Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is normal?

Why can't both of these women be "normal?"
Since the Miss USA pageant this past Sunday, the majority of the commentary surrounding the pageant has involved Miss Indiana, Mekayla Diehl and her “normal” swimsuit body. Feedback has ranged from praise that Diehl’s body is realistic for a “real woman” (at the expense of criticizing the more thin contestants) to outraged pageant girls who feel that it is ridiculous that a woman who “didn’t train like she was competing for Miss USA” beat out other women who "trained harder."

Needless to say, I have several opinions. And criticisms. But they all boil down to one thing:

Why are we so obsessed with criticizing other women’s bodies?

First of all, none of us knows how Mekayla (or any of the other contestants) prepared for Miss USA. We don’t know what she ate, how often she worked out, if she took diet pills, or what her relationship with food/exercise looks like. We don’t know her unique genetic make up, her body fat percentage, or her hormonal composition.

We have no idea what “normal” looks like for Mekayla’s or for any of the other contestants’ unique biological make up and body type.

And while we’re at it, what the heck does normal even mean? Why are we so obsessed with finding the perfect comparison? And why does identifying one woman as “normal” equate to then putting down every other woman in the competition?

I watched the Miss USA pageant on Sunday (duh), and I was impressed at how many of the top 20 looked healthy. They looked toned, they looked happy, and they looked proud of what they had accomplished.

Each of us has a unique body type, unique nutritional needs, and a unique relationship with food and exercise. What is normal for one woman is not normal for another.

Which is why it is so ridiculous, and equally wrong, that other women are criticizing Diehl for being “not fit enough” for the Miss USA competition.

Swimsuit at Miss USA accounts for 33% of the score. Maybe Mekayla could have been leaner, or maybe she was as lean as she could get. Regardless, if a contestant decides that she does not want to (or cannot) follow the sure-fire no-carb, high cardio approach to get that last bit of fat off of her body to score higher in a category that accounts for one-third of her score, it’s her prerogative. It’s not our place to criticize her.

If Miss USA was chosen solely based on her fitness level or body fat percentage, we wouldn’t need a pageant. We’d just need measuring tape, a scale, and a notepad.

Why aren’t we capable of celebrating the unique, powerful, and special individuals that exist regardless of their weight, BMI, or body fat percentage? Our inability to do this reinforces to the younger generation that their worth is based on their outside packaging, rather than what is on the inside.

The issue is not “what is normal?” but rather, “why do we need to define normal at the expense of ‘abnormal?’”

It’s time to change that conversation.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On #Huddle14, happiness, and that moment of "wow."

There I was in the middle of the dance floor at Senor Frogs. Surrounded by new friends who had spent the last two days inspiring me, smiling in a moment of reflection and realization, with some overplayed pop song (that I can't remember, but can guarantee I totally love) in the background.

This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to attend CAMPUSPEAK Huddle in Orlando, Florida. Some of you may know that I've joined the CAMPUSPEAK family as an Interactive Workshops facilitator. This past weekend was an opportunity to be trained on the workshops I will be facilitating, attend breakout sessions, and interact with other CAMPUSPEAK facilitators and speakers.

So anyways, we were at Senor Frogs, enjoying each other's company, and I just had this moment of "wow."

One year ago, I worked for a company that I believed in, but in a role that bored me. I wasn't challenged, and I wasn't growing, and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get out. My passion had drained, I stopped working out as much, and I'd come home and binge watch old TV series on Netflix (not a terrible idea, just not a super great every night activity). There I was, making enough money to live comfortably and do the things I loved, and I wasn't doing them. I was existing, not thriving, and I was unhappy.

If you had asked June 2013 Jen where she would be in exactly one year, the answer would not have been "Surrounded by some of the most inspiring people I have ever met, pursuing my passion, and impacting lives." No way. 

And yet, here I am. It is June 2014, and I am happy. Genuinely, authentically, happy. 

What I have learned in the last year is that we have complete control over our own lives. Sure, we don't necessarily have control over what happens to us, but we always have control over how we choose to react. We control how we view our situation. And we control whether or not we remain complacent or if we do something about it.

So there I was in Orlando, surrounded by people who inspire me and people who have been my mentors since I was an undergraduate, and it hit me. My life right now is remarkably different from my life one year ago, and in ways I never could have imagined. Somehow, through a year of choices - some super significant, and some not as much - I have ended up here. My choices determine my life -- I am in complete control of designing it to be exactly how I want it to be. And how freaking cool is that?