Distorted(?) Perceptions of Beauty

Image courtesy of Aleksa D / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Aleksa D / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In one of her posts last week, Holley asked the question: Do you believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

She then shared some of the male celebrities that had been crushes of hers, and how her crushes differed from those of her mother and grandmother. You can see the post by clicking on the link above.

The sociologist in me got excited about this and wanted to comment about the fact that while we have our natural inclinations about what we like, they are affected by the way we are socialized into what is “beautiful.” If you know me at all, you will understand that I was compelled to go beyond “who floats our boat?” to the deeper question of how does this socialized concept of “beauty” affect us at a deeper level, primarily because of the effect it has on all of us, but particularly on young women. Following is an edited version of my comment to Holley:

I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, our ideas of what we are attracted to do not occur in a vacuum. We are also socialized into what beauty is. It’s one thing when we’re discussing celebrities with our friends and comparing who we find most appealing. It’s quite another, when we look at the darker side of the socialization that pressures women (more so than men) to live up to a standard of beauty that is unrealistic. If advertising and movies can convince young women (and men) that they are inadequate in some way, they will be more enticed to fix these inadequacies through the purchase of cosmetics, surgical procedures, and clothing.

It would be nice to believe that these societal expectations don’t exist, but they do. For example, open any magazine or turn on the TV, and you can’t help but notice how many “opportunities” we’re given to take care of our inadequacies so that we can be beautiful. It wouldn’t take much exposure to this type of propaganda to convince us that we don’t measure up in the beauty department. We can’t help NOT being influenced by such things, because they permeate our lives on a daily basis.

This sense of inadequacy is often in spite of the fact that there is someone (usually a spouse or significant other) who has chosen that person, as a beholder of beauty. It’s a deep subject, and while I’m sure you weren’t looking to make this a deep sociological discussion, it is interesting that what we view as beautiful is often a result of how we are socialized. Similarly, what is defined as beauty varies depending on one’s culture and other background.

On a personal level, I see the effects of this stuff on my students, especially the young women. They have very interesting attitudes about what they will and won’t eat, and are fixated by doing whatever it takes to stay thin. I have no problem with maintaining a healthy weight, but some of the young women who are most concerned about their looks have absolutely beautiful bodies, but they have been brainwashed into thinking they are lacking in some way.

I could ramble on endlessly it appears, so I’ll stop here. Obviously, I think this is a fascinating topic, and I enjoyed the fact that the people we tend to crush on is indeed very personal. It’s just that most of the people we crush on are also marketed to us in one way or another.  🙂

Holley responded and we talked of the possibility of taking this topic a little further. It was never my intention to go into sociological topics in this blog, but sometimes a topic just jumps out and captures my attention, Since others were interested as well, I decided to take the plunge.

A day or two later, I came across an amazing post from a father who was giving advice to his daughter about the dangers of growing up in a society fixated on a warped sense of beauty and sexuality. You can read it here. He invites his daughter to realize that the message she gets from retailers, magazines, and the media is not where real beauty is to be found. He does it in a letter that is truly moving and inspirational. I wish all young women had someone who would share this wisdom with them.

The expectations that society has engrained in us about beauty are not possible, and yet we judge ourselves (and others) by those unrealistic expectations. These larger than life expectations are also on billboards: we can’t get away from them. And yet, many of those images are deliberately distorted. In other words, NO ONE really looks like the image that is posted on that billboard.  Take a look at this video:

About a year ago, Dove did an interesting experiment in which women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist. Another set of pictures were done by the artist, this time with a stranger describing each of the women. The women were then shown the two pictures: how they saw themselves and how a stranger saw them. The results were striking as you can see in this video.

There are several messages in this video, but one is particularly clear. It’s not just our young women entering adulthood who are affected by distorted expectations of what beauty is. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, particularly when that beholder is conscious of the illusions promoted by the business industry. We all need to stop using these false expectations as a mirror for what we see.

If we remember to look within and trust what we see, we can help ourselves and those around us to see real beauty and not stuff that comes out of bottles, packages, and software programs.


Related post: http://holley4734.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/beauty-the-beholder-nablopomo/

MAYA – Illusion: Musical Theme for February

Welcome back to Bear and her selection for this time:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(illusion).  I think the way we perceive things is fascinating. So much of what we think we see is an illusion, but here are just a few examples I have found in music and dance. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks to my daughter, Kate, at Sincerely Kate for her assistance with the musical selections.

Just a Dream (Carrie Underwood)

Virtual Insanity (Jamiroquai)

You’re all the World to Me (Glee)

Amazing Dance a Brain Cannot Process


Check out other participants:



Audience and Purpose: Teaching ESL Students to Write

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As many of you know, I teach writing to English majors at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. I am actually considered crazy by many of my colleagues because I teach a LOT of writing–by choice!

I have actually sought out writing courses because, in spite of the work, it is one of the ways I can make a difference. Most students enter my writing classes just wanting to pass. No one expects to like writing; or at least, very few do. So I love the opportunity to change their minds about it. I start by shaking up their ideas and beliefs about writing. If you want to see my first post about such things, you can visit 10 Things I Want My Students to Believe about Writing.

But now, we have a new challenge. Sadly, many most students see no purpose for writing an essay (or anything else), other than getting a grade and passing a course, preferably as simply and painlessly as possible. As someone who reads lots and lots of student papers, I can tell you what the results of this mindset are anything but interesting.

My daughter and I were discussing this situation a few months back, and she offered to give my students an audience in addition to me. From each of my four writing classes, 15 students could submit an essay. She read them, made notes, and acknowledged winners in three categories: Most Informative; Most Appealing; and Best Utilization of the Language (mechanics and grammar).

The winners were then announced in blog posts that she did in January, while my students were on semester break. As you can see in her posts (see links below), she gave examples of what she liked about the essays she chose for the honors.

Now that the second semester has started, the results will be announced in each class next week. Winners will receive a certificate and a small token of accomplishment.

This is only one step in the process of teaching my students about audience and purpose, but it has created an experience in which they can understood that their writing can go further than their teacher’s grading pile.


The Award Posts:

Monday 8:10 am Writing II class: http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/from-taiwan-and-back-part-i/

Monday 10:10 am Writing II class: http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/from-taiwan-and-back-part-ii/

Wednesday morning Writing I class: http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/from-taiwan-and-back-part-iii/

Thursday morning Writing II class:  http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/from-taiwan-and-back-part-iv/

* Inspiration – What the World Needs

I am on a journey to discover what is alive in me to bring to the world. And that in itself is waking me to be more alive to myself and the world.

Find Your Middle Ground

What the world needs quote

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

What’s alive in you to bring to the world?……

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The (IL)Logic of Self-Defeating Behaviors

Image courtesy of 89studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of 89studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the US, the fall semester of most universities ends in early December with a break for the Christmas holidays. That’s not the case in Taiwan. Our 18 week semester ends sometime in early to mid-January in time for a break for Chinese New Year’s. (Which also means that, yes, I taught on Christmas). But the nice thing about the schedule here (other the fact that the semesters are 18 weeks long) is that when our break comes, I can use it to catch up on tasks that have been slipping through the cracks while classes are in session.

So I entered the month-long break with a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Now this wasn’t my usual crazy-ass mountain list where I try to climb Mt Everest, take 1st place in a cooking competition, and write my acceptance speech for a Nobel Prize all in the same afternoon. I was actually fairly reasonable, listing three major projects that I wanted to make progress on. I thought this would be a smart way to approach things instead of resorting to my typical over-achieving ways. I added a couple of personal projects that I was excited about to be used as a reward as I accomplished my goals. I even sweetened the pot by adding “fun” projects–quilting, blog posts, pleasure reading. We planned a couple of outings–a couple day trips and one overnight. A productive, yet restorative break lay out in all its promising glory.

The new 18-week semester begins on February 17, our opening faculty meeting is on Friday, the 14th. So, with less than a week of the break left, I wish I could report that my three main projects for the break have been completed, and that my “reward” projects are all moving along nicely. And that further, I’m refreshed, renewed, and ready to tackle the semester with gusto.

Instead, I am frustrated because during the past couple of weeks, I feel like I didn’t get enough done. And when I say “enough,” I mean the things that were on my “reasonable” to-do list. I sit here with one of the three projects finished, one at about 70% completion, and no progress on the third. What’s worse is aside from blog entries, and a tiny bit of quilting early on, I set those things aside. And my energy and motivation continued to fall.

With the help of a friend, I realized that I am actually being pretty ridiculous. I know the things that will energize me. Quilting, writing, reading. Working on projects that will further my long-range plans. So let me present you with two scenarios.

  1. Whenever I really invest in quilting, writing, reading, and other activities that energize me, I am able to tackle the things that need to be done. It’s like magic. I return to the deadlines and the results are very satisfying.
  2. When I tell myself that I need to finish my to-do list and THEN I can do one of the energizing activities as a reward for getting my work done, my already sluggish output eventually screeches to a halt or results in less than satisfactory results.

In the first scenario, I accomplish all kinds of things. My spirits are high, as is my motivation. I get lots of good ideas and am able to implement them without too much difficulty.

In the second scenario, I get even less done. I might slog through a few of the most critical things, but truth be told, it is not my best work.

It’s not that I need to play and take a total break. But taking significant things from my life and putting them on the back burner because they aren’t on the top of the priority list turns out to be self-defeating over time.There are things in my life that are not in the top priority list that are still a significant part of my life. Putting them on the back burner as an incentive to do the things that I “should” do first does not really work. But when I stop “thinking” and revert to automatic pilot, scenario two is the default setting.

If I incorporate the energizing activities as a regular part of life, I’ll end up being productive, less resentful. It turns out that getting everything done first before doing the things that feed us is actually counter-productive when viewed  from the moments when I feel most alive and creative.

I can’t go back and get these last few weeks back, but I can sprinkle my life with the things that will make life more colorful and energizing.

The new semester is looking brighter already.

Sinfully Musical: A Musical Theme based on the Seven Deadly Sins

When my daughter suggested the seven deadly sins as a theme for our musical adventures, I thought it was interesting. And I knew that she would find a song for every one of the damn things–that’s just the way she is. Awesome, thorough, and a little compulsive. If you don’t believe me, check it out at Sincerely Kate.

Well, I have my own issues, so I took a different approach. I decided to focus on one specific sin–that of pride, and apply it to what’s been going on as I try to bring some semblance of calm into my crazy life. OK, calm might be too strong a word, but I have to face it. My life is just too full of things to do, and it’s time to make some changes.

So how does that tie into pride? I think some of my self-enforced busyness comes from a mis-directed sense of pride. The compulsion of my personality type is to be busy, and I do not disappoint. And that’s just the problem. I am driven to appear responsible, to achieve, to shine. And yet, there is often little satisfaction in it.

How much is enough? How do I know when it’s right?

Get it Right (Glee)


And then there are the times when I act as though what I do is so important, but for whom? It’s really all illusion, as in the song below.

Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you

I move the stars for no one

Within You (Labyrinth)



So it sometimes gets tangled up in accumulating more and more of the stuff to do, to get the fix I think I need. A little greedy, don’t you think.

Mine Mine Mine (Pocahontas)


After a couple of inner dialogues with a character known as Plate Spinner, it was time to swallow my pride and start shifting my focus.

Inside Out (Eve 6)


There is a long way to go, but I feel like the break-up with the need to accomplish for its own sake, life seems a little more hopeful.

But since you’ve been gone
I can breathe for the first time
I’m so movin on yeah yeah

Since You’ve Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson)


As I continue to work on making this shift in my life, I’ve been doing many internal dialogues (see second Plate Spinner dialogue)  to discover what is really important to me, so that I quit wasting my time on the pointless activity. I am enrolled in a course called “Write Your Own Story,” and as I work with these dialogues and figure out who will narrate my story, I realize that I am paying a lot more attention to what’s really going on with me. I feel like I’ve become much more of a friend to myself, and that I have more self-support than ever.

Someone’s Watching Over Me (Hilary Duff)


I may have to work on weeding out some of the other places these deadlies show up in my life, but for now, I’ll focus on the fact that for now, I’ve done enough.  🙂

Thanks to my Collaborator at Sincerely Kate for the above selection of songs to illustrate my foray into exploring the sin of pride. And it’s important to her pride that I give credit where credit is due. Thanks, Kate!


FanFoFeb: http://willowdot21.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/fanfofeb-stress-and-then-madness/

Coffee in Paradise: Reprise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs amazing as that view was yesterday, the Magic Café also has an awesome interior. As if you would ever spend time inside. Well, maybe. If we really did go back sometime, and spend the day (and evening), going inside briefly to enjoy a Round Two latte wouldn’t be bad. Or if the weather didn’t fully cooperate, spending part of the day inside wouldn’t be bad. Though I have to tell you, I’d walk in the rain on that lovely beach!.

To be honest, I just had a brief glimpse of the inside, but I was so intrigued, I asked Dave to get a few pictures of it (since he was enjoying his photography session). He was taking pictures of the building anyway, so I didn’t feel too guilty asking him to take some pictures inside. Though I did have to clarify. I think no one really expected there to be seating inside.

It’s not a big place, but they’ve managed to have lots of interesting nooks and crannies, with an eclectic but charming décor. I find it interesting that with the water and coconut trees that they put so much effort into the interior, but they did, and it looks great!


I have to make a point to pace myself next time and actually check out the inside for myself.


As if there aren’t enough interesting things to look at, there are also some lovely seating areas. And next time, we could pose with our beverages at these seating areas.


Or maybe you would prefer this arrangement. We could pose here as well. You do notice, don’t you, that there is not a single person sitting inside? But I’m sure there are times when the indoor seating is used. But probably not on these beautiful sunny days.


OK, this one I could see spending a little time in this seating area, since one could glace sideways and see the ocean off in the distance. But eventually, who could resist the sand and the waves?


We definitely need to plan a full day for this place next time to get the full coffee relaxation experience.



FanFoFeb: http://willowdot21.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/fanfofeb-what-happens-when-i-go-out/

Coffee in Paradise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis might seem redundant to some who know me. I mean, sometimes a good cup of coffee IS paradise. But on our trip this past week, we had an unexpected treat when we went to a very special coffee shop in southern Taiwan, north of Fangshan Township on Highway 1.

Sitting on what could easily pass as the set for Gilligan’s Island, I was able to enjoy a creamy latte, a beautiful breeze, amazing scenery, and the company of three lovely Taiwanese students: two from the university where I teach (Green Tea and Olivia) and Olivia’s cousin, Emily, who goes to a university in southern Taiwan. I also got the pleasure of seeing my husband wander around enjoying the scenery and photographing to his heart’s content, as is evidenced by the photos below, and the ones you will see in other posts from this trip.

When I say “this trip,” I am referring to a 36 hour getaway that Dave and I made the week before the Chinese New Year’s holiday. We took a 4 1/2 hour train ride to the southwestern part of Taiwan, stopping first for a few hours in Kaohsiung before heading to the area near Pingtung, where we spent the night with one of the student’s family. Before retiring for the evening, we were informed that the plan was to take us to a coffee shop on the ocean, and wow, we weren’t disappointed.

The coffee shop, Magic Café, is located on a simple roadside exit off the highway. There were other shops and restaurants there as well. We had lunch at one of them, where sitting at the table was like being on deck of a ship and looking out over the railing at the sea.

But let’s go back to the coffee shop. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the coffee, the view, the company, and the gorgeous weather.


This is the view as you get out of your car and head to the coffee shop. Just past that white fence is the “outdoor seating area.” But first, check out the counter of the coffee shop. No doors; it just faces out to the ocean. The barista sees that view all day long. I’m sure there are times when the place is really hopping, but it was quite low-key the day we were there. SO perfect.


Here we are moving chairs and tables to have our day in the sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beach was lovely. The waves were lovely. We picked up menus from the coffee shop. After making our selections, we walked down to the shore for a bit. How could I look around at all of this beauty and not be transported to an instant state of relaxation and inner peace. Everything else ceased to exist. We could have spent the day there! Or a lifetime!


When you look at this picture, you see the mountains in the background. They are on the other side of the highway. These are the mountains I mentioned in the post I did about 1:23 pm on 1/23 (Logan’s Birthday).


And of course, all the amazing pictures of the water and the sky. It had been a while since I was able to just bask in the rhythmic dance of the waves. Hypnotic, peaceful, heavenly.

Great coffee, great company, great scenery, great weather. We are already making plans to go back. And at a time where we can stay for sunset. On the other hand, I don’t know how it could get much better than this.


*In the picture above, in order from the left. Green Tea, Olivia, Emily, and Yours Truly.
Also posted for FanFoFeb: http://willowdot21.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fanfofeb-spiders-web/