“Are you sure you’re not hungry?” he asked with grave concern as chicken grease ran down his fingers and his chin. We’d just finished a rigorous hike and I was starving—famished, ravenous and slightly light-headed. I mean, really, we’d been cavorting, frolicking and climbing the local mountains in the summer heat for over 6 hours and I hadn’t eaten anything except for an apple. Maybe.
“Oh, no, I’m fine,” I replied. He paused mid-bite and questioned me with raised eyebrows. “I’m good–really,” I said sounding far too relaxed and nonchalant about something as serious as a meal after physically exerting myself as excessively as I had. But, nope, I wouldn’t change my mind. I was not going to let him see me eat, especially a greasy, messy meal like that. Mind you, this is the same guy I wouldn’t take a pee around. I’d turn the faucet on when I had to go really bad to make sure he didn’t hear me, otherwise I’d hold it until I got home. I know I wasn’t the only 17-year-old girl to pull a stunt like that.
If there was anything I’d learned up to that point, it was that girls and women don’t have bodily functions or odors (unless they’re created in chemical factories and mask your natural female body smells), and they aren’t supposed to be seen eating (unless it’s yogurt, salad or other “girl” food) or sweating (unless they’re sweating like women should—hello, female antiperspirant industry).
Fast forward to 15 years later:
“Are you going to eat that?” the student I had been mentoring asked with nervous excitement. “Yes,” I said awaiting the sweet taste of carrot cake as my fork hovered close to my lips. “In public?” she continued.
“Um, where else should I eat it? In the bathroom or the broom closet?” I laughed as I sank my teeth into the cream cheese frosting knowing perfectly well that those were considered viable options, ones preferred over this scenario—that of a woman eating cake out in public in broad daylight. I’m talking a slice of cake, not a bite of cake and not an entire cake. A slice of cake. On a Tuesday at 1 in the afternoon. There was no special occasion. I simply wanted some cake and I felt no shame or remorse about it. Shame and guilt had led me to stuff myself in private after starving myself publicly one too many times in the past.
“Wow. I admire you. I wish I could do that,” she said slowly. I asked her what was stopping her and she went on to tell me about her mother, a woman who kept a scale in the dining room so she could look at it while she ate dinner and remind herself not to eat too much. And when it came to cake? Well, her mother always cut much smaller slices for the girls and reserved the big frosted pieces for the boys at the family party.
We continued to have lunch on campus between classes with a few other students for several weeks and each time I’d enjoy something sweet without embarrassment or great fanfare on my end. One day she sat down and said, “I have to tell you something.” She giggled like someone about to dish a shameful secret. “I went to my cousin’s birthday party over the weekend and when my mom handed me a thin slice of cake on a paper plate, I told her that I wanted a big one. She looked at me with surprise as I put the plate she handed me back on the table and grabbed one of the large slices. I felt great.”
By Sarit Rogers. Originally posted at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers. Cross-posted with permission.
I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.
It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.
So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment! Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism? Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job! I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.
If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be developing an eating disorder (boys are not immune to this!), look out for some of these signs (Note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):
Behaviors specific to anorexia
Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry). Refuses to eat in front of others
Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods. Eats very small portions of foods
Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
Lies about how much food was eaten
Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
Exercises excessively and compulsively
May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
May harm self with cutting or burning
Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
May faint or feel dizzy frequently
Behaviors specific to bulimia
Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
Disappearance of large quantities of food
Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
May exercise compulsively
May skip meals at times
Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning
If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.
Originally posted at Ms. Magazine.My body is a battleground. I have spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful.” This irreconcilable relationship with body and self continued into middle school, as I hid my budding curves; into high school, when I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum experience.
But I am not alone. I am part of a lineage of women who declared war on themselves, from my great-great grandmother who donned the organ-crushing corset, to my great-grandmother who internalized the Victorian feminine ideal of daintiness and measured each bite meticulously; to my grandmother who cinched her waist with girdles and ate diet pills for lunch; and to my mother who embodied the emaciated silhouette of the 1970s and aerobicized her way into the 1980s and early 1990s with her food-and-exercise diary tucked in her purse.
But this is not just my legacy. This is an experience shared by countless girls and women, beginning at earlier and earlier ages and affecting them well into their lateryears. This legacy of self-hatred and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk–inhibits the path to personal liberation which begins with self-love.
As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.” As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week (which began on Monday) and the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day (October 20) are more important than ever to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.
While it may all sound simplistic, in my own personal experience I have found that self-affirming rituals such as banishing self-criticism and honoring my body through reverence and celebration to be rewarding and transformative. In fact, I have felt the most beautiful and whole when I have silenced the critic in my own head, limited my level of mediation and engaged in loving practices that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment. The greatest personal shift occurred with the birth of my son and the understanding that my body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing this miraculous new life. Staring at my new son’s beautiful little body, I wondered why I didn’t regard my body in the same way–miraculous and perfect. I asked myself why I heaped self-loathing on a body that should garner respect and gratitude.
In fact, respect is the connective strand that binds the 20 ways to love your body that Carmen Siering offered in her Love Your Body day post. If we can learn to respect our body, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.
Check out Jezebel and Claire Mysko’s pieces on the hypocrisy of women’s health/fitness magazines and the problem with body image role models of celebrity status. Mysko states:
Whenever an actress or pop star comes forward to talk about her struggle with an eating disorder or poor body image, I say a little prayer that she will find true health. I also hope that she’ll speak responsibly about recovery and self-acceptance. Unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed.
The fact is that getting over an eating disorder (or the murkier but more common problem of disordered eating) involves getting away from an obsession with weight, and that’s darn near impossible to do if you happen to be a celebrity–a job that requires you to go on the record about your exercise and diet “secrets” if you want to stay on the publicity train.
As the Jezebel piece notes:
The hypocrisy of women’s “health” magazines becomes fairly obvious just by looking at their covers. For example, this month’s Self magazine features one cover line, “Be Happy And Healthy At Any Size” tucked below a much larger cover line:
“3 Easy Ways To Lose Weight.”
What seems common knowledge to the cultural critic, the sociologist and the person recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder is often less obvious to most. And one of those things is that magazines hailed as health magazines or gyms euphemistically called “fitness” or “health” (yeah, right) clubs are more about aesthetics and profit. I mentioned this in my December 2008 post:
I’ve known for years that gyms are not health clubs. As Lester Burnham declares in American Beauty, he works out “to look good naked.”
Equinox Fitness is quite candid about it’s true aim with it’s tag line “It’s not fitness. It’s life.”
Our culture increasingly sends contradictory and mixed messages. An ad for ice-cream you can indulge in on one page and an ad for diet pills on the next. While many celebrities are applauded for speaking frankly and candidly about their fight against a distorted body image and unrealistic expectations in the industry, their venue (magazines, television) overshadows their message with a plethora of insecurity boosting themes. Their voice is lost in the cacophony of voices whispering “you’re too fat” or “too flabby” while whispering “eat,” “indulge” (Haagen Dazs tagline “the longer lasting pleasure”) and “enjoy” in the other.
“I was so sick all week…but (giggling), I lost ten pounds.”
“I’d rather die thin than live fat.”
It’s strange, frightening and altogether not too surprising that girls and women rejoice in weight loss that results from illness and disease. Most girls and women understand the serious side effects of chronic yo-yo dieting, diet pills, colonics, laxatives, drug-use and over exercise as the torture devices du-jour to pursue insane degrees of thinness. But, the stakes are high and, as a result, too many take the deadly gamble.
Images of thinness have gotten more extreme and a female’s value is wrapped in a stick-thin frame no matter what else she does. If you’re independent, successful, professional, intelligent and you’re not thin (and attractive, with thin being a means to being considered attractive in this culture), you’re not as valuable as you could be being all those things. And. Thin.
So, when the FDA announced yet another diet pill being pulled off the market, I’m wasn’t at all surprised and I don’t think anyone else is either.
Government health officials are announcing the recall of popular weight loss pill Hydroxycut, after reports of liver damage and other health problems.
Food and Drug Administration officials said Friday the manufacturer of Hydroxycut has launched a nationwide recall of the dietary supplement, used by people trying to shed pounds and by body builders to sharpen their muscles.
Hydroxycut is advertised as made from natural ingredients. It accounts for about 90 percent of the market for weight loss supplements, with sales of about 1 million bottles a year.
Dietary supplements are not as tightly regulated by the government as medications. Manufacturers don’t need FDA approval ahead of time before marketing their products.
I mean, who are we kidding? It’s not like there isn’t a history of harmful side effects linked to the use of diet pills resulting in recalls. Think Fen-Phen in 1997.
I don’t think the manufacturers are surprised. I don’t think the FDA is surprised. I don’t think the general public is surprised. I certainly don’t think the users of Hydroxycut are surprised. I mean, really, anytime a pill claims to have the ability to help you lose weight with minimal lifestyle changes such as changing one’s diet significantly and exercising regularly and being able to help you lose wight and/or tone and sculpt your body, you have to take pause. That’s just weird. And wrong.
Haven’t we learned that there’s no magic pill or quick fix for anything? Are we still that obsessed with immediate results and instant gratification that we have ignored the lessons of the past and what our common sense tells us?
Maybe. But, when the stakes are high logic goes out the window.
Thinness and the pursuit of thinness, no matter how toxic, is glorified in our culture. In fact, the toxic pursuit of thinness and the vile and disturbing results create fascination and stokes the flames of infatuation.
Just this week in Us Magazine’s print version there is yet another article focusing on Lindsay Lohan’s skeletal figure and the claim that she proudly uses Adderall. Us Magazine’s online version provides the reader with a slide show of Lohan’s “weights ups and downs.” Last week, Star Magazine ran a similar piece focusing on Lohan’s break-up and subsequent weight loss.
Lohan’s weight loss can’t be attributed entirely too her break-up when you consider the sea of images that glorify the cult of thinness and advertisers provide various instruments, pills and potions to make the mirage appear real.
Hydroxcut’s recall is predictable. Lohan’s severly thin frame is predictable. The media’s response is predictable.
And, I have no doubt, a new pill will replace Hydroxcut in the same way Fen-Phen was replaced and the cycle will continue until there is some honest dialogue.
Until then, girls and women will put their health on the line for an outrageous aesthetic that is pandered to the masses.