Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lessons from the high school quest for popularity

I was clearly one of the COOL kids in high school, braces and all

We certainly had that group of POPULAR kids who dressed the part and looked pretty cool from afar at my school.

They sat in a particular lounge between classes and at lunch where access was limited to group members and occasional daring souls willing to commit social suicide if it didn't go so well. However, when I think back on them there wasn't anything particularly likable about them. They looked the part perhaps but mostly kept to themselves. There were certainly more talented, dynamic, friendly, and interesting people to associate with at school.

And then there was that subgroup of people who really were POPULAR. The people who everyone actually liked. The ones who were able to cross groups and be friends with the "most popular" to the "nerdiest nerds." The ones who didn't shop exclusively at Abercrombie & Fitch (oh the ultimate high school clique promoting store!) but were still somehow worth knowing.

It is from this subgroup that I gained my inspiration for today's post. There are two girls in particular that stick out in my mind. We will call them Charlotte and Sarah.

Although I would hope they would still consider me a friend, I doubt they think much about me over 10 years later. But I learned a few lessons from them that I still try my best to follow.

* * *
I found I particularly liked Charlotte and Sarah. In fact, I think everyone felt that way about them. They were so fun and interesting. It was as if we were instant best friends whenever we were together, even if we hadn't talked for awhile. Mostly, they seemed to really like me, too. They always had something nice to say, about how I was "Like the nicest person" they knew, or "I was, like, the prettiest girl ever." I felt the same about them.

You are probably smarter than I was as a 16 year old and figured out they were this way with anyone they encountered. It seemed everyone was, "Like the best." At first I was a little puzzled, maybe even hurt. "I thought I was the best, but you just told Bridget and Carly and Joanne that they were the best." While I continued to like them, it left the proverbial "bad taste in my mouth" and I sought their attention less and less frequently.

No wonder I received so many compliments!

Knowing that they were actually nice girls, I don't think they used flattery as a calculated tactic to gain social standing (although I am sure it did help them become some of the most popular girls a school). I think they honestly gave compliments to be kind and friendly. But the technique of over-complimenting wasn't very sincere and left me wondering if they even liked me or how much I actually liked them. I figured out pretty quickly that although empty praises may gain easy social standing, it doesn't result in real relationship boosts.

So lesson #1: Give sincere compliments and avoid flattery. 

My personal definition of flattery is any kind of inflated compliment that couldn't possibly be true. It usually includes statements that end in "-est." Unless I am talking about my husband, I can't honestly promise that someone is "The BEST!" That goes for other compliments like the prettiest, smartest, fastest, nicest, funniest. I can't guarantee that in fact anyone is, truly, the epitomy of any of these traits (--I don't know any Guinness Book World Record holders or maybe I could). But, I can genuinely and honestly say something like, "You are GREAT!" Or, "You are so pretty, smart, fast, or nice!" I can feel like I gave a genuine compliment and you don't have to wonder if I say it to everyone. Even if I did, it shouldn't take away the legitimacy of your compliment. You can both be smart but you can't both be the smartest.

I also tend to avoid returning compliments. I don't want the pressure of trying to match (or maybe even deflect) a compliment to trick me into saying something I don't really mean. For example, "Erin, I love your dress." I find myself scrambling for something else to say back like, "Well, Carol, I love your your shoes." Maybe I like the shoes but didn't love them enough to say something until I felt pressured to respond.

It also feels more sincere if I give a compliment first so you don't wonder if I said something just to be nice back.

Now, I usually just answer with a simple thank you. I don't feel off guard trying to find a compliment to spit back and you don't have to wonder if I was just being nice in return. If I do send a compliment back, it is usually one I had been saving up and hadn't had a chance to share yet.

That leads me to my second lesson: Just say thank you!

We'll talk about that more next time.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bumpity bump

Bikers are awesome.

When can you roam around public for hours in only spandex without thinking anything about it?
Only amongst bikers.

Abe and I had that discussion yesterday during our 35 mile bike ride as part of the annual Courage Ride, a fundraiser for cancer in the scenic Amish countryside in our area. I didn't have a second thought about any of the other bikers or even myself, regardless of the size and shape of their bodies (and my own). We were having fun riding bikes, listening to music, and eating treats, all while raising money for cancer.

I momentarily left this cheery lane of thought and went down a dark back alley of my mind that I unfortunately frequent more often than I'd like, to glance at how I looked in spandex. I noticed just how far my belly was poking out. This time, I took a quick peak and ran back out into the sunshine and shrugged it off.

Maybe that's why when it happened I actually took very little offense. I felt bad for the perpetrator more than anything but I couldn't blame him. I think it is a common advice to avoid even asking the question, but somehow it seems to continue to happen. And in this case, even to intelligent people with whom I feel great esteem (in this instance one of my old dental school mentors).

And so it happened:

"Looks like you are expecting!"

Yes, it does!

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with expecting anything except a few more workouts and an increased commitment to healthy living.

It has more to do with the shape of my belly (which seems to stick out regardless of my size). The few extra pounds I'd like to shed. And hopefully, the spandex I was squished into.

So, in case you've been wondering, that's no bun in the's just my muffin top!

*And for those of you who are confused, the picture above is my proof that I CAN look more pregnant than most pregnant girls I know. I WAS hoping that it was just when I was trying, though.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

We're number one!

Kind of old news (but I'm a little behind in a lot of things in life)...

Did you see the new rankings by the Princeton Review? Evidently, both of my schools were ranked number one!

And BYU was ranked the #1 stone cold sober school for the 16th year in a row.

I think BYU is embracing the title a little more than the U of I! 

...unless you ask the students! I think they've been celebrating in anticipation since I arrived in Iowa City (8 years ago).

I think Jimmy Kimmel has a good recommendation. I'm all about making your weaknesses into your strengths.

Here's to another year of chocolate milk shots in a crazy world of beer pong and bar hopping!

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I wrote this post last week. It didn’t seem quite right but I think I’ll post it anyway. It’s kind of long but I hope you’ll hang in there.
“Bodies are bodies.”

--A lesson learned not from dental school, but from working in a hospital. Maybe there isn’t anything overtly profound in that statement but it has been a real epiphany for me. There is something inspirational about seeing the body at work, even at times of illness or injury in young, old, ugly, or pretty.

I used to think that parts of the body (especially my own) were ugly, weird, abnormal, or even gross.

I’ve since learned:

People have fat rolls, blemishes, wrinkles (or one day will). Most people don’t look like super models or celebrities (and the ones who do are so weird they often get paid millions) and many people aren’t even overly attractive. And yet, all bodies are beautiful. Beautiful how they heal themselves. In how they regulate a multitude of hormones to keep things like growth, fertility, water balance, and blood sugar under control despite a barrage of environmental change. The simple way the body is able to rid itself of waste and toxins. Even an old and frail body failing after a life of living. All of these things are so normal we don’t usually even think about them; and yet are quite extraordinary if you take a moment to appreciate -- when they don’t work, life is hard. We are so lucky to have our bodies that allow us to be here even living this life and especially for the times our bodies work just as they should, despite how they look.

So, I got angry, or at least quite annoyed, when I learned yesterday that my body doesn’t measure up in yet again one more way. I’ve known about thunder thighs and muffin tops, among other body flaws to lament, but who knew, all this time, I’ve been missing a thigh gap?


I actually noticed I didn’t have a thigh gap in high school. But I didn’t know then that this was another failing of my imperfect body, along with my double chin tendency and a few aberrant hairs. Evidently, even though the thigh gap is something that anatomically cannot be “achieved” by most women, this is the new goal of skinny perfection. I was fascinated by this new body fashion and did some research, only to learn other things that were wrong with me of which I was ignorant, like “hip dip” and my lack of pointy hip bones or collarbones. Forget that I have a strong mind, a healthy heart, reliable kidneys, 20/20 vision. I’m not bow-legged and I have the “wrong” hip angle.

Luckily, I am a strong and enlightened woman who knows better than to buy into that kind of junk.

Or am I?


I’ve been bothered by the “thinspo" trend online for awhile. There are hundreds of posts and images online with photo-shopped pictures of body builders with sayings like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” (you must not have tried Abe’s cakes!) and collages of celebrities, “Her arms, Her legs, Her abs. If I am strong enough, I will get there!” It is disturbing to me that we (we being women in general) are so often striving for something that is so unattainable. It is easy to say that I can look but not touch, smoke but not inhale, and think I am above falling prey to these images and philosophies: I’m 30 years old, not some 13 year old girl trying to obtain a ridiculous trend like a thigh gap; yet I know I am susceptible to these messages just like any teenage girl.

I keep telling myself if I weighed only 5 pounds less I would be that much more happy. I realized only recently that even when I was “skinny,” I didn’t like my abs then, either –my belly always seemed to stick out too much, at least since it was pointed out to me my freshman year of college by a roommate and a boyfriend.

Of course being healthy and fit and making your body the best it can be is great. But I think it is damaging to think you can copy and paste celebrity body parts to obtain after a few sessions of P90X or think that if you only had enough will power you could look like Kate Moss. Most people can’t look like Kate Moss—that’s why SHE’s famous. And I promise, no matter how much I work out, I will never have abs like Jessica Alba or arms like Jennifer Aniston. I will always have Erin arms, toned or otherwise.

Now, back to the thigh gap.

I am used to comparing myself to photo-shopped images. Years of unrealistically thin magazine photos and ads have taught me that I will never measure up to my own warped standard of beauty. But telling me that my thighs need to be strangers and that I can’t have a little concavity in my hip line when we all know very well that is probably not possible for most women past puberty makes me mad. Not only does it seem we are trying to look like teenage boys with six packs and large breasts, now it feels like we are being told that one of the very things that make women womanly are no longer okay-- hips. That wonderful pelvic tilt that makes life possible for everyone on earth through the miracle of childbirth is no longer an acceptable fashion accessory.

(As if it is something that can be changed with the seasons.)

Leave my hips alone!

That was my mantra today at dinner.

I somehow forgot all about how good skinny tastes or looking like a celebrity when I ate my own weight in crab rangoons today at the Chinese Buffett. And I certainly didn’t care about my thigh gap.
I feel sad that so many young girls do. If only they could see and remember, “Bodies are bodies, too.”

Now, if only I can remember, as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Progress: My Journey As An LDS Female Dentist

I've come along way in the past 8+ years. And so have LDS women in dentistry (and maybe other careers?). At least in my little corner of the Midwest.

I was thinking about this today after receiving a message from Thalia, another female LDS dental colleague. She mentioned she has had a hard time finding other LDS women in the field. I remember similar searches in my past.

When I was at BYU I became the president of the very exclusive and prestigious club, Women in Dentistry. It was a very exclusive club including about 3 members, including myself. Unfortunately, the exclusivity had less to do with the criteria and much much more to do with lack of interest.

I felt pretty alone. I happened to have another girl in my ward who was also applying for dental school, Ashley Sheffield (who strangely enough just happens to be Abe's cousin...small world), Tara Huntsman, and another girl I unfortunately cannot remember her name. I don't think Ashley was in the club and there was another girl who came to lunch with us once from NY. But that was it. Pretty slim pickings considering I applied with about 200 other BYU students (male).

Part of my lonely experience at BYU had to do with disparaging comments from dates and even a religion teacher who told me I was listening to Satan by going to dental school. I became somewhat defensive and was pretty ready to leave BYU by the time I was done (partly, maybe due to the fact I was also living at home for my last semester due to the high cost of dental school applications, a long distance boyfriend, and limited social life -- working, lacrosse, applications, interviews, married friends, home singles ward all made that hard).

So, I was very pleased when I was contacted by Laura. She was a dental student at the University of Iowa. She was also LDS (and a mom!), looking for other women like her. We started corresponding and after some encouragement I decided to apply to the University of Iowa. She let me stay with her for my interview (including driving all around Eastern Iowa to catch my flights), gave me advice, put in a good word for me, and next thing you know, I was committed to attending the U of I when I had previously never even considered it as an option. I feel very strongly she was led to find me and I still consider her one of the big influential people in my life (dental school choice, husband, residency, etc all happened after coming to Iowa).

It was a great fresh start in Iowa. I didn't get hassled much at all about being a woman but I was certainly "famous." Upon my arrival it seemed everyone knew who I was, "Oh, the Mormon girl dentist." People seemed overall quite supportive minus a few comments here and there. I would admittedly get super annoyed when I would have this almost universal conversation with new acquaintances:

Jane Doe: So, what brings you to Iowa?
Erin: Oh, I'm here for dental school.
Jane Doe: Oh, so are you becoming a dental assistant or a hygienist?
Erin: I'm becoming a dentist.
Jane: Oh, like a hygienist dentist?
Erin: No, like a dentist dentist.

Abe teases me about these conversations and warned me to be patient and not too annoyed with the questions. After we got married I would have similar conversations but with a new twist:

Jane: So, where are you from?
Erin: Utah
Jane: What is your husband doing here?
Erin: He's a medical student. What do you do?
Jane: Oh, we're in law school.
Erin: Wow, that's great! You both are in school together? That's so cool.
Jane: What! No! My husband is in school. (Implied duh.)
Erin: Oh...sorry. So what do you do?
(Notice it usually wouldn't result in asking what I do)

But, that was 8+ years ago. And 6+ years ago. And now I'm wondering when it stopped. Because somewhere along the way it has. I don't remember the last time someone asked me about being a hygienist or an assistant (except for patients who very often confuse me with the nurse or assistant). They usually don't ask me why I am in Iowa and questions about my husband's profession seem more as a clarification for how it fits in with my busy schedule. I'm guessing that people get clued in by others now so they don't have to ask. I remember over hearing one such conversation, "Oh, and this is Erin. She's our Relief Society (LDS women's group) dentist. She's like way smarter than any of us."

So, I guess with some understanding of who and what I am, comes the trade-off of the scary old girl at church. Or the couple who is too busy to want to socialize (we still like to do fun things when we are available...and have enough energy).

And now we come full circle. I was contacted by another female LDS dental student, who happens to be interested in Oral Surgery. And seems to feel a little alone.

And I think about then and now. Then: Erin, the female LDS dental student.
Now: Erin, one of two female dentists, one of two dental residents at church. Now, with two female dental students at church. And at least two other LDS female dental students (maybe more, I can't keep track anymore) that I know.

I'm not sure if this is a trend elsewhere or just at the University of Iowa but it's pretty cool. I'm willing to give up my notoriety to be the old scary girl.

Especially when it means suddenly I'm not alone anymore.

And maybe Thalia, you aren't either.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bachelorette Recap: Where's My Happy Ending?

ABC promotional image - "The Bachelorette" Season 9

I've seen one too many chick flicks.

I realized this while watching the Bachelorette Finale this week (I know, it's a horrible show and I still don't quite like acknowledging I watch!). While I actually found the finale somewhat boring and unsatisfying, I did find one aspect of the ending interesting...

I WAS expecting Brooks to come back.

If you aren't a Bachelor fan, he was one of the top 3 contenders and evidently the front runner to "win" the chance to propose to the Bachelorette Desiree. Last week he stirred up all kinds of controversy, "with the most dramatic bachelorette season in history," when he chose to go home early. Like most realistic people, he felt he probably shouldn't propose to the Bachelorette after only a few weeks of dating (while being filmed and on exotic dates across the world) a girl who has multiple boyfriends (with whom she spent overnight dates with two other guys just days before) and still hasn't been able to express her real feelings. I admired him for being honest and leaving before milking the show for additional fame, exposure, free vacation time, or even physical affection or to avoid fear of feeling awkward or looking bad when dumping a beautiful woman on national television.

Evidently I wasn't the only one waiting for his return. They polled the studio audience and a huge number of women also made their vote clear by cheering loudly that they were expecting a comeback. Those of us on Team Brooks expected our fairy tale/chick flick ending with the long drawn out scenes of an unspecified man in a suit walking up as she waited nervously, only to see his face and crazy hair at the last minute with the huge diamond and a big apology for not only the Bachelorette but all of America (at least the women sending him death threats). Instead, we got to watch Des cry and figure out plan B. (Somehow I have a hard time feeling too bad for her when she just dumped 20+ guys in a similar fashion over the past few weeks, including Zak, the guy who bought her an engagement ring after their first or second date.)

I realized when he didn't come back that because I was watching something on TV, I assumed the happy and dramatic ending I was expecting would come to be. But in real life (if you can call "reality TV" real), you don't always get the man running through the airport to stop you. Or coming back with a Neal Lane diamond and proposing on TV. 

Instead, sometimes he is too smart for that and you end up getting engaged to your second choice guy. 

And you know what, you probably be pretty happy in the end, even without the sigh worthy ending. (--and that's taking into account the fact that you likely wont marry him anyway, just like almost every other couple from the show's history.)

Because that's real life.

*And P.S. Am I the only woman in America not gaga for Juan Pablo?*

Monday, August 5, 2013

On wedding planning

My future SIL sent us a link to an interesting article about the stress of getting married. Reading the article brought back some of the memories from my own engagement. I felt some relief realizing that was all behind me and some tinges of sentimental feelings as well.

I've been thinking a lot about my own wedding as I have been watching two weddings come together this year in Abe's family. It's interesting to reminisce in the perfect window of hindsight and the poor memory of the past. I remember the engagement period being pretty stressful but overall a fun (but busy time). Since blogging is often about giving away unsolicited advice, here are some of the details of my engagement and some things I learned along the way.

Shortly before our wedding 2007

Abe and I were engaged on Valentine's Day in 2007. We had a relatively short engagement with our wedding set for the infamous 07-07-07. I wasn't the type of girl who had been planning my wedding since childhood. In some ways this made it harder as I had to start completely from scratch with only a few months to plan. So, I started by cutting out a lot of the fluff. I didn't tan, have a make-up artist, fancy jewelry, or shoes. I didn't even have my dress fitted (it was slightly big if anything) and I certainly didn't have time for any sort of exercise regimen. I said no to Bridesmaids. Groomsmen. Flower girl. Ring bearer. In an LDS wedding these people aren't even involved in the ceremony. I didn't feel I needed people in matching dresses just because of tradition or to decide who was important enough to play those roles. Too much stress! And I certainly didn't need a party bus to take them all around with me. This made life a lot easier on me, and I think the potential bridespeople.

I am also under the opinion that just like the commercialization of Christmas, much of the wedding planning hooplah is designed for money! Do you really need to try every kind of cake to choose vanilla or chocolate? Do you have to see every florist shop to decide you want pink roses? If you have the money and sanity to do those things (and most importantly, that is FUN for you), great, but I found I was behind on every engagement checklist before I was even engaged.

Engagement photo

I focused on a few details I really cared about and delegated the rest. This was mostly a necessity as I was in Iowa and the wedding would be in Utah (and luckily so was my mom). For some reason the invitations were really important to me to be completely custom. That was a lot of work to get them designed and put together but I was very happy with the result thanks to my friend Heidi who was amazing and designed it perfectly! Funny enough, I mentioned to my mother-in-law the other day that the only stamps available at the time of our mailing were the liberty bell and an ugly ram head. There were no pretty flower or wedding or love stamps. Just liberty bells and a ram with horns. This was a detail I wasn't pleased about but I think even though my mom and I were disappointed about this choice, not even my MIL remembered that detail.

I also got super lucky by finding an amazing cake lady who let me design my cake exactly how I wanted. I don't know what made me latch on to these two things but these were important and I was able to approve each detail. Knowing I had these details worked out made me more flexible on other details like the flowers (which were beautiful even though I couldn't get the exact Hawaiian flower I wanted) and the menu.

As for the rest, I told my mom and my mother-in-law my color scheme (orange and lime green), theme (luau), and that I wanted to have food (many LDS weddings are more open house type events with mint cups and dessert instead of dinner). And the wedding seemed to plan itself (Right Mom? Kristin?).

Some of the major stressors were:

-Timing. I was excited and anxious to get planning but my sister had gotten engaged just a few months prior and her wedding was in March, mine was in July. I had to delay some of my planning until my mom was done with that wedding. What a trooper!

-Guest list. This was the hardest thing to coordinate. Deciding on who should and shouldn't be invited when there are financial and physical constraints on numbers can be fundamentally different between families. In my family we haven't stayed in touch much with distant relatives so it was a little hard to understand why third cousin Sally needed to be invited to our cozy ceremony.  Luckily we were able to sort this through after understanding the goals for both the ceremony and the reception.

-Dress shopping. Finding a LDS temple appropriate dress can be challenging, especially outside of Utah! I tried so hard to find one that wasn't too ornate, was whitest white, and modest -- only to be told in the temple I would have to wear one of theirs during the ceremony anyway. I almost cried, told myself it didn't matter, and enjoyed wearing my dress the rest of the day. I got so lucky to have found mine on sale for only $100. I did feel some disappointment that my mom was not able to be present with me to find my dress but I felt lucky that I was close enough with Abe's mom to enjoy the experience with her.

-Venue selection. I know some brides want their fiances to be super involved in the wedding planning. I found when mine got too involved it just made my life harder. My mom found a great outdoor park for our reception in the canyon which was beautiful but originally my fiance had a hard time visualizing it and was worried we were having our reception by the jungle gym. Luckily I think he was pleased with the end result and this was one example of the "It's your day" thing working out for the best.

If I have any advice looking back, I'd say take a deep breathe, enjoy this time together, and remember that the important part is that you are marrying the person you love. That matters more than the flowers, the guest list, or even the food!

Then you'll be prepared when something goes wrong. Because at least ONE thing will!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Doctors in training

During dental school I adopted a personal mantra of not wishing my life away, waiting for it to begin. I have made great efforts to avoid the, "When I get married..." or "After graduation I will..." mentality. But I think it is still a trap that is so easy to fall into. I have been thinking about this a lot with a slew of family changes: Babies, graduations, engagements and marriages, job hunts, new jobs, moves, etc. Sometimes it feels like everyone is growing up, and I'm still in limbo.

In some ways I feel ever much like the adult that I hope I am (by now). I make serious medical decisions at work that I'm sure my patients would hope an adult is making. I cut on people-- they trust me to change them forever while in a coma-like state unable to stop me. I pay bills and taxes (which would make anyone feel old). And I am 30. Which sounds very adult.

But I find I still feel like I am waiting. I look around to see not only old friends but now even siblings having families of their own. My peers are parents, not just of babies, but of children who are getting taller and smarter by it seems the minute. Their age shows much more on them than it has on me physically and is a shocking reminder of how far I have come in the time since they were in diapers and are now reading chapter books at school or doing long division. 

I am still waiting as classmates are working real jobs have been working real jobs. They do things like go on family vacations and business trips. They have a real salary and a retirement plan. And now this is increasingly true of not just college friends, but dental school classmates who have their own practices and employees and patients.

Sometimes I wonder what it is like to be a "real adult." I think Abe and I do a pretty good job living our life and not waiting to "arrive." But I find we still wonder, what is it like to be "out there," out there in "the real world?" It seems like we have a long way to go before we both transition into the next stage.

And then again, sometimes I'm glad. It sounds a little scary out there. I guess life is life, no matter how you are living it.