Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On what Chris Brown did

Notice that I’m not saying “on what happened to Rihanna”. That’s how things are usually constructed when we talk about violence against women – “she got herself beat up”. By fairies apparently. Certainly not by an actual person who bears responsibility for what he did.

So I’m going to just say it. Rihanna didn’t just “get beaten up”, someone beat her up. We know who it was, because he turned himself in to the police. Stop it with all the shit about “we don’t know what happened”. Yes, we do in fact know what happened. Chris Brown beat up his girlfriend. Why he did it really doesn’t matter. I don’t care if she hit him first – if that’s what happened then sure, he had a right to defend himself. But looking at Rihanna’s face, that’s not a picture of what happens when someone is just defending themselves. That is not a proportionate response. That is what happens when someone decides to beat someone else up.

It doesn’t matter if she was jealous, or cheated on him, or gave him an STD. Those could all be reasons to dump someone, but none of them are reasons to beat someone up. Even if he did “just snap” in the middle of an argument, he had the option to walk away before things got that far. He chose not to. That means that yes, we do know what happened here, and there is someone to blame.

Every single friend of his and every single member of the media who’s insisting that we don’t really know what happened, that this is just unfortunate for both of them, should be ashamed of themselves. We know what happened here. A man beat up a woman. It doesn’t matter why, the fact remains that he didn’t have to do it, but he did. That’s a choice that he should have to live with for the rest of his life. Can we please, as a society, try to make sure that he does have to live with his choice instead of trying to make excuses for him?

Friday, February 20, 2009

More health-related oddness, and the slow drip of ideas adding up to a need to mainstream the Fat Acceptance movement

Anyone else ever taken the Real Age test? Mine is 29.6 (my actual age is 35.4). Sounds good, right? But there are a few…issues. First off, who designed the nutritional analysis and why do they think it’s still 1965? They ask you to estimate how many servings of various vegetables you get per week, but offer only about 10 to choose from. OK broccoli is cool, cabbage sure, but where are all the other options? What about eggplant and zucchini and snow peas and bean sprouts and yams and…So they end up telling me I don’t get enough veggies, when I eat a couple of servings of veggies for both lunch and dinner. Do I need to start adding broccoli to my breakfast now?

Speaking of veggies, I get a dire warning to “vary your veggies” with a big red X for failing to do this is making you older. OK, so in an average week I eat…drum roll please…eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, yams, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, some sort of fresh green beans, and spinach. Also bell peppers and asparagus, but only in the spring and summer because in winter they, like strawberries, are a sad imitation of themselves. Plus black beans, kidney beans and garbanzos (plus lentils too). Yeah, about beans – it tells me I should be eating more of them. Problem is, the test won’t allow you to indicate that you eat more than 1 serving of beans a week. Um, what? I probably eat at least 5 or 6 servings a week. Gotta say, a bit culturally clueless there…there are cultures where legumes are a daily staple, shouldn’t the test make space for people to indicate that consumption? The whole food section is very “stuff white people like”. Then it suggests that I’m probably low in vitamin E, and recommends that I eat sweet potatoes… which I actually DO eat, but there’s no place to indicate that. So I’m baffled – why not give people a wider range of veggies to choose from, and include the option to indicate that they eat beans if you’re going to count those as veggies? Were they high when they designed this part of the test?

It also scolds me for not knowing my exact blood pressure, which is apparently really really bad because OMG everyone has high blood pressure now! Except I’ve had low blood pressure my entire life. Another scolding for not knowing my exact cholesterol numbers…and then it helpfully lets me know that I’m consuming about half the recommended cholesterol limit a day. Um, think maybe we could connect the dots here? Again, it’s been a while and I don’t know my exact numbers, but they’re low and always have been.

Then it tells me I eat too much saturated fat. I eat chicken breast almost every day, maybe 1 oz of cheese a day and no other dairy, lean beef about twice a week and lots of olive oil, and maybe 1 serving of ham or sausage a week (and I mean literally one serving, as in one sausage, in pasta sauce). That’s too much saturated fat? Seriously?

Also why does it tell me that I could be getting more fiber even though I already get tons? “Eat more grains”. Um…I eat some form of high fiber grains at each meal – unless I’m calculating the serving sizes wrong it just wants me to eat bigger portions? Basically I eat brown rice or occasionally brown pasta with lunch and dinner, and sometimes some sort of sandwich with whole grain bread as a snack. Plus a small portion of whatever I had for dinner the night before as breakfast (I don’t like most Western breakfast foods, other than oatmeal).I’m confused – how in the hell could I be getting MORE grains? Also why doesn’t it let you indicate that you’re consuming whole grains rather than the processed white versions? Makes a big difference nutritionally, that.

The one piece of nutritional advice that they’re totally right about is that I don’t get enough calcium. I’m not sure how I could get enough, though, since I’m lactose intolerant and hate the taste of milk. Suggestions?

But my favorite part was the section covering exercise. I get at least 30 minutes cardio a day, plus strength training 6 days a week, but apparently that’s not enough! Oh no, I get a little blurb about increasing my cardio plus a helpful hint to increase the number of different types of cardio I do. Not that it gave me the option of indicating the ones I already do, I guess it’s just assuming that 30 minutes a day = only one type of exercise? Not quite sure WHY it would assume that…And then a little blurb about flexibility training, which is pretty damn lulzy for someone who used to be a competitive gymnast.

So yeah, overall I think this thing is a useful tool but it could do with being a bit more precise and expanding the range of options you can choose from. Especially the food section – people, there are veggies other than peas, cabbage and cauliflower! No, seriously! And some of us eat legumes every day, not just “at least once a week”!

Pop quiz – do people really think that healthy adults under say 50 need to be constantly monitoring their blood pressure and cholesterol even if they have absolutely no indicators for developing high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Do other people constantly track this? Because from my POV, well, it’s been low every time it’s been tested and nothing about my health or lifestyle seems to have changed, so…

Also, I’m not sure I’m thrilled to see them pushing high consumption of soy products. Isn’t the jury still out on whether that’s good or bad for women with a family history of breast cancer? Because my Mom died of breast cancer, and my Dad’s sister had it too, and yet they’re still telling me that I should try to eat more soy.

Now here’s the point where all the reading of Fat Acceptance blogs I’ve been doing comes in handy. So I get to the fitness section and see the following. BTW, just FYI, my BMI is in the “healthy” range and nowhere on the survey did I indicate a desire to lose weight, and I did indicate that I already get some form of exercise every day.

If you’re not getting the results you want from your workout, try adding a different cardiovascular activity to your weekly routine. Here's why: Based on your answers, we estimate that you burn close to the number of calories needed to help you grow younger, but you may be able to do even more. Most people can safely burn up . . . to 3,500 calories per week. However, talk to your doctor before you change your workout. Regular cardio activity can make your heart and arteries younger and stronger, enhance your immune system, protect you from stress and depression, and boost your brainpower.4 Ways to Increase Your Cardio
Keep moving. Do anything that requires steadily moving your large muscles (thighs, butt, back, and chest) -- running, skating, cycling, skiing, power walking, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, and
doing household chores that take a little hustle (raking leaves, washing windows).
Hop on a machine. Try the stair climber, elliptical trainer, treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, or cross-country skier.
Take classes. Sign up for dance, step aerobics, kickboxing, or water workouts -- just to name a few.
Play games. Try singles tennis, basketball

OK, so, my BMI is normal…why is it assuming I’m not getting the results I want from my workout? Are we now just assuming that EVERYONE wants to lose weight, even if they’re not actually overweight? Note the part where it says that based on my answers I’m probably burning enough calories already…so why assume I need to do more?

And that, my friends, is what prompted me personally to move from passively supporting the Fat Acceptance movement as simply a moral necessity in that all people deserve to be treated decently into wanting to get actively involved. When we’re starting to assume, just as a matter of course, that everyone wants to lose weight and should do so even if the medical establishment says that their weight is “normal” (mine is in the 35th percentile for my age and height and look, I’m still automatically being offered weight loss advice) and they already work out…we have officially jumped the shark as a culture. Even if you’re not fat, don’t get too comfy – what if you GET fat? Basically everyone should worry about their weight, a lot. Because we all know that there’s nothing better for your health than stress, right?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So I’ve been reading a lot of blogs from the Fatosphere recently since the lovely Theriomorph directed me to Shapely Prose. It’s been rather a revelation, and there’s a post coming up about that. In the meantime, it got me thinking about the idea of healthy eating and what that really means. I know what it means to me – eating foods that make me feel good physically and also give me pleasure. What it seems to mean to a lot of people is something very different, though – low fat, or low carb, or some other diet plan based on the idea of banning certain “bad” foods.

I don’t think there are any bad foods. Well, OK, high fructose corn syrup is pretty much entirely bad, but that’s sort of a frankenfood and not a naturally occurring food item. If our food suppliers had stuck to using plain old sugar to sweeten things we’d all be a lot better off.

My idea of healthy eating is based more around trying to make sure I eat as many good-for-me things as possible rather than trying to eliminate “bad” things. I used to totally buy into the “x foods are bad” way of thinking, and it wasn’t until my late twenties that the seismic shift in my thinking occurred. Since it did I’ve been a whole lot healthier, and happier. I’m not a child; I don’t need a list of OMG FORBIDDEN SINFUL foods to scare me into eating well. I just need to pay attention to what I’m actually craving and give my body what it wants.

So, to start me off writing about this stuff, how about a recipe? I’m a serious foodie so I cook a LOT. I love talking about food, and am seriously considering trying to broaden my journalistic focus to include food writing. Anyone else who reads this like talking about food? Have a good food blog you want to share? Let me know.

Cassandra’s weird and wonderful Vietnamese/Japanese hybrid curry

This recipe came about because I love Vietnamese curry, and I love Japanese curry, and one day I was making a Vietnamese curry and thought “hey, I wonder what would happen if I added mirin to this”. The answer? Awesomeness.

Olive oil
1 large chicken breast
5 zucchini, or 1 eggplant, or a pound of carrots
2 small onions
3 heaping tablespoons curry powder
5 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1/3 cup coconut milk
5 cloves garlic
1 inch piece of lemongrass, finely chopped
Chicken stock

Sauté veggies in olive oil till softened. Add onions, garlic and lemongrass and sauté for another few minutes (don’t let garlic burn). Add chicken and brown. Add curry powder and stir fry until fragrant, then add soy sauce, mirin, chicken stock and coconut milk. Simmer until preferred consistency is achieved. Serve over rice – I use brown jasmine, but any rice you like will work. Serves 2.

This is especially good on a cold day when you need some comfort food to warm up.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Body Image Stuff

It’s taken a while for me to admit that I have some body image issues. Which is silly really – what woman doesn’t? Our culture is pretty much designed to give women body image issues – they make us better consumers. And keep us too distracted to focus on stuff like, say, equal pay.

For some reason I’ve always been reluctant to actually talk about my own personal body image issues, though, but lately I find that I want to. Why? Because I think that the veil of silence surrounding this stuff is part of the reason that the issues are so widespread in the first place. Because I think that the pressure not to talk about them is a form of sexism. Because women aren’t supposed to say this hurts me.

So, with a hat tip to Theriomorph for posting this wonderful essay that finally pushed me over the edge into actually being willing to talk about it, here’s my personal situation.

My entire life I’ve felt like I needed to lose weight. The funny thing about this is that this feeling seems to exist independently of what my weight is at any given time – I pretty much always feel like I need to lose 20-30 pounds. I felt like that at size 14, and I felt like that at size 5. Right now I seem to waver between a 6 and an 8, and yep, “I need to lose 20-30 pounds” is always there at the back of my mind.

The funny thing is that technically I’m not even overweight. According to ye olde BMI chart my weight is just fine. Even at the upper end of my personal scale – an 8 – I’m still thinner than most women my age (35). And yet I feel fat. I look in the mirror and see someone who needs to be thinner.

I suppose part of the reason I’m reluctant to talk about this is that I know that some people will read it and go “oh ffs quit whining, you’re not even fat, not like me!”. And they would in fact have a point. Like I said, I’m not unaware of the fact that the average American woman is bigger than me. The average woman in the media though…ah, now there’s the rub.

If you were to go by the media standards a woman my height (159 cms) should be a size 2 at most. Even that has been considered a bit hefty on some occasions (anyone remember when they were calling Jennifer Love Hewitt fat? She’s a size 2). Never in my adult life have I been that small. Not even when I went through what I can only 20 years later admit was a bout of borderline anorexia as a teenager and was eating less than 700 calories a day, less than 300 during the truly scary period. The smallest I ever got was a 5, and that was on the aforementioned nothing but rice cakes, chicken broth and bananas diet, with an extremely active lifestyle. Even when I’m thin enough that you can see my bones through the skin my hips are still 36 inches. I have D cup boobs. I’m just not blessed with that wispy ectomorph type of physique. Blame my stocky Celtic ancestors, with their muscly legs and their childbearing hips.

Why the persistent wish to be an ectomorph? I’m not even attracted to female ectomorphs. I’m most often attracted to women with builds a lot like my own, just a bit thinner. I am however extremely attracted to male ectomorphs, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe it’s a fear that if I don’t lose weight I won’t be as appealing to the men I’m attracted to as I would like. Maybe it’s just being aware of how the world treats fat women, and fearing the weight of all that loathing crashing down on my head. Maybe it’s just a desire for approval.

That’s the sick thing about dieting, that even when you’re displaying blatantly unhealthy behaviors it gets you tons of approval. When I went through my less than 700 calories a day phase not a single friend or family member went “ok, this is nuts”. Not when I obsessively tallied everything that I ate, not when I started refusing foods that I’d always loved, not when I felt like I was drowning and I was desperately waiting for someone to say "no, stop, you don't need to do this". For at least a year I was hungry all the time. Even in the summer I felt so cold that I needed a sweater. I shivered when everyone else was sunbathing. And no one said a damn thing other than gee, you look so much prettier lately, what’s your secret?

How do you deal with that, the rage that you feel towards the people who were supposed to love and protect you for watching you hurt yourself and praising you for it? It was my mother who bought me the diet book that recommended the appropriate serving of rice at each meal as being two tablespoons. My father still asks me how my weight is doing before any other question, and no amount of visible discomfort on my part or requests that he please not go there has ever dissuaded him from doing so. How do you process the fact that other people actually approve of your acting like a nutcase? That they like you better when you’re miserable but highly decorative?

I haven’t behaved like that for years now. I made a deliberate decision in my late teens never to count calories again, because it just wasn’t worth what it was doing to my mental health. I eat a healthy balanced diet that even includes sweets. And yet, the voice in my head persists, the one that says if people knew what you looked like under your clothes they’d be horrified. The one that says, no matter how hard you try it will never be enough. No amount of reassurance from adoring partners both male and female that my body is just fine has ever been able to make that voice go away.

What scares me is…is this even unusual? The wall of silence around women’s feelings about their bodies is so solid that most people just don’t talk about this stuff. Sure, we make the publicly required protestations like “oh my ass looks so big in these pants”, but we never talk about the real stuff, the stuff that hurts. And I’m finding more and more that I want to talk about it, because I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that not talking about it is part of what got us all into this situation in the first place.

So, hey, if you want to talk I’ll listen.