Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And This Is the Healthy Twin

Meet Ashley Olsen, one of your children's new health ambassadors.

It seems that Ashley and Mary Kate may soon be delivering messages about healthy eating and exercise to the 4-5-year-old set.

Despite the obvious concerns about the smoking, drinking, eating disordered (though, she did get help) twins preaching health, I wonder how the media and culture's current fixation on health and diet will affect these kids, say 10 years down the road. I mean, most of us struggle with ideas about food and weight--and we were raised in an era where the most rigid guideline against unhealthy eating was the food pyramid!

Now, children are encouraged to work out (I recently saw a Curves outpost that advertised, "Bring your daughter for free this summer!"), schools are including children's B.M.I.'s on their report cards, and a cookie is "a sometimes food."

I understand that childhood obesity is of epidemic proportions. And, I certainly understand the benefits of teaching good nutrition and encouraging active lifestyles. But, I shudder to think about the projected incidence of eating disorders given the frequency and urgency of these early messages.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Baby Weight

A friend's infant recently had trouble keeping food down. Failing to gain weight, she was diagnosed with gastro-intestinal reflux disease and eventually prescribed medication. As the medicine started to take its effect, the baby held on to her meals and began to gain weight, and celebrations of her newfound pudge ensued.

I realized that this is the last time in this girl's life that we'll delight in her weight. Too soon, any excess poundage will be accompanied by frowns, pity, and prescriptions to take it off. When she starts school, we'll tell her that she'll make friends a little more easily, and get teased a little less frequently, if she just loses some weight. As she gets older, we'll insist that if she diets, she'll have the boy/guy/man of her dreams. And, throughout her life, we'll note that she's just five pounds away from feeling better about herself.

And I wonder, if we'll ever remember the time when we reveled in the chubbiness of her infant thighs.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Would You Buy This?

A friend alerted me to the work of Sarah Jane Sikora, a British artist whose paintings and sculptures focus on large women. As my amateur photography may obscure, the piece above is entitled, "Biscuit Baiting." Below, a woman pays a visit to her refridgerator late night, and a gentleman from inside, ostensibly her husband, wards her away with a sign that reads, "Go back to bed, Muriel!"

On the web site for Regent Galleries, the gallery that shows Ms. Sikora's work, the artist writes: "Sometimes I am responding to social issues. For example much of my work has focused on turning around the negative relationship, that women, in particular have with their bodies thanks to the media presenting perfect airbrushed models for us to live up to."

Thus, similar to the way African-Americans may try to reclaim the "N-word," Ms. Sikora's work aims to reclaim the concept of fat and to challenge negative internalizations of body image. Unfortunately, I see her work (or at least, some of it) as shaming, critical, and sad. What may have originated as good intention has translated into culturally sanctioned fatttism, not to mention, a rather contentious gift.

You be the judge.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Destiny's Diet

In US Weekly magazine’s “Hottest Bodies at Every Age” feature, Beyonce Knowles occupies one of the 20-something slots. Ms. Knowles, 24, reports how she recently lost 20 pounds to star in the upcoming feature, Dreamgirls: “I literally fasted. I drank a drink that gave m all the vitamins I needed, and I didn’t eat for 14 days and then I just drank protein
shakes. . . . It’s not healthy but it was necessary.”


This, from the girl, who along with Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey, ushered in a brief, but now defunct, period of female-body acceptance, where (moderate) curves were lauded, in lieu of the form of the waif.

At first, I was disappointed—the last thing we need is to be highlighting and promoting unhealthy, unnatural ways of losing weight. On the other hand, at least it’s honest. Too often, we’re exposed to unrealistic and incomplete messages about how to be thin (see the same issue’s report of Janet Jackson’s recent weight loss, “I take off weight very quickly. I’m very fortunate that way.”) Like most of us would have to do, Beyonce has to starve herself in order to look like the movie star she is.

And, by the way, why was a 20-pound weight-loss to play a member of another girl group, “necessary”?

Road Trip?

In Wodaabe culture (a West African tribe), it’s male beauty that takes the stage. Here, in a seasonal pageant, aided by costumes, make-up, and body-painting, Wodaabe men compete for the honor of most beautiful man, and in a reversal from our own culture, it’s the women who judge.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Did You Know?

When I’ve lectured about eating disorders in the past, one item that tends to surprise people has to do with bulimia. Now, because of our growing fascination with pop psychology, as well as the media’s love for stars who suffer, most people are vaguely familiar with this disorder. In sum, bulimia translates to binge and purge.

But, the sticking point here has to do with the word, “purge.” The most commonly mentioned methods of purging, or compensating for bingeing, include vomiting and laxative use. However, other compensatory mechanisms included as part of the diagnostic criteria are: use of diuretics/enemas, food restriction, and excessive exercise (for full criteria for bulimia, see below).

That is, even if you’re bingeing without vomiting or using laxative/diuretics or overexercising, you might still meet criteria for bulimia, as long as your binges are followed by periods of fasting/food restriction. This is, “I ate so much—I’m not going to eat again until tomorrow” gone bad.

With a diagnosis not as cut and dry as previously thought (now claims of, “I’m not bulimic—I don’t throw-up” warrant a second look), I wonder how many more people fit the bill. And, in my argument that eating problems exist along a continuum, the possibility of a non-purging bulimia adds yet another shade of grey.

(from the DSM-IV TR, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association)

A. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by
both of the following:
1. eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances
2. a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)

B. Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.

C. The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behaviors both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months.

D. Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.

E. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of Anorexia Nervosa.

Specify type:
Purging Type: during the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas
Nonpurging Type: during the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has used other inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise, but has not regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I was leaving Dunkin Donuts the other day, as the woman behind me ordered her coffee with Splenda. I began to think how our behavior sends constant messages to ourselves (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) and how these frequent messages add up.

Choosing Splenda or Sweet & Low or NutraSweet over sugar translates to, “I don’t deserve what I want, what I like, or what is available to me. I will settle for second best.”

Refusing to bring certain food items into your home (especially those you crave), or to have just a couple of cookies (because that would mean you wouldn’t stop) communicates, “I don’t trust myself.”

And exercising to the point of discomfort, pushing yourself when you’re tired, sick, or plain, just don’t want to, communicates, “I deserve to be uncomfortable and to be punished.”

Now, I know some people may prefer sugar substitutes, either for taste or the fact that they preserve their caloric intakes and their teeth. But, I’d argue that the taste is conditioned, the long-term carcinogenic properties of these substances still largely unknown, and the message that you’re sending to yourself the most dangerous of all. And I know that access to certain foods can lead to overeating—but doesn’t that just raise the need to address why that’s happening? And, finally, I know that sometimes, exercise can be enjoyable, but not when you’re tired or weak or pushing yourself beyond what your body is willing to give.

I don’t deserve what I want. I can’t trust myself. I need to be punished.

Repeat over and over—your self-esteem doesn’t stand a chance.

So, choose regular over diet, invite a bag of potato chips into your home, and skip the gym. In the long-run, I think you’ll end up eating less, enjoying more—because you’ll believe you’re worth it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cellulite, It Is

Ever think about liposuction? It’s amazing to me how many beautiful women have. I’ve always countered their thoughts by reciting to them the side effect that stings most—that liposuction, followed by any degree of weight gain, results in the weight traveling to heretofore unconquered regions—your back, your knees, your face. The fat will not return to your hips, your stomach, your thighs, but it will go somewhere, possibly somewhere even less acceptable to you than the biologically and evolutionarily intelligent places it started out.

I’ll choose an hourglass shape over a distorted one, any day. As a woman, your fat belongs where it is, not as an accessory to your ulna.

And then, I came across, which lists the following adverse side effects, also associated with the procedure.

-Pulmonary thromboembolism (a blood clot in the lung)
-Intra-Abdominal Perforation with Visceral Injury
-Hematoma or Seroma
-Nerve Damage
-Swelling or Edema
-Skin Necrosis
-Pulmonary Edema
-Adverse Drug Reactions (Toxicity or Allergic Reactions)

And people are still signing up? Granted these side effects are relatively rare, but in a world where Olivia Goldsmith (author of The First Wives Club) lost her life during a routine face lift two years ago, the irony of the price for beauty is not lost, no more than the potential for gaining weight following an hour with the wand.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Marketing 101

I’m shopping in Sephora, and a product on the top shelf catches my eye: “Fat Girl Slim.”

The byline advertises: “This lean, mean circulation stimulating, slimming cream with caffeine and QuSomes (a proprietory delivery enahncer that helps penetration) helps smooth the skin as it firms, trims, tones, and energizes.”

I’m glad they defined QuSomes.

Hmm. Should I get some? Alleged benefits aside, to buy it would be admitting to the Sephora staff, myself, and anyone who visited my home that I could be, according to someone (if even myself), fat. I get the concept, but I still think it’s poor marketing. Even Dexatrim isn’t calling people fat. But then again, maybe this is business genius—if a product can make a woman feel ugly, insecure, and lacking (i.e., accomplish the work of most diet plans, fashion magazines, and the entire spring line of Abercrombie and Fitch), it’s sure to sell.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dating, Anyone?

I came across the following ads posted recently on craigslist:

Bachelor #1:
Hi, I'm kind of on the thinner side so I like thin or small girls. I'm not small though, well, around 5'10 so not that tall either. Anyway, this site seems to be flooded with fuller figured women and that's great for some people I guess. It's just a preference thing, that's all. I have many nice and really sweet larger friends.

Got it—just like my best friend is Jewish.

Bachelor #2:
I would like to rest my blue eyes on a long-haired, shorter woman (maybe around 5'0 to 5'5 -- I'm at least 5'10) with curvy features. By "curvy features," I do not mean "fat." I am talking about slim waists contrasted by curves up top and down below. Skin and eye and hair color doesn't matter. I'm kind of ridiculously awesome if you like "sweet-with-an-edge" guys who have intelligent and funny things to say. My "edge" comes in the form of sarcasm and creative expression, not domestic abuse. I have, like, zero arrests for that!

Thank God he has "like zero arrests.” Anything in that neighborhood is fine. And who would even think to mention “domestic abuse”?

And then, Bachelor #3:
Some guys like women with curves and a little meat on their bones! I happen to like women on the anorexic side, extremely thin & dainty. :) I'm a nice guy - tall 6'4", athletic and successful. If you fit this profile, please drop me a line thanks!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Behind every man seeking anorexic bliss is someone alarmingly insecure. In selecting a frail, fragile, disappearing girl, he’s hoping to overpower/overcome/outweigh, while, at the same time, impressing the crowds by selecting the model ideal. Is this really someone you'd want to date?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Charlotte's Web

On a Season 3 episode of Sex and the City, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) conquers the health-club steam room, quelling her weight-and-shape fears, by finally baring it all. Charlotte struggles throughout the episode with body image concerns, compares herself to others, and resolves her body conflict only after another woman in the steam room compliments her on her breasts.

I remember being somewhat surprised by Charlotte’s struggle, as she was typically referred to (in my very unscientific poll) as the foursome’s most attractive. If Charlotte was unhappy with her appearance, what does that say for the rest of us?

Recently, Kristin Davis revealed to the Scottish Daily Record that, like Charlotte, she too struggled with eating and body image concerns. "Everyone would talk about their diets and working out, and what it made me do was go to Craft services—where all the food for the cast and crew was—and I would eat." As compensation, Ms. Davis began to run seven miles at a pop, and, in regard to her over-exercising, she notes, “I was killing myself. My ankles hurt, my knees hurt and I was working 18-hour days."

Just being surrounded by Hollywood’s ultra-thin glitz wasn’t bad enough—when Ms. Davis joined the show’s cast, a reporter noted she’d be too heavy to take the lead role, based on the life of Candace Bushnell. This is the same Ms. Bushnell, who in a 2002 New York magazine interview, referred to a dress in a store window and proclaimed, “See, this is the kind of thing that if you have any fat at all, it'll show right up!" When her interviewer pointed out that Ms. Bushnell was someone who in fact, had no fat at all, she retorted, "If you could just see me without my clothes on!"

While the role went to Sarah Jessica Parker, damages were awarded to Davis, who revealed that following this reporter’s comment, "I tried not to cry, and said I had to leave,” after which, she binged on cookies to the tune of, "To hell with you, I'm going to eat what I want.'"

No matter what other descriptors we might use to depict Charlotte (romantic, kind, optimistic, loving), the one that sticks is the one that she, and the actress who gave her life, dreads most: not skinny enough. It’s now clear that Ms. Davis, like any of us who might be cast in a similar role, managed to infuse her character’s struggle with an emotionality that can only be gained through experience.

Monday, May 15, 2006



Maybe at first, but imagine its comrades: A smiling, well-rested woman, wearing, “I Beat Depression,” or a healthy-weight male, with infection-free skin, wearing, “I Beat H.I.V.”

Not to mention that this man may (or may not) suffer from one or more other conditions related to obesity and may (or may not) have an eating disorder of his own.

Anorexia is a disease. And that’s not so funny.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Picture This

"I am walking down the street in Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in the lower Sixties, women with shopping bags on all sides. I realize with some horror that for the last fifteen blocks I have been counting how many women have better and how many women have worse figures that I do. Did I say fifteen blocks? I meant fifteen years."
Pam Houston, A Little More About Me

It reminds me of class picture day in elementary school, when shortly after passing out plastic, pocket-sized combs, the photographer would line us up by height—shortest to tallest—which would then determine our positioning for the picture, tallest in back.

As women, we gravitate toward a similar process, though this time, the variable’s weight. We size up where we fall in the thin-fat continuum and gently slip into place. Everyone in front of us is thinner and therefore somewhat better and everyone behind us, well, thank god, we’re not there. We know that just as the tallest kids occupied the final row (in grammar school, boys, generally proudly and girls, somewhat sheepishly and slouching), those of us weighing the least will be front-center, while the heaviest will be left behind.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


It’s a radical title, I know.

Again, I’m not saying we all have full-blown, clinical eating disorders, specifically Anorexia or Bulimia. (For a discussion on Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, stay tuned.)

But, most of us have eating/body image/exercise concerns that puncture our lives in more ways than one, and, in a hopeful attempt to defuse, I’d just like there to be some dialogue about that.

Imagine a day, or even a meal, without thinking or questioning:
-What have I eaten already?
-Does this make me look fat?
-I wonder how many calories this has.
-I’ve had too much.
-I hate my [body part].
-What’s she eating?
-Have I exercised today?
-I shouldn’t.

We’d have so much else to think about. A group of women and I realized the other day that when we’re not connecting over how much we’re eating/how much we hate our bodies—or about men (dating/relationships/husbands)—we’re not sure how to connect.

I know there’s so much more to talk about (books and politics and animals and our emotions—all of which require significantly less self-hatred), and I, for one, would hate to think I overlooked a smile, an interesting conversational thread, or an expression of love because I was too focused on the size of my hips.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Resume: New Hire

A recent study conducted for Fitness magazine revealed that of 1007 men and women, over 50% would rather lose their jobs than gain weight.

Specifically, 58% of women and 54% of men would rather be let go than gain 75 pounds. Maybe over-optimistically, I find some small degree of comfort in the 75-pound margin. That’s a pretty major weight gain, not just five or ten pounds, and maybe we’re all looking for a reason for career change/advancement. I’m also comforted by the fact that men and women were roughly equally likely to opt for unemployment over added weight.

But, some other statistics concerned me. More than 25% of the women polled would rather have their wisdom teeth extracted than go shopping for bathing suits. Have you had your wisdom teeth removed?? And, 25% of women and 20% of men indicated they’d sacrifice 20 IQ points for the perfect body.

20 IQ points. . . Assuming we have an “average” IQ (that’s 100, according to the bell curve), we’d rather drop to an 80, on the cusp of low-average/borderline intellectual functioning, than settle for a less than perfect figure.

That’s a pretty significant drop.

But, in a world where pretty girls are attended to more in school and attractive (read: thin) women are hired more often than their less attractive counterparts, maybe it’s not such a sacrifice after all. Getting fired may be a small price to pay for universal acceptance, and since finding a new job is more a function of the size of your frame than the weight of your brain, this might be the most intelligent career decision, yet.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ballerina Girl

Nicole Richie: “I’m Too Thin”

There, she said it.

But to trace her weight-loss over the past year or so, it become clear that collectively, we egged her on. Richie’s diminishing body became a product that has sold her fashion endorsements, a book contract, and more attention and speculation than she’d ever gotten before. As a culture, it’s almost as if we chant, “Thinner, thinner, thinner, thinner!” until, “Oops—too thin.” Because when someone becomes anorexic, that’s where we draw the line.

So, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” has an addendum. “Be as thin as you can, but don’t be anorexic.” This applies to stars and ourselves.

Still, the messages are mixed. Star magazine recently informed us, “Skinny jeans look best on the super-svelte like Nicole Richie, 24.”

In June’s issue of Vanity Fair, Richie reveals: "I know I'm too thin right now, so I wouldn't want any young girl looking at me and saying, 'That's what I want to look like.' "

But they do. And so do we, because we’re told, that’s how skinny jeans look best.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The New Black

Ante up, girls—I’ve got the next big tip. When I was in college, fat was the enemy. Low-fat, reduced-fat, no-fat, fat-free—whatever you did, you just had to stay clear of the fat. It made sense—eating fat makes you fat. And, as such, there were legions of coeds feasting on The Final Four: salad, cereal, bagels, and frozen yogurt. Mix and match, and you’d be fed for weeks. During this time, I discovered fat-free brownies (suggested motto: “One—not so good; entire batch—remotely satisfying”) and similar products high in sugar, multi-syllabic chemicals, and other fillers all designed to not-so-successfully compensate for the glaring absence of fat.

At some point, and rather unexpectedly, a curve ball was thrown our way. Someone got around to noticing that 5000 calories a day of fat-free cereal could indeed make you. . . fat. Gracefully, we struck a peace deal with fat (in fact, fat was now an ally!) and staged war against carbohydrates. Low-carb, no-carb, Atkins, South Beach, The Zone—nothing could be too fat—in fact, you’re now invited to chew your gravy—as long it’s carb-free. This is the era of low-carb bagels (huh?), sugar-free chocolate, and Tasty D·Light.

As a gambling girl, you might wonder, what’s next? Given that there are only three caloric, essential nutrients, and only one that has yet to be targeted by the diet industry, I’m going with protein. I’m not exactly sure what the spin will be, but somehow and sometime soon, protein will be your new enemy. So, grab your potatoes by the bag, saddle up your French loaf, and hop on the low-protein bandwagon—it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Monday, May 01, 2006


I asked this question to a group of women, “Would you rather be happy or thin?” One quipped, only somewhat jokingly I'm afraid, “What’s the difference?” Is there any? Where does thinness fall in the spectrum of personal goals (intelligence/success/happiness/love)? I’d hope it’s at the bottom, but I don’t believe it is.

After telling a racist joke, comedienne Sarah Silverman quips in her movie, Jesus is Magic: “I don’t care if you think I’m racist, as long as you don’t think I’m fat.” It’s only funny because it’s true. Women would rather hear a host of negative, pejorative labels about themselves than the word, “Fat.” Conniving, bitchy, anxious, sad, cunning, mean. As long as you don’t drop the f-bomb.