Archive for adolescence

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

 

View from the Quarterlife

woman-in-a-mirror-theo-van-rysselberghe

A little over a week ago, I turned 25.

Wow. That sounds… old.

When I was a teenager, I never thought much about what exactly 25 would look like.

I had plans.

I had goals.

I (generally) knew what I wanted my life to be like.

In the grand scheme of things, however, I didn’t think of 25 as a particularly exciting birthday. It wasn’t a sweet sixteen. It wasn’t 18 and the transition to adulthood. It wasn’t exciting like 21.

Nonetheless, there were parts of 25 to look forward to. I grew up hearing the oft-touted fact that the human brain doesn’t finish developing until age 25. That always struck me as kind of odd. We have to make so many important decisions before age 25. We have to decide if we’re going to go to college. If the answer is yes, we have to decide where to go to school and what to study. Once we’re finished, we’re launched into “the real world” and have to find a way to support ourselves.

That’s a lot of stuff. All these decisions we make determine the trajectory of our lives.

I’ve spent some time pondering all these big decisions I’ve made, wondering if I made the right choice. That’s too big a question to answer, though. I had to come at it from a different angle.

I’ve spent 25 years crafting myself as a person. I have habits and values. I have things I care about. I know what’s important.

I asked myself this question: all these things considered, am I the person I would have hoped to have been?

If the answer was no, the question became: how I can I change that?

This is what I’ve been writing about these past few months. 15-year-old me would hate to see 25-year-old me struggling with the same issues with self-confidence. Ten to fifteen years is a long time to dislike what you see in the mirror.

It’s no way to live.

That recognition, however powerful, was only the start of a long process. I’m still working on loving myself and what I see in the mirror. Changing my habits has helped tremendously. I feel more in control of my feelings, habits and actions. Knowing I’m the one behind the wheel, so to speak, gives me a sense of confidence I never expected.

It’s still hard, though.

Some days I just don’t feel good about myself. I don’t feel prepared to face the world. I’m too inside my head to really be comfortable around other people.

That’s when I have to stop myself. I can’t control how other people view me, but I can control how I view myself. I can control how I react to things.

This hasn’t been a cure-all, but it has helped. I’d encourage anyone to consider this as a way to battle issues with body image. Think about all the time you’ve wasted worrying about your body. Hasn’t it been long enough?

—Lauren Bunch

A message for my younger self

Middle school graduation, 2004

Last August, I decided to go through my family photos. It had been almost a year after my mother’s death, and I finally felt ready to look through the twenty-two years of precious memories I was fortunate to share with her. My favorites were placed in a pile to be taken to my new apartment.

For most of my life, my parents were quite diligent about taking photos.  The major events were all recorded: birthdays, holidays, vacations. I poured through boxes and envelopes full of pictures, admiring images of a simpler time. There was newborn Lauren, a thicket of dark hair covering her head. There was Lauren on the first day of school, eager and clad in brand new clothes.

Then I came upon a picture that surprised me. I immediately recognized the photo—my dad had taken it on the day of my middle school graduation. My mom was next to me, arm draped across my shoulder.  She smiled largely while I had a hint of a grin on my face. My brown hair came down past my shoulders. I wore an orange sundress and my face was riddled with a handful of red pimples.

It was astonishing to see this moment that had been housed in the fuzzy corners of my mind. I didn’t remember looking like that. The most pervasive memories of my pre-teen years are stained with anger and frustration.  I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I felt like my body was out of my control.  I didn’t fit in and was teased constantly.

As a result, the feelings that picture brought up were completely unexpected. I felt regret, but not for the reasons I might have thought. I felt regret because I had been so very hard on myself.

Clutching that picture in my hand, I wished I had been kinder to myself back then. The girl in the photo was not a monster. She was not the massive waste of space she thought she was. She was an awkward, gawky, chubby, normal girl. And she was lovely.

I have two ongoing goals that I would like to work on this semester during my internship with I Will Not Diet. One, I want to encourage women and girls everywhere to be nicer to themselves. The problems we have with our bodies aren’t going to be solved with anger and self-flagellation. I truly believe that when you feel good about yourself, personal health follows. If we can stop beating ourselves up and try to love ourselves, we’ll all feel so much better.

With that in mind, my second goal is to be kinder to myself. I want to be able to love myself no matter what shape my body is. This is obviously easier said than done, but I am committed. I hope that other women and girls will join me as I learn to love what I see in the mirror.

by Lauren Bunch

Travel post #1: Do you see yourself as an ugly duckling or a beautiful swan?


Dave and I are on a road trip right now—traveling from our home in Kentucky to California by way of many great American landmarks including Mount Rushmore, Little Bighorn, Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower, and many more. (If you’re interested, you can follow our progress on our Tumblr blog, Across the Great Divide.)

Since I’ll be away for a few weeks and have limited internet access, I’m going to run a series of short travel posts during this time rather than writing regular-length entries.

Here’s my first travel post, which I’m calling “Do you see yourself as an ugly duckling or a beautiful swan”. . .

 

I had an epiphany pretty quickly after we left home. At the end of the first day, Dave and I stopped in Kansas City, Missouri, to have dinner with my very first best friend, Ruthie. Ruthie and I were BFFs when we were very young—from around the age of three to around the age of eight, give or take a year or two. We were pretty tight, so much so that Ruthie once gave me chicken pox and when she told me she was moving to Kansas City after second grade, I cried for two whole weeks.

Since we were so close, it’s no surprise Ruthie remembered many fun stories about me. But one particular memory of hers made me question how I see myself.

Ruthie reminded me about the time I had appeared in a school play—probably in kindergarten—as the ugly duckling.

I had forgotten about this experience, but as soon as Ruthie mentioned it, the whole thing came back to me: as the ugly duckling I stood at the front of the stage with my back to the audience and wagged my fluffy duck tail at all of them. According to Ruthie, I stole the show, sending the whole audience into laughter—just as any five-year-old shaking her feathered butt at a room full of people would. But, to the audience’s surprise, when I turned around and faced them, I had been transformed into a beautiful swan.

That’s all either one of us recall about the performance, but we both also remember that I had no trouble playing the part and was an extremely confident child.

I’m still confident about almost every aspect of my identity, but on rare occasions I struggle to feel confident about my appearance, something I oddly never worried about when I was a five-year-old ugly duckling.

This makes me wonder: why have I changed so much in the past thirty-seven years and what caused that change? And, almost more importantly, what can I do to get back to that level of confidence? The kind of confidence that allowed me to shake my tail at a room full of people and let everyone call me the ugly duckling?

I wish I could go back to my adolescent self—the time when I probably became less confident—and shake my doubts out of me. But since I can’t do that, I guess I’ll just have to obliterate any remaining insecurities now and focus instead on shaking my fluffy tail.

High on You: A Husky Boy Finds Out He’s Been Living in a Fantasy World. . . a guest post by Alex Poole

Two Huskies (or one Husky and a Malamute)

 

Like many husky boys who were spawned in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about how good life would be if I were thin while listening to cheesy ’80s songs. One of my favorites—and I even feel squeamish mentioning it now—was (and still is) Survivor’s “High on You.” If you are not familiar with this little gem, you should know that it involves a young man declaring that his ecstatic love for a girl is so great that he must be high and delusional. At the time, I didn’t catch that part; I was just thinking about how awesome it would be to have a girlfriend.

But it would be a long time before I finally got a girlfriend, not only because I was in elementary school, but also because I was, to use comedian Jim Norton’s words, a “meaty-breasted zilch.” I was constantly panting and looking for ways to hide my sweaty back and armpits from my classmates so they wouldn’t laugh.

Of course, I couldn’t hide anything, so I was blessed with a daily smorgasbord of insults including—but not limited to—the following: “fat ass,” “fat fuck,” “fat motherfucker,” “fat faggot,” “fat Al”, “fat Albert,” and “fat boy.” In seventh grade sewing class, a quite attractive female classmate asked me if I was gay because I didn’t have a girlfriend, which made the whole class roar. Most humiliating, however, is when some future hippie would lash out at the bullies for hurting my feelings, making me feel like an even bigger loser.

And then there was the physical part. Balls from various sports (e.g. four square, kickball, soccer, basketball, baseball) were thrown at my head, as were the fists of many future jailbirds eager to show me that even though I was big, I was just a “pussy” and a “faggot.” The violence really didn’t start until adolescence, which is when I really started to blow up. In middle school, my body was so sweaty and stretch-marked that I looked as if I had been oil wrestling with Chester Cheetah. Added to this hell was a face that could provide enough grease for all the world’s McDonald’s for a year and a full-body pelt that earned me comparisons to the missing link.

It should be understood that not everything was bad. Many hours of SCTV, The Higgins Boys and Gruber, and The Kids in the Hall made me forget that I was El Porko. And I also liked sports; well, one sport—tennis. I idolized Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors. The action, intensity, and fluidity of the game fascinated me, and surprisingly enough, I was pretty good at it. At the same time I really started to enjoy tennis, I really started to think about girls. However, for five years, I went on playing tennis, overeating, and listening to Survivor, just wishing that girls would look at me.

Right after I turned 15, I decided to lose weight after a routine appointment with my allergist. It was there that I learned that I was 5 ft. 10 in. and quickly approaching 270 pounds. I also noticed that my size 44 jeans were starting to leave a permanent tattoo around my gut and the waist was curling over. In a matter of weeks, I would have probably been sporting a stiff pair of 46-inch Plain Pockets.

In the first seven months, I lost 80 pounds. Within two years, I had lost a little over 110 pounds. I went through various body phases: slender but doughy, ripped, and finally, Stewart Copeland thin.

An odd idol for a teenage boy

 

(Copeland—pictured here—was the drummer from The Police who famously wore bun-hugging shorts that accentuated his flamingo-like legs.)

Of course, reducing the amount of fat I consumed, exercising for an hour every day, and avoiding sweets helped me shave off quite a lot of blubber.

But my self-loathing led me to levels of masochism unimaginable to me now.

During some periods, I would eat a cup of granola and a cup of vanilla ice cream a day; during others, I would eat only cereal with skim milk. Regardless of what it was, there was little of it. Added to this was frenetic exercising consisting of a daily regime of jogging, weight lifting, and tennis, often exceeding sixteen hours a week. If I screwed up and over-ate—i.e. when I ate normally—I would do an extra session and berate myself the whole time.

I imagined that the constant cravings, tinny breath, and stress of maintaining such a rigid daily regime would be worth it. Like the Ugly Ducking, I would suddenly transform into a studly swan, Survivor would start playing, and girls would surround me.

Yet after a few years, I realized that there was no high. No amount of thin could take away my low self-esteem and having washboard abs didn’t make girls fall in my lap. I felt disappointed, but relieved. Losing weight was good for me, and having a healthy weight is certainly better than being overweight. But happiness is so much more complicated than looking good.

To be sure, weight is still something I struggle with, and that will probably never change. I try to watch what I eat, but sometimes I eat too much ice cream. I run about 20 miles a week, but sometimes I miss a day. Instead of ripping myself a new one, I tell myself that I’ll do it tomorrow. And I’ve realized that always focusing on myself is horrendously irritating and draining for those who care about me.

I don’t know how many boys/men have eating disorders, but I sure don’t hear about much them in the media. I realize that this lack of coverage is due to many factors, but to me it seems like there is a still a callousness towards males who grapple with these issues. There are probably more of us than most people would imagine.

 

Happier times reading with my older girl

 

ALEX POOLE (Ph.D.) is an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University, where he also directs the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program.

How to talk to little girls: a cross post by Lisa Bloom

Originally published on ThinkTV and The Huffington Post.

I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”

But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather winAmerica’s Next Top Modelthan the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.

“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”

Most kids do.

“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”

“Wow, amazing!” I said. And it is, for a five-year-old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked.

“I’ll go get it! Can I read it to you?”

Purplicious was Maya’s pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.

I told her that I’d just written a book, and that I hoped she’d write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we’d read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

And let me know the response you get atwww.Twitter.com/lisabloom.

Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

For many more tips on how keep yourself and your daughter smart, check out my new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, www.Think.tv.


LISA BLOOM, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred. A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show. Bloom has written for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal, CNN.com, the Daily Beast, and many more. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm.

 

 

Fat camp champ: why adolescence never leaves us

199 pounds
If you feel like ANY of the things you have ever done to lose weight—or to feel better about your body—are at all messed up, then you have simply got to read Stephanie Klein‘s Moose. I just finished it a few weeks ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read.
It’s definitely one of the most important.
Moose is a memoir about Klein’s experience growing up “fat” and being shipped off to fat camp by her somewhat unsympathetic parents.
I put the word “fat” in quotation marks because, as I mentioned in my “Fat is off the list” post, I don’t think that word is productive, but also because Klein was never really fat.
Chubby, yes. But not fat.
If you don’t believe me, here are some pictures to prove it:
The image on the left shows Klein as a plump teen around the time the book takes place, and the picture on the right is the one that appears on the back of her book: the author as a successful, gorgeous, and obviously thin adult woman.
Though the book doesn’t exactly chronicle how Klein finally kicks the fat habit, it does beautifully narrate her horrific experiences trying to lose weight any way she could while growing up in a world that does not accept people who struggle with weight. Ironically, when Klein goes to fat camp, she is one of the thinnest people there, and as a result, becomes popular and sought-after. As it turns out, even at fat camp, skinny wins.
But what’s so moving about this book is that Klein goes through what we all—fat or not—went through when we were young: feeling unattractive, struggling to fit in, and just wanting to be normal.
Sadly, Klein’s parents offer little understanding of her situation. At one point, the whole family goes to a “pay what you weigh” dinner, and when Klein refuses to get on the scale, rather than empathize, they tell her that the whole world is prejudiced against fat people and that she’ll be much happier if she loses weight.
Ouch.
It’s to Klein’s credit that she doesn’t shy away from painting her mother and father as imperfect—if ultimately loving—parents.
As a result, it’s hard not to be completely moved by how challenging it is for Klein to experience adolescence with an extra thirty pounds to lug around and parents who are pushing her to eat lighter fare while scooping out the scalloped potatoes for themselves. And this is why you can’t help but walk away from the book with a better understanding of the fact that your own adolescence—no matter how awkward—wasn’t that bad by comparison. This is because when young Stephanie suffers from the taunts of her peers or—worse yet—her parents and teachers (one of whom insists she admit she’s “gorda”—or fat—in Spanish class), so do you, and the book is obviously better for it.
This is a must-read for any woman who has ever struggled with weight or body issues.
In other words, it’s a must-read for all of us.
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