An Open Letter to Congress

Dear Congress-people responsible for the ridiculously-named  Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act:

Have you heard about the 2006 study* on pre-term births that revealed racism as a very real risk-factor in early labor?

African-American women at every socioeconomic level have higher rates of preterm birth and infant mortality. Incredibly, these rates exceed those of white women who have not even finished high school and those of black women who emigrated to the U.S. from other countries. For example, infant mortality in white women with a college degree or higher is 4 per 1000, while for similarly educated African-American women, the rate is 12 per 1000 births. [Source]

If that is not compelling enough check out the transcript for Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks, one part of an (awesome) documentary series about health disparity in America (that I was lucky enough to be introduced to at a recent YWCA Cultural Competency training!)

I agree – racism is a serious issue – but how about we deal with the racism faced by fully-gestated people first? There are a plethora of reasons why you should care about the racism that fully-gestated people face every day (basic human decency and a sense of justice, for starters) but if none of those reasons compel you, then do so for the fetuses that you care so very much about. Fetuses who are being born pre-term because their mothers bodies are so worn down by the constant stress of racism that they cannot carry their baby to full-term, despite making every effort to do so.

Or, you know, you can keep writing bills that exploit the very real problem of racism in an attempt to screw over women of color even more. Your choice.

– A concerned voter.

*Institute of Medicine Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes, Board on Health Sciences Policy, Behrman, R.E., and Butler, A.S. (eds.). (2006). Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention. Washington, DC, The National Academies Press.

My Secret to Keeping it Together: Dream Big, Act Small

So you’re sick of excuses, I’m sick of excuses, we’re all sick of excuses… but this semester (my last semester of undergrad, incidentally) is testing me in ways I had not anticipated. Between awesome, but intensive classes (LGBT Development, Women Writers, and Web design… yes please!) and all of the wonderful Women’s Center projects left to wrap up before I graduate… well, all know the story, but you’re here for a blog post… so lets go!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me: how do you manage to get everything done? Its a fair question. I don’t seem to have the ability or the desire that other people do when it comes to saying “no.” Nine times out of ten if someone presents an opportunity to me, I take it despite the fact that I know my plate is already pretty damn full. Given the fact that I have serious issues regulating anxiety in even the most tranquil of situations, this seems ridiculous. And yet, I tend to manage just fine.

Why is that? Because I know that if something is intimidating, I’m just not thinking small enough.

Take my last week of classes as an example; finishing two essays, 100+ pages of reading, designing two web pages and prepping for a big job interview in just five days seemed impossible to me when I first considered it. Then, I broke it down. For this particular situation it made the most sense to take an index card and break it into the number of days I had left. Once that was done I filled in all of the social commitments and distractions that I already knew about. Based on how much time was left in each day I set myself goals like: two hours working on website or read 50 pages of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan with a small box next to it to be checked off when I was done.

I taped this list in my mirror and constantly reminded myself to focus on just one day at a time.

Five days of fun and work later and I was done (and ready to be lazy for the weekend!)

My wonderful to-do list for the past week. (via Spongebob!)

This simple “trick” of breaking things down works for everything.

Getting from being a [fill in your undergraduate] major to being a [dream job] can seem intimidating as anything, unless you break it down. Figure out what classes you need to take, what graduate programs (if any) you need to get into, what entry level jobs you need to try, who you need to meet, and so on… just break down all of the steps between you and your goal and then focus, one step at a time.

Achieving [that huge project that you’ve been dreaming of for ages] can seem impossible, unless you break it down. Write out your idea, then figure out what you are missing that is keeping you from having achieved that idea. Break it down into small steps that go from where you are now to where you want to be. Its okay if some of the steps are missing when you start out, after all you may still need to do some research (a step!) to give yourself direction.

Getting through [those awful chores that you hate] can seem much less crummy if you break things down into smaller steps and give yourself plenty of little rewards each time you get one done!

I think you get the point.

The beauty of this trick is that it works for everyone because you can tailor it to fit your exact needs! (Different sized steps, lists on paper or computer, etc.)

Miscellaneous Tips

  1. You can go as small as you want, but I find that I feel best when I break things into day-sized steps. That way you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of each day!
  2. Scheduling in small breaks (a cup of tea, a trip to the movies, a chapter in a fun book, etc.) in between steps can help to keep you insane, especially if you are operating on a packed schedule for an extended period of time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, is a popular saying for a reason. A well broken-down list of steps can be helpful to keep you moving towards your goals, but don’t ever be afraid to cross something out (or throw the whole thing out all together!) if life starts to lead you in a new direction.
  4. If you are easily prone to stress, consider blocking each day out on its own sheet of paper. This way you only have to look at today.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up! If you get overwhelmed and spend an hour or two absentmindedly scrolling through tumblr or watching Wife Swap when you should be working, its OKAY. Any time spend moping and feeling like a failure for being distracted is just MORE time wasted, so commend yourself for taking time for self-care and then get back to work!
  6. Recognize when something is good enough. Sure, you could spend another how making sure your essay is EXACTLY 8 pages… or you could get some sleep. If you’re anything like me, letting yourself stop when a project is done is half the battle but mastering this skill will make your life so much easier!

So after writing this I did a quick Google search and found out that I am not so original :P For the record, this post was not inspired by the book of the same name (I just found out it exists!) but I plan to find the time to check the book out now… I’ll report back! (A version of this post also aired on Persephone awhile back, but I’ve made some edits and added some tips before posting it here!)

Breast Cancer Awareness Isn’t Just for Women

This piece is a follow-up of sorts to a post I wrote awhile back for Not Your Average Feminism, on a similar topic, called It’s About People, Not Breasts.

Showing off my tie-dyed bra after a few hours of tabling!

This past weekend I helped to bring Octoberbreast to my college’s Octoberfest celebrations. For three hours I stood behind a table with some friends, in a black dress and a bright tie-dyed sports bra, encouraging other women to tie-dye their own bras while we spoke with them about the various Breast Cancer Awareness Month events we had coming up around campus. The table was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement… we ran out of bras long before the event ran out of time!

In executing this table we did A LOT of things right. The idea was fun and catchy. We had a range of sizes wide enough that we did not have to tell anyone that we didn’t have a bra big enough for them (though we did run out of smaller sizes much quicker than anticipated.) We managed to educate a number of people through conversations and pamphlets given out alongside their bras – sharing information about breast cancer in general as well as the events we have less to come.

Still, there was one thing about this event that made me feel just a bit disappointed in us: we had forgotten the men.

Breast cancer awareness is important, yes, but with “I <3 Boobies” bracelets on so many arms, and NEW! pink products coming out all the time… most people are pretty aware of breast cancer, well, at least the 51% of them that identify as female are. The other half of the population is still at risk because somewhere along the line the conversation about men & breast cancer often seems to get lost. In fact, I have to wonder if all of these campaigns that focus so much on boobs make men even less aware of breast cancer, since they are trained to associate it with “boobies” and women in general.

If this is true, as I suspect, then these campaigns actually could be costing male breast-cancer patients valuable time as they are less likely to be on the lookout for breast cancer symptoms.That time could be the difference between life and death.

In August many media outlets were reporting on a South Carolina man, Raymond Johnson, who was denied  coverage for his breast cancer… simply because he was not born female. Johnson makes too much money to be considered for Medicaid, but not enough to afford insurance that would cover his treatments, as a result of this his doctors encouraged him to apply for help under The Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act. Johnson met all of the requirements for coverage under this act except for one: he wasn’t a woman. Johnson isn’t the only man who has been denied by this fund for the same reasons.

Equally horrifying (at least to me) is the fact that Johnson didn’t even know he could GET breast cancer. For all of the awareness campaigns out there he, like many men, was left in the dark until his diagnosis was brought to light:

“I didn’t even know men could get breast cancer,” says Johnson, who was diagnosed after he went to a local emergency room for chest pain treatment. “I’m young. I didn’t think anything bad could really happen to me.” [Source]

While it is true that breast cancer is MUCH more rare in men [there are just under 2,000 new cases of breast cancer in men in the U.S. per year, and just under 400 deaths, while almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year] that does not mean that raising awareness in men is not important. Like all cancers, a patient’s chances of survival are MUCH higher

For an event like ours, I would suggest providing white tank tops for men (and women who don’t want sports-bras) to tie-dye in order to help draw in a more mixed crowd. Overall, when it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness, I continue to advocate for a less “boobies”-centric view… what I mean by this, is that campaigns should focus more on the people who are fighting this disease, and less on the “boobies” themselves.

The bottom line is that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate based on sex, and neither should breast cancer awareness programs or treatment funds.

To end this on a positive note, is one awesome Breast Cancer Awareness campaign that speaks to men as well as women:

“Peter Criss, drummer and founding member of the rock band KISS, recently went public with his battle against breast cancer. People don’t associate men with the disease, but men have breast tissue, too, and they are susceptible to breast cancer. Keep reading and then encourage your loved ones — male and female — to get screened for the potentially deadly disease. “ Read more here!

What do you think? Do you know of any effective awareness campaigns that target women AND men? As always, feel free to share in the comments!

We Don’t Have an Obesity Epidemic

Crossposted at Persephone

If we really cared about health in America, we wouldn’t be worrying about an obesity epidemic, because we don’t have one. We don’t have an obesity epidemic because weight isn’t the problem, health is. We have an epidemic of food-deserts. An epidemic of people who cannot afford healthy, well-balanced diets even if they do have access to decent grocery stores. We have an epidemic of companies producing foods laden with trans fats and hydrogenated oils, things that do damage to our bodies, simply because those ingredients are cheaper. We have an epidemic of people damaging their bodies through yo-yo dieting, dangerous diet pills and supplements, completely unhealthy weight-loss plans, and even eating disorders because our society teaches that this behavior is normal, okay, even preferable. We do not have an epidemic of fat people; we have an epidemic of people of all sizes being fed damaging attitudes, horrible misinformation, and unfulfilling food.

Yet all we can focus on is fat.

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True Life: Weight Loss Is More Important Than Health

Last night I watched the new episode of True Life [I’m Addicted to Food] on MTV… and my mind was just blown in a very bad way. Alisha, the first woman featured on the show, sees a therapist who put her on DIET PILLS (the Alli Diet) while treating her for a food addiction.

Now, I totally get the logic behind the diet part since she needs to learn how to scale back her consumption as a part of getting control over her addiction… but diet pills? How the fuck is that healthy!? (Here’s a clue: its not. Its not healthy, nor is there a reason why it needs to be a part of her recovery.)

Here's some more information for you... that 50% claim? Not the least bit true according to actual studies. Keep reading to find out even more!

Alli: Health Risks

“In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received reports of serious liver injury in people using orlistat and began a safety review. At this time, no definite association has been established between orlistat and the risk of liver injury. However, if you take Alli be sure to contact your doctor if you experience signs and symptoms, such as weakness or fatigue, fever, jaundice, or brown urine, which could indicate liver injury.”

“Alli is taken with fat-containing meals, up to three times a day. Because of how Alli works, it’s recommended that you eat no more than 15 grams of fat with each meal. Eating greater amounts of fat can cause unwanted effects, such as urgent bowel movements, diarrhea and gas with oily spotting.”

“Alli can help you lose weight, but the weight loss likely won’t be great — perhaps just a few pounds more than you would lose with diet and exercise alone. […] Alli could conceivably result in an average of 3 to 5 pounds lost in a year in addition to the approximately 8 pounds you could expect to lose from diet and exercise alone.”

Source: Mayo Clinic

This directly contrasts with the second woman’s therapist, who tried to send her to Overeaters Anonymous and then eventually got her into an outpatient rehab program where they talked about her emotions and the reasons why she eats from both a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint (how the substances she takes in – mostly glucose – trigger her brain to crave more food.) They also gave this woman a diet plan, but it seemed to be one that focused on getting healthy rather than losing weight (as evidenced by the detailed explanations of why she needed to cut out certain foods and the lack of an unnecessary diet pill.)

Now I know we don’t see the whole picture for either of these women, so I don’t feel comfortable extrapolating more… maybe Alisha got a lot of emotional support as well and I just missed it, but I still wanted to put this up here as just another piece of evidence of America’s obsession with weight-loss above all else. In this scenario we see someone who is supposed to be looking after someone’s physical and mental health put her on a diet geared towards “easy” weight loss (that actually doesn’t work significantly better than a pill-less diet plan) as opposed to delving into the issues related to her food addiction… an addiction that she acknowledges and describes on her own.

Luckily Alisha seems to understand this, and has made it her focus instead of the diet…

“I’m not really on the Alli diet anymore but I take the lessons that the system taught me and continue to apply them to my decisions–any time I need help, it’s always there for me. I don’t keep up on my weight as much as I used to because it just adds stress, but when I have it checked it goes either way: no consistent weight loss or gain, and I’m okay with that. I still want so badly to kick my addiction and that will be my focus. So as long as I’m an addict, that will be the concern–not my weight.”

(Source: MTV Blog)

Even if Alli was a magic pill, and this woman wound up skinny in days (the wrap-up at the end lets us know that she lost two pants sizes!) unless she got mental health support, along with the magic-pill, she’d still be addicted to food and, thus, would still be needing help. The thought that thin = healthy is not foolproof and needs to be challenged in our cultures ASAP because this is what happens when it isn’t.

So Long Summer, Hello Stress

Its that time of year again: summer is ending and (for many of us) that means school is about to begin and life is about to resume a more hurried and busy pace… or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, I’d like to devote a post on this blog to starting a conversation about stress and stress relieving techniques, because I have a feeling this is something many of us deal with.

I’m not shy about the fact that I have a lower anxiety threshold than many people. I am a worrier by nature, a worrier who regularly piles her proverbial plate so high with commitments that it is almost but not quite ready to topple over. If I’m not careful I tend to fall to pieces fairly quickly but, in general I like the business of my life and choosing between my commitments is impossible… I love them all, so taking on less isn’t really an option here. Thus, I’ve had to develop some tricks over the years to maintain a level of sanity even during the craziest times. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Take mini-vacations. During finals week we decorate the Women’s Center where I work with a festive theme, turn down the lights, put out snacks, and provide fun little distractions like bubbles. This quick makeover provides a quick change-of-pace for all of us, patrons and employees alike, that gives us a chance to get away from the stress of finals.

To apply this principle to my day-to-day life I like to take fairly frequent breaks from working, studying, etc.  to recharge. A five minute walk, or a cup of tea consumed alongside a chapter of a good book, a twenty minute nap, a quick dance break… you get the point. These things help me to feel much less over-extended when things get rough, plus they tend to make me more productive as I am more energized when I have something to look forward to.

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