Acceptance is the new Skinny
First up, I have to check my privilege at the door. I’m usually treated as a dude, and not a dudette, so I didn’t suffer many of the “you need to be skinny” bullshit that women get (although I still did get some). I also don’t have kids, so the idea of how you should raise a kid/teen is not something I have any experience with. However, I still had a reaction to a particular series of conversations and articles, and I feel like I want to share my feelings on the topic.
There is a pretty decent blog post entitled Strong is the new Skinny sophieologie.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/strong-is-the-new-skinny/. On one hand, I agree with so many points in there. Telling anyone they should be skinny is pretty crappy advice. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy. You bruise easier, you get sick easier, you don’t have as much energy, etc etc. So the article suggests that we should encourage girls to be strong instead of skinny.
The problem with telling someone they should be skinny is that they warp it in their heads, and think “I’m not skinny enough” and beat themselves up over it. They strive to be skinny to the point that they injure themselves. They diet, perhaps they refuse to eat, perhaps they develop some form of eating disorder. They take the idea of being skinny to a very unhealthy extreme. They develop body dysmorphia, and they will never feel that they are skinny enough. And that’s the thing about body dysmorphia, because their interpretation of their body doesn’t match reality it is impossible for them to be skinny enough for their mind.
So how exactly does telling someone to be strong not cause a different flavor of the same problem? Now they still feel inadequate and feel that they aren’t strong enough. They need to be stronger, they need to exercise more. They are just as likely to injure themselves while exercising as from not eating. Especially if they are doing it to an extreme level. Torn tendons and pulled muscles. If they develop body dysmorphia, they will never be strong enough for the image in their head, and they will keep doing it well beyond what is safe.
The article has a picture of a 17 year old girl doing CrossFit, and states this is a great thing. CrossFit is a competition based thing. You are supposed to do intense exercises very quickly, and many of the exercises are high impact. Done without proper guidance these exercises can be extremely damaging to the body. I’m not entirely sure that is the right environment for teenagers that might be already feeling like they “aren’t good enough”.
I have had friends that were confined to wheelchairs. Thinking of one in particular, he is smart, funny, and attractive. But he will never be strong, because he has a muscle disorder and has to use a motorized wheelchair. Therefore by the “Strong is the new Skinny” he will never be good enough. Other bodily limitations can prevent someone from being strong, such as asthma. They can’t be strong, and are therefore not good enough. Never mind the fact that they may be wonderful people, they are still evaluated on their physical traits, and their appearance?
How about we start a new campaign along the lines of “Acceptance is the new Skinny”. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak someone is. It doesn’t matter how skinny or fat someone is. I would even say it doesn’t matter how smart or stupid someone is. We should accept people for who they are, and stop trying to make people change when they are just fine being them. We should encourage people to be happy in the skin they have, and that they are awesome as they are, and if they change, they will still be awesome, because they are just awesome through and through. Let’s stop writing articles suggesting someone needs to change in order to be okay.
I recognize that the article in question is very well written, and flat out states that you can be skinny and strong, or fat and strong. It states that you just need to be strong to the level that makes sense for yourself. I just feel that the message can so easily be warped in completely the wrong way. In ways the author I’m sure doesn’t want. The problem isn’t the article, the problem is all of the other articles that have been written about that article, which have completely missed the point.
There are some other problematic parts though, which I would like to take a glance at. Here is a small snippet:
“Encourage them to eat. Don’t let them diet. Discourage the idolization of anorexic and bulimic celebrities. Make them exercise instead. Teach them that “exercise” means running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard, and kicking butt- it doesn’t mean flapping their arms around in some trendy, overpriced Trogalaties course, or running on the elliptical until they pass out. Help them realize their own strength. All of these things will help girls realize their full potential, both physically and mentally. It will help girls become self-confident, capable, and literally and figuratively strong. A girl who is encouraged to be strong instead of skinny will have higher self-esteem, respect, ambitions, and worth. She will never be a victim. She will be healthy. She will be a leader. She will be confident. She will be an incredible, exceptional, powerful woman.”
That first part I agree with. I disagree with “Make them…” because I generally think that forcing someone to do something is almost always bad. “Encourage them…” would be a hell of a lot better. I don’t know about you, but I suffered through PE in high-school and it sucked. They “made me” do bench-press when I had a recently dislocated shoulder (let me tell you, that turned out awesome). No one in PE enjoyed it, and it sure as hell didn’t encourage us to keep it up afterwards, it chased us away. Making someone do something (especially a teenager) will make them want to do the exact opposite. Also “…will help girls realize their full potential” unless of course their potential lies in areas completely unrelated, such as poetry or writing, or art, or anything non-physical. “It will help girls become self-confident…” yes because high-school PE sure increased all of our confidence SO MUCH. And turning into a competition (like CrossFit, and many other programs) doesn’t make you feel confident, it makes you feel like a loser if you can’t keep up.
And more than anything I find the phrase “She will never be a victim” EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC. This isn’t just a stray poorly thought out wording on the author’s part either. Up above there is a line about the 17 year old CrossFitter that is “I can pretty much guarantee you she is never going to be mugged.” Being physical strong won’t keep someone from being a woman. Suggesting that being strong will protect them is like saying not wearing skimpy clothes will keep someone from being a victim. Turn that the other way, and you are saying that the reason people are victims is because they aren’t strong. There is a term for that, and it is “victim blaming”. If someone becomes a victim, that must mean they aren’t strong enough, it’s their fault. Which is complete bullshit, it is the perpetrators fault, not the victim.
With Scrum so far, I have learned two things.
First up, Scrum is meant for Development Teams, not multipurpose IT Teams. Second, Scrum does not fix any problems, it only reveals them. It takes a separate effort to fix those problems. If Scrum is applied without a dedication to fix those problems, things get worse and not better. If Scrum is applied to a team that does more than just software development, their deadlines will suffer on account of their non-software writing tasks, and they will begrudge the non-software writing tasks.
If the team is doing more than pure development, then compromises have to be made. Since time allocation with an IT Team or Maintenance Team can be unpredictable (it’s hard to predict when someone needs assistance, or when something will break), it means that the entire idea of setting due dates doesn’t work very well. The very point of Scrum is to have a deadline every Sprint (in our case, every month). This means that we now have the stress of missing a deadline every month.
By our very nature, we are a multipurpose IT Team. We develop, maintain, and assist. Sometimes our duties include helping someone install a keyboard or setup a projector. Sometimes we help with Excel formulas. And sometimes we build applications. We can’t have laser like focus on a development goal when we have random things interrupt us every day. Those interruptions become a point of anxiety and stress. I typically enjoy helping users solve their problems, but when helping a user gets in the way of what is my “primary task” of trying to meet a Sprint deadline, I begin to begrudge the user, and their problem.
Spreading the interruptions around the team seems like it would work to help reduce the stress and anxiety, but it seems to be doing the exact opposite. Now when someone walks down the aisle needing help, we all cringe thinking “please don’t ask me, please don’t ask me…” which causes us stress, even if we aren’t the person that gets asked to help. We also feel sorry for whichever dev is picked, because we know their stress is even higher, and that they will feel failure when they don’t finish the tasks they promised to do that same morning. Previously, these are the situations in which I would be happy to help, but now I am stressed that I will get picked and stressed for my teammates. And when I do get picked, it stresses me more, because I know I won’t finish the tasks that I picked that morning in the Scrum standup. By helping someone else with their problem, I fail to get done what I said I would do that morning. Sometimes if the task I picked doesn’t get done, then it will block someone else, which is even more stressful.
For a team to be a Development Team, they need to be shielded from interruptions. That means someone, or something, needs to stand in the way of interruptions. When someone walks down the aisle looking for help, someone or something should be there to say “No, you can’t have So-And-So, they are dedicated to a particular task today and can’t be interrupted unless someone is on fire”. At the moment, we don’t have that.
We have attempted to put physical objects up that are meant to perform that task. Our Build Board has our availability status, if someone isn’t marked as green, they aren’t available for interruption. But mostly people view this as a novelty. Because I always have a task, I am always marked as Busy, which is perhaps true, but perhaps also not helpful. We have a touch screen monitor which will eventually have burndown charts, impediments, and who is working on what task. Theoretically anyone should be able to look at that monitor, and figure out who is the most available for interruption. However the laptop that powers it has been quite flakey, and we haven’t gotten the time to get all of the charts and info setup, so most of the time the monitor remains black. I’m guessing it will not help prevent interruptions any more than the availability status on our Build Board.
What we need is a person, not an object. We need a person to block interruptions from affecting the Development Team. The Boss could theoretically block quite a few interruptions. He can say “no” to people asking for help, and he can himself help with some tasks. But truth be told, the boss is rather busy with tons of meetings, contracts, and other tasks, and helping someone with their excel formula is just as detrimental to his tasks as it is to the Development Team. Also many times the interruptions are something that requires a programmer, someone who has the ability to get into code and hunt bugs.
One of our teammates has suggested the idea of taking turns being the Blocker. The idea is that one developer is taken off of the development team for a week, and their duty is to deal with whatever comes up. They will help install keyboards, help with excel formulas, fix emergencies in prod, setup new users, and everything else that our team is expected to do that isn’t tied to our primary project. If something comes up that they aren’t capable of (perhaps it’s a bug in code they don’t understand), then they need to evaluate if it can wait for the next week, or if it is truly urgent and someone on the development team should be interrupted. But the Blocker should do everything within their power to prevent the team from being interrupted!
The problem with that though, is that it makes it sound like it’s an unpleasant duty. Everyone has to “take a turn in the barrel”. When in truth some of us love hunting bugs on dev, helping random users fix their problems, and the plethora of other weird things that pop up. I admit I would get seriously bored if all I was doing was being a code monkey for 40 hours a week. The variety is what makes this job fun. The idea of taking that week to help folks sounds fun! But I know for some people it isn’t fun.
Thinking on this made me think back to our past three projects. All three were great successes. Two of them were done with the development team being contractors, that we strove to not interrupt, and I had the duty of being a facilitator. If they ran into an impediment, I helped clear it. If they had questions, I helped them find the answers. I reviewed their code and made sure they were heading in the right direction. The other project I was the only developer on. I did it in my “free time” while helping on the other projects. My project turned out great, but deadlines were hopeless since I was helping so much on the other projects. Pretty much the ONLY stressor on my project was the fact that I wasn’t meeting deadlines. The code was fine, the project was fun, but the deadlines we picked were impractical given the other responsibilities I had. I enjoyed those other responsibilities greatly, until they started affecting my deadline, which caused me stress.
I enjoy being that blocker, except when being that blocker gets in the way of my deadlines (sometimes those deadlines are external, sometimes they are self-imposed).
So now coming back to our current project. We don’t have someone to block interruptions, and we don’t have someone to facilitate clearing problems. Instead it is spread around to all of us, and wearing all of us thin. Our deadline is hopeless. And our stress levels are insanely high. The tasks we promise to do aren’t getting done, we keep getting interruptions, and we are taking shortcuts constantly. The project we set out to “do right” is failing.
To make things worse, we have several other projects spinning up that are being done by contractors. Because those contractors are being paid for very specific tasks, someone has to be there to fix any weird things that pop up. Such as helping them get their VM online, helping them get connected to TFS, facilitating meetings between them and other development teams in the agency, and quite frankly each of those projects needs a blocker too. So we will have even more interruptions to our team if we have to take turns fixing their issues and being their blocker, which will affect our deadlines even more. If we aren’t careful, our development team will be supporting contractors, instead of contractors supporting our development team.
The idea of the blocker is a rather Cowboy Coder concept. They bounce between projects, taking pot shots at bugs, dabbling in all the code, and in their free time they are perhaps helping out on an actual project. But I feel that they are basically an adapter between a Scrum Development Team, and the expectations of what our team should do for who we support. They would allow the development team to mature and solidify, and help educate others about how the “new process” works. There is talk of a new scrum team being a “Scrum Bubble”, and they would be that barrier around the bubble, allowing it to grow. As the concept of Scrum is adopted throughout, the team will no longer be expected to perform Cowboy Coder tasks, and the role is no longer needed.
I think I would be interested in fulfilling that role, for a few different reasons. The biggest reason is that I am not enjoying our attempts at Scrum. I find our attempts to be extremely stressful, and I don’t think the underlying problems are getting fixed. I have distaste for deadlines anyways, and Scrum is a new deadline every month. I understand that Scrum can make a development team more efficient; however I’m finding it to be significantly less fun. I don’t require focus to flourish, I require variety. I am a Cowboy Coder by birth, and seeing a place where doing what I enjoy could help others sounds great. I think I could help solve problems, which I enjoy, and I think I could reduce the distractions to the development team, in the same way I did for two of our previous recent projects.