I woke up in a snit this morning. I have been dreading this day for a couple of weeks, from the first glimpse of the ubiquitous pinkwashing that occurs every October. It’s the official start of “Breast Cancer Awareness” Month — quotation marks mine, because I really can’t in all seriousness say that phrase without denoting how absurd the “awareness” idea is. I have a lot of ire toward Pinktober and the pinkwashing of everything from toilet paper to yogurt. As someone who went toe-to-toe with the dreaded disease, I find it offensive that corporations can still hock their wares under the guise of awareness. Is there really anyone on this planet not aware that breast cancer exists? Come on. Enough with the awareness. Try doing something really meaningful, like slashing the pinkwashing advertising budget and cut a check directly to a do-good organization.
I noticed the Pinktober creep starting a couple of weeks ago. As I pushed my grocery cart through the store, filling it with the provisions that keep my family up and running, I saw something awful out of the corner of my eye.
Pink-ribbon saucepans, and water bottles, and plastic containers. Oh great, here we go again. I wonder if any of that wall of pink plastic is BPA free? The studies that link BPA, a common chemical in rigid plastic, to breast cancer, are piling up at an alarming rate.
It gets worse — pink-ribbon hair brushes, so you can brush for the cure. Unless of course you’re undergoing chemo and have no hair. I’m sure the bald BC patients shopping for groceries appreciate the reminder that wait — not only do you have a scary-ass disease, you’re also bald and vulnerable and grappling with negative body image. Thanks, Revlon. This pinkwashed product seems particularly crappy.
I’m lucky I didn’t throw up in my mouth at the first of this year’s crop of pinked-up junk masquerading as charitable fundraising products. I guess the junk is designed to give shoppers a warm-fuzzy feeling about doing something important for the disease that descends upon one in eight women in the U.S. every year. The products themselves make me sick, but the fact that the pinkwashing starts earlier and earlier is really disgusting. As if the Christmas Creep isn’t bad enough, we now must endure the Pinktober Creep as well. Son of a nutcracker.
If buying pinked-up products could cure breast cancer, dontcha think it would’ve by now? Why not cut out the middle-man and send your hard-earned and well-meaning money straight to an organization that can actually do something useful?
Like my friend Jen at ihavebreastcancerblog, who is also blogging about Pinktober, I wore a pink shirt today. Not because I want to commemorate “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” but because it matched my bright blue Nike shorts with the pink & white stripes, and as I headed to the gym for another grueling post-knee-surgery PT session, I needed the lift that a well-put-together outfit can provide. The pink shirt in question happens to be my survivor shirt from last year’s Race for the Cure. My first — and only — Race for the Cure.
After the gym, I was in the drive-through lane at the bank, and the bank teller was super chatty. I’m all for some friendly chit-chat from a service provider, as long as they can multitask. If they can talk and conduct business, fine with me, chat away. But if they have to stop to chat, uh-uh. Nope. Zip it and get your work done. I don’t want to take time to listen to idle chatter from someone with whom I’m not likely to form a relationship. Does that make me cranky? crotchety? unfriendly? mean? Maybe. But I’m honest. The last thing I want to do is listen to someone blather on while I wait for them to do the job they’re supposed to do. So when the bank teller started chirping about how it’s the perfect day for a convertible, and asking me if I’m working today or just out enjoying the day, I could feel myself getting snippy and impatient. When she asked if I had a good weekend, I was about to turn off the smile and figure out a nice way to say, “Hurry the hell up, lady. Less talking, more working.” Deep breaths, deep breaths.
She noticed my Race for the Cure t-shirt and commented on it. I haven’t worn this shirt since I learned the ugly truth about the Susan G Komen organization and how precious little SGK has done to actually look for, much less find, a cure. Once the SGK-Planned Parenthood debacle occurred, I decided that SGK would not get one dime from me, ever again. I did the Race for the Cure exactly once, to see what it was all about. It was a nice experience, but I’d rather send my $40 registration fee someplace in which it has a shot at making some real progress instead of lining SGK founder Nancy Brinker’s pockets and/or perpetuating the farce that SGK is committed to ending this wretched disease.
The chatty teller asked me if I was going to do the Race for the Cure again, and I said no. Sometimes I wonder why I’m compelled to answer so honestly rather than just tow the party line and say what people want to hear. Then I realize that wondering something like that is akin to wondering why the sky is blue instead of green, and that it’s utterly pointless to expect things like that to be different. Anyhoo, I told the teller that no, I will not be doing the Race for the Cure again, and of course I proceeded to tell her why.
She may be somewhat sorry she chose to be chatty with me today.
She got a bit of an earful. A well-reasoned and calm earful, but an earful none the less. I explained that before being inducted into the Pink Ribbon Club, I knew Susan G Komen for the Cure was the leading breast cancer organization, and that it wasn’t until I acquainted myself with more than just the superficiality of SGK and its pink-ribbon-bedecked world that I realized that the group wasn’t exactly working hard to find a cure. Silly me, I thought that if “for the Cure” was part of the group’s official name, so much so that it would sue others for harmlessly using it for their own fundraising, that the group might actually be focused on finding a cure for this disease that had so rudely interrupted my life. Not so with SGK. Instead of funneling the majority of its funds toward finding a cure, it instead chooses to focus the majority of its resources on education and “awareness.” As someone who has walked more than a mile in pink shoes, I can’t abide SGK’s priorities. As stated on its website: “In 1982, that promise [between Susan G Komen and her sister Nancy Brinker] became Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Susan G. Komen is the boldest community fueling the best science and making the biggest impact in the fight against breast cancer. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure, we have invested almost $2 billion to fulfill our promise, working to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world.”
Sounds good, right? But think about it — if SGK is the best of the boldest and has been working toward a cure since 1982, wouldn’t you expect to see more progress? Thirty years. And very little change.
In fact, The American Cancer Society says this about the incidence rate of BC:
• Between 1975 and 1980, incidence was essentially
• Between 1980 and 1987, incidence increased by 4.0%
• Between 1987 and 1994, incidence was essentially
• Between 1994 and 1999, incidence rates increased by
1.6% per year.
• Between 1999 and 2006, incidence rates decreased by
2.0% per year.
It wasn’t until 1999 that BC rates decreased — 20 years after SGK came on the scene — and even then, by 2 percent a year. Does that sound like progress? Does that sound like “for the Cure?” Not so much. I did not whip out the above statistics for the chatty bank teller (I do have some standards, after all, even when I’m ranting to a total stranger through a plexiglass window), but I did tell her that this is why I won’t do another Race for the Cure or support the Susan G Komen for the Cure. She did ask, after all.
She said she had no idea. She thought that SGK did all kinds of good things for breast cancer, and that they raised a lot of money to find a cure. I said she’s right about part of that: Komen does raise a lot of money, but precious little of it goes toward the research needed to find the cure. She asked me how much of Komen’s money goes toward research, and when I said the best estimates are no more than 19 percent, she was stunned. Perhaps I should have felt a bit badly for bursting her bubble, but instead I felt triumphant when she asked, if not Komen, then who?
Cue the choir and release the confetti bombs!
I told her that personally, I like The Rose right here in Houston, and applaud the efforts to make a real difference in the lives of women with breast cancer, especially those who are traditionally underserved by screening, prevention, and treatment. I also like Dr Susan Love’s group, the Dr Susan Love Research Foundation. The DSLRF is determined to find the cause of breast cancer, not just tie a pink ribbon around the idea of it. Dr Love has been oft quoted as saying, “The key to ending breast cancer is to learn how to stop it before it starts.” She also says:
“I have spent my whole life working in the field of breast cancer. At this point I am frustrated that we are still doing the same treatments with about the same results as when I started thirty years ago. Now that we can get to where breast cancer starts we have the opportunity to eradicate it. I am excited and impatient. The road is clear. We can go slowly or quickly, but everyday that we delay another 592 women will be diagnosed and 110 will die. The cost is too high to hesitate. This is our job not our daughters’, granddaughters’, nieces’ or nephews’. We can do it and we have to do it!”
Thanks to The DSLRF’s focus on research, we’ve moved from throwing around “for the Cure” to actually working to figure out and eliminate the disease. I like Dr Love’s idea of eradication much better than Komen’s “idea” for the cure.
Now is a great time to mention Dr Love’s latest initiative: The HOW Study. To get the word out about The HOW Study, Dr Love is encouraging us to Blog with Love. Today’s the day for the third-annual blogger initiative, and I’m all in! The HOW Study, along with The Army of Women, is in my opinion much more viable and holds much potential to enact real change. I’ve participated in several Army of Women studies and will continue to do so every chance I get. I encourage everyone reading this to check out The Army of Women and see if there’s a study that applies to you.
The HOW Study is a ground-breaking study for women (and men) who have no history of breast cancer. See, the majority of women diagnosed with BC don’t have a family history of or clinical risk factors for the disease. Dr Love wants to figure out what causes the disease so we can figure out how to stop the disease. Dr Love’s website says that 280,000 women were diagnosed with BC last year. Of those, 40,000 women will die from the disease this year. You can help turn those numbers around by joining The HOW Study.
I’ve just decided I’m ditching my Race for the Cure shirt and am going to get this shirt instead:
I got this letter from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Not sure what gave him the idea that I’m a football fan, but I won’t fault him too much since he’s trying to do a good thing. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that my heart belongs to the Red Sox (my broken heart, that is). Maybe he did get the memo that I have a big mouth and write a little blog about all things breast cancer. Or maybe it was just a mass mailing that coincidentally landed in my mailbox just as I’m sorting through conflicting feelings about the pinkwashing that occurs every October.
Despite my previous grumpiness about all things pink in the month of October, I must admit I rather like seeing the football players wearing a dash of pink. Not because I think it’s going to change the world or find a cure for this damned disease, but because I enjoy the incongruity of a gigantic linebacker who could crush someone like me between his fingers wearing pink.
I could be super cheesy and say that if one woman decides to go for a mammogram because she saw Tom Brady wearing hot pink gloves, and if that one woman discovers breast cancer that would have otherwise stealthily grown into something that would kill her, then the NFL campaign is a success.
I will say that I’m glad the NFL campaign is about taking specific action to protect yourself from this dreaded disease, instead of trying to use the pink ribbon to sell a product. That sits much better with me. Nothing like a pink-ribbon-bedecked can of dog food to say let’s wipe out breast cancer.
To NFL Fans:
On behalf of the National Football League, please join us in supporting the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is the third season in which NFL teams, coaches, officials and players will wear pink in recognition of the fight against breast cancer.
Just about everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer. That is why the NFL is proud to join thousands of others committed to fighting this terrible disease.
Throughout October, all NFL teams will celebrate survivors, visit patients at hospitals and turn their stadiums pink to show our enduring support. Alongside our partners at the American Cancer Society, we will emphasize the importance of prevention by encouraging all women over the age of 40 to get a yearly mammogram. We know that annual screenings can, and do, save lives.
Thanks to the passion of NFL fans, we have the collective strength as a league to connect with millions of people and make a positive difference. Please support the American Cancer Society’s programs to help people stay well, get well, and find a cure. We can fight back against a disease that has taken far too much from too many for too long.
There are several ways you can participate in “A Crucial Catch.” Visit nfl.com/pink for the resources and tools you can use to get involved.
An annual screening saves lives. Let’s spread the word.
On April 29, 2002, the woman who created Barbie died. I guess I missed the news that day. A New York Times op-ed written about Ruth Handler said that “perhaps Barbie’s most significant attribute is her capacity to make people wonder what she would be like if she were really human. But to imagine Barbie as a real woman is to imagine her subject to time itself. It is to imagine her with real politics, real worries, a constant struggle with the memory of her own once ideal figure. Above all, it is to imagine her with a voice.”
I went to a play this past Friday night called “I Am Barbie,” and we no longer have to imagine Barbie with a voice. She spoke, via actress Ivy Castle-Rush in the titular role, and she had lots to say about her life & times.
Notes from the playwright, Walton Beacham, say:
“Barbie celebrates her 50th birthday by reminiscing about her careers, her relationship with Ken and other characters from her life, who express their own opinions about Barbie. An important motif is Barbie’s breasts as cultural icon, symbol and statement of feminine status, power and vulnerability. Two of the characters, Midge’s mother and Barbie’s creator Ruth, develop breast cancer.”
More on that in a sec.
The play was my introduction to Ruth Handler. I must admit, I’d never given Barbie’s creator much thought. Although more than 1 billion Barbies have been sold in more than 150 countries, and although Barbie even has her own Hall of Fame, in Palo Alto, CA, I never thought much about her. I have bought Barbie dolls, clothes, and accessories as birthday gifts for Macy’s friends, but knew nothing of Barbie’s story or that of her creator.
I do now.
Barbie was created in 1959 for Handler’s daughter, Barbara. (And yes, Ken is named for Handler’s son, which is kind of creepy when you think about Barbie & Ken’s relationship. Ewwww.)
Based on a German precursor named Lilli, Handler intended the Barbie doll to help girls “play out their dreams of adolescence and beyond,” hence Barbie’s trajectory from going to prom to going to college to getting married to going to the Moon. She’s embraced every fashion trend that’s come along, and she’s dabbled in nearly every career imaginable. In her 1994 autobiography Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story, Handler wrote: ”My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”
I suspect that Handler was talking about more than just Barbie’s wardrobe.
I wonder, though, if Handler had any idea of how wildly popular Barbie would become. As the co-founder of the Mattel Toy Company, Handler clearly had a head for business, and could be considered a visionary in terms of the range that Barbie ended up encompassing. Did Handler know that Barbie would become a flashpoint for debates in psychology, cultural politics, feminism, fashion, women’s rights, and body image, just to name a few? Did she consider the firestorm of controversy Barbie could ignite, for example, just by her Teen Talk version uttering the phrase “Math class is tough?” That one really got the feminists going, and reinforced the stereotype that girls aren’t so great at math.
Well, I didn’t play with Barbies much as a little girl, and thankfully escaped her attempts to sway my feminist tendencies or influence my attitude toward math. In fact, my next-door neighbor growing up is a female statistics professor who taught classes, wrote textbooks, and became the chair of the math department. She gave me a tote bag once that says “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” When my middle-school speech class had to present a debate-style speech, mine was on the ERA, and I carried my notes in the girl-power tote bag. Take that, Teen Talk Barbie.
I missed the memo, too, on Barbie dictating body image. Like most of the world, I certainly have always thought her proportions are ridiculous — a real-world scale determined she would be 5 foot 6 with a 39-21-33 figure. Her internal organs wouldn’t even fit inside that package, for pete’s sake. Although she did undergo a makeover in 2000 to eliminate the waistline “seam” that made her poseable and reduced both her bust and her hips, she’s still a pretty unrealistic feminine ideal. However, it never occurred to me to let a doll determine how I feel about myself.
Maybe missing that memo allowed me to cope with losing my breasts to cancer, just as Handler did in 1970. She was diagnosed and underwent a bilateral mastectomy the year after I was born. To say that diagnostic and surgical progression has been made since then might be the understatement of the year. Facing her diagnosis the same way she approached the toy business — aggressively and successfully — Handler took on cancer awareness and made it her mission to ensure that women who joined the pink ribbon club after her had an easier time with it.
See, Handler faced breast cancer at a time in which real women had fewer choices than Barbie; the Women’s Health & Cancer Act that required insurance companies to cover reconstruction wasn’t enacted until 1988. Handler faced her post-mastectomy body-image demons head-on. And, dissatisfied with the limited prostheses options available at the time, she created her own.
Handler developed the Nearly Me breast form and founded Nearly Me Technologies, Inc in the mid-1970s after she discovered that the breast forms available at the time were “not comfortable, realistic, beautiful, or easily purchased,” according to the company’s website. Handler said, “When I conceived Barbie, I believed it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem to play with a doll that has breasts. Now I find it even more important to return that self-esteem to women who have lost theirs.”
”Until now,” Handler said in 1977, ”every breast [prosthesis] that was sold was used interchangeably for the right or the left side. There has never been a shoemaker who made one shoe and forced you to put both your right and your left foot in it.” She’s right about that.
Keep in mind that Handler was operating in an era in which there was little talk about breast cancer. She was determined to change that, however, and worked tirelessly toward early detection as well as helping post-mastectomy women reclaim a sense of normalcy. Handler personally fit First Lady Betty Ford with her prosthesis after Ford’s mastectomy in 1974. In promoting Nearly Me prostheses, Handler would unbutton her shirt during interviews and publicity jaunts and challenge a reporter or photographer to feel her breasts to determine which was real. Handler said that with high-quality prostheses, “a woman could wear a regular brassiere and blouse, stick her chest out and be proud.”
In talking about her two careers–creator of both Barbie and Nearly Me–Handler was known to say, ”I’ve lived my life from breast to breast.”
She knew what she was doing when she hired retired Mattel workers to design the Nearly Me prostheses. The same people who created Barbie’s breasts went to work, using similar manufacturing processes and materials. They discovered that using a polyurethane outer skin over silicone gel provided the structure and shape to match a real breast. And, just like with Barbie, no nipples were necessary.
So how does all this fit into a play? Very carefully. A review of “I Am Barbie” said that “the trickiest aspect is Beacham’s decision to include Ruth’s struggle with breast cancer as a recurring theme. One can see why Beacham felt it important to include this part of the real Ruth Handler’s story, relevant to the play’s theme of women’s body image.”
A breast cancer diagnosis, while dreadful, is real. Good things happen to bad people, and even Barbie gets the blues. Beacham did us all a favor by including this theme in the play. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to face heavy subjects, and perhaps some audience members felt a bit squirmy as they saw Ruth’s and Midge’s struggles portrayed. With all the “pink-a-fying” and prettying up of the disease, it’s nice to see a gritty and realistic version.
So thank you, Walton Beacham for not shying away from breast cancer’s impact on women. And thank you, Ruth Handler. For inspiring a playwright to tackle the very real theme of breast cancer and body image. For proving once again that life does not end with a breast cancer diagnosis. For saying “that’s not good enough” to the options available post-mastectomy. Oh, and for creating Barbie, too.
P.S. Of course there’s a Pink Ribbon Barbie, whose marketing material says she’s “wearing a pink gown with a signature pink ribbon pinned to her shoulder, Pink Ribbon Barbie doll can help open a dialogue with those affected by breast cancer, while supporting this worthy cause!” She can be yours for the low, low price of $78.99 at amazon.com.
The kids were scheduled to be out of school today to celebrate Presidents’ Day. Not sure how exactly to celebrate this day, because it seems an obscure holiday marked mainly by furniture sales. But it is a day for celebration, if not for the presidents than for the fact that school is indeed in session (sorry, teachers). Because of our recent snow day on a day during which there was no actual snow, we have to make up the holiday. My kids were royally bummed about this. Macy circumvented it all by waking up yesterday with a sore throat and a nasty cough; remnants of last week’s strep throat, I suppose. So she’s home after all, and Payton is ticked but working hard to be a good sport.
I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know much about our presidents. I’m particularly ill-educated about the early guys. My kids make up for it, though, and can help get me out of a jam if I need info on the founding fathers.
Payton & Macy are particularly well-versed on the leaders of the free world, past and present-day. Why? Because they’re above-average in every way, like all the kids who live in our suburban bubble, of course. No, really, because of this:
The presidential placemat.
We have one for the flags of the world, too. It’s not quite as valuable as the presidential one, but does come in handy during the Olympics when an athlete is identified by a tiny icon showing his/her country’s flag. Payton gets them every time.
It hasn’t been used in a while because the kids have progressed, slightly, in their table manners and no longer need plastic sheeting and a power washer after every meal. But it looks like the flags placemat got put away before being sufficiently scrubbed and sanitized. Gross.
To distract my germophobe self from all the petrified crud living on that plastic, let’s get back to the presidents.
For my edification and your entertainment, I’ve listed a fact or two about our presidents. Some you may know, probably from watching “Cash Cab” which is where I find the most useful information these days.
George Washington: was the only prez to be unanimously elected. Upon his election, he only had one tooth. For real. His many dentures were made from human teeth, animal teeth, ivory and even lead, but not wood.
John Adams: our longest-living president. He died at age 90, damn near 91. He missed it by 118 days.
Thomas Jefferson: TJ gets a lot of press, but I wonder how many people know this: he wrote his own epitath and designed his own tombstone, but neither contained a reference to him having been a president.
James Madison: shortest president, at 5 foot 4. Also the lightest, at just 100 pounds. Teeny little thing. Tallest president? See Abe Lincoln. Heaviest: William Taft.
James Monroe: his daughter was the first White House bride, and he was the first US Senator to be elected president.
John Quincy Adams: swam nude every day in the Potomac River. Can you imagine present-day presidents doing that?? Where was the National Enquirer when we needed it? And aren’t you right now picturing this guy in the buff? Thought so. Of course he accomplished a lot of great things, and perhaps is our most pedigreed president, but now every time I hear his name, I’m going to think about him jumping in the Potomac in all his glory.
Andrew Jackson: had a great head of hair. Suffered a bullet wound near his heart in a duel at age 39 and carried that bullet until his death. Upon election, he granted government jobs to some 2,000 of his supporters and established the so-called “kitchen cabinet” of advisors. He was the first, and probably last, president to run a debt-free administration.
Martin Van Buren: first president to be born in the United States. He and his wife still spoke Dutch at home. Tried unsuccessfully to gain re-election 3 times, then gave up. Probably for the best.
William Henry Harrison: catchy name, and perhaps the only president for whom all 3 names are popular modern-day baby names. Sadly, was the first president to die while in office. He served just 30 days because of a nasty pneumonia. Glad there’s now a vaccine for that.
John Tyler: Harry S Truman’s great-uncle. He was disowned by his own party (the Whigs) because they didn’t like his financial policies.
James K. Polk: graduate of UNC. Survived a gallstone operation at age 17 with no anesthesia. Ugh.
Zachary Taylor: served in the army for 40 years and never voted before becoming president at age 62. Kept his army horse, Whitey, on the White House lawn, and tourists would pluck a hair from Whitey’s tail as a souvenir. Ouch!
Millard Fillmore: installed the first library, kitchen stove and bathtub in the White House. Refused an honorary degree from Oxford University because he was unable to read Latin and felt like a sham accepting a degree he couldn’t read.
Franklin Pierce: Installed central heating in the White House. Well, probably didn’t do it himself but had it done. He affirmed rather than swore his oath of office, for religious reasons. Gave his inaugural address from memory, without the aid of even one note card. Impressive.
James Buchanan: the only bachelor to ever occupy the White House. His niece, Harriet, took responsibility for the White House hostessing duties.
Abe Licoln: considered by historians to be our greatest prez, followed by G. Washington. Was not just the greatest, but also the first to wear a beard and the only president to hold a patent (for a boat-lifting device).
Andrew Johnson: was the youngest prez to be married, at age 18 to Eliza, aged 16. Was buried beneath a willow tree he planted himself that came from a shoot of a tree at Napoleon’s tomb. Try getting that through customs these days. He was also wasted at his inauguration as Lincoln’s VP, but had a good reason: he was sick with typhoid and self-medicating with booze.
Ulysses Grant: smoked 20 cigars a day (and died of throat cancer. Hmmmm.). Although he witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in history, he was grossed out by the sight of animal blood and couldn’t eat a rare steak. My kind of guy.
Rutherford Hayes: his wife was known as “Lemonade Lucy” because she refused to serve alcohol in the White House. He kept his campaign promise to only run for one term, and I’m sure the subsequent visitors to the White House weren’t nearly as thirsty as those who came during his term.
James Garfield: our first left-handed president who died from a blood infection caused by repeated probing for an assassin’s bullet. Oh, I how I hate infections.
Chester Arthur: His wife Ellen died before he took office so his sister Mary assumed hostessing duties. He was a night owl, enjoyed night clubs and entertained like a rock star. My favorite quote of his: “I am a president of the United States states but what I do in my private life is my own damn business.” Amen, brother.
Grover Cleveland: only prez elected to two non-consecutive terms. He served as the 22nd and the 24th president.
Benjamin Harrison: quite the windbag. He made 140 different speeches in 30 days, and I don’t think he had a staff of speechwriters. He was also the second prez to become widowed.
William McKinley: was in terrible physical shape. So bad that his doctors believe that if he’d been fitter, he would have survived the assassination. Let that be a lesson to you, people.
Teddy Roosevelt: a great man, but an attention whore. He was known to want to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. Strange.
William Taft: lots to say about this guy. He was the only one (so far) to serve as both president and Chief Justice. He created the tradition of the prez throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season (and some of his followers needed to work on their windups to avoid looking like pansies). His wife planted the first cherry trees that now adorn the Washington, D.C. landscape and look so gorgeous in the spring. He was by far our fattest president, weighing well over 300 pounds. He got stuck in the White House bathtub the first time he used it and had to order a new one, after a crew of embarrassed staffers wrestled him out of the too-small one.
Woodrow Wilson: an avid golfer, he refused to let the D.C. winters stop him from playing his sport and used black golf balls in the snow. Clever. His second wife, Edith, was distantly related to Pochahontas.
Warren Harding: one of the meanest looking presidents, IMHO. Both of his parents were doctors yet still gave him the middle name “Gamaliel.” Odd. He was the first newspaper publisher to be elected president and was known to be patient with the press, offering lengthy press conferences. Liked burlesque shows and snuck off to them as prez. His great-grandmother was black. He was pretty stern looking, but I like this photo of him and his dog. In fact, I may have to also do a post on presidential pets.
Calvin Coolidge: punched the Boston mayor in the eye while he himself was governor. Nice. Required 9 hours of sleep and a 2- to 4-hour nap every day. How the hell did he get anything done?
Herbert Hoover: was the youngest member of Standford’s graduating class. He and Thomas Edison were named the two greatest engineers by Columbia University. A social butterfly, for the first three years of his tenure in the White House he dined alone just three times. He was the first prez to donate his salary to charity. He was also one of the most honored presidents, with 84 honorary degrees, 78 medals and keys to numerous cities.
Franklin Roosevelt: elected an unprecedented 4 times. Was the first prez to be shown on TV. Claims to have been related by blood or marriage to 11 former presidents.
Harry Truman: Lots of good stuff about him professionally, but here’s something you may not know: his mom was a Confederate sympathizer and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s bed during a White House visit. He was the first prez to use air travel across the country. To recognize his contribution to the health care system, President Johnson presented Mr. and Mrs. Truman with the very first Medicare cards. The “S” that serves as his middle initial isn’t short for anything, so if you see Harry S. Truman, with a period after the “S” you know it’s wrong. An old copyediting pet peeve of mine.
Dwight Eishenhower: Payton’s favorite president. In fact, when P was chosen to portray President George Bush in his first grade program, he was ticked that he couldn’t be Ike. I guess Ike wasn’t current enough to make the program. He is known for ordering the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. Good man. He was the last prez born in the 19th century and the first prez to be a licensed pilot. He served in both World Wars and was an excellent cook. This photo, by the way, is one of the few in existence that show Payton wearing long pants. Take a good look, people, because it is a rare sighting.
John Kennedy: youngest prez elected (43) and youngest prez to die (46). Was the only prez to serve in the Navy and to appoint a sibling to a cabinet position. Had he not been so young and handsome, his wife may well have eclipsed him in notoriety and popularity, not unlike Charles and Diana. Jackie O was the first lady most outspoken about disliking the term “first lady.”
Lyndon Johnson: I gotta like him because he’s a Texan, but he seemed like a jerk. I do like his War on Poverty (at least in theory), and his civil rights reforms. He was the first prez to reject his official portrait, saying it was the ugliest thing he ever saw. His wife wins the prize for first lady with the best name. Although Lady Bird wasn’t her real name (it was Claudia), a wet nurse or nanny or someone proclaimed she was pretty as a lady bird, and the name stuck. Charming.
Richard Nixon: graduated from Duke, so he can’t be all bad.
Gerald Ford: he was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr, but I’m not sure how he came to be known as Gerald Ford. Need to check up on that, but this post is already stretching on and on. Plus, I need to save room for this: he and Betty were both models before they were married, and he campaigned for Congress on their wedding day. She was a patient woman. Or maybe that’s why she needed to drink. Both of the assassination attempts against him were committed by women. Women today owe Betty a big debt of gratitude as she was a big player in removing the stigma from a breast cancer diagnosis. Here she is with her hubby after her mastectomy, reading a card signed by 100 members of Congress. She was diagnosed in 1978 (when I was 9 years old, same age as my daughter now), at age 56 and was very publicly and bravely faced a mastectomy. She became a beacon of hope to lots of women, including Susan Komen, who died from the disease in 1980 at age 36. Komen did say “If Mrs. Ford can admit she has breast cancer and tell the world she intends to fight it, then so can I.”
Jimmy Carter: first prez born in a hospital (as opposed to at home, I presume), and the first to be sworn in using his nickname, “Jimmy” instead of his given name, James.
Ronald Reagan: was our oldest president, leaving office at age 77. He was also the first prez to have been divorced. During his tenure, our first female justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was appointed by a landslide 91-8 vote.
George Bush: Bush is reportedly related to Benedict Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, and Presidents Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford. Weird. Bush became the first vice president ever to serve as acting president when Reagan underwent surgery for three hours in 1985. Good thing he’s the only VP to serve as acting pres, since it was such a short time frame, he might easily have become the second person to hold that honor. He’s also the second man in US Presidential history whose son became President. In 1992, while at a formal dinner in Japan, Bush became ill and vomited on the prime minister of Japan, then fainted. Oh the horror.
Bill Clinton: childhood nickname was “Bubba.” Nuff said.
George W. Bush: press nickname was “Shrub.” Nuff said.