I recently wrote an Op Ed piece for the E-Zine Persephone Magazine about Victoria’s Secret’s campaign, Pretty Young Things and its target audience being young teens. If you would like to read this Click Here. I am, as always, happy to hear from you re: anything that I write!
Passover is one of the many Jewish Holidays that is celebrated with a ritual feast. A feast filled with symbolic foods and a prescribed schedule for when to eat which foods. Depending upon how observant the participants are, there is a wide range of recipes for the ritual readings at a Passover Seder. Some read from ancient texts, others from more progressive versions. Some are tailored for passionate political discussion, others for children with short attention spans. Despite the diversity of the Seder itself, there are at least three specific commonalities adhered to by the most liberal and orthodox Jewish celebrants.
- There is no leavening used in any of the meals
- There are at least four cups of wine
- When it is time to eat, there are no restrictions on how much you can eat.
As a kid growing up, dieting and caloric restrictions were an everyday part of my life. I was surrounded by dieters. The youngest of three girls, my two older sisters always dieted and both of my parents did as well. The diets never really seemed to work, none of us were thin. My mother often chortled,
“Imagine how fat we would all be if we didn’t diet?”
And of course I believed her and followed suit.
Many young girls that diet wind up becoming sneak eaters and I was no different. Because we are forced to satisfy our hunger and cravings privately, we develop the notion that we are beasts with insatiable appetites. Our appetite for food is freakish and our need to satiate this hunger
is so strong, we must adopt furtive methods of feeding that monster. It is a double bind. We feel weak in our inability to resist the urges to eat the “bad” food and yet the part of us that is demanding the food is a formidable foe of great strength and power. We are split and fractured around food.
The Problem in a Nutshell
Passover and other food centric holidays present a double bind for people already struggling with feelings about how and what they eat, how and what they don’t eat, how and what they would like to eat if they were allowed to eat, and how and what they wished they had eaten when they had the chance.
I KNOW YOU HAVE TO READ THAT SENTENCE AGAIN…BUT TRUST ME IT MAKES SENSE!
The Double Bind of Passover: A Two Act Play
Act I: The week before The Seder, we obsessed over what to wear in order to prepare for the unsanctioned but equally predictable ritual of Passover…
The Body Scan: everyone checking you out to see how you “measured up” to the last time you were all together. In my family, despite the fact that very few of us were thin, there was still a hierarchy within the ranks that clearly labeled the “Always Thins” relatives as the better ones. Praise and attention were lavished on them like buttuh on the matzoh. The jealousy dripped like honey in a nice cup of tea.
Then there were the “Always Fats.” They were already “fats de complis.” They would always be fat and that was that, “those poor people.”
“Newly Thins” were the ones I envied the most. The attention they received, the fawning, the exclamations of, “How did you do it? You look amazing!” They were the stars of the night. Somehow they had conquered the beast, they had become successful.
The “Fat Agains” were conversely, the lowest caste of the crew. Also known as the “YO YO’s,” these were the mishpucha (family) who had lost but gained their weight back plus more. The “tsks tsks” and “cluck clucks” of the tongues, the subtle shakes of the heads, the implied message of, “If I had lost that weight I would have kept it off,”… or more blatantly, “I knew she or he couldn’t do it.” They were the ones my heart ached for and the club I dreaded ever joining. (Of course I was in and out of that club numerous times, and sadly it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was the dieting that actually created and perpetuated the problem).
Act II: Off I would go to the Seder, “ready for my close up Mr. De Mille,” dressed to the nines and encased like a blintz in belly binding control panty hose. But the second bind of the double bind was not far away. After the reading of the ritual story of Passover, the feast would commence. Places everyone! But wait! It was as if they had replaced the cast with all new people and all new scripts.
All of a sudden size or weight was inconsequential. There was a resounding chorus of, “Eat eat!” And, “Have more, what you don’t like my matzo balls? This is no time to diet, this is Passover, forget about it for just one night, you look fine!” And for the next couple of hours I felt normal. I felt happy. I felt I could eat with abandon and enjoyment. I could savor the pleasure of food, slowly, languidly and not worry whether I was leaving crumbs behind like a guilty Gretel who subconsciously wanted to get caught eating Ring Dings in her bedroom.
I didn’t feel insatiable, or monstrous. I didn’t feel “wrong.” I felt calm and I felt in control. I had PERMISSION!
Why was this night different from all other nights?
Because on this night I was and am allowed to eat my fill in public. The double bind along with the control top panty hose are gone and replaced with enjoyment and with self-acceptance. And once I really GOT THAT…there was one less reason why this night IS different from all other nights!
Dayenu and Happy Passover to all!
Til next time,
Two years and 5 days ago I wrote a piece about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign. It challenged the First Lady’s use of the “obesity crisis,” fat shaming, and fat phobia as motivators to get kid’s moving in healthy ways and eating healthier diets. In my post I provided a link to a fantastic article written by Paul Campos for the Daily Beast in which he stated:
“The first lady would, no doubt, be horrified by the suggestion that her Let’s Move campaign, which is dedicated to trying to create an America without any fat kids, is itself a particularly invidious form of bullying. But practically speaking, that’s exactly what it is. The campaign is in effect arguing that the way to stop the bullying of fat kids is to get rid of fat kids.”
At the time, along with many other bloggers from the HAES® community, I urged my readers and Facebook followers to write letters to Ms. Obama voicing their concerns and offering approaches that did not use weight centric definitions of health or the scale as the barometer for fitting in and being “good.” In the letter I wrote, I suggested that Mrs. Obama try the Erase and Replace Approach…here’s what I said:
“Dear First Lady,
You are obviously in the position where you have clout to initiate school based health programs. You are also considered a fairly progressive, outside of the box thinker. In your Let’s Move Initiative, instead of promoting the Let’s Exercise, Get Moving, and Choose Only Healthy Food Aspects while focusing on decreasing childhood obesity, why don’t you take a more cross-curriculum approach based on: Scientific Facts, Self-acceptance, and Inclusion of Diversity?
Erase your meta-message of: Fat is shameful, wrong, and all a kid has to do is exercise and eat correctly and they will be thin, aka, healthy and good. Replace it with a model that starts with the premise: Healthy bodies do not all look the same.
In Science Class: A lesson on genetics, metabolism, and the scientific evidence that shows that different kids who embark on the same food/exercise regime will NOT have the same outcome in health and appearance benchmarks. Focus on individualized health milestones and realistic attainable goals and expectations.
Math Class: A lesson on reading nutrition labels and figuring out what a healthy amount of sodium, sugars, fats, fibers are…for health, not for weight loss. Do you have any idea how much math is involved in that? The focus is NOT on the complete elimination or restriction of any one food or food group which inevitably leads to feelings of deprivation and development of eating disorders.
English/Lit Class: When I wrote my dissertation on Body Image of Girls in Required Reading Materials in School, it was amazing how the stereotypes of fat girls, women, boys, and men as ugly, stupid, unpopular, and pathetic were pervasive. How about making sure that the reading assignments include a more diverse representation of size and shapes and personality traits associated with those sizes and shapes?
Social Studies Class: Let’s look at the history of women and how the infliction of a tyrannical expectation by the media to fit in to a narrow definition of beauty has impacted women’s self-esteem and effectiveness in the world. After all if women were not totally obsessed with how they looked all the time, imagine how much more they could contribute to the world? Then there’s economics and how the diet industry and pharmaceutical companies are dependent on our constant quest to be the “perfect” size.
I could go on and offer lesson plans and academic goals, objectives and standards, but I know how precious your time is. My point is, helping kids feel better is a valuable goal. Helping kids live healthy lives is an objective equally as worthy as solving the problem of disposing of nuclear waste. How you attain these goals is a challenge but ostracizing kids for being fat and adding to the stigma and self-loathing they are already living with is NOT the way to go about making change. Let’s look at a more innovative and inclusive solution.
Celebrate Health and Diversity
Hey, I’m here to help…I have this DVD and book called Leftovers…..
Dr. Deah Schwartz”
Needless to say, I never heard back from Ms. Obama but only a month later that there was an article in the Huffington Post by David Crary who did a brilliant job of explaining why the Let’s Move campaign has an Achilles’ heel that’s impossible to ignore. In his article he quotes Deb Lemire, Dr. Linda Bacon, and Dr. Paul Ernsberger and writes:
“The spotlight on obesity intensified last year when Michelle Obama unveiled her national public awareness campaign, “Let’s Move.” Its goal, she said, was to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation by helping parents make better food choices, serving healthier food in schools, and encouraging children to exercise more.
Many aspects of “Let’s Move” won near-universal praise. But activists in the fat-acceptance movement and experts who espouse a “health at every size” approach were upset that the campaign encouraged the monitoring of children’s body mass index, or BMI, and thus might contribute to stigmatization of heavier kids.”
After reading the article I wrote a response, in which I praised Crary for,
“…deftly presenting rarely publicized opposing viewpoints in an accessible and logical framework. I am hoping this raises the awareness of the campaign’s unintentional but negative side effects. Unfortunately, because of the way Let’s Move is being promoted, bullying is a tangible outcome. Rather than helping fat kids “FIT in” the campaign is creating an environment where bullies are reinforced for their disdainful and superior attitudes and actions towards fat children. Meanwhile the fat kids are left fighting for their lives physically and emotionally; unwillingly joining a real life cast of a real life reality show that could be called, “America’s Educational System’s Biggest Losers.” It is imperative that if we are serious about children’s health, we shift the focus away from weight and adopt a systemic/holistic approach that takes a person’s individual make-up into consideration. One size does NOT fit all definitions of health; whereas shaming and finger pointing frequently result in poor mental health. I am certain Mrs. Obama does not believe in a lack of parity between physical and mental health issues and can continue to promote health in a kinder way.”
In the time that has passed since then, there have been flare ups of outrage at Michelle Obama’s continued insistence that fat is the enemy. Darryl Roberts creator of America the Beautiful I and II wrote an open letter to Mrs. Obama in the Huffington Post and stated:
“If we could institutionalize your great message of exercise and eating a balanced meal, instead of dieting and focusing on losing weight, millions of people would be empowered to become healthy in a realistic way. I say realistic because studies have shown that diets rarely work as 95 percent of people gain back the weight and sometimes even more.”
“It’s not okay to me that she has not refocused her campaign from childhood obesity to childhood health.”
And the other, An Alternative to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign by Vesta offering alternatives to the shaming approach:
“Instead of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which shames fat children and is aimed at making them less fat…I think the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System has a much better idea. It’s called Kidsfest, and took place Saturday, September 11, 2010. It’s a day filled with educational activities for kids and their parents and, from what I read on the site, doesn’t seem to be anything that would shame fat kids.”
In addition, over the past two years Registered Dietician, Joanne Ikeda, NAAFA, and ASDAH among many others of us in the Fat Acceptance, Size Acceptance, HAES® and Eating Disorders Communities, have continued to send letters and educational materials to the First Lady. I am not certain if anyone ever heard back from Obama, I know I never did, but then I read a post by Kathy Kater of Body Image Health a psychotherapist and author of Healthy Bodies Curriculum on the ASDAH listserve calling attention to Michelle Obama’s recent comments on her Let’s Move Campaign and how her language and position seem to have shifted from weight centric to health centric.
“Mrs. Obama stressed that a lifestyle of overall wellness, not size or weight, dictates health in the long run.”
“I have two young daughters. We never talk about weight. I make it a point. I don’t want our children to be weight-obsessed. I want them to be focused on: What do I have to do, in this body –because everybody is different, every person’s body is different– what do I have to do to be the healthiest that I can be.”
“In response to a question from participant Kishan Shah, who said he weighed 200 pounds as a 12-year-old and 400 pounds as a 19-year-old, Mrs. Obama emphasized the importance of discussing childhood fitness the right way — and stressed the difference between “health” and “looks”:
“The first thing that we want to make sure that we do is not make this an issue about looks. We should really talk to kids about how they feel, how they feel inside, so that we’re not just dealing with the physical manifestations of the challenge, but we’re really tapping into what’s going on inside that head of that child.”
So, being someone who fervently believes in positive reinforcement I agree with Ms. Kater’s suggestion that this may be an,
”opportunity for us to help Mrs Obama consider how to promote health instead of size in kids. After all, it’s one thing to say “health is not about size or weight,” and quite another thing to believe you can do this while simultaneously running national campaigns in the name of “size prevention.”
Rebecca Scritchfield also suggested that folks who have blogs or other social media platforms can use this opportunity to:
”…show support for what you found positive…for example, giving applause for her weight neutral comment, back it up with data on size and health, links to resources…”
“writing letters to t he First Lady applauding this attitudinal shift would be a great idea”
Send your letters to: Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500
Mrs. Obama’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/michelleobama?ref=ts&fref=ts
Email Mrs. Obama: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments
This is one of the times to fan the embers of progress into flames of victory! Let’s have at it.
And if anyone hears back please share it here with us!
Til Next Time!
I just returned from presenting at the BEDA conference in Bethesda, Maryland. For those of you who are unfamiliar with BEDA it is the Binge Eating Disorders Association and was founded by Chevese Turner in June, 2008 with the organization’s vision being:
“To create a community where people have access to resources to help them overcome BED and live healthy, productive lives free from weight stigma.”
Past President and one of the Master Minds behind this year’s conference, Ellen Shuman, of
“It’s hard to put into words how much these conferences mean to me, personally and professionally. This was BEDA’s fourth national conference. I am still blown away by how healing it is to gather with hundreds of other people who really ‘get it’. People who struggle with binge eating and practitioners who treat it get to learn from the top researchers in the field, therapists, dietitians, and coaches like me who have been in the trenches working with binge and emotional eating issues for decades—some of us long before Binge Eating Disorder even had a name. This conference was three days of validation! What an amazing gathering! I hope your readers will join us for Conference # five, next April, 2014!”
BEDA is not dissimilar to other Eating Disorders professional organizations in that its intention is to provide outreach, education, and resources in order to increase awareness, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of eating disorders and associated weight stigma. But BEDA, a relatively new member in the arena of E.D. organizations, has had to deal with the additional challenge of fitting in to the Eating Disorders community. One reason for this is that until this year, B.E.D. was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and was referred to as emotional or compulsive eating or food addiction. This year’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) includes B.E.D.as an official diagnosis.
I know, it seems a tad strange to be celebrating this. After all, there is nothing about Eating Disorders to celebrate except of course for the brave women and men, boys and girls who are recovering, the clinicians who are treating them, and the support systems comprised of families, friends, and…well…maybe there are some reasons to celebrate; but being excited about something getting its very own place in the DSM feels a bit ego dystonic. After all, who wants to be a part of that club?? Remember how great it was when homosexuality was removed from the DSM?!! But for those of us who have B.E.D. and or work in the field, no longer being left out or relegated to the perimeter of the E.D. community, is a welcomed change.
Being included, fitting in, validated, acknowledged, these are all vital needs for most humans. In our society, the pressure to fit in based on our appearance is so overpowering that many resort to self-destructive behaviors either to cope with feeling excluded and or to force our bodies to conform. Body dissatisfaction begins, festers, grows and along with this desperation we frequently find the development of an Eating Disorder. So what would make one Eating Disorder any more or less legitimate than another or any less challenging or less painful??
With all of that in mind, can you imagine having an Eating Disorder that doesn’t fit in with the other Eating Disorders??? Can you imagine being the most disenfranchised in a community already noted for being disenfranchised? Case in point, not long after the DSM V was published, Dr. Allen Frances wrote the following in his article in a Psychology Today Blog about changes to be ignored in the DSM V:
“Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM V has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called Binge Eating Disorder.”
Is it no wonder that BEDA’s mission statement includes the words, “To create a community?”
Being on the fringe is not a new experience for me. As a kid I was too chubby, I had a lazy eye that freaked many people out. I was a girl drummer, and I was literally the red-headed step child who didn’t look anything like the rest of the family. In college I was subject to antisemitism being one of a handful of Jews at my college and as an adult, I chose to become an Expressive Arts/Recreation Therapist as opposed to a “real” therapist. Even my Doctorate was in a fringe area…Education, Curriculum and Instruction with a dissertation that focused on girl’s body image. This of course put me in the direct firing line of you aren’t a real doctor because you aren’t an MD or a PHD. And let’s not even go into having a name like Deah, (pronounced Day-uh).
But let me clear, I have NEVER experienced the same level of bigotry as people of color, or people of size who face the daily prejudice of finding seating, and medical care. And while it fuels my activism and my core belief that as long as any one person or group is oppressed it means we are all oppressed or at risk for becoming oppressed, I know I can never say with complete accuracy, “I know how you feel.”
What I do know is that community is the key. It is an integral part of survival along with food, shelter, water, and clothing. Maslow nailed it
when he put sense of belonging and being loved just one tier above security and safety. Community and inclusion gives us the strength to fight for our rights as humans to fit in and be respected. Without community we are…well…alone.
The BEDA conference provided a respite if for only a few days from feeling disenfranchised, marginalized, and just plain wrong. The conference was not without some controversy…as is true with most new movements or new ways of thinking, there were passionate debates on a variety of subjects:
- Is there such a thing as Food Addiction?
- Does a 12 step program for Binge Eaters make sense if 12 step programs are based more on an abstinence model rather than a harm reduction model?
- Does WLS really have a place in the same community as HAES®?
- Is there a difference between Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating?
- What role do dieticians and nutritionists play in treating Binge Eating Disorders?
Like I said, it was juicy and ripe with some vibrant discussions and confrontations. But the commonalities outnumbered the differences and the remarkable and unique way the conference was set up to provide a safe, educational, supportive environment for not only treatment providers but for people diagnosed with BED to share the space and learn from each other was inspired! The importance of support and being seen, heard, understood, and accepted even if not always agreed with was palpable during the three days in Bethesda.
As the conference came to an end, and the community dispersed, I left for the airport exhausted but energized, depleted but satiated, and above all full of appreciation for the kindness and inclusiveness that had been all around me. The BEDA conference committee and Board of Directors and powerful presenters too numerous to list here were fantastic! Granted, conferences are financially taxing and the costs can be prohibitive. Even people who present at conferences have to pay for the conference, air fare, and housing, and if I could wave a magic wand and change that I would. But as tempting as it may be to rely on the internet for networking, collaborating and even providing treatment if a conference happens to come to your town and you can afford it or volunteer in order to attend, it is truly worth the effort.
Call me old fashioned, but there is nothing as powerful as making real life connections, shaking real hands and hugging real people. Discussing ideas, working out conflicts, discovering common ground, sharing a meal together, dancing and hula hooping…these are experiences not replaceable by Facebook, Linked In or Skype. And now that I’m back in Oakland and resuming my “normal” routine I am feeling a little homesick…does that make sense?
For more information on BEDA Click Here.
Til next time!
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About Dr. Deah
“And the seasons they go round and round…”
As spring approaches I find myself thinking about the cyclical nature of life. This isn’t very deep or profound; the circular pattern of the seasons is a topic of contemplation, poetry, and prose with a long history. Depending on my frame of mind, this repetition, or redundancy can trigger feelings of despair, stagnancy, being stuck in patterns that just won’t move… just won’t budge. Considering that spring is supposed to be about new beginnings, spring cleaning and fresh starts, adds additional pressure to someone, like myself, trying to be patient with incremental change.
“’We’re captive on a carousel of time…”
Other times I find great comfort in this predictable repetition. Seeing the plum tree in my back yard begin to blossom right on target every March fills me with a sense of safety that at least in this part of the planet all is right with the world. And when something is predictable it provides us with the opportunity to be proactive and prepare for what is ahead.
“We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came…”
Each season has its own idiosyncratic challenges for people struggling with an Eating Disorder and or Body Hate; spring is no exception. As people begin shaking off their winter coats and emerging from their layers of down jackets and sweaters, the prospect of showing more skin becomes a reality. In turn, body image panic comes out of hibernation accompanied by an overwhelming urge to “do something drastic” to feel acceptable. The results are frequently dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. And lest we take all of the blame for the re-blooming of our self-hate, unless we are living in a vacuum we are already being bombarded with ads urging us to
“Spring into the NEW YOU!” “Drop the winter weight and put a spring back in your step!” You know the ones I mean. They are feeding the awakening beast of our body hate with negative reinforcement and false promises.
“And go round and round and round in the circle game.”
But remember, our history is not fate it is knowledge. We can glean from our past, hold on to the positives, and choose to throw the negatives in the mulch bin. Spring is about rebirth, reemerging from sleep, blooming. Springs of water are replenishing and circulating. Springs are not stagnant. Springs have bounce. Spring coils have the power to propel. When we look at a spring
we see that although it is circular and gives the impression of redundancy and repetition, it also has the sense of upward movement, support, and resiliency.
So while we may be tempted to repeat old patterns or feel compelled to go from one extreme to another, from hibernation to full action, don’t forget that the flowers and trees that are reemerging from their winter states are not moving very quickly at all. Nature knows this is a time of transition and thoughtful movement. Carefully consider gently letting go of old habits and behaviors that are self-destructive and reinforce negative self-image, and impede our self- acceptance and hold on to the aspects of ourselves that are helpful. This is NOT an all or nothing proposition. Let’s tap into our inner strength and self-devotion as foundations to healthier relationships with food and springboards to a blossoming acceptance of the wonders of our body’s natural shape.
Some things to consider
- There may be a compulsion to start a restrictive diet with the onset of the warmer weather.
- Fear of binge eating related to St. Patrick’s Day, Passover, and Easter rituals will be challenging for those with Eating Disorders.
- Beware of an onslaught of ads by Diet Companies promoting programs promising quick and magic transformations. Messages like, “Springing into the NEW YOU” result in extreme restrictive dieting, purging, and self-loathing.
For an Expressive Arts Therapy Directive related to this topic please visit: This Link
Come hear me present at the Binge Eating Disorder Association Conference March 8-10.
Til Next Time,
*Written by Joni Mitchell http://youtu.be/AbIuC9hTY9Y
Every February New York City hosts an international extravaganza of fashion. Year after year despite an increasing amount of public protest and outrage about the lack of size diversity of the models, the images associated with Fashion Week remain unchanged. Recently, however, Israel decided to ban models who have BMI’s under 18.5%, Denmark is considering the same course of action, and fashion shows in Madrid and Milan have disallowed models on the runway with BMI’s below 18 and 18.5% respectively, citing that a 5’8 model with a BMI of 18.5% would weigh about 119 pounds and sustaining that weight may demand disordered eating behaviors. These restrictions hope to curtail the increasing percentage of young women who suffer from eating disorders. Granted correlation does not always mean causation nor is the use of BMI as a measure of health without controversy, but there is a belief that the unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty in fashion magazines has resulted in a marked increase of young girls developing eating disorders. So I suppose because of those advancements, I had been hopeful that more size diversity would be represented this year other than the typical token nod to the occasional victory of a plus size model squeezing her way into the fold. Sadly, I found that the facial expressions of the models continued to be surly, affect appeared even more detached, and exposed cheek, rib, and collarbones were more pronounced than ever.
Another annual tradition in February is the New York Times’ special fashion magazine section insert illustrating the highlights of Fashion Week. This year was no exception and was predictably filled with page after page of photographs of redundantly identical looking models clad in the creations of the major international fashion houses. As I thumbed through this big glossy publication looking and hoping for any exceptions to the rule, none were found. I flashed back to my teen age years when I would go through this same ritual in my living room in New York feeling desperate to grow six inches taller and lose fifty pounds so that I too could look like the women in the magazine. There was not one model that came close to resembling my short curvy body which meant I was destined to NEVER be fashionable EVER. It is amazing how tangible and painful those memories still feel decades later, and I winced when I thought about all the years I suffered trying to conform. I don’t always look at the magazine anymore, but this year I was optimistic. Maybe because of the Israeli decision, maybe because in my work involving size/fat acceptance I see incremental change and wanted to see if it was evident in a more mainstream publication. Mostly, though, it was because I had hoped that what I saw on the cover of the magazine was a harbinger of what I would find inside the Feb. 17 2013 issue.
In a milieu where the average age of models appears to be predominantly teens with a smattering of geriatrics in their early twenties, seeing the 79 year old grand dame Lee Radziwill, sister of Jaqueline Kennedy-Onassis, unapologetically looking her age in a fashion magazine…well, it was a delightful change. Yes, she was tall, rail thin, and hence labeled elegant, but perhaps this would be just one image of many challenging the stereotype of the fashion model having to be one age range and one size; it was a hope that dissipated rapidly.
R(Age) Before Beauty
I lead workshops for women on body image, redefining beauty, and eating disorder prevention and one of the topics that emerges each and every time is how right alongside the pressure by the media for women to be thin is the demand to be young. Aging, the unavoidable result of not dying, is being sold as the enemy of beauty and hence the enemy of women’s self-esteem and perception of efficacy in a world that still equates beauty and success as inseparable. In the race of generating money, the amount being made by selling self-hate manifested by natural signs of aging is galloping down the home stretch neck and wrinkled neck with the money being made by selling fat hate. Creams, lotions, diet/nutritional tips, non-fail exercise regimes, and of course surgery all promise to reclaim and retain the youthful appearance women are desperate to hold on to. And while the increase in eating disorders among men is sadly growing it is important in the commercial world to differentiate the weight problem issue for men from the women.
Mr. Meggisson writes eloquently about the phenomenon in The Ethical Adman:
“‘Guyet’ is a way of life. It’s not about indulging in crappy food all the time, it’s about exercising properly so you can rationalize eating things you love, like burgers with bacon,” he says of the insight behind the campaign. The key line: “This isn’t some diet — and this isn’t some diet beer”
He continues to clarify:
“There’s a very simple thing going on here: things associated with women are NOT-FOR-MEN, so anything that rings feminine must be covered in bacon, dipped in beer batter, and fried-masculinized.
“…Importantly, this isn’t just about maintaining a strong distinction between men and women, it’s about maintaining gender inequality. We disparage and demean femininity, which is why men want to avoid it. Dieting is stupid ’cause girls and everything associated with girls is stupid. Guyeting is awesome ’cause guys are awesome.
“…This is a layer of gender inequality above and beyond sexism, the privileging of men over women; it’s androcentrism, the privileging of the masculine over the feminine.”
So even though body shame is being marketed to men now, they have a shade more latitude and it’s camouflaged in attitude. My hope of course is that they nip and tuck it in the bud and DON’T succeed in catching up to women. Where they still seem to be getting a “Get out of Jail Free Card” is the blatant gender based bias when it comes to aging. Nothing like Academy Awards Season to underscore the lack of older women roles in film, and especially roles where the woman is not portrayed as either a sex starved crone or a sex crazed cougar. Men, however continue to get roles where their romantic interest looks young enough to be their daughter. Older men are still virile and vibrant and Viagra-free! Of course, similar to the exception of a plus sized model here and there on the catwalk, there is an occasional film, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where the stereotype is challenged, but overall, men are allowed to be somewhat older, somewhat pudgier, and definitely somewhat greyer! Recently I saw a commercial that has been graaaaayting on my nerves. In this commercial for hair dye for men, it promises the following:
- “Comb away a little gray without getting rid of it all.
- Radically easy to use. Just comb in, wait 5 minutes, rinse out.
- Show you have experience, but still have energy.
- No damaging ammonia or peroxide.”
How many hair coloring products do you think exist for women promising to leave any touch of gray on her head? That’s easy, NONE! How much gray hair is considered acceptable for women…also easy…NONE!
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see men suffer the way that women have and continue to suffer. That is NOT equality in my book. Instead, let’s try confounding the paradigm and give women equal permission to men when it comes to celebrating the visible signs of a life well laughed, well cried, well lived. One of the biggest challenges for those of us working in the field of promoting self-acceptance is the relentlessness of the opposing view. Organizations like Miss Representation and About Face are fierce in their campaigns to change these ageist, sizeist, and sexist paradigms. But I am still holding out hope that more men will find their voices and come out as supporters and allies for women battling to find ways to love themselves gray, wrinkles, curves, and all. And my personal opinion is that the situation would improve remarkably if there was also a commitment made by the Fashion Industry to include diversity in their models and represent all natural shapes and sizes and ages.
February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month please do your part to spread the word.
Til Next Time,
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Twenty Years. TWENTY Years. Two Decades. A Score. An infamous date in the life of Sgt. Pepper and his band. The amount of time I lived before College Graduation. (Your math is fine,
I graduated early). The amount of time my son has been alive. For those of us who are parents, we tend to find ambiguity in the time/space continuum. For most of us over 30, whether we have children or not, we have glimmers of the same paradox…does 20 years feel like a long time or just a blip? Or both at the same time?
Twenty years ago if someone had told me that 20 years later I would still be involved in the Size Acceptance movement I would have scoffed and “sassily” said,
“There is no way that in 2013 people are still going to be that limited, that bigoted, that fanatic about this ‘one size fits all’ mentality.”
Of course if someone had told me that I’d still be fighting for equal rights for women, gays, and immigrants I would have thought they were naïve, delusional or both. Yet here I am doing all of that (and have been since the 1970’s) and now I’m celebrating Healthy Weight Week’s 20th Anniversary.
As I tuck away any traces of disappointment, temporarily suppress my cynicism, and focus on the positive aspects of this landmark in the HAES®, Size Acceptance, and Size Diversity movements, I remind myself that there are some of you, who are just climbing on board this Peace Train with fresh ideas, optimism, and energy to move forward. But we can’t go forward without looking back, and in the spirit of passing on the baton to the next wave of warriors and curious as to how far we have progressed over the past two decades, I contacted Francie M. Berg.
Ms. Berg, author of Women Afraid to Eat, a licensed nutritionist and adjunct professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, has chaired Healthy Weight Week since 1992. Although Francie is still active in the Healthy Weight Network, she has recently published a new book, Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: An old west epic with a modern touch filled with vivid personal stories of ranching, wildlife and western humor.” and is devoting the lion’s share of her time and energy in that arena. Despite her limited available time, she generously agreed to answer a couple of questions and provided me with additional information about Healthy Weight Week to share with all of you.
“Healthy Weight Week, Jan. 20-26, 2013 is a time to celebrate healthy diet-free living habits that last a lifetime and prevent eating and weight
problems. Our bodies cannot be shaped at will. But we can all be accepting, healthy and happy at our natural weights.
This year, Healthy Weight Week honors Israel with a Healthy Body Image award for its new law that redefines beauty in advertising and on the fashion runway. Promoters of the Israeli law that took effect Jan.1, 2013, charge that impossible standards promoted by designers and model agencies have led to an epidemic in eating disorders. “Beautiful is not anorexic,” said Rachel Adato, who helped push through the new ruling. “This law shatters the anorexic ideal, serving as an example for the country’s youth.”
Other Healthy Weight Award winners are Julia Bluhm a 14-year-old girl from Waterville, Maine, who took on unrealistically thin images in the teenage fashion magazine Seventeen and Deb Burgard, PhD, a Los Altos, Calif., Psychologist and long-time leader in combating weight stigma.”
During Healthy Weight Week, people are encouraged to improve health habits in lasting ways and normalize their lives by:
- eating well without dieting,
- living actively
- feeling good about themselves and others (promoting acceptance of body diversity)
Healthy Weight Week also includes:
- Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day, January 22, which: exposes weight loss fraud and quackery in an effort to help educate consumers.
- Annual Slim Chance Awards which: highlight the four “worst” weight loss products of the year.
For more information on this year’s award recipients Click Here and then scroll down.
I asked Ms Berg, what, if any, changes did she notice in regards to the recognition and publicity surrounding Healthy Weight Week? Her response was,
“Each year more and more people know about Healthy Weight Week and more understand its message—two different things, obviously. Today I got three calls from professionals writing about HWW and it’s still almost two weeks away (most calls come during HWW). All wanted to reprint from our Healthy Weight Network website—one a journalist from China. We get calls from all over the world, but this is my first from China. The other two were American dietitians involved in health departments. Of all health professionals, dietitians understand and appreciate my work best. They deal with eating and eating problems every day. They get it. Too many doctors think for a large person with health problems, just take off the fat quickly and problem solved. Seasoned dietitians know better.
Instead we need to help people normalize their lives and become healthier at the size they are. HWW is a time to showcase this message and I’m always encouraged that more people are interested in spreading the word. It’s a difficult message to get across because the weight-loss industry is so lucrative and powerfully entrenched within our health system. However, journalists today seem much more willing to discuss size acceptance issues and the failures of the diet industry. I believe Healthy Weight Week and what all of us working in this paradigm have done has made a difference.”
As I considered Francie’s response, I did feel a sense of pride in the collective advances that have been made by the Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance communities. There is no doubt that the awareness that diets do not work and to opt instead to love your body, has increased over the years as a result of consistent efforts of a motivated group of dedicated professionals. There have been more longitudinal studies questioning the efficacy of dieting and the assumption that fat always means unhealthy and thin always means healthy.
Francie shared the following two thoughts with me as well.
- “More people today know the value of size acceptance. They’ve experienced the harmful effects of dieting, idealizing thin models and harassing large children and adults. They’re ready to move on.”
- “Many people are surprised to learn that extensive research at the US Center for Health Statistics, CDC, led by senior statistician Kathleen Flegal and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 and again Jan. 2, 2013, shows that overweight persons tend to live the longest. This includes people in a broad range from body mass index of 22 to 40. Most Americans are in this healthy weight range.”
I asked Francie how she would like to see people acknowledge/celebrate/promote HWW either for themselves or for others?”
“I’d like to see people begin to change one habit, especially inactivity, and develop a plan for gradual change to a more active lifestyle that works in their own lives and that they can succeed with. Succeeding in this can open the door to many more positive changes. They can find help here: http://www.healthyweight.net/hlthylvg.pdf and also http://www.healthyweight.net/lvguides.pdf (Healthy Living at Any Size).
When I went to the Healthy Weight Network website I saw that their list of resources included many folks, like myself, from the “old guard.” But it also included new links, websites, books, DVD’s, etc. from people relatively new to the community. I also make a concerted effort to keep my website, Dr. Deah’s Body Shop, updated with new bloggers and activists who are strong and dedicated to backing up their claims with research and challenging the old paradigm. (If you have any resources to add please email me at:email@example.com with the subject line New Resources). The list, I am happy to say, is growing.
Change is often slow and incremental. Not the best scenario for someone as impatient as I am who most definitely has a WAIT problem. But as I look back over the past twenty plus years, while I am not thrilled that the problems of size discrimination, body hate, and eating disorders have not been eradicated, neither did we whimper away and give up the fight. The train is growing longer, the engine is growing stronger and I will happily keep my big fat caboose hitched on, if necessary, for the next 20 years.
Until next time,
Dr. Seuss Meets Size Acceptance
but not from the dis-ease caused by chubby thighs and lumps.
I felt dejected when rejected and not labeled as a beauty.
“Conforming,” I was told, is your moral civic duty.”
My mind however knowing, that I deserved respect,
instinctively fought back with its pre-teen intellect.
“People are different in so many ways why are we judged by how much we weigh?”
But teases and taunts caused the virus to spread… infecting my self-esteem.
And in desperate attempts I starved myself in pursuit of the American Dream.
Self-hate is pernicious, infectious, distressing…breathed in through the media
lack of caressing.
Once inside, it multiplied, metastasized and grew.
And everything my mind once questioned… my body, now knew, was true.
Things got worse as the monster within
became the monster without;
Self-hate is contagious and what’s really outrageous, it’s spread with the sputum of doubt.
As I grew and matured, my self-hate endured, and I pushed many lovers away.
Though they may have found
me luscious and round
I just didn’t feel the same way.
His eyes, looked at me with hunger and lust…there must be some mistake.
I’ve been told for so long that my body’s all wrong
and my heart began to ache.
Then I felt in his touch the heat of desire
and without protection
ran into the fire.
I was asked to dance, to revel, jump in; but the virus reminded me,
“STOP YOU”RE NOT THIN.”
No condom to keep my thoughts tucked inside, I passed the bug on when I started to cry,
“I’m fat and I’m ugly.”
The virus was strong.
“Why would you want me? You have to be wrong.”
I tried to convince him.
He seemed quite immune.
At first he looked hurt but then changed his tune.
“You’ve got it quite bad, we’ll have to fix that, what’s wrong is hating yourself ‘cause you’re fat.
And maybe I’m wrong but the logic seems hazy.
Telling me how to feel about you seems quite crazy.
It isn’t your fault there is no injection,
Against media pressure there’s little protection.
But your case isn’t terminal, of that I am clear,
Self-Esteem Class is starting
Right now and right here.
Beauty is not just one shape or one size and no one tells me what makes my
“You know what” rise.”
I laughed and added,
“It’s so complicated.
The importance of beauty is way overrated.
Carving and starving ourselves to fit in and still we are either too fat or too thin.”
So we talked and we drank and we romped until dawn and the rest I’ll leave out ‘cause it borders on porn.
And while it didn’t happen exactly like that, it was close, (YOU try writing in verse about loving your fat).
The point is self-hate starts from outside
and bigotry of all kinds is spread far and wide.
And until they come up with a self-hate vaccine,
let’s help each other
challenge the meme.
Self-love is a happier place to be dwelling, let’s make the choice now not to buy what they’re selling.
A kiss of acceptance plus a loveable hug
can help beyond measure to battle this bug.
And while there’s much I don’t know,
of this I am sure…
Body love, and NOT hate is part of The Cure.
The Fat Poets’ Society was born at a poetry workshop at the 2006 annual convention of the non-profit organization,
The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). In 2009, Pearlsong Press published Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets’ Society, an anthology of poems edited by Frannie Zellman with the authors donating their royalties to NAAFA.
“Fat Poets Speak is timely given a sociocultural climate in which fat bodies are considered diseased and blamed for everything from rising medical costs to global warming. (Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona called obesity “the terror within.”) Rampant discrimination against fat people has been documented and currently is legal in every state but Michigan. Campaigns aimed at “childhood obesity” have shamed and teased fat children and increased the fears of all children. And despite the existence of an almost $60 billion weight loss industry in the U.S., there is still no safe, effective means to permanently make fat bodies lean. In such a culture it takes courage for fat women, especially, to express anything but shame about their bodies. Fat Poets Speak is part of and intended for the growing movement reclaiming “fat” as a valid way to exist in the world.”
Well, now Fat Poets Speak II is due to be released later this year, with the authors, once again, donating their royalties, and I am honored that my poem, The Cure, is going to be included. When asked to describe the piece I explained that it was a bit like Dr. Seuss meets Size Acceptance. I feel this piece embodies my belief that a sense of humor is vital when battling evil; and love and self-acceptance will eventually conquer self-hate and bigotry. I hope you enjoy it. For more information about when Fat Poets Speak II is being released subscribe to my Schmooze-letter and or follow me on my Facebook Page.
Remember the 20th annual Healthy Weight Week is coming up on January 20-26th.
Til next time!
Every January, for the past 4 years I have posted this video on my Facebook page. Each year I hope it will be obsolete. Each year I DREAM it will be the last time I blog about this and I will get flooded with emails, texts (and now tweets @dr_deah ) begging me to,
“Drop it already Dr. Deah, that’s old news!!! It doesn’t happen anymore. Move on to another cause.”
With Healthy Weight Week around the bend on January 20th and not enough change to render this video extinct, I find myself in the position to once again post this classic video from the Tri Delta folks.
I am not saying that this year has been void of remarkable strides by the size acceptance and HAES® communities. We can feel proud of the inroads made into the bastions of bigotry other wise known as the media, fashion, health, and big pharm. industries thanks to the hard work of the ever growing list of people and organizations e.g. NAAFA, About Face, The Body Positive, ASDAH, NORMAL, Fierce Freethinking Fatties, Dr. Linda Bacon, Paul Campos, Darryl Roberts, Jon Robinson, Jay Solomon of More of Me to Love, Ragen Chastain, Golda Poretsky, Marilyn Wann, Dr. Deb Burgard, Virgie Tovar, Kim Brittingham, Frances Berg, Joanne Ikeda, Angela Meadows, Kathy Kater, Peggy Elam, BEDA, Andrew Whalen, Jeanette DePatie…and I would continue except they are playing the, “Get her off the stage before she starts thanking everyone in the Academy by name” music. But as the recent petition generated by Ragen Chastain and Jeanette DePatie to stop the kid version of The Biggest Loser indicates, we have a long way to go.
What is great about this Tri Delta video, is how it reminds us that we don’t need to be visible or famous enough to infiltrate the news, magazines, or halls of congress to make a difference. Any Activist knows that changing other people’s minds is difficult and most of the times impossible. As Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat says,
“I can explain it to you but I can’t make you understand.”
But Activists also know there are changes we can make on our own that may cause a ripple effect and eventually a wave, and ultimately a CONSTRUCTIVE tsunami of attitudinal adjustment in this society.
In the spirit of throwing that first pebble in the water, I ask you to please take a moment and watch this video. Even if you’ve seen it before, consider it a booster shot and go into the New Year loving your body, nurturing your body, and not taking crap from anybody about your body.
And maybe in January, 2014, I won’t have to post this again?
I can dream can’t I?
Til next time,