Thursday, April 16, 2015

Writing contests, baking cookies, and taking advice

How do you make cookies?

I want you to really think about it. How do you make cookies? You might follow a recipe, or you might not. If you're an avid baker, your mind might be dancing through a dozen different options, trying to decide what type of cookies to make first. 

We might try to say there are some basic ground rules when making cookies. You know, the rules that are always followed. If we did, what might those basic rules be? 

Well, for starters, you need butter and sugar. 

Unless you're making vegan cookies. 

Okay...

Then you for sure need flour, right? 

Oh... Unless you're making gluten free cookies, or flourless cookies, or no bake cookies… Right. No-bake cookies exist, so we can't even say that baking is a requirement. 

Sugar? Well… yeah. I'll give you sugar (or at least a sweetener of some kind, according to your dietary choices). And the cookie should be small enough to supposedly eat all at once. Shareable cookies are their own thing, and are really a variation on the original… 

You know what. I lied. There are absolutely no basic ground rules for making cookies. Do whatever you want, call it a cookie. All it needs to be is delicious, according to someone. 

What does this have to do with writing contests and advice? That should be pretty obvious. 

Cookie = your story
Cookie rules = writing advice

There are absolutely no rules that apply to everyone, everywhere. All you have to do is tell a good story, a story that is enjoyable to someone, somewhere. 

Now, is it possible (and arguably a very good idea!) to go looking for advice? Yes. Especially when you are just starting, or if you want to try something new, or are feeling stuck. Just as a recipe can guide you, so can writing advice. Just as a Pinterest board full of beautiful cookies can jump start your baking engine, so too can a well-written book or even an article about writing. 

There are rules that apply to many stories. Many cookies are baked with butter, flour, and sugar as the main ingredients. They are delicious.

There are rules that I will apply to all of my own stories, because that's how I function. My cookies almost always have chocolate and never have lemon in them. 

There are rules that will apply to one story and not another and neither one is worse off for it. Chocolate chip cookies are not inherently "better" than thin mints, and those are not inherently "better" than white chocolate raspberry cookies. They are different and they require a different recipe. 

So when you are entering writing contests, or soliciting feedback from a critique partner, remember your recipe. Remember that those offering advice might like different cookies than you do, and they might not have any idea what a white chocolate raspberry cookie is even supposed to taste like. 


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why is it always about "women and girls"?

A family member told me on Facebook to "stop playing the victim" and "leave the pity party" when I said the media is too critical of women's bodies. He said "Why is it always about women and girls? Boys feel the pressure too."

For the record- it is not "always" women and girls. Men and boys feel pressure too. But I absolutely will not shut up about the pressure women and girls face because it is enormous. 

I blocked him and moved on and honestly thought that was the end of it. 

Turns out it's not. 

Hours later, I'm still fuming. Why is it always about "women and girls" when we talk about body image? Do you really want to know why? I'll tell you why. 

Because I was 11 the first time I lied about my weight. 

Because when I lied about my weight, I could tell by the other girls' reactions that the fake number I had given was still too high. These 11-year-old girls were well aware of what an "acceptable" weight was. 

Because I was twelve when I started skipping meals until I passed out. 

Because I was taught that every calorie had to be earned. "You ate it, now negate it" was bouncing around in my head every time I ate or exercised. 

Because I grew up watching my mother yo-yo diet. Her advice to me was always, "It's better to never gain weight than to try to lose it."

Because I have friends who have genuinely done celebrity "cleanses"- drinking that cayenne pepper and lemon water mix for days at a time. 

Because, up until two years ago, I had a mental list of all the things I hated about my body. It was 51 items long. 

Because I know a woman who says she has "hideous earlobes". She wants to have surgery to change her earlobes. EAR. EFFING. LOBES.

Because a friend posted on Facebook a summary of all the miles she ran one month (hundreds) along with a picture and every single comment on that post  was about how she looked. 

Because when a friend's daughter was called "fat" by her peers, the mother's friends all jumped in to emphatically say "YOU ARE NOT FAT!!!" as if "fat" was the absolute worst thing she could be and THANK GOD she wasn't. 

Because when I posted a picture of my baby bump more than one woman used it as a chance to insult her own looks.  ("I don't even look that good and I'm not pregnant" or similar) 

Because when the pregnancy made me so sick that I didn't gain any weight until my third trimester, people congratulated me

Because a friend scolded me for being too harsh on myself and then immediately turned around and complimented another woman for losing a lot of weight and "getting so skinny all of a sudden!" 

Because I own Spanx and my husband has never considered such a thing. 

Because even before I owned Spanx, I owned control top pantyhose and slimming jeans and yoga pants. 

Because a house guest saw my wedding photo hanging on the wall and said to my husband, "Boy. She pulled a real bait n switch on you, eh? That baby weight sticks around."

Because I know a woman who wants to get a "feather lift" — which is a kind of facelift that doesn't look like you've had a facelift because you can't age but you can't look like you're trying not to age. 

Because Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, a professional athlete at the top of her sport, was criticized for having TOO SMALL of a butt. 

Because female athletes are consistently criticized for having too small of breasts. 

Because Sarah Palin was photographed in booty shorts for a running magazine and you know not one person has ever thought of asking President Obama to pose shirtless. (Yes, the paparazzi photographed him shirtless, which is disgusting in its own way)

Because I know a woman who won't wear sandals, here in Phoenix where is it over 100 degrees for more than 100 days each year, because she says her feet are too ugly. 

Because actresses proudly declare that they wear multiple pairs of Spanx under ther evening gowns. 

Because when Kate Hudson had a baby, she bragged about spending the entire day on a stationary bike (while her baby was...?) so she could get back to her prebaby weight quickly. And I was impressed. 

Because Heidi Klum is expected to walk a runway in her underwear only a few weeks after giving birth and then people have the nerve to complain that the costume she wore blocked her lower abdomen so we couldn't really see what was happening down there. 

Because when I talk to other women about exercise, many of them refuse to do it because they don't want visible muscles. 

Because my 6-year-old, who can't read, saw a tabloid with Kim Kardashian on the cover and said "She has a really big butt" 

Because when you visit plasticsurgery.org, 47 procedures are aimed at women. Five are aimed at men. 

Because 92% of cosmetic surgery procedures are performed on women. 

Because 85% of people with eating disorders are female, and 95% of those report that they started their unhealthy habits before age 20. 

Because more than half of teenaged girls in America use unhealthy methods to keep their weight low (skipping meals, purging, etc). 

Because 40% of 10-year-old girls think they are fat. By the time those girls are fifteen, that number doubles. 

Because Heidi Klum saved her son from drowning and the media commented on her breast that was momentarily exposed. 

Because beauty pageants are still very much a thing. 

Because Victoria's Secret sells padded DD size bras. Because DD sized breasts aren't big enough. 

Because every spring, I see hundreds of articles about getting ready to wear a bathing suit, how to buy a flattering bathing suit, and how to cover up your unflattering bathing suit. Every single one of them is about women in bathing suits.

Because I know more than five women who have not worn a bathing suit in the last decade because they're too embarrassed to do so. 

Because I've stood in my closet and cried because I couldn't find anything to wear. I "needed" something that covered my breasts, minimized my tummy, flattered my hips, slimmed my thighs, emphasized my butt, and somehow made it look like I wasn't trying to do any of those things. 

Because when I was in high school, the boys created a list of features of "the perfect girl". Kristen's feet. Tara's hands. Kelly's hair. Katy's hair color. The list was two columns on the front of a 8.5X11 page and another column and a half on the back. That's approximately 100 items on their list. Breast shape. Breast size. Calves. Teeth. Lips. Nose. Fingernails.  And we were all flattered to be included. 

Because it's a small, personal problem and it's a huge, global problem. 

That's why.

That's why it's always "women and girls" when we talk about body image.