Apr 20

“I Feel Pretty”: Female Movie Critics Dissect

Linda Holmes, NPR, regarding I Feel Pretty:

For some women, two lessons exist in constant tension: (1) You must be pretty to be valued, but (2) It’s really what’s on the inside that counts. This can — or so I may have hypothetically heard — set off a repeating loop that goes something like this:

I am not happy with my looks. —> I am not good. —> It’s really what’s on the inside that counts. —> This means my insides are not good either, or I would be good. And I am not good, because —> I am not happy with my looks.

Holmes sets up the plot of the not so prettily reviewed comedy I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer:

I Feel Pretty, written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, is aptly named; it’s not about what it’s like to be pretty as much as what it’s like to feel pretty. It’s about the mythical power some women attach to being beautiful in those specific ways most commonly associated with social power: thin, smooth and unblemished skin, the ‘right’ bone structure, the ‘right’ kind of chin and nose and wide eyes, the thick and healthy hair of a shampoo model.

The key turning point explained by Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

Renee [Schumer], inspired by a viewing of ‘Big,’ wishes to be beautiful — and one day, after suffering a head injury at Soul Cycle, she wakes up believing it’s true. She looks exactly the same to the world — and to us — but she now sees herself to be stunning, and throws herself into her life with a new self-confidence, quickly acquiring a glamorous new job and a nice new boyfriend (Rory Scovel).

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “But feeling beautiful also makes her condescending, presumptuous, vain and snobby.”

Anne Cohen, Refinery29: “Renee’s experience is definitely that of a white, privileged woman who has the time and resources to worry about how she looks on a minute level. The lack of diversity in the film makes it far less inclusive than it should be…”

Another common complaint: the lack of depth to the non-Renee characterizations. Sara Stewart, New York Post:

Michelle Williams shows up as another blonde with confidence problems: The granddaughter of the company’s founder, she’s got an unfortunately squeaky voice. Aidy Bryant and an oddly tan Busy Philipps play Schumer’s best friends, apparently a couple of 5s at best; we know this because they favor cardigans and pants. Model Emily Ratajkowski plays . . . a beautiful woman. Only Rory Scovel, as Renee’s adoring and Zumba-loving new boyfriend Ethan, comes off as a real, quirky person instead of a retro caricature. Kudos to him, but for a movie that’s purportedly about female empowerment, it’s not a great look.

An important point, however: “To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t pit women against each other but rather has them build one another up” (Aisha Harris, Slate).

Watch the trailer, then read on for further reflections:

Selected Conclusions

Anne Cohen, Refinery 29: “…It’s that inability to ever feel true satisfaction with oneself, to always strive for more attractive, more glamorous, more stylish, that I Feel Pretty seeks to make light of. And there, it does succeed.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “The movie that ‘I Feel Pretty’ should have been deserves to be made. This version, in which a narcissist learns to love herself as is, feels far less necessary.”

Mara Weinstein, Us Weekly: “…(I)t sticks to basic lessons, such as the revelation that beautiful women have boyfriend problems too!!”

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox: “There’s a potentially funny movie in here somewhere. But it lumbers along, wasting some of its greatest assets and, in the end, overstaying its welcome.”

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service: “Renee works at a beauty company, but we never stop to examine into the industry’s practices of keeping women feeling bad so they continue spending money trying to feel pretty.”

Apr 18

Toxic Stress: Effects on Our Health and Mental Health

TOXIC STRESS: The biological response to severe and/or repeated adversity absent the buffering support from a caring and trusted adult. Stress-health.org

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, like science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa before her (Childhood Disrupted), has written a book about how ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and toxic stress affect our development. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (2018) covers the gamut of possible physical, emotional, and behavioral responses.

Some ACEs statistics courtesy of interviews with Harris:

Two-thirds of Americans have been exposed to one significant adverse childhood experience, and between 13 and 17 percent have been exposed to four or more. We know that being exposed to high doses of childhood adversity dramatically increases the risk for seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. (New York Times)

An individual with four or more ACEs is 10 times more likely to be an IV drug user as someone with no ACEs. (New York Times)

…For depression, it was 4.5 times. For suicidality, it was 12 times. (NPR)

As explained in her NPR interview, how you might envision the physiological effects of toxic stress:

Well, imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, release stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol. And so your heart starts to pound. Your pupils dilate. Your airways open up. And you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest, and there’s a bear. But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night. And this system is activated over and over and over again.

What can help to offset ACEs? New York Times interview excerpt:

One of the key ingredients for keeping the body’s stress response out of the toxic stress zone is the presence of a healthy buffering caregiver. So we need to educate parents and caregivers about the impact a child’s environment and exposures may be having on their health. We also know that if a caregiver is able to self-regulate, their kids have much better outcomes. Good old-fashioned mental health care really does help. In research studies, certain types of interventions, including child-parent psychotherapy, can help to normalize cortisol levels and get the body’s stress response back on track.

But now here you are as an adult: you’ve gotten your own ACE quiz score, and you want to know what you can do. Jeremy Adam Smith spoke with Harris (Greater Good):

…Things like regular exercise, which helps reduce stress hormones, reduce inflammation, and enhance neuroplasticity. Things like having good sleep hygiene, which is really important for our immune system. Things like mindfulness meditation.

Selected Reviews of The Deepest Well

Kirkus Reviews: “In this powerful debut, the author describes the medical research and recalls her own frontline experiences as a pioneer in the treatment of toxic stress as CEO of San Francisco’s Center for Youth Wellness, which offers multidisciplinary care for children suffering from trauma. ‘The body remembers,’ she writes. ‘Twenty years of medical research has shown that childhood adversity literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades’.”

Ashley Judd, actor/author: “…My Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) test result is a nine out of ten. When I needed it, one person extended the hand of hope and help to me. It saved me. This book has the power to extend that hand to countless others.”

J.D. Vance, author: “a heartbreaking, beautiful book about what might be the most important single issue facing our country’s disadvantaged populations: the prevalence of childhood trauma…(A) gripping book that should convince everyone that we have a serious problem, and that unless we address it the losers will be our nation’s children.”

Harris’s 2014 TED talk:

Apr 16

“Mean Girls” Often Become Mean Women

Mean Girls, the 2004 comedy written by Tina Fey that’s now a new Broadway musical, was based on info from Rosalind Wiseman‘s 2002 nonfiction book Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence.

Part of the summary by Publishers Weekly:

Acting as a liaison between ‘Girl World’ and ‘Planet Parent,’ Wiseman helps parents understand their daughters’ friendships, the power of cliques and the roles of girls within them (including Queen Bee, Sidekick, Torn Bystander, Messenger and Target)…The second half concentrates on boys, sex and drugs as well as what to do if your daughter needs professional help.

Several years later Cheryl Dellasega focused on Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees. The following excerpt (ABC News) uses the term relational aggression (RA):

In adult women, it seems apparent that RA becomes much more deliberate as well as subtle…If a bully is the Queen Bee, her sidekick is often the Middle Bee, who isn’t directly aggressive, but who creates a context where women with a tendency to respond aggressively to threats will do so…

…(T)he Afraid-to-Bee adult woman demonstrates the victim role perfectly. Unlike an adolescent girl whose forming identity is vulnerable to the slings and arrows of a bully, the Afraid-to-Bee is more aware of her abilities and often knows that her tormenting Queen Bee is unreasonable but lacks the confidence to respond assertively. She is truly afraid to be her own person.

And Meredith Fuller‘s Working with Bitches: Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above Workplace Nastiness (2012) further examined these issues. Mean women on the job:

  •  The Excluder (ignores you)
  •  The Insecure (obsessive fault finder)
  •  The Toxic (syrupy, slimy, 2 faced)
  •  The Narcissist (“I’m the Star, you’re the servant”)
  •  The Screamer (angry shouter)
  •  The Liar (gamey troublemaker, never to be trusted)
  •  The Incompetent (steals your work while making you do her job)
  •  The Not-A-Bitch (really competent & she’s got your number!)

Why so mean? Fuller explains the three main reasons (Psychology Today):

• Because they project their unwanted parts onto the other women (especially their fear, envy, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, rageanxiety or lack of self esteem & confidence)

• Because they can get away with it…

• Because they don’t have the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills to recognize or alter their behavior.

What to do if victimized? Dr. Ellen Hendriksen (Scientific American) offers tips:

  • Know it’s not your fault. 
  • Make immediate corrections. “If the bullying isn’t entrenched yet, call out the bad behavior when it happens…”
  • Don’t confront the bully. However, if the bullying is entrenched…don’t confront the bully…A confrontation just shows the bully that the crusade to get under your skin is working…”
  • Find strength in numbers. “…(T)urn to your colleagues, family, and friends to help validate your sense of reality and remind you that you don’t deserve this cruel treatment.”
  • If you take formal action, keep it about the bottom line. …Often the bosses know exactly what’s going on, but the bully has spent time cultivating that relationship (read: kissing up) so they’re ingratiated to authority. To bypass this, go two or three levels higher.”
  • Don’t accept mediation. “…[It’s] ineffective in cases of workplace bullying…(T)he bully has nothing to gain from mediation.” Alternatives include “a transfer of the bully, disciplinary action, or at the very least, an investigation with protection for you. If you get none of these, which is unfortunately probable, start planning your exit.” Or get your own transfer.
  • Stroking egos can buy you time. “…(U)se it judiciously…while you figure out how to leave.”
  • Don’t prolong your suffering; get out of there! Unfortunately, according to a 2007 survey commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 62% of employers did nothing about a bully in their ranks.”
  • Stand up for others.Once you’re free of your bully, use your experience to help others in the same predicament.”
Apr 12

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault: New PSA

At least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted. 1in6.org

Were it not for Curtis M. Wong (HuffPost), I wouldn’t have seen the following important and moving PSA from 1in6—and it’s something I hope everyone will watch. “Produced in conjunction with No More, another organization for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and funded in part by the NFL, the video aims to highlight statistics which show that at least 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse or assault.”

Watch as women read statements about sexual abuse, then meet the writers, male survivors:

1in6 lists on their site eight facts that counter common myths about the sexual abuse of boys and men:

  • Boys and men can be sexually used or abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are.
  • If a boy liked the attention he was getting, or got sexually aroused during abuse, or even sometimes wanted the attention or sexual contact, this does not mean he wanted or liked being manipulated or abused, or that any part of what happened, in any way, was his responsibility or fault.
  • Sexual abuse harms boys and girls in ways that are similar and different, but equally harmful.
  • Boys can be sexually abused by both straight men and gay men. It’s about taking advantage of a child’s vulnerability, not the sexual orientation of the abusive person.
  • Whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, a boy’s sexual orientation is neither the cause or the result of sexual abuse.
  • Girls and women can sexually abuse boys.
  • Most boys who are sexually abused will not go on to sexually abuse others.
  • Not understanding these facts is understandable, but harmful, and needs to be overcome.

The following pertinent quotes are from therapists/writers who’ve worked with male survivors:

Many men fear their masculinity has been robbed or destroyed, that they’ll be exposed as a ‘fake’ – even if no one has a clue about what happened or thinks twice about their masculinity. Jim Hopper, PhD

...(L)earning to experience and express vulnerable emotions (at times and places of your own choosing), means becoming more masculine in many positive ways. Jim Hopper, PhD

Boys who grow up without coming to terms with their childhood abuse often struggle as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain relationships. Richard Gartner, PhD, Psychology Today (author of Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse)

Confusing affection with abuse, desire with tenderness, sexually abused boys often become men who have difficulty distinguishing among sex, love, nurturance, affection, and abuse. They may experience friendly interpersonal approaches as seductive and manipulative. On the other hand, they may not notice when exploitative demands are made on them – they’ve learned to see these as normal and acceptable. Richard Gartner, PhD

Another question I am frequently asked is, “What do you mean by recovery?” It has taken me a while to answer that one. I had been depending on other people’s definitions of recovery until I developed one that worked for me (just as you must come to one that makes sense for you.) Mine is simple. For me, it is about freedom.
Recovery is the freedom to make choices in your life that aren’t determined by the abuse.
The specific choices will be different for each of you; the freedom to choose is your birthright.  Mike Lew, M.Ed., Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse

Lists of various resources are available to male survivors at 1in6 as well as on the websites of Jim Hopper and Next Step Counseling (co-directed by therapists Mike Lew and Thom Harrigan).

Apr 10

“Natural Causes”: Medicalized Life Vs. Living Well

We insist on too many pointless checkups, too many pointless surgeries and too many pointless drugs. It has become a “ritual” that doctors perform for our comfort. That doctors have begun having themselves tattooed with “DNR” (Do Not Resuscitate) is a clue how extending life a few days or weeks in intensive care is of little benefit. From San Francisco Review of Books, regarding Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich (2018)

Noted author Barbara Ehrenreich is back with a look at our often futile attempts to prolong life via food, exercise, health, and medical ideas and crazes and procedures. The title is Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.

“In some ways,” notes Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed, “it is a book-length sequel to ‘Welcome to Cancerland,’ her unforgettable essay from 2001. There, in recounting her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, Ehrenreich’s instincts as a muckraker kept her in a standoff with what she called ‘cancer culture’: while the medical protocol left her depleted and nauseous, the New Age-tinged demands for positive thinking felt insipid and infantilizing.”

Whether we take great care of ourselves or not, many of us fail to live long lives, and in this culture “we persist in subjecting anyone who dies at a seemingly untimely age to a kind of bio-moral autopsy,” states Ehrenreich.

Although all are potentially subject to such judgment, those with decreased financial resources—who are therefore less able to jump on health/medical bandwagons—seem to incur the most blame and shame.

Excerpted from Natural Causes (The Guardian):  

…(W)e seek an explanation…We can, or think we can, understand the causes of disease in cellular and chemical terms, so we should be able to avoid it by following the rules laid down by medical science: avoiding tobacco, exercising, undergoing routine medical screening and eating only foods currently considered healthy. Anyone who fails to do so is inviting an early death. Or, to put it another way, every death can now be understood as suicide.

The quest to prolong life usually becomes particularly amped up as we age. Results vary but are iffy. Publishers Weekly:

She comes down hard on what she describes as ‘medicalized life’: the unending series of doctor’s visits, fads in wellness, and preventative-care screenings that can dominate the life of an aging person. Ehrenreich’s core philosophy holds that aging people have the right to determine their quality of life and may choose to forgo painful and generally ineffective treatments. She presents evidence that such tests as annual physicals and Pap smears have little effect in prolonging life; investigates wellness trends, including mindfulness meditation; and questions the doctrine of a harmonious ‘mindbody’ and its supposed natural tendency to prolong life. Contra the latter, she demonstrates persuasively that the body itself can play a role in nurturing cancer and advancing aging.

Kirkus Reviews: In summary, “[Ehrenreich] urges that we recognize that death is natural, that we enjoy our lives while we can, and that we disabuse ourselves of any self-serving notions of post-mortem permanence or even influence.”

In her mid-70’s Ehrenreich states about herself, “I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me.”