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What Are You Thankful For?

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11/23/10 | The Women's Conference Team | 11 Comments

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This time of year gives us the opportunity to gather together as friends and family to appreciate our blessings. We on The Women’s Conference team wanted to share with you what we’re thankful for this year. We hope you’ll share with us what you’re thankful for, too.
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I am so thankful I had the incredible opportunity to be First Lady of California – thankful I had the chance to work with such an amazing group of people and to have such amazing children.  I am thankful for my family and friends.  I’m thankful to be alive and living in the USA.

Maria Shriver
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I am thankful for the new love in my life, my dog, Noodle (even though she is eating one of my plants as I type this). I am beyond thankful to the shelter that rescued her from the pound and put up the cutest photo of her online, which I became obsessed with, and eventually led to her adoption.

Ande Dagan, Website Producer
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I am thankful for the good health of my family and friends, especially those who are battling cancer successfully as I write this. I am thankful for the physical strength that allowed me to survive another year of helping to produce the greatest Women’s Conference ever. I am thankful for the fortitude to make it through the toughest challenge I’ve had as a parent of a high school student —helping my son Ethan go through the nightmare of applying for colleges.  And I am really thankful for the sense of humor that helps me think these aren’t just challenges to overcome, but moments in which I can still see something touching and funny.

Alexandra Gleysteen, Executive Producer
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I am thankful that as an escape from my desk job, I teach yoga on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., affording my devoted students and myself a weekly experience in breath work and exultation.

Liberty B. Conboy, Senior Aide
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I’m thankful that there’s a holiday that asks us all to step away from the myriad challenges, frustrations and demands of our intensely busy lives to reflect on our long list of blessings.  If only we could remember to make this a daily, not a yearly, ritual – to show gratitude for the people who turn our lives into a series of adventures.

Cherie Simon, Website Editor-in-Chief
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I'm thankful for the love of my life. I'm thankful for family and friends who make me a better person. I'm thankful for being able to work with a strong sense of purpose. And I'm thankful for living near ocean sunsets. It's hard to take life for granted when you can witness the day die each day.

Matthew DiGirolamo, Marketing Director

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I am thankful for my children Dana, Seth and Adam.  I am thankful for my health.  I am thankful for my incredible six years of working with Maria Shriver and for being part of an extraordinary team of extraordinary people.  I am thankful that I will soon meet my first grandchild.

Kathy Hersh, Director of Business & Legal Affairs

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I am thankful for the air I breathe, the food I eat, the family who loves me for who I am, and the wonderful friends I have made through Maria's amazing organization. I am also thankful for whirlwind trips to Miami to raise money for Best Buddies.
 
Sean C. Molloy, Conference Assistant
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I am thankful for my health. After spending two weeks tied up – and useless – with the flu, I have a sense of just how powerful good health is. With it, you can do virtually anything; without it, I, anyway, am very, very hindered. Wishing good health (wealth and happiness – but mostly health) to all.

Emma Brownell, Website Editorial Manager
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What are you most thankful for? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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I Was a Food Addict...

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  • Health and Fitness

10/4/10 | Jennifer Joyner | 0 Comments

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Jennifer Joyner, Author, Designated Fat Girl

By the time I was finally able to wear my wedding rings again, nearly sixteen years had passed since my wedding day. A year after I was married in 1993, my fingers were too fat to fit the diamond engagement ring and two gold bands I wore on either side.  I’d gained a hundred pounds in my first year of marriage, and that sent me on a 16-year struggle with obesity and morbid obesity.  I developed hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.  I gave birth to a 12-pound baby because I couldn’t get my gestational diabetes under control.  I broke toilet seats and was unable to bathe properly.  I was killing myself with food.

I was a food addict, but I didn’t know it.  None of the many doctors I saw ever suggested that I was addicted to food, so I didn’t consider it a possibility.  All I knew was that I desperately wanted to lose weight and I couldn’t.  I tried everything, every meal plan, every exercise routine, to no avail.  I thought I was going crazy.

Finally in March of 2008, I took drastic steps to save my life.  At 336 pounds, at 34 years old, I had gastric bypass surgery.  I was reluctant to do so; I thought having the surgery and “not losing weight on my own” was taking the easy way out.  Boy, would that prove to be a stupid thought.  I had terrible complications from the surgery that put me back in the hospital twice and caused me to have two subsequent surgeries.  I was terribly sick for months, and hopelessly depressed, thinking I’d made the worst mistake of my life.

But slowly, the sun started to peek through the clouds.  The weight came off so quickly my head couldn’t keep up with my body, and yes, that was nice, but something more important started to occur to me:  food did not have any power over me.  I was not a slave to the scale, and thoughts of what to eat did not rule over every minute of every day.  I was free.

I can’t remember getting below 300 pounds; I was too sick to really notice or care.  I do remember getting below 200 pounds, and I did celebrate, with a happy naked dance in my bathroom, alone.  And then I simply went about my day.  They were just numbers on a scale, and I didn’t need a scale to tell me how to feel.

But I absolutely remember putting my wedding rings on again.  My daughter Emma, then four and a half years old, had never seen the rings.  She grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “Mommy!  They are so shiny!  You look like a princess!”

I smiled down at her, gazing at my diamonds.  And then I glimpsed myself in the mirror.  Finally, I felt like a princess, too.

Jennifer Joyner is a mother, wife, writer and journalist. She is the author of Designated Fat Girl, a memoir about food addiction. Learn more about Jennifer Joyner on her website.

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What I Wish I Would Have Known at 13!

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09/15/10 | Jess Weiner | 1 Comments

Jess Weiner 200
Jess Weiner, Global Ambassador, Dove Self-Esteem Fund

I'm sure you've done it. Fantasized about going back in time and battling all those teenage woes with the wisdom you've garnered now as an adult.

Maybe you'd tell your thirteen year old self that she is beautiful. Just the way she is. Braces, freckles, acne, frizzy hair, stringy hair, over developed, under developed, lots of friends, no friends, band geek, drama geek, sports geek -- that it all doesn't matter in the end. That finding true self-acceptance is about loving who you are (even in the 'imperfect' moments) and that believing in yourself is one of the best choices she could make.

Maybe you'd tell your thirteen year old self that she really can reach her full potential in life if she follows her dreams, takes good care of herself, and gathers around her a group of people who support her, listen to her, and talk to her. Maybe you'd tell your thirteen year old self that the heartache she feels right now because she feels rejected, alone, ugly, stupid, or defective are really just passing moments of emotion. That they aren't the truth. And that she will get through her hard time. And go on to flourish! Maybe you'd tell her that she is loved. Just because. Just because she is worthy of being loved. Maybe you'd tell her that she should take a risk and try out for that school play or present her science project in front of the class because taking those risks will help her cultivate a sense of confidence that only comes from doing the things that really scare you (and living to tell about it!) Maybe you'd tell her that she isn't alone. That other girls (and adults) feel the same way she does. And that if she can just raise her hand, ask for help, or try to find the right words to express how she feels that there will be someone on the other end more than happy to lend an ear or a hug.

Or maybe your conversation might look a little like mine would - if I could go back in time.....

Jess Now: "13 year old Jess, I promise you -- your hair will grow back."

Jess 13: "Really? You promise? Because this is the worst hair cut ever!"

Jess Now: "Yes, I promise. And one day you'll make peace with your curly hair, too. Do you know people pay a lot of money to get perms?"

Jess 13: "You sound like our mother. She always tells me that."

Jess Now: "Well, don't tell our mom, but she was right. You'll come to love and appreciate all the things you think you hate about your appearance."

Jess 13: "Impossible"

Jess Now: "No, really. You'll soon discover that all the time you spend on hating those things can be spent on appreciating and accepting your own real beauty. You'll even make a career out of sharing this message with others."

Jess 13: "No way."

Jess Now: "Way"

Even if we all can't go back in time to re-do our teenage years, we can do simple small things now to help a girl in our life. Just by spending time having a conversation about self-esteem and confidence you can truly make a difference in the life of a girl. Those minutes you spend can help erase negative messages, confusing relationships, and age appropriate self-doubt by replacing it with a meaningful moment of connection. Don't ever underestimate the power of your words and your time. To you they may be just moments but to her they are the wisdom and moments that change her life. Join us in the vision of the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety and tell us what you wish you would have known at thirteen here!
 
Blessings,
Jess

Considered this generation’s “Go to Girl” for self-esteem, Jess Weiner is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Talk to Jess, LLC and the Actionist® Network. She is also the author of two best-selling books, "A Very Hungry Girl" and "Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds From Now". She currently serves as the Global Ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund and travels the world speaking and hosting workshops on self-confidence.

Jess Weiner will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2010.

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Join Us in Creating a World Where Beauty Is a Source of Confidence

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09/15/10 | Jess Weiner | 0 Comments

Jess Weiner 2
Jess Weiner, Global Ambassador, Dove Self-Esteem Fund

 

 

 

 

As a kid, whenever I would struggle with tackling a new skill (like tying my shoelaces) or learning a new craft (like jazz dancing) my Grandma would always tell me "everything worth doing takes practice." Honestly, at 8 or 9, I had no idea what she really meant. All I knew was that she was my biggest champion, showing up for every school recital or home made art show I put on. But in thinking about that concept now "everything worth doing takes practice" -- I choose to apply it to my own development of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence.  

If you think about it - a musician must practice hours before improving their skill, same for a mathematician or a visual artist. So it would also make sense that if we want to change the level of confidence and esteem that our loved ones (and ourselves) have - we have to practice.

Every moment we spend with our family is a chance to send a positive message of love and esteem. Every word we speak is an opportunity to practice more kindness and less negativity. Every thought we think allows us a chance to practice compassion and forgiveness. When you turn your life into a practice ground for encouraging word, thought, and deed - you are more than likely practicing your way to higher self-confidence.  

The more we practice at developing a positive relationship with our own beauty the more we have to offer the girls in our lives who look to us to help them nurture and reach their full potential. Part of this mentorship is establishing with the next generation that beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. We want the next generation to learn from our own struggles with beauty and self-esteem. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been prompted by Dove to answer, “what do you wish you’d known at 13?” [link to tab] How can we help loved ones navigate the same confidence waters that we did? It’s time to have these conversations with the ones we love.

The more we can all collectively participate in the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem's vision, the more vibrant our community of confidence grows. Now here's what you can do to further practice your commitment to this vision: Join us for the Dove Self-Esteem Weekend October 22nd - 24th. Nationwide, people are committing to spend one hour of time that weekend with a girl (or girls) in their lives. Mark your calendar!

There are a variety of ways you can get involved and get the conversation started:

Remember, one hour with a girl in your life during the Dove Self-Esteem weekend makes a world of difference. It’s time to practice with loved ones on how to reach a positive relationship with beauty this October.

I look forward to seeing our event map grow with registered ideas and inspirations on how you are going to spend time during this important weekend.

Blessings,
Jess

Considered this generation’s “Go to Girl” for self-esteem, Jess Weiner is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Talk to Jess, LLC and the Actionist® Network. She is also the author of two best-selling books, "A Very Hungry Girl" and "Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds From Now". She currently serves as the Global Ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund and travels the world speaking and hosting workshops on self-confidence.

Jess Weiner will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2010.

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When My Husband Became A Hero

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07/12/10 | Lorrie Sullenberger | 2 Comments

Lorrie Sullenberger 200x250
Lorrie Sullenberger

 

 

As the wife of Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River and saved the lives of 155 people, my life has, since that day, ricocheted from one emotion to another. The nation seemed to be celebrating in the aftermath of the events, but we were in shock.

The personal letters and well wishes that started to pour into our house helped us start processing our emotions. We have personally received over 20,000 emails, as well as thousands of personal cards, letters and packages. I joked with Sully that he has achieved Santa Claus status as many of the letters come without our personal address. They simply state Captain Sullenberger, or “Sully” hero pilot USA. And like Santa at the North Pole they show up at our door. One of my favorites was from Europe and was addressed to “Hero Pilot USA.” Then in a side note it said, “Dear Postmaster, I don’t know his address but I think you can find him. Please help me and forward to him.”

The letters are funny, sad and profound, but mostly they express an overwhelming gratitude -- that just when our country needed it most we had a collective feel good moment. And not just for the United States, but the world. We even received a recent letter from a young woman in Iran. Many of the letters stated that while Sully did not ask for this and is not seeking the limelight, we need a hero to feel good about, so please don’t turn away. And with that we feel a certain responsibility. As Sully likes to say, gratitude is a two way street. As the outpouring of support and gratitude came our way, it helped us to give back as well.

One young man wrote us early on and said his family had to cut back on gifts this year and were trying to be creative in gift giving. His dad was a huge fan -- could we possibly visit them? While that was not possible, Sully placed a call to their home, where the young boy answered the phone. I could hear the boy’s shrieks all the way across the room. After talking with him for a few minutes, Sully asked to speak to his dad. He told him what a thoughtful young son he had, a son who obviously loved him very much. I remember crying that night thinking how such a simple act on our part had made them so happy.

In all these months since the accident I can only recall three days when we had no mail regarding the accident. Just today we received a wedding invitation from an engaged couple who were on Flight 1549. Included in the invitation was a note that said, “Words cannot express how much we thank you. We now look forward to our marriage and starting a family.”

And so as I reflect on what my personal gratitude letter should include this year, I hardly know where to begin. But to those many people who wrote to us, my heartfelt thanks. And like so many letters say to us, thank you hardly seems enough.

Before January 15, 2009, Lorrie Sullenberger led a quiet—yet accomplished—life as a fitness expert, local television personality and suburban mom. With infectious enthusiasm, strength and candor, Sullenberger shows that the only way to make it through trauma is to point yourself in the right direction and take one step at a time. Currently working on a book on preparing for and making it through life’s challenges, Sullenberger empowers audiences by showing what skills are necessary to make yourself ready for whatever life throws your way.

A longer version of this post was first published in Woman’s Day November 2009 issue.

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LIVE FROM THE CONFERENCE: Blogger, Astrid Sheil

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  • Health and Fitness

10/27/09 | Astrid Sheil, Blogger | 6 Comments

Sheil Astrid headshot.200x200
Astrid Sheil, Blogger

Coming to you live from The Women's Conference 2009 where an unprecedented 25,000 are gathering for two days of inspiration and transformation.


Day 2: Afternoon Reflections

In the afternoon, the conference turned serious as it focused on the most universal of human feelings—grief.

If you watched the main session on streaming video, you had a chance to hear two extremely moving and powerful speeches about grief, healing and resilience. Katie Couric spoke eloquently about losing her loving husband, Jay, and then four years later, her sister.  Both died from cancer. After her standing ovation, Couric quipped, “Now, if just a third of you would watch the CBS Evening News…where are you guys when I need you?”

After Couric departed from the stage, Maria Shriver walked out slowly, stood at the podium, and delivered the most personal speech of her life. She got through it okay, but many of the rest of us—thousands of women in the arena—quietly wept as Maria described her ongoing and deeply painful walk through grief from the death of her beloved mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, eight weeks ago, followed by the death of her larger-than-life uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy.

When Shriver finished, she introduced the rest of the “grief panel” to the audience.  Susan St. James, actress and entrepreneur, lost her son in a plane accident. He was 14 years old. Elizabeth Edwards, senior fellow, Center for American Progress, lost her son in a car accident. He was 16. And Lisa Niemi, widow of actor Patrick Swayze, recently lost her husband and best friend of 34 years to pancreatic cancer, less than two months ago.

The conversation flowed as each woman offered simple, but profound descriptions of their journey through grief. Susan St. James said she wondered if she would always think of herself as “the mother of a dead child.”  Lisa Niemi described her sadness as being on a cellular level.  Elizabeth Edwards noted that it was important for people to talk about her son and to keep his memory alive. “He didn’t just disappear from the Earth.”

In the audience was another woman who knows a lot about grief. Valerie Sobel’s son Andre died of a brain tumor when he was 19. Valerie cared for her son for 470 days and witnessed helplessly as Andre slowly and painfully lost his battle with cancer. She said, “Caretaking a child that you know is going to die is a completely different experience. The grief is beyond anything you can imagine. “

Within a year, Valerie also lost her mother and her husband. To honor Andre, and to help other families experiencing the debilitating personal effects of a child with a catastrophic illness, Sobel established the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (www.andreriveroflife.org). According to the website information, “Seventy-eight percent of families whose child is diagnosed with a critical illness will experience divorce or separation. The ordeal of a child’s grave illness tests these families far beyond their endurance, and they become bankrupt financially, emotionally and physically.”

 Anne Swire, CEO of the Sobel Foundation said they had just received a substantial grant from Genetech to assist families who have children with cancer. “We often receive urgent requests from social workers at our affiliated children’s hospitals to help families in financial crisis due to the illness of the child,” she said. “Genetech’s generous donation will allow us to meet the needs of many more families.”

There was something sobering and cathartic about this afternoon’s session. Yes, it is hard to talk about grief. As Maria Shriver noted in her comments, “In the United States, we are grief illiterate.” Many of us get tongue-tied when we try to offer comfort to someone who has lost a loved one. But through conversation, compassion, and caring, we can help each other through the very darkest of passages that ultimately, each of us will experience.

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Day Two: AM Reflections

Another exceptional morning at the Women’s Conference!  Not surprisingly, the energy throughout the convention center is electrifying, but apparently, the energy is pretty darn kinetic through the streaming video on the website! Text messages from friends in Portland, Denver, Houston, and Knoxville who are watching the conference online indicate they are feeling the energy, too!

It’s nearly impossible to capture the power of the conference in an itty-bitty blog. This is definitely one of those “the sum is greater than the parts” kind-of-event.   Instead, here are some of the more memorable quotes of the morning.

Host and Executive Producer, Discovery ID, Paula Zahn: “The Shriver Report has clearly detailed that we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, but we don’t have to keep that secret anymore!”

Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger: “When I have really tough decisions to make, I ask the Almighty…my wife, Maria!” And, “Maria is not only a beautiful woman, she’s smart and determined—she is the female terminator.”

Sheila C. Bair, Chairman of the FDIC: “The key to success is to be yourself and focus on the job at hand.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder and President of Virgin Group: “We have to get into the mindset of providing more flexible work arrangements for people.”

Robin Roberts, Co-anchor, ABC News’ Good Morning America: “My mama always said, ‘Make your mess your message!’”

Katie Couric, Anchor & Managing Editor, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric "I love the smell of estrogen in the afternoon."

Cheryl Saban, Author and Founder of the Women’s Self Worth Foundation: “None of us can afford to be muzzled—use the internal compass you were born with.”

Courtney from Oakland, CA: “This conference is teaching me that the only obstacle to success is in here” (she points to her head).

Nick Vujicic, President and Founder, Life Without Limbs: “The greatest disability is fear,” and “If you put your happiness in temporary things, your happiness will be temporary.”

Gayle Haggard, Author, “Why I Stayed”:  “Never write a person off. Whenever possible, choose forgiveness.”

Elizabeth Smart: “We’re never truly left alone.”

Here at the conference, thousands of women are learning that we’re never truly alone because we have each other.  

Stay tuned! More to come.

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Day 1: Transformation with Dr. Martha Beck

With tears streaming down their faces, the two women walked arm-in-arm out of this afternoon’s keynote address by Dr. Martha Beck. They didn’t even know each other’s names, but intuitively they knew they had just shared a profound experience.

Beck, a monthly columnist for O and the author of several international bestsellers, began her session by talking about transformation. Square 1 of transformation is the stage where our identity has been taken from us, but we have yet to figure out whom we are and where we’re going.  She compared it to the incredible metamorphosis that a caterpillar goes through in order to become a butterfly. In her description, Beck said that once a caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it literally liquifies—completely changing itself all the way to the molecular level before it can recreate itself into a butterfly.  

In a very real sense, when we begin a cycle of transformation, we have to experience the disintegration of our old self before real change can take place. The meltdown can take many forms, but often it has to be cataclysmic—break up of a marriage, loss of a job, or a deep physical crisis like a diagnosis of cancer or a very sick child. For many of us personal shock sends us into the cocoon.

At this “Day of Transformation” Beck’s words resonated universally through the audience. She said, “Here in square one, we have a tendency to want to become bigger caterpillars.” In other words, we try to hold onto the status quo as long as possible. Maybe if we just work 80 hours a week instead of 75, we won’t get fired. Maybe if we subsume our needs, we can keep a failing marriage from coming apart at the seams. But of course, we are just fooling ourselves. When it is time to begin the transformation process, there is no capitulation or compromise that can divert the process. However, transformation can be delayed if we are unwilling to accept ourselves the way we are. The key to beginning the process is to “totally” accept ourselves and the reality of our situation.  We must surrender to the truth—the old way doesn’t work anymore, we can’t go back, and the future is unclear and unknown.

We have all experienced these dreaded feelings. Limbo is scary.  Not knowing is exhausting. Loss of identity can lead to depression.  Why would anyone choose to go through the process of transformation? According to Beck, we have no choice. This is a cyclical process and we all go through it at different times and for different reasons. But like the caterpillar, when we get through the four stages of (1) crash and burn, (2) expansive imagining, (3) this is harder than I thought, and (4) the promise land—we are forever changed and expanded. 

Back to the women walking out of the auditorium…why were they crying? Recognition and Acceptance. At the end of the standing ovation, one woman turned around and with arms raised over her head she powerfully announced, “I am liquid!!” It was a rallying cry—a recognition that it’s not only okay to be lost—it’s absolutely mandatory if we are going to transform into empowered women. The other woman burst into tears as she felt a huge sigh of relief and acceptance.  All the pain, fear, loss of identity and meaning she had been going through for more than a year was actually normal, which meant that she was normal. Hallelujah!

The two women hugged each other, introduced themselves and furiously began discussing their parallel journeys of transformation. Rita and Marlene exchanged cards and walked out of the session clearly stunned and enlightened by the experience. 

 

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.

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Getting a Grip

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  • Health and Fitness

07/20/09 | Monica Seles, Author & Former Tennis Champ | 9 Comments

Monica Seles Headshot

Who knew that so many people cared about my weight? When I decided to go on the TV show, “Dancing with the Stars” last year, it was the first time I was in the public eye after playing my last tennis match in 2003. So many people started asking, “OH MY GOD, how did you lose all this weight?” Book publishers started calling my agent. They wanted me to tell my story about winning the weight battle. 

Weight is such a big component in so many women’s lives – for stay-at-home moms, athletes, businesswomen. It doesn’t matter who you are. Meanwhile, since leaving tennis, I’d given a lot of talks to women’s organizations about eating disorders and how to keep food from controlling your life. So with all of this media attention, and my own interest in sharing this story, I decided to write a book, Getting a Grip on My Body, My Mind, My Self.

Writing the book was almost like therapy. I’d gone through so much. Looking back at myself in 1999 and 2000 – my stabbing in Hamburg, my father’s illness and then his death, and my subsequent weight issues - I wish I had some women to talk to. I was surrounded by men, who didn’t understand my issues with food. They thought, “What’s the big deal? It’s such a little thing to let have so much control over you.” I felt ashamed. I retreated into myself. 

In tennis, you have to be so strong. You can’t let your opponents see your weakness. And in tennis, eating disorders are rampant. My friends & I would go out for dinner. They’d eat nothing. Then they’d go home and binge on potato chips, brownies -- anything. I know, because I did it too.

My eating issues were wrapped up with an identity struggle, with that question – “What do you want to do in life?” All of us want to make some impact. There are so many choices, but my entire identity was wrapped up in tennis. I’d ask myself, “Will anyone even like me if I don’t play tennis?”

At 30, I realized, I’m tired of lying to myself. I had to make this change with food and my weight; I had to do this for me. 

How did I do it? I started to take care of myself first. I was the typical caretaker – worrying about my mother, my father, my coach. I had to be honest with myself, and

I had to do this – lose the weight -- for myself -- not for my job, my ex-boyfriend, my coach. I had to do it for Monica. When I talk to women, I say – “If you are happy being heavy, that is great.” I wasn’t. I wanted to be healthier.

Finding balance with food – and with myself – came with experience. As I got older, I thought, “Gosh, I travel so much – these European women, these Asian women – they eat all this stuff.” I realized I could do it too and still be in good shape. Since that realization, I’ve never restricted myself. I eat everything. I don’t have to stuff myself with pasta because I know this is not my last chance. I can eat it tomorrow, too.

Back when my trainers would tell me I couldn’t touch pasta and I could eat egg whites only, I would think, “Wouldn’t that pasta be so great?” Pasta became the forbidden food – and I wanted it so badly. In the end – I don’t believe in restrictions. To me, life without a piece of bread or pasta – it’s not worth it.

The lesson – for me – is to really be comfortable with who you are. In my profession I was surrounded by women sized 0. I’m 5’9” and I don’t have to be a size 0. I truly believe that in my 20s I would have understood that, had I had more strong, powerful role models.

One woman who did play that role for me was Billie Jean King. I talked to her for the first time when I played in the Federation Cup in 1996. She was remarkable for her sport, but even more for what she did off the court. She stood up for her beliefs. I was a two-handed forehand and backhand; I was a strong, grunting female. Talking to Billie about it, she would say, “Monica, be who you are.” 

Billie, like others, has done so much for this generation. Hopefully I can give back in my own little way, and keep that giving going.

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Taking Back the Power of Self-Worth

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05/1/09 | Dr. Cheryl Saban | 10 Comments

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Cheryl Saban is a writer and social commentator who holds a Ph.D. in psychology.

Does someone else need to acknowledge our worth to make it real?  Do we crave outside affirmation of our value because we are insecure by nature? 

If women are insecure as a gender, we’ve been given reason to be.

A woman’s culture – our upbringing, our environment, social cues, and our own strongly held beliefs that nuance our experience – defines female status.  And though it’s quite obvious that women have made enormous gains in terms of rights and participation, the global picture of the status of women and girls is not so rosy. When a governing power holds stubbornly to rigid stereotypes, cultural mores, and antiquated mindsets, there may not be much wiggle room for women to discover and express their worth. 

Imagine that you’re a woman living in a country and society which denies you freedom of travel, forbids you to possess your own passport, complicates or denies your access to education and female-centric healthcare, restricts your participation in government, your ownership of property, your ability to obtain loans, to work outside the home, drive a car, or have custody of your children.  Wow.  Seems to me that this lack of freedom and autonomy could easily impact a woman’s feelings of worth, could it not? 

And then there’s the prickly issue of how crime investigations – particularly in rape cases – have been handled in the U.S.  The recent outrage at the backlog of unprocessed rape kits is well deserved.  Rape kits can provide investigators with the evidence they need to find and prosecute rapists, but yet, for some inexplicable reason, many kits are languishing, unprocessed.  How could this be allowed to happen? Does this say something about how we are valued and respected?

Yet, perhaps it’s not that simple. 

Tough as it may seem, we need to realize our worth in order to actualize it.  And step-by-step, we are making changes.  Women are being called upon to take on even more challenges in the current economic environment, and we are clearly up to the task.  Now we need to build our community and support each other. Those of us who have rediscovered our voices, who can expose and express our self-worth, need to help clear the road for those among us who still struggle.

The Dalai Lama said, “According to Buddhism, individuals are masters of their own destiny.  And all living beings are believed to possess the nature of the Primordial Buddha, Samantabhadra -- the potential or seed of enlightenment, within them.  So.  Our future is in our own hands.  What greater free will do we need?”

Indeed.  Perhaps as young girls and women, we will be able to express that free will once more of us are able to model that behavior. 

What do you think about self-worth? We are all part of this important narrative. Share your thoughts with me.

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