Archives for July, 2011
When I was a teenager in a predominately Jewish girls’ summer camp, we had a little joke: For your sweet sixteen, you got either a pearl ring or a nose job. Several friends opted for the nose. I didn’t, although my nose is no less prominent than theirs were. I like my nose just fine. I have a nose like my mother had and my father had and my brother has. And my grandfather had, for that matter, although I am glad I didn't get his ears. One might even say we have Jewish noses, if one says it with affection, as I do, though many people don’t. (I have a name for people like that. And here’s an interesting article about the term “Jewish nose” in the Journal of the American Medical Association.) I’ve always been grateful to Barbra Streisand for keeping her nose. It’s a proud nose, a trademark nose. Cher broke my heart a little when she had her nose shaved down to something more pert. She lost a lot of what made her look like her. I saw Dolly Parton perform the other night. It was an outstanding evening (here’s my review) but I was troubled through the entire show because Dolly no longer looks like Dolly. I kept waiting for her to take off her mask and be Dolly again. She jokes about her surgery, but when she said something about being a “show horse” and having to keep up her appearance, I felt sad. Joan Rivers also makes me sad. Meg Ryan makes me sad. Kenny Rogers makes me sad. Melanie Griffith makes me sad.
[/caption] Guys know better. When the woman in their life asks, “Do I look fat?” guys respond, “Gosh, I love you more every day, honey,” or “Now would be a great time for me to start painting the kitchen, don’t you think?” or “Hey, is that a UFO up there?” Anything to avoid fat talk. For women, however, fat talk is social currency. A few years ago, I interviewed Dr. Mimi Nichter, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and author of Fat Talk: What Girls and Their Parents Say About Dieting. Nichter coined the phrase "fat talk." You know what she means—that familiar conversation among girls and women that starts with one saying, “I’m so fat,” to which the other is expected to respond, “Oh no, you look great but my thighs are HUGE,” to which the proper response is, “YOUR thighs are huge? Look at MINE!” and so on. “It’s very common everyday discourse among girls,” Nichter says (although she found less body dissatisfaction among African American girls than among Caucasian and Hispanic girls). “And it’s culturally appropriate. It’s actually a way of creating solidarity among girls. You’re opening yourself up. It’s a way of sharing and disclosure.”
The first step to regaining a healthy weight is loving your body as it is. Research says so: Researchers in Portugal compared a control group of women trying to lose weight with diet and exercise advice only, with a group who also received an intervention focused on body image. The scientists took various psychological and physical measurements for a baseline, and again a year later. What they found was that women who had received the intervention had better body image after a year, and had lost more weight. Body image was measured a few ways: self-perception (what you think you look like compared to an ideal), and dysfunctional investment (worrying about your appearance too much). Dysfunctional investment breaks down again into body shape concerns (my thighs are enormous) and social physique anxiety (I’m the fattest girl here). And in the end, dysfunctional investment appears to be the real enemy here. It seems the less we fret over our (perceived or real) fat, the more likely we are to lose it.
Here it comes, the avalanche of brain-training books, following the leaps and bounds made in research in recent decades. As we learn about the brain, the self-help industry is following the neurons to a happier, healthier you. Also with a better memory. A book called Train Your Brain to Get Happy crossed my path recently, so I picked it up. (Actually, I got a press release and requested a review copy from the publisher.) It’s not bad. It seems designed to appeal to people who like tinkering under the hood. It starts by presenting theories and research on neurological feats of wonder, such as how memories come together; and the brain under the influence of anxiety and happiness. (Take the quizzes for your own enlightenment but the assessments basically tell you that however happy you are, it’s not enough.) Then it has you pull out the wrenches and start tinkering, with tools such as basic cognitive-behavioral techniques, mindfulness techniques, ways to derail repetitive unhelpful thoughts, various brain-centric prescriptions for things that enhance happiness: fun, sex, food, sleep.
Everybody say hell yeah! because I received an apologetic note from radio personality/musician Danny Balis (a k a Delicate Blossom), whose on-air insults infuriated me and quite a few other women. Not only that, but it’s a good apology, and one that had the intended effect: I forgive him. Why was this apology effective? Danny has given me permission to use his note, so I thought I’d dissect it in light of a study I found, titled “When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness.” Self-construal is the way we see ourselves in relation to other people. Some people see themselves as independent; some in relation to other individuals; some are focused on their position in a collective—in my case, the sisterhood and the media. What this research indicates is that just getting an apology doesn’t necessarily make the offended person feel better and forgiving; it also helps if the apology suits the person’s self-construal. The researchers theorize that a person who has an individual self-construal seeks compensation; a person with relational self-construal seeks empathy; and a person with a collective self-construal seeks acknowledgment that norms were violated. In the laboratory, at least, the theory was upheld and the researchers conclude that the best way to make an apology stick is to either know the person well enough to tailor it, or to cover all bases. So, why did Danny’s apology work for me? A few choice excerpts:
It’s been a very long week, and not in a good way. Righteous anger is a bitch. Trying to fit another thought into my overheated brain has been difficult and I've struggled to settle on something to write about. I didn’t want to write more about institutionalized sexism in the media. (Actually I did, but y'all have probably had enough.) Casting around for something to get traction in my brain, I thought about ancillary issues that might be interesting to me, and started searching the database for earnest topics, like “response to moralistic breaches.” And then a paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology popped up and all dark thoughts dissipated. Who cares about anything when there are serious research papers out there saying things like: Embarrassment can arise in a variety of consumer situations, including purchase (e.g., buying personal lubricant or The National Enquirer), usage (e.g., using hemorrhoid medication and watching The View), and disposition situations (e.g., donating Milli Vinilli<cq> records to Goodwill and failing to recycle).
What an interesting few days I’ve had. I write about various topics in my work, including music. Last week, I wrote a blog post for a local newsweekly’s website in which I was critical of a local band. It had snarky moments—Dallas/Fort Worth, where I live, is a snarky media market. But it had a point, and I didn’t accuse anyone of kicking puppies or eating babies or anything. I expected a rough-and-tumble response. I thought I knew what I was getting into. Being called bitchy, perhaps. An F-bomb or two, since I threw one myself. But one of the members of the band is a delicate blossom who also happens to be on a hugely popular afternoon drive-time radio show. And although his show’s stock-in-trade is snarky, Delicate Blossom was devastated by my criticism. He was so upset that he ranted first on his Facebook page, and then on the air. I have avoided direct contact with both of his rants because I’m busy and a little neurotic and I don’t have time be thrown off my game any more than necessary. But I do know the gist of what he said, and the words “fat old bitch” are involved. Also “ugly.” Obviously, I have nothing but disdain for anyone with so little imagination that the only way he can argue is Neanderthal slurs. And I’m puzzled that anyone so thin-skinned is in show business. I tried to shrug this off as just the little crybaby hissyfit it is. Except it’s not.
A friend was recently robbed at gunpoint on a dark street. She’s a little bruised from being pushed around, but she's generally OK. However, she says, she can’t stop thinking about it and wishes she could. Not unusual. In the psychological literature, that’s called repetitive thought, and it can be a bad thing except when it’s a good thing. As you probably already know, trying to suppress a thought is pointless—that old “don’t think about a white bear” parlor game. In fact, studies indicate that the more you try to suppress a thought, the more you will have it. So if you can’t stop a repetitive thought, what do you do with it? I found a fascinating article titled “Constructive and Unconstructive Repetitive Thought”, and it’s a 2008 literature review of different sorts of repetitive thoughts. I never thought about how many types there are. The article discusses…