Thursday, March 31, 2011

Turns out Sir Mix-A-Lot wasn't kidding . . .

A friend turned me on to an article about curvy woman on The Art of Manliness blog, and it's too good not to share so I'm posting it here. Enjoy!

Men Like Women with Curves;
Women Still Think Their Butts Look Too Big

A cross-post from The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay

I recently came across this interesting study (warning: nude ladies covering their lady parts with their hands) which showed that while women believe a thin figure is the female ideal, men actually prefer a more curvy lady. What was even more interesting is that this story made the front page of Digg, and while Digg users are known for their terribly disparaging and caustic comments, the vast majority agreed with the results. So what does such a story show us? First, men like women with curves. Second, women don’t believe this. Third, contrary to popular belief, men are not to blame for this disconnect. The blame lies instead with the media and the catty expectations of a woman’s female peers.

While men may not be at fault for women’s skewed body image problem, we can be part of the solution; we can support the women in our lives and help them feel better about themselves. I have been rather dismayed at the number of my female friends and family who on the surface appear confident and attractive, but inwardly are pained with acute insecurities. Even beautiful women often feel ugly, fat, and unattractive. True, some men also battle insecurities, but by and large we often feel fairly comfortable about ourselves. Just take a look at the beach at the shirtless men, their huge guts hanging over their Speedo, strolling along without a care in the world.

Let me be clear about something-at the end of the day, a man cannot make a woman feel good about herself; a woman’s self-esteem is under her control and something only she can fix and heal. But it would be most naive to not admit that we are all-men and women alike-influenced by those around us. To your lady, you are the most important and influential person in her life. And you must be valiant in protecting her heart and spirit.


Be generous with your compliments. Whenever your lady is looking luminous, let her know. I often fall into the trap of looking at my wife, thinking about how beautiful she is, but then not vocalizing that thought. I figure she already knows how pretty I think she is, so there is no need to repeat it. But I have come to realize that she can never hear it enough. Insecurities never completely go away, and my frequent and sincere compliments can buoy her up each day. Whenever your lady is experiencing self-doubt, be there with an earnest and encouraging word for her.

Don’t blatantly ogle other women. It’s natural for a man to look at other attractive women and women should understand this. But men should try to keep this impulse under control. If you’re at dinner with your lady and she sees you ogling some model-esque woman, even though she knows it’s a natural impulse, the message is still going to register as, “He wishes I looked more like that.” Feeling that you only have eyes for her will make your lady feel confident and secure.

Guard against harmful media sources. Women will admit that advertisements make them feel insecure, yet they keep on reading Cosmo and other trash that make them feel like crap. Try to steer your lady away from tabloidy rubbish. Buy her a subscription to a magazine that doesn’t set the standard of female beauty artificially high.

When magazines and television do present some fake, plastic surgery constructed stick of a woman as the female ideal, you may be thinking, “Yuck, she’s so gross,” but your lady may be thinking, “I wish I looked like that.” Interrupt these thoughts by vocalizing your distaste for women who look like they are strung out on heroin or are the result of a science experiment gone awry.

Quit watching porn. When you turn to porn to get aroused, you send this message to your lady: “You are cute, but when I really want to get excited I need to look at women with cantaloupe sized breasts” Your lady, and her alone, should do if for you. And she should know that in her heart.

Steer her away from negative friends. When a woman gets all gussied up, she’s not doing it just for you. She also wants to impress other women. And who can blame her when so many women are super judgmental and critical of their female peers. Steer your lady away from negative friends who obsess about their appearance, make comments about your lady’s appearance, and generally make your lady feel insecure.

The Art of Manliness is authored by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay. It features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. In our search to uncover the lost art of manliness, we’ll look to the past to find examples of manliness in action. We’ll analyze the lives of great men who knew what it meant to “man up” and hopefully learn from them. And we’ll talk about the skills, manners, and principles that every man should know.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Real bods in the boudoir:
"What matters is how you FEEL"

My friend Alison turned me onto a story about a plus-sized woman—"Ms. N"—who wrote about her incredibly positive experience at a Seattle-based photo studio that specializes in "boudoir" photos, and I just had to write about it.

The goal of Seattle Boudoir Photography is to take alluring and provocative photos of women of all sizes.

(One of their photos is featured above, but be warned that if you decide to go to their website, not all of their photos are kid- or work-appropriate and someespecially the couples photosare pretty R-rated.)

If you do look at their gallery, you'll see skinny women, plus-size women, curvy women, flat-chested women, tattoed women, pierced women, older women, pregnant women, women with crow's feet, women with tummies, women with generous derrieres, women with fleshy arms and legs, women with men, women with women, and more—one of my favorite photos is of a woman who is small on top wearing a wife beater that says "Sexy Little Bride."

The women in the gallery have different body shapes and different types of faces, but what these photos have in common is that all of them are absolutely stunning—and somking hot. I highly recommend that you take a look at SBP's galleries (especially "Bombshells & Babes") in order to see a great visual representation of the idea that beauty does not come in one size or shape.

Ms. N detailed her own experience at SBP for Offbeat Bride and explains, "I got to spend 2 hours with amazing people who, very honestly and sincerely, thought that I looked beautiful, and did everything they could to make sure that I knew it. And not only KNEW it, but FELT it, too. Nobody ever once looked at me and said, 'Oh, I sure wish you were thinner,' or 'Wow, those stretch marks really take away from this photo.' What I heard instead was, 'Oh, you have killer boobs!' and 'You look so hot in that pose, for real!' I could NOT believe my ears. And really, that was all it took for me to suddenly realize this: I'm freakin' HOT! It doesn't matter about size or scars or weight or anything. What matters is how you FEEL. And I have never been more amazed at how comfortable I could be with myself."

I could not have said it better myself.

In fact, "What matters is how you FEEL" would be an appropriate tagline for I Will Not Diet.

As long as I've been writing this blog, I've fantasized about posing in my underwear in order to prove that I'm happy with my bod—all 197 pounds of it—but also to show that women's bodies can look attractive at an average size, one that's more attainable than those of the models and celebrities we see in the media.

Looking at this studio's work makes me realize I'm not the first person to have this idea and that I really do have to follow through on that goal some day.

Nevertheless, I'm not going to lie—I may pose in my underwear, but I'm never going to show any boob. I'll leave that to the women who are braver—or crazier—than me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Back in my day . . .

Thankfully, after a long, hard, and sick winter, Dave and I are finally walking every day again. Getting back to our routine is wonderful, but it also reminded us recently of how different our childhoods were from the lives of kids today.

And that's because almost every time we walk through Kereiakes Park, we pass the playground on the far side of the park where kids play on the jungle gym, ride the swings, and—wait for it—eat fast food.

I am not kidding when I say that almost every single time we see a family at the playground, we also see a mom or dad cleaning up the fast food meal they just served their children.

We had seen it so many times that, after a while, we stopped noticing. But being away from the walking trail for weeks this year made us look at this now familiar scene with fresh eyes.

Four kids, two adults, six sets of hamburger wrappers, french fry cartons, and to-go cups.

What's wrong with this picture?

I think we all know.

"Did you ever take fast food to the park when you were little?" Dave asked me the other day. "When I was young, there was only one McDonald's on the entire west side of Cincinnati. And going there was a big deal, like going out to a fancy meal or something."

And he's right. When we were kids, going out to eat—fast food or otherwise—was a big deal. Sure, on a special occasion or holiday, our families took homemade picnics to the park, but now, for too many American kids fast food is a daily occurrence.

Though this is partly the fault of parents, it's hard to blame parents alone for this problem when there's a McDonald's on over corner. When you have to drive right past one on the way to the park, it's easy to wonder why you shouldn't stop and feed the kids while you're out?

(There is, in fact, a McDonald's, a Wendy's, a Rally's, and now even a Dairy Queen all within four blocks of Kereiakes Park.)

It's also hard to blame parents when it costs about two dollars to feed each kid at a McDonald's.
What's weird is that I really think a happy meal used to cost more when we were kids than it does now. Am I wrong or didn't a happy meal in the seventies used to cost three dollars and now they're just two bucks? Or maybe they're three now, I'm not sure.

Either way, that doesn't make any sense! We have had forty years of inflation, but prices at McDonald's have gone down, not up. How is that possible???

It's possible because technology is always making it easier to make our food even more processed, meaning that fast food is cheaper today because it's less real. It's also possible because the main ingredient in almost all American fast food is corn and/or corn syrup, and corn is heavily subsidized by the federal government in our country, which means that fast food restaurants can sell products made with corn byproducts cheaper than ever before.

Translation: our kids get fatter every time they eat fake, er, I mean fast food.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Keep your eyes on your own plate

Tonight I went out for an otherwise lovely pre-reading dinner with a guest writer and some people from school.

Everything was going well until the waiter came to take our orders. He said he'd start with me, and I just assumed that at that point, the rest of the table—eight other people for God's sake!—would pick up their conversations where they left off, as most people do when you are eating in a nice restaurant with a large group.

But, no, instead of doing that, the entire table sat there silently, staring at me and listening intently to my every word.

I felt like I was placing my order on a live YouTube feed.

In case you don't know, this is not the way to behave. When a lady places her order—or a man for that matter—its best to busy yourself with other things. Look at your menu, re-fold your napkin, make small talk for God's sake. Whatever. Otherwise, said lady may feel like you are judging her choice of food.

Okay, so I will admit said lady—that would be me!—has some food and body issues that may contribute to her desire to be able to order without so much scrutiny, and we all know that. But I still think that whenever a person orders a meal, it's best if others don't act like the most interesting thing they've done all day is eavesdrop on the very private conversation that occurs between a server and his/her patron.

Really? You're going to have the calzone? But isn't that the highest calorie item on the menu?

Okay, again, so I have to admit that no one actually said that or anything like it. But they might as well have for all the looks I got.

(And for the record, I ordered the calzone because, at $11.50, it was easily the cheapest thing on the menu.)

It also didn't help that the waiter was a bit clueless. The menu said "make your own calzone," so when I asked him what normally comes in a calzone, I thought he might say, mozzerella, cheese, and tomatoes. But instead, he said, "Well, a calzone is like a pizza rolled over on itself."

Like I didn't know what a calzone was. I grew up in New Jersey for God's sake, home of the mafia and Frank Sinatra. I think I know what a goddamned calzone is.

In fact, that's the reason I was asking. I didn't want some Americanized version of a calzone. I wanted the real deal. According to the World English Dictionary, a calzone is "a dish of Italian origin consisting of pizza dough folder over a filling of cheese and tomatoes, herbs, ham, etc."

That's right—cheese, tomatoes, and ham. That's how they make it in Jersey. But as those of you who've been to any branch of LaRosa's in Cincinnati know, one person's calzone is another person's fill-in-the-blank. And I didn't want any cheddar cheese in my calzone, thank you very much.

Of course, our poor waiter did not know I hail from Jersey, but still. It seemed like a simple question. You'd think I could have gotten a simple answer. And all of this happened while I was still on stage, performing for the rest of the table like a tight-rope walker.

So I felt a bit uncomfortable when I had to explain to the waiter that I wanted a calzone with mozzarella, ricotta, tomatoes, and ham.

Ricotta and ham, you say? I might as well have ordered a chocolate cake for dinner. With brownies on top.

And that's now where it ends either.

Because when the waiter finally brought my calzone, he presented it by apologizing for burning the end of it, saying they were currently making another in case I wasn't happy with this one. Of course, his comment caused all eight pairs of eyes to look down the table at my plate and see the newborn-sized slab of dough he had placed in front of me.

Wow, that's huge!

I can't believe the size of that thing!

Boy, do you think it's big enough?

Unlike the previous words, the ones that had only been said in my head, these words were said out loud. By actual people.

I wanted to die.

Or crawl under my monster-sized calzone and hide.

I also wanted to shout, Haven't you people ever seen a calzone before??? They're always freaking huge. What, have you never been to Jersey before???

But most of these people probably haven't been to Jersey, and if they have, I'm sure they'd have no idea where to find a good calzone.

(Here's a hint: if you can add cheddar cheese to it, it's not a real calzone.)

Here's another hint: when a lady's food arrives, and it looks a bit oversized, it's best not to comment on the girth of the meal in front of her. We worry enough about our girths. We don't need to worry about our food being too fat too.

As it turned out, the calzone was amazing and completely authentic. Sinatra would have been proud of the people at The Brickyard. But the truth is I'll think twice before I order another Italian turnover as big as a small child when out with other people. Which, in the end, kind of makes me sad.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Doctor's orders—no more black clouds

When I'm in a pessimistic mood, I think there must be a black cloud hanging over me this semester. . . after all, the semester started with death, was followed by illness, and now—after a brief respite over spring break—has been followed by yet again another illness.

Yes, I am sick for the second time in six weeks.

But I'm in an optimistic mood today (brought on by lots of new miracle drugs), so I'm not even thinking about the black cloud and instead am going to choose to focus on a spring-like forecast—I'm getting better by the second and, by Monday, I will feel like myself again for the first time in over a month.

(If I keep saying it, maybe it will come true.)

Still, in order to get to this place of optimism—and secure previously mentioned miracle drugs—I had to go to a place of fear and loathing: the doctor's office

Nobody likes to go to the doctor, but truthfully, I have amazing two doctors—my girl doctor and my GP. The latter, who I saw today, is smart and funny. He also reads YA books with his teenager daughters and likes to make nerdy Star Trek jokes with my husband. That makes me like and, more importantly, trust him.

Also, he is current on everything, which makes me happy. Except, that is, when he tells Dave that new research shows it's good for him to drink two—not just one—beers a day.

(Our fridge already has too much beer in it anyway.)

But no matter how much I like my doc, I was just not up for another visit to sick-ville today. I've been coughing since the beginning of February and this would be my third visit to the Medical Center in just as long. I simply did not want to go.

And it showed.

Because while I was there, my old insecurities reared their ugly head, which of course was ugly and uncomfortable.

This happened after my examination, but before we had left the examining room.

Since he had the opportunity while we were there, Dave asked the doctor if he was due to have his cholesterol checked, and for some reason, this made me furious.

"You don't need to have your cholesterol checked!" I insisted even though I had been too sick to speak a moment before. "You're a freaking model of health."

"But I want to stay on top of it," Dave explained. "I have bad genes."

"My God, look at you!"

Later, after we got home, I apologized to Dave, explaining that I'm just not comfortable with him being so obsessed with his health. I even admitted that sometimes it makes me feel bad about myself.

"You're in great health," he said. "I mean, except for being sick. And you can't assume I'm healthier than you are just by looking at me."

But the truth is no matter how much I'm told that I'm healthy, I still look at other people—Dave included—who are thin and think they've got one up on me. I still feel as if at any moment I'm going to find out I'm dying of some weight-related disease and my doctor is going to tell me—wait for it—that I have to go on a diet or some ridiculous thing like that.

The truth is that I'm insecure. Not about how I look. But about my health.

At the doctor's office today, we found out that the number that determines if you're pre-diabetic has been lowered. And even though I'm not in that category or anywhere near it, sometimes it just feels like we're all fighting a losing battle. That every time you accomplish something with your health, you are met with a new challenge.

Oh, you lost ten pounds? Great, now you need to lose ten more.

Oh, you cut out trans fats? That's good because now you need to cut sugar.

I know I started this post by saying I'm feeling optimistic, and I am. (As it turns out, my tests showed there's nothing wrong with me except a bad sinus infection.) But I wasn't in a good space earlier today, and I guess my point is that it's normal to have moments when you feel like everyone is out to get you—or at least tell you to drop a few pounds.

I guess that's part of body acceptance too—knowing that you'll never entirely let go of those issues. Especially when a black cloud has spent more than its fair share of time in your atmosphere.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Rape, the Media, and the New York Times Clusterfuck

Though the main topic of this blog is body issues, sometimes another issue that may seem only tangentially related is worth discussing. I believe that's the case with the New York Times' recent decision to include inflammatory information about an eleven-year-old rape victim in their story about the case.

I've talked at length how crucial it is for us to see women of all bodies sizes in the media and asserted time and again that until the media shows us that people of all sizes and shapes (and types) are attractive, we won't really believe it.

The same is true of how we depict women. Until we see people in the media treating women with humanity respect, people in our society won't treat women with humanity or respect. And last week, the New York Times treated a young girl—an eleven-year-old rape victim—without either. This issue is so troublesome that I've asked the women at Bitch Flicks if I could re-post their take on the situation here. I hope you get as much out of their article as I did.

On Rape, the Media, and the New York Times Clusterfuck
On Tuesday, March 8, the New York Times published an article by James C. McKinley Jr. titled, “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town.” Eighteen men held down an 11-year-old girl and repeatedly raped her in an abandoned trailer while recording the rape with cell phones. Much has been written about McKinley’s—and the New York Times’—irresponsible, victim-blaming, rape culture-enforcing report of the rape. Or should I say lack of report of the rape. While the entire article is a catastrophic joke, this paragraph warrants specific mention:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands—known as the Quarters—said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
Shakesville breaks down the story, and it’s a must-read piece. The writer points out, “Nowhere in this story is the following made clear: … that our compassion and care should be directed first and foremost toward the victim rather than the boys, the school, the community, or anyone else.” The NYT piece is such an obvious case of victim-blaming, and terrifyingly unapologetic, that it wasn’t surprising to see an immediate petition go up at, “Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape.”

The creator of the petition, Shelby Knox, writes, “1 in 4 American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A culture that blames victims for being raped—for what they were wearing, where they were, and who they were with—rather than blaming the rapist, is a culture that tacitly condones rape.” As of now 43,820 people have signed the petition, and Arthur S. Brisbane of the New York Times has issued an apology—not without its flaws—regarding the lack of balance in the piece.


That apology should’ve felt good to read. But about an hour before it was issued, I’d posted the petition on my Facebook wall, urging friends to sign it. And this was one of the first responses: I just read the "offending" comments of Mr. McKinley. The complaint is that he "gave ink" to the opinions of some idiots from Texas? He's a reporter for Christ's sake. He's SUPPOSED to present all angles of the story. Looks like responsible journalism to me. Attack the idiots in Texas for this. Attack the wretched perpetrators. Why in the world is anyone mad at The New York Times for telling the whole story? If anything its GOOD that they reported on those folks as well. Its important for people to know that there are idiots like that everywhere. This is wildly misplaced rage here. Wasting time on things like this is why no real problems ever get solved in this damn country. Let the public burning commence. I'll be tied to the stake willingly. =)
Another person immediately agreed. Thankfully, others jumped in to defend the petition, but I didn’t walk away from the thread feeling good about it. I felt defeated. Exhausted. Like I might burst into tears. So when the NYT finally got around to “apologizing” for publishing an article that never should’ve seen the light of day to begin with, I wanted to revel in the success of a group of people coming together to affect change. I couldn’t, though. And I started to think about why I couldn’t.


The same day the New York Times published its story, the newspaper in my hometown published a report of another young girl’s rape, “Man accused of raping 12-year-old girl.” I read the opening paragraph: “A Middletown man has been charged with rape and intimidation of a witness after allegedly conducting a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl.” I read it again … “a sexual relationship” … “with a 12-year-old girl.” I kept reading … “accused of having sex with a child younger than the age of 12” … “alleged abuse of the female juvenile.”

What the hell? A child cannot consent to sex. Ever. Under any circumstance. So how does a man conduct a sexual relationship with her? How does a man have sex with her? And why does “the girl” suddenly become “the female juvenile”? If I’d ever gone a moment without thinking about Rape Culture (and it's hard to do), two newspaper articles published back to back—discussing the rapes of two girls as if one girl couldconsent to having sex with a man, while another could facilitate her own fucking gang rape—would make sure I spent a good few days and nights obsessing about the most recent media onslaught of violence against women.


Three years ago, on March 28, 2008, Amber and I started Bitch Flicks. We respected blogs like Women and Hollywood that focus on women in film and explore how difficult it is for women to navigate the sexist terrain of Hollywood. And we wanted to be a part of that conversation, by looking closely at how popular films, television, music videos, movie posters, and other forms of media contribute to misogyny, violence against women, and unattainable beauty ideals. Because more than anything, we believe the blind and uncritical consumption of media portrayals of women contributes to furthering women’s inequality in all areas of life.

And we’ve noticed a few things here and there: rape being played for laughs in Observe and Report; the sexual trafficking of women used as a plot device in Taken; the constant dismemberment of women in movie posters; the damaging caricatures of women as sex objects in Black Snake Moan and The Social Network; and we’ve often pointed to discussions of sexism and misogyny around the net, like the sexual violence in Antichrist and, most recently, the sexualized corpses of women in Kanye West’s Monster video. It barely grazes the surface. I mean, it barely grazes the fucking surface of what a viewer sees during the commercial breaks of a 30-minute sitcom.

Yet, this constant, unchecked barrage of endless and obvious woman-hating undoubtedly contributes to the rape of women and girls.

The sudden idealization of Charlie Sheen as some bad boy to be envied, even though he has a violent history of beating up women, contributes to the rape of women and girls. Bills like H. R. 3 that seek to redefine rape and further the attack on women's reproductive rights contributes to the rape of women and girls. Supposed liberal media personalities like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann showing their support for Julian Assange by denigrating Assange’s alleged rape victims contributes to the rape of women and girls. The sexist commercials that advertisers pay millions of dollars to air on Super Bowl Sunday contribute to the rape of women and girls. And blaming Lara Logan for her gang rape by suggesting her attractiveness caused it, or the job was too dangerous for her, or she shouldn't have been there in the first place, contributes to the rape of women and girls.

It contributes to rape because it normalizes violence against women. Men rape to control, to overpower, to humiliate, to reinforce the patriarchal structure. And the media, which is vastly controlled by men, participates in reproducing already existing prejudices and inequalities, rather than seeking to transform them.

And it pisses me off.


"This is wildly misplaced rage here. Wasting time on things like this is why no real problems ever get solved in this damn country." I decided to respond to that portion of my friend's Facebook comment by quoting a passage from a piece on Shakesvillecalled, "Feminism 101: 'Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About,'" in which Melissa McEwan makes the following argument:
... in a very real way, ignoring "the little things" in favor of "the big stuff" makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It's the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women.
People can argue that “the little things” are less important to point out than “the big things” all they want to. They can accuse feminists of misplaced anger, irrationality, man-hating, overreaction. But the reality is that violence against women has become so commonplace in film and television, in advertising, in stand-up fucking "comedy," in video games, that it's the absolute default treatment of women in media, and we can't pretend that doesn't extend to how women are treated in the rest of society. It contributes to rape. And it certainly contributes to a "liberal" newspaper's inability to effectively report an 11-year-old girl's gang rape without victim-blaming and slut-shaming, which, incidentally, also contributes to rape.

So. I gave myself a break. I let myself feel shitty and helpless for a minute. I'm over it now and ready to fight back. Stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming...

STEPHANIE ROGERS co-founded and writes for Bitch Flicks, a web site that focuses on analyzing films and pop culture from a feminist perspective. In her spare time, she tries to remember she has an MFA in poetry and occasionally publishes some. She lives in Brooklyn.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food is not magic
by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

Sometime during all this cooking*, I had a revelation: Food is not magic.

Yes, food can sometimes feel like magic. In most cities, at any given moment you are less than fifteen minutes away from an instant burger, fries, sandwich, or pizza. The only effort you have to put in is forking over your debit card.

But effort was put into that food, even if you didn't see it. Someone prepared it for you. Someone delivered the ingredients, someone put them together and made them presentable for your consumption. In the case of fast food, there are food developers, food tasters, and food scientists involved. Food scientists.

Before I went to Costa Rica, I was in Houston for a physical. It turns out that my cholesterol is high. Like really high. Not high enough to cause my doctor concern, but high enough that she suggested I work on lowering it. Then I went in for an eye check up and while my doctor was looking into my eyes through the phoropter, she asked, "So do you like eating sugars or starch?" Turns out she could determine my diet excesses by looking at my eyes.

In combination, those appointments made me realize that cooking at home is an important goal for me. My cholesterol tends to be on the high end of normal, and the amount of stress in my life recently hasn't helped. Throw drive-thru meals on top of that, and it becomes a problem. Even eating too many sweets has an effect on my body.

But here's the good news: If you eat out of your own kitchen, you kind of can't help but be healthier. Baking cookies and brownies is an involved process that takes far more time and energy than grabbing a box of them from the store, so there are likely to be fewer temptations sitting around. Fruit, meanwhile, is naturally sweet and requires no more preparation than a quick rinse under the tap. Chicken and beef often take more time and effort to cook than fish and vegetables, so you're more likely to throw some tilapia in the oven and make a salad for yourself while it bakes.

That said, I wouldn't recommend such a major shift in eating habits to anyone. I had to work the Saturday before I left for Costa Rica and it resulted in me cheating. I was on my feet for eight hours, which I expected, but then my relief called in sick and I was asked to stay for four more. After running around like crazy getting eleven brides started with their registries, I almost had to crawl out of the car and onto our couch. My husband was already there, at the end of his own long day. He offered to order a pizza for us, which filled me with a rush of relief. Once I was finished eating, however, I had another rush—one of guilt. "I really could have made that pizza," I found myself thinking. As Molly has pointed out in her "Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence" post before:

"The other thing that's important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you're going to want to do it again and again."

So true! Once I got back from Costa Rica, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction. I went on a pizza, Panera, Taco Bell, McDonald's binge. I didn't go to the grocery store for a week. Without realizing it, I'd put myself on a kind of diet. I dedicated myself to an unreasonable goal. I'm back on track now, with the realization that sometimes it's okay to eat out, whether it's ordering a pizza after a long day or going to a nice dinner with a friend to catch up.

Restaurants aren't the enemy, as long as the kitchen is your close friend.

*In case you don't remember, I committed to cooking all of my meals at home for the entire month of February.

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Who is the girl in the picture?

About a week ago I had to have an official author photo taken for my upcoming book by the lovely and talented Victoria Taylor, a photojournalism student here at WKU.

Like most women, I'm not a big fan of having my picture taken, but over the years, I've tried to have a better attitude about it. After spending my entire life watching the women in my life groan every time they see a photo of themselves—and immediately pointing out their worst flaw—I grew tired of the pessimism and negativity.

For that reason, I have tried as much as I can to have a good attitude when my picture is taken. It's never easy, but I do my best, and for a few years now, I've been pretty good about noticing what looks good rather than what looks bad when I see a snapshot of myself.

I do the same thing in my daily life—when I look go shopping or even just when I look in the mirror each morning—so I had naively started to believe I had kicked the low self-esteem habit.

But while sitting in front of a high definition camera with a professional photographer, all of my insecurities came flooding back to me. When I looked at the images on her three-inch screen, all I could see were the flaws—why was my nose so big? my hair so flat and dark? my lips so thin? After years of teaching myself to focus on the positive, I was suddenly and completely only able to see the negative.

Not only was my inability to see my assets gone, but so was my ability to see myself at all. When Victoria showed me the images she'd captured, I could not even recognize myself. I looked that strange and unfamiliar. It was as if I was suffering from a severe case of amnesia except that the only thing I couldn't remember was what I looked like.

I would glance at the images on her screen and frown. Who was the person staring back at me? Where was the person I saw in the mirror every morning? The person with a few stray blonde highlights from her youth? The person with a normal-sized nose?

Poor Victoria had to put up with my inability to see the pictures clearly for two hours before she was finished. Every time she showed me a new shot, my face would drop, and she and Dave would have to reassure me that the pictures were good.

Now, over a week later and after posting the new photo on Facebook (and getting a dozen positive responses to it), not only do I know that the photos are good, I also know they really really do look like me.

So why couldn't I see this while they were being taken? What happened to make me so unable to see my own image?

I'm really not sure, but I think it has to do with how slowly we change.

Whenever I look at anyone in my family—my husband, my parents, or my sister—I don't see them as they are now, in 2011. Instead, I see a compilation of who they've been over the years. I see my husband's longer hair and too-big concert t-shirts, my parents' young faces and rich brown hair, my sister's glasses and pigtails. I don't see them as flat images. I see them as fully developed people with complex pasts and interesting histories.

And I think that's also what I see when I look in the mirror—the little girl with the boyish haircut, the teenager with the perfect bod, the young woman with blonde highlights. So when I looked at the photos Victoria was taking I was confused—where was the girl I used to be, the young woman I was only a few years ago?

In the end, I'm thrilled with the photos Victoria took, but I have to admit, it's also a little bit scary to realize that I've let those parts of me go. But it's letting them go that allows me to see that beauty can change and evolve just as we do as people.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

James Franco: bad Oscar host or wise sage?

So much Oscar gossip, so little time.

If you didn’t watch, probably the most dramatic thing about the Oscars last Sunday (because nearly all of the winners were known in advance) was James Franco’s unbelievably lackluster performance, which even he predicted in this video he posted on Twitter. Not a half an hour into the ceremony, Franco was so out of it that Twitter and Facebook were inundated with questions about his sobriety. The main question being, is Franco high????

I have no idea if Franco was high, but I know he was not exactly into hosting the Oscars, which was the polar opposite of his co-host Anne Hathaway, who worked hard enough for the both of them. He was so not into that he didn’t even go to his own after-party, instead flying back east the same night.

I know Franco is going to school right now—studying to get his Ph.D. in literature (at Yale no less). And I remember a few weeks ago, he was on The Daily Show talking about his Oscar nomination, which had been announced that morning right before he’d gone to class. Stewart then asked if anyone in his class had congratulated him on the nom, and without even thinking about it, Franco said no. “No one said anything?” Stewart asked, skeptical, and Franco had to admit that his classmates at Yale couldn’t give a shit about the Oscars. (At least that’s how Franco read it, but it’s also possible they’re pretending not to care, which is what I really believe.)

I guess this brings me to my point—maybe Franco didn’t care about hosting the Oscars because he has bigger fish to fry—or if not bigger, then at least better. This is a guy with serious aspirations—he’s an actor (in three different venues—film, television, and daytime television), a short story writer, a filmmaker, and a scholar. That might explain why getting dressed up in a thousand-dollar tux to go to the biggest party of the year to honor a bunch of people who are honored every day may not seem like a huge priority. Sure, Franco should have said no if he wasn’t going to do his best, but I can see why it wasn’t that important to him. Because in the big scheme of things, it just wasn’t that important.

Fun, yes. Important, no.

Which might be why Franco was at his best in the ridiculous skits in which he dressed up like Marilyn Monroe or donned the tights of a ballet dancer a la Black Swan. (By the way, if you ever feel bad about the way you look in a dress, just picture Franco as Monroe, who looked wonderfully absurd.)

As one Tweeter said Sunday night, “The Oscars are a pointless, trivial, gross popularity contest that rarely honors the true best of the year. I will be glued to the screen.” Maybe Franco is simply more in the former camp than the latter one.

Franco’s uninspired performance doesn’t directly relate to the topic of this blog, but in a tangential way it speaks to the same issue. That is, the issue that there are more important things in the world than how you look in a tight dress or how white your teeth are. On the red carpet the other night, Natalie Portman claimed that, though she likes attending these ceremonies, it’s the rest of us who are lucky because we get to sit at home and watch in our sweats. I have to say, Franco’s resurrection of his Pineapple Express character was pretty entertaining from my spot on the sofa, but I imagine it might have felt mighty awkward—even scary—from the seats of the Kodak theatre.

For years, I fantasized about going to the Oscars and still a part of me wants to go some day, but lately I’ve come to realize Portman’s point—it’s probably more fun to watch on the sofa than attend.

For that reason, I won’t join the hordes of Americans who are bemoaning Franco’s performance this week. Instead, I’ll thank him for reminding me that though watching the Oscars is a lot of fun, it’s also pretty darn silly and something none of us should take too awfully seriously.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The 2011 Oscars: Playboy Barbie edition
a.k.a. two steps forward, two steps back

Last year, I spent the days after the Oscars and Golden Globes talking about how much curvier the red carpet was, how women of all sizes should dress, and how Hollywood allows women of color to be curvier than white woman.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk about any one of these issues this year even if I wanted to because there were almost no curvy women or women of color on the red carpet this year.

So what happened? Where were all the women of color? And what about the curvy women? Where were they? Because the only curve I noticed on the red carpet Sunday night was the moon-shaped baby bump under Natalie Portman’s plum-colored dress.

Okay, so Penelope Cruz was showing off a little extra stomach, arm, and thigh (not to mention boob) post-baby, but other than that, the red carpet was curve-free. (In case you’re wondering, breasts alone don’t make a woman curvy.)

Last year there were nine curvy girls on the red carpet— JLo, Mo'nique, Meryl Streep, Gabby Sidibe, Molly Ringwald, Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Sigourney Weaver, and Kate Winslet (FYI... I wouldn’t call Winslet curvy, but since one reporter called her “big” that night, she deserves to stand with us)—and eight women of color: Mo'Nique, Gabby Sidibe, Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Zoe Saldana, JLo, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. This year, real-sized woman dropped to two—Cruz and nominee Jacki Weaver—while women of color were down to just three: Cruz again, JHud, and Halle Berry.

And that wasn’t the only place women were missing. When Spielbeg introduced the award for best picture, the girls at BitchFlicks rightly pointed out that he mentioned eight films that had been previously nominated for—The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, Raging Bull—and won—On the Waterfront, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, The Deer Hunter—the best picture Oscar, but not one of them was about a woman or a person of color.

This was in stark contrast to last year’s Academy Awards, which, as I said then, was an evening focused on strong women—Sandra Bullock, Mo'nique, Meryl Streep, Gabby Sidibe, and of course Best Picture/director winner Kathryn Bigelow to name a few—and that those women thankfully had bodies of all sizes

And if women were more of an afterthought this year and women of color and curvy women glaringly absent on the red carpet, I can’t help but wonder if this means we are regressing.

Reese Witherspoon showed up in a look that was frighteningly reminiscent of a Playboy bunny (see picture above), and I visibly shuttered when I saw her on my TV screen. Are we going backwards instead of forwards? Will we be breaking out the corsets and bonnets next year?

The irony is that one of the only women of color on the red carpet was Jennifer Hudson, who, over the last year, has famously replaced her ample curves with ones that are more Hollywood appropriate.

Maybe the lack of curves on the red carpet was the reason why JHud’s new bod seemed to be all anybody could talk about when they saw her. Even the normally infallible Tim Gun felt the need to point out Hudson’s “amazing new figure.”

Even worse, when Ryan Seacrest interviewed Hudson, he said, “You must love getting dressed up now that you have that new body.”

It’s bad enough Seacrest felt comfortable giving Hudson such a back-handed compliment, but his comment is also offensive to the rest of us non-Red Carpet walkers because his message is that if we aren’t skinny, then we shouldn’t enjoy dressing up.

Guess what, Ryan? Real women—whether they be curvier than celebrities or more flat chested than them—like to dress up too!

The bottom line is that the more we talk about Hudson's "new" bod, the more we reinforce the idea there was something wrong with the old one. And, my God, the woman is gorgeous at any size.

After the Golden Globes this year, I wrote about how Seacrest’s superficial and sexist banter on the red carpet hurts us more than Ricky Gervais’ raunchy ribbing of celebrities, and this year’s color-and-curve-free red carpet makes me think it’s time for another course correction.

Over the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of curvy women and women of color, but last Sunday proved that, unfortunately, we’re falling back into old habits. This means that we have to re-double our efforts by continuing to demand more magazines and models with real women and by continuing to vote with our dollars and spend money on female artists of all stripes.

Recently, when asked if the new emphasis on curves would continue, a world-famous designer said that, in fashion, trends come and go pretty quickly, and he imagined that the curvier women we’ve seen on the runway over the past year would not return next season. But if trends come and go that fast, then we wouldn’t have seen the same Kate Moss heroin chic bodies for the past fifteen years. From my point of view, this sounds like an excuse—and one we cannot accept.