From Where I Sit – A Check-up from the Neck-Up

As I go through my daily rounds, challenged by some events and buoyed by others, I find myself increasingly harking back to and taking solace in the immortal words of Ivanka.

Ivanka, for the uninitiated, is the latest, greatest motivational speaker to hit the circuit. Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, and Zig Ziglar have got nothing on her. Ivanka’s appeal is universal, her message classic, her humanness palpable, and her dress Fortrel. Ivanka couches her message in the universal language of humour. Ivanka rocks.

Ivanka (aka Jo-Ann Waytowich) is nearing the end of a successful run at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre in a musical comedy called Ivanka Chews the Fat. Waytowich, through her alter-ego Ivanka, offers a “10 Point Personal Tune-Up” and urges us to “take a check-up from the neck-up.”

Using music, comedy, costuming, pratfalls and some not-so-discrete scratching, Ivanka has the crowd laughing at her antics while unconsciously soaking up the very serious underlying message. If we are open to it, we are encouraged to re-examine our beliefs about body image, competency, self-talk, aging, and mental attitude.

It’s easy to get caught up with and distracted by Ivanka’s garish dress, caterpillar eyebrows, wig, bloomers, cat-eye glasses, support stockings, sensible shoes and heavy Ukrainian accent. It’s easy to chock up her dumbing down of self-help jargon as just part of the act. For example, in her second point we’re advised “Don’t spend time with poo-poo people.” Our reality is that we all know poo-poo people. God forbid, we may be poo-poo people. They are those people who are naysayers, critics, pessimists, and negative people who bring you down and send you searching for the nearest bridge to jump off.

Among other things, Ivanka urges us to “say YES to your body” (point 1), “start from where you are” (point 4), “lighten up!” (point 6) and “get out of your own way” (point 10). There’s nothing new or ground breaking in her message. We’ve all heard it a hundred times before. Checking out her website at reveals a previous career in social work and adds a certain legitimacy to her message. I daresay she’s making more of an impact through her five full-length Ivanka comedies than through any social worker caseload.

Most people are concerned about their weight and fitness levels. Many people are dreading old age. A lot of us have turned self-flagellation into an art form as we agonize over lost potential, not measuring up, failure, comparisons and more. Ivanka reminds us that we’re good enough the way we are, that any improvements are on inside, a do-it-yourself job, and that sometimes the best thing we can do is to get out of our own way. Sometimes you just have to “get off your hoo-hoo” and begin.

I knew that. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is how do we translate these life lessons into changes in attitude and behaviour. Each audience member was handed the 10-point checklist as we exited the theatre. Mine’s going up on my office bulletin board. Change really does start from the neck-up from where I sit.