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The Mayor, The Giant & The Bad Smell

green giant

What does New York City, frozen green beans & deodorant have in common? Stumped? They are all backing self-esteem campaigns for kids. What is a self-esteem campaign, you ask? Well, NYC, Green Giant & Secret are splashing out on media that lets kids know they are good enough gosh darn it. There are subtle differences in the campaigns however. The beans and roll-on focus is on bullying, and NYC is on the side of positive body image.

Mayor Bloomberg is telling girls he loves them just the way they are. This $330,000 initiative is partly a visual campaign exalting girls of all shapes and colors and a fitness program. Mixed message aside, the point is to combat the imagery with which girls are daily confronted. The Giant & deodorant on the other hand are focused on victims of bullying. Their’s seems a much more bland campaign with the goal of prompting conversation. (Is anyone not talking about bullying these days?!) What these three initiatives have in common are targeting the victim.

None of this bullying propaganda deals with the bully. Green Giant implores parents to; “Help Her Stand Up To Bullying.” Interestingly, bullying almost by definition, suggest more than a one-on-one experience. The bullies are almost always plural and the bullied is most definitely singular. (That’s why it works!) Simple math would suggest that more bean buying parents have a bully at their table than a victim. Forgetting the misguided calculation for a moment; what in the world does it mean to “stand up to a bully?” How is it helpful to throw such platitudes around? The way to combat bullying is to grow strong children. Children who feel confident and secure do not bully. Children who are told (through words and deeds) that they are simply the best build arrogance not self-esteem. Strength comes from mastering challenges not from trophies and ribbons. All children want to be liked (and hopefully grow out of that weakness by the time they’re parents.) It is perfectly natural for a child to crumble from bullying. As long as that child has friends, interests and activities outside of the bullying vortex they should be fine. But suggesting that he/she is somehow at fault is not fine.

A (meager) $330,000 campaign aimed at convincing girls they’re beautiful is also not fine. This drop in the bucket is ridiculous at best and patronizing at worst. Girls are raised in an overt feminized, and sexualized environment today. They are swathed in pink and glitter and bombarded with objectifying imagery. There are high-heeled shoes in toddler sizes now. Perhaps a campaign encouraging parents to turn off the television, stop buying celebrity magazines and get a little more gender neutral would have an impact. (Surrounding little girls with princess narratives and imagery is not terribly empowering.) Trying to grow strong girls in a climate of hair extensions, false eyelashes, silicone, twerking and botox is not easy. A subway poster or youtube video isn’t really gonna change much of anything. Particularly if they get off the subway and are confronted with softly pornographic posters in the station and above ground.

I don’t doubt everyone’s good intentions, but nothing short of being all in is going to work here. Focusing on the victims not only sends the wrong message but is simply not effective. If the bean people really want to be a meaningful voice in the bully conversation how about a graphic novel-esque serial of the Jolly Green Giant instigating an online attack against Sprout? This comic strip could illuminate the weakness and insecurity of the Giant and Sprout could demonstrate coping skills. If NYC is worried about the body image of its smallest female residents, perhaps Mayor Bloomberg could hire models to do before and after photos? Children could see the smoke and mirrors for themselves. At the end of the day it’s really hard to combat the 24/7 buzz. Girl children have never had so many negative messages and role models. There are so many ways and so many chances for girls to be objectified. There are new ways (every day) for bullies to hide and perpetrate their self-medicating ways. We (the grown-ups) created this and we can fix it. There isn’t one answer, it’s more of a collective of measures. Children have different needs and parents are in the best position to address them. One method that will never work, however, is to blame the victim.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Step Into The Sun, Step Into The Light

emerald city

It’s been four weeks since we; stubbed out our last cigarette, scarfed our last overgrown cupcake, corked the bottle, and put on sneakers. How are we doing? Have there been some slips? Have there been any results? Well there’s some bad news and some good news. Bad first? Well, three weeks is when a new activity really loses its aura of novelty. The excitement of starting something has ebbed. Now it’s just doing the activity. If you haven’t seen immediate or significant results you might just be thinking; “one donut never hurt anyone.” You may have started a convincing inner dialogue of “Ya know four weeks is a long time. I showed I could do it if I put my mind to it. This is just a bad time for me. I’ll pick it up again when…” And you’d be right. January is a dumb time to change physical behavior. So are you ready for the good news? A new behavior becomes habit at five weeks. That’s right, you are almost at the sweet spot. This doesn’t mean that in one week you will awaken to a svelte non-craving new self. It means that it will no longer feel like a virtual living hell on earth to engage in your resolution behavior.

Instead of simply enduring this last week of drudge, let’s use it to tweak ourselves.

If it’s tobacco that you are trying to excise from your life, do you have proper support? Have you seen a doctor (who might suggest nicotine patches/gums?) Do you have a (smoke-free) buddy you can talk to/hang with? Have you cleaned and made uncomfortable all your smoking spots? Have you eliminated or altered smoking triggers (that after dinner coffee, those work breaks, the commuting)? Are you putting your cigarette money somewhere visible? Have you earmarked your new wealth for something? In just one week you are going to feel incredibly proud of yourself! You’ve made real and considerable strides in prolonging and improving the quality of your life. And your skin is going to look so much better.

If comfort foods have made you much too comfortable you may be questioning your resolve right about now. It’s January! A long dark month quite simply designed for massive doses of carbohydrates. But we’re four weeks in, so dammit it’s full steam ahead. If you’re interested in losing more than 20% of your body weight, you’ve seen a doctor, yes? Have you banished all processed/sugar infused/empty calorie food and beverage from your home/bag/car/desk/pockets/nightstand/locker? Good. Do you write down any and everything that passes your lips? You must. Food amnesia is the single biggest weight loss sabotage. You may be eating/drinking at times and not considering the calories. That overpriced latte? It’s not coffee it’s a hot milkshake. The glass of wine (or two or three) after work/with dinner total real calories. The birthday/retirement/fertility office party cake? Eating with people you don’t particularly care for does not burn calories. There’s nothing wrong with overpriced coffee, wine or cake. There’s only something wrong with mindless eating. It will get you. Now have you found a nice substitution for the afternoon snack/wine? Perhaps some flavored teas? Maybe lighting a scented candle is all the sensory comfort you need. The only way permanent behavior change works is if it doesn’t feel punitive. Consider adopting one or two new (or forgotten) behaviors that would feel rewarding.

Have you noticed that your workout clothes aren’t being washed as much as they were a few weeks ago? Is all the treadmill/stair-master/soul cycling very dull? Does real life get in the way? You’re not a failure; you’re just not a hamster who is perfectly enthralled with walking to nowhere. It’s time to find what makes you happy. No really. There was probably once a time you enjoyed playing/moving. Did you love to dance? Was it double-dutch that made your heart sing? Figure it out! Find the adult 21st century equivalent and do it. No one is watching and no one cares. The only way this is going to work (and it will work) is if you enjoy what you’re doing. Maybe you love learning new things? Use that to your fitness advantage. Take on new and complicated activities on a regular basis. Fitness is not a chore it’s time for yourself and a wonderful way to feel (and stay) alive.

Changing behavior in any real and lasting way is not easy. (If it were the world would be a much nicer place.) We all want (in our heart of hearts) to be our best selves. Often our best intentions are stymied by the pesky existence of others. But we do have complete control over how we treat our bodies. Physical behavior change that will lead to a healthier (and perhaps happier) you is attainable and within reach.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Well-Being

 

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Exercising A Resolution

exercise

January is not the time to try and lose weight. It is dark, most of the country is cold and television is just starting to get good again. Yet people will flock to gyms and weigh-in centers by the droves. Fitness clubs and gyms are crowded and annoying for the first 3-6 weeks of the year. Diet (processed) food companies have been rubbing their hands together in glee for weeks (January 1st is their Black Friday.) The diet industry is a gazillion dollar industry, and if it worked it wouldn’t exist. All that said, if you insist upon changing your physical ways in January, it’s nice to have an encouraging coach:

Input

Most people fall into one of two categories of food relationships: “all things in moderation” and “restrictive” eaters. The former orientation allows for tweaks or portion control when looking to adjust the bathroom scale (which is meant only euphemistically as a bathroom scale is nothing more than an evil monkey and/or a terrific place to stub your toe each and every morning.)

The “restrictive” eater habitually refers to food (or their own eating habits) as “good” or “bad.” Their relationship with food is based on what it represents emotionally rather than what it does for them physically. Eaters in this camp have a more challenging time changing food behavior. Booking a few visits with a registered dietician could be a life altering experience for these eaters. Developing a layer of consciousness about nutrition and one’s specific physical needs could permanently alter food relationships. Eating will always have an emotional component, but like all behaviors there should be intellectual underpinnings.

Output

If there is any doubt that physical movement is as necessary as oxygen, visit a retirement community. The quality of life is vastly different for those who have moved throughout their lives and those who spent more than a few hours on the couch. A lifetime habit of motion is a wise investment. The key to any lifetime habit is to discover what one enjoys. For those who are blessed with a true passion for athleticism, the options are endless. For the rest of us we must overcome boredom, awkwardness, or (sigh) a childhood trauma of being picked last.

The first step toward the “movement as habit” goal is to ignore the rules. It isn’t that “weight-bearing” is not a fabulous tool to promote bone density; it is simply that too many rules can discourage one from any attempts at movement whatsoever. Simply put aside all notions of “duration,” “intensity,” and “method” for the moment. The second step is finding something to do that’s actually enjoyable.

You probably know if you are energized by the presence of others or not. You also have a sense of whether you’re a free-range person or one who thrives in regiment. For the socially motivated, fitness classes may be just the ticket. For the truly adventurous, there are teams to join. Volleyball, baseball, and bowling offer varying degrees of activity and socializing. The social factor may also be addressed by organizing one or two friends once or twice a week. Walking and exercise dvds are a wonderful background for conversation. For those most inspired when alone, anything is possible. You are beholden to nobody’s schedule or preferences. Put on the headphones and dance like there’s no one watching, buy a jump rope, go for a walk/run, or take up bicycling. The most important factor in any activity is that the body is moving and the mind is enjoying it. This will ensure that the behavior does indeed become a habit.

An important note regarding one’s diet and movement regime; know your true body size and do not distort it. Trying to outsmart one’s nature is simply an oxymoronic endeavor. An inflated body is as unhealthy and as frightening as an emaciated body. One’s head should not tower over one’s frame. No doubt several examples of such oddities come to mind; it would simply be too cruel to mention them here.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Well-Being

 

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May Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

The eye of the holiday hurricane has almost passed and the residual New Year storm is right behind. New Year’s Eve, a holiday only second to Valentine’s Day for its ability to make people feel badly. Even if you choose to eschew the societal pressure to have the best night ever!, you may very well still succumb to the resolutions.

I am all for self-improvement and living with intention, but I am baffled by the resolutions. The fact that that may be made while drunk doesn’t disturb me. Some of my best moments of resolve have come when having gone just a bit too far. No, what bothers me is the time of year of this universal resolving. Come January 1st, we enter into the longest, darkest, bleakest stretch of the calendar. Not counting Valentine’s Day (see above) we get no break in the mundanity until spring (birthdays of political leaders notwithstanding.) An informal survey indicates that the majority of resolutions involve physical improvement. Yet our bodies and minds cry out for carbohydrates and alcohol this time of year. Layering of clothes offer no incentive to tone, and darkness does not invite activity. Our relationships with our screens becomes borderline obsessive (there is a reason television programming peaks during the colder months.)

Come mid-January, the bills and regrets start to appear. A fiscal resolution would be appropriate this time of year. And fear not, six weeks along, when resolve tends to lag; it’s tax season! Your accountant can take on the cheering role of a personal trainer. But short of resolving to not spend more than I have or to increase savings, I shy from New Year’s resolutions.

I tried it once. In my twenties I resolved to not have any regrets. Ah, youth. How charming, how utterly near-sighted and self-involved. Sweet. With the determination of a four-star general, I went forth and conquered.  Regrets? No. Creating a version of my best self? Not exactly. But what a great learning opportunity. I discovered that New Year’s resolutions were not entirely for me. I also discovered that behavior change works best (for me) when aimed outward. Resolving to; experience more generosity of spirit, seek out those who need a kind word or smile, offer help to strangers, all help to create a personal world in which I’d like to live. The very fact that I engage in this resolution year after year after year, does nothing to support the efficacy of resolutions. But just like physical fitness, spiritual fitness does have muscle memory.

As I struggle to stay awake on my couch, nursing a glass of bubbly, I will wish to you kindness. May you experience kindness towards yourself (eat the chocolate!) and kindness towards others this new year.

Happy New Year

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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