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Bring it on, woman


January 2012




Mental health experts are beginning to understand that anxiety does not necessarily mean a warning for more worries to come. They discovered that how anxiety affects us depends on how we perceive the stresses in our lives: Do you take it as a “challenge” or break it down as a “threat”? “Anxiety itself is neither helpful nor hurtful,” says Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland. “It’s your response to your anxiety that is helpful or hurtful.” Scholars suggests that simply not feeling anxious isn’t the answer. In fact, people who have too little stress suffers as much physiological damage as those who experienced too much psychological stress.

Common sense suggests that the quieter your life gets, the happier you’ll become. However, in modern-day lifestyles, stress is inevitable. Stress is an integral part of our lives, and women, who are more prone to illnesses as they age compared to men, should accept that challenge and manage their anxieties better to prevent, or, at least delay those fatal diseases caused by their inability to cope with stress, which is learned helplessness in disguise. In a sense, stress itself has a sweet spot. Through proper diet, consistent exercise, and adequate rest, a woman enhances her overall well-being alongside the passion for her work. But first, let’s examine the emerging theory behind the symptoms of clinical depression.

Learned helplessness is a formal term to indicate “the perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation”, as defined by positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman in his book “Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death”. A widely respected finding among his peers, psychologists have now understood that the more people perceive outside events are unpredictable and uncontrollable, the more stress they will experience, and the less hope they feel to making changes in their lives. Recently the National Institute of Mental Health researchers have published a study in Nature that may link chronic stress, now an everyday experience for most of us, as a lead to depression. The area of the brain that’s responsible for healthy stress response can be damaged if the woman is experiencing chronic stress. The hippocampus, where new brain cells can grow, is inhibited when a person responds slower to triggers of stress over time.

“One way to think about neurogenesis is that it’s a process in the brain that allows you to adapt to changing environments,” said Rene Hen, a researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “In stressful environments where you have lower neurogenesis, this may be adapting to the fact that when you are in a stressful situation, it’s better to stay put.”

In such harsh economic times and stressful working life today, it’s better to develop resilience rather than staying put and backing out of all the things life has been throwing at you. That is, accepting life’s biggest challenges but knowing when to stop when things are too big for you to handle, especially alone.

Nearly half of the American population, about 100 million people, are unmarried, according to the Census Bureau. “But a huge proportion of the population is unmarried, and the single population is only going to grow,” said Naomi Gerstel, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “At the same time, all the movement nationally is to offer benefits to those who are married, and that leaves single people dry.”

As women, we feel a stronger pressure to marry at a certain age. Although research shows that unmarried people are the ones who contribute more to their society, studies repeatedly show that these singletons tend to die younger than married ones. A new study published on the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that compared to married women, single ones face a 23% higher mortality risk across their lifetime, and 32% for the single men compared to the married men. Aside from that, marriage actually alters your hormones so that you, by default, experience reduced stress in the long run.

Naturally, two heads are better than one. As both a homemaker and passionate worker, poor health can get in the way of living our highest potential. Not only does finding meaning outside the home and being engaged with the community challenge a woman to be psychologically more resilient, but long-term commitment with a man provides women support too, and in return, taking good personal care becomes more meaningful, especially when children comes in to the picture.

Working mothers are reportedly happier and healthier than stay-at-home moms, concluded a study in December 2011 issue of Journal of Family Psychology. Cheryl Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at University of North Carolina at Greensboro studied how work impacts the well-being of mothers and their parenting based on three areas: sensitivity toward their children, involvement in their kids’ schools, and learning opportunities that these mothers provide their kids (books, enrichment courses, library and museum visits).

Her results matched previous researches that part-time working moms reported less work-family conflict than full-time working moms. Full-timers did not report more depression or worse health than moms who works one hour a week, so this does not suggest full-timers have lower well-being and poorer health than the part-timers. Apparently 32-hour workweek mothers are able to cope with stress as they are juggling with family life. One theory for the function of employment is to increase social skills and gain awareness of their community and the surroundings. “Maybe that translates to the experience they bring to their children,” says Buehler.

However, this is not to say that supermoms are better off than stay-at-home moms. The key is to keep the amount of stress manageable without compromising too much, as low to moderate amount of stress is necessary for healthy growth. After all, stress within control develops the person’s abilities to cope over time, providing a more established support to deal with stress and makes future adversity less worrisome. Way back in the hunter-gatherer days when a woman’s role is child-rearing and to perform “easy” tasks such as gather plants and other small foods, the deserts were an unsafe and most likely a threatening environment. It was far better to stay put than for a pregnant lady to hunt for food out there in the jungle. However, times have changed. Anxiety is within control, and most of us working behind the computer screens and sitting comfortably on our chairs are within safe grounds, while others choose to accept juggling everything at once – tackling deadlines, picking up phone calls, and eating junk food in between tasks. These challenges take a huge toll for the brain and the body, especially for these supermoms, who are better of spending those extra hours to nap or do light aerobics instead.

Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”, is a happy, healthy mom who has a flexible working time and therefore the hours to prioritize her kids. Before having children, she thought the start of it would ruin her career, and she would have no time to exercise and enjoy sex. “Yes, life often takes more planning when kids are involved, but planning ahead is a great way to make sure things get done,” she then suggested. “If you don’t have good time management skills before having kids, life will definitely be chaotic afterwards, but that’s not really the kids’ fault.” She did not give up her job to be a full-time mom, nor did she overthink the difficulty to raise children. Neither are a threat, as she perceived them as her personal challenge. In fact, she’s ran a marathon and had a vacation in India after she became a mom.

“I never would have written my book if I hadn’t had my son, and now my book is opening doors for me, professionally,” Vanderkam told The Happiest Mom. “Which means, by the transitive property, that my baby opened doors for me, professionally. That makes me a happy mom!”

Indeed, the sweet spot of stress enables us to handle our work, children, and sex life into perfect balance, women. There’s nothing threatening about finding meaning outside closed doors.










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In Jakarta, this is how you realize the girl of your dreams



– Image courtesy of Miss Kristin Kickass via Tumblr


I have a confession to make: I go to the beauty parlor once a year, some years never. I go if I have to attend weddings, important events, or just want a new haircut. I have not a clue what a creambath is all about. Well, since we’re spilling secrets here: I’ve never done manicures before. Never in my entire life, though yes to pedicure one time, which was only because my mother wanted my company, and because I always pick my toenails.  Oh, especially my fingernails. God forbid, especially my boyfriend, for me to pick my toenails. When it comes to shopping, let me just say that I don’t wear crazy accessories. In other words, overall comfort is better than what I call physical pain (except for the whole stack of sky-high shoes I keep building up to cope with my shoes fetish).

Nevertheless, I’m a girl. And before I say anything else, I agree with the bitter truth: “It’s damn difficult to find that kind of girl”, as I myself find it hard to fit in to our society, where girlfriends would rather go spend hours at the salon just to blow your hair (when you can do it for free at home), adjust your fringe (which you can learn to do it by yourself), curl your mane (where you can save a lot of money by investing in a hair curler and you can curl your mane forever, for free), and that hours passed in your life at the salon could have been used for other forms of beauty treatments, like exercise (sweating makes skin glow)  or the long, luxurious hours of beauty sleep (resting keeps you mentally and physically young). Note they’re for free.


In defense of beauty

The equation proposed goes like this: Beauty + Nice = A-rated girl. Sounds simple enough.

What the beautiful girls do, as noted, “besides buying the right clothes, bags and shoes, girls in Jakarta they like to spend hours at the salon, getting their hair fixed or having their faces massaged.”

In other words, girls spend. Girls consume. Girls receive all the treatments they deserve, like any other lady down the street, a gentleman would think.

But all this goes back to the definition of beauty: Is it wholly materialistic? And if yes, does it come with a price tag? If not, is beauty purely God-given, then?

Picture that frisson of her gaze when you meet her eyes. And when you talk, every so often she gives you that piquant glance. Then you look down and you see Birkin bags and Prada shoes. Further up and you’ll notice the color of her dye and the stagnant curls of her hair. Back to her face – no signs of an approving smile.

My, now that view has to cost some ginormous price, for sure. And she does not want you to buy it, even after knowing you had a long day from work, if ever you’re financially ready. Lest her daddy hunts you down and kick your thing.

Those times can be put to use for a man and his A-rated future wife to spend time with each other, playing together, fighting with each other (and probably have a superb make-up date later?), if time and money spent to keep up with her beauty were not lost. Guys, you’re missing out – the money’s in your hand, and she’s got all her time in the world – She doesn’t look interested,  and you’re letting her go?

I’m trying not to philosophize too much, but here’s my point: When we assume that popular opinion is the ultimate truth, the unchangeable, undeniable fact, we let things become that reality. And so we stick to it, live it, consciously or not, while leaving what we truly want inside, like a quiet desperation in this wasted life, only exist in dreams as you let others convince you to believe as it is – only in dreams.

It’s not just about paying the haircut fee for her beauty, you see. Whether you’re convinced to marry her or not, make your nice girl to make enough effort to look good for you (and that’s the thrill of the chase), while she’s busy being a nice person, smiling to everyone (including the hairdresser). Before you know it, voila, you get an A-rated girl. Or the other way round. She’s demanding and she doesn’t smile. So what? Man up; make her listen to you, gentleman. I know it sounds simple enough, and I’m no testosterone – but realize that it’s as simple as the definition of an A-rated girl. Be dashing, and be likable.


“Men are greedy”

Few weeks ago, a guy friend confided in me, saying that he wanted the rare breed of girls, the type with a “socialist look, but deep down is a simple, ordinary girl.” He felt he had to move up the career ladder because he wanted to have an A-rated girl as a girlfriend. He was a  very picky guy, I won’t say completely greedy, just because he has never had a girlfriend before in his entire life (mid-20s), and claimed that for the first and last time he’s to have a girlfriend, it has to be his definition of A-rated girl. “Most girls want security,” he reasons, so his recent job change made him feel more confident in finding a mate, finally.

If you are rushing to get married, without asking yourself whether you really want her and she really wants you, then you’re doomed to get dumped down the road, if ever that girl is a beautiful girl but not nice, or you’ll leave her if she’s nice but not much of a looker. I remember a couple of Sundays ago, my pastor at church shared a true story that best illustrates  a modern woman. There was this one time a particular husband lost a lot of money due to the economic downturn, and the woman, completely aware that they were married in Christ for more than 2 years, sought advice from our pastor in the following manner of speech: “Pastor, when is the best time I should leave him?”

Look, I’m no girl’s girl, a recovering not-nice girl, and everyday I try to find the most economical ways to beautify this physique, which is not even close to that of a supermodel but still conforms to the media’s expectations. But I can tell you that it takes effort, because I know men are simply different from women, and their visual cortex is double the women’s, and then all her curves stays permanently in his head, and that’s how this mental picture stays close in his heart, that’s just how men are designed to operate, biologically speaking. Aside from that, I know that making the effort is worth it – because it renews my confidence, plus it inflates the man’s ego.

Just like women, men should be brave enough to chase their dreams. Effort does not exist only in rupiahs. And money means nothing when you earn it without the girl who deserves an A.

“I think you are my greatest trophy,” recited my boyfriend. That is, provided that I have to stop picking my nails. Like I’m doing right now.




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Sex appeal, shame, and the life of an SPG


October 2011


Sex Appeal, Shame, and the Life of an SPG for The Jakarta Globe