Tag Archives: body image

Rant: “Don’t tell me I’m pretty…” Huh?!?

And just like that, a multitude of responses just popped into the mind of anyone reading that simple statement.

She’s fishing for compliments.

That’s some really low self-esteem.

You are beautiful. Everyone has beauty inside them.

Why should you wish to conform to the unrealistic expectations of society…?

Why not smart or strong…?

I’m probably going to get my feminist card revoked and someone will kick me out of the club, but I have a serious beef with some of the prevailing attitudes of media, bloggers, and spewers of what I might call the social-justice-warrior-theme.

Recently, I read an article that said (and I paraphrase) even the positive messages given to women are actually negative. This incredibly oxymoronic (with emphasis on the moron) and confusing diatribe proclaimed that our new body positive mantras proclaimed far and wide were detrimental to women because while appearing to be empowering statements are undermined by subtle phrasing that “privileges male pleasure above all else.” What?!? So… no matter what you say to compliment, empower, or just give someone a compliment (well, a female someone, that is) is merely supporting the patriarchal overlords and stamping upon the spirits of the sisters… oh, my stars, really?!? While I’m thinking about it, just because you want to be perceived as attractive, why assume that it is the opposite gender that someone is trying to impress. Does a preference for same gender somehow make one immune to the desire to be attractive to them? I don’t think so. But I digress. Most of us enjoy hearing “You look awesome” or “That is especially ravishing” or even “Dang, you look hot!” We like it. We get a little zing in our swing. And apparently… that’s not ok?

From this particular perspective comes the inability to appreciate appreciation… Yes, I said that. I’ve never quite understood why some people bristle when given compliments (or having doors held or chairs for that matter). I mean, I completely understand how it might get a little tiring and frustrating to never be appreciated for your intellect or talent as a female (which begs the question, do men get tired of being praised for the masculine non-physical traits instead of physical attributes?). However, just because someone tells you that you look amazing in your outfit doesn’t mean they think your appearance is all you have to offer. Well… I mean, some people are just objectifying jerks, but they are likely to treat everyone that way. They very likely see everyone on the planet as objects with which they interact. It’s called narcissism. That doesn’t mean that all compliments from all people are bad, demeaning, or undermining the empowerment of your individuality and self-confidence.

And what, pray tell, is so wrong with wanting to be found attractive?!? The overall tone of the piece I read (mentioned above) was that somehow, in some way, I was flawed for wanting to be perceived as attractive or sexy. Um… hate to tell the author, but this is one of those evolutionary drives that is programmed into our DNA. Being desirable from the perspective of Og and Uma (those two get a ton of mileage in my blogs these days) meant that they had resources… they possibly got to replicate their genetics via procreation. Og didn’t get bent and say to Uma “but you don’t appreciate the way I knap the flint…” and Uma didn’t get upset because Og wasn’t appreciative of her ability to count the days in a moon cycle. So, we evolved to get the warm fuzzies and tinglies when someone thinks we are pretty or sexy. That is part of our genetic make up. It’s ok, really it is. It is nice to be told that someone finds us attractive. Or at least I thought it was until the media and various opinionated social bloggers and whoever else told me that it wasn’t ok for me to like that.

I think I get where they are coming from, and I believe it has good intentions. The desire to feel attractive is very different from the overwhelming pressure to adhere to a particular image. Being objectified by appearance rather than appreciated as an individual; that, my friends can get super unhealthy… But boy howdy does the message miss the mark somewhere. Where did it go so very wrong? I dislike these hopped up pseudo-psychologists who think it is somehow very wrong to like being perceived as pretty, sexy, or attractive.

So, where was it supposed to go? I’m just guessing, but I believe that the idea is that we can be self-empowering and feel good without any external judgment. That’s pretty awesome. What isn’t so awesome is that people got the idea that in order to have this internal sense of positive well-being we can’t appreciate the appreciation of others. And that just sucks and is a horrible way to live in a social interactive environment. If you are trapped in isolation having no other humans with which to interact, groovy. Telling yourself that you are good enough and smart enough is what you need, but there is still the “gosh darn it people like me” part that speaks to a social component. As humans we are programmed to get good vibes from being liked and appreciated by others.

Now, the pervading and sometimes overwhelming sense that I get from media and various and very vocal groups is that women are more susceptible than men to this whole objectification and self-image issues. That… is a crock. I have many male friends who are as much or much more body conscious than I am. The idea that societal expectations of physical beauty are only a detriment to those of us with lady parts is a fallacy.

My friend to whom I vented a large blast of frustration and ire on this topic this morning took it to an equality place. He remarked that many of the “third wave” feminists label compliments as objectifying in attempt achieving equality by oppressing the oppressors… or something along those lines. In other words, at some point, being equal was not so much about actual equality but in being superior. And that brings up another problem I have. I am not equal. Chances are, I never will be equal… to anyone. I am unique. I do not have the same talents or abilities of my friends. I lack the knowledge and experience of my elders. It has nothing to do with my gender but my self. I am different but no less valuable, and that is awesome. I am neither superior or inferior due to my genetics and biology. I strive every day to be the best I can for myself and for those I love.

So, does that mean that I’m undermining myself because part of my desire to accomplish is for others? If I buy into the claptrap of the article that set me off on this rant, the answer would be “yes.” By their standard, I should only work towards betterment for myself and my own satisfaction. Maybe that is true, but in doing for those I love, I am also serving myself. So, because I feel good about making people I care about feel good, does that make it bad? Ok… off on the spiral I go, bringing up the concept of altruism and the selfish gene theory and all that jazz. Trust me, we don’t have time for that here.

Back to the original issue. I’m tired of people telling me and everyone else that wanting to feel attractive or working towards a goal to please someone else is wrong and unhealthy. It’s not. It’s natural. Being owned or dominated by the perception of others is a different matter. We should all be free to be who we are and feel good about those things that make us feel confident, healthy… and yes, sexy. So, if someone tells you that you look good… it’s actually pretty awesome to say “Thanks” and believe it.

Physical Fit: Surviving the Holidays without Losing My Mind or All My Willpower

holidayweightgain

It is that time again… Well, it is that time for me again. Starting in the first days of air getting crisper, sweaters and hoodies making their appearances all over, and the epidemic of pumpkin everything, I start to feel that budding anxious feeling of pounds creeping back onto my body. My email is full of “The 7 Ways to avoid Holiday Weight Gain…” and “Follow these 17 Simple Rules to Avoid All Happiness this Season but at Least You Won’t Gain 50 Pounds Before New Year’s…” I can feel the panic and guilt sliding into my mind.

It’s true. Many a willpower has fallen before an overflowing display of favorite holiday treats and fountains of celebratory beverage. Even when I am being my most cautious and careful, I’m pretty sure that the increased caloric volume of the actual air is working against me. Every year, I promise myself that I can and will resist the holidays and their overabundance of tasty goodness. I will resist the urge to snuggle up before fire instead of getting out for my run and workout routine. Yet, I hear the fallen angel on my shoulder whispering softly things like, “It’s just once a year…” or “It’s the holidays. That negates calories and fat…” Um… yeah, get thee behind me betrayer! And so goes my struggle, much as the rest of the world. So, at least I know I am not alone. How do I know?

Well, as it happens, I read. A lot. Sometimes I even read for pure enjoyment without any graphs or statistics or comparison studies… Unfortunately, I read a lot of incredibly dry (at least to some opinions) scientific journal type articles and medical journals. Thanks to my (incredibly) pedantic reading choices, I actually came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clearly defined exactly how much of a detriment that the Eat-All-The-Things season is to our health, wellbeing, and bathing suits.

Turns out, instead of setting our resolutions for better fitness and health with the clock restarting at December 31st, we should be thinking about bettering our habits starting at the end of September (Helander, Wnsink, & Chieh, 2016). According to the scientists who made a study of weight gain during the holiday season in three countries in the northern hemisphere, people are at their lowest weight during early October. Starting sometime before All Hallow’s Eve, the weight starts to increase and the average does not appear to get back to the pre-TrickorTreat days until sometime in April. The highest weigh-in on average was New Year’s Day. So, it seems that people above the equator start packing on the pounds (as much as 5 additional pounds on average) when the bulk candy starts hitting the aisles and doesn’t start depleting until Gym-crowding Month (or Gym-tending Season).

Makes you wonder… Is it just the availability of the sugary sweets and sugar plums dancing? Maybe not. There are a number of contributing factors that seem to be in play. Aside from the candy, cookies, and pies, there are multiple opportunities for celebration that surround gorge-fest food extravaganzas. It isn’t just the sweet-teeth out there that are in danger. Turkey and dressing with all the accompanying starchy sides make Thanksgiving a quagmire of dietary ruin. The unending calendar of holiday gatherings with all the favored seasonal treats beckons. Every time you turn around, people are getting together to celebrate the season, and it usually involves munchies… and drinks. Yep, that’s a definite part of the equation, specifically the equation that keeps adding numbers to the scale. Alcohol consumption definitely adds to the caloric intake. Egg nog, holiday punch, mulled wines and meads, and celebratory champagne toasts are everywhere you turn.

Then, there is the weather. It is dark later and gets dark earlier (remember, we are talking about the northern hemisphere). It’s harder to get out in the dark and cold for that early morning workout, and the cool and dark of the evenings make working out at the gym or a run less appealing than being home in front of a fire with snuggly clothes, a book, and some warm mug of your choice. And speaking of temperatures, the fashion options aren’t helping matters. Big fluffy hoodies and slouchy sweaters hide a plethora of inconvenient waistline issues. The beach-ready body that was shown off with form fitting styles and skin-baring swimwear is now safely camouflaged by woolen knits and multiple layers. “I’m not fat… I’m big sweatered.” I’m not body-shaming anyone, and some of those cooler weather styles are just legitimately adorable. However, it does make it that much easier to lose sight of our health goals as well as those waistline goals we’ve been working towards so diligently when they were more visible. (It does make me wonder if a follow up study could be done to see what the trend is for the folks Downunder.)

And now for the feels… Who are my emotional eaters out there? I can sense my people. I know that you are waving at me across the ether… or else hiding under your keyboards with your hoard of stashed Reese’s Cups saying “Nothing to see here! Move along!” The point is, I totally get it. My emotional eating isn’t depression or sadness, it is boredom and stress. Unlike some who soothe the wounds with pints… quarts… ok, gallons of Ben & Jerry’s, I am more likely to go reaching in the larder and fridge for the cure to the stress monkey hanging on my back. I’ve talked about my boredom eating previously, but I shall now propose a different scenario. The hordes of holiday visitors have landed upon the shores of the abode. Is the house ready? Is the food prepared? Is it the right food? Are there sufficient items for all, including the allergies and medical restrictions? Are you preparing that dish that is a family heirloom quite the way the ancestors prescribed…? You get the idea. All the thoughts are currently perking, bubbling, boiling, and smoking inside my cranium making the peace and good cheer… well, not so much. Rampaging around the kitchen and house trying to address all the imagined fires popping up, my hand sneaks out to grab a crisp or a spoonful of some concoction or possibly a chocolate whatnot. I mean, I have to taste it to make sure it is all right… right? Well, the occasional bite and crisp becomes mindless hand to mouth exercise that increases my food intake by an unknown amount because it was precisely that… mindless. I didn’t actually pay attention. Heck, I probably didn’t even taste it. And while we are in the kitchen trying to prepare the feast often with unsolicited advice or critique from helpful others, it might not be so unusual to find a shot, a glass… a second bottle of various liquid remedy being imbibed. It’s the holidays. Just trying to keep the peace here! The point being, aside from the added calories, stress doesn’t help when we are trying to keep the figure and fitness we achieved pre-Labor Day. On top of which, the addition of the happy sauce sometimes clouds us to the amount of food we are washing down with the cocktail(s).

So, those are the struggles. What are the fixes? I’ve read a lot on that as well. Summarizing some of the most helpful tips would be one word: Mindfulness. Mainly, be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. That will help a lot of the automatic feeding. Most of the experts say to indulge (not overindulge) in your favorites, but leave off on the holiday dishes that generally are a “Meh” for you. It isn’t necessary to eat everything. One of the no-brainers that I know I am guilty of myself is the “saving myself for” syndrome. Knowing I have a party, get-together, or buffet of treats on the horizon, I find myself skipping meals to save the calories for the goodies. The problem with that would be that I’m so ravenous by the time I get to the feast that I eat way more of everything than I would have otherwise. Better to maintain a nice balanced and healthy feeding schedule.

Watch the cocktails. Seriously, there are way more calories consumed in our celebration shots than we give credit. Remembering to rotate non-alcoholic beverages, water, or seltzer for a happy fizz will help decrease the amount of booze calories without pooping on the party.

The stress eating and drinking… this is my big one, and I have a couple of big allies to help on this one. First of all, keeping a decent sleep schedule despite the parties is a big one. With packed schedules and various obligations hitting at the end of the year, it is sometimes more difficult than usual to catch the Zzzz’s, but I know that I am trying to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and follow the good sleep hygiene habits I’ve worked on this year. I am hopeful that will help me keep on track. And, of course, my physical fit… While my workout routines and running have been fueled by a desire to be less horrifying when naked, I have found that the physical activity (specifically the aerobic portion) also keeps me sane and less at risk of dissolving into a fanged she-beast ready to bite the heads off unsuspecting family and friends. I know, there are those of you out there saying “If I had to run a mile, something better be about to bite me…” but I promise there is science behind my madness. It turns out that several studies have been done showing that aerobic exercise increases brain activity, specifically of the alpha wave variety (Bergland, 2015; Crabbe & Dischman, 2004; Gutmann, et al., 2015). In fact, during and immediately after aerobic exercise (the kind where you breathe harder and your heart rate goes up) alpha wave activity significantly increases, much like meditation. So what? It turns out that this particular type of brain activity is what happens when we are in idle, drifting, daydreaming, or meditating. The impact on creativity has been shown in studies as well as the use of this type of thought pattern in treating anxiety and depression. Voila! I brought it back to the point without flying off planet. Keeping up with your exercise routine with some aerobic activity involved can help with holiday blues or seasonal angst. Meditation is all well and good, but when you have the house full of people, running (quite literally) away might be more effective than trying to find alone time to get in some “Ohms.”

delicious-how-grinch-stole-christmasI think I have a game plan, now. At least I have a fair assortment of options and strategies to help me get through the season. Actually, if I rope in a few teammates and coaches to remind me when I start wandering off the path, I should get through fairly unscathed. Enjoy your holidays!

 

Bergland, C. (2015). Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

Crabbe, J., & Dischman, R. (2004). Brain electrocortical activity during and after exercise: A quantitative synthesis. Psychophysiology, 41(4), 563-574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00176.x

Gutmann, B., Mierau, A., Hülsdünker, T., Hildebrand, C., Przyklenk, A., Hollmann, W., & Strüder, H. K. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Individual Resting State EEG Alpha Peak Frequency. Neural Plasticity, 2015, 717312. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/717312

Helander, E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12). Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1602012

Physical Fit: You’re doing it wrong…

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this, read this, had it implied, or involuntarily had the thought pop in my head… Well, I could afford a personal trainer, a home gym, and maybe some plastic surgery just to take up a little of the extra dangle in my bangle, ya know.

It’s been a while since I talked about my Physical Fit. It’s been a somewhat arduous road with some potholes, detours, and unaccountable delays, but I’ve trudged on, making adjustments where I needed and getting feedback, support, and advice from a very wide variety of sources. I admit that I’ve occasionally felt discouraged about results (or lack thereof). I’ve been depressed on plateaus and concerned by feeling regressed. However, one of the things I have managed to figure out is that so long as I never actually quit, it was all just fine. That being said, I’m possibly one of the most stubborn individuals on the planet (I totally see you nodding). The one part of my own personality that have had to fight hard has been the tendency to “stub up” as my grandmother would say when someone gives me unsolicited instruction or direction.

It’s not that I am a completely ungrateful wretch, but apparently there is a stubborn passive-aggressive teenager lurking in my soul. Same thing used to happen to me when I would have a thought to do something nice like… oh, I don’t know, send a thank you card, or remember a birthday… then, my mother, before I had the chance to initiate that activity myself would say “Remember to send a thank you note.” And that was it. I was done. I wouldn’t have sent a thank you note if it kept me from dying by fire. I’ve never really known what that particularly unpleasant part of my personality serves, where it comes from, or why it is there, but it is true. My thunder has been stolen. The idea and impulse was no longer my own. I could take no pride in my own altruism because I was directed to the action by my mother!

So, as usual, I’ve strayed from the original point, but the whole unsolicited advice prompts a similar but not quite identical response. It’s completely involuntary and unconscious. Occasionally, the advice or instruction is actually good, and I have to forcefully shove that angry, bad-tempered 13 year old in my head back into her closet.

However… not all the advice or directions are good. To be completely honest, some of it is downright dangerous. Mostly, it is just insulting, though, especially considering some sources. For instance, it has been a somewhat regular occurrence for myself as well as other friends who also have their physical fits to be molested by self-appointed, untrained, and certainly not certified trainers. You know the sort I’m talking about. These are the fitness experts of the local gym striding about looking for hapless victims upon whom to pounce with their sage body-conscious wisdom. They walk over and ask if you need a spot. “Nah, man. It’s like 10 pounds, I’m good.” Or they might critique your stance, suggest a different type of exercise, or tell you that you will never get “swolled” doing it like that (assuming they actually know why you are working out and that your actual goal must be the same as theirs… to be “shredded, swolled, cut…” You get the idea). Without fail… you hear the “You’re doing it wrong” proclaimed as a blandishment for your obviously neophyte training regimen. Generally speaking, my greatest risk of injury usually comes at that point… spraining my ocular muscles with an inadvertent eye roll worthy of the aforementioned inner 13 year old.

For some of my friends, these overtures are less about form and results and more about how hot they look in their spandex. However, there are people who legitimately believe that the rest of the world truly requires their input. On that same train are riding the several thousands of various people, adverts, or click baits that are dying to tell you why your favorite food is making you fat. At this point, I’m not sure why anyone can actually keep track. For every theoretical diet or workout, there is some other guru who will absolutely tell you that it is soooooo wrong and will have the opposite results to what you are hoping to achieve.

I think my favorites are still the things that you click on that tell you that the reason you are not getting the slender sexy body that you want is because you are starving yourself and working out too hard. According to these miracle workers, you need to work out for 45 seconds and eat donuts… ok, might have exaggerated slightly. When the unsuspecting, desperate individual who sees a beach trip looming on the horizon clicks for help, there is literally half an hour of ridiculous snake oil poured out that ends with “And the secret can be yours for $199.99… PLUS, you get my own very special, delish, and fool proof recipes guaranteed to shoe horn your fat ass into that bikini in 10 days… or your money back!” Sheesh.

You know why there are so many plans out there and gimmicks and diets and workouts? Because people are looking for something that works that isn’t… wait for it… TIME and ENERGY and SELF-CONTROL. I understand. I really do. It is the appeal of wanting something that is as easy to make that healthy change as it was to slap on the extra pounds from over indulging and not moving enough. People don’t like being told that they may have to eliminate or at least cut back on their favorite sugary, fat-packet snacks. They don’t want to change their lifestyle and behaviors. They just want to change their life.

Our world has become very sedentary. Most of the jobs today involve a lot of sitting. Food comes fast and with a lot of calories to give it that “comfort” appeal. Deciding to make changes for better health actually requires some effort. Frequently that makes it unattractive in the beginning. That is why people look for easier ways. Eventually, those healthier changes start feeling good, but in the beginning, there is the strangeness and the resistance to change the status quo that provides the inertia going against the new motivation.

That is the other part of this whole “you’re doing it wrong” thing that frustrates and angers me. For many people (myself included), there is some embarrassment in starting down a new path. There is some inhibition of showing ignorance and self-consciousness for letting ourselves go from the physical and health perspective. While some unsolicited advisers are genuinely attempting to help, for many, that criticism is just enough to make those of us fighting the uphill battle of self-discipline run away and hide from the people who point out how “wrong” we’re doing it.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… if you are making the effort to move and change, you are doing something right. Unless you are doing something terribly outrageous and trying to imitate a double-jointed contortionist from the sideshow which could actually damage your body (incorrect posture, failure to keep your knees over your toes on squats, or putting too much torque on your joints when doing weight training), it isn’t wrong. There is nothing wrong with asking how to do certain types of exercises safely to avoid hurting yourself. There is nothing wrong with asking how to use equipment to make sure that you are getting the benefit for which it was designed. Not every plan or diet or supplement or nutrition program works for every person on the planet.

Everyone is different, and each few years someone else comes out with a new theory to revolutionize fitness, weight loss, fat-burning, muscle-building world. Low carb, no carb, all carb, low fat, healthy fat… weight training, aerobics, cardio, cross fit, high intensity interval, low impact… you name it, the list goes on and on, and every new messiah of fitness will tell you that their predecessors had it all wrong and that their plan is what you need to follow to be come the Adonis or Venus of your dreams.  They will provide testimonials and “evidence” to prove that their way is what works. I’m not saying they are wrong or have fabricated anything (I’m sure some have, but we’ll assume for the moment we are not actually talking about those). I’m suggesting that on the whole, they are providing a very small subject size. With few exceptions, the results and outcomes for these programs are usually not given with long term results (meaning they show “Lost 53 pounds in 8 weeks!” rather than “Kept off 53 pounds after 5 years!”). Again, small subject sizes. They are giving you results with a handful of people. They don’t tell you about the 40 people who followed this compared to 40 similarly profiled people with similar demographics that did not follow the same plan or possibly followed a different plan. They only tell you about the success stories.

Now, what you can do is check out reviews. With the advent of the internet came the ability to check out what people say about different programs, products, etc. While positive reviews are nice and show the best results, I personally always look for the negative reviews. I look to see 1) how many there are, and 2) what they say about the program that made them give the negative review. Physical trainers and fitness professionals are all well and good, but they are ultimately trying to sell their services, their programs, their products, and their books. Some produce results, and that is great, but again, it is small subject size and with very controlled circumstances. I truly believe that if you are under the guidance and coaching of one of these folks, you will show some results. It may not be precisely the same as they display with their own bodies or even their other clientele, but if you meet with a trainer that knows what they are doing, you are going to have some results, and they will likely be positive results. How positive generally depends on how much effort that YOU put into it. Long term lasting results depend on making changes in lifestyle that continue past the goal achievement.

For me, I tend to stick with medical journals and other academic or scholarly publications. Why? Because I’m a nerd. That’s probably the first thing you thought. I also have access to said journals because of my academic credentials. Most of them are available out there via subscriptions and such, but not everyone wants to pay for that or plow through a bunch of sciency-speak academia to see what types of programs seem to give the best results and for how long. Most of the true scholarly journal articles are to be found in libraries where they can be accessed for dissertation and thesis research. This is where I generally get hold of mine. Unless you belong to a professional organization, you are not likely to have subscriptions to these laying around on the coffee table. However, to drag my train of thought back to the track from its wanderings, the reason I like these is because they are less biased than your average self-help piece. They have larger subject sizes, examine a lot of different approaches, and give all the results, not just the positive ones.

Here is what I have managed to gather from all of it:

I’m not doing it wrong.

I’m doing what works for me to feel good, and occasionally it actually produces outcomes that are what I was after in the first place. Being healthy isn’t about looking a particular way. It is about feeling better. To be in better physical shape, you need both strength/resistance and cardio. You also need fuel. Starving yourself or following extreme diets of any kind generally does more harm than good, and very few of the diets that decrease caloric intake severely have long term success in keeping off the weight. And here’s a hint… if you find a program that avoids all the things that you hate about working out and getting fit, it is probably too good to be true and won’t actually have the impact you are wanting. If a program does not have a prescribed time limit with a sustainable maintenance cycle that you can actually live with for the long haul, it probably ain’t gonna cut it. Just because something works for your friend at the office doesn’t mean that the same exact thing will work in the exact same way for you.

I’ve found out when all is said and done, we aren’t doing it wrong when we are trying to find the pattern that works for us. So, keep at it. Ask questions (from actually knowledgeable people). Do research. Read reviews. The only wrong is when we stop trying.

Rock the body…

http://static.deathandtaxesmag.com/uploads/2012/07/skinny-jeans-585x400.jpg

I believe I have spoken of my own fashion despairs in the past. I am an accessory moron, and I will likely never quite grasp the aspects of chic.

I can recall pouring over the various fashion magazines and teen tomes that addressed all the latest when I was actually of an age to start exploring my own personal style. I even followed certain fads and fashion trends back in the day… I will spare you the mental images of me in the 80’s, but suffice to say I tried my hand at a variety of different looks. However, I have to admit that no matter what I did, I can say with some amounts of confidence that it always carried the aspects of someone going to a fancy-dress party rather than any style that I could own as mine.

Through the years, I’ve actually been told that I have the stature and build that can get away with following the trends. Be that as it may, I always feel when I try to embrace the fashions that I see displayed on so many others that I am a set of clothes walking about the world with a dowdy frump of a woman hidden inside. Or worse, the cute outfits on little petite things, and I try them and look like the linebacker from the football team in drag… yeah. It never feels comfortable the way my rattiest jeans and t-shirt do.

All that said… I do have an eye for these things. I see looks and outfits and general styles that appeal to me. I find them looking sharp and smart and wish that I could wear it myself with the same aplomb as the model or my friends and colleagues who manage it so well. I observe the writhing humanity about me on a regular basis and recognize that some of them obviously struggle with this as much or more than I do. I have to admire some of them for the bravery they espouse by merely trying to exhibit the fashions of the day. And then… I am also very certain that there are people who must not possess a mirror, or at least, they’ve never actually gazed upon their own image after dressing. I know, it’s catty and horrid and possibly engaging in the shaming of some type or other… but seriously… let me preach on it.

As I have said, I spent a good deal of time in my teens and adolescence trying out the latest trends. What all that playing about with fashion taught me was that just because something is the latest thing doesn’t mean that it is meant for my body. For instance, pleated jeans and tapered legs were all the rage at one time, but I assure you… NO ONE LOOKS GOOD IN THEM. That diamond shape that is created by the “mom jean” and little skinny ankle cuffs is not flattering to any body. And don’t get me started on skinny jeans… Additionally, while I do not think that you have to always “act your age” as they say, and people can stay young by acting young… there are limits, people. There is such a thing as dignity, and no matter what they say and how physically fit you are, no one should be wearing a micro-mini in their 40’s. In fact, I would say that to be perceived as an elegant and sophisticated individual, the whole miniskirt phenomena should probably have left the wardrobe before the 30’s were in the rearview. There are exceptions and leniency for certain people who really do have the “rockin’ body,” but the problem becomes that the skin of our knees gives away our age and is not so very attractive no matter how well we try to maintain otherwise, and it sadly has not a thing to do with weight or fitness.

There is also, for me, the leggings argument. I’m going to say this once. LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS. Oh, I’ve seen the video of the gal who says “Well, they aren’t a shirt… or a hat…” Yeah, I get what you are saying. They go on the lower half of the body. That doesn’t make them pants. It just does not, anymore than my panties, tights, socks, or support stockings are. Just because you wear them on your legs and lower bits does not mean that they should be your external wear and exhibited to the general public. No one wants to see cameltoe or every dimple of cellulite in the hindquarters. And guys, unless you are with the Bolshoi or Met company… I do not want to be able to tell your religion by looking at your crotch. Invest in some support and wear some pants. Have a little common sense and modesty. Leggings are great for wearing under long sweaters and tunics and sometimes skirts (though, seriously watch that! The 80’s were not that flattering, remember). Running tights, bicycle shorts, yoga pants, and other sport bottoms are fine… at the gym or on the track or in the yoga studio. They really are not that attractive worn out in public.

There are people in the world that seem to look amazing in anything they throw on their body. It’s still not advisable to go to a black tie event or even a nice restaurant wearing stretch pants with an oversized sweater or your latest phenomenally expensive workout clothing purchase to a job interview (See TNC: Dress for Success). It just isn’t on. Have some respect for the occasions, the workplace, and most importantly yourself.

I do not care what shape you are in… or are not in for that matter. Just because Vogue exhibits models that occasionally look like they have just been rescued from the camps at Auschwitz does not mean that everyone should aspire to a body mass index closely approximating emaciation. Additionally, as foreign as the concept is to many of us… and definitely to myself… there are people who are embarrassed by the fact that they feel too skinny and just can’t gain weight. It happens people.

A lot of high fashion designers (I’m talking the haute couture stuff that would never be realistic anywhere but a runway) tend to sculpt their creations around forms that tend to resemble clothes hangers… the wire kind. It is just easier to make fabrics drape and show off the form of the costume rather than the form of a normal, and varied, human form. Which brings me back to where I was going originally. We all see things in advertisements and billboards, red carpet events televised and entertainment media. We like them. We wish we could emulate them, but most of the time, we are looking at people who have entirely different body types than the ones we currently possess (or are likely to possess at any given time). It’s the nature of the species to admire ideals and aspire to emulate, while often lacking the natural foundation approximating the type. It’s fine, honestly. Beauty and attractiveness and health actually occur in many different forms.

It is entirely possible to be stylish, smart, and fabulous without exactly replicating the fashion of a different body type. It merely requires throwing out the trendy expectations and evaluating what actually flatters your own shape. There are too many out there who are bound, bent, and determined to wear a look that does nothing but accentuate the negative (think bound and bent some more)… and in the end people notice nothing but the clothing because it is positively screaming, entirely missing the person wearing them. Regardless of what anyone thinks, this is not the attention or assumptions that you should want. There are others who give up on looking stylish because their bodies will never look like that of starlets and supermodels. Those souls tend to hide under clothing that once again, does absolutely nothing to exhibit the amazing qualities of the person wearing them. Clothing is like window treatment. It shouldn’t be the entire focus. It should merely accent and draw the eye to the view.

Sure, it might be easier to choose wardrobe if one has won the genetic lottery, but even if you don’t look like the latest runway angel, that doesn’t mean that you have to relegate yourself to the sackcloth and ashes line. Additionally, while pursuing physical fitness goals is great for health and can help with some wardrobe concerns, it doesn’t solve all problems (ask anyone who lifts or does body building about finding a shirt with long sleeves that doesn’t look like they might turn green and shred the material at any moment). No matter whether you’ve got a rockin’ body or not… Just remember to rock the body you got!

Rant: No one is safe from the fat-shaming media

gerardbutler

So, I totally got sucked in the other day, like Alice down the proverbial rabbit hole of the interwebs. It started with a perfectly innocent article about iced coffee popsicles (that is innocent, I swear by all that is holy… and by the first bean of the blessed caffenation… ). However, as frequently happens (well, as happens to me that is) a side link caught my attention “GORGEOUS STARS THAT GOT FAT AND HIDEOUS!” (or something along those lines). Try as I might I could not resist the temptation to see this travesty of modern celebrity, and so, I clicked. And I found to my surprise that my temper flared. Once again the paparazzi and media hounds have pissed me off to an extent I didn’t think possible outside political arenas where they have no knowledge and generally speak from their posterior orifices.

Now, I’m going to digress a tad. I’ll try to keep my tangent to a brief ramble. So, bear with me. I have never been what might be considered a willowy sort. I was, at one time called a skinny kid by a grandparent here or there or others of a generation that knew The Great Depression years and thought that being able to see certain bones in a child meant lack of nourishment. I was never emaciated and I was certainly never without enough food to eat. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had gardens and my mom’s magical abilities to make quite hearty meals appear on the slimmest of budgets. At any rate, I was never one that would blow away in a good wind. I was a solid, athletically built youngster that probably fell in the lower to middle range of those damnable BMI charts… in other words average. That being said, I was never what might be considered thick, either. I tended to be on the long scale. However, with age comes wisdom… and then it presents some more unpleasant gifts. One of those less positive side effects of age is what I will call the thickening. I’m not talking about mere weight gain and adipose tissue acquisition. I’m talking just the pure and simple fact that some of us just get visibly and measurably wider/thicker/whatever as we get older. I believe it has something to do with hormones and genetics and such (at least that’s what all those required biology and human physiology courses I took said), but it is just a fact of life. Neither diet nor exercise will fix it. Some lucky folks seem to dodge this bullet in comparison to their peers, though even they show some change from their own earlier years to some extent. They tend to be those willowy types that no amount of childbirth, years, or desserts seems to change (yeah, I want to stab them, too. It’ll be ok. Just put your head between your knees until the urge passes), but for the rest of us, there is just no avoiding the middle aged spread. We can impact body fat percentages, how we feel, our physical health, muscle tone, and energy levels with judicious dietary choices and appropriate exercise, but despite the efforts we will still never become a bean pole (even if we were in youth). Whether I like it or not, without surgical modification, I am never going to be what I was in my younger years. And with that foundation… on we go.

So, this article/slide show that I happened upon had a title at the top of the page: “Celebrities that Couldn’t Stop Eating and Got Fat…” I started paging through the side by side comparisons of various examples, “Before” and “After” as it were. Both genders were represented. However, the more I paged through the some 30 plus slides, the angrier I became. First of all, there is that misleading title. It brings to mind images of lazy bodies shoving bon-bons in their mouths. At no point was there any evidence presented to support the claim that all of the changes pictured were the product of overeating or food addiction. Secondly, the majority of the comparisons were literally years apart and sometimes decades. Additionally, the “After” shots were by no means grotesque in the majority of instances. They looked like normal people who had traversed spans of time and life events and aged… pretty well actually. For instance, if I was male, I personally would not mind having the physique that Lawrence Fishburne has kept. Aside from that, the disparity between the studio publicity photos and other posed examples given as the “Before” shots and the more candid, spontaneous, and natural “After” shots was glaring. So, I was baffled. Why were these celebrities being shamed? And what exactly is being said by all the negativity?

I also noted that often the females presented not only were “victims” of time, but also had the photos taken after delivering children. Um?!? Yeah! Shame on them for embracing motherhood and pregnancy! I know that some people claim to bounce back, but I dare say there is a LOT of work and self-denial that goes into attaining pre-baby physique, and most NEVER DO! (Think Mammy’s conversation with Scarlett O’Hara who could not attain her former figure with the aid of a corset!) Many of the photographic comparisons were with 30-plus year differences, too. Seriously, people?!? Are you saying that in order to be safe from ridicule, one must maintain the body of the 20-year-old? One that surprised me by truly getting me to the boiling point was a caption in which the author/blogger/snarky-social-commentator made the “witty” chastisement of Gerard Butler on his deteriorated physique stating “Hugh Jackman can do it, why can’t you?” That sent me over the top, and I don’t even like Gerard Butler. Now, for one thing, I follow Mr. Jackman in the social media world (Of course, I do! I am female, appreciate the male form, and still breathing). I witness what it appears to take for him to maintain his Wolverine-like physique. He frequently shares images of his training sessions and dietary choices. This is not your average physical fitness routine. He puts a LOT of time, energy (and likely funds) into looking like that, despite any natural biological gifts and predispositions. Aside from that, who can say what additional differences there are in genetic makeup or body chemistry between these two compared leading men. (Not to mention all those government experimental mutation programs… just kidding). Not that Mr. Butler is any less capable of putting in the same efforts and resources to attain similar physical outcomes, but comparing one to another is just not fair. Besides, the picture showed as the “Before” for Gerard Butler was from the Spartan days… seriously, a still from the movie. Hello? Again, I say “Bad shot!” Let’s see? Movie magical film still with lighting and whatever other special effects vs. photo caught by sneaky photo-stalker with the long lens; not exactly an even playing field. Additionally, that was a bloody acting role people! I’ve seen, read, and heard about what some actors and actresses do for different parts. Look at Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, and Renee Zellweger. That is just to name a few of the performers who have literally changed their bodies by gaining and losing and putting themselves through physical metamorphosis for the purpose of assuming a character. Do you really think that given the timeframes of filming, deadlines, and such that they did that in the healthiest way possible? I can answer that one: NO THEY DID NOT. For many of the stars out there, the physiques and image that they portray come at a sacrifice to their bodies and health (and sometimes minds). Alas, they chose that lifestyle and career, and we have to assume they knew the risks when they signed up. The pressure to fulfill certain expectations and ideal appearance is something that Hollywood has been rife with since the advent of moving pictures. Gerard Butler is no different. He bulked up and got ripped to play a part. Now, because he is not maintaining that same exact body form some little paparazzo/wannabe journalist is shaming him. Did he somehow become morbidly obese since playing King Leonidas? No, he just looks… normal (well, in truth the guy is considered by most to be quite handsome and probably not average, but you get what I’m saying).

So, why do I give two rips about whether the media or one of their vulture-like representatives is bad-mouthing the A-listers? In all likelihood, those celebrities are probably thinking “Hey, attention is attention. All press is good press.” It keeps them in the public eye. So, they probably don’t care that some little whiner is saying that they aren’t brick @#$%houses anymore.

However, those celebrities are often the representation of our ideals in many ways. Even those among us who have been graced with wonderful ego strength, self-esteem and experience no twinge of doubt in the face of external recrimination can absorb some of the societal expectations and approbation to occasionally observe a paragon of physical virtue and think “I want my body to look like THAT!” That sentiment is typically the primary motivation for the majority of people to diet, exercise, and (yes) have surgical procedures. We have an image of our ideal body in mind. We want to look like the modern gods and goddesses of the public eye. We want to be attractive, and to be considered attractive and successful (yes, an attractive physical appearance often results in the assumption of success) according to the cultural norms. So, when some little hopped up photo-blogger or tabloid hack starts bashing someone who wasn’t prepared for a photo shoot and merely looks age-appropriate or like a normal, average human, what does that do in our subconscious and preconscious? Well, if you are a confident specimen who is happy in your life, it may do absolutely nothing… or possibly you believe that it has no impact to your self-perception. You may be correct. However, for the rest of us, it plants a little irrational seed that to be attractive, beautiful, desirable, loved… you have to achieve physical perfection. You cannot age. You cannot participate in the natural human milestones of life. You must conform to the image that the media has designated as acceptable, and the risk is there for making some supremely unhealthy choices just to avoid being too normal.

Health, wellness, fitness, and diet should not be something that is dictated by negativity or the avoidance of external negative perception. It should be something that we choose because it brings us more satisfaction in our lives. So, I say to the nasty little scandal rag jerks out there who love to put other people down (even if it is the Hollywood “royalty”)… Bug off! Or I might start a movement to encourage the victims of those long lenses to return the favor. How will you vultures bear up to the intense scrutiny and critique of your physique?

Here endeth the rant… at least this one (y’all know me too well to think it’s the last).

Physical Fit: The Saga Continues…

Contrary to the expectations of the majority populace… and mainly myself… I did make it to the gym. As readers will recall, I had my momentary maniacal fit resulting in a gym membership and went so far as to purchase suitable attire and footwear. So far, so good. I half expected my determination to completely fail at that point. Good intentions count, right?

WRONG! My friend. I shall stand upon the gospel of good health and tell you that intention is only part of the formula! Can I get an ‘amen’? I tell you, my brother and sister couch tubers, we must also walk, run, and lift our less than firm physiques from the comfort of our chosen seating and move. Ye-eahsss!

So, against all my natural indolent tendencies, I did in fact go to the gym. I felt about as natural and graceful as a frog trying to dance Swan Lake. Thankfully, I had the moral support of a good friend who was able to show me the delicate technological procedures involved with using an elliptical machine. I am grateful for his patience as I stared at him like a monkey doing a math problem and nearly amputated an extremity as coordination was completely absent from my skillset that day (or any day really). I managed to get through 10 minutes of elliptical at the blistering pace of 4 miles per hour, all the while feeling not only the burn but pretty much like someone had lit my lower extremity completely on fire. However, as I said, I managed to complete the full 10 minutes (we won’t discuss the 3 minute cool down). Achievement unlocked! On to the circuit training.

For those unfamiliar with the lingo of the Dungeon of Torture, circuit training is a collection of weight machines and cardiovascular stations interspersed together and programmed to give you some resistance training for building muscle but also keeping the heart rate in the “target zone” to continue burning calories. Believe it or not (and I will assume you are believing as I am breathing and still in control of my physical movements enough to be able to type this), I finished this 30 minute ordeal as well. After a 5 minute cool down on a treadmill, during which I kept imagining myself tripping and being shot out towards the back wall, I made it home to collapse on the couch.

And like a complete moron, I went back the next day to do it all again. Yes, I did. That was five weeks ago. I decided it was time to unlock my next achievement. I scheduled an appointment with the personal fitness trainer. I am lucky enough to have a reasonable amount of intellect, and I recognize and read and research, but I still felt that consulting the expert would be the best way for me to gain the results I was hoping to achieve. She flattered me by saying that I was doing exactly what I should and only needed a few additions and tweaks to address my desired goals… And she assisted me in designing my own tailor-made system of torture designed to reverse time and gravity and turn my decrepit body into a temple worthy of worship… Ok, even I cannot keep a straight face for this, but hopefully, if I am very good and attend to my designed regimen, I will at least not have to purchase a whole new wardrobe to avoid indecent exposure charges.

At this same time, I had noticed a very large, brightly-colored poster plastered conspicuously in the gym that said that if I was a member of a certain health insurance that they would pay me to work out. Wait! What? I am a member of that health insurance. I actually work for the health insurance company as well. So, I can get money for this, too? I decided to check on this, though I suspected that my plan would not qualify based on the requirements indicated on the poster. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I called the toll-free number provided.

According to “Crystal *squeek*” who is the very perky representative of my insurance company’s Healthy Incentives Program, our employer is not eligible for that reward, but “We do have an impressive list of gym discounts to offer, can I walk you through our website?!?” (I swear I could see pigtails and pom-poms.)

Um… no, Crystal. so, what you are saying is that I work for the company and have our insurance coverage myself but am not eligible for a reward for trying to be healthier and a better example to our members?

“Um *squeek* ACME Insurance, Inc. [pseudonym, obviously] is, like, a really BIG company with lots of workers, and, like, ACME is only offering that for small companies.”

So, um Crystal? It was Crystal, right? [as opposed to Buffy, Muffy, or Elle] Does my gym have a discount on the list you mentioned earlier?

“Um… like, NO. Because your gym has such…low…rates… they really don’t have discounts.”

So, what I’m hearing is that I could get a discount from one of the expensive gyms, but the discount (if I’m reading you correctly) would still have my membership at a much higher rate than my current member ship of $10 per month… AND I would have to put up with douchebag muscleheads and spandex nazis?

“Um…wha…?” *cricket noise*

Nevermind, sweetie. You’ve been very helpful. Toddle off now and have a wonderful afternoon.

While this interchange might read to most as a frustrating display of unfair practice and a terribly rendered Valley Girl performance and evidence that the universe works against any financial breaks for the hard-working gal, I actually was just highly amused. Crystal really could not see why I didn’t want to take advantage of the gym discounts they offer. Apparently math was not her best subject. Rewards of a monetary nature might be nice, but ultimately were not the rewards I was expecting when I had my fit of madness and decided to become a denizen of the workout world.

As to those rewards, I am sad to report that I did not transform overnight into a supermodel. However, I can say that I am noticing other things, like the fact I can run a mile and a half without dying. (Always helpful in the event of zombie apocalypse and killer bird/bee/nature situations.) I still occasionally (as I integrate my individually designed plan into my workout each day) feel as if someone has substituted concrete into what was previously sinew, muscle, and bone, but overall, I’m feeling pretty good about this new thing. I have actually started having withdrawal if I have to change my routine and workout on different days than my usual schedule, and I actually found myself anxious and desperate to get to the gym on Monday after work as I was stopped by staff for a quick question. Hmmmm… something very odd here. I actually want to go to the gym. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’m positive there are a few snowflakes in hell, now.

Physical Fit: The consequences of a momentary madness

So, madness overtook me in a screaming fit of angst Saturday before Mother’s Day. Yes, indeed. It was something akin to full on psychopathic mania or possibly demonic possession, because I know that had I been in my correct cognitive state, I would never have been compelled to do what I did.

I joined a gym. Good heavens! What was I thinking?!? How could I have possibly been influenced? Yes, friends are consistently talking about going to the gym. Swimsuit season is upon us. The pool in the backyard is nearly ready for occupation by other than algae and other debris. However, I am still going to blame demons… or possibly aliens. They are always a good scapegoat. After a rather enjoyable dinner with friends from work, all of whom talked about various physical activity, and at least one works out regularly (and is the visual aid promoting said practices, I will say), I felt my jeans to be tighter than I would like. The constant reminder that gravity has impacted my physique in ways not pleasant to me, and the fact that diet alone does not appear to have any sort of impact at all these days has resulted in a desperation that could lead to pacts with evil entities… and that never works out well.

I have been asked multiple times by friends to join them in their workout routines. I have also been the recipient of workout propaganda that would have already been more efficacious than waterboarding except for one small thing… very small: My bank balance. Many people would say, spend the money for a monthly membership, and you will go because it would be a waste of your money to not go. That never worked on me. I hated going into the gym. I could always talk myself out of it, and before I knew it, months of membership fees had passed and along with it, many, many dollars. And, so, I told all my so very caring companions that it would be throwing good money after bad for me to even consider joining anything. I would just be wasting money I did not have. At one point in my life, I considered myself rather fit, and despite the continued learned commentary of several of my acquaintances on what I need to do to improve my physique and health, only one thing has ever worked for me: Aerobics. Sadly, and with shame, I admit I was one of the lycra clad women bouncing around to music with and without props (weights, bands, steps, etc.). I never was one that could lose myself in continued reps with free weights or a nice long jog on treadmill or elliptical. There was a time when I could ride miles on an actual bicycle, but to sit on a stationary bike pedaling away while watching inane talk shows or anything else was something that made me want to stab my own eyes out. Therefore, I would continue to do my progressive squats, crunches, push-ups, and such in the privacy of my own home where I would not feel shame comparing my own over-40 body to the myriad of spandex wrapped hard-bodies blithely climbing their invisible mountains on stair step and elliptical machines.

And then, it happened. I honestly cannot say what did it. Was it the conversation with my very fit friend? Was it the over tight feeling in the waistband of my jeans? Was it the unwelcome reflection in the mirror reminding me of time’s passage, or was it (most likely) my resistance failing in the face of too much peer pressure that resulted in my fingers, as if by their own accord typing in the pattern of key strokes that would make me a “joiner?” Before I realized what had happened, I had my very own gym membership. Hell hath frozen over.

Faced with Armageddon, there was only one thing left to do. I printed out the emailed version of my contract and took it down to the temple of fitness to get my “key” and free t-shirt. On a side note, I truly believe that we can take over planets with free t-shirts. Anyhow, the deed was done. I have been assimilated (Someone please tell me that I will soon have the physique of Jeri Ryan, Seven of Nine). Thus ends the tale, right?… not quite. You would think that purchase of membership and having the courage to walk in would be sufficient to insure the end of days, but no.

Working out is not exactly a simple matter of physical activity. There is apparel to be considered. No, I am not so vain as to require designer gear to be a physically fit clothes horse. However, appropriate clothing and footwear is necessary, because this facility is not in a nudist colony, and I don’t want shin splints. Once I had established my susceptibility to peer pressure, it dawned on me that I had no shoes that would actually protect my feet and joints from damage. I had a representative pair of tennis shoes that appeared to come from an archeological dig. I also (to my abject mortification) have a pair of platform sneakers advertised some years ago as able to firm your backside merely by having them on the feet and walking around. Needless to say, attempting to wear these for a regular workout will not only look ridiculous, it will also result in an injury to my lower extremities and/or me plummeting to my death… from humiliation. So, at the very least, a new pair of sneakers were in order.

Have any of you tried to purchase athletic footwear these days? I think I’ve bought a set of tires that cost less. I have been truly amazed at the prices on these things. At first, I thought it must be a matter of fashion again, noting the bright colors and brand names. Given the size of my feet, I tried the men’s section instead, naively hoping that the less fair sex might warrant less dear prices. Boy, was wrong! Men’s athletic shoe prices make the women’s shoes look like a yard sale find. Granted, the reason for the increased expenditure is that allegedly the construction of these beastly shoes provides the support and cushion that prevents injuries, like shin splints and compression fractures. That being said, I truly resent being charged triple digits for shoes, especially shoes that look like alien technology in neon colors. Thankfully, I was able to find clearance racks that provided a more reasonably priced alternative.

With my feet taken care of, my mind turned to the rest of my body. As a friend said, just wear a t-shirt and a pair of old sweatpants or shorts. A very reasonable and logical idea. Have I mentioned that working out in any public venue has not been part of my life for more than ten years? It isn’t an issue of being fashionable. I sincerely could not care less whether I match or have the latest thing on my body. However, my old clothing fall into three categories: Inappropriate, uncomfortable, or damn near pornographic due to strategically placed ventilation (not part of the original design). I felt it was necessary, therefore, to supplement my wardrobe with a few pieces to have at least three or four decent outfits that could be rotated through laundry, dresser, and wearing.

It is a testament to the amount of time it has been since I last purchased so much as a pair of sweatpants. I was again gob smacked by the sheer digits involved on the price tags attached to tiny pieces of stretchy cotton or spandex. Thank goodness again for the clearance bin without which I would not be able to afford so much as a tube sock. Three bins and six clearance racks later, I was sweating and exhausted, but I was able to find sufficient covering for my bottom half without depleting my checking account… well, at least not more than I already had. Making my way to the checkout, I saw other women already clad in color coordinated leggings and fashionably layered sports bras with tank tops. I clutched my meager purchases and timidly went through the check out. I made my way through the outer doors to my waiting vehicle and drove the rest of the way home.

Walking through the door, I found that my physical and emotional limits of the day had been reached. I sank down on the couch with my hard-won purchases resting on the floor at my side. Well… my journey of physical fitness has begun. I am sweaty, exhausted, and completely emotionally spent… and I didn’t even have to get dressed out. Let’s hope that my next outing is a bit more productive physically and less draining financially.

Mirror, Mirror…

http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

So… this entry started out with one inspiration, and got hit by another…

What is wrong with our self-esteem? And by us, I am talking primarily to my own gender, but guys, you are also impacted by external judgment on your physical appearance and actions in a way that can plummet your self-concept into the whirling abyss of self-loathing. It just seems that women are the most frequent and common victims in the rape of our pride in self.

I actually got into a discussion today with a friend about this very issue. He had posted an image on his Facebook timeline that illustrated the way society has changed in the image of female beauty, and I liked, commented, and shared. Yes, I did. What sparked the conversation was my comment, which was “Guilty as charged…” or something along those lines. My friend was baffled by my comment and incredulous to the verity and instant messaged me to say so. What transpired was as follows…

He never understood how I could possibly not see myself as attractive. I remember his frustrations from years before when he would give me a compliment, and I, in the traditional female fashion, would brush it aside with a “No, I’m not.” It wasn’t a fishing-for-more-compliments situation. I actually never saw myself as pretty, beautiful, attractive, or any of the other typical adjectives used to describe the female form and face. I have never had any false vanity about my appearance. Neither was I a proponent of false modesty. I am not Quasimodo, but I do not particularly fit the modern mold of the beautiful woman. For decades (I will not reveal how many), I have been aware that my best attributes would not be found by visual assessment. I knew this as well from years of observation and witnessing the females found to be irresistible by the males of my acquaintance. I looked nothing like them, and I certainly did not have to beat suitors off with a stick. Casting aside the theories of charisma and pheromones, the bottom line is that I am as susceptible as the next woman to the brainwashing of the popular media.

This is not a terribly new phenomenon. The popular conception of attractiveness and beauty has changed and evolved more than our actual DNA through the ages. What we, in the modern world, consider to be attractive and beautiful qualities would have been seen in earlier times when having a little meat on the bones meant you had the money to actually buy food to sustain yourself to be unattractive and too skinny, a truly poor choice of mate, and it might even have been assumed that the individual in question carried disease or was in some other way unhealthy. In truth, even today there are cultures that do not find the thin supermodel physique to be feminine or beautiful and prefer healthy or even Rubenesque form to be more attractive. However the popular Western concept of the ideal female comes closer to resembling Barbie than any form found in nature. Definitely not attractive qualities. That being said, there were a host of other fashion dictates in previous centuries that were not terribly healthy, including using arsenic to whiten the skin and the evils of the various corsets that could, with enough use, actually derange the organs into unnatural positions. And as for unnatural, the fact that there are people out there addicted to plastic surgery should be telling us something about the negative impact of externalized conceptions of esthetic acceptableness in physical appearance. Beauty has never really been left up to nature. However, the further we have strayed from the concept of “natural health = beauty” the more we have embraced the ideal qualities of beauty that some people give up their health to attain.

No matter how intelligent we become or believe ourselves to be, bombardment through every sense with the popular images and descriptions of the day will have an impact. I know that the advertisers of the world are just doing their jobs to make various products desirable to the market. However, it is important to remember that their consistent appeals to our vanity and self-esteem to be slimmer, prettier, sexier, and in all other ways more appealing are merely marketing strategies to make the public feel that they cannot be a whole being without purchasing the product touted as the miracle, without which you will be a pariah among your fellow humans. The problem is that subliminally, we all absorb the underlying message rather than merely what they are saying. Not so much that we have to purchase the product in question but that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, and in short… just not enough to live happily or to attain humanity’s programmed directive of being fruitful and multiplying.

Sadly, no amount of CIA-level programming can undo the years and years of impact that the media has played upon our cerebral cortexes to embed the message that we are fat, ugly, and stupid. It seems that there are individuals in the world that are immune to such things. These enviable few are sometimes looked upon negatively by their peers because they truly believe they are the hottest thing since the sun rose, but this reaction to those happy few is probably envy, envy that they have the confidence and attributes that allow them to like themselves as they are. In truth, sometimes the cause is sufficient for their self-approbation. However, at other times, it is not entirely obvious as to why these bastions of self-esteem have not succumbed to the same negative propaganda that the rest of us have failed to repel. If I could figure out the trick and bottle it, I could retire wealthier than all the producers of the products spawning the unrealistic media image of the perfect human. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have any perceivable direct cause for the positive self-image that provides immunity to the inferiority complex plaguing the rest of us.

On the other side of the argument is that women who have confidence in their physical appearance and character are often misinterpreted, poorly understood, and generally labeled with unflattering titles and damaging assumptions. What is wrong with people?!? And why does it seem to be the desire of much of the world to control the image and aspects of feminine body, spirit… oh, and reproductive functions (can’t forget those). Are we really that scary? (The males in my family are not allowed to answer that). If we don’t follow the fashion and body image trends of the current societal expectations, we are somehow inferior. However, if we do… we are vain, immoral, and ask for unwanted attention. How confusing is that? It is no wonder that women in the world today cannot get a solid grasp of self-esteem and hold onto it. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I am not saying that all people are judgmental asses with no sense of empathy or beauty in all forms, but… ok, yeah, I am probably saying that there are a greater number of people that fall into that category than otherwise, and that is a sad statement. Women (and men, too) should be able to appreciate and fulfill what is healthy for them. They should be able to enjoy their style and express it as long as it is not negatively impacting others who have the same rights. A woman should be able to be healthy, happy, and feel beautiful without having to conform to identical shapes of some adolescent, exaggerated fantasy of sexy. Additionally, we should be able to feel sexy and good about our appearances without the unwelcome assumptions that we are open to any sexual advance. Is that a double standard and confusing? Perhaps, and now you know how we feel trying to make sure that we look good enough without looking too good, and failing on both counts. Wow, did I write myself into a corner! I know that there have been some efforts in promoting healthy images for female and male ideals, but we still seem to be a long way from truly representing healthy human beauty in all the forms it takes.

As the years have progressed, I find that I am less subject to the media-fueled misrepresentations of beauty. Part of this is possibly that my brain has accepted that I am no longer part of the “breeder” group and no longer am I fighting to obtain and retain a mate. However, I prefer to see it as a maturity that eventually comes to most of us: If I am healthy and making choices that allow me to feel good and participate in the activities I enjoy, then screw a bunch of other people with their expectations of how I should look while doing so…! I wish I were really that confident. In actuality, I find that while for the majority of the time I don’t really think about my appearance or compare it to the other examples of feminine grace around me; I am on occasion still a victim of the mirror. I still want to feel pretty and look, if not appealing at least inoffensive to the rest of the humanity around me. I am more apt to find the flaws of age and nature than perhaps someone less familiar with the image I see every day while brushing my teeth. Familiarity breeds contempt, and never is that more true than when you are looking at yourself in the mirror trying to get ready for work and hoping to appear to your best advantage before peers, employers, employees, customers, or even that social acquaintance that caught your eye. I think that I will start practicing more acceptance in my own self-esteem regimen. Baby-steps… I’ll start looking for the things that I like about myself instead of looking for the flaws. Perhaps I can even give myself a little “Not too shabby” affirmation on occasion. Who knows? I might see some of what my friend always tried to tell me.

Instead of tearing down those around you who might appear to your eye to have what you do not in order to make yourself feel better, try appreciating the positives and differences between individuals to recognize that uniqueness makes the world much more interesting than a multitude of carbon copies. We aren’t all of a pattern. So, no one should try forcing us into the same molds, not even we ourselves.

Title image retrieved from http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

Rant: It’s not all catwalks and sports contracts

People always say, “You are so lucky to be tall!” in voices that can be wistful, admiring, or more often catty with a soupcon of ridicule. It is the latter that is probably the more honest and accurate of the bunch.

For the most part, I wouldn’t change my height. It makes it easy to reach things on the top shelves or see over barriers and people, and the air smells better in elevators. However, there are a few things that people don’t think about when they look with an envious eye at the amazons of the world. It’s not all catwalks and WNBA.

First of all, trying to find clothing is just as difficult (if not more so) than for individuals of a less lofty stature. Finding a 35 or 36 inch inseam is damned near impossible, unless you go with men’s jeans… in which case, I usually look like I have a larger package than most guys I’ve ever dated. I really don’t need all the extra cargo space in the FRONT of my pants. If I try to purchase women’s pants, it is even more incongruous. Why would someone assume that if I am six feet tall my crotch to waist area makes up at least 2 or 3 feet of that?! Really people?! So, instead of fitting properly with a waist at the waist and crotch at the crotch, I can look like an Umpa Loompa or I can resemble some old man in a nursing home with my waistband in my armpits and the hem of my pants at midshin.

Forget finding a shirt. Seriously? Remember the ¾ sleeve fashion? I think that actually happened not because anyone actually looks attractive with sleeves that look too short but because no shirt makers could actually figure out that sleeves should come to the wrists… and don’t get me started about shoulders because I look like I could play center in the NFL and yet they want to add shoulder pads in all my garments. What sort of genius thought that was a good idea?!

Which brings me to my next issue… So, supermodels aside, no one really likes tall women. In fact, I dare say even the supermodels are not winning popularity contests for the same reasons. No one likes feeling short, small, etc. You get the point. So, growing up and even as an adult (though I hesitate to consider human beings capable of maturity) hearing names like ‘amazon’, ‘linebacker’, ‘giantess’, or hearing snickering comments about whether I produced testosterone or estrogen eventually gets on one’s nerves. Watching most of the guys show more attention to the cute, bouncy, curvy types who made them feel all big and strong… yeah that was a real pleasure. Just sayin’.

And then there are all the assumptions made about you if you happen to be tall, athletically built and actually play sports… you all know what those are. Hey nothing against it, but my gate don’t swing that way, and so don’t make assumptions about my preferences.

Then there is the whole employment issue. Ever noticed how petite women can be “fireballs” and people just laugh and smile and think it is great they are so assertive. If a man makes a point assertively, well he just made a good point. If a six foot tall female makes a point or is in anyway assertive, well, they are a bitch, intimidating, and don’t play well with others. Spectacular! If there is a negative interaction between someone of a lower stature or a male with a six foot tall female, it must be that the amazon was being a bully or emotional. Truth is, due to our Western European societal norms, it is more likely that the taller, larger female will back down because we’ve been taught that it is wrong to be a bully, especially anyone smaller… of course they neglected to indicate whether that was just physical stature or if the small-minded also applies. It has been scientifically proven that the vocal tones of the feminine voice triggers the amygdala in the male brain and therefore men are predisposed to assume that whenever a woman speaks she is being emotional. Get over it guys. I am probably less likely to storm out in a fit of tears than you are after our argument. Put on your big boy underoos and deal. Logical arguments involve using your brain not your assumptions (which I believe involve a different part of your anatomy).

Anyhow, I guess I’m done with my rant. I wouldn’t give up one inch of my height at this point in my life because it is one of the things that my dad gave me, but for the record it is nearly impossible to blend in with the crowd or go incognito, it is absolutely impossible to find a pair of pants that fits properly without tailoring, back pain and joint pain often go with the territory, and the air is not so rarefied at this altitude, I’m telling you. There are wonderful things about being tall, but every once in a while, I would like to be able to find a pair of sweatpants or pajama pants that fit…

***Originally I posted this on Facebook 5/2/2011 after a particularly difficult day of trying to find work attire at a department store and eventually giving up and walking out without buying anything. For the record, I still haven’t bought new wardrobe… This is a sad statement on the amount of hatred I have for trying on clothing. Given the current state of my work clothing, I will have to give in… soon.