Archive for July 31, 2012

Hot Thighs
. . . a guest blog by Emily Threlkeld

Supermodel Crystal Renn and her real thighs


My thighs have always been acquainted with one another.

And I’ve never had that enviable triangle of negative space between them.

Even when I was at my thinnest, a result of an incredible amount of stress and a mystery ailment that was making me faint all the time, my thighs still touched. The fact that they touched didn’t bother me; the chafing that resulted did.

It bothered me not only because it was physically painful, but also because I seemed to be the only person on the entire planet with the problem. No one mentioned having the same issue, so I never said anything about it to anyone.

Ever.

I didn’t even talk about it with my husband. When we eloped, one of the first things we had to do was pick up a rental car and go downtown to apply for our marriage license.

In New Orleans.

In July.

Of course, we had to park several blocks away. Of course I wore a skirt. So while we were heading toward our beautiful future, my legs began to rub together, creating heat and friction that made it unbearable to walk after about a block and a half.

I tried to conceal this by hanging back, walking quietly behind my future husband with the wide stance of a sumo wrestler, immediately returning to my normal, painful walk whenever he looked back.

I mean, yeah, we were about to commit our lives to each other, but I didn’t feel like we were quite at the, “let me explain what happens to my thighs in the summer heat” level.

So much of our societal fixation on dieting has to do with being embarrassed about our bodies. Why was I embarrassed that my thighs rubbed together? Because I’d never heard anyone talk about it before.

Jemima Kirke

So imagine my surprise and elation when, in the eighth episode of Girls, Jemima Kirke’s character breezes through the door of an apartment and plops herself on the couch, kicking her heels up to the sky. “Oh my God, my thighs are really rubbing together like nobody’s business. It’s like they’re red, and raw, and burning hot,” she says, adding, “I just wish I had a wheelchair for June and July.”

I was shocked to see this dialogue coming from a character who I consider to be thin, and one who is incredibly desirable as well.

Christina Hendricks

Then, when I was channel surfing later in the week, I caught Christina Hendricks (pictured above) on Inside the Actor’s Studio responding to part of James Lipton’s questionnaire: What is your least favorite word? With a cheeky little smile, the actress known for her curves said, “Chafe.”

That inspired me to do a little Googling on the subject, and I was quite surprised to find other women in the same boat. “Girl, that’s what thighs DO,” someone commented.

When I was younger, I used to think that body acceptance came with age. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because the idea of being comfortable in my own skin as a teenager was a goal too far out of reach. Maybe it seemed more achievable in the distant future. But now I think being comfortable in your own skin has more to do with scope.

Since 2009, I’ve buried my father, graduated from college, moved cross-country, and started a marriage. To worry about the size or shape of my body in the face of all of that seems trivial.

So I have stopped believing that I can starve or tone my body into submission. I have stopped believing that doing so is “self-improvement.” (Although, I will admit, I still have the occasional dressing room meltdown.)

Instead, I am working on accepting my body for what it is, and enjoying it for what it can do . . .

I am five feet tall. My tree pose in yoga class is solid. I have green eyes. I can swim a pretty fast backstroke. My thighs are always touching.

And so, too, are the thighs of a lot of other amazing women.

 

EMILY THRELKELD is a freelance writer living in Raleigh. The picture above shows the most space that has ever been between her thighs. Her husband loves her anyway and says that he totally knew what was going on in New Orleans.

To sit or not to sit? Why sitting too much is bad for you.

Today I saw a video advocating the use of a treadmill desk (pictured above).

Yes, I said a treadmill desk—meaning a desk attached to the top of a treadmill that allows you to walk while you work.

At first glance, this seems pretty darned silly, but when you think about it more, it kind of makes sense.

People are much more sedentary today than they used to be. The average person burns between 2,000 and 3,500 calories a day now, but in the past that number was more like 3,500 to 4,500 calories a day, raising the question, why do we move so much less now?

The answer is obvious: Americans move less because many of us have sedentary jobs and because we spend too much time in front of the TV or computer.

So some people think the answer is the treadmill desk.

This self-proclaimed nerd, for instance, bought one and made an entertaining little video about why he did it and how it works:

As he says in the video, “People who sit more than eleven hours a day are twice as likely to die from all causes over the next fifteen years than people who sit for less than four hours a day.”

And the Mayo Clinic agrees: “Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. . . What’s more, spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.”

Is the treadmill desk the answer to our problem of sitting too much?

Possibly, but I’m not sure we all have to rush out and buy one of these things. Maybe the answer is, in fact, more simple.

We know that we have to exercise every day. That’s a given.

We also need to limit our TV watching. More than one or two hours of TV (or other screen entertainment like videos or video games) a day is too much.

But maybe we also need to keep moving throughout the day—whether it’s on a treadmill desk or just by taking a five- to ten-minute breaks every hour to walk around the block or go up and down a few flights of stairs at work.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends standing while talking on the phone and holding “walking” meetings with colleagues.

And if you want to keep moving while you’re still working at your desk, I don’t think you need the fancy contraption above to do it. As long as you can find a tall desk or high counter, you can stand at your computer for a few hours a day (which is much better for you than sitting). If you want to push it further, you could easily: 1) walk in place, 2) do squats, or 3) raise yourself up and down on your toes while you’re standing at your computer.

And doing that will save you from spending $1300 on the ugliest piece of office “furniture” I’ve ever seen in my life.

Getting better with age . . . embrace it.

Actress Helen Mirren

 

Recently one of my friends was complaining about her clothes not fitting properly anymore. She didn’t look any bigger to me, but she said her underwear was too tight.

“Maybe I just put them in the dryer too long,” she joked. “Seriously though, I used to weigh 127 pounds. Now I’m 150. What happened?”

“And you’re how tall?”

“Five-foot-six.”

“So you’re still in the healthy range.”

“Barely . . I need to lose weight.”

Then I asked her, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-four,” she said.

“Sure,” I responded. “That makes sense.”

It makes sense because women often get bigger as we age.

I’m not talking about becoming severely overweight or obese. I’m talking about picking up an extra twenty pounds as you get older.

The truth is that women do not tend to stay the same weight they were in high school when they hit the thirty, forty, or fifty mark. But we also don’t have to be 110 or 120 pounds the rest of our lives to look good.

Beauty can be widely defined and can change over age—I know many, many women who have bigger, more supple breasts now than they did when they were young. Getting older and having kids tends to be good for your cleavage even if it’s not good for your hips.

But that’s okay.

It’s okay to look different at forty than we did at twenty—it’s called aging, and it’s not a bad thing.

If you don’t believe me, look at all the hot middle-aged women out there.

Mariska Hagerty had small perky breasts when she was young. . .

But now she boasts some of the best décolletage on the red carpet. . .

Michelle Obama didn’t have killer arms when she was young. . .

but now she looks like an ad for Soloflex . . .

And Kate Winslet didn’t have as much style as she does now around the time she appeared in Titanic . . .

 But now she looks like Hollywood royalty. . . 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try be healthy or avoid gaining too much weight as we age. But I am saying that the desire to look twenty all of your life is not healthy. Instead of wishing you had those perky breasts back, maybe it makes sense to enjoy your longer, more sensual ones and recognize the fact that change is, in fact, good.

Helen Mirren (pictured at the top of this post) doesn’t sit around lamenting the size of her thighs, and neither should you.

Because some things just get better with age.

Travel post #10: The art of eating

This is the tenth in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.

 

We just returned from the second part of our cross-country trip, which took us from Kentucky to New York and New Jersey for a week.

I grew up in New Jersey, where homemade Italian food reigns supreme in many kitchens, so I was thrilled to have a chance to visit a couple of my favorite Italian restaurants—The Chimney Rock Inn in Bridgewater (where we had New York pizza) and Espo’s Restaurant in Raritan (where we had sumptuous lasagna and stuffed shells with Peroni on tap). The Rock had been updated, but Espo’s had not changed at all, looking exactly as it had the last time I’d been there, 28 whole years before if you can believe it.

Here’s the picture to prove it:

This is an image straight out of my childhood. (My family went to either Espo’s, Chimney Rock, or Joe’s Pizza in Martinsville every Saturday night after mass when I was growing up. It’s not an accident that these are all traditional Italian restaurants since Jersey means some of the best Italian food in the U.S.)

New York also meant plenty of culinary treats for us—Sarge’s (our favorite deli), Havana NY (a delicious Cuban place we found), Angelo’s (more New York pizza, pictured above), and Osteria Al Doge (upscale Italian recommended by a friend).

As is usually the case on the East coast, every meal was exceptional, like a tour de force for your senses.

And this made me consider how much eating has become a part of traveling for many of us. I know that every time Dave and I travel we look forward to the food almost as much as the sights. In that sense, food is really a big part of our whole travel experience.

But what’s strange is that, as I said in my “Seeing but not eating America” post, I don’t eat as much when I travel even though dining out is such an integral part of traveling for me.

So why is that the case?

I think it’s because, when I’m on the road, eating becomes an art form. I take my time finding the perfect items to order, I eat it all very slowly so I can enjoy each bite, and I never eat to the point of feeling as if I’ve overdone it or gorged myself. (And sometimes I even take photos of the food as has become the trend on Facebook and Instagram.)

In this sense, eating is much more controlled and purposeful when I travel, which makes me wonder if I would eat less at home if I ate more interesting food.

While I was in New York, I visited my good friend, Kara Thurmond (who designed this website and is pictured buying some local ingredients above), and since Kara is a big foodie—her blog is called The New 19th-Century Kitchen—she cooked an amazing meal while I was there: pan-roasted pork chops with black sour cherries, sauteed kale with navy beans, and beet salad followed by homemade cherry ice cream.

Despite this amazing meal, I didn’t overeat. Instead I only ate enough to enjoy what Kara had prepared and feel satisfied, telling me that if my cooking were more artful, maybe my eating would be too.

Travel post #9: Pack the snack


This is the ninth in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.

 

During the first big part of our cross-country trip earlier this summer, Dave and I packed a few non-perishable snacks—apples, walnuts, goldfish, dark chocolate, and plenty of water. We were going to be on the road for three weeks, so we didn’t want to have to buy every single morsel we put in our mouths in restaurants.

But on this second part of our trip, we packed nothing more than our water bottles. We weren’t going to be on the road as long—just a week—and figured we could survive that long without fruit and nuts.

I probably don’t have to tell you that was a mistake.

Because about halfway through our first day on the road—several hours after lunch and still many, many hours before dinner—our stomachs started growling. We were in rural West Virginia at this time, and there was nothing but convenience stores and Big Macs for miles.

And that’s how we ended up with a big bag of Doritos and a couple of twenty-ouncers of soda.

Thirty miles later, I felt like I wanted to throw up.

I don’t think I’ve eaten Doritos in about ten years. Suffice it to say, I hope to never eat them again and next time we hit the road, I’ll be packing the healthier snacks I’m now calling my emergency rations.

Travel post #8: Dialing up healthy on the road

Kim Sherly's Tumblr account

This is the eighth in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.

 

Dave and I started the third leg of our cross-country trip this morning, which takes us from our home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to New York City.

This leg of the trip includes an intense amount of driving—14+ hours—over less than a day and a half. That means there won’t be many stops to see the sights or have fun; in fact, the only thing we’re looking forward to during the drive is hitting Chipotle, one of our favorite places to stop on the road for healthy, organic food, especially since we don’t yet have one in Bowling Green.

(WTF, Chipotle??? People in Bowling Green like burritos too!)

But the only reason we can find a Chipotle on the road is because we finally caved and bought an iPhone before we drove to the West coast earlier this summer.

Before that, we—like most Americans—were forced to eat at restaurants close enough to the highway that we could spot them from our car every time we went on a road trip.

In other words, we were forced to eat crap. 

And when I realized that, I realized that being able to locate a Chipotle—or any other healthy restaurant—with our iPhone when we travel is directly the result of us being able to afford the service plan for a smartphone. This is something we couldn’t have afforded a few years ago and something many Americans still cannot afford.

In other words, health is, yet again, tied to income.

This is another reason why the poorest people in America are becoming the fattest. We already know that working class folks have more trouble accessing healthy food for the following reasons:

1) They live in a rural or urban “food desert,” where healthy foods aren’t sold in any store near their homes (or at least not in a grocery store that’s not high-end and expensive).

2) Their town also doesn’t have any affordable healthy restaurants even though it may have plenty of fast food. (Laurinburg, North Carolina, I’m talking to you.)

3) They can’t afford healthy and organic foods, which are typically more expensive than non-organic items.

4) Their grocery stores offer deep discounts on processed foods—ramen noodles for a quarter, anyone?—but charge full price or more on whole foods and produce.

5) They work long hours or multiple jobs and, therefore, don’t have time to grocery shop or cook.

And now we can add one more reason to the list of reasons it’s hard for cash-strapped Americans to eat well:

6) They can’t afford a smart phone that would allow them to locate healthier options on the road.

Let’s face it—if you’re poor in this country, being healthy is pretty hard to do, which is why the obesity epidemic is hitting the poorest Americans in greater numbers than any other group.

No, if you want to be a healthy American who eats well, you need to have one thing: money. Money to spend on organic food, money to spend on whole foods, money for sit-down restaurants, money for housing in an urban center, and money for a smartphone service plan.

Otherwise, you’re just screwed.

Rebels without a cause: why rules never work

4th of July photo by Hilary Metcalfe of Hollis Center, Maine.

 

Like most places in the country, Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I live, is currently in the middle of a major drought. It has only rained once in six weeks here, leaving everything—the grass, the plants, the shrubs—dead and shriveled.

As a result, the city has instituted a “burn ban”—no fires or fireworks until we get enough rain to make sure someone doesn’t unintentionally start a wildfire. It’s such a big deal and so widely understood that everybody I know was talking about the ban in the days leading up to the 4th of July.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to us last night when our normally quiet neighborhood—less than two miles from downtown Bowling Green—was overcome with professional-size fireworks.

There were fireworks going off directly behind our house in the grassy area adjacent to the elementery school there—the grass is so dry back there it’s like a field of matches just waiting to be lit. Perfect wildfire conditions.

There were also fireworks going off in the front drive of the house directly across the street from ours, the area in between us and them separated by only thirty feet of asphalt and two hundred feet of more the same parched grass, grass that, for all practical purposes, might as well be kindling.

And more fireworks were being set off up and down our street–standing in front of our house was like standing amidst a row of pyrotechnic geysers.

In other words, everyone in our neighborhood completely ignored the burn ban.

There were, in fact, more fireworks set off here last night than there has been in any other year we’ve lived here, and to be honest, more than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, raising the question why?

It seems likely that the resaon so many people were flouting the ban was precisely because there was a ban—telling people they can’t do something is probably the easiest way to guarantee they will, as it turns out, do it. For proof of this phenomenon, look at prohibition, look at your own adolescence, look at the war on drugs.

Rules make people rebel. It’s that simple.

Which is one of the reasons I’m opposed to dieting.

Just like telling people they can’t drink or set off fireworks makes them drink more and set off more fireworks, telling people they can’t eat something makes them want to eat it even more.

And eventually they’re going to give into that desire and eat it.

It’s simply human nature to do so.

And as soon as we accept this desire to flout rules as a part of who we are, we can all give up on the false sense that all we need to do to be a thinner, healthier country is be more self-disciplined.

No, self-discipline is not the problem.

In fact, our attempts at self-discipline may even be what’s making us collectively fatter. For if we keep trying to deny ourselves what we want, we’ll keep eventaully failing and giving in. But if we let oursleves eat what we want, those things that are really bad fo us—easy cheese, I’m talking to you—will eventually become less appealing.

So if you want to stay healthy and keep your community safe next 4th of July, don’t tell Americans they can’t indulge in a greasy burger and set off a few fireworks on the holiday when that’s exactly what most of them think they should be doing.

Are we seeing a revolution? . . . How Lena Dunham and HBO are changing the way women look in the media

I’ve been lamenting the lack of “real” women in the media for years. This is because most of the women in film and television are either dangerously thin or more than a little overweight.

If they’re the former, they either wear a size two or—even worse—a size zero. And if they’re the latter, they’re the polar opposite—a size twenty or above.

And, with few exceptions—Mike & Molly, for instance—those larger-sized actresses are almost always relegated to playing the clown and/or sidekick.

The bottom line is it’s pretty rare to see an actress in the middle range, women between size four and eighteen, which is where most American woman fall. (The only exception I can think of is Kat Dunning on Two Broke Girls.)

But Lena Dunham has changed all of that with Girls.

On her new HBO sitcom, Dunham plays the lead character even though—wait for it—she looks like a regular person.

Dunham is not super thin, nor is she obese. She’s not drop-dead gorgeous, nor is she unattractive.

Instead she simply looks average.

As reporter Virginia Sole-Smith points out, Dunham is “playing the female lead in a sitcom without a perfect Hollywood body—and her lack of six-pack abs is not the entire point of the show . . . normally, the only bodies that get portrayed in the media fit into one extreme or the other — the revolution here is that we’re seeing someone who defies that categorization.”

Dunham did the same kind of thing in her 2010 feature film, Tiny Furniture, a movie in which she cast herself as the lead and then paraded around in her underwear despite the fact that—gasp!—she had fat and cellulite on her very exposed body.

Seeing Dunham depicted in such an honest way does feel like a revolution  . . . as well as a revalation.

I just hope that Dunham—and Denning—are not anomolies. I hope they are a sign that the way women are depicted in the media is finally changing for the better.* And, for now, I’m choosing to believe that’s the case.

 

*Note: There has been much made of the fact that GIRLS does not feature a racially diverse cast, and there can be no doubt this is a problem that also needs to be addressed by Dunham and in Hollywood in general. 

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