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Archive for the ‘media influence’ 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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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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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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How important is every talk on our ideas of body image self-acceptance, and health?

People ask me what I mean by the language of hunger. The language of hunger is the way we speak with one another about our ideas of health, food, body image, and self-acceptance. It is also about the way we speak to ourselves. It’s what we hear and do not hear throughout the day and the messages we receive about these issues.

image taken from google image gallery

image taken from google image gallery

To better understand the language of hunger we must first understand how language and communication affects our daily lives.

We live in a loud world. We have our headpieces on talking to a friend while standing in line getting coffee, while thinking to ourselves about what to do for dinner, and still we pick up pieces of conversation from the couple behind us in line. Then we step outside into a sea of conversation: the boy and girl with their dog avoiding their homework, the men sitting behind them on their phones, a mom listening to her daughter chattering away walk in front of you, and close by are three women in a business meeting.  Then we get into our car and call a client while the commercial on the radio is talking about Viagra or diamonds all the while the billboards shout their messages as we drive back to the office.

All this occurs on a short break from work and doesn’t include our inner commentary which is a constant scroll of dialogue and free association. Just imagine the amount of time we spend over a period of one day engaged in some form of communication or language. Try it. Try to keep track of the minutes you spend each day engaged in some form of dialogue whether it’s your inner commentary, talking with others, or listening to others.  I bet you’ll lose count.

The majority of our waking hours we are engaged in some form of communication whether we are listening, talking, reading, or observing. Language and communication are the adhesives of society. They are the devices that we use to connect to each other and our world. They are used to explain, clarify, define, and express. Without communication and language we wouldn’t fully be able to understand another’s perspective, ideas, or what they are thinking.  How would we explain to someone how to use incredible inventions like vaccinations? How would we treat one another if we weren’t able to voice our opinions about freedom and oppression?

Language and communication have the power to evoke and provoke. They are tools we use every day yet we do not fully appreciate how they drive our relationships, interactions, and dictate our actions. We use these tools so frequently that we forget that we’re using them at all. For instance, apply the communication tool of hearing to our coffee break scene. We are constantly bombarded with things to hear and because of the auditory overload we are desensitized to the actual content of what we are “hearing.” We are not fully hearing everything that goes in our ears. What effect is this having?

There is a dramatic difference between fully listening to someone talking and just hearing. The words are even different to describe the two: listen and hear. To fully listen to someone you must listen to what they are saying without your own inner critic interrupting, then listen to your own reaction to what they said, and all the while making sure you understand. This whole process demands that you be present in the conversation, not distracted, and be constantly interacting with the content.

image taken from google images

image taken from google images

On the other hand, not listening involves thinking about your response before the person talking is finished, engaging your inner critic while they are talking, paying attention to another noise, or thinking about all the errands you have waiting for you on your to-do list. As the colloquialism goes, the words “go in one ear and out the other.”  However, we are still able to interact in the conversation because we are able to process information without really being aware of it.

Now knowing the difference between fully hearing someone or not, ask yourself how often are you truly listening throughout the day? Unfortunately, you will probably find you are not truly listening but surface processing the information and responding.

If the majority of the time we scan our conversations, our auditory environment, and our inner dialogue we are not taking the time to be aware and listen. Words become subliminal messages. We have a reaction without knowing it. If this is true then how is this affecting what we hear throughout the day about health, food and self-acceptance?

These topics come up frequently throughout the day. We may hear the messages but we do not  listen. We are not fully digesting the words we hear throughout the day on these issues and it’s sticking to our bones and we are not even aware that it’s happening.

Today ask yourself if you are truly listening to what is being said to you throughout the day. Ask yourself to not only listen to what you are hearing but be aware of what your reaction is and how you respond to what you hear. How is language affecting your ideas of health, food, fitness, and self-acceptance?

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hate-handle1

image taken from google image library

Have you ever gone into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and just stared inside? You’re not necessarily hungry and never had the intention of eating but, there you are just staring inside. Then like some bionic conditioned creature, your stomach growls and you rummage around to find something to eat.

How many times have you listened to someone talk about losing weight or joking around about their appearance?

Have you ever had a deadline and found yourself craving [insert favorite food here] or found that you had not eaten all day because you were so engrossed in a project? Maybe you were stressed from a break-up, someone passed away, you lost your job, or were in a transitional stage in life and found that you were not eating as much, eating more than usual, or exercising to “take the edge off.” Have you ever felt like you could just lose a pound or go to the gym more often and you’d be “healthier?”

These scenarios are not silent movies. Each one is usually accompanied by an inner dialogue or an actual conversation you have with someone.  Take a minute and think of three times you have had something like these scenarios happen to you. Try to remember what the dialogues were or what was going through your head. Keep these scenarios in mind as you read the rest of this post.

I have found three types of responses to this blog and my book idea:

  1. “What a fantastic idea! I am glad someone is finally speaking out.”
  2. “Wow. Thank you. I have experienced (or know someone who has) some of these issues…”
  3. “Sounds like a good idea. I know a lot of people struggle with these issues. I haven’t ever but, I know someone will be incredibly thankful for your words.”

Which response do you relate more to? Now go back and remember what your scenarios were from the beginning of this post. Has your response changed? We all have played out various forms of the scenarios mentioned or something similar at least once.  Most of us play out these scenarios more frequently then we even realize.

This blog and my book project are for all of the people behind these responses. Part of the purpose of writing my book is to explain why and how these issues and dialogues are not just for those with eating disorders or “low self-esteem.” These issues come up in all of our lives through dialogues that occur every day. The problem is that we have become desensitized to the presence of the dialogues surrounding these issues. We have come to believe that our inner voice and everyday talk is normal and therefore, the situations seem normal. We claim it’s just the pursuit of “health.”

Explore the idea that we all share these experiences with food, health, body image, fitness etc. Ask people about it. Ask yourself about it. You will find that the only difference is that we all have our own unique story. However, we all have a story where we are affected on some level by these issues.

If you do not believe you are affected by these issues, I challenge you to be aware of the scripts you play out. Just for a day listen to your inner dialogue, listen to conversations other people have, and listen to the conversations you have with others. Be aware of the messages that are communicated to you through T.V, magazines or the sidebar of Facebook.  Listen to comments on dieting, exercise, food, health, aging, beauty, or any other closely related topic…

What do you hear??

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