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Month: January 2017

Weighing In (February Family Times)

Weighing In (February Family Times)

We have three generations of some pretty amazing women in my family.

My mother raised six children, was the middle school secretary for 20 years, and then became a certified lifeguard – which she still is, at 78 years old. She has led, and continues to lead, a productive, at times challenging, always fulfilling life. In her youth she was tall, slender, strawberry blonde, with gorgeous skin. She’s slightly shorter now, slender, with snow white hair and still-gorgeous skin. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known.

She also still weighs herself every day, wonders if her arms are too flabby, if she’s thin enough, pretty enough. She has never thought her body was good enough, and at 78 she is still asking, sadly, “When am I going to stop caring?”

I’ve done many things of which I’m very proud as well. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade. I earned a black belt in karate as an adult. After quitting drinking over 25 years ago, I became the writer I always knew I could be. I married a good man and have two amazing children. At 55, I’ve led, and continue to lead, a good life.

I also tried to refuse a change in my post-cancer medication – knowing the current dose could have caused a heart attack – because I was afraid I would gain weight. I’ve struggled with body image issues my entire life; I, too, wonder when I’ll be able to stop caring.

My daughter, at 16, is a walking paradox. She is smart, funny, and compassionate, and a fearless speaker about mental health issues while struggling with the fears associated with OCD and anxiety. I’ve spent most of her life trying not to let her see me struggle, and reminding her how beautiful she is so she would never doubt it. Ironically, by continually affirming her beauty, I could have unwittingly been anchoring the importance of looks over person – the opposite of what I wanted to do. That she seems at home in her own skin, I know, is despite me rather than because of me.

My mother’s generation saw the rise of new standards of beauty through television shows, movies, magazines and advertisements. Those standards led to the introduction of both fad and lifelong diet programs, ever-changing hairstyles and fashions, trends in fitness – all encouraging the constant quest for unrealistic beauty. They continued through my generation, when idealized beauty became normal – even while remaining physically unattainable.

We’re slowly learning how unrealistic perceptions of beauty can damage a girl’s psyche – and a boy’s expectations. We’re learning that instead of only telling girls they’re beautiful – which so many of us do out of sheer habit – we should also tell them they’re smart, or funny, or good readers. They need to know they are loved for all of who they are, not just how they look. It’s challenging, I know, but words matter.

We also need to help children discern real life from fiction, which is not always easy when they’re constantly exposed to the images that bombard them on TV, tablets, computers, and cell phones. Some content creators are beginning to understand that impact and are using more realistic body types for their advertising campaigns, which will go a long way toward assuring young girls – and boys – that beauty is not tied to a body type or hair color or skin color.

Negative body image has a long, long shelf life. It dampens any joy we might feel, anything positive we achieve, preventing us from ever truly knowing happiness. Consciously or not, our body image is on our minds 24/7, and while my mom and I laugh together as we compare pant sizes and weights these days, there is always, always the underlying query – “When am I going to stop caring?”

I hope there will come a day when that question is answered for my mother, a day when she can measure her self-worth by the lives she’s impacted and the joy she’s brought, rather than an unattainable vision of how she thinks she should look. I hope there will come a day when it’s answered for me, too.

And I hope there will never come a day in my daughter’s life when the question is even asked.

An opinion (which is not fact) about news (which is fact, if it’s done correctly) in the era of Trump

An opinion (which is not fact) about news (which is fact, if it’s done correctly) in the era of Trump

I am so tired of people trying to bait me – masters though they may be – or to incite a “gotcha!” moment because of my concern for what’s happening in this country, and specifically with what’s happening to journalism. President Trump is willfully – using lies told so often they sound like truth to his followers – trying to destroy one of the only actual professions protected by the Constitution. All of the things our new president is trying to do with the country, all of his proposed policies, all of his relationships with and/or plans for China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, etc. – none of it will be clear to America without journalists. And Trump has made it clear that this is his goal.

If I read one more “mainstream media” insult or “all media are liars!” claim, my head will blow clean off my shoulders. Evidently many people do not understand what “media” encompasses, which includes television, radio, broadcast, film, newspapers, websites like BuzzFeed and TMZ and podcasts and YouTube and every single blog out there with an opinion – including this one. Let me make this claim, for those who do not understand this: This site is not news. It is opinion.

Credible news sites use professionally trained reporters, who understand and adhere to the Journalistic Code of Ethics, who quote sources and have fact-checked to their satisfaction that what they are printing is the truth. And here’s another point that gets sticky:

What they’re saying may not, in fact, be the truth. However, that doesn’t mean that what they’re reporting is not. Let me break it down, and this is hypothetical for teaching purposes:

If the leader of, for example, the Democratic Party said, “The Democratic Party did not railroad Bernie Sanders in its efforts to give Clinton the presidential nomination,” and a newspaper reported that the leader of the Democratic Party said this, IT WOULD BE THE TRUTH. The fact that he said it would be the truth. The paper is not saying that the Party did not interfere with Sanders’ campaign, which MAY OR MAY NOT be true. But the fact that the leader of the Party said it is, in fact, true. And there are those who would interpret that as biased, claiming the newspaper is siding with Clinton. Which, again, would NOT BE TRUE.

This seems to be a sticking point for many people. They may not always like what they read, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. People now have to become a little more critical in their news consumption, a little more skeptical when reading news stories that don’t quote credible sources, a little more curious about how a meme came to be going around Facebook. Memes are not news. Anyone can make a meme, the same way anyone can make a blog.

So for planning purposes, the most credible news sites, according to Business Insider, continue to be the historically most credible – New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS. And local papers are often a bastion of unbiased information. The key? You might have to pay. Because it’s a business, and journalists need to eat just like everyone else. If you want free news, you go to BuzzFeed and TMZ and hope for the best. In the free department, I would recommend ProPublica, where you only hit a paywall for access to certain departments. Otherwise, I would suggest that you get, in fact, what you pay for.

President Trump has assailed the entire profession of journalism with his recent “Journalists are the most dishonest people” claim and his affection for labeling as “fake news” anything that presents him in a critical light. Are mistakes made? Yes. Journalists are human. A Time magazine reporter erred in his reporting about the MLK bust, acknowledged and apologized within a half hour. But credible news sites will not engage in overt attempts at publishing fake news – a truth that Trump is trying to convince America is a lie. If one teacher has an affair with a student, are all teachers suspect? No.

Trump is trying to erode America’s trust in journalism so that his agenda will be the only news to which we have access. He is telling us that what we’re seeing with our own eyes is not true. And when you see him and his cabinet, with your own eyes, slowly backing into a bunker someday while claiming, “This isn’t what it seems; everything is okay,” you’re going to have to choose which to believe.

The conversation

The conversation

Anyone who knows me knows I have historically eschewed politics at every possible turn. I don’t necessarily understand them, and I’m not necessarily interested in them except insofar as they tend to orchestrate the world stage.

Recent situations have compelled me to educate myself in this area – about the present, and about the past. I’ve learned much about past presidents, for instance, and the information has, in many cases, compromised the vague sense of “good” or “bad” I may have developed as an outlier all these years. My ability to keep politics even farther than arm’s length all of these years has been nothing short of impressive. And I think, maybe I don’t belong in this conversation around president-elect Trump, because I’m learning how much I don’t know about the system, its history, the possibilities. I’ve been dodging it all my life.

Then I remember I’ve also been a human all of my life, and that’s what qualifies me to be involved in this conversation. Because what I find offensive about him is not his politics – I barely know what his politics are – but his humanity. So I do belong.

And if you’re human, you belong, too.