Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Promote Healthy Body Image

I'll admit, though I'm a skinny girl who has received compliments about her body proportions since age 10, I too have struggled (and still do, in some sense) with negative body image. I find that this is one area where society speaks double. We promote unhealthy consumption and sedentary lifestyles, yet we expect women to remain skinny while also possessing "tits and ass." I've done some thinking and found my own ways that people in society can promote a positive body image, especially for girls.

1. Promote healthy eating for EVERYONE! No matter your body shape or metabolism, sugar, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and overly processed foods hurt everyone. Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water don't only help shed unwanted pounds, they give you energy and remove toxins.

2. Healthy eating includes proportions. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you feel satisfied (not necessarily full). Chew each bite thoroughly, this actually helps with digestion. And, if you're so worried about waste, take your food with you or stick it in your fridge. And, for the love of all that is good, stop encouraging your skinny relatives to gorge themselves. I still struggle with overeating because I heard enough of that growing up.

3. Don't compare sisters' looks to each other. Yes, some girls are born with incredibly stunning features. Maybe their sisters aren't as much, but still can be beautiful in their own right. It's no fun to have family members, friends, and strangers compare your height, face shape, hair thickness, and cup size as if you were at a meat market. Plus, it encourages sisters to be jealous and harbor resentment to each other. Fastest way to destroy self-confidence and familial relationships.

4. Encourage exercise, especially weight training. Not only will this give us our shape, weight training also builds and maintains bone density. As women, we're susceptible to conditions such as osteoporosis, which weight training can easily prevent. However, don't neglect cardio and flexibility training. These are just as necessary to maintain endurance, increase energy, and prevent injuries. Plus, physical strength encourages self-confidence and a positive feeling about one's body.

5. Helpful advice about clothes and styles that would flatter can be nice. However, don't overdo it and don't push the shopping thing. Let us figure out what we'd like to wear and how we'd like to do it. Emphasize proper hygiene, appropriate outfits for various venues (in our preferred styles) and the importance of taking care of our nicer things. Don't push materialism or needing to be "in style."

6. For all the romantic partners (male and female): do your best to keep your eyes faithful. Yes, there are attractive people and you notice. Noticing isn't bad, it's when you keep your eyes on the other person and are virtually ignoring your partner that it can be dangerous. Also, tell her how lovely she is, especially when she's tired or feeling insecure. Trust me, we NEVER tire of hearing that.

7. For friends: affirm each other's looks as well as our other qualities. You don't have to overdo it, but when one of us makes an effort to look good, say so!

8. Never say "you look nice." That makes it sound like we put in effort but can never be gorgeous.

9. I hate hearing, "you look good, have you lost weight?" That's because the semesters I did hear it, I was under serious stress and not eating properly. STOP ENCOURAGING UNHEALTHY BEHAVIORS!

10. Don't make any comments about weight. At all.

11. Don't tell me to show off or cover up, based on what you do or don't want to see. Some of us wear whatever we want because we feel like it. Also, for those that do cover, maybe religion dictates we do and we make the choice (yes, our choice) to be faithful to that. Or maybe we don't need to show off our cleavage to feel good. Or, maybe we're sexual assault survivors and we feel more protected when we cover. But don't tell me I need to show off to get a man. That's bullshit.

12. Stop encouraging post-partum women to lose it as quickly as possible! Not healthy for her, not for the baby, especially if Mom is breastfeeding.

13. Breastfeeding isn't dirty, so stop treating it as such. If the Vatican deems it OK to have pictures of Mary nursing Jesus (with fully exposed breast) and if people in countries with higher modesty standards don't care, we shouldn't. Breasts aren't sexual any more than legs are and people can be attracted to just about anything. So stop with the lies already.

14. Fight negative body image in the media. Write to companies that use womens' bodies in advertising to stop. Buy products from companies that don't do it as much.

15. Fight for kids' rights to healthy food, ample recess time, and gym class. It's not that more kids necessarily have ADD/ADHD, it's that we're making kids adjust to lifestyles that aren't healthy for their bodies or ability to learn. If your school board threatens to cut recess or gym due to a need for the kids to take meaningless tests, fight it! And, while we're at it, fight for hunger policies that encourage healthy eating in poor communities.

As you can see, healthy body image is tied to health, relationships (romantic, familial and friendly), and social justice. Women are not objects you must divide and conquer. We're people. It's time we were treated as such and it's time we treated ourselves and each other in the same light.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Did NOT Watch the Royal Wedding :D

One of my professors (also AU's Methodist chaplain) shared this blog post a few days ago. The author gives plenty of reasons for Americans not to watch the wedding, namely because our attachment to anything royal flies in the face of our founding and tradition. I'm not saying anyone who watches this wedding is a dirty loyalist scumbag traitor. The truth is, Americans love watching the weddings of high profile people, due to the voyeuristic nature of our culture. However, it did give me some food for thought.

Why would I even bother watching the wedding of someone I don't know personally and who's life honestly has no bearing on mine? Why would I worry myself over Kate Middleton's dress, her title, the fact that she will no longer be able to vote (a tragedy if there ever was one) when the world itself is exploding? Why would I bother over the British royal family when I need to finish my study of our economic systems and a paper about the influence of religion on American and Irish rock stars (the latter nationality especially holding little fondness for the English)? Why would I bother with the romance of strangers when I've got my own to take care of?

It is sad that, while people are dying (literally, dying) for their freedom in the Middle East (something you'd think America would follow intensely, due to our own glorification of democratic/republican governments), we're concerned with how royals choose to wed. It scares me that, at a time when our own leaders have very little accountability and our own voting holds more of a symbolic power, that we'd choose to admire those whose power is also largely symbolic. To me, it's just another expression of how vain, vapid and meaningless our culture has become. Sadly, we've forgotten who we are.

So, in honor of the big occasion, I am going to sing "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," read the Declaration of Independence, and revel in the fact that the only title anyone will ever use on me is Ms. Forget about the monarchy, we're a republican/democracy, damn it, and we need to reclaim power for our own people. Let's focus on more important issues. We have the potential to create something truly great.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Contrasting Romance

I remember spending one Friday morning with my boy before his internship. That day, we could not have looked more different. He was in his suit, had shaved and had a recent haircut. With his glasses, he looked very much like either a young professor or soon to be politician. I, on the other hand, was wearing jeans, Birkenstocks, and my Carpe Diem punker mens' sized T-shirt, complete with French braids, a black bandanna, a huge Ethiopian cross necklace, and assorted jewelry brought to you by Kenya's artists. To me, that seemed to classify some differences. A clean cut conservative boy and an adventurous hippie girl fall in love.

Our differences stand out in other ways as well. I'm more of a foodie, he's very much into comfort foods. I'm high strung, he's very easygoing. He emphasizes his Gaelic, I emphasize my garlic (though we each have both). I'm more liberal in my faith interpretation, he's more conservative. He's into anime and gaming, I'm into music and languages. He's interned at Congress and think tanks, I've interned at non-profit policy and grassroots organizations. I'm a morning person, he's a night owl. Our family backgrounds are different in a variety of ways.

Yet we also have much in common. We both are converts to Catholicism and take our faith very seriously. We both are concerned with issues of social justice and are conscious of privilege. We both like living in cities and don't want to have to deal with mortgage + home maintenance. We love to laugh A LOT and hold a deep, abiding love for Weird Al, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. We enjoy musical theater and take pride in having grown up in(for him)/around (for me) NYC. We grew up around classic rock. We are the eldest children in our respective families. We both enjoy intellectual debate. Our dreams coincide with each other and he's supportive of my wanderlust (though I'm sure we'll miss each other this fall, provided we're still together).

In addition, our differences balance out. I find he stabilizes me, he tells me I bring out his adventurous side. He encourages me to be more open-minded, my stubbornness encourages him to stick to his guns. When talking about justice issues, I hear from him about the policy angle, he hears from me about the grassroots angle. I now ask questions about anime, he's started using Swahili in sentences. We also learned to appreciate differences, to see them as the spice of life, as part of the person we've come to deeply care about.

I guess we confirmed that in our conversation from that Friday. I told him how I felt so underdressed next to him. He just said, "Nah. You look gorgeous."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dear American Christians, You're Not Persecuted.

Now, stop whining.

If you are a Christian in America, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, you are unlikely to experience the following (except in very isolated cases).

You will not be denied housing because of your faith.

You will not be denied employment because of your faith.

You will not be denied the right to marry whomever you want because of your faith.

You will not be denied the right to political office or political participation because of your faith.

You will not be considered a terrorist because of your faith.

You will not fear for your life because of your faith (whether it's through attending a worship service, wearing a religious symbol or just doing day to day things).

You will not be targeted by cops for no other reason than your faith.

You will not be pulled aside for "random security selections" because of your faith.

You will not be a victim of attempted genocide because of your faith.

And on and on and on...........

Christians in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East have more reasons to worry. Christians in Northern Ireland (depending on which denomination) have more reasons to worry. Catholics in China and even some in Scotland have more reasons to worry (Archbishop and football coaches receiving letter bombs). Christians in parts of India have more reasons to worry.

People in the U.S. may not understand you and may make fun of you, depending on how traditional you are. But they won't set out to marginalize and destroy you.

Now shut up.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Wah! I'm not Perfect!" Good. Now, shut it.

You know who you are. And, yes, you heard that right.

No, you're not perfect. Mankind is inherently flawed, according to every major religion and philosophy in the world. Every person, and I mean every person, has done something wrong, made a crazy mistake, failed a test, or something to that effect, once in their lives. Everyone has broken a relationship, lost friends, hurt someone's feelings, spoken too soon, lost their heirloom necklace, broke their cell phone, whatever you can think of, once in their lives. We all scraped our knees when we were six and scraped our brains (figuratively......I hope) when we were sixteen. Whatever you can think of, at least one of us has done it.

Am I excusing poor behavior or laziness? Absolutely not. However, too many of us at my university, including yours truly, are way too hard on ourselves. We don't do well in one class and we think it means we're dumb. We get an A- and something's wrong, right? In addition, we often attempt the balancing act of school, work, internship, friendships, relationships, school clubs. Yes, we're all insane and no, we don't sleep. Or eat healthy. Seriously, where's the time? We're too busy trying to be perfect at everything. You know, because it's AU. If we don't get an A in every class, have an awesome internship with a member of Congress, enjoy a social life and a love life, and hold down a job (to pay rent and consume massive amounts of alcohol needed to cope with the chaos), we're starving people in poor countries. Or something like that. On a less snarky note, we feel like failures.

You know, it's really sad that we feel like we need to maintain this level of craziness. It's an obsession and obsessions are never healthy. I cannot tell you how many of my peers do not get a good night's sleep, never relax (except to numb their minds with Facebook, Twitter, etc) and only go out to get bombed (can you blame them?). We're so obsessed with that perfect record, that perfect resume, the perfect connections, and the perfect college experience (complete with aforementioned social life and love life), that we forget who we are. Even more ironic, we came here to fix problems in the world and instead obsess over problems with ourselves.

To put it succinctly, just chill. Do what you can, give your best, and prioritize. We are made for multitasking (specialization is for cells, peeps) but no one person can do it all. If you fail, acknowledge it, atone for it, and move on. Ask for help when you need it. Accept defeat as it comes. Don't forget the people who love you. Yes, I promise, at least one person in the world loves you, so don't give me any crap about it. And don't eat worms, either. They're gross.

And, if I have to hear you complain because you got an A- and you think your professor hates you, I'm gonna give you something else to complain about. They're worse things in the world like climate change, world hunger and Justin Bieber. So please, cool it and think for a second.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Emotions and Explosions

I am an emotional person. I'll admit, though, I don't like to be. I like to be the tough, snarky girl who doesn't cry. I'll sit through Braveheart and Finding Neverland with a steely gaze. I've always been known to keep stuff inside (to the point of explosion). I hide emotionally because I'm not good at it. I was always the weak one, the one who needed physical therapy and who was sensitive to bullying (for the latter, I felt like it was my fault. Yeah, by the way, that's bullshit, but people have no spine). Then, things happened and, as mentioned in my Take Back the Night post, adults didn't respond to me, so I virtually shut down until my freshman year of college. Things have gotten better and I've found more of a balance. At the same time, this semester has been a crazy outpouring of emotions. I'm able to control it during school and work. My friends and boyfriend, however, have had to deal with flash floods as a result of Hurricane Katie.

I know why it is. It's my last semester of school. I've been loaded with work and I haven't felt motivated to do it(no worries, it's getting done, but it's a battle of wills. Prof always beats me). That's a combination of feeling overwhelmed and guilty. I have to move out in a week and a half. I graduate school in just over two weeks. I'm moving to a part of the country I have little experience with. I'm saying goodbye to friends. I didn't expect to get into a serious relationship but I am and I'm dealing with that, as well as a subsequent meeting of the parents. I still have to work, at a job I don't particularly enjoy, but I'm trying to be thankful for some short term employment. To put it lightly, it's a lot.

I know I don't have to deal with every single thing right this second. I know I'm just tired. I know I'm not alone. I know I'll be so relieved/happy/excited when I walk across the stage. I know my dad's not going to buy a gun and threaten my boy with, "You make her cry and I'll make you cry" (not so sure about my grandpa.......;-) And my girlfriends DID ask if they can still keep their baseball bats.....). I know I'm going to do fine in school without harm to my GPA and that it doesn't matter as much (not letting it all slide but you know). I have had several friends move around and I know people will come and go in my life as they are meant to. I know this.

Despite knowing this, that's what I'm feeling and I'm OK with that.

Now, time for P90X. Then, back to the grind until church and a subsequent Easter party. Because there ain't no party like a Catholic party and the Catholic party don't stop! :D

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why, Indiana?

According to this, a woman in indiana was recently thrown in prison for murder. What was the dasatardly deed she committed? She tried to commit suicide. She was imprisoned? Well, little fact. She was pregnant. Bei Bei Shuai tried to kill herself around Christmastime last year when her boyfriend and the father of her baby went back on all his promises. He had promised to marry her, had told her he was divorced, only to later reveal that he was still married and that he intended to go back to his family. In a moment of recklessness, she bought rat poison and took it (didn't work). Later on, while driving through a friend's neighborhood, she ran into a friend and her husband and confided in them about her suicide attempt. They took her to the hospital and she received medical care. Unfortunately, while she recovered, her daughter died a day after she was born. Shuai was extremely distraught by this and spent a month in the hospital, grieving. She ended up going back to her life, only to find out that doctors had notified the authorities and that she would be charged with murder. People would say, well, she's selfish, she tried to kill herself while she was pregnant! However, here's a problem. Most people who commit suicide are not in the right frame of mind when they do so. As evidenced by Shuai's reaction, she wasn't even thinking of her pregnancy when she made an impulsive decision to take rat poison. Further, she ultimately chose to accept help, to save her life and the child's and it was under a doctor's advice that she took her daughter off life support. So, if a pregnant woman attempts suicide but decides to change her mind, that's when she should be charged? Also, I wonder how many of those same people would say that she should have had an abortion or at least gave up her rights as a parent if she was going to attempt to do so. This also disturbs me because it makes the assumption that pregnant women do not have the same rights as others and should be punished harshly for behaviors that others would merely be judged for. For example, if a woman is addicted to drugs, she could be charged with child endangerment in some states, even if she told a doctor out of request for help. As many rehab centers don't accept pregnant women, her treatment options are already limited and withdrawal may in some cases be more dangerous for her and the baby. In other states, lawmakers are trying to make it mandatory for women to report miscarriages to the cops, regardless of the fact that doctors themselves don't even know what causes them. These laws don't ultimately protect unborn children. What they do instead is to deter pregnant women from seeking medical treatment if they fear arrest. Women with drug problems won't seek treatment, women with suicidal tendencies may ultimately ending their own lives instead of seeking help, and women who lose their babies may not go to the hospital, even with complications. What these laws ultimately accomplish is turning pregnant women into second class citizens. As a result, both women and children pay the price.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I need to do something

Everywhere I look, something explodes.

Around me, I see youth revolting against oppressive regimes. I see them come together, armed with a greater education and tech savvy, willing to do what it takes to topple oppression.

I see my own government become more repressive, making itself a slave to corporations and in turn, enslaving us. I see my rights as a woman, my opportunities as a youth, being bartered over an excuse to "cut spending." I see my media, once a watchdog, now made into a docile lapdog of the wealthy, no matter their political slant.

I see my own Church leaders forgetting their mission, their obligation, to social justice when it's not politically convenient. Whether it's child abuse (that they're only now starting to fight) or a governor's desire to cut funding for medical care, I see them turning their backs on their obligation, their own clerics, and their own people.

I see my environment made worse. I worry about the water I drink, whether it's tap water with carcinogens or bottled water of questionable origins. I worry about the food I eat, wondering if it, too, is poison.

I come into an economy that doesn't seem to want me, regardless of my education and skills.

I see my society become disconnected from each other. Young and old, rich and poor, we separate. Once thought to love, support and help each other, we fight, each trying to protect our gains.

I want to do something.

I need to do something.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Assault: Where Personal Meets Political

TRIGGER WARNING!!!!!!! If you cannot handle content that deals with sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape (yes, their is a difference between the last two), do not read this. Also, Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, you may not want to as, yes, this is a personal account.

OK, warning aside. Now for the reason. Tonight, on campus, they are holding the annual Take Back the Night event, a night to raise awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence and rape through A) noisemaking and a march through campus and B) sharing of testimonies. It's a very powerful event and one I've had the honor of taking part in. I would be there tonight, if it weren't for a term paper plus a couple computer codes.

I have always been passionate about these issues but it was not simply because I want to make the world better. The reason I am passionate is because these issues have actually touched me, literally and otherwise. While, thankfully, I have not been raped, I have escaped multiple times on pure dumb luck alone. At the same time, incidents do leave wounds. These wounds have, for the most part, healed, but they have left some scars.

When I was a little girl, I was bullied quite a bit. I had some bad habits, big teeth, a skinny, small body, and a sensitive personality. I didn't have a lot of friends and, for a long time, HATED going to school. Most of it was verbal until middle school. Then, in gym class, I noticed it became physical and sexual. I remember being slapped multiple times on the back in one gym class by a boy I liked, grabbed in the chest during games of tag (I developed early and it happened multiple times), called names like "bitch", and was made fun of when I asked a question during a sexual harassment presentation, simply because I was trying to figure out whether I should tell someone.

Later, knowing how innocent I was, kids would draw dirty pictures and show them to me, to see if I knew what it was and ask me detailed questions about what I knew about sex or if I was a virgin or a lesbian. My freshman year of high school, a guy who was much older pursued me quite a bit, to the point of being annoying, and tried to solicit oral sex from me (I didn't even know the terminology used until I looked it up and was horrified). My teacher told higher authorities, who called me into the office. I told the truth, was promised it would stay confidential, only to have my name leaked to the kid who was doing this to me. Luckily, there was no retaliation, but I was scarred by the whole experience. To this day, that was probably the greatest betrayal of my life.

When I was sixteen, I had a lot of friends but still kept to myself quite a bit. I didn't feel I had people to really talk to. One day, I was hanging out by myself (I stayed after school for a club meeting and was waiting for my mom to pick me up) when an older guy asked if I'd show him a classroom, because he was looking for a job. After school hours? I should have known better but, being the naive, overly nice girl I was at the time, showed him around. Well, that was NOT his intention at all. I got scared. Luckily, when I did, he didn't try anything physical and simply left me. Later, when my mom picked me up and gave me a lecture of not staying too long when I don't have anything else to do, it hit me how horribly lucky I was. That one kept me silent for years.

That wasn't the scariest. The scariest was when I went to a bar. I needed to use the ladies' room. When I left the ladies' room, I found myself pulled into the mens' room with my hands pressed against the wall and a lecherous grin in my face. I screamed and shouted as many obscenities as I could. Thankfully, another guy heard and pulled the dude off of me, while pushing me out of the mens' room. I didn't let myself react after that (and admittedly was quite cavalier about it) because I remembered all my friends and loved ones who were raped and reminded myself it could have been worse.

None of these happened when I was drunk (even at the bar, I had one beer). None of these happened due to what I was wearing (and I mean, come on. I was eleven or twelve when some of it started). None of these happened because I had sex before or was a sex worker. None of these happened because I started to have sex and then changed my mind. And, even if any and all of those were true, it SHOULDN'T MATTER! You don't refuse to prosecute a burglar because the owner left their house unlocked. Let me tell you something: people break into houses with locked doors and people rape women when they do everything to be safe (and sometimes, break into aforementioned house to do so, or they live in the same house because their an abusive spouse or family member). We need to start treating rape and assault like crimes, not gossip, not jokes.

I am OK. I am horrendously lucky that none of these turned into a situation that could have had drastic consequences both physically and psychologically. However, they did leave scars. Even today, I have a hard time trusting men I don't know very well, especially if I can't read their intentions. Anytime people mention "sexual assault", my back is already against the wall. And, if someone jokes about rape, it's all I can do to NOT introduce them to God in person. I'm lucky I haven't been raped. I know this. I'm lucky I have a kind, respectful, gentle partner who would die before he dreamed of hurting me and a posse of people who would probably kill anyone who tried. At the same time, all these incidents have changed me.

Assault is not OK. Harassment is not OK. Rape is not OK and hitting people (unless they're striking you or someone else) is not OK. Rape isn't a joke you can wear on a T-shirt . It's one of the greatest acts of betrayal because you no longer feel safe in your body. It is one of the worst forms of dehumanization and is sadly one of those crimes that often goes unpunished. While we must work to create a peaceful society and foster an attitude of forgiveness, none of this comes without justice. Justice does not come until we see each other as equal human beings, endowed with dignity by our Creator. Let's fight for this for everyone. Thousands of years of human history have been long enough.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Sweetie, You're So Young!" Bite Me............

If I never have to hear the quoted part of my post title again, I will be a very happy woman. It seems that, because I'm on the precipice of graduation, everyone feels the need to give me advice. Some of it is genuinely helpful. Others is unwanted, unnecessary and downright condescending. I understand that I'm young and I have my whole life ahead of me. At the same time, I am a woman with agency, legal standing, and experience and I don't want that discounted.

By bare bones legal definitions, I am an adult. I am over eighteen, so I am considered responsible enough to carry a gun, vote, get married, sign a lease, have consensual sex, pay taxes, be employed full time, sign my own waivers and serve in either the Armed Forces or the Peace Corps. I am over twenty-one, so I am also considered responsible enough to drink alcohol, gamble, and carry a credit card. This is only the legal aspect. I am also an adult by experience.

How am I an adult by experience? I made the choice to go to school far from home. During the time I've been in college, I have held down a job (working nearly full time hours), paid my own bills, paid taxes, traveled by myself both domestically and internationally, lived overseas, made professional networks and gathered experience, and have signed my own leases (without a guarantor). I've escaped potentially dangerous situations in the nick of time, made mistakes, developed relationships and made my own decisions. Even with my more spontaneous decisions, I've managed to make ones that worked for me and learn from the ones I didn't. While I may not be fully developed as a person (who among us is?), I can say I know myself pretty well and I go after what I want.

So, no, I don't want to hear some condescending comment about how young I am and how I still either don't know anything or should not be taken seriously. At this point, age isn't more than a number and I've seen people twice my age act much younger than their years (for better or for worse). I may be young but I am strong and I need to learn for myself. I may fall but I won't break until it's time for me to die. Advice is good but I'm not a five-year-old. I'm an adult who can decide her own future. Please talk to me accordingly.