Fit-shaming or fat-shaming… How about neither?

It’s no secret that a large part of the US population has a dysfunctional relationship with both food and exercise. Last year, the US was dethroned as the “Fattest Country in the World” (that title now goes to Mexico), but the need to lose weight is still deeply engrained in our collective psyche. We have an incredible variety of food available to us, but convenience and cost often skew people’s choices toward cheap, overprocessed food. Many people also outsource physical labor and then turn around and pay a gym or Pilates studio to help them burn calories.

"Of course that damn Nellie is getting more attention from Almanzo... She can afford a personal trainer and a private chef!
“Of course that damn Nellie Oleson is getting more attention from Almanzo… She can afford a personal trainer and private chef!”

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to give an 1860s farm family a glimpse of our modern lifestyle. I’m sure they would shake their head in amazement at our excess and foolishness.

The older I get, the more I realize the need for conscious exercise. And yes, I’m occasionally guilty of avoiding a free workout (shoveling snow, for example) in lieu of paying someone to make me sweat.

In my personal quest for better fitness, I’ve also purchased some gadgets that have a mechanism for monitoring weight loss and goals—namely a Wii Fit and a FitBit Flex wristband. As I was setting up both devices, they each required me to set a “weight goal.”

In a country obsessed with weight loss, this is an unpopular admission to make—but I don’t really need to lose weight. My weight bobs up and down within a 5 lb. range at any given point, but it’s all within a healthy BMI. Since I consider my optimal target weight to be on the lower end of that 5 lb. fluctuation, that’s the number I entered into each device. Living in a perpetually frozen state makes exercise inconvenient, so like many Minnesotans I put on a couple of pounds over the holidays and had been hovering at the upper end of my range for a few weeks. I wanted to drop a few pounds and return to my comfort zone.

The new year has been crazy-busy so far, so I had my youngest set up the Wii Fit in her vacated bedroom so it would be more convenient for me to work out. I also started wearing my Flex again to remind me that I needed to be conscious about making time for exercise. While I haven’t been terribly successful at that, the one benefit of my hectic schedule is the ability to cut calories without too much effort (because I’m much more likely to overeat when I’m bored than when I’m stressed).

Consequently, I recently stepped on my Wii Fit and elicited cheers from the little balance board guy: “You’ve reached your goal!” His excitement was short-lived, however, as he immediately ordered me to set a new goal. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I don’t need a new goal…I’ve reached my target.” I wasn’t sure what to do next. I know there will be days that I creep above my optimal weight again—so I just wanted to leave my goal where it was so I could be reminded of where I needed to be. Unfortunately, this concept seemed completely foreign to my little avatar friend.

Likewise, I was logging my weight on my FitBit dashboard and the same thing happened. It congratulated me and immediately demanded I set a new goal.

FitBit tile

That neither of these devices seems to allow for simply maintaining one’s weight disturbs me because it discourages the concept of accepting one’s body as it is. There’s also a lot of debate in this country about what type of shape is acceptable for a woman. Those who advocate fitness are sometimes accused of “fat-shaming” and the backlash from some in the overweight camp is to demand that the media acknowledge what “real women” look like. I find the latter personally offensive—as if I’m somehow “fake” because I’m at a healthy weight?

Having two daughters with different genetic make-ups has underscored for me the need for a broader definition of “real.” One daughter is tall and willowy, the other is short and strong. The willowy one has bordered on anorexia before, has a pretty appalling diet and doesn’t place a high priority on exercise. When she comes home to visit, I check her weight to make sure she’s getting enough calories and eating something besides burgers and pizza. My other daughter has a very healthy diet, loves sports and is in great physical condition, so I don’t worry about her from a health standpoint at all. But in our house, the focus has always been on health and strength—not what size jeans one wears (in fact, I think they may wear the same size jeans, despite the fact that they have completely different builds). And you know what? They’re both gorgeous in their own unique way and they are both very real. Dove got this right in its Campaign for Real Beauty.

There are many factors that influence obesity: Large portions, unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyles… and there are other factors that can lead to obesity—some that a person can control (usually diet and exercise), but also some that a person can’t control (genetics, physical impairments that affect the ability to exercise, life situations that minimize free time for exercise—e.g., a sick child, demanding work schedule).

Knowing this, I don’t spend time judging others on the root cause of their current weight. As I’ve shown here, I’ve got my hands full trying to work on my own issues even if weight loss isn’t one of them. At the same time, there’s a fine line to walk between contentment and complacency. While self-acceptance is important, it’s not inherently bad to want to improve oneself—whether physically, intellectually or emotionally. That’s why I’m happy to live and let live…while encouraging others to achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be. After all, real women know we’re all in this together and consequently, we should try to lift each other up.

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how my youngest has flown the nest and how this has left me in a bit of a free fall. After spending 24 years actively parenting, it’s a little unsettling when you’re no longer needed except to dispense money and advice on occasion.

Child #3 left for college on Labor Day weekend and has barely looked back. She settled right into the collegiate routine, making friends and getting good grades. As her mom, I’m very happy that the transition was so easy on her, but I found myself missing her tremendously during the fall months.

A picture really does say a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come once she joined our family.
A picture really is worth a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come.

That’s because she is not only my baby, but from the time that she was very small, she was also my steady companion. Whether I was running errands, cooking dinner, visiting my parents, or doing chores—Blossom (in Stormy fashion, not her real name but a variation of her Chinese name) was always at my side, ready to help. However, during the last couple of years of school, I didn’t see much of her: Between school, work, sports, and volunteering, she simply wasn’t around.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be given an opportunity to spend time with my youngest over her Christmas break. Originally, Blossom had been planning to leave town shortly after Christmas, but her trip fell through and most of her friends had to head back to campus before her, so she found herself home for an extended break without any real plans.

During this time, we hung out a lot. We went shopping together. Despite my daughters’ no-holds-barred fashion critiques, Blossom wanted some pointers on how to evolve her look from high school jock to sophisticated undergrad. I remembered shopping with my mom at the same age (something I used to hate because my mom—having birthed nine kids—was never very happy with what she saw in the dressing room mirror) and was flattered that my daughter actually wanted my help. Being the experienced shopper that I am, I helped her get the most for her dollars and she came home with a bunch of new looks.

She accompanied me to the gym a couple of times, once as my personal trainer—a task she took very seriously. Why was I paying someone else to do this when my little sadist was as effective as any of them?! We also went grocery shopping, cooked together, and she visited me at the office, meeting my coworkers and going out for a “business lunch.”

pantry
Six boxes of lasagna noodles. Are we anticipating a global pasta shortage?

Blossom also helped around the house, taking down all my Christmas ornaments—heck, she even tackled my pantry solo. A daunting task, given I’m an impulsive grocery shopper who loves to cook.

I reflected on how much Blossom had grown up since leaving for college just a few months earlier. And I realized that, in many ways, she was a more functional adult than her older and ostensibly wiser mother.

My youngest is incredibly competent. The family joke is that it’s because she doesn’t share our genes or that it’s the result of “that good Chinese orphanage training.” She just dives in and does things. She doesn’t hem and haw or overthink things or dither around and get sidetracked (as I’m known to do). And it’s impressive to watch. She’s not intimidated by anything and she’s incredibly organized. As an employer, I’d hire her for any job in a heartbeat.

At the same time, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. When I was staying with my dad who has dementia after my mom’s hip surgery, she offered to go with me because, “I want to get to know Grandpa better and I know this whole thing has been hard on you.” She must have made an impression on him, too, because I was surprised a week later when my dad actually remembered where Blossom was going to college. (Heck, after 7 years, he still can’t remember where I work.) In fact, after one particularly trying day at the office, I came home late and she offered to 1) make me dinner and 2) give me a backrub!

The night before Blossom was to leave, I told my husband how much I was going to miss her. I realized she had temporarily filled a spot that my husband’s Parkinson’s had left vacant in my life. Although I’m an introvert, there are some activities I can tackle better with someone at my side—cajoling, challenging and encouraging. That’s Blossom in a nutshell. I know I can’t rely on my grown kids to fill that gap, however. They have their own lives to live and their own adventures before them. It left me thinking about how to address this on my own, and that’s when I realized my baby bird could teach me some lessons about flying solo.

A fierce competitor...against herself
A fierce competitor…against herself.

I decided I would do well to model a few of her behaviors—the ability to jump into a task without procrastinating, for example, or the genuine interest she shows in everyone from the butcher at the grocery store to her older relatives. As parents, we usually think of ourselves as the one teaching our kids, but as my kids have grown, I realize it’s a bit like horticulture—we’re propagating the strongest features, cultivating the best traits—and so I’ve learned there are many things they can also teach me. I hope that by learning from my kids, I’ll be able to fill my own garden with more blossoms and less weeds.

Fashion over 40: Catwalk or Tightrope?

The year I turned 40, I instantly became more self-conscious about my clothing choices. I had always liked fashion, but I didn’t want to be one of those women who looked like she was trying too hard to hang on to her youth (aka: “mutton dressed as lamb”). Plus, with two adolescent girls, I didn’t want to embarrass them by trying to look like their peers.

At the same time, I like clothes. I like to be comfortable. I like what I like and I don’t like to be subjected to “rules” that are determined by my age. Over the last several years, I’ve become more comfortable with determining what’s right for me. And I think I walk that tightrope between fashion and appropriateness pretty well. But if I start to lose my balance, you can bet that my now 18- and 21-year-old daughters will extend a hand to save me from making a serious style misstep.

Case in point: Last year, I was obsessed with a leather sheath dress from Banana Republic. It was a classic style in soft brown leather—more polished and unexpected than the predictable black—so I thought I could put a professional spin on it and wear it to the office. sheath_dressMore expensive than my usual wardrobe choices, I watched the website for a sale. First it was in stock, but not on sale, then on sale, but out of stock. Finally the planets aligned: It was in stock and on sale. I ordered it and waited impatiently for my new purchase to arrive. A few days later the package was delivered. I rushed upstairs to try it on. It really was a lovely dress, with buttery supple leather. But when I tried it on and looked in the mirror: Meh. Despite the sizeable investment, it didn’t transform me the way I’d hoped. And at my age, I can’t afford to let my fashion dollars sit idle. Or was I just being too critical because of the hefty price tag? Looking for a second opinion, I walked downstairs and modeled my new purchase. “Whaddaya think?” I asked my husband and daughter. My husband (ever the diplomat) answered, “It’s nice.” My daughter—on the other hand—responded, “Mom, you look like a couch.”  With that appraisal, I had to face the cold hard truth: I wasn’t fashionable, I was furniture. Needless to say, back went the dress…

A fashion miss is one thing, but I take other “don’ts” more seriously.

Ummmm. "Don't"
Ummmm. “Don’t” (Photo credits: Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

For example, the fine line between “attractive” and “suggestive.” Having a rather delicate décolleté (i.e., the “girls” are truly “girls,” not full-grown “ladies”), I don’t have to worry about excess cleavage. But is this skirt too short? …this dress too form-fitting? …these heels too tall? I always struggle with finding the right balance.

Years ago, when KitKat and I worked together, if we were trying to evaluate whether something was inappropriate for work we had a foolproof test: The Bob Miller Axiom—named for a somewhat salacious coworker. If you were wearing anything borderline, you could rely on Bob to compliment you on it. And then you knew beyond a doubt that you probably shouldn’t wear that outfit to the office again.

In fact, when my husband and I ran into Bob and his wife on the beach as part of a work incentive trip, he even complimented me on my bikini. Now everyone knows that if you’re among coworkers in swimwear, you should assume a Cloak of Invisibility. That is, you do not acknowledge the aforementioned swimming attire, you don’t take candid photos and post them on Facebook, and most importantly, you don’t compliment the 30-something coworker’s taste in swimwear while you’re standing there with your 60-something wife.

With all these perils, you’d think it would be easier to just choose a “uniform” and stick with it (and as someone who spent her formative years in parochial school, I’ll admit to still having a bit of a thing for Black Watch plaid). Yes, while playing it safe would certainly be easier—and shave some time off my morning routine—I know I’ll continue to walk the tightrope. Because fashion is fun. Fashion is expressive. And when you’re in Marketing, you can justify spending more than you should on clothes by telling yourself your chosen field requires a stylish career wardrobe … at least that’s the creative rationalization KitKat and I employ. After all what better way to subtly underscore your keen grasp of pop culture and trends? Hey, whatever pays the (shoe) bills!  😉

Power of the Clover!

Anyone living in Minnesota has felt a bit unlucky this year. As KitKat and I have mentioned several times, we’ve had unprecedentedly lousy weather this spring/summer. In addition, work has been relentlessly busy. It’s all a bit wearing on the spirit, so in early June—when a brief break in the rain allowed me to get to some long-neglected yardwork—I found this:

Power of the Clover!
Power of the Clover!

We were preparing for my youngest child’s graduation open house and our home really isn’t large enough to host her many family and friends, so when I found the clover, I was excited. I may not believe in gambling for the big jackpot, but finding such a lucky token surely must mean something, right?

Feeling a bit beaten down and daunted by the task of getting my house and yard into tip-top shape for the party, I decided to embrace the power of the clover. No matter what transpired in the coming week, I was going to view it as good fortune. I believe that our outlook is mostly a matter of attitude, so if I used this symbol of good fortune as a reminder of my blessings, it would bring about a change in attitude that would ultimately benefit me. Well, that was my theory at any rate.

I started the week with my attitude adjustment firmly planted. I was lucky! Good things were going to happen at every turn! I just needed to keep my outlook positive and my eyes open. The previous three months may have been a bit—well, sucky—but the tide was a turnin’ now and everything would be going my way!

Despite my positive outlook, the week was inauspicious. While nothing terrible happened, it wasn’t exactly like Lady Luck was smiling upon me. I was a bit disappointed in my botanical harbinger. Then, at the end of the week, things took a decided turn for the worst. We had a system issue at work. This wouldn’t be terribly catastrophic except that we had just had a similar problem—one that cost our company time and money and our clients considerable disruption—a mere month earlier. We hadn’t experienced such a significant disruption to our business before that, and the thought that this new incident might mirror the earlier one was weighing heavily on our minds as we sought to troubleshoot the situation. “Power of the Clover!” I invoked. Maybe this was the situation for which the luck was intended? Well, the problem was resolved much quicker than previously, but it didn’t feel so much like good luck as just an avoidance of really bad luck.

Disenchanted with my clover, I turned my attention back to other matters. My daughter’s graduation was troubling me and not just because we were hosting a big party and the weather wasn’t cooperative. This was my youngest child’s graduation from high school. I would soon be an “empty nester.” Moreover, my birthday was looming ahead. So, combine bad weather/party stress/empty nest/mid-life crisis/anxiety about getting older and you get a stormy Stormy.

So on my long list of to-dos, was my annual exam. I was telling my nurse practitioner about all of the things going on in my life and she was nodding sympathetically. At the same time, she was telling me that I was in great shape. My blood pressure—great! My lungs sounded good. Pressing on my abdomen, she commented on my muscle tone and said I was in the best shape of anyone she had seen that day. I have to confess, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe turning 48 wasn’t that big of a deal. Then it came time to do my breast exam. “There’s a lump. Feel it?” Sure enough. How did I miss that? (Maybe because I do a half-assed job at breast self-exams when I remember to do them at all?) “When was your last mammogram?” she asked. It had been 2 ½ years. Shit. “You need to get that checked out.” Next was my pelvic exam. “Your ovary is enlarged.” Double shit.And I had made an outrageous statement about cancer being more suited to my temperament than Parkinson’s in an earlier post. How stupid could a person be? I was just asking God for another big slice of humble pie! Even if neither were indications of cancer, it would likely take a while to get the all-clear report and the specter of doom would be hanging over my head all weekend—tainting my daughter’s party, Father’s Day and my birthday. Boo.

Fortunately (luckily?), my doctor’s office was able to line up diagnostic tests quickly: The mammogram would be later that afternoon, and an ultrasound of my ovaries would be done the next day.

Stormy freaking out.
Stormy freaking out.

I have to confess, I freaked out a bit while waiting for the tests—after all, I was facing TWO diagnostic tests for two DIFFERENT kinds of cancer, one of them highly fatal. I wasn’t sure of my odds, but they were doubled, right? It was like a frickin’ BOGO! Suddenly, the status quo looked pretty attractive. Preparing for my daughter’s open house seemed very insignificant. So did turning another year older. After all, it’s a blessing to tear another page off the calendar, right? A lot of people don’t get that privilege. What was wrong with me that I had been so absorbed with such petty matters?

Well, if I ever needed to invoke the Power of the Clover, this was it. And I’m happy to report that my little four-leaf friend came through for me. Both abnormalities were harmless cysts, not malignant tumors. Afterward, I was much more enthusiastic about the fact that I had a wonderful accomplished daughter whose graduation we were celebrating. (After all, this is a good thing, right?) And despite an ominous forecast, it was even sunny for her party. Yay! So lucky! And so what if I was turning another year older—that’s better than the alternative, right? And I was certainly another year wiser as well. Sooooo lucky!

My dad always says, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” And while, I can’t determine who coined that expression, there’s some truth in it. However, the part that’s not explained is that luck isn’t something you “find”—like a clover—it’s all around you, hiding in plain sight. Rather, it’s something you need to RECOGNIZE . In the end, the clover was just a lens through which I gained some much-needed perspective. I don’t expect this realization to last (it never does) but maybe I can come back and read this at a later date and that will help me remember the good fortune that surrounds me. And if it helps you keep a little perspective, too, then it’s all been worth it.

The curative powers of a well-timed hair appointment?

I’ve already mentioned that I can’t easily pay for services without feeling a twinge of guilt. In particular, spending money on hair cuts/color. First of all, hair grows, so whatever you do to it has temporal value, at best. It’s like when you drive a new car off the lot or buy top-of-the-line electronics. A rapidly depreciating investment.

"Good enough" or "tragically trendy"? You decide!
“Good enough” or “tragically trendy”? You decide!

Then there’s the vanity aspect: My mom used to cut my hair when I was a child—and though my haircuts weren’t always the latest style, they were deemed “good enough.” Likewise, my natural hair color (mousy brown) is fine, if a tad dull. My parents aren’t exactly puritans, but they are frugal, so I was raised to believe that spending a lot on a haircut was a waste of money as well as rather vain.

Over the years, I’ve managed to squash that pragmatic and wholesome attitude and have been seeing a professional stylist for a cut and color ever since an untimely home-dying episode left me with “hot roots”—in my case bright orange roots and dark dyed locks—the same day as my sister-in-law’s mother’s funeral. Although with a little foresight I could have called it “ombre” and been a trendsetter, at the time it was merely an inappropriate hairstyle for such a solemn occasion.

The professional stylist (my niece) was able to bring my hair back to balance with a nice rich color and tasteful highlights, but such expertise comes at a price (even with a family discount), so as my nod to frugality, I convinced myself I’d drag out the time between appointments as long as possible.

I had been in this wanting-to-make-an-appointment-but-it’s-still-too-soon phase for a couple of weeks and noticed that when I don’t like how my hair looks, I don’t like how life looks. My auburn hair always fades to a nondescript light brown and blah hair = blah life. I’ve never been lured to the light side by the promise that “blondes have more fun,” but I’ve always had a preference for hair color with some oomph to it. I also have the attention span of a gnat and don’t need to explain that switching hairstyles or hair color when I’m bored is easier than switching jobs or husbands.

Before
Before

But in addition to the color issue, my hair has taken a weird turn of late. A couple of years ago, I noticed a very decided “kink” partway down my normally stick-straight hair. And from there it continued to twist and turn until now, three years later, I’ve got wavy hair for the first time in my life at the age of 47 (admittedly, I’ll be 48 next month, but let’s not rush things, okay?!). Yet, despite the recent disposition toward kinkiness, some of the longer (older) hair is still straight toward the bottom—and a bit frizzy and fried from all the coloring and styling tools—so I was also in pretty dire need of a cut to shape things up.

Of course, after waiting until enough time had elapsed to justify another appointment, I discovered that my niece was booked for the next two weeks. Frustrated and impatient, I considered my alternatives. I have another niece who was finishing cosmetology school (it may seem odd that I actually have THREE nieces in this line of work ’til you realize how many nieces I have—let’s just say a lot). Unfortunately, booking a coloring slot would require leaving work early and I was too busy to do that. So, I waited…impatiently… until my scheduled appointment with my niece last week.

After
After

Which brings us to now. Although I did breathe a sigh of relief looking in the mirror as my niece dried my newly colored and freshly trimmed hair, I’m sad to say the euphoria was short-lived, and the next morning old troubles were still troubling me. I guess I’ve gotten more complex as I’ve gotten older, and no longer can my problems just be washed away with an expensive Aveda shampoo. Hmmm… Maybe I need to go shoe shopping instead. 🙂

I don’t want to be a grown up

Texting and venting with Stormy the other day, she sent me a line that goes through my head often: “I don’t want to be a grown up!”

I believe the only people who think being a grown up is fun are those who are not grown up yet. What does being a grown up mean?

  • Paying bills (When there is money to pay them.)
  • Working – at work and/or at home (The to-do list just keeps growing in both spots.)
  • Setting a good example for your kids (Still working on that.)
  • Biting your tongue in certain situations, even if you know you are right  (That’s a tough one.)
  • Making responsible choices (That’s boring.)
  • The aging process (That’s horrible and can be its own blog post.)
  • Giving up things you want for the sake of the greater good (e.g., I can’t run off and sell toe rings on the beach.)

That list does not sound enticing! As a kid, you get to make selfish decisions based just on your wants; you can be impulsive and not overly worry about the outcome. You have your whole life ahead of you to make bad, and fun, mistakes … and a life ahead of you to then fix them. There is plenty of time later to figure out your perfect path.

And to think how I wistfully waited forever to become a grown up. Spent much of my childhood trying to be a grown up. I remember each year seemed to take so freedomlong to pass. I couldn’t wait to be in my 20s and do what I wanted, when I wanted it – never having to ask permission.  I’d picture myself in my 30s, all wise with my life perfectly figured out. Well, I am now in my 40s and still waiting on this. I don’t have complete freedom as people are dependent on me. I still often have to ask permission. And, I seem to be even further from having my life figured out. A big problem now is that the years are flying by. I actually even lost a whole year. I was certain I was 42, but with an approaching birthday, I have now been told I am about to turn 44. I seriously do not remember turning 43, and I can’t afford to skip any years at this point!

My daughter asked me the other day if I ever get tired of being big and said she was tired of being little. Oh sweetie, I sure do. I wish I could have made her understand all the things she should be enjoying right now. But, I knew it was a lost cause. It would be just another rambling of an adult not getting it. It would be that Charlie Brown teacher’s voice making no sense and just a background noise. It is not something adults, or children, can explain to each other – that wish to be exactly what you aren’t at the time. Looking at that little face, I knew we would freaky fridayboth be totally up for some Freaky Friday action.

Now, I suppose I should end with something about why getting old is better. Instead, I want to take a different approach. I am going to make a few decisions that I simply can because I am an adult with a car to get around and a credit card to splurge in case of emergency.  I am going to set the appointment to cover my grey peeking through, call my aesthetician to discuss more miracle cures for aging skin that I can sink some money into, and ask a girlfriend to meet me out for a glass of wine and laughs. I am not mature and wise, yet, so instead I’ll embrace where I currently stand and with childlike hope continue to imagine all the places my selfish self would bring me. And as I am doing all the “grown up” things I am mandated to do – I will hope I don’t forget another year!