Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Power of a Strong Self Image

An inherent impacting factor in most cases of depression and anxiety in women would have to be their self esteem and self image.  In the last two weeks, I've recognized the veritas of a thing called Body Dysmorphia or "Self Enhancement".  Often you hear it in connection with people who have experienced such devastating illnesses as anorexia, bullemia, and exercise addiction.  But I'm telling you today, that I too have what I think is some sort of body dysmorphia.  I'm no doctor, but when I look at my mirror, or I consciously look inward and actually feel my own physical presence, I realize that I feel a certain size and I look a certain way.  Then I see photos that were taken very recently, and I see something entirely different and very discouraging.  Something I feel embarrassed by and something that makes me feel like there's a bigger mountain to climb than I ever dreamed it would be.

I can tell you with stark honesty that I have never felt as big as I look.  That's not to say I didn't always feel too fat or too large, unhealthy or uncomfortable.  It's obvious if you've read anything I've written, that my size and my health are at the forefront of just about every singular thought that runs through my mind.  It conditions my response to the world I live in, in every single situation I face.  And when it has become glaringly obvious to me that the way I already felt was better than the reality, well, that leaves me with a distrust in my own perceptions of the choices I've made, in addition to making me wonder that with all the beating up I've done of myself, if it was nearly enough.  Which in turn (as you've probably already guessed) triggers a new round of anxiety and depression for me.

So, this is how I looked at Halloween:

And this is how I look now:

I can see a glaring difference, though I'm sure many won't.  Though it's not what I would have hoped for.  And it's certainly not how I feel when I step into pants I've not worn in over a year.  The major differences are what create the woman in this photo.


I am happier today than I have been in such a long time.  I am more well rested and more balanced than I can remember being since I was a teenager.  I have more energy and more ummph than I had last Halloween as I feverishly tried to fit carving a pumpkin between rounds of children's tylenol, yet another sick day and a sad little review of the bank account.  Oh yeah - and bath time, dinner dishes and planning for the next day.  And in the "after" photo, most of my body is hidden.  Disguised.  Not discernible as a particular shape.  Thank goodness for black on black!

What makes me happy is that I'm not lugging around the extra 30 odd pounds, but also that I have a husband and child who adore me as much as I adore them.  But all of this comes from a strong sense of self and willpower to be strong and independent.  Beneath all of the anxiety and depression and obesity, lies a strong and confident, intelligent and resilient woman.  I carry the world on these shoulders, for at least 5 people, probably more.  And my God they are strong.

Which brings me to the actual way this post was originally envisioned.  There's a bruhaha over Disney's redesign of it's character Merida, in advance of releasing her as an "official" princess.  And  I know I've been sitting on it for a while, but I was honestly trying to find the right way to describe why it offended me.  At it's most basic level, a cartoon is just that, and it's their property to do with as they wish.  I should have very little to even think of it, as a wise woman suggested in her post on the same topic.  But here's where the rub started with me, and where it ends is with the ever constant imagery we get from the world at large around us that influences (to my own shock and horror) our view of ourselves in the mirror.

Merida and the movie Brave by Disney signaled a real paradigm shift for women at large that reinforced what we've been trying to overcome for centuries.  Women are capable, independent, fiery and naturally beautiful.  If we can simply exude confidence and courage enough to show it, we're capable of redefining this world for the better.  For me too, the story within the movie reinforced something that every other Disney princess movie has blatantly pushed aside and in many cases tried to cast as not normal.  That it's possible to have a confident, fiery, capable princess who bucks the system and doesn't require a man, but more over who recognizes the strength, love and transcendent bond that a real mother and her daughter share.


Merida and her natural mother Elinor battle bears and nature and often each other to find a way to mend their bond and save the mother.  Unlike the evil step mothers in every other princess movie, this mother shows angst over choosing to try and steer her child onto a path she believes will be the best for her and the kingdom she will inherit.  "She does what she does out of love", never for profit or personal gain.  Never for the evil and selfish betterment of her own biological brood.  There's no sending Merida out with a huntsman and a box...especially not when Merida's amply armed, trained and capable of defending herself.


So when a corporation does what it always does, without even thinking of the injustice it serves it's own brand through Merida, you feel gobsmacked, disheartened and angry.  I am not letting Disney raise my child, or allowing my child to grow up believing that the best thing in the world to idolize is a Disney Princess.  But there is absolutely no shielding them from the draw of the Disney brand, and with Merida in the mix, potentially, it's not so harmful to let them fantasize and explore the world of princesses a bit.  When I was my own daughter's age, I watched them faithfully, and still one of my favourites is Sleeping Beauty.  Note there's no evil stepmother in this movie, and the girl lands with the prince she thought was just an average guy.  He also fell for a girl, thinking she was just an average girl.  Kind good fairies kept her safe from evil for 16 years and loved her as their own daughter...not all the other dark, sordid tales of woe and despair that you see with Snow White and Cinderella and the like.

The end result of taking such a dramatic change on such an impactful character in the lives of young girls who are finally getting outside examples of strength in a medium they connect with, is truly criminal.  It has no choice but to show the smarter ones of the bunch, that there's a difference between average and "vavavoom"...and most of us don't have what it takes to get the "vavavoom" makeover.  It contributes to the way we look at ourselves in the mirror at such an early age.  And that's shameful.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Woman's Balance

I read an article this morning on Linkedin wherein I found the contents somewhat repetitive of other similar articles I'd read elsewhere.  The article titled I'm Not Balancing Work and Life, and I Feel Great, pretty much tried to give the impression that when you do what you love and you have a family that lets you do it, there is no such thing as a struggle for balance because it inherently exists.  The argument is simply that doing what makes you happy is all the balance you need, and as long as the kids are taken care of, what's the big deal?

The comments as you can imagine were far more interesting than the article.  Many calling out exactly the issue with this argument for the general populace, which is simply put, not everyone can afford to offload their kids and not think twice about it.

I've read other articles by high ranking female executives who talk frankly how they are both in a flexible work arrangement where they set their own hours, and who have the financial means to buy the support they need at home.  They either have a full time live in nanny, and/or a spouse that either has similar flexibilities / finances OR who is willing to support the primary worker by sacrificing their own career to stay at home with the children.  In all cases, the word balance comes with a steep price tag.  Balance in any of those reports only calls out how affluent you are and how fortunate it is to be able to "buy" flexibility when you need it.  And in all cases too, it's critical not to overlook what I like to call the "Quota Quotient".  The ratio of female executives and CEO's as compared to male executives is still a product of inequality in the workforce.  Any woman who has made it to the top of the career ladder must still prove that they are worthy of being there for their skills and actual value rather than the fact that their gender satisfies a company's male to female ratios in support of their diverse work culture policies.  This naturally translates to a need then that they have to reinforce that their work dedication is no different in absolutely any way to that of their male counterparts.  If it's harder for them in any way shape or form, it's riskier and it's perceived as a blatant lack of dedication or loyalty to the company and it's profitable outcomes.  We want so much to believe that feminism has been a blanket success, and in the face of providing the "other side" any ammunition to to the contrary, well, we'll opt every time to prove that we can have and do it all, the way our fore-mothers fought for our rights to have it that way.  Especially if the perception of our current status is that we've already won the battle.

I have similarly found a level of balance that makes me happy...but here is the key...I'm happy with it most of the time.  There is no such thing as equally weighted balance, and I make sacrifices every day in my career to facilitate more time with my child.  I was fortunate enough to be able to hire a nanny when I first returned to work after maternity leave, AND was fortunate enough to change my work arrangements in such a way that I was able to work from home full time when I returned to work.  This meant I really got to extend my time with my child beyond my sanctioned maternity leave, and enjoyed that much more "parenting" time, without putting my job at risk.  When the nanny moved on, and we started our child in preschool, again, it was disruptive and I struggled (still do most days) with the choice to work rather than raise and take care of her full time.  I was still fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and so, I'm not losing 2 hours or more every day with a commute, and that 2 hours more I can spend with my child each and every day.  When my systems shuts off at 4 pm, it doesn't go back on until 7:30 am the next morning.  If I have evening calls with Asia, it's done after my child is in bed, and very rarely before.  On the rarest occasions when things have to overlap and work infringes on my time with my child, my husband has to step in and do it alone, but more often than not, she's sitting on my lap colouring and drawing while I listen to the conference call on mute.  Again, I have more flexibility than your average Jane, and I know I'd struggle immensely managing my family priorities if I had just the 2 hour commute to deal with even.

A complicating factor however is my husband's job.  While he's very much a hands on dad, and spends as much time as possible with us doing the family thing, there isn't the same appreciation for familial responsibilities with his job.  His commute is a total of 3 hours every single day.  It significantly reduces his time with the family, AND means that I am the one who takes every single sick day, who takes the burden of most of the child rearing responsibilities and who absorbs the daily tasks of meal preparations, dishes and house cleaning.  We're not financially free enough to afford a housekeeper or other types of domestic help.  And our child was sick for over a year.  This meant my career really took the back seat and it meant that I worked during naps and every spare singular moment on those sick days so that I could avoid losing my job due to excessive absences.  The company I work for is more awesome than most at providing the kinds of flexibility that made this possible, but it took them a lot of years to recognize and acknowledge the lesson.  And it also means that it's hard to reignite my career trajectory, now that my child is healthier and there's more room in my life to prioritize work.  As they say, the damage may have been done.  For someone at the top of the career ladder, this is likely less of a concern weighing on the sleepy mind of a mother who is trying to balance the priorities of work and her family.

So here's my message for let's say, new mom's who are returning to work for the first time, and facing the fact that they'll have to leave their children in the hands of potentially strangers, for care between the hours of 7 til 6, Monday to Friday.  Find as much flexibility as you physically can in your job without jeopardizing the fact that you have one.  Remember to choose caregivers you trust and keep a hawk eye on the care they are giving your child.  TALK to your children every single day about their day, no matter how young they are, so that they open up and actually tell you what happened.  Eventually, their vocabularies will catch up, and you'll know more than you probably ever wanted to.  Remember that you working, is as much about making your family a priority and providing for them as staying home would be.  AND, remember that you are more capable than you think you are.  Balance for average working moms is really about the quality of the time you are spending with your kids.  So involve them in your chores, and make the work to up keep the house feel more like fun.  Get your itty bitty's helping with dinner preparation, or let them paint at the table while you do dishes.  Let the living room be less tidy than the dining room, and play with them while you have your tea and watch the news.  Make baths fun, and crash at 9pm.  Take them grocery shopping, and find a babysitter once every couple of months to watch the kids while you and the spouse do something grown up - like getting beer and wings at a restaurant and watching a grown up movie, you know, at the actual theatre.  Work is work, and it's important.  But remember it's a tool to buy you more time with your kids.  Prioritize it this way, and you'll see some semblance of a balance, in a ratio that works better for you.

AND DON'T READ the articles by women executives thinking they've figured out some magic math that affords them better balance than you can achieve.  The only thing they figured out was how to prioritize work so they could afford more support at home with the kids.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bullying culture - sports connection?

So, I realize I've been a bit quiet the last couple of weeks.  They've been busier than I've seen it be in quite a few months.

The hours I usually have in the evenings to watch news and catch up on what my family has been doing all day was taken up in the kitchen - you guessed it...doing dishes.  Amazing how long that takes to do by hand.  Goodness gracious.  Now that I have a new one in place and I can sigh a breath of sweet relief with the hope that once again I can find out what the weather is supposed to be, I can also reconnect with what's happening around me.

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs just barely lost game 7 of their first quarter final series in nearly a decade.  I'm no avid sports follower, and sports news infuriates me beyond compare most of the time.  But as my husband loves to watch his hockey, we've watched quite a bit of it.  At the beginning of the season, it looked like there would be no hockey at all.  A players strike chewed up half the season and resulted in a compressed schedule that started in January.  It's suffice to say, the teams and players were under a lot of pressure, regardless of what team they played for, to win back the hearts of millions of fans in North America, and win back millions of dollars in revenue lost from the gaping hole of the first half of the season.

All teams did their level best to address the issues resulting from the players strike.  I don't think a game was likely played without a real desire to push forward and win the best they possibly could.  There really was more at stake this year than there have been in previous years.

Let's look more closely at the Leafs culture overall.  The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967.  You could say this is likely the longest losing streak any team has ever experienced in likely any professional sport in all of history.  Still, fans of the game and fans of the team have propped them up and made them one of the most profitable franchises in the National Hockey League.  In fact, they sell the most expensive seats, and are widely known for dinging fans the highest price tags on merchandise.  From a business perspective, they've been ridiculously smart to have leveraged the blind loyalty of the city and the fans who flock and watch them habitually, and from a familial sense of heritage.

The typical Leafs fan that I know, is really simply pleased to see the team win.  They're not aggressive, and by in large, because of the steep cost of merchandise and concessions is just about sober.  And beyond that, with the scarcity of publicly available tickets, a Leafs fan cheers for great saves, great goals and boos as politely as you could imagine a "boo" sounding for goals against them.

Quite seriously, any of the Leafs fans I know were stunned and amazed the team had gotten as far as they had making it just to the playoffs.  Most would have put money on them winning maybe 1 game in the first 4 of the series.  And they were all glued to their televisions as the series was tied up and then when it got to game 7, I can guarantee you millions of Leafs fans were secretly wondering if this could be the year we go several rounds.  Every single one of them wished (absolutely silently for fear of jinxing anything) if this could be the miraculous year when this team, who has defied all odds and who have demonstrated the best skill of any leafs organization in the past 9 years, could actually be the team who delivered Lord Stanley's cup back to hockey central, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Which brings me to the fall out of the observing "non-leaf" fan who was inevitably on the edges of their seats wondering if their team would have to be the next ones to meet them in Round 2.  And if their teams were outright eliminated from the playoffs altogether, either they were watching the Leafs out of sheer curiosity  in fact, maybe even the rubber necking instinct of simply not being able to look any other way, to see if this long time loser could make a good solid run of the playoff season.  Could they really pull it off, and deliver what so many people have dreamed of seeing at least once in their lifetime?  But there are a lot of hockey fans out there, of other teams who simply use these opportunities to talk about the Leafs, in witness of a die hard Leafs fan, in such a way that berates the team (unwarranted by most accounts) and moreover the fans who support them.  Again, I have yet to meet a Leafs fan who is so belligerent that it requires that sort of proactive aggression from any fan of any other team.  That said, I'm not naive, and I'm sure they exist.  BUT, I have seen quite a lot of fans of other teams, be proactively ignorant, aggressive and belligerent  in response to simply the sight of a Toronto Maple Leafs emblem.  And therein lies my concern around the concept of bullying culture.

Where does well intentioned ribbing and "joking around" turn into vehement dislike or at best tolerance of someone else, on the basis of what sports team someone enjoys watching, regardless of their reasoning for choosing that team?  My non-scientific, observer of life hypothesis is that it started in grade school when captains were chosen by the gym teacher and they got to pick their teams.  

My husband recalls being at an Ottawa Senators game years ago and they were playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He wore his Leafs jersey, and recalls being berated throughout the game by complete strangers who were rooting for the Senators.  He also recalls being hit once by a Sens fan, though I'm not sure if it was the result of ill natured banter that escalated.  I read just a couple of weeks ago, how a similar exchange happened at a Senators game wherein a child was frightened by an exchange between Senators fans and a completely innocent bystander at a urinal, because he happened to be wearing the wrong jersey.  In fact, just a short month or two ago, the actual franchise of the Ottawa Senators publicly requested that seat holders NOT sell their seat tickets to known Leaf fans.  This has to be the epitome of exclusionary bullying tactics if I've ever seen it.  It certainly blatantly promotes a sense of ire between the fans of two opposing teams.

Luckily, the friends in my circles are a little less in your face about things like this, but I noticed this morning some definitive statements that were bothersome.  Some commented that their newsfeeds in facebook were clearly the battle ground between fans and that good natured jabs had in fact turned sour.  And one other stood out above everything else I read, highlighting (and I'm paraphrasing because somehow it's been deleted) that it's "hard for the person to stand most leafs fans as it is, was glad they lost so that he wouldn't have to hear their smugness" and other statements that implied there would be "a riot for sure that would deface the CN Tower".  I suspect it got out of control and perhaps that's why it's now been deleted.  But my question is "What fans, and what smugness could the fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs have?"  Seriously.  The team is known for it's history of not making it far enough in any season to win a Stanley Cup, where others have long since won them, and several times in many cases.  So what could be so smug about a Leaf fan that it draws ire?  Perhaps it all boils down to legacy, heritage and loyalty that's unconditional.  Really, at the source of all these rivalries is jealousy over one thing or another.

What it really makes me concerned for though, is how this is translating outside of the arena's, complexes and fields.  If we understand that bullying and picking teams, berating, jabs, and teasing begins as young as preschool, this neanderthal behaviour of berating and degrading others for the team they happen to like is only reinforcing it in the most complicated and irreversible way.

I am not a parent who believes that kids shouldn't learn about competition.  They in fact should learn all about healthy competition and how to use it to fuel them to improve themselves, to refine their skills, and to reinforce the lessons that practicing anything helps to deliver.  Paramount of these lessons is how to be as gracious and good a loser, as you are a winner.  This shameful behaviour is reinforcing precisely the opposite lesson, and it makes me rethink how I should be integrating my own child in the world of sports and competitive play of any kind.

Shame on you hockey fans.  Shame on you.  Please credit the Leafs for getting as far as they have done, and let them close their season with the dignity they have very well earned.  Ensure you pay the same respect to the Montreal Canadiens who have more than once shown the world how skilled and talented they are.  They too deserve your respect.  The fans that support them equally deserve your respect for they are no different than you.  Let's please all remember the golden rule, and remember too - that what goes around comes back around - and if you are a belligerent Ottawa Senators fan who has in fact commented on the behaviour of other teams or fans, do yourself a bit of good kharma work, and apologize.  Make it right.  Round 2 is underway, and it wouldn't be so great to hear about what gaffes, bad plays and poor behaviour you've demonstrated in your quest of failure.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I survived

My first fill.  I'd say it's a bit of a milestone.

I was immensely nervous.  It was a long drive because if you recall, a couple years back we chose a rural life.  These are the days when I feel like where we really live is on Green Acres, and it's one of those times when I wished for "the city life".

Anyway, 1 hour of rural traffic filled with old people on their quest to the "not so big" city, and wedging my very large truck into a very tight downtown paid parking space, was met by some very reassuring words by a very kind nurse like lady who didn't have to wear scrubs and wasn't all you know like uppity about my size.  She seemed sincerely and genuinely proud of my progress, and let me know I was making good food choices.

She poked me y'all.  She stuck a needle in my belly and made the opening to my stomach 1 fraction of a centimeter smaller.  All in the hopes that I could see more weight loss progress.  This was followed by an equally painful drive home, and the knowledge that I'd have to work my way back up to solid foods again, but it's done, and now I can see how the next four weeks rolls along.  This is a long haul thing, and I find it funny that the people around me are the ones most frustrated that my loss hasn't been quicker.  People expect miracles.  I'm so very glad in this instance that I wasn't one of them.

And this is what lead me to the epiphany I had today.  When you expect miracles, you find yourself begging the universe for them.  You need them, you cry out for them, you pray for them.  It's one of the ways that religions have indoctrinated the masses and have acquired their sheep.  It's the dangling carrot.

When you simply appreciate them for their coincidental timing and recognize the effort you yourself have put into creating them, you can simply enjoy them when they occur and as they are coming to fruition.

The miracle of my daughter being born was the result of a lot of hard work, a lot of emotional turmoil, a huge amount of weight loss, and well timed relaxation...

The miracle of my weight loss is the result of a well placed investment of money, effort and time, and equal amounts of support from my family.  I will get there, but in order to get there, it takes all these things.  Time.  Time.  And you guessed it, more time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I missed it - International No Diet Day

This stuff needs more press attention.

Was busy with work yesterday and totally missed that I missed out on a day I wish I'd thought of.

A super smart girl on another blog figured it out and wrote about it though.  I wish I'd read it yesterday!