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Archive for January, 2013

Weight A Second…

I am 5’6″ and 189 pounds (as of this morning).  I am not ‘fat’.

I am just a little larger than Marilyn Monroe, she was a size 14, I’m a size 16.

Most people can’t believe how much I weigh because they insist I don’t look it, that I must be a lot less than I’m claiming…  I think really, people just have no idea what ‘weight’ looks like because either people lie about how much they weigh (who wouldn’t, when telling the truth generally gets you teased at best) and we’re so inundated with images of girls who are anorexic that we think that is somehow normal.

Now don’t get me wrong, many people, girls and boys, are naturally slim.  That’s fine, if that’s what your body gravitates toward.  But when you’re developing a disorder just to look like the people in a magazine, that’s neither physically nor psychologically healthy.

Back to me.  I am not unhealthy.  I would like to lose about 20 pounds, but I’m not unhealthy.  I have good blood pressure, low cholesterol, eat plenty of whole grains and vegetables, low on meat, and get semi-regular exercise in.

BMI is a ridiculous number that has no real medical foundation.  BMI was developed by taking an average of people during a single period of time and deciding that must be what is normal and healthy.  That assumes that that period of time was more “normal and healthy” than any other period of time when things were different.  It also makes absolutely no distinction between bone weight, fat weight, and muscle weight.  It’s such a useless number.

Besides, look at all those old Renaissance paintings, or even Greek statues!  Those women were curvy.  Heavier used to mean healthier back when it meant you had enough to eat.  Skinny equated to poor.  Of course, there is a level of overweight that is unhealthy because of the stress it can put on your heart, but that does not mean that today’s models are the epitome of health and should be aspired to by all.  Skinny does not necessarily equate to healthy these days, either.

It’s funny how people try to pretend that, with the vast differences in body style, bone structure, and height, that somehow weight has one perfect ideal.  Some people seem to be just naturally tiny.  Some people seem to be just naturally large.  Telling either one that their body has something wrong with it, or that it’s their fault they aren’t conforming to some social ‘ideal’ is ridiculous and offensive, really.

It’s sad how American Culture pushes food at ever opportunity, celebrates gluttony, idealizes overindulgence, standardizes unhealthy “food”, then has the gall to shame people who are their definition of overweight.

Whenever anyone tries to tell me I need to lose weight, I tell them, I have the body of a Greek goddess!  But even so, I would like to lose a little weight.  I think 170 would be a bit better for me.  But even if I never do, I’m never going to be unhappy with my body just the way it is.

I just want to make sure I’m as healthy as I can be!

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I’m going to list some attributes, and I want you to take a few moments and really consider not just each attribute, but what association  you make with that word, the other thoughts, concepts, and ideas that spring to mind when you read it:

Female

Blonde

Glasses

Tattooed

Engineer

Irish

Traveler

Take a moment to think of what each attribute “tells” you about the person who has it.

We tend to, conscious or not, associate certain *values* to physical attributes, ethnic origin, or even career choices.  Some are fairly neutral in nature, others can be positive, but unfortunately, many are negative.

But whether the association is positive, negative, or even neutral, the problem is making the association in the first place can hinder your brain’s ability to see and accept information that contradicts that association.

The image of the ‘Drunken Irish’ can be so ingrained in a person that even if they met an Irishman or woman who had never touched alcohol in their lives, they may still find themselves suspicious of their sobriety or trustworthiness.

The image of a ‘Dumb Blonde’ can heighten your notice of everything a blond girl does wrong, while overlooking what they do right, even seeing them as less intelligent than another despite actual results.

The image of an “Irrational Woman” may mean you dismiss even entirely rational and justified anger or frustration on the part of a woman because it’s easier to make it her problem rather than see your (or someone else’s) contribution to the reaction.

Stereotypes originate through the part of the brain that really, really loves to categorize the world in order to make it both make sense, and to develop processes for dealing with new situations.  Familiar can become invisible, new can be frightening, common can become confused for normal*, and so on.

The way to counter the negative effects of stereotyping isn’t to suddenly decide “Well, I just won’t do that!”  To some degree, it isn’t controllable.  The brain can make these associations before you’ve even realized you’ve done it.  What’s important is to recognize these unconscious and automatic associations and actively allow new information to correct them.

Stereotypes reduce people to categories rather than individuals, and no one fits neatly into every category you may have.

For example, while blonde may generally be associated with stupid, glasses are often associated with being smart, and yet neither hair pigmentation nor impaired eyesight are linked with intelligence in any way.   So recognizing the unconscious attempt to categorize one attribute into a false association can help you not limit another person through your own stereotypes.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself that’s all well and good for some things, but other stereotypes are justified.  Well, it’s more likely to say that some stereotypes have been justified through selective observation.

If you associate red hair with a temper, and not brown hair, any show of anger from a red head you’ll attribute to the hair (i.e., they don’t really have a reason to be angry, they just have a hot temper because they’re a red head!), whereas any show of anger from a brown haired person you may view very differently (surely they must have a good reason for being that angry.)

So the same behavior will be filtered through a different lens of observation, one being used to justify a continuation of a stereotype, whereas the other is simply allowed to be what it is without having to find further reason for it.

Worse, a person may actively goad a person to a certain reaction as an excuse to then justify a stereotype.  Treat a person poorly enough, they’ll finally fight back, and thus you have neatly “proven” your original belief that the person is either violent or difficult to work with or whatever, when really you are the one who provoked a reaction that may be very natural across the board, not just belonging to one ‘group’.

So it isn’t enough to insist that whatever stereotype or prejudice you hold is justified through example, because your own ability to observe is colored by your prejudice in the first place.

Let’s say you had been raised with a negative view of piano players.  Perhaps your mother ran off with a piano player when you were young and so growing up all you heard was negative things about them.  You now believe that all piano players are either unfaithful, or will cause unfaithfulness in others, that they aren’t trustworthy or honest.

Now it wouldn’t matter how many piano players you had met since then that were faithful, honest and trustworthy, the second one person (who just happened to play the piano) did anything the slightest bit questionable, you would quickly insist that it’s because that person is a piano player! You knew they were all rotten, and here’s proof!

Now, does anyone really think that all piano players, everywhere in the entire world, are the same?  That their values, their beliefs, their customs, their actions, and how they treat others would somehow all be a mirror reflection of the one attribute of playing the piano?

No, of course not, that’s ridiculous.  And yet people do that all the time, only with much more subtle and insidious associations.  All Mexicans are here illegally and can’t speak English.  All blacks live in the ghetto and are in gangs.  All Asians are good at science and math.  All Polish people are stupid.  All Jews are greedy.  All Muslims are terrorists.

This is the exact same kind of thing, saying that one shared attribute must enforce many shared attributes.  But the logic is just as ridiculous here as it is with the piano player.  Perhaps you’ve only met one black person in your entire life, and they were in a gang.  Do you really think that must mean every black person is in a gang?? Does skin color somehow trump a person’s individuality?  What about national origin, are Poles really, as a whole people, that much less intelligent than anyone else?  Or Asians that much smarter?  Do you really know that every single Muslim on the planet has anything at all in common besides their religion?

What happens when you get crossed stereotypes that contradict one another?  A Polish Nuclear Physicist?  A Black President?

By insisting on your stereotypes and prejudices, you are not just closing your eyes to contradictory evidence, you are limiting other people to your narrow views of who and what they must be.

If you were a 49ers fan, would you want someone to make a whole host of assumptions about you based solely on your devotion to a sports team?  Do you share every attribute with every other 49ers fan?  Is there something in your genetic make-up that forced you to be a 49ers fan?  What if based on some other attribute of yours, someone refused to believe you were a 49ers fan?  Wouldn’t that be annoying?

We must always allow people to be both individuals and to contradict our preconceived notions about them, and the more we’re willing to recognize what those preconceptions are and allow them to be challenged, the more we can truly understand and connect with people around us.

Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t make any assumptions at all about a person.  If I’m being introduced to a Muslim, it might be a good idea to ask if he can shake my hand before extending it, and avoid a possibly awkward situation.  There are some cultural practices that you can learn about, and ask about, but don’t necessarily assume they *must* practice it, or insist they do if they say they don’t.

Point is, as in all things, the more open you allow your mind to be, the better off it is for everyone.  Don’t be so quick to make judgements about someone based solely on their occupation, skin or hair color, religion, ethnic background, culture, gender, or anything else.   Don’t use differences as points to mock or belittle, and don’t argue with what a person says about themselves: let them tell you who they are, don’t just think you can know them, as they also can’t know you.

When we let people be individuals, we experience the full and beautiful spectrum that is humanity.

*common vs. normal: they may seem the same, until you look at the opposites.  Common is wide-spread, uncommon is limited or rare.  But normal is seen as a positive attribute, whereas abnormal is seen as inherently negative.   Being left-handed isn’t common, but it isn’t abnormal.  Just like being gay may not be common, but it isn’t abnormal, either.  It’s okay to assume a “common” because… well… it’s common.  But don’t let uncommon become associated with abnormal, wrong, dangerous, frightening, or other negative connotations.  Let uncommon just be more rare.  (remember: coal is common, diamonds are rare 🙂 )

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I am likely one of the few women in the history of this world who actively wants to turn 60.  If I was offered the chance to turn 60 tomorrow, I might well take it if not for the fact that many of the reasons I want to be 60 would be lost in that 25 years I’d be skipping.

I want to turn 60 because while other girls dreamed of being the princess, I wanted to be the old, wizened, grandma woman living in the woods who the young princess or prince or king or peasant never listened to, but she always turned out to be right.

I want to be the woman that children come to for advice because nothing they could possibly say would shock me, but many things I might say would shock them, and for that they’d listen in wide-eyed wonder as I recounted days gone by, or the way their parents acted at their age, or how to make Fairy cookies to make wishes come true.

There aren’t many things that I equate with success in life that aren’t likewise exemplified in the woman usually labeled as ‘witch’.  Despite not being wiccan or pagan or any such religion, still the concept of the witch in the woods is very appealing to me.  The old woman living on her own in a rustic cottage in the trees, in much greater harmony with the world than those living around her.

Natural medicines, healthy cooking, and many cats and other critters serve to round out the mental image of perfection that accompany the wisdom and wrinkles.  Of course, this mental image exists in a far more mythical European setting than is generally practical or possible in modern day America.

When I turn 60, I will no longer have a mortgage.  When I turn 60, I hope I will have children and grandchildren at last.  When I turn 60, I hope I will actually know who my neighbors are.   When I turn 60, I hope I will at last have the time to devote to these dreams.

So I guess really what I want to be is known as a person who helps others, who has both medicine and advice to give, but both only in very small doses.  I want to be the person that people come to because I haven’t lost the art of cooking and sewing and working hard with my hands and bless the dirt that is on them!

I suppose I really don’t have to wait until I am 60 to achieve those things.  But I think the wrinkles would definitely help things along.

I suppose what I really wonder is, by the time I turn 60, will I still be needed?  I am torn between wanting to be, and hoping I won’t be.  I want the world to have gained wisdom, health and contentment by then, but I fear it won’t.  In which case, I want to be wise, healthy and content so I can teach those around me.

Well, I have 25 years to find my way there.  I hope I arrive on time.

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How many people does it take to have a culture?  Can I be my own?  Can I observe things that no one else observes, or celebrate in ways no one else celebrates?  Can I look at the world differently and find value in my own art and creations?  Can I be a culture unto myself?

I’ve thought about this more and more as I realize I belong to no culture but one I really don’t care for at all and don’t really fit into anyway.

So what will it mean to be a culture of one?  Well, first, it *doesn’t* mean I can’t share anything with anyone.  My culture will be individual to me, but it will not be comprised entirely of unique elements – no culture is anyway.  It will be merely comprised of elements that I find meaningful; important.

That means there will be plenty of elements that, individually, I will share with many people, some elements I may share with only a few people, and of course, a few elements that will end up being at least mostly unique.

It also doesn’t mean that nothing will then ever change.  Culture is alive, or it isn’t at all.  The only static cultures are those which exist solely in the past now.  Culture exists to change, to grow and bend with the generations, and sometimes even within generations.  So merely having aspects which evolve with time does not make it somehow invalid.

Still, it will be lacking quite a bit from being only me.  Someday I hope to bring more people into my little culture through a spouse and/or children, (really, I’m more interested in children than a spouse anyway) but until then, I’ll spark a little candle flame in my soul and see where its light lands.

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