The myth of perfection: being authentic in a photoshopped world

chris-hemsworth-thorAnyone who knows me, knows that I have a bit of a crush on Chris Hemsworth (a bit creepy I suppose being that I’m 40, but hey, we can all imagine, right?!). Blonds are actually not my typical type, but I make exceptions for the long-haired viking type. There is just something so ruggedly male about them. It’s that same quality that has me crushing on Clay Matthews from the GreenBay Packers and the vampire Erick from the Sookie Stackhouse books (something that did not carry over into the tv series sadly–no offense Alexander Skarsgard–perhaps if you were to grow your hair out it would help…). Nothing screams strong alpha male quite like a viking.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to see the new Thor movie, as much to gaze at Chris Hemsworth as for what I anticipated to be a great hero flick.

You can imagine my surprise when, for the first time, I did not find Hemsworth quite as drool worthy. It was not due to the fact that he was often portrayed unwashed and disheveled–something that can just heighten that maleness in my book. Nope, when I assessed my reaction, I realized that I found him too ripped. Yep, he had crossed over into meathead territory.

gym ratNow don’t get me wrong, I love a good representation of the male physique as much as the next girl, and some nice muscle definition is downright hot, but, there is this threshold, this crossing into the ridiculous–trying too hard category that, at least for me, makes a man far less appealing. And sadly, my crush has crossed over into that land of the unreal, fake looking land of the gym rats.

This made me think about society and our expectations of unreality in terms of ourselves and our significant others. When did we stop wanting to be, and to be with, someone who looks like a real-life human being and instead to be with a photoshopped, airbrushed, image of perfection straight off the pages of a comic book?

As a psychology professor, I often have to teach things such as self image and eating disorders. A number of years ago, I had done quite a bit of research on female self-image and eating disorders, but in prepping for a new course last year, I decided I needed to update my research and what I found surprised me.

In our modern culture, boys and men are struggling with their body image almost as much as women. The media is driving men to the same sense of being not enough as women. And the expectations are most often unrealistic and unattainable.

No where do you see it quite so obviously as the online dating world. Being a newb in terms of this new and not-so-improved dating culture, it has been quite a learning curve for me.

dating_checklistAt first I just found it very odd that so many men led with their height and weight statistics.

Then I started to find it a bit creepy how many made a point of listing just how frequently they went to the gym and for how long…

And then it started to get just downright icky as they listed their point by point preferences for a female as if they were placing an online custom order with Amazon. And of course, this always included an athletic and fit or slender woman who also wants to live in the gym and only eat healthy.

But she’s also supposed to be intelligent, independent, and have her own established career…

Hmmm…most women who hit that “intelligent, independent and established” mark are in their late thirties to early forties, and no longer have the ripped 20 year old body that so many of these men seem to expect. I think these men should maybe get really comfortable with the companionship of their Maxim magazines because last I knew, women were real and far too busy to spend the hours a day in the gym that are required to look like the airbrushed and photoshopped images found in those magazines. And if they’re not, well, they are likely as shallow and empty-headed as the hours spent in a gym would imply–or they are more interested in a sugar daddy than a real and authentic relationship.

As a woman with a more curvalicious physique, despite the societal messages trying to eat away at my sense of self, I typically feel pretty good in my own skin. Though, I have to admit, the dating scene did shake my confidence for a bit, that is, until I started to realize that, the bravado and the unrealistic expectations were often just a mask for a deep seeded insecurity.

When-youre-comfortable-in-your-own-skin...youre-beautiful.-Confidence-is-the-best-makeup-you-could-ever-wear.Yeah sure, there are some meatheads who just want some arm candy, but, most people are craving a real and authentic relationship with a real and authentic human being.

When it really comes down to it, Chris Hemsworth’s unnatural physique is far less appealing than a real man who works hard and doesn’t have the luxury of hours per day spent in the gym.

The media feeds us unreality, and when we buy what it is selling, we become dissatisfied with what is real and beautiful.

It’s time we started recognizing that authenticity is far more attractive than an unattainable perfection only achieved at the end of a plastic surgeon’s knife.

Be healthy and be you. You are unique and you are beautiful.

 

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There is a Parallel Reality in which I Exist as a Hermit

article-1380644-08A5FA8C000005DC-229_468x345It is lucky for me that I have children. If I didn’t have children, I fear I would turn into a hermit. I would be one of those crusty (as in–I forgot to shower for a week), socially awkward (because I have not talked with real live human beings in days), pale skinned (because I would have no reason to go outside what with those nice delivery men willing to bring food to my door) writer types who stares at her screen all day engrossed in a world of her own imaginings.

You have my children to thank that I am a nice smelling, fairly socially adept, non-albino human being. They keep me anchored to the present and to real life.

A_Writer_Typing_Frantically_At_a_Manual_Typewriter_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_110305-168123-861053If not for them I would tumble from one world to another, sometimes my own, sometimes of someone else’s creation: Sookie Stackhouse (excepting the final book which was a disappointment of epic proportions!), to Jon Snow (I was a fan before all you people had even heard of him!) to my own characters to Rachel Morgan (the Hollow series) to Elena Gilbert and the Vampire Diaries (though that obsession has waned over the recent seasons) back to my own novel to…well you get the picture.

This summer, as I have committed to finally finishing this darn book that has been stewing in the back of my brain for the last three years, I have very clearly seen my own pathology. I’ve always known that I have a streak of the obsessive and compulsive in me. As I delve into this world and realize more clearly how my mind works, I realize the proportions of that pathology. My mind doesn’t work in small measures–it’s all about immersion.

I approach writing (and reading or my favorite tv series for that matter) much like a method actor approaches a role. In my pre-children days, I was an actor, and I once was asked by a director how I would explain my approach to acting. I explained it something like this. When I act, I slip into my character’s skin. I see through her eyes, I feel what she would feel, and I think how she would think. In essence, I detach from myself and become someone else.

I write in the same way. I stop being Heather, the overworked Mommy, and, in the case of the novel I am currently focusing on, I become Jen. I think like Jen, I look at the world through Jen’s eyes, I feel what Jen would feel. My best writing comes when I can totally immerse myself in her world–and detach from my own. Like I said, we’re talking hermit–I can’t help but think of Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets.” That could be me.

mom-working-daughter-140310Except for the fact of my children. Yesterday, for example, I was pulled from Jen’s world for a myraid of reasons: because they were hungry, because Arabelle yelled at Lily, because they were desperate for a popsicle, because there was a beetle in Arabelle’s hair–the list is endless. It certainly puts a cramp in my writing progress. I didn’t finish the chapter I was working on; I only made it about halfway through, and instead of hitting the 5,000 word mark for the day, I ended at 3,500.

BUT, as aggravating as it is initially, I am so grateful for those little people who pull me back to my world, my real world, and my real life. Otherwise, I fear I would be so busy reading about someone else’s adventures or creating adventures for my fictitious brain child, that I just might forget that I need to have adventures that are all my own.

With this in mind, instead of diving into my novel in an attempt to hit my goal of 62,000 words by the end of the day (I’m currently sitting at 58,000), I am putting aside the world of Jen and taking my girls to the zoo. Her world can wait. Today, I need to fully engage in my own world. I need to take a shower, talk to some real life people, and feel that hot Texas summer sun bake my bones.

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

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Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

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Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.

A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.

I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!

Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.

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Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I  would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world, Image

or fight and scrape with Arya, proving my spunk and courage to all who knew me. Image

The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.

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When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.

But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.

I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.

But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.

When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.

For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!

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So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉

I think I might be a bit pathological . . .

It would likely not come as any real surprise to any who know me that I tend to be a bit compulsive. I mean, why do anything part way when you can jump off the deep end? If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right, right? So why buy one new outfit when you can make it a mission and get the whole summer wardrobe updated in one fell swoop. Why tackle one room in your house when you can tackle them all (and drive yourself crazy in the process)? That’s kind of my approach to life and it definitely is a bit pathological!

Most of the time, despite the obvious pathological nature of this “all or nothing” way of life, it doesn’t rock my boat all that much. Sure it means that periodically I find it necessary to hole myself away in my bedroom, feed my family pizza and carry-out while I re-read every single Sookie Stackhouse book before the finale is released (only to be as thoroughly disappointed as I have ever been in any book I have anticipated I might add!),  but hey! Even a mom needs to indulge her pathology once in a while, right?

Most of my life, this has worked without any real negative side effects. Yes, I’m a crazy person until I can mark that task (say decorating my entire house within the first year after moving in) off of my to-do list, but by golly! I get it done! And usually in record time. Lately, however, the boat has started rocking and what once seemed like little more than a quirk, seems like a somewhat bigger problem and often ends up being an impossibility.

So, can I just back off and go about it normally, you know, like just watch the new season of Game of Thrones without having to re-watch every bloody episode (pun intended) that came before first? Nope! It just loses the full affect! So, here I sit, somewhere in the third season unable to jump in and watch tonight’s episode–all because I’m neurotic.

So, I’m wondering how many of you are as crazy as me and have to re-read every book or re-watch the whole series before jumping into the latest installment of your favorite show/book?  Am I alone in this, or are some of you just as nuts as I am?

 

 

Thank You Geeky Half Price Books Guy!

            All of us have coping methods we use to handle stress. For some, it is eating (often specifically chocolate or other very bad for you things). Others work out (I really wish that was mine! With all the stress in my life, I bet I’d look great!). My coping method of choice is shopping. Not just any shopping, it’s typically thrift shopping. I love finding a good deal. This coping method only works when you have money, which is definitely a major drawback and so I haven’t really been able to use this one lately. Instead I fallback to my second choice, escapism.

            Around this time last year, I found myself in the doldrums (gotta love that word! Doldroms . . . ) probably having something to do with the fact that I am an event junkie (See my previous blog) and it’s that stagnant time of year. My escapism of choice last year was Charlene Harris, writer of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series, a very entertaining (and far better than the offshoot HBO series Trueblood imop) read. This year I kind of scratched my head and wasn’t real sure what to try, so I went to Half Price books and kind of meandered.

            I was browsing the fantasy section wishing that George R.R. Martin had a new book (I know, kind of laughable since it took eight years to get his last new book!). I pulled out this book, glanced at it, put it back. Then I grabbed that book ,glanced at it, only to put it back. You see, though I love fantasy, it has to be GOOD fantasy. I am extremely picky. I really didn’t want to try anything without a recommendation from someone willing to say that it was worth the read.

            Well, one of those annoying workers (obviously a complete geek btw!) who feel obligated to come by and ask you if you needed anything came over. I told him I was just browsing, like I usually do. Luckily this guy was persistent. So we started up a conversation about the kind of fantasy I liked.

           I of course mentioned Martin because he is just so awesome. Then I brought up Robert Jordan (yes, despite all the critics dissing him, I still love the Wheel of Time! He may be weak on characterization but he is a master at plot!) I dissed Terry Brooks and the Shanara series (great in junior high, but far too juvenile for me these days).

            I guess that must have given him enough of an idea of my taster, because he pulled a book off the shelf and told me he thought I would like it. Some guy named Jim Butcher who I had never heard of was the author. The series was called the Codex of Alera. It looked like a book that some geeky high school boy would like, but I was desperate. It was only a couple of bucks so I shrugged and said, “Why not” and bought it, honestly, with very low expectations.

            At first, the book was about what I expected. The first sixty pages or so were laborious. But then, it took off and hasn’t stopped. He has the characterization of Martin without ever slowing the plot. No plodding for Butcher! Maybe he goes a little more into the military/battle stuff than I would like, but let’s be honest, I’m not exactly his target audience! How many stay at home moms are into fantasy? Not many I would think! 🙂

I am now on book four and have been more than happy with my New Year escapism! I am looking forward to escaping into his world for us long as I can, and I hope he continues to write more of the same!

            Thank you geeky Half Price Books guy for convincing me to give Butcher a try! I’m hooked! 😀