Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Category: Feminism (page 2 of 3)

Maria Kang, Here Is My Excuse.

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Ok, this has been floating around and causing a bunch of nasty comments from all sides. Here’s my take.

First, her asking “what’s your excuse?” is just more mom-judging-mom-wars propaganda. You are not competing with other moms. It isn’t a race and there is no set definition of success (and if there were it would be at least 20-30 years in the future for Ms. Kang, since her kids are too young to say “I win!”). Stop being part of what drives women apart.

Second, her comment implies anyone would need an “excuse” not to have achieved the goal SHE set for HERSELF. Good for her for achieving her goal. But, why does she assumes her goal is the goal of all moms. I’m a goal setter by nature and I wonder what her excuse is for not meeting my goals? How far is she in finishing two manuscripts in 2013? Has she meditated at least 3 times a week? Has she read 50 non-fiction books this year? Are her kids able to explain why the government is shut down (her 3 year old could)? What’s her excuse for not reducing the amount of stuff she owns by 80% in 2013?

Do these sound absurd? They should. These are *my* goals and I don’t expect anyone else to be meeting them except me. So, for me to say, “hey what’s your excuse for not meeting this goal?” is so presumptuous that my goals are the most worth-while goals. Which is absurd.

But, of course, Ms. Kang doesn’t stand alone when it comes to finding her goal to be more important than anyone else’s. Thinness is the ultimate goal of human females and everything else you do pales in comparison to how taut your abs are. The supposition is that my goals are pointless if I’m doing it in a fat body. Which is also absurd.

Lastly, her image and message trot out the same old fat shaming (notice I didn’t put quotes around fat shaming like it is some quasi-thing) fallacies. People keep mentioning “good for her for being healthy and fit!” Um, no. This image tells us nothing about her health or her fitness. This image tells us she is skinny and has abs. She could pound cookie dough all night and never touch a salad. Her blood pressure could be through the roof. Her arteries could be lining with plaque. She could do sit ups and lift weights to get her tone but be incapable of running a mile. We know *nothing* about her fitness from this image. What we know is that she’s skinny.

We also know that our society INCORRECTLY conflates skinny with healthy and fat with unhealthy. We know that a mom who was overweight and said “what’s your excuse?” couldn’t possible be talking about her fitness even if the picture was of her crossing the finish line of a marathon. She must be talking about something else because there is NO WAY she’s PROUD of her disgusting, fat body. I mean, really? Ewww.

And if she wasn’t crossing the finish line of a marathon she’d be even more reviled. People would say she doesn’t deserve her kids because she’s going to raise them “fat.” Nevermind that a picture can’t tell you that she is an ER doc that saves lives or a volunteer at the local women’s shelter that many women owe their lives to. None of those things matter. She should quit those things and get her ass to the gym because Ewwww!

Because a woman’s most important goal in life is to make sure the space she occupies is a pretty as possible – oh, and as small as possible too, of course. I mean, it’s kinda nice if you also learn to read and write and save people, but for goodness sake: be pretty.

I hope Ms. Kang is a wonderful mother and also very healthy! AND I hope she also helps people meet their fitness goals in a positive, body affirming way because, of course, she wants them to be physically and mentally healthy. I hope people owe their lives to her and her positive influence. I hope she makes the world a better place.

But she didn’t do that with this image. This image makes the world a worse place. A place where more mother-shaming, mom wars, judgement, shaming, and lack of humility and acceptance are reinforced.

What’s my excuse? I’m busy making the world a better place.

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

This article was originally posted on Everyday Feminism.  This Thursday 4/4 I’ll be on EF Talk Radio taking questions about Gender Neutral Parenting! Tune in and learn more.

Practicing Gender Neutral Parenting – Thur, 4/4, 8 pm EST/5 pm PST

Credit: NAYEC

 

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing” to my 20 week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section – defined by blank green and yellow onesies – of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

This is largely because most parents today know the sex of their child prior to birth thanks to ultrasound technology. The demand for clothes that are non-gendered is lower and companies step in with specialized clothing that increases their sales.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it ok if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess” for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what Gender Neutral Parenting is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts” for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts” because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that gender neutral parenting’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution – the theory that gender roles are completely learned – we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper” behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train” a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves.  A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their final sexual preferences but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex – e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia – should not dictate “allowable” behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

According to TransActive, 85% of gender nonconforming children/youth are cisgender and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. So, you heard it here. Johnny (or Beckett) wearing nail polish will not make him gay.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What’s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: Gender Neutral Parenting isn’t “neutral” at all it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

Paige Schilt uses the term “gendery” to define this concept;

Rather than just begrudgingly allowing our children to play with “opposite gender” toys, the gendery parenting paradigm would encourage us to give children the language to think critically about gender binaries and gendered hierarchies.

With this in mind we would not pass judgment on a child’s choices but help them to think critically about the options society presents.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans* Kids

This myth supposes that Gender Neutral Parenting is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans* kids overcome the pain of being different but it has no value for a cisgender child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans*. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans* and as mentioned above, most gender-bending kids will not be trans* as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans* childrens’ lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using” kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender-norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to train this into them you are by the default of gender suggestions that ubiquitously surround us everyday. Think Barbie saying “Math is Hard” and then ponder why so few women enter science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Think “boys don’t play with baby dolls” and then ponder why men don’t have the same skill level with newborns that women do.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement then it is one I’m proud to make.

So What Does This Look Like?

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my daughter doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that’s not girly enough” or “you’d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I engage her in conversations about people’s abilities (e.g. “Why is Alicia your favorite character on Go Diego, Go!”) so she can articulate things beside gender.

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess” but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

As she gets even older, I can ask “why do you like that one?” and start conversations based on stereotypical answers.

Most parents I know cringe when their seven year old says “that’s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self aware. I’ve let gender-expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

What does gender neutral parenting look like in your house?

Good Food v. Bad Food

Photobuckethostess_20120111064640_640_480Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!  I have two follow-up posts: Big Fat Myths About Fat and this one.

Many commenters had problems with #6 and #13 in my list;

  • Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
  • Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).

For example, one commenter said, “I think this is ignorant regarding food options. It is highly important to educate your children about proper food intake & nutrition.”

So, let’s talk about why you don’t want to label foods as good and bad and then I’ll look at if there actually are good and bad foods.

Why You Shouldn’t Call Foods Good/Bad

The dichotomy of Good v. Bad is one that children learn very early on.  If you have a preschooler you’ll hear them talk about the good guys and bad guys in tv programs.  My daughter has even said “my good” when she helps pick up toys and this is with a very strong intention on my part to NOT label her (or her behavior) as good or bad.  When she is “good” I’ll say “thank you! You were so helpful.”  And, when she does something “bad” I’d say “If we rip pages out of a book then we can’t read the story any more.  Let’s tape it back in.”  This isn’t a post about gentle parenting but needless to say labeling kids with value judgments is not a good thing.  Even good labels are bad (ha!) for two reasons; 1) kids know the opposite of good.  If you say they are good then they know that they have a capability of being bad, and 2) placing a value judgement as vague as good becomes an external pressure on your child.  If you want to read more about this concept you can start here.

What does this have to do with food?  Before we can get there we need to look at another aspect of child development called moral reasoning.  The pyramid on the left is Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development.  Children start at the bottom self-preservation and move up to adult moral reasoning at the top.  Up to age 10 children fall into the three lowest levels while middle schoolers tend to be very black and white in a “law and order mentality” it is only in the later teen years (or older) that principled morality, recognizing shades of gray, is developed.

A young child can clearly understand good and bad based on the effect it has on those around them but they can not differentiate between a good person and a bad deed.  The idea that the bad guy on Monday can do something very good on Tuesday is too complex.  You are either good OR bad.

When you say “Twinkies are bad” and your child thinks, “I think Twinkies taste good and Twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad.”  And, even worse, “well I’m bad so I might as well just eat bad foods.”

And don’t think just sticking to good works!  If you say “fruits and vegetables are good” they are going to deduce that other foods are bad.  AND they won’t eat their veggies.  Oh, and don’t think trading another word works.  Kids know the opposite of healthy is unhealthy and the connotation intended.

It is too important to me that my kids develop a self-image that is positive for me to label them even indirectly.

But Twinkies ARE Bad!

Twinkies are horrible.  They aren’t even food they are “food-like substances”.  I don’t want my kids to eat Twinkies.  I want them to eat fruits and veggies and lean protein, etc. The fear is that if you don’t scare your kids with “DOOM for all Twinkie eaters!!” then they will eat nothing but Twinkies forever and ever.

But the opposite is true: Research has shown that creating forbidden foods actually increases poor eating habits in kids (see twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad above).  Other studies have shown that authoritative feeding styles in caregivers increases children’s consumption of healthy foods.

How To Encourage Healthy Eating Without Labeling

Authoritative Feeding is a style of parenting the eating relationship with the ultimate goal being your child making healthy food choices.  Parent-controlled feeding (Authoritarian Feeding) has the opposite of desired effects (as in the forbidden food research).  If your goal is to make your child a good choice maker then you need to give them choice.  There are 3 great ways to do this:

1. Have a Division of Responsibility.

You are responsible for providing options, a place, and a time to eat.  Your child is solely responsible for what they eat and how much.  SOLELY RESPONSIBLE.  That means stop with the nagging or commenting on how much they eat or what choices they made.  Remember that children learn food likes and dislikes through nurture not nature.  They eat what they see eaten; what they see served.

2. Provide Choice.

With young kids a choice between two things is best.  “Do you want an apple or grapes for snack?”  This gives them control over their food choices. A caveat here that drives some parents batty: kids waste food.  My daughter eats half an apple a day…and leaves the other half to rot.  This drives my husband crazy!  But what are you going to do?  Tell them they can’t have an apple for snack?  Yell at them to finish their apple?  Anything you can do is counter intuitive   You could maybe give a sliced apple but my daughter likes to eat whole ones like a big girl.  I chalk up wasted food to the cost of raising a healthy eater.  Let it go.

3. Give Trust and Control When Possible.

I recommend having a “junk food” stash that your kids can get to.  Talk to them about how much candy they should be eating in a day (negotiate don’t tell) and then let them decide when to eat it.  With little kids it might be a “now or later” choice but as they get older it can be a weeks worth of candy that they are responsible for.  They can binge in one hour or make it last all week.  Little kids and those new to this control will always choose NOW and ALL but they won’t forever.  They will learn to delay gratification, space out treats, and trust their gut.  Stick firm to the limit and discuss the choice they made (“honey, you ate your candy for today this morning.  Maybe tomorrow you want to make a different decision and keep some for after dinner?”).

It is difficult to trust children when everything about our culture says they can’t be trusted and need to be controlled by adults.  But, remember, you are raising an adult not a child.  That means you want to nurture their strong decision making skills and they can’t do that if you control all the decisions.  

 But Are Some Foods Bad?

A Twinkie really is a bad food in my book because it isn’t food at all.  I’d rather make a fattening, sugary confection from real food and let my kids eat it than to let them eat a bunch of chemicals disguised as food.  My kids will learn from me about chemical dyes, artificial flavors, etc.  That is much more important to me than their ability to count calories or fat grams.  Humans can learn to trust their eating instincts – you won’t eat yourself to death with butter – but chemicals are like any drug in that they trick your body into thinking you need that non-food.  I trust humans but not drugs and that’s what food-like substances are.

I still won’t use labels of good and bad, and with all my kids being under 4, I don’t talk about this explicitly much but I will as they get older.  And even then, I will trust them to make their own choices.  (as long as they don’t have a dangerous sensitivity) I will let my kids pick the Twinkie if that is the choice they make.  Why? Because I’m not afraid.  Because bad foods don’t make bad people.  Because they love apples and eating is joy for them not a landmine field.  But mostly because their relationship with eating is so much more important than what they eat.

This concludes my follow-ups to the original article.  I know that our culture is firmly entrenched in;

a. fat is unhealthy
b. shame helps people get skinny
c. losing weight is easy with diet and exercise

so I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind with three posts.  However, if you look at the research I’ve linked to and maybe read a few books you will see that the evidence is overwhelming in favor of intuitive eating and against the dangerous mentality we currently have toward food.  I hope I’ve piqued your interest to learn more.

Raising a Family on Food Stamps (SNAP)

The most surreal thing happened to me last week.  I was asked to participate in a live, online discussion on HuffPostLIVE called Faces of Food Stamps.  You can view the 1/2 hour program here.  It is so awesome that my post I’m a Welfare Mom has generated so much discussion here and on Everyday Feminism.

The HuffPostLIVE segment was prompted by a woman in Georgia who was harassed at a grocery store for being on Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP).  The guests were myself, Sandi Bachom, who is living on Food Stamps in NYC, Jojo Rhines, who is living on food stamps in South Carolina, and Mayor Greg Stanton, Phoenix, AZ Mayor who spent one week living on a Food Stamp budget (and limitations).  It was a wonderful discussion that brought up a lot of good points about how we treat people on “welfare”.

Is it Hard to Live on Food Stamps?

It was universal the dehumanized way people on Food Stamps are made to feel so in that aspect it is difficult to live on Food Stamps.  One thing I found interesting was that the other guests were talking about how difficult it is to eat on a Food Stamp budget.  A single person seems to get anywhere from $16 to $37 per week.  The national average is $133.14 per month.  I had never broken it down like this and that is a small amount to eat, let alone eat healthily. That’s $1.47 per meal.

I have to admit that I have found Food Stamps to be more than I used for groceries prior to Food Stamps.  I originally got $768 a month – that sounds like A LOT! – but is $153 per person per month.  The thing is you get economy of scale when you are cooking for a family.  If I make a pot roast I don’t have to buy 5 roasts, 5 pounds of potato, etc.  I can reduce my overall cost by combining and sharing.  Of course, my kids are small so I’d hate to estimate how much a family with 3 teens would need.  However, I still think the amount is high and perhaps the SNAP program could fund increased single-user benefits by calculating in an economy of scale decrease for families?

A couple other things to keep in mind with regards to Food Stamps: it is easy for me to cook from scratch and that is a very privileged position.  I have time, a plethora of tools that I had before going on Food Stamps, and the knowledge from a mother and grandmother that cooked from scratch.  This is not something that all Food Stamp recipients have at their disposal.

I’ve always disliked the image above because it makes a huge white, middle class privilege assumption.  If you are going between two jobs or working double shifts you don’t really have time to cook.  Do you have a functioning oven? A functioning refrigerator to grocery shop in this manner?

I think it is important to realize that everyone does not start with the same tools and opportunities.  We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know.

Are Food Stamp Recipients Lazy?

The other take away I wanted people to get was that many Food Stamp recipients do work.  The Georgia woman can’t work because she’s on dialysis.  Sandra Bechom is on assistance due to disability/age.  It is fitting that the guy who harassed the woman in Georgia gets to live with judging her as lazy when in fact she’s dancing with death.  Judge not, huh?

Here’s the thing though, I don’t like the idea of “well that’s ok because they deserve Food Stamps” implying that others do not.  At no point in our Food Stamp journey has my family been jobless.  Yes, I haven’t went back to work because I’m staying home with my kids instead of working only to afford child care.  My husband worked a retail job during our 5 months of Food Stamps.  He wasn’t lazy he was the working poor.

Food Stamps are available to families making at or under 130% of the Federal Poverty Line.  In 2012 the Federal Poverty Line for a family of 5 is $27,010.  That means you are considered underemployed and eligible for SNAP up to $34,032 (gross) for a family of 5.  Note, at that annual income a family of 5 would get less than $20 per month in Food Stamps so the sliding scale approaches zero quickly at the higher end and definitely does not cover a substantial portion of the needed food budget.

So why should an employed person get help?  For me, the obvious reason is everyone deserves a meal.  Especially kids (note that able-bodied adults without dependent children are normally only allowed Food Stamps for 3 months).  But, Food Stamps and other working poor entitlements like EIC, are often touted as alternatives to increasing the minimum wage.  These programs are designed to make living at a less-than-living wage possible without requiring businesses to shoulder the whole burden.  That is a Republican idea.  Don’t put it all on business and the minimum wage.

The fact is that the majority of Food Stamp recipients either can’t work (elderly/disabled/primary care givers for children or disabled) or are in fact working.  According to Forbes only 16% of recipients are non-working and without children.  A full 30% of SNAP households are working at below a living wage and use Food Stamps to offset the deficit in wages.  The US ranks first in amount of people on Food Stamps and I think this is why: other countries invest in living-wage policies and thus require less food supplementation.

Are you wondering now if you know someone eligible for SNAP who doesn’t even know it?  I bet we all do.  The USDA estimates that 1 in 4 eligible people don’t receive SNAP. During the Bush Administration commercials actually ran to increase enrollment – which worked – increasing participation by 63% (source).  I don’t see any rational reason for avoiding SNAP.  This overblown idea that American’s are “bootstrappers” who “built that” is total bs.  If your country says that increased wages are not possible for x business but this program can supplement your income then why avoid that?  You don’t avoid public schools for those that can’t afford private; you don’t avoid middle-class tax credits like the mortgage interest deduction.

I mean think about it: The government is saying that homeownership is difficult and they want to help people make that happen.  Instead of sending everyone a check for a down payment they decided to allow an interest deduction.  Does anyone say “well I’m not going to take that because I’m a self-starter and can do it on my own!”?  No way!  So if you are working in one of the millions of jobs that the government has decided is not paying a living wage and they are pointing you to this program to help you why is that stigmatized?

Well the stigmatization ends for me.  I refuse to hang my head for supplementing my husband’s income with SNAP.  My husband does an important job keeping the electricity running in this country and the government says we get a little help based on the pay he gets.  I’m taking it!  We aren’t lazy.  We aren’t irresponsible.  If he didn’t do that job then someone else would need to.  They should be able to have a family too.  I’m taking the mortgage deduction.  I’m taking the EIC if I’m eligible.  Maybe some day everyone will get paid a full living wage.  Until then I’m using the programs that are available for me and my children.

Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

source: http://scaddistrict.com/

Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!

I’ve been reluctant to talk about some of the naysayers because I’m not primarily a size-acceptance blogger and there are so many great bloggers out there already doing the work.  However, I haven’t been able to reply to every comment so I figured it was time for a clarifying post.

First, the post in question was a revisit of a previous post “I Don’t Think of You As Fat!” Raising Size-Accepting Children where I provided a little more background on why shaming doesn’t work and how close most kids skate to an eating disorder.

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives[1. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.]
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner[2. Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.]
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat[3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets[4. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Several comments left are completely off base and lacking in a factual basis.  For example,

Fat = Unhealthy

 the fact that you refute fat=unhealthy is completely off base. This is not just some beauty myth. Being overweight truly is unhealthy. It taxes our joints, our organs and every part of our body.

It’s absurd to think being overweight is as healthy as being ideal or average weight.

Uh, no. Sorry.  Not true.  This is an idea promoted by the diet industry not science.  Researchers at Case Western Reserve studied the idea that “fat” taxes our organs when in fact “the idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis“.  I recommend this series of articles from Junkfood Science for more information: 

Fat – aka adipose tissue – is not a disease.  It doesn’t cause disease.  It has even been shown to be healthy.  I love this quote from Kate Harding at Shapely Prose;

In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes.

Losing Weight is Easy

 Weight control is pretty simple – eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Maybe they would do it if told/shown how…If I had an overweight child I would help them lose weight and it WOULD happen.

The hubris here defies logic.  Three words: Minnesota. Starvation. Study.  You can read about it here or here.  Of course scores of other researchers have found the same thing like this for example which has a fascinating follow-up where they tried to get thin people to gain weight;

subjects were prisoners at a nearby state prison who volunteered to gain weight. With great difficulty, they succeeded, increasing their weight by 20 percent to 25 percent. But it took them four to six months, eating as much as they could every day. Some consumed 10,000 calories a day, an amount so incredible that it would be hard to believe, were it not for the fact that there were attendants present at each meal who dutifully recorded everything the men ate.

Once the men were fat, their metabolisms increased by 50 percent.

They needed more than 2,700 calories per square meter of their body surface to stay fat but needed just 1,800 calories per square meter to maintain their normal weight.

Within months, they were back to normal and effortlessly stayed there.

So, no.  Losing weight is not easy, simple, or even beneficial in some cases.  Everyone’s body has a healthy size and trying to alter it is nearly impossible and a bad idea.

But I know a fat person that got skinny!  No, you probably know an out of shape person that got in shape.

Stay tuned for part II where I”ll look at the myths of Good vs. Bad Food and the myth of Nutritionism.

Welfare and Infertility

I’m so excited that Everyday Feminism is cross posting my article on being a Welfare Mom.  This new feminism site is great because it focuses on practical issues in feminism and personal stories of living as a feminist.  Like them on Facebook too!

Here’s the thing.  Of course I immediately got a comment on my blog post from last week about Extra Embryo Options that said: “How can you spend thousands of dollars on IVF when you’re on welfare? Shame on you.”

/facepalm

Way to completely miss the point of the article (both of them)!  I use my personal life experiences to start exploring social issues – it’s called writing.  If you can read my article about welfare and come away with only the realization that “she’s on welfare” then you are probably a lost cause.  I don’t think I need to make my blog a play-by-play of my life, and I’m probably feeding the trolls by even responding, but here goes.  Nice and slow so everyone can keep up.

I’m no longer on “welfare”.  My husband got a great job in April and our healthcare started in June.  We moved to my hometown into a beautiful old house that I used to sell Girl Scout cookies to as a kid.  It has all be very exciting!  I was on welfare for 5 months.

THANK GOD FOR WELFARE!!

I left a life-draining and horrible situation at NASA in October and social programs kept my family fed and healthy (Aellyn was hospitalized in February – having medicaid saved my family from health-related bankruptcy!) while my husband found a decent job (note: at no point were we a zero-employment household as Pete got a job immediately before I quit).  In a social programs-free society I wouldn’t have been free.  I would have been a slave to a bad situation.  I would have been trapped between horrible and hungry.  Welfare helped me get my family into a healthier place.

THANK YOU FELLOW CITIZENS!

Your contributions to our social contract helped my family immensely.  I hope, one day, if you ever need a safety net that I can help you with that.  It doesn’t matter if I deem your situation “acceptable” or if you make decisions the way I would.  It doesn’t matter if you need help for 5 months or 5 years.  You are a valuable member of this society.  You are a valuable person. Your value is in no way diminished by your circumstances.

Even if you are an assumption-jumping, judgmental douchebag.

 

I’m a Welfare Mom

I’m on “welfare”.  Whatever that means.  None of the social services that I’m participating in are called “welfare” and there are thousands of social welfare programs in the United States.  However, many are socially acceptable while food stamps are “welfare”.

If you live in a country that provides comprehensive social programs (read: everywhere but here) I have to explain the connotation of that word “welfare”.  It is said like the lowest and most disgusting thing ever.  People here say “she’s on welfare” they way they’d say “she kills baby seals”.

The response I’ve gotten from some people because I’m using social assistance has been…eye opening.  People you think are your friends become vicious.  This made me hesitate to write about it.  Especially since one of those people is my Dad.  I don’t think he would agree with any reason under the sun for quitting a job and going on welfare.  I was afraid he’d be embarrassed if anyone he knew read this.

Then a few weeks ago Gina, over at The Feminist Breeder, mentioned her difficulty with WIC (Woman Infant Child, a national child nutrition program run by the USDA) and (as they tend to do with EVERYTHING Gina says) the response was…eye opening.  Half the people thought she should be ashamed that she wasn’t growing her own food in her backyard (in Chicago. in February.) while the other half thought she was “milking” the system.  That’s when I knew I had to speak out about my own experiences with social welfare (I’m actually not going to talk about WIC specifically because it needs its own post).

My Experience

The Monday after I resigned from NASA I was sitting in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services applying for public assistance.  It is a first come first served thing where you get a number and sit around for hours trying not to make eye contact with anyone else.  I, as usual, was writing a blog post in my mind about the experience.  Like how I hid my iPhone behind my purse because I thought I should feel shame to have an iPhone and be getting welfare.  Everyone else was hiding their phones too. Or how the waiting room had primarily white people, a handful of black people, two Hispanic families, and one middle eastern family with a translator.  All ages were represented.

Five hours later a woman called my number and led me back to her office.  She never made eye contact with me.  At her desk I was seated behind her while she typed away on a computer, asking me questions to verify my information.  I didn’t even see her face until I tried to make small talk.  By the end of the meeting we were talking about our favorite novels because that’s how I roll :).  I wonder if she has disdain for people on welfare or some people really are rude or maybe her workload is just insane.  I know the crappy DOS program she had to use was insane.

So, here is what my family of five was eligible for:

  • $786 in food stamps
  • $627 in cash assistance
  • Ohio Medicaid for the kids (Ohio Healthy Families)

Because I worked the first week of October our benefits would not start until November 1.  I was so relieved that my kids would have medical coverage and that we wouldn’t go hungry.

Am I embarrassed?

Maybe a little but at this point because of the treatment at the office – like I’m not human. But, I am not ashamed.  I am a productive member of society.  I have paid taxes for years into our social welfare system and I plan to pay into it for years to come.  I’m well educated and I think I’m a benefit to society.  And, most of all, I’m glad I live in a society with social welfare programs.  It is no secret that I’m a socialist.  All the way.  I want it all.  Give me Sweden.  Thanks.

I “put myself in this situation” because I quit instead of getting fired or laid off.  To some people this makes it unforgivable that I’m using social assistance.  No one even took the time to ask why I felt the need to quit – to some there would be no reason ever acceptable to quit a job.  I was really attacked about this – people said I quit to stay home with the kids or because I didn’t “like” my job.  I was told to “man up” like everyone else.  I’m happy I live in a country that has escape clauses for people in bad situations.  I don’t want women to endure horrible situations because if they don’t want their kids will starve.  But, I’m going to focus on peoples’ reactions to welfare in general and not my reason for being on welfare since it relates to how thousands of people are treated daily.

I Encounter the Policing of the Poor

My first encounter with what I call “policing the poor” was on a message board of moms.  The topic of welfare reform came up and I thought I’d share my experiences and specifically my amounts of support to give us a frame of reference for discussion.  Bad move.  The attacks came in three forms:

1. “I think food stamps shouldn’t be able to buy pop or chips or cookies.” These comments were all about policing the nutrition of the poor.  The feeling that if “my money” is paying for it they should have to eat healthy.

Being poor or needing social assistance means that these people should have their choice taken away?  I’m all for a healthier diet for everyone but food stamps is not a license to start dictating behavior.

2. “I hate when I see someone using food stamps with their hair and nails done and on their iPhone and driving a Range Rover.” These comments were all about policing the enjoyment and finances of the poor.If you need social assistance then you should not be happy.

It doesn’t matter that getting out of a phone contract can be more expensive than just maintaining.  Or that the Range Rover is paid off.  Or that your cousin did your nails for free as a pick-me-up.  Or maybe that person has only been on welfare for a few weeks.  If you happen to live in a half million dollar house and drive a lexus the government does not make you sell all those things and live in an alley before your kids can eat.  Welfare is a helping hand to fill the gaps while someone finds a new job.  Besides who are you to judge their choices?  My husband and I discussed it and decided we would give up our cable internet connection before our phone plans because we don’t have a land line and that ensured our Internet access which helps us find jobs.  You can’t tell just because someone has an iPhone in their hand that they are abusing the system.

3. “I work and don’t have health insurance for my kids.” These comments were about how many people are working but get no assistance.  People out of work should not be better off than someone who is working.

I hear ya.  I think the underemployed and underinsured is a huge problem.  This is why I believe in a) a living wage, and b) universal healthcare.  It is sad when working can be less desirable than welfare but it happens every day!  Mere weeks after our initial benefit approval we had the $627 cash assistance terminated and our food stamps dropped by $300 because my husband worked a double shift on Thanksgiving and made $100 extra in his check.  Isn’t working more hours the right thing to do?  The system penalizes doing the right thing

The Cult of the Employed

I heard a lot of “you are using my hard earned money”.  This is baffling to me.  It isn’t your hard earned money – it is the fee you pay to be part of this society.  I don’t hate taxes, am I the only one?  We pay our “societal membership dues” for the betterment of all.  You use social welfare programs too:

  • public schools
  • public libraries
  • public roads
  • public parks
  • unemployment compensation
  • disability compensation
  • child care tax credit
  • earned income credit
  • pell grants (for college)
  • Stafford loans (for college)
  • social security
  • farmer and corporate subsidies

When someone gets a pell grant (which is need based) do you get upset because “your hard earned money” is going to someone that should have worked harder to save that money?

For some reason only “welfare” is marginalized.  That is – cash assistance and food stamps. Could it be because it is disportionately women and children?

How much of “your money” are all these welfare moms using anyways?

There is a wonderful way to visualize where your tax dollars go.  It is called, funnily, Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?  You can put in your income and filing status and get an actual bill of where your tax dollars went.  Here it is for Married Filling Jointly and making 50K a year.

The actual amount “you” paid for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) is $128 (1.5% of total taxes paid).  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (cash assistance) cost you $32 (.4% of total taxes paid).  And of that money only 27% is the actual “cash” assistance the rest is job programs, child care supplements, and administration.

By contrast – paying for unemployment compensation cost you $336 while “middle class welfare”, e.g. programs like mortgage tax credits, education tax credits, etc. far exceed assistance for the poor.

I found lots of conflicting information and it is hard to get current statistics but anywhere from 60 to 90% of welfare recipients use assistance for less than 2 years.

Why We Need Welfare

The amount of social assistance programs a country has the lower its child poverty rate.  Period.  The US has an alarming child poverty rate. In 2005 the numbers were (via UNICEF);

I do not think this is something to be proud of!  According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, poverty actually results in a loss of 8.2 “years of perfect health” — exceeding the effect of smoking.

[box]Research finds that experiencing poverty during the first three years of life is related to substandard nutritional status and poor motor skills. Childhood poverty is also related to “age-normed growth stunting” (low height-for-age) and “wasting” (low weight-for-age), common indicators of poor nutritional  status.  At the other extreme, poverty is also associated with obesity among children.  As they get older, poor children are more likely than other children to have chronic health problems such as asthma and anemia.  Low-income children and adolescents are also more likely than higher income youth to have a physical impairment that restricts their activities.  Adolescents living in poverty are more likely than their higher income peers to get involved in risky and health-compromising behaviors, such as smoking or engaging in early sexual activity.  Health problems associated with poverty during early childhood become  risk factors themselves for developmental problems in later life, including problems in the achievement,  cognitive, language, social-emotional, and physical domains (source).[/box]

The fact is we all benefit from social programs.  Poor, wealthy (tax breaks), families, corporations (through subsidies), farmers (subsidies), and we all benefit from a fed, healthy, educated populace.  The vilification of one type of assistance (and one type of recipient) stems from misguided beliefs about the burden on society and fraud (vendors commit over 90% of the fraud in welfare eta: the number is 93% as per a study done in Mass.).  Who suffers? The Children.

Being poor, down on your luck, a mother, a woman…does not convey the right to police every decision and making broad assumptions about a woman using a “food stamp” is just asinine.  You can’t know her journey and you should know the alternative.

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

IMG_1081Don’t forget to check out the follow-up post Big Fat Myths About Fat.  Comments are closed on this post since I will be responding via the follow-up posts.  Please comment on the new posts.

I wish I could say the above images were designed by me to make a point about fat-phobia and how poorly kids are treated when they don’t fit society’s ideal of size.  Maybe I threw them together because I thought the SHOCK of seeing kids would help people understand how fat-shaming in adults can feel.

Alas, a group in Georgia actually produced these billboards in an attempt to end childhood obesity. Apparently they thought that shame was a good way to motivate kids to eat healthier and exercise.  Clearly, they also are working under the delusion that size can somehow magically tell you about a person’s health.

I just want to vomit when, in a time where anti-bullying campaigns are making headway, some kids, skinny or fat, had to see this hateful and erroneous message in their towns.  There are plenty of other bloggers that have written about how wrong these ads are (I love this one: What’s Wrong with Fat Shaming?).

Instead, I wanted to revisit a previous post of mine where I talked about how fat-shaming and the fallacy of size=health hurts everyone: skinny and fat.  These billboards didn’t just do a bang up job of making fat kids the target of hate but they also put “being fat” in the minds of kids as being the absolute worst thing that could happen.  Where do we think eating disorders come from?  A self-hatred and fear so strong that young people starve, vomit, over-exercise, take dangerous pills, and otherwise slowly kill themselves is the root of eating disorders.

When we say “fat is bad” we instill that fear.  And it works. Remember the study that showed 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat?  How do you think this billboard effected those numbers?

It is not too late.  As parents we have a powerful influence in how our kids grow up feeling about their bodies and their relationship to food.  Many of them are things we can say (or not say) that have a huge impact.

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

    1. Never use the word fat in a derogatory way.  Avoid media that does.
    2. Never imply that you can’t do something or wear something because of your size (“oh, not with these thighs!”)
    3. Never compliment others based on size (how many times is “you look so thin!” the ultimate compliment?)
    4. Point out the beauty of diversity in people and nature – nurture the idea that beauty is diversity.  I love to say “what would the word be if all the flowers looked the same?”
    5. Avoid making physical activity about size or based on what you ate (“I have to jog off that cake”).  Physical activity should be joyful.
    6. Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
    7. Offer a variety of foods and model moderate indulgence and a wide consumption of foods. Eating should be joyful.
    8. Don’t make your kids eat if they say they aren’t hungry[1. Unless you suspect an eating disorder in which case contact your doctor].  The refrain “finish your dinner!” should be stricken from the mommy lexicon.  Better to let them trust their bodies than feel guilt about wasting food.
    9. Don’t deny your kids food if they say they are hungry.  Another area where we often ignore our kids opinions and feelings.  Try to make your pantry a “yes” pantry with a variety of healthy options that your kids can eat when they want.
    10. Never comment on the amount (too little or too much) that your kids eat.
    11. NEVER use food as a reward, incentive, or punishment!  (this is SO abused among parents!!)
    12. Guard your children against negative body-image media – stop your subscriptions to women’s mags, don’t watch Biggest Loser, Toddler and Tiaras (focusing on appearance), and any variety of shows promoting appearance as a route to happiness.
    13. Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).
    14. Encourage alternative means of self-esteem besides appearance – spirituality, values, empathy, effort, etc.
    15. Volunteer!  It is much harder to think of something so superficial as size in the face of true plight.

The Presidential Election and Infertility Law

I think I deserve a pat on the back for not calling this post “Newt is an Ass”.  Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former speaker of the House that was pushed out in a ground–breaking censure by his own colleagues for ethics violations, is somehow inexplicably an actual contender for President of the United States of America.  Yes, in America we (at least some of us) love mediocrity – we love presidents that drop out of college and can’t even fulfill their obligations to their constituents.  I literally think I’m getting a repeated use injury from rolling my eyes this election cycle.  I don’t even know what I’ll do if November actually elects one of these degenerates.

Anyways…

Newt recently weighed in on IVF and the “problem” of excess embryos.  He said;

[box]I believe life begins at conception, and the question I was raising was what happens to embryos in fertility clinics, and I would favor a commission to look seriously at the ethics of how we manage fertility clinics. If you have in vitro fertilization, you are creating life; therefore, we should look seriously at what the rules should be for clinics that are doing that, because they are creating life.[/box]

First off, I completely agree that life begins at conception.  I certainly think my IVF cycle created 17 lives – 13 of which arrested and died.  Three of which were frozen.  I think those frozen embryos are my children – unique individual souls.  Two of them are now my flesh and blood sons while I have one more snowflake baby in cryo.

That’s what I believe.  Yeah, me.

I certainly don’t think that *my* beliefs should be forced on every other person in this free society.  There are plenty of people who see an embryo as a potential life only and as human tissue not a human being.  Since I also believe in religious freedom and individual medical choice I would never dream of forcing my beliefs on others.

Because, don’t be fooled.  This is 100% an abortion issue.  The only reason Newt pretends to care about IVF embryos or stem cell research is it strengthens his argument to control womens’ choice to have an abortion.  I detest the attempt by the religious right to control my body.

I detest even more politicians bringing infertile couples into their political posturing.  We’ve been through enough, thanks.  Why don’t you go call a pro-lifer a baby killer and get out of the infertility discussion.  (not that doing so isn’t also douche-y).

What Newt is apparently ignorant of is the existing, heavy regulation that governs IVF and embryology labs.

Furthermore, I take offense at his remark that “if you do IVF, you are creating life.”  First off, DUH. We are infertile we know more about the quest to create life than he could ever hope.  Second, NO.  Mainly, when you are doing IVF, you are treating a medical disorder.  IVF isn’t some spa treatment like the latest chemical peel.  It is a medical treatment for a medical disease.

The flippant way that he discusses this sounds like he thinks we are randomly pumping out embryos for fun.  I’m sure he thinks women who have abortions are doing it for fun too. The general lack of understanding about the HUGE physical and emotional difficulty of an IVF cycle really does a disservice to infertile couples.  Even if you are of the belief that an embryo is just tissue it is some pretty damn important tissue after the weeks of shots, dildocams, and half your life savings.

It is absurd to assume that patients or doctors would treat that tissue with anything but the greatest care and reverence.

I don’t think that further government scrutiny or regulation is a positive thing.  Look at the countries that have created more stringent laws about embryo creation.  In Italy or Sweden, for example, my precious boys would not have been possible because embryo cryopreservation is illegal.  Women must transfer all created embryos – up to 3 – even if they are 28 years old and otherwise fertile.  The chances of multiple pregnancy increases exponentially while patients are forced to do repeated fresh cycles which are exponentially harder on the woman’s body.  Some studies even show that cryo-embryos have a higher success rate because the woman’s body isn’t near overstimulation during a FET cycle.

Countries like the UK, Australia, France, and Germany all regulate by federal law their IVF more that the US – HOWEVER, they also cover it with their glorious socialized medical coverage.  In the US IVF is considered “experimental” and “elective” like a nose job (see, there goes that repetitive use injury).  If you are going to force a woman to only create 3 embryos (because you can’t freeze) or only transfer 1 embryo (despite your doctor’s advice) then it should only be when that woman isn’t paying $20,000 for their one and only chance to conceive.

If Newt, or any other political candidate, wants to discuss IVF they need to learn about the Disease of Infertility and the Treatment of IVF and not just discuss it as an afterthought from some pro-life argument.  Otherwise, please shut up.

Sh*t Fat Phobic People Say

I don’t know if you’ve seen this meme lighting up YouTube.  I’m not sure where it started but it consists of videos called “Shit x say to y” where x and y are opposite groups.  E.g. Things White Chicks Say To Black Chicks.  There were a few called Things Fat Girls say that were full of hungry, snack munching, lonely fat chicks.  I thought it needed an answer!

Here is my submission!  Sh*t Fat Phobic People Say.  I was originally going to have a conversation between a fat girl and a skinny girl but the program I used had not a single fat body to choose from!  Notice the title is not what “skinny chicks” say because I’m not trying to stereotype; I’m trying to break down stereotypes.

How many inaccuracies can you spot?

[youtube_sc url=dls1sIfj_Sc width=630]

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