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All Stressed Out

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

The writers state that between the ages of 35 and 60 are the most stressful periods of life. The authors go on to list major midlife stress-inducers.

20968721_d966709438Raising children. This involves a lot of responsibility. Many women of this age may have small children, or college-aged kids. The little kids need to be watched all the time. (Oh! Oh! Stop eating that crayon!) The older kids have to be driven around to soccer practice, karate practice, ballet practice, band practice… and then there’s cleaning, baths, homework, meals, and the irregular poop in the bathtub instead of the toilet. Teenagers may be rebellious and push all your buttons. (Was that grunt disrespectful?) Teenagers are complex.

pacifierRaising children is very rewarding, but extremely stressful at the same time.

Career challenges. Getting a job is tougher, especially in this recession. I know a 40 something woman who is just now getting into the job  market. Turns out that she has to go back to school because firms are not interested in the Bachelor’s she got 20 years ago. It’s also increasingly hard for everyone to find jobs, not only older people. A young friend from Hong Kong had to move back there after graduate school. A year passed in the States and she still could not find a job. When she went back, she quickly found a job in Shanghai.

Companies would rather increase the workloads of existing employees rather than hire new people. Older people have to compete with younger workers. Plus issues the typical midlife woman faces consist of ageism, long hours, lookism, etc.

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She may also have to meet both her job and family needs.

Empty Nest Syndrome. The kids will someday move to college, get married, or get a career. This is stressful, because the parents have to adjust. They don’t have to pick up their kids or driving them around or clean up after them. The kids aren’t going to run to their mother every time they need help, anymore. That takes a lot of adjustment, though it is nice. Some mothers feel depressed because they don’t know what to do with themselves after this responsibility is gone.

Extended parenthood. One of my friend’s grandmother raised her after her parents ran off. She raised my friend for a long time. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes the kids with their kids move back in wit you because of circumstances. Or some kids just don’t want to leave. A good friend of mine lived with his mother for a while. Even though he’s almost 30, he still sleeps over at her house a lot. He has his own condo, but he says that if he moved out completely, his mom would have a hard time adjusting. How does she handle him sleeping over? I wonder.

Caring for aging parents or other relatives. Adult daughters are more likely than their boy siblings to take on the responsibility of caring for an aged parent. This takes a toll, for not only do they have to take care of their children, and their job, but also the extra burden of a parent. She might have to pay their bills as well as her family’s, arrange hospitalization, or nursing homes. She may have to shop for them, clean them, and so on. When they pass away, she may not be sure of how to feel. Relief that a burden is lifted? Or sad that a loved one passed away?

222845367_66fd14bc04Financial burdens. Paying bills is, well, expensive. Taxes, insurance, groceries, cars, lessons, furniture, clothes, college, and weddings. The cost of living is higher in these modern times. Take weddings. The guy buys the girl a ring. It probably costs upwards of a thousand bucks. Then there’s hundreds for the cake, thousands for the dresses, and the limo that needs to be rented. All of this stuff isn’t paid by the bride herself, but by her family. Don’t even talk about the wedding reception, which is probably one of the most expensive parts of a wedding. My own parents had an in expensive reception at their church. Their friends pitched in to buy food and prepare for the event. My parents didn’t even rent a limo. Nowadays, couples go for the whole deal. They get a limo, a huge cake like the one on the right, expensive food, and a reception in a fancy hall with lovely decorations.

2599940825_19f5e4e84bRelationship troubles. They don’t call it a midlife crisis for nothing. You hear in the news of adult males suddenly running off with the young secretary. Because of all the demands on time, couples tend to leave their relationship at the bottom of the list of priorities. Both spouses are busy and overworked. Some people get divorced during this time because the marriage can no longer stand the strain. Marriage isn’t as fun as when they both started on their honeymoon. They might feel trapped, and the absence of butterflies is noticed. Maybe they’ll stay together just for the kids, but when the kids go to college, the parents feel that they don’t have to stay together anymore.

Divorce and singlehood. After the marriage ends, a divorce follows. There’s two high risk periods for divorce. They are the first 7 years of marriage, or midlife when the kids are teenagers. In the last 30 years, divorce has soared.

divorcecake_t220Divorce can be described as a sort of death — the death of a way of life. It inevitably brings stress. She has to deal with the loss of a loved one, emotionally wounded children, custody battles, loss of money, and many other adjustments. Often times, the woman ends up raising her children alone or sharing custody with the father.

I remember a young mother who struggled so hard to keep it all together. Her young children were emotionally wounded, and she had to go to court multiple times for custody battles. Her money was slipping away steadily because she took pills for depression, was unemployed, had to hire a lawyer, and had to visit a counselor several times a week. She stayed at our home when she sold hers. Plus, she was preparing to move to California. Divorce is a stressful time.

Then there’s singlehood, and getting back into the dating scene. It’s frightening to compete against younger, more beautiful women for men that are the same age as you. Some women fall into disordered eating in an attempt to regain their figure back.

Menopause. This is a tough period for most women. Hormone levels fluctuate, causing insomnia, fatigue, hot flashes, and so on. Many women worry about losing their sexuality and sexual attractiveness. Doctors can help with many of these issues. Just don’t go to Oprah for your health information.

Madonna: a woman in the show business. She has received multiple plastic surgeries to keep her looks young and fresh. They don't seem to be working.

Madonna: a woman in the show business. She has received multiple plastic surgeries to keep her looks young and fresh. They don't seem to be working.

Aging. Your strength will decline, your muscles will weaken, and it’s easier to gain weight. Add to that sagging skin, wrinkles, thin hair, and age spots. This is tough, especially in our society that worships  beauty and youth. The change are unsettling at least. But for those who place great store by their appearance, these changes are devastating.

Maybe it’s understandable if actresses and models, whose lifeblood depends on their looks, are thrown into a panic. But even the lady next door who isn’t in the show business may mourn.

Next up: What stress is really doing to us.

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Corseted beauties

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

This section is a short history of eating disordrs.

You may ask if eating disorders are nothing new. Have they been along for a while? Really?

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

The famous French heroine Joan of Arc had anorexic tendencies. She starved herself to make a point, not because she was obsessed about her weight. Greek feasts involved bingeing and purging. This, however, was debauchery rather than bulimia.

However, during the 1870s, doctors in France and England were faced with a group of girls who rejected food altogether. The doctors were stumped over what to call this condition. Eventually, France won with the name “anorexia nervosa” which is used to this day.

The pictures that the doctors drew of these patients are eerie.

A proper Victorian lady

A proper Victorian lady

That was during the Victorian era. Perhaps it’s not surprising that that period marked the birth of modern eating disorders. Control and thinness were characteristics of wealth and beauty. Ladies had to be restrained (no screaming and running around. No indulgence! Eat daintily, don’t stuff yourself) and thin, with tiny corseted waists. Meat was considered carnal. The perfect lady had to be prim and proper. The picture on the right is an excellent example of one. Note the tiny waist.

pinksateen3These tiny waists were produced not merely by restraint in all things food, but with a corset, not unlike this antique corset.

The word “image” first appeared in American girls’ diaries in the 1920s. In this period, movies became an obsession. Actresses changed their identities and looks faster than people could keep up.

All the same, anorexia was not familiar until much later. Even in 1965, the term wasn’t used often. Eating disorders weren’t talked about. They weren’t normal. Strange. Rare. They were not seen as a disease but rather an exotic condition that only some different people got.

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter

One of the first public memories related to this disorder  is of the singer Karen Carpenter. By the fall of 1975, she only weighed 80 pounds. She collapsed on a Las Vegas stage and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Carpenter died in 1983. It turned out that she had heart failure due to complications of the illness. Her heart was weak from the years of restriction, and a sudden weight gain of 30 pounds strained it further. The coroner gave the cause of death as “heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa.”

The 1980s was the era of fitness and food obsession, Martin continues. It was during this period that eating disorders became more common. The famous actress and fitness trainer Jane Fonda produced many fitness videos during this time. It was unknown that her fit body was the result of obsessive exercise… and… bulimia.

Back to the present. Eating disorders are nothing new, that’s true. But now they take an extreme form which is unique to this present age. It’s not just restricted to rich white women, but to anyone. Black women and Latina women have eating disorders. So do working class mothers.

Oprah

Oprah

At the same time, excessive exercising, plastic surgery addiction, and laxative abuse are common things. They’re no longer something that’s normal or not rare. Celebrities like Tara Reid are covered by the media. Diet and fitness, not wellness or authentic health, are upheld. Even Oprah is freaking out about her body. We’re conditioned to believe that the barrier between us and perfection is us.

This is a very modern and dire epidemic. While this world professes to give more rights and powers to those who have been formerly oppressed and persecuted, this world is sicker and more broken. Oprah started a school to help African girls learn empowerment and skills for the working world. At the same time, she stresses out about her appearance and binge-eating episodes. Her person trainer, Bob Greene, once remarked that Oprah had never learned what it means to be happy.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

We see our mothers, aunts, and sisters hate themselves and their bodies. We learned from them.

The cycle continues.

The 7 million diagnosed with eating disorders is merely the tip of the iceberg. This book is about that borderline behavior. The behavior that’s hard to diagnose, yet involves self-hatred and depression. It’s not normal. You were never meant to live this life full of self-hatred, sadness, obsession, and depression. This cycle is taking away from the quality of life that you could have. It’s taking away our freedom.

We’re not our bodies.

Marti talks about a friend who was asked how she was. “I’m fine, just feeling fat.”

“But how are you?” the therapist persisted.

“What do you mean? I already told you.”

mountain-top-meets-cloudsFinally, he explained. Our bodies are not us. Bodies are only one aspect of who we are. We make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our bodies. That’s why we tell ourselves that life will be good once we lose the weight. The fact that we are not our bodies means that life will not improve.

To a lot of us, it doesn’t matter if we have a great spouse, a successful career, lovely friends, and a beautiful home. If we’re 5 pounds above the desired weight, we’re unhappy.

We’re cheating ourselves out of a full life. What’s the use of getting three degrees if you’re going to spend a chunk of your time obsessively thinking about the shape of your thighs? That’s too much time. We only have 24 hours a day. We could be bettering the world. We could be doing so much more.