27 October 2013

Politically Incorrect: Obesity

Let's talk about obesity.   

Anyone paying attention has likely seen all kinds of perspectives about obesity.  There are the fat-shaming comments and articles like some see this as:

Then there's the pro-fitness camp, like this: 

And of course there's the "fat acceptance" crew:

Let's start at square one: no matter your opinions about weight, the women featured in these images, or the messages on the images, it is always unacceptable to insult others.  On the internet, in person, through email-- it's never ok to insult each other.  Never.  Not even strangers.  It's just never ok.  Ever.

With that out of the way, let's continue.

As a country, we have to discuss our national prejudice against overweight people.  They are being denied jobs and academic opportunities.  They're living with hate crimes so socially acceptable that we barely see them as hate crimes.  The hate is a reality, the suffering is real, and it's getting worse.  The fat-shaming camp seems to think that people choose to be large, and that intense bullying will knock the extra pounds off a person.  

At the same time, we have to discuss the problem of idealized bodies.  The pro-fitness camp has the motto: "Fit is the New Thin."  It's pretty catchy, and a person can feel good supporting fitness.  There's a problem though.  Not all fitnesses are treated the same.  A quick Google search will show that in this camp, "fit" means "thin with muscles."  It's hard to imagine this woman as their poster child:

That's Sarah Robles. She's sometimes referred to as the strongest woman in America, and she's a freaking Olympic athlete.  There's no denying she's fit.  And she's probably healthy, too.  But we don't see women with her body type featured in the "fit is the new thin" conversation.  The absence of diversity of bodies reveals this camp as a new version of the older "be skinny at all costs" movement some of us grew up with.

And that brings us to the fat acceptance movement.  My first reaction to hearing there's a fat acceptance movement was horror.  I imagined an organization of people encouraging each other to ignore health problems, to avoid exercise, and to binge eat everyday.  Of course, it's not quite like that.  The movement is mostly about shedding light on the social issues people with high BMIs face everyday.  I can get behind that.  Like I said, we're extremely prejudice against our heavier neighbors, and there's no excuse for our behavior.

But I also have concerns with the fat acceptance movement.  Not always, but often, risks associated with being larger are trivialized.  True, weight isn't the only indicator of health, but it's still an important indicator.  So are waist measurements, lifestyle habits, and family history. Together, they paint an almost complete picture of one's health risks.  Saying one isn't important at all creates a situation where some people feel less compelled to take responsibility for their health.  If you have a high BMI, you should take it as a warning and seek medical council.  You could be incredibly healthy, and you could be incredibly unhealthy.  Either way, don't ignore any indicator that you might be unhealthy.  After all, even fit, robust people get cancer, have heart attacks, or develop diabetes.  That's just the human condition.  But what if you were diagnosed with an illness you could have prevented by simply having a medical screening?  So if you have an indicator of higher risk, address it now.

The other concern I have is when people repeat what they've read-- that weight might not be the best indicator of health-- and then apply it to themselves without considering their own state of health.   This especially bothers me when friends or family make these claims.  I have friends and family at all weights and all levels of health.  Because of our relationship, we're generally aware of each other's health concerns, exercise habits, and diet.  And it's disheartening to see data intended to clarify health assessment used in ways that enable poor lifestyle decisions.  

So I have concerns with each voice in the weight debate.  I'm inclined to want to combine the pro-fitness group's message (exercise, eat well, make good lifestyle decisions) with the body variety and social issues awareness messages from the fat acceptance folks.  Like, take the best of the two and stick them together.  

The last weight issue I want to address concerns body image and media.  I often read articles along these lines: "Media tells us that women should be extra thin and have a gap between their thighs and  that men should have a perfect v-shape on their abdomen.  It's the media's fault I have unhealthy body expectations."  

Ok, let's get straight to why I hate commentary like this.  You're a grown-up who can think critically.  TV says you need to be thin?  Media also tells us that women will rip their panties off around men wearing the right cologne.  That alcohol is the key to all fun to be had.  That yogurt is better than sex.  You don't believe all that crap, so why would you choose to believe the body-image stuff?  Stop and consider the healthy people in your life who you admire.  What do they look like?  Do they exercise?  Do they make healthy eating choices?  Have you ever in your life seen a person who looks like the people we see on ads?  The answer is no, never.  All of the images we see are digitally manipulated and in no way represent reality.  Shouldn't real life inform your perceptions more than advertising?  (I'm excluding those with diseases that affect one's perception of body image.)  

Of course, it takes maturity to understand that media doesn't show reality, which is why we need to teach young women and men how to interpret media: as an untruthful depiction of reality designed to sell us stuff.  Not sure how?  Start by showing this interesting video that Dove released a few years ago.  Let's teach young people that they're comparing themselves to what are essentially cartoons.  And let's really appreciate that fact ourselves as well.

24 October 2013

What I Hope to Keep from Japan

I take the GRE tomorrow.  I'm a nervous wreak.  My face has broken out worse that I can recall in years (my skin is a throwback to middle school).  I'm having trouble sleeping.  And today I absentmindedly went to work an hour early.  Yep.  Full-on anxiety.

But as I work towards whatever the next thing might be, I've been thinking about what I hope to keep from Japan.  So here're the top ten things I hope to keep:

1. Eating in season.

Much of the food I eat here tends to be seasonal.  Even foods that you wouldn't think are seasonal are.  For example, there's this great green tea chocolate I like to buy at convenience stores, but I couldn't find it over the summer.  Recently, I've been searching high and low for wasabi flavored pocky snacks.  There were abundant a few months ago, but have since disappeared.  Currently, I'm enjoying the plethora of pumpkin-flavored goods around me.  I'm sure they'll be gone in another month.

Of course, this also applies to produce.  As we enter the cold months, I'm seeing more and more winter staples on the shelves: onions, potatoes, carrots, and squash.  There are still some late-producing treats available-- like the most delicious grapes I've ever consumed-- but grocery stores are getting back to the basics.  And I like it that way.  I've been savoring food more when I know I won't get it later.  Eating a restricted diet makes food actually taste better (also probably because it's fresher and local).

2. Taking my shoes off at the door.

I just like this habit.  I feel proper when I take my shoes off, and I almost never struggle to find my kicks when it's time to put them back on.  I hope I do this forever.

3. Japanese curry.

Delicious, simple, cheap... curry is an ideal dish for single-dwellers and large families alike.  Easily scalable, curry meets every demand made of a meal: vegetables, carbs, protein, and lots of flavor.  I hope I can find the ingredients I need when I move away.

4. Living small... like, really small.

Ok, maybe I don't want to live *this* small forever.  I do eventually want a real bedroom again.  And some days I'd kill for an oven.  Or a kitchen.  But I've learned a lot about what I actually need to survive and how much space I need to survive in.  Even though my current apartment is REALLY small and lacking many amenities that most of you would consider necessary (I miss ovens, microwaves, and having more than one burner), I've come to learn I don't really need all that.  Actually, I've been working on downsizing even more-- Anyone want to take my refrigerator off my hands?

5. Living without a car.

Ah, the ease with which I travel.  Not owning a car has given me so much freedom.  For one thing, cars are so expensive.  Really, pay attention to how much you actually spend on your car.  I mean everything: buying the car, gas, maintenance, taxes, everything.  It's a ridiculous amount of money.  And I spend most of that money on fun things, not transportation.  But there's more.  I never have to worry about parking, whether traffic might slow me down, or getting hopelessly lost.  I can sleep, play games, catch up on email, chat with friends, or surf the web safely during my commute.  And I can go anywhere with virtually no stress in less time than it'd take driving.  Life sans cars is really living the high life.

6. Creating beauty around me.

I have a lot more time in Japan, and I've been using it to decorate my apartment, to garden, and to enjoy everything more.  I go to parks, I paint, I play oboe, and I do what I can to make my rat-infested apartment cozy.  This is the longest I've lived in one place in years, and I've enjoyed making it a version of home.

7. The three Rs on overdrive.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  I am the Queen of these.  Everything in my apartment has been recycled somehow.  Mostly coming from FreeCycle, my furniture and belongings cost me nothing and avoided a trip to the dump.  And when I leave, I'm giving it all back to the city.  It's a beautiful system.

My apartment is set up to respect the Rs as well.  I manually turn on my water heater before every shower and turn it off when I'm done.  The large windows in my apartment eliminate the need for heating or lighting during the day, and the breeze that blows through in the summer nearly eliminates the need for air conditioning.  I hope I can find a place this eco-friendly when I move.

8. Wearing a medical face mask.

A common misunderstanding: people in Japan wear face masks not to avoid getting sick, but to avoid getting other people sick.  They wear the mask when they have a cold or the flu in order to prevent spreading their sickness.  Isn't that lovely?  It's such a kind, simple gesture.

9. Crazy precise budgeting and paying in cash.

My first few months in Japan, I was poor.  Like, I was so poor I could barely afford food.  My core diet consisted of one cabbage and 3 packages of ramen a week for the entire month of February, and has gradually gotten better since.  It paid off though, and I'm now more or less financially stable.  I got through it by budgeting every yen I earned and spent.  I knew exactly how much money I could spend on food, and going over my budget wasn't an option.  To this day, I keep close track of where my money is going.  I like the control I feel over my finances, and it feels so good when I meet goals.

The primary way I'm able to actually keep to my budget is by spending only cash.  Credit and debit cards aren't so common in Japan-- it's very much a cash based society-- so I have to pay cash for almost all of my purchases.  The only exception is the rent money I wire to my landlord's account from my ban every month.  Paying in cash keeps me accountable since I can't charge impulse buys.  Without money in hand, I can't buy anything in Japan.  I want to always use cash in the future.

10. Dressing professionally.

Ok, at first I hated this.  As an American, there are very few occasions where business attire is recommended, and even then the rules are flexible.  As a result, my business wardrobe was severely wanting when I moved to Japan ten months ago.  The suits I owned didn't fit well, the tops were matronly, and I'd owned my skirts since high school.  Yeah, I was a mess.  Since then though, I've invested in some new suits and smart tops.  And even though I feel I look much older than I am, I also have to admit:  I look good.  Like, respectable-could-be-your-boss good.  Japan is notorious for business attire, so it's likely I won't have to look so sharp where ever I go next, but I enjoy looking professional.  There's a certain confidence that comes with putting on a blazer.  And I want to keep it.

22 June 2013

What I'm Reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Well, this book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, has engaged me so much that my mind's been racing with thoughts, epiphanies, and more than a little humiliation.  As it stands, I'm a little more than halfway through the book.  And I'm ashamed of myself.  And discouraged.  But also inspired.

I'm ashamed because I've been looking at a harshly accurate mirror of my unpleasant behavior.  So far I've read "Part 1: How to Handle People," "Part 2: Six Ways to Make People Like You," and I've just scratched the surface of "Part 3: Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking."  It's Part 3 that's really polishing the mirror and making me consider my own reflection, though the whole book so far has been quite insightful.

Here's a self-truth:  I relish being right.  That's probably no surprise because 1: you probably know me and my vices if you're reading my blog, and 2: most people, I think, enjoy being right.  I, for one, get comfort from feeling that I know something.  I enjoy the thrill of hashing out opinions and arguments, especially over a beer. But at the end of the day, I lack tact and probably also timing.  This is why my desire to be "right" has probably cost me several relationships, both personal and professional.  I can be too literal, to quick to point out another's faults, and definitely too ready for an argument.

I'm not this way out of malice, at least, I don't think I am.  I'm literal, judgmental, and argumentative because I largely want my friends to be the same way.  It's a sort of interpretation of the Golden Rule.  I want people around me to be literal and straightforward with me.  I want to be held to high standards and told when I'm falling short.  I want to have lively debates where my core values and beliefs are shaken.  I want to be treated this way, so I treat others this way.  Unfortunately, it seems the rule doesn't quite work like that.

And there rests a big part of my problem: I think too much about what I want and not as much about what other people might want.  Coincidentally, it's by focusing on what I want that I've started to come to this realization.  Namely, the things I might want most for myself can happen only if the people around me are happy.  The things I want more than being right might be better served if I'm not literal, if I'm not judgmental, and if I'm not argumentative.

My wiser readers are probably thinking, "Well, duh, Jessi.  Did you have to read a book to figure that out?" Well, maybe yes and maybe no.  When I say "I relish being right," please understand that I've perceived my "rightness" to be a part of my identity.  It's an off-putting side of my identity, but it's nonetheless difficult to devalue or be critical of a major characteristic of yourself.  It's only recently that I've perceived any personal desires that legitimately trump my desire to be right, so reading about various situations where not being right is advantageous certainly speeds up a process that would-- hopefully-- occur naturally with time and experience.

I think it's partly a maturity issue, which is very humbling for me to admit since I've been told since childhood that I'm mature for my age--another point of self-perceived, personal identity.  That might have been true then, but I think I stopped maturing for a bit and might be slightly behind my peers now.  Childhood and adolescence are times when we're afforded the opportunity to be right and to be validated by people of power.  What else are grades, tests, and the like?  Answer B is right, anything else is wrong.  If you answered B then you're right, you're brilliant, and everyone from teachers to parents to scholarship committees congratulates you.  I thrived in that environment, and I haven't quite moved beyond it.

Of course, decision-making and choices as an adult aren't nearly so clear-cut as "choose answer B."  In almost all my decisions I'm finding there isn't a "right" answer or even a "mostly right" or "favorable" answer.  Actually, my current life circumstances are challenging the idea that there's an answer at all.  I'm quite uncomfortable in the ambiguity of adulthood, and looking back on my actions during and since college, I see that I've resisted moving into an environment where no one is right and everything is gray.

I'm not writing this as a manifesto of reformed ways.  Nor am I declaring this as a life-changing moment.  I've found such gestures to be empty when I make them.  Rather, I'm mulling over this different perspective in the case that it resonates deeply enough that the next time I'm inclined assert my "rightness" I give my actions a second thought.  Maybe I'll choose to charge ahead.  Maybe I won't.  But at least I hope to be giving the choice more consideration than I typically do.

14 April 2013

A Week of Good News

This past week was fantastically full of good news.  Let me share.

First and most important, the Japanese Quarantine Service sent me a confirmation number for my dog to come to Tokyo!  Assuming everything goes according to plan, now she'll be able to pass through customs in less than 12 hours (as opposed to 6 months)!  I'll basically just have to go and pick her up from the airport.  I've mentioned before how much I miss and love my dog.  Just two weeks until I see her again!  I can't wait!

I also found out one of my dearest friends will visit me in May!  She'll be chaperoning a Ball State Honors College trip to Vietnam, and she'll fly through Tokyo.  She was able to extend her stay in Tokyo for a few days on her way home.  Until she learned about this trip, she'd thought that visiting Tokyo would be impossible.  I'm thrilled she found a way to visit me!  

I already wrote about the fantastic head massage I received at the hair salon last week, but at that time I didn't know it'd be a week of two massages!  My boyfriend hosted some Russian Couch Surfers, and one of them loved giving massages.  I was a happy camper by the end of their visit.

Finally, I learned that one of my substitute teacher days at work has changed to a permanent shift.  I'm now working in four different schools with an additional day of sub duty for a grand total of five working days.  Working in five different locations every week isn't ideal, BUT the schools I'm in are full of friendly staff and great students.  I've heard that's not always the case.  Three of my schools are on the same train line, so that also helps.

For me, having one less day of sub duty more than compensates for having so many schools.  Sub duty stresses me out just a little bit.  Because of the nature of sub duty, it's difficult to make any plans-- I never know where or when I'm supposed to go for my shift. Having a permanent shift gives me peace of mind; I can make plans, leisurely make my way to my school, and actually get to know the staff.  Here's hoping my last sub day changes to a permanent shift!

(Out of fairness, I should mention that some teachers like sub duty.  I'm told they like traveling around Tokyo, meeting so many new people, and generally seeing parts of the city they might not have on their own.  Those things are awesome, and I'm glad some teachers like it; however, I personally prefer structure in my work environment.)  

05 April 2013

Getting a Haircut in Japan

I've been needing a haircut for about a month.  Back in October I cut off about a foot of hair and donated it to the Pink Heart Funds.  With less hair, I decided to go all the way to a pixie cut, which I loved immediately.

My pixie cut in October 2012
Even though I loved my new cut, after a couple months I discovered that even though the style itself was delightfully low-maintenance, I had to go to the salon more often to keep it up.  In my quest for a simpler, reduced lifestyle with more frugality thrown in, I decided that a longer style would fit my needs better right now.  I've been growing it out since around December.

Anyone who's ever grown out his or her hair from very short understands that there's an... ugly... period where the ends don't meet, the hair isn't even, and generally your hair doesn't flatter your face.  I'm in that faze right now.  In January my amazing roommate trimmed it up as best she could, but two months later it was ragged and decidedly mullet-like.

Enter the Japanese hair salon.  I've been looking for a hair salon that accepts foreign clients, offers a cut at a reasonable price, and allows walk-ins (since I can't speak well enough to schedule an appointment).  After work yesterday I found just such a place.  Thanks to some Japanese-speaking co-workers, I learned to say "Do I need an appointment?" (Apointamento iri mas ka?)  The salon I selected graciously accepted me and my limited-to-a-handful-of-words Japanese.

The experience amazed me.  The staff pampered me the whole way through.  First, the stylist verified that I was ok with the price (it was about 5,000 yen; a bit more than I pay in the States, but still within my "reasonable" parameters).  Then the staff handed me some magazines to select the style I wanted.  

Then came the best part: a staff member shampooed my hair.  But she didn't just wash it-- oh, no. That wouldn't be Japanese amazing-service enough.  She gave me a solid 15 minute head massage.  To finish, she wrapped my head in a hot towel.  I could feel my muscles relaxing in pure ecstasy.  It's nearly 24 hours later and my head still feels amazing.  

Finally, my Japanese-fabulous hair stylist performed hair magic on my tresses.  He evened out the hair, trimmed my bangs, added some texture, and generally made my hair look like it had an actual style.  The whole time he cut my hair he was practicing his English with me, which I appreciated and enjoyed.  

20 March 2013

My Tokyo Apartment

In my last post I alluded to my new apartment.  It's time to announce to the world what I have set up for my dog and myself.

When I returned to Tokyo a month ago, this is what I came home to:

My southern windows.

View from my southern windows.

My western windows (I'm standing in front of my southern windows).
Now, you might remember my pledge to avoid spending money on my new apartment.  So far, I'm doing well!  My apartment came with a gas burner, a refrigerator, and a washing machine.  With David's help last Monday, I've managed to completely furnish my apartment through FreeCycle and a little foresight.

We planned for me to have my own home when we were still in Biloxi, so we sent my futon along with David's things ahead of time.  From FreeCycle, I received a bookcase, a coffee table, several decorating items, some kitchen items, and absolutely everything I needed for my new garden (and then some!).

My Kitchen.  You can see my water heater, my rice cooker, and my single burner.
Wine and FreeCycled Salt & Pepper Shakers 
Blurry view of my sink.
Cozy Bathroom.
Almost everything you see came from FreeCycle.
Standing in my kitchen, looking south into my living room.
The futon is perfect for this apartment.  It's a sofa by day and a bed by night. 
I'm still working out what I will put on the bookshelf.  Right now it's mail and gardening supplies.
Sitting on my sofa, looking west to my garden. I've planted corna and sunflowers in the planters you can see, so hopefully by summer there will be a green screen for more privacy.

Looking south, the building in the background is a preschool full of noisy, but apparently happy, children. 
Standing on my south balcony, which is a bit narrower than the west side.
Looking north on my west balcony.  You can see my washing machine and yogurt cups full of little seeds. 
Looking south, standing near my washing machine.  The small tree in the corner is my *olive tree*! 
I plan to put tomatoes in the two larger pots.  I'm not sure about the other ones. 
My tiny farm, future home of lettuce, radishes, herbs, and maybe cucumbers.
My street, looking south.
My street, looking north.


I might finally be a little homesick.  Specifically, I miss my puppy.  I find myself looking at this picture more and more frequently:

I'll be so excited once she gets her paperwork sorted out.  In theory, once she gets here I'll never have to leave her behind again.  And I truly don't want to.  It's amazing how much she enriches my life, and not having her around is really bumming me out.

Yes, I know she's "just" a dog.  The affection I feel towards her is probably very different than the feelings she has for me.  But just because I love her in a human way and she loves me in a dog way doesn't mean our relationship is any the less.  Really, I consider her my best friend and life companion.  She's reliable, friendly, loving, and everything you'd want in a best friend.  Sure, she's not great at conversation, but she holds up the listening end pretty well.  And she does manage to communicate, which I find very impressive.  Fellow dog owners undoubtedly understand my attachment to my pup.

She's set to arrive in Tokyo April 29.  I hope she likes it here.  I specifically chose this apartment for her.  We're close to a fairly large park, so we'll have opportunities to frolic and explore together.  I've arranged the apartment and the balcony for her as well.  Everyday I think about things we can do together.  Just one more month.  I have to be patient.

02 March 2013

Images from Japan

I'm back in Tokyo from Fukushima!  I still don't have stellar internet, but it's better than it was.  Here are the images I couldn't upload last month:

Waiting for the Bullet Train to go to Fukushima City

From the Bullet Train, north of Tokyo; You can start to see the mountains.

My temporary apartment while in Fukushima. I slept in the loft.

View from my Fukushima apartment.  It was right next to the railroad tracks (so a little noisy).

After my first "party" in Fukushima!

It snowed almost everyday.

Shabu shabu restaurant!  It turns out that my favorite food in Japan is shabu shabu.

Shabu shabu is hot soup, then you cook veggies and meat in it as you like. It's so good!

It was fun to add as much as possible to the pot.

The English menu called the dish on the left "fermented squid guts salad." I was surprised that it was very tasty!

At a hot spring with another English teacher and his family. (That's a baby on his chest! She's so cute!)

Someone built a snow dome.

This hot spring was for only your feet.  It was so nice to have piping hot water on my feet and calves while watching snow fall around me.

It's a very nice place, and it's free to the public!

Their other daughter *loves* hot springs.  She was so pumped! (And she quickly got her pants very wet!)

Snow Dome.

This child was GO! GO! GO!  She was so much fun to be around.

This is inside a very wealthy person's home from a long time ago (Eek!  I don't remember when!). It's now open to the public.  

My first yaki-mo! (Japanese baked sweet potato)

Yum!  And hot!

This is an adult person's car.

Stores have toy areas for children to play, an arcade for older children (and probably husbands), and a place for mothers to breastfeed.  The stores really try to cater to their customers.

These are all kitchen supplies.  For adults.

Because Japanese babies are cooler.

I seriously couldn't get enough of her.  She was so funny!

David's birthday king cakes!  I can't believe he found them!

Teaching our Japanese friends how to play king cup.

The keys to my *permanent* apartment!

Delicious soup at a sushi restaurant!  It was mostly egg, some broth, mushrooms, and a few veggies. YUM!

My sushi plates (they count the plates at the end to calculate the bill).

My co-workers being cute with some soy sauce.

Amelie... the Japanese version.

My goodbye party!  My boss and another teacher!

She always has funny faces for the camera.


Karaoke is so much better in Japan.  You get your own booth, so you listen to only your friends' bad singing!

Post-karaoke ramen.

View of Fukushima from the top of a nearby mountain.  My last look at the city before heading back to Tokyo!