Mother, Friend.

When I sit in caverns deep,

In darkness knit by life’s defeats,

As disappointment wears me thin,

I look above and light streams in.

 

You lift me up from puddles vast,

Remind me from whom I was cast,

With wisdom and commitment true,

You build me up and push me through.

 

With earnestness, your ears do hear,

Your shoulders broad, they bear my fear,

You do not judge or reprimand,

Your sole desire, to lend your hand.

 

And when I’m reaching for the sky,

You embolden, lift me high.

My ally and great devotee,

You spread my wings, then set me free.

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Inspiring Women, Part 3

In the first two parts of this series, I’ve discussed stories of particular inspiration and which highlight the distinctive traits which have the potential to make women into astounding leaders and game changers.

In the last part of the series, I want to write about a topic that has long been very dear to my heart, and which can be a destructive barrier to the flourishing of such potential. This topic is body image and eating disorders and it connects back to some ideas I touched briefly upon when I first started this blog. I also reblogged an article a couple of weeks ago about the impact of parenting on disordered eating.

I can’t really remember a time in my life when weight and body image issues weren’t a concern to me. I am very confident in saying that a great majority of women and young girls I’ve come across have experienced similar struggles with self-confidence as I have. For some, this results in more significant and sometimes life-threatening behaviour, including serious eating and image disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Athletica, Binge Eating Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I’ve known so many wonderful women in my life who haven’t seen their own potential. Looking objectively at someone else’s life or analyzing the things that they say, we question how they could think so little of themselves. Many of us turn around and treat ourselves similarly. I had a friend years ago who had symptoms of multiple disorders mentioned above and who nearly died from her condition. I so badly wanted to help her; to make her see her true value. But, when I look inwardly at myself and my past, I realize that while I’ve never had a diagnosed eating disorder, I have certainly had periods in my life of great obsession over the foods I ate, my body weight, and the way I looked. I have in the past used much self-deprecatory language, and years ago, I tried to use laxatives to lose weight. My knowledge of health and nutrition and the long-term impacts of laxative use meant I wasn’t able to persist with the habit for more than a few days, but nonetheless the desire to go to great measures to lose weight was a compelling one. Rather than starving myself or forcing myself to vomit, my past inclination has been towards extreme dieting.

Statistics show that 19% of normal weight girls in grade nine believe they are too fat and 12% of those have attempted to lose weight (Sullivan, 2002). Approximately 1% of young women have Anorexia or Bulimia (Hoek, 2007), and Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, on average killing sufferers within 10 years of onset (Sullivan, 2002). (Men suffer from eating disorders and disorders of body image too, by the way, but my focus in this series has been on women and therefore the single gender focus here).

Reflecting upon my own experiences and those of so many women I’ve talked to about this issue, I recall countless waits in grocery store aisles, faced with fashion and fitness magazine covers, unable to avert my eyes. I would stand there, looking at the women on the cover, wishing I could look like them and criticizing all the ways I didn’t. As I grew older and realized those photos were electronically modified, I knew in my rational mind that I shouldn’t even look; but the irrational and emotional side of me still longs for a body I’ll never have. Indeed, I’m more confident than I have ever been and generally accepting of the changes to my body that have come via aging and childbearing. I love myself much more than I ever have and I feel strong and beautiful, knowing I take good care of myself in a reasonable way via well-balanced diet and exercise regime. But still, I sometimes find myself wishing for body parts different than those I have.

I know how the preoccupation with physical beauty can distract a woman from all of her other internal potential – her intelligence, both emotional and cognitive, her creativity, her leadership capacity, her ability to nurture and care, her many other unique gifts. As well, a lack of self-promotion and confidence often translates into the non-physical realm, where people undervalue their many abilities. Our culture often has its priorities misplaced and in the case of body idealism, we are even contradictory. On the one hand, our culture puts value on a “perfect” body, and yet we often criticize and misunderstand strong self-confidence as arrogance.

It is probably inevitable that our culture will always identify and impose an ideal on us. But, I content that the confidence women gain through their accomplishments is far more important and has much longer-lasting impacts on self-confidence than the achievement of physical measures such a body weight or size. Not to say that balance and healthy lifestyle habits aren’t entirely crucial to impart as well, but from the perspective of health and well-being rather than on the achievement of physical ‘beauty’.

Thus, it’s our job as women to encourage in each other and in young girls the identification of interests and gifts of emotional and cognitive intelligence, creativity and professional potential and act as mentors rather than critics. Presupposing the inspiring women I’ve written about in the first two parts of this series weren’t at the time unnaturally focused on their physical beauty, they accomplished incredible feats of bravery, survival and philanthropy, while facing great impediments.

Let us inspire one another and build each other up.

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre provides information and resources about eating disorders and treatment in Canada: www.nedic.ca

References

Hoek, H. W. (2007). Incidence, prevalence and mortality of anorexia and other eating disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 19(4), 389-394

Sullivan, P. (2002). Course and outcome of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In Fairburn, C. G. & Brownell, K. D. (Eds.). Eating Disorders and Obesity (pp. 226-232). New York, New York: Guilford

Fresh Inspiration

Spring is here, though in Ottawa it is still cooler than most of us would like it to be. Still, I’m grateful for the sunshine and even the showers that washed away the snow and salt and are bringing us spring flowers. The Byward Market is blooming into its spring/summer look, with farmers beginning to set up their booths. Last week, some delightful fresh herbs could be purchased there.

Spring is a time of brightness, fresh scents and the return of vibrancy. It is a period of renewal, light, life and hope. Springtime lends itself to considering new opportunities and to challenging all that may seem impossible. My move to Ottawa from Vancouver Island occurred around this time nearly four years ago, and I remember how wide I smiled when I saw the beautiful spring bulbs of Parliament Hill. I knew there held some exciting promises for me in my new home; little did I know what the next four years would bring.

This month’s CFEP theme is the Canadian garden. I don’t currently have my own garden, and in fact, I’ve not grown any food plants other than in containers for a few years. I’ve been greatly inspired by family gardens in my life, and I wrote about this in my September post when I reflected on poignant food memories.

As has become habitual for me in this project, I was left considering what I might write about and create, only a couple of days before this post was due. I’m always a bit of a strategic procrastinator: I leave things until late, but not usually because I dread the task or am lazy. On the contrary, I wait until passion and inspiration seize me, and then I run with it.

 
Yesterday, I was reflecting on this month’s theme with a friend, and remarked to him that through this project, I’ve discovered that as much as I truly enjoy cooking, I love baking even more. I really savour the process of creating baked goods for others’ enjoyment. I feel a sort of artistic connection to inventing and designing desserts. I also derive a lot of peace and relaxation from baking in silence; the slow, systematic process of combining ingredients, applying both literal and symbolic warmth to them, and then constructing the final product….Baked Therapy.

 
So, my friend suggested I make lavender shortbread. It was an awesome idea, but I’ve made lavender shortbread and sugar cookies countless times, and lavender isn’t in bloom yet. Nevertheless, his suggestion did stimulate me in the way all good inspiration should: to consider the things I love and derive enjoyment from and to create something beautiful and unique. With his idea as my starting point, I decided that I would in fact use shortbread as my foundation; one of my most favourite treats. I then thought about the container gardening I have done over the last few years, and my primary product: fresh herbs. Finally, I thought excitedly about the approaching summer season and one of nature’s best gifts: fresh berries. All of this, and lots of love, were brought together to make this month’s creation: Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches, the esthetics of which were slightly inspired by a timeless French confection: the Macaron.

 
Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches

 
Fresh Mint Shortbread Cookies

 
~ 1.5 cups butter, softened
~ 1 cup cornstarch
~ 1 cup icing sugar
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 ½ tablespoons fresh mint, very finely chopped

Mix together dry ingredients. Add softened butter and use wooden spoon or hands to combine until smooth. Place in fridge for 30 minutes if you used your hands and the dough is too soft.

 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

 
Roll out dough on smooth, floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. Use small round cookie cutter to cut out circles and place on cookie sheet about an inch apart.

 

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Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until edges/bottoms get just golden. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool completely.

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Strawberry-Mint Filling

(Note: this makes a good quantity of purée, probably about 250ml, which is way more than you need for the recipe. I then freeze it for later use. If you don’t wish to have extra, cut the recipe in half)

 
~ 4 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped
~ 2/3 cup white sugar
~ 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
~ 6 fresh mint leaves (or more if you desire)

 

Place strawberries and mint leaves into food processor. Process until very smooth.

 

Pour purée into medium saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. Heat over low-medium and simmer until purée becomes darker and thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

 

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, either on the counter or in the fridge. May be made a day or two in advance.

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Construction

When cookies and filling are cooled, create sandwiches by placing about a ½-1 teaspoon of filling on top of one cookie and placing another on top. Voilà!

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I cut out my cookies about 1.5 inches wide, which produced about 40 sandwiches.

The finished cookies have such a beautiful, sweet and summery fragrance. I hope these cookies put a little spring in your step. 🙂

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.