Dr. Deah’s Calmanac – October Perspectives

October- I Love My Body, I Love My Body! 

If you have been reading this book from the beginning, you may have noticed by now that there is a day for everything!!! I kid you not. March 14th is National Potato Chip Day, November 7th is Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day, and my personal fave – that happens to fall on my birthday, December 13th – National Ice Cream Day!  

There are, however, dedicated days and weeks that I take more seriously, and they are steadily increasing year after year. In fact, I need a calendar to keep track of all of the special dates that pertain to a body positive approach to wellness. Of course, I wish we didn’t need any of these days, weeks or months. Because when you really examine them, it is a sad state of affairs that we need to be reminded to:  

  • Love your body (Third Wednesday of October)
  • Reject diets (May 6th)
  • Prevent Eating Disorders (February 20-26)
  • Adopt the ideology of Healthy Weight Awareness (third week of January)

But for now, let’s take a look at Love Your Body Day. Does this day mean I should love your body? Or, does it mean I should love my body? As Bugs Bunny would say, “Ain’t language a stinkuh?” I am in love with language. If I could choose one superpower, it would be fluency in every language. I would have the ultimate zoo key that would allow me to communicate with people in every culture.  

Remember zoo keys? They were plastic keys, usually in the shape of an elephant, that were inserted in “talking boxes” around the zoo. When you turned the key, a voice inside the box would tell you all about the animal. Without the key, you only had your eyes and perhaps your teacher’s or parent’s limited knowledge about the koala. But with the key, you knew the koala’s name was Kool Hand Koala, his country of origin, and that he had the hots for his cage mate, the lovely and Kurvaceous Koolata. The mystery of the koala was solved thanks to the special plastic key that only some people were fortunate enough to own – assuming, of course, they knew English.  

But my love of language isn’t confined to the spoken word. It extends to the written word, which has its own nuances and delightful mysteries that can be wonderful and pesky! For years when I was reading the name Hermione in the Harry Potter books, in my head I heard “Her-me-own.” My own name commands the same response from many people. When a reader sees my name written, Deah, they hear in their heads, “Dee-uh”. It is in fact Day-(like the opposite of night) uh. Once someone knows my name, when they see it written, they can hear it in their heads as Day-uh as I now hear “Her-miney.”  

These discrepancies inherent in “written pronunciation” are also, unfortunately, the cause of many arguments in the worlds of blogs and e-mail. How many of us have got- ten into arguments because what we wrote is not read with the lilt in our third Wednesday of October. Spend the day appreciating your amazing body for everything it is doing, 24/7, to allow you to live the life you are living. Say thanks for the wonderful body that allows you to touch the world in your own unique fashion, making it a better place. Then when you wake up on Thursday, try it again, and the next day, and the next day.  

Another big day in October is Halloween. If I had to describe my relationship with Halloween in Facebook lingo I would have to choose “it’s complicated,” and I am sure I am not the only one.  

Halloween could have been my favorite holiday. It had all the makings for the Perfect Good Time: Running around dressed up as anything or anyone you wanted, collecting and eating massive amounts of candy, not having to sit through some long drawn out ritual or service before being allowed to run around at night, (collecting and eating massive amounts of candy). And let’s not forget the lovely after-glow of the candy lingering in the house … sometimes for as long as a week. That made the eight days of Chanukah pale in comparison.  

It was also the perfect intergenerational holiday. There was no age limit to participate. You were either the giver or receiver, and dressing up was allowed no matter what age you were … except for those two pesky years of adolescence when you felt it was totally uncool to dress up. But even then, no one said you couldn’t. It was your choice. I remember, during my “trick or tweening” years, feeling a little sorry for the kids who still had to trick or treat with their parents. Decades later, as a mom, I learned that despite the kid’s possible discomfort, the parents were relishing in the few years we were allowed to accompany them! And that was a treat! We were all grown up but gallivanting from house to house, anonymously clad in costume, and reliving the hedonistic pleasure of taking over the night and hauling in massive amounts of free candy. Why do you think we call it “Haul”oween?  

I was born in Queens and then moved to the ‘burbs of Long Island. In contemplating the ultimate Halloween question, “Which is better, city or suburb trick or treating?” If quantity is the barometer for a successful Halloween, then trick or treating in apartment buildings in New York is the indisputable victor! Imagine floor after floor and door after door … lined up … each handing out candy. It was a one-stop- shop candy jackpot: most amount of candy, least amount of effort.  

The suburbs, on the other hand, made you work harder for your treats … trudging from house to house, up looong driveways, climbing stairways to giant web-laced doors-just to get pennies for UNI- CEF and apples with razor blades (just kidding about the apples; but for some reason, it wasn’t until I moved to the ‘burbs that I heard stories of tainted treats). But there were still massive amounts of free candy. Granted, you had to cover more ground to get the same amount of candy that you got in the city, but the candy was dandy nonetheless, and the neighborhood streets were swarming with kids who had been waiting for dusk since school let out at 3:00p.m. (Because the unwritten rule was that you couldn’t start trick or treating until it was dark).  

Once in a while you’d ring a bell and a wise guy (usually a dad) would open the door dressed as a monster. We’d squeal with delight and yell in unison, “Trick or treat,” and with a twinkle in his ghoulish eye he’d say, “Trick.”  

We would freeze … not knowing re- ally what that meant … or what we were supposed to do … and just as it started to get tense, the Grim Reaper would grin a self-satisfied smile, put down his plastic scythe, and dole out handfuls of candy corn and bite- sized Snickers.  

How could this not be a great holiday?  And it was…until around fourth grade, when my trick-or-treating days changed forever.  

Food became my enemy and candy the Darth Vader of my universe. As I mentioned in a previous chapter, in my household, at any given time, my mother, father, or the kids were on diets. This, of course, meant no treats in our house or in our mouths. As I was indoctrinated into the life- style of weight cycling diets in the attempt to please those around me with a thin, lithe body, Halloween became the perfect opportunity for a binge. Better yet, it was sanctified by all of the Powers That Be. Pass- over Shmassover … THIS was the holiday that begged me to question:  

Why is this night different from all other nights??? 

And the answer,  

Because on this night you can collect and eat all of the candy you want! 

The TV showed it, the movies showed it, the magazines wrote about it, let’s face it … it was National Annual Binge on Candy Day!  

And it terrified me.  

More than any haunted house, more than any midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead, even more than the Kappa Delta Nu “gang” waiting in the shadows to pummel us with eggs: The scariest part of Halloween for me was the candy. For years I woke up the morning after, like an alcoholic waking from a bar-hopping spree – incredulous at the amount of candy wrappers sur- rounding me and the weight of guilt I had gained by engaging in the simple pleasure of Halloween. I found it hard to fathom why my friends’ candy would last for weeks and weeks, eventually becoming too stale and hard for their braces, at which point it would be unceremoniously tossed. Mine was gone within a week.  

The treats were no longer treats.  

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.  

In my early teens I became aware of a whole new trend in dressing up. All of sudden, there were costumes being advertised, that somehow in my pre-pubescent naiveté I hadn’t noticed before. They were the same costumes I had always seen: the black cats, Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, belly dancer, nurse, only now they were sexy … seductive … flesh revealing and titillating. Next to ads with centerfolds of mini Mounds bars and candy corn were centerfolds of young girls with mini mounds protruding out of their Xena Warrior Woman costumes.  

New questions were formulating in my brain. How could I be expected to gorge on candy and t into a skimpy costume? When did Halloween become about my body? And under my anger was a longing to t in. I yearned for the days when I could dress up for the fun of it and not worry if I looked good or pretty or sexy in my costume.  

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude about sexuality. But seeing 13-year-olds dressed up as sex-pot Tinkerbells just … well … disturbs me. Now, when the Grim Reaper opens the door and responds to the chorus of “Trick or treat!” with, “Trick!” I can’t stop my brain from thinking “brothel.”  

So, what’s a mother to do? Because so many of us regard chocolate and candy in general as forbidden food, when a holiday like Halloween comes along, it may be difficult to maintain our ghoul … um … cool. Many parents have rules about what their kids can do with their candy. Some allow the kids to eat as much as they want for that night and then the rest gets thrown away. Others dole it out one or two pieces a day for seven days or until it’s gone. I understand a parent’s intention to set limits and help kids establish healthy food habits, but care needs to be taken as to how this is done. Presenting candy as the enemy (assuming there are no allergies or medical conditions to take into consideration) may lead to sneak eating or an all-out binge. Sometimes these eating pat- terns get generalized to other holidays, events, and meals, ultimately developing into more complicated disordered eating behaviors.  

It is important to teach kids about mindful eating early on, resisting the temptation to introduce restrictive diets that label foods as “good” food or “bad” food. I remember when I was 16 and realized that those mini-candies were available all year long! That was the last time I binged on them on Halloween. Knowing I didn’t have to eat them all in one night or the few days that followed (because it would be another YEAR before I could eat them again) diffused the compulsion and drove a wooden stake into Count Chocula’s heart. If candy is not an evil food that shows up once a year like the Jason movies, then the urge to binge is lessened and the fun is in the collecting and the dressing up, not in the consuming.  

The part about why little girls have to dress up in sexually provocative costumes, I haven’t figured out yet. In 2008, a costume called “Anna Rexia” hit the shelves. It was a skeleton costume designed to expose as much cleavage and skin as possible. There was an outcry of rage. Some stores listened and removed the costume from the shelves.  

In the late 1970s, I had a job at a pre- school program in Marin, California. It was my first time working with kids that young, and I was excited to add that age group to my repertoire. The kids were totally adorable and wide open to trying all of my theater, art, movement, and recreational activities. The lack of inhibition was so refreshing, especially compared to the adolescent population I had worked with at my last job.  

These 3- to 5-year-old children, in retrospect, reminded me of that greeting card that was so popular a few years ago. It went something like, “Dance as if no one is looking, sing as if no one is listening…” etcetera. They were fearless, spontaneous and trusting. With one exception.  

During the course of the school day there was a designated free-play time. Stations were set up around the classroom and the kids could choose an activity at any of the stations. Free play was justified by the staff as age appropriate, designed to foster decision-making skills, and to improve social interaction and leisure awareness. And it was supposed to be fun! One of the stations was a dress up corner over owing with an extensive array of costumes, props and a few mirrors for admiring outfits.  

My personal memories of dressing up as a little kid were wonderful, especially in juxtaposition to my later years of torment in real-life dressing rooms, like those furtive, embarrassing visits to Lane Bryant in order to find something that would fit. As a 3- to 5-year-old kid, I savored the opportunities at my preschool to transform into a pirate, cowgirl, and, of course, the ultimate dress-up op: a princess. It WAS fun!  

The first time I heard Jenny (not her real name) say, “No” to an invitation to play dress up, I didn’t pay much attention. She had been completely absorbed, in that tongue-out-of-the- mouth, completely focused way that preschoolers have, with a Play-Doh machine. Squishing the red dough out in spaghetti strands, the blue dough out in long fat cylinders, and squealing with delight as the green dough emerged in heart shaped noodles, she probably would have said, “No!” to pony rides in that moment – or so I thought.  

As the weeks passed, however, I noticed that the only station she NEVER visited was the dress-up corner, even though from time to time I would see her sneaking glimpses of the other kids as they danced around with an abandon that would have put Salomé to shame. After a few weeks, the other kids stopped asking her to join them in rifling through the trunks and racks of clothing: It was understood that Jenny just did not “do dress up.”  

If Jenny had been a noticeably “overweight” kid, I may have had some clue as to the reason behind her reluctance. But Jenny was a solid, athletic, and active child; so if it hadn’t been for our end-of-the-year production for the parents, I never would have known the why.  

We were getting ready for our extravaganza, and all of the kids were putting on their hats, funny noses, boas, feathers, and costumes. Jenny was standing off to the side, fussing with a witch’s dress … tugging and pulling … frowning … forehead knitted. I came up next to her with a hat for her out t.  

She looked at me as she took the hat and said, “Am I fat in this dress?”  

My heart sank. This had been her reason all of these months for avoiding the dress-up corner, and now it was wheedling in on her ability to enjoy the end-of-the-year showcase! There was so much I wanted to say, starting with,  

Even if the dress did make you look fat, why is that bad? 

Or,  

Is this what you see your mom do when she is getting dressed in front of the mirror? 

Or,  

Yes, you look like a big fat fabulous witch, woo hoo! 

But I just looked into her 5-year-old eyes, knowing that this was one of those teachable moments and not knowing what to say. I was, if you can imagine, speechless.  

I turned her away from the mirror, zipped up the dress, put the hat on her head and as I began painting her face green I said,  

That dress makes you look like a scary witch! You are perfect. Now let’s practice your cackle!!

 

Education concept. Student studying and brainstorming campus concept. Close up of students discussing their subject on books or textbooks. Selective focus.

Important Dates to Remember:  

  • Eat Better Eat Together Month: wsu.edu/ebet
  • Children’s Health Month:yosemite. epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb/nsf/con- tent/chm-home.htm
  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month: nbcam.org
  • National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month: mental- healthscreening.org
  • First Monday in October – Child’s Health Day: mchb.hrsa.gov
  • October 10 – World Mental Health Day: wfmh.org
  • Third Wednesday in October – Love your Body Day: loveyourbody. nowfoundation.org
  • Third week in October – National HealthEducation Week AND National Healthcare Quality Week: nahq.org
  • October 31 – Halloween

All month – National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, mentalhealthscreening.org 

Third Wednesday in October – Love your Body Day, loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org 

October 31 – Halloween

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