No more stressing over selfies

Snapping selfies may seem like an innocuous activity of today’s youth, but the anxiety that comes with choosing the perfect image could have harmful effects. A recent study out of the University of Arizona found that teen girls who fret over which photo of themselves to post on social media or who heavily use photo editing apps are more likely to self-objectify than those who don’t.

Interestingly, it isn’t the act of taking selfies that brings excessive anxiety about appearance but, rather, the overanalysis of those selfies that can lead teens to be more critical of their appearance.

Published in the Journal of Children and Media, the study examined the selfie-editing processes of 278 girls, ages 14 to 17. Apps like Facetune can brighten teeth, change the sizes of lips and noses and remove blemishes in just a few taps. Researchers found that the time and effort put into such apps by teen girls correlates with feeling more shameful and anxious about their appearance.

To help parents of teens spot the signs of appearance anxiety and employ ways to help improve their teen’s body image, we sat down with Rachel Coleman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Mission Viejo. She has more than 12 years of experience treating eating disorders and is the co-host of “Mom Genes The Podcast.” (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

OC Family: Why do you think so many teens are fretting over selfies and editing their images?

Coleman: Our culture rewards attractiveness, glamorizes sexuality and celebrates weight loss. This messaging trickles down to the high schools and allows the students with more physical attractiveness (usually in thinner, fitter bodies wearing more revealing clothing) to become more powerful in the high school hierarchy. Editing photos, taking multiple shots, posting the “perfect” photo is a teen’s way of attempting to gain control of their social standing and increase power over their social status.

OCF: What are some general signs that a teen is struggling with body image and shame issues?

Coleman: Teens may engage in obsessive thinking, as evidenced by increased time taking photos, editing and then deleting them in frustration, disgust over appearance in photos, refusal to take family photos at the holidays and anxiety over their outfits at school dances or social gatherings that lead to indecision on which outfit to wear or refusal to attend the event.

OCF: What are some other body shame behaviors parents should look out for?

Coleman: Mirror “body checking” — looking at their body from multiple angles, pinching and scrutinizing body parts, hiding their body in looser fitting clothing, refusing to wear bathing suits, isolating in their room, attempting elimination diets in the name of weight loss, increasing exercise that is a compensation for food eaten, or eating larger amounts of food than usual while isolating are all behaviors to look out for.

OCF: What are some of the self-image and body shaming risks associated with social media use?

Coleman: Inappropriate emphasis placed on the teen’s appearance and body size is the key risk in social media use. Visual tools such as editing software or filters only add to this risk because it is giving the teen the subtle message that their organic, photographed self is not good enough.

OCF: How can parents open and continue a conversation about body image with their teens?

Coleman: Supporting your teen through this phase can include the balanced guidance of listening and coaching, having a safe space for the teen to talk by decreasing your judgment and withholding your lectures, and sharing your own struggles from the past or present to find a sense of self. A teen will struggle to find body peace if the parent has not found the same body peace.

OCF: What are some effective strategies parents and teens can employ to help improve their body image?

Coleman: Helping teens develop value and belief systems and visualize their future (unless it induces anxiety) can help with improving body image. Some concrete ways families can create safe spaces include eating meals together as much as possible, covering closet mirrors with posters of adventure places or positive quotes for daily reminders or reduction of body obsession and setting a vibe of body positivity in the home.

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When a pregnancy fails, surrogacy is a second chance

Get married, have children, raise them and send them to college. For Zulma Vega, thosewere all stages of a full life.

She had done the first, marrying Leonel, in 2003. But the second step of having children was proving difficult. So, in 2017, she undertook in vitro fertility treatment, and her doctor transferred one of four embryos to her wombthat May. Months later, the pregnancy ended in a loss due to cervix incompetence, which poses a severe riskof premature birth.

After the failed pregnancy, one of Vega’s four sisters, who are all close, spoke to Vega’s doctor and offered herself as a surrogate. Vega didn’t know it at the time — and didn’t even know that surrogacy was an option.

“We had no clue about surrogacy up to that point,” said Vega, who is now 42 and lives in San Juan Capistrano. “I think it’s one of the things that people don’t talk about, or they’re afraid to talk about their fertility issues.”

The sister who had made the offer, Marisol Cervantes, already had three children with her husband and wasn’t planning to grow her own family more when she stepped forward to return Vega’s generosity and help give her the family she had dreamed of.

When Vega lost the baby, “that was heartbreaking for everybody,” said Cervantes, 37, who lives in Mission Viejo. “She’s a really good person. For all our baby showers, me and my sisters, she’s there for us all the time. She’s just that person.”

At a family gathering soon after losing her baby, Vega announced that one of her sisters had offered to be a surrogate.

“I never planned to do something like this. I never really thought about it until I knew my sister couldn’t have kids, and then I jumped in to help her,” Cervantes said. “It’s such a rewarding thing to do for somebody else, especiallyif you know their story and how bad they want a family.”

That step was just the beginning.

Vega and her husband visited a therapist who confirmed they would be capable parents. Cervantes, like all surrogates, went through both a medical screening to ensure her body could handle pregnancy and a psychological evaluation. Following standard protocol for surrogacies, the two sisters hired separate lawyers for the legal contract, which they each signed along with their husbands.

Cervantes took hormone medications for two months to prepare her body to receive one of the embryos Vega had already created. On the first attempt, she became pregnant.

Women from all walks of life turn to surrogacy when they are unable to have children themselves, says Dr. Jane Frederick, reproductive endocrinologist at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, who also is Vega’s fertility specialist. Some have previous pregnancies that ended poorly. Cancer forces some to have hysterectomies, while others are born with eggs and ovaries but no uterus.

Surrogates have their own reasons for offering to carry another family’s baby, and many have altruistic motives, Frederick says, adding that some ask to work with gay couples in particular. Prospective parents should work with an agency to find a surrogate, and not search for one online.

“It’s always about how comfortable the intended parents feel and how comfortable is the surrogate working with that couple?” Frederick said.

When Frederick started working on fertility issues 30 years ago, there weren’t good techniques for in vitro fertilization or developing embryos in the laboratory, so doctors used the surrogate’s own egg and performed artificial insemination. But improving technology made it possible to use eggs from the prospective mother.

“That helped to alleviate any legal issues down the road because the genetic link is to the intended parents,” Frederick said. “So, it’s less likely the surrogate will change her mind and say that’s my baby since she’snot genetically related to the baby.”

In vitro fertilization methods have grown more advanced as well, making the process much safer. In the past, women undergoing in vitro treatment were more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy with two, three or even four babies. Today, doctors can select one embryo for transfer.

The whole process can cost prospective parents $100,000 to $150,000, including legal fees, psychological evaluation fees, in vitro fertilization treatment and the stipend for the surrogate, Frederick says. The surrogate may receive $25,000 to $30,000.

Women choose to become surrogates for their own combination of reasons, including altruism and the monetary compensation, according to Dr. Rachael Lopez, an OBGYN at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, who also is Cervantes’ doctor. But the realities of surrogacy — getting paid to carry someone else’s baby for nine months — mean that hired surrogates often come from a lower socio-economic background, Lopez says. Pregnancy always comes with medical risks, and even a small chance of dying.

“If you were a career woman with your own children and a two-parent working family, I’m not sure how easily that would fit into your lifestyle to be pregnant and care for someone else’s baby,” Lopez said, adding that it’s common for military wives to be surrogates. “It’s not entirely without risk. For a lot of families, you would have to ask, ‘Is this dollar amount worth the risk?’ ”

Tales of surrogates refusing to give away the baby are less common than people might believe, Lopez says. Counseling prepares them and they know their role in the process.

“I would imagine the mom has to wall herself off a little bit. Growing a baby is such an intimate and personal experience, feeling those movements. You feel a relationship with that baby that no one else has. You have to put a little wall around your heart,” she added.

Parents choose surrogacy for a variety of reasons, usually related to health and often because of severe health problems affecting fertility, according to Lopez. Maybe it’s no longer safe for the woman to have higher hormone levels. Maybe she has a chronic disease or auto-immune issues, or blood clotting-related disorders. Maybe surgery or an emergency operation affected the woman’s fertility, or a prior pregnancy caused health problems.

For Cervantes, the purpose for her surrogacy was clear.

“A lot of people think that you’re going to walk out thinking it’s your child,” Cervantes said. “If you’re doing it for the right reasons, to help somebody have a family, it just feels really good to do something like that.”

Vega’s daughter was born in December 2018, and Vega named her Marisol after her sister. Vega also made Cervantes the baby’s godmother.

Today, Cervantes is pregnant with Vega’s second child, who is due in September. She plans to carry a third child for her sister as long as everything goes as well as expected.

“It’s a unique thing that somebody’s willing to do it for you three times — not just once, not just twice,but three times,” Vega said. “I want people to know that there are options because it’s so painful to go through infertility issues ourselves, as a couple, as a woman, because we have so much love to give.”

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Teenage driving won’t leave you thriving

This is an actual transcript of a conversation I had with my teenage son the day before he took his written driver’s license exam. Even though he’d been anxiously anticipating this moment for years, he was feeling cocky about his prospects. Luckily, teenagers know everything.

Marla Jo Fisher, speaking to her 18-year-old son, Cheetah Boy, who is lying on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto:

11 a.m. MJF: You’d better start studying for your drivers’ license written test tomorrow.

11:01 a.m. CB: I already know everything to pass the test.

11:02 a.m. MJF: Regardless, you should study. There are a lot of tricky little questions on that test.

11:03 a.m. CB: I’m good.

Later that day …

2 p.m. MJF: I emailed you a link to practice DMV tests. You should turn off that video game and get on your laptop and practice the exam. Your test is early tomorrow.

2:01 p.m. CB: OK, thanks.

2:02 p.m. MJF: No, seriously. You really should.

2:03 p.m. CB: OK, OK. Get off me.

The next morning. 9:30 a.m. Outside the Stanton DMV office. Marla Jo Fisher waits in the car reading a magazine, as her son goes inside to take the test. He’s gone a long time, then finally returns, visibly agitated.

CB: I took the test twice and only missed passing by two questions, the first time, and one question the second time. The questions were stupid. One was about animals by the side of the road. Who cares about animals by the side of the road?

MJF: Well, you should have studied like I told you. I hope it was a learning experience for you.

CB: I only missed it by one question, and it was a stupid one! It had nothing to do with studying.

Cheetah Boy shows off his new driver's license, after finally passing all his tests. His mother lived through the experience. Barely.
Cheetah Boy shows off his new driver’s license, after finally passing all his tests. His mother lived through the experience. Barely.

MJF: You keep thinking of this as if it were winning the lottery. It has nothing to do with chance. It has to do with preparation. I hope you learned a lesson today about being prepared now that you’re an adult. Anything important requires preparation.

CB: Yeah, whatever. Will you bring me back this afternoon to take the test again?

MJF: Naw, probably not.

I did not take him back that afternoon, in fact, I didn’t take him back at all. I made him find a ride to retake the test and he did, ultimately pass it. After doing the unthinkable: Studying.

Moral of the story: When at first you don’t succeed, try doing it the way your mom told you to in the first place.

This came to mind the other day, when my friend was telling me she’s preparing to drive her son to take his written test. He’s 20 years old and hasn’t bothered to get a license yet. Life is different for our children these days, I remember lining up on my 16th birthday to get mine, unable to wait even a single extra day.

Of course, I’d already taken a driver training course in school, and even though I hated the teacher, hey, it was free.

Outside of major cities like New York, where many people never learned how to drive, driving was a fairly homogenous affair back then. You took lessons in school and then queued up on your 16th birthday to get your golden ticket to adulthood.

Then, you borrowed your parents’ car, brought it home empty of gas, and wrecked it at least once in the first year.

That’s from Auto Club statistics, by the way, that show most new drivers have a wreck in their first year. I was no exception and I’m grateful to be alive, because my mother nearly killed me when I totaled her elderly-but-still-serviceable Toyota Corona.

I’d had my drivers license about four minutes – or so it seemed – when I borrowed my mom’s car and then promptly hit a dump truck. It did nothing to the dump truck. I hit the truck’s tire, and didn’t even flatten it. My mom’s car was totaled.

The cop who arrived to survey the damage burst out laughing when he saw my crestfallen face. “This your mom’s car?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Are you going to get in a lot of trouble when you get home?”

I nodded again.

“OK,  well, technically I should give you a ticket because you failed to yield right of way, but since you did no damage at all to the other vehicle, and you’re already in trouble, I won’t write you a citation.”

I had the car, which was now artistically twisted into new shapes, towed to our nearby driveway, and waited for the execution. No one was home yet, so I had time to think about how I might die.

Let’s just say, I wasn’t summarily executed, but I didn’t drive again for a long time. And, when I did, it was a car that I bought myself with my own money.

I never told my teenagers this story so, shhhh, don’t tell them. Because I didn’t want to suggest to them it’s possible to wreck your mother’s car and live to tell the tale.

Nowadays, they both have their licenses, so I have something new to worry about every day of my life.

And I feel badly that I never taught them to drive a stick shift. I suppose that’s something of a lost art these days. I gave up my own manual transmission car when my leg got tired of shifting gears in traffic, and so I have nothing on which to teach them.

But if they ever get cast on TV’s “The Amazing Race” they’ll need to learn to drive a stick, or they won’t be able to win the million dollars.

And, in some countries, it costs twice as much to rent an automatic as a stick.

These are the things that keep me up at night, my friends. First World problems, to be sure. That’s why it’s good to visit countries where people barely subsist. It puts things into perspective.

Yeah, you were late for your massage but, hey, you don’t have to live in a hut with no plumbing.

Your kids can’t drive a stick, but, hey, they can drive instead of walking. And they’re not riding bikes hauling 30 pounds of firewood on their backs.

Life is good, most of the time. Even with teenagers.

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Deal of the week: Free Comic Book Day

Kirk Kushin, 45, gathers video of costumed comic fans during Free Comic Book Day at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, on Saturday, April 7, 2016.
Kirk Kushin, 45, gathers video of costumed comic fans during Free Comic Book Day at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, on Saturday, April 7, 2016.

You can get one of numerous free titles of comic books at the annual Free Comic Book Day, the first Saturday in May (this year May 6). Stop by a participating store to pick up your freebie–you don’t have to buy anything. Some stores have special events like the chance to meet comic creators. Learn more at freecomicbookday.com. Some local participants (not a complete list): Comics Toons N Toys, 13542 Newport Ave.,Tustin, 714-730-2117; Big Red Comics, 162 N Glassell,Orange, 714-650-0813; JNJ Comics, 11765 Edinger Ave. Fountain Valley, 714-839-5424; POP! 203 W. Center St. Promenada, Anaheim, 800- 521-9975; Comics Unlimited, 16344 Beach Blvd. Westminster, 714-841-6646.

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Parenting: It’s just not for hipsters

Colorful boxes of Gril Scout cookies fill the back of a minivan at the Costa Mesa distribution center.///ADDITIONAL INFO: - Photo by MINDY SCHAUER, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER - shot: 012316 Cookies.0124 Girl Scouts of Orange County Mega Cookie Delivery with more than 1 million boxes of cookies to be distributed to local Orange County Girl Scout volunteers in Costa Mesa on Saturday.
Colorful boxes of Gril Scout cookies fill the back of a minivan at the Costa Mesa distribution center. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Typically, when people contemplate having children, they focus on the wrong things.

They fret about whether they’ll have enough money, how much time they should take off work, child care and whether they’ll have to get a Diaper Genie.

I don’t know anyone who worried about the real problem: That they will no longer be cool.

In fact, the very definition of parent is “Person who is not cool.”

Sadly, you become so uncool that you don’t even realize that “cool” is not a word anymore, unless you’re talking about air conditioning.

Here’s what happens: Before The Birth, you keep doing maternity yoga and wearing your increasingly tight regular clothes. If you’re the dad, your job is to grow a beard and tell your partner every day that she doesn’t look fat. Then, someone gives you a hipster baby shower, and everyone floats away on martinis and mimosas, after giving you 138 adorable infant outfits with leather jackets that will only fit the baby for nine days.  No one gives you a car seat or a Diaper Genie, because those are not hipster gifts, but luckily, your mom gives you a gift card to Babies R Us.

You drink your Virgin Mary and imagine the post-partum you as a same hip, swinging, fly, sick person with swagger, only now accompanied by a new accessory, similar to those dogs in little purses that people like Paris Hilton are always toting about.

Yes, you have to quit smoking, which isn’t cool, because no one will let you touch the baby with nicotine on your hands.

But, at first, you generally can continue your life as a hipster, bringing along little Tahiti or Gunther in a Ralph Lauren baby tote, complete with matching cover up for breast feeding in public.

In fact, there’s even a baby carrier called the Hipster Plus, that, for only $169.99, enables you to haul your kid in various positions on your body and pretend like he’s the latest fashion accessory. Though being seen toting any device that comes with an optional “drool pad,” ($24) probably is not going to get you invited to a party at Zac Efron’s house.

Yes, you’re exhausted every minute and, yes, you have to take frequent breaks when the baby cries or spits up, but you can still maintain the fiction that your life hasn’t really changed.

But, it has. Your brief interlude of taking the infant everywhere is cruelly interrupted by toddler-hood, when the baby suddenly won’t stay in the Ralph Lauren baby pack, but insists on running around during the restaurant’s happy hour, and spilling people’s martinis onto their laps.

Your living room with its soothing ocean-themed décor is now overtaken by a mountain of plastic stuff in bright primary colors.

Your white linen sofa will never look the same, now that the baby spit up on it after eating strained peas and beets.

You suddenly find yourself making dinner, instead of reservations, because you’re too tired to go out, and it’s too much hassle. And dinner consists, more often than you’d like to admit, of something out of a box, because you’re too weary to hold a knife.

Long, hot showers become a long-ago dream. And you start worshipping your television, which provides you with a small break each day as your precious one consumes more TV time than is recommended, but you don’t care.

I still remember driving through my current neighborhood on a long-ago house hunt, before I had kids. I thought to myself, “I’m just getting kids. I’m not having a lobotomy,” as I looked at the ugly 1950s tract houses and tried to imagine who would ever want to live in one. Fast forward 10 years, and suddenly the good schools and nearby grocery stores seem like they were sent from heaven to help working moms survive.

Perhaps the largest and most visible change in your status is giving up your cool car and acquiring that device that screams, “I’ve just given up hope.” I refer, of course, to the minivan.

Before I had kids, I drove a Nissan 300ZX sports car with a T-top roof. It was old, but beautiful. And fun to drive. I’d take the top off and drive up to the mountains, just for the joy of driving.

So, of course, it had to go. People who refuse to get minivans, like me, often fool themselves by getting big SUVs, thinking that no one will know they’ve lost their cool. But, of course, they do. Especially when the cargo holds are full of Girl Scout cookies, not kayaks and rock-climbing gear.

One of my best friends just bit the bullet, sold her cool-but-now-impractical pickup truck, and bought a light green minivan. She refused to get a luggage rack, though, insisting on a spoiler, instead, on the mistaken theory that this would make it look more cool.

Perhaps the longest-lasting effect of losing your cool is that parents can no longer stay up late at night, because they become too accustomed to rising early to get little Tatiana off to class.

Even after your kid is grown and gone, you’re still stuck waking up early, and no longer feel like dancing in the clubs until the wee hours.

“Where are you?” my teenagers indignantly texted me one night. “It’s late and you’re not home.”

It was midnight. I dared to stay out with my friends until the witching hour, and my teens were simply scandalized because it had never happened before.

Nowadays, I won’t allow myself to put on my pajamas until after 9 p.m., just so I don’t have to admit to myself that I’ve become my mother.

Now that my kids are young adults, I keep waiting to get hip and cool again, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. I guess, once you’ve achieved parenthood, it no longer happens. And, somehow, that’s OK.

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