Thursday, February 25, 2010

And now we interrupt our regularly scheduled program for some comic relief . . .

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Woman says her love handles saved her life
From the Associated Press updated 6:05 p.m. CT, Tues., Feb. 23, 2010

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - A Florida woman said her love handles saved her life when she was shot entering an Atlantic City bar. Samantha Lynn Frazier said she heard two pops when she walked into Herman's Place early Saturday. The 35-year-old then felt pain and saw blood on her hand after she grabbed her left side. Atlantic City police said Frazier was an innocent bystander.

Detective Lt. Charles Love said the gunman was aiming for a man who escaped with a bullet hole in his down jacket.

The suspect remains at large.

Frazier told The Press of Atlantic City that "I could have been dead. They said my love handles saved my life."

Frazier also told the newspaper that she had been "hollering" that she wanted to lose weight. She now said "I want to be as big as I can if it's going to stop a bullet."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic heroes?

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Unless you live in a cave, you know the Olympics have been going for a week and a half now. I always love the Olympics even though I'm not much of a big sports fan. Maybe it's because the Olympics is one of the few athletic venues where there are almost as many women involved as men.*

For that reason, I'm often interested to learn more about the female athletes representing the United States and was thrilled when Lindsey Vonn won a gold medal for downhill skiing and Hannah Teter won a silver in the half pipe.

Unfortunately, Vonn and Teter aren't exactly the best role models for American women.

Though I am by no means a fan of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, I don't really have a huge problem with the fact that Vonn and Teter modeled for it this year. (You can see one of the SI photos above.) From my way of thinking, if they want to pose in their swimsuits for a publication that teenage boys will use to fuel their sexual fantasies, that's their problem.

But I do take issue with their comments about the swimsuit issue, specifically what they are NOT saying.

When criticized for appearing in their bathing suits in the infamous swimsuit issue, Vonn and Teter defended their decision to do so. Vonn claimed people shouldn't make a "huge deal" out of it, and Teter said she thinks that "Bodies are beautiful and should be appreciated" and that she doesn't believe "women [should have] to be ashamed of their bodies."

Of course, I totally agree with the idea that women shouldn't be ashamed of their bodies.

But what Teter—and Vonn by extension—fails to understand is that no one in their right mind would be ashamed if they had a body like hers!

In fact, it seems a bit more than a little self-absorbed and naive for Teter to say that women shouldn't be ashamed of their bodies while she parades her impossibly perfect body across the pages of Sports Illustrated.

It would be one thing if she weren't in perfect shape and refused to be ashamed of her body. Then I would be impressed.

It would even be okay with me if she said something like that while appearing next to or in the same issue as a curvy woman or if she admitted how many hours a day she has to work out to maintain her flawless figure and how that's all but impossible for people who aren't athletes, but to say that she refuses to be ashamed of her body without an iota of recognition about what an anomaly she is in our society seems a bit hypocritical or, at the very least, completely clueless.

Ironically, a Yahoo Sports article that is actually called, "Teter comfortable with her body; you should be, too" unintentionally points out the absurdity of Teter's statement.

Because by appearing nearly naked in Sports Illustrated without any recognition of how difficult it is for people to look like them, Teter, Vonn, and the other Olympians pictured above are not helping regular women feel good about themselves or be less ashamed of their bodies. Instead they are reinforcing the notion that women must have next to no body fat to be attractive, a fact that is simply not true.

I mean, let's face it: A woman struggling with her body image is NOT going to feel better about herself by looking at some insanely hot twenty-something Olympian posing in her bikini. No, she's going to feel worse because, as we all know, publications like that one create unrealistic expectations for all of us.

So though I applaud Vonn and Teter for their award-winning performances in Vancouver, I also strongly encourage them to try to think of ways that they can be better role models for regular women.

Here's a tip: wearing your bikini in Sports Illustrated—or in Teter's case, just your bikini bottom—and bragging about how you're not ashamed of your body isn't one of them.

*There are still a few noticeable oversights, specifically the ski jump; even though the women athletes in this sport are as often as good as the men, the International Olympic Committee oddly still does not allow women to compete in this event.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How much do you weigh?*

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*I challenge all of you to post your weight below and send shame packing!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I truly believe that one of the problems with the way women perceive themselves in this country is the fact that we have the false sense that everyone else weighs less than we do.

Dave and I have seven nieces and nephews—ranging in age from seven to twenty-one—and recently my mother-in-law and I were having a conversation about the two oldest nieces (her granddaughters), who are just about to be fifteen and twenty-one. Both of them are gorgeous young women—tall, fit, and simply beautiful.

Sometimes I feel like all young girls are beautiful these days. It certainly seems like all of my female students are stunning. When I was young, there were a few really pretty girls in every class, but most of us were pretty dorky, as the picture above clearly shows. (By the way, I'm the one on the right in the way cool red and orange vest, and I believe I weighed 125 pounds that year.)

What I want to know is when did that change? Because whenever I go to the mall, I feel like every single young woman under the age of eighteen looks amazing—they all have long, luscious hair, perfectly applied makeup, adorable little tiny t-shirts, and matching accessories. Every one of them in identical skinny jeans and the same Ugg boots, as if they’re all catalog models fresh from their latest photo shoot.

When I was their age, I am pretty sure that I was more Plain Jane than catalog model. In fact, on more than one occasion, I was mistaken for a little boy.

And this brings me back to my two eldest nieces—they both look just like models too: every hair perfectly in place, each eyebrow expertly plucked, every piece of clothing perfectly coordinated.

(Maybe this is part of the reason it’s so difficult for regular women to feel good about themselves—almost no one looks “regular” anymore.)

So it’s understandable that my mother-in-law would think that her perfect-looking granddaughters are extremely attractive, but what I don’t get is that she also thinks they weigh next to nothing. One of the girls is probably 5’4” and the other one is around 5’8”, but my mother-in-law contends that they both probably weigh less than 100 pounds.

Less than 100 pounds???

That would make their BMIs between 15 and 17, far below the healthy 19-25 range.

There’s no doubt that these girls are thin, but thankfully they are not anorexic. And that’s what they’d have to be to have a BMI that low.

I think the real problem is one of perspective. My mother-in-law sees two thin, attractive young women, and she just assumes they weigh next to nothing.

I told her that I figured they more likely weighed between 120 and 130 pounds, and you should have seen the fit she had. It was as if I had said that aliens were landing on the lawn.

And therein lies the problem. If we see every thin, attractive woman as weighing less than 100 pounds, no wonder we feel bad when the number on our scales is almost double that.

That’s actually part of the reason I decided to post my weight on this blog in the first place. I feel like if more of us talked about what we weigh, then we could dispel the false notion that our weight is so drastically different than everyone around us—even people we see as having smaller waists or more attractive bodies.

And once we realize that real women don’t weigh 100 pounds—unless they hover around the five-foot range—we’d probably feel a lot better about ourselves.

I’ve already admitted my weight—isn’t it time that you did too?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The patron saint of curves leads us into the light

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There has been a lot of chatter lately about Christina Hendricks' anorexia-kicking body.

As I discussed in my "Curvier . . . Rounder . . . Better!" post, a few weeks ago The New York Times printed a stretched pic of Hendricks at the Golden Globes next to a story about a stylist calling her a "big" girl. What followed was a massive online backlash—people were not happy about the distorted image or the comment. Hendricks is definitely curvy, but she is by no means big. And the fact that the picture was stretched—intentionally or not—proves it.

And the follow-up to that ridiculous faux pas has continued to push the beauty envelope.

This week, New York magazine not only featured Hendricks on their cover—yes, there is a curvy woman on the COVER of a magazine!—they also asserted that Hendricks—along with Glamour and V magazines—may be helping us change the way we think about women's bodies. According to the magazine, Hendricks "looks the way movie stars used to look. She is, in that sense, proof of how certain bodies go in and out of fashion." Hendricks may, in fact, be helping us usher in a new definition of beauty: one that glorifies curves rather than shunning them, as the fashion and entertainment industry been for years, probably as long as I've been alive.

The magazine even imagines a future when models will be chided for looking like men, rather than being chided for looking like women, as they unfortunately still are today. (The Project Runway episode when the judges called a barely curvy model "zaftig" comes to mind.)

Even better news . . . Hendricks, who used to be a model, has long rejected the idea that beautiful women need to be super thin. During her modeling days, she says she always wanted to discuss "something else" if models started talking about starving themselves.

I knew there was a reason I liked you, Christina. I just knew it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ruby Sundays

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Ruby Gettinger is back for her second season on the Style network starting this Sunday.

I had never heard of Ruby until I read about her in Entertainment Weekly this week. What I learned is that Ruby stars in her own reality show about her attempt to slim down from a dangerous 716 pounds. (I believe she's around 300 pounds in the picture above.) She lost 100 pounds last season and is back to try to lose even more this year.

The reason I'm interested in Ruby is because she says she's trying to lose the weight without surgery, shortcuts, or "miracle diets." She's a woman after my own heart.

I also appreciate that Ruby says we should all, "Enjoy [life] no matter what size you are."

I have long felt that this is the first step to being healthy. If you don't accept yourself the way you are, I truly believe you will never lose weight and keep it off.

I'm also interested in what Ruby will learn about her weight gain as she tries to lose that weight. As Ruby says, "How I got to be so big is a question I would like answered on my journey. I have battled this a long time. I feel like I am always getting in the boxing ring with this beast that has no name. He always seems to win. I start off strong and determined, and in the first three rounds I take him down. But right before my eyes—yet at the same I'm blinded by him—he grows bigger. Before I know it, he has knocked me out of the ring."

Anyone who has struggled with weight loss can relate to Ruby's admission that she feels like she can't win. We all know that it's not easy to be positive about losing weight the right way—slowly and over a long time. I know that sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel and eating all day long. It's on those days that I wonder if I too could end up severely obese. But I tell myself that if someone like Ruby can lose weight, so can I.

Entertainment Weekly says that "You might actually cheer out loud when Ruby Gettinger, the show's bubbly heroine who once weighed 716 pounds, pulls on her first pair of jeans . . . But when things get serious — like when she talks about her missing childhood memories — Ruby will feel like a friend you can't help rooting for."

Ruby airs on the Style network on Sundays at 8 p.m. Eastern time, and I know I'll be watching every week from here on out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A taste of their own medicine

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I'm the first person to applaud Dove for their "be comfortable in your own skin" campaign. They might have even been the first major company to show regular-sized women in their ads, and I love them for that.

But their new ad for Dove "Men + Care"—which premiered during the Super Bowl—has me scratching my head.

The ad—which you can watch here—shows a man's life from conception to "middle-age" accompanied by a staccato voice-over of the man's life story.

(I put middle-age in quotation marks because the actor who plays this part is clearly not middle-aged.)

The ad begins with dozens of purple sperm going after a huge cantaloupe-looking egg (see picture above) and this voice-over: "Get born, get slapped, now get to school."

Then the man is shown progressing through his life—playing football . . .

getting married . . .

having three kids who hilariously have his head superimposed on top of their bodies . . .

and generally settling into the American notion of domestic bliss . . .

After all that, the voice-over wraps up with this lovely coda:

"You've reached a stage where you feel at ease.
You've come this far, and it wasn't a breeze.
You can take on anything, of course you can,
because . . . you're a man!"

This wonderful reinforcement of the importance of "being a man" is heard while showing said "middle-aged" man—now with a perfectly groomed beard to let us know that he's aged—throwing his arms up in triumph as he jogs through the streets in his beat-up old grey sweatpants.

After the man's life story comes to an end, a new, slicker voice-over announces the following:

"Now that you're comfortable with who you are,
isn't it time for comfortable skin?
At last there's Dove for Men. . .
Be comfortable in your own skin."

While these words are being said, we see the "middle-aged" man in the shower, soaping his upper body with a product that we can only assume is the new Dove product for men.

The problem is that his body is definitely not the kind we would expect to see on the average middle-aged man with a wife, three kids, and a house. It's not even the kind of body we would expect to see on a fit middle-aged man. No, in fact, the body we see is the incredibly sculpted upper body of a man in his twenties who spends all of his free time at the gym, lifting weights, running on the treadmill, and maybe even doing a little bit of yoga.

So in reality the message of this ad is "Be comfortable in your own skin
. . . or if you're not comfortable with your own skin, just imagine that you are a really hot younger guy with cut abs and a sexy beard."

The whole premise of the Dove "Campagin for Real Beauty" is to help people accept themselves the way they are and to make people feel like they do NOT need to look like a model to have a healthy sense of self-esteem, but I doubt that any regular middle-aged man would feel pleased with his body—or even find it remotely attractive—after watching an ad that features a man who looks like he spends every waking moment at the gym.

On the one hand, I'm offended by Dove's insensitivity. After all, this is not the message we want to send. We don't want men—or anyone—feeling like they have to have a perfectly sculpted body to feel good about themselves.

On the other hand, I think it's a little bit funny to see men finally getting a taste of their own medicine. Women have been struggling to reconcile their very real bodies with the totally unreal images we see on the screen for years, and now men are getting their turn.

So you'll forgive me if I laughed out loud when I saw this smoking hot Ryan Gosling look-alike lathering up at the end of a Dove ad trying to reach "real" men. As much as I hate to admit it, it's nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Falling off the wagon

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If you haven't already noticed, my weight went up another pound this week. It's a pretty frustrating thing to see happen when I pride myself on being the person who's always watching the numbers on the scale go down. But I'm trying not to make a big deal about it since I know we all fluctuate from time to time.

Nevertheless, I'm feeling even more determined to lose weight without dieting. I know it can be done. I just have to be more dedicated to making sure I get enough exercise and living my life the way I want to live it. If I do those things, I know I'll lose weight.

Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, I haven't been living my life the way I want to live it. I may be the single biggest advocate in the world of giving into our indulgences—as I said in my "Cheeseburgers and the Importance of Indulgence" post—but I also don't believe that indulgence should be the rule rather than the exception.

Unfortunately, that's been the case over the past week or so. I've had a good deal of stress in my life, and I've been taking it out on my body—eating unhealthy food at almost every meal, drinking soda on nearly a daily basis, and cutting my exercise routine when I feel like I don't have time to do it.

In that sense, I've been letting my stress dictate the tenor of my life when what I really need to do—what we all need to do—is have my health be the focus of my life. Like everyone else, I need to keep reminding myself that exercise and homemade meals need to take priority over work. If something doesn't get done today because I have to make time for those things, so be it. Work will still be there tomorrow, and I want to make sure I am too.

I've been acting like a drunk who fell off the wagon these past few weeks, and I feel like I should apologize to all of you for that. So I'm sorry about my recent slip-ups, but I promise that's all in the past.

Will I ever slip again? Sure, but it's not going to happen for quite some time because I've restored my priorities and I'm refocused on my health.

Look out, world. I can do anything.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Childhood Obesity, Part II: Letting go

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Last week I wrote about Michelle Obama's new initiative for fighting childhood obesity, and though, as I mentioned then, we cannot entirely blame poor eating and exercise habits for the increase in childhood obesity in our country, it is certainly a leading culprit.

I've also written on this blog about the fact that when I was a child I spent a significant part of my day being active. Even in bad weather, I walked to and from the bus, spent recess outside on the playground, and biked around my neighborhood for hours after school (and that was if I wasn't participating in an after-school activity that often involved exercise). Because of this, I'm a firm believer in the idea that all of us—no matter what our age—need to spend more time engaging in physical activity. Not just once a day, but multiple times a day.

I know it's incredibly difficult for us adults to do that, but what I don't get is why kids these days seem to struggle with it too.

Because when I was a kid, I didn't have much choice about being outside.

I had to walk to and from the bus stop whether I wanted to or not, and all of us kids were made to play outside before school and during a half-hour recess after lunch. Beyond that, my mother routinely pushed my sister and me out the front door for a few hours every day after school and on weekends.

I can even remember one sweltering summer day when my mother locked us out of the house because it was so hot we wanted to stay inside. By the end of that excruciating day, we were so anxious to get back inside the cool, air conditioned house that we pressed our faces up against the sliding glass doors in the basement like inmates waiting to be paroled.

And I know I wasn't the only child who was forced to spend time outside. David Sedaris has documented the time his own mother locked him and his siblings outside during a snow storm to riotous effect in an essay called "Let It Snow" (which I highly recommend if you're looking for a good laugh).

So why is it then that when I go on my long morning walk or my short afternoon jog—whether it's in January or July—I don't see any kids roaming the streets of my neighborhood?

In fact, almost every time I step out the door, I ask myself, where are all the kids????

Then last summer I saw something that gave me my answer. I was huffing and puffing my way around the neighborhood when I noticed that almost every single house I looked inside had a television playing. And nine times out of ten there was a child—or more than one—plopped in front of the screen like a big pile of play-doh.


In the middle of a summer afternoon?!


My mother would have pushed those play-doh blobs out the door as fast as she could whip up one of her famous Jello molds.

We all know that television and the internet and video games have become a poor substitute for more interactive entertainment, but what I don't get is why parents today allow those passive activities to replace more physical ones.

We had television when I was a kid. We had video games. Sure, we didn't get cable until I was thirteen—remember "I want my MTV"?—and we played our video games on a crappy Atari with a joystick that was harder to move than a refrigerator, but we had no idea that Space Invaders or reruns of The Monkees would someday seem so pathetic. We loved that stuff and would have happily sat in front of the TV all day. . . that is, if our parents had let us.

But, of course, they didn't.

So when did that change? When did parents stop insisting that their kids get up off their rumps and go explore the world beyond the walls of their house?

Last semester, when I was teaching a story about childhood, one of my students (who is also a mother) said that she couldn't let her kids go outside because it's too dangerous these days.

Too dangerous? Really?

I grew up on a street where kids in junior high walked around with pints of Jack Daniels in their back pockets, where high schoolers dealt everything from pot to cocaine on the corner where we all hung out, where girls got pregnant at the age of eleven, and where thieves stole an entire houseful of one of our neighbor's belongings. All of this happened, but I still turned out okay.

And this was in the suburbs!

I'm sorry, but I find it hard to believe that things are any worse now than they were when I was growing up—a time when the whole country was embracing free love and a song called "Pass the Dutchie" ruled the airwaves.

And what I learned from all of those experiences was that I had to be able to stand on my own two feet, that I had to be able to make my own decisions—whether I was being offered a joint or being challenged to a fight. My parents weren't always going to be around to protect me.

And I worry that's what our kids today are losing: the ability to be independent. The ability to enjoy and even desire physical activity, to feel the wind in their hair as fly down a too-steep hill on their rackety old ten-speed or to feel the cold in their lungs as they hike along a snow-covered path in the middle of winter. The ability to run away from their parents' house and the ability to come back. Because if they aren't allowed outside, not only will they become overweight, they'll also become afraid. And I'm not sure that those two things are entirely unrelated.

Yes, it's scary to let kids go outside on their own.

They could be exposed to things we would like to protect them from, and—worse still—they could be harmed or even stolen from us. But the harm we do them by keeping them locked up inside is ultimately a much greater disservice to their generation because it is one that cheats them out of the life we so desperately want them to be able to live.