WTF is “lifestyle change” supposed to mean anyway?

lifestyle changeIf you’re like me, you’ve heard the term “lifestyle change” thrown around quite a bit. For example, it was used plenty of times in the comments on my recent post, My Breakup with Exercise. People are always saying things like, “It’s not about dieting, it’s about making a lifestyle change.” But oftentimes one person’s “lifestyle change” is another person’s diet, and vice versa. So WTF does “lifestyle change” actually mean?

Growing up, I first heard my parents use the term to describe a family friend and the healthy changes she made many years ago. Even then I was confused because her story began with everyone’s favorite diet company, Weight Watchers. Even though she no longer follows the program, she continues to practice some of their tips and tricks to maintain her weight, like tracking what she eats, looking for foods high in fiber, etc. A relative told me about a coworker who “doesn’t diet” but just has “plus days” and “minus days”; if she had a “plus day,” she’d compensate by having a “minus day.” To me, this all still sounds like dieting because it involves monitoring your food intake, following food “rules” or restrictions, and placing value judgements on foods or eating habits as being “good” or “bad.” Of course, you might not agree, and that’s okay.

Although the intention is usually good, telling someone to make a “lifestyle change” is problematic because everyone’s understanding of what that means is different. For example, it could mean switching to sugar-free versions of your favorite foods, or it could mean never eating artificial sweeteners ever again. Those of us who struggle with weight and body image often understand the term to apply to eating and exercise behaviors, but for others it could refer to quitting smoking or taking up a meditation practice or switching to paraben-free bath products.

The beauty of the term, though, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean — whatever makes sense to you.

At it’s most basic level, a “lifestyle change” means making changes to support one’s personal wellness. Did you know that there are actually seven different dimensions of wellness?

  • Physical wellness can include fitness, diet and nutrition, sexual behavior, substance use or abuse, medical care, and sleep.
  • Intellectual wellness can include the pursuit of knowledge, awareness of current events, and the expression or experience of creativity.
  • Emotional wellness can include stress management and relaxation, as well as self-awareness, self-acceptance, and mental health.
  • Social wellness can include interpersonal relationships, social justice, and community service.
  • Spiritual wellness can include your value or belief system (including but not limited to religion), and finding personal meaning, hope, and optimism.
  • Environmental wellness can include the protection and conservation of natural resources, as well as the health and safety of animals, humans, and our own bodies.
  • Occupational wellness can include job satisfaction, work/life balance, and financial security.

It’s helpful to consider of all of these dimensions because it reminds us that neither our worth nor our happiness nor our “wellness” is defined by our appearance, our fitness, or our diet. Part of figuring out what making a “lifestyle change” means to you is figuring out what dimensions of wellness you want to pay more attention to–recognizing that each are equally valid and important in your personal pursuit of health and happiness.

Last year I taught a course on leadership and we used a ranking activity to help students think deeper about their own values. (Mad props to Steve R. for the activity!) I modified it and I think this version could be helpful in terms of figuring out what “lifestyle change” you might be interested in. Below are 50 different things that could be part of making a healthy “lifestyle” change, in no particular order.

 Weight management

 Fitness/ Strength

 Smoking

 Religious belief & practice

 Community Service

 Finances/debt management

  Job satisfaction

 Inner Harmony

 Environmental conservation

 Social Justice activism

 Hope/Optimism

 Stress management

 Animal rights

Being active

  Nutrition

 Vegetarian diet/ vegan diet

 Mindfullness/ meditation

  Sleep

 Creativity/ Creative expression

 Sexual pleasure/sex life

 Family relationships

 Social life/ friendships

 Avoiding processed foods

 Career Advancement

 Romantic relationships

 Pursuit of knowledge

 Alcohol use/abuse

 Medical care

 Sexuality/ gender identity and expression

 Self-care/ Self-compassion

 Awareness of current events

 Political involvement

 Mental health

 Avoiding artificial sweeteners

 Body image

 Reducing intake of chemicals in bath/beauty/cleaning products, etc.

 Intuitive eating/mindful eating practice

 

 Self-acceptance

Avoiding artificial growth hormones in meat/dairy

 Drug use/abuse

 Community engagement

 

Experiencing new things/places

Eating less sugar/high fructose corn syrup

 JOY!

FUN!

 Eating whole grains

 Work/life balance

 Hobbies/skill development

 Gratitude

 Eating local/food sustainability

 

 Intimacy

Okay, here’s the hard part. Here’s the link to download and print it out: Defining your Wellness Values Chart

  1. Cross off the 10 that either a) you’re already satisfied with, or b) that are least important to you right now. (Remember that this doesn’t mean these things are unimportant, just that they are less important to you, right now, than the remaining 40.)
  2. Now cross off 10 more (30 remaining). Give yourself a time limit.
  3. Now cross off 7 (23 remaining). Take a quick break and then come back to it.
  4. Now cross off another 7 (16 remaining).
  5. Cross off 6 more (10 remaining). This is getting tough, huh?
  6. Cross off 5 more (5 remaining).
  7. Circle the most important wellness element to you at this point in time.

I just did this activity and it was really freaking hard, but I narrowed my top 5 wellness elements to: building fitness/strength, improving family relationships, self-acceptance, intuitive eating, and reducing my intake of chemicals, These are the areas I want to focus on to improve my overall “wellness.” So, for me, a “lifestyle change” means working out, accepting myself the way I am, finding more ways to make meaningful and positive connections with my family, listening to what my body wants, and staying away from processed foods and chemicalized bath and beauty products.

The thing about changing your lifestyle is that it has to be something you actually WANT to do. Wanting to lose weight because you struggle with body image is not the same thing as wanting to change the way you eat. For example, the person in that scenario might experience more success and actually feel better by choosing to focus on positive body image and building self-esteem.

Only you know what a “healthy lifestyle” means for you. And if you’re not sure yet, perhaps this activity will help.

Let me know how it goes! I am hoping to try this with my students next year, and your feedback will be super useful.

 

 

Call me maybe: Problematic yet adorable?

This post is entirely James Franco’s fault. Ever since I saw the somewhat-dull video of James Franco and friend singing along to Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy-yet-insipid song, “Call Me Maybe,” it’s been stuck in my head. And, like everyone knows, the only way to get rid of an earworm is to listen to the song. So, today at work, I did. Via Youtube. Then, on the third repeat (whatever shut up!) I actually watched the video.

Yes, it’s just another (mostly) heteronormative pop video full of white, attractive, cis people. But. It’s also kind of adorable in an almost-progressive way.

First of all, it reverses the “girl next door” trope by making the boy next door the object of a girl’s fantasy. Second, Carly (or is it Carly Rae?) plays with the “sexy car wash pin-up girl” cliché by awkwardly trying to perform the sexual self-objectification that women know we’re supposed to buy into in order to capture the male gaze. (Oh and did you notice that her male band-mates are the one who suggest this tactic?) Then the romance lit analogy! Our protagonist has clearly bought into the hetero romance narrative (damsel in distress, hero as protector, etc) and fantasy and then, and then!, her hero turns out to be gay! Subversive? Just a little bit, maybe?

Okay, the “Surprise! He’s actually gay” narrative is not exactly new or progressive, but I still wasn’t expecting to see it in this video. I was expecting girl meets boy, girl rescued by boy, boy kisses girl. (Then again, I’m the kindof person that never suspects plot twists before they’re revealed.) And yes, they totally objectified the male neighbor and it would have been better if the male band member accepted his number with less of a shocked expression, but hey, what are you gonna do? Even though I recognize that a lot of things about this video are problematic, I was still pleasantly surprised by the way it played with tropes about gender, sexuality, and romance. Do you agree? Well, here’s my number. Call me, maybe!

Crying is not sexy. In related news, bad health journalism makes me cry.

A new study out of Israel suggests that women’s tears serve a “chemosignaling function” that result in reduced sexual arousal and testosterone levels in males.

Here is the abstract of the study:

Emotional tearing is a poorly understood behavior that is considered uniquely human. In mice, tears serve as a chemosignal. We therefore hypothesized that human tears may similarly serve a chemosignaling function. We found that merely sniffing negative-emotion–related odorless tears obtained from women donors, induced reductions in sexual appeal attributed by men to pictures of women’s faces. Moreover, after sniffing such tears, men experienced reduced self-rated sexual arousal, reduced physiological measures of arousal, and reduced levels of testosterone. Finally, functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that sniffing women’s tears selectively reduced activity in brain-substrates of sexual arousal in men.

Here is the headline on MSNBC.com:

Stop the waterworks, ladies. Crying chicks aren’t sexy.

I’m sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little.

The basic finding in the study – that emotional human tears are a turn off – should not actually be that shocking. (Perhaps a better headline should have been: Science supports common sense.) What is shocking is the ridiculously sexist and sensationalist coverage of the study by MSNBC and a number of other news sources.  The Ms. blog has a great roundup of this coverage, and while I don’t want to repeat all their points here, I am going to take a few choice sentences and read between the lines.

Here’s the ending of the MSNBC article:

Other researchers also have detected proteins associated with emotions: They’ve found dopamine and serotonin in tears, as well as prolactin, the desire-squelching hormone that spikes right after a man ejaculates and sends him running to watch SportsCenter rather than sticking around to cuddle.

Bottom line, ladies? If you’re looking for arousal, don’t turn on the waterworks.

Assumptions made/stereotypes reinforced: Men watch sports; men don’t like to cuddle after sex; everyone is heterosexual; women cry all the time for no reason.

Here is one from “Women’s tears kill men’s sex drive” in the Times of India:

They say tears are woman’s best arsenal–and they probably are–for they are powerful enough to dampen a man’s sexual arousal, according to a new study.

Assumptions made/stereotypes reinforced: There is a “war” between the sexes; women are constantly fighting men’s sexual advances; women do not want sex; man’s sexual arousal is a powerful force.

Here’s one from “The crying game: a woman’s tears aren’t sexy” in Ars Technica:

Finally, scientists have confirmed what men have known for ages: crying women are a turnoff….

While this study should make guys feel better about being turned off when their lady cries, the women out there should remember that you—and your tears—are actually the ones in charge here.

Assumptions made/stereotypes reinforced: Again, there is a “war” between the sexes; the status quo for women is that they should be a turn-on for men; the status quo for men is that they should be turned-on by women; women can only gain control via manipulating men with their emotions.

When I first got wind of this, the big question on my mind was this: why were they only studying the effect of women’s tears on men? What about woman to woman, man to woman, or man to man crying? This is the sort of thing a health reporter should do: ask questions. Be critical. The only one who asked that question – or any question, for that matter – was the New York Times:

The researchers are currently studying men’s emotional tears, so the scientific implications of, say, the weeping of the new House speaker, John A. Boehner, remain an open question. But Dr. Sobel said he believed that men’s tears would also turn out to transmit chemical signals, perhaps serving to reduce aggression in other men.

Dr. Sobel said the researchers started with women because when they advertised for “volunteers who can cry with ease,” they could not find men who were “good criers,” readily able to fill collection vials. Fortunately, he said, “we have a male crier now.”

But not even the New York Times could resist the tantalizing allure of a witty, sexist headline:

In Women’s Tears, a Chemical That Says, ‘Not Tonight, Dear’

The more I study health communication, the more I realize just how pathetic, lazy, sensationalist, and socially abhorrent most health reporting really is.  I’d cry about it, but that wouldn’t be sexy.

A Closer Look at TLC’s Sister Wives

I returned home from my cousin’s wedding Sunday night, happy and exhausted with barely enough energy to flop onto the couch and turn on the TV. That is how I found myself watching the two new episodes of TLC’s Sister Wives, a reality TV show about a modern polygamous family. I think the expected feminist response to a show about polygamy is a negative one, summed in this post on Jezebel: “Sister Wives Talk Like Soul-Sucking Stepford Zombies.” It’s easy to condemn the show, and “the lifestyle” (as they call it) but after watching the first few episodes, I found myself pondering polygamy and its presence in our history as Jews. After all, my biblical namesake was a sister wife.

When it comes to bible study, I am only familiar with the basics. But even I know that polygamy features prominently in the stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs. The story I know best is that of Jacob, who married both Leah and Rachel. (This story is expanded in the midrash told by Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent) Rachel, the woman Jacob married for love, gave birth to Joseph and eventually died in childbirth with her second child, Benjamin. Thanks to polygamy, Jacob was able to father the 12 sons (and one daughter) who would go on to father the 12 Tribes of Israel with his wife Leah and their hand servants, Bilhah and Zilpah. It’s hard to ignore the centrality of polygamy, or “plural marriage” in our own cultural heritage.

This is not to say that I condone polygamy, especially in its biblical form. The Torah is also full of incest (Leah and Rachel were Jacob’s first cousins), slavery, and other things we now understand to be wrong. Judaism’s strength is that it grows and adapts with the times, although we too have fundamentalist communities that oppress women through rigid adherence to traditional gender divisions and roles.

The fundamentalist fringe of Mormonism that is spotlighted on TLC’s Sister Wives is of a similar vein. And by embracing polygamy in a form that mirrors the biblical tradition, in which one man marries and fathers children by multiple wives, the “Polyg lifestyle” is wrought with anti-feminist land mines. Jezebel writes:

It’s too bad the Today show host didn’t ask Kody or his wives to discuss their beliefs. Because if you’re not familiar with what Kody vaguely calls “his faith” — that is, religious fundamentalism — then you might think, wow, these people are so edgy! So open-minded! It’s just a big happy family! You might not realize how the extreme, patriarchal belief system belittles and oppresses women.

But after watching Sister Wives, it’s hard to hate or even snark at these people. From what we see, anyway, these people – the four wives, one husband, and 15 children – are genuine and intelligent people. For religious fundamentalists, they seem pretty normal; they live modern lives, integrate into the secular world, and are happy to give their children the freedom to make their own choices about faith and marriage when they grow up. Despite Jezebel’s categorization as “Stepford Wives,” the women are open about their feelings, their insecurities, and their personal struggles with polygamy. They readily admit jealousy and doubt, but also discuss the support, love and fulfillment that they gain from the arrangement. If anything, they are complex characters who made a choice, and like the rest of us, understand that bettering ourselves and working on our relationships is a lifelong process.

Watching Sister Wives, I started to realize that the benefits of polygamy that the show highlights are real, but they are not exclusive to polygamous lifestyles. The benefits are the same ones you would find from any type of communal living where multiple adults contribute incomes to a larger family unit and multiple adults parent the community’s children as a group. (Think: hippie commune, Walden Two.) I would also argue that there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about rejecting monogamy. The idea that men are allowed to have multiple partners but women are not is sexist. You can also argue that the institution of marriage, which traditionally made women the property of their husbands, is sexist. But polyamory, often dubbed “ethical nonmonogamy,” is a great example of a very feminist-friendly model in which men and women can both have meaningful and/or sexual relationships with multiple partners. The poly community is, in fact, a place where you are likely to find some of the most progressive, liberal, and feminist people out there.

I think it’s important to take the time to think about Sister Wives before we condemn it outright. While polygamy in this form is illegal, and Kody Brown is now being investigated by the police, it is possible to gain some insights from this peek into “the lifestyle.” For one, it made me think about the benefits of communal living among extended families or friends. By examining certain similarities to the modern polyamorous community, I was reminded that some alternatives to monogamy can be feminist and progressive. I came to realize that my problem with Sister Wives is not a problem with the family itself (they are actually quite likeable people), nor is it a problem with alternate polyamorous lifestyles. What I do have a problem with is religious fundamentalism and its adherence to biblical notions of marriage and paternalism. And that applies to Jewish fundamentalists as well.

[This was originally posted at Jewesses with Attitude.]

Relationship Violence on Teen Mom

Okay, last week I wrote about MTV’s Teen Mom and the preview they aired for tonight’s episode that showed a clip of Amber punching Gary’s head into a wall. I just finished watching this week’s episode (a little late on DVR) and wow. Just wow.

I now realize the context for airing the clip of that punch. After watching the whole scene – with the name-calling, threatening, physical intimidation, slapping, hitting, punching, yelling, and a final kick – I realize that this situation was much bigger than the punch.  I’m still don’t condone the use of the clip in the promo because there was no accompanying educational message (last week, I mean), but in the context of the full scene, I understand the choice a little better now.

First of all, I want to congratulate MTV for recognizing that this was a domestic violence situation, and providing a resource for help and more information. After the segment where Amber verbally and physically attacks Gary, (and intimidates him by trying to pushing his stuff down the stairs – including a TV) they showed a black screen with narration that said “If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence visit loveisrespect.org.” They then showed that at each commercial break and at the end of the episode. They also instructed viewers to go to MTV.com to see a video interview with Amber and Gary discussing their abusive relationship. They write:

On tonight’s episode of “Teen Mom” you witnessed what initially appeared to be just another loud argument between Amber and Gary escalate into something very serious. Amber got physical with Gary many times while Leah was in close proximity.

Following the video of the two of them talking about viewing the footage for the first time is an analysis from Katie Ray-Jones, Executive Director of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. She writes:

Amber and Gary are involved in an abusive relationship. In a series of episodes, Amber has demonstrated a pattern of abusive behavior toward Gary that includes the use of intimidation, as well as physical and emotional abuse.

In this particular video clip, Amber acknowledges that she is abusive and that she “can’t help” herself. When Gary begins to speak about how he would like Amber to treat him, she interrupts him, rolls her eyes and tells him that he is the reason she cannot confide to him. She constantly interrupts him during the interview and dismisses his feelings. In abusive relationships, it is common for the abusive person to blame the victim for the abuser’s actions. Gary tries to communicate that he wants to be treated with respect–and that is what he deserves. However, Gary appears to withdraw during the interview by keeping his eyes on the floor and limiting his role in the interview.

Amber states that she cares about Gary. It is important to note that in an abusive relationship, the relationship is not abusive all the time. There are moments when the couple may believe they are “getting along.” This gives the victim hope that the relationship is going to get better. However, in most abusive relationships, this is not the case.

As we’ve watched the season of “Teen Mom” unfold, we’ve consistently seen Amber using power and control to tear Gary down. But we continue to believe that Amber, as well as any abusive partner, would greatly benefit from professional help to address her abusive behavior. It will be important for Amber to take responsibility for her actions and commit to wanting to change. Additionally, Gary deserves to be in a healthy relationship in which he is treated with dignity and respect. It is difficult to imagine that Gary will be able to have that type of relationship with Amber unless she seeks out additional help.

Finally, there is another link to loveisrespect.org, where one can chat online with a peer advocate.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the way MTV handled this terrifying footage. I’m glad they recognized the serious nature of the abuse, and acknowledged their responsibility to provide education and resources for viewers. The only thing I wish they had done was make it clear in their messaging that domestic violence knows no gender. Obviously, we see that in this case, it is a woman abusing a man. But to drive that point home by vocalizing it or plainly stating it within the messaging, either on TV or on MTV.com, might help people connect Amber and Gary’s situation to similar cases in their own lives.

Domestic violence is difficult because it happens in private. We don’t usually get to see relationship abuse escalate to violence like we did on TV tonight. In fact, we rarely see much at all. Only once it has escalated to a very dangerous point do we ever see physical signs like bruises  – and even then, many victims will deny the abuse and most abusers will not recognize that their behavior is abusive.

It’s hard to know what’s really going on in someone else’s relationship because life isn’t a reality TV show and we don’t get to watch what happens behind closed doors. And a lot of times that contributes to the discomfort or disbelief we have with the idea of men being victimized by women, especially when we don’t see the whole picture. It’s easy to tell our guy friends to “stick up for yourself” (and imply that they are to blame for the way their partners treat them) because we just don’t see men as victims of relationship abuse. Our assumptions blind us to the signs and as a result, many men do not receive the support that women in a similar situations might.

All in all, MTV handled this better than I expected but there is always room for improvement. For example, a lot of viewers (and commenters) are surely wondering about the safety of Amber’s daughter Leah and whether abusive behavior towards a co-parent is grounds for removal from Amber’s custody. Hopefully MTV will address some of these issues as well in the future.

Next on Teen Mom: Amber punches Gary in the head

*********Please read my follow-up post about the full episode and MTV’s response to airing footage of domestic violence.*********

MTV, you’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

Last year, you showed a clip of Snookie (Jersey Shore) getting punched in the face by a guy in your “coming next week” clip. There was outrage. The scene was not shown again, and the episode was followed with information about violence and assault.

This week on Teen Mom, you showed a clip of Amber punching her baby’s father Gary in the head. She punched his head into a wall.

Where is the outrage?

So far, I have not seen anyone being upset or making waves about this. Where is the uproar that we saw when Snookie was punched?

We already saw Amber physically assault Gary in the first season of Teen Mom (video). We also learned (although we didn’t see it happen) about when Farrah’s mother attacked her and was arrested for domestic assault. These incidents created a bit of a stir, but nothing compared to the Snookie punch.

I would venture a guess to say that people got up in arms about the Snookie punch because it was a man hitting a woman. In the case of Teen Mom, it is a woman – a young woman – hitting a man.

Although it’s admittedly problematic to place value judgments on “kinds of violence,” I would argue that showing domestic violence on TV without any comment on it is much worse than showing a bar fight. The Snookie punch was the result of a drunken fight among strangers. Amber’s punch is evidence of ongoing, escalating, domestic violence – an issue that is frighteningly common, and about which many are ignorant.

Amber has custody of their daughter Leah. Gary, the victim of Amber’s abuse, has begun to vocalize that he does not feel it is safe to leave Leah with Amber after she kicks him out during a fight. In this week’s episode, after she screams in his face and threatens to punch him – her fist coming within an inch of his face – he does, in fact, take the baby with him.

This situation is fucking scary. Where are the PSAs? Where is the outrage?

When I did a Twitter search for “Teen Mom punch” the only results I got were other viewers saying they would like to punch Amber in the face, or that Gary should punch Amber in the face. There IS a need for domestic violence education, and MTV is once again, being irresponsible. This is a perfect opportunity to do some real, meaningful work around relationship violence awareness – one that I fear will be a missed opportunity.

The only reason MTV censored the Snookie punch and provided educational info after the episode aired, limited as it was, was because of pressure from public outrage. We need to put that pressure back on MTV to make it clear that the kind of domestic abuse and violence we are seeing on Teen Mom is NOT OKAY, and that it is irresponsible for the network to air it without providing educational information about violence.

Please help by spreading the word about this. Facebook it, Tweet it, get the big blogs like Jezebel and Feministing or news sites to cover it. Share this blog post or write your own.

This type of violence should not be aired on MTV without educational information to put it in context. Help spread the word – to MTV and everyone else – that domestic violence is wrong, even when the attacker is a woman.

*********Please read my follow-up post about the full episode and MTV’s response to airing footage of domestic violence.*********

Interview with a Misogynist

Remember when I wrote an angry rant about how some men think it’s appropriate to use online dating sites as platforms to debate feminism? Well, it happened again.

I recently saw a blog post where someone had taken screen shots of a very racist exchange on OkCupid, and I decided to respond and do the same. Below is the entire exchange, from start to finish.

It seems like this guy messaged me because he wanted to debate abortion rights, but it quickly shifted into a conversation about feminism, the difference between “good women” and “cunts,” and under what circumstances women “owe” men sex.

At first you can see that my responses are snarky. As this conversation progressed, however, I realized that this was an interesting opportunity to interview someone who was very obviously a misogynist. At certain points I was worried that he might catch on to what I was doing and get frustrated that I wasn’t fighting back, but luckily he didn’t seem to. At a certain point, I had had enough and ended the conversation with a “Smile! You’re on candid feminist camera!”

It was interesting to see how he was sensitive to accusations of being “pro-rape” and also (sortof) went back on his original statements when I pushed him to consider them more closely.

I’m curious to see what you think of this exchange.

Fair warning: Bad grammar, foul language and very foul ideas ahead.

A final note: I suppose I could have taken the time to Photoshop his OkC username out and blur his picture …. but there are 21 screenshots and that would be a lot of work. Also, he called me a cunt, so I didn’t.

Here I asked him to differentiate between women and “cunts.”