Archive | Health and Beauty

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons to Start Swimming

swimming

swimmingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m rarely an evangelist for anything athletic. While my kids and my husband are all very sporty, I just wasn’t born with that particular gene. (My best “sports” are bowling, ping pong and pool, if that gives you any sense for my athletic prowess.)  But like so many things in middle age, you can find yourself doing things in your 40s and 50s that you never imagined even five years earlier.

I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. Sure, I’d taken the usual lessons at the local YMCA as a kid, where I learned enough of the basics to stay afloat. And think I even learned how to do a “back dive” at sleepaway camp a couple of years later. But that was all 30-odd plus years ago in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t enjoy swimming very much and I wasn’t particularly good at it. For me, swimming was sort of like learning how to boil water for pasta: a useful skill, but nothing you’d want to invest time or energy into perfecting.

Instead, as a grown up, I went running for my exercise. But after years and years of running, I finally made a decision last year to stop. My right leg had been aching on and off for ages – piriformis syndrome, for those who are counting (reciting obscure aches and pains being another tell-tale sign of middle age) – and after going to physical therapy for four months and seeing no improvement, I decided that running simply wasn’t in the cards for me any more.

“Why don’t you take up swimming?” My doctor suggested. “It’s much lower impact on your knees.”

“Swimming,” I thought? “But that’s so…cold…And wet…And cold.”

But given my leg problems – and the reality that “fast walking” sounded like something my mother might do – my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: Swimmers via Pixabay.com

Is Fat Passé?

feeling fat

feeling fatLONDON – At the risk of lobbing a hand grenade into the collective female unconscious, let me throw out some food for thought: I think that, slowly, the whole idea of being “fat” is becoming passé.

It’s not that I believe that body image has ceased to be one of the central parameters for how women – and especially, girls – define themselves. Nor – if musician Pink’s recent “fat shaming” episode is any bellwether — do I think that others will continue to pressure women, and particularly celebrities, to stay thin.

It’s just that culturally, I see a few signs that the the tides are slowly turning on this one and that one day in the foreseeable future, much like smoking and not using sunscreen in days gone by, our cultural obsession with being thin will wane and “fat” and “chubby” and “plus-size” will cease to have the negative cultural resonance it holds today.

“Rubenesque” will be the new black.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

 

Image: Feeling Fat by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

Dear USA: It’s Time For A New Maternity Leave Policy

pregnantwomanIn the seemingly endless competition to see which country ranks “best” on a host of well-being indicators, here’s one race the United States will never win: its policy on maternity leave.

This point was driven home by the announcement last week by the telecommunications giant, Vodaphone, that the company will now guarantee a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave for all new mothers. These women will also be able to work reduced hours (30 hour work weeks) at full pay for the first six months after they return to work. The kicker? This rule applies to all countries where Vodaphone operates, including those – like the United States, most African countries, and India – where statutory maternity leave policies are considerably lower.

Well, not to be a wet blanket, but here in the U.K., where I live, that headline wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. In accordance with U.K. law, women can take up to one year of maternity leave; 39 weeks of that leave is paid (the first 6 weeks at full salary and the next 33 at a percentage of income), with the remainder unpaid.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Amy Winehouse, Like Princess Diana, Was Bulimic

I’ve always had a soft spot for Amy Winehouse. The British, bee-hived chanteuse was the polar opposite of the proverbial girl-next-door: outré…erratic…Jewish.

In a country where the Duchess of Cambridge – aka Kate Middleton – currently personifies a sort of Ivory Soap poster girl for all that we hold dear, Winehouse embodied this nation’s darker side: wayward, unpolished, self-destructive.

And yet, there was a certain tenderness to Amy Winehouse – a vulnerability – skating just beneath the bravado that drew you to her. You could hear it in the lyrics of her signature album “Back to Black,” which launched her career in 2006 and subsequently won her a record 5 Grammy awards for a female British pop star:

I cheated myself,

Like I knew I would

I told you I was trouble,

Yeah, you know that I’m no good.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side...

 

Image: Amy Winehouse – Sign by eduhalls via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

What Swedish Mannequins Reveal About Body Image

Sometimes, all you need is an Internet hoax to generate a “teachable moment.”

I refer here to the photo of two “plus-sized” mannequins — allegedly from an H&M store in Sweden, but actually lifted from a photo of a different Swedish department chain in 2010 — that went viral earlier this week when a blogger at Women’s Right’s News posted them on Facebook to an overwhelming response. Last I checked, the page had 57,000 likes and17,000 shares.

H&M has subsequently denied using these fuller-bodied, scantily clad mannequins at any of their stores, in Sweden or anywhere else. But that doesn’t really matter. Because, authentic or not, the visual representation of “zoftig” models in the fashion industry — even fake ones — has clearly struck a chord.

Let’s face it. Part of the mannequins’ viral appeal was no doubt the illusion that they came from Sweden, that Nordic bastion of pushing-the-envelope cultural fare that brought us the likes of Ikea and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” We all secretly want to take our lifestyle cues from Sweden. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

But the excitement and interest generated by the mannequins run much deeper than that. “Call it a hunch, but I think we could have quite a discussion here,” wrote the popular syndicated columnist Connie Schultz on her Facebook page, where I first viewed the image. Which is clearly what Women’s Right’s News was after in posting the photos: “Store mannequins in Sweden. They look like real women. The US should invest in some of these,” read the caption.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: By Becka.nu at  http://www.becka.nu/2010/10/23/tummen-upp-for-ahlens-skyltdocka/

Pro-Choice and Pro-Conscience in Grand Rapids

The first and only time I went to Grand Rapids, Mich., I was accosted in the zoo while walking with my then two year-old daughter by a grown woman dressed as a princess.  Assuming that I lived close by, the princess lady asked me if I would like to sign my daughter up for etiquette lessons.

That was six years ago and etiquette lessons were about as foreign to my M.O. as training to be a mechanic. And yet, the fact that some little girls in this city were clearly expected to grow up to be polite, pretty and perhaps not much else did make me wonder at the time whether there were other scripts available for females in Grand Rapids.

I’m pleased to say that there are. In an election year in which woman power may well decide the presidential election, an inter-generational group of 12 women has launched its own chapter of Stop the War On Women Grand Rapids. They range in age from 30 to 75. They are nurses, lawyers, artists, and social workers. Some are married. Some are not. Some are parents. Some are not. Some are gay. Some are straight.

They aren’t protesting etiquette training. Instead, as my longtime friend Kathleen Ley put it to me, they were initially motivated by the “stunning avalanche of disdain and distrust for women in Michigan and in the United States and the legislation at the state and federal levels intruding on women’s health care choices.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog…

 

Image: Got Women? by billb1961 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Vidal Sassoon: Thank You For My Bob

In a week in which we’ve said good-bye to one of the great authors and illustrators of our time, Maurice Sendak, we also mourn the passing of another great artist: fashion designer Vidal Sassoon.

It’s hard to think about 20th century fashion without thinking of Vidal Sassoon. Back in the 1960’s, he revolutionized women’s hairstyles – and lifestyles – by popularizing a “wash and go” approach to hair-styling, liberating ladies of all social classes from the onerous, time-intensive beehive and bouffant looks that had dominated the 1950s.

Sassoon had many famous clients and admirers including the Duchess of Bedford, actor Terence Stamp and fashion designer Mary Quant, who called him the “Chanel of hair.” He knew he’d hit the big time when he was flown to Hollywood from London, at a reputed cost of $5,000, to create Mia Farrow’s pixie cut for the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby.

Like Sendak, Sassoon endured a childhood of hardship. His father left his mother and younger brother when he was five years old, at which point his mother put both boys into a Jewish orphanage in London’s East End, where he spent the next seven years. In an interview last year on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Disks program, Sassoon confided that he once ran away from the orphanage to find his father, who promptly returned him. “I decided there and then that I didn’t love him,” Sassoon explained matter-of-factly. He only saw his father once or twice after that.

But Sassoon insisted that he doesn’t regret the orphanage experience, which he claims made him a fighter.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

Image: asymmetrical bob with fringe by kiwinky via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five Trends In Exercise

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Having just spent five days hiking up in England’s glorious Lake District, I’ve got a new found commitment to exercise. True, we spent a fair bit of our holiday touring pubs, napping and watching movies. But it was really invigorating to wake up every day and take a long hike as a family.

Which got me thinking – again – about exercise. I’ve noted before that I’m not a fitness freak nor naturally athletic. But my husband is and that – together with recent research showing that middle age is a critical time for preventing physical health declines in later life – has made me increasingly aware of just how important it is to exercise regularly.

So I’m always keen to learn about new strategies for keeping we mere mortals healthy. To that end, here are five new trends in exercise:

1. Barefoot Running. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I learned about this one from my husband. Apparently, the new rage in running is to do it barefoot. Why is that, you ask? According to the experts, one of the reasons that running is such an injury-prone sport is that when we wear running shoes, we are actually training our feet to run in a way that is neither natural nor good for them. Specifically, while running shoes force your heel to hit the ground first with a force equal to as much as three times your body weight, “natural” – i.e. barefoot – running encourages a low-impact strike on the ball of your foot. Among other things, this natural running technique explains why Kenyans have consistently been such great distance runners. Barefoot running provides comfort, safety and best of all…it’s free!

2. High Intensity Training. Here’s another new trend in exercising, also courtesy of my husband (Coincidence? Maybe.) New research suggests that many of us could benefit from as little as three minutes of high intensity training (HIT) a week. That’s right, three minutes. So, for example, you get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds. Then wait a couple of minutes and do another full-intensity 20-second work out. Then take one more break and a final 20 seconds going all out. Why does this work? There are two reasons. On the one hand, when you do HIT, you are using not just the leg muscles, but the upper body as well (including arms and shoulders), so that 80% of the body’s muscle cells are activated, compared to 20-40% for moderate intensity jogging or cycling. Active exercise also helps your body break down its stores of glucose (sugar). Great news for the time-pressed among us. And really, who isn’t pressed for time?

3. The Nano Workout. In a similar time-saving vein, but engineered to induce far less sweat, is the Nano Workout. The Nano Workout is the brainchild of Joakim Christoffersson, and is premised on the idea that many of us don’t have the time, energy or ambition to spend hours on end at the gym. Instead, Christofferson offers a series of exercises that are “based on the situation you are in and using the natural conditions the situation provides.” The idea is that by breaking down your day and analyzing the most common situations you find yourself in – whether at the desk, in the kitchen, or on the bus – you can achieve a more healthy life, no matter what your day looks like. So the next time you’re watching TV, try that hip flexor. There’s no time like the present.

4. Folding Bikes. I’m a huge fan of the collapsible bike.  But according to Cassandra Daily, the fondness that the Millennial Generation has demonstrated for cycling has led to a whole new breed of folding bikes that correspond to the nomadic, minimalist lifestyle that Gen Y leads. My own personal favorite? The Bergmönch – a bike that doubles as a backpack-slash-bicycle. Best not tell my husband about this one.

5. Perineal Strengthening. Yeah, that’s a fancy word for strengthening your vagina, particularly after childbirth. Guys may wish to look away at this point or stick their fingers in their ears, although I’d advise them first to read this fantastic post by Claire Lundberg in Slate on her own vaginal re-education classes in France. (Yeah, I know. Where else?) There are all sorts of things women can and should be doing to maintain the health of their pelvic floor, which becomes increasingly weak as we approach middle age, leading to all sorts of encumbrances, incontinence chief among them. Perineal strengthening  is something I suspect is going to get more and more play in the U.S. and elsewhere over time. After all, it benefits everyone. (Hint, hint…)

Image: Run free by Today is a good day via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Girls Should Play Sports

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I spent this morning at a cross-country race at my daughter’s school, watching kids aged seven to eleven run their hearts out on Hampstead Heath.

I’ve had a change of heart recently on sports. As a die-hard drama-geek growing up, I neither played a lot of sports nor cared very much for them. My view was that pretty much all of the main benefits you got from sports were easily replicated in other activities. As a result, and as I’ve fessed up here before, I‘m really not a sports mom in any way, shape or form.

But lately I’ve been rethinking the value of sports for my kids. Part of this is that my son is an avid soccer (football) player and fan. But a lot of it has been watching what being good at sports has meant for my daughter.

Women’s Sports Foundation research shows that boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 9 — and their parents — are equally interested in sports participation. However, by the age of 14, girls drop out of sport at a rate that is six times greater than boys.

That’s a real shame, because there are all sorts of reasons that girls, in particular, should be playing more sports. Here are five:

1. It boosts their self-esteem. It’s no secret that, on the whole, girls tend to have lower self-esteem than boys. Girls’ self-esteem tends to peak at around nine years old and then drops precipitously, while boys’ self-esteem tends to plateau in adolescence. Girls are also particularly likely to be critical of themselves, with one-quarter of older girls reporting that they did not like or hated themselves. In contrast, only 14 percent of boys said they felt this way. Sports builds confidence because, as a friend of mine put it recently, it teaches you how to improve your “personal  best.” Girls who are active also tend to be more optimistic, which has a direct bearing on motivation, and therefore achievement. In a recent study, 80 percent of female Fortune 500 executives identified themselves as former “tomboys.”

2. It teaches valuable life skills. Sports also teaches valuable life skills. When you work with coaches, trainers, and teammates to win games and achieve goals, you’re learning how to be successful. Above all, you’re learning how to function within a unit, and to work collectively with others towards the achievement of a goal. That skill is crucial for success in the work place; it’s also crucial to success in family life. My own view is that girls tend to rely excessively on one or two friends when they’re young, while boys tend to have more diffuse friendships. Sports is one way of countering this “best friend” bias in girls, while at the same time teaching them how to be both cooperative and loyal to the friends that they do have.

3. It keeps them healthy. In addition to being fit and maintaining a healthy weight, girls who play sports are also less likely to smoke. Later on in life, girls who exercise frequently are less likely to suffer from breast cancer or osteoporosis. As little as four hours of exercise a week may reduce a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60%. And in a world that’s obsessed with female body image, sports is a healthy way to keep yourself in shape, rather than starving yourself or endlessly dieting.

4. It improves academic outcomes. Being good at sports also has positive spill-over effects for school. Girls who play sports have, on average, higher grade point averages, better SAT scores, lower high-school drop out rates and a better chance of staying in college. Indeed, one study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that government policies aimed at directing more resources towards female sports may have been responsible for roughly one fifth of the 50 percent increase in female college attendance and college graduation between 1980 and 2000.

5. It’s fun. Again, no glass ceiling here. But as I watched the cross-country races this morning, I couldn’t help but be taken with the pride, satisfaction and ear-to-ear grins on the faces of the girls as they crossed the finish line, even if they didn’t win. And that, in and of itself, was worth the price of admission.

Image: Girls Soccer 18 by JosephGilbert.org via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

‘Doonesbury’ On Ultrasound As Rape

How does Garry Trudeau really feel? This week, the creator of the popular “Doonesbury” comic strip launched a new series depicting vaginal ultrasounds as GOP-approved rape.

The strip, which will run all week in newspapers around the world, is a response to the law passed by a Republican-majority Texas legislature last spring that requires a woman who wants an abortion to first have a vaginal sonogram so that she can hear the heartbeat of her fetus.

Similar, albeit less extreme, bills have been passed in Virginia, as well as in Oklahoma and North Carolina, where they are on hold pending legal battles, and are being contemplated in Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi.

In the comic strip, a woman turns up at an abortion clinic in Texas and is told to take a seat in “the shaming room.” A state legislator then asks if she’s been at the clinic before and, when she says she’d been there to get contraceptives, he replies: “Do your parents know you’re a slut?”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Doctor by jscreationzs via