Friday, January 29, 2010

Teenagers Need Attention -- from You, Even

My sixth-grade students need more attention. And I don't just mean they need a better attention span or that they need to pay more attention in general, which are both true. I mean that my students need more adults in their lives who can listen to them, help them, and relate to them.

Here's the good news: you can help. You can be one of those adults. I'm looking for volunteers to tutor my students for maybe just one hour per week. Mostly they need help in English, but also in math. I started looking for volunteer tutors because their homework and classwork are really hard for them and many of my students might not pass without extra help. However, I believe that tutoring also holds value beyond the academic.

When we get a chance to sit down with teenagers and pre-teens one-on- one, we get to teach them valuable skills about building relationships. A simple conversation about how their day went or how they're feeling about class allows them to practice expressing themselves. By sharing examples of our own highs and lows, we can model tenacity and healthy coping.

I have seen my students work with tutors a couple times before, and it really makes their day. They're proud of their accomplishments, they're a little more calm and a little more comfortable in their own skin. And they're even more ready to get to work and persevere on their own.

Try it! And spread the word if you know others who might be interested in volunteering. E-mail me at Mimi (dot) Arbeit (at) Gmail (dot) com for more information.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Week Five: Getting Beyond my Body

Sunday: finished reading Locker Room Diaries by Leslie Goodman
Monday: granted myself permission to relax (watched Glee)
Tuesday: voted in favor of my reproductive health
Wednesday: actually got things done on my to-do list
Thursday: attended a yoga class
Friday: meditated
Saturday: went to my parents’ house for family dinner

Sometimes, it's just not about the body. Sometimes, other things are just more important. In the past, I've taken those more important things as opportunities to use and abuse my body, such as not exercising, sleeping, or eating while as I completed a major project or other task.

But this week I tried to take a different approach. What if those more important things helped me mediate my various physical needs and find balance in my body? I took a step back and thought about why I am doing this challenge in the first place.

I have clearly taken on this challenge because I want to develop stronger positive feelings about my body. Having positive feelings about my body is important not just because I like feeling good about myself but also because feeling and being healthy helps me do the things that I care about, for example, teaching, blogging, developing relationships, etc.

That's why staying in on Wednesday night to work on my to do list was a body positive act. I spent a couple hours sitting at my computer, celebrating the physical and creative energy I have and getting to spend that energy on what matters to me.

Do you ever find yourself misusing your body as you stress about other things? What helps you find perspective and balance between your body and other life tasks? What motivates you to be body positive?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Starting Points for Sorting through High School Relationships

To a former health student, who asked me for advice about boyfriend troubles (by sending me a facebook message):

I wish I could sit with you in the cafeteria and talk about this like we would have been able to last year. I would like to ask you more questions and hear more of your thoughts. I still will -- but since that takes a long time when we're writing back and forth, I'm going to start by giving you some ideas to think about.

1. Trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right to you, it probably isn't. You don't think it's a good to fight with your boyfriend so much, or for him to try to make you feel bad, and you're right.
2. You deserve the best. Imagine what a healthy, supportive, enjoyable relationship would look like. That's what you deserve. Do you believe you can have that with your current boyfriend? What changes would you need to make in order to get that?
3. It's not your fault. When relationships get hard, it's important not to blame yourself for what the other person is doce of emotions, relationships, ing. He is responsible for his own behavior. When he does things that he knows you wouldn't like, he is making a personal decision, and that's his fault and not yours.

What do you think of these ideas? Have you thought about them already? How you feel as you read them?

In terms of next steps, I have three very specific suggestions:

1. Get to know your feelings. This sounds like a tricky situation that you're in, and I bet you are thinking and feeling a lot of different things right now. Writing to me is one good way to sort through your feelings. Keeping a diary is another great idea, or maybe even talking to a close friend. Your feelings are really important.
2. Talk to an adult that you trust. In person. Reaching out to me was a great first step, and you should be really proud of yourself for doing it. I will keep in touch, and I also want you to have an adult that you see in person that you can talk to. Is there a guidance counselor at school that you like, or a teacher or coach? Let me know what you think, and I can help you think of ways to approach that person and to start a conversation.
3. Talk to your boyfriend. This step is the hardest and the most important. But it's going to be much easier to talk to him if you first take the time to know how you feel, know what you want, and know that you have adults who are helping you and care about you. It will also help to have a plan about when and where you want to have this conversation and how you're going to start it.

What do you think? I don't know if you were expecting such a long response from me, but there's actually a lot more where this came from! I'd also like to keep hearing from you about what's going on with you and your boyfriend right now. Please write back to me soon! I look forward to hearing from you.

Caring about you,
Ms. Arbeit

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Week Four: Talking with our Peers

Sunday: started strength training
Monday: bought a sports bra
Tuesday: chose to extend my morning workout
Wednesday: took an extra-long hot shower
Thursday: taught a sex ed class in which we discussed body image
Friday: went out dancing
Saturday: lounged and pampered myself after working out

It just so happens that this week's young adult sex ed curriculum included an activity addressing body image. I was actually really nervous about asking participants to reflect on in their history of feelings about their body -- in a mixed gender setting, and only in our second session. As it happened, the participants rose to the challenge and shared quite meaningfully, given that the activity provided certain measures of anonymity.

I've been reflecting on why I thought that asking young adults to talk about their body image would be too much. I think what I've experienced at times is a certain sense of “all or nothing” in terms of how I'm expected to feel about my body. Either I'm struggling and have issues, or I'm empowered and love myself fully. But my reality includes both parts of this duality. Enjoying a healthy, positive body image is a process just as much as maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is a process. Every day. Believing that I deserve to love my body is a part of that process, but achieving this one step doesn't mean that I've already completed the journey. And that's totally okay because I'm getting there.

My hope is that by recognizing positive body image as a process, we can help each other discuss the bumps and bonuses along the way, distancing ourselves from labels and comparison.

As part of Thursday's class, participants wrote how they hope to feel about their bodies in the future. What does a positive body image mean to you? How would it feel, what would you say, and how would you act? What are you working towards?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Week Three: Listening to Desire

Sunday: finally got a full night’s sleep
Monday: bought lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
Tuesday: grazed all day; ate what I felt I needed, when I needed it
Wednesday: wrote an email describing my body image and feelings
Thursday: enjoyed my favorite meal at my favorite restaurant
Friday: packed for a weekend away without packing any makeup
Saturday: ate dinner earlier than everyone else because I was hungry

Desire. How often do we actually get to listen to our bodies, giving ourselves and what we want right when we want it? And, when it comes to food, how often do we actually believe that listening to desire is the right way to eat? I spent a lot of this week trying to attend to my bodily desires -- for rest, movement, warmth, protein, salts, vegetables, etc. and it felt good.

I teach the same methods of self-awareness in terms of sexuality: Listen to yourself, sort through your influences, identify your desires, and then ask for what you want. Having confidence in sexual desire is the basis of consensual sexual activity. Self-awareness -- the ability to pause, reflect, and be true to oneself -- is key both sexual consent and what we might think of as nutritional consent.

But in my experience, self-awareness plays a much different role with my nutritional choices than with my sexual choices. My schedule consistently gets in the way of my following my own physical desires. Either I can’t take a nap because it's time to leave for work, or I don't want to eat because I have dinner plans in an hour. The way that we commit and schedule ourselves physically complicates the process of listening to our desires.

Maybe that's why I feel better on the weekends, particularly when I haven't committed to meals at certain hours. Seems more natural to feed myself when I feel it's time. But I like being social, in fact I love it and need it and thrive from it. So how can I reconcile what my body is telling me with what my calendar is telling me?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Week Two: Vacation (The Body Positive New Year Challenge)

Sunday: cooked food to freeze for lunches/ dinners in January
Monday: went to the gym first thing in the morning
Tuesday: shopped for and purchased a bathing suit
Wednesday: wore a bathing suit as I packed and cleaned
Thursday: left for vacation!

I took a break from tracking daily body positive actions over my vacation. But I did not stop exploring body positive habits and feelings! Actually, I found vacation to be a fabulous way to reconnect with myself physically.

Mostly, just feeling more relaxed and happy makes my body more easy to listen to and makes me more eager to respond accordingly. I ate when I felt hungry and didn't eat when I didn't want to. I showered twice a day and dressed nicely -- well, given the clothes that I packed. I slept, but did not track my hours; I walked, but did not track my miles. I lived in my body instead of in my head.

I could do all these things because I was on vacation. How can I bring this connection with myself back to my working life? That's always a question for me when I enter a new year or a new semester. How soon am I going to get stressed out and unhealthy again?

I think I need to drop the false division I'm making between relaxed and stressed. I didn't get stressed over vacation -- oh my. But I said to myself, “I'm on vacation, so it's okay, I'll work it out.” I felt entitled to relax and enjoy my vacation, so I focused on it.

I hope this New Year's resolution will help me bring that sense of being entitled to joy and relaxation into my everyday awareness. Through small and large daily actions, I'll tell myself that I deserve to take care of myself and enjoy being in my body here and now even as I push myself and get stressed and strive to accomplish and achieve.

Let the challenge continue!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Kid-Tested, Teacher-Approved

The Boston Public Health Commission has come out with a great new innovation in sex positive music -- the Sound Relationships Nutrition Label. Playing off the idea of a food nutrition label, this one serves as a worksheet for assessing the messages that a song sends about relationships. They even had teenagers rate the current most popular 100 songs and published a top 10 list of popular songs with unhealthy and healthy messages.

I took these 10 songs and made a mix CD that I gave to my sixth-grade students as part of their end of the semester president. I hope they're listening to it and enjoying it right now -- and absorbing lots of positive messages! (I really liked the CD myself.)

I do understand that they might not be enjoying every song. But I told them that they'd have a chance in January to nominate their favorite songs for our next team mix CD.

What they don't know is that in order to nominate a song, they will have to analyze the song lyrics using the BPHC’s Sound Relationships Nutrition Label.

I'm really looking forward to engaging my students in exploring the effects of the music we listen to and dance to. I'm still working out the details of the process to make sure that my students meet the learning objectives and also feel fully engaged and excited. Additionally, you need to figure out how much I want to adjust the Sound Relationships Nutrition Label in order to make it age-appropriate for sixth-graders and the extent to which we have and have not discussed healthy relationships so far.

What characteristics do you look for in songs that make them feel healthy, positive, or simply like something that want to internalize? What criteria would you use in choosing which songs to play for children? How would you explain to children and adolescents how to analyze messages in the media and make healthy choices about media consumption?