Monthly Archives

November 2015

food for thought

On Male Privilege and Just Eating the Damn Cake

November 29, 2015
This week, I decided to work on my relationship with food.
My goal was to have three healthy, reasonably-sized, balanced meals a day, and
I would allow myself a small amount of chocolate at around 3pm. 
This was a plate of Costa Rican food I had. nomnom <3
On the face of it, that seems like a stupidly mundane goal
to set yourself. Surely that’s just what everyone does. Or, as I’ve been asked several times before, mostly by men, “Why are you so weird with food?! Why can’t you just eat
normally??”
Sure, let’s “just eat normally”. Would you like some fries
with that male privilege?

As with most little girls, my first female role model was my
mother, who was constantly on some diet or another. I remember one week, all
she would eat was stale bread and warm milk. The diets were marked on the
calendar, too, followed by lots of exclamation marks, right next to my school
outings and overdue bills. I must have been around four or five. How many
little boys watch this kind of behavior in their fathers?
When I started primary school, I quickly learned that chubby
girls get made fun of. In fact, one literature review (1) finds that in school, overweight girls are more
likely to be bullied and stigmatized than overweight boys. As I remember it, at
my school, girls were much more likely to be bullied for their looks in general,
and their weight specifically. Boys would be bullied mostly for crying, or not
being “tough” enough, and I’m not arguing that this, or the unhealthy ideal of
hypermasculinity that it stems from, isn’t awful. But I don’t think boys get
bullied for the way they look very much. 
In middle and high school, I watched my girl friends go on
yoghurt-only diets, heard of people having competitions at lunchtime to see who
could eat the least, and listened to my male classmates, who by that time had obviously
adopted society’s overall attitude on these things, deliver their judgment on
women’s bodies. 
“Ugh. She’s fat.” 
“Wow, look at that perfect little ass.” 
“What a fucking whale”. 
At a time when having a boyfriend made you cool, and fitting
in was most everyone’s primary concern, the message was very clear. No one will
like you if you’re fat. 
Meanwhile, boys did not receive that message, and instead
were encouraged to see their bodies as instruments that would help them throw a
ball further, run faster or jump higher. I would hypothesize that this
contributes to the disconnection between body image and self-esteem in males.
They are taught to see their body not as a reflection of how much they are
worth, but as a tool. In fact, it’s been shown (2) that whether boys are
satisfied with how their bodies look has nothing to do with their  self-esteem. You know
when men look in the mirror, go: “Oh, I seem to have gotten a bit of a belly,
better cut down on beer for a bit”, then go about their day without it
affecting their self-worth at all? I have NEVER seen a woman do that. 
Instead, I have seen close friends tear up and tell me that
they’ve been trying to, or succeeding in, throwing up their meals. I have seen
brilliant, beautiful, kind girls subsist on eight hundred calories a day and
run for two hours, because they thought they weren’t good enough. I have seen
them fade away, losing the sparkle in their eyes along with their beautiful
curves. And I have fought with myself for over a decade, constantly going from ‘I
will be skinny and pretty and perfect and I will never eat again’ to ‘FUCK the patriarchy
I will eat five pizzas and three chocolate donuts’ (neither of which, by the
way, I would recommend).
Because a lifetime of body-shaming, being
judged for what you put on your plate, and seeing the fashion industry label
perfectly healthy women as ‘plus size’ makes it incredibly difficult for a lot
of women to “just eat normally”. I think men, or really anyone who has never
had to face these things, should be aware of that. 
(1) Tang-Péronard, J.L.,
Heitmann, B.L. (2006). Stigmatization
of obese children and adolescents, the importance of gender. Obesity Review, 9,
522 – 534.
(2) Furnham, A., Badmin, N., Sneade, I. (2002). Body Image Dissatisfaction: Gender
Differences in Eating Attitudes, Self-Esteem and Reasons for Exercise. The
Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 136, 581 – 596. 
books

Book review: The 6 things you should REALLY do before you’re 30

November 22, 2015
Hello lovelies ♥
After two weeks of ridiculous amounts of work and exam
preparation (it turns out a 40+ hour job, a degree and some semblance of a
social life are not easy to balance at the same time), I am finally posting… drumroll
please … my first book review!
The book is called The
Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now
,
written by clinical psychologist Meg Jay. It’s a great book and I recommend it warmly,
mostly because it sparked a lot of ideas for me. I’m going to share the six
most important ones with you. 
The main lesson I took away from the book is to be
deliberate, in the way you spend your time and in who you spend it with. More
specifically, the following suggestions seem particularly useful to me:

Career (1): Build up
identity capital
Identity capital is anything that you do long enough or well
enough that it becomes a part of you. That can be a university degree but it
also includes job experience, your appearance to some degree, your accent and
the way you express yourself, soft skills etc. Jay says the twenties is when
you should invest heavily in yourself, which I’ve always aimed to do – it’s
just that I’m not always sure what kind of identity capital I should be
building up. In fact, quite often, you’ll find me sitting at my desk surrounded
by a Romanian-Russian vocabulary notebook, a book on introductory business
studies and codeacademy.com open in my browser, having a small meltdown. Lately
though, what’s been working for me is to look up people who are where I want to
be, find out what got them there and what they were doing at my age, and use
that information to set my own goals and decide what to spend time on.
Career (2): Use your
weak ties
For the longest time I thought networking was bullshit.
Surely if you were good at something you wouldn’t need to know the right
people. You would just get noticed. And how superficial and shallow would
someone have to be to enjoy spending hours at a dinner party making small talk
with “important” people? The more time I spent in the adult world, the more I
realized that networking leads to some great encounters and even friendships,
as long as you go into it with the objective of meeting interesting,
like-minded people rather than sucking up to people you might one day be able
to benefit from. So, spend time with people outside of your immediate social
environment, ask them stuff, learn from them, don’t be afraid to ask for help,
and give help back wherever you can. 
Love: Choose your partner, and choose them right
Every time anyone shows any interest in me beyond just
sexual attraction, I am mostly taken aback and confused. Why would they like
me? Why don’t they like person X when they are OBVIOUSLY
prettier/smarter/better? Why haven’t they texted?! Is it because of that thing
I said about that person that one time when we were talking about the
stuff??  
In my ten years of dating and being neurotic and trying to
get people to like me, I never once truly stopped to ask myself if I even liked
them. The sad, honest truth is that I let people choose me and then hope they
find me interesting enough to stick around. The
Defining Decade
contains a story of a girl who does just that, too, and it
made me realize two things.
Firstly, Jay is right when she writes that a partner is “your
second chance at family” (God knows I need one of those), and that you need to
pick them instead of letting them pick you.
But secondly, pick them for the right reasons. I always
thought the guy I’m looking for is someone tall and good-looking with a certain
level of education and income potential. But the thing is, I won’t be waking up
every day next to a pair of ocean-blue eyeballs (creepy!) or a bank account
with seven figures in it. I’m going to be spending my life and raising children
with a real, human person who has to share my values and who has to have
interesting things to say and who should teach my children to have a good heart
and be a living example of that. I need someone patient, and calm, and
kind-hearted, someone who knows how to make me laugh and who will be okay with
the fact that I need to be told I’m pretty and smart and loved about as often
as most people brush their teeth and that sometimes (well, once every 28 days
roughly) I burst into tears for no good reason at all.
Personality (1):
Rewrite your story
When we are children and adolescents, we hold certain
beliefs about ourselves. That we are hopelessly shy or “simply bad at” sports
or foreign languages or that we are “unpopular” or “uncool” or whatever. Those
beliefs tend to come from a very limited range of negative experiences and are
unlikely to accurately reflect reality. They are not always helpful in getting
us closer to our goals. So, you have to re-evaluate how you see yourself and rewrite
your story. And the way to do that, I think, is to…
Personality (2): Seek
out challenge
As a typical 20-something, my confidence is not exactly what
I would call solid.  In fact I have days
where I just feel like I suck at absolutely everything. If you would say the
same about yourself, you can now stop worrying, because you’re not supposed to
be confident at our age. Confidence isn’t something that you magically have. It
grows from the outside. When you tackle difficult situations successfully, you start
believing in your ability to tackle difficult situations successfully, making
it likelier that you will in the future tackle difficult… you get the point. 
And finally…. Do SOMETHING.
Jay writes that “you can’t think your way through life”. No
matter what you think you like, or you feel like you may like, or be suited
for, you have no way of knowing for sure until you actually try. A lot of
things you try in your twenties may be completely wrong for you, but they’ll
help you find what’s right for you.
So go out, and do things. 
Love,
Damita
personal

The One Interview Question You Should Ask Yourself

November 5, 2015
Hello beauties ♥
This time, I’d like to start with a story.
When I was at high school, I went to interview for a place
on the Social and Political Science programme at Cambridge University. The very
posh, intimidating lady conducting the interview mustered a half-smile, which I
assume was her attempt at being encouraging, as she handed me a sheet of paper
with a few lines printed on it. 

“One evening, Camper goes into the woods and sets up his
tent. Camper doesn’t have a very large backpack, so he only has one bottle of
water with him! Poisoner dislikes Camper, so he sneaks in and poisons the water.
Later that night, Spiller sees the tent, and spills Camper’s water on the
floor. In the morning, Camper dies of thirst. Who killed Camper?”
(Or something to that effect. The English was probably a lot
posher and contained words like “notwithstanding”.  I don’t remember. This was seven or eight
years ago.)
Seriously, what the fuck kind of question is that? First of
all, maybe Camper should rethink his life choices if there are TWO people out
there who hate him so much they want to MURDER him? Also, why didn’t Camper
bring more water, or a mobile phone? How far away could the next shop have
been? If Camper was far enough from civilization that he couldn’t have walked
it in a day, he would’ve brought more water, and if he was close enough to a
shop to walk the distance in a day, it seems medically unlikely he would’ve
DIED in that time! And how does Spiller even know that Camper only has one
bottle of water? 
Needless to say, I didn’t get the spot. 
Interview questions can be really, really stupid. But there
is one that, to me, stands out, because it’s actually meaningful, and because I
believe you should sit down on your couch and ask yourself that exact same question
at least a few times a year.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Don’t tell me about what job title you want to have or what
your CV is going to look like. Really think about what you want your life to
look like, five years from now, on a completely normal Thursday. That is going
to give you so much information about what you should be doing now, and it’s a measurable
goal to work towards.
As for me, I hope that on Thursday, November 5th,
2020, I wake up next to the man I love and want to spend my life with, in a
small cosy apartment (because we’re saving for a house, and he’s saving for a
ring). I hope I finally manage to exercise regularly in the mornings. I’d run
for a bit, make breakfast, do my whole shower/make-up/clothes/mentally
preparing for the day routine, then have coffee and leave. I’d leave to a job
that I love, that makes a difference and where I get to spend most of the day
writing. I’d stay there and have fun (because of course I’d be working in an
amazing team) until 6 or 7pm. Then I’d go home, maybe make dinner or read for an
hour, depending on whose turn it was to cook. We’d eat, talk about our day and
watch a stupid sitcom, or a TED talk, depending on our mood. And finally, we’d
go to bed at a reasonable hour, because I’d like to believe that in 2020, at
the ripe old age of 28, I will finally be a responsible adult.
What about you?! 🙂
Love,
Damita
personal

How TEDxVienna Helped Me With My Quarter Life Crisis

November 1, 2015
Hello lovelies ♥
It’s Sunday a.k.a. No Makeup Day and I am in my pyjamas on my couch (obvs), and meant to be
writing an essay for uni. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my
Saturday, because it’s a more interesting story to tell.
I went to a conference yesterday called TEDxVienna. I assume
a lot of you know TED talks. Essentially TED started as an American non-profit
that gives really interesting people a stage for 18 minutes. That is all the
time they have to share their “ideas worth spreading”, and to tell the audience
about an idea, a thought, a concept or a project that they believe people
should know about. Speakers include Bill Gates, Salman Khan, Monica Lewinsky,
and a bunch of other household names. TEDx events are held all over the world
in that same format and host equally amazing and interesting people, but they’re
also an opportunity to meet the other attendees, who usually turn out to be
insightful and inspirational people. 
so many people!!

My friend Philippa and I at the conference (I loved the pretty blue lanyards!!)
This is the second time I’ve attended the conference and to
me, it’s as much about the speakers and their life journeys as about the talks
themselves. As a typical twenty-something, I have no clue what I want to do
with my life. I mean, literally no clue at all. At this point, becoming a theoretical
mathematician seems equally appealing to me as does becoming a political
journalist. I am VERY confused. So I enjoy hearing from people who are
successful enough that a thousand people would consider it worth their time and
money to listen to their ideas. I figure these speakers must be doing SOMETHING
right.
There’s always going to be people who are better at public
speaking at others, and people who you personally find more charismatic than
others. But this year, two talks really left an impression, to the point where
I just want to watch them every morning and remind myself of how important they
are.
One was given by Matthew Cooke, a film director whose work I
wasn’t familiar with but is now on my To Watch list. His talk meant a lot to me
for personal reasons. When I was a teenager, I set myself the goal of improving
as many lives as possible. Of course, once you grow up, you face so much
ridicule and cynicism that you start to question things. After Serious Adult
#53 asks you “So have you chosen a career yet?”, Well-Meaning Relative #15
looks you up and down with a pitying look and says “…So you still don’t have a
boyfriend, hm?” and Grown-Up Conversation #4636 revolves around mortgages,
renting vs. buying and the pros and cons of owning a car in the city, and when
even people your age start saying things like “Well, you know, I’d love to
help, but I have to save up for gadget X and commodity Y first”, you start
wondering whether there’s REALLY anything you can do in the grand scheme of
things, and whether it wouldn’t be better to just focus on Building A Career
and Finding A Decent Guy and Having A Family. After all, you’re just tiny
little you, you probably can’t change that much, and that sort of idealism is
best left to the super-rich who can afford to run a foundation, or teenagers
who have the time and independence to volunteer in Africa for a few months, and
the trust fund to pay for it.
And so, it was SO NICE to see a grown man who clearly Has
His Life Together, stand up on a stage in front of a thousand people, and
verbalize the gut feeling that I’ve had my whole life: The only thing worth
getting up for in the morning is anything that will improve other people’s
lives. That is what success means. That is what “winning at life” means. And I
am not crazy, because there is clearly at least one other, quite successful,
person out there who agrees with me. 
The only talk that topped his was given by a ninety-year old
lady called Olga Murray who used to work as a lawyer in San Francisco. Just to
give you a comparison, my ninety-year old grandfather spends his days in front
of the television ranting and raving at “all those damn foreigners” and warning
me not to take the subway in Vienna (there might be foreigners). Not this
woman. She stood on stage full of life, and vibrancy, and excitement, and told
the story of how, in her retirement, she saved thousands of Nepali children
from child labour and abuse. She made it very clear that after 90 years of her
life, it wasn’t material goods or money or career success that she looked back
upon with joy. It was the moments where she could reach out and connect to
other human beings and do something for them. 
All of the other talks I heard on Saturday were great, but
those two reminded me that it doesn’t matter that my thighs are chubby and my
hair is frizzy or that no matter how hard I try I just can’t get into yoga and
green smoothies, or that I haven’t bought an apartment or a car and it
doesn’t even matter if I end up never buying these things and never having children and taking in another
four cats. All that matters, all that I can control, is that I have a positive
impact that’s as big as possible on as many lives as possible. And if I try to
do that every day, I will have done all I can.
Damita