The Body Public

“I am what I eat: especially if I am a woman.”
“To be thin is to be divine.”
“It’s okay to be called a skinny b—-h.”

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was diagnosed with cancer in her early sixties she is quoted to have said, “If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have done all those sit-ups.”

Why are woman judged so harshly by how they appear in the public? From tabloids to respected news syndicates a female’s worth and wisdom are appraised by appearance first and substance second. In our centuries of evolution the value of female beauty still reigns supreme over her other qualities.

This surprises me in a post-modern age where we have concentrated a lot of political and societal effort on closing the gender gap. More women are working in fields such as medicine, law, and government than a century before. However, women are still largely under-represented in political office, as leaders of companies and in the fields of research science and other male dominated fields. Several women who choose to take time off to rear children are often unable to regain their previous traction in both academic and career tracks. The statistics are staggering, as listed in the documentary Miss Representation.

When I asked my students to read aloud a few of their New Year’s Resolutions most of the females (85%) listed “losing weight, eating better, and transitioning from a couch potato to a french fry” as their main resolutions.

On the other hand, most males mentioned wanting to make more money, save-up for a gaming console of some sort, or doing better in school.

Both genders listed wanting to spend more time with family, being nicer to siblings and making more time to do schoolwork.

Not a single male voiced the desire to become more athletic, lose weight or eat better.

Having volunteered in clinics for individuals with eating disorders (which comprised 98% of female clients) and witnessed first hand how debilitating such a disorder is, it is shocking when I hear both adolescent and adult women alike boasting their goal of “having the endurance of an anorexic”.

The public often equates being thin with being healthy.  When a person loses weight we often assume that they are “doing something right.”  In the past year, I lost approximately 9kg (or 20 lbs).  Far too many people commented on how “good” I looked.  My closest friends knew I was either not getting enough to eat, due to financial issues, or that I had lost my appetite due to stress and health problems.  It was not a conscious effort, at all, to lose weight.  My weight loss did not bring about better health, if anything I had less energy because food simply did not taste good.  Having to force myself to eat was a stressful experience.

Thus, my outlook on individuals who wish to become “like an anorexic” or morph from a “potato to a french fry” scares me.  We weren’t meant to look like stick figures.

Most developing nations find our body trends rather alarming because they know what it is like to live without food.  To have a little extra roundness in one’s face (I’m not talking about obesity) and a little something spare around the middle is actually a good thing.  It means you have enough to eat.

I would like to understand why women are held to such a high standard of beauty that is both expensive, often harmful, and doesn’t add to their psychological well-being, whilst men feel no such compunction to do the same?  Are women their own worst enemy or is the pressure of society so large that we cave in?

Why do people believe that women’s bodies belong to the public and are open to discussion?  Is there a systemic belief that we are the property of the public at large because we can bear children?  Or, have the rise of violent crimes against women and the depiction of them in T.V. and film dramas led us to believe that one gender’s body is less important than another?

What surprises me most is that most individuals don’t give their criticism of female public figures a second thought.  Whereas the bodies of balding, aging and overweight men on television are rarely the subjects of satire.  Instead, men tend to be criticized because of their way of handling a subject or their verbal goofs on television.

I am curious what others think about taking the pledge to help balance public portrayals of women less as objects and more as people who have feelings and as much dimension as males.  I’m not saying that women and men have to be the same.  I just wish we were treated the same in media and public portrayals.

A New Year’s Resolution for Children’s Education

Malala Yousafzai stated it best in her CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour: “I do not understand how governments can find more money for guns and tanks than for children’s education.  World leaders claim they care about children’s education and rights, but they are not living up to their promises.”

As a teacher for over fifteen years, and my continued tenure as a teacher in public schools for the last ten years, I cannot stand by and let statements about the lack of education for either females or child slaves fall on deaf ears.

It makes me wonder if all people who live above the poverty level took the money they spend on the latest gadgets (me: dresses, books), most luxurious cars, etc… and put that money toward coalitions to end child slavery, to fund schools, books, etc… to show that the world cares more about these issues and we, not the government, hold the power to affect change.

I can’t help but wonder about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai (whom I am sure will soon be called Malala), some of my favourite activists, Sven Volkmuth & Jacynthe Omglin who run their own NGO, chance for growth and how much time is dedicated to making sacrifices for the better living conditions of others.

What if all of the above decided it was more important to buy luxury goods instead of helping save lives, protect the innocent and invest in a better future where education is no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity to all human life?

I want to be a part of that future, thus I am pledging this year (and hopefully forever) to spend not a dime on anything that:

  1. was made by child slaves, or in a country that abuses its workers or allows children to legally work in factories
  2. I do not desperately need (i.e. will cause starvation)
  3. I cannot make myself
  4. make an negative impact on our environment because I am promoting world pollution through buying something I could get second-hand or live without
  5. makes it less possible for me to get out of debt in the next four years

I bring up debt because a lot of people in industrialised countries have easy access to debt, something that I know I can live without and will give me the freedom to give more of my excess to helping people worldwide.

I hope to contribute by being able to teach during my summer recess and give my time to organisations which want to improve the quality or set-up schools for all children who are in need, especially in countries where girls are forbidden any education or an equal education.

I may be only making a drop in the bucket, but I am making a purposeful drop that millions of others can join in to make our world a better place.

Happy Channukah

Happy Christmas

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

The NaNo Experiment & the result

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

Halfway through writing my 50,000 required words, I wanted to quit. Not because it was too hard, or I didn’t know what to write, or anything that included writer’s block.

I wanted to edit.

The whole reason I started NaNoWriMo this year was to get myself writing without editing so I could get into a proper creative flow that was unlike the process I had adopted halfway through 2013.  I made a goal this year to try to aim for at least 70,000 (I made it to 55,537).  I generally start a little early so I have a proper structure to work within.

Like magic, my characters wanted different things.  Leanora and Dex made choices I hadn’t planned, their futuristic world turned in a way I hadn’t thought of ahead of time.  And I was excited.  I wanted to make the words describing them beautiful also.  But, there was NO TIME!

I discovered, into the third week, I had to make the decision to speed up my WPM or continue half editing as I went along.  It was a painful choice, but I was still lagging in the 30,000 word territory in week 3.  Thanksgiving was calling and I know how my body doesn’t want to do anything once the holidays hit, and who wants to be stressed during a holiday?

NaNoWriMo is an exercise, a vehicle to learning to get your creative flow going.  To putting the structure to paper, screen, etc…without letting your censor take over before it needs to.  In addition, people who hate editing (Me!) learn that editing can actually be a lot of fun.

Breaks are important also with a new manuscript. Like a  fine red wine, you have to let it breathe.  You have to distance yourself from something you’re going to edit so you can see it with fresh and more objective eyes.

At least that’s my plan.  Onward with Book #2 editing and Leaning the Wrong Way shall stay on the shelf until novels # 1 & # 2 are fully edited to my satisfaction.

Meanwhile, will I do NaNo next year? Absolutely! It’s good to flex your non-censor writing muscles once a year.  And maybe, in 2015, right around the end of the school year, I might just do another NaNo project, just to keep those muscles strong and limbered up for the real thing!!!

There are just too many possibilities.

LWWB_NaNoBookCover

A MANIFESTATION OF LOVE

A recent article http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/3-things-i-wish-i-knew-we-got-married by Tyler Ward emphasises making one’s marriage a priority in a meaningful way.  A fellow friend, who is also single, asked me to comment on this article.

I want to expand the broader implications of this article to include a daily manifestation of love, because I am single, not married, not engaged or even in any sort of “significant” relationship.  I live far from family, rarely hear from anyone in my family other than my parents, even after experiencing emergency surgery.  I’m not complaining, just giving the scope to my life.  My safety net tends to be a web of friends on both sides of the English Channel.  More often than not, I hear from friends in England and Ireland faster than my own friends here in Germany.  I don’t think it’s because friends in Germany care less about me, it’s just a fact of how the cards are laid and who had chosen to make a major investment in my life.

Likewise, I try to embrace as many people as possible, and seek out ways in which I can cheer others up. Often I fail, sometimes I succeed.

Life is hard.  I am keenly aware of this as my body continues to be annoying, taxing, and has required more surgery and medical attention than I considered necessary this year.  (In fact, it has made it hard for me to think straight at times, in the face of how I can ever accomplish everything that I need to).

Friends and coworkers often ask, “How Can I Help?” and I’ll say “Pray for me to get a new body”, “Pray for a miracle” or more often than not, I’ll come up with more concrete ways I need help: meals, assistance with laundry, company (I live alone, with two animals, after awhile, even they are lacking in proper conversation).

When you can’t lift anything over 7kg and driving for 10 minutes winds you (as well as walking for longer than 20 minutes without a companion), you begin to look at things very differently.  I will explain my situation to people and they continue to ask, “Well, what can I do?” And I’m surprised by some of the responses to my very simple pleas:

“Oh, sure, I’d love to help…oh wait…where do you live?  Oh that’s so far away…” (I live forty minutes away by car, the average American commute anywhere).  I drive this distance twice every day to go to work, and most of my coworkers do three times this drive once a month to go on various vacations.

“Meals, oh yeah, love to help…oh wait…you’re gluten free aren’t you…and vegetarian too I heard…” (Correction: painfully allergic to gluten, not to anything else).

“I’d love to help, just been so busy, you know, all these classes, work and then all these dinners with friends and stuff…I really wanted to visit you, the time just got away with me” (Why mention it?  Just leave it alone and don’t admit to me that you were having fun while I was marooned at home trying not to feel miserable when the pain medications aren’t working).

I am beginning to realise why people who suffer from far more debilitating diseases than me stop asking, get depressed, and sometimes become withdrawn.  They get tired of trying to express that without the help of others (even visits or simple cards in the mail) hope starts to recede and you feel all alone within the confines of your own house.  Your home stops being a haven and starts resembling a prison.  And you wonder if you really can ever interact normally with humanity again if and when “normal” life ever resumes?

I have friends confined to wheelchairs, my father has cancer, one of my close friends is recovering from breast cancer, and the list goes on.  Their voices are generally silent on this subject, because they are so tired of fighting to get people to understand and be empathetic to their situation.  When you are ill, your world becomes small and while your brain continues to create wonderful new stories, philosophies and insights, the lack of human stimulation makes you wonder if you have suddenly become a spectator in your previous life.  I asked myself, when I wandered the halls at work a few days ago (before being grounded at home for the rest of the week), “Am I a ghost, a sliver of what I used to be?”

People pat me on the back, congratulating me for losing weight and looking great.  I try to swallow their insensitivity to my situation.  Food has lost its flavour altogether and I’ve lost the ability to be hungry.  It is no longer a novelty, it is a scary reality that sometimes reduces me to tears that are shed in the silence and stillness of my cavernous apartment.

When articles address marriage or unions of some sort and the priority one must place on ones spouse, in essence I feel they are addressing a growing lack of concern for our fellow human beings.  If we can’t reach out to our spouse, how can we also, help others less close to us?

I paste my comments below:

“The idea of marriage (for those of us not blessed with this union, yet) could be symbolic of the overall regard we have for vested relationships in our lives (friendships, families, coworkers). I find the most valuable and long-lasting relationships come from taking time to reach out to those closest to me, regardless of distance, on a regular basis and enacting a lot of the main tenets of the above article. If my closest relationships feel valued, and a priority, it makes for a stronger bond between us in general. Love flourishes the best when it is attended to and nurtured in a daily, empathetic and deliberate manner.”

I think I’m going to dial a friend and find out how they’re doing!

Best teen read of the summer

The-Manifesto-on-How-to-Be-Interesting-by-Holly-Bourne-UK-cover-230x360

When I visited the newly updated Foyles on Charing Cross Road I came across dozens of titles that I would have never discovered on amazon.co.uk alone. (Yes, I am shamelessly pitching for bookstores to remain open).  Since I live in Germany, the opportunity to come across new young-adult and middle-grade titles is limited to what amazon posts as trending, or other websites and twitter.  However, when I was able to feel and thumb through the pages of this book, it immediately captured my interest.

I highly recommend this book to anyone 14+ (yes, even adults) because it follows the life of Bree, who unfortunately in some blurbs is labeled as a “loser”.  I’ll leave that up to you, but I disagree.  She is a free-thinking, lonely young-woman who takes on a writing challenge in order to improve her prose, and her life.  Her desire for change is fueled, at first, by her longing for her writing work to become something more than suicidal drivel.

The strength of Bourne’s prose, Bree’s voice and the various adventures that Bree encounters rival that of similarly themed films such as “Mean Girls” and “Easy A”.   Instead of being a morality tale, I felt a kinship with Bree’s life (though fictional) and the true-lives of the adolescents I teach.

Though there are some mature themes and actions, The Manifesto will not fail to uplift and enlighten you.  I look forward to reading more of Bourne’s books, once I’ve finished with the rest of the lovely titles I acquired whilst being in London.  Please post your comments about The Manifesto and how you feel it depicts modern teenage life. 

My Poolside TBR List 2014

I cannot wait to hear reader’s ideas about one of Isabel Costello’s books from her list (below), The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wall. I’m enjoying reading more memoirs at the moment (since I’m actually attempting to write one myself). Please do enjoy Isabel’s comments about each book, as she is spot-on in her reading recommendations. Happy Summer to everyone before school begins in a few week’s time. (I shall try to forget in the meanwhile and soak up as much summer bliss as possible). I hope you’ll do the same!

The Literary Sofa

DSCN8722It’s been a great summer so far. The weather has been fantastic for weeks on end, even in England. In June I went on a solo trip to Paris and Brittany. Progress is good – or at least not terrible – on the second novel I started three months ago (by the way, there was a fantastic response to last week’s post and lots of interesting contributions from other writers, if you missed it). But the one thing this summer hasn’t been is relaxing. Far from it.

After this I’m vacating the Sofa until September and will be spending the second half of August in Provence doing very little but eat, drink chilled rosé, read and swim. (I won’t be writing about the trip as it would be almost identical to the post I wrote two years ago.) This is our sixth time in this heavenly spot and much as I love visiting new places…

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