Archive for March 29, 2012

I Don’t Care What You Talking ’bout, Baby.

When I started this blog—almost three years ago!—I worried that I was opening myself up to criticism and that everywhere I went people might offer their unfiltered opinions about my weight, my lifestyle, and my beliefs.

Luckily that didn’t happen.

At least not right away.

For the first year or two, no one really criticized me or my body. But over the past year, that’s changed more than I’d like. Now it’s not unusual for people I  meet to bring up the blog and use it as an opening to criticize some aspect of how I live or eat.

That happened to me tonight when someone I know questioned my involvement in a boot camp exercise program, saying “I don’t think it’s good for you if you’re eating donuts and candy after you go.”

For the record, I have never once eaten donuts or candy after boot camp though I have bought candy after boot camp.

At the beginning of the semester, I went to Walgreen’s after boot camp one night and bought three bags of low-cal candy (Jolly Ranchers, Werther’s, and jelly beans) for the semester because I knew having that candy in my office and at home would keep me from reaching for higher-calorie desserts. (Still haven’t come close to finishing it either.)

And while it’s true that I tried to entice friends to join me at boot camp by offering to get a post-workout donut with them at the popular Great American Donut Shop in my hometown of Bowling Green, I have not actually had anyone take me up on the offer. (My thinking being that, like crack, once they had a taste of boot camp, they would want to go back with or without the promise of a sugary donut.)

Despite the fact that I have yet to indulge in a post-boot camp dessert, people still feel comfortable shaking their heads at me and acting like I’m a junk food addict who is using boot camp to justify my indulgences.

What bugs me about this on the surface is that these people think that, since I blog about dieting and healthy living, that gives them the right to tell me what I’m doing wrong. But what bothers me even more is that it sounds like they think I’m a curvy woman because I eat junk food all day long.

If there’s one thing I’ve tried to get across on this blog it’s that the belief that bigger people eat way more than thin people is simply false. We’re not sitting around eating all day, and we might even eat less than you. Let me repeat—big doesn’t mean slothful.

So the next time you see me buying a bag of sugar-free Werther’s candies at my local drug store, please ask yourself what you’ve eaten in the past twenty-four hours before you wrongly assume that I’m going to take the whole bag home and eat it in one sitting.

For probably the first time ever, I posted early. . .

If you’re here for Tuesday’s post, please see my review of The Hunger Games below. I got excited and couldn’t wait until today to post it, so it went up Saturday afternoon.

Also, if you’re going to be in Bowling Green, Kentucky, this Thursday, you are invited to come hear me give a talk about the blog at WKU. The talk is called “When Hairy Met Sally: Why the Schlub Is as Good as It Gets for Some Hollywood Beauties” (see the hilarious poster above) and will begin at 4 p.m. in McCormack Hall as part of the WTF Potter College series. You can also RSVP on Facebook

“I’m not very good at making people like me.”
Why The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen is one
of the most important heroes in modern culture.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

 

***SPOILER ALERT: Though there are no real spoilers here, one scene and the basic premise of the film are discussed in detail. If you’ve seen the preview for The Hunger Games, reading this review won’t reveal anything new, but if you haven’t seen the preview, I’d suggest you skip the part I’ve marked below.***

Possibly the most important moment in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games occurs when protagonist Katniss Everdeen (played with a perfect cross of vulnerability and strength by Kentucky native Jennifer Lawrence) confesses to her stylist Cinna (the circumspect Lenny Kravitz who aptly conveys the enormity of Katniss’ situation with his searing eyes) that she’s not very good at making people like her.

Katniss, after her arrival in the capital, with Cinna (played by Lenny Kravitz)

 

Katniss has just arrived in the capital to participate in the 74th Annual Hunger Games and is about to be interviewed on television by Caeser Flickerman (a blue-haired, ponytailed Stanley Tucci doing a slightly more likeable version of reality show host Ryan Seacrest). Her interview will be seen by absolutely everyone in Panem, the futuristic version of North America where this story takes place, so the stakes are high.

For this reason, Katniss is more than a little anxious.

SPOILER ALERT: SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE HUNGER GAMES PREVIEW . . . Adding to her anxiety is the fact that, just days before the interview takes place, Katniss volunteered to take her sister’s place when she was chosen by lot—calling to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery”—to represent their district in the Hunger Games that year.

Katniss' sister, Prim, at the reaping

 

The “Hunger Games” is a twisted, fight-to-the-death, televised competition—think William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” crossed with a reality show like Survivor—designed by Panam’s capital city to punish and intimidate the outlying districts of Panem for the uprising they orchestrated unsuccessfully against the capital 74 years before.

That risky political move ultimately led to the obliteration of one of the thirteen districts and the virtual enslavement of the other twelve districts (creating a world not totally unlike George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale). As a result, the people who live in the districts are now forced to live in such extreme poverty that dying of hunger is one of their greatest fears.

District 12 (formerly Appalachia)

 

Katniss isn’t just nervous because she’s about to appear on national television or enter an arena in which only one person will come out alive; she’s also apprensive because she knows that one of the ways a “tribute”—meaning a player in the Games—can get ahead is by making the people of the capital fall in love with her since they are allowed to sponsor tributes in the Games and send them gifts—medicine, water, weapons, anything—to help them win. So if she doesn’t make them like her, she could be sacrificing her own life in the process.

But Katniss feels that she isn’t the kind of person people like—she’s not warm or engaging, positive or open, nor is she particularly feminine (at least until her prep team in the capital puts her through a Twilight Zone-esque makeover process), yet these are the qualities that television audiences usually respond to. So when she is faced with the task of entertaining an entire country of viewers, she is terrified not just that they won’t like her, but that they’ll go so far as to root against her.

Katniss at the perimeter of District 12

 

This is a common fear for women in our society, especially young women who are expected to have cheerful personalities and sunny dispositions, who are supposed to be both people pleasers and objects of the male gaze. They are not supposed to be contemplative or cynical, as Katniss certainly is after having grown up in a society that forces her to kill squirrels on a daily basis to feed her fatherless family. So her fears about not being able to woo her television audience are not only valid, but also relatable.

If Katniss’ apprehensions about not being able to put on the right face for society are driven by her very real fear of dying in the arena, the fears of young women today are usually motivated by less sober concerns, but ones that surely feel just as profound when you’re sixteen years old.

Like Katniss, young women today worry about not being pretty enough or likeable enough, but they also worry about how their ability to do those things will ultimately affect their ability to find both happiness and success in life, a fate that may seem as serious as losing your life when you’re a teenager. So it’s no wonder this story appeals to young people—girls and boys alike. It speaks to their most overwhelming concerns: Will I be good enough? Will I be strong enough? Will people like me?

Ultimately Katniss is able to perform for the audience during her televised interview and win them over: not by being sunny or charismatic or entertaining—though she is forced to do the latter when she twirls in her designer ball gown, alighting the flames inside its skirt (an allusion to Katniss’ inner strength)—but by being herself, by being a real person with genuine thoughts and emotions, making her more honest and vulnerable than anyone else in the giant theatre full of costumed adults who congratulate and cheer for the tributes in a way that reveals their inability to understand the gravity of what they are doing to them.

Caeser Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci) with Katniss at the conclusion of her televised interview

 

It’s a message repeated throughout the rest of her story and, more importantly, one we need to send more often to young people: Be yourself—not who other people expect you to be—and we will like you for who you are.

I cannot explain how much I appreciate Suzanne Collins for putting such an important message out in the world and for giving us the great gift of Katniss Everdeen, one of the most admirable and honest young heroes ever committed to the page or screen. And I hope you will appreciate her as much as I do.

It’s Women’s History Month! Celebrate by seeing The Hunger Games and vote with your dollars this weekend!

Recently I did a short interview for the English majors blog here at Western Kentucky University about what I’m doing to celebrate Women’s History Month.

According to the Library of Congress, Women’s History Month “had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress asked the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as ‘Women’s History Week.’ . . .  Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as ‘Women’s History Month.'”

I had to think for a little bit about what I’m doing in honor of this month-long celebration of women when first asked the question, and here’s what I came up with:

“I’m a firm believer in the idea of ‘voting’ with our dollars, meaning we should spend our money on the groups we want to support. One of the groups I most want to support is female artists, so this month I’m going to try to spend my free time reading books and seeing films by women.

Women are grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, so I’m really excited about Friends with Kids by first-time director Jennifer Westfeldt. I also plan to see The Hunger Games, which is adapted from Suzanne Collin’s wonderful dystopian novel.

Though women are better represented in publishing than they are in film, they are still not getting the same ‘air time’ as male writers. For that reason, I hope to read several books by women this month. I’m currently reading Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and will start Mishna Wolff’s I’m Down as soon as I’m done with that. Also, Bobbie Ann Mason will be at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest in April, so I hope to read one of her books this month too.

Finally, I have asked all of the readers of my blog to look in the mirror and find something they like about themselves in my ‘Five easy steps for celebrating women everywhere’ post.'”

If for some odd reason, you haven’t taken these five steps yet, please do so now! I promise it will take you leass than five minutes, and you’ll be happy you did it.

Also, be sure to see The Hunger Games this weekend (the preview is above), an amazing story about a strong young woman who refuses to give up her life or her identity. Miss it, and you’ll be left out of what will ceratintly be some heated discussion about it over the next few days and week.

As it says in the book, “The world will be watching,” so you should too.

I’ll be posting my review of The Hunger Games next week so you’ll want to check back here for that too.

 

Shorts: the final frontier

I swore off wearing shorts many years ago.

If I remember correctly, I was first heard vowing to never again wear shorts in 1998, not long before I got married. I weighed at least thirty pounds less then than I do now, but I still couldn’t stand the sight of myself in a pair of shorts.

I clearly remember that my husband’s sister-in-law laughed when I told her of my desire to forever steer clear of shorts, probably knowing that I was worrying about something I had no business worrying about.

In truth, I shouldn’t have cared about wearing shorts back then because I was in much better shape than I realized. No, I wasn’t at my lowest adult weight, but I was within striking distance. And the cellulite I was afraid of showing off to the world probably wasn’t even noticeable to anyone but me.

Fifteen years later, I know that other people can see my cellulite, which is one of the reasons I still don’t wear shorts if I can avoid it.

The other reason I don’t wear shorts is because I’m 41 years old, and shorts seem like a young person’s game.

As Tom Ford, says, “A man should never wear shorts in the city…Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.”

Though Ford’s rule is about men, I think it also applies to women—shorts just look strange on grown-ups or anyone who expects to taken seriously (in the city or elsewhere). They look like they’re more suited for the swingset than the real world.

My husband has basically given up wearing shorts too. He’s in perfect shape, so it’s not because of his body. It’s simply because he feels like an eight-year-old when he goes out in pants that don’t cover his knees.

Still, I do have one exception to my never-wear-shorts rule—working out.

When it gets even remotely hot, I wear shorts and a tank top while working out. And I guess my reasoning is that I’m not trying to look good when I’m exercising. Sure, part of the reason I exercise is too look good—though being healthy is much more important—but you can’t expect me to have my hair and makeup done when I’m sweating in 86-degree weather (like we had here today in Bowling Green, Kentucky).

For that reason, I was surprised when I wore shirts to boot camp last week and heard a few people talking about how they hate shorts and never wear them, even when exercising.

Before I go on, I should mention that a good part of our summers here in Kentucky feature temps in the nineties. So these women were saying that they’d rather wear LONG pants in NINETY-DEGREE weather than let other people—even other people at boot camp—see their bare legs.

I get it. I do. I want to look good as much as the next person. But I have to draw the line somewhere. And where I draw that line is at eighty degrees. When it’s that hot and I’m choosing to make myself hotter through exercise, I am more than willing to sacrifice looks for comfort.

Still, the way the other women were talking last week gave me pause. Should I give up my workout shorts? Are my legs that bad?

When I went back to boot camp tonight—and rivers of sweat were running down my face during tonight’s Triple Threat workout—I took a long look at my imperfect thighs and considered this question. And then I thanked God that I’m willing to let some people see the real me.

Oh, how times have changed: 19th-century erotic photos reveal how differently we define beauty today

My friend Marie tipped me off to a collection of 19th-century “erotic” photos available online at Retronaut, a website devoted to cool stuff from the past.

I’ve included one photo above, and here are a few more . . . 

You can view the whole collection here.

I probably don’t have to tell you that what’s so surprising about these photos is how average these women look—their bodies are fleshy and curvy in some places and thin in others. As another blogger said, “these professional exotic dancers display the size and shape of average women who would never be offered a professional position in entertainment today.” In fact, if these women were the ideal in the 1890s, this is an ideal we could all strive to attain, raising the question, what the hell happened in the last hundred or so years to make us so obsessed with extreme thinness?

Revisiting ’80s foods—microwaveable fries, fruit roll-ups, and Jello pudding pops. Oh effing my.

Micro Magic Fries have been the featured art on this blog twice. Go figure.

 

Dave and I just got back from spending spring break in Florida with my family. We made the whole fifteen-hour drive home in one hellish day, and during the last two hours, we kept ourselves awake by playing DJ with the CD player . . . ’80s songs only.

I think we only made it home because of “Waterloo.” Thank you, Abba.

And this got me thinking about how great it would be to have a party that only featured ’80s music, a party where everyone danced all night to songs like “Melt with You” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

I used to fantasize about having a Bangkok-themed graduation party when I finished my Ph.D. (though, sadly, I never did), but as of this weekend that fantasy has been replaced with a new one—I desperately want to have an ’80s dance party.

The music is so obvious, I could recite it in my sleep . . . Aisa, Devo, the aforementioned Abba, Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Modern English, Dexys Midnight Runners, Haircut 100, A-ha, The Go-Gos, Big Country, Crowded House, Echo and The Bunnymen. . . well, you get the idea.

I’ve already figured out the dress code—concert t-shirts and ripped jeans—and transportation—Camaros and Z28s and Deloreans—too.

But my fantasy party always hits a snag when I come to one one thing—the food.

Because what kind of food was big in the ’80s? You guessed it! Processed food. In other words, crap.

When you Google ’80s food, you’ll see that lots of really unhealthy stuff was popular during my formative years.

Tab was big back then—right before they banned it because it gave everybody cancer. And remember the microwavable french fries that were taped together in those little red boxes that looked like milk cartons? Those were invented in the ’80s too, as were tons of different frozen foods. This was a time that also saw the genesis of the fruit roll-up, one of the only foods that has the honor of taking something healthy—fruit—and altering it with something really unhealthy—namely preservatives and chemicals. The same thing happened with Capri Sun, which turned pure fruit juice into a high fructose corn syrup tragedy.

I’m not sure what year Steak-ums first came out, but I couldn’t go to a sleepover party in the ’80s without eating a sandwich filled with them. And Jello came into its own in the ’80s too. Before then, Jello was something your grandmother made in a mold with odd fruits or vegetables floating around in it. But after Bill Cosby plugged Jello pudding pops all over network television, Jello became an It snack.

Even the non-processed foods from the ’80s was crap.

Remarkably, Americans fell in love with the fried cheese stick at that time. (Fried Cheese, America? Really???) And nachos became a staple in many American households back then. Not as bad as fried cheese, but not much better either. And when I was young, people even made them with Doritos, another snack food that became huge in the me decade.

Home-cooked food wasn’t much better. Fat-laden casseroles were ubiquitous in the ’80s, and many people started using recipes that were created by food manufacturers to get consumers to buy their products—Campbell’s cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup soon became an ingredient you could find in almost every American pantry.

What’s strange is that the ’80s were also the heydey of Jane Fonda workout tapes and Olivia Newton-John’s ode to all things exercise: “Physical.” You couldn’t hit a suburban mall without seeing a gaggle of teenage girls in tight leotards and fluffy leg warmers. So why was it that while we were all so focused on working out we were also pigging out?

Maybe it’s because, like dieting, being obsessed with working out often means denying ourselves the foods we crave. And when we deny ourselves those foods long enough, eventually we crack and hit them even harder when we fall off the health food wagon.

The ’80s were certainly a time of yo-yoing back and forth between worshipping at the alter of health and bottoming out in the vacuum of greed. So it’s no wonder that we were all eating fried cheese right after we finished our workout tapes.

I’m just thankful that none of us live that way anymore.

Say it . . . five easy steps for celebrating women everywhere

Giovanni Bellini's YOUNG WOMAN WITH A MIRROR, 1515

 

Today is International Women’s Day.

In honor of this occasion, I’m going to keep things simple. I want you to do me a favor while also doing yourself a favor and ultimately doing all of us a favor by following these five easy steps for celebrating women around the globe . . .

*

1) Go to the nearest bathroom. The one with the biggest mirror in your house. You know the one—the one you use when you really want to see yourself.

*

2) Now study yourself in the mirror.

*

3) No, not like that. Look closer. Really lean in and get a good look.

*

4) Now find that part of you—that one essential thing that is YOU—that you totally and completely love. You know the part I’m talking about.

*

5) And then say what it is you see—name it, make it real.

No, not to yourself.

Say it out loud.

Say, “My eyes are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”

Say, “My nose makes me look smart.”

Say, “My eyebrows never need to be plucked.”

Say, “My skin is dewey and fresh.”

Say it.

Let’s all pee together. Or not. Ugliness in public restrooms.

I gave a reading in Owensboro, Kentucky, a few weeks ago, and someone said something to me while I was there that I still can’t get my head around.

A few minutes after we arrived at the venue—the gorgeous Gambrinius Libation Emporium, which I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the Owensboro area—I excused myself to go the bathroom. Once I finished using the facilities (which were as beautiful as the rest of the place—there was a chandelier in every stall!), I stopped at the counter to refresh my makeup, fluff my hair, etc.

A couple of minutes later, another woman joined me at the mirror and glanced at me with unabashed curiosity.

I can’t blame her—I had set my massive suitcase-like purse on the counter and was rifling through it maniacially, searching for something I couldn’t find. I probably looked like a cokehead scrambling for one more speck of blow.

For that reason, it’s not surprising that the woman’s look seemed to be questioning my behavior.

Like any polite person, I provided an answer to her implicit question: “I’m just trying to get cleaned up,” I said to my inquisitor, assuming that explanation would satiate her.

But instead of acting sated, she responded by saying, “Good luck with that” in a rather skeptical voice, as if she were telling Jesus, Good luck trying to avoid that whole crucifixion thing.

I glanced at the woman, shocked, and waited for her to soften the implication of her words, but instead she offered me a nasty smirk and spun around on one high-heeled toe, heading towards the door.

Later, she sat a few tables away from me, shooting disapproving looks in my direction every chance she got.

Call me crazy, but that kind of behavior is simply not acceptable. If women don’t support each other, if they don’t treat each other with respect, then we’re never going to make our society a healthier, more accepting place for everyone.

And to that woman in Owensboro, I have only this to say: You better hope karma doesn’t bite you in the ass.

Fast Food Nation: why are our highways littered
with Big Macs and Blizzards?

Spring break starts here at Western Kentucky University tomorrow, and though I’m looking forward to some time away from school, I’m also dreading the idea of trying to stay healthy on the road.

I’ve been so worried about it that Dave and I have actually spent time this week talking about how we can do that. The most obvious answer is to avoid fast food altogether. But when you’re barreling down the highway at 80 miles an hour, trying to get to your destination as fast as you can, that’s not always easy to do.

In fact, when I was living in Cincinnati—where you can find affordable healthy food on nearly every block—the ONLY time I ate fast food was when I was on a road trip.

Back then, I was in my early thirties, and I wasn’t as uptight about eating fast food a couple times a year as I am now. But—as most people know—the older you get, the more you worry about these things.

For a few years we also went through a phase of packing our meals when we had to travel. But when you’re trying to get everything done for a trip, preparing cooler-friendly food is just one more thing slowing you down, so I don’t usually take the time to do that anymore.

Trying to find healthy food on the road is especially difficult because every time you approach an exit with some kind of civilization and see those blue gas-food-lodging signs, they almost always only advertise fast food: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, White Castle.

Crap, crap, and more crap.

You almost never see a listing for a chain restaurant that offers healthy options like Panera Bread or something of that nature. (Yes, there’s admittedly a Subway in every town in America, but contrary to what they want you might think, Subway sandwiches aren’t really that much better—their healthy options may be low-cal but their vegetables are so old and insignificant that you might as well eat a piece of cardboard for all the nutrients you get.) And you can forget about seeing a sign for something really healthy—like a local coffee shop or a vegetarian restaurant.

No, local restaurants are as hard to find on the road as honesty at a presidential debate.

To make matters worse, while driving we’re bombarded with billboards displaying mountainous Big Macs and glowing golden fries. Who can resist those larger than life temptations? It’s amazing how strong the power of suggestion is.

I don’t even like pancakes that much, but every time I see an IHOP billboard on the road with a fluffy stack of flap jacks, I immediately want to devour them.

And realizing this forces me to admit that this is obviously another contributor to the obesity epidemic in America—it’s next to impossible to find healthy road food. Years ago, I used to believe that healthy fast food chains would soon be springing up next to every Dairy Queen, but I now realize that will never happen because fast food restaurants make their money by serving us fat layered on top of sugar disguised as food.

You know, it’s funny to me that we live in a democracy where we are supposedly free to do what we want—to live where we want to live, to do what we want to do, to be who want to be—but sometimes it feels like we’re not entirely free to eat what we want to eat. And that’s because what we want to eat—healthy, local, chemical- and antibiotic-free food—isn’t readily available or affordable for most of us. And that, to me, is incredibly sad.

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