How 9/11 Changed America

I’ve heard people say that they think 9/11 brought us closer as Americans. They point to the way we responded to the crisis when the towers came down: all those who willingly risked (and sometimes lost) their lives in order to bring others to safety. I’ve heard about the bravery and courage of so many on that day, it’s hard to not be stirred by their stories.

But the way we respond to something bad in our lives doesn’t just mean how we respond at the moment the bad thing happens. It also means how we respond afterward, when the sky has cleared and the dead have been buried (those who could be found, that is). I’m proud of the Americans who reached out to help after 9/11. But I’m not proud of what we have become since then.

Before 9/11 we thought we were invincible. We thought nothing could touch us. I understand that 9/11 changed that belief and made us paranoid about it happening again. I’m not saying that those fears are unfounded. But instead of making us more empathetic about all the world’s people who experience similar (or worse) tragedies, we adopted a “Poor me!” attitude. 9/11 was horrible and shocking, but it pales in comparison to things that happen daily in other parts of the globe (or even our own nation).

It’s normal when you’re anxious to try to find a target for your fears. If you can identify the enemy, it gives you something to focus on. We were anxious after 9/11 and we needed to know how to protect ourselves from it happening again. I understand that. But I don’t think that excuses the distrust and hatred of not just Muslims, but of anyone who is “different.” Do you think it’s an accident that people are more emotional about immigration than they used to be? We think we’ll be safe if we keep all foreigners out of America (except for, of course, the acceptable ones).

Ten years ago, conservatives were critical of liberals, but they weren’t as outspoken as they are today. And they were more civil, even during political campaigns. Now conservative talk-show hosts say the most outrageous and hateful things they can think of, and no one blinks an eye. (That’s not entirely true: there are plenty of people who don’t like it, but we don’t have the voice conservatives do.) And it’s not just the pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham, it’s also the politicians. Judging by the last presidential campaign, I shudder just thinking about how uncivil the conversation will be this time around.

I’m also appalled at how willing people are to give up their individual freedoms. Homeland Security is our country’s “secret police force.” They have powers we don’t even know about. We have no idea to what extent they can snoop around in our lives and it’s all legal. We can be detained without reason or with no representation. All it takes is the suspicion that we might have something to do with terrorism.

And to make matters worse, we’re just supposed to sit and take it. Protesting is compared to committing treason. Right after 9/11, even comedians toned down their political satire; they were that afraid of being branded as unpatriotic. I remember a hush over the country, as if everyone was tip-toeing around the elephant in the room: the reactionary policies of a paranoid President and government.

Has America learned anything in the past ten years about courage? Courage to stand up for our convictions, to speak our minds, to fight for what we believe is right? Have we learned anything about charity, about helping others, even at great cost to ourselves?  And most of all, have we learned anything about tolerance? Are we more aware that we are all interconnected? Has the world become smaller for us, or is America still the center of our universe?

When the towers came down on 9/11/01, it was like a nuclear bomb went off. And ten years later, we’re still dealing with the fall-out.

[Cross-posted on my other blog, I, Muslimah.]

What Do You Think of “Maggie Goes On a Diet”?

Maggie Goes On a Diet hasn’t even come out yet and it’s already sparked world-wide controversy. There’s even a “Say No to Maggie Goes On a Diet by Paul M. Kramer” page on Facebook, for instance. Experts, educators and parents are weighing in (no pun intended) on the issue of whether this is an appropriate book for 8 to 12 year-olds. (Amazon cites it as being for 4-8 year-olds, which makes it even more controversial.) Critics worry that it will lead to eating disorders at worst and hurt feelings at best.

This video shows parts of the book and includes an interview with the author (who, ironically, is very overweight himself, a fact no one mentions in the interview).

My worry is about how this book gets in the hands of a grade-school girl. If the book is given to her personally the message she’s going to get is, “They think I’m fat.” Even if it’s true that a child needs to lose weight, there are more sensitive ways of approaching the issue. A fat person knows he or she is fat, especially in this society with all the images of skinny people on TV and in movies and commercials. Not only that, but he or she has been sent the message that fat people are marginal in our society. Maggie herself achieves “fame and popularity” as a soccer player, but not until she becomes thin. Admittedly, part of the book’s message is that Maggie is not only fat, but she’s also not physically fit and supposedly the author’s intent was to show kids a model of how to become more healthy. But the truth is, you don’t have to be skinny to be physically fit, yet you wouldn’t know that from this book.

There are other things I take issue with, like the part where the author writes that Maggie got fat from eating bread and cheese. No one food makes someone fat and in fact bread and cheese are sensible parts of any diet. I also wonder why the author doesn’t criticize the kids who tease and bully Maggie for being fat. He acts as if this is a given—fat people are going to be treated badly—and seems to view it as a motivator for a fat person to lose weight. When in reality we should be teaching our children that it’s not right to be mean to people who are different, even if that difference is that that they’re fat.

I also question the title. Wouldn’t it have been better, and more sensitive, to have called it, “Maggie Makes Her Dreams Come True” or even “Maggie Gets Fit”? The author says that the word “diet” has many meanings and not all of them are negative. This just shows his insensitivity. Telling someone that they need to go on a diet does carry a negative connotation. It’s code for, “You’re fat.”

If a little girl finds this book in the library or book store and expresses interest in it, it might be a sign that she is ready to do something about her weight problem. But if she doesn’t have a weight problem, that should be a red flag that you need to have a conversation about body image and eating disorders.

But perhaps the biggest problem I have with the book is that it targets girls. If the author had come out with editions for boys and girls, I would have felt better about it. Girls are already bombarded with the message that they must be thin. Boys, not so much. What made the author think that his best audience would be female? Perhaps because he knows that they’re more likely to be concerned about their weight? The facts are that boys are more likely to be obese than girls. [Source.]

What do you think about this book or others like them? Do you think they’re helpful or hurtful? Are you comfortable with the target of grade school girls?




The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl

At the age of twenty-three, Shauna Reid weighed 351 pounds. That shocked her so much, she made a fateful decision. She would do everything possible to lose weight and she would blog about her experience as a way to keep herself in line. Her blog, “The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl,” is still online. And the book of the same name covers the first 250 weeks of her journey.

What I love about the book (and the blog) is Shauna’s honesty and humor. I also really enjoyed going through her experience with her as it unfolded. The reader is there with her when she didn’t know whether she would be successful or not and follows all her ups and downs through the next five years of her life. (Don’t worry; the book is a quick read.)  She doesn’t try to gloss over the hard parts (there really were no easy parts) and makes it clear that losing that much weight requires a complete overhaul of one’s lifestyle and attitudes.

One thing that was interesting was that Shauna kept her blogging identity secret until for most of those five years. And she was very private about her accomplishment even with her friends. When she emigrated to Scotland after having lost a lot of her weight, she never told anyone how big she used to be. Now, however, the cat’s out of the bag, and she’s proud to acknowledge what she went through and to share the details of how she did it.

Now thirty-three, Shauna is characteristically honest about the fact that she has gained back 50 pounds. But she obviously hasn’t given up the fight. She isn’t the same person she was ten years ago, and the best part of the book is reading about her evolution from timid and insecure to a young woman who isn’t afraid to live life to its fullest.

Shauna writes this in the epilogue:

And that’s when I knew I’d found my Perfect Ending. I actually found it a long time ago, but it’s taken me a while to see it. I always thought I needed that number on the scale to prove that I’d earned this happiness, but from the moment I looked in the mirror and began to appreciate the view, I was already winning the prize.

I don’t know where the scale will end up, but after 333 weeks and a lifetime of angst, I’m not going to waste another minute worrying about it. My journey was never about what I weighed or the size of my jeans. The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all its quirks and charms.

“What to Expect” Books Giveaway! Get Yours Free!

What to Expect Cover Almost thirty years ago a young mother-to-be, frustrated by her search for a good basic guide for pregnancy, decided to write her own. With the help of her mother and her sister, Heidi Murkoff wrote What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Originally published in 1984, and now in its fourth edition, the book consistently tops the New York Times Best Seller list in the paperback advice category, is one of USA Today’s “25 Most Influential Books” of the past 25 years and has been described as “the bible of American pregnancy.” According to USA Today, 93 percent of all expectant mothers who read a pregnancy guide read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. [Source: Wikipedia]

There are now over a dozen books in the “What to Expect” series, covering everything from what to eat while pregnant to the preschool years. I’m excited to announce that has generously donated two copies each of What to Expect While You’re Expecting, What to Expect: The First Year and What to Expect: The Second Year for Femagination’s first giveaway!

All you have to do to qualify for the giveaway is leave a comment telling me the following: 1) Any thoughts or suggestions you have about Femagination; 2) Which of the books you prefer; and 3) Why you want the book. You must also leave some kind of contact information so that I can get back to you.

The giveaway comment period will last until September 30, 2011. Shortly after that I will announce the winners and send out the books, free of charge. All your information will be held strictly confidential.

As I Understand It: Basal Metabolic Rate and Weight Loss

Note: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. What I am, however, is a currently fat person who has been dieting on and off for forty-seven years. Lately I’ve become frustrated with my futile attempts to lose weight and I’ve gone on a quest to gather as much information as I can about the mechanics of weight gain and loss.

People who have never gained a significant amount of weight have no idea how it can sneak up on you. Thin people don’t see how you can’t feel every extra ounce and go into furious activity to get rid of it. If you had only done that when you were one pound overweight, they think, the other pounds wouldn’t have followed.

But gaining weight isn’t like that. For one thing, the fat doesn’t show up immediately after eating the extra calories. Nor does it disappear as soon as you cut your calories. It’s not a mere addition or subtraction scenario. Calories go through a complicated process on their way to becoming whatever they’re going to be. And the one thing that makes it somewhat unpredictable is something known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).

BMR is the rate at which your body burns up calories when you’re not doing anything. In an ideal (and just) world, everyone would have the same BMR. If we did, we’d all burn calories at the same rate no matter what age we are or body shape or size we have. If everyone’s BMR was suddenly the same (say somewhere in the middle) then skinny people would gain weight and fat people would lose weight. (BMR calculator here.)

That’s one reason why I get disgusted when weight loss “experts” state that gaining weight is merely a combination of too much food and too little exercise. They’re only partly right. It also depends on things like body type, age, sex, amount of muscle and fat on your body, and yes, basal metabolic rate.

Many, if not most, experts will tell you that your metabolism has little to do with weight gain. That may be true when you’re measuring like individuals (same age, same body composition). But tell that to a person who never had trouble maintaining her weight until she went through menopause. Or who eats and exercises exactly the same as her friend who has a smaller body type.

One thing they don’t usually tell you is that because muscle burns off more calories than fat does, you’re better off to do anaerobic than aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercises are important for improving cardiovascular fitness, but they’re not going to help that much to help you lose weight over the long haul. You can have great lungs and a healthy heartbeat and still be fat. Which is good news for fat people. But not so good for people who have been relying on the treadmill to help them to drop pounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it isn’t beneficial to move. For one thing, cardiovascular exercise makes your blood flow more efficiently throughout your body. But people who insist that you’re not going to see any benefits unless you exercise a half hour, or even an hour, every day are just setting the bar too high and making people feel like it’s pointless to exercise at all if they can’t meet that standard.

One thing that doesn’t raise the rate at which your body burns calories is eating less calories. In fact, when you do that, your body automatically lowers your BMR in order to save energy. Your calorie needs are only 1.2 times your BMR, so you’d have to undercut your calories well below your basic physical needs in order to see any significant weight loss. And guess what? That’s just not good for your body!

I know a young woman who lost 50 pounds in a half year by eating only 800-900 calories a day. Her only exercise was a lot of walking. She lost the weight but she stopped having a period naturally for several years afterward. (She had to take birth control pills in order to get her body to approximate having a period.) And she only did it for a few months. What happens to women who do it repeatedly or for a longer period of time?

Dieting works the same way addiction does, except that it takes less, not more, of the substance (in this case calories) to get the same result. So ultimately dieting is self-defeating behavior. Eat low-calorie, low-fat, low carb diets if you want to, but none of them stay effective forever. That’s why dieters go through so many diets. There is no one diet that is guaranteed to have results over the long haul. You can go on a starvation diet and your BMR will just keep going down until your body stops metabolizing food at all (and before that it metabolizes your own body until you’ve damaged it beyond repair).

The bottom line:

Don’t over-diet or you’ll lower your basal metabolic rate and have to eat even less calories to get the same result. (Over-dieting is my term for taking in too few calories or completely cutting out certain foods that are essential for your body to operate at peak capacity.)

Do exercise, but don’t feel that you have to meet someone else’s unrealistic goals (for you)— and make sure you emphasize building muscle mass.

If you find yourself yo-yoing (i.e., gaining and losing, gaining and losing in a vicious cycle), stop what you’re doing and find a sensible diet and exercise program that you can live with over the long haul.

Recognize that the heavier you are, the more calories you burn, so exercise is definitely not pointless.

Take into account your age, body type and composition, sex and medical conditions (or medications) that may slow down your metabolism. If you have any of these markers, exercise, not diet, is the key.

Be proactive: do your own research. There’s plenty of information out there, but be careful of websites that are just trying to sell you something.

It’s always a good idea to get a medical check-up, including a blood work-up, as soon as possible when you are planning to start an exercise and food modification program. Get your doctor to take you seriously. I can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve gone to who have completely ignored the fact that I’m fifty pounds overweight. Check with your health insurance to see if they cover visits to a nutritionist or memberships to a gym.









The Sex Ed Hall of Shame (reprint from

In light of NYC’s mandate, we look at states with the worst policies when it comes to the birds and the bees
The sex ed hall of shame


This week people were abuzz over news that New York City had mandated sex education — and some were simply scratching their heads at the realization that this wasn’t already the case. Seriously, it took this long?

Well, seriously, there are still 24 states that haven’t mandated sex education, including New York state.

That’s too many states to cover in any detail, so I’ll narrow it down to the worst of them. These are states that not only fail to mandate sex ed, but require that when it is taught, abstinence and the “importance of sex only within marriage” are stressed. These states make sure to defend “traditional” values, but they don’t protect scientific ones: Unlike some states, they don’t require that classes provide medically accurate information. Without further ado, the embarrassing eight that meet this criteria:

  • Alabama has “among the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis of any state in the union,” according to youth advocate Amplify, and has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Another not-so-fun fact: It bans schools from teaching anything positive about homosexuality.
  • Arkansas has landed on some unfortunate top-ten lists: When it comes to STI rates among young people, it ranks 5th in terms of chlamydia, 7th for gonorrhea and 10th for syphilis. It also has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.
  • Florida has the sad distinction of ranking 1st in HIV infections and 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana fares well in terms of teen pregnancy and STI rates — relatively speaking — but the state’s teens “are among the least likely to report having used condoms the last time they had sex,” according to Amplify.
  • Louisiana has the highest syphilis rate among young people in this country. It’s also in the top ten for both chlamydia and gonorrhea, and 11th in terms of teen HIV.
  • Missouri was given a “C” rating on teen health by Amplify — while most of the states on this list received closer to a “D” — but, still, “the state has higher than average rates of STIs and lower than average rates of condom use among sexually active high school students.”
  • Texas has several claims to sex-shame: It ranks 5th for teen pregnancy, 3rd in young people with AIDS and 4th in terms of syphilis among teens. A whopping 96 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only, according to a study by the Texas Freedom Network.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people. While it’s seen a decline in unplanned pregnancies, a study found that between 1991 and 2004 teen births still cost taxpayers roughly $3.1 billion.

The good news is that there are 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, that currently mandate sex education. But that’s a very basic achievement — it says nothing of the requirements and restrictions that are made on curricula across the country. Guttmacher reports that “26 states require that abstinence be stressed” in sex ed classes; meanwhile only 19 states insist on any mention of contraceptives. And we wonder why the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world.