Letting Beauty Go

Beauty rarely shows herself nowadays.

It’s been years since I thought I owned her, but I remember our time together well. At first she was small, shy, and had more in common with cuteness than Beauty. Yes, I coddled her. I lavished hours on Beauty and the attention showed.

“Best not get attached to Beauty,” I was warned by people older and wiser. They told me the day would come when ordinary measures wouldn’t be enough to control her. They also told me that there was nothing I could do to change fate. Eventually Beauty and I would be parted forever.

I tried to deny it when the first chin bristles showed up. I pretended the increasing girth didn’t put me farther from Beauty. I ignored other tendencies like messy habits and gleeful snorting.

Time passed. Beauty was well on the other side of cute and would soon be taken from me for good. So I did what no one I know has ever done. I opened the gate to her pasture and made a path to the woods with apples, corn, and banana bread. Beauty was wary but followed her appetite. When she was well into the forest she heeded her instincts and kept walking toward freedom.

I don’t often get a glimpse of her these days. When Beauty shows herself I see that she is huge, bristled, her snout trembling as she smells the air. She seems gloriously happy. Let Beauty go. You’ll both be free.

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Recommended post When Girls Think Their Looks Mean Everything

Woman and Pig by Wade Schuman

Free Pig

Do You Suffer From Mean World Syndrome?

tv overload, mean world syndrome, george gerbner, pessimism, fearful of strangers,

Do you turn on TV news most days? You’re probably not doing yourself or your family any favors.

What you bring into your home is tragedy, violence and the worst of human behavior. Study after study has shown that news programming tends to breed cynicism and helplessness.

Yes it’s important to be informed, but the kind of coverage found in network and cable news is usually superficial. And worse, it’s skewed to visuals and headlines chosen for shock value. That’s what boosts rating. In-depth information that advances real comprehension isn’t what TV news delivers. As a result, viewers are more likely to become pessimistic, fearful and unable to gauge reality.

Yes, really.

The phenomenon is called Mean World Syndrome.

It’s based on the research of George Gerbner. His analysis showed that the violent content of news and entertainment convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Back when Gerbner did the bulk of his work, media was a smaller and quieter place. Now we have 24 hour access to news channels, movies, and shows as well as all kinds of net content.

Gerbner wrote,

Our studies have shown that growing up from infancy with this unprecedented diet of violence has three consequences, which, in combination, I call the “mean world syndrome.” What this means is that if you are growing up in a home where there is more than say three hours of television per day, for all practical purposes you live in a meaner world – and act accordingly – than your next-door neighbor who lives in the same world but watches less television. The programming reinforces the worst fears and apprehensions and paranoia of people.

And those who are convinced the world around them is a highly dangerous, unpredictable and unforgiving place have more than a heightened sense of insecurity. They are more likely to see violence as a solution to problems rather than to reason in more nuanced ways. Fear also drives them to take hard-line political and social attitudes.

When Gerbner testified before a congressional subcommittee in 1981, he said

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line measures…

mean world syndrome, news overload, cynicism and mass media, happy family without tv news,Hmmm.

Fact is, the world is NOT more violent.

Center for Media and Public Affairs did a study on network coverage of murder. Between 1990 and 1995, the murder rate in the U.S. went down thirteen percent. (It continues to go down.) But during that same period, network coverage of murders increased three hundred percent.

Try this antidote, an excerpt of a Steven Pinker article titled “We’re Getting Nicer Every Day: A History of Violence,”

The criminologist Manuel Eisner has assembled hundreds of homicide estimates from Western European localities that kept records at some point between 1200 and the mid-1990s. In every country he analyzed, murder rates declined steeply–for example, from 24 homicides per 100,000 Englishmen in the fourteenth century to 0.6 per 100,000 by the early 1960s.

On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture:

Global violence has fallen steadily since the middle of the twentieth century.

According to the Human Security Brief 2006, the number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade. In Western Europe and the Americas, the second half of the century saw a steep decline in the number of wars, military coups, and deadly ethnic riots.

Zooming in by a further power of ten exposes yet another reduction. After the cold war, every part of the world saw a steep drop-off in state-based conflicts, and those that do occur are more likely to end in negotiated settlements rather than being fought to the bitter end. Meanwhile, according to political scientist Barbara Harff, between 1989 and 2005 the number of campaigns of mass killing of civilians decreased by 90 percent.

The decline of killing and cruelty poses several challenges to our ability to make sense of the world. To begin with, how could so many people be so wrong about something so important? Partly, it’s because of a cognitive illusion: We estimate the probability of an event from how easy it is to recall examples. Scenes of carnage are more likely to be relayed to our living rooms and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age.”

Yes, we face harsh realities. I hardly need to recount them to you. But when crime, disaster, ecological devastation, famine, and other tragedies are presented as random occurrences nothing constructive is gained. Emotions like anger, fear, and sorrow can rouse us to positive action but only if action is an option. Sometimes that’s direct action, sometimes it’s seeking deeper understanding of how to prevent these occurrences from happening again.

Problems portrayed on movies and shows, problems relentlessly hyped in the news and by pundits—-well, they just seem so pervasive, so disconnected from causes, so impossible to change that we feel helpless to do anything about it. That’s another effect of Mean World Syndrome.

We end up pessimistic, which is bad for our own health and bad for the planet.

True, we humans may be more likely to pay attention to negatives than positives, a trait that probably helped us to survive in saber-tooth tiger days. But long progress of humanity has much more to do with our tendency to cooperate, form close relationships, and to care. We are hard-wired for compassion, not for the imaginary mean world.

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Fight Mean World Syndrome

Get your news from sources that adhere closely to the highest journalistic standards.

Consider widening your perspective with international news.

Check out Center for Media Literacy. They offer resources to help young people develop critical thinking skills related to our world of mass media.

Read magazines about people and groups working for positive changes such as Ode and YES.

Enjoy some heartening news with Good News Network and Great News Network.

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Fear image courtesy of Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha’s Flickr photostream.

When Girls Think Their Looks Mean Everything

lookism, girls who hate their looks, moms helping girls love themselves, mean girls, geek girls,

As little girls, Elissa’s friends were rambunctious and wholly themselves. They pursued their own interests with no concern for other people’s opinions. They drew comics featuring hilarious dialogue, danced and laughed simultaneously until they fell down in breathless mirth, conducted basement science experiments, and pretended they had super powers. Their mothers talked about how freely their girls expressed themselves, grateful to have strong daughters.

Then it started.

Like a relentless viral infection, one by one these girls succumbed to our appearance-obsessed culture. Elissa watched angrily as her friends were laden with heavy new concerns. They worried about what they looked like and what others thought of them. By 11, 12, or 13 years old they hid their unique interests and suppressed their considerable talents. Instead they maintained a near constant awareness of hair, make-up, clothes, body shape, who said what, and how everyone else reacted.

Threats, screaming outbursts, bleak despair became common. And that was just their mothers’ reaction to their daughters’ behavior. Helplessly witnessing what has become a female ritual of relentless self-scrutiny causes many of us to lose it.  We know all too well that the effort to constrict oneself into a mold is exhausting.

But who can blame our girls, let alone the adult women who continue to suffer painful confidence wounds, when impossible standards are the norm?  It’s almost as if we females are set up to fail at this appearance game. Oh wait, we are. Even the Beautiful People aren’t beautiful enough.

photoshopping, mena suvari, celebrity photoshop, teen beauty,

Celebrities “fail” too. Take a look at the already lovely Mena Suvari, model and actress whose acne is removed, pores eliminated, eyes brightened and skin smoothed.

Check out the before-photoshop pics of women like Kirsten Dunst, Alicia Silverstone, Christina Ricci, and others. Until they’re rendered plastic smooth and Barbie thin, they look somewhat like ordinary people.

And let’s not forget, reality shows have made transformation from ordinary to perfect an entertainment phenomenon in a society where make-overs for little girls and high heels for babies aren’t out of the question.

Image after image through their young lives, girls absorb an ever present lesson that females aren’t good enough as they are. Such lessons aren’t confined to images. Girls and women portrayed in movies are typically clad in sexualized clothes and lead one-dimensional lives.

What’s the effect?

Devastating, according to the American Psychological Association. Shame, anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. Girls judge their bodies harshly as young as the age of five.  No wonder a girl might choose keep the vitality of her true self hidden.

But there’s another side, often overlooked. Because Elissa and a few of her friends didn’t suffer (at least fully) the perils of lookism. They barreled through their pre-teen and teen years fueled by interests strong enough to hold them steady. Elissa poured her energy into a number of pursuits. She was a docent at the zoo, raised white rats, studied an ever increasing range of scientific interests, and moderated an online forum. One of her friends took up photography, becoming proficient in pinhole camera techniques and making albumen prints, while also advancing in a hockey league. Elissa noticed that girls who didn’t engage in the looks-first game were often ostracized by their more mainstream peers, but they also had strong friendships beyond school. Elissa, homeschooled through highschool, was one of those friends. She says she felt freer to follow her own interests without the pressures of school culture and advocated individuality to others.

As a teen, Elissa was angry at the influences that swayed so many of her other girlhood friends. She scorned their preoccupation with boys, clothes, body image, and interpersonal drama. But now Elissa is in her early 20’s. She’s reconnected with many of these same friends and learned a little about the adversity they suffered as they made their way through adolescence different than hers. One of her childhood friends became a mother at 15, another made multiple suicide attempts, still another struggles with bulimia. Elissa is sure the strengths from girlhood are still with all of them. She just doesn’t know how to let them know that their looks don’t define them.

Here are a few resources to light the way.

About Face

Adios Barbie

All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype to Celebrate Real Beauty

Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers

Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image

Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

Mothers for a Human Future

New Moon Girls

Packaging Girlhood

Pink Stinks

Resolving the Confidence Crisis

Teen Voices

The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body

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Trying to Be Happy courtesy of Orm Huz

Mom Knows Nothing

open to questions, don't know answers, kid's questions, being a mom,

“Why don’t you know any answers?” my then three-year-old asked me.

He was exaggerating. I always gave him a straight answer when he asked what we could have for dinner or when we were going to the library. But it was true, sometimes I had to look things up. That’s because I really didn’t know answers to questions he posed like, “Do bees have intestines?”

Still, I knew what he meant. I tended to respond to his questions with inquiries of my own. “What do you think?” or “Let’s find out.” Of course I was intentionally vague in order to spark the process of discovery. I didn’t know such a tactic might annoy a toddler who sometimes just wanted to know. Yes, I modified my approach, although he’ll tell you today that I’m just as annoying in other ways.

However the habit of putting questions where answers might be continues, at least in my head. The more I experience the sorrows and delights of life the more I recognize that answers aren’t the aim. So much is better understood as a question.

Today I walk out back with a pail of vegetable peelings and leftover oatmeal for the chickens on our little farm. Chickens look perpetually quizzical, perhaps that’s one reason I like them so much.

Our cows graze in the sunny part of the pasture. I can’t get past marveling at the mystery of plants eating sunlight, cows converting grass to milk, and milk transforming into cheese on my stove. I simply stand watching the cows in wonderment.

While I stand here I know that what we call gravity bonds me and everything I see to the planet. Without this force all of us would drop into the darkness of space. Earth holds us. Yet here on this perfect sphere we humans find reasons to hurt one another and harm the Earth. I hear humanity’s questions asked over and over in songs, poetry and the scriptures of many faiths, and I am comforted by our common quest for understanding.

There’s peace to be found right beyond the need for answers. This sense of calm I find puts the emphasis on love, not on what’s right. (It doesn’t hurt to recognize that those who have all the answers actually don’t.) I walk back to the house, taking in the way the water flows along the creek and the mud squelches around my boots. I’m glad to live with people who are astonished daily by this world’s wonders. Even if they continue to ask me what’s for dinner and expect an answer.

inchworm, questioning everything, appreciating the moment,

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Question tree photo courtesy of Type Zero