Does This Loincloth Make Me Look Fat?

A few nights ago, my husband and I were watching Antiques Roadshow (stay with me), looking at giant, hulking pieces of turn-of-the-century furniture, an old box the owner thought was a wine storage box, but turned out to be a sugar cabinet (complete with lock), and pieces of jewelry for which I’d give choice parts of my anatomy.

While we were watching, I absently scrolled through social media, as I sometimes do, and somehow the world of ‘Oops! An entire sleeve of crackers just fell into my mouth!’ and ‘And if you turn the piece over…’ violently collided, and I had a significant revelation: Women, one hundred years ago, probably weren’t overly focused on the size of their asses. 




Lathe operator machining parts for transport p...

Lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, USA (1942). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Women, in factories, during World War II, probably weren't sitting around the break room, going, "Should I have that donut? No, I shouldn't. But I really want that donut. Do you think it would be okay if I had that donut? That donut is giving me the googly eye." And you know why? Because they were busy outfitting their sons and husbands with clothing and ammunition. They were working their gnarly fingers to the bone. They were trying to stay alive.

And then I thought back further, to colonial times. Would they have been scolded for taking two scoops of succotash? NO! Because they cooked it with their own two hands, on a rickety pothook, over an open flame. They could not have possibly been vain, all scurvied up and covered in fifty layers of wool. Plus, they were too busy focusing on the real problem: witches.
A still photo of a Winston advertisement featu...

Looks like Wilma smoked! To stay thin, perhaps? A still photo of a Winston advertisement featuring Fred and Wilma Flintstone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I thought even further back, to caveman times, and at no point do I recall seeing a cave drawing of a group of caveladies, drinking SkinnyGirl margaritas. And why wouldn’t that cavewoman want a little meat on her bones, what with all the bears, men with clubs, and babies hanging off their shoulders all the time? If I needed to run, I’d want a little momentum behind me. That’s physics, people.

It wasn’t until (and you can chew this irony over in your heads) the sexual revolution, the women’s liberation movement, in the ’60’s, that women really started becoming obsessed with their figures. Fashion, fashion magazines, and modeling became big business, and women started looking at themselves far more critically than they ever had.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia became most prevalent in the early seventies. The same women who fought for the right to work, the right to be seen as equal to men, were the ones essentially picking apart their own identities.

Women now have much more time (Thanks, Hot Pockets!) than when they more actively contributed to the machine, when their contributions were (dare I say) more meaningful than bringing Pinterest-inspired cookie bars to the bake sale.

They didn’t have time for self-indulgence, as they were too busy caring for themselves and others, ensuring their community’s survival. Their minds and bodies were active. They had neither the occasion nor the desire to stop long enough to compare themselves to their neighbors.

When women relax today (and it’s not from chopping wood, skinning animals, or plowing fields), the indulgence is a spa day, a pedicure, or a new pair of shoes – all things that somehow affect their outer appearances.

Women constantly receive the message, and here’s the kicker, give the message, that they’re not good enough. Every time a woman puts herself down for eating a cookie, or ‘falling off the wagon’, or buying a box of Fiber One Bars, you know, ‘to stay full’, she reinforces the message that I am not okay the way I am.

It’s an endless loop. I am insecure, therefore I will buy/eat/try something to help me feel less insecure. The companies, who feed off that insecurity, will create another item, which I will utilize when next I feel insecure. I invite you to step out of that loop. When a trail of crumbs leading to the Fountain of Youth, Beauty, Fitness, and Eternal Happiness, is dropped in front of you, you need not follow them.

There are many who depend on this pattern of thinking to survive. They are sharks, waiting patiently to taste a few drops of your blood. If you cease to bleed, the sharks will move on. If you stop throwing the I-feel-terrible-about-myself. I-need-something-to-help-me-feel-younger-or-prettier-or-thinner message out to the universe, the universe will eventually get it. Your peers will get it. Your daughters will get it.

Our foremothers seemed pretty busy sewing American flags, creating the foundation of this country, and holding down the fort. Perhaps the fort’s pretty well secured now, and through the miracles of invention and modern technology, we do have more freedom of mind and body than we’ve ever had.

All I ask is that we stop wasting it, stop publicly broadcasting innocuous-sounding messages that translate as guilt and shame. Stop putting ourselves down. Stop thinking ‘fat’, ‘old’, and ‘ugly’. And stop grasping for interventions to fight them.

At the end of the day, no one’s going to look down at your casket and say, “Wow, she really stayed beautiful, young, and thin until the very day she died! Kudos, abnormally attractive corpse!” They’re going to say, “She was a great mother and friend. The world lost a great person.”

Keep working on being that person.

About these ads

Drinking the Kool-Aid: What Jonestown, the FLDS, and Michael Brown’s Death All Have in Common

I watched a 20/20, or a Dateline, or one of those shows last week. It was a repeat, about Warren Jeffs, and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and it’s haunted me all week.

Temple of the FLDS in El Dorado, Texas

Temple of the FLDS in El Dorado, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basically, this religious sect, if I understand it correctly, is a less-forgiving, more rigid model of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as Mormons. They believe in plural marriage, living exclusively amongst others who believe the same,educating their own, staying far away from the world at large, etc…

Long story short, the original leader of this church, Rulan Jeffs, passed away, and the position was quickly assumed by his son, Warren, who assured his followers he was a conduit of God.

Trouble was, he was a criminal and a rapist, sentenced to twenty-plus years for aggravated sexual assault on a minor, i.e., he had convinced his followers that girls as young as twelve they needed to feel the power of God exclusively through his penis, on a ceremonial bed, surrounded by onlookers. The man himself said, “If the world knew what I was doing, they’d hang me from the highest tree.”

The image of that bed stuck with me all week, and what I imagined were the terrified faces of his victims. The thought that an entire community of people were complicit with his devious plot, without question, and still follow this man’s word from prison, really shakes me.

And it also opened up a wider issue, the issue of drinking the Kool-Aid, a reference to the Jonestown massacre, in 1978, where hundreds of people died by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid at the behest of their leader, Jim Jones.

Wikipedia, not surprisingly, defines drinking the Kool-Aid as “a figure of speech commonly used in the United States that refers to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. It could also refer to knowingly going along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure.”

I’m always a just a little bit nervous when I witness a crowd forming. See, in crowds, especially sheltered ones, things can go very wrong. Very literal madmen can take reckless and harmful control over entire groups of people, human rights are violated, and people are destroyed. It’s not a good scene.

The kicker for me is that the children born into these groups, or – let’s call it what it is – cults, never have a chance. They believe what they are told, and they become part of the machine, unless they have a flash of insight (and are able to act on it) along the way. And even then, they’re threatened with being shunned, rejected, or otherwise ostracized until their beliefs become more congruent to the group’s. This is how groups like this, beliefs like this, survive.

Humans are social creatures, and want to be accepted within their group. Trouble is, sometimes that group acts without regard to the interest or safety of its members, or becomes taken by temporary passion, and people get hurt, even die. Sometimes group dynamics prove dangerous – think the Boston baseball riots of 2004 or the L.A. riots in 1992.

I’d like to say people are mainly interested in the betterment of themselves and society, however history (and the news) has proven otherwise. Some humans are power-hungry, cold, calculating, and dangerously narcissistic, and would go so far as rape young girls in front of a crowd, in the name of God, to satisfy their desires.

And the worst offenses often occur in a vacuum, behind a cloak of secrecy – there must be some complicity for these injustices to occur, whether its voluntary or not.

Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have roots in complicity as well – two unarmed black teens essentially killed due to someone else’s beliefs. I cannot speak to Brown’s guilt or innocence regarding the reason(s) for his apprehension – I simply don’t have enough information – but the pervading thought that young African-American men are dangerous, in and of itself, is one of the subtle ways America stays complicit. 

There’s only a stone’s throw between the murder of a young girl’s spirit at the hands of her megalomaniacal leader and the killing of a teen guided by the invisible hand of our beliefs. But we don’t always see it that way. Today, I challenge you to do so. Also, I urge you to be mindful of the fact that there is danger in both sides – being the person(s) about whom riots begin, and those doing the rioting.

So, looking forward, for yourself and others – Be curious, be open, be skeptical, and be independent in your analyses. Never, ever drink the Kool-Aid. It just might save a life.

Redefining Success: Taking Care of You

Guy Kawasaki, American venture capitalist and ...

Guy Kawasaki, American venture capitalist and one of the original Apple Computer employees responsible for marketing of the Macintosh in 1984. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a Huffington Post article this morning, written by Guy Kawasaki, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at last year’s BlogHer Conference in Chicago, reviewing The Third Metric: Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, written by Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post. The article really, really spoke to me, as a woman, as a college graduate, and as a mother.

Now, I rarely write a post in reaction to another post, which is an advertisement for a Google+ Hangout that has already taken place. It’s just not my style. But this piece sort of stopped me in my tracks. Let’s Stop the Glorification of Busy, published on March 23, 2014 (where have I been?) seemed to be speaking to me directly.

Functioning in a culture that worships hard work (and hard play), I’ve been having an increasingly difficult internal struggle about what does (and what should) make me happy.

I’ve reached a point in my children’s young lives that they can occupy themselves for short spans of time. They take care of their own needs (to a degree, of course), and I’m left with some time to take care of my own. Except I haven’t done that really adeptly in quite some time.

My family is what one would affectionately call ‘old school’. You’d sooner catch them rubbing their fingers raw, washing pots in the sink (yes, the sink) with a dishrag, or scrubbing floors on their hands and knees, before you’d spy them on a patio, drinking a mimosa, reading a book.

This is positive in a way (valuing hard work), and very negative in another (devaluing personal time, space, interests, and recreational activities). According to my family (and probably many of yours), every waking moment should be productive.

I’ve had to explain to my family, on several occasions, why I didn’t accomplish one task whilst another task was being completed (i.e. cleaning up the living room while the laundry was going), and the rationale is always simple: I was tired. I needed to rest.

“Well, that’s why things don’t get done!” they respond, with the wisdom of a thousand sages.

I recently brought someone in to help me clean the house, which plagued me with guilt from the first phone call to the moment they packed up their feather dusters and left. I thought it would unburden me from a great weight, except bringing them into my house only seems to have added more. I have yet to confirm a next appointment.

These are a few reasons Kawasaki’s post, discussing Huffington’s book, stuck with me. I don’t have permission to relax or enjoy myself as an adult, as a parent. I never have.

One part that really invaded my consciousness was a tip from Huffington on Redefining Success. It reads:

There’s no prize for working the most hours per week or making the most money. At the end of our lives, we’re all about the same amount of dust, so the question is how much joy you’ve brought into people’s lives and how much have you made the world a better place.

How true is this? At what point have you heard that loving couple of sixty years, on Today, talking about how well he or she loaded the dishwasher, how much laundry they were able to fold over a weekend, or how timely their oil changes were? How about how many cases of toilet paper they were able to score with double coupons? In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters.

In families stricken with illnesses or other untoward circumstances, there is almost never any mention of the menial tasks with which we’re all saddled.

And when I look back on my childrens’ lives thus far, I don’t think all the boxes of macaroni and cheese I’ve cooked or counters I’ve straightened have made any of us better people. Sure, there’s a lesson in there somewhere about hard work, discipline, and consistency, but these simply are not the experiences we will remember when looking back on our lives, or the lives and contributions of others. I have to remind myself of this almost daily.

All ten of the tips mentioned in the article – activities from walking away from the phone, tablet, or computer for a few hours, to simply taking care of and nurturing one’s self – are simple self-care necessities that we’ve collectively forgotten. And, ironically, all the activities we seem to value the least in terms of accomplishment are the very activities that contribute to our success as human beings.

My husband and I have been considering taking a few classes in the creative arts, but we’re burdened with the guilt of the everyday, and the expenses in both time and money. We’ve wavered, we’ve waffled, and because of that, we’ve yet to commit.

Will we excuse ourselves temporarily from the rat race to allow ourselves these indulgences? We’ll see.

What I have come to know, though, is there is more to life than work and sleep, and though I am well aware of what it takes to make a household or business run successfully, if we’re the conductors, the engines, we need preventative maintenance as well.

It’s time to stop feeling guilty and nurturing ourselves, for our own enduring health and happiness.

There’s a reason the old adage ‘Take time to smell the roses’ stays relevant year after year. If we don’t, we’ll miss out, much like we miss out on our kids’ childhoods when we’re hidden behind piles of laundry.

Do something good for you today, regardless of what it is, how it looks, or how others feel about it. I will, too.

After all, we deserve it. We really do.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The ‘R’ is Silent: Public Speakin’ in Roe Dyelin’

In the company of Bank of America Building and...

Providence (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

As you may have seen, I’m thrilled to be included in this year’s Listen to Your Mother Show in Providence. After recovering from the initial shock of speaking my written words in front of a packed (you’re coming, right?) auditorium, or being digitally inscribed on a YouTube video for all eternity, I found I had a much larger problem.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I speak, I sound like Peter Griffin.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Surely, Steph, you must be mistaken! You sound like Lois Griffin, right?

No. No, I can assure you I don’t. I sound like Peter Griffin. English is actually my second language. Roe Dyelin’ is my first. Now, if you’ve not the pleasure of ever having heard a Rhode Island accent, think Boston, but with a little less ‘eah’. The way we hold our precious, precious faces is just a little less taut than our cohorts to the north. We’re more ‘aaah’. Kiss your R’s goodbye. Think cah (car). Yahd (yard). Pahkin’ lot. Wahl Maht. You get it.

About a month after my husband and I met, we began discussing first impressions. I commented, endearingly, of course, about his big, bald head hovering over the steering wheel of his small car, and he dove right in about my accent.

“Whoa – my accent?” I stopped him. “Is it bad?” I asked, terrified.

“I don’t even hear it anymore,” he said, which, I admit, was a good save, but triggered my inner Hannah Horvath.

“Wait – what?! What do you mean, you don’t even hear it anymore? What did you think when you heard it before? When did you stop hearing it? What was your impression of me? What about now? Now?? Is it better? Can I make it better? Can I fix it? Is it better NOW?”

And my husband, my husband’s got a nonaccent. You could drop him into any state in this great union and no one would bat an eyelash. ‘Where is he from,’ you wonder. America. He’s from America. 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA. That bastard.

The sum total of that conversation turned out to be, “When I first heard your accent, I surmised that you may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after a few moments of compelling conversation, I realized that you’re actually extraordinarily intelligent, ravishing, and downright irresistible.”

There’s something decidedly unsexy about New England accents, something that simply could never stand up to a British purr, or even a Southern drawl, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that I, unfortunately, possess. I can tell you where to get the best lobstah ravioli, though.

The deaf tone with which I’ve approached my life since that point, however, has been both blessing and a curse.

The setting of the last position I held before becoming a mother was very casual. I worked with individuals living in a long-term treatment facility. I saw them in their jammies, they saw me in mine. I wished them goodnights and good mornings. We struggled together over our first cups of coffee. It was homey. Sure, there were therapeutic and professional activities taking place, but I wasn’t normally or regularly lecturing for a group of esteemed colleagues.

After I became pregnant (again and again and again), I found there were few people with whom to converse over three feet tall. As a result, my elocution suffered further, and my little darlings themselves have now developed Juniyah Roe Dyelin’ accents. Adorable.

At our rehearsal last evening, I heard the word enunciate twice. Those nine little letters haunted me all the way home, sliding coyly into my right ear, then snaking their way out the left. I labored over its syllables, hearing each pound painfully against my skull. Eee. NUN. CEE. Ate.

The tremendous irony of this show for me is that the majority of readers are not native Rhode Islanders. I would never trade the diversity of this state, however. It is one of the qualities I adore most about living here. Trouble is, I had always been Peter Griffin telling jokes in a room full of Griffins.

When everyone sounded alike, no one stood out.

As a result, I sought the other native Rhode Islanders rather quickly, like life preservers on a stormy sea, and held on for dear life, their rubbery exteriors comforting me like the softest silk.

I spent the rest of last evening enunciating, pronouncing all the syllables in the words to be read, stretching out my mouth to make all the soundsI proudly declared to my husband this morning, over tea, (that accentless bastard) that I am trying to “EEE- nun – CEE – ATE!”

“Well, don’t overdo it,” he replied.


So, right now just may be the time to admit: I am a stereotype, a caricature, a cartoon. I am Eliza Dolittle. I am Danny Zucco. I am Peter Griffin.

But, goddammit, I’m loveable.

If you need me, I’ll be over at The Drunken Clam, practicing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Smartest Kids in the World: The Smartest Book on Education You Can Read

9781451654424It takes no expert to prove the education system in the United States is broken. Our children consistently graduate high school lacking the skills to keep America competitive in the world market. We’ve slipped in education, respect, and overall mission as a country. Author Amanda Ripley set off on an unprecedented journey to find out why.

Using an aggregate of data, the experiences of high school exchange students, and observation of some of the top-rated countries in the world, the answers became painfully visible.

The book followed three high school students throughout their journeys in top academically-performing countries, Tom, from Pennsylvania to Poland, Kim, from Oklahoma, who traveled to Finland, and Eric from Minnesota, who studied in South Korea.

The differences between the education system in any one of these countries and the US was stark. Most glaring was the countries’ insistence on academic rigor and resilience, rather than placating students and/or parents. Much less emphasis was placed on students’ self-esteem, because it essentially did not translate to increased success as a student or a member of society.

Poland, which overcame significant adversity to become one of the world’s education superpowers, offers a model that neither coddles students nor gives up on them. Finland chooses, educates, and pays its teachers equivalent to highly prestigious careers in the US, and South Korea’s almost unfailing (and anxiety-producing) culture (right or wrong) keeps the focus on education.

This book essentially blows all of our preconceptions about education and success in America out of the water, and almost mocks our emphasis on sports and technology, as neither have been found to positively contribute to learning. In standardized tests administered across the globe, the United States consistently underperforms.

The hypotheses that income, race, or spending per child are positive correlates to learning was proven false, as well as the idea that private education in America is superior to a public one.

Additionally, individuals who choose, or are funneled into, education programs in college are rarely academic top performers. Couple that with America’s dogged insistence on sports and extracurricular activities, and the fact that America’s teachers are woefully underpaid, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for disaster.

This book is eye-opening and should be spark for discussion in any school district. At the very least, this book should be used as a stick of dynamite at the base of this country’s most stolid bureaucracies. For our childrens’ sake.

I will leave you with a quote from  the book that referred to a high school in a western state that had just performed worse than students in 23 countries in math, yet was rated ‘A’ by its home state :

The parents at that school may never know about these results, but the students will find out, one way or another. If not as freshmen in college, when they are placed in remedial math or struggle to follow a basic physics lecture, then in the workforce, when they misinterpret a graph at the bank where they work or miscalculate a drug dosage at a hospital nursing station. This revelation – that they lack tools that have become essential in the modern economy – will in all likelihood arrive privately, a kind of sinking shame that they cannot entirely explain. They may experience it as a personal failing, though I hope they don’t.

I hope they experience it as an outrage instead. Maybe, unlike generations before them, these young Americans will decide that their own children, like children in Finland, deserve to be taught by the best-educated, best-trained professionals in the world. They might realize that if Korean kids can learn to fail and try again before leaving high school, so can their kids. Perhaps they will conclude that Poland is not the only place where change is possible.


This book is a must-read for anyone with ties to the education system in America, and that’s all of us. Pick up your copy (or e-copy) at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

Learn more about Amanda Ripley and The Smartest Kids in the World at her website and follow her on Twitter.

Please click here to watch a trailer of the book featuring the three exchange students whose journeys were chronicled in the book.


Want to win a copy? I am giving away three copies! Please enter using the Giveaway tab by March 31, 2014 at 12:00am ET at the Momma Be Thy Name Facebook page. Entry requires leaving a comment discussing the biggest weakness you see in the US education system. Feel free to leave that comment now! Visit the page for two extra entries!


I was provided a copy of The Smartest Kids in the World by Simon & Schuster in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed herein are my own. Please contact me at for further information or questions.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,922 other followers