Archive for Childhood

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.

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?”

Pizza for everyone! Served with a side of stupid!
Congress declares pizza a vegetable

Recently the United States House of Representatives declared that pizza—that pie-shaped piece of bread made with white flour and topped with tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese—could be considered a vegetable in school cafeterias.

Since schools have to provide students with a certain amount of vegetables a day, this means that pizza will count as one of them.

We all know we have an obesity problem in this country.

We also know that children are the most vulnerable to obesity: “Nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese and the numbers are growing.”** It’s also true that kids today are dealing with more cases of adult onset diabetes, cardiac problems, and strokes.* (For more on this issue, read my three-part series on chidhood obesity: “Don’t be an enabler,” “Letting Go,” and “Rethinking baby fat.”)

And this isn’t just because kids don’t exercise as much as they used to or because they eat more than they have in the past. It’s also a problem because of chemicals. In fact, “In 2005 scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. And last January scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels.”°

The natural response to this problem would be that we become vigilant in our efforts to help children be healthy. But rather than do that, the United States House of Representatives, arguably one of the most powerful governing bodies in the world, has declared pizza a vegetable. Pizza. Which has around 300 calories, 670 mg of sodium, 4 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of satured fat a slice.

In the 2006 futuristic movie Idiocracy, Luke Wilson’s character travels to a future where people are so idiotic that they try to water their plants with a Gatorade-type drink called Brawndo and then wonder why their plants aren’t growing. This happens because Brawndo is a huge corporation that controls government decision-making through donations and lobbying. (Pictured above is the FDA Food Pyramid from the movie—with four parts Brawndo, one part Starbucks, one part Grease, and one part Cigarettes/Caffeine/convenience.)

Pizza was declared a vegetable last week because the fast food lobby American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) argued that they could not make food with more healthy ingredients palatable to school children. **

So what I want to know is this: does this mean we are now living in the land of idiots?

 

 

*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/pizza-vegetable_b_1114027.html?ref=mostpopular

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/pizza-vegetable_b_1114027.html?ref=mostpopular

° http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/10/born-to-be-big.html

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.

 

 

Better late than never

198 pounds

I’ve been playing tennis on Tuesday nights here in Bowling Green for a while now, and this past Tuesday I met the most adorable little eight-year-old whom I’ll call India.

As fate would have it, I injured my arm while playing tennis this week and, as a result, had to forfeit my match and was sent back to the minor leagues, also known as the drill court. That’s where I came across India. Her mother was playing on the drill court too, and India was sitting on the sidelines watching and running around like a young woman on a mission.

Whenever any of us got a break, India would run right up to us and start talking and asking a myriad of questions. She grilled any and all of us about things as varied as the rules of tennis to the heat index (which was 101 on Tuesday). And, in that way, she kind of reminded me of that hysterical little kid from Jerry Maguire (pictured above).

During one of my breaks, I asked India if we had met before because she seemed so familiar, and she reminded me that she had been the one attacking me with questions the first week of our tennis league earlier in the spring.

Suddenly, it came back to me. This was the precocious little kid had come up to me and said, “Hi, my name is India” as if everyone on the planet should know who she was. I took an immediate liking to her. Who doesn’t love a confident, outgoing kid?

And this Tuesday was no exception—she was still full of questions about life, tennis, and everything else.

So when I was on my way home from tennis that night, I thought about how India is the kind of kid who has enough energy, confidence, and intelligence to become an extraordinary adult and to do anything.

And then it hit me.

That’s what I was like as a kid.

I was constantly butting into adult conversations, completely unaware of the fact that I was supposed to be playing with my toys or hanging out with kids my own age rather than offering opinions on grown-up issues. And there were many adults who noticed that about me—friends, family members, even teachers. It wasn’t unusual for someone to comment on my maturity and intelligence. In fact, people did it all the time. And they were always telling me I could do anything, which is exactly what I thought about India.

But here’s the sad part.

I didn’t buy it.

In fact, I’m sorry to say that it took me years—maybe thirty?—to realize that I could do anything I wanted.

And the reason I didn’t buy it is even worse.

I didn’t buy it because I didn’t see myself as attractive. I truly believed that the people who made it, the people who succeeded, were all good-looking. And I never really saw myself as good-looking, at least not until the past few years.

So why did I make this equation between looks and success?

I think we all know the answer to that. We spend so much time worshipping beautiful people in our society and worrying about what we look like ourselves that it’s easy to equate beauty with value (and this is especially true when we’re young). And from there it’s not hard to think that if we’re not beautiful, we have no value.

I’m of course glad that I finally figured out how wrong an equation that is, but I do wish I had figured it out years earlier.

I suppose all I can do now is comfort myself with the though that it’s never too late.

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.

Do or do not. There is no try.

191 pounds

I was talking with some co-workers at lunch today about what kind of sports and physical activities we were involved in as children.

The fittest person in our group, a man who might not have a single ounce of body fat on his extremely lean build, confessed to us that he had been overweight as a child and only passed gym class because his P.E. teacher took pity on him.
This from a man who now works out every single day and wanted to walk the two-mile roundtrip to lunch even though the hill we work on top of is so steep that our college’s sports teams is actually called the “Hilltoppers.”
It was definitely a surprise to hear about his heavier past, but when I thought about it, I had to admit that he’s not the first person I’ve known who was overweight as a child and then decided as an adult that they no longer wanst to be bigger than everybody else. Some of them, like my co-worker, even go so far as to decide that they want to have a nearly perfect physique.
So what I want to know is, what makes this work for them? How do they do it??
Because when I decide I want to have a perfect physique—which I admit I sometimes do in my weakest moments—nothing really changes. Yes, I keep improving my health and losing small amounts of weight, but why is it that when I wake up on an unusually bad day and decide I want to be 150 pounds, it doesn’t happen? Do these people have some special powers I don’t have? If you’re overweight as a kid, do you get a pass on being that way when you’re older?
For God’s sake, what is their secret?!!

These Kids Today

190 pounds

Like almost everyone on the planet, I’m spending the holidays with family. Dave and I always come to Florida in December to see my parents, and this year—for the first time ever—my sister and her family are here too.
My sister has two girls, and I absolutely adore both of them, which means I’m thrilled to get some time with them over the holidays.
But sometimes I worry about them.
Today we took my two nieces out for the day, and at one point, my older niece pointed to my middle and said, “You have a big stomach.”
I tried to explain that my “big stomach” was a result of my recent surgery, but she was having none of it.
“You look like you’re pregnant,” she said with a small laugh.
Though many women with fibroids do look pregnant, I really don’t, but I do look bloated, and as the daughter of two of the fittest people I know, I could understand why she might make that mistake. So I tried to explain.
The girls already knew that I had my uterus—or as they call it, my “baby holder”—taken out, so I went from there: “I look pregnant because my uterus used to have a whole bunch of tumors in it that stretched my stomach out the same way it would if I had a baby.”
“Oh,” my niece said. “Okay.”
And just to clarify, I added: “It’ll probably go back to normal by next summer.”
You might be thinking that it was unnecessary for me to go into so much detail with my nine-year-old niece, but I saw this as a “teachable” moment (as much as I hate that overused term): I wanted them to understand that a big tummy does not necessarily have anything to do with being overweight or being unattractive and that they shouldn’t assume it does.
And I was glad that I used that moment when I had it because it was only a few hours later when my niece told me that I look twenty years older than my thirty-six-year-old sister (her mother) because I am bigger than she is.
The old me would have been gutted by this comment, but it honestly didn’t hurt my feelings. Still, it did bother me on a soci0political level, especially since I know she was also thinking that my sister is also prettier because she’s smaller.
Since we were sitting with the whole family when she said it, I decided to discuss the issue with her more later and simply told my niece that size has nothing to do with age. But tomorrow I fully intend to talk to her about her implied connection between size and beauty.
Again, you may think that I should keep my mouth shut or just let it go as kid talk, but I fully believe that if we don’t teach the young women in our lives—be they daughters, granddaughters, or nieces—to expand their notion of what kind of women are attractive, then we’ll still be talking about these same issues twenty years from now.
No, my niece will never have to worry about her own body image—her genes guarantee that—but she will affect how other women see themselves, and I refuse to sit by and let her continue to go through life with such a narrow definition of beauty.

Wild things and the cruelty of children

194 pounds

I saw Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of Maurcie Sendak’s beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, this weekend, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe because the film is primarily about something we’ve all been through—childhood and the challenges that come with it.

And the main idea—that children are “wild things” that sometimes need to be let loose inside their own emotional and intellectual universe—is one that resonates with me on many levels. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think it’s crucial that we all let ourselves go a little crazy sometimes—whether it be how we act or what we eat. And this film—as well as Sendak’s original—seems to agree with this point.

***WARNING: THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS***

But on another level, in a much more subtle way, the film broaches the issue of childhood cruelty, especially adolescent cruelty, when it shows the friends of Max’s older sister mocking Max and eventually crushing him inside his homemade igloo, making them a different, more malevolent kind of “wild thing.” This moment happened early in the film, and it was flat out terrifying: both in the sense that I worried for Max’s safety—Would he be able to breathe? Would he get out alive?—and because I was appalled by the older kids’ lack of concern for him as he crawled out from under the snow and ice and eventually stood next to his destroyed igloo in tears. It was this moment that took me back to the ugly part of childhood—the times when it seemed that no one cared about anyone else’s feelings or well being. Ultimately when Max arrives on his island, the Wild Things of his imagination want him to create a world where there is no unhappiness, no loneliness, so that they won’t have the desire to hurt each other, and we intuitively understand that this is what Max wants, what we all want: an exile from sadness, both in childhood and in life.

***SPOILERS END HERE***

This may seem like a strange post for a blog about not dieting, but from my point of view it’s directly related to the topic at hand. For, as much as I hate to admit it, I believe many of our ideas about our bodies are formed during childhood, shaped by the wild and cruel behavior we encounter as kids on a day-to-day basis.

For instance, I remember hearing people make fun of one girl for having cellulite in fifth grade. Let me repeat that—in fifth grade! I also remember being told I had thunder thighs before I was even a teenager. And I remember sharing a common understanding that if a another girl in our class would just lose some weight, she would be the prettiest one in our school. What’s even more frightening is that I was on a diet from the time I was eleven until I was twenty, always trying to lose weight, to be more thin, which I equated with being more attractive. And I know nothing has changed today because two of my nieces—ages 10 and 14 and about as big as my earlobe—talk all the time about how “fat” they are and how much they need to lose weight.

Why are kids cruel? It’s hard to say. I certainly can’t imagine an adult hanging out at a party and making fun of someone’s cellulite. If that happened, we would all think that the person was insanely superficial and pretty juvenile, not to mention a weirdo.

Sometimes I think kids are cruel because they feel so vulnerable and so not in control. I mean, how would you feel if someone took away your ability to decide what you did every day? If people told you when you had to get up and go to school, when you had to go to sleep, when you had to eat, even what time to play? I think if I didn’t feel like I had some control over my day-to-day life I would probably start losing my mind, and it wouldn’t take very long for me to start lashing out at those around me. Of course, it’s also clear that kids—like the Wild Things in the movie—are mean to each other as a defense mechanism: if they hurt someone else first, they’re less likely to be hurt themselves.

Unfortunately, there’s probably nothing we can do to make our children feel more in control of their own lives—nothing short of home schooling them, which isn’t possible for most parents.

But what we can do is combat the negative lessons they learn from their peers by challenging those comments—when we hear them ourselves and when our kids repeat them back to us. We can also show them that beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes by reading magazines and watching movies and television that feature real-sized women (and appreciating those women). And most importantly—and this is big, people! it’s possibly the thing I care most about on this blog—we can show them with our behavior by not giving into the temptation to constantly criticize and feel bad about our own bodies, by reveling in our curves rather than always trying to erase and hide them.

Because, I mean, honestly, isn’t it the least we can do?

In the film, Carol, the Wild Thing Max is closest to, tells Max that as king of the island he can do whatever he wants because it’s his world, and I would argue the same is true for us. It’s our world—we control what it is and what it becomes. And if we do, maybe we’ll be more like Max, “a truly great king.”

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