Archive for growing up

Puberty is a Rip-Off
In which I fish for compliments and ponder the struggles of being short.

So here’s a question for you…

At what age, exactly, did you first realize that you weren’t going to be beautiful?

Like, maybe you were okay looking, but when did you realize that you were never gonna be heart-stoppingly life-destroyingly gorgeous?

For me, it was a very specific moment. I was at the orthodontist in eighth grade, and he was looking at an x-ray of my hand to determine how much longer it would be until I could get jaw surgery.

“Well, you see,” he said to my mother, “there’s no real space left between the bones of her hand, so she’s pretty much done growing.”

And that was the moment when I realized that this was where I peaked.

See, I’m a pretty short person, and I don’t mean the tiny, fae-like sort of short. I’m more like the…stubby, hobbit kind of short. I’ve been short since day one. I was a short baby probably. I started out short, and whenever I grew, the other kids grew proportionately, so it’s just been a lifetime of shortness.

This has only been exacerbated by my twin brother, who is a giant. He has always been a giant. He is, currently, over a foot taller than me. They literally thought he was going to eat me in the womb. It’s probably the biggest injustice of my life.

And the real issue is that, when you’re a short kid and your behemoth of a brother is making fun of your shortness, adults always say the same thing: “She’ll grow.”

They talk about how they were short as a kid, or they throw around fancy words like “growth spurt” and “growing pains,” and it all adds up to that fact that I entered into puberty with certain expectations. There I was—little fifth grade worm Rachel—waiting to enter a pubescent chrysalis stage and bust out of it as sexy grown-up butterfly Rachel.

Now, I knew that there would be a given amount of acne, and I understood the whole business with a period, but those were all pitched to me as being mere steps in the process to becoming Adult! Rachel.

So in my imagination, puberty was a lot more transformative than it actually turned out to be. It would straighten my nose, fluff my boobs, plump my lips, and make me taller. And by the end I would be a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, because that’s what adulthood is, right?

Now imagine all of those expectations, all of those hopes and dreams, and they’re all smushed by some orthodontist telling you that your height had peaked at five-foot-two.

Okay, five foot one.

People act as if puberty is very cut and dry, start to finish. There’s kid you, there’s teenage you, and there’s adult you. So I hope I wasn’t the only one to have the shock of a lifetime when I realized one day that, hey, adult me is already here, and she still has acne!

I hope I wasn’t the only one to have the disappointing thought that this is as good as it gets.

Please don’t misunderstand. I get by. I have no real issues with how I look. I actually think I’m pretty goshdarn cute. It’s just that I was all set to become a ten, and instead I settled into, like, a six and a half (in the right light). You know, all right, but nothing really special.

And that could have been the sad end to my puberty tale except that there’s a little secret nobody tells you in middle school—

It’s hard work to be pretty.

Being pretty takes time and determination and make-up and spanx. It requires a whole lot of effort. Pretty girls don’t just wake up that way. Well, okay, maybe some lucky jerks do, but most people don’t just wake up one day and find out they’ve become gorgeous (barring plastic surgery). Pretty is something you have to cultivate. Famous people and super models look that way partially because of fortunate genetics, but also because someone is paid a lot of money to spend two hours putting make-up on them.

And the thing is, you can approach this in a few ways:

  1. You can say, “screw it. Screw everything. Screw Tyra Banks and her stupid tv show.”
  2. You can say, “I have control over how I look, and I am able to make myself prettier if I want to.”
  3. Or you can embrace a cautious mix of numbers 1 and 2.

Now, I’m never gonna be on America’s Next Top Model. (Their minimum height requirement is 5’7, the fascists.) But I also sure as hell don’t look the same as I did at age thirteen. Even if I haven’t grown in height, I’ve learned about make-up, I’ve figured out how to dress myself better (thirteen-year-old Rachel really liked cargo pants) and I’ve taken plenty of bombin’ selfies. Turns out it is possible to take the bum deal that puberty gave you and make your own gorgeous out of it. And whether that means t-shirts and yoga pants or sundresses and sandals, we’re allowed to change ourselves into any version we like.

And, just a heads up, at six-foot-three my brother is well within the requirements of America’s Next Top Model, so that’s something for him to start working towards.

 

Rachel Sudbeck

 

Stay glad: advice from Woody Guthrie and a recap

Good news!

I managed to keep exercising while on vacation—apparently Key West is a city made for walkers, so we managed to walk more each day we were there than we do at home, which is really saying something since we normally average an hour a day.

We also had an amazing time and were able to really unwind away from the stresses of work and the internet. I don’t say it in the healthy living section of this blog, but I really should—relaxation is as important a part of being healthy as anything else.

The only bad news (and this isn’t really bad news) is that I’ve fallen a little bit behind on telling you about some stories related to having a healthy mind and body. So rather than discuss any one of them at length, I’m just going to give you a quick rundown . . .

1) After all of the I Will Not Diet contributors posted their non-resolutions here on New Year’s Day, someone sent me a copy of Woody Guthrie’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 1942, which I’ve included above. Some of my favorites include: “Don’t get lonesome,” “Stay glad,” “Have company but don’t waste time,” “Dance better,” and “Love everybody.” I’m sure we’d all do well to take the same advice.

2) I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while about The Real Girl Belly Project, and my friend Alison reminded me about it today. This is a section of online magazine XO Jane (run by Sassy and Jane founder, Jane Pratt) devoted to publishing pictures of real—not Photoshopped—bellies. You’ve honestly got to see these to believe them. They are all flawed and human and wonderful!

3) My cousin Jennifer told me about an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which the author argues that young girls today no longer want to be “pretty” but rather just “hot.” The article is far from perfect, especially when it veers into the women-should-be-innocent-creatures-men-want-to-protect territory, but it also makes a good point about our commodity-driven culture and the fact that young girls often grown up way too fast in our society because, like the celebrities they see on their screens, they want to be as sexy as possible. I wrote about this problem in my 2010 Halloween post, and, sadly, it’s not something I expect to be resolved any time soon.

4) And last but not least, another friend, Holly, reminded me that Children’s Health Care of Atlanta is currently running a series of anti-obesity ads that are drawing fire. You’ve really got to see the ads, which you can do here, to get the full impact of them, but suffice it to say they’re incredibly dark (like similar anti-meth and anti-smoking ads), and some people think they are hurting more than they’re helping, causing embarrassed kids to avoid exercise rather than embrace it. I have mixed feelings about the ads. I’m certainly glad anti-obesity ads are being disseminated in our society, but I don’t like that the ads seem to lay all the blame at the feet of the parents. At this point, we know that obesity is about the chemicals in our environment as much as it is about diet and exercise. So why not target lawmakers as well as parents? In several of the ads, kids ask their parents questions like “Why am I fat?” and I’d love an ad in which one of the kids said, “Dear Congress–why do you let corporations put so many chemicals in my food?”

Childhood Obesity, Part II: Letting go

Last week I wrote about Michelle Obama’s new initiative for fighting childhood obesity, and though, as I mentioned then, we cannot entirely blame poor eating and exercise habits for the increase in childhood obesity in our country, it is certainly a leading culprit.

I’ve also written on this blog about the fact that when I was a child I spent a significant part of my day being active. Even in bad weather, I walked to and from the bus, spent recess outside on the playground, and biked around my neighborhood for hours after school (and that was if I wasn’t participating in an after-school activity that often involved exercise). Because of this, I’m a firm believer in the idea that all of us—no matter what our age—need to spend more time engaging in physical activity. Not just once a day, but multiple times a day.

I know it’s incredibly difficult for us adults to do that, but what I don’t get is why kids these days seem to struggle with it too.

Because when I was a kid, I didn’t have much choice about being outside.

I had to walk to and from the bus stop whether I wanted to or not, and all of us kids were made to play outside before school and during a half-hour recess after lunch. Beyond that, my mother routinely pushed my sister and me out the front door for a few hours every day after school and on weekends.

I can even remember one sweltering summer day when my mother locked us out of the house because it was so hot we wanted to stay inside. By the end of that excruciating day, we were so anxious to get back inside the cool, air conditioned house that we pressed our faces up against the sliding glass doors in the basement like inmates waiting to be paroled.

And I know I wasn’t the only child who was forced to spend time outside. David Sedaris has documented the time his own mother locked him and his siblings outside during a snow storm to riotous effect in an essay called “Let It Snow” (which I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good laugh).

So why is it then that when I go on my long morning walk or my short afternoon jog—whether it’s in January or July—I don’t see any kids roaming the streets of my neighborhood?

In fact, almost every time I step out the door, I ask myself, where are all the kids????

Then last summer I saw something that gave me my answer. I was huffing and puffing my way around the neighborhood when I noticed that almost every single house I looked inside had a television playing. And nine times out of ten there was a child—or more than one—plopped in front of the screen like a big pile of play-doh.

Television?

In the middle of a summer afternoon?!

Blasphemy!

My mother would have pushed those play-doh blobs out the door as fast as she could whip up one of her famous Jello molds.

We all know that television and the internet and video games have become a poor substitute for more interactive entertainment, but what I don’t get is why parents today allow those passive activities to replace more physical ones.

We had television when I was a kid. We had video games. Sure, we didn’t get cable until I was thirteen—remember “I want my MTV”?—and we played our video games on a crappy Atari with a joystick that was harder to move than a refrigerator, but we had no idea that Space Invaders or reruns of The Monkees would someday seem so pathetic. We loved that stuff and would have happily sat in front of the TV all day. . . that is, if our parents had let us.

But, of course, they didn’t.

So when did that change? When did parents stop insisting that their kids get up off their rumps and go explore the world beyond the walls of their house?

Last semester, when I was teaching a story about childhood, one of my students (who is also a mother) said that she couldn’t let her kids go outside because it’s too dangerous these days.

Too dangerous? Really?

I grew up on a street where kids in junior high walked around with pints of Jack Daniels in their back pockets, where high schoolers dealt everything from pot to cocaine on the street corner where we all hung out, where girls got pregnant at the age of eleven, and where thieves stole an entire houseful of one of our neighbor’s belongings. All of this happened, but I still turned out okay.

And this was in the suburbs!

I’m sorry, but I find it hard to believe that things are any worse now than they were when I was growing up—a time when the whole country was embracing free love and a song called “Pass the Dutchie” ruled the airwaves.

And what I learned from all of those experiences was that I had to be able to stand on my own two feet, that I had to be able to make my own decisions—whether I was being offered a joint or being challenged to a fight. My parents weren’t always going to be around to protect me.

And I worry that’s what our kids today are losing: the ability to be independent. The ability to enjoy and even desire physical activity, to feel the wind in their hair as fly down a too-steep hill on their rackety old ten-speed or to feel the cold in their lungs as they hike along a snow-covered path in the middle of winter. The ability to run away from their parents’ house and the ability to come back. Because if they aren’t allowed outside, not only will they become overweight, they’ll also become afraid. And I’m not sure that those two things are entirely unrelated.

Yes, it’s scary to let kids go outside on their own.

They could be exposed to things we would like to protect them from, and—worse still—they could be harmed or even stolen from us. But the harm we do them by keeping them locked up inside is ultimately a much greater disservice to their generation because it is one that cheats them out of the life we so desperately want them to be able to live.

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