The confusing part for me is that I know these first grade boys. I can't simply see them as random mean boys bullying my baby. They are good kids individually, and Katie often plays happily with them.

But when you put the boys together in a pack, maybe they start to feel vulnerable and insecure, which causes them to do unkind things, such as tease my daughter for carrying a
Star Wars water bottle.

Maybe they do it to get laughs out of each other. Maybe they do it because if they are busy teasing Katie, nobody will tease one of them. Maybe they do it because they want her attention and have limited social skills at this age.

"Katie, it is okay to be different. Not all girls need to drink out of pink water bottles," I told her.

"I don't want to be too different," Katie lamented. "I'm already different. Nobody else in my class wears glasses or a patch, and nobody else was adopted. Now I'm even more different, because of my
Star Wars water bottle."

Katie cannot control the fact that she is different due to adoption or poor eyesight. But she can control what accessories she carries to school, and she is trying to exercise that control. She has learned that there are degrees of being different, and she wants to minimize how different she is.

Being different is a complicated topic. We say that we celebrate diversity, and we preach tolerance. But at the same time, we as adults are often fearful of those who are different. I see people tease each other for being gay or poor or overweight. I see grown-ups bullying others for holding different religious and political beliefs.

I see people publicly lauding diversity and privately attacking those who are different.

It trickles down to kids teasing each other for the types of toys they prefer. So it starts now, with a couple first graders and a water bottle. Right here, right now, we as a community need to recognize the slippery slope of bullying those who are different. We need to show our support for each other's choices, as long as they do no harm.

I talked to Katie about all my musings. Talking about it is the best defense. I have urged her to bring the
Star Wars water bottle if that is what she really wants to do, even if it makes her different. Today, she felt brave enough to bring it. I hope that she is able to eat her lunch without feeling nervous.

I would love to be able to show Katie that she is not alone, that other females appreciate
Star Wars. If there are any female Star Wars fans reading this, please feel free to show your support for Katie. I will let her read your messages or comments, and I think she will be surprised by what I suspect is a vast number of female fans.

And if you have a little boy out there who wants to carry a pink water bottle, tell him about Katie and reassure him that if she can carry a "boy" water bottle, he can carry a "girl" water bottle. Let's help all our kids grow into confident adults who can appreciate being different.

Postscript: Wow! Katie is overjoyed by the comments coming in!!! My sweet first grade daughter has been sitting with me at the computer, reading aloud all the wonderful, supportive notes from readers, and her face is shining. Each night after dinner, we are going to sit together, and she is going to read several comments to me and her daddy. We are going to print the comments out and make a book for her to read whenever she feels the need. Today she wore a Star Wars shirt to school and said to me, "Tell the people about it!!!!" This is really restoring her self confidence. She did a jaunty little pirouette in her Star Wars shirt before school.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thou shall not steal thy neighbors' bread
on Thanksgiving

There are a lot of things I could write about today as we all prepare for the biggest eating event of the year in this country.

I could advise you to avoid emotional eating, to work a little aerobic activity into your holiday, to pace yourself through the big buffet, heck, I could even tell you to not worry about it and eat whatever you want (which is what I actually think you should do), but let me tell you a story which will provide you with the one piece of advice about eating with family that might be the best you'll ever get . . .

Every year we are lucky enough to be invited to Dave's brother's house for Thanksgiving. Jack and his wife Carol have all of their siblings over for a traditional turkey dinner, and since most of them have children, the group has expanded to about fifty people. We've been going to Jack and Carol's for more years than I can count at this point, and it's always a good time.

But one year, I made a fatal error.

Just like most people, we all bring a dish for dinner, and one time I decided to make homemade rolls.

These weren't just any rolls.

They were Martha Stewart Parkerhouse Rolls, and the basic process for making them meant that I would roll out a piece of dough, coat it with butter, fold it, apply another layer of butter, and then repeat. Six times.

They are honestly the best rolls I've ever had. I had made them for my family before, but had never made them for Dave's, and was therefore nervous about everthing going right.

Of course, I had nothing to worry about. The rolls were exquisite. It's hard to go wrong when the main ingredients are butter, sugar, and flour.

My only disappointment was that the rolls weren't the hit I had been hoping for. On a buffet filled with fried turkey injected with cajun seasoning, strawberry spinach salad with candied pecans, and Paula Deen cornbread-and-sausge stuffing, my rolls were easy to overlook. Most people took one, but some of them were ignored, like a sad puppy left outside in the rain.

As it turned out, I was sitting next to one of those sad and lonely rolls ... on our nephew's plate. Jake was probably only ten or eleven at the time, and he couldn't have known how long I'd slaved over those rolls or how much they meant to me.

So he took one bite out of his Martha Stewart parkerhouse roll and put it off to the side of his plate, where he promptly forgot about it.

I watched his roll like a jealous lover, waiting to see if he would finish it or return to it at all. But it was completely neglected. And when Jake put his hand on his stomach and said, "I feel kind of full," I jumped at my chance.

"Are you going to finish your roll?" I asked.

"You can have it," he said, knowing immediately what I was after. He had, after all, been living with a father who had been asking the same question for over a decade.

I can honestly say that that one roll was the best one I had all night, possibly ever. It dripped with the sweet taste of longing and oozed with the satisfaction of fulfilled desire.

It was good that I enjoyed that roll so much because a day and a half later, I was bent over the toilet in our tiny apartment bathroom, emptying my stomach of everything—Parkerhouse rolls, fried turkey, spinach salad, sausage stuffing, everything—I had eaten for days. As it turned out, Jake had been grabbing his stomach because he was in the early stages of a nasty stomach flu, and when I picked up the half-eaten roll off his plate, I picked up his virus too.

I still look at the uneaten food on my nieces' and nephews' plates with longing. I can't help it when they repeatedly leave so much amazing food behind. But never again will I actual give into that temptation and reach across the table to abduct their leftovers—or their germs.

I advise you do the same.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yes, we can.

When I give presentations on the blog, one of the things I talk about is the fact that, as a society, we CAN change how we define beauty. And I point out that I know we can because we have.

If you look at images of women in the past, it's not hard to see that for hundreds of years, the model of beauty was voluptuous, curvy, rubinesque. Only since the late '60s and early '70s have we become a culture obsessed with thinness.

So today I'd like to offer you a gallery of images that demonstrate just how much we've changed and just how far we can go. . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sea change?

I don't know if any of you have picked up on this, but I've been sensing a sea change about the dieting issue that is making me feel very optimistic.

I've talked before about Glamour magazine's commitment to featuring women of all sizes and the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty's focus on regular-looking women, but lately, I've been witnessing more and more changes in the way we talk about weight loss that make me wonder if there isn't a real paradigm shift going on.

First, Weight Watchers changed their entire approach to weight loss. No longer are they narrowly focused on dieting, and they are so committed to this change that they've incorporated it into their new slogan, which is now "Stop dieting. Start living."

Then, I opened the latest issue of Glamour magazine and read a response that completely caught me off guard.

A reader had written to the magazine's health expert and asked, "I did a cleanse and then gained weight. Did it mess up my metabolism?"

I'm not going to lie—when I read this, I just automatically assumed that the answer would be wishy washy and inconclusive, but I was wrong because this is what Dr. Joann Manson had to say: "In a sense, yes. Many cleansing diets are fewer than 1,000 calories a day; eating that little for a week or more could trigger your metabolism to slow down and conserve calories. When you begin eating normally again, any calories above your new metabolic rate get stores as fat and could cause weight gain."

Call me crazy, but aren't cleanses just the kind of thing women's magazines were encouraging women to do a year ago? And now they're warning people about them? Not only that, but they're pointing out what I've been saying on this blog for a year and a half—in the long run, diets make you gain weight.

And finally, I am ashamed to admit that I was "reading" an issue of People Style Watch recently—reading probably isn't the right word since the sole purpose of that magazine is to feature celebrities in the latest fashions—and I was thrilled to see that in their "What's In and What's Out" column, lifestyle changes were listed as IN, and diets were declared OUT. According to People, "Instead of crash dieting or going on cleaanses, people are learning to eat healthy for a lifetime.

Is it be possible that people are finally getting it? That they're starting to finally understand that being healthy is not about cutting sweets or carbs or drastically reducing calories, but about living your life in a way that embraces moderation and health?

I'm not totally sure that the majority of Americans are catching on, but I do think the media is starting to get it. They're starting to get that we are sick to death of being told we have to be anorexic-looking to look good and that we have to eat 1,000 calories a day to be thin.

And all I have to say is it's about damn time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Breaking my heart a little bit more

The other day I met with a student who surprised me.

I was talking to this student about his major and his life plans, and in that way, our discussion seemed pretty normal.

But then things got more serious.

Even though he is a creative writing major and loves to write, the student confessed he has always dreamed of becoming a chef. I want as many creative writing majors in our program as possible, but I also want our students to be happy, so I encouraged him to do follow his dreams.

Once he had let out that secret, I knew others would come out as well.

And so I wasn't surprised when he kept talking, admitting then that he had planned to go to cooking school all along but had chickened out at the last minute because he was afraid of failing.

At that moment, my heart leapt out to him—because I know as well as anyone what's it like to let fear hold us back.

But then things got even more intense. The student revealed he also had a desire to become a nutritionist, that he wanted to help people learn how to eat well.

And that's when he said something I did not see coming.

He said that he was afraid no one would take him seriously if he became a nutritionist. He paused then, as if working up the courage to continue, and finally said, "Because of my body size."

I guess I should add that this student is a pretty big guy. He kind of reminds me of a pre-diet Peter Jackson: a big and scruffy teddy bear of a guy.

I should also add that he has a huge heart, and he almost always puts it all out there, sharing himself without fear of judgment. That's probably what led him to reveal all of this to me.

And that's why I was determined to tell him what he needed to hear: that he should do whatever he wanted and do it well and not worry for an iota of a second about people judging him or not taking him seriously. And that if he was good at what he did, no one would think twice about his girth.

I told him exactly what I believe: I told him he had to go for it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can you say paranoid?

For the most part, I'm able to keep my insecurities in check, but every once in a while they get the better of me. I'll give you an example . . .

We park in a gated lot on campus, and after I left our car the other day, I was walking along the sidewalk next to the exit lane when the gate suddenly went up. I jumped back and thought, my God, do I really weigh enough to set off the parking gate? Do I really weigh as much as a small vehicle???

When I got home and complained to Dave about the incident, he laughed and said, "Uh, it's not based on weight. It's a sensor—when you walk past it, it goes off."

"You mean, like in the movies? When the burglar has to go under the red light?"

"Just like that."

Of course, there is a sensor. How could I have ever thought otherwise? How could I have honestly imagined that I weighed as much as a small car?

I hope you're not expecting me to answer that question because, if you are, then I'm afraid you just don't get it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shall we dance?

I have to be honest—I have never in my life watched Dancing with the Stars.

For the most part, I stay away from reality television. Not because I don't get why it's appealing. But because I do, and I fear that if I tune in for one episode, I'll be hooked. Since I already watch several television shows every week—Modern Family, 30 Rock, The Office, Mad Men, and Project Runway, not to mention The Daily Show four nights a week—I don't have much desire to add to that list.

But a friend told me about Margaret Cho's recent blog post detailing her experience on Dancing with the Stars—specifically about her body issues while she was on the show—so I had to tune in, which is how I ended up watching the video above from DWTS on YouTube (which I recommend to all of you).

As it turns out, Cho suffered from a pretty typical case of low self-esteem when she was on the show. She said that she worried that she wasn't as "in her body" as the other female contestants and had trouble watching herself dance in the mirror or viewing her performance after the show. According to Cho, she learned that she was "startingly insecure" about her body and "felt clumsy and awkward among the svelte, swanline figures of" the other women. (You can read her entire outstanding post here.)

While reading about Cho's body issues, I was reminded of how I felt in the days leading up to our wedding.

As I've mentioned before, I went on the only diet of my adult life before our wedding, and, of course, I was worried about my weight on the big day. But as the day drew closer, I was worried about not being able to play the part of the bride more than anything else.

Whenever I had fantasized about getting married, I had always imagined the two of us together. But after we went to a friend's wedding a couple of months before our own, it hit me that the groom is an after-thought at most weddings. All anybody wants to see is the bride. Oh, look at the bride! or Did you see the bride? My God, she even enters with her own theme song: "Here Comes the Bride." The bride is quite literally the star of the show. And once I figured this out, I was terrified. How could I ever pull off being "The Bride"? And what would I do when everyone turned to look at me walking down the aisle, when all eyes were on me?

As it turned out, I pulled it off . . .
though a few people told me later that—like Cho on Dancing with the Stars—I looked uptight and nervous. I hate to admit it, but I was a complete wreck about standing in front of nearly two hundred people as the star of a play about my life, and as a result, I couldn't fully enjoy the moment of our vows. I also felt a great sense of relief when the ceremony was over (see the picture to the left), which is probably not supposed to be how you feel when you get married. But, for better or worse, we had settled on a big, somewhat traditional wedding, and that was the price I paid for it. It kind of makes you understand why people elope (though I have problems with that as well).

I wonder if other people feel the same way Cho and I did on our big days—like a nervous klutz. Or if there are some women who feel like they are born to play these roles. And if so, what the hell is wrong with them?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Look how far we've come

As a kid, I hated dressing up on Halloween.

I never like to be told what to do, and I think the idea that we HAD to dress up on Halloween always bothered me. Especially as a kid when not admitting you didn’t want to dress up would have made you almost as popular as you would have been if you had asked for more homework.

Some of my dislike with dressing up on Halloween stemmed from my dislike of dressing up like a girl, whether it was for school pictures, for holidays, and—worst of all—for tea parties. I completely loathed being forced to wear a dress and jewelry and makeup—YUK!—when I was young. To me, there was nothing worse. And to express my disgust, I even went so far as to wear jeans under the plaid Pilgrim dress my mother made my sister and I wear one Thanksgiving.

Then a funny thing happened . . .

. . . I grew up.

And I fell in love with dressing up.

Dresses, heels, make-up? Love them. And I’ve got the overstuffed closet to prove them.

But I always wonder, if I love it so much now, why did I hate dressing up so much when I was a kid?

Like I said, I think part of it was a control issue. I always hated doing things I was told I HAD to do or HAD to want to do.

But another part of it was about gender. I didn’t want to wear dresses because that would make me a girl, and when I was growing up, it was still acceptable to teach kids that boys were smarter, boys were faster, boys were better. So, of course, I was the quintessential tomboy—wanting to be as boyish as I could.

I suppose that changed when I grew up and realized how ridiculous it was to think boys are better than girls. And, thankfully, around the same time I learned to like my body a little bit (it would be years before I would fully accept it), making me want to wear more feminine attire.

Since then I’ve been all in favor of wearing clothes that make you feel womanly and even hot.

But what I still don’t get is the desire to dress like a prostitute on Halloween. Sure, I like to look and feel sexy, but I respect myself too much to wear a skirt that barely covers my southern hemisphere or a neckline that plunges to my equator.

But I must be the only one who feels that way because everywhere I looked on Sunday night, I saw young women—even girls!—dressed in “slutty” costumes. As another blogger pointed out, the female trick-or-treaters were dominated by sexy schoolgirls, dirty nurses, “Captain Booty Pirates,” "Sexy Scotty" (pictured above), and the “Playboy Touchdown Team.”


When did Halloween turn into a parade of tarts-in-training?

Yes, I grew up in an era of boy power, but I’m not sure I like the other side of the coin—girls empowering themselves to fulfill male fantasies—and I worry that growing up this way will make our young girls even more obsessed with body image thany they were.

Kind of makes me want to be a tomboy again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To be continued . . .

I am excited to report that I will be giving a talk about the blog tomorrow at Western Kentucky University (see the advertisement above). I've only given this talk once before—at the University of the South last year—so I'm still putting my presentation together. As a result, there won't be a new blog post today. But I do have something important to say about Halloween . . . so please check back soon!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's just a jump to the left.
And then a step to the right.

I had all kinds of plans for tonight's blog . . . but those plans will have to wait because tonight I have to write, yet again, about that pop culture phenomenon that is Glee.

Tonight's episode of Glee was a play on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And while it's been years since I saw that movie as an unworldly seventeen-year-old, I really enjoyed their take on the musical. But the music wasn't nearly the most interesting part of the episode—nor is it the reason I feel so compelled to write about it.

What really made the episode work was it's theme of reversal.

One of the show's main characters, Finn, was cast as the male lead in the show's version of Rocky Horror. And that role required him to do something that women do on stage or on camera all the time—take off his clothes. No, he wasn't going to be naked, but he was being asked to strip down to his underwear in front of an audience.

To look at Finn, one wouldn't think he had anything to worry about when it comes to his body. He's the quarterback on the football team. He's tall and in great shape. He's dated the most attractive girls on the show. But something about standing on stage in his underwear terrified Finn. He worried that his body wasn't up to snuff, especially when compared to the chiseled, sculpted frame of the new kid in school, Sam. At one point, Finn—who is a little bit of a dim bulb—admitted that the underwear scene had him so freaked out he had started showering with his shirt on.

I'm not certain, but I'd venture to guess that every woman alive has felt the way Finn did in that moment.

We've know what it's like to walk into a room and feel as though everyone is judging our bodies—examining every little flaw, critiquing every article of clothing, running their eyes up and down us in laser-like fashion.

But tonight's episode of Glee reminds us that men can feel that way too.

When Finn is asked to strip on stage, he gains an understanding of what it's like to worry about having some extra flab around the middle. He finds out what it's like to worry that people might laugh at him for not looking like a perfect GQ model, a reality most of us women live with every day we step out the door.

But at the end of the episode, Finn decides to empower himself. And in order to prepare for his on-stage performance, he takes the bold step of strolling down the hallways of the high school wearing nothing but his boxers, his sneakers, and a pair of glasses. (His Rocky Horror costume.) Naturally, everybody laughs and points. (Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, doesn't it?) But Finn comes through the gauntlet with a greater sense of his own worth—and with his dignity intact.

I'm not going to be walking down the halls of my school in my underwear any time soon, but I understand the desire to bare it all—for better or worse—and yet again I love Glee for tapping into that innate desire to put it all out there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One girl at a time

As the above video demonstrates, a group of high school girls in Colleyville, Texas has decided to give up makeup once a week in order to embrace their natural beauty. In the video, one of them says that the reason they are doing this is because they just want people to know "They're beautiful just the way you are," and I absolutely love that.

It also makes me believe the real-is-beautiful message is finally starting to make its way to teenagers. Another thing I love.

But as much as I love this story, I do have one question—what about the girls who wear makeup because they have a problem with acne? What do they do?

In the video, the reporter notes that the group of girls she interviews are all "gorgeous and you have this beautiful skin and there's no reason to cover it up." And when I heard her say that, it hit me . . . what about the girls who don't have beautiful skin? What about girls who have blemishes they want to cover up? And don't most girls in high school fall into that category?

I'm in no way advocating that this no-makeup movement isn't a good one because I really do think it's positive step in the direction of body acceptance. I'm just struggling to reconcile my admiration for the campaign with my understanding that LOTS of girls use makeup not to look sexy or womanly, but to hide the big pimples that plagued so many of us in high school.

And when I think about that, I worry that this movement will further ostracize girls who are not "naturally" pretty in high school while also further elevating girls who are, creating even more disparity between these two groups than there already is. A scary thought indeed.

F. Scott Fitzergerald once said that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function," and that's why I don't mind presenting my two very different responses to these girls in Texas. On the one hand, I want to encourage girls to like themselves the way they are. On the other hand, I don't want to tell any girl—or woman—that it is socially unacceptable to wear makeup when she has an ugly blemish on her face.

These girls claim that they want to change "one girl at a time" (which is what it says across the backs of their t-shirts), an appropriate and admirable stance. But what about the thousands of girls who can't change the way they look?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monkey see, monkey do

196 pounds
Is anyone else sick of women all looking the same?

Everywhere I look lately—on TV, in magazines, on the internet—all I see are women who seem to look exactly the same.

Women with ostrich necks, sunken eyes, high cheekbones, and protruding brow bones. Women with apple cheeks, smoky eyes, and what an old friend used to call glossy blow job lips. (That is, lips that look like they're ready to give a blow job.) Women with artificial looking extensions and dark roots. Women with sculpted bare legs, mini dresses, and knobby knees.

Even women who used to look unique are starting to look like everyone else.

(Christina Ricci and Kelly Osbourne, I'm talking to you.)

In Christopher Guest's Hollywood mockumentary, For Your Consideration, Catherine O'Hara plays a middle-aged actress whose career is mostly over until the independent film she's working on suddenly gets a bit of Oscar buzz. (Thus the title.) When O'Hara's character is subsequently invited on all of the late-night talk shows, she has a botox-and-boob makeover and stumbles through her media appearances in a short, tight sleeveless dress. Her hair is blown out, her makeup overdone, her cleavage low, her legs bare. As if a woman in her mid-fifties should look exactly the same as a twenty-something sexpot. Guest is trying to say something about how strange it is that we try to put all of our female celebrities—whether they're fifteen or fifty—in the same tiny mold, and the effect is completely chilling.

Ever since I saw that movie, I have had trouble letting go of that image.

And now whenever I tune into Letterman or any other late-night show and see an actress in a short little dress with her boobs popping out and her hemline riding up her thigh, I feel a bit queasy.

Why do we make women do this???

Don't get me wrong. I could not be happier that fifty-year-old women are now considered sexy. But I don't understand why they have to be the same kind of sexy.

Bimbo sexy rather than woman sexy.

It's all a bit too Twilight Zone for me.

Oddly, I was just talking about The Twilight Zone the other day, and every time the subject comes up, I'm reminded of the creepy episode in which a mother takes her teenage daughter to pick out her new body, a ritual all girls supposedly experienced during adolescence in the twilight zone. On the showroom floor, there are four perfect models to choose from, each of which is displayed on a raised flat table, almost like a gurney. The tables sit in a semi-circle around the room, and one can't help but feel like the girl is picking out her own coffin.

I saw this episode when I was pretty young—maybe twelve or thirteen—and I've never forgotten it. Never forgotten how much I hated the idea of anyone being forced to choose a body—perfect or not—that was not her own. Nor have I forgotten how trapped and unhappy the idea made me feel.

All I really wanted to do was stay with the body I had.

I guess I really haven't changed that much.