Liberation

Those who participated in women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movement had good intentions, I’m sure. But somewhere along the road to liberation, something went terribly wrong.

Now, don’t think that I do not appreciate having legal rights as well as varied options as to apparel. But I don’t appreciate being “liberated” from the hold of stay-laces and apron strings only to be delivered into the stranglehold of corporate America. In an economy where every penny counts, I’m thankful that I have a means of earning necessary income. But I strongly resent the fact that most households are now dependent on the wife and mother holding a job outside the home. Women have been so “liberated” from their traditional role that most cannot live in accord with that role, even if that is their heart’s desire. Or worse yet, some must fill the traditional role in addition to working outside of the home to bring in necessary income and/or healthcare benefits. And when I reference necessary income, I mean just that. Not working for “my OWN money” or the ability to acquire luxuries, but simply the necessary provisions for life – food, housing, healthcare, and education for the children.

It appears to me that something is terribly wrong when, in a free society, a woman is free to choose a corporate career, but is not free to choose the role of mother and wife – raising her own children and running a clean, healthy, efficient household.

This is not to say that women are not capable of excelling in any given career path. The issue here is choice. We can choose to be a CEO, managing partner, or a humble entry-level associate. But for most of us, the choice of the oldest and most time-honored career for a woman is simply not an option. Some women must resort to prescription drugs in order to function at a job away from all that they love – simply to provide the necessities. The fact that it must come to that is just wrong on so many levels.

I know I’ve written on this topic in the past, but it is close to my heart and something that I feel quite strongly about. Frankly, I’d rather be laced into a corset and spend the day in a hot kitchen and/or caring for cranky children than be backed into the corner that we modern women find ourselves in. But we must eat and have a roof over our heads, so pop a Xanax and get on with it.

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A Balanced Body Image

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I ran across the above photo while feeding my Pinterest addiction. It was captioned “Ideal 1950’s woman.” What struck me immediately was how healthy she looks. Not heavy, not thin, just right. What struck me next, though, was that most people today – many of them women – would call her “fat.”

Having dealt with various health issues and related diet restrictions over the years, my weight has fluctuated from the line between healthy and overweight to downright scary skinny. The fun part? It was never for looks. I was simply seeking an end to my illness, a healthy balance. At one point I had cut off all sugar and dairy intake in my quest for health. My weight plummeted to a frightening 92 pounds. I could count my ribs. I felt ill. Despite that, I received more compliments from other women at that period of my adult life than at any other – some even expressed a wish to have my illness so that they could lose weight! Are we brainwashed? I would say so!

Ironically, in modern times and especially in the United States, obesity has reached an all-time high. While many across the globe can count their ribs as they starve, here at home waistlines expand as we fill our bodies with processed, sugar-laden, genetically modified, hormone-enhanced “food.” Despite the ready availability of a variety of foodstuffs – healthy and unhealthy – in this country, quality food comes at a high price. Basics such as fresh fruits and vegetables rise in price regularly, yet somehow, the price of Twinkies and the like does not seem to soar. Struggling families are forced to cut corners which inevitably affect their health in the long run.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently 34% of American adults are obese. They project that by the year 2030, 42% of American adults will be obese. You would think, as a nation, that a healthy weight would be the ideal to aspire to. Instead, extreme slimness is upheld as the picture of beauty, when in fact it is just as unhealthy to be underweight as it is to be overweight. Emotionally, it is unhealthy to aspire to an unrealistic ideal – and this can reach far beyond the realm of weight.

Take skin, for example: most of us desire to have smooth, flawless skin. Perhaps this is natural, perhaps it is due to the influence of airbrushed photos of beautiful models. One thing is certain, it’s very rare to find someone who possesses perfect skin. We all have scars. Some have acne, eczema, keratosis pilaris, dry skin, oily skin, freckles… Having suffered with acne in the past, I still see lingering scars, softened and lightened with time and treatment, but nevertheless there.

As a little girl, I used to look forward to the flawless, womanly legs I would have. Dotted with scabs and bruises, my 10-year-old legs were anything but attractive. Now an adult, I find that my legs are not so different. Yes, they are womanly. But I still bruise easily, so black-and-blue (and shades of purple and green) marks still decorate my legs. Allergic to various bloodsucking insects, I swell up at the site of insect bites. Perhaps in early spring I have the lovely legs I hoped for as a child, but throughout the rest of the summer, I possess the colorful legs of a 10-year-old. I’ve made peace with that fact, however, considering that if I were to keep my legs flawless by remaining still and indoors, I wouldn’t enjoy my summers. Likewise with the various scars I have: they provide a visible record of the many life experiences that make me who I am. From my appendectomy scars to evidence of shaving mishaps to a scar from falling while playing with the dog – the experiences which caused the scars have shaped who I am today. I’ve learned from them.

Then there is the tanning obsession. Desperate to achieve a fashionable skin tone, many cause irreparable damage to their skin in tanning beds and booths or “frying” themselves in tanning oil while lying outdoors in full sun. Others “fake-n-bake,” using self-tanning products until they achieve a truly fake shade of tan. There is also an opposite extreme: those who are convinced that the slightest ray of sunshine allowed to attack unprotected skin will certainly cause skin cancer. These heliophobes carefully slather on the SPF – just to take out the trash. If forced to spend time outdoors, under the domain of the deadly sun, they don sun hats and other protective clothing – perhaps even an SPF parasol – in addition to the SPF 80, just to be safe. There has to be a balance here!

So, what is a healthy body image? Is it skinny, tan, and airbrushed? Is it overweight and pale? The key lies in balance and a healthy lifestyle. And when I say healthy lifestyle, I don’t mean the health nuts who obsess over every carbohydrate or gram of fat and spend hours at the gym each day. I mean eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis. Equally important are a positive mindset, realistic goals, and time spent doing what you enjoy. Then maybe, we can have a balanced body image and a healthy body!

If you would like to find out what your healthy weight range is, use a BMI calculator.

What’s your opinion on the weight of the woman in the photo?

Creative Outlets, Hobbies, and the Modern Woman

In previous posts here on Diverse Philosophies I’ve discussed my views on traditional roles of women in society and the detrimental impact of the modern “career woman” role on families today.

One area I haven’t touched on in reference to modern roles, is the dying art of housewifery – more than the ability to cook and clean, but proficiency in other tasks that were once a necessary part of creating a pleasant and healthy home and life for the family. Knitting and sewing garments and household linens as well as cooking and baking foods that are not only nutritious, but also pleasing to the eye and palate are some tasks that come to mind. Interestingly, many of these skills still live on in our modern society of store bought sundries and restaurant or store-prepared meals – as hobbies.

I believe each and every human being has a need for a creative outlet. Some search for their ideal creative niche, some dabble in various fields of creativity, and some just know instinctively which is the perfect creative outlet for them. I tend to be a bit of a dabbler myself. I greatly enjoy many different creative activities – including drawing, knitting, amateur photography, cooking and baking.

I come from a very creative and artistic family. My family includes a professional photographer, a professional artist who produces wonders with just paper and pencil or oil on canvas portraits as well as seamless crochet garments, a skilled seamstress who once made for me a perfect reproduction of a gown from the American Colonial era, a jewelry maker, a scrapbooker, a couple of writers… and a potential actress make up the rest of my relatives.

As previously mentioned, I aspired to a career as a housewife from early childhood. In line with my juvenile aspirations, I learned to cook at an early age, under my mother’s supervision. As I got older, I discovered that I had a talent for learning by watching and/or reading. A cookbook that I received as a gift led to me honing my skills as a cook and baker – not up to par with a professional chef, but definitely quite adequate for a housewife. I took up quilting, and learned basic knitting from an encyclopedia. Sadly, now that I am a grown woman and a wife, I have little time to pursue these interests that should be my full-time occupation, due to being obligated to work outside of the home. The necessity for two incomes has shattered the dream I once aspired to.

Never one to accept defeat with facility, I still devote some of my free time to these arts of housewifery – now considered hobbies by most. Here are some of my exploits in knitting:

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My very first original design

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Cabled hat with brim

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Cardigan with antique buttons

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Infant hat with knitted flower

I’ve been fortunate enough to make some extra cash by selling some items I’ve knitted. I take custom orders and requests for specially designed items. The best part? I enjoy the entire process, from design to delivery. I equally enjoy cooking and baking and trying new recipes or improving on old favorites.

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An American classic: Homemade Apple Pie

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Fruit Tarts

I’ve even tried my hand at soap making.

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The above “hobbies” were once parts of the traditional housewife role throughout much of history. They have come to be classified as hobbies because they are no longer a necessary part of homemaking. Garments, knitted or otherwise, can be bought ready-made at a variety of retailers. Likewise, food can be purchased in various stages of preparation – from raw ingredients to fully cooked meals and desserts. Cooking and baking from “scratch” has definitely become a dying art amongst the masses of the Western world. The biggest reason for this is women in the workplace. It is next to impossible to hold down a job and have the time to cook a healthy homemade dinner every evening. But let’s get back to hobbies.

There are many other avenues of creative expression that can more accurately be described as hobbies. Some that I enjoy include drawing or doodling:

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Photography and photo editing with a touch of the poetic:

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Note: The above images are my property and may not be used without my permission.

Interestingly, whenever I knit in public I am asked whether I am an expectant mother. It seems that despite modern gender roles, in the general consciousness knitting and similar activities are associated with wives and mothers. Hmm. Conversely, when I make my “famous” brownies from scratch, I am often greeted with incredulity upon the discovery that they did not come from a box, but that I actually mixed together the separate raw ingredients and baked them. It’s a confusing society we live in, isn’t it?

If you are interested in custom handknitted items or would like to view more samples of my work, please visit my Facebook page.

Of Careers, Values, and What Really Matters

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I’ve often had the thought that if all women could simply do the important jobs that God intended for them, then, well, what a wonderful world it would be.

In the midst of a downward spiral of disillusionment and more than one “Jerry Maguire” moment, I began to wonder why women today are expected to have a career in the corporate jungle. Ask any modern housewife or stay-at-home mom – they can tell you they’ve encountered a disdainful attitude from those who believe that the traditional roles for women are menial and inconsequential. This attitude has always baffled me, as the traditional housewife/mother role is perhaps one of the most important and influential positions to hold, in the grand scheme of things.

Consider this: when you are primary caregiver to a child, providing a warm, loving environment, proper nourishment for body and mind, along with guidance and boundaries to shape a nascent personality, you are investing in the future. Your efforts to raise a child that eventually becomes a healthy, balanced, responsible adult member of society comprise the most worthwhile and rewarding career a woman can have. If each mother could invest in her children this way, then healthy, balanced, responsible adults would number in the millions, and the world would be a very different place. There is a reason why it is the woman who carries the child in her body for nine months and has the capability to produce food for the infant from her own body for an almost indefinite period of time after birth. It is because more than any other person in the child’s life, the mother’s bond with and influence on that child has the greatest impact for years to come. The absence of this bond is just as influential – to the child’s detriment. So why are women expected to relinquish their precious infants to someone else’s care after a just few months of maternity leave, to return to a career that can never be as meaningful as that which is most natural – and be happy about it? Why, if a woman finds a way to stay home and focus all her energies on raising her own child, is she looked down on by some as “just a stay-at-home mom?”

This disdain is not reserved for stay-at-home moms only. Those women who do not have children but are able to stay home in a traditional housewife role also receive a dose of the contempt reserved for non-career women. Even women who hold part-time jobs outside the home are often asked, “Do you want to work full-time?” and, “Do you plan to try for a promotion?” When the answer is no, the response is often incredulous or scornful.

Why is a career viewed as the end-all, be-all goal for people in general? Why is a woman expected to “succeed” in a corporate career while also juggling motherhood and running a household? Something is quite wrong with this picture. Why are the most important things in life pushed aside or put on hold while we pursue meaningless career goals? Family is everything, and those who put this treasure on the back burner in order to achieve a lucrative career or high-status position always live to regret it.

In this time of economic decline, some are beginning to appreciate that the assets of most worth and significance that we have cannot be measured in dollars and cents, nor in material possessions or prestige. They are measured in small hours, little wonders – a baby’s first steps, a child’s laughter, a walk in the park, holding hands with a loved one. It’s never too late to stop and embrace a higher set of values – our families will thank us for it.

Who Is That Girl I See?

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In an earlier post, I discussed the origins of cosmetics and facets of their social impact throughout history. One facet I did not touch on in that post: psychological effects of a culture obsessed with achieving physical perfection.

The use of cosmetics for the purpose of enhancing one’s natural beauty on a day-to-day basis is quite normal and benign. But when the desire to look presentable and attractive becomes an obsession with unattainable, unnatural “beauty,” serious emotional issues can ensue. Fitness and beauty magazines often convey the idea that beauty and perfection are one and the same, and that without it we cannot be happy. Photos of willowy models with hair styled and makeup applied by a team of professionals, well-exercised bodies that are the result of a strict diet and fitness regimen at the hands of a personal trainer, and skin perfected by Endermologie and airbrushing are presented as the desirable ideal. This video made by Dove provides a disturbing insight into how artificial these photos can be.

Despite the fact that the expectation to look like a model in a magazine is unrealistic, many women, young and old, struggle to fit this distorted perception of beauty. Thousands of dollars are spent on “miracle” cosmetics and beauty treatments. Some resort to cosmetic surgery, taking unnecessary risks in the name of beauty. (I’m not referring to necessary surgery to correct serious flaws such as a cleft lip.) Some become so obsessed with beauty and the concept of eternal youth that rather than growing old gracefully, they morph into a caricature of their former selves. Others obsess over their bodies, some going to the extremes of anorexia and bulimia, some spending a fortune on gym memberships, patented diet programs, and body treatments – such as the aforementioned Endermologie, a cellulite reducing treatment which can initially cost $2250 for a complete regimen and $100 per month for maintenance. Those that have the means to undergo these many procedures and change their appearance drastically may one day look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is that?” Others, upon failing to achieve perfection, become depressed and undervalue themselves – all because of an ideal that is impossible to achieve.

I find it quite absurd that just fifty years ago, beauty ideals were dramatically different. Of course, cosmetics were used. Of course, fitness was a vital factor. But there was no airbrushing, no computer editing of photos. Lighting and makeup were the major options available to change the model’s appearance in a photograph. In my opinion, standards of beauty were much more realistic in terms of body image. Just look at Marilyn Monroe, a major sex symbol in her era and beyond, perhaps the most iconic American film star of all time.

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Look at Marilyn’s belly. There is a small bump. No, she’s not pregnant in the photo, she’s just a normal woman. Look at her hips and thighs. They are full and voluptuous, a trait that contributed to her seductive gait. Marilyn was as famous for her curvy figure as she was for her “dumb blonde” persona. Were she a famous star today, she would likely be described as “fat!”

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Elizabeth Taylor was another voluptuously endowed star. The violet-eyed beauty was an excellent actress with a fantastic figure. Naturally, in her early films she was a slender teenager, but as she matured, so did her figure, with curves in all the right places.

Interestingly, studies have shown that throughout history, most men have preferred, not the lean boyish figure seen in modern magazines, but the curvaceous full-hipped Venus, a shape that signals fertility to the male subconscious. The waist-hip ratio of .6 – .7 was found to be the most attractive. This means that the waist measurement equals 60-70% of the hip measurement.

I am not implying that weight management is unimportant. For health reasons, fitness should be an essential part of life. And for those who may find the above “golden ratio” difficult to attain, do not think that this makes you unattractive. The truth is that no matter what steps you take to achieve your ideal of beauty, there will always be someone who does not agree with your ideal. It is simply impossible to please everyone. So, be healthy, be happy, be kind. That’s the secret to true beauty. Then, when you look in the mirror, you will see someone you know – and love.

A Woman Without a Child – Part 2

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“So, she did all the hard work and you get to kiss the baby.”

Ouch.

No, I have never carried a fetus in my womb, nor have I experienced the agony of childbirth pains. I deeply appreciate all that women endure to bring this priceless treasure to birth. I acknowledge, recognize and commend every mother for all she has done, currently does, and will do for her child(ren).

But the fact that I do not have a child of my own does not make me less of a woman. Is my heart colder than others? Do I hear the cry of an infant with less compassion than a woman who has borne a child? Do I care less for the “minor” accomplishments of a small child, knowing that in their young reality, these accomplishments are HUGE?

I would daresay that there is little in this life that warms my heart more than the sights and sounds of happy, healthy, polite children. There are a few children in my life that I consider myself very blessed to be quite close to, through family and friends. These precious little ones are in my thoughts more often than not, as I think of ways that I, as “Auntie,” can bring a smile to their faces and remind them how much they are loved.

When the dear infants cry, my heart aches with the need to make them as comfortable as possible. When the kindergartner wants to draw a picture, I stand ready, crayons in hand. I regard each piece of juvenile artistic expression with awe at the promise of talent displayed. I marvel at how well words and letters are sounded out. I swell with pride. But “I didn’t do any of the hard work.”

In this day and age of instant (or as near as possible) gratification, few people understand why, if I love children as much as I seem to, I do not have one – or more – of my own. And I can’t explain my reasons without inadvertently offending or causing pain to those who already have children. Interesting predicament? That would be an understatement.

No, my reasons are not selfish. I’m not concerned about keeping my girlish figure or having time for a social life. I’m concerned for the health, upbringing and welfare of my child. I’m concerned about genetic defects that would seriously impair my child’s quality of life. I’m concerned about paying strangers to care for my child. I’m concerned that there could be trouble making ends meet. For myself alone, I could face uncertainties and difficulties. But I cannot in good conscience knowingly subject an innocent child to these difficulties, when that child has no choice in the matter and certainly deserves better.

So my cherished unborn, unconceived child will wait for me until I can give him all he deserves. In the meantime, I give of the maternal love that flows unendingly from my heart to those little ones I am blessed to know right now – precious treasures that never fail to bring joy and wonder to my life.

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* See previous post, A Woman Without a Child for more on this topic.

In the Eye of the Beholder

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Makeup. “War paint.” “Putting your face on.” Call it what you will, roughly eighty percent of women worldwide use some form of cosmetics. A 2010 study performed in the United Kingdom found that the average woman will spend approximately $13,000 on cosmetics in her lifetime. Seventy percent said they would not leave home without certain makeup items and/or tools. Seventy-one percent believe that makeup makes them prettier. Forty percent said that they would feel embarrassed if they were seen without makeup by friends or coworkers.

The use of cosmetics has been a part of human history for over 4000 years. Ancient Egypt is the first civilization known to have used cosmetics, according to historical records available to us today. Both the rich and the poor, men and women, used kohl on their eyes not only to enhance their appearance but also to shield their eyes against the sun, deter flies, supposedly ward off evil spirits and improve their eyesight.

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Depictions of Egyptian Queen Cleopatra

The preferred colors for kohl were black and green. Kohl in ancient Egypt was made up of lead, copper, soot, and other ingredients. Forms of rouge and lip color were used, but the ingredients were often poisonous.

Ancient Mesopotamian women are thought to be the first creators of lipstick. Ancient Greeks and Romans used cosmetics such as face powder, kohl for the eyes, and even depilatories.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, the use of cosmetics was frowned upon. That did not stop women of the lower classes from trying to lighten their skin, which was tanned by the sun as they labored outdoors. Only the upper classes were wealthy enough to remain idle indoors, out of the sun and therefore maintaining their naturally pale skin.

While Queen Elizabeth I reigned, a falsely pale face and red lips were considered fashionable among upper class women. A little over a century later, in 1770, the British Parliament passed a law condemning the use of lipstick, which was viewed as means of seducing and/or entrapping a husband.

Throughout most of the 19th century, the use of cosmetics was considered vulgar. Only an uncouth woman or a prostitute would dare wear makeup. Queen Victoria publicly declared that makeup was indecorous and only acceptable for actors and actresses. However, in 1884 in Paris, France, the first commercial lipstick was invented and made available. By the 1920’s, undisguised use of makeup was generally accepted.

In the decades that followed, many developments and advancements were made in commercial cosmetics. Manufacturers made many claims, often ridiculous, about their products.

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In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many women involved in the Women’s Liberation movement decided to go without cosmetics, believing that the use of makeup kept women in a second-class status as mere sex objects.

Today, the cosmetics business is a multi-billion dollar industry. L’Oréal, founded in 1909 as a hair dye company, has through research and innovation in the field of beauty become the largest cosmetics firm in the world, with assets totaling over €24 billion as of 2010. Fashion makeup artistry has become a coveted career among both men and women. Average women try their hand at home makeup artistry, reading magazines and books offering tips on cosmetics and watching videos or going to department store makeup counters to learn application techniques.

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Today, as the use of cosmetics is generally accepted, even young girls and some men are exploring the world of makeup. Girls are influenced by the media to believe that perfection in terms of physical appearance is not only attainable, but expected. More and more men trade genuine masculinity for foppery as social structure deteriorates and gender roles are blurred. But I digress.

In today’s perpetual striving for physical perfection, there are countless options for the improvement, enhancement, and beautification of the human body. The simplest, most cost-effective, and accessible options fall within the scope of cosmetic products. At a relatively low cost, with the convenience of home application, we can dramatically change our appearance without the risks of surgery. Whether we want to simply hide imperfections and look presentable, or reach extremes of unnatural beauty, we need only go to the nearest drugstore or department store to find all the tools we need.

But why do we want to change our appearance in the first place? Why, for thousands of years, have women (and men) invented, formulated and used cosmetic products? Opinions vary widely. Some strongly independent women will say it was all invented by males to keep females subjugated; relegated to the rank of sex object or slave. Some insecure women can’t live a day without cosmetics and feel that they can’t step out to the mailbox without a “full face on.” Some go to excess in efforts to be their own makeup artist. The majority of women, however, are grateful for products that boost their confidence and help them feel positive about themselves and the image they project. Covering imperfections and enhancing natural beauty are the only goals they expect makeup to accomplish. The rest is up to the inner person – the source of beauty that is most significant, unlike physical appearance, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder.