The Beauty Trap:Can You Escape It?

zoe.PNG
Beauty is a loving dad

I don’t remember his name but I will call him Jake. I was a sophomore in college and had just transferred to a new school, and Jake was the guy all the girls were smitten with. He had a perfect head of long blond hair (hey, it was the 70’s!) and a nice tan with perfect straight white teeth. His smile melted us. So you can imagine how excited (and nervous) I was when he actually asked ME on a date! I can’t remember the details, just that he picked me up in some clunky car and away we drove to go get a bite at the local ice cream parlor. He smiled politely, but pretty much said nothing. I remember struggling to engage him in a conversation. What I thought was going to be a dreamy evening turned out to be one of the longest nights I ever had. I could not wait to get home. I was bored out of my mind. Nothing against poor Jake, but his beauty did not help at all. I knew I could never torture myself like this again, and when he dropped me off I was so relieved, but also disappointed. He was so cute, I guess I just assumed he would be fun too. Nope. I was only 19 years old but this was a good lesson.

This has happened again in my life where I may have had expectations or made assumptions just because of appearance. I remember another time when I met Scott, a man who my husband had hired to do some work at the house. He rang the doorbell, and there he stood, gigantic arms with tattoos everywhere he had skin. He looked like a scary biker, the kind of guy you might be afraid of. But this guy was one of the sweetest men I have ever met in my life. I felt bad for having that initial feeling of fear. How stupid.

I don’t think I am the only one who has made the mistake of making assumptions by the way someone looks. In our culture, in my opinion, we are somewhat brainwashed about “beauty”. People make money off of selling “beauty”and companies play off of this. For example, being thin is in, and diet products and clothing that makes you look thinner sells. Being young is also a good thing for sure so any product that makes you look younger is really appealing. Women in particular (if you ask me) get sucked in. Women want to feel pretty. Not sure why I don’t like that word, pretty. I think it is old-fashioned and feels shallow. I do like the word “beauty” though. So let’s talk about beauty.

When I was young, say back in high school, I thought straight hair was beautiful. That is probably because the style back then was straight long hair, and I had curly long hair. It was a nightmare when it rained. The iron worked but was a pain and eventually I invented a technique that was even better than ironing. I would wash my hair, pull it back into a low ponytail, split that ponytail in half and wrap each half around my head and secure with bobby pins. In the morning my hair would be dry, I would remove the bobby pins and ponytail and except for a few telltale bumps from the bobby pins my hair was somewhat straight. Unless it rained. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy caring about something as insignificant as hair. I have had friends who have lost their hair because of chemotherapy. I should have appreciated God’s gift of a head full of curly brown hair. But I didn’t.

These days I look at “beauty” with a whole different lens. Think for a minute about someone you know who when you met them was not thrown by their “beauty”. Maybe they did not have Jake’s perfect white teeth, or that perfectly blonde head of hair. But then you got to know them and they were the most beautiful person you knew. They are that person who makes you smile when you are down. Maybe you have witnessed them helping someone in need. Or maybe they are that person who never complains and takes on all the work nobody wants to do. In my world I encounter so many people like this. They make me smile and laugh. They go above an beyond. They take the time to stop and engage a special needs child. They wear funny hats just to make people happy. They put on costumes not caring that they might look like a fool to most normal adults, but they do it anyway because they know people will smile and be so much happier because of it. Those people who might fry dough for 120 people they work for because they want to make an event special. They aren’t getting paid extra for this mind you, it is just because. Or, that nurse who allows the same boy with Down’s Syndrome to come into the office with a fake illness just to get a hug. …..to witness that is witnessing beauty.  Yes, I really don’t notice the texture of someone’s hair or the number of tattoos anymore. And I definitely don’t care about the wrinkles on anyone’s face. Beauty radiates in a different way, and unfortunately, we don’t always see it.

I do sometimes question myself, and wonder why it is that I feel so much better when I buy something new to wear. Am I being shallow? I am falling into that trap, the one we buy into that says we have to look a certain way? I just bought a new dress for a wedding, in a gorgeous dark salmon, so simple and elegant and comfortable and appropriate for my age and I love it. It makes me feel, well, good. I can’t lie, I love new clothes (that are on sale especially), and that are comfortable and look good on me (in my mind, and that is hard when you get older, just saying). So maybe I am not free from that beauty trap if wearing certain clothes makes me happy. But at least I am proud of myself when it comes to pocketbooks and shoes….I don’t like pocketbooks with the letter C on them…I know that means something and many women I know and love just adore pocketbooks. They have an appreciation I just can’t relate to. And I am happy about that because it saves me lots of money. You might notice if you know me that I always have my black pocketbook I got at TJ Maxx. Apparently, it is a designer one, but I did not know it, it just serves my needs perfectly, was not too expensive and is very durable. And black goes with everything. A new pocketbook does not make me happy, although new clothes often do For a little while. It doesn’t last.

The bottom line is focusing on the outside, I have found at least, is not what makes me happy or feel good about myself. Making someone laugh or smile does make me feel good. When I look at someone now, when I don’t know them yet, I don’t know if they are beautiful. I now know that it takes time to see who they are. Then beauty comes through (or not). It makes me sad sometimes how many people (women especially, at least in my experience) don’t see their beauty. They look in the mirror and they look at the wrong things. They make up the stuff in their own minds as to what they are looking for in themselves that may meet the standards of beauty. They buy into the stuff our culture or the media pushes us to think is the only thing that matters if you want to feel beautiful. Back then it was straight hair. Now, it is a number of things that seem to change depending on what is trending. It may be being skinny, being muscular, having a bigger butt, tattoos, rainbow hair, who knows…..if you try to keep up, you lose yourself. Eventually.

I think it would be much cooler to make up our own definition of beauty. Face it. In real life, who are the people you are drawn to? Who are the people you want to emulate? Who do you want your children to be like? It has nothing to do with anything like clothing or hair or body shape. Beauty to me means kindness and acceptance and a sense of caring, and humor or course, modesty and humility, being grateful and forgiving. You may have your own definition. I challenge you to come up with one, your own definition of beauty. One that has nothing to do with outside appearance and everything to do with what is truly important to you.

And the next time you look in the mirror and curse your frizzy hair or anything else staring back at you, I hope you stop and see what others see.

 

 

It’s Time To Talk About It

No automatic alt text available.Margaret is in her 20’s, almost done with law school, an A student with a promising career ahead of her. Debbie is 54 years old. If you saw her you might think she’s got it all together for a woman her age. She is a smart dresser, hair always perfectly in place and she has energy galore. Pedro, on the other hand, is only 17. Tall and handsome with a shy smile who is the star swimmer for his high school. One of the “cool” kids, you would think he must be enjoying every minute of his teenage years. Robert is a 62 year old man, recently retired with his wife and known for his super fit physique. He still works out at the gym several hours a day and everyone knows him there.

What do all these individuals with seemingly a lot going for them have in common? They all are suffering from a disease that often goes unnoticed……until their world collapses. These completely different people all revolve their lives around “ED”. Short for “eating disorder”. ED does not discriminate between sex, race, religion, social class or sexual orientation. But people suffering from an eating disorder often have similarities in the debilitating affect on their lives.They likely wake up every single day of their(sometimes what feels like a) facade of a life thinking about food. They may weigh themselves daily with goal weights they have been obsessing about for weeks in Pedro’s case, or years, in Robert and Debbie’s case. When the number on that scale goes up, they have a really bad day. They may record every morsel and calorie they consume in a food diary, on an app, or in their minds. They starve, they binge, they purge, they are exhausted and feel like crap. And yet, even when they reach that initial “goal weight”, they still are not happy. So they lower it. Nobody seems to notice at first because our culture just loves it when people lose weight. Comments like “you lost weight! You look so good!” just fuel the fire. Our cultural focus on bodies makes it really confusing and hard for someone to stop the often dangerous behaviors they have fallen into. Even if someone manages to avoid serious medical and physical consequences (for a while) the psychological and emotional drains on a life are not always apparent to the outsider. But the person with the eating disorder often becomes depressed as they lose previously treasured parts of their lives (socializing, family gatherings, jobs, relationships) all because ED demands it of them. It becomes really hard for the person with an eating disorder to face food at social gatherings, to listen to comments and questions from family members expressing concern over weight loss and often sickly appearance as the disease progresses. Opportunities are lost, sports scholarships are taken away, dropping out of college and leaving a job, even relationship fall-outs happen because of ED. Sometimes, binge eating leads to excessive weight gain. Unfortunately, with the focus on childhood obesity, even children aren’t immune as they get the message at a very young age that the number on that scale really matters, and it is up to them to do something about it. The bottom line is appearance and body size of a person with an eating disorder are never the same, yet assumptions are made because of this, and this is a big mistake.

Every year during the month of February, the eating disorder community of health care professionals, those who suffer(ed) with eating disorders and the people who have been affected by them make an effort to educate us all. This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 26th through March 4th. The theme or message is “Let’s Talk About It”. This is such a great message because the fact is, the earlier an eating disorder is identified and treated, the more chance there is to prevent it from getting worse, or to beat it. We need to talk about the fact that it is a confusing world with our focus on, and fear of fat. We get confused about what is important. Is it more important to be thin or should we just focus on being healthy? How do we fight the cultural ideal and still feel good about our bodies? And most important, we need to talk about the fact that nobody is immune, and no, you can’t tell if someone is suffering just by looking at them. Eating disorders strike children, teenagers, college kids, middle-aged and older adults. Fat, thin or in-between, rich or poor, educated or not, no matter what nationality or culture, you can’t tell what someone’s life is like or how miserable they may be.

Or, you may wonder about yourself. Is your obsessive calorie counting really a problem? Do you say to yourself “well, I do need to lose weight” and think your diet is just “healthy?” but you do feel drained from thinking about it all the time? Is it a problem that you feel guilty for missing the gym? Do you constantly think about your bulging middle-aged tummy and have started cutting out foods to fix it? Do you have an eating problem you are starting to worry about? To help you answer these questions, or to at least lead you in the right direction, why not take the free screening offered by the NEDA website (National Eating Disorder Awareness). Go ahead and take the free screening Get Screened, or share with any friends and/or family members who may know loved ones they are worried about. Remember, the earlier this debilitating disease is identified and treated the better chance for recovery. Don’t wait. It’s time to talk about it.

Get Screened

What is “Dietainment”?

Unhealthy diet messages disguised as harmless entertainment. That is how “dietainment” is defined on the Multi-grain Cheerio website devoted to gathering signatures to make a statement to stop these unhealthy messages from getting to our children (especially young girls).

If you watch the videos on the website, they will move you. The sad thing is they actually stop short of showing what the consequences are. Yes, all of those magazine covers at the grocery line check-out do affect us all. You’ve heard it a million times, how those perfect faces, bodies, hair and clothes make us all feel inferior to a point. You probably also have seen those articles and videos on how those photos are doctored by the experts to make them look even more “perfect”. How cellulite is erased, how tummies are flattened, frizzy hair is removed, veins, wrinkles and freckles magically made invisible. We know that.

The problem also lies in the actual words, the words most eight year old girls can read. Words like “diet” and “lost 10 pounds in 2 weeks” and “5 steps to a flat belly!” What happens next?

I can share what I have seen. I have seen little girls “body checking” in my office. In case you never heard that term, it describes what some people do when they become somewhat focused on a particular body part (or parts) and continuously (almost habitually sometimes) “check” it. As if it may change in the next ten minutes. For instance, a person may feel their arms are too fat, so they are constantly squeezing them. Or more typically, they feel their tummies are too big, and they can’t pass a mirror without looking sideways at themselves. In my office I have seen little girls and boys alike grabbing at their tummies (yes, because they feel they are too fat). Many have actually told me they wanted to know how to make their stomachs flat. Or have a “six pack”. When this statement comes out of a boy who has not even entered puberty yet, it is very sad (to me) and I often ask myself “where is this coming from?”

The other part of this sad story is what these kids often do. They actually do try to “diet”. They try to lose weight, they eat less, they cut out foods and sometimes stop growing. The good news is that sometimes, with a little education, the ones who are doing this just because they read it or saw it on TV will start eating again just because a dietitian told them to! The bad news is some go on to develop eating disorders.

So what can YOU do? As the website says, we can’t change this overnight. But we can at least try to stop it. Do something. Anything, even if it means talking to your child about how stupid it is. Or recognizing if YOU talk about losing weight or how much you hate your body in front of them. At least you can start there, and stop.

Instead, can we all get back to focusing on feeling good and being healthy? and what about all the other wonderful, great things about people? Talents, humor, accomplishments, kindness, generosity…..so check it out….if we all do our little part…

http://worldwithoutdieting.ca/