When I was a kid, much to my feminist mother’s chagrin, I adored Barbies. I spent my allowance money on Day-to-Night Barbie, Pretty-in-Pink Barbie, and Barbie and the Rockers. One entire corner of my room was drenched in Barbie pink. The Barbies’ house, built by my father, contained everything from a refrigerator with fake food, to tiny pink coat hangers, to a goddamned Barbie toilet.
Thirty years later, that same Barbie house, with a paired-down menagerie of accessories, still adorned a wall of my adult house. When my friend, Kelly, came to visit, her daughter rebranded Barbie in a more sophisticated light, referring to the dolls as “the Barbaras.” Since Barb’s over 60 years old now, I think she deserves the extra respect.
National Barbie Day, which was actually yesterday (I know, you’re pissed you missed your chance to celebrate), conjures mixed feelings for me. I’m nostalgic for the time my best childhood friend, Kim, and I spent weaving storylines inspired by our favorite soap opera, Santa Barbara. (It just now occurred to me how appropriate that title is for Barbie play.) I’m also inclined to snort at how ridiculous Barbie’s tiny waist and permanently high-heeled feet are and to ponder the effect that has on young people’s body image.
It turns out, though, that Barbie, despite her nefarious image by the 1970s, began as sort of a feminist icon. And, maybe it’s time for her to take it a step further.
Ten thousand steps. That’s how many we’re supposed to get. But did you come across that article about bodybuilders who conserve their energy all day (take the elevator, drive the car to the mailbox) so they have plenty of fuel for their high-intensity workouts? Did you read that bit about high-intensity exercise being bad for your joints? Did you see the one that said weight-bearing exercise is optimal for bone health? It’s a wonder we don’t all throw our hands up, go home to binge-watch Game of Thrones and eat ho-hos. (What are ho-hos, anyway? I’ve never had one, but they seem to be the ambassadors of junk food.)
According to one Guardian article, the ten thousand steps thing was originally an arbitrary figure used by a Japanese marketing campaign to promote the first wearable fitness device in the mid-sixties. The “research” was based on the fact that most Japanese citizens took 3,500 to 5,000 steps daily, so 10,000 seemed a good round number to shoot for.
Since then, there have been more robust studies about step count. Indeed, taking 10,000 steps versus 5,000 per day is correlated with a decreased risk of heart disease amongst other morbidities. But what about 6,000 steps? Most studies to date only compare 5,000 versus 10,000. Maybe 6,000 steps would be enough to improve some people’s health. This is important because telling people who are basically sedentary they have to take 10,000 a day or die of heart failure trying is intimidating. Why try? ‘Might as well fire up Game of Thrones and order pizza. More realistic goals might be more successful.
Another thing these step studies don’t take into account is intensity. A running stride is generally longer than a walking stride and takes more energy per stride. This means 10,000 running steps takes more energy than 10,000 walking steps, but you didn’t need science to tell you that; your burning lungs give you all the info you need on that one. What if your steps are uphill versus on a flat surface? That takes more energy too. The 10,000 steps target is more about marketing gadgets than a useful application of hard science.
Speaking of hard science, a recent Scientific American article referenced a study of our early human ancestors which found they (and we) need exercise to stay healthy, unlike our ape predecessors. They estimated how far early hominins traveled in an average day, and guess what they came up with? At least 10,000 steps or approximately five miles per day. This is largely based on observations of modern, hunter-gatherer societies in Tanzania.
Modern innovation has allowed us humans to be lazier. And it’s in our nature to rest when we are able. It’s part of what got us this far — the ability to rest when we could and conserve energy for the next hunting or gathering session. Now that we aren’t motivated to work hard by the sheer need to survive, we sit around a lot more. Our bodies have evolved to need exercise, however, so in modern times, we are healthier when we make a concerted effort to get it. Ten thousand steps, however, which may be an admirable goal in some situations, is a gross oversimplification and overgeneralization of what our bodies need. In those hunter-gatherer groups in Tanzania, there are lessons for us beyond mileage and steps:
Beyond the copious amounts of exercise and whole-food diets, daily life for these cultures is full of fresh air, friendships and families. Egalitarianism is the rule, and economic inequality is low. We do not know exactly how these factors affect the health of hunter-gatherers, but we know their absence contributes to chronic stress in the developed world, which promotes…disease.(Pontzer, 2019).
It’s not useful to develop specific requirements (10,000 steps) and then apply them to every human on the planet. We are more variable as individuals than that, but we can make some generalizations that apply to most people. As a whole, we feel better when we move more, connect with friends and family in quality ways and go outside some. If counting steps helps you do those things and you don’t get obsessive like I do, go ahead and count. But remember, you don’t HAVE to. Your body, by and large, knows what it needs. If you listen to it, it will tell you when it’s time to get up from your desk and walk around. You’ve got a built-in step counter right there in your body. It’s free and won’t coerce you into the latest upgrade.
Pontzer, Herman. “Evolved to Exercise.”Scientific American January 2019: 23-29. Print.
Williams, PT. “Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health April 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23190592.
This comes directly from my journal, so it’s personal and raw. Ha! And you thought I was already bearing the depths of my soul! Just wait…
Circumstance and idea have just aligned; I’m off Zoloft cold turkey. I didn’t plan on doing it this way, but my prescription ran out, and my doctor wanted to see me before renewing it. I was feeling stubborn and thought “fuck it,” I’m going for it.
It is ill-advised, I know. I’ve been off it five days, and I can tell. It’s five days til my period — also not ideal. I feel sad on and off, apropos of nothing, or because of a mildly poignant book or TV show. I have a strong need to be alone. That’s the standard PMDD stuff. I even got so agitated yesterday, I went for a run which started out as a sprint and ended with hiking and sitting by the creek with the moss and the ferns.
There are some unusual symptoms — maybe meds withdrawal. There’s a weird, persistent backache and an odd spaciness like I’m a little high. It’s particularly noticeable when I turn my head and my vision seems to wobble.
My immediate goal is to get through the next five or six days, take care of myself, and not lose it completely. My hope is, over the next few months, things will even out, and my coping skills will be enough that PMDD is manageable.
My core motivation for going off meds (aside from the stubborn, “you’re not the boss of me” reason for the cold-turkey approach) is…a lot of things:
I don’t like being dependent on them.
Maybe I would have more energy.
Maybe my memory would be better.
Maybe I’d stop gaining weight and having to buy new clothes.
One of my mantras, when I start to get all bogged down in PMDD thoughts about the world being no more than a confusing mess of meaningless drivel, is, “This isn’t real; this too shall pass.” But I’m not sure I believe it, even on my good days. Even then I wonder if we’re all not just zombies who drank the capitalist Koolaid. It just doesn’t bother me as much then. I need the mantra, true or not, to get me through the hard times. Otherwise, I might implode.
Sometimes the best you can get is, as Allie Brosh says,
God, I’m tired. I woke up in a pissy mood. I got dressed up today because I had a meeting at school, I’m getting my hair cut, and I hate looking at myself all drab in the mirror at the salon.
I’m getting older. My body is changing. My face is a little droopy. I have a belly where I never had one before. My boobs are a cup size bigger than they were three years ago. Most of the time, I’m okay with it. Today, though, I just feel shitty — unattractive and lumpy. It’s partly society’s expectation we all stay young and beautiful. We lie about our ages and spend endless amounts of money on botox and tummy tucks. We’ll try the latest fast, the latest supplement, the latest whatever in an impossible quest to stop time.
Not that I’d go back to my 20’s. I am much wiser than I used to be. I am a better, more giving person. I wouldn’t trade all I’ve learned over the past two decades for anything, but it’s still hard to watch my body change. Change is inevitable; it’s a normal part of this world, and it is always happening. On a good day, this makes me smile and I can embrace it. On a bad day, it pisses me off. It’s like puberty only more depressing.It irritates me that I can’t operate on six hours of sleep the way I used to. It vexes me I don’t have the energy to accomplish what I once did. It makes me feel insecure that my memory isn’t quite as good as it once was.
I’ve tried a lot of things to “optimize my life,” to fight these subtle yet distressing signs of aging. I’ve changed my diet, I’ve fasted, I’ve cut carbs, taken supplements, engaged in high-intensity exercise to the point of folly and sampled enumerable therapies. There are a lot of them these days — cryotherapy, halotherapy, alphabiotics, chiropractic adjustment, essential oils, massage therapy…It is a long, long list.
I know people who have been helped by alternative therapies; I’m just not one of them. I mean sure, I come out of the halotherapy room feeling relaxed, I leave cryotherapy feeling invigorated, and every time I get a massage I think Why don’t I do this more often? It’s just at some point, it becomes one more thing I have to do, one more thing I have to pay for, regardless of how much I love the people there.
Here’s my theory: Any therapy might be a godsend for a particular individual, especially if they have an acute or significant chronic problem. If you’re a high-performance athlete, you might really need some of these to help you recover. If you’re injured, you can take advantage of them to get back to one hundred percent. If you are affected by something like arthritis or osteopenia, you might benefit from some of the new discoveries in therapy.
But what if you’re me? I don’t want to win marathons. I don’t have any physical injuries or significant pain. I am not afflicted by any degenerative or chronic illness (yet). Is it really worth my time and money to avail myself of the dizzying array of therapies now available? Because whatever their benefits, no therapy is going to stop me from getting older.
What I mostly love about therapy is the people. The proprietors, the ones I’ve visited anyway, truly want to help you. They are friendly, engaging and honest. They are not hardcore salespeople; they want to help you feel better. What I need is friends therapy — something I can get for free and something I would have the time and energy to cultivate if I weren’t so busy investigating new therapies and playing Wordscapes.
I’m not telling you not to try stuff. If you have significant ongoing pain, looking into alternative ways to treat it is a good idea. But if you don’t, or if you’ve tried and the therapy itself didn’t make a significant difference, let it go. Consider that maybe what you need instead of ice or heat or salt or your chakras aligned is better social interactions — real friends with whom you can relax and be your true self.
I have a friend who lives in a retirement community nearby. She’s ninety years old and recently told me of a 97-year-old man who began taking her art class. He was depressed, having lost his wife recently. Slowly he realized, at 97, he likes to paint. Now he sits in the common room, painting, while others around him read or play games. They comment on his work, and sometimes he asks for opinions. Sure the painting itself is probably therapy, but would he have found it if he hadn’t lived in a tight-knit community that makes it easy to be social and seek out new hobbies?
That community has social gatherings all the time, and if you attend one, you’ll find the residents drinking a few glasses of wine and good-naturedly harassing each other — being weird, grumpy, silly, friendly. Being themselves. Yes, they are old; there is no denying it. The inevitable march of time is apparent in the herd of walkers parked outside the door of every event. But they have easy access to an important thing: quality social interaction — not just superficial gatherings of bodies but real, comfortable relationships in which they can relax. The shared component of most therapy is relaxation and a little bit of quality social interaction. What if that’s all we need?
Your legs are big, and they have a lot of fat on them.
My ten year old said this to me, conversationally, as we were lazing on my bed, along with his brother, one evening. He noted it as a scientific observation, completely devoid of judgment….and then, of course, I felt insecure for three days.
I got over it, and I didn’t get nearly as upset about it as I would have, say, ten years ago. He was actually doing what my goal is for myself and humanity in general — not equating “big” or “fat” with bad, not equating them with anything, in fact, except what the words literally mean.
My adult brain, of course, had to feel bad about itself for letting the legs get big and fat. Then it had to rationalize it with my age and eighty-seven other aspects of myself and life. And it had to work REALLY hard at getting back to the place where “big” and “fat” are not judgments.
Then I had a proverbial “Ah ha” moment. I realized that all this association we have with fat as negative is completely learned from societal cues. So learning not to assign self-worth to the constitution of one’s body isn’t so much about learning as it is unlearning.
My kids didn’t have to learn that fat’s not bad. They were born observing things, not judging them. We all know the story of the little kid (maybe it was yours) who loudly points to someone in a store and says “Look how fat that person is!” It’s super embarrassing for all the adults.
The child is not being judgmental; she is simply noticing something that is outside her average experience. She may be amazed, but she’s not assigning worth (or lack thereof) to this person who happens to be bigger than anyone she’s ever seen.
I’m not suggesting you encourage your kiddos to point and yell when they see a person who is bigger or fatter than most. We as a society aren’t there (yet), and it’s unkind to throw people’s probable insecurities in their faces in public. But do understand that it’s the adults who are doing the judging and being embarrassed in this situation. The child is simply giving voice to an observation (most of the time, unless she’s already picked up on the damaging and mistaken message that fat is inherently a negative thing.)
The bottom line is this: fat is not bad. Fat is just fat, like skin or hair or eyeballs. And it is not a learning process to get there. We have learned wrongly, and as adults, we need to do two things:
Prevent our children from learning the self-esteem crushing concept that fatness somehow reflects on a person’s character, work ethic or worth.
This is asking a lot, but it is vital and it is a journey; you’re not going to do it right now, but you can start working on it. Start reflecting on your own deeply-seated beliefs surrounding fatness: UNLEARN.
Want to read some real talk about fat and how society insists upon shaping a false, negative and demeaning narrative around it? Go here. Virgie Tovar knows.
Oh, and P.S.: Do NOT comment on this post with anything like “You’re legs aren’t fat!” or “You look amazing!” Because that is completely not the point, and it would diminish the point I am trying to make. This is not about me and my self-esteem; it’s about incorrect and practically universal damaging social concepts.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. My paying work picked up its pace over the past several months and the kids are out of school. Something had to give, so I intentionally put blogging on the back burner, as much as it pained me to do it.
I love writing here, because I can write whatever I want, in whatever format I want and with whatever whimsical made-up words I favor. The only problem is, no one pays me to write my weird personal stuff.
I recently started writing for a parenting website that is committed to listicles (an article in list format – Jason says “listicle” sounds like male genitalia). The website has very specific requirements for word count, amongst other rules for achieving ideal SEO (search engine optimization.)
When I started, I found the restrictions…well, restricting, but now, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of creating an engaging list within the site’s parameters. And I like that I can create these articles with internet research alone and don’t have to talk to any real people or rely on them to send me information. (Introverts unite!…separately, in our own homes)
The real challenge, though, is choosing a topic. I get paid based on the number of times my listicles get clicked on, so it’s in my best interest to pick popular topics. Some of the most-read ones involve shaming celebrities and ideas that have no other value than to shock the reader and allow them to judge people. They’re the train wrecks of the internet. You know the type: Ten Shocking Celebrity Parents Who Don’t Raise Their Kids Right. Yeah, Homey don’t play that. And by “Homey,” I mean me. But…
I found I can dress up the meatloaf – meatloaf being my own preferred topics: women’s reproductive rights, body and fat positivity, and judge not, lest ye be judged. (Yes, the atheist just quoted the Bible.) I can take a topic like Eight Times Celebrities Messed Up Their Marriages – a potential train-wreck article – and give it value. I can turn it into a lesson on not judging others, even celebrities who are always, always in the public eye. I can use the shocking title to grab you and, now that I’ve got your attention, give you something that does more than entertain. I can feed you something that really makes you think and reflect. Example: I wrote this article, 12 Shocking Stories of Women Who Performed Their Own Abortions, and made it into an analysis of why they did it and how restrictive abortion laws can force a woman’s hand. (One of the things I love about the site is they don’t mind if I get political.)
So, in the vein of not judging, I have stopped judging listicle-type articles for their titles. I’m not the only writer out there trying to make people think instead of just gawking at disasters. Some listicles actually have substance. But, once I’ve read the content, make no mistake; I will be judging.
Literally. I was going to a gift exchange party yesterday evening and decided to see if I could fit into a pair of burgundy corduroys I bought a couple of years ago. I knew I was bigger than I’d been when I bought them, but I love the fabric and vibrant color, so I deluded myself into…maybe?
I told myself going in, I was not going to be upset or denigrating about my body if they didn’t fit. I’ve come a long way from attaching my self-worth to thinness. But old habits die hard, slow deaths and often require extra wacking with a shoe until their parts are disembodied all over the hardwood floor, much the same as those giant, flying Texas roaches.
In my closet, I pulled those soft, beautiful pants from their hanger and stepped into them. I couldn’t get them up over my hips/ass – not even close. I couldn’t even wrangle them up, pull the zipper up with a pair of pliers and pretend they fit. Getting those things up to my waist would have ended in second-degree corduroy skin burns and splitting seams. That’s cool; no big deal. I knew this might happen.
I hung the corduroys back up and opted for boring black leggings, but topped them with my favorite red velour top and colorful beads. The velour top was tighter around my hips and belly than I’d remembered. It’s all good. This is my body, and it is great, no matter it’s size fluctuations.
I felt droopy. I felt deflated and defeated and a little like crying. My body-positive messages were failing against other much less useful ones, like gaining weight is a failure and thin equals success. Here is where I habitually compound the negative messages by feeling guilty for letting them get in my head. So, then, on top of feeling a drop in self-worth, I also feel guilt, anger and confusion.
This time, I let the negative messages be. I told myself, Of course they’re there. They’ve been everywhere your whole life, and you wouldn’t be human if they didn’t get to you now and then. I acknowledged those thoughts, let them sit there and by this morning, they’ve gone away. Huh. How about that?
In retrospect, this wasn’t the best time of month to challenge my body positivity foundations. You have to know when you’re up for a challenge and when it’s better to lie low. This particular trying on of pants was an error in judgement on my part. But I learned something from it anyway. I learned the negative thoughts won’t kill me, and they’ll go away much quicker if I don’t layer shit on top of them. I learned I need to keep working toward improving my view of bodies, and I learned to leave challenges to another day when I’m not up to them. But, most of all, I learned…buy new pants.