27 October 2013

Politically Incorrect: Obesity

Let's talk about obesity.   

Anyone paying attention has likely seen all kinds of perspectives about obesity.  There are the fat-shaming comments and articles like some see this as:

Then there's the pro-fitness camp, like this: 

And of course there's the "fat acceptance" crew:

Let's start at square one: no matter your opinions about weight, the women featured in these images, or the messages on the images, it is always unacceptable to insult others.  On the internet, in person, through email-- it's never ok to insult each other.  Never.  Not even strangers.  It's just never ok.  Ever.

With that out of the way, let's continue.

As a country, we have to discuss our national prejudice against overweight people.  They are being denied jobs and academic opportunities.  They're living with hate crimes so socially acceptable that we barely see them as hate crimes.  The hate is a reality, the suffering is real, and it's getting worse.  The fat-shaming camp seems to think that people choose to be large, and that intense bullying will knock the extra pounds off a person.  

At the same time, we have to discuss the problem of idealized bodies.  The pro-fitness camp has the motto: "Fit is the New Thin."  It's pretty catchy, and a person can feel good supporting fitness.  There's a problem though.  Not all fitnesses are treated the same.  A quick Google search will show that in this camp, "fit" means "thin with muscles."  It's hard to imagine this woman as their poster child:

That's Sarah Robles. She's sometimes referred to as the strongest woman in America, and she's a freaking Olympic athlete.  There's no denying she's fit.  And she's probably healthy, too.  But we don't see women with her body type featured in the "fit is the new thin" conversation.  The absence of diversity of bodies reveals this camp as a new version of the older "be skinny at all costs" movement some of us grew up with.

And that brings us to the fat acceptance movement.  My first reaction to hearing there's a fat acceptance movement was horror.  I imagined an organization of people encouraging each other to ignore health problems, to avoid exercise, and to binge eat everyday.  Of course, it's not quite like that.  The movement is mostly about shedding light on the social issues people with high BMIs face everyday.  I can get behind that.  Like I said, we're extremely prejudice against our heavier neighbors, and there's no excuse for our behavior.

But I also have concerns with the fat acceptance movement.  Not always, but often, risks associated with being larger are trivialized.  True, weight isn't the only indicator of health, but it's still an important indicator.  So are waist measurements, lifestyle habits, and family history. Together, they paint an almost complete picture of one's health risks.  Saying one isn't important at all creates a situation where some people feel less compelled to take responsibility for their health.  If you have a high BMI, you should take it as a warning and seek medical council.  You could be incredibly healthy, and you could be incredibly unhealthy.  Either way, don't ignore any indicator that you might be unhealthy.  After all, even fit, robust people get cancer, have heart attacks, or develop diabetes.  That's just the human condition.  But what if you were diagnosed with an illness you could have prevented by simply having a medical screening?  So if you have an indicator of higher risk, address it now.

The other concern I have is when people repeat what they've read-- that weight might not be the best indicator of health-- and then apply it to themselves without considering their own state of health.   This especially bothers me when friends or family make these claims.  I have friends and family at all weights and all levels of health.  Because of our relationship, we're generally aware of each other's health concerns, exercise habits, and diet.  And it's disheartening to see data intended to clarify health assessment used in ways that enable poor lifestyle decisions.  

So I have concerns with each voice in the weight debate.  I'm inclined to want to combine the pro-fitness group's message (exercise, eat well, make good lifestyle decisions) with the body variety and social issues awareness messages from the fat acceptance folks.  Like, take the best of the two and stick them together.  

The last weight issue I want to address concerns body image and media.  I often read articles along these lines: "Media tells us that women should be extra thin and have a gap between their thighs and  that men should have a perfect v-shape on their abdomen.  It's the media's fault I have unhealthy body expectations."  

Ok, let's get straight to why I hate commentary like this.  You're a grown-up who can think critically.  TV says you need to be thin?  Media also tells us that women will rip their panties off around men wearing the right cologne.  That alcohol is the key to all fun to be had.  That yogurt is better than sex.  You don't believe all that crap, so why would you choose to believe the body-image stuff?  Stop and consider the healthy people in your life who you admire.  What do they look like?  Do they exercise?  Do they make healthy eating choices?  Have you ever in your life seen a person who looks like the people we see on ads?  The answer is no, never.  All of the images we see are digitally manipulated and in no way represent reality.  Shouldn't real life inform your perceptions more than advertising?  (I'm excluding those with diseases that affect one's perception of body image.)  

Of course, it takes maturity to understand that media doesn't show reality, which is why we need to teach young women and men how to interpret media: as an untruthful depiction of reality designed to sell us stuff.  Not sure how?  Start by showing this interesting video that Dove released a few years ago.  Let's teach young people that they're comparing themselves to what are essentially cartoons.  And let's really appreciate that fact ourselves as well.

24 October 2013

What I Hope to Keep from Japan

I take the GRE tomorrow.  I'm a nervous wreak.  My face has broken out worse that I can recall in years (my skin is a throwback to middle school).  I'm having trouble sleeping.  And today I absentmindedly went to work an hour early.  Yep.  Full-on anxiety.

But as I work towards whatever the next thing might be, I've been thinking about what I hope to keep from Japan.  So here're the top ten things I hope to keep:

1. Eating in season.

Much of the food I eat here tends to be seasonal.  Even foods that you wouldn't think are seasonal are.  For example, there's this great green tea chocolate I like to buy at convenience stores, but I couldn't find it over the summer.  Recently, I've been searching high and low for wasabi flavored pocky snacks.  There were abundant a few months ago, but have since disappeared.  Currently, I'm enjoying the plethora of pumpkin-flavored goods around me.  I'm sure they'll be gone in another month.

Of course, this also applies to produce.  As we enter the cold months, I'm seeing more and more winter staples on the shelves: onions, potatoes, carrots, and squash.  There are still some late-producing treats available-- like the most delicious grapes I've ever consumed-- but grocery stores are getting back to the basics.  And I like it that way.  I've been savoring food more when I know I won't get it later.  Eating a restricted diet makes food actually taste better (also probably because it's fresher and local).

2. Taking my shoes off at the door.

I just like this habit.  I feel proper when I take my shoes off, and I almost never struggle to find my kicks when it's time to put them back on.  I hope I do this forever.

3. Japanese curry.

Delicious, simple, cheap... curry is an ideal dish for single-dwellers and large families alike.  Easily scalable, curry meets every demand made of a meal: vegetables, carbs, protein, and lots of flavor.  I hope I can find the ingredients I need when I move away.

4. Living small... like, really small.

Ok, maybe I don't want to live *this* small forever.  I do eventually want a real bedroom again.  And some days I'd kill for an oven.  Or a kitchen.  But I've learned a lot about what I actually need to survive and how much space I need to survive in.  Even though my current apartment is REALLY small and lacking many amenities that most of you would consider necessary (I miss ovens, microwaves, and having more than one burner), I've come to learn I don't really need all that.  Actually, I've been working on downsizing even more-- Anyone want to take my refrigerator off my hands?

5. Living without a car.

Ah, the ease with which I travel.  Not owning a car has given me so much freedom.  For one thing, cars are so expensive.  Really, pay attention to how much you actually spend on your car.  I mean everything: buying the car, gas, maintenance, taxes, everything.  It's a ridiculous amount of money.  And I spend most of that money on fun things, not transportation.  But there's more.  I never have to worry about parking, whether traffic might slow me down, or getting hopelessly lost.  I can sleep, play games, catch up on email, chat with friends, or surf the web safely during my commute.  And I can go anywhere with virtually no stress in less time than it'd take driving.  Life sans cars is really living the high life.

6. Creating beauty around me.

I have a lot more time in Japan, and I've been using it to decorate my apartment, to garden, and to enjoy everything more.  I go to parks, I paint, I play oboe, and I do what I can to make my rat-infested apartment cozy.  This is the longest I've lived in one place in years, and I've enjoyed making it a version of home.

7. The three Rs on overdrive.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  I am the Queen of these.  Everything in my apartment has been recycled somehow.  Mostly coming from FreeCycle, my furniture and belongings cost me nothing and avoided a trip to the dump.  And when I leave, I'm giving it all back to the city.  It's a beautiful system.

My apartment is set up to respect the Rs as well.  I manually turn on my water heater before every shower and turn it off when I'm done.  The large windows in my apartment eliminate the need for heating or lighting during the day, and the breeze that blows through in the summer nearly eliminates the need for air conditioning.  I hope I can find a place this eco-friendly when I move.

8. Wearing a medical face mask.

A common misunderstanding: people in Japan wear face masks not to avoid getting sick, but to avoid getting other people sick.  They wear the mask when they have a cold or the flu in order to prevent spreading their sickness.  Isn't that lovely?  It's such a kind, simple gesture.

9. Crazy precise budgeting and paying in cash.

My first few months in Japan, I was poor.  Like, I was so poor I could barely afford food.  My core diet consisted of one cabbage and 3 packages of ramen a week for the entire month of February, and has gradually gotten better since.  It paid off though, and I'm now more or less financially stable.  I got through it by budgeting every yen I earned and spent.  I knew exactly how much money I could spend on food, and going over my budget wasn't an option.  To this day, I keep close track of where my money is going.  I like the control I feel over my finances, and it feels so good when I meet goals.

The primary way I'm able to actually keep to my budget is by spending only cash.  Credit and debit cards aren't so common in Japan-- it's very much a cash based society-- so I have to pay cash for almost all of my purchases.  The only exception is the rent money I wire to my landlord's account from my ban every month.  Paying in cash keeps me accountable since I can't charge impulse buys.  Without money in hand, I can't buy anything in Japan.  I want to always use cash in the future.

10. Dressing professionally.

Ok, at first I hated this.  As an American, there are very few occasions where business attire is recommended, and even then the rules are flexible.  As a result, my business wardrobe was severely wanting when I moved to Japan ten months ago.  The suits I owned didn't fit well, the tops were matronly, and I'd owned my skirts since high school.  Yeah, I was a mess.  Since then though, I've invested in some new suits and smart tops.  And even though I feel I look much older than I am, I also have to admit:  I look good.  Like, respectable-could-be-your-boss good.  Japan is notorious for business attire, so it's likely I won't have to look so sharp where ever I go next, but I enjoy looking professional.  There's a certain confidence that comes with putting on a blazer.  And I want to keep it.