Real Women

I was very taken with this piece from Disrupting Dinner Parties:

Every boy I’ve ever dated had visible intercostals, because they were all athletes of a particular type. You can find it in the wild. They were all real men. Men with 4% body fat are real men. Men with a 35% body fat real men. Men with no chest hair are real men. Men whose back hair comes out of the collar of their shirt and merges with the hair on their head are real men. Men who have body hair, but choose to remove it, are also real men. (As usual, women who are small enough to have trouble finding adult clothes that fit are real women. And women who are big enough to have problems finding any clothes that fit area also real women.)

All people are in fact real people.

And this puts me in mind of my least favorite ‘body positivity’ phrase.

Real women have curves.

I mean, yes. Real women have curves mostly because it’s very hard to create fully angular people, and while they do stack better, and would probably be easier to pack into public transportation, body fat just doesn’t do that well, and people don’t do so well without body fat.

But that isn’t what this is saying. Real women have curves is just another way to preference one particularly body type (because really, what do you see in those ‘inspiring’ ads? Hourglass figure, curves only in certain places, curves that come in certain ways, and definitely don’t contain cellulite or stretch marks) over another especially restrictive one, whilst feeling like you’ve contributed to making everyone feel more included. Because now, you can try to cram yourself into Tiny Box A or Tiny Box B!

Oh, you’re not stick skinny? Real women have curves!

Just not the sort formed by fat rolls, or located in stomachs!

Real women have curves, but they’re well lit and highly made up curves!

Real women have curves, but they are young curves and definitely 70% boob curvature.


Body positivity should involve actual positivity! Not a slapdash paint job on the old body policing. Body positivity shouldn’t involve mocking old standards of beauty in favor of restrictive new ones. It shouldn’t mean pretending society doesn’t have harmful messages about acceptable sizes and shapes and attach moral responsibility to failure to conform, because hey, we said that curves were cute!

Real women have passions and hopes and hearts and brains. Real women have mass and occupy physical space. Real women identify as women are not imaginary. Real women are probably damn tired of trying to be the right kind of curvy or skinny and would like to keep living without exerting their existence as simultaneously women! and their body type! and also real! over and over again, thank you.

Two Shoes


[Adapted from a really old piece from my formerly-pseudonymous blog]

This is half of the last pair shoes I danced in, and half of the shoes I stopped thinking of myself as a dancer in. On the left, Grishko 2007’s in a medium shank, size 6, 5X wide. On the right, Sansha Recitals, size 10, medium width. It’s a point of pride to me that I can still name them–years of walking up the counter and the smell of rosin.

Grishko, please.
Size 6.
Medium shank, but I’ll take soft if you have it.
And, ah, 5X?

The broken in shoe smells a little musty. It’s fully ‘dead’, all squishy in the toe and right above the nail in the arch. I wore it in a flapper dress, with a huge feather. I wore it in a full length silk skirt, dancing to music from the African Symphony Orchestra, flirting with the audience to Santana, and in my last performance, when I cried because the audience applauded, and I was shaking tired and my feet were bloody, and I just wanted to keep making them clap.

The new shoe still isn’t sewn all the way. The come without ribbons, in pink boxes. You pull them out and spend an hour jabbing away at layers of canvas and silk to put all the ties on. I never finished adding the elastics. The shoe isn’t broken in. I’ve stood up on my toes in them, but I haven’t rubbed them with water and rubbing alcohol, or banged them against the floor and heated and bent them in my hands. They aren’t molded to my feet, musty, or dull. New shoes hurt. And because I figured out that summer that too many mirrors meant eating too little food, they’ll never get that treatment. No matter how well I made myself behave, and eat, and like my curves, being in that room tore it to shreds.

So I stopped being a dancer. I was one, for 15 years. I’ll always walk like one, love moving and dipping and turning.

Each time I move, I’ll unpack a box of leotards, holding each one up. Year after year, red and black and navy, halters and ladder-backed and with little edges of print fabric. Leg warmers, custom made, one set. Another, with a hole in the heel. Soft and warm with memories of early Saturdays in the studio.

I should throw them out, I tell my roommate. She’s the third roommate to hear it. And then I’ll fold them all back up. Roll the legwarmers, wrap the ribbons around the shoes. Two boxes, stacked in the corner of our closet.

Monday Miscellany: Pirates, Psychotherapy, Prestige

1. Psychotherapy’s Image Problem: I have some quibbles with this article. For one, it’s a pretty rote process to test a psychiatric medication. You have the pills, which are, most importantly, not as unique and complicated as People Practicing Therapy, you compare them against treatment as usual or placebos and then you do statistical magic* and have some sort of answer about how helpful it is. So yeah, of course it’s easier to have the American Psychiatric Association putting out guidelines for use. Secondly, the writer (as was pointed out in several letters to the editor) pitted medication and therapy interventions against each other, when in fact many people use them together–and that seems to be something we’d like to encourage.

2. Again, a caveat. This article about a Wyoming cowboy who prefers dresses to pants could use some help with framing. But, “He asks classes not to judge him by his dress, and they’ve responded. Students once arrived in hoodies, removing them to reveal pink hair ribbons and matching pink shirts. Goodwin nearly wept at the gesture.” didn’t leave me dry-eyed.

3. Why would a blogger at Science Based Medicine and an editor at PLoS One accept an article about homeopathy for publication? Because he had great reasoning, that’s why.

4. ElodieUnderGlass writes to a reader about work settings and the adults that inhabit them.

The woods are a tough mistress. Lots of us live in them. Many of us can’t afford to stake our money on a principle. Many of us sacrifice our dignity on the altar of Customer Service, and we don’t do it because we enjoy it. Nobody goes to school hoping to be an Ophelia. Nobody wants to grow up to be a telemarketer. People don’t usually work in factories for spiritual fulfillment.

5. Oh ho, those entitled Millenials want to pay for their groceries! Just live on that prestige! In other words, I’m really really fed up with the way universities force students into unpaid internships. Northwestern does it, and ProPublica isn’t a fan.

6. Dateline told me it was true, video games are making our kids violent. But what if they’re also influencing them to run too many errands?!?!11l!!!

“It’s a concern that has been expressed by society for a long time now,” said Butow. “It goes back as far as the 1999 Columbine massacre in the United States, and potentially even further than that. For more than a decade, we’ve had to consider, as parents, what we’re exposing our children to, and I don’t think there’s a single parent with a teenage child who has not asked themselves at one point or another ‘If I buy this game for my son or daughter, am I encouraging arbitrary behaviour or acts of inexplicable charity?’”

*not actually magic. Or as simple as bang! results. But, simpler than people


This is the story of a girl who doubted herself.

Who didn’t trust him at age six. Who compared him to a rattlesnake once.

Who can still pull up the memory of that shocked face–the way she turned around in the car, while driving no less, and the look of horror when that eight year old voiced the comparison…one she’d mulled over saying for weeks.

Who had panic attacks on planes, because something had to be broken to feel that distant about a family that never did anything well, bad.

Who is an adult now.

Who feels too adult.

But adults get praised for having boundaries. For being so perceptive, for handling it so well. Even as they think, what’s changed? 

And it’s that adult woman with boundaries and understanding and maturity, who sometimes hates that word, because she was used to be mature enough to use big words, but not mature enough to talk about who belonged in the circle of people who knew about her life.  It’s that woman who wants to find the six year old, the eight year old, the ten year old girl who thought she was wrong, who doubted her feelings. Who thought something was wrong in her. And she wants to just hold her.

To say that yes, you’re doing the right thing. That you can create an entire persona, that you can protect yourself and feel numb and cold and someday it’ll be as if the happiness dial suddenly turned all the way up.

That it won’t feel like having a home, but it will feel like freedom. And that in a decade, in three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days, there will be friends who become family, who ask how therapy went, who wrap blankets around you when you’re anxious and wrap you in hugs because they know you. Who ask if you want company when they see the caller ID, who will let you show up on the doorstep.

And that when things start to be okay, when it starts being brave and not mean to say ‘He didn’t care. He doesn’t want to know me.’ the adult woman will be angry on behalf of the eight year old who knew.

Monday Miscellany: BF Skinner, Baby Boxes, Ballet

For the whimsical macabre, you should be following the Night Vale twitter account. (I suppose you could also listen to their podcast, but I never got into it.)

Shannon Friedman on the anti-placebo effect:

Its easy to miss treatment working.  For example, as a kid grows up, its easy to miss how their vocabulary is growing, but for someone who doesn’t seem them every day, it may be immediately obvious “my how they’re talking more!”  In other words, an anti-placebo effect is what happens when someone is having an intervention that is causing their life to improve, but the person does not believe that they are improving.
The reason that this is important is that those recovering from anxiety and depression have a tendency to believe that they are not doing as well as they are – due to this cognitive bias creating an anti-placebo effect for them, which results in their giving up too soon on interventions which are effective and thus not getting better and regressing to old unpleasant patterns.

This is really important, but it’s also confounded by the fact that many interventions (particularly in cases of depression) don’t work for many–even most–people who try them. Taking your own metrics is a way to sift through this a little, but given how many people experience as a lack of motivation, “just track progress very carefully!” seems oversimplified.

As far as data tracking goes, I suggest SAM for anxiety tracking and MoodPanda seems to be a good start for charting ups and downs of emotional state.

Rats appear to model empathy, and also are much more accurate, much cheaper alternatives to drug dogs.

BF Skinner (known for behaviorism and operant conditioning) built a box….for his baby. (And it’s definitely not what you’re thinking)

Halloween always manages to assemble a collection of weird-‘sexy’ (sexy house costume), appropriative-‘sexy’ (sexy Cherokee warrior), and of course, the mental patients, the straitjackets, and the ‘sexy’ psychos. This year, the internet banded together against the portrayal of mental illness as sexy, and began to tweet pictures of themselves going about their business in their everyday #mentalpatient costumes. And companies responded!

What I won’t tell you about my ballet dancing son:

I’ll tell you about a baby boy who felt music in his soul before he could crawl, grooving to the beat of push-button toys in the church nursery and spawning jokes about his young parents’ need to curb the tendency if he was to become a “good Baptist baby.”

I’ll tell you about a toddler spinning on his head on the living room carpet, the grocery store linoleum, the church foyer tile, eliciting amused comments from strangers about his wannabe break dancing. I’ll tell you of his unquenchable need to move in the presence of rhythm and an obvious inborn ability to feel music.

I’ll revisit the memory of him bounding in the front door on a December afternoon, tossing his kindergarten backpack and, wild eyed, telling us of the music class in which people leaped and twirled to music, strong men jumped high in the air, danced on their toes and lifted ballerinas across the stage. He wore black sweat pants and a white undershirt every day of Christmas break that year, asked Santa for black ballet shoes, watched dozens of online videos of boys’ ballet techniques and by Christmas day had memorized every note and crescendo of the entire Nutcracker Suite.


Fun With Scientific Controversies

One of my classes this quarter is entirely about controversies in psychology. They’re pretty standard: is unconscious racism a thing? Does subliminal messaging work? And they’re interesting questions, to be sure. But I’m fairly familiar with the research already, and now I’m procrastinating on writing a paper for the class by thinking up other controversies in psychology–ones where I feel far less comfortable saying “here’s the answer!” or even “here’s where to start looking for the answer!”

I’ve got these four–and still no more headaway in the actual homework assignment–what are yours?

1) Why are we using p-values in psychology when they seem to be awful and allow people to fudge data more easily?
An interesting secondary question here is how do we make the switch? Hundreds of thousands of psych students will be trained in determining results by null-hypothesis testing. Research assistants and graduate students and precocious undergraduates with theses will all be doing research with the methods they’ve learned. How do we get all of them to change?

2) How should we be using social psychology findings when there seems to be only some evidence for mechanisms that would cause huge societal change?
Particularly since social psychology research tends to be done in labs, may not generalize to the outside world, and has the college sophomore problem. And it’s WEIRD.

3) What’s the best (or even just a better way) to categorize mental disorders? And while we’re at it, how do we fix our map-territory problem?
That is, are we expanding the definition of say, depression, to include more people with depression who went previously undiagnosed? Or are we considering more things to fall into the category of “being depressed”?

4) Willpower–how does it work? Is it a limited resource? How glucose-dependent is it?




Using Self-Help Anxiety (SAM) App: Initial Thoughts

I downloaded the Self-Help Anxiety Management (henceforth, SAM) app to my phone several weeks back with the intention of giving it a trial run. Today I got quite anxious and after knitting part of a scarf, walking three miles, trying to meditate, and taking a nap, all with zero success in stress-reduction, I remembered it. This is Day 1 of the test–I’ll write more well-rounded analysis in 7-10 days, when I’ve used it over time.  If you’re interested in testing alongside, this is the iOS link and here’s one for Android. 

Before: Yes, hi, this is anxious.

Before: Welp, even more anxious than I realized.

Thought 1: Wow, Kate, you are anxious a lot.

Thought 2: Wait, this seems to actually be helping quite a bit.

Cursory Look at the Best SAM Stuff:

-An anxiety tracker (data entry part pictured on left). I paired this with Annoyster (Apple/Android alternative), to pester me to chart anxiety at random intervals throughout the day. Goal: Getting a better picture than either charting when I’m calm enough to remember or charting when I’m anxious enough to open the app.

-The relaxation techniques appear to be gamified: though I haven’t levelled up yet, it appears that after using a relaxation techinque over time, you can “level up” to unlock tougher tools (Perhaps meditating or doing breathing exercises for longer periods of time? Will check back in next writeup.)

-Anxiety Toolbox: when you find activities in the app that are particularly helpful, you move them in here. I’m excited about this part for two reasons
-It indicates that the designers recognize that coping techniques vary widely. What works for me may leave you bored and still anxious.
-When the toolbox fills up, I won’t have to sift through all the activities on the main page to find what I want. Also, if I can make going from anxious to trying coping mechanisms quickly, it increases the likelihood that I’ll do that instead of getting wrapped up in a loop of self-defeating thoughts.

After: Anxious, but manageably so.

After: Anxious, but manageably so. Time invested to get to this point: 10 minutes.

-A little thing that just made me happy: in one of the calming techniques, guided breathing, you can adjust the inhale/exhale times. Attention to detail like this matters. I breathe quite shallowly, and likely wouldn’t have found the exercise practical without customization. Of course, if the app didn’t allow for this, I could have just done focused breathing exercises on my own….and been much less likely to make it a habit.

The Downsides:

-It’s not very intuitive. I had to read the directions and fiddle around with buttons for each screen. I strongly recommend playing with the app during a non-anxious time before putting it to use.

-There’s some sort of social network aspect where you can set up an account. I have no idea what the value of this is.

-All of the references, numbers to call, and resources are for the UK. (The app was developed by a university in Wales.

-I’m not sure how all the pieces of the menu fit together. Sure, it’s great that there’s a place for me to list things that make me anxious, and I like having coping techniques, but how can I use them most effectively? Not a lot of advice is offered. If this was the first app I’d tried or the first attempt I’d made to manage anxiety, I think I might be less enthused.

First thoughts: I like this! It’s the first app I’ve recommended to friends, and the first that I’ve seen immediate results from. It’s free, it’s made by people in the field, and worst case, I’ll have more data about my mood over time that I can use.

Links for downloading it yourself: Android, iOS

Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. Definitely consult yours, and SAM and my advice aren’t alternatives to medical care. 


Monday Miscellany: Geeks & Gourds

The Five Geek Social Fallacies: back online again, and for those of us returning to school and friends, worth rereading. Numbers 1 and 3 always manage to trip me up.

It’s fall, otherwise known as decorative gourd season, motherfuckers. McSweeney’s is hit or miss–this one’s a hit.

City Ballet pays tribute to 9/11:

How well does CBT for bulimia generalize?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly described as the evidence-based treatment for bulimia nervosa. But do the findings from nearly perfectly crafted trials, with stringently followed protocols and “ideal” participants apply to the “real world”? How generalizable are the findings from carefully selected participants to clinical populations where, for one, the prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities is relatively high?

In other words, CBT has been shown to be efficacious (i.e., it works in a controlled experimental research trial setting) but is it effective (i.e., does it work in a clinical setting where clients might have multiple diagnoses and complex needs)?

The article that made me grin the most this week was a tribute to Nina Davuluri, and the one that made me think was this discussion of psychoanalysis and CBT.

And this is from two Skepticons ago, but I’ve been meaning to watch it for ages. Now that I’ve crossed it off my unending to do list (and, like the Hydra, it immediately sprouted two more tasks), I can say that yes, you should watch it too. It’s a nice intro-level talk for those unfamiliar with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but won’t bore you–quite the opposite, actually!–if you’re more advanced.

What’s the last thing you memorized?
Me: O Captain, My Captain, by Walt Whitman. (Okay, this was about six years ago, where we had to present five pieces as part of our history studies. But I don’t know that I’ve memorized anything more recently)

[Repost] On Running Out of Feelings, and What to Do Next

[This is a repost from when I was co-blogging with Ashley. It seemed appropriate, as I’m feeling a wee numb myself, and with school starting and winter coming, this seems to be a shared feeling.]

Hello, internet.
This is where I come to spill my secrets, right?

Sometime between last week and this one, I went numb–ran out of feelings. I think it was somewhere after the third friend in forty-eight hours contacted me with questions about leaving abusive relationships, between finals and Steubenville and painful anniversaries and suddenly having a living situation that went from Absolutely Planned to Horrifyingly Tenuous. Oh, and it’s my last day of therapy this week.*

And that’s the simple stuff.

Add in friends who need a Social Kate who smiles and has opinions and wit and does not resemble a posed block of wood. Sprinkle in academics, and taking a quarter off to work at a small agency that expects a lot from me.  Roll it all in the stress of attending a competitive university where everyone Accomplishes Things that can be itemized on a resume–things that don’t contain scary words like atheist…and feeling anything outside Ron Weasley’s teaspoon involved too much work.

So I just started feeling numb.

It’s awful. I hate it and I go round and round between being irritated at not feeling anything, and getting angry about it…and then giving up because even anger feels muted and exhausting. It’s not terribly unusual–when you run out of emotional energy, that’s how it goes. It sucks, and I know I’m not the only one who gets this. So here’s how I minimize suckage. (The technical term, ya know.)


An idea stolen from someone–either the indomitable Captain Awkward or Keely. Each day gets two lists. List One: everything I have to accomplish that day in order to prevent the week from crashing and burning, and nothing more. Anything else you accomplish goes on List Two.

List Two starts out empty, and you have no obligation to fill it. It can be empty at the end of the day, and you will still have survived and accomplished important things and can sleep easily. If there is anything on List Two, you get to feel proud of it. You have gone above and beyond. Congratulations! Well done, you.

Excuses ahead of time are your friend.

Because the socially appropriate answer to a concerned “How are you feeling?” is almost never “My brain is being awful and I can’t feel anything and also everything fell apart last week.”, stock phrases are your friend. Among my favorites:

I haven’t been sleeping quite right, thanks for asking!
Because this is true even if it means you’ve been sleeping constantly and your brain feels like fuzz.

Oh, you know, long week. [Tired smile.]
Where a “long week” is defined as any set of days where life was hard and not worth explaining.

I’m a little out of it right now. It’s probably [related thing that may or may not explain your actual problems.]
Poor finals. I’m constantly blaming them–this is my most used phrase. I actually rarely find exams overwhelming, but they’re a fabulous explanation for why I’ve developed the habits of your average hermit crab.

Sorry, I have a touch of a stomachache.
People with stomachaches tend to get all silent and huddle in the corner of any given gathering, trying to force their gastric juices to cooperate. I don’t particularly advocate lying, but if this gets you out of an nosy stranger’s headlights, I approve.

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

Numb is okay.
There are no Feelings Police. They will not come find you and lecture you into submission for not possessing the correct emotional range. Feeling numb is weird and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it goes away and you can survive it. Give yourself permission to feel as bad as  you do, to nap as long as you need to, and to feel a little hollow.

Be greedy.

And along with that, be greedy. Will taking day off to paint your nails and consume only popcorn make you feel better? Do it. Will skipping that party to play videogames in your room feel better than pretending to feel social? You suddenly have new plans for the evening. Within the limits of your wallet and abilities, do whatever seems as though it could improve your day.

Hide in groups.
The thing about large groups of people is that you can get lost in them. Everyone else will jump about and make noise and try to figure out how to split the check when Susan ate half of the onion rings that Johnny ordered, David and Sarah split an entree, and Jacob only brought large bills.  And you can just sit there. Let everyone else have wild, sweeping feelings. There’s less pressure to say interesting things when everyone else is being exciting. You can tune out, drop in for the occasional murmur of agreement, and still be holding up your little corner of being social.

Update: Puzzles
Stephanie explains.


So there it is. Ideally, these will work this time around, and I’ll kick the fuzzy-brain feels sometime before the end of my spring break.  What do you do?

* NU requires that I take the coming quarter off from classes to work Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. Therapy is only available Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. I’m sure there’s a witty name for the choice between skipping my lunch hour to get therapy and not having therapy for an eating disorder, but right now I can’t manage to find it.