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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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“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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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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