Archive for April 26, 2009

The Apple Store and the Art of Self-Loathing

No matter how much I preach the idea that we should all feel beautiful and accept our bodies the way we are, there are always days when that’s not possible. Days when we feel not very beautiful or, worse yet, not attractive at all. I had one of those days today, and to be honest, it really makes me sick. I’m hoping that by telling you about it, I might be able to purge some of those feelings of disgust.

We went to Nashville today because my computer has been acting up, and the closest Apple store is located there, in the Music City. I have used an Apple computer all of my life, but for some reason, whenever I step foot in that store, I feel more self-conscious than normal. I know that may sound strange—most people probably feel self-conscious in a hip boutique or in front of the dressing room mirror, and I do that too. But the Apple store is just so darned cool! A fact best demonstrated by the long-running advertising campaign that features adorable Justin Long as the sexy Mac and nerdy John Hodgeman as the loser P.C. (both shown above). There is even a new commercial in which a young women laments that “maybe [she’s] not cool enough for a Mac.” And even though I have been an Apple fan from day one—back in 1984 my first computer was an Apple 2E—every time I see that commercial, I think to myself that I know exactly how she feels. For some reason, when I walk through those double glass doors at the front of the bright white Apple retail store, I feel like I’m fifteen again—awkward, nerdy, ugly, and not nearly as shiny as all of those amazing computers. Yes, I said it. Ugly. In fact, I felt so ugly today that before I went back to pick up my repaired computer later in the afternoon, I retrieved my husband from the bookstore (where he spends nearly all of his time when we go to the mall) so that I could return with a man on my arm. I’m embarrassed to admit that I would do anything so clichéd, but it’s true.

Probably the worst part of the whole experience was when I confessed all of this to him. Aren’t I supposed to be the girl who wants everyone to feel good about themselves? The girl who doesn’t want other women to focus on their flaws? But there I was, doing just that. In fact, not only was I focusing on my flaws. I was focusing on my body. I was wearing yoga pants and a fun t-shirt with sneakers, and to be honest, I don’t usually go out in public like that very often. At least not to places as cool as the Apple store. Normally when I go somewhere that hip, I do so armed with three-inch heels and a killer bag. But there I was in the Green Hills Apple store wearing the cool girl’s equivalent of stretchy pants and carrying a beat-up laptop bag. I loathed myself.

After we left, my husband and I talked about the experience, considering the different reasons why my confidence level had plummeted so low. Sure, I wasn’t dressed as well as usual in an environment that I see as the epitome of trendy, and I was wearing clothes that made me feel way more dumpy than normal. But it was more than that. What we finally figured out is that I was also uncomfortable because I feel like I don’t know very much about computers. In truth, I’m more insecure about my knowledge of computers than I am about my cellulite. And, of course, as a college professor, I am not very used to being behind the learning curve—in fact, I’m used to being the “expert” in the room. And so maybe that’s why walking up to the “Genius Bar” makes my confidence nose-dive. As it turned out, it was the computers that set first me off, not my body. And once I’d started down the path of obsessing about my shortcomings with computers, it wasn’t a long walk to the place where I give into loathing my body.

The reason I tell this story is, of course, to share with you that I too can give into my worst tendencies, but also, more importantly, to point out the fact that sometimes our negative feelings about our bodies have nothing to do with our bodies, sometimes their origins have more to do with other deeply hidden insecurities. And I hope that knowing this will help us all recognize this when it inevitably happens again. All the better to fight it with, right?

For an updated on this story, read “Conquering the Apple Store.”

The non-dieters win one for a change!

There’s an article online today about Kelly Osbourne feeling good after her latest stint in rehab (see part of the article below). What’s notable isn’t the rehab but that Osbourne says she refuses to let it bother her anymore when the press criticizes her weight. Amen, sister. She also says she doesn’t want to lose weight (or give up food or take drugs to do it) and that her body is normal. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kelly Osbourne. You are absolutely right. Your body is normal, and the only reason anyone has ever implied otherwise is because of the ridiculous standards that we hold women to our in society. Humans come in all different beautiful shapes and sizes, and I am thrilled that Osbourne—at the tender of age of 24, mind you—gets this.

Chalk this one up to the good guys.

Here is the post!

Interestingly, though, Osbourne told Access Hollywood that one thing she’s determined to not let bother her anymore is criticism about her weight. “I’m normal and it hurts 10 times more because I can’t numb it. You know you read it and… I’ve never tried to be that kind of girl. The last thing I want to do right now is open up a magazine and read about how fat I am,” she said. “I could be really skinny. I really could, but I don’t want to be really skinny and I like food and I don’t want to be on drugs.”

Of course, having grown up Osbourne, simply surviving in any shape or form–physically or mentally–is probably more of an achievement than Kelly gives herself credit for. Hopefully, that was pointed out to her during her latest turn in rehab. In any event, coming as it does at the end of a week filled with buzz over the Susan Boyles of the world and judgments based solely on appearances, daring to not be skinny doesn’t sound like too bad a thing to do; right now, or ever.

What is a diet?

A few people have asked me how I can lose weight without dieting.  I suppose the first thing I should do in order to answer this question is explain what the word “diet” means to me. From my way of thinking, a diet is, first and foremost, something you do temporarily. Unlike a permanent lifestyle change, a diet has a definite beginning and a definite end. . .

• Before the diet, you eat as much as you can because you know you’re about to start the grueling process of protracted self-denial.
Come to think of it, a diet is not that different from the Christian celebration of Lent: people decide to give up something they love for a set period of time, and because they know they’ll be depriving themselves of a cherished food or activity for an extended period, they gorge themselves on it before the fast begins.
• During the diet, you deny yourself food in order to reduce your daily caloric intake. There are several problems with this, and one of them is that people often deny themselves healthy foods if they are too high-calorie or not part of the prescribed plan.

I’ll never forget watching my mother-in-law do this once when she was enrolled in Weight Watchers: she took out a banana, cut it in two, and ate only half of the measly thing. When I asked her why she didn’t eat the whole banana, she said that it was “too many points.” Too many points?! A banana?! For God’s sake, it’s a piece of fruit!!! I firmly believe that there should be NO limit on the amount of fruits and vegetables people allow themselves to eat, and any “diet” that tells you to cut back on them is, by definition, unhealthy.

And, finally. . .
• After the diet is done, you exact revenge: you are so angry about denying yourself food for so long that you go on an uncontrolled gluttonous rampage through every refrigerator, restaurant, and snack aisle within one hundred square miles.
That was me after our wedding day (and the only diet of my life). I still remember the gloriously decadent food we ate on our honeymoon, and after we got back, I think I spent the next six months subsisting solely on a disastrous cocktail of soda, chips, and dip. (Okay, this is an exaggeration, but you get the idea.) And if you’ve read the rest of my blog, you already know that my vengeance caused the single worst weight gain of my life: I picked up thirty-three pounds in six months.
So I guess it must be pretty obvious by now why I’m opposed to diets.
More soon on how I can lose weight without dieting.

Give Blood, Lose Weight*

I gave blood at the campus blood drive this morning.  Whenever I give blood, I revel in the fact that not only am I about to give up a pint of blood (which equals a full pound on the scale—especially appreciated since my weight went up on the scale today, a normal fluctuation I know but no fun either), but also that I am advised to eat and rest after I donate.  As it says on the Red Cross website, the number one reason to donate is because you “get free juice and cookies.” Free juice and cookies?!  Yeah!!!  And then there’s the fact that I’m doing something to help people.  I get to eat, rest, feel good about myself, and drop a pound without even trying?!  Could anything in life be better????  It also doesn’t hurt that giving blood is good for me because it forces my body to rejuvenate new plasma and blood cells, which function even more effectively than the old stuff.

Still, giving blood can be a hassle, and anyone who has done it at one of these big blood drives knows that it requires a LOT of waiting—waiting to sign in, waiting to have your vitals checked, and then waiting to actually have your blood drawn.  It was while I was waiting to have my vitals checked that something noteworthy happened.

I was sitting quietly, trying to grade one last essay for my afternoon classes while the students on both sides of me gabbed on their cell phones and watched The Dark Knight on the flat screen television put on display to pass the time more quickly (shouldn’t they be using that time to study?) when a Red Cross employee came to the waiting area and asked if anyone would be willing to make a more significant donation.  She explained that this would take a bit longer but would also count as a double donation.  Since the blood drive is a part of Greek Week—when the Greek fraternities and sororities compete at different activities, including seeing who can give the most blood—everyone perked up when she mentioned this. But then she added that men had to weigh 150 pounds to do this and women had to be 175 pounds. 175 pounds!  On a college campus, admitting that you weigh 175 pounds is like admitting you have leprosy.  It just isn’t done unless you want to commit social suicide.  Almost right away, three young men stepped up to the Red Cross employee and volunteered, but not one of the dozen or so young women who were waiting volunteered.  I glanced around the space and noticed that two or three of them might have been around 175 pounds.  None of these women looked overweight to me (and all of them were smaller than me), but they definitely fit my definition of curvy.  Even though the Red Cross employee repeated that she needed more volunteers several times, none of the young women who were waiting stepped up or even glanced in her direction.  It was as if they didn’t even hear her. And again I was reminded how much we are told that these numbers—the numbers on the scale, the numbers on the BMI chart, the numbers on our clothing—control us, how much they affect our self-worth.  I wanted to stand up and tell these young women not to be ashamed of their weight or their bodies.  I wanted to tell them that they were young and beautiful and that the only way they would ever be truly happy is if they could be proud of the way they looked rather than ashamed.  But I didn’t do any of that. Not because I felt uncomfortable doing so but because I knew that drawing attention to their bodies would only embarrass them further. Instead I went back to my grading and despaired yet again over the fact that we live in a society that teaches our young women to be so ashamed of who they are.

To find out more about giving blood or schedule an appointment, visit https://www.givelife.org.

*In no way am I saying that people should give blood in order to lose weight; I was simply trying to come up with a catchy title for this blog entry.

It’s Now or Never

It has been two full weeks since my last blog post. (Thankfully I’ve lost two pounds in those two weeks—I barely did it, and I’m still a pound behind my goal of a pound a week, but hopefully I’ll catch up soon. More on how I lost the two pounds in my next post.) I guess the reason I haven’t posted in two weeks is because I just wasn’t sure whether I should go ahead with this thing or not.  After asking a few of my closest friends for their opinion on the blog, I suddenly became aware that putting all of this personal information about myself on the internet could easily invite advice, criticism, or—even worse—unadulterated judgment from others. So I paused for a bit to consider the consequences. And after doing that for two weeks, I’m still not sure if documenting my weight loss on the internet is a good idea or not. But something happened today that changed my mind . . . today I lost a friend.

My friend Tim Van Hooser died of a sudden heart attack early this afternoon. He was only 52—from my point of view, that’s too young to die.  I worked with Tim at St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, for two years, and I can honestly say that I felt like he was a friend the minute I met him.  When one of my former students found out that Tim died this afternoon, she immediately said that she loved him, and I replied by adding that we all loved him. But saying that you love someone, that everyone loved someone, doesn’t really capture a person’s essence, so let me try to do that with  a story about my first encounter with Tim.

I met Tim about three years ago. He lived in Maxton, North Carolina, which is a small rural town not far from the just slightly bigger town of Laurinburg, where St. Andrews is located. Because Maxton is surrounded by acres of cotton and tobacco farmland on all sides, it wasn’t a huge surprise to Tim when a sickly-looking puppy, a Pointer, from a nearby farm made her way to his doorstep.  No one was taking care of the pup, and after seeing her wandering the streets more than once, Tim decided to give her a name—Maggy—and find her a home. This was when our paths first crossed.

My husband and I were considering becoming dog owners at the time, but we were hesitant and nervous about the commitment a pet can require. We both had full-time jobs at the college and wouldn’t have time to train a puppy. Tim promised that if it didn’t work out, he would give Maggy a home himself even though he already had two big dogs in his backyard to care for on his own. If you know anything about pets (or kids), you probably know that my husband and I didn’t make it very long with the puppy. There just wasn’t time. She wasn’t as well trained as we had hoped, and after running through the fields of Maxton for the first six months of her life, it seemed criminal to keep such an energetic dog inside all day while we worked (and we knew that Tim had the big fenced-in backyard that our house lacked). And when we admitted that it wasn’t working out, Tim—true to his word—took Maggy in without question. He never hesitated. He never expressed disappointment in us. He simply did the right thing. He was one of the most warm and giving people I have ever met, and he’ll be missed by humans and dogs alike.

I only found out Tim died a few hours ago, but it didn’t take long for me to start feeling contemplative and want to write about losing him.  Ironically, when I posted the news on Facebook an hour ago, I had no words and had to rely on some lines from W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” to convey my sense of loss:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come…

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Since Tim was both a dog lover and a piano player as well as being the kind of person who seemed to bring the sun with him everywhere he went, this poem seemed fitting.

To be completely honest, I have lost too many friends this past year. I suppose that’s simply a part of getting older. And it seems that—like everyone else—when I lose someone I can’t help but feel that life is too short to worry about what others think. It’s definitely too short to worry about people I’ll probably never meet criticizing me or my blog.

So I guess what this means is that I’m ready to give this thing a fair shake. I’m sorry for the lapse, and I’ll try to write as often as I can from here on out.
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Why am I doing this? (A Manifesto)

April 5, 2009 No comments

On this, the occasion of my 39th birthday, I’ve decided to come clean about my weight. Until now, no one—not even my husband—has known how much I weigh. That’s one of the reasons I’ve started this blog: I don’t think that we should be ashamed of a number on a scale because I truly don’t believe it has to have anything to do with how good we look, nor do I believe it has to negatively affect how we feel about ourselves. And to be perfectly honest, I still think I look good—no matter how much I weigh. I refuse, simply refuse, to believe that being curvy means I am unattractive. (And I believe that prescribing to the idea that curvy=fat is one of the reasons so many Americans struggle with their weight: people who can never be as skinny as Cameron Diaz figure that they might as well just give up and eat, eat, eat.) Do I need to lose weight in order to be healthier? Yes. Do I need to lose weight to look good or feel good about myself? Not on your life. And that’s the second reason I’ve started this blog . . . I want more people to believe what I believe: that you don’t have to be rail-thin to look beautiful. 

I was at a dinner party a few years ago, and one of our good friends was GOING OFF on a guy we know who had just topped 200 pounds, which said friend thought was outrageous. It had been several years since I had originally weighed that much, but I was still mortified. Mortified and angry. Sure, some men might be vastly overweight at 200 pounds, but others—especially athletic men—might be in the best shape of their lives at that weight. And what bothered me most was that it was just the number that set our friend off.  Why are we all so obsessed with numbers? Even the BMI numbers are confusing. My husband has been in great shape all of his life and works out all the time, but he has a BMI of 25, which is just on the high side of healthy. Does that mean he should lose weight? I don’t know how he could. Sure, maybe he could lose five pounds, but he’d have to basically starve himself to do it. But when people see his number on the BMI chart, they automatically want to put him on a diet.

And that brings me to my third reason for this blog: I have long believed that dieting is truly bad for us and, therefore, refuse to do it.We all know that when we diet, we teach our bodies to get by on less, and then when we go back to normal, inevitably the weight comes back. I have only gone on one diet in my life because, just like everyone else, I wanted to look good on our wedding day. I was 180 pounds when I started the diet and lost thirteen pounds over eight agonizing months, bringing me down to a lean 167 (woohoo!). But it was like torture, and after we were married, I decided to try the whole listen-to-your-body approach and not weigh myself. What followed was the single worst weight gain of my life. I gained thirty-three pounds in six months. Thirty-three pounds! That makes my most recent eight pounds look like pocket change. And at that point, I swore I would never go on a diet again.

You might be thinking, how can you lose weight if you don’t diet? But I know it can be done. I managed to lose twenty-five of those thirty-three pounds over the next five years. Sure, it was slow, but I enjoyed the exercise and healthy eating that was required to do it. I didn’t stop eating or living as I had during my pre-wedding diet. I just learned to splurge in moderation. And, more importantly, the weight stayed off. I couldn’t have been more proud of the fact that, for over eight years, the scale had either gone down or stayed the same.  That is, until the last eighteen months . . . which is a story for another day.
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