90’s Tweens vs. Today’s Tweens

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I read an article from a great blog I follow called Everyday Feminism.  The author, Shannon Ridgway, brings up some good points.  I, like Shannon, spent ages 9-12 in the 90’s.  So, let’s explore how things are different for today’s tweens vs. the 90’s tweens.  (One difference being that we hadn’t coined the term “tween” yet.)

Me, as a "tween".

Me, as a “tween”.

1)  Cell phones.

When I was in middle school, the only people that had cell phones were business-people.  I would call my mom at home from the pay phone at school (I was devastated when the rate climbed from $0.25 to $0.35, because it required two coins).  For those who are curious: when I had no coins, I would call my mom at home via a “collect call”, and say really quickly what I needed.  My mom would answer and hear, “You have a call from MOM PRACTICE IS OVER COME PICK ME UP!  Do you accept the charges?”  That way it wouldn’t charge the house.  Ahhh the resourcefulness…

Now, a lot of young people have cell phones for different reasons.  Whatever the reason, phones are not just for calling and texting: phones have internet access now!!  They can take pictures and post online in under five seconds.  No wonder cyber bullying is so bad.  Remember how bad kids were in person?  Imagine how bad they can be behind the safety net of the ethernet.  Let’s not forget that once something is online, it is out there forever.  Imagine googling yourself in your 20’s and finding that picture of you from middle school at a pool party where someone labeled you “fat ho”?  You can’t escape that stuff!  There is an app developed for sexting (even though that claim is denied from the developers).  Snapchat.  It allows someone to take a picture or record a video.  Once you send it, the receiver is only able to see it for a few seconds before it is deleted.  Well, that’s what we think.  Click this link for more about SnapChat.

Let’s be real: kids have too much power.  They are irrational and impulsive because of their intense emotions and should not have the power to ruin someone’s life…because sometimes they will be irrational and impulsive and they don’t realize that there are some actions they can NEVER take back.

While we’re on the subject…

2) The Internet.

We had the internet.  I went on AOL (for the kids of today, this was basically like texting, but you had to both be signed in and type back and forth on the computer in order to chat).  For me, in my home, the computer was in a spare room and we could only be in there with the door open.  My brother and I also had to SHARE the computer.  The computer was the only thing that had games and internet and word processor to type our school assignments.  We had to time manage and work out deals for computer time.  Oh, and we also had DIAL-UP!  This means that until we got a second phone line for just the internet, we had to make sure nobody needed the home phone in order to go online.  The internet was also very ssssllllllooooowwwww and had a lot less websites than it does today.  In fact, I didn’t ever visit websites.  I only went online to chat on AOL.  Now, there are websites dedicated to making fun of people.  Kids even know how to create websites!  Let’s not even talk about porn; it is rampant and so easily accessible.  Kids have their own computers, if that even matters!  With internet on phones, kids have full access to whatever is online at all hours of the day and night.  Parents: consider limiting your child’s wi-fi access or access to electronics, period.  Have conversations with your children.  You are not powerless.

This is me playing outside with friends.  What a novel concept.

This is me playing outside with friends. What a novel concept.

Facebook came out when I was in my first year of college.  Some people were using Myspace but I didn’t really like it.  It seemed a bit “To Catch a Predator” and it creeped me out.  Facebook, however, was meant to connect you to other students and you could only use it if you had a legitimate university email address.  I am infinitely grateful that we didn’t have facebook before college.  I don’t think that the majority of kids are mature enough to have access to something like this.  I see bikini pictures on facebook of kids I know today and I cringe.  I see publicly displayed breakups and four-page scrolls of comments trash-talking others.  It’s ugly and it shouldn’t exist.  There are parents who properly control their kids access to websites and internet time and phone time, but there are those who do not and I think it is damaging.  It is also too easy to “facebook-stalk” people.  Do you know what we used to do when I was in middle school?  If we had a crush, we would get our friends to prank call the person and we’d have a good laugh.  We would “dare” one another to say hi to the crush at school.  It was easier to not get as obsessed and go into the scary territory of going through the profiles of every girl that posted on your crush’s wall.

Twitter.  This makes kids think that every thought they have should be broadcast to the whole world.  It shouldn’t.

If twitter was around in the 90's, you betcha I would've tweeted this sweet pic from summer vacation.

If twitter was around in the 90’s, you betcha I would’ve tweeted this sweet pic from summer vacation.

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t meant to be a rant.  I love vine and twitter and facebook and youtube for the good things they give us.  I love that there is so much great humor out there for everyone now.  Kids are so creative with certain videos they make.  I also love being able to spread information and messages of positivity with so many people.  I just think that we need to control the negativity a bit more by having open, honest conversations with our young people.  Our actions have impact.

3) Reality television.

Otherwise known as “the death and destruction of everything that was once sacred”.  Reality t.v.  Blech.  Why can’t we just be honest about shows being scripted?  Let’s not trick the youth of today into believing this sh#t is real.  Kids have brains that are not as mature as adult brains.  When they see reality t.v. they are processing it into messages about how they should act, how their bodies should look, what things they should have and how they should treat the opposite sex/friends/family.  Reality t.v. has also created a big desire among young people to strive toward 15 minutes of fame.  Most of reality t.v. is centered around women as sex objects.  For children who are not parented in a way that teaches them that reality t.v. is not real and that in real life there are consequences for actions and that not all people act the way they see people acting on t.v., there can be devastating effects.  It’s like a war on the psyches of youth today.

4) Clothing styles.

This look for 5th grade graduation can be described as "mom's shirt and friend's skirt".  I was a not a traditionally feminine girl.

This look for 5th grade graduation can be described as “mom’s shirt and friend’s skirt”. I was a not a traditionally feminine girl.

I really feel like the pressure to look good for girls has not changed.  There were tight clothes, makeup and hair for me and there are those pressures for girls today.  I actually had a boy tell me when I was 15 that he liked when I wore dresses/tight jeans/shorts to school and when I did my hair.  He described me as being a 50/50 girl: hot 50% of the time and not hot 50% of the time.  He said that if I wanted to be hot all the time I should not wear my gray athletic shorts or put my hair up in a messy bun anymore.  (Feel free to take a moment to gag.)  Unfortunately, I think this one hasn’t changed.

noname-8

There I am in the WORTH shirt. I loved and still love athletic clothing. That guy from high school can deal with it.

5) Popular Celebrities.

For us, it was Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce.  One thing they have that the popular celebrities of today don’t really have as much as, are curves and muscles.  Thank goodness the celebrities of my day made having a butt a good thing – that was one thing I could relate to!  I am not putting down any celebrities for the way they look – it’s just that who is popular impacts the way girls want to be seen.  Miley Cyrus is very thin, Selena Gomez is very thin, Kendall Jenner is very thin, the models are thin.  We had Cindy Crawford and models with some shape.  I think that for my generation there was a bit of a backlash against the uber-thin, but unfortunately for this generation, I think that thin is back in.  Being thin is not bad.  The pressure that young girls who do not fit the “perfect”mold put on themselves to fit the mold is what is damaging.

6) The reality of it all?

I think that growing up is hard.  I think that we make it harder than it needs to be on ourselves and on our young people.  Life is really simple.  Do good, put effort into your work and relationships, be kind to others.  I think that we have changed the definition of happiness and success into something so complicated that we have created more problems than we have solved.

What can we do?  Support our young people and breathe positivity into their lives.  Take some pressure off ourselves and lead by example.  Be our authentic selves and stop letting so many outside influences impact us in negative ways.

Two of my many supports: dad and grammy.  Don't worry--there's juice in that wine glass.

Two of my many supports: dad and grammy. Don’t worry–there’s juice in that wine glass.  Grammy’s however, is straight up whiskey and water.  Atta baby.

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My Story of Self-Acceptance: making peace with food

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I am reading a book right now titled Brave Girl Eating, by Harriet Brown.  The author is a mother of a 14 year old girl newly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  I am enjoying it, because of the perspective, the medical knowledge it is providing about anorexia, and her perspective of food, health, and parenting.

One part that I have really liked so far, is when the author describes grocery shopping with her daughter in the beginnings of her anorexia.  The daughter is persistent that her mother should only buy non-fat and no sugar items.  It made me think about myself when I shop – I used to do the same thing, not that long ago.  Buy skim milk, non-fat yogurt, diet soda, sweetener for my coffee – not sugar.  In fact, I would buy the coffee creamers that are loaded with aspartame and artificial flavors to avoid having a spoonful of sugar with my java.  Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on one of those coffee creamer bottles?  Not many things found in nature on that list; not many things even pronounceable on that list.

The author (the mother), explains to her daughter that humans are meant to eat everything, even sugar, in moderation.  Our bodies are set up to process all kinds of foods to fuel ourselves and regulate our moods and energies.  I agree with this!

I have been experiencing a shift in my habits over the last several years.  As I get older, I have been more concerned with the inner-workings of my body rather that the outer-appearances of it.  I want to live for a long time!  I want to have babies and support their growth with my body.  This has a lot to do with my thought shift on food and eating.

It has been coming slowly, but my typical food choices now come from asking myself, what is the most natural?  I want the whole goodness of the foods I eat.  I want 2% milk.  I want greek yogurt with fat and protein.  If I want a sweeter coffee I add regular sugar.  I really enjoy vegetables and fruits and oats and rice and bread.  My favorite thing to eat is a peanut butter sandwich.  I have switched to natural peanut butter because the only ingredient is peanuts!  I buy bakery bread because it is homemade and doesn’t have additives.  I feel like my body likes this and I feel good knowing I am minimizing my intake of unnatural products.  I don’t count calories and I let my body eat what it craves.  It feels so good.  I feel so free.

Side note: I wrote a while back about going vegetarian.  Quick update: I am back to eating meat, poultry, bacon, and fish.  Perhaps it was the stress of my old job combined with a change in vitamins from my food sources, but my hair was falling out, my skin was dry, and I was having terrible stomach pains.  I left my job and starting eating meat around the same time.  I really think both things have played a role in the improvement of my body.  My hair is soft again (I cut off six-inches of what couldn’t be saved), my skin is happier, and I feel more energized.  My stomach problems have mostly subsided.  I have a better appreciation for meat and what it does for me.  For me, I function better with meat.  I am getting to know my meat sources so that I can feel more at peace morally with eating meat, and I continue to take care to purchase non-animal tested products.

Back to self-acceptance!

Here is my journey that may give some insight as to where I have been and why I have come to have peace with food.

Being an athlete since I was 8 always kept my heart and muscles strong on the inside.  On the outside at age 8, I worried about having a belly – I noticed that some of my friends were skinnier than me and I envied their shape.  My pediatrician told my parents I was slightly overweight and to start having me “eat better”.  We were a healthy family and looking back I am insulted and disappointed.  I am insulted that the doctor insinuated my parents weren’t doing a good job, because they were.  We always ate homemade meals with veggies, fruits, and meats, and my parents always kept us active, playing outside every day.  I am disappointed because I was at the age before a growth spurt when children typically put on a few extra pounds to support the height change that is about to happen – not to mention I was adding fat to prepare for puberty.  The doctor said, in front of me, that I was a little overweight.  Then he suggested changes to our diet.  To me, the 8 year old, I heard, “She is overweight.  She needs to change.”  I felt bad in that moment.

Around age 11 I hit a growth spurt and “thinned out”.  EVERYONE said how good I looked.  This started to tell me that thin was valued.  No one ever complimented my body before (outside of family).  Oh I get it.  Skinny is good.  Chubby is bad.  Very harmful thinking for a young person.  It was at this time that I began to take measures to stay skinny.  My friend and I swam laps for an hour instead of playing in the pool one day.  Then we eyed the pop tarts in her kitchen, desperately hungry, for a while.  When we gave in and ate one we laughed because we negated out workout in caloric terms, but inside I felt shame.  So sad for that age.  If only I could’ve known then what I know now.  I would’ve saved myself so much guilt and heartache.

At age 14, I was in full puberty swing and had filled out.  What I know now is that I was starting to develop my adult body.  What I thought then was how much bigger I was than everyone else.  I want to add that this is distorted thinking.  I was not “big”.  I was not “fat”.  That is the way I felt – it was not real physically.  So many factors contributed to this negative way of thinking.  I noticed everything that had to do with weight.  Boys only asked out the skinny girls.  Models were only skinny.  Actresses were only skinny.  The popular girls were only skinny.  People were praised when they lost weight.  Everything seen as good was also skinny.

Then I went to high school.  In the Spring of my freshman year I used Lent to start my pattern of not eating.  For Lent, I gave up snacking and desserts.  Only three meals a day.  That was my first cut back.  Let me just say here, that I don’t think Jesus really feels starving oneself to look better is very Lenten.  Also, my intention was not to develop an eating disorder, nor do I think I had an eating disorder.  But, I can’t help but to feel like my relationship with food was not normal.

That summer, I was 15, and I started swimming to speed up weight my weight loss.  I would swim every day for 30 minutes.  If I had eaten something that I felt I shouldn’t have eaten, like a cookie, I would do extra laps.  I felt pride every time I stepped on the scale and it lowered.  I saw my stomach sinking in, my arms were thin – things I had never experienced.  And again, EVERYONE was complimenting me.  At summer camp, boys noticed me.  I was flirted with, asked out, asked to dance.  Everything was so new and so exciting.  I was happy, but on the inside I was filled with fear of eating too much or gaining any weight because I felt I could lose it all.  I even remember having a hysterical break down when I couldn’t swim one day because my mom was leaving and I wasn’t allowed to swim when no one was home.  I threw such a fit that she made herself late and gave me 15 minutes in the pool.  I swam furiously.  At that point, I knew something was wrong with me.  “This isn’t who I am,” I thought as I turned for another lap.

I ended up eating the same thing every day for about two months at the end of that summer and the beginning of my sophomore year.  I would wake up and wait as long as I could without eating, which was about 11am.  Then I would have a yogurt.  You know those yogurts that are 100 calories – and that have all the commercials about losing weight and getting a bikini body for vacation.  Then around 4pm, I would have a bowl of brown rice with soy sauce.  That was it.

I had started volunteering as the water girl for the football team during their two-a-day practices.  This was how I got out of eating dinner and my parents noticing.  I would go to football at 4:30 and not come home until 9pm.  The coaches always asked me if I wanted Burger King or whatever they were picking up for themselves that night for dinner.  I always declined saying I just ate.  I remember one time, one of the coaches insisting that I must be hungry.  I kept saying “no thank you”, and “really I’m fine”.  I remember him pausing and looking at me right in the eyes and feeling like he knew what I was up to.  I think he was concerned but didn’t know what to do, so he just left it alone.  After that, he didn’t ask me if I wanted dinner anymore.

During that time, I would fall asleep hungry.  I started to enjoy the feeling.  I would wake up and could see my hip bones sticking above my stomach in the mornings when I laid flat in bed.  I loved this.  I felt successful.  On the first day of school sophomore year, the senior boys noticed me and invited me to come talk to them at lunch.  I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.  Again, everything I felt was positive was coming from my change in appearance to a thinner girl.  At least, that’s what I thought.  Looking back, I think that thin helped because it was high school and everyone is so insecure that they like only what it is”mainstream” to like, but I also think the confidence I gained in my appearance is what was attracting people.  The funny thing is, the “confidence” was totally fake.  On the inside, I was so insecure about myself.

Over the course of sophomore year, I slowly came out of this phase of major caloric restriction and crazy exercising.  It started by me making the switch to eating cereal for every meal.  Still not enough food for a person, but I was eating three meals at appropriate times and getting some vitamins from the fortified cereal and milk.  Then one day, I was sitting there at lunch, and I was so fed up with being hungry.  It happened just like that for me.  It was that moment that I said, F this, I’m eating again.  It’s not worth feeling hungry all the time.  People should like me for me.  I should be happy with myself.  (I credit my parents being so positive in my life for the deep down positive feelings that helped shape me and get me back on track.)

I am extremely lucky for that day.  So many people struggling with eating disorders don’t have the power against the disease to say, “stop”.  This is why I don’t think I had an eating disorder – I had disordered eating.  It would be unfair to make it seem like anyone who struggles with food could flip a switch at one meal like I did.  Does that make sense?

I also thank God that I could never make myself throw up.  I tried a few times, but it never worked.  Thank God for me not being able to induce vomiting or I truly would’ve been down a terrifying road.

Since that time, I have never gone back to that point.  I have been more focused on a healthy lifestyle.  However, I still battled negative thinking throughout my teenage and adult years.  For instance, I would lift weights with the football team my junior year of high school.  I was a catcher for the softball team and I could leg press so much weight.  I would mix in with the lineman for sets on the leg press and they wouldn’t have to take any of the 45’s off.  They would always be so impressed.  This made me feel proud and strong and I gained a different kind of popularity for my athletic abilities.  Yet there was still a small voice inside me saying, “be more feminine”.

When I was 17, I had a tonsillectomy.  Eight days after the surgery, my throat hemorrhaged in my sleep.  I lost 3 pints of blood and had emergency surgery to close the wound, which included pumping blood clots from my stomach and the choice of a blood transfusion, which we declined.  It was a very scary time in my life.  Due to the two surgeries, I lost 15 lbs in two weeks.  When I returned to school, looking yellow, weak, and gaunt, my pants hanging off my body, my male friend, said, “Wow.  Jess, you look so good.  You lost all your weight.”  Wow.  Just….wow.

When I caught my first college boyfriend cheating on me, the first thought was that it was because I had gained the freshman 15.  How sad that my first thought was, what is wrong with me?

In my last year of university, I started working out again because I had begun to feel so out of shape.  I felt so good after starting a running and lifting regimen with my dad.  I did spin classes, too, and my heart and lungs became so strong!  I was hardly ever winded in my daily life and I was regaining the strength I always had when I played sports.  It felt awesome.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that a huge perk was also dropping 15 pounds – pride in thinness is so deeply imbedded in me that’s it’s hard to push aside.

I ran into two ex-boyfriends at the bar one night at that time.  Both of them, separately, started apologizing for things gone wrong in the past and kept telling me how good I looked.  Here’s a big F YOU to them from me then and one again from me now.  Funny how they didn’t think to apologize before I lost weight, and how nice for me that I was in a relationship at that point with someone who grabbed me up before I lost weight and encouraged my working out but didn’t hinge our relationship on it.  We are married now, thank you very much!  He has seen my ups and downs and frankly, doesn’t give a hoot.  If he did, we wouldn’t be married.

In my early 20’s, I began to look at the world from a real perspective, something I continue to do today.  When I feel guilt, I rationalize with myself.  Where is this coming from?  Is that a real place or a place that I’ve made up based on outside influences?  I think about who is in my life and what their intentions are by being part of my life.  I value true friendships and positive people.  I am not going to let anything irrational make me feel bad about myself.

My body.  I love my body.  I like the softness of it.  I like the jiggle.  I like the shape.  I imagine holding a brand new baby on  my chest and it hearing my healthy heart beat.  I like the strength in my arms I am gaining from hot yoga and boxing.  Both workouts empower my muscles and my mind.  It feels good to go to yoga and to boxing.  I challenge the limits of my strength – I challenge my doubtful thinking on the mat or in the ring.  I am not forcing myself to do these things, I like to do these things.  If I’m not feeling a workout for one day, or for a week or two weeks, I don’t go.  I walk the dog to get outside and I try not to sit for too long to keep my energy balanced, but I don’t guilt myself for not doing more.  I imagine being in my 50’s and 60’s and having strong bones and a strong mind.  I want to be able to throw my grandkids in the air one day.  It becomes so apparent as I see others age or battle illnesses, how important my body is to my life.  I never want to look back and say, if only I didn’t go tanning, or if only I didn’t do that diet, or if only I didn’t take those supplements/diet pills.  If only, if only.  

It is not easy.  I have to continue to push negative thoughts down, but I have developed a rationalization strategy that has helped me immensely.  I have also tried to be conscious of the way I compliment others.  I know how compliments about weight can cause distorted thinking so I try to find other ways to give positive feedback to those in my life.

I often think about if I have a daughter and how I will address body issues and weight issues with her.  I just hope that God gives me the grace to not be critical of her or myself.  I hope that at that time, I will not show her that I think anything negative about myself.  The littlest comment or the smallest look can make someone form irrational thoughts.  One thing I have also learned is that what other people say, even if it is aimed at you, is something that is personal for them and they are putting it on you.  So I don’t personalize someone else’s negative thinking.  If I have a piece of cake and the person next to me declines while saying, “Cake is so fattening”, I won’t personalize that person’s issue with food.  It’s theirs to bear, not mine.  I will eat my cake, not worrying about working out to negate it, and I will simply think, “This is delicious.  Aren’t I lucky to get to eat cake?”

What it’s like to be the sporty girl, for @girlguidesofcanada

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Me playing co-ed flag football in University

My friends on twitter, @girlguidesofcanada, asked for a guest post on what it’s like to be the smart girl, the sporty girl, the girly girl, etc.  For me, I was the sporty girl from the time I was in grade 6, and I would love to share what it was like for me.

Becoming a “tom boy” in grade 6 was an easy transition for me because I was a little girl who always liked playing catch with her dad and rough-housing with her brother.  I gave my mom a hard time whenever we went clothes shopping and it was usually a struggle to get me to wear something pretty to church on Sundays.  I found my niche at my new middle school by joining the softball, volleyball, and basketball teams.  I was never picked last in phys ed for teams and I often stayed in my gym clothes for the rest of the school day.  It made me comfortable to be labelled as a jock because I knew I would mostly only be judged by my peers on athletic performance–a category that I was confident in.  I was ok with being labelled as a tom boy but I was afraid of just being a girl because I knew I was not in the “popular” crowd and that the majority of the male population at my school did not want to date me–being a “girl” would open myself up to judgment that I was not ready for.  In fact, at the school dance/3 on 3 basketball contest, a boy asked me to go with him but as a teammate, not a date–so I would be wearing tennis shoes and a sports bra when the other girls would be in dresses.  At the dance portion of the event I smelled like rubber and sweat from the game–I didn’t get asked to dance but I did talk and joke around with the boys which was more than some of the other girls could do, so I was satisfied.  If the boys weren’t going to date me, at least they would be my friends.

Lots of "sporty girls", my hockey team in University

My second year of high school I tapped into my girlier side and found a way to merge being more feminine with being a varsity athlete.  Being in the athletic crowd in high school earned me more friends and popularity, which was a bonus.  I wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone and I felt like I could genuinely call most people in my grade my friends.  I had a muscular physique which made me self-conscious because I wasn’t rail thin, but as I grew older I learned that most boys liked girls with some physical substance.  My guy friends and I would have lifting contests in gym and my legs were usually stronger than theirs which impressed, not appalled, them.  I learned to love my strong body and gained the physical confidence that I had been lacking in my younger years.

Being an athlete gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride, which is so important growing up.  I was good at something that I loved, and sometimes I was even honored for it.  Sports gave me the chance at scholarships for university and even got my name in the newspaper a few times after big games.  I was given awards from my teammates and coaches and was recognized at school assemblies.  I was in shape and felt healthy.

Now, at almost 26, I am still an athlete.  I play on dodgeball, volleyball, and softball teams.  I do still have moments where I feel a little too masculine–like grunting and cheering after hitting a guy with a dodgeball–but I am balanced with a feminine side that loves cooking for my husband and reading fashion magazines.  Being an athlete actually attracted my husband to me on the day that we met and to this day he is always telling me how much he loves my strong legs–something that might intimidate other men.

I have two points for you: the first is that no matter which category you think you fit in, you don’t need to label yourself.  Yes, I was sporty, but I also got great grades and was an over-acheiver in school.  I liked going to the mall with friends and talking about boys late into the night.  I went to church every Sunday and I was very close with my parents and brother.  I could have been labelled as many things, but I was so much more than just one word could describe.  The second point is that you should be proud of who you are and what you do as long as you are being kind to others.

Thanks @girlguidesofcanada for making me think about this topic!