Inspiration from Jessica

Perhaps you’ve seen this hilarious youtube video, Jessica’s Daily Affirmation? If not, treat yourself and be inspired–or if so, watch it again.

Like Jessica, we simply ooze with self-confidence and self-love when we’re small. Last weekend, attending a family wedding, the biggest source of entertainment (after the bride, of course) was the new baby in attendance. Finley’s a charmer, seven months old, gladly beaming and flirting as long as he’s on his sweet momma’s lap. He was truly the center of attention, having as many as ten adults at a time oohing and gooing at him, working to evoke his seductive smile. Making him happy just made us happy.

Adorable great-nephew Finley

Smiling babies, after exercise, might just be the quickest route to increasing endorphins–at least when we’re not their primary caretakers and can hand them back. It’s easy to see how kids transfer that love and focus of adult attention into Jessica’s ability to affirm herself.

Then something mysterious happens; the balance shifts. Our parents don’t want us to be spoiled brats, to monopolize the room endlessly, to turn into narcissists who brag. We internalize the idea that nice girls are humble, deny compliments, mutter “oh, this old thing?” about our dresses. Too often we exclaim “this hair?” when we might do better to laud our tresses, as does Jessica of the flowing golden ringlets.

This idea of narcissism as negative is largely an idea of Western culture. I’ve just completed a week long training/retreat on mindfulness meditation, and came away with several key reminders about narcissism. It’s a character flaw only when taken to excess. In typical all or nothing thinking, however, women in particular view self-love as negative, rather than realizing that a healthy dose makes us feel good. In cognitive behavior therapy, the school of thought that most guides my clinical work, the related concept is self-efficacy. Jessica’s statement of self-efficacy is “I can do anything good!” Finally, in Buddhist psychology and related Eastern philosophies, narcissism or self-love is central to feeling good. Simplistically, for the sake of brevity, we suffer when we don’t love and embrace ourselves fully rather than recognizing our infinite perfection as part of, one with, the perfect universe.

You don’t need to plow over others with your evidence of self-love–but at least shower it upon yourself. Stand in front of the mirror, chant your gifts, strengths and beauty. Daily. And don’t forget to underscore your sentiments with a resounding clap. Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!!!!

Nobody’s business

Listening to an audio presentation by Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., and Christiane Northrup, M.D., I was struck by this quote: “what others think of you is none of your business.” How much energy do we spend wondering–or fretting–about others’ opinions of us? As if we need that information–especially if it’s positive–to affirm us? If we perceive that someone’s opinion is negative, we feel rejected, even worthless. And even may revise ourselves to be someone that we’re not.
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Naked in the woods

I’ve just had the delight of Mother’s Day weekend with my two grown daughters at Gray Bear Lodge in the hills of Tennessee. The event was a Red Tent retreat, named after the ancient tradition of women separating themselves from the rest of the tribe during menstruation, resting, recuperating, and nurturing each other in a separate tent. If you’ve not read Anita Diamant’s great book by the same name, check it out. Who says this is an out-dated tradition? Imagine the reduction in stress levels if once a month we retreated from the world to spend time in connection, sharing stories, laughter, and pampering, with our sisters, mothers, and daughters. Let alone in a setting like this.

Healing abounded in the woods: scenic beauty, sauna followed by cold plunge in spring-fed creek, sand shower, rock pool and hot tub, natural facials–all anticipated and welcome experiences. Unexpected aspects of the weekend abounded–like group drumming. My less than musical self could keep time slowly, and even enjoyed it once I got out of my rational head.

Most wonderful– and most surprising of all– was the afternoon spent by this pristine waterfall, sunbathing in the buff. Two dozen women, all ages and shapes, easily shed clothing and communed comfortably together. No judgment in the air, either woman to woman or in any woman’s head. No air-brushed models here. With a few young exceptions, these were Rubenesque bodies that had birthed and breastfed babies, weathered life, cradled dying spouses. Cellulite be damned, we all reveled in soaking up the warmth radiating from sunshine on the table-size rocks. We waded into the freezing water, stumbled across the stones, and rubbed green-tinged mud all over. After the mud dried, we scrubbed it off until our skin glowed pink and alive.

The lack of self-consciousness and total acceptance flowed as freely as the cadence of our leader’s drum on the hike to the waterfall. And caused me to reflect on how rare–and powerful– it is, to free ourselves from our body image obsession (does this look good on me? is my butt too big?) and immerse ourselves in complete acceptance. Who says we can only feel beautiful if our bodies fit some arbitrary, waifish standard?

The phrase repeated throughout the weekend about our generous bodies was “goddess flesh.” As in (as we sank cross-legged onto the floor for meditation) “reach under your buttocks, adjust your goddess flesh so you can sink in and get comfortable.” This is a phrase we all can adopt each time those self-critical, culture-driven appearance obsessions pop into our heads. We’re all goddesses–embrace this body that works for you, which is all it needs to do.

And if you want to protect this lovely spot, check out the Gray Bear Land Trust.

What size?

“I’m not trying those on!” “I’m not wearing size Y.” “Wow, I fit into a size X!” Who says a six (or a four or a ten) is a badge of honor? Then there’s that ridiculous size 0 or 00!! Does that make me a size nothing, or double nothing? Sounds like I’m invisible–or the incredible shrinking woman.

Lots of chatter about size as spring blossoms, with the allure–or horror–of summer clothing just around the corner. Too many women fixate on an arbitrary number to feel good about themselves, whether in terms of size or weight. With all this talk, I remembered that sizing changed, at least in home sewing patterns, in 1967. Intrigued by this vague memory, I did a little digging about the history of clothing sizing.

Standardized sizing first arose in the 1930s, with the growing middle class and availability of assembly line clothing. Prior to that time, most clothing was individually sewn, tailored to fit the wearer. Around 1940, about 15,000 American women were measured, 59 body points in all, as part of a USDA survey. The goal was to standardize sizing for mass produced clothing, for the first large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements. Marilyn Monroe-esque curvy was the shape of most women at that initial assessment, with pronounced bust and hips and thinner waist. Not unlike an older standard of beauty–think Renaissance painting. Sizing numbers were arbitrarily assigned. Until 1956 a size 12 was for a 30 inch bust. In 1956 sizing changed again, as the average American woman no longer resembled this glamour girl body type. With the rise of Barbie, women looked less and less like her. Size 12 was assigned a 32 inch bust. Beautiful bombshell Marilyn would’ve worn size 16! In mid-1967 the standard changed once again and size 12 became a 34 inch bust. I was not yet twelve years old, but my size dropped from a 14 to a 12. I was thrilled. And I hadn’t had to give up one beloved Twinkie.

Fast forward to today: sizes are firmly anchored in the realm of ˜vanity sizing.” At Anne Klein, J.Jill, Target, and Land’s End, a 34 inch bust is size 4. Size 12 is now a 39 inch bust, and surgical enhancement trends notwithstanding, that’s some change. Store to store, designer to designer; you know where you like to shop: where a smaller size fits. Manufacturers know this and lure you in by labeling ever larger sizes with smaller numbers. In fact, my research this week revealed that the fashion industry resists any effort to standardize sizes, as was done in 1940, fearing loss of a customer if the size she wear gets upsized.  Upsized like a value meal? Who would stand for that?

It’s a numbers game. Do you like how you look? Do you feel good? Does this outfit feel like you? Define your style and stick with it and ignore the size, especially if it makes you feel bad about yourself. Quit the second-guessing–feel good at a healthy weight, reasonable to maintain, rather than a weight fueled only by carrots, grapefruit, and seltzer. Every model–on TV, the internet, or those hefty fashion magazines–is air-brushed. Watch The Evolution of Beauty here, if you’ve never seen it or need reminded. And the cultural standard of attractiveness is just that: defined by where you live. Check out The Hidden World of Girls on NPR. In some cultures skinny women are not desirable; they are considered poor and sickly. Curvier, more substantial women represent wealth and health.

Embrace your well-fed, rich look this summer at whatever size and weight. While we’re at it, let’s join forces and bravely bare arms. inspired by the First Lady, who has gone sleeveless where no first lady before has dared venture. No more fear of lunch lady arms!

What works?

I know everyone is busy–but can I tell you about my week? Two evening events, the arrival of the corrected book proof and the flurry of first bulk orders, and a day held hostage to the carpet installers (you know, when you must stay home all day because workers are in your home). I could have written a blog entry–or at least a “sh*tty first draft– as in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
author Anne Lamott says, on that day. Then, during one evening event, my house of course, the cat with interstitial cystitis decided she’d join ranks with the Tea Party activists in the nation’s capital by placing dime-size circles of urine on every other tax document the tax preparer (i.e., my husband) had spread out on the bed. Interstitial cystitis, chronic inflammation of the urinary tract, flares up under stress. Stress, to a cat, you ask? Stress to this cat (and her sister/litter mate, who in true sibling copy cat fashion also has developed interstitial cystitis) is any change to her environment that prevents her from sleeping 22 hours a day. Like carpet installers who bang on floors, drag carpet around, and prop the door open so scary neighborhood cat smells can waft into her territory. Phew. All of this is to say forgive me for the lack of lengthy, meaningful post this week. Simply don’t know where the time went. Now you know you’re not alone–and this is a week when I need to honor my own advice and write a “Did Do” list. However, this does not mean that I haven’t been thinking about my devoted readers. I’ve collected a short list of events that triggered “who says?” in my head this week, bringing to mind two of the thinking traps from Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting. (Thinking traps are the culturally-ingrained myths about expectations of women and/or mothers that we keep in our heads.)

More, better, all is essential for success Always striving for the newest, fastest, latest improvement in anything and everything? A friend related how she and her husband just had to have a king-size bed. That was the pinnacle of “we’ve made it” adult success. And now they need not touch, ever, in bed. With plenty of room for avoidance, could the allure of king size mattresses be a factor in the epidemic of sexless marriages? A revved up, satisfying sex life is not easy if you never touch your bed buddy.

My grandmother shared another version of this same cultural drive to junk the old for the new. In the 70s, brass beds were all the rage. I was wishing aloud, hinting that one might lurk in the dusty, dim corners of her wondrous attic. She told how they had put the old solid brass bed frames out for the junk man, in favor of spanking new wood bedroom suites of furniture. The Pottery Barn catalogue look was not the sign of success in the 1930s and 1940s.

Moms have to protect their children from everything. One mom was lamenting that her children eat many French fries each week. Her preschooler was stuck on fries, eating only fries, as that age often fixates. Some say (my mother, a nutritionist by training) French fries are saving this country from scurvy because potatoes are rich in Vitamin C–and the only source of vitamin C for many. Another mom confessed guilt as all the other moms at the park slathered their kids with sunscreen. She chose not to do battle with her toddler over the process. Ah well, sunshine is our major source of Vitamin D. By slacking off on the sunscreen for that one hour, she decided she’d saved her kids from rickets.

Challenge the thinking traps, buck unrealistic expectations, and keep perspective. Does a king-size bed really define us? Is it really devastating to let your child eat French fries four days a week for three months, to make sure something passes her lips, if she eats healthy food before and after the terrible twos? Does one sunscreen free hour–or even several a season– over the course of your child’s life equal a certain health risk, if overall he is protected from serious sunburn? What works is what matters–not some arbitrary ideals about timetables we should keep or standards we should enforce or achieve. Embrace what works for you: a smaller bed, more fries, an hour of play sans sunscreen. And I’ll keep my own brain chatter going about the fact that this week, this late entry is what worked for me.

Inspiration to action

The value of creativity keeps invading my conversations. In-depth talks with my inspiring sister, Jane Dunnewold, an artist, teacher, and creativity coach-in-training, are leading us both into further exploration about women, creativity, and wellness.

Creating is a missing piece in our service-centric culture, which I addressed briefly here. Certainly carving out regular times to engage in activities that feed our souls, such as artistic expression and writing, fosters well-being. To a one, the moms that I’ve interviewed for The Sanity Hour point to the value of writing as a stabilizing, enriching force in their lives as mothers. I’ve watched as another friend has taken up quilting to fill the empty nest left when the youngest of her rambunctious boys went to college, interrupting the ever-present thunder of teen boys and dogs in her life. She has lit up as she’s invested herself in quilting, the glow on her face matching the lively and stunning designs she is producing. And today, I finally hold a proof copy in my hand of the long-awaited revision of Postpartum Survival Guide, coauthored with Diane Sanford, PhD. This is a labor akin to producing a child, though we’ve joked that the gestation period for this book is more like that of an elephant: 760 days. Truthfully, this book has been in the works for the gestation period of one elephant and one killer whale (517 days). Today, there’s a baby elephant in my life–and reward for years of work. Links will follow when the book, Life Will Never Be The Same hits the virtual shelves in the next few weeks.

Inspiration is everywhere–we need only open our minds and look around. A fabulous opportunity is coming this Sunday, April 11, 2010. The Dutch Art Gallery in Dallas will be showing the powerful film Who Does She Think She Is? which examines the challenges of mothering while creating art. This is in conjunction with an exhibit by women, Finding Her Voice: Women in Art. A reception for the artists begins at 1 p.m., followed by a showing of the film at 2 p.m. Come and join this fabulous, talented group of women in a celebration of creativity in our lives. Hope to see you there. If you cannot join in on Sunday, the exhibit continues through May 15.

The Dutch Art Gallery
10233 E NW Hwy #420, at Ferndale
Dallas, TX 75238

Big girl panties?

Maybe it’s strictly generational, but granny panties have always outnumbered thongs in my lingerie drawer. Trying to loosen up my midlife world view and eliminate unsightly panty lines, I’ve been underwear shopping lately. And was delighted to find sexy, lacy thongs with a hint of practicality (i.e. cool, comfortable, breathable cotton). With the brand name Jezebel?

Does wearing lacy lingerie make you an evil woman? Why do all the sexy panties have names like Jezebel, Temptress, Flirt, Invisible Bliss? May as well call them Tart, Harlot, Scarlett, or “O.” Definitely another automatic association leftover from my growing up years. “Good girls” wear sturdy, serviceable cotton Lollipop panties — in white or pastels (how exciting!) “Bad girls” wear the pretty, lacey panties. And have all the fun. When I was a teen, I had one shockingly bright green low-rise bikini pair with a black zipper (gasp). This is the exact purchase that my younger sisters recently admitted had marked me as a glamorous older sister. And firmly fixed a frown on my mom’s face when I came home from the mall, panties in hand.

It’s not just names. Another assumption is lurks within: wearing lacy lingerie is for him, not for you. Certainly all that lace and trim and thong between the cheeks is less comfortable than soft cotton, right? So why suffer the indignities and itching, except to entice or excite him? As an empowered woman, I wasn’t about to buy into that.

Reminds me of a T-shirt my older daughter had when she was 13, distributed by Candie’s, maker of sexy shoes and clothing. In large, legible letters it said “Be sexy.” And in the fine print: “it doesn’t mean you have to have sex.” Some mothers scorned me for allowing her to wear it, as if it were an advertisement. Women can claim their sexuality, even enjoy it. Without turning into bad girls. Objecting to that slogan seemed like buying into the sexist view that if you are dressed to kill, you deserve to be raped.

Black and white thinking is the culprit again: chaste lingerie equals pure of heart/mind/body. Black, lacy, and low cut is the stamp of a bad girl. Is this really a fact? Do clothes really define the woman, so that I can’t enjoy a fun bustier under a power suit? Time to challenge those expectations. Even the little girls get fun princess panties, Barbie panties, Dora panties — or as my younger daughter had, Pink Power Ranger panties.

One of my friends likes to say, “put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” In this case, the grown-up panties of choice are lacy, cheekiest (in the parlance of Victoria’s Secret, referring to amount of cheek exposure), and surprisingly more comfortable than constant adjustments of creeping leg elastic. My new power panties can allow me to please no one but myself, a rare opportunity in my good girl life. That’s dealing with it.

As on everything else: NO absolute thinking. I did find one exception to the naughty names: Victoria’s Secret has one thong called “Angel.” Or maybe go commando, following the decree of Jill Connor Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queens book series: “Never wear panties to a party.” Do what works for you.

I don’t want to brag, but . . .

“I shouldn’t brag, but . . .” Fill in the blank: “I just paid off my car/student loan/house.” Or maybe “My child made it into the gifted program/the select soccer team/Harvard.” Hardly a day goes by without this example of how women are conditioned to minimize their successes, to hide their skills, to quash their good news. This is so deeply ingrained in us. Who says? Why shouldn’t we take pride in our accomplishments?

Examination of this question is personal of late, as I think about the need to announce blog launched, books published, radio show to debut — at least if I want followers. Humility was drummed into me at an early age, growing up as a preacher’s kid. Even as I sit in solid mid-life (if you’re counting years, nearly two thirds into my life, statistically) it is hard for me, as for the women I listen to throughout my life, to even announce my achievements, let alone with pride. Women I know have written admirable books, started social movements, reigned as national experts in their fields, created art that inspires, raised remarkable young adults. And the norm is to hem and haw and softly mutter about what we’ve done, lacing the speech with apologies and detractions. The equivalent of “oh, this old thing?” when someone compliments your brand-new dress. Those admonishments in our heads to be nice and not brag never seem to quiet entirely.

And why is this? We want to be nice girls. Nice girls don’t brag. Good girls don’t toot their own horns. This modesty is not for modesty’s sake, however. Nice girls are programmed to be cautious and concerned about the feelings of others. Isn’t that what it’s about? We don’t brag (or even proclaim deserved pride) in our accomplishments because we don’t want others to feel badly. We don’t want others to feel that they come up short. So we downplay our triumphs and miss an opportunity to boost ourselves up.

I’m not saying we should model ourselves after those who constantly broadcast their own victories, however shallow or magnificent, and are seemingly incapable of any topic beyond their own gold stars. As I often remind clients when talking about this life-changing switch to self-affirmation, I’m not that powerful a therapist that I can turn a self-effacing person into a narcissist. Nor is that the goal. Just calling for a little balance, swing the pendulum ever so slightly towards positive feelings about self and away from minimization of life’s prizes. Good friends and loving families want to celebrate with us. They realize that we’re not proclaiming ourselves “better than.” We’re trying on some well-earned self-praise and want to share the joy, not shouting nyah, nyah.

Let’s trust that others will share our pride. Let’s affirm that we deserve to feel good about our hard work. Let’s remember that there’s plenty of happiness to go around and our wins don’t jinx our sister’s chances. Let’s inspire with our strengths, moving other women toward their own dreams, rather than viewing life as a competition. Let’s embrace each other’s bragging, rejoicing not just in the lauded event but in the boost to esteem that healthy bragging brings.

Oh, and by the way, please spread the word about my blog. If you like my message, pass it on to your friends. And look forward with me to the launch of my radio show, “The Sanity Hour,” beginning February 22 at 7 p.m. CT on HerInsight radio network. I’ll need guests, if you want to share my fifteen minutes of fame. Link coming soon!