Archive for January 31, 2013

Some Skepticism about One Direction
…a guest post by Casey Johnson

For anyone who hasn’t heard, the One Direction song “Little Things” is huge right now. If you have somehow missed the song, have a listen:

It seems pretty straightforward.

The basic message that the boys are trying to convey is that they will love you despite your flaws, and there is nothing wrong with that—but something irks me about this song, and for a while I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Finally, I stumbled across an Entertainment Weekly review of the song by Grady Smith, who puts to words one of the things that was bothering me: “One Direction literally provides insecurities for listeners to feel.”

For instance, they sing:

             You’ve never loved your stomach or your thighs, 

             The dimples in your back at the bottom of your spine.

And then later:

              You never want to know how much you weigh 

              You still have to squeeze into your jeans.

Woah, there.

Way to point out what girls have to be concerned about, in case they weren’t already. This is especially troubling to hear from five beautifully-groomed, Hollywood glamour boys.

That brings me to another problem with the song.

It doesn’t feel as if the boys really understand what they’re singing about. As a listener, I am not convinced that these young men are mature enough to realize the emotional impact of their lyrics.

More importantly, do they realize who their audience is? For the most part, their music is marketed toward young girls in the high-school-and-below range. This can be an extremely delicate age for girls. Raising the question, is it really best to draw more attention to all of the possible insecurities young girls can have?

Let’s think back to another One Direction song—”What Makes You Beautiful”—for a moment. In that one, the boys sing about how attracted they are to a shy, insecure girl.

Again, I feel like the message is intended to be a positive one—it just comes out wrong.

Songs like these have the potential to go horribly awry as this one does. Couldn’t girls take away from this song that being shy and insecure is attractive to guys and therefore see those as desirable traits?

They certainly might.

“Little Things” might not be as troublesome if it were sung by Ed Sheeran, the songwriter who actually wrote it. For one thing, he has a different audience that isn’t made up almost exclusively of young girls. For another, Ed Sheeran isn’t exactly perfect himself. The members of One Direction always look flawless; Ed Sheeran is more of an average-looking guy. He’s also older than the 1D boys and has likely got the actual experience to back up the song.

For some contrast, here is Ed Sheeran singing the same song:

It seems a little inappropriate that One Direction has sung not one, but two songs about the insecurities girls face. There is nothing wrong with the I-love-you-unconditionally genre of song— but perhaps the boys should be more careful with their presentation.

Stick to being young and playful for now, 1D—and once you have some more years under your belt, you can try singing about real issues again.

 

CASEY JOHNSON is a creative writing major at Western Kentucky University. She was born and raised in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and is an aspiring fiction writer and Zumba instructor. She loves coffee, GONE WITH THE WIND, late-night conversations at Huddle House, and cheap wine.

When did we become so fake?

This semester I’m teaching a class on creative retellings—that is, stories that retell classic texts in a creative way. If you don’t know what I mean, think Clueless (a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma), think A Thousand Acres (a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), think O Brother, Where Art Thou (a retelling of The Odyssey).

So this week we started watching 10 Things I Hate about You (a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) in class, and I could not believe how different everything looked. Not only did the titles look cheesy, the hair look badly permed, and the clothes look out of date (thank God cropped shirts went out of style), but the PEOPLE in the movie looked different too.

The film stars Julia Styles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik. These are all very attractive people, but somehow they all manage to look kind of normal and down-to-earth in this movie. In other words, a world apart from the young people we see in movies and television shows about teenagers today.

For example, here’s a still of the main character, played by Styles…

See how natural and un-made up Stiles looks here? It’s so damn refreshing. Don’t get me wrong: she still looks beautiful. But she looks beautiful and normal at the same time.

But we almost never see actresses looking like that in movies or television shows about high schoolers today. Instead they look like this:


Is it just me, or do these people look really really airbrushed? And kind of grotesque in an Andy-Warhol-does-Marilyn-Monroe kind of way too? And, while we’re on the subject, why does everybody on a television show have to pose like that now? Is there some kind of rule about standing with your hands on your hips and looking at the camera like your pissed?

Not only does Stiles look real in 10 Things, but so does Oleynik, who plays Stiles’ younger sister, Bianca. And what’s really interesting about Bianca is that she is the girl in the movie who all the boys pine over, the beauty who even the most popular guy in school is wooing.

So naturally you’d think she’d look something like Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, who played the hottest high schooler on the planet…

But in reality, Bianca just looks like a regular teenager…

And it’s not just the girls in 10 Things who look real. The dudes look pretty down-to-earth as well…

Sure, Heath Ledger looked hot even when he was leaning against a metal locker in a plain t-shirt…

…but would we really seen a teenage boy in a romantic comedy with that kind of messy hair today? I highly doubt it since the high school boys who’ve been dominating our screens the past few years usually look more like this:

I’m not talking about television shows or movies about “dorky” high schoolers a la Superbad or even Perks of Being a Wallflower—or the movie about the girl who gets a makeover as Lindsay Lohan’s character did in Mean Girls

These movies don’t count because they’re TRYING to make the actors look worse than they do.

I’m talking about the movies and television shows that are supposed to be about “regular” characters. Except that all the “regular” people look like they belong on the cover of Cosmo.

When I was looking for photos that proved my point, I came across two that made my case even stronger: publicity shots of the current and former cast of 90210.

Here they are now…

And here were back in the early ’90s…

See how different these people look?

The original cast of Beverly Hills, 90210—especially Shannon Doherty, Tori Spelling, Garielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering—looked like real people. Yes, relatively good looking real people, but real people all the same.

But apparently teenagers aren’t allowed to look real anymore.

Instead they have to appear like they just stepped out of the plastic surgery ward—waxed and plucked and styled and coiffed and airbrushed so much that they look more like wax figures than real people.

If Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling can feature real people in their shows about adult women, there’s no reason that shows about high schoolers can’t do the same.

It’s time people. It’s time.

In sickness and in health

I have been sick for twelve days now. Twelve days.

That’s a long time to feel like crap.

Oddly what I miss more than anything—besides feeling good—is working out. I dragged myself kicking and screaming back to boot camp tonight and coughed and hacked my way through 45 minutes of squats and burpees at about 60% effort.

Even though it was really hard to get there, it felt amazing to be moving again. And after five minutes of exercise, I immediately felt better.

This made me think about how difficult it must be for people who don’t exercise on a regular basis to get started.

I know how hard it is for me to get back to working out after a long break—it feels rather overwhelming—so I can imagine that it feels completely insurmountable for people who have never exercised outside of gym class.

But here’s the thing: once you start doing it, it’s like anything else… You get addicted to it. You need it. You feel unhappy without it. Which is exactly how I’ve been feeling these past twelve days.

It seems like this post should end with a silly positive reinforcement for people who don’t exercise… like You can do it! or Just give exercise a try! But honestly I’m not feeling it probably because my head has been pounding for a week and a half. Honestly what I really think is: if you can do it, why wouldn’t you?

Dear Jonah Hill, I have a request: Just say no to diets

On Tuesday, I mentioned that there were two things I noticed about the Golden Globes last Sunday night. The first one was that it was a big night for real-looking women like Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jodie Foster.

And the second is this: Diets aren’t just bad for us regular people. They’re bad for celebrities too.

I thought about this because of Jonah Hill.

I like Jonah Hill. I really do. My respect for him started with Superbad and peaked after I saw his subtle yet empathetic performance opposite Brad Pitt in Moneyball last year.

But not long after Hill shared the screen with America’s Golden Boy, he did something unwise: he went on a diet.

Admittedly, after the diet was over, Hill looked like this:

Of course, this whipped the media into one of their diet frenzies. Everyone on the planet—from the Daily Mail to Shape to Ellen—was talking about Jonah Hill’s diet and how great it was.

Puh-leeze.

Because on Sunday night—about a year later—Jonah Hill was at the Golden Globes, looking like he’d gained back much of the weight he lost:

Listen, I’m not trying to be a hypocrite or a jerk. I like Jonah Hill and think he’s a talented actor. And I feel for him. I know what it’s like to gain weight back after losing it, and I don’t wish that on anyone.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to use his weight gain to point out that diets don’t work. They don’t work for Jonah Hill, they don’t work for Seth Rogen, they don’t work for Carnie Wilson, they don’t work for Kirstie Alley, they don’t work for Oprah Winfrey, and they don’t work for us regular folks either.

I mean, think about it—if wealthy celebrities who can afford personal trainers and nutritionists and private chefs can’t keep the weight off, why do the rest of us think we can do it?

We think we can do it because the media keeps telling us we can, but they’re wrong—diets don’t work.

What does work is being dedicated to healthy living… every day for the rest of your life. Not for six weeks or six months or even a year. But every single day. And a big part of being healthy is accepting yourself the way you are.

I only hope Jonah Hill realizes that before he goes on another ridiculous diet.

The Golden Globes embrace Lena Dunham and simultaneously change our notion of what it means to be a Hollywood actress

If you live in a cave (or avoid Twitter, Facebook, and the internet in general), you might not know that the Golden Globes were this past Sunday night. During the show, I noticed two really important things—one of which I want to talk about tonight.

The most important thing I noticed during the Golden Globes is that it was a huge night for women, especially regular women who refuse to pretend to be something they’re not.

1) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED as the co-hosts of the ceremony, doing a better job than Ricky Gervais, Jon Stewart, or David Letterman combined and proving that women really are funny despite what sexists like Christopher Hitchens and Adam Carolla have wrongly claimed in the past (or what Jay Leno implied Sunday with his backhanded compliments on the red carpet). If you didn’t see their opening monologue, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

2) Jodie Foster came out of the closet—again (was no one listening the first time?)—and said she refuses to put her life on display reality-show style, insisting that privacy and happiness are just as important as being a movie star.

3) But the most groundbreaking moment of the night was when Lena Dunham of HBO’s Girls won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a comedy or musical television series. Her win was especially significant to me—and to I Will Not Diet—because it signals a clear shift in our expectations for women in Hollywood.

This is because Dunham does not look like a leading actress—she’s short and average looking and has bad posture. She has a nose that’s bigger than the noses of most women in Hollywood, and she has medium brown, wavy hair. In other words, she’s the kind of woman you see everywhere—in every office, in every classroom, in many homes.

But even more important than Dunham’s looks is her body. Because Lena Dunham has a very real body.

No, she’s not fat (even though Howard Stern, desperate to hold onto his biggest-woman-hater-alive title, called her a “little fat chick”), but she’s not Hollywood skinny either. In fact, the most notable thing about her body is how incredibly average it is. She has slightly meaty thighs, arms with a bit of flesh on them, and a belly with just a little bit of fat.

In other words, she’s perfectly normal.

So when the Hollywood Foreign Press gave Dunham that round gold statue, they also sent a very important message to the rest of the women in the world—It’s okay to look normal, they said. Your work is more important than how you look. Give us your best work, and we will love you.

And that, my friends, is a huge change in the world of Hollywood. HUGE.

And I am incredibly happy it finally happened.

During her acceptance speech, Dunham said, “This award is for every woman who ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her,” and she couldn’t be more right about that.

Another reason we all need to spend more time outside…

My husband canoeing with me on the Chesapeake Bay.

 

I’ve talked many times here about the fact that Americans don’t spend as much time outside as we used to. This is a problem today both for adults—most of us spent HOURS outside when we were young and rarely step food outside now—and for kids who it seems spend all of their time inside, chained to the television, the computer, the iPod, the phone.

This is a problem because:

1) It means we exercise less and sit more, making us fatter.

2) It keeps kids from learning to be independent and how to problem solve. (Remember being young and finding yourself in a sticky situation you had to get out of? Yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore.)

3) It means our brains don’t work as well. In fact, according to Salon, “New research suggests that stepping away from the shiny Apple product and into the woods can have a big impact on creativity and problem-solving.”

David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah, claims that our brains are more “limber” when we spend time away from the office and screens. But he also notes that “the average American child spends just 15 to 25 minutes playing outside each day and some seven and a half hours in front of a screen. Eighty percent of 5-year-olds are computer users. It’s impossible to know just what this digital noise does to the adolescent brain,” but it’s definitely a reason for concern.

Strayer advocates combatting this problem with outdoor immersion in the form of annual backwoods camping trips, which he’s doing with this students to determine the benefits of such activity.

Strayer’s return-to-nature trips are a great idea, but I’m not convinced that total immersion is mandatory to achieve the kind of replenishment he’s talking about, nor am I convinced that one annual trip is enough to recharge our brains.* Sure, a big backwoods getaway is great if you can swing it, but it seems just as important to spend time communing with nature every single day of the year. (Or if that isn’t possible, at least a few days a week.) Not only will doing so improve how our brains work, it will also help us fight obesity, remain healthy, stay connected to the natural world, and reduce our level of stress.

Plus, it’s just plain fun.

 

*Strayer also advocates leaving tech gadgetry at home when hitting the great outdoors. Though I agree in theory that we shouldn’t use our gadgetry when communing with nature, it’s better to be safe than sorry and bring it with you when going to a remote location. I say this because a friend of mine just spent twelve hours with two other adults and a small child lost in the wilderness because they wanted to get away from technology. Needless to say, they regretted that decision. 

Musburger-gate: and why this ESPN sportscaster’s comments—and college football—hurt us all

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rPdjX4Kya7o

Last night was one of the biggest games of the year—the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) title game between Alabama and Notre Dame that determines which team is the best in college football.

It seemed like everyone I knew was talking about the game yesterday and planning to watch it, but, to be honest, I had no interest in it.

Nevertheless, my husband had the game on—without the sound—while we both worked on other things last night. At one point, I told him he could turn up the volume if he wanted to, and he did.

I looked up at the television at that exact moment and saw a young woman’s face in the center of the screen. I wasn’t sure why the camera lingered on her so long, so I started paying attention.

It was soon revealed that the face belonged to 23-year-old Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama’s quarterback. And while the cameras focused on Webb, the commentators started talking about her looks as if she were a prize-winning bull they were sizing up at the county fair.

73-year-old ESPN commentator Brent Musburger was the one who really went to town over Webb’s looks:

“You see that lovely lady there?” Musburger began. “She does go to Auburn. I want to admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama, and that’s AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, okay?… Wow, I tell you, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women… What a beautiful woman.”

“Wow,” ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit added. “AJ’s doing some things right down in Tuscaloosa.”

Musburger went on: “So if you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throwing it around the backyard with Pops.” 

I turned to my husband after I heard this. “What the hell was that all about?” I said to him.

“I have no idea,” he said.

“That was completely inappropriate.”

Last night, I had thought, incorrectly, that I’d be the only person to notice how inappropriate Musburger’s comments were, but I was wrong. Social media outlets were lit up today with people complaining about Musburger’s behavior, which made me very happy.

I’m happy because Musburger’s attitude towards Webb belies an incredibly sexist attitude about the role of women in our society, and I’m thrilled that so many people are attacking him for that attitude.

His comments reveal that not only does he think women are possessions, but also that they are possessions that can be won through stereotypically macho behavior like being a quarterback on a winning football team. His comments also imply that being pretty—in and of itself—makes a woman valuable and that physical beauty is all that matters to heterosexual men.

These ideas are both offensive and wrongheaded, sending the message to women that they are only valued because of their looks. Today’s widespread attacks on Musburger demonstrate that I am not alone in thinking that this is an inappropriate message to send to viewers.

However, I may be alone in connecting Musburger’s actions to those of college football at large. Are we really surprised that Musburger said what he did when talking about a sport that repeatedly hires, promotes, recruits, and retains coaches and players who are guilty of both unethical and sometimes illegal behavior? A sport that only features women when they are on the sidelines cheering for and supporting big strong men and puts most of those women in outfits the size of bathing suits?

Let’s be honest, college football is a mess. It’s violent. It’s sexist. It’s corrupt. And comments like Musburger’s will continue—off television, if not on—until that changes.

I don’t know what will happen to Musburger as a result of his poor behavior last night and I have no delusions about the fact that college football is very unlikely to change, but I do hope that sportscasters all over the country get the message that acting like a character on Mad Men is no longer acceptable in our society.

Happy new year! What did you do last year that made you feel good about yourself?

For the past three years, I’ve made a list of “non-resolutions” rather than resolutions. (You can see my first set non-resolutions from 2011 here.)

I do this so I can remember what I’ve done right over the past year instead of focusing on what I think I’m doing wrong.

You might remember that, last year, I invited readers to submit their non-resolutions and got dozens of responses, which you can still read here. (And this year to celebrate the new year I invited readers to submit photos for my new Tumblr photo blog, “The Real You Project.”)

Even though I spent New Year’s Day focusing on The Real You Project, that doesn’t mean I want to stop the great tradition of non-resolutions. To that end, here are my non-resolutions for this year:

1) In terms of my health, I’m thrilled that I managed to amp up my exercise program a good deal over the past twelve months. A year ago, I had gotten in a bit of a slump. I was still exercising about an hour a day, but I only did one kind of activity: walking. But since then, I’ve added a little bit of running and a local boot camp class three times a week to my exercise routine. The result is that I am more much more toned, tighter, and stronger than I was before, and I love that. I also love the camaraderie of boot camp. I don’t know what I would do without my boot camp buddies—they motivate me every single day.

2) I’m glad too that I had another good year in my relationships with friends and family, whom I feel closer to every day.

3) In addition to writing this blog, I am also a writer of books. But sometimes the books take a backseat to other things—like teaching and blogging. That’s why I am so happy to be able to say that I finally finished the book I’ve been working on for four long years. It’s a memoir about meeting my biological family called You Belong to Us, and I’m now in the final proofreading stages and will have this thing done before the end of January.

4) Speaking of teaching, I’ve been through some rough times with my “day job” over the past few years. My job is not ideal because I am not on the tenure track where I teach, which basically means I teach more and get paid less. But I do love to teach, and this past semester I was finally able to focus more on the positive aspects of my teaching gig—like job security and benefits and my great students—than those negative aspects.

5) Finally I’m so proud to say that I’m starting 2013 on a more positive note about my body than I was a year ago. At the end of 2011, I gained five pounds in just two days—though I still have no idea why. So I started 2012 five pounds heavier than I’d ever been, and I was really feeling awful about it. Since then, I haven’t lost those five pounds—they seem to be here to stay—but I have managed to develop a better attitude about them. No, I’m never going to be skinny, but I am healthy and happy, which is more important than worrying about a few silly pounds that clearly needed a home.

Okay, those are my non-resolutions.

What are yours???

A new year and a new way to feel good about yourself

Happy new year, everyone!

Today I am launching a new Tumblr photo blog in association with I Will Not Diet called “The Real You Project.”

This photo blog is designed to feature photos of regular people looking real—untouched, unPhotoshopped, unfiltered. My intent is for us to accept our flaws, even embrace them because they are what make us who we are.

As long as I Will Not Diet has existed, it has included a “gallery of gorgeous women.” That is, a gallery of famous women who have real bodies. But for a long time, readers have asked me to add a gallery of regular women (and men), and that’s why I created The Real You Project.

I hope you will all check out The Real You Project, which you can find at: http://iwillnotdiettherealyou.tumblr.com. Also, here are a few photos from there to whet your appetite:

Also, please consider submitting a photo yourself, which you can email me at: molly at iwillnotdiet dot com.

As we start the new year, rather than focusing on what’s wrong with us, let’s focus on what’s right.

I hope you have a wonderful and healthy new year,
Molly

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