Let’s Chase Beauty Together!

This week, I would like to extend two invitations to my readers. One of them is entirely dependent on geography, while the other is an idea that I have for my NEXT post.

First, I would like to invite anyone in the College Park area to the Honors Humanities Undergraduate Research Symposium tomorrow, April 12th. This is the big shindig that is the culmination of the Keystone projects that my peers and I have worked on for the past two years in the program. There are a lot of excellent presentations about topics that span the entirety of the humanities, and you definitely won’t be disappointed if you can make it to any of the panels. And hey, if you’re lucky, you might be able to see me present as well!

The link to the event’s website is here, and you can find the schedule on there as well.

Honors Humanities Undergraduate Research Symposium logo, courtesy of Grace DeWitt

Honors Humanities Undergraduate Research Symposium logo, courtesy of Grace DeWitt

The second invitation is a bit of an interactive adventure with all of you. A friend of mine told me about a great documentary entitled Chasing Beauty, which follows the path of men and women pursuing careers as fashion models. It discusses the stresses and pressures of this lifestyle, and I think that it would be a great thing to watch and think about. It is definitely on Netflix, and I think it may also be found on YouTube.

Chasing Beauty, a documentary

Chasing Beauty, a documentary

What I am kindly asking from you all is to take some time to watch the video yourselves before I post next week about it. I would be really curious to see what everyone thinks about this topic, and also would like us to think about how each and every one of us chases beauty in our own way. How do you define beauty? Has watching the video changed your perspectives of beauty?

Watch it, think on it, and I hope to here your thoughts soon!

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The Female Brain: Science is cool!

Did you know that…

Astronauts can’t burp because there is no gravity to separate liquid from gas in their stomachs?

OR….

That one million, million, million, million, millionth of a second after the Big Bang the Universe was the size of a pea?

OR….

That there are 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body?

Isn’t that interesting? These are just a few examples of why science is SO COOL! And also why you should read this piece about a book that takes a scientific approach to the female brain!

I came across The Female Brain when I was walking around Barnes & Noble with a friend of mine over winter break. He was the one who found it and said, “Wait, they have books about this now? This would’ve been helpful YEARS ago!” When I took a look inside the book, I realized that it definitely wasn’t a relationship help book. It was a book written by a neuropsychiatrist, Louann Brizendine, M.D. I borrowed it from the library when I came back to school and proceeded to have an enlightening experience with her work.

female brain book

The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine

Her thesis throughout the book is that many of the behavioral differences that society acknowledges between men and women are actually legitimate, and can be explained to a certain extent to hormonal differences between the sexes. Basically, the balance of certain hormones in women and men effect certain changes in their behavior. For the purpose of this book, the woman is the central focus, and she covers the entire lifespan of the women using engaging anecdotes and accessible scientific explanation.

Before anyone gets up in arms about explaining away a woman’s feelings using hormones and chemicals, I want to say that I’m definitely on your side about that. Nothing burns me up faster than when someone tries to write off my sour attitude as simply “her time of month.” It invalidates my emotions and channels their source to an area of myself that I can’t exactly control. What I think that Dr. Brizendine does well is write this book in a way that simply provides some information that may be a factor in our daily lives. And a good amount of it acknowledges excellent qualities in women’s behavior as well.

Women may be better at reading body language cues, which may explain why it seems as though they are reading minds

Women may be better at reading body language cues, which may explain why it seems as though they are reading minds

For example, Brizendine posits that the female brain is wired for excellent communication skills. According to her research, women are more receptive to hand gestures, body posture, breathing rates, gazes, and facial expressions, all of which make communicating with people that much easier. Infant girls were shown to focus on the faces of people far more often than infant boys, who were more concerned with the rest of their environment.

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There is also evidence that, since men may not have as developed a sense of communication as women, it is quite possible that women learned to use tears to let men know that they are upset. Rather than support an irrational claim that “all women are weepy”, Brizendine tactfully employs science to make her point, and the evidence that supported her argument was convincing.

Ultimately, you can’t just chalk up everything that someone does or doesn’t do to pure science — that would take away a person’s sense of being and willpower, as well as displacing blame when poor decisions or bad choices are made. I also can’t deny the fact that, while I thought this was an interesting read, the book has received mixed reviews and criticism for its content.  It is interesting, however, to see that every now and then, our social constructs and expectations may be more than just broad assumptions or stereotypes.  There are exceptions to every rule, but this book provides a fascinating look upon some of the science that might inform both men and women about another facet of the human condition.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a….sanitary pad movement? Okay!

If I had the desire to spend $3.99 of my poor little college student stipend on streaming a documentary from the internet (provided that my computer would even let me do such a thing), it would be on “Menstrual Man”. Who is Menstrual Man, you might ask? Only a simple man in India who singlehandedly transformed his silent revolution into a life-changing movement for women who do not have basic sanitary needs available to them during their menstrual cycle!

Yeah, I know!

I’m actually floored by what this man has done for thousands of women in his region of India. Arunachalam Muruganantham, an uneducated social entrepeneur, invented — INVENTED — machines to mass produce sanitary pads for the women in rural communities of India. This is huge because the majority of sanitary pads are imported from foreign countries and are exorbitantly expensive for these women. Often, they opt to use old rags or even husks to handle their monthly bleeding and save money.

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The caption within the image answers the question, “How many women in India use sanitary pads?”

Muruganantham created a simple machine to sell to women’s groups in India so that they may produce their own pads and sell them for a small profit. The machines are built with a minimum amount of complexity, and parts that the rural women are able to repair, should it break down at any point.

In this NPR article, the writer goes on to explain that this man was subject to such public scrutiny and skepticism that even his wife doubted his motives. She thought that her husband was cheating on her, and his project thus ended his marriage. At a great personal cost, Muruganantham began a revolution in India that will have an unimaginably huge impact on the women of his country moving forward.

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Muruganantham deals with the social stigmas of his project.

By providing women in India with affordable sanitary pads, personal hygiene can take a huge step forward, as well as improving the amount of independence and freedom that women have in their daily lives. Rather than remain limited to indoor activities or avoiding travel during their menstruation, these women have access to a more comfortable alternative in an environment where unhindered movement is at a premium.

It is an empowering movement and an excellent example of how men can help along the upward climb of women in all societies. Something that seems as simple as feminine hygiene can prove to be a real problem in other parts of the world, and I will be the first person to admit that I never really understood the gravity of the situation until I came across Menstrual Man and the work that he has done.

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Because of their ease of use, Muruganantham’s machines have been bought by women’s groups who can mass-produce the pads. It is possible for these groups to raise more than one dollar a day, which nears the global poverty line.

One man risked his integrity within his community, his love life, and his own image to help women in dire need of proper feminine hygiene. The female menstrual cycle should not be a taboo subject, especially when acknowledging it can have such a critical impact on women around the world.

Thank you, Arunachalam Muruganantham, for reminding everyone that women are worth fighting for!

 

 

 

Body Language…what are you saying?

dove_say_it_with_body_language

This will sound awfully out-of-place, especially for someone so young as myself, but over the years you begin to realize how many things you take for granted. Clearly, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this, because otherwise this blog would not have gotten off the ground. There are perspectives, social practices, and human behaviors that you just flat-out forget about while going through the motions of daily life. Recently, I have been taking a communication class that has placed significant emphasis on body language, and it made me realize how dependent we are on this facet of human communication.

By dependence, I don’t mean it in a negative way at all. Communication is enriched by face-to-face interaction with people, and body language adds a depth of understanding and dynamism to each conversation that people have with one another. There are simply a great number of factors that play a part in how humans communicate with each other on a regular basis. I find body language so interesting because it is generally unconscious behavior and we don’t realize how much our body language complements the type of relationship we feel with the people around us.

See, even dogs have body language!

See, even dogs have body language!

I happened across this TED talk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who speaks about the impact of body language on our daily lives and how we end up feeling about ourselves. Not only does our body language work externally, but it also expresses itself internally, altering our own beliefs about our personality and self-worth. Specifically, there are “power poses” that anyone can assume to feel more control and power in any situation. The Wonder Woman pose, the “I’m too cool for this meeting” pose, and other space-filling positions give a person an increased sense of empowerment.

Amy Cuddy's high and low power poses

Amy Cuddy’s high and low power poses

I feel that this element of empowerment and body language is especially important for women to learn about because there are many times when we have been socialized into minimizing our presence in a social situation and lose a significant amount of power and self-confidence. As a girl growing, I remember times when I was scolded for being too loud or standing out because of how I was sitting or standing. While I would not be surprised that I was being childish and brash, I also have a very intense memory of disliking these adjustments because they encouraged a type of behavior that did not make me feel confident, powerful, or included.

body-language-arms

Jezebel does an admirable job of expressing the association of powerful poses with masculinity and how this makes it difficult for women to maintain any power in social or work situations. Combined, these videos are only the tip of the body language iceberg. I hope that those of us that find this information informative can use it to feel more powerful, more confident, and more certain that your body is saying what you want it to say. Not only does it affect your relationships with others, it also affects the relationship you have with yourself.

My Beef with The Biggest Loser

the biggest loser logo

In a culture where obesity is a bit of an epidemic, efforts to encourage healthy and active lifestyles have captured the center stage of the public eye. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, The American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart event, and any of the various runs, walks, bikes, or swims for charity organized around the country put a premium on exercise and healthy eating. Children and adults of all age find their place in these activities, and I commend every person that has taken the opportunity to participate in these events.

Lets Move London-0457

Michelle Obama participating in her Let’s Move! campaign

Another result of the fight against obesity is more financially- and media-driven: the weight loss comptetition and weigh loss programs. NOTICE: I am not criticizing the overarching message of these organizations; I feel that their core philosophies, provided that they revolve around adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well and exercising often, are appropriate for the American public.

breast cancer walk

But I draw the line at The Biggest Loser.

Granted, it takes a group of people who are unhealthily overweight and obese and put them through a competition that demands good results in order for them to succeed in the capacity of the show. Some of the changes that these people make to their lives are challenging and by no means casual decisions. However, I can’t help but feel that the wrong message is being communicated to the American public in a subliminal way. We are told that to change our lives for the better, we simply need to put our bodies through incredible amounts of stress and lose a lot of weight in a short period of time and voila! We are svelte, we are happy, and life goes on.

It reminds me of one of my earlier blog posts where I discussed the use of exercise videos. While the workouts provided in these videos are incredibly difficult and will probably lead to improvement in strength, agility, and physical appearance, these videos do not mention some very key information about the human body. First, the body is adaptable, and will require harder and harder workouts to see increased results.

One of many exercise videos

One of many exercise videos

Second, and most importantly, being healthy is not a goal — it is a lifelong process.  You can’t be expected to see lasting results when you shock your system with copious amounts of exercise and a diet that is nearly impossible to maintain over a long period of time. Even Rachel Frederickson, the latest winner of The Biggest Loser (criticized for how unnaturally skinny she looked), has seemed to filled out since the finale weigh-in.

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Rachel Frederickson, winner of The Biggest Loser 2013, immediately following the finale

So here are my tips, from one person who has struggled with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and body image:

  1. Begin a routine small, then work your way up. If you never work out, start by convincing yourself to get to the gym or outside three times a week, then make room when you can for more exercise.
  2. Eat a healthy, manageable diet. If you cut out one of the major food groups, I will send you a virtual head-shake. Eat moderately, watch the bad foods, and keep track of what you eat.
  3. Get creative. Competitive? Organize pick-up games with friends. Busy? Do some yoga and run up and down staircasese if you have them. The world is your oyster!
  4. Please, please please appreciate what you can do. Your body is awesome; tell yourself that sometimes, and demand it to be more awesome next time.
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Love yourself!

Real Women — who are they?

I came across this short piece written by a Kristen Hedges, writer for MindBodyGreen, a holistic health coach, and a yoga/meditation instructor. I would really recommend this as a read for everyone to take a look at, because it made me realize how exclusive my thinking can be in my day to day living.

Look, a real woman! Blog writer Kristen Hedges

Look, a real woman! Blog writer Kristen Hedges

I come from a family where the women are proud heiresess of our Eastern European and Scandinavian heritage. We have well-defined hips and legs strong enough to kick a tree down. As a result of this upbringing, I grew up with an unconscious…aversion to body types that were conventionally beautiful, simply because it would cause too much mental trauma to convince myself that I could ever attain such skinny legs and petite bone structure. Rather than appreciate the female body in every form and shape, I spent a lot of time envying certain bodies, judging those around me on a scale that would ultimately dictate how I would initially interact with these women.

Another REAL woman, Lolo Jones! She's a bobsledder now, too.

Another REAL woman, Lolo Jones! She’s a bobsledder now, too.

How mentally exhausting, to feel like you are competing with women around you just because your body is next to theirs, and is not the same! There is without question some scientific evidence that comparison was an evolutionary process; in order to attain a male and produce healthy babies, you were in fierce competition with the women around to win his attentions. But when you take the time to label women as “real” and “fake” based solely on their physical structure, you are moving about eight steps backwards, away from healthy encouragement and towards intolerance of every women on this earth.

Real, real, and real. Awesome.

Real, real, and real. Awesome.

I support a healthy perspective of the human body. We were not all made the same. I may never look like Kristen Hedges, but that does not give me permission to criticize her for her appearance, regardless of how “real” she is. To quote Miss Hedges, “We are all real women. We, the rail thin, are just as lovely as the curvy goddesses, the big-boned beauties, and the strong and sexy athletes.”

‘Frozen’: Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Frozen_castposter

Just about every conversation I have had with a friend or acquaintance since returning to college involves some frantic interrogation regarding the viewing of the new Disney movie Frozen. This usually happens at about a mid-shout volume, followed by either paroxysms of anguish and despair or joy and excitement. It is sufficient to say that I am a fan of the movie, and like an evangelical minister, I feel compelled to spread the good news to every person I meet.

Initially, watching Frozen felt slightly uncomfortable. It’s most likely because I’m a pseudo-adult, and the plot line was in some places predictable. (I also blame my stay at home, having watched far too many episodes of 24 and squelching any feelings of surprise when, say, something explodes or the president is targeted). There were a lot of things that I thoroughly enjoyed in the movie (SVEN), and a few things that I most definitely did not see coming. Like many people, however, it was hard to put into words the many positive things that this movie did for women and certain unacknowledged social issues. Lucky for me, Gina Luttrell wrote an article that did the trick! “7 Moments That Made ‘Frozen’ the Most Progressive Disney Movie Ever” is a quick read that outlines many issues that Disney acknowledges in their latest animated movie.

frozen elsa and anna

Ms. Luttrell acknowledges many new steps taken forward — Elsa’s independence and self-empowerment, Anna’s proclivity for awkward situations and a flair for wreckless abandon, and (my favorite) calling out the classic Disney instant love/marriage, as well as much more. A decidedly feel-good movie, I commend the writers at Disney for taking liberties where they thought appropriate and creating a story that departs from many of the movies in the past.

frozen marriage

My thoughts exactly.

A quick disclaimer: Frozen is by no means a perfect film. From the perspective of someone who began this project with a focus on body image, it is disheartening to see that the sisters are given unrealistic proportions and eyes the size of a small country. However, I find that these concerns were overshadowed, at least for the moment, by all of the positive messages that have been incorporated into the subtext of the movie. Changing social perceptions of women, whether as strong protagonists or bearing realistic bodies, is not an overnight process. If this is the first step that Disney is taking, I’m more than willing to accept it with the expectation that they will exceed their past improvements.