Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Arms

I'm almost positive that I am not cut out to be a teacher.

This was confirmed during the two hours I spent in two local high school classrooms this week for my practicum.

School A is located down town, right at the foot of the capital. I was intimidated just sitting in the parking lot watching students strut in and out of the school, nonetheless actually meeting them inside. I walked into a pristine, yet rough-looking high school that boasts marble pillars and graffiti. The security guard at the front door was mostly disinterested in me and just pointed up the stairs as I gathered that meant, "Your classroom's up there somewhere."

I found what was to be my cooperating teacher's classroom locked. So I stood in the hallway looking through the window at the posters and desks. "Rebecca?" a voice came from behind me.

"Oh no, I'm sorry. My name's Heather. I'm just waiting for my cooperating teacher," I explained.

"Yeah okay, whatever, Heather. I'm your cooperating teacher," she said as she unlocked the door and led me and co-teacher inside.

At the bell, 24 students walked in to ipod melodies, shouts, and screeches of "Oh-my-goodness-I-love-your-leggings!" (If we're being clear, they weren't really leggings. There were actually the shredded and holed remains of what must have been leggings in a previous life. But who am I to judge? I'm the old 23 year-old fogey) The students took their seats eventually and continued talking throughout both of the teacher's pleas to be quiet. While sitting in the back of the classroom taking notes, I couldn't help but realize that only 10% of the classroom was white.

I watched Mexican, Vietnamese, Lebanese, and Black students interacting and causing quite a raucous that the teacher later described as a "good" day. I've spent about 98% of my life in the majority and I'll admit reversing that feels incredibly intimidating. Yeah, welcome to the real world, right? Usually when I think about my future classroom, all the students are polite and friendly, we get along, we seek to understand and respect each other, and we learn. But this classroom feels different. There's a disconnect. Nobody knows or seems interested in the person sitting next to them. Learning seems a chore. Reality feels dull and tiring and heavy.

After walking out of School A to cat calls from prepubescent boys, I drove to the east side of town to School B. The east side of town is where the new houses are being built. The east side of town is where upper to middle-class families raise their children in safe neighborhoods far from gangs and drugs. School B looked different. Walking inside I was greeted warmly by the administration and personally escorted to the classroom where my cooperating teacher stood anxiously in the hallway awaiting my arrival. Students wore name brands, smiled and said, "Hello" to me as they passed.

"HI! I'm so excited to meet you," she said beaming a smile with some green remains of lunch wedged in her front teeth. She proceeded to physically lead me by the arm around her classroom introducing me to the special education students I'll be working with this semester.

It was here that I met several students with varying degrees of autism, ADHD, Downs syndrome, and cerebral palsy. At the beginning of "class" (which is really an hour of games like Yahtzee, bingo, and Jenga), Emilia sucked her thumb and began screaming, Kerry squated in the corner "hiding" from all of us the entire period, and Jonathan grabbed for his ears and banged his head on the desk.

I also met Mary, a student with cerebral palsy. She operates an electric wheelchair with motions from her head. She types and "speaks" using a special computer. The teacher tapes a metal circle to her forehead which Mary uses like a mouse on the screen. She can't talk or control most of the movements of her body. But she giggles and smiles and communicates in amazing ways.

What most impressed me about School B was how the teachers talked to the students. My knee-jerk response would be baby-talk: slow and loud and simple. These teachers will have none of it and neither will the students. The teachers talked to Mary as if she could talk right back, but she did, just in her own way. They've learned how to interpret her body language in a way that Mary can feel respected and valued. I think she does.

I'm not sure I can teach tough, inner-city students.
I'm not sure I can teach special education students.
I'm not sure I can teach a brick.
I'm not sure I have what it takes.

I know I have the interest.
I know I want to reach students.
I'm just not sure that's enough.

I think I'm going to have to be a little less picky about who the students are.

Maybe no one is "cut out" to teach from the moment they are born. Maybe the cutting out process happens over time, with experience, a whole lot of humility, and open arms.

I'll be working on the open arms.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beauty Survey #5: Comparing Kills

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#5. Do you ever struggle with comparing yourself to other women? If so, how and why do you/we do this?

In response to this question (again) I was pleasantly surprised. Not because I like that women compare themselves to other women, but because it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

This is where LaQuisha comes in. I’m pretty sure we’ve all got one. LaQuisha is that person in your life who “seems” to have it all together. Who delicately floats through life, cooks everything from scratch, has not one wrinkle, and has never been larger than a size 4. I’ve got one. You’ve got. So how exactly is she helping us?

She’s not.

That’s the problem.

Comparing in-and-of-itself may not be the problem. The problem is who we are comparing ourselves to. As my brilliant friend said in her response: “We nearly always compare our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths, setting ourselves up for failure every time.”

Don't believe me? Watch this video by Dove

Here are a collection of answers from women about comparing:

“ ‘Being pretty’ is an empty pursuit. I know because I wrestle and struggle with wanting and pursuing it, but always end up feeling like ‘Now what/that’s it?”

“It’s become habit. I don’t know how not to do it. My lack of self-loathing makes me feel ‘different’ from my family.”

“What I see of someone is only what they choose to let me see. I'm comparing apples to oranges when I scrutinize someone's outward appearance and actions to my view of myself from the inside.”

“I have found that it is really hard to go through the checkout lines and just stand there or pray when the latest gossip and styles and flesh are flashing all around me. So I have found it helps to turn the magazines over (although sometimes the back is worse than the front). Or cover them all up with copies of Good Housekeeping.”

“I find myself comparing myself to other women all the time. My best friend is gorgeous. Whenever I am with her, people come up to us and tell her how beautiful she is. Once someone ran up to tell her that a group of guys just observed a moment of silence for her beauty as she walked by. Being around her made me feel not pretty. It made me feel invisible. If only I looked like her...”

“I compare myself to women all the time. I don't even know if it's conscious. The constant running tally. They say men are more hierarchical than women but I don't now if I believe it. Mostly, I compare my body, and especially the parts that have been so sexualized (and highly loaded) in our culture: breasts, stomach, ass, thighs ... which leaves what?”

“It's both a blessing and a curse that I've never felt like my physical beauty was my best quality. I was the girl with the personality, with the bubbly laugh, the girl who was easy to talk to, and made people feel comfortable. The ‘being pretty’ role was already reserved for other girls, with longer legs and prettier hair. Most guys found me intriguing because I was artistic, or smart.”

If we insist on comparing ourselves, at least know what you're up against. Here's another Dove video, this time on photo re-touching. Real photographs don't make it into magazines anymore, only their morphed, manipulated, and idealized evil twins.

One of my eating disorder counselors reminded me often: comparing kills. It really does. Maybe it’s not a physical death, but it’s a slow death of the soul, of confidence, of hope. We spend so much time focused on what we don’t have or what we are not good at, we begin to believe that that’s all we are: a bundle of faults, a useless bag of skin and bones.

If we call this the “human race,” what do we get when we win?

What happens to the person who dies with the most toys or the most money? What happens to the toughest man or the most beautiful woman? What will the “best of the best” earn at the end of life for “appearing” to have it all together? Probably the same thing as me: death.

But before my last breath, when I lie in bed not having become the most beautiful woman in the world, I hope to feel peace for the greater things I accomplished and the beautiful life that I lived.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Haircutting 101

These scissors are called thinning shears.

See how they are different than regular scissors?

Yeah, instead of being a straight edge, they cut in an every-other-one kind of pattern. So you use them for cutting hair when you want to create texture or to thin out an area where the hair is most heavy.

Here's my advice: when you're cutting your hair, clearly mark the scissors, don't engage in conversation of any kind, and pay close attention to what you're doing because if you are not careful this will probably happen...

When I "thought" I reached for the thinning shears to lighten a particular area and only trim a few hairs, I actually reached for the regular shears which hacked a large chunk of hair to the ground that seemed to echo a loud THUD when it hit the tile floor.


Then, I laughed and took pictures.

And for the next year I will be parting my hair on the right side. Only.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beauty Survey #4 : Fat (plus, a note to men)

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#4. What does feeling unattractive or fat or ugly look like? Feel like? When does it happen and why?

“I feel fat when the muffin top can't be hidden any longer!”

“I feel fat when I didn’t eat right the day before, failed to exercise and slept in instead, or when I’m bloated from being on my period.”

“When my clothes are tight, I feel uncomfortable and fat.”

“It looks like how I feel about 80% of the time! Ha-ha. It looks like tugging at my clothes, holding a bag or sweatshirt in front of my tummy, etc. It feels frustrating, miserable, hopeless, disappointing. It happens on most days, when I face myself in the mirror and see the disconnect between reality and what I'd like to look like.”

“I do know what it feels like – almost every day. It happens when I allow what other people look like or think have power over what I know to be logical and sensible.”

“Unattractive/fat/ugly happens about five days a month, for the same reasons it can happen to every woman (hormones). I lose my perspective for a bit and that's when it's especially good to have close friends of similar age and experience -- now, our conversations and comparisons are FULL of laughter.”

“I feel fat when I've had a run of eating unhealthy/junk foods or if I haven't exercised in a while. It also happens if I spend more time in my PJs than in my regular clothes.”

It’s interesting that most of us insist on saying, “I feel fat.” Fat is not a feeling. Either you are fat or you aren’t fat. There are BMI measures that can help verify if a person is overweight, however, fat is not the emotional state we may wish it was. For if it was, maybe we could merely cheer ourselves out of it. You cannot “feel” fat anymore than you can “feel” yellow. When we say we “feel fat,” what we’re really saying is that we feel unbalanced, uncomfortable, unhealthy, unhappy, or unattractive. Fat is not a feeling.

So when you are thinking, “I feel fat,” take another look.

Are you feeling “nauseated”? Are you feeling “bloated”? Are you feeling “lonely”? Are you feeling “anxious”? Are you feeling “overwhelmed”? Are you feeling “out-of-control”?

Once you look at what you are really feeling, it’s probably not fat. Maybe you’ve been eating a lot of junk food. Maybe you’re clothes are too tight. Buy another size. Maybe you’ve been a witch lately. Maybe you’re too stressed.

If a small child came to you with a problem, would you tell them to go on a diet and purchase the latest Tummy Tucker Gizmo 2000? Don’t do it to yourself either. It just doesn’t make any sense.

My favorite response to this question: “I feel badly about my body just as often when I'm at my smallest as when I'm a few pounds heavier. Beauty, and body image in general, is all in my head.”

Luckily, your head is yours. You control it. You put stuff in. You mediate what happens inside. Beauty is just as attainable as a calm mind. It takes work. It’s not easy. But learning to see ourselves as we really are might be one of the most worthwhile efforts of our lives.

A friend of a friend told me recently that her mom read my book and upon doing so dug out old photos of herself from 20+ years ago. To her shock and surprise, she was beautiful. But when the photos were taken she hated the way she looked.

What are we missing?

If at twenty-three years old I pinpoint and fret over every flaw on my body from cellulite to wrinkles, why would I be any less cruel when I’m fifty and will likely have even more cellulite and wrinkles? Are we all doomed for a lifetime of self-hatred and low self-esteem? I don’t think so. What needs to change is how we look at ourselves.

If during my fiftieth year on planet earth, I’m going to look at pictures of myself at twenty-three and wished I looked that way again, then why don’t I just love and accept her now?


I hope you’re not reading this and feeling left out, but alas, I would spend way too much time jumping back and forth between genders. Each time I talk about women’s desire to feel beautiful, think about our culture’s infatuation with a man who is tough and strong, aggressive and confident. If you don’t fit the mold, you must not be a real man, right?


You feel these pressures too and I’m sorry. There are probably days when you feel un-manly, less-than, inadequate, a fraud. These feelings are similar to a woman who “feels” ugly or fat. We have equal rights to our minds and how we use them. Chances are you’re already pretty freaking wonderful, we’re all just on a journey trying to believe it.

Beauty Survey #3: Attractive

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#3. In your opinion, how important is it for you to look/feel attractive to your significant other? And, why is this important?

There was not one single woman who said that looking/feeling attractive to their partner was not important. The surveyors had some wise things to say about feeling attractive:

“My husband’s attraction gives me confidence.”

“It is more important that I believe that I look and feel attractive.”

“I still don't understand why he thinks I'm sexy, but he tells me I’m the "whole package"- yes, this is very important to feel special and loved by your partner and I'm extremely thankful because he expresses this daily!”

“I don't have to fit the "perfect body" status quo in order to feel like my partner finds me attractive.”

“I think it's really important for a wife (and husband) to make efforts to keep themselves maintained. It doesn't have to be extreme or expensive but there are simple things like eating healthy, exercising, wearing a little make-up and putting on cute/sexy clothes that keep a marriage alive.”

It seems that these women have a pretty healthy view of the roles of attraction. I appreciate their openness and honesty with all of the questions.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Embracing Fear

From Thom Rutledge's book, Embracing Fear:

"With fear in charge, you can never fully relax, let your guard down, be your true self. You can't open up because you are afraid of how people will respond if they were to meet the real you. When fear is in charge, you simply cannot take that chance. Fear will not allow honesty, fear despises spontaneity, and fear refuses to believe in you. Fear may mean well, but it ruins everything by overprotecting you, insisting that you stay hidden and keep a low profile, promising that your time is coming . . . sometime later.

"Fear is bold, but insists that you be timid. Take a chance and there will be hell to pay: fear will call on its dear friend, shame, to meet you on the other side of your risk taking, to tell you what you should not have done. Fear will trip you, tackle you, smother you, do whatever it takes to cause you to hesitate, to stop you. In this way fear is fearless.

"Fear will remain in charge for as long as you let it. It will never volunteer to step down, to relinquish its authority.

"Your assignment is to live a life that is not ruled by fear. To do this, you must be able to identify, at any given time, exactly what fear is telling you--or rather threatening you with--and to disobey its instructions. Every morning when you awake, make a conscious decision to remain in charge of your own life. Fear cannot occupy the space in which you stand, but it can, if you let it, scare you away.

"Let your personal motto be 'NO FEAR.' Say those two powerful words as you put your feet on the floor, as you look into the mirror, as you walk out the door. Ask yourself each morning, and all through the day, what will 'NO FEAR' mean to me today?

"Ask yourself this question and don't forget to wait for the answer."

Monday, January 10, 2011


Snow began falling early this morning while we slept underneath quilts and fleece blankets. By rising time, a beautiful layer of thick, fresh snowflakes had gathered on the pine needles and bare bones of the oak trees. Snow is lovely to view from a window while snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate, but obnoxious to handle while trying to get anything else done. Like traveling.

Sunshine sings of safety, so as we loaded up the truck for our 7-8 hour drive back to school, Jeremy and I both felt optimistic. But eventually sunshine dips below the earth leaving a trail of darkness. That’s often when fear comes out to play.

What began as a nice snowy day, turned to fear in about three seconds. Jeremy and I were driving in his Four-Runner across the white-blanketed fields of western Nebraska when we encountered a sheet of ice that sent the back end of the truck fish-tailing. As the car headed right, Jeremy masterfully turned left. As the car corrected and turned left, Jeremy twisted the wheel to the right. After a few turns and twists at 60 miles per hour, the ice won. Grabbing for the door and the dashboard, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as we spun a 360 and came to an abrupt halt facing the same direction that we were driving to begin with. This time we sat breathless in the median of several inches of snow between the east and westbound highways.

“Are you okay?” Jeremy asked me.

I couldn’t seem to find words.

The four-wheel drive bailed us out of a potentially vulnerable position in the middle of the median and we made it back onto the road. He asked again, “Are you okay?”

You know what I didn’t say?

I didn’t say, “Yes, I’m fine. Thanks for saving our lives.”

I didn’t say, “Wow, I’m so grateful we weren’t injured and the truck is fine.”

I didn’t say, “Thank God, there wasn’t a semi truck directly behind us.”

Instead, I said, “I’m scared,” then stared out the window with tears peek-a-booing from my eyes as I sat thinking about the fact that we could’ve just died.

I sat stuck in the thick, sticky liquid of past and future and spent the next hour thinking about what didn’t happen and what could have happened: What if there was a semi behind us? What if we were smashed into? What if Jeremy’s truck was totaled? What if Jeremy died? What if I died? What if we both died? What if our lives were cut short by a car accident on a highway in Nebraska?

Fear shakes us. Fear challenges us. Fear apparently paralyzes me beyond the ability to articulate my thoughts and be in the present moment.

I’ve been reading a book called, Embracing Fear by Thom Rutledge. I’m not far into it, but I particularly liked when he described a possible situation in the ER. If you were to come in with a serious head injury, the doctors and nurses would not immediately administer pain medications. Rutledge says, “They will not medicate the pain of the head injury because to do so would interfere with their gathering of essential information that could save your life. The pain is the source of the information.”

Not all fear is bad. We have healthy fear that keeps us from walking off the edge of a cliff. Rutledge calls this healthy fear an ally. Alas, if there’s an ally, there must be an enemy. The enemy is neurotic fear, the kind that says, “If something could go wrong, let’s focus on it.” This kind of fear is the bully.

Healthy fear said, “Wow, spinning out of control on the highway is not fun. Let’s be careful.”

Neurotic fear said, “You almost died and you probably will before you get to your destination.”

After several miles of driving 40 mph across Nebraska, patient and wonderful Jeremy said, “I know you’re scared. How can I help?” When I didn’t offer any suggestions he began singing, “Raindrops on roses…and brown paper packages…”

“No, it goes ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…’”

He continued unphased, “When the snow falls, when the roads get icy, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel…so bad!”

I’m not always good at seeing the positive, at being in the present moment, or trusting my voice. The main work in our lives can be summed up pretty easily: good versus bad, light versus dark, acknowledging the difference, and basking in the sunshine.

Rutledge says, “The fear you have spent a life time trying to ignore is about to become one of your greatest teachers . . . I believe that when we make the decision to stand and face our individual demons, we are contributing to the potential for peace throughout the world.”

That Franklin D. Roosevelt knew what he was talking about when he said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

I believe it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beauty Survey #2: Consuming

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#2. What is the most extreme/silly/ridiculous thing you've done/bought/tried to attain beauty?

Women often feel the pressure to maintain every inch of their bodies with more creams, treatments, and serums than any of us can afford. We “need” to maintain the size of our bodies, the smoothness and color of our skin, the style of our hair, the beauty of our faces, and the clothes on our bodies.

The women I surveyed admitted many ridiculous attempts at attaining beauty. One woman said simply in response to this question, “Push-up bras!” Another woman laughed that the expensive body wrapping she tried to remove cellulite would probably only be effective if she left it on for the rest of her life. Many others have wasted money on sunless tanning lotion that turned their body orange. I myself became somewhat enthralled with tanning booths when I was in high school. Unaware of what the brightness of a light bulb would do to areas of my body that have NEVER seen the sun, I left badly burned and itchy. It took several too many trips to the hot beds for me to realize it just wasn't worth it.

Expectations for women and their hair isn’t far behind. Several women mentioned ridiculous encounters with body hair: from shaving pubic hair to please a boyfriend and bleaching hair on their upper lip, to painful Brazilian bikini and eyebrow waxes. A friend once saved up her money when she was in grade school (yes, grade school) to buy an at home laser hair removal kit. How much hair does one have to remove in grade school? One woman admitted spending $70 for a perm in hopes of a beachy-wavy look, but left instead with a poodley-poofy look.

Our bodies are under constant scrutiny too. One woman bought Metabolife (a diet pill) as a teenager, starved herself, and lied to her parents. Another woman acquired and sustained an eating disorder for ten years after her father made a negative comment about how she looked in her jeans. One brave woman said that her eating disorder has cause “more insecurity and self-loathing than ever before. And still, ridiculously, I stay on this path, not because I still think that it is a beautiful road, but because, to me, fat is uglier than the pain of thin.”

Fat is uglier than the pain of thin. These are the extremes of beauty (or the pursuit of it at least). We have products, treatments, and quick tips to “fix” everything that’s “wrong” with our bodies. It seems that there’s an unwritten rule book for women’s appearance, yet none of us have read it, very few of us like it, and no one seems to know who the hell wrote it to begin with! But we hear about it. We believe it. Then we wonder why we hate to look at our naked bodies in the mirror and shudder in disbelief when someone says, “You look nice today.” Statistics reflect this belief.

Estimations state that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between 40-100 billion dollars each year selling temporary weight loss. Not surprisingly, 90 to 95% of dieters regain the lost weight (The diet business: Banking on failure. (BBC News World Edition, Feb 5 2003).

Diets and eating disorders are turning up in girls as young as five years-old. The exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls. Overall research indicates that 90% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance in some way (The Canadian Women’s Health Network (Body Image and the Media).

In response to my question, one friend summarized her answer this way, “I guess the silliest I feel is when I’m more concerned about how I look than how I act. This is what we should all feel silly about, but we are reminded about as often as we blink that we are not good-looking enough. Being good doesn’t matter as long as you look good.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: the women in my life who actually like themselves and are less likely to be swayed by infomercials, diet scams, and manipulative advertising are those who educate themselves about it. This is a business, a billion dollar business, whose primary goal is to play on your desire to feel beautiful. It’s cruel. It’s wrong. But there is hope.

Be a wise consumer, not a naïve one. Educate yourself on the forces working against you.

If we continue pretending that we are just innately sensitive to beauty because we are women, than we are allowing this beauty business to schmooze its way ever deeper into our culture, a culture that will do anything possible to get our money with no regard for our what it’s doing to women.

To read more about Beauty and Body Image in the Media, check out:

To see an intensely thought-provoking 6-minute video by Jean Kilbourne about the effects of media on women, check out:

To read about the oversexualization of children’s media (boys and girls), watch this Today show interview:

There is a lot more out there about how to educate yourselves and your children about the business behind today’s standards for beauty. Simply Google: “media awareness” or “Jean Kilbourne.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vernon God Little

I've decided that writing--in any form, of any true substance--holds value. Real writers write. Often. I write. Well . . . not as often as I could. And not as often as I'd like to. Writing is good for my soul. I've debated the value of saying this out loud as New Year's resolutions can be a bit overly-contagious and self-fulfilling, but I dare to say that this year I would like to blog more often. I'm not putting an amount or a scale by which to measure my success or failure. I would just like to write more.

Mom says that not everyone can write.

This still kind of surprises me and I look at her quizzically. "Of course, everyone can write," I tell her. "Just like everyone can sing. It might not sound as good as Celine Dion, but anyone can say a few words in a sing-song voice, even if it's the wrong tune."

Mom disagrees (and absolutely loves it when I give ridiculous examples to prove a point). So since I seem to be capable of writing, I will write.

Last week, I picked up a novel for $2 at my favorite local bookstore called Anthology: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. I'm shocked at how quickly I have read this book, not because it's necessarily the best book I've ever read. In fact, several times I've wondered if it was too late to turn back. But I figured I'd already invested time in the first 5 chapters, I couldn't stop now. What would Vernon think?

Now I understand how people whisk through books so fast. I've never "not been able to put a book down" or "read all through the night," because, well, it's hard to blaze through a self-help book. I want to read books with stories, not endless advice on how to better my life.

As I said, this book hasn't been life-changing or remarkable, but this part seemed worth quoting:

Vernon Little is a seventeen year-old boy with a slight fascination for panties and the F-word, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time during a school shooting that went down at the hands of his best friend Jesus. Vernon fled to Mexico, which only made him look more guilty. At his apprehension by the police (on his birthday) and jail time awaiting trial, his mom calls:

"'So--did you have a nice birthday?' she asks.

'Not really.'

'Well, I left the cake this year. I didn't know if you'd be in town. Anyway, if you showed up I could've gotten one at Harris's, their opening hours are extended till ten every night now, although Marjorie isn't too comfortable with the new arrangement, not yet anyway. These things can take time, I guess.'

I'm still deciding if it's a bad or a good thing, this syndrome of loved-ones not talking about obvious shit. In a way, it's kind of embarrassing, with this really obvious big maggot in my life, oozing and stinking in front of everybody. Nobody talks about it, though. I guess it speaks for itself."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Beauty Survey #1: Beautiful

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here are the questions and a summary of their answers.

#1. “When do you feel the most beautiful? Is it something you do or something someone else does?”

Upon asking this question, I should’ve been more specific. I believe we have both outward, physical beauty as well as inward, character beauty. But for the purpose of this survey, I’m talking about the outside kind. Overall, women said that they feel the most beautiful (physically) when they are balanced, affirmed, and comfortable.

Balance is important. One woman said that she feels the most beautiful when she’s “exercising regularly, making healthy eating choices,” and is “well rested.” Most of the women would agree with her. Not one woman said that a specific hair style or article of clothing made them feel beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind.

One friend told me she feels the most beautiful when she’s naked or dancing in her underwear. Balance, in her life, involves making time for silliness. She’s also fueled by the high of a tough work-out and feeling strong and confident afterward. Not everyone gets excited about exercise. But whatever you do to feel strong, confident, capable, and passionate is part of leading a balanced life. We all want balance. When we feel balanced, we feel beautiful and whole.

Affirmation is important. Women who are dating or married added that they feel beautiful when their boyfriends or husbands tell them they are. We like hearing it. We like knowing our significant others find us attractive. However, there’s a good chance that you might not be hearing this enough. The logical solution to this problem: ask for it. You cannot expect your relationship to resemble a Hollywood movie (unless, of course, you actually do live in a Hollywood movie). The un-romantic part of day-to-day relationships is they require work. If you need something, ask for it.

Exhibit A (a true story):

Heather: “Jeremy, I need you to tell me if you find me attractive. I need to be reminded more often.”

Jeremy: “I thought I was telling you. I let you drive my truck.”

Heather: (furrowed brow, confusion) “What?”

Sometimes how one person shows their love, is different than how the other person receives it. Jeremy is proud of his truck and rarely allows other people drive it. To him, allowing me to drive his truck took trust. He felt that by letting me drive his truck he was communicating that he loved me, thus found me attractive. Obviously, there was a communication error (that we laugh about now). So now he just says, “You’re cute,” and I melt into a pile of mush on the floor.

Comfort is important. I was surprised at how many women said that the fit of their clothing makes a big difference. They feel fat when their clothes are too tight and they feel like they are bulging right out of their clothes. Feeling beautiful means feeling comfortable in what we’re wearing.

So here’s what I’ve found makes these women feel beautiful:

-Seeking balance is still a worthy cause. It may be the most elusive and slippery goal we will ever strive for, but it makes us happier, healthier, and more beautiful.

-It’s okay if hearing “You look nice” makes you giddy. Also, you can ask a significant other for what you need. It might be uncomfortable. The words might dribble out of your mouth like baby food, but they’ll get out. You’ll feel better when you’re giving and receiving love in a way that both of you can feel.

-Wear clothes that you are comfortable in. I have one rule for 95% of my clothing: I must be able to easily climb a tree or bust out a Downward-Dog. If I’m not comfy, than I feel restricted and silly. I’m just guessing, but I doubt you feel any more comfortable than I do in 4-inch high heels, underwire bras, Spanx, and skinny jeans that you spend 70% of the day yanking up from behind. Commit to only buying clothes you feel comfortable wearing. Period.

The Beauty Survey

A few months ago I wrote a blog entitled “Unattractive” about how I was feeling—you guessed it—unattractive. I have long loathed this in myself, after all: Am I this shallow? Is this all I care about?

Men ask the question, "Am I strong enough?" They ask this question of many people and manifest their strength in different ways.

Women ask the question, "Am I pretty enough?" We ask this question of many people and manifest our beauty in different ways.

Men are not ONLY concerned with strength and women are not ONLY concerned with beauty (these values may differ by sexual orientation and cultural norms, but these are incredibly common questions I've seen in my own heterosexual, female perspective). It's not wrong to ask these questions, but it's important to look at who we are asking and why.

Some women try to prove their beauty with cleavage and skin.

Some women try to prove their beauty through strict diet regiments and food rules.

Some women try to prove their beauty by asking anyone and everyone, "Am I pretty? Am I worth it? Will you love me?"

Some women stop trying to prove their beauty because they believe they have none.

And some women stop trying to prove their beauty because they've realized there's nothing to prove and never was. It's okay to want to be attractive. What differs is how we fulfill this need and how much we let it take over our lives.

After one night of feeling particularly ugly, fat, and worthless, I decided I could either whine some more about how ugly, fat, and worthless I felt or I could talk to other women about how ugly, fat, and worthless they felt. I picked the latter.

I contacted forty women whom I greatly respect—college students, single women, married women, doctors, nurses, mothers, psychologists, republicans, democrats, Christians, non-Christians—and asked them seven honest questions:

#1. When do you feel the most beautiful? Is it something you do or something someone else does?

#2. What is the most extreme/silly/ridiculous thing you've done/bought/tried to attain beauty?

#3. In your opinion, how important is it for you to look/feel attractive to your significant other? And, why is this important?

#4. What does feeling unattractive or fat or ugly look like? Feel like? When does it happen and why?

#5. Do you ever struggle with comparing yourself to other women? If so, how and why do you/we do this?

#6. The "men are visual" mantra gets preached and sometimes pressures women into working hard at keeping their man interested and excuses promiscuity. How do you balance this with your other qualities and not let "being pretty" be your main goal?

#7. Essentially, I want to know: How do you honor your beauty without letting it define who you are?

Slowly, the responses began flowing in and I received honest and helpful feedback from these brave women. Hearing that other women often struggle to feel good enough and pretty enough made me feel a lot better.

I assured these women that their names would not be shared with the cyber world, but I valued their answers for my own growth and hopefully the growth of others. I have already put several hours into reading and sorting the responses. I like research. I like asking questions and making sense out of what I learn. I will share what I find here once I am done.