TIME Business

How to Achieve “Flow” in Your Work

flowing river
Getty Images

You want to be experiencing “flow.” It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

When do you usually feel flow? It’s when you’re challenged but not beyond your skill level. Passive activities don’t create flow. Neither do overwhelming challenges.

Via Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life:

Flow is generally reported when a person is doing his or her favorite activity – gardening, listening to music, bowling, cooking a good meal. It also occurs when driving, when talking to friends and surprisingly often at work. Very rarely do people report flow in passive leisure activities, such as watching television or relaxing.

There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:

Via Top Business Psychology Models: 50 Transforming Ideas for Leaders, Consultants and Coaches:

  • Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
  • Strong concentration and focused attention.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding.

Finding that balance between challenge and skills is best illustrated by this chart:

This balance creates a pleasurable state for our brain. We’re not happy when our mind wanders and we’re not happy when we’re doing nothing. We’re happier when we’re busy.

 

What can you do to increase the flow you feel at work?

First, figure out what brings you flow already and think about how to maximize those moments. Dan Pink offers an excellent exercise to help with that

Via Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

Set a reminder on your computer or mobile phone to go off at forty random times in a week. Each time your device beeps, write down what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and whether you’re in “flow.” Record your observations, look at the patterns, and consider the following questions:
  • Which moments produced feelings of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
  • Are certain times of day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
  • How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moments when you felt disengaged or distracted?
  • If you’re having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?

Second, do your best to take your regular work activities and add in the factors that create flow.

Via Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life:

…almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present, it is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that clear goals, immediate feedback, skills balanced to action, opportunities, and the remaining conditions of flow are as much possible a constant part of everyday life.

Third, significantly increasing the amount of flow you experience is often the result of using your unique talents — your “signature strengths.”

Via UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness:

  • Identify your signature strengths.
  • Choose work that lets you use them every day.
  • Recraft your present work to use your signature strengths more.
  • If you are the employer, choose employees whose signature strengths mesh with the work they will do. If you are a manager, make room to allow employees to recraft the work within the bounds of your goals.

For more on flow, check out these books:

 

Related posts:

What does it take to become an expert at anything?

6 things that will make you more productive

Which people are most likely to experience “flow”?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME health

Living With ALS: ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Still Alive’

Patrick O'Brien

The past few weeks I've watched from my bed as the disease that is slowly killing me has turned into an overnight trend

I wake up almost every morning having dreamt of food. I watch Goodfellas just for the food scenes. My kingdom for a Big Mac. Taco Bell commercials are thought-provoking to me. But the fact of the matter is, I can’t eat. Or run or walk or even move my legs or arms. I’m lying flat in a bed and typing this with my pupils, which, along with my brain, are among the last functioning parts of my body.

I was diagnosed with ALS at 30. I’ve been filming every angle of this disease for the last 10 years. In October, I’ll turn 40. Damn, where does the time go? I started shooting a film as a “f-ck you” to ALS. My cinematographer, Ian Dudley, has this old Russian 35mm camera with these amazing lenses. It was important to me that we get it down on film because ALS is a very physical disease. If it was going to steal my being, I would replace it with celluloid.

When I stop to think of the hell I’ve been through, I can’t believe I’m still alive. When I think of all the people out there with no support, my heart floods. Often I break down crying. I’m lucky because I get to live in one of the best ALS communities in the country, the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Massachusetts, the nation’s first ALS residence. Besides the daily love and help of the staff here, two things keep me going: my son, who is 6 and lives far away from me in Florida, and finishing my documentary.

There’s a bright side to ALS. I know that sounds twisted, but in a lot of ways ALS saved my life. Having a fatal disease turns the odometer of the soul back to zero. It reverses any evils done or done to you. It’s the perfect disease. Everyone should experience what it is like to have ALS for a day. And maybe they are with this #ALSicebucketchallenge that has swept the nation. I call them “awareness baptisms.” It’s freaky when the disease that is slowly killing you becomes an overnight trend. By freaky I mean cool. It’s a way for people to connect with something bigger than themselves, to wash themselves in the fear that they might be next.

I live in a bubble. When it comes to ALS, I make it a point to not remember the gory statistics. ALS has not had any significant drug approval in the 70 some years since Lou Gehrig gave his “Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth” speech. So I lay here, hoping to see my upcoming 40th birthday, praying to the black dot on my ceiling, unable to even masturbate, dreaming of the outside world.

To have ALS these past weeks has been to be a sort of “disease celebrity.” Even if you’ve been doomed with the fatal diagnosis, the #ALSicebucketchallenge got you tons of Facebook tags and notifications. For a minute, everything is awesome here in ALS land.

Yet why do I still feel such an impending sense of dread? (Medical marijuana usually relieves my anxiety, but I haven’t had any in months because you can’t roll a joint with your eyelids.) I think I’m feeling dread because this ice bucket thing is so successful, and I’m scared that it will end. It has to. The collective American attention span dictates it must. This desperately needed attention will fade. Then where will we be?

Thanks to Michele Dupree, Doug Pray and Karen Ingram for their input.

Patrick O’Brien is a filmmaker who was diagnosed with ALS at 30 years old and decided to embark on sharing his life story in his feature-length documentary to be released later this year.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 22

1. A stacked deck: reform the modern fee-based system of criminal justice that has pushed poor communities to the brink.

By Alex Tabarrok in Marginal Revolution

2. Real political change in Iraq – and a strong regional partnership – is the only way to defeat ISIS.

By Michael Breen in US News and World Report

3. To avoid the next Ferguson and address the nation’s systemic racism, America needs black leaders to take a stand together.

By Bob Herbert in Jacobin

4. With their educations on the line, smartphones for teenagers are a critical tool for success.

By John Doerr in the Wall Street Journal

5. To solve the riddle of women turning to extremist violence, we must address the security issues that deeply impact their lives.

By Jane Harman in CNN

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Oculix, Netflix’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Demo, Looks Pretty Boring

Virtual reality interfaces should be more than clumsy-looking design transplants.

It’s a little discouraging watching Netflix’s Oculus Rift demo (a so-called hack it’s calling “Oculix”), the one where the screen pans through a black void in which the observer finds her- or himself circled by show portals.

Imagine iOS wrapped around your head like a towel: a vortex of lights, or a sheath of video boxes. (For some reason, it made me think of the Senate chamber in the Star Wars prequels with its movable hover-platforms.)

Pick a channel by waving your hands in the air (using LeapMotion’s gesture sensor) and you can stream movies or TV shows through Oculus’s head-mounted contraption direct to your eyeballs.

This isn’t what’s interesting about virtual reality to me. We’ve placed movies up close to our faces for decades, be that on giant screens or via glasses with special LCD displays designed to confound our sense of scale. But what’s so different about sitting in a comfortable movie theater (or for that matter, an Omnimax wraparound dome) looking at screens dozens of feet tall and wide, compared with watching video at home through a glorified, full-motion View Master?

Home convenience, there’s that, though I’d argue there’s little convenient about clapping hardware as unwieldy as World War I gas masks on our heads, then leashing ourselves to stationary servers with clumsy cables.

I’m less put off by the ungainliness of Oculus Rift (and Project Morpheus, and every other attempt to revive the buzz-concept “virtual reality” lately) than I am by the lack of imagination in these hacked-together interfaces, whereby a company takes the most obvious and mundane approach toward exhibiting the potential VR lays at its doorstep. Strap on Oculus Rift and you can watch Netflix videos up close to your face! Wave your hands in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report and take two or three times as long to do what takes everyone else microseconds with a remote or on a touch-based tablet!

To be fair, it is just a hack, and in a statement Netflix noted that it “may never become part of the Netflix product, internal infrastructure, or otherwise be used beyond [Netflix] Hack Day.” In other words, it’s just for fun, not even rising to the level “proof of concept.” This isn’t Netflix trying to sell you on either its stake in VR or the Oculus Rift headset itself.

I’m just surprised by its obviousness. If you’re going to hack Netflix into VR, why not do something no one’s seen before? Imagine, for instance, summoning a movie like The Matrix, only going into the extras and bringing up the making-of clips, then having the option to pan around virtual versions of the “bullet time” sets to see for yourself how that went down. You could be Keanu Reeves (or see what he’d be seeing) as he falls back limbo-like, his arms splaying, or you could be the circle of cameras themselves, wheeling around the actor’s frame at different velocities and elevations. Imagine reassembling a scene to create your own version of events, playing the role of virtual director with godlike visual command of the landscape.

Netflix is a viewing environment, an interface to conjure videos on demand, a kind of “visual carrier.” If we’re about to experience the visual paradigm shift everyone keeps telling us VR amounts to, it has a much bigger role to play in shaping what it means to stream a video in a virtual environment. To me, it at least means more than forklifting a bunch of screens into a wraparound environment, just because enveloping yourself in a cone of colors looks cool.

My hat’s off to the programmers who took the time to build the Oculix demo. I certainly couldn’t have done it. But next time, why not show us VR that feels like a compelling reason to use VR, and not just lights in a box on your face.

TIME U.S.

Why Americans Celebrate the Burning of Washington

Washington Burns
The burning of Washington DC by British troops during the War of 1812. MPI—Getty Images

The narrative we remember is how we beat back the British, not how close our fledgling republic came to falling apart

This Sunday marks the 200th anniversary of one of the low points in early U.S. history. On August 24, 1814, at 1:00 p.m., with the temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, a British army headed by Major General Robert Ross, an accomplished field commander who had served with distinction as one of the Duke of Wellington’s lieutenants in the Peninsular War, attacked an American force at Bladensburg, Maryland, a few miles northwest of Washington. Although a detachment of U.S. Navy seamen and Marines under Commodore Joshua Barney took a heavy toll on the advancing British with artillery, the rest of the American force, mostly militia, was either overrun or outflanked and responded by fleeing—an episode remembered in wit and song as the “Bladensburg Races.”

With the road to Washington now open, the British rested for several hours in the stifling heat and then marched into the city around 8:00 p.m. By then, most of the residents had fled. Dolley Madison had sacrificed her personal property to remove White House treasures, including a large portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The British could find no one to surrender the city and were fired on by snipers from a house. They never caught the snipers, but they responded by burning the house and the public buildings—the President’s Mansion (already sometimes called the White House); the Capitol (including the original Library of Congress), the buildings housing the State, Treasury and War departments; and the arsenal on Greenleaf’s Point. Before torching the White House, the British high command consumed some food and wine that had been laid out for President James Madison’s customary late afternoon dinner party.

It could have been a lot worse. Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who accompanied Ross into the capital, reportedly wanted to burn the entire city in retaliation for American depredations in Canada. But it was an army operation and Ross’ call, and he would have none of it. Local residents, including the editors of the Washington National Intelligencer, whose newspaper office was one of the few pieces of private property that was destroyed, later praised the British for their restraint.

The British occupied the city for about 24 hours before leaving. A much humbled U.S. government returned, with officials scrambling for suitable office space. Congress was forced to meet in the cramped Patent Office, and President Madison had to settle for the Octagon House, which still survives as a Washington landmark. Locals did not soon forget the humiliation. One wag wrote on the walls of the Capitol, now a scorched hulk, “George Washington founded this city after a seven years’ wars with England—James Madison lost it after a two years’ war.”

This was undoubtedly the nadir for the United States in the War of 1812, a conflict largely forgotten today that America initiated to uphold neutral rights on the high seas. The young republic could hardly challenge the Mistress of the Seas on her own element and had sought instead to apply pressure by conquering Canada. But this had proved far beyond its limited means. The first year of the war had been especially disappointing. The U.S.S. Constitution had earned its nickname—“Old Ironsides”—with a pair of surprising victories over British warships, but otherwise there wasn’t much to cheer about. And by 1814, the British, who were no longer distracted by the Napoleonic Wars, had the new nation on the ropes.

Fortunately, the Washington debacle was followed three weeks later by some good news. The defeat of a British naval squadron on Lake Champlain compelled a large British army to withdraw and thus spared upstate New York from occupation. And the successful defense of Fort McHenry saved Baltimore and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an instantly popular song that Congress named the national anthem in 1931. The huge flag that inspired Key has long been on display at the Smithsonian and remains one of our most treasured relics from the war.

The British responded to these setbacks by letting the United States off the hook and agreeing to a peace treaty that simply restored the status quo ante bellum. The treaty did not mention neutral rights, but neither did it require the United States to sacrifice any rights or territory.

Five weeks before the U.S. ratification of the treaty ended the war on February 16, 1815, there was an even more spectacular development: Andrew Jackson’s lopsided victory over the British at New Orleans on January 8. This triumph had no impact on the peace settlement, but it had a profound and lasting effect on the way that Americans remembered the war and, in the process, shaped the emerging national identity.

Americans forgot the causes of the war. They forgot how close the fledgling republic had come to military defeat, economic ruin, national bankruptcy and even disunion. Instead, they remembered how they had repeatedly beaten back British invasions and defeated “the conquerors of the conquerors of Europe.” For a new nation in need of inspiring symbols, Andrew Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Fort McHenry flag and “Old Ironsides” offered a good start.

Don Hickey is an award-winning author and a professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska. A longtime student of the War of 1812, he is best known for The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Bicentennial edition, 2012).

TIME Parenting

Art or Porn: When Does Posting Nude Photos of a Toddler Cross the Line?

Wyatt Neumann's daughter
Wyatt Neumann's daughter Wyatt Neumann

Maybe there's something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses

If you follow any parents on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen something like the snapshot Wyatt Neumann posted last year. His 2-year-old daughter, Stella, completely naked, jumps on an unmade motel bed, joy blooming across her face.

You may have even posted a photo just like it of your own kid. Chances are, though, you didn’t get comments like the ones Neumann did: “This guy is a class A d–k.” Or this one: “PEDOS CAN EASILY FIND THESE PICTURES AND JACK OFF TO THEM.”

Or maybe you shared a snapshot of your little one, frolicking outside, lifting her dress — in that unselfconscious way every toddler does. Neumann, a professional photographer, posted these and more on Instagram. Many of the ensuing comments were profanity-laced. One said: “I want to puke. The nude photos are gross and disturbing.”

These photos, and more like them, are the centerpieces of Neumann’s latest solo show at the Safari gallery in Soho, New York, which runs through the end of the week. Titled “I Feel Sorry For Your Children,” the exhibit documents a 12-day road trip he took with Stella last year, from Zion National Park to New York City. He accompanies each photo with his original Instagram caption — usually with the hashtag #dadlife — and a comment from a complete stranger. It is an extreme iteration of the more judgmental and moralistic strains we encounter in modern parenting.

And yet, the photos raise an interesting question about how much we share about our kids on social media. Neumann happens to be an award-winning fine art photographer with commercial clients like Reebok and Visa. But you wouldn’t necessarily have that context if you were to stumble upon his photos online somewhere for the first time. Pictures like the one of his daughter sitting between his legs in a bathtub might trigger a twinge of discomfort for the candidness and intimacy they capture. It’s a beautiful image, but does it belong in a public venue frequented by perverts and prudes alike? Here’s where I land: However uncomfortable a given photo may make me feel, I would be even less comfortable telling someone they can’t post it.

The roadtrip photos — Stella in her carseat; Stella using a portable training potty at a roadside pitstop; Stella eating barbeque — were first posted to his Instagram account. His friend Claire Bidwell Smith, author of the best-selling memoir “The Rules of Inheritance,” told her own Instagram followers to check them out. From there the images made their way to the online message board Get Off My Internets.

And then came the hate: Parenting trolls descended with a vengeance, flagging so many of his pictures that his account was suspended mid-roadtrip — 6,000 photos gone — but not before flooding his posts and inbox with hate speech and insults.

It was clearly too much for some to stomach. I wonder if these people — protected by the anonymity the Internet provides — would have been less quick to assault the parent’s character if it was Stella’s mother who posted the photos. And maybe there is something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses. “The Internet is for porn,” goes the famous line from the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q–and most of the time I’m the last person to complain about it. But there are multiple references to pedophiles in the Instagram comments to his photos. In the worst instances, commenters have accused Neumann of trading in kiddie porn.

“What they wanted me to do was stop posting photos,” he told me at his exhibit which opened last month. “They wanted to take away my ability to do that. The more this conservative, puritanical, fundamentalist ideology starts to permeate our culture [the more] it’s compressing our ability to express ourselves. Rather than retreat, I pushed forward and turned it into a beautiful art show.”

Anyone with a child has hundreds of these kinds of snapshots on a smartphone. I do. We all have our own rules about how much we’ll share of our kids’ lives online. I certainly don’t post any photos of mine undressed or, for that matter, doing anything I think they’d find compromising in the future. But they’re older than Stella. When they were younger I might have shared a bathtub shot or two, or one of them copping a potty-training squat. Harmless stuff. But even then, it would have most likely been on Facebook where at least I am given the illusion that I can control who has access to the pictures.

These days, whenever I take a photo of my kids, ages 6 and 9, they invariably say “Don’t put that on Facebook!” or “Let me choose the filter before you put it on Instagram.” I let them call the shots, most of the time.

Neumann, whose own father died before he could get to know him, errs on the side of openness. He’s creating an archive for his kids and who am I to judge him for sharing it? “I was raised on a hippie commune,” he says. “I grew up naked. My life with my father is something I lived through in photos. I got to know him through the artifacts he left.”

It’s painfully obvious that Neumann not only loves his children, but is also a present, involved and nurturing father. Author Bidwell Smith thought she had made that point when she shared her friend’s pictures.

“People box parenthood into such a small realm of what we’re supposed to be with our children,” she told me. “Wyatt blows that up. His work is brilliant and gorgeous–the way he captures childhood in this fleeting way. Kids are free and magical and not inhibited by the cultural boundaries we all are. It made me sad that that distinction wasn’t made in their minds.”

The photos he shares of Stella are striking in their intimacy and universality. His wife, Jena Cordova, told me that she would feel lucky to have one such picture from her own childhood; Stella and her older brother Takota have thousands. (I am granted an interview with Stella, but she is feeling shy and buries her face into her Dad’s neck. Also, there is a smartphone nearby streaming cartoons.)

Like the comic who says what everyone is thinking but too scared to utter out loud, Neumann makes photographs of his kids as timeless as they are personal: his daughter looking tired, his daughter ecstatic, sultry, bored, human.

“It’s very confusing to me,” says Cordova. “Even when I didn’t have children, my mind wouldn’t have gone there. It makes me sad for a lot of people that it would even cross their minds.”

In that respect Neumann’s photos are something of a Rorschach test: You see in them what you want to see. I see a doting dad who happens to be a photographer with a killer eye — and, yes, a desire to share. Haters, as they say on the Internet and playgrounds everywhere, are gonna hate.

TIME psychology

Science Points to the Single Most Valuable Personality Trait

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Getty Images

Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

“It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness,” Roberts told me. “But at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”

What is it? Basically, it’s being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic“:

Conscientiousness is the state of being thorough, careful, or vigilant; it implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientiousness is also one trait of the five-factor model of personality, and is manifested in characteristic behaviors such as being efficient, organized, neat, and systematic. It includes such elements as self-discipline, carefulness, thoroughness, self-organization, deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting), and need for achievement.

Yeah, that sounds like a trait we all respect. What’s amazing is just how predictive it is of so many things we all desire. It’s pretty crazy really:

Money and job satisfaction? – Check.

“Measured concurrently, emotionally stable and conscientious participants reported higher incomes and job satisfaction.

Finding a job? – Check.

“…the personality traits Conscientiousness and Neuroticism have a strong impact on the instantaneous probability of finding a job, where the former has a positive effect and the latter has a negative effect.”

Long marriage? – Check.

“…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.”

Healthier life? – Check.

“Among adults over age 45 (n = 2,419), Neuroticism and low Agreeableness were associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas high Conscientiousness was protective. Individuals who scored in the top 10% on Conscientiousness were approximately 40% less likely to have metabolic syndrome…

Long life? – Check.

“Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood.

And let’s not forget good grades and staying out of jail.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

…conscientiousness was the trait that best predicted workplace success. What intrigues Roberts about conscientiousness is that it predicts so many outcomes that go far beyond the workplace. People high in conscientiousness get better grades in school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer – and not just because they smoke and drink less. They have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Can life really be that simple? Isn’t there something conscientiousness doesn’t predict that we all respect and desire? Yes.

Creativity and independence.

So the question is, to what degree is conscientiousness universally good — and to what degree is our society merely structured to reward it?

Our schools love to pay creativity lip service, but those aren’t the students that get celebrated.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Teachers rewarded repressed drones, according to Bowles and Gintis; they found that the students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and the highest on measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability.

Teachers often say they love creative students. They don’t:

Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity. Students displaying creative characteristics appear to be unappealing to teachers.

The workplace isn’t any different.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Bowles and Gintis then consulted similar scales for office workers, and they found that supervisors judged their workforce the way teachers judged their students. They gave low ratings to employees with high levels of creativity and independence and high ratings to those workers with high levels of tact, punctuality, dependability, and delay of gratification.

Are you a creative person? Want to be a CEO? Good luck. You’ll need it:

In sum, we show that the negative association between expressing creative ideas and leadership potential is robust and underscores an important but previously unidentified bias against selecting effective leaders.

I have no doubt that conscientiousness is a valuable trait pretty much anywhere. To be blunt, having your shit together is a respectable quality.

But we should all be concerned that our system may be too extreme in rewarding conscientiousness and punishing creativity.

 

Related posts:

What does the most comprehensive study of geniuses tell us about creativity?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Opinion

Scooby Doo and the Unfortunate Case of Fat Shaming

The latest Scooby Doo film "curses" Daphne by turning her from a size 2 to an 8

+ READ ARTICLE

Tuesday marked the release of Frankencreepy, Warner Bros.’s latest straight-to-video Scooby Doo feature. But it turns out the real villain in the kid’s flick isn’t the monster. It’s Warner Bros. Here’s why.

The movie begins innocently enough. Velma inherits her uncle’s haunted castle, unleashing a curse on the Mystery Gang that makes them lose what they “hold most dear.” Scooby, for example, loses his snacks. And what fate, pray tell, befalls stylish and slender Daphne? She transforms from a size 2 to… a size 8.

That’s right, it is a “curse” to be a size that’s considerably smaller than the national average, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates at 5’4″ and 166 pounds. Cue the tears, screams and shattered cartoon mirrors! Because according to this supposedly feel-good-flick, weight gain is the ultimate horror.

This screengrab from the film shows how “cursed” Daphne is portrayed in the film. Which is still below the average size of an American woman:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

Here’s a self-reported actual size 8, exhibited by the beautiful Mariska Hargitay:

Haley & Jason Binn Host A Memorial Day Party
Mariska Hargitay attends Haley & Jason Binn’s Memorial Day party Johnny Nunez—Getty Images

And here’s Christina Hendricks, another redheaded icon who displays her reported size-14 curves with pride:

Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series "Mad Men" in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014.
Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series “Mad Men” in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014. Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

But back to Daphne:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

We don’t need to call the Mystery Gang to figure out where kids pick up unrealistic body expectations and weight stigma.

“It’s sad to think that my daughter can’t even watch a cartoon about a dog solving mysteries without negative body stereotypes being thrown in her face,” blogger Tom Burns wrote. And for a mere $3.99 on Amazon Prime, you too can subject your elementary-school-age daughter to an early dose of fat shaming

In a statement to the Huffington Post, however, Warner Bros. said that while Daphne does lose “her good looks (mainly her figure and her hair)”— implying that an actual realistic figure isn’t, in fact, an attractive one — the message is one of empowerment since Daphne realizes she was being superficial and Fred still thinks she’s hot.

While Daphne is at first upset by the sudden change, there is a touching moment where Fred points out that he didn’t even notice a change and that she always looks great to him.

At the end, when Velma explains how they figured out the mystery, she points out that the curse actually DIDN’T take away what means the most to each of them: their friendship.

The loss of Daphne’s regular appearance is proven to be a superficial thing, and not what actually matters the most to her.

There’s a good message for your 10-year-old. Not having an almost unattainably perfect figure doesn’t matter “the most.” It just matters a lot.

Jeepers.

(Warner Bros is owned by Time Warner, which spun off TIME parent company Time Inc earlier this year.)

TIME faith

Yes, You Can Be Gay and Still Be Attractive to the Opposite Sex

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Last week, U.K. Christian singer Vicky Beeching won some queer friends — and lost some Christian ones — when she came out as gay in an interview with The Independent.

Right off the bat, Beeching crushed the notion that you can’t be simultaneously gay, Christian, and content with yourself. In an interview with notorious homophobe Scott Lively, she shot down every one of his bigoted remarks, including his suggestion that she look to God to “change” herself.

Beeching went on to say that we need to “accept our sexual orientation as a God-given gift.”

Lively replied, “There is no such thing as a gay person. It’s this identity you adopt.”

“I believe God has made me the way he’s made me. It’s taken me thirty-five years to come to terms with that, and I believe that’s it’s part of my God-wired identity,” Beeching retorted.

After Lively said that God has the ability to help her “overcome your sexual inclinations,” Beeching replied, “That kind of thinking has been so damaging to me and it damages so many people.”

Beeching is easily a role model for LGBT people (Christian and otherwise) who need the validation and affirmation they don’t get from most churches. That’s why it’s so upsetting that Ed Vitagliano, a writer for the Christian site Charisma News, is not only “disappointed” in Beeching’s coming out, but claims she’s “broken” for saying it.

First, Vitagliano states that he loves homosexuals. It’s literally his first sentence: “I love homosexuals.” He “feels compassion toward them,” he says later, because he simply can’t imagine what it would have been like to have a crush on a boy as a kid. Then, he tests my ability not to throw my computer out a window by saying it’s hard to imagine Beeching is gay because men find her attractive:

I think most men would think that Vicky is a pretty lady, and those sorts of appraisals are usually made without thinking. This makes the subject of sexual orientation rather difficult to understand at times.

What’s truly offensive is his stream-of-consciousness attempt at explaining the origins of homosexuality. To preserve its horridness, here’s the bulk of his rant:

What causes homosexuality? I think there’s probably a web of causes — some apply to this group, some to that, etc. I believe that some homosexuals have endured sexual abuse or other trauma; others suffer from a deficit of some sort that turned them toward the same-sex side of the aisle in an attempt to heal.

At this point I realize I have offended most of the homosexuals reading this. So let me even the score and offend some Christians: I believe some percentage of homosexuals (I have no idea how large or small) simply grew up just like me — only different. Instead of having a crush on an opposite-sex person, they experienced a crush on a same-sex person. To them it appeared just that natural.

But if there’s a God who designed us — and I believe there is — then we obviously aren’t designed to be attracted to the same sex. With my apologies to the Vicky Beechings of the world, the human race is clearly designed as male and female, with sexually complementary equipment. We are obviously intended to grow through childhood and enter puberty attracted to the opposite sex — because that’s the only thing that makes sense of the biological design inherent in humankind.

So for Vicky and Ray and Jennifer and Clay — how do we explain the fact that their attraction developed in complete disregard for design? Here’s the short answer: They’re broken. Why is that so hard to say? Sexual and romantic attraction was supposed to develop one way, and it developed another. Maybe it was because of something that was done to them or around them; maybe it wasn’t. But it is different.

His conclusion isn’t new, but that doesn’t make it any less awful. He’s claiming, as so many do, that love, relationships, and basic human existence have no significance beyond reproduction. Never mind that most LGBT people are still physically capable of producing offspring (and they do); Vitagliano’s perspective is that nothing about us as human beings matters except our ability to pop out kids. Personal experiences? Nope. Emotions? Glitch in the system. Would he use this logic to call elderly different-sex couples broken? Or those who can’t have their own children?

Actually, he might. He goes on to compare homosexuality to blindness, both “conditions” that make a person broken. He says this over and over:

Are we not all broken in small and large ways? As a fallen race, isn’t there a web of characteristics about us all that doesn’t reflect the way God designed us? If a child is born blind, does that mean God approves? Isn’t it a sign that something is not as intended?

Eyes were created to see. To not see is not the same as being able to see. The blind are still human, but their brokenness is still brokenness. But isn’t that what we’re doing with homosexuality? Aren’t we denying the obvious — that there’s a disconnect between design and operation in the homosexual? Aren’t many in our society applauding as courageous those who declare their brokenness to be wholeness?

If by “we are all broken,” he means that we all deal with unique challenges over the course of our lives, then yes, we are all broken. But my fear is that he’s being far more literal than that. He perceives LGBT people — and apparently blind people, and people who are paralyzed, and who knows who else — as somehow unable to live and exist freely, happily and, yes, wholly. And he shames people who embrace their differences, an accusation that I can only assume extends beyond LGBT people, but also to other groups of people he considers “broken.”

Only God can make a broken person whole. Sometimes it is done as a miracle, as when Jesus healed a blind or lame or paralyzed person. Sometimes we must wait for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven, when all brokenness is finally healed.

I believe God can make homosexuals whole in this life. Despite the ridicule that follows such a statement, I believe that does happen. 1 Cor. 6:9-11 says so. However, for many — or even most — homosexuals, in order to be Christians they will have to accept that their “orientation” is a manifestation of brokenness, not wholeness. Like the rest of us who are broken in some other way, they will have to reject that lameness and give it to God. They will hobble through life learning to love Him more and more — and yes, learning to obey Him.

In that way, homosexuals are just like me. No better and no worse, but broken nonetheless.

(For the record, I don’t see Vitagliano standing up to proudly claim his own “brokenness” the way Beeching and so many others have. But that’s beside the point.)

While being gay does bring some people hardship, asserting that it will inherently affect a person’s quality of life — or worse, take away from their very worth as a person — does nothing except drive more LGBT people to deny their true selves, resent and loathe their feelings, and, as Beeching said, live a lie. We are more than the function of our bodies. I don’t know what’s taking so many people so long to realize it.

Vitagliano claiming that he feels “compassion toward homosexuals” is an outright lie. It’s gravely offensive to me, to Vicky Beeching, to my fellow queer folks, and even to Christians that he would dare say it.

runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Opinion

Matthew Weiner Is Wrong. The Gender Wage Gap Is Real, Even In Hollywood

Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner Mike Pont—FilmMagic/Getty Images

In some ways, we're still living in a Mad Men world

In a recent interview, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner delved into a sensitive subject about the way women are treated on the job. No, he wasn’t talking about the women who work at Sterling Cooper circa 1969. He was talking about his fellow showrunners circa 2014, who don’t earn the same amount of money that he does.

“I don’t think that’s a gender issue,” Weiner said in a recent interview with HuffPost Live. “Jenji’s entitled to every dollar but you have to fight for it, male or female. No one gives you anything.”

The Jenji he was referring to is Jenji Kohan, the showrunner of Orange is the New Black, who recently spoke out about the gender wage gap in television to The Hollywood Reporter. From the THR‘s story:

“I don’t think I’m getting paid as much as the men in my position, still,” [Kohan] says, “and it’s extremely frustrating.”

Gender inequality has been a thorn in Kohan’s side since she was a young girl and her novelist mother told her that men were “funnier” and “better at this.” That Kohan’s own studio, Lionsgate, is paying Weiner a reported $30 million for Mad Men‘s final three seasons adds another layer of complexity. “It’s hard when one of your best friends is Matt,” she says, then carefully adds: “I don’t begrudge him for one second; it’s more of just, ‘Why am I not making that?'” (Lionsgate declined comment.)

It’s apparent from her comments that Kohan isn’t pulling in the same amount of money as Weiner, but is the Mad Men producer correct in his belief that gender had nothing to do with it? Considering that across the board full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts make, is it really possible that this trend isn’t the case in showbiz? Sadly, no. While there aren’t hard, public figures for many of the people who work in the film and television industries, there is enough information out there that gives a strong indication that a discrepancy does, in fact, exist.

Weiner suggests in the HuffPo interview that if only Kohan was fighting for a higher salary — like he has throughout his career — than she’d be getting a bigger pay-check. But that logic falls flat when you consider the fact that Kohan likely has fought throughout her career, in ways that Weiner might not be able to imagine, to just get her foot in the door at all.

Kohan is repeatedly ranked among the best showrunners working right now, but she’s also one of a handful of women working in the field. Take a look at THR‘s list of the top 50 TV writer/producers of 2013: it features a total of 14 women on it, and many of them work as part of a team with a man. (Weiner and Kohan were both named.) If you’re part of a vast minority working in a hugely competitive industry, it’s likely that you already had to work pretty damn hard to be there. To suggest otherwise smacks of unacknowledged male privilege. What’s more, women who work in other male-dominated fields don’t make as much as the men they work with; to assume it’s different in the television and film industry seems absurd.

Just look to other areas of show business for a clearer idea. Women behind the camera in the film industry are also a tiny minority. According to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual Celluloid Ceiling survey, women accounted for only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 top-grossing films last year. That 16 percent is part of a pretty consistent trend in Hollywood. (The Celluloid Ceiling survey has been conducted every year since 1997.)

While many of the women in that tiny minority have worked on some pretty impressive films, it still hasn’t landed them in the realm of top-salaries. A Vanity Fair breakdown of Hollywood’s top-earners in 2011 looked at the incomes of actors, directors, producers and writers to see who landed in the top 50. Only six women in total made the list, and they were all actresses. The group didn’t include a single woman director or producer or writer.

Yet even where women do seem to be pulling in top, competitive salaries — namely, in front of the camera — they still aren’t earning as much as their male co-stars. Take this year’s Forbes list for the top 10 highest-earning actors and actresses. Collectively, the top 10 highest paid men made a whopping $419 million last year. Meanwhile, the top 10 highest paid women earned $226 million — just 54 percent of what Hollywood’s actors were pulling in. For as much buzz as Jennifer Lawrence gets — with an Oscar win, a devoted fan-base and a beloved franchise under her belt — she still made $12 million less in 2013 than her American Hustle co-star, Bradley Cooper. True, these women aren’t facing any financial hardships despite the gap, but what about the women in the lesser-paid areas of the industry?

When you have a minority of women working in the industry’s top positions — and they are saying and sometimes proving that they’re earning less — than, yes, it is a gender issue. Of course, as Weiner himself points out in his interview, showrunners’ salaries aren’t typically made public. Which is too bad. If the hard numbers were out there for everyone to see, perhaps the gender wage gap — and Jenji Kohan — wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss.

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