What is Beauty? Part 3: Barbs for Barbie or Me?


This blog post is part of a three part series on the topic “What is Beauty?”. This series started in Part 1 where I was invited to speak to a 5th grade class on the topic of beauty. In Part 2 I reflect on the experience of working with this class, and the reactions the children had to my experiences in wearing my fat suit. Finally, in Part 3 I will discuss my trip to a national talk show on television under cover as a larger bodied person.

As a child of the sixties, one of my favorite pastimes was playing with Barbie dolls. I have a vivid memory of the excitement that I felt on my ninth birthday when I received the majestic blue velvet Lady Guinevere gown, spectacularly laced with gold trim. It cost an exorbitant $5.00, surpassing the cost of most of my own dresses. Immediately, it became one of my most prized possessions. If you had asked me then how I would feel about meeting a real life Barbie, my enthusiasm would have been boundless. However, years later, as a psychologist and activist for people in larger bodies, my sentiments toward Barbie changed. I came to see her as a representation of a body image so unrealistic that the likelihood of attaining her dimensions was akin to being born with high-heeled feet. Continue reading “What is Beauty? Part 3: Barbs for Barbie or Me?”


What is Beauty? Part 2: Reflections From Fifth Graders

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about my presentation to a fifth grade class in West Hartford, Connecticut who were assigned the task of exploring the topic, “What is Beauty?” The project stemmed from the International Baccalaureate Organization, established in 2013, to develop internationally minded people who will help to create a better and more peaceful world. To this end, children are taught multiple attributes that include critical thinking, inquiry based on research, appreciation for the perspective, values and traditions of others, cultivation of empathy, compassion and respect, social justice, integrity and honesty. Continue reading “What is Beauty? Part 2: Reflections From Fifth Graders”


What Is Beauty? Part 1: Challenging “Fattitudes”

As a clinical psychologist who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues for many years, I was happy to hear that the Miss America pageant recently made the decision to drop the swimsuit competition. The “party line” was that the judges; change of heart was because they deemed it more important to judge contestants on “what make you you” rather than on appearance. However, the real trigger was an email scandal last December in which officials demeaned winners’ appearance, intelligence and sex lives.

So when I was asked recently to speak to a fifth grade class in West Hartford, Connecticut on the topic, “What is beauty?”, I jumped at the chance. The students composed a list of questions that their teacher sent me beforehand and I was impressed with their thoughtfulness. Continue reading “What Is Beauty? Part 1: Challenging “Fattitudes””


Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients: Part 3 Using the World of Imagination

This post is the third and last installment of my series covering how to therapeutically engage dementia patients. In part 1, we explored the current models of treating the disease, and in part 2, we discussed engaging people with dementia through humor, music, meaningful activities and social interactions.

Another powerful, but often overlooked approach is the use of imagination. The idea is to tap into the capacity for creativity that is often dormant but not gone. Continue reading “Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients: Part 3 Using the World of Imagination”


Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients Part 2: 3 Ways to Engage Patients with Dementia

In our last post we delved into the current models for treating dementia patients. As we discussed before, the Salutogenic model emphasizes how to help patients adjust as their abilities change, instead of just treating the symptoms medically. The term “salutogenesis” was coined by Anton Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. The term refers to an approach that focuses on factors that support health and well-being, in contrast to factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). In today’s post, we will continue to explore the Salutogenic model, and discuss ways to engage patients through social interactions, meaningful activities, singing and humor. Continue reading “Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients Part 2: 3 Ways to Engage Patients with Dementia”


Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients Part 1: Understanding Current Models

I am a psychologist with 40 years of clinical experience. Although a small portion of that has been spent assessing and treating patients suffering from dementia, my primary interest in the field comes from personal experience. My father, who was also a clinical psychologist, was diagnosed with dementia 14 years before he died at the age of 86. I will never forget the first time that I knew that something was fundamentally wrong. It was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my mother had asked my father to tie my young nephew’s tie before we left for services. He did a lousy job and she scolded him for it, unaware that his capacity to perform simple tasks had begun to decline. When we returned home, there was no sign of him. My best friend and I walked back to the synagogue and were unable to find him. As we were about to cross the street, my father emerged from a wooded area, still in his suit and covered with brambles. I exclaimed, “Dad, where were you? We have all been so worried!” He replied, “I was mad at your mother”, as though that explained it. In a way, it did, although he could not fully express it. We later surmised that he had felt humiliated by my mother’s admonishment which somehow became a plausible reason for another failure: his disorientation finding his way home on a route that he had walked hundreds of times. Continue reading “Therapeutically Engaging Dementia Patients Part 1: Understanding Current Models”


Why Self-Compassion is Vital to Self-Care

Just about everyone knows what compassion is and why it is such an important aspect of the human experience. Simply put, compassion involves a deep understanding and feeling for the suffering of others, often accompanied by a desire to help alleviate it. Self-compassion is no different, except the recipient is oneself. Many people believe (and I was one of them), that they should put the needs of others before their own. Being compassionate toward themselves may be viewed as being selfish or self-indulgent. Not so! Think of it as analogous to the instructions given on every flight, for the adults to put the oxygen mask on themselves before placing it on their children. The idea being that if you ignore your own needs, you will become depleted.

Continue reading “Why Self-Compassion is Vital to Self-Care”


What Difference Can Compassion Make?

A few years ago, I attended an inspiring lecture on compassion given by Dr. Christopher Kukk, profession of Political Science at Western Connecticut University. Dr. Kukk mentioned the Syrian refugee crisis and how the heartbreaking photograph of 3 year-old Aylan Kurdi immediately impacted policy. Instead of the news only focusing on crowded boats and borders, this picture of a single child whose body washed up on a Turkish beach humanized the crisis and elicited compassion where there had been relative indifference. Similarly, when the Pope visited the US during this crisis, he called attention to our common humanity, stating “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation”.

Continue reading “What Difference Can Compassion Make?”


Quieting My Self-Critic

Much has been written about the benefits of compassion. Compassion is the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates us to help. Its derivation comes from Latin and it literally means to suffer together with. It is considered to be an adaptively evolved trait as it is essential for human survival (“survival of the kindest”) and has been linked to enhanced physical as well as emotional well-being. Self-compassion is no different except that the recipient is oneself. Instead of reacting to our mistakes, imperfections and disappointments by castigating ourselves, it involves giving ourselves the kindness, understanding and compassion that we would instinctively give a loved one who was in pain. While pain is an inevitable part of life, suffering is characterized by pain and resistance to pain, in other words, fighting vs accepting reality. Continue reading “Quieting My Self-Critic”


Self-Compassion: Psychologist Heal Thyself

For years, Garrison Keillor would introduce his fictitious town, “Lake Wobegon” as a place “where all the men are strong, all the women are good looking and all the children are above average”. Self-esteem has long been regarded as the key to personal well being and happiness. The problem? Self esteem is inherently unstable because it is based on social comparisons and fleeting accomplishments. Continue reading “Self-Compassion: Psychologist Heal Thyself”