Mother of Teens: Why I’m Scared of Ramen

In sixth grade I was in middle school, living in a suburb of Chicago, eleven-years-old, and from my self-centered point of view my world was falling apart.

My dad had moved out as part of my parent’s ongoing divorce. My mother had a brain aneurysm. Between the aneurysm and the treatments her memory was limited, and her temper mercurial. There was no way to predict what was going to happen next.

School was my refuge. I’d been moved to classes for advanced students in third grade, and for the past three years my classmates had been a second family to me. We had shared memories, inside jokes, and a surety that comes from knowing you’re spending the day with twenty of your best friends. My classmates were my saving grace. While things were falling apart at home they were the ones making sure I passed class.

When we exchanged homework for in-class grading, my friends made sure I only missed a few problems… even when the page was empty. When I couldn’t get a ride to the library, my friends photocopied notes for me so I could finish projects at lunch. When I needed a safe place, my friends were there.

But, despite their best efforts, I was on the fast track for failing all my classes. My grades were abysmal. I was getting help from my math teacher, a sweet blonde woman who made math interesting. Every day I’d hurry through lunch, then go to her class to work on assignments while she ate lunch. Every day she had ramen, usually just the broth.

I was a self-centered and unthinking child. I wasn’t aware of food prices, or why someone would choose to eat ramen every day. I just knew it was what she preferred. And I knew she looked sickly.

Since my mother had fallen ill I was hyper-aware of illness. It scared me. Illness didn’t destroy a body, it changed people. I watched my teacher for changes, but never saw anything. She was simply an enthusiastic teacher with pale skin, feathered blonde hair, and dark circles under her eyes that she hid with makeup.

We continued in that fashion for several months. I’d scarf down a sandwich, run to her class, and work on homework while she sipped ramen broth and helped me focus.

In March, we moved out of state to live with my grandmother while the divorce was finalized and our home sold.

In April, my teacher died of starvation. She’d been deathly ill, but no one had notice the warning signs. She died of anorexia, because of her fear of food and a fear of her own body.

A few years later, I’d caught the disease. I don’t believe I ever thought of myself as fat, but the word was thrown around. Women aren’t allowed to be fat. We’re not allowed to be thin, either. Western society has a very distinct image of what a woman should look like and if a lady doesn’t fit that image than she’s ugly. And “ugly” was a very familiar word.

My mom worked two to three jobs at a time, trying to make ends meet. I struggled to fit in at my new school. Fashion was something that happened to other people. I made do with clothes purchased before the divorce, and the occasional hand-me-down. At sixteen I still wasn’t five-foot tall and I might have weighed 100 pounds sopping wet.

Now, I would have been the perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but this was the late 90s in an era of grunge, plaid, and no pixies (I feel a bit cheated, honestly). My hand-me-downs were loose jeans and faded t-shirts, no bubble vests from A&E, no brightly colored socks from Hot Topics (oh! but I wanted them!). Everything I owned was over-sized with the hope I would one day grow into them. So I was fat. Because my clothes were loose. And I was ugly. And I was an outcast.

And I didn’t mean to be anorexic. It was a bad habit I fell into. I wasn’t starving myself, just skipping meals, or eating less than a full meal. No big deal. I was busy. Sometimes I just… forgot.

Until the day I smelled ramen cooking. Not at home, but in the newspaper office of the high school where I hid during my down time. I liked to sleep under the big conference table on an abandoned bean bag chair. One of the teachers was cooking ramen for lunch. The smell twisted my stomach, and I realized just how close I’d been to following in my teacher’s footsteps. I’d let the voices get to me.

To this day I hate ramen. I never ate in college. It’s end-of-the-world food, and there will be a zombie apocalypse before I sit down to enjoy a bowl of ramen noodles. But it’s the only food I allow myself to hate.

The voices of negativity are persuasive. The slope down into depression and self-abuse is slippery, a slow slide down into the pit. There are still days I slip. There are still days the voices of negativity win.

There are two lessons I take away from ramen noodles. One, killing yourself doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts everyone around you. Two, hating something only gives it power over you, what we hate controls us.

Why’d I write this post today? I have no idea. Maybe just to get it off my chest. Maybe to explain to my friends why I’m scared of ramen (scary noodles!). Maybe because it can help someone else. Or maybe just because I never got to say goodbye to a wonderful woman who was there during on of the darkest periods of my life and I always wonder if I’d just noticed, if I hadn’t been quite so self-centered, if she would still be alive today.

Here’s to you, Miss B., and the lesson your never meant to teach.

Mother of Teens: Talking (photo)Shop


I’m not ashamed to say I’m part of the Google Generation, a Millennial. My first home computer was a clunky laptop my father brought home from work when I was six, it had a word processor and chess. I played Oregon Trail at school and learned how to draw colorful circles with DOS commands. I had my first email address by 13 and ran unsupervised through the chat rooms as a teen. I never had MySpace, but I asked my now-husband out on our first date over AIM.

So it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that I’m pretty okay with my kids using tech. My youngest (who is almost 5) calls the hand-me-down computer in the living room the “kid’s TV” and can’t seem to tell the difference between a computer and a smart TV. To be honest, neither can I. They both run the internet, hook up to keyboards, and play games. We’re living in a technological world that is immersive and global, and that’s why I sat down with my kids this week to have The Talk.

No, not the “sex is a healthy thing but please wait until you can comfortably discuss birth control before getting naked” talk. I have four kids. You can’t lie about pregnancy that many times, not when your kids want details every five seconds. We discussed sex, birth control, penises, vaginas, and menstrual cycles already. The younger two will get that talk again, mostly because my son thinks having a period sounds great because he knows it involves getting a candy bar. I think the whole messy blood part might have gone over his head.

But, that’s for another time. This week we talked about the art of photo manipulation, aka Photoshop.

For all my internet savvy, I grew up kind of clueless about how the models in magazines looked so flawless. I wondered how they got their eyelashes so thick and long, and it wasn’t until my 20’s that I realized all these women I saw on TV and in ads were wearing tons of makeup, fake eyelashes, wigs or extensions, and often had digital retouching done to their photos. As a kid, that dinged my fragile self worth. I was borderline anorexic for years because I was terrified of being too fat to be pretty.

And this week a fabulous teaching tool came to my attention. Enter MEITU! This fabulous photo app is actually produced by a cellphone company in China whose phones feature high-def front-facing cameras perfect for taking selfies.

Guess who can’t take a selfie to save her life? THIS GIRL!

But I was bored and decided to download the Meitu app earlier this week so I could play with it. So, here’s me first thing in the morning. It’s -20 outside, I’m wearing my Jamaican Bobsled Team shirt, some leggings, and I haven’t had breakfast. I forced a smile, and then because I didn’t like it I went to Meitu’s editing feature and slimmed my face. I pulled my cheeks in, widened my tired eyes, and picked a filter that removes the blotchy redness from my skin.

But why stop there???

With a few changes I could be Kawaii as Hello Kitty!

Tip tap, and there I go! Big eyes, rosy cheeks, shiny highlights, and adorable little stickers!!! They even added a lip tint. Sure, it doesn’t actually look like me, but I’m adorable!

My kids notice when I’m not watching them like a hawk (or maybe they noticed me giggling like a maniac) so they flocked around.

“Mom, why do you look so weird?”

… cue the discussion of international views of beauty, Batman!

Meitu is designed with a Chinese aesthetic for beauty in mind. That means a skin whitening tool (when most North Americans would prefer a tan) and a an auto-feature that makes your chin pointed (because heart-shaped faces are preferred over round ones I guess???).

I took the kids pictures and let them go to town. They slimmed their already skinny faces. They widened eyes and added makeup (one of the tools gives you a perfect cat-eye). And we talked about how this is done. About why people change who they are online.

This is something kids need to know about before they hit their teens. You need to sit down, look at a magazine together, and point out where a digital artist changed the person to fit the needs of the ad. Talk about branding. Talk about aesthetics. Talk about beauty standards and why what you see in magazines, movies, or instagram is not real. Our kids are growing up in a world where everyone can present a false front. Where you can carefully curate your existence so people see only what you want to see.

If you don’t understand that the lives you see online are photoshopped, and you start comparing to them to your unfiltered reality, the risks for depression, self-harm, and eating disorders increase. I’ve walked down that road. I don’t want my kids to. So I tore down the curtain and let them see the digital magic happening.

Once you know the full range of the digital vanities that exist you become much happier. You realize that everyone’s beautifully imperfect. And, fun as these little apps are, what’s even better is being happy off of Instagram.