Friday, August 7, 2009

Cultural Lessons

Once upon a time I was just a girl living on the Coast of Australia. Apart from my school uniform you would be hard pressed to find me in attire other than baggy shorts and an oversized surf shirt. When I grew up, got a job and left home I joined the military. Khaki became the dress of the day. During down time I could still be found in my baggy shorts and an oversized shirt. As time passed, I graduated to jeans and a few skirts and tops to wear out to dinners and parties. But that was it. My wardrobe with uniforms would take up two feet of hanging space.

When I left the military I trekked a bit around Europe and ended up working for some humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan. Living out of a backpack I still had my shorts, jeans and a few shirts. People who know me still laugh about my 'Afghan uniform' that I wore. From memory I had three long sleeve long shirts that I inherited upon arrival in Kabul, khaki oversized long pants and some beige long pants – all with a beige Afghan headscarf. I had been out of the military for a bit by then and Europe had taught me a trick or too about being girlish, so I would wear some basic makeup comprising of eyeliner and mascara and put my hair in pigtails. The pigtails were kept hidden under the headscarf and were only seen by those few who came to my office or attended the same UN meetings that I did.

Again years passed by. My wardrobe had grown slightly, but mainly with after hour pieces suitable for a dinner out, a wedding on beach or drinks at the pub. Casual chic – the dress code for those who always looked smart with an effortless flare – was something that totally eluded me until we moved to Dubai …the number one shopping destination of the world. Shops from Australia, the US, Europe and the Middle East were represented. Shopping was tax free and during the regular shopping festivals you could be guaranteed up to 75% of items. With no clean parks or clean free beaches to whittle away the time, I turned to Dubai's national past time to spend time (and money) with friends and family – shop! Three years in Dubai and my wardrobe grew with discounted clothes from Europe and I was content. I had turned into a person who loathed shopping and feared fashion in a shopping connoisseur.

Then we moved to the US. New York? Los Angeles? Washington D.C.? No, we moved and set up house in a nice green community 70 miles from Houston. Houston I hear is lovely – but I don't really know as I have not spent any time there other than one Astros game and a visit to the science museum. Fashion is … different. There are however an abundance of great parks and walking tracks and I credit moving here as to rekindling my relationship with the outdoors and with running. But … one thing I have noticed and picked up on is the emphasis on diet and calories. Initially I found this hilarious as I always see the US as being the birthplace of fast food – fatty fast food, lots of fries and burgers dripping in mayo. So it surprised me that all of the foods advertise the calorie intake per serve and how people actually go out of their way to buy and eat the 100 calorie cookie snack packs, or the 100 calorie sliced bread. It drove me crazy as I had always been brought up to eat healthy; three meals per day with a healthy snack or two and all food in moderation. The rules were fresh fruit and veges, cheese and yogurt, grained breads and pasta, lean meats. Under my rules a Big Mac meal is something that you can have when you want it – as long as it isn't every day! Under my rules I could eat a block of chocolate guilt free!

As I gradually adapted to life in the US diet and lifestyle became bigger and bigger. I found myself reading books that emphasized the importance of you are what you eat. Books such as Skinny Bitch, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads, French Women Don't Get Fat. Admittedly I bought and read some of these books for amusement or just for the title. Some of these books were scary – I didn't eat meat for a few days after reading Skinny Bitch, and after reading Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads I stopped preparing green salads with dinner (also partly because the kids don't like salads so I was throwing out more lettuce weekly than we were eating). I suddenly realized that without meaning to I had jumped on diet fad band wagon. Without meaning to I was watching my food intake and restricting certain foods just to binge on them later. Taking a deep breath I tried to forget about it all, but there were calorie reminders on every bit of food I ate. Even my husband started getting fussy with food trying to go low carbs and low calories – not eating pasta of an evening, having sandwiches without bread.

Seriously it drives me crazy. Although I understand the importance of knowing what you eat and how certain foods fuel your body I am totally over the calorie counting, the fad diets and foods that have high fructose corn syrup in them. Moving to the US has morphed me into some wannabe fitness freak that deprives the body its much needed fuel. I am done with it and going back to the regime that has worked over the past three something decades – three healthy meals a day, healthy snacks and all food in moderation. Coupled with exercise I think this solution will ensure that I can continue to wear all the clothes in my expanding wardrobe!


That Pink Girl said...

Preach it sister! Don't overdo it on a regular basis and get out and mooove that body - that will keep most people fit. I must admit that marathon training has allowed me to over indulge a bit more regularly than I should - with no ill effects though!

clynton said...

Didn't realize you were from Australia as well. I was born in a suburb of Sydney but moved to the US with my family in Christmas of '78. My wife was actually born at the same hospital in Sydney, but we met in the US (our families knew of each other over there).

Post a Comment