“Do You Even Lift?” The invisible issue that we’re not addressing

Sexual objectification of women. How many times so far this year have you heard that issue get raised? Infinite? Me too.

So much of current social awareness seems to be focused on the relentless objectification of women, and the measures we can take to prevent this. While I am all for the removal of this objectification, I can’t help but feel that there might be another side of this issue that we’re overlooking.
Every. Single. Day.

Sexual objectification of men. I said it. We’re living in a society where “do you even lift” and gym culture are the norm. Many issues are raised about the need for more realistic representations of women in the public eye, but don’t we see that this should work both ways?

If we look at the image of something as trivial as children’s toys, the difference is so blindingly obvious. Barbie. Side-stepping the hilarious fact that the inspiration for this iconic ‘50s doll was actually based on a German doll designed for adult men – not children, the toy has has been resized, ditching the “implausible proportions” of their previous dolls, to “better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience”. Barbie is now complete with “solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling”, with the thigh gap “officially gone”. While this is undeniably great for the image of women, show me the resizing of the Ken Doll, or show me any man doll without ripped abs and bulging biceps. We’re so worried about presenting unrealistic bodies for women, but what about the pressures of body expectations that young, growing, and adult men face too?

This is the era of Marvel films. It’s the era of superhero bombardment into our media left, right and centre. And it’s not just superheroes; male protagonists on the screen and in the public eye are expected to be ripped. Little boys and girls are flooded with images of men who have spent months preparing for a role. There is an oversaturation every day of shirtless men whose bodies consume all their time. The recognisable, lanky physique of SpongeBob has made a comeback in the new movie, but now features huge muscles. Being on the low end of the muscle spectrum just isn’t represented in the media, but that doesn’t seem to be as ludicrous as it is about women. Curves are in for us. Kim Kardashian’s glorious behind is celebrated, plus-size models are endorsed, but what’s the equivalent? Where’s the “embrace your figure” attitude towards men who don’t fit a mould?

We need to address this. Too often it’s brushed off as a joke. Women seem to be able to share how they’re feeling about these issues – full support at the ready, but we still appear to have the “man up” attitude when it comes to how men are actually feeling. The number of times I’ve opened up about how I feel about this to my male friends is countless, and the number of times I’ve heard them open up about body image to me, or other dudes, is approaching zero. And what would be said anyway? “Feeling low about your body image? Why don’t you just go to the gym then?”

When you find out a woman has been suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s such a delicate and supported issue – and rightly so. But these obsessive, overly disciplined, and often exceptionally unhealthy behaviours are paralleled so frequently in the gym-junkie lifestyle, without the same concern, but rather with expectation and encouragement. It is expected that men go to the gym. It is expected that men work out – often for over four hours a day, and at the expense of friends, family, work and commitments because of the standards of what’s “attractive”. “Buff” is now the standard, and extreme is commended.

Surely it’s this unhealthy mindset filled with pressures and expectations of a possibly unachievable standard that we’re trying so hard to fight. The movement towards a more diverse selection of female models is ever present, yet male models are almost exclusively shredded. Where is their diversity? I saw a billboard last week displaying a male underwear model with no ridiculously chiselled form.

This shouldn’t be novelty. This shouldn’t make my jaw drop through the floor.

Too often I hear women in the street discussing how hot some guy is across the road. Of course he’s ripped etc. How are men affected when they hear women saying these things about someone who’s just spent their entire afternoon in the gym?

We’re so hyperaware of how women are affected by objectification, but it’s time to extend that respect and sensitivity towards our men.

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Why breaking veganism has made me a happier vegan

#vegan.

There’s still a decent amount of stigma associated with that word.

It’s a much-hyped trend, and causes substantial eye-rolling from parents, doctors, and anyone else sick of the latest restrictive diet.

I was vegan for over a year, and breaking it for a while has proved to be extremely beneficial in adapting to it again for the following reasons:

Firstly, it’s amazingly eye-opening being on the non-vegan side of things.

When you’re part of such an exclusive group, I think it’s easy to become ignorant of what else is going on: how people view you and how you should view others who have made different choices from yours. Experiencing how myself and other animal-product-consumers treat those that have chosen an animal-free way of life made me realise how much of a rift I had created in my own head. Turns out that non-vegans generally are not intolerant to our plant-based buddies or their choices, but are often quite open-minded with curious attitudes towards the lifestyle.

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The stereotype is real. And delicious. Thank you “Sexy Food” Cape Town!

On my two-month trip to Africa last year, I made sure to keep my mouth shut as much as possible about my dietary decisions so as not to come across as “ramming it down their throats” (thanks mum, does she realise the pun?), however, due to my awful stereotype-filling at the cafeteria which featured much salad, rice and potatoes on my plate, word got out and I got a lot of questions. By that stage I had existed egg and dairy-free (and nut and wheat-free, but that’s a different story) for over a year and was used to the instantly confused and very defensive responses I usually got from non-vegans, which often included unwarranted excuses for why they themselves couldn’t do that: “I just can’t because of my iron”, “protein is just too important to me” or “but cheeseburgers!” I have literally had a doctor reprimand me for my inconsiderate eradication of a potent source of calcium (before he checked my blood results to see that everything was perfectly fine and I wasn’t at death’s door).

Naturally, the second I stop, everyone I know starts turning vegan or vegetarian or “mindful” of their meat intake (nice timing universe). It’s wonderful that there is such growing acceptance of this and it makes it so much easier to feel supported in the community. So a support network makes all the difference for sure.

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Making this vegan oreo cake for a party where most where keen to ditch dairy and choose coconut (eternally grateful that oreos are vegan)
During my break, I realised how easy it is to feel intimidated and judged by someone who is making substantial effort. Somehow after living this very lifestyle for yonks, I can end up feeling defensive myself for why I am not living that way. It can definitely be challenging and I think that can be intimidating to those who have not made a similar choice. Especially in a society where our focus has swung so heavily towards environmental awareness, such a commitment is quite commendable, and I think this may be a potential threat to some egos.

So I’ve absolutely learnt how to go about discussing it, as I’ve now experienced what it feels like to be the non-vegan in the conversation. There is a lot less hate between vegans and non-vegans than I had created in my head.

I think round two will be better practically as well because I have learnt from my mistakes from last time. Making such a big change is not something that should be done instantly, and is certainly not always as easy as it seems. There is a transition period, and having watched several friends go through this period, I can now see how valuable it is to avoid an extreme or yoyo kind of attitude towards it.

The first time I went vegan, it was a snap decision after watching the film “Earthlings”. I had been vegetarian for a year and it was easy to make the switch emotionally. My choice was almost entirely ethically-focused and so was fuelled predominantly by a passionate anger. I was confused, resentful, and absolutely judgmental for many months – of others and myself- and it broke my heart that people I respected for their intellect and caring nature had not come to the same conclusion. This difference in habit affected my relationship with my mum at times. For a while all other values got put on hold and many uncalled for comments like “great, it smells like dead animal in here again” were thrown her way.

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A true cafe staple. If you don’t smother your toast in both avocado and Vegemite, are you really Australian?

Combined with my competitive nature, veganism was, in some aspects, a frustrated girl who was seeing how long she could go without touching dairy and trying not to break that perfect streak. Coming back to it a second time is based on logic and productivity. This makes sense to me, and I know it’s doable, gently. The decision is not emotionally-charged, and I’ve realised that “vegan” is not a trait that defines someone. It is simply a lifestyle choice that is easily “broken” – accidentally or otherwise- and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, that you don’t care about the environment or that you hate animals. Some of the most kind-hearted and loveable people I’ve met can tuck into a cheeseburger like there’s no tomorrow – and that’s ok! I love them for what’s inside and not what’s on their plate.

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Helloooo Zambia! That feeling when the only thing you can have is “chips and salad please”…

I also feel like I have a healthier attitude towards dairy and egg products. No they’re not “bad” or “gross”, nor do they make those who consume them “bad” or “gross”. I can put them in my body if I choose to, and it will function just fine.

Having this more rounded view of it means I’m fully able to laugh at veganism, make fun of it and accept it for what it is: a social and environmental movement, dietary fad, and Instagram hashtag. Yes I will embrace the beautifully cringey jokes and memes: “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Because they tell you!” Yes I still appreciate the smell of bacon and barbecues and will make sure my friends keep giving me whiffs of their steaks.

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Cape Town was MUCH more accomodating…
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How many probiotics can we fit in ONE bowl?
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If you’re vegan then you are automatically a health addict and automatically are obsessed with quinoa… right?

In round two, I’ve been reminded of how convenient it is that this pretty much cuts out all the junk… Since most overly-processed, plastic-wrapped, sugar-laden, and eight-line-ingredient-list foods are generally inclusive of milk products, it certainly makes eating “whole” unavoidable. I’m not going to say it’s easy all the time though. Not being able to snack on whatever is going can be downright annoying, and cafe-hopping can be a challenge, but being pushed to learn how to cook proper, balanced meals from scratch is never going to be a bad skill.

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Vegan ways have opened my eyes to this super easy brekkie: overnight oats. They take 20 seconds to prepare the night before and are YUM

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Experimenting with pasta (aka food of the gods) and grilled eggplant. Who says vegan is just boring salads?
That said, it is definitely not a miracle. I come across so many articles about how veganism “fixed” everything. Yes, a lot of things are going to change and hopefully improve if you replace a steady source of slow-to-digest products that are high in saturated fat with whole grains and veggies, but claiming that it makes hair grow more or that it can cure cancer just seems ridiculous. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this journey so far, it’s that you have to listen to your body. If it seriously craves yoghurt, give it yoghurt. Everyone is different. Maybe veganism will make one person’s nails weak, and another person’s eyes twinkle. Maybe several serves of bacon per day will make someone’s split ends vanish forever. I’ve met people who have quit animal products and their skin has gone crazy! I’m talking acne flare-ups having a field day all day every day…

We all respond differently and at the end of the day aren’t we all just trying to work out what works best for us?

So with a hopefully more realistic and open-minded view of this lifestyle, and more respect for other people’s choices and my health –both body and mind- I embrace round two of this vegan adventure.

Now, where’s that lettuce at…?

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What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.