Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Miss America criticism is wrong: A response and critique

*NOTE: This is a direct criticism and response to an article featured in an Indiana newspaper. Please first read the original article here.

Recently, I was direct-inboxed an article entitled “Miss America ready to retire?” Obvious panic set in, but being a journalist I soon wondered what the article would actually be referencing – perhaps Miss America was already budgeting savings designated for retirement, or perhaps she was simply making a joke referring to her busy schedule as the new titleholder. What I found, however, was an expose that was nothing more than, quite frankly, wrong.

The author, Ms. Ariel Ropp, begins her piece referencing the “iconic” images of Miss America, including white teeth, “copious glitter,” and a bejeweled crown. Stating that she was only initially interested in the pageant to see how Miss Indiana, a local resident, would perform, she goes on to explain that Miss America is insignificant in a world where “‘hot’ women [are] elsewhere on television,” that the pageant plays on sexism in that such a contest “would not happen to men,” and – the main motivation behind her piece – that Miss America in 2012 is irrelevant.

If being relevant means being raunchy, then sure, Miss America is certainly irrelevant. But perhaps this is our problem – that to garner credit or worth in 2012, we must act out or sell the incredulous or tasteless. If Miss America as a spokeswoman for the brand of “scholarship, success, style, and service” is no longer relevant, why aren’t we concerned? If Miss America as a modestly-dressed, appropriately-glamorous, well-spoken, goal-oriented and service-minded woman (I know, I know, lots of hyphens!) is no longer “relevant,” what type of woman is? You’re right, Ms. Ropp, audiences can get their fix of “hot” women elsewhere on television, but they can’t find a Miss America. To compare the two is to compare apples and oranges; comparing a scholarship pageant featuring classy, educated, and worldly women to the “hot” women of reality TV and their wonderfully-inspiring bar excursions, tanning salon trips, articulate language and worldwide endeavors…well, it just doesn’t work.

Ropp is quick to state, however, that “unlike Miss America contestants…female reality show stars at least have the chance to show off their personalities and build a following.” She also explains that the shift towards being recognized as a “scholarship pageant” is inaccurate because 35 percent of a state competitor’s score is “based solely on their appearance in bikinis and evening gowns.” Yes, because a) in shape women never wear bikinis to show off what they’ve worked for, b) a woman’s confidence level, poise, or grace while in an evening gown never detracts from the garment, c) 65 percent of the score is not based on interview, talent, and on-stage question, and none of these require a showing of personality. 68,000+ Facebook and 14,000 Twitter followers does also not enable a “following,” nor do the countless number of subscribers to Fourpoints Magazine or ridiculous amount of volunteers, coaches, directors, and subcategories of business that the Miss America Organization has spawned.

Maybe it’s a fa├žade and Miss America truly is relevant in the modern day (and she is, but that elaboration makes for a different post!). After all, the Miss America system wouldn’t attract thousands of young competitors each year without having left some significant, positive impression. But I can’t read opinion pieces and editorials like these and feel as though the problem is also that these authors just aren’t paying attention (and obviously, seeing as she can’t remember Laura Kaeppeler’s name, Ms. Ropp is not). In fact, pieces such as these are the exact reason as to why the scholarly, glamorous, dedicated woman that is Miss America is even being doubted in the realm of relevancy. Ms. Ropp’s biting cynicism is exactly why women who, by her own admission, “have been successful in school, campaigned for various charitable causes and generally served as positive role models in their communities and states” are being exchanged for the female reality show stars of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of Such-and-Such. “Generally served as positive role models”? What does that mean? Because what it’s implying is that these women are not positive role models, or at least not all of them, or that their ability to be a role model is somehow diminished by the fact that they are confident enough to carry themselves in interview, wear a bikini, perform a talent, and answer a hard-hitting question impromptu...onstage in front of thousands of people…and televised to 8 million more.

Quite honestly, it looks to me as though the argument against the relevancy of Miss America is the only thing that should retire.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

War of the women: beauty, bodies, and bullying

You've already seen the photo -- it's all over Facebook. The featured image shows the photos of four well-known thin celebrities and, beneath them, four Hollywood icons lauded for their beauty and figures. Between the two groups, a caption: "Since when did this...become hotter than this?" The image has become all the rage between women defending their idea of the "non-mainstream" figure being the definition of sexy, hot, and beautiful, that the thin bodies possessed by the highlighted celebrities and those who look like them are lacking in comparison to thicker hips, thighs, and breasts. The problem here, however, isn't the woman that's "too thin" or "too big," it's the woman that thinks she has to be either.

We’re well-aware of the idea of “fat hate.” The fat kid in the movie is always funny; the fat kid is real life is always made fun of. I would know, I’ve been there. Being overweight in a world that glamorizes thinness and advertises size 00s in magazines and commercials is like going to a Halloween party and being the only one in a scary costume (think Mean Girls!). But on the other hand, “skinny hate” is no different. The idea that it is socially acceptable to tell someone to “eat a sandwich” or “gain a few pounds,” yet taboo to offer smaller portions to an overweight dinner guest is completely hypocritical and wrong. Bullying, mental or physical, can occur at any end of the spectrum, and regardless of the circumstance, criticizing someone else’s body – the one and only body they can and will ever have – hurts.

The comparison photo is bullying. By posting this picture, you are saying that one body is beautiful and one is not. Let me rephrase – you are saying that one woman is worthy, acceptable of praise, and one if NOT. You are saying that one woman is unworthy and unacceptable. It’s the same as saying that if you look like “this” or you have “this,” then you are unsexy, unattractive, and unpretty. All of these “un”s! Last I checked, it’s not spelled “womun,” it’s spelled “women,” as in encouraging, enabled, and enduring, or “woman,” like angelic and anointed. Besides, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the “girl hate” is “fat hate” or “skinny hate;” when any are allowed, all that’s unifying anything and anybody is just pure hate.

We as women are consistently bombarded by sales ads, stereotypes, and standards that distract us from the issues that should be most important to us, like our health, our achievements, and our inherent beauty and strength. These advertisements tell us that instead of loving our body in its own natural healthy state – whatever that may look like – we should strive for what we are not. But what’s so funny is that, big or small, the message to all of us is the same, that we should be dissatisfied. They teach us that “thin is in,” but that “real women have curves.” Unfortunately (or perhaps more fortunately), skinny does not equal healthy and big does not equal noble or intellectual. Both can be irresponsible by taking for granted our gift of health and well-being, and both can hinder the world. Both can keep women from realizing their potential and understanding that what we are naturally is okay. Even more than okay, what we have, what we possess – whether it’s our big boobs, thin arms, our kind-of-there belly or our intellect, passion, and talents – is beautiful. That beauty can come in many forms, and it’s only in coming to love ourselves that we can fight the advertisements and be satisfied.

Keeping with the Mean Girls theme, it’s like the lesson Cady explains: “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” Calling someone else’s body type unattractive or ugly doesn’t make you any more superior. In fact, it actually only makes you kind of ugly. And in your representation as a woman of women everywhere, it makes women look ugly. Just like the companies advertising their latest diet fad or make-up product, you’re representing a brand. You’ve heard your boyfriends and brothers say it, how girls are catty, jealous, petty. Is your advertising giving them this impression? Or are you, as a spokesperson for the brand of women, advertising your product as resilient, vivacious, and powerful?

This is why girl body bullying is so corruptive. It acknowledges, accepts, and – wait for it – PROMOTES the idea that one woman can be better than another. It accepts that woman, in all of her existence as a human being, in all of her beauty, intellect, and experience, is insufficient. It completely obliterates all of her successes and goals and sees only her flaws, and this invites men, the beauty industry, and any of our own challenges to keep us down. We’re setting the example for own they can treat women by how we treat other women. If all we draw attention to is our strengths and accomplishments, then the only example we set into motion is one that empowers those around us. It is up to us to recognize and advertise our beauty in all of its healthy, natural forms and love what each of us is able to contribute to the world. Past striving to defend our curves or our bones, it’s time to appreciate that inner beauty, opting for more than anything how we feel over how we might look. After all, when you feel good, you strive to help others feel good, and ultimately then, the battle of the bodies can become a teamwork effort that makes the world feel good.

So maybe we all can't be Kirsten, Bettie or Marilyn. Maybe we all can't be style icons or celebrities, and maybe we all can't have voluptuous lips or long hair or height. But in the realm of girl world, bodies, and bullying, one thing is for certain - no one ever said we all can't be beautiful.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Inside a Gluten-Free Vegan Shopping Bag

More times than not, the initial response to my being vegan is "But what do you eat?" Usually, I'll say something vague and slightly off-kilter, typically along the lines of "The same things you do, just vegan." This is usually followed with concern for my protein intake, confusion as to whether or not I eat fish and chicken, and/or a defensive remark that regards veganism as "expensive" or "too hard."

Well, my fine veggie folk, I introduce you to my recent shopping trip. Once a Whole Foods fanatic, I was suddenly transformed by the experience that was Trader Joe's (also know to city hipster folk as "TJ's"). It's plethora of deliciously innovative dishes and internationally-inspired products, fresh and organic produce, and dedication to the ethical treatment of its workers and sources alike, TJ's has completely changed what it means to eat and live well. Regardless of my TJ's obsession, here's a little answer to that FAQ so often faced by gluten free-ers, vegetarians, and vegans alike.

The loot:
Kalamata olives
Coconut water
Snap Pea Crisps (GET THEM, they are crunchy and salty and DIVINE!)
Brown rice
Raw almond butter (The BEST on morning gluten-free toast)
Black bean soup
Frozen fruit layer bars
Taco seasoning
Chocolate hemp protein
Brown rice bread
Dried unsweetened mango slices
Organic gala apples
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk
Tomatoes (I am completely faithful in the "on the vine" varieties)
Extra firm tofu (For tofu scrambles, salads, and stir-fry!)
Fresh herbs
Organic raspberries
Lemons and limes
Baby spinach
Baby bella sliced mushrooms
Green apple slices (My favorite cure for the afternoon graze-fest)
Red bell peppers

All this, my good friends...for less than $100. You heard (read?) right, NOT EVEN ONE HUNDRED BUCKS for weeks worth of delicious, nutritious, earth and body-friendly groceries! Let me know when you're hungry, I'm slated for some domesticity in the kitchen. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm in love...

...with a protein bar.

Yeah, I said it. I think I've found true love in a cute little chocolate-y, crispy protein bar. Why, you ask? What hath made my adoration so sweet? Here's the top five reasons the NuGo Free Protein Bar is my new favorite hobby:
1. It's gluten-free
It's the first thing you'll notice when you read the label. Big bold letters in all caps, the package-version of internet screaming, perhaps attempting to yell "I'M GLUTEN-FREE AND CELIAC DISEASE-FRIENDLY AND I WON'T SPIKE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR OR MAKE YOUR TUMMY HURT!" But he's not showy, he keeps it subtle and just opts for the capital letters. Adorable.

2. It's vegan
Also on the label, this puppy's not after yours. Free of animal ingredients and by-products, this protein bar is a key example of responsible, green eating. Go veg!

3. It's balanced
I'm pretty biased for a particular brand of protein bar. After an afternoon of comparing the labels of every protein bar at my local Whole Foods, it was an easy win for my regular morning go-to. Naturally, I decided to compare this new protein bar to my typical rendezvous and couldn't believe that it was lower in fat ratio, higher in fiber, lower in sodium and sugar, AND higher in protein. Looks like breaking up isn't so hard to do.

4. It comes in flavors like Dark Chocolate Crunch, Dark Chocolate Trail Mix, and Carrot Cake
Variety is the spice of life...and when it comes to my men, I do enjoy them dark, rich, and easy on the eyes.

5. It's $1.59...
This is one date I won't feel badly about paying for.

Check out NuGo Nutrition Bars at a local supermarket or health foods store near you! I promise, there's enough of him to go around. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yummy alert: Vega

Ah, protein powder - the long-adored supplement for any athlete's workout plan. While you may taste grainy and chalky, we all know that you're good for us, at least that's what we think. Granted, your chocolate flavor taste more like chalk than chocolate, your strawberry tastes like sweetened cardboard, and your snack bars are not exactly anyone's favorite go-to. But you're good for our muscles, they say, so I guess until someone comes up with something better, we'll be forced to choke you down every day.
Well, folks, someone has come up with something better! That something is known as Vega, pioneered by a someone by the name of Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman and triathlete, not to mention a best-selling author. Oh, and did I mention that he's vegan? Yup, believe it or not, Brendan follows a plant-based food regimen that allows him the energy to compete in some of the most grueling competitions known to man...and for a living.

So what's the deal? Vega products are "100% plant-based, dairy, gluten and soy free and contain no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners." Sounds too good to be true, no? It must taste like pureed house plants, si? Au contraire, my good friend, this business is legit! The pom-berry tastes like berry, the vanilla tastes like dessert, and my goodness, THE CHOCOLATE TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE! If Willy Wonka asked Brendan for a snozberry flavor, it'd probably taste like snozberry, too.

Vega offers a variety of products including meal replacement powders (pop 'em in your shaker bottle and you're good to go), smoothie boosts, antioxidant oils and protein bars. Just recently, Vega debuted the new Vega Sport line, a complete line of powders, drink mixes, bars and gels to help you get the most out of your favorite workout routine. Thanks to Vega Sport, you'll never have to reach for the cheap, additive-packed sports lines again!

So forget the icky-tasting, artificially-sweetened conventional protein powders and opt for something good for your wallet, your planet, and your earth. With Vega, not only can you feel good about the company and product you're supporting...but you'll never have to sacrifice your diet for a chocolate craving again.

P.S. Check out Brendan Brazier's Thrive series - Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide, Thrive Fitness: The Vegan-Based Training Program, The Thrive Diet, and Thrive Foods: Whole Foods to Thrive, all in bookstores now.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's

For the first time ever in history, there are more people on earth living in urban areas than rural. Translation: we're living (just enough) for the city! But seriously, this means a shift in how our world is working. It's not a recent phenomenon that we no longer live on the land from which we harvest our food, but now, we're not even living on the land at all. We're living in cities, in skyscrapers, buying our produce from a display and never thinking twice about who's growing our grapes or raising our beef.

Now for some number crunching: There are over 300 million people living in the United States, all of which need to eat in order to survive (shocking, I know). Nationwide, there are currently 210,000 full-time farmers. That's 1 farmer for every 1,429 people. And considering the majority of farms fall between 1 and 99 acres, that doesn't leave much room for expansion, especially following the trend of our growth in population that undoubtedly will need to be housed and attended to. The trick, then, must be a restructuring of our conventional idea of a farm, where instead of building out, we build up.
Urban agriculture is a concept only recently invading the headlines and spurring up conversation between economists, engineers, city planners, architects, and farmers alike. And what a conversation has resulted! Suddenly, we have a means of educating the public about where their food comes from, the space to allot community gardens and gathering places, and a system of efficiently and effectively investing our money back into our own local economies. These designs for rooftop and skyscraper farms are far from unsightly, too...check out this design by acclaimed architect Pierre Sartoux:

Think about it. If so many of us desire the glamorous life of the city and the country is in dire need of a refocus on farming, why not combine the two? By supporting urban agriculture initiatives, we are supporting our own self-reliancy by creating jobs, creating informed and knowledgeable citizens, and creating revenue that goes right back into our own soil (pun totally intended)!

In the same way our farmers nourish the seeds they plant, however, we must continue to explore the ideas of "sky squash" and "above-ground gardens." One fabulous way to do so is by buying locally and getting to know the area farmers so as to foster the relationships that will build this idea from the ground up. Only then are we able to see these ideas come to true fruition and only then will we reap those super-delicious-and-nutritious benefits.

And hey, I don't think anyone would mind if one day Jack started climbing a beanstalk that sprouted right out of the Sears Tower. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring cleaning: refreshing my eating habits

Alright, I'll admit it - I've been a bad girl...a very, very bad girl. Whether it's downing delivery Thai food at 1 am or shoveling loads of (delicious) vegan pizza in my mouth in the afternoon, my health and fitness smarts have been abused and somewhat forgotten. Last school session, I was pulling sixty-hour work weeks, interning, volunteering, and attending school full-time, all while retaining some semblance of a normal social life. And this meant a lot of racing around, a lot of late nights...and a lot of eating.

There's a secret, though! You can eat a whole bunch if you opt for healthy fare - you know, that stuff your mom always used to tell you would help you grow, things like dark, leafy greens (spinach, broccoli, and the ever-wonderous KALE), vivacious vegetables (think color in peppers, zucchini, squash), sweet fruit (as "normal" as strawberries and bananas and as outrageous as kumquat and starfruit), and, of course, lots of lean proteins like quinoa, tofu, lentils, and beans!

So why did I fall off my little health-conscious bandwagon? Simply put, I just got lazy. It happens, you become so caught up in dominating that final exam or making it through a nine-hour shift with the highest sales that you leave your health by the wayside...and often times, your sanity, too. Too often we forget that food might be our medicine, a sort of natural healing from the inside-out that helps us to feel as great as we look!

To help keep myself focused and on track, I've devised a little "clean" diet to match my recently-overhauled apartment. With spring cleaning becoming a predominant theme these few weeks and summer just around the corner (say YES to beach bod!), there's no better time to revamp your eating and fitness routine...kick out the old BLAH and say hello to the new BEAUTIFUL!

The Beautiful Life plan:
-Vegan, no animal by-products, including meat, seafood, dairy, or eggs
-Gluten-free, avoiding wheat, vegetarian meat replacements, and barley
-Limited corn and soy and exclusively organic
-No carbonated drinks or sodas; no artificial sweeteners, limited caffeine
-No potatoes or difficult-to-digest starches
-No alcohol...I'm in college, no need to explain this one!
-Lots of fresh veggies, fruit, and protein!

The most important of this aspect of "the beautiful life" is flexibility and moderation, an ability to modify, add/change or completely remove any of the elements, only striving to achieve a greater appreciation for my super fabulous bod and what it can do, especially when I treat it well and reward it for all its hard work with the fuel that will let it work harder! So hasta la vista to that blah bod and let's cheers to the BEAUTIFUL!