If you must criticize, be constructive… not mean.

When I was in high school and college, I attended events where I competed in public speaking with a focus on pros, poetry, one-act play, and dramatic readings. As a teenager and young adult, it was difficult to receive written critiques stating areas of improvement I needed to make with my presentations. Though I was not confident in many areas of my life, I believed I was good at this and how dare someone correct me. I was in my element. One of my instructors shared with me why it was important, and I should take the constructive criticism to heart so that I could learn and improve. While it was a bitter pill to swallow for my young mind at the time, I discovered my teacher was correct, as were my critics. I reviewed their comments and worked to better my presentations in order to move forward on my academic path.

Fast forward almost four decades later where I work to promote to visitors in the hopes they will choose to come to my city. I share the quality of life message so people can see what a great place my community is to visit, work, and live. Forty years later I am still receiving criticism for the job I’m doing. However, much of it seems to be more mean than constructive.

For example, I took the photo above yesterday afternoon during a noon walk along the Concho River by my office. As an amateur photographer, I saw the clouds from my window and knew the reflections off the water would be incredible, so I snapped the photo with my cell phone. This is the original photo. NOT enhanced.

I admit I enhanced the photo I shared on social media, but only slightly. I increased the vibrant color because I didn’t think my cell phone captured the true colors I saw. I’ve done a comparison below to show the difference. The photo on the top is my original. The one below has the color enhancement. It was then shared on social media channels. 

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I recognize I could have left the photo alone and just posted the original, but I didn’t. The reaction? Overwhelmingly, people stated they loved it, loved our city, and loved living here. It was liked, loved, and shared by many and that continues to happen as of this writing.

While the positive comments were wonderful, much like my time as a teenager, I focused on the criticisms that included the following: “Holy Editing,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” and “The water never looks like this picture.”

Is the water blue? No. Again, my photographer’s eye knew the clouds would reflect off the water as would the blue sky. The reflective capture was what I was after.

The picture below was taken by me with my cell phone on a cloudless day. To me, it is still beautiful. I have shared many photos much like the bottom one before only to get similarly critical comments.

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The point of this post is to say criticism, while not always welcomed, is important. However, criticism with no construction around it, only the desire to complain about things on social media without offering a solution to the problem is not helpful. Social media has opened the door to more and more of this criticizing nature.

Having lived in 20 different cities and towns in my life, some places for only a few shorts months due to relocation and waiting to move into a permanent home, I’ve seen this consistently in many of these communities. Whether it was a letter to the editor, a public demonstration, or a social media post, no solution was offered, just criticism.

I jokingly said to a friend this morning that when I read these comments, I want to ask the person (but I don’t), “If you are being held hostage and unable to leave this town, please let us know so we can send someone in to rescue you so you can get away.”

What started out as an innocent photo of the beauty of the day turned into a moment for me to think about my life and the life lessons I have learned. To those who consistently feel the need to criticize the community in which you live, I make this suggestion. If you don’t have a solution to the problem, please consider refraining from your criticisms. If you feel your town isn’t clean enough, get a group of people together along with trash bags and start picking up garbage. If your taxes are too high, help find a way to improve your community so that businesses will move there and help relieve your tax burden. If you don’t like the leadership in your community, exercise your right to vote. And if none of those solutions works for you, explore other options.

The United States is large. According to World Population Review, as of 2018, there are 19,495 incorporated cities, towns, and villages in the United States. If you don’t find a good fit in the U.S., there are always other countries. This is the only life we get on this earth. Why choose to be miserable, unhappy, and critical all the time? Find some place where you can enjoy the life you have. But remember this phrase published in The Kansas Farmer, February 1917:

Some people are never satisfied anywhere. The grass always looks a little greener on the other side of the fence.

Whether you go or stay, feel free to criticize but also offer solutions to improve your life, the life of your neighbors, and the vibrancy and success of your community. 

Throwing Your Weight Around

Today’s view from my veranda is the garden my husband built me from repurposed lumber and an old door he got at a second-hand store. Over the weekend, I cleaned out the remainder of the garden, which consisted of a variety of tomato plants. They weren’t producing a lot and the tomato worms were having a party with the leaves, so I gathered them up and tossed them in the back part of our acre and let the worms have a field day. Meanwhile, I wait for the artichokes, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and greens to grow.

Recently in the news, late night talk show host James Corden responded to commentary about fat shaming by another talk show host that I choose not to mention. The host will be referred to as he-who-must-not-be-named, like in the Harry Potter books. My blog…my rules.

If you heard about the story, the other guy stated we needed to do more fat shaming in society. There was far more talk on his part but that about sums it up in the kindest way I can write.

Corden shared a rebuttal. I’ve always been a fan of Corden’s amazing musical talent and gift of gab, but he made me a bigger fan, pun intended, because of his eloquence. Pointing out to an adult male that encouraging fat shaming is another form of bullying is spot on.

Growing up, I was actually average weight. When I graduated from high school, I weighed 140 pounds at 5’9.” My parents went through a divorce when I was starting high school, but I still remained at a healthy weight. I played basketball, competed in speech, drama and one-act play competitions, and worked summer jobs as a waitress and then on the farm with family members, both in high school and college. If you look at the weight chart, you’ll see I was well under the healthy weight requirements suggested. I seem to remember the chart reading I should weigh between 128-168 and I think I may have peaked in college at 150. Women all over the south just fainted because I shared my weight range. Oh, I’m 55, for those women who were holding it together so as not to pass out the first time.

I remember when I looked at overweight people as a young teenager and in my early 20’s, I wondered how they got so large and let themselves go. I couldn’t really conceive it. Then life happened.

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire adult life. Wearing a size 8 wedding dress, I got married in my mid-20’s. A few years later at 27, I had a baby. I gained a significant amount of weight when I got pregnant and never really lost it, not because I wasn’t happy as a mother. Instead, I wasn’t happy as a wife, so I found solace in food. The weight literally kept piling on. I hadn’t seen 150 since my wedding.

A few years later, I went through a divorce, a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, and a move out of state and the weight actually came down. I found happiness in a new marriage, but this time I wore a size 14 instead of the size 8 from more than a decade earlier. A number of moves, new jobs, and other family challenges and the numbers began to climb once again.

I’ve had active moments. I’ve completed a half-marathon. I’ve trained with a heavy bag, building my upper body strength while getting rid of some frustrations. I’ve even worked out with the Wii, cursing the virtual assistant as I squatted, ran in place, and did lunges. I’ve owned treadmills, weights, and elastic bands. I currently have an exercise bike and an exercise ball in the spare bedroom.

I’ve yo-yo’d from 150-250. Yes. I have gained an entire young adult in my life, multiple times. And I’ve used self-deprecating humor to ease both my discomfort and that of others. I say I’m “twice the woman I used to be” or talk about the various sizes in my closet from 14-22.

I’ve never related to people who jump up and go for a run when they’re stressed. The last thing I want to do is apply more pain to my already out-of-shape body. Should I? Most definitely, yes. However, my choice tends to be to go in the kitchen and find the closest unhealthy snack I can find or cook something with the south’s favorite ingredients – butter and sugar. I’m a self-identified stress eater. If only my choices were a big salad with no salad dressing. I love salad but it’s not my go-to stress meal and probably never will be.

All this is to say, the struggle really is real for those of us who have been challenged with our weight most of our lives. I have yet to identify something in me that wants to continually maintain a specific diet, even though I truly know it works and that I should. I have moments when I look in the mirror and I’m good with how a look and then other times when I’m incredibly depressed about my body.

I admire those who are comfortable in their skin, whether it’s small or large. I have to admit that secretly I question if they really are comfortable since I can’t relate.

Will I always be overweight? I have no idea. What I do know is fat shaming is really not cool, even if you’re doing it to try and help motivate someone. As James Corden said, it doesn’t work.

I’ve had a lot of failures in my job, my marriage, and my parenting, but I’ve had far more successes in those areas, which is why this isn’t the easiest thing to admit. I know I’ve failed at weight loss/gain and I don’t like it. Will I do something about it? Absolutely. Will I be successful? Maybe. If I am successful, will I maintain it? I hope so. My track record would show otherwise.

So he-who-must-not-be-named will probably continue with the fat shaming and other people shaming that he is known for and it is his right to do so. Weight loss will be a challenge for a significant number of people around the world and not everyone will understand it. Could I “pull away from the trough” instead of eating? Yes. I hope some day to make those decisions easily. Until then, I await my garden of vegetables, yes, I do eat healthy more often than you might think. And as I gnaw on my next carrot or celery stick, I pray I’ll find the inspiration to do better with my body on a regular basis and not because of fat shamers. Here’s to a healthy mind, body and spirit.