Too Skinny? Not to Fear!

February 22, 2013

Too Skinny?

Too Skinny?

It’s easy in our image saturated (and largely photoshopped) culture to think that there is just one, biologically fixed, skinny ideal body type.  But how true this is not!  This advertisement is a fun reminder of just how culturally bound (and ridiculous) beauty ideals really are.  Forget about the favorite body of the moment.  The trend will pass.  Learn to love the body that you have and all it can do for you.  Don’t forget, everything is temporary including you.  Enjoy it while you can.

Happy Friday!

Advertisements

You know that feeling of eating something pleasurable, and it’s all good at first, and suddenly you realize you just can’t stop eating?  Odds are that feeling is not just about your will power.  It’s about your biology (and health) being hijacked for profit.

This weekend, the NYTimes Magazine will reveal the nasty truth of how the sausage gets made, literally.  Your taste buds are no match for the fleets of PhDs getting paid to manipulate your palate, brain, and hunger cues.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

Terrifying.  You can read the full article here.

Transitioning Into You

February 20, 2013

Annika Penelope Gives Us A Peak Behind the Curtain

This blog post by Annika Penelope – read it!  She is wonderful at communicating the cultural pressures that we ALL need to get over before we can be happy with who we are. Yes, it’s about her transition.  Trust me – this post is also about something much more universal. It is about the cultural pressures we all face to be someone different than who we really are.  You will be glad you read her writing regardless of your own relationship with your gender.

Eating Disorders and Transitioning Genders:  What We ALL Can Learn From These Experiences

Of course recovering from an eating disorder and transitioning between genders are two completely different experiences.  Completely.  So don’t get me wrong when I talk about the things that I have learned from working with people on these two unrelated topics.

It is precisely because they are such different experiences that I find any similarities in these paths to be remarkable.  We live in a culture that thrives on making us feel bad about ourselves.  We are bombarded with advertisements, airbrushed images, reality TV shows, and so much more, all sending messages that beauty equals happiness, and anything less than a continual quest for physical improvement is akin to sin.  This cultural pressure to focus on our appearances – specifically to focus on continually “improving” our appearance – takes a toll on our self-esteem.

Recovering from an eating disorder and successfully transitioning share this one thing in common:

Success requires finding and then tossing out the pressure our culture can put on us to be someone who we are not, in order to finally love who we are.

The Culture Of Authenticity

The first step in escaping the death grip of our cultural pressures is to recognize that there is no right way to be a male or female.  Each one of us finds a new way to be the gender that we are.  Some gals love flamingos and pink.  Some gals are pilots.  I know one gal who is a pilot AND loves flamingos and pink.  Is she less of a female than me for working in a largely male dominant profession?  Is she more of a female than me because she likes pink flamingos?  Of course not.  As Annika says in her post, “You deserve to live an authentic life.”

  • Living authentically means recognizing that our cultural does a poor job of telling us how to live authentically.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that how someone else chooses to dress or what they choose to do has nothing to do with what is right for you.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that there is no one point that we are all moving towards.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that you choose what is right for you and your body.  Even if it is scary to let go of pressures to be something else.  Especially if it is scary to let go of pressures to be something else.
  • Living authentically means letting go of the idea of life as a destination, and begin to enjoy the journey of becoming.

The Only Way Is Love

February 14, 2013

Lynne Hurdle-Price at TEDx-Women 2012

It seems fitting to share this post on Valentine’s Day, a holiday that can be so distracting from what love really is.  Starting my morning with this talk felt like a serendipitously poetic antidote to the trappings of this holiday.

Lynne Hurdle-Price starts strong and ends stronger.  While this talk is about bodies, it is also about something much bigger and profound. If you happen to be human then this talk is well worth watching through.

I want this woman to be my friend.  And dance partner.

Mirror Fasting

September 25, 2012

Reflecting on Your Reflection

It’s hard to get through the day without seeing your reflection somewhere.  For many of us, seeing our reflection can be a jolting and perhaps even unwanted experience.  For others, looking at our reflection is an act of reassurance.  There is nothing wrong with looking at your reflection.  But there is a problem when what you see in the reflection tells you how you should feel about yourself as a person – whether that feeling is good or bad.  We need to stop confusing HOW we look with WHO we are.

Here is an interesting article on one way we can disrupt the patterns we’ve developed around looking to our reflection for reassurance, which includes a few little quotes from little ol’ me.

No Mirrors: Women, Could You Avoid Your Reflections for a Month?

“The Perfected Self”

My attention was caught by two pieces in the media this week that, upon reflection, I find to be related.  First, The Atlantic has published a story called “The Perfected Self” about how to lose weight.  (It’s terrible.  I don’t endorse it.  But that’s a different topic.)  Second, the BBC this morning reported that British MPs are recommending children have mandatory body-image and self esteem classes because “girls as young as five now worry about how they look.”

Ugh.  Where to begin?

Here is a list of things:

  1. Comfortable airline seats
  2. An indestructible toy for my dog Zelda
  3. Your perfect self

Here is what these things all have in common:

None of these things exist.

Why Oak Trees Have Great Self Esteem

Yep, I don’t even know who you are but I know you aren’t perfect.  Why?  Cuz that just doesn’t even make any sense.  Can an oak tree be perfect?  Is there a particular way that all of it’s thousands of leaves can be arranged to finally reach perfection?  “Just move that one branch up a little to the left and….  Yes, perfect.”  No.  Ridiculous.  Doesn’t even make sense.  The same goes for you.

What on earth does being perfect even mean?  What if you spoke ten languages and were a master sushi chef?  You still could speak eleven languages and how do you do with soufflés?  And let’s be real.  When in the media we see the word “perfect” (or it’s favorite partner in crime, “better”) it almost always is talking about how you look.  Why is that?  It’s NOT because we owe it to our neighbors to make sure we always have ripped abs and perfect hair while we pick up our mail.  It’s NOT because Cosmopolitan wants to make sure you find happiness with yourself.  It IS because so long as we believe that we SHOULD be “perfect” or “better” by modifying our bodies then we are the “perfect” target audience for advertisers.

You are being lied to.  You are being manipulated so someone can make money off of you by ensuring you feel insecure about your self worth.  The truth is that you are enough right now.  Probably there are parts of you that you like and parts of you that you don’t like.  That’s what it is to be human.  This oak tree in my back yard lost a limb, but it’s still growing strong.  You too can continue to grow and thrive despite whatever your history or list of strengths and weaknesses.

You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know

Truth.  There isn’t a call to have schools teach children how to make their beds because children learn that at home (well, that’s what my friend’s told me).  Body image classes are being recommended because children are not learning how to love their bodies at home.  The reason is because so many moms and dads struggle with their own body images.  We can’t teach what we don’t know.

We owe it to ourselves and our friends, neighbors, and most importantly the children in our lives to start critically understanding that it is dangerous to believe in the “perfect” self.  Such a mindset makes us look at ourselves AND others and search for flaws.  Ridiculous.  You were not put on this great earth to wander around noticing when someone in your life gets a new zit.  You were put on this great earth to do great (and no so great) things.  No go.  Do something.  Go do something for no reason other than because you want to do it.  Even though you still haven’t mastered your soufflé.  Even though you don’t like your upper arms.

The kids in your life will thank you, both for being a role model and from preventing them from having to learn about body image from their middle school health teacher (OMG – I can’t even image having sat through a class on body image taught by my middle school health teach who, looking back, I think was hung over about 50% of the time?  No thank you!).

Better Gets You.

May 4, 2012

Friendly Fire

One day I was hanging out with a really good straight male friend of mine.  I happened to mention that I was pretty sure I was going to get a tattoo.  Without missing a beat he grimaced and said, “Oh don’t do that.  I think women without tattoos are so much more attractive.”

I was a little caught off guard by his response.  I can’t remember what I said in that moment.  I think I stammered something like, “Well, I actually wasn’t asking your permission.”  And I’m pretty sure I threw in a light little laugh to let him know that I wasn’t trying to be aggressive by sharing my opinion, despite the fact that he had just shared his opinion without blinking an eye (some old cultured gender habits die hard). Something about his comment was unsettling to me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it so I left it alone.  I have come to better understand why I was bothered by his comment after a few days of reflection, and I think this topic is worth discussing here.

It’s funny that this beloved, sweet friend’s honest (if unsolicited) reaction to my announcement of getting a tattoo was to help me decide what I wanted to do with my own body.  What’s more, his help was to have me think about my body from his white, straight, male perspective.   News flash – I’m a woman in the United States in 2012.  The file in my mind on “What Others Think My Body Should Look Like” is so full that if it were printed out I’d need to rent a U-Haul to drive all of the paper to the dump.

Body Politic

These days I happen to be reading a lot about how our over-developed western culture shapes our thoughts about our bodies, and how we people in the culture play a role in this pressure to conform.  These readings helped me figure out what bugged me about my friend’s comments.  But honestly that is the only reason I figured out what was nagging at me.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  Now that I’ve seen these toxic messages all around me I just keep seeing all the more ways we are told that we need to change our bodies in order to better ourselves….  or to be more attractive to others….  or to prove to the world that we can control our body so we must be in control of our life.  These messages come from popular media but it is important to see that they also can come from well meaning people in our personal lives.  This guy meant no harm.  In fact, he probably truly thought he was helping.

Oh, I can hear you now, dear reader, thinking “Oh wow.  Thanks for helping me see that my body doesn’t fit what my culture says it should be.  SOOO insightful of you.”  But wait!  That is just the thing.  I don’t know who you are.  I don’t know what your body looks like. The odds are that you think your body needs to change to be better (maybe a little, maybe a lot).  This is also true of people I know in my personal life.  How can it possibly be that I have friends from so many different walks of life who all carry around this other, “better” image of themselves in their minds?  And what’s worse, they somehow measure self-worth based upon how close they are to this “better” them.    And let’s be clear – “better” is not typically anything about developing new skills, helping others, or being more patient with themselves.  My awesome, compassionate friends STILL carry the idea that “bettering” the self largely has to do with changing the body.  This is complete and utter poppycosh.  I am not laughing when I say this.  I am not happy.  In fact, I am angry!

Here is the extremely brief answer to why this happens:  we are awash in toxic messages that we need to “better” ourselves through changing our bodies. How this toxic culture came to be is a discussion for another time.

Here is what happens:  all of these messages coming into your poor defenseless ears blend with all of your fears and insecurities that tell you that you need to keep working on becoming something different before you are allowed to accept yourself.  And before you know it, there is a little beast known as the “better” you floating around in your head, like a mirage always just at the horizon.  Always visible but out of reach.  Always taunting you to keep trying to working on changing before you can be truly happy.

Freedom is within your reach

Here is the part I want you to remember.  Read this twice.  Write it on your hand in case you forget.  Call everyone over to the computer, for these next few paragraph are for the whole family to enjoy together.

What I want you to understand…  like deep in your bones understand…  is that you have a choice.  You can change this situation.  You can choose to find these toxic messages (sometimes from well meaning friends) and drop them in the waste bin.  If you don’t try to find these messages and discard them then these harmful “better” messages will continue to sneak into your head and control you from between your ears.

Time for Truth.

You are worthy now.    You are enough now.    You deserve love now.      And finally,  you deserve self-care now.

Self-care is not denying your body calories even when it feels hungry.  Self-care is not making sure that everyone around you will approve of how you look or how you act.  Self-care is taking the time to nourish your body and your mind.  Self-care is learning listen to your body and treat it with respect.  Self-care is making sure you always have at least one thing in your life that you are doing just because it gives you pleasure to do it.

And so here is your call to action.  Find that beastly “perfect” other you, hiding away in your mind.  She is probably hanging out somewhere near your Crazy Freak Out Voice*.  Right now they may even be conspiring to tell you that you are the exception to what I wrote above.  Most people are enough now, but YOU aren’t…    until you are “better.”  See her??  Great!  Now grab her by her judgmental arm and toss her out!  She’ll come back, so toss her again.  Learn to find her sneaking into your thoughts, then toss her again.  You may have to spend the next year throwing her out, but it’s worth the work to eventually get rid of her all together.

Truth:

You will never be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist.  You will never be attractive to everyone, because each person is different from the next in what they find attractive.   You will never finally have everyone’s approval.

True freedom is taking the risk to do what you want to do now.  Today.  In the body you have now.  With the time you have left.  The rewards are finding genuine connection with other lovely beings in your life.  There are people out there who would love to know you.  Today.  As you are right now.  Really.  Perhaps those people even have a few tattoos.

*”Crazy Freak Out Voice” is from the wonderful work of Rachel Simmons and the Girls Leadership Institute.

Wow.  Ashley Judd just knocked my socks off with her response to all the haters who have been speculating about her recently “puffy” face.  Do yourself a favor and read this article, then share with others.  Here are the first few sentences of her kick-butt essay:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

What?  Ashley Judd, you need anything?  Can I get you a cup of coffee?  Help with your errands?  What can I do to give you more time to write more things like this.

She raises several important and interrelated issues in this essay and I won’t bother repeating them in a less well-written form here.  But I would like to expand upon one part of what she writes and put a challenge to you.

Ms. Judd says, “Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate…. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

I would add that the good and kind people among us, present company included, are in large part to blame for this climate of judgment and abuse.  Let me explain.  Part of what makes humans so unique is our ability to adapt to the culture around us without having to think about it.  It just happens.  If someone grew up in a time where there were no cars, they would be mystified if they were transported here and suddenly hurling down the road at 45 (or….  ahem, 55) miles per hour.  But we don’t give cars a second thought.  The same goes for the more invisible parts of our culture.  We hear judgmental comments about other people’s appearances almost from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed.  The unspoken subtext of these comments is “You are not good enough as you are.  You must change yourself to be acceptable to others.”  Such a toxic environment actually hijacks the part of us that makes us able to adapt and not freak out each time we go outside and see a car zoom by. This toxic environment shapes our brains.  We too are suddenly judging, staying constantly aware of the “imperfections” in ourselves and others.  (Don’t even get me started on how we decide what is imperfect!)  Through no fault of our own, we too are suddenly thinking judgmental thoughts about others.   Sometimes we say the thought out loud.  Perhaps more often we just think it and don’t share the thought with others.

Most harmfully, perhaps we don’t even admit to ourselves that we have these thoughts.  When you aspire to be a nice person, it’s hard to admit that you just had a not-nice, judgmental thought.  And so we ignore those thoughts because it seems like the only other option is to acknowledge that we aren’t a nice person. But there is another way!

You ARE a nice person.  And your brain is doing what it is supposed to do – absorb the culture and learn how to survive.  These two things are true at the same time.  But it is not enough to just keep our mouth shut if we think a judgmental thought about others.   Our thoughts can and do hurt us.  We must also learn to protect ourselves from the distorted thoughts that can come from our own minds. Change starts between our ears.

And so here is your challenge.  Create awareness within yourself.  When you are aware of your surrounds, you can change them.  Spend today looking for unwanted, judgmental thoughts.  Expect these thoughts.  They may come up when you are looking at a magazine in the check out lane, talking to a friend, or perhaps looking at yourself in the mirror.  When you find one, label it for what it is – an artifact of our culture – and let it go.  The more you practice, the more you will create distance between you and those harmful thoughts.   It is in this distance that we can more clearly see who we really are – not what others want us to be.  Watch out, patriarchy.  As we learn to see how you have confined us we can also begin to see how to set ourselves free.