Bri Ozalas


In this current age of social media, where nearly everything can (and is) documented online, avoiding weight-loss advertisements, “thinspo” or “fitspo” accounts and advocates, and companies that claim to have a “solution” to weight gain is purely impossible. I am sick of the mindset that women, girls, men, boys, and anyone outside or in between those binaries must feel the need to work out, lose weight, and be “healthy.” And I am sick of not talking about it.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to bash those who want to/enjoy exercising, eating healthy, etc. Wanting to exercise and eat fruits and veggies is fine and dandy. I just think it’s important to acknowledge the implications and subliminal social messages that exist beyond these acts. I do not condemn going to the gym, drinking smoothies, and the like. I condemn the obsessive, restrictive thoughts and behavior that continue to poison the minds of individuals around the world due to the ways in which our society has socially constructed health.

Here’s a list of diet culture-related thoughts that I feel strongly about and everyone should strongly consider:

  • “Health” can be defined in numerous ways depending on the individual/group of individuals. “Health” does not equate thin, able-bodied, toned muscles, or eating smoothies for lunch.
  • Physical “health” or being physically “fit” does not equate mental health and/or mental wellbeing. For example, an individual may exercise and diet until they are lean but that will not necessarily guarantee happiness and mental wellness.
  • Diets exist for their participants to fail. “Yo-yo dieting,” or trying diet after diet in hopes of achieving results, actually does not do anything beneficial for our bodies. Essentially, most diets set us up for failure, which results in a new cycle of searching for a solution, searching for a “perfect” body.
  • The “perfect body” is a social construct. Throughout history our society has constructed what it means to have a “perfect body” which is typically constructed through a euro-centric, hegemonic, heteronormative, and patriarchal perspective. (i.e. thin, white, sexualized women that are plastered all over advertisements.)
  • Body positivity should not exclude individuals who do not fit the “typical’ (socially constructed) body type. Body positivity should be inclusive in race, gender, ability, ethnicity, and body type.
  • Certain types of food are not inherently “bad.” We place these ideas upon certain foods, primarily on foods like pizza, candy/sweets, and carbs.
  • Gaining weight is not the end of the world. Diet culture has taught us that weight gain is a detriment to our worth as individuals. Bodies fluctuate, they are not stagnant.

These are only a handful of the things I have to say regarding diet culture and body positivity. This is a topic that has greatly interested me recently, so I hope to write more (coherent) pieces about it in the future.

All in all, I’m saying that approaching body politics, such as weight-loss, self-esteem and self-image, and body positivity, with a more positive and inclusive perspective will greatly benefit us, not only on the individual level, but on the societal level as well.

Here are some great articles/videos about diet culture:

Melissa Fabello – How Diets Hurt You (And Help Capitalism) 

Ravishly – Why I Decided to Break Up With Diet Culture for Good

The Odyssey Online – Don’t Succumb to Diet Culture 

The Atlantic – Eating Toward Immortality 

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Posted By on Jun 20, 2017

Preface: this is quite possibly the best book I have ever read. You may continue.

Angie Thomas tackles the topic of police violence through the eyes of a teenage girl. Starr lost two of her best friends to gun violence by the time she’s sixteen, one by a gang drive-by, and the other by a police officer. As the only witness to her friend Kahlil’s murder, Starr must face the overwhelming pressure to testify on his behalf before a grand jury. This tragedy is the catalyst that begins to destroy the separation between her two worlds: one in which she spends her weekdays at a private, majority-white school, the other in which she calls “home,” a gang-ridden city neighborhood.

While Starr struggles to balance her two different worlds, her father’s desire to make their neighborhood a better place, her mother’s desire to move away to keep their family safe, AND the pressures of being in the spotlight, Starr’s story, though fictional, depicts many aspects of reality that hit close to home. Starr is afraid of what will happen to her is she speaks out, but knows that she has to use her voice to speak on behalf of her friend and the injustice that he faced.

As the story progresses, readers get to see how the criminal justice system and the media in our country and society skew (and even alter completely) stories before releasing them to the world. Starr’s experiences depict the struggle of getting the real story out there in situations such as hers and how industries silence and oppress the voices of minorities.

The title of this novel is derived from the rapper Tupac Shakur’s philosophy of “THUG LIFE,” which Thomas explains as “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” This phrase ends up as a motif for the novel. Right before his murder, Kahlil explains to Starr that this phrase is really an indictment of systemic inequality and hostility: “What society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” Essentially, what we are taught when we are children will eventually come back to haunt us as a society in the future. (For example: racism and systematic oppression and inequality.)

Throughout this riveting debut novel, Thomas utilizes Starr’s perspective to speak out about this ever-present, bone-chilling issue of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. While I read this book, I truly connected and empathized with Starr, heartbroken that a teenage girl outlived two of her best friends. I commend Angie Thomas for shedding light on this important and current topic.

I realize that many individuals will attempt to discredit The Hate U Give and the real-life experiences Thomas fictionalizes in the book. I am not going to discuss the politics surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement (at least not in this blog post) but I encourage those who disagree to read this book, because it is possibly the most important book I have read in a very, very long time.

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After taking a hiatus of sorts from blogging/writing/using my brain in general since the semester ended, I’m finally taking time to reflect on my junior year of college, right before which I created this blog.

Overall, I think my junior year of undergrad was quite possibly my most rewarding of my years in college thus far. I had numerous incredibly interesting classes such as Minority Groups, Sexuality and Society, Constructing Health, Classical Social Theory, and Communication Studies Research Methods. Not only was my time in the classroom interesting and worth-while, but so was my time outside of the classroom. As I’ve discussed on my other forms of social media, I had the privilege of interning at Rowan’s Healthy Campus Initiatives, an organization on campus that focuses on mental health, body image, drug/alcohol education, sexual violence prevention, sexual health education, and stress management. In the fall, I focuses primarily on sexual health education, and though I did co-facilitate some events regarding healthy relationships in the spring, a lot of my time as a HCI intern was dedicated to sexual violence prevention.

In April, HCI hosted Take Back the Night, an open-mic and solidarity event for survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence. The event itself was truly incredible, mostly because many individuals chose to speak about their own experiences regarding the topic. I think the fact that so many Rowan students came to the event to show their support was awe-inspiring.

Prior to Take Back the Night, I organized what we named “Supporting Survivors,” or “Survivor Love Letters,” in which I asked students around campus to write positive messages/inspirational quotes on notecards for sexual violence survivors. These notecards were hung on the windows of the Wellness Center (HCI’s home) for the entire university and passersby to see. Seeing my work cover huge spans of windows and seeing individuals stop to read the notes truly was so rewarding.

My junior year was not only filled with incredible internship experiences, but also consisted of instances in which I began figuring out what I want to do with my future after graduating in May 2018. Though I don’t know exactly where I want to go or what I want to study, I know that I want to continue my education and go to graduate school. Hopefully I will, one day, be able to be a professor at a university, or work on-campus in outreach programs, and do similar work to what I’ve done over the last year.

Though it is only June, I am excited to see what my senior year will bring.

(Yes, I’m actually thinking about school. I am a huge nerd and I accept it.)

 

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Benefits beyond the yoga mat


Posted By on Mar 15, 2017

I wrote an article for Rowan’s March issue of Student Health 101 about yoga. The article can be viewed here.

 

“The light in me recognizes and honors the light in each and every one of you,” the yoga instructor says from the front of the room. Her smile indicates that class has concluded. “Namaste.”

The members of the class rise peacefully from their mats, being packing up, and then brace the doorway for the rest of their day, evening, or night. With them they take a relaxed mind and body from participating in yoga’s practice. Everyday life can be stressful, especially while in college. Academics, social life, homework, jobs, internships, and other responsibilities are all aspects of undergraduate and graduate lifestyle and all are equally difficult to balance. However, when an individual does make the time to care for themselves physically and mentally, such as going to a weekly yoga class, there are abundance of benefits that reach far beyond the yoga mat.

Harvard Medical School discusses yoga’s purpose – challenging oneself physically, but not to an overwhelming degree. At this “edge,” the focus of the practice is one’s breath while keeping the mind accepting and calm. This yoga mindset influences an individual’s inner awareness. This inner awareness promotes attention to the body’s abilities at the present moment of practice, focusing more on breath and strength of the mind and body more so than focusing on physical appearance. The Yoga Health Foundation Organization notes that inner peace is a key reason that yoga has become an essential part of many people’s daily lives, stressing the importance of taking the time to allow oneself to connect and relax their body and their mind.

Moreover, there are numerous physical benefits to yoga as well. American Osteopathic Association notes that these physical benefits include increased flexibility, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration, energy and vitality, and cardio and circulatory health. The Association also explains that “the relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga class can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome.” Regardless of where an individual decides to practice yoga, whether it’s in their dorm or bedroom or the on-campus recreation center, they will benefit from both mental and physical aspects of the practice.

Practicing yoga soothes tension and anxiety within the mind and body, which ultimately helps bring calmness and mindfulness into every day life – fully allowing an individual to be present in the moment. The techniques learned during yoga classes can be utilized during every day occurrences, such as mindful breathing before an important exam or job interview or starting off the day with a few sun salutations. Once an individual begins to implement these techniques into their everyday lives, they will begin to notice the importance of exploring their limits instead of striving for perfection while getting in tune with their body and their inner self.

Namaste.

 

Here are some other great articles about yoga:

Everyday Feminism – What’s so feminist about yoga?

Everyday Feminism – Yoga, cultural appropriation, and why it matters 

 

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A pre-Inauguration Day occurence


Posted By on Jan 19, 2017

Today (January 19, 2017, Inauguration Day Eve), I was leaving Rowan’s campus around 11 AM, ready to move on with my day after a long first week of classes. As I was putting my backpack in the passenger seat of my car, someone pushed passed me, muttering “Proud Democrat? Yeah right, what a fucking joke.” This person was referencing one of the few bumper stickers on my car.

To quickly clarify: Yes, I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “Proud Democrat” because I am one. Yes, I have a bumper sticker that says “Stop Bigotry” because that’s what I’d like to see in the world. Yes, I have a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker because I supported her throughout the election and still continue to support her and other members of the Democratic Party. I keep these stickers on my car because I like them there.

The stranger continued with “Go Trump!” I was taken aback, mostly because I did not know this person whatsoever, but also because this (presumably fellow student) was a young adult woman. She continued walking, but still looked back at me. All I said back was “That was unnecessary,” because, well, it really was unnecessary. She said, “No, it’s not, I’m expressing my opinion.” She continued to make her way out of the parking garage.

First, I want to state that there is a vast difference between expressing one’s opinion and verbally harassing a stranger. This type of situation was and would be unnecessary (and overall kind of rude) regardless of when it occurred, where it occurred, and the types of political views and opinions of the people involved. Second of all, what would have this person done if I just didn’t so happen to be arriving at my car as she was departing hers? Would she have rolled her eyes, cursed under her breath and moved on? Did verbally harassing me (a STRANGER) benefit her in any way?

(Side note: No, I was not “asking for it” by having these bumper stickers on my car. An individual typically isn’t ever “asking for it” when it comes to any type of harassment.)

What I truly do not understand about those who support the man who (unfortunately) is becoming our next president is that they continue to relentlessly defend him, typically in unprompted situations – when, in reality, he hasn’t benefitted them specifically or for the country in general. Because of these bumper stickers, I’ve gotten flipped off, given a thumbs-down, tailgated, laughed at, and now harassed. Because of bumper stickers. BUMPER STICKERS.

I’m not sure where to go from here or what the future after tomorrow will bring. I do know, at least, that I am gratified to be able to identify the absurdity of ignorant occurrences such as this one.

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I wrote an article for Rowan’s December issue of Student Health 101 about Planned Parenthood’s new period-tracking app, “Spot On.” This article can be read here.

 

Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides reproductive health services around the country and globally, launched a new app called Spot On. This app is a free and easy way for users to track their menstrual cycle, birth control methods, and sexual health. Spot On allows users to track not only their day-to-day moods and symptoms, inline-devicesbut also view these attributes on a larger scale from month-to-month.

“At Planned Parenthood, we understand that your period is a normal – if not always welcome – part of life, and we hear pretty much every question in the book about periods and birth control,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America Chief Medical Officer Dr. Regan McDonald-Mosely said in a statement (Planned Parenthood, 2016). “This led us to create a resource to help every person understand their own unique cycle and body. We’re thrilled to introduce the Spot On app, and hope it empowers users to take control of their period, their birth control, and their overall sexual health.”

According to Planned Parenthood (2016, March 29), Spot On offers fun ways to track changes in users’ moods and body, and includes activities to create a personalized experience that helps users learn how their menstrual cycle and birth control affect their bodies. Users can enter an array of information into Spot On, ranging from symptoms such as fatigue and cramps, to moods, to daily activities such as travel, exercise, and nutrition. Planned Parenthood states that the ultimate purpose behind Spot On is to help users rule their unique cycle, instead of it ruling them.

The more frequently users track this information, the more Spot On learns about users’ cycle and can better predict when their period is supposed to arrive. Overall, Spot On allows users to decipher what symptoms are part of their menstrual cycle, what’s a birth control side effect, or what is simply their body being their body through the app’s personalized input system.

Spot On offers information, reminders, and tips about different types of birth control methods that may affect their menstrual cycles – including the pill, patch, ring, shot, IUS, and implant. This helps users stay on track and use their bir
th control accurately.

Spot On is available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play for Android.

pp-spot-on

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I recently wrote a letter to the editor of Rowan’s online newspaper, The Whit, in repsonse to a concerned parent’s letter to the editor regarding “safe spaces” on Rowan’s campus. This article can be read here. “Safe spaces already exist on campus” is a response to “The business world does not have space spaces.”

2016-11-30

Photo courtesy of The Whit. Online article can be read here.

I haven’t previously written to an editor for any newspaper and I would appreciate if you let my voice be heard as a student of Rowan University in response to Kevin O’Leary’s letter to the editor, “The business world does not have safe spaces.”

To begin – Mr. O’Leary, I appreciate your concern regarding Rowan’s campus life. Many parents do not express such concerns regardingthe environment in which their child is obtaining their education.

That being said, “safe spaces” already exist on Rowan’s campus. To name two: the Wellness Center, which includes counseling and psychological services, and the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution, which includes the LGBTQIA Center, the Women’s Center, the Multicultural Center, and the Spiritual Exploration Center. These services, groups, and organizations on Rowan’s campus are a couple among many, and I am sure more exist than the ones I have listed. Assuming that “safe spaces” are a new fad in response to the outcome of the election is false. These places have existed for quite some time and will continue to exist well into the future of our generation and the future of Rowan’s community.

Moreover, the email to which you refer simply acknowledges that the Rowan community, regardless of opinion or perspective, should be respectful of others’ opinions and perspectives. The email states that every member of Rowan’s community deserves respect. Overall, this is an important lesson for all of us to learn, not just the population of Rowan University.

Ultimately, the idea of a “safe space,” or a place in which students go to feel that their opinions, emotions, and perspectives are valid and accepted, is not an aspect of our university of which to be ashamed. Deemed “safe spaces” not only provide an environment for mental health care for college students, but also provide an outlet for marginalized groups to feel accepted and comfortable.

The “real world” does have safe spaces, whether they are facilitated by an organization or university or an individual’s own designated place to feel safe. Rhetoric that continues to dismiss and disregard not only mental health and wellness, but also the experiences of marginalized groups will continue to damage Rowan’s community. In ten years, we will not only see the benefits of safe spaces, but the ways in which discussing mental wellbeing and acknowledging the experiences of different individuals have benefitted our community.

Sincerely,

Bri Ozalas

letter

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fluid

Last Sunday, Showtime premiered the second episode of the seventh season of Shameless. This show in particular is quite possibly one of my favorite shows on television currently, mostly because of the main characters realistically diverse personalities and the show’s ability to always keep a steady flow of chaos. Last Sunday’s episode, however, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The show regarded bisexuality/sexual fluidity in such a manner that correlated these sexualities/sexual identities with infidelity in romantic relationships, which ultimately perpetuates stereotypes and stigmas surrounding them.

First – here’s some background: Ian Gallagher is the third Gallagher child, who identifies as a gay man, and after quite a long on-again-off-again relationship with Mickey Milkovich, who’s now in jail, Ian meets a firefighter named Caleb toward the end of season six. Caleb is a genuine person who cares about Ian and provides great representation for someone who is living with HIV. I was so excited about this character and this couple. Then – Caleb mentions that he’s meeting up with an old high school friend, a woman named Denise. Ian secretly follows Caleb to the meeting, not trusting him when he says that Denise is just a friend. Ian sees them kissing and draws the conclusion that Caleb is cheating on him.

Ultimately, yes – Caleb is a cheater. He lied to Ian, telling him that Denise was just a friend, when, in fact, Caleb and Denise have and currently still sleep together frequently. Caleb notes that he does this because he is sexually fluid, which means he doesn’t identify with a label for his sexuality. Ian gets frustrated and aggressively asks: “Since when have you been such a bisexual?”

shameless

I have many issues with this plotline and character development. First of all – there is not a correlation between identifying as sexually fluid and cheating on one’s monogamous romantic partner. Caleb kept his fling with Denise a secret and never discussed his relationship with her to Ian. If Ian and Caleb were in a polyamorous relationship (much like Kevin and Veronica and Svetlana on the show), this most likely would not be an issue. Second – sexual identities are not an excuse for infidelity. Caleb used his sexual fluidity as to why he was sleeping with Denise. That’s not how it works, Shameless writers. Third – I was terribly uncomfortable with Ian’s “bisexual” statement. Ian is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. He should not be making transphobic comments like he did in the first episode (saying he hoped Denise had male genitalia) and making demeaning remarks about another sexuality. If Caleb is bisexual or sexually fluid, this is totally fine, and Ian should attempt to understand his partner. Caleb should have discussed his perspective with Ian before overstepping boundaries (aka cheating).

I understand that these are merely television characters and that they aren’t perfect (hence the television show title, Shameless), and I understand that this is only one episode and both Ian and Caleb could learn their lessons and change their perspectives by the end of the next episode. Caleb could just be a bad person who cheats on their significant others. Ian could just be ignorant. I understand all of this. Regardless, this episode provided a terrible representation of bisexuality and sexual fluidity. I am ashamed of the way this was portrayed in Shameless, especially since it tapped into many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding less discussed sexual identities. The ways in which these sexual identities were depicted totally misconstrued the reality of the ways in which people who identify as such actually exist.

I hope, for the sake of representation, that in the future this misrepresentation will no longer exist. And as for Shameless, I guess I’ll have to wait and see what next week’s episode entails.

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