Category Archives: Media

Oprah, Weight Watchers, and “Impossible”

Ready to head back? Cartoon by Robert Leighton (2003)

So Oprah is on Weight Watchers. She recently bought WW stock, which then appreciated like gangbusters, so she has that going for her, which is nice.

I’m seeing a lot of posts chewing over this news, many with disappointment and general comments about the “impossibility” of losing weight. Even if you are Oprah, and rich, and capable, and surrounded by opportunities for help and support.

It’s not impossible to lose weight, but it’s difficult, frustrating, and draining to do things you dislike for reasons that are tied to sadness. If you are mired in a belief that “inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can be,” then your framing is your prison. Because if that woman is “inside” you, she IS you.

You can’t take good care of something you hate.

Acceptance in its various forms is often denigrated as passivity, as giving up, as the sweatpants and pint of ice cream of the soul. But sweatpants and ice cream are a perfectly enjoyable part of anyone’s life, and then you put them away, have a good night’s sleep, and get dressed for work and have an apple or whatever and life goes on. You can choose to make a habit of healthful living, and you can choose to make a habit of self-care and enjoyment, too.

Ultimately we are what we repeatedly do. If you keep punishing yourself for some notional failure, trying every 30-day fix out there in hopes something will stick, what will stick is restless program-hopping and the sense of failure. Give yourself the gift of walking away from that. Don’t try to change everything at once, but instead choose one small thing and practice it until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Then build on that track record of success.

I blogged about these issues for a year at Starter Steps. Here is a little more about how to make changes with more confidence, and how to think about which changes to focus on. Give yourself time, treat yourself the way you would like to be treated, and you can make changes that make your life better.

“Ready to Head Back?” by Robert Leighton (2003)

“Move More” Is About More Than the Obesity Epidemic


White men have been fretting about losing their *mumble*something* for at least 100 years. (Nitpick: I guess ‘lumbersexual’ is a play on ‘metrosexual,’ but it sounds too much like homo/bi/heterosexual to me, possibly because it’s so compatible with the hypermasculine archetypes in the gay community, so I keep thinking the lumbersexuals should be the ones lusting after these Bunyanesque figures.)

As silly as this particular instance is, I feel like this might have a useful connection to other conversations, like boys doing worse in school as more schools do away with recess and popular — and sometimes data — support for stereotypes like men being more likely to die doing something stupid.

As a society, we have recently been putting too much emphasis on sitting quietly (or at least being reasonably orderly) — first, explicitly, with public schools, designed as a method for pre-training a ready workforce, and even more so in the last century as the manufacturing economy gives way to cubicles as far as the eye can see. Women have an advantage in such constricting environments by being socialized to “go along to get along,” but it shouldn’t surprise us when men, who retain “boys will be boys” socializing in spite of these macro changes in our social environment, have more trouble “adjusting.”

I’m not advocating going along to get along — I think rejecting that expectation is healthy, and it’s explicitly a form of privilege to feel free to reject it. I feel like we are seeing a wide range of signs that are telling us we need to move more, do more hands-on activity, inhabit our environments more actively. Women, too! We just don’t have the handy stereotypes to model on.

The Atlantic article goes on to explain that the romance of the lumberjack image was deeply at odds with the hazardous and tenuous life of actual lumberjacks, especially as the industry expanded. Logging remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, a lot of risk for barely $35k a year. This makes the appeal of the mythos greater, of course, rather than less — however you feel about logging today, the historic image is one of honest work to help build a growing nation. Even for people who also enjoy knowledge work, that is a powerful draw — getting up, getting your hands dirty, having a physical object to show for it, a feeling of righteous exhaustion, all in the service of something tangibly useful. You don’t have to wear plaid to split wood, and you don’t have to split wood to enjoy making things. We clearly yearn for more than cubicle life, so let’s make sure we get out more.

The Perfect “Body”


What are we to make of a campaign image like this one? Victoria’s Secret is of course well aware of the politics around terms like “perfect body,” and I am sure it is at least as well versed in the intricacies of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign as the people who created it. (VS might be reading too much into negative media and critical responses to Dove’s campaign this year and last, too, though.)

I don’t even have the energy to be outraged by this kind of advertising. It seems self-evidently prescriptive, unkind, and elitist. It would be a great jumping-off point for a university seminar on advertising or internalized sexism — beauty standards seems too obvious.

But it is very hard to see this kind of imagery as anything other than a deliberate taunt. Apparently “the perfect body” (by Victoria) comes in several color ways (as any well-developed product line does) but, judging by the different types of bras listed beneath the models, is one that varies primarily in a woman’s preference for displaying her breasts.

Then again, what else should we expect from the promoter of the world’s most expensive bra?

UPDATE, November 10: Tagline changed to “A Body for Every Body,” but the art is exactly the same. So now instead of saying their waifish models are “perfect,” they are actually claiming they represent “every body.” This is worse, a truly remarkable display of tone deafness.


Paul Ford Builds It

And almost 2000 people show up immediately.

If you are respectful of others, you will be welcomed, and people will be excited to see your web pages and to meet you. This is not a special characteristic of; this is a basic characteristic of decent humans that somehow has become atypical on the Internet.

I got online in 1992, and this piece is making me so nostalgic, even though everything about what he made sounds distinctly nicer than most of what I encountered then. Wait, is that what nostalgia is? Being suffused with a sense of what the good old days could have been if they actually had been good?

Men’s Health and the Foam Finger

So this happened.


The article is short:

The Secret to Talking Sports with Any Woman

The things that interest you are unlikely to interest her, but you can still make a connection; here’s how

Not all women share your passion for sports, in case you hadn’t noticed. The reason? They need story lines.

“Most women don’t care about stats,” says Andrei Markovits, Ph.D., coauthor of Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States. So while you’re enthusing about Dominic Moore’s scoring record, she’d rather hear about how he supported his wife’s battle with cancer—and even took a season off from the NHL at the height of his career. Treat your heroes as people and not just players on a field, and you’ll suck her in.

Just don’t expect her to wear the foam finger.

My gut response is “why are you trying to sell me something I don’t care about? Why are you trying to talk to me if we don’t share any interests?”

I guess the real question is, “Why do we think it’s normal and OK that men and women who are intimate can somehow fail to share interests?” In fact, why do we even think it’s true?

But the worst part of this whole thing is that the advice about bringing a story into it is actually pretty good — the writer just chose an awful story.

Humans love stories.

Male humans. Female humans. Juvenile humans. Adult humans. Story has been a defining passion of humans for as long as we could record … anything.

And that applies to the most passionate statistics-collecting baseball fan. I don’t know a single one who’d claim it was just a bunch of numbers — for them the numbers tell a rich tapestry of stories over generations, stories about struggles and careers and disappointments and triumphs. And that’s no mere asterisk in that table! THAT’s a whole other story!

So tell her a story! Don’t try to dig up some trivia YOU don’t care about but are second-guessing she will. Tell her the story YOU see unfolding. Tell her how you fell in love with the game, how many happy memories you have going to see it played. Tell her about career-high and career-low events you witnessed or followed.

Maybe she’ll even want to know more! She may ask how a game progresses — pretty much no one cares about a sport they can’t follow. Use that opportunity to challenge yourself to think about the big picture instead of getting bogged down in a rabbit warren of little rules. At least at first.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having something in common after all.

When You See Someone You Find Unattractive

[Fat|scrawny|ugly|whatever] people shouldn’t be allowed to wear [bikinis|spandex|yoga pants|whatever].

If you find yourself thinking this, you can solve this problem once and for all:

Don’t like someone’s body? Stop looking at it.

So easy! One simple step that anyone can take. Try it today!

But I’m entitled to my opinion!

Yes, absolutely. So take responsibility for it. Own it. Say “I don’t like the way bikinis look on that body type.”

But that makes it sound like it’s just about me, like no one has to care.

Right again! No one has to care about your opinion of their body.

But it’s not just personal — it’s about standards. People should have some pride in their appearance, and not look like that.

Nope. Wrong. Nobody has an obligation to please you with their appearance. (Unless you are a Drill Instructor doing an inspection, I guess. Are you?)

This isn’t just about appearance! It’s about health. Those people aren’t healthy.

Ah yes, the “just trying to help fat people” defense. That may be true, but you don’t know, you don’t know whether they’re working to change that, and you don’t know what obstacles they’ve faced.

You’re probably [fat|ugly|scrawny|whatever], too!

Yeah, probably. There’s a lot of people in the world, and I’m sure there’s plenty I don’t appeal to. Plus, all those terms are moving targets — they don’t have consistent uses among different people.

Anyway, now you know what to do about it!

Update: America the Beautiful

Coca-Cola had a pretty controversial Super Bowl ad this year. But it didn’t hurt the company.

During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired a one-minute commercial in which children of all different ethnicities sang America the Beautiful in their native languages. The ad sparked a xenophobic backlash on Twitter that within days had evolved into a large-scale defense of both America and Coke. “America the Beautiful” turned out to be the company’s most successful campaign in years. Young people ages 19 to 24 bought Coca-Cola products 20 percent more often than they did the month before. —From “Coke Confronts Its Big Fat Problem

No surprises in this combination — that younger demographic probably just thought the different languages were neat.

This is practically an aside in that article, which is about Coca-Cola’s larger problem — an image problem with an uncomfortable history — of being so closely associate with the obesity epidemic. The CEO mostly, but not quite, skirts the coincidence of accelerating obesity with soda sellers’ pushes into larger and larger size bottles, but Coca-Cola probably has more to lose to competing products that are also sugary than from health concerns.

Like a Girl

Always has released this ad (by Leo Burnett):

Girls know the difference between “like a girl” and “the way I (a girl) do it.” Boys know they are insulting girls, and are fine with it, but they don’t like insulting their sisters.

Let’s close those gaps.

Related: Verizon ad that calls attention to the ways we tell girls to stop what they’re doing, be pretty, and let the boys do it. Let’s stop doing that.

May Day

Women are in the midst of an important struggle: they must find a way to reject societal and social pressures to be smaller, lesser, and more conciliatory. For years, they’ve been advised in the workplace to “act a little more like men” – to toot their own horns, to negotiate firmly, to proactively seek raises and promotions, as well as more humiliating advice that clearly defines women’s normal traits as undesirable at work. But time has borne out the weakness of that strategy. For all the same reasons that sexism is institutionalized, institutions don’t quite know what to make of women who refuse to get the memo. Backfire ahoy. But that doesn’t mean that women have to give in entirely to their harshest critics: themselves.

In fact, the more tabloids comment on men and women’s weight in equal measure, the more they underscore the shame gap between them. On DiCaprio, extra pounds are incidental to his identity, no more or less damning than the hideous graphic T-shirts and newsboy caps he wears. For women like, say, Jessica Simpson, being photographed at a higher weight is so humiliating and intimate, it necessitates an emotional “weight loss journey,” to be sensitively discussed on a talk show couch later. —You Can Call a Man Fat But You Can’t Fat-Shame Him, by Kat Stoeffel

Like me, the writer of this article has no desire to see the double standard expand to make men as fretful and miserable about their appearance as women. On the contrary, this is one situation where women really should be acting more like men – just brush it off, or perhaps matter-of-factly resolve to take a little more care with their health.

Not their weight – their health. Even the men who get “shamed” in this way are often being shamed for accumulating a bunch of abdominal fat, which is associated with bad health outcomes. (With a “weight problem” bias, certainly, but it’s not a random, idiosyncratic defect.) They aren’t excoriated for the sheer variety of defects that women have learned to accept.

Mean but – at least, societally speaking – true:
“I used to think there was just skinny and fat, but …

So here is to women discovering the health concerns that are most important to them, and to learning what eating, exercise, and sleep strategies will help them best address those concerns. To discovering meaningful nonscale victories, like better energy level, waking up feeling genuinely good, and thinking more about their individual style than the fashion flavor of the week. We must stop thinking of ourselves as a pile of problematic body parts, and start paying more attention to what matters most to us, whether it’s an engaging career, our families, making art on the weekend, helping with trail maintenance in nearby parks, or any combination of any of them, along with a thousand things I haven’t mentioned.

Rise up, sisters, and be whole. You have nothing to lose but your shame.

Eagle(-assisted) Hunter


Most children, Asher Svidensky says, are a little intimidated by golden eagles. Kazakh boys in western Mongolia start learning how to use the huge birds to hunt for foxes and hares at the age of 13, when the eagles sit heavily on their undeveloped arms. Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill as well as the girl, Ashol-Pan. “To see her with the eagle was amazing,” he recalls. “She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country’s only apprentice huntress.A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia

I am going out on a limb and guessing she is not the only daughter of an accomplished eagle hunter. It’s a great thing when dads share their interests and explorations of the world with their daughters just as they would with sons, and I hope she is not actually alone. Or if so, then not for long.