Archive for March 28, 2013

What are we teaching our students? Or why I almost never feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society

Last week I watched clips from Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions with the students in my Creative Retellings class during one of the student’s presentations. (If you don’t know, Cruel Intentions is a contemporary retelling of Dangerous Liaisons.) The discussion of the two films was excellent except for one notable part…

My students didn’t understand why the two men in Dangerous Liaisons—played by John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves—would be more attracted to the character played by Glenn Close than they were to the character played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

That part of our class discussion went something like this:

“But Pfeiffer is smoking hot,” one of the students explained. “Why would anyone pick Glenn Close over her?”

“Maybe they were drawn to things besides her looks,” I offered. “Like her confidence and power or her intelligence and wit.”

“I don’t know,” one student said, and the others agreed, nodding and twisting their faces in a way told me they were not convinced by my argument

“And it’s not like Glen Close is a monster or something,” I countered. “She’s attractive too.”

Again my comment was met with disapproving, confused looks.

I was horrified that my students, for some reason, had gotten the idea that women have to be hot to be attractive to men.

So I explained that back in my day—yes, I really said that—women in Hollywood were not all “smoking hot” and that they didn’t all look exactly the same either. Award-winning actresses like Glenn Close, Margot Kidder, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Karen Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelica Huston, Geena Davis, Jodi Foster, Susan Sarandon, Alfre Woodard, Christine Lahti, Sigourney Weaver, and Meryl Streep played the romantic lead in Hollywood movies while actually looking like regular people. Sure, none of them were homely, but they also didn’t look like they belonged in an episode of Gossip Girl either.

That seemed to satisfy my students. Their twisted faces were gone, replaced by  bright eyes and nodding heads. They seemed to get it. I was finally getting through to them.

So imagine my surprise when Dangerous Liaisons came up in class again this week, and one of them said, “I still can’t believe that John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves would go after someone who looks like Glenn Close.”

Sometimes I feel like I can’t win.

This story is worth more than a thousand words

I went to the funeral of my last living grandparent today—my paternal grandmother, Margaret McCaffrey, who was 96 years old when she died on Sunday.

Oh, I loved this woman dearly. We all did.

And during the funeral, her youngest daughter, my Aunt Janie, lovingly captured why we all adored her: she was a giver. With tears in her eyes, Jane read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and then told three moving stories about her mother helping those who were less fortunate.

I won’t repeat those stories here because those are Jane’s stories, not mine, but I will tell you that these weren’t stories about simply volunteering at a shelter or giving to charity. These were stories about standing up for people who were different than her at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so.

But I will tell you that these stories fit with what I already knew about my grandmother, which was that she really seemed to appreciate everyone she met. The funny thing is that I didn’t put this together until I heard Jane’s touching speech this morning. I knew she loved and appreciated me and everyone we knew, but Grandma did it so quietly that you almost didn’t notice (unlike Grandpa, who I loved just as much and who was just as giving but who showed his appreciation of others with a volume and humor that sometimes overshadowed hers).

It wasn’t just that Grandma appreciated people for who they were. She also appreciated them in ways others didn’t. She saw the intelligence in the child who struggled in school, the discipline in the adult who hadn’t made it yet, the potential in everyone.

And though I was the awkward sister for many years, Grandma never saw me that way. She saw my beauty before anyone else.

I’ll never forget when I first realized this. It was during the summer of my thirteenth year, between seventh and eighth grade. For some reason I can’t remember, I had decided to visit both sets of my grandparents on my own for a week each. And while I was with my dad’s parents, my grandmother made me pose for a photo one afternoon.

I was wearing a very eighties outfit of short white shorts and a lavender-colored shirt with a matching bandana, and when the photo came back, Grandma went on and on about how beautiful I looked.

“Look at your legs, Molly,” she said. “They are so long and lovely.”

It was true that my legs were long and lovely, but I couldn’t see that because I was too focused on what I saw as my lesser qualities: my shiny forehead, wide nose, and too-short hair.

“And your tiny waist,” Grandma said. Then she turned to me with a sincere smile. “You are such a pretty girl.”

At the time I thought Grandma was either just being nice or starting to show signs of age. After all no one thought I was a pretty girl. My sister was the pretty one. My cousin Amy was pretty. I was the smart one, the thoughtful one. But I was not pretty.

To my great horror, Grandma made copies of the photo and gave them to my parents and other family members. She even had it blown up and framed for me. But I hated that photo because I thought it represented all that was wrong with me and hid it in one of my drawers as soon as I got home, determined that no one would ever see it.

Unfortunately I got my wish. I haven’t seen that photo in years. And now I would do almost anything to find it, to see what Grandma saw years before even I could.

Let them eat fruit!

Recently I heard a professional in the health industry say that people who are trying to lose weight should cut back on fruit.

Not ice cream or brownies or chips or soda.

But fruit.

Weight Watchers used to give the same advice. In one of my first posts on I Will Not Diet (back in April of 2009), I talked about what was wrong with Weight Watchers don’t-eat-too-much-fruit approach, and I stand by those words today: “there should be NO limit on the amount of fruits and vegetables people allow themselves to eat, and any ‘diet’ that tells you to cut back on them is, by definition, unhealthy.”

Since then Weight Watchers has changed their stance on fruit.

They now define fruit as a “free” food and tell their members to eat as much of it as they want. As they explained in 2010 when the change occurred, “Fifteen years ago we said a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. If you ate 100 calories of butter or 100 calories of chicken, it was all the same. Now, we know that is not the case, in terms of how hard the body has to work to make that energy available. And even more important is that where that energy comes from affects feelings of hunger and fullness.”


100 calories of butter is not the same as 100 calories of chicken.

And 100 calories of fruit is not the same as 100 calories of cake.

Moreover, most Americans don’t get enough fruit and vegetables as it is, so the idea that anyone would encourage us to consider eating even less fruit is simply bewildering to me.

We need to be eating more fruit, not less.

How much fruit should we at a day? About three or four pieces given that we’re supposed to have 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to get in those 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables every day and almost never get there. But I still try.

And the less fruit we eat, the more we crave other sweets, sweets that are not as healthy or filling as fruit is.

So why would anyone advocate eating less fruit?

Because it’s a quick way to drop a pound or two, a quick way to see results on the scale. Cut out fruit for a week, and you probably will lose a few pounds. But will you be healthier? No way. Will the weight come back? Probably. And then some.

This is just another example of why health—not weight loss—has to be the goal.

The Importance of Body Acceptance: Because We Can’t All Be Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum

These days you can’t get on the internet without hearing another scary story about obesity or body image. As a country, we are obsessed with the subject.

That’s part of the reason I started I Will Not Diet and The Real You Project—to encourage people to question the consequences of that obsession since 45 million Americans go on a diet every year.

This may seem like a good idea given that we are collectively more obese than ever before, but, in truth, dieting is bad for us. Ninety percent or more of the people who go on diets gain back more weight than they lose. That means that every time you go on a diet, chances are you end up gaining weight in the long run, not losing it. And if you go on a diet every year or so, that weight gain multiplies.

These statistics are the reason why I believe diets play a significant role in the obesity epidemic. In countries where people are not obsessed with dieting—France, for instance—obesity isn’t nearly as big of a problem.

This raises the question: why do we gain weight after a diet is over and what can be done about it?

The simple reason we gain weight after dieting is because diets are not sustainable over the long haul, so we go back to our old habits once it’s all over. And as soon as we start eating more, the pounds come back.

Another reason we gain weight post-diet is because, after denying ourselves the foods we love for so long, we want them even more than we did before. I went on the only diet of my adult life before I got married, and after my “wedding diet” was over, I gained thirty pounds (I’d only lost seventeen) because I was so hungry for all the foods I hadn’t been allowed to have for almost a year.

That was when I realized how unhealthy it is to diet.

But the American obsession with dieting is also fueled by our obsession with celebrities. Everywhere you go in America, you see celebrities—on the covers of magazines in grocery stores and drug stores and bookstores, on our television and movie screens, and even on our computers through the magic of the internet. It sometimes feels like you can’t do anything without seeing Danica Patrick popping up in a GoDaddy ad.

And the effect of that celebrity culture is that we, unconsciously or not, want to emulate those celebrities—we want to be as rich as them, as successful as them, as thin as them.

The only problem is that in order to be as thin as a celebrity, you have to make it your job. You have to exercise several hours every day and eat healthy foods at every meal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have several hours a day to exercise, nor do I have a cook to prepare all of my meals—which is the ONLY reason why I don’t look like Cameron Diaz.

Seriously though—when we try to look like Cameron Diaz or Justin Timberlake (I will never get over their breakup) and fail (because we can’t live at the gym or eat healthy all the time), we give up. We give up and stop exercising entirely and start eating Taco Bell so much it feels like we’re living inside a Super Bowl commercial.

And why wouldn’t we?

If we can’t look like Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, we might as well sit on the couch all night and eat White Castle, playing Call of Duty 2 until we hear our alarm clocks going off the next morning.

This is why we need better role models. If we didn’t aspire to look like impossibly thin or buff celebrities, we might actually be healthier. That’s why celebrities like Lena Dunham and Seth Rogen are so important.

We need real people to emulate, not people who don’t have a bit of extra flesh around the middle or under their arms.

At the same time, we need to realize that—despite Dunham’s and Rogen’s success—things aren’t going to change overnight. Seyfried and Tatum aren’t going anywhere. (they’re probably making a Nicholas Sparks movie somewhere right now), so we have to accept that celebrities are not good role models.

And only after we do that, can we begin to accept ourselves and be healthy.


A shorter version of this article first appeared in The College Heights Herald.

Attack of the killer laws: Ohio makes it even harder to walk anywhere

Video from Transit Miami.


Recently the state of Ohio put a new law in place that, basically, gives cars the right of way over pedestrians.

According to Streets Blog Capitol Hill, the new rule “require pedestrians to yield to cars turning right or left on red at the beginning of the green signal” AND dictates that “pedestrians do not have the right-of-way at the beginning of the walk signal, but have to ‘yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that the walking person signal indication is first shown.'”

Let me repeat that: pedestrians do not have the right-of-way at the beginning of the walk signal.

Uh, then why does it flash the word “WALK”?

And let’s not forget that this law requires pedestrians to “yield to cars turning right or left on red.”

So let me get this straight: when walkers see a bright white light that flashes the word “walk” at them, they can’t necessarily walk. BUT when people driving a car sees a bright red circle of light above their vehicle, they do NOT have to yield to pedestrians.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

We live in a country where—even AFTER we account for the change in the way obesity is figured—Americans are getting more obese every day. We are, in fact, getting bigger at such an alarming rate that this problem is now considered epidemic.

So Ohio decided that the way to respond to this situation was to make it harder for people to walk?

How does that make ANY sense at all?

Let’s be honest: people in our country don’t walk enough as it is. In other countries, citizens walk every day and sometimes everywhere. They walk to school and to work, to the market and to the bank. They walk to restaurants and to movie theatres.

Sure, that still happens in a handful of major American cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., for instance—but for the most part, Americans do not walk. They drive. They drive to work and to school, to the market and to the bank, to the dry cleaners, to restaurants, to the mall, to the movie theatre. They drive everywhere!

My God, most Americans who go to the gym DRIVE there.

Americans drive so freaking much that sometimes I think that if we were all forced to walk to just one single place—fast food restaurants—and were allowed to drive everywhere else, we could solve the obesity epidemic in one fell swoop.

Of course, that’s a law that’s not going to happen, but the opposite can’t happen either: we can’t have laws that make Americans want to walk LESS than they already do. We just can’t.

But this new Buckeye State law will do just that. If people have to risk their lives every time they cross AT A WALK LIGHT, they are going to be much less likely to walk at all.

What I don’t understand is why this legislation went forward in the first place. I mean, what were they thinking? American drivers don’t have enough rights! And those people who walk? They’re COMPLETELY out of control. We’ve got to stop them! 

Oddly, something similar is happening in Washington state where a House Transportation tax proposal is pushing for a tax on bicycle riders because they use the road too. Representative Ed Orcutt of Kalama, Washington, even went so far as to say that bikers should have to pay additional taxes because they emit carbon dioxide, which is bad for the environment, completely ignoring the fact that cars give off more carbon dioxide than anything else on the planet.

If we live in a society that makes it harder and more dangerous for people who choose to walk or ride their bikes OR MOVE AT ALL, then we have to accept that obesity is not just epidemic.

It’s our future.


Sign the petition to change this law back so that pedestrians have the right-of-way when the walk sign is flashing.

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