Archive for December 31, 2010

The glass should always be half-full

One year ago today, I gave up making New Year’s resolutions because I realized how unhappy they had made me over the years—and how unattainable some of my resolutions were. The truth is that resolutions make us focus on what we don’t like about ourselves when we should be focusing on what we DO like.

In that vein, here are my 2011 non-resolutions (in other words, the things I appreciate about myself this year). . .

1) I’m proud that, despite a hellish work schedule, I exercised at least five times a week this year.

2) I’m glad that my weight hasn’t gone up but instead has stayed basically the same. (In case you don’t know, I weigh 196 glorious pounds.)

3) I’m relieved that I did not have any major injuries or physical setbacks this year.

4) I’m happy that I have a closet full of clothes that make me feel good about the way I look right now.

5) And finally I’m thrilled that I still feel attractive even though I weigh more than most people think an attractive person should weigh.

That’s it for me—what about all of you?

What are your non-resolutions??? I challenge you to make at least one.

Counting down

Since New Year’s Eve is only a few hours away, I’m going to hold off giving you my non-resolutions until then. Don’t forget to write yours, and see you all tomorrow!

Where have you gone, Molly Ringwald?

I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful holiday. As for me, I took a few days off, which is why I didn’t post anything new last Thursday. It’s the first time I’ve taken more than one day off in a few years, so it was incredibly relaxing, so relaxing that it feels odd to get back to work.

But the new year is approaching fast, which means I’ve got to start working on appreciating what I have accomplished this year and getting back to my regular schedule.

The good news is that part of relaxing means watching more movies, and tonight I was lucky enough to find my way to a television broadcast of Sixteen Candles, the John Hughes high school classic.

Sixteen Candles was released in 1984, the year I started high school, so I have always felt a kinship with Samantha Baker, the main character who is masterfully played by Molly Ringwald with a heavy dose of teenage angst and longing.

I suppose another reason I connected with Samantha is because she seems so normal—she’s cute but not perfect looking, attractive but not head-turner hot. She’s just a regular girl—like the rest of us—and that’s what makes her both likeable and relatable.

But as we were watching Samantha moon over senior hearthrob Jake Ryan tonight, Dave turned to me and said, “Would Molly Ringwald get this part today?”

He didn’t have to explain because I knew exactly what he meant. Molly Ringwald was/is a regular girl, a girl who has perfect skin and big teeth, adorable freckles and a wide forehead, a button nose and a flat chest. And it is these contradictions that make her so beautiful.

But anymore we don’t see young women like Ringwald in film or television. We don’t see young women who look beautiful but still real and, more importantly, flawed. No, instead we get only young women who have perfectly straight capped teeth, flat-ironed artificially extended hair, plump collagen lips, flawless and perfectly powdered skin, and a facsimile of Ringwald’s button nose.

And that’s why I had no choice but to say no when Dave asked me that question.

No, as much as I hate to admit it, the young Ringwald would never be cast to star in a movie about teenagers today. (I’m not even sure that her male equivalent would be cast in his role either.) And what that means for our society is that teenage girls today are taught that there is only one way to look and one way to be: perfect.

I can’t help but wonder what that will do to their self-esteem in the long run. I know that it can’t be good, and I’m saddened to realize that though the Hughes’ movies gave my generation an opportunity to watch characters with which they had things in common, this opportunity doesn’t exist for kids today. Instead, when young people go to a movie or turn on the TV today, they almost always only see people they will likely never be.

Of ballerinas and ball players

We went to see James L. Brooks’ new film, How Do You Know?, the other night, and I have to say we really enjoyed it. So many “romantic comedies” have become ridiculously bad that it’s nice to watch a movie about real people in real relationships for a change, and I appreciate Brooks for giving us that yet again. (If you don’t know, he also made Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, and Spanglish.)

But, as much as I fear I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I have to say that I simply could not believe Reese Witherspoon’s body. Honestly, she looked like a little girl, a fact made all the more apparent by her character’s jockish wardrobe—she plays a softball player and spends some of the movie in little girl shorts, sandals, and t-shirt.

Her legs were so thin that they looked more like the legs of a ten-year-old than a thirty-something woman, and I found myself thinking back to supermodel Crystal Renn’s admission that the goal for models is to have such skinny legs that there is a triangular space between them right below the . . . well, right below the triangle. And that’s how Witherspoon’s legs looked to me—too skinny to touch each other.

I wouldn’t be so upset about Witherspoon’s non-body if there were some other movie on the horizon that made me feel better about how women’s bodies are being depicted in the current crop of holiday movies, but next up on our list is Black Swan, a film about two nearly anorexic ballerinas starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Needless to say, they both look skeletal and malnourished.

This is a far cry from last December when I wrote about Vera Farmiga’s wonderful depiction of a real-sized woman in Up in the Air, and I worry that we’re taking steps backward rather than forward.

I have been a movie lover all my life. Though I was a voracious reader as a child, it was really my love of film that made me want to be a writer. But when I continue to see Hollywood requiring its female actors to look like underweight girl-women, it makes me want to give up movie watching for good.

Real Beauty

“I think if you believe you are beautiful, you will appear beautiful to the world.”

—Brenda (pictured above)
An amazing student turned me on to this award-winning portrait series by photographer Jodi Bieber called “Real Beauty.”

When describing her work on this series, Bieber says, “I felt a strong need to create a body of work that goes against what the media has depicted as beautiful. Even within a complex society such as South Africa, across all communities, women hold unneccesary perceptions of self doubt around themselves and their beauty from an early age.. The work deals with reality but also touches on fantasy. The common ground for my work is both myself and the women I photograph wanted to make a stand for Real Beauty.”

To see the rest of Bieber’s stunning “Real Beauty” portrait series, click here.

Words to live by

The December of issue of Glamour magazine featured an article called “The Secret to Good Health . . . in 100 Words or Less,” and there were so many good pieces of advice that I had to share a few:

Don’t try to mold yourself into something you’re not. Stop trying to attain this unnatural state where you’re skinny and plucked and shaved and waxed and Botoxed and have no hips—it’s stressfull for your body and mind, and it’s not going to make you happy either. Believe me! I see it all the time these days: Women like that come to my office because none of it is feeding their soul.”

—Dr. Julie Holland, a NYC psychiatrist and author of Weekends at Bellevue

“I tell this to my patients and my friends: Your money is much better spent on good food than on a super-expensive face cream.”

—Dr. Ellen S. Marnur or Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York

“Eat fewer packaged foods. I see many young women who are all about he grab-and-go. I get the appeal—we’re all busy! But you don’t want to go home every night to another frozen dinner. Many processed foods are loaded with salt, preservatives, sugar, and unhealthy fat. And it doesn’t take longer to make a healthier DIY version. Find recipes online or take a cooking class. Then buy and eat the fresh stuff: fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean protein. After that, if half a bag of M&Ms falls into the mix, so what? Enjoy food: don’t revile it!”

—Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston

“Know that everything improves when you work out—stress, sex, your skin, even how well you sleep. I’ve never regretted a workout, but I’ve regretted skipping plenty.”

—Wendy Naugle, Glamour executive editor

As I said, words to live by.

Kudos to Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum

As I’ve mentioned before, specifically in my “Holy hypocrisy” post, women in Hollywood are held to totally different standards than men. We require female celebrities to look buff and perfect well into their sixties—have you seen that new Boniva commercial with 64-year-old Sally Field lifting weights like a thirty-year-old?—but their male counterparts are allowed to age naturally and still get work, as best demonstrated by the recent resurgence of an undeniably overweight Alec Baldwin.

We can do our best to fight this problem by talking about it and “voting with our dollars,” by spending money on movies, books, and music that feature regular-looking women. But, at some point, it’s up to the media to change what we demand of women.

And that’s why I was so glad to read film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum’s recent article about Nicole Kidman’s face in Entertainment Weekly.

Yes, I said Nicole Kidman’s face.

Because her face is such a source of controversy that Schwarzbaum felt like she had to write an entire article defending it. As Schwarzbaum says, “A constant awareness of Kidman’s visage . . . has, after all, become an unavoidable topic of conversation.”

Unfortunately, that visage has gotten to be a more important topic than Kidman’s skills as an actress. It’s impossible for one of her movies to come out and not hear about the lack of emotion in her face. “The cosmetic alterations Kidman seems to have chosen,” Schwarzbaum explains, “have for years become uncomfortably entwined with the assessment of her talents.”

Thankfully, Schwarzbaum also insists it’s time to change the conversation.

“Anyhow, enough, okay?” she insists. “Let’s talk about something else.”

I couldn’t agree more. How does it help the rest of us feel good about ourselves if we are constantly attacking women like Kidman?

Yes, I know that plastic surgery is a BIG part of the problem—after all, how can we ever be happy with the way we look when all of the women in the media are botoxed and stitched to within an inch of their lives?

But I also agree with Schwarzbaum that it isn’t doing us any good to constantly criticize Kidman’s ageless face. As she asserts, “any woman knows what it feels like to work with or against her own aging process in a culture addicted to exaggerated characteristics of youthful female sexuality.”

And isn’t that the truth?

Isn’t it true that we know exactly what it’s like to live in a society that wants us all to have perky breasts, sculpted thighs, and smooth foreheads no matter how old we are?

We certainly do, so it’s hard to blame Kidman for giving into a pressure we each understand all too well. As Schwarzbaum admits, “movie stars Have Had Work Done since the dawn of hair dye and nose jobs. . . that includes men as well as women,” so it doesn’t make much sense to go after Kidman for caving to that pressure.

At the same time, we also need to send the message that we would prefer our female celebrities did NOT cave to that pressure. As Schwarzbaum says, “Show us your flaws, Nic!”

And I couldn’t agree more.

Show us your flaws, Nic. Show us the Nicole Kidman we fell in love with back in the eighties—the one with kinky red curls and slightly chubby cheeks, the one who by now should have crow’s feet and lines around her mouth. For the love of God, please show us.

Well, well, well, what do we have here?













For years I have been complaining about Weight Watchers not allowing their members to eat as much fruit as they want.

In my “What is a diet” post, I talk about how my mother-in-law used to eat only a half a banana because it was “too many points” to eat the whole thing and how absurd that seemed to me.

That’s not a diet. That’s The Idiot’s Guide to Eating.

Under the old Weight Watchers’ point system, “You could be holding an apple in one hand, which was two points, and you could be holding a 100-calorie snack pack of Oreos in the other hand, which was also two points.”*, meaning eating an apple was seen as the same as eating a small bag of Oreos.

I’m sorry, but that’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. Not to mention unhealthy.

Well, it looks like somebody was listening to my complaints because now—finally!—Weight Watchers has decided to let their members eat as much fruit and vegetables as they want. As The New York Times points out, “All fruits and most vegetables are [now] point-free.”

Hurray!

As The Times explains, this is a huge change for the nearly two million devotees of the national dieting program who are used to counting every grape, banana, and pear: “Their world [has] been rocked . . . A 31-year-old teacher from Midtown Manhattan who had barely touched a banana in six years wanted to know if she could really consume them with impunity.”

Yes, it’s really true. You can now eat bananas until your stomach is full and your heart is content.

Guess I know what I’m getting my mother-in-law for Christmas.

Lesson # 3,420


“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I talked to one of the women’s studies classes on campus today, and I was completely moved by the students’ stories . . .

. . . stories of dads who tell daughters with BMIs of 17 that they’ve gained too much weight in college

. . . stories of athletes who are considered obese by the National Institute of Health because of their muscle mass

. . . stories of women who started dieting when they were nine.

Yes, I said nine.

Not only did their stories teach me—yet again—that we must expand the way we define beauty in our society, but their comments also provided me with material I’d overlooked.

After class, one of the students emailed me and said:

You have probably already seen this video, but its one of my favorite music videos because it addresses the same thing[s]” we talked about in class today.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have actually not watched this video. I’ve always loved the song but never before seen the emotional images that go with it. I hope you all are as moved by it as I was.

May the force be with all of us

Last Thursday, I took the opportunity to thank Carrie and Katie Goldman for reminding us how important it is to be an individual after first grader Katie was teased about her Star Wars water bottle, which the teasers told her was just for boys.

Hearing Katie’s story got me thinking about my own grade school experiences with Star Wars, and since Katie asked to hear stories about other girls women who love all things Han Solo and Princess Leia, I thought I’d share one of those experiences here . . .

When I was in second grade, we had a talent show at my grade school, St. Ann’s, a tiny Catholic school that was tucked away in a quiet corner of Raritan, New Jersey, only a few miles away from where I grew up.

Not knowing that talent shows usually feature people with significant talent, I immediately signed up to perform the baton twirling routine I was learning in my first-ever baton class that year.

Unfortunately, another twirler performed right before me: Edwina Schwinn. Edwina was my best friend and part of the reason I had taken up twirling. She was also a champion twirler.

During the talent show, Edwina wore a gorgeous sequined costume and a glittering tiara. She threw two batons in the air at the same time, spun around three times, and still caught both of them.

In contrast, I wore a standard-issue black leotard with white tights and could only throw one baton from one hand to the other without dropping it.

As soon as Edwina began to perform, I realized my mistake. I was not talent-show material. Despite this, I got up when my name was called and soldiered through my amateur routine in front of a cafeteria full of my classmates.

As soon as the whole thing was over, I ran to the bathroom and cried.

Thirty minutes later, on the bus ride home, I was still teary-eyed, but the other boys in my grade comforted me by saying that they liked my performance better than Edwina’s because of the song that went with my routine.

That song was none other than the theme to the original Star Wars, proving that sometimes liking things boys usually like more than girls isn’t always a bad thing.
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