Changing How We See The World

It has been a while since I wrote. However, despite the power of any medicine out there, I have to say writing is one of the most relieving and powerful available over the counter (or keyboard). I came up with the idea for this blog literally when I was in the shower in my residence hall freshman year. I had a vision for changing the world for the better in terms of spelling out certain social problems and offering solutions. I still have that vision. However, I also think about deeper/adult-level ideas about the world. Writing is wonderful in that it lets me get these ideas out and hopefully impact the way that someone else thinks. As a Women’s Studies major and social justice/human advocate, I have always rooted solutions in changing our environment and the world externally. These days, however, I am working to change the way I view and experience the world and the people in it. I am starting to see the real value in Psychology.

I used to believe in a pretty straight and clear notion of life, where I would automatically just know who the right person for me is and automatically end up with this great job or degree just because I worked hard. I used to think that my thoughts/ideas and also the ones I have been taught were the right way and that others should try and understand me.

This all changed recently. I learned that having a complete life plan, though helpful in some regards, is pretty unrealistic. Things change, people change, and every day is its own new day. Just because I do not have my dreams figured out today does not mean that a dream will not come true tomorrow. My new take on life is that every moment of life has to be experienced almost in isolation from the others so that life does not escape us. We all have hurts and scars in our lives. But we also have so much love from our family and friends and so much out there in the world to explore. We have the chance to try new things, meet new people, learn new ideas, adjust our thinking, participate in social action, and much more, just by virtue of living. More time should be spent enjoying and appreciating everything than in negative or fearful thinking. More time should be spent forgiving and loving what we have today.

We could spend our lives judging others and being hard on ourselves—alternatively, we could take the route of exploration, self-love, gratitude, and enjoyment. I have been doing my best (trust me, I slip up—-but I do follow this route as much as possible) to go for the second.

I used to think that if I was bad at something or nervous about something on one day, I would stay that way the next day. I have come to believe that every day of life is a day of opportunity to build ourselves up and to think differently. Though the future does matter (to some degree), the present really does escape us if we do not seize it and look too far ahead. In addition, being present is very important for our overall mental health and wellness. I refuse to give up my present. I am willing to take the risk of not worrying about the future so I can love and appreciate everyone and everything that has been given to me in this life. We need to trust in our knowledge of ourselves and believe we will be alright. Let’s not stay stuck in our minds (seriously, the human mind, though creative as ever, really can suck the happiness out of people) and instead choose to live, love, and grow. Are you willing to join me on this journey? I am hoping to blog more this summer- so stay tuned.

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Feminism: not about hating men

At a typical dinner party, you might be asked what you do and what your passions are. Often, I mention that I am very passionate about feminism. Sometimes (definitely not always- but enough that I felt the need to write this article), I get the reaction that I must be “anti-men” or that I participate in the movement that is man-hating. When I hear this argument, I am always just confused because this is not at all what I see from my understanding of feminist ideology through my major and other sources. I decided to write this post based on my experience with Women’s Studies to explain what I feel feminism really is about. I can tell you straight up that it is not about hating men.

Feminism is not anti-men. Maybe there have been a couple individuals you know who have seemed like it (perhaps they did not know how to express or articulate what they were feeling). However, as an ideology, feminism is not anti-men. In fact, many feminists are in relationships with and married to men and may value expressions of masculinity (like fatherhood, chivalry, dressing up in suit and tie, helping provide for one’s family, etc). Many feminists participate in certain gender scripts out of choice (I definitely do so myself). Though one focus of feminist ideology is lifting up women (I will explain this more next), feminist ideology also recognizes that it is not just women who face often harmful/constraining social constraints. I do not like that we live in a society where men can be frowned upon for expressing their feelings or can be seen poorly for making a case about something bad that may have happened to them.

Rather than being anti-men, a big part of feminist ideology is to lift up and empower women in face of the many constraints they face. This can be hard to understand for anyone who has not been hurt by these constraints before. I do get that not everything women face is bad—there are some gender scripts that I like. I personally like that I get to be wearing makeup and dressing up in dresses and leggings, love the color pink, have those fairy tale kinds of dreams sometimes, like doing things like cooking once in a while, etc. However, there are challenges that come with this identity.

A good majority of (not all of them, of course) sexual assaults are experienced by women. I learned that many women are not taken seriously when they say they were assaulted and that the perpetrators are often let off the hook. Is this fair? Now, think about the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, I have always had many answers to this question and am very passionate about having a good career. However, I have heard my fair share of comments that put my future role as a childbearer/nurturer before my own career. This has been hurtful/pressurizing and is a kind of challenge uniquely faced by women. Though we are luckily at a point where women can vote, have credit cards, and have their own career, there are still a crazy amount of expectations from women—that they raise the best kids, be the upholders of all morality, cook the best food at home (this might not be possible sometimes- we are busier these days), and have a killer career. I have seen situations where mothers have been shamed for their kids not being perfect in some way or another- they got all the blame in these situations when this was not necessarily her fault. In workplaces, women tend to face the “motherhood penalty”- attitudes from employers that mothers will not perform so well at work because they have to take care of their kids at the same time.

Given that these problems exist, feminism works to elevate the status of women and make it a better experience to be a woman. Feminists do not have anything against men. Women just face unique challenges (thanks to the society we live in) that need to be addressed and feminism is an ideology that helps create balance between the genders rather than problems for any one gender. I also wish to note that feminists support women, no matter what their choices are. Equality is simply about equal opportunity- not about imposing any one way of being on anyone. In addition, anyone can be a feminist. You do not have to be a woman or a huge social justice advocate to be passionate about making this a better, more inclusive world for us all. Feminists also fight for equality on lines of sexual orientation, race, and more.

To end, let me share some different efforts that are being made by feminists. Maybe this will convince you about how important feminism is today: .

1. Encouraging women to go into to STEM to leverage their full potential both education and career-wise (this is about empowering women- not a thing against men here)

2. Creating a safer, more accepting environment that allows for women to breastfeed without shame in public/making it so that women’s bodies are not seen as shameful, but beautiful

3. Offering motivational messages to women so that they can advance their careers and self confidence

4. Ending police violence/brutality against people of color and ending racism

5. Celebrating fatherhood

6. Transforming healthcare systems to better meet the needs of pregnant women as well as survivors of sexual assault

7. Ending child marriage in other countries and promoting the education of women worldwide

8. AND MUCH MORE

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I am more than just a number

I am done with it. I am done with society valuing people by their numbers rather than their character. 

“Oh she got a 4.0? What classes did she take?” “Oh she got an A in that course? Wow, I should borrow her notes.” “Oh he got a full score on his ACT and SAT? He’s amazing.” “He made the A swim team instead of the B one? Dang, I must find out what swim club he goes to.”

Yes, these are great achievements and come with lots of effort (most of the time). I am always very proud of a friend who scores high or of myself if I do well on an exam. But why has society reduced people down to mere numbers?

People will work really hard to produce the highest score in the classroom. This is wonderful.

However, many people chuck their character out of the door in the process. They forget that they need to be respectful to peers of all learning styles and abilities. They weigh their classmates and colleagues based on their own goals and expectations, not realizing that success is not some Morse Code composed of a few combination of scores. They start copying all the things a successful student of the past did, leaving little room for individuality.

Success is having purpose, self motivation, and a desire to learn and be the best. It is meeting one’s own expectations, not the expectations of a college, culture, or your peers. 

We have become a world where a 36 on the ACT is seen as genius and the 18 is frowned upon. Let’s step back and rethink this skewed up thinking. Both individuals are equally special. They have unique talents and skills to bring to society that mean so much more than some score label. 

So today, I challenge you to look back at that person who may not seem successful to you & see all the wonderful things that individual has done in their life. He may not have that glorified GPA but he does work hard to pay for college, maintain a solid relationship, commit to his religion, and is kind to others. This is what success really tastes like. 

 

“Why me?”

Thanks to T.V. shows, romantic comedy films, the lofty self images people portray on social media, and Bollywood films I thought life would be a cake walk. I used to imagine myself walking into my first science lab class and that the first person I saw would fall in love with me and be exactly like me. I imagined quickly growing into someone famous & successful. I believed that no one would ever dislike me and that I would constantly be praised for the good things I do. I believed that I had direct control over my entire life & the things that happen to me.

That was just too rosy of a picture. I believed that happiness and good times would easily come to me because I am a good person. When this common perception came out to be wrong, I got very agitated. I started to wonder why my life was so much worse than the lives of my friends and family. “Why me? Why do other people have it so much better than me?” I would constantly think.

But this is not just a personal problem. We are surrounded by images of perfect lives at every moment: you turn on the T.V. and there is an advertisement portraying a perfect family where no one ever raises their voice and no abuse occurs, all family members are running around & are in good health, everyone has enough to eat, people appear flawless, and the kids come home after winning gold medals at their soccer game. The messages of such advertisements get stuck in our minds whether we like it or not, and suddenly we too expect happiness to come very easily. When our daydreams don’t play out the way we expected them to, we feel sad, depressed, and hopeless.

It is time we all change our mentalities & start seeing happiness as a process. A process with ups, downs, and times that are simply average. Rather than viewing happiness as a single state, we should start to view it as a combination of many states of being. The umbrella of “happy” encompasses many emotions: sadness, anger, joy, love, fear, heartbreak, hope, envy, confusion, and more. It does the complexity of life injustice to not recognize the hardships that the people who appear the happiest have had to face.

Through a closer examination of real people who have faced real problems, I have realized that my hardships are not unique and that in order to live an overall fulfilling life, one must grow. Growth is not supposed to be a fun and easy process all the time. There will be social challenges we never expected, more work than we ever expected, a need for constant self motivation, and sometimes even larger scale issues like accidents/death/illness that we have to face.

But the question is, will you let those hardships mold you into a person with a story & a purpose? Or will you just give up and pity yourself? The people who have achieved the most in life definitely have picked the first option.

There is a concept in Psychology called posttraumatic growth. The idea is that when you or me experience rough times in life, though we may initially face hardships, in the large scheme the experience can mold us into more creative, wise, passionate, ambitious, or focused individuals with a higher purpose in life. If we explicitly recognize that short term pain can bring us long term happiness, maybe we would all push through the pain and work harder rather than getting hopeless or repressing the pain. We would view life more positively, and consequently, better things would happen to us.

Look at Tracy Cyr, a 31 year old fashion designer I read about on the website Psychology Today. The woman had extreme withdrawals from her rheumatoid arthritis medications and was experiencing “total body agony and neurological meltdown.” Nothing the doctors tried seemed to help and she was considering suicide. As she went through the challenges of her condition however, despite the agony, she began to grow. She started to see life in a more meaningful manner & “her suicidal thoughts began to be interrupted by new feelings of gratitude.” As she realized how useless time, money, and self image are in the large scheme of her life, her suicidal thoughts completely went away. Pretty soon, with the help of a mix of medications, she became able to move again.

Most of us have not had to face this level of challenge & yet we give up. I think the example of Tracy can inspire us all to push through those tough times, coming out stronger & more capable. Whether it is living through a hurricane or failing/doing poorly in a course, there is a lot to gain if one acknowledges the difficulty, feels the pain, and then works toward better times.

I think this quote from Rich Tedsechi, the Psychology professor who coined the term posttraumatic growth, is of great value: “People don’t say that what they went through was wonderful. They weren’t meaning to grow from it. They were just trying to survive. But in retrospect, what they gained was more than they ever anticipated.” As pop culture tells us, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

 

Let The Cake Bake On Its Own

Rainbow-Cake-Inside

Beautiful and tasty looking layer cake right? Imagine each layer of the cake being deprived of the ingredients that make it whole and rich like milk, sugar, or butter. The whole cake would be flat, hard, and lose its flavors.

Above we have a layer cake, made up of several different colors of cakes, all baked separately and then later put together with frosting. Now, think of the human being as a layer cake. We are each made up of several layers: our beliefs, interests, education, race, nationality, sexual orientation, career, friendships and relationships, native culture, and more. When each of these layers of the multi-layered human personality is given time to bake fully, the human personality comes out its strongest, with the most to offer to society. If we disrupt the baking process through judgments of different parts of people’s lives, each layer will not be as exciting and flavorful as it could be. The result? A human that has not been allowed to grow to the fullest potential. This big loss to society has been created by society itself.

*Let us look at some of the layers of my own layer cake to see how society and its judgments have stunted their baking process. Basically, people take different parts of my identity, and often unknowingly, criticize the being I am.

My interests: I am very passionate about Women’s Studies and am pursuing a major in it. Guess what I get to hear like every day? “What do you even plan to do with that major?” People also hint that I am wasting my money on this education. (My response? I do not waste my money and have so many career plans for myself. Women’s Studies is a widely applicable degree if you are creative & work hard, and I should not be judged for pursuing what moves me.)

My nationality: Indian. Here is what I get the privilege of hearing every now and then: “Oh so are your parents forcing you to get an arranged marriage? That must be terrible.” (When really Indian people do not FORCE, they give choices and this is not something I need to worry about & can decide for myself. I am not planning to get married tomorrow and would like to grow fully before being asked about my marriage plans.)

My education: A University of Michigan student. I also have people assume that grades are my ONLY interest and that I am either cocky, rich, or broke because I attend this school. (This is so far from the case. I care about human interactions like any other individual and love networking, working, singing, volunteering, running, reading, trying new things, etc. I chose this school because it best fit my academic path, is near my home, and has the crazy work hard environment I require to thrive. I am in no way rich but rather manage my finances and utilize all the opportunities I can at my school. I am not cocky but rather have school pride like students from all universities do.)

These are only a few of the few criticisms I get for how I choose to live. Of course, I try to ignore them. But with the level of judgments we tend to make about others and have made about us, it seems really hard for a human being to grow its full circle.

Human beings are raised a certain way and tend to see their own lifestyle as the “right” way to live. The tendency is to see anything that deviates from the prescribed way to live as abnormal, harmful, or morally wrong. These judgments make the lives of our peers more difficult and stressful than they need to be. Individuals lose confidence and are held back from living the lives they wish to live.

If someone chooses to date a certain person, what right do we have to say that one of them is “too good for the other”? Maybe they are the perfect match. If someone chooses to dress in an outfit that we do not like, what right do we have to comment on this individual’s choice of clothing? Maybe this clothing combination makes the individual feel most confident. If someone claims they think they are gay or lesbian, what right do we have to judge them for who they are? I think they would know how they feel better than any outsider. Who are we to step in and dictate how others live?

Sure, in my head I imagine the whole world being filled with people who are obsessed with volunteering and social change and speaking their minds, but that is just not every person in the world and I have no right to mold people in such a way.

I think society is made up of a beautiful mix of people who have so much to offer to the world. Though we are each are represented by multilayered cakes, even these cakes taste different. Some may be more sugary while others more moist. We all have our strong subject or unique talents and skills.

To create the world we want to live in, we have to look inward and block out the judgments we make about others. With such a great variety of people, there is no way we cannot find the answers to the world’s biggest problems. However, people will only step up and give what they have to offer if we let them live their own lives and pursue what moves them. I am guilty sometimes but I am working toward becoming a judgment- free person. You should too. After all, the cakes will only taste better.

 

Sealing the Victim’s Mouth

Over just the month of May, I have read about four instances of violence against women in the news. Four too many. Even if you don’t pay much attention to the news, I am sure you have realized that the supply of sexual and domestic violence related news is endless. There is always a new report about how *insert full name of individual* from *insert name of state or country* killed/hurt/held captive/abused/restricted/stalked/beat up/sexually assaulted/sexually violated a certain number of individuals.

And these are only the cases that generally involve multiple individuals who actually reported the terrible encounter. So many individuals face domestic and sexual violence but cannot report it due to several barriers. In fact, according to the West Virginia University Health website, 50-90 percent of cases go unreported!  Some barriers that complicate reporting include: knowing the perpetrator, fear of not being believed & being blamed, fear of prejudice and discrimination, fear of betrayal of community & bringing shame to one’s family, and more.

More individuals of our own communities face domestic and sexual violence than we could ever imagine!

After reading through many blogs and articles and blending in my own insights, I have concluded that there are a few major problems with how sexual/domestic violence cases are treated:

1. The offender is treated as just one more crazy madman who had a messed up childhood: When we keep treating perpetrators this way, we make cases of rape and domestic violence seem like problems of a few individuals who need help rather than an overall culture that needs fixing. The effects of gun culture and objectification of women can be evident pretty early in youth. If we keep ignoring the cultural problem and do not teach the youth about how every human deserves to be treated, the situation will only worsen.

2. Cases are treated as “personal problems” of the victim when they are actually the fault of the perpetrator and a prevalent rape culture (a culture that normalizes, excuses, and tolerates rape through mechanisms like victim blaming and sexual objectification). The victim may be told to repress the memory, “forgive and forget”, or that it is her or his fault for wearing that dress or going to that party.  Rather than trying to fight against a societal problem and change societal behaviors through story telling and peer support, violated individuals are taught to keep quiet and just “get it together.”

 A buildup of cases like these have led to an overall more relaxed attitude toward sexual and domestic violence, negatively impacting court decisions, policies, and the lives of victims worldwide.

3. Cases of sexual and domestic violence are not always treated as true crimes: When someone robs a bank, the police do a full investigation, reports about the robbery dominate the news, those who work in the bank put in all the necessary efforts to help recover the money, the government and agencies step in and help recover the money, and society is completely dismayed at the behavior of the robber.

Yet when acts of domestic and sexual cruelty occur, bystanders are hesitant to take action & often force victims to stay quiet about what happened. Governments are reluctant to provide funding to the nonprofits that help the affected individuals. Authorities sometimes never find out what happened, and when they do, the crime is still not always punished as strongly as it should be.  This is ridiculous. Domestic and sexual violence are obviously violations of human rights.

It is quite paradoxical: We live in a society where events of sexual and domestic violence are highly prevalent yet we often have no idea if our friends and family have been affected and how their lives have been impacted. How can we make a difference in a society with a “freedom of speech” that victims often cannot even access? Here are just a few of many ideas:

Speak out: If we expect to see the numbers of violated individuals to decrease, we have to take a stand and voice our frustration at the current situation. And by “we” I mean anyone: men should speak out too as this is not just a women’s issue. Plus, men could be great allies to impacted women and there is a pressing need for more male allies. Through their involvement, governments and court rooms will be pressed to take more action and to provide more funding for the cause. After all, strength comes in numbers and rape culture could be potentially destroyed if both genders join forces and speak out against it.

-Talk to your brothers or close male friends, from a female perspective, about how women and girls want to be treated: Though men are not always the perpetrators, a good majority of the cases involve a man assaulting a woman. For this reason, it is important to explicitly tell younger boys that they do not ever want to give into the lurking rape culture of society. We should engage in discussions with them about the respect a girl’s body deserves, about gender equality, the need to place a greater value on a woman’s internal qualities, and the fact that they are not entitled to women’s bodies. This is not saying that men do not know how to treat women but rather that there needs to be more explicit discussion about the treatment of women and that women may be able to offer a unique perspective. After all, prevention beats curing.

-Encourage nonviolent & respectful behaviors in your own family: Whenever family members start yelling or dealing with problems in an irrational manner, calm down the situation and encourage a more peaceful discussion instead. Explain that you want your family to be free of all kinds of violence, even verbal violence. By modeling positive behavior in your own home, guests who may deal with problems at home irrationally may eventually realize that they need to change their behaviors.

If someone tells you about being mistreated, listen with an open mind & heart: Respect your friends, family members, or loved ones by listening to them thoroughly and accepting everything they say. It is not fair to jump to any of your own conclusions when the individual violated is the only one who truly knows what the experience was like. Be supportive and let them know that it is completely acceptable to talk about their experience if they need to and that you will not make any judgments. Violated individuals should not have to lock in their feelings if they cause serious trauma and interfere with other parts of their lives.

Get involved with the cause: Volunteer at a domestic and sexual violence center in your community, follow related blogs or twitter accounts, read related articles, keep up with the news, or take part in student groups that do prevention work on your college campus. Don’t feel motivated? Well then try to get involved with a shelter supporting individuals who may share a culture or background with you, that is a great start. For example, there are shelters out that help Asian women who came to the U.S. with great enthusiasm but have been abused by caretakers.

 

 

 

 

Protect Your Pocket, Improve Your Life

*Before reading, please note that I am not against going out with your friends and spending to enjoy yourself. In fact, socializing has many positive benefits and it obviously happens at places that require you to spend. I do think, however, that spending without thinking critically could hurt your life and pocket in many ways. Though this post mentions college students quite a bit, spending problems exist in many age groups. This is not just a “silly college student issue” but a much larger problem of the U.S. consumer culture. 

You walk into class or your office after a late night of hard work with a vanilla latte  in your hand. You look to your right and the person next to you is holding a bag of lunch from Panda Express, the smell of sweet & sour sauce diffusing into the air. You look up at your professor in college or boss at work and realize that he or she also has the same latte  in his hand. Your colleague/classmate then lets you know that he will be going to Chipotle for a late lunch the following day and wonders if you would like to tag along. Without much thought, you say you will be there. This is not an unusual situation in the adult world. After all, these food items are found at the ease of our fingertips and may be relatively affordable.

However, there is a rather silent but pressing social problem behind this comfort and ease of the adult world.  The big issue is that when an individual, let’s name him “Bob,” starts buying daily coffee or going out to eat fairly regularly, his control over his own finances may begin to diminish without him even realizing it. Bob may start to swipe that credit card mindlessly. He may just accept that he is a “broke college student” or that this is a part of adulthood and keep spending, rather than saving for his future. The money Bob’s parents worked hours on end to generate or the money he worked hard for is gradually blown away. He may develop a dependency on brand name products.

You might think you are not like Bob or that I am being extreme. But the fact is that the U.S. consumer culture is defined by regular spending and many completely normal people have fallen into debt because they have lost their sense of control over their finances.

When we look at the numbers it becomes fairly obvious that a good chunk of the emerging adult population could benefit from a few lessons on saving money. According to a Dillard University study, students were asked what they would do if they were gifted an extra $400. 60% of the men 65% of the women said they would use it to go shopping while only 40% of men and 35% of women said they would invest it. The picture looks a little scarier when we come to terms with the fact that the average college student spends over $6,500 a year on discretionary items like clothing, electronic devices, food, concerts, etc. As a whole, America’s college students spend over 50 billion dollars a year! It is time to reverse this pattern and help ourselves and others improve our spending habits. It will be a loss to society if we sit back and just watch college students transform into adults who may not make the best choices with their money.

The trend in the adult world is that individuals would rather satisfy their immediate wants and desires than save money for future necessities. But it honestly seems silly to spend on fancy coffee or fast food often if that money could be used for something much more fulfilling in the long run (such as a Masters degree program/Medical School/Law School/Ph.D. program you want to attend, a nonprofit or business you might want to start, a vacation you may want to take, etc.) Some might completely be shocked by my viewpoint. They may claim that they buy the Starbucks coffee fairly often to get them through the rigor of their intense coursework  or to survive  a crazy work schedule. They may claim that they buy food from fast food places so they have extra time to study. And these all are probably valid statements.

But these regular expenditures do not help an individual further develop simplicity, creativity, or a hard work ethic outside of the classroom or office that comes from saving money and creating/discovering more affordable alternatives. Simply packing your own lunches, hunting for affordable entertainment, and finding cheaper clothing forces one to break out of the study/work schedule and develop these qualities on her or his own time. When circumstances get tough, the individuals who have learned to save money and have experimented with alternatives will understand exactly where to cut back their spending and how. They will likely be able to better their financial situations more quickly.

So, by now, I am sure you have realized that saving money could do a lot of great things for you. Here are some ideas of how you can break away from the viscous cycle of mindless spending:

1. Pack your own food for travels: When you are flying or driving long distances, it can be very tempting to stop at fast food places or restaurants. An easy way to save a few dollars here and there is to start packing your own snacks and lunches that you actually like. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend unnecessarily and your cravings will still be satisfied.

2. Suggest lower cost hangouts to friends: Your friends might want to go to a relatively pricey place to eat when there are cheaper alternatives. Suggest some options that allow you to save a few more dollars on food. If your friends do not agree, you can just stick to lower cost items at the pricier restaurant and eat a little more at home if you are still hungry. Of course, spending socially every now and then is not a sin in any way and should definitely be allowed. This is just a way to keep the social aspect of dining out while protecting your pocket.

3. Cut the expensive coffee habit: Yes, I am personally guilty. As a college student, I have bought more Starbucks coffee cups  than I should and the money adds up fast. Rather than spending this much on a beverage that only provides short term happiness, why not just make your own instant coffee? Also, if you are buying a lot of coffee to stay awake, it might benefit you to simply get an extra hour of sleep each night or to splash water on your face before class/work.

4. Be careful with credit: It is easy to swipe away your credit balance with all the great places to go and things to see as an adult, but realize that any debt you incur will stay with you. To keep yourself in check, set a credit balance you can handle. Also, send in your payments to your credit card company early so you avoid missing one. In addition, it is important to realize that just because you may have a 1000 dollar limit on your credit card does not mean you have to actually spend 1000 dollars.

5. Keep track of your spending: When my parents told me to keep track of my spending, I began to realize how much I was spending and how unnecessary some of my expenditures were. Though you might strongly believe that you are a responsible adult and spend wisely, it is worth looking at your expenditures objectively. Once you see them on paper, you will know exactly where to cut back.

6. Don’t keep all your money with you in your purse/wallet: People often fill their wallets and purses with a considerable amount of cash. Since you normally carry your purse or wallet with you, the chances of spending too much are very high if you are carrying more money than is absolutely necessary. Take out a few of those bills so that you cannot feed your temptation to buy everything that may be appealing.

7. Attend affordable community events: There are many low cost or even free events in most communities, like cherry picking, evening band concerts, museum tours, and outdoor movie showings. Why not explore some of these? The fun you have is not related to how expensive or popular the event is. It is directly related to the attitude you bring to the event.

8. Remind yourself of your goals: If you are guilty of spending more than you should, remind yourself of your long term goals. If you keep in mind that you want to attend a great school or want to purchase an expensive printer for your business venture, it may be much easier to curb short term discretionary spending. Don’t give into all immediate cravings and look at the bigger picture instead..

These are only 8 of hundreds of ways to control your spending. Be part of the solution to the famous ‘college spending epidemic’ by educating yourself and your friends about this issue.

“Does this outfit make me look fat?”

 

*Before reading this post, note that I am not against maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, and eating healthy. In fact, I am a big proponent of healthy eating and love to work out.  I  am not saying weight loss and dieting are absolutely wrong, as these may be necessary in severe or specific health conditions. However, in the average person, dieting is found to create unhealthy relationships with food, such as feelings of shame when the individual breaks a rule or caves. In addition, restrictive eating behaviors are associated with delayed linear growth in adolescents, yo-yo weight patterns (constantly fluctuating weight- which is unhealthy), reduced bone density, diminished cognitive functioning,  body dissatisfaction, menstrual disturbances, and eating disorders. 

“Does this (insert name of clothing item) make my (insert name of body part) look fat?”

“I’m so fat. I should really start working out”

“I think I gained the Freshman 15 last year. That’s what dining hall food does to us”

Have any of you heard the above statements? I sure have, and it definitely hurts me to see so many of my friends and loved ones put themselves down like this. It is sad how much vocabulary there is regarding putting oneself down, particularly among women/teenage girls.

And this puts me, a huge proponent of positive body image, in an awkward position. There is a limited running vocabulary regarding positive body image among women and girls. We have come to the point where telling someone they have “lost so much weight” and “now look so much better” is seen as a compliment. The people who give this compliment out likely intend no harm, but the statement still implies that the individual did not look as good as he or she does now. Is it fair to put down the “before” image and glorify the “after” image? Should we even measure people’s attractiveness by their weight or body structure when so many other internal qualities and other features like hair or eye color could determine this as well? And what do I even say to make the women in my life realize they are beautiful when there are hundreds of other forces (media, family, other friends, etc.) telling them they are just not good enough?

I think it is time to put an end to measuring people’s worth by their body size. Because this makes people start measuring THEMSELVES by this unrealistic scale. My girlfriends should not have to be worrying about how they look in their dresses or think they are doing something wrong by enjoying a big dinner at a restaurant.

One might argue that the ideal body image that is generally glorified is not a bad scale of measurement as it gives room for self improvement. I argue that, in most cases, this scale results in negative mental health outcomes. In fact, there is research to support this:

A study conducted at the University of Arizona by Analisa Arroyo (Ph.D. student of Communication) and Jake Harwood (professor of Communication) investigated the impact of ‘fat talk’ on mental health and self-esteem. Fat talk is defined as “ritualistic conversations about one’s own or other peoples’ bodies” that “can result in decreased self-esteem and higher levels of depression.” Examples include calling oneself fat or judging others based on their body size. The researchers surveyed 33 women and 24 men over a period of 3 weeks. They found that regardless of the participants’ gender or Body Mass Index, the more frequently someone participated in ‘fat talk’ the lower their body satisfaction became and the higher their level of depression became over 3 weeks. This also resulted in greater perceived pressure to be thin.

But the negative outcomes don’t end there. According to Arroyo, ‘fat talk’ creates a pressing need for social approval. So much ‘fat talk’ has occurred in American society that individuals regularly seek feedback from others to cope (not saying I am not guilty of this). We ask our friends if we look fine in the dress rather than looking within ourselves for that approval. We expect others to like our Facebook pictures (guilty again) as proof that we look good in a specific outfit and hairstyle. We self-denigrate, making ourselves appear helpless rather than as strong and independent individuals who are ready to conquer the world. We even open up the potential for eating disorders and poor eating patterns in our selves and friends, health problems with serious mental and physical consequences.

Though negative consequences may initially appear overblown, they are actually well-documented in Social Science research and on health-related websites. I do not want my friends and loved ones to be victims of these negative consequences.

So how can we, as individual citizens, make a difference? Here is a list of ideas:

1. CUT THE FAT TALK! Rather than congratulating someone on how much weight they lost, tell them something you value about their personality or skill set. Maybe the person plays soccer very well, is a strong leader, or a very hard worker in the workplace. If we start to regularly recognize people by these aspects of their being, they may stop evaluating themselves against the ideal body image that is glorified in American culture. Their internal worth will begin to shine through even more.

2. Stop putting yourself down: If you find yourself talking negatively about your body, take back that negative comment and exchange it for more positive talk. This could lead to better mental health and a happier personality, among many other positive results.

2. Rather than dieting (which can actually create a negative mental state), decide to practice a healthier lifestyle. Incorporate more whole grains (carbohydrates are definitely good to eat), vegetables, fruits, calcium, and proteins into your diet.

3. Create an exercise plan that makes you feel empowered (I am currently working on this step). If spending a long time on the treadmill is not fun and feels like a weight loss chore, switch to an exercise that is fun for you and takes the emphasis off weight loss. For example, dancing or taking long walks in your subdivision are good options.

4. Don’t let your friends put themselves down: I realize this is not easy with the level of negative self-talk prevalent in today’s society, but we simply are contributing to this Public Health problem when we join in and put ourselves down. We should assure our friends that they have nothing to worry about and are not doing anything wrong by eating one more piece of pizza. After all, it is easiest to reach those people who are closest to us. The impact of positive talk will spread across society only if we start at the interpersonal and individual levels first.

5. Realize that health and appearance are two DIFFERENT things. Reading many different girls’ and women’s magazines has made me realize that much of society has the two confused. The magazines present weight loss and dieting as “health solutions” and claim that losing ten pounds automatically makes a person healthier. They provide strategies to reduce eating, when eating is actually very important to one’s well being. Do not fall for these silly strategies and instead be a critical reader of such magazines.

To end, I want to reiterate that it hurts me to see the most beautiful and talented individuals put themselves down for shallow societal expectations. If we want society and individuals to progress and have more positive health outcomes, it is time to make some changes in our own behaviors. I am nowhere near perfect in my behavior, but I do plan to work hard toward developing a more positive body image vocabulary.