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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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Every culture has a form of it. Every period in history has made a different contribution to it. It’s older than the first book. It can be slow or fast. It is simple yet simultaneously intricate and complex. It can have layers, dimension, or even be linear. It makes us cry and it makes us laugh. It helps us release our anger. It can have words. It has texture and color. There is even one theatrical shenanigans based simply on “it” with 30 brooms, 8 lids, bins of all sizes, poles, 15 pounds of sand, 4 blocks of athlete’s chalk, 12 pairs of drumsticks, 200 litters of water, 8 bananas, and 12 boxes of matches.

What has had such an impact on history? On life? On us as people? What is it?

It is simply music. Sounds, melodies, harmonics, rhythms, noise, poetry or whatever you use to describe this phenomena know this; it is heard differently by each person yet it is felt by all and has the power to unite whole groups of people together with one common thread.

Yes, music. There’s just something about it that gets up under your skin and pulsates. It makes your feet start to twitch. It makes you close your eyes and sway. It wakes up your soul. Of course, only if you allow it to. But, if you do there is nothing sweeter than turning up your favorite tunes and just simply dancing.

All this movement begs the question: just what is it about music?

Why is it so salient throughout history? Why can we find it throughout all cultures and in so many various forms?

Primarily, it’s been used to communicate. It’s even been used to record history before it was written down. But, there is something that goes deeper than that.

There is something that moves us beyond words. Beyond all forms of communication.

Music moves us to a place where we can just be. We just exist in the present moment of the song. The past and future may ebb and flow through us but a song has movement and brings us with it back to the present. What is the key to this seemingly magical transcendence?

Freedom. That is what music truly gives us. Freedom of expression, freedom in movement, and freedom of letting go. Pure freedom to discover life.

By truly getting absorbed in music we release, we create, and we inspire. If we just let the music guide us (inhibitions aside) it will eventually lead to some form of dance.

Maybe you’re the type of person that holds on to inhibition just a little tighter. Maybe it takes more than music to loosen you up. Maybe you love dancing but never do it when you’re home alone. Maybe you don’t dance unless you have had a glass or two of wine. Maybe you just haven’t danced in so long you feel you’ve lost your rhythm. Which ever type of dancer you are do one thing right now…

Stop everything. Turn on your favorite song or discover a new tune from the list below. Kick off your shoes (yes this is mandatory) and turn up the volume.

If you need to, close the blinds. If you need to open all the windows, do it! By all means just turn it up, close your eyes, feel the music run through you and move your body.

Because we have one life to life and the raw sense of freedom we get from organically moving our bodies is priceless. Maybe it will take you practice to chisel away at that inhibition. That’s okay! Just keep doing it and you’ll find one day that your toes are singing and all your body wants to do is get up and move.

Here’s a video to get you started! It’s from JOnsi’s new Go album:

There’s plenty of great music out there and it’s totally subjective but it’s always nice to share music and discover new ones. Here is a list of the songs that are playing in my player most recently. Just a note there are so many good songs out there that soundtracks come and go as a weekly fare. For this week:

Jonsi Go (album) to listen to the album just click

The Killers   Human

Bruce Springsteen   Brilliant Disguise

Velvet The Big Pink

Empire of the Sun   Walking on a Dream

The Orb   Little Fluffy Clouds

Phoenix Girlfriend

Phantogram   When I’m Small

Passion Pit   Sleepyhead

Santigold   I’m A Lady

Vampire Weekend   Horatcha

The XX   Islands

The Temper Trap   Sweet Disposition

The Shins   Sleeping Lesson

If you have any suggestions on music that makes you dance, please share in the comment box!  Always lookin’ for new tunes!

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Have you ever found yourself pulled in so many different directions you realize you have forgotten to do the things you most love to do? Maybe it’s sitting down to read a good book, look at magazines in a bookstore, morning yoga sessions, a long run, a Sunday nap, or a nice long dinner shared with good friends.

If you’ve ever forgotten the things that truly make you feel most alive inside or maybe even right now these things are staying warm on the the back burner. Know this: you are not alone.

Recently, I have been buzzing around busy as a bee but have found myself starting to run dry of all that sweet stuff. I have forgotten that in order to produce honey you have to have a constant intake of a little sweet goodness yourself. It’s kind of like the saying, “What goes in must come out” but perhaps better stated, “What goes out must first come in.” Or else we run dry.

A few days ago, after much push and pull, I had finally dragged my tired self outside, pulled on my dusty running shoes, and started to run. Then it happened, my IPod ran out of batteries. Great. How was I supposed to have a rock out run without the rock?

I almost decided to take a nap instead but then I realized I was indeed tired. I had been going full speed a head juggling work, class, volunteering, and studying with short breaks to drive to and from each activity filled with NPR or music blaring in my ears. I’ve been so busy maintaining speed that I’d forgotten to appreciate the moment. I had forgotten what silence sounded like.

So, I took my IPod back to the house and instead of taking off, feet slapping the pavement, I simply just started walking. After a while my thoughts began to slow. I started to hear the green parrots talking to each other and the breeze gently whistle through the leaves. I began to see that some time since January spring had occurred.

There were purple daisies, pink lilacs and white lilies. There were red rose bushes growing up sides of peach stucco houses and like a heartbeat the blue-green ocean was roaring in the background.

I stopped to look at a vacant lot filled with cracked cement. Between all the cracks there was grass growing but the most curious part was the bright yellow and pink flowers that were also pushing themselves up through the cracks. Yes, the blooms were probably weeds but they were absolutely beautiful!

That’s when it occurred to me. We are the vacant lot.

Every day we put so much pressure on our selves with work, deadlines, and the economics of living.We build up the cement around us and on top of us.

We forget that underneath the cement we are just part of the earth. Our intrinsic nature is to grow and to reach up towards the sky.

So, lets take a moment, turn our faces up towards the sun, and break through the cracks in our cement. Let our true selves grow up and out from the weight of our daily commitments.

Let’s revamp! Do a little Spring cleaning.Let’s tear down our vacant cement lot and rebuild it into a beautiful garden filled with lemon trees, lavender, and lilacs. Or maybe your lot is filled with roses or a tropical version with palm trees!

But, whatever your lot looks like the only cement is the stepping stones that are scattered throughout. Instead of preventing growth they maintain a path that leads from one place to another and supports optimal existence.

It is this delicate balance between cement structure, colorful flowers, rich damp earth, roots of trees, vegetables, fruits, rain, air, and sunshine that provide us with the optimal potential. These are our food.

All things need food to grow. Not just food for your mouth but nutrients of life….good friends, long walks, love, and laughter.

Today break free from your cement. Do something you love to do but haven’t done in awhile. Start that garden. Fill it with whatever will nourish your soul. Remember it’s a delicate balance for optimal existence.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

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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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Have you ever felt as if you were being watched by an infant as their eyes follow you across the room or been fascinated with a child when you put your finger to your nose and they mirror your actions? A large part of child development is watching others, mimicry, and exploring their environment. Through these processes  children are learning how to become less dependent and more self-sufficient. Their minds are delicate and highly impressionable. Anyone that has worked closely with kids can attest to this.

If children are highly impressionable how are they interpreting the messages of beauty and health that are every where in our society? How much of our “adult” conversations about these issues do they actually hear?

I ran across a Newsweek article “Generation Diva” that questions whether our obsession with beauty is changing our kids. I can’t help but ask myself this question as I walk down the street and see young girls with their little mosquito bite breasts, faces painted, purses larger than their bodies, handkerchiefs for skirts, and hands clutching cell phones looking like miniature replicas of the Olsen twins giggling nervously. I’ve sat and observed them talking about boys, diets, and fashion as if they were read Vogue instead of Where the Wild Things Are at bedtime. I’ve often played a game guessing their ages only to realize they haven’t even reached middle school yet. I’ve listened to two mothers talk about watching their daughters dance and gyrate their hips in movements that it’s possible they, as 30- year old women, had yet to master. If children are impressionable, then where are they modeling this behavior and where are they receiving these messages?

Girls are growing up today with their ipods blaring Britney Spear’s “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)”, reading articles in Seventeen with headlines telling them about “Flat Tummy Tricks”  or  “Get Hot or Less,” websites where they post photos and peers rate their attractiveness,  watching American’s Next Top Model and people trading in their faces for ones that look similar to celebrities on I Want A Famous Face, or Dr.902010 and other numerous make-over shows which communicate that you can always achieve something more beautiful, and My Biggest Loser telling kids if you’re “fat” it’s just one more thing you should change.

Messages of transformation are every where in a young person’s world. The messages communicate to young girls that perfection, beauty, and popularity are attainable but also embedded in the message is that the little girl who stares back at them in the mirror without all the makeup and highlights is not beautiful. Especially if you have an ounce of fat on your bones.

According to market research done by Experian, 43 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products; and 12 percent use other cosmetics. Compared with other market research that has been done in the past, the percentages have increased and the age of the girls has decreased. A example of this is the cosmetic craze in young girls where they pile in mom’s car and unload at spas that market themselves for girls between the ages 0-12! Here’s a video discussing the new spas for tweens:

Young girls are growing up faster with a beauty ideal that is increasing just as rapidly. The question is not only how does this affect their self-esteem, self-acceptance, and development but also what is the projection of the future generations as they hit their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s 60’s? The young people of today are the future of tomorrow. Are we slowly evolving into a society that no longer celebrates natural beauty and individuality but encourages perfection, taunts us that it’s attainable, yet always keeps raising the bar so it’s never quite within our grasp?

I believe it is important to be aware of the messages that our children are receiving and not to deny that they are affected by them. Let’s talk more with the little people in our lives and encourage their natural beauty, talents, and set an other example for them separate from the models they see in society.  Instead of the hyper-neurotic search for beauty, popularity, and perfection; let’s teach our children, the future generation, about the passion of living, loving who you are, and accepting others regardless of their looks, size, what their wearing, how much money they have, their race, ablebodiness, sexuality, or gender.

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Watch this video from the Britain’s Got Talent Show 2009… Listen to your inner commentary. What is your reaction?

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Which would you rather be called?

An article Which is Worse These Days: Being called Fat or a Whore by Charlotte Hilton Anderson landed in my inbox (thank you to the sender you know who you are and you’re fabulous!)  Just the title of the article is enough to provoke emotion and throw my critical thinking into overdrive.  Being called a whore has always been a stigma in society across all cultures throughout history. Have we really gotten to the point that being called fat trumps being called a whore? Outrageous.

In the article, Anderson refers to a theoretical paradigm shift introduced by Mary Eberstadt, a Standford-based Hoover Institute fellow and consulting editor to the Policy Review, where food has become the new sex. The topic of sex always comes with a moral handbook which ever one that may be or if you’ve chosen to burn yours. Along with any moral code comes the classic dichotomy of good vs. bad/evil. So, if food has become the new sex than all issues surrounding food and size become part of the good vs. bad paradigm. Yikes. That is a fertile battleground of power and privilege.

Eberstadt’s article Is Food the New Sex? is a bit long and she comes across as a traditionalist. Although I do not agree with many things she says or some of her historical pondering on body image, food, and morality; it is well worth the read. Some of the best reads are the ones we do not always agree fully with it stimulates. It moved me thinking in many directions but I couldn’t get the question of being called fat or a whore our of my head…

We have  human rights movements, how we try to be aware of politically correct speech, and all the “isms” that are being addressed to some degree (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism etc.) yet we are constantly falling short; especially in sizeism (discrimination based on weight and/or height.)

For example the photo at the below has been circulating the internet and comments made on it include:

There are three cows in this picture! Immediately followed by, “Hey! Hey! Don’t insult bovines that way!”

One word: Forklift

How do they f***?’ ”Hopefully they don’t. ‘They get mixed up with whose boob is whose.’

Fake! -notice lack of BIG GULP cup holders -notice lack of Beef Jerky wrappers in fat folds -notice buildings and cow not leaning into their gravitational pull.

Fat comments, jokes, and gestures are surprisingly socially acceptable. Although some admit to the comments as being mean still engage in this banter which is reenforcing that it’s okay to make these comments.

Fat is an ugly word in our society but ask yourself this: why?

The broader ethical debate about discrimination, power and privilege, and stereotypes is not what I want to get into. I want to keep the focus undiluted by broader terms and just keep it simple. Ask yourself how you really feel about the word fat. Say it out loud. Explore how you use the word and see if it comes up during the day and in what contexts.

If you see someone on the street and catch yourself labeling them as fat; stop yourself and explore your reactions and your commentary. Ask yourself:  a.)What is influencing your judgment b.) What physical sensation does it provoke c.) How does it make you feel about yourself and why?

It is shocking and scary that people would prefer to be called a whore than fat. We are all shapes. We must challenge ourselves not to let someone else define what beauty is to us. We must challenge ourselves to stop reinforcing the current beauty ideals because they are incredibly plastic, unrealistic, and essentially boring.

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