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Archive for the ‘global issues’ Category

Recently there is a heated controversy over a quote in the NYTimes by  the art critic Alastair Macaulay. He described the ballet dancer  Jenifer Ringer from the New York City Ballet performing in, “George Ballatine’s The Nutcracker” looking “as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many.” Ringer has shared her struggles with disordered eating and has made her experience public. Free speech yes but decency please, Macaulay.

The comment displays the insensitivity that we have as a culture towards beauty criticism. It is perfectly acceptable to make comments on peoples bodies whether it’s praise or disgust. Our bodies are on a platform to be discussed, criticized, or idolized.

Macaulay wrote a response to all the criticism in an article, Judging the Bodies in Ballet. He argues that,

If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion.

He tried to explain his reasoning with,

many other female dancers with obvious physical imperfections have made impressions far greater than those whose bodies were ballet-perfect. But that’s their task: in an Apollonian art that requires purity of line, precision of execution and harmony of appearance, dancers with less than ideal shapes must bring other qualities to bear. Many have, and Ms. Ringer does, too, with several roles. This particular Sugar Plum Fairy — one of her rare tutu parts these days — was not one of them.

In other words, if your body is not a dancing skeleton with slippers you  must try that much harder to bring something else to the floor, control your curves, and please- don’t wear anything showing your legs! Apparently, leg muscle is out.

 

He’s a critic indeed but why are our bodies and appearance even up for evaluation? A dancers performance of course but a dancer’s body is part of who they are just as their eye color or their race. Yes, ballet is a culture where thinness, perfection, and lithe grace is idolized but maybe its time to challenge this adage.

Actress Natalie Portman apparently lost 20 lbs. for her role in the new movie Black Swan where she plays a ballet dancer consumed with the battle of perfection and the competition in ballet. Our perception of ballerinas has been shaped by standards but whose standards? In the 1600s the standards where curves, curves, curves. Now the pendulum of standards has swung and we are left with bone, bones, bones. One word is as bright and loud as a strobe light here: standard.

Standards by definition means there is a model to be compared to, a principle to be judged on, and apparently also a grade of beef immediately below good. Who set’s these standards and why do we blindly fall into line trying to become this standard?

A standard brings along with it a definition of perfection. How is it possible to have a standard on something that is so diverse? Our bodies are all shapes and sizes. Our bodies are diverse and subjective. The aesthetic of beauty should not be a standard. The real aesthetic of beauty celebrates being human whatever shape that happens to come in.

Jenifer Ringer was interviewed on the Today Show about her response to Macaulay’s criticism. She shared that at first it was embarrassing and she felt bad about herself. Then she said it was just one person’s opinion and she was encouraged by all the controversy and positivity it has sparked. At the end she said,

dance is a celebration of people dancing to this gorgeous music.

Ballet should not be about a standard of beauty. It is a celebration of bodies twisting, jumping, and stretching. It’s a celebration of bodies communicating without the distraction of words. Ballet is beautiful and beauty defies standards.

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Recently, I have noticed a resurgence in eating disorder articles in the health section on news sites like CNN, Msnbc, and NyTimes. Although I don’t primarily write about clinical eating disorders, preferring to focus more on the wide spread disordered eating and health in our culture and society, I feel that eating disorders can not go unmentioned.

After all, eating disorders are the extreme products of how we negatively communicate health, fitness, food, and beauty image in this culture.

A CNN article I found particularly disturbing was about a boy who started dieting and exercising at age 11 and increasingly got more restrictive until he was 79 lbs. at his lowest weight. The obsession with his weight began in that phase everyone goes through. Yes, you know the one I am referring to. The few blurry years we all try to forget and hide the pictures or any other documentation that they existed. The blurry figure in the haze had a mouth full of braces, baby fat, horrible hair, and slumped shoulders in uncertainty of the body that was trying to make its way to the surface.

This boys story about his struggle with food, body image, and acceptance hits home that everyone, not just females, are dealing with feelings of not looking good enough and being accepted by others based on appearance. This is especially true for the sensitive years in life where everyone is just starting to become aware and understand their body, culture, and other perceptions of them.

Not only does this story point out that eating disorders affect males but it again broadens the age brackets we most closely associate with eating disorders.

This article and another NYtimes article, “Treating Eating Disorders and Paying for It,”  highlighted a recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics finding that today more children are developing eating disorders and developing them at an earlier age.

Also, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitalizations from eating disorders grew 18 percent from 1999-2006. The sharpest rise was for children 12 and under.

Here’s a video highlighting the Journal of Pediatrics report: 

We need to ask ourselves what is happening. What are we doing that reinforces our children to focus more on what they put in their mouths than whether they should play outside or build forts with the furniture.

We may have a little control over what the media and culture at large communicates to them but we must clarify the realities of what they see and hear from others. We need to encourage them to be who they are and be proud of who they are. We need to encourage health and fitness aside from being healthy and fit for image. We need to set an example in the way we live our own lives and in the way we talk about food, diet, health, fitness, and body image to other adults.

The NYtimes posted a multimedia of  people of all ages, sexes, genders, and races sharing their different experiences with eating disorders. It is worth the few minutes to listen. They share stories of anorexia, bulimia, and over eating. They speak about the struggles and the self talk that perpetuated their eating disorders. Some of them are family members of people struggling with eating disorders. Listen to the tapestry. Listen to the stories and ask yourself what you can do within your own life to counteract the negativity surrounding food, fitness, health, and body image.  Check it out here!

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Thank you to everyone that emailed me their stories, opinions, and examples of how we communicate ideas of health and body image to younger people or how, as a younger person, you feel we communicate these things to you. I deeply appreciate it and will be contacting you further as I would like to include this subject as a chapter in the book.

As you know, I have not posted in a while. Life has been kind of crazy but recently there has been a surge in survey responses and it has reminded me of the importance of maintaining a connection with you! So, thank you to those who have recently filled the survey out and shared your experiences with me.

Currently, I am taking several courses to prepare for nursing school (part of the reason life has been a bit busier than usual.) I have been reminded just how many conversations there are throughout the day where people are talking about health, food, hunger, exercise, beauty, sexiness, ugliness, fatness or the constant policing or chastising of others about these topics. However, the irony is that no one seems to realize the frequency or impact these fleeting conversations have.

Here’s an example:

Scene: Classroom filled with many genders, ages, and diversity.

Snippets of conversation in just a 5 minute period throughout the room of 40 people (each comment from a different person:)
– That was like a block of sugar
– But you know that burrito you skipped this morning…
– What? when i am not hungry food sounds disgusting.
– You want some pretzels?
– How many calories do you think this has?
– Are you going to yoga tonight?
– No, don’t feel like it… I guess maybe the gym.
– metabolism…
– I can’t eat the way I used to. I mean I used to sit down and eat whole pizzas and boxes of zebra cakes.
– Did you work out this morning?
– I am hungry.

We’re desensitized to how often we are talking or even indirectly hearing about health. The question to ask ourselves is how is this shaping our beliefs, actions, and desires about health?

Below is an awesome video created by BLU a group that paints on public walls and creates incredible animated shorts. The video has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this blog however, the process or rather the evolution of the images within the animation do.

For instance, set aside the story that is told with the images in the video and just observe the evolution or progression of one image into the next. The is a process that happens every where in life: one thing occurs and evolves into something else which evolves into something else. Our actions in our life taken on this movement (think Run Lola, Run or Lola rennt. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.) One action affects the next and so on until it becomes a series or sequence of events which produces an outcome. Our words and our conversations do this as well.

The snippets of conversation above spawned certain inner dialogues and external dialogues for these individuals. The scary thing is that most of us are not aware how our words and conversations are impacting our lives and shaping our perspectives or beliefs. So, my challenge, as usual, is to just be more aware today. Not only of the conversations you hear or have but the sequence of events that they produce inside your head or in the conversation.

Here’s the awesome video:

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Preface: I apologize this blog has been out of commission. Recently, I have moved and the details of life have taken priority but I am back and so are the weekly posts. Thank you for being patient and still checking in!

So…the post…

Pick up a newspaper or log on to a papers homepage. As your eyes scan the headlines, all you see are politics, economics, gossip, something about Clunkers, and not nearly enough international coverage…Right?

Here are some other headlines that made it in today’s papers (taken from NYTimes, cnn.com, msnbc.com, foxnews.com, LATimes, Miami Tribune, Chicago Tribune, and The Seattle Times):

Is Your Child The ‘Right’ Height? (Apparently now there are a set of standards for the normal American child)

Does It (exercise) Keep You Healthy? (Since when did exercise being healthy become debatable?)
monky fish


Aging: Eating Fish May Ward Off Dementia

Fewer Calories Equals A Longer Life- At Least In Monkeys (Maybe monkeys just eat fish not count calories)

Could Fat Babies Mean Fat Toddlers?

Best And Worse Foods For Your Sex Drive

8 Ways The Food Industry Can Hijack Your Brain (…and your soul)

Underweight Team Told To Eat At Least 15 Eggs Per Day

10 ‘Bad’ Foods That Are Good For Weight Loss (Who gets the job of labeling foods good and bad? Isn’t one persons brussel sprouts another’s fudge.)

Doctors Grow New Nose for Woman

Considering Plastic Surgery? (Not recently especially since my doctor can now replace my old one with a new real one!)

The newspapers are full of messages about how and what we should eat and why with an emphasis on the ‘normal’ way our bodies should look and feel. They even includes helpful tips on how many steps you should take a day which I am personally grateful for since I was up late last night staring at my ceiling wondering whether its a four or five digit number.

What happens when we find ourselves fitting outside of the norm that’s placed on us or that we place on ourselves? Guilt, shame, embarrassment, and lofty goals that are difficult to attain. Sounds fun. Even if we do fit inside the ‘perfectly’ defined box we will still manage to find faults or want to be the best little norm in the box.

I know you’re thinking, “I’m not affected by these headlines.” You simply read over them and laugh. I did. But honestly ask yourself, are they affecting you?  Even if it’s just on an unconscious level making us more inclined to set a standard of right/wrong, good/bad, normal/abnormal and beautiful/average.

Forget the news for a minute. What about the comments we hear strangers, friends, family, or coworkers say?

Jez, that’s alot!

Another one?!

I could never eat that much rice!

No thanks, I’ll pass. I am being ‘good’ today.

I am so bad…been so busy I haven’t made it to the gym.

We get health advice, fitness tips and beauty standards from: family, friends, coworkers, coaches, T.V, magazines, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, doctors, books, internet, newspapers, billboards, and even music lyrics. That is just about every area of our waking life. Makes me want to take a nap.

Of all the messages where are the ones about loving your body regardless of the shape it takes because really what is normal shape anyway?

Or the ones about how many smiles you can achieve from a delicious dinner with friends and the pleasantly satiated feeling you go home with?

Or the ones about how much fun being outside and working up a sweat can be without all the details on how many calories your burning?

Today forget about all the rules, regulations, and constrictions that all these messages place on you.

Today rebel.

Raise up and do something abnormal. Eat the whole piece of came if your hungry for it and its delicious. Compliment one of your friends on a quality they posses that makes them beautiful. Run as fast as you can with your dog across a field or roll around giggling with your son or daughter. Indulge your partner with kindness that they would feel is out of the ordinary. Instead of going for a run, go for a long walk with a friend.

Revel in rebellion!

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The body is an instrument. We must tune it and listen to what it tells us. Listen to when it’s hungry, when it’s full, when it appreciates the food we put in it,  as well as the types of food that irritate it. We must pay attention to when it wants to stretch its legs and exercise or when it needs to rest. This awareness requires mindfulness throughout the day of how our internal selves are in constant interchange with our external selves and environment.

What are we eating? How are we feeling? How are those two related?

We have one body to carry us through until we eventually become part of the earth. Isn’t it time we learn to treat it with respect and be kind to it? The time is now. We only have the present moment, the now, in which to live, all other moments are unpredictable.

The First Lady Obama gave a speech a few days ago addressing health, gardening, and prevention by nutrition. She has planted a 1,100 square foot organic garden on the grounds of the White House with the help of kids from a local elementary school. The speech was to celebrate the fruits, if you will, of their labor and to encourage people to educate themselves on the food to plate process.

This gorgeous and bountiful garden that you saw over there has given us the chance to not just have some fun, which we’ve had a lot of it, but to shed some light on the important — on the important food and nutrition issues that we’re going to need to address as a nation.  We have to deal with these issues. My hope is that this garden — that this garden, through it, we can continue to make the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and how healthy we are.

According to the National Gardening Association’s Home and Community Gardening survey, 43 million U.S. households are expected to have edible gardens in 2009, which is a 19% jump over 2008. These numbers are fantastic but how can we continue the momentum?

The importance of understanding the relationship we have with our food goes beyond health and nutrition. The cycle of seedling to plant to the kitchen and eventually to our bodies also has an impact on our environment. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of many books that has brought this issue to our tables. She makes a colorful argument that small changes create enormous impacts. Just imagine all the small changes each individual can make within their own life multiplied on a global scale.

Here are a few stats among many. Others included agricultural effects on land use, the economics of imported foods versus exported foods, and the costs of eating locally, cultivating your own food, or buying the majority of food from super markets. Here are a few (please remember statistics can be influenced in numerous ways or seemingly dramatic. They also can be sound. Regardless, they are usually provoking and stimulate thought):

  • The typical distance from farm to plate in the U.S is 2,500-4,000 km.     –Brain Halwell, Worldwatch Institute.
  • 76 percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited or over exploited and many species have been severely depleted.
  • If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.     – Steven L. Hopp
  • Apparently if every American skipped just one meal of chiken a week and substituted vegetables and grains the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads. Having one meat-free day per week would be the same as taking 8 million cars off American roads.

We are what we eat. If we continue to eat blindly through our resources without an awareness of how what we eat impacts our health and the environment then we will find ourselves insatiably hungry staring down at an empty plate.

Here’s a few links that might be helpful when exploring where our food comes from, cultivating your own garden, urban garden communities, finding local farmers markets, and restaurants that support locally grown food:

American Community Gardening Associtaion

Local Harvest

National Gardening Association

Worldwatch Institute

An Interesting Article on Eating Meat

The Ins and Outs of the Meant Industry

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Ever find yourself four inches from the mirror investigating every square inch of your face? Sometimes this happens when I tweeze the pesky little whiskers that have a tendency to grow in the oddest places like out of moles and scars. Sometimes I even venture to my eyebrows when I start to feel “the Frida” coming on. 

During my last tweezing fix, I investigated my skin and found slight brown discoloration in spots I had never noticed before. Not Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford “beauty marks.” Sun spots or solar lentigines, hyperpigmented brown spots on skin exposed to the sun. It made me question whether my mom’s brilliant suggestion of sunbathing with baby oil and iodine as a kid was a slight mistake. Oh, to grow up when cigarettes weren’t that bad for you, neon was rad, and the benefits of SPF were not yet taken seriously.

Even though suns spots can occur at any age they primarily appear in older adults. It made me think of all the apocalyptic before and after images you see: skin treatments, laser treatments, plastic surgeries, botox, or other anti-aging treatments.

What is so wrong and scary about aging?

Wrinkles, sagging skin, stretch marks, grey wiry hair, large noses, and giant ears. Must we not forget menopause. A time we all look forward to, where we have an excuse to be a complete nutter. I am surprised we all don’t just hit 50 and turn ourselves over to cryonics.

The other night I was in the movie The Hangover. There was a scene in a doctor’s office where an older man was getting his prostate checked. The camera zoomed in to show the man from the waist up then zoomed out as the old man turned to put on his pants. There it was: an 80 year old ass staring us right in the face. The audience burst out laughing.

But, what’s so comical about an older person’s body? There will be a day when we all get our chance to look in the mirror at an older reflection of ourselves. Do we laugh because of an unconscious fear of aging and the inevitable sound of the hammer in a coffin?

The fear is always right beneath the surface. Some of us proactively spend credulous amounts of money on serums, creams, injections and surgeries. Others of us like to pretend that we will embrace “it” when the time comes and try to suppress the image of our bodies at 70. Yet all of us think about it to some degree.

The fear has to come from somewhere but where? Our culture celebrates youth. Evidence of that is plastered ever where, on billboards, T.V, movies, magazines, the sidebars or Facebook or Google, and billions of websites.  We consume the message of youth so often that we do no longer taste it.

I ran across a beautiful article in The Sun written by a woman Patricia Brieschke. The author explores her aging body and the life struggle we all have at varying degrees of accepting our body as it is.

“I place a cup of green tea carefully on the floor of my walk-in closet and click the door shut behind me. Almost sixty-two, I’ve been trying to get myself to look in the mirror naked, to look without critique. (A gigantic ass! Doughy rolls! Thighs like the chunky Victorian legs of the behemoth table Aunt Helen bequeathed to us!) This morning I will approach the mirror in my closet in meditation. Today I will forgive the body I’ve inhabited all these years, and I will not come out of this closet until I find the well of tenderness hidden in these swollen fat cells.
The fluorescent lights glare. I move closer to the mirror and smell the raw me: urine and lavender. My naked body bulges. Not even my elbows have definition. A flabby roll on my abdomen dwarfs the patch of sparse gray hairs below, once lush with juice. Deep craters of cellulose run up and down my thighs like gristle on a pot roast.”

Here’s the lovely Sarah Haskins thoughts on skincare and wrinkles:

Today be aware of the messages that are communicated to you throughout the day about aging. Be aware of your response. Replace fear with the celebration of life and for body we have to live it in.

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“Hands are not about politics…” -Sarah Kay

Our bodies shouldn’t be either. But it seems every one has something to say about what a body should and should not look like, what foods are “good” and “bad”, how many calories do we should eat, how many times we should exercise, and whether or not we fulfill what it means to live “healthy” . How often have you heard the line, “They have really let themselves go?”

Of the 220 people that responded to the Body Awareness Survey that I have on this blog (located at the top of the right sidebar,) 93.10% of people said that they believed people evaluated them on their physical appearance.

Awesome.  With a number like that it seems we all feel people make deductions about who we are based on what we look like, our bodies, and not just who we actually are beneath all our skin. We become the totality of our shell. We become our wrinkles, cellulite, hips, and butts. How one-dimensional is that?

Today celebrate you. Celebrate the inner qualities that make you unique. Celebrate the nose you hate or the parts of your body that you wish were more toned. Celebrate the people you see today. Instead of seeing people through a critic’s microscope,  see the whole person and celebrate their uniqueness. Today think of a part of your body that you don’t usually pay attention to or a part of yourself that you are always negative about. Observe its functional value or what it would be like if you didn’t have it. See the beauty in it.

We live in a multi-dimensional world that is diverse and constantly changing. Let’s not diminish ourselves or others to the shells they live in that will eventually turn to dust.  Let’s open our eyes and remember that its the diversity that makes us beautiful.

Here’s a fantastic video from Def Poetry, a show on HBO, of a Sarah Kay celebrating hands.

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