Archive for February, 2008

Does This Blog Make Me Look Fat

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I don’t think we’re unusual, when you have a teenage girl in the house, an ongoing topic of conversation is what attributes makes a girl attractive. Valerie, our 15 year old daughter, and I were talking about this recently and I asked her if she thought that most girls she knows are unhappy with their bodies. She said that is a very common theme and then as confirmation of that, she pulled out a recent issue of Seventeen magazine. There was a survey in it with a statistic that “91% of teen girls feel anxiety or stress about some part of their looks when getting ready in the morning.” In other words, almost every girl looks in the mirror and says, “I hate my”¦fill in the blank.”

Ok, that’s teenagers. Being unhappy about their lives is part of their job description. But how about us mom types? Am I any different?

There are many aspects of my appearance that I’ve come to accept over the years. Mostly because time has shown that the things I used to worry about really didn’t make any difference in the way my life has turned out. For instance, as much as I wished I had been born with a little button nose I can’t imagine how it would have made life any better. The size of my nose didn’t keep me from snagging and marring a really good looking guy who valued what was on the inside more than a perfect profile.

But if someone surveyed me about whether I felt stress about some part of my looks, like the teenagers who were surveyed, I would also have to answer yes. I’m not obsessing about my nose anymore, now it’s the wrinkles and crepe-y skin under my eyes.

Trying to help my daughter feel secure in her appearance and realizing that I also focus on my perceived flaws and has made me wonder: were women always as unhappy with their appearance as we seem to be nowadays?

I think women have always been concerned with wanting to be attractive. Although the Bible doesn’t mention it, I wouldn’t be surprised if after Eve ate from the tree in the Garden and God gave her animal skins to wear that the first words out of her mouth were, “Adam, does this deer hide make me look fat?”

It’s in our DNA to want to look good and feel good about ourselves. But looking good in our culture isn’t enough. Images in the media give us the message that physical perfection is the goal. And I find that it is very easy to get caught up in the attitude that if we don’t match up to the image then there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed.

I immediately think of a Victoria’s Secret TV commercial in which this unattainable perfection is literally in our face. There are probably married men who never get that close to a woman in lingerie; now we’re merely inches away from Selita Ebanks. Whenever one of these ads comes on, everyone in the family room perks up and stops what they are doing to watch. Steve jokes that he’s watching “art” but the girls in the room (and I include myself in that category) sit spellbound as we mentally tick off the differences between the supermodels and ourselves. Sometimes I think that those women aren’t the same species as me. They must be aliens; no human woman has legs and boobs like that.

The problem is that it is so easy to compare myself to someone else ““ whether it’s a Victoria’s Secret model or just a woman next to me on the treadmill at the gym – and in the process, end up feeling inadequate. For some reason, I’m always drawn to comparing myself to someone who I think looks better than I do, and I always end up feeling worse. That’s something I try to remind myself and teach Valerie about. Don’t do it – comparing yourself is always a losing proposition.

Another reason that it’s easy for us to feel dissatisfied with our appearance is because changing it with plastic surgery is now an option ““ or at least it is if you have enough money. We used to be stuck with what God gave us but not so anymore. For example, in my mother’s generation if your eyelids got droopy, then so be it. So did everyone else’s. But I’ve found that when the possibility for change exists, I become discontented with what I have and I forget to appreciate the good qualities ““ like being healthy enough to be concerned with a problem as skin-deep as sagging eyelids.

In our youth and beauty obsessed culture it’s almost hard to remember a time when being vain was a negative quality. Now somebody like Paris Hilton is celebrated solely for her vanity. And since physical beauty seems to be the only quality that is of importance in much of the media, when we fall short of the ideal, then that must mean that we are inadequate as people; who cares what someone thinks or does ““ it’s just how they look.

The success of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty confirms that there are a lot of women who want to hear a positive message about who they are and what they look like. I spent a few minutes on the website and there are some wonderful tools for moms and mentors to use to help young girls recognize how beautiful they are. It would be a wonderful thing to share with my 11 year old daughter’s Girl Scout Troop.

Does my frustration with our self-absorbed culture mean that I can’t enjoy a vanity fest like tonight’s Academy Awards? Of course not; it’s just entertainment.

Knit Picking

Monday, February 18th, 2008

What to knit? My daughter has a gymnastics meet coming up (no, I’m not knitting leotards”¦I’ll explain the connection in a minute) and I don’t have a knitting project in the works. All the patterns I’ve looked at look like costume rejects from Cirque du Soleil ““ garish colors and really strange shapes. There isn’t even anyone I can knit a baby sweater for. The only women I know who are pregnant are Nicole Kidman, J-Lo, and Jessica Alba, none of whom probably want a sweater from me. If I don’t think of something soon, I’m going to be knitting tea cozies. But let me back up a bit”¦

I’ve been knitting consistently for about the past six years and in that time I’ve come to believe that knitting is the perfect hobby. It requires a minimum of equipment: two sticks not much bigger than pencils and a ball of yarn. It can be done with the cheapest ball of $1.59 cotton yarn from Michael’s or on the other end of the scale, hand-combed, hand-dyed yarn spun from 100% pure yak-down imported from the Himalayas.

I can knit in any season, rain or shine, and I can get enjoyment out of it whether I do it for 10 minutes or two hours at a sitting. It is completely portable and I can do it unobtrusively anywhere: on an airplane, in the car on a family road trip, or waiting for one of the kids at the orthodontist’s office. I think quilting is a beautiful art form but it would pretty difficult to take a sewing machine and fabric on the road.

In fact, one of the reasons I started knitting was because my daughter began competing in gymnastics. After attending her first meet, I realized that between the warm-ups, competitions, judging, technical difficulties, and award ceremonies, I had many years ahead of me sitting in a high school gymnasiums suffering through six hours of bleacher-butt to watch her perform six minutes of routines. If I didn’t want to go absolutely crazy during these marathons of posterior patience, I had better find something to make the time productive. Now, at the end of her competition season, she has an array of ribbons to add to her bedroom wall and I have a new throw for the family room or a gift for a baby shower. If I was really smart, by now I would have knit myself a seat cushion.

Unlike some hobbies that take people away from the rest of the family, knitting keeps me connected. I know there are “golf widows,” but at least in our house, there’s no such thing as a “knitting widow.” Instead of being irritated because Steve and Ethan want to have a male-bonding experience watching Live Free or Die Hard for the tenth time, I enjoy being in the room with them while they watch the movie and I continue working on my sweater; 112 minutes of “Run! Run! Run!” or “Go! Go! Go!” doesn’t seem so bad if I have another sleeve to show for it.

Knitting gives me the opportunity to make productive use of “found” time in a gymnastics meet or watching TV and that gives me a sense of accomplishment. I feel downright virtuous for making such good use of my time. My mother would be proud. Since I started knitting, I’ve made shrugs, sweaters, socks, scarves, shawls, gloves, hats, felted bags, ponchos, baby sweaters, headbands, an afghan, and pillows and I haven’t gotten up any earlier or gone to bed any later.

One of the best things about knitting is that it is very forgiving. Unlike sewing where the fabric is cut away to make the pattern pieces so there is always a chance of irreparably snipping too far into the fabric, knitting strings balls of yarn together to make fabric to the pattern’s specifications. So if I get to the end of a project and it’s not the right size or I’m just not happy with it, after a few minutes of unraveling, I end up with the same raw materials that I started with. The only thing I’ve lost is the time I spent making it.

Sure, it’s a little frustrating to have Jennifer try on a sweater that took me three months to knit only to find out that she can’t get it on over her head, but if I’m knitting because I enjoy the process, then starting over is actually giving me more enjoyment. That particular yarn becomes the gift that keeps on giving. Hey, maybe I could just get one ball of yarn and knit and rip it, knit and rip it for the rest of my life! Ok, I’m getting carried away”¦

Back to the problem at hand, what to knit?

“Oops, I Did It Again…and One Time Too Many”

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Until I read an article in last week’s Press Democrat describing how the name “Britney” has had as rapid a decline in popularity as the pop star herself, I hadn’t really thought about names as being a very real indicator of what people think about a celebrity or public figure. But the fact that the name “Britney” is currently about as popular for girls on the naming charts as “Voldemort” is for boys is evidence to me that people think Britney Spears has gone from merely outrageous to certifiably crazy.

When parents are considering baby names, I’m sure they imagine a scene where someone comes up to them and says, “Oh, what a beautiful little girl, what’s her name?” And if they said “Britney,” the picture that pops into everyone’s head is a drug-addled bloated blond has-been pop tart.

There has been a lot of unbecoming behavior by a lot of celebrities and the fact that their names are still a popular option for parents means that someone thinks they must have some redeeming qualities ““ maybe even if it is just skin deep. As an example, in spite of a sex tape, jail time, and inane reality show, “Paris” is still almost in the top 200 of popular names.

Which makes me wonder, at what point on the timeline of Britney’s episodes of wacky behavior did the public decide that she was beyond redemption? What tipped her over the line so that there is nothing positive associated with Britney? Was it the shaved head incident? Losing custody of her children? Or did Dr. Phil making an emergency visit to her at UCLA Medical Center mean that she had gone beyond the usual celebrity antics and was now a clinical case?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Britney, but I do think taking care of your kids and providing a good example for them is important”¦and I’m pretty sure most people think so too. I don’t know this for a fact, but when it became apparent that Britney was acting irresponsibly as a mother and possibly even putting her children in danger was the moment when the public said they had had enough and lost all compassion for Britney.

Who didn’t cringe at watching the clip of Britney on the MTV Video Music Awards, spilling out of her black bikini, being fondled by the male dancers and think, “This isn’t sexy, it’s gross. You have two toddlers. Quit bumping and grinding and get home to your kids!”

It is very different watching Britney on a show like that than watching an actor who ““ in real life is also a mother ““ play a sexy, flirty, or even dangerous role in a movie. What is so disturbing is that Britney doesn’t seem to be playing a role. The trashy persona we see on stage and on the street actually seems to be who Britney is in real life.

Britney certainly isn’t the first celebrity to not be a “Mother of the Year” nominee. In fact, “Mommie Dearest” is a cliché of the evil celebrity mother. It’s just that Britney is doing her damage out in public where everyone can see.

Actually, I see the rejection of Britney as a positive thing; stints in rehab and just plain stupid behavior can be forgiven but we don’t have any tolerance for watching someone drag their kids through it all. As accepting as America is of many kinds of eccentric behavior, when it comes to how kids are treated, there is a bottom line.

Veggie Tales

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

One morning not long ago, I was on the treadmill at our fitness club, flipping through channels on the little TV screen in front of me when I landed on the Today Show. I’m always interested in food so when I come across a cooking segment on one of the morning shows, that’s where I stay. On this particular day, I tuned in just as a very perky Jessica Seinfeld was in the kitchen telling Matt Lauer about how she had put pumpkin puree in her kids’ waffles that morning.

Jessica, aka Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld, was making the rounds of the morning shows to talk about how moms can sneak vegetables into little Jaden’s chocolate pudding and according to her, you’ll be adding lots of healthy stuff and he’ll never know the difference. But of course, the real reason she was on the show wasn’t to promote nutrition in kids, but sales of her cookbook, Deceptively Delicious.

It was obvious as the interview went on that Jessica felt very righteous because ““ and this part was implied ““ unlike all us bad mothers out there feeding our kids stale Frosted Flakes, her kids were eating homemade waffles made even more virtuous with the addition fiber and vitamins from the pumpkin.

That’s when I started to get annoyed. I really don’t like it when celebrities, or in this case the wife of a celebrity, try to pass themselves off as just regular folks. Jessica wanted us to believe that prior to coming to the Today Show she was in the kitchen with the three little Seinfelds whipping up the batter for the waffles. She wants us to believe she does her own laundry, too. Ha! My guess is that Jessica’s personal trainer left just in time for Jessica to make sure the nanny put the pumpkin in the waffles.

Plus identifying Jessica Seinfeld as a “cookbook author and chef” seems very contrived ““ particularly in light of the fact that she’s being sued by a rival author for plagiarism of the same concept. I can imagine Jerry, Jessica and their agent in a meeting tossing out the idea that since Jerry’s Bee Movie flopped that maybe they could do something with Jessica to keep the Seinfeld name in the public eye”¦and bring in a few hundred thousand dollars.

I can practically hear their agent saying, “Jessica is cute, she’s a mom, she has great name recognition”¦maybe she could write a children’s book. No, forget that idea, Madonna’s already doing it. And you know how protective the “˜Material Girl’ is about her turf. I know, Jessica, you could put your name on a cookbook! You can do one like that gal who wrote about putting cauliflower in the kids’ macaroni and cheese.”

Moving beyond my rant about celebrities, does Jessica’s book actually have any value? The food columnist of the Wall Street Journal wrote a wonderful review of it last week. As he put it, “these women (meaning the cookbook authors) treat vegetables the way Victorian mothers treated sex, with silence.” And he goes on to point out that instead of encouraging kids to try new foods, these books actually infantilize kids’ taste; they’re not offering real food options, they’re adding baby food to food that’s not all that healthy in the first place.

As a mom, I completely agree. How can you expect your kids to develop new tastes if you treat them like a baby? The Deceptively Delicious attitude seems to overprotect or underestimate kids. “You’re not old enough to have any lasagna. It has spinach in it. And you wouldn’t like it anyway.” And if we all agree eating vegetables is a good thing, why would a parent want to be deceptive about it?

My experience with vegetables is that if you offer it to them, eventually they will try it. Or go with the “everything tastes good dipped in Ranch dressing” approach with the carrots and broccoli. And how many more kids were encouraged to try a new food after watching Ratatouille which instead of hiding vegetables, celebrates them?

And as the WSJ article points out, many of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious add vegetables to desserts or other sweetened foods. I haven’t seen any headlines about kids in the US being at risk for disease because they’re not getting enough vitamins. But there are plenty of headlines about how kids’ addiction to sugar is contributing to the growing rate of obesity among youngsters. Adding spinach puree to brownies just doesn’t make sense; there’s just no way to put enough spinach in a brownie recipe to have the health benefits outweigh the nutritional negatives. But the Seinfeld book would have parents believe it’s worth their kid eating a brownie in order to get a micron of green stuff.

I have to believe that the huge popularity of Jessica Seinfeld’s book isn’t going unnoticed by the major food companies. I don’t think it will be long before “Deceptively Delicious Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower Puree Right in the Mix” appears on grocery store shelves. Or how about “Pumpkin Puree Eggo Waffles” and “Spinach Fortified Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake Cookies.” That leads me to a scary thought: Jessica Seinfeld is the new Betty Crocker.