Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Come Here Often?

Sunday, after brunch with the girls, we headed out for a stroll downtown, when we happened across a cute boutique. The outdoor sales rack lured us in, and soon enough, I headed toward the back of the store with my clothing possibilities in tow.

The salesman called out, "Everyone decent?" before he drew back the curtains.

You know what that means, right?

Communal dressing room!

I entered and found a couple of women inside. I tried on several items and found a dress I adore. But, that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is that there was a woman in her early 20s directly across the room, which put her about three feet away from me. She wore a long sweater with a pair of skinny jeans and she called to her friend outside, "The jeans aren't working."

I happened to like the jeans. Now, I'm not one to work when I'm not working. But, there was something about seeing her in clear view--this wasn't just something overheard in the next fitting room stall--I could see the girl! And, so I made a conscious decision to be Stacey, not Dr. Stacey, when I said, simply, "They look nice."

"Yeah, but I have runner's thighs," she said.


"And this makes them look worse."

She looked at me inquistively, expecting some sort of reaction in return.

Uh-oh. What do I do? Stacey. . . Dr. Stacey. . . Stacey. . . Dr. Stacey. I went witht the Dr., because, you see, the thing is, we're one in the same. We have the same principles, the same voice, and the same difficulty in keeping our mouth shut when it comes to women and our bodies.

"Well, I'm actually a psychologist, and quite interested in body image, so I'm not going to agree with you on that one." We laughed and exchanged names. (I feel the need to say that I said the above statement with a smile, because I don't want to come off sounding like the psychology police. . . even though, apparently, I am.)

"Hey," she yelled out to her friend. "There's a body image consultant in here!"

"Well, I'm not a body image consultant [whatever that is], but I am a psychologist, and I do a lot of work with eating disorders and body image." At one point, my friend wandered in, also a psychologist. "Now there are two of us," I told my new communal dressing room friend (NCDRF) with a sinister smile.

Her friend joined us shortly. NCDRF said to her, "See, don't they look awful?" But the thing was, she looked at me, when asking the question. "Terrible, I said snidely, "You should probably start starving yourself tomorrow." (And yet again, I feel the need to reinforce the fact that I was joking--I was amplifying her irrationality to make a point--but that's the Dr. talking. No, I don't really think anyone should start starving herself tomorrow. . . including you.)

We commented on the psychology of the communal dressing room experience. "I probably should just have a seat and set up shop," I joked.

"Yeah, do you have a card?" she asked with a smile. I couldn't tell if she was joking or not. "No, I'm kinda serious here--do you have a card? It's probably something I should look into."

I handed her my card. "Well, now that you've seen me naked, I imagine it would make things much more comfortable."

Again, we laughed and eventually parted ways, agreeing that this qualified as one of the best ever fitting room stories.

Monday, September 24, 2007

It's Not Me; It's You

In Life Without Ed, writer and eating-disorder sufferer, Jenni Schaefer, crafts a declaration of independence from her disorder, which she cleverly anthropomorphizes to be, just, "Ed." In it, she declares:
Jenni, therefore, solemnly publishes and declares that she is free and independent; that she is absolved from all allegiance to Ed, that all connection between Ed and her ought to be totally dissolved, and that as a free and independent woman she has the full power to eat, live in peace, and to do all other acts and things which independent people do.
Our version? The break-up letter? Ever broken up with someone via letter, email, or text? Now's your chance (and trust me, you'll need more room than a post-it note provides). You'll need to explain why you're ending this (potentially) seemingly good relationship. Your task: write a letter to your scale, your mirror, your calorie-counting conscience, the part of you that mentally and physically abuses YOU, that causes YOU to restrict or binge, that causes YOU to hate your body, which is also part of YOU, and that has likely been doing this for years, obscuring the real YOU, and preventing YOU from being as independent, happy, and fulfilled as YOU deserve to be.

Dump him. He wasn't that good of a kisser, anyway.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

You Better Shape Up

September's issue of Shape magazine beckons us with the following headline: "The #1 Weight-Loss Secret--Do This & You Will Drop Pounds."

A quick visit to page 232 of the monthly reveals the treasured secret, which likely enticed thousands of readers.

But, I'm not going to share, because you really should by the magazine.

Just kidding. I'm not going to share, because to do so would be to support and promote our societal obsession with weight loss, which clearly doesn't fall under my mission statement.

Alright, fine, I'll tell you, but only because I laughed out loud when I opened to 232. Here, a two-page spread reveals--"The secret to Weight Loss? Calories" followed by the statement, "The truth is, all diets boil down to a simple formula--eating fewer calories than you burn."

This is it, ladies, groundbreaking journalism at its finest. Make sure you pick up your copy today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Interview with Leslie Goldman

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Leslie Goldman, author of Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth about Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the "Perfect" Body (see sidebar). Leslie's 31, a professional journalist, and holds a Master's in Public Health--she also writes a blog at iVillage called, The Weighting Game. As I mentioned earlier, I had read and enjoyed LR Diaries and found it incredibly serendipitous that Leslie had found and read my blog and was contacting me to discuss collaborating. At Leslie's suggestion, we decided to do a cross-interview to post on our respective sites.

As Leslie's in Chicago, our interview occurred via phone. Immediately, I was struck by her interpersonal ease, her warmth, sincerity, and sense of humor. If she were in New York, I'd love to have her as a friend.

At the end, I picked her brain about the publishing world--this is a woman who, at very young age, has published numerous magazine articles, and who (especially admirable and inspiring to me), managed to publish a book. My interview with her appears below. For the questions she posed to me, check out her blog today.

You mention in the prologue to your book that you struggled with anorexia. How did you recover? Is there still a pull toward eating-disordered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?
I had an eating disorder in college—it was a very kind of cliché ED: I was the straight-A, perfectionist, eager-to-please young woman who goes off to college and freaks out and develops and eating disorder to cope with it, to cope with this new dis-order in her world. I lost a significant amount of weight; not so much that the fashion world would be appalled, but enough that I looked horrible. In terms of recovery, I got better physically within my freshman year, gaining most of the weight back. . . but it wasn’t until, I’d say, my junior year that I started looking deeper and realizing it wasn’t just about food—that it was so much more.

I do view eating disorders kind of like alcoholism—it’s a coping mechanism—you can get through it and live a healthy life, but it’s always there, it’s always something that you have to think about, like "I can’t go back there." I’m not going to say that I don’t think about food or working out or my body today, but I know I can’t and won't go back to what I was like—I have too full of a life to let that happen.

Why do you think The Scale has such an influence on women?
I think that that number is something tangible for women to grab onto, and kind of identify with, and measure themselves against. . . I actually just wrote about this today on my blog—I remember when I was writing my book, I interviewed a woman who said, "At 114, I feel skinny and beautiful; at 118, I feel fat." And this is a smart, educated lawyer. But this isn’t about being smart. So many of us are smart, educated—it’s about the weight-obsessed world we live in. . . and you read about the celebrities, and you think, "That’s what I need to do to be successful." There are so many women who get on the scale, and that number rules their day. It can make or break their day. You can see women get on the scale, and if they’re unhappy, they’ll slump. They’ll take off their flip flops or towel to try to lose that extra quarter pound.

Were women in the locker room generally approachable?
I found that women were approachable when I explained what I was doing and when I explained that I had had an eating disorder. When I revealed my past struggles, it made me more approachable. But some chapters were more difficult that others. The chapter on obesity was very difficult—I found a lot of my sources through blogs or friends of friends. You can tell when a woman’s open: There was a woman sitting on the ground, breastfeeding her daughter, I could tell that she was at peace with her body by the dreamy smile on her face and she just seemed like on open soul.

A lot of my research took the form of observation—I did a lot of looking and listening. I did worry when the book came out that people would think I was spying on them. But that was not the case. I wasn’t judging them. I was doing it more from an anthropological standpoint. If I did talk to women, I always got their permission.

How much female-female competition did you encounter?
It’s everywhere, and not just in the locker room. If you just watch, you’ll see women using glances, looking each other up and down. You can just see the thought bubble over their head, "Thank God she has a big butt," or, "Oh, she has cellulite, too" or "I wish my boobs were like hers." There’s already enough competition and self-loathing. I think women should be joining together and supporting each other. Another example was women watching each other get on the scale—one woman would get on and other women would wring their necks, trying to see.

Are you comfortable naked in the locker room?
Yes (laughs). I walk around, usually with a towel around my waist. I certainly don’t rush, rush, rush when the towel drops to get my underwear on. I will say one of the really interesting things I learned while writing the book on the chapter on ethnicity. Some of the women who worked in the locker room were raised in a culture that was much more modest. One woman said she couldn’t believe that women were walking around naked, bending over. I did start covering up, in some ways, as a matter of respect, but there are parts of me (my arms, my stomach) that I’m particularly happy with and proud of and I so I don't mind walking around topless or in a bra.

How do you think your book would have been different if you were a male journalist hanging out in the men’s locker room?
(laughs) I probably would have gotten in my share of fights - I don’t think most men would take to a man with a pad and a pen. But, from what I hear from men, their locker room is much different. They take much greater offense to men walking around naked. The younger men are always complaining about the older men walking around naked. I don’t think men have the same pressures women have. . . . I think men must look at each other to see what’s normal.

We both attended weight-loss support group meetings for research purposes. What was your experience like? How did you leave there feeling?
So, I attended a Weight Watchers group, and I was a bit troubled by what happened. I had a similar experience to you—many people were a normal weight—maybe they got there by attending the meetings. But I felt there was a lot of sadness. When the moderator would ask people to share, one man mentioned he had had gravy on his chicken, and I was sitting behind him and it was like he was going to cry, so I wanted to cry. The whole thing seemed cult-like, but so many people have had wonderful experiences with it, and I really can’t be one to judge. Maybe for him, it was very freeing to talk about his "dietary slip ups." And then of course, there’s the whole weigh-in aspect where they weigh you in behind the curtain. And, I have a problem getting on the scale and tying your self-worth to a number. For some people, the number can be motivating.

Did you get weighed at the meeting?
No. I was a first time visitor. No one pressured me or anything like that.

You speak of differences in body image based on culture. How do you think socio-economic status factors into the mix?
I do think that it has to do with socio-economic status. I think that regardless of your racial or ethnic background, the more money you have, the more access to things you have (health club memberships, fat free foods, fashion magazine subscriptions), things that pave the way toward exercising or eating [problems]. I do think also that different cultures appreciate different body types in different ways. But that’s not to say that Black women don’t get eating disorders or Indian women don’t get eating disorders, because they do.

How would you recommend mothers introduce their daughters to the locker room?
You know, I see mothers and daughters all the time in the locker room, and I see things that are positive moves, and I see things that make me cringe. I think, first of all, don’t introduce the scale into the equation. Just pretend it’s not even there. . . . I think it’s great when women are showering to talk [to their kids] about what they did at school that day or what they did at camp ("I heard you were great in archery").

Do not point out flaws in your own body. Make a concerted effort not to grimace at your body as you look in the mirror, or as you tweeze your eye brows. Allow them to explore, "Do you want to dry you hair?" "Do you want to comb it?" "Do you want to try getting dressed all by yourself?" Or, if they’re at the appropriate age, "Do you want to try to open the lock this time?" "Do you remember the combination?" Don’t focus on looking at yourself in the mirror. Make it a time when the two of you can have mother-daughter time and not a body-bashing session.

What’s your take on dieting?
I don’t even know if I can answer that. It’s so different for so many people. If you’re trying to lose some weight, dieting can be a helpful tool. I’m trying to think of a way to put it succinctly—I think dieting can be a useful tool if you’re working with a doctor or a nutritionist, but I think it can become an obsession for many people. But, I think there’s no reason to live your life on a perpetual diet, to live your life obsessed with every single calorie. There’s a fine balance. . . .

Some of my readers pointed out that your blog does not always champion health at every size. Any comments on this?
It’s so interesting, because people on my blog will say basically that I am too much on the pro-size acceptance front. I’ll be blogging about dancers in their 200s [weight], or just recently I blogged about the triathlete who weighs 300 pounds. . . or getting upset at my gym because they were playing a song that was derogatory toward heavy people. Readers sometimes will think, [these people are] overweight, why are you advocating it? I posted a quote by [the actress] Mo’Nique about being happy at any size on [another blog], and I got blasted. I also get a lot of comments about my own weight—"Well, you’re thin, why should I listen to you?" It’s like, why should my weight have anything to do with what I say? Or, they forget that I have had an eating disorder, have had my own struggles, am not immune to their comments. I’m just at a comfortable weight for me.

Is there a follow-up to Locker Room Diaries in the works?
Right now, I’m focusing on full-time magazine writing. I would love to write another book, but nothing has hit me in the same way that Locker Room Diaries did. That idea struck me right in the gym. It was so obvious. Every time I was at the gym, I could not escape hearing women talk about their bodies. I know that my next book will be focused on women, maybe not about body image, but it’ll be women-centered for sure.

Friday, September 14, 2007


By now, you must certainly have heard about Britney Spears' recent performance at the MTV VMA's. And, I'm sure you've heard how horrifically overweight she appeared.

If not, see for yourself:

As you can tell, Britney, whose abdomen has raised more concern than the number of our troops remaining in Iraq, is clearly a candidate for gastric bypass surgery.

Call her a has been.

Call her a fashion disaster.

Call her an alcohol or substance abuser.

Call her a potentially (I'm being careful here) unfit mother.

But, please, please, don't call her fat.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How Not to Win Friends

The scene: sitting at a restaurant bar with a colleague I just met discussing a project we'll be working on together. The US Open plays on the television above us. . . .

The colleague: a sixty-something-year-old male, who does not specialize (to my awareness) in eating disorders

The dialogue: I mention, at some point, my interest in eating disorders and the book I'm currently writing. Conversation shifts and then returns to the book. He's curious what underlies the problem. "So, why do you think EWHAED?", he asks. I go through my typical spiel, the whole cultural piece, our societal obsession with thinness, how women are valued most for their looks and even more so for their bodies, yada, yada, yada. . . .

He draws my attention to the television screen, where Serena Williams sports one of her usual flashy get-ups. "Now, she's not thin," he says.

"Well, I might not call her skinny, but she's solid. She's pure muscle, and she's certainly thinner than the average American woman."

"She is?" he asks, seemingly surprised.

I provide him some stats on the average American woman (AAW), which last I checked (and this could be slightly different now) has the AAW coming in at 144 pounds.

"144?", he exclaims. "That's fat!"

"See, you're the problem."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Questions, Please. . .

Next week, Leslie Goldman, author of the Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the "Perfect" Body (see sidebar) and the iVillage blog, The Weighting Game, and I will cross-interview each other via phone.

I'd like to gather some questions from you, from those who have read her book (or blog), or others who might have related questions from the self-proclaimed "women's health writer" who focuses on diet and body image. So, if you have any questions for Leslie, let me know. . . either include here as a comment or email me directly.