Author Archives: caitlinburke

When You See Someone You Find Unattractive

[Fat|scrawny|ugly|whatever] people shouldn’t be allowed to wear [bikinis|spandex|yoga pants|whatever].

If you find yourself thinking this, you can solve this problem once and for all:

Don’t like someone’s body? Stop looking at it.

So easy! One simple step that anyone can take. Try it today!

But I’m entitled to my opinion!

Yes, absolutely. So take responsibility for it. Own it. Say “I don’t like the way bikinis look on that body type.”

But that makes it sound like it’s just about me, like no one has to care.

Right again! No one has to care about your opinion of their body.

But it’s not just personal — it’s about standards. People should have some pride in their appearance, and not look like that.

Nope. Wrong. Nobody has an obligation to please you with their appearance. (Unless you are a Drill Instructor doing an inspection, I guess. Are you?)

This isn’t just about appearance! It’s about health. Those people aren’t healthy.

Ah yes, the “just trying to help fat people” defense. That may be true, but you don’t know, you don’t know whether they’re working to change that, and you don’t know what obstacles they’ve faced.

You’re probably [fat|ugly|scrawny|whatever], too!

Yeah, probably. There’s a lot of people in the world, and I’m sure there’s plenty I don’t appeal to. Plus, all those terms are moving targets — they don’t have consistent uses among different people.

Anyway, now you know what to do about it!

Update: America the Beautiful

Coca-Cola had a pretty controversial Super Bowl ad this year. But it didn’t hurt the company.

During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired a one-minute commercial in which children of all different ethnicities sang America the Beautiful in their native languages. The ad sparked a xenophobic backlash on Twitter that within days had evolved into a large-scale defense of both America and Coke. “America the Beautiful” turned out to be the company’s most successful campaign in years. Young people ages 19 to 24 bought Coca-Cola products 20 percent more often than they did the month before. —From “Coke Confronts Its Big Fat Problem

No surprises in this combination — that younger demographic probably just thought the different languages were neat.

This is practically an aside in that article, which is about Coca-Cola’s larger problem — an image problem with an uncomfortable history — of being so closely associate with the obesity epidemic. The CEO mostly, but not quite, skirts the coincidence of accelerating obesity with soda sellers’ pushes into larger and larger size bottles, but Coca-Cola probably has more to lose to competing products that are also sugary than from health concerns.

Like a Girl

Always has released this ad (by Leo Burnett):

Girls know the difference between “like a girl” and “the way I (a girl) do it.” Boys know they are insulting girls, and are fine with it, but they don’t like insulting their sisters.

Let’s close those gaps.

Related: Verizon ad that calls attention to the ways we tell girls to stop what they’re doing, be pretty, and let the boys do it. Let’s stop doing that.

I wish I could, but …

What’s your excuse?

I have a love/hate relationship with this question. How does it help people to act like not “eating clean and training dirty” – or whatever someone is evangelizing right now – means they must be lazy whiners? Whenever we fail to do something we know we should do, but can’t seem to manage, there is a reason. Yes, there are some excuses, and some reasons are worse than others, but people who fail to act usually do detect a genuine obstacle of some kind. Here are some examples:

  • “Nothing works – I know, because I’ve tried a bunch of stuff.”
  • “Honestly I’m not sure how to start – everything I read says that I could get injured doing X or ‘ruin my metabolism’ doing Y. What to believe?”
  • “It’s truly a struggle to get up earlier, and by the end of the day I’m totally run down.”
  • “I have to work around an injury, and it’s frustrating on top of hard.”
  • “If I’m serious about getting in shape, I have to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, and I can’t make that commitment.”

None of these are very good reasons, but they are real. The fitness industry is chock full of bizarre claims and crazy promises, and high-circulation magazines are under pressure to offer simplistic answers with lots of variety – not harping on the tried and true every month. And there’s no money in the boring, yet effective, messages of better health, so even when health agencies and other groups try to get the information out, their efforts are underfunded.

Another complication: because people have such a wide variety of preferences and obstacles, it can be hard to know how to match them up with the information that will help them most. “I can’t seem to lose this pudge” could be down to very different needs:

  • How to tell the difference between snake oil and evidence-based recommendations – or even get just a base of good health information
  • How to start small, as with simple home exercises that will put them on the right track – and help give them the energy to try more
  • How to find a gym that is convenient to home or work – or even how to choose a gym in the first place
  • How to keep good track of what they are eating – enough information to make good decisions and easy enough to stick with
  • How to exercise in a way that supports their goals without making them feel like they are being punished

If those high-circulation magazines thought deeply about all the different details that go into the millions of ways to combine healthy food and different forms of exercise, they’d never run out of truly useful information to share. But it still couldn’t be teased as well on the cover as “DROP A DRESS SIZE IN 7 DAYS,” “KILLER ABS,” or “BUILD A BUTT THAT DEFIES GRAVITY.”

The next time you catch yourself thinking, “Ugh, this person should just get out of a chair once in a while,” try asking something simple, like, “Well, what’s the toughest hurdle to getting started?” You may be able to help them figure out something that now seems so second-nature to you that you’ve forgotten that you had to learn it somewhere, too.

Not Strict

“I’m a vegetarian. I’m not strict; I eat fish, and duck. Well, they’re nearly fish, aren’t they? They’re semi-submerged a lot of the time, they spend a lot of time in the water, they’re virtually fish, really. And pigs, cows, sheep, anything that lives near water, I’m not strict. I’m sort of like a post-modern vegetarian; I eat meat ironically.” —Bill Bailey, in Part Troll

Some things aren’t a race

Like a lot of people, I enjoy doing things well. I enjoy doing some things better than other people do them, too, but I learned long ago that being the best, being number one, edging out someone else, doesn’t just not matter to me – it makes me uncomfortable. It’s partly an energy thing – there are few areas where I want to spend the immense energy it takes to get the marginal returns that deliver that level of performance. I’d rather be darned good at lots of things, so I can solve more kinds of problems, and so I always have options. And honestly I don’t much care for the attention that comes with being at the tip-top of any game.

I didn’t have a terrible experience in P.E. classes in school. In grade school, I was always one of the bigger, stronger kids, and my parents made activity a regular part of our lives, so I had good physical confidence as well. But I hated the team sports aspect. It was boring. Picking teams was a stupid popularity contest. There was always a lot of standing around waiting for stuff to happen, instead of just diving in and doing something. I loved recess – monkey bars, hopscotch, jump rope, tetherball, whatever sounded good that day, and not much time so you had to get right to it.

I look around me, and I see adults who have, almost all of them, been disappointed to some extent by that kind of early P.E. class experience, some of whom may even have scrambled out of the way when kids like me swarmed to the yard for recess. Some were always picked last, or never developed much physical confidence and felt tormented by class activities. Some had asthma or other serious issues, and were simply set aside by coaches and gym teachers that were out of their depth when it came to modifying their plans for kids who weren’t all showing up with the same health and mobility status. Other thrived on team everything, lettered lavishly in high school, and even competed in college, only to run to fat after they left school, and didn’t have the team-sports environment to structure and drive their activity – or the time after their full-time jobs to participate in neighborhood leagues.

I don’t believe in “Everyone gets a trophy.” If the activity is competitive, there should be rankings. If there are a real consequences for failure, there should be incentives – and measures – for success. But I do believe that more activities should *not* be competitive, and I think school P.E. classes are at the top of that list. There are good arguments for grading kids, even grading on a curve, in academic classes – it is important to impress the value of acquiring information and the means to use it well. It is important to help kids develop study skills – that form of discipline and organization carries over into all activities, and school is an excellent structure for it.

But physical education classes should not be about striving for excellence – they should be making sure everyone is active and comfortable with it. Some regular physical activity is mandatory for everyone, even – maybe especially – people who will never really get into it and would always rather read a book. Physical education should be a place where everyone learns some basic exercises – a range of activities that can be done with or without equipment – where they can develop some confidence in their movement, and ideally discover something they enjoy enough to be happy to do a little every day. It’s important for heart health, blood sugar stability, sleep regulation, muscle development, mood regulation — an awful lot of things that makes life better.

In short, phys ed is too important to risk turning kids off to it. There is no “first place” when it comes to physical and mental health – everyone needs those, and our society is worse in countless ways whenever people are held back or discouraged.

We all deserve to make it.

May Day

Women are in the midst of an important struggle: they must find a way to reject societal and social pressures to be smaller, lesser, and more conciliatory. For years, they’ve been advised in the workplace to “act a little more like men” – to toot their own horns, to negotiate firmly, to proactively seek raises and promotions, as well as more humiliating advice that clearly defines women’s normal traits as undesirable at work. But time has borne out the weakness of that strategy. For all the same reasons that sexism is institutionalized, institutions don’t quite know what to make of women who refuse to get the memo. Backfire ahoy. But that doesn’t mean that women have to give in entirely to their harshest critics: themselves.

In fact, the more tabloids comment on men and women’s weight in equal measure, the more they underscore the shame gap between them. On DiCaprio, extra pounds are incidental to his identity, no more or less damning than the hideous graphic T-shirts and newsboy caps he wears. For women like, say, Jessica Simpson, being photographed at a higher weight is so humiliating and intimate, it necessitates an emotional “weight loss journey,” to be sensitively discussed on a talk show couch later. —You Can Call a Man Fat But You Can’t Fat-Shame Him, by Kat Stoeffel

Like me, the writer of this article has no desire to see the double standard expand to make men as fretful and miserable about their appearance as women. On the contrary, this is one situation where women really should be acting more like men – just brush it off, or perhaps matter-of-factly resolve to take a little more care with their health.

Not their weight – their health. Even the men who get “shamed” in this way are often being shamed for accumulating a bunch of abdominal fat, which is associated with bad health outcomes. (With a “weight problem” bias, certainly, but it’s not a random, idiosyncratic defect.) They aren’t excoriated for the sheer variety of defects that women have learned to accept.

Mean but – at least, societally speaking – true:
“I used to think there was just skinny and fat, but …

So here is to women discovering the health concerns that are most important to them, and to learning what eating, exercise, and sleep strategies will help them best address those concerns. To discovering meaningful nonscale victories, like better energy level, waking up feeling genuinely good, and thinking more about their individual style than the fashion flavor of the week. We must stop thinking of ourselves as a pile of problematic body parts, and start paying more attention to what matters most to us, whether it’s an engaging career, our families, making art on the weekend, helping with trail maintenance in nearby parks, or any combination of any of them, along with a thousand things I haven’t mentioned.

Rise up, sisters, and be whole. You have nothing to lose but your shame.

Eagle(-assisted) Hunter


Most children, Asher Svidensky says, are a little intimidated by golden eagles. Kazakh boys in western Mongolia start learning how to use the huge birds to hunt for foxes and hares at the age of 13, when the eagles sit heavily on their undeveloped arms. Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill as well as the girl, Ashol-Pan. “To see her with the eagle was amazing,” he recalls. “She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country’s only apprentice huntress.A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia

I am going out on a limb and guessing she is not the only daughter of an accomplished eagle hunter. It’s a great thing when dads share their interests and explorations of the world with their daughters just as they would with sons, and I hope she is not actually alone. Or if so, then not for long.