Personal Perspectives 

That’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day – like a can of mixed nuts.  

In my home, when I was growing up, those cans of Planter’s Mixed Nuts would magically appear once or twice a year in the living room. At first glance, they looked like the regular dark blue can of roasted salted peanuts with the iconic Mr. Peanut in top hat and monocle waving at me. Those were easy for me to ignore – peanuts were never my “fave.” Why I love peanut butter but can live in the same house with a can of roasted salted peanuts without any temptation for noshing on them still mystifies me.  

But this can, upon closer inspection, was the bonus can of “Mixed Nuts.” If I was lucky to get to the can before my dad, there may have been some filberts left. I LOVED the filberts. If I got there before my sister, I could still score some pecans. But the true treasures for me were the cashews. Even rarer was finding a cashew in its entirety and not just a chip of the crescent or a split half. The mother lode for me was the full cashew.  

I believe my earliest experience in mindful eating came the first time I ate a cashew. It was the perfect combination of salt, crunch, flavor, and texture: sweet and salty at the same time … and rich with a smoothness of oily crunchy goodness. YUM. But mostly, the can of mixed nuts was stuffed with peanuts, and some- one else always seemed to get the ca- shews, and I was left feeling empty, left out, and craving something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. 

Valentine’s Day Over the Years Has Meant MANY THINGS To Me 

As A Preschooler: It was an art project that my mom and I did together: cutting out lacy doilies and scribbling over the textured paper with red waxy crayons to see what shapes came out on the white paper beneath it. Then my mom would do the most amazing thing. She would fold the piece of paper in half, take the scissors, and execute some cuts. And when she was finished, she would reveal a heart filled with my scribbles. I couldn’t understand how she could cut a piece of paper and still have it come out as a full piece and not split in half.  

Valentine’s Day was about miracles with my mom, and it was indeed a cashew.  

As a girl in Grammar school:  Valentine’s Day was about bringing valentines to your teacher and every kid in your class. The first year I remember diligently cutting out valentine after valentine – my mom having taught me the scissor trick by then – and bringing them into school eager to hand them out. To my horror, every- one else had brought in store-bought Snow White or Sleeping Beauty valentines, glittery, each in their own perfect tiny envelope, except the one for the teacher, which was much larger.  

My valentines were the “peanuts,” and I left school that day feeling empty, left out … and craving something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  

As a Preteen in Junior High: While the tradition continued to bring in the mass-marketed valentines continued, now available in super heroes, Barbie, and Charlie Brown (literally Peanuts versions), what was written on the back of the valentine was the true valentine. Most of them were just “peanuts” signed by the person who, like me, had used the class list and written name after name on each card so as not to leave anyone out or hurt someone’s feelings. But once in a while, you would get a note on the back that was different:  

To the prettiest girl in homeroom. Love, Gary 

Wow … that was a cashew, a filbert, and pecan all rolled up in one!!!  

As a Young Adult: Valentine’s Day transformed into the day to express true love, romantic love – intimate, sexy, hot, passionate love. And, of course, if that was not in your life, it became the day of regrets and lamentations: Why am I alone? Why don’t I have a valentine? Where is my Gary now? Then…If I were thinner, I’d have a Valentine. And I would think this to myself as I mindlessly and angrily ate a piece of heart-shaped candy that was given out at the hospital where I worked,  

This whole February 14th thing is just a Hallmark opportunity to sell cards and make money. 

As a New Mom: When my son was 3, he and I sat at the kitchen table dutifully making valentines for all of the kids in his preschool. Surrounded by doilies, red crayons, and construction paper, we scribbled, cut and pasted enough valentines for each and every kid in his group and of course made one larger card for his teacher. I showed him how to fold a piece of paper in half and cut it so it came out in ONE piece shaped like a heart. His eyes were wide with wonder and glee. We used glitter and stickers, and he made one extra for himself. I smiled when I saw that. It had never occurred to me to make a valentine for myself, but somehow it felt right.  

When I dropped him off the next morning, all of the other kids were marching in with their arms full of valentines. Some were homemade, some store bought, I grinned. I left feeling somewhat … full … hopeful … and satiated … as if I had had my fill of cashews.  

Today:  Whether we like it or not, we are bombarded by the media’s messages that this special day is about buying the right gift and being loved or lovable.  

I say, it is about connection. And the most important connection we can make is with ourselves. No, this is not selfish, narcissistic, or arrogant. It is healthy. What I learned from my 3-year-old son – which is, in fact, a universal truth – is that the most important valentine we can receive is the one we give ourselves from a place of self-love. Only then can we open up to the love of others and be able to love others as well. It is hard to believe I finally learned that there really are enough cashews for everyone.  

Predictable Changes: 

February is a month of unique challenges in the field of eating disorders, health and wellness, body image, and size acceptance. With the holiday sea- son now officially over, February pro- vides the chance to settle back into normal routines, less hectic schedules, and a respite from food-related festivities that surround the winter holidays. What a relief, especially for those of us who struggle with weight- cycling diets and binge eating.  

Predictably, it is also the time when many of last month’s New Year’s resolutions to diet, work out, and lose weight begin to dissolve and are replaced by feelings of panic, disappointment, and anxiety. Thus, what should be a time for feeling more relaxed and less pressured may leave some of us spiraling down into feelings of failure and self-contempt.  

February also brings us Valentine’s Day: a holiday with seemingly good intentions of expressing our love for each other. Yet, sadly, Valentine’s Day often has the paradoxical effect of people feeling unloved and un- lovable often because of a negative body image.  

And then, of course, what is the number one, most common way of showing someone that we love them on Valentine’s Day???  

Candy!  

Isn’t it ironic that so many women feel unloved and unlovable because of their negative body image and disordered-eating behaviors, and then, we have this holiday that has chocolate and being loved completely intertwined?  

The Dr. Deah Optimistic Pollyanna reframe of this situation is how fortunate we are to once again have the opportunity to practice:  

• Loving our body in the here and now.  

• Seeing food as an enjoyable experience and NOT the enemy.  

• Remembering that mindful (and enjoyable) eating does not mean an all-or-nothing approach to food – i.e.,  

now I’m starving myself, now I’m bingeing.  

• Forgiving ourselves and knowing that a happier life is not measured by a scale.  

And perhaps most important of all:  

• The most meaningful valentine anyone can receive is the one we give ourselves.  

Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day by taking advantage of the opportunity it provides us to reinforce the practice of self-love by quieting our negative and critical internal voices. And please remember this important distinction: Self-love is not synonymous with narcissism or selfishness. It is not arrogant to love who we are for who we are. Rather, this was our natural state before we were exposed to the bombardment of negative messages that surround us in a culture that promotes one narrow standard of beauty for all.  

Important Dates:  

February 2: Not Just for Groundhogs Anymore!!!  

February 2nd is Groundhog Day. Before 1993, Groundhog Day was all about whether the infamous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, was going to pop out of his burrow and see his shadow or not. Every- one crossed their fingers, hoping that he would not see his shadow, because this indicated that winter would last for another six weeks, February 2: Not Just for Ground- hogs Anymore!!!  

February 2nd is Groundhog Day. Before 1993, Groundhog Day was all about whether the infamous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, was going to pop out of his burrow and see his shadow or not. Everyone crossed their fingers, hoping that he would not see his shadow, because this indicated that winter would last for another six weeks, up in New York, it sure never felt like winter ended early!  

But then, in 1993, the movie Ground- hog Day came out, and the phrase “Groundhog Day” took on a new meaning. If you are not familiar with the Bill Murray lm, he is thrust into a reality where he keeps reliving Groundhog Day over and over and over. Each morning he wakes up and it is the same day; each day he knows what is going to happen and eventually begins using the predictability in ways that are helpful to others. He transforms into a more aware and less self-centered person as he plays with the hand that fate dealt him.  

One of the meta-messages of the lm is that, for all of us, in some ways, life is like Groundhog Day. Each morning when we wake up, we have a chance to pay closer attention to ourselves and to those around us. Every day we have a new opportunity to recalibrate our “personal frequency receivers” and tune into events that sometimes seem invisible to us because we are busy, distracted, or just unconsciously going through our daily routines.  

We assume that things may be the same because they look the same, and we are not used to digging deeper. Yet, when we do dig deeper, the insights that result or knowledge we uncover can be invaluable for our personal journey to self-acceptance. And we can then help educate others as well.  

This year on February 2, take a moment before popping out of bed, and consciously decide to be more attentive to yourself and your experience as you go through the day. Notice your patterns, your negative thought cycles, and how you handle positive feedback or thoughts:  

• What are your interactions with others about your body and food?  

• Are you engaging in negative body talk?  

• Are you allowing yourself to appreciate your body for the wonderful miraculous things it accomplishes?  

Give it a try. It’s just one day! See what you discover.  

And speaking of awareness, did you know that the fourth week of February is National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week? According to NEDA, The aim of NEDA Awareness Week is to:  

Ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses – not choices – and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder. 

During this week, the goal is for everyone to do just one thing to help raise awareness and provide accurate information about eating disorders.  

More information about NEDA Week can be found at: nedawareness.org  

Fashion Week  

I am not sure if this was intention- al planning or just a coincidence, but February also brings us Fashion Week. So, at the same time that we are hopefully reading and sharing messages about the importance of preventing eating disorders and how the media’s obsession with thinness is one of the primary causes of body dissatisfaction, we are also being kept up to date on the latest, trendiest fashions on the runway. The typical size of fashion models used during Fashion Week supports the paradigm that beauty comes in a one-size-fits- very-few wrapper. This can be mind boggling for those of us working on establishing our own definition of beauty and body positivity.  

Every February, New York City hosts an international extravaganza of fashion. On the upside, there has been an increasing amount of public protest and outrage about the lack of size diversity of the models. Israel decided to ban models who have a Body Measurement Index (BMI) under 18.5%, Denmark is consider- ing the same course of action, and fashion shows in Madrid and Milan have disallowed models on the run- way with BMI’s below 18 and 18.5% respectively, citing that a 5’8” model with a BMI of 18.5% would weigh about 119 pounds. Their belief is that sustaining that weight for many girls and women who are not genetically prone to be that size may demand disordered eating behaviors. People are hoping that these restrictions will curtail the increasing percentage of young women who suffer from eating disorders in order to become or emulate the fashion models. And the ultimate outrage: Did you know that scouts for fashion models frequently approach girls leaving clinics and doctor’s offices that treat eating disorders?  

Now, if I learned one thing in my Doctoral Statistics Classes (lovingly known as Sadistic Classes) it was that “correlation does not always mean causation.” Simply put, just because it appears that something causes something it doesn’t mean that it does. But it is difficult to ignore the growing body of research that connects the unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty in fashion magazines with a marked in- crease of young girls developing eating disorders. So while the Fashion Industry may not actually be one of the causes of this increase in body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, perhaps it may be still a positive step to have a variety of body types and sizes represented on the runway.  

On the downside, despite the outcry of concern regarding using models with extremely low BMI’s, Fashion Week 2013 did not include a more diverse representation of bodies.  

For many of us who grew up on the East Coast, another annual tradition in February is the New York Times’ Special Fashion Magazine Section; an insert reporting the highlights of Fashion Week. This year was no exception, and it was predictably filled with photographs of redundantly identical-looking models clad in the creations of the major international fashion houses. As I thumbed through this big glossy publication looking and hoping for any exceptions to the rule, none were found.  

I flashed back to my teenage years when I would go through this same ritual in my living room in New York, feeling desperate to grow six inches taller and lose fifty pounds so that I, too, could look like the women in the magazine. There was not one model that came close to resembling my short, curvy body, which meant I was destined to NEVER be fashion- able EVER. It is amazing how tangible and painful those memories still feel decades later, and I wince when I think about all the years I suffered trying to conform. I don’t always look at the magazine anymore, but this year I was optimistic. Maybe this was due to the Israeli decision coupled with the incremental changes I’ve seen in my work involving size/ fat acceptance. I was curious to see if it was evident in a more mainstream publication. Mostly, though, it was because I had hoped that who I saw on the cover of the magazine was a harbinger of what I would find inside the February, 2013 issue.  

In a milieu where the average age of models appears to be predominantly teens with a smattering of geriatrics in their early ‘20s, seeing the 79-year- old grand dame Lee Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, un- apologetically looking her age, was a delightful change. Yes, she was tall, frail, thin, and hence labeled elegant, but perhaps this would be just one image of many inside the cover that challenged the stereotype of the fashion model having to be one age range and one size. It was a hope that dissipated rapidly.  

R(age) Before Beauty  

Back to the upside. (This is like the stock market!)  

I lead workshops for women on body image, redefining beauty, and eating disorder prevention. A topic that emerges most every time is along with the pressure for women to be thin, is the demand to be young. Aging (the unavoidable result of not dying) is being sold as the enemy of beauty. And in a world that still views beauty and success as inseparable, being fat and older is a toxic cocktail guaranteeing a stock market crash of self-esteem.  

The fashion, diet, and cosmetic industries, in pursuit of generating money, are now selling age-related self-hate with similar financial rewards as fat self-hate. Creams, lotions, diets, nutritional tips, “non- fail” exercise regimes, and, of course, surgery, all promise to reclaim and retain the youthful appearance women are desperate to hold onto.  

But we have the right to fight back. What if we work together to change the paradigm and give ourselves and all women permission to celebrate the visible signs of a well- laughed, well-cried, and well-lived life? There are two organizations doing just that: Miss Representation and About Face (more about them can be found in the resource section) are running ardent campaigns challenging these ageist, size-ist, and sexist paradigms of what constitutes beauty and teaches us how to reduce the importance of beauty as a definition for success. There is valuable healing to be found by plugging into organizations that offer us a self- affirming message as opposed to a self-degrading one.  

The self-acceptance journey that we are on is difficult. No one is saying it isn’t. But it is a journey that is made easier with support and community – a community that celebrates and honors diversity and demands equal representation of all natural shapes, sizes, and ages.  

February 2 – Groundhog Day 

 Fashion Week New York City – varies  

Third Monday in February – President’s Day 

 Fourth week in February – NEDA week 

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