Monday, July 31, 2006

How Far Back Do You Have To Go?

I think it’s helpful to ask the question: How far back do you have to go to arrive at a time when you weren’t aware of your body? 12 years old? 10? 4? One woman I asked this question to once said, "I can’t even remember a time."

If you can recall a time, can you remember how it felt? To be naked, or in a swimsuit (or even clothed, for that matter), and to NOT be aware of your body. . . to have built a sandcastle on the beach and focused on the sand and the tide and not your body. . . to have run through the sprinklers and focused on zipping through the wet grass and your friends and the heat and the drench, but not your body. . . to have showered or bathed and focused on the scent of the soap or the sensation of the water striking your body, but not your body.

And, have there been any recent moments (even fleeting) when you recaptured this unawareness and reveled in the experience, without a thought of the size of your stomach or the width your hips or the dimples on your thighs? What variables contribute to your ability to ignore your body (or its appearance) in these moments? I’d guess it has something to do with being fully in the moment, absorbed by a connection, or a feeling, and that it’s impossible to be completely focused on this and your body at the exact same time.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Slink Away

Ever heard of a brand of jeans called “Slink”? A friend alerted me to them, after a frustrating clothes-shopping experience. It seems that Slink jeans run about three sizes too small. Said friend is pretty tiny and typically wears a Size 4/6. During this particular dressing-room encounter, she tried on a Size 10 which was, surprisingly, too tight.

What awful marketing, I thought, at first—clearly the Slink execs haven’t consulted with the marketing folk over at Banana Republic (who know that women love to buy clothes a size smaller than they usually are). But, perhaps this is strategic marketing at its best—to size out even normal-size (read: thinner than average) women ups the ante, placing the brand in a prized, elusive category only meant for a select few. I bet Nicole Richie can fit into Slink jeans. Keira Knightley, too. If only we can diet ourselves down, starve ourselves, purge ourselves of anything unnecessary, then, perhaps we, too, can fit into a pair of Slinks.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cartoon of the Day

This appears in the current issue of The New Yorker, from a cartoonist named Weyant.

Thoughts? Captions?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Constitutes a Binge. . . Disorder? (Part II)

In its proposed criteria set for Binge Eating Disorder (i.e., the disorder, not just the binge), the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (IV-TR), includes, in addition to the features of a binge (described earlier), the following points:

A. The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
1) eating much more rapidly than normal
2) eating until feeling uncomfortably full
3) eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
4) eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
5) feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating

B. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.

C. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months.

D. The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging, fasting, excessive exercise) and does not occur exclusively during the course of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.

It's interesting to me how important the "marked distress" feature is. In fact, if you're not feeling this level of distress, but you're still bingeing (even regularly), you wouldn't meet criteria for BED. And, in my interpretation, this includes distress before/during/after a binge, as well as distress about the overall pattern.

In the July issue of O magazine, writer Anne Lamott describes her experience with a a "classic" binge. Having been largely binge-free for 15 years, Lamott recently succumbed first to the allure of a Safeway apple fritter, triggering a no holds barred journey to binge-land. In my opinion, it's not really about her food choices or how much she consumes. I think it's the emotional report that she nails: "I was so lost, and I couldn't follow the bread crumbs back to the path of mental health, because I'd eaten them all. So I ended up eating junk, off and on, until bedtime. . . . It is hard to remember that you are a cherished spiritual being when you're burping up apple fritters and Cheetos."

Interestingly, Lamott describes a critical feature of a binge (beyond quantity and control) that seems, in my mind, just as relevant to the diagnosis: the aftermath. This is an aftermath filled with guilt, shame, self-hatred and sentencing, promises, punishment, and enough of an emotional charge to knock you (as you might want to be) flat-out unconscious. It's an aftermath so uncomfortable that it can, often, only be soothed by more eating, an irony that fuels the cycle and continues the pain.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Constitutes a Binge? (Part I)

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (IV-TR), a binge is characterized by 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 in a similar period of time 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).

Binges may occur in isolation (and without any correlated behaviors) or may be a feature of Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or Binge Eating Disorder (not yet a clinical disorder, but likely will become one.) They may occur at lightning speed or be longer-lasting, may include eating one food, or many. And, clearly, even the clinical criteria are quite ambiguous: What exactly is an amount of food “larger than most people would eat”? Who are these “most people?” Are they of our same gender, size, culture, and eating-disorder status? What are “similar circumstances”? Moreover, can you always detect when you’re feeling a “lack of control” and is there even any way to quantify control? You’d think that as a science and a practice, we’d be able to do better than this. . . .

With such ambiguity (and diversity) in a clinical presentation, how do you really know if it’s a binge? Justice Stewart’s definition of pornography comes to mind (“You know it when you see it”), yet introspective awareness may be somewhat limited during a binge (though possibly enhanced after one). I think the control factor is a big one—if you feel like the eating behavior is controlling you (rather than you, it), then that could be a binge, but of course, the quantity consumed cannot be ignored (uncontrollably stuffing back a bag of airline peanuts, for example, can’t really be labeled a binge). Just because you’ve eaten more than you wanted, eaten past the point of fullness, or eaten when you weren’t even hungry doesn’t make it a binge.

I return to my old-standby, the continuum, when confronted with ambiguous topics like this. It seems it’s clear when it’s not a binge, and even pretty clear when it is a binge, but for all the shades of grey in between (particularly the darker greys, toward the binge-end of the continuum), I’d say this is a highly idiographic enterprise—I’d want to know from you as an individual—did it feel like you wanted/needed to binge? Did it feel like a binge during the binge? How about after? Because, especially when the science is so vague, the person is expert and the subjective experience quite diagnostic.

What makes it a binge for you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

BMI Tables

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple measure, based on height and weight, commonly used to determine if someone is overweight. When policy makers and public health officials talk about the obesity crisis in America, they’re usually referring to BMI data, which, when considering the host of variables that should be taken into account when determining the health consequences of weight (i.e., muscle weight), emerge as overly simplistic. In The Diet Myth, writer Paul Campos offers a few examples of "fat" celebrities, according to BMI definitions (over 25 = overweight, over 30 = obese). Coming in as overweight are: Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan, and Mel Gibson. Obese celebrities include: Russell Crowe, George Clooney, and Sammy Sosa.

Campos goes on to say that current BMI definitions are not intended “to apply to people in ‘good shape.’” However, since one of the primary goals of public health initiatives (and the weight-loss industry) is exactly that, for people to be in “good shape,” then why wouldn’t current BMI criteria apply to them?

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Rape Scene

I recently learned that child actress, Dakota Fanning, has signed on to a role in the movie Hounddog. According to reports, the film takes place in the south and has Fanning’s character raped in one scene and appearing nude in others.

Any cinematographic rape scene is disturbing. But, a 12-year-old girl? Reports indicate that Fanning’s mother and agent are supportive of her casting, believing that this role could have Oscar potential. But, at what cost? Should Fanning have taken the role? True, women (even girls) are raped at alarming rates, and to deny this fact just because we’re at the movies might not seem that honest. And, true, any woman (or person, for that matter) can choose (especially with this knowledge) whether or not she’d like to see the film. But what about the people who choose to see the film because of this, who are excited and aroused witnessing the sexualized Fanning’s attack? And what about Fanning, who’s not just baring her body (a la a young Brooke Shields), but who’s vicariously victimized, who consciously knows that “we’re just playing,” but who may somehow still internalize the violence and disempowerment of the scene?

When we value a woman for her body (or, on the other hand, condemn her for it), we’re setting the stage for objectification. There’s a fine line between exposing a female body (as a commodity) and aggressing upon it, and the consequences are even more disturbing when the body is that of a little girl.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Triple Play

This past week, three of the most widely circulated celebrity magazines hit the newsstands, covers beckoning with variations on a theme:

In Touch: “Body Confessions”
US Weekly: “Extreme Diets: Inside Hollywood’s Dangerous Obsession with Being Thin”
Star: “The New Lipo: New Procedure Melts Fat & Tightens Skin in Minutes!—& It’s Affordable!”

I suppose this is more a question than an actual post: In your view, has coverage of eating and body image issues amongst celebrities skyrocketed as of late? I’ve noticed an incredible increase in the amount of attention (on television, in magazines, on the web) devoted to shrinking stars. However, I’m, as you might imagine, more attuned to these now, as part of my research and writing, so I’m willing to accept my hypervigilance as a possible confound. By asking you, I’m hoping to get some clarity—has such coverage increased, or am I just on the look-out?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Jail Time

Rapper Lil’ Kim (Kimberly Jones) recently completed a 10-month prison sentence, and as you may have noticed, the media seems most concerned with the 25 pounds (or so) she gained while in a Philadelphia jail. In Star magazine’s feature, “Not So Lil’ Kim,” Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Traci Billingsley describes generic prison meals, “‘Dinner might consist of baked chicken, a vegetable, a potato and dessert, like pie or cookies.’”

My reactions, in the order they occurred: 1) What a well balanced meal! 2) They get dessert? 3) Congratulations to Lil’ Kim for providing one of the media’s most intelligent decoys, yet. Her weight gain puts the focus on her body instead of her incarceration, leaving us little time to ponder her alleged guilt (something about perjury?), or other experiences that may have befallen her in jail. This is a woman who found her niche amongst a group of east-coast rappers [her battle cry, “Only female in my crew,” is heard in “It’s All About the Benjamins (Remix)]. This is a woman who, at the 1999 Video Music Awards, wore a sequined pasty get-up (and was consequently fondled by Diana Ross). This is a woman who understands precisely the power of the media’s focus on women’s bodies. And this is a woman whose additional 25 pounds seems to be the most compelling and noteworthy part of a two-year-long legal ordeal. That, as you may know, is called “working the system.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Club

In writing her memoir, Fat Girl, Judith Moore makes clear her agenda: “I am not a fat activist. This is not about the need for acceptance of fat people, although I would prefer that thinner people not find me disgusting.” She goes on to say:
I know, from being thin and listening to thin people talk about fat people, that thin people often denigrate fat people. At best, they feel sorry for them. I know too that when a thin person looks at a fat person, the thin person considers the fat person less virtuous than he. The fat person lacks willpower, pride, this wretched attitude, “self-esteem,” and does not care about friends or family because if he or she did care about friends or family, he or she would not wander the earth looking like a repulsive sow, rhinoceros, hippo, elephant, general wide-mawed flesh-flopping flabby monster.

Despite the dichotomy created here (i.e., “fat person” vs. “thin person,”) Moore generally steers clear of politicizing the issue of weight. This is, more than anything, a personal story about one woman’s struggle with her emotions, her experiences, and her weight. But, Moore’s writing above provides a window into the socio-political context of fat: Why would thin people ascribe low willpower/self-esteem/pride to their heftier counterparts when, oftentimes, these are the very issues they’re struggling with themselves? It seems that projection is sometimes easier than introspection.

Moore continues:
I am on a diet. I am almost always on a diet. I am trying to get rid of pounds of my waddling self. I am always trying to get rid of pounds of myself. . . . I hate myself. I have almost always hated myself, but it’s not for bad things I’ve done. I do not hate myself for betrayals, for going behind the back of someone who trusted me. I hate myself because I am not beautiful. I hate myself because I am fat.

Yes, Moore happens to be fat, but it wasn’t until I read this quote a second time (out of the context of the story itself), that I realized it could apply to anyone at any size. It really doesn’t matter what Moore weighs. This could be the lament of the fat or the thin, the grossly overweight or frighteningly underweight (whatever those terms mean, exactly). It could also be written by someone with a beautiful figure, because as you know, just as it’s not about someone else’s body, it’s also really not about yours.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Why of It All

Part of the purpose of this blog/book is to bring to light the personal struggles with food and weight that we all have in common. Psychologists use the word “normalize,” which Mirriam-Webster defines as: “to make conform to or reduce to a norm or standard.” To me, having something normalized is that phenomenon when you find out someone has had an experience similar to you, causing you to exclaim, “Oh, you do that, too?” The process of normalization is what makes support groups (and group therapy, for that matter) so effective. We realize that others are in a similar boat, and there’s a certain comfort in that. In a related way, writing (and speaking) about disordered eating/body image concerns illuminates just how common these struggles are, which hopefully provides a kind of individual solace. It also, in my opinion, weakens the grip of the issues themselves.

A metaphor I like is a storm out at sea—before hitting land, the storm has plenty of time to fester, to build up strength. But upon landfall, the storm’s power/speed/damaging potential weakens, to the point where by the time it reaches you, it may not be so harrowing at all. Through open and honest discussion, we enervate the storm.

I’d like to normalize food fixation, body hatred, and other concepts we’ve been discussing here. As individuals we may feel “crazy” or “dysfunctional” for holding such “odd” beliefs or engaging in such behaviors (as some have commented recently, who would have thought that such violent images of fat removal were so common?), but if we realize that we’re not alone, we may be more prone to discuss/work with our thoughts and feelings, which, ultimately can free us of our obsessions.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mothers & Daughters

Do our mothers have carte blanche to comment on our bodies?

On a radio morning talk show, a male deejay reported that his mother had told him he looked fat. He reasoned that, of course, his mother was free to share her opinion, and that if she wasn’t truthful with him, who would be? Agree? Would a daughter feel the same way?

And, if that is acceptable, when does a mother cross the line? There are mothers who weigh their daughters, restrict their food, buy them diet pills, comment incessantly on their weight and shape. There are mothers, like writer Pam Houston’s, who, as she ran out to the school bus each morning would shout, “Hold your tummy in!” for all the children to hear. There are mothers who will purchase a new wardrobe for their daughters following a significant weight loss, even if accomplished via an eating disorder.

If a daughter has “a face only a mother could love,” why doesn’t the same unconditional acceptance hold true for her body?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Have You Seen This Commercial?

A Yoplait Light yogurt television ad features a swimsuit-clad woman shimmying around a boardwalk and the beach, hiding her body with an inflatable raft. When she finally lifts the raft, we see 2006’s version of the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

But, don’t think the raft came off that easily.

At the same time, we’re introduced to the product, Yoplait Light yogurt. Our heroine would not have had the courage for this particular raft-ectomy had she not befriended the Yoplait product, marketed for its “weight-loss boost.” Fine-tuning a broader advertising campaign that focuses on the scale-savvy features of dairy, we’re exposed to the message that body acceptance will only occur if you're thin. And if you’re not, because you haven’t done your dairy, you better raft-wrap yourself again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Problem Areas

A derivative of liposuction, called micro liposuction, is becoming increasingly popular, as revealed in an article in The New York Times.* According to the article, Dr. Luiz Toledo, a Brazilian plastic surgeon, who brought the procedure to the U.S., calls it “liposuction for skinny people.” What we’re talking about here are little “tune-ups,” aimed at people who are already quite thin or at specific areas of the body not classically targeting during liposuction.

And what areas are we talking about? The Times cites a recent edition of the journal, Dermatologic Surgery, which in an article entitled "Lexicon of Areas Amenable to Liposuction," identifies: “the ‘buffalo hump’ (upper back), ‘wings’ (bulges around the bra area), the ‘doughnut’ (around the belly button), the ‘banana fold’ (below the buttocks), the ‘piano legs’ (calves) and the ‘chubb.’” In case you’re wondering, like I was, “chubb” is defined for us by Dr. William Coleman III, one of the articles authors, as a “. . . Southern term for the kneecap area."

And who is a classic micro liposuction patient? Dr. Howard Sobel, interviewed by the Times discusses a typical micro liposuction patient: “'Some of them are perfect 10's who want to be 10½'s.'" Sobel, who reportedly has treated models and personal trainers, goes on to say: “'These patients' before pictures are what patients in the past wished their after pictures looked like.'"

The article continues: “One of Dr. Sobel's patients is Judy Goss, a former Ford model who works as a model agent. ‘By normal standards, I'm pretty skinny,’ said Ms. Goss, 38. She is 5-foot-10 and weighs 126 pounds, she said. ‘But my arms were getting a little flappy. I could feel it wiggle every time I shook hands.’ Two years ago, Dr. Sobel performed liposuction on her upper arms.”

Micro liposuction carries similar risks to standard liposuction, with side effects ranging from scarring or infection at the site to the low-probability, but still real, and lethal, chance of an adverse reaction to anesthesia. In addition to any physical consequences, though, is the psychological impact of this procedure both for the individual and for our evolving zeitgeist around (largely) women, bodies, and self-esteem.

You may have seen the show Dr. 90210 on E, a reality show which follows people seeking plastic surgery from consultation to after-shots. The show’s promo begs the question, “Can you fix the inside by fixing the outside?”

I’m asking the question, too. Of course, my immediate reaction is “no,” but I’m willing to entertain the alternative—could there be a very circumscribed “problem” that operates more or less in a vacuum and that once removed, improves your body image and allows you to feel better about yourself?

I’m reminded of a fictional exchange I came across from the book Switcheroo, penned by Olivia Goldsmith in 1998. In it, Goldsmith’s character Sylvie Schiffer consults with a plastic surgeon regarding a face lift, in an attempt to mimic the appearance of her husband’s young mistress. When her doctor asks her what’s wrong, Sylvie replies:

“Everything. Bob’s cheating on me. And I saw her. She looks just like me but younger. Just like me, but no crow’s feet. Just like me, but without the second chin.

“Age crept up on me, John. I wasn’t watching. I didn’t know I looked so bad—”

“Are you insane? You need a psychiatrist, not a plastic surgeon.”

Is Goldsmith (via the surgeon’s character) right?

With micro liposuction, where do we draw the line? Most of us have seen the popular talk show guests who’ve had repeated plastic surgeries and speak of procedures in much the same way that an addict would describe a fix. It seems that doing it once opens the door for doing it again. . . and again.

And more, if patients are seeking surgery to remove a barely visible “problem area,” should doctors have an ethical responsibility to say, “I’m sorry, it’s just not worth the risks.” I can’t understand risking your life for a little bit of chubb.

As the Times indicates, medical ethicists are starting to pose these questions, as well as to understand the implications of the procedure. Dr. Sheila Rothman, a professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia says, “‘Maybe liposuction will become like a gym membership where you pay a doctor $10,000 for the year and you can have as much surgery as you want.’”
*sent in by a dear reader

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Word of Kindness

Leslie Goldman, author of Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth about Women, Body Image and Re-Imagining the “Perfect" Body encourages women to write a letter to their most detested body part, offering an apology for the disdain they’ve habitually directed toward it. It seems that the letter-writing process allows you recognize how aggressive you’ve been toward yourself (there’s something about it that allows said body part to feel more “human”) and to stir up some self-compassion, which is a critical part of restoring a healthy body-image and overall self-esteem. The process calls to mind a famous Jungian quote: "We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

While it might be easy to identify which body part you’d address, is it clear to you what you would say? And, if you were to engage in this process, what types of feelings would you encounter?

As an example:

Dear Stomach/Butt/Outer Thighs/Upper Arms, Etc.:

I’m sorry for all the blame I’ve cast your way.

I’m sorry for even briefly, and wildly, entertaining the notion that I’d like to be rid of you. . . and, even more so, for imagining hacking you off with a circular saw.

I’m sorry that I look at you with such scorn, and that I’m not willing to accept you for who you are.

I have to admit that I sometimes think you’re cute—you’re dimply and cuddly, and, most important, I realize that if I can’t accept you, there’s really no way I can accept me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reverse Psychology

Many writers who address eating/weight concerns speak of “making peace with food.” I’ve always liked the premise, but I wasn’t quite sure what it would look like in practice, until I began to think about the distinction between the conscious versus unconscious mind. Many psychological theories propose that an important goal of therapy is to make what’s unconscious conscious—in other words, to bring feelings, experiences, memories of which you may be unaware into conscious awareness. I think that this goal holds with regard to eating concerns, particularly as we try to uncover reasons for disordered eating, such as emotional eating, restricting, and focusing obsessively on weight and shape—are we bored/lonely/angry/scared? What are we trying to avoid?

However, with regard to the process (and allowance) of eating itself, I wonder if the goal should be the exact opposite—to make the conscious unconscious—to return food/eating to the role of any other physiological process (sleep, breathing, urinating) and to NOT think about the whole experience so much. Imagine what it would feel like to NOT be thinking:

Have I had too much?
What else have I eaten today?
This has too many calories.
My stomach feels huge.

It seems to me that if you can arrive at a place where these thoughts and questions no longer occur to you, that is making peace with food. But, can we really accept eating as simply another physiological process? Imagine giving other biologically-driven processes the same airtime that we give food:

I really shouldn’t pee again—I went so much yesterday.
I know I’m tired, but I’m definitely not going to allow myself to sleep tonight.
Did I just take in too much oxygen? There was so much air in that last breath—my abdomen feels way too big!

Of course, these statements sound ridiculous, but substitute food/eating and you have an all-too-familiar way of thinking. As best we can, we sleep when we’re tired, go to the bathroom when we have to, breathe unconditionally—if only we could do the same with food.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Humor Me

I’m afraid I’ve lost my sense of humor. More and more, I see/hear jokes aimed at eating disorders (anorexia t-shirt). On an episode of Family Guy, a high school cheerleader says to another, “Wow, it sure is great being thin and popular. Let’s go throw-up.”

The New York Post reveals a report that the cast trailers for the filming of The Nanny Diaries (in Manhattan) are labeled according to the roles each star will play: “Glamour Mom,” “Charity Mom,” “Divorcing Mom,” “Eating Disorder Mom.” I’m not quite sure I see the parallel structure here.

In OK Weekly magazine, staff writers discuss a “beauty boo-boo” they call “blondorexia,” which is an “acute condition” that “happens when a young star aspires to the ‘more-is-more’ school of hair color.” True, some celebrities (and even we normal folk) might take hair coloring a bit too far. But, do we really have to equate this with a disease? (same goes for “tanorexia”)

On E’s 50 Most Shocking Celebrity Confessions, comedian Pat Dixon quips, “Bulimia isn’t a disease; it’s a decision.” On the same show, another commentator reports that Dennis Quaid, who after losing 40 pounds for the role of Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, developed “manorexia,” a term I’d describe as a cutesy bastardization of a serious illness (which, by the way, he admits to having). And, on 101 Incredible Celebrity Slimdowns, a comedienne says, “When I know I’m going to have to wear a bikini, I usually throw up everything I eat for about a week straight.”

This is supposed to be comedy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Word on Pro-Ana Websites

If you’re not familiar with the concept, pro-ana websites are those designed to provide support for sufferers of eating disorders. The sites describe anorexia (cleverly referred to as “Ana”) and bulimia (“Mia”) as “lifestyle choices,” not diseases, and do not encourage recovery from these conditions. An introduction to one site I found had this to say:

“This is a pro-ana website. Pro-ana is a source of support for those who are living with an eating disorder. Please leave if you are not living with anorexia or bulimia, or if you are trying to recover. Do not misuse the information on this site and let your eating disorder get out of hand. I will not be held responsible for your actions. This site is not intended to encourage people to develop eating disorders. The purpose of this website is to offer support to those who are living with an eating disorder.”

Support, though, seems to be an amorphous concept. Many of the sites offer encouragement for food restriction, glorifying starvation, as well as tips for easier purging and how to hide one’s disorder from others. Adulation is offered to those able to toe the fine line between life and death. A red string bracelet (similar to that modeled by the Kabbalah faithful, promulgated by celebrities) is worn to distinguish those who are pro-ana and pro-mia from the rest of the world.

Inspiration on the sites arrives in the form of pithy quotes, such as “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” and via pictures of eating-disordered or grossly underweight celebrities, filed under “thinspiration.” One site warns its readers not to eat, urging, “You should be eating your own flesh all away from the inside first, before you are deserving of actual legitimate sustenance.” It also encourages e.d. sufferers to “Remember, think thin, and try not to faint too often or die.”

One site offers this tip: “If you have a sweet tooth use stevia instead of sugar. Try to stay away from stuff like Splenda. Remember, if it came from a science lab, it’s probably not healthy for your body. The best things for you are natural, and grown in a garden.” Upon first glance, this seems true and quite supportive of nutritional health. However, this also comes from a site that describes the first day of its weight-loss plan as “starve day.” Not so nutritional after all. . .

The psychological community (particularly that which serves eating-disorder populations) is, as you’d imagine, rather disturbed by the proliferation of these sites, though the question of what to do remains an issue. While the first amendment comes to play here, some web hosts, such as Yahoo (so I’ve heard), have disallowed pro-ana sites a home. Many sites are still available, however, and those who struggle with eating disorders (a persistent bunch, by definition) are easily able to find them.

I hesitate, in fact, to write at all about pro-ana sites, for fear that those unexposed will decide to visit them and find something that promotes disordered eating. However, this is a bona fide concern in the eating disorder community, and I think it’s important to expose, particularly given the appeal of these sites to young girls. Pro-ana sites anthropomorphize eating disorders, turning serious illnesses into friends (“Ana” and “Mia”) that sound more like friends you’d like to join for lunch than serious physical and psychological illnesses.

I’ve realized, though, that the sites are largely reflective of a culture that is, for the most part, pro-ana. Fashion and celebrity magazines celebrate food restriction and other unhealthy means of weight-loss (e.g., Mariah's Diet). A recent issue of Star magazine featured a story entitled, “Skinny S.O.S.! Stars’ Scary New Affliction—Foodophobia And It’s Contagious!”, but the very nature of the two-page, photo-plenty spread focusing on Kate Bosworth, Victoria Beckham, and Nicole Ritchie seemed to tacitly reinforce the unhealthy eating patterns/sizes of these stars. True, the fashion world/Hollywood does not (at least, vocally) promote subsisting on “your own flesh,” but there seems to be a very fine line between the daily messages we’re exposed to and those offered on pro-ana sites, causing me to begin to wonder if the only difference between a pro-ana website and a fashion/celebrity magazine is that the website is willing to admit what it is up to.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jessica Weiner on the Today Show

A while back, I wrote about a book entitled, Do I Look Fat in This? written by Jessica Weiner. I saw her speak at a conference and found her to be v. warm, funny, and engaging. She has a history of an eating disorder and has made it her work to educate and inform about such struggles.

Anyway, here's a release from her press team about her upcoming appearance:

Watch Jessica do what she does best, on the Today Show with Matt Lauer
Thursday July 6, 2006 at appx. 8:09 am EST.

Please check your local listings for the appropriate NBC station and airtime in your city.

Here's a link to her site as well. (She happens to be the advice columnist for MK and Ashley's web site!)

If you're around tomorrow morning (or have a DVR), you may want to check her out. . . .

Drstaceyny's Movie Review: The Devil Wears Prada (in a Size 2, of Course)

I didn’t read the book, so the movie was my entry to the weight-obsessed consciousness of the fashion world portrayed here. It seems that one of the major plot lines involves Anne Hathaway’s (Andrea’s) weight. She is, at the story’s outset, a Size 6, which in industry terms is decidedly “fat,” as Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, so ungraciously informs her. Early on, we learn the truth about models’ sizes—that a Size 2 is the new 4, and a 0, the new 2. Andrea’s size is equated with her matronly cabled sweaters, her sensible shoes, and her wide-eyed naïveté about clothing and the fashion world she encounters. Luckily for Andrea (and for audiences, who, by our very nature, pull for a happy ending), she encounters Dolce and Gabbana, becomes intimate with Chanel, and drops to a Size 4 before the credits roll. Phew. . .

Interestingly, the movie’s sub-text on weight doesn’t focus on Ms. Hathaway, but rather on Emily Blunt, who plays Ms. Priestly’s first assistant, Emily. In an interview with Liz Smith*, Ms. Blunt reported she had to drop weight in order to secure the roll. How much weight? During her interview with Ms. Smith, Ms. Blunt reported:

“I can eat now. . . You know, Prada was the only movie I’ve ever done where they wanted me to lose weight. I went in, and this woman asked, “How much do you weigh?’ And I told her and she made a face. And then she said, ‘You have to get in shape.’ And I said, ‘Well, really, I think I am in shape.’ She shook her head like, ‘poor thing.’ So I had to ask, ‘Look, just how thin do you want me?’ And she said, ‘On-the-edge-of-sickness thin.’ So, I figured, ‘Great, I’ll call you from the emergency room.’"

So, here’s a movie (whose audience, by the way, was filled with young girls) that glorifies sickly thinness and shuns a Size 6 as “fat.” In a country where the average woman wears a Size 14, what messages are we sending (and receiving)? Why are Andrea’s talents as an assistant (a job, for which, she’s overqualified) directly proportionate to her size? And, did Ms. Blunt actually drop the requested weight, and if so, did she endanger her health in order to play this part? At one point in the film, Emily's character cries, "I'm just one stomach flu from my goal weight!" Another fine example of art imitating life. . .

*sent in by a dear reader

Monday, July 03, 2006

More On American Idol and AOL News

AOL News begs the question, “Does American Idol Have a Body Bias?”

Uh. . . yeah.

Simon Cowell really didn’t have to ask the infamous question, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?” following Mandisa Hundley’s performance for us to know that. Yes, American Idol has a body bias, but it’s only reflecting that of the culture. To be a female American idol, you have to look the part.

Fashion director of In Style magazine, Hal Rubenstein, reveals, "Whether it’s acting or anywhere, people do tend to want to look at pretty people first. . . . It is about packaging, especially nowadays." He goes on to say: “Does Britney have a great voice? Does Jessica? Who cares? Look what they look like. And it’s an unfair world: I think it’s more so for women than for men."

As the article mentions, Reuben won Idol and Luther Vandross achieved fame, despite their weight. But those are men, and there’s a different playing field. The standards are different for us.

Still, Rubenstein argues, "In the long run, talent does win out. Luther Vandross always struggled with a weight problem. Yet women would go to his concerts and faint from happiness. If you’ve got a great voice, you’ve got a great voice, and we will listen to anything you do."

True? Do men “faint from happiness” when listening to the voice of a fat female singer? Uh. . . who, exactly, are we talking about? Janet Jackson gained weight, as did Mariah Carey (though certainly not fat), and it seemed that recent interest in their careers was piqued only after they had lost the weight (and there seems to be greater interest in how they dropped the pounds than in their voices or concert dates). Who are our Luther Vandross equivalents?

If you’re a woman, you don’t get to be a pop icon, unless you have the look. And so, with open arms, we welcome to the music world Hillary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton, whose recent single, “Stars are Blind” is currently climbing the charts. Stars may be blind, as Paris notes, but unfortunately, the public is not.