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Entries in health (62)

Wednesday
Nov022016

Sadness at Beauty and the Beast's Truth

My approximation of the Sesame Street version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, cleverly crafted from a carpet and a dog toy. Houston, Texas. October 31, 2016.

Vividly, I remember a Sesame Street hand-puppet rendition of Beauty and the Beast.

On the floor between our casual dining table and the kitchen in our open-plan den, we had a small television housed in a cabinet that, when closed, looked like a dresser. After elementary school, I sat in front of it on the brown tile to eat my snack.

In my memory of this particular Sesame Street production, a hand puppet crafted from brown shag carpet with glued-on googly eyes imprisons a girl in place of her father, torments her, and then manipulates her into falling in love with him.

At which point, they kiss.

The moment their puppet faces touch, he screams in agony, his shag-carpet tendrils shake with violence, and he disappears below the platform. A moment later, he pops above the stage as a “handsome prince.” (Of course, all handsome princes have white skin and blond hair. Even—or especially—the plastic ones.)

I had nightmares for weeks.

Bad enough that someone will trap you, harass you, manipulate you, and damage you psychologically. Adds insult to injury that, when you kiss him, he transforms from what you loved into something else entirely.

I don’t want the human, nonfairy-tale equivalent. What sane person would?

The tale, I believe, aims to teach kids that a person’s insides matter more than a person’s outsides. Instead, it shows the opposite: A prince-as-beast uses a woman to turn back into his old self—which, as far as I can tell, simply has a prettier coating on the outside for a horrible person on the inside.

I remembered the Sesame Street segment and its aftereffects when I read an op-ed by Jessica Valenti in The New York Times about what a lifetime of leering, jeering, manipulative men do to women.

Valenti’s essay reminded me of how many ways I’ve modified my own behavior to protect against personal, professional, and reputational fallout from male misconceptions. And I felt sad that I’ve had to coach young women to do the same.

Once I started to develop into a woman, I hunched my back to hide my chest in voluminous blouses and wore baggy shorts and pants to deflect attention from the boys, teachers, and assistant principals at my junior high who stared and commented and groped me anyway. (Yes, even the “adults.”)

For years, I wore pants to work because I felt a need to avoid femininity in a business setting, my goal to remove from the substance of the discussion as much of my female aspect as possible. I still tend to avoid anything form fitting for work even now, when wearing dresses.

I have my reasons. I’ve had to playfully tell men in business “no” and laugh off their advances, from the married client who sexted me without encouragement to the unmarried client who interrupted my presentation to comment on my ass. (His term, not mine.)

More examples?

A business-owner friend took down her fitness company’s website because, though pictures of her in athletic wear felt appropriate for the purpose, she had too much harassment and too many expectations from men who called to “use her services.”

Another friend, an independent consultant, talked to a client’s human resources department about one staffer’s continued advances, despite her requests that he stop. The company fired her.

Oh, I’ve got more.

I've sucked up walking into a board room and having one of the men say I look “pretty today” in a you-cute-sweet-silly-little-thing tone. I bite my tongue when male contacts ask if I have kids. (Men acquainted only professionally never initiate small talk with other men through questions about children.) I've ignored when men in a business setting refer to me as a "girl."

I've grown accustomed to men trying to make me feel small.

I’ve coached my younger female colleagues on how to defend themselves. I’ve taught them phrases they can use, explained clothes they should wear and not wear, and demonstrated ways to position their bodies to minimize groping opportunities. We've role-played responses to demeaning and belittling comments. I can prevent and penalize harassment and discrimination in my organizational ranks, yet these young women will venture into the world to business events and client offices where I can’t always take disciplinary action. (Although, yes, I have fired clients for mistreating my team.)

Again, I could go on. Yet… enough.

I’ve learned not to trust a man until he earns the trust. I’ve learned to stay on high alert. I've learned to slough off the sleights. I’ve learned to ignore, dodge, and parry and to do so as gently as possible to save the guy’s feelings, minimize awkwardness, and avoid angry backlash. (What about my feelings?)

In elementary school, watching Beauty and the Beast on Sesame Street, I couldn’t understand what upset me so badly.

I get it now.

I just wish that it had stayed a fairy tale.

Though I’ve learned to expect and deal with men behaving badly toward women, entrapping them, preventing their advancement, and stopping them from fully inhabiting their womanhood, I feel sad that I had to do so. Sad that other women have had to do the same. And many have had far worse experiences than mine.

I feel sad for the men who society has raised to think this behavior okay. Men miss so much when they don't make genuine connections with women. And I feel sad for the men who know better and who suffer the fallout from those who don’t. I know and love so many men who would never, ever do this to another human being.

Most of all, I feel sad for my niece. Sad that only time divides me and the younger females of this world from the rude shock of their first encounters with the Beauty and the Beast's truth. And yes, yes—experience it, they will.

Your thoughts? Your experience?

Wednesday
Sep212016

Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

The formidable foursome of things I can never leave home without. August 14, 2016. Houston, Texas.

Even men who only have pockets to pack have leaving-home essentials, right?

Other than wallets, keys, and cell phones (a relatively new addition to the list), all of us have items we need to feel complete when leaving the house.

Here’s mine:

Book

You’ll never regret bringing a book.

If you bring it on your phone or tablet, that counts. As a real-book person, my taking one along when I leave the house makes for a lot less convenience. Yet I do it anyway.

I’ve regretted not bringing a book when I’ve gotten stuck somewhere without one—in a car on high ground sitting out a flash-flood storm, in a waiting room, sitting at a coffee shop when the person I’d come to meet got caught in traffic—and have never regretted having one when I haven’t ended up with a reading window.

Need suggestions? Check my list of all-time favorites (so far) and check the “Writing” category on this blog for annual and biannual best-reads reviews.

What’cha reading?

Lip Balm

Who in the world—man or woman—can manage to leave the house without lip balm? Even in Houston, a veritable swamp, I use lip balm regularly throughout the day. Once an hour. Maybe more.

Sure, it soothes, but dry, chapped lips look kind of creepy, too. Who wants that?

My favorite is the Nivea Smoothness Lip Care pictured above, but really, any lip balm without the menthol stuff that just seems to chap lips even more (has anyone else noticed that this happens?) and without fake flavoring that I have to taste all day works for me.

Any I should try?

Sunglasses

Blue-eyed people tend to suffer from greater photosensitivity, my optometrist tells me.

I use this medical opinion as my excuse for buying the darkest possible sunglasses and wearing them even on cloudy days, which feel just as bright to me as the sunny ones.

My first album purchase as a kiddo? Corey Hart, of “Sunglasses at Night” fame. (My dad felt horror—on the record cover, Corey Hart has an earring.) I’ve worn sunglasses at night, too. Though not due to hiding from a love interest, like our friend Corey.

Seems like Dolce & Gabbana reliably makes sunglasses with dark-enough lenses that work on my face and don’t have a bunch of unnecessary bling (e.g., charms, rhinestones, scrollwork). I’d buy much cheaper ones if they worked as well. (So far, no luck.)

Found any cheaper options you like?

Tea Bags

Maybe you don’t drink hot tea. Then bring some sort of liquid flavoring along with you. The powder packets that make lemonade. Or Kool-Aid. Or instant coffee, if you like that.

Who enjoys going somewhere and not liking any of the drink choices? And yes, this does mean I will ask a waiter for a cup of hot water when the restaurant doesn’t have tea. (Restaurants actually don’t sometimes. Or offer only Lipton. Which doesn’t count.) If we have lunch or dinner somewhere, brace yourself for this possibility.

Now, tea that comes in tea bags tastes so distantly inferior to properly brewed loose-leaf tea that it feels laughable to name a favorite. I have liked the Stash plain green tea as an option I can buy at the grocery store, though finer tea options like Taylor’s of Harrogate do taste a bit better when you find them.

Any better teas I should try?

Surely I’ve missed something. What does my list lack? The rest of you have to have similar lists of must-have items for leaving home.

What don’t you venture out without?

Wednesday
Aug242016

Society and Living Alone

My living room, dining room, and kitchen. All to myself. Houston, Texas. August 2016.

I’ve lived alone for years now. Technically, I’ve dwelled solo since 2008, after my once-ever live-together relationship ended. Yet as my subsequent boyfriend stayed here much of the time, let’s say I’ve lived alone since 2010.

So six years solid, and eight years mostly.

Unquestionably, only the fortunate can live alone. Living alone means I can personally afford to fully fund my household expenses. Would it help—and give me more fun money—to have contributions to living costs? Sure. Yet I don’t need them.

As with most things that only a few can afford, living alone means luxury. I don’t have to share my space with anyone. And not just my physical space—I don’t even have to share my home-related headspace.

I don’t have to compromise on how to decorate or where to store or leave things. I don’t have to worry about whether the things I do at home bother someone, bore anyone, or make me look stupid. I don’t have to consider whether I should wear clothing while doing any of these possibly annoying, boring, and stupid things and, if so, what sort of outfit would look good. I don’t feel embarrassed when I eat cookies for dinner or bad that I didn’t share them with anyone else or that, in eating them, I spoiled shared dinnertime and conversation. I don’t need to answer questions when I go back to bed after my morning run.

Further, I don’t have to put up with anyone else’s bad or annoying behavior. Or deal with someone wanting interaction when I just want to hermit in a corner with a book. And so on.

Yet could solo living prove harmful?

I don’t mean just for me. Sure—if I hurt myself or fail to come home one night, no one may know for days. And without additional income to support household expenses, I don’t have as much cushion if things in my life go south for a bit.

Yet, though I confirm my high importance (or, at least, self-importance), let’s look beyond me. How will widespread solo living affect the world?

After all, for years, even single people like me shared space with family, friends, associates, and even colleagues. Today, an increasing number of people live in single-person homes. Per the New York Times, a single person living alone occupies one in four U.S. households. Over the fifteen years between 1996 and 2011, the number of people living alone skyrocketed 80 percent around the globe, according to a research report by Euromonitor International referenced in The Guardian.

Does the increase in single-person households mean lost community? Lost goodwill for our fellow human due to decreased immediate coexistence? Increased isolation that could lead to despair and disaffection?

Trends aside, humans make for social animals. We tend to gather together in protection, support, joy, and sadness.

Technology may make it so that each human has other people to hand at any moment, yet could electronic interaction possibly prove as good as time spent in person? (Personally, I can’t say that interacting with people on-line makes me feel better about the world and the humans who live here.) Could increased reliance on digital communication methods heighten our personal and societal dissatisfaction?

Or—more positively—will the increase in solo-person households make humans increasingly proactive in finding new people, having experiences, and getting out into the world?

If so, increasing numbers of people living alone in urban areas could even revitalize cities.

Of course, it could all prove situational.

Maybe the relative healthfulness of solo living depends entirely on each individual’s personality type and geographic area and its societal effects will depend upon the varying concentrations of personality types living in each area.

For example, my introversion means living alone likely increases my happiness—and my forgiveness for human foibles—as I have a reliable place to go to recharge from human interaction.

And I don’t mind leaving home to find people and things to do, which living in an urban area makes easy. Further, I have a fabulous neighborhood community, which helps immensely. It makes me feel part of something larger, rather than isolated—which living alone could do.

If my personality tended toward extraversion and I didn’t want to put in the work needed to get friends out and about with me, or if I lived in a less densely populated area, living alone would likely prove less healthful.

What do you think?

Saturday
Mar122016

That Time I Bought a Mattress

The first night with our new mattress, Ramona decided she preferred the old pillows. Even a dog doesn't fall for the hype, people. March 2016.

I don’t know about you people, who must buy mattresses weekly to keep the sheer volume of mattress stores in business, yet I’d only bought mattresses twice in my entire life.

My first personally purchased mattress came from IKEA in London, where I’d relocated without any furniture (or mattresses). I bought my second mattress when I moved from London to Houston (also without furniture or mattresses). Unbelievably, for reasons other than mattress purchases or use, I made this second mattress purchase nearly fifteen years ago.

I’d still not have recently purchased my third mattress if I hadn’t made the now-questionable decision to dump my old guest-room mattress, which came from a friend’s then-new wife. She no longer needed it once they married, so she’d had it in storage for a while when I moved to town. So who knows its age. I would ask her, if she and my friend hadn’t long since divorced.

When I made the decision to get rid of the old guest-room mattress, I thought buying a new mattress would cost a few hundred dollars. And I figured, without buying into the mattress-industry’s marketing-manufactured hype about purchasing a new bed set every eight years, a new mattress with all today’s vaunted mattress technology (memory foam! sleep numbers!) might feel nice in the master bedroom, with my current mattress relegated to the bedroom down the hall.

And then I went to a mattress store.

Unsurprisingly, the only other person in the store sat behind a desk in the back. Again, I call this unsurprising because I hold firm (no mattress pun intended, but I’ll just leave it there) in questioning the validity of most mattress stores. The world doesn’t need more mattress outlets than ATMs. Especially with most furniture shops and department stores also selling, you follow, mattresses. Can you say “racket?” Maybe “front?”

Byron put up with me nicely. I give him extra credit, in fact, for staying unflapped even after I barked over his greeting that I wouldn’t buy anything at all that night, not whatsoever, and that I wouldn’t even make a decision or hint at one. Get that, Byron? Back off, Byron.

Aside: I hate to have someone sell to me. Yet I sell to people. Let’s not muse on what a psychoanalyst would say.

I learned that unless I wanted what effectively would feel like a cot, I needed to spend four figures.

And lest I think a four-figure mattress top-of-the-line when it comes to mattresses, Byron walked me to a showpiece that cost a solid five figures. Actually, I think the thing topped out with all bells and whistles at about $17,000.

Seventeen. Thousand. Dollars.

In other words, buying a mattress may require the same investment as a buying a decent used car.

Now, everyone with whom I have shared my shock—including Byron—wants to tell me that I spend eight hours a day on a mattress, so what seems like an unreasonable expense actually makes sense.

Clever. The mattress store people got to you, didn’t they?

Let’s dissect this fallacy:

  • The vast majority of mattresses that ranked above the quality level of camping cots felt much the same after a brief prone period. The only difference came from the increasing awkwardness of lying there, work-clothes-clad, on half a dozen mattresses in succession while a Polo-shirted salesperson stood nearby. Paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for one mattress over another above the cot level seems crazy, by this measure.
  • I will sleep for the majority of the eight hours I may spend on this mattress each day. While sleeping, I lose consciousness. Therefore, these eight hours don’t compose time spent fully aware of the amazing experience of lying on a ridiculously expensive, automobile-level investment. In a car, I can at least with full consciousness (one would hope) experience the joy of driving.
  • The majority of the human race across the globe sleeps on pallets on hard surfaces such as, yes, the ground. This includes the Japanese, who traditionally sleep on mats on the floor. Note that research often lauds the Japanese for having one of the healthiest cultures on the planet.
  • Lest you argue that, majority-of-humans and Japanese aside, sleeping on volumes of fabric, polymers, foam, springs, and what-have-you feels better, some studies indicate that sleeping on the ground reduces pain and discomfort. Further, no reliable science has found that mattresses improve health and wellness.
  • Further, experts say that humans sit too much, and have equated sitting and smoking. Sleeping in one of these new-fangled beds that crunches the body into a slightly more horizontal seated position for a lot of extra money seems ill-advised.

After much griping and incredulity spread far and wide to friends, coworkers, and even a couple strangers at a business event, I bought a mattress. My purchase-experience takeaways:

  • For a long stretch before and after the purchase, buying a mattress will cause emotional distress.
  • You will not feel excited by the major-capital-expense purchase of a new mattress, unlike how you might feel after acquiring a new-to-you car.
  • Shock, awe, and begging may get you a few concessions and a freebie or two from the salesperson, who wants to avoid post-traumatic-stress disorder from dealing with your mattress-purchasing psychological fallout.

I wish I had more heartening advice.

How transpired your last mattress-purchase?

Monday
Oct272014

Why I Missed the Real Value of Business Coaches

The term “coach” evokes someone with experience in a specific sport or activity. A coach has done or studied intensively—and over an extended period of time—a specific field and shares this particular expertise with others.

I have a boxing coach. I have had a running coach. I can understand why people hire coaches for childbirth. Also for weight loss and nutrition.

But a “business coach?”

Business has too many nuances and implications. A person doesn’t claim to have history expertise—she professes specific knowledge in an era or geographic region (and probably both). You can’t have a “sports coach.” That just doesn’t make any sense.

Although all areas of business have overlap, the general field has too much breadth and depth for any one person to coach in all its facets. Wooing from business coaches with backgrounds in supply-chain management for manufacturing or franchise management—two real-life examples—puzzled me.

I figured that, someday, when it made sense or the need grew acute, I’d hire a business coach with highly specialized expertise in a field or area in which I could use improvement. (I have plenty of those.) Once I got up to speed, we’d wrap. Down the line, perhaps I’d need a different type of business coach for strengthening another facet.

Maybe I still will.

And when I do, I’ll call her “coach.” Yet recent experience has taught me that the term misrepresents the real value of many professionals classed in the category.

We need to find a new term. Adviser? Confidant? Guide?

I’ll go with adviser. Because I’ve hired one, and now I see what I’ve missed. (And it isn’t coaching.)

Sounding Board

Executives don’t have natural in-office sounding boards.

When you hire a business coach, you hire someone under strict confidentiality who stands outside your organization. She has no taste for your company's particular flavor of politics. Having “inside information” doesn’t give her currency with her coworkers.

Further, she doesn’t need to see you resolute at all times. You can have wobbly moments—you won’t shake your team's mission-critical confidence in the company or its leadership or direction by debating a decision with her or expressing to her your frustration and uncertainty.

Perspective

A business adviser has worked with a number of other executives. Many good ones have done so for years.

She may not have exact knowledge of your specific type of business, products, or areas of improvement—as would someone I’d agree to call a “coach”—but she has walked through a number of challenges with a number of people similar to you. She can suggest resources she’s seen others use. She can suggest avenues of thought that she’s seen work elsewhere.

She can comfort you that others have gone through the same challenges and survived (yes, sometimes we CEOs wonder)—and even thrived. And she can congratulate you when you achieve a “win” that your employees would simply take for granted, because she’s watched you and potentially others struggle over the same mountain.

Me, Me, Me

Friends who work with psychologists say that one of the pleasures of therapy is having a set time period in which you guiltlessly talk about yourself with someone who focuses on nothing but you.

A business adviser provides the same outlet.

I have fantastic accountability partners, though our sessions rarely focus solely on me. Instead, we support each other in achieving our goals. I gain from helping them as much as I get from their support. I value them highly and that won’t change.

Yet I’ll confess: Talking through something without any expectation of reciprocity feels really, really nice. In fact, simply knowing I have an adviser if needed gives a sense of relief.

Have you hired a business coach? What did you experience?