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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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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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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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