I don’t really feel one way or another about Martha Stewart because I’m not crafty and I’m not interested in having the best most perfect ice cubes on the block, which is also why I don’t read many magazines and why I have never done a very good job of hanging out on Pinterest. But anyway, I was watching it a long time ago because my daughter’s cold was making her cough and I had to hold her while she napped to keep her upright so I was stuck in the rocking chair staring at the television.
(This was a very long time ago. My daughter has not been small enough to be rocked in my lap for years.)
It was her “commit to be fit” or “fit to be tied” or some such week where she’s lecturing about what she eats for breakfast and how she does two hours of Ashtanga a day and I’ll admit the bit of bossy, oblivious Martha was amusing me but then this poor woman gets on and they do a moving video of her sad trials as a woman who wants to get healthier for her kids and who wants her kids to be healthier, too. The woman, however, has some daunting challenges. One is her reliance on convenience foods. Two is her lack of exercise routine. But the biggest — and what plays into both of those things — is that this woman gets up at 6:30am to get to work and doesn’t get home until after 7pm.
Well, now things are getting interesting. I’m looking at this woman’s life, which is making my life look positively leisurely, and I’m thinking that Martha is really going to pull some Martha-magic. I’m waiting for some really useful info because this is Martha and she’s going to give us something original, some Good Thing that really will improve this woman’s life and I can’t wait because I could use a little more healthful living in my own life so I’m just about ready to take notes except for the deadweight of a snoring toddler on my lap.
You want to know what they told this woman? Are you ready? Here it goes:
Cook more, exercise more, eat more whole grains. Oh and here’s this magazine subscription, here’s another magazine subscription, here’s a membership to a gym, and here’s a whole spiritual take on connected eating or some such.
You know, some of that is helpful. You want to get more fit then I’d say cooking more and exercising are the way to go. And when the special guest (some doctor-type) said that one reason they were giving her a subscription to one of the magazines was to reset her thinking, I thought that was ok. After all, reading about cooking veggies can help you start adding veggies to your menu, right? But the big piece missing is when in the hell is this woman going to do all this? When is she going to hook up with her new trainer? When is she going to fix these healthful meals for herself and her kids?
And there’s all this shame underlying their messages to her because they’re not acknowledging how busy she is; they’re just acting like she’s lazy.
It’s one thing if they’re just saying, “Hey, if you don’t know how to cook vegetables or whole grains that’s all right because that’s what cookbooks are for.” But it’s another thing when they’re saying all that and not acknowledging that when you’re gone from home for 12 hours a day and probably getting ready to leave for a couple of hours before that and then getting everyone settled in for a couple hours after (because she has kids and they have homework and she has a home and it needs vacuumed and people need laundry and she probably needs to stare into space now and then just to stay sane), it leaves precious little time to peel carrots.
So I was watching and wondering when they were going to help her find some time in her day. Like how old are her kids? Can they take on some of the work? Does she have a partner? Could her partner help? Could she join a cooking co-op? Can she afford housekeeping help? Could Martha buy her housekeeping help and a cook and maybe a vacation so she could catch her breath before making major lifestyle changes?
It’s like when I was teaching at a daycare and went to a mandated training about handling stress. The leader took us to our “happy space” (the usual suspects: ocean, breeze, sun, etc.) and said that the next time the kids were giving us fits we should go to our happy spaces. Great. But who’s going to watch the class of 21 preschoolers while we’re deep breathing in the supply closet?
That pretty much sums up what I think when I see most of this “improve your life” advice in magazines and magazine-style television. I think that a lot of the time the little bits of information they give us are just more flotsam and that becomes more jetsam when we get next month’s issue inevitably about decluttering.
Here’s a way to declutter: Stop buying the magazines. Stop hoarding the tips. Stop thinking, as we are all prone to think, “If I could just figure out how to clear out this junk drawer I might finally have a handle on my life.”
Life is messy and that’s fine. Small children are hectic. Twelve hour days are a problem and it’s way bigger than any gym membership will solve. Small steps are big enough and you don’t have to solve everything all at once.
There you go. Go easy on the Pinterest, people, because a little goes a long way.
This post was originally published in a slightly different form on my old blog, this woman’s work.
I told Ragen Chastain about my epiphany when I was interviewing her for the Brain Child article I wrote about the childhood obesity crisis. It was in 1999 and I was feeling pretty lousy about myself. I felt schlumpy and lumpy and altogether unattractive because I’d gained weight and I’ve never been a small person or all that comfortable in my body to begin with. Then one day I was folding laundry and watching TV when a commercial came on for the (since discontinued) diet drug Meridia. I found it on YouTube and you can see it here.
I know, I know. The quality is terrible but hopefully you’ll see what I saw, which is that those women look great! I didn’t notice the little leftover bits of food or hear the list of scary side effects; I saw gorgeous women being happy and active and loved. I saw women who had nice hair and make-up and some snazzy striped pants. That ad didn’t make me want to go get on Meridia — far from it. That commercial made me want to be fat and happy and buy myself some new clothes.
I realized that I had a dearth of images of fat, happy, lovely women in my life so I went out and got myself a subscription to the (sadly defunct) magazine, Mode, “the new shape for fashion.” I left the cover pic there enormous because I think it’s so great. I remember having that issue and really loving her bright orange. Fantastic!
If you’re a plus-sized woman struggling with self-acceptance, I encourage you to check out some of the many “fatshion” blogs when you’re feeling down. You’ll see women of all shapes and sizes who are talking about clothes, talking about feeling good about themselves and sharing tips on everything to finding the right jeans and sourcing boots for wide calves to dealing with critical friends and family members. It’s like the Meridia commercial without the hard-sell to diet. It’s smiling, happy, active women in great clothes.
I’m not really a fashion person (and I have the wardrobe to prove it) but I love the fatshion blogs for the insistent pride of the women who share their self-portraits. Here are some places you can check out when you need an encouraging dose of body diversity:
This is the second entry of a 5-part interview series with Dr. Katja Rowell whose consulting service, The Feeding Doctor, focuses on helping families learn about healthy, happy eating. Finding non-alarmist nutrition information for kids is a challenge and her commonsense, respectful approach has been a huge boon to me. Be sure to become a The Feeding Doctor fan on facebook and check out her new book, Love Me, Feed Me! now available at Amazon.
Can you talk some about kids and the emphasis on obesity in nutrition education? The good and the bad of it?
This is so tough. We know there is a problem with how we feed our kids as a society. Many kids are getting bigger than is healthy for them, and many are also not getting enough food (food insecurity) many are malnourished, many teens are practicing dangerous dieting behaviors, are gaining weight and bingeing as well and eating disorders are being diagnosed in more and younger children. I see it more as a crisis in feeding all our kids. A crisis in our relationship with food. I really have a problem with nutrition education that is aimed at fat kids, or aimed at “preventing fat kids.” There are many normal or healthy weight kids who have terrible nutrition and we are ignoring them. If you know that most fat adults were not fat kids, then we have to help all children. There are many larger kids who are healthy and we are misdiagnosing them. Our emphasis on weight and weight loss is not healthy for anyone. We know that teens who diet, even “healthy” dieting like “watching what you eat,” or trying to eat more fruits and veggies are heavier than their peers who do not diet. I think we have to be really careful with nutrition education, not to scare kids or focus on avoidance or restriction. Nutrition education should be age-appropriate (meaning we should NOT have six year olds reading labels for fat grams) and should focus on joy, structure, providing, good taste and permission. There are no “bad” foods. There is room in a healthy diet for all foods.
I also get particularly angry that the language of addiction is used in nutrition education with kids. We need to get the “crazy” out of our relationship with food and not introduce kids to the idea that food is somehow forbidden, or that you have a “snack attack” or “can’t stop” or that you have a “craving” for a food. Commercials for kids use this language really well as they are trying to pique a child’s interest in a food and make it desirable- to tap in to that formidable “pester power” so the kid begs for Cocoa Puffs or Cheetos. And why does every movie or TV show (Disney too) show tweens and women eating ice-cream out of the carton when they are upset? What are we teaching girls by showing them that cliched coping model? We need to reframe how we talk about food. The fact that nutrition education co-opts this language and reinforces the message of desire, lack of control and pathology is harmful. Nutrition education should normalize food as a delicious, joyful part of life, not something that controls us.
Is the “healthy at any size” credo something that makes sense for children? Why or why not?
I do think it makes sense. I think we need to focus on behaviors. Is the kid eating breakfast, are they given the opportunity to move their bodies in enjoyable ways? I think of my brother who is tall and lean now but had a puffy phase right before his pubertal growth spurt. (This is a very common pattern.) If he had been told to worry about that, or put on a diet, he would have been robbed of the opportunity to grow into the body he was meant to have. I cannot tell you how many women share that history of being started on a diet around that time and starting a lifetime of dieting, shame and consequently weight gain. Again, if we as parents can provide a variety of foods in a structured setting and avoid the notion that all kids have to grow at the 50th % we would all be better off. Now, I want to be clear that if someone is gaining weight rapidly in a way that is not consistent with their healthy growth curve (big or small) that person needs help. Rather than ask “what is that kid eating?” we need to ask “What is happening in that child’s life that is messing up their normal growth?” Are they getting enough food? Structure? Sleep? Is there chaos or stress in the home? Are they getting a variety of foods? It is more about behaviors and taking care of yourself than the number on the scale.
How can parents promote healthy eating and exercise without focusing too much on body shape or losing weight?
I remember being at the park with my daughter on the swings and a little girl ran up and started swinging. Her dad, a lean man, came jogging over and yelled, “Sally! Get off the swings! That’s lazy exercise! We didn’t come here to sit around, get off and run around.” Her smile faded pretty quick. I can tell you that’s NOT the way to instill in her a life-long love of movement and her body. We can’t be food cops or personal trainers.
Ignore weight. Focus on behaviors that you can control. Be a good role model. When I do intake analyses with my clients, they are shocked when I usually start with “feed your child more” and stop restricting. The urge again to do “something” and follow the advice in magazines might mean you give your child a piece of fruit for snack and that’s it. The reality is kids need substantial meals and snacks so they can have energy and then not be allowed to graze in between. Be a good role model. Enjoy eating a variety of foods yourself. Swing by the park on the way home from day-care for half an hour. Play some Wii Games (watch out for wii fit!) FInd a community pool, provide opportunities to be active. I saw something from the pediatrician’s office the other day that exemplified to me how out of touch and ridiculous current public health initiatives can be. It said, “Outside of school, have your child participate in sixty minutes of vigorous aerobic activity for an uninterrupted sixty minutes.” and, “Don’t let your child be sedentary for more than thirty minutes at a time.” Really? Then you turn into that personal trainer dad. Do you have a timer when your kid plays Legos or draws and make them do laps around the house if they’re doing homework for thirty minutes? How can your kids do an hour of uninterrupted activity? It’s too much and sets every one up to feel like a failure which leads to apathy and a lost opportunity to encourage small, real changes that are intrinsically rewarding. So much of the advice is also not backed by any scientific evidence that the recommendation will improve health or outcomes.
When I first started my internship most of my clients were home-based, which means I go into their homes to work with them. We’ve since had to shut down our home-based program (funding issues — although we still do some home-based work through our school program) so now I only have two clients to visit each week.
I love home-based work. It’s an honor to be invited into a client’s life in that literal way and it also gives me a much more full picture of what’s going on and what’s most important to her. I also really like that it allows people who have many barriers to counseling get the help that they need and deserve. All the home-based clients I have are mothers and all have transportation and childcare problems that make it impossible for them to get to my office. So I come to them — perfect!
But home-based counseling can be complicated. The boundaries are different. Our ethical guidelines state that we can’t accept gifts from a client but can we accept a glass of water on a hot summer day? Is it ok if a client shows up to session in her pajamas? And what about all the things we learn about how to sit and where to sit and how to arrange our office chairs to promote sharing? Where does all of that go when you’re meeting in a client’s hotel room and sitting on the edge of her bed? I had questions about it and I wanted to talk to people more experienced than I am so I pitched an article to Counseling Today, which is the trade magazine for the American Counseling Association. The result, Home is where the client is, is in the September issue but you can read it online.
First of all, you need to watch this wonderful video. OK, did you do that? Great! Now we’re on the same page. Let’s talk.
I know a lot of us limit our kids’ access to media, especially women’s magazines and Go Daddy commercials, and that’s terrific but our kids hang with other people’s kids and so when you watch this video, think about how often the influence of that media bleeds through even when our children aren’t explicitly exposed to it.
39 seconds into this excellent video you’ll learn that after 3 minutes of leafing through a fashion magazine, 3 out of 4 girls feel terrible about themselves:
And then you discover that about half of them have strong feelings about how women ought to look:
Maybe it’s not enough to limit our children’s access to media. Maybe we also need to remember that most people aren’t going to so that we can remember that we also need to talk about the messages our children might get from the friends they love and cherish.
Nearly half of the little girls in first, second and third grade want to lose weight. That means nearly half of our daughters feel like their bodies need improving on before they turn nine. It’s going to take more than hiding magazines and fast-forwarding through commercials to innoculate our kids from feeling “depressed, guilty and shameful” for being regular human beings instead of photoshopped figures of perfection.
We need talk to our children about the messages they are likely going to hear from other children. How many of us can remember sitting in gym class or at a slumber party or in the dressing room and critiquing our and each other’s bodies for sport? That’s why we need to talk about body image in the same way we talk about sex and drugs and all that other hard stuff that comes with growing up. We have to say, “Lots of kids worry about being thinner/having bigger msucles/etc. and you’re going to hear that. How will you handle it when someone tells you that there’s something wrong with your body?” And we need to start talking about that early and often. Please don’t wait until your daughter starts going through puberty to have these discussions because those adorable 8-year olds on the playground are already telling each other it’s no ok to be fat.
We need to help our kids get ahead of those messages especially when self-hate is seen as a way to fit in:
Maybe that video I shared at the top should be subittled: How the Media You Don’t Consume Can Still Change Your Life